bookmark_borderWashed In The Blood Of Christ

The idea of being washed by the blood of Jesus is popular among conservative Christians who adhere to the “paying our sin debt” interpretation of Jesus’s death.  Recently, Jessica Brodie (mostly from sources outside Paul or the 4 Gospels) summarized it this way:

  • In fact, it was the shedding of Jesus’ blood, his “blood sacrifice,” that paid the price of our own sin-debt forever in the eyes of God. The Bible tells us the blood spilled as a sacrifice by Jesus ensures we are forgiven and redeemed from our sins (Ephesians 1:7). That blood reconciles us to God (Colossians 1:20) and gives us direct access to God, the “Most Holy Place” (Hebrews 10:19) without need for an intermediary priest. As the apostle Peter wrote to the early church, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus’s blood was the sacrifice that established a new covenant between God and the people, all who believe. He told the disciples as much at the Last Supper, when He took bread and wine, blessed it, and told them it was His body and blood. Giving a cup to the disciples to drink, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:23), and we still do this ritual of Holy Communion today in remembrance of this divine arrangement.
  • Being “washed in the blood” or “cleansed by the blood” describes the act of one accepting the free gift of salvation offered in Jesus. In Revelation 1:5, we’re reminded we are freed from our sins by the blood of Christ. Later in Revelation, the writer sees a great multitude standing before the Lord’s throne wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. He is told, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). In 1 John 1:7, we’re told the blood of Jesus “purifies” us from all sin. Other translations use the word “cleanses” or “washes.”
  • The Book of Hebrews describes this in full, summarizing, “19 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19-23). The holiness of Christ’s blood, then, washes us clean. See https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/what-does-it-mean-to-be-washed-in-the-blood.html

Dr. James McGrath has pointed out the flaw in this methodology where a few “apparently sin debt  friendly” passages are taken as the core of what the New Testament writers are saying, and everything else, however awkwardly, are interpreted through their lenses.  McGrath writes:

  • But penal substitution is also problematic when it is presented as though it were “what the Bible says.” The Bible as a whole, and the New Testament more specifically, uses a range of images and metaphors related to sin and atonement. I will not try to argue that penal and/or substitutionary imagery is never used. But the case can be made that it is not central either to the Bible as a whole or to the theology of specific authors.
  • For instance, the Levitical background to Hebrews (as clarified by Gordon Wenham) helps us understand that the imagery there is of purification of the sanctuary so that God can dwell in the midst of a sinful people. In Paul’s writings, many different images are used (including sacrifice and reconciliation), but main his focus is on being “in Christ” and participation with him in his death and resurrection. According to Paul, through our union with Jesus we are not spared a death that we deserve, but we die so that we can also live through our union with him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) https://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2015/06/problems-with-penal-substitution.html

In Leviticus, 2 animals are involved: the sacrificed animal, and the scapegoat that the sins are placed upon. One animal is killed, and the other one, the scapegoat, is released into the wilderness. In other words, the death of the one animal is not what is responsible for the removal of sins.

So, I take as my inquiry question when Paul cites the Corinthian creed/poetry “Christ died for our sins,” does this mean Christ died to pay our sin debt, or rather Christ died to make our hidden sinful nature conspicuous as a catalyst for repentance?  Coleman Glenn nicely sums up the problem with penal substitution:

  • The problem, though, is that even though the logic of it is sound if you accept the propositions, and even though you can find some evidence for each of those propositions, the propositions themselves are deeply flawed and out of line with the Bible’s overall message about who God is, starting with the very first one. God’s justice does NOT demand punishment for the past sin of someone who has repented – Ezekiel 33, for example, says this:

So, Jeremiah 31:31-33 offered the new prophecy that the law will be written on the hearts of the Jews, whereas Paul seems to expand this to the idea that the law is already written on the hearts of Jews and gentiles, but needs the blood of Christ to wash away the satanic influence and sinful inclinations from the heart, and can then be grown through love and Christ in you, the spirit or resisting Satan’s temptations.

Long before the penal substitution interpretation of the cross, St. Augustine wrote to explain the Satan Ransom theory.  Ransom atonement is to view it as a cosmic victory of Jesus over Satan and his kingdom. Passages like Hebrews 2:14 (“14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”) tell us that when Christ died on the cross, He destroyed the power of the evil one (also Colossians 2:15).

  • The Redeemer came and the deceiver was overcome. What did our Redeemer do to our Captor? In payment for us He set the trap, His Cross, with His blood for bait. He [Satan] could indeed shed that blood; but he deserved not to drink it. By shedding the blood of One who was not his debtor, he was forced to release his debtors— Doctrine of the Atonement, Catholic Encyclopedia

“Redeeming” in this case literally means “buying back,” and the ransoming of war captives from slavery was a common practice in the era. The theory was also based in part on Mark 10:45 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6, where Jesus and the forger of Paul mentioned the word “ransom” in the context of atonement.  The one holding man hostage here is not God, but Satan, since scripture is clear a person can’t ransom another person from God:

  • 7 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, (Psalm 49:7)

That man can be ransomed from Satan doesn’t put Satan on the same level as God, because man can’t pay a ransom to God. Jesus’ life was the price that needed to be paid to break Satan’s spell/free hostage humanity.   Jesus, if you believe he was the specially chosen one by God meant to restore the Davidic throne, has, through his death, the power to break the spell of Satan over us.  We read:

  • 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; 11 put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, 12 for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Satan the accuser in the Old Testament incited David to take a census of Israel, and Incited God to move against Job without cause (Job 2:3), but in the New Testament we hear things like how he went into Judas (Luke 22:3, John 13:27), and once Judas realized what he did, he hung himself. Revelation thus says Satan is the deceiver of all humans and humanity’s accuser (Revelation 12:9–10), he creates guiltiness in man even though it’s something Satan himself, not man, is responsible for.  In Acts 5:3 Peter talks about how “Satan filled your heart.” Satan is identified as the source of sin:

  • 44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

The blood redeems us, breaking the stranglehold of Satan and his minions who were behind the puppet human leaders of this evil world (the demons who Paul calls the archons of this aion).  It is the blood of Christ that overcomes Satan (Revelation 12:11, 1 John 3:8). From 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”  The blood of Christ cleanses, washes away.  In what sense?

One Conservative Commenter points out:

  • Throughout the New Testament, the term unclean spirits (akathartos in the Greek language) is mentioned over twenty times. Throughout those passages we read that unclean spirits can possess people and cause them sickness and harm (Matthew 10:1; 12:43; Mark 1:26; Luke 4:36; 6:18; Acts 5:16; 8:7), that they are searching for someone to possess if they are not currently possessing someone (Matthew 12:43), that some are more unclean or evil than others (Luke 11:26), that unclean spirits can interact with one another (Mark 5:1–20; Matthew 12:45), and that unclean spirits are under God’s authority and must submit to Him (Mark 1:27; 3:11; 5:8, 13).
  • An unclean spirit or demon is “unclean” in that it is wicked. Evil spirits are not only wicked themselves, but they delight in wickedness and promote wickedness in humans. They are spiritually polluted and impure, and they seek to contaminate all of God’s creation with their filth. Their foul, putrid nature is in direct contrast to the purity and incorruption of the Holy Spirit’s nature. When a person is defiled by an unclean spirit, he takes pleasure in corrupt thoughts and actions; when a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, his thoughts and actions are heavenly. https://www.gotquestions.org/unclean-spirits.html

What is the logic of the lamb’s blood? Jesus was wrongly killed by the satanically enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and crowd placating indifferent to justice Pilate “in all of us.”  Believing him to be God’s specially chosen one makes this conspicuous for us and is a catalyst for repentance.  His great words and works are meant to testify to who he was. Specifically, believing he was innocent and yet died to show us our sinful and satanic ground inspires repentance.  Historically, such an event is referred to with the “turning the mirror” metaphor.  The blood of Christ washes away the satanic and sinful grime off the law written on our hearts that Paul identifies (Romans 2:15), and that heart can then mature and grow through Jesus’ teachings, especially of the redefinition of love/agape to include love of enemy.  Hence, on the cross Jesus says “forgive them, they know not what they do.”

To see other articles in this series on penal substitution and justified lying, see the gathering post here: https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/05/i-get-interviewed-on-freethinker-podcast-about-mythicism-atonement-and-gnosticism/

bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 3

No Mental Life after Brain Death: The Argument from the Neural Localization of Mental Functions

Gualtiero Piccinini and Sonya Bahar 

(Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

For today’s post on The Myth of an Afterlife, I wanted to unpack some thoughts from Piccinini and Bahar’s chapter regarding the physical grounding of mystical experience.  They comment:

In 1983 Michael Persinger suggested that religious and mystical experiences in general might be artifacts of temporal lobe microseizures (Persinger, 1983). More recently, a wealth of brain imaging studies have complemented the early EEG studies, confirming the temporal localization of such events (Hansen & Brodtkorb, 2003). Other studies suggest that mystical experiences are not solely localized to the temporal lobe, however, and that they may involve a large and complex network of activations in the brain. Cosimo Urgesi, Salvatore M. Aglioti, Miran Skrap, and Franco Fabbro (2010) found that lesions in the inferior posterior parietal regions led to a feeling of “self-transcendence” in patients.

Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

That mystical experiences are simply brain based and not an indicator of the soul makes good sense of what we know of how the person transcends themselves, being ek-static or outside of oneself.

We encounter the issue of soul/brain dualism in the Transpersonal Psychology tradition following a certain interpretation of Jung, which made a big deal out of transcendence in the mystical and alchemical traditions.  So for instance, etymologically, the language originally used to describe the self originally came from nature (eg., I’m boiling mad).   Nietzsche clarified this that we are outside of ourselves in the sense that we bodily schematize experience, and so for instance when we have a stomach ache, beings appear in an irritating manner, so it isn’t just an activity of the mind-ish soul, but a general physiological point.

On the idea of our ek-static nature or being outside of ourselves, here’s a recent post I did on the Heidegger Circle discussion group:

 Heidegger points out that since Plato, anything that ‘is’ can be differentiated into two realms, the aistheton and the noeton, that which is apprehended by the senses and that which can be experienced by nous, the mind’s eye. The noeton is that which truly is for Plato (see below) because it is not subject to the changeability of the things of the senses, and hence are constant. The particular house shows the essence, house as such, but only in a limited way, and hence is me on, not simply nothing, ouk on, but deficient with respect to what truly is, the primary image, the paradeigma (cf Heidegger, Holderlin’s Hymn The Ister, 24).  But, this needs to be thought in a Greek way, since for instance under Homer’s understanding with beings as eonta, Homer applies the term eonta to “the Achaean’s encampment before Troy, the god’s wrath, the plague’s fury, funeral pyres, [and] the perplexity of the leaders’. Man too belongs to eonta.”  So, the beings that are sensed are not simply thought of as mind independent substances with properties, but in terms of presencing, since man is grounded in eros, is parestios, the one in the sphere of the warmth of the hearth fire who nourishes on Being.  How?

There is one idea (house) despite the many incarnations of house.  So, thought of verbally as the event of presencing, the idea “house” may be presencing powerfully to the observer through the beautiful mansion, comparatively plainly and weaker through the average dwelling, and hardly at all through the run down cottage. But, Heidegger stresses here that Homer says the gods don’t appear to everyone enargeis (Odyssey, 16, 161), Odysseus experiencing the radiant presencing of the goddess as Beauty incarnate, though the next person beside him wasn’t experiencing the woman in that lustrous way.  So, the rustic cottage you find presencing as shoddy may be presencing as quite charming and quaint to the next person:  Heidegger thinks enargeis in the sense of argos, radiant, the same word Plato uses in the Phaedrus (250d) to indicate the presencing, radiant shining of the Beautiful (McNeill, 332).  The idea is the oneness and constancy that presences through all beings: alteration and change meaning basically non-being for Plato. Why?

For Plato the soul nourishes itself (trephetai) on Being.  A human is parestios, the one in the sphere of the warmth of the hearth fire in eros – but thought in relation to deinon/apolis – restlessness/homelessness (Sophocles’ Antigone).  Plato compared the constancy of the stars with man’s own erratic, disorderly and restless thoughts, and believed that people should aspire to the regularity of the heavenly bodies (Healy, 1984). This is why in the Nicomachean Ethics theoria is the highest form of human life for Aristotle.  Heidegger cites Aristotle that the life of theoria [contemplation] which exceeds phronesis [practical wisdom], is a kind of godly life, an athanatizein, to be immortal- [whereby athanatizein is formed like hellenizein, to be Greek], that implies that in theoria we comport ourselves like immortals. In theoria mortals reach up to the life of the gods (see Heidegger, Heraclitus Seminar, 111).  For the Greeks both gods and humans were immortal, but the deathlessness of the gods meant the blessedness of their manner of existing, forever in the fire and absorption of youth.

This positive, comparative, and superlative presencing of the universal (eg House) means the idea of the beautiful is what shines through the various levels of appearing (Now that’s a house!):  “What is most longed for in eros, and therefore the Idea that is brought into fundamental relation, is what at the same time appears and radiates most brilliantly.  The erasmiotaton, which at the same time is ekphanestaton, proves to be the idea tou kalou, the Idea of the beautiful, beauty (Heidegger, ‘Nietzsche [1991],’ 167).”

Holderlin points to verbalization of predicates: the sky is usually nice and “blueing,” but especially when the sky “blues” after a storm.  Similarly, the house always “yellows,” but especially so when you turn down a strange street you’ve never been on before looking for the yellow house, when suddenly yellowness leaps at you!

Heidegger thus says more original than “perceiving-perceived substance with properties” understanding of the person perceiving beings is the ancient Greek notion of “ek-statikon” or “being-in-the-world.”  So for instance, in perceiving something as boring or sexy, the predicates are not simply fully perceiver or perceived, but in the middle as event: the way the being is presencing (eg the tv show appears or is showing itself in a boring manner to me, boringness is felt as a characteristic of the show, the other, though the next person may not experience this boringness at all).  Likewise, Dreyfus pointed to predicates like “equipment,” which both do and don’t belong to the hammer, since a large rock can perform the same function as a hammer but isn’t essentially viewed as equipment.

Understanding something as a thing in terms of a substance with properties requires schematizing it as a temporal snapshot.  The sun has been a “substance,” a thing with properties, much longer than any substance on earth, but in reality this “substance sun” is only a moment in the process of an event that is the birth and death of this star, and that event in turn is itself simply a moment in further events “in-process.”

Of course, the mystical and alchemical traditions of being outside of ourselves (supposedly in union with Nature and God) are not evidence of a soul as many transpersonalists hold any more than is an out of body experience, but are just extreme cases of our normal Being-In-The-World, our being ek-statik or outside of ourselves.  I have a professor friend who is an adamant transpersonal psychologist who takes a good solid empirical foundation and then turns it into ridiculousness by inferring all kinds of theological nonsense.  For instance, psychologists  know that one of the fundamental human abilities/instincts is mirroring, like the way the infant mirrors the expressions of the mother.  This is the mechanism that allows us to mirror nature (eg I’m boiling mad), and so nature-self referential language cross culturally is analogous because the environment is analogous world wide.  So, since there are similarities in the world wherever you go, human self-understanding, grounded in this mirroring, is going to be similar.  This is the transpersonal understanding of the Jungian archetypes (the sophisticated transpersonalists anyway).  And so, for instance, historically, for the medieval alchemists the turning of something into gold represented the perfecting of the mirroring soul.  Where the whole valorization of mythicism thing by transpersonalists becomes absurd is when the transpersonalists start inferring divine stuff from this perfectly naturalistic and reasonable foundation.  My friend and I have argued about this many times.  It’s silly.  For instance, there are meditative traditions where you can cultivate a feeling of the dissolving of the self into Being, but this in no way implies the existence of God, contact with God, or that you have become part of God.  It’s just an unusual feeling/experience.  These are simply interesting tricks of the brain.  Psychadelic drugs can also invoke such altered states of consciousness.

The cross cultural question is interesting.  The mirroring that creates an understanding of self, either of mother by child, or environment by person (eg.. I’m boiling mad), or understanding oneself through one’s culture (eg, your are probably Muslim if born in certain countries), etc., understandably are cross cultural because we all share similar brains, instincts and environments worldwide.  And so, for instance, mysticism where the practitioner thinks they are unifying with God is to be expected on the atheist account.  Just as being marginalized and belittled causes negative little-ing (feeling negatively small), the positive companion phenomenon of being dwarfed causes serenity.  So just as you might feel dwarfed at the expanse when looking out over the ocean, or as a child in the protective embrace of a parent, or as a student by the genius of Aristotle, so too in some meditative traditions can the practitioner latch on to how my self is received from the other (via mirroring) and cultivate/grow the feeling of being dwarfed by that Other to such a point that the self feels effaced and the only experience left is this expanse (what some traditional mysticism theologizes as the mystical union with God).  There is nothing supernatural or mysterious, here and is exactly what one would expect on a secular account.

And so, since this being-outside-oneself in mirroring seems to be a perfectly natural activity of our physiology, it would make sense that animals would have these types of  transcendent experiences too.  So Jennifer Viegas reports that:

Animals (not just people) likely have spiritual experiences, according to a prominent neurologist who has analyzed the processes of spiritual sensation for over three decades.

           Research suggests that spiritual experiences originate deep within primitive areas of the                 human brain — areas shared by other animals with brain structures like our own.

The trick, of course, lies in proving animals’ experiences.

“Since only humans are capable of language that can communicate the richness of spiritual experience, it is unlikely we will ever know with certainty what an animal subjectively experiences,” Kevin Nelson, a professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky, told Discovery News.

“Despite this limitation, it is still reasonable to conclude that since the most primitive areas of our brain happen to be the spiritual, then we can expect that animals are also capable of spiritual experiences,” added Nelson, author of the book “The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain,” which will be published in January 2011.

The finding is an extension of his research on humans, which has been published in many peer-reviewed journals. A Neurology journal study, for example, determined that out-of-body experiences in humans are likely caused by the brain’s arousal system, which regulates different states of consciousness.

“In humans, we know that if we disrupt the (brain) region where vision, sense of motion, orientation in the Earth’s gravitational field, and knowing the position of our body all come together, then out-of-body experiences can be caused literally by the flip of a switch,” he said. “There is absolutely no reason to believe it is any different for a dog, cat, or primate’s brain.”

Other mammals also probably have near-death experiences comparable to those reported by certain humans, he believes. Such people often say they saw a light and felt as though they were moving down a tunnel.

The tunnel phenomenon “is caused by the eye’s susceptibility to the low blood flow that occurs with fainting or cardiac arrest,” he said. “As blood flow diminishes, vision fails peripherally first. There is no reason to believe that other animals are any different from us.”

Nelson added, “What they make of the tunnel is another matter.”

The light aspect of near-death experiences can be explained by how the visual system defines REM (rapid eye movement) consciousness, he believes.

“In fact,” he said, “the link between REM and the physiological crises causing near-death experience are most strongly linked in animals, like cats and rats, which we can study in the laboratory.”

Mystical experiences —  moments that inspire a sense of mystery and wonderment —  arise within the limbic system, he said. When specific parts of this system are removed from animal brains, mind-altering drugs like LSD have no effect.

Since other animals, such as non-human primates, horses, cats and dogs, also possess similar brain structures, it is possible that they too experience mystical moments, and may even have a sense of spiritual oneness, according to Nelson.

Marc Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, also believes animals have spiritual experiences, which he defines as experiences that are nonmaterial, intangible, introspective and comparable to what humans have.

Both he and primatologist Jane Goodall have observed chimpanzees dancing with total abandon at waterfalls that emerge after heavy rains. Some of the chimps even appear to dance themselves into a trance-like state, as some humans do during religious and cultural rituals.

Goodall wondered, “Is it not possible that these (chimpanzee) performances are stimulated by feelings akin to wonder and awe? After a waterfall display the performer may sit on a rock, his eyes following the falling water. What is it, this water?”

“Perhaps numerous animals engage in these rituals, but we haven’t been lucky enough to see them,” Bekoff wrote in a Psychology Today report.

“For now, let’s keep the door open to the idea that animals can be spiritual beings and let’s consider the evidence for such a claim,” he added.

“Meager as it is, available evidence says, ‘Yes, animals can have spiritual experiences,’ and we need to conduct further research and engage in interdisciplinary discussions before we say that animals cannot and do not experience spirituality.”

The responsibility would seem to be on the brain/soul dualists to mount the argument in favor of the soul because they are going beyond what is immediately given in the evidence, like it would be the responsibility of the schizophrenic to provide evidence of actual alien involvement for her genuinely felt experience that aliens are controlling her brain.

It seems that to conclude from experiences of bodily transcendence such as in NDEs or certain meditative experience that (i) this is evidence an immaterial soul exists and (ii) evidence of what this soul is like, is an egregious paralogism. Heidegger showed being ek-static is our basic human stance, and the transcendence experienced by mystics is simply and extreme form of this general being-outside-ourselves.  Arguing for brain/soul dualism is analogous to someone who is experiencing phantom limb syndrome after an arm amputation and reasoning that not only (i) The soul does exist, but also (ii) The soul has an arm, four fingers and a thumb.

bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 2

Today I wanted to think a little about the difference between the kinds of lenses theological hypotheses provide in comparison with secular lenses in science and even literature.  In his introduction to the book, Augustine points out that regarding the secular framework for viewing death:

“Because we are built from the same flesh and blood and DNA that forms nonhuman animals, and share their evolutionary origins, their mortality implies our mortality.”

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

Theistic explanations of reality are indifferent to the reality they are trying to color.  In response to horrific animal and human suffering, the theist responds “God promises justice in the next life, not this one.”  This means through the theist lens the world looks exactly as it would if there was no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.  Similarly, in response to empirical scientific experiments that show the ineffectiveness of prayer, the theist responds “God always answers prayer, just sometimes the answer is no.”  Again, the theistic explanatory framework sees a world that would look exactly the same way if there was no God.  And with “miraculous healing,” while it may be unlikely that you would undergo a medically highly unlikely recovery of health, given a planet of billions it is to be expected some would unusually recover health: for the same reason that while it is ridiculously unlikely you would win the lottery, it is not unlikely at all that someone will win – and someone usually does.  Similarly, Carrier responds to the theist fine tuning argument of the cosmos that actually the universe is optimally configured to generate black holes and be hostile to life, which is exactly what you would predict if there was no God.  

Far from being a rigorous scientific level colored lens for viewing reality, the theistic colored lens certainly is not, and is not even at the level of a literary colored lens.  If I told a student who has never encountered Shakespeare that Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story, they can use that lens to generally predict what they will find in the text and actively confirm by reading.  Making and confirming predictions is a good meaning making strategy.  The religious lens makes predictions only because it is so broad and vague that it is unfalsifiable.  

And really, as Heidegger points out, the issue of mind is not so much the question of consciousness as the question of awareness, because one can be unconscious and yet very aware and absorbed in an unfolding dream.  The key seems to be that conscious and unconscious awareness is grounded in the way the mind creates the experience of the stretching out of time as a foundation for allowing experience, since by contrast under general anesthetic the patient goes to sleep and wakes up an hour later in what feels like an instant.  When we chemically interrupt the mind creating time as a scaffold for experience we really experience the nothingness that will be death, specifically when even the nothing is not experienced. 

bookmark_borderThe Law Written On Our Hearts

It is sometimes said that the only difference between Paul and the Jerusalem bunch on Jesus is that Paul didn’t think gentile converts needed to be circumcised (become fully Jewish).  This hardly makes Paul historically interesting, and seems to miss a key distinction.

In previous posts I talked about Jeremiah’s prophecy that the law would be written on people’s hearts, which seemed to have been fulfilled in Jesus who redefined love from Greek eros (Honor seeking Achilles) to Christian agape (love of enemy).  The key event post-Jesus was the realization of God’s chosen one being horribly tortured and killed by the sins of the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and crowd placating, indifferent to justice Pilate, which were also the sins in all of us.  This slap in the face of his beloved followers was a catalyst to realize how corrupt we and the system were and inspire change, which was particularly important because the end of the age and hence judgment was imminent.  The law thus written on the hearts by Jesus was a Jewish fulfilled prophecy for Jews, and if gentiles wanted to participate they had to become Jews.

The apocalyptic Paul had a novel take on this.  For him, the important thing is that God’s specially chosen Davidic heir was crucified, and so the law already written on the hearts of Jews and Gentiles was made conspicuous as the heart was circumcised.  Then, what was important in battling Satan is that Christ possessed and empowered you.  In this regard, Jesus’ entire ministry and teaching was unimportant to Paul.  What mattered was the accomplishment of the cross, which is why Paul said “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2).” 

 So, we have a difference between James/Peter in the meaning of Christ’s death, and Paul’s.  This is hard to see because Paul influenced Mark, but we can make some inferences.  If the main element for Jesus’ life was writing the law on Jewish people’s hearts, his wrongful death as God’s specially chosen one stamped this law as a disc-closure of the corruptness of the world.  Paul, on the other hand, argued, the law was already written on the hearts of Jews and gentiles and the corrupt, fleshly natures of those hearts just needed to be circumcised away through the cross.  Paul, who was from the birthplace of the stoic enlightenment, had infused stoicism into the Jeremiah prophesy with the idea that for Christ’s death to convict us (the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and the placating, indifferent to Justice Pilate in all of us), an inner principle of Justice must already lie dormant within all humanity.  When Mark and Luke both emphasize the transformation of the Roman soldier at the cross (Truly this is God’s son; an innocent Man), this is pure Pauline influence arguing against the Jewish exclusivity of the Jeremiah prophecy Jesus, James and Peter ascribed to.  For Peter and James, Jesus’s wrongful death was a horror to the Jewish Christians, as he was thought to restore the Davidic line, and was family and friend to them.  For Paul, the offence was against our very humanity, the specially chosen one of God condemned to the cross as an affront to both Jews and Gentiles equally.  Troels Engberg-Pedersen comments in a somewhat different context:

  • In Stoicism grasping the good takes the form of what may best be called a “conversion”: a sudden insight that changes all one’s previous perceptions and leads to right action. And that is exactly what we find in Paul too, where the “grasp of the good” (i.e. of the Christ event and its meaning) is something suddenly believed (in faith, pistis) and understood (through the pneuma).

Paul is not thinking of Christ dying for our sins as paying our sin debt instead of us, but rather Christ died so all have died (1 Cor 5:14), specifically we are crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) in that the real ones who should be subject to justice is not Jesus, but the crowd, religious elite, and Pilate in all of us. And to believe that we have crucified the special chosen son of God is to see the malignancy at our core and desire to reject/destroy it – repentance that will enable God to forgive, since there can be no true forgiveness without repentance.

Jesus’ words from the cross in Luke are really informative: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” So (i) the one point is that the issue is about forgiving sins rather than punishing them. And (ii) the other point is that the people can’t see that they are sinful, so the veils over their eyes need to be lifted so they can truly see themselves for what they are and repent. Forgiveness is powerless without repentance, like a wife who continually forgives a spouse who won’t stop cheating. That’s basically what I’m trying to argue against the penal substitution interpretation.

Reference:

Stoicism in early Christianity: The Apostle Paul and the Evangelist John as Stoics. Authored by: Troels Engberg-Pedersen in The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition

bookmark_borderSeptuagint Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:17 (reflecting with Mako Nagasawa)

One of the topics I explore in my penal substitution essay is the question of Isaiah 53 influencing the New Testament writers. One topic I didn’t include in the Isaiah 53 section of the essay is Matthew and Isaiah 53:4 of the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures the NT writers used)

Matthew, though appearing first in the bible, was written after Mark and incorporates a great deal of Mark into itself. It shows itself to be a Judaizing of the gentile gospel of Mark, so it is notoriously difficult to trace material back from Matthew’s narrative to the historical Jesus. It seems to incorporate early material, the hypothetical Q source, which is the material common to Matthew and Luke that didn’t come from Mark.

In my penal substitution essay, I try to show that Conservative Christians are wrong to think the NT writers used Isaiah 53 to suggest penal substitution, the idea Christ suffered/died in our place to pay our sin debt. Today I am going to look at Mako Nagasawa’s arguments why Matthew 8:17, which cites Septuagint Isaiah 53:4, does not align with penal substitution.

Nagasawa points out it is in his sinful nature that Jesus identifies with the rest of humanity. Consider how this relates to the question of the circumcised heart I talked about in my last Secular Frontier post:

  • But on the deepest level, Jesus suffered humanity’s internal condition which made the exile from Eden necessary in the first place.  That is, he shared in the corruption of sin within human nature, the common human condition since the fall.  Jesus really did struggle against the flesh, especially in the wilderness (Mt.4:1 – 11) and at Gethsemane (Mt.26:36 – 75).  Those two episodes bracket his public life and ministry... This parallel means that Jesus, throughout his life, and even at the Sermon on the Mount, was receiving the Father’s writing of His law on the tablet of his human heart, so that Jesus might be able to share his own heart by his Spirit with others.  He was condemning sin in his own sinful flesh (Rom.8:3), to put to death the old self (Rom.6:6), and produce the heart circumcised by the Spirit (Rom.2:28 – 29), making him out to be the true Israelite, the one restored from exile (Dt.30:6).  Paul understood this act to embody Israel’s true vocation under the law (Rom.7:14 – 8:4).  If Jesus embodied Israel in himself, he therefore embodied that very vocation:  to return his human nature back to God circumcised of heart.  This involved for Jesus an intense suffering which we can only existentially understand through the hardest moments of our own temptations and choices to faithfully grow in obedience with him, by his Spirit.  The author of Hebrews notes, ‘In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.’ (Heb.5:7 – 8)

Matthew quotes Isaiah 53:4 to parallel Jesus’ life with early Israel. Then regarding the heart and Jeremiah’s prophesy I talked about in my last Secular Frontier blog post, Nagasawa comments that:

  • Following the Sermon on the Mount, which are commandments directed towards the human heart in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy (Jer.31:31 – 34), Jesus gives ‘ten commandments’ in Matthew 8:1 – 9:38 by his word… Matthew is clearly grouping these miracles together to present a sustained reflection on the Sermon on the Mount.  The two sections in Matthew, 5:1 – 7:28 and 8:1 – 9:38, are mutually interpreting.  That is, the heart commandments and the verbal-healing commands are literary reflections on each other.

How is Jesus to be understood in connection to early Israel? In non-penal-substitution fashion, Nagasawa comments that:

  • Matthew begins his Gospel by speaking of Jesus saving ‘his people from their sins’ (Mt.1:21).  Not their punishment, which is already unfolding through the exile, but their sins.  Matthew is saying that Jesus shares in the diseased human nature of all humanity.  He shows this through Jesus’ baptism, in that Jesus confesses sin through his baptism:  not sins of action or thought that he had actually committed, but the sinfulness of his flesh (Mt.3:13 – 17).  His wilderness temptation and trial reflects his struggle against the sinfulness in his flesh (Mt.4:1 – 11), otherwise, there would be no temptation or struggle at all.  But whereas at Mount Sinai, God had discourse with Moses alone, when Jesus speaks from the top of a mountain, giving the Sermon on the Mount, he is opening up face to face contact with Israel, represented by his disciples.  And this is further portrayed as Matthew as a ‘ten commandments’ delivering people from diseases and demons… [In Matthew] Jesus, by stretching out his hand, is liberating people from disease, demons, and death.  These acts are outward pictures of Jesus liberating people from the even deeper problem of human sin, evil, and separation from God.  Jesus is restoring humanity to what God meant us to be.  The three lessons on discipleship woven into the ten miracles suggest that Jesus’ call for disciples to follow him should be understood as his way of healing us.

As I said in my previous post, this all has to do with circumcising the heart and the twofold play of disclosing the law written on our hearts and Jesus reshaping our hearts. Nagasaw concludes:

  • In effect, Matthew’s parallel extends to even before the Exodus and the Ten Commandments.  That is because the Ten Commandments and the ten plagues from Exodus were already referring to the ten declarations in the Genesis creation narrative (Gen.1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28).  God was making Israel into his new humanity, who lived in a garden land like the original humanity.  Ten utterances from God bring forth new life; they inaugurate a covenant; they set free and liberate; they order and declare.  They demonstrate God’s power to do all these things.  Thus, when we listen to Jesus’ teaching on our hearts, we must receive his word with the understanding that his word contains his power to change us.  Jesus brings forth new life in us; he liberates us from our own sinfulness; his word orders and declares a new spiritual reality in human nature.  This is possible because Jesus himself is touching corrupted human nature in his own person.  His healing of the leper, the paralytic, etc. are external pictures of a singular, deeper, internal reality at work within the person of Jesus… It is puzzling for penal substitution advocates to claim that Isaiah 53 supports them, because Matthew himself does not understand Isaiah 53 that way when he explicitly quotes it.  He does not quote it in a legal-penal context, but in a healing-ontological context, and in a literary unit that asks us to situate Isaiah 53 itself in the framework of ontological substitution (the heart of Christus Victor), not penal substitution.

WORK CITED:

Atonement in Scripture: Isaiah 53, Part 2, Mako Nagasawa – blog post, https://newhumanityinstitute.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/atonement-in-scripture-isaiah-53-part-2/

bookmark_borderI Get Interviewed On Freethinker Podcast About Mythicism, Atonement, and Gnosticism

  • Inquiry Question: “If Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet predicting the soon end of the age, why the major emphasis on personal and societal growth and transformation?”

“meretrix pudicam:” “The harlot rebuketh the chaste.” (proverb referenced by Athenagoras of Athens)

Here is an abridged transcript of the interview:

Q1 – Why do you think that Luke goes against the standard model of the atonement (or penal substitutionary model)?

I tend to think Luke is actually the most conspicuous case of what is generally going on in Mark and Paul.  Ehrman writes:

  • It is easy to see Luke’s own distinctive view by considering what he has to say in the book of Acts, where the apostles give a number of speeches in order to convert others to the faith. What is striking is that in none of these instances (look, e.g., in chapters 3, 4, 13), do the apostles indicate that Jesus’ death brings atonement for sins. It is not that Jesus’ death is unimportant. It’s extremely important for Luke. But not as an atonement. Instead, Jesus death is what makes people realize their guilt before God (since he died even though he was innocent). Once people recognize their guilt, they turn to God in repentance, and then he forgives their sins. (Ehrman, 2017)

I think this is ultimately what we also see with Paul and Mark.  Just as Luke has the transformation with the soldier saying of the crucified Jesus “This was an innocent man,” Mark has the soldier say “truly, this was God’s son,” which according to my reading is the soldier giving Jesus respect for voluntarily being wrongly horribly tortured and executed to show us our inner corrupt nature and inspire repentance – the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and indifferent to justice Pilate in all of us who killed God’s specially chosen son who God sent to restore the Davidic throne (though God’s real plan was the death and resurrection). [1]

Penal substitution makes no sense as an interpretation of the cross: how does it serve justice to punish an innocent child in Africa for the crimes of a felon in Chicago?  If something is obviously senseless to us, we should be wary about believing the original Christians ascribed to it.  This is also part of the reason I disagree with the mythicism of Price, Carrier, etc, because if Christ was crucified in outer space by demons and was never on earth, the central point of the transformative nature of the cross evaporates.  How does such a death inspire my self-realization and repentance?

Basically what I’m arguing is that I think Jesus’ words from the cross in Luke are really informative: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).” So, from that quote, (i) the one point is that the issue is about forgiving sins rather than punishing them. And, (ii) the other point is that the people can’t see that they are sinful, so the veils over their eyes need to be lifted so they can truly see themselves for what they are and repent. [2] Forgiveness is powerless without repentance, like a wife who continually forgives a spouse who won’t stop cheating. This is basically what I’m trying to argue against the penal substitution interpretation of the cross that says Jesus died in our place to pay our sin debt.

Q2 –  Do you think that the real Jesus would have approved of The Council of Jerusalem’s decision to take circumcision’s off the ‘to do list’ in order to become a Christian (even Paul had to think about what the Judaisers were saying and later meet with the Apostles ?

Q3-  Do you think the Gnostic movement began in the 1st Century?

I’ll answer these together.  Paul felt he had a gospel that was appropriated from the Jerusalem bunch (Corinthian Creed), but also was uniquely his.  Paul writes:

  • 25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to “my gospel” and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 16:25)

The “my gospel” of Paul seems to be that the Christ’s death awakened the law written on our hearts on our hearts, Jews and Gentiles (see Romans 2:14-15):

When gentiles, who do not possess the law, by nature do what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, as their own conscience also bears witness

To understand this, we need to go back to Jeremiah.  Jeremiah’s prophecy is to the Jews in exile.  This was a prophecy to the Jews, but Paul expanded it with the law written on the hearts of the gentiles:

  • 31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will “write it on their hearts,” and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.  (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Notice how the last line isn’t about people being made to pay for their sins, but rather God forgiving.  So, Paul took this idea but expanded it saying it was not just a prophecy for the Jews that Jesus fulfilled, but a covenant with all people who always had the law written on their hearts dormantly, so there was no need for the difficult transition for gentiles to become circumcised Jews to become Christians.  The death of Christ awoke the law written on our hearts because we wrongfully killed him, and so inspired repentance – what Paul called a circumcision of the heart.   This fits in nicely with the argument that Mark was using Paul (the idea of the transformation of the Roman soldier in Mark and Luke / for Carrier on Marks use of Paul see https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/15934). 

For the other question, Gnosticism is the idea that besides other ways, salvation most properly comes through gnosis or secret knowledge.  This is what Paul taught, that what was at issue was a mystery hidden since the beginning of the world (1 Cor. 4:1, Rom. 16:25,26).  The mystery is that God wrote the law on the hearts of Jews and gentiles, and this was a true test of your heart because the crucifixion of God’s specially chosen one Jesus activated this inner divine spark, and so your response to Christ determined whether you had been crucified with Christ in that your heart was circumcised.  This notion of special knowledge is also conspicuous in Mark who has Jesus say even the disciples didn’t completely have it:

  • 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything comes in parables, 12 in order that ‘they may indeed look but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ” 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? (Mark 4:11-12)

I think this is good evidence that the salvation through the cross and resurrection was not even on Jesus’ radar during his lifetime, as the disciples wouldn’t have gotten violent at the arrest of Jesus if the crucifixion/resurrection was ever part of the plan.  McGrath makes the point that the writers wouldn’t have invented the idea of the disciples being violent at the arrest.  You see the writers inserting ideas about Jesus predicting his death and resurrection, which is fun apologetics but hardly historical.

I don’t think the historical Jesus would have thought of himself as anything other than a failed messianic claimant.  The disciples wouldn’t have gotten violent at Jesus’ arrest if the plan was for Jesus to die.  The cross/resurrection theology was invented after Jesus died, and I think Jeremiah 31:33-34 I mentioned before is probably a pretty good window into what James, Peter, and the Jerusalem bunch were advocating, and where Paul appropriated from them, yet diverged.  Jesus fulfilled the Law by teaching it’s essence as love of God and neighbor, and redefined love to emphasize love of enemies and those who persecute you (Matt 5:43-48).  This reversed the Greek notion of love with Achilles and the love/eros of endlessly seeking honor and glory.  Love does not pursue so as to temporarily satisfy, but rather bestows value, so that even those some might find undesirable are loved: the ground of care for widow, orphan, stranger, and enemy.  This is a law written on the heart, a transformed heart.

Of course, the idea of awakening the divine spark within through Christ’s death certainly resonates with  Gnosticism.  Great Gnostic scholar Elaine Pagels  says:

  • Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, “My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow:, joy, love, hate . . . If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself

Ecclesiastes 3:11 declares that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.” In Luke 17:21, Jesus proclaims, depending on how you translate it, that “The kingdom of God is within you,” and “all flesh will see the salvation of God.”

Regarding the death of Socrates and thanking Asclepius for the poison because of the transformative effect Socrates’ death would have on society (we no longer execute people for being a nuisance/gadfly), this phenomenon had led some (e.g., St. Ambrose) to conclude that Plato had actually heard the prophet Jeremiah when in Egypt:  Conversely, Gmirkin argues for a late date for Jeremiah and that the Platonic/Socratic flavor of Jeremiah as the Deuteronomistic literary stereotype of the persecuted prophet in Jeremiah draws on Greek antecedents, notably the portrait of Socrates in Plato’s writings.

There is sometimes a dispute over what it means for Jesus to be a sacrifice.  If we look at the Leviticus 16 background for the sacrifice imagery in the Letter to the Hebrews, we see there are two animals involved.  The blood of the sacrificed animal doesn’t provide vicarious atonement, but rather sanctifies and allows God to dwell amongst a sinful people.  On the other hand, the sins of the people are put on the other animal, the scapegoat, and it is released into the wilderness.  Obviously, Jesus is the sacrificed animal, not the scapegoat.  The idea with the law in people’s hearts is Christ’s sacrifice provides the occasion to awaken the law written on your heart and inspire repentance.  Recall the passage from Jeremiah about the new covenant law being written on people’s hearts.  *** God is powerless to forgive unless the people repent.  Otherwise, it’s like a wife who is forever forgiving and giving second, third, etc chances to a cheating spouse who won’t stop cheating.

Similarly, James McGrath points out the gospel of John is interesting because when John says Jesus takes away the sin of the world, he doesn’t call him a scapegoat, but a lamb, specifically a Passover lamb.  There doesn’t seem to be a connection between atonement for someone’s sins and the Passover sacrifice, but if we see it as a collective with sin enslaving the Jews in Egypt Christ’s death points to transformation from being in bondage/enslaved by sin.  It has nothing to do with Christ dying in our place to pay God our sin debt – as though we had ever done anything (the vast majority of us) that warrants capital punishment!

ENDNOTES

[1] See: https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/04/some-good-friday-reflections/

[2] There has been question by a few as to whether the forgiveness prayer of Luke 23:34 was originally in Luke, or rather if it was inserted by a later scribe, because it is missing from some ancient manuscripts. Ehrman provides a convincing argument that the prayer was authentic to Luke. Ehrman comments:

  • The verse (found only in Luke) coincides perfectly with Luke’s own portrayal of Jesus as calm and in control in the face of his death, more concerned with the fate of others than himself; it shows Jesus in prayer, a distinctive emphasis of Luke, long recognized; the prayer itself embodies the motif of “ignorance”, a notion used throughout Luke-Acts to account for Jesus’ unlawful execution. (This preceding argument is meant to show that it is likely that Luke himself wrote the verse, that it did not originate with a scribe inserting it into the text.) see https://ehrmanblog.org/did-jesus-pray-father-forgive-them-from-the-cross/


For further analysis, see my two peer reviewed essays

(A) The Justified Lie by the Johannine Jesus in its Greco-Roman-Jewish Context: https://infidels.org/library/modern/john-macdonald-justified-lie/

And

(B) A Critique of the Penal Substitution Interpretation of the Cross of Christ:

https://infidels.org/library/modern/a-critique-of-the-penal-substitution-interpretation-of-the-cross-of-christ/

Also, for the other 3 blog posts in this series, see

On Matthew and Isaiah 53:

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/05/septuagint-isaiah-534-and-matthew-817reflecting-with-mako-nagasawa/

And on The Law Written On Our Hearts:

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/05/the-law-written-on-our-hearts/

And on being Washed In The Blood of Christ:

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/05/washed-in-the-blood-of-christ/

For further analysis, a discussion about these issues in relation to a critique of the Christ Myth Theory are being held at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board thread here:

https://iidb.org/threads/the-christ-myth-theory.26137/

Finally, for the connection between the cross of Paul and that of Mark, see this post on the Roman Soldier at the cross in Mark:

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/the-roman-soldier-at-the-cross-in-mark/

and

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/the-transformations-of-the-roman-soldiers-at-the-cross/

CONCLUSION:

AFTERWORD: https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/afterword-the-christ-myth-theory/

bookmark_borderBlog Post 2 on “The Myth of an Afterlife”

Some Thoughts On Keith Augustine’s Introduction to “The Myth of an Afterlife”

Today I wanted to think a little about the difference between the kinds of lenses theological hypotheses provide in comparison with secular lenses in science and even literature.  In his introduction to the book, Augustine points out that regarding the secular framework for viewing death:

“Because we are built from the same flesh and blood and DNA that forms nonhuman animals, and share their evolutionary origins, their mortality implies our mortality.”

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

Theistic explanations of reality are indifferent to the reality they are trying to color.  In response to horrific animal and human suffering, the theist responds “God promises justice in the next life, not this one.”  This means through the theist lens the world looks exactly as it would if there was no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.  Similarly, in response to empirical scientific experiments that show the ineffectiveness of prayer, the theist responds “God always answers prayer, just sometimes the answer is no.”  Again, the theistic explanatory framework sees a world that would look exactly the same way if there was no God.  And with “miraculous healing,” while it may be unlikely that you would undergo a medically highly unlikely recovery of health, given a planet of billions it is to be expected some would unusually recover health: for the same reason that while it is ridiculously unlikely you would win the lottery, it is not unlikely at all that someone will win – and someone usually does.  Similarly, Carrier responds to the theist fine tuning argument of the cosmos that actually the universe is optimally configured to generate black holes and be hostile to life, which is exactly what you would predict if there was no God.  

Far from being a rigorous scientific level colored lens for viewing reality, the theistic colored lens certainly is not, and is not even at the level of a literary colored lens.  If I told a student who has never encountered Shakespeare that Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story, they can use that lens to generally predict what they will find in the text and actively confirm by reading.  Making and confirming predictions is a good meaning making strategy.  The religious lens makes predictions only because it is so broad and vague that it is unfalsifiable.  

And really, as Heidegger points out, the issue of mind is not so much the question of consciousness as the question of awareness, because one can be unconscious and yet very aware and absorbed in an unfolding dream.  The key seems to be that conscious and unconscious awareness is grounded in the way the mind creates the experience of the stretching out of time as a foundation for allowing experience, since by contrast under general anesthetic the patient goes to sleep and wakes up an hour later in what feels like an instant.  When we chemically interrupt the mind creating time as a scaffold for experience we really experience the nothingness that will be death, specifically when even the nothing is not experienced. 

bookmark_border(Part 4) The Cosmological Argument; or, Blogging Through “Out of Time: A Philosophical Study of Timelessness (2022)”

I have the book now, and so will start formally blogging through it. I hope you’ll join me. It should be fun. In today’s short post, I would just like to share a brief passage from the book where the authors address what they will be arguing:

  • We show that there are, in fact, situations in which people will judge that time does not exist when presented with certain discoveries about the world. This begins to drive a wedge between time and agency… According to the general theory of relativity, spacetime is a basic constituent of reality. However, we argue that recent developments in physics present a serious challenge to the existence of spacetime in at least some sense. Next we argue that causation and the folk notion of time come apart. This sets the scene for our return to agency. Because the folk notion of time and causation come apart, it is possible to have agency in the absence of time in the folk sense. We can use causation in the absence of time as a new foundation for agency. In this way, we show that agency provides no reason to suppose that time, in the folk sense, must exist.” (Baron, Samuel; Miller, Kristie; Tallant, Jonathan. Out of Time (p. 8). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.)

So, we are going to be interrogating the concept of time in terms of agency, science, and causality as we progress through this book.

bookmark_border(Part 3) The Cosmological Argument; or, Blogging Through “Out of Time: A Philosophical Study of Timelessness (2022)”

“Out Of Time” is scheduled to be released May 14th, so while we wait I wanted to do one more background post that may be helpful as we try to think of fundamental cause and effect relationships without time. Kant is perhaps helpful here because he makes a distinction between a kind of temporal causality which pertains to the natural world, and a kind of causality of freedom that pertains to human beings. What did Kant mean? Causality is that which “makes possible,” so Kant draws a distinction (which is what philosopher’s do) between temporal causality that makes scientific causal judgments and experiences possible, and timeless causality of freedom that makes moral judgments and experiences possible.

For Kant, the temporal causality we experience in nature is going to be positive, comparative, or superlative in degrees of temporal irreversibility. So, positively, a ball hitting another ball is irreversible in the sense that the thrown ball hitting the other once causes the second ball to move forward – eg, shoot a pool ball onto another pool ball. The impact doesn’t cause the shot/thrown ball to be impacted and move backward to the same degree: there is positive irreversibility here. In a comparatively greater case of irreversibility we can see boiling water which results not in a physical change of place like with the balls, but a change of form from liquid to gas. By the third kind of temporal irreversibility, I mean that while taking away the heat results in the heated water reverting to liquid form, if I cook an egg the irreversibility is complete in the sense that I can’t uncook the egg afterward. These three different experiences of temporal irreversibility make scientific causal judgments and experiences possible. Kant had difficulty figuring out how to express this because from his starting point it’s unclear what time is. His solution is that time is not given in sense, but is the subjective form imposed on experience, since obviously, as Hume showed, experience simply gives this, then this, then this, not the three kinds of “temporal irreversibility.” Kant’s problem is that if time is the form of intuition unrelated to the individual-ness of any particular object, why would we experience irreversibility differently in the case of the bouncing balls and the cooking of the eg? Obviously, beings are contributing “something” to the temporal irreversibility. Aristotle is better than Kant here in the sense that Aristotle says time is everywhere, and in the soul, and without the counter there is no time. For instance, I may experience the stretching out of time of the boring book, but the next person need not experience the temporality of the book in this way. But really, if we look at time in this way we still confuse the issue of and underemphasized temporality as, in Heidegger’s language, the original unity of self-and world that makes being-in-the-world possible. Hence, Heidegger would say we should go even earlier than the technical Aristotle on time and see it more naturally, such as what we see in Aristophanes. Toohey describes the Greeks initially didn’t have a word for boredom (by which I am emphasizing the stretching out of time) that maps onto ours, and so expressed it outwardly. Aristophanes in the Archarnians has one character say of the stretching out of time of boredom that “I grown, I yawn, I stretch, I fart, I don’t know what to do. I write, I pull at my hair, I figure things out as I look to the country, longing for peace. (30-32).” He does not name that he is inwardly bored, but we would say describes the symptoms. Similarly, Euripides’ Medea describes men becoming fed up or bored, had enough of their families, and then acting unfairly (244-46), but again, boredom as an inner emotion is not experienced.

The kind of non-temporal causality Kant looks act is human freedom. By this he means the will unconsciously legislates a categorical rule that humans follow as a function of being human that I morally accompany all of my actions, which makes moral judgments and experiences possible, which is rational in the sense that we can contrast it with certain mentally challenged individuals and pets (etc) who, with the intellect of a 2 year old, are not responsible for their actions in the same way as “average” humans. Schelling extended this by saying Evil is our distinctive human freedom in that only humans can sink below beasts in terms of depravity (could your beagle ever be a Hitler?). So this is a non temporal causality of freedom, meaning not a “freedom-from (eg, freedom from an abusive husband),” but a “freedom for” that the Will unconsciously self-legislates a rule that makes moral judgments and experiences possibly.

So, Kant makes a fundamental distinction between causality and time because not all cause-effect relationships are temporal. Thought another way, Freud basically argued the causal nature of the unconscious was like natural physical causality: eg, going through a war caused an individual’s PTSD. Nietzsche anticipated this error and would say: “We can suppose triplets growing up in the same abusive household, with the result one grows up horribly emotionally traumatized, the second triplet found it uncomfortable growing up but was otherwise unaffected, and a third triplet who was actually “tested in fire by it (that which does not kill me makes me stronger!).”

So, the book “Out of Time” says it will argue against Time but still say there is causality as a fundamental structure of reality. This is going to have to do with the nature of personhood, they say. Once the book is released, I will blog about it, and so how they argue this is anyone’s guess, but it should be fun!

bookmark_border(Part 2) The Cosmological Argument; or, Blogging Through “Out of Time: A Philosophical Study of Timelessness (2022)”

So, I’ve been putting together some introductory thoughts in preparation for blogging through the new book on the philosophy of physics and time “Out of Time (2022).” Helpfully, one of the authors did a short article teasing the book here: https://theconversation.com/time-might-not-exist-according-to-physicists-and-philosophers-but-thats-okay-181268

Here are some highlights from the article to whet your appetite:

  • In the 1980s and 1990s, many physicists became dissatisfied with string theory and came up with a range of new mathematical approaches to quantum gravity.
  • One of the most prominent of these is loop quantum gravity, which proposes that the fabric of space and time is made of a network of extremely small discrete chunks, or “loops”.
  • One of the remarkable aspects of loop quantum gravity is that it appears to eliminate time entirely.
  • Loop quantum gravity is not alone in abolishing time: a number of other approaches also seem to remove time as a fundamental aspect of reality.
  • We say that tables, for example, “emerge” from an underlying physics of particles whizzing around the universe.
  • But while we have a pretty good sense of how a table might be made out of fundamental particles, we have no idea how time might be “made out of” something more fundamental.
  • So unless we can come up with a good account of how time emerges, it is not clear we can simply assume time exists.
  • Time might not exist at any level.
  • While physics might eliminate time, it seems to leave causation intact: the sense in which one thing can bring about another.
  • Perhaps what physics is telling us, then, is that causation and not time is the basic feature of our universe.

Are you excited? Of course you are. “I see you shiver in anticipation (Frank Furter, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show).” So, next time I will begin blogging about the book itself, and perhaps this will provide us some new lenses through which to assess the cosmological argument.