An objection to the problem of divine hiddenness (2)

My main objection to Schellenberg’s argument from divine hiddenness is given below, sc. that one cannot set up a mode of relationship to God that satisfies premise (1). But one can also object to a background assumption in the argument – namely that Schellenberg’s argument does not seem to allow for obstructions to a relationship with God that might come from outside of our own personal resistance or lack of capability. All of our relationships to others occur in broader social and institutional contexts, and we cannot abstract from the ways in which these contexts give rise to a resistance to God or render us otherwise incapable of relationship with the divine.

Say you’re speaking with a feminist about whether you are sexist or that you’re a reporter from one of the major networks speaking to a conservative about whether you are biased against conservatives. You might insist in right earnest that you are not at all biased and that you harbor no personal animosity against them, but both the feminist and conservative have reasons to doubt that this is enough to prove your case. After all, there aren’t just your own beliefs in play, but also the social and institutional structures in which your beliefs live and move; and it’s altogether possible that these structures and institutions are committed to injustice against women or conservatives. You can’t just neatly divide your personal beliefs from these structures since you are part of these structures precisely as a person, and there is good evidence that persons can exercise bias even apart from what they take to be their personal belief.

While I believe that there is more to original sin than just this social or institutional corruption, there is at least this sort of corruption in play. This makes it difficult to neatly cut off our own supposedly personal desire and non-resistance to God from institutional structures that involve a more systematic and widespread resistance, and into which we are born and live.

This is, in fact, one of the reasons why some Christians insist that God’s action cannot be merely to one person at a time, each taken in atomo and as cut off from others. Divine action must be mediated by a social structure and institution, like a people of God or a Church, since this is the only way to drive out the resistance we have to God as members of certain institutions. If this is right, it is precisely Church membership that obviates the problem of divine hiddenness, and absent this there will always be the sort of resistance that, by the premises of the argument, makes us unable to expect a relationship with God.


  1. November 25, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    I was just thinking about something related to this. All our meaningful relationships are heavily mediated by signs; but signs and symbolisms can be distorted. (A lot of literature, e.g., the novels of Jane Austen, or a number of Shakespeare’s plays, or almost any decently written mystery novel, can be seen to trade on the distortions in the signs available to us.) And those distortions, of course, can obscure and confuse. Our relationships require the development of safeguards against these kinds of distortion of signs.

    • November 25, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      What were some examples you had in mind? Desdemona’s handkerchief or her protestations for Cassio? Maybe Elizabeth rebuking Darcy’s proposal after she hears the story from Fitzwillam? I think I might be missing your point.

      • November 25, 2014 at 5:08 pm

        No, those would count as examples of some kinds of distortion; almost any miscommunication would. Wickham’s testimony does distort what Elizabeth can work with, as does, for that matter, the particular words in which Darcy formulates his proposal. Iago certainly distorts the signs available to Othello. The events immediately leading to the suicides of Romeo and Juliet would be another kind of case. And there are other ways, too: people misjudging others because of appearances, Shakespeare’s use of the disguise in his comedies (which always eventually has to be overcome), Roxane’s confusion of Cyrano and Christian, and so forth.

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