Exchanges Between Friends
The following discussion is taken from emails and covers differing ideas about such things as Near Death Experiences, what is presented to us in the Bible, and the validity of Global Warming.
Wendell Krossa (April 23, 2012)
The authors of The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences try to deal with the issue of ‘scientific’ evidence. They refer to a conversation with Ken Ring on veridical evidence (people actually seeing things in an operating room and reporting this later which is then verified by emergency room staff). The problem is that there has not been a single case of veridical proof under controlled conditions. Sam Parnia’s study has run into this problem. They placed pictures on the top of lighting fixtures so people out of their body could see them and later report to the researchers. So far this has not worked.
Ken Ring responds to this problem, as he says, tongue-in-cheek, “the NDE is governed by The Trickster who wants to tease us but never give us the straight dope, so people are left to twist in the wind of ambiguity”. He refers to Ray Moody’s comment that there is an imp in the parapsychological closet, with a sense of humor.
The authors feel that to concede a trickster is at work is to concede to passivity and powerlessness. They quote Einstein who said, “God is subtle but he is not malicious…(which, he explained, meant) Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse”. They then advocate for perseverance and patience. And more power to them. Our curiosity ought to be honored and given full rein. Never quit asking and exploring and discovering.
A problem that may have to be considered here is that we are dealing with something outside of the physical, outside of the realm of normal proof, of normal science. It is something that appears to largely take place outside of the physical body and brain, though there are some connections. This is outside the realm of scientific observation and proof.
We have the millions of people who have had these experiences and told us about them. That is the supreme benefit of these experiences: human experience, the most real and perhaps the only real thing that exists, and despite consequences, people are willing to tell the rest of us about their experiences (despite risk of personal stigma from family and medical staff). Personal testimony is enough for anyone ready to accept it. For others, nothing will change their mind, even if God were to appear and speak. So good proof has been given and is available. This testimony is backed by a lot of veridical evidence in non-controlled situations, and it is backed, most importantly, by evidence of changed lives, changed for the better.
I follow these arguments with some bemusement, as I believe science should continue to do its job, but recognize its limitations. It cannot tell us so many things that we consider important to know. Why something? Why conscious humanity? What is the purpose and meaning of it all?
Bob Brinsmead (April 23, 2012)
This all reminds me of the problem of the resurrection – it cannot be proved by any scientific or historical evidence. We don’t even have the evidence of any first hand witnesses because the stories we have are those written long after the witnesses were dead. Then the records are contradictory and in some respects the accounts given in the four Gospels are mutually exclusive – and the accounts contradict Paul who says that the fleshly body (that has all the basic characteristics of an animal body) is not the resurrected spirit-body anyhow. How is it that only a small group of inside friends/believers say they saw something, but no one else witnessed anything?
This is a bit like Joseph Smith having a very small group of believing witnesses (with a conflict of interest, indeed) testify for Smith’s integrity, but no one else can say it is true except the inside group of dedicated believers. At least if the matter came to a court of law to be established, then any eyewitnesses would be subject to rigorous cross examination. We don’t even have any first-hand witnesses – only second or third hand, and second-hand reports at best.
So Christians go out into the world to declare that certain things have happened without any real proof – suppose a fellow hears this message in a far off Indian tribe, how on earth can he ever verify the scientific and historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus — woa, if he believes, it is not because it has been proved to him. But then to make matters all the more difficult, the evangelizer not only declares something that is beyond the hearer’s ability to verify, but proceeds to tell him that he is going to be punished and eternally damned unless he believes all of the claims that are made. And if you want to think of something more difficult, consider that he is told that the execution of this obscure Galilean Jew (that some scholars argue never existed) was God’s way of paying the penalty of the hearer’s sins and the sins of everyone else.
How could he ever verify such a thing? Then he might also be told that this man was born without parents having sex, and then spent a whole lifetime on earth without sinning in word thought or deed. It must stand to common reason, that it is not possible to have access to any proof of claims like this – they are matters of faith and if they were provable, they would not be articles of faith. You don’t need faith to believe that son of Sam committed those murders or that the germ theory is valid.
Wendell Krossa (April 25, 2012)
This then raises the issue of what is faith/belief and what role does it play in the overall scheme of things? What is its point? It appears to hide something and demand belief without evidence. How does this make one a better person? Is it character building? How does it relate to other forms of human knowing? Is it just a religious invention?
I have the fortune of knowing some people who have had NDEs. Good, credible people, one of whom is a brother in law. When I draw out comment on this experience, it is quite fascinating. I have asked, for instance, about the clarity of consciousness and the response from both is that it was not a dream or hallucination, but very clear consciousness. It was real and not fantasy. So I take that testimony on faith. And yes, I am better off for having taken it by faith.
Bob Brinsmead (April 25, 2012)
Wendell, I suggest you have another look at my essays on the Difference Between History and Its Interpretation – and the point made about the place of reason in this matter of faith and interpretation. I argue that the evidence for faith must be reasonable and based on a reasonable or credible evidence. We should be able to give sensible, reasonable and credible reasons why we believe the way we do – that it is consistent with a sound worldview and consistent with all the available evidence.
Even this contemporary Pope wrote a famous paper in which he featured the subject of debate between a Christian(Catholic) philosopher and a Muslim one. The Christian argued that faith must be reasonable and that God does not ask us to believe unreasonable things; whereas in the Islamic view God can require us believe, even when believing does not appear to be reasonable. Anyhow, his paper provoked the Moslems to riot and a few people got killed over what was a good paper by the Pope.
For instance, if you take the traditional Christian view of the atonement or the Virgin birth, there are so many aspects to these doctrines that assault our common sense and our human consciousness. – perhaps in a way that would not have assaulted a more primitive human consciousness. The very annunciation of the virgin birth has become a very unworthy portrayal of God in the light of a more advanced human consciousness.
The depiction of God given in the virgin birth annunciation is of one who does not respect the dignity of human freedom and human choice. Neither Mary nor Joseph are given any say in the matter. God just commodores a female body like a military dictatorship commandeering anything needed for a war. In these stories, God sounds more like a big white slave owner/master who one days announces to his pretty female slave, “Mary, I am coming down to your hut to have sex with you tonight” – a context in which the slave-girl has no say in the matter whatsoever. As for poor old Joseph, “Too bad mate!.” It’s a bit like our government’s Land Resumption Rights. The government can take over your house and property either to build a road or a sewage plant – and you don’t have any choice in the matter.
Wendell Krossa (April 26)
This gets to some good stuff Bob. How we use our contemporary consciousness to evaluate so much in human thought. This relates to issues of authority and truth, or basic standards for evaluating what is human and true. The ramifications of this are immense. How to articulate it as some sort of principle- perhaps what we have been using for years, what does it mean to be human? This goes beyond just ethical issues.
We have recently been going over some examples of this in rethinking such things as the core Christian belief in blood payment (really just pagan human sacrifice). Or the issue of devotion to God as in the example of Abraham willing to sacrifice his son. As one writer said, imagine some guy in your neighborhood telling someone to kill their child. He would be arrested on the spot as some pervert or criminal.
The progress of consciousness demands this continual re-evaluation of all humanity has believed over the past. Is it really human/humane? This embodies sensible, reasonable, credible
I would suggest that religiously trained minds could use some sort of tool in this regard, to help in re-evaluating religiously shaped systems of thought. It would be interesting to try to come up with some sort of brief story, or explanation that would prompt thought along this line. That much of what has been passed down as truth is in fact quite notably inhumane stuff, and when evaluated in the light of contemporary human consciousness or sensibilities, its inhumanity will become starkly exposed.
Apply this, for instance, to the payback thinking behind much religious myth. A list of Biblical stories/incidents re-evaluated in light of contemporary human rights would offer an interesting example of this. Many have done just this in sites all over the web.
I said “religiously trained minds” because that is how many people stop using reason and their sense of common humanity. Because a system is claimed to be from God, then there is the felt obligation by adherents to defend that system no matter how inhumane its elements may be. To view those elements for what they really are may be a difficult shift in thinking for many to make. Bob’s example of the virgin birth is a good illustration of how to review these old myths and present them in their true colors.
Tim Smith (April 26, 2012)
This collision of history and interpretation; history and faith; history and reason — its been framed many ways — is precisely the allure, the driving force that I see behind Bob’s tremendously insightful archive of writings, especially everything since “The Status of Jesus and The Status of The Law”. It’s what drew us all together — it essentially formed the JBAS.
So Bob, I need to make sure I’m getting your basic point… [nothing new huh?]
It seems you are shooting down the idea of Wendell trying to make the case that JBA experienced an NDE! Are you theorizing a JBA NDE Wendell? Testimonial evidence is 2nd or 3rd hand accounts that say, “He died. He came back from the dead. I saw him and talked to him and ate with him. Then he returned to the land of the dead.”
However, as best we can tell, JBA experienced a DE, not an NDE. Evidence for DE’s (i.e…, graves) are abundant the world over. So even though the evidence for this particular DE is skimpy at best, we can believe it, even in the absence of a grave (…which adds all the more to the Talpiot tomb find, huh?…). The dispute arises not from the DE, but the resurrection. JBA had nothing to do with the resurrection. He provided no interpretation of his DE. Had he done so, then we could perhaps call it an NDE…
And that gets me around to Bob’s basic point, which I understand to be that the resurrection itself is merely interpretation of the DE of JBA. 100% interpretation. Am I correct, Bob?
As to the NDE… how does that compare in this context? I’m not sure I get it. Evidence for the [modern] NDE is almost as abundant as the DE, with the life-saving technology available today. But instead of a small group of insider/believers, such as the case of Joshua Ben Adam or Joseph Smith, we have millions of people worldwide listening to first-hand accounts on television, or reading those first-hand accounts in books, and then choosing to believe or not. There are millions in both camps.
Wendell Krossa (April 27, 2012)
This comment of Bob on virgin birth as Celestial rapist has to be one of the most stunning of all discoveries in light of what real love appears to be about. That authentic Deity is non-coercive. The ultimate power of the universe is non-coercive. It is Love- a Love that does not threaten, coerce, overwhelm, force, punish, dictate, and on and on. How contrary to all human perception over history about what elite power-holding means. That the ultimate Power of the Universe is a Love that respects individual freedom and choice supremely. Co-creates. Shares all things without restriction or limit. Nothing threatening or coercive about such Love.
The point being- if this (non-coercive) is true of the ultimate reality that we try to align our beliefs and behavior with, then what does this say about treatment of one another? I am referring to the normal human impulse to discover if there be some grand purpose for human life and the endeavor to try to live according to that purpose (this has been behind much of the religious impulse over history). And again, it does not mean people never exercise force in relation to one another (common sense qualifiers come to mind- e.g. restraining violence from others).
After distancing myself respectfully with qualifiers to maintain my slipperiness, let me advocate a bit in support of Jesus having some sort of NDE. The big question- how does someone just out of the historical blue suddenly start advocating for something that no one else has ever so clearly set forth as a proper human perspective and approach to life? Unconditional forgiveness toward all offenders, unconditional acceptance of all people, unconditional generosity toward all, especially enemies. Yes, the OT prophets spoke somewhat of this but nowhere so clearly (unless Bob can enlighten us if he knows of somewhere it was presented) as in HJ or JBA(historical Jesus).
The only other source we find where unconditional relating is understood and presented so graphically as in Jesus, is in NDEs. Note the NDEs we have put up by people having committed suicide, or the man who was a government assassin and killed innocent people in war bombings. Yet they claim they were embraced with overwhelming unconditional love. There was no judgment for their actions, no condemnation, no threat of punishment. Only this incomprehensible unconditional, and overwhelming and flooding love. As Ring says, they came back stammering hyperbole about it in attempting to describe the indescribable. It was so much better than anything they could possibly imagine. And they saw this applied to all people, no matter who they were or what they had done.
In the case of Jesus- if he had such an experience, then it had to have been earlier in his life. He did not likely get such an experience at the beginning of his public teaching (the desert experience?). When he started teaching he already presented a well thought out message of unconditional. It was a coherent presentation around a set of stories/parables and precepts. All focused on unconditional relating. Unless of course he had it during the desert experience and as an exceptionally quick learner, then quickly incorporated it into a clearly presented message. Most NDErs say it takes time to incorporate this profound experience into their lives.
I cannot see how anyone could grasp God as Jesus did, as unconditional love, and understand this was how to relate to all persons, aside from having such a profound experience. This may have been what Nolan was suggesting though he expressed it more weakly. This unique theme comes out in the Jesus story and again significantly in the past 30 years. What is this all about? What is humanity to take or learn from this?
Henry Hasse (April 27, 2012)
Well, if Joshua became a serious student of the prophets, and I think he was, because he did not find answers to his questions on the “kingdom” for here and now from John’s apocalyptic teaching on the banks of the Jordan River (Repent and get washed up because the judgment is near!), then surely Isaiah 55:7-8 must have hit his consciousness out of the park! To “freely pardon even the wicked” sounds pretty unconditional to me. “My ways are not your ways!”
For every word of a loving Father Joshua found in the prophets, he found 367 more that the prophet claimed were also God’s but which spoke of punishment, destruction, and payback justice (man’s ways). He soon learned to distinguish which were really from a loving Father and which were merely a prophet giving God a bad rap!
All of Israel’s troubles, invasions, captivities were fruits of their own planting. Just like us. So don’t blame God or anyone else for our troubles. Look in the mirror. Meditate as long as it takes to see our ways, then look even deeper to find the Father’s mercy and acceptance waiting for us. It has been there all along patiently waiting for us to finally notice. Finding it can really make our day and also make it possible to head out to accept and love others in the same way. The Father’s way.
The scriptures are loaded with payback justice. Joshua did not only find “an eye for an eye” to throw out. He found many, many more, as should we. We need to get the “inspired by God” out of our heads, as well as, “It must be holy because look how many thousands of years the Spirit has caused it to last.” So speak those who wish to control us with their authority. A loving Father cannot even THINK such things, much less say them!
Julia Tyack (April 28, 2012)
Yes Wendell, You have said that in a way that illuminates what divine love is against the backdrop of the myth that is the foundation of Christianity.
This illustration is so ingrained in Western psyche, it is a powerful tool when turned around. To open it up like you have using Bob’s phrase does hit a striking note.
Herb Sorensen (April 29, 2012)
“virgin birth as Celestial rapist”
This smacks of radical feminism to me. In fact, there is very little of anything that cannot be expressed in unflattering terms. And I don’t have a problem with that, per se. Looking at things radically can provide insight, in the same way that any caricature elucidates something. However, caricatures are rarely fair.
Wendell Krossa (April 29, 2012)
It’s usefully expressive in the same way that “camel through the eye of a needle” is exaggerating to make a sharper contrast or caricature. It’s about intending to shock and thereby provoke thought and consideration that might not arise otherwise. After millennia of indoctrination in these barbaric myths and subjection to priestly claims that they are from God and therefore to be held in honor and even worshipped, people lose the ability to properly evaluate things. Their critical senses become dulled. They carry their blood-soaked Bibles off to church to worship a monster, seemingly unaware of what they are actually doing and advocating. So some good old shock therapy is in order. To shake things up and get people thinking critically again.
Look again at the story of Abraham and the demand that he sacrifice his innocent son. Look again at the view that the death of Jesus was a human blood sacrifice to pay for the wrongs of others. And on and on…People actually worship this.
Bob Brinsmead (April 29, 2012)
Yes, point well made here. There is a time to use hyperbole – Jesus often exaggerates even to the extreme to make you think. I refer to the shocking cartoon I sent Wendell which has to be understood in our political context of our stupid government putting a horrendous carbon tax on us. The carbon tax was the price the leader of the Greens, Bob Brown, demanded of our PM if she was to stay in power. The cartoon is vulgar, confronting, almost pornographic – especially when Bob Brown is openly gay. But I found the cartoon so funny yet true to reality, that I laughed myself to tears…hours later, if I want to laugh, I just start thinking about this outrageously rude cartoon and it nearly puts me on the floor laughing. The cartoonist is an absolute genius that he could do this to me.
Some time back, my brother John and I were attending a court hearing/ Inquiry where people were put through the ritual again and again of swearing on the Bible – as if to promise that what they would say would be as true as the book that was put into their hands by the Court. My brother John quipped that if what the witnesses were saying was no more accurate than some of the stuff in that holy book, their testimony would not be very reliable.
Wendell Krossa (April 29, 2012)
“Typical parishioner”? Mainstream Christianity? Two billion people claim to be adherents of mainstream Christianity, and one billion people are Islamic. That’s almost half of humanity claiming to adhere to (or worship) the Abrahamic belief system and its God (the ‘monster’) I was referring to, to “shake up” some on this list:).
A monster is something not human, but quite opposite to being human. Something that threatens to devour you and destroy you, a human. Something with big ugly teeth and a snarl to scare the sh…., ah, spit out of you. The Christian God pretty much fits the bill. It is, as Campbell noted, something that you go out in your story to confront, face down, conquer, and then return with some insight learned to benefit others. Like, don’t be afraid of that big bad wolf, he’s all bark and no bite. Speaking more plainly, such a God never existed except in the fear-ridden minds of believers, all three billion typical mainstream parishioners. And if you take survey results on how many still believe in hell and the blood sacrifice of Jesus then you can rack up some numbers on what is mainstream Christianity. Not all that 2 billion but a significant portion thereof. And so as to not let you scamper away out from under this mainstream thing- I know a lot of people (for what anecdotal is worth in representing the larger population) who will still give the nod to Christian myth. They have left the Christian system yet still wonder about the truth of what they have left. They make jokes about hedging their bets just in case there is such a thing as hell. That reveals to me the power of that mythology, even in the consciousness of the many that have left the “mainstream” variety of it. I would consider them still mainstream believers in the myth.
“Unless the world matches”- well, you see there was this obscure Palestinian secular sage who came up with this strikingly counter-conventional insight about unconditional treatment of others, an insight buried by the surrounding world (mostly by his followers and the religious system they built) but an insight so humane that it became a brilliant light to dispel the darkness of religious consciousness. It’s an insight so powerful that it has always intrigued people even outside the Christian system. And its influence will continue to spread to liberate and enlighten human consciousness and lead humanity into an unlimited future. But it’s an insight that challenges the entire mainstream Christian edifice and threatens to bring it all crashing down. It’s an insight so valuable that one need not worry about the world matching it. Just sell all you have in order to obtain it for yourself, and try to live it, and let the chips fall where they may. Who knows what will be mainstream a thousand years from now.
Bob Brinsmead (April 29, 2012) 9.00 am
I have not gone so far as using the term “celestial rapist” in expressing my reservations about the NT account, for it has to be taken in the context of that age of a very patriarchal and hierarchical society , so I use the illustration of the slave owner who has absolute ownership of his slaves. In this context the dignity of individual freedom and decision making is not considered, because that concept of human rights does not exist. With reference to the totally unacceptable supposed behaviour of “God” in the virgin birth, it extends also to long accepted ideas of the divine-human relationship. Like the old hymn that says, “My will is not my own, till it a master find….Force me to render up my sword and I’ll a conqueror be.” The concept of severe self-denigration has a long Christian tradition, supposedly founded on Paul’s “O wretched man that I am,” and John’s “Without Me you can do nothing…” etc. In a lot of holiness piety, the point is pushed that humans are to become just the glove that Jesus wears.
I regard all this stuff as inhuman and humanly degrading to the dignity and the freedom of being human. That’s why I expressed my revulsion against all this human denigration, including centuries of Christian denigration of women, the way I did in a Verdict issue Christian Atheism- suggesting that many people would psychologically benefit from getting God off their backs and out of their lives.
So yes, I agree on the point with Herb that celestial rapist talk may even prevent getting the needed point across. Even the Greek and Romans myths about the virgin birth of Alexander and Caesar Augustus and all the others, do not put it across in terms of celestial rape, but mostly they put it across in terms of God doing what he chooses to do with a woman to fulfill his own purposes, and quite apart from any true exercise of human freedom in the matter. That is the point, so it is best not to detract from that point by pushing the analogy too far. It is even true that the New Testament has Mary surrender/accept the reality in humble and grateful submission to the will of God, and in Christian tradition she is lauded for her response… OK, but I still point out that her acceptance of God’s plan for her body was given in the context of an announcement that did not offer her a say in the matter. It is all pretty well much like all the other virgin birth stories that were a dime a dozen in that era. I don’t know any pagan myth that describes the process as a celestial rape.
In the matter of History and how we should interpret it, I could recommend a recent publication by Richard C. Carrier called ‘Proving History – Bayes’ Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus’. This book is a very challenging read. The bias of the author is toward a mild atheism but that should not bias us in dealing with what he presents as challenging historical uncertainties. He urges us to treat historical investigation in the same way as a true scientist deals with scientific problems. He makes some terrific observations about the tendency in all of us as humans to what is called “confirmation bias” – that is, we tend to look for evidence that supports our bias, and the stronger we believe something to be true, the stronger our confirmation bias can become. He points out how the scientific approach, truly applied, leads us in the opposite direction of looking at all the evidence that might disprove our theory. A true scientist does not try to prove his theory, but he tries every way he can to disprove it, and the theory only stands when every effort to disprove it has been exhausted. Applied to the current Global Warming debate, the issue becomes delightfully funny. Anyway, reading this book made me think of Herb and his scepticism about history – he would find a lot of ammunition to fire at all of us if he got his hands on this very challenging book.
At the core of this Abrahamic story/faith which is a starting point of the three great monotheistic religions, there is held up to us the ideal example of such loyalty/dedication/priority/love that puts God before everything else. Now if that is to be tested, no greater test could be given to Abraham than the test to be willing to kill his own son out of devotion to God.
This comes down to the concept of the two great commandments – the first is said to be the love of God, and the second is said to be love of fellow man. Once any faith, be it Jewish, Christian or Moslem accepts the first commandment must take precedence over the second, then doing inhumane things in the name of God or out of a sense of the obligation that the service of God takes precedence over everything else, becomes not just a possibility but it seems an inevitable probability. Out of a mistaken conviction to put God first, Saul of Tarsus persecuted the Christians, some devout people killed Jesus (“we have a law, and by our law he ought to die” ) Calvin consented to the burning of Servetus; Atta flew that plane into the NY tower, and people can be neglected, abused, bombed or slaughtered under the conviction that God comes first. Of course, in all these cases, God is just an idol set up in the human mind, and these inhuman acts are done out of a devotion to an abstract belief in something – let any of us become devoted to a cause that is more important than people – it does not make any difference whether the cause is communism, capitalism, hedonism, planet Salvationism, environmentalism – any of these things can be elevated as a first great commandment that takes precedence over people. The only protection from this error is to conflate the first great commandment into the second, and I have argued that this is exactly what Jesus did and what a God incarnate faith should end up doing.
As for this yarn about Abraham, any father who tried to do such a thing back then or now is a deluded and dangerous fool whom society must restrain. I can’t see any wisdom in setting up a deluded and dangerous fool as a kind of starting point for the three great monotheistic religions. This is the sort of thing that brings religion into disrepute.
Wendell Krossa (April 29, 2012)
Yes, in the end it comes to different strokes for different folks. What might upset one may liberate another. Where I find value in a sometimes stronger presentation (more sharp language and contrast, or caricature as Herb noted) is in the potential to liberate by poking fun at, or by presenting the true nature and grotesqueness of something. The religious God as ‘monster’ works for me but may not for others. It works like this- too many things have been protected under the canopy of the sacred, and people have been indoctrinated to fear them and not dare challenge them. They are things that are claimed to be “from God”. The result can be mental and emotional slavery which can be the worst kind. So someone attacking something sacred and putting it in its place (presenting it for what it really is) can potentially liberate others from that enslavement. Charles Templeton did such for me in his book Farewell to God. And Billy Connelly in his pokes at religion does the same also.
It can be helpful for someone to take on something sacred and expose it, and for others to see that person was not struck down by lightning. But again, this does not work for everyone. So some carefulness is in order according to audience one is presenting to.
Part of what is going on here involves what Campbell called disintegration. He was speaking of the shamanic experience and its stages of disintegration, going out, reintegration, and return with a message to benefit others. We grow up with a worldview, find it inadequate, and that worldview then begins to disintegrate and we need to find a new one to integrate ourselves around. This can be a traumatic thing, especially for people who invest their identity in their worldview (Zurcher- The Mutable Self- don’t place your identity in some ideology, belief system, occupation, nationality, ethnicity, or other static thing. Remain a self in change, open to the new).
Some people prefer softer and slower and less radical forms of disintegration. Others prefer sharp rupture, tossing out wholesale, cleaning house, with Billy Connelly as guide to their disintegration. Others, not so much. Again, different strokes for different folks.
But this is a fascinating thing- this human story and its stages. Again, not all will go through it, or go through it in the same way. Some people receive a worldview quite young and never change anything. They feel safe and secure holding that which was handed down to them. I remember a pastor friend in Louisiana boasting to me that he had learned the gospel as a young person and ever since he had, never changed a thing. When he found out I was reading Verdict, he blanched, winced the holy wince in the presence of heresy, and warned me of the darkness that was in that material. Me, I felt it was all about light and liberty. I was enjoying the slide down the slippery slope to hell. See ya later pastor Hal.
But Campbell has offered some good context to this thing of human life. That we go out into life, we face monsters and overcome them, we learn lessons, and we return with a message or insights to benefit others. The shamanic experience is similar- going out, disintegration, reintegration around something new, and return to bless others. Again, this is just one way of viewing the human story. And the biggest monster I ever faced and had to conquer was the Christian God.
On confirmation bias and the endeavor to disprove. They even have a tool for this termed Null hypothesis. It is part of any good research methodology course, but apparently rarely applied in actual science. It is to serve as a check to make sure one’s research is on course and considering all alternatives. I shouldn’t say rarely applied, as I don’t know the frequency with which this tool is actually used in credible research. Certainly, in global warming studies it seems rarely to be countenanced.
So emotion does rule research. We feel a certain way about varied issues in life and gather insights to explain things to ourselves and this becomes our worldview. We then continue to look for ‘evidence’ that supports our worldview and our feelings about life and reality. And we ignore or downplay, dismiss or distort contrary evidence that appears to challenge that which we believe in. How do we devise tools that help check this confirmation bias? Some already exist such as null hypothesis. What others may help? More importantly, how are people challenged at a deeper level, in their emotional life, to rethink things at all times, and to remain open to the new and radically different. This may have to do with deep emotional needs and subconscious things.
Herb Sorensen (April 29, 2012)
With our being impressed with our great advances in thinking, it is easy to overlook the real contribution of the Abrahamic view of God, to the human race. It’s not just that monotheism made God ineffable, but it made him distinct from and unlike “us.” Great benefits accrued from moving God out of the human race, and beginning the recognition that God was orderly and trustworthy, characteristics vouchsafed at Sinai, and almost certainly responsible for the superiority of Jewishness over most of the rest of the race.
In hierarchical societies where might made right, having a benevolent God that transcended human experience was a great advance. It laid the foundation for natural law over caprice, and that law continues to vouchsafe the prosperity and benevolence of society, which we all celebrate.
As for the definitive God, I’m not impressed with favorable comparisons of ourselves to the ancients.
Bob Brinsmead (April 29, 2012)
Yes Herb, you make a valid point – and I too like the Abrahamic promise as important as the Exodus vision – the calling of Abraham was not an act of divine favoritism, like some sort of Calvinistic election, but was to be for the benefit of all nations – so, “in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Great stuff! I just reserve the right and the responsibility to do what Thomas Jefferson did, and that is, to pick out the diamonds from the dunghill. There are a lot of diamonds in them thar hills! Richard Dawkins with his nose like a Labrador dogs has no difficulty finding and highlighting some of the OT that ought to make any Christian cringe – let’s be honest, it is just bloody terrible stuff to be encountered. There is an Atheist group who makes converts just by urging people to read the OT – that is what happens when you try to tar it all with the same brush of divine inspiration, or worse, treat it all as God-breathed infallibility. I don’t think most “believers” even read the OT, or they would puke – some of it is so inhumanly bad. Yet it can rise to the most sublime heights – I just don’t treat it all the same.
Julia Tyack (April 29, 2012
I had a patient in today that Bob would remember. It was Ron Tooth from the Paxton era- he asked what discussion was going on at present and said he only kept three previous publications when he got rid of all the other theology books. The most important of these keepsakes is Verdict on Christian Atheism as it gave him his freedom.
A reporter who wrote the book “What the Dog Saw” does a section on ‘confirmation bias’ and the human propensity towards this bias. It is like someone wants to know if there are any white swans. He has only ever seen black swans. So the enquirer travels the world visiting all the spots where black swans are reported. He doesn’t seek reports of white swans because he knows there are black swans and his psyche keeps confirming what he knows
Herb Sorensen (April 30, 2012)
Well, agreed for sure. But I do think, as you allude, that the kind of “inspiration” attributed to ALL of the Bible is honored more in the breach of practice than in the reality. I’m guessing here, but my experience suggests that well less than 5% of Christian “practitioners” have anything more than a smattering of awareness of the Bible. My own awareness is probably pretty superficial, compared to yours, even though I read the entire thing, cover to cover, for probably 30 years (Up until maybe 5 years ago).
When it comes to diamonds and dunghills, that is pretty much the human experience. There are at least a pair of reasons for this. First, the search for “diamonds” is largely a cognitive exercise – of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh. And second, we are all peculiarly adapted for survival, and believing some things that “ain’t so” can actually improve survival. See things like “Predictably Irrational,” “Blink,” and a great deal more.
On that score, there is a reality TV show on two people surviving under primitive wilderness conditions. One of them picked up some great pieces of elephant dung and was explaining to his partner how this dung could be parsed for seeds the elephant has ingested but not digested, and the seeds could provide good nutrition. Seems disgusting, the Seri Indians of Baja California practiced this, and probably other primitives. In any event the dried dung also was a good source of fibrous fire starter.
Back to the mental thing though. It is clear that a huge amount of thinking is somatic, not brain based. Intellectually brilliant people are always in danger of seeing the world through the prism of intellectual brilliance. There is no particular evidence that this promotes survival and prosperity. A whole lot of bodily emotions have driven people over the ages to migrate to greener pastures. Brains didn’t hurt, but I question any great correlation with the results of prosperity. It isn’t the lack of brains that brings intolerant oppressors to government, all over the world.
Bob Brinsmead (April 30, 2012)
I just want to express this thing simply by saying that when we read the Bible we should put our brains into gear and not put up with anything that is inhuman, cruel, unjust, unreasonable or obviously mythical. For instance, is there a person on this list who actually thinks that God made the sun stand still in answer to Joshua’s prayer in order that he could be given more time to slaughter more human beings in his holy war. It seems clear to me that if we asked such a thing of Jesus, he would say as he did to a similar prayer from the disciples, “You don’t know what spirit you are of! When Jesus was crucified, there was supposed to be an eclipse of the sun for three hours.” Normally, such a thing is physically impossible and more importantly, not a single authority or observer anywhere on earth ever commented on such a phenomenon although there were many keen observers of the sun and the planets in those days- nothing is impossible, but such an event is extremely unlikely – just as it was extremely unlikely that Herod ordered the killing of the babies at Bethlehem. The Jews protested unjust actions to the Romans and the Romans are known to have acted on serious complaints time and time again, but there is no record of such a thing in history. Josephus chronicled the crimes of Herod in great detail, yet makes never a mention of what would have been one of the most monstrous acts of his reign. The total silence of any confirmation about the three hour eclipse of the sun or the slaughter of the infants is quite deafening. Now the real point I want to get at is this: is faith supposed to be reasonable, does it engage the brain or anesthetize the brain? Or does God expect us to unreasonably believe? Modern scholarship has amply demonstrated that it is not always possible to both believe and be reasonable with some things in the NT.
Herb Sorensen (April 30, 2012)
Just think if there was an AGW crowd 2000 years ago. Such stories they would tell! People don’t change, and blaming God for what they do, actually makes a lot of sense. When you realize than man has “created” God in his own image. I’m pretty doubtful about what anyone knows about God. If what you know is helpful to YOU, good on ya mate!
Victor Urbanowicz (May 1, 2012)
Bob, Your remarks would not turn a hair in the scripture classes taught at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, Minnesota, USA. (Lots of Unitarians train there.) Northrop Frye pointed out that the slaughter-of-the-innocents tale is remarkably parallel to the one in Exodus about Pharaoh killing all the Hebrew baby boys: baby Moses got away and so did baby Jesus–divine favor. When Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, that was a parallel to Elijah raising the widow’s son. Both Jesus and Elisha met the funeral procession at the gate of the city (the dead had to be buried outside the walls). However, the inspired writer of the gospel had failed to do his/her homework: the town where Jesus allegedly raised the dead girl did not have a wall, ever. But the story does reflect that Jesus (and/or the gospel’s author) regarded women as equal to men.
Bob Brinsmead (May 1, 2012)
Sometimes I think that in answer to the question, Do you think you can believe this or that…? the safest thing to say in reply is, “Not if I can help it…!” The love of a belief, a theory, an idea, a worldview is the root of all evil. It is no good to allow ourselves to be driven by a confirmation bias that sends us off looking for anything and everything that will support our belief…” Far better to see if we can find evidence that it is not true, and then only believe it because no facts can be marshaled to overthrow it. So we believe it because that is the only rational and honest response. If something that I once believed to be true is found wanting or is shown to be wrong, I have no problem discarding it, saying “I was wrong about that” and moving on. James Lovelock did just this only last month in respect to his AGW alarmism, and I salute him for it. He made me smile and embrace him warmly when he said, “About 20 years ago we thought we knew it all, but now we know that we don’t… the science behind all this AGW is pretty weak, etc.” Well they are not his exact words, but they meant something like that.
Tim Smith (May 1, 2012)
If “…the love of a belief… is the root of all evil.”
What then would we call “…the love of being a ‘believer’.”?
Maybe this is just another way of expressing the confirmation bias mentioned, but it surely seems to drive the hearts of people where I live.
On the AGW front, I can’t decide if the alarmists are steaming ahead or backing up. Every time one side seems to fire the lethal shot, the other returns the favor. As the famous children’s song lyric goes,
“This is the song that never ends;
It just goes on and on my friends;
Some people started singing it not knowing what it was;
And they’ll continue singing it forever just because… “
Bob Brinsmead (May 2, 2012)
In the recent Benny Peiser Newsletter (GWPF) there was an excellent, yes really excellent DVD/Utube presentation on the greatest sentence ever, “The love of theory is the root of all evil.” Maybe Wendell can send it on to the rest of you. the GWPF publishes the world’s best newsletter to keep you up-to-date on all aspects of the global warming/environmental debate. Watch out for this tricky new socialist manifesto about to be unfurled to the world at Rio Conference No. 2 coming up soon. It is the same old stuff of the UN gunning for world government, instead of using global warming scare, they have gone back to the Club of Rome’s and Ehrlich’s line about running out of resources – if they get their way, they will issue ration cards for owning a motor card and a central authority will ration out the world’s resources – it’s the real Animal Farm stuff all over again. Of course they can’t win, it’s a joke really, because it is not possible to chain up, lock up, bottle up the innovative free human spirit which these lunatics thinks is the real cancer of the earth, instead of its salvation.
Victor Urbanowicz (May 2, 2012)
I’m not worried about the innovative human spirit. I live in the USA, where we have a noodle who believes that there’s no point to conservation because th’ Lawrd give us dominion over everthin and besides he gonna come agin way before all them resources git used up. We have lots of those noodles, actually, but I’m thinking of James Watt, whom Reagan made Secretary of the Interior. We have people who think the Constitution gives them a right to own an SUV. We have people who believe the UN flies black helicopters surveying us preparatory to taking away our liberties. Actually, that last one is true, Brinsmead. I am in one right now and you’d better stop defaming the UN because I can see you down there.
Wendell Krossa (May 2, 2012)
And this gets to a root assumption that is a horrible distortion of reality and life. That resources are limited. That life is a zero sum game and some winning means others losing, hence the demand that the 1% be forced to share more with the rest. This is primitive and pagan thinking at its worst. Anthropologists term it “limited good” thinking. Hence the public shaming and forced sharing among tribal groups. I saw this first hand among the Manobo of Mindanao. For anyone to get ahead, they had to leave the tribal areas and go to the lowlands. The social constraints on getting ahead were too strong among the tribal groups. If you tried to get ahead and improve your situation, others around you would shame you into sharing everything and that killed motivation to do more.
So it is critical to get this right- that the real nature of reality and life is unlimited generosity. The new natural gas revolution, among other things, ought to silence the doubters, but as their case is built on emotional/moral grounds (and distortions of facts, rationality is not likely to be part of their equations.
Despite these constraints and distortions, as Bob noted, you cannot constrain the human spirit ultimately. It keeps bursting free to create more and to lead humanity on into a better future. But what a battle is now looming with ecosocialism. It realizes that warming alarmism has failed and that movement is collapsing (green technologies have failed spectacularly as have carbon tax plans) so it is shifting its emphasis now. It does not give up because it is not about rational science but emotional commitment and an anti-material, anti-human morality.
My interest in all this has to do with my experience as a grad student taking all of Bill Rees’s courses at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia back in the early 90s. Those were the very years that Bill was developing his Ecological Footprint model which has become arguably the most influential environmental ideological tool of all. And though Bill is not as publicly known as Al Gore, Hansen, or Suzuki, he is perhaps the most influential environmental theorist around. He travels all over the earth scaring people with his apocalyptic visions, socialist/extreme green responses, and anecdotal tales of imminent collapse. Even the University of Sydney is all into this sustainability research with plans for local governments to adopt its proposals. Many of your home jurisdictions have bought into this footprint thinking.
I believe it was the Danish Environmental Assessment Institute under Bjorn Lomberg’s guidance that did one of the best critical reviews of the Ecological Footprint and the fallacious assumptions it was built on, such as limited resources. It is, at core, anti-material and anti-human.
I had a two-year plus back and forth debate with Bill about his basic assumptions as anti-science, and some of you (Bob, Herb) joined that for a while till Bill got tired of my refusal to convert. Bill never responded to the strong factual evidence that resources are not running out but continue to multiply with applied human ingenuity. You cannot exhaust infinite generosity. For more detail, I have a number of essays with lots of facts on these issues on my site under Unlimited Resources. See also excellent discussions on this by writers like Huber and Mills in ‘Bottomless Well’.
Henry Hasse (May 3, 2012)
There’s a news talk radio show from Tampa, FL, Schnitt Show, WFLA AM 570, that has a growing list of 600 plus articles that question the global warming scare.
Bob Brinsmead (May 3, 2012)
Yeah, apocalyptic is all the same —whether Christian, Marxist, environmentalist…ends up thinking the faster we destroy this place the better, or dismantle industrial civilization quick as we can. I wish some of these good folks would go out into the bush (an Aussie term meaning out in the sticks) and live without soap and toilet paper for a while…I reckon they would be cured in a couple of weeks to appreciate the comforts of civilization. In Australia, the inner city latte or Chardonnay or doctor’s wives groups are the worst…they live furthest you can get from nature red in tooth and claw, and fantasize too much about butterflies and sunsets – they are the ones who need my remedy of becoming hunter/gatherers and do the life of the noble savage …and maybe if they can find those mushrooms out there it would bring them to the gates of Eden a bit quicker. They have never lived like I do…feeling the pulse of the seasons, never sleeping on a windy night, sensitive to cold nights like the plants I nurture, railing against hail and storms, battling the wicked old witch and fighting her with fungicides, herbicides, miacids and using all kinds of killing machines loaded with killing chemicals to kill off her arsenal of endless pathogens and parasites – all of which are bloody natural. I rail against the stupid philosophy and phony science of organically grown produce when the whole soil and air in which everything grows is a chemical cocktail. Plants produce more carcinogens and cocktails of harmful chemicals ( they’re called phytochemicals) than the human laboratories have every produced. I get up on my soap box and tell that wicked old witch that I am the ultimate boss around here and not her blind chaotic randomness that can kill more innocents than Adolf and Joe and Mao and Pol Pot could every accomplish. Of course, man’s ultimate destiny is to have all things under his feet (Psalm 8: Genesis 1), and we might as well get a bit of practice at it now. Ya, still listening Vic….?