Sathya Sai Baba. The Man Who Was God

0. Reading today’s (February 20, 2018) post by James Chastek, “Sathya Sai Baba as Atheist argument trope,” in the blog, Just Thomism, I became aware of Sathya Sai Baba for the first time. This was perhaps a bit late, for with but a few clicks I found myself reading today’s Time Magazine on-line article, “Sathya Sai Baba. The Man Who Was God Is Dead.”

The article tells us that:

Believing in the Baba was easy. Devotees were not required to adhere to any particular set of beliefs or renounce worldly pleasures; non-Hindus did not need to change their religion. “I am God,” he would say. “You too are God. The only difference between you and me is that while I am aware of it, you are completely unaware.”

1. In reading him being described in the title as “the man who was God,” I am of course reminded of the classical Christian belief that Jesus of Nazareth was God (and indeed is God; the claim that any person was God should also, it would seem, entail the further claim that he or she is God). In reading the Baba’s statement:

I am God. You too are God. The only difference between you and me is that while I am aware of it, you are completely unaware.

I am also reminded of the logical incoherence of such doctrines. In my February 8, 2018, article, “A Diagram of the Trinity,” and, more thoroughly in my June 12, 2014, article, “Garrigou-Lagrange on Trinity and Triple Identity,” I presented what I take to be a definitive refutation of the Trinitarian doctrine. In the present post, I’d like to present a similar logical response to the doctrine offered by the Baba.

3. First, then, there are the logical principles (I’d rather call them the ontological principles, but I’ll let that matter go for now) of the symmetry and the transitivity of identity. The principle of the symmetry of identity is the principle that:

For any existent x and any existent y, if x is identical with y, then y is identical with x.

Now, if we let ourselves imagine that the Baba was addressing me when he said, “You too are God,” then he would have been saying:

Richard is God.

If, then, we apply the principle of the symmetry of identity to the case of Richard and God, we have:

If Richard is identical with God, then God is identical with Richard.

Given the last two propositions, we find ourselves with the following utterly valid argument, one in the form known by logicians as Modus Ponens:

If Richard is identical with God, then God is identical with Richard.
Richard is identical with God.
Therefore, God is identical with Richard.

4. Let’s turn now to the principle of the transitivity of identity, the principle that:

For any existent x, any existent y, and any existent z, if both x is identical with y and y is identical with z, then x is identical with z.

If we apply the principle of the transitivity of identity to the case at hand, we have:

If both the Baba is identical with God and God is identical with Richard, then the Baba is identical with Richard.

5. Now a third principle becomes pertinent, the principle of the indiscernibility of identicals, according to which, as I’ll word it:

For any existent x and any existent y, if x is identical with y, then, for any attribute φ, x has φ as an attribute if and only if y has φ as an attribute.

Applying this principle to the case at hand and recalling that the Baba has claimed that he is aware of his identity with God, we have:

If the Baba is identical with Richard, then the Baba has an awareness, that he is identical with God, as an attribute if and only if Richard has an awareness, that he is identical with God, as an attribute.

Let me assure you, however, that:

Richard has no awareness, that he is identical with God, as an attribute.

From these two statements, however, it follows that:

The Baba is not identical with Richard.

6. That was as expected, I suppose. But let us now recall that, above, an application of the principle of the transitivity of identity to the case at hand led to the proposition that:

If both the Baba is identical with God and God is identical with Richard, then the Baba is identical with Richard.

We have just determined, however, that

The Baba is not identical with Richard.

Given the last two propositions, we find ourselves with another utterly valid argument, this one in the form known by logicians as Modus Tollens:

If both the Baba is identical with God and God is identical with Richard, then the Baba is identical with Richard.
The Baba is not identical with Richard.
Therefore, the Baba is not identical with God or God is not identical with Richard.

7. I dare to say that the first proposition, that the Baba is not identical with God, has to be true, for it can be shown to be so by appealing once more to the principle of the indiscernibility of identicals. First, however, given that the Baba has died, we can safely assert:

The Baba is subject to death.

Accordingly:

If the Baba is identical with God, then the Baba is subject to death if and only if God is subject to death.

Unless Nietzsche is right, however, God is not subject to death; I am, moreover, confident that my assumption that the Baba himself believed, or at least consistently professed to believe, that God is not subject to death is secure. It follows then that:

The Baba is not identical with God.

An exactly parallel argument starting from the premise that:

Richard is subject to death.

would lead to the conclusion that:

Richard is not identical with God.

8. I can imagine that at least some readers have had the patience not only to follow my reasoning this far, but also to accept the conclusions it has reached related to the Baba and Richard, specifically, their non-identity with God. But would not exactly parallel reasoning apply to Jesus of Nazareth?

Until next time.

Richard

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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4 Responses to Sathya Sai Baba. The Man Who Was God

  1. Fred says:

    The flaw in your argument is that Jesus never claimed “I’m God and you’re God.” He claimed he was God. As for subjectivity to death, he also claimed to be “the Son of Man.” He was God incarnate in human flesh. The flesh in which he was incarnate was subject to death but not the God that was incarnate in that flesh. So while your arguments are valid, your premises are wrong.

    • I thank you for your comment.

      I did not claim that Jesus claimed, “I’m God and you’re God,” or that classical orthodox Christianity claimed, “He, Jesus, is God and you, Richard, are God.”

      Classical orthodox Christianity does claim, however, that three distinct, i.e., non-identical, persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are God. Let us, for simplicity’s sake, restrict our consideration to the first two persons of the Trinity. But that leaves us with two distinct, i.e., non-identical, persons who are each identical with the one God. And that leaves classical orthodox Christianity in the same logical position as the Baba, who, in saying, “I am God and you are God, affirms that there are two distinct, i.e., non-identical, persons who are each identical with the one God. That is logically impossible.

      The second logical impossibility that I pointed to in the post is that of the Baba’s being identical with God, an impossibility because, since the Baba is a being who has died and, let us presume, God is not a being who has died, they cannot be identical. In exactly the same way, it is logically impossible that Jesus of Nazareth be identical with God; because Jesus of Nazareth is a being who has died and God is not a being who has died, they cannot be identical.

      Your statement, “The flesh in which he was incarnate was subject to death but not the God that was incarnate in that flesh,” is equivalent to a conjunction of two statements. The latter conjunct, “The God that was incarnate in the flesh that was subject to death was not itself, or himself, subject to death,” is equivalent to the statement, “God is not a being who has died.” I am, if only for the purposes of our discussion, leaving that proposition unchallenged.

      The former of the two conjoined statements, “The flesh in which he was incarnate was subject to death,” is equivalent to one of two statements, depending upon which of two possible referents of the pronoun, “he,” is understood. The one is, “The flesh in which Jesus was incarnate was subject to death,” and the other, “The flesh in which God the Son was incarnate was subject to death.” In either case, it is the flesh that was subject to death, not the person, whether designated by “Jesus” or “God the Son.”

      I have to ask, therefore, whether you intended to convey the message that it is but the flesh of the person, and not the person, who has died? If so, you may have escaped my second critique,” but at the cost of stepping outside the boundary of classical orthodox Christianity, for whom, as the Apostle’s Creed puts it, Jesus Christ “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” If the person, Jesus Christ, was crucified, died, and was buried, then the person, and not the flesh, died and so was a being who was different from and therefore not identical with God.

      I think I can still believe that my arguments are not just valid, but also sound.

  2. Not being a philosopher of any sort, I tremble to leave a comment. Still, I wonder if your argument fails to hit the mark because of a difference in the conception of god. Being a person of Hindu background, Sai Baba may be referring to god as a term for a monistic conception of the cosmos, as the impersonal Absolute, Oneness or Being, of which absolutely everything – Sai Baba, Richard, this mouse, that elementary particle – are merely transitory and probably illusory aspects. Perhaps all that Sai Baba meant was that there is a sense in which your mind (knowingly) and your spleen (unknowingly) ‘are’ both ‘Richard’, in the sense of being essential attributes of that higher level entity? I look forward to discovering in how many ways and on how many levels I have gone wrong!

    • Thank you for your comment. I’ll preface my reply by contesting your denial that you are a philosopher of any sort. Your comment itself tells me that you are a philosopher in the original sense of the word, a lover of wisdom. Or, if you are not quite a lover of wisdom, because, perhaps, not quite convinced that wisdom exists, surely you are one who would love wisdom were you to find it.

      That being said, I think it clear that the Baba espoused a version of monism or, as like to call it, theomonism that holds that whatever has any being whatsoever is identical with the one god, or God. That is, based on that which he is quoted as saying, he would say, if talking to me, that not only is he God, but I too am God; I assume that the same logic would lead him to say that you also are God and then further that not only of the three of us, but of all humans, all animals (including the mouse you mentioned), all plants, all inanimate objects, and indeed all aspects whatsoever of any reality whatsoever are identical with God. That thesis is, as I pointed out in the post, inconsistent with, i.e., is contradicted by, the thesis that he and I, or you and I, etc., are distinct from and not identical with each other. If the mouse is not identical with my spleen, then they cannot both be identical with God.

      I think you are seeing him to have upheld another version of monism or theomonism, one according to which any being whatsoever which is other than God is yet an attribute of God. But such a being simply cannot be identical with God; whatever reality is but a “merely transitory and probably illusory” reality cannot be identical with a being that is not a “merely transitory and probably illusory” reality.

      Allow me two more observations, in response to your statement that “Perhaps all that Sai Baba meant was that there is a sense in which your mind (knowingly) and your spleen (unknowingly) ‘are’ both ‘Richard’….” First, I can’t come up with such a sense. More importantly, however, if we remove the quotation marks and so use the words “are” and “Richard” in their normal senses, there is no way in which my mind and my spleen are Richard. They are but proper parts of the whole that is Richard. Second, then, my mind and my spleen are, then, parts of me and not attributes.

      I’ll close by gratefully accepting your willingness to view me as an entity of a higher level than my spleen.

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