Tuesday, June 1, 2010

10 Explanations of the Trinity



I know I can come across as an arrogant condescending jerk. So when I commented on twitter and facebook over the weekend that the trinity isn't difficult to explain I naturally got some pushback. Well, okay, what I said was:




The Trinity isn't that hard to explain. Please stop dumbing down the church by acting like our most stimulating ideas are unexplainable. Fake populism and anti-intellectualism are extremely unbecoming in a minister.


I apologize for the aggressive tone. It was uncalled for.

What I mean by this though, is that I think there is an attitude which is unfortunately prevalent in the church, even among ministers, that treats theology as if it were some arcane art form. Ministers sometimes work so hard to be "one of their people" that they give off the impression that all that theology stuff is just too difficult for them. They leave it to seminary professors to try to explain complicated things like atonement, the trinity, and predestination. While I would love to brag that I am a master of the arcane, the truth is that these things aren't at base that complicated. This is not quantum mechanics. We all went to seminary. We presumably study and read and think about this stuff all the time. It is part of our job description that we be able to understand and articulate theological ideas.

To back up my braggadocio, here are 10 ways to explain the Trinity which anyone in your congregation will be able to understand:

#1 - The Clover. St Patrick famously described the trinity to the people of Ireland by using the analogy of the 3-leaved clover. Each leaf on the plant appears whole and independent, but they are indivisibly part of a single stem. Strength: This explanation has the advantage of being historical, includes an effective visual aid, and emphasizes the equality and unity of the persons. Weakness: An inanimate object is in some ways a poor choice of analogy for the dynamic living trinity.

#2 - Dancing. Central to understanding the trinity is the nature of their inter-relatedness (that fancy greek word Perichoresis). Have everyone stand up and form a circle, then do any of the thousands of folk dances in which the parties all move together performing their parts in unison. God is the dance, the energy, the movement at the center of creation and the trinity is our way of saying god does the dance perfectly - all of the dancers are in total harmony. Strength: This explanation will work great for kinesthetic learners. It is dynamic focuses on the relationship of the persons. Weakness: It is abstract and doesn't do a good job of describing the individual persons of the trinity.

#3 - Battery, Wire, Electricity. God is the power source, the battery, the creator. Jesus is the mediator, the wire which conducts God's love to us. The Spirit is the power itself, the love of God which comes to us through Jesus. Strength: Another explanation with a good visual aid. This one has the strength of differentiating the persons and putting them in a relationship which reflects the usual portrayal of their roles. Furthermore, this example can demonstrate our relationship to the trinity - we are the light bulb at the end of the wire which the Spirit turns on. Weakness: The analogy is rigid, and utilizes inanimate objects to explain something which is fundamentally living and dynamic.

#4 - Rublev's Icon. It is a famous work of art depicting three angels sitting at Abraham's table. The angels are at once the figures from the story in Genesis about receiving strangers, and the persons of the trinity in perfect relationship with each other. A notable feature of the painting is that the persons, while at the table clearly in conversation with one another are all turned toward the viewer as though we were a fourth participant in the conversation, thus illustrating the outward moving love of the inward relationship of the triune god. Strength: You can't go wrong with beautiful art for reaching people who might otherwise not grasp the subject. Weakness: It depicts the trinity as three separate persons which will then lead to questions about the unity of the godhead.

#5 - Quantum Physics. Ha! So the trinity is complex! Well, this is really just a very basic observation from a layman's understanding of physics, but for the last century we have gradually discovered that all matter is actually energy vibrating at different speeds. It is a gross exaggeration, but in one sense, you and I are beams of light. The simultaneous duality, or underlying unity of these supposed opposites, energy and matter, is a great entryway to talking about the mystery of how God could be simultaneously three persons in one. Strength: This is an explanation which will appeal to the intellectually curious. Weakness: Speaking outside your field of expertise leads to unwittingly saying ignorant things.

#6 - Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer. One effective way of approaching an explanation of the trinity is in terms of the roles of the persons. This is the approach of many of the confessions, essentially listing what God the father does, what Jesus does, and what the Spirit does. They are all God's work, but in particular ways, at particular times, in particular places. Strength: There is lots of confessional material to rely on here. Weakness: It is easy to fall into cliches and also easy to overly separate the persons.

#7 - Ice, Water, Steam. The different states of matter are an effective illustration of how one thing can take three very different forms with different attributes. Similarly God can appear and act in history in dramatically different ways and remain one God. Strength: Strongly emphasizes the unity of God. Weakness: Fails to differentiate the persons or express how they are all simultaneously God, not modes appearing at different times.

#8 - Optical Illusion. Have you ever seen those Mind's Eye posters where it just looks like a random blur of colors until you squint or blur your focus and then suddenly an image pops out at you? Or the picture of the young lady who is also an old woman? These kinds of images defy our perceptions and categories. They can be an entry into discussing how, when viewed from different perspectives God presents different aspects. As savior and teacher God appears as Jesus. As creator and providential caretaker God appears as a parent. As inward presence, spark and encouragement God appears as the Spirit. Strength: Visual aid possibilities abound and it emphasizes the unity of the persons despite the apparent differences. Weakness: Some might take offense at comparing God to an illusion.

#9 - Three Dimensions of Space. We interact with our surroundings through three dimensions: height, width, and depth. The dimensions are completely distinct and non-interchangeable, yet invariably present simultaneously in the same location. Without one or the other of the dimensions all of existence would be radically altered. They are mutually dependent for intelligibility. Strength: A very close analogy of the uniqueness yet mutuality of the persons of the trinity. Weakness: It's somewhat abstract and static.

#10 - Lover, Beloved, Love. There is a reason that orthodox language for describing the trinity uses "persons" as the basic unit of the godhead. God is alive and active, so the best way to describe God's nature is through a relationship of mutual love. The New Testament continually shows us the relationship between God and Jesus as one of giving and receiving love. Jesus is referred to as "my beloved" by God at several key moments. Significantly at one of these moments, his Baptism, Jesus receives the Holy Spirit. This is a picture of the exchange of love between the persons of the trinity. This is also the story of Good Friday and Easter. Jesus (the Beloved) gives up his Spirit (Love) to God (the Lover). God (the Lover) then restores the Spirit (Love) to Jesus (the Beloved) on Easter morning. Strength: This example is ripe with biblical imagery and applicable to our understanding of human relationships. Weakness: It would be easy to think of the persons as three completely separate individuals with this description.

Ultimately, as is by now apparent, no single explanation is going to be wholly satisfactory. What did you expect we're talking about the godhead?! Some explanations will be prone to the error of making God into three different people, others prone to making God into one person with three faces. But any of these explanations would be a good starting place and from there you can use your well developed theological skills to balance out the weaknesses of a narrow understanding of the trinity into a profound exploration of the richest Christian doctrine.

60 comments:

Doug Hagler said...

Now - 10 places you find an explicit teaching of the trinity in the Bible :).

Aric Clark said...

Surprise - not every good idea comes from the Bible. :P

Of course, it isn't accurate to say that it isn't in their at all. I find the trinity actually illumines the Bible most beautifully.

Doug Hagler said...

I need to talk to Greg Love again. I remember him selling me on the Trinity, but it's faded since then ;)

Doug Hagler said...

For "richest Christian doctrine", I've gotta go with the atonement myself.

Doug Hagler said...

I also think an additional weakness of 3 and 10 is that the Holy Spirit part is impersonal - either electricity or love respectively. This means that they invite one not to think of the Holy Spirit as a person at all.

Aric Clark said...

The atonement is a rich doctrine, no question. I'm interested to see how good of a defense I can give of the depth and power of the trinity. Something to explore in another post sometime.

I agree that 3 and 10 have the weakness of making the Holy Spirit impersonal, though that is a really strong temptation with the HS. Most of the biblical metaphors are of energy, light, fire, wind, etc...

Jodie said...

Aric,

None of these explanations express the notion that each person of the Trinity is also the complete One and only God. From that perspective, all but modern physics provides a clue.

And the clue is this. Nothing in everyday life is a metaphor for what happens in quantum physics. Nothing in everyday life provides insight into what happens in quantum physics. Nothing in everyday life provides a clue as to what is true in quantum physics.

Its a whole new paradigm.

The Trinity is a whole new paradigm.

However, there is in everyday life things that would not be true if quantum physics were incorrect. To begin with, the very PC you used to post your thoughts.

Not sure I can say the same about the Trinity. Its an interesting concept. But is it really true?

Steve Schuler said...

Okay fellows, you've given me another reminder of why I am agnostic. I NEVER feel compelled to try to explain something I don't understand. Never.

Aric Clark said...

@ Steve

With theology there are 2 strong temptations. 1 is to say we know exactly what God is like, God is like xxxxx. That temptation leads to idolatry. The second temptation is to throw up your hands and say "it's a big mystery" which frankly is a cop out. I don't think ministers with self-respect should take that second option anymore than they should take the first.

@Jodie
Love would be impossible if not for the trinity. Love works, because God is at God's very core, a relationship of mutual love.

Steve Schuler said...

Aric

Yeah, it's a tough gig but somebody has to do it!

By the way, my tongue was pressed pretty firmly into my cheek when I made my little comment above, but unfortunately that fact wasn't communicated via the written word. Always a hazard of cyber-communication I suppose.

I like y'all's blog. Why else would I read it? Keep up the good work, you are doing your part to keep me honest!

P3ace

Steve

Doug Hagler said...

@ Steve: I'm glad for the explanation. I actually didn't understand the comment, and hoped time would make it clear.

Jodie said...

Aric,

I'm not one to throw my hands up in "its a mystery" but...

I like claiming that without the Trinity there is no love, but to explain one thing I don't understand with another thing I don't understand is not far from claiming "it's a mystery".

God could still be love if there was no Trinity. If anything, Jesus is a manifestation of God's pr-existing love. Certainly the incarnation is.

And why does the Holy Spirit have to be a separate Person? The OT makes no such distinction even when it directly speaks of God's Spirit.

And would there be any less love if the Trinity were a Quaternity? Or even an Infinity?

I wonder if the doctrine of the Trinity is really an answer to a dated question. I think maybe it needs a face lift.

Doug Hagler said...

To say there can be no love without the Trinity is very Calvinist, since Calvinism is where God only really interacts with God's self in salvation anyway. Not being very Calvinist, I don't agree that love would not exist without the Trinity, but I do think that it says something about God's relationship to love and about love being between equals in the divine schema.

The point is interesting, though, that if God were a Quartenity or an Infinity, we could say many of the same things about love and God.

Aric Clark said...

@ Jodie,
I think love is comprehensible, maybe not in a mechanistic kind of way, but we have plenty of poetry and art and story and parable which does a very good job of explaining what love is and how it works. I don't think its akin to saying "its a mystery" at all.

The trinity is an explanation of how Jesus is a manifestation of God's pre-existing love. The Holy Spirit is a separate person because that is how Jesus seems to interact with it in the Gospels. The trinity isn't just an idea someone made up despite the slander people throw at it. It is the best way to understand the experience of Jesus and the disciples, and going back from there the meaning of God's relationship to creation throughout the old testament. God isn't a quaternity or an infinity however interesting the idea because its not in the text.

@Doug
It's not just calvinists who hold that God is interacting with God's self in salvation. God raises Jesus from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is an intra-trinitarian action. This doesn't exclude humanity or the rest of creation though. The whole point is that he's the first-born of the new creation, and he is in the grave because of people, and first thing he does upon returning is go back to his people... It clearly is done on behalf of creation, but it is God that does it.

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Aric Clark

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

Aric Clark said...

Hey Adam, thanks for the recommend.

Steve Schuler said...

@Adam

Thanks for the link! I've a loose affiliation with the Unitarian Universalist and have a particular fondness for Saint Servetus (I know, he's not REALLY a Saint) So Unitarian theological notions are not entirely alien to me.

@Aric and Doug

Since I know you guys have really great senses of humour you might enjoy this video which really does a great job of explaining the Trinity:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmZJSAutqRE

Adam Pastor said...

Steve

We are Biblical unitarians
Nothing to do with UUs.

Don't confuse the two.

Aric Clark said...

@ Steve

I love Mr. Deity! I had them all posted on my last blog. :P

@ Adam

Fair enough. Biblical Unitarians.

Steve Schuler said...

@Aric

Roger That!

I didn't know if you were familiar with Mr. Diety, but I was pretty confident that you wouldn't take offense. Hey! We all need a little comic relief now and then, don't we?

Jodie said...

Hey Aric,

Responding to the comment "God isn't a quaternity or an infinity however interesting the idea because its not in the text."

If the criteria is that it must be "in the text" then the folks that proposed adding Sophia (lady Wisdom) would be right. And maybe adding a chicken would be OK as well, or if its more dignifying, a hen.

Thing is, I think the whole thing is brought about by trying to deal with the claim that Jesus Christ and God are one in a way that is different than us being one in the Spirit. From the prayer in John. But some of the NT theology falls short of that, claiming that Jesus is more like a brother to us, his disciples. That he is the first of many to be risen.

I'm not sure what "the text" is trying to say. I get the distinct impression the writers weren't sure themselves. They believed Jesus was resurrected, that he lives in a resurrected form, that he is the Son of God, perhaps the first of many, perhaps uniquely so, that he intercedes for us with God... But was he uniquely One with God? That does not really come out, except possibly in the gospel of John. And what does that really mean, anyway?

What bothers me about that point is that the prophet Jesus and the rabbi Jesus, with all his teachings, gets lost. What becomes important is who Jesus was, not what he taught. So the great commission in Matthew gets lost. or reinterpreted to mean "make converts who can go to heaven" instead of "make students who obey me". Obedience to his commandments gets lost. The ability to follow him as a student gets lost. After all, who can follow God? Who can really imitate God? Being a student of Jesus becomes an unachievable and impractical ideal, not a real life aspiration. "In a perfect world we could do that..."

All you can do with a God is put him on a pedestal and pray to him, and sing pretty songs to him.

I am not sure that is what Jesus had in mind, not even in John.

Doug Hagler said...

I've tried to post a comment three times now. Damn. Anyway, in brief:

1. It's surprising that the Trinity has gotten as many comments as teh GAY normally gets on this blog. Surprising and cool. There seems to be something there.

2. @ Jodie: I agree with many of the things you're bringing up. Jesus being God can make it harder to imagine how we can not only be like Jesus, but to do *greater* things as his disciples in the world.

3. @ Aric: is there a way the Trinity addresses this problem?

Aric Clark said...

@Jodie & Doug

Yeah, I don't think something being "in the text" is by itself sufficient or determinative and tossed out like that it was a cheap tactic I often loathe in other people. So, point taken, that saying something is or isn't "in the text" is not very helpful.

What I meant, and what I DO think is relevant - is that the doctrine of the trinity isn't an abstract philosophical idea someone made up in a vacuum nor a late imperialistic development or whatever it is people want to say as a way of attempting to undermine the doctrine via the genetic falacy. The trinity has very very early roots and came about as a way to explain the experience of the disciples regarding Jesus' relationship to God and their relationship to Jesus via the Holy Spirit. It is thoroughly reflected in the text and I think scripture (old and new) makes best sense when read in a trinitarian way. It is also beautiful. I will write a post or forty on the subject when I get the time.

The trinity doesn't in my opinion create the problems you suggest. Do some Christians lost the prophet/rabbi to the deity? Sure. Plenty of others (usually on the progressive/liberal side) completely lose the deity/savior to the prophet. The trinity, and the chalcedonian formula for who Christ is are actually attempts to clarify and guard against the falacy you are pointing out, not the source of the error.

The nature of the trinity is perpetual kenosis - perpetual outpouring. It is not a teaching about a withdrawn God away in heaven to be worshipped, it is a teaching about a God who overflows with love eternally and infinitely so that God inevitably draws the objects of that love (and even casual bystanders) into relationship. The story is how God so loved the world that Jesus gave himself on behalf of the world that we might receive the same Spirit shared between him and the father and thus be drawn up into the same relationship. God became human that we might become God.

To me, actually, the only way Jesus is accessible at all is if he is part of this trinitarian God. Otherwise he is just a 2000 year dead semitic rabbi who I share absolutely nothing in common with.

John Shuck said...

Fun post. I don't think the Trinity is a great mystery. It is mostly (when taken as a description as some kind of reality) a bad explanation. It was the early Christian way to have one's cake and eat it too. We are monotheists but have to put Jesus in there, oh and add the Holy Spirit.

That is the general way theologians do things. Create an explanation that is simply makes no sense (fully god, fully man) or in this case (three yet one) and then assert that it the explanation is somehow divine revelation and mystery the rest of us just don't get.

That said, I do find it to be a helpful language game and a helpful symbol. Threes are good. Many things in life are three-fold. It expresses the transcendent, immanent, and particular essence of the sacred.

I tend to appreciate Lloyd Geering's Secular Trinity

Here it is in a nutshell:

The first element is this self-evolving physical universe, which as we understand it, encompasses the whole of reality. Second is the human species that has evolved out of this creative universe and thereby brought us into existence. The third "being" is that which the collective consciousness of humankind has in turn brought forth--the body of cultural knowledge...without which we could not be human. These three constitute the God "in whom we live and move and have our being."

It is a way to retain the symbol and the language but reinterpret for a modern (post-modern) era.

Keep up the good work, friars!

Doug Hagler said...

Man...there seems to be almost nothing about things like the secular trinity that moves me. It turns a rich metaphor into a basic description, and in doing that, just loses all of it's power for me.

John Shuck said...

Hey Doug,

I affirm that it loses its power for you. In the time that I have chatted about these things, I can still find no good explanation of why some things resonate with some people and not with others and vice versa. For me, personally, the traditional doctrines of the church leave me totally cold. To me they make no sense and are not even pretty. Yet for others they are moving, inspirational, and true. For me, what I find awe-inspiring is ho hum for others. Go figure!

Aric Clark said...

John,

How ya doin? We have a project coming up we might like your input on. We'll contact you about it soon.

On this subject - if you really believe "to each his own" then why dish out all the trash talk? According to you the trinity is a bad explanation, hastily thrown together with out thought, by theologians who are notoriously pompous, arrogant, and controlling... but if Doug says he thinks the secular trinity doesn't move him you shrug and say "whatever floats your boat"?

These seem contradictory to me. I'm willing to go for a marketplace of ideas model and we can debate the merits of various theological doctrines. Or we can be all mutually affirming and open to diversity. But I'd like it if we're gonna go the first route if we stick to substantive criticism, and if we're gonna go the second route we avoid lobbing the negative generalizations.

Doug Hagler said...

I'd say that this:

"That is the general way theologians do things. Create an explanation that is simply makes no sense (fully god, fully man) or in this case (three yet one) and then assert that it the explanation is somehow divine revelation and mystery the rest of us just don't get."

...is demonstrably untrue for the vast majority of theology. I don't really think that all those thousands of thinkers were completely wasting their time, passing off hackery as theology for all those hundreds and thousands of years.

Instead, they're likely at least as smart and committed as you or I are, and in some cases we disagree.

But if the above quote is your governing principle, I don't see any value in conversing about theology at all to be honest. I mean, is everything I say on this blog just me passing off stupid ideas as revelation?

In fact, in no way do you behave as if the above is true, given that you also do theology, and talk about theology, as if it mattered. This is a good thing, because I like talking to you.

I just recommend a description of theology that more closely matches how much time you spend doing it and talking about it as if it was a valuable endeavor.

Jodie said...

Aric,

Personally I would have poetic fun going back to the One like a Son of Man in Ezechiel. He has four faces. The are often used to symbolize the four Gospels. There are Four faces to the Gospel, and there are Four Faces to the Son of Man.

I would make the fourth one Wisdom.

The fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom, and God is Wisdom. There is plenty of OT precedent for that.

I think maybe at the time it was frowned on because the Greek philosophers were all about wisdom. And then there were the knowledge cults. But we don't have issue with them today. If we were to reproduce the same debates that led to Trinitarian theology, I think it would be hard not to end up with four persons instead of three. And maybe five, because in today's world, God the Father would have to be God the Father and God the Mother, both in One.

So I would get a Pentagonity.

God the Father
God the Mother
God the Son
The Holy Spirit of God (who also teaches ...)
The Wisdom of God

John Shuck said...

Wanna fight? OK

#1 I didn't say this:

hastily thrown together with out thought, by theologians who are notoriously pompous, arrogant, and controlling.

You did.

I don't see hassle. I don't much like the doctrine of the Trinity; you don't like my idea. So, OK, whatever. You don't have to get all steamed about it.

Aric Clark said...

John,

I'm not steamed. At all. Reread what you wrote above. What I said was, in my opinion, a pretty straightforward interpretation of what you had written - that the trinity is a bad explanation, that makes no sense.

If you don't see how your previous comment could be interpreted the way I did, fine. I agree to assume it is this stupid medium that led to the misunderstanding and leave it at that.

John Shuck said...

Your characterization of what I wrote is far more mean-spirited than what I intended. I really meant to poke not insult, but I failed. Apologies.

Here is my poke again, hopefully with a lighter tone.

Human beings invented the Trinity, not hastily, but over quite a long time. You would agree with that, right?

We might disagree as to whether or not the Trinity describes a reality or dissolves into language.

I don't think it describes reality. I will grant that its framers in good faith created the Trinity to describe what they thought was reality.

(It could be that the 'reality' it describes is the human need for a symbol that at once captures transcendence, immanence, and particularity.)

I do think some of these framers were controlling and some violent in making sure their view won the day, but that is beside the point. They are not alone in that.

I can accept that the Trinity is a symbol, perhaps a meme, maybe even archetypal, and as such it is available for reinterpretation.

I wonder, now, in modern/post-modern times, if it is necessary to bother explaining theological doctrines such as the Trinity (except to explain how they developed historically and why).

For many people (I don't think I am alone in this), the Trinity as a descriptor of a reality is not credible. No one is home. It is human language.

This is (possibly) true not only for the Trinity, but for other doctrines as well--atonement, incarnation, heaven, hell, resurrection/ascension, person of Christ, and the Bible as divine word, to name a few.

Once we explain how these things come about from a human perspective (once we can explain the Trinity historically or the Bible's formation historically) then revelation fades away like the Cheshire cat and we are left with nothing but a smile, a ghost of what we used to believe.

Maybe we don't need any of that anymore. Rather than try to explain a doctrine that we made up in the first place, instead perhaps theologians and others can help create meaning from a universe that we now perceive as very different from the one in which the Trinity and the classic Christian doctrines were formed.

Hence Lloyd Geering's secular trinity. I don't insist on that. I thought it was an interesting attempt to reinterpret a classic symbol in a modern understanding of the universe.

That's where I am coming from. Sorry for being snarky. I got in a mood, I guess.

I do appreciate your good work here and I should comment more on the posts I really appreciate, not just the ones I want to poke. : )

John Shuck said...

I should add that your ten metaphors are well done. My disagreement wasn't with your work on that, it was, as I said, on the whole project in the first place.

Aric Clark said...

@ Jodie

I don't think the Trinity comes primarily from combining different metaphors for God, but from an observation of God's action and a description then of the internal economy that creates that action. It is the movement of God-Spirit-Jesus in crucifixion and resurrection that inspires the doctrine.

@ John,

Second attempt was clearer to me. I would agree that the trinity was elaborated over time, and has continued to be elaborated upon since. I think the original insight is pretty early. Paul & john both use language that is almost explicitly trinitarian, but its beside the point. I agree that people made it up to describe what they though was reality and fights were had over these interpretations of reality and some people were violent and controlling in those fights.

On whether it is necessary to explain theological doctrines - I do it because I enjoy it. I do think a minister of word and sacrament ought to be able to do it the same way a lawyer should understand basic aspects of the legal code and a doctor should have knowledge of anatomy and a musician needs to play scales. It's just a professional basic. It disappoints me when I encounter ministers who have very very limited theological understanding. Knowing theological basis is different from agreeing with them or teaching them as authoritative though. Doctors and lawyers specialize, musicians can be very experimental and abandon tonality or harmony, and pastors don't have to subscribe to some set list of doctrines. But you ought to be able to explain them. In my opinion.

John Shuck said...

I got you. I see your point and I agree. Thanks!

Jodie said...

Aric,

I am going to push back again just a little, not because I like or dislike the doctrine of the Trinity, but because I am not sure it is needed anymore.

You said

"It is the movement of God-Spirit-Jesus in crucifixion and resurrection that inspires the doctrine."

I think not. I think it is the need to declare Jesus God that inspires it and requires it. A reconciliation of high Christology with radical monotheism.

(The Holy Spirit was always there. It was, and still is, the breath of God.)

But we still ended up with Satan playing the role of a virtual God, the god of evil. And we ended up with a creed - several creeds - that enforce the belief in the Trinity and in the deity of Jesus, but leave out the Rabbi Jesus and the Prophet Jesus. This was the price the Church paid for the Trinity, and I think it was too high. It allowed for, perhaps even led to State Christianity, which was and still is too inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. I think it is time to challenge everything that was cast in stone as part of the creation of State Christianity.

That is where Christianity is going today.

State Christianity is done and over with, but we are still locked in its paradigms. But I suspect the only part of Christianity that is going to survive into the 22nd century is that part which stands apart from, perhaps even against, the religion of Empire.

I mean, how did we end up with a priesthood when Jesus put himself in the same breath with the prophets that opposed the priesthood? How did we end up with 1600 years of emperors thinking it was OK to kill the enemies of God? How did we end up with Church Fathers when Jesus said we only have one father, our Father in Heaven? And how did we end up thinking the Gospel was about being saved for the afterlife when the prayer Jesus taught was that God's Kingdom be made on Earth, here and now, in THIS life?

These shifts are tied together. We need to rethink them all.

Aric Clark said...

@ Jodie

I disagree. There was no need to declare Jesus God. Jesus did that himself, if not in words, at least in deeds. He did what only God can do - forgive sins, release captives, declare jubilee, cleanse the temple, etc...

The gospels were written primarily to grapple with the event of the resurrection - whatever that was. It is the climax of the story. The focal point. There is no gospel, and no christianity without it. The mystery was not how Jesus was God, but how God raised Jesus from the dead. The trinity is the dawning of the realization that God is at heart a relationship, and the shocking unfolding of that realization is a complete re-reading of the old testament as the history of God continually outpouring grace on a world who rejects the intimate relationship God embodies.

The egalitarian, dynamic, other-centered trinity is profoundly anti-empire. Empire is much more comfortable with an autocrat. A single dictatorial god who demands sacrifice and obedience. Empire cannot handle the idea that the victim of the sacrifice is himself God, nor that the coming kingdom is more like a banquet, an image of mutual relationship, than like a battle.

Doug Hagler said...

@ John

"Once we explain how these things come about from a human perspective (once we can explain the Trinity historically or the Bible's formation historically) then revelation fades away like the Cheshire cat and we are left with nothing but a smile, a ghost of what we used to believe."

That was temporarily my experience, yes, but I've moved away from it since to a heightened appreciation for the power of myth and our participation in it. I find that most of the modernist project of explaining myth fails to do so in any meaningful way. That is, the "explanation" is of a thing that no one would find meaning in, and does not begin to account for the fact that the overwhelming majority of human beings find meaning in myth, myself included.

I've found that to locate people who explain myth in a powerful and true way, who can account for myth's real influence, you have to go to the myth-makers, the storytellers, and the myth-livers who are part of the ongoing story - not the academics who stand on the outside and say "Look how dumb those supernaturalists are. I'm so glad we're so smart. Let's go read Richard Dawkins some more."

John Shuck said...

Really? You think that the myth, Eneuma Elish, is more "true" than Richard Dawkins' The Ancestors's Tale?

Myths, legends, and fairy tales are great fun. They give us insights into our psychology. They are the product of creativity and intelligence. Not "dumb" at all.

Now I am curious. Is the Trinity a myth? If so, we are on the same page. I would even say it has a reality, that is within our own language.

What about the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Myth, right?

Doug Hagler said...

I've never read The Ancestor's Tale - I'm just referring to the almost undifferentiated condescension that Richard Dawkins tends to producem based on the presumption that not only are we not allowed to analyze his mythology as such, but that it is de facto superior to all others (an identical position to any other fundamentalist). The Ancestor's Tale might be a diamond in the rough, who knows?

I would say that, as I think you define it, the trinity is not a myth, nor is Jesus' resurrection - that is, they are not only fun insights into our psychology. They are whatever word you would use for structures of meaning that tell us the truth about ourselves and the world and invite us to live into that truth more fully. I'm not sure what word you use for that. I use "myth".

Doug Hagler said...

In a few hundred years, we'll have a good idea of where The Ancestor's Tale stands among other tales. I don't think I can judge it against any ancient story at this point - it's a zygote.

John Shuck said...

I think Richard Dawkins and science in general with its story of cosmic history of the universe and natural history of Earth are "structures of meaning that tell us the truth about ourselves and the world and invite us to live into that truth more fully." They are far superior to the various world mythologies from Gilgamesh to Genesis, to the Gospels, and to the Bible as a whole in fulfilling that task.

As literature, these mythologies offer great insights to how people once saw the world. Some of it in fact transcends its time. But the subjects of their stories (gods, resurrections, trinity) do not appear to have any reality outside of language.

Since you brought up the word supernatural, I would add that I cannot think of one thing that is best explained with a supernatural explanation as opposed to a natural one. Can you?

Doug Hagler said...

I wholeheartedly disagree :). I think that presented with the mythology of a reductionist universe, we are left with radical meaninglessness. I think that science, properly done, is a "structure of information-gathering and critical analysis." No meaning there.

Thankfully, every scientist, Dawkins included, draws upon far more than their observations of the physical universe in order to make meaning in their lives. Just like no one lives their lives "according to the bible", no one I've ever heard of lives their lives "according to science"...my suspicion is that this is because both endeavors are impossible.

I would say that there is a great deal between naturalism and supernaturalism, and that is the area in which I live most of my life, preach, and so on. I reject the (fundamentalist) idea that those are the only two options.

John Shuck said...

I think that presented with the mythology of a reductionist universe, we are left with radical meaninglessness.

Meaning is an invention of human beings. So the universe with the advent of human beings is no longer meaningless. We have a variety of meanings.

As far as natural and supernatural are concerned, I guess we need to agree on how to define terms.

I affirm the story, mythology, fairy tale (whatever you want to call it) that says that the Universe is about 14 billion years old (that figure could change) that Earth is about 4 and a half billion years old, that life has evolved on Earth from a common ancestor. Humans are of course included in this evolutionary mythology. That is the most true story that we have available to us. It is better than any myth of origins of any culture because it transcends all of them and dwarfs all of them. It is a fairly recent story. We might call it a naturalist myth. Before this story we had in the west at least a 6,000 year old universe whose origins were told in Genesis 1 and 2. My hunch is that our modern story explains a lot more, is far more interesting, and frankly, more accurate on every level that I can imagine.

The beauty of this story is that none of it requires a supernatural agent where this agent is in the form of a Trinity or any other combination. With this story there is no need to fear any deity. There is not likely any existence after death for any living thing including human beings.

The downside of this story is that it requires radical freedom of individuals and people to decide how to live the limited years available.

While some may take comfort in the human invention of deities and dogmas, I don't find comfort in them because I don't find them to be true. I'd rather take life as it is as best as I know and live it.

I would be happy to believe in these things if I could and if I thought they were true. But I cannot make myself, and frankly, I don't want to, because the story I am learning from a naturalistic perspective is so cool, so marvelous, amazing, and breathtaking, that even though they make me ultimately small and meaningless, I am OK with that. This is it. This is life.

I appreciate the stories of the ancestors. They did their best in creating meaning for them. I value all of it and give credit to them for their creations. Time moves on. Time for a new story.

This is why I think it is time for theologians, poets, philosophers, storytellers, and songwriters, to put this new naturalistic mythology to music to liturgy to sermon.

What do you think?

Nick.Larson said...

Thanks for all your comments John, I've found them insightful and interesting to read.

I do want to comment on this developing idea of myth/story (whatever we are gonna call it). I can honestly say that most "better" or "modern" stories are dwarfed in comparison to some of these archaic myths like Genesis. Maybe that's just the way that I choose to arrange my thinking (why we choose myths is probably another interesting conversation). I have found most modern myth's as stating "truth" with a boldness that most other stories don't do. If you read Genesis it truly is myth that began to make sense of the universe from an ancient perspective. But what fascinates me to no end is how much have humanity has changed and yet how much of it has not. I still find myself tempted by those very things that I know are not for me, that have been set apart from my life. I find myself searching for companionship both with others (eve) and God.

So while I can agree that we are more likely decedents of some ooze or single cell organism than from a man created from the dust of the ground, I can't actually prove either. What I can do is choose the myth that teaches me about myself and the world around me. I think I can learn a lot more about myself from Genesis than I get from evolution.

Doug Hagler said...

@ John

I would call what you present as a myth a "description". To me, there is no meaning in it, and there is no invitation, any more than there is meaning or invitation in a description of any other physical process. It is a story, but I find it to be non-myth, and not even a fairy tale, though there I use the Tolkienian definition of fairy tale, and don't assume you are doing the same.

My point was that even Richard Dawkins goes beyond this story in finding meaning. His writings and speeches have a lot more in them about right and wrong, and ethics, and all sorts of things that are part of his mythology, and are not part of the description of the physical universe.

I am definitely not up to the task of turning the description of the physical universe into liturgy or sermon. I'm also not really motivated to do so. I wouldn't know where to start, and I'd probably be unable to avoid splicing in my myths and fairy tales into whatever I ended up doing. Otherwise I'd feel like I was giving a science lecture, which would feel out of place to me in worship.

I could probably come up with a clever curriculum for teaching this scientific description, and I've explained aspects of it to a lot of people in the past because I also find it fascinating, but I don't know how to apply liturgy or sermon to this story.

Do you have any example sermons that are simply about describing the physical universe? If so, I'd be curious what about it would be a sermon, aside from it being told during church. I'd need to see that in action, but as I am thinking of it now, I definitely couldn't do it.

Aric Clark said...

I think we've gotten way off track. No matter the subject of the post it seems like we always end up arguing epistemology with you, John. :P

As modernists are wont to do, I believe you conflate, or reduce, the many different kinds of knowing down to one. Giving me a technically accurate description of a painting does absolutely nothing to tell me what it means or what its emotional value is. I can know everything there is to know about the outward form of things and still have no idea what their purpose may be or how I should feel about them. It is an entirely different language. The trinity is not the language of mathematics or science. It tells us very little about the concrete shape of things, but much about their inward meaning. Similarly physics or biology or geology can tell us a lot about what things are and nothing about what those things mean.

John Shuck said...

Hey Nick,

I think I can learn a lot more about myself from Genesis than I get from evolution.

OK.

I am moving the opposite way these days. I think evolutionary science which now includes cultural evolution is still in its infancy. Even so it looks promising in regards to what we can know about ourselves that we wouldn't know even 20 years ago, let alone 2500 years ago or whenever Genesis was written. Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can the Change the Way We Think About Our Selves is a great primer. David Sloan Wilson has a great blog to go with it.

On his latest post he makes a reference to Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow. They visited our church a couple of years ago.

For those who don't like the intolerance of Dawkins (I find him overly aggressive as well) all of these folks are refreshing.

I may have worn out my welcome and certainly have taken us way off topic.

But after 20 years of ministry, I find myself going in a very different direction from my seminar education even as I think it paved the way.

I think embracing evolution and our cosmic history is the next chapter in the Christian story.

Again, that doesn't mean I can't learn from the literature of our ancestors, especially the Bible. It simply has (for me and I think more and more folks) lost its central place on the coffee table, lectern, and (perhaps soon) pulpit. Our grand cosmic and evolutionary saga is edging it out.

John Shuck said...

Hey Aric,

The trinity is not the language of mathematics or science. It tells us very little about the concrete shape of things, but much about their inward meaning.

I think that is what I have been saying. The Trinity does not describe an outward reality, but has, as you say, inward meaning.

The Trinity is artistry. It is symbol. It is archetype. All good stuff. It is the product of human creativity. It has no, as far as I can see, any external referent that is real.

At least as Lloyd Geering uses the symbol, it refers to something outside of itself that demonstrably exists.

I don't see any "Father, Son, or Holy Spirit" anywhere except, perhaps within my imagination. Also there is nothing in the universe that I know about that is best explained by this Trinity.

Is there anything that exists that the Trinity explains?

If it is a painting, OK. If it is aesthetic, OK. If it is a song, OK. I can sing it. As a symbol for the sacred that is at once transcendent, immanent, and particular, I am OK with that.

But what does it do?

We don't need a creator. The universe appears to be self-creating.

We don't need a redeemer. There is nothing that is fallen. Life just is.

Do we need sustaining? Maybe. Of the three, Spirit as Breath is perhaps the most usable.

It isn't technicality vs. poetry or math vs. emotions. It's a world that has changed and in this world former explanations and meanings no longer resonate.

I love poetry and emotion and art and all of it. There is a lot of it. I am just less and less keen on classical Christian poetry, emotion, and art.

My point, my central concern, is that I don't think we (and I mean the church by we) has tried. I think we are still fighting evolution or tolerating it rather than embracing it and sing praises to it.

We need to sing praises to evolution and to our universe and to all the winged, finned, and multi-legged ones, and to the human ones. To life. It is in this life, in this dirt, in these oceans, that we live and move and have our being.

Doug Hagler said...

@ John: These are good examples of your mythology coming through, entirely apart from what physical science can tell you.

"We don't need a creator. The universe appears to be self-creating."

This is a statement of faith, the part about the self-creating universe. No one can account for how this self-creating supposedly came about. We can dial things back to a big bang and that is it. As to what caused the big bang, what was there before the big bang, how all that stuff came from nothing, there is no answer that science has yet provided. So your mythology says "we need no creator", but it is a statement of faith.

"We don't need a redeemer. There is nothing that is fallen. Life just is."

This is a statement of value, to say that life exactly as it is is the best possible life and needs to redemption. This is once again far beyond the purview of physical science. It is part of the mythology that John Shuck ascribes to (among many others of course)

"We need to sing praises to evolution and to our universe and to all the winged, finned, and multi-legged ones, and to the human ones. To life. It is in this life, in this dirt, in these oceans, that we live and move and have our being."

This is, again, your mythology, beyond what physical science can ever account for. There is no reason, based on evolution, to praise evolution, or any other living creature. None. Only if we value them, because of something outside of the account of how they came to diverge as species from a theoretical common ancestor.

This is what I'm getting at. What you are describing and what you are doing are two different things. You are drawing on meaning that goes far beyond physical science - and thank God! Otherwise talking to you would be no more interesting than talking to an instruction manual.

Now, what I want is for you to account for your myths. *Why* should we sing praises to evolution and to other living things?

John Shuck said...

Absolutely! I agree with you!

I am a person of deep faith! Hear that, rest of the PCUSA?

We do not know what happened before the Big Bang. After it, there appears to be no need for a creator. Maybe that is a statement of faith. Great. Whatever the case, I still see nothing in the universe that is best explained by a creator.

As far as I understand Christian theology the point of a redeemer was because of the sin of Adam and Eve that resulted in the expulsion from paradise. Creation was great, then Fallen. As far as I know, that seems to be how the creators of the theology saw the universe. Their theology was based on the universe as they saw it.

I am not necessarily saying substitute the universe for theology. I am saying update theology (if possible) so it fits our current understanding of the universe. In our current understanding, the universe nor humanity never were perfect.

Our "sin" didn't screw it up. Natural selection brought us to where we are today. We are collections of genes that survived. All of our traits are a product of natural or cultural evolution.

As far as perfect worlds are concerned, I know of no other than this one. The world is what it is and we are who we are. Now we need to figure out how we want to live in this universe and on Earth.

Is it a matter of faith to praise natural selection? Yes. Why should we sing praises to life and to living things?

I trust that if we did that--if we saw Earth and life as sacred--as God--maybe we would be less likely to abuse it. I don't know. That is a long shot. There are days when I am very pessimistic.

But this is what is. I have a choice to check out or to be conscious. I also have faith that it might be neat if generations after me have a chance to live as well.

Doug Hagler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Shuck said...

Damn, you are over sensitive. I was not implying anything about you. "Checked out" referred to me taking my own life, checking out. Why should I bother to live in a universe in which this life is it, etc.

Classical Christianity supplied people with a meaning and a purpose. Now instead, if I think the universe has no external meaning what gives me impetus to live? It can be pretty overwhelming, depressing even. It would be easy for me to check out. However, I choose to be conscious

I am going to ignore the rest of that because it didn't relate to anything I said.

Do you want to start again?

Doug Hagler said...

Nope. If I'm throwing a tantrum it's time for a nap. Just bear in mind that when you talk about "theologians or "the church", you are talking about the people you are talking to.

John Shuck said...

Theologians and church are me too.

Obviously, I am pissing you all off left and right. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

I don't think I am a great scientist. I am not.

I don't think I am smart and others are dumb.

All I am saying is that we have a very different view of the universe than we had when the creeds were formed (including trinity among others) and that matters to theology. If it doesn't, then theology doesn't really matter at least to me.

Actually, it is a matter of existential angst on my part. I am trying to find a reason to live and to care, seriously. I am not alone. I think theology should serve that task.

If it is a given (and no one needs to be a scientist to know this) that human beings are biologically evolved as are all living things from a common ancestor via natural selection, then what does that mean for our value? If Earth has been spinning for 4 billion years and will continue to do so, long after any living form may be around to remember that humans ever existed, what does that mean for our value?

Further, are human beings destined by our biological and cultural evolution to self-destruct? Is the human "experiment" really over within the next few decades? One could make a case, yes.

I want somebody (theologians?--I am in that number) to give me something to hang on to--something to believe in and hope for that is a credible hope.

This is my frustration. I don't know how to say this without insulting you even as I don't mean to do that, but I don't find classical Christian teaching to be relevant to these questions.

Doug Hagler said...

I think you're throwing out a lot of babies with the bathwater. I think that, if you limit yourself to the Cult of the Measurable as your myth...I don't know if your frustration will ever let up, or if you will ever find hope. I don't think I can. I've given up on credible hopes, and now I hope for the incredible. The beauty and meaning and truth of things like "world", "love", "justice", even "hope" have nothing to do with technically accurate descriptions of physical processes. They are another kind of knowing - one of those bathwater babies in my opinion.

It gets back to what Aric said - I think you are confusing different ways of knowing, saying first "There is only one way of knowing" and then "I need to find some meaningful way of knowing". It's a bind, and I don't think the key is inside of it somewhere, but rather outside.

If you told me what love was in the same way you tell me what the universe is, in nothing but the most material/functional terms, I would be left utterly cold, and also would no understand of why this thing was valuable in the slightest. The myth of Jesus' resurrection, on the other hand, gives me something about love that I can plumb for meaning for the rest of my life, and participate with 2 billion people who are doing the same thing. I can live into that, in fact, and hopefully live a better life than I would otherwise. Why would I bother if that was not the case? And I can still watch Discover Channel shows on the origins of the universe and enjoy them.

I think you are throwing out the meaning-making aspects of our human life - at least the Christian ones - and replacing them with reductionism. If that's what you're doing, then I don't know where you will find something to hold onto. I'm honestly stumped. If you want meaning, I have no idea how to find it in reductionism. I failed to do so, and here I am talking about myths instead.

"If it is a given (and no one needs to be a scientist to know this) that human beings are biologically evolved as are all living things from a common ancestor via natural selection, then what does that mean for our value? If Earth has been spinning for 4 billion years and will continue to do so, long after any living form may be around to remember that humans ever existed, what does that mean for our value?"

Those appear to be given, yes, and my personal answer to your question is "nothing". That's my experience, anyway. It's just a cold, ticking existence and we're all destined to be motes of dust in the heat-death of the universe. Period.

To find meaning, I had to go elsewhere.

Do I strike you as a very classical Christian? Ask Chris Larimer or Toby Brown or Viola or Jim Berkeley. There's a lot in that bathwater that would raise the ire of the orthodoxy-police of yestercentury but which still has great value.

I'm not trying to sell classical Christian theology to you. I'm trying to point out that in my experience, if you throw out everything but reductionism, meaning is one of the things you lose.

John Shuck said...

You have said a couple of things about me:

1) reductionism and
2) cult of the measurable

I don't know what they mean exactly, but they don't sound nice. I could, I suppose take offense and think that you are trying to belittle my concerns. This being offended/offensive goes more ways than one.

I do NOT put you in the camp of the folks you mentioned. That is why I bother to talk with you guys. You guys are smart and you do care about the same things I care about and you likely act upon them better than I do.

I am not talking about watching the Discovery channel or finding meaning in mythology as opposed to facts and figures.

I am talking about the fundamental "tragedy" of existence. For me, whatever meaning I can muster does need to be credible.

I cannot go elsewhere for meaning, because I don't think elsewhere exists, except in the mind of someone else.

If I want meaning, I will have to create it from what I see really existing.

I have heard some Christians (not you) criticize pagans for worshiping trees. They should supposedly worship the creator of the trees. Now, I think, "Well, at least the trees are real."

I can see the trees. I need the trees for the oxygen they provide and the energy they capture from the sun and return to Earth. I don't see God. I can't see that "God" does anything for me. Again, not to insult, but I see the concept of God as an invention and a layer of abstraction that isn't necessary. At least as I see it.

But that doesn't help me with my problem. So my solution, as pale as it may seem, as reductionistic as it may seem, is to be as real as I can.

Earth is my god. There is no life outside of it as far as I know. I will face the same fate upon my death as the mouse I killed a couple of weeks ago.

That is real and that is stark. Now I need a philosophy, a theology, a way of life, a courage that does not give up or give in to despair. Don Cupitt calls it solar living. You burn out. Life is that you stand in the void and you burn, you live like the sun.

I find joy and amazement in that I do have consciousness and that this world (that yes the Discovery Channel helps me see) is wild and woolly, unexpected, and surprising. Not only that, but I think the human "experiment" is amazing and wonderful as well.

I want to sing praises to life and Earth, my "god".

Hence the secular trinity, self-evolving universe, human species, human culture.

I am not well spoken or well-thought out about this. I am hoping there are others with a "theology" of life with whom I can share this journey.

Maybe we don't have to throw out babies to do it either. The myth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be a helpful symbol, if interpreted in a way that is credible. : )

I have bogarted your blog. Apologies again for being a nuisance.

Jodie said...

John,

I don't see why you need the resurrection to be a myth.

The whole linchpin of Christianity is that it is NOT a myth.

I think the Apostle Paul could tell the difference between myth and reality. As did the author of Luke and those who preserved the memory of Peter's first sermon.

The story of the resurrection is taken so seriously precisely because of its presumed impossibility. It is at the very root of philosophy that when that which is assumed to be impossible is discovered to be true, old paradigms crumble and new paradigms arise. By all accounts, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth remains just such a "black swan".

Obviously one can not (today) prove or disprove the resurrection (in spite of a long list of Fundamentalists who try). At the end of the day, we either accept it on the basis of our living experience or not.

But for those who have concluded it to be true, the paradigm shifts have had the power to re-write their lives, sometimes starting from scratch. Its a good thing.

Likewise, it does not have to be a myth in order for the rest of the natural world to exist with all its wonders (even though the Fundamentalists again would have it otherwise).

New wonders appear every day in the World. I mean, do you realize that a mere hundred years ago people didn't even know that we live in a galaxy? They had no idea of the endless structures that lay beyond it. And just last week somebody figured out a potential explanation for why it is that sometimes people who have frozen to death can be revived even hours after they "died" with no physiological damage.

We are just scratching the surface of knowing what is possible in the universe we live in, and to argue something is not possible requires even more solid evidence than arguing something IS possible. We don't even know what life is nor what makes something alive. We have no clue what makes up the entity we call ourselves, or its space time limitations. Where does it all go when the biological system of our bodies returns to the constituent parts from which it is made up? At the atomic level everything continues working just fine! Everything that was 'you' will continue to exist and function long after you are 'dead'. Like Lego blocks, they just go off to form other things.

Perhaps our "souls" do the same.

See my point? We don't even know what life and death and you and me really are. Just THAT we are. And if we do not know what life is, we also do not know what it is not.

So why is it important to you that the resurrection be a myth?

Nick.Larson said...

First let me say at least for my part I'm not trying to insult you and as I read Doug I don't think he is either. I'll let doug define his two terms for you. But I did want to comment on one of your statements:

" I cannot go elsewhere for meaning, because I don't think elsewhere exists, except in the mind of someone else.

If I want meaning, I will have to create it from what I see really existing. "

This is partially where the problem is taking place. When I refer to going elsewhere for meaning, I'm not talking about another life or existential reality (such as "heaven" or "hell") but instead are talking about the difference between things like physics and art. I find myself being drawn into the language of Christianity to make sense of the world around me. I find it to be useful way to describe what's going on in my local, national, and global context. When I see a patient come into my hospital after suffering a stroke and watch her fight back from being bed bound to walking again, I call that redemption. I call that salvation. When I see someone come in from suffering at the hands of another (physical abuse, etc)I call that sin. I don't want to take a real fatalistic approach to life.

I won't believe you when you tell me when you die the same thing happens to you that happened to the mouse that you killed last week. As far as I can tell (maybe a mice expert would disagree I don't know) that mouse won't be missed in the same way you will be. When I see a family mourn the death of their matriarch grandmother I see a world that is fundamentally different for us than before she was born. For me I see that as real, to compare her life to a mouse does not.

John Shuck said...

Hey Nick,

Thanks for that. I, too, use the poetics and art of Christianity (and other philosophies) to help make sense of my experiences.

That includes (Jodie) the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That isn't an elsewhere for me either. That is meaning-making with the help of my ancestors, by using symbols I have inherited.

Good point about the mouse, although, I don't think that 100,000 years from now, either of us will be remembered, nor will we exist in any form. I do grant that my life, because I have consciousness has more value than the mouse (at least it does for me).

The claim that we might exist in some form after death has been part of the classical Christian tradition. In fact, a central part. I say classical because some modern forms of Christianity reject life after death. The life after death, the reality of a being called God that gives us meaning (ie. "the chief end of man is to love God and enjoy him forever") that is the "elsewhere" that I personally don't find helpful or real.

Now if all of that is just poetry, that we don't really mean that my conscience will survive my death when I talk about life after death, or if I define God so poetically and loosely that it is a synonym for Earth or goodness or whatever, then that is one thing.
I get by with that.

At the end of the day, my life appears to have no external or eternal meaning. I am as Kansas sings, "dust in the wind."

It is a void into which I can only shout, "I am." Until, one day, I am not.

I have decided for myself that I only can have integrity if I can face that void, laugh, and live anyway.

"O Death, where is thy sting?" That is resurrection.