I once wrote on the subject of “The Great Chain of Being,” analyzing the criteria by which this order was established by using Descartes’ notion that entities occupying higher orders in this chain have more “reality” than the ones below. For The Inanimate to Humans, I used a somewhat scientific methodology for rationalizing their order, drawing distinctions based upon empirical observations about the nature of perception. Yet those entities above humans, namely Demons, Angels, and God, are perhaps too speculative in nature to talk about in such a manner, so let’s try something different. I posit that Demons, Angels, and God, are representations of the constituent parts of the human psyche. To this end, I find it helpful to pare them down to representative forms: Sins and Virtues. God’s representative form is a point of great interest to me, but to see why, let’s first discuss Sins and Virtues.
Sins consist of the most basic and elemental parts of the human psyche. They are not necessarily evil by nature: they merely reflect the untempered and unchecked nature of man. Greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, pride, envy, and sloth: these “sins” are merely excesses of natural human desire. Men tend toward sin simply by pursuing their needs. Man’s mortal form has needs as dictated by his biology, and sins exist as excesses of those needs: gluttony exists only because we need to eat, wrath exists because we need to defend our lives, lust exists because of a need to procreate, etc. Sinfulness, then, is a quality of man that finds its basis in biological necessity: it is a natural byproduct of our need to survive and of our want of legacy. Thus, in a metaphorical sense, a demon is man in his most primitive, unrestrained state, a representation of those who would be consumed by the excess of their desires. It is this extreme by which we create a notion of what evil is.
Humans necessarily have needs: this is a fact based simply on the fact that we are mortal. And because we have needs, sins are born. And from these sins come our most basic ideas of what evil is. By this reasoning, it seems evident that evil exists within all humans, for it is born from nature itself.
Yet man is evidently more than biology. If this weren’t the case, and evil was abound in everyone, man could not have built the society we live in today. There seems to be a goodness in man that allows him to have mercy, to be kind, and to love others, yet there doesn’t seem to be anything about simple human biology that would give rise to such behavior. Perhaps biology can explain why a mother cares for her child, but it does not explain why a mother loves her child. One might say that this natural instinct to care might lead a mother to love her child, but what is it that causes the transition from care to love?
Virtues are those qualities of man that arise from human goodness. But what is it about humans that allows us to have such goodness? Wherefrom do love and generosity and kindness originate? If humans are by nature primitive and unrestrained, how is that we come to restrain ourselves, to create moral value? This is a process that cannot occur anywhere else but in the mind: moral value and restraint do not exist outside of the mind, for it is people that create morality in a highly indifferent universe. And if virtues are created inside the mind, then it would seem as if reason plays a large role in their creation. Reason is what ultimately converts simple biological phenomenon like a mother caring for her child or the pairing of man and woman as mates into emotional phenomenon. Without the reason of the mind, these natural occurrences are only that: occurrences. It is through thinking that humans create a world that is larger than the dictations of his physiology, what turns simple sense impressions into greater reflections: the sound of rustling leaves becomes music, the sight of a horse on a green hill becomes art, and the touch of hand on hand becomes love.
Pain is just a physical sensation. It takes reason to extend the feeling of pain into a moral rule: I will not inflict pain because pain hurts. Our life has especially important meaning to us because we are born with a survival instinct. Reason then transforms and extends this into goodness: I will not kill because I know the importance of life. Thus reason is what ultimately takes strictly physical notions and creates higher mental ones. Through reason, we see the birth of virtue, morality, and restraint from a higher sort of perception about the world about us.
Angels are thus the paradigms of goodness and morality which we emulate whenever we exercise our virtues, representations of a being that is infinitely kind and ultimately wise. On the Great Chain of Being, Angels (Virtues) lie above Demons (Sins) because they represent a higher sort of idea. Our notions of sin originate from our simple human form, concepts that arise strictly from the physical state of the human body. Yet the notion of virtue is a concept that is born from human reason, which far transcends simple physiology. It is reason that gives birth to virtue, what allows humans to build and create, and to see a universe of music and beauty rather than one merely of sound and color. Again using Descartes’ term, we see that Virtue embodies a higher sort of reality than the one of Sin. Yet Sin is a reality above Humans because it is something that we cannot do away with completely: it will always be a part of us so long as we remain creatures of want and need.
And what about God? What sort of entity represents a reality above that of Virtues and reason? Is it a being that is utterly powerful and all knowing in the universe?
Yes. But to understand what God is, we must answer another question: just how big is the universe?