Sunday, March 13, 2011

Natural Disasters . . . a Monist's Perspective

Okay, while this is the "Christian Monist" blog, I really don't say much . . . at least directly . . . about that perspective. I know I have links on this page to explain what I mean. I do have critics who have no clue as to what I'm talking about. No, I'm not talking about some new sect that doesn't believe in the Trinity. It is not about the Trinity. Simply, like C.S. Lewis, it is a position that stands opposed to Platonic Dualism, which I think has had a powerful influence within the Church over the centuries.

When it comes to natural disasters, I think the contrast is most acute. A Dualist sees this physical earth as some kind of vapor when juxtaposed to the spiritual world, which is the true reality. Pantheists are somewhat on the same page as Christian Dualists when it comes to this metaphysical concept.

A monist believes that this physical world is very, very real and extremely important. God didn't create the physical universe as an accidental belch when He was only interested in the far more important spiritual realm. We certainly do not believe (as some have interpreted what I'm trying to say) in a naturalistic, closed system of the universe's origins. Meaning that the Big Bang happened by a pure accident of physics and everything today is the product of naturalistic cause and effect.

I personally believe that this physical world is not just a temporary (and inferior) situation that will be replaced by us being only spiritual beings for all of eternity as we float on clouds. I believe that the New Heavens and New Earth, that God is going to bring, is a wonderful repair job of the universe and an improvement up to the intended (before the Fall) state of the physical universe.

So the singularity of "monistism" is the believe that the spiritual AND the physical are both created by God and is God-stuff, thus not crap and thus worthy of great valuation. But, we certainly agree with the concept of the Fall, so the physical world is not perfect as God had intended.

So, when it comes to natural disasters, the Dualist must show his/her hand. Since this physical world has little significance (including the laws of physics, plate tectonics and etc.) they must ascribe meaning to the event from the far more important (in their view) spiritual realm. So, as you could hear in thousands of pulpits around the world this Sunday morning, the horrible tsunami in Japan was either, 1) God judging those horrible Buddhists, 2) birth pains of the coming Tribulation or 3) God doing it just to teach patience to some American Evangelical sitting in his hot tub (I pick on hot tubs a lot I know, and it is probably because I enjoy mine so much and I feel kind of decadent) and who was wanting to watch a football on his waterproof HD flat screen but the game was interrupted by breaking news from Japan.

I as a monist do not have to do that. I can sit comfortably at the same table (in this one metaphysical arena) with the pure naturalist. Like how Lewis described Aslan, the earth is good, but it is not safe. The reason the earth is not safe is because of the dynamics of the planet and somehow (different than Aslan) that lack of safety is tied to the fall. So, the tsunami happened because there was a sudden up thrust of the earth's crust. The slip happened because the pressure had build up for a long time according to Newtonian laws of physics. The wave was produced in strict accordance to those same laws (which I believe were created by God) the displacement of a fluid produces waves. I think I've made my point.

I still consider myself a Calvinist on most issues. I don't worry about the salvation of my Children because I believe that is in God's hands. I do what I must to help them, but I'm not in a panic that it totally depends upon me. So my Calvinist friends insist that God has to specifically plan and execute the earthquake, the direction of the tsunami and specifically which little child was torn to bits and which one was safe. "All in his plan." They suggest to say anything else weakens God.

I've said before that I'm certainly not on the same page as Rabi Kushner (Why Bad Things Happen to Good People). As I said a few months ago, I heard an interview with him where he came to a crossroads in his life that he knew that he either had to have a good, loving God or a Omnipotent God . . . but he couldn't have both. So he, willingly, choose the good, loving God. His conclusion was that God, like us, is a victim of the powerful acts of nature. I'm not saying that at all. In my concept of God, He wiggled His nose (okay, this is a pun) and the whole, now 14 billion light-year diameter, universe came into being. Surely then, He could hold together a deep sea fault line or calm down a rouge wave. But, in my view, He created this wonderful physical world with real cause and effect. Somehow the universe was safe under His idea conditions. But now, through the fall, it is not safe. If I jump off a nearby (250 foot) bridge, I will most likely die. I have one patient who survived his attempted suicide off that bridge only because he almost, literally, hit a Coast Guard cutter on the way down. They fished the pieces of his body out of the water and flew him to a trauma center. But physics are real and they are not safe.

Does God intervene? From my reading of scripture it appears that He does. He ask us to pray for protection so it is implied that He does protect. But in my real-life experiences (which also reveal truth) His acts against His laws of physics are rare . . . but we still must pray.

So, in my model of seeing the world, we not only can weep at the loss of life of the Japanese, but it is our God-given occupation to weep with them. We stand shoulder to shoulder with God in the wailing line. Not a weak, impotent God, but a God who knows that there is a reason that He must not intervene. It is our job to curse at death and destruction and to hold hope for the coming new world that will either be safer or us more indestructible.

Once again I had to type on the fly without proofreading, so please forgive me for typos, verb disagreement, wrong words and etc. I do see the light at the end of this business creating tunnel and I hope my work week drops from about 80 hours right now to a more manageable 60 in the coming weeks.

16 comments:

Eagle said...

MJ take care of yourself!!! My heart has been crushed by some of the pictures and video I am seeing come out of Japan. It's times like this that make me grateful to not being evangelical. You have people suffering, in pain, and really hurt...then in the midst of that steps in an evangelical perspective and BAM the damage is done, harm is caused, etc.. I've wondered what was said in some of the churches I once called home.

The sad part is that I get the impression that many fundegelicals long for people to be in pain or suffering when a natural disaster hits. It vindicates their twisted world view and in their minds, their own sick claims about God punishing sin (ie Katrina, World Series Quake, 9-11) those of other faiths (ie Japanese quake, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami...) etc.. are reinforced.

How can someone be so cold to the plight and devastation being experienced by someone? If I could, (this coming from an agnostic...) I'd rush to Japan help out, love, hug, try and give food and give hope.

You know the other thing I was thinking about today is how this crisis in their Nuclear Power Plant affected by this quake has the capability to scar an already scared country who was the only nation to expereince nuclear warfare. Talk about living in intense pain...

Today I think we all are Japanese. We need to help them up and give them a shoulder to lean on ...

peaceofchange said...

I have been reading here for a while now, and I like the "monist" view. This is the first place I have heard of it. It is a perspective that actually helps me make sense of some of the things that have happened in my life.

I remember being in sixth grade. My mom left my dad who was an alcoholic and took me and my siblings out of public school and placed us in christian school. It was there that I first heard that God "wanted" my dad to be an alcoholic. I could gloss over a lot of things, but not that one. I just couldn't stomach that thought. I really believed that God loved me up until that point. I have been struggling with God's love ever since hearing that opposite "perspective".

My question is how do you "feel" close to God now that you don't believe he is involved in your everyday life? That some things just happen and not necessarily for a reason??

I was taught to pray about EVERYTHING...prayers like, "if he loves me, let him wear green tomorrow" (a fleece) or please make this dog quit barking...help me find a parking place...please don't let my check book be overdrawn..etc.

Now that I don't believe every detail is in His hands, #1) I think I am a little less self-centered, #2) more responsible, and #3) lacking in what I considered to be that "close personal walk with Christ"...it's a little lonely.

Anonymous said...

How can someone be so cold to the plight and devastation being experienced by someone? -- Eagle

Check the recent Internet Monk post and comment thread about "The Political Mindset." When you see everything only in terms of whether it Advances Your Agenda or not...

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

I heard an interview with him where he came to a crossroads in his life that he knew that he either had to have a good, loving God or a Omnipotent God . . . but he couldn't have both. So he, willingly, choose the good, loving God.

And Mohammed and Calvin, when confronted by the same dilemma, made the opposite choice.

jmj said...

P of C,

I will try to briefly answer your very important question: "My question is how do you "feel" close to God now that you don't believe he is involved in your everyday life?"

It deserves a much more broad answer than I have time to give right now.

I don't feel the closeness to God as I once did, but that closeness redefined God to fit into my pocket. He was constantly whispering in my ear through verses which had nothing to do with my situation and through circumstances (signs from a cloud to a bump into a friend etc.) But I don't think that God is less concerned, less knowing or less loving, just that He is not a micro-manager. And I'm not saying that He doesn't sometimes direct us very specifically or work outside of nature, but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say thank you. I'm a 19 year old college student at East Tennessee State University. I grew up in East Tennessee and all the insight I have on my religion comes from the good and bad experiences of growing up in the Bible belt. I found your blog by googling "Christian's with generalized anxiety disorder." Since I was 15 my anxiety has progressively gotten worse. The night I found your blog was one of those nights where you lay in bed and feel completely consumed by doom.

I've prayed and begged and prayed some more for God to help me manage my anxiety and still nothing changed in my life, until I read your blog. No, I still haven’t gone a day with out worrying about the most trivial of things, but you gave me a fresh insight into why God gave me this flaw. I'm currently in the process of looking for a non-secular consulor (I've been to Christian ones "you should have more faith in the lord…etc.")

My brain is hard wired into thinking that God is always watching me and that one mistake means he’s going to punish me or allow bad things to happen to me or my loved ones. This is the root of my anxiety; I’m constantly worried that he’s going to take away everything that means anything to me because I’m not a good enough Christian. In light of recent global events and the many “end of days” prophesies out there my anxiety has grown a new root.

Any theory out their, David’s time line, May 21,2011, 2010, Illuminati, Aliens and anything else anyone could dream up I’ve researched it. Not good for my anxiety, especially when I’m certain God’s own plans are probably so complex that it’s obsolete for us to try and figure them out. I’m growing increasingly agitated with how many people on my Facebook, kids and adults alike, are going on and on and on about how “Jesus is coming very soon, be ready!” and how very happy they are about this.

I sit back and wonder if I’m the only person who believes that there are a lot of good and beautiful things left in this world. As I’m writing this my little anxiety voice is saying “you’re a bad Christian! You should be rejoicing in the prospect of Jesus’ return!” I know this is a really long post but I honestly have nowhere else to go with these thoughts. I have so many more things I wish I was able to make since of in my head, but alas I’m going in circles. If you made it through this whole post I truly appreciate it and any incite/advice would be received gratefully.

jmj said...

Anonymous,

Did you read somewhere in this blog that I'm a graduate of ETSU? If you didn't know that, guess what,I am. Grad with a BS in psychology in 77. It must be something in the water in East Tennessee.


Just remember a few things. Anxiety is a gift. A recent study (I listened to on NPR radio's Science Talk on Friday) about longtivity, that to live long (and healthy) you must have a healthy dose of anxiety. Why? Because if you have no anxiety, you take risks . . . and die young.

But my point being, anxiety has a very positive purpose in survival. God created us to be anxious to protect us. Yes, it can be warped, like with us who have an anxiety disorder, but it doesn't mean we "don't have faith" or "we don't know how to trust God."

Those people who equate having anxiety with sinful-worry, are usually those who have not struggled with anxiety, so by putting you down, they make themselves feel better. The other ones really do struggle with anxiety in their private places but cover it up with a facade of faith-confidence.

Most people with anxiety disorders would do anything to get rid of it. They pray about it all the time. They would jump through any hoop to shed it's cumbersome weight. So, most the time, the sufferer is an innocent victim. It is either genetics or being traumatized at some point or a combination of the two.

Remember it is Satan who is the "accuser of the brethren." If we are "Supermen" then Satan knows that guilt is our kryptonite. It renders us impotent. I'm not saying that we should just go wild and not worry about sin. Most of us don't really struggle with continuing falling in "going completely wild in sin" but we do struggle with constant feelings of guilt and spiritual inferiority.

Anonymous said...

I’m growing increasingly agitated with how many people on my Facebook, kids and adults alike, are going on and on and on about how “Jesus is coming very soon, be ready!” and how very happy they are about this.

Anon, these guys (and everyone else into Grinning Apocalyptism) really need to read Mark Twain's "War Prayer".

Armageddon is NOT a specator sport with catered box seats. The Jewish Prophets called it "That Great and TERRIBLE Day." If any of these Grinning Apocalyptic types ever had a REAL vision of that Great and TERRIBLE Day in all its intensity, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't be so glib about it.

I speak from experience. The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay really messed up my head back in the Seventies; my present coherence is due to a duct-tape repair job in the subsequent years.

And from your "Illuminati, Aliens, and anything else someone could dream up", it seems we're kindred spirits -- Aficionados of the Weird. Unfortunately, it takes time to digest such fringe subjects and recognize the kook rants. I was a kid genius and natural-talent speedreader; by the time I was 10, I had absorbed more raw information than most people do in their entire life -- with NO idea how to fit it all together. At that age, to quote Steven King, "Most of your bingo-balls are still floating around in the draw tank." Let's just say things get weird.

Headless Unicorn Guy

Eagle said...

"I’m growing increasingly agitated with how many people on my Facebook, kids and adults alike, are going on and on and on about how “Jesus is coming very soon, be ready!” and how very happy they are about this."

----

@Anon,

I was a die hard fundegelical at one point. Today I'm more of an agnostic. My Crusade chapter met on the evening of Tuesday September 11, 2001. It was a night that I most likely will not forget. My Crusade director was talking about how his wife saw the 2nd plane hit the second tower. He was giddy as he talked about it. A student leader I knew was somewhat excited and telling me "The rapture is going to happen soon!!!!"

Me, I was stunned by the large loss of life. But I was too brainwashed to see what a fucked up theological system I was involved with. I think one of the guiding rules to be a fundy is that you have to not have any compassion, heart or ability to empathize.

But you are not the only one who saw that....

Steve Martin said...

"So, in my model of seeing the world, we not only can weep at the loss of life of the Japanese, but it is our God-given occupation to weep with them. We stand shoulder to shoulder with God in the wailing line. Not a weak, impotent God, but a God who knows that there is a reason that He must not intervene. It is our job to curse at death and destruction and to hold hope for the coming new world that will either be safer or us more indestructible."

Excellent!

I agree wholeheartedly!

God bless!

Anonymous said...

My Crusade chapter met on the evening of Tuesday September 11, 2001. It was a night that I most likely will not forget. My Crusade director was talking about how his wife saw the 2nd plane hit the second tower. He was giddy as he talked about it. A student leader I knew was somewhat excited and telling me "The rapture is going to happen soon!!!!" -- Eagle

In my day, it was the Yom Kippur War and Comet Kohoutek (anyone remember them?)

"ALL THE END-TIME PROPHECIES ARE BEING FULFILLED EVEN AS WE SPEAK! WE MIGHT NOT HAVE A 1978!! OR EVEN A 1977!!!" -- actual Evangelist of the time; it is now 2011

What really torpedoed The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay was when I ran across several End Time Prophecy books from the Forties and Fifties. Like all the above, they PROVED (from SCRIPTURE!) that the now-forgotten news events of their day WERE Fulfillments of the same End Time Prophecies, PROVING that Rapture and Armageddon were Any minute now... Any minute now... Any Minute now...

I was reading this some 30 years after-the-fact. To top it off, one of the books was Seventh Day Adventist, with a completely-different End Times checklist and choreography PROVEN from the exact same chapters-and-verses.

I have been very skeptical of any and all End Time Prophecy types ever since.

Headless Unicorn Guy

CTB said...

So I’m not anonymous anymore I’m just going to go by CTB. Hopefully it will simplify future post.

JMJ- I believe I had read somewhere that your were from East Tennessee. Before I moved to JC I lived in Rogersville for the first 18 years of my life. You might be familiar with the little town. And yes, it's definitely something in the water up here. I feel like I'm surrounded by crazy people, or maybe I'm the crazy one.. Who knows? I went and met with another counselor this week and we are going to start some cognitive behavior therapy and see were that takes me. He seemed very optimistic which was encouraging. I really appreciate your encouragement also.

Eagle- I had a youth director at my first and only church that completely changed my feelings toward Christianity. He told us that when we die and go to heaven that’s pretty much the last time we are with our loved ones because when we get to heaven we will not remember them and we will not be concerned with them after we see God. This blew my mind. I though “What’s the point of even making connections, having families or loving people if it is all obsolete?” It was a turning point for me and since then I haven’t been back to that church.

HUG- Yes, I’m definitely a coinsure of the weird. I try to be open-minded and in return unfortunately, my mind gets filled with all sorts of strange things. For right now I’m trying to back off the end of world scenarios. It’s just making me much more neurotic. You mentioned in a later post the people have been predicted the end of time for a while now. My parents, who are amazing, keep telling me the same exact thing. “Caroline do you not remember Y2K in 2000?” I read the Mark Twain link you had on your reply. All I have to say is that man was definitely not a lunatic but I could see a nice Southern Baptist congregation declaring him so, ☺

Anna A said...

HUG,

Thank you for mentioning "The War Prayer". It is one of my favorite Mark Twain pieces. Good, scary and humbling.

CTB, any time that people get concerned about signs of the end of times, just mention this Mass. "The Mass for the End of Time" was written in 1000 AD. (Anonymous 4 has an excellent recording of it).

About the harsh theology, I instinctively rejected it when I was in 7th and 8th grade. I was quite pleased when I discovered that the Catholic view of God, (One who loves us no matter what) was the same one that I had developed on my own.

Eagle said...

You just can't escape this stuff!!!

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/21/franklin-graham-the-end-is-near-maybe/?hpt=C2

Anonymous said...

HUG- Yes, I’m definitely a coinsure of the weird. I try to be open-minded and in return unfortunately, my mind gets filled with all sorts of strange things.

As in "The quiet child (and I was one) obtains guided tours of some interesting tracts of mental landscape." -- Steven King

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

I lived in Rogersville for the first 18 years of my life. You might be familiar with the little town. And yes, it's definitely something in the water up here. I feel like I'm surrounded by crazy people, or maybe I'm the crazy one... -- CTB

CTB, about once a week I call up my writing partner across the country (i.e. the burned-out preacher-man) to ask him the same question:

"Did we go batshit crazy, or did everybody else?"

So far, he's always answered "everybody else." South Park is a Documentary.

He told us that when we die and go to heaven that’s pretty much the last time we are with our loved ones because when we get to heaven we will not remember them and we will not be concerned with them after we see God. -- CTB

Sounds like the Ultimate Lone Ranger Christian -- Jesus, Me, and Nobody Else. The end stage of So Holy, Holy, Holy...

CTB, I wish I could send you one of my stories, a short tragic paranormal romance I wrote to pull out of a depression last year. One reader told me I had a better handle on Redemption and Resurrection than most preachers.

Failing that, here's a quasi-prequel with similar theme from about 10 years ago that I found bootlegged onto somebody's blog; the one that gave me my comment handle. The Hope of Redemption and Resurrection extends even to imaginary critters.

Headless Unicorn Guy