This coincidence interests me:
Divine hiddenness in one form or another looms large in these theologies, but God’s love and existence remain unchallenged. The idea that divine hiddenness counts against the existence of God is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon.11
In the late nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche remarked that it would be quite cruel of God, if God existed, to leave human beings wondering and debating about how to secure salvation, thus tacitly suggesting a connection between a certain kind of divine hiddenness and disbelief in the God of traditional Christianity.12 At the very end of the nineteenth century, Robert Anderson, reflecting on the persistent silence of God, drew an explicit connection between divine silence and difficulty maintaining faith in God:
“It is no novel experience with men that Heaven should be silent. But what is new and strange and startling is that the silence should be so absolute and prolonged; that through all the changing vicissitudes of the Church’s history for nearly two thousand years that silence should have remained unbroken. This it is which tries faith, and hardens unfaith into open infidelity.” infidelity. (Anderson 1897: 62–3)
Nevertheless, clear and explicit challenges to God’s existence on the basis of divine hiddenness are, at best, few and far between until the twentieth century.13
What shift in theological understanding entered the collective unconscious such that, beforehand, the popular mind was unconcerned with this question? Is this a causal factor in the pervasive fatalistic uselessness we can observe manifesting in young men across the political and cultural spectrum? I’m approaching this from the Arminian assumption that beliefs have real effects and are not merely predetermined ephemera, so the debate between pro-civilizationists’ effortful control vs. anti-civilizationists’ bronze age gorilla mindset will be held irrelevant for the time being.
The twentieth century witnessed an explosion of interest in the arts and across a variety of academic disciplines in the theme of divine hiddenness.14 The final three decades in particular saw a tremendous increase in scholarly attention devoted to the topic. Among the more important books and articles discussing the theological significance of divine hiddenness (under some construal or other), often with attention to the challenge posed thereby to religious faith, we might list Samuel Terrien’s The Elusive Presence (1978), Samuel Balentine’s The Hidden God (1983), Thomas V. Morris’s “The Hidden God” (1988), G. Tom Milazzo’s The Protest and the Silence (1991), and J. L. Schellenberg’s agenda-setting Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (1993).15 By the century’s close divine hiddenness had become the foundation of a powerful family of arguments for the conclusion that God does not exist, and a variety of now standard responses were beginning to emerge.
The problem of divine hiddenness, which I will present in detail in Chapter 2, ranks alongside the problem of evil as one of the two most important and widely discussed reasons on offer for disbelieving in God. As we will see, however, the problem depends for its traction on contestable theological assumptions. Accordingly, one might just as easily take the problem not as a referendum on the existence of God, but rather on the viability of certain ways of understanding the nature of God and God’s attributes.
After noting the centrality of divine hiddenness to Israelite faith, Samuel Balentine comments that “[b]oth experiences [i.e., the experience of divine presence and the experience of divine hiddenness] derive from the nature of God himself.”16 If true, this suggests that the key to addressing philosophical problems about divine hiddenness is not to treat the phenomenon as an anomaly, but rather to treat it as a natural result of God living out the divine life in relation to us and the rest of creation. Treating it this way will steer us away from the usual quest for potential benefits that human beings might derive from divine hiddenness and toward a theory about the attributes of God, and particularly about the love of God and the way in which it is manifested to humans, that makes room for divine hiddenness in its various forms as a natural outgrowth of who and what God is rather than of what God is doing to serve human needs and desires.
The Hiddenness of God
I have a strong suspicion that God was secularized in a way similar to how Heaviside describes Q-anon as secularizing Satan:
Trying to keep this as short as possible, there are two points I would make about the Q phenomenon.
1) Military intelligence has had sexual blackmail on top politicians for decades and decades. Why would they have a sudden change of heart when Congress keeps forking over trillions of dollars? The military is “the deep state”. It’s comical when the deep state comes right out in the open and tells people that they’re the real good guys, yet here we are. Imagine if the GRU and the KGB had told the Soviet public that they were here to save them from their own “deep state,” and that’s basically what Q (and Pieczenik and Alex Jones and C2CAM etc.) is.
2) Conspiracy theories should be subject to serious intellectual criticism. Mainstream critics of conspiracy theories seem to universally fail to do this, because they fall back on vapid appeals to “cognitive biases.” I can’t even begin to list all of the problems with that approach.
I think what’s really wrong with so much of the conspiracy theorizing that takes place is that it is a secularization of the belief in Satan. It is an attempt to view all of the evil in the world as having its origin in one earthly group. Even though many conspiracy theorists will explicitly mention Satan, the way they think about him is still extremely secular because they believe that he can only act through a single unified hierarchy on earth. You almost never hear anyone claim that there are multiple Satanic groups in mutual opposition to each other, which ought to make you stop and think for a moment. I watched a very popular Q movement video which heavily implied that if only they could get rid of this one cabal, all crime, poverty, and war would be a thing of the past, as if all the bad things each and every one of us does every day does not make us all part of that cabal in some small way.
Another way that modern conspiracy theories can be seen as a secularization and distortion of religious beliefs is in the attitude to history. The central conceit is that history has a plan, and because the thinking has been secularized the only kind of plan which is conceivable in the mind of the theorist is a plan which is understood and carried out by human beings with the full knowledge of what they are doing. (Think about how this relates to dispensationalism.) Nothing in this world ever goes according to plan if that plan was conceived of by human beings, and I believe you’ll know when God has arranged a conspiracy of his own if none of the participants realize that they were on the same side until all has been said and done.
Branko Malic has done a good job of criticizing conspiracy culture:
Insofar as God can be panentheized into an emergent societal consciousness, the state, the Noble Lie, Marx’s scientific forces of history, etc., it becomes sensible to talk like Nietzsche about having killed him and becoming autotheistic (i.e. worshiping your own butthole), which you’ll find is the underlying de facto philosophy of all toxic people.
Speculating even further, I suspect that this attitude is caused by an increasing temperamental discomfort with uncertainty, which is predicted by both hundreds of years of k-selection and 150 years of dysgenic selection for lower intelligence.
In contrast to the usual theological understanding of divine hiddenness, the characterizations that contemporary philosophers (and some biblical scholars) tend to work with primarily concern this-worldly facts about the occurrence of certain kinds of nonbelief in God, the apparently limited strength and distribution of evidence for God’s existence, the limited availability of certain kinds of experiences of God (e.g., experiences of God’s love or presence), and the like. These are the kinds of facts that tend to figure centrally in different versions of the problem of divine hiddenness, initial contemporary formulations of which are to be found in the works cited earlier by Milazzo (1991), Morris (1988), and Schellenberg (1993).
The characterizations offered by Morris and Schellenberg focus on what I will call the doxastic (belief-oriented) aspect of God’s hiddenness. Morris’s characterization is primarily concerned with our general evidential circumstances. For him, divine hiddenness consists in the fact that we live in a “religiously ambiguous environment,” a world in which God’s existence and concern for humanity are left unclear, God’s presence is not readily accessible, and many people remain (at least) in doubt about God’s existence.2 Schellenberg’s earliest characterization of divine hiddenness is similar. In Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason, he notes that the term is ambiguous and says that the sense most pertinent to the problem he wants to discuss is one having to do with the “obscurity of God’s existence.”3
The Hiddenness of God
So it could be that since Cartesian scientific rationalism now takes up so much real estate in our mental categories, at the same time as our mental real estate is shrinking and our tolerance for cognitive dissonance is shrinking, that the idea of doxastic inconceivability is itself becoming inconceivable. Fundamentalists hold that the nature of God is so obvious that disagreement indicates disingenuousness (i.e. evil), and both theists and atheists have been genetically bred for fundamentalism for perhaps 400 years. This means that any obvious evidence unfit for existing mental categories would be catastrophically subversive, so that fundamentalist Christians often remain purposefully ignorant of biology to avoid losing their faith, and likewise atheists remain purposefully ignorant of philosophy and theology. Speculating yet further, this could explain what I’ve called “libido decoupling” and the increasing polarization around tastes in the various flavors of autoanalingus.
All this academic talk serves to form the plainstyle question: What did pre-Enlightenment Christians believe about the nature of God’s revelation that made them okay with never hearing word one from him directly?