59. God and Privacy

To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek Him the greatest adventure, to find Him the greatest human achievement. – St. Augustine

Assume, for the moment, that God exists. Can we fall in love with God? I would like to explore this question by examining love and its relationship to a certain vision of privacy. As we will see below, I have a challenge to pose that you might find interesting.

Charles Fried, in his book  An Anatomy of Values (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1970), argues that love, along with friendship and trust, is only possible if privacy exists.  Judith DeCew explains: “Fried, for example, defines privacy narrowly as control over information about oneself. He extends this definition, however, arguing that privacy has intrinsic value, and is necessarily related to and fundamental for one’s development as an individual with a moral and social personality able to form intimate relationships involving respect, love, friendship and trust. Privacy is valuable because it allows one control over information about oneself, which allows one to maintain varying degrees of intimacy. Indeed, love, friendship and trust are only possible if persons enjoy privacy and accord it to each other. Privacy is essential for such relationships on Fried’s view, and this helps explain why a threat to privacy is a threat to our very integrity as persons. By characterizing privacy as a necessary context for love, friendship and trust, Fried is basing his account on a moral conception of persons and their personalities, on a Kantian notion of the person with basic rights and the need to define and pursue one’s own values free from the impingement of others. Privacy allows one the freedom to define one’s relations with others and to define oneself. In this way, privacy is also closely connected with respect and self respect.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

So according to Fried privacy is the ability to control personal information.  If we can control what goes out to the world then the voluntary relinquishing of information to another becomes meaningful.  This sharing of personal information is intimacy. When we start a friendship we give a little; as the relationship grows we give more.  The levels of friendship are in many ways defined by the fact that someone chooses to let us in on something.  We feel privileged when someone confides in us and this act of trust has meaning precisely because it was a voluntary revelation.  Naturally, the same dynamic would be present in the development of a loving relationship. Indeed, in such a relationship we would expect to see even more intimacy and trust.

Now St. Augustine claims that to fall in love with God is the greatest of romances. But can we fall in love with God in any meaningful sense if God is all knowing?  If God is all knowing presumably he knows everything about what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will do. But then can there be a meaningful sharing of personal information with Him? It is not that we come to share some information with God over whose revelation we have control; God already knows everything so what we “reveal” is actually no revelation at all.  But if this is the case then our privacy, in Fried’s sense, would disappear and with it a necessary condition for intimacy, friendship, and love.

I have formulated the following argument based on these insights:


Premise 1: If intimacy is to have meaning then privacy must exist.

Premise 2: In our relationship with God we have no privacy since God knows everything about us.

Therefore, any claim about being intimate with God has no meaning.

From this argument we can move to another:


Premise 1: If we have a loving relationship with God then we must be intimate with God.

Premise 2: Any claim about being intimate with God has no meaning (from argument 1).

Therefore, we can’t enter into a loving relationship with God.

It would seem, given the parameters of this post so far, that in order to enter into a meaningful relationship with God we would need to delimit God’s knowledge in order to gain some control over our personal information. William James argued for this point in his book A Pluralistic Universe: we would have to have a finite God if we are to have a real relationship with Him. We would need to have something that is really ours; and the condition for this is that God, too, would have an exterior realm that is opaque to Him. This opaqueness would be the condition for the possibility of both foreignness and the meaningful revelations of intimacy. Of course, most people, especially monotheists of various types, would not accept this line of thinking: any being who is not omniscient is not God! Nonetheless, a dilemma can be formed based on this constellation of ideas:

If God is omniscient then we can’t enter into a loving relationship with Him (because He knows everything thereby violating the privacy upon which loving relationships depend).

If God is not omniscient then He cannot be the God of the monotheistic faiths (since most monotheists think God is all good, all powerful, and all knowing).

Either God is omniscient or He is not.

Therefore, either we can’t enter into a loving relationship with God or God as conceived of by most monotheists doesn’t exist.

This conclusion will not be accepted by theists who think that God is omniscient and that we can enter into loving relations with Him. But how exactly can the dilemma be avoided? Is the above account of privacy wrong? Are there ways of loving that transcend the notion of intimacy as a sharing of personal information based on privacy? St. Thomas Aquinas argued that our love of God is not be construed as the same kind of love we experience in human to human relations. Rather, our love of God is analogous to human love insofar as it is both similar and dissimilar to it. Is there a way to employ this analogical approach to discover a new meaning of the phrase falling in love with God? What would this meaning be? And could it be that God cannot know everything about us if we are truly free? God, to be sure, knows everything that is logically possible for God to know. But perhaps it is not logically possible for God to know all our thoughts if we are truly free beings. If this is the case then perhaps a certain degree of privacy is consistent with God’s omniscience. In any case, these questions pose a challenge to those who would argue that God is both all knowing and that falling in love with Him is indeed “the greatest of romances”.

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