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     Dec 23, '13

God's magic bullet of fate
By Myint Zan

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Taking some journalistic license, one can say that almost every schoolboy in America knows that November 22, 2013, was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States.

What is much less well-known, except perhaps to philosophical aficionados, is that November 13, 2013, was the 1,659th anniversary of the birth of the Christian philosopher St

Augustine (354-430 AD) and November 24, 2013, was the 381st anniversary of the birth of the "God-intoxicated" but non-Christian philosopher Spinoza (1632-1677).

One aspect of Augustine's metaphysics is that God has foreknowledge of all human actions, events and their outcomes. The late Martin Gardner (1914-2010) state in one of this books that according to Augustinian metaphysics and theology God "stood above time", so to speak, and "sees" the past, the present and the future as well.

A curial curiosity, or a mischievous idea, in relation to the Kennedy assassination vis-a-vis Augustinian theology comes to mind: if Augustine were "transported" in time to, say, November 23, 1963, would he have said that God had foreknowledge of the Kennedy assassination?

And if so, when? When Adam and Eve were created? Or going much, much further back, at the "time" of the Big Bang, roughly 13.8 billion years ago? Or coming much closer to the actual event, when Kennedy and his entourage toured Dallas, Texas?

Augustine most probably would have said that God had not only foreknowledge of the Kennedy assassination but also, as it was in Augustine's time, the future existence of a country called the United States of America.

But would Augustine, in the late 4th century to early 5th century, have knowledge (not foreknowledge) of the actual historical existence of the two continents - which did exist at the time Augustine lived - of what would later to be known as the Americas?

In contrast to this knowledge, would Augustine have "foreknowledge" of the emergence of the United States in the year 1776: that is, 1,240 years after his death?

Admirers of Augustine would probably argue if not assert that with certain statements regarding the notion of time, especially in Chapter 11 of his Confessions, Augustine indicated an uncanny insight (or is it foreknowledge?) of the Big Bang cosmology, which only came to be discovered in the 1920s.

On the other hand, there is no implied, far less concrete, indication in his Confessions that Augustine knew about the existence of what would later be known as the New World.

But let's briefly continue on the Augustinian God's foreknowledge of the Kennedy assassination rather than Augustine's incomplete knowledge of geography (the existence of the two American continents) 1,600 years ago due - it is to be added immediately and unequivocally - to no deficiency, intellectual or educational, on the part of Augustine.

If God had foreseen the Kennedy assassination, had he no desire or wish to "prevent" it? But then 17 years and four months after the assassination of president Kennedy, president Ronald Reagan was shot - and hit - on March 30, 1981.

As almost every schoolboy in America should know, Reagan (unlike the much younger Jack Kennedy) survived the assassination attempt and continued to live for another 23 years dying (virtually) of old age in June 2004 at the age of almost 93 years and four months. Kennedy was 46 years and six months old when he was killed. Reagan lived to be more than twice his age. Did the Augustinian God have foreknowledge that Reagan would survive the assassination attempt?

Would Augustine have said that it was not only God's knowledge but also God's will that Kennedy was to die because of and Reagan was to live after the respective shootings? Did the Augustinian God have the power - if He so chose it - to change the future, since He - one supposes that the Augustinian God would be a "he" - had foreknowledge of it? Could God have, or should He have, "made" both assassination efforts fail or even not have any assassination attempts at all on Kennedy and Reagan?

Spinoza, who flourished 1,200 years after Augustine, is known as a (if not the) "God-intoxicated philosopher", though if Augustine were to have become familiar with Spinoza's philosophy he would have branded him a heretic or at least state that Spinoza's God was definitely not Augustine's.

In one of his correspondences, Spinoza gave a novel illustration to explain his views that humans do not have free will and the trajectory of their lives are already determined. Spinoza gave the example that, if a stone thrown into the air were to have human or human-like consciousness, it would think that it was going in the direction it wanted and it was determining the course of its own life.

Just as the stone's trajectory had already been determined when the stone left the thrower's hand, the trajectory and course of human lives, Spinoza claimed, have already been determined (though by whose hand or through which metaphysical mechanism this writer is unable to determine.)

One realizes that Spinoza's vivid metaphor is related more to Spinoza's denial of free will, but can one argue based on one's understanding of Spinoza's "stone analogy" that it had already been determined - at the time when Spinoza wrote that sentence - that Kennedy was to be shot and killed and Reagan was to be hit by the would-be-assassin's bullet but would survive?

Since, from this writer's understanding, Spinoza, unlike Augustine, did not write about "God's foreknowledge", perhaps Spinoza's "God or Nature" had no foreknowledge of these two events but they were determined, albeit arguably not by Spinoza's God, to happen the way they happened.

In a televised address to the nation on "Strategic arms reduction and nuclear deterrence", fortuitously (or not) on November 22, 1982 (the 19th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination), Reagan quoted Spinoza. Perhaps it never crossed the Great Communicator's mind to contrast, from the determinist perspective of the philosopher which he quoted, his own escape from the attempt on his life with that of the tragic fate that was "determined" to have befallen his predecessor in 1963.

Whether this article makes it into print is subject to a matrix of forces which have already “determined” the editor's decision.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Dr Myint Zan is professor of the Faculty of Law at Multimedia University, Malacca, Malaysia

(Copyright 2013 Dr Myint Zan)

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