negative theology

‘Negative’ and ‘Positive’ are opposite terms, just as ‘negate’ and ‘posit’ are.

I remember the first time I heard someone use the words ‘posit’ (a statement seeking to suggest/describe what the nature of a thing/idea/etc. is) and ‘negate’ (a statement seeking to suggest/describe what the nature of a thing/idea/etc. is not).

Often referred to as the via negativa, negative theology seeks to use negation (the act of negating) to know about God by establishing what God could or must not be.  For example…

God:

  • is not me – why not start by establishing that I highly suspect that I am not God.
  • is not any other person – other persons (like me) are derivative beings, their principle of existence is not in themselves, but are derived from an other (mummy/daddy immediately, presumably stars eventually).
  • is not any other thing in the uni[multi]verse – all things ultimately derive from an ‘other’, leading to the next negation…
  • is not a derivative being – God’s principle of existence cannot be in an ‘other’ (even if one repeats the inane phrase ‘…but who made god then?’ til one is blue in the face – or until they follow the regress to where it obviously leads, which ever comes first).

Some more (quick) ones:

God is not:

  • finite
  • created
  • visible
  • divisable
  • (fully) knowable

6 thoughts on “negative theology”

  1. The ancient Indian Wedic tradition describes the essence of Being in negative ways: It is not this, it is not that etc. The reason for this is that, ultimately, Being is experiential, as opposed to conceptual or cognitive. By using the negative one cannot focus on the words and confuse them with the essence of Being.

  2. Ian,
    Not sure what you’re implying (if anything?).
    Simon,
    Very interesting – I’d resonate a lot with that, though I’d take a more ‘both/and’ approach (that God or ‘ultimate Being’ is both experiential and can be –partially/imperfectly– thought-about and/or conceived).

  3. Dale,

    Yes, and I thought you might point out the obvious falw in what I have said, which is that “the essence of being” is actually a positive description of….’it’. But as it happens I think it a rather good positive decription!

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