How Science Works (and How Christianity Thinks it Wins)

This argument was made at a Creationism conference that I attended several years ago: science isn’t trustworthy because every time you turn around, it’s changing its mind.

  • The sun goes around the earth … no, wait a minute—it’s the other way around.
  • Here’s the fossil of an early human … no, hold on—that one’s a hoax.
  • Living things hold a special energy or force—an élan vital—that animates them … nope, that’s passé.
  • Every wave needs a medium, so space must be filled with “ether” for light to propagate through … oops, wrong again.

An early theory of the formation of the moon said that the fast-spinning early earth flung out the moon and that the big circular Pacific Ocean basin is where it came from. The question of origin of the moon has been an active area of research, and the flung-out-moon idea is just another discarded scientific theory—this was one of the areas of research that was lampooned at this conference.

The Creationist argues that when you turn from changeable Science to Christianity’s unchanging God and Bible, you have something solid that you can trust.

How does science change?

Science does change, but let’s notice that the size of any change tends to decrease for a single theory. When the door is flung open to a new field of inquiry—say by Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of single-celled organisms or Galileo’s use of the telescope—new theories based on insufficient evidence try to organize the chaos. One theory might quickly supersede another, but as theories become better at explaining more, changes becomes smaller. Here are some examples.

  • Geocentrism to heliocentrism was an enormous change for the model of the solar system. Our understanding of the solar system continues to change (new theories about why Uranus is tipped on its side or the reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet, for example), but these are comparatively minor.
  • Evolution revolutionized biology, and the changes in biology today are merely refinements to this theory. Punctuated equilibrium proposes occasional rapid change instead of Darwin’s view of gradual change, but it tries to improve evolution, not overturn it.
  • The intuitive flat earth model was replaced by a spherical earth, and the observation that it’s actually not spherical but slightly flattened at the poles is a small change.
  • Quantum physics continues to change, but new discoveries are not likely to say that matter is not made up of atoms, which are themselves not made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Christians eager to paint the Bible as an unchanging rock in a sea of chaos don’t seem to understand that they point to science’s strength. Science realizes that new discoveries may obsolete old theories, and every scientific statement is provisional. And, remarkably, science is self-correcting. It finds its own errors.

Science changes, and that’s its strength. The Bible never changes, and that’s its weakness.

When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong.
When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong.
But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical
is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat,
then your view is wronger than both of them put together.
— Isaac Asimov

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 12/5/11.)

About Bob Seidensticker
  • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com/ Hausdorff

    That’s a great quote by Asimov

  • skyblue

    Agreed! I love the Asimov quote at the end.

    I think when people make this argument against science, they betray their ignorance about how the scientific understanding of the world works. After all, the evidence came to replace, say, geocentrism with heliocentrism had nothing to do with the Bible. It doesn’t make sense that a creationist would want to “take credit” on behalf of biblical literalism for scientists coming up with newer and better ideas upon the discovery of new information.

    Since unsubstantiated claims are popular within creationist circles, I also think they are often clueless about the peer review process and the concept of full disclosure, and therefore, the scrutiny which scientific discoveries and claims will be held up to. Creationists often accuse scientists of lying, conspiracies, or covering up “the truth”, and completely miss the fact that trying to get away with fraud when you have to explain exactly what you did to get your results in great detail, is pretty much asking for it.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Some of the examples listed are actually prescientific: bodliy humours, geocentricity, alchemy, etc.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I agree! But the distinction between modern science (since the Industrial Revolution, say?) and what came before doesn’t much matter much to the argument for many Christians.

    • MNb

      I don’t like the word prescientific too much. Several of those examples are falsified theories. The fact that they could be falsified makes them scientific imo – they are just rejected.
      In several cases geocentricity still works fine for example.

    • Guest

      Explain what “pre-scientific” means and the *clear* difference that exists between science and the “pre-scientific” theories.

      • smrnda

        One difference would be falsifiability, though I’m not sure if ‘pre’ and ‘post’ would be good adjectives then, since people are still popping out unfalsifiable theories and claiming they’re true since they can’t be falsified.

        • Guest

          But in that case, none of those examples would be “pre-scientific.” :-P

        • smrnda

          My point was that many wrong, ancient theories were still proper theories in the sense of being falsifiable, and people today are still popping out unfalsifiable hypothesis and saying they’re true since they can’t be disproved.

  • Machintelligence

    Why not spend some time filling in the right hand column for them?
    Pi is equal to 3.
    Bats are birds.
    The earth has four corners.
    The moon is a light in the sky.
    A virgin can give birth to a male.
    and almost too many more to list.

  • Ron

    Column 1: Things once attributed to supernatural causes now having natural explanations

    Column 2: Things once attributed to natural causes that now have supernatural explanations

    Longest list wins.

    Ready, set, go!

  • smrnda

    The Asimov quote definitely sums up a point about science that most religious apologists seem to miss. Newton’s laws were not proven 100% wrong and replaced by another theory, we just found special cases where they made inaccurate predictions. You can still build a bridge using Newton’s equations.

    To me, apologists seem to get hung up on the idea that something is either 100% reliable all the time, or else it’s 100% wrong. The thing is, nobody holds anything to this standard. The ads for grocery stores in the paper aren’t 100% accurate all the time – there are typos, but if the ad tells me ‘peanut butter on sale’ it’s a safe bet that if I go there, peanut butter will be on sale. A technique for predicting outcomes that was simply better than chance would be useful much of the time.

    The other thing is that some theories don’t get replaced as you said, just refined. We started out with ‘germ theory’ and have had to expand possible disease vectors to include things that aren’t technically ‘germs’ but we’re sure not going back to illness i caused by evil spirits and bad humor imbalances.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      They like to point to early thinking about a subject (the formation of the solar system or human evolution, for example) and laugh at the big changes, not realizing that they are talking about something quite different in a mature theory.

    • Kodie

      That’s kind of what I was going to say. Most people have normal, every day experiences where they made a guess based on a little information and, given more information at a later time, they were either completely wrong, were on the right track but there was a little more to it, or were completely right.

      But then, my conversations with religious people over the years gives me the idea these people are prone to snap decisions, jumping to conclusions easily and cling tightly to them, and/(or?) picking out their authorities and listen to them intently. So, they do not really seem to have experience with building to a conclusion based on all the information they can get, unless it already agrees with their premise, or correcting provisional guesses. They need to categorize things in black or white terms, like heaven or hell terms, in the everyday; they need to pray over things that don’t immediately fall into extreme categories and know as soon as possible. Even though I thought patience was a virtue, I guess it’s not. Religion feeds a need to know something and settle the distracting doubts swirling around so they can actually cope with life.

      It’s weird because I don’t know how the universe started and it doesn’t actually interfere with anything. I am not even sure we need to know, but apparently there are humans who can’t stand not knowing, and some of them are theists and some of them are scientists.

    • MNb

      “we just found special cases where they made inaccurate predictions.”
      It’s the other way round. Those bridges are also correctly described by any modern theory of physics. Newton’s equations are for the special cases, because they are a simplification.
      Just like the Flat Earth Theory can be nicely used in special cases like you driving your car from home to the supermarket.

      • smrnda

        Thanks, I got that backwards there :-)

  • MNb

    This is one of the very few arguments pro christianity that is even worse than the cosmological argument. Thanks to this “weakness” we have internet (which we like) and the nuclear bomb (which we don’t like). This “weakness” has had more influence on how the world looks like than any religion. The apologists who accepts this expresses his/her desire to go back to say the Middle Ages.

  • labman57

    Sanctimonious, scientifically-illiterate, theocracy-minded politicians and pundits such as Palin, Santorum, Perry, Bachmann, and numerous socially-regressive state legislators have redefined what constitutes science to fit their own point of view. Therefore, they equate real science withnatural phenomena under the control of God.

    What they don’t understand is that science is not merely a body of knowledge accumulated over the centuries, it is also the process through which this knowledge is attained. And so simply declaring that something is true because it says so in the Bible (or any other literary source) cannot be construed as science if that “fact” or “idea” was not the result of a valid, structured, self-critical scientific process.

    “God works in mysterious ways” is a religious rationalization for what these folks really mean: “I have no freaking clue how natural phenomena happen, nor how the process of scientific observation, experimentation, analysis, deduction, and discovery further our understanding of the universe”.

    The allegories and parables presented in the Bible are akin to a docudrama — a fictional account of early human history inspired by and loosely based on actual events. These scriptures were designed, in part, to provide answers for people who asked questions about matters which they could not yet comprehend and to provide guidelines for expected social behavior as determined by the religious order of the time.

    Furthermore, early religious leaders sought to provide their followers with a strong feeling of community, moral righteousness, political empowerment, and spiritual purpose. The Old and New Testaments and the Koran were all reverse-engineered to help these evolving religions attain these goals.

    Scientifically-illiterate people seem to think that a “theory” is somehow lacking in power and validity. Scientific theories are our best explanation for an event or phenomenon based on the available evidence, i.e., a theory tells us HOW it happens. Theories have generally been subjected to rigorous empirical and/or mathematical testing and represent the consensus of the scientific community, whereas a hypothesis is a possible explanation for a specific observation and has not necessarily been tested yet.

    Calling something a theory does not cheapen or weaken it. On the contrary, the term “theory” gives it legitimacy as something that is scientifically testable and that has been rigorously examined either mathematically or empirically to the point that the available evidenceoverwhelming supports it.

    Quantum mechanics, special and general relativity, molecular kinetics — all THEORIES!

    The realm of science — with its evidence-based testable theories, evolving species, relativistic measurements, and quantum phenomena — undermines the “absolutism” that is embraced by those whose view of the universe must conform to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    • MNb

      The scientific theory is the modern equivalence of the prophecy. I predict that you will fall downward when jumping from a bridge. Theists and atheists alike accept this prophecy and even think it a banal one for two reasons.
      1. all times we tried this or something similar in the past this happened;
      2. we have a good scientific theory that accurately describes it.

      “Just a theory” is another example of apologist arguments that are even worse than the cosmological argument.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      At the top of your list of theories should be germ theory. Presumably even the anti-science Christian has some respect for hat.

  • Nemo

    The thing is, though, science and religion are given different standards. In the Bible, Elijah performs a science experiment at Mount Caramel to test whether Yahweh or Baal is supreme. If I tried to set up a modern day version of this (say, where we tested whether science or God could more effectively charge an empty battery), how many Christians would accept the results? The Bible cannot be disproven because its claims are increasingly kept from an area where they could be critically analyzed in the first place. Science has driven God from this world and into an alternate time and space from which he will occasionally dabble in our own in ways that only those predisposed to seeing supernatural things would recognize as his doing.

    • Carol Lynn

      How could “Science” drive God from this world? Either he is in it meddling and being all omnipotent and all or he is not. Having a god who leaves – in a snit? – because people figure out how the universe works and that it does not need a supernatural explanation means that that entity is either too petty to be called “god” or people just made up the god explanations in the first place. I’m going with option number two.

    • Kodie

      Science has only explained things that used to be attributed to a deity. God is sort of a failed hypothesis. It is in competition with science. Where Christians think god and the bible is unending and unchanging, therefore, better, scientists see god in the same column as flat earth, geocentrism, and all the other things we used to think was true but isn’t. It was a very early hypothesis, and we learned things and grew. The real truth is the only way to know about anything is to find out. Sometimes we’re wrong, and if it works, we can be wrong a long time.

      If you want to believe that god is the winning bet because it never changes, well, Christianity keeps revising itself and what the main message is. Theology is a study of interpreting the same text over and over again, and especially because science is making leaps and bounds past it and proving it to be mythology. One has to keep reinterpreting the bible to keep up with reality.

      Anyway, in my layman’s understanding, nothing really does change, it’s we who can’t discover it all at once. We are just intelligent, not machines programmed to know instantly or guess correctly. Science is the discovery process, whereas theology is the practice of interpretation, and trying to fit it in with current understandings of history and science. God isn’t getting pushed away by science, it’s just becoming clearer and clearer through science that god isn’t there. He doesn’t dabble and he never interfered, it’s an illusion borne of not knowing and inventing a superstition about why things happen instead of actually knowing.

      Let’s say there is a fork in the road. You don’t know what is down either road, and you think god lives down one of them but not the other. First, how do you pick which road? Maybe they are even marked, but the signs are really old and might have been vandalized. Once you start walking down the road you picked, you see no god. You keep walking because he might be farther down this road. Eventually, you think, “maybe I picked the wrong way”, but you’ve already walked so far, you will just stick with this road instead of go all the way back to the beginning and try the other road. The sign said it was this way, and you would rather believe the sign was certainly pointing you the right way. After all the effort you put in walking this way, you are certainly not about to change your course. Someone is walking from the other direction, and you stop to ask him if god lives much further down? And he will not know what you’re talking about. He is just taking a walk, and you are on a fool’s errand. It’s just a road.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        In how many instances must “God did it!” be refuted before Christians see the trend and stop making that claim?

        In a rational world, I mean.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know. People aren’t really surprising me. Rationality exists, but people are still fallible. Is wrongness wrong if it works for all intents and purposes, most of the time? I don’t know. At least in my common experience, using one’s brain to consider outcomes is pointless. Thinking of others’ potential considerations is inefficient. I’ve been criticized many times over for thinking of things that aren’t right in front of me, or scenarios that might come up. I don’t think people are rational. We’re capable of rationality, we can extract rationality as an exercise, it’s a capability we all have but do not often use.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          There was a M*A*S*H TV episode where Radar was worried that he was crazy because he talked to his bear. Sidney the psychiatrist asked, “Does it talk back?”

          He went on to talk about people nice and safe back home who thought that “I Love Lucy” was a reality show.

          Society had such an ample safety net that you could think nutty thoughts (sitcoms are real, food comes from the grocery store, Jesus died for our sins, etc.). Some ideas have consequences in the real world (bleach really will kill you if you drink it). But lots of ideas and thoughts don’t have to hold up to scrutiny.

    • smrnda

      I actually once suggested that to settle the issue of a god’s existence, the Elijah experiment should be replicated. Most Christians were pretty dismissive of this, but hey, they did it in the Bible when they had to settle the controversy, so why not now?

      If god wanted worshipers, answering by fire would be a pretty good way to make its presence known.

    • Greg G.

      I have made the 1 Kings 18 challenge a number of times. We both get a hibachi full of charcoal. The believer gets to pray as much as they like and pour as much water on their charcoal as they like. I will use the products of science to light the charcoal in my hibachi. The loser eats cold steak tartare.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’ve heard God called the ultimate unfalsifiable hypothesis.

    • Guest

      No Christians would accept the results because they have a get-out clause in the scene where Jesus says to Satan ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ There’s also the bit in the story of Lazarus that says that unbelievers wouldn’t believe even if the prophets came back to talk to them, which is used as a justification not to look for any kind of evidence to back up religious claims.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        There are also passages that say the reverse, but since picking and choosing is how things work, those contradictory passages would b ignored.

  • Frank

    I wonder who would win in a matchup featuring the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Knicks?

  • trj

    I’d love to hear an example of a single discovery or insight derived from Christian doctrine. Please, name just one.

    Science tends to converge around the right answer, even if it sometimes takes a while to get there. Although the route may be indirect, it does produce tangible results and improvements. Religion, in comparison, fails miserably in this department. We must have a million treatises on Christianity, and what results have they to show? Nothing but long-winded, self-serving assertions and inane trivia.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Christians sometimes like to point to verses that, if interpreted liberally, suggest some scientific knowledge. But that’s all after the fact and doesn’t respond to your challenge.

      • Greg G.

        Muslims do that with the Koran as well.

      • Ron

        And when shown passages which are scientifically inaccurate they’ll do a complete 180 by claiming the Bible isn’t a science text and those verses weren’t meant to be taken literally.

    • Carol

      Try this one:


      The spiritual self gives, the ego takes. The destructiveness of the ego is
      immediately evident in social terms: Everyone wants to take, to have, and the result is discord and warfare. Today we are experiencing the collapse of a social system based on egotism both in the East and in the West. Long ago the fanatic belief of economic liberalism (that if the individual strives for maximum economic prosperity the result will be maximum prosperity for all) has been shown to be wishful thinking, an ideology meant to somehow socially justify gross egotism. The answer to liberalism was hardly better. Marx never discovered that individual egotism cannot be overcome through class egotism.
      Class egotism, national egotism or the egotism of the individual: They all lead to a general defeat in a war of all against all. No social contract helps here. Ambition against ambition, greed against greed will-to-power against
      will-to-power. How can this lead anywhere but to continual conflict?
      Of course the answer is to realize the power of love and the fact that we all work for one another and not for ourselves. This is no wishful thinking but a true realization of the way things are, but is not realized by sleeping people. –Andrew Flaxman, Director of Educate Yourself for Tomorrow

      Or course, this is not a uniquely Christian doctrine, it is a central teaching in all authentic religious Traditions:

      Forming a new world religion is difficult and not particularly desirable. However, in that love is essential to all religions, one could speak of the universal religion of love. –His Holiness the Dalai Lama

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        When Scott suggested that you form coherent arguments yourself rather than just stringing together quotes, I don’t think that yet another quote is what he was hoping for.

        • Carol

          Probably not; but why would I say something in my own words, when someone else has said it so much more brilliantly than I could ever hope to do?

        • Kodie

          Disclaimer: I am not the most articulate person you ever met.

          That said, pulling quotes without commentary indicates that you don’t know how to express these ideas, or think them through, you only know how to consume them and agree with them.

  • Carol

    I suspect that you may be confusing religious fundamentalism with Christianity:

    Fundamentalism is the antithesis of any religion’s orthodoxy thus not even a property of Christianity. There is a fundamentalist version of every religion.
    Christian fundamentalism is gnostic and narcissistic, and thus not orthodox. It’s heretical. A heresy is by definition not a property of orthodoxy. –Rev. Ken Collins

    The sacred history of redemption is still going on. It is now the history of the Church that is the Body of Christ. The Spirit-Comforter is already abiding in the Church. No complete system of Christian faith is yet possible, for the Church is still on her pilgrimage. And the Bible is kept by the Church as a book of history to remind believers of the dynamic nature of the divine revelation, “at sundry times and in divers manners.” ~Georges V. Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View

    “Torah as law-code (covenant stipulations) for ancient Israel permitted slavery, war brides, and stoning rebellious teens. Torah as the timeless,evolving truth of God prohibits these very things and calls for a higher standard. Israel was to learn this over time by experiencing the ways of “the God who brought you out of the house of bondage.” Torah is not meant to remain the same. Torah is meant to change, to ascend, to gravitate toward the highest ideals in it. Torah has a trajectory within it of increasing holiness and those who obey, for example, Leviticus 19:2, will be required to always find the highest, not the lowest, ethic of Torah.” ~Derek Leman, Hebrew Christian

    The old maps of reality, into which spiritual traditions have been integrated, often do not inspire people to be loyal to their tradition. Between the advances of both quantum physics and transpersonal psychology, we can no longer be at home in the old time religion. ~Rabbi Michael Lerner

    There are some very important differences between Latin/Western *Christianity* and the Eastern Christian Churches:

    Four Walls Separating Us from the New Testament

    Four crises separate Western Christians on the one hand from the New Testament writers and Eastern Christians on the other. If we understand
    these crises and the effects they had, we can attempt to “roll them back” in
    our minds and understand the New Testament more clearly.

    The New Testament is in Greek, which has a large philosophical
    vocabulary that Latin lacks. Ecumenical councils used Greek as the working
    language; then they made an official translation into Latin for use in the
    West. Many of the most heated debates were about which Latin words best
    conveyed the meaning of the Greek resolution they had already agreed on.
    Because Greek philosophical concepts had to be translated into Latin legal
    concepts, theology in the West took on the character of codified law after the
    West lost Greek. To this day, Orthodox theologians reason like rabbis, while
    western theologians reason like lawyers.



    accused Pelagius of teaching salvation by works

    Western Christians are obsessed with not being
    saved by works

    Western Christians deemphasize ascetic
    disciplines and exercises

    Spirituality becomes a set of mental acts

    Salvation is rescue from hell, rather than
    transformation into glory

    Determinism enters some parts of western
    theology from Manichaeism through Augustine


    Theology moved from the monastery to the university

    Western theology is an intellectual discipline
    rather than a mystical pursuit

    Western theology is over-systematized

    Western Theology is systematized, based on a
    legal model rather than a philosophical model

    Western theologians debate like lawyers, not
    like rabbis


    Catholic reformers were excommunicated and formed Protestant

    Western churches become guarantors of
    theological schools of thought

    Western church membership is often contingent on
    fine points of doctrine

    Some western Christians believe that definite
    beliefs are incompatible with tolerance

    The atmosphere arose in which anyone could start
    a church

    The legal model for western theology intensifies
    despite the rediscovery of the East


    Philosophers founded empirical sciences

    Western theologians attempt to apply empiricism
    to theology

    Western theologians agonize over the existence
    of God

    Western theologians lose, deemphasize, neglect,
    marginalize, or explain away the supernatural

    Western theologians no longer have coherent
    answers for many practical religious questions

    Western churches outsource the treatment of
    religious problems to secular therapists

    East and West


    Western Christians are obsessed with not being
    saved by works

    Western Christians deemphasize ascetic
    disciplines and exercises

    Spirituality becomes a set of mental acts

    Salvation is rescue from hell

    The emphasis is on the cross

    Determinism enters some parts of western
    Christian theology


    Works express faith, faith gives birth to works

    Eastern Christians engage in fasting and other spiritual

    Spirituality involves both mind and body

    Salvation is transformation into glory

    The emphasis is on resurrection and

    Determinism never entered Christian theology


    Western theology is primarily an intellectual
    discipline by professors

    Western theology is over-systematized

    Western theology is based on a legal model

    Western theologians debate like


    Eastern theology is primarily a mystical pursuit
    by monastics

    Eastern theology is not as strictly systematized;
    for example, the number of sacraments is not set and is not controversial

    Eastern theology is based on a philosophical

    Eastern theologians debate like rabbis


    Western churches became guarantors of
    theological schools of thought

    Western church membership is often contingent on
    fine points of doctrine

    Some western Christians believe that definite
    beliefs are incompatible with tolerance

    The atmosphere arose in which anyone could start
    a church


    Eastern theology, while holding more strictly
    than western theology on basic dogmas, is tolerant of differences of opinions
    on finer points

    Eastern church membership is contingent on
    commitment and behavior

    Eastern Christians have no difficulty
    maintaining definite beliefs while remaining tolerant.

    There was nothing corresponding to the
    Protestant Reformation and there is no proliferation of sects within the


    Western Christians see a dichotomy of spirit and

    Western theologians attempt to apply empiricism
    to theology

    Western theologians agonize over the existence
    of God

    Western theologians have lost, deemphasized,
    neglected, marginalized, or explained away the supernatural and miraculous

    Western theologians no longer have coherent
    answers for many practical religious questions (such as during bereavement)

    Western churches outsource the treatment of
    religious problems, such as bereavement, to secular therapists


    Eastern Christians see a dichotomy of God and

    Eastern theologians are largely unaffected by

    Eastern theologians do not agonize over the
    existence of God

    Eastern theologians systematize the
    transcendent, the miraculous, and the mystical into their theology, without a
    concept of ‘supernatural’

    Eastern theologians have coherent and helpful
    answers for most practical spiritual problems (such as during bereavement)

    Eastern clergy, monastics, and lay experts have
    resources for spiritual direction, moral direction, and Eastern clergy,
    monastics, and lay experts have resources for spiritual direction, moral
    direction, and bereavement counseling; thus they do not outsource religious
    problems to secular experts.

    • MNb

      And why do you need so many words to say something that has exactly zilch to do with Turek and BobS’ comments on him? Are you just another apologist who can’t stick to the actual subject?

      • Carol

        “For every complex problem, there’s a simple answer: and it’s wrong.” — Writer Umberto Eco
        Some people like to skip stones over the surface of the pond (linear logic). Others like to throw in a larger rock and watch the ripples go out (complexity thinking).
        Both epistemological perspectives have their advantages and limitations, some people can’t see the forest for the trees and others can’t see the trees for the forest. I prefer the holistic perspective of Eastern thinking; but it does have the potential to muddy the waters.

        • Scott_In_OH

          You seem to have some interesting thoughts (even if I may disagree with many of them), but if I may: What muddies the waters is speaking almost exclusively in quotations and metaphors.

        • Carol

          “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”
          According to the MBTI personality test I am an INTJ. INTJ’s love quotes. We trade our quotes back and forth the way some people trade baseball cards or any other acquisitions of a collector’s passion.
          If my style is too irritating, just ignore my posts. My feelings won’t be hurt. ;-)

        • Kodie

          Myers-Briggs is another pile of junk science. Anyway, when I took it, I was an INTJ (at least a few times), and I hate quotes. It may be you are inarticulate like me and rely on quotes to translate your thoughts for you, but I think quotes are often misused. Just look at Pinterest or your facebook wall or anything.


          People love the shit out of some blurb that sums up their feelings. It’s all, “mm-hmm,” “yeah, that’s right,” validation of your own thoughts. It’s really weird how many and how diverse your collection of quotes is. How do you even organize them so you can use them in place of personal expression every time you post? My therapist wanted to “help” me with some inspirational quotes, and I told her flat out, “I hate quotes.”

          Some people are able to put things into a nice combination of words, and at least you attribute them properly. I don’t hate every single quote. I hate the way they substitute and even make conclusions for you. You’re done, you don’t have to do the work of thinking. You lose practice of articulating your own thoughts. You see conclusions someone else has drawn and don’t bother to critically analyze them because that would mean you had to discard the quote and change it into your own words.

          You don’t seem like a real person when you use quotes instead of your own words. You are using argument from authority – these people say things, it is no better than quotes pulled from the bible. The bible sometimes has a skillful turn of phrase. What’s missing is the personal analysis of what the phrase means and why it is relevant, and whether they have even analyzed it or just decided it sounds nice here. I say such-and-such, and you pull some quote that is supposed to be a rebuttal.

        • Carol

          I’m a real person who loves quotes. You are a real person who hates quotes. It is what it is.
          There is no “right” or “wrong” issue here. Just a matter of personal tastes. Why can’t you just ignore my posts if they annoy you?
          I can’t understand why you are so “offended” by my quotes. Doesn’t seem rational to me.
          Oh, I forgot. Believing that we can always choose to be rational is a fundamental Enlightenment heresy.

        • Kodie

          I just find it hard to relate to you and figure out what you mean to say.

        • Carol

          Everyone finds it harder to understand and relate to people whose tastes or beliefs differ from ours. Most people would rather be respected than understood, anyway; so not understanding is no big deal. We don’t even understand ourselves much of the time.

          What is a big deal is to impute motives or try to analyze someone whom we don’t understand. There is so little respect these days for the mystery of the person. :’ (

        • Kodie

          It’s an artificial experience to try to engage you and get quotes in response. Someone else said what you want to say better, I get it. But it is like getting a canned response, and it’s impersonal. Do you understand, Carol?

        • Carol

          How can a thought that comes from another person be impersonal? The quotes that I chose to embrace reveal as much about me as the thoughts I express in my own words do.

          When we quote others or tell their stories instead of our own, we do them honor and memorialize them [make them present through memory].

          I lived in West Africa for 18 months in the early 60′s and it was called “white man’s graveyard.” I learned how narcissistic and dehumanizing our death-denying, hi-tech Western culture can be and I can assure you that the indigenous people would understand this. Do you, Cody?

          There is a big difference between experiencing life as an isolated individual and as a person in communion with others, both those who share our present space in time and those who have gone before us.

          There was no denial of death there where the infant mortality rate was 60% and death was always at my own shoulder. I became sick enough to have an out of the body experience, which convinced me that human consciousness survives death, not that God exists. It was still years before a became a person of theological faith.

          “Mechanistic science has no place for enchantment. If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist. The problem is, the important things cannot be measured….” –Anne Wilson Schaef (Cherokee), Author- Native Wisdom for White Minds

          From rear cover:

          What is a white mind? White minds are trapped in a closed system of thinking that sees life in black and white, either/or terms; they are hierarchical and mechanistic; they
          see nature as a force to be tamed and people as objects to be controlled with no regard for the future.
          This worldview is not shared by most Native Peoples. Anne shares the richness poured out to her by Native Americans, Aborigines, Africans, Maoris and others. In the words of Native peoples themselves, we come to understand Native ideas about our earth, spirituality, family, work, loneliness and change. For in every area of
          our lives we have the capacity to transcend our white minds – we simply need to listen with open hearts and open minds to other voices, other perceptions, other cultures.
          Anne often heard Elders from a wide variety of Native peoples say, “Our legends tell us that a time will come when our wisdom and way of living will be necessary to
          save the planet, and that time is now.”

          “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” -Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

          Death is the great leveler. If you hunger for temporal justice, you can be assured that death will unfailingly bring it.

          “Your life feels different on you, once you greet death and understand your heart’s position. You wear your life like a garment from the mission bundle sale ever after—lightly because you realize you never paid nothing for it, cherishing because you won’t ever come by such a bargain again. Also you have the feeling someone
          wore it before you and someone will after.
          I can’t explain that, not yet, but I’m putting my mind to it.”
          ~ Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine, A Novel

          “Our attitude to all men would be Christian if we regarded them as though they were dying and determine our
          relation to them in the light of death, both their death and our own. A person who is dying calls forth a special kind of feeling. Our attitude to him is at once softened and lifted to a higher plane.” ~Nikolai Berdyaev (Destiny of Man, 121)

          Meditation only becomes real, powerful, authentic, and liberating when it is a practice of letting everything go. Otherwise it is reduced to little more than a psycho-spiritual relaxation technique. It may make you feel better, but it won’t set you free. Feeling better and being free don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Feeling better is relative; being free is not. Ultimately, spiritual freedom depends on how profound is your ability to let go of
          everything—and not just once, but over and over again. If you understand what it means to let go of everything, you know everything you need to know about meditation. Then your meditation is real. It’s the posture of freedom, the posture of enlightenment. It’s a profound existential stand you are taking in relationship to life and death; a spiritual position you are assuming in relationship to eternity.
          ~Andrew Cohen

        • MNb

          Same for me.

        • smrnda

          I don’t think we can always choose to be rational *personally* since we’re all subject to cognitive biases. We can, however, always choose to use reason, which sometimes means using more systematic methods for investigating claims than we would use naturally.

          On quotes, I like short, precise statements and clear communication. This might be that I’ve spent more time writing software than writing normal prose, but I still think that there’s tremendous value in clarity and brevity.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I suspect that you may be confusing religious fundamentalism with Christianity

      Hundreds of millions of fundamentalist Christians (depending on your definition of the term) disagree with you.

      • Carol

        In times of rapid historical transition such as ours, people become fearful and fear chemicals make it almost impossible to think rationally. All change is then experienced more as a threat than as an opportunity for growth and religious fundamentalism as well as political ideology increases which, tragically, makes the necessary adaptations to the challenges of changed circumstances very painful even though the immutable law of evolution is adapt or die.

        “Fundamentalism, I believe, appeals to people who need rigid structures and uncomplicated explanations of faith. … Essentially, then the attraction of fundamentalism is psychological, not
        theological.” –Fr. Joseph Breighner

        “Conservatism” is not a philosophy at all but an attitude. The word “conservative” (fm L “conservator” = “one who preserves”) simply refers to a rigid conformity with orthodox or established ways or beliefs, it doesn’t refer to what those beliefs might be. A hard core old guard Democrat is just as much a conservative as a hard core old guard Republican, both are clinging to the past.
        “Conservatism” is term people use to justify whatever their own
        beliefs are by attributing them to the past and thus claiming this validates them.
        That’s why people tack labels onto Historical figures, like calling Washington a “Born Again Christian” as Limbaugh does, in order to misrepresent those peoples views as supporting what the people of today think. People who claim the “Conservative” label rarely agree on everything, in many cases they differ radically, William F. Buckley, for example, supported legalization of marijuana and cocaine, which other people who think themselves
        conservatives call the height of liberalism. ~ Source Unknown

        • Kodie

          Do you have any original thoughts or rely entirely on the authority of quotes you find interesting?

        • Carol

          Original thoughts? As in not being influenced by any cultural or philosophical presuppositions? Probably not.
          Sir Isaac Newton, when lionized for his scientific genius, would admit that he “stood on the shoulders of giants” to gain his insights. If recognizing the wisdom of others and giving them honor due was good enough for Sir Isaac, it’s good enough for me.
          However, while my thoughts may not be original in a strict sense, I do have a “gift” for connecting the dots of others’ insights to give me a more holistic vision. Those of us who have “turned East” in our thinking have a “Big Picture” epistemological perspective.

        • Kodie

          It resonates with you but you don’t even bother to process it through your mind and regurgitate it in your own words. It is just another interpretation, the one you prefer.

        • smrnda

          I tend to find that the alleged ‘big picture’ just involves bringing in some vague, inflated language that maps onto no real things at all. post-Enlightenment rationalism has produced pretty much everything of value, both technologically and socially that I can see. Countries that have placed a high value on ‘mystic’ truth seem stuck in the dark ages.

        • Carol

          The intuitive wisdom of many indigenous tribes brought a deep sense of communal affection and loyalty that has been lost even in the “nuclear family” in the post-Enlightenment West. We love people for what they “bring to the table”, not for who they are.

          Unfortunately, the affection and loyalty did not extend beyond the extended tribal relationships empowering persons to love those whose interests and desires conflicted with the common tribal interests (enemies). The biological necessity of survival limited the potential to love.

          “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences
          himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison,
          restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein

          Our post-Enlightenment/Industrial Age rationalism has produced many material goods, but there is a real question as to whether the material progress has been at a sustainable cost. It has also produced weapons of mass destruction and industrial waste.

          We have yet to begin to use our knowledge wisely.

          “We exist in a bizarre combination of Stone Age emotions, medieval beliefs, and god-like technology.” —Edward
          O. Wilson, esteemed Harvard biologist

          “[T]he greatest enterprise of the mind has always been and always will be the attempted linkage of the sciences and the humanities. The ongoing fragmentation of knowledge and resulting chaos in philosophy are therefore not reflections of the real world but artifacts of cholarship.”
          – E.O. Wilson, Consilience

          “In the real world, governed equally by the market and natural economies, humanity is in a final struggle with the rest of life. If it presses on, it will win a Cadmean victory, in
          which first the biosphere loses, then humanity.” Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life.

          “The moral challenge of our day is to put a human face on our technology.” –Bernard Haering, C.Ss.R., Redemptorist
          Moral Theologian

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Is now changing any faster than any other time? Is there more reason to fear now than other times?

          A hard core old guard Democrat is just as much a conservative as a hard core old guard Republican, both are clinging to the past.

          Is this true? I haven’t thought about it much, but it seems to me that the social changes in the last half century have been mostly progressive ones. “The good old days” seems like it would come to the lips of a Republican much more readily than a Democrat.

        • Carol

          The Republican Party is mercantilist. Mercantilist socioeconomic policies redistribute wealth upwards.
          The Democratic Party is socialist. Socialist socioeconomic policies redistribute wealth downwards.
          Both Parties are destroying the middle class, where civic virtue and productivity are the greatest.
          Popular support for the mercantilist Republican Party is largely the result of an over-reaction to the Democratic Party’s implementation of enabling welfare programs rather than empowering welfare programs that had the tragic effect of creating a permanent underclass of ungrateful poor. They also pursued policies that encouraged an entitlement mentality in the middle class.
          Money may be power, but there is strength in numbers. Both Parties are owned by the public corporations and financial banking interest; but the Republican Party favors the Military/Industrial Complex while the Democrats favor the “Butter Industries” which serve the interests of a greater number of people. Both Parties serve special interest groups rather than protect the common good from predatory special interests, which is a primary responsibility of good government.
          No matter which Party is in power, unless we get election campaign reform, the middle class is screwed and we will continue to become more and more like a Third World country with its perpetual class warfare.
          Of course, since I will be turning 71 next month and am numbering my days on earth in years (maybe) not decades, I can be more philosophical about the clusterfuck that we have created by allowing ourselves, the electorate, to be bribed by bread and circuses or was it cheap oil and sports stadiums?
          That’s my own thoughts in my own words. I’ll bet you liked my quotes better.

        • Kodie

          I don’t have an immediate response to your post except I prefer it to your quotes. It is a lot easier to talk to you when you are speaking for yourself.

        • smrnda

          I think the reason we see a declining middle class has more to do with the highly unequal position of shareholders versus workers – all gains in productivity have gone mostly to people who earn money through passive ownership rather than people who earn money through productive labor.

        • smrnda

          ” They also pursued policies that encouraged an entitlement mentality in the middle class.”

          You said that like it’s a bad thing?

        • Carol

          That is the definition of mercantilism. It advantages financial capital (investors) at the expense of human capital (workers), social capital (consumers) and natural capital (the environment).

          “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if
          Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” –Abraham Lincoln
          Unfortunately, labor union bosses can become as corrupt as captains of industry, which delegitimizes many of labor’s demands.

          When workers began to be called human resources instead of employees or personnel I knew we had gone back to the mercantilism that Adam Smith had opposed in favor of making the customer [social capital] king.

          After the Great Depression our political leaders realized the necessity of separating investment banking [Wall Street], with its higher risk factor from commercial banking [Main Street].

          Neoliberalism’s deregulation policies removed the safeguards against excessive risk and the threat of economic instability that goes with it.

          As long as we have a Federal Reserve Bank that manipulates interest rates and bailouts for businesses that are “too big to fail” we do not have an economy free from government interference. How strange that those who want freedom from the tyranny of excessive taxation have no problem with the Federal Reserve Banking system and bailouts that serve the interest of public corporations.

        • smrnda

          I think a lot of that has to do with a lack of knowledge on what is really going on in government and how the different branches work.

        • Carol

          That is true, but much of what used to work under our original infrastructure no longer does.

          Congress was given the power to declare war, but contemporary international crises do not allow for the Constitutional process of lengthy congressional debate before making a decision where delay can have IMMEDIATE consequences. So Congress delegates its Constitutional prerogative to a President whose advisors represent the interests of the Military-Industrial Complex (http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=90&page=transcript).

          Opps! that strategy didn’t work too well, either. Now congressmen have to threaten impeachment to keep the President from using a power that they ceded to the Executive Branch.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Torah as law-code (covenant stipulations) for ancient Israel permitted slavery, war brides, and stoning rebellious teens.

      Yes, as moral guidance, the Old Testament is crap. Who could imagine that it came from an omniscient Creator?

      Torah as the timeless,evolving truth of God prohibits these very things and calls for a higher standard.

      How can the truth from an immutable god “evolve”? Human understanding certainly does, which explains quite nicely many of the changes in religion that we see, but this is completely refuted by the idea that God is smart enough to get it right on his first try.

      • Carol

        Not everyone interprets “immutability” from a static, metaphysical perspective:

        “In Judaism it was possible simultaneously to ascribe change of purpose to God and to declare that God did not change, without resolving the paradox; for the immutability of God was seen as the trustworthiness of covenanted relation to his people in the concrete history of his judgment and mercy, rather than as a primarily ontological category.” –Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition—Vol. 1.

        Pelikan, a Lutheran theologian who was highly respected among educated believers from many Christian traditions, converted to Eastern Orthodoxy before his death.

        Except for Red State fundamentalism in the US, Christianity does not posit an essential conflict between the Genesis creation myth and evolution. Even Rome has stated that there is enough evidence for evolution to consider it more than merely a theory and Rome has not exactly been a hotbed of theological Progressivism during the last two pontificates:

        Hopefully, Francis I will prove to have a broader theological vision.

        You may continue to take the worst of Christian thought and contrast it to the best of secular thought and crow over the results in the same spirit as some Christians do with the worst of secular thought and the best of Christian thought if you like; but what’s the point?

        Everything has a noble or “light” side and a disordered or “dark” side.
        There is a reliable test for balanced discernment:

        “Enlightenment comes when your third eye is at one with your turd eye and you can clearly see all your own shit.” — Source Unknown

        • Scott_In_OH

          As someone who has long considered himself a liberal Christian, I am coming to believe we are only able to maintain our Christianity by radically reducing our claims.

          Regarding the natural world: There is literally nothing there that is better explained by Christian theology than by scientific theories. Liberal Christians trying to explain the world around them must simply put their Christianity to the side.

          Regarding ethics: The alleged Word of God has been interpreted in diametrically opposed ways over the course of history–for and against slavery, women’s rights, gay rights, any war you care to name, and so on. Liberal Christians recognize this and argue that we have gained an increasingly better understanding of God’s will over time, but in practice, this is functionally indistinguishable from some form of progressivism.

        • Carol

          I don’t put my Christianity to the side because I don’t read the Judeo/Christian scriptures as a scientific textbook or a moral manual; but as a love story, a narrative of God’s relationship with his creation.

          I think the claim of biblical “inerrancy” is ridiculous because, even if the Scriptures were “inerrant”, our interpretation of them has historically proven to be very “errant” as you correctly point out.

          “Biblical inerrancy is not a necessary doctrine. The Bible is authoritative. The Bible is a reliable witness. The Bible tells the truth. This is enough.” ~ Chaplain Mike, the Internet

          “You cannot claim absolute finality for a dogma without claiming a commensurate finality for the sphere of thought within which it arose. If the dogmas of the Christian Church from the second to the sixth century centuries express finally and sufficiently the truths concerning the topics about which they deal, then the Greek philosophy of that period had developed a system of ideas of equal
          finality. You cannot limit the inspiration to a narrow circle of creeds.
          A dogma – in the sense of a precise statement – can never be final; it can only be adequate in its adjustment of certain abstract concepts…. Progress in truth – truth of science and truth of religion – is mainly a progress in the framing of concepts, in discarding artificial abstractions or partial
          metaphors, and in evolving notions which strike more deeply into the root of reality.” –Alfred North Whitehead

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The Bible is authoritative. The Bible is a reliable witness. The Bible tells the truth. This is enough.

          It would be enough … if it were true. Is it? You offer no evidence. Do you have any?

          Do you read all ancient writings as a godly love story? The Iliad? Gilgamesh? Why pick out just one? Just cuz, or is there some reasoning that would be compelling to someone else?

        • Carol

          Scripture uses marriage as an analogy for the relationship of God to his people. While there is a juridical definition of the social institution of marriage, each marriage has its own intimately personal dynamic.

          My faith has been tested in the crucible of my subjective experience and there has been enough “evidence” to believe in the existence of a Loving/Merciful God.

          Since I relate to other people on the basis of our common humanity, not a shared belief system, I feel no compulsion to convert anyone to my theological beliefs in order to respect and appreciate their finer qualities.

          My theological presuppositions do influence how I interpret my experiences and so, of course, as a person of faith, I will have a world view that can only be explained by my theological presuppositions. Actually, as a Christian humanist, I have more beliefs in common with secular humanists than I do with traditional Protestants who have a low view of human nature.

          “Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking
          that man can get them for himself without grace.” –Simone Weil

          Can I “prove” to the exaggerated Augustinian pessimists of classical Protestantism that there is pure gold under the pathology of human behavior? No. Neither can I “prove” the existence of God to the satisfaction of an agnostic/atheist. Nor do I feel a need to. The Scriptures tell me to “always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in me” and to treat others as I would have them treat me, not try to cram my beliefs down their throats:

          He has showed you, O, man, what is good.
          And what does the Lord require of you?
          To act justly and to love mercy
          And to walk humbly with your God.
          Micah 6:8

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Scripture uses marriage as an analogy for the relationship of God to his people.

          I was going to ask how polygamy fits in, but I suppose there’s no difficulty there.

          My faith has been tested in the crucible of my subjective experience and there has been enough “evidence” to believe in the existence of a Loving/Merciful God.

          So evidence isn’t interesting. It’s all personal experience. Is that it?

          I feel no compulsion to convert anyone to my theological beliefs in order to respect and appreciate their finer qualities.

          Does that make it hard to fulfill the Great Commission®? Or do you think that that was given to the disciples, not to ordinary folks like you?

          Neither can I “prove” the existence of God to the satisfaction of an agnostic/atheist.

          No one’s asking you to prove it, just give evidence. Any evidence. Something compelling.

          If you didn’t know what “the sun” was, a couple of minutes and a sunny day would be enough evidence. It’s odd that the Creator of the Universe, who’s eager to have a relationship with his creation, is so much harder to see.

        • Carol

          I believe that it is impossible to “argue” someone into theological belief; they can only be “loved” into apprehending the Presence of God.

          One of my favorite Saints, Francis of Assisi, is attributed with the saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when
          necessary use words.” ~St. Francis of Assisi

          I am a sacramentalist. I have no problem *seeing* God.

          Although I do not claim to possess anywhere near the sanctity of Mother Teresa, I do share her intuitive sense of God’s Presence:

          “The fullness of our heart comes in our actions: how I treat the leper, how I treat the dying person, how I treat the homeless. Sometimes it is more difficult to work with street people than with the people in our homes for the dying because the dying are peaceful and waiting; they are ready to go to God. You can touch the sick and believe, or
          you can touch the leper and believe, that is the body of Christ you are touching, but it is more difficult when these people are drunk or shouting to think that this is Jesus in that distressing disguise. How clean and loving our
          hands must be to be able to bring compassion to them!” ~Mother Teresa of Calcutta

        • Ron

          “The damned of hell suffer eternal punishment because they experiment with the loss of God. In my own soul, I feel the terrible pain of this loss. I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not really exist.”
          ~Mother Teresa, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta

        • Carol

          St. John of the Cross called this experience the “dark night of the soul.” It is not uncommon among mystics. Even Jesus called out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me.”
          Mysticism is about (comm)union with others, not alienation from others–in the universal human experience of suffering as well as joy. St. Paul went so far as to say he would give up his own salvation if it would bring salvation to his fellow Jews.
          Communion with others is much deeper than mere communication. Communication can alienate as well as unite us. The narcissistic ego can only love its own reflection in others. An experience of others as different from the Egoistic Self evokes disgust/fear and cannot be tolerated.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Jesus “said” that from the cross because Mark was pretending that Jesus was fulfilling some sort of prophecy and because he had an Adoptionistic view of Jesus. That is, Jesus was just a good man (not the Son of God) who was adopted by God.

        • Carol

          That is one interpretation. Arianism has been around for a long time:


        • MNb

          “Even Jesus called out from the Cross”
          Are you even aware that there is a perfect secular explanation for this? Jesus was suffering badly (a crucifixion is not an easy ride) and the help him enduring the pain he started to recite the Psalms. Sure enough we find back these famous words in Psalm 22.
          It seems that simple “linear” thinking once again produces more reliable results.

        • Carol

          Yes, I have heard many homilies connecting Jesus words from the Cross to Psalm 22.
          Jesus is a 1st century Palestinian Jew, not a Medieval European, although one wouldn’t know it, given much of the theology in the Latin/Western Churches.

          The Psalms are the hymn book of both Judaism and Christianity.

          Psalm 130:1-1 ” Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD” has been a mantra for me during, shall we say, the more challenging times in my life.

          Verse 7: “Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is plenteous redemption” is the motto of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (CSSR), the Redemptorists, from whom I received most of my theological and spiritual formation.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          What’s more likely, that Jesus actually fulfilled a prophecy from the Old Testament or that the gospel writers (or the decades of oral history) added those “facts” to the Jesus story?

        • Carol

          Well, the early Christians certainly interpreted the Hebrew texts from a different perspective in light of the Christ-event than the original Hebrew sources did. But, ISTM, that is what we would expect. New data, new interpretation. “Facts” alone have no meaning. They simply “are.” It is our interpretation of “what is” that gives meaning and purpose to our lives.
          I believe that the modernist philosophical objectivism is primarily, though not solely, responsible for the “crisis of meaning” that is endemic in First World societies.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You can’t just make up your facts.

          And could you respond directly to my question?

        • Carol

          I did respond.

          Apparently my respond did not meet your criteria for a satisfactory response.
          I am neither a biblical literalist nor a dogmatic/doctrinal literalist. The historical/cultural dynamic behind the interpretation (hermeneutics) of biblical texts and dogmatic decrees is as important to me for understanding as the “fact” of how they were understood any particular time in history.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I believe that it is impossible to “argue” someone into theological belief; they can only be “loved” into apprehending the Presence of God.

          I agree that arguing with someone on a religious or spiritual issue is tough, but what kind of nonsense is “loving them into an apprehension”? Why is there a different approach to showing me that God exists than showing me that the sun exists?

          I don’t think much of Mother Teresa. She had a bizarre idea of agony as a crucible to burn away sin. Uh, no–sin is just a crazy notion. Let’s actually try to help people. You know, heal them?

        • Carol

          Since I believe in the Original Blessing–be created in the image with the potential to become god-like, I define *sin* as a betrayal of our own humanity rather than an offense against God. I believe that God is “grieved” not “offended” by human sin.
          As for Mother Teresa, she “helped” the people who were in the end stage of a terminal illness. They were past the possibility of “healing.” Realizing when to stop trying to “fix” something that cannot be fixed and switching to “coping mode” is the function of wisdom. It is also very difficult because “feeling helpless” takes us way out of our psychological comfort zones.
          Martin Luther taught that the Mysteries of faith were to be [intuitively] apprehended, not [logically] comprehended. God is a Spirit. Intuition, not reason, is the way we come to “know” the existence of God. I can see the physical sun with physical eyes. I see God through the eyes of faith.
          Even a radical rationalist like John Calvin admitted that without faith there could be no understanding of Biblical Revelation. That is why he embraced theocracy as a means to force people to conform to the message of Revelation even though they could not understand why they should. For legalists being and acting right as defined by legal concepts and abstract principles is always more important than loving and being free. The Pharisees were the only “sinners” who really pissed Jesus off because they did not recognize their sin which was a failure to love as they ought. To this day legalistic fundamentalists still don’t realize that they are the contemporaries to the Pharisees who used the power of the Roman State to have Jesus executed because he refused to keep their laws when it meant choosing against acting with empathy and compassion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I believe that God is “grieved” not “offended” by human sin.

          He was so “grieved” that he made capital punishment the punishment for many of these sins.

          Martin Luther taught that the Mysteries of faith were to be [intuitively] apprehended, not [logically] comprehended.

          I wonder if he’d have the same attitude toward the mysteries of the Muslim faith. Or Hindu or Shinto or any other faith.

          Or should we privilege Christianity?

          Intuitio n, not reason, is the way we come to “know” the existence of God.

          How reliable is this intuition? Can it deceive?

          I can see the physical sun with physical eyes. I see God through the eyes of faith.

          That’s what you’d say if God were pretend. That’s my working hypothesis.

        • Carol

          I am aware that your working hypothesis is philosophical materialism. I believe in both physical and spiritual realities, which is why we are not going to ever be on the same page on the topic of religion/spirituality.
          I definitely don’t believe that Christianity should be privileged. Becoming a civil religion with all of its perks of power is the worst thing that can happen to an authentic spiritual movement.
          In is the cause of empty churches in Europe in the post-colonial age and local churches becoming nominally religious social and/or political activist groups in America.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I believe in both physical and spiritual realities, which is why we are not going to ever be on the same page on the topic of religion/spirituality.

          But why? As you seem to admit, you don’t accept simply accept any claim you hear. You have some sort of discriminatory facility. What rules do you follow?

          If your approach is to accept every claim, then yes, we’re never going to be on the same page. I doubt that you do.

        • Carol

          I have an intuitive faith as well as a theological faith. My intuitive faith in the *essential* benevolence of the Universe and the ultimate triumph of love over hate often conflicts with immediate experience and institutional church doctrine.

          I believe that there are Absolutes, but that all human experience and understanding of them is relative. I am neither an absolutist, nor a relativist; but both an absolutist and a relativist who cannot find a place in either camp.

          I also believe that faith is neither rational nor irrational; but meta-rational. The human intellect, while glorious, does have its limitations. Intuition, the source of imagination and passion, is also a great gift, but it also has a dark side.

          I also believe that poets are better theologians than philosophers; but that people who are both are the best theologians:

          “Passion, it lies in all of us. Sleeping…waiting…and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir…open its jaws, and howl.

          It speaks to us….guides us….Passion rules us all. And we obey.

          What other choice do we have?

          Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love…the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief.

          It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace.
          But we would be hollow, empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.”

          –Buffy the Vampire Slayer! (Poet/Philospher, Religion Unknown)

        • Scott_In_OH

          For what it’s worth, I think your first two paragraphs (“I don’t put my…” and “I think the claim of…”) are better than the two quotations. They’re to the point and explain your thinking much better than the quotations.

        • Carol

          I rarely post a stand-alone quote, but for some reason that I can’t fathom the quotes seems to be all that some people can see in my posts.

          I guess quotes have the mysterious power to push hot buttons in some people for some reason that is beyond my understanding. Other people find quotes inspiring and motivating.
          As mother used to say, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” which is why we should try to dictate another person’s menu choices as long as they cause no objective harm.

        • MNb

          The only buttons quotes push on me is the “incredibly boring” button. I have accepted your advise before I gave it and skipped large parts of your posts. So if it’s your goal to make clear to me how you think you have to restrict yourself.

        • Carol

          I don’t post stand-alone quotes and you have solved your boredom problem by skipping the quotes, so why should I “restrict myself”?
          Is this an authentic dialogue or a power game?

        • MNb

          “but as a love story”
          Yeah, the Jesus is the perfect embodiment of agape thing. Except that he wasn’t that perfect and I prefer to be saved from the divine love as described in the OT, thank you.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The “divine love” in the NT ain’t that great either. At least in the OT, when you died, you just died. God keeping you around so he can torture you forever makes him a worse sadist than Ivan the Terrible.

        • Carol

          It is becoming more common, among reflective believers anyway, to interpret “heaven and hell” as psychological/spiritual states rather than physical places.

          That makes a lot of sense, since there is no space-time continuum in Eternity.

          “In the Far East there is a traditional image of the difference between heaven and hell.
          In hell, the ancients said, people have chopsticks one yard long so they cannot possibly reach their mouths. In heaven, the chopsticks are also one yard long–but in heaven, the people feed one another.” ~ Joan Chittister, OSB, Wisdom
          Distilled From the Daily Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Cool! You don’t like one interpretation, so you throw out another one. You’re making conclusions without evidence sound better all the time!

        • Carol

          Religious beliefs, like scientific beliefs, evolve over time with the accumulation of additional experience/evidence. Although there are some pretty spectacular “aha moments” we usually gradually live into new perspectives and don’t even notice the change of mind until faced with a radical challenge to the old way of thinking. Those who think ahead of the herd are in for a rough ride.

          “All truth passes through three stages:
          first, it is ridiculed; second, it is violently opposed; third, it is accepted as self-evident. — Arthur Schopenhauer

        • Carol

          Believers, driven by narrowly self-interested survivalism and fear have consistently re-created a god in their own image in place of the Divine Self-Revelation. The True God is revealed in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is really the Parable of the Loving Father, but, narcissists that we are, we always seem to make everything, even Biblical Revelation, about us.

          “If God created man in his image, we have more than reciprocated.” –Voltaire

          “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. ~Anne Lamott
          BTW, what do you consider to be Jesus’ imperfections? Just curious. . .

        • Kodie

          You are not really that different from any other believer. He fits your expectations of him because you designed the criteria.

        • Carol

          How is it possible that you can know me so well although I don’t really know you except on a very superficial level?
          It is not only religious people who have the tendency to project their expectations onto others, yanno.

        • Kodie

          Believers, driven by narrowly self-interested survivalism and fear have
          consistently re-created a god in their own image in place of the Divine

          Well, you say things like this. You obviously have created a god in your own image. Your perception is that you have made a special and authentic connection with divine revelation, but every Christian makes that claim.

          I don’t know what your goal is, I just think Christians like to think they have something new we have never thought of before, or have never talked to a “true Christian” or, really know what it’s about. You are saying it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. You have an emotional connection with something that is real to you, and it’s not about conforming or fear or following rules.

          I don’t disbelieve that you’ve had emotional experiences, but I still don’t know why you attribute those experiences to a deity, a specific deity. You reveal a lot more about yourself and what you like, that of course your god is like you. Your god to you is like you want because you feel good when you think of him that way. How much more do I need to know about you to draw a picture?

          And I don’t think I know you so well, this is pretty superficial to me. To you, it might be deep, but attributing your feelings to a deity is obvious, and not uncommon, nor is it convincing…. or interesting.

        • Carol

          Why do you assume that pleasure is the foundation of my faith? I can assure you that many of the insights I have received from Revelation, about my own faults and failings not just the faults of others and the ills of society, have not made me “feel good.”
          Grace may be free, but it isn’t cheap. If accepted, it will, over time, cost everything that the narcissistic ego holds dear.

          This is one of my favorite Eucharistic Prayers:

          Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:
          Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to
          this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ that we may worthily serve the world in his name. ~The Book of Common Prayer According to the use of The Episcopal Church, Eucharistic Prayer C, p.372
          I don’t have a goal or an agenda. Unlike you, I find the beliefs, or the lack thereof, of others interesting–especially so when they differ from my own.

        • avalon

          “The True God is revealed in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is really the Parable of the Loving Father,”

          No, the True God is revealed in Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27). The one that ends with “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

          See how easy it is to make your own god?

        • Carol

          It is no secret that we tend to find what we are looking for. That is why the rule in biblical interpretation is to let Scripture interpret Scripture by putting the text in context rather than proof-texting: Text without context is pretext.

          This parable follows the *miraculous* conversion of Zacchaeus the tax collector and precedes Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

          It is presented as a parable addressed to people who expected the Kingdom of God to come to earth in the immediate future and might be tempted to just sit back and “let go and let God” rather than continue to accept responsibility for their lives. It is presented to people whose concept of God was that of a Divine Enabler, not a Divine Empowerer.

          You may, of course, interpret Scripture piecemeal and literally. Jesus also told people that they could not be his followers unless they “hated” their own family while commanding them to “love their enemies.” Loving your enemies fits with the general Jesus message. Hating your family doesn’t. Could that text be an example of “middle eastern hyperbole” and the message be that to persevere in the Christ Path the disciples must love Jesus so deeply that it makes their love for their families seem like hatred?

          Many Christians believe that to “be saved” (i.e. experience Grace) one must have an explicit theological faith in Jesus. My son posted this response to that belief on the message board of a Christian e-group:

          “Those who are pursuing Love are pursuing God. Through His grace, this allows them to partake as they are able in the divine life and thus also partake in the redemptive work of Christ. It is not necessary for an individual to outwardly profess a particular set of theological dogmas for Christ’s work to be effective for redemption in that individual.

          This is what a comprehensive contextual reading of Scripture leads to, instead of having to balance apparently contradictory texts against each other when they are plucked out as ‘proof texts’.”

        • Kodie

          Hating your family doesn’t. Could that text be an example of “middle
          eastern hyperbole” and the message be that to persevere in the Christ
          Path the disciples must love Jesus so deeply that it makes their love
          for their families seem like hatred?

          Your family may be concerned how zealous you have become but you have to drown out their worries, cut yourself off if you must, and follow me instead. “Join my cult”.

        • Carol

          There have been many who have interpreted the call to faith in the way you describe.

          Many, too many, have also been taught that they are to always and unconditionally sacrifice their self-interest and desires to serve others in imitation of Jesus–the slave mentality that Nietzsche criticized formal *Christianity* for instilling in people.

          According to the Biblical text Jesus told his followers to love others as themselves, not to love others LESS than themselves; but not to love others MORE than themselves, either. Over-giving is as pathological as predatory selfishness. Messiah/martyr complexes are not what following Jesus is all about. They are about becoming the passive aggressive partner in a dysfunctional co-dependent relationship.

          Churchianity’s domesticated “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” just doesn’t quite jibe with the witness of the Scriptures which not only makes us conscious of our own subconscious predatory tendencies, but alerts us to the reality that others have unconscious predatory tendencies, also and that we must not only be gentle, but wise.

          Unfortunately, for people who are excessively conflict averse, following a Jesus whose defining character trait is “submission” to the needs, desires and wills of others, apart from any discernment of whether they are legitimate or disordered, may turn cowardice into a virtue in their own minds.

          Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was martyred for supporting the officers’ plot to assassinate Hitler, is one of my favorite Christian heroes. I was rather surprised when a very kind, gentle Christian told me that he had no use for Bonhoeffer because, although Hitler needed killing, a Christian should never kill. True a Christian should never kill with a triumphant spirit, but, IMO, if ever there was justification to put oneself at risk to save the lives of others, Bonhoeffer, who was a pacifist at heart, had it.

          When the Protestant Reformers confused Tradition with traditionalism and radically opposed Scripture to Tradition they cut their followers off from Christianity’s wisdom Tradition and made intellectual assent to doctrine the measure of true faith over practice. That is why so many persons of faith in the First World have turned away from formal [institutionalized] *Christianity* to an Eastern religious Tradition.

          If you understand others you are smart.
          If you understand yourself you are illuminated.
          If you overcome others you are powerful.
          If you overcome yourself you have strength.
          If you know how to be satisfied you are rich.
          If you can act with vigor, you have a will.
          If you don’t lose your objectives you can be long-lasting.
          If you die without loss, you are eternal.”
          ― Lao Tzu

          Weapons are the tools of violence;
          all decent men detest them.
          Weapons are the tools of fear;
          a decent man will avoid them
          except in the direst necessity
          and, if compelled, will use them
          only with the utmost restraint.

          Peace is his highest value.
          If the peace has been shattered,
          how can he be content?

          His enemies are not demons,
          but human beings like himself.
          He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
          Nor does he rejoice in victory.
          How could he rejoice in victory
          and delight in the slaughter of men?

          He enters a battle gravely,
          with sorrow and with great compassion,
          as if he were attending a funeral.”
          –Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I applaud your rejection of nutty Christian extremism, but how is this thinking stable? Why not just take that next step and give it all up?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I deduce immutability from Christians’ claim that God is perfect. He would know what human morality should be like on Day 1. That biblical morality changes is yet more evidence that Christianity and Judaism are what they appear to be: human inventions.

          Humans are unchanged since the time of Abraham. Teleport baby Isaac to an American family today, and he’d grow up just like any other American kid. It’s not like “No slavery, stupid!” would be incomprehensible for stupid Cro Magnon Hebrews.

          If you’re saying that believers can tap dance away from any possible inconsistency or illogic in their religion, yes, I agree. That doesn’t mean that those arguments make sense.

          Except for Red State fundamentalism in the US, Christianity does not posit an essential conflict between the Genesis creation myth and evolution.

          The Fundamentalists are right: they are incompatible. If you reject the Genesis creation myth as a silly story, then you can also accept evolution.

          You may continue to take the worst of Christian thought and contrast it to the best of secular thought and crow over the results in the same spirit as some Christians do with the worst of secular thought and the best of Christian thought if you like; but what’s the point?

          Because half a billion people accept “the worst of Christian thought”? Or is this a trick question?

          But, snarkiness aside, if you have suggestions about topics that would respond to progressive Christianity (or whatever it is that you espouse), I’d appreciate hearing of them.

        • Carol

          True, human nature is human nature; but there is a lot of disagreement among Christians as to what the essence of our humanity truly is. Those of us whose anthropology begins with the Original Blessing, creation in the image and potential likeness of God, have a high view of human nature. Those whose anthropology begins with the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin have a low view of human nature.

          My own theological reasoning is that if Christ Jesus is both truly human and sinless, then sin cannot be intrinsic to our humanity, but is an aberration, a disorder. I am a Christian humanist in the tradition of Erasmus and the Eastern Churches rather than a Christian in the tradition of 16th century Reformed and Lutheran Protestantism.

          I am also a theistic evolutionist. There are many of us.

          Belief in the Genesis creation myth and evolution are only incompatible when the interpretation of the text is based on modern historicism rather than an understanding of mythological thinking. A myth is not a narrowly historical event, it is an archetypical event. It is not something that never happened, it is something that happens all the time.

          One of the greatest evolutionary theologians is the paleontologist and Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin. His science is dated, but his speculative theology is still way ahead of its time by current ecclesiological standards. Rome remains uncomfortable with much of his theological insight. Which brings up another point. Dogmatic theology is only one specialized theological discipline. There is also speculative theology, contemplative theology and pastoral theology. When practiced properly, truth and love come together in pastoral theology.

          Unfortunately, most Western Christians are only catechized in dogmatic systematics and a very simplistic unnuanced version of that. Religion has become a big business in America. The secret to success American business is mass marketing and the secret to successful mass marketing is to target the lowest common denominator in one’s consumer base.

          Confirmation is a rite of initiation, not a graduation ceremony. If a Christian desires mature spiritual/theological formation in the faith it is rarely found outside of the communities of contemplative Religious Orders that have either remained faithful to or recovered the original vision of their Founders.

          “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church
          moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe , where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.” –Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate

          “The institutions of Churchianity are not Christianity. An institution is a good thing if it is second; immediately an institution recognizes itself it becomes the dominating
          factor.” — Oswald Chambers

          “Many have gone back because they are afraid of looking at things from God’s standpoint. The great crisis comes spiritually when a man has to emerge a bit farther on than the creed he has accepted.” –Oswald Chambers

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I don’t think this addresses much of what I was talking about.

          My own theological reasoning is that if Christ Jesus is both truly human and sinless

          You start off a lot of explanations with “If X is the case …” without ever justifying what is a remarkable claim.

          Your theology isn’t as interesting as why your supernatural claims should be accepted by others.

          I am also a theistic evolutionist. There are many of us.

          I’ll agree with you there. Creationists are a minority within Christianity.

          It is not something that never happened, it is something that happens all the time.

          The Genesis creation story doesn’t happen all the time. It didn’t even happen once.

          I suppose you want to imagine some sort of mythological or archetypal truth in it?

        • Carol

          Our beliefs, or the lack thereof, differ not only because of what we think, but in how we think.
          Linear logic and dualistic thinking are left brain functions. Intuitive thinking, imagination and passion are right brain functions. You are left-brain dominant. I am right-brain dominant. We will never be on the same page in the thinking department. We will always interpret our experiences differently. That is why I relate to people on the basis of a shared humanity, not on the basis of our common beliefs. Those who can only tolerate others who share their limited experiences and common beliefs live a very diminished existence. Going outside of our psychological comfort zones can be painful; but it is necessary for continued psychological and spiritual growth. It is also risky because the sudden collapse of the belief system through which makes sense and gives meaning to our experience can cause psychological instability. Best to grow gradually. Sudden growth spurts can cause severe growing pains. On the other hand, we usually cut our wisdom teeth by biting off more than we can chew. . .

        • avalon


          “Linear logic and dualistic thinking are left brain functions. Intuitive thinking, imagination and passion are right brain functions. You are left-brain dominant. I am right-brain dominant. We will never be on the same page in the thinking department. We will always interpret our experiences differently.”

          By claiming you use your right brain (intuition, imagination, passion) to experience God, you’ve made that experience subjective. That’s fine, as long as you don’t make any objective claims about God.

          For objective claims of reality, logic and left brain thinking is required. We left-brainers aren’t just interpreting our subjective experiences, we’re testing them against reality.

        • Carol

          Actually, BOTH right and left brain thinking are necessary for a balanced perspective. Objective data is meaningless until it has been subjectively interpreted.

          Michael Polanyi successfully challenged the claims of philosophical objectivism by scientism (not to be confused with true science) when he pointed our that “the scientist is always part of the experiment.”

          Both scientists and theologians have misinterpreted their presuppositional sources–experimental data and Revelation.

          Dogmatic absolutism/absolute certainty, whether religious/theological or scientific/secular not only requires omniscience, but infallible interpretation.

          “There are two types of thinking, through the head and
          through the heart. Both are necessary in combination, not one or the other.
          Head thinking is concerned with facts, which really means “after the acts.”

          This is the reason that clever people are like computers
          and have ready-made facts at their command.
          Economic and Political leaders are good examples of this type of thinking. It is not really thinking but appears to be. It is a mirrored sort of computer type of consciousness.

          On the other hand, creativity comes before there are any facts. Thinkers like Einstein are much less concerned with facts and much more concerned with creating new facts.
          Rembrandt, Leonardo, Mozart and Beethoven are other examples.

          Creativity is based on heart-thinking, not head thinking. This is the reason that creative people often do not do
          well at conventional school.

          Egotism is the enemy of either type of thinking and is a
          curse in our society as a whole.

          Creativity is related to pure thought and to love itself. After all, real love is creation out of nothing from the pure joy of the free act itself. There is no cause or expectations in pure love.”
          ~Andrew Flaxman

        • avalon


          “Thinkers like Einstein are much less concerned with facts and much more concerned with creating new facts.”

          Yes, Einstein used imagination and intuition. But here’s the difference: when he proposed things like time being relative and gravity being a bending of space, he didn’t count those ideas as knowledge. He proposed experiments to prove his ideas correct. He knew that his intuition and imagination could very well be incorrect.
          You mentioned “revelation”, the idea that the voice in your head is sometimes not your own. If you think that’s objectively true then propose an experiment to prove it. Otherwise, I’ll consider the idea just your imagination.

        • Carol

          And that is the difference between Einstein and the conventional “modern” physicists–Einstein used his intuition to do thought experiments that would never even occur to the “logic-only” crowd.

          ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours
          the servant and has forgotten the gift.’ –A. Einstein

          Contemporary physicists are not just a new kind of thinkers, they are a new kind of persons:

          Physics Excerpt from Roll Around Heaven

          The Oberoi lobby was packed, so I took a detour to the
          elevator and happened to pass a side room where a cocktail party was in full swing, complete with some darn good R & B. Drawn in by the music, I carefully poked my head around the corner only to find the biggest collection
          of the dweebiest looking guys I’d ever seen in one room. Talk about your glasses-and-plastic-pocket-protector

          “Cambridge?” asked a grinning endearingly beluga-headed fellow leaning against the entryway.

          “Uh … U of O,” I replied.

          He brightened. “Oxford, then?”

          I shook my head.

          “Oregon. You know, go Ducks!”

          “Ah, zoology?”

          “Golf, actually.”

          He strained to hear over the music.

          “Godel, was it?”

          “In Gödel we trust!” I replied. “Or trusted,” I added, remembering something I’d just read in the International Herald Tribune about new work by astrophysicist Stephen Hawking on, you know, little stuff like why the universe exists, which is one of the most honorable uses of the
          masculine Y chromosome I’ve ever heard of. Hawking was pirouetting far above theoretical mathematician Kurt Godel’s old Incompleteness Theorem that proved back in the that a self-contained universe is mathematically impossible. Hawking’s stated goal was nothing less than a
          “complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own experience.”
          Now he was exploring the thrilling idea that by combining quantum mechanics with Einstein’s relativity, you’re cooking with … multidimensional space. Et voila!
          The ingredients for a unified theory that could explain everything in the whole universe, from galaxies to people and, as far as I was concerned, Red Ones and Gray Ones [*spiritual presences*] too. The newest idea back then was that electrons, once thought to be static dots, are actually tiny loops of oscillating string, hence the name string theory.

          “Say!” I said to Monsieur Beluga, “are you here for the string theory conference?”

          He frowned.

          “Of course. Aren’t you?”

          “Oh, gosh,” I replied with a laugh, “I’m just another quantum physics peabrain!” Meaning that as a devotee of modern physics I know only too well how infinitesimal my
          peabrain knowledge actually was.

          “Ah, ‘P-branes,’ he repeated, “Good, good. Superstring theory, then.”

          Horrified, I realized he thought I was a physicist working on P-branes, which are a big part of string theory.

          “Heavens, no!” I replied. “I am a peabrain … I don’t work with P-branes!”

          I’d been a very amateur fan of theoretical physics for years at this point and knew that the “P” in P-branes refers to the varying number of spatial dimensions on any given “brane”—short for “membrane,” which is string theory’s beautiful visual model. Superstring theory takes another
          quantum leap (ha!) and attempts to explain all the forces of nature and every type of particle in theoretical physics in one single power-punch of a theory. The basic idea is that
          reality-as-we-know-it boils down to, yes, strings that vibrate at varying frequencies. And the membrane model
          gives us peabrains a picture of how oscillating “strings” just might look as they sweep into spacetime and create the universe. In the end, it pretty much looks like the
          entire universe is really just a giant endless looping string concerto.

          A shriek of recognition went off inside my head: Oh my God, Anand was right! It is all God music!*

          At that exact moment, someone turned down the lights, and notes from the oscillating strings of the Indian sitar and its family of fellow whiners overcame the Western rhythms and swept out across that small universe of
          partying physicists—and one peabrain whom Mr. Beluga shyly asked to dance. He himself couldn’t, of course, and neither could any of his fellow physicists, all of whom were only capable of bouncing up and down like excited electrons. But who cared! How often does a peabrain get to dance with a P-brane to God music in honest-to-God India at a real, live string theory conference? Does it get any better than that?

          Actually, yes.

          Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something oscillating horizontally instead of vertically. When I turned to see what it was, my knees buckled. There, frozen in
          space-time by Lou Gehrig’s Disease but vibrating at the speed of genius even while strapped into his electric wheelchair, was none other than my superstring
          superhero, Stephen Hawking his holy, rolly self! And he was coming our way!

          Sure enough, Hawking wheeled smack into the middle of the dance floor and with a renegade’s grin began spinning around in endlessly looping circles, the clear and present nucleus in this sea of lesser electrons who spontaneously
          oscillated faster and faster, glasses bouncing, pocket protectors flying, until you could literally feel the singing web of strings that connected us all. Not a bad night for an astrophysicist looking for a theoretical backstage pass into the mind of God.

          ~Jessica Maxwell, ROLL AROUND HEAVEN: an all-true accidental spiritual adventure

        • Carol

          After over 40 years as a person of faith, I still cannot discern “infallibly” between the “promptings” of the Holy Spirit and my own subconscious desires. I suppose that is why I never present a idea under the rubric “the WORD of the LORD came to me.” I am not a prophet, just a person of faith on a pilgrimage that leads to dead ends as often as new beginnings.
          The prevalence of dogmatic absolutism, self-righteous judgmentalism and sectarian triumphalism are the three primary reasons why people who aspire to a mature faith are leaving the institutional churches. These attitudes encourage rather than challenge our disordered narcissistic tendencies.

        • avalon

          “After over 40 years as a person of faith, I still cannot discern
          “infallibly” between the “promptings” of the Holy Spirit and my own
          subconscious desires.”

          My question is, why think there IS anything other than your own subconscious desires?

          And if you think ideas like Holy Spirit and “promptings” are facts, then why not propose experiments to confirm them (like Einstein did with his ideas)?

          It is this complete lack of curiosity that makes me think theists don’t really think their beliefs are objectively true.

        • Carol

          The existence, or non-existence, of God can never be proven, or disproven, by using the methods of the “hard” empirical sciences. The “evidence” for spiritual experience is statistical as it is in the “soft” social sciences, which also concerned with human experience, not material realities.

          Human experience is highly subjective and varies from person to person. Sometimes religion produces a Florence Nightingale and sometimes it produces an Osama bin Laden. If a desire for certainty and predictability are the motivation for your curiosity, then religion and spirituality will definitely not appeal to you. Dogmatic absolutism, a mark of fundamentalism, is an attempt to gain comfort from religion without experiencing the psychological discomfort of uncertainty and unpredictability. Agnosticism and doubting one’s understanding are intrinsic to an authentic faith experience.

          The God hypothesis has been the dominant hypothesis in human experience, both individual and collective, since the beginning of human history. Atheism has always been the exception and still is everywhere outside of the post-Enlightenment Western world. The criteria of the social sciences supports faith; but both belief and unbelief in the existence God will never be empirically verified because spiritual realities are intuitively sensed, not experienced by the physical senses.

          Intuition is often referred to as the “sixth sense” and is much more highly developed in primal societies. When left brain logic becomes the measure of all truth, the right brain tends to atrophy. When intuition is not bounded by logic, the left brain tends to atrophy.

          Einstein’s genius was due in no small part to the balance he sustained between logic and intuition. Societies that are excessively logical are reductionistic in their thinking. As Einstein reminded us, “”Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

          Societies that are excessively intuitive tend to become superstitious, often in very dark ways.

          Links to articles on Einstein’s thinking:


          and increased awareness:


        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If a desire for certainty and predictability are the motivation for your curiosity, then religion and spirituality will definitely not appeal to you.

          I doubt anyone here is demanding certainty but simply asking for evidence. Are you simply throwing in the towel, admitting that you have none and that you just believe stuff based on how much it pleases you?

          The God hypothesis has been the dominant hypothesis in human experience, both individual and collective, since the beginning of human history

          And lately people are saying, “Hey, that science thing does a decent job at finding good approximations to reality. In fact, it completely kicks the butt of religion. I wonder if we should see that as our primary source of understanding nature?”

          You’re pointing back at society’s pre-scientific days and trying to draw some sort of useful conclusion? Yes, we didn’t know much. So we should celebrate and enshrine those pre-scientific traditions?

          spiritual realities are intuitively sensed, not experienced by the physical senses.

          How do you know “spiritual realities” even exist??

        • Carol

          I not only experience spiritual realities, I recognize that they are not open to discovery by empirical methods of testing.

          Love, kenotic love that presents as meaningful, uncoerced self-sacrifice not merely attraction to qualities in another whose presence enriches my quality of life, is a spiritual reality that makes no logical sense.

          Kenotic love is not as commonly experienced as reciprocal altruism or as often it should be, but it is a definite, if inconsistent, spiritual reality. Abstract theological formulas, the dogmas and doctrines that attempt to define and place boundaries on spiritual realities are not the Ultimate “Real Thing.” At best, they can point beyond themselves and stimulate a desire for Ultimate or Absolute Spiritual Reality.

          Seeking Knowledge

          There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge;
          That is Curiosity.

          There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others;
          that is Vanity.

          There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve;
          that is Love.”
          -Bernard of Clairvaux 1090-1153

          “The life of the soul is not knowledge, it is love, since love is the act of the supreme faculty, the will, by which man is formally united to the final end of all his strivings–by which man becomes one with God.
          ….The heights that can be reached by metaphysical speculation introduce a man into a realm of pure and subtle pleasure that offers the most nearly permanent delights you can find in the natural order. When you go one step higher, and base your speculations on premises that are revealed, the pleasure gets deeper and more perfect still. Yet even though the subject matter may be the mysteries of the Christian faith, the manner of contemplating them, speculative and impersonal, may still not transcend the natural plane, at least as far as practical consequences go. –Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

        • avalon

          “I not only experience spiritual realities, I recognize that they are not open to discovery by empirical methods of testing.”

          Not long ago you said:
          “Actually, BOTH right and left brain thinking are necessary for a balanced perspective. Objective data is meaningless until it has been subjectively interpreted.”

          Likewise, subjective intuition is meaningless without objective data. Your “experience (of) spiritual realities” is an unbalanced perspective of reality according to your own definition. It is a subjective interpretation with no objective data. And, as you said, intuition without objective data and empirical methods of testing is superstition.

        • Carol

          All scientific experiments begin as theories or “thought experiments.” The same is true of religious beliefs. Subjective belief (orthodoxy) becomes supported, refined or disproven by putting it into practice (orthopraxis).

          Of all the People of the Book, Jews, Christians and Muslims, only Western Christians emphasize orthodoxy or right beliefs over orthopraxis or right behavior. This is odd considering Scripture explicitly states that Jesus’ followers are to be known by the “fruit” that reflects the influence of faith on their choices in life.

          The Eastern Churches teach that we must “descend from our heads into our hearts.” This is essential because enlightenment apart from the conversion of hearts and wills can be very dangerous. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.

          There is one way to recognize authentic spiritual enlightenment in all religious Traditions:

          “Enlightenment comes when your third eye is at one with your turd eye and you can clearly see all your own shit.” ~Source Unknown

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I recognize that they are not open to discovery by empirical methods of testing.

          So without any validation except your word for it, what does that make your “spiritual realities” but wishful thinking? I imagine we agree that the brain is a very unreliable instrument. Why trust it in this case?

        • Carol

          I trust “my” spiritual realities because I put them into practice to the extent that the circumstances of my life and my own strengths and weaknesses permit.
          As Piaget pointed out, we humans learn by trial and error. It doesn’t take long to spot a heretical belief when one has the audacity to actually attempt to practice their faith. That does not mean that what proves to be a “right” or peak potential practice for me is universally “right” for all people in all circumstances or the my belief is a universal (i.e. Absolute) truth.
          I don’t give public testimonies, although I do share my experiences as a person of faith in personal relationships when appropriate. I will be the first to admit that the “facts” about my personal pilgrimage of faith reveal more about me than they do about God. Perhaps that is the reason why I refuse to “go public” with a testimony as is the custom in Protestant Evangelicalism.
          I went with a Lutheran friend to an Evangelical evening service once where “testimonies” were part of the formal liturgy. As we were leaving, Evelyn asked, “How can anyone have a personal relationship with God when this whole Church has its nose up your ass?”
          Good question, IMO!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So your belief is a cocoon of suppositions and wishful thinking? I appreciate your honesty, but it just seems easier to not cross on a bridge built only on faith.

        • Carol

          It may be easier to just accept the “facts” of “what is” instead of clinging to a belief in the ESSENTIAL goodness of temporal life, and humanity in particular, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary in times like these; but, besides faith, I also have an eschatological hope. I believe that life not only could, but that it will, be better. I see predatory people as they are, but I also see their potential to be more altruistic.

          It is the theological virtue hope that bridges the gap between the other two theological virtues of faith and love.

          Many Christian conservatives appear to have lost the theological virtue of eschatological hope. I suppose that may be why they are so pessimistic about the future of the world and so unloving and fearful towards anyone who does not share their narrow, judgmental world view. They seem to believe more deeply in the Mystery of iniquity than in the Mystery of Redemption and are often more enthusiastic about an apocalyptic Armageddon than they are about the prophesized consummation of the Kingdom of God on earth.

          How nihilistic is that?!!!!

        • avalon

          “The “evidence” for spiritual experience is statistical as it is in the “soft” social sciences, which also concerned with human experience, not material realities.”

          I agree. Psychology explains religious belief better than any hard science.

          “Agnosticism and doubting one’s understanding are intrinsic to an authentic faith experience.”

          So, true christians are agnostic?

          ” The criteria of the social sciences supports faith; but both belief and unbelief in the existence God will never be empirically verified because spiritual realities are intuitively sensed, not experienced by the physical senses.”

          So, when you say “God exists”, you mean as a subjective experience? I can agree with that.

          “Societies that are excessively intuitive tend to become superstitious, often in very dark ways.”

          Yes, and that’s how we get books like the bible. I’s full of superstitions.

        • Carol

          Who is a *true Christian*? From the biblical perspective, it is anyone who feels an inexplicable [from the perspective of pragmatic common sense] compelling desire to trust and follow Jesus even though his teaching often raises more questions than it provides answers. So, yes, agnosticism and doubt are compatible with faith.
          I do not mean that God is a subjective experience. I mean that God can only be “known” through subjective experience. ISTM that metaphysics and epistemology are often confused on this blog.
          The Bible is full of stories of people confusing superstition with faith. We fall into superstitious practices when we try to manipulate God by our actions.
          The LORD’s Prayer has become the officially sanctioned prayer of the Christian faith community; but the Kingdom of God will not come on earth until believers also pray the Gethsemane Prayer–a heart-wrenching plea for temporal deliverance, but a trusting acceptance of any sacrifices required [by human, not Divine] hardness of heart] for the healing and transformation of a creation suffering the disorders of alienation from God, self and others. The Bible is not only a Revelation of the Character of God, it is a Revelation of the reality of an existence lived as alienation rather than communion, beginning, but not ending, with the Divine/human relationship.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Maybe you need to take that humility one step further to acknowledge that your promptings may never be infallible, as would be the case of someone in a made-up religion.

          That said, I should note that, for me, this is secondary. If you’re a good person who’s deluded in this area but no other, not that big deal. Bigger issues would be Christians eager to impose their beliefs on the rest of us through the government, for example.

        • avalon

          You and I hear a voice in our head and think it’s our own fallible, human brain at work; theists hear the same thing and think it’s the voice of an all-powerful, perfect being. And then, they call themselves humble!

          There’s no humility it that illusion.

        • Carol

          Your “bigger issues” are big issues for a lot of Christians, also–especially those of us who believe in the God Jesus spoke of in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (which is actually the Parable of the Loving Father) rather than Calvin’s Cosmic Bully.
          It is the Moral Majority/Religious Right crowd with its dogmatic absolutism mentality that is rendering our Federal Government dysfunctional and unable to meet the challenges of advanced technology and globalization.
          “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Christian fundamentalism is a much bigger threat to America than Islamic fundamentalism, IMO.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, unfortunately you’re right that many Christians like to meddle. It’s good to see this point of agreement.

          As for the parable of the Prodigal Son, I wonder why God can’t act like that. We just forgive. Why can’t he? What’s all this nonsense of his just rage demanding a human sacrifice by which many Christians embarrass themselves?

        • Carol

          The Vicarious Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement is a speculation of Medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury. There is no “official” doctrine of the Atonement, but Penal Substitution has become the “de facto” theory in the Latin/Western churches, especially in the wake of the Protestant Reformation.

          A Scandinavian Lutheran pastor, Gustaf Aulen, has resurrected the Christus Victor theory which is more grace than law-centered. The Scandinavian Lutherans, because of geography, were often influenced more by Russian Orthodoxy than by Roman Catholicism. The Eastern Churches would never have embraced Anselm’s Atonement Theory.

          Every religious Tradition is encumbered by cultural baggage. Cultural syncretism is inevitable if there is to be practice as well as belief and in the Roman Empire Law was King (lex rex). That is why the Latin/Western Church seems to have been more successful at turning out self-righteous Pharisaic believers than true disciples of Jesus, I suppose.

          Here is an in-depth contrast of Anselm’s Penal Substitution Theory vs. the Christus Victor Theory:


          Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor:Understanding the Cross from the perspective of grace rather than legalism
          Of course, both theories are speculative theology, not dogmatic theology since neither has been “officially” sanctioned by a Church Council.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, I understand there’s theological thinking behind this. I’m looking for common sense. Theologians can spin anything so that it suits them.

        • Carol

          How do you arrive at a “common sense” belief?
          If a person begins from a legalistic perspective and then use linear logic this theory makes a perfect sense.
          Of course, if a person begins from the perspective of grace/unconditional love then it makes no sense because God’s love is conditional, subject to the fulfillment of the requirements of the Law. The “substitution” of Jesus for the victim does not change the belief that it is Law, not grace that defines the Divine Essence.
          If one begins from a false presupposition, that God is the Divine Lawgiver rather than the Divine Lover, then the conclusion is wrong and, in this case, the witness of Jesus that God is a Loving Father is lost.
          Theologians not only can, they do spin anything that suits them. It’s called speculative theology. Anselm’s Theory of the Atonement is just that, a theory, not a dogma. Good thing, too, because as the King of France is reputed by one wag to have said about the Pope’s theological justification for the Crusades, “I wouldn’t send a knight out on a dogma like that.”

        • MNb

          @Carol: “Thinkers like Einstein”
          Beware with bringing up Einstein. He was such a great thinker that he managed to keep his feet on the ground while walking with his heads above the clouds (I’m paraphrazing Richard Feynman). He still made mistakes. The idea that he wasn’t much concerned with facts shows a serious lack of your understanding. His entire concept of Relativity was based on a hard, well known fact – the outcome of the Michelson-Morley experiment.
          Scientists usually prefer to stay with their feet on the ground. And know what – science works. I dare to maintain that revelations don’t.

          “creativity comes before there are any facts.”
          Don’t think so. Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei would have been a lot less creative without the hard facts they received from decades long fact observer Tycho Brahe. Arguments like yours are always made by people incapable of accepting empirical data for what they are.

        • Carol

          I believe that Einstein is a great saint even though he was not even a practicing Jew in the conventional religious sense. The balance, rare in modern and post-modern Western societies, between knowing what appears to be an immutable “fact” (logic) and imagining “what could be” (intuition) was a scandal to many conventional thinkers. One of Einstein’s teachers told his father that his son would never amount to anything.

          His “religion” cut to the chase. No sentimental pious bullshit or theological sophistry motivated more by the love of power than by the power of love for him!

          His *faith* was intuitive, not theological:

          “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear – that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man… I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence — as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.” — Albert Einstein (The
          World as I See It)

          Einstein practiced both his unconventional religion and his unconventional science with humility. Perhaps it is the humility that gives rise to the unconventionality. There are few insiders who lack arrogance.

          The radical dichotomy between religion and science that is expressed on this blog did not exist for Einstein:

          “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” –Albert Einstein, “Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941

          “It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.” — Albert Einstein

          “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”
          – Albert Einstein

        • Kodie


          Despite the need for further study of the relationship between behavior
          and lateralized connectivity, we demonstrate that left- and
          right-lateralized networks are homogeneously stronger among a
          constellation of hubs in the left and right hemispheres, but that such
          connections do not result in a subject-specific global brain
          lateralization difference that favors one network over the other (i.e.
          left-brained or right-brained).

        • smrnda

          Thanks you for the pointer to real, actual science there.

        • Kodie

          It was just published, but I looked it up because I read an older article that basically said the same thing, a little wishy-washier, but I already knew it was bunk. How coincidental. Psychology and neurology is often subject to myths. I’m neither a psychologist or a neurologist, by the way. Brains are a lot harder for people to understand than, say, kidneys. It’s just easy to believe things about brains that aren’t true, or consume a popular science misrepresentation, or interpret little bits of news with other myths you already believe. It’s obvious that some people are more analytical and some more emotional, but how to translate that as it probably does have something to do with your mental strengths and weaknesses.

          I have also read that Myers-Briggs is bullshit on the order of astrology, but I wouldn’t go that far, exactly. People like to sort themselves into things like Introvert or Extrovert, and I think it’s led to misunderstandings more than anything. When you get that personality report, it does sort of read like a horoscope. Maybe it’s just me, but they all sound like me (if you’re being really generous). When you take it, it just calculates your final answer, but it doesn’t tell you if you are extreme or moderate. The first time I took it, I did see how it was scored, and I got nearly halfway in all 4 quality measures. I also could not (using the conventional definitions) tell you if I was left- or right-brained. I liked to use the Myers-Briggs in the past to write my resume, since it expresses all my positive qualities in good marketing terms.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          We will never be on the same page in the thinking department.

          Sure, but don’t we approach basic questions of historical fact in the same way? When someone points to the Legend of King Arthur and declares that Merlin the shape-shifting magician is part of history, do you just accept it? I’m guessing that you’re as skeptical as I am.

          Those who can only tolerate others who share their limited experiences and common beliefs live a very diminished existence.

          Some people who use psychedelic drugs say the same thing. I’ll stick with reality.

        • Carol

          No, we don’t approach the basic questions of historical fact in the same way. I am not a philosophical materialist. I believe that there are spiritual realities as well as physical realities.
          If there is no difference between the Jesus story and the Legend of King Arthur, why aren’t there more people proclaiming Arthurian insights to be the Holy Grail that holds the solution to the problems of man(kind)?
          How do you explain 2000 years of Christian history and the spread of the Gospel Message in the Second and Third Worlds now that it has been freed from its Western colonizing influences?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If there is no difference between the Jesus story and the Legend of King Arthur, why aren’t there more people proclaiming Arthurian insights to be the Holy Grail that holds the solution to the problems of man(kind)?

          Can you not have the same answer as me?

          The Jesus story has an emotional hold on people that the Merlin one doesn’t. They might’ve grown up with Christianity. They might like the idea of life after death.

          How do you explain 2000 years of Christian history and the spread of the Gospel Message in the Second and Third Worlds now that it has been freed from its Western colonizing influences?

          So your rule is, “If it’s popular, it must be true”?

        • Carol

          Not merely popular, fads come and go. Wisdom must stand the test of time and be universal in the sense of present in one form or another in the majority of human civilizations.

          I know that it is common to discredit the Christian Tradition because there are parallel mythologies in many ancient civilizations. I see that as a confirmation. All of the Great Religions have a Christ-figure. Krishna is the Christ-figure in Hinduism, although there are also many differences between the two Traditions. Perhaps we should put our faith more in what we believe in common than in what we hold to be different.

          “Forming a new world religion is difficult and not particularly desirable. However, in that love is essential to
          all religions, one could speak of the universal religion of love.” –His Holiness the Dalai Lama

          “It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the
          quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” –Mahatma Gandhi

        • Kodie

          Some people think King Arthur is historical. The reason why Christianity spread and Arthurianism didn’t is, in a nutshell, marketing. Violent, bloody, marketing. It is comparative to, say, monopolies. If you destroy your competition, and you are the only game in town, of if your government’s a theocracy, you’re not going to have a lot of choices. They can say what they want, they can charge any amount of money they want, and the consumer or citizen is in a jam.

          I also don’t think Arthur was the same kind of figure as Jesus. Jesus came from god, that’s the story. Arthur was a legend who, as far as I can tell, was ret-conned to have some involvement with the Jesus legend, he was associated or attached to the already given Christian faith in order to prop Arthur and make him more of an attraction. That is similar to the claims made by the LDS – and guess what, LDS is a pretty successful church. Arthurianism may have, if played right, enjoyed the same success, but it is time to take a look around you and see no devout Arthurians. LDS did not spring up out of nowhere but attached itself to the Christian beliefs and made up newer stories about Jesus’s visit to America.

          But they are all fiction. Some people can’t tell the difference.

        • Carol

          Truth and error are mixed in all belief systems whether they be sacred or secular and a half-truth is the most difficult lie to detect.
          I suppose radical skepticism, just not believing any of it, would be a great temptation, especially for those who feel a strong need to always be right.

        • Kodie

          I don’t find belief systems altogether terrible. It can structure someone who would otherwise disconnect people and make them feel that everything is chaotic. It is like a plan to follow, and I don’t mean rules necessarily given to you by someone else. Stories, even fictional ones, are written by people and speak to some universal or popular experiences. I am made to feel bad because I’m not a reader, and what I have learned is that lots of atheists are. They read and read and read – fiction. They recognize that it is fiction, but they read it anyway, they immerse themselves easily in someone else’s story.

          Why? Since I’m not an avid reader, I can only speculate that it’s because stories broaden our own experiences with others. I would have to put the bible in the fiction category but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to get out of it. I draw the line at filing it in the reality section. I don’t think there is any revelation of a real deity in the bible, given whatever is in there, for good or for bad.

          What seems to happen for many theists is that they think this is original wisdom, handed directly to them from god in this story and attach other nonsense to it. Being an atheist, I could actually read a book like the bible as a story and get more insight to the human condition, from a historical perspective and leave it at that. I can learn things I didn’t know, but none of that makes it divine.

          I don’t think there is anything wrong with being right, and going right. If one is going to build structure out of the chaos using this story, it could go very wrong. The theme that echoes through most theists’ accounts is that they find the real world tricky to navigate without some assistance and advice, and whose advice is the best? God’s advice trumps all others’. If you begin by assuming a god, you are taking the first wrong step. From there, using this filter to see the world through, is not for me. I don’t believe it’s real, and it doesn’t clarify anything for me in any trustworthy way. It is not called a crutch for nothing.

        • Carol

          Vatican Council II addressed the problem of the dark side of religious belief:

          For atheism, taken as a whole, is not present in the mind of man from the start (Atheismus, integre consideratus, non est quid originarium). It springs from various causes, among which must be included a critical reaction against religions and, in some places, against the Christian religion in particular. Believers can thus have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion. –Vatican
          Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 19

          C.S. Lewis was even more critical:

          I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse. . . . Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.
          ~C.S. Lewis in a letter to Bede Griffiths, dated Dec.20 1961
          If one interprets the term “atheist” literally, it does not mean a denial of the existence of God. A deist is also an atheist, who believes an God in a philosophical sense as the First Cause, Prime Mover, Ground of All Being, etc., but not in the sense of a personal deity who is concerned about and interacts in human affairs.
          The use of formal religion to justify predatory aggression is one of the darker revelations explicit in the Old Testament. The reason that the Christian Tradition is beginning to spread more rapidly in the Second and Third World is that indigenous faith communities are discovering the true Gospel message now that the relationship between the faith and the Church as a partner in the colonizing power of European Empires no longer exists. The Churches are dying in Europe because Christianity (churchianity?) has remained a civil religion there.
          The “Christianity” that is rejected by many posting to this blog is also being rejected by many believers, especially the “spiritual not religious” (SNRs).
          I know you think you are slaying a dragon, but, actually, it is more like beating an almost dead horse.
          Twenty-first century Christian faith is beginning to resemble the first century Jesus Movement more than it does Christendom’s Western Civil Religion that became the official version of Christianity that evolved after Constantine’s “conversion.”
          This is just one of the many catechetical resources available outside of the institutional churches:


        • Kodie

          The same-old “we’re not all like that” rationale. You still base your life on a fictional character. How you manifest that matters little to me. You all think you’re the ones doing it correctly with criticisms and judgment of other types of Christians. Criticism of Christian beliefs bounce off you because you don’t think we mean you too. You come over here to correct us, and insist that there is a truth to this myth that we have all overlooked or never been exposed to, and it’s true because you believe it the right way, and you know it’s right because of how it feels to you.

          Not only that, but we should give you some sort of credit for basing your life on a myth. We should reconsider it because of all the ethereal blathering and fortifying arguments with authoritative quotations that resonate for you and reinforce your feelings of belief. Do you think your beliefs are above criticism? Do you want a medal? What am I supposed to do with all this?

        • Carol

          Kodie, I know you think you heard what I said; but I can assure you that I never said what you think you heard. Please stop profiling me.

          I’ve met many people who profess to be Christians, but have definitely missed the message that Jesus preached. His own disciples often missed the point of his teaching and Jesus had to repeatedly correct them. They argued among themselves about who was the greatest and wanted God to rain down fire on the village where people had rejected their message. Jesus told them to forget the fire and just “shake the dust of that village” off their feet and move on.

          True religion is always about love–and the freedom to realize our full human potential through trial and error, the only way all of us, religious or secular, can learn what works and what doesn’t.

          Granting people the freedom to fail without rubbing their noses in their own dirt or labeling them stupid or evil is the greatest love-gift one person can give to another.

          A lot of people in my generation [I'm almost 71 years old] accuse the younger generations of being “lazy.” I don’t think most of them are lazy. I think their inertia comes from a fear of failure in a perfectionistic, success-oriented society that considers not being able to consistently “ace it” to be a character defect. Not winning has become more reprehensible than compromising our integrity!

          I say, “Forget the fail/succeed model.” You can have “failures” or you can have “learning experiences.” I choose to have learning experiences.

        • smrnda

          I know a few neuroscientists who would definitely reject this simplistic view of how the brain and human thinking works, or dismiss it as pseuduscience as absurd as phrenology.

          I don’t even view logic, reason, emotion and imagination as separate. It’s a distinction people invented to put people in boxes, mostly so that people who try to bring in logic and reason can get poo pooed. (Or perhaps so that people who study science and engineering can get poo pooed as being out of touch with humanity.) It’s a distinction I think is false and I completely reject since I don’t think the two areas are separate, nor do I think people really adhere to such stereotyped thinking patterns for very long.

          Let’s take an act of creation, like writing a computer program or painting. Anything. You need both reason, logic, imagination, vision, empathy to do these things.

        • Carol

          You are correct. They are separate “functions”, but when functioning synergistically they create a balanced, healthy “whole.”

          “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The problems are caused when one function becomes too dominant which creates a loss of a balanced perspective.

          Einstein realized that reason/logic had become too dominant at the expense of intuition, the voice of the non-physical world:

          ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.’ ~A.

          “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” ~A. Einstein (1879-1955)

        • MNb

          “an understanding of mythological thinking.”
          I agree here with you. I only would like to point out that the logical consequence is that your god is also the product of a myth.
          Exactly what about all atheists think. It’s here that either our debate ends or the apologists tries to go “deep-diving” as you described below to obfuscate the fact that he/she doesn’t really have a satisfactory answer – muddle the water, to use your own words.

        • Carol

          No, mythological thinking does not define God. It is the only way the human intellect can conceive of the potential for change from what “is” to what “can be” that Grace opens up to us.

    • smrnda

      It seems like you’re trying to say that “eastern” Christians practice some form of mysticism. It does make it less dogmatic perhaps, but the problem (for a highly concrete, rational person like myself) is that they’re still taking about words that I feel stand for nothing. We could just look at the problem as being that “western” Christians have attempted to deal with modernity and post-Enlightenment rationalism and failed, and “eastern” Christians haven’t had to try yet, probably just since they occupied a territory that hasn’t been as modern. Western Christians were heavily driven by a missionary impulse which is
      why they’ve had to deal with modernity and had to find ways to
      rationally defend Christian claims

      Another issue which you should think about is the extent to which ‘eastern’ Christians drawn their faith by ethnic and cultural ties – I know lots of Eastern European immigrants to the States, and to some of them it’s just a cultural tie. Most of the younger people admit this. I would admit that’s the same reason for my own family’s attachment to liberal reform Judaism, but they openly admit it’s purely a cultural and historical attachment, probably on par with my Irish partner’s interest in Irish folklore and legend.

      Before you reach out with orientalist praise for the wonderful, more holistic ‘eastern’ Christians, you should think about what a dreadful, backwards place most of the territory that’s both Eastern and Christian.

      “Eastern Christians have no difficulty
      maintaining definite beliefs while remaining tolerant.”

      Tell that to Eastern European Jews in the past, or contemporary homosexuals in Russia.

      • Carol

        “First-hand religion is based on direct experience of the sacred, also called mystical experience. Second-hand religion is based on another’s experience, authority, or dogma. This distinction is
        often framed as the difference between spirituality (first-hand) and religion (second-hand).” –John Davis

        “In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on
        the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram – impersonal and unattainable – the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive.” — by Evelyn Underhill, MYSTICISM (Chapter

        There is cultural syncretism in all religious practice. That is especially true for Christianity where the Mystery of the Incarnation is a central belief. Sometimes our religious beliefs are purely cultural, but they are never purely theological.

        Globalization is challenging many of our Western religious beliefs:


        • smrnda

          I’m a pretty concrete person, so when people talk about ‘the sacred’ I just don’t really feel like there’s anything of substance being discussed. The Absolute, or (my personal least favorite) “Being” with a capital “B” – these all just seem like inflated words with no meaning to me. I’ve heard people go on about ‘chakras’ such as well.

          I know someone will say ‘yeah, but it’s the type of thing you have to experience, it can’t be communicated’ – the problem is that what I hear communicated just seems to be various ways of saying ‘the experience made me feel good’ or ‘i felt connected to something big.’ I did spend a decent amount of time studying the psychology of religious belief, and my impressions after that the only difference between a religious experience and a football fanatic’s day at the match is that the former is considered ‘transcendent’ and the latter is not.

          In terms of ‘truth’ I’m less interested in bantering about a word and more interested in examining specific statements for the truth value. In this I’m as disinterested in philosophers as I am in mystics. Claims about gods or the spiritual realm can be subject to the same dissection that a claim like ‘eating more whole grain will lower your blood pressure.’ If the claims resist precise definition, then I can just toss them.

          My end would be that I think there are things that we do not know, but not that there’s anything meaningful that we can’t know.

          This didn’t come up, but

        • Carol

          If you think that there are things we do not know then you are in good company. Socrates taught that “knowing that we do not know is the beginning of wisdom.”
          Dogmatic Absolutism, whether theological or ideological, is the end of wisdom and the beginning of arrogance.
          It is also the end of love since closed minds lead to closed hearts.
          Perhaps anything can become meaningful when it comes from the right intention. Wrong intentions can lead to meaningful events, too; but the meaning is dark. The Shoah is certainly meaningful to a great number of people, but not in a positive, joyful way. So, meaning comes from the free exercise intentionality, not from our beliefs. Contemplation/reflection apart from action is meaningless; but so is action apart from contemplation/reflection. In fact, blind action merely for the sake of “doing something” often has disastrous unintended consequences.

  • Guest

    The Bible has changed, actually. First of all, new books were added. The Pentatuch was the ‘original’, everything else was a later addition. Each of the gospels was added to previous Christian works. The Bible as we know it now took a while to form. And, of course, the translations of the Bible have changed and so has the interpretation of certain texts or passages. Even the ‘King James only’ crowd is not using the ‘original’ Bible of Western Christianity, which would have been in Latin and had several extra books, since it was a Catholic bible. A new translation of the Bible comes out nearly every year…

  • The Other Weirdo

    I don’t get it. Did gravity somehow stop working when a more expansive theory became formalized?

    People who think prayer is the answer to real-world problems have no business casting stones at scientists.

  • Anonymous
  • digigenocide

    I bet they didn’t even try to put anything in the right colum. I’ll add a few for them

    Global flood within human existance

    Earth is between 6000 and 10000 years old.

    The earth was formed before the sun.

    People lived 10 times as long 6000 years ago.

    All land creatures were created on the same day

    Animals and humans can talk to eachother

    Rainbows are a sign of God’s promise not to kill us via floods anymore.

    Two bears can kill 42 children (you would think a few would have gotten away)

    And those are just off the top of my head

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