The Inner Way to God (Part 2)

In the last post on Rahner’s inner approach to God by the “pre-apprehension” of being, we discussed the possibility of an encounter with God based on our ‘pressing against’ his infinite being. As we saw, Rahner believes that the best account for God’s real existence is by coming to realize his Infinity—something opposed to our human finitude. We cannot conceptualize God’s fullness. But we can experience it when we find ourselves troubled by our own finitude; and when we realize how finite our lives and actions are in relation to the Infinity beyond us.

In this post, we will get a little more theoretical. (After all, Rahner was a serious philosopher/theologian, and it doesn’t do him justice to take him too lightly.)

There are some valid critiques to Rahner’s position, which we need to look at in order to justly present his theory, and set it in relation to the fuller context of the Catholic faith. And I will try to do that as concisely and clearly as possible.

The first objection might be: “Why does such a ‘pressing against’ the Infinite mean that God must exist? Couldn’t this just be evidence of some other being beyond us and greater than us?”

Most importantly, here, is Rahner’s continual mention of “infinity.” In other words, he is not simply speaking of a being-greater-than-others, but an infinite being. And this is, at least in our Christian faith, part of the definition of God. So pressing against the Infinite (if that is really what is happening) cannot be pressing against anything other than God himself—even if it doesn’t tell us much about his personal character.

A second critique might be: “Doesn’t Rahner’s inner approach to God border dangerously on making man into his own measure (perhaps a la Feuerbach and some other modern atheists)?”

I think this is a legitimate criticism. But I also note that Rahner’s argument can be used in direct rebuttal of a full-on Feuerbachian/atheist response. In other words (for those unfamiliar with Feuerbach and modern atheism), in the Vorgriff auf das Sein, Rahner stresses the fact that this “pre-apprehension” of Infinity is not something we create; but rather something we bring to our experience of the world. Whereas Feuerbach supposed that the idea of God was a mere projection of man’s best qualities into a divine “other,” Rahner wants to maintain a strong sense of man’s finitude, and the absolute reality and existence of the divine “other” over and above man’s relation to him.

For Rahner, man brings this realization of the “I” to all of his encounters with reality. This foundational self-awareness is the “horizon” upon which he experiences the entire world. And this self-awareness continuously presses against an awareness of the Infinity beyond—that is not man. In fact, man-as-man, for Rahner, even relies on this understanding of finitude; the continual longing for an Infinity that is unachievable in human experience. But again, the fundamental response to the criticism itself is that the Vorgriff is something brought to experience, and not the effect thereof nor the projection of any sort of human quality into the realm of eternity.

In the end, I think Rahner’s argument for God from this inner approach is very striking. I think that it offers quite a bit, and augments both cosmological and ontological arguments for God’s existence.

But I think, too, that it must be read with care. And I hope that I have done this—and shown this—in these last two posts.

[Thanks to StMichael for his comments on Part I of this post, which helped in formulating the objections stated here.]

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    # by StMichael - May 29, 2009 at 10:17 AM

    It seems to me that this is merely the possibility of encountering the "otherness" of other people. I don't see that as a convincing proof of the existence of God. There are a number of problems with this: first, while Levinas might develop this further, Derrida uses this same argument to argue for the non-existence of God (the infinite deferral of this encounter). Second, human beings are, at utmost, something like relational beings. This proof makes the separation of me and others into an infinitely distant relationship. I'm not sure that can be truly argued, especially if there is a real possibility for something like a community of persons. Lastly, it doesn't seem to provide anything like a definition of what we ordinarily mean by "God." When I say God, I usually tend to think of something like, at least, a necessarily existent being who underlies and supports the existence of all other beings. I can also conceive of a personal being who has providence over all other beings and sustains moral laws. But, if we take this proof seriously, it supports neither picture and in fact undermines both. If God is absolutely Other, then He cannot be accurately said to be a necessary being - to paraphrase Marion, this makes God to be an "idol." Similarly, this does not merely make God "beyond" language in the Thomistic sense that God is too "full" to be described, but instead makes God to be absolutely irrational. God would be utterly outside any possible descriptor we could give, as utterly foreign to any category of rationality or even possibility of relation.

    While I am sure there are more issues, I hope this presents at least some :)
    I don't want to seem too overtly negative, but I find Rahner's proof to be seriously lacking in light of post-modern contemporary thought.

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    # by StMichael - May 29, 2009 at 10:27 AM

    My last comment (I had forgotten to post it) was on whether Rahner accurately answers Feuerbach. Feuerbach seems to argue that man creates an image of God as a "super-human" being in the most literal sense, as anthropomorphism. Rahner's answer, as you give it, doesn't seem to engage this. If his answer is that we have an existentiale which is a "facet" of our being-in-the-world such that it is a pre-categorical apprehension of "infinity," it would seem to be a stronger claim along Feuerbach's lines than an argument that God really exists. So, take this analogous exchange: "God is a fairy tale. We just tell tales to make ourselves feel better by thinking about a nice white man on a cloud who is an elevated father figure." "No, God is really a necessary feature of our psychology. We will always have a picture of God in our minds, because we always will have an image of an infinite Other."
    "But isn't that merely a stronger restating of my claim that God is merely psychological and not really existent?"
    "Of course not, because God is always present in my relations in the world, my comportments with my projects."
    "But that doesn't seem to be a serious disagreement with my position. If we take into account something like evolutionary biology, we might be able to argue that totemism or something else made it psychologically advantageous to engage in this inflation of ego to infinity. God would then not merely be a psychological creation, but a psychological necessity."
    "But God isn't merely psychologically necessary! He's really present to us. This allows the pre-apprehension."

    At this point, one would need to show that this pre-apprehension is somehow supported by a really existent Infinite Other. How we could do this is anyone's guess. But a phenomenological analysis of transcendental structure of Dasein doesn't seem to support those arguments.

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    # by Andrew Haines - May 29, 2009 at 5:06 PM


    I would be foolish to try and reply too much to your comments regarding post-modern thought and its bearing on the Rahner argument. I am no student of Levinas or Derrida, and feel that any attempt to reply intelligently in that area would prove otherwise.

    Nevertheless, I do think that your thoughts regarding an encounter with an "other" hit on a sensitive portion of Rahner's thought. The basis of the pre-apprehension of being, though (at least in my understanding), is that categorial relations end up faltering in light of the Infinite 'encountered' in the Vorgriff. In other words, the pre-apprehension of being is precisely the basis for the finitude of all categorial encounters; and our continual pressing against the "others" of categorial experience shows them to be precisely limited. Thus, when you say that our relation to human "others" is somehow made "infinitely distant" because of man's fundamental transcendent character (in Rahner's terms), it seems to me that quite the opposite occurs. Namely, that since "others" are shown to be finite, our relationship to them becomes quite accessible.

    As far as Feuerbach goes, like I said in the post, I do think that's a bit trickier of a position to defend against. I'm not sure if I followed your hypothetical narrative all that well, but your final conclusion—that "one would need to show that this pre-apprehension is somehow supported by a really existent Infinite Other"—seems to be accurate. And, again I think you're right that this is a real challenge.

    But, in the end, I think Rahner's argument has a lot of value. And although it may not be a sufficiently satisfying "proof" for God, it does offer a revolutionary and insightful set of terms to operate by in future discussions.