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Belief vs theory

2005-12-05 20:36:17.211065+00 by Dan Lyke 49 comments

Ever since Mark Hershberger posted this quote:

True, there are those who try to prove to us that religion is a comforting escape, a refusal to struggle, man’s self-betrayal, dead and immovable dogmatism leading us away from hard questions and searching. However, those who make such claims invariably supress words which describe the very heart of religious experience and religious faith: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst…”; “Seek and you will find…”; “I came not to bring peace, but a sword…”.

I've been trying to find the words with which to respond. Especially not when he's got a mental model of faith that's complex enough to understand that religious "Truth" and objective reality must be disparate:

This, of course, is the problem with the Kansas City Schoolboard, many Christian biology students, and a whole host of other people who must believe that Truth is factually accurate.

At the hike last weekend, Bill had a copy of The End of Faith[Wiki] by Sam Harris[Wiki] that he'd started reading, and he said "If you buy it it'll save me getting it for you for Christmas". I bought it, saw why he was enthused about it, but started to get into it and get bogged down, and this weekend Bill said "yeah, started strong, but... sorry." I'll tear it apart once I finish it.

However, Harris brought a whole bunch of my thinking together in disparate ways, the final crystallization happened with "Karl Popper has told us that we never prove a theory right; we merely fail to prove it wrong." (p.75)

This is my beef with religion, with homeopathy (even though I'm known to take the occasional arnica treatment), and especially with the anthroposophy of my early grade schooling: None of these belief structures are disprovable. The Lord works in mysterious ways, that homeopathist didn't fully understand the metaphorical importance of your ailment, if it isn't observably true then at least it's mythically true (this one also shows up in "Chinese medicine" a lot, see "triple burner").

Now I understand the role that belief plays in physiological function. I know that ritual can do wonders for psychology. However, the hard questions here revolve around finding disprovable theories that explain these connections, and since I can be counted as a critic of religion then, yes, that's one of the questions that I see get ducked.

The final value of a theory is how it helps us to understand natural processes. There's a reason that drug researchers don't seem to have adopted intelligent design: it doesn't help us make any predictions about how organisms or genes will behave. While many who gain strength from their religious convictions disavow those particular sets of beliefs, any time we're willing to accept theories that aren't disprovable, or discount a discipline because theories were disproven, we're falling down the same path of accepting mechanisms and explanations which can't possibly make sense. That only impedes understanding.

[ related topics: Religion Psychology, Psychiatry and Personality Health Bioinformatics Philosophy ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-05 23:47:36.615921+00 by: crasch [edit history]

What does that first Hershberger quote even mean? I frequently find that when I talk to Christians, they start speaking Christian-bafflegab, in which words do not have their common meanings (e.g. Hershberger's discussion of the nature of Christian 'Truth'.) If you cannot even agree on the basic meanings of words, I don't see how you can communicate at all, let alone analyze the truth or falsehood of statements made using those words.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-06 05:32:22.49025+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

Perhaps you mean my the second quote was confusing? The first seems clear enough to me: Some people criticize Religion as being an escape. However, when they use this criticism, they are ignoring the call to struggle that Christ gives. Surely that is not confusing?

Now, to clarify my second statement: "Truth" in Orthodox Christianity means Christ himself. Many Christians are confused about this: they think that when Christ said "you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free" he was talking about facts. The context of the statement clearly shows that that is not the case.

Christianity is all about relationship with a living Christ. Fundamentalists get distracted by attempting to objectively prove this or that about the Bible and disprove this or that about Science which they see as opposed to each other.

It has been clearly shown, though, that we shouldn't rely on the Bible to give a scientific account of our world. That isn't what scripture is for. The Bible's author never claimed it was a scientific authority.

And, even though Fundies get distracted (because, they've accepted that religion must be objectively true), they'll agree that Christianity is about a relationship.

Since we're talking about a relationship, we're no longer talking about objective (that is, provable or disprovable) reality. We're talking about subjective experience.

From this, it should be clear that religion's purpose or goal isn't to understand the universe from the smallest atom to the largest galaxy. That's what science is for.

Christianity is meant to bring us into union with the Divine. I don't need Christianity to explain the world to me, to help me understand how things came to be. Instead, it is through Christianity that I seek to experience more fully those rare, fleeting moments of God's presence.

For more on subjective vs. objective, I would refer you to Nikolai Berdyaev

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-06 13:44:30.059867+00 by: meuon [edit history]

One of the big problems I have with most religions is that they require you to learn and understand a vernacular where words are given hidden secret meanings. Often, the meanings evolve as you work your way into the mysticisms or 'up the ladder' of the church. And although I often attend Church with Nancy, her religion is guilty of the same. Christian Science makes almost no sense until you realize they have re-defined a lot of common words. Words that to a geek like me have VERY specific meanings in the real world, starting with "science" - that even Dictionary.com doesn't explain #5 except to say 'Science Christian Science'. (Nancy and I see and share the same much of the same theology, her through her religion and me, in spite of a religion.)

A good religion will embrace reality, knowing that faith is what is important. It will not try to change reality to match a religion that is wrong in ways that any intelligent person can see is wrong. Should a curious 10 year old be told that dinosaur bones, or caves with fossils millions of years old, be told that these things are lies and that the people on the Discovery and National Geographic channels are liars and are misleading you... or should they be told the hard cold truth: The $BOOK (Bible/Koran/Torah/..) was written by people. It's interpretations through the ages are often the manipulations of people with agenda's based on greed and power. Then, if you are a believer, tell that curious 10 year old what you truly believe and why. If it's based in the divinely inspired parts of $BOOK, tell them so, show them where it touches you. If you are a believer, and you have experienced God, the power of that faith speaks for itself.

People who try to force reality into matching a religions teachings, are afraid to see that their Emporer is wearing no clothes, and are only fooling themselves.

For the record, one of the things that I find different about my personal faith is that I see "God" almost every day. They are neither rare nor fleeting moments. My definition is broader than most Christians, but maybe it's because my eyes and mind is just a little more open.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-06 15:03:04.405886+00 by: topspin

I have a simple problem with the Judeo-Christian path: It assumes there's something wrong/lacking in this life. It assumes that FULLY living in this plane isn't possible. It assumes that "yonder over the rolling river" is where we want to be. It assumes that right here, right now...... isn't good enough.


#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-06 15:11:28.116648+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

topspin: I agree. Saying that fully living in this plane isn't possible is bullshit.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-06 15:17:55.093526+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

meuon: I guess it all comes down to how you define "God".

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-06 16:16:43.138402+00 by: topspin

Mark, perhaps you miss my meaning of fully. I mean fully in the sense that THIS LIFE is fulfilling, complete, and whole..... without the "promise of eternal life" if I behave/believe a certain way.

Respectfully, one in your position has LONG uphill struggle in arguing that the Judeo-Christian path respects this life as being good enough. I'll simply cite Paul: "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain." Phil 1:21.

When one holds that dying is better than living, one has little respect for the life one is currently living.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-06 17:53:19.144327+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

topspin, I mean that THIS LIFE is fulfilling. Yes, I believe there is more than just THIS LIFE. Yes, I look forward to it. But I believe that you can find fulfillment in THIS LIFE. God's Kingdom is NOW, HERE, in THIS LIFE. Not just some pie-in-the-sky.

To continue the quote of Fr Alex above, "speculations about life after death and immortality ... are just so much childish babbling." Sure, Christians hope for the afterlife, but scripture focuses on the HERE and NOW.

Re: Paul. I think we'd disagree on interpretation. The church in the East has some pretty signifigant differences with the church in the West when it comes to this sort of thing. I think River of Fire gives more insight into the differences than I can put here. For example, that we don't act or believe a particular way hoping to somehow get into God's good graces.

But, yes, if you say that if I hope for anything beyond THIS LIFE then I'm not finding fulfillment in THIS LIFE, then, fine, we disagree. I don't see it as a "either, or" situation, though. I think I can BOTH hope for the future AND find fulfillment here and now.

So I still I agree that saying you will not find fullfillment in THIS LIFE is bullshit. Religion that teaches everyone will be incomplete until their death is dead religion, and, further, is full of "childish babbling".

Of course, you say that I have a "LONG uphill struggle" to make this point. I'll simply point you to the East and say "Don't listen to me. Look at what they've been saying for the past 2000 years."

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-06 23:38:51.255484+00 by: meuon

Mark, you are right. My defination of 'God' is different. No guilt, no dogma, minimal 'religion'. In fact, everyone here is using words that appear to be the same, but aren't.

I'm always in my God's good graces.. He/She/It is God[Wiki] and is oblivious to such petty human contrived BS. It is possible for me to be "in error" (using Christian Science terminology), and not be right with God. I normally use the terminology: 'Bad Karma' and 'not in the flow'. but both work equally for me.

My head hurts, too much like FidoNet for me today.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-07 01:03:56.58151+00 by: crasch [edit history]


I've not read Schmemann, so I don't know what he means by the statement "that religion is a comforting escape". I interpret it to mean a comforting escape from the true nature of reality-- that death is final, that crappy things happen to good people for no reason, that you have to decide for yourself how best to spend your life on this earth.

Schmemann presented the following quotes as evidence that religion is not a comforting escape:

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst..."; "Seek and you will find..."; "I came not to bring peace, but a sword...".

Let's review what each of the quoted scriptures might mean:

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst..."

To be blessed normally means to have good things happen to you, whereas to be hungry and thirst are generally considered negative states of being. If taken literally, it's unclear how being hungry and thirsty is a blessing. So the statement seems to be self-contradictory.

One possible interpretation is that it's saying that "Don't worry about the crappy things that are happening to you. They're really blessings and/or God will bless you in the afterlife" Sounds like wishful escapist thinking to me.

"Seek and you will find"

The full verse reads:

"Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you."

Ask, and what will be given to me? Money? Good health? Happiness?

"Seek and you will find"...what? Salvation in the arms of Jesus? Truth? Faith in god? My lost socks?

"Knock, and it will be opened for you?" What will be opened for me? The gates of heaven?

Again, it's unclear what the passage means. So you can't really tell if it contradicts the notion that Christianity is a comforting escape. However, it certainly sounds as if God will make it easy to get what you want.

"I came not to bring peace, but a sword...".

What does it mean for Jesus to bring peace? What does it mean to bring a sword? Against whom? His followers? His enemies? Is he speaking literally or metaphorically?

As I'm sure you are aware, the passage is the subject of a great deal of controversy:



So the three quotes that Schmemann presents as contra-evidence that Christianity is a comforting escape have multiple, sometimes contradictory interpretations, even among believers.

The structure of the sentences makes it sound as if he has made an argument. But the quotes are subject to such interpretation that it's impossible to know what exactly he means, let alone whether he is right.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-07 01:21:15.874414+00 by: crasch

The Bible's author never claimed it was a scientific authority.

So, what of the creation story? Jesus's miracles? The virgin birth? The flood?

Are these all myths? If so, why not believe that God and Jesus are similarly mythical beings? What differentiates them from Zeus and Appollo?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-07 03:53:43.722482+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

It's impossible to know what exactly he means, let alone whether he is right.

This is the point. Those are quotes that people have struggled with throughout history. You can ignore Jesus words, or you can struggle with them. Trying to apply them is going to be a struggle.

What differentiates Jesus from Apollo is that Jesus was a historical figure at a particular place and a particular time.

If you're interested in a discussion, try this. The discussion here is degenerating. (Sorry, Dan!)

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-07 13:26:00.968129+00 by: meuon [edit history]

"What differentiates Jesus from Apollo is that Jesus was a historical figure at a particular place and a particular time.".. Laughing. Apollo was no less real to his believers than Jesus is to his. It just depends on which version of manipulated history you choose to believe.

To answer Crash: The Jews, who wrote the creation story, believe it to be divinely inspired... but not a literal description of what happened. The Flood is one of those stories that permeates every society, even Australian Aboriginies. It's one my favorite biblical stories as well as Bill Cosby routines. Check out: Book: Noahs Flood

And for completion, I found a lot of good answers in: Asimov's Guide to the Bible. There is a lot of truths in the Judeo-Christian Bible, as well as lot of dreck and mythology. This book helps seperate the two, and put things in better context. It's not a faith-breaker or faith-maker, more of an 'help-you-understand' book.

Ultimately, after years of trying to be a Christian.. then years of trying to be an Atheist.. I gave up and went with what I know: An objective view based on what I can see and understand. Some people become Atheists with such a view, I did not.

Mark has the basic problem with most people involved in dogmatic religions. He's trying to attach deeper meaning to words and sentences, to grok them, and to apply them into his daily life. The real question is: are those words, translated multiple times and far from their original culture and societiel context relevant any more?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-07 16:04:15.771874+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

meuon, there are scholars who do not believe Jesus was divine who affirm that he was a he was a historical figure. No one affirms Apollo as a historical figure.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-07 17:16:22.920147+00 by: meuon [edit history]

re: Apollo as a Historical Figure. Time and perspective changes things. I contend that Apollo was based on a real figure, as real to his time as Jesus is to this one. Lord Raglans Scale may not be very scientific, but Apollo ranks closer to true historical personages than Robin Hood (based on a real person) and Jesus on it. - And Apollo's supposed lifestyle reads more believable than the official Jesus one. It'd even make a great soap opera. Ancient Greek religion got wiped out by Christianity and converted to merely myth and legend by several crusades and inquisitions. Believe otherwise or have documents saying otherwise: Off with your head (in the name of God of course)! - This leaves us with a LOT of missing information.

My point is: Do we REALLY know what we claim to know? I know enough to know I don't know very much at all.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-07 17:18:54.986865+00 by: Diane Reese

And Wells and Price and other scholars show that Jesus was not historical but rather a myth. I honestly think the jury is forever out on this one.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-07 23:04:19.017546+00 by: crasch


Degenerating? In what way? There's a difference between a discussion degenerating and being asked hard questions.

What differentiates Jesus from Apollo is that Jesus was a historical figure at a particular place and a particular time

But didn't you just write: "It has been clearly shown, though, that we shouldn't rely on the Bible to give a scientific account of our world. "

If we're to reject the creation myth, virgin birth, etc. as allegories or myths why should we accept the Bible's claims about the historical existence of Jesus? How can we tell when a Bible story is promulgating a myth, and when it is promulgating historical fact?

But more importantly, what can you do that an atheist can't do? Why should anyone pay any more attention to your claims than someone who claims Santa Claus is real?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 00:08:48.439361+00 by: Dan Lyke

I don't much care whether or not Jesus or Apollo were historical figures or not, to me what's useful is the mythological constructions that a culture has built around them. L. Ron Hubbard was a historical figure, we've got some pretty hard evidence that he existed. What's important about his impact on the world isn't his historical fact, it's the mythology that he and others have built around his name.

But what I think Mark is saying is that he feels a connection and a relationship to some entity that he identifies as the historical figure of Jesus. I can't deny that feeling of relationship, only say that I don't have it and have never felt it, with any entity that I now classify as mythological that I've tried to connect with.

And as much as I think that religion causes all sorts of evil, there are people whose actions that I respect who claim religion, specifically Christianity. So my purpose in asking these questions isn't to change their minds: I'm not sure that I can, because I can see that they experience the world in a way very different from my own. It's to try to understand what that perspective is.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 02:42:08.680886+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

crasch, you assume that I haven't ever been asked hard questions. That I haven't thought them through. The first five times it may be interesting. But after you've sorted through your rationale several times, being asked the same questions for the 50th time is annoying. I'm pretty Orthodox. Orthodox theology is well documented and they've dealt with the questions to my satisfaction in fifty different ways. Go read the answers for yourself instead of expecting me to cut-n-paste them.

More succinctly: I'm not interested in fundy baiting. Or atheist baiting. Or Buddhist baiting.

If all that mattered was who had the best arguments, then you wouldn't even need to ask the questions. Anyone with questions could go to the library and get some answers.

In the end, as Dan said, this is about experience. And you can't argue with experience (or lack of it). People know what they've experienced. It's completely subjective, and you aren't going to convince anyone that their experience is a delusion by using the same arguments they've heard a zillion times before.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 04:28:16.686655+00 by: topspin [edit history]

There is no faith in the intellectual, none in the moral universe. There is faith in chemistry, in meat, and wine, in wealth, in machinery, in the steam-engine, galvanic battery, turbine-wheels, sewing machines, and in public opinion, but not in divine causes. A silent revolution has loosed the tension of the old religious sects, and, in place of the gravity and permanence of those societies of opinion, they run into freak and extravagance. In creeds never was such levity; witness the heathenisms in Christianity, the periodic "revivals," the Millennium mathematics, the peacock ritualism, the retrogression to Popery, the maundering of Mormons, the squalor of Mesmerism, the deliration of rappings, the rat and mouse revelation, thumps in table-drawers, and black art. The architecture, the music, the prayer, partake of the madness: the arts sink into shift and make-believe. Not knowing what to do, we ape our ancestors; the churches stagger backward to the mummeries of the dark ages. By the irresistible maturing of the general mind, the Christian traditions have lost their hold.
--- from The Conduct of Life by Emerson

There is no denying some people truly experience God, of course, but there is also no denying the psychological tendency of many religious folks to substitute the intense following in the footsteps of their elders or to hold to the teachings of sages because they lack a true, personal, individual relationship with God. In my estimation of most religious people, they FOLLOW rather than as Emerson suggests "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Mark, in your answer to me about my quote from Paul, you immediately tell me that "the church in the East has some pretty signifigant differences with the church in the West...." rather than your own feelings about the matter. You go on to say "that we don't act or believe a particular way hoping to somehow get into God's good graces. [emphasis mine]

I'm not picking at your statements to be nasty or mean, but rather pointing out why I find it hard to reconcile a personal relationship which isn't expressed in personal terms rather than the party line of Orthodox movement. It seems to me to be "groupspeak" rather than individual expression, but folks ALWAYS talk about it being a "personal relationship" with God. Therein is the rub for me.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 05:43:34.850586+00 by: crasch


You're right. I'm not going to persuade you. However, I think too often those afflicted with religious delusions are given a pass. How would you respond to someone promulgating Holocaust denial theories? Or someone who claimed that they had been abducted by UFO's? Too often, religious beliefs that are equally groundless are afforded a deference that we do not give to less popular, less powerful mythologies.

I believe that you have strong subjective experience that Christ exists. And if you just wanted to quietly experience your relationship with Jesus, I wouldn't care. But due to their religious beliefs, many Christians want to control what I can read, who I can have sex with, what drugs I take, who I can marry, what I can watch on TV, and what's taught to my kids. Beliefs which, as far as I can see, have no more basis in reality than Greek mythology.

Imagine that a broad swatch of the population continously tried to pass laws banning the Bible because "Zeus told them it was blasphemy." And when their scientific and historical claims about Zeus were questioned, responded with "you're right, but you can't argue with my subjective experience of the nature of Zeus". How would you respond?

In my opinion, part of the reason that otherwise intelligent people are able to persist in their religious delusions is, in part, because they corrupt the language. When 'truth' can mean "corresponds with reality" or a "relationship with Christ", it becomes difficult to logically analyze one's beliefs.

And yes, I'm sure you have heard these arguments before. But others read this blog, perhaps some who may not be so firmly entrenched in their beliefs. Hopefully, my arguments will change their minds. Or make you more reticent to promulgate your beliefs. Either way, with luck, we will someday live in a world where it is considered just as ludicrous to believe in Christ as it is to believe in Santa Claus.

(I apologize Dan, as I hijacked what I think you intended to be a more reflective, less combative post. I'll shut up on this issue now.)

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 11:50:07.687231+00 by: meuon [edit history]

I just re-read this whole thing, I was looking for Mark's "statement of faith"... I see where he says he's fairly Orthodox (Greek Orthodox? Jewish Orthodox?), and where Dan says "..I think Mark is saying is that he feels a connection and a relationship to some entity..." but I was looking for Mark's actual saying it. Because that is what it comes down to. I'm currently doing some work for a Tennessee Temple Fundie, whom impressed me and stopped me cold in such discussions with a deep personal statement of "I feel.." and "I believe.." that was completely independant of his Dr. of Divinity degree. Tom Kunesh, whome I and many of the Flutterbarians have had -long- discourses with argued from many vantage points: Catholicism, Unitarianism, Atheism... and I still don't know what Tom feels and believes. Nancy and I seldom talk about such things, but I see and experience her deep personal faith, feelings and beliefs in God and Jesus every day.

Mark said:

"True, there are those who try to prove to us that religion is a comforting escape, a refusal to struggle, man's self-betrayal, dead and immovable dogmatism leading us away from hard questions and searching"

Mark, also said: "Orthodox theology is well documented and they've dealt with the questions to my satisfaction in fifty different ways."

It appears you have fallen into "a comfortable escape". May you find peace and happiness in your journey.

I question things because I want to know more, understand better and I try not to accept the answers of others. It's not easy, and I accept that as I understand more and my perspective changes, my beliefs will evolve with them. "Baiting" or trying to get people to discuss what they believe helps me understand their relationship with their religion and their God. It helps me see where I stand and where I am going, sometimes it helps them do the same. For example: I am currently wrestling with the personal meaning I find in:

The Scientific Statement of Being

"There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter.
All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all.
Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error.
Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal.
Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness.
Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual."

Lots of alternative contextual meanings to many of those words... and some concepts I agree with, I think.. still working on them. I'll be digesting on such things until I die. I hope God appreciates my efforts.. and if not, well I've certainly enjoyed my life here.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 16:26:25.602278+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger [edit history]


... Or make you more reticent to promulgate your beliefs. ...

You don't know me. You don't know what my beliefs are. You don't know what I think about social issues. Assuming that we disagree, you don't know what I think society's role should be regarding the promotion of my beliefs.

Your entire response here has been based on incorrect assumptions about who I am.


If you're really interested in hearing my answers, then the questions you ask aren't baiting. This is a difference between discussion and attempting to make me "more reticent to promulgate [my] beliefs".

I'm an Orthodox Christian. Right now, I'm in a Greek church, but I was chrismated in an Antiochian church. Both are Orthodox (along with Russian Orthodox, etc).

(The "comfortable escape" bit is Fr Alex's quote, not mine.)

It appears you have fallen into "a comfortable escape".

But you've created a "God" that lets you do as you please. How is that not "a comfortable escape"?

Just because I look to the church for guidance, don't assume that I've stopped thinking and asking questions; don't assume that I accept everything that is said. I find that Orthodoxy fits my understanding of God and the world ... it matches my experience of God much more than what I've found in the Western church.

The "Statement of Being" that you give is interesting. I personally would find it hard to digest because it says "matter is mortal error" ... no matter what you meaning you assign the words.

About every aspect of creation "God saw that it was good", so saying "matter is mortal error" definitely sounds like it condemns creation. The psalmist writes that "The earth is the Lord's". Later, Jesus says that the stones would "cry out" if his followers were quiet.

All of this, as well as Christian tradition, contradicts the statement "matter is mortal error".

(Though, I am fully aware that you could re-define both "matter" and "mortal error" to be something besides the obvious, at least "mortal error" seems to carry some of the expected meaning according to your usage above.)

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 16:52:00.623279+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger


... the Christian traditions have lost their hold.

Emerson wrote that over a hundred years ago, but we still have churches (and other religious institutions) on every street corner. I still hear people complaining about the influence of the "religious right". Perhaps Emerson was wrong?

I find it hard to reconcile a personal relationship which isn't expressed in personal terms rather than the party line of Orthodox movement.

Yes, I'm guilty of saying "the church" this and "the church" that. However, even in responding to you about Paul, I pointed out that I believe (ok, "I think", but I meant believe) you can BOTH hope for the future AND live a fulfilled life in the present. How is that response insufficient in so far as it addresses the bullshit you hate so much?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 18:51:49.4784+00 by: topspin

Mark, I'm not combative about this, but I see it as a matter of examining different points of reference for living life. There is plenty of room for beliefs, lifestyles, etc. different from my own and yours doesn't threaten or offend me any more than mine yours. I'm grateful, as a matter of fact, because your statement about "the Eastern church" has led me to some interesting web searching, reading, and discovery. Thank you.

I think we can agree that for many people religion is simply "Dad and Mom's religion" and little more. It is following without examination or reflection. Or perhaps we can't agree there, but it remains my perception of most folks who call themselves religious. Yes, yes... churches remain on every corner, but Emerson was hardly wrong.... bodies doing liturgy, ritual, and ceremony does not reflect a personal experience with Christ, but rather the church's prescribed worship experience of Christ. How can such be personal?

For me, it comes down to a locus of control issue. On whom do you rely for authority in your life? As I've read of the Eastern traditions, it appears the view is that sin clouds man's vision toward God and separates us. A "better walk" or "more Godly path" leads to a closer view of God, which is to be chosen.

Again, there is the rub for me. Religion would have me rely not upon my own nature, but upon a prescribed "better" pattern of behavior for myself. Again, Paul: "I chastise my body, and bring it into servitude...." (I Cor 9:27, Youngs literal translation) or "if, by the Spirit, the deeds of the body you put to death, you shall live..." (Rom. 8:13, Youngs) or Christ, himself: "So, then, every one of you who does not take leave of all that he himself has, is not able to be my disciple." (Luke 14:33, Youngs) I see a message of: Don't live according to your nature, but live THIS way or, bluntly, left to your own devices, you are bad. As before, at that point I.... and Emerson.... call Bullshit.

I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, "What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within?" my friend suggested,--"But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.
--- From "Self Reliance" by Emerson

As I understand Dan's original comment, he is uncomfy because religion places itself outside the realm of logic.... "The Lord works in mysterious ways" argument. I am uncomfy with that also, but doubly uncomfy with the thought that in religion one is outside the realm of logic AND defying ones own nature for a "better way" of behavior. Personally, I can't go there.

But, hey..... some folks ENJOY programming in COBOL, so it's quite clear to me that there's perspectives I'm just not going to understand. :-)

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 18:58:49.140832+00 by: Shawn


If you're not too worn out from this thread, I'd be interested to know how you would respond to a qualification of topspin's original question/point:

Do you believe it's possible to have a sufficiently fulfilling life in the here and now (i.e. "this life") - without the promise of an afterlife and a personal relationship with God?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-08 20:41:58.486721+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

Shawn: People seem to find fulfillment without God all the time. Who am I to argue with them? I'm not about to go around saying "this person seems to have found fulfillment, but, really, I know better because of they lack X" where X is some thing that I think is necessary.

topspin: It is true that Christianity teaches humility. Self-satisfaction is not what Christians aspire to, especially because that would mean the end of community. The commandment is Love your neighbor and so, by ourselves, we will never be satisfied.

Did you read River of Fire? I especially suggest the section (linked) that talks about the Western idea of salvation. While RoF is not dogma, it does reflect Orthodox thought.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-09 00:00:36.949688+00 by: topspin

Mark, I did. And again, thanks. Most interesting from my perspective was several webpages I found discussing the link/similarity between the "Emerging Church" and Orthodoxy. I have a coupla young friends who've been drawn to an EC-type of group and it's worn well on them in most ways.

As for self-satisfaction and Christianity, I see your perspective there, but I feel it goes deeper than just teaching humility..... again, a matter of perspective, but I see the teachings of the Bible as advocating self-surrender, at which point I bristle.

Getting back to Dan's original thoughts, the differences between us and how that affects your experience and my experience of life. Dan draws the discussion into the practical, but that's the problem-- how you see your spiritual issues doesn't seem to and need not affect how you see the practical aspects of your life. That is, you may accept some things Dan and I find unacceptable about the spiritual plane of life, but where's that create a problem on the practical level? I don't think it does.

Dan says "the final value of a theory is how it helps us to understand natural processes" and that's fine for natural theories, but this is a spiritual theory. What "natural process" would your chosen spirituality impact? or mine? or Dans? It seems to me to be apples and oranges, in the end.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-09 02:43:55.292891+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

topspin, the EC seems to be borrowing a lot of ideas from Orthodoxy (and Roman Catholicism). Other friends have said the EC is a merging between the biblical-based "right-wing" of protestants and the socially-aware "left-wing". I can see value in it, but, in another sense, it feels to be like a reaction against a reaction against a reaction... Orthodoxy feels like a "third way" out of the struggles that Protestants seem to have continually. But maybe that's just my reaction against protestantism.

The East has the idea of theosis, or unity with God. We see this as possible in this lifetime, but, even in those cases where a person has achieved theosis, he doesn't give up his personhood. It isn't as if you've lost your own will. Will, the power to choose, is part of what makes up God's image in us. God doesn't force you to give up anything.

In fact, what you would call "natural," I would say is succumbing to the passions or logosmi. This is similar to the Buddhist idea of detachment, with the exception that the Orthodox do not strive for the absense of desire, but instead, seek to fulfill our desire for unity with the unique Person that is God.

So, whats the difference? How do my "spiritual" ideas affect "practical" aspects of life? For one, I don't make that artificial division. Everything spiritual is practical and everything practical is spiritual. As I said, God's kingdom is HERE and NOW. For example, I want to care for his world (which some might mistake for enviornmentalism).

When you say bodies doing liturgy, ritual, and ceremony [do] not reflect a personal experience with Christ, I agree that ritual in and of itself is meaningless. However, ritual is an expression of our desire. It is the broad perscription of the Church for achieving the aim common to all people in the Church.

If you don't share the goal that the spiritual practices of the Church are meant to help you achieve, then, yes, it's just empty ritual and there is no reason for you to practice those rituals. However, don't assume that a practice is empty or without "practical" value simply because it is a ritual.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-09 18:21:11.168845+00 by: topspin [edit history]

The East has the idea of theosis, or unity with God. We see this as possible in this lifetime, but, even in those cases where a person has achieved theosis, he doesn't give up his personhood. It isn't as if you've lost your own will. Will, the power to choose, is part of what makes up God's image in us. God doesn't force you to give up anything.
In fact, what you would call "natural," I would say is succumbing to the passions or logosmi. This is similar to the Buddhist idea of detachment, with the exception that the Orthodox do not strive for the absense of desire, but instead, seek to fulfill our desire for unity with the unique Person that is God.

What I'm hearing from the above is: Being born human isn't good enough. Better humans seek to be closer to God. Best humans acheive a kinship with God that's really tight. As a matter of fact, that's the best thing a human could ever do, emulate God. Always remember, being human isn't good enough.... strive to be God instead.

From the theosis wiki:

Through theoria, the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, human beings come to know and experience what it means to be fully human (the created image of God); through their communion with Jesus Christ God shares Himself with the human race, in order to conform them to all that God is in knowledge, righteousness and holiness....
For many fathers, theosis goes beyond simply restoring people to their state before the Fall of Adam and Eve, teaching that because Christ united the human and divine natures in his person, it is now possible for someone to experience closer fellowship with God than Adam and Eve initially experienced in the Garden of Eden, and that people can become more like God than Adam and Eve were at that time. Some Orthodox theologians go so far as to say that Jesus would have become incarnate for this reason alone, even if Adam and Eve had never sinned.

This tells me theosis = Human SP1. Download Jesus, reboot, better human, that is less like a human, more like God.

Yet again, being human isn't good enough.

Enjoy your journey, Mark, and thank you for sharing your beliefs in a difficult forum. The Eastern thought process IS interesting when compared with Western Christianity. Thrive, as millions of Christians do, in the wonders of God's Love and Compassion, but as a wonderfully heathen friend used to say when we were incarcerated at a Southern Baptist college, "I'd love to go with you, but I'm not going Yahweh."

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-09 19:13:57.462539+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

topspin: you have funny ears.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-09 19:20:20.017181+00 by: meuon

He does. Freckled.

#Comment more human vs. better than human made: 2005-12-09 19:40:14.568063+00 by: Tuirgin

The goal of theosis is communion with God, which is, we believe, the purpose of our having been created in the first place. To step down a slight little bit our purpose is to become more human, not more than human.

Orthodox theology doesn't have original sin as constructed by Blessed Augustine. A quick summation of our understanding of "the fall" is that the man and woman both chose, essentially, to exist on their own right, and not within the context of God the Creator/Father. Since ontologically our existence is rooted in the creative fiat or logos of God, severing this dependency has the effect of returning us to that from which we were made; i.e. the void. Human nature is ontologically that of being "Created," and created so as to be in communion with the Creator. So the effect of "the fall" was a corruption of human nature -- not inherited guilt, but a tendency of slipping toward the void.

The metaphor of God as the "Father" is useful because a good Father isn't a slave master, and a child is not a slave. If the child wishes to turn his back on his relations, he is free to do so, but at what cost? The cost is not that the father will hunt the child down and torment him for having been willful, but that the child will be free to go, to live on his own, to be left to his own devices and to make use of what is his as he wishes to do. But of course, that which is his has been given him, passed on to him from his parents. He is also free to return to his father, to take back the name of "son."

The purpose of Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection is not to give the Father the blood that his sense of justice demands. No, he became human, as we are human, so that he could die, as we die, and defeat death, breaking it open so that we can do the same. This death is both spiritual and physical.

I'm guessing that you'll read this and sigh and mutter something about bloody metaphysics and idiotic spiritualism and probably jump my ass, but I wanted to point out, at least, that we are not talking about becoming something other than human, that being human is quite a great and wonderful thing, but that it is merely that too few of us are completely human, or rather, that too few of us are completely healthy humans.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-09 19:43:00.066022+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

ontologically, I'm getting a headache.

#Comment Re: ontollogical headaches made: 2005-12-09 19:48:34.607448+00 by: Tuirgin

Take two "Our Father's" and call me in the morning.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-09 21:17:51.568321+00 by: Larry Burton

To step down a slight little bit our purpose is to become more human, not more than human.

I like this explanation. It says quite succinctly what I've been considering jumping in and saying but couldn't find the words.

Topspin, there is good and bad in all of us. We are born with both sides and we exhibit both sides even though exhibiting the bad side is not a part of our character that most people are very proud of. I would guess that most people, theist and atheist alike, would agree that developing the good while bringing the bad under control is a noble effort.

My building a relationship with my God is my way of developing my good side. It isn't about me trying to become something better than what I am, it's about me trying to be the best I can be just naturally. I'm not working on that relationship for a reward in the afterlife, I'm working on that relationship because it is the reward for me. YMMV.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-10 00:16:18.204195+00 by: topspin

First, my ears have freckles? And should I be worried that meuon noticed?

Second, welcome Tuirgin. I've read your stuff on Mark's blog.

Third, hiya Larry!

Fourth, guys, I'm not here to put a burr under your blanket. I'm here to show you how I experience what you experience. There's plenty of room for both experiences.

Your side: communion with God is a value added situation for humans. My side: I'm satisfied with my humanity now.

Religion is trying to sell me something I don't feel I need. If you're trying to tell me I'm born wicked and need religion to be whole, I'm not buying PERIOD. If you're trying to tell me I'm born okay, but religion will make my soul whiter and the colors brighter, I'm not interested.

The premise remains the same as any salesman: You need this to be better or have a better life.

That's fine for cars, computers, etc, but now you come along trying to sell me an entire friggin' "New Creature" deal complete with the "death of the old man of sin" and a resurrection from a symbolic watery grave and an entire set of guidelines, ceremonies, and whatnot to make this important and ingrained enough to stick with me. Say what?

Look, guys, take me for a ride on the occasional car I've just gotta have.... sell me a gadget now and then that I "loved" for 3hrs and discarded.... but DON'T expect me to buy a new psyche from a Jewish guy from the lower east side of Jerusalem.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-10 04:40:51.997329+00 by: Larry Burton

I haven't noticed any burrs. Topspin, I have nothing to sell you if you have what you need. I thought we were just sharing experiences. I find value in religion. It does bring me closer to God. If you are as close as you want to be I can dig it. I'll just kick the dust from my sandals and be on my way.

On another note I've got a ping-pong game set up for you to play whenever you are down for a visit.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-10 14:15:22.708543+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

topspin: my comment about "funny ears" was probably a bit too obtuse. I just meant that you said "you heard" some things that that certainly weren't being said, which, to me, looks like the meaning is being changed on your end.

I'm not taking personal offense ... you haven't insulted me.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-10 14:32:31.370382+00 by: meuon

Topspin's feelings of having to 'buying into the franchise' is what I get from most ReligionsTM as well. It's all those man made trappings created to make me feel I am missing something from life without it. In reality: Life is good. ...and so am I.

Maybe I've evolved to a level where I don't need ReligionTM to re-enforce what I already know about my life, morality, ethics and how to treat others. I've made up my own mind. I still have the big questions, as ReligionTM never answered them well: Why am I here? Why are humans so much more self-aware than the other species on this planet? Is there a purpose to life beyond procreating? Why are those flowers pretty?

If you are happy and satisfied with the 'official scholarly' answers from a ReligionTM, fantastic! If not, and you choose another path, fantastic! What is important is that you reach a place where YOU are happy. Some poeple seek out structured solutions, are happy in them and their life is better because of them. Some aren't.

I contend that God acts exactly the same in each case, it is up to us to 'listen to him' or 'be in the flow' or 'be error-free' or 'be in a state of grace' or 'feel his/her presence' or.. however you want to phrase it.

Ping Pong? Can I referee?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-11 00:03:58.313666+00 by: topspin

Mark, I wouldn't want to insult your faith and, though it is a difficult subject for everyone, it's a worthy one. Dan's original thought resonates: There's danger in accepting things which can't be disproven.... which are fully subjective.... which begin and end in the argument: "I know what I experience is true and that settles it."

I don't contend your faith is false, but I contend, like I think Dan is saying, it is useful for you personally, but not for us as a group. This question DOES have group issues involved: terrorism, stem cell research, abortion, intelligent design, etc. Questions that plague us in some part (not fully, but in part) because individuals bring their strong personal beliefs and experiences as a model for the group..... and that just doesn't work.

This isn't about what I experience or you experience, but about what WE base our cultural decisions upon. Merely because a large group of Muslims believe Allah's law should rule the world doesn't work any easier than allowing Falwell's followers absolute sway.

Groups of "believers" and "evangelicals" make me cringe because they don't take MY personal feelings in account when they try to make rules for us. Yes, I'm sure it goes the other way, Mark; I'm sure you don't want to see rules which are repugnant to your strong, personal faith experience.

So what do we do here? We must follow the proveable, the solid, the logical course. Test, analyze, adjust, re-test, analyze.... Anything less DOES impede understanding, both of our world and of ourselves.

Faith cannot lead us. Faith may give personal comfort, but it cannot provide the solid foundation for culture. Faith told Jim Jones followers in Guyana to drink the Kool-Aid. Faith told planes to fly into the trade centers. Faith has sent countless men, women, and children to their graves. Faith has not shown itself a worthy leader of men.


Mike and Larry, I've not played serious ping-pong since Wang Jue left town and probably have done little more than hold a paddle in the past 5 years, but it would be wonderful to hit a couple with you guys sometime.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-11 00:39:20.21953+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger [edit history]

topspin: thanks for the discussion. However, you seem to think that belief is the source of society's ills. Instead, I would suggest say that idealism is the problem, whether the ideal is individualism, communism, capitalism, fascism, fundamentalism, etc.

Added: I've got more to say, but I'm happy with what I've said here for now.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-11 01:18:51.179913+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

Ok, I lied. Topspin, your latest seems to indicate that you think I've been arguing for theocracy and state religion. You said This isn't about what I experience or you experience, but about what WE base our cultural decisions upon and, I'm sorry, but until you explicitly stated that I thought I was talking about my experience.

Perhaps I missed it in Dan's comment? Or has the subject been changed?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-11 10:00:57.630749+00 by: topspin

Mark, I don't think you would advocate theocracy, nor do I think all the faithful want the world government to be Christian/Muslim/communist/etc. Some faithful DO advocate theocracy and some do want to establish Sharia or Christian law.... but not all.

While I don't know you personally, my point is that folks like you worry me. Don't take this badly, but LITERALLY there is no reasoning with you about your faith. There is no reasoning with you because you are quite aware the faith you hold cannot be logically challenged because it is a subjective matter. YOU experience it, YOU have faith in it, and YOU believe it. For you, it exists. Within itself, that's no problem for me. In fact I'd go so far as to say it's not my business WHAT you believe about God. I sincerely hope it brings you comfort, peace, and happiness.

I live in Chattanooga, TN. Whether it was a belief that the Natives need to abandon the land to the white man (Trail of Tears) or a belief that black men are inferior (segregation, Jim Crow, etc.) there have been periods of time here where the majority of the populous held beliefs which were personal, heartfelt, and quite..... uh.... "misguided." Some are still here and they will quote you scripture as to why white people are the superior race. Ah, I can hear you saying.... they misinterpret, pervert, and twist The Word. Is that in the same way you would insist the Western Church misinterprets Paul? How far do we twist The Word before it becomes wrong or evil? How can you question the interpretation of the West about Paul or the bigots about the scripture? It is, after all, their experience with the Word of God. So, what of them.... those misguided soldiers of the cross? Do we let them go on? Do we dare? AND who decides who is misguided and who is "right" or close to "right" or, well, at least not too dangerous. When we cannot logically challenge their interpretation or belief, we MUST accept their right to that misguided, even dangerous view of God's Will?

WHOLE GROUPS of "Godly" people get it wrong..... HORRIBLY wrong.... or, wait, are they led in wrong directions by guidance from the Fathers, the Elders--- many of the most revered of them like Augustine, Aquinas, and Assisi lived in times when the church was HARDLY a non-bloody entity.

Were all the soldiers of the Crusades fundamentalist maniacs or were they folks who had a personal experience with God and searched for a group to fit in and found the church...... which preached them into battle. The latter is probably closer than believing they were all bloodthirsty, isn't it?

I know, Mark.... you would NEVER, NEVER and I believe that.... but then, I must ask, why have so many done such awful deeds in the name of religion? Were they all evil? I think not. But they all shared FAITH--- the belief that their experience with God was justified, magnified, and solidified by their actions, rituals, litergy, and..... yes.... even their wars, bombings, and murders.

Respond, Mark, and let's take this to email or somewhere else. Flutterby just isn't the kind of place for a discussion of this type, in my mind, unless I hear otherwise from Flutterbarians or is that Flutterbarbarians?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-11 22:12:43.848704+00 by: Larry Burton

Topspin, if it wasn't religion it would be something else. Nationalism has been blamed for exactly the same thing. The problem isn't religion, the problem is that humans are social animals. We bond in groups and without an "us and them" mentality those groups loose their identity.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-12 01:30:27.716564+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

I've responded here: http://www.openweblog.com/~hexmode/452789.html

#Comment Re: everything made: 2005-12-12 07:15:40.310476+00 by: joseph_unworthy

I agree with just about everybody. We can't know anything for certain. And sometimes, okay, ofttimes, Christian speak can come across as gobbly-gook.

There is, however, an entity that has been on this earth as part of history for at least 4000 years. And that is the Jewish people. And the Jews proclaimed a God who makes a covenant with them. There was no way to encounter this God except to join this group--one could not stand outside and meet this God.

And a certain Jew came along (whose historical existence is denied only by the most radical of scholars) and a whole new movement started up after Him.

This movement we call Christianity. And this movement asks forgiveness for the evil it has been involved in.

And people within this movement, whether at the heart (organised religion) or on the fringes (say, Ghandi), the people within this movement find one thing which cannot be found outside this movement.


And, again, this movement proclaims that it has an experience of God. Can't be proven or unproven.

But it is not just religious claims that cannot be proven or unproven. NOTHING AT ALL can be conclusively proven or unproven.

So, folks inside the movement can try to convince (or state to) others of what they have found, or think they have found. And folks outside the movement can state they dont need what the movement offers--which is valid.

At the end of the day, still, the Movement still proclaims that there is a God who became incarnate in the person of Jesus and that this person claims to be the light of life, and actually that He enlightens every man and woman who come into the world.

So the movement is not perfect. It proclaims Another. It offers Another.

People have to be hungry for Another or they will never find Him. If they are not hungry, they can keep on writing naturalistic and materialist explanations of what they know as life.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-12 14:18:22.055684+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Topspin, perhaps rephrasing your question to a different audience might shed some insight: Given the legacy of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ché Guevera and the like, what sort of an otherwise reasonable and likeable person could subscribe to Communism?

I think the scales of the misdeeds are alike, especially given that Communism's been around for a fraction of the time, but I also think that there's space in looking at the wide-eyed believer who can say "but that's not Communism" without understanding that, indeed, that's exactly communism, to understand those who can say "that's not true Christianity".

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-12 15:43:33.430786+00 by: ebradway

joseph: There is Another... who an entire movement started up after Him... We call this movement Islam (Service Pack 2)... And wait, there is Another!!! who an entire movement started up after Him... We call this movement Baha'i (Service Pack 3)... And I'm probably missing a few others...

Sometimes, when people are hungry, instead of making the same old bread, they try a new recipe. Sometimes the new recipe spawns a new bakery... But, in the end, it's all just bread (we... unless it's a communion wafer...)

topspin: keep it going here! until someone cries "libel" and makes Dan kill the thread...