Monday, October 31, 2011

Is God Falsifiable?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The concept of falsification is very important because without it there is no verification. The concept is really a matter of empirical science. Only matters that can be subjected to empirical proof can be verified or falsified. But atheists are always trying to apply the principle to God. They smugly argue that God cannot be verified or falsified to get across the point that there is no empirical evidence of God.Carl Popper argued that falsifiability is all we can have in the way of truth. God is not falsifiable because God is not given in sense data. Thus atheists arrogantly assume the irrationality of belief. Of course there are theories of which science discusses all the time that can't be falsified, such as string theory. Is it true that God cannot be falsified? Do we need to falsify God?

I suggest that we don't need direct falsification. As long as it is not the case that nothing could ever count against belief then we have what we need. Two conditions must be observed,however, which determine the importance of the problem:

(1) We are not conducting empirical research.

We do not require the sort for falsifiability we need to mandate air bags in cars for example, because we are not doing empirical research. We are dealing with personal beliefs and existential encounter. The purpose of falsification is going to be different than it would be if were conducting a field trial for a new drug, or discussing the mandating of air bags. The important thing here is to make sure the believer is not just living a private fantasy. There has to be a touchstone in the same social reality in which we all live. We do not need to disprove God in the way we would need to prove that some drug doesn't work or isn't safe.

(2) What counts against belief cannot be limited to a particular religious tradition.

I have seen atheists argue that if the Bible is wrong there can't be a god. When I told them that God can exist independently of the bible they were aghast. they would not believe "a Christian could say that." This has nothing to do with belief in the bible.It's just a matter of logic. Disproof of Biblical truth claims do not amount to disproof of God's existence.We can falsify the resurrection of Christ. It is not likely that we will, but theoretically we could find his tomb and find his body,if he had not risen. Many truth claims of the Christian tradition can be falsified. But this does not amount to saying that God can be falsified. Nor does disproving some aspect of the Bible amount to disproof of God's existence.

The existence of God cannot be directly falsified but what can be is the co-determinate. The "co-determinate" or "God postulate" or "God consciousness" is the argument of Schleiermacher represented by his notion of the feeling of utter dependence.

Co-determinate: The co-determinate is like the Derridian trace, or like a fingerprint. It's the accompanying sign that is always found with the thing itself. In other words, like trailing the invisible man in the snow. You can't see the invisible man, but you can see his footprints, and wherever he is in the snow his prints will always follow.

We cannot produce direct observation of God, but we can find the "trace" or the co-determinate, the effects of God in the world.

The only question at that point is "How do we know this is the effect, or the accompanying sign of the divine? But that should be answered in the argument below. Here let us set out some general parameters:

(1) The trace produced content with specifically religious affects

(2)The affects led one to a renewed sense of divine reality, are transformative of life goals and self actualization

(3) Cannot be accounted for by alternate causality or other means.


(1) There is a pervading sense of unity in the life world

(2) The over all sense of unity produces a sense of the dependence of the whole upon a higher ontological level.

(3) The content of the experience is expressly sublime and evokes the sense of the numinous.

(4)The sense of the numinous is expressly religious and constitutes the co-determinate of the divine.


A.Religion not Reducible to Knowledge or Ethics.

Frederich Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Disposers, and The Christian Faith both set forth the view that religion cannot be reduced 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 venture close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying.

In the earlier form of his argument he was saying that affections were indicative of a sense of God, but in the Christian Faith he argues that there is a greater sense of unity in the life world and a sense of the dependence of all things in the life world upon something higher.

What is this feeling of utter dependence? It is the sense of the unity in the life world and it's greater reliance upon a higher reality. It is not to be confused with the starry sky at night in the desert feeling, but is akin to it. I like to think about the feeling of being in my backyard late on a summer night, listening to the sounds of the freeway dying out and realizing a certain harmony in the life world and the sense that all of this exists because it stems form a higher thing. There is more to it than that but I don't have time to go into it. That's just a short hand for those of us to whom this is a new concept to get some sort of handle on it. Nor does "feeling" here mean "emotion" but it is connected to the religious affections. In the early version S. thought it was a correlate between the religious affections and God; God must be there because I can feel love for him when I pray to him. But that's not what it's saying in the better version.

B.Platonic background.

The basic assumptions Schleiermacher is making are Platonic. He believes that the feeling of utter dependence is the backdrop, the pre-given, pre-cognitive notion behind the ontological argument. IN other words, what Anselm tried to capture in his logical argument is felt by everyone, if they were honest, in a pre-cognitive way. In other words, before one thinks about it, it is this "feeling" of utter dependence. After one thinks it out and makes it into a logical argument it is the ontological argument.

C.Unity in the Life world.

"Life world," or Labeinswelt is a term used in German philosophy. It implies the world of one's culturally constructed life, the "world" we 'live in.' Life as we experience it on a daily basis. The unity one senses in the life world is intuitive and unites the experiences and aspirations of the individual in a sense of integration and belonging in in the world. As Heidegger says "a being in the world." 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 relatively, 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 arguments).

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-theoretical pre-cognitive 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.

Now don't think by any stretch of the imagination that I think this proves the existence of God! No, no way. It is not "proof," it is freedom from the need to prove!

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 inter subjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognitive for if the life world praxis is non-cognitive 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 solely 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 correlation with its whence." , Schleiermacher the Theologian, p 4.

The Co-determinate is the trace of God in the world, the effect of the divine upon those who experience the transformational power of God in their lives. This can be falsified by empirical study. If there were no profound effects changing lives this would count against the truth claims of belief. Since we do find such effects we know that power of God is real, ant thus we have a rational warrant to believe that ;God is real.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Correcting Common Athiest Criticisisms on Trinity


However, I will go somewhat further and say that belief in the existence of the god of Christian tradition is irrational. Here are a couple of reasons why...
  1. Jesus (according to common Christian tradition) is wholly man and wholly god. Humans are NOT god. The logical rule of non-contradiction says Jesus cannot be God and not God at the same time. Hence is is illogical and irrational to hold the Christian belief about Jesus.
  2. The Christian tradition says Jesus is wholly and entirely God. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity says that god is three persons (Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit). Jesus is not three persons. Hence Jesus cannot be god according to the rule of non-contradiction.
My point is that, while it is impossible to falsify the general claim that a god exists, it IS possible to show that some religions believe in gods that are logically impossible.
Sorry that doesn't cut it.

On point 1: Jesus (according to common Christian tradition) is wholly man and wholly god. Humans are NOT god. The logical rule of non-contradiction says Jesus cannot be God and not God at the same time. Hence is is illogical and irrational to hold the Christian belief about Jesus.

This criticism is confessing the concept of "deity of Christ" with the phrase "Jesus is God." "Jesus is God" does not express the truth of the creeds accurately, it's a simplified overstatement that implies that all of God came down and made himself look like a man. Jesus is not just human in appearance. He was actually a man. What made him divine was his attributes the he shared with the divine and that connected him to God. People use the latter phrase are not clerics or theologians and they have no studied the official doctrines. That's a miss-statement watered down doctrine for the masses because they have he background to read the creeds.

The real doctrine defines what it means to be a person. It doesn't say "center of conscoiusness," that would be a good way to describe what it's telling us. It's using "person" in terms of an identity within the Divine. The term used in the creeds is persona means a mask worn by Greek actors. That mask marked the identity of a character.The God-head is three pesona in one essence. In classical terms its defined in terms of substance, or essence. What it's really getting at is an identity. The three identities share this one thing that defines what they are. The Platonic concept of essence or substance (Hamousios)means the thing that makes you what you are the collection of attributes by which things are known. Like my dog participates in the universal doginess by having all the attributes that are uniquely those of a cute dogie. He was cute too.

Jesus is a unique being in that he was a normal human, born of a woman, (although sort of artificially inseminated before it was popular) but possessed of two wills and two natures. He was not God in a man suit. He was all of God crammed down into a man. He wasn't God making himself look like a man to fool us. This conjunction could be accomplished, one way one might theorize about it, by interfacing minds between human and divine. That means if you could go inside Jesus' brain and get into the brain mind interface you would then go into infinity by going inward. In other words while Jesus body was temporal and limited to one point like our body. his spirit was infinite and that means the dimension of that point, you travel along the point infinitesimally. Infinity in a different direction. Jesus the man is "hooked up" so to speak to that infinity.

The description that "people aren't God so Jesus cant' be God' is complete misapplication and misunderstanding of the doctrine.

Point 2:

The Christian tradition says Jesus is wholly and entirely God. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity says that god is three persons (Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit). Jesus is not three persons. Hence Jesus cannot be god according to the rule of non-contradiction.

This criticism misstates the doctrine. This is pure and simple a misunderstanding of what it says. Doctrine says "truly God and truly man" not "wholly and entirely God." What you are confusing is the idea that he's not half God or this divine nature and will are not watered down quasi-divine. That is not the same as saying 'wholly and entirely God."

Then in criticism no 2 the deity of Christ is turned into a duplication of what God is only in the form of man. So that means that man must have three persona too. No that's not right. The man is the embodiment (the coming to flesh) of one of the three persons not all three!

The doctrine of Trinity in Athenian creed recognizes that the son the second person of the Trinity became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth.

Like most times when atheists criticize doctrine it's because they don't understand the doctrine. I sense that this is what comes of the their little gimmick of refusing to learn theology. You just can't conduct a critique of a belief system while remaining ignorant about tit. you have to study theology.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Revolutionary Jesus

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Mural by Jose Clemente Orozco "Christ Destroying
his Cross," 1943

This post comes under the heading of "what I want to tell atheists positively about Jesus." I started it back when I posted that one about Jesus and Dylan. It's based upon my outrage or dismay (I should say) over learning that so many atheists don't admire or respect Jesus as a historical figure. I re-posting it because after reading it again it seems pretty good.It's also in response to the statements by Weekend Fisher.

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? Orozco is not trying to blaspheme Jesus, nor is he denying the atonement. I find this painting very moving not our 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 NOT 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 descendant 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 recorded to have happened because that kind of thing 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 impose 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.

Jesus ethical and moral teachings may be the greatest ever recorded, of course that's a biased and culturally bound appraisal. But they are certainly among the greatest, and the leaders and theologians of other world religions laud him for his teachings and many of them try to claim him as their own; the Muslims, The Hindu, and the B'Hai. Yet is was not the originality of his moral thinking that makes him great; the Stoics and others said many of the same things. And yet there are certain factors which do make Jesus' teachings unique and worthy of particular attention above and beyond that of most if not all ethical teachers...

Let's use a crash course in Jesus' ethics as a means of understanding his values:


The "beatitudes" that Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the mount indicate the value system out of which he worked. Blessed means "happy" but he is saying more than "happy are the peacemakers." In pronouncing them blessed he is saying basically 'these are the good guys' and indicates a natural Tao working through the divine economy to protect and vindicate those who live by such values. "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted;...meek will inherit the earth...those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled...merciful shown mercy...pure in heart will see God...peacemakers called sons of God...those persecuted for righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heave." (Matt.5:3-10)

This is the way, this is how to be, these are the values one should hold. This is basically what he is saying. Essentially these qualities are those of a righteous person, they are oriented around God as the primary value and love for the neighbor as the main manifestation of love for God. To mourn probably means repenting for the evil we have done, or at least being able to empathize with other, to care about the pain others. "poor in spirit" refers to real poor people made more explicit in Luke, but the poor in the Bible are the righteous poor who trust in God for their sustenance.

prioritize: Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God...

"Do not be anxious saying 'what shall we eat?' 'what shall we drink?' 'what shall we wear?' The Gentiles seek all fo these things and your heavnly Father knows that you need them all, but seek first his kingdom and his riaghteousness, and all these will be added unto you..." (Matt. 5:28-33)

prime directive: Golden Rule

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." ..Other religions, probably all, have similar injunctions, but I have not found has this qualifier making it a self-reflexive command.

Self-Reflexive nature

By placing the command in terms of one's own standard of well being, the command becomes an exhortation to "love the neighbor as you love yourself." No higher standard could be given, one does to himself only that which he/she most desires to be done. By placing the command in these terms one cannot refuse to come to the aid of anyone in need. We would all prefer that others come to our aid. If the command were stated negatively, "do not do unto others that which you would not have done to yourself" one could ignore the neighbor in need. If the command stopped at merely loving the enemy or the neighbor one could refuse to help. By placing it in these self reflexive terms it is made active. One must go out of his way to seek out the needy.

b) Categorical Imperative.

Kant's great ethical system the categorical imperative was based on the Golden Rule of Jesus.

3) Love for Enemies

If you love those who love and hate those who hate you even the Gentiles do that, but I say unto you love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you

matt 5-6....

4) Greatest commandment

Matt 22:35. "and one of them, a lawgiver, ask him a question to test him, 'teacher what is the greatest commandment?' ...37 "and he said to him ye shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first command,and the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands depend the law and the prophets." (RSV).

Note: All legal regulations and striving of law keeping are summed up in love of God and love of neighbor. This shows that Jesus' ethics surpass the rule keeping stage and ascend to the highest level of conceptual morality, that of the ideal stage where actions are motivated by internalized principles. Moreover, by basing the second command upon love for the neighbor, but relating to love for self, it forms it's own second version of the categorical imperative. Note also if we love our neighbor as ourselves we are commanded to love ourselves, to rectify the self image in relation to reciprocal nature with others. At the same time, we cannot get off the hook by loving enemies any less (since even enemies are neighbors). Thus the will for the good of the other is indexed by our own will for our own good.

Psychological Motivations

Great Compassion

The compassion of Jesus can be seen in many of the stories. The woman caught in the act of adultery is taken before him and the mob wants to stone her. She has broken the law, she is worthy of death (accordion to that culture and that time). Jesus stoops and writes in the sand. We don't know what he wrote, but perhaps it was the names of those in the mob who had slept with her (they weren't being accused). He says "let he who is without sin cast the first stone..." There is the compassion he exhibited to the many people who implored him for healing, and he never refused anyone.We forget anyone else would have been running from those lepers and demoniac that he healed. The demoniac were dangerous, and the leapers thought contagious. But the also demonstrates a total lack of hypocrisy in being unafraid to associate with those who needed him most. When he was criticized for being in the company of drunkards and prostitutes; he merely made fun of the prudes and said, in affect "well, I didn't come to help those who are so well off (the self righteous people) but those who know they need help" There is no way to capture the greatness of Christ's compassion and moral teachings in one of these sub points, but I urge you to get a Bible and read the Gospels over and over, and with an open heart and you will see no greater compassion than that of Jesus Christ, and that of course is culminated in his sacrifice on the cross for our sins.

Greatest Sacrifice

He did lay down his life for the sins of the world. "Greater love hath no man than to give up his life for a friend," yet Jesus' died for everyone; and his own understanding of what he was doing was that he laid down his life as a "ransom for many." But it seems unlikely that his followers would enlarge upon his mission to this extent. Perhaps they could have enlarged upon his death o include the mission to Israel and it was Paul who expanded it to the rest of the world. But there is great likelihood that he understood himself to be doing something beneficial for all humanity. After all it was not Pauline Theology but the understanding of the Beloved Disciple of the fourth Gospel who puts into Jesus mouth the statement "for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life."

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 program it's a spiritual reality. What Jesus was offering was not just membership in heaven, but a heaven that starts now on earth and is manifested in the way we treat people.

Follow up to the follow up: Nature of Atonement


I find Weekend has made another statement that convicts me of the fact that I don't spend enough time talking about Jesus on this blog. Why is that? One finds statements of personal feeling about Jesus readily available, but so few attempts to give any real theological light on any subject. The media is totally absent good theology. Good instructive theological insight is as rare as good scientific evidence for Bigfoot. That's why I aim most of my comment at the theological level. The two level, personal feelings connected with faith, and theology, are really one, they are two sides to the same coin. This time I am moved by Weekend's statement:

If you could start with a blank canvas and not feel the burden of addressing someone else's bad theology, I'm curious what you'd say about Jesus. You always have an interesting take on things. I'm assuming you'd tell someone that Jesus is worth knowing, more than worth knowing the hypothetical blocks of wood that made an appearance as idols in your post.

what follows is not exactly what I would say "about Jesus." It's about the nature of Atonement which Jesus is obviously connected with in an integral way. It's a theological statement. I'm going to take a crack at the rest of the statement for Monday.

In terms of my emotional level and the issue 'is it worth it to know Jesus" the first major such statement I make is found in my testimony on Doxa. The one about when my faith almost died (when I lost my parents, house, career) and was resuscitated by the Lord. I call it my second testimony. Part 2 of that same theme.

Ironically this exposition of the atonement begins with a discussion of what the bad version of atonement is. There would be no need to correct it if it wasn't bad.

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

A. The inadequacy 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 sacrifice 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 "propitiatory 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 finite humans, and he died 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 primitive animal sacrifice (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 participatory.

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 Crcified God Moltmann interprets 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) Scriptural

...all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into his death.? We were therefore buried 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 certainly 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 though our act of solidarity, united with Christ in his death, than it stands to 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 ourselve 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 escourt 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 primitive 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 primitive 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's 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 cares of his own creation.

F. Unfair to Jesus as God's Son?

Internet skeptics sometimes argue that God can't be trusted if he would sacrifice his son. This is so silly and such a misunderstanding of Christian doctrine and the nature of religious belief that it hardly deserves an answer. Obviously God is three persons in one essence, the Trinity , Trinune Godhead. Clearly God's act of solidarity was made with the unanimity of a single Godhead. God is not three God's, and is always in concert with himself.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I trust that Jesus Knew what he was talking about


Weekend Fisher responds to yesterday's post by saying:

Weekend Fisher said... You know, if someone asks us, "How can we know the reality of salvation?", somewhere along the way we have to get to "I trust that Jesus knew what he was talking about". Otherwise it's all a question of whose sci-fi/fantasy religion fic is better than the next guy's. The winner and a dollar will get you a coke.
The difference in my approach and her's is that she's talking about to get saved and I was talking about how do we know that getting saved is a real thing for us to do in the first place? I have no problem with what she says as far as that goes, how do you actually get saved? I agree with it and I think he has a good point.On her blog she responds to my request that she flesh it out:

Back on your blog -- about how you said you thought it should be obvious. I just think the people reading you might not think it's obvious. Just consider how often you can beat a point to death and they still won't get it. You can spell things out with plain words and an outline and you'll still get a large percent saying, "Huh?" If that's how much they understand the stuff you spell out day after day, post after post, what are the odds they'll get a point that you don't mention? Y'know.

Reading between the lines of that guy's question, I almost wondered if he was asking (translate mode): "Ok, you believe in God, but 'salvation' -- what about Jesus?" Which comes back to: What about hope? What about the reality of God in this world?"
Nothing I say beyond this point should be construed as a commentary on Fisher's theology. I'm not talking about her understanding now. I'm talking about Christian ideas in general.

In talking about salvation in the abstract we are talking about metaphors for things beyond our understanding. In discussing salvation for people who have no chance of ever hearing about Jesus we are talking about what God does to reach those people. I don't agree that he just sends them to hell with a "O that's too bad." I don't buy evangelical answers that "God is such a Holy God that he can't stand sin, even form people are who are seeking truth and don't really do anything wrong, but if they are not i the proper club they are not saved." I don't think Paul taught that either. There are two passages where Paul makes it clear (to me anyway) that this is not the case. I have a page where I discuss this at length. Here's an excerpt from that page:

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.

3) Justice of Punishment.

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.

C. 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.

That was written many years ago. I know believe it's annihilation. Cease to exist and go proof.

There is a part of Weekend Fisher's statement with which I do not agree:

Otherwise it's all a question of whose sci-fi/fantasy religion fic is better than the next guy's.
I don't agree with it because that implies that there has to be a "one right religion." I don't believe that Christianity is "the right religion." "Christianity " is a man made institution based upon the based upon the spiritual concept of Church. The chruch is the "crowd" of God. The Greek term (Ekleasia, Eckloucia) meant like the crowd at the supermarket, or maybe more focused but something like "Jesus' possy." The guys he hangs out with. It's the collection of people who know God. "Christianity" is an entity not mentioned in Scripture. That pertains to all sorts of man made institutions.

It's one thing to point out the metaphorical nature of words and the transcendent nature of divine reality. Religious traditions are accumulations of cultural constructs we use to filter our perceptions of the divine becuase those perceptions are beyond our understanding. It's the cultural aspects that make religions different. The one true reality of God ("the divine") stands behind them all. Yet Jesus is not a metaphor.He was a concrete man in history. Christians are those who accept that this particular man was the embodiment of the second person of the Godhead. It's what we think about this one particular guy that makes us a Christian or breaks our pretense of Christianity. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. God can be working in other cultures, and people who never heard of Jesus can be following Jesus and not know it's him becuase they follow the moral law on the heart, they follow the good. There may be a since in which that works both ways, so the symbol they are using is (Buddha, the Tao) can thought of as "the real thing" in the sense that it's their understanding of the real thing ("the divine") that is leading them toward God's truth.

There is a point where we must disagree. That point doesn't have to mean eternal damnation fo those who don't understand it like we do. There is a point where membership in the club has to be brought into focus and we say "this is what we think it is, if you disagree we still like you but you are not in our club." Then in heaven we all go through our separate doors and come out i one giant court yard together and go "O hey it's you, you are guy's are here too, great!" We don't have to say "our deal is best so we get to kick ass."

That doesn't mean that I pray to Vishnu or that I would bow down to a wooden idol. To me that would be a sell out becuase I believe the best case senerio is that those might be metaphors that filter experience beyond understanding; they are not my metaphors. To exclude my own metaphor just to make a point would not be true my own idea of things. One time a friend of mine and I went to a Hare Krishna restaurant. They had really good chick pea dishes. This guy was not a Chrisian, he was a drop out for Moody Bible college. He wanted to test my liberality so he said "this food has been sacrificed to idols, do you know that? are you going to eat it?" I said "is that your understanding of the point Paul was making in 1 cor? Is that what they taught about Grace at Moody, just them vs. us?" I'll have to go over that again before I try to expound upon it, it did shut the guy up, after we had a little discussion about the passage.

So my verdict is, Yes if anyone is saved it is Jesus that saves them. Jesus and only Jesus. They may not know it's Jesus, they may have a different metaphor for it, but they are still seeking the good, seeking the moral law on the heart, which is the good. Rather than make Jesus a stumbling block Paul tired to show Jesus as the open door. Jesus called himself (rather his death, his sacrifice) a stumbling block for the pharisees his implication was that they allowed it to be stumbling block but not working out the truth of the matter. We can make membership in our club and excuse to condemn people or we can their desire for the truth a vehicle trough which they might actually come to know as Jesus and as savior. It's a lot easier to be saved by Grace than to qualify for the Romans 2:6-14 clause. Cut to the chase and do it outright, but that doesn't' give us the right to condmen all the other traditions because they are not us.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How can we know the Reality of Salvation?

stone age "Venus" figure:
Probably fertility fetish

Our friendly alien from another Galaxy Brap Gronk is having a wonderful visit in our neck of the cosmos. He's been visiting Paris and Alpha Centuri. He writes: "having a wonderful zapaspatlick, wish you were Kaplaov."

He also writes:

How can anyone really know if or how salvation is possible (or even necessary) if, to quote a certain blogger, "God is beyond human understanding because God is transcendent." It seems to me like the concept of a need for salvation in the first place is man-made. Isn't it a huge leap to get from "It's rational to believe in God due to the universality of mystical experiences" to "All humans are sinners in need of salvation?"

The concept of "salvation" must have evolved out of the sense of the numinous. Of course its "man made" in the sense that it's a theological response to a felt and perceived need. Theology is the participation and study of a faith tradition. Classically it's defined as "faith seeking understanding," the modern definition makes it seem more like a social scinece, with participant-observer overtones. Rather than "man made" in the sense that it's constructed out of "whole cloth" so to speak, it's more like "human understanding" striving to comprehend something all people have always felt at a certain level. What follows is my theory of how theology evolves from the sense of the numinous which dawned upon our pre-human ancestors in the way that instinct dawns upon animals, and culminates in higher rational abstract though in time, as it becomes theology.

from Numinous to religious development

Skeptics see religion as a question about empirical proofs of the existence of one additional thing in reality, besides all the things we regularly see in the universe; God, as opposed to a universe with everything in it that is in the God universe, but minus God. In other words for them God is just another object tin the universe to prove through empirical means. To them belief in God is just adding another fact to the universe. Belief in God is much more than that. Belief in God is not adding a fact to the universe; it’s an understanding of our relation to the universe. Belief in God is about understanding our relation to the universe, and that relation is as contingent beings, creatures whose being is derived form the ground of being. When we make this realization there is no more doubt. To realize the nature of being is to realize not only the reality of God but also the reality of oneself as creature of God. Of course this can’t have the same kind of verification that scientific work has, if it did it wouldn’t be a take on the basic nature of reality. This does not mean there are no methods that help secure the certainty that is found in the heart of one who has made such a realization. It is hoped that understanding this will lead others to seek that realization.
We can see and understand this method looking at the nature of religious evolution in the evolution of humanity. Of course history of religions and comparative religion are extremely complex, time and space do not permit me to do them justice here. In a thumbnail sketch we can see the roots of Tillich’s concept of God as being itself coming out of this evolutionary development. Anthropologists understand religion as developing as man evolved. No one invented religion, no one decided one day to make up some entity called a God. Religion existed before gods existed. The instinctive realization toward integration into being was part of our ancient ancestors, part of our pre-human heritage. It grew up with us and began to down on us in ways that could be consciously pondered and portrayed as we began to grasp symbolic representation and to think about death and to wonder about the things around us. Atheists still use the old ninetieth century structural functionalist explanation for the origins of religion; the need to explain the thunder, the need to explain rain, the need to manipulate a higher power to make the crops grow. This explanation isn’t really accepted now days because now we realize there’s something more to it all; the sense of he numinous. To those outside looking in religion seems to be about ceremonies and the need to manipulate powers to those involved in It the reality is quite different. As I’ve already said atheists don’t listen to religious people as to why they believe, they are more concerned with assigning the explanations that flatter their own view point. The realization of the sense of the numinous the idea that there is a special quality to being that can be found all around us, the sense of the holy is the preferred explanation for thinkers such as Huston Smith:

"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..."

Smith considers transcendence to be the one dimension common to all peoples of religious faith: "what they have in common lies not in the tradition that introduces them to transcendence, [not in their faith by which they personally respond, but] in that to which they respond, the transcendent itself..."[i]

The issue of religious adaptation to culture is most interesting because it illustrates the plastic nature of religion, and highlights the fact that belief is not just adding a fact to the universe but is actually an orientation to one’s own place in being. First we see humanity beginning to understand about pictures and representation, and in that same era, or before it perhaps but certainly in that era we began burying out dead with plants and herbs that would help them either because we expected them to have some sort of afterlife in which these things could be used, or we began to feel that they symbolically suggested our wishes for them. In this general era, the “pre historic” the “stone age” humans began to sense the presence of spiritual forces and began burying their dead [ii] with herbs and drawing their hands on cave walls, because these things offered some sense of connection with spiritual forces. Some of the flowers put in the graves did not grow in the area; all are used in folk medicine with healing prosperities, indicating they had significance for a belief system.[iii] Humans had a belief in sprits long before they believed in gods. What they were actually doing in all of this was coming to understand not only that the world and how they already knew to live in it, but the idea of its enchantment. The skeptic can only see that they were wrong, stupid ancient man so wrong about the existence of this extra object no one can see; what really seems to have been going on was a discovery about himself, we are living in a world filled with spiritual forces, he began to feel this. After several thousand years of pondering such things finally began to conceptualize these forces are personal and can be named and thus came up with the concept of gods. This concept was rooted in the first inklings of an understanding about our own lives and what it means to live in the world, to be part of being.
Religious belief is an adaptation to culture because it is filtered through the lens of the cultural construct in order to be understood and shared in communication. The skeptic imagines the origin of religion to have been such as his/her observation of modern religion goes, a set of people try to understand why water falls out of the sky every so often and so they make up a story about a big man up there who pours water out of his huge boot, or whatever. The evolutionary practices of religious people as conform to their cultures have aided and abided this idea as it has been foisted upon the public. When we look at the nature of religion in the ancient world, even earlier we don’t an outside observer we see a practitioner who may resort to drawing upon a reservoir of knowledge that he already posses to explain the world, but he/she already posses that knowledge because it’s part of his/her way of life. Religion was not segmented factions battling to see whose set of doctrines came to dominate, in the ancient world religion was not about theology it was even “religion” that word was not used, it was ‘obedience.’ As human began sharpening their concepts they used the king as a model to represent deity because the king was the most powerful person around. Yet human understanding about life was already grasping the concept of the spirit and one’s place in being well before this understanding was ever called “religious belief.” The idea of God who is worshipped and has followers who chose one God over another a latter development, just as priest craft was a latter development.[iv]
Rudolph Otto coined the term “sense of the numinous, in his work The Idea of The Holy in order to capture the mysterious essence of the quality of feeling that stands behind all religion. He used words like “dread” and mysterium Tremendum to get across these are not ordinary feelings; words failed him in being able to describe what exactly he was talking, but this is the essence of mystical or “peak” experience. These terms are used to indicate a feeling or a sense that is beyond the ordinary sense in which we use them. It is non-rational, not irrational. It’s not “crazy” but can’t be analyzed or pinned down and distilled in reason. [v] The sense of the numinous is related to mystical experience and stands at the origin of religion in human thinking; this is essentially why religion exists. It is not hard to understand that this is the feeling related to the mysteries of life, death and the great beyond that led our ancient nameless primordial ancestors to draw their hands on cave walls and bury their dead with flowers to think about the other world and the forced that enchanted the universe with a sense they could not comprehend. At the center of this feeling is the sense of which we read above, of which Smith and Ideonopolis speak, “transcendence itself.” This is a realization about their place in the world, their being and their relation to the rest of being. They did not try to dissect it or psychoanalyze it away, they lived it out. The way to recapture it and live it again is to open up to the sense of wonder in being and allows the sense of being to suggest the categories into which we focus our understanding. There are methodologies that will allow us to do this.

The Universal Nature of Religion

What all people have done, all cultures have developed in my guises is the same basic set of questions and the same basic set of answers, but they come out in different forms. All religions seek to comprehend, identify and name the "human problematic." That is to say, the problem at the heart of being human. Some frame it in terms of sin, some cultures frame it in terms of "imbalance with nature" some frame it in terms of "disobeying natural law" some frame it in other terms, rebirth, impurity, whatever. They are all saying "there's a problem in the nature of being human, it's creates an estrangement form our source, it disrupts what is supposed to be harmonious and meaningful in our existence. This is the problem or set of problems at the hart of being human. In the very preparative understanding it's bad luck, breaking taboo, in the sophisticated understanding, as in the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, its self transcendence. Niebuhr pretty much sums up what all of them are saying, he does it through his understanding of St. Augustine. Because we are able to think and to remember the past and predict the future, we can understand what will happen if we don't pay the rent. That's self transcendence. We can go beyond our momentary self and understand based upon the past the problems of the future. That creates anxiety, we fear, so we steal (for example) to pay the rent.

Thus, we become willing to do injustice to others in order to alleviate our anxiety. This creates a new anxiety, we don't like doing unjust things to others so we feel guilt. Guilt produces estrangement from our sense of source. We seek relief and we find it in terms of Ultimate transformation experience. We can't just bliss out and forget what we did because of the guilt. So we need to have guilt assuaged. Nothing assuages guilt like being forgiven. We seek mediation, we seek a way to mediate between the need for forgiveness and the transformational power that brings a sense of being forgiven. That mediation is where organized religion comes in. This is not pretending anything, it's administering a sense of forgiveness. When that sense is real and the relief is really delivered the transformational power is unleashed and we have off scale happiness. This is the essence of what religion is about. All religions have it.

I've mixed two things up here. I stand by the senerio but it's nto all Niebuhr.(VI) The bit about sin and self transcendence is, the big about identifying human problematic and transformation resolving the problematic (that's the ultimate point of the mediation) is from Dr. Neil MacFarland of Perkins school of theology. (VII)

The development of modern theological method and the doctrinal details of any religious tradition are just the playing out through time and the diversification and evolutionary development of human understanding in relation to a religious tradition. The purpose of tradition is serve as a guide, so we know where people have been in the past and what the pitfalls to avoid are, and we and we can develop and sharpen our understand. In another way they are like vocabularies, because they enable one to enter the ancinet conversation and to understand what has been contributed to the conversation over time. People use them as means of exclusion but that is a cultural development and one that has not always been around. The Ancient Hebrews did not consign their enemies to hell (they didn't have a conception of hell) on the basis that "they are not us." That's actually a somewhat modern development and probably came out of the Greco-Roman disdain for the barbarian.

Now you might ask if this contradicts my understanding of Christianity? No not at all. See my article on Salvation and other faiths. As long as we believe that understanding can grow our modern understanding can be deeper than our ancestor's understanding. Of course I've said that God is beyond our understanding, that's true. We can know God, we just can't put into words what we know. We know through mystical union. We can make metaphors. As long as we remember not to literalize the metaphors we will be OK. After all the idea is to experience not to understand words on paper. It's not about control, it's about letting go of control.


[i]Thomas Idinopulos,.”What is Religion” Cross Currents, Volume 48, no. 3(Fall 1998). Also see online URL: visited 10/28/10
[ii] Paul Pettitt, “When Burial Begins,” British Archaeology, Issue 66 August 2002. See Web versoin URL:, visited 10/14/08. Pettitt is research fellow at Keble college, Oxford.
[iii] Richard Leaky and Roger Lewin. Origins. New York: E.P. Dutton. 1977
[iv] Willfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion. New York: Macmillan, 1991, Originally published 1962. on line google books page 51, URL: visited 9/28/10
[v] Rudolf Otto, and John W. Harvey.The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational factor in the Idea of the Divine, 1929. Kessinger Pulbisher’s rare prints, (John W. Harvey Trans) 2004 5-8 Online page number URL: visited 10/4/10, Originally published Oxford University Press 1926.
VI. Reinhold Niebuhr, Nature and Destiny of Man Vol. I.Westminster: John Knox Press 1991(the original publication was in the 40s).
VII. Class notes at Perkins

Friday, October 14, 2011

Emprical Evidence of the Supernatural?


Yesterday I came across a typical statement on a message.

"Alchemy" on "Christian"
October 04, 2011, 07:17:59 PM »
There are many who claim to have either supernatural powers or to have experienced supernatural events. Claims of psychic abilities, EVP and ghosts have been around for 1000’s or years however, verifiable evidence of these claims continues to elude us.

The James Randi Educational Foundation offers a $1,000,000 prize for anyone who can prove supernatural abilities yet this prize, which has existed for over 20 years has never been claimed.

Does any verifiable evidence of the supernatural exist?

This is a typical expression of what most people take to be "the supernatural." Yet it's not a valid expression of the Christian concept. If we bother to fix the concept and deal with the Christian idea then we do have empirical evidence of the SN. He names off a few things that are typical of his notion of the supernatural: Claims of psychic abilities, EVP and ghosts yet these are not indicative of the Christian idea of the SN. Not sure what EVP is. apparently it's recordings of silence and when played back latter there are voices (see the link).

One of the most helpful sources for understanding this topic comes from a book edited by Martin E. Marty:

Eugene R. Fairweather, "Christianity and the Supernatural," in New Theology N0. 1. Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman, ed. (New York: The Macmillian Company, 1964), 237.
The term "supernature" simply refers to the concept of the supernatural. But, that concept is much changed in modern parlance. The term first originated with Pseudo-Dionysus around 500 CE. In modern terms it refers to anything wired, or beyond the normal course of cause and effect; the occult, psychic powers, and so on. In scholastic terminology, however, it is two things: the realm of the transcendent (or God's presence beyond the created order), or the power to God to alter the natural and bestow grace. Miracles, for example, are "supernatural effects." To say that supernature is the ground and end of nature is simply to say that God is the origin of the nature, and whatever goal or purpose is fulfilled in creation, it is fulfilled to the extent that it moves toward God's purpose. This could be a moral goal, it doesn't have to be a physical effect, because "nature" includes human nature (and primarily human nature in scholasticism). Supernature is the higher law, rooted in God's will and grace (power). see Fairweather and Scheeben.

The article by Fairweather lays out the meaning of the term as consisting of two things: On the abstract level it's an ontology. That is a part of philosophy that describes the nature of being. That nature is that the power of God is the ground and end of the natural. The natural refers to the realm of being in which life stems form life (Mathais Joesph Scheeben, Nature and Grace, 1856). "Ground and end" means the natural realm has it's basis in God, and it is toward God that it moves as a final goal. Now it may not seem like everything is moving toward God, but consider Martin Luther King's statement "the arch of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice" (from the "I have a dream" speech). What that means is all moral things move toward the idea of justice and all moral motions seek to implement justice as the final goal of moral reasoning. In the same way, nature is "moving" toward it's goal of God's will. The second aspect of the definition is that Supernature is the power of God to lift the individual to the higher level of understanding and being. That's an example of what it means to move toward the end goal. Nature, that is human nature, strives to move toward utlimate goal, the one for which it was created which is knowledge of God. So the power of God to elevate is the primary example of this ground and end of nature.

The problem in all these discussions about the supernatural is that we are dealing with a degraded concept. The notion of "Supernatural" is a misnomer to begin with, because modern people construe the idea as another place, an actual location that you can go to. It's the unseen invisible world that is filled with ghosts and magic and so forth. It's in the realm where God can heaven are, we suppose. But what they don't' realize is that this is the watered down, dilapidated concept. It's not even understood well by Christians because it was destroyed in the reformation.

The term "supernatural" comes from the term "supernauturalator" or "Supernature." Dyonisus the Areogopite (around 500ad) began talking of God as the supernaturalator, meaning that God's higher nature was the telos toward which our "lower" natures were drawn. St.Augustine has spoken of Divine nature as "Supernature" or the higher form of nature, but that is speaking of nature in you, like human nature and divine nature.

In the beginning the issue was not a place, "the realm of the supernatural" but the issue was the nature inside a man. Human nature, vs. divine nature. The Supernatural was divine nature that drew the human up to to itself and vivified it with the power (dunimos) to live a holy life. This is the sort of thing Paul was talking about when he said "when I am weak I am strong." Or "we have this treasure in earthen vessels." The weak human nature which can't resist sin is transformed by the power of the Godly nature, through the spirit and became strong enough to resist sin, to be self sacrificing, to die for others ect ect.

This was the "supernatural" prior to the reformation. It was tied in with the sacraments and the mass. That's partly why the Protestants would rebel against it. Austine (late 300s early 400s) spoke of Christians not hating rocks and trees, in answer to the assertion that Christians didn't like nature. But the extension of the natural world as "nature" didn't come until latter. The idea of "the natural" was at first based upon the idea of human nature, of biological life, life form life, that's what the Latin natural is about.

Prior to the reformation Christian theologians did not see the supernatural as a separate reality, an invisible realm, or a place where God dwells that we can't see. After the reformation reality was bifurcated. Now there came to be two realms, and they juxtaposed to each other. The realm of Supernature, is correlated to that of Grace, and is holy and sacred, but the early realm is "natural" and bad it's myered in sin and natural urges.

But all of that represents a degraded form of thinking after going throught he mill of the Protestant Catholic split. The basic split is characterized by rationalism vs feideism. The Catholics are rationalists, because they believe God is motivated by divine propose and wisdom, the Protestants were fiedeists, meaning that faith alone apart form reason because God is motivated by will and sheer acceptation, the desire to prove sovereignty above all else.

The rationalistic view offered a single harmony, a harmonious reality, governed by God's reasoned nature and orchestrated in a multifarious ways. This single reality continued a two sided nature, or a mutli-facets, but it was one harmonious reality in which human nature was regenerated through divine nature. But the Protestant view left Christian theology with two waring reality, that which is removed from our empirical knowledge and that in which we live.

The true Christian view of the Sueprnatural doesn't see the two realms as juxtaposed but as one reality in which the natural moves toward its' ground and end in divine nature. It is this tendency to move toward the ground and end, that produces miracles. A miracle is merely nature bending toward the higher aspect of Supernature.

but with the Protestant division between divine sovereignty, acceptation and will motivating the universe, we mistake univocity and equivvocity for nature and supernature. We think nature and supernature are not alike they are at war, so difference marks the relationship of the two. But to make the Supernatural more available they stress some aspect of nature and put it over against the rest of nature and pretend that makes it supernatural, this is univocity, it's the same. So will and acceptation, sovereignty, God has to prove that he is in charge, these are all aspects of univocity.

It's the natural extension of this biphercation that sets up two realms and sees nature as "everything that exits." or "all of mateiral reality" that sets up the atheist idea that supernatural is unnecessary and doesn't exist.

These are Fairweathers terms; the analogical ontology, which is juxtaposed to the "equivocal" and "univocal" views. The equivocal representing the reformed and neo-orthodox theology, the univocal representing enlightenment based liberal theology. Admittedly, Fairweather's schema is too Thomistic to be accurate, but his terms are handy descriptions of concepts which take a long time to lay out, so I use them. He speaks of the harmonious relation of immanence and transcendence as "analogical" on the assumption that religious language is merely analogy. Since the transcendent is beyond word, thought, or image, the most we can ever hope for is an analogical relation, or pure mystical experience. Of course, there is nothing to guarantee the accuracy of the analogy. But, in contrast to the other two views, the idea is that rather than losing the supernatural in the natural (which includes the materialist view as well as most liberal theology) and rather than losing the relation of nature to grace through sheer volunterism (which the reformers substituted for creative purpose in their notions of soverginty), what for Fairweather is the "correct" view, maintains some relation between creature and creator, even if we can only know that relation through analogy.

3 Fairweather, 245-253.

Fairweather traces the notion of supernatural from the early days of the Church to modern times, in summary fashion. He emphasizes the Greek, Augustine, Aquinas, the Reformers, and Paul Tillich. He argues specifically against the denigration theory.

To answer the question, there is a huge amount of empirical evidence for the supernatural. The superntural is nothing more than the power of God to lift the individual to a higher level of consciousness and spiritual existence. We have a great deal of evidence of that which we are quite justified in construing as "the power of God" at work all the time. All 200 studies on mystical experience, demonstrate the transformational effects. this is direct evidence of the supernatural, once we understand the term correctly. While waiting for the book I've written about these 200 studies (it's coming, be patient) one can find some evidence here. There is a great deal of evidence, but at the moment I can offer mostly secondary evidence. I do have organized sources that list studies.

Also 300 empirical studies on the positive effects of participation in religious devotion.

My list of seven topic areas that can be construed as evidence of Supernatural.

I am constantly pointing out to atheist how they are using the wrong concept of superntual. That makes it a straw man argument, becuase they are using a concept they themselves developed to stand in for the real thing, which they can't touch. So they are just putting forth a straw man. They just say "our straw man is what most Christians believe so that beats Christianity." makes no sense at all.