Mar 312013
 

Last_Judgment_Triptych_(detail)_Thirteen_1467_71Most people in the world will die and  go to hell, where they will spend an endless eternity burning in unimaginable agony with no hope of release, ever. This is what many churches teach,  often enthusiastically.

But these days, more and more Christians are secretly embarrassed by this teaching, but are afraid to question it. But perfect love, says the first letter of John, drives out fear. 1. Remember in an earlier post, we say that Jesus, Paul and St. Augustine all said that love is the real meaning of the scriptures, and if you think the scriptures are teaching something other than love, then you’ve misinterpreted them.

So is it really loving of God to condemn most of humanity to be an object lesson of everlasting pain? Of course not. Not only is this not loving, it’s not even just. The scripture says God is just 2, but I would argue that a God who dishes out infinite punishment in an infinite hell is infinitely unjust.

Justice means that the punishment fits the crime. “An eye for an eye”. 3 As limited, finite humans, by our very nature, we can’t  commit an infinite crime, therefore, so infinite punishment is unjust.

Let’s take an example. Imagine the worst person who ever lived. Nominations vary, but Hitler is always a popular choice, so let’s use him as an example. Hitler lived for 56 years.Because of Hitler’s evil, millions of innocent people suffered horribly and died. So, let’s suppose that after death, Hitler is thrown into a hell of unimaginable suffering and torment. Let’s leave him there a good, long while.

We check back on Hitler after 20 million years. For 20 million years, he has been in unimaginable agony, screaming in incoherent torment day and night, year after year, century after century, for 20 million years. Doing some calculation, let’s suppose we find that he has suffered more than the combined total pain of all the people who suffered because of him. Adding up the pain of everyone who was tortured, everyone who starved, everyone who was gassed, everyone who was shot – or everyone who died in the war… Hitler’s agony has now exceeded that combined total. At that point, justice is satisfied.

But let’s be thorough. Let’s also add up the suffering of everyone who was affected in any way by Hitler. We’ll calculate the suffering of all the people who lost loved ones. hithell0We’ll add in all the people who suffered grief, anxiety – heck, even annoyance. We come up with another suffering calculation – and we send Hitler back to the flames.

And 200 hundred million years later, we come back. Once again, for all this time – for a time longer than recorded human history, Hitler has been screaming in agony. He has now suffered all the sufferings of everyone remotely affected by his evil and then some.

But we want to be very sure about this. After all, it’s Hitler, and early parole will be frowned upon. So we send him back to hell, and this time we take a really long vacation.

We come back in two hundred trillion years. Hitler, all this time, has been in excruciating agony – worse than any pain anyone can imagine. for every second of every day and night. He has suffered more than the combined pain of everyone who ever lived – not only on earth, but (if there is life on other worlds) every inhabitable planet. His life on earth, during which his misdeeds occurred, is less than a microscopic dot in the long, long tale of his unimaginable suffering. The whole history of human suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of this one man.

Can ANYONE tell me that at this point – justice has not been satisfied – even for Hitler? He has paid completely out of proportion to his crimes. He has suffered so horribly that all other human suffering is a drop in the bucket. And yet, the doctrine of an infinite hell says that at this point, his suffering hasn’t even begun.

He will continue to scream in guttural anguish – on into eternity, until there is nothing to remember of his entire existence but an eternity of suffering.

Is this justice? No, it is infinite injustice. I venture that there isn’t a normal human being who, if they had to watch this,  would not have pulled even Hitler out of this kind of torment ages before this point. Are we more merciful than God? And yet millions of Christians think that not only will God continue to torment Hitler forever, he’ll also give the very same punishment of endless suffering to Gandhi, Socrates, Buddah, Hipatia of Alexandria, and anyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus, including people in now and in the past who live in areas where Christianity hasn’t reached.

The idea of infinite suffering is infinitely unjust. The God of the Bible, if he insisted on such a thing, would be worse than the most bloodthirsty god of the Aztecs. He would be worse than Molech. The Aztecs sacrificed less than 1 percent of their population every year hoping to keep their culture in favor with the gods. But by most estimates, only 7 to 14 percent of humans in the history of the world have been Christians. So God allows 86 to 93 or more percent of humanity to be sacrificed forever in hell to save 7 to 14 percent in heaven. Such a God would be such a monster that the most noble thing we could do would be to oppose him.

contempt-of-court1Now some Christians suggest that we ARE guilty of infinite sin, because our sins are against an infinite God. Just as I receive a worse punishment for insulting a judge in a courtroom than for insulting a guy on the street (because of the more exalted office of the judge)  it is said by some that ANY sin against God is an infinite sin, because God is infinite.

But this leaves out an important detail. We can only commit sin to the limit of our own capacity to understand sin. A monkey wouldn’t be found in contempt of court for making faces at a judge. Neither would a small child. They don’t understand  the seriousness of their offense (although a child might understand enough to be at least scolded).

To commit a great sin requires greater understanding. To commit an INFINITE sin requires INFINITE understanding, and no human being is capable of infinite understanding. No human being can even understand the nature of an infinite sin, far less commit it.

Even so, there are some people who are willing to accept God being more cruel than Molech if that’s what the Bible says. Even though Jesus, Paul and St. Augustine all say that only loving interpretations of the scriptures are correct ones. But is that really what the scripture says?

We’ll take that question up in our next episode. Spoiler alert – the answer is NO. The picture is a lot less grim.

Until next time, this is Reverend Keith for Godsmarts.

  1. 1 Jn 4:18
  2. 2 Thes 1:6
  3. Exodus 21;24
Feb 232013
 

I was reading some fascinating material recently from a Christian hermeticist on the nature of demons and evil spirits which reinforces some observations I had made myself. I had written here earlier on the changing nature of “Satan” in the development of the bible. Only recently, however, did I notice an interesting distinction in the New Testament – a distinction that those who read the King James will entirely miss.

The New Testament speaks a lot about the devil and devils. In the King James, however, it uses “devil” to translate two entirely different Greek words. One is diabolos – Greek for “accuser”. This word is used as a parallel, in some of the synoptics, for “satanas”, a word from Caldean related to the Hebrew “satan” – meaning also “accuser” or “opponent”. In Luke, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by “satanas”, and in Matthew, it’s the “diabolos”.

The other Greek word that the King James translates as “devil” is “daimonion”. This word is used in connection with an spirit who opporesses or posesses an individual – a demon. These demons are described as “pneuma poyneros” – a diseased, painful, or evil spirit.

In the Greek, devils and demons are two entirely different things, inspite of the King James translating both words “devil”. True devils are the accusers and opponents of the righteous. In the Old Testament, the opponent (the “satan”) was seen as a divine office, in the service of God. The satan of Job is one of the sons of God, the Bene Elohim, who enters the court of Heaven in something like the capacity of a district attorney. It is his job to bring charges against the faithful. Even God himself is described as acting in the capacity of a “satan” or opponent. In 1 Ch 21:1, “satan”, the opponent, provokes David to number Israel. In 2 Sa 24:1, we find that the “satan” was God himself.

As time progressed, Satan became more personified, and the traditions described him as being in rebellion against God. But still, the “satanas” and “diabolos” of the New Testament are bound by law. There is a “Geneva Convention” of sorts between the two sides, and the diabolos confine themseves to persecuting and tempting, NOT to direct posession. Resist the diabolos, we are told in James, and he must flee. The one possible exception is with Judas. Luke tells us that satan “entered into” him. John, however, states that the diabolos merely put the thought into Judas’ heart. So the “entering” here seems to be just a powerful temptation.

Daimonios, on the other hand, interfer directly with human freedom. They posess and control human beings. What my hermetic author suggests, and I believe makes perfect sense, is that these daimonios are generally what the esotericists call “elemental beings”. They are human creations of emotional energy, which live a semi-auotonomous life outside the conscious boundries of personality. To quote from my source:

“The “evil spirits” which deprive man of his freedom are not at all beings of the so-called “hierarchies of evil” or “fallen hierarchies”. Neither Satan, nor Belial, nor Lucifer, nor Mephistopheles have ever deprived anyone of his freedom. Temptation is their only weapon and this presupposes the freedom of he who is tempted. But possession by an “evil spirit” has nothing to do with temptation. It is invariably the same thing as with Frankenstein’s monster. One engenders an elemental being and one subsequently becomes the slave of one’s own creation. The “demons” or “evil spirits” of the New Testament are called today in psychotherapy “neuroses of obsession”, “neuroses of fear”, “fixed ideas”, etc. They have been discovered by contemporary psychiatrists and are recognized as real – i.e. as “parasitic psychic organisms” independent of the conscious human will and tending to subjugate it. But the devil is not there to no avail – although not in the sense of direct participation. He observes the law – which protects human freedom and is the inviolable convention between the hierarchies of “right” and those of “left” – and never violates it, as stands out in the example of the story of Job. One need not fear the devil, but rather the perverse tendencies on oneself! For these perverse human tendencies can deprive us of our freedom and enslave us. Worse still, they can avail themselves of our imagination and inventive faculties and lead us to creations which can become the scourge of mankind. The atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb are flagrant examples of this.

Man with the possible perversity of his warped imagination is far more dangerous than the devil and his legions. For man is not bound by the convention concluded between heaven and hell; he can go beyond the limits of the law and engender arbitrarily malicious forces whose nature and action are beyond the framework of the law… such as being the Molechs and other “gods” of Canaa., Phoenicia, Carthage, ancient Mexico and other lands, which exacted human sacrifice. One has to guard against accusing the beings of the hierarchies of evil to their detriment of having played the role of Molechs, these being only creatures of the perverse collective human will and imagination. These are egregores, engendered by collective perversity, just as there exist the “demons” or “evil spirits” engendered by individuals.”

This has been my experience also. While “demons” can act very much as independent entities, they are also almost certainly human creations, and usually should not be handled in isolation from the humans who create them and give them strength.

Oct 052007
 

Moving on to the last installment, I want to focus on the harm done by Young Earth Creation Science. I have already discussed in the earlier series why YEC is not required (and is in fact contradicted by) the Bible. I have also summarized the evidence and the expert opinion of scientist that YEC is simply false.

The harm of YEC arises as an inevitable result of the combination of the first two problems. What happens when you embrace an idea that is demonstrably false? What happens when you insist that believing this false idea is the litmus test of Christianity?

As an illustration, I’d like to refer to the history of Glenn Morton. Morton, which you can find here: http://home.entouch.net/dmd/gstory.htm. Moron was a geophysicist employed by a seismic company working for Atlantic Richfield. He was also a Creation Scientist who published regularly in the Creation Research Society Quarterly and had frequent meetings with the members of the Institute for Creation Research. He also employed a number of the graduates of ICR’s graduate school of the sciences.

Morton began to become aware of problems with the geologic data that flatly contradicted Young Earth Creationism. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve these problems, he published a paper called “Geologic Challenges to a Young-earth” in which he solicited the help of other Creation Scientists in resolving these problems. The reaction was chilly.

Quoting Morton “Here is a list of what young-earthers have called me in response to my data: ‘an apostate,'(Humphreys) ‘a heretic'(Jim Bell although he later apologised like the gentleman he is) ‘a compromiser'(Henry Morris) “absurd”, “naive”, “compromising”, “abysmally ignorant”, “sloppy”, “reckless disregard”, “extremely inaccurate”, “misleading”, “tomfoolery” and “intentionally deceitful”(John Woodmorappe) ‘like your father, Satan’ (Carl R. Froede–I am proud to have this one because Jesus was once said to have been of satan also.) ‘your loyality and commitment to Jesus Christ is shaky or just not truly genuine’ (John Baumgardner 12-24-99 [Merry Christmas]) “[I] have secretly entertained suspicions of a Trojan horse roaming behind the lines…” Royal Truman 12-28-99”

Morton conducted an informal poll of his friends who had graduated from the ICR program and had worked in the oil industry and asked this question: “From your oil industry experience, did any fact that you were taught at ICR, which challenged current geological thinking, turn out in the long run to be true?”

Here is how he describes the reaction. “One man, Steve Robertson, who worked for Shell grew real silent on the phone, sighed and softly said ‘No!’ A very close friend that I had hired at Arco, after hearing the question, exclaimed, “Wait a minute. There has to be one!” But he could not name one. I can not name one. No one else could either. One man I could not reach, to ask that question, had a crisis of faith about two years after coming into the oil industry. I do not know what his spiritual state is now but he was in bad shape the last time I talked to him.”

And Morton had a crisis of faith himself. He very nearly became an atheist. Not because he began to disbelieve in God per se, but because Young Earth Creationist had told him that there were only two alternatives: be a Young Earth Creationist, or be an atheist. Since the facts convinced him that Young Earth Creationism was false (as they will anyone who approached them objectively), he supposed that atheism was the only alternative. A book on Old-Earth Creationism revived his faith.

From this story (and you can read a collection of similar testimonies here: http://www.answersincreation.org/testimony.htm) , we begin to see several of the harms of Young Earth Creationism.

1. Because it is false, and associated with God and Christianity, it made belief in God and Christianity seem

2. Because it associates science with deep personal beliefs, YEC Scientists became accusatory, hateful and angry when presented with simple facts which contradicted it.

So there we have lack of faith, anger and hatred.

Elaborating a bit on YEC’s effect on faith, we have to consider, not merely the Christians who will lose their faith when they discover YEC isn’t true. We also have to consider the non-believers who will never even consider Christianity because it is associated with a theory that is so obviously false and absurd.

Let’s examine another of the fruits of Young Earth Creationism. Because its proponents have so much invested in it (their entire religious framework), they are strongly emotionally motivated to support it. This has resulted in YEC Scientists gaining a reputation for exaggeration, misquoting and outright falsehood. When one thinks they are defending God himself, any means can seem justified.

In the story above, for example, John Morris of the ICR went to the podium during the presentation of Morton’s paper to challenge him claiming to have been in the oil industry himself. This turned out to be false (or exaggerated – he had once taught a course in petroleum geology). Duane Gish, a famous YEC debater, has a notorious history of using incorrect facts in his writings and debates – being publicly corrected with explicit proof of the error – and then continuing to repeat the same misstatements over and over. (see here: http://mypage.direct.ca/w/writer/gish.html for some examples). Walt Brown in his book (which is still available online) made a claim which has been repeated all over the internet that the cytochrome C sequence of a rattlesnake is closer to human than to any other animal. When pressed, it turns out his source for this claim is his own son’s science fair project! A project in which he drastically misinterprets the meaning of cytochrome C data. (see http://members.cox.net/ardipithecus/evol/lies/lie025.html). This is representative of a number of protein sequencing claims from YEC Scientist that are completely false, to the point of apparently being pulled out of thin air in the case of Kent Hovind: (http://members.cox.net/ardipithecus/evol/HovindLie.html). Out of context quoting is so rampant among YEC Scientist that whole websites have sprung up attempting to correct all the errors (you can start here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/project.html)

So now in addition to being destructive to faith and producing anger and hatred, we can label YEC as tending to produce dishonesty. In my opinion, however, one of the most aggregious tendencies of YEC is to attribute dishonesty, not merely to their opponents, but to God himself.

In order for YEC to be true, God must have intentionally created all the evidence in favor of evolution. For example, as I point out in my brief analysis of evolutionary evidence here: http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/evidence_evolution, God would have to have deliberately infected humans and other primates with retrovirus “scars” at certain points in their DNA in just such a way as to make it look like they inherited these scars from their primate ancestors. God would have to have created beams of starlight to give “apparent age” to newly minted stars millions of light-years away (or changed the fundamental constants of the cosmos by huge orders of magnitude). God would have to have tampered with radioactive decay, and done so in such a way that multiple isotopes of multiple elements would all match and agree on outrageously incorrect ages when employed by radiocarbon dating. God would have to have deliberately chosen, time and time again – methods of creating and maintaining the earth which managed to APPEAR as if they were evidence of great age and genetic relationships for all life.

We cannot trust the natural world that God created – because for various inscrutable reasons, he has made it tell a false story. Instead of Paul’s admonition to “let God be true, and every man a liar” we are urged to let God be the liar and every Young Earth Creationist be true. They would not see it this way of course. To them, it’s simply a matter of thinking that the truth of God’s natural world is not as reliable as the truth of an ancient inspired Hebrew text as interpreted by their particular theology.

So let’s add up the results. The fruit of YEC are faithlessness, anger, hatred, deception, and blasphemy.

What does this tell us?

I wanted to close with a quote from St. Augustine – still as eerily applicable today as when it was written more than a thousand years ago…
“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” (St. Augustine: Commentary on Genesis, Chapter 19)

Oct 042007
 

Continuing in my series on the problems of Creation Science we come to what should, by rights, be the first and only point:

Creation Science is contradicted by the facts.

As I said, this should, perhaps, have been the first consideration. But as fallible human beings, our minds can deceive us. Whatever we say about wanting the truth, we generally only want truth that reinforces what we already want to believe, on a deep and sometimes irrational level. This is why I thought it was necessary to first open up some room in the minds of Creation Science believers for the idea that the Bible does not explicitly and infallibly teach Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

The Bible gives us some interpretive space to form our own conclusions on this issue. We should do as the book of Job suggested (as was previously quoted).

But ask the animals, now, and they shall teach you; the birds of the sky, and they shall tell you. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you. The fish of the sea shall declare to you. (Job 12:7-8 WEB)

Let us use our reason and powers of observation to inquire of the animals, the earth, and cosmos – and discover the facts. What, then, are the facts? The fact is that science has demonstrated two facts almost beyond any reasonable doubt, and these two facts completely contradict a Young Earth Creation. Those two facts are:

1 The earth (and the cosmos) are billions of years old.
2. All life on earth descended genetically from a common source.

I don’t have time or space now to even summarize all the mountains of facts that have been collected to demonstrate these two facts, but these links represent a good place to start:

On the age of the earth: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-age-of-earth.html
And the age of the universe: http://education.aas.org/publications/AncientUniverseWeb.pdf
The case for common descent: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/
I had begun a series trying to address this evidence from a specifically theistic viewpoint, and the first installment of that series can be read here: http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/evidence_evolution

Expert Opinions

For the purposes of this series, I’ll limit myself to quoting from expert or influential opinions. I will quote here from statements of the official bodies representing large groups of scientist, and from religious groups or leaders.

“we are convinced that masses of evidence render the application of the concept of evolution to man and other primates beyond serious doubt.” (Statement of the Pontifical Academy of Science)

“The core concepts of evolution are well documented and well confirmed. Natural selection has been repeatedly demonstrated in both field and laboratory, and descent with modification is so well documented that scientists are justified in saying that evolution is true.” (Botanical Society of America's Statement on Evolution)

“Scientific evidence indicates beyond any doubt that life has existed on Earth for billions of years. This life has evolved through time producing vast numbers of species of plants and animals, most of which are extinct. Although scientists debate the mechanism that produced this change, the evidence for the change is undeniable.” (American Geological Institute)

“Today, nearly half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor provoked, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.” (Pope John Paul II – Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 22, 1996)

“During the past year, religious fundamentalists have intensified their effort to force public school science classes to include instruction in "creationism." As defined in publications of the Institute for Creation Research and in laws passed or under consideration by several state legislatures, this doctrine includes the statement that the entire universe was created relatively recently, i.e. less than 10,000 years ago. This statement contradicts results of astronomical research during the past two centuries indicating that some stars now visible to us were in existence millions or billions of years ago, as well as the results of radiometric dating indicating that the age of the earth is about 4.5 billion years.” (American Astronomical Society Statement on the Teaching of the History of the Universe)

“Evolution is a fact in the sense that life has changed through time. In nature today, the characteristics of species are changing, and new species are arising. The fossil record is the primary factual evidence for evolution in times past, and evolution is well documented by further evidence from other scientific disciplines, including comparative anatomy, biogeography, genetics, molecular biology, and studies of viral and bacterial diseases.” (The Paleontological Society)

“As a community, biologists agree that evolution occurred and that the forces driving the evolutionary process are still active today. This consensus is based on more than a century of scientific data gathering and analysis.” (American Institute of Biological Sciences)

“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.” (The Clergy Letter Project – endorsed by over 10,000 clergy of all denominations – see http://www.uwosh.edu/colleges/cols/religion_science_collaboration.htm)

So above we have the official endorsement of Biologists, Geologists, Botanists, Paleontologists, Astronomers – all testifying that from the perspective of their own disciplines, evolution and an ancient earth are not only supported by the facts, but overwhelmingly supported. We also have the statements of thousands of clergy, including the late Pope, that evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence, and that it does not contradict faith.

While this sort of “argument from authority” is admittedly a shortcut, it’s important to understand that the opinions of these bodies of scientists are not offered simply as something we must believe because they SAY so. They are offered as the result of the combined observations and studies of hundreds of thousands of trained observers who have tested the predictions of the theory of evolution.

Oct 042007
 

Creation Science is a Lie of the Devil

Many Christians glancing at the title of this essay would assume that I’ve made a mistake in typing. Surely it is EVOLUTION, not Creation Science, that is a lie of the Devil. Isn’t evolution, after all, the foundation of atheism, moral relativism, and attacks against the veracity of the Bible? Don’t many innocent and inexperienced Christians lose their faith due to the influence of godless evolution in high school and college? Yes they do. And I propose that the blame for this rests squarely with Creation Scientists. I believe that Creation Science, through faulty logic, poor scholarship, and the arrogant and blasphemous identification of its own human opinions with God’s word, poisons Christianity and lays the groundwork for massive loss of faith.

Jesus railed against this kind of spiritual arrogance. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for you don’t enter in yourselves, neither do you allow those who are entering in to enter.” (Matthew 23:14 WEB) By insisting on making opposition to evolution the litmus test of Christianity, Creation Science turns away the scientifically minded and creates an artificial social rift.

Ok, let me back up and turn down the rhetoric for a minute. There are many in the Creation Science movement who are good, sincere people. There are some who have good scientific training in a variety of fields. A number of Creation Science arguments seem to make good sense, and require some expertise to refute – I believed in them myself for many years, and I was a Zoology major in college. Also, the variety of “Creation Science” I am arguing against here is hard-core Young-Earth Creationism. There are many believing scientists who, like myself, accept the basic facts of evolutionary biology and geology but still see the presence of God in the phenomena of life at some level.

The purpose of the “rant” above is to try to shock my Young Earth Creationist friends into looking for a minute at the consequences of their own rhetoric in a new light. Don’t assume too quickly that only your own view honors God. Don’t assume your reading of scripture is the only way to read it. Don’t make your personal theology a Procrustean bed in which all Christians must lie. Remember what God asked Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4 WEB) I’ve often heard this verse quoted against evolutionists. Billions of years you say? Were you THERE? But it applies equally well to Christians. We don’t have any direct knowledge of how God did it. We have our personal interpretations of the ancient Hebrew texts. We have the traditions of our denomination or our favorite teachers. These do not constitute personal omniscience on the subject of the creation! If it turns out that our insistence on one particular interpretation of Genesis is turning people away from the teachings of Jesus, is that the work of a positive spiritual force, or a negative one?

I submit that it is a negative force on several fronts. It is unscriptural. It is untrue, and it is ultimately harmful.

The Bible supports an old earth and evolutionary development.

I will address this topic first, because many people who believe in Young Earth Creationism in spite of significant opposition from the scientific community primarily because they are convinced that the Bible explicitly and unambiguously teaches Young Earth Creationism – leaving them with no choice but to dispute all evidence to the contrary. This is not true. Long before Darwin and evolution became household words, students of the scriptures had different theories on how God created the world, and how long it took. In short, they had questions over how to interpret the creation stories of Genesis. These differing interpretations continue to this day.

For example, Some think that the days of creation were thousand-day periods, not 24 hour days, based on the scripture:

“For a thousand years in your sight are just like yesterday when it is past, like a watch in the night.” (Psalms 90:4 WEB)

They point out that in Genesis 1:11, not only are plants created, but they produce seeds and fruit without any mention of supernatural intervention – hardly the work of a single day. If we try to harmonize Genesis 1 and 2, then it seems difficult that all the events of the sixth day, including the creation of animals, the creation of man, the naming of all the animals (thousands of species) Adam falling asleep, and the creation of woman – were all possible in a 24 hour period.

Others believe the creation days represent long ages of indefinite length – longer than simply a thousand years. They point out, for example, that the first several days of creation take place before any mention of the sun and moon – hence the evening, the morning, and the “day” mentioned must be symbolic of an age.

Indeed, while we are told that God rested on the seventh day (Gen 2:2) the book of Hebrews implies that the seventh day of rest is STILL going on, many thousands of years later. (Heb 4:4-11). Indeed, the Hebrew word translated “day” in Genesis (yom) also refers to ages of time, from years to entire epochs. For example:

“The time [Hebrew =’yom’] that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years.” (1 Kings 11:42 WEB)

This could hardly be referring to a forty year DAY. It refers to a time. Using this definition, we could translate the verses of Genesis “and this was the first time period” . An even more striking example is here:

“Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time [Hebrew = ‘yom’ to come forever and ever [Hebrew = ‘ad olam’]” (Isaiah 30:8 WEB)

Did God intend Isaiah’s writing to last only a day? Clearly this is an age of time, and a very LONG age. It lasts for an “olam” which in Hebrew means a very long age of time, for example:

“The rainbow will be in the cloud. I will look at it, that I may remember the everlasting [olam] covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:16 WEB)

How long does God’s promise last? Ages and ages. But what does the Bible say about the age of the earth?

“He stood, and shook the earth. He looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains were crumbled. The age-old [olam] hills collapsed. His ways are eternal [olam].” (Habakkuk 3:6 WEB)

Even back in the time of Jacob, supposedly soon after the flood, the hills are referred to as “olam” (Gen 49:26) or “age-old”. This doesn’t fit if the earth is only a few thousand years old – especially if most of the mountains were supposedly carved out by the flood – only a few generations earlier.

More on the word “olam” can be found here: http://home.entouch.net/dmd/olam.htm

Returning to our various creation theories, a number of theorists make an interesting observation about Genesis 1: 1-2. In the first verse, the entire earth is described as being created. Then Genesis 1:2 seems to begin a listing of the seven days of the creation of the earth. Is Genesis 1:1 part of the six days, or might it have occurred ages before? This is called the “gap” theory:

Genesis
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

[GAP?]

Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep. Gods Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters.
(Genesis 1:1-2 WEB)

Some even suggest that previous creation and destruction events are all part of this silent gap, based on 2 Peter 3:5-7 (see the site here: http://www.kjvbible.org/major_models.html for a further explanation).

Another possible gap occurs between Genesis 2:3 and Genesis 2:4. Those of us who have studied the documentary hypothesis will recognize this as the gap between the “P” creation story and the “J” creation story. But in any case, it represents a completely new and somewhat different creation story following on the heels of Genesis chapter 1. Some Christians have hypothesized that this represents a of some kind. Perhaps between earlier “versions” of creation and the current one. Perhaps between a “spiritual” creation and a physical one (this gains support from Genesis 2:5). A further elaboration of this is the so-called “proclamation” theory, described here: http://home.entouch.net/dmd/synop.htm. Basically, according to this theory, Genesis one consists of God’s proclamation of a particular aspect of creation, followed by Moses commentary that, eventually, it was accomplished – but the accomplishment did not necessarily happen on that creation day. For example:

God: “Let there be light [proclaimed on the first day]”

Moses: “and [in the course of time] there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. [occurred at some later time in fullilment of the first day proclamation]”
(Genesis 1:3-4 KJVA)

Moving from the age of the earth to the development of life, there are several interesting observations to make about the Genesis account. When we are told that God “created” the earth, and life, the word used is “baw-raw”. While this can simply mean create, it also can refer to using pre-existing materials. The word can ALSO mean to “choose” or “select” or “mark for use” – a fascinating fact considering the implications of natural selection. Combine this with the fact that in several of the verses regarding creation, God seems to arrange things so that the laws of nature produce life in and of themselves.

“Let the earth yield grass, herbs yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with its seed in it, on the earth” (Gen 1:11)

“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life” (Gen 1:20)

“Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind” (Gen 1:24)

These all seem to imply a natural process, whereby the earth and the waters produce life on their own, rather than God producing it directly.

Even in the case of man, God is described as creating him out of the “dust of the earth” – out of the constituent chemicals already present on the earth. All these seem to fit well the concept of God using and directing natural processes such as evolution and natural selection.

I have focused above on fairly conservative biblical ideas. It is also quite possible, of course, that Genesis is poetic and figurative – and has little to do with an exact narration of the physical events of creation. In this case, there is no reason to insist on literal days and special acts of direct creation.

Needless to say, I’m not the first person to believe that the Bible teaches or is compatible with an ancient earth and the gradual evolution of life. Many intelligent believers have come to one or both of these conclusions. The next part of this essay will consist of quotes from some of these Christians. I believe the reader can see that Old-Earth Creationism and/or Theistic Evolution are widely-held and respected viewpoints among believers.

“Of course, there are many Creationists who argue for an old earth. Biblically, this position that the word for day is used for more than twenty-four hours even in Genesis 2:4, the events of the sixth day surely took more than twenty-four hours, and Hebrews 4:4?5 implies that God is still in His seventh-day rest. If the seventh day can be long, then the others could too. Scientifically, this view does not require any novel theories to explain the evidence. One of the biggest problems for the young earth view is in astronomy. We can see light from stars that took 15 billion years to get here. To say that God created them with the appearance of age does not satisfy the question of how their light reached us. We have watched star explosions that happened billions of years ago, but if the universe is not billions of years old, then we are seeing light from stars that never existed because they would have died before Creation. Why would God deceive us with the evidence? The old earth view seems to fit the evidence better and causes no problem with the Bible.” (Dr. Norman Geisler- Theologian, Apologist, Philosopher)

“But there is a very real, point of conflict that has been created in much of the church. Because of attitudes of bigoted, as often times prejudiced position is self righteous, if you don’t believe in creationism THIS WAY then you are not a Bible believer, that’s simply not true. And this way that they are describing is usually called the young earth approach…” (Pastor Jack Hayford, Church on the Way)

“Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science. As this principle is undeniably true, it is admitted and acted on by those who, through inattention to the meaning of terms, in words deny it. When the Bible speaks of the foundations, or of the pillars of the earth, or of the solid heavens, or of the motion of the sun, do not you and every other sane man, interpret this language by the facts of science? For five thousand years the Church understood the Bible to teach that the earth stood still in space, and that the sun and stars revolved around it. Science has demonstrated that this is not true. Shall we go on to interpret the Bible so as to make it teach the falsehood that the sun moves around the earth, or shall we interpret it by science, and make the two harmonize?” (Charles Hodge – Presbyterian theologian and professor)

“I would opt for the day-age theory, given all that must take place on the sixth “day” according to the Genesis record. Incidentally, this day-age view has been the majority view of the church since the fourth century, mainly through the influence of Saint Augustine.” (Walter Kaiser – president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

“The (young earth) author uses the verse from Job, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ (Job 38:4) to admonish the old-ager. To the author I say, “Where were you when God laid the foundations of the earth?” You were not there either! So you can’t “assume” a 6,000-year-old earth, just like we can’t “assume” a 13.7 billion year old universe. What we have to decide this issue is the evidence from God’s creation, and not our assumptions. Job 12:8 says “speak to the earth, and it will teach thee.” Secular and Christian scientists, outside of a religious framework, have examined God’s creation, and it says, “I’m 13.7 billion years old.”.. Does it matter which position you believe in? No, it doesn’t. The doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ is not affected by the age of the earth, nor the method God used to create the earth.” (Greg Neyman – founder Answers in Creation)

“As for the age of the earth and the universe, within the usual limits of any scientific conclusions, I believe that the present calculations of about 4 billion years for the earth and 14 billion years for the universe are not far wrong, and I see no conflict with that understanding and my understanding of the Bible.” (William D Phillips – Nobel Prizewinner in physics)

“The charge that evolution is anti-Christian, and that theistic evolution is not a respectable position, is very difficult to make good in view of the evidence we have here given.” (Bernard L. Ramm – Baptist theologian and professor)

“Christian apologists trained in the physical sciences and familiar with the Scriptures see no danger in connecting big bang cosmology with biblical teaching because the connection is based on well-established, thoroughly tested science and clear exegesis.” (Hugh Ross – theologian and scientist)

“The simple fact is that day in Hebrew (just as in English) is used in three separate senses: to mean (1) twenty-four hours, (2) the period of light during the twenty-four hours, and (3) an indeterminate period of time. Therefore, we must leave open the exact length of time indicated by day in Genesis.” (Francis Schaeffer – pastor and theologian)
“The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages. . . . The frequent parabolic use of natural phenomena may warrant the conclusion that each creative ‘day’ was a period of time marked off by a beginning and ending.” (C.J. Scofield – pastor and author of the “Scofield Reference Bible)

(quotes above courtesy of http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/notable_leaders/index.shtml)

To summarize, old-earth creation theories and theistic evolution are perfectly compatible with solid Bible interpretation. They have been the preferred interpretation of many good, devout Bible scholars and intelligent men of science. The literal six-day interpretation of Genesis does not account for all the facts, even Biblically.

I’ll pause for breath before proceeding to the subsequent points – Creation Science being untrue and harmful.

Sep 272007
 

While we like to suppose that the human intellect discovers the truth about things, and then we follow that truth, the fact is that it rarely works like that. What tends to happen is that our subconscious mind – our hopes, fears, desires and needs – suggest to us a particular way of looking at the world: and then our intellect jumps in to find reasons WHY.

I was just reading (ok, LISTENING to) Malcom Gladwell’s book “Blink” – an excellent and engrossing book. He describes an experiment where a group of “speed daters” were surveyed about which of a list of qualities were the most important in a prospective partner. Was it physical attractiveness? Honesty? Wit? Common interests? After the test, they had their “speed dating” experience and were asked to rate each of the people they met on these qualities, as well as to pick the ones they were interested in getting to know better. As you might have suspected, the participants weren’t very good at predicting the people they would be interested in. They might have SAID they wanted a person who was honest and shared their interests, and then picked someone who didn’t rate high on those qualities at all, but was very physically attractive or witty. What’s more, when they were given the same survey a week later – their criteria had changed. If they had been attracted to a witty person, for example, they now rated “wit” as the most important criteria. Their intellectual criteria, in other words, were at the mercy of their subconscious desires, not the other way around.

This is just as easy to do in the creation/evolution argument. We all know that there are atheists who would be happy to listen to any evidence for evolution – even BAD evidence, because it helps them defend their worldview. And we all know there are believers who would be happy to listen to any evidence for creation – even BAD evidence. People will praise to the skies the work and credentials of complete hucksters, if the hucksters tell them what they want to hear.

Fortunately, just as there are checks and balances in government, to counteract the human tendency to abuse power – there are checks and balances in science, to counteract the human tendency to intellectually deceive ourselves.

ONE of those checks is peer review. The intellectual work of a scientist must be presented to a community of observers trained in the same field, who all have a vested interest in their own particular view and their own particular work. If there are glaring errors, these people will see it if anyone can. In particular, if the work of a scientist challenges the current understanding of things, his work is likely to be carefully scrutinized by other researchers with a vested interest in the current understanding of things. Peer review means that a scientist will be motivated to avoid the embarrassment of publishing nonsense. On the other hand, if the new idea elegantly explains problems that others in the field have been wrestling with, and helps them further their own work they will be motivated to give it a good hearing, and the originating scientist will be motivated to present the idea. Peer review is a protection to prevent our brilliantly adaptive intellects from inventing explanations that only serve our own needs and interests. They must serve the needs and interests of a broad community. This makes them more likely to be “true” in the sense of providing useful general principles.

But another and perhaps the primary “check” on a bad scientific idea is its predictive power. It’s very easy for our brilliantly adaptive intellects to invent ideas to explain any set of facts we come up against. It’s quite another thing to invent ideas that explain the facts BEFORE we encounter them. The “speed daters” in the experiment above were very good at inventing plausible reasons WHY they were attracted to certain people based on certain qualities – but not so good at predicting in advance what qualities would attract them. Only a person who correctly understands their own deepest motivations could accurately predict who they would be attracted to. Similarly, only a scientific theory that is in touch with some important aspect of the truth can make accurate predictions.

In my opinion, Creationism, particularly young-earth Creationism, is revealed by both these scientific “checks” to be largely a case of ad-hoc intellectual justification. Only a small handful of scientists see any merit in it. Is this simply a case of clinging to a justification for atheism? I don’t think so. Many scientists who accept evolution are believers. In fact, of the scientists who are believers, more of them believe in evolution than don’t. Remember also that Darwin’s theory had to originally win over the support of scientists who were almost entirely believers, and against massive public opposition. It could do this only because of its great explanatory power and predictive value.

As for predictive power, young-earth Creationism is, in my opinion, a complete disaster. Time and time again creationists have been forced into elaborate justifications to account for additional facts as they arise. None of these justifications may sound intellectually implausible on the surface. But the fact that the need for such justification arises again and again – not just in evolutionary biology, but in geology, physics, and chemistry, is telling. According to a young-earth creation scientist, nothing is as it seems. Transitional fossils aren’t really transitional. The geological column doesn’t represent a long sequence of deposits. The principles of radioactive decay can’t be trusted. The speed of light might have changed. Apparent genetic relationships have convoluted alternative explanations. Any exceptions invalidate the general rules. This is not evidence of the predictive power of Creation Science. It is, rather, evidence of the rather amazing power of the human mind to deceive itself.

And for what? To reconcile the facts to one particular interpretation of an ancient Hebrew text – a text which has generated quite a number of alternate interpretations? Of course, at this point, it’s much more than that. There is a whole group-ego structure built around this particular interpretation, and to a member of this group, any challenge to it is not simply an issue of scientific fact. It is a direct attack on the identity of who they are as a person and as a member of the group. They cannot concede any point against it without giving up some part of themselves.

This is not to say that it can’t work the other direction. In spite of the benefits of healthy skepticism, for example, I can’t help thinking someone like the Great Randi has more than an academic interest in maintaining his skeptical point of view, and that encountering a real psychic would challenge him on a level far more fundamental than simply intellectually.

Sep 202007
 

As I sat down to write a continuation on how the Bible came to be distorted into something more than it was, I would first direct the reader to my previous posts on the topic of bibliolatry. Those posts can be found at:

http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/bibliolatry
http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/bibliolatry_continued
http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/bibliolatrys_beginnings

What probably bears some mention is the effect that the Protestant Reformation had upon this issue. I have to be cautious here, because of my Catholic background, of simply writing the whole Protestant Reformation off as a colossal mistake, so let’s be clear about how necessary it was that SOMETHING had to change.

The authority structure of Christianity had become extremely rigid by this time. The Dynamic Quality of the Spirit mentioned in the earlier articles had solidified into authoritarian structures of Static Quality, and these centered around the persons of the Pope and his Bishops. While not formally declared infallible until Vatican Council 1 centuries later, the Pope was regarded as having divine power and prerogative to dictate the truth in religious dogma and moral practice.

It was clear, particularly to the more educated class of men who had access to the texts of scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, that the doctrine and practice of the Church was becoming more and more removed from the Dynamic Quality of the teachings of Jesus. Rather than embracing the uncertainty and ambiguity of Dynamic Quality, however, the Reformers opted for a somewhat unfortunate alternative – opposing one form of artificially absolute authority with another artificially absolute authority.

Episcopal Bishop Spong, whom I suspect I’d have a lot of disagreements with in many areas, nevertheless describes this situation very cogently:

“Martin Luther, on seeing corruption he could not ignore at the heart of the church, moved to challenge that which he felt distorted the gospel. He sought to confront the authority of the ecclesiastical hierarchy with Holy Scripture and in this manner to recall the church to the purity of his perception of the New Testament vision. Luther wanted to purge his beloved church of superstition, clerical manipulation and false doctrine. His was a crusade which began in a sincere religious conviction…. When Martin Luther countered the authority of the infallible pope, he did so in the name of his new authority, the infallible Scriptures. This point of view was generally embraced by all of the Reformation churches. The Bible thus became the paper pope of Protestantism. Protestants historically have matched every extravagant papal claim with an equally extravagant biblical claim.” (“Hope and Fear in Ecumenical Union” – John Shelby Spong)

Historical circumstances, in other words, forced the Bible into an impossible position. It could not simply be regarded as sacred or inspirational writing, but had to be artificially invested with an infallibility equal to the Papacy it was challenging, in order to provide believers with the static certainty they craved in their religious beliefs. But that certainty comes at a rather high price. Quoting from Spong again:

“Hiding behind claims of revealed truth that were not allowed to be questioned and of infallible authority that could not be challenged, Christians have condemned Galileo, Copernicus, Darwin, Freud and many other great breakthrough thinkers in the various fields of an exploding human knowledge. Seeking to protect power and authority, Christians have had to be literally dragged by the knowledge revolution into the 20th century.”

I believe, on the contrary, that while the static documents of the Bible are invaluable – the heart of “faith” is not to clutch resolutely at a supposedly infallible standard. That is not faith, but fear – terror of the foreign territory into which God might lead us if we allow it. True faith, on the other hand, is to imitate the pilgrimage of Abraham and follow the lead of God, without knowing the destination in advance.

Sep 192007
 

I wanted to write a few words about the Bible, and explain why I think it is a book of great spiritual value but is not, especially in present form, a perfect and infallible guide to all truth. I’m in a bit of a quandary of how to begin, because what I generally like to do when trying to write persuasively is to first map out the points on which I agree with my intellectual opponents, and then move along to the points of disagreement. I find that people read what you have to say more openly when you convince them that you understand and respect their point of view first. (As an aside, this was something which my self-selected patron Thomas Aquinas taught me. He understood and presented his opponent’s arguments so well that modern readers are sometimes a bit confused about what position he is actually arguing for).

The problem is that the people I’d like to persuade fall into two drastically different groups – those who take a very literal view of biblical infallibility, and those who find no value in it at all. So…let’s go in chronological order and talk about what the Bible IS before talking about what it BECAME.

Our Bible critics correctly point out that the Bible contains contradictions. It contains points of view that are historically inaccurate and scientifically naïve. It endorses laws, customs and behaviors that we would find barbaric, and prohibits others for what seem to us to be no good reason, often crystallizing behaviors which seem to us to be merely outdated social customs into eternal moral precepts. It contains works from a wide variety of sources (some of them pagan) from different historical periods, and these sources have different and even contradictory points of view on spiritual and even factual issues. It contains several works which purport to be authored by individuals who almost certainly did NOT actually write them. Finally, both the old and new Testaments have been redacted, perhaps several times, by editors who re-wrote sacred history, included some sources and discarded others, and made editorial changes to the whole collection – in order to suit their own point of view.

So why read it?

Starting from the ground up, we need to read it because of its immense cultural significance. The Bible is not simply an attempt to record history – the Bible IS history. The book itself has had a more profound influence on Western civilization (for good and bad) than any other work. It has affected our law, our educational system, our philosophy, our systems of government, our customs, our social institutions, etc. It’s impossible to understand our world without understanding the Bible.

Secondly, we read it because of its literary value. Just as we read and appreciate the Iliad or the histories of Shakespeare for their own internal beauty (in spite of the fact that neither is good history or good science). The Bible contains the writings of gifted authors, containing poems and stories and writings full of beauty, savagery, pathos and glory. It has been a source of inspiration for countless works of literature, music, painting and sculpture. The poetry of Dante and Milton, the music of Handel and Bach, the painting of Rembrandt, the sculpture of Michelangelo… all steeped in Biblical themes and influences. Not to have read the Bible makes us artistically handicapped.
Then there is the element of scholarship. Because the books of the Bible have been regarded as sacred for much of their history, they have been preserved with as much care and accuracy as ancient methods allow. In fact, even many of the textual errors introduced into the Bible were for the sake of accuracy. Scribes would sometimes copy marginal notes into the text when recopying a manuscript, for fear that the notes might have been part of the original text, and being unwilling to take the chance of discarding holy words. Because of this, the Bible preserves layers of historically invaluable material which can help understand earlier periods of history.

It is true that it requires quite a bit of training and considerable research to understand what the Bible REALLY tells us about the times it was written in, and disputed opinions are many. During much of the time the Bible was authored, the concept and standards of writing “history” or “biography” as we know it today were unknown. The historical and biographical (and other) forms of the Bible have to be understood on their own terms, and not on ours.

Finally (and for many, most importantly), what about the SPIRITUAL value of the Bible?

In spite of the differing viewpoints and historical development mentioned earlier – in my position as someone interested in mystical spirituality and the Perennial Philosophy – the Bible is irreplaceably valuable. Let me explore for a minute a couple of concepts from Ken Wilber’s work on human spiritual history – the concept of stages vs. states.

Mankind passes through stages of spiritual, moral and social development. In the normal course of things, this can generally be regarded as “progress” (although there are pitfalls at each stage). These stages, which I’ve mentioned before, move from animism and shamanism up through goddess-centric horticultural societies, power-gods, mythic-membership societies, mental and intellectual abstractions of spirituality and eventually integral spirituality. (For some explanation on this development, see Ken’s essay ‘Which Level of God Do You Believe In at http://www.beliefnet.com/story/153/story_15318_1.html) While there will always be a few forward-looking individuals who are several stages ahead of their culture, they will usually end up at odds with the culture as a whole until a critical stage of development is reached.

But the second factor to consider is extraordinary STATES of consciousness. At every stage of development, both culturally and personally, there are occasions when we have access to extraordinary and unusual STATES of consciousness. While the stages of consciousness need to be EARNED by hard work and development, these extraordinary states are often a free gift. From out of nowhere, Saul of Tarsus may be knocked off his horse or Ezekiel may see visions of strange symbolic beasts, or the tribal Shaman may enter a trance. We can group these (roughly) into nature mysticism, deity mysticism, formless mysticism, and nondual mysticism. And anyone can experience any of these, at any stage of development. BUT, on returning to their ordinary state of consciousness, they will tend to interpret these experiences in the context and language and trappings of their stage of development. An experience that a Greek might interpret as a visit from Apollo, for example, a modern Jungian might interpret as an experience of an inner archetype.

The reason for this slightly long explanation, and the application is this: Mystical states and truths are described in the Bible. They were experienced by prophets and seers and poets of various ages and at many stages of human development. But they are reported in the language of the stage of development the authors find themselves in. The Psalms, for example, which at times sink into bitter recriminations or lash out at enemies, are also full of poetry which proceeds from deep mystical insights from several states of consciousness. Spiritual insights, most likely the product of these experiences of extraordinary states of consciousness, abound in scripture.

In addition to the insights of extraordinary prophets and seers, the Bible contains many stories rich in universal archetypes and mythic themes. The need for powerful and expressive mythology seems to be fundamental to human spiritual development. Witness the popularity of modern mythological creations such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the entire fantasy genre is sparked, or the mythology of George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’, which explicitly and deliberately utilized the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell in creating his storyline. Campbell described mythology as “the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human manifestation”, and believed that a lack of mythology had severe negative consequences for society and individuals. Mythology allows people to identify their own life and situations with universal patterns and themes, to feel connected with the cosmos. Whether we are David fighting Goliath or Joseph forgiving his brothers, we can find indispensable mythic images in the Bible that resonate with our life situations – particularly at certain stages of development.

It has been suggested that my method of finding valuable insights and patterns in the Bible is similar to finding shapes in a Rorschach ink-blot. I see the “higher message” because I’m LOOKING for a higher message. But this isn’t all I see. I’m quite aware of problems, provincialisms, contradictions and barbarities preserved in scripture. In addition to this, I find profound spiritual value. Perhaps the Rorschach criticism points both directions. It’s possible to read the Bible and see ONLY the difficulties – because difficulties are what we want to see.

But, granting that there is spiritual good in the Bible, wouldn’t it be better to simply extract that good and throw away the rest? Couldn’t a book with mystical insight and mythic purpose be written that was as good as or better than the Bible? While I’m all in favor of such books, I don’t believe they would replace the Bible for this reason: having been written from a variety of viewpoints at different stages of spiritual development, the Bible SPEAKS to all those viewpoints and stages, and can be used as a tool to lead us from one to the next. The individual at the “power-god” stage will find plenty of heart-warming stories in the Bible that assure him how much better and more powerful HIS God is than other gods. Meanwhile, such a person can be approached with the more subtle teachings of Jesus or Paul that call them to a higher stage of understanding. The “power-god” person is not going to even pick up a book by Krishnamurti or Eckhart Tolle. Which brings me to a final point about the Bible.

While I respect the right of others to disagree, I find something profoundly “providential” in the way the Bible has managed to come together out of apparently contradictory viewpoints to form a more balanced whole than any of it’s individual sources could have imagined or intended. In the Old Testament, some sources saw God as distant and transcendent. Others saw him as immanent and approachable. What results is a unique harmony of both views that see divinity both in the absolute and in the manifest. Lawgivers in the Old Testament are balanced by charismatic and iconoclastic prophets. In the New Testament, some sources emphasize Jesus’ humanity, others his connection with divinity. Some books argue for grace and others for morality. In the balance of these opposites, more profound truths are achieved than in either extreme.

It occurs to me that this is a long enough post without getting into the next part – how Bible reverence went awry. I’ll try to post on that presently.

Jul 022007
 

Something I read recently inspired me to comment a bit on the much neglected subject of a realized eschatology in the teaching of Jesus. As I’ve commented much earlier:

(http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/kingdom_god) For every statement Jesus makes that COULD be interpreted as pointing us toward hoping for a future kingdom and a future coming – there are as many, if not more, that point to the kingdom of God being right here, right now, in the innermost heart of every person.

 

From many clear parables and clear teachings – from the entire Sermon on the Mount – it is completely clear that Jesus expects his teaching to utterly transform a person in the here and now. He even tells his disciples to “take no thought for the morrow” – a teaching that seems incompatible with scanning the headlines for the latest news of the Antichrist and analyzing the Bible for letter sequences that will warn us of the coming disasters.

 

The future is, in general, the province of the ego. It is in the non-existent future (for only the NOW really exists) that we will finally be fulfilled, finally find happiness, finally have “enough” etc. And, in the Christianized version of this game, it is only in the future that we will experience God’s grace, live in God’s presence, and be rescued from the future fires of hell. Earth life becomes simply a prelude. Choose Jesus and, some day, in the future world, he’ll save you from hell and reward you.

 

But the fact it, “hell” is right here and now. Humans live in prisons of their own making, suffering punishments of their own devising. Happiness eludes them. As the Buddha’s first noble truth teaches – life is suffering. There is sickness, injustice, greed, violence and death. There are also milder forms of suffering connected with feeling unfulfilled, unloved, unappreciated. This is not to say that all of us live in unremitting misery. There are, after all, levels in hell, and glimpses of joy. But taken as a whole, our species must obviously be diagnosed as profoundly unhappy and rather psychotic. In the last century alone, we endured two world wars, countless local conflicts, numerous episodes of genocide and atrocity involving nearly 100 million people. Global poverty increased and millions starved to death while millions in wealthier countries turned to drugs, alcohol, gambling or the mindless pursuit of consumer goods to dull their suffering. It is estimated that about 34% of the U.S. population will suffer clinical depression at some point in their lives.

 

Leaving aside the question of a future hell – a transformational understanding of Jesus’ teaching offers to save us from the hell we’re already in. It’s not a matter of Jesus punishing us for not accepting him. We’re already doing a fine job of punishing ourselves. But the Kingdom of Heaven can indeed be within us. Suffering can end. Joy can be our continual state. This is not something to be paid for with years of privation and mortification. It is right in front of our eyes. Or rather, right behind them.

Jun 252007
 

Science rules out all religion except the highest. "

D.E. Harding

 

As most of you know, I have a lot of sympathy with atheists. There’s something noble in many of them. Since childhood, most of them have been approached with crass literal interpretations of the religious metaphors of the Bible. They have heard irrational justifications for the divine misbehavior in the Old Testament. They have been told they are damned for wrongs they never personally committed. They have been offered contradictory and arcane explanations for why Jesus dying on the cross should matter to them. They have been called fools and swine when they found all these ideas unpersuasive. Ultimately they have been threatened with everlasting torture and finally shunned.

 

There’s a refreshing courage in someone who can simply tell the Christian culture it can take a hike. And buried under a reasonable skepticism is often a profound regard for the truth, however stark it may be. But… I find that I cannot be an atheist. There are simply too many important things in my experience that hard-line atheism either dismisses or disparages.

 

One of my favorite quotations from G. K. Chesterton goes like this: “We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.”

 

There are moments in my experience when rationality and positivism aren’t an adequate world view. In fact, to say they are inadequate is a terrible understatement. They seem, as Chesterton said, “dead”. When I try to get into the mindset of the hard-core materialism, I feel like the men in Eliot’s poem.

 

“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar”

 

The External World

“Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all in my hand, little flower—but if I could understand what you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.” – Tennyson

I felt the dryness of rationalism first in relation to the external features of the cosmos. My first major in college was zoology, so I had a reasonably good scientific education. But time and time again I would find that science simply pointed me toward profound states of awe, but then couldn't follow me into the wonder of it. I can remember many of the exact experiences – Looking at a map of the universe in National Geographic. Staring up into a profoundly clear night sky at sea. Studying the ATP cycle in molecular biology. I would be left with a overwhelming sense of wonder and amazement, and nothing to this day changes my belief that these things are WORTHY of amazement – in fact demand it. It makes no difference to point out that the ATP cycle, for example, could have come about by “natural” processes. All this does is rearrange the wonder, not diminish it. It is just as inexplicable that it should be possible for “natural processes” to create such a marvel. The natural processes themselves become the wonder.

 

The Internal World

"The heart has reasons that reason knows not of. We feel it in a thousand things. . . . . do you love by reason?" – Pascal

 

Looking at my own inner life inspires more wonder. Is it really possible that so much meaning and joy and wonder arises in a cosmos who’s own interior is entirely dead and inert? No physical explanation of cognition even touches the inner experience. Joy, and spirit and art and ecstasy simply are not, to my mind, fortunate epiphenomena arising out of the cold physical facts of the world. They are more important to me, and more real to me, than the physical world itself, and it seems unavoidable that they arise out of the innermost nature of the cosmos itself. And so I suspect that not only in myself, but in the entire cosmos, “inner experience” is a fact, and that the whole cosmos has an “interior life” of some kind.

Aesthetic experience

When I experience natural beauty, look at a sunset or ponder a flower – or when I read a transcendent poem or look at a great painting – what is this profound feeling I experience in connection with the quality of these objects? It is really a matter of my mere subjective preferences – just as I like carrots but abhor beets? This seems a totally unsatisfactory answer for aesthetic experience. When we appreciate quality in the world, we are appreciating something real – something supremely important. This quality is recognized by a non-thinking process, and hence cannot be defined, tested for or recorded by an instrument. And yet… we know what it is.

 

Existence Itself

Nothing is more amazing than the fact that anything exists at all. It's difficult to really wrap our mind around just how bizarre the fact of existence is. I remember at least one occasion, however, when the whole foreign mystery of existence itself came crashing through to my consciousness. I felt trapped in some terribly foreign state of being, totally out of place. I suspect many have had similar experiences. WHY is there something rather than nothing – this seems the ultimate question, and it is impossible to feel the full weight of this mystery bearing down on your consciousness without sensing that something terribly important is behind it all. But, as Ken Wilber pointed out, strict materialism has nothing to offer to the mystery of existence beyond what he calls "the philosophy of oops" – a reluctance even allow the question of "why?"

Mystical experience

At the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas (the real one that is) experienced a profound mystical vision that caused him to put down his pen and leave his Summa Theologica for another to finish. His scribe begged him to complete the work that would come to be considered the greatest masterpiece of rational theology of all time. "I cannot.” Thomas replied. “Such things have been revealed to me that what I have written seems but straw." Profound mystical experiences of various kinds open up a perspective that is not adequately addressed by rationality alone. These range from such things as out-of-body experiences to profound states of non-dual awareness that, while impossible to completely communicate, make it utterly impossible to look at the world without seeing it asmanifestation of a divine unity. I'd recommend the following link as an excellent example of such an experience: http://www.nonduality.com/dazdark.htm. It's understandable that a hard-line atheist would find a description of someone else's experience unpersuasive. But I believe it's utterly impossible to have one and remain entirely satisfied with hard-line atheism alone as a worldview. To quote a line from Sagan's Contact, where Ellie is explaining her experience, "I… had an experience… I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone!"

This is just a brief survey of some of the areas that make hard-core atheism, as a worldview, something I can't accept. Is it possible that I'm deceiving myself – that all this meaning and beauty and unity that I seem to sense in the world are really just epiphenomena of physics and chemistry? Logically, I would answer that yes, it's possible. But my whole point is that logic is inadequate to the task of answering this question.

I'll close with a few words from "The Silver Chair" by C.S. Lewis. The story is about several children, accompanied by a strange pessimistic creature called a “marshwiggle” named “Puddleglum” who descend from the kingdom of Narnia, ruled by the good lion Aslan and enter a subterranean kingdom ruled by a witch-queen to try to rescue a kidnapped prince. Once there, the witch puts them under a spell of confusion and forgetfulness. She gradually convinces the children that there IS no world above ground, no sun, no sky, no Aslan. They become convinced that these are all simply children’s tales and dreams – projections they have created in their minds from the drab and ordinary objects in the miserable underground world ruled by the witch. Only Puddleglum rebels.

“One word, Ma’am” he says to the witch, “All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face on I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we HAVE only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours IS the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

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