The Four Horsemen of the Post-truth Apocalypse

As I read the posts on social media and the cultural commentary from all sides, it seems to me there are four primary heresies-- Four Horsemen of the Post-truth Apocalypse, to borrow an image from Revelation-- that are destroying authentic Christianity "from the inside out" during these days:


Christ and the Religions

Recently I did a teaching on three ways of relating the universal Love of God to the particular work of Christ in a pluralistic culture: Exclusivism, Pluralism, and Inclusivism.

For Christians, these three ways of relating Christ to world religions is based on our understanding of what the Incarnation of Christ accomplished, and how we read the Biblical texts that point to this Incarnation event. As we read the Bible, a Key Interpretive Question is this: Which set of texts are given primacy in interpretation? Will we allow texts of limitation to interpret and restrict texts of universal Love and Salvation, or will we allow the universal texts to expand and fulfill the horizon of the texts of exclusion and limitation?


Right about the Right

This is the best thought piece on the Religious Right, by a member of the Religious Right, that I have read in years (or watched). Russell Moore represents what is best in that tradition, and I found myself nodding in agreement more often than I frowned in disapproval. The whole thing is worth the hour of time invested in it. Yet, despite large swaths of my sympathy, there are three areas where I think he gets it wrong: 


Modes of Prayer in the Spiritual Life

I am working on a teaching about modes of prayer in the spiritual life. I'm trying to come up with a way to help people find the presence of God in all kinds of activities, not just the verbal prayers we might pray alone or together. So, here is a chart I worked up for teaching, along with six rhyming words which describe six modes of prayer.


The Legend of SciFi Santa the Time Lord

My second grade son is very into science fiction: Marvel Universe, Aliens, Terminator, DC Legends of Tomorrow, Flash, Godzilla, and many more. Tonight he started asking questions about Santa Claus. So, fusing sacred and secular, history and fiction, I explained how Santa is really a Time Lord who works for Jesus. And my explanation went a little like this:

Santa was originally born around 1700 years ago as Nicholas of Myra (in modern day Turkey). Because of his exceptional compassion for children and the needy, and his willingness to fight against injustice (as witnessed by his brawl with Arius), Nicholas was named a saint, and was granted immortality by God so long as he continued in the Path of compassion and justice.

Nicholas spent the first several centuries covertly fighting injustice and doing good for poor children in the region of the Middle East. Every Christmas, in honor of Christ, he snuck into the houses of the impoverished and left gifts. But as time went on, Nicholas grew curious about the world God created. Under aliases and a long beard, he began to study what was once called "Natural Philosophy", and later "Empirical Science" in places such as the Great Library of Alexandria, Tang Dynasty China, Abbasid Baghdad, Mughal India, the University of Paris, and early modern Oxford.

By the early 1800s, with centuries of accumulated knowledge, Nicholas far surpassed the best technological minds the world had ever known. And his legendary sweet tooth led his waist size to surpass every pair of pants he ever owned. But with the gift of immortality, he didn't have to worry about cholesterol, so the more the merrier!

On Christmas Eve of 1812, Nicholas learned how to warp space and time, appearing to move at relativistic speeds (i.e. near the speed of light) relative to an outside observer, while moving at "normal" speed relative to himself. Within the next year, using the same technology, he also developed the ability to create pocket universes. This led to the intervention of alien "Time Lords" who were alerted to the change of technology on planet Earth. Nicholas was captured and taken to Cygnus 7, home of the headquarters of the "Sentient Alliance for Negating Temporal Aggression" (S.A.N.T.A. For short). Once the agents of SANTA interrogated Nicholas for several years, bribing him with milk and cookies, they determined that he was in fact a morally virtuous immortal, who was granted Divine abilities to fight evil and spread compassion throughout the universe.

Thus thoroughly vetted, Nicholas was trained and granted "agent" status with SANTA as the protector for the Sol star system, and in particular for the third planet, Earth. He was sent back with instructions to protect Earth from attack by malevolent aliens, and to make sure that the timeline was not tampered with. He was now a Time Lord with the designation SANTA agent Nicholas, which was a real mouthful, and was eventually shortened to Santa Claus.

He set up his base with a small portal to a pocket universe in the most inhospitable place on Earth: The North Pole. From his secret base, he protects the Earth and her Solar system from nefarious threats in space and time. His pocket universe home base is staffed by several hundred aliens from all around the galaxy who help monitor the solar system and timeline, and who fabricate the tools Santa Claus needs to protect us. Usually the home base on a planet would be mainly staffed by life forms from that planet. But since the Earth is still so technologically and socially backward, the Time Lords of SANTA thought it best to staff our base with aliens until we grow up. Only one other human has attained Time Lord status, and she is known as "Mrs. Claus". Her identity is to be kept a secret at all costs, but legend has it she bakes the best cookie this side of galaxy center.

Starting soon after the establishment of his base in the mid-1800's, Santa Claus also began to enlarge his yearly gift giving to children at Christmas time. First the aliens living and working with Nicholas joined in by fabricating the best toys at the top technological level for Earth society in any given year. Second, these toys are housed in a pocket universe that holds a vast robotically controlled warehouse that is able to retrieve any toy in seconds. Third, he developed satchels that housed a portal to that pocket universe, which could easily be carried over the shoulder. Fourth, he created transdimensional time sleds which make use of 5th and 6th dimensional space, so they can appear "inside" the houses of families without having to go through walls or doors.

Thus equipped, Santa Claus, along with his alien helpers which he calls his "elves", drop off presents to every child in the world who is on the "nice" list (although Santa Claus almost always caves in and gives gifts to the "naughty" kids too). Because of the time warping effect of transdimensional travel, it appears from Earth perspective that it takes them about 1.8 seconds to deliver presents to every child on Earth. From the perspective of Santa and his elves, it takes about 6 months. Yet since he is immortal, and most advanced alien species live for centuries, the time spent making and delivering toys doesn't matter compared to the joy it creates.

This, of course, explains why we don't have records of the worldwide phenomenon of Santa delivering toys to children all over the world until stories started coming out in the mid-1800s. Santa's gift storage and delivery technology did not exist until then! It also explains why the North Pole base has never been found, and will never be found, until human technology leaps forward. From an Earth perspective, his "base" is just one well-cloaked transdimensional portal that does not appear visible in three dimensions. It emits tachyon particles and slightly warps gravity, but we won't be able to detect that for decades if not centuries.

But we do need to clear up a couple of misconceptions: First, Santa himself does not actually hand-deliver every package. He divides Earth up into several hundred zones for himself and all of his alien elves. But since most Earth humans would be very disturbed by the idea of aliens visiting their house, they happily allow Santa to take all of the credit. Perhaps some day when Earth society and technology has evolved, the full truth can come out. Because the truth is out there!

Second: We also need to deal with the truth behind the reindeer. These, of course, are not the furry mammals that live in the tundra of the northern hemisphere. Everybody knows they cannot fly, and they hate pulling sleighs! REINDEER is simply another acronym for "Radiant Energy INduction for Dimensional Expansion and Extraction Robots". Basically, they are all purpose robots which supply the power which is necessary for the warp drive housed in the sleighs. The appearance of looking like a deer comes from the four legs which house ion thrusters. The "red nose" is the quantum fusion engine housed in the forward half of the robot. And because the fusion engine throws off lethal amounts of radiation, it has to be tethered to the sled by carbon filament cables several hundred meters long, to give space for the buffering force fields to contain the radiation. But don't worry: Since the REINDEER operate outside of the three dimensions of Earth space, none of the radiation ever makes it inside anyone's home. And because most people would be alarmed that radioactive four legged robots are pulling the warp sleighs, Santa is more than happy to have folks believe the story about the reindeer.

Well, I guess that is all we really need to know about Santa Claus, and how he delivers gifts every year. You may now be wondering "Well what does Santa do the other 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 58.2 seconds of the year?" Well, he is fighting to keep our timeline safe from enemies! But that is another story for another time...

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


How to win at Facebook

The definitive guide to crushing opponents on social media

Are you tired of stupid people clogging up you newsfeed with their inane ideas, stupid memes, and useless tirades? Do you want to destroy their stupidity without getting locked into endless battles of point-counterpoint? Well, if you desire to quickly and decisively win arguments on Facebook, comments sections, and other social media, just follow these five tried-and-true steps:

1. Go on someone else's Facebook wall, select a post you have problems with, and in no uncertain terms BOLDLY condemn it in unequivocal language, preferably while questioning the moral or intellectual ability of the person who posted it*.

2. If the original poster responds back with bluster, anger and offense, but without substantive argument, you have almost won. Keep repeating your assertions*, and questioning their abilities, to anger them until they explode in an ad hominem attack against you. At that point get "offended": Claim moral high ground, become righteously indignant, and use this as an example of how all people who disagree with you are uncivilized and hypocritical. You have just won Facebook.

3. If the original poster responds back with evidence and rational argumentation, DO NOT respond in kind*. Keep repeating your talking points, preferably in ALL CAPS. If the original poster begins to ignore you, you can safely assume you have won Facebook.

4. If the original poster ceases to be rational, and begins to respond with anger, go back to step 2.

5. If the original poster keeps responding with evidence and argumentation, back out of the argument with "Reverse-Offense". This is a tricky maneuver by which you claim that you have offended them, and you will back out of the argument "for their sake", so you don't "offend" them any more. While this is not a Facebook win, it is not a loss either. You may want to delete all evidence of what you said, leaving their comment tree looking like they were arguing with themselves. Which is kind of a win in itself.

*No matter what you do, never never never respond by attempting to use logic or rational argumentation (i.e. argument that proceeds in a linear fashion through interconnected points that imply one another, and do not logically contradict one another). This is a sure fire loosing strategy, as the difficulty level is just too high for most people to construct winning arguments that do not possess significant flaws in evidence or rational consistency. Thus, stick to talking points and assertions that are evidence free (or at least based on cherry picked evidence that only matches your interpretation) and bare no significant causal relationship to each other.

- Clearly define the terms and ideas used in your argument
- Pay attention to logical consistency between assertions made in your argument
- Double check if your cherry picked evidence fits with larger trends and other relevant evidence
- Admit you are in error, either in possibility or actuality

Above all, do not try to construct, offer, or suggest a solution to the problems you raise. That will cause you to loose, because it will provide a substantive solution for others to criticize. Solutions are like ideological billboards that say "Hey! Spray paint critical graffiti all over me!" Instead, stick with criticism, critique, and destruction of others' solutions. Always tear down and never build up: It is the only way to win at Facebook.

Now, everything said above is, of course, a parody. There is an alternative. And that is to deliberately, and even prayerfully, engage in disagreements in a manner that is intentional, evidence-based, and rational, in an effort to seek the Truth as we can best discern the Truth. We might even trust that God works through debates and arguments to lead us to a fuller knowledge of Truth. For the few and the worthy who make use of this alternative to pursue moral, intellectual and spiritual growth, this guide works in inverse: Just do the exact opposite of each of the steps outlined above.

You can win at Facebook, or you can strive for Truth. But you can't do both at the same time.


A Short Meditation on Evolution and Original Sin

This summer a friend asked me a great question about how Evolution and Original Sin can relate to each other. To get to my answer, I must first do a little theological back filling to set the stage for the question. First, I accept evolution as the means by which God "creates" life, although I would prefer to say that evolution is the self-expression of infinite Divine potential in space and time. If I were to bet, I would bet that the universe is actually a multiverse, in which every universe exists that can actualize at least one unique good as it evolves. This seems to be the kind of reality that would best actualize God's infinite possibility, although what I'm about to say would work in a singular universe as well.

Most of the great world religions state that Ultimate Reality-- often understood as a Infinite, Transcendent, Immanent, Personal "God"-- is characterized by love, compassion, empathy, and a self-emptying nature. God pours Godself out to share the gift of life with others. The unitive Divine Being allows Godself to become multiplicity to enjoy the actualization of Godself in the lives of countless beings. Thus the unfolding cosmic process of evolution is God giving Godself to create a world of beings who will someday realize they come from Divine Love and they will return to Divine Love.

In the process of evolution, the dice seem to be loaded to make the system trend toward the emergence of conscious, creative, communicative persons. In my theology, persons are unique in that they can be consciously aware of fellowship with God, and consciously choose to enact or reject that fellowship.

Most creatures in the world operate on instinct and are not fully conscious or sentient in the way human persons are (I don't think humans are the only persons, but we are the only persons we currently know). What I mean is that when most creatures act or feel pleasure or pain, they are not really different from a rudimentary computer algorithm or robot: They enact pre-programmed commands, and their sensors go off in response to stimuli. They don't have meta cognition to think about what they think about. They don't tell stories. They don't ask why. They don't invent things. They don't create art.

But as evolution continues, persons emerge who do all of these things. We can see this process happening right now in some higher animals such as chimps and dolphins, although they are not fully personal yet. Perhaps some day we will see it happen with a computer program. But AI has not arrived yet.

When this qualitative transition fully occurs from instinctual creature to conscious person, our mental apparatus is able to tune into a new level of reality: The level of moral and aesthetic value. Prior to the transition to person, creatures think in terms of actuality and potentiality (is/is not/can/cannot). After this transition, the moral light enters into consciousness: Should/Should not. The idea of moral duty and obligation. The rudimentary ideas that love, compassion, empathy, honesty are moral goods we ought to do, while hatred, selfishness, ruthlessness, and deception are moral evils we ought not to do (at least not to our own kinship group, although as persons evolve this moral awareness universalizes).

Along with this moral awareness comes an awareness of the future, and of the finality of death. While higher animals may mourn the loss of close members of kinship groups, sentient persons not only mourn the loss of loved ones, but they pre-mourn their own loss in the future as well. They begin to develop theories about the afterlife and take steps to ensure the continuance of their memory/legacy. Death takes on meaning, and serves as a kind of ominous warning about the consequences of action. Careless and stupid actions begin to be causally related to death.

So, among the many transformations of awareness for persons-- from developing an aesthetic sense to developing rituals of worship-- perhaps the greatest transformation is that we gain the dual sense of morality and mortality. And this directly and finally leads us to answer your question.

Among the many instincts that are inbuilt into the successful higher animals is the drive to predation/hunting, as well as the drive to cooperation/herd behavior. Each of these opposite instincts are useful in some situations, and are part of the biological inheritance provided for us by evolution. But when creatures evolve into persons, they suddenly have the moral choice between predation and cooperation beyond instinctual obedience. There becomes a moral sense that predation can be good only in a very limited context, and cooperation is generally good in most human contexts. And yet there is also the awareness that predation can provide access to resources and sex, at the cost of human community, by disobeying this moral sense. And there is also the sense of real danger that comes from violating this moral sense: Betraying the community for short term gain can cause ostracism, punishment, or even death.

And yet, this awareness of morality and mortality is not just limited to specific situations and the utility of individual choices. It somehow FEELS universal: As if betraying the moral ought also leads to death in a deeper "spiritual" sense. Perhaps you might think of this as self-alienation: Killing a little piece of yourself as you do what you yourself do not agree with. Or perhaps it goes even deeper and somehow alienates us from a Divine Cosmic Source (which, of course, is what the great world religions affirm in their various ways).

So, the "original sin" would be when our first personal ancestors became aware of morality and mortality, and yet acted against their own moral sense, incurring upon themselves the "death" of personal shame and social destruction that always accompanies choices that we condemn in ourselves. This "original sin" transmits like a virus or a meme through society. People pick it up by nature AND nurture as society evolves and develops.

I think that this is what Genesis chapters 1-11 are expressing, using poetry, myth, and symbolism. I would reject a "literal" reading of these Scriptures as self-contradictory, anti-science, and literarily absurd. But clearly in a allegorical or mythopoeic way, these chapters point to deep truths about the self-alienation and divine-alienation that comes from morality and mortality.

In this, I side with the Eastern Orthodox tradition on "original sin": They have always viewed it as an infection which makes people sick from generation to generation, which needs to be healed by the medicine that is God's grace given through the great Physician Jesus Christ. They have never had time for the peculiar Western ideas that legal or moral "guilt" was transmitted through the generations, so that modern people bear the "guilt" for "Adam's fall". In fact, the personal angst to feel guilt for what others do is one of many symptoms that we are infected with the disease of sin, and need healing and liberation. And the Western idea that original sin is somehow connected with the act of sex, thereby making sex dirty and unnatural, is completely absurd and probably demonic. To be sure, sexuality used wrongly in a predatory way that uses others, is sinful. But that is a case of using sex badly, not of sex in itself being bad.

Western theologies have made an idol of the courtroom and the financial transaction. They see God as arbitrarily commanding laws, and attaching a "price" to obedience or disobedience. When we make just one infraction against the command of the infinite being, we thus incur an infinite debt, which we must repay with infinite punishment. And then Jesus is seen as the cosmic whipping boy who takes the infinite punishment we "deserve" from our cosmic abusive Father, so that we don't have to pay. Western theologians call this act of divine payment "grace", since we cannot have salvation except for a free gift of Infinite worth paid on our behalf. But there is another way to look at it: As an absurd, unjust, and capricious God who is divided against Himself and who must punish Himself in Christ to pay for the guilt he demanded.

Does disagreeing with Western Theology equate to Pelagianism? I think not. Pelagianism is the denial that we need God's grace to be saved and healed: We can "do it ourselves" without God's help. But I would rather say that all is grace. The fact that we live in an evolving creation is because God graciously empties Godself into the cosmos to actualize the Divine Life in space and time. The freedom and consciousness with which we exercise moral choices are likewise gifts of grace, along with our twin awareness of morality and mortality. When we are infected by sin, it is grace that calls us back to God, grace that heals us, grace that empowers us to choose the good.

Ultimately, as a Christian-- and this in no way takes away from the many ways God's grace is displayed in other religions-- the ultimate act of Divine grace is that God's self-consciousness becomes personally embodied in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, God personally enters into solidarity with our human problem of morality and mortality. He perfectly embodies the good-- fulfilling our problem of morality-- and he takes death into himself and overcomes it by the resurrection-- fulfilling our problem of mortality. In so doing, he becomes the "injection point" of God administering the cure for our infection. By uniting God's life and human life in himself, Jesus opens the gateway to be united to God by sharing in his life. Our "therapy program" is to daily choose to imitate Christ and invite his life to flow through us. This is all grace and in no way Pelagian, although it is also not passive. We actively cooperate with the Christ life working through us, and the very possibility of cooperation is because grace is working through us.

Now, the same Divine life that becomes personally embodied in Christ, is also the same Divine life that teaches us in Krishna, shows us the path to enlightenment in the Buddha, establishes Confucius' Mandate of Heaven, expresses itself in the Tao, declares itself one in Allah, and calls to Moses in the burning bush. It is the cosmic Logos-- Word, Purpose, Plan, Pattern, Message-- that has shined light on all people and which has taken on flesh in Jesus (cf. John 1:1-18). So, I don't think that participating in Christ's life is limited to the Christian Path, although the Christian Path is certainly the most explicit and often the most direct way to participate in Christ's life.

But in terms of morality and mortality, Jesus Christ represents the final goal of human evolution, occurring early in human history, to show us what we can become if we cooperate with the Divine Spirit working within us. We are made to fully unite divinity and humanity in ourselves just a Christ did. As Saint Athanasius said in the early 4th century: The Divine Son became human so that humans may become divine. We are made to be gods who reflect God in our consciousness, creativity, communication, and compassion. Original sin is the disease that tries to trick us into NOT evolving into the glorious children of God that we are meant to become. But by cooperating with the Christ life that is at work in what is best in great religious paths of the world, we can be healed of this disease and play our role in humanity's evolution into Christlikeness.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


A radical idea to end the Holiday Wars

Idea: Let's stop politicizing the Holiday Season and wish people whatever greetings convey hospitality the best in the given circumstance. And if we feel the need to be exceedingly theologically correct, let's wish people "Happy Hanukkah" (since that is what Jesus celebrated this time of year, cf. John 10:22), or "Blessed Advent" (since that is what Jesus' Church has celebrated this time of year for the last 17 centuries), and save "Merry Christmas" for December 25th and 12 days after, since those are the actual days of Christmastide. Or, alternately, just wish people whatever Holiday greeting best conveys "loving your neighbor as yourself" in any particular circumstance. Since, after all, that idea of loving your neighbor was the most important thing to Jesus, and if we want to honor Jesus, perhaps we should do what he asked us to (cf. Matthew 22.35-40). With that in mind, have a blessed and fruitful Advent y'all!

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


This Advent perhaps we don't have to be rage monsters after all

Nietzsche once wrote "Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster". It seems that in our culture all sides tend to make those we disagree with into enemies. Then we make our enemies into monsters. And then we become monsters while fighting them, filled with constant rage and indignation and anxiety and blame. And soon, if we do not stop it, we will all reap the consequences of the monsters we have created and become.

This Advent perhaps the idea of "perhaps" could help us out of this predicament. Perhaps Jesus has another way out for us. Perhaps when we battle monsters we could become more like Jesus and less like monsters. Perhaps our enemies aren't monsters after all anyway (at least not all of them). And perhaps our enemies are not even our enemies really (at least not all of them). Perhaps they are people who want the same things we do: A full belly, well educated kids, dependable healthcare, meaningful work, a living wage, a loving community. And perhaps they have some different ideas about how to get from where we are to where everyone can have that kind of life. And perhaps in this "common goals through different means" kind of insight, we might even find some common ground. Perhaps.

This is all just crazy talk, I know. But perhaps it isn't. And perhaps the way that we have been doing things is not preparing us for the Advent of the Kingdom of God, in which all of God's children have daily bread, and live full and meaningful lives, as they Love God and Love their neighbors. And perhaps this means we could try another way. A way that looks more like the sacrificial service of Jesus, and less like the Imperial conquest of Caesar. And perhaps if we did this, Christ would pour out his Spirit upon us once again as in the days of the Apostles, and we would see people healed and set free and made whole. And as I say this, I know that this is all probably just a pie in the sky pipe dream that could never come to fruition in the world of realpolitik and billion dollar business deals. But, then again, perhaps it might just work after all. Perhaps.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


A Meditation on Buddhist ideas of contingency and emptiness in relation to Western Trinitarianism

Today I was doing some reading on Indian philosophy, and in particular on the ideas of the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna who argued powerfully that the ultimate source of the empirical world is "emptiness" which cannot be fully identified with, nor fully distinct from, the chain of causality (or dependent origination) which upholds the empirical world. For Nagarjuna this emptiness cannot be identified with either existence or non-existence, because both of these states of (non)being are contingent on a whole host of other causes. And emptiness as such is ontologically distinct from the entire contingent world of dependent origination, and hence the ultimate emptiness which grounds the world cannot be said to exist or not exist in any meaningful sense. Thus it is erroneous to think of ultimate reality as a "being" that (a) exists, or (b) doesn't exist, or (c) exists and doesn't exist, or as (d) neither existing or not existing. In short, no categories apply meaningfully to describe the ultimate reality that grounds the world, and thus this reality is purely "empty".

Yet, if we step back from existence and non-existence as primary descriptive categories, there is a reality that precedes, and grounds, and is the source of, all being and non-being, existence and non-existence. This is possibility or potential. Being and non-being are merely the first and most important actualizations of possibility, from which all further actualizations emerge. It is improper to call this possibility a "thing", or a "being", or an "entity", for it transcends and gives rise to all things, beings, and entities as a function of the actualization of their potential. Thus "possibility" is logically prior to the entire world of being, becoming, and non-being. Further, it is improper to say that this possibility exists or does not exist, since it is itself the ground of all existence and non-existence. In the words of Buddhism, this possibility is emptiness. But it is an emptiness that is Real in a way more primal and definitive than any contingent reality that emerges from it.

In the words of Theism, this possibility is uncreated and non-contingent, as it transcends all categories and beings in the multiverse of contingent things. Although this transcendent possibility is beyond personality, beyond power, beyond knowledge, beyond goodness, yet it is proper to speak of it as personal, as well as infinitely powerful, knowledgeable, and good, since the possibility for all personhood, power, knowledge, and good is implicit within the infinite potential which gives rise to all worlds. In fact, this Real Emptiness which is the Ground of all worlds must necessarily be experienced in a threefold way in relation to any universe, no matter how many dimensions are contained in that universe.

First, this Emptiness must necessarily transcend any category or being or cause or effect within any contingent universe. Although some concepts may form helpful analogies to point toward the Transcendent, the Transcendent will necessarily exceed and remain un-inscribed by such concepts in any possible universe (and this applies even to the flawed and partial definitions of transcendence we use). Hence the first aspect of this Ultimate Reality will be the Transcendent Emptiness from which all possibility flows.

The second aspect of the Ultimate in relation to a partial and contingent universe will be the infinite possibility discussed above. Every possible contingency and reality which will or could be realized in any possible world is held in the timeless infinity that transcends all else. Thus, the Ultimate Reality will necessarily be perceived as the Infinite Pattern of Potential that grounds and gives rise to all worlds, and which is the necessary basis for all existence and non-existence, as well as every being and non-being. To borrow the language of Greek Neoplatonic thought, this Infinite Potential would be likened to a "Divine Mind" in which every possible "form" or "pattern" is present as a possibility, awaiting the opportunity to be actualized in the space and time of a contingent universe.

This leads to the third necessary aspect of the Ultimate in relation to the contingent: The experience of actual being and becoming. If the Ultimate is both the Transcendent Reality and the Infinite Possibility that gives rise to any particular universe, there is a sense in which the universe "lives and moves and exists" within and because of this Divine Ground. We get the sense that this two-fold Ultimate somehow constantly enables the actual existence of all particular beings in the universe; The sense that this universe of plurality is somehow a self-expression of this two-fold Ultimate. And thus the Omnipresent Actuality, or Immanent Being, of all particular beings, becomes the third aspect of this now three-fold Ultimate. The Ultimate is also experienced as the power of being which brings about the actualization of possibility within the field of space and time.

So, now we have this Ultimate "emptiness" experienced in a necessarily threefold manner from the standpoint of any contingent and finite world, as Transcendent Reality/Emptiness, Infinite Possibility/Pattern, and Immanent Being/Becoming. And, as shown above, since personality, power, knowledge, and goodness is implicit within the host of possibilities that gives rise to any possible world, it is fair to say that this Ultimate Reality is personal, knowledgeable, powerful, and good, in ways which are analogous to our experience but not confined to it.

For followers of Christ, this accords well with the Divine Reality experienced in the person of Jesus Christ, who both embodied the Divine while calling God his "Father", and who poured out his Holy Spirit to be the continuation of his presence after he was absent in body. From this experience, as is well known, Christ's later followers created an interpretive concept for understanding the threefold relation of God in Christ, which we call the Trinity. In this concept, the singular Divine Life is experienced in three Persons, who are eternal and necessary self-expressions of the one God. God is Father, the Transcendent and Benevolent Source of all worlds. God is Son, the Divine Message and Pattern (Greek Logos), by whom God made all worlds, and in whom God is personally known through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. And God is Spirit, the personal power of God, through whom God gives life and existence to the entire universe, and by whom God is personally present to those who are conscious of God.

This, of course, is a very particular application of the idea that Ultimate Reality is necessarily experienced as Transcendent Reality, Infinite Possibility, and Immanent Being, as we see this worked out in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Without Jesus, it would be entirely possible to debate the moral character of Ultimate Reality. Because, in case you have not noticed, Infinite Possibility does not only include the potential for good beings and things, it also includes the potential for non-being, destruction, suffering, and death. In short, there is the possibility for evil implicit with the Ultimate. And without a definitive self-disclosure of the Ultimate, it would be entirely unclear whether the Ultimate was benevolent or malevolent or apathetic. Given the state of the Universe, it would be as consistent to say that the Ultimate wills evil and destruction, or that the Ultimate is simply unconcerned about what happens in the universe, as it is to say that the Ultimate is "good" or "loving".

But what the Incarnation of Jesus definitively shows us is that the Ultimate is self-giving, self-emptying Love, who participates in our sufferings, and works within the universe to bring about fulfillment and restoration (as witnessed by Jesus' sacrificial death and victorious resurrection). Much more could be said about this. And it is important to note that all the Great Religions-- those that have lasted centuries and nourished the lives of countless millions-- have a similar insight into the goodness and redemptive will of the Ultimate. From Buddhism to Hinduism to Judaism to Sikhism to Islam to Chinese religions, there is a unified theme of the Goodness of the Ultimate, and the desire for this Goodness to bring peace and love and fulfillment to the Created order. Even Secular Humanism, which eschews Ultimate Reality as such, has a strong intuition into the inherent goodness and value of full human flourishing and care for the world we live in.

So, we return to the Transcendent Emptiness that gives rise to all worlds. Why should there be something rather than nothing? Why give rise to any universe, with all its beauty and ugliness, joy and pain, life and death? We see in Christ and in the Great Religions an insight that there is a level of Reality that is not contained in the world of "is", "being", and "becoming". Our own language bears witness to this with the language of value. We speak not only in terms of "is" and "is not", but also in terms of "should" and "should not", of "ought" and "ought not". In this distinction between descriptive (is) and prescriptive (ought) language, we have another subtle insight into the Transcendent Reality that grounds us, which is witnessed in the pan-religious insight that the Divine ultimately wills our good, our life, our blessedness. For instance, when we say that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect, and we ought to work for the fulfillment and human flourishing of all people, we are speaking a language of value that flatly transcends and even contradicts the facts we can observe. There has never been a society where this was a reality, and in fact many societies have given complex justifications for why the opposite should happen, and some people "should" be deprived of life, liberty, or human flourishing.

So, in a world where suffering and death is ever present, and where people have often defended this order of suffering and death as "the way things are", where does this weird moral instinct come that all persons ought to be treated with dignity and humanity? And how has this Transcendent Value infected all of the Great Religions and Worldviews to the extent it has? Perhaps it is because the Transcendent Emptiness which gives rise to all worlds is also the Eternal Value that says "Let there be life! Let there be light!", and which makes "something" out of "nothing", because this "something" is inherently valuable to the Divine Life as a recipient of Divine Love. Again, we might never have this insight into the Primal Emptiness if it were not for the revelation which comes through Christ and the Great Religions. But since this insight into the Transcendent Value of Love is nearly universal across time and culture (even if it was frequently the minority view held by those despised by the rich and powerful), perhaps it is wise to incorporate this into our threefold understanding of the Ultimate.

The Transcendent aspect of "God" is thus both "empty" AND "good", valuing life for it's own sake, and willing the self-giving overflow of Divine Love to make all worlds. The Eternal self-expression of this Love is the Infinite Pattern of Possibility, which founds and gives rise to any actual world. And the overflow of Divine Life from the Transcendent Goodness through the Infinite Possibility, is the Immanent Being who brings to actualization every being in the universe, and who nourishes them and empowers them to grow and evolve into all the fullness of their Divine Potential. And not only does the Ultimate participate in the Universe as the Immanent Being, or Spirit, that upholds all things. The Infinite Pattern becomes finite in a particular human person in history, in Jesus of Nazareth, to reveal to us the depths and riches and character of the Transcendent Good who he calls "Father". It is this Father who draws us into his Infinite and Transcendent Love, through the mediation of Jesus, by the power of his Spirit.

And thus, having begun by contemplating the abstract emptiness of a Buddhist sage, we are drawn at last to a passionate and personal relationship with the Ultimate Source of our existence, who is encountered in a threefold manner as Transcendent Goodness, Infinite Possibility, and Immanent Being, in the persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit: One God in Glory Everlasting. Amen.

Postscript: The picture at the top is an illustration of the Trikaya, or "Threefold Body" of the Buddha. It is an interesting Buddhist idea that ultimately reality is experienced in Transcendent, Immanent, and Personal modes through the Buddha. There are interesting convergences and divergences here with the Christian idea of God as Triune.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


On the use of Nazi in public discourse

Just a quick thought: Calling people Nazis does not make them want to stop acting like Nazis. You know who else was called "Nazi" and yet kept acting like Nazis? Actual Nazis.

Calling someone a Nazi-- like calling someone a Libtard, or a Fascist, or any other derogatory name-- identifies that person or group of people as totally encapsulated in a certain negative identity. It no longer treats them as human. It no longer provides any room for them to repent and change. It demeans them and imprisons them in a shameful label, and tells them that "you are just THIS and can never be any other". And most people, when labeled thus, live into the label. At some level, consciously or unconsciously, they say "OK, if you are going to demean me with that label, I will turn it into a badge of honor, and I will be more [insert label] than you can possibly imagine".

In other words, if you want to empower and push people to actually become Nazis, then one of the most effective rhetorical tactics you can use is reinforcing that identity by constantly calling them Nazis.

If, however, you want compassion and mercy and peace to win in this culture, perhaps there is a better strategy than demonizing and labeling a whole swath of the population. I am in no way saying to ignore or passively allow acts of racism and xenophobia and misogyny to happen in this culture. But rather to protest these acts as such: To name the specific acts you are protesting, and why these acts are demeaning to people made in God's image. If we are protesting for Native American rights and against petroleum pipelines, to name it as such, instead of saying we are protesting against Nazis. If we are protesting to protect Muslims against racism and xenophobia, to name it as such, instead of saying we are protesting against Nazis. If we are protesting against xenophobic policies, and people with a history of racism and misogyny being appointed to high office, to name the reasons why, rather than simply writing them off as Nazis.

Instead let us say we are protesting against X, Y, and Z because it is against humanist and theological values; Because similar policies led to horrible atrocities in German history and Turkish history and even in American history with slavery and Native Americans and Japanese internment; Because WE are better than this, and YOU are better than this, and together we can create an American future where nobody gets left behind or excluded from life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In combating injustice, I think we must find a way to enunciate our anger and fear and hope in a way that is in accord with our values. Because right now, the divisive Spirit of our age has us completely under its control. And it will destroy us if we let it. It doesn't care if the Left wins or the Right wins or the Poor win or the Rich win. It only cares that is causes hate and discord and destruction in the process. Don't let that Spirit win.

And you may be thinking "Hey Nate! Why aren't you telling the same thing to THEM?!? We will stop hate and labeling if they do first!" First, I am talking to "them" just as much as I am talking to "us", because what I'm saying is for "all". And I have no idea who "them" and "us" is to you. Second, it is a horrible strategy for change to wait for the other before you will start change. Change starts with you. It always has. It always will.

I have kids. I teach kids. I don't want to bequeath to them this country as it is right now. I want to bequeath to them something better, something more hopeful, something that lives into our pledge to live as one Nation "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all". I want to bequeath to them a land where E PLURIBUS UNUM is a reality.

It will take a lot of work to get there. But let's work together. And let's begin to be the change we want to see in the world.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


On Two Kinds of Bible Readers

Two kinds of Bible readers are invincibly ignorant, and have no idea how to understand what the Bible says, because they cannot see past their own ideology. The first kind are those religious fundamentalists who cherry pick the Bible's commands to justify their own ideology. The second kind are secular fundamentalists who cherry pick the Bible's absurdities to justify their own desire for the Bible to say nothing at all. Only those who sit with the Bible, listening as one might listen to a grandparent telling old family stories of joy and woe, are able to discern the deep currents of God at work in the messiness of history and culture. Religious fundamentalists present nice, clean, sanitary, pre-packaged answers to all of life's questions, while secular fundamentalists present self-satisfied, shallow, privileged satire of cultures and texts they will never comprehend. Beyond the mirror image fundamentalisms of left and right is a deeper way of discerning a trajectory in Scripture which leads to life, love, and justice. What Martin Luther King said about history is true of Scripture as well: The moral arc of history is long (and messy), but it trends toward justice.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

Beyond Sit Down and Shut Up: On the need for debate and explanation in civil discourse

It seems lately that a bunch of folks from all sides want other folks to accept certain ideas and events as "facts" without explanation or debate. Trump folks want everyone to shut up and accept the election without question or protest. Progressives want folks to accept diversity without question as a social fact, and delegitimize anyone who disagrees as either ignorant or prejudiced or both. Scientists want folks to accept evolution and global climate change as fact and ignore young earth creationists and climate change deniers. Inerrantists want folks to accept a certain read of the Bible as the way Reality works without being questioned by secularism or other religions.

The truth is that this attitude is prevalent on all sides, and is both intellectually sloppy and socially lazy. If we hold free speech as a social good*, that means that no "fact" may go without the expectation of questioning, explanation, rational argument, analysis of evidence, and even protest. Not even this post. I personally think it is incredibly immature to tell others to sit down and shut up and accept your position as so superior that it is self evident you are right. If you think you are right, support it with an argument and an explanation to goes beyond simply posting and meme, and even beyond reposting someone else's article or news story. Although both memes and reposting articles may be part of an argument, they are not substitutes for it.

*This, of course, assumes the shared value of free speech. Which in turn assumes that speech-- discourse, dialogue, and debate-- can be used as a means to pursue truth and virtue. Thus, since truth and virtue are not a given and must be sought, the freedom of discussion opens the possibility of seeing truth and virtue from different perspectives. But not everyone holds these values. Some only see speech as a means of power: Social control and manipulation. This in turn seems to imply that either they think they possess the fullness of the Truth (and thus all that is left is to coerce people into accepting it), or that Truth does not exist (and thus, life is meaningless and all that matters is bending people to our will for our pleasure). Thus all the reasons I can think of for not valuing free speech lead to pretty scary social visions. Therefore I think free speech is a key social value for a healthy society, and therefore silencing tactics are antithetical to that value, and thus antithetical to a truly healthy society.

Back to civil discourse: I hold my views because I think they make the best use of the evidence I have been exposed to, and hence are better explanations than other views I disagree with. I'm happy to discuss, explain, and defend any one of these views if and when I have time (while at the same time acknowledging that there are constraints on time and other competing priorities). And I think others should have this attitude too. And it may the the 1000th time you have had to explain it, but it may be the first time someone else has heard it. If there's anything I've learned from preaching and teaching, it is that you must never tire of explaining the basics over and over and over.

I'm not offended when people question me, my views, my politics, or my religion. I expect it and welcome it. And many of the best people I know share the same attitude. I think it is a mark of intellectual adulthood to be able to compassionately and clearly discuss and defend one's ideas and ideals. It is a mark of immaturity to silence and shame others, expecting them to simply accept ideas you find self-evident. And not only that, but from a secular perspective it is a mark of a healthy society to have vigorous debate in the pursuit of free speech (as discussed above). And if one comes from the Christian perspective, this is even a clearly held Biblical virtue. After all, 1Peter 3:15 tells us: "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord [i.e. Don't be afraid to hold firm spiritual and moral commitments that stem from the "Lordship" of Jesus]. Always be prepared to give an answer [Greek "apologia": A rational, evidence based response and explanation] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience [i.e. Pursue free speech in such a way as to treat every human with dignity and respect as beloved by Christ], so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

Thus, for clear social, moral, political, philosophical, and religious reasons it is paramount to engage in sustained rational discourse and debate as a necessary facet of the value of free speech. There may be occasions when free speech must be paused to pursue a greater good. If your child is stepping out into traffic one must snatch them back first, and wait for later to explain the necessity of looking both ways. And when lives are in immanent danger, one must first stand in protest, or act in compassion, to save them. And only after lives are safe, will we have the leisure to debate the justifications. But in general, free speech and reasoned discourse should be the norm, from which crisis situations are the deviation.

So instead of saying people should shut up and stop protesting, try and explain instead why things are so darn good for them that they shouldn't want to protest. And if you cannot construct an argument that makes sense, perhaps that indicates that your position needs revision.

And instead of saying that you will ignore anyone who holds an opposing view by silencing them or shaming them, try explaining your position in a new way. You just might find that you come to understand your own views in a deeper way, even if they continue to disagree with you.

And if, at long last, you simply cannot come to a common agreement, perhaps the best way to handle it is in the silence of good deeds, as you continue to work for justice, compassion, kindness, mercy, and forgiveness. It takes no words give the thirsty a drink, or feed the hungry a meal, or sit in protest against injustice, or stand between a bully and his victim.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


Hamstrings and Excellence, Law and Grace

For those who do not know me, I push myself hard in many areas of life. I generally like doing "hard things" that trigger the desire to perform within me. From preaching, to teaching, to writing long essays, to lifting heavy weights, I generally delight in doing things that many people find difficult or strenuous. And before I go on, let me make it clear that there are plenty of things I am bad at too. I hate administrative things, paying bills, balancing accounts, making beds in the morning, doing dishes, going to bed at a reasonable hour, waking up early, etc. So suffice it to say, I tend to perform in front of people, and get lazy behind the scenes. So, I've got a lot of growing to do.

But, one of my more effective hobbies is lifting weights. I'm good at it, for my age and build. I pick heavy things up. I put them down. Usually in the solitude of my garage with loud music playing. I don't injure myself often, but when I do, it is memorable. One of those occasions was last night.


EpiPens, Economic Ethics, and the Health of the Body Politic

Recently Bizarro reposted the 2013 cartoon shown above in response to the 2016 kerfuffle over the price hikes in the EpiPen (access to which can be an actual life or death issue for people with severe allergies). In response, a good friend of mine who is a staunch defender of free market libertarianism sent me this National Review article and asked for my response.

So, I wrote the following response which gave me a chance discuss the moral value of economics. This is something I've been meaning to do for a while. I don't write or teach systematically about the intersection of theology and economics, so this gave me the opportunity to organize some preparatory thoughts from my perspective as a professional pastor, and a very amateur economist.

First, a note on Bizarro comic I posted. What I find interesting-- and why I posted it-- is because these Big Pharma stories are so endemic and systemic. They regularly occur. And even the comic itself was written in 2013. So whatever is going on, we keep coming back to it like Groundhog's day.


Trinity and Humility

A Plea to All Theological Nerds (like myself) for Trinity Sunday:

I think much of the reason why we don't talk about the Trinity more is due to insider backbiting. Clerics and Scholars who think they have a handle on the Trinity have a habit of being snide, backbiting, and, well, bitchy, toward anyone who does not talk about the Trinity using their preferred formulae, metaphor, analogy, or lack of analogy. If you speak in the language of Eastern Orthodoxy, the Westerns gripe. If you speak in Western Augustinian terminology the Easterns gripe. If you use economic language, you get accused of denying the immanent Trinity. If you use immanent or essentialist language, you get accused of hellenizing and philosophizing the Biblical narrative.

If you use a folksy analogy, people from both sides will find a heresy that they think best fits your analogy, even if that is intentionally not what you tried to imply. And God forbid you should try and reframe the Trinity using any philosophical categories birthed in the Enlightenment or after. And if you describe the Trinity in a way that is long enough and nuanced enough to placate (most) of the Theo-haters, then the 98% of people who are non-specialists will (rightly) complain that your explanation is unnecessarily complex and confusing. And yet, if you don't talk about the Trinity and choose something that most people can relate to, you get called a heretic, Arian, or even worse, Joel Olsteen.

So, perhaps in our efforts to describe and explain the Trinity we should exercise the very thing that God is, the very thing that Christ embodied, namely: Love. While I absolutely believe that some descriptions of the Trinity are closer to The Truth than others, all are necessarily limited, incomplete, and flawed. And when we meet God face to face we will all find out how wrong we are, despite our best attempts to be accurate. So perhaps in humility and Love we could cut each other some theological slack, and gently suggest fuller understandings to those who seem to lack important aspects of Trinitarian understanding.
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.