“Frustratingly incomplete”

“Frustratingly incomplete” November 12, 2011

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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  • 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.

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

  • Anonymous

    Good discussion very interesting to read.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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?

  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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?’)

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.


    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”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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?  

  • 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?