Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Problem of Certainty - Frank Says it Better

I've talked about this many times here, the issue of certainty being a delusion in both the Christian and Atheist's camps.  My son shared this interview with Frank Schaeffer where he says it better.  Do I agree with all of his views?  Probably not. But then again possibly . . . depending on how they are framed.

You can go here for the pod cast.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Question of Miracles

When I raise questions about mysticism or so-called supernatural events, I'm often misunderstood as a pure materialist.  That is the belief that miracles are impossible . . . even for God.  That is not true at all.

I don't like using the term "miracle" because it is loaded with connotations and emotions that I would like to avoid. Let's use an emotionally neutral word (made up word of course) of "outside-the-material-laws."  Do I think that God, in history, has stepped outside the laws of the material to do things?  Yes I do.  The Bible records some of those events. The fact that we and the material universe exist is a testimony to one of these events (creation). However, when you look at human history it appears that God very rarely works outside the beautiful laws of "nature" (actually laws of God). These actions are in unique times in history and for special purposes.  That leaves about 99.99999999999% of the time that God works within the beautiful laws, which He has created.

The real problem is, and the whole theme of this blog, is that in our historical past, we have become confused.  Due to the philosophical pressures from outside the Church, we have come to have a very distorted view of reality.  While we talk about the beauty of God's creation, in our deep places (underlying philosophical and emotional slant) we have the feeling that this material world is inferior.  Some of the old Gnostics expressed it most honestly when they claimed that the God of the Old Testament, the one who created the material universe and all of its laws, was an inferior god . . . maybe a "blue-collar" god.  He had to get dirty to make the material things.  Their God of the New Testament was only "spiritual" or non-material and the only way to know him was via the non-material.

We have adopted this into our Christian thinking that only the non-material is of significance.  Sure, we might like a sunset over the Grand Canyon and praise God for it. But we feel that we must re-label the emotional as "spiritual" or the works of the Holy Spirit to have any merit.

The other problem becomes emotional dishonesty.  If we live in a material world, one that God created and adores, yet we believe that events that are not explained by the material laws have value, then we seek the non-material. How many times have I heard pastors, on TV and in person, say things in closing like "Expect a Miracle."  We start to imagine that we see the non-material as a common occurrence.  We start to live in reality less and less.  Most of the TV evangelists are so far removed from reality that they might as well be living on a different planet.

My Christian friends often use the term "God thing."  What they are implying is that certain events happened only because God stepped in and did something outside of the material laws that He has so fondly created.

 "Sandra got the job!  It was clearly a God thing!" However, in that case, imagine that Sandra got the job because she was the most qualified and aced the interview.  But if you put it in those latter terms for your Christian friends they will not be nearly as impressed with you as if you had called it "clearly a God thing."

When I talk this way, my Christian friends feel a bit offended.  They sense that some how I'm trying to discredit God.  Holy cow (no pun intended) that is the total opposite of what I'm trying to do.  It is God who has created this material universe with all of its laws of physics, human psychology and human physiology.  It is glorious. It was made of out of nothing and therefore the whole damn thing is really "supernatural."  As Einstein said, either everything is a miracle or nothing is a miracle.  You can't  have a Dualistic universe where everything you see, the laws of physics, the laws of human behavior are all crap and the immaterial (the Holy Spirit speaking into my heart these special words) is far better.

I spent 20 years lying about miracles and my Christian friends did too. I know they did. I was there and witnessed the same reality that they did, but then they dressed it up as a supernatural event. Lying, all lying, is evil and separates us from the God who lives in reality.  We lie to ourselves more than anyone else. This is the human dilemma that, at its worse, becomes mental illness.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Brain . . . Meet the Soul

Throughout human history, philosophers, theologians and the common person have speculated on the resting place of the soul. This has been a huge metaphysical question. I think Plato did more thinking and writing about this than almost anyone else. It is far beyond this short posting between patients to give this idea any scholarly work.

I do want to bring one thought, continuing with my previous post, about this endeavor.  It is basically about the roles of emotion and rational thinking.

God has given us truth via His scripture and by His creative act of what is (or reality in other words).  When reality (creation) comes in conflict with scripture, one of them must be wrongly interpreted (if you follow the rules of logic).

We have come a long ways in our understanding of who we are.  The research is not complete. If the human mind was a city, we know the streets, the buildings, the infrastructure . . . while we may not know, yet, the names of each person residing in each of the buildings (cellular level). This evidence has come from decades of scientific investigation.  While it started with gross observation (looking at the brain), then moved into the mechanical (stimulating different parts of the brain with electrodes) now our examinations are far more complex using instruments such as Functional MRI and PET scans.

In very simple, high school, terms, it is within the cortex that higher reasoning takes place. This is the computational part of the brain. It is at this level that you could say "reason" resides. "Wired" into the cortex (as well as other places) are the senses of hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling.  At this level language and memory are also a key component.

Beneath the cortex is another complex array of connections, which makes up the limbic system. Within the limbic system lies the seat of the emotions, sadness, fear, elation, excitement, hate and love.  Along with those emotional components lies also some aspects of long-term memory and the sense of smell.  We know these things with certainty. To steer away from theological or philosophical arguments about the source of the soul, this neuro-physiological reality is well established and trusted.

The purpose of our cortex is to explore the world around us (via sensory input) and to make sense of it through reason.  The purpose of our limbic system is to interpret the information organized and presented via the cortex. Due to both genetics and life experiences (nature and nurture) both the cognitive organization and the limbic interpretations can make mistakes.  The best example is with the paranoid schizophrenic.  They can see two people whispering (via the senses) but then interpret it as them talking about themselves. Then, via their limbic system, feel fear and threatened.

It really seems to fit well that God designed us and blessed us with the cortex of our brain as the part of us which finds knowledge about the created world around us.  Reason, as the method of that thinking, too is God's gift to us to find truth. It is our emotions, which God has also blessed us with, that can enjoy that knowledge once discovered.

Because of the powerful influence of Gnostic Dualism upon the Church and the western world (as well as the eastern world via other historical vectors) we have this warped economy of spirituality.  That which is physical, the earth, the product of human endeavors and the human mind have been relegated by his system, into the insignificant as compared to the grandeur of the invisible and subjective (what some would call mystical).

Sit in any Christian circle of sharing. The person who says, "I was driving home today and the sun broke through the clouds, forming a rainbow in the spray of the fountain by the lake and I heard clearly the voice of the Holy Spirit saying to me loud and clear that I should quit my job."  No one in the group would question your gnostic truth.  I know about this because I lived in this world for 20 years.  It wins you many brownie points among other Christians and makes you look spiritual.  Most of the time it is very emotionally dishonest. We would share things like that even if we didn't see a rainbow in the fountain but just make it up.  I'm speaking very candidly here and honest.

Now, imagine that you say, "I've thought long and hard about my job.  My talents are not being used properly, I don't like going to work, and I figured that I should change jobs. It is logical. I assume that God wants me to be fulfilled and that I use my talents, which He has given me, to their fullest."

Which of the two seems most spiritual in our present system?  I think it would be the first one. However, in reality, I think it is the second which is most spiritual. The reason is, if God is there, he exist within reality. The more we make stuff up and live in a magical world that is not really there, the less contact we have with real world where God dwells.

We now have created a system where we use emotions as our system for finding truth. This has been very dangerous and has often led us astray.  Our logical minds, married with our senses, is our real, God-given instrument for knowing truth. Our emotions make up our God-given ability to enjoy that truth.  It is the icing on the cake. It provides no nourishment, but pleasure or, in the case or terror, keeps us safe.

The position that I'm making is extremely unpopular in this present age where signs and wonders are considered the hallmarks of true christian spiritual experience. Frankly it is threatening to people.  However, it is a voice that is needed.  We now live in a post-Christian world and I do believe that one of the major reasons that we are now post-Christian is the failure of the Church to teach people to love God with their minds and to appreciate the material and wonderful world, which God has made . . . and made good.