Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Mar/14

17

The trinity is incoherent

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I quite like BBC Radio 4′s In Our Time. But the most recent episode was on the Trinity. You can listen to online. Most of the time the host has scholars who are there to illuminate the educated public on some fascinating topic. But in this case it seems clear that  no one has any idea what they are talking about. The problem here is not the scholars, it is that after nearly 2,000 years no one understands the Trinity well enough to speak about it coherently. This brings to mind Wittgenstein’s phrase, Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

5 comments

  • Greg Pandatshang · March 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Whatever do you mean? The meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity is quite clear. It is: “Sit down and shut up. You’ll believe what I tell you to.”

  • Heaventree · March 18, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Frank Ramsey’s follow-up to Tractatus 7 is relevant in this context as well: “What we can’t say we can’t say, and we can’t whistle it either.”

  • WmarkW · March 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I care not a whit about doctrines like Trinity.

    But the central Christian message, that we’re all imperfect and need to forgive others and do good works for the less fortunate, is a good one.

  • Cephus · March 19, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    If Christians followed Wittgenstein, we’d never hear a word from them. It isn’t just that they don’t understand the concept of the Trinity, it’s that the concept of the Trinity is wholly incoherent. They think it’s part of their Big Book of Imaginary Nonsense, therefore they have to walk in delusional lock-step, even if they haven’t got a clue what they’re actually talking about.

    The same is true of virtually all parts of theology, Christian and otherwise.

  • Greg Pandatshang · March 20, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Having had a chance to listen to this now, I think the problem is that Bragg had on theologians rather than historians (or maybe the odd anthropologist with something interesting to say) on to discuss the Trinity.

    His guests made no menton of the concept of trikāya in Mahāyāna Buddhism, despite the striking similarity. For Mahāyānists, the Buddha has three “bodies”, viz

    the unlimited, universal body (dharmakāya) = the Father
    the ecstatic vision body (or, more literally, the sexual body) (sambhogakāya) = the Holy Ghost
    the worldly manifestation body (nirmāṇakāya) = the Son

    There is one crucial difference between these concepts: nirmāṇakāya seems to correspond only to the worldly body of Jesus during his human life on Earth. But Christians believe that the Son was eternally existent from the beginning, before and after the incarnation.

    I was also disappointed that none of Bragg’s guests made any mention of Margaret Barker’s view that the Christian Trinity is simply a continuation of early Hebrew polytheism (the political centre had long since introduced monotheistic reforms, but the people in the sticks (e.g. Galilee) maintained some of the old beliefs). The early Jewish trinity would have been El Elyon, the father god; Yahweh, his son, the lord of Israel (one notes that Jesus is never given the appellation Son of Yahweh or Son of the Lord); and Asherah, the woman (seems to be a rather generic female character; she could be depicted as wife or as mother). Of course, for the ancient Jews, there was none of this mealy-mouthery about a triune God; they simply believe in more than one god.

    The most pressing question about the intellectual history of the Trinity is how the Holy Spirit ever came to be considered a separate person. For Barker, a direct line can be drawn from Asherah to Sophia Wisdom to the Holy Spirit. I find it very plausible that the Holy Spirit is essentially a feminine character whose human-like traits have been bleached into abstraction, plus a very thin veneer of New Testament terminology. Note that (at least one of) the authors of the Koran thought that the Trinity was supposed to be God, Jesus, and Mary. Perhaps they were not simply ignorant of Christian doctrine.

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