Higher Power Faces Existential Crisis

January 22, 2011

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of creators and immortals and all-loving existent beings.

In other words, it’s time to take a look at our our off-the-cuff list of higher power attributes and abilities, or perfections, to begin our investigation of whether Alan Rickman can possibly qualify as a higher power.

Where to start? I propose we start with the most difficult and important perfection: possessed of existence.

How to get at this?

Let’s first ask what a higher power must be like if it is to be a higher power and not something else.

Why ask this? Because if we know this, we will know what the qualities of a higher power are. So, next, we can start looking around to see if anything has those qualities.

If something does, then a higher power exists. And if Alan Rickman is something that does, then he is a higher power.

This may seem the easiest perfection to discuss (if not to state). Don’t we just mean that for a higher power to exist is for a being with certain perfections to exist?

And haven’t we already listed perfections that, if fulfilled, would satisfactorily show that we’ve got a higher power on our hands?

But there’s a tricky problem here that takes a little work to see. Once seen, it is clear how important it is, so let’s dig it out.

We can start by asking whether we would be tempted to say that a higher power must possess every perfection, if it is to exist.

I’m not tempted and I’d be surprised if you genuinely were. (Please try not to be contrary for its own sake. Remember that reasoning is not equivalent to being contrary.)

In case you’re having some difficulty seeing what the issue is (and I don’t blame you!), consider that we face two issues if we say that qualifying as a higher power just ends up being the same thing as possessing every perfection on our list.

Firstly, we don’t all agree whether all, or even which, perfections should be on the list. If we simply identify the existence of a higher power with a being possessed of every perfection, consider how many folks are going to be left out in the cold. It’s likely you may be one.

We might not care about this, preferring to assert that we’re right and others are wrong and that’s just that, too bad for you.

However, I find this too easy and, worse, disingenuous.

The problem is that we haven’t even looked at the items on the list to understand them.

By simply accepting all of them as obviously necessary to count something as a higher power would be treating the perfections as if they were clear. Like two plus two.

If you say you think this, I think you’re not looking closely enough. Which is what I want to do.

So, assuming we aren’t inclined to claim complete understanding of the perfections, we might wonder:

Are all perfections necessary for higher power status? If not, which perfections count? Are a certain number needed? If so, how many would be enough? Hmmm…

Now for our second issue.

The list I provided is a traditional one (except for “all-humorous”).

The problem with this is that higher powers are, by their very nature, not necessarily bound by tradition.

The “higher power” idea is motivated by the desire to allow people to escape from traditional notions of God, by re-imagining God however they may choose to do so. A “higher power” thus involves a personal challenge to revise one’s image of God–perhaps “coming up” with a higher power for the first time in one’s life.

Certainly, we expect overlap, possibly complete overlap with the traditional perfections. But we have to respect the dictum that we are talking about a higher power as we “come up with it.”

Can any sense be made of a higher power that does not largely overlap with traditional notions of God? Can a higher power really be something we each individually can “come up with” as we please?

If not, it looks like I might be in trouble.

Perhaps it’s already too late. Perhaps Alan Rickman as potential higher power is already as dead as Dumbledore.

But I don’t think so. I think he can be my higher power, but it’s not going to be as easy as all that. If we are to make any sense of a higher power “as I imagine it,” we’re in for a rougher road.

And why not? We’re talking about one of the most difficult things in human life. More difficult than quantum mechanics. After all, quantum mechanics, although hard, is subject to mathematical treatment.

Higher powers are not.

Dear AR,

Please give me the wisdom to work through this muddle.

Amen

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One Response to “Higher Power Faces Existential Crisis”

  1. Olivia Casino said

    I’m dizzy….but it’s a good sort of whirling about!

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