DBH on the God of Nothing-but-will

A passage for the ages from DBH.

If all that occurs, in the minutest detail and in the entirety of its design, is only the expression of one infinite volition that makes no real room within its transcendent determinations for other, secondary, subsidiary but free agencies (and so for some element of chance and absurdity), then the world is both arbitrary and necessary, both meaningful in every part and meaningless in its totality, an expression of pure power and nothing else.

Even if the purpose of such a world is to prepare creatures to know the majesty and justice of God, that majesty and justice are, in a very real sense, fictions of his will, impressed upon creatures by means both good and evil, merciful and cruel, radiant and monstrous—some are created for eternal bliss and others for eternal torment, and all for the sake of the divine drama of perfect and irresistible might.

Such a God, at the end of the day, is nothing but will, and so nothing but an infinite event; and the only adoration that such a God can evoke is an almost perfect coincidence of faith and nihilism.

David Bentley Hart

God’s plan is not simply the total sum of everything that happens, no matter what it is — the “infinite equation” that leaves nothing behind. There’s a very clear point at which this explanation becomes meaningless. Indeed, it ceases to explain anything at all.

To say that everything is part of God’s plan, without any deeper mystery of created freedom, is to assert nothing but that the world is what it is. That there is no distinction between the will of God and the simple totality of the universe.

On Process Theology

I’ve been reading a good bit about Process Theology lately. Lots of essays online, and John Cobb’s Process Theology.

I like Process Theology (and Process Philosophy) because I find it to be honest about our actual, real-world experiences, and to not depart from that honesty when hypothesizing about God and the nature of ultimate reality.

I was talking to friend about this last night. It’s hard to explain—I’m not sure he was following, though he’s one of the most intelligent and open-minded people I know.

In that light, I’m writing some points below. I haven’t had time to synthesize all of this yet—at least, not in writing. But there’s no harm in laying out pieces of the whole before I’m able to explain it all concisely and coherently.

  1. Our thinking about religion depends on our prereflective beliefs about ultimate reality. No one can honestly reference Scripture alone as the foundation for their entire metaphysical outlook. Our interpretations of Scripture (and other religious artifacts) depend, necessarily, on our prereflective beliefs about ultimate reality. In my view, process theology takes this more seriously than other theologies I’ve encountered. It unifies metaphysical speculations with theological speculations—for many process philosophers and process theologians, those two things are in perfect harmony and, some may even say, one in the same thing.
  2. We really have no mental apparatus for comprehending the claims we make about God’s omnipotence. We say He is “all-powerful,” but I think we often fall into the trap of anthropomorphizing that power and envisioning his omnipotence as what it might look like if a human being had omnipotence—that is, unemcumbered coercive power to enact anything that pops into our mind. This would be human omnipotence, maybe, but what is “power” in the context of infinity? What does “power” mean when one (God), supposedly, has no inhibitions whatsoever on the enacting of his will? God’s omnipotence is not just the pole of some power spectrum. It’s an entirely different sort of power—one that, in my view, invites a host of alternative interpretations of God’s power over the universe. Specifically, interpretations (like process theology) that don’t involve implicating Him in evil.
  3. God isn’t a male. God is not a human. God is not embodied. But we speak about “Him” (male) taking human-like actions (speaking) to influence our dimension (embodied). We aren’t mistaken in doing so—the fact is, we simply can’t talk about God without making drastic simplifications. Sometimes, I think, we end up drawing inferences from oversimplifications, forgetting that our claims about God are imperfect. Inferring new ideas from imperfect descriptors, and then inferring new ideas on top of those, causes confusion. It’s a form of imagination, not reasoning. In my view, process theology doesn’t make this error. It acknowledges that omnipotence plus omnipresence are attributes (or even the definition) of God, but acknowledges also our inability to comprehend the gravity of those ideas, or really to have any useful conception of them at all (ones that advance our understanding, rather than just confuse us).

More to come on this subject.

Merton on the Devil

The selection below is Chapter 13 of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. It’s called The Moral Theology of the Devil.


The devil has a whole system of theology and philosophy, which will explain, to anyone who will listen, that created things are evil, that men are evil, that God created evil and that He directly wills that men should suffer evil. According to the devil, God rejoices in the suffering of men and, in fact, the whole universe is full of misery because God willed and planned it this way.

Indeed says this system of theology, God the Father took real pleasure in delivering His Son to His murderers, and God the Son came to earth because he wanted to be punished by the Father. Both of them seek nothing more than to punish and persecute their faithful ones. As a matter of fact, in creating the world God had clearly in mind that man would inevitably sin so that God would have an opportunity to manifest His justice.

So according to the devil, the first thing created was really hell – as if everything else were, in some sense, for the sake of hell. Therefore the devotional life of those who are “faithful” to this kind of theology consists above all in an obsession with evil. As if there were not already enough evils in the world, they multiply prohibitions and make new rules, binding everything with thorns, so that man may not escape evil and punishment. For they would have him bleed from morning to night, though even with so much blood there is no remission of sin! The Cross, then, is no longer a sign of mercy (for mercy has no place in such a theology), it is a sign that Law and Justice have utterly triumphed, as if Christ had said: “I came not to destroy the Law but to be destroyed by it.” For this, according to the devil, is the only way in which the Law could really and truly be “fulfilled”. Not love but punishment is the fulfillment of the Law. The Law must devour everything, even God. Such is theology of punishment, hatred and revenge. He who would live by such a dogma must rejoice in punishment. He may, indeed, successfully evade punishment himself by “playing ball” with the Law and the Lawgiver. But he must take good care that others do not avoid suffering. He must occupy his mind with their present and future punishment. The Law must triumph. There must be no mercy.

This is the chief mark of the theology of hell, for in hell there is everything but mercy. That is why God Himself is absent from hell. Mercy is the manifestation of His presence.

The theology of the devil is for those who, for one reason or another, whether because they are perfect or because they have come to an agreement with the Law, no longer need any mercy. With them (O grim joy!) God is “satisfied”. So too is the devil. It is quite an achievement, to please everybody!

The people who listen to this sort of thing, and absorb it, and enjoy it, develop a notion of the spiritual which is a kind of hypnosis of evil. The concepts of sin, suffering, damnation, punishment, the justice of God, retribution, the end of the world and so on, are things over which they smack their lips with unspeakable pleasure. Perhaps this is why they develop a deep, subconscious comfort from the thought that many other people will fall into hell which they themselves are going to escape. And how do they know that they are going to escape it? They cannot give any definite reason except that they feel a certain sort of relief at the thought of all this punishment is prepared for practically everyone else but themselves.

This feeling of complacency is what they refer to as “faith”, and it constitutes a kind of conviction that they are “saved”.

The devil makes many disciples by preaching against sin. He convinces them that the great evil of sin, induces a crisis of guilt by which “God is satisfied:. And after that he lets them spend the rest of their lives meditating on the intense sinfulness and evident reprobation of other men.

The moral theology of the devil starts out with the principle: “Pleasure is sin.” Then he goes on to work it the other way: “All sin is pleasure.”

After that he points out that pleasure is practically unavoidable and that we have a natural tendency to do things that please us from which he reasons that all our natural tendencies are evil and that our nature in itself is evil in itself. And he leads us to the conclusion that no one could possibly avoid sin, since pleasure is inescapable.

After that, to make sure that no one will try to escape or to avoid sin, he adds that what is unavoidable cannot be a sin. Then the whole concept of sin is thrown out the window as irrelevant, and people decide that there is nothing left except to live for pleasure, and in that pleasures that are naturally good become evil by the de-ordination and lives are thrown away in unhappiness and sin.

It sometimes happens that men who preach most vehemently about evil and the punishment of evil, so that they seem to have practically nothing else on their minds except sin, are really unconscious hates of other men. They think the world does not appreciate them, and this is their way of getting even.

The devil is not afraid to preach the will of God provided he can preach it in his own way.

The argument goes something like this: “God wills you to do what is right. But you have an interior attraction which tells you, by a nice warm glow of satisfaction, what is right. Therefore, if others try to interfere and make you do something that does not produce this comfortable sense of interior satisfaction, quote Scripture, tell them that you ought to obey God rather than men, and go ahead and do your own will, do the thing that gives you that nice, warm glow.”

The theology of the devil is really not theology but magic. “Faith” in this theology is really not the acceptance of a God Who reveals Himself as mercy. It is a psychological, subjective “force” which applies a kind of violence to reality in order to change it according to one’s own whims. Faith is a kind of super effective wishing a mastery that comes from a special, mysteriously dynamic will power that is generated by “profound convictions.” By virtue of this wonderful energy one can exercise a persuasive force even on God Himself and bend Him to one’s own will. By this astounding new dynamic soul force of faith (which any quack can develop in you for an appropriate remuneration) you can turn God into a means to your own ends. We become civilized medicine men, and God becomes our servant. Though He is terrible in His own right, He respects our sorcery. He allows Himself to be tamed by it. He will appreciate our dynamism, and He will reward it with success in everything we attempt. We will become popular because we have “faith”. We will be rich because we have “faith.” All our national enemies will come and lay their arms at our feet because we have “faith”. Business will boom all over the world, and we will be able to make money out of everything and everyone under the sun because of the charmed life we lead. We have faith.

But there is a subtle dialectic in all this, too.

We hear that faith does everything. So we close our eyes and strain a bit, to generate some “soul force”. We believe. We believe.

But nothing happens.

So we go on with this until we become disgusted with the whole business. We get tired of generating “soul force”. We get tired of this “faith” that does nothing to change reality. It does not take away our anxieties, our conflicts, it leaves us prey to uncertainty. It does not lift all responsibilities off our shoulders. Its magic is not so effective after all. It does not thoroughly convince us that God is satisfied with us, or even that we are satisfied with ourselves (though in this, it is true, some people’s faith is often quite effective).

Having become disgusted with faith, and therefore with God, we are now ready for the Totalitarian Mass Movement that will pick us up on the rebound and make us happy with war, with the persecution of “inferior races” or of enemy classes, or generally speaking, with actively punishing someone who is different from ourselves.

Another characteristic of the devil’s moral theology is the exaggeration of all distinctions between this and that, good and evil, right and wrong. These distinctions become irreducible divisions. No longer is there any sense that we might perhaps all be more or less at fault, and that we might be expected to take upon our own shoulders the wrongs of others by forgiveness, acceptance, and patient understanding and love, and thus help one another to find the truth. On the contrary, in the devil’s theology, the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong. This does not exactly make for peace and unity among men, because it means that everybody wants to be absolutely right himself, or to attach himself to another who is absolutely right. And in order to prove their rightness they have to punish and eliminate those who are wrong. Those who are wrong, in turn, convinced that they are right… etc.

Finally, as might be expected, the moral theology of the devil grants an altogether unusual amount of importance to.. the devil. Indeed one soon comes to find out that he is the very center of the whole system. That he is behind everything. That he is moving everybody in the world except ourselves. That he is out to get even with us. And that there is every chance of his doing so because, it now appears, his power is equal to that of God, or even perhaps superior to it…

In one word, the theology of the devil is purely and simply that the devil is god.

On Cancel Culture

Where did we get this idea that to be admirable, you must never have erred?

That to be respectable, you must never have stumbled?

That to be honorable, you must never have been shameful?

I know people who reject even their own mother for holding “backwards” views on one issue. People who will deny anyone even a modicum of respect because of one mistake or slip of the tongue.

How sad.

All have sinned. And the magnitude of our sins is often directly proportionate to the magnitude of our efforts to improve ourselves and the world around us.

Our highest moral calling is not to find reasons to “cancel” each other, or to uncover every impure motivation behind each other’s convictions. Rather, it’s to purge our own hearts of these motivations, and to regard others as more important than ourselves.

“Fire and water do not mix. Neither can you mix judgment of others with the desire to repent. If a man commits a sin before you at the very moment of his death, pass no judgment, because the judgment of God is hidden from men. It has happened that men have sinned greatly in the open but have done greater deeds in secret, so that those who would disparage them have been fooled, with smoke instead of sunlight in their eyes.”

St. John Climacus

RR Reno on Death’s Dominion

Valuable essay here. A summary selection below:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn resolutely rejected the materialist principle of “survival at any price.” It strips us of our humanity. This holds true for a judgment about the fate of others as much as it does for ourselves. We must reject the specious moralism that places fear of death at the center of life.

This sentiment is hard to swallow, maybe. But you should glean something from this, whether or not you agree with the author.

He’s right. It’s not a whole-hearted defense of life (even that of the very-elderly and terminally-ill) driving this drastic pandemic response. For why, then, is there no similar response to the genocide of the unborn? Or to other behaviors — more destructive than this virus — that diminish both the quality and quantity of life for millions?

What’s driving this response (or, at least, the rhetoric surrounding it) is an underlying sentimentalism — a vague insistence that we ought to live in a world without triage (the necessary prioritization of medical needs). And the erroneous belief that, somehow, we can.

“If it saves one life” is not a realistic strategy, nor one that anyone actually follows. But worse than just being impractical, it trivializes other virtues and values (justice, beauty, honor) — implying that they are worthwhile only when the most important concern (or, as Reno says, the “false god”) of preserving life at any cost is satisfied.

That said, perhaps this is simply the Governor’s role within the cadre of competing human authorities. Where Reno is wrong, I think, is in failing to recognize that many actions policymakers have taken DO balance other concerns with virus suppression (i.e. we aren’t all confined to our individual bedrooms, which would certainly eradicate the virus quickly). And I do suspect we’ll all take economic realities into more consideration soon enough, whether the virus is defeated or not.

But if not the actions, then much of the rhetoric surrounding the pandemic response belittles any concern other than “life at any cost.” That’s not fair. This is a complex medical and spiritual episode in the life of humanity. There is no one obvious solution. There are only trade-offs.

Be safe and hygienic. Avoid close proximity with at-risk persons. But be open-minded, too. And don’t ridicule someone for choosing to be less anxious than you.

My Fundamental Argument Against Socialism

Prices are pieces of information that facilitate coordination between actors.

They communicate changing supply and demand conditions, allowing actors to make real-time, rational judgments about how they ought to allocate resources if they are to be efficient and if their ventures are to be successful.

As Hayek writes, the price system is a “machinery for registering change.”

Prices arise from the decisions and valuations of individual actors who, by their observation and closeness to the sources and uses of commodities, understand how changing conditions—in the earth, the skies, the minds of men—affect the supply and demand associated with those commodities. Most intimately, they begin with the owners of such commodities, whose livelihoods depend on rational and sustainable allocation of such commodities as objects of sale to their fellow human beings.

This is key: That prices begin as subjective valuations in the minds of those with a personal stake in the priced commodities, and that these valuations are then informed incessantly by the valuations of others with different perspectives and understandings of dynamic supply and demand conditions. These prices are affected even further by the uses of these priced commodities down the structure of production—influences that extend back up (and down) the production structure to communicate changed conditions at any point.

It is simply fact, then, that a socialist society has no prices, and thereby no means to allocate resources such that changing supply and demand conditions at any point in any good’s production structure proportionally affect a good’s price.

A socialist society, understood as an arrangement where the means of production are owned by the state (representing, in theory, the common interest of all members of society) and not by individual actors, divests anyone in the society of the incentive and uniquely-associated knowledge to adequately adjust prices to reflect changing conditions. Whereas shifts in demand and supply are, in a free market economy, observed in the behaviors of actors exchanging their produce—in ever-changing volumes—for some goods more than others, such behaviors ostensibly do not occur in a socialist economy, where materials are not owned by individual actors, but are owned more-or-less by all, with no one person having a greater stake in some commodity than another.

Prices, therefore, carry no use as information regarding changing supply and demand conditions in a socialized society. They do not communicate from one actor to another the unique knowledge possessed about how events might and do affect the value of some good. Rather, they serve simply to direct actors toward or away from certain goods as deemed appropriate by those with the duty of setting prices (they direct actions toward here or there, but they do not guide actions toward true efficiency). Though perhaps not entirely arbitrary, assuming some methodical rationale on the part of such bureaucrats, prices in a socialized system do not serve to communicate changing real world conditions, but assume the role of communicating someone or another’s interpretation of how changing conditions ought to affect price.

Socialism divests prices of their use in reflecting real conditions and informing actors (that is, connecting them to the real world and to all their fellow actors), and instead imagines some imputation of value by prices onto goods, based on some schema rooted in something other than actual, true valuations on the part of actors with a personal stake in relevant goods.

This is true only so long as planners do not possess the means to predict the valuations of all a society’s actors. Such a means would be some feat, indeed—it entails comprehensive, real-time knowledge of not just all changing material conditions, but all shifts, at all times, in human needs and preferences, and the simultaneous rational synthesis of all such data. Absent this capacity (that is, in the conceivable real-world as we know it today), valuations in a socialist system occur in a parallel universe, where markets for commodities do exist and thereby influence the subjective interpretations of actors in a world unmarked by socialism whatsoever even after private ownership is verboten

Prices in a socialist context, therefore, are not prices at all, but fiats. Their use is merely to advance some end (be it even so noble as maximizing human welfare). They possess no characteristic of market prices—they do not communicate changes in supply and demand rooted in the minds of individual valuators with a personal stake in valued goods. They do not facilitate efficient adjustments to ensure a steady and rational flow of goods toward their most valued ends—Hayek’s “machinery for registering change.” And they do not economize on information and guide actors’ behaviors regarding their productive energies, as such entrepreneurship is of no use when all production is planned, and decreed valuations say nothing, with certainty, about how energies might be spent toward productive ventures.

Mises writes, “There is no such thing as prices outside the market.” This is a fact of nature. What alleged prices may exist in a completely planned and socialized society will direct activity toward some end or another, but will not accurately inform actors of changing real conditions nor guide them toward efficient goods allocation relative to what goes on the real world of subjective wants and valuation.

How sentimentalism steals from your happiness

Lots of people today—especially teens and young people—have an unhealthy obsession with “making memories” and trying to fully realize the value of an experience in real-time while it’s still happening.

I call this real-time memorialization.

It’s a form of cheap sentimentalism. It’s a way of avoiding the more uncomfortable emotions inherent in all of life’s more notable occasions, and replacing them instead with a catch-all feeling of “I’m-going-to-miss-this!” (a feeling that, of course, is tenuously-held and inevitably fleeting).

What happens, then, is we become sad (and only sad) when thinking back to times gone by. Because at the time, we insisted on being happy (and only happy) by ignoring all the reasons—big or small—why such occasions were less than perfect.

And we make it all worse for ourselves by documenting everything with photos and looking back with nostalgia at those photos even while the documented event is still happening.

All of this replaces deep engagement with the present moment. It steals from the actual progress we can make by being fully-present, engaged, and critical with our time and what we’re doing. And ultimately, it fills our heads not with memories, but with vague feelings of wistfulness and “memories of memories” that can never fulfill us in the way actual, organic memories can.

It applies our highest mental and emotional energies toward continually scanning for experiences that might be worth real-time memorializing, rather than toward a goal of personal progress without (or, at least, with much less) regard for how things are going to make us feel.

The result of all this is an emptiness inside. Pervading melodrama. Missing things we’re not even sure we can remember, and being sad of that fact. Perpetual longing for times gone by that were, when they happened, nowhere near as joyous as we remember and that during which, in fact, we were much less happy than we are today.

This is a self-destructive tendency. It’s cynicism in disguise. It will steal from your happiness. Fight it.

Politics and Nutty People

Wisdom from Robert Higgs’ Facebook page:

When I was growing up, without ever dwelling on the matter, I thought of most people as “normal,” that is, like me. What I saw, they saw; what I felt, they felt. Of course a few were weird, and even fewer were bat-shit crazy, but these outliers dwelled, or so I supposed, well outside the realm of us normal people.

As I passed beyond my youth, I became more and more cognizant that the crazy ones were much more numerous than I had supposed while growing up, and I learned rather early in my adult life that I was one of the crazy ones. What I saw, many others did not see; what I felt, many others did not feel; and vice versa.

Now, at an advanced age, I am inclined to regard “normal” people as quite unusual in the overall population. I don’t mean to suggest that lots of people are psychotic or schizophrenic—that is, completely nutso. But I do mean that almost everyone has some twisted or bizarre psychic aspects that make people shake their heads, even those who are equally nuts but in a different way.

In view of how common crazy people are in the overall population, it’s nothing short of a miracle that society and economy hang together at all. That they do testifies, I think, to the fact that even nutty people can usually respond rationally to incentives, that they are sane enough to continue to play a value-yielding role of some sort in the socio-economic order. When they engage in political life, however, their nuttiness is free to run rampant without immediate, visible adverse consequences for them—indeed, they may even be rewarded for acting crazily—so nuttiness tends to be the norm in mass political participation.

Robert Higgs

What is Kanye doing?

It’s simple.

He’s turning his financial empire into a non-profit.

He’s building a church.

Because he HATES the music industry stealing from his earnings. And he HATES the government taxing his earnings. And he HATES anyone that’s ever capitalized on his creativity.

He’s been saying as much for 15 years, now.

So the solution? Become the Church of Kanye.

No more taxes. Less competition. New revenue streams.

He outlined the plan in a recent interview. Watch 50 seconds of this video, beginning at 1:05:00.

The church will produce and sell the shoes. The church will produce and sell the albums. The church will produce and sell everything Kanye wants to sell. And do it all as part of its work for “the church.”

Which means non-profit. Not taxed.

I think it’s fortunate for him that the interviewer cut him off at the end. Before he finished the statement “a lot of people have capitalized on my creativity…”

Because now it’s not on record.

“…and now all of that gets to stay within what I’m doing .”

As in, the church.

His church.

Which pays him.

Which doesn’t pay the government.

Which is under his control.

This doesn’t mean his music is bad. It doesn’t mean he’s not a Christian. It doesn’t mean he’s lying.

But it does mean there’s more here than meets the eye, and that he’s being manipulative.

“No way,” you say. “Non-profits don’t create billionaires. If Kanye wants money, he’d set up his own record company. His own label. His own apparel.”

True. But he’s already done these things. So what’s next?

Kenneth Copeland is worth more than Taylor Swift. Joel Osteen is worth more than 50 Cent. Joyce Meyer is worth more than Barack Obama.

The Church of Kanye, coming to retailers, theaters, bookstores, and auditoriums near you.

Borg on the three meanings of “faith”

I’ve taken these three points, quotes, and ideas from a poignant sermon by Marcus Borg. It’s on the meanings of the word “faith,” and what the differences between these three conceptions mean for the Christian life.

Definitions of Faith

  1. Assent (or assensus): Faith as believing that something is true.
    • It’s opposite is doubt or disbelief.
  2. Fidelity (or fidelitas): Faith as commitment.
    • It’s opposite is adultery.
  3. Fiducia (or fiduciary): Faith as trust.
    • It’s opposite is anxiety.

Believe as Belove

“I’ve already mentioned that for many modern people, “belief” means believing something to be true, though there are reasons to think otherwise. If you go back to the English language before the Enlightenment, Shakespeare and before, the word “believe” invariably means “love.” You see this in the Middle English word believen. That is where you get the modern English word “believe.” Believen means to belove, so that ultimately, what you believe really means what you belove.”

A Quick Thought

What’s a stronger expression of faith than obedience amidst doubt? Even stronger, I think, than obedience amidst certainty. Because certainty is not something won or achieved, but something granted by nature (or God).

Also, I think of William Cowper—a tortured man who seemed unduly obsessed with Christian assensus (and his failure, ultimately, to assent). I highly recommend David Cecil’s biography of Cowper. He was an obedient man, anxious though he was. In this context, he had intense fidelitas to God.

Another Marcus Borg selection

I’m on a Marcus Borg kick.

Here’s another quote from a superb interview. He’s answering the question:

How do you respond to the criticism that many contemporary scholars are taking away so much. We’ve lost the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of the Scriptures, no virgin birth, our understanding of the resurrection has been modified. People feel like we don’t believe anything any longer. It’s all gone.

First, if believing in the virgin birth, believing that the tomb was really empty, that Jesus walked on the water — if that has not become a problem for you, there’s no reason for you to change your beliefs. If the Spirit of God is working through that belief system to lead you into a deeper relationship with God and growth and compassion in your life, there’s no reason to change your beliefs about that.

The second thing I want to say is, what do you say to the millions of people who can’t take the Bible literally, who can’t believe that the earth is young as a literal reading of Genesis suggests, who are skeptical that God relates to the world in the interventionist way presupposed by the plagues of the Exodus story and the splitting of the seas, who are skeptical that anyone is ever born without a human father? Do you simply say to those folks, “Sorry, you can’t be Christians, because the right way to believe is to believe all this literally.”

Now I am not suggesting that we ought to water down the Christian story to what a modern reductionistic skeptic could accept. I think a robust affirmation of the reality of God is utterly foundational to Christianity. But I think a kind of humility about whether our stories of the spectacular are factual or metaphorical is very much in order.

For Christians to say, for example, “Our stories of the spectacular are factual. The stories of the spectacular in other religions are myth or metaphorical” — to me, that makes no sense.

There’s a story of the Buddha walking on water. If someone wants to say, “I believe the Buddha could walk on water,” then I have no problem with that person saying, “And I believe Jesus walked on water.” What I think has become an intellectual obstacle for many people, including people whom we would very much like to attract into the life of the church, is the privileging of the Christian stories, so that our stories are factual, but the stories of all other traditions are not. I don’t know of many thoughtful people who can accept that claim. So insisting on the literal, factual meanings of these stories has become one of the intellectual stumbling blocks that’s also an artificial burden that’s hard to bear in our time.

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg: What is God?

I only just discovered Marcus Borg.

He’s a “progressive Christian,” I suppose. A liberal theologian, though that meant something different 30 years ago (when he was most active) than it does today.

But I’m not drawn to his teaching because of that label. I didn’t know who he was until I saw this video. What attracts me is his honest—with himself, his audience, fellow believers.

What is God? How does our conception of God affect the way we live? What about our conception of God is rooted in Scripture vs. products of our own imaginations? And how much does that matter?

Here’s a good quote:

The way of Jesus is thus not a set of beliefs about Jesus. That people ever thought it was is strange, when we think about it — as if one entered new life by believing certain things to be true, or as if the only people who can be saved are those who know the word “Jesus”. Thinking that way virtually amounts to salvation by syllables.

Rather, the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection — the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being. To use the language of incarnation that is so central to John, Jesus incarnates the way. Incarnation means embodiment. Jesus is what the way embodied in a human life looks like.

Marcus Borg

Fatherhood as antidote

Getting married, starting a family, and steadily assuming responsibility for an increasing number of people other than oneself — this is a powerful antidote to existential despair and anxiety. And I don’t think there are many exceptions to this rule.

This is something I believe more enthusiastically with every passing year. I think it can help other people my age (and younger). Especially men.

Of course, these responsibilities come with their own stresses. But it’s a different kind of stress. It’s a how-will-I-have-time-for-this kind of stress. Not a what’s-the-point-of-life kind of stress.

This has been my experience, and that of other young fathers I know. I think it has to do with spending more time thinking deeply about other people and less time thinking deeply about myself.

And maybe, too, with seeing firsthand just how much others rely on me (and me on them) for guidance when things get tough.

The demands of parenthood don’t leave much time for over-analyzing thoughts and feelings that aren’t true (vs. manufactured) problems. And we often need this kind of external pressure to help us determine what feelings aren’t worth a second thought.

Sarah Coakley on how religions compare

Here’s a good interview of Sarah Coakley on how religions compare (or ought to compare) to one another.

Here’s a quote from the video that I think summarizes her main point:

If you simply look at those clashes as extrinsic doctrinal incompatibilities, then you’re not really getting to the heart of the issue. You have to probe more deeply than that. You have to look at the practices, attitudes, and lives that are attending these kinds of propositional assents.

Much more important than a kind of pluralism is how grown up we are as religious people. How deeply we have imbibed our own traditions.

That doesn’t just mean by being fanatical. It meany by how much we have actually absorbed and been transformed by the tradition that we’ve inherited.

Now once we’ve begun to look at the relationship between religious traditions in those two different ways—not as slabs of differentiated religion, nor as simply a matter of competing propositional forms of assent—then you’ve got a terrain that is much more interesting and, you might say, more complicated.

Sarah Coakley

To summarize, religions aren’t just sets of propositions. To compare one religion to another based on the veracity of the underlying propositions (about the nature and definition of God, God’s action in the world, etc.) says something, but not everything, about the religions being considered.

A very good, relevant question (and answer) for modern people

I saw this on Reddit just now.

I’m not the only one who’s seen it. It has more than 17,000 upvotes right now, and 95% of all votes were upvotes.

In other words, it’s resonating with people.

Question:

Have you ever felt you don’t know/have forgotten who you really are? That you’ve spent years just adapting to surroundings to make life easier and don’t know what’s the real you anymore? If so, how did you overcome this?

I can relate, though I do think I struggle less with this question than the average person. Maybe even a lot less, though I’m not sure why.

But I can stand 100% behind the this posted answer, because I think it’s spot on:

There’s probably no “real you” that exists across time. That’s just a thing you built up when you were younger to give yourself a stable identity and core values.

The you now is just as real as the you then. We all adapt to our surroundings and change to make our lives easier. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If you’re unhappy with your life now, you can adapt by changing. You need to believe that, and you probably know it since it seems to be something you’re afraid of. But this is the real you now, and you need to focus on the needs of that person, not some idealized phantom from the past.

Lots of truth there. I’m glad people seem to recognize that (more than 8,000 upvotes right now—the most popular answer option).

There’s something from process thinking here. Even process philosophy, emphasizing “becoming and changing” over “static being.”

As Westerners and Romantics, we get hung up on “identity.” Who and what things really are. Who we really are. It’s a worldwide obsession—so pervasive that it’s hard to imagine things being any other way.

But slowly taking off these “identity” lenses has done a lot for my mental and spiritual health. What is there constant but change itself? What exists except this present moment? We have memories and relics from the past, but we are not who we were in the past. We are someone new every passing moment—embracing that can open your mind (in my experience) to a level of spiritual understanding that you may not have known existed.

Anyways, more on this later. Being (lately) more open to this way of thinking has energized me mentally, spiritually and physically more than anything else I can remember.