The central question of an ancient philosophical dialog is what is piety? (or, dependent on the translation, what is holiness?). The most superficial answer to this question is piety is doing as i am doing (in more modern terms good is doing what i am doing). But when it is demonstrated by the philosopher in the dialog that such an answer will certainly not do, the person interrogated says that piety is that which is dear to the gods. However, in the polytheist setting of the dialog concerned this answer does not take into account that gods differ as much among themselves as human beings do. All of them may agree, for example, that a murderer should be punished. However, what they are likely to disagree about is what kind of killing is murder, and who did what and when. To overcome this typically polytheistic difficulty, the definition of piety is amended: 'pious' is that which all gods love.

Now the dialog arrives at a point which is very interesting for polytheists and non-polytheists alike, for the philosopher in question wants to know from 'er partner in the conversation whether the pious is beloved by the gods because it is pious, or pious because it is beloved by the gods. In other words, is being loved by the gods (or by a god) merely something that succeeds someone's being pious, or something's being holy, or is it the essence of piety or holiness itself (that is, what defines it)? In the dialog it is further argued that piety is 'that part of justice which attends to the gods', that 'piety is learning how to please the gods in word and deed, by prayers and sacrifices'. This (supernaturalist) lore of giving and asking cannot solve the problem of defining piety either --it is rejoined--, because if the essence of piety is that it is pleasing to the gods (but not beneficial or dear to them), how can it then be asserted at the same time that the essence of piety is that which is dear to the gods? Altho the ancient dialog did not offer a solution itself, it acutely challenged the popular, religious conceptions of piety and holiness. It did not speak of any suitable alternative, and yet it cleverly attacked the 'religion of the letter', the naivety of the 'narrow and unenlightened conscience'.

More than two thousand years later another philosopher posed a question similar to the most interesting one of the dialog just discussed. In monotheist supernaturalist terms it read "is something good made or willed by God because it is good, or is it good because it is made or willed by God?". This time the thinker concerned opted for the first answer by asserting that goodness or perfection is in the nature of things themselves. They are good by some rule of goodness, and not 'sheerly by the will of God', 'e maintained. By taking this position 'e dissociated 'imself from all those monotheists who seriously believed (or still believe) that their doxastic supreme being would be 'equally praiseworthy', if it were or had done something entirely different from what it is believed to actually be or have done. Their definition is --as correctly pointed out-- that which is pleasing to the most powerful is, as such, just.

It is obvious that the above definition is not the right one of just or good, but it is not so obvious that it would not do for a word such as pious. Altho only meaning dutyful, pious is akin to piare which means (to) appease. Etymologically 'piety' is therefore the fulfilment of, or the intention to fulfil, a duty to appease a god, a parent or any other authority believed to be 'natural'. And if, and insofar as, this meaning is still present in piety, the essence of religious piety is indeed that it is (or would be) pleasing to one or more gods, whatever it may be. This answer is then already incorporated into the meaning of piety itself. Therefore we must not make the mistake of using a term such as pious, but speak in the most general of normative terms when discussing the relationship between the normative and the (divinely) authoritative.

Those self-confident theists who do not say that something is good because it has been created and is loved or willed by a god, but that, instead, a god created, loved or willed it because it is good, do, wittingly or unwittingly, render supernaturalist theism impotent. For, if 'rules of perfection' (that is norms or principles) exist independently of what a god is/was or does/did, gods themselves (and also evil demons) are subject to those same rules of perfection. Those who believe in a certain norm will then, perhaps, believe in a god that creates, loves and wills in accordance with that norm, but they will also have to reject the belief in any god that does not act in accordance with that norm, and they will have to reject all belief itself which violates that norm.

When someone speaks of "holy", "good" or "perfect", 'e implicitly refers to the normative aspect of denominationalism, of ideology or of disciplinary thought; when 'e speaks of "a god creating, loving or willing something", to the authoritative aspect of it. The fundamental question the ancient dialog already dealt with is therefore in general terms: What comes first: the norm or the authority?. As we will see, it is of the very essence of theism that divine authority comes first, and that the normative is merely subsidiary to it. This is not to say that all individual theists really believe that something is good because some god wanted it that way, and that no theist believes that there are one or more independent rules of goodness or norms. This is certainly not logically implied, for, like any belief, an individual theist's belief need not be consistent, or 'e may believe that a particular god does not violate any of the independent rules of goodness 'e also believes in. Yet, the latter position is not the position of a theist as theist. Because for a theist as theist one would not say that it is a logically contingent matter whether a particular god or group of gods in whose existence as principal beings 'e believes, are 'good' or 'just' in the sense of an independent rule of goodness or justice. For a theist as theist this is a logical necessity, if only to distinguish the one type of principal being, namely a god, from the other, namely a demon. Hence, the divine, or the authoritative, does come first for the theist as theist, or for the theodemonist as theodemonist. Those theists who claim that a particular god creates, loves or wills something because it is good or just, and definitely not the other way around, do not speak as adherents of a theist or theodemonist ideology but rather --to take the historical example-- as philosophers.

©MVVM, 41-67 ASWW

Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
Book of Fundamentals
The Doctrine of Neutral-Inclusivity
The Question of Denominational Primacy