Monday, February 10, 2014

Epistemological Synecdoche

“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Ok, so the New Testament of the Christian Bible (as opposed to to the Middle Aged Testament of the Javarkin Tome) has the idea that God is love mentioned in multiple places.  One of them says the bit quoted above.  In my time on this earth, this concept is probably the mainstream religious concept I've seen the most, and the most fervent, push back against.

I was going to do this in more abstract ways, to create a general framework for understanding that could then be applied to the specific case.  After all, I'm not a Christian; the general is of more interest and use to me than the specific.

But fuck that, this is why I've got the matter on my mind, I'll start with that and we can generalize later.

"born of God" isn't the problem.  People can debate over whether or not people are "born of God" without the push back that this gets.

Where it gets the hard push back is generally this, "Everyone who loves ... knows God."

Now first off, it is important to note the context.  This is from communication between Christians.  This isn't saying, "Well you're really a Christian because you love."  This isn't saying, "Deep down you know that my religion is right."  This is saying, "See those loving people over there?  They're not part of THEM in some US vs THEM division."  This is even more significant because it's in a letter that's in part about heresy: divisions within Christianity itself.

To, in a letter discussing that, bring up this catch all statement where all other concerns are secondary is significant.

Context over, "Everyone who loves ... knows God."  "God is love"

God is love.  I am a blogger.  God is not just love.  I am not just a blogger.

If God were just love then the idea of heresy could be thrown out along with the whole of the Christian Bible.  Generally speaking Christians do not believe God is just love.  That's why the life and teachings of Jesus matter to them.  That's why they have a holy book, that's why there's more than three words (God is love) to their belief system.

But, "Everyone who loves ... knows God," tells us something important.

To know that I am a blogger is not to know me.  There are many other bloggers who are nothing like me.  I'd like to think that it's significant.  If you're reading this you probably find it significant.  But it is not, as Santa from Rise of the Guardians would say, my center.

But to love is to know God.  That means that Love is God's center.*  Love is such a central component of God that to love is to know Him.

Think about that, you don't know His story, you don't know His name, you don't know His priorities, you don't know His rules, you don't know His actions, you don't know His feelings, you don't know His family, you don't know His thoughts, you don't know His anything.  You don't even know that He exists.  But you know this one part of who he is, without even knowing it is a part of a larger entity (like knowing London without knowing there is such a thing as England, the UK, the World, the Solar System, the Galaxy, the Local Galactic Group, or the Virgo Supercluster, the Local Superclusters, or the Universe) and knowing that part is enough to know the whole.

This is claiming not only that love is part of God, but that love is a fundamental part of God.  Love is THE fundamental part of God.  Love is such a fundamental part of God that it is the only thing you need to know (well, technically do) to know God.  Know this one thing and you know.  Know everything but this one thing and you don't know at all.

That may seem more I Corinthians than I John, but that's the message.

If you love then you get (understand, not receive) God; if you know everything (else) there is to know about God but you do not love, you don't know God.  Love is only a part of God, but it is such a fundamentally important part that it's the only part you need in order to know the whole.

This is epistemological synecdoche.  To know a part is to know the whole.

This was, is, and will continue to be a radical idea.  That you can know something without ever actually knowing even more than one aspect of it exists.

But there it is, plain as day.  Fucking ἀγάπη, if you do it, if you ἀγαπῶν, you know God.  And let us be totally fucking clear here, Love is what you do.  This is ἀγάπη we're talking here.  It means charity.  It means alms for fuck's sake.  Alms.  Anyone claiming that giving alms is an internal emotional state has their head shoved so far up their own ass that they can see out their mouth.  It means showing affection, acting in affection, it also means putting up with people (even though they grate on you) and it means tolerance.

If you know fun, you know Jack Frost.  Whosoever ἀγαπῶν knows God.

Now, is this true?  Actually, forget that.  I'm not talking about theological questions.  I'm talking about knowledge.  Here's the question: Can you know a whole by experiencing only a part?  Can you truly γινώσκει something merely by participating in some smaller part of it?  Is epistemological synecdoche even possible?

Can the whole be encapsulated in a proper subset?

I'm the one who argued that you can know Twilight by grasping one particular scene.

You don't know everything about Twilight, that scene doesn't even demonstrate that Edward is a vampire.  But know that scene and you know Twilight.

The knowledge is incomplete, but it's there.  Part for the whole.  If all the rest of the book were lost and that scene were all that remained, future scholars would have a pretty good understanding of the relationship between Edward and Bella, which is what the book is about.

If it works for a book, why not an ineffable being that may or may not exist and may or may not have ἀγάπη as one of its component parts?


And that, in the end, is the point.  Epistemological synecdoche is a thing.

It doesn't say γινώσκει πάγχυ τὸν θεόν.

All who are loving both are born of God and know God.
All who are loving both are born of God and know God in totality.

Is it possible to have essential (but incomplete) knowledge of the whole by experiencing one of the parts in isolation?

My answer is, "Yup."

If one accepts that God is love, and accepts that love is the most important thing that God is, then I don't see why it doesn't follow that knowing love means knowing God.

Of course a hell of a lot of people don't accept those things.

To go to my earlier example of Twilight.  Twilight is the story of a relationship.  I think it's generally accepted that the story of the relationship is the most important part of what Twilight is.  (As opposed to, say, a --presumably bad-- description of what it's like to own a 1953 Chevrolet Advance Design, which Twilight also is.)  To know the relationship is to know Twilight.  So I have argued in the past, so I still believe.


One final note on the Bible verse, some people claim that this is saying non-Christians can't love.  It's not.  If you ignore context and word order and a few other things you can kind of make that argument provided you have no scruples.

The context is about how to know God and the answer is love.  If you switch that --if you make the question become how to love and the answer be God-- then that would be something more sinister.

The word order is that love comes first.  Do love = know God.  Don't love = don't know God.

Logically the two statements form necessary and sufficient conditions and so "to love" and "to know God" are equivalent.  So you can switch them and get, "To not know God is to not love," sounds pretty damning right?  But what it means to know God here is undefined and what it means to love is not so you end up right back where you started: I know what love is, anyone who does it knows God.

Also that "everyone" from the quote, really does mean everyone.  I've checked.  So it means that it doesn't matter how they came to love (if it involved a religion, no religion, a wombat, it totally does not matter) because all get included.  Anyone who loves, regardless of what led them to do that, knows God.

Of course the simplest way is to break down by case.
Either the Christian God exists or it doesn't.
Case 1: It exists.  Everyone who loves (once again, everyone means regardless of religion or lack thereof) knows God.  None of them are on team THEM, they're all part of us.
Case 2: It doesn't exist.  The passage says that something that doesn't exist is something that does exist.  (nonexistent god is very much existent love.)  Contradiction.  the passage is gibberish.
Conclusion: In neither case does it say that non-Christians are incapable of love.

*  Fun is Jack's
 Wonder is Santa's
 Hope is Bunny's
 Memory is Tooth's
 Imagination(?) is Sandy's


  1. If you love then you get (understand, not receive) God

    You grok God?

  2. Also, this should be a Slacktiverse post.

    And I want to know what your center is. And mine. Maybe a good open thread topic?

  3. And this goes along with the things discussed in my covenant group yesterday; people had so much doubt and uncertainty and incompleteness in their ideas and understandings, but everyone came back to human connection and love as the main way we perceive the divine.

    And I gave Les Miserables a shoutout: "To love another person is to see the face of God."

    I also said the gods or God or whatever is irrelevant morality. If God is Love this is probably not the case, except in the sense that you don't need God, just Love, but you have God, because God is Love...

  4. This is rather beautiful. :-)

  5. It's a bit embrace-and-extend, isn't it? "You know that great feeling you get when you love someone? That's our specific sort of God, that is!"

  6. Where faith dies, love continues to burn so darkness cannot have the final victory. Is it our love or His? It's a pointless question. There is only love. -Richard Beck on Thérèse of Lisieux

  7. *standing ovation*

    Things like this are reminders of everything good about Christianity. Beautifully written.

  8. This was fascinating and rather lovely. I have to ask, though: can only humans love? That would seem tragic to me, if so -- it would suggest to me that humans were utterly isolated on this beautiful planet -- and why would a separate "God" do that to us? I find I would prefer to believe that, in all in its own way, everything -- animals, rocks, trees, waterfalls, insects, oceans, the atmosphere, Gaia, the universe, *everything* -- can also love. Does that sound viable?

    1. Animals I'm with you on. Definitely love there. Rocks I have my doubts about. Though I am well aware that there are many who disagree.