2014-04-02

Subscripts and Superscripts for iPad



This is very different from nearly all of my other spiritual/philosophical blog posts. It's semi-complex, kinda techie, and intended to help make iPad use easier. So if you don't care about entering math or chemistry into an iPad, PLEASE IGNORE.

However, if you use an iPad and type chemical formulae or math equations on a regular basis, or other text that requires numerical subscripts or superscripts (such as H₂O or A² + B² = C²), this may be of interest to you.

2014-03-12

Working out my Theology


Lately I have been working out, and getting some really good results (if only I could combine it with greater weight loss!). My wife, and some of my friends, have asked me to help them with designing a workout. Rather than explain the same routine over and over, I thought I would put all my thoughts in one place so anyone can benefit.

2014-03-03

Metaphysics and Moral Value

Thus spake Nietzsche: Courageous enough to admit what morality without metaphysics entails.

One of the fundamental claims of most forms of religion is that Metaphysics-- the Ultimate Reality that grounds and upholds physical reality-- is somehow necessary for moral values to really exist. The claim is often made that without Metaphysics, moral statements become mere statements of personal preference. This is a hard claim for many to understand, so I wrote this to help.

2014-01-29

Christ, Consumerism and the State of the Church

A Comic Strip illustrating the Church in Consumer Culture. It helps that Jesus is talking to Kevin.

My friend and mentor Kevin Martin recently wrote a "State of the Church" address in which he painted a dichotomous picture of the health of The Episcopal Church (hereafter TEC). His "macro" analysis is basically that TEC, as a national organization, is crumbling under the weight of its outmoded institutional structures and oversized financial obligations, in light of its dwindling membership base. His "micro" analysis is that there are "a thousand points of light" (to quote the elder President Bush) in countless individual parishes and faith communities, regardless of the overall implosion of TEC.

While I largely agree with Kevin's macro/micro analysis of Church health, I think we also must expand our scope and have a "meta" analysis of the TEC in Western Culture as well. And the metadata seems to show that our culture is in the midst of a turn toward the secular. Tobin Grant recently did a good summary of dozens of studies on the sociology of religion which be found here.

2014-01-14

My Moses Year Begins

Moses wonders what he has gotten himself into, and if there is a return policy on stone tablets.

Today marks my entrance into the "Moses year": 40 years of journeying through the wilderness that is human existence. Although I can quickly count a dozen things I really should be doing instead of this, I think I would be remiss to let this day pass without some written reflection.

2014-01-08

Eucharist, Epiphany, and Richard Feynman


Today I celebrated Eucharist for Epiphany at TMI - The Episcopal School of Texas. Since our chapel service on Monday was our actual reading of the Epiphany narrative, I chose to talk about the Epiphany that happens within Eucharist, where the Risen Jesus is "known to us in the breaking of the bread". Of course, I used the Gospel text of Luke 24, where Jesus talks with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they do not recognize him as Jesus until he breaks bread.

And then suddenly the Epiphany dawns on them: It is the Risen Lord!

And as I was thinking about how the deep mysteries of the Universe can be revealed to us in something as simple as a meal that remembers a man, I remembered a toast given by Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. He spoke of seeing the interconnections of all things in a glass of wine:

Fr. Thomas Hopko: 55 Maxims for Christian Living


I just found a great list posted by Bryan Owen at "Creedal Christian". It's not very often that I read a list of things and say to myself "I think I agree with everything on that list!" I almost said that to this list, although I have appended addendums on two items I feel need elaboration.

Nevertheless, this 55 item "rule of life" by Orthodox priest Fr. Thomas Hopko is worthy of meditation and integration into one's own spiritual journey. Enjoy!

2014-01-04

The Most Common Objection to Prayer


There are several objections to prayer. I read them all the time on blogs, websites, and comments sections. I hear them from students and parishioners. Many people experience a profound discomfort with what prayer DOES, even if they pray all the time.

2013-12-23

The Bostian Bunch 2013


Everybody is happy on Santa's lap. Well, almost everybody.
Greetings from the Texas Hill Country,

Can you believe another year has come and gone?  We surely cannot.  We have now called San Antonio home for nearly four years.  Our children are getting so spoiled by all that this great city has to offer (the mild winters, rivers, parks, hills and culture).  I didn't realize how accustom they had become to the area till the children thought that 45 degrees was too chilly to be outside, at the same time our Dallas friends and family were experiencing "Icemageddon 2013".  This year we have enjoyed the outdoors, especially as Vera has begun to get more mobile and enjoys her backpack carrier.

2013-12-22

Miracles and Minds, Science Fiction and Scientific Probability

Dr. Manhattan ponders the possibility of miracles by reading this absurdly long essay.
For years I have wanted to deal with one of the greatest philosophical and pragmatic objections to the idea of "revealed" religion. This objection is second only, in my opinion, to the question of "theodicy": How can a supposedly loving and powerful Creator allow his creation to suffer and die in such excruciating and wasteful ways? I will briefly return to this "greatest of all" objections at the end of the essay.

This "second greatest" objection makes "revealed religion" of any type-- whether Christian or non-Christian-- appear foolish, hokey, folksy, credulous, silly, superstitious, and fundamentally ignorant of the way the world works. This, of course, is the objection against miracles. Because if miracles are impossible, and therefore false, it renders any kind of Divine intervention or communication impossible and false. And if there is no Divine communication, then all religions that claim to be based on it are fundamentally flawed.

I would like to deal with this objection from my unique threefold perspective: First of all, as someone who has grown up in the fastest era of technological change known to humanity. Second of all, as someone whose favorite genre of literature is science fiction. And thirdly, as a committed if somewhat progressive follower of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. I think these perspectives can help us understand the issue in a way that avoids the pitfalls of merely rejecting miracles on one hand, and accepting illogical and impossible claims of the miraculous on the other.

2013-12-20

Jesus is not Superman: Virgin Conception and the full humanity of Christ

Tanner's painting of the Annunciation, which is may favorite artistic depiction.

When I posted elsewhere on a discussion of the Virgin Conception, one responder had a very unique take on the matter. Since Jesus had to do miracles and eventually rise from the dead, the responder reasoned, then Jesus had to be something other than human: Something super-human. And so he wrote: "The virgin birth establishes that Jesus is not really a human."

I can see how someone might get there, if they were positing that Jesus is essentially some kind of "superman" who merely appears to be human but is really invincible. The interesting thing is that this is not the direction that either Matthew nor Luke take the Virgin Conception, and a "superman" version of the Incarnation was sternly rejected by all seven of the original Ecumenical Councils.

2013-12-19

On the Virgin Conception of Christ

One of my favorite classical paintings of the Annunciation.

Tis the Season to bring up the perennial question of whether or not Jesus was in fact conceived by a literal, physical virgin upon his first Advent among us. Every year this question gets raised. And every year no decisive answer is given which will convince all sides, including atheists, skeptics, liberal Christians, conservative Christians, and religious others.

And, by the way: The miracle was not the Virgin BIRTH, which is merely the physical act of activating certain muscles and pushing the infant out. Rather, the miracle at stake is the Virgin CONCEPTION: Becoming pregnant without any male sperm present in the first place. This is the context of what we are actually talking about.

So, I will proffer my answer among the cacophony of voices, knowing it will probably only convince the convinced. If you are tired of this question, I will give you the spoiler: I think that the most probable explanatory hypothesis is that Mary was indeed a physical virgin when she conceived Jesus. My faith would not be shattered if this was not the case, and I think there are other ways we could affirm the Divinity of Jesus without virgin conception. But given the rather sparse evidence we have on the matter, in light of the rather large amount of data (proportionally) we can draw on to assert Jesus' Divinity, I am inclined to say Jesus was "born of the Virgin Mary" as the Creed says.

Yet, I have often heard five criticisms of the Virgin Conception:

1. Virgin Conception is physically impossible, and we live in a closed system where miracles cannot happen, therefore Jesus could not have been born of a Virgin.

2. Virgin Conception is tied to a theory of "original sin" which is preposterous and states that we are literally guilty for what Adam did, and therefore Jesus had to be born free of "Adam's curse" in order to be sinless, without the stain of original sin.

3. Virgin Conception is tied to Jesus being the Incarnation of God, and since we know God cannot enter into human form (see #1 above), the whole idea of virgin conception is misguided from the start.

4. Virgin Conception is only mentioned in Matthew and Luke, based on a dubious read of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7.14. Since other New Testament documents do not mention the Virgin Conception, it must be an invention of Matthew and Luke.

5. Virgin Conception is found prior to Jesus in Pagan , Hindu, and Buddhist myths. Since it seems like a derivative story, it must therefore be false.

Let's deal with them one by one.

2013-12-17

Is God necessary for Adult Morality?

The Paper Sack Kant could not write himself out of.

It is with quite some regularity that I read or hear a well meaning Christian say "If you don't have God, then anything is permitted! God is necessary as a basis of morality!" This quote is often attributed to Dostoyevsky  in "The Brothers Karamazov", although he never exactly wrote it. Rather, it is a helpful summary of the moral outlook of Ivan Karamazov in the early chapters of the book.

Now, as a Christian I think that positing an Infinite Source of Love at the core of the Universe-- the Triune God-- is the most satisfying metaphysical grounding for why altruistic Love and Compassion are essentially good. And furthermore, I find it incredibly instructive to posit that this Love became incarnate in a particular life, so we could see this Love embodied and exemplified.

But that is one of many possible coherent groundings for why Love, altruism, and compassion are moral goods. There are other explanations-- Buddhist explanations, Hindu explanations, and Secular explanations-- that do not posit a personal metaphysical Grounding of Love's "goodness", and yet lead their adherents to practice Love and compassion in a compelling way.
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 save us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2012 by Nate 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 or clicking HERE.