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“Good faith” and KTL’s “dead god”

August 7, 2010

Reading over KTL’s questions about past love once again, and wondering about the nature and identity of the “dead god” to whom he refers, I noted his suggestion of the god’s, at least temporary, irresistibility:

“and being unable to resist but not having everything to give you promise it the future.”

Now it is conventional to call the god of love irresistible. Lyricists, Troubadors, Petrarchan poets, and the popular song writers of our day have so named him again and again. But surely, even his irresistibility granted, something so deliberate as “a promise” cannot be extracted merely by a god’s irresistible power. Doesn’t “a promise” imply some kind of free human response and therefore and only therefore the promiser’s assumption of responsibility to that power?

Assuming, then, that this promise is a free act, I would like to propose a possible solution of the dilemma KTL poses.

It seems likely that some powers are essentially respond-able-to, and some are not. Certainly I may try in good faith to speak (or promise, or keep a promise) to a being who cannot hear or understand my words (though only if I suppose that he can). But trying is not doing, even if there is something noble in the effort. (Isn’t the very intention of a speech such as a promise premised on some essential respond-able-to-ness of the one to whom the promise is made?)

Furthermore, if I try to promise a promise (and try to keep that promise) which premises not just any respond-able-to-ness, but a divine respond-able-to-ness in the power to which I am trying to promise, and if in fact there is no such respond-able-to god as my promise premises, then I am in an analogous dilemma. I may try to promise and try to keep my promise, but I will not succeed, though there may be something noble in the effort.

Nevertheless, if such a promise has been “made” to a god who is not such a god as to listen to or respond to or otherwise hold one to a promise, what then? (This, I imagine, is what KTL is asking.) Was not the promise made in “good faith”? Can it simply dissolve into nothing?

Well, a promise is also made with secondary listeners in mind (and is in a real sense a promise to them as well as to the primary listener): the witnesses. Even if his promise was made in secret, the promiser himself is such a witness. A witness might hold one to one’s promise even though the one-to-whom-the-promise-was-made is absent or otherwise engaged. Such a witness might act as a fitting proxy to whom one’s promise might be kept; as one might fittingly pay a debt owed to a dead man not to his corpse but his heir. But when a man promises to a god, can a human witness hope to supply, as a fitting proxy, the special respond-able-to-ness of a divine being? Or hope, with authority, to assert the inherited demands of a god who, for whatever reason, does not assert them? clearly not—not even if the promiser himself, whether out of a sense of loyalty or even to maintain his own integrity, try and assert the rights of the absent god. (Though we may admire him for trying.)

However, if another god (a truly respond-able-to and responsible one) should happen to overhear the promiser’s speech and recognize the “good faith” of his intention, this overhearing god might effectually take up the promise which was made in ignorance and confusion, and offer it back the promiser as renewable in spirit and truth.

Paul at the Areopagus: “He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17)

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010 7:17 am

    I certainly enjoyed this post, not only for its own obvious merit, but also since it compelled me to attend with greater care to what Amos has already written. In typical fashion, I offer only tardily a digression passing itself off as a response over at Seynsgeschichte:

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