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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Infinite Regress

Again, In Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not great, Hitchens makes the valid point regarding infinite regress, or in other words, if God created the world, who created that God, and who created that God, and who created that God...into infinity.

In regard to justice in the bible, Hitchens writes: "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the killing of witches may seem brutish and stupid, but if only non-sinners have the right to punish, then how could an imperfect society ever determine how to prosecute offenders? We should all be hypocrites.

" And what authority did Jesus have to 'forgive'?...."

By combining the two, Hitchens demonstrates the flaw in his own argument. The principle of forgiveness as an aspect of justice is dependent on the very fact that we cannot resolve an absolute authority to define, or divine, justice. None exists. For if we try to punish according to absolute standards, we enter the slippery slope of degrees of evil.

Assuming that somewhere along the continuum "god created God, who then created God, who then created...we would not need to define which God created the law, but the process by which law applied to us as we judged others. What gave Jesus the right to "forgive"? What gives any person the right to forgive?

The answer to that is simple enough: because we can't point to a God, an absolute God, to which we can show a direct line of authority, we are equal before one another. The judgement we render on others can only be just when all other possible alternatives are exhausted.

Does such an idea demand the existence of a God? Not at all, but if such laws are based in the idea of an authority that transcends the laws of men, then human law can never in any sense be absolute.

If law could absolutely represent God, there would be no need for separation of church and state. The state would speak its own authority to punish. But since the state cannot speak for God, and the church cannot show its own direct authority as representative of God, then the law must assume the innocence of the accused until proven guilty by one whom he has harmed.

In Isaiah 54:17, we see exactly that principle, the right of the accused for any reason to have the full vindication of God until proven guilty by unbiased witnesses. Notice, not just one witness, but at least two, and more if possible(Deut.17:6, 19:15).

Consequently, the law that presumes innocence has no power to claim to represent the one true God as an authority. In fact, it cannot logically claim to represent God at all, except to assume that the accused has committed no crime, therefore acquittal is to be assumed unless directly proven otherwise.

How could Jesus "forgive"? Because he, like all of us, could not judge or condemn others in the absence of proof. That was law as understood in Isaiah. Is an infinite regress required for such concepts? Not at all. In fact, such a law would allow for infinite regress and the assumption that man is incapable of judging in place of God.

If man is incapable of judging in place of God, can laws of man, of themselves, condemn? In what sense could an "absolute" law of man claim power over an infinite regress of values in which God cannot be proven? The law would be arbitrary and unjust. Therefore, the accused could only be accused, not by the laws of man but the accuser who actually suffered harm.

In law, this is called the presumption of innocence. It is also recognized under the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination. Under that law, therefore, Jesus was no more authorized to "forgive" sin than we ourselves, and in fact, forgiveness is the ideal whenever possible.

In fact, Jesus himself taught this directly in Matthew 5:25 and 18:15-18. He further emphasized "separation of church and state" by teaching that we should no longer practice an eye for an eye, but that we should "judge not, lest ye be judged(Matthew 7:1)"

Paul also taught settlement out of court, and added the principle of trial by a form of jury(1 Cor, 6), and further pointed out in Romans `12:19 that we should not practice an eye for an eye, but leave vengeance to God.

It was only AFTER Paul taught this precept that he then emphasized letting "every soul be subject to higher powers". The "higher powers" did execute wrath. That was their job. It was their job because the servants of God could not do so for their own interests.

But the "higher powers" could not execute wrath in their own interest either. Their power of "wrath" was given ONLY after the people had tried other avenues of correction.

In fact, the "execution of wrath" was their only defined function, NOT the making of "moral" laws that forced people to recognize the needs of others by taxation.

"For this cause(execution of wrath) pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing."

It was in fact the power of the Pharisees to "shut up the kingdom of heaven(Luke 11:52)" to men that Jesus condemned as hypocritical. The right of reach individual to be presumed innocent was to be granted to all the people as a courtesy of law, so that the law itself could not condemn without the right of facing the accuser(Isaiah 50:8).

It is in this all important aspect of law that infinite regress is recognized and honored, and allows the individual the right to live in freedom without condemnation by the presumptions of other humans.

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