Defn of God and the false trilemma

A neighbor of mine requested I read this:  More than a Carpenter, which accepts this definition of God:

infinite and perfect spirit in whom all things have their source, support, and end.

And I recently stumbled on this: Why the Price of Theism is Normative Skepticism, which seems to agree:

… the orthodox conception of a monotheistic god. If god is maximally-powerful and maximally-knowing, then it would indeed seem to follow that everything that happens in our world happens for a reason. Why? Because everything that happens is either a direct or indirect consequence of God’s action or inaction.

The McDowell book, but more importantly, my neighbor, relies on the (false) trilemma: “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?” — the idea that Jesus, by claiming he is God, has to be binned in one of those disjoint categories. He’s either God, a liar, or crazy. He can’t be a little bit God and a lot of crazy, or a little bit of a liar and a lot of God. Etc.

Now, it’s logically valid to make such a claim and it formally follows from the axiom of choice in some logics. But there are logics that don’t require it, as well as reasons to avoid it. And, more importantly, when we look around us at the world, it is not necessarily obvious or meaningful to assert that the world is always discrete, black and white, on or off, true or false. It is common for people to assert or recognize that the world is fuzzy, full of gray areas and ambiguity.

From this pragmatic perspective, what power does this (false) trilemma hold? The false dilemma is a powerful rhetorical device, a.k.a. the dialectic. It’s power lies in its usage, as a means to an end, not an end in itself. The incomprehensible ambient muck we find ourselves swimming through, as bags of chemicals, biological organisms, and ideological selves can be a bit overwhelming. The false dilemma helps us navigate between the overly simplistic idealizations of the world in which we plan and the complex reality in which we act. Unrealistic idealizations are what allow us to stay sane and act reasonably, to plan and act according to a plan… in short, to exhibit reason, intelligence.

Yet at the same time, as when someone accuses another of thinking in black and white, it is also a part of our rationality to soften the hard categories of the idealization when we apply them to the real world. Reasonable people do not strictly adhere to their idealizations. That’s summed up well by the aphorism: “All things in moderation, including moderation.” (Wilde?) Reasonable people are not entirely doctrinal, governed by well-formed rules.

So, while the false trilemma where Jesus’ deity, sanity, and honesty are orthogonal (and binary) might be logically valid, it is dramatically unsound. Even if we admit Jesus was God, we can assert that he’s only a part of God, or part God. Similarly, imagine if you were a demigod sent to live amongst us blathering monkeys, you might go a little crazy from time to time… so it’s easy to imagine Jesus being a little bit insane. And you can also imagine trying to eplain these complex realities (again, assuming they are real) to the tiny brained morons who follow you around all the time. You’re like the marketing department of a cutting edge research and development organization… you’re going to have to lie a little bit in order to get the customer to buy what you’re selling.

So, it’s completely reasonable that if Jesus was who the Christians think he was/is, then he was a little bit of all 3: a liar, a god, and at least sometimes insane.


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