Analysis of Locke’s “On Identity and Diversity”

A presentation I delivered for my “Philosophy of Human Nature” course.

locke
John Locke was a seventeenth century British philosopher of the empiricist school; though he is perhaps most famous for his work in political philosophy and his influence on American political thought in the eighteenth century, Locke also made some important contributions to metaphysics and the philosophy of mind in regards to the nature of personhood and personal identity. In book 2, chapter 27 of his Essay concerning Human Understanding, Locke attempts to address the philosophical problem of personal identity, that is, the question of what is necessary and sufficient to constitute a common personal identity over time despite changes enacted upon a person. In other words, what are the necessary and sufficient features of a thing that give it an identity over time?

Before dealing directly with the question of human personal identity, it is important to understand Locke’s distinction between things or objects and people. In his work, Locke explains the origin of identity for “vegetables,” “animals,” and the person. Objects of substance such as plants, animals, inanimate objects and human beings maintain their identity in a fundamentally different way from “the self” that constitutes the core of a person’s being. The identity of “vegetables” is maintained by the organization of the matter making them up. Objects of substance are, according to Locke, ultimately made up of “masses of matter.” These masses are made up of the substance out of which objects are formed. The objects themselves can be said to have identity in the sense that they maintain an organized structure over time. A rock, for instance, maintains its identity regardless of the substance because, even if all the matter comprising the rock were to be replaced, the rock would maintain its organization and structure, thereby maintaining its identity as that rock over time. This way of maintaining identity over time is common to all objects of substance, according to Locke, including human beings. The physical component of a man, the body, maintains its identity in the manner of an object, a plant, or an animal. The distinction, according to Locke, between these objects and a person is that a person is ultimately a thinking consciousness capable memory and of reflecting on itself and recognizing “the self” as continuous over time. This “thinking consciousness,” similar to Descartes’ “thinking thing,” is the necessary and sufficient feature which gives a person his individual identity. Regardless of the nature of the body or the soul, consciousness and the ability to reflect on the self are essential to personal identity. The ability to reflect and the ability to remember past experiences are necessary and sufficient features to show a common personal identity of the person.

The question of personal identity has been answered with three main suggestions about the nature of identity: the sameness of soul, the sameness of body, and the sameness of consciousness. The sameness of soul theory postulates that the soul is the feature which gives a person personal identity, the sameness of body says that the body serves this purpose. Locke’s argument about consciousness and the ability to reflect on the self point to the third idea about personal identity, the sameness of consciousness. On this issue, Locke walks the line between those who believe the body to be the feature supplying personal identity and those who believe it to be the soul. Locke’s argument for the importance of consciousness in this regard is based on the idea that the other two possibilities are fundamentally flawed in some way. Whereas consciousness is an essential feature of how the individual relates to himself and understands the “self” and personhood as abstract concepts, the body and the soul are less consistent components of the person. The body, for instance, without the ability to remember past events without the aid of the consciousness, could be inhabited by another consciousness with different memories and experiences, and the person would cease to have the same identity. The human being itself, that is the body, would remain the same, but the person would be fundamentally changed under these circumstances. If my consciousness were switched with that of Fr. McShane, the McShane body with my consciousness couldn’t be considered identical to him, and in the same way my body with his consciousness wouldn’t be identical to me. The person, Locke argues, is determined by the thinking component, regardless of body. A similar argument defeats the theory of sameness of the soul. Locke suggests that the soul, without a consciousness, could be transplanted into another body, and without a common consciousness to carry over the identity of the person, there could be no personal identity. This premise can be demonstrated in light of the idea of reincarnation. If a human being dies and its soul migrates into a cow, the soul serves to give the cow life, but it doesn’t retain the memories, experience, or distinct self-awareness of the original person. The cow is clearly not identical to the original person.

Locke essentially argues from the premise that there is a principle which is necessary and sufficient to provide personal identity. This principle must be common to the thing being examined over time, demonstrating that that thing is the same in one moment as in another. He then demonstrates what it is that is common to physical objects of substance, and what is common to the human being that gives those things their identity. Because, he argues, this identity fails to account for the thinking self, there must be another component that unites the identity of that aspect of man. Since the soul and the body fail, in this view, to account for continuing personal identity in memory, Locke points to consciousness as the source of identity for the person. Because memory and reflection on the self remain common to the person, these features, the consciousness, meet the criteria of that which is necessary and sufficient for identity, pointing to a separate personal identity in consciousness from the body. Locke’s argument appears to be valid, and it makes some reasonable criticisms of both those who believe in strict substance dualism and see the soul as the source of personal identity, and those who believe the body alone to be the source.

Ultimately, the question of personal identity is important to Locke because it involves a deeper moral and legal question, that is what actions are human beings accountable for based on changing personal identity? If, for instance, I am not the same person one moment as the next, then I could rob a bank and claim that the person who did it was not, in fact, fundamentally identical to me. Locke’s idea of the sameness of consciousness serves to tie me irrevocably to my past self and to make me responsible for my actions in the past. In its most basic sense, Locke’s argument is sound, and it achieves its intent of linking the person of the present to his past self and past actions.

While the argument remains valid and essentially sound, some questions about the exact nature of consciousness and identity in Locke’s view could easily be raised. The issue of memory in his conception of consciousness raises some questions about the relationship between a person in two stages of life when he cannot remember what occurred during an event in the past. If memory and the ability to reflect on the self are necessary and sufficient to show common identity between myself now and myself yesterday at lunch, what is the nature of that identity if I cannot remember what I ate for lunch yesterday? While intuitively it would seem I am clearly identical to myself yesterday, and I share a common personal identity with that person, because I don’t remember what I ate for lunch, my consciousness is fundamentally different and it seems I am a different person today than yesterday. This raises problems for Locke’s moral considerations because it brings into question the nature of moral and legal culpability in cases where the criminal can’t remember committing the crime. Locke answers this question, at least in regards to drunkenness, by drawing a distinction between the legal and moral responsibility of the individual. While he makes it clear that the individual should be legally responsible, because of the problem of the relationship between the drunken self and the sober self, ultimate moral responsibility is more questionable. In this sense, while Locke resolves the legal question, he fails to end this criticism of his theory. Memory, of the lack thereof, prevents me from being identical to myself during past events, and it calls into question the common personal identity between those selves.

Even in light of this criticism, Locke’s answer to the question of the persistence of personal identity provides an important insight into one possible unifying factor in identity. He essentially accomplishes his goal in demonstrating moral responsibility over time as part of identity over time. By proposing this theory about identity, he was one of the first to suggest what is now called the psychological answer to this philosophical question, which along with he biological answer, is one of the main positions taken by modern philosophers on the issue. Locke’s empirical view of the world led to this important contribution to philosophy.

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Fate

dawn

Some blank verse I wrote a while ago as an emotional release.

Damn fate, damn fate, cast not your cloak o’er my

Crown of holy light! Begone you foul beast!

Yea, love’s glory seemed to end my long night,

But, oh, the shadows of the souls of men

Could not be so quench’ed without a fight.


The best poetry of Jonson is laid

In fate’s graveyard with the jewel of my love.

Damn all the powers of heaven and hell,

For cursed be they who dare to stay my hand

And end so soon the sweetness of this dawn.

-Michael Sweeney

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The Muddy Snowbank

The muddy snowbank

Runs into the open street –

A car passes by.

melting snow

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The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Psychology of Salvation

In The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream the universal struggle for meaning, here represented as salvation in the Celestial City, is demonstrated from the perspective of John Bunyan and his autobiographical everyman Christian. Bunyan achieves the expression of this struggle through the use of a complex allegory of the Christian life and the path to salvation. Bunyan’s spiritual journey reflects his internal psychological struggle with what he saw as his “past sin” and the flaws he found in himself. The Pilgrim’s Progress is, in this sense, a deeply autobiographical work. Bunyan is expressing, though the life of Christian, his own challenges, triumphs, and failures on the road to salvation.


John Bunyan’s early contact with spirituality and with the conflicts surrounding him during the English reformation are clearly visible within the allegory presented in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s largely normal and healthy early life1 concealed the deeper psychological and spiritual problems he harbored, problems which would be awakened by his pious first wife and his later contact with the English dissenters.2 His career as a preacher began under the influence of his wife in 1653 at the Bedford Meeting.3 These early days of Bunyan’s religious career led him to begin the psychological and theological odyssey that is the Christian life, culminating in his authorship of The Pilgrim’s Progress.


The Pilgrim’s Progress is a rendering of Christian life,4 the allegory of the journey outlining the underlying psychological changes undergone in its course. Applied more widely to life in general, the “journey” Christian experiences can be seen in the quest for ultimate meaning and personal discovery. John Bunyan’s early life was characterized by both physical disease5 and mental illness,6 details of his inner life independent of his religious experience, but essential as catalysts of his personal growth. Depression and depressive ideas, as exemplified in the Slough of Despond, were important parts of Bunyan’s early life which he needed to overcome. Bunyan’s depression revolves around a kind of personal discovery and detachment from the sins of his past, this kind of Despond becoming relevant “when a man begins for the first time to think seriously about himself” and “the first thing that rises before him is a consciousness of his miserable past life.”7 The burden of past sins, as represented by a physical burden on Christian, is an important aspect of the journey being discussed in The Pilgrim’s Progress. It is more than a symbol of past sins, it is a deeper allegory for the past in general. In reading the book and listening to Evangelist, Christian becomes aware of the past and his sins within the past. I this sense, the burden which Bunyan sees as “an innumerable company of my sins and transgressions,”8 represents all of life prior to Christian’s rebirth in the Celestial city. It is in overcoming this burden that Christian reaches salvation in shedding himself of the burden of sin, but more broadly he finds meaning in the present by shedding himself of the burden of the past.


Beyond the complex psychological mire from which Bunyan drew his influence, he was informed by the geographic, political, and cultural environment in England.9 Bunyan’s nonconformist faith was in a tenuous balance with the Puritan and High-Anglican movements of his day. Early in life he fought alongside the Puritans in the Parliamentary Army, helping to expel King Charles I. Under the Puritan-controlled Parliament of Oliver Cromwell, dissenters like Bunyan were largely allowed to practice independently of government control. It was with the rise of Charles II to the throne that life for dissenters and nonconformists of all stripes became much more difficult. Forced underground by laws prohibiting the public preaching of non-ordained or non-Anglican ministers, openly dissenting preachers like Bunyan were imprisoned en masse.10 It was during just such a prison sentence that Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.


Religious dissent grew in England in direct correlation to the English Civil War. During Puritan rule while dissenters and nonconformists were free to practice, many like Bunyan flocked to their numbers. It was under the returned monarch Charles II that the role of religious dissenters in religious and political matters in England was solidified.11 Movements of dissent covered wide regions including most of England and Wales,12 being well established by the time of Bunyan’s conversion.13 Prior to the eventual crackdown on non-Anglican practices by Charles II, nonconformism and dissent had been promoted in rural areas outside of the Church’s control in order to prevent the expansion of Catholicism.14 With his roots such a frantically divisive and politically unstable period, Bunyan’s role as a controversialist is probably to be expected. He remained “irritated when reminded of his humble birth,” and “reproached the privileged of this world,”15 and he worked in economic and political agitation against commercial dishonesty, fraud, and corruption in the government and in companies.16 Both under Parliament and the Monarch, Bunyan was both a political and religious dissident, all of which was informed by his faith and his search for purpose. The complex underlying conflicts of his conscience went hand-in-hand with his place as an outspoken author and preacher, and “his ethics were the fruit of his religion.”17


Part of Bunyan’s earliest influence was his disagreement with those around him. “The disagreement among Bunyan’s friends is easily explicable”18 in the sense that Bunyan uses both his poetic and doctrinal work to argue his own points against those who disagree with him. Bunyan was further in conflict with those around him who were not his friends, demonstrated in his mixed views on the neighbors of Christian.19 Bunyan was boisterously active in the fight against those whom he saw as “all talk or show, and no action,”20 leading him into conflict with Quakers, Anglicans, dissenters, and many others.21 His primary targets were those who he felt hampered others chances of spiritual achievement or of finding salvation. These characters in his own life became the antagonists of The Pilgrim’s Progress, contributing to his own rich allegory of personal growth under communal influence.


The essential nature of the community in Bunyan’s image of the Christian life is visible in his depiction of Christian’s neighbors and of those whom he encounters along the path to the Celestial City. Early on the pilgrimage, characters such as Pliable, Obstinate, Fearing and others serve to either hold back or otherwise prevent Christian from continuing on his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. Pliable demonstrates Bunyan’s criticism of the vapid faith of those who can be swayed to enthusiastic devotion to a cause, but who stop at the nearest sign of danger.22 Pliable’s attitude, “rather than a valorization of neighborliness, . . . becomes a point of satire in Bunyan’s text.”23 Later figures such as Little-Faith serve to solidify Bunyan’s sense of neighbors and surroundings as more challenging than helpful. Along with figures like Atheist and others, Little-Faith is an example of a character actually driving Christian backward rather than onward on his journey.24 The conflict with those around him which Christina is forced to undergo along his pilgrimage culminates with his battle against Apollyon, “Christian panoplied in heavenly mail,/O’ercame Apollyon in that fearful fight.”25 The final victory in battle represents a substantial shift in the way Christian relates to his enemies and friends, another important feature of his psychological journey. Much of Bunyan’s work prior to his imprisonment consisted of sermons and doctrinal critiques.26 These works were most essentially an expression of his political and social concerns, but they link these concerns to his religious feelings. Bunyan felt he had a gift as a preacher, and her sought to share that gift with the world through his early works of doctrinal nonfiction.27 His growth from largely doctrinal and religious writing to the work of novel-writing in The Pilgrim’s Progress and his later work shows a shift in Bunyan’s way of approaching religion, this is the shift to allegory. In her work “Trope and Truth in The Pilgrim’s Progress,” Machosky compares Bunyan’s shift from doctrinal to allegorical works to the “fall from the realm of heaven and true light into the dark and profane world in which we live.”28 Bunyan must bring his work from the heavenly heights of doctrinal discussion and nonfiction down to a level at which average people might understand his inner thoughts. This is both a technical and spiritual shift in Bunyan’s life in the sense that he is changing fundamentally the way he approaches his deepest spiritual concerns.


Allegory in The Pilgrim’s Progress plays a central role in the development of the plot and in the creation of the more complex details of the deeper meanings. Bunyan’s inner spiritual life is fleshed out in the complex allegorical system he creates. Allegory was not widely used in Protestant circles during Bunyan’s time, especially among Calvinists. Calvin saw the danger in allegory lying in the difficulty of fully grasping the allegorical intent of the work. Bunyan was fully immersed in Calvinist religious traditions throughout his life, and to break with their traditional views of allegory represents another important feature of the spiritual and psychological premise underlying The Pilgrim’s Progress. In this sense, it is possible to see Bunyan’s broader spiritual and psychological journey through both the story of Christian in the novel, but also through the story of how the novel came to be. It is both a shift in the subject and style of his work, and it is a doctrinally questionable departure from traditional methods of expressing this journey. The allegory of The Pilgrim’s Progress becomes more and more difficult to fully grasp with the passage of time, and Bunyan’s own fears about the misinterpretation of his work are clear in the many detailed explanations and addenda to his work provided, in poetic form before the work, in his Biblical references, and in the form of a sequel about Christian’s wife and family.29 It is the proper reading of the allegory that is most important to Bunyan because “Bunyan’s primary interest is not with an emblematic tradition or poetic glory, but rather. . . as a means of pointing toward intangible qualities that he believed man needed most.” Bunyan’s introductory apology for his allegorical “dream” is probably most indicative of his hesitance to dive headlong into an allegorical piece,30 but his insistence on using this method shows its necessity in a full understanding of Bunyan’s journey. As a literary trope, “allegory cannot be completely controlled,”31 and is thus sometimes a less than desirable system for expression. The Pilgrim’s Progress exhibits both the primary weakness and the central beauty of allegory as a literary tool and social trope in the sense that it approaches its reader in a way that is at once completely free of the author’s control and deeply rooted in the author’s psychological being.


An important key to the functionality of Bunyan’s allegory in the expression of his psychological premise is the role of Christian as the everyman.32 “The objective of Bunyan’s work is to make a traveler of anyone who follows its course.” Bunyan forces the reader to confront his own sin and psychological struggle by making him “an armchair pilgrim.”33 It was essential to draw together the reader and Christian in the sense that Christian is both an autobiographical character and an everyman because it brings together the psychological struggles of Bunyan and the psychological struggles of the reader. This feature is what makes Bunyan’s allegory so successful. Despite the difficulty of later interpretation, there is a deeper level of understanding available to the reader by placing the reader in Christian’s shoes.34 This close relationship between Bunyan and his readers allows for both a full understanding of Bunyan’s psychological and theological points and a deeper self relation of the reader to the work.


The use of movement as a point of allegory in Bunyan’s work is part of how the internal changes of the individual are described.35 The individual is on a path, taking a journey from blindness and meaninglessness to salvation. The question “why standest thou still?”36 Is posed to the reader as central to the understanding of Bunyan’s intent. When all possibility of salvation and escape from destruction are offered, why does the average person remain as he is? This is part of what Bunyan tackles in The Pilgrim’s Progress by saddling the reader with his own burden of sin. By helping the reader to understand the deeper struggle of Bunyan’s spiritual life, characters like Evangelist and Good Will in pushing Christian along the path to the Celestial City mirror Bunyan himself, or at least as he sees himself, in the capacity of a preacher guiding sinners to salvation.37


The universal struggle for meaning and salvation, as approached by Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress, is essential to his spiritual development and to the growth and completion of the Christian life. John Bunyan’s use of allegory is essential because it condenses the deep psychological suffering of one without salvation, one who live in the past and wallows in the mire of his sin, into a more tangible, physical journey from one point to another. This method allows the reader to more fully grasp Bunyan’s own flaws and triumphs, and it draws in the reader to an understanding of his own sin and psychological struggles. The journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City is one which every man and woman must make in life, and Bunyan captures the essential nature of such a journey by expressing the trials and tribulations of not only the Christian life, but of any examined and well-lived life. This is the essential character of the work, and it is the underlying truth of Christian life.

Notes
1 Josiah Royce, The Case of John Bunyan (Detroit: U of Michigan, 1976) 26.
2 Adam Sills, “‘Mr. Bunyan’s Neighborhood’ and the Geography of Dissent” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 1.
3 Royce 26.
4 Julia Roller, ed., 25 Books Every Christian Should Read (New York: Harper Collins, 2011) 193.
5 Royce 27.
6 Daniel Gibson Jr., “On the Genesis of Pilgrim’s Progress” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 4.
7 James Anthony Froude, Bunyan (New York: AMS Press, 1968) 156.
8 Stanley Eugene Fish, “Progress in The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 3.
9 Sills 4.
10 Froude 68.
11 Sills 3.
12 Sills 1.
13 Sills 2.
14 Sills 1-2.
15 Henri Talon, John Bunyan- The Man and His Works (Cambridge: Harvard U, 1951) 282-283.
16 Talon 288. 17 Talon 272-274.
18 Froude 154
19 Royce 33
20 Richard H. Schmidt, God Seekers (Grand Rapids:William B. Erdmans Publishing,2008) 206.
21 Talon 94.
22 Alexander Whyte, Bunyan Characters: First Series (Edinburgh: Project Gutenberg, 2005) 29.
23 Sills 23.
24 – – -, Bunyan Characters: Second Series (Edinburgh: Project Gutenberg, 2005) 29.
25 Bernard Barton, “Lines on Seeing the Portrait of John Bunyan” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 2.
26 Fish 3.
27 Talon 106.
28 Brenda Machosky, “Trope and Truth in The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 1.
29 Machosky 4.
30 Machosky 8.
31 Machosky 5.
32 Roller 193.
33 Machosky 6.
34 Roller 194. 35 Gibson 6.
36 Fish 4.
37 Gibson 3.

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Indecision

A brief double cinquain about uncertainty and how it holds us back while time catches up with us.

Unsure,

Indecision

Holds every inch of life

As finality closes in,

To end

The search

And silence then,

So eternally, the

Swan-song of the human heart

With time.

-Michael Sweeney (The Cave Tro11)

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The Williamsburg Tales Prologue

In my British Literature class, I was tasked with writing a Canterbury Tales style prologue for a journey I recently took and describing the people I traveled with in poetry. I decided to write about my trip to Williamsburg, Virginia.

Prologue to The Williamsburg Tales

As summer wound to a saddening close
The shade of college applications rose,
And so I was made to confront my fears
Of living far from home in coming years.
My mother and father and brother all
Joined me for a great trip during the fall.
Traveling south to Virginia, we found
We were joined by a host traveling ‘round
The country, with stops in the land down south.
When the flight’s came from somebody’s mouth
Anger and boredom distracted me from
My fears and concerns about times to come.

Just then the captain suggested we tell
A series of tales to pass the time well.
Two stories each, these passengers would spin
While the rest could sit and take it all in.
The captain would judge story telling skill.
The finest tale told would count as the bill
For one’s airfare and refreshments on board
The old plane (quite a generous reward.)
The Lawyer was first to spin his long yarn,
His suit was dusty and his briefcase worn.
A traveler he’d been since he was a boy,
Though now he conducted it with somewhat less joy.
A shadow of his former self, he was,
Swallowed by life’s great clamping jaws.
He’d lost himself in a darkling haze
Of business, work, and occupied days.
In defense of criminals he plied his trade;
By unjust claims his money was made.
His family was broken, driven in two
By his greed — his sadness, which had eaten him through.
In his bag he kept a picture of his young son
Whom he’d long been without on his business run.
This pitiable fellow sat right directly across
From a woman of forty, her lipstick semigloss.

The feminist was unremarkable
In her style as she left the terminal.
She bristled with anger at any thought
That opposed the ideals for which she fought.
Some bickering children, a baby’s cry,
These things she would not withstand while we fly.
Given all she could want from a young age,
This women had no suffering to gauge
That of others by. She lived in a world
Where her opportunities were unfurled
Before her each day at work, school, and home.
Despite her charmed life, she lived with such hate
And disgust, all things would make her irate.
Down the row from this lady sat my own
Close kin, a bag in hand, his face a grin.

My own brother, an artist through and through
Sat comfortable by window sipping coke,
Listening to music as the captain spoke.
Mark is his name, an affable young lad,
Never content with a popular fad.
He wore warm colored clothes and shoes of red,
He listened to Rat Pack, flight moving ahead.
Mark was accosted more than once
By the feminist and some other dunce,
But he was not offended by all this
Preferring to stay in his musical bliss.
Most of the flight he spent in deep sleep
With little regard for our airborne leap.
In front of my brother sat an old man
Deep in thought, perhaps making some plan.
The old man was grey, although fast in his step,
He seemed to love life, even this long schlepp.
A professor of english he was in his work,
Now traveling south, so as not to overwork.
A brown striped suit with dark pants did he wear
With the same old stripes of grey in his hair.
In a brown leather bag he kept all his books,
Great literature of old with numerous hooks
To draw in the reader and hold his attention,
These truly made the old man brighten.
At the passengers he took no offense
Only of his thoughts did he have any sense.
The old man was truly a scholarly
Student and teacher of things which he
Knew quite as he knew his own kith and kin.

The captain was a man of stout build
Jovial and well suited for the office he filled.
He walked with a strong air of confidence
With which he had earned his flying license.
The telling of tales was his fine plan
And he fancied himself more the man
For his great suggestion for passing time
With the passengers’ many wonderful rhymes.
He wore a white shirt with golden pins
To signify his role as flight begins.
His hat of blue and pants of black
Could be seen all the way from the plane’s back.
He ruled the plane from wing to wing
And judged the tales that each would sing.

The pilot announced that the flight would take off
And the passengers fastened their belts with a cough.
The plane sped off onto our journey to the south
And prepared to pass time by the use of the mouth.
The journey began with a single tale.

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The 99 Names of God

An essential feature of the Islamic religion is its all encompassing radical monotheism. The reverence for God as the greatest supreme being, an incomparable creator force and guide, is exemplified in the recognition of God’s many facets and roles in the universe. The “ninety-nine names of God” are a collection of names that describe the purpose and power of God in the universe and in the lives of human-beings.

One of the most essential examples of a “name of God” is “The Creator.” God’s role in the universe is primarily and ultimately as the creator and source of everything. He is the divine origin point of all creation in Islam, and He serves a very similar role as in the Genesis account of creation. He is the architect of the heavens and the earth, and He creates humanity in the form of Adam and Eve. This shared creation myth demonstrates the deep connections between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions in regards to God, and it is one of the more significant overlap points between the two traditions.

Another name of God that plays an important role in Muslim tradition is “The Just.” This name, along with “The Judge,” “The Merciful,” and “The Accepter of Repentance” shows God’s role as an even-handed judge for the universe. Both just and merciful, He gives out judgements to each human-being based on what they deserve, and on what they can handle. God passes judgement on sinners, but is never willing to fully turn away from them. The nature of sin in Islam tends to differ slightly from the Christian sense in that God is even more willing to accept the repentant sinner than in most faiths. On of the essential facets of His personality is the acceptance of this repentance.

As a counterpoint to His mercy, God’s role as “The Abaser,” “The Harming,” “The Degrading,” “The Life-Taker,” and “The Vanquisher” represents the ultimately challenging and humbling nature of the universe and of God. God’s purpose is not just to guide his creation gently along the way, but to place obstacles in the way of men in order to humble them and eventually bring order and tranquility. God vanquishes evil, but he also abases and degrades righteous men in order to put them in their places. Islam does not deny the essential nature of suffering, and they see it as part of the grand plan of God. Predestination is present in Islam in full recognition of the difficulties of life and the problems of suffering and evil.

The most fascinating of the names of God is “The Real.” It emphasizes the ultimate truth of not just God’s existence, but of His law, His creation, and His other names and facets. God is seen as being the ultimate expression of what is real because He is the creator and sustainer of those things. God is not just real in a transcendent sense, independent of His creation; but also as an immanent force that penetrates and surround creation. That is why this name of God is so essential: without it, the others would cease to have purpose.

God is a complex figure in Islam. This complexity highlights the monotheism of the Islamic faith, and it sustains it as a workable model for the world. The ninety-nine names of God are human expressions of the complexity of the universe and of the human mind. These are really only ideas of what God truly is within a Muslim understanding, but they serve to guide the work with the Qur’an and the other texts in understanding God’s will for both the individual and for mankind.

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