Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas

I am taking a break. Back after New Years

This is my favorite Christmas song. The Trintarian doctrine is so well expressed this song could be used as a Creed. Charles Wesley's greatest work!

hear the music

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Incorantion 2: The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann


The Christian part of Christmas, that's the nativity scene with no trees or elves. That's the part you go to chruch to talk about. Show some mangers and some wise men and play the drummer boy song (eeeeee can't stand that son, p-rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum...enough already!) and you've done your bit for Christmas. I actually love Christmas, I like the manger and the baby and all that. Yet that is not what it's about. The entrance of Christ into the world in a lowly birth, worshiped by wise mean and heralded by angles and a star, those are nice folk tale elements. That masks what it's all about in guise of cute fluffy heart warming imagery. Christmas is about the birth of Christ, God come in the flesh, and that signals to us the death of Christ; its meaning, it's end, it's un-final end and new beginner. The birth heralds more of the positive side of Jesus time in the flesh, his career, his mission, the promise and the possibilities. After all they angels said "peace on earth, good will toward men." How does that connect to a kid born in a manger?
,,,,,,,Even with the positive possibilities of peace the birth hearlds the death and since we are compelled to think of both they both remind us of the meaning of Christ's mission and the reason for his coming. I used to read a book every Christmas, the same book. It was one of my all time favorite books; The Crucified God, by Jurgen Moltmann. The subtitle is very important: The Cross of Christ as the foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. That book seemed to most adequately sum up what the incarnation is about. I haven't read it in many years, lost in the moving, the many moves I've had to make.
.......Motlmann was from the 60's to the 90's and maybe even up to the present was the greatest living Protestant theologian. He was best known for this book and his Theology of Hope. both of which served to dramatize and legitimize the theology of liberation and the struggles of Latin America. Moltmann's book is actually an argument for placing Paxis on the front burner of theology and leaving the dray musty doctrinal stuff on the back burner. Praxis is the idea of reflection upon material need, how to apply the lessons of theology in a practical way to people's needs.
.......To get to the core of the book and it's relation to Christmas, the argument goes like this: So what if Jesus was crucified? what's the big deal? There are much worse ways to suffer. Crucifixion is bad but it is far from the worst thing that can happen to you. So why was it a sacrifice, I mean after all he is God, what would it matter to him if he dies? And he got to come back."
.......First, most Christians try to answer this out of a need for piety. They do not give a theological answer, they give a pious one. The pious answer can't be undestood by modern people, they lack pious feelings, so it just makes it worse. The pious answer of course is to try and mount up the pain and make it seem so very much worse. O. Jesus suffered in hell and he suffers every minute and he's still suffering and he felt all the agony in the world. Of course it doesn't' really say that anywhere in the Bible. While I think this is true, and while my pious side feels the proper sense of devotion and gratitude to our savior for his work, we can't use this to answer the question because modern impiety can't understand the answer. They just hear us reiterating their hidden primes.
.......The other Christian answers are Propitiatory atonement, Substitutionary, or Moral government. These are the tree major ways of looking at the atonement. Propitiation means to turn away anger. This answer is also incomprehensible to moderns. God is so very angry with us that he can't stand the sight of us, he has to stick Jesus between himself and us so he will see Jesus and turn away his anger. This just makes God seem like a red faced historical parent who couldn't comprehend the consequences of his creation when he decided to make it. Substitutionary atonement says that Jesus took our place, he received the penalty our sins deserved. This comes in two verities. One is financial transaction, Jesus paid the debt. the other is closer to moral government, Jesus was executed because he stepped in and took the place of the guilty party. Both of these are also problematic, because they really allow the guilty to get off Scott free and persecute an innocent person. Again modern people can't understand this kind of thinking; you could not go down to the jail and talk them into letting you take another prisoners place. We can harp on how this is a grace so fine we can't undersigned it in the natural mind, and relapse into piety again singing the praises to God for doing this wonderful act, but it wont answer the atheists questions.
.......I realize that the view I hold to is a little known minority view. I know I'm bucking the mainstream. But I think it makes a lot more sense and  actually explains why there was an atonement. Before getting into it, however, I want to comment upon the atheist hidden premise. The explicit premise of the atheist argument is that atonement works by Jesus suffering a whole lot. If Jesus suffers enough then restitution is made. But wait, restitution for what? For our sins? Then why should Jesus suffer more than we do or more than our victims do? Why do atheists seem to think,  that Jesus must suffer more than anyone ever has for the atonement to work? It's because the hidden premise is that God is guilty and the atonement is the time God pays for his own mistakes. Jesus has to suffer more than anyone to make up for what God has done, inconveniencing us by creating us. The sickness of the modern mind can scarcely comprehend Christian theology now. I wonder if it isn't too late and we are just past the day when people in the West can really be saved?
.......I mean consider the idea that usually acompanies this argument: well he is God after all, a little torutre death cant' hurt him. In the old days, when we had a culture that ran on Christian memories, people said how great that God would do this for us when he didn't have to! Now the argument is "Of course he had to, it's the least he can do, after all I didn't asked to be born, so I'm entitled to whatever goodies can get in compensation." That's why I think the hidden premise is to blame God; its as though they are saying God has to suffer more than anyone to make up for the suffering he caused as creator. This sort of attitude marks the disease of the modern mind.

In any case, my view is the Participatory atonement. It was embraced by several church fathers and modern theologians supporting it are mentioned below:

I.The Atonement: God's Solidarity With Humanity.

........A. The inadquacy of Financial Transactions

Many ministers, and therefore, many Christians speak of and think of Jesus' death on the cross as analogous to a financial transaction. Usually this idea goes something like this: we are in hock to the devil because we sinned. God pays the debt we owe by sending Jesus to die for us, and that pays off the devil. The problem with this view is the Bible never says we owe the devil anything. We owe God. The financial transaction model is inadequate. Matters of the soul are much more important than any monetary arrangement and business transactions and banking do not do justice to the import of the issue. Moreover, there is a more sophisticated model; that of the sacrament for sin. In this model Jesus is like a sacrificial lamb who is murdered in our place. This model is also inadequate because it is based on a primitive notion of sacrifice. The one making the sacrifice pays over something valuable to him to appease an angry God. In this case God is paying himself. This view is also called the "propitiation view" becuase it is based upon propitiation, which means to turn away wrath. The more meaningful notion is that of Solidarity. The Solidarity or "participatory" view says that Jesus entered human history to participate in our lot as finiate humans, and he dide as a means of identifying with us. We are under the law of sin and death, we are under curse of the law (we sin, we die, we are not capable in our own human strength of being good enough to merit salvation). IN taking on the penalty of sin (while remaining sinless) Jesus died in our stead; not in the manner of a premature animal sacrafice (that is just a metaphor) but as one of us, so that through identification with us, we might identify with him and therefore, partake of his newness of life.

.......B. Christ the Perfect Revelation of God to Humanity

In the book of Hebrews it says "in former times God spoke in many and various ways through the prophets, but in these latter times he has spoken more perfectly through his son." Jesus is the perfect revelation of God to humanity. The prophets were speaking for God, but their words were limited in how much they could tell us about God. Jesus was God in the flesh and as such, we can see clearly by his character, his actions, and his teachings what God wants of us and how much God cares about us. God is for humanity, God is on our side! The greatest sign of God's support of our cause as needy humans is Jesus death on the cross, a death in solidarity with us as victims of our own sinful hearts and societies. Thus we can see the lengths God is will to go to to point us toward himself. There are many verses in the Bible that seem to contradict this view. These are the verses which seem to say that Atonement is propitiatory.

.......C. Death in Solidarity with Victims
..............1) Support from Modern Theologians

.......Three Major Modern Theologians support the solidarity notion of atonement: Jurgen Moltmann (The Crucified God), Matthew L. Lamb (Solidarity With Victims), and D.E.H. Whiteley (The Theology of St. Paul).In the 1980s Moltmann (German Calvinist) was called the greatest living protestant theologian, and made his name in laying the groundwork for what became liberation theology. Lamb (Catholic Priest) was big name in political theology, and Whiteley (scholar at Oxford) was a major Pauline scholar in the 1960s.In his work The Crucified God Moltmann interprits the cry of Jesus on the cross, "my God my God why have you forsaken me" as a statement of solidarity, placing him in identification with all who feel abandoned by God.Whiteley: "If St. Paul can be said to hold a theory of the modus operandi [of the atonement] it is best described as one of salvation through participation [the 'solidarity' view]: Christ shared all of our experience, sin alone excepted, including death in order that we, by virtue of our solidarity with him, might share his life...Paul does not hold a theory of substitution..." (The Theology of St. Paul, 130)An example of one of the great classical theologians of the early chruch who held to a similar view is St. Irenaeus (according to Whiteley, 133).

..............2) Scrtiptural

...all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into his death.? We were therefore burried with him in baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him in his death we will certanly be united with him in his resurrection.For we know that the old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we will also live with him, for we know that since Christ was raised from the dead he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him; the death he died to sin he died once for all; but the life he lives he lives to God. In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Chrsit Jesus.(Romans 6:1-5)

.......In Short, if we have united ourselves to Christ, entered his death and been raised to life, we participate in his death and resurrection through our act of solidarity, united with Christ in his death, than it stands tto reason that his death is an act of solidarity with us, that he expresses his solidarity with humanity in his death.
.......This is why Jesus cries out on the cross "why have you forsaken me?" According to Moltmann this is an expression of Solidarity with all who feel abandoned by God.Jesus death in solidarity creates the grounds for forgiveness, since it is through his death that we express our solidarity, and through that, share in his life in union with Christ. Many verses seem to suggest a propitiatory view. But these are actually speaking of the affects of the solidarity. "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if when we were considered God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! What appears to be saying that the shedding of blood is what creates forgiveness is actually saying that the death in solidarity creates the grounds for reconciliation. IT says we were enemies then we were reconciled to him through the death, his expression of solidarity changes the ground, when we express our solidarity and enter into the death we are giving up to God, we move from enemy to friend, and in that sense the shedding of blood, the death in solidarity, creates the conditions through which we can be and are forgiven. He goes on to talk about sharing in his life, which is participation, solidarity, unity.

.......D. Meaning of Solidarity and Salvation.

.......Jurgen Moltmann's notion of Solidarity (see The Crucified God) is based upon the notion of Political solidarity. Christ died in Solidarity with victims. He took upon himself a political death by purposely angering the powers of the day. Thus in his death he identifies with victims of oppression. But we are all victims of oppression. Sin has a social dimension, the injustice we experience as the hands of society and social and governmental institutions is primarily and at a very basic level the result of the social aspects of sin. Power, and political machinations begin in the sinful heart, the ego, the desire for power, and they manifest themselves through institutions built by the will to power over the other. But in a more fundamental sense we are all victims of our own sinful natures. We scheme against others on some level to build ourselves up and secure our conditions in life. IN this sense we cannot help but do injustice to others. In return injustice is done to us.Jesus died in solidarity with us, he underwent the ultimate consequences of living in a sinful world, in order to demonstrate the depths of God's love and God's desire to save us. Take an analogy from political organizing. IN Central America governments often send "death squads" to murder labor unionists and political dissenter. IN Guatemala there were some American organizations which organized for college students to go to Guatemala and escort the leaders of dissenting groups so that they would not be murdered.
.......The logic was that the death squads wouldn't hurt an American Student because it would bring bad press and shut off U.S. government funds to their military. As disturbing as these political implications are, let's stay focused on the Gospel. Jesus is like those students, and like some of them, he was actually killed. But unlike them he went out of his way to be killed, to be victimized by the the rage of the sinful and power seeking so that he could illustrate to us the desire of God; that God is on our side, God is on the side of the poor, the victimized, the marginalized, and the lost. Jesus said "a physician is not sent to the well but to the sick."The key to salvation is to accept God's statement of solidarity, to express our solidarity with God by placing ourselves into the death of Christ (by identification with it, by trust in it's efficacy for our salvation).

.......E. Atonement is a Primitive Concept?

.......This charge is made quite often by internet-skeptics, especially Jewish anti-missionaries who confuse the concept with the notion of Human sacrifice. But the charge rests on the idea that sacrifice itself is a prematurity notion. If one commits a crime, someone else should not pay for it. This attack can be put forward in many forms but the basic notion revolves around the idea that one person dying for the sins of another, taking the penalty or sacrificing to remove the guilt of another is a premature concept. None of this applies with the Participatory view of the atonement (solidarity) since the workings of Christ's death, the manner in which it secures salvation, is neither through turning away of wrath nor taking upon himself others sins, but the creation of the grounds through which one declares one's own solidarity with God and the grounds through which God accepts that solidarity and extends his own; the identification of God himself with the needs and cry of his own creation.

The Blogging Parson
Moltmann's theodicy is the great strength of this work, in that it directly engages the protest atheism of the mid twentieth century without negating the powerful emotional impact of its claims. We are returned to the cross as the heart of the Christian message repeatedly - it is no accident that Luther features so strongly and so positively in these pages. Further, the rigour of his penetrating search for the implications of the cross for God himself has led him rightly to the trinity, and stands as a rebuke to the western tradition for neglecting this understanding of God for so long. The atonement is necessarily a trinitarian event/process. The sense of God identifying with human beings in Christ is also very strong. Moltmann develops a theology of the atonement with a cosmic scope, and does not fall into the trap of individualising the work of the cross.

Moltmann's work turns out to develop a "Trinitarian history of God." This works through a dialectic through which God rejects the Son, then accepts the son, then raises the son to a hope and a future in which we can participate. This also raises a dialectical relation between God and man because the son becomes part of humanity then humanity becomes part of the son through adoption to sonship and participation in the future. Christ particpates in our life and We in his. That's quite a philosophical turn on for a German.

Blogging Parson again:
We might complain that Moltmann's doctrine of God suffers from an overdose of Hegelianism, by presenting the history of the world as God's history, the process by which he realizes himself. By rejecting impassiblity and divine aseity, does he allow a compromise of God's freedom? This having been said, is God still as impersonal as he ever was under the scholastics? Further, the God presented here seems almost dependent on, or at least intrinsically tied to, the world. His is a vulnerable God. Moltmann's trinitarian reflection leaves him open to the charge of tritheism - however, he more than responds to such a charge in The Trinity and the Kingdom of God; and he is recapturing a biblical emphasis, after all.
While the cosmic vision of Moltmann's theologia crucis is admirable, it says almost nothing about individual salvation - in fact, it almost non-soteriological. He describes God's judgement in the terms of the "giving up" of human beings to their godlessness, as in Rom 1 (p.242). The atonement is achieved not by any substitutionary work of Christ but by his identifying with human beings in their lostness, by solidarity with them. In the end, his panentheism leads him to a universalist model; and the preaching of the cross becomes a following of God's example in identifying with the lost and godforsaken.
This last criticism I think is valid on the surface. Mostlamann doesn't spend a lot of time focusing on individual piety I think the implications for the individual are obvious and it's up to the individual to step into a relationship with God. For me I find Chrsitman can be a great way to do what but only if you overlook the commercial crap and read a book like the Crucified God..

A book review of the book

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Incarnation part 1: Radical Jesus

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Mural by Jose Clemente Orozco

Overlooking Christmas I promised to deal with the Incarnation this week. Rather than do a bunch of holiday cleches, manger scenes and baby Jesus, or dry boring things about the Trinity I will attack the radical end of it. Christmas is about the birth of Christ and that means the incarnation. More important than getting the doctrine stated right (do embrace the Nincene creed) is to understand what it means. The incorantion has a spceific meaning that is very important. I will deal with that in two segments, this one and one on Jurgen Moltmann on Wednesday.

Here I will start at the other end of things, the meaning of incorporation through an understanding of Jesus as a man in society. the symbol of the manger is the humble origin. The reason for that is solidarity with humanity. Jesus was one of us. God became one of us. He was one whom the murder of the poor was murder, the elites would despise. The best incornation passage was written by Paul, one of the most beautiful and sumps up the meaning best:

Philipians 2
6 Who, being in very naturea]">[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very natureb]">[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

I have been deeply moved by Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco's (1883-1949) painting of Jesus chopping down his own cross. The Christ of this mural prostrate is drawn in a very primitive style. Christ is not the Pascal lamb but refuses his destiny and will not go to the cross. The painting is disturbing because the first impression is that of blasphemy. Is the artist mocking Christ? Is he rejecting faith at its most sacred level? Rosco is not trying to blaspheme Jesus, nor is he denying the atonement. I find this painting very moving not out of any rejection of Christ’s sacrifice or any desire to defame the doctrine of atonement, but because for me it says Jesus would, weather as the son of God, or if he was only a man in history, refuse to be the poster boy for institutional hypocrisy, Jesus would allow himself to be used as symbol to sanctify the institution as it oppresses the poor and ignores the needs of the people. I believe that the real Jesus of history is both the Son of God and the man of history, and he does refuse this role. The real Jesus was a revolutionary of a most remarkable kind. Often we hear that Jesus is the great ethical teacher, and he claimed to be the Messiah, and savior of the world. We usually understand his ethics as an addendum, something any self respecting son of God would be required to have, but mainly irrelevant to his claims of godhood. Jesus ethics were far from being an addendum, however, they were the weaponry and major battle tactics of his amazing revolution. Politics and religion were intertwined in first century Hebrew society. Jesus’ ethics and his Messianic claims work together to fulfill his ultimate mission of world saving and together they make for one the most unique revolutions in human history.

It is not so strange to think of Jesus as a revolutionary. There were even Priests in Latin America in the 60’s, such as Camillio Tores but joined Che and became gorilla fighters. But Jesus the man of history was a true revolutionary. The region from which Jesus is said to have sprung is known as “the Galilee.” The Galilee was a hot bed of revolution, filled with uprisings and tensions. The Romans regarded it as the seat of Zealotry where the real revolutionaries were based. Just four miles from Jesus’ family farm “Nazareth” is a major metropolis known as Serapes. Just four miles down the road Jesus would have had access to what was then modern sophistication, political unrest and new ideas. Nor did he have to go to India to learn of traditions beyond his native prudential Judaism, the major trade route to India went right by his house,. That route lay on the plain of Megiddo where the end of the world is supposed to take place, the final battle between good and evil. Nazareth overlooks the plain of Megiddo and apparently the battle of Armageddon. All of these influences would have been at work in Jesus upbringing. Not to mention the fact that he was a descendent of David, born in Bethlehem and named as the high priest of Zechariah (Joshua = Jesus) who is linked to the Messiah (Zechariah 4).

Jesus revolution, however, was a bit odd. He did not lead an army nor did he command his followers to fight or pick up weapons. His was a non-violent revolution in the mode of Gandhi and that is where his ethics play a major role in backing his mission. The role of the Messiah in the society of Israel was that of political liberator, but it took on overtones of cosmic proportion. In the book of Isaiah we see the concept of Messiah first begins to be introduced, and is then back read into previous statements such as Moses admonition that “a prophet like me will come” and even God’s word to Eve “I will place enmity between the serpent and your seed.” The Messianic kingdom sketched out at the end of Isaiah is not the millennial kingdom of Christ’s post epochal reign on earth, but Israel after the return from the exile. By the second temple period and the time of Jesus, the concept had grown to almost divine proportions. The Messiah was to stand on the top of the temple and shout “Jerusalem your time at hand” the end of the world would ensue. The Messiah was to rise from the dead all of fallen Israel and for that reason he held the keys of life and death. The Jews did not see the Messiah as world redeemer; they did not see him as atoning sacrifice. These weren't entirely Christian innovations, they were foreshadowed at Qumran. But they weren't mainstream. The Jews certainly did not expect the Messiah to be crucified and raise from the dead.

Jesus was such a radical revolutionary, that is a "strange" different, unconventional one, that when his guys made noises about actually installing him on the throne the ran from them. That's because he knew, as everyone from the Galilee knew, the futility of trying to fight the Romans. The slaughter of the innocents in the book of Luke, is not recorded in history. Atheists are always quick to remind us of this. But it does not have to be because that kind of thin happened all the time. Even a gathering as innocent as the sermon on the mount risked attack by Romans even though nothing provocative was being said. When they started talking about making Jesus king he slopped away and ran from them. Not because he lost his nerve, but because that would totally divert the people from his true purpose. Jesus has no intention of leading an armed revolt that was the opposite of what he had in mind. neither did he intend to pacify the people to accept pain and hardship with platitudes about pie in the sky. Was his program escapist? Was it just a personal nirvana with no touch stone in reality or responsibility to the world? It was not this ether. It was a practical and pragmatic system fro changing the nature of the world by changing the way people relate to each other. He accomplished this by taking people out of the world while keeping them in it.

In Jesus' system we live by the dictates of a higher citizenship, a world beyond this one ruled entirely by God. This is echoed in the model prayer he taught the disciples "thy kingdom come thy will be don't on earth, as it is in heaven." The device Jesus used for this trick of living by the rules of world while being physically in another, we the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was the essence of Jesus' message:

Mt 3:2
and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

atheists think Jesus was saying "If you don't believe in me you will go to hell." But he actually never says this. All the action is in the kingdom and the kingdom is the big deal. The coming of the kingdom Jesus makes out to be an immanent, immediate, almost emergency status event that will happen soon, and when it does, man is it a big thing!

Mt 4:17
From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

Mt 4:23
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

Mr 1:15 - Show Context
"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

He never says the Kingdom is reward becasue you had the good sense to believe on him, but he does speak as though its the answer to all our troubles:

Mt 5:3
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Mt 5:10
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Most revolutionaries come to abolish the standing order, not imposes a kingdom, one kingdom over another.It is within this context that he talks about the ethics and personal relationships and how to relate to people. This is not just some ad on that's in addition to believing the right things, nor is it unrelated, but it is an outgrowth, a logical extension, one is the basis of the other. The Kingdom is coming. It's power is already here. We can be part of it now, because it has two aspects. This is "realized Eschatology" which was developed by the theologian C.H.Dodd; the kingdom has an "already" dimension" and a "not yet" dimension. We live in the kingdom now even as we are in the world. How we treat each other is an integral aspect of the kingdom.

Mt 5:20
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Mt 7:21 - Show Context
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Living as though we were in the kingdom now is the most radical move of any revolutionary program. We don't need to hurt anyone, we don't need to fight anyone. ;We just treat people the way God wants us to treat them, out of love. Over time like the mustard seed int he parable he told, the kingdom will grow into a mighty tree that will shade the world. Of course that brings up a sore spot. Some might suggest that has not happened. Others might suggest are still working on it. I think it's worked out much better than skeptical types are willing to admit. Of course the problem is the quasi religious types who think they can manipulate the truth for their devices, and the legalistic types who think they have to kiss up the quasi religious types or they aren't religious enough. While there's a long way to go we need to be cognizant of the fact that Christianity is more than just a social agenda and plan for living. The Kingdom of God is not just a social club or a political prgram it's spiritual power.

The fullness time will bring the healing of all wounds. Jesus incorporation prelude to his death in solidarity with humanity. The death cancels the future but the resurrection gives him a hope and a future. We step into solidarity with God we step into the hope and the future.

The full passgae in Philipians 2:

6 Who, being in very naturea]">[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very natureb]">[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rejection of Christianity and Self-esteem


I have for a long time now contended that most atheists had low self esteem. I found several sources that asserted it but with no empirical proof. The reason I thought it must be true is because they are always mocking and ridiculing religion and religious people. It stuck me that they were doing that to bolster their own egos. I have now found empirical evidence of this notion. There are several studies that claim to demonstrate that atheists have low self esteem. This is still not proof. There is a long way to go to prove the argument, and I'm sure that its not true of all atheists anyway. These studies are limited in many ways. but there are several of them and they do cover more than one culture. It's a good start on exploring a hypothesis. The main study I am examining here, however, is called "rejection of Christianity and Self Esteem." I will refer to this study as RCSE.

All the studies are done by the same group Emyr Williams, Leslie J Francis, Mandy Robbins
University of Wales, Bangor, UK the major study uses A sample of 279 13- to 16-year-old secondary school pupils in Wales completed the Rejection of Christianity Scale and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory. After controlling for sex differences a small but significant correlation was found between the two variables, indicating that low self-esteem is associated with the rejection of Christianity. Leslie J. Francis did three of the IQ studies that show no correlation between religious belief, lack thereof, and intelligence. The last such study he did was in 1996, but he has done three such studies on IQ and religious belief.

The rejection of Christianity scale was constructed by Francis, but not just for this study. The Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventor is standard has been used for a while.The study was done as a smaller piece of a larger picture that consists of several more studies and seeks to understand the relationship between self esteem and religoius belief. The larger picture is an argument that acceptance of Christianity is based upon good self esteem.

From RCSE:

Much of the work that measures religiosity uses items that are specifically designed to determine positive valency. For example, the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity (Francis, 1978; Francis & Stubbs, 1987) assesses how positively people feel about God, Jesus, the Bible, prayer and church. Using this instrument, a number of studies have demonstrated a positive association between a positive attitude toward Christianity and a range of positive psychological categories, such as happiness (Francis, Jones, & Wilcox, 2000), general psychological health (Francis, Robbins, Lewis, Quigley, & Wheeler, 2004) and life satisfaction (Lewis, 1998). In particular, several studies have now confirmed the link between a positive attitude toward Christianity and better self-esteem (Jones & Francis, 1996).
In other words a fairly large body of work already exists documenting the relationship between acceptance of Christianity and good self esteem. Measurements of things like happiness and self esteem are standard and have long been demonstrated by well validated measurement instruments.

The rejection of Christianity scale:
from RCSE:
By way of contrast, the Rejection of Christianity Scale proposed by Greer and Francis (1992) was designed to assess negative valency. The authors of the measure presented 32 negatively phrased questions to a sample of 875 fourth- and fifth-year secondary school pupils attending ten Catholic and ten Protestant schools in Northern Ireland. The questions that received the lowest item-rest-of-test correlations were rejected, leaving a scale of 20 items generating alpha coefficients of 0.94 for the Protestant sample and 0.90 for the Catholic sample. This scale has been shown to have internal consistency reliability among Northern Irish undergraduate students (Lewis, Maltby, & Hersey, 1999) and Welsh undergraduate students (Robbins, Francis, & Bradford, 2003).
Little research has been done to relationships between this measure and self-esteem. Since previous research has shown that there is a positive correlation between self-esteem and indices of religiosity designed with a positive valency (Jones & Francis, 1996), it is hypothesised that a negative relationship will be found between self-esteem and this measure of religiosity designed with negative valency.



A total of 279 secondary school pupils in Wales from years 9, 10 and 11 completed the 20-item Rejection of Christianity Scale (Greer & Francis, 1992) and the 25-item Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (Coopersmith, 1981). One quarter (25%) were aged 13, one third (32%) were aged 14; 30% were aged 15, and 13% were aged 16. Males comprised 56% of the sample and females 44% of the sample.


The Rejection of Christianity Scale (Greer & Francis, 1992) is a 20-item Likert-type instrument, employing a five-point response scale ranging from ‘agree strongly’, through ‘agree’, ‘not certain’, and ‘disagree’, to ‘disagree strongly’. The scale measures negative valency toward Christianity. This scale is designed so that higher scores indicate a higher tendency to reject Christianity.
The Coopersmith Short-Form Self-Esteem Inventory (Coopersmith, 1981) is a 25-item instrument, employing a dichotomous response scale of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The possible range of scores for this form of the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory is 0-25, with higher scores indicating higher self-esteem.


Both measures achieved satisfactory Cronbach alpha coefficients (Rejection of Christianity Scale, .88; Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory, .80). After controlling for sex differences by means of partial correlations, the data demonstrated a small, but significant, correlation (r= -0.14, p <.05) between self-esteem (M = 15.3, SD = 4.9) and rejection of Christianity (M = 62.7, SD = 13.2) indicating that as teenagers’ endorsement of negative statements concerning Christianity increases, their scores of negative self-esteem also tend to increase.


The present study has explored the relationship between rejection of Christianity and self-esteem among adolescents in Wales. After controlling for sex differences a small but significant negative
correlation is found between high-self esteem and rejection of Christianity, as hypothesised. This finding strengthens the conclusions drawn from studies like that of Jones and Francis (1996), which demonstrated a positive correlation between high self-esteem and a positive attitude toward Christianity by demonstrating that the association is not a function of the valency of the measure of religiosity. Evidence of this nature appears to be suggesting that the Christian tradition is supportive of the development of self-esteem among young people rather than detrimental to it.
(References used by RCSE can be seen in link above).

The major criticism is that this study is not representative. It's only a small sample of Welsh children.

The rejection of Christianity scale has been validated.

fromRCSE :

This scale has been shown to have internal consistency reliability among Northern Irish undergraduate students (Lewis, Maltby, & Hersey, 1999) and Welsh undergraduate students (Robbins, Francis, & Bradford, 2003).

That is to say these are not the same as above, where those were done on secondary students these are done on college (Undergraduate). Although Wales and Ireland are basically the same general culture. The work on self esteem and rejection of Christianity is just getting started. The other pieces of the puzzle in this equation have all been put in place. The rejection of Christianity scale has been validated cross culturally in several studies. The link between postie self esteem and acceptance of Christianity has been validated cross culturally and the attitude toward Christianity scale has been validated cross culturally. Francis scale of attitude toward Christianity has been cross validated in Hong Kong and Belgium.

A second argument used by atheists is that kinds are being given negative self images by religion, they are blamed for being gay and other things churches call 'sin' thus they are given their negative self esteem in return they reject religion because it has rejected them. On the face of it that looks a pretty likely senerio. Through what mechanism does this happen? Is it inherent in all religion or is there way to avoid it? Ralph Peidmont wrote a book that is part of a multi-volume set called Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, this is Volume 16. He discusses a study by Francis (p105) that establishes a positive correlation between a positive God image and high self esteem. In other words if you teach children that God is good and loves them they will will tend to have higher self esteem than if you teach them a negative, that is critical, fault finding, legalistic, blame oriented view of God.

The Fracis study in Peidmont's book used
...a 735 secondary pupils between 11-18 competed the Coopersmith Self-Esteem inventory and Revised Junior Eysenck Personality Questionnaire and a semantic differential index of God images in order to examine the relationship between God images and self-esteem while controlling for personality factors. The data demonstrates a significant corroboration between positive God images and positive self esteem, after controlling for individual differences in personality. (105)

Peidmont traces the currents of social science research on the top through seven different "strands" of thought which include everything form "religions causes negative self-esteem" to "religion causes postiive self esteem" and all the machinations one can think of based upon variations of those two poles. The problem is none of that research was based upon the kind scientific instruments and controls that Francis uses. Peidmont discusses the work of Spilka and Benson who start from the other end of the spectrum and investigate the assumption that self-esteem shapes he acceptability of God images. Peidmont quotes Benson and Spilka in 1973:

Persons with high levels of self esteem may find it difficult to share the same religious belief. A theology predicated upon a loving accepting God is cognitively compatible with high self esteem, but it could be a source of discomfort for a believer low in self esteem. It does not make good cognitive sense to be loved when one is unlovable. Consequently the latter person can march to a different theology, one that is more consistent with his self image. (Benson and Spilka 209-210).

The implications are intriguing becuase it not only means that people who present a mean legalistic view of God have low self-esteem, not only that atheist's rejection of God is due to their low self esteem but that for those atheists who really rail against God as evil, mean, and vicious, they are really railings against themselves. Whereas it doesn't necessarily follow that we can correct it by teaching people that God is loving. Would they just reject the notion of a loving God because it doesn't fit their sense of self?

Benson and Spilka* did two studies in (73) and (75). the latter done by Spilka, Addison and Rosenshon. Both studies determined self esteem by a modified Coopersmith. They assessed God images by means of semantic differential grid which generated two scales defined as measuring a loving God image and a controlling God image.Self-esteem was negatively related to a wrathful God image. Among female students self esteem was negatively related to a wrathful God image. Although Peidmont shows other studies that didn't find a correlation, Cartier and Goehner (1976) related measures of self-esteem with God images (Peidmont 109).

The significance of this is two fold. If it is true that theological teaching is to blame for self image, or to laud for good self image, it behooves the chruch to seek to teach healing images of God. This may be a huge short coming for which a great deal of theological education deserves blame. It may also be the case that being an atheist, at least for some, has less to do with reason and logic as the atheist tyr to argue it does, and more to do with hidden psychological motives.


Last time we looked at an general overview of the research, examined a specific study and put it in the context of its research milieu. That study said that rejecting Christianity correlates with low self esteem (LSE). This time we examine an argument made by an atheist, Skycomet the fallen angel (O him! of course). What's old Sky up to these days? He's on the Think Atheist blog. (I don't know the guy but screen names crack me up). In his article "Religious People Have More Self Esteem than Non Religious People," Skycomment argues against this view.
I was sitting in Adolescent Psychology class this morning and the topic was "self-esteem." About half-way through the class, the girl in front of me suggested that "more spiritual [which to theists means more religious] people have higher self-esteem than less spiritual [ie less religious or non-religious] people."

As most of us know, this is an extremely common theist argument against non-theists, particularly atheists. And, although I think the girl truly believed what she was saying...

But, the fact is that I REALLY disagree with her on this!

As documented in my last installment the studies show that there is a fairly solid conclusion suggested by the data, that religious people have high self esteem and such self esteem is a major factor in being religious. That does not automatically translate into the corollary that, therefore, those who reject religious belief must have low self esteem (LSE). We looked at a couple of studies that suggested it was true, but I admitted that is far from being actual proof. The research is just beginning. (I say a couple--one was directly designed to measure that hypothesis, the other correlated self esteem with God image, and skepticism with negative God image so it forms the basis of an argument but in an indirect way).

Skycomet goes on

Having been a former theist myself, I think it's more likely that religion [especially the monotheistic ones] impose low self-esteem on a person rather than bolster it!
That's irrelevant, the thesis is that people reject Christianity because of their LSE, and he did fall away. It may have been due to his self esteem. Now observe his view of God and Christianity:

After all [and since I came from Christianity I will use that as an example], what type of messages does Religion send it's believers?

- I am not worthy of your love, Christ.
- Why do you love me?
- I'm a sinner.
- Jesus died to save my sins, therefore I deserve to burn in hell.
- I must humble myself before the Lord.
- Pride is a sin.
He's confirming what Piedmont and the other researchers find, that negative God image is linked to rejecting Christianity, they also find that LSE is related to a negative God image. So in fact this may be confirming the original thesis thesis, Sky has unwittingly and contrary to his intent proved the thing he's trying to disprove. Of course its' only anecdotal and doesn't mean the thesis is proved. Yet, it does mean his argument is ineffective.

Some of the things in his list are not negative but they are indicative a low self esteem person. Humbling oneself before God is not negative but to a LSE person humility is equated with humiliation. LSE confuses Pride with high self esteem, and vice verse. He equates being a sinner with negative judgment on self wroth, whereas a high esteem person is capable of understanding that being sinner is not a judgment on one's worth a human being. Every single one of those statements indicate the opposite of what he wants to prove. He thinks they prove that that Christianity is negative and bad for self esteem, they really function like a semantic differential grid as the studies use and he's just proving his own LSE.

How in the world do those kind of messages correlate with positive self-esteem?!
It seems to me that they would do the opposite and make a person who is a TRUE believer [there are fakes among them, of course] think they'r * worthless.

If one starts with LSE in the first place. He's just reading the statements as low esteem would dictate. The low self esteem screws up the logic of the religious doctrine and distorts it. Take one example of the statments above:

Jesus died to save my sins, therefore I deserve to burn in hell.
That's not just illogical, it's not Christian doctrine it's antithetical to Christian doctrine, but it's a perfect example of the demonstration of low self esteem given by Piedmont (see 107-109). It's illogical that because Jesus died for me I must deserve to burn in hell. There's a missing step in there: my sins deserve punishment but Jesus loves me, I am not my sins." I am worth dying for since Jesus did die for me, that means Jesus loves me in spite of my sins. But this obvious conclusion is clouded by the LSE to remove the "I am worthy" premises so the connection between God's love and one's unworthy nature is made. This is the very example in the Piedmont book, "how could God love a person like me? I am unworthy of love, therefore, God either doesn't love me or there is no God."

Sky again:

However, this argument, and similar ones [like religion makes people happier then not having one] sound like baseless, bogus, and more manipulative attempts to use emotion and fear to turn people to religion! Afterall, who does not fear unhappiness? It doesn't seem to matter to a lot of religious people whether these claims are true or not... it only matters that they create more sheep [or slaves - whichever you want to call it] for their religion.
These claims are backed by hundreds of empirical studies, however, and I have demonstrated that and will soon (hopefully) have a book coming that about those studies. Of course it sounds bad to him he has LSE. All he's really proving is what I suspect that atheism is, at least for a lot of people, the product of LSE and psychological dynamics and unwillingness to do the hard work of re programing they way we years what's beings in the area of self esteem.

I see a lot of immorality and base cruelty in decieving people like this. [Although I don't think the girl was attempting to decieve people, I think she was one of the poor saps that believed the BS spouted from theologian mouths. And I feel sorry for her. - Which is how I tend to feel for a lot of religious people of late, sorry for them.]
This is based upon the bad assumptions colored by LSE.

I think non-theism, on the other hand, lifts someone's self-esteem. It gives us an incredible amount of power to control our own destiny and our own lives, it helps us to see through BS [whether it comes from religion or popular culture], and it raises the value of humanity above "god" giving us an incredible sense of self-worth.
This is of course an illusion based upon false premises which are in fact lies. Think about it, if LSE is leading one to reason poorly about God's love, so that love become an insult and hate and rejection of the source of love become liberating (because sin nature is now free run riot and is now confused with self esteem) then what's being experience dis not higher self esteem but a combination of temporary gratification of sin and revenge upon a father figure (God) who the skeptic hates for the alleged rejection he imagines to have been wrought upon him by God.

The fact of the matter is empirical studies prove religion = good self esteem and that people stay with their faith because it builds their self esteem. I can offer anecdotal back up for that becasue I was an atheist. I had LSE because idiots always told I was stupid because I had dyslexia. I had a born again experience and then my self esteem was healed I began to love myself for the first time since early childhood. This guy is just bucking the empirical proof because he doesn't like what scinece tells him.

So... with that said... it is clear to me... that this religious jibber-jabber is founded on nothing and sounds supiciously like an outright lie.
This little jibber jabber is based upon empirical studies. Notice he doesn't with any studies. Not a one of them. He does confirm what the studies show, the opposite of what he wants to confirm. The thing is this is not all good news for fundies. It may seem like it on the surface but not entirely. It means that the spiritual situation is mixed in with psychological dynamics. That means for the atheist it's not just a matter of "reason" and "logic" and being an atheist doesn't make him supiorior. Form the standpoint of Atheist Watch it proves my point, mocking and ridicule on message boards by atheists agaisnt Christians is probably the result of poor self esteem and their becoming atheists is a psychological problem not a logical truth or any kind of big liberation. For the fundie it means two things, they are failing to spread the gospel because they don't respect self esteem. The fundies do more to destroy self esteem than anyone (I say that having gone to fundie school and I became an atheist become of them). That means part of bringing God's love into the world is about loving people and healing them, it also means the spiritual and the psychological are mixed up together.

One thing I realized since the last installment (self esteem part 1) atheists generally take this topic as major insult. I'm saying "there may be a possibility that your atheism is the result of psychological dynamic" they see it as saying "you are not good!" After discussing with others I realize this is the way LSE works.You understand anything that is not lauding your greatness as an insult. People with LSE can't take any sort of criticism. They equate self esteem with worth. This is why they equate being guilty of sin with being found not worthy of love. That's just the LSE talking. That does not mean we are not worthy of love or that God doesn't love us. I am a person has always been effected by LSE. I had loving parents who cared, they tired to help but due to the dyslexia I always had LSE.

One more caveat, I don't believe in hell. I think the very doctrine of taking hell as a literal place of torment is in itself indicative a bad psychological dynamic, but it's one many of us are stuck with become we were taught to see things that way as kids. I think it gets in the way.

*typos in block quotes are made by atheists. I don't correct spelling for quotes. If I quote a person who misspells a word I quote the misspelling. I know I misspells words a lot that's not the point.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

All God's Point to God or No Other Name?


On Monday I talked about the seeming universality of the God concept, and the relative nature of religious traditions. One reality (God) behind all traditions that seem to be different only becuase experience of God must be filtered ("mediated") through cultural constructs. In Christian terms where does that leave faith in Christ? How can Christ be the savior, the one name by which we can be saved, if God is the same reality behind all religions? First of all I did not say that I think all religious traditions are the same. Nor did I say they are all equal. They are not alike becuase they are all tainted by the various cultural constructs we use to understand reality. We can't think about that which is beyond our understanding, the slight glimpse we get of it must be compared to that which do know. Secondly, I don't think all gods are God. I have been known to say "all God's point to God." That means the individual personages of various mythological traditions are place holders. They are not coterminous names or the same personage, they are sign posts that point beyond themselves to something else. That is true except for Jesus. By extension the God of the OT. The God of the OT can fool us.

First Jesus is a historical person who actually lived and breathed and walked the earth. I know there are despisers of who God fervently wish that was not true. They have brain washed themselves by concocting their own silly standards to convince themselves, but those are not the standards of historians. There's still an option for the skeptic to doubt the divinity of the person in history; after all it is an impossible thing. It's a incredulous thing. It's what Reinhold Niebuhr called "impossible possibly." They will have to do their doubting through the humanity of the historical guy becuase the evidence is simply overwhelming that he did live. I am going say to more on the incarnation as we get near Christmas. Getting on toward the end of next week I'll dwell more fully with that. Jesus is the unique point of the Christian tradition, without that we can just be Unitarians. We might as well, therefore, put our eggs in one basket so to speak, the Jesus basket as it were. Becuase he was a man in history Jesus offers a unique focal point for understanding the divine and his sacrifice on the cross as unique statement of solidarity between God and humanity. All the other figures of other faiths are either not divine (not suppose to be by their reckoning) or they were not flesh and blood. Zeus was not a real guy, he was a myth. Hercules might have been based upon a real guy or even two but he was not a object of religious devotion. There were examples of soldiers mainly who made votive offerings to Hercules because he was a symbol of strength but he is still a symbol. The real guy is forgotten and he's not the point of the Greek religion. He would be more analogous to a saint in the Catholic chruch rather than to Christ. Buddha was flesh and blood but he wasn't a "god." Hercules was not the divine logs, his death could never be a major symbol of God's solidarity with humanity. Alexander the great was a hybrid in that he was a historical figure but a legend grew up around the historical figure that he was a demi-god, he son of a god. He was not the embodiment of the universal logos. He was more like Hercules, more like a saint.

Jesus was not son of God in the same sense. Jesus son ship is eternal, and part of the Trinity and sort of what we might call "mega doctrine." He much more than just a saint-like figure to whom one can pray for intercession, he is much more than even though his role is intercessory. Jesus is the called the son of God in the Gospels not becuase he's vice President God but because it was an epithet of Messiah. The Greek Christians understood it in the demi god sense due to associations with Greek religion. It was the Platonic philosophy that triumphed in understanding the Trinity. Of cousre Jesus is also called the "only begotten son of God." That Greek word is mongenase meaning "foal." Or it might be translated "unique son." We are said to be children of God, ton technon theon. This means adopted children. We are children by adoption. Jesus was begotten by the father, not referring to his coming to be at a point in time, as the son of the Trinity is eternally generated, he's eternally being born and born constantly forever as the son. That's not the begotten part. The begotten part is the incorporation.

It's because he was a real historical figure that he can fit both roles uniquely, both pointing beyond himself to the one true reality behind all religions, and also himself being the employment of divine in the flesh. When I say by extension this brings in the OT God, what I mean is that the eternal generation of the son implies the father. The embodiment of the divine implies the transcendent divine that is pointed back to. That does not mean the images used individually in the OT are so closely identified with God that they are literalized. They remain metaphorical is obvious becuase they are so diverse. So the OT not only has the unique presentation of the one true God but also reflects the same relative nature that all religious traditions do of pointing beyond itself to the true reality behind them all. This is acknowledge in the Bible. Genises 14:18 we read "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High." He's priest of God but Israel doesn't exist yet. He's dealing with Abraham, before the sons whose names would grace the twelve tribes. Of wast religion is he a priest that he is priest of God most high? Obviously there's something different in the relationship between God and religious traditions that we don't get. The God of the OT is the object of worship Jesus taught us to worship but he not teach us to literalize the metaphors of the OT. Nor did he sort out for us the canonical status of the books therein. We are not bound to think of God as the big meaning of the OT smiting and condemning and so forth. There's a very different picture of the OT God that emerges which I will discuss on friday.

I should discuss salvation and damnation and things such as this. That is rather crucial in dealing with the issue of "one true faith." Many good and well meaning people do not feel the need to be saved. Some wonder why is it not enough to jut be good and well meaning. Surely God knows that we are well meaning, if God looks upon the heart, so why do we need to conform to the ideological strictures of a particular religious view? Wouldn't God be extremely unjust to condemn someone who was well meaning? And aren't Christians really unfair to assume that all but those who follow their views are not well meaning?2) Unfair because believers in other religious traditions will not be saved?This is an often heard objection and it is not without merit. Why should God send someone to hell for all eternity, simply because he/she was born in a culture that is not open to Christianity, perhaps has not herd of Jesus, and perhaps even at a time before there was any possibility of hearing (say before Christ came to earth). Such a person would have no chance of being saved. Closer to home, a person in another culture who is very committed to the religious tradition he/she was brought up in, why should such a person suffer eternally just for being who they are? That is basically what it amounts to, everyone is proud of their own culture, and everyone identifies with his/her own religious tradition in a very personal way. Why should someone be condemned just for being who they are, being born and raised in the culture they were born into?

Sice hell is eternal, and sin is finite, it seems unjust to punish someone in a mannar that far exceeds the crime. Moreover, isn't the punishment unfair in the first place? Just to go to hell simpley for not being a Christian, this is very unjust becuase it means that who the person is and what they live for, and the nature of their intensions aren't even considered. To just whisk people off to hell forever, where there is no learning process so no chance to correct mistakes, is unjust."Gospel" means "Good News." The Good News is not that people are going to hell. The Good News is that God cares and provides a way to orient our lives toward him so that we can know him in this life, and in the world to come. I don't believe in hell as eternal conscious torment. I think the eternal aspect of it is the cessation of existence, forever. Those in hell cease to exist and they are forever gone. That's the eternal aspect not the conscoius torment. I will deal with that at another time. If one wishes to be reading up on it in the mean time my views on the subject are recorded here.

Jesus himself never speaks directly of hell, but always in parables. The other statements of Hell are mainly in euphemistic passages or in apocalyptic passages such as the book of Revelation. But I suggest that for some crimes hell is deserved. The slaughter of innocent people, the disruption of thousands of lives, the Hitlers of the world, and those who rationalize the deeds through "following orders" deserve to suffer the consequences of their actions. Evil has consequences, and those who commit evil should suffer the consequences, and they will.I have no direct knowledge of what hell is. It is based upon the Greek mythological concept of Tartarus which got into Hebrew thinking through Hellenization. There is no "hell" in the Tennach or the Pentateuch ("OT"). In the Hebrew scriptures there is only mention of Sheol, or the "the grave" to which everyone goes. But in the books of Revelation it does speak of those who work inequity being "outside the Kingdom of God." I don't' believe that hell is literal fire and brimstone, I do believe it is some state of anxiety or separation from God.

"All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God." From a human perspective, relatively speaking from one human to another there are, of course, well meaning people. There are good people all around us, from a human perspective. Relative to the Divine however, no one is good, no one is capable of meriting salvation. We all have our sins, we all have our human frailties. We are all caught up in "height" (our ability through the image of God in which we were created to move beyond our human finitude and seek the good) and "depth" (our nature burdened in the sinful wickedness to human deceit). These are Augustinian terms and they basically mean that we are both, good and bad, saint and sinner. God knows the heart, He Knows what we truely seek. God is merciful and is able to forgive our trespasses. But, if we are really well meaning toward God we will seek the turth. If we are seeking the truth than God will make it plan to us.

Other Religions

Paul said "To those who through persistance seek glory, honor and immortality he will give eternal life.But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the good and follow evil there will be wrath and anger...first for the Jew and then for the gentile; but glory honor and peace for everyone who does good. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will perish apart form the law and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

Indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirement of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences bearing witness and their hearts now accusing, now even defending them..." (Romans 2:7-15). New American Standard and other translations say "their hearts accusing, now excusing them..." Most Christians are afraid of this conclusion and they down play this verse. Often Evangelicals will come back and say "he makes it clear in the next passage that no one can really follow the law on their hearts." Well, if they can't, than they can't. But if they can, and do, than God will excuse them. God knows the heart, we do not. The verse clearly opens the door to the possibility of salvation (although by Jesus) thorugh a de facto arrangement in which one is seeking the good without knowing the object one is seeking (Jesus). In other words, it is possible that people in other cultures who follow the moral law written on the heart know Jesus de facto even if they don't know him overtly. Paul backs up this conclusion in Acts 17:22 Paul goes to Athens as is asked by the Athenian philosophers to explain his ideas to them.

These were pagan followers of another religion. Paul stood up and said to them, "Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious for as I walked around and observed your objects of worship I even found an alter with this inscription 'TO AN UNKOWN GOD' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you."He basically says that they are worshiping God, they just don't know who he is. That's why he says "I will make it known to you." He doesn't say "you have the wrong idea completely." Most Evangelicals dismiss this as a neat rhetorical trick. But if we assume that Paul would not lie or distort his beliefs for the sake of cheap tricks, we must consider that he did not say "you are all a bunch of pagans and you are going to hell!" He essentially told them, "God is working in your culture, you do know God, but you don't know who God is. You seek him, without knowing the one you seek. He goes on,(v27)"God did this [created humanity and scattered them into different cultures] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out and find him though he is not far form each one of us." This implies that God not only wants to work in other cultures, but that it is actually his paln to do things in this way. Perhaps through a diversity of insights we might come to know God better. Perhaps it means that through spreading the Gospel people would come to contemplate better the meaning of God's love.

In any case, it does mean that God is working in other cultures, and that God is in the hearts of all people drawing them to himself. Of their worship of idols, Paul said "in past times God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (v30). Now what can this mean? God never overlooks idolatry or paganism, in the OT he's always commanding the Israelite to wipe them out and expressly forbidding idolatry. It means that on an individual basis when God judges the hearts of people, he looks at their desire to seek him, to seek the good. That their status as individuals in a pagan culture does not negate the good they have done, and their ignorance of idolotry does not discount their desire to seek the good or the truth. IT means that they are following Jesus if they live in the moral life, even though they follow him as something unknown to them. IT also means that all of us should come into the truth, we should seek to know God fully, and when we do that we find that it is Jesus all along.

Knowing God.

Heb. 8:10-12 "...I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man say to his neighbor 'know the Lord' for they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more." This passage promises a "personal relationship with God."The word for "to Know" is the Greek Term Ginosko, which means personal experiential knowledge. To give one's life to Jesus means to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus said (John) "My sheep know my voice..." Personal relationship means that it is more than a set of rules, more than an ideology or a belief system, but a matter of the heart, the emotions, religious affections. IT may not be through dramatic miraculous effects (although I do believe that that is open to all Christians) but it is deeper than mere rule keeping, and does make for a satisfaction nothing else can match.God acts upon the heart. Salvation is a matter of "knowing God" not of mere intellectual assent. What does it mean to know God? It means that being a Christian is a matter of experiencing God's love in the heart and of loving God and others. It is also a matter of being "led" by God through impressions upon the heart, and not merely a set of rules or a list of beliefs that one must check off. IT is the development of "religious affections."The excitement of knowing God is unequaled by anything else in this life.

Developing Personal Relationship with God.

This is very simple. God keeps it simple so all of us can do it. John tells us "...that whosoever believes on him shall be saved." (3:16). Belief is the first step. But believe doesn't just mean intellectual assent, it means to place our faith in him, to trust him, as said above to place ourselves into his death, to express our solidarity with him.

Paul says "...That if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the Dead, you will be saved, for it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved....everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:9-12).

Note that the resurrection is stipulated as a criterion of belief, and notice that it also says believe in your heart. Belief is not mere intellectual assent but is a decision of the will to trust in God. Does this mean we must believe in the resurrection to be saved? It at least means we must believe in the thing the resurrection points to, the new life in Christ, that we trust God to give us this new life and that such life is found in him. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. What does it mean to call upon the name of the Lord? It means, to place our trust in God and in Jesus as God's Son, as our savior.

The Name of Jesus

The name of Jesus then becomes our expression of solidarity with God, that we state clearly that we choose God's way, we want to change our lives and we are ready to accept God's terms for life; that we respond to the solidarity he shows us by committing to solidarity with him.In Acts 2: 38 the mob asks Peter what they must do, in response to the miracles of Pentecost and Peter's sermon on Jesus being raised form the dead. Peter tells them "Repent, and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ that your sins may be forgiven." Does this mean that baptism is a pre-requiset for salvation? I don't believe so. They were really asking a more general question than "how do I get saved." IN response to Peter's sermon they were asking in a general way "well, we curcified the Messiah, what can we do about it."

Peter tells them two things, repent (change your mind, express sorrow for sin and determine not to sin any longer) AND be baptized as an expression of surrender to God (in keeping with the Jewish custom). The key here is to repent, turn from the present course of life and follow Jesus. Baptism is something we should do. It is an expression of our faith, and a symbol that we place our hope in God, die to the old way, it is an outward symbol of placing ourselves in solidarity with God and in Jesus death. But the important thing here is to repent. And, "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."Latter in Acts when Peter takes the Gospel to the gentiles for the first time, the house of Cornelius. He tells them (Acts 10:43)"... everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." With that the Holy Spirit comes upon them while Peter is still talking. He does not tell them to be baptized, nor does God wait for that to give the gift of the Holy Spirit (which is the renewing of the spirit, the "born again" experience and empowering for service to God). So here again the common link is belief, which implies a commitment of trust.Eph 1: 13 "Having believed you were marked in him with a seal the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance unto redemption of those who are God's possession."Romans 5 "since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access into this grace..."Therefore, "getting saved" is very simple, although it may be the hardest thing you will ever do. Just place our trust in Jesus and give your life to God. Actively determine to believe (place trust) in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, God's expression of solidarity with humanity.

The formula?

It doesn't matter what formula you use, just pray, tell God you are sorry for your sins and you want to change and follow him, ask him to save you and to come into your life, and tell him you want to commit your life to Jesus. Don't formulate preconceived notions about how you are supposed to feel, just try to be sensitive to how you do feel. Read and study the Bible and find a chruch where you feel at home and where they beleive the Bible. It is important to develop friendships with believers, but don't burn your books, don't become obligated to obey some preacher man in everything he would tell you, if a group insists that you need their particuarl group to be saved, or if they impose a bunch of rules don't stay with them. God will convict you about what you need to change. Just try to be open to him. Of course some things are obvious, stop sinning try to be good to peole and spread the word about what Jesus is doing in your life.B. Personal Testimony Hesitate to give my "testimony" because it's private, and I don't want skeptics trying to disect it, and also because all conversions are different, most aren't dramatic, and I don't want people expecting that if they pray to be saved the same things will happen to them that happened to me. It is different for everyone, God tailor makes conversions special for each individual. But it does seem logical to at least mention it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What is the Nature of Religion?

Persian version of Mithra

While doing my usual message board thing this weekend I notice a lot of atheists making arguments like God is a big man in the sky, and what about all those other faiths and so on. I got in a dispute with atheist about the nature and purpose of religion. There's the old perennial divide and conquer strategy that they are so fond of. "What about all those other religions how do you know yours is right? There's a amalgam of issues I'm trying to get at here I think the way to do it is this one central concept. We must look pat the specifics of individual traditions and look at the abstract nature of what religion is about and what it's meant to do. This is all coming from my old notes at Perkins in Dr. McFarland's class on religion in a global perspective.

Before getting into this some might be confused into thinking that I'm not a Christian, or that I DON"T believe in the unique role of Jesus in salvation. I am a Christian and I do believe that Jesus plays a unique role in salvation (ie no other other name given under heaven by which we can be saved). I'll deal with how I see the role of Jesus and the atonement in this on Wednesday.

All religions seek to do three things:
a) to identify the human problematic,
b) to identify an ultimate transformative experience (UTE) which resolves the problematic, and
c) to mediate between the two.
But not all religions are equal. All are relative to the truth but not all are equal. Some mediate the UTE better than others, or in a more accessible way than others. Given the foregoing, my criteria are that:
1) a religious tradition reflect a human problematic which is meaningful in terms of the what we find in the world.

2) the UTE be found to really resolve the problematic

3) it mediates the UTE in such a way as to be effective and accessible.

4) its putative and crucial historical claims be historically probable given the ontological and epistemological assumptions that are required within the inner logic of that belief system.

5) it be consistent with itself and with the external world in a way that touches these factors.
These mean that I am not interested in piddling Biblical contradictions such as how many women went to the tomb, ect. but in terms of the major claims of the faith as they touch the human problematic and its resolution.

How Does the Bible fulfill these criteria? First, what is the Bible? Is it a rule book? Is it a manual of discipline? Is it a science textbook? A history book? No it is none of these. The Bible, the Canon, the NT in particular, is a means of bestowing Grace. What does that mean? It means first, it is not an epistemology! It is not a method of knowing how we know, nor is it a history book. It is a means of coming into contact with the UTE mentioned above. This means that the primary thing it has to do to demonstrate its veracity is not be accurate historically, although it is that in the main; but rather, its task is to connect one to the depository of truth in the teachings of Jesus such that one is made open to the ultimate transformative experience. Thus the main thing the Bible has to do to fulfill these criteria is to communicate this transformation. This can only be judged phenomenologically. It is not a matter of proving that the events are true, although there are ensconces where that becomes important.

Thus the main problem is not the existence of these piddling so-called contradictions (and my experience is 90% of them stem from not knowing how to read a text), but rather the extent to which the world and life stack up to the picture presented as a fallen world, engaged in the human problematic and transformed by the light of Christ. Now that means that the extent to which the problematic is adequately reflected, that being sin, separation from God, meaninglessness, the wages of sin, the dregs of life, and so forth, vs. the saving power of God's grace to transform life and change the direction in which one lives to face God and to hope and future. This is something that cannot be decided by the historical aspects or by any objective account. It is merely the individual's problem to understand and to experience. That is the nature of what religion does and the extent to which Christianity does it more accessibly and more efficaciously is the extent to which it should be seen as valid.

The efficacy is not an objective issue either, but the fact that only a couple of religions in the world share the concept of Grace should be a clue. No other religion (save Pure Land Buddhism) have this notion. For all the others there is a problem of one's own efforts. The Grace mediates and administrates through Scriptures is experienced in the life of the believer, and can be found also in prayer, in the sacraments and so forth.

Where the historical questions should enter into it are where the mediation of the UTE hedges upon these historical aspects. Obviously the existence of Jesus of Nazareth would be one, his death on the cross another. The Resurrection of course, doctrinally is also crucial, but since that cannot be established in an empirical sense, seeing as no historical question can be, we must use historical probability. That is not blunted by the minor discrepancies in the number of women at the tomb or who got there first. That sort of thinking is to think in terms of a video documentary. We expect the NT to have the sort of accuracy we find in a court room because we are moderns and we watch too much television. The number of women and when they got to the tomb etc. does not have a bearing on whether the tomb actually existed, was guarded and was found empty. Nor does it really change the fact that people claimed to have seen Jesus after his death alive and well and ascending into heaven. We can view the different strands of NT witness as separate sources, since they were not written as one book, but by different authors at different times and brought together later.

The historicity of the NT is a logical assumption given the nature of the works. We can expect that the Gospels will be polemical. We do not need to assume, however, that they will be fabricated from whole cloth. They are the product of the communities that redacted them. That is viewed as a fatal weakness in fundamentalist circles, tantamount to saying that they are lies. But that is silly. In reality there is no particular reason why the community cannot be a witness. The differences in the accounts are produced by either the ordering of periscopes to underscore various theological points or the use of witnesses who fanned out through the various communities and whose individual view points make up the variety of the text. This is not to be confused with contradiction simply because it reflects differences in individual's view points and distracts us from the more important points of agreement; the tomb was empty, the Lord was seen risen, there were people who put there hands in his nail prints, etc.

The overall question about Biblical contradiction goes back to the basic nature of the text. What sort of text is it? Is it a Sunday school book? A science text book? A history book? And how does inspiration work? The question about the nature of inspiration is the most crucial. This is because the basic notion of the fundamentalists is that of verbal plenary inspiration. If we assume that this is the only sort of inspiration than we have a problem. One mistake and verbal plenary inspiration is out the window. The assumption that every verse is inspired and every word is true comes not from the Church fathers or from the Christian tradition. It actually starts with Humanists in the Renaissance and finds its final development in the 19th century with people like J. N. Drably and Warfield. (see, Avery Dulles Models of Revelation).

One of my major reasons for rejecting this model of revelation is because it is not true to the nature of transformation. Verbal plenary inspiration assumes that God uses authors like we use pencils or like businessmen use secretaries, to take dictation (that is). But why should we assume that this is the only form of inspiration? Only because we have been conditioned by American Christianity to assume that this must be the case. This comes from the Reformation's tendency to see the Bible as epistemology rather than as a means of bestowing grace (see William Abraham, Canon and Criterion). Why should be approach the text with this kind of baggage? We should approach it, not assuming that Moses et al. were fundamentalist preachers, but that they experienced God in their lives through the transformative power of the Spirit and that their writings and redactions are a reflection of this experience. That is more in keeping with the nature of religion as we find it around the world. That being the case, we should have no problem with finding that mythology of Babylonian and Suzerain cultures are used in Genesis, with the view toward standing them on their heads, or that some passages are idealized history that reflect a nationalistic agenda. But the experiences of God come through in the text in spite of these problems because the text itself, when viewed in dialectical relation between reader and text (Barth/Dulles) does bestow grace and does enable transformation.

After all the Biblical texts were not written as "The Bible" but were complied from a huge voluminous body of works which were accepted as scripture or as "holy books" for quite some time before they were collected and put in a single list and even longer before they were printed as one book: the Bible. Therefore, that this book may contradict itself on some points is of no consequence. Rather than reflecting dictation, or literal writing as though the author was merely a pencil in the hands of God, what they really reflect is the record of people's experiences of God in their lives and the way in which those experiences suggested their choice of material/redaction. In short, inspiration of scripture is a product of the transformation afore mentioned. It is the verbalization of inner-experience which mediates grace, and in turn it mediates grace itself.

The Bible is not the Perfect Revelation of God to humanity. Jesus is that perfect revelation. The Gospels are merely the record of Jesus' teachings, deposited with the communities and encoded for safe keeping in the list chosen through Apostolic backing to assure Christian identity. For that matter the Bible as a whole is a reflection of the experience of transformation and as such, since it was the product of human agents we can expect it to have human flaws. The extent to which those flaws are negligible can be judge the ability of that deposit of truth to adequately promote transformation. Christ authorizes the Apostles, the Apostles authorize the community, the community authorizes the tradition, and the tradition authorizes the canon.

The A priori

God is not given directly in sense data, God transcends the threshold of human understanding, and thus is not given amenable to empirical proof. As I have commented in previous essays (bloodspots) religion is not a scientific question. There are other methodologies that must be used to understand religion, since the topic is essentially inter-subjective (and science thrives upon objective data). We can study religious behavior through empirical means and we can compare all sorts of statistical realizations through comparisons of differing religious experiences, behaviors, and options. But we cannot produce a trace of God in the universe through "objective" scientific means. Here I use the term "trace" in the Derision sense, the "track," "footprint" the thing to follow to put us on the scent. As I have stated in previous essays, what we must do is find the "co-detemrinate," the thing that is left by God like footprints in the snow. The trace of God can be found in God's affects upon the human heart, and that shows up objectively, or inter-subjectvely in changed behavior, changed attitudes, life transformations. This is the basis of the mystical argument that I use, and in a sense it also have a bearing upon my religious instruct argument. But here I wish to present anther view of the trace of God. This could be seen as a co-detmiernate perhaps, more importantly, it frees religion from the structures of having to measure up to a scientific standard of proof: the religious a prori.

Definition of the a priori.

"This notion [Religious a priori] is used by philosophers of religion to express the view that the sense of the Divine is due to a special form of awareness which exists along side the cognitive, moral, and aesthetic forms of awareness and is not explicable by reference to them. The concept of religion as concerned with the awareness of and response to the divine is accordingly a simple notion which cannot be defined by reference other than itself." --David Pailin "Religious a pariori" Westminster Dictionary of Chrisian Theology (498)

The religious a priroi deals with the speicial nature of religion as non-derivative of any other discipline, and especially it's speicial reiigious faculty of understanding which transcends ordinary means of understanding. Since the enlightenment atheist have sought to explain away religion by placing it in relative and discardable terms. The major tactic for accomplishing this strategy was use of the sociological theory of structural functionalism. By this assumption religion was chalked up to some relative and passing social function, such as promoting loyalty to the tribe, or teaching morality for the sake of social cohesion. This way religion was explained naturalistically and it was also set in relative terms because these functions in society, while still viable (since religion is still around) could always pass away. But this viewpoint assumes that religion is derivative of some other discipline; it's primitive failed science, concocted to explain what thunder is for example. Religion is an emotional solace to get people through hard times and make sense of death and destruction (it's a ll sin, fallen world et). But the a priori does away with all that. The a priori says religion is its own thing, it is not failed primitive sincere, nor is it merely a crutch for surviving or making sense of the world (although it can be that) it is also its own discipline; the major impetus for religion is the sense of the numinous, not the need for explanations of the natural world. Anthropologists are coming more and more to discord that nineteenth century approach anyway.

Thomas A Indianopolus
prof of Religion at of Miami U. of Ohio

Cross currents

"It is the experience of the transcendent, including the human response to that experience, that creates faith, or more precisely the life of faith. [Huston] Smith seems to regard human beings as having a propensity for faith, so that one speaks of their faith as "innate." In his analysis, faith and transcendence are more accurate descriptions of the lives of religious human beings than conventional uses of the word, religion. The reason for this has to do with the distinction between participant and observer. This is a fundamental distinction for Smith, separating religious people (the participants) from the detached, so-called objective students of religious people (the observers). Smith's argument is that religious persons do not ordinarily have "a religion." The word, religion, comes into usage not as the participant's word but as the observer's word, one that focuses on observable doctrines, institutions, ceremonies, and other practices. By contrast, faith is about the nonobservable, life-shaping vision of transcendence held by a participant..."

The Skeptic might argue "if religion as this unique form of consciousness that sets it apart form other forms of understanding, why does it have to be taught?" Obviously religious belief is taught through culture, and there is a good reason for that, because religion is a cultural construct. But that does not diminish the reality of God. Culture teaches religion but God is known to people in the heart. This comes through a variety of ways; through direct experience, through miraculous signs, through intuitive sense, or through a sense of the numinous. The Westminster's Dictionary of Christian Theology ..defines Numinous as "the sense of awe in attracting and repelling people to the Holy." Of course the background assumption I make is, as I have said many times, that God is apprehended by us mystically--beyond word, thought, or image--we must encode that understanding by filtering it through our cultural constrcts, which creates religious differences, and religious problems.

The Culturally constructed nature of religion does not negate the a priori. "Even though the forms by Which religion is expressed are culturally conditioned, religion itself is sui generis .. essentially irreducible to and undeceivable from the non-religious." (Paladin). Nor can the a priori be reduced to some other form of endeavor. It cannot be summed up by the use of ethics or any other field, it cannot be reduced to explanation of the world or to other fields, or physiological counter causality. To propose such scientific analysis, except in terms of measuring or documenting effects upon behavior, would yield fruitless results. Such results might be taken as proof of no validity, but this would be a mistake. No scientific control can ever be established, because any study would only be studying the culturally constructed bits (by definition since language and social sciences are cultural constructs as well) so all the social sciences will wind up doing is merely reifying the phenomena and reducing the experience. In other words, This idea can never be studied in a social sciences sense, all that the social sciences can do is redefine the phenomena until they are no longer discussing the actual experiences of the religious believer, but merely the ideology of the social scientist (see my essay on Thomas S. Kuhn.

The attempt of skeptics to apply counter causality, that is, to show that the a priori phenomena is the result of naturalistic forces and not miraculous or divine, not only misses the boat in its assumptions about the nature of the argument, but it also loses the phenomena by reduction to some other phenomena. It misses the boat because it assumes that the reason for the phenomena is the claim of miraculous origin, “I feel the presence of God because God is miraculously giving me this sense of his presence.” While some may say that, it need not be the believers argument. The real argument is simply that the co-determinates are signs of the trace of God in the universe, not because we cant understand them being produced naturalistically, but because they evoke the sense of numinous and draw us to God. The numinous implies something beyond the natural, but it need not be “a miracle.” The sense of the numinous is actually a natural thing, it is part of our apprehension of the world, but it points to the sublime, which in turn points to transcendence. In other words, the attribution of counter causality does not, in and of itself, destroy the argument, while it is the life transformation through the experience that is truly the argument, not the phenomena itself. Its the affects upon the believer of the sense of Gods presence and not the sense of Gods presence that truly indicates the trance of God.

Moreover, the attempts to reduce the causality to something less than the miraculous also lose the phenomena in reification.William James, The Verieties of Religious Experience (The Gilford Lectures):

"Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the too simple-minded system of thought which we are considering. Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental over-tensions, it says, are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to the perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet discover. And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual authority of all such personages is successfully undermined."

This does not mean that the mere claim of religious experience of God consciousness is proof in and of itself, but it means that it must be taken on its own terms. It clearly answers the question about why God doesn't reveal himself to everyone; He has, or rather, He has made it clear to everyone that he exists, and He has provided everyone with a means of knowing Him. He doesn't get any more explicit because faith is a major requirement for belief. Faith is not an arbitrary requirement, but the rational and logical result of a world made up of moral choices. God reveals himself, but on his own terms. We must seek God on those terms, in the human heart and the basic sense of the numinous and in the nature of religious encounter. There are many aspects and versions of this sense, it is not standardized and can be describes in many ways:

Forms of the A priori.

Schleiermacher's "Feeling of Utter Dependence.

Frederick Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Disposers, and The Christian Faith, sets forth the view that religion is not reducible to knowledge or ethical systems. It is primarily a phenomenological apprehension of God consciousness through means of religious affections. Affections is a term not used much anymore, and it is easily confused with mere emotion. Sometimes Schleiermacher is understood as saying that "I become emotional when I pay and thus there must be an object of my emotional feelings." Though he does vintner close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying.

Schleiermacher is saying that there is a special intuitive sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher reality, being dependent upon a higher unity. In other words, the "feeling" can be understood as an intuitive sense of "radical contingency" (int he sense of the above ontological arugments).He goes on to say that the feeling is based upon the ontological principle as its theoretical background, but doesn't' depend on the argument because it proceeds the argument as the pre-given pre-theorectical pre-cognative realization of what Anslem sat down and thought about and turned into a rational argument: why has the fools said in his heart 'there is no God?' Why a fool? Because in the heart we know God. To deny this is to deny the most basic realization about reality.

Rudolph Otto's Sense of the Holy (1868-1937)

The sense of power in the numinous which people find when confronted by the sacred. The special sense of presence or of Holiness which is intuitive and observed in all religious experience around the world.

Paul Tillich's Object of Ultimate Concern.

We are going to die. We cannot avoid this. This is our ultimate concern and sooner or latter we have to confront it. When we do we realize a sense of transformation that gives us a special realization existentially that life is more than material.

see also My article on Toilet's notion of God as the Ground of Being.

Tillich's concept made into God argument.

As Robert R. Williams puts it:

There is a "co-determinate to the Feeling of Utter dependence.

"It is the original pre-theoretical consciousness...Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical intersubjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognative for if the life world praxis is non-cognative and invalid so is theoretical cognition..S...contends that belief in God is pre-theoretical, it is not the result of proofs and demonstration, but is conditioned soley by the modification of feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired through intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience..If as S...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as an appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic"] or a priori. The feeling of utter dependence is structured by a corrolation with its whence." , Schleiermacher the Theologian, p 4.

The believer is justified in assuming that his/her experinces are experiences of a reality, that is to say, that God is real.

there are certain things I wan to point out here and I want to know if you agree, or disagree, undersatnd or find it interesting.

(1) The major thing it's saying is that religious belief is based upon knowing truth through a phenomenological encounter with truth and not upon reification (meaning, scientific reductionism).

(2) Doing this is a matter of consciousness.

(3) If raising consciousness boardens one's understanding of the world and has the desirable effect one expects to get out of a religious belief system (ie for the Buddhist enlightenment) then why is not not a warrant for belief?

(4) if one understands the nature of religious belief to be the point of religious engagement with a tradition then is being result oriented not the proper mythodology for discussing validation of a religious tradition?

(5) If in some sense hard data is sought, and hard data is obtained in relation to the outcome or the 'payoff' in terms of a transformation that resolves the problematic then why is that not satisfactory for one's demand for empirical data?

(6) empirical data proving that one had transformation effects. if that's the point of region why would that not be the proper sort of empirical data to watch for?

Freedom from the Need to prove.

Schleiermacher came up with his notion of the feeling when wrestling with Kantian Dualism. Kant had said that the world is divided into two aspects of reality the numinous and the phenomenal. The numinous is not experienced through sense data, and sense God is not experienced through sense data, God belongs only to the numinous. The problem is that this robbs us of an object of theological discourse. We can't talk about God because we can't experience God in sense data. Schleiermacher found a way to run an 'end round' and get around the sense data. Experience of God is given directly in the "feeling" apart form sense data.

This frees us form the need to prove the existence of God to others, because we know that God exists in a deep way that cannot be entreated by mere cultural constructs or reductionist data or deified phenomena. This restores the object of theological discourse. Once having regained its object, theological discourse can proceed to make the logical deduction that there must be a CO-determinate to the feeling, and that CO-determinate is God. In that sense Schleiermacher is saying "if I have affections about God must exist as an object of my affections"--not merely because anything there must be an object of all affections, but because of the logic of the co-determinate--there is a sense of radical contingency, there must be an object upon which we are radically contingent.