THE ROLE OF NORMATIVE SUPREMENESS
Traditionally both monotheists and atheists have taken it for granted that
the concept of 'supreme being' (or 'Supreme Being') is the same as that of
a solitary 'god' (or 'God').
But if god is a supernaturalist or exclusivist concept, supreme
being will, then, have to be such a kind of concept too.
And if god has a negative connotation, supreme being must,
then, also have a negative connotation.
Altho this may in
practise be the case for
most traditional atheists, it certainly cannot be based on the meanings of
the constituents supreme and being.
It must derive from the assumed identity of supreme being and
(solitary) god (or God).
This assumed identity, however, cannot serve to prove the identity.
As a matter of fact, the notions of 'supremeness', of 'being'
and of 'supreme being' are all fully intelligible and meaningful,
and there is nothing supernaturalistic or exclusivistic in
attributing a positive value to the concept of 'supremeness'.
On the contrary: every
denominational or other
has at least an implicit notion of what is, or would be,
superior or supreme in terms of the value or values of that
doctrine. Superior is that entity or state of affairs which is
of a higher value, that is, of a higher normative value.
To say "normatively superior" or "supreme" is to distinguish these
normative notions of 'superiority' and 'supremeness' from
modal notions of 'supremacy'.
(The terminology with respect to the normative and other auxiliaries we
have discussed in
A certain being may, for example, be the most masculine (anthropomorphic)
being in the universe, but if masculinity is not a value, or not a value in
itself, in the normative doctrine concerned, then the entity's supreme
masculinity is merely an instance of factual supremacy (in the
doxastic terms of that doctrine).
Or --to take another arbitrary example-- a certain being may be the most powerful
being in the universe, but if power is not a value, or not a value in
itself, either, then the entity's state of being supremely powerful is
merely an instance of modal supremacy.
It is only if masculinity and power were values (or 'great-making
properties') in themselves that (on the
extremist account) an all-masculine or
all-powerful being would be normatively supreme, and hence a
'supreme being' -- or perhaps a 'supreme being', dependent on its
The meaningfulness and realistic nature of the notion of
'supreme being' or 'being supreme' does by no means imply the
actual existence of a (state of) supreme being. An actually
existing entity is not normatively supreme by having some
predicate or combination of predicates to be filled in later (as
in the modal proof of Mono's existence); it is normatively
supreme by having a particular predicate or combination
of predicates, namely that set of predicates which it should have
on the basis of a particular set of norms and values. This
presupposes that the combination of predicates is logically and
physically possible, and that the set of norms and values
believed in is the right one. Hence, if omnipotence were really
a great-making characteristic, not only in the modal but also in
the normative sense, a supreme being would only exist if there
were an entity which would indeed be all-powerful and which at
the same time would have all other logically compatible characteristics
for being normatively supreme. For example, if omniscience
were another great-making characteristic, a supreme
being would only exist if there were an entity which would
indeed be at once omnipotent and omniscient, while having all
other great-making characteristics as well. An entity which
would solely be omnipotent, and not omniscient, for instance,
would not do. And neither would an entity which would not be
omnipotent or omniscient, but which would nevertheless be more
powerful, and know more, than any other entity in the whole
world. On an absolute definition of supreme being
such an entity would still not be the supreme being, even if it
possessed all other great-making predicates of the world in the
On the relative definition of supreme being (when
referring to a thing rather than to a state of affairs) the supreme
being is that existing entity whose nature more closely resembles
that of an imaginary being with the ideal combination of
attributes and relations than any other existing entity. As
regards a particular denominational doctrine ideal then
stands for what is normatively superior in terms of its own norms and
values. In the event that it has merely one value, or that its
values can be ordered lexicographically, it is quite clear in
principle which being in the world would be supreme. Thus if
personal power is the denomination's sole value, or the first
one in a serial order of several values, then the supreme being
is that personal being which is more powerful than any other
personal being (assuming that there are not two or more entities
equally powerful). As illustrated above, on this conception the
supreme being may be some president or plutocrat (who is living
now, or who was/is/will be more powerful than anyone who ever
lived/lives/will live). When other qualities than power are
considered, the supremo in question could be anything, however:
male, female, both or neither; old, young, (both?) or neither;
wise, stupid, (both?) or neither; courageous, pusillanimous,
(both?) or neither; and so forth and so on. If the denominational
doctrine acknowledges more than one value or 'great-making
characteristic' and if it can, or does, not order these values
lexicographically, the supreme being could be anything with
respect to any value. The choice with which every denominational
doctrine dealing with the concept of a supreme being is
confronted is therefore to opt either for the guaranteed
existence of the supreme being (in the relative definition), but
with the possibility that it does not match the doctrinal ideal
by any means, or for the possible nonexistence of the supreme
being (in the absolute definition), but with the guarantee that
it does wholly match the ideal. Sincere denominationalists just
cannot have it both ways!
The existence or nonexistence of a supreme being named "God", has always
been the prime issue in the traditional monotheist-atheist debate,
monotheists claiming the existence of 'God', atheists denying it (and
agnosticists sitting on the fence, saying that they don't know).
Both parties have thus implicitly agreed that the
question of the existence of a supreme being would not only be
important, but more important than the question of the ideal
propagated by dint of that supreme being; or (if it does not
exist) by dint of its image.
theodemonism, and denominationalism in general,
is ideology --and it is--
it is its ideal which is more fundamental than anything else.
It is by way of that ideal that we come to know a denominational doctrine's
norms and values -- the norms and values which also determine what kind or
state of being may be believed to be normatively supreme.
Only by concentrating on its ideal do we enter the normative core of the
comprehensive ideology in question and can
we find out about all its principles, or lack thereof. Whether
we will be excited, disgusted, both or neither, it cannot be
denied that the symbol of a supreme being or the concepts of
normative superiority and supremeness play a significant role in
All of us will have to personally pass a last judgment on religion and
theodemonism one day, but if, and when, it results in a rejection of these
obsolete modes of denominationalism, it need not affect the belief in a
supreme being or its image.