Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Skull Full of Mush?


Earlier, I posted something about my discussion on a religious message board concerning my skepticism over the ambiguities of interpreting implausible scripture. I've continued to have a discussion with that gentleman, and the crux of his reply to my objections is that I need to do my "homework" in terms of open-mindedly studying scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church before I engage in further straw man arguments against the Church in particular and Christianity in general.

This is how I recently responded to him:


I confess that I take it on faith that a real God would not
require us to "do our homework" in order to make clear sense of the
sacred texts that speak for him, or, if he did, he would first make us
indubitably aware of his existence and of the fact that the Bible,
among all so-called sacred texts, and the RCC, among all religious
institutions, are the only sacred text and religious institution that
bear his official seal of approval. This way we could do our homework
fully confident that our efforts, guided by the divine authority of
the RCC, would yield worthwhile results rather than, to paraphrase
Professor Kingsfield from "The Paper Chase," a skull full of useless
theological mush.

Why would someone do his homework or join the Church and take the
Church as his spiritual guide if he has strong and legitimate doubt
that the biblical God exists, much less that the Church and Bible
speak for him, and how could a supremely loving, just, and merciful
God require that someone do this or suffer eternal, excruciating
torment if he doesn't?

My faith tells me that he wouldn't. My faith tells me that such a God
does not exist and that any scripture or institution that teaches
otherwise is to be viewed with a healthy dose of profound skepticism.


What do you think?

35 comments:

copithorne said...

You ask what I think...

You seem to be reaching out for a presentation of an orthodox view that you can understand as rational. The way you see orthodoxy -- in this case Roman Catholicism -- is as something incoherent. But it doesn't feel great to just write off a billion people as superstitious and irrational. So you would like someone to step forward and present a coherent view of orthodoxy.

In your presentation orthodoxy includes some of the following assumptions:

God is unclear and the bible clarifies.
God is exclusive.
Once you have the right beliefs, you are in right relationship with God.
With the wrong beliefs you suffer punishment.

Many people may have those assumptions, but they are not necessary or even conventional theological understanding.

The Benedictine Abbot of a monastery I lived in would say that the bible is written by people of faith about faith for people of faith. It can only be understood in the context of faith, which is its true subject. The Bible is not intended to justify faith to people without faith.

So if you are reading stories from the Bible, these are not presented as hypotheses about the natural world or metaphysical propositions about the ontological status of this or that. The bible is the story of the community of faith.

For Catholics (and most healthy spiritual traditions) salvation is not a matter of holding the right beliefs. Beliefs are a way of circumscribing the community of faith. In Catholicism we have a creed. The creed does not save us. Jesus saves us. The creed is a just a way of being together as a community and a Church.

[We just had the spectacle of Saddam Hussein leaving this earth spouting the gentlest pieties. Anyone can say the right words. And maybe you could even say they believe them. But that doesn't mean they are on the path of faith. As Jesus says, not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.]

God does not "require" in the way that an earthly authority requires. But there is a lawfulness.

It is the Church's responsibility to be an example to the world of the power of faith. We don't do such a good job of that. You can blame the Church rather than God. But you can find a lot of good examples too.

Because the Bible is addressed to people of faith, it does not present what will happen to people without faith -- that they will suffer torment.

Nagarjuna said...

Copithorne, I appreciate your comments, but I confess that I don't understand them very well. You say that "the Bible is written by people of faith for people of faith." Well, where does that leave the rest of us? Is it pointless for us to read the Bible? If so, how do we develop faith? Moreover, why should we have faith? Because God exists and wants us to know, love, and serve Him? How do we know this? If we can't know it, why should we even have faith in it if it seems highly implausible to us?

You say the Bible does not present "hypotheses about the natural world or metaphysical propositions about the ontological status of this or that. The bible is the story of the community of faith." OK. But if the Bible doesn't do the things you say it doesn't do, what DOES it do for the faithful? What truth does it convey to them about God or anything else, and how does it do it? And if it conveys no truth, what does it convey that has any value, and how is it valuable?

You say, "salvation is not a matter of holding the right beliefs." OK. Then what IS it a matter of, and how do we know what it's a matter of?

You say, "Creeds don't save us. Jesus saves us." Well, what if we don't believe in Jesus and don't follow his teachings?

You say, "God does not "require" in the way that an earthly authority requires. But there is a lawfulness." OK. So, if God doesn't require us to do anything, what DOES he do? What is this "lawfulness" of which you speak?

You say, "Because the Bible is addressed to people of faith, it does not present what will happen to people without faith -- that they will suffer torment." What happens to people without faith? What happens to people with faith who nevertheless fail to live up to it?

Again, I appreciate your comments. They sound eloquent. But I'm afraid that they raise more questions for me than they answer.

copithorne said...

You ask where does that leave the rest of us?

It leaves you where you are, naturally. Where else could it leave you? Whether it is pointless for you to read the bible is inescapably up to you. We won't succeed in manipulating you or browbeating you or enticing you into reading something you don't want to read.

In Buddhism if someone doesn't have a relationship to the idea that life is suffering they won't take up the path. You could try to persuade them that life is suffering. That happiness you think you feel is actually impermanent. That comfort you think you feel is actually numbness. But none of that will help. Until that person is able to say from the inside: life hurts; I need a solution they will never take up the next noble truth.

Likewise, if you don't have a problem for which the Good News of Jesus Christ is an answer -- if reconciliation with God isn't something you need -- then I can only congratulate you on your good fortune. As we say: Christ came for sinners. If that's not you, then enjoy. Christ did not come for you.

How do you develop faith? That's a huge question in every religion. Some mysterious cooperation of grace and effort.

Why should you have faith? I answer more mischeviously than most (in the spirit of Kierkegaard) saying that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is utterly offensive and there can be no reason to have faith that could be commensurate with importance of faith.

Your questions about what the bible does for people -- I'd have to let people speak for themselves about it. For some it inspires, for some it confuses. For you it may do little. I'd say the Bible is deep and offers exoteric and esoteric levels of understanding.

For a Christian, salvation is a gift of grace of Jesus Christ. You would tell me what "salvation" is to someone who doesn't believe in Jesus Christ. You would tell me what happens to people without faith. Far be it from me to tell you. The Bible does not say.

What does God do? Using God and any verb is a very figurative way of speaking. Best not to put too much weight on it. I'll offer that God is the law of sacrifice shown by Jesus Christ: dying, we are born again.

Nagarjuna said...

Copithorne, thanks again for replying. Your words sound so eloquent and wise at first. But when I try to really understand them, I feel lost in confusion. Perhaps this is evidence of the learning disability I've frequently mentioned here. Perhaps I am deaf to the profoundity of Christian wisdom and truth the way some people are deaf to musical tones.

You say you can't make me want to read something I don't want to read. I reply that I'd want to read it if I understood why I should. But without the motivation that comes from that understanding, I feel pretty much the same way about reading the Bible as I do about reading Homer or the Book of Mormon or Dianetics. If I had unlimited time to read everything I wanted to read, I'd probably fit them all in somewhere. But they'd fall way down the list. And so would a serious reading of the Bible or Church theology.

Yet if these teachings represent a personal God who created us and wants us to know, love, and serve him and spend eternity with him in the afterlife instead of suffering eternally with Satan, why wouldn't it be clearer to people like me that this is the case so that we would place the studying of these teachings at the top of our reading lists where they belong? Why do these scriptures and teachings seem so implausible to me and to millions if not billions of others like me?

It's not because we don't find uncertainty and pain in life and don't want to find sanctuary and salvation. It's because the Christian God seems like a fairy tale, the Bible seems like a book of fairy tales mixed with a little ancient history, and the Church seems like an institution of gullible people whose leaders foolishly use their cleverness to rationalize belief in the unbelievable while their followers adhere to the party line as best they can.

You say I can "blame the Church rather than blaming God" for my failure to be inspired by the truth, but I think it makes much more sense to blame God. If God were real and wanted the Bible and Church to be his foremost representatives, surely he would make that much more uanmbiguously evident to all of us than he does, and the Church would set a far better example than even you admit that it does.

Of course, I don't really "blame" the Christian God for my lack of desire to know him and to enter the Christian fold. How can I blame what I don't believe to exist? Rather, I attribute, until I have good cause to do otherwise, my situation to the fact that the Christian God does not exist and that I've somehow managed to avoid embracing the delusion that he does.

copithorne said...

There certainly are lots of ways in which the Christian God is handled like a fairy tale and the Church manipulates weak people. And by pointing out the incoherence and the insincerity that you see, you help to strengthen the Church. Everything that you see as disposable trash is disposable trash.

If you did not have faith and did not want to know the story of the people of faith than you would find the Bible to be of some marginal historical and cultural interest as you say.

The idea of God as an object or person standing above and among other objects does not withstand theological scrutiny, as you say. Such a God is a myth or at best a figurative way of speaking about something ungraspable.

The idea of the Bible as a kind of magical talisman the reading of which (in translation) magically accrues rewards in the afterlife is not coherent, as you say. After all, the apostles themselves did not have the Bible.

You present this as the sum of Christian faith and certainly if you look for evidence in the Church support your view you'll find plenty. And if that view works for you, I don't have a stake in talking you out of it.

And yet, I will witness that there is something else as well.

In Christianity we say that it is important that faith is faith in things unseen. If we had faith because God drew attention to Himself through miracles then God would just be another consumer product competing with other products and we would only achieve the gratification offered by consumer products.

"An evil and wicked generation that seeks after a sign. For no sign will be given unto it except the sign of Jonah."

And yet, there is a miracle. The staggering, unfathomable unnecessary graceful profusion of creation itself from galaxies to the riot of life to the theater of the sub atomic. The pillar of fire of human consciousness, aware of self and God. Miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle and still human beings lost in boredom and hatred and doubt -- lost in bondage to sin and self.

You look to blame God that we sit as a miracle in a miracle and are still lost in boredom and hatred and doubt. In Christian theology we point to importance of free will as a guarantor of human integrity that makes real relationship possible.

Enough for now.

Nagarjuna said...

Copithorne, your words are, as always, beautiful. But the underlying message I hear in them, though probably not what you intended, is that the real Ultimate Reality or God is so far beyond the grossly limited man-made representations of the Catholic Church in particular and Christianity in general that we might well be better off ignoring them and looking for other, better ways to know and harmonize with It.

Certainly there have been geniuses within the Church who transcended the limitations of that institution's teachings and practices in their understanding of God and their ways of living and expressing that understanding. But there are people in every so-called wisdom tradition who do that. What remains to be seen is how much the traditions themselves have helped them to do so, and how much we need those traditions today for people to do so.

copithorne said...

dWhat you say is consistent with Catholic theology as I understand it.

We are not saved through the Church. We are saved through Jesus Christ. The Church is the Bride of Christ who is not pretty. In fact, it is precisely because the Bride is not pretty, we can be reminded to place our trust in Jesus Christ.

The Church is not the treasure. Still, we gather together and if we are humble, we indicate the treasure.

To my way of thinking, if you do not have a personal connection to a sense of being in bondage to sin and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ offering freedom from that bondage, then Christianity doesn't make sense.

Many "Christians" do not have a connection to those experiences and they are often confusing themselves. They want connection with a group of people and they would like to express their goodwill. But they would be better off joining the Rotary Club then getting involved with all this rigamarole about Jesus Christ.

And at the same time, I come across an incredible amount of genuine faith in this world that people are encouraged by and I am encouraged by.

Philosophy can create obstacles to faith and philosophy can remove obstacles to faith. Philosophy can clarify what is faith and what is superstition. You are constructively using philosophy to point out superstition. But philosophy can't inspire faith. If you ask for a philosophical inspiration for faith only a salesman would try to give you one and what they would sell you would not be the genuine article.

The genuine article is Jesus Christ: fully human and fully God.

I've shared with you before my sense that the spiritual path perforce takes place in the context of a religious community. One of the primary benefits of a religious community is that a community is irritating. This irritation, overcome by our commitment to harmony, helps insure that our spiritual work is fully connected with our hearts and our bodies and isn't just a retreat into abstraction.

Nagarjuna said...

Copithorne, you write: "if you do not have a personal connection to a sense of being in bondage to sin and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ offering freedom from that bondage, then Christianity doesn't make sense." I reply that I do not have this personal connection, and, yet, if it's true when you say, "We are saved through Jesus Christ," why don't I have this connection, and what will happen to me after I die if I never develop it?

You say that philosophy can't inspire faith. Well then, what does?

You write: "This irritation [of a spiritual community], overcome by our commitment to harmony, helps insure that our spiritual work is fully connected with our hearts and our bodies and isn't just a retreat into abstraction."

I think this is very sensible. But is being part of a community within the institution of the Catholic Church the only or even the best way of accomplishing this?

copithorne said...

I converted to Catholicism at age 21. I became interested in Catholicism after being a Buddhist because I experienced Buddhism as culturally alien. I saw Catholicism as the only Western religious tradition that drank deeply from the contemplative well. I wanted to be a monk and spend time in monasteries. I would not have become a Catholic except that I had some experiences of insight into, and relationship with, Jesus Christ.

You do not have this kind of connection because it has not been your karma to have one yet. You are asking questions that are seeds that may or may not flower into such a relationship.

You ask my opinion. Death doesn't change anything important. When you die, you will be amazed at how much the same it is.

Since my conversion as a young man, I have been a member of several religious communities. Having been saved by Jesus Christ as a free gift, I am not obliged to only be a Catholic. Everyone above monsignor in the Catholic Church is implicated in a dynamic of dysfunction and they don't welcome any contributions I might offer to help improve that.

I love attending mass and taking communion. It makes me cry. If I have the time, I would go to Church everyday. Going to church is my favorite thing to do. Maybe you can appreciate that when you talk as though going to Church is a burden you are talking from a different perspective than mine.

Did your parents make you go to Church? And now you are rehearsing those arguments, Aww mom, why do I have to go to Church? It's boring and stupid and they're all phony.

Nagarjuna said...

I went to a Protestant church when I was young. I wouldn't say that I was "forced" to, and I didn't mind going all that much. But when I reached my early teens, the teachings, that few if any of the church's members seemed to live up to, struck me as unbelievable, including the central teachings about Jesus' unique divinity, virgin birth, and resurrection. So, I stopped going to church, became agnostic rather than atheistic, and later discovered, through the likes of Alan Watts, that there were understandings of "the Which than which there is no whicher" that make a modicum of sense to me and don't require me to believe in things like virgin births and resurrections.

I guess I would now call myself an agnostic panentheist or something like that, if I have to call myself anything at all.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience here.

christian curer said...

The "Pied Pipers of Nonsense" I call it. :-)

CC

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Christianity_Debate/

copithorne said...

I love Mary, can be devoted to her. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth actually doesn't carry a lot of weight. It's the kind of thing you could leave on your plate.

When I read closely the accounts of the death of Neem Karoli Baba, it gave me a closer mirror as to the literal meaning of the resurrection. The stories of disciples seeing Neem Karoli after his death have a similar quality to the accounts of seeing Jesus Christ after the crucifixion. If you are unfamiliar with Neem Karoli Baba -- Ram Das' guru -- it would be hard to explain.

Alan Watts is a humanist genius, he had his experience of satori, he provided incalculable service in bringing wisdom traditions to America. But his early death from alcoholism is the kind of thing I have in mind in suggesting the perils of the lone wolf approach to the spiritual path.

Nagarjuna said...

I believe that Alan Watts' life lent credence to Ken Wilber's idea that our consciousness is comprised of numerous lines of development, and that one can be highly developed along some lines--in Watts' case, aesthetic, cognitive, linguistic and spiritual--and rather poorly developed along others.

You might be right that the "lone wolf approach" is more likely to produce such uneven development; however, I'm inclined to suspect that such development is very prevalent within religious institutions as well.

I share your view that Watts was a genius of a, to use his own description of himself, "philosophical entertainer," and he is the one who first showed me that there could be far more to religion and spirituality than the Christian fundamentalism I had forsaken.

Of course, one of the things he showed me is an alternative interpretation of the Jesus stories that made a great deal more sense to me than the conventional Christian understanding that Jesus was the unique human incarnation of God who sacrificed his sinless life and was literally resurrected in order to atone for our so-called sins and make it possible for us to posthumously reside in paradise everlastingly.

However, in embracing this alternative explanation, I seem to have distanced myself beyond any understanding that could properly be called Christian. For in my understanding, Jesus was no more divine than the rest of us, even if he was more aware of his divinity than most of us are.

BB said...

Why would a God create evil in the first place, then unbelievably become upset at "His" creation for "His" infecting them with it, and then needlessly having "His" "Son" Jesus crucified?

These sound like stories from total crackpots, not from intelligent human beings.

Nagarjuna said...

Why would he, indeed? And if he didn't literally do this, what did he actually do?

copithorne said...

Absolutely, it is very easy to get off track in a Church as well. The path is narrow.

For most people, Jesus makes more sense as a teacher. And on balance, if we were to reset everything so that Jesus is just a teacher, it just might reduce the sum total of confusion in the world.

But to me, Christianity loses its existential character with this approach. To my perception it is much stronger and more philosophically coherent to have Jesus Christ as a source of grace, a messiah, a guru. And yes, that is a difference between your approach and what Christianity is trying to work with.

I don't have doubts that Jesus was resurrected. Which is to say, there is a level of spiritual development in which time and space are just appearances. Believe it.

I can say, with you, that just because Jesus was God doesn't make him special. Christians say that by saying that we share in Christ's resurrection through grace.

bb, we would answer with the perspective that God does not create evil. God creates free people and people create evil. The sacrifice of the Son of God is the gift of salvation from evil. If that gift isn't for you don't think twice, it's all right.

Nagarjuna said...

St Paul wrote: "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

You write of accepting Jesus' resurrection on both literal and figurative levels, and, according to St. Paul and most other leading lights of Christianity, one must at least do the former in order to qualify as Christian. You say, "Christianity loses its existential character," strength, and philosophical coherence if it sees Jesus as simply a wise but entirely human teacher. But to me it loses its credibility when Jesus is seen as anything more than that, except in the sense that we are all divine, and without credibility, what does it have left?

As for God not creating evil, I would say, on a literal level, that if he created the universe, Satan, and people knowing how they would all turn out, allows humans to be tricked by supernatural malevolence into disobeying him, allows humans to be stained with an "original" proclivity to disobey him, plays hide and seek with humans who have so little cause to believe in him that they don't seek him much less obey him, and then consigns those who don't seek and obey him into the torment of eternal separation from him if not agonizing pain, this does not constitute freedom in any meaningful sense that I can think of, and it does seem to suggest that God is indeed the source of all evil and ultimately responsible for all of it.

And I don't know how to speak of this in meaningful terms on a figurative level.

copithorne said...

Yes, again, being a Christian means you believe Jesus rose from the dead. I believe it. If you are looking for teachers, Jesus has a lot of authority and says a lot of nice things but he is not even as effective a teacher as Wayne Dyer or Dr. Phil.

Theological language has a different function than philosophy. Theology is internally coherent, but not necessarily coherent with philosophy.

When we speak of other people, "knowing" and "creating" and "allowing" and "consigning" they are all transitive verbs. They involve a subject relating to an object. But with God, there are no transitive verbs because God is not, cannot be, a subject standing above other subjects. You are correct that a God engaging in transitive verbs is philosophically incoherent. Sometimes theologians might speak in terms of God engaging in transitive verbs. But if they are understanding what they are saying, they will disavow that that is an accurate way of speaking about God.

(You use the fifth verb, "playing" as a transitive verb. But it does not need to be one. God does play. And that will be the only coherent theological answer to the questions "why...?")

So it comes down to this. The world is on fire with beauty. It is an unfathomable miracle. Yet everywhere human beings such as you (and me), experience the world as ugly, boring, cruel, unfair. Is the problem with the world (and its creator?) Or is the problem with ourselves?

The religious answer will be that the world is blameless and the problem is with ourselves.

BB said...

Cop said, "bb, we would answer with the perspective that God does not create evil. God creates free people and people create evil. The sacrifice of the Son of God is the gift of salvation from evil. If that gift isn't for you don't think twice, it's all right."

Cop, according to the Bible, where was "Evil" first witnessed?

BB

copithorne said...

Evil first makes its appearance at the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Adam and Eve ate that fruit -- moving from innocence to experience. They didn't know right from wrong and then they knew right from wrong.

Jesus Christ redeems mankind liberating human beings from the bondage to the knowledge of good and evil. Humanity can move freely from experience back to innocence.

In life and spiritual life there is a rhythm of moving from innocence to experience and back to innocence. We move from unselfconscious expression to self awareness and back to unselfconscious expression. This is the process of growth.

The biblical or theological story Adam and Eve being completed in Jesus Christ is, to my mind, a profound, subtle, breathtaking representation of this universal human dilemma.

I'm sure many Christians convert this representation into a set of philosophical and historical propositions and you are responding to their mistake. To my mind both you and your Christian interlocutors would be missing the treasure in those stories.

Nagarjuna said...

I'm not sure that Jesus wasn't as good a teacher as Wayne Dyer or Dr. Phil. For it seems to me that his 'Sermon on the Mount' is far more profound and compelling than anything I've heard from those other guys. :-)

But I get your point that Jesus' reported teachings and life seen as no more than accounts of a great teacher hardly seems like a sufficient foundation for a great world religion. Again, this is why I don't subscribe to that religion.

I'm afraid you lost me when you said, "But with God, there are no transitive verbs because God is not, cannot be, a subject standing above other subjects," because while this may be true of the kind of God I'm most inclined to believe might exist, it doesn't seem to be true of the conventional Christian concept of God as a being or "subject" who does, indeed, stand "above" us in terms of being ontologically different from and superior to us and who created us and harbors wishes for us. If you deny that this concept of God is valid, aren't you denying the Christianity of the Catholic Church, and, if so, what kind of Christianity remains?

I am also perplexed when you say that the "problem" we have with the world lies with ourselves rather than with God. For it seems to me that either God is not a "subject" standing "above" us, in which case, we are all God and our problems with the world are, therefore, God's problems, or God does stand above us as the creator of the world's imperfections and the difficulties and suffering we imperfect creatures encounter in dealing with those imperfections and, thus, the "problem" or "blame" does, indeed, lie ultimately with God.

Nagarjuna said...

<< Adam and Eve ate that fruit -- moving from innocence to experience. They didn't know right from wrong and then they knew right from wrong. >>

What does this mean? That as humans grow up and gain experience they naturally come to distinguish between good and evil and to intentionally do what they consider to be evil? If so, how does Jesus redeem "mankind liberating human beings from the bondage to the knowledge of good and evil" such that "Humanity can move freely from experience back to innocence."? After Jesus, do we no longer distinguish good from evil and intentionally choose evil? How are we any more "innocent" of evil after Jesus than we were before him? That is, to use your language, how do "We move from unselfconscious expression to self awareness and back to unselfconscious expression" through Jesus or Christian faith?

I find your words eloquent and even beautiful but utterly bewildering.

BB said...

"Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

Cop, doesn't this mean that God created everything at first? And wouldn't everything include Evil, AKA, the Spirit of the Serpent?

BB

copithorne said...

Yes, Nagarjuna, I do believe it is consistent with Catholic teachings to understand God as a dimension of depth to existence. Any sense of God having a personality or interacting with humankind is either a figurative description of our relationship with God or it takes place behind a wall of irony, paradox and mystery that is not intended carry philosophical weight.

As to your inquiries into the Christian story of the Fall and Redemption, animals and infants do not possess moral reasoning and do not sin. They also do not suffer from guilt and many types of self doubt and anxiety.

It seems to be a natural developmental process to develop a conscience to create a Law and live in anxious relationship to that Law. We take on the faculty of God and pass judgment on ourselves and others. This is both a huge leap forward and a terrible burden. It is the source of all our goodness and all our evil.

Then Jesus Christ comes and, as Paul says, frees us from the Law. "The Law is dead. Are we free to sin? God forbid." (More irony, more paradox.) We have the faculty of knowledge of good and evil, but we are no longer subject to the judgment of good and evil because we are saved by Jesus Christ and not by the Law.

Yes, bb, we can say that God created everything. He created this dynamic of fall and redemption that I described. And it is beautiful and right.

Christians could say that God did create evil and this play of good and evil provides the theater in which human dignity is at its richest. I think it is more common to say that evil is human self absorbtion that it is a recoiling from God and is not God's responsibility.

It is always possible to engage in sophistry against religious language which is a kind of playing with words. "If God is omnipotent, can he make a stone he cannot lift...?" And certainly Christianity has injured a lot of people and such people may wish to see it disproven.

BB said...

>Yes, bb, we can say that God created everything. He created this dynamic of fall and redemption that I described. And it is beautiful and right.<

Cop, Why would a perfect "God" need or want anything at all including humans? Isn't "perfect" the opposite of "lacking" thus if "He" wanted or needed things that would be "lacking" them?

>Christians could say that God did create evil and this play of good and evil provides the theater in which human dignity is at its richest. I think it is more common to say that evil is human self absorbtion that it is a recoiling from God and is not God's responsibility.<

Cop, what is "human self?" Did we create or buy our spirits and bodily parts at some store before we existed and place ourselves in our specific social and data intake lifelines?

>It is always possible to engage in sophistry against religious language which is a kind of playing with words. "If God is omnipotent, can he make a stone he cannot lift...?" And certainly Christianity has injured a lot of people and such people may wish to see it disproven.<

Aren't "words" and "religious language" all we have to go by? Aren't they all believers have to go by as well?

Doesn't your above paradox disprove an Almighty God?

Does it make a difference who wishes to "prove" or "disprove" the Bible?

BB

copithorne said...

bb, creation is God's play. It is completely, gloriously unnecessary.

Human self absorbtion is is a preoccupation with oneself as the center of the universe -- the most important thing. This is a common distorted perspective.

Words and language is how humans communicate with each other. But they are not all we have to go by. They are a tiny fraction of what we have to go by. The vast majority of things function without any language at all. Then, humans may try to describe it.

The paradox about God doesn't disprove God anymore than Xeno's paradox* proves that you and I can't make it to the refrigerator.

Faith is not a matter of proof or disproof. Anything that can be proven or disproven is not faith.


*If you go half the distance and half the distance and half the distance how do you ever arrive?

BB said...

>bb, creation is God's play. It is completely, gloriously unnecessary.<

Why would a perfect God need "play" unless "He" was lacking therefore not perfect?

>Human self absorbtion is is a preoccupation with oneself as the center of the universe -- the most important thing. This is a common distorted perspective.<

Don't believers use this same "self-absorption" in believing only one of many never proven creation stories?


>Words and language is how humans communicate with each other. But they are not all we have to go by. They are a tiny fraction of what we have to go by. The vast majority of things function without any language at all. Then, humans may try to describe it.<

But without "words and language," how would Bible believers be convinced of only one of countless creation stories?


>The paradox about God doesn't disprove God anymore than Xeno's paradox* proves that you and I can't make it to the refrigerator.<

It would seem to disprove an "Almighty God" as it appears to prove it could not manage many equations or situations.

>Faith is not a matter of proof or disproof. Anything that can be proven or disproven is not faith.<

But Bible believers don't simply own faith, they must use reason to deduct every other belief and God they do *not* subscribe. If they simply had "faith" without reason, they'd believe in every god, belief, and sell job there that ever came upon them.


>*If you go half the distance and half the distance and half the distance how do you ever arrive?<

Why would we need to "arrive" anywhere we are not sure exists?

BB

Nagarjuna said...

<< Any sense of God having a personality or interacting with humankind is either a figurative description of our relationship with God or it takes place behind a wall of irony, paradox and mystery that is not intended carry philosophical weight. >>

Copithorne, it seems to me that what you're really saying, even if you don't consciously mean to, is that the Ultimate Reality so transcends our capacity to understand It that the theological pretensions of such religious institutions as the Catholic Church are virtually reduced to pointless absurdity. I couldn't agree more.

Beyond that, I am quite mystified by your beautiful words, perhaps for the same reason that I'm mystified by most poetry. It could well be that if there really is a God who wants to have a "relationship" with me, "He" wil have to speak to me with something more or other than the poetic verse of scripture or the poetic prose of Copithorne to circumvent my constitutional deafness.

copithorne said...

bb:

God and people don't "need" play. We just do it for its own sake.

Almost certainly, we all suffer from the distorted perspective of self absorbtion. Religious and non-religious alike.

Bible stories are words and language. But words and language are just words and language. They are not ultimate reality or even the things that they describe.

Bible believers believe the bible. People who believe in other things believe in other things. I have my friends. You have yours. It would be strange if I needed proofs that my friends were superior to yours in order for me to have any friends.

Xeno's paradox conclusively disproves that you and I can ever make it to the refrigerator. And yet, we don't starve.

copithorne said...

Nagarjuna,

It is actually common to Buddhism as well that people will say that teaching the Dharma is "making a mistake on purpose." Both Gautama and Nagarjuna wrestled with this dilemma.

Teaching ultimate truth through relative language is an ironic undertaking in every religion.

We do it all the same because we see it serves some function to create a structure and a community. Everything is empty. Still, we take a stand because it helps people orient themselves to enter the stream.

Nagarjuna said...

<< We do it all the same because we see it serves some function to create a structure and a community. Everything is empty. Still, we take a stand because it helps people orient themselves to enter the stream. >>

Some language helps me "enter the stream," but it's more likely to be the language of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao Te Ching than that of monotheistic scripture (although there certainly are biblical exceptions) and theology.

Furthermore, it seems to me that institutional "structure" and "community" stemming from language tend to become trapped in the limitations of that language. To use an overused but nevertheless evocative Zen metaphor, the faithful members of these institutions come to fix their gaze on the finger of the language rather than on the divine moon to which the finger points, and they remain forever blind to the true heavenly glory.

BB said...

>bb: God and people don't "need" play. We just do it for its own sake.<

I believe people do need "play" because they are "lacking" non-perfect entities, however, a perfect God would not be lacking anything, would It? Since not, then why would it need humans or anything else?

>Almost certainly, we all suffer from the distorted perspective of self absorbtion. Religious and non-religious alike.<

We could only thank our creator, be it intelligent or not for forcing us to be just that way?

>Bible stories are words and language. But words and language are just words and language. They are not ultimate reality or even the things that they describe.<

So does that mean we should believe a biblical God exists with the same percentage of chance that a Purple People Eater God might be the Ultimate Reality?

>Bible believers believe the bible. People who believe in other things believe in other things. I have my friends. You have yours. It would be strange if I needed proofs that my friends were superior to yours in order for me to have any friends.<

Can you analogize tangible friends to intangible religious beliefs?

>Xeno's paradox conclusively disproves that you and I can ever make it to the refrigerator. And yet, we don't starve.<

Zeno's paradoxes are no doubt correct providing we were strictly confined to his rules, however, we obviously are not.

One cannot compare them to an Omnipotent Being being challenged to definitely follow whatever specific rules are presented and the results come back that he cannot cure them.

In other words, there becomes a major problem when a thing or entity is declared "Omnipotent" as it must then prove itself as such *within* ANYONE'S CUSTOM RULES!

BB

Nagarjuna said...

<< Bible believers believe the bible. People who believe in other things believe in other things. I have my friends. You have yours. It would be strange if I needed proofs that my friends were superior to yours in order for me to have any friends. >>

Do we want false friends or beliefs?

copithorne said...

Certainly what you say is true. Organizations and institutions have rhythms of decay and reform. And decay is when institutions are perpetuated for their own sake rather than for the sake of their original purpose.

I am guided by the fact that Buddha did set up a teaching, a body of work, an eight fold path, a Vinaya and so on. He thought about not giving his teachings any form which might be more consistent with his inner freedom. And then he decided to give his teachings a form and a structure and an institution. We follow in this path because it is helpful to us.

With friends, as with beliefs, the true meaning lies in our relationship, rather than in their external qualities.

bb, our conversation has the form of a debate that isn't really progressing or satisfying to me. I can acknowledge with you that God is not a hypothesis for which we can amass evidence. Any such evidence that you find theists presenting to you is meaningless and you should have at disproving it. I am not trying to present evidence to you and if you don't want to believe in the Bible or God, more power to you.

I can witness that faith in God can have an internal coherence and a consistent internal logic. I am confident I can demonstrate that.

BB said...

>bb, our conversation has the form of a debate that isn't really progressing or satisfying to me.<

What have I said that you believe is non-progressive? You mean when I observed that a "perfect" God would not be "lacking" therefore not require, need or want anything at all including "playing" with "His" toy humans?

>I can witness that faith in God can have an internal coherence and a consistent internal logic. I am confident I can demonstrate that.<

Which "God" are you speaking of? Could you define first then "demonstrate" its "consistent internal logic?"

BB