Did Jesus Exist?, asks this article. This is an age-old question that people are still asking — and arguing vehemently over. The mythicists say Jesus never existed, was made up, but the historicists say he was an historical figure, yes indeed. Everyone makes it an either / or argument, but as I have said here before it is so wonderful to turn it into a both / and belief. Jesus existed historically and was also part of and fulfilment of ancient mythology. He fulfilled the dying / resurrecting fertility myth and became a perfect archetype of it. BOTH / AND you argumentive people. Try it out. You’ll love it. (smile)
Thought-provoking line I just read in a news article:
I am not smart enough to argue with those that cling to disbelief. Centuries of philosophers have made better arguments than I could, and I am comfortable with just pointing in their direction if an acquaintance insists, “If there is a God, then why [insert atrocity]?” For me, belief didn’t come after I had the answer to that question. Belief came when I stopped needing the answer.
From Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian by AnaMarie Cox.
Every human has probably asked the so-called ultimate questions, “Why are we here?”, and “Why does God allow suffering?”, “Why doesn’t God show him/herself?”
When we stop needing the answer — ’cause we’re simply never gonna get the answer — is the only time we can relax and just believe, just get to work. Some “believers” become spiritual workers. They work as a spiritual guide and/or spiritual helper for others. Some “believers” are quiet advocates working behind the scenes thru prayer and meditation. Others do nothing other than live their life as an example of how allowing your spiritual side to develop brings ultimate happiness in life.
Why be spiritually retarded? You work on your mental and physical self, why ignore the other third, the spiritual? I think a lot depends on how a person is wired. Some people naturally gravitate toward developing their spiritual third just like many athletes develop their body first and foremost, and scientists develop their mind / mental capacity more. Most people I work with in my field of religion and spirituality are spiritual-mental dominant with their physical health and fitness, developing their body, coming third. A few are mental-spiritual dominant instead of spiritual-mental (with the physical coming third). Of course we all know many people who are physical-mental dominant or mental-physical with their spiritual third coming in last. That is the great majority of humanity, I think. I have not yet met anyone who perfectly balances all three.
I’ve heard that Tibet is the most spiritual “country” in the world. Tibet has the highest concentration of ordinary people devoting their lives to religious life, becoming priests and nuns. I put country in quotes since China annexed them and Tibet sadly no longer exists, but that’s another story.
If each of the seven days of Creation were an epoch — an Age — then maybe we are living in the 7th Day, the Day our Creator(s) rested? No new life forms are being created during our era (“And on the seventh day He rested”) unlike the previous 6 ‘days’ when everything was created and evolved via millions of years. God is now perfecting his-and-her creation by resting, letting evolution proceed, and like the Great Scientist she/he is — observing.
**I wonder what new age will begin after this 7th Day evolution testing / perfection era is over. Esoteric Christianity teaches since the Greek Bible shows Jesus resurrected aka awakened on the 8th day, this caused the earliest Christians to worship on Sunday instead of the 7th Day Sabbath of the Jews. Sunday was not chosen because it was the first day, but because it is the day AFTER the 7th Day, the New Age “Eighth Day”. It was the day of awakening, of enlightenment, of evolution of consciousness.
The cool theory about earth’s inhabitants currently living in Creation Week’s “Seventh Day” is explained by astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross in his new book, Navigating Genesis.
Fox News’ Lauren Green spoke to Ross about his search to bridge the gap between science and religion, beginning with finding the true age of Earth.
Ross says … there were three different definitions for the word “day” in Genesis one and two when describing day and night, as well as days and years.
“I realized that this word ‘day’ must have multiple, literal definitions…” …Those include part of daylight hours, all of the daylight hours, a 24-hour period, and a long, but finite, time period.
While there might be several interpretations in English, Ross says in biblical Hebrew, the language of Moses, “yom” is the only way to describe long periods of time.
“So I see no contradiction between the time scale and astrophysics and what I see there in the Bible,” Ross said.
“No problem with the Earth being 4.5 billion years old and the universe 13.8 billion – it’s consistent with Biblical texts that tell us the mountains and hills are ancient and aged-old,” Ross said. “It’s making it quite clear that we do live on a very old Earth.”
Ross, who founded Reasons to Believe, suggests that the world’s inhabitants are still living through the seventh day described in the Bible.
“We are living in that time period when God is not creating new life forms for example which we have reasons to believe is an opportunity to test creation, [and] evolution models,” Ross said. “We can do real-time evolution experiments in biology to see if we see a difference between what is going on in the human era and what [existed] previous to the human era.”
Watch the full interview with Dr. Hugh Ross above.
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The author Dr. Hugh Ross is also an ordained minister
This kind of “esoteric” aka “inner” and hidden interpretation of the Bible gives our alternative clergy rich material to teach in their churches and synagogues. (Find out how you can become an ordained minister or rabbi and teach this stuff, too).
Wow, this author “argues like a Jesuit”, probably is one. I am partly persuaded by some of his arguments, but not all. Seems to me we can also call God “Mother” and recognize Her in and above Creation (as supposedly only the Father can be recognized). See what you think…
Why God is Father and Not Mother | Mark Brumley | IgnatiusInsight.com
“The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man” is how the 19th century liberal Protestant theologian Adolph Harnack once summarized the Christian faith. Nowadays Harnack would find his brand of reductionist religion dismissed as hopelessly sexist and exclusive by many feminist theologians. The “brotherhood of man” might be reworked into “the family of humanity” or its equivalent. But what would they do about the Fatherhood of God? Can we replace the allegedly “sexist” language of Divine Fatherhood with so-called gender-inclusive or gender-neutral terms such as Father/Mother or Heavenly Parent without further ado?
Many people–including some Catholics–say “yes.” “We not only can,” they contend, “we must. God is, after all, beyond gender. Calling God ‘Father’, without adding that God is also Mother, unfairly exalts one image for God above all others and ignores the culturally conditioned nature of all our images of God,” they argue.
A Consensus of the Many and the One
Of course, not everyone agrees. While most “mainline” Protestant churches have acquiesced, Evangelicals, the Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church have maintained traditional language for God–although even within these communions some people’s sympathies run in the other direction.
That the Catholic Church and these churches and ecclesial communities would agree on a point of doctrine or practice presents a formidable unity against feminist “God-Talk.” How often do we find that kind of united witness among that range of Christians? Yet as solid a prima facie case as that makes, a more serious obstacle to feminist revisionism exists–an insurmountable one, in fact. Not the witness of this group of Christians or that, but of Christ Himself. The commonplace manner in which Christians address the Almighty as Father comes from Him. In fact, Jesus actually used a more intimate word, Abba or “Daddy.”
Unfortunately, twenty centuries of Christian habit has eclipsed the “scandal” of this. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, however, it stunned the ear. They did not usually address the All Powerful Sovereign of the Universe in such intimate, familiar terms. Yes, God was acknowledged as Father, but usually as Father of the Jewish people as a whole. Jesus went further: God is (or can be at least) your or my Father, not mere our Father or the Father of our people. Anyone who wants to fiddle with how we talk of God must reckon with Jesus.
But did Jesus really call God “Father”? Few things in modern biblical scholarship are as certain. Skeptics may question whether Jesus turned water into wine or walked on water. They may doubt that He was born of a Virgin or that He rose from the dead. But practically no one denies that Jesus called God “Abba” or “Father.” So distinctive was the invocation in his day, so deeply imbedded in the biblical tradition is it, that to doubt it is tantamount to doubting we can know anything about Jesus of Nazareth.
What is more, not even most feminists deny it. What then to make of it?
Since Christians believe that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, they must hold that He most fully reveals how we, by grace, should understand God: as Father. Otherwise they tacitly deny the central claim of their faith–that Christ is the fullness of God’s self-disclosure to man. Non-Christians may do that, of course, but Christians cannot–not without ceasing to be Christians in any meaningful sense of the word.
“But surely we must hold,” someone will object, “that Jesus’ view of God was historically conditioned like that of his contemporaries? His masculine language for God cannot be part of the ‘fullness of God’s self-disclosure,’ as you suppose. It was merely a residue of first century Jewish sexism. We must look instead to the ‘transhistorical significance’ of his teaching. And that is not the Fatherhood of God but the Godhood of the Father–that God is a loving Parent.”
At least two false claims lie hidden in that objection. The first is that Jesus’ own concept of God was “historically conditioned.” The second, that we can strip away a patriarchal “coating” to His notion of God to get at the gender-inclusive idea of the Divine Parent beneath. In other words, God’s Fatherhood, per se, is not central to Jesus’ revelation of God, only those qualities which fathers share with mothers–”parenthood,” in other words.
But was Jesus’ view of God “historically conditioned”? Not if you mean by “historically conditioned” “wholly explicable in terms of the religious thinking of His day.” We have no reason to think Jesus uncritically imbibed the prevailing ideas about God. He certainly felt free to correct inadequate ideas from the Old Testament in other respects (see, for example, Matt. 5:21-48) and to contravene religio-cultural norms, especially regarding women. He had women disciples, for example. He spoke with women in public. He even allowed women to be the first witnesses of His resurrection. How, then, on this most central point–the nature and identity of God–are we to suppose He was either unable, due to His own sexism and spiritual blindness, or unwilling, to set people straight about God as Father? Even if you deny Jesus’ divinity or hold to a watered-down notion of it, such a view remains impossible to maintain.
Furthermore, even if Jesus had “picked up” the notion of God as Father from His surrounding culture, we can not simply dismiss an idea as false merely because it happens to have been held by others. Otherwise Jesus’ monotheism itself could be as easily explained away on the grounds that it, too, was generally affirmed by the Jews of the day and therefore must, on this view, be only ‘historically conditioned.’
Nor can we simply ignore Jesus’ teaching about God’s Fatherhood, as if it were peripheral to His revelation. Time and again Jesus addresses God as Father, so much so that we can say Jesus’ name for God is Father. If Jesus was wrong about that, so fundamental a thing, then what, really, does He have to teach us? That God is for the poor and the lowly? The Hebrew prophets taught as much. That God is loving? They taught that as well.
Notice too that these truths–still widely held today–are subject to the “historical conditioning” argument. They are just as liable to be wrong as Jesus’ views about the Fatherhood of God, are they not? They, too, can be explained away as “culturally conditioned.”
Furthermore, Jesus’ way of addressing God as Father is rooted in His own intimate relationship to God. Now whatever else we say about God, we cannot say that He is Jesus’ mother, for Jesus’ mother is not God but Mary. Jesus’ mother was a creature; His Father, the Creator. “Father” and “Mother” are not, then, interchangeable terms for God in relation to Jesus. Nor can they be for us, if Catholicism’s doctrine that Mary is the “Mother of Christians” is correct.
The Real Issue
Undergirding Jesus’ teaching about God as Father is the idea that God has revealed Himself as to be such and that His revelation should be normative for us. God, in other words, calls the theological shots. If He wants to be understood primarily in masculine terms, then that is how we should speak of Him. To do otherwise, is tantamount to idolatry–fashioning God in our image, rather than receiving from Him His self-disclosure as the Father.
Many Feminist theologians seek to fashion God in their image, because they think God is fashionable (in both senses of the word). Many feminists hold that God is in Himself (they would say “Herself” or “Godself”) utterly unintelligible. We can, therefore, speak only of God in metaphors, understood as convenient, imaginative ways to describe our experience of God, rather than God Himself. In such a view, there is no room for revelation, understood as God telling us about Himself; we have only our own colorful, creative yet merely human descriptions of what we purport to be our experiences of the divine.
Whatever this is, it is not Christianity, which affirms that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis, in an essay on women’s ordination in Anglicanism, put the matter thus:
But Christians think that God himself has taught us how to speak of him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favor of Christian priestesses but against Christianity.
Cardinal Ratzinger made a similar point in The Ratzinger Report: “Christianity is not a philosophical speculation; it is not a construction of our mind. Christianity is not ‘our’ work; it is a Revelation; it is a message that has been consigned to us, and we have no right to reconstruct it as we like or choose. Consequently, we are not authorized to change the Our Father into an Our Mother: the symbolism employed by Jesus is irreversible; it is based on the same Man-God relationship he came to reveal to us.”
Now people are certainly free to reject Christianity. But they should be honest enough to admit that this is what they are doing, instead of surreptitiously replacing Christianity with the milk of the Goddess, in the name of putting new wine into old wineskins.
Taking Another Tack
Here proponents of feminine “God talk” often shift gears. Rather than argue that Jesus’ teaching was merely the product of a patriarchal mindset to which even He succumbed, they say that Jesus chose not to challenge patriarchalism directly. Instead, He subverted the established order by His radical inclusivity and egalitarianism. The logical implications of His teaching and practice compel us to accept inclusive or gender-neutral language for God, even though Christ Himself never explicitly called for it.
This argument overlooks an obvious point. While affirming the equal dignity of women was countercultural in first century Judaism, so was calling God “Abba.” Some feminists counter with the claim that the very idea of a loving Heavenly Father was itself a move in the feminist direction of a more compassionate, intimate Deity. The first century Jewish patriarch, they contend, was a domineering, distant figure. But even if that were so–and there is reason to doubt such a sweeping stereotype of first century Judaism–revealing God as a loving, compassionate Father is not the same as revealing Him as Father/Mother or Parent. That Jesus corrected some people’s erroneous ideas of fatherhood by calling God “Father” hardly means we should cease calling God “Father” altogether or call Him Father/Mother.
Feminists also sometimes argue that Scripture, even if not Jesus Himself, gives us a “depatriarchalizing principle” that, once fully developed, overcomes the “patriarchalism” of Jewish culture and even of other parts of the Bible. In other words, the Bible corrects itself when it comes to male stereotypes of God.
But this simply is not so. Granted, the Bible occasionally uses feminine similes for God. Isaiah 42:14, for example, says that God will “cry out like a woman in travail.” Yet the Bible does not say that God is a woman in travail, it merely likens His cry to that of a woman.
The fact is, whenever the Bible uses feminine language for God, it never applies it to Him in the same way masculine language is used of Him. Thus, the primary image of God in Scripture remains masculine, even when feminine similes are used: God is never called “She” or “Her.” As Protestant theologian John W. Miller puts it in Biblical Faith and Fathering: “Not once in the Bible is God addressed as mother, said to be mother, or referred to with feminine pronouns. On the contrary, gender usage throughout clearly specifies that the root metaphor is masculine-father.”
In fact, the Bible ascribes feminine characteristics to God in exactly the same way it sometimes ascribes such traits to human males. For example, in Numbers 11:12 Moses asks, “Have I given birth to this people?” Do we conclude from this maternal image that Scripture here is “depatriarchalize” Moses. Obviously, Moses uses here a maternal metaphor for himself; he is not making a statement about his “gender identity.” Likewise, in the New Testament, both Jesus (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34) and Paul (Galatians 4:19) likened themselves to mothers, though they are men. Why, then, should we think that on those relatively rare occasions when the Bible uses feminine metaphors for God anything more is at work there than with Moses, Jesus and Paul?
Of course there is a crucial difference between God and Moses, the Incarnate Son and Paul. The latter possess human natures in the male gender, while God, as such, is without gender because He is Infinite Spirit. Furthermore, the biblical authors obviously knew that Moses, Jesus and Paul were male and intended to assert as much by referring to them with the masculine pronoun and other masculine language. The same cannot be said about the biblical writers’ notion of God. Even so, they speak of God as if He were masculine. For them, masculine language is the primary way we speak of God. Feminine language is applied to God as if it were being used of a masculine being.
Why the Masculine Language to Begin With?
Which brings us to a more fundamental issue, namely, “What is the masculine language about in the first place?” Since Christianity, as St. Augustine was overjoyed to learn, holds that God has no body, why is God spoken of in masculine terms?
We could, of course, merely insist that He has revealed Himself in this way and be done with it. That would not, however, help us understand God, which presumably is why He bothered to reveal Himself as Father to begin with. No, if we insist that God has revealed Himself as Father, we must try to understand what He is telling us by it.
Why call God Father? The question is obviously one of language. Before we can answer it, we must observe a distinction between two different uses of language–analogy and metaphor.
Sometimes when we speak of God, we assert that God really is this or that, or really possesses this characteristic or that, even if how He is or does so differs from our ordinary use of a word. We call this way of talking about God analogy or analogous language about God. Even when we speak analogously of God, however, we are still asserting something about how God really is. When we say that God is living, for example, we really attribute life to God, although it is not mere life as we know it, i.e., biological life.
Other times when we speak of God, we liken Him to something else–meaning that there are similarities between God and what we compare him to, without suggesting that God really is a form of the thing to which we compare Him or that God really possesses the traits of the thing in question. For example, we might liken God to an angry man by speaking of “God’s wrath.” By this we do not mean God really possesses the trait of anger, but that the effect of God’s just punishment is like the injuries inflicted by an angry man. We call this metaphor or metaphorical language about God.
When we call God Father, we use both metaphor and analogy. We liken God to a human father by metaphor, without suggesting that God possesses certain traits inherent in human fatherhood–male gender, for example. We speak of God as Father by analogy because, while God is not male, He really possesses certain other characteristics of human fathers, although He possesses these in a different way (analogously)–without creaturely limitations.
With this distinction between analogy and metaphor in mind, we turn now to the question of what it means to call God “Father.”
The Fatherhood of God in Relation to Creation
We begin with God’s relationship to creation. As the Creator, God is like a human father. A human father procreates a child distinct from and yet like himself. Similarly, God creates things distinct from and like Himself. This is especially true of man, who is the “image of God.” And God cares for His creation, especially man, as a human father cares for his children.
But does not what we have said thus far allow us to call God Mother as well as Father? Human mothers also procreate children distinct from yet like themselves, and they care for them, as human fathers do. If we call God Father because human fathers do such things, why not call God Mother because human mothers do these things as well?
No doubt, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 239) states, “God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature.” Scripture itself, as we have seen, sometimes likens God to a mother. Yet, as we have also seen, Scripture never calls God “Mother” as such. Scripture uses feminine language for God no differently than it sometimes metaphorically uses feminine language for men. How do we explain this?
Many feminists simply dismiss this as sexism by the biblical writers. But the real answer rests with the difference between God and human beings, between fathers and mothers and between metaphor and analogy. The Bible sometimes speaks metaphorically of God as Father. But it would be strange for Scripture so often to call God Father and so seldom to use maternal language, if the whole thing were merely a difference in metaphor. By never calling God “Mother” but only likening God to a human mother, Scripture seems to suggest that God is really Father in a way He is not really Mother. In other words, that fatherhood and motherhood are not on equal footing when it comes to describing God. To understand why this is so, let us look at the difference between fathers and mothers.
Father and Mother
What is the difference between fatherhood and motherhood? A father is the “principle” or “source” of procreation in a way a mother is not. To be sure, both father and mother are parents of their offspring and in that sense both are causes of their offspring’s coming-to-be. But they are so in different ways.
Both mother and father are active agents of conception (contrary to what Aristotle thought). But the father, being male, initiates procreation; he enters and impregnates the woman, while the woman is entered and impregnated. There is an initiatory activity by the man and a receptive activity by the woman. Furthermore, modern biology tells us that the father determines the gender of the offspring (as Aristotle held, though for a different reason).
Thus, while father and mother are both parents of their offspring and both necessary for procreation, the father has a certain priority as the “source” or “principle” of procreation. (This “priority as source” is complemented by the mother’s priority as first nurturer, due to her procreating within herself and carrying the child within herself for nine months.)
This difference between fathers and mothers for the Fatherhood of God is crucial. As Dominican Fr. Benedict Ashley has argued, so long as we compare God’s act of creating to a human father’s act of procreation through impregnating a woman, we speak only metaphorically of God as Father. For God does not “impregnate” anyone or anything when he creates; He creates from nothing, without a partner. But if we move beyond the particulars of human reproduction, where a father requires a mother to procreate, and instead speak of the father as “source” or “principle” of procreation, then our language for God as Father becomes analogous rather than merely metaphorical. As a human father is the “source” or “principle” of his offspring (in a way that the mother, receiving the father and his procreative activity within herself, is not), so God is the “source” or “principle” of creation. In that sense, God is truly Father, not merely metaphorically so.
Can we make a similar jump from the occasional metaphorical likening of God to human mothers in Scripture to an analogical way of calling God Mother? No, and here is why: A mother is not the “principle” or “source” of procreation the way a father is. She is a receptive, active collaborator in procreation, to be sure. But she is not the active initiator–that is the father’s role as a man in impregnating her. A father can be an analogue for the Creator who creates out of nothing insofar as fathers–while not procreating out of nothing–nevertheless are the “source” or “principle” of procreation as initiators, as God is the source of creation. But a mother, being the impregnated rather than the impregnator, is analogous neither to God as Creator from nothing, nor God as the initiating “source” or “principle” of creation. As a mother, she can be likened to God only in metaphorical ways–as nurturing, caring, etc., as we see in Scripture.
One reason, then, Scripture more often speaks of God as Father than likens Him to a mother is that fatherhood can be used analogously of God, while motherhood can only be a metaphor. We can speak of God either metaphorically or analogously as Father, but we can speak of Him as maternal only metaphorically. Thus, we should expect that masculine and specifically paternal language would generally “trump” feminine and specifically maternal language for God in Scripture. For an analogy tells us how God truly is, not merely what He is like, as in metaphor.
But we can go further. Even on the metaphorical level, it is more appropriate to call God Father rather than Mother. To understand why, we return to the difference between father and mother, this time introducing two other terms, transcendence and immanence.
Transcendence and Immanence
Transcendence here refers to the fact that God is more than and other than His creation–indeed, more than and other than any possible creation. This is part of what it means to call God “the Supreme Being” or “that than which no greater can be thought” (to use St. Anselm’s description). Immanence, on the other hand, refers to the fact that God is present in His creation–as the author is “in” his book or the painter “in” his painting, only more so. God created the world and it is marked by His creation of it. But God also continues to sustain the world in being. If He ever withdrew His power, the cosmos would cease to be. In that sense, God is closer to the cosmos than it is to itself–closer than its very own existence is, for God gives the cosmos existence, moment by moment.
Now back to fathers and mothers. We said a father “initiates” procreation by impregnating the mother, while the mother “receives” the father into herself and is impregnated. The obvious difference here is that the man procreates outside and “away from” himself, while the woman procreates inside and within herself. Symbolically, these are two very different forms of procreation and they represent two different relationships to the offspring.
Because the father procreates outside of himself, his child is symbolically (though in reality not wholly) other than his father. Likewise, the father is other than his child (though also not wholly). In other words, the father, as father, transcends his child. Fatherhood, in this sense, symbolizes transcendence in relation to offspring, though we also recognize that, as the “source” of his child’s life, the father is united or one with his child and therefore he is not wholly a symbol of transcendence.
On the other hand, because the mother procreates within herself–within her womb where she also nurtures her child for nine months–her child is symbolically (though in reality not wholly) part of herself. And similarly, the mother is symbolically (though in reality not wholly) part of her child. In other words, the mother, as mother, is one with her child. Motherhood, in this sense, symbolizes immanence, though we recognize that as a distinct being, the mother is also other than her child and therefore not wholly a symbol of immanence.
Now God is distinct from and the source of His creation. He is infinitely greater than and therefore infinitely other than His creation (transcendent). As Creator and Sustainer of creation, He is also present in creation (immanent). And we, as creatures who are both part of creation and distinct from the rest of it, can understand God as transcendent (more than creation) or immanent (present in creation). If we go a step further and use “father” for transcendence and “mother” for immanence, we can say that God’s transcendence is represented by fatherhood, which symbolizes God’s otherness and initiating activity (His being the “source” of creation). Meanwhile, God’s immanence is represented by motherhood, which symbolizes intimacy and union with the things God created. Which leaves us with the obvious question, “If this is so, why does traditional theology use only male language for God?”
The answer: because God’s transcendence has a certain priority over His immanence in relation to creation. And this is for at least two reasons. First, because transcendence, in a sense, also includes the notion of immanence, although the reverse is not true. When we speak of God transcending creation we imply a certain relationship of immanence to it. For Him to transcend creation, there must be a creation to transcend. And since creation resembles its Creator and is sustained by Him, He is present in it by His immanence.
But the opposite is not necessarily so. We do not necessarily imply transcendence by talking of divine immanence. Pantheism (Greek for “all is God”), for example, more or less identifies God with the cosmos, without acknowledging divine transcendence. To prevent God’s transcendence from being lost sight of and God being wrongly reduced to, or even too closely identified with, His creation, language stressing transcendence–masculine terms such as father –is necessary.
A second reason for putting God’s transcendence ahead of His immanence, and therefore fatherly language ahead of motherly language for God, has to do with the infinite difference between transcendence and immanence in God. God is infinitely transcendent, but not, in the same sense, infinitely immanent. Although God is present in creation, He is above all infinitely more than the actual or any possible created order and is not defined or limited by any created order. The cosmos, however vast, is ultimately finite and limited because it is created and dependent. Therefore God can be present in it only to a finite extent–not because of any limitation in God, but because of limits inherent in anything that is not God.
Thus, in order to express adequately God’s infinite transcendence and to avoid idolatrously identifying God with the world (without severing Him from His creation, as in deism), even on the metaphorical level we must use fatherly language for God. Motherly language would give primacy to God’s immanence and tend to confuse Him with His creation (pantheism). This does not exclude all maternal imagery–as we have seen even the Bible occasionally employs it–but it means we must use such language as the Bible does, in the context of God’s fatherhood.
In other words, God’s Fatherhood includes the perfections of both human fatherhood and human motherhood. Scripture balances transcendence and immanence by speaking of God in fundamentally masculine or paternal terms, yet also occasionally using feminine or maternal language for what is depicted as an essentially masculine God. This helps explain why even when the Bible describes God in maternal terms–God remains “He” and “Him.”
The Fatherhood of God in the Trinity
We see, then, that God is Father because He is the Creator and creating resembles human fathering in some important ways. But what if God had never created the world or man? Would He still have been Father? Or what about before God created the world or man? Was God Father then?
The doctrine of the Trinity tells us the answer to these questions is “yes.” The First Person of the Trinity, Trinitarian doctrine reminds us, is the Father. He is, in fact, Father of the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity (CCC 240). Before all worlds and from all eternity, the First Person “begot” the Second Person, who eternally proceeds from the Father, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God,” as the Creed puts it (CCC 242). In the Trinity, the Father is the Underived Principle of the Son (and through Him, of the Spirit as well); He is the Source or Unoriginated Origin of the Triune God.
Again, we draw on the analogy of human fatherhood. As we have seen, a father is the “source” of his offspring in a way a mother is not. The First Person of the Trinity is the “source” of the second Person. Thus, we call the First Person “the Father” rather than “the Mother” and the Second Person, generated by the Father yet also the Image of the Father, we call the Son.
Although the Son is also God and the Image of the Father, He is also distinct from and other than the Father. The Son is begotten; the Father, unbegotten. The Son is originated, the Father, unoriginated. Father-Son language expresses this relationship better than Father-Daughter; Mother-Daughter or Mother-Son language.
Of course because we use analogy, there are crucial differences between God the Father and human fathers. In the Trinity, God the Father begets the Son without a cooperating maternal principle, unlike how human fathers beget their sons. Moreover, God the Father does not precede His Son in time as a human father does his son. Both Father and Son are eternal in the Trinity, hence neither Person existed before the other. Finally, while human fathers and sons share a common human nature, they each have their own human natures. The father does not know with his son’s intellect; the son does not choose with his father’s will. And while they may have similar physical makeup, their bodies are distinct and genetically unique.
Yet in the Trinity, the Father and the Son do possess the same divine nature, not merely their own, respective divines natures as humans possess their own, respective human nature. This is because there can be no such thing as divine “natures”; there can be and is only one divine nature, just as there can be and is only one God. The Father and Son each wholly possesses the divine nature, though each in his distinctive way. The Father possesses it as unreceived and as giving it to the Son; the Son, as received from the Father.
Thus, within the Trinity, there is fundamental equality–each Person is wholly God–and basic difference–each Person is unique and not the Others, not interchangeable. And there is also sacred order, with the Son begotten of the Father and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. This shows that equality and difference, and even equality and hierarchy, need not be understood as opposed to one another, as some feminists claim.
Furthermore, a proper understanding of the Trinity also helps us to see why we cannot just substitute “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier” for “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” as some feminists propose. Traditional theology allows us to associate creation with the Father in a special way because of a similarity between the act of creation and the fact that the Father is the Unoriginated Origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we can associate Redemption with the Son because He became incarnate to redeem us, and Sanctification with the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit proceeds in love from the Father and the Son and the gifts of the Spirit which sanctify are gifts of Divine love. This process of associating certain divine works in the world with a particular Person of the Trinity is called appropriation.
But in all these cases what is associated with or attributed to a particular Person of the Trinity–whether Creation, Redemption or Sanctification–really belongs to all three Divine Persons. In other words, the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity are not “defined” as Persons by these actions, since Creation, Redemption and Sanctification are common to all Three. What defines them as Persons are their unique relations among one another, with the Father begetting, the Son being begotten and the Spirit being “spirated” from the Father and the Son. To reduce each Person of the Trinity to a particular function–Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier –is to succumb to the ancient heresy of Modalism, which denies that there are Three Persons in God and instead holds that there is really only one Person in God who acts in three different modes–Father, Son and Spirit. Or in this case, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier.
The Father of the Incarnate Son
But we must not stop with the First Person of the Trinity’s Fatherhood of the Son before all worlds. For the Triune God has revealed Himself in history. The Son united Himself with human nature. He is the Son of the Father in His human nature as well as His divinity. This, in part, is the meaning of the Virginal Conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary (Lk 1:35). Jesus has no human father–St. Joseph is His “foster-father.” Jesus’ Father is God the Father and He alone. That is why Jesus refers to God as “Abba”–a highly personal and intimate form of paternal address. Jesus’ existence in time and history parallels His eternal, divine existence as God the Son. For this reason, we must not speak of God as Jesus’ Mother, as if the terms “father” and “mother” are interchangeable when it comes to Jesus’ relation to God. God is Jesus’ Father; Mary is Jesus’ Mother and she is not God.
Fatherhood of God by Divine Adoption and Regeneration in Christ
We come now to God and humanity. Is God the Father of all mankind? In a sense He is, because He created us and, as we have seen, to create is like fathering a child. Yet God also made rocks, trees and the Crab Nebula. How is He Father of man but not also Father of them? Granted, humans are spiritual, as well as material, beings, which means they are rational beings–capable of knowing and choosing. In this, they more closely resemble God than the rest of visible creation. Nevertheless, human beings, as such, do not share God’s own life, as children share the life of their fathers. Thus, we are not by nature “children of God” in that sense, but mere creatures. And, as a result of sin, we are fallen creatures at that.
Yet Jesus tells His followers to address God as Father (Mt 6:9-13). He says the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Lk 11:13) and that the Spirit of their Father will speak through them in times of persecution (Mt 10:20). He tells His disciples to be merciful as their heavenly Father is merciful (Lk 6:36). He speaks of being “born from above” through baptism and the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:5). On Easter Sunday, He directs Mary Magdalen to tell the other disciples, “I am going to my Father and your Father . . .” (Jn 20:17).
Elsewhere in the New Testament, God is also depicted as Father to Christians. Through Jesus Christ we are more than mere creatures to God; by faith in Him we become the children of God (1 Jn 5:1), sharing in Jesus’ own Divine Sonship, albeit in a created way (Rom 8:29). God is our Father because He is Jesus’ Father (Jn 1:12). What God is for Jesus by nature, He is for us by grace, Divine Adoption (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:4-7; Eph 1:5-6), and regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5-7).
Behind this language of Divine Adoption and regeneration is the idea that God is our Father because He is the “source” or “origin” of our new life in Christ. He has saved us through Christ and sanctified us in the Spirit. This is clearly more than a metaphor; the analogy with earthly fatherhood is obvious. God is not merely like a father for Christ’s followers; He is really their Father. In fact, God’s Fatherhood is the paradigm of fatherhood. This is why Paul writes in Eph 3:14-15, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named . . .” (RNAB). It is not that God the Father is earthly fatherhood writ large; rather, earthly fatherhood is the faint copy of Divine Fatherhood. This is why Jesus says, “Call no man on earth father. For you have but one Father in heaven” (Mt 23:9). In other words, no earthly father should be seen as possessing the fullness of patriarchal authority; that belongs to God the Father. All earthly fatherhood is derivative from Him.
Thus, God is not Father of those who have not received the grace of justification and redemption in the same way as those who have. Yet they remain potentially His children, since the Father wills the salvation of all (1 Tim 2:4) and makes sufficient grace necessary for salvation available to all. God desires that all men become children of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, hence the universal mission of the Church (Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15; Acts 1:8). We can speak, then, in general terms of God as the Father of all men, inasmuch as He created all men to be His children by grace and makes available to them the means of salvation.
Language Given by God
We see now that there are good theological reasons for why we call God “Father,” not the least of which is that such language is not ours to adapt or abolish to begin with. God gave us this language–admittedly through a particular culture and its images–but it was God who nevertheless gave it. God wants us to understand Him as the Transcendent Source of creation, a truth better expressed using the language of fatherhood than motherhood. Within the Triune Life of God, the First Person is Father because He is the Unoriginated Origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, He is also Father of the Son in history, through the Incarnation. And, by Divine Adoption and regeneration, He is Father of those who are united to Christ in the Holy Spirit–”sons in the Son.” Finally, as a result of God’s universal salvific will, all human beings are potentially children of God, for all are called to share in the Divine Life of grace through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 1999 issue of Catholic Faith magazine.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
• Father, Son, and Spirit: So What’s In A Name? | Deborah Belonick
• Mary in Feminist Theology: Mother of God or Domesticated Goddess? | Fr. Manfred Hauke
• Marriage and the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae | Reverend Michael Hull, S.T.D.
• Do Boys Need Dads? | An Interview with Maggie Gallagher
• Male and Female He Created Them | Cardinal Estevez
• Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, S.T.L.
First there is a time when we believe everything, then for a little while we believe with discrimination, then we believe nothing whatever, and then we believe everything again – and, moreover, give reasons why we believe.
– Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
God is the Great Whatever. God is “un-getable” — we just can’t “get” the idea of God like we get algebra or something. Yeah.
I like this lady’s use of words. And yeah also to her plan to talk about our partnerships with God, not argue about what we have decided He/She/It is like. Her new discussion sounds worth joining. — +Katia
By Martha Woodroof
April 30, 2010
I am a person of faith who is not religious. By this I mean that while I live in partnership with God, the great Whatever, I claim no knowledge of God’s relatives, nature and modus operandi. I believe that everything about God beyond the simple fact of Its existence and availability is beyond my understanding and so beyond the scope of my words. I make no claim to wisdom of any kind about God, only to experience with God.
That’s why I decided to start Faith Unboxed , which I hope will be an unconventional online conversation about living one’s faith rather than practicing (or preaching) one’s religion. I’d much rather talk about how we experience God than argue about what we have decided about God, wouldn’t you?
As I’m not a pundit, a preacher, or a scholar, deciding to host such a faith-centric conversation about the great Whatever leaves me wide open to charges of uppityness. What’s the deal here, lady? You think you get God and the rest of us don’t? Not exactly: What I think is that a) God is intrinsically un-getable; and b) most of our current conversation about God and God’s doings ignores this, conflating practicing one’s religion and living one’s faith.
God, the great Whatever, is ubiquitous in American thinking, society, politics, literature, architecture, conversation — even, through quarterback Tim Tebow’s facial paint in college football. I would wager heavily that none of us escapes growing up without a kissing concept of the great Whatever–some idea implanted in our brains by our elders about what we’re supposed to believe or not believe about God’s presence, doings, relatives, etc. As adults, we may decide to accept those ideas, modify them, rebel against them, or turn our backs on the whole confusing mishmash. But we have all most likely decided something about God.
What we don’t often do as adults — whether because we lack inclination or courage or imagination — is to acknowledge that God, in order to be God, exists completely detached from any human conception of God. The great Whatever is only what the great Whatever is, not what our parents, pundits, preachers or priests say It is. Or for that matter, what they say It isn’t.
So . . . with all due respect, it seems to me desperately wasteful, arrogant and cowardly for us humans to argue so much about religion — i.e. our human-sized conceptions of God’s aforementioned relatives, nature and modus operandi. Missing from most of these battles is any recognition that if God is, God is also beyond our comprehension. We can never know about God in the same way we know about chickens or algebra or documented history; elaborate and compelling religious stories explaining God and God’s family are still stories. Insisting that these stories are true, or even integral parts of our relationship with God, seems to me to confuse the value of accepting what humans have said about God with the value of living in partnership with God.
Arguing about God is, of course, much less troublesome and anxiety-provoking than taking on the demands and responsibilities of a partnership with the Almighty. Indeed, the challenges of any organized religion (or those other God-in-a-box concepts, atheism and agnosticism) begin to seem like effortless glides on greased grooves when compared to the challenges of living one’s faith. Perhaps that’s why there’s been a great deal of public wrangling about the fine points of religion and very little useful public exploration of what it means to live and work together — in this world at this time — as persons of faith.
I hope this online conversation starts such an exploration. I challenge you to join me in thinking beyond everything we’ve come to accept about the great Whatever through habit, upbringing, learned ritual and doctrine. I challenge us, instead, to explore afresh the meaning and responsibilities of faith, of living in active partnership with God, both as an individual and in community. And I challenge us to do this exploration fearlessly, with uncensored curiosity and open-mindedness.
To give our conversation structure, over the next 12 months, I’ll post a dozen questions (one each month) along with my own short (for the most part) answers. My hope is that you will post your own answers and then respond to each others’ posts. Civility and respect are the only criteria for participation. This means no talk of burning in hell or scholarly howls of derision.
Join me here at On Faith the first Sunday of each month for a look at the question. Join me every day at Faith Unboxed for the discussion. Is it possible to have an open, useful and civil online conversation about faith, not religion? We shall see.
Martha Woodroof freelances for NPR and writes, reports, and blogs for public radio station WMRA in Virginia.
This article below by famed female philosopher mythologist anthropologist Jean Houston, deals with the Problem of Evil indirectly as it ponders whether God exists or not; and deals with that ol’ Problem very directly, not to mention dramatically, at the very end of the article…
And here also is a video of Jean Houston talking to Deepak Chopra about the existence of Deity/Consciousness/God. Just like in the article below, in this video Jean also ends dramatically — this time with the remark, “I think suffering is Infinity playing with itself.”
THE ‘FUTURE OF GOD’ DEBATE
Dr. Jean Houston
March 15, 2010
Here are a few of the points I made or intended to make at this remarkably
rousing debate between the atheists and skeptics — Michael Shermer and Sam
Harris on one side and Deepak Chopra and myself on the other. The debate was
mostly focused on the scientific aspects for the existence or non existence
of God. My role was to provide a somewhat different perspective.
1. The world has been rearranged, the reset button of history has been hit.
Many are called to take initiatives that before would have seemed unlikely,
if not downright impossible, including the rethinking of the reality of the
Intelligence that underlies the universe. My perspective joins that of the
poet Christopher Fry: “Thank God our time is now when wrong comes up to meet
us everywhere, never to leave us till we take the longest stride of soul men
ever took.” In this, we are present at the birth of an opportunity that
exceeds our imagination — the 13.7 billion year experiment that could
result in our lives coming to end within the century.
2. There is a radical need for a new natural philosophy based on our new
knowledge of the cosmos, the world, the cross-cultural mix of knowledge and
understanding, potential evolutionary directions, and our own emerging
realities. We have been shackled for too long by philosophies, however
noble, that have been limited by much narrower views of the world. And what
is worse, too many of us have been patterned and prepared in the alembic of
these limited views, however out of date they may be, and we find ourselves
to have been marinated in the medieval soup of the mind. Today, many feel
the need to release inadequate ideas of God so that we can all move forward.
To become atheistic and skeptical at a time of so much opportunity is one
way to respond to our dilemma, but then we forget that religion and
spirituality are also about the quest for meaning, transcendence, seeing the
interrelatedness between things, compassion, goodness, laughter, and the
great Pattern that connects all things with each other as well as ways to
live kindly with the suffering that is an inescapable part of the human
condition. Thus, faith will never go away and, in the words of Karen
Armstrong, ” To identify religion with its worst manifestations, claim that
they represent the whole, and then demolish the straw dog thus set up does
not seem a rational or useful way of conducting this important debate.”
3. In spite of the fact that there appears to be a decline in attendance in
traditional organized religions, the search for spiritual experience has
rarely been greater. In America alone, in the last 30 years, the number of
religious groups has doubled. We take new names, sit zazen, become Sufis,
Taoists, neo-pagans, devotees of Kali and Vedanta. Buddhism in all its
varieties is the fastest growing American faith. There is an eruption of
spiritual polyphony, that some might caustically see as “the Divine Deli” or
“cafeteria religion.” What this points to recalls the original Greek meaning
of enthusiasm: entheosiasmos, “being filled with the god.” As one Catholic
Brother told me, “These other traditions do not contradict my own. Rather,
they open the wells of the Waters of Life. When I meditate with His Holiness
[the Dalai Lama], I feel as if the deep rivers of our respective traditions
are meeting and becoming a mighty flood of spirit and renewal.”
4. The complexity of the present world is shattering expectations in every
arena, most especially, in the geography of the soul. Lost as we all are, we
can understand why some retreat into fundamentalisms that provide archaic
certainties, holding houses of containment before the onrush of new
realities. Others wander in a spiritual void, overwhelmed by the loss of all
pattern, looking to material accomplishments to replace the loss of essence.
Still others flee into “replacement strategies”– psychotherapy, drugs, sex,
growth seminars, travel. In each case, mind and body are at the end of their
tether, swung out into vertigo over the abyss of Being. And yet the yearning
for personal experience of the divine reality has never been greater.
5. As Martin Buber taught us, “I” attends to “Thou” much more than “I”
attends to itself. When you get beneath the surface crust of everyday
consciousness, and past the sensory, psychological and even mythic and
symbolic levels of the ecology of inner space, you discover the depths
beyond depths, and, with it, peace, serenity joy — no separations, but also
a transcendent grace and even high creativity. It is not just the mystics,
but the high creatives (some of whom are scientists) who report that in the
throes of creative experience, feel themselves aligned, guided, allied by a
power that is beyond or deep within themselves. This power is felt as
spiritual reality, a vision, an inward voice, an invisible life’s companion,
and became a formidable motivation for a quest for truth and discovery. One
cannot just reduce these experiences to brain secretions and happy neural
chemistries. There is more to us than that. We inhabit the Universe, but the
Universe, with its vast domain of intelligence and inspiration also inhabits
us! In certain states of consciousness and explorations we tap into its
6. The issue of where this is all coming from has ancient roots. St. Francis
in the 13th century defined the issue of consciousness, the brain and God
when he said “What we are looking for is Who is looking.” Meister Eckhart, a
little later, took it further when he said “The eye by which I see God is
the same eye by which God sees me.” He got into a lot of trouble with the
Pope over that one.
My own take on this is that we are the players in a great game called
Paradox. And what is the paradox? It is that we are both Infinite and finite
beings: As finite beings we are Godstuff incorporated in space and time; as
Infinite being, we are the Living Universe in an eternal yet spirited form
of itself. As this Infinite self expressing aspects of God, and as a form of
the Living Universe, we find ourselves capable of creating and sustaining an
individual finite self. That is you — the human being that is the microcosm
or, if you will, the fractal of the Infinite self. The human Selfing game
may be what Infinity does for fun. Not realizing this, we live in a state of
galloping ambiguity, caught in a limited time vehicle
and yearning for our greater self. Then when we make the rare excursion into
our Greater being, becoming our cosmic selves, we suddenly yearn like
Dorothy in Oz to get back home to the farm in Kansas. Why is this? To
continue the metaphor, to live in Kansas however joyous and rewarding it is
to chronically confront our limitations of body, mind and the others.
Whereas to enter into infinite life is rather difficult to navigate and
transcends all understanding.
I believe that to live in a state of both/and is to become who and what we
were patterned to be. We cannot contract the infinite to fit into the
finite, because if we do so we just end up with a fundamentalist God.
However, we can extend — through conscious work on ourselves — the
capacity to expand and thus to enter into partnership with the infinite.
Then, and this may be the goal of the Paradox game, we do indeed discover
that we are an infinity of selves creating and sustaining our individual
human self. Do you see the stupendous import of this statement? To me, it is
a mind cracking, soul buffeting, life enlargening realization. Once
understood and internalized, it adds tremendous power to our freedom to be,
our enormous capacity to grow, evolve and recreate ourselves, and our
ability to live simultaneously as finite and infinite beings. The Infinite
self has some part in directing the development and unfolding of the finite
self, and the finite self offering joy, entertainment and knowledge to the
Infinite self. This is the Paradox of partnership resolved. The game is to
overcome the illusion of separation.
Now we know that many of the great spiritual traditions, Buddhist, Hindu,
Taoist, the Christian mystical tradition declare that the finite and the
infinite are on a continuum with each other. Even recent scientific
speculation is saying the same. Modern physics of the quantum variety as
Deepak Chopra so brilliantly illustrates, increasingly extends into the
paradoxical and mystical in is pursuit of a unified theory of the
fundamental forces of the living universe.
Finally, we are that crossroads between biology and cosmology. We are called
to explore the mystery itself as an interface between engagement with
external realities and embrace of the inner journey. This brings us to a
place of contemplative practice, and the vital synergy between inner and
outer realities necessary to transform self, institutions, paths of
possibility, as well as visionary endeavors. And in so doing, unleash the
human spirit of those who compose the institution or endeavor and of those
who are served by this. It is an activity of extraordinary balance, a
tension in repose. It is about a zone in which paradox occurs. It is a space
where the sacred emerges and the local self disappears. It is a space of
exquisite silence and of extraordinary service. It is a space wherein there
is a fusing and blending of silence and service. In such a state one has
access to the creative, world making place where one’s unique entelechy (the
essential self) meets the Entelechy of a potential new time, one that gives
the details of an evolution in person and society.
There is a wonderful Sufi story of a man broken hearted by all the suffering
and sorrow he saw in the world. He sat by the roadside and began to beat the
earth. He looks up and yells at God. “Look at this mess. Look at all this
pain. Look at all this killing and hatred. God, Oh God, why don’t you DO
And God said, “I did do something. I sent you.”
Rah, rah, Deepak Choprah, “King of Woo Woo” for taking on Skeptic Michael Shermer (former fundamentalist Christian) now the “King of Pooh Pooh”. Here’s the very latest volley in the ongoing war between religion and science…(a useless war since they actually coexist and overlap, ya know!)
WOO WOO IS A STEP AHEAD OF (BAD) SCIENCE
By Deepak Chopra
Sunday December 27, 2009
It used to annoy me to be called the king of woo woo. For those who aren’t
familiar with the term, “woo woo” is a derogatory reference to almost any
form of unconventional thinking, aimed by professional skeptics who are
self-appointed vigilantes dedicated to the suppression of curiosity. I get
labeled much worse things as regularly as clockwork whenever I disagree with
big fry like Richard Dawkins or smaller fry like Michael Shermer, the
Scientific American columnist and editor of Skeptic magazine. The latest
barrage of name-calling occurred after the two of us had a spirited exchange
on Larry King Live last week <http://bit.ly/5AlD31>. Maybe you saw it. I was
the one rolling my eyes as Shermer spoke. Sorry about that, a spontaneous
reflex of the involuntary nervous system.
Afterwards, however, I had an unpredictable reaction. I realized that I
would much rather expound woo woo than the kind of bad science Shermer
stands behind. He has made skepticism his personal brand, more or less,
sitting by the side of the road to denigrate “those people who believe in
spirituality, ghosts, and so on,” as he says on a YouTube video. No matter
that this broad brush would tar not just the Pope, Mahatma Gandhi, St.
Teresa of Avila, Buddha, and countless scientists who happen to recognize a
reality that transcends space and time. All are deemed irrational by the
skeptical crowd. You would think that skeptics as a class have made
significant contributions to science or the quality of life in their own
right. Uh oh. No, they haven’t. Their principal job is to reinforce the
great ideas of yesterday while suppressing the great ideas of tomorrow.
Let me clear the slate with Shermer and forget the several times he has
wiggled out of a public debate he was supposedly eager to have with me. I
will ignore his recent blog in which his rebuttal of my position was
relegated to a long letter from someone who obviously didn’t possess English
as a first language (would Shermer like to write a defense of his position
in Hindi? It would read just as ludicrously if Hindi isn’t his first
With the slate clear, I’d like to see if Shermer will accept the offer to
debate me at length on such profound questions as the following:
- Is there evidence for creativity and intelligence in the cosmos?
- What is consciousness?
- Do we have a core identity beyond our biology, mind, and ego?
- Is there life after death? Does this identity outlive the molecules through which it expresses itself?
The rules will be simple. He can argue from any basis he chooses, and I will
confine myself entirely to science. For we have reached the state where
Shermer’s tired, out-of-date, utterly mediocre science is far in arrears of
the best, most open scientific thinkers — actually, we reached that point
sixty years ago when eminent physicists like Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli,
Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger applied quantum theory to deep
spiritual questions. The arrogance of skeptics is both high-handed and
rusty. It is high-handed because they lump brilliant speculative thinkers
into one black box known as woo woo. It is rusty because Shermer doesn’t
even bother to keep up with the latest findings in neuroscience, medicine,
genetics, physics, and evolutionary biology. All of these fields have opened
fascinating new ground for speculation and imagination. But the king of
pooh-pooh is too busy chasing down imaginary woo woo.
Skeptics feel that they have won to the high ground in matters concerning
consciousness, mind, the origins of life, evolutionary theory, and brain
science. This is far from the case. What they cling to is nineteenth-
century materialism, packaged with a screeching hysteria about God and
religion that is so passé it has become quaint. To suggest that Darwinian
theory is incomplete and full of unproven hypotheses, causes Shermer, who
takes Darwin as purely as a fundamentalist takes scripture, to see God
everywhere in the enemy camp.
How silly. Shermer is a former Christian fundamentalist who is now a
fundamentalist about materialism; fundamentalists must have an absolute to
believe in. Thus he forces himself into a corner, declaring that all
spirituality is bogus, that the sense of self is an illusion, that the soul
is ipso facto a fraud, that mind has no existence except in the brain, that
intelligence emerged only when evolution, guided by random mutations,
developed the cerebral cortex, that nothing invisible can be real compared
to solid objects, and that any thought which ventures beyond the five senses
for evidence must be dismissed without question.
I won’t go into detail about the absurdity of such rigid thinking. However,
the impulse behind dogmatic materialism seems intended to flatten one’s
opponents so thoroughly that through scorn and arrogance they must admit
defeat, conceding that science is the complete refutation of all preceding
religion, spirituality, psychology, myth, and philosophy — in other words,
any mode of gaining knowledge that arch materialism doesn’t countenance.
I’ve baited this post with a few barbs to see if Shermer can be goaded into
an actual public debate. I have avoided his and his follower’s underhanded
methods, whereby an opponent is attacked ad hominem as an idiot, moron, and
other choice epithets that in his world are the mainstays of rational
argument. And the point of such a debate? To further public knowledge about
the actual frontiers of science, which has always depended on wonder, awe,
imagination, and speculation. Petty science of the Shermer brand scorns such
things, but the greatest discoveries have been anchored on them.
If you are tempted to think that I have taken the weaker side and that
materialism long ago won this debate, let me end with a piece of utterly
nonsensical woo woo:
“Nobody understands how decisions are made or how imagination is set free.
What consciousness consists of, or how it should be defined, is equally
puzzling. Despite the marvelous success of neuroscience in the past century,
we seem as far from understanding cognitive processes as we were a century
That isn’t a quote from “one of those people who believe in spirituality,
ghosts, and so on.” It’s from Sir John Maddox, former editor-in-chief of the
renowned scientific journal Nature, writing in 1999. I can’t wait for
Shermer to call him an idiot and a moron. Don’t worry, he won’t. He’ll find
an artful way of slithering to higher ground where all the other skeptics
Forget God (for awhile), survival of Consciousness after death and outside the brain is the thing to investigate first, says the blogger below. If you prove consciousness has a mind of its own, a life of its own, then the other question of whether God/Goddess exists or not will simply answer itself. The atheists-and-scientists vs. mystics-and-believers method is not getting us the answers we need, we crave. We must look at whether consciousness survives after we die, examine the evidence that our brains do not create consciousness, they merely tap into it, like your car radio picks up on a broadcast of huge FM radio waves.
Very thought-provoking cogent ponderings… I also saw the PBS show portraying Freud debating CS Lewis, the blogger mentions. The program was also thought provoking and deep, yet fell short of answering the ultimate questions… This article/blog below and the comment that follows seem to point right at such ultimate answers. — +Katia
The November 13, 2006 issue of TIME Magazine featured a debate between scientists Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins on the existence of God, the origin of the universe, faith vs. science, etc. As might be expected, they went around in circles and got nowhere. That’s because they are assuming that one has to find God before he or she gets answers to anything else of a spiritual nature. At no point do these intelligent men get to the real issue — whether consciousness survives physical death. If God does exist, but consciousness does not survive physical death, so what? We are still marching toward “nothingness,” i.e., total extinction.
Not long ago before I read the TIME article, I watched a two-hour television program titled The Question of God on PBS. The program, moderated by Dr. Armand Nicholi, a Harvard professor and practicing psychiatrist, featured a theoretical debate between Sigmund Freud, the atheist, and C. S. Lewis, the believer, on the existence of God. After the views of Freud and Lewis were presented by actors portraying the two men, a panel made up of educated believers, agnostics, and atheists gave their thoughts. As you might expect, the discussions went also went around in circles and ended up at the starting point.
As with Dawkins and Collins, the panel members never got past the issue of whether God exists. They discussed such things as whether order can exist in the universe without a higher intelligence, whether God is a product of the need to believe in something greater, and how there can be a God when there is so much evil in the world. As I see it, the issue there also should have been whether consciousness survives physical death. Knowing that there is a Higher Intelligence, Creator, Divinity, Cosmic force, God, whatever name we choose to attach to Him, Her, or It, doesn’t in itself help us understand the purpose of our lives or give real meaning to them.
The “believers,” including a Buddhist journalist and a Jungian analyst, talked about a “sense of connection” to the Divine and an intuitive feeling that there is something greater, to which a skeptical lawyer expressed my thoughts, “Where does that get you?”
Perhaps the viewer was supposed to assume that a belief in God meant a belief in survival of consciousness and, concomitantly, a purpose to life, but the discussions never went that far. It was as if the mere mention of survival or an afterlife was a bit too religious and rudimentary for such educated people. When the afterlife was alluded to on a couple of occasions, even the “believers” weren’t prepared to discuss the subject. In fact, it appeared that none of the believers had any concept of the afterlife beyond what is espoused by orthodox religions.
It was mentioned that Dr. Nicholi has used the Freud vs. Lewis debate in all of his Harvard classes for more than 30 years. I am not qualified to argue with such an esteemed educator, but it does seem to me that Dr. Nicholi and others are missing the boat in approaching the question of God and immortality of the soul deductively, i.e., finding God before we accept the survival of consciousness. Since God apparently is beyond human comprehension, so many people stop there and are left with nothing more than orthodoxy’s humdrum heaven and horrific hell, a scenario that does not invite rational people to believe. Unable to get a handle on God, those taking the deductive approach require a large leap of faith, something more and more people are reluctant to do in this scientific and materialistic age.
The inductive approach, that of psychical research, makes much more sense. That is, explore and examine the evidence for survival of consciousness in such things as near-death experiences, out-of-body travel, deathbed visions, spirit communication through various types of mediums, past-life regressions, and other forms of psychical research. Then, assuming we are satisfied with the evidence, look for an Intelligence behind it all, even though we can’t comprehend that Intelligence. In the light of evidence for survival, the “question of God” really becomes academic. Perhaps that is the problem: Academia often has a hard time dealing with the practical.
C. S. Lewis seems to have based his belief in God simply on emotion, including a “longing to believe.” Although it wasn’t mentioned in the PBS program, Lewis, as I understand his writing, rejected spirit communication and other psychical research as so much humbug. He would certainly not be my choice as an advocate or defender for a belief in the spiritual. I would have selected Sir Oliver Lodge, the esteemed British physicist and educator of yesteryear, or Dr. Gary Schwartz, currently of the University of Arizona, as my advocate or defender. Of course, Sir Oliver would have to be brought up to date on research taking place since his death in 1940, although I suspect he is very much aware of it and may even be inspiring much of it.
But neither Lodge nor Schwartz would be able to sway the fundamentalists of religion and science – those whose minds are made up and closed to further enlightenment. The absolute proof they require seems neither possible nor desirable. However, the results of credible psychical research can significantly influence those who are open minded and truly searching for real meaning and purpose in life.
As I see it, the Freud approach involves a fatal leap into a darkened chasm, while the Lewis approach requires a giant leap of faith over that chasm. The Lodge and Schwartz approach, on the other hand, do not involve much more than a short hop over a babbling brook. Forget whether God exists or not and look at the evidence for survival. There is a preponderance of such evidence out there. Examine it, discern it, dissect it, and let God emerge from what you discover.
Tagged with: God, afterlife, spirituality, Richard Dawkins, science, religion
8 days later, Water Carrier wrote:
Hi Mike, You wrote, Forget whether God exists or not and look at the evidence for survival. There is a preponderance of such evidence out there. Examine it, discern it, dissect it, and let God emerge from what you discover. I agree. Ultimately, those who argue against the existence of God are arguing against the existence of consciousness. They believe consciousness is secreted by the brain the way the adrenal glands secrete adrenaline. Consciousness is an epiphenomenon, or emergent phenomenon, but it in itself doesn’t exist. It’s just a quality of something that does exist, just as “sharp” is a quality of a knife but “sharp” doesn’t itself exist. And so, to talk with them about God is pointless. That’s not where their ignorance lies. They don’t know that consciousness exists outside of and aside from the brain, or rather, that the brain is an epiphenomenon of consciousness. That ignorance is a remarkable state of affairs in the twenty-first century when so much research shows that neurons firing don’t account for the moment of a conscious experience. Neurons certainly don’t account for the fact that I can sit in my office, close my eyes, and “see” images of objects on people’s tables thousands of miles away . I’m not using a retina; I’m not using my optic nerve; and I’m not using the optical cortex because no electrical signals are coming into it to create neurotransmitters. In other words, it seems pretty clear that I “see” without the brain. Then I remember what I see, so my memories aren’t in the brain either. My seeing objects in this way happens with none of the electrical signals the optical cortex needs to produce the neurotransmitters. Electromagnetism doesn’t travel over the earth’s curvature, and besides, experiments done in Faraday cages show that this psychic activity doesn’t involve electromagnetism. But the images are there, in my consciousness. In other words, my consciousness is seeing things my brain can’t possibly “see,” without photons, a retina, an optic nerve, or an optical cortex. My brain is just protein and fat tightly enclosed in the darkness of my skull. My consciousness is what’s out there seeing something thousands of miles away. So obviously, consciousness isn’t in the brain. And that means when the brain dies, consciousness doesn’t die. It’s still wherever it was when the brain was producing brainwaves and firing neurons. That’s what the direct-voice medium recordings tell us http://adcguides.com/ . People who die find themselves just as they were the moment before death. Some don’t even know they’re dead and wander around the Earth for weeks, months, or years. The skeptics won’t look at the real issue of the nature of consciousness. It’s too scary for them. They would have to rethink everything they know if they learned that consciousness isn’t in the brain. It’s easier to avoid looking at the vast amount of evidence that consciousness exists aside from the brain and consciousness survives death. It’s easier for them to focus on an easy target: the unprovable, inaccessible nature of God. That’s avidya, ignorance. But if they did just accept the obvious fact that consciousness is outside of the brain (or the brain is inside consciousness), then they could understand that consciousness is fundamental. From everything we know, consciousness is the ground of all being. Knowing that consciousness is eternal, is located outside of the body, and is the ground of all being, there must be an architect with a greater consciousness. Materialism and evolution break down in the face of consciousness. It couldn’t have evolved naturally; it could only evolve purposefully, and that requires a conscious architect. As you suggest, if the skeptics will look at consciousness and the survival of consciousness, they will find God. — Craig