The conceptualization of God as 'Being Itself' was, to my knowledge, first proposed by theologian Paul Tillich in the early 20th Century. It has been brought to my knowledge by a thoughtful blogger, discussant, and professional theologian with the pseudonym Metacrock (metacrock.blogspot.com). If you can get through his posts (sorry, Meta, your writing style is a bit... difficult), you'll find that they are extremely intelligent in nature and they actually pose even greater challenges to non-believers than the arguments of more well-known Christian apologists. His conception of God is fairly unique and has required substantial thought for me to comprehend it in a manner that enables me to write about it.
When it is said that God is defined as "Being Itself," it is meant in opposition to the idea that God is actually a being, that is a distinct entity that is what Metacrock refers to as "the big man in the sky" concept of God. So, according to Tillich and by extension Meta, God is not a being. But, if God is not a being, what exactly is He? How can a definition of God be meaningful without being a being? These questions seem to me to be serious problems of this view, especially to professed Christians like Metacrock, who hold onto the idea of a personal God.
First, we must understand the difference between entities and properties. An entity is "a thing with a distinct and independent existence," whereas a property is "an attribute, quality, or characteristic of something" (New Oxford American Dictionary). They are related in the sense that entities have properties and if something has properties, it is an entity. Properties are not entities, and entities are not properties, although we are required to define entities by their properties. This is a very important concept to grasp, because many times the syntax of a sentence does not make this distinction for us. Take, for example, the sentence, "The sky is blue." Most every English speaking person would understand what is being conveyed by this sentence. What it truly means is that the sky has the property of being blue. But, it could be interpreted incorrectly as "The sky and blue are synonyms." This, of course, is incorrect, and there is a category error involved in the logic behind the statement. "The sky" is an entity, whereas "blue" is a property. They cannot be the same thing.
The distinction between the conceptualization of God as "a being" and God as "Being Itself" is that the former treats God as a specific entity and the latter treats God as a specific property. A being is a type of entity, namely an animate one. The concept of God as "a being" holds that God is an entity with whatever properties the conceptualizer claims God to have. It is worth mentioning that this concept is not limited to the view that God is a "big man in the sky," as God doesn't need to be thought of as a being with a physical body or even a spatial existence. It just requires us to view God as a thing with properties. The concept that God is "Being Itself," however, does just the opposite — requiring us to view God as a essential property of all things as opposed to a thing itself.
"Being Itself" is an essential property of all entities. It, to the best of my understanding, can be defined as the property of existing. All entities must exist, by definition, and therefore, all entities have the property of existing. This makes the logical necessity of God seem self-evident, as the following syllogism demonstrates:
- God is the property of existing.
- Entities exist.
- Therefore, God is.
The very fact that anything exists is enough to demonstrate that this conceptualization of God is factually true. If God is "Being Itself," then God is, although I'd struggle to say that God exists, and I would also say that it's nothing more than defining God into being by removing any meaningfulness of the word, much like the concept that "God is love" does.
First, there is an inherent confusion when declaring that a property exists. What is really more correct is to say that an entity exists that has that property. Thus, if God is Being Itself (the property of existing), then it's not really correct to say that God exists, but instead it is more correct to say that all things which exist share the property known as God.
Second, the idea that God is a property as opposed to an entity leads one to realize that God cannot have properties. Only entities have properties. God cannot be conscious or personal any more than the property "blue" can be salty. Properties cannot have properties, but instead can only be or not be the case in relation to an entity. Therefore, despite the fact that "God as Being Itself" must be, it cannot do anything other than be, and thus any real meaning behind the word is eliminated. This concept of God ultimately leads one to hold that God nothing more than an impersonal, unconscious, purposeless, emotionless, uncaring, albeit necessary state of affairs. So, where the concept of "God as a being" is meaningful, but is not supported by either logical necessity or empirical evidence, the concept of "God as Being Itself" is supported by logical necessity, but is devoid of all relevant meaning. This seems to be a prevailing theme in theology — a complete inability to have your cake and eat it too.