Chapter 1. The View from Nowhere
The debate between science and religion is often portrayed as a debate over “causes” when it actually is a clash between “communities” and the human question of “why” we exist. Religious community answers the why; this rivals the scientific community, which looks only at “objects” and rejects the why question. While some have tried to show God is the cause of objects in the world, other philosophers—from the medieval thinkers to Kant—instead speak of God as necessary being or a transcendent subject that gives reason to our existence. These philosophical solutions may not be satisfactory unless God also is found in a religious community, where persons as subjects relate to God and each other. Humans cannot obtain an absolute “view from nowhere”; thus “the community is the real presence of God among us.” Using the theme of “faces” to stand for encounters between subjects, the lectures explore the God question with the topics of “I,” “you,” and the question “why?”
Chapter 2. The View from Somewhere
Because God is revealed through persons, the idea of the human “person” as a subjective self must be reconciled with the “human being” as a biological existence. Scientific facts about biological humans must be accepted, though reductionist approaches are suspect. Even sciences that prefer complex explanations for language, social emotions, and other human qualities cannot touch the subjective need for meaning and the “why” of existence. Although science sees humans as entirely part of nature, the “a priori” philosophical approach employed in idealism and religious thought sees humans as also separate from nature. In trying to explain morality, science leaves out the “radically different intentionality of the human response.” Intentionality is evidence of human transcendence and the mystery of the human “self,” which is an impenetrable, first-person perspective on the world. The view from somewhere is the “I.” In turn, personhood is relational; the person asks why in relation to I and you. Freedom arises from the relations of I, you, and why. Whereas science may erases the face from the world, the face endures as “the light of subjectivity” in God, man, culture, and nature.
Chapter 3. Where Am I?
In the Torah, God said, “I am that I am.” This suggests the subjectivity of the universe and persons. The person of God in biblical tradition parallels the human notion of person, and thus the divine and human presence in the world are similar—a source of freedom, self-consciousness, and subjectivity that cannot be pinpointed. “Freedom, action and accountability are properties of the person, and it is only when we see God as a person that we will understand that this is true also of him.” Naturally, God’s subjective agency is more mysterious than human agency. Still, human agency is not subject to complete scientific determination. There are three kinds of why: scientific, reasoned, and the why of understanding. Understanding is like comprehending a melody beyond notes. This makes humans a “kind” in nature that is beyond simple biological classification. Thus, the face is what makes subject evident in a world of objects.
Chapter 4. The Face of the Person
The Old and New Testaments speak of the “face of God,” and the role of the face is the topic of the remaining lectures. The human face has differences from animal faces, despite Darwin’s attempt to compare them. The human face plays a distinct role in human communication and human love. It powers are in the lips, eyes, smiles, laughter, and pain. It is a source of human literature, art, and imagination. Unlike animals, human faces “mean” things to each other, either sincerely or deceptively. The human face announces the intention of the human body. Humans have also invented the tradition of the mask to alter or hide the face, knowing its power in interpersonal relations. From the human face, we have developed the sense of “boundaries” to protect the integrity and privacy of self, feelings, and sexuality. Humans created sacred boundaries such as marriage, but break them with pornography. This conflict gave rise to the social sense of pleasure and shame, a theme in all religions and literature and an important acknowledgment of virtue and the “sacred” in human society.
Chapter 5. The Face of the Earth
The earth also has a face that can be desecrated. As a person, God spoke of the world as a temple for his presence. The world is full of sacred aspects, and these become targets of the negative human urge to desecrate. This is iconoclasm. The idea of sacred places is universal to human experience and religions, from natural sites to monuments, temples, and graves. Such places represent memories of suffering, sacrifice, revelation, or human prayer. The sacred helps humans come to terms with death. Destroying such places, as has been the modern impulse in atheism, modernist architecture, and consumer utilitarianism, ignores the subjective face of the earth. The sacred fills both religious and secular literature, and it fueled the environmental movement. Unfortunately, “gadget architecture,” graffiti, crass commercial signage, and other trends are iconoclastic, ignoring the interpersonal nature of the sacred. Beauty arises from interpersonal relations. Beauty can be defaced by rejecting that subjective reality and ignoring the public sense of the sacred.
Chapter 6. The Face of God
The loneliness of the human experience is universal and gives rise to every human being’s ultimate question of why. It is the question of God’s presence. Every attempt to explain this has logical and metaphysical difficulties. Thus, the leap of faith, spiritual detachment, and the testimony of “alienation” are shared by Western and Eastern religion. Returning to the premise of the first chapter, the best solution comes when “we regard the experience of community as a preparation for the experience of God, and the experience of God as a revelation granted in response to it.” Community recognizes the integrity of the other. It also recognizes that everyone enters the world with constraints and obligations: the filial bond to parents, for a start. Evolutionary psychology tries to explain the source of community morals, but they have a deeper source in the sacred, which arises in everything from family to sex and the fact of death. Modern culture is in a “full flight from the sacred.” Desecration is everywhere. As an alternative, human virtue, altruism, and gift-giving point to divine grace. The pursuit of the face of God continues to be the human antidote. The lectures recommend the answer found in the Christian community. The postmodern world is not at ease with itself. Finding the faces anew is a way forward.