2016-12-28

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:

2016-12-27

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?

2016-12-22

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: 

2016-12-19

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.

2016-12-18

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.

2016-12-05

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.

DO NOT:
- 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.

2016-12-04

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.

2016-12-03

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 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.