3 = 1 ? A maTHEOLOGYcal Meditation [Part Two]

Back to being more serious, I still have to make good on the initial promise of being "semi-serious", so far I was only "semi".

Muslims say, that God is ONE. And I say, Christians believe this just as well. Christians are strictly monotheistic. There is ONLY one God. Pardon me for my scant knowledge of the Islamic concept of God, but my impression is that Islam is in general not saying very much about what sort of "Oneness" this is. Is Islam saying really more than that "one means that He is NOT two, three or any number of many"? Is Islam giving only such a "negative" description of what God is NOT, instead of trying to give some positive information on what God IS? What is the nature of God's Oneness?

There are people who might say, as soon as someone starts with "God is ..." and fills in something for these three dots, whether it is just one word, one sentence or a long book ..., he is already lying and is plain wrong. And to some degree all religions would agree with this opinion.

God is so much greater than any human being could ever hold together in his brain, much less express in the imperfect categories of human language. But what is the Qur'an saying about God's Oneness? What is a Muslim positively thinking if he says "God is one" other than "He is not 'three'"? Could it be that Muslims are putting God in a category too small for the one true God who is much bigger than any of our thoughts will ever be able to fathom?

[These are not rethorical questions, I really would like to see some articles here on the soc.religion.islam newsgroup who will attempt some answer(s) to this.]

Now, Christians believe God has not stayed silent but has spoken and revealed more about Himself and the nature of His Oneness. And this is that - in some sense - He is a commUNITY without being many God's. The unity is so strong that the image of three SEPERATE gods would be much further from the truth than the other danger of having a onesided picture of making Him a 'onedimensional' oneness.

Is the cube of side length 1 meter that I described in Part One more like a "One meter line segment" or more like "Three seperate line segments"? Well, not really like any of those two suggestions. It has more complexity, that is, more 'dimensions' to it.

After thousands of years of philosophy and by now already a hundred years of psychology, sociology etc "man" is still a mystery in many aspects. It is hard for us to even understand ourselves. We can much easier understand things which are 'below us' in terms of complexity.

Therefore, for the sake of argument, let us assume we were 2-dimensional beings living in a plane [x,y-coordinate plane for example] and have the same problem. We can recognize each other and understand quite about about our 2-d life, but truly understanding and grasping we only can 1-dimensional 'objects'. That is what our thinking is comfortable with.

For those 2-dim beings, 'saying "Cube is One"' is true, but if you [as a low-dimensional being] then think of it as "one line segment" then you are very far from the truth since you disregard in your imagination nearly ALL of the cube. [Mathematically: The piece of the cube you are thinking of has volume or "measure" zero and is negligable.]

But if you say the "Cube is three" because it has three independent line segments in the x-, y-, and z-axis direction then you are also thinking only about a tiny part of the cube and disregard most every- thing of it. Furthermore, if you think of those three line segments, just as "unrelated" because they are independent (linearly independent in the language of vector spaces) then you commit another blunder, because you think [as a 2-dim being and only really able to think comfortably about 1-dim entities] of them like three line segment on the same line with distances in between them and those can never be one. That makes the crazy impression of "3 = 1". And you have introduced the blasphemy of "poly-segmentation" and might be called a "poly-objectist".

But everyone should see, how the "Cube is one" and "Cube is three" are both correct when you look at it the right way. We just should not impose our dimension of experience on it. In the higher reality [dimension?] of God, they make perfect sense.

The cube is more than a 'two-dimensional being' could think. But if I am forced to chose among the two given alternatives of "one piece" and "three pieces" then I would have to go for the "one piece" since the cube is surely a unity and not a multiplicity of seperate things.

And that might be one reason that God in His progressive revelation chose to first stress the fact that He is ONE God and not many, because the idolatry of polytheism was the greater danger of going astray. And He left the parts of revelation concerning the nature of this Oneness for later revelation to make plain. So, it really is important to first stress "Cube is One" and then slowly lead the people to more insight and add the other dimension and tell them that the Cube is a trinity, it is

One (object) in three (dimensions).

So, understood, that human being can not even understand themselves completely, will we restrict the reality of God, by what is true in our 'lower dimensional' reality? And if we would concede that God is indeed living in a higher reality [for example outside of space and time, on which Muslims and Christians agree], would a Muslim have to insist that in God's reality it is impossible that there is

One God in three Persons

and would he have to call the Trinity blasphemy if understood in analog to this example of the cube?

Christians are monotheists in the strongest form! No true Christian believes in three gods. Three gods would be blasphemy and every Christian would agree. But this is not what we believe. And could it be that Muslims are in danger to think too 'low' of God's Oneness, just as 2-dim beings would (automatically) think of 'Cube' (which is something they can't really imagine) as a "1-dim thing" when hearing the emphasized expression that "Cube is One"? Mono-segmentism is one 'low' truth of the Cube's oneness, Tri-segmentism is an even worse 'fragmented' view. But the 'segmential trinity' seen in the right relationship of all of its dimensions is the right view of the cube, even if it might never lose its mystery for the 2-dim beings. In the same way, I believe that the Trinity is the only model that makes sense of all the Biblical data and it is logical, when seen in the right light. But also, it still will never lose all its mysteriousness to us, because God's reality is ultimately beyond the grasp of human thinking.

Now, let us slowly work up to the main example I want to present. Let us start with two in one before we go to the more complicated three in one.

Imagine to live in the two-dimensional world (of the xy-plane). In two dimensions, a rectangle (not just the boundary, but filled in) and a circle or disk are two very different shapes. And if we were to live in just two dimensions and that is all we know and then a rectangle and a disc come along and claim to be one and the same "object" and you should believe in the doctrine of Duality, you as most others of those two dimensional beings would just laugh at them and declare them to be crazy.

But do you see that the doctrine of this "Duality" does make sense if you allow just one more dimension? There might even be some religious group of those two dimensional beings who happen to believe in the Duality although they have a hard time making that intelligible to their fellow 2-d'ers ...

Okay, here is the solution, which the 2-d'ers might never completely understand, but you and I are luckily living in 3 dimensions and can only smile at the limited brain power of 2-dimensional beings (as God is maybe sometimes smiling at us in our petty fights).

And for the sake of argument, let us assume, that all the 2-d beings are of rectangular shape. And like in the real world, there are small and large ones, fat ones and tall ones etc. I think you get the gist.

The solution of the mysterious unity of circle and rectangle is the cylinder. The equations for the 'standard' cylinder in 3 dimensions centered at the origin of the coordinate system [I hope I don't lose you now] is [r = radius = 1, h = height = 2 in our example]:

       2     2    2
1 =   r  =  x  + y, 
                                                 2    2
or, if we want to have the filled in cylinder:  x  + y  =< 1

and -1 =< z =< 1 for the height, where "=<" means "less or equal".

Now if this ONE object "passes through" (incarnates into?) the two- dimensional world of the xy-plane in the direction of the z-axis, i.e. we add the parameter t = time and get -1 =< z - t =< 1, then the intersection of the cylinder with the xy-plane would be a circle for times t in the interval [-1,1] and that is what the 2-dimensional congregation of believers would see.

{And for for other times, the cylinder/circle would disappear completely and be unseen, which is somehow similar to our situation today, it seems to me.}

In this setting, at all times apart from some finite time interval of 'circular theophany', or better 'circular cylindrophany' the object would be invisible. [theophany = the visibility of God, apparition of God; so 'circular cylindrophany' which is a word I took the liberty to invent, would be the appearance of a cylinder in a circular shape.]

Now, no doubt you have already seen, that the cylinder might decide to rotate 90 degrees at some time where it is outside the xy-plane and come back at the same place and pass through the xy-plane as a rectangle (of varying size). Each intersection of a cylinder that is perpendicular to its base circle is a rectangle.

Alternatively, the 'object' might decide to only do the circular revelation by the method of projection, i.e. the light of revelation in parallel beams is going to reveal a circular shaddow in the xy-plane. And the beings only used to rectangular shapes are very much awed of it. When this object then also promises that it will come and live among them, this is all too mysterious for them and not well understood by them. How can a circular being live in a rectangular coordinate world? This is absolutely impossible. And then, when this object passes through in this rectangular shape, looking so very much like them and does all sorts of miracles and heals some badly dented rectangles and even some which had been squeezed dead into a purely onedimensional piece of line are resurrected into a two-dimensional rectangular life again, this awesome event does cause quite some uproar in xy-world.

All this has very much confused our 2-dimensional population to the greatest extent and created or changed different religions. Those who believe in many 'objects of worship' (poly-objectists), and have already a whole garden variety of shapes they worship, will have not trouble to incorporate also the circle and rectangles of any form into their "pantheon" of adorable shapes.

And then there are different groups of mono-objectists who agree that the 'polies' have an abominable theory and are idolators. Among these 'monos' are those who believe in the circle only and are stuck in the first revelation completely blind to the events that happened among them. The second group has seen the many miracles of this "rectangle just like them" and has decided to believe ALL that is revealed, and trust the 'object' when the 'object' was saying that it is ONE although it seems to look different at different times.

And then, yet another group comes on the scene quite a bit later after all of this had long happened and they decide to not completely ignore the second revelation. After all, something quite momenteous has happened. And they do believe that the object has done miracles through the hand of this extraordinary rectangle, but they declare the records of all this rectangle has said to be corrupted and it in reality was not the object itself but just some ordinary rectangle who was only a messenger of the object. And they side with the first group who says, that it has been clear from the beginning in the projection revelation that the object is a disc and that is it. So, the third group of 'mono-objectists' just declare that all true worshippers of the true object have always and at all times believed only in the disc and nothing else. In all this, they seemed to have no problem in declaring hundreds of years later without having any evidence and although the eye witnesses had meticulously written down their observations of the rectangular revelation of the 'object' and all it has done and said which was clearly more than any "purely 2-dimensional being" could do or say.

When God reveals His name to Moses, He gave a name that can be translated as "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will (show myself to) be".

The Jews, when confronted with God's new revelation about Himself in Jesus, seem to have changed this name into a different one and seem to translate it now as if He had said: "I will always be ONLY what you thought yesterday that I was". To them we have to say: Do not restrict God to the past and to your understanding of His earlier revelation. Do NOT accept CONTRADICTION, because God will never contradict Himself. He is true to Himself and changes not. But maybe you have not yet seen all that He wanted to show about Himself. Come and see that the new revelation fits in with the old in complete harmony if you take the correct "view point". And even the old prophets announced time and again, that God says: "See, I am about to do something NEW."

God calls us to trust in Him and to accept all that He has revealed and grapple with the parts that look like "difficult, mysterious and illogical" until we understand them. And since He is a God, who created our mind and reasoning capabilities, He expects us to use them and not give up too easily. Thinking about God (= theology) will most likely be the most mind-stretching exercise you ever undertook. Woe to him who thinks he can box God into an "easy concept" and because of it belittles his Creator. Do not think, it should be easier to "understand God" than it is to understand "man", and after thousands of years of philosophy and in more recent time sociology and psychology, "man", the created being, is still a mystery to us. Do you really expect God, the Creator, to not be mysterious?

Jews reject anything that is more than what they had from old times, while Muhammad/Muslims agree God has sent more revelation, but they seem to pick and choose, taking snippets from the old revelation, pieces of the new revelation and fill it up with with a number of ideas of their own. And though there are many "authentic" elements in it, by differently putting them together, they create a very different (image of) God. They base too much on their own limited (human) logic capabilities and say "God can not be what I can not think". To them God says: Submit to all I have revealed about myself and do not limit me by your preconceived understanding of "how God has to be" to make sense to you.

Matheology [[Part 1], [Part 2], [Part Three]]

The Trinity
Answering Islam Home Page