Monday, 3 January 2011

Transcendence

This all relates to an argument going on in some comments earlier. Let's get the dog gripping the bone.

When someone who is faced with a difficulty can almost automatically put themselves in harm's way for the benefit of an other, we might say that such a person has touched transcendence: reached transcendent values that show the highest ideal, and thus what God should be(should God exist).

However, it is never easy to put a value on this; for example, what about the person in a previous supernaturalist culture with some of the not universal last-days belief who then goes into the hotbed of a capital city and becomes arrested, thinking this is his demonstration for God to bring about those last days? On the one hand, such is a powerful, personal witness of self-sacrifice that doesn't have to be given, whereas on the other hand here is quite an ego at work where more might have been achieved more slowly and patiently.

There is the, in some ways counter-intuitive, human activity of the one who pauses, and clears the mind, so that that the clutter is lessened and lessened until an open awareness is released, and that awareness produces a joyful attitude seen to pierce through the transient: and yet if you want that joyfulness, it becomes as transient as the rest. There is something clearly transcending about this Buddhist Dharma, but it is not the whole of what is potentially transcending.

When you look at a profound painting, that somehow breaks through what exists at a more humdrum level, it points to some kind of transcendent value. There are sublime pieces of music like this too: some of which can be rich and romantic and others minimalist and some deliberately mathematical in precision.

Yet you can never get away from the fact that such values are subjective. Whatever we might think points to some overarching objective transcendent value, there is still that subjective interpretation that says no.

One can sit and see the beauty of a sunset across an estuary, with refracting colours across the clouds and reflecting off the river, bringing a moment of the sublime. All those colours break from the white light of the source. The same can happen in a morning, with a sharper light. And yet, however it is perceived by some people, others might not even notice. This is how transcendence can be to some, but not to others.

It seems that some of our most important scientific realities can be summed up by clear, beautiful equations, equations that get discovered with hard work and flashes of human inspiration, and yet go on to have predictive power. That simplicity, elegance and beauty can be at the heart of what ticks in the universe surely has transcendent value. Equally, the complexity of natural shapes that have a simpler form is reflected in the iteration of fractal equations, the symbols being quite short and precise. Little rules have huge outcomes. But perhaps some of the fundamentals of the universe remain complex.

This coming week on television Professor Brian Cox will guide us into looking at the patterns in the sky, patterns that stretch out into billions of light years. The further you look the more you go back in time. Also we hear that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate, and it seems to be expanding unevenly, as if there is some attraction beyond anything that kicked it off in the first place - yet another unexplained that makes astrophysics problematic.

Time itself is inextricably linked to space, and time is not some uniform passing by, but something to be experienced individually according to how rapidly space is being penetrated. And in the universe of gravity attracting objects, the quickest line between two points is curved.

Human consciousness (and some animals too in degrees) involves the ability to understand the me-ness of me. Each one of us sees ourself as if from some sort of me control centre. It could just be the product of a self-referential checking nature of the brain, but many think that artificial intelligence will never produce such centres of sentience and feeling, from which human rights and animal rights must follow. If we have pain, and we experience that we have pain, we have rights to prevent such pain being inflicted unnecessarily. Consciousness may just be a by-product, but it is an experience so profound that it is also a signal of transcendence.

Intelligence is something that is late to the evolved universe. We don't need a conundrum of an intelligence that set off simple things to produce intelligence again later on (why not cut out the middleman?), but simplicity is yet profound in that it can build and build, thanks to the chemicals and rules of physics.

Human culture, that collective mind in operation, that can take so many forms, is like a library of variable richness. We know that some animals behave symbolically (and some behave altruistically because these collectivised groups of animals win in the evolutionary struggle), but no animals but us maintain a historical record. Our records acquire different shapes of understanding. At one time some believed in last days and a coming Kingdom of God, and now we think that we produce solutions to problems we ourselves produce and also which come from the affected natural universe. We think technologically. Cultures change through time and through space. We can send social anthropologists from one culture to another through space, to try and explain one to the other, but none can travel in time and really explain what a previous generation thought. Still, such collective richness suggests a transcending value. Or perhaps this is just fanciful talk.

One of these cultures now is the information age. This is both a vast worldwide shrinkage of space into a virtual small-space, and a collapse of time within that space, and yet a worldwide human community still breaks down into micro-cultures of tribalism more embedded than ever as a billion publishers emerge. If there is one constant about humanity, it is its ability to form into tribes. If there is an ideal of the free exchange of information, and of reaching out, then recent communication developments suggest the coming way forward: and yet, despite its low cost of operation, the new age further exposes poverty and difference. But one thing this information age asks and that is the need and duty to be clearer about what we mean, even if we understand that so much is symbolised and postmodernised into the misinformation of advertising, the Baudrillardian world of simulcra. And yet, even simulcra has a kind of transcendence about it.

What I am getting at here is that if there is divinity, if all these signals of transcendence come together, then it is vast and complex and yet can be at heart simple and expansive.

This is why I have a problem with a religion that states that a single man in Palestine some 2000 years back in an oppressed land is 100% God as well as 100% man. I grant that he, like Gandhi, like Buddha, and countless others, might give some insight into the divine, in the sense of using symbolism and being self-sacrificing, but certainly he doesn't give all the other insights into the nature of transcendence that covers so much more ground. That's not 100% God. Plus, I don't accept his moral exceptionalism or even superiority (in a kind of league table of better humans). We just don't have the evidence, and texts of early Churches do not give that kind of evidence. Humanity is always muddy. So even on this basis, there is no 100% God.

It is purely relative that some empire based committee of the religious and secular came to a view that a God has history-intervening abilities and guiding characteristics and that the wisdom of creation was reproduced in this one man God Jesus.

Of course, as a story, and in parts as fragments of history, there are insights into the transcendent from the culture of the events of this activist healer, preacher and teacher. But these are some insights, and not 100%.

I simply fail to understand why one even wants to maintain something that, subjected to the smallest analysis of the range of what can make the transcendent, becomes a cult of an individual.

Leonard da Vinci is an individual of profound insight, for example, pointing to the potential transcendent in his field. Michaelangelo does the same. But we don't say, because these characters stand out, that they are 100% of the transcendent. We don't have to because a committee didn't say so, but for some such a declaration would be obligatory.

What I then fail to understand is that, having a religion claim that Jesus is the actual 100% man who is 100% God, that there is, somewhere (though I don't find it as such) such a scope for interpretation so that individuals in the religion are free to interpret that the 100% man is perhaps 80% or 50% or some figure unknown of God - yes, it's through a glass darkly.

I was under the impression that those who thought that Jesus was between 0 and say 99% man but 100% God were attacked as heretics, usually Gnostics. I was under the impression too that those who thought that Jesus was between 0 and say 99% God were attacked as Arians and Unitarians and the like. I wasn't aware that, historically, there was a given room for interpretation.

But now, rather as with the Trinity, there is a new situation where brilliantly you can say that Jesus is 100% man and 100% God, but actually just think what you want, or that you maintain the Trinity, but actually the interpretation of that is some sort of internal social love within the Godhead - meant symbolically, of course. The trick is to continuously declare the doctrine, while thinking what you like.

I admit that the Church of England only requires a solid nod by clergy towards its Thirty-nine Articles, and lay people just repeat baptismal promises, but I've not seen anything that states that one must keep to doctrines in a headline contractual-like manner, but actually you can more or less think what you like. Yes, many books have been written of sophistication but the whole point of something like The Myth of God Incarnate in 1977 was to declare its hand. Jesus obviously was not, it said (though some did wriggle), 100% God.

Let's put it like this. For all the mystery that is in the field of religion and claims to the transcendent, you cannot make a narrow doctrine and then just toss it overboard as one wants. Otherwise the emperor has no clothes.

I say I do not believe it, because I don't. What I think is that there is plenty in our life and our culture that commands our awe. There is the vastness of nature, and yet the possible simplicity of its origins, and there is the incredible variety of human behaviour, including some acts of heroism and self-sacrifice, and some deliberate training towards becoming egoless. So much can indicate what the transcendent might be, and one of these is even to be able to think on such lines. Our reflection as religious people is part of these signals of transcendence. And such, in the end, is my position.

Of course some really do believe that a man discovered a middle way strategy to answer the problem of the stickiness of desire, by meditation, and that from this a whole religious response is appropriate and built up into schools of philosophy. There are those too who think a man in Palestine really was God on earth and in full. But what if you think that Buddha was just a therapist and Jesus was just a bloke, and either or both give just profound insights? Or what if they were of the transcendent in some more fundamental causal way, but each only some of that transcendent?

Let us at least be clear about what we mean when we communicate and represent our beliefs; it's to do with integrity but then no one can ever practise full integrity because here is yet another transcendent value, somewhat just out of reach.

34 comments:

Murdoch Matthew said...

Adrian,

the discussion between you, Erika, and Grandmère Mimi has been rattling around in my mind, too. Erika and Grandmère want acknowledgment that the stories they live by are TRUE. But TRUTH in the present-day sense demands evidence, not just feeling or conviction. Archbishop-to-be Temple said in 1914 that deep religious conviction cannot be distinguished from sheer prejudice: neither is based on evidence.

Human beings live by story, language demands it. But centuries of dispute haven't resolved the problem of evil or the doctrine of Atonement -- it's opinion against opinion forever. But reliance on evidence has allowed students to reach consensus on things like planetary motion and evolution. In science, there are ways of establishing who is right.

Erika thinks you're literalistic or mechanistic. The thing is, if a thing happens in the real world, there must be a way that it happens. Virgin Birth? A resonant story with lots of suggestive implications. But in a world of sperm and egg, HOW would it come about? Jesus is God? HOW would a human being in first-century Judea be involved in sustaining a dynamic universe in constant flux? What would it mean in practice for Jesus to be Divine? The story casts a glow on our understanding of his life but I don't see how it would work.

Erika and Grandmère are more active and effective witnesses for progressive causes than I am. I salute their witness. But I can't give them a pass when they ask us to validate their beliefs on the basis of subjective testimony. As I've said to Erika before: I believe in your experience -- explanations may differ. A common criticism of even the most constructive religion is that it trains people to believe without evidence. Unfounded beliefs on sexuality misled me for half my life; beliefs based on prejudice and sheer repetition are distorting the political situation in the USA. Believe what you will; but if you want to present it as fact, then there must be a mechanism for it to happen, there must be evidence.

Murdoch Matthew said...

I might have been more concise and less personal. Sorry.

Transcendence simply is language. We express our experience in language, remember it in words, construct narratives of our lives. Language can create realities, as we experience when we disappear into a good book. Mystery and wonder are effects of language, of stories we tell. Stories have real effects, and bind people together. But when you come to ask whether a story is True (and not just effectual in your life), evidence, mechanism, is wanted.

Erika Baker said...

Murdoch
"Erika and Grandmère want acknowledgment that the stories they live by are TRUE."

NO NO NO NO NO.
Never did, never will.
And after all our conversations it would be helpful if you could finally stop telling me what I think and listen to what I say.

All I'm saying is that there IS no evidence. It's a fact. There can't be.
We're trying to describe the ultimate mystery after all. It's not as if you could prop God up on a kitchen table to get a good look and then start describing.

You're free to call it prejudice, I call it faith.

The debate Adrian and I had on the other thread was about something else: He was trying to say that Doctrine made claims it actually doesn't make.

You don't have to agree with something, but in order to have a meaningful conversation about it you should at least represent it correctly.


"But I can't give them a pass when they ask us to validate their beliefs on the basis of subjective testimony."

I have never asked you to validate my belief. Why would I? It's real to me and it doesn't matter to me one bit that it isn't real to you.

What I do mind is if you misrepresent it, because I hate being taken to task for something I'm not saying and not thinking.


"Believe what you will; but if you want to present it as fact, then there must be a mechanism for it to happen, there must be evidence."

But that's just it. I have NEVER presented it as fact.
It's you people who keep insisting that I do, and for some reason, you never ever seem to listen when I say that this is not FACT for me but FAITH.

And I'm getting a little tired of it now.
I don't mind having constructive conversations about faith, about the possibility of it, about what might be when there is no scientific evidence.
Because to say that something has to be scientifically evidenced to be true is merely an assumption and it's not one that I share. That's our real difference.
I believe in possibility outside science, you don't. And please note that I said "possibility" not "fact".

And I'm just as happy to leave the faith question behind and to concentrate on good living.

But what I am not happy with is being consistently misrepresented.
I believe you to be an intelligent man and I just don't understand why you do it.

Grandmère Mimi said...

What Erika said. I have never asked validation of what I believe of you, Adrian, nor of you, Murdoch. I have never asked either of you to acknowledge that the stories I live by are true. Why does that continue to be part of the conversation? I don't know how else to say it.

How did I know that there would soon be a picture of me? Perhaps a transcendent power sent me a message. (Only joking!)

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I suppose it was this business of a contract, well written, but then effectively to do as one wishes. I just think any transcendent must be far broader. But, there we are.

Sorry Mimi, but the picture was the old one with a shoulder put in. I'd already drawn a couple and I wanted to gnarl at the bone.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Adrian, don't be sorry about the picture. I like it, and I'm honored that you drew me.

Erika Baker said...

"I suppose it was this business of a contract, well written, but then effectively to do as one wishes. I just think any transcendent must be far broader."

Now you've lost me. And again, you misrepresent what I said.

You asked how doctrines could be written and be precise yet open to interpretation at the same time.
To that I answered that, to me, a good comparison would be a well written contract that lays down the framework parameters but allows the participants to act flexibly within.

That doesn't mean they can "do what they want". It means that if they have a contract for the sale of services, they could be free to include new services without having to re-draw the contract, or they are allowed to respond to changing economic circumstances without having to renegotiate all the terms.
I have just taken over a colleague's business. The framework conditions of the contract stipulate what kind of work I have taken over (translations), what I pay for the business and how I pay for it.
Within that, I am free to accept some clients and not others, to set my own prices, to pass work on to other translators when I'm busy, to work according to my own specialisms.
No sleight of hand there, no precision that then gets subverted. Just exactly what a good contract does.

And individual doctrines have absolutely nothing to do with trandescendence. Of course that is a wider concept. Who ever said it wasn't?

Murdoch Matthew said...

Erika and June,

I will think again about what you say. So far it seems to come across to me differently from what you intend.

The religious seem to think they must be right because other people agree with them. Getting others to agree validates their belief. Erika, you've gone on and on at Adrian, asking him to concede the possibility of your transcendence. I apologize for interpreting that as a plea for validation.

If there is a transcendence, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere in particular: witness state of the human community and the mess it's made of the Earth. Little groups can cling together to cope and ameliorate as best we can. I like our group of progressive commenters on the Pluralist, Thinking Anglicans, and Café Episcopal, though I'm deaf to much of the conversation (upper frequency hearing loss) and blind to many of the colours I hear being described.

Again, the gut feelings of masses of people are turned against me and my kind. Makes me wary of even beneficent feelings not grounded in fact. The church is drifting because the old story and certainties don't seem necessary or relevant in present-day circumstances. I appreciate Adrian's efforts to move on, in the spirit of what has gone before.

Anonymous said...

Apropos to the topic there is this:

http://1050worship.blogspot.com/

Read 'Share (Logan Walter)' five headlines down the page:

Hamed: (confused) "What do you mean 'Jesus is God'?"
Me: "I mean that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. If I had a Bible with me, I could show you several passages that point straight to Christ's divinity."

One prominent Baha'i in Iran (Mirza Haydar `Ali Isfahani) told Edward Granville Browne that Baha'u'llah was just "a man, perfect in humanity." Bahá’u’lláh did not attempt to dispute this.

“For Bahá’u’lláh, as well, whether one thinks a metaphysical proposition true or not depends not only on the intrinsic truth-value of the proposition but upon which station one has reached in one’s own perceptions. For him it is the difference in stations that explains why some persons in a religion see their prophet as an incarnation of God, whereas others emphasize his humanity. He thought both propositions could have a certain validity.” (Juan Cole: Modernity and the Millennium, page 151)

Erika Baker said...

Murdoch,
"Erika, you've gone on and on at Adrian, asking him to concede the possibility of your transcendence."

In the past I have asked Adrian the kind of thing I've asked you without getting a real answer.
IS there any possibility of transcendence outside scientific evidence and if there is, what kind of "evidence" would you consider accepting.

I have in the past tried to give examples of why I believe that transcendence may be possible. Because I thought we might actually have an interesting philosophical conversation about it. Not in order to get anyone to agree but just for the sake of the conversation.

I had assumed you found the topic interesting too. Otherwise, you could easily have said that the conversation isn't going anywhere and that you're not interested in even talking about possibilities.

I have absolutely no desire to talk with people who have one view and aren't willing to entertain any other. Why would I?

I have agreed with you that there is no evidence. I have asked you whether that really matters. That's a valid question.
If you don't want to answer it - fine. We stop talking.

But it is Adrian who keeps posting about transcendence, so I assume he is interested in having a conversation about it even if you aren't.
If he isn't, well, then he'll stop posting about it.
Unless, of course, all he wants to do is declare his view and let us all kneel before it in admiration.
Then I'll stop reading the blog. Because if it is no longer a means for a genuine and interesting exchange of thoughts it becomes as pointless as a party political broadcast. I shall wait for Adrian to comment and state his purpose.


But most of all, the thread you had been referring to in your first comment here had absolutely nothing to do with possibilities of any kind.
It was simply a completely different conversation.

Adrian claimed that doctrine says something that it doesn't and he discarded it on the basis of what it doesn’t say.
Pointing out that it doesn't say it is not the same as asking for any kind of acceptance of possibilities. It is merely asking for doctrine to be discussed on the basis of what it claims for itself not on the basis of what claims you invent for it.

I repeat, I have no problems with you or Adrian or anyone not believing in God. I have no problems with Adrian not having any use for doctrine and for not agreeing with it.

But I do have a great problem with intelligent people knocking Christianity down for something it doesn't claim for itself. As Adrian is a highly trained theologian I hold him to a higher standard than that.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Adrian and Murdoch, you are both free to think and say that the stories I live by are delusions, and I won't quarrel with you. As I see it, my faith works for me. My life with faith is better than my life with no faith, and I believe I'm a better person for it. Can you accept that the stories are "true" and life-giving, in some sense, for me.

Erika Baker said...

I'm struggling with posting today, my comments either don't appear or get cut in half. Try again:


I agree with your point that if there IS transcendence it's not doing a good job in improving us as people. We do seem to make an awful mess of things.

We seem to be far too obsessed with controlling faith and laying down rules for other people's behaviour (usually sexual behaviour) and we don't take our social responsibilities seriously enough.
The church is in a terrible state and has manouvred itself into a really bad place in this respect (although individual Christians to a lot of amazing work and despite claims to the contrary are more socially active than non-believers).

If it weren't for people like Mimi I would have left the church ages ago.

So I do agree that we should not concentrate on what people believe but in how they live their lives. And that people of faith and no faith should work together to create a fairer society and a safer world. That truly IS the most important goal.

Erika Baker said...

And this one was to have come before the other one:

Murdoch,

"Erika, you've gone on and on at Adrian, asking him to concede the possibility of your transcendence."



In the past I have asked Adrian the kind of thing I've asked you without getting a real answer.

IS there any possibility of transcendence outside scientific evidence and if there is, what kind of "evidence" would you consider accepting.



I have in the past tried to give examples of why I believe that transcendence may be possible. Because I thought we might actually have an interesting philosophical conversation about it. Not in order to get anyone to agree but just for the sake of the conversation.



I had assumed you found the topic interesting too. Otherwise, you could easily have said that the conversation isn't going anywhere and that you're not interested in even talking about possibilities.



I have absolutely no desire to talk with people who have one view and aren't willing to entertain any other. Why would I?



I have agreed with you that there is no evidence. I have asked you whether that really matters. That's a valid question.

If you don't want to answer it - fine. We stop talking.



But it is Adrian who keeps posting about transcendence, so I assume he is interested in having a conversation about it even if you aren't.

If he isn't, well, then he'll stop posting about it.

Unless, of course, all he wants to do is declare his view and let us all kneel before it in admiration.

Then I'll stop reading the blog. Because if it is no longer a means for a genuine and interesting exchange of thoughts it becomes as pointless as a party political broadcast. I shall wait for Adrian to comment and state his purpose.





But most of all, the thread you had been referring to in your first comment here had absolutely nothing to do with possibilities of any kind.

It was simply a completely different conversation.



Adrian claimed that doctrine says something that it doesn't and he discarded it on the basis of what it doesn’t say.

Pointing out that it doesn't say it is not the same as asking for any kind of acceptance of possibilities. It is merely asking for doctrine to be discussed on the basis of what it claims for itself not on the basis of what claims you invent for it.



I repeat, I have no problems with you or Adrian or anyone not believing in God. I have no problems with Adrian not having any use for doctrine and for not agreeing with it.



But I do have a great problem with intelligent people knocking Christianity down for something it doesn't claim for itself. As Adrian is a highly trained theologian I hold him to a higher standard than that.

Grandmère Mimi said...

If it weren't for people like Mimi I would have left the church ages ago.

Erika, thank you. We seem much like a mutual admiration society, don't we? You and I think alike in that we focus on how we live our lives, rather than on what we believe. What we believe about Jesus only serves us well so long as we live out the teachings of Jesus in the Gosples.

For what it's worth, some of the people I know whom I consider to have the highest of moral standards, those most successful in living out the Golden Rule, are people of no faith at all.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Thanks, Erika. I'm with you.

Grandmère, delusion is a loaded word. The point of my posts is that we all live by the stories we've constructed to inform and direct our lives. True, in this context, means the stories work, for us. I wouldn't intrude on this.

But the defenders of religions as systems often want to claim the same sort of factuality as sciences, but the evidence for their doctrines is lost or lacking. Individuals pick and choose according to their experience, and may believe little of the stuff that's accumulated in theology texts. I see Adrian's attack as on the hypocrisy of the institution -- continuing to promulgate the grand narrative as the badge of identity while living with present-day understandings of how things work.

My mantra is this: Things are as they are, whatever we think of them. If we change our understanding of how things work, the things themselves don't change, nothing is lost. All goes on as before, whatever we think of it.

Erika said...

Murdoch,
Where Adrian's attacks are against the institution they are deserved.

I would say, though, that the best of humanist thought should be compared to the best of faith, not to the worst of it.

There are as many hypocritical atheists as there are theist. If I talk to the more intelligent atheists, though, I would like to be treated as a more intelligen theist and not be brushed aside by arguments other religious people make.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Murdoch, we agree that we live by our stories, then.

And surely you have seen enough of my blog to know that I don't hesitate to criticize religious institutions when it's warranted.

Murdoch Matthew said...

stray thought:

When the weak hear God speaking, there may be something to it. When the powerful hear God speaking, the weak should take cover.

Murdoch Matthew said...

I apologize for diverting this discussion. Would someone like to comment on what Adrian posted concerning Transcendence?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

(Posted by me for Erika, in two parts as it was too large)

Murdoch,

"Erika, you've gone on and on at Adrian, asking him to concede the possibility of your transcendence."

In the past I have asked Adrian the kind of thing I've asked you without getting a real answer.

IS there any possibility of transcendence outside scientific evidence and if there is, what kind of "evidence" would you consider accepting.

I have in the past tried to give examples of why I believe that transcendence may be possible. Because I thought we might actually have an interesting philosophical conversation about it. Not in order to get anyone to agree but just for the sake of the conversation.

I had assumed you found the topic interesting too. Otherwise, you could easily have said that the conversation isn't going anywhere and that you're not interested in even talking about possibilities.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Part 2 by Erika

I have absolutely no desire to talk with people who have one view and aren't willing to entertain any other. Why would I?

I have agreed with you that there is no evidence. I have asked you whether that really matters. That's a valid question.

If you don't want to answer it - fine. We stop talking.

But it is Adrian who keeps posting about transcendence, so I assume he is interested in having a conversation about it even if you aren't.

If he isn't, well, then he'll stop posting about it.

Unless, of course, all he wants to do is declare his view and let us all kneel before it in admiration.

Then I'll stop reading the blog. Because if it is no longer a means for a genuine and interesting exchange of thoughts it becomes as pointless as a party political broadcast. I shall wait for Adrian to comment and state his purpose.

But most of all, the thread you had been referring to in your first comment here had absolutely nothing to do with possibilities of any kind.

It was simply a completely different conversation.

Adrian claimed that doctrine says something that it doesn't and he discarded it on the basis of what it doesn't say.

Pointing out that it doesn't say it is not the same as asking for any kind of acceptance of possibilities. It is merely asking for doctrine to be discussed on the basis of what it claims for itself not on the basis of what claims you invent for it.

I repeat, I have no problems with you or Adrian or anyone not believing in God. I have no problems with Adrian not having any use for doctrine and for not agreeing with it.

But I do have a great problem with intelligent people knocking Christianity down for something it doesn't claim for itself. As Adrian is a highly trained theologian I hold him to a higher standard than that.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well well! No one has said, least of all me, that anyone's faith is a delusion.

I'm actually asking a question, and it can be very simple. How is Jesus 100% God when God must be far larger than this, assuming transcendence equals God.

I'm not arguing against the validity of anyone's faith, but simply asking where the people who invented that 100% God - fully God - gave the wriggle room.

And when I was Anglican did I believe that doctrine as given? Of course not, because I believed only in the possibility of transcendence and no matter how much Jesus may in the texts have pointed to God, such a God must be far greater.

I used to say, at one point, that doctrine is like a roundabout a car goes around, like a means for a debate. I used to get shot down for this, because I was constantly told that's not how and why the doctrine was made. The doctrine was made because God sent himself to earth to be his Son. In other words an event led to the doctrine.

Now I never believed that, so I said I didn't, and I was only ever able to say that Jesus could give a pointer to what God would be like. That's as far as I got, and so I would say I didn't accept the doctrine.

Now this is a place for debate, but I will push hard (as Erika pushes hard - why not?). To me, and I maintain the point, where is the space left when the doctrine of 451 CE says fully man and fully God? I still don't get it, but that is not to invalidate anything some individual believes: I just don't get how it relates to the public statement. The only relaxation I can find to those who hold the doctrine is in the C of E and its now nod towards the 39 Articles, but it still fully accepts the Trinity and the Chalcedonian definition.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Just as a follow-up. I do have use for doctrine - to disagree with it. I use it by criticising it. That's not the same, incidentally, as criticising what someone may believe. That'd be done, if at all, on different grounds.

Also be careful regarding me and no God. I am a non-realist, but a non-realist is not the same as an atheist, because my non-realism involves a collapse of the objective and subjective when it comes to religion. I am, though, a soft non-realist, that is to say my postmodern language is limited.

So I quack like a duck but I am not necessarily a duck. I allow for the possibility of transcendence and I sing to the possibility.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

When it gets to Baha'u'llah then we get Bahai's making a distinction between Baha'u'llah as a manifestation of God and Christ as an incarnation of God. That was a good debate for about five minutes.

Anonymous said...

Murdoch
"When the weak hear God speaking, there may be something to it. When the powerful hear God speaking, the weak should take cover."

I LOVE that thought! I shall print it out and stick it on my wall.
Thank you

(Erika - still unable to comment properly)

Anonymous said...

Adrian
"How is Jesus 100% God when God must be far larger than this, assuming transcendence equals God."

Well, that's because the statement is mediated by the second part that says that Jesus is 100% human. The two go together. They cannot be read separately.

Erika

It's like saying that sweet tea consists of 100% (the full amount necessary of) tea and 100% (the full amount necessary) sugar. You cannot leave one out for the statement still to be complete.

Now, I'm not saying that the doctrine of Jesus being 100% divine and 100% human makes any obvious sense. From a scientific point of view it just doesn't.

But it's not about science, it's about trying to express something that is, actually unexpressable and at the deepest level unknowable.

I have my own interpreation for it, something I can comfortably live with and grow in.
I have in the past changed my interpretation of it when my thinking got too tight for me and I couldn't grow in it any longer.

You are better read than I am. You would be in a better position to tell me what the original writers of the doctrine meant to express. I only really understand what I take it to mean.

But as long as I stay in the framework, I am free to find my own meaning in it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the signature jumped in the middle of the text somehow... what IS it with Blogger at the moment?

Erika

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

My own answer to Murdoch's question is that transcendence involves that something extra, but is entirely within science - it is the awe that comes with that relationship of vastness to simplicity, and relates what is to our curiosity.

I think at last that I have understood Erika's position, that here she has this doctrinal statement however it came about and she'll work with it whatever the variance there may be with and from it. Fine by me as we are where we are. I did once have a stance that was similar but for me it lacked adequate foundation and lacked attraction.

Grandmère Mimi said...

If the stories I live by are not true, what DOES that say about me, if not that I am deluded?

Two points of agreement:

Murdoch: When the weak hear God speaking, there may be something to it. When the powerful hear God speaking, the weak should take cover.

With Erika, I say, "Lovely words."

Adrian: My own answer to Murdoch's question is that transcendence involves that something extra, but is entirely within science - it is the awe that comes with that relationship of vastness to simplicity, and relates what is to our curiosity.

My goodness! I agree with your words, too, Adrian. I believe we may come to know that God and all that we think of as transcendent exists is entirely within science.

Where you lose me is when you quantify transcendence with percentages. When you look at a painting, and its beauty fills you with awe and takes your breath away, and you feel that something extra, can you speak percentages about that experience?

Grandmère Mimi said...

I though you might enjoy today's Jesus and Mo cartoon.

Murdoch Matthew said...

I liked "Jesus and Mo" from a fortnight back.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Grandmère,

Looking at paintings is one of the most transcendent experiences I know (that, and hearing great music). Van Gogh in particular carries a charge. After seeing a roomful of his paintings of an apple orchard in Amsterdam, I thought, You can breathe the air in those orchards -- how could he paint air? I cite his landscapes with wheat fields as analogous with language -- those daubs of color aren't representational, but they add up to a bigger-than-nature sense of the place. (Words have no necessary connection with their associations, but add up to reality for the hearer.)

But we don't talk about the Holy Spirit or discerning the Divine when overwhelmed by a painting -- it, and we, just are. That's how I am with the Universe: it doesn't speak to me, but I view it, and the fact of existence, with awe. A pure gift, because anonymous.

I don't hear Adrian trying to quantify Transcendence so much as saying that, in the physical world, there must be a way that things happen, a mechanism or process. A story can say, He turned into a bat and flew away. But if that happened, really, you'd have to account for the rapid change in skeletal structure and the disappearance of pounds of muscle mass. The Virgin Birth is a much explicated story, but if it is fact, then one must deal with the genetics of egg and sperm. That isn't being literal or mechanistic -- that's how things work in the physical world. The world of ideas is real too, with powerful effects, but not real in the sense of having physical bases.

This is more of the same, of course, but I thought the painting angle put a useful light on it. And of course physical events involve measurements, percentages, mechanisms. Stories have only to say, Imagine.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Murdoch, I'm not saying the virgin birth is a scientific fact. I'm saying I believe in the virgin birth by faith, which is an entirely different thing. And I feel under no compulsion to prove with scientific evidence what I believe by faith. We're talking past each other. I'm asking nothing of you, but you make demands of me about matters of faith, whereas I leave you free to disbelieve on whatever basis you choose.

But we don't talk about the Holy Spirit or discerning the Divine when overwhelmed by a painting -- it, and we, just are.

I do. I call that kind of experience a touch of the divine. But I do not ask you to do so or try to convince you that you should.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Indeed, we have a labeling problem. I want to call your holding of the Virgin Birth a story, not meaning to diminish it in any way; we all live by story, a selection of things meaningful to us in our experience. You seem to call the Virgin Birth a different level of fact. Okay, our language games differ. I have a somewhat exclusive idea about what to call fact, but that's my problem.

You feel a touch of the Divine in contemplating a Van Gogh. I know the feeling, but label it differently. I suspect that such numinous but human experiences led people to postulate The Divine. My first priest in the Episcopal Church was a wonderful man, tall, deep-voiced, gray-haired, caring (later, a beloved bishop of Nebraska). Only later did I reflect that he was raised a German Lutheran -- all his great qualities were formed in another tradition, but the Episcopal Church got the benefit of them. Perhaps The Divine benefits from such a transfer of credit.