Saturday, February 01, 2014

St. Jude's

I just learned that there is another phenomenon here - something called Halemaumau, which is another volcano that blows huge amounts of debris into the atmosphere, producing something they call VOG.  (Volcanic fog)  Some people have to leave hawai'i altogether, because it really affects people with asthma.  So, a little trouble in paradise - or just the contribution of Vulcan to the whole scene!

So far, though, it seems to be clear and beautiful. The stars are amazing. My lanai (porch) looks straight at France (Tahiti only a few thousand miles away!).

It turns out that this is the poorest county in the whole US. That's because the USA deported the Marshall islanders here when we decided to vaporize their home to test the H-bomb!  We settled them here, to work on the sugar-cane plantations. those who could learn English left. the others lost their jobs when the cane fields closed due to global competition. Now there are lots of people living outdoors, with no water, except what falls from the sky.

In the United States of America.

The little parish here does what it can, including free showers for all comers on Saturdays. They do a lot more, in the way of food programs and recovery groups for alcoholics and other addicts.. there is plenty of that, because the people are so oppressed. The parish seems to be pretty progressive - the Senior Warden (chief layman) is gay.

i think I am going to like it here.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


As card-carrying, rank-and-file cadre in what the pundits call Obama's "base," I wish to confirm their observation that we are displeased with his national security speech. Sure, the changes he proposed were in the right direction, but the underlying mentality he displayed was disappointing, and even frightening.

I want to point out two little clues:
  • the assertion that the NSA did not "intentionally violate the law"
  • the reference to "enhanced interrogation"
The latter euphemism reveals a disturbing mentality: torture cannot be called torture, because torture is illegal. If we called it torture, we would have to prosecute someone, and so we call it something else. Thus, we suffer Orwellian doublespeak: " When our enemies do it, it's torture, when we do, it is ‘enhanced interrogation’.” Likewise, the presi-dential exoneration of the NSA disposes of any legal or Constitutional necessity to deal with the abuses of the national security bureaucracy (hereafter: the Secret Police).

As usual, President Obama’s articulation of basic Constitutional principles is eloquent: we do not rely on the good intentions of those in authority, but on the law that constrains them. The implication is that we may adjust the regulations under which they operate without impugning their intentions. So, he can simultaneously propose some welcome changes and praise the Secret Police as patriots.

The scary problem is that it is not at all clear that there was never any intentional violation of the law, as Obama asserted. The Snowden revelations depict the FISA court in conflict with the NSA, repeatedly and forcefully — if not always effectively — insisting that the agency change its ways. Was this unintentional violation, or policy? Obama asks us to trust him on this. I don't. After all, he is responsible for the policy, so it is not surprising that he should fend it. A U.S. District Court Judge, Richard Leon, recently found it unconstitutional.

There is also a rhetorical sleight-of-hand in dismissing Snowden's motivation as a policy disagreement. The President argued that we cannot tolerate leaks by those who harbor such disagreements. But Snowden says he was trying to alert us to violations of the law and threats to our fundamental Constitutional liberties, and I think he has a good case. This was not a mere policy disagreement, unless it be argued that "unintentional violations of the Constitution" was the policy of the Secret Police! What if it was, as Snowden claims. What is a genuine patriot to do in that circumstance?

Let us remember Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon papers. If the flat-footed Nixon boobs hadn't burglarized his psychiatrist’s office, he might well have gone to jail. And then there is the example of the Citizens Commission to Investigate the F.B.I. who, like Snowden, chose to remain out of the Secret Police’s reach and without whose crime we would not have known of COINTELPRO and there would have been no Church Committee. (See below for details) These admitted criminals are the genuine patriots.

Finally, what disturbs me about the Secret Police mentality, on display in the speech right beside the Constitutional eloquence, is an underlying tendency to equate dissent with treason. President Obama can argue persuasively against that equation, but Snowden is charged with espionage, and not just the release of classified material. In other words, if the classified material is sufficiently embarrassing, or if it reveals fundamental Secret Police misconduct, it is treason.

But don't espionage and treason involve betraying the country to an enemy? Aren't the motives for these crimes ideological or venal (money)? Snowden didn't sell the information to anyone, and his only motive seems to be his reading of the Constitution and his knowledge of its systemic violation. He says he wanted all the rest of us citizens to know what was going on. Snowden betrayed the Secret Police to the American people. who are the enemies, who the traitors heere? Treason? Espionage? Or is Snowden the real patriot? No wonder President Obama doesn't want to talk about his motives.

Ellsberg and the Citizens Commission to Investigate the F.B.I. certainly committed crimes, as did Snow-den in releasing classified material. The question is whether their crimes were justified. Ellberg, at least (I don't know about Snowden) had sworn an oath to "defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic." I consider that sufficient justification for breaking laws that shield such enemies from the view of the American public.

In this connection, the Secret Police mentality revealed in itself a few months ago in a comment by one of its chief's, Gen. Keith Brian Alexander, head of the NSA. When asked whether the Snowden revelations would damage national security, he replied that they already had, because they might very well result in congressional prohibitions of what they were doing! In other words, the American people and their elected representatives probably don't know what's good for us, we had better be kept in the dark, and we should just trust the Secret Police to protect us without hindrance.

This is scary.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pope Francis's first sermon

Pope Francis's inaugural sermon concerns St. Joseph as a model  of protection. He emphasizes the poor, the weak, and the defenseless earth:

"... protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. "

 I think it is notable that he refers to himself as "The Bishop of Rome", and emphasizes the primary duty to serve. In this homily, which describes itself as the inauguration of his Petrine ministry, the Pope alludes to the rock. But he identifies this Rock as God, not as Peter!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Born from Above

Fragment of a letter of encouragement to one who defined his religion as the Church of Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You, and deprecated the exclusivism  of certain  "Born Again" Christians:

That sounds good to me. A Sufi friend told me of some wise man who said that if you follow just one practice faithfully, you will become enlightened.

As for being born again, one has to ask what that means.[We know what it DOESN'T mean: saying "Jesus is Lord", like a magic formula. Jesus, Himself told us that: "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom...' "] So what DOES it mean?

It helps to look at the original Greek, where, as usual, there is some interesting ambiguity. The passage in which "born again" is found is John 3: 1-21, in which Jesus receives an important night visitor, Nicodemus the Pharisee, who was apparently an eminent scholar and member of the ruling religious council (Sanhedrin). Everything turns on the adverb, "again". As it turns out, this is just as well translated as "from above". And then Jesus goes on to talk about "perception" and "light" and "spirit" or "wind". No one can perceive the Kingdom of God unless s/he is "born from above." 

Modern evangelicals take this to mean an individual conversion to a particular doctrine or confession of faith. But while the text may be patient of such an interpretation, it is not the only possible meaning.  Nor is it the most interesting possibility, in my opinion. Clearly the Birth From Above is some kind of change in that which is born in the usual way. Something that changes the fundamental nature of the creature.  But what? 

How about this: that which is born of water (amniotic fluid) is selfish. Look at babies. Their new consciousness is all about "me". Me and my needs. We are born into a consciousness of separation from everything and everyone else. Tillich called this "sin" (see attachment). It has nothing to do with immoral actions; it is the pervasive condition of estrangement from all that is other to the self. We have to learn - slowly and laboriously - that this sense of ourselves is an illusion. 

In the Gospel story, Jesus gently chides St. Nicodemus, who had come to him by night (i.e.: "in the dark"). "You are a teacher of Israel and you do not know these things?"

To be born of the Spirit may well mean to enter the vast new consciousness that accepts relatedness as the fundamental fact of our existence, and which affirms that relationships must be loving, because otherwise they are death-dealing.  We are not born with this consciousness; we have to acquire it "from above", because  It is a consciousness "higher" than the one we are born with. As soon as we are able to understand it, we are taught to love our neighbor as ourselves (the commandment that Jesus elsewhere equated with the love of God) and to "Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you". 

Jesus gently mocks Nicodemus for not getting it. After all, he is an eminent religious scholar, a "Teacher of Israel", and this is pretty basic stuff ("earthly things"). The practice of these commandments leads, sooner or later, to a kind of mystical enlightenment, in which what Dr. King called the Beloved Community becomes one's conscious identity. Jesus called this Community "My Body". All of this happens as a result of the mysterious operation of that which, in this passage, Jesus called "the Spirit". 

This "Spirit" (pneuma, wind) "blows wherever it wants", which means it is not restricted by anything. Most importantly, the Spirit is not confined to earthly institutions like the Sanhedrin or the Church. The Spirit may be found in these institutions, but She is certainly not confined to them. Nor is She confined to particular dogmatic professions, such as "Jesus is Lord".

But didn't Jesus say, in this same passage, that only those who "believe in Him" can enter the Kingdom of God? Well, not precisely. He said that fidelity to the "Son of Man", and to His Name was the necessary qualification.  "Belief" means "trust" and  "fidelity".  [Remember that fidelity does NOT mean: simply to say that He is Lord - even if you really mean it!]  "The Son of Man" refers to the Messiah, and His "Name" is His reputation - what He stands for - what He means in the world.

What the Messiah means for the world is liberation, and a completely new social order that Jesus calls the Kingdom of God: the reign of peace and justice, founded upon love of God and neighbor (the Golden rule that you accept). Now, if a person does not think that possible, then, of course, s/he cannot enter it! Far from some kind of sentence punishing those who do not call Him Lord, Jesus simply observes the tautology that those who don't place any trust in the real possibility of a Reign of Peace and Justice cannot enter it!

So, to be "born from above" must mean - at the very least - a change in consciousness characterized by a new hope that the reign of Peace and Justice is possible on earth. We express that kind of consciousness when we pray, as He taught us: "your Kingdom come...on earth as in heaven".

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

For Rabbi Lerner on the Cross

Tikkun called for a conversation about the difficulty of the Sacrifice of Abraham. Jews and Moslems find ways of escaping the accusation of child-abuse. What about Christians, who make the cross central? Here is my response, to be published in the Spring issue.

Dear Rabbi Lerner,

It seems that what is objectionable is a particular theory of the significance of the Cross: the late Western, Latin and Protestant "satisfaction theory" of St. Anselm of Canterbury (11th C.), and its even  later corollary (Calvinist "penal" theory), according to which God required a sacrifice for human sin.. Many contemporary Christian theologians reject this line of thinking, beginning with Gustav Aulen (1930s), who argued that Luther rejected it, too.  [See Christus Victor.] 

Aulen argued that the classic, ancient Christian view was that, in His Son, God absorbed all the forces of violence into Himself. This notion depends on the Doctrine of the Incarnation, in which Jesus is not only a Prophet or a Sage, but God Himself. The ancients saw this as the "defeat of the devil" by subterfuge - death swallowed up a man, but was poisoned by devouring God. It has nothing to do with sacrifice TO God, but sacrifice - and victory - BY God. Many prefer not even to use the word, atonement (a medieval English coinage), but  rather, Redemption. A current variation of this view is found in the "narrative Christus Victor" thinking of Mennonite, Denny Weaver:  Non-violent Atonement. (If you google the latter, you will find all kinds of articles about this matter.) Weaver is a fine scholar, who shows that language about "sacrifice for sin" means something different from Anselm's interpretation. [For one thing, the Paschal sacrifice was not a sin offering, but a Covenant meal.]

The notion that God requires innocent suffering is just monstrous. The notion that the Creator willingly becomes the Subject of the consequences of the creative act, sharing - and overcoming -  our sufferings, is somewhat more attractive, isn't it?

Another way to look at the Cross is God's ultimate Act of Creation: the tikkun olam par excellence by which the mysterious flaws in Creation are repaired. This cosmic view is found throughout the Orthodox East, as depicted in the ikon of the Resurrection (what the West calls the Harrowing of Hell): the Godman, having broken down the doors of the stronghold of Death, takes Adam and Eve by the hand, to lead them - and all the cosmos - into the Light of the Eighth Day of Creation.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


This is a conversation between me (Bill Teska) and an old friend (John Nessett) and a childhood friend of his, who is a professor of Philosophy and Religion. (Gary Kessler).

On May 2, 2012, at 12:24 PM, Bill Teska wrote:


I think Hutchinson is a conservative preacher the TV people put on to "balance" the story.  it would be ridiculous to say that all those holy people were "nothing". The question is the identity of Jesus: is He a member of a class, however small, or is He the only-begotten Son. of God? 

Many, and nowadays, say "who cares?" Well, as you can see from my capitalized pronouns, I do think it's important. Without the Iincarnation, we are left either with 

(1) a God remote, and above our suffering; not a self-emptying God;  certainly not a crucified God, a God Whose love for us is limited;

(2) no God at all.

Since I don't like either of those options, I go for the Incarnation. That is, I hope it's true and I choose to trust that it is (no question of "fact" here). 

Ever since Bultmann and Bonhoeffer,  people have been trying to "purify" Christianity of what they regard as "myth", contained in its teaching (dogma). Bishop Spong and Pastor Myers and most of the so-called  "Jesus seminar" (whose work has made a really valuable contribution, I think) are the current incarnation of this anti-Incarnationism. I am inclined to regard it as one-dimensional, and lacking in imagination.

I think Myers is exactly right about the idolatry of fear. My problem with his theology is that, in the attempt honor the genuine movement of the Holy Spirit in non-Christian teaching, and to save the humanity of Christ from any hint of triumphalism, he ends up denying the  Incarnation altogether. In that case, Jesus is a great teacher, but not the New Adam, the Cosmic Healer, the vision of Whom causes people to sacrifice their lives. 

if Jesus be not that unique Godman; of he is one among many very good people, the ornaments of the human race, as you point out. Then his crucifixion (which, according to the gospel narrative, he could easily have avoided) is one more example of Imperial cruelty, a tragedy, and nothing more. In that case, the deaths of Gandhi and King and the neo-martyrs like Bonhoeffer, himself are nothing but outrages, certainly not victories.

If I thought so, I would go for Buddhism — as a good many Americans, in fact, do.

I really do agree with Myers denunciation of the Empire. It seems to me that it were stronger if made in the Name of the crucified and risen Godman, than in the name of "the better angels of our nature". The former was the clear witness of Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, John XXIII, Abp. Tutu, & c.

From: Bill Teska <>
Date: May 4, 2012 3:10:00 PM CDT
To: John Nesset <>
Subject: Re: Re:

<<  I have to say I have no trouble with someone choosing to believe the Incarnation so long as they're clear both with themselves and with others, as you are, that it is belief and not fact.>>

Agreed.Although I must point out that most modern epistemologists say that empirical  "fact" is also a matter of  verifiability. That means checking with other people. and so it will depend on who you check with. It was once a "fact" that the world was flat and that black people were genetically inferior.

Secondly, even materialism is formally based on a presupposition that has to be taken on faith (i.e., trusted): that the senses are reliable.

<<  Those like Hutchinson, of whom aplenty are out there, are to my mind dishonoring and deceiving their followers by asserting otherwise.>>

Agreed. this is bad and false religion, insofar as it asserts that Christian dogma is "fact" in the same way that material facts are. That's silly. What is not so silly is the question of whether "Christianity" can comprehend the view that Jesus Christ was no different from any other great religious genius. It depend on how one defines the term. many Unitarians, for example, will not call themselves "Christians", for that reason (even before the right-wing Evangelicals hijacked the term).


It isn't, as long as you don't close the system by saying we are ONLY physical creatures on a physical earth &c... C.S. Lewis - in some ways a Thomist - observed that Christianity was the most materialistic of religions. The whole idea of the Incarnation reality and autonomous importance of material creation, denied by many forms of Asian philosophy, which is - oddly - so popular amongst Americans. But maybe that's not so odd. It is found also in the world-hating side of extreme Puritanism, and in the pietist/perfectionist side of American evangelicalism. (Hippie-Hindus always remind me of Methodists!)


No, no! If He could be "discovered" - by any means at all, He would not be God. (Apophatic theology.) Scientific discovery entails explanation. if God is God, then, well, the pot cannot discover the potter, in the sense of explanation.  

What we creatures of mud can do is to learn to love, which is what the "knowledge of God" means.. (Proof-text: "Whoever loves knows God and is born of God.") Since love is relational, it is personal (per sona, through the mask. So we call god "He" ("She" would do, but not "it")..

What CAN be discovered - in the scientific sense -  are what are classically called signs of God, the chief of which is the cosmos itself. That is why St. Thomas &al approved of what we now call science. In fact, they invented the scientific method. Thomas would say that truth is indivisible, the senses do not deceive us, and that what we can discover through them is an aspect of truth. As lots of   scientists say, God can be encountered in scientific inquiry.  But I think it a mistake to imagine that God can be comprehended (defined) by human reason, or that truth is confined to what we can discover thereby. to play with words a little: the infinite cannot be defined, by definition!.


<<  One of many examples, back as recently as 1953 even scientists were saying the structure of DNA was one of God's mysteries and could never be determined.  1953 was the same year Krick and Watson unveiled the double helix.  Does finding that make it less wonderful?  I personally don't think so.>>

I agree, insofar as I think the "God of the margins" is a mistake (whatever science cannot, presently, explain is the domain of God)..As you point out, the borders of the margin are continually pushed back. It is also most interesting, however, that modern physics, mathematics, and even philosophy, have all encountered limits that seem to indicate what could be called the finite nature of human reason itself. I'm thinking of Heisenberg (uncertainty principle),  Gödel (incompleteness theorem), and phenomenology.

Do I detect a faint whiff of 19th-century positivism in the notion that "everything there is can be discovered by the scientific method"? Many eminent scientists would disagree. Even accepting the materialist presupposition, and leaving God out of the conversation (as every respectable scientist must), human reason may be incapable of comprehending even material reality. 


Yes, let's. Uncertainty and Incompleteness have the nature of dogma, I think, in that they propose limits to any Faustian or Promethean urge to dominate reality. The cosmic mystery, which these new scientific dogmata safeguard, is simultaneously humbling and exalting — like staring into the starry night.

Finally, I can't resist a denominational plug:  Anglicanism values uncertainty. The political necessities of the Elizabethan settlement— the necessity to comprehend impossible opposites — probably contributed to our horror of dogmatism (in the sense of exclusion and not mystery-preservation). Richard Hooker scrawled in the margin of his manuscript of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity the following:

"Two things there be that greatly trouble our present time: the one that Rome cannot, the other that Geneva will not err." 

In other words, let's not be too quick to think that we ever have access to the whole truth.

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Gary Kessler" <>
Date: May 7, 2012 10:38:11 AM CDT
Subject: Re: Fwd: Re: Re:

I don't quite know how to respond to all the material you sent.  Your conversations covers a lot of different issues and they are primarily theological.  The linked sermon I thought was very good.  One big issue is the nature of theological assertions.  Bill seems to concede that such assertions are not assertions of fact but of faith.  Theologically this is known as a confessional approach and is popular with the so-called Confessional Theologians.  If religious assertions boil down to confessions of faith, then there is not much someone else can say because anyone and everyone has the right to confess what they believe, however absurd it may be.  The standard response by other theologians and atheists is that Confessional Theology takes the guts out of religious assertions because it makes no claims to truth only to faith.  Would Bill be willing to concede that theological assertions make no claims to be either true or false even though they sound that way to many people and of course many people of faith maintain the truth of such assertions?


Bill Teska is the Episcopalian Priest I think I've spoken to you about who used to hold the Greek Easters that I roasted the lambs for back in the Hippie/West Bank days and because of his activities there acquired the name The Hippie Priest.  We seem to have launched a little dialogue in the past week or so that I felt you might find interesting and might care to contribute, too.  As you can tell, Bill is bright, knowledgeable, articulate and engaging.  If you two were ever to meet up I think you'd hit it off.  He said he would not mind at all if I forward our email exchange to you.  

What got this thing going was a phone conversation he and I had in response to which he sent me a sermon by a man by the name of Meyers.  You can catch the links at the end of these emails.  The marks (<<. . .>>) indicate my email response to the links.  I have yet to reply to his comments here.



On May 8, 2012, at 10:29 PM, Bill Teska wrote:

John and Gary,

This is very interesting. To quote Pontius Pilate, "What is truth?" Don't all assertions — a theological or not — rests upon a shared view of reality? In other words, what we call "facts" are assertions that few would question. Doesn't that mean that they are ultimately based on faith, too? (Trust in the reliability of the senses, for example.)

I suppose I am a confessional theologian, since I don't think that the data of Revelation are "true" in the same sense that it is true to say that Barack Obama as President of the United States. On the other hand, theological assertions based on these data claim to be true, as such—within the view of reality that accepts them. Since the data of Revelation are meaningful only to those who trust them, I would have to agree that we are talking about faith and not "truth" in the sense of something to which every reasonable person would have to agree. Fides quarens intellectus: the whole theological enterprise is faith in search of understanding. Faith is theology's starting-point, not its conclusion.

Furthermore, I would ardently support every person's right to believe whatever s/he chooses, however absurd. Christian theology has long held that faith, like hope and love, is a matter of the will. If this "takes the guts out of religious assertions", so be it. Conscience rules.The alternative, it seems to me, would violate our freedom, because it would seem to insist that every reasonable person would have to agree with those assertions. That strikes me as the approach of the Grand Inquisitor.

Speaking of Dostoyevsky, was it gutlessness to say that if it were somehow proven that everything we knew about Christ were false, and that Christ — in fact — lay outside the truth, then he "would rather remain with Christ than with the truth"? That is not the word I would use.

I guess I do think that all religious assertions are expressions of faith ( "the evidence of things unseen"). As such we had better resist any temptation to Grand Inquisitorial certitude. Moreover, unless our affirmative (kataphatic) assertions about God are open-ended, they will always be false. Since their Subject is infinite, they will be partial. The only theology that really interests me is apophatic and mystical (although I concur with much of liberation theology, too).
I don't know what to make of it, and I don't know if this is up to date, but I am intrigued by what appear to be the limits of human reason encountered by science and mathematics.

On Fri, May 11, 2012 at 8:44 AM, John Nesset <> wrote:


But let me reply to your first paragraph.  True, the senses are not reliable.  And for that very reason scientific investigation is rigorous.  It tests and tests and retests assertions until doubt is all but eliminated.  You can say that use of the scientific method relies on faith in its reliability.  But that's not true.  The Scientific method is relied on because it works; you can depend on the results, you can make predictions from them and feel certain the results you get are the ones you expected.  

You can also say, Yes, that's true but the scientific method only works on what can be measured.  But there is no evidence whatsoever that we live in anything but a physical world that can be measured.  An example.  Certain people hear voices.  That's an established fact.  These are otherwise "normal" people.  Martin Luther argued with the devil, for instance.  Researchers have studied the phenomenon and found that those who hear voices have brains that are structured differently than other people's brains.  Does that mean the voices these people hear are mere imagination: tricks of the brain?  Maybe but not necessarily.  They may be real.  The structure of these people's brains may allow them to tune into information that's out there but that people lacking those brains structures are unable to access.  (Those are TV signals coming in, let's say, and those people have TV sets; whereas the rest of us only have radios and radios can't pick up TV signals.)  Does that mean then that something mystical is going on?  On the contrary, because the brains those people have a different structure means something physical is going on (because picking up those signals depends on a brain having a certain physical structure) and that for the physical process to be activated and receive the information then the information coming in itself (assuming it's there to come in) has to have some kind of physical form and can be measured---and if real will be measured once we figure out what [physical] device to use.  

Talk to you again soon


On May 11, 2012, at 11:07 AM, Bill Teska wrote:

<<(John)  I must reply here with a question of my own:  What non-physical reality?  I'm not aware of any non-physical reality.>>

See below. 

The materialist faith in the reliability of the senses works just fine within that world-view. (Up to the point at which Heisenberg/Godel-typeparadoxes are encountered) It is predictab;e and powerful and real.within its own sphere. I don't see why that has to mean that is the only reality. To say so strikes me as its own kind of passion for certainty.

<<(John)  The Heisenberg/Godel paradoxes do not prevent quantum mechanics from being the most successful theory in the history of science, even though it makes no sense to us from our macro-world, classical physics orientation.  That said I think the jury is still out on whether there are other realities.  And if they are discovered that's fine with me and I'm open to the possibility.  By no means do I believe science has discovered it all.  Discovery is an ongoing process and certainty is therefore always incomplete.>>

My only point about this is that success ornot, there is a limit to certainty. 


I'm in agreement with you on that point.  Still, science gives us a window on what it has found to be true that we can rely on with a high degree of certainty, notwithstanding something may lurk out there that could throw the whole thing overboard.


I think all the phenomena you mention can be explained within the scientific world-view. For many people that is enough. But it is not the only possible explanation. The more sophisticated narratives of traditional religion might also be so. It might be an evolutionary artifact and it might be divine inspiration. As one of my old professors used to say, "Well, boys, y' pays yer money and y' takes yer choice!" As my tradition holds, faith is a matter of the will, not of the intellect.


When you ask what evidence is convincing to me,you ask me for data that might well not be convincing to anyone else. The "conviction" is secondary to what Kirkegaard called the "leap of faith". Many are comfortable without taking the leap! For me, since you ask for a report of my subjective consciousness, the existence of love is evidence of a non-physical Reality. The experience of love is utterly subjective. (Try to prove, rationally, that you love someone!). Physical facts are facts because they are inter-subjectively verifiable - religious assertions are too, within the community that accepts them. Outside such a community they are more-or-less easily explained otherwise, as you point out. But I dont think that says anything  about reality one way or the other.. 


The problem I sense arises in the interface between observable reality and any other.

<<(John)  Again I ask What other realities?  And how do you know there are such things?>>

I don't. I think there may be, and I hope so. Augustine once said that, like the Holy Trinity, faith,hope, and love are essentially the same.  That's what I was alluding to at Bill Hinckley's memorial: anyone who says they "know" is kidding themselves. But we can hope - if we choose to.

Knowledge is a matter of the intellect; faith,hope,and love are all a matter of the will.

In reply to your last three paragraphs here everything I've read leads to the conclusion that love, hope and faith (empathy, anger, morality, hate, too, and maybe even the religious impulse) are very much measurable physical phenomenon.  They are a direct product of our genetic/physiological structure, evolutionary necessities that have permitted the human species to thrive.  Yet, I agree, they may be the radios that let us tune into the will of God.  But that again would be physical.  I keep hammering away on this point, I know, but  I have a hard time seeing where the existence of anything is anything but physical and I don't see where that takes away from the meaningfulness of something like faith or the will for those who chose to go that route.  But as you said so forcefully in your Hinkley homely, anyone who says they know where Bill is is lying  And that goes as much for a believer as it does for someone like me who prefers to deal with the world as we see and measure it.

From: Bill Teska <>
Date: May 14, 2012 3:02:30 PM CDT
To: John Nesset <>
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Fwd: Re: Re:


I am really enjoying this discussion, because it is causing me to revisit my own journey — recapitulate it, in a way — from a later-life  perspective. What jumps out clearly to me are a few early influences, by way of spiritual autobiography:

reading Dostoevsky in high school and college
living out a Russian Orthodox monastery in the summer of my 19th year, where I met actual confessors — people who had suffered terribly for their faith
visiting Auschwitz in the summer of my 21st year
studying with theologians and biblical scholars, trained just after the war and strongly influenced by existentialism. (Horrors! My voice-recognition program translated the latter word as "Texas  evangelism" good thing I got it)
My theology professor's dissertation at Harvard was on conscience. Probably from him I got my rabid insistence on the sovereignty of conscience. I become extremely uncomfortable whenever I run into any religious truth-claim, which pretends to necessary acceptance by any rational person, in the sense that scientific statements of what we call "fact" must be accepted by every rational person. That is a big mistake on the religious side.

That is what I meant by warning people not to listen to anyone who says they "know" what happens when we die. Immediately after that, however, I observed — as I recall — that we can hope in life after death, as bill certainly did. There is no necessary proof  of such a thing, nor any evidence  impatient of another explanation. If there were, then we would not be free, and therefore not the image of God. There is is, however, evidence, not in the scientific sense, but in a subjective, experiential sense: "traces" that can point to a Sovereign Benign Intelligence, for those who choose to see them as such.

Again, faith — like hope and love — are matters of the will, not of the intellect. Having made the "leap of faith", almost everything can fit into the theological interpretive narrative, just as almost everything can fit into the materialist narrative. "Y' pays yer money and  y' takes yer choice." I believe this kind of approach is what is meant by "Christian existentialism." (Kirkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Tillich, &al.)  

Paul wrote: "faith is the evidence of things unseen". That is a paradox,since evidence means something  visible. The vision of the invisible is the end of faith, which — one must always remember —means trust. Trust in the narrative and the witnesses who transmit it, especially those who suffer for it. BTW, I think that is what is meant by "faith in the Name of Jesus": trust in the narrative about Him. It means finding a narrative beautiful, and hoping that beauty is true.

Now, maybe physical science can measure and explain our experiences of beauty and hope. In fact, I hope they can! Because I don't want there to be any  hint of compulsion associated with the leap of faith. I hasten to add, however, that I doubt I would find any such explanations interesting.

If the idolaters of religious certainty err in their pretensions, an analogous mistake — a mirror image, really — can be made on the materialist side, with calamitous results. The horrors of the Vernichtungslagern  and the Gulag, after all, were expressions of materialist ideologies. As one of  Dostoevsky characters put it "without God, everything is permitted." Another said something like "we begin with total freedom, and end in total despotism".

By their fruits shall ye know them. (I wouldn't want to push this too far: the Christian narrative has produced its share of poisonous fruit!)

The Christian religious narrative (the Holy Name of Jesus) has also adorned itself with glory in its neo-martyrs and confessors: Edith Stein, Marya Skobtsova, Alezander Schmorell, Franz Jaegerstatter, Maximillian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Clemens August Graf von Galen, Jacques Ellul, the entire Huguenot village of Chambon-sur-Lignon,and innumerable others. More recently,  Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar Romero and the other neo-martyrs of El Salvador, and my own Episcopal contemporary Jonathan Daniels all gave their lives because of their faith.

Perhaps they were deceived. I like to think otherwise. I find their witness beautiful. It is, for me, evidence of the Divine. Once again, this evidence is not dispositive. Moreover, there were plenty of non-Christians and non-believers who also gave or risked their lives. Perhaps those who did so without the consolation of faith were even more heroic.

And they, too fit into the narrative in which I have chosen to place my hope. I think it possible to please God without any confession of faith:

 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ 

“And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.

“The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. 

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” 

I interpret this to mean that what is important is what we do, not what we say we believe.

I guess this whole thing is an exercise in apologetics: to maintain that faith is not contrary to reason, although it be irrational, just as responses to love and beauty are irrational. Whether these departures from reason are, on the one hand, atavistic — a matter of sinking into some primitive fantasy — or whether they are transcendent — a matter of rising to levels of consciousness inaccessible to reason, is finally a matter of presupposition.

"Y' pays yer money and  y' takes yer choice!"

On Fri, Jun 1, 2012 at 12:25 PM, Gary Kessler <> wrote:

John and Bill,
I once wrote a paper on Kierkegaard in seminary where I tried to defend his idea of a "leap of faith" in the face of criticisms.  It was in a seminar on S.K. and while some in the seminar liked the paper others thought it was misguided.  I have since come to  think that my critics way back then were right.  It leads S.K. to the conclusion that "truth is subjectivity" and that, I think, opens the door to relativism of the worse sort.  

Bill Teska <> writes:
John and Gary,

I am inclined to agree with all of this. I am especially grateful for the defense of Luther. Ii think you are quite right, Gary, that there is much misunderstanding here. 

I wish I knew more about SK. I do think that faith=hope=love, and that all three are acts of the will, and that it is a mistake to think of religious faith as founded on observation. (I, too,m love Tillich's approach). For me, faith is what I hope is true. This faith can be confirmed by observation, but not compelled by it.

My point about the limitations of human reason are intended as an apology for the paradoxes that theological thinking runs into. materialists run into them, too. BTW, the conundrum of God's making a stone so big He can't roll it strikes me as the same kind of thing as the Barber Paradox: isn't it simply a matter of word-play? God cannot do that which, by definition, cannot be done. Even God cannot make 2 + 2 add up to five. (without changing the meaning of the terms).

More mysterious paradoxes are the Trinity and Incarnation, which crucify rational certainty - just as the graph of 1/x=y crucifies mathematical certainty, in that it produces an encounter with that which cannot be known.

On Sat, Jun 2, 2012 at 12:03 PM, Gary Kessler <> wrote:

Bill replying in green
Bill and John,

I wonder about "all three are acts of will".  What does this mean?  

I believe I get this from Augustine. What it means to me is that intellect cannot talk you into it, not can it - really - talk you out of it. Memory, on the other hand, may prevent it (see below).

Can people will to have faith when their intellect tells them that religious faith for them is misplaced, or irrelevant to their lives or nonsense?  

By "faith", I mean "trust", which is - as I recall -  Tillich's point. I insist that this trust is an act of free will: no one can force anyone to trust anyone else, nor to hope anything, nor to love. It is a decision that one must make. I define faith as a decision to trust that what you hope is true IS true.

I can only speak for myself, here - as John asked me to do So far, I have not run into anything that forces me not to trust the Name (the narrative, in which I decided to immerse myself years ago), or forces me not to hope, or forces me not to love. I do not claim that I have been very good at any of those actions, but neither do I claim that, when I lapsed, "the devil made me do it". My failings have all been failures of my own will. I was not talked into them by rational skepticism.

There may well be people who "just can't" hope. But I am skeptical about that, and I would want to talk to them individually. What is it in which they cannot hope? In my experience, it usually it turns out to be some kind of parody of the Gospel - bad and false religion. There is plenty of that. But then, there is plenty of awful music, too, but I don't therefore reject music, as such. 

As for nonsense, my position is that the paradoxes of religious belief are no more blank than those of materialism (human reason being finite, as it is). If one is wedded to a materialist view of reality, then anything that does not conform to it is "nonsense", but that is a matter of presupposition. The argument ends up circular, "It's nonsense because it's nonsense". (BTW, a Lutheran friend - a pastor in Queens -  relates a conversation he had with a physicist about matter. The scientist said "We really don't talk much about matter any more, just mass".) I maintain that one's presuppositions in this area are a matter of choice.


If faith is a matter of will then why do theologians claim it is gift of God's grace?  

You mean Luther and Calvin? I don't know. But I do recognize a problem in that some people are so traumatized by their life's experience that they can't trust anyone or hope anything or even love anyone. I experience my capacity in this regard, flawed though it be in practice, as a gift, not as an achievement ("Lest any man should boast"). Maybe that's what Paul was talking about. Anyway, such a gift does not force me to trust, hope, or love. I still have to choose to exercise the capacity. I can (and frequently do) choose not to.

The phenomenon of the traumatized people, whose life's experience [memory, to bring in the third of the classic faculties] seems to compel them to defend themselves against the vulnerability that trust, hope, and love entail, compels me to a doctrine of universal salvation. I mean  that I will not worship One, Who would condemn such people. If they be consigned to outer darkness, then I will join them.

Perhaps the Elder Brother of the Prodigal Son simply cannot bring himself to  come into the banquet, but if he stays in the outer darkness, it is his own choice; the door remains open to him. Nor can the Father force him to rejoice. Frankly, I think the Elder Brother has convinced himself — by entirely sound, rational argument, I might add — that his Father is unjust, and that the welcoming feast makes no sense...


Hope seems to be more an act of will than does faith and so does charity.  These seem to fall more in the realm of what humans can control.  Love like faith seems less within the realm of human control.  

I don't get the difference between love and charity. The latter (caritas) is Jerome's translation for the Pauline agape, isn't it?

We talk about falling in love and often think of romantic (eros) love as something that happens to someone even when he or she does not intend to fall in love.  

Indeed, this kind of love seems to befall one. On the other hand, one can decide to ride the wave or not!  I wol;d add here that the human expereince of falling in love is something like the experience of hope: one falls in love with the beauty of the imagined future, or faith - one falls in love with the beauty of the Name.. For historical reasons, maybe, the Orthodox are more comfortable with beauty as way to God than is the Latin and Protestant West, although the builders of the Gothic period seemed to get it.

Agape or selfless love appears to be more like faith.  It is a divine gift and, according to St. Paul (I think), a more valuable gift than faith.

I think agape is what Buddhists mean by compassion. I also think it has  metaphysical as well as ethical significance:  that agape may have to do with the process of sanctification, which I understand as the journey from individual consciousness to personal consciousness. We are born as individuals (a-tomos that which cannot be further divided without killing it); we become persons -  self-forgetful participants in community — ultimately, in the Community of the Three Divine Persons. Love, then, is what a contemporary Greek theologian called "Being as Communion". 

Is such love required for authentic ethical action?  

No. it is the other way around. I would define authentic ethical action, precisely, as the decision to love. As the Apostle said: "Whoever loves is born of God and knows God."

We hear of people in emergency situations risking their lives to help others.  They typically say that they are not heroes (a much over used word) but were just reacting spontaneously to the plight of others.--gk

Probably most heroically holy people don't think of themselves as heroes! My favorite example, at the moment, are the righteous Gentiles of Chambon-sur-Lignon in the Auvergne. These Huguenots wondered what all the fuss was about when the whole village got the Medal of the Just. They figured that their activities in the saving Jewish children (which really were quite heroic and self-sacrificing, and some of them died) were just ordinary decency.

Maybe so, but they were at the same time evidence of heroic sanctity, in my opinion. St. John the Divine tells us: "...anyone who loves knows God and is born of God. Those who do not love do not know God, for God is Love."

I consider it significant that John does not say, here anyway, that anyone who professes the correct set of propositions knows God, but that anyone who loves knows God. Anyone. What anyone says s/he believes, is completely irrelevant. (Those who say they love God but hate their neighbors are liars!) 

I take faith (trust) to be an attitude toward life, an attitude that, with practice, can lead to heroic self-sacrifice on behalf of others (than which no man hath greater love).Furthermore, in my opinion this faith is not confined to the Church, nor to any religious tradition. Should such traditions be irrelevant to someone, so be it. Let them love.

Am I a Semi-Pelagian? I will fight anyone who says so. There is nothing half-way about MY Pelagianism! (Much as I may favor some of Augustine's observations.)

On Jun 7, 2012, at 1:33 PM, Gary Kessler wrote:

Bill and John,
I am going to try to respond with some of my thoughts to both of your emails at once, both of which, I might add, present much food for thought.

First, let me focus on the issue of trust as purely (?) a matter of a free will decision.  My question is simple, is it really a matter of free will?  We know that many things influence and constrain our will when it comes to many things including trust.  People raised in the Christian faith usually remain at least nominally Christian for most if not all of their lives.  It is the same for people raised in other faiths.  We can predict that based on the evidence we have.  If something can be predicted based on evidence then our wills must be constrained in various complex ways.  Is this determinism?  Well the issue of free will vs. determinism is a complex issue and much ink has be used on that topic.  I don't propose to get into all of the various twists and turns of that discussion but enough has been said to call into question the extent of the "freedom" our "wills" really enjoy.  Sociological and psychological research shows that many things about human decision making can be predicted once we know the variables.  It is not obvious to me that the choices humans make are absolutely free even in religious matters such as trust or lack of trust in some divine reality.  Religions themselves have developed complex structures (preaching, teaching, youth camps, retreats, community projects, health clinics, etc) in an attempt to influence human choice.  Why go to all that trouble and expense if they think the will is totally free?

Second, when we talk about whether experiences of beauty are physical or not we enter a realm that opens up the issue of consciousness.  How can a physical entity like the human brain (or any other brain) produce subjective awareness or consciousness?  This is the 64 thousand dollar question in cognitive science right now. There seems to be an unbridgeable gap between the physical brain and consciousness.  We are learning more about the brain and hence awareness every day but so far, even though theories abound, no one has solved the problem.  Consciousness is made up of "qualia" that seem to be quite personal.  We can know a  lot about a bad physically, but can we know "what it is like to be a bat"?  What seems to be happening in the discussion (to the extent that I have followed it) is that the boundaries of what we mean by "physical" appear to be expanding.  The "emptiness" of space, as John points out, has now disappeared to be replaced by physical energy of what sort or another.  Is there some point in the future when we will think of consciousness as a form of physical energy in its own right?  It at least, right now, seems to be a by-product of the physical energy of the brain.  Is it more than a by-product?  If the boundaries do expand, as they seem to, of what we take to be physical do the boundaries of what we take to be spiritual shrink?  Why aren't the boundaries of the spiritual  expanding?  Or are they?  



Bill Teska <> writes:
Thanks, John and Gary,

I have been working on responses for some time. Here they are, in dire need of editing, but you will understand.

As I have tried to say, I am not interested in trying to convince anyone of anything, but only to maintain that:
There can be no compelling evidence for religious claims, or God would not be God (the One Whose great gift, after life itself, is freedom)
At the same time,  religious faith/hope is not impossible (in the sense of contrary to reason), at least not any more so than scientific and mathematical theory. What IS impossible is any compelling argument for God or eternal life; (I mean this term precisely: that which forces one to believe, the artifact of the Grand Inquisitor) 
Therefore, faith/hope is a matter of choice, not compulsion. We are compelled neither to believe not to disbelieve. (My man, Dostoyevsky, would say that he would believe even if compelled NOT to! [See below], but then, that's Russian extremism for you. One more spiritual temperament, perhaps.)
As i recall, the conversation began with your recollection of my insistence - at Bill Hinkley's memorial - that those who claimed certain knowledge were not to be be trusted. I recall saying immediately after that that we can, nevertheless, hope.

You say that you find the notion of eternal life attractive, which is In my opinion, all that is necessary to hope that it it is real.  St. Paul observes that one does not hope for what is evident. I observe that one does not hope for what one finds repellent.

I would add that faith/hope - in my experience - is rather more like falling in love - a matter of responding to Beauty. One is not, necessarily swept away. One still has a choice to ride the wave or not. But  one is not "talked into it" by rational argument. It does not enhance my rapture to imagine that it is all a matter of dopamine.

As for the Dostoyevskian observaton that "without God everything is permitted", see this interesting  article. Among another things, it shows why Nietzsche said that D. was one of his teachers. Sartre also ran with it, making it the starting point of morality, not a carte blanche for every human excess. I think he (and you) may have something here, despite the Nazis, Stalinists, and Ayn Randists, whose views represent, in my opinion, only the dark side of this assertion.

I certainly know many people who do not share my hope, with whom I  agree as to "what is to be done".  To me, they are rather like the righteous gentiles, we all admire. Conversely, there are plenty of people who affirm what I hope, with whom I do not agree about what is to be done. I can only say that I think they are mistaken. But then, maybe I am mistaken. 

One of the reasons i like Anglicanism is that I am uncomfortable with certainties. 

Two things there be that greatly trouble this present age;
the one that Rome cannot, the other that Geneva will not err.

So wrote Richard Hooker in the 16th Century.  I love this quotation because it expresses the spiritual temperament of Anglicanism, if  there is such a thing. Some Lutherans  and Roman Catholics find it wishy-washy. Maybe that is a function of their own spiritual temperament. I wonder.

Let me close with the famous passage from Dostoyevsky's letter from Siberia  to N.D. Fonvisin, (sometimes called Dostoyevsky's Creed):

I want to say to you,
about myself, that I am a child of this age, a child of
unfaith and scepticism, and probably (indeed I know
it) shall remain so to the end of my life. How dread-
fully has it tormented me (and torments me even
now) this longing for faith, which is all the stronger
for the proofs I have against it. And yet God gives
me sometimes moments of perfect peace; in such
moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such
moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all
is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely
simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing
lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational,
more manly, and more perfect than the Saviour; I
say to myself with jealous love that not only is there
no one else like Him, but that there could be no one.
I would even say more : If anyone could prove to me that

Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really
did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ
and not with truth.

 John Nesset <> writes:
 John 6/11
Gary and Bill

From my perspective you articulate the "free will" issue very well here, Gary.  As we've discussed already and as you touch on, there's evidence to support the proposal that religious belief and the concept of God are products of the imagination and vestiges that evolved to instill hope and a will to live in early humans.  Our minds can make a lot of things real that aren't.  When I was five years old I had a dream that I stood on the hassock in the living room, spread my arms, jumped and flew into the air, circled the ceiling light, flew up the stairs and through each of the bedrooms, came back downstairs, flew through the dining room and kitchen and back out to the living room and landed on the hassock.  I awoke convinced I could do that.  There was not a shred of doubt and after I'd finished my breakfast I went to the living room, stood on the edge of the hassock, spread my arms, leaped---and landed on the floor, popping that balloon and decisively marking out a boundary constraining my will.  But that I could fly had seemed as real as walking.  Our imaginations propel us to gain understanding but they can cook up plenty that doesn't pan out in real time.

As to the question of consciousness scientists have now produced self-replicating cells from scratch.  Is that a first step towards creating a creature aware of itself?  And, yes, are the boundaries of what we take to be the spiritual expanding or not?  


On Jun 12, 2012, at 2:40 PM, Gary Kessler wrote:

John and Bill,
John's example of the power of imagination shows that things we imagine do not always correspond to the "real."  So are the objects of religious faith more akin to the imagination or to a "revelation" of something beyond what the physical senses can tell us?  How could this question be settled if people who are spiritual say it is a matter of trust in the claims of what is "revealed" and people who do not trust such claims argue that so-called "revelations" are just the product of the imagination and like all such products open to doubt?  Bill, I take it, does not want to prove anything by argument but simply wants to confess what he has decided to trust and assert his right to do that.  This appears to be an unassailable position impervious to argument or evidence.  Does this mean that discussion is pointless?  Does it mean we all go to our respective corners and remain silent?  The standoff between the GOP and the Democratics right now in our political process comes to mind.  The GOP is convinced our economic problems can be solved by cutting government spending and thereby reduce our debt.  The Democratics take the opposite view.  I know this is an oversimplification since not all Republicans and Democratics agree on the issue. But I think the analogy works to some extent at least.  

I personally do not think that open discussion of the issues is beside the point because even if such discussions do not lead people to change their minds they  often do lead to the realization that there are wide areas of agreement and of course more insight into exactly what the issues are.  That is one reason why retreating to our respective corners, be they political or religious, is seldom helpful in facing our common problems.  As Buber showed, open and honest dialog is essential to being an authentic human being.  


Gary and Bill

6/14 (John)  You make what I would consider a sound point here, Gary (and if I read you correctly, Bill, you would agree) when you conclude there is always common ground, making dialogue essential no matter how severely contradicting parties differ.  That's especially so if we're unaware of 85% of why we behave and act.


Bill Teska                    
June 14            

John and Gary,

As I look back over the thread, I find that I have said just about everything I have to say. (just in case you haven't seen it, Gary, I have attached a previous submission [appended at the end of this section] - John, maybe I never posted it.) I am in danger of repeating myself, but here goes:

An apocryphal  tale sums up my view: an exchange between Napoleon and the Marquis de LaPlace, in which the former asked the latter about God, to which the great scientist replied "Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis".  [See the whole thing here.] I do not think there is any compelling argument for God or any religious narrative (compelling in the sense of compulsory - that to which every reasonable person must agree). In fact, the absence of such evidence is an essential aspect of what I hope to be true.

The Godman will not come down from the Cross, and thereby compel obeisance.

I sense a request to make such an argument. (Tell me if I'm wrong.) I don't believe it possible, and so I consider it futile to try. Furthermore, I cheerfully stipulate that everything  can be explained without that  hypothesis.  What I will not admit is that such an explanation is the only possible one, an idea that strikes me as imperialistic. To paraphrase another frequently-misattributedsaying, when someone mentions "science" in this overreaching way, I reach for my pistol! It strikes me as rather totalitarian.

It also strikes me as a lust for certainty, which is where my  conversation with John began: my funerary denunciation  of religious certainty-claims, followed by my insistence on the  "a reasonable, religious, and holy hope" of Jeremy Taylor's great prayer. (Reasonable meaning not inimical to reason.) So, as I have said, the only arguments I have to offer are apologetic, not constructive. I really don't think it is possible to talk someone into hope through a process of rational argument. No more than you can talk anyone into loving someone else.

I sure hope that my position is (1) unassailable and (2) impervious to argument or evidence! 
  1. Is dialogue a matter of mutual assailing?
  2. What "evidence or argument" other than those which presuppose the materialist position, thus requiring surrender from the start? 
Once the possibility of religious hope is admitted, I am happy to expose the content of my own hope (what I call the Name - the interpretive narrative that I hope is true) to dialogue, and to try to explain it. In fact, I love to do that. Within that dialogue, however, the fact that everything can be explained otherwise is - to use a word I find odious - irrelevant.

Moreover, I am not sure how there can be a Buberian dialogue between those whose basic presuppositions are contradictory. At most, there can be mutual exchange of views (as diplomats say). That is the problem in Congress just now, isn't it? The T-party wants to go back to ante-bellum state-sovereignty. Their billionaire allies want to be free of any effective challenge to their plutocratic rule, freedom guaranteed if the federal government devolves regulatory power to the States. The underlying assumptions about what is best for the country are contradictory to and incompatible with those who still like the New Deal.  

Unless they aren't and there has been misunderstanding, which can be corrected through the mutual exchange.

I don't think the same is  true of the science/hope presuppositions, as long as each side is willing to recognize that they operate in different spheres. The religious side, at least, must also recognize that it could be wrong. Hope that is certain is not hope, by definition. Nor is hope that depends on evidence. As St. Paul asked "Who hopes for what they see?" 

Aren't all presuppositions unassailable positions? For example: "what you see is what you get" (Materialism), and “there is more than meets the eye” (Faith, for want of a better term). Here's a possible dialogue:

WYSIWYG: What is the evidence that might lead me to adopt your position?
TIMTMTE: By definition, there is no evidence that compels the assent of every rational creature. Still, the content of faith is not unreasonable, meaning contrary to reason.
WYSIWYG:  But it is not reasonable to believe that for which there is no evidence.
 WYSIWYG: Because any rational argument is founded on the data of the senses.
 TIMTMTE: that seems to me to be the logical fallacy known as begging the question — simply restating the proposition, or in this case, the presupposition.
WYSIWYG: OK, but everything we can see can be explained by science.
TIMTMTE: No argument there, so what?
WYSIWYG: So there is no reason to believe anything else.
TIMTMTE: Begging the question, again. Science can know that which can be known by science. That is a great deal — vast and astoundingly beautiful — but to say that it encompasses all that is real doesn't necessarily follow. In fact, it strikes me as a statement of faith.
WYSIWYG: OK, but scientific knowledge is all we can be sure of — using that term to mean a high degree of probability.
TIMTMTE: Scientific knowledge can be gained only through the scientific method. I agree.
WYSIWYG: That is the only knowledge worthy of the name.
TIMTMTE: If you like, it's a matter of presupposition. I would draw your attention to faith as a phenomenon. I hasten to stipulate that materialism can explain the latter (opium of the people, fear of death, collective illusion) on its own terms. I insist, however that faith can also be explain itself in its own terms (theology), and there is no a priori necessity to choose either paradigm.  Y' pays yer money and y' takes yer choice.

I would observe, furthermore, that faith and science need not be seen as antagonists. As witness the considerable number of well-credentialed — even eminent — scientists who are also believers (Newton, Pavlov, Halking, and our own John Polkinghorne). I would also call to your attention philosophers such as EdithStein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross ), and Paul Ricoeur.

Of particular interest for the question  of faith and science might be Karl Jaspers (not a believer, perhaps, but an exponent of faith), known for his demolition of positivism, his regard for Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, his anti-fascism and his philosophy of transcendence. 

[John, it was Benet Carriere who introduced me to Jaspers, about the time he introduced me to you (or was it the other way around? I don't remember).]

Perhaps it is my own spiritual temperament as an Anglican that accounts for a "live-and-let-live" attitude, which continental temperaments may be inclined to regard as unsatisfactory. (See my quotation from Hooker in the thread.)

Imagination. Makes me think of John Lennon. In the same song in which he hoped for a world without religion (Imagine),  he sang, 

"You may say that I'm a dreamer, 
but I'm not the only one."  

That may be the difference between John's flying dream and religious imagination, or Gary's Little blue Martian Women. Religious imagination is collective, not individual. Religious traditions could be seen as the histories of such collective imagination, in which people who imagine similar things interact and refine the narrative. My own hope is that the Holy Spirit offers some guidance here (and not to Christians alone).

Will. Somehow the sociological finding that it is likely that people will continue in the religion in which they were first instructed, rather than converting to some other, does not seem to me to damage the notion of freedom of will very much. In my experience, at some point, people have to decide for themselves whether or not they will participate in their original faith communities. (A great many don't, in my own pastoral experience!) So, I guess that means that while there may be a certain predisposition to the "faith of our fathers" there is no absolute constraint. That means there is freedom.

On the other hand, it seems to me that there is no freedom whatsoever to adopt a complicated religious narrative of which one is unaware. You have to meet — or at least the love — a person before you can fall in love with him. So, religious institutions preach, teach, and sponsor youth groups and summer camps.  Because we love our children we tell the story, in hopes that the next generation will find it meaningful and lovable, as we have.  It offers them the opportunity to participate in the culture. 

Some families offer their children music lessons. Children of such families may be statistically more likely to become life-long musicians. Would we say that their will regarding music has been somehow constrained? Or would we say that they have had opened to them  possibilities which might otherwise have remained closed?

Anyway, my concern for faith/hope/love as a matter of the will is not so much about the sociological probabilities of the transmission of particular cultural narratives, as it is about the will vis-a-vis the intellect. I don't think it possible to talk anyone into loving (or trusting or hoping) through rational argument. All the latter can do is to show that faith/hope/love is reasonable — in Jeremy Taylor's sense — not that it is necessary. Once exposed to the narrative, a person has to choose. I grant that the choice may not be absolutely unconstrained. People raised in skeptical families usually remain skeptics, too. It maybe even harder to change what I've described as "spiritual temperament". In my observation, people raised in an atmosphere of strict religious certainty, when they reject it are likely to exhibit a similar certainty about their chosen skepticism. Fundamentalist kids who adopt some new religion often strike me as fundamentalist about it!

I suppose it is possible to say that the grace faith/hope/love is a condition, and not a choice. I do not find that satisfactory, however. [I never liked Augustine on this point.] Semi-Pelagianism is as far as I will go: grace may be necessary to faith, but we still have to choose to accept it. I have always found it interesting that the Greek East never considered Pelagianism very important. Could it be that is because the redemption that interested them was more cosmic than individual? 

Finally, John, about your dream. a few weeks before he died, Bill Hinkley in a dream, saw our late friend Milton "Soupy" Schindler, who said to him "It's not what you think". Bill replied to him, "I didn't think so. "To which Soupy replied, "It's not like that either!" (I hope you are chuckling at this point: doesn't that sound exactly like Soupy?) Well, I mention this because it is a good, personal example of alternative interpretive paradigms: 
  1. Bill's dream was a function of his own psyche, as it has to be according to WYSIWYG presuppositions
  2. Soupy actually appeared to his dying friend, in a dream, a common experience in pre-modern times, according to  TIMTMTE presu. 
I don't see that there is any way to prove it one way or the other. it's a question of presupposition.  Both   explain what happened. Y' pays yer money and y' takes yer choice.



Thank you for the kind words.

I, too, find this discussion interesting, in part because it helps me hone my positions, and also in your email here because of your interesting and revealing recapitulation of your own journey.  (And, yes, I'm glad you caught your voice recognition translation error; how far from existentialism can you get than Texas evangelism?  You talk about polar opposites!)

Your statement at the end, that the important thing is what we do, not what we say we believe, is the key issue in my mind.

 And I would add that it is not just what we say we believe but what we believe.

I think we still suffer from the Renaissance/Reformation preoccupation with individual salvation, and from the theological conundrum of faith and works. Luther, of course, was particularly exercised by this problem. As an Augustinian interested mainly in Paul, he had to insist that all good will comes from God, and that there is no such thing as good works. We can't be saved by doing good, only by faith. Luther, famously, just hated James (faith without works is dead) and remarked that he wished it had never been included in the canon of Scripture.

Interestingly, this conundrum didn't seem to bother the eastern half of the Church. Perhaps because they were more interested in John, who wrote a few words that have occupied me lately:

"God is love. Whoever loves is born of God and knows God."

Now if the traditional authorship be accepted, James (not the son of Zebedee but the first Bishop of Jerusalem, whom the Orthodox call the Brother of God, because he was Jesus' brother, according to tradition) and John (the Beloved Disciple, Jesus' best friend and maybe more) were, arguably, the closest to Jesus. This might suggest that they have particular authority, when it comes to passing along Jesus' teaching.

John does not say whoever believes the right things about Jesus is on the right track, but rather "whoever loves". 

The Gospel itself leaves no room for doubt about this: "not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord'…", and then the terrible passage about the sheep and the goats, in which the idea that salvation is a reward for orthodoxy is demolished. I often wonder what the apostate wing of Evangelicalism has to say about this one!

I am inclined to think that Jesus' the argument with the Pharisees and the scribes (the mullahs) and the Sadducees (the religious authorities of the Temple party) was a typical conflict between what some call esoteric and exoteric. The outward forms, either of praxis or of orthodox belief — what the New Testament calls the "letter of the law" — are decidedly secondary to love or the "spirit of the law". This conflict is found, I believe, in all religious traditions.

That is what Paul and Augustine and Luther were all wrestling with, I think. I also think that they may have erred [I mean especially Luther] in thinking of faith as what one thinks is true, as opposed to faith as trust and fidelity, or obedience. It was, after all, Thomas the Doubter who said "let us go up to Jerusalem that we may die with Him." That's faith, I think. What you do, not what you say you believe. Because what you do  attests to what you really do believe.

John also makes it clear that human love for God is found only in love of neighbor. In the first epistle, which we have been reading this season on Sundays, John remarks that God's love for us is prior to our love for God, and that our love for God is inseparable from — if not actually the same as — our love for one another. "Anyone who says he loves God and hates his neighbor is a liar." Moreover, we do not come to love God and then love our neighbor as a result, in this Johannine view. Rather, God's love for us gives us the capacity to love one another, and in doing so we "are born of God and know God". Knowledge (consciousness) of God is the result of loving one another, not the other way around.

Furthermore, there is no such thing as love for God outside love for neighbor. Our love for God is not a bilateral relationship that God sets up with individuals; it is a communal relationship in which what Martin Luther King called the "Beloved Community" lives in the love of God, together. [“Wherever two or three are gathered together in my Name, I am in the midst of them”] Herein lies what I regard as the mistake of American evangelicalism: the heretical notion of "personal relationship with God", [by which is meant an INDIVIDUAL relationship;] "me and God." (Perfectly expressed in that awful hymn, In the Garden). And the church is simply an assembly of individuals who imagine that they have such a relationship, as distinct from all those reprobates who are going to fry because they don't. There is no concept of the church as society: the Cosmic Organism that the New Testament calls the New Creation. The love of God makes it possible for human beings to enter this society of love for one another, which is salvation (wholeness, health).

It is also a terrible mistake to imagine that this New Creation is confined to the institutional church, in any of its forms. The great Russian theologian, Aleksey Khomiakov, and older contemporary of Dostoevsky, once remarked: "we know where the Church is, we do not know where the Church is not."  

"Whoever loves is born of God and knows God"

"Other sheep have I that are not of this fold"

This does not mean that the Church and its proclamation is mistaken when it says things like extra ecclesiam nulla salus  (there is no salvation outside the Church); it is to say that it is a mistake to confine the notion of ecclesia to particular historical institutions. Orthodox doctrine holds that the Church is the creature and the possession of the Spirit, and not the other way around. The Spirit is not confined to the Church. (Proof text: "the Spirit blows where She wishes. You know not where She comes from or where She is going".)

This sensibility may be the reason that Eastern Orthodox Christians have been more or less allergic to the persecution of heretics. Not that they never did so, but they did so far less than the Latin West,  and most of the lapses in Byzantium and Russia were Imperial. That is, the Emperor, for political reasons, persecuted theologians, many of whom later turned out to be recognized as orthodox saints. (Maximus the Confessor, Gregory Palamas.)

I'm very uncomfortable with I've accepted Jesus into my life, I believe in Jesus, I believe in God, I believe in the Bible declarations when they are---as they usually are---meant to say I'm saved and will go to heaven as opposed to those who do not make such declarations or have such beliefs, who will go to hell.  As if believing is some kind of magic word that when thought or uttered unlocks the door to the world you want.  The exclusiveness of it bothers me, but so does the fact that along with it goes no other obligation, that believing means you are automatically good and that those who do not believe are automatically bad and worthy of condemnation.  

I totally agree. See above. I think this is a complete misunderstanding of the notion of salvation by faith.

(The U.S. won WWII and it was because God was on our side.  The fact that we won the war--never mind the role of Russia--is proof God is on our side.  And from then on the posture that the U.S. can do no wrong has been a horrible legacy that followed.)

This view is blasphemy, a horrifying apostasy. It is the idolatrous worship of  self, extended to one's own patrie. It is exactly what the prophets of ancient Israel — and Jesus —  denounced. In its mildest form, American exceptionalism (which is bad enough), it remains what might be called America's original sin. By the way, the "peace churches" (Mennonites, Brethren, Moravians, Quakers, &c), the heirs of the "left-wing" of the Reformation, are very good on this subject.

 Along with that, morality becomes a set of rules to insure you stay inside the loop as opposed to a living thing involving empathy and conscience and the recognition that few if any moral decisions are ever cut and dried.  

Letter versus spirit. (See above.)

Believing becomes a means of getting something (life hereafter in heaven, or in the case of the Gospel of Prosperity people, earthly material rewards) and not as Jesus taught a foundation for service to others.  

This kind of "belief" is pretty much the exact opposite of the New Testament notion of faith, I think. Faith as fidelity and obedience to the commandment to "love one another as I have loved you"  is the definition of those who love Jesus, Who said "those who love me are those who keep my commandments." According to some, this means not only service to others (at a minimum), but complete self-sacrifice for the sake of others — including a sacrifice one's own soul.

In my last installment, I mentioned St. Mary of Paris (Marya Skobtsova, who died in the gas chamber at Ravensbrucke, a couple of days before its liberation). she observed that when Jesus said "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends" the word translated as life— psyche — also means soul. The greatest love is the sacrifice of one's soul for others. St.Mary and juxtaposes this translation with Paul's declaration that he would willingly be cut off from Christ himself if that could somehow benefit his brothers and sisters (the Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah). Following Christ to Golgotha means absolute dereliction — the experience of the utter absence of God — on behalf of others.

Maybe this is characteristically Russian extremism. But maybe not. Maybe the temptation to consider it so is a characteristic of lukewarm, bourgeois Christianity. In any case, it has nothing whatever to do with the religion of prosperity and going to heaven as a reward for saying the right magic words.

I consider Hitler and Stalin religious fanatics because materialism for them was religious doctrine that they tried to impose much as the pope and many denominations try, granted in less obviously destructive ways, to impose their views on the world population.

I think this is exactly right. When philosophical materialism is turned into a religion, you get the foretaste of anti-christ: horrors that are just as bad as those perpetrated by any other form of religious certainty.

 It's autocracy either way.  Born Agains and lots of main stream faithful are some of the biggest proponents of the death penalty, for Christ sake, and I don't see where telling someone if they don't believe a certain way they're going to hell is an example of loving your neighbor.  

That also is monstrous. Even demonic, in the language of my tradition. There is such a thing as bad and false religion. By the way, the most extreme of the groups you mention are just like Al Qaeda: they want some kind of religious law (which they would write) to be the law of the land, and they support the death penalty for adultery, homosexual acts, and so on. On the other hand — by way of apologetics— all the mainstream denominations that I know oppose the death penalty, including the Roman Catholic Church.

Atheists in this country, where a majority of the population claim to follow Jesus, are more reviled than pedophiles.  A study I read on the issue shows that the U.S. ranks as the most religious nation in the developed world but dead last in level of societal well-being.

By their fruits you shall know them.

 I don't think Dostoevsky's character was correct in saying, "Without God, everything is permitted."  Morality precedes religion.  We are innately moral.  We have to be because we need each other.  But our morality gets side-tracked by fanaticisms.  Your particular religiousness as you lay it out here is not a deterrent to morality; your conscience has chosen it as a means of expressing itself, and I feel you are very much engaged in service to your fellow creatures in the here and now, not to get something but because it's right to do so.  

The priority of morality or ethics is an interesting notion. If it be innate, where does it come from? Leaving out the God hypothesis, we get evolution — there's a lot of work being done on this subject right now, I think. The explanations are plausible, if sometimes a little bit tortured, like the Ptolemaic epicenters explaining that the movement of the heavenly bodies. At least that's how they sometimes strike me.

[It seems to me, furthermore, that totalitarianism does present a big problem for materialists. Just saying that they were “religious fanatics” – like the inquisitors of old – is not quite accurate, in my opinion. In fact, it obscures an important difference, which I think Dostoyevsky’s character was referring to: religious fanatics seek to preserve some kind of tradition, however pejorated, in the name of a past ideal (which may not have existed), which they associate with some ancient divine communiqué. Modern totalitarians consciously experience themselves as free to remake the world according to their own view of what ought to be in the FUTURE. The past is, by definition, reactionary, ESPECIALLY the notion of any divine communiqué. Hence,, “without God, everything is permitted”. This is not so much a manifesto of moral freedom as of the meaning of human life; without a religious tradition, we are free – in fact we are required – to abandon all tradition and to remake the world completely. Both Hitler and Stalin considered themselves “artists”.]

But, as I said it is important to me that there be no compelling argument for the religious narrative, for otherwise we are left with compulsion and the diminution of freedom, which is the disfiguration of the image of God.

As for heaven and hell, it's only a matter of hope. As you say what kind of asshole would hope that other people suffer horrible torment without end forever under ages and ages? 

Doing so makes a better world.  Jews were materialists.  

Yes indeed, the kind of materialism I deprecate is the fanatical  kind of that says ours is in the only way just as Al-Qaeda and the Christian Reconstructionists

CS Lewis once observed that Christianity is the most materialist religions, although probably not more so than Judaism. But what he meant, I think, was that the biblical tradition views material creation as real and good, not that material creation was all there is. In any case, Judaism and Christianity both rule out the heretical notion that material creation is evil. Or that it is some kind of prison, from which we must be rescued.

When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven he meant first and foremost a Kingdom of Heaven here on earth that it is our responsibility to build,

This is exactly right I think. "Heaven" was a euphemism for "God", a word which one hesitated to mention, in Jesus' time. it is interesting to note that when He taught us to pray, one of the petitions was "your kingdom come." What is interesting is that in the verb form of "come" is identical in grammar to the previous petition "Hallowed be your Name". In other words, the temporal and spatial import of the words is intended to be identical. Now, I don't suppose anyone has ever thought that the prior petition was asking that God's Name be considered holy at some unspecified time in the future, outside the world of here and now! Yet, we have thought so of the latter petition about the Kingdom. I think this is a mistaken interpretation. The Reign of God — on earth as in heaven — now, in our time, is what we pray for.

We must work for that kingdom. But we do have to be a little careful! Hannah Arendt called it the “totalitarian temotation” After all, that's what Stalin and Hitler wanted, too. When  Dostoyevsky’s character says "without God everything is permitted" I take it as prescient. Giving — literally — the devil his due, the totalitarians, like the Grand Inquisitor, are willing to do anything at all to build the kingdom. [Something totally NEW.] Che Guevara, who ordered the execution of many, said "the true revolutionary is motivated by great love." So were the torturers of the Inquisition. If killing a few tens of millions of people will usher in paradise on earth, is it not the loving thing to do? Who is to say otherwise? On what basis? [We are building the New World and the New Humanity. Please don’t burden us with your reactionary, bourgeois moral scruples. Without God everything is permitted]

Or, as another of Dostoevsky's characters (Ivan?) asked, what if you could ensure permanent world peace by torturing one small child to death? You could relieve unimaginable suffering by causing a little bit. What is the right thing to do? The same conundrum is found in Ursula Le Guin's The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. (See also,Unthinkable,  a recent film with Samuel Jackson, who wants to torture children in order to prevent LA from being blown up by a terrorist bomb.)

Here, I find myself in rare agreement with the Vatican: torture is absolutely evil; there is no circumstance under which it is permissible. I don't see how utilitarians (the greatest good for all concerned), relativists (right and wrong are cultural artifacts), or evolutionary biologists (moral standards are a result of natural selection) can arrive at the same conclusion. Maybe they can, but in my view our innate sense of right and wrong points to something Real that is outside human nature. 

[One more thing. You asked me earlier for “traces of God” that I find personally meaningful. I would put the human ability to apprehend Beauty at the top of the list. ( look forward to an evolutionary explanation of that!) The theological explanation goes back to the Greeks o kalos is the one word meaning good, beautiful, and true. Beauty is not an attribute of God, it is of God’s essence, and it is visible. This is related to the hesychast controversy in Byzantine Christianity, little known in the West. It is also, I think, why another of Dostoyevsky’s characters said “beauty will save the world”. It is also why beautiful liturgy is so important to the Orthodox. Beauty in music and iconography is not merely suuperfluous decoration – adiaphora, as the Lutherans say –  but it is an essential aspect of the liturgical work – to help to transfigure the world. The Latin West never completely lost this view, although it was partially obscured by the emphasis on the Mass as a recapitulation of the atoning Sacrifice of Christ, which became its chief purpose – getting our sins forgiven and reducing our time in Purgatory. The more masses the better, and whether or not they were beautiful was decidedly secondary. This late-medieval development presaged, I think, the individualism of the Renaissance/Reformation: what was important was the Redemption of the individual soul, not the Transfiguration of the Cosmos.]

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?