By Metacrock (http://www.doxa.ws/Being/Being2.html)
We tend to think of God as a big man with a beard, or some sort of powerful “person” like a human being, although one who can do amazing things. This is just the childish version, it is conditioned in our thinking by a pedestrian approach to religion.
There are religions that don’t have a “God” per se, such as Buddhism. Essentially, there is no reason to think of God as a person, certainly not one with a corporeal body. That image, which is hinted at tin the Bible, is merely metaphor. Depending upon the religious tradition, however, one can have very abstract views of God which have nothing to do with a father figure or a mother figure.
There is a more abstract way to think about God: that is “Transcendental Signifier;” the notion of a metaphysical first principle that organizes everything into a metaphysical hierarchy. This is the more sophisticated view of God, and most of the works of the great Christian philosophers hint at notions of God in these abstract terms.
Anselm defined God as “that which nothing greater than can be conceived.” He ended all of his arguments by saying “this thing we call God,” as a means of keeping the exact nature of God open ended. This is because God is beyond our understanding, as the Bible says, but we can leave a “place marker” for the concept of God by understanding that the ultimate logical function of the God concept is that of the transcendental signifier.
Ground of Being
One of the sophisticated concepts used by great Christian theologians is that of “The Ground of Being.” This concept indicates, not that God is the fact of things existing, but that God is the basis for the existence of all things. God is more fundamental to existing things than anything else. So fundamental to the existence of all things is God, that God can be thought of as the basis upon which things exist, the ground their being. To say that God is The ground of being or being itself, is to say that there is something we can sense that is so special about the nature of being that it hints at this fundamental reality upon which all else is based.
The phrases “Ground of Being” and “Being itself” are basically the same concept. Tillich used both at different times, and other theologians such as John McQuarrey prefer “Being Itself,” but they really speak to the same concept. Now Sceptics are always asking “how can god be being?” I think this question comes from the fact that the term is misleading. The term “Being itself” gives one the impression that God is the actual fact of “my existence,” or the existence of my flowerbed, or any object one might care to name. Paul Tillich, on the other hand, said explicitly (in Systematic Theology Vol. I) that this does not refer to an existential fact but to an ontological status. What is being said is not that God is the fact of the being of some particular object, but, that he is the basis upon which being proceeds and upon which objects participate in being. In other words, since God exists forever, nothing else can come to be without God’s will or thought, and since there can’t even be a potential for any being without God’s thought, all potentialities for being arise in the “mind of God” than in that sense God is actually “Being Itself.” I think “Ground of Being” is a less confusing term. God is the ground upon which all being is based and from which all being proceeds.
How Can “a Being” be Being Itself?
Part of the confusion stems from a misunderstanding of what is being said. I say that God is ‘necessary being’ not “a necessary being,” not because I forgot the “a” but because God is not “a being.” He is above the level of any particular being that participates in being, but exists on the level of the Being, the thing itself, apart from any particular beings. There is Being, and there is “the beings.” This is a crucial distinction, but it leaves one wondering what it means and how it could be. I think the answer lies in the fact that God is ultimate reality. God is the first, and highest and only necessary thing that exists, and thus, had God not created, God would be the only thing that exists. Could one somehow ponder a universe in which God had not created, in which God was all that was, one might well ask “what is it to be in this universe where there is only God?” In such a universe the only conceivable answer is “to be is to be God.” In that sense God is Being Itself.