From “Slavery and Freedom”
by Nikolai Berdiaev, 1874-1948
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There is an immense distinction to be drawn between God and the human idea of God, between God in his essence and God as object. Between God and humankind, there stands human consciousness, the exteriorisation and projection of the limited condition of that consciousness, there stands objectivisation. An objectivised God has been the object of man’s servile reverence but here there is a paradox in the fact that the objectivised God is a God alienated from people and lord over them. And at the same time, God is created by the limitation of people and reflects that limitation. People have fallen into slavery to their own exteriorisation and objectivisation. People create God in their own image and likeness and put into God not only the best in their image of themselves but the worst also. Upon the God who reveals himself to human consciousness there lies the stamp of anthropomorphism and sociomorphism.
The sociomorphism of the human idea of God is especially important for our subject. Upon human ideas of God are reflected the social relations of humans, relations of the servile kind of which human history is full. The knowledge of God requires continual purifying and purifying above all from servile sociomorphism. The relations between master and slave, taken from social life, have been transferred to the relations between God and people. When we spoke of God as the master and man as the slave, we were thinking in sociomorphic terms. But in God and in his relation to people in the world there is nothing whatever like the social relations between people. The base human category of domination is not applicable to God. God is not a master and he does not dominate. No power is inherent in God. The will to power is not a property of his, he does not demand the slavish reverence of an unwilling human being. God is freedom; he is the liberator and not the master. God bestows the feeling of freedom and not of subjection. God is Spirit and Spirit knows nothing of the relation of domination and slavery. God is not to be thought of on the analogy of what takes place in society or on the analogy of what takes place in nature. We cannot think in determinist terms in relation to God. He determines nothing. Nor can we think in terms of causality. He is not the cause of anything.
Here we stand face to face with mystery and to this mystery are applicable no analogies with necessity, with causality, with domination, with causality in natural phenomena, with domination in social phenomena. Analogy is only possible with the very life of the spirit. God is certainly not the cause of the world. He certainly does not act upon the human spirit as necessity. He certainly does not pass judgment as judgment is in the social life of people. He certainly is not a master, nor authority in the life of the world and of humankind. None of these sociomorphic and cosmomorphic categories are applicable to God. God is Mystery, a mystery towards which people transcend and with which they enter into communion. A false servile understanding of God, a slavish kataphatistic knowledge of God are the last refuge of human idolatry. God has not made people into slaves. God is the liberator. Theology has made a slave of people. Theology and the seductions of theology have made a slave of them and idolatry has been possible in relation to God, and the slavish social relations of humankind have been transferred to the relation of humankind to God. God understood as an object with all the properties of an objectivised world has become a source of slavery. God as object is only the highest natural force of determination made absolute or the highest power of domination made absolute. What is determinism in nature is domination in society.
But God as subject, as existing outside all objectivisation, is love and freedom, not determinism and not domination. God is freedom and bestows freedom only. Duns Scotus was right in defending the freedom of God. But from the freedom of God, he made false and servile deductions by regarding God as an unlimited sovereign. One must not work out any concept about God and least of all is the concept of being applicable. It always indicates determinism and in that case always, rationalisation has already entered in. God can be thought of only symbolically. Apophatic, not kataphatic theology is right, but it is right only in part. It does not mean that God is unknowable. Contacts with God and communion with God are possible and dramatic struggle is possible. This contact is the communion and conflict of personalities between which there is neither determination nor causality, not domination our subjection. The only true religious myth is contained not in the fact that God is master and aspires to domination, but in the fact that God yearns for his other, for responsive love and awaits the creative answer of human beings.