Node your homework

'God is love' could well be one of the defining religious quotes of the past century. Whenever one passes a church, participates in a service, or even enters a theological debate with someone adhering to a theistic faith, this phrase could well pop up. This is, of course, all well and good, assuming that there is some meaning to the phrase; but if it is, to the contrary, meaningless, then its only purpose is to provide an interesting sentence filler. So the question we must ask ourselves is, whether or not we can consider the phrase 'God is love' meaningful or not.

A.J. Ayer would immediately argue that a statement such as 'God is love', or, in fact, any statement regarding a deity, is meaningless. He was a member of the Vienna Circle, a group of philosophers who forwarded the view of 'logical positivism'. This was the view that a statement can only be meaningful if it can be verified empirically (i.e., they can be verified via sensory experience and seen to be true), or be analytically true (in that their truthfulness or falsehood is implied, i.e. "all bachelors are male" – our definition of 'bachelor' is 'unmarried man’, thus this is true). This is the verification principle.

As one can imagine, we cannot empirically prove that God is 'love'. Unless God were to directly reveal Himself to us, and unless we could determine what love is (remembering G.E. Moore's naturalistic fallacy – how does one describe love, and how does one therefore know what it is?), we could not empirically prove that God is love. Likewise, the name 'God' does not automatically mean love, hence it is not analytically true, either; hence, Ayer would claim that this is a meaningless statement.

Bryan Macgee was not convinced by the Vienna Circle’s arguments, claiming that logical positivism would prove itself meaningless. Rather, one cannot use the verification principle to prove the verification principle. Hence it is meaningless. The verification principle cannot be empirically proven; a universal statement is by its very nature unverifiable, and such a statement as "the verification principle will show whether a statement is meaningful or not" is a universal one, hence is meaningless. Macgee famously claimed, "People began to realise that this glittering scalpel was, in operation after operation, killing the patient" (where the patient was meaning in religious language). So, through logical positivism, the statement is meaningless – but if the verification principle itself is flawed, then this is not the case.

Further opposition to the statement "God is love" being meaningful is given from falsification, as advocated by Karl Popper and Anthony Flew. In Flew's "Theology and Falsification", we are asked the question: "What would have to occur... for you to disprove the love or existence of God?" Flew claims that believers in a statement must also be capable of believing in the possibility of its counter being true; for example, if I believe that the sky will fall tomorrow, I must also believe that there is a possibility of the sky not falling. However, Flew claims, this is not usually the case; someone who believes in God is unlikely to believe that there may well not be. One who believes a statement wholly like this, without allowing any possibility of its opposite, is said to have a 'blic'.

So, moving to "God is love". A religious believer may claim this, prompting Flew to ask them to explain what this means. They, naturally, cannot, and may resort to a statement such as "God's love is incomprehensible to us." Flew would then ask them if they could, if necessary, believe that God was not love. They, again, could not; and it is through this inability to empirically prove by falsification (proving something by saying it is not some other thing) that leads Falsificationists to claim that "God is love" would be meaningless.

Aquinas took the opposing view. He termed this the 'via negativa', and argued that one simply cannot describe something wholly in what it is not. Taking a room as an example; we cannot determine the exact contents of this room solely through falsification, as there are a nearly infinite number of possible objects that could (not) be in there. There may very well be nothing at all!

Instead, Aquinas forwarded his own theory that one could use positive language to describe God, instead of only negative. He called this the via positiva, and it is also known as the Doctrine of Analogy. Put simply, one can not speak of God using univocal or equivocal language; univocal language could mean slightly different things in a different context (which is unacceptable), despite them being roughly the same, and likewise equivocal language would be totally different in another context, (again, unacceptable). Instead, it is through analogical language that we can speak about God.

Analogical language may be limited, however to Aquinas it has two major strengths. Firstly, it is positive – hence the 'via positiva'. Secondly, it reconciles the concept of a 'wholly simple' God with the limitations of human language. It sits between univocal and equivocal language because it provides a relationship between language and the concepts it attempts to emcompass.

Analogical language may be either attributive or proportional. Analogy of Attribution means the belief that all attributes come directly from God. Love, for example, is an attribute that is God-given; if I say that Aquinas is good, that goodness is god-given, and so if Aquinas is love, God is also love, as he must have an attribute in order to be able to bestow it. Hence, we can use the Analogy of Attribution to claim "God is love" to be meaningful; God is love, insofar as any one of us is love, analogically speaking.

The Analogy of Proportion, on the other hand, claims that a thing is good, loving, happy, etcetera, in proportion to what it means to be good, loving, happy, etcetera. A thing could be called 'love' if it is fully what it means to be love – in other words, not falling short of its intended nature. If God is Love, then it must be meaningful, for God cannot possibly fall short of His nature. God is Love, therefore; but this brings with it the downside that we do not know quite what it means for this to be so. While it is meaningful, we do not actually know the meaning.

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