The Diseased Imaginings of a Tainted Mind
As a socially-liberal Christian, there are now many reactions around the world in reaction to the USA’s acceptance of single-sex marriage. It’s odd that similar results in other countries have not produces such reactions.
I have, of course, been in debate over this issue for many years, and many friends have sent me a link from a website that offers 40 (yes 40!) questions aimed at those of us that support single-sex marriage. Having read them, some of them were quite thought provoking, but generally their tone is designed to lead people into a “gotcha”. That is, that in order to answer the question as frased, you have to agree with the posters argument.
So, to help all those that find these questions difficult, here are my responses.
1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?
One of the fascinating discussions that I’ve had recently (today in fact) is with Mark Clavier, Dean of Residential Training at St. Micheals College, Llandaff. As is often the case when you wander the halls of a theological college, you find yourself entering into discussions that have tremendous theological value. This one I found to personally valuable, and will look forward to reading Mark’s results when they are published (hopefully) later this year.
We were discussing his PhD thesis, which was based on the understanding of Delight in the writings of St. Augustine. (more…)
I am technically a pacifist.
Technically. I believe that resorting to violence means that you have lost. I see no reason to own a gun. I see no reason to carry a knife, even when I felt threatened. The most I have ever felt the need to learn to protect myself was Choi Kwang Do in my late teens, and then it was for defense. Then again, I am lucky. I live in a country that is stable, that is peaceful. The most that I can expect to happen to me (statistically) is to be mugged, or have my house robbed. Given my nature, I may suffer ill at the hands of another as I try to intervene to save someone else (indeed, I have done in the past).
It is easy to be a pacifist when your beliefs are not tested.
Breaking with tradition, I’m uploading my sermon about the nationals now. This is a draft but may very well remain unchanged, depending on the time that I have.
The readings for this sermon are :
Acts 3:12-19, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36-48
29. ‘A brother, being tempted by a demon, went to a hermit and said
‘Those two monks over there who live together live sinfully’. But
the hermit knew that a demon was deceiving him. So he called
the brothers to him. In the evening he put out a mat for them,
and covered them with a single blanket, and said, ‘They are sons
of God, and holy persons.’ But he said to his disciple, ‘Shut this
slandering brother up in a cell by himself; his is suffering from
the passion of which he accuses them.’
Source : Ward, Benedicta: The Desert Fathers London: Penguin Classics, 2003, p. 43
I have been reading a book on Babylonian and Assyrian Myths and Ledgends, and they have sparked some interesting theological links. I thought that it would be best to make some small posts as I went through the book, so that I didn’t forget the ideas.
When Abraham left the city of Ur and struct out on his own there is much of that culture that may have come with him from the native religion of Babylonia. Nannar was the chief God of Ur, a moon God, who’s names are given as “the lord and prince of the gods, supreme in heaven, the Father of All”. A very similar list of names to those attributed eventually to Yahweh.
I have been reading J. N. D Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines (Fith Edition), and have come accross a rather interesting piece that comes from the writing of Origen, as he explains the mystical beginnings of the world.
Before the ages they were all pure intelligences, whether demons or souls or angels. One of them, the Devil, since he possessed free will, chose to resist God, and God rejected him. All the other powers fell away with him, becoming demons, angels and archangels according as their misdeeds were more, or less, or still less, heinous. Each obtained a lot proportionate to his sin. There remained the souls; these had not sinned so grievously as to become demons or so venially as to become angels. God therefore made the present world, binding the soul to the body as punishment… Plainly He chastises each to suit his sin, making one a demon, another a soul, another an archangel.’
p 181. Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines (Fifth Edition) Continuum, London, 2008.
I have said for a long while that I would upload my final year essays. Many of them might be of use to some people. They are Christian in basis, but the topics are varied. There are essays that cover scriptural studies of the Antichrist, through to ethical studies of the place of the Bible in Ethics, and of course the ethics of homosexuality. There is an interfaith essay on the current state of the Pagan-Christian dialogue, and what future hope there is for this dialogue to improve, if any, as well as a look at the place of Baptism in the Christian faith, and through a study of the 4th century liturgy where our symbols have come from. Finally, there is the dissertation that surprised many. The one that looks at culture, and asks if theology can truly be taken from it with any legitimacy. The Dissertation asks this question with direct reference to the book Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, and gives examples of how theology might interact with the theology that is currently being explored in popular culture.
In his book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Bishop John Shelby Spong outlines many of the problems which he sees in modern-day Christianity. Though I agree with the statement, I’m not sure that I agree with his conclusions. Bishop Spong seems to want to remove the Theistic aspect from Christianity, which while I can see much good in his approach, I think the removal of Theism is currently unnecessary. That said, I very much agree that we should re-examine some of the baggage of Christianity with the full weight of modern theology, and strive to recover and reshape Christianity in a way that not only reflects our modern time, but also the beauty of the message of Christ.
In the book, Bishop Spong argues for the removal of the image of Jesus as a divine rescuer. This “Dead Wood” image, he feels falls too easily from the preachers lips, and has become nothing but empty homily to an assumed Theology of Original Sin which hangs around the neck of Christianity like mill stone, and will eventually drag Christianity down to it’s death.
Sometimes I wish I had the answers.
Sometimes I wish there was a way that I could articulate in a way that was fully rational why I believe there is a God. I look around the internet, and it seems to be polarised between Kantian-descended rationalists, who have finally done away with Kant’s need for God to prove a Just universe, and those who have taken Martin Luther’s cry of “Sola Scriptura” as a battle cry, and have simply replaced his bigoted hatred for Jews with one that seems to be aimed at those who wish to be in Single-Sex relationships.
Somewhere in the middle there is the quiet voice of the Moderates. We’re those who are just quietly seeking a way to get our message out that we’re not completely insane. We know that what we believe cannot be proved, and we walk the fine line of Rationality, balancing it with Theology so that we can produce a coherent picture of the world in which we live. We Moderates are not alone. There are many of us who believe that the spiritual side of our life needs nourishing as well. We all seek for ways to do that that feed us. It is a world that no amount of rationalisation is going to get rid of, because people will feel what they feel. Sure you can tell yourself that what your feeling is false, because it has no basis on any provable fact, but then emotions are notorious like that.
I enjoy spending time debating; though you could have worked that out from the numerous posts on the subject on this blog. During one of these debates in an attempt to defend the Religious point of view, I made the standard appeal to experience. It was pointed out to me that the experience is often viewed in light of the cultural norms of the experiencee. That is, if you are brought up a Christian, or currently exploring Christianity, you are more likely to attribute the experience to the Christian God.
This means, then, that though the experience can be powerful life changing, however, it is difficult to use it as a definitive proof for a specific form of Religion/Mysticism. Though similar experiences are reported in all religions, experiences very rarely change religion. Nor, in the same way can it be said to point to a divine being, as those who search for inner enlightenment would say that the experience is an example of reaching this state of nirvana.
This, obviously, put me in a rather awkward position. Either I need to say that all revelation point to the divine, and posit a single God, or that all experiences point to a divine, and posit many Gods. Positing a single God, while being in keeping with Christian Doctrine does play fast and loose with the Bible, which at many points does refer to other gods. Though later these gods come to be thought of as Demons, or agents of Satan. This causes another problem in our attribution of Ecstatic experience, who is to say that such experience is not from Satan. Of course the experiencee often attributes the experience one way or the other, but Satan, that great lord of deception could easily convince a befuddled mortal mind.
While thinking about the nature of belief, it occurred to me that most people see the movement of God in their life through a high level of coincidence-type actions. When people see that their life fortuitously comes together, or improves despite some calamity, it is easy to see how this could be the action of a God. Especially when such events seem to occur on a regular basis. These events are then often coupled with a deep feeling of connection to something Other, something outside of the individual, normally something greater than oneself, and a feeling that perhaps one’s life is being guided by a benevolent hand. When times are not going so well, there is a tendency to look to oneself as a source of the problems. IF the problems occur outside of oneself (for example, loosing one’s job during the recession), then there is a tendency, at least in the short term to recite platitudes, like “Everything happens for a reason”, or “God moves in mysterious ways”. The positive is re-enforced, and the negative is often forgotten, or seen in a different light. The negative can also be seen as the action of something outside of oneself, but a force that is in some way evil. Logically, if God is Good, then the negative force cannot (at least in the immediate instance) originate with God, and so such “evil” is then attributed to a personified form of Evil (in much the same way that the Good is attributed to the personified God).
Much of the decision-making that happens in regard to Belief seems (at least to me) to be based on a mix of cognition, self-fulfilling prophecy, and emotion. As humans, we have fallible memories, and it is well documented that our minds have a wonderful ability to forget things that we would rather not remember, and to remember things in a more positive light than they actually were. Anyone who’s had any previous relationships (friends or lovers) need simply to look back on them, and they will find that over time one aspect tends to shine through more fully than any other (be it the positive or the negative aspects of the relationship). Sometimes we might even forget why it was we liked them in the first place, or perhaps, why it was we broke up with them. It is these fallible memories that leads us to remember only those things that match the way we see the world. This human tendency makes it very difficult to attribute experiences contrary to our held stereotyped view of the world properly. An example would be that should we hold a sweeping stereotype like “All Blonds are Dumb”, even if we were to meet an intelligent blond, we would either think they had died their hair, or even if it was proven to us beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were natural blonds (how that might happen, I’ll leave as an exorcise for the reader) we would simply add this blond as the “exception that proves the rule”. We could meet many intelligent blonds, and still hold the notion that blonds are dumb. A wonderful example of this was done my the Monty Python Team in the life of Brian.
Reg: …. And what have they ever given us in return?
Xerxes: The aqueduct.
Reg: Oh yeah, yeah they gave us that. Yeah. That’s true.
Masked Activist: And the sanitation!
Stan: Oh yes… sanitation, Reg, you remember what the city used to be like.
Reg: All right, I’ll grant you that the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done…
Matthias: And the roads…
Reg: (sharply) Well yes obviously the roads… the roads go without saying. But apart from the aqueduct, the sanitation and the roads…
Another Masked Activist: Irrigation…
Other Masked Voices: Medicine… Education… Health…
Reg: Yes… all right, fair enough…
Activist Near Front: And the wine…
Omnes: Oh yes! True!
Francis: Yeah. That’s something we’d really miss if the Romans left, Reg.
Masked Activist at Back: Public baths!
Stan: And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now.
Francis: Yes, they certainly know how to keep order… (general nodding)… let’s face it, they’re the only ones who could in a place like this.
(more general murmurs of agreement)
Reg: All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?
I think you get the point. However, a Robot (that is, a high-functioning AI robot) has perfect recall. They are able to remember everything that they have ever done, and every sequence of events that has led to specific outcomes. If we take a robot like Data (from Star Trek: Next Generation) He would also be able to work out the probability of the action that has happened. A robot would not be able to accept the empirical proofs put forward such as “I feel it”, having no emotions (which are prone to be arbitrary). The actions of God in the life of the Robot would need to show actions that border on the far side of probability for the Robot to even begin to contemplate the existence of some form of entity that guides their destiny. They would not be subject to the same problems that fallible humans are. Would the Robots ever come to believe in a God?
I’m not sure if a Robot would ever make the leap to a full-formed God, like, for example, the God of the Christians, because they would be lacking in the emotional attachment such religious structure brings with it. They would have no use for the moral structure, and would have difficulty making a personal connection to a deity like Jesus because these, primarily, are emotional links. However, should the amount of chances in the Robots life actually border on the far edge of probability, if they were able to see that there is an apparent Order in the Chaos of their lives, would they make the logical leap that there was someone aiding their life, guiding it in some way? or simply see that they existed on the far end of the probability curve, and therefore, re-draw the probability curve to one that matches where they are? (this is the kind of math that’s a little beyond me, but it occurs to me that if things are happening on the edges of probability repeatedly, then the math that produced the probability graph is off, and they move to become the “norm”, rather than improbable).
I’m not sure a truly logical brain could actually arrive at the notion of a God, unless, of course, God existed. A mind that remembers everything, that is able to view their life without prejudice of emotion, or self-delusion could only arrive at the notion of a God (here defined, of course, as an unseen entity guiding their life) unless it became truly apparent to them that something was. For Robots, of course, they won’t believe, they will simple accept it as another fact, another variable to add into their equation. They can’t believe; they have no emotions.
The lack of emotion, of course, raises all sorts of other questions. CAn you have a soul without emotion? Can a soul that lives in what is essentially an inanimate object enter heaven? (because belief is cited as a criteron for entering heaven). The reason I’m not contemplating the question of wether or not a Robot can gain a soul is simple; God can choose to give a soul to a Robot, if He wants too.
I’ve been reading, as is my want, Alistair McGrath’s Introduction to Christian Theology. While reading up on History, I’ve found a small idea from Origen that peaked my interest. Origen sets up the idea of a dialog between two ideas of God, that which could have been, and that which is now. It is this idea that I wanted to spend a bit of time exploring.
Suffering is often ignored, or at least, glossed over. Mostly because it’s very difficult to reconcile the idea of an all-powerful, and all-knowing God, and the suffering that we see in the world. Origen puts forward the idea that there are two options, two paths in History. I don’t know wether or not he ever expanded it to Suffering, but I wanted to take a crack at it.
This idea is not very usefull when looking at personal suffering, but it seems to work fairly well for big events(ish). The idea is that what happened is not as bad as what could have happened given the same set of circumstances. The idea is, of course, not completely satisfactory as it doesn’t answer the question of how things became the way they were directly before the incident, and why things weren’t different to avoid the incident all together.
Lets take, as an example, WWII. It contains some of the most horrific events that have ever happened to this planet on such a scale. The persecution of the Jews, and the concentration camps were terrible, horrific places. It is diffcult to imagine a worse thing that could have happened. The idea is to try to take a long-term view of the suffering. Without the horrors of World War II, the re-evaluation of the hatred of Jews, and by extension of anyone, based on their race, or religion. It also brought the true meaning of the word Genocide to our minds, and gave the world a new impeteus to fight injustice wherever we found it to avoid such things ever happening again.
Also, during WWII, as has been pointed out on this blog, several people risked their lives to save as many Jews as they could. The whole war made people painfully aware of the evil that can be done by one human being to another, simply because they were told to do it.
Of course, this means nothing unless we learn. It is also questionable wether a loving God would really want us to learn this way, but it does raise questions as to why we failed to lean the lessons that have come before us. Why also did so many people have to die for us to learn this lesson?
I could also make the point that we learned a lot from the research did on both sides of the War, both scientifically, and psychologically. Science is always advanced greatly in times of War. However, was it really worth it?
Perhaps, with a long-term view, it may seem to make some kind of sense, but it still seems to be at odd to the nature of God. Some see WWII as a true battle between Good and Evil, or perhaps, between Evil, and Almost Good. Few people deny that the regime of the Third Reich was anything but evil, and those that do often show through their actions that they are not Good People.
On a smaller scale, suffering can, in some cases, be a tool through which people are touched by God. Some come to faith through the strength and courage of someone in adversity. This, however, does not always seem to justify the means. It is also not enough to say that all the suffering is caused by the Devil, this I think overlooks the cruelty that people are capable of, and it also ignores suffering caused by birth defects which happen before Birth, to a blameless baby.
So, not really an expose on Suffering. I, like most people, don’t really have an answer, but I belive we should be trying to find an answer, not in the least because it brings us to question where we see God, and of course, the very Nature of God. Some people find that this is the bit that walks along the line for them between prooving and disprooving the existence of God. That’s where Faith comes in, and the fact that you never, ever, stop questioning.
For a long time now, the Biblical idea of a seven-day creation has troubled me. The new book on Theology that was recomended for my B. Th. (Theology: Theology: A Very Short Introduction). It had this to say about the lessons that should be drawn about the meaning of the Christian God:
First, there is a negative guideline: never conceive of God without taking all the dimensions of the Trinity into account – that God is creator and transcends creation;…
It does go on, but this was the statement that leaped out at me. I’d never really wrestled with the idea of God as Creator before. I’d always taken the idea of Evolution as fact, based on the wealth of scientific evidence. I won’t repeat it all here, there’s enough of it out there on the web. I’d never, however, looked into the alternative idea of the “Young Earth”.
The most sensible page on this particular phenomena that I could find was based on the work of one Archbishop of Ireland (James Ussher (1581-1656)). He worked on the basis that because there was a lot of sketchy history about at the time, the most sensibly way to work out how old the earth was was by going by the only book that he could conceive of as being infallible, the Bible.
Working from the date of the death of King Nebuchadnezzar as a reliable date upon which to anchor all the earlier biblical dates, he worked backwards through the Bible, using the timings proffered there. From this, he worked out that the world had started on what would now be considered the 23rd of October, 4004BC. It was a triumph of mathematical and historical working. He took into account all the changes in calenders that they were aware of, including when there were days lost and added to take into account of seasonal drift. It was a startling revelation, and was held as truth by the Church for a long time.
Then came Darwin with his Evolution, and Geologists with their carbon dating. This successfully proved that the earth was older. Much, much older. Around 4.54 billion years older*.
Some people hold to the idea that the scientific community is wrong. That their way of “interpreting” the data is wrong, that if they only looked at it in a way that included God, they would see how wrong they were. You can find a whole host of misinformation, of psudo-science and fact that excludes information that doesn’t fit.
Where does that leave us with the Creator God?
Some Christians maintain that to ignore Evolution is to undervalue God. Setting up Evolution would require immense foresight and genious. Qualities that are easily assigned to a creator God. For some reason that I don’t quite understand, I’ve not yet managed to identify fully with this part of God. The thing that seems to make the most sense to me is based on an idea from the Hogfather .
In this, Death and Susan need to return the belief in the Hogfather otherwise the sun won’t rise. At the end of the book, as Susan questions Death about this he says that a ball of flaming gas would come over the hills, but the sun wouldn’t rise.
This idea seemed to fit for me with the Creator God. With the Creator God, there is the whole of Creation, without him, there is simply nature. Of course, this idea is in need of some fleshing out. It neatly dodges the bullet of what actually created the world/universe, and the “what created God” argument. It also won’t satisfy the majority of Fundamentalist Christians. It could also be seen as selling God short. I’m guessing that there’s more to be fleshed out about this approach to the Creator God, or perhaps, even, as I learn more my idea may change again.