“Frustratingly incomplete”

I’m reading N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian.

It is, quite intentionally, his attempt at something like C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. It aims to be both a persuasive introduction for outsiders and a guide to the essence of the faith for insiders. I think it’s probably stronger in the latter capacity, but its approach to the former task — persuading outsiders — is humbler and less didactic than Lewis’ was. Mere Christianity often comes across as saying something like, “here is why all right-thinking, reasonable people ought to be Christians.” Wright is, more winsomely — and more accurately — simply telling the reader what it is that he believes and why, inviting the reader to follow along.

Wright’s early chapter on beauty deals thoughtfully with what Lewis might have called “joy” — that sense of a fleeting glimpse of something transcendent. Lewis, I think, could be overconfident in attributing a specific, sectarian meaning to that experience. Wright is satisfied to say only that it suggests, or hints at … something.

This joy or beauty, Wright says, is like an “echo of a voice,” one of several such echoes he discusses in his opening chapters. These things, he is careful to say, in no way can be said to “‘prove’ either the existence of God or [God’s] particular character.” About all these “echoes,” he says:

None of these by itself points directly to God — to any God, let alone the Christian God. At best, they wave their arms in a rather general direction, like someone in a cave who hears an echoing voice by has no idea where it’s coming from.

I wanted to provide that context for the snippet of Wright’s book below because his analogy is similar to the sort of thing sometimes put forward by proponents of “intelligent design,” and that is not what Wright is up to here. He’s discussing something that is both less arrogant and more important than that.

Wright is a biblical scholar and a Christian clergyman, but his discussion of this sense of something more, I think, will likely ring true for many who don’t share that particular perspective. His description here of the fleeting glimpse of something transcendent — the simultaneously tantalizing and frustrating incompleteness of knowing that there is so much more that we do not or cannot know — is the sort of thing that I think, for example, the late Carl Sagan might have embraced as something like the source of his own more secular passion for science.

But then, of course, I am reading this from the same perspective that Wright is writing from, so I’m curious to hear from others if this resonates with you at all — if this analogy is, as the book’s title suggests, “Simply Christian,” or if it says something more broadly about the human condition and the human predicament.

One day, rummaging through a dusty old attic in a small Austrian town, a collector comes across a faded manuscript containing many pages of music. It is written for the piano. Curious, he takes it to a dealer. The dealer phones a friend, who appears half an hour later. When he sees the music he becomes excited, then puzzled. This looks like the handwriting of Mozart himself, but it isn’t a well-known piece. In fact, he’s never heard it. More phone calls. More excitement. More consultations. It really does seem to be Mozart. And, though some parts seem distantly familiar, it doesn’t correspond to anything already known in his works.

Before long, someone is sitting at a piano. The collector stands close by, not wanting to see his precious find damaged as the pianist turns the pages. But then comes a fresh surprise. The music is wonderful. It’s just the sort of thing Mozart would have written. It’s energetic and elegiac by turns, it’s got subtle harmonic shifts, some splendid tunes, and a ringing finale. But it seems … incomplete. There are places where nothing much seems to be happening, where the piano is simply marking time. There are other places where the writing is faded and it isn’t quite clear, but it looks as though the composer has indicated, not just one or two bars rest, but a much longer pause.

Gradually the truth dawns on the excited little group. What they are looking at is indeed by Mozart. It is indeed beautiful. But it’s the piano part of a piece that involves another instrument, or perhaps other instruments. By itself it is frustratingly incomplete. A further search of the attic reveals nothing else that would provide a clue. The piano music is all there is, a signpost to something that was there once and might still turn up one day. There must have been a complete work of art which would now, without additional sheet music, be almost impossible to reconstruct; they don’t know if the piano was to accompany an oboe or a bassoon, a violin or a cello, or perhaps a full string quartet or some other combination of instruments. If those other parts could be found, they would make complete sense of the incomplete beauty contained in the faded scribble of genius now before them. …

This is the position we are in when confronted by beauty. The world is full of beauty, but the beauty is incomplete. Our puzzlement about what beauty is, what it means, and what (if anything) it is there for is the inevitable result of looking at one part of a larger whole. Beauty, in other words, is another echo of a voice — a voice which (from the evidence before us) might be saying one of several different things. …

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  • http://profiles.google.com/yamikuronue Bayley G

    I wouldn’t say that the beauty of the world is incomplete. I would say, rather, that we demand more of the world than it is capable of providing. The world cares nothing for how beautiful it is – when we find moments of sublime beauty and joy, demanding meaning in addition seems…. arrogant and foolish. It’s the fact that beauty and goodness are not guaranteed, are not owed to us, are not automatic,that makes them so precious, so worth cultivating.

    If the sound of wind was as beautiful and intricate as anything Mozart could write, why bother writing music at all? 

  • At

    Hmm… They already knew there was a Mozart.  They already had a conception of what the music was going to be like.  What’s more, they know that there’s more of that music.  (I have no idea how they know it’s not a standalone piece, seems to me they are just sure it isn’t.)

    So they already “know” what they are seeking.  They are just fitting what they find into their  perception of the world.  Maybe it was someone who wasn’t Mozart but was a good imitator.  Maybe they are forgeries done a hundred years after Mozart died.  Maybe it really is a standalone piece but the reason they feel it is incomplete is the same reason the composer dumped it – it isn’t as good as they think it is, they are just over the moon about it so they think it’s brilliant.  Mozart thought it was crap.

    To me beauty just is.  I don’t need to find a reason for it, I don’t even see it as incomplete.  I see a sunset that isn’t as wonderful as others I have seen, it is still wonderful.  I can see the red desert around Broken HIll and not think “It is incomplete, there are no palm trees”.  It is just as it is, and accept it for that.

    To me Wright is begging the question (in the old fashioned sense).  ” the proposition to be proven is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise”.  He’s started from the idea there’s a God, so to him there’s something incomplete and needs God to complete and explain it.  To me there isn’t and the idea that beauty is incomplete is just weird.   I can’t think of anything I need to postulate a God to explain.
    Why does beauty have to be “for” anything?  I think the various Just So stories of evolutionary psych give just as much of a reason if reason you need than the existence of God, and possible more of them and to me more sensible ones.

    So no… doesn’t work for me.  He’s assuming God exists then finding reasons to bolster his assumptions and I find it entirely unconvincing.

  • Tonio

    He’s assuming God exists then finding reasons to bolster his assumptions

    And he’s also assuming that humans can detect the existence of something like a god-being through feelings, as if joy was a form of extrasensory perception. I think it’s important to maintain a distinction between what we perceive and what we feel, because the universe is not about us as individuals. While emotions are important to us, they’re subjective, and two people can have vastly different emotions about the same fact.

  • picklefactory

    I think a more interesting question would be: if you find that the beauty of the world is incomplete, and that this feeling waves its arms in the general direction of god, what brings you from this more deist point of view to Christianity?

  • Anonymous

    I can’t say I’ve ever experienced “beauty” or “joy” in the sense meant here, or by Lewis.

    On occasion I’ll find it rather amazing how something (say, a cell) works, but it’s not a transcendent feeling; there’s no sense of a greater whole I’m missing, just admiration for something so complex.

    I understand that trying to grasp such a sensation when I have not experienced it myself is pretty pointless, but I do occasionally wonder what I’m missing out on by not undergoing such states of mind.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    I remember watching the first episode of the series Universe, and feeling a brief, visceral grasp of how truly enormous the universe is. Rather than having a sense of incompleteness, my reaction was thinking how we’re all alone here, and that’s scary.

  • Nathaniel

    Echoing a comment above, to believe that beauty necessitates god, is to assume that beauty comes from God in the first place. Let alone the difficulty in declaring why that means the Christian God is true, rather than the Muslim one, or the Hindu pantheon.

  • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ gjm

    No, I don’t generally find that the beauty of the world is “frustratingly incomplete” in the sort of way he describes. It’s frequently imperfect or not available in sufficient quantities, but those features don’t seem to me to point to anything Beyond. “Puzzlement about what beauty means” seems to me simply a confusion, like being puzzled about where music lives or what colour sex is.

    So, yeah, I’m inclined to think NTW’s analysis is “Simply Christian”, in the sense that I suspect Wright thinks beauty demands an explanation beyond itself mostly because there’s a Christian tradition of thinking that :-).

    (But I’m not certain that I know exactly what it is he’s writing *about*. I mean, there’s nothing in the paragraphs Fred’s quoted to indicate that he’s specifically describing a “fleeting glimpse of something transcendent”, and maybe the surrounding paragraphs show that he’s not really discussing beauty-in-general but some more specific *kind* of experience of beauty. In which case, what I said above may be irrelevant.)

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Whenever the idea of a transcendent experience is brought up I remember someone talking about an entirely secular one.  Well, “remember” is too strong a word.  I remember that it happened but all the details have fled.  I think it was mmy and I think it might have happened in a math class, but I’m very unsure on both of those points.  I remember thinking it was awesome, I think.

    I have, on occasion, almost glimpsed the four dimensional.  First off, I don’t visualize very well in the first place so almost glimpsing something is an impressive feat for me anyway, but visualizing something like that, even something as simple as a hypersphere, is just … I don’t know.  It’s a liminal experience, as if your were lifted just the tiniest bit out of flatland and you were on the edge of seeing something extraordinary.  At least it was for me.

    Our understanding of just about everything is incomplete, and when I brush up against that incompleteness I often feel a sense of wonder.  There’s more out there, we just don’t know it yet.

    That said, it doesn’t make me turn to religion.  I believe that there is a God, but when it comes to trying to determine what the echoes described are of science where I turn.  It provides answers, but it also provides more echoes.  It always seems to me that no matter how much is discovered there’s are always more questions.  And that’s great, because it means we’ll never run out of new things to find.

  • Anonymous

    Um… An entirely secular transcendental experience, possibly taking place in a math class… That sounds oddly like something I said, once? I don’t know if it’s the story you’re thinking of, but at one point, I mentioned a moment I had in high school where we were being taught about division; specifically, that dividing X by a number less than one ends up looking more like multiplication. My brain rejected this. It didn’t work. Division is like cutting a cake into segments. You start with a cake, and you end with the same amount of cake in smaller pieces. There is no way to cut more cake. It is impossible. There is finite cake. Stop asking me to math nonsense.

    I asked my teacher how that could possibly work, and she demonstrated, mathematically, that it’s true. She pointed out the pages in the textbook. She invited me to put it through a calculator as many times as I wished. But none of that helped me understand why or how such a thing could occur. It contradicted reality. I refused to accept it. After a few days of outright refusing to answer those questions, I ended up begrudgingly going along with it, writing down the supposedly “correct” answers, even though I felt like the whole thing was a farce. 

    A couple of weeks of this later, we’d been handed a stack of math problems to solve. A few of them involved the dreadful contradictory division. I finished a little earlier than most of the class, so while I was waiting for the teacher to start the next segment or hand out more work, I thought about the problem some more. You can’t cut more cake. It just can’t happen. There is only one cake, and you can’t magically turn it into two cakes with a knife.
     
    Unless, it slowly dawned on me, unless you don’t need there to be more cake. You cut it in half, and the total amount of cake stays the same, but there are two pieces of it. If [half a cake] can be thought of as an individual item, then it is undoubtedly %100 of one [half a cake]. You just count them separately! That’s why the numbers go up! But… Taken together, they were still two halves of the same cake. Nothing had changed. Dividing by 2 and dividing by 0.5 was the same thing! It was just a matter of perspective! And if the difference between something being %50 of a thing and being %100 of a thing was merely a matter of perspective, what does that say about the universe

    It was a huge revelation. It felt like I had touched the sun, like I had looked upon the very existence of Truth. I stared at my classmates, incredibly energised, wondering why I hadn’t seen anyone else act appropriately amazed. I mean, everyone else had found this division thing way easier to accept than I had, right? Why had people treated it like just another arbitrary math rule? We were unraveling the secrets of reality with this stuff! This was big

    I tried to talk about it with my teacher and a friend once class was over, but I couldn’t put into words what it was I found so compelling. (I was fifteen, I was pretty bad at talking. Well, I still am pretty bad at talking, but I was worse then.) Nevertheless, they were pleased enough that I had finally stopped complaining about a relatively simple kind of math problem. 

    So yeah, I kind of see where Wright is coming from, although I wouldn’t describe it as “frustratingly incomplete”. It was the most satisfyingly complete thing I’d ever seen. I understand why it might feel like god, though. 

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    That’s definitely not what I was thinking of, but thank you for sharing it.  It’s a great story.

  • P J Evans

     It’s the lightbulb going on, where you understand . It feels like you just lit up, like you’re the lightbulb.

    (Dividing by a fraction – i think it’s easier to understand ‘x divided by fraction y is z’ if it’s phrased as ‘what number is z, if x is y (fractional part) of it?’)

  • Joshua

    It felt like I had touched the sun, like I had looked upon the very existence of Truth.

    I also have felt this studying maths. It’s funny how maths lectures I attended to were the very driest, moreso than even computer networking, but every now and then you felt like you’ve seen the face of God.

    For me it was understanding what a limit is in calculus, learning about formal systems and Gödel’s Theorem.

  • Heartfout

    (I’m not really sure what incomplete beauty means, but this was my immediate reaction to the post. If someone can explain it I’ll address that, but as it stands this is my best stab in the dark at what it might mean.)

    I sometimes find the world too complete. It has lots of stuff and lots of people in it, and some of these things are very beautiful, but sometimes if I’m in a big place with lots of people and there’s lots of beautiful stuff around I get an overdose and I have to sit in my room and cuddle a pillow until I’ve calmed down.

    So, no, I can’t say I’ve got the feeling of incomplete beauty, just over-concentrated beauty sometimes.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The way I feel the beauty of the world might be “frustratingly incomplete” is in our abilty to describe it on its most fundamental level, rather than anything inherent in the world itself.

    As yet, physicists are still grappling with how to have a unified theory that describes all four forces in nature. We have been promised the moon with string theory, for example, but as yet only approximate calculations can be done with it.

    That unified theory’s close, though. And we know it’s there.

    But until we have it, there’ll always be something inherently dissatisfying about having to section off quantum mechanics from general relativity and apply each in its separate realm of competency, whiile only being able to carefully and in limited fashion, couple the two to get needed results (e.g. it was possible to show that the graviton has a spin of 2 well before string theory got off the ground).

  • konrad_arflane

    (I have no idea how they know it’s not a standalone piece, seems to me they are just sure it isn’t.)

    If you know your Mozart, or just music from the period in general, it’s pretty easy to tell whether a piano score contains a complete piece or the piano part of a piece for several instruments. It’s probably not too difficult to determine whether it’s piano concerto or a sonata for some instrument and piano, either.

    And now I’m going to be the annoying pedant and take the example too literally:

    When this sort of thing happens, as it will from time to time, actual people don’t stand around in consternation and wonder what might have been. You can be pretty sure that some musicologist somewhere will take it upon himself to reconstruct the work from the available material. Perhaps the most extreme example: Bach’s St Luke Passion was “reconstructed” (in this case, significant parts of it were plain made up) some ten or fifteen years ago, despite the fact that not a single page of music survives – all we have left is the text Bach set in music.

    It seems to me that there’s a parallel here to be worked out with how religions arise, but it’s late, and anyway I’m not sure I could do it without insulting someone.

  • Anonymous

    No, I like your point. We can’t be certain of the exact nature of the Divine from what we have to work with, but we can make an educated guess.

  • http://twitter.com/neville_park Neville Park

    The Wright passage reminds me of certain arguments for the Forms by Plato, and the Neoplatonic idea of material things as existing only contingently and therefore have elements of both being and non-being. (“Glory be to God for dappled things…all things counter, original, spare, strange…”) Not sure where I’m going with this, tired and about to sleep.

  • http://twitter.com/merusdraconis Matt Cramp

    I have experienced ‘beauty’ or ‘joy’ like the authors describe; it was running across a sale for a Nintendo Gamecube at half price.

    While God may work in mysterious ways, that’s a rather stupid way. So I’m inclined to think that it’s an emotional response that people naturally ascribe outwards.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux

    The world is full of beauty, but the beauty is incomplete. Our puzzlement about what beauty is, what it means, and what (if anything) it is there for is the inevitable result of looking at one part of a larger whole. Beauty, in other words, is another echo of a voice — a voice which (from the evidence before us) might be saying one of several different things. …

    I have seen both phenomenal beauty and phenomenal ugliness in the world, but I’ve never had the sense that either the beauty or the ugliness are incomplete.

     I’ve never wondered what beauty is for, either; whether or not you see something as beautiful depends largely on how you yourself define beauty. If you’ve ever seen pictures of seemingly ordinary Renaissance and Tudor-era queens who were reputed to be great beauties or the portraits by Titian and Peter Paul Rubens featuring gorgeous women who would now be victims of fat-shaming, you’ll know what I mean.

    Nor does everyone see nature–or at least not every aspect of nature–as beautiful. I have seen many pictures of the snow-covered Arctic and the Antarctic, and  I also know people who would see the snow and ice as pristine and elegant. Yet to me, snow and ice are cold, bleak, deadly nightmares and I want no part of them. 

    I’ve known people who saw more beauty in a well-planned and well-crafted city than any pastoral ideal.  Leo Rosten once asked Buckminster Fuller if he saw no beauty in Nature; Fuller replied that he saw very little beauty in a tapeworm. 

    I cannot say that I have ever looked at a beautiful forest (or ocean, or desert, or jungle) and felt that I was looking at one part of a larger whole, or the echo of a voice. Such things exist, but they don’t scream “there is a God” to me.

    The author seems to be trying to drag significance into something that doesn’t require it. I can almost hear him singing, “Double rainbow! What does this mean?”  Which puzzles me. Does it have to mean anything? Isn’t it enough that it’s here and that we can enjoy it if we want to?

  • Amaryllis

    Nor does everyone see nature–or at least not every aspect of nature–as
    beautiful. I have seen many pictures of the snow-covered Arctic and the
    Antarctic, and  I also know people who would see the snow and ice as
    pristine and elegant. Yet to me, snow and ice are cold, bleak, deadly
    nightmares and I want no part of them. 

    But “bleak” and “nightmarish” are just as subjective as “beautiful:”

    One must have a mind of winter
    To regard the frost and the boughs
    Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

    And have been cold a long time
    To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
    The spruces rough in the distant glitter

    Of the January sun; and not to think
    Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
    In the sound of a few leaves,

    Which is the sound of the land
    Full of the same wind
    That is blowing in the same bare place

    For the listener, who listens in the snow,
    And, nothing himself, beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

    -Wallace Stevens

    But even though it’s not the wind that’s miserable but the listener, we will never be able to be Stevensonian “Snow Men.”  Even when we try to see “nothing that is not there,” in the act of description we can’t help but ascribe, beauty to the sun’s glitter and barrenness to the blown snow: neither beauty nor barrenness is a “something,” yet aren’t they “the nothing” that is there? And if there’s a “nothing,” is it an echo of a Something?

    I don’t know. But sometimes it feels that way.

    Or is the only “Something” the beauty that’s created by human art? Is it only the poem that makes the snowscape beautiful? Sometimes it feels that way too.

    ETA: edited, because Disqus.

  • Anonymous

    I definite get that “flicker in the corner of my eye” feeling, but I also think the Universe is its own glorious justification for itself. So I don’t need a divine explanation or even a bedrock “Why All This Is”, just always being curious and having a sense of wonder is enough. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Can someone clarify something for me here?

    I’ve never been able to figure out if C.S. Lewis meant “Just Christianity” or “Mother Christianity”. “Mere” can mean “just” in English, but “Mère” is “mother” in French and oftentimes accented words in other languages simply have the accents dropped when writing them in English.

    Anyone wanna give me a confirm on this?

  • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ gjm

    Invisible Neutrino, definitely “just” rather than “mother”. “Just” isn’t quite right either; more like “Christianity reduced to its most basic and essential elements, as opposed to more specific varieties of Christianity like Roman Catholicism or Evangelical Lutheranism”.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    In my experience moments of transcendence are moments of completeness. A moment of being pierced by light and burned up by love and then – a moment later – it’s gone and you can’t quite parse what just happened. And you look at the things that caused it and you can’t recapture it. That’s when beauty seems incomplete, when you suddenly become aware of something greater and then it’s gone.

    And it could be a trick of the brain or a genuine religious experience, you don’t know, but either way it’s a valid experience with value for the person.

  • ako

    The sense of the beauty of the world being incomplete…this is complicated for me, because deep down inside, I want to live in a fantasy novel.  My transcendental urges are pretty much all pointed in that direction.  I want magic, elves and fairies, dragons and mermaids.  I want sorcerers and enchanted swords.  And I want all of these things in a fairly literal sense.  (It isn’t a stand in for a higher or more mature or more respectable urge, I really do want magic powers.)

    When I do get transcendental urges, they all point to this direction, towards a door to fairyland, or to the kind of magic that lets me touch the stars in the sky with my bare hands.  It doesn’t fit with anything spiritual or religious or even particularly mature.  And I don’t have any reason to believe it connects with any higher level of reality.  So I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that such a sense means anything significant.

    Still, it’s nice to see people make a point of going “I have this sense and it points to something where I feel the Christian God is a good answer, but it isn’t actual proof of anything.”

  • hapax

    When I do get transcendental urges, they all point to this direction,
    towards a door to fairyland, or to the kind of magic that lets me touch
    the stars in the sky with my bare hands.  It doesn’t fit with anything
    spiritual or religious or even particularly mature.  And I don’t have
    any reason to believe it connects with any higher level of reality.  So
    I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that such a sense means anything
    significant.

    Ever since I was very little, I have never seen a “path through the woods” — even if we’re talking about about a gap in the neighbor’s hedge — without feeling an instinctive surety that it leads somewhere beyond the lands that we know:  to an enchanted well, a garrulous old oak, maybe a ruined castle that is mysteriously complete and inhabited in the moonlight.

    Now, I have also, as long as I can remember, refused to walk down those paths.  Not because I didn’t want to visit Somewhere Else — I wanted that, more desperately than I could say — but because I knew that I could not bear the crushing disillusionment when I, sure as eggs are eggs, wound up at a prosaic clearing or the neighbors yard.  And, if for some reason (a hiking trip or walking the dog) was forced to take that route — well, I informed myself, that wasn’t the real Path, that you could only stumble upon unawares, glimpse out of the corner of your eye.

    So is this the same as my experiences of transcendent beauty and joy?  They are certainly akin, although I would not equate them.  But I would say that, wouldn’t I?  The only thing I know is that in rare moments of prayer and contemplation, I am certain that I have actually, truly and For Reals, brushed against the penumbra of Beauty and Joy in Itself — like Moses, cowering behind a rock, glimpsing the dark backside of Ha Shem.

    Yet I don’t know, can’t know if I am still deluding myself.  Maybe I am so emotionally dependent upon there being an actual Platonic Source that I’ve convinced myself into experiencing something that isn’t there.  We kind of specialize in that, with our highly evolved pattern-making monkey brains.

    Or maybe, if I’d ever had the courage to walk down those path, I might find myself within the stars, behind the sunset, over the rainbow… 

  • Amaryllis

    Not because I didn’t want to visit Somewhere Else — I wanted that, more
    desperately than I could say — but because I knew that I could not
    bear the crushing disillusionment when I, sure as eggs are eggs, wound
    up at a prosaic clearing or the neighbors yard. 

    There was a road ran past our house
    Too lovely to explore.
    I asked my mother once — she said
    That if you followed where it led
    It brought you to the milk-man’s door.
    (That’s why I have not travelled more.)

    -Edna St. Vincent Millay

    But I know that feeling– there was a wood behind my grandparents’ house, which in retrospect I realize was just a tiny little copse– but I always had a half-hope of coming out somewhere else if I could walk just a little farther down its paths…

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    As sure as eggs are eggs? Here’s hoping this (http://boingboing.net/2011/11/12/howto-bake-a-brownie-in-an-egg.html) will happen the next time.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux

     (It isn’t a stand in for a higher or more mature or more respectable urge, I really do want magic powers.)

    I do too, Ako. I would LOVE to have magical powers that fix everything, because…well, that’s the opposite of my life. And while I don’t care about elves or fairies…I’ve wanted mermaids and sorcery to be real since I was little.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I so want to live in a work of fiction. Not necessarily fantasy; Sci-Fi works too :P. Not necessarily a happy fantasy world, either, just…somewhere where the fantastic is real. At times, usually when my depression is really acting up, I quite literally ache for it to be true. Feels like part of my soul’s been trapped in another world, and I can feel it pulling, trying to bring me there.

    I wouldn’t describe it as transcendental, or even remotely religious, but I completely understand why Richard Garriot spent millions of dollars, underwent surgery, and did months of intensive training just to go into space for a short while.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > Oh, I so want to live in a work of fiction.

    I sympathize with this. But I suspect that, if I lived in a work of fiction, I would _still_ want to live in a work of fiction. That is, I suspect that the sense of dissatisfaction with the world as it is, and the urge for something somehow better, doesn’t go away just because the world gets better. No time and place is ever enough, unless I live in such a way as to make the here and now enough.

  • Rikalous

    Oh, I so want to live in a work of fiction. Not necessarily fantasy;
    Sci-Fi works too :P. Not necessarily a happy fantasy world, either,
    just…somewhere where the fantastic is real. At times, usually when my
    depression is really acting up, I quite literally ache for it to be
    true. Feels like part of my soul’s been trapped in another world, and I
    can feel it pulling, trying to bring me there.

    You’re writing about how you want to live in a Sci-Fi world, where the fantastic is true. You are writing this on a machine that instantaneously transmits your words to where they can be read by people all over the world. People in North America and people in Australia, on the other side of the planet, are reading this.

    There’s a device in my pocket right now that combines a phone, an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, a stopwatch, and two different games. All that, in a little gizmo smaller than my hand. It isn’t a high-tech toy for the super-rich, it’s one of the cheapest models that were available a few years ago.

    Humanity killed a disease. All of a disease. All over the planet. Smallpox was a thing that existed, and we didn’t like that, so now it isn’t. Back in August, we finished doing the same thing to rinderpest.

    We put a man on the moon. The moon. That big grey thing in the night sky. There are human bootprints and an American flag up on that bastard. We did this over forty years ago.

    Tl;dr: I understand the desire for more magic and wonder in the world, but there’s already so much insanely cool stuff right here that we take for granted.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Oh, I so want to live in a work of fiction. Not necessarily fantasy; Sci-Fi works too :P. Not necessarily a happy fantasy world, either, just…somewhere where the fantastic is real. 

    You mean the last two decades _DON’T_ seem like a satirical dystopian sci-fi novel to you?  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    I’m afraid it doesn’t resonate with me.  Christian originated mysticism rarely does.  I don’t “get” this sort of thing.  Incompleteness, brokenness, all the various concepts Christian mysticism utilizes, they just don’t do anything for me.  Even “meaning” when its used by Christians tends to not “mean” anything to me.  I don’t know what people mean by words like “transcendent.”

    On top of that… I can’t imagine feeling that a sense of awe in something would direct me towards a belief in a god.  There are things I can imagine that feel… I don’t know, maybe “otherworldly” is a good term.  Things that are generally outside of human experience, and inspire awe in me.  The sheer scale of stars, for example, or the idea of a human life modeled in four dimensions.  But the concept of God is, to me, such a human and contrived and wretched thing that I can’t imagine associating it with beauty.

    I’m also deeply suspicious of these sorts of arguments.  I know Wright isn’t claiming that this “proves” God per se.  But… it seems like there are echos of cultism in this.  First, induce an enjoyable emotional state (in this case through poetics, which is less nasty than many other methods I’ve seen).  Then convince people to believe that emotional state is intrinsically tied to belief in your religion.  If you can do that, you have them forever.  Not only will they feel like they have evidence of their religion’s truth (I feel joy, so God must be real), but they will fear that should they ever stop believing, they’ll lose that aspect of themselves.

  • Anonymous

    I remember watching the first episode of the series Universe,
    and feeling a brief, visceral grasp of how truly enormous the universe
    is. Rather than having a sense of incompleteness, my reaction was
    thinking how we’re all alone here, and that’s scary.

    Yeah, but we’re all alone together.

  • MaryKaye

    I have had an experience that maps to this (though Lewis’ description is closer than the Mozart one).  But I always found Lewis’ statement that it stopped happening to him after he became a Christian deeply troubling.  He said, you don’t need the signpost after you arrive at the destination.  But the destination he arrived at does not seem worthy of the signpost he described.  Certainly my own experiences as a Christian were not.

    The forms of it I have had as a Pagan seemed equally numinous but not so much about wanting something that’s not there; more about a very brief experience of what *is* there, but perceived very differently.

    I also have a rather strong does of what Ako is saying; a lot of what stirs nameless longings in me is mermaids and shapeshifters.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    The idea of it stopping happening after being a Christian is depressing.  Geeze.  Those moments, however small, are the ones that feed my faith, that keep me going when the world seems dark and angry and hopeless. 

  • rm

    This is the idea of the sublime (and, and). The question for believers and non-believers is whether the Romantic poets invented (unacknowledged legislators!) this feeling which we now have when we feel overwhelmed with beauty and terror in the face of Creation, or whether it’s a universal human experience which they latched onto. I go with the idea that people have always felt this. What we say about it afterwards is religion.

    But, you know, it’s something people do feel, so y’all please speak for yourselves if you want to be utterly dismissive.

    Okay, so, you know, all of you people, read some literature!!!1!!1! Read some classics(crtl-F for “apostrophe”)!!!1! This (ctrl-F for “contact”) is all free on kindle!!!!1!1 READ, you internet kids, READ!

  • rm

    Not you personally, I mean, dear fellow commenters.

  • Anonymous

    Yes. I… yes. That’s why I was always so drawn to Lewis– he talked about that feeling of longing that always felt… not sinful, but not quite addressed by the Christianity I knew. But I don’t know. I don’t know if incomplete is the right word (and, all things considered, that might support the idea that Lewis dealt with depression, or something, anyway) though. The wild joy that also seemed sinful (because it didn’t Fit with the Ineffable Plan as dictated by the Elders), and the feeling of… longing? I don’t know. I don’t know, and that is the most frustrating feeling. I don’t know the word for it. Joy seems to fit sometimes– running, over sun-warmed granite mountaintops and cliffs, barefoot, and every single sense seems to sing, and I believe fully and wholly in God and in the Divine and in Joy. But also, staring out into a pale dusk, where the trees point starkly into the fade from smoky blue to a darkening purple, and that feeling… not incomplete. Longing, but not for anything tangible, or even expressible. And both senses are, at least IMHO, equally sharp, and connected to the same… thingie. The feeling of Joy, the feeling of Longing.

    (And yes, the feeling that over that stone wall, there is Something Else, the feeling that every path leads to Somewhere Else, the constant niggling feeling that this world is not all there is, but that probably is just imagination. It used to make car rides bearable– I might not know the destination, or the reason, or anything, but I could always stare out at the trees on the side of the highway, and as long as I couldn’t see the other side of them, it was obviously another world. Or maybe they went on forever, clearings of moonlight and dancing elephants and all. (Lewis was too close to Pagan, but my dad was a Kipling fan.))

    But I’m a Christian and a Shamanist, so perhaps this isn’t the fresh perspective. At any rate, it would be great to read that point without the condescension that Lewis offers. I shall have to seek this book out.

  • Anonymous

    I actually read this pretty recently.  A friend’s pastor is a big fan and keeps a huge box of them for giving out.  It’s really, really not a persuasive introduction for outsiders.  Several times, he brings up an objection to something he’s saying, notes that there are people who find the objection convincing, and then moves on to something else. Edit: To be clear, he deserves a lot of credit for doing this; it’s just not the best way to go about being persuasive.

    Stuff like the quoted passage did seem to me like useful information about what/how (some) Christians actually think.  If taken seriously as an argument, it’s way too credulous with respect to intuitions gleaned from emotional and/or culturally-driven responses.  But of course Wright stresses that he’s not really making an argument, so that’s not really a criticism.  There is, however, a bit of tension between his “this is only vaguely suggestive” disclaimers and the back cover’s claims of persuasiveness.  Overall it’s a very honest-feeling book.

    As an atheist and as someone more socially liberal than Wright, I was inappropriately amused in a few places.  He slides easily from our natural appreciation of beauty and love and whatnot to the wrongness of gay marriage (maybe homosexuality in general too, but definitely gay marriage).  He’s also very fond of that “echoes of a voice” analogy.  Of course, if I’m in a cave, and I hear a distorted voice from far away, chances are it’s /my/ echo.

  • ako

    Several times, he brings up an objection to something he’s saying, notes
    that there are people who find the objection convincing, and then moves
    on to something else. Edit: To be clear, he deserves a lot of credit
    for doing this; it’s just not the best way to go about being persuasive.

    I’m wondering if there’s any point trying to persuade people when it comes to stuff like this.  When it comes to joy, transcendence, and beauty, what people feel is going to be very personal and not entirely a matter of logic.   It’s not like you can talk people into going “Yes, now that you say it’s intellectually appropriate, I do feel a sense of incompleteness in joy that points towards the existence of God!” or “Well, now that you’ve given me indications that it’s not a universal human experience or a reflection of reality, I’m just going to stop feeling this!”  It seems like the best you can do on this front is describe what makes sense to you and see what resonates with other people. 

  • Anonymous

    Well, there’s a big difference between saying “I feel a sense of incompleteness in joy that makes belief in God intuitively appealing for me” and saying “I feel a sense of incompleteness in joy, and this justifies a belief in God”.  To be clear, when Wright is noting objections to what he’s saying, he’s not talking about people who don’t have those feelings; he’s talking about people who don’t find the fact that some people have these feelings to be (at all strong) evidence for God.  If I’m remembering right, he punts on the problem of evil.

    It’s also difficult to argue people out of those kinds of positions, but those are at least positions which are on-face amenable to argument.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    I’m wondering if there’s any point trying to persuade people when
    it comes to stuff like this.  When it comes to joy, transcendence, and
    beauty, what people feel is going to be very personal and not entirely a
    matter of logic.   It’s not like you can talk people into going “Yes,
    now that you say it’s intellectually appropriate, I do feel a
    sense of incompleteness in joy that points towards the existence of
    God!” or “Well, now that you’ve given me indications that it’s not a
    universal human experience or a reflection of reality, I’m just going to
    stop feeling this!”  It seems like the best you can do on this front is
    describe what makes sense to you and see what resonates with other
    people.

    Not being familiar with Wright’s actual work, I can’t address what he does or does not actually say regarding this. However, as far as I can tell, he is just describing what makes sense to him and seeing what resonates with other people.

    Which I, personally, think is the only acceptable approach to evangelism in the first place. Regardless of the religion (or lack thereof), I am firmly of the position that apologetics is a fundamentally broken endeavor. If your aim is to convince everyone else that your religious position is correct, then you are going to fail because you just. can’t. prove. that. Apologetics by definition is taking your personal metaphysical beliefs, which need no defending beyond “this really resonates with me,”* and shoving them into the realm of things reasonable people should conclude, which suddenly requires logic and evidence and other stuff that, again, you aren’t going to have.

    * I am obviously excluding “beliefs” that are simply incorrect statements of fact, objectively harmful beliefs, etc.

  • Tonio

    The points that Nicholas and Ako are making are good ones against any kind of evangelism, which I define as any desire or method aimed at having others adopt one’s religious beliefs. (Fred’s own take on evangelism doesn’t fall into that category, unless he sees showing love to others as merely a tool for recruitment, which I doubt.) Not only are feelings of joy and beauty very personal, they’re also very subjective. Wright seems to assume that the things that bring him joy have the same effect for everyone, and that sounds self-centered and egotistical. There’s a difference between wanting everyone else to feel the same joy and assuming that one’s method works for everyone. People like Wright can certainly care whether or not others are experiencing joy, but perhaps the specific things that resonate with others are none of their business.

  • Tonio

    He slides easily from our natural appreciation of beauty and love and
    whatnot to the wrongness of gay marriage (maybe homosexuality in general
    too, but definitely gay marriage) in a way that seems to me bound to
    make Christians who are cool with homosexuality question his whole
    method.

    While I haven’t read that book, I have heard Christians like him argue that homosexuality goes against the god-determined purposes for both humanity and sex. I’ve got a rant ready about how that represents a flawed concept of morality, which I’ll save for another time. But how does Wright specifically make the logical leap from beauty and love to opposition of gay marriage?

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    On a tangent but I’m beginning to think that everyone needs to stop making arguments from nature about morality. You can find something in nature to prove any moral argument in the direction you want.

  • Anonymous

    So I dug out the book to find some quotes.  Chapter 3 starts off talking about how we’re naturally inclined towards and crave relationships but we find them  very difficult, and that they’re another one of these echoes.  He says that “human relationships are another signpost pointing away into a mist…” and almost immediately afterwards drops an aside about the importance of romantic relationships in our culture “despite all the debunking of marriage”.  The take-away of the first part is that “we all know we are made to live together, but we all find that doing so is more difficult than we had imagined.”  This is in reference to relationships of all kinds, from national institutions to marriage.

    That last quote is in the last paragraph of the first section.  The first paragraph of the next section (“confusion about sex”) includes the sentence “And yet when human beings relate to one another, they relate as male and female; maleness and femaleness are not identities which we only assume when we…”  He goes on about differences between men and women for a page or so.  The big idea here is that our desire for relationships is that “echo of a voice”, but there are lots of things distorting it (this is why it’s only an echo).  He’s asserting that what he calls confusion about gender and sex are distortions.  He’s more or less just picking out the stuff he likes about human behavior and claiming that it points towards God (technically, he’s only claiming here that it points, but he makes the connection to God in part 2 of the book, I think) while saying that the things he doesn’t like are distortions.

    Sex doesn’t come up again until very near the end of the book.  Chapter 16 is about what it is to live as a Christian, how Christians ought to live differently and change the world, etc.  He’s stressing that Christians should seek heaven on earth.  Christians need to renounce many things in the world which are “out of tune with God’s ultimate intention” and rediscover better ways of being, which may be counter-intuitive to us.  He applies this to sex and relationships in the section “relationships rediscovered”.  He points to some plausibly anti-gay passages in the New Testament and says that the early Christians were big on the one man one woman thing.  “The point about new creation is that it is new [italics]creation[/italics]” – he goes on to say that the male/female relationship is “symbolic of the fact that creation itself carries God-given life and procreative possibility within it.”  “Sexual activity has become almost completely detached from the whole business of building up communities and relationships, and has degenerated simply into a way of asserting one’s right to choose one’s own pleasure in one’s own way.” 

    “Precisely because the ultimate goal is neither a disembodied heaven nor a mere rearrangement of life on the present earth, but the redemption of the whole creation, our calling is to live in our bodies [italics]now[/italics] in a way which anticipates the life we shall live [italics]then[/italics].  Marital fidelity echoes and anticipates God’s fidelity to the whole creation.  Other kinds of sexual activity symbolize and embody the distortions and corruptions of the present world.”

    So, to be clear, he’s not saying that our appreciation of beauty and love means that homosexuality is wrong.  He’s talking up our natural appreciation for relationships and justice and beauty as pointing towards God while at the same time he has no problem saying that some people’s desires for relationships are just horribly distorted.  It seemed and seems to me that that’s bound to make a more liberal Christian wonder at the usefulness of picking and choosing natural impulses and saying that some point to God and others don’t.

  • Tonio

    Thanks for the background from the Wright book.

    “Sexual activity has become almost completely detached from the whole
    business of building up communities and relationships, and has
    degenerated simply into a way of asserting one’s right to choose one’s
    own pleasure in one’s own way.”

    Sad that Wright sees those as mutually exclusive, as if sex couldn’t be both about connectedness and pleasure. I’ve long argued that seeing sex as about procreation only deprives women of any role in society other than baby producers, and Wright’s talk about male and female could like have gender essentialism lurking underneath.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Sad that Wright sees those as mutually exclusive, as if sex couldn’t be both about connectedness and pleasure.

    It seems to me that text you quoted doesn’t actually say that.  What it does say is, as near as I can tell, not true.  So I don’t disagree with you saying there’s something wrong with it, but I don’t think what you said is it.

    …and has degenerated simply into a way of asserting one’s right to choose one’s own pleasure in one’s own way.

    Emphasis mine, obviously.  It is tautologically true that something cannot simply be about [anything] and also be about [something else].  If it is simply about pleasure than it cannot also be about connectedness because that would contradict the “simply”.

    He didn’t claim that it can’t be about both connectedness and pleasure, he claimed that it isn’t currently.  Hell, the “simply” implies that it can be about the thing he claims it is and something else because otherwise there would be no need to add the “simply”.  That he felt the need to add the “simply” implies an understanding on his part that being that thing does not in itself prevent it from also being other things.

    Now the claim he made was, I believe, false and harmful.  It should be disagreed with.  But the claim wasn’t about what sex could or couldn’t be it was about what it is.  It certainly doesn’t seem to me that he is saying that sex can’t be about pleasure and building relationships, instead he seems to be saying that it presently isn’t.

  • Tonio

    He didn’t claim that it can’t be about both connectedness and pleasure, he claimed that it isn’t currently.

    Valid point. I maintain that his claim about the current condition of sex is mistaken. He seems to define the relevant connectedness and community narrowly, as related to procreation and gender difference. That relates to Becka’s point about trying to derive morality from nature. I once actually had a fundamentalist offer nature as blindingly obvious evidence that homosexuality is wrong.

  • Tonio

    gender difference

    To expand on my point, fundamentalists sometimes claim that opposite-sex relationships are intentionally complementary, and it’s that difference that results in same-sex relationships allegedly being about pleasure only. I suspect Wright was trying to lay a foundation for arguing against homosexuality.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I maintain that his claim about the current condition of sex is mistaken.

    I agree with you on this point entirely, for whatever it’s worth.

  • ako

    “Sexual activity has become almost completely detached from the whole
    business of building up communities and relationships, and has
    degenerated simply into a way of asserting one’s right to choose one’s
    own pleasure in one’s own way.” 

    Of course, legalizing same-sex marriage would combat this trend, by giving same-sex couples more of a chance to build up communities and relationships and families, as there would be the added benefit of legal recognition.   It’s much easier to build up stable relationships and communities and family connections when decades of mutual love and care aren’t considered legally irrelevant the moment someone with a DNA connection (or even a person in authority who finds that relationship icky) decides to ignore them.

    Of course, N.T. Wright doesn’t seem likely to understand this, considering his statements on gender and sexuality.

  • 2-D Man

    If you want feedback from non-Christians, I’ll give it to you. The first thing that jumped out at me was this:

    None of these by itself points directly to God — to any God, let alone the Christian God. At best, they wave their arms in a rather general direction, like someone in a cave who hears an echoing voice by has no idea where it’s coming from.

    I remember a certain apostle having harsh words for people who believed in an Unknown God.

    [Wright’s] analogy is similar to the sort of thing sometimes put forward by proponents of “intelligent design,” and that is not what Wright is up to here. He’s discussing something that is both less arrogant and more important than that.

    The problem with cdesign proponentists is that they are wrong. Their arrogance might offend, but it doesn’t damn their message. And it wouldn’t even if the message were right.

    Wright is a biblical scholar and a Christian clergyman, but his discussion of this sense of something more, I think, will likely ring true for many who don’t share that particular perspective. His description here of the fleeting glimpse of something transcendent — the simultaneously tantalizing and frustrating incompleteness of knowing that there is so much more that we do not or cannot know — is the sort of thing that I think, for example, the late Carl Sagan might have embraced as something like the source of his own more secular passion for science.

    I don’t. I’m no expert on Sagan, but from what I remember, he was pretty quick to whip out Occam’s razor, and cut away any explanation that wasn’t tied to direct, repeatable observation. Fleeting glimpses didn’t seem to interest him.

    As for the Mozart bit, it’s built on a contradiction. “The incompleteness of beauty points to its creation by a god. Think about a beautiful piece of music created by Mozart….” Obviously, we don’t need a god to get beautiful things, so beauty does not point towards gods. (Some might be tempted to say that God created Mozart, and thus is ultimately responsible for the cited beauty, but then one may as well do away with the analogy.)

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    The incompleteness of beauty points to its creation by a god.

    I’m up way later than I usually would be (a combination of procrastination and stomach pains is why, in case anyone wonders) so maybe that’s hindering my reading comprehension.  Assuming that it isn’t and I’d still thinking the same thing at a reasonable hour, could you explain where you’re getting this from?

    I’m not seeing anything in the original post as claiming that something points towards creation by god of any sort.  In fact the echos in a cave description seems to imply that the pointing is in all directions so if it does point towards creation by a god it must also point in the opposite direction as well as directions entirely perpendicular to whether or not there was a god involved in creation.

    To assign direction to the thing that is described by saying that one “has no idea where it’s coming from,” seems wrong to me.  It makes me tempted to say that you’re intentionally trying to interpret the original text in a way flatly contradictory to said text.  It makes me tempted, but given that the overall tenor of your post does not seem to be one of intentional ignorance I’m assuming that I’m the one who is seeing things wrong here, not you.

    Could you explain how you arrived at the conclusion the original text was saying what you claim it says?

    If anything I personally feel like the text is somewhat overly obvious in the nature of its claims.

    Incompleteness points to stuff.  Well, yeah.  Incompleteness always does.  That’s how we figured out there had to be dark matter.  (Since then, of course, we’ve discovered evidence that goes beyond incompleteness, if I understand correctly.)  That’s how we know that there are words missing when fire ants got to the manuscript before we did.  That’s how we know there was more to Livy than what survives.  It is incomplete, so there must be other stuff.  Stuff that we don’t have.  Given that it’s stuff that we’ll likely never have (though we do occasionally find something once thought lost forever) that’s one area where I definitely do get frustrated by incompleteness.

    We don’t know what the stuff incompleteness points to actually is.  Again: Well, yeah.  If we had that knowledge then things would be complete.  They aren’t.  That’s what incompleteness means.  If we knew what the stuff being pointed to was then there would be completeness.

  • Anonymous

    “the fleeting glimpse of something transcendent — the simultaneously tantalizing and frustrating incompleteness of knowing that there is so much more that we do not or cannot know”

    I can’t relate to this description.  I have occasionally felt taken up in an expanding consciousness of the breadth and depth and realness of the world, but that hasn’t been accompanied by a sense of “tantalizing and frustrating incompleteness” and I can’t imagine holding that feeling and the (as it seems to me) small anthropomorphic “God” concept in my head at the same time.  However, if it has something to do with the feeling that something’s “missing” from the ordinary physical universe, that there’s something “else” besides the dance of field quanta and spacetime in our human experience, well, let’s get down to brass tacks here:

    Last year my family had to put down the dog.  In the hours and days immediately following that event, it occurred to me that I really wanted him to still be alive somehow – to still be “chasing bunny  rabbits somewhere in the universe” is I believe how I put it.  Naturally, I had no rational reason to believe such a thing was possible.  Everything I had learned about the universe told me that Buddy Bear simply no longer existed – the phenomena that gave rise to his excitability and energy and friendliness no longer occurred.  Yet I couldn’t get the idea of him running through some far-off Elysian fields out of my head.  It seemed to have more validity, more power in my mind, than the facts I had learned.  It still kind of does.  So in that sense, I did feel that there was something “missing” from quantum field theory and general relativity and biology and stardust.

    But that wasn’t something that I somehow sensed existed through a tantalizing and incomplete glimpse – it was something I wanted but had no evidence for.

    I suppose that may be the closest I’ve ever came to feeling this “tantalizing and frustrating incompleteness.”

  • http://feathertail.dreamwidth.org/ Tachyon Feathertail

    I think you play the other half of the song yourself.

    I also think it’s possible for nonhumans to find meaning and transcendence in this world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anna-Besmann/59703189 Anna Besmann

    As an atheist, it’s not that I don’t agree with the statement so much as I don’t understand the basic premise they’re working from. I don’t see the world’s beauty as incomplete, I see it as it is. It can be increased or decreased, but there’s no specific end goal that it fails to live up to.

    The entire parable just doesn’t work for me.

  • muteKi

    I’ll bite this one too, and counter with David Cope. He has spent a lot of his career working with algorithmic composition (like Markov modeling of music by, say, Bach); since music is fairly abstract, it’s actually not too hard to take a computer, give it lots of examples of pieces in a certain style, and then have it come up with something that sounds like that style (without as many unusual turns of phrase that, say, automatic Twitter generators due).

    Some will say, “But a spirtually or emtionally meaningful piece could never be created by a computer, as it lacks any sort of soul or emotions!” Given the responses to many of the pieces his work has generated, this doesn’t seem to be the case. And although it clearly bases itself on successful work that came before, it’s difficult to say the songs themselves were particularly designed per se.

    The point I’m getting at, in a roundabout way, is that “beauty”, expressed so abstractly, is too vague, and too subjective to signify anything. So to not only say that the world is “full of beauty” but that it is somehow inherently “incomplete beauty” strikes me as misguided and could suggest something self-serving. It implies the perspective of someone already expecting the world to be designed around fully satisfying that person’s desires — and if you start from the idea of a designed world, it certainly stands to reason that a designer is going to show up in your worldview!

  • muteKi

    I suppose I took too long to reply (far too many distraction out there it seems). Everyone else is indeed saying the same things.

    And will agree with Anna’s point above mine, which I had wanted to express at the time but was having trouble — it is quite hard for me to view the universe as “incomplete” as such. What is it incomplete compared to?

    And yes, I suppose, depending on what slice of the universe it is that you’re working with, a valid answer may be, “A set of changes that I feel would greatly improve society and life in the world.” 

    I may also clarify my last point a bit better here as well — not everything that is “beautiful” is something created for the sake of being beautiful, as in the computer-generated music example. To presume that something beautiful requires a designer (as, after all, everything beautiful is created for that purpose, the reasoning would go) rings hollow to me.

  • nanananana

    …I know this is really off topic…

    But is everyone who follows this blog a genius?Like genuine 200 IQ 5.0 genius?
    Seriously everyone here is discussing stuff like advanced physics and music composition and international linguistics.

    Definately not a bad thing.Keeps this place interesting, it’s just…I feel kinda stupid now :/
    Maybe it’s cause I’m in high school.Is this stuff you can study in college or something?

  • muteKi

    Personally I think a lot of it comes down more to a lot of varied and diverse experience of the world, along with a curiosity that drives much of the commentariat to seek more of them, or to consider moral and social viewpoints that may conflict with their gut instincts.

    And there’s also the fact that, as you suggest, several of the people here are older than either of us — someone who’s 44, for example, will have had potentially twice as long as I have to study or gain experience in any given field, and thus it’d be weird if I were able to  claim more expertise than any such person. I, for one, have a rather limited knowledge of literary criticism compared to many of the others here, and with good reason as compared to math, science, and music, I spent very little time with it as an undergrad and only a bit more in high school. Professional and academic specialization contributes; nobody here would likely consider themselves experts in more than a few subjects.

    In any case, it’s certainly good to hear that you think this diversity is a good thing! And, for that matter, that you’re interested in finding out about things that you’re not familiar with. Nurture your curiosity and it will serve you well in time.

    However, should someone know more than you, don’t beat yourself up about it! In comparing yourself so negatively to others, you may risk resenting others’ having knowledge (hey, it happens to me fairly frequently as well), and resentment is rarely a motivator of curiosity or communication. If someone knows more than you to the point of confusion, ask. Hopefully they will be willing to share — those who do not, should they use as justification that it would degrade the value of their knowledge or their status*, are not worth your time or trust.

    *Of course, there are much more valid reasons for not answering a question or a desire for knowledge. There are far too many to list here, but practically any reason not done to inflate one’s self-importance could qualify.

  • nanananana

    I don’t resent any one here I guess.I just feel I should know more.I feel this sense of failure for not being smart or knowledgable.The weird part is I’m not all that interested in things like math or musical theory.Not because they’re not important it’s just they never really struck a cord with me.I like things like psychology and how the brain works.How the body works.And religon.And languages (I would kill to not be monolingual).Comics,books,tv shows…goos story telling in general.Humanties I guess.I like learning about physics and the universe and how robotics and scientific things work as long as we don’t get involved with math.But I’m still pittifully uneducated in all those subjects too.

    I’m actually beating myself up a lot over this type of stuff recently.Got my grade card back and I’m doing really well.I’ve started focusing more and working harder and my GPA has improved to a 3.4.It’s just…my friend who sleeps in class,never does her homework, and tells me she doens’t understand anything when I ask her questions,is getting way better grades then me.Like,number 7 in the class 4.5 better.It’s just very frustrating when things like that happen constantly.When you really really love the stuff you’re reading in AP English and actualy READ it,then everyone else sparknotes it and gets a better grade on the paper than you.I can’t help but feel somethings wrong with me.That I’m doing something wrong.

    umm,contributing to the actual topic…I don’t think I’ve ever found something beautiful and incomplete.Unless I was making a really really really good doodle and wasn’t done yet.

    But I get that instant “understanding” of the universe thing.It’s happened once or twice.I rememebr I understood what sex and love was all bout for like four seconds once. It was both arousign and beautiful at the same time O.o and greyblue.It was colore greyblue.It made sense for a bit.But then it didn’t.I understood the universe for a good three seconds when I was eight.I think everyones had those blink of an eye understandigns before though.I’m not sure what they are exactly (DMT?) but I’d love to see a scan of someones brain when it’s happening.Also of when someone realises they are themselves,while were on the subject of stange brains thingys.

    But it would make sense for a god wouldn’t it?I don’t think anyone here imagines god as this big guy on a white fluffy cloud in the sky.I think,if there is a god,he/she/it/they would be someting incomprehensable.These instantaeneous (I am the correct spellign serial killer) glimpses of the full understanding of math and music and the universe and sex are bit of god and god’s plain of existence dripping through to ours.If it is god.

    Someone mentioned not going down paths because it’ll lose the magic or something (I haven’t gotten much sleep I’m sorry x( ).
    But,I can relate to that on a level which is at best unhealthy and worst unhinged from reality.I live in my head a lot.You’d be surprised how much of my conciosu time is spent in stries I haven’t written yet.But it spills out into the real world in way that fit exactly what you describe.
    I have this habit of walking down alleys in the middle of the night.And takign pictures of windows because I wonder what might be behind them.Purposfuly getting lost because I want to find soemthing.That sort of thing right?And you find yourself staring at architecture because you KNOW any minute now some pissed off magicians are going to throw down up the side of that god damn building.Because magicians love Dutch architecture.
    I actully went down one of those paths before.It was in the woods in front of my house.It led to a cornfeild.Past that waas this huge hilly expase of clovers.Past that were some huge electrical grid things that had to be supplying power ot half the county.Past that there was this step dirt road that led to some stange trailer park with on two traielr and a pretty tranquil lake.The entire walk was very relaxing and cenic.Saw some interesting looking bugs and flowers.The weird thing is that feeling didn’t exaclty leave.It changed a bit though.The things that lived in the woods could exist in tne shadows during the day time,obviously.And those trailers were full of witches and magicians and racist vampires (I’m from Ohio ok).

    I live with this constant feeling that maybe,just maybe,I’m in a book.And any minute now something is going to happen and make my life interesting.

    On beauty and stuff…you ever think about how you would describe sight to a blind person?I did that one day when I was doing my morning ritual (brushing things and washing things yadda yadda) I kept trying to figure out how I’d describe colors and depth and stuff.Then I looked in the mirrior and noticed all my zits and pores and grease and red irritated skin.And well…I looked pretty all of a sudden.

    ….I’m gonna go sit in the interent corner for my spam dumping.

  • ako

    It’s just very frustrating when things like that happen constantly.When
    you really really love the stuff you’re reading in AP English and
    actualy READ it,then everyone else sparknotes it and gets a better grade
    on the paper than you.I can’t help but feel somethings wrong with
    me.That I’m doing something wrong.

    It’s probably not as constant as you imagine it to be.  There’s actually a tendency for smart people to underestimate their own intelligence and competence.  It’s a documented part of the Dunning-Kruger effect (right next to the tendency for people who lack competence to overestimate their own ability).  If you’re smart, it’s easier to notice all of the areas where you don’t know thing, the mistakes you make, and the people who are smarter than you.  Plus, there’s typically a tendency to assume that anything that’s easy for you is easy for most people. 

    Also, it’s hard to compare how much studying everyone does, because the normal way people socialize doesn’t provide a terribly accurate picture.  (Someone may say they aren’t studying much because the amount of work they’re doing doesn’t meet their subjective idea of a lot of studying, or because they don’t want to sound like too much of a grind, or because they want to seem like a smart person who picks things up effortlessly, or any number of reasons, and unless you track what they actually do, it’s hard to get a good picture of how their study habits compare to anyone else’s.) 

    So when it comes to stuff like “It seems like everyone else picks this up easily while I have to do a lot of work”, subjective impressions can be incredibly misleading.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    When you really really love the stuff you’re reading in AP English and actualy READ it,then everyone else sparknotes it and gets a better grade on the paper than you.I can’t help but feel somethings wrong with me.That I’m doing something wrong.
    It does get better. Eventually, you end up in college, and if you do it right, you select a series of courses that are all things you are interested in. There are still people who prefer to cliffsnotes their way through life (Business majors, probably), but the ratio of stupid boring lazy folks to people who are excited by the material is far more favorable. I say this as both a former undergrad who hated high school, and as a current professor.

  • Amaryllis

    I’ve started focusing more and working harder and my GPA has improved to a 3.4.

    Congratulations.

    In addition to what everyone else says, it also happens that many of those people who got good grades in high school without apparently needing to study have a hard time in college, where everyone else is just as smart and the work is harder, and they don’t know how to handle it.

    If you’ve figured out in high school how to learn by focusing and working, you’re ahead of the game right there.

    magicians love Dutch architecture.
    Now, I didn’t know that before, but I believe it now– of course they do!

    I have this habit of walking down alleys in the middle of the night.And
    takign pictures of windows because I wonder what might be behind them.

    Since this is my thread for throwing poetry at unsuspecting victims, this one is for you:

    I have been one acquainted with the night.
    I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
    I have outwalked the furthest city light.

    I have looked down the saddest city lane.
    I have passed by the watchman on his beat
    And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

    I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
    When far away an interrupted cry
    Came over houses from another street,

    But not to call me back or say good-bye;
    And further still at an unearthly height,
    One luminary clock against the sky

    Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right
    I have been one acquainted with the night.

    Robert Frost, “Acquainted with the Night”

  • Joshua

    I like things like psychology and how the brain works.How the body works.And religon.And languages (I would kill to not be monolingual).Comics,books,tv shows…goos story telling in general.Humanties I guess.I like learning about physics and the universe and how robotics and scientific things work as long as we don’t get involved with math.But I’m still pittifully uneducated in all those subjects too.

    Your education is only beginning – it’s life long. It’ll get there. Physics always requires maths, though.

    my friend who sleeps in class,never does her homework, and tells me she doens’t understand anything when I ask her questions,is getting way better grades then me.

    Some people are smarter than others. Some people, especially at high school, do choose to hide their smarts. *But*, I’ve found it’s not just having brains that lets people succeed in their personal goals. Success or learning or being happy. It was a tricky thing for me to learn. Motivation to work, to realistically plan goals and consistently work towards them, matters at least as much. Aaand, I’ll get off the soapbox now.

  • Anonymous

    Well I think everyone here likes to have a intelligent conversation and wants to learn more about certain things and wants to have respectful discussion.

    And by the way I also learned some new stuff from you.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Why wait? Start with checking wikipedia for anything that interests you, and follow their links elsewhere if you want more detail. Do it when you have a day to kill. Personally, I like to know the basics of lots of different things, but I have the attention span of a hyperactive gnat, so I rarely go into too much detail. 

  • Anonymous

    This is very much a neo-platonist though, like Lewis made. With Lewis, I find I am never sure if he was Christian or pagan. It is not difficult to imagine that, had he not become close to the devout Christian Tolkien, Lewis might instead have become an advocate for what we would now call Hellenic revivalism. Lewis had no doubts of his Christianity, of course, but from the outside it seems he was always so much referencing pagan philosophers. To which Lewis would probably have replied that he was speaking about truth, which was universal. Hunh.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The incompleteness of beauty points to its creation by a god.

    I have some serious issues with that opinion stated as fact.

  • muteKi

    For what it’s worth, typing up my reply to myself I wanted to find a good way to transition from my point into the argument from evil. Certainly a statement such as that suggests a deity of questionable competence at least — which certainly doesn’t lead me to the traditional notions of the Christian God.

  • Anonymous

    Good discussion very interesting to read.

    But here is my opinion: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

  • Anonymous

    Joining in with a Pagan perspective: The completeness of things relies on their shared essence with the rest of the universe, and thus with ourselves as well, which is why the sight of beautiful objects and vistas resonates so deeply with the human spirit. But individual objects, though beautiful, are as incomplete as the Mozart piece if we refuse to acknowledge the Divine presence that is within all things. The Divine connects all things, and we need that which is repulsive in order to fully appreciate that which is beautiful, and perhaps even to see meaning and value in the repulsive.

    Sorry that rambled so much. I hope I got across what I was trying to say–it’s not easy to put into words.

  • Aimaiami

    I love this thread and everything on it.
    I agree with the skeptics. Though I can occasionally be brought, by Fred’s writing, to see a glimpse of a “necessity” for a specifically Christian mysticism I can’t be moved by Wright’s apologia and attempt to take “beauty” or “joy” as the founding premise of a christian directed proof. For all the reasons adduced above by everyone else. And thanks, especially, to whoever quoted Wallace Stevens.

    The Japanese have a phrase “Mono no Aware” which means, roughly (and any Japan scholars please leap in here) the fleetingness of worldly beauty and experience and the sadness that accompanies that realization by a person. Only people can have it–not all sentient beings–and I don’t think it exists outside the person’s subjective understanding of it.

    The world is the world is the world when we are in it.  It isn’t either complete or incomplete but ever changing–time, tide, seasons, birth, growth, decay, death. We apprehend only the brief parts of it to which we have immiediate access–our experiences, light and shadow in our day, our children, our parents.  And thanks to modern technology and writing we have the possibility of access to the perceived experiences of others–historical, distant, taking place at night somewhere else.

    That’s incomplete from a Christian point of view because of the extreme fear and anxiety in the Christian point of view about death and sin and suffering.  Its not at all “incomplete” from a more naturalistic or experiential point of view.  Other religions, too, don’t necessarily posit that our experience can be “completed” or, lets be honest, “overcome” (as in death and sin being overcome) by union with one specific god.

    aimai

  • Amaryllis

    thanks, especially, to whoever quoted Wallace Stevens.

    I always liked reading poetry. But I’ve realized lately that I only started reading it, um, religiously, when I stopped going to Mass regularly.

    And I thought, I’m turning into Wallace Stevens. With, of course, the not-inconsiderable difference that he was a genius and I’m, well, not. He could write what I can only read and marvel at. But apparently my mind abhors a certain kind of vacuum.

  • Aimaiami

    On the subject of wanting to live in a sci/fi or fantasy world. I don’t mean to be rude but that isn’t the same as wanting to live in a world full of the numinous and the mystical. We already live in a world full of the numinous and the mystical, if we are inclined to see things that way.  But we don’t live in a world where we, ourselves, are definitively the hero or heroine and in which we possess not only extraordinary powers (magician, swordfighter) but the right of the protagonist to win out over all enemies and obstacles and to be the focus of attention.  Because we can’t force the world to treat us as the hero in our own narrative. We are surrounded by other people whose claims to be preeminent may exceed our own, or we face insurmountable challenges of wealth, power, health, and fate that will cut our story short before, as we see it, the hero gets his reward.

    People who valorize and long for a magical “other world” that they would like to live in are like people who romanticize the past and dream or assert that “once they were princesses in egypt.”  I never relate to that kind of fantasizing, though I enjoy lots of fantasy books and literature, because I’m well aware that the vast majority of humans have only ever had bit parts in history and have “strutted a while” on that stage before going down into the meaningless dust.  To be clear: most of the characters in LOTR were orcs who died, nameless, in someone else’s battle. To even get a name and a noted fate is kind of a big deal.

    Its more true to say, or more honest, that its easier for people to imagine themselves important, captain of their own fate, and their lives filled with meaning in a fantasy magical universe than to contemplate the lives of quiet, quotidian, pleasure and desperation that most of us live in a modern capitalist society.  But the same impulse towards self aggrandizement pushes people towards joining what Fred has called the Live Action Role Play of some kinds of Christian evangelism in which each person imagines him or herself called to be a major actor in a war of good against evil.

    aimai

  • Anonymous

    You know, it’s never occurred to me before to question whether the beauty of the universe was incomplete or not.  I think I understand – on some level – the idea that an encounter with beauty can leave behind a sense of incompleteness once it’s over.  And there’s a different thing, that for me is entirely tied up with my faith, where a numinous encounter leaves a rich sense of satisfaction with the world and I am energised to go about my daily business with a deeper awareness of wonder.  But joy and incompleteness don’t tend to coincide in my experience at all and I would never have noticed if it wasn’t for this fascinating thread.

    The stark reality of the numinous in my personal experience has been the thing that has kept me Christian despite a certain amount of mental tussling.  I can’t deny that these things appear to have been real, and appear to have been tangible (to a sense that is difficult to describe but which I am confident is not just an emotional surge).  Given how they tie in to the rest of my experience, I’m happy to rely on them myself, but I can’t really do the evangelism thing because how could I expect somebody who doesn’t share the experience to believe in it just on my say-so?

    This has become a bit heart-wrenching lately, as I’m coming up to my first anniversary as the girlfriend of a lovely soul who doesn’t share my faith (and is an atheist with a slight edge of agnosticism for humility).  We’ve just agreed to a book exchange to help us understand one another better, but I’m a bit stumped on where to begin – I didn’t exactly get to my current (liberal Anglican) position from any particular book.  Any suggestions?  Particularly, are there any atheists here who can recommend me a book that helped them to grok liberal Christianity?

  • Samantha C

    All the talk about magic and mundanity, the wish for something else, something other to exist out there, somewhere, reminds me of my pagan friend trying to teach me what he believes about magic.

    He said “look at the back of your hand, and wiggle your fingers. Watch every tiny joint that needs to move together, all in one instant, to make the movement possible. Even below the skin, you can see how complicated your hand is. It doesn’t matter that we know how it evolved, that complexity and connectedness is magic.”

    And really….the idea made me sad. That’s not magic, it can’t be magic, I said, because it’s mundane. And if magic is just a way of interpreting the mundane world, if it’s part and parcel of everything that’s already around us, then I can’t hold out that tiny wish that Something Else exists. It isn’t satisfying to think that magic is all around us, because it felt the same as saying that nothing is Other-ly magical at all.

  • Aimaiami

    This thread seems to be dead, and in any event this is only tangential. But I realized in reading the quoted bits about sex and procreation and goddiness that I am really ticked off that the Christian world view is so sex obsessed. Hear me out on this one.  Sex is not equal to procreation–if it were every time you had sex you would get pregnant. But humans, as opposed to almost all other animals, do not get pregnant every time they have sex.  In addition, human women have hidden oestrus and deliberately disguise their time of most/least fertility from their male lovers.  So in practice human sexuality is a game of chance.

    But, more to the point, if you want to talk about getting close to god’s feeling about his creation  it is in the act of birth, not the act of sex, that we are closest to the godhead.  Eve even says as much when she gives birth “Now I, too, am like g-d” she says. Because she has brought life into this world.  But acknowledging that it is women who are truly bringing life into this world–long after and much divorced from the act of sex–Christian theologians would have to reckon with a romanticization and a valorization of a strictly female act and a strictly feminine experience. Can’t have that. 

    Its so common to shift the focus of religious thought to the sex act that we don’t even question it. But really, procreation can have a dual purpose–pleasure and reproduction. But birth has only one purpose: live birth. If its not the closest analogy to g-d’s experience of creating the universe why not?  To make the sex act metaphorically g-d’s act who is the male and who the female in the creation of the universe? In monotheism you don’t have two equal partners, or even two partners. You have one being that splits itself, or divides itself (there’s a jewish theological tradition that states that g-d has to withdraw and shrink into itself in order to create space where the world can come into being) in order to create new beings.  But there’s no sacred sexual act.

    It pisses me off that Christian theologians lay claim to the very sexual relation between husband and wife and try to control its meaning and its goals using “life” and “children” and g-d’s will as their excuse when logically speaking if that’s the issue they should be exalting women who get pregnant and give birth regardless of their marital status or their intent while having sex.

    aimai

  • Amaryllis

    And now I need to go read the most prosaic prose I can find, before this gets entirely out of hand…

    ‘Ahem!’ said the Mouse with an important air, ‘are you all ready? This is the driest thing I know. Silence all round, if you please! “William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured  by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria- -“‘

    ‘Ugh!’ said the Lory, with a shiver.

    ‘I beg your pardon!’ said the Mouse, frowning, but very politely: ‘Did you speak?’

    ‘Not I!’ said the Lory hastily.

    ‘I thought you did,’ said the Mouse. ‘ — I proceed. “Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria, declared for him: and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable — “‘

    ‘Found what?’ said the Duck.

    ‘Found it,’ the Mouse replied rather crossly: ‘of course you know what “it” means.’

    ‘I know what “it” means well enough, when I find a thing,’ said the Duck: ‘it’s generally a frog or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find?’

    …well, okay, so much for that.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux

    I think I’ve figured out why I’m having a hard time understanding what Wright and many of the commentators are saying:

    No one has bothered to define terms.I don’t know what numinous or transcendent experiences are. I could give you the dictionary definitions of “numinous” and “transcendent”–but they have no personal meaning for me.

    And I don’t know what Wright is talking about when he speaks about the beauty of the world being incomplete.  He states this as a fact rather than as an opinion, which to me seems to be begging the question. What beauty is he talking about? And incomplete in what way?

    Why does he see it as incomplete? What does he see as “complete” and why?The portion quoted above doesn’t tell us any of that.

    Maybe he discusses those things elsewhere in the book. But, and I have to say I’ve found this a lot with religious writers, he might think that he’s starting from the same place as a non-believer and simply not bother to explain what he’s talking about because he presumes that everyone thinks like this. (Which everyone does, yes, but it gets confusing when the speaker is talking about something as subjective as God or faith, because everyone doesn’t approach those subjects in the same way.)

  • http://www.nightphoenix.com Amaranth

    Whoever brought up “mono no aware”, THANK YOU! I had no idea there was a term for it.

    I’m one of those people who gets that weird wistful sadness at the end of LOTR because the elves have to leave, or during apocalypse movies where familiar cities get destroyed, or just at the mere thought that I’ll never be 13 again or that my son will never be a baby again. “Nostalgia” never seemed to quite cover the feeling.

    Actually, for a long time that mono no aware was the best argument I had for the existence of eternity…my reasoning being, because we notice and feel sadness at the passing of things, (even if said passing is not, on the surface, a bad thing), then we must be hard-wired with subconscious expectation that things shouldn’t change and pass away. Nothing in nature is eternal, so where were we getting the mono no aware from? Thus eternity must exist. But I think I was committing the same error Wright does above, in that I was assuming that my personal experience would be identical to everyone else’s, and making universally applicable assumptions from that.

    Mono no aware is the best corollary I’ve got for “incomplete”, but it’s not really the same thing at tall.

    I’ve had experiences I’d call “numinous”, most of them in religious settings. To me it’s a lot like being plugged into the world, where I feel I could know everything and everyone and nothing can surprise me and whatever strange things are happening no longer seem so strange and start making a kind of cosmic sense and everything will turn out the way it’s supposed to. It’s very frightening and reassuring all at the same time. It also is very hard to describe afterwards.

    But, religious rituals and happenings are specifically set up to foster these sorts of experiences. How then can I say for sure that it’s God, and not the environment or other people, who make it happen?

    I’ve had a few experiences like others have described here, where for a few seconds I manage to wrap my head around some impossibly big concept. (Never in math, though). Once when I was around 10 and reading A Wrinkle in Time, I suddenly understood how a tesseract worked. Like, completely got it. The sensation lasted about 4 seconds and I’ve never been able to recreate it. (Which means, I guess, that I won’t be inventing the warp drive anytime soon. Alas.)

    The strongest “proof” I have for the existence of the Divine in my own mind are those ideas that seem to pop into my mind out of nowhere: usually it’s a simple phrase or idea that sums something complicated up very succinctly. It’s similar to a transcendent understanding moment except that I have to mentally “unpack” the idea like a suitcase, and like a suitcase, there’s layers upon layers of “stuff” to the point where I’m sitting there thinking “How the hell does all that fit into that one phrase??”

    To me it feels like God is putting ideas in my head. And those sorts of ideas tend to be very similar to the way Jesus in the Bible phrases things; simple on the surface but with all these other corollary ideas attached. But I know that what I’m experiencing might be simply a lightbulb moment, or humanity’s collective unconscious breaking through, or any number of explanations that aren’t “God did it.” I don’t have any way of knowing for sure.

    That’s why I’m an agnostic theist. I have my beliefs, but no one, including me, can know for sure.

  • arc

    I’m suspicious of feelings :-]

    While it’s true we do have to respect feelings and intuitions sometimes, we need to be pretty careful about this.  Let’s just go with the author for a bit and say taking seriously feelings about transcendent wholes just out of reach and awestriking beauty will result in one becoming a theist and from then having a richer, more poignant existence as a result.  Let’s also optimistically assume that it’ll also generally make one a better person – although people have already bought up the fact that this particular author slides from being gobsmacked at the ineffibility  of everything to telling us all how our sexual relationships are going to work pretty quickly.

    But those aren’t the only feelings we have.  We also experience a whole lot of feelings which aren’t so positive.  Feelings of revulsion and disgust at people who look different from us, feelings of fear at things which don’t seem right to us.  Feelings of anger when we see someone getting something that we don’t think they deserve.

    Do those feelings also point at something metaphysical? If so, what would that be? A heirarchy of being and becoming with some people closer to dirt than us? Something malevolent – a Devil? Or does it show us something about God – what’s on his Hate List?

    If they don’t point at anything metaphysical, why do they fail to so point when the glorious oneness feelings do?


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