Archive for September, 2009
Book Review: Mormon Missionaries

Mormon Missionaries

This book, written by Janis Hutchinson, is an engaging book about Mormonism. Janis writes about her own experience saying, “This comes from my thirty-four years of devoted activity in the Mormon church during which time I filled two stake missions, married a returned missionary, and sent a daughter on a full-time mission.” This experience would certainly qualify the subtitle “An Inside Look at Their Real Message and Methods.”
I was written in a fictional story form that was fun to read. I found myself, getting a bit involved in the sub-plot as it developed. A Bible college teacher is on the subject of Mormonism when a couple of unwary missionaries happen onto campus. This begins a story which alternates between classroom time discussing Mormonism and missionary discussions involving the teacher and one of her students.
In terms of content I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is some wonderful evidence set forth that will challenge Mormon claims on many levels. Specifically new to me was the source information behind some of Joseph Smith’s strange doctrines. I came away from the book with a desire for two things: First was a desire to look up all those sources and verify everything. Second, was a desire to study the evolution of belief in Joseph Smith. It is quite evident that his theology changed over the years, but it would be nice to get a better grip on the whole evolution.
The book was also good at presenting how the Mormon’s work. The strategy given and the interactions presented match quite well with my own experience. I think she hit the nail on the head (although I have no personal exposure to the “friendshippers”). I take a harder approach to my conversations, but if she did that in the book she could not explore as many of their beliefs as she did. In that regard it was well done.
On a negative side, I was rather disappointed with some of the material. At one point the missionaries pointed to Amos 8:11-12 (the famine of the hearing of the Lord) and said that this was the apostasy spoken of in scripture. Thus when Joseph Smith came and prayed to God to see which church he should attend, the answer given was “none” since they had all apostasized. Hence Joseph Smith and the Mormon church is the restoration of the church of God. The author took them to task (which is good) and pointed to the Dark Ages as the apostasy and the Protestant Reformation as the restitution of the church. I am a Reformed Baptist so nothing would please me more than to discover that the Reformation was a fulfillment of scripture, but I cannot in good conscience affirm that it was. Was is good? Yes. Did it restore to the church the true gospel and therefore restore the church? Yes! But this was not a fulfillment of scripture.
Chapter two spoke about the “sacred canopy.” It had some interesting things to say, but it seemed to take too secular of an approach. Some parts of it looked remarkably Freudian in its view of religion. It was hard to distinguish how some of the remarks would sting Mormonism and not Christianity. When analyzed well I think Christianity does escape the sting, but there is nothing in the book to flesh out that critical distinction.
In chapter 3 there is more information that I did not know previously (it is always good to learn something when you read a book). I also have no doubt that some of it is true, especially the material from early in Mormonism’s history. But bringing these historical truths into the modern context read like a conspiracy theory.
My final critique may reflect my own preference for presentation but t the same time is still a genuine criticism. It lacked scholarship. The depth was good and I especially enjoyed the archeology and the source material for further tracking Joseph Smith’s ideological evolution. But I do not think that enough time was spent in critical examination. There seemed to be a bit of a fear factor woven into the story. I already mentioned the conspiracy theory part where it felt like Mormonism was going to take over the world. Although I can see more Mormon’s possessing positions of authority in our government, I do not see, nor fear that they will successfully institute “Mormon Law” (my own term). In a similar vein, polygamy was held out as a very real future possibility under a Mormon system and as a reason not to date a Mormon. There are some good reasons not to date a Mormon, but it comes across as fear-mongering to bring polygamy into it when there is little reason to believe that any mainstream Mormon would have that on his mind. The vast majority probably just want a happy life with a happy family. There may be a few perverts out there, but they exist in Christian and atheist and Muslim circles as well. It will go farther to stick with the facts and not try to conjure worst-case scenarios. Thus greater scholarship would have been more critical of some of the information presented.
On the whole, I would recommend this book as an easy read and a information-filled volume on Mormon Missionaries. While I cannot give it a five star rating for the reasons mentioned, it is still a decent resource from someone on the inside.

Transformation via Boundary Dissolution
Time seems as if it’s speeding up. Changes are occurring faster and more frequently than any time in history prior to now, it seems. Such fast transformation can seem as if it is all pointing towards one singular definitive and creative moment in this existence. These changes can be seen and felt physically, in the realms of consciousness, and outwardly throughout the multiverse of Reality. What is going on? Perhaps a better question is: What is our role within this metamorphosis?
There are still a multitude of examples where disharmony, anti-love, and regressive actions are evident in humanity’s various societies and cultures. It is my perception of reality that many people are in accordance with my personal conviction that “enough is enough”. We, as a collective whole, simply can not wait any longer to manifest a humanity and society in which peace and love are the driving motivations for every action undertaken by an individual. We can not wait until someone else does the social transformation for us or leave it to the powers that be to take care of this. We have the power to shift consciousness on a monumental scale, to a higher level. We must be the change we wish to see.

Humans have the remarkable ability to be able to create their own destiny. We are constantly doing this, with every action and reaction we undertake. As a collective whole, the act of enforcing various boundaries, barriers, and structures is hindering the progressive growth towards a world of serenity and harmony. These barriers vary from things from religions, school spirit, political parties, individualism, and anything else that creates an “us vs. them” attitude in the psyche of the individual. Anything that divides and manifests low levels of consciousness such as anger, pride, and fear is something that attempts to hide the reality of oneness.

It is probably the opinion of many that such activity within the human race has gone on for far too long. Yes, we might live in a dystopia come 2012, but not because of the actions of some rogue planet or lizard people. Rather, this would be the work of our own doing. Our consciousness will have created the reality, in which we had clinged to those things that separated us from each other and that created rivalries and hostilities. The only people that would be to blame for such a scenario is ourselves. Even currently, with all the boundaries and divisions within humanity and society, these are a direct result of actions and reactions humans had undertaken throughout the ages, thanks to an empowered ego.

Love is a serious matter. Even today, love is still ridiculed as some utupic hippie and fluffy concept that can never exist as an inherent and constant state of consciousness within all members of the human race. However, this is simply an enforcing of a false concept that brings about this manifested illusion. Remember that our consciousness creates our reality. The thoughts we conjure up and project into the world can become realized manifestations that can have monumental implications and outcomes. The projection of such negative thoughts would have the effect of continuing the process of boundary-erection and the division of consciousness.

Now I do know that since I stress the importance of a conscious shift in my upcoming book, this will impact some. However, being pragmatic, I understand that most of the world’s 7 billion people will probably never read my book nor will ever hear of it, such as those in third world and impoverished nations. However, since love is significantly higher in resonance and frequency than fear, the mind power of the individuals that do compute and live the message of unconditional love can have the power to radiate that love into the global consciousness of humanity and bring about a shift in this consciousness, even in those who had never had anything to do with those other people…all thanks to the interconnected nature of all things in reality and the oneness of everything.

So go on, dissolve those boundaries. Do away with the constructs that separate you from others or create any bit of hostility, hatred, or animosity between you and someone else. Let go of the fear that hinders you from taking these actions. Be freed from the shackles of the ego. Dissolve the boundaries that divide and separate you from others. Transform your world into one of serenity, tranquility, and peace.

XFiles Friday: Is versus Has

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)

It’s time to dig into the Trinity itself, and Geisler and Turek want us to know up front that we’re most certainly not dealing with an unreasonable dogma here.

Despite what some skeptics may say, the Trinity is not illogical or against reason. Saying that there is one God and three Gods would be illogical. But saying that there is one God who has three persons is not illogical. It may be beyond reason, but it’s not against reason.

Gotta love the bit where they say the Trinity is beyond reason rather than against reason. In other words, if trinitarians contradict themselves, that doesn’t mean they’re actually wrong, it just means we’re too stupid to figure out a way to resolve the contradiction. It’s an IOU for the rationalization they’d like to be able to come up with, but can’t. And God’s the one that’s supposed to pick up the tab!

G&T are partly correct: depending on how you define “God” and “person,” it might not necessarily be illogical to say that one God can have three persons. If God is a category, or a species, or an organization, He/They/It could have any number of persons as members. There is one humanity that has many persons, one Republican party that has many persons, and so on. The illogical stuff doesn’t kick in until you start trying to claim that this is anything other than frank polytheism.

Geisler and Turek haven’t really started yet, though unfortunately those four short sentences constitute their entire exposition of the argument that the Trinity is not illogical. No additional evidence or rationale is provided, just the wistful appeal to the notion that perhaps there’s a logical explanation somewhere just beyond the reach of human intellect.

And yet, even though they’ve barely introduced the topic of the logic of the Trinity, they’re already in deep trouble. Notice that they’ve defined God as “one God who has three persons.” So right away we’ve abandoned the idea of a personal God. The concept of “person” does not describe what God is, it describes what God has, and He’s got more than one of them. That means God Himself is not a person (singular), making it technically incorrect to refer to Him using third-person plural pronouns like He and His and Him. He has plural persons, so He is a Them, not a Him.

That’s contrary to the Scriptures, however.

I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. (Isa. 45:5)

For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.(Isa. 45:18)

That’s just a sample, of course, but notice that God is speaking in the first person singular. Not, “We are God and there are no others,” but “apart from Me there is no God.” The Bible portrays God speaking of Himself as though He were indeed a person (as in person singular).  If God were some kind of collective or composite made up of multiple persons, then it would be incorrect and even misleading for the Bible to refer to Him as a singular person. And yet, all of the Bible verses which form the basis for Christian monotheism do just that: they refer to God as a singular person, and designate Him with third person singular (or first person singular) pronouns.

What Geisler and Turek have done, and what the Christian Church has been doing for centuries, is to sneak in a polytheistic conceptual framework, in which the term “God” refers to a kind of “essence” that can be shared among multiple distinct individuals. “Human” is a similar sort of characteristic: we’re each distinct individuals, yet we’re all fully and 100% human. God ceases to be a unique, individual, personal identity, and becomes a type or a category. But that’s just what “deity” is for Zeus and Apollo and Artemis as well: a shared condition of being divine.

And yet, though they have changed “God” from being a person to being a collective of multiple divine persons, they still maintain, monotheistically, that God is a person. They pray to Him, speak of Him in singular pronouns, try to understand His will. They wish to obey His desires, to hear His voice, to see His face—everything you would expect to find among monotheists relating to a deity who was the only person to be an honest-to-goodness God.

If there’s only one Person who is really God, however, then Jesus cannot both be God and be the Son of God. So they slip with practiced ease back into the polytheistic framework that changes God from a character into a category, an impersonal essence that is somehow mystically shared amongst many divine persons. It all depends on the conceptual need of the moment. Are we arguing against polytheism? Then God IS a person. Are we arguing for the deity of Jesus? Then it’s no longer that God IS a person, but rather that He HAS a person, and has a few in fact.

This is what Geisler and Turek refer to as the aspect of the Trinity that is “beyond” reason. It’s not beyond reason, it’s just two contradictory conceptual frameworks inhabiting the same skulls at the same time. They can’t figure out how to fit the two frameworks together because they are fundamentally and inherently contradictions of one another.

And with due respect to Drs. Geisler and Turek, it’s not our fault that two conflicting and contradictory systems fail to fit together nicely. The problems are a direct result of the fact that they conflict. Being smarter won’t give us some magical ability to reconcile the mutual contradictions. Being smarter would merely make it easier to recognize that the system can’t be fixed, because it isn’t broken. It’s just manifesting the fundamental flaws in the original concept.

Lessons from Near Death Experiences

Near Death Experiences, or more accurately called Death Experiences, are when a person is clinically dead, but he or she is Self-aware that their consciousness is very much alive, yet not a physical manifestation of energy. Millions have died and come back to life within a half hour of their clinically-pronounced death. Some death experiencers are not even aware they died at the time of their NDE. This demonstrates how insignificant death is really is. It reveals that death is only a very brief transition from the physical to the nonphysical. It has also been described by some experiencers to be similar to the process of waking up from a dream; the dream being the physical world. What this post is going to discuss is the numerous life-improving messages and lessons these individuals bring back with them into this dimensional aspect of Reality. Without producing theories or hypotheses concerning how or where these thought-forms come from, a few of these messages will be looked upon and produced for inward reflection, self-growth, and as tools for the Self-Realization of the reader.

Lesson 1

The entire experience halted. I discovered that I was in control of the experience. My request was honored. I had conversations with the Light. That’s the best way I can describe it. The Light changed into different figures, like Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, archetypal images and signs. I asked in a kind of telepathy, “What is going on here?” The information transmitted was that our beliefs shape the kind of feedback we receive. If you are a Buddhist or Catholic or Fundamentalist, you get a feedback loop of your own images. I became aware of a Higher Self matrix, a conduit to the Source. We all have a Higher Self, or an oversoul part of our being, a conduit. All Higher Selves are connected as one being. All humans are connected as one being.

Lesson 2

I believe my actual physical existence resides in the river of life as its natural form when not present in this reality or life. As a drop taken from a cup of water and then returned, so the individual drop exists, yet is part of the whole. I believe there is a retained knowledge of life experience that becomes part of collective knowledge yet remains intact as a unit. There is no body in the sense we know one, no love, hate, or any emotion as we know it. In a perfect existence devoid of need or want, all needs and wants, positive and negative, do not exist. The purpose of our physical existence and life is to provide every possible variation of action so an omniscient knowledge base can exist. There is no heaven and hell, as we perceive it. There is no punishment for wrong behaviors, nor rewards for right behaviors. There is no judgment process. All experience, good, bad, mixed, is part of omniscient knowledge.

Lesson 3

The highest purpose of our earthly connections is love.

Lesson 4

Love is the law of the universe. Hatred is a disease that kills nations.

Lesson 5

Love never hurts. Only the absence of love hurts.

Lesson 6

The absolutely only thing that matters is love. Everything else, our achievements, degrees, the money we made, how many mink coats we had, is totally irrelevant. It will also be understood that what we do is not important. The only thing that matters is how we do what we do. And the only thing that matters is that we do what we do with love.

Lesson 7

I was shown that love is supreme. I saw that truly without love we are nothing.

Lesson 8

Above and beyond anything else, we must first learn to love ourselves non-judgmentally and unconditionally. Then we will actually love all people and all things the same way.

Lesson 9

How are we saved? By unselfish love. If we do only good things we will eventually run out of bad karma and only good things will happen to us, and vice versa. The purpose of karma is to force us to learn life’s lessons whether we want to or not. The only way to bypass karma is to develop so much unselfish love that paying for bad karma will serve no purpose – much like a college student challenging a course he already knows. We evolve faster through unselfish love.

Lesson 10

I saw myself [in a life review] perform an act of kindness, just a simple act of unselfishness, and I saw the ripples go out again. The friend I had been kind to was kind in turn to one of her friends, and the chain repeated itself. I saw love and happiness increase in others’ lives because of that one simple act on my part. I saw their happiness grow and affect their lives in positive ways, some significantly.

Lesson 11

We are all one. I comprehended that our oneness is interconnected by love and is an available, much higher level and means of communication than we normally use but to which we have access. This love is available to anyone who is willing to do the hard spiritual work that will allow us to open our hearts and minds and eyes to Spirit.

Lesson 12

What counts is what comes from the heart, not what one professes to believe. The most difficult thing for a person who has been deeply steeped in a particular religious tradition is to realize that the form alone is not what elevates a person; it is the heart.

Lesson 13

When I asked what a person should do while on Earth to make it better for him when he dies, he answered, “All you can do is to develop along the lines of unselfish love. People don’t come here because of their good deeds, or because they believe in this or that, but because they fit in and belong. Good deeds are the natural result of being good, and bad deeds are the natural result of being bad. Each carries its own reward and punishment. It’s what you are that counts!”

Overall Message

From all of the death experiences I have read, I had noticed that there was one underlying message being projected from those individuals who had died and experienced a higher aspect of Reality.  The most common realization that NDE experiencers are given by their spirit guides and other helpful forms of Consciousness is one centered around Unconditional Love. Over and over, this message is repeated by these individuals. The message is that we must replace anger with love, learn to love more, learn to forgive and love everyone unconditionally, and learn that we are in return, loved. This seems like a common sense type of thing to do. However, do we always follow such a simple path?If these concepts and ideas are ingrained without our psyche, then we will be able to manifest a social transformation, through the power of interconnected consciousness. Let us learn to live to love.

Jesus is not God

There’s an interesting follow-up to last Friday’s post on the so-called “dual nature” of Christ. As we discussed before, the reason Christians have come up with the idea that Jesus possessed both a human nature and a divine nature is because the Bible very clearly states, in a number of places, that Jesus had certain weaknesses and limitations that were inconsistent with the idea that he was God. Consequently, theologians needed some way that two contradictory claims could both be true, and they “solved” the problem by assigning Christ a dual nature. Geisler and Turek illustrated this approach by showing how it allows Christians to ask simple questions about Jesus, and claim that the true and correct answer is both yes and no.

[D]id Jesus know the time of his second coming? As God, yes; as man, no. Did Jesus know all things? As God, yes; as man, no… Did Jesus get hungry? As God, no; as man, yes. Did Jesus get tired? As God, no; as man, yes.

In other words, the whole point of the “dual nature” Christology is to make it possible to make true statements about Jesus having the characteristics of being God, and at the same time make equally true statements about Jesus not having the characteristics of being God. That is, Geisler and Turek think that you can truthfully say that Jesus did know the time of his second coming, even though you can also truthfully say that Jesus did not know the time of his second coming. That’s important (to Christians) because Jesus himself claimed ignorance of the date, so if he did know, then he was lying to us.

The point I want to emphasize is that, according to this system, it doesn’t matter whether the statement about Jesus having non-divine characteristics is a contradiction of the claim that he was God. His human nature is supposed to allow us to say anything we like about him lacking the traits of deity, and these things are still true despite the fact that they contradict his dogmatically asserted deity.

The fun part starts when we use Geisler and Turek’s framework to ask the simple question, Is Jesus God? You know the formula, right? The answer is, “As God, yes; as man, no.” In other words, the same principle that allows trinitarians to claim that Jesus was both fully God and fully man also allows us to declare, as Biblical truth, that Jesus was not God. As man, Jesus did not possess omniscience, even though God is supposedly omnscient. As man, Jesus became hungry and weak and tired, even though God is supposedly omnipotent. Thus, as man, Jesus possessed the traits of not being God, because as man Jesus was not God.

The thing is, when the Bible talks about Jesus’ weaknesses and limitations, it does not qualify the claim with the magic formula “as man.” Jesus didn’t say, “As man, the Son does not know the day nor the hour.” You don’t state the “as man” part, you just say that Jesus had the non-divine trait. So the true, Biblical, undeniable statement is, “Jesus was not God.”

I think Christians might have a hard time dealing with this. It’s one thing to say, “Yes, Jesus was as human as me,” but it’s another thing to come right out and say “Jesus was not God.” The contradiction is easier to ignore when you can tell yourself that Jesus just had a dual nature, but when you come right out and say the words “Jesus was not God,” it puts the contradiction right in front of your nose.

The trouble is, Christians can’t deny the truth of the statement “Jesus is not God,” according to dual nature Christology. They can assert the contradictory premise that Jesus is God, but the whole point of dual nature Christology is to sustain the conclusion that both contradictory claims are equally true. If you can’t declare that it is absolutely true that Jesus is not God, then neither can you claim that it’s true Jesus lacked the attributes of deity, like omniscience and omnipotence. And that brings the clear statements of the New Testament in direct conflict with the idea that Jesus was God.

For skeptics, this may seem like no big deal, because we don’t buy into the whole God-can-contradict-Himself notion in the first place. For the believer, though, this might prove to be a serious problem, because it speaks the unspeakable. Christians have been indoctrinating each other for centuries with the idea that it’s heresy to say that Jesus is not God, yet the very Church dogmas that make it heretical to deny the deity of Christ also make it inevitable that Christians must not deny the statement “Jesus is not God.” It’s inherent in dual-nature Christology itself.

The only way we have to detect when men are lying to us about God is by looking for the contradictions that are characteristic of untruth. Only genuine truth is fully consistent with itself; the falsehoods men tell always contain contradictions, either self-contradictions or contradictions of real-world fact. There is a fundamental and inescapable self-contradiction in Christian theology regarding the so-called deity of Jesus, a whopper of a contradiction, a Big Clue that this doctrine of men is not genuine truth. If we cannot recognize this as a human-invented falsehood, then we can never detect any lie at all.

XFiles Friday: Yes and no

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)

Gullibility is when you believe whatever people tell you even though common sense ought to expose their words as false because they conflict with reality and/or contradict themselves. This week, Geisler and Turek are going to tell us that Christianity contradicts itself, but we should believe whatever they tell us anyway.

[I]n Matthew 24:36, Jesus claims he doesn’t know the date of his own return when he declares, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Now how can Jesus be God if he… is limited in knowledge?

The answer… lies in a proper understanding of the Trinity. First, let’s state clearly what the Trinity is not: the Trinity is not three Gods, three modes of one God, or three divine essences. The Trinity is three persons in one divine essence. In other words, there are three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—who share one divine essence.

We’ve talked before about how Christianity substitutes the ritual for the rational in discussing the Trinity, and this is a pretty typical example. The words don’t have to mean anything—you could call Jesus “an unmarried spouse whose biological mother was never pregnant,” for example—and as long as the ritual formula has an officially sanctioned “correct” form, you can mentally substitute the concept of a correct expression of the doctrine in place of the concept of correct substance in what the doctrine teaches. So Geisler and Turek are very concerned with making sure we’re dealing with a correct expression of the doctrine of the Trinity, as though that were the key issue.

Once you start trying to make the formula express some non-nonsensical meaning, however, you get into trouble. G&T close the above paragraph by adding, “The Trinity is like a triangle: a triangle has three corners, but it is still one triangle.” And just in case we’re unclear on what a triangle is, they include a picture of a triangle, with one corner labeled “Father,” one labeled “Son,” and one labeled “Holy Spirit,” and with “Divine Nature” in the middle of the triangle.

Trouble is, each corner is only part of the triangle, and is not wholly triangular in and of itself. That’s another thing the Trinity is not: it is not the doctrine that the three Persons are each only part of God. If we were to apply the triangle analogy to the Trinity, we would say “Jesus is not God, he’s only part of God, just like one corner of the triangle is only part of the triangle.” That’s a direct denial of trinitarian teaching, because we would also have to say that the Father and the Holy Spirit are not God either. G&T’s simple, homey illustration is a heretical contradiction of the primary point they’re trying to make.

At this point, however, they veer away from discussing the Trinity, and turn to a similarly murky discussion of the muddy waters of Christology.

Jesus shares in the one divine nature, but he also has a distinct human nature. Jesus is one “who” with two “what’s” (a divine “what” and a human “what”); God is three “who’s” (Father “who,” Son “who,” and Holy Spirit “who”) in one “what,” that is three persons in one divine nature.

And we’re back to the ritual formula again. Don’t let the side trip into Whoville distract you; all they’re really doing is rephrasing the official formula using a more folksy-sounding vocabulary. (“See, the Trinity isn’t hard, it’s just pronouns!”) But once again, as soon as you start trying to tease out some non-nonsensical meaning from the formulaic expression, you get into trouble.

[D]id Jesus know the time of his second coming? As God, yes; as man, no. Did Jesus know all things? As God, yes; as man, no… Did Jesus get hungry? As God, no; as man, yes. Did Jesus get tired? As God, no; as man, yes.

In other words, the Trinitarian/Christological formula gives simultaneous, contradictory answers to simple questions like “Did Jesus know X?”. Geisler and Turek know this. They realize that if you answer “Yes, he did know,” that’s a contradiction of the answer “No, he did not know.” They know that Christianity, by asserting the truth of both answers, is contradicting itself. But here’s the catch: they know that they’re reciting the trinitarian formula correctly, and therefore the self-contradictory answer must be correct. Right?

What Geisler and Turek overlook is the fact that it is entirely possible to be entirely 100% correct in how you repeat the official, canonized doctrine, and for that doctrine to nevertheless be 100% bullshit. You can compartmentalize your thinking, you can simply shut out the implications of what “being God” means when answering the question in terms of what “being man” means, but that does not eliminate the contradiction. The Church Fathers published a canonized formula that gives blatantly contradictory answers when applied to simple, straightforward cases, and Geisler and Turek know the answers are contradictory, and they believe what the Church Fathers said anyway.

We could stop there, but let’s dig a little deeper, and see why the Christological formula is unable to come up with straightforward self-consistent answers to simple questions. The formula states that Jesus is one “person” with two “natures.” A “person” in this context is a unique individual identity that is aware of itself. Self-awareness, uniqueness, and individuality, in turn, are part of the nature of this person: “nature” is the set of all qualities that define the characteristics, abilities, and limitations of a thing.

The problem that the Church Fathers got into is that once you describe the set of all qualities that define the characteristics, abilities and limitations of something, you’ve only got one set of qualities. If you take a man whose nature consists of the set of all human qualities, and you add omniscience to that set, you still end up with one set of qualities that describe his characteristics, abilities, and limitations, it’s just that this single set of qualities now happens to include the quality of omniscience.

“Nature” thus describes the complete set of properties possessed by something, and there’s only one complete set, because for any given property, it’s either in the set or it isn’t. And within that set of properties, if one property has one value, it would be a contradiction to assert that it also had some contradictory value at the same time. You might, perhaps, observe a change in the set of properties, or a change in the value of the properties, over time, but at any given moment the singular nature of a thing is the complete set of self-consistent properties that describe the thing. And there’s only one set.

Since a thing can have only one complete set of properties that define its nature, you can’t ascribe two contradictory natures to the same thing at the same time. If you say that “the nature of something is X,” you’re contradicting the claim that “its nature is not X, but Y.” And that’s the root of the problem Geisler and Turek are running into. The Christological formula is necessarily going to give contradictory answers to simple questions because it explicitly incorporates the inherently contradictory assumptions that Jesus both is divine rather than human, and is human rather than divine.

There is one caveat here: it’s also possible to talk about “categorical natures” that are subsets of the complete set of characteristics that define a thing. For example, you can combine the “nature of a husband,” the “nature of a college professor,” and the “nature of a liberal” in the same man, because these are only subsets of the complete set of qualities that make up the person. Besides, the qualities in “nature of a husband” do not overlap with the qualities of “nature of a liberal,” so the two sets can be merged without causing conflicts.

That caveat doesn’t work for the Christological formula, though, because the “divine nature” and the “human nature” do directly overlap and contradict one another across a wide range of properties. That’s why the formula, even when correctly stated, cannot give consistent, non-self-contradictory answers to straightforward questions.

This is a point worth emphasizing: the problem is inherent in the formula as correctly stated. We’re not getting wrong answers because we’re applying the wrong formula, or because we’re applying it incorrectly. The original, authentic, Christian formula is self-contradicting and therefore gives self-contradictory answers even when correctly stated and applied. It’s a flaw in Christianity itself, and not a problem in how we’re using it.

Geisler and Turek know this. They know that what the early Christian Fathers said was self-contradicting, they even list a number of examples of cases where the same formula returns both “Yes” and “No” for the same simple questions. But they believe what the Christian founders said anyway, even though common sense would recommend otherwise. And that, as I mentioned before, is the very definition of gullibility.

Bank Deposit?

Below is one of those goofy e-mails that we all receive from time to time.

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“If I don’t get this back, I will know you really didn’t read it. I got this from someone and thought the last part was really a good thought. Too bad that the person who sent it to me did not know 10 people who would admit to knowing the Lord. If I send this to you, please send it back so I will know that my friends do know the Lord. I know 10 people.”

I do wish that Christians would move past this sort of thing. Obviously, this note makes uses of banking as a metaphor. Beyond that, I am unsure what any of this means. What is the bank a metaphor for? Moreover, how does one deposit love and blessing into it? Evidently we can make a withdraw from this account through Jesus. Is this the Protestant form of the “treasury of merit?” Do the saints store up extra blessings that they do not need that we can draw from? Unlike the indulgences, however, this apparently does not cost us anything. If I lose my pin number, I lose everything. Does this teach that the blood of Christ is insufficient to save us? After having been covered by the blood of Christ, can I then do something that will nullify his sacrifice? Perhaps this gives too much credit to the thought put into such e-mails.

Love and blessing do not work that way at all. As faith so often is, love is here turned into an entity of its own. Love is a way that we can interact with one another. “Love is patient” this assumes there is something I am having to endure from another person. “Love is kind” describes how I should behave toward others. If I grudgingly admit your success, I may be envious of what you have, but “love does not envy.” I should rejoice with you. These are not things I can store up in some account somewhere. These are things that are lived out in real flesh and bone relationships.

I expect the sum total of what this e-card was meant to convey is something like this, “I was just thinking about you and I wanted you to know that I care for you and I remember you in my prayers.” If that is the case, just say so. It will go much further. If you really love another person, you will know of his or her struggles and their joys. Cards such as these are so vague as to be meaningless. We need to love and bless one another in more substantive ways. We need to be willing to get into the trenches with them and love as Christ loved us.

XFiles Friday: Answering objections

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)

Geisler and Turek have spent Chapter 13 trying to convince us that Jesus flat out claimed to be God, thus leaving us with no choice but to embrace him as Lord, or else to denounce him as a liar and/or lunatic. Their preferred response, of course, is to proclaim him as God, and today they take some time to deal with various objections to the deity of Christ.

The first objection they take up, ironically, is the question many skeptics ask: if Jesus is God, why didn’t he come right out and say so. Geisler and Turek have been trying to persuade us that Jesus did come right out and say so, but if that were the case, then the best answer to this question would be to simply quote the words of Jesus in which he directly said, “Yes, I am God the Son, second Person of the Trinity, eternal deity incarnate in the flesh of man.” But they can’t. So they give us four other answers instead, and the first one is rather a beaut.

Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down? Coffee or other beverage swallowed and put to one side? Ok then. The question is, Why wasn’t Jesus more overt in declaring himself to be the eternal God come down in human flesh?

First, Jesus didn’t want interference from the Jews.

Yep, that must be it. Good old Under-The-Radar Jesus, tiptoe-ing around trying to keep from stirring up any trouble with the Jews! I’m sure the reason he called them a “viper’s brood” and denounced them as “hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs” is because he wanted to be sure they didn’t interfere in his earthly ministry. I mean, that makes sense, right?

And the reason he went around allegedly working miracles and preaching and generally stirring up the crowds is because he didn’t want a bunch of fans mobbing him and getting underfoot either. He couldn’t have been trying too hard, though, because as Geisler and Turek point out, the crowds got so worked up that he almost was abducted and forcibly made king. He tried to avoid stirring up trouble, but I guess nobody’s perfect, eh? Next reason.

Second, Jesus could not be our supreme human example if he pulled rank every time he got into any earthly trouble.

This is a fairly stereotypical example of a classic apologist’s trick: try and make it sound like the skeptic is making unreasonable demands. But nobody is demanding that Jesus “pull rank” every time he gets into any earthly trouble. There were plenty of times when he and his disciples were off somewhere private, not bothering anybody, when he could have said, “Oh, by the way guys…”

Not to mention he kind of sucks in the “supreme human example” department anyway, since he was not supposed to be afflicted with the sin nature that Christians claim is our biggest handicap. Even without the alleged divine nature to draw on, he couldn’t possibly be “tempted like as we are,” because we’re allegedly tempted and enticed “when we are carried away by our own lusts“—sinful and corrupted lusts that Jesus didn’t have to deal with. And even without them, he wasn’t such a great example, popular legend and Sunday school piety notwithstanding.

Third, Jesus had to be very careful about when and where he revealed his deity so that he could accomplish his mission of sacrificial atonement. If he had been too overt with his claims and miraculous proof, they might not have killed him.

Here’s an argument with a superficial ring of plausibility, at least until you start comparing notes. For instance, just a few pages ago, Geisler and Turek were not only claiming that Jesus did “reveal his deity,” they were arguing that his crucifixion was provoked precisely because he claimed divinity. They even quote the passage where the Pharisees demand the death penalty on a charge of blasphemy. So “revealing his deity” isn’t likely to present a significant obstacle to bringing him to an untimely end.

The thing is, Geisler and Turek are trying to push to contradictory arguments: that Jesus could not openly declare himself to be God, and that Jesus did openly declare himself to be God. You might make a case for either point, but the two contradict each other, so you can’t argue both (at least not consistently).

Their final answer is to appeal to the free will excuse.

He gave them enough evidence to convince the open-minded, but not enough to overwhelm the free will of those wishing to cling to their own traditions.

You gotta love the way they use “open-minded” to mean “anyone who agrees with US.” Apparently, if you acquire too many facts, and have too accurate an understanding of the truth, it causes you to become less “open-minded.”

This is the kind of argument that really bugged me when I was a Christian. Why not just come right out and declare, “Jesus wants you ignorant, because if you ever learn the real truth and the whole truth, you’ll lose your faith in Christ!” That’s really what they’re saying here. Too much truth is a bad thing. It harms you in some way that’s related to believing in Jesus. Jesus had to suppress the truth and confuse people, because honesty just isn’t compatible with salvation. Really?

Four arguments, and not a sound one in the bunch. But that’s just the warm-up. Next week, Geisler and Turek tackle the question, “How can Jesus be God?” And their answer is to explain it all with that wonderfully clear and intellectually-appealing doctrine called The Trinity. Stay tuned.

In my Future

After having wandered through the Bermuda Triangle of the internet, I am slowly reconstructing this site. I have given it a face-lift which matches the church site better and which makes it more readable (the previous dark pages made my eyes hurt). I am locating all the old wigets that I had and tweaking the new php files to accomodate them. There are a lot of little things I need to do to get it back where it was.
I do have a few subjects on which I’d like to write, so as time makes itself available I’ll add some new material. I have a few book and movie reviews to do. I’ll probably do a couple of posts on paedobaptism. Also on the list of potential topics are calvinism, the role of teachers for the Christian, the importance of the local church. I do have some old material that I’ll re-post when time is too short for new stuff.

Film Review #3: Taking Woodstock (2009)

Taking Woodstock

Reliving the most consciousness-revolutionary generation in history through Taking Woodstock is an amazing experience. Even those who have never lived in the 60s generation in this life or a past one, seeing this film will make one’s being feel as if they were right there with everybody else. Director Ang Lee did a phenomenal job in capturing the spirit of the Woodstock generation and their flower power ways. Although not about the actual festival in Bethel Woods, this film brings the audience closer perhaps, then a film that would have been focused on the festival and the musical artists performing. All in all, I have to give Taking Woodstock a 10/10 from doing an excellent job taking he viewer on a wild trip.

I was very delighted to hear some more obscure songs from the 60s, such as Ultimate Spinach’s Mind Flowers playing during a very psychedelic LSD trip. The amount of extras that were used for the film was enormous, telling from the scenes in which Ang Lee tried to replicate similar scenes from the original Woodstock documentary. No stock footage from that film or any other film about Woodstock was used in this film, which gives that much more respectability to Lee for taking the time and dedication to reconstruct some very integral happenings at the most memorable music and arts festival in human history.

This film has the power to bring one’s self to produce tears of joy; especially during scenes showing the peace and loving nature of the hippies that were there. This is not easy for a film to do. In order to stir up such intense and unbridled emotions, either that person is able to directly relate to the experience, or the film is developed into a masterpiece of willful energy. I recommend everyone see this film. Next to the Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music, this film replicates the most authentic 60s Woodstock experience to date. For those who have been to the original Woodstock and lived in the 60s, in this life or a past one, this film will touch your soul in ways indescribable in words. So go on, take the trip.