The Abolition of Man after a decade (or more)

Tonight I re-read CS Lewis’ “Abolition of Man” for the first time in over a decade. I now realize that, just as “Mere Christianity” has implicitly shaped my fundamental assumptions in theology and epistemology, so also “Abolition” has shaped my fundamental assumptions in ethics and education. For instance:


Live Wire

All of them were taken into ecstasy and they glorified God. Indeed they were awestruck and kept saying “we have seen strange signs today!” (Luke 5.26, my translation)

Nobody told me there'd be days like these. Strange days indeed! Most peculiar, Mama. Whoa! (John Lennon)

We often treat spirituality like a banking transaction: Rational, calculated, with a clear cost-benefit analysis, and no hidden variables. But perhaps spirituality is more like the electric current that gives power to our passion, which we try to contain within neatly organized power cables labeled “religion” and “morality” and “ritual” and “devotion” and “belief”. 

But every now and then, when we reach deep inside ourselves, we grab ahold of a cable that has not been insulated with respectability and predictability and social acceptability. It is then that we get a great shock, and we feel the power of the Divine surge through our whole being, lighting us up from the inside: A surge of passion that pushes us beyond our ability to comprehend our life, and pretend that everything is “normal”. 

We are awestruck with the unpredictable wonder and messy beauty of the world just long enough get outside of our own heads for a moment. And that moment of transcendence, that millisecond of grasping the breadth and depth of infinite Love, is powerful enough to fuel our passion for years to come. May we all rip open the fuse box of our soul every now and then and embrace the Divine power within us.

If there ever was someone inclined toward seeing spirituality in purely rational, calculated terms, it would be the co-founder of calculus and probability theory, Blaise Pascal. Pascal was not only a famous mathematician, but also a famous defender of the Christian faith, who wrote at length about the most rational way to defend and uphold the Christian faith. And yet, his most powerful spiritual insights came when he reached deep inside and grasped the Live Wire of God's presence within him. The experience was so powerful that he wrote it down in poetry, and had it sewn into his jacket by his heart. His Live Wire experience reads thus:

The year of grace 1654, Monday, 23 November... From about half past ten at night until about half past midnight.


GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob
not of the philosophers and of the learned.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
GOD of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
Your GOD will be my God.
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD.
He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have departed from him:
They have forsaken me, the fount of living water.
My God, will you leave me?
Let me not be separated from him forever.
This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified.
Let me never be separated from him.
He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel:
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day’s exercise on the earth.

May I not forget your words. Amen.


On the Nature of Sainthood

What makes someone a “saint” as opposed to someone who is just popular and persuasive and affable? What makes someone genuinely deep rather than merely fashionable? What makes a person inwardly spiritual rather than outwardly religious?


A Provocation on the Golden Rule

How a person treats their opponents is how they will treat their friends. 

How a nation treats its enemies is how it will treat its citizens. 

People will do to us as we have done to others. 

Therefore, it is not only in the interest of Divine Love, but also in the interest of self preservation, to do to others as we would want them to do to us. 


A Spiritual Reading of the TMI Alma Mater

What happens when we read a text in a new way, looking for deeper levels of meaning? How can we take common, everyday words and phrases and find something we've never seen before in them? Once we "take it for granted" is there any way to "take it in a new direction"?


Visions of Ultimate Reality

Ultimate Reality and Visions of Truth
The goal of our spiritual journey is to explore what is True, pursue what is Good, and practice what is Beautiful. And this journey begins with the question: What is Truth? Some say that Truth resides in a Holy Book of some sort, or a set of infallible statements about Reality. Some claim Truth is found in an inner experience, while others say it is found in evidence gathered from our senses. And then we find great spiritual teachers, such as Krishna who says “no Truth is superior to me”, or Jesus who says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. Despite all of the apparent differences, these visions of Truth share some commonalities: They assume we are part of a greater Reality. And we come to experience Reality, as it really is, through many ways. These ways include books, and our senses, and inner experiences, and relationships with others. Through these ways we find Truth when our inner self conforms to what is really Real, and we are brought into harmony with Ultimate Reality. And in history there are enlightened persons-- like Krishna and Buddha and Jesus-- who are so filled with Ultimate Reality that they claim to be living embodiments of Truth. 

So what is the greater Reality that we need to conform ourselves to, so we also can embody Truth? What is really Real in the world we experience? What is the Ultimate Reality which is beyond, or within, or underneath, the apparent reality we experience every day? 


Begin with the End in mind?

To begin with the end in mind: This was an ideal of Christian ethics long before it was a catch phrase for design thinking, an axiom of corporate management culture, or a technique for scientific application. Although many Christians have forgotten this, much to our detriment and the world’s. 


A Provocation on Western versus Eastern Theology

In the Western Churches (which include Roman Catholicism as well as all Protestant varieties) we love to debate Soteriology: What it means to be saved, how we are saved, and what are the roles of Divine grace, human free will, faith, and good works in saving us. Throughout History we see Augustinians versus Pelagians, Catholics versus Protestants, Calvinists versus Arminians (as well as Calvinists versus Calvinists versus everyone else). And a thousand variations of similar debates that center around ideas such as whether God’s decrees are Supralapsarian or Infralapsarian or Sublapsarian, or whether prevenient grace entails or merely enables salvation, or the extent and intent of the Atonement


We are all ethical hypocrites

I just read yet another meme where self-assured, self-satisfied, secular skeptics were mocking folks who wrangle over the ethical interpretation of the Bible. They snidely ask: Who has authority to interpret? What gives people the right to take some passages “literally” and other passages “symbolically”? And I get the snide mockery: Religion has excluded a lot of people; Religion is rife with hypocrisy; Religion is full of self-contradictions. I get it. But let's unpack this a bit more...


Is Consumerism to blame for everything?

After a recent blog post, a friend called me out for anti-Capitalism, and asked me "Is there anything you do not blame on Consumerism or Capitalism?" The really short answer is: No. I don't blame everything bad on Consumerism. I actually blame everything on Sin: The infection of human nature that manifests itself in selfish and predatory behavior to attain short-term material goals, at the expense of long term personal wellbeing and societal health. But saying everything is the result of sin can be a really easy way to avoid responsibility to change: If there is a universal condition called sin that infects and affects us all, who am I to change it? Who are we? We are better off being fatalistic, giving in, and going along.

But when we name how sin functions in a certain system, and how that system acts to focus and amplify the symptoms of sin, then we can devise counter-measures to deal with sin. We can be aware of the strategies and processes the system uses to dehumanize us and disconnect us from meaning and value in life, as God's grace empowers us and sensitizes us to those strategies and processes. So, at this point in world history, we have one over-arching ideological and socio-economic system which holds our entire planet in its thrall: Global Corporate Consumer Capitalism. So let's talk about that...


A Prayer for Notre Dame

I want to say something that could easily come off as flip or snide or holier than thou. So I want to preface it by saying that I struggle mightily with my relationship to “organized religion” even though I am a priest. So I do not blame anyone for being lukewarm or burned out on Church. With that said...


Religion is in retreat! All hail the new gods!

Recently a spate of articles have come out showing, yet again, the rise of “The Nones”, who have no religious affiliation, while traditional religions continue to decline. While there is truth to this trend-- predominantly white Christian expressions in the USA are in decline in terms of numbers-- this is not the whole story. For a better insight into the polling data, I would look at Pew Religion. They offer some explanations to go along with the current American data, which is reflective of the European decline of religion last century, but not reflective of the growth of religion in Asia, Africa, and much of South America. However, there is no definitive explanation of why the decline in some places, and rise in others. So, let's take a look at one theory...


Towel Rack Front Squat

Introducing the Towel Rack Front Squat: Learn how to use a beach towel to Front Squat pain free, with comfortable shoulders, and no issues with wrist mobility. To the best of my knowledge, I am the first person on the interwebs to develop this front squat hack. I *think* I invented this hack. If I did not, let me know who got there first and I will gladly give credit where it is due. I was noodling in the gym last week and figured it out. I cannot find anyone on the internet that does the same thing. And the wrapping of the towel around the bar really keeps it glued to the shoulders with minimal upper body effort.


A Provocation about Postmodern Thought

Theologian Ted Peters makes a distinction between two trends in postmodernism in his book “God: The World’s Future”. The first trend is toward holistic postmodernism, in which we recognize the immense diversity present in the natural and social worlds we inhabit, and we seek to find an organic unity within which they all inhere, which celebrates all our unique and distinct contributions to the whole, without distorting, denying, or doing violence to any of those distinctions. The second trend is toward deconstructive postmodernism, which disbelieves all metanarratives, distrusts all over-arching structures, and in general denies all absolute and objective claims about Reality. However...


The Rise of Homo Consumerensis

I’ve been pondering a feeling I have but cannot quite put into precise words. But it seems like our culture has less capacity, and desire, to think about and discuss ideas. Everything has turned into a politics of the putdown, and diatribes of denigration. In the late 90's to early 00's, I remember having lively discussions online and in real life about theological and philosophical topics with regular folks: From predestination, to the nature of God, to acceptance of LGBT persons, to capital punishment, to what goes on in the Sacrament.


In the Divine Symphony: Why I think God is Real

In the school where I am chaplain, two of the skills we try to teach students are: First, how to build an evidence-based argument, and second, how to present the view you hold without demeaning or belittling those who disagree. This is especially true with controversial subjects that people hold strong opinions on. 

Since we give feedback about this so often, to so many of our students, I thought I would create an example of a controversial, evidence-based argument, which was presented in a way that sought to include even those who disagree with my conclusion. And voila: This sermon was born. The texts read before this sermon included: Psalm 19.1-9; Acts 17.27-28; Romans 1.19-20; 1John 4.7-16.

As we continue our journey through Epiphany, the season when Christ's Light shines on ALL kids of people, through ALL kinds of experiences, I wanted to challenge you a little today about HOW we see God's Light. And this challenge comes from a question I frequently get asked, and that I was asked again last week. The question goes something like this:

"Fr. Nate, you seem like a smart guy. How come you still believe in God?" 


A Provocation on missing the point of the Prophets

It has been years since I have read through the Hebrew prophets continuously. On this read through it strikes me that the “standard” American interpretation of these texts is almost perfectly engineered to get people to miss the point of the prophets. (Engineered by whom or what? This is a great question!) This “standard” interpretation is to treat the prophets as some cryptic road map to a mythic future “end times” scenario. This places our attention in the future, rather than God’s action, and our responsibility, in the present. 


Why is the Pope "changing" the Lord's Prayer?

Recently, a very thoughtful Roman Catholic student of mine asked me the following questions: "What do you think about the changes [in the Lord's Prayer] Pope Francis plans to implement? Will TMI be adopting the changes, or will TMI not? Is there a centralized Episcopal authority that decides things like that, or does it depend on the Priest/Pastor?"

In response, I sent him the following essay, in addition to the video posted above, which is a fairly good, basic level summary of the proposed "change". And it is important to note that while this "change" does involve altering the words, it does not actually change the meaning of the text, but actually better brings out the intended nuance Jesus almost certainly meant when he originally taught the prayer. But, before we get to that, we need to look at the diversity of translations of the Lord's Prayer.


The Enduring Challenge of Nietzsche

When teaching Introduction to Philosophy, we often end with a discussion of the "Masters of Suspicion": Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. These thinkers mark the so-called "Interpretive Turn" (or "Hermeneutic Turn") into what is often called "Postmodern" Philosophy*. What this means is that ideas and beliefs are no longer what they seem to be about, but must be interpreted to see what values or commitments are REALLY motivating these convictions. All three of these "Masters of Suspicion" insisted that surface readings of our ideologies-- ideas about God, ethics, beauty, social order-- missed the true deep intent of the discussion. The deep, structural insight is this: Our ideas are always about something other than what we represent them as:
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.