Sean King

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San Juan, Puerto Rico, United States

Friday, December 26, 2008

Part I, Chapter 3: Historicity, The Great Christian Paradigm

As noted at the top of this page in the left margin, I've decided to serialize and publish on this blog a book that I've been working on for some time. Below is the fourth installment. Consult the Table of Contents at the right of this page for a chronological listing of posts.

Truth…is at all times an open secret, but is as a pillar of light [only] to those able to receive and profit by it, and to all others but one of darkness and unintelligibility. [T]he vital secrets of life…protect themselves even though shouted from the housetops, because they mean nothing to those as yet unqualified for the knowledge and unready to identify themselves with it by incorporating it into their habitual thought and conduct.
--W.L. Wilmshurst, The Meaning of Masonry

The Bible is the inerrant…word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc.
--Jerry Falwell, Finding Inner Peace and Strength

The sign is always less than the concept it represents, while the symbol always stands for something more than its obvious and immediate meaning.
--Carl G. Jung, Man and His Symbols

Both read the Bible day and night, But thou read’st black where I read white.
--William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

In the last chapter we saw how our paradigms influence how we perceive reality. Now it’s important to also understand the extent to which they have, and do, influence our ability to understand written words.

We like to think that the meaning of words is obvious, that they can have only a single interpretation. But writers, poets, lawyers and even Bible scholars know this isn’t true. As Professor Bart Ehrman has noted:

In the ancient world there was no more unanimity about how to interpret a text than there is today. Indeed, if the meaning of texts were self-evident, we would have no need of commentators, legal experts, literary critics,[theologians] or theories of interpretation. We could all just read and understand. People may think that there is a commonsensical way to construe a text. But put a dozen people in a room with a text of Scripture, or of Shakespeare, or of the American Constitution, and see how many interpretations they produce. (Lost Christianities at _____.)

Words are ultimately symbols of ideals, having no meaning in and of themselves. As Plato once noted, the word “beauty” is meaningless except to the extent that it is able to inspire in the reader or hearer some conception of the ideal of beauty. And, two people cannot carry on a conversation about beauty unless that word, beauty, inspires in both of them a substantially similar conception of the same ideal.

The process of learning a language is therefore the process of attaching, through the development of paradigms, certain ideals to certain words such that each word comes to effortlessly represent in the mind of the reader (or “hearer”) ideals far more complex than the word itself. This is why dictionaries must use many words to explain the meaning of one, but even in doing so they are not capable of capturing the fullness of the ideal. For example, reading the definition of “beauty” doesn’t fully convey the same understanding of the ideal as experiencing something beautiful. And some words defy definition altogether: Consider Justice Potter Stewart's famous statement that he cannot define “pornography”, but he knows it when he sees it.

In short, words are merely symbols of an ideal, though they can never fully encapsulate it.

To convey more complex thoughts, word symbols are organized in logical order following universal rules of grammar to form complete sentences. When written, sentences are then organized into paragraphs and paragraphs into chapters and chapters into books, all conveying an ever more complex series of ideas. However, the most complex ideas, those that defy conventional explanation, are only be communicated, if at all, by the use of figurative language. For purposes of this book, “figurative language” is the use of words to convey ideas that differ from the ordinary, literal understanding of the words used.

Through figurative language, the writer is often able to more closely approximate in the reader’s mind the ineffable ideal that he’s trying to communicate. Figurative language works in this manner because it requires the reader to interpret the words outside of their normal, everyday meaning, forcing us to construe them without the benefit of normal paradigms. Whereas reading words literally is largely an effortless exercise for literate persons, understanding them figuratively requires some thought. One very simple example of this idea is found in the Gospel of John, 8:12 where Jesus says:

I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the Light which is Life.

In reading this verse, even the most Literalist Christian wouldn’t contend that Christ was suggesting that he is truly the “light of the world” in a literal sense (i.e., that he is the Sun), or that to “follow” Jesus we must actually walk. We immediately recognize this scripture as figurative language, or symbolic speech, where the words “Light” and “dark” and “walk” have meanings other than their ordinary ones.

When we read figurative language, our unconscious paradigms are brought to light by failing us—they no longer serve to explain the meaning of the words. Rather, we must go beyond them to understand the author’s intent. As Carl G. Jung recognized, “…we constantly use symbolic terms to represent concepts that we cannot define or fully comprehend. This is one reason why all religions employ symbolic language or images.” (Carl G. Jung, Man and His Symbols, at 4). It’s also the reason why poetry is often able to convey a truer understanding of an ideal than prose: The infinite, transcendental concepts of art and religion defy encapsulation in mere words.

Light is the universal symbol for the mystery of consciousness and life, and darkness for unconsciousness and death. When Jesus says, “He who follows Me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the Light which is Life”, he means simply that he offers his followers expanded consciousness,or enlightenment.

The Interpretive Challenge

One of the great challenges in interpreting any document is to know when figurative (poetic) language is at work, and when more literal language (prose) was intended. Unfortunately, distinguishing literal from figurative language in a document is not as simple a task as one might think. Whether the author intends to speak figuratively, or literally, or both is not always as clear as it was with Jesus’ saying above. And, as with everything else in life, our paradigms unconsciously influence our interpretation. Furthermore, if we are not very, very careful, our unconscious paradigms can be manipulated!

In his best-selling book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell chronicles the extent to which our day-to-day lives are controlled by our unconscious mind and, as a result, the extent to which we can be unconsciously manipulated through, among other things, a process known as “priming.” Priming is simply preparing the unconscious mind in advance to view something in a particular context. The reader can gain some rudimentary sense of the powerful effect of priming by engaging in the following experiment:

On a blank sheet of paper, write down the first three sports that come to mind followed by two words associated with each sport:

(e.g., tennis—ball and court)

Now, clear the mind for a second and take a moment to write a brief one sentence definition of the following four words:

Court --

Now, consider that each of the above words have multiple unrelated definitions. For instance, the word “ball” can describe, among other things, either a spherical object used in many sports or a formal dance. However, I can state with almost complete certainty that the first definition, maybe the only definition, of the above words that came to the reader's mind was sports-related. The reason is that, before asking for a definition, I had “primed” the reader’s mind to think about sports.

If instead I had asked the reader to imagine a feast in a King’s palace complete with servants, music and dancing, and then I had asked for a definition of the same four words listed above, the definition provided would have almost certainly been different. Rather than defining “serve” in its tennis context, the reader would like have thought of waiters at the feast serving food. Rather than defining “court” as a surface upon with athletic events are played, the reader likely thought of the members of the King’s official entourage. Rather than defining basket in basketball terms, the reader likely thought of a woven container holding bread or perhaps flowers. Rather than thinking of a football or baseball or basketball, the reader instead almost certainly pictured ballrooms and ballgowns.

Why? Because, I manipulated paradigms through the process of priming.

Priming in the Bible

In light of the above discussion of priming, consider for a moment how the order of books in the New Testament primes our minds to interpret them in a certain way. One would think, and the layperson may even assume, that the books of the New Testament are presented to us in chronological order—that is, the order in which they were written by their various authors. Read chronologically, we could understand who said what when, and we could easily discern evolving trends within Christianity during its early years--i.e., how the Christian understanding of Jesus evolved over time, becoming more complex and taking on legendary accretions. Ordered chronologically, we would likely first read the letter of James, followed by the authentic writings of Paul, then likely Mark, then Matthew, then Luke, and Acts, etc. And, read in this order, the Bible tells a very different story than that which we have previously been primed to receive by reading the quasi-historical gospels first, as we shall later see. We would notice, for example, how the four gospels become ever more elaborate as the later ones add legendary accretions to the accounts of the previous authors.

To illustrate this point, consider that the authentic letters of Paul, among our earliest Christian writings and predating the gospels, place very little emphasis on Jesus as an historical figure. Paul seems to know nothing about the historical events of Jesus’ life—events that were, if Literalists are to be believed, essential to the meaning of Christianity. For example:

Have we noticed that Paul seems to know nothing of Jesus’ supernatural birth? Jesus was, says Paul, “descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:3,4). Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, at 81.)

As Bishop Spong recognized, our earliest Christian writings do not mention God’s impregnation of a virgin, nor do they mention Jesus’ earthly mother or father. If we had only Paul to read, we would conclude that Jesus was simply, at least by birth, an ordinary descendant of David. (As a side note, notice how Paul curiously emphasizes that Jesus was only designated “Son of God” by virtue of his resurrection, not at birth, or at his baptism, or “in the beginning” as other Christian writings indicate. We will return to this later.)

Professor Robert Eisenman has also noted the scarcity of historical, biographical material offered by Paul:

Only two historical points about Jesus emerge from Paul’s letters: firstly, that he was crucified at some point—date unspecified (I Timothy 6:13, which is not considered authentic, adds by Pontius Pilate), and, secondly, that he had several brothers, one of whom was one called James (Galations 1:19). (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, at xxiii.)

In fairness, I would add that Paul does also mention Jesus’ resurrection, but the extent to which he considered this an historical fact, as opposed to a spiritual one, is subject to considerable debate, as we shall see.

Nowhere does Paul, our earliest Christian author next to James, mention Bethlehem, nor any of Jesus’ many miracles (other than his resurrection, which Paul may have understood figuratively), nor the substance of Jesus’ teachings, nor any of Jesus’ many travels, nor any of him many parables, nor how long Jesus lived. Although Paul never hesitated to quote liberally from the Tanakh (i.e., the Old Testament) when explaining his theology or arguing his positions, he never, ever--not even once--quotes the earthly Jesus, even when quoting a "saying of the Lord" would have cinched his argument conclusively. Such omissions are simply inexplicable if Paul was indeed aware of the "history" contained in the gospels. Clearly, he wasn't.

The point is that if Paul’s letters, which predate the gospels, were placed before the gospels--that is, if we were to read the gospels through the “lens” of Paul rather than reading Paul through the “lens” of the quasi-historical gospels-- Christianity may have come to conceive of Jesus’ significance as more spiritual and symbolic, dare I say Gnostic, than historic:

Placing Paul’s writings accurately in Christian history as antecedent to any other part of the New Testament leads us to wonder just how much we have distorted Paul’s meaning by unconsciously allowing the Gospels to color Paul’s words. (Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, at 81).
Our minds have been so shaped and informed by the Gospel content that we do not recognize how frequently we read Paul through the eyes of the Gospels. We need to embrace the fact that none of Paul’s first readers read him this way, for in their lives there were as yet no Gospels. To interpret Paul accurately we need to put ourselves into that first-century pre-gospel frame of reference and to hear Paul in fresh and authentic ways. (Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, at 96.)

Regrettably, the order in which the books are placed in our Bibles is designed to prevent us from doing exactly that. As we shall see, Paul’s writings presented Literalists with a major problem, and they therefore went to great lengths to “spin” or even alter Paul’s words to bolster their their views. Stacking the deck by curiously ordering the books of New Testament was just the beginning of their efforts to “literalize” Paul.

And finally, not only have the books of the New Testament been arranged to prime our minds to interpret the Bible in a certain way, but the Old Testament as well. For instance, in Jewish tradition, the books of the Tanakh (the Old Testament) were arranged in three sections—the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings, in that order. However, when compiling the Old Testament, Literalists reversed the order of the Prophets and Writings so that the Old Testament would end with the prophecy of Malachi that God would send Elijah, and the New Testament would begin with Matthew quickly introducing John the Baptist, who was widely viewed by ancient Christians as Elijah reincarnated to prepare the way for Jesus, thus fulfilling the prophecy. Such an arrangement as proven effective, if a little too convenient.

Thou Read’st Black Where I Read White

But I digress. Back to our original question: How do we know when to interpret a Bible passage literally and when to interpret it figuratively? How one answers this simple question determines for the most part whether one is a Literalist or not. Despite the fact that, as Jung noted, religious literature has, in all time and all ages and in all cultures, made dramatic and beautiful use of figurative, symbolic language in it’s attempt to convey the mystical, spiritual experience that religion offers, Literalists, led by their orthodox forbears, view the Bible as primarily a book of history. Consequently, they seek to understand the Bible first literally and historically, and they only consider a figurative interpretation when the literal, historical one fails them.

On the other hand, Literalist opponents have always emphasized that all religious literature is by its very nature figurative and symbolic. They argue that the experience of God cannot be captured in one literal word, or in a thousand. Consequently, one should seek first to understand the figurative meaning of each passage, and only accept a literal interpretation at face value when such a simple understanding was obviously intended by the author and does not hinder the figurative meaning of the text.

To paraphrase William Blake, both Literalist and non-Literalists read the Bible day and night, but one reads black where the other reads white. Literalist stick to the “black letter” of what is written, while non-Literalists “read between the lines” in an attempt to decipher the symbolic, spiritual meaning of the text.

But, who is right?

The Bible Speaks to the Issue

Well, interestingly enough, the Bible itself weighs in on this very issue and, where it does, it tends to support the Literalists’ opponents. Numerous Bible passages explicitly warn against a literal interpretation of scriptures, and none that I can find specifically demand it. Consider, for example, these passages:

How can you say, We are wise, and we have the written law of the Lord [and are learned in its language and teachings]? Lo, the truth is, the lying pen of the scribes has made of the law a falsehood [a mere code of ceremonial observances]. The wise men shall be put to shame, they shall be dismayed and taken. Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom and broad understanding, full intelligence is in them. [emphasis added] (Jeremiah 8:8-9)
The letter kills, but the spirit brings life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)
[W]hen we are among the fully-initiated—spiritually mature Christians who are ripe in understanding [i.e., pneumatics]—we do impart a (higher) wisdom [that is, the knowledge of the divine plan previously hidden]…. (1 Corinthians 2:6)
[We set] these [higher] truths forth in words not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the spirit, combining and interpreting spiritual truths with spiritual [i.e., figurative] language. But natural, non-spiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them –of progressively recognizing and understanding and becoming better acquainted with them—because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated. (1 Corinthian 2:13-14) [parenthetical added]

In addition, Jesus himself spoke in esoteric, cryptic parables that even most modern readers find difficult to decipher. Jesus made clear when his audience was supposed to read more into his words than their obvious literal meaning by saying: “Let those with ears to hear understand!” Jesus used this “ears to hear” language repeatedly in the gospels to signify that that his words have figurative meanings that those within his inner circle should grasp. Consider, for example, Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9, 4:23, 7:16; and Luke 8:8, 14:35.

Finally, consider that in the Gospels, especially John, Jesus repeatedly chastises those who take his teachings literally—who take his words at their ordinary meaning rather than trying to grasp their figurative, spiritual significance. Witness, for example, his conversation with Nicodemus starting at John Chapter 3, or his conversation with the Samaritan women at the well starting at John 4:10, or his teaching about “flesh and blood” at John 6:50, or his many other conversations with his sometimes dense disciples. In instance after instance, Jesus rebukes those who seek to understand his words in the ordinary sense. He even goes so far as to call those Jews who insist on doing so sons of the devil:

Why do you misunderstand what I say? It is because you are unable to hear what I am saying—you cannot bear to listen to My message, your ears are shut to My teaching. You are of your father the devil. (John 8:43-44)

There is a lesson in all of these admonitions, one that the Gospel writers were not-so-subtly trying to convey but which Literalist have ignored for centuries.

The Paradigm Of Historicity Primes Our Minds to Overlook the Figurative

Despite the Bible’s repeated warnings to avoid strict, literal interpretations, centuries of teaching based upon the Paradigm of Historicity have primed generations of Christians to construe most passages as literal. Let’s consider for now just a few of the general ways in which the Paradigm of Historicity has shaped our our interpretation of the Bible for centuries.

First, consider how the Paradigm of Historicity makes us want for the Bible’s infallibility. As previously discussed, if the Bible contains any error, how can we be assured that the history it describes does not also contain error. And, if this history is called into question, then the conclusions of Atonement Theology, which depend on it, are likewise dubious. For Atonement Theology to survive, most Literalist feel compelled to defend the Bible’s perfection.

But is the Bible perfect? We will spend a great deal of time on this issue in the second part of this book. Suffice it to say for now that Literalist have attempted to reconcile many discrepancies in the Bible, discrepancies that are easily explained by the fact that its books were written by different people at different times with different agendas, by developing the doctrine of “divine inspiration”—that is, the belief that the Bible writers were all possessed by, or under the influence of, the Holy Spirit when writing their respective books. Said another way, Literalists believe that while various persons were used as instruments, it was actually God who did the writing.

This doctrine is curious for several reasons. One is that many Literalist acknowledge that we don’t know who wrote some books of the Bible (e.g., Hebrews, or even the gospels for that matter), nor can we determine exactly when many of them were written. Therefore, to assert that an unknown author writing at an indeterminate time was nonetheless certainly under the influence of God’s spirit requires a peculiar type of faith.

Another is that the doctrine of divine inspiration causes us to interpret the Bible in an unnatural and extraordinary manner. Where we would see obvious contradictions and inconsistencies if we were reading any other book, the doctrine of divine inspiration causes us to see “common themes” and a “sequential revelation” when reading the Bible. For example, rather than reading Paul and James as disagreeing about whether salvation is the result of faith or works, Literalists develop a rather convoluted interpretation that attempts to synthesize the two positions. After all, since God wrote both the books of Paul and the book of James, and he could not have contradicted himself, this synthesized interpretation, no matter how strained or contrived, must be the one intended by God all along. Eureka!

Likewise, rather than seeing Jesus and his teachings as contradicting those of the Old Testament, Literalist adopt the rather contrived position that Jesus came to “fulfill the Old Testament scriptures”. They reason that the Jews have simply misunderstood their own religion and writings for some three thousand years. Taking portions of the Jewish writing completely out of context, Literalist see Jesus everywhere: They read him into Psalms. They read him into Jeremiah. They read him into Isaiah. If only the Jews would stop their arrogant and “rebellious” reading of their own holy scriptures, the Literalist argue, they would see the “obvious” references to Jesus as well. Again, because God wrote both the Old and New Testaments, and He could not have intended to contradict himself, Literalist argue that the traditional Literalist interpretation, which reconciles the Old and New Testaments (however inelegantly), must be the interpretation God intended. All other possible interpretations are simply heresy.

The Paradigm of Historicity also requires us to view each separately named person in the Bible as actual, separate historical individuals, thereby excluding the possibility that various persons are actually symbols for various aspects of our own psyche. For example, initiates into the “Inner Mysteries” of the pagan mystery religions understood that the central characters of their religious myths were actually representations of themselves at various stages of their own spiritual journey, the multi-step initiation process that we will discuss in detail later. The same is true of the characters in modern Masonic initiations.

Furthermore, it is a virtual axiom among psychologists skilled in dream interpretation that the various characters in our dreams often represent different aspects of ourselves. In fact, Jung and his followers, as well as many others, have identified certain “recurring actors” in the drama of our dreams who represent definite aspects of our personality, including the “shadow,” the “trickster”, and the “anima” or “animus”.

Unfortunately, the Paradigm of Historicity prevents us from contemplating any such figurative interpretations of the heroes of scripture. Since they are understood as actual, historical personalities, they cannot be understood symbolizing aspects of ourselves.

Likewise, the Paradigm of Historicity causes us to view the various acts of the Bible heroes as actual historical events, rather than as symbols illustrating the steps to spiritual enlightenment. Consider for example the teachings of Paul in Galations 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me….

Reading this through the Paradigm of Historicity, the Literalist would argue that there’s no way Paul is truly claiming to have had the same crucifixion experience as Christ because: (1) viewing the Gospels as a literal history book, Christ only died once, and (2) we know from the historical record (i.e., the Bible) that Paul wasn’t actually crucified with him. Thus, the Literalist argues that Paul is simply drawing an analogy between Christ’s literal crucifixion and Paul’s figurative one. They view Paul’s crucifixion as figurative, but Christ’s as literal.

But Paul makes no such distinction. As we shall later see, Paul views his crucifixion experience as equal to Jesus’ own. So, by contemplating the significance of the crucifixion story in other than historical terms, Paul may actually be understood as saying something like:

a) I had the same figurative crucifixion experience as Jesus’ figurative crucifixion experience. Our experiences were identical.
b) My old identity, my ego, was crucified (i.e., died a slow, painful death) by my increasing consciousness. I no longer identify with my crucified ego as myself.
c) My true self is the “Christ Within”. I’ll explain later just who and what this “Christ Within” is.

While this interpretation may seem quite strange to one conditioned by the Paradigm of Historicity to think in terms of history, it will make much more sense, and indeed will be quite compelling, in later parts of this book. It is only the Paradigm of Historicity that makes such interpretation seem so foreign at the moment.

Finally, the Paradigm of Historicity also causes us to view locations in the Bible as actual geographic places rather than stops along the spiritual path, or “way”. For example, Literalists must view the Exodus from Egypt as a one-time historical event from the actual country of Egypt. However, non-Literalist mystics from both Jewish and Christian traditions have for centuries understood “Egypt” in the Old Testament to be a symbol for “captivity”--that is, the condition of a person whose ego denies the influence of unconscious paradigms, who therefore is blind to them and who is, as a result, a slave to them. Similarly, psychologists skilled in interpreting dreams have long understood that the “places” within our dreams are often important symbols for other aspects of ourselves. For example, in dream interpretation, one’s house is typically interpreted as a symbol for one’s body, and a lake often interpreted as a symbol of one’s unconsciousness. Again, the Paradigm of Historicity prevents us from making any such similar interpretations of scripture, to society’s great loss.


To conclude, the Paradigm of Historicity has unconsciously controlled our interpretation of the Bible for 1600 years. It’s now time to move on to Part II of this book to learn all of the many reasons why we should dispose of this unhelpful paradigm once and for all.


Everything's amazing...

...nobody's happy.

Too funny! Thanks to TK for the link.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Part I, Chapter 2: The Perplexing Power of Paradigms

As noted at the top of this page in the left margin, I've decided to serialize and publish on this blog a book that I've been working on for some time. Below is the third installment. Consult the Table of Contents at the right of this page for a chronological listing of posts.

So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key.

--The Eagles

The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth…that you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.
--Morpheus, The Matrix

For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.
--The Apostle Paul

Man's task is to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.
--Carl Jung

When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.
--Carl Jung

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
--Frank Outlaw

Fittingly, the word “paradigm” is Greek in origin. It is used today in scientific circles to mean a model, or theory or frame of reference. However, for purposes of this book, the word “paradigm” refers figuratively to the lens or “matrix” through which we “see” the world. By lens and matrix, I mean all of the unconscious history, knowledge, biases, attitudes and beliefs--sometimes called “scripts” or “maps”—which filter reality and cause our subjective minds to perceive the world in a certain way.

The concept of a simple paradigm can be illustrated by contemplating this image.

Some people’s paradigms will cause their minds to unconsciously focus on the negative space (the white space), and they will see a vase or chalice. Other’s will unconsciously focus on the positive space (the black space), and they will see two faces in profile examining each other. But which interpretation is correct?

Arguably neither. The diagram is in reality simply ink on a piece of paper. However our individual backgrounds, experiences, and biases (i.e., our paradigms) cause our minds to effortlessly and unconsciously interpret the lines as either a vase or faces, or perhaps even something else. We don’t have to work at it, we don’t have to think about it, it just happens. How our minds interpret abstractions reveals much about our unconscious paradigms, and this is one reason for the “ink blot” tests stereotypically employed psychologists.

Some years ago I had a series of experiences that awakened me to the influence of paradigms over my life: In college I came across a translation of a book originally written in the Far East. The book explained how various inanimate objects emit different types and levels of undetectable energy, called “chi”. It went on to explain that the nature of an object’s chi varies depending upon its shape, color, composition, and other factors. It further described how some shape and color combinations emit a soothing energy, others a frenetic energy, and it even went on to suggest that the energy emitted by some objects can be so negative as to adversely impact one’s health.

Reading this document through my Western eyes, the idea that inanimate objects somehow emit mystical chi energy that affects me seemed silly. I dismissed the document as unscientific nonsense from an ancient, superstitious era.

Sometime months later, I casually mentioned the document and my reaction to a friend. She told me that it was quite common in Asia even today to believe that objects emit energy that influences us. This is, I was told, the very basis behind the common Chinese practice of Feng Shui which has become popular in the West in recent years. She queried why I had dismissed the concept out to hand. I replied, “You don’t seriously believe there’s anything to that superstitious nonsense, do you?” She responded by asking if I thought that several thousand years of Asian culture was nonsense. My only reply was, rather embarrassingly now, “it sure sounds like it to me.”

Sometime later I attended an undergraduate level psychology class. One day the professor gave a lecture in which he mentioned numerous studies performed on the human psyche’s reaction to different colors, shapes, etc. See, for instance, this study. Such studies have demonstrated, for example, that it is more difficult to stop a person’s bleeding if he or she is treated in a red room verses a room with more soothing colors. Similar studies have confirmed that certain colors stimulate our appetite, while others are known to suppress it. Finally, the professor noted that our immune systems react to certain colors of green in adverse ways, while responding positively to other colors.

Because the lecture was presented using the words of the “Western” paradigm that unconsciously shaped my worldview—that is, because the professor explained how our psyches react to certain colors, rather than how colors act upon us, I didn’t think twice about it. The conclusions of the studies seemed perfectly reasonable to me. In fact, I’m embarrassed to say that it was not until many years later that I realized there is, as a practical matter, no difference between the Western view that we react to certain colors and shapes in predictable ways, and the Eastern view that certain colors and shapes emit or reflect energy (light?) that acts upon us in predictable ways. Both models, or paradigms, adequately describe the same phenomenon, the same reality, for all practical purposes. But for years, my absolute immersion in the Western paradigm prevented me from seeing this now obvious fact.

Through a Glass Darkly

Through the exercise of will, simple, harmless paradigms can usually be placed under our conscious control. For instance, in viewing the vases/faces image linked above, most of us have no problem “shifting our paradigm” or changing our perspective at will to see either vases or faces. But, as my story above illustrates, we are almost always unaware of the most powerful paradigms, those that most influence our view of the world. In fact, it is purely our ignorance of them that accounts for our inability to control them and explains there influence over us. As the eminent psychologist Carl Jung recognized in Man and His Symbols:

[Contemporary Man] is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by “powers” that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food—and above all, a large array of neoroses.

Each of us believes that we see the world as it is—that is, that we are objective. But psychologists have demonstrated beyond any doubt that this simply is not the case. We don’t see the world as it is, but as we are. Said another way, we see the world as our egos, regulated by our unconscious, are conditioned to perceive it. When describing the world to others, we don’t describe objective reality, but rather our subjective interpretation of it, an interpretation that is warped by the lens or matrix of our unconscious “underworld”, our paradigms.

In his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Steven Covey relays a story that illustrates how our unconscious paradigms affect our interpretation of reality in day-to-day life. He recalls riding a subway in New York one peaceful Sunday morning when a man and his children entered the car. The children were very loud and obnoxious, threw things across the subway car, and were even grabbing other passenger’s newspapers. Yet, their father did nothing. This continued for quite some time.

A number of beliefs (paradigms) are implicated here: Children shouldn’t misbehave in public. Children shouldn’t disturb others. Parents should intercede when they do. As one might imagine, Dr. Covey’s agitation began to build. He became irritated. He recalls that he eventually felt compelled to speak: Managing to Maintain his composure, he approached the father and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The father immediately and sincerely apologized and informed Dr. Covey that the family had all just left the hospital where the children’s mother, and his wife, had died less than an hour ago. “I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either," the father said.

Imagine how Dr. Covey felt. His whole perspective was changed in an instant. Upon perceiving things they really were, rather than through his paradigm of how children “should” behave, Dr. Covey recalls that his agitation was immediately gone and he felt overwhelming compassion for the family.

Sometimes changing our perspective, or shifting our paradigm, just happens automatically once additional information is made available, as was the case with Dr. Covey. But in other cases it takes an exercise of will. To this day it takes effort for me to explain the world through an Asian’s eyes, but explaining it through the Western paradigm comes naturally. In fact, viewing life through the Western paradigm comes so effortlessly that I often forget I’m “using” a given paradigm to interpret the world at all. The result? I often confuse my worldview with the world. I see truth “through a glass darkly” and not “face to face.” To paraphrase Anais Nin, we don't see things the way they are but the way we are.

Bringing Paradigms into Consciousness

Therefore, to the extent we continue to remain unaware of our paradigms, we don’t live in reality and we are not free to follow our true will. Rather, we exist in a make-believe world of our own creation. We make decisions on autopilot, and those decisions are powerfully influenced by our unconscious assumptions, prejudices, and instincts—i.e., our paradigms. Said poetically, we “live our lives in chains”, directed by “powers beyond our control” that appear from our subjective perspective to dictate our fate. As Morpheus noted,, until we recognize that we are “born” into a “prison for our minds” which we “cannot smell or taste or touch”, we are blinded to the “truth” that we are “slaves”. (The observant reader may begin to recognize how this understanding that we are born into bondage is both very similar to, and yet completely different from, the Literalist Christian teaching of “original sin”.)

One problem with this, and there are many, is that a great number of our paradigms simply aren’t useful—that is, they don’t “work” because they don’t reflect an accurate interpretation of reality. Consequently, and to put it bluntly, they are irrational, and their result is to interfere with our ability to live effortlessly in the world.

For instance, the paradigm that one plus one equals two is a useful and rational one because it comports with reality (i.e., it has not to date been falsified). Therefore, when we employ it, things are easier because we live in harmony with what is “real”. But imagine if we unconsciously thought that one plus one equals three, and that this idea influenced every aspect of our lives. How much trouble and struggle would that simple, single error create? This one erroneous “belief” would cause us to live in disharmony with nature, to our never ending misery.

Now fortunately, most of us don’t harbor this particular irrational paradigm, but that should not give us much comfort because psychologists have demonstrated conclusively that we all cling unconsciously to an untold number of equally absurd ideas, many of which are even mutually contradictory (so-called cognitive dissonance). These cause personal strife and untold pain and misery and yet, so long as they remain unconscious, we are powerless to change them. We live our lives in chains, never even knowing that we have the key.

Knowing That We Have the Key

It follows from the above that we can perceive truth with greater clarity if we bring our unconscious paradigms into consciousness. As noted previously, it’s primarily our ignorance of them that gives paradigms their great power over us. Simple recognition decreases their distortion substantially. Hence, the more conscious we become of our hidden paradigms, the freer we become.

Hence, consciousness is the key. Consciousness is truth. Consciousness is life. Consciousness is the way. Consciousness is freedom. It is not by accident that Lady Liberty, the United States' symbol of freedom, holds a light, the universal symbol of consciousness, over her head.

But how do we become conscious of unconscious paradigms? Many effective techniques have been taught over the years by mystics and psychologists alike. In fact, we’ve already discussed one of them--asking the mind to interpret abstractions such as inkblots. But, this technique generally requires the assistance of a therapist, a luxury that most can't afford.

Fortunately, one of the most effective methods of bringing our paradigms to light is also one of the easiest, and it doesn’t require the assistance of others. It involves simply recognizing our emotions and considering their source. Those who practice this regularly can attest that anytime we experience significant emotions, unconscious paradigms are implicated. Emotions are really nothing more than the physical expression of unconscious thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and biases. As such, they provide tell-tale clues to the existence of these hidden paradigms. By noticing our emotions and feelings, and analyzing why we feel the way we do about certain things, our paradigms slowly but surely begin surfacing into consciousness. After all, why do you think the stereotypical psycho-therapist is constantly asking his patient, “And how did that make you feel?”

The irritation experienced by Dr. Covey in the subway car that Sunday morning could have alerted him to one or more of his unconscious paradigms. Contemplating this source of this agitation might have proven enlightening: It didn’t result from the unruly children, but rather from his unconscious paradigm that children “should not” misbehave in public, and that they “should” be corrected if they do. Had this paradigm been brought to consciousness sooner, Dr. Covey could have pondered whether it always holds true, or whether there are some circumstances when a parent might permit his children to misbehave, or even be oblivious to their misbehavior. And this might have permitted Dr. Covey to recognize that something was wrong much sooner, to his own personal relief.

As You Read, Notice Your Feelings!

As previously stated, the balance of this book will challenge the most fundamental paradigms of Literalist Christianity. As a result, it’s sure to cause an avalanche of feelings and emotions in many who read it. To the extent this may happen, I hope the reader will understand it’s not me or the words in this book that cause the feelings, but rather the reader’s own unconscious beliefs, assumptions, and biases (i.e., the paradigms) that are triggered by my words.

The powerful emotions that result from implicated paradigms should not be resisted or ignored. Rather, they should be recognized and fully experienced. By experiencing these feelings rather than suppressing them, and by meditating upon their cause, much information previously hidden will be brought to consciousness where it can be analyzed in the light of the facts described herein and otherwise known to the reader. After subjecting a given paradigm to this scrutiny, the reader is free to retain those that prove valid and useful in light known facts, but the reader must be prepared to sacrifice any that don’t, no matter how sacred the cow. Once brought to light, no sane, intellectually honest person is free to retain a paradigm that is inconsistent with reality. As Sam Harris has noted:

We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them “religious”; otherwise, they are likely to be called “mad,” “psychotic,” or “delusional.” (Sam Harris, The End of Faith, at 72)

If the reader is prepared to “seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will”, then proceed. But understand in advance that truth costs dearly. And understand further that:

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. (Morpheus, The Matrix)

If the reader is prepared to proceed down the rabbit-hole, it’s time to ponder how a single unconscious paradigm has shaped our understanding of the Bible, of Christianity, and of our world for the last 1600 years.


Part I, Chapter I: Faith and Belief

As noted at the top of this page in the left margin, I've decided to serialize and publish on this blog a book that I've been working on for some time. Below is the second installment. Consult the Table of Contents at the right of this page for a chronological listing of posts.

The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.
--Literalist bumper sticker slogan

[I]f there be [a God], he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.
--Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence to support their core beliefs.
--Sam Harris

That Christians attain salvation “by grace through faith” is axiomatic among Literalist, but few bother to really ponder what this salvific formula actually means. For example, if faith is required, then we must ask, “faith in what?” The typical answer to this question is usually, “faith in Jesus Christ”. But again, what does that really mean? What does it really mean to have “faith in Jesus.”

To answer this question, one must first determine the meaning of the word “faith”. Is faith the same as belief? Because most Literalists seem to think so, I shall rephrase the question: What does it mean to “believe in Jesus”? Do I “believe in Jesus” if I merely pray to a god so named? Or must I also believe that he came to earth as a man? And that he was sinless? That he was crucified? And died? And that he rose from the dead? If I stop here, is that enough to say that I have “belief in Jesus” and am saved, or am I also required to believe that he walked among humans after his resurrection, or maybe that his death someone atoned for my sins? Where does it stop? Does “belief in Jesus” require a belief in every word of the Bible, or is there a subset of beliefs that is sufficient? If the latter, exactly what are they?

As these questions imply, “belief in Jesus” means much more to Literalists than merely praying earnestly to a a particular god. To the Literalist, “belief in Jesus” encompasses a whole host of other ideas that have at least one thing in common: They are mostly historical. To be saved, Literalists argue that I must accept that certain events of extreme spiritual importance actually happened on earth long ago. When asked to list the specific beliefs required for salvation, many Literalists will simply point to one of the various ancient Christian Creeds, perhaps the Nicene Creed which reads:

I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds;
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures;
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again, with glory,
to judge the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord and Giver of Life;
who proceedeth from the Father and the Son;
who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified;
who spake by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Other Literalist may prefer the Athanasian Creed or the Apostle’s Creed or some more recently drafted denominational statement of faith that all followers of a given church are expected to recite and “believe.” But regardless, once a given Literalist has settled on a particular formulation of the required articles of faith, the required historical beliefs, do things end there? If I believe only in those historical things, would such a Literalist deem me saved?

Not likely. After all, the historical events in question, though perhaps miraculous, are only religious in nature to the extent that they have some spiritual significance. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection are meaningful to Literalist because they are understood as providing a means of spiritual salvation—actually, the sole means of spiritual salvation. So, not only must I believe that these events happened, I must also accept the Literalist interpretation of their spiritual significance: I can believe that Jesus came, lived, died and was resurrected, but unless I accept that these acts somehow atone for my sins and reconcile me to God, most Literalist would say that I’ve not accepted Jesus as "savior".

But, how exactly do these events save me? In what way did the historical details of Jesus’ life secure salvation for humanity, or at least certain members of it? Although the exact explanation varies a little by denomination, most Literalists draw the following theological conclusions from the "history" chronicled in the Bible:

1) Man was created sinless by God, but through Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, man fell from his original perfect state and every generation since then has been tainted with “original sin.”

2) In this “fallen” state, man’s fate is eternal separation from God, for God cannot commune with sin.

3) Man cannot save himself from this fallen state or unilaterally reconcile himself to God.

4) God nonetheless desires to reconcile Man to himself for His own glorification.

5) Due to God’s perfect righteousness, He is unable, or perhaps just unwilling, to reconcile man to Himself unless and until man is made righteous through “atonement.”

6) The voluntary, sacrificial death of a perfect, sinless person is necessary to atone for mankind’s sins and “wash away” the taint of those sins in God’s eyes, thereby permitting a reconciliation without offending God’s sense of justice.

7) Since there is no perfect, sinless man (and per 1 above, there never could be such), God impregnated a virgin named Mary, came to earth, and walked among us as a perfect god-man named Jesus.

8) In an act of undeserved mercy, Jesus voluntarily endured a brutal and painful death by crucifixion. This sacrificial death of a perfect man satisfied God’s demand for “justice”, thereby permitting atonement and potentially reconciling us to God.

9) God raised Jesus from the dead, thereby demonstrating that sin/death no longer holds sway over humanity.

10) Whoever accepts God’s gift of atonement by believing in the 9 statements above (and perhaps some others based on the particular denomination involved) as literal, factual history is delivered from sin, reconciled to God, and “saved.”

11) Everyone who refuses to accept Gods gift by believing in the historicity of these events is destined for eternal damnation (i.e., separation from God).

For purposes of this book, I will call the above 11 theological conclusions “Atonement Theology.”

Note that Atonement Theology is more than just a chronicle of historical events. It also includes a number of theological conclusions and assumptions about the significance of those events and the motivations of the actors, even God. It is these assumptions and presuppostions that cloak the “historical” events with religious meaning: Yes, the god-man Jesus came and died and was resurrected, but this has meaning and spiritual relevance only because these events accomplished God’s plan of salvation. Otherwise, Jesus’ life, while perhaps miraculous, was not substantively different or more significant than any of the other Bible heroes.

However, I can’t emphasize enough that the spiritual and theological conclusions offered by Atonement Theology are not the only reasonable ones that follow from reading the Bible, though I admit that they do flow somewhat naturally from the Paradigm of Historicity. If the Bible is both a chronicle of history and a book of spiritual and religious significance, then it is reasonable to interpret that significance in light of the historical events it describes, and this is exactly what Atonement Theology does. In short, Atonement Theology is what happens when one tries to understand the purpose and meaning of the Bible by attributing theological significance to the “historical” events described therein.

But, what happens if the history upon which atonement theology is built is called into question? Aye, there’s the rub! After all, Atonement Theology makes little sense if the events of the Bible didn’t actually happen exactly as described. This is why Literalists tend to preach the Bible’s infallibility. After all, if the Bible gets some things wrong, then how can we be assured that it gets the history underpinning Atonement Theology right? And, if the history isn’t right, then what does that say about Atonement Theology itself? This is a problem to which we shall return time and again.

Why The Reader Should Keep Reading

Non-Literalist Christians should have no problem with the purposes and conclusions of this book. They understand already that we need no longer blindly accept our received interpretation of Christianity in order to be “faithful.” My prayer is that this book will provide them with a renewed appreciation for the fullness and usefulness of their faith, as well as a better understanding of its fascinating history. To the extent that their current understanding of Christianity is “fuzzy, imprecise and relatively unappealing”, I trust that this book will provide a remedy.

Literalist, on the other hand, may find this book quite threatening. After all, its stated objective is to undermine their entire religious worldview. As a result, I don’t expect that many true Literalists will have bothered to read even this far. Very few will have the emotional fortitude required to subject their most fundamental beliefs to scrutiny. But I take some comfort in the fact that those who were meant to read this far will have done so, and I’ll devote what’s left of this chapter to explaining why they should continue.

Jesus’ Faith

Let me note first that whatever the writers of the Bible meant when they spoke of saving “faith” and “belief”, it is clear they didn’t mean merely an intellectual assent to some creed or statement of faith, nor did they mean a belief in the historicity of certain events. Consider for a moment what Jesus Christ himself repeatedly says about faith and salvation in the gospel of John:

I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, the person whose ears are open to my Words, who listens to My message—and believes and trust in and clings to and relies on Him Who sent me has (possesses now) eternal life. And he does not come into judgment—does not incur sentence of judgment, will not come under condemnation—but he has already passed over out of death into life. (John 5:24).

I assure you, I most solemnly tell you, he who believes in Me—who adheres to, trusts in, relies on and has faith in Me—has (now possesses) eternal life. (John 6:47).

So Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in Him, If you abide in My Word—hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them—you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31-32).

I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, if any one observes My teaching—lives in accordance with My message, keeps My word, he will by no means ever see and experience death. (John 8:51).

Jesus said to her, I am [Myself] the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in –adheres to, trusts in and relies on –Me, although he may die, yet shall he live. And whoever continues to live and believes—has faith in, cleaves to and relies—on Me shall never [actually] die at all. (John 11:25-26).

And this is eternal life: [it means] to know (to perceive, recognize, become acquainted with and understand) You, the only true and real God, and [likewise] to know Him, Jesus [as the] Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, Whom You have sent. (John 17:3).

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. You know the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honor your father and mother. And he answered and said to him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said to him, One thing you lack: go your way, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

Before analyzing these quotes, let me note first that those from the gospel of John are taken from the Amplified Bible. Although wordier than most translations, the Amplified Bible does a better job of conveying the subtle meaning of the original Greek than many shorter word-for-word translations, since there is not always a single English word that captures the meaning of every Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic one.

And as the Amplified Bible makes clear, the Greek word often translated as “faith” or “belief” really means “to rely on, to trust and to adhere to.” We could just as easily translate the Greek work for “faith” as “reliance” or “dependence”. Thus, to “have faith in” or “believe in” Jesus really means to “rely on” or “depend upon” him and what he’s saying.

With this background, note that Jesus repeatedly emphasizes in the quotes from John that reliance on his teachings, on himself, and on God is the key to eternal life. In fact, Jesus often lumps himself and his teachings into the same sentence as if they are one in the same. Having “faith in” or “relying on” Jesus can be reasonably understood as accepting his teachings.

In support of this last contention, note that Jesus never teaches Atonement Theology in the quotes above. Jesus repeatedly emphasizes what is necessary to be saved, but he never once mentions his own death and resurrection! True, he says “I am the resurrection and the life”, but he says this while he is still alive, and he uses the present tense. Isn’t this a little disconcerting for Literalists? If acceptance of Atonement Theology is an absolute requirement of salvation, how could Jesus (and "John" who is quoting him) have failed to mention that in these sayings, all of which specifically address what is required for “eternal life”?

Finally, note that Jesus tells his audience that they can have eternal life “now”—that is, while they (and he!) are still alive. Read the above statements of Jesus again: Doesn’t Jesus say plainly that “any one” who listens to his message and relies on Him/God already possesses eternal life? And doesn’t Jesus say this to them
before dying to “atone” for their sins
? Clearly Jesus’ historical death and resurrection were not necessarily prerequisites of salvation. That this simple truth conflicts so plainly with the Atonement Theology is hopefully intriguing enough to keep some Literalists reading farther.

But, if Jesus didn’t teach Atonement Theology, what exactly does Jesus mean when he emphasizes that faith in him/God is the key to salvation? Well, that’s a topic for another chapter. For now simply note that the Literalists view of salvation is not easily reconciled to Jesus’ own teachings in the gospel of John as quoted above.

As I type these words, I imagine some Literalist readers exclaiming, “But what about the rest of the gospels!? What about Paul!? What about Peter!? What about the other books of the Bible!? Don’t they shed light on the meaning of Jesus words?” Perhaps, and rest assured that I will address each of these in turn. For now I only note that, taken on their own, Jesus’ words above, which were specifically addressed to the requirements of salvations, do not explicitly support Atonement Theology. This should be a little disconcerting, and hopefully sufficiently intriguing, to convince the Literalist to continue reading.

With this background, let us now explore more deeply the perplexing power of paradigms.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Switching Allegiances

Katherine Mangu-Ward offers disenchanted gays an opportunity to switch allegiances and join the libertarians:

Oh LGBTers. Don't cry. I know President-elect Barack Obama's breaking your heart. It sucks, doesn't it, when you hitch your wagon to a political party, but the party is just not that into you?
But you know who your real friends are, LGBTers. And we're going to help you get through this. Besides, who knows better than libertarians what it's like to be in a long-standing lopsided love affair with a mainstream political party?

After all, we libertarians have given the Republicans our best years, and what do we have to show for it? Nothing. Worse than nothing. Bailouts. For crying out loud, Congress even gave the bailout program a cute nickname (TARP!). It's like they're doing it just to spite us. Sure, opposition to high taxes and regulation brought us together at first. Remember how we used to go red-baiting on dates? It seemed like we had so much in common with the Republicans. But ever since the PATRIOT Act, things just haven't been the same between us.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Instapundit)

Sunday, December 21, 2008


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

Redeeming Christ: An Indispensable Introduction

As noted at in the right margin of this page, I've decided to serialize and publish on this blog a book that I've been working on for some time. Below is the first installment. Links to additional chapters are noted in the Table of Contents in the right margin of this page.

Seek the truth—come whence it may, cost what it will.
--Motto of Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Virginia

I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.
--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Hopkinson

For Literalist Christians, defined for purposes of this book as those for whom the Bible’s spiritual significance is inexorably linked to its historical veracity, spiritual truth and historical truth are one and the same thing. For these Literalists, the spiritual teachings of the Bible cannot be understood apart from what they believe are the actual, historical events chronicled therein. Whether we’re talking about the fall of man, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, or innumerable other “events”, Literalists insist that their meaning, their significance, and their spiritual relevance can only be discerned by understanding that these things actually happened exactly as described in the Bible. As one Literalist has stated:

Christians believe that as wonderful as Jesus’ life and teachings and miracles were, they were meaningless if it were not historically factual that Christ died and was raised from the dead and that this provided atonement , or forgiveness, of the sins of humanity. (The Case for Christ at 26 quoting Bloomburg ).

Consequently, Literalists contend that merely following the Bible’s or even Jesus’ teachings is insufficient: To be a “true” Christian, one must accept the historical record as offered in the Bible, especially the parts about Jesus’ physical birth, death and resurrection.

Those who would interpret the Bible’s significance historically are also apt to believe in its infallibility. After all, if the events chronicled therein didn’t actually happen exactly as described, if the Bible is not a reliable witness to history, then discerning its spiritual message via an historical interpretation is silly. For this reason, most Literalists espouse the Bible’s perfection. Consider, for example, this statement from Jerry Falwell:

The Bible is the inerrant…word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc. (Jerry Falwell, Finding Inner Peace and Strength at 26.)

As Falwell’s quote suggests, a natural inclination of those who read the Bible historically is to interpet it literally. And, if its spiritual significance is tied to the historicity of the events it purports to describe, as all Literalists contend, then there is little use seeking a more nuanced, spiritual, figurative interpretation of those events.

Christianity’s Problem

For purposes of this book I will call the above-described belief that the spiritual meaning of the Bible can only be understood in light of its historical veracity and literal interpretation the “Paradigm of Historicity.” And I will call those who espouse such views “Literalists.”

Modern Christianity’s problem is that the Literalist interpretation is increasingly difficult for biblically knowledgeable, intellectually honest persons to accept. During the pre-scientific age in which Christian doctrine developed, it was perhaps reasonable enough for someone to accept the Paradigm of Historicity and all the church’s teachings that are derived from it. But today, that’s just not the case: No rational, biblically educated and intellectually honest person can countenance the Bible’s infallibility in matters of science or history. For those who doubt this, they need only keep reading, as I will go to great pains to demonstrate why this is so. And for those who would condemn me for making such a statement, I would ask only that they first do me the courtesy of reading and reflecting upon the second part of this book.

Furthermore, once we admit that the Bible is not a perfect, infallible witness to history, we have reason to doubt the traditional historical interpretation and all theological principles derived therefrom. As Bishop John Shelby Spong has recognized:

Again and again we discover painfully that our central Christian affirmations make assumptions based upon a literalized view of the biblical narrative that are no longer believable. Hence, when we cast light on those assumptions, they fall apart. They are not based on a reality we can grasp or believe. The Christian church, if unwilling to rethink and reformulate the very basic understanding of its faith, will increasingly not have much to say to a world that will understand neither our language nor our symbols. The Christian church is living now on the basis of capital from the past; traditional patterns of thought that have not yet been challenged sufficiently in the minds of the masses. That will not long endure.

The only churches that grow today are those that do not, in fact, understand the issues and can therefore traffic in certainty. They represent both the fundamentalist Protestant groups and the rigidly controlled conservative Catholic traditions. The churches that do attempt to interact with the emerging world are for the most part the liberal Protestant mainline churches that shrink every day in membership and the silent liberal Catholic minority that attracts very few adherents. Both are, almost by definition, fuzzy, imprecise, and relatively unappealing. They might claim to be [intellectually] honest, but for the most part they have no real message.
(Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, at 35.)

As more and more people realize that the Bible is demonstrably fallible and that it is not a reliable witness to history, many of today’s educated Christians find themselves at a crossroads. They feel that they must either convince themselves to believe the unbelievable, or else abandon the faith. As Spong has noted:

The options, our people are made to feel, are either to live in continued ignorance or to abandon the church altogether for life apart from any religious convictions. (Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, at 10.)

Not surprisingly, many are taking the second option. As Sam Harris has noted:

[I]t is important to realize that much of the developed world has nearly [rid itself of religious faith.] Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on earth. (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, at 38-45)

Many Literalists see the growth of their churches, and the decline of their more "liberal" cousins, as evidence that the Literalist interpretation of scripture is correct. But this is silly. Literalists can feel good about their growth only because they turn a blind eye to the millions of educated persons each year who, unwilling to adopt the anti-intellectual attitude required by the Paradigm of Historicity and unable to find any meaningful alternative within Christianity, abandon the faith altogether, if not in name at least in practice. Among the those who best understand the Bible and its origins, Christianity is in steep decline. To repeat Spong, "The only churches that grow today are those that do not, in fact, understand the issues and can therefore traffic in certainty."

Christianity Doesn’t Have to Die Along with the Paradigm of Historicity

In my view, the reason that no intellectually honest and spiritually satisfying alternative to Christian Literalism has presented itself is due to death grip that the Paradigm of Historicity has had on the minds of even those Christians who can no longer accept it. Non-literalist churches have abandoned the paradigm, and to some degree the theology that developed around it, but they have replaced it with...nothing. At least nothing of substance. So, their message is inherently "fuzzy, imprecise, and relatively unappealing."

The admittedly ambitious purpose of this book is to remedy this situation. After engaging in an exhaustive examination of history and the Bible designed to undermine once and for all the Paradigm of Historicity and all teaching derived from it, I will seek to revive the dead patient by articulating an intellectually-honest, practically workable, clear, relevant and spiritually-nourishing alternative interpretation of Christianity. This alternative will be “historically grounded” without being “grounded in history.” What I mean by this will become clear as we proceed.

In the first part of this book I’ll examine some of the ways in which interpreting the Bible through the Paradigm of Historicity has shaped our received version of Christian scriptures, doctrine and symbols.

In the second part of this book, I’ll provide an overwhelming number of logical and historical reasons for dispensing once and for all with the Paradigm of Historicity and, more importantly, all teaching derived from it. I will demonstrate that an historical interpretation of the Bible is logically untenable, historically unworkable, and was almost certainly never intended by most of its authors. And toward the end of this second part, I’ll pose what are sure to be some disturbing questions for some: Must the Bible be historically true to be spiritually true? What if, in actuality, the Bible was never intended to convey primarily historical fact, but rather to encode spiritual truth in allegory? What if reading the Bible as history actually hampers our understanding of its meaning? In short, if we dispense with reading the Bible as a history book, would we arrive at a different conclusion as to its meaning?

In the third and fourth parts of this book, I’ll demonstrate that, freed of the Paradigm of Historicity, the Bible actually encodes exciting and beautiful spiritual truths that have great relevance, appeal and practical significance for us today. Citing to the Bible itself as my primary authority, I’ll articulate a radical and beautiful interpretation of scripture that I pray will transform a generation of Christians.

And finally, throughout the book, I’ll demonstrate that my interpretation is actually an original interpretation, albeit one that has been suppressed by the Church for centuries. And, I’ll also show how this interpretation is consistent with the teachings of a staggering number of the world’s religions, including some Christian denominations.

Via comments, I invite the reader to offer constructive criticism or feedback, and especially to correct any errors or mistakes I may make.




Saturday, December 20, 2008

Girlie Men?

Matthew Fitzgerald contemplates the feminization of men.

Is it women's fault, as Matthew suggests? Or is it the result of estrogen-mimicking pollutants in the environment?

I don't know, but it's definitely happening. It's even evident in People magazine's "Name That Chest Game" where there's hardly a chest hair in sight. Whatever happened to the days when the likes of Magnum PI was considered sexy?

Kate Dodson pleads: "Come Back Gary Cooper"

The politics of rich and poor...

...and its impact on efforts to prevent climate change.

More on the Death of Old Media

Jack Shafer: What's killing newspapers is the same thing that killed the slide rule.

Madoff's CPA Not Up To Snuff

Bonnie Goldstein: Investigators for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the FBI, and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation will surely have a few questions for the company's accountant, Friehling & Horowitz—a small tax-preparation firm located in a shopping center in tiny New City, N.Y.—about the $1.3 billion in assets that David Friehling signed off on in December 2006. At least one hedge-fund adviser, Aksia LLC, had last year warned clients that Friehling & Horowitz, which had only "three employees, of [whom] one was 78 years old and living in Florida [and] one was a secretary," seemed a peculiar choice given "the scope of Madoff's activities."

Ya think?!

Second CNN Meteorologist Commits Heresy

Business & Media Institute: CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers had never bought into the notion that man can alter the climate and the Vegas snowstorm didn’t impact his opinion. Myers, an American Meteorological Society certified meteorologist, explained on CNN’s Dec. 18 “Lou Dobbs Tonight” that the whole idea is arrogant and mankind was in danger of dying from other natural events more so than global warming.

“You know, to think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant,” Myers said.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Perfect Climate Model

It's never wrong!

Brave New World

BBC News: A woman from London will give birth next week to the first British baby screened to be free of a gene for breast cancer.

Top 10 Astronomy Pictures of 2008

A couple of them are breathtaking.

Thank Heavens!

Jet Fuel Prices Lowest Since 1991

Law of the Future

Michael Anissimov: I’m in Melbourne Beach, Florida, for the 4th Colloquium on the Law of Futuristic Persons. As one might assume from the title, this is a legally focused gathering, and addresses legal issues related to cryonics patients, cyborgs, artificial biological intelligent beings, enhanced human beings, and artificial intelligences.

I find this type of thing interesting, and I'm reassured by the fact that people are already contemplating these issues. Color me a geek.

Dwindling Consensus?

Calgary Herald: News reports from last week's UN Climate Change Summit in Poland told us global warming is "a ticking time bomb" bringing "death and destruction" to the world. Others suggested Arctic ice levels are at their lowest point ever and may disappear entirely by 2015, CO2 levels are 10 per cent higher than what is safe and basic survival will force polar bears to give up their tasty staple of seal meat for "scrambled eggs" from the nests of snow geese. (Those who've attempted to convert a cat to new food will understand the potential difficulties in explaining this to the polar bears.)
Most news reports neglected to mention a major challenge to scientific claims in the UN's (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) document at the core of conference policy discussions. The U.S. Senate Minority Report presents dissenting statements by 650 prominent international scientists, including current and former members of the IPCC. Further, the number of dissenters has increased from 400 just one year ago when the report was first released.

Related story here.

Amazing Increase in Life Expectancy in NYC Officials say New York City women had an average life expectancy of 81.7 years in 2006, up five months from 2005.

That's a life expectancy gain of FIVE MONTHS in a single year! Some say this trend cannot continue, but all indications are that we are not to that point yet. In fact, the trend is accelerating, at least for now.

Increases in Russia are even more dramatic, but they we must remember that they are starting from such a low base:

In the wake of a decrease in mortality, life expectancy among men born in 2007 reached 61.4 years, increasing by 1 year from 2006, while among women life expectancy rose by 0.7 years to 73.9 years, against 73.2 in 2006.

Frank Talk on the Struggles of Old Media

Jack McElroy chronicles the struggles faced by newspapers in general and the Knoxville News Sentinel in particular.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

So Why Didn't Anyone Do Anything?

Bernie Madoff was outed back in 2005.

Churn Baby Churn!

Roger Cohen: Pan Am, which had been a leading U.S. international airline since the 1930s, collapsed in 1991. Like other great U.S. companies, it died in the marketplace because it blundered. Churn — of people and businesses — has always defined America. Nobody subsidized U.S. Steel or the automaker Packard in the belief that the world without them was unthinkable.

Coming to the United States from Europe, I found this constant reinvention bracing. Look at the top 40 companies by market capitalization in Europe and most have been there for decades. Not in the United States, land of Google and eBay. Churn requires death as well as birth. The artificial preservation of the inert dampens the quest for the new.

America let Pan Am die. Italy keeps Alitalia going although the airline’s been a dead man walking for years. There you have it: two continents, two business cultures. At least until recently, when the sheer extent of the U.S. financial collapse led the Treasury to discover forms of life-support that refuse to utter a taboo word — socialism — but resemble it nonetheless.

Amen, brother.

David Boaz offers some related thoughts.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Where once they celebrated suicide bombers who brought down buildings, now they party in honor of shoe throwers who brought down...well...nothing.

That's progress.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dee Dee Myers Calls for Punishing Unpopular Thought?

Vanity Fair: At what point does sexist behavior get taken seriously? At what point do people get punished in ways that suggest this kind of behavior, this kind of thinking, is unacceptable? At what point do we insist there will be consequences? [emphasis added]

If she had to do it again, I think Dee Dee would probably leave out the bolded part above. I hope she would anyway. It's bad enough when one person assumes to know the thoughts/intentions of another, but its a whole other thing to advocate punishing them.

Dee Dee does make one insightful comment, though:

Imagine how different the reaction would be if an important aide to John McCain had been caught in similar picture featuring Michelle Obama? Or if the picture had shown a cutout of Barack Obama and, say, a white hood? Why is it when ideology and race are eliminated, so is the outrage?

Good question, unless maybe the outrage shouldn't have been there either way. Sometimes a joke is just a joke, ya know?

David Deming Says Global Warming is Over

I wouldn't go that far, but:

This year began with a severe spell of winter weather in China. Observers characterized it as the largest natural disaster to hit China in decades. By the end of January, blizzards and cold temperatures had killed 60 people and caused millions to lose electric service. Nearly a million buildings were damaged and airports had to close. Hong Kong had the second-longest cold spell since 1885. A temperature of 33.6 degrees Fahrenheit was barely higher than the record low of 32 degrees F set in 1893.

Other countries in Asia also experienced record cold. In February, cold in the northern half of Vietnam wiped out 40 percent of the rice crop and killed 33,000 head of livestock. In India, the city of Mumbai recorded the lowest temperatures of the last 40 years. Across India, there was more frost damage to crops than at any other time in the last 30 years.

In the United States, the weather also was frigid. The city of International Falls, Minn,, whose official nickname is the "icebox of the nation," set a new record low temperature of minus 40 degrees F, breaking the old record of minus 37 F established in 1967.

Alaska experienced an unusually cold and wet summer. For the first time since the 18th century, Alaskan glaciers grew instead of retreating. In Fairbanks, October was the fourth coldest in 104 years of record. Last month in Reading, Pa., the temperature stayed below 40 degrees F for six consecutive days - the longest November cold spell there since 1903.

These cold weather events were not abnormal or isolated incidents. Global measures of climatic conditions indicate significant cooling.

A preliminary estimate by the British Met Office says 2008 will be the coldest year of the last 10.

Much more on this topic here.

More Battery News

tgdaily: Hewlett-Packard (HP) will begin offering a notebook battery that promises to recharge much faster than traditional batteries and, more importantly, maintains its capacity over three years. Provided by Boston Power, the new “green” battery will become available as an option in 2009, the battery manufacturer said.