Creatio ex Nihilo, Atheism, or Manicheism: Choose But One

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1-2

The argument for creatio ex nihilo is simple. If contra Genesis God created the heaven and the earth by organizing chaotic pre-existent stuff coeternal with him, two incorrigible problems result. If on the other hand he created the heaven and the earth by organizing pre-existent beings who were not chaotic and who were not created from nothing by him, so that they were with him coeternal, then at least one other incorrigible problem results.

Take the first alternative to creatio ex nihilo: God created the heaven and the earth by organizing a bunch of chaotic stuff coeternal with him.

In the first place, because it is by definition utterly indefinite, chaos is nothing in particular; i.e., it is nothing, at all. Chaos is another term for non-being. Being formless, chaos is utterly void, as Moses makes clear. Creating creatures by organizing chaotic stuff turns out to be the same thing as creating them from nothing. For, just as there is no such thing as a square circle, so there is no such thing as chaotic stuff. Stuff by definition is not chaotic. Organizing chaos *just is* creatio ex nihilo.

In the second place, if the pre-existent chaotic stuff that is the raw material of God’s creative rearrangement is indeed coeternal with him, why then Manicheism is just true, so that Christianity (with Judaism and Islam – and Zoroastrianism) is false: for, then there is a principle of disorder that is just as powerful and just as basic as the divine principle of order. In that case, Chaos is just as mighty as the Lógos – despite that, being chaotic, Chaos can’t have any properties at all, such as being or might.

I know; the confusions multiply. Such is the way of error. Error compounds, so that the road to Hell is a slippery, steepening slope. Fortunately for us, so does Grace compound. Take it then, and eat, for the love of God!

If you reject creatio ex nihilo, you are forced then as we have just seen to Manicheism – or perhaps to our second major case: of creation as a divine ordination and reorganization of prior beings who are not themselves chaotic, but rather orderly, and coeternal with God. But this option turns out to be tantamount to atheism. For in it, the beings coeternal with God, whom he organizes into the created order, are nowise at first dependent upon or then subsidiary to him. After all, they are eternal, as he is; so they never came to be, nor can they ever stop being. He is not to them prior, in any way. Nor is he therefore in any way categoreally superior to them. Nor then are they anywise dependent upon him, or upon his motions. It is not possible then to see how his intentions could prevail against theirs, except happenstantially. He cannot then be their God, properly so called. He can at most be their tyrannical boss, superlative in some respect as a human boss might be to his subsidiaries. In that case, God is as it were a man among men, an angel among angels; mightier perhaps than his categoreal counterparts, but not otherwise better.

So, then, obviously on this construction, God is not at all dispositive of righteousness, beauty, order, or goodness. He is rather no more than a guy among guys who wants what he wants, contra the other guys who want what they want. A tyrant, i.e., and unjust as such eo ipso. And NB: this leaves the origin and meaning of goodness, in all its various aspects, radically undefined. On this construction of God, willful interested particular might of this or that eternal spirit makes right, period full stop; and so, God, bless him, is neither here nor there; he is not to be accounted for, or at all reckoned.

So much for worship, or for holiness.

Excursus: justice per se must derive from some source essentially superlative to any particular thing among other things, and as superlative to all such things, then from them categoreally different. Only thus could it pertain to all things, so as to be in the first place just, and so in the second place inform their motions with true moral knowledge, so that they might thereby achieve with each other in harmony some integral cosmos.

Absent a categoreally and absolutely superlative source and measure of justice, there is then no such thing as justice in the first place; there is rather then only a Hobbesian war of all against all; a moral chaos; a moral nonbeing; an absence of the cosmos.

But this is a pretty weak notion of God, is it not? He’s a guy among guys, better to be sure than the rest of the guys somehow, maybe (who knows? (how to tell, in the absence of his absolute prevalence as an index?)), as at least prevalent against them (for a time), but still just a guy like them, and liable to be replaced if one of them – such as Lucifer – comes up with something better for the guys.

The bottom line is that if God is just a guy among guys, albeit better than they in some ways, why then the order of things in our cosmos derives not from an almighty King, who is *absolutely* better than all others, and whose intellect and will are therefore dispositive for all others whatever as their standard and guide, but rather from a contest of wills among coequal dukes – of whom, YHWH is but one, and so liable at any moment to defeat by his equally powerful adversaries.

A contest of divine wills nowise superlatively ordered by any a priori ultimate must be no more in the end than another sort of chaos. For, absent any order superlative to their contest with each other, it is not possible to ascertain how any one of them might “win.” In that absence, none of them *could* win.

So is it that with the second alternative, of creation as a divine reorganization of pre-existent coeternal spirits, each of whom is orderly in himself, we arrive at the same conclusion: i.e., of a fundamentally disordered chaos of wills – at chaos, and so at nonbeing.

As usual, all the alternatives to theism as traditionally construed by classical Christian metaphysics (East, West, Oriental, Protestant, you name it) collapse to incoherence. Which is no more than to say that they collapse to Manicheism. Which in the final analysis is to say that they collapse to atheism; for, on Manicheism, there is no ultimate, but rather only two equally and supremely mighty principles; and so, no God.

A heaven of heavens wherein no one is King is just a parlay of Hell.

40 thoughts on “Creatio ex Nihilo, Atheism, or Manicheism: Choose But One

  1. The reason that your conclusions are mistaken (from my metaphysical POV) is because you implicitly exclude Time from the description of ultimate reality, and because you have already assumed a definition of God in terms that make your definition the only coherent one. Different primary assumptions lead to very different conclusions. All you have done here is demonstrate that a system derived from your metaphysical assumptions renders incoherent different assumptions!

    I would instead define God in terms of him being the prime creator; the Being who made creation during the history of reality; such that all other (pre-existent, eternal) Beings inhabit God’s creation – and come to consciousness within God’s creation. This is the basis of God’s primacy. We live in God’s creation – not the other way around.

    God has been and is making created reality – a creation based upon, rooted in, interpersonal (inter-Being) love – and, in effect, is inviting other Beings to join this creation, and join with God in the work of creation. Love is voluntary, Christianity is chosen, to become part of God’s creation fully and eternally (i.e. in heaven) is the choice of each beings, personally.

    God is thus understood to be limited in power, which also means there is work (creative work) for other Beings to do – one of these is Jesus Christ; whose work (which the prime creator God could not do) was to make possible Men’s resurrection into heaven. God the creator could not do this: Jesus was essential for this to be done.

    I have abbreviated the above, perhaps so much as to be incomprehensible, but I have been explaining it at my blog for the past decade or so. The reason I regard it as necessary to remake your kind of classical Christian theology is that it cannot find any place for genuine free agency or creativity; nor does it have any necessity for Jesus Christ – therefore it tends to collapse back into pure monotheism such as Judaism (or forward into Islam – as actually happened*). It also lacks an essential and cosmic role for (or conception of) ‘interpersonal love’ such as described in the Gospels.

    But in another direction entirely, I am sure that God made us so that we could understand truth using simple and commonsense reasoning – of the kind that young children (as – apparently – past tribal people) use. The philosophical abstractions of classical theology are so unnatural to the human mind that it is too easy for people to fool themselves, and assume an understanding which is merely verbal. The degree to which classical theology departs from the assumptions of the Bible (and especially Fourth Gospel), when it is read commonsensically rather than as if it was a code – is hard to exaggerate.

    I know from experience this won’t in any way persuade you, Kristor – because you would need to adopt very different primary metaphysical assumptions and then reason From Them. Then afterwards to make an overall comparison between your current and that understanding.

    And you won’t do this because you are, apparently, perfectly happy with your current understanding. That is fine and there is no reasons you should change. But there are very good reasons why many *other people* will not accept that understanding – will regard it as unfixably incoherent, and these reasons have Not been refuted by c.2000 years of ‘official ‘classical theology’.

    * It is interesting to consider how it was possible that Islam grew up within Christianity and surpassed it on its own territory (and now in the world). I think this was because the explanations for Christ given by Christians were (still are!) incoherent to common sense – and this incoherence derived from the Christians philosophical insistence on monotheism and ex nihilo reaction – while trying to say that Christ was fully divine. On simple, common sense reasoning if Christ is a God that means either than there is more than one God or else that Christ was just part of the one God (some kind of emanation or avatar). The first was the true reality – I would say. Christ is fully divine, and so is God the primary creator. But ‘classical theology’ Christians had an absolute commitment to metaphysically-one God infinitely separated from All other beings, whom God created from nothing. Christians tried to explain this by the trinity – but that is just a form of words. Christians tried to say that Jesus was fully God and fully Man and this added up to One God (described as a Trinity). But to assert this is not to make it coherent to common sense. Therefore those who wanted above all *one* God (omnipotent etc, ex nihilo creator) chose one God, and said Christ was (just) a prophet – and the prophet who explained this was the primary prophet. Clear, and easily understandable – much more coherent to common sense. Christian theologians and church leaders therefore paid (and pay) a heavy price for philosophical insistence in one absolute, all powerful, all creating self-sufficient, infinitely distant God… yet somehow still trying to wedge Jesus, love and free agency into this absolutist schema!

    • What follows is unconscionably long, so here’s an executive summary.

      1. Time can’t be ultimate, because Genesis 1, modern cosmology, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

      2. So we must grapple with eternity, difficult though that is. Once we do, lots of things fall into place and make sense, that were before confusing.

      3. Reality is *hard,* in every aspect, so we should not expect it to yield to the common sense notions of childish intellects. This is true even for, say, electricity, which children cannot understand (so that we have to tell them not to stick knives in outlets, even though we can’t explain to them just why that’s a bad move). It is true a fortiori for maths, physics, engineering … and so, of course, for theology and metaphysics, which treat of the *very hardest things of all for minds to grasp.*

      4. Absolute polytheism is incoherent and chaotic; whereas absolute monotheism is coherent, and so, as ordered, far simpler. Which is why traditional polytheist cults always worship a Most High God; are, i.e., monotheist at bottom.

      5. Classical monotheism is supported by the whole Bible, and all the Magisterium (of all Christians: Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Oriental, you name it). It is supported also by the common sense even of children, all of whom understand perfectly well the notion of an Almighty King of all kings. Other notions are heretical innovations, and almost certain to be wrong. To reject it then is to reject *the entire deposit of Christian faith.* Also Jewish and Muslim faith, and Buddhism, and Taoism, and Hinduism; and virtually all paganisms; but never mind all that.

      6. Classical monotheism is not incompatible with Jesus, free will, creaturely agency, and so forth. It is not falling off a log easy to see how, but it is possible to see how. So it behooves us to see how.

      7. Rejecting monotheism is spiritually lethal. It is effectual idolatry, fundamentally mistaken, and an insult to God. This is manifest throughout the Bible (viz., the First Commandment). It is obvious, but it seems to warrant repeating.

      OK, on to the main thing.

      Thanks, Bruce, for the time and thought you invested in your comment. Contra what you say, I find that I am quite open to changing my metaphysical assumptions. E.g., I thought for several years that time is basic and ultimate, as you do. I was at that point quite convinced that Process Theology was more accurate than classical theology. I held then to many of the views you have here just retailed, although unlike you I still thought that Jesus is God, and that God is a Trinity, thus avoiding many of the ancient heresies that the Church must keep rooting out of popular theology.

      Excursus: I can’t remember whether it was CS Lewis or GK Chesterton – probably both, or maybe it was Belloc, or all three – who wrote that the great heresies keep cropping up because they are simpler, and thus easier for simple minds to understand. But as you dig into them, you soon realize that they can’t work for one reason or another; either they are incoherent in themselves, or they conflict with Scripture or Tradition (as recorded in the Fathers or other early documents like the Didache), or they disagree when push comes to shove with common sense and quotidian life.

      It would be odd indeed if the Supreme Being or Ultimate Truth could be understood with simple common sense concepts that a child can handle. It would be like supposing that calculus could be understood with the concepts of arithmetic. We should *expect* theology to be difficult to think about; we find after all that this is the case in every other department of human inquiry. But, as with math, one can develop the intellectual competence to grapple with advanced theological metaphysics by beginning with the simple concepts – Jesus is all good, he says that we should love each other and not be mean or selfish, he loves me, if I love him I can go to heaven with Mommy and Daddy, and so forth – and moving on from them to the more difficult.

      Until we are intellectually equipped to deal with the tough ideas, we have no option but to invoke them with what amount to philosophical black boxes: place holders, labeled “to be figured out later.” All domains of human inquiry do the same thing. The technical term for such black boxes in theology is “mysteries.” Right now, evolutionary biology invokes a massive black box at the origin of life from inanimate matter, for example. No child is going to be able to open that box and see what’s inside; nor is any primitive Trobriand Islander likely to figure it out, either.

      We don’t entrust little boys with the operation of heavy equipment. We don’t let them smoke, or drink, or drive, or go to war, or vote, or decide when they ought to go to bed. Why then ought we to make their capacities the bound of our theological inquiries? Ditto likewise for savages, fools, and morons: God bless them, all: they are not my measure.

      NB however that inability to open all the black boxes does not prevent the child or the savage from getting on with life – or, in the case of orthodox theology, with faith, worship, and holiness. Hebrews 5:12-14.

      Anyway, I realized eventually that if time is ultimate, then it could never have begun (for, in that case, it would have needed a cause, and that cause of time would have been to it ulterior), so that the past had to be extended infinitely back from the present moment. I saw right away that there are three lethal problems with this notion.

      First, it contradicts Genesis 1:1, which clearly states that the cosmos had a beginning, and that at that beginning, God created time (Genesis 1:14). Second, it disagrees with Big Bang cosmology, which is holding up pretty well. Third, it is impossible: no series of finite events, however large, could ever complete the infinite traversal from an infinitely distant past all the way to any present moment; so that if the past is infinite in extent, then this present moment, and all others, have not yet happened, and can never happen. This moment is happening, ergo etc.

      Excursus: There is also the problem noticed by Mr. McEnaney, of a vicious infinite regress of secondary causes: the contingency goes like turtles all the way down, so that there is in the final analysis no bottom: no sufficient reason, or therefore any possible intelligibility, of anything at all.

      It is a bad sign when your metaphysics entails rejection of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and thus of Reason, per se.

      So I decided that Augustine, Moses, and Lemaître had to be correct, and cosmic time must have had a beginning; meaning that it was not ultimate. That meant I had to start thinking about eternity and its relation to time. That was hard – much, much harder than Process Theology had been. But after a while it started to become easier, and I could then see – as Whitehead did – that his Philosophy of Organism (upon which Process Theology is based) was beautifully compatible with the classical idea that, as the Primordial and Archetypal actual occasion, God is eternal rather than subject to time, so that he is ulterior to time and not vice versa – so that, i.e., being himself ultimate, he is indeed what all men have always meant by “God.”

      Most Process Theologians disagree with Whitehead about God’s eternity, and think of him as subject to time. But it seems to me that they do so because they have not yet taken the trouble to grapple with eternity. They don’t understand it, because they haven’t tried, because they think Process Theology moots the effort to do so. Time is just easier.

      Lots of classical theology then fell into place. It helped that in pushing the puzzle pieces into their proper positions (so that they could fall into place), I learned what Aristotle and the Scholastics meant by the terms that they used, rather than understanding them the way moderns do, and as I had been doing; which error was what had made classical theology seem to me incoherent. “Matter,” e.g., is not stuff, but rather the potential to take on form, and thus to change, to become.

      I could then see how change – events, time, contingency, becoming – were not at all in conflict with eternity; on the contrary. And I could see what is more how classical theology agreed with Scripture, and indeed enabled me to grasp it better. That agreement has been reinforced for me in the last few years by my reading in the Fathers and in recent Biblical scholarship that tries to understand how the inspired authors and their readers and interpreters (such as the Fathers) understood the symbols and terms they used. The LXX has been crucial in that project; likewise Philo, the Targums, Josephus, et alii. Also, and in particular, the Dead Sea Scrolls. The agreement of the ancient authors – both Hebrew and gentile – about the Forms is just astonishing, once you figure out the typological reasoning that was so normal to their way of thinking. It is also gorgeous. Finally, it agrees immaculately with the concrete experience of the mystics – like me – who have direct empirical evidence of the Ultimate, from an unmediated encounter with him.

      Excursus: He is by the way overwhelmingly masculine. O boy; no question about that. Not that he is only that; o no.

      None of that was easy. We should not expect it to be easy. Indeed, all the mystics agree that it is not possible for finite intellects to comprehend Ultimate Reality, so that many of the concepts we employ to think about him are going to remain black boxes until we die and are granted the Beatific Vision. In that Vision, Shankara and Aquinas will be reconciled, along with all other things. We cannot now understand quite how; something about God being all in all. I Corinthians 15:28.

      Bottom line: it’s like what Feynman said about QM: if you think you understand it, you don’t.

      So, black boxes should not perturb us much. Like the poor, black boxes are with us always.

      … you have … assumed a definition of God in terms that make your definition the only coherent one …

      In fact, I began my career of serious theological ratiocination with quite a different notion of God, and found by hard work that it was incoherent, while the classical notion – which I had at first thought incoherent – turned out upon close (and laborious!) examination to be quite coherent. I was not happy at that discovery, but I had to admit that I had made it. So, sorry. The classical doctrine of God is the only coherent one because the others are all somehow incoherent, even on their own terms. Been there, done that.

      Different primary assumptions lead to very different conclusions.

      Yes. When they lead to incoherent or inconsistent conclusions, we can be sure that there is something wrong with them.

      All you have done here is demonstrate that a system derived from your metaphysical assumptions renders incoherent different assumptions!

      No, sorry. All I have done is elucidate the logical sequelae of metaphysical notions *under their own terms.* To wit:

      1. If creation is a rearrangement of a prior eternal chaotic prime matter, the principle of chaos is coequal with the principle of order, so that the latter is not Ultimate, and we may without sin or problem disregard its ukases.
      2. If creation is a rearrangement of a prior eternal orderly congeries of beings by one such being, then that rearrangement, being nowise prior to the arrangements of those other beings, or to their prior orderly relations with each other, is nowise authoritative or suasive; so we may without sin or problem disregard its ukases.

      I would instead define God in terms of him being the prime creator; the Being who made creation during the history of reality; such that all other (pre-existent, eternal) Beings inhabit God’s creation – and come to consciousness within God’s creation.

      OK. Why? Why doesn’t it go one of the other quadrillions of other ways it might have gone, as any of the other quadrillions of pre-existent eternal gods might have preferred? What makes the one we call God the prime creator? How is he different from all the other creators? If he isn’t different from them, then why should any of them – or we – pay particular attention to him and his ukases?

      If the answer is, “that’s just the way it worked out,” why then it all boils down to happenstance, from top to bottom, and there is no reason apart from happenstance to pay attention – let alone obeisance – to any bit of it. If on the other hand the answer is, “because his vision was better than those of all the others who are his coequals,” well then, why? What made it better? By whose standard, among all their competitive standards, was it better? If they all voted, why did they vote the way they did? What was it in their constitutions that inclined them to vote as they did? What made most of them think that YHWH was right, and the others, his competitors like Lucifer, less right? What was the absolute source of the standard by which the gods all made that judgement?

      This is the basis of God’s primacy. We live in God’s creation – not the other way around.

      Sure. How could it be otherwise? But, *why*? God’s primacy is primary because … why? If all you’ve got is billions of gods, with no prior absolute standard of evaluation to help you decide among them, then you are stuck; you can’t decide. They might all be right! Or wrong. Either way, the notions of right and wrong rather vanish in the chaos of their moral and volitional mêlée. If you do have such a standard, it must have come from a source prior to all those competitive gods. Whence, then, did it come, so that the quadrillions of pre-existent eternal beings could each decide and then declare each their allegiance?

      God has been and is making created reality – a creation based upon, rooted in, interpersonal (inter-Being) love – and, in effect, is inviting other Beings to join this creation, and join with God in the work of creation. Love is voluntary, Christianity is chosen, to become part of God’s creation fully and eternally (i.e., in heaven) is the choice of each being, personally.

      No argument. This is orthodox stuff. Except that where you say “eternally,” it would be more precise and accurate to say “sempiternally.” Only God is eternal: he has no beginning, nor any end, nor any sequence. Rational creatures are sempiternal: they begin, but do not end.

      God is thus understood to be limited in power, which also means there is work (creative work) for other Beings to do – one of these is Jesus Christ; whose work (which the prime creator God could not do) was to make possible Men’s resurrection into heaven. God the creator could not do this: Jesus was essential for this to be done.

      Orthodoxy does not suggest that God has *all* power, but rather only that he can effect all things that can be logically effected. Creatures too have power, and can do work, that can add or subtract from the beauty of what is finally realized. God cannot do their sort of work, for he is not a creature like they. God cannot, e.g., nail Jesus to the cross, other than by first incarnating as a Roman legionary. But a natural Roman legionary can do the job, no problem. Nor likewise can God enjoy a sunrise as we do. God enjoys the sunrise as he does, and not as we do. Only such as we can add our own sort of enjoyment to the created order. Our characteristic addition to the overall good of Creation of our own peculiar sort of enjoyment – which is itself beautiful in God’s eye – is why we are created in the first place.

      God could have saved us without Jesus. Indeed, he does: on orthodox Christianity, no knowledge of or obeisance to Jesus is necessary to salvation, and many who lived before Jesus are saved – Elijah, Moses, Abraham, Noah, Enoch – indeed, even Adam. Likewise, according to the Fathers, those protoevangelists from among the gentiles, sons all of Noah, who, recalling their genetic patrimony – the LXX calls it anamnesis – anticipated the Revelation of Jesus, and prepared for it a way: Plato, Lao Tse, Aristotle, Nimbarka, et alii.

      The reason I regard it as necessary to remake your kind of classical Christian theology is that it cannot find any place for genuine free agency or creativity …

      If one thinks of eternity as determining all events, this could make some sense. But eternity *does not determine all events.* It rather apprehends them as they come freely to be. To think that eternity predetermines contingent creaturely events is to misunderstand it at the most basic level. Eternity is hard to understand, but it *must* be understood, if theology is to make any sense at all.

      There is no contradiction between the classical doctrine of God and creaturely free agency. Likewise there is no contradiction between the Principle of Sufficient Reason and creaturely free agency.

      The philosophical abstractions of classical theology are so unnatural to the human mind that it is too easy for people to fool themselves, and assume an understanding which is merely verbal.

      Philosophy is *difficult.* That philosophy is difficult does not mean it is false or wrong per se, and only on that account. Is QM wrong because it is hard?

      The degree to which classical theology departs from the assumptions of the Bible (and especially [the] Fourth Gospel), when it is read commonsensically rather than as if it was a code – is hard to exaggerate.

      Well, given your rejection of Magisterial and Traditional authority, it boils down to no more than your reading of John versus mine, no? In the absence of any Magisterial or Traditional authority, my opinion about John is every bit as good and authoritative as yours. My own reading of John reveals that he is manifestly invoking Stoic philosophical categories and terms. He wrote in Greek, and he used terms of technical Stoic philosophy widely known in his audience of Greeks and Hebrews (who had been speaking and writing Greek from childhood (Greek having been by then the lingua franca of Palestine for more than 300 years)), knowing that they would understand him as he wished to be understood.

      When in the Prologue to his Gospel John wrote “Lógos,” he meant Lógos. When he wrote that the Lógos is God, that he was in the beginning with God, that he created the world, that he was incarnate in Jesus, and so forth, he wasn’t speaking code. He was speaking plainly, and precisely. So doing he nailed the basics of classical theology, *which agrees with John.*

      I know from experience this won’t in any way persuade you, Kristor – because you would need to adopt very different primary metaphysical assumptions and then reason from them.

      I have already tried those very different primary metaphysical assumptions and found that they entail incoherent conclusions. I arrived at classical Christian metaphysics reluctantly – albeit, with relief at the discovery that they did not at all controvert the motions of the heart which you have so well captured, with others of your sources, in the notion of romantic Christianity; which, indeed, I share, and in which I feel that I participate.

      It is interesting to consider how it was possible that Islam grew up within Christianity and surpassed it on its own territory (and now in the world).

      I am not at all surprised that error should have superseded upon truth. Such is Fallen creaturely life. Error tends to death, and I’m already mortally infected with that disease, so I’m not much worried about it, withal. I’ve got my eyes on the prize: the Resurrection.

      I think this was because the explanations for Christ given by Christians were (still are!) incoherent to common sense – and this incoherence derived from the Christian philosophical insistence on monotheism and ex nihilo reaction …

      What is ex nihilo reaction? And how is the Christian insistence on monotheism at variance with the OT insistence on monotheism? Exodus 20:2-6.

      The explanations of Christ given by orthodox Christian doctrine are hard to understand. But their heretical alternatives, which are much simpler, turn out upon examination to be incoherent. This was all hashed out in the first 500 years AD.

      On simple, common sense reasoning, if Christ is a God that means either than there is more than one God or else that Christ was just part of the one God (some kind of emanation or avatar).

      Simple, common sense reasoning is insufficient to competence in doing metaphysics and theology – and physics, economics, genetics, mathematics, geology, chemistry … Reality is *hard to understand.* That’s why smart people have an easier time understanding it. But simple people can get along well enough, with the help of black boxes, as simple orthodox Christians have been doing for millennia. Many became saints. Only a few saints became also Doctors of the Church.

      Even simple minds can clearly see that a crowd of billions of coeternal gods with no absolutely Most High God would be a nightmare. Polytheistic myth is rife with Heavenly Wars, but they all feature the Good Guys under the Most High God, and the Bad Guys under a rebel angel. Without the Most High God, it becomes impossible to tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys, and then it’s just total chaos, a war of all against all. Which is what the Bad Guys in those Heavenly Wars always want, and have with each other.

      It is therefore Important for clever minds to get the hard metaphysical and theological bits right, so that simple minds can follow along, trusting them. If we don’t get the hard bits right, we end up with confusions like modernism, in which all the coeternal spirits are free to invent each his own ideas of right versus wrong: the tragic catastrophic disaster of Eden, that sucks in even the cleverest – like Lucifer.

      Christ is fully divine, and so is God the primary creator. But ‘classical theology’ Christians had an absolute commitment to metaphysically-one God infinitely separated from All other beings, whom God created from nothing.

      Monotheism, creatio ex nihilo, and the Trinity – Father, Lógos and Spirit (breath, life) – are all right there in Genesis 1:1-23 and John 1:1-18. As for polytheism, King David insists in Psalm 96 that the gods of the nations are idols, while YHWH by himself created the world; in Psalm 82 he clarifies that the gods are creatures: angels, of whom some are fallen and demonic, and whom God therefore rebukes and condemns to death.

      From beginning to end, the Bible insists upon monotheism. I can’t see how you get around that.

      Christians tried to explain this by the trinity – but that is just a form of words.

      That sentence I just quoted is just a form of words. If being expressible in a form of words falsifies a proposition, the proposition expressed in that sentence is false.

      Like polytheism, the hypostatic union of the Persons of the Trinity and of God with man in Jesus is a proposition that can be expressed in words. It is hard to understand. But unlike pure polytheism, that tries to dispense with an ultimate High God, it is not incoherent in its own terms.

      The incoherence of absolute polytheism is the reason that traditional polytheist cults turn out to be monotheist, with a Most High God creating and ruling over hierarchies of subsidiary godlings, devas, or angels.

      In closing, Bruce, I would notice to you that you have so far as I can see from what you have written embraced Arianism. You have rejected the idea that Jesus is God, period full stop. You have rejected the plain teaching of the Prologue of the Gospel of John, your favorite book of the Bible. So doing, you have repudiated the authority of Jesus. He’s not God, according to you, right? He’s just a guy, albeit a godly sort of guy, whatever that might mean. So, you have rejected Christ, and Christianity. You are a god, like Jesus; so …

      Excursus: Is it any easier to understand how a god coeternal (like billions of others) with YHWH could incarnate as Jesus than it is to understand how YHWH himself could do so? How? If incarnation as Jesus works for the god who is not YHWH, why couldn’t it work for YHWH? Again, if Bruce and I are both incarnate gods, what’s to stop YHWH from doing in Jesus what we both did in our earthly careers as Bruce and Kristor? What’s the diff?

      It seems also that you have rejected God, in favor of some lesser god. Taking YHWH to be just like the gods of the nations, you have in effect rejected him as Almighty God, your Lord and Father. You have taken him to be only a god among gods, stronger perhaps than they (for a time), but no greater than they in his essence and nature; rather than taking him to be the God of all the gods, and their Creator, source and origin, as all proper traditional polytheism has taken him to be. Your rejection of the Absolute puts you in rebellion against him; against the Most High God, El Elyon, and so against his only begotten son YHWH. I adjure you to be careful with that. I adjure you, for the love of God, and aye of yourself, to step back from that. Be careful.

      Reality is not after all a democracy, even though we do all have a voice in it. It is a monarchy. If you are going to rebel against the King, be absolutely sure you can kill him, for otherwise you are lost.

      Can you kill the King of all the Heavens? I implore you: step back from that abyss, my old friend.

      • @Kristor – The thing is that all elements (assumptions) must be in place before you can evaluate the coherence of a different metaphysics. At present you take one assumption at a time, and try to fit each into an historical theology.

        Whereas what I am proposing is something different from any metaphysics ever before – because it has a different set of primary assumptions, all of which must *simultaneously* be assumed in order for it to cohere.

        I don’t *expect* you – or anybody else! – to make the considerable effort required to understand reality on the basis of this different metaphysics; especially when you are (apparently) perfectly satisfied with your Thomist-rooted Roman Catholic Theology.

        But unless or until you were to make this effort, then your critiques are completely beside the point – you are critiquing a position I do not hold.

        eg. Process Theology is irrelevant – since neither you nor I regard it as coherent. Just because PT regards time as real does not mean it is what I believe to be true! And the same applies to attempts to fit what I say into several historical ‘heresies’ – all of which make many other assumptions that I reject.

        Ultimately I regard all metaphysics (including mine) as wrong, in the same way that all scientific theories are wrong – because always partial and distorted; because they are all brief and linguistic ‘models’ of a reality that is of unbounded complexity and ‘interconnectivity’ (or rather, seamless connection).

        That is one reason why I do not care much about what denomination, church or metaphysics somebody holds – because I regard ‘being a Christian’ as prior to whatever metaphysics or theology we try to express it by.

        This does not need to be expressed as a core theology – although it might be (subject to the same proviso as complex theology); but our discernment seems quite able to do the job for us in a world where evil has become so explicit and extreme.

        My best lesson of the past two years has been to reveal that churches/ denominations have become all-but irrelevant in predicting whether or not some individual is a real Christian or has joined the other side. (It turns-out that self-identification as a Christian means almost nothing.)

        This is a wonderful thing – suddenly the problem of ‘the divided church’ has just dissolved away and Christians can recognize each other from whatever direction; although it turns-out there aren’t nearly as many Christians as would have been hoped before two years ago.

      • Thanks, Bruce. I’d be interested – honest! – to hear at least the axioms of your metaphysics, so I can see how they fit together.

        You’ll be pleased to learn that it has long been the doctrine of the Catholic Church that salvation does not depend on membership or participation in it, or even on licit baptism. Nor does it depend on awareness of Christ, or Jesus, or even *anything about Christianity.* Plus you can do all those things perfectly and still go to Hell, because in so doing you’ve only been whiting the sepulchre. It is the motions of the heart and will that are dispositive.

        The motions of the intellect are important though, because they inform and so sway the heart and the will. A wrong intellectual notion of the real misguides the heart and will.

        I should emphasize also however that, having once witly recognized the absolute Lordship over all things of Jesus as the Lógos, to then repudiate that Lordship with heart, will or intellect is big, big trouble.

  2. Manicheanism hates the body. Sex and sexual desire and eating.

    Yet the first Sinner has no body. He was Spirit. Putting a lie to the false dichotomy based on the misinterpretation of flesh vs spirit.

    When it’s the holy spirit vs sin nature that is called “the flesh”. Even as the fleshly body was originally created pure and incorrupt.

  3. Mr. Charlton,

    Please correct me if I’m misinterpreting your post. To me, you seem to believe that God’s power is finite. Since I’m a Thomist, I need to disagree with that. A deity with limited power would be a creature instead of the creator, and any creature needs a cause. After all, the self-causation idea is viciously circular, self-contradictory, or both.

    Are you suggesting that if classical theism is true, then there are no secondary when a secondary is a cause that borrows its causal ability from another cause? Like other any other Thomist, I believe that if each cause is secondary, you get a vicious infinite regress of causes. But if every cause were secondary in a past-infinitely long series of causes, there would be no effects.

  4. In the first place, because it is by definition utterly indefinite, chaos is nothing in particular; i.e., it is nothing, at all. Chaos is another term for non-being. Being formless, chaos is utterly void, as Moses makes clear.

    Couldn’t it be pure potentiality rather than non-being? I.e., (prime) matter sans form.

    In the second place, if the pre-existent chaotic stuff that is the raw material of God’s creative rearrangement is indeed coeternal with him, why then Manicheism is just true…

    What do you mean by ‘coeternal’? Eternal in the same way that God is? Then yes, I agree that this would be Manichean. But what about in the sense of having always existed (no beginning in time) as Aristotle believed? Then couldn’t ‘stuff’ have been coeternal with God, but still causally and ontologically depend on Him from all eternity? Wouldn’t this avoid Manicheism?

    By the way, I thought Zoroastrianism was dualist?

    • Zoroastrianism is indeed dualist, but unlike Manicheism it does not teach that the evil principle of disorder, Angra Mainyu, is coequal with the good principle of order, Ahura Mazda. It teaches that Ahura Mazda is uncreate – i.e., eternal – and that at the eschaton he will defeat evil.

      Couldn’t [pre-existent chaotic stuff] be pure potentiality rather than non-being? I.e., (prime) matter sans form. … what [if pre-existent chaotic stuff had] always existed (no beginning in time) as Aristotle believed? Then couldn’t ‘stuff’ have been coeternal with God, but still causally and ontologically depend on Him from all eternity? Wouldn’t this avoid Manicheism?

      It would, for in that case the principle of disorder, being dependent upon God, would not be coequal with him, with the result that it would be possible – indeed, certain – that God would vanquish it in the end.

      That said, it is important to remember that Aristotle insisted that Prime Matter is not stuff; that, being utterly formless, it could have no actual existence. Matter in Aristotle is never stuff to begin with; it is, rather, the potentiality to take on form, and so to change, to become really something or other. Stuff has that potentiality, but so does any state of affairs that is contingent, whether or not there is in it any stuff. So in suggesting that Prime Matter had always existed, he was saying that the potentiality to become, the possibility of events occurring, had to be eternal.

      It turns out that the bare possibility of things coming to be is coterminous with the eternal power of the eternal God to create. Bare potentiality then has its eternal existence as a power of God, and not as something separate from him.

  5. @BM – My discussion with Kristor extends over about a decade; so I am using shorthand (inevitable, anyway, in a blog comment). I have been a Thomist in the past, and greatly respect Aquinas as the greatest philosophical synthesizer ever. But the problem – for me – lies in the fundamental metaphysical assumptions from which reason proceeds.

    This level of metaphysics is a different kind of discourse from ‘normal philosophy’ and (I have found) extremely few people are willing to engage in it – either they regard metaphysical assumptions as not up for debate (their own assumptions being necessarily true); or they regard such assumptions as nothing more than ‘a matter of opinion’.

    • @BC I believe St. Thomas Aquinas’s metaphysics, partly because about 62 popes have endorsed it. Catholic doctrine presuupses the Aristotelian-Thomistic difference between substances and accidents, essentialism, and divine simplicity dogma. So I’m duty-bound to believe those things.

      Some Catholics are Augustinians. Others are Scotists, Bonaventurians, or even Platonists. And I’m not trying to convert you to Thomism. If I’m mistaken about something please correct me because I’m the most fallible person I know.

      I’m hardly a philosopher, let alone a theologian. Instead, I’m a theologically and philosophically well-read computer programmer who proofreads for a publisher. Since I’m a traditionalist Catholic, too, my reliigion determines most of my philosophical beliefs and my political ones. If a political beliefs contradicts Catholic doctrine, I reject that political belief and strive to remain an orthodox Catholic.

      You’re welcome to disagree with me, and I’m not here to convert people to Thomism. No, I’m only telling you that I hope I see everything from a pre-Vatican-II Catholic perspective.

  6. Kristor, thank you for your response to Bruce Charlton. I knew you could be relied upon to be both thorough and charitable–more so than I was capable of when I was typing out a keyboard crusader reply, before I thought better of it. I hoped this was the kind of reply we would get! Thanks are due then to Bruce Charlton as well for drawing this kind of work out. Mind sharpens mind as iron sharpens iron, it’s always fun to witness.

    A couple excerpts worthy of note:

    The agreement of the ancient authors – both Hebrew and gentile – about the Forms is just astonishing, once you figure out the typological reasoning that was so normal to their way of thinking. It is also gorgeous.

    Some time ago a friend sent me a talk by Brant Pitre where he lays out some ideas in his book Christ the Bridegroom, which was my introduction to typology. “Gorgeous” doesn’t even cut it–it opened my eyes to how perfectly everything works together, how precisely every word was laid in scripture. It is an intricate, delicate, beautiful web which only God could create. It sounds fallacious to describe to someone who doesn’t see it that way–argument from complexity? But the complexity here is surely evidence for the divine, in how beautifully it is arranged.

    It is therefore Important for clever minds to get the hard metaphysical and theological bits right, so that simple minds can follow along, trusting them.

    Ergo, the Orthosphere! As a simple mind your elucidation of metaphysics has been invaluable, and has helped me to slowly, gradually, grok the big ideas, such as I can. It’s been topical food for my own blog for some time.

    King David insists in Psalm 96 that the gods of the nations are idols, while YHWH by himself created the world; in Psalm 82 he clarifies that the gods are creatures: angels, of whom some are fallen and demonic, and whom God therefore rebukes and condemns to death.

    This is wholly unrelated to the OP but a tangent from this excerpt: I have been musing on Angels in my blog for a while, since I have been travelling a little more. I observed that places seem to have spirits or Angels much like guardian angels, but recently rejected the thought that it was possible for a place to be under the guardianship of a fallen angel–suggesting instead that since Angels are surely without fault, any fault in a place must surely lie with us. Las Vegas, for example, felt spiritually heavy, which I initially attributed to the spirit of the place being stained. Once I changed my language from Spirit to Angel, that changed the calculus somewhat.

    I know that “gods of the nations” are different from what I am referring to by “angels of places” but it felt congruent enough I wanted to get your input. If the Angels of places can be fallen, could not also people fall under the guardianship of fallen angels? This was an idea JMSmith proposed and which I disagreed with at the time, on the basis that it would unduly increase the burden of getting to heaven. Heaven must be hypothetically attainable for all souls, and I consider that to be incompatible with guardian fallen-angels.

    • It does seem to me that spirits haunt some places. Old churches, cemeteries, and battlefields often feel inhabited. I have felt the same thing in some forests, on or near some mountains, and at certain spots in some canyons. Caverns, crossroads and springs, some bridges; the list of such places is long. Then of course there are the phenomena of the haunted house and of poltergeist.

      Traditional peoples often believe that almost everything is a spiritual dwelling, including nations, cities, and of course temples, idols and icons. In the ancient Near East, nations and tribes were thought to be the geographically distributed bodies of their gods: the House of Abraham – his people, his seed forever in the words of the Magnificat – *just were* Abraham. The idea lives on in Christian ecclesiology: the Church is the Body of Christ; so is he present in every Christian (and of course in the consecrated elements of the Mass).

      When we consider that our own animate bodies are geometrically distributed, that idea does not seem so far fetched.

      Animate bodies have natural endogenous spirits, proper to them, but can also be influenced, and so in a manner of speaking to some degree inhabited, by exogenous spirits: angels, or demons, or the spirit of a crowd, or of a place, or of a great event (a concert, a liturgy, a battle), or of an idea, egregor or meme, or of an age, a zeitgeist. It would then seem that we are all of us continually beset by many spirits, each seeking to influence us. Many such exogenous spirits do definitely feel evil.

      “Guardian fallen angel” is a contradiction in terms; a guardian spirit would have to be good. It would be more accurate to call the sort of being you are talking about an oppressing demon.

  7. Pingback: Nowhere to place your foot – Site Title

  8. Bruce, If you’re still listening, I have a question:

    Do you believe that your doctrines ought to be believed by other some persons, or are they purely your own?

    (If you don’t want to use the verb “believe,” use another one that seems better to you.)

  9. @Kristor “I’d be interested – honest! – to hear at least the axioms of your metaphysics, so I can see how they fit together.”

    Well, that is what my Notion blog is all about – with its many cross links, explanations, re-explanations…

    I try to make things as clear as possible, as brief as possible – but metaphysical self-awareness and evaluation of a different ‘system’ is not something that anyone else can do for you, nor can it be quick or easy – at least if my own experience is anything to go by.

    You must really Want to do it For Your Self, for personal reasons of salvation and theosis, to understand the meaning and purpose of life and your place in reality – and not just from curiosity or to critique others. This is presumably why extremely few people have ever done it.

    But my reason for commenting here and now, is that I have a hunch that sooner or later you (you specifically) will come to a serious crisis of faith in which you lose faith in the metaphysical system linked to the church system – and if you are convinced that your system is all-or-nothing (which is probably true, more or less!), and that ‘being a Christian’ is your church-or-nothing (which is not true) – then you will stop being a Christian.

    If/ when that happens; I want you to know (to remember) that there is *at least* one completely different way of being a Christian; one that does not depend on the assumptions you make, nor the institution to whom you are loyal and obedient.

    If you never need this, and remain Christian in despite of accelerating church apostasy/ convergence/ affiliation to the active agenda-of-evil – all well and good! But that is why I wrote.

    • You must really Want to do it For Your Self, for personal reasons of salvation and theosis, to understand the meaning and purpose of life and your place in reality – and not just from curiosity or to critique others. This is presumably why extremely few people have ever done it.

      Understanding is my motivation for work and study on these topics. I’m interested in correcting errors of thought – mine and those I apprehend in others – only so as to clear away the underbrush that scandalizes our Way to theosis. And it seems to me that this is the main reason most people are interested in First and Last Things, in religion, theology, and metaphysics. *Almost everyone* is interested in understanding the world and his place in it, so that he can shape his life rightly. *Almost everyone* wants to get to Heaven; *almost nobody* wants to go to Hell. Plus understanding is just beautiful. It is participation in the Logos, and in the heart of things; almost everyone wants that, too.

      So, anyway, when I ask about the axioms of your metaphysics, I do so not out of idle curiosity, but because engaging with them is likely to teach me something.

      I have a hunch that sooner or later you (you specifically) will come to a serious crisis of faith in which you lose faith in the metaphysical system linked to the church system – and if you are convinced that your system is all or nothing (which is probably true, more or less!) …

      Not to worry. My metaphysical understanding has always been a work in progress, and I look forward to working on it forever. My experience of metaphysical paradigm shifts is consistent: they involve, not a repudiation of the insights I had already gathered, but rather a wonderful expansion of perspective that subsumes and corrects them, while offering great new insights. Every such paradigm shift has strengthened my faith, and revealed that the Magisterium was right all along, from the beginning, and consistently.

      E.g., my present metaphysical understanding furnishes all the goods of animism and polytheism, without any of their difficulties or incoherence, while at the same time providing me a way to think about the Trinity (e.g.) without my mind totally tilting. Plus it’s all grounded in direct experience, so there’s that.

      … ‘being a Christian’ is your church or nothing (which is not true) …

      This begs the very question at issue, no? If Church A has more accurate teaching than the others, then better to belong to Church A, which is making fewer mistakes about reality. If the doctrine of Church A is simply true, why then the doctrines of all the others are true only where they agree with those of Church A, and false wherever they disagree; again, better to belong to A.

      … there is *at least* one completely different way of being a Christian …

      There are actually lots and lots of different ways of being a Christian, just within the Latin Rite of the Roman Church. But, yeah, you can’t be an orthodox Christian – Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox – if you don’t believe the articles of the creeds. If you repudiate any one of those articles, you are a heretic.

      • @Kristor. Of course – all really important questions are begged! It’s called metaphysics!

        For me the absolutely decisive conviction that overturns your metaphysics is that God is creator, and our loving Father. This is a matter of experienced knowledge.

        As such God would/ will *ensure* that salvation is always directly available for every single one of his children.

        Whatever metaphysical schema is true must fit this baseline knowledge; whatever picture of God is suggested; whatever explanation of Christ’s work, the nature of churches (etc.) must fit.

        For me it really is That Simple.

      • If all the really important questions are begged, then the question of whether all the really important questions are begged is itself begged, and none of the really important questions can be answered.

        But you answer some of them, as do I, and as any thinker must; so, it is false that all really important questions are begged.

        I’m confused about how the fact that God is our creator and loving Father – basic orthodox Christian doctrine – overturns classical metaphysics. Almost all Christians throughout history have discerned no jot of conflict between classical metaphysics and the loving Fatherhood of our creator, and have adhered to both without qualm or worry. I mean, sure, if you take God’s paternity of creatures to involve actual sexual insemination of all their mothers, then yeah, there would be a problem fitting that idea to classical metaphysics – and to biological paternity, as observed in all animal species that reproduce sexually. But otherwise, taking the Fatherhood of God to be archetypal, and fatherhood on Earth to be a type and image thereof – which is how Christians have always understood it – where’s the difficulty?

        The scheme of classical metaphysics *does* fit the notion that God our creator is our loving Father.

        I honestly have trouble seeing how *any* of your oft avowed positions – Romantic Christianity, many gods, many worlds ruled by many gods, our direct and ontologically unmediated access to Christ and so to salvation, demonic evil, theosis, and so forth – are at all in conflict with classical orthodox metaphysics. The *only* opinion you have offered, so far as I know, that is incorrigibly problematic in that respect is the idea that all rational beings are eternal. One logical consequence is that all rational beings are coequal, inasmuch as, being all eternal, none of them depend on any other, were created, or are in any respect contingent, but are rather in all ways necessary. None of them – none of us – are then of any others creatures, and none of us are subsidiary or supersidiary to any others. That puts each of us on an equal ontological footing, and so on an equal moral footing, with YHWH, and with Satan – and YHWH with Satan. All sorts of difficulties flow from equality of that basic ontological character which – they being so obvious and so terrible – I shall not tire our readers by recounting.

        There is of course also the other really beastly difficulty: i.e., the difficulty that the notion that rational creatures are all eternal radically contradicts the plain meaning of the fundamental axiomatic premise and basic revelation of the entire Bible, as all men had read it (*whether or not they believed it*) for *four thousand years,* up until circa 1830: namely, “I AM THAT I AM, the Lord thy God; there are no other Gods.” Viz., John 8:58.

        Please note that a response to these difficulties I have noticed that is in the nature of, “Well, I just see things differently than you do, and I have no interest in convincing you of my perspective,” is not in truth responsive. I don’t ask that you convince me of the truth of your notions, or even that you explain them to me. I’m pretty sure I understand them, having read you for at least a decade, with utmost respect, and watched as your views evolved. Rather, I am asking you how *you yourself handle these difficulties.* How in your own mind do you square with John 8:58 the notion that I and you – and Ahriman, Azazel, and Satan – are all coequal with Jesus?

        Then there is this: if I with you, Jesus, Satan, Ahriman, El Elyon, et alii, am eternal, and so with them all equally scient, potent, and so forth – after all, none of us, being eternal, can continge upon or so be subject or subsidiary to any other – then how can you suppose that I am at all wrong to understand things as I do, rather than as you do, or as Jesus and his Father El Elyon do, or as Ahriman does? In that case, my ideas are coeternal and so just as true as yours or theirs or any others. So, you *can’t* mount an argument that my ideas are errant; nor can you dispute with anyone else, either. Indeed, you cannot then even found a disagreement with the evil Ahrimanic and Sorathic Lords of this Kali Yuga, whom you so often and so rightly disparage.

        Those evil Lords are after all, so far as I can tell from what I have read of your writings – which is *a lot* – being like you and Jesus all eternal and coequal, then just as righteous (whatever that might mean in the circumstances) in their intentions as Jesus, or as you. You disparage them, and so does Jesus; well, they disparage you both right back, and they are coequal with you and Jesus. So, what?

        It is as I argued in the original post. If Ahriman is coeternal and therefore coequal with YHWH, then Mani was right. If Ahriman is not coequal with YHWH, but rather to him posterior, then YHWH is right. And so, then, is orthodox Christianity.

        Again, I’m not in this asking you to convince me, or even to explain your metaphysics. I’m rather asking you to tell us how you yourself get around these problems, which are so plain even to children and savages. A child and a savage can see that if El Elyon is not God, but just one god among many other fundamentally equal gods, then he is just one schmuck among many schmucks, ergo nowise in himself worthy of worship or loyalty. How do you, Bruce, get around that? Any adolescent can see the problem: for, if you like Jesus are somehow God, what’s to prevent your worship of yourself? What’s your solution? How do you get on over this categoreal difficulty?

        Is there a logically coherent way to do it? If so, we’d all like to know. If so, well then, let’s have it. If there is not, then so much the worse for your arguments on that particular topic; and, so, for your metaphysic, so far as I have (again, with *utmost* respect) been able to understand it. They are all in that case shown to be weak, if not altogether false.

        It comes down at last to this: can you demonstrate the truth of your notions? If not, then they are no more than your fond opinions, nowise based in reality. Harsh, I know. But reality is reality.

        Odd, to be thus reiterating Plato on the difference between knowledge and opinion, 2.3K years or so on.

  10. @Alan “Do you believe that your doctrines ought to be believed by other some persons, or are they purely your own?”

    (Long answer follows – sorry Kristor. This continues a discussion Alan and I have been having be e-mail.)

    I find this a very strange question, because I don’t really say anything about my ‘doctrines’ – which are mostly just the usual for all serious Christians.

    But if you mean instead “”Do you believe that your metaphysical assumptions concerning the nature of reality ought to be believed by other some persons, or are they purely your own?” – then you seem to be asking whether I really believe these metaphysical assumptions to be true: and the answer is yes, I do.

    …With the proviso that ‘true’ means within the usual limits of understanding, brevity and language. Or, I could say that ‘my’ metaphysics is much closer to reality than is yours or Kristor’s.

    But are the ideas ‘mine’? What I am trying to do is pretty close to recapturing the spontaneous and natural metaphysical assumptions of young children and (what we know of) hunter gatherer tribal people (which have been, I believe, built into Men by God, as a basis for our understanding of the world); and adding the revelations and ‘cosmic’ changes wrought by Jesus Christ.

    For example, reincarnation seems to be the spontaneous and natural human belief, and I think this probably was what happened to Men – until c 30 AD when Jesus made resurrection to Heaven a possibility.

    What about “ought”? In an abstract kind of sense I believe that people ought to believe the truth rather than error. But I sense behind your question something more like “do you Really believe that You are right, and ‘everybody else’ is wrong concerning these matters?” … with the unspoken implication that only a megalomaniac madman could possible believe anything like that!

    But I am afraid I Do believe I am right and ‘everybody else’ is wrong on these matters! – and it is a position I have *often* found myself in during my life as a scientist; indeed, that is pretty much what any real scientist does – and ought to do. I was often able to explain my novel scientific theories very briefly, simply and clearly – but it made no difference to persuading other people – they could not understand and did not much want to understand, because they were not interested in truth but in career and status (and especially not in any truth that might harm their career or status). Yet quite often I have seen – as the years rolled by, and further ‘evidence’ emerged – that I was indeed correct, despite being in a minority of one/ very few. So being a minority of one is just business as usual for me.

    For me (alone!) to be right, really is not such a massively implausible belief for me. My metaphysical theology was originally based in Mormonism, and (so far as I know) I am the only non-Mormon who has ever really (after about five years intense study) got to the bottom of Mormon theology and loved and believed it. And therefore I have been able to regard it as a personal revelation rather than a matter of obedience. In other words I lived by this theology, completely outside of the CJCLDS church and its authority and lifestyle structure. I don’t know of anyone else who has done this.

    Consequently I have been able to modify and reshape it from life-experience and thinking in ways where it seemed incoherent or incomplete (which devout Mormons are loth to do, and apostate Mormons have no wish to do). The people I learned from included Owen Barfield – who very few people have ever understood (!); and William Arkle – who very few people have even heard-of, let alone taken seriously.

    Given the ingredients of my metaphysical understanding (and there are others, as well as my own philosophical work) it is all-but inevitable that I am in a minority of one, and also *almost* inevitable that nobody else is likely to put in the years of thinking-work that have gone into this metaphysics in order to understand it…

    Unless or until (perhaps) they have exhausted all other possibilities – which was my situation and the reason I embarked upon this work of metaphysics.

    In conclusion, I believe that what I say is true; but from experience I don’t expect other people to be in a position even to evaluate its truth. ‘Ought’ doesn’t really come into it.

    • Bruce, here is why I asked if you hold that your metaphysical assumptions are (in some sense) true and should (in some sense) be held by others:

      Your epistemology seems to be that you have metaphysical beliefs which come to you in a personal way which does not involve outside confirmation. For example, your beliefs about Jesus come from your own idiosyncratic appraisal of the Fourth Gospel. You do not seem to interact with other lines of reasoning about what Jesus really did and said.

      But if you are to have confidence in their correctness, shouldn’t you test your beliefs in a way that makes serious contact with the outside world? For example, I believe that there really was a person called Jesus of Nazareth, and if a movie camera were to be transported back to His time and place, and it recorded what He did and said, we would basically confirm the Gospels, all four of them. Don’t you need more than inner certitude? Don’t you need to interact with the historical record and the rest of the evidence concerning Jesus?

      Also, if your message is important, shouldn’t you make an effort to appeal to another person on the basis of beliefs about reality that you share with him? You approach does not seem to do that.

      Now that I think of it, your approach is similar to some versions presuppositionalism. You set out a system which you judge to be superior, and you judge it on its own terms. And you assert that the other systems ultimately do not succeed as well as yours, and therefore yours is to be preferred.

      • @Alan – You are conflating several things here.

        I am saying that (1.) there is a choice to be made as to whether ‘beliefs’ come primarily from inward, or external, sources. I have said that (here and now – and it was not always thus) they need to come from within.

        I have not said, I do not believe, that (2.) external confirmation is irrelevant – or I would not have written a ‘book’ about the Fourth Gospel, would I?

        You are then conflating (3.) which is how to convince/ persuade other people about beliefs. Among mostly dross; Wittgenstein made an important point that one way of ‘convincing’ people is a statement of belief – as clear and simple as possible. No arguments, no ‘evidence’.

        Someone who wants to know what I – or anyone else – believes simply needs to understand (from within, by identification) what we believe…

        This is a bit akin to Kuhn’s paradigm shift idea. You cannot lead someone step by step to a new paradigm (because each step is refuted by the already-existing paradigm) – somebody has to grasp the new paradigm as a whole – after which links can be constructed, or not.

        I have adopted Wittgenstein’s ‘method’ – which is to try and state and restate the new paradigm, and somebody who is interested is invited inside, to see how things looks from here.

      • Dear Bruce,

        I think you’re still not getting my point. I’ll try again.

        If the thing (belief, doctrine, fact, concept, whatever you want to call it) that you are putting forth is really true, then it is really there, and other people, some of them, can make contact with it.

        But you said “(here and now – and it was not always thus) [beliefs] need to come from within.”

        I interpret “come from within” to mean that they originate within you. They do not originate in something that is out there. But if they are really real, then they are out there, outside of you. And if so, then some other people will be able to see them too, and then you can have a conversation with them about the real thing that you are both looking at. And the conversation will have some points of agreement, because you are all seeing a real thing.

        For your interpretations of the Fourth Gospel, for example, you have your own beliefs: the author was Lazarus, Jesus is not YHWH but a different exalted being, Jesus does not require that His believers possess most of the beliefs that traditional Christianity says that He requires, and so on.

        These are claims about something that really existed at a given time and place. You’re implicitly claiming that if a reporter and camera crew were to be transported back in time to 1st Century Palestine, they could have recorded evidence proving your assertions to be true.

        Or at least, if you are not claiming that these things are really real, we don’t need to listen to you.

        If you are to be taken seriously, it is not enough to say that these things seem true to you. If you are claiming that they are real, but you cannot point to anything outside of yourself that is accepted by at least some other people, then we cannot take you seriously. Examples of relevant things that are “outside yourself” include ancient writings, plausibility arguments made by reference to credible results of scholarship on the customs and beliefs of the people at that time and place, archaeological findings, theories put forth by other writers, and so on.

        Simply saying “this is how I see it, based on my intuition” is totally inadequate. I have not read your entire oeuvre, but that’s how your claims about the things we’re discussing here look to me.

        I sense a partial affinity between you and me. I too assert that all knowledge is based on intuition. But apparently I define intuition differently. I hold that intuition can be mistaken. It must be tested.

        But intuition is primary, because it occurs chronologically before testing, and because testing by itself does not generate new beliefs. All instances of an individual forming a belief are intuition: The individual comes across something, it just seems right, so the individual holds to it.

        All people try to test at least some of their intuitions, but most people do not attempt to test their intuitions about the deepest things, either because they are unaware that such a testing is possible or because they don’t feel qualified to do the testing, or because they don’t want to disprove the thing they intuit, or perhaps other reasons.

        But the deepest things are the ones most in need of testing, because mistakes about them have the most disastrous consequences.

  11. @Kristor – You don’t see what are – to me, from an ex-insider perspective – obvious and indeed lethal problems with classical/ traditional Christianity and its theological assumptions. Therefore you are not able to understand what I am saying – despite that it is conceptually simple. Everything you write shows that you haven’t a clue what I am saying; and there are So Many misunderstandings that I am at a loss where to begin – and don’t even want to try because I know for sure it would be absolutely futile, wearisome and ultimately annoying to me.

    If you seriously wanted to understand me – or William James’s pluralism, Owen Barfield, William Arkle, Mormon theology, Steiner’s early philosophy or the other main ingredients – it would need to be because you recognized you had not found a coherent and suitable understanding, and were seeking the truth about reality for deep personal reasons.

    As I keep saying – you are satisfied (or currently believe you are) with your theology; and this absolutely blocks your capacity to understand anything radically different.

    My concern is that Roman Catholicism rooted in Thomism is the most literally-complete, but also the most *brittle* of all ‘models’ of reality. This brittleness is one reason why people are always falling away and apostatizing – like almost the entire upper level of the RCC as of 2022. Brittleness is the cost of a complex and coherent model – absolutely every-thing, every ingredient, must be exactly right – or it falls to pieces.

    • From my view people haven’t been apostasizing because they have been engaging with Roman Catholicism on its own terms and found it lacking. They have found that adhering to the Catholic faith gets in the way of being able to rut according to their unbridled passions, and therefore they’ve thrown it out on their own terms. This is sadly true even to some of the heights of the leadership as well.

    • You don’t want to answer my questions about how you square those two circles. You don’t want to demonstrate the truth of your notions. OK. I’ll stop asking and wondering how you square those two circles, and infer with great reluctance – and utmost respect, aye and friendliness – that perhaps you do not, or cannot – or, just, simply, don’t feel like going to the trouble. That’s OK. It’s just that you cannot then expect anyone who does not yet agree with you to credit your notions; or, to agree with your deprecation of those who do not agree with you. Your rhetorical recusal is an effectual ontologic defeat: those who disagree with you remain unconverted to your opinions, and continue to see them as nonsensical. So be it. If that’s your evangelic perspective upon the salience and cogence of your notions, well then, who am I to dissuade you?

      You don’t see what are – to me, from an ex-insider perspective – obvious and indeed lethal problems with classical/traditional Christianity and its theological assumptions.

      Yes, because you have not actually explained the lethal problems. I know *that* you think abstraction is lethal to Christian faith, e.g., but I have no idea why that abstract proposition should be credited. I know *that* you think that God as Ultimate can’t be reconciled with creaturely power, e.g., but you have not shown why it is true. I know *that* you think Divine ultimacy (infinity, omniscience, etc.) is incompatible with Divine personality and creaturely creativity, but you haven’t showed why that is so. And so forth.

      Meanwhile enormous intellects such as Aquinas and Augustine and Paul (to cite only 3 of hundreds) have come to conclusions at variance with yours.

      You assert this stuff – and I have to say, a lot of what you assert is deeply attractive (and, so far as I can tell, nowise incompatible with Christian orthodoxy) – but you don’t provide the arguments to support it. It’s just your assertions, with no bases. You assert a *lot,* and *hard,* but you don’t *show.*

      In particular, you often assert that your assertions are incompatible with Christian orthodoxy. But, let me tell you, honestly, as one who is both pretty familiar with your assertions and also pretty deeply acquainted with the minutiae of orthodox Christian theology, I just don’t see it. Almost all the stuff you go on about can be commodiously accommodated by orthodox theology. Indeed, much of what you assert as revolutionary is in fact traditional, indeed unremarkably so.

      That is normal of haereses. They are almost entirely true. If they were not, nobody would find them the least bit credible in the first place, and they’d never have gained any traction in the popular mind. Their proponents would have remained only kooks, whose maunderings nobody had ever minded.

      I have many times encountered what I thought at first were fatal problems with classical metaphysics and theology. The first time that happened, when I was little more than a boy, I decided that the classical stuff must be mistaken, and threw it out the window (I was a communist then, too, thought liberal sexual morality was obvious common sense, and credited scientism). But I kept reading, and after a while I began to think, “Wait a minute: thousands of philosophers, theologians, saints, and mystics have thought this classical stuff is our best approximation; that’s a lot of people smarter than I, and wiser; maybe I have misunderstood it.” Sure enough, that turned out to be the case. I had been reading the classical stuff without understanding what the authors meant by their terms. I soon saw that the same was true of the authors who had convinced me at first that classical metaphysics was mistaken. They’d been reading the ancients as if they were reading moderns like themselves. D’oh! Stupid!

      When I understood classical metaphysical theology properly, the problems were resolved. What is more, none of the valid insights of the modern authors got lost in that process. On the contrary, I saw that they were deepened and sharpened by the proper classical context.

      Whenever since I have encountered a difficulty I had not before considered – it happens all the time – my first impulse has no longer been to suppose that the classical metaphysicians got things wrong, but rather that I need to do some more studying. So far, and every time I’ve undertaken it, that study has generated increase of understanding, unexpected insights in re other topics only tangentially related, and solutions of the problems that prompted the study. It has also ended up validating the classical authors.

      Whatever problems we have encountered in understanding metaphysics, they as a body have already encountered, and dealt with. I can tell you from experience of mounting many foothills and finding them already there, seated about a campfire drinking coffee and whiskey and waiting for such as me.

      The same thing happened with difficulties I encountered in the interpretation of Scripture. Whenever I ran into a hard saying, that seemed just wrong – e.g., the slaughter of the Amalekites – I started digging. The LXX is great for this. So far, I have *always* found that, when I take the terms employed by the inspired authors the way they meant them in their cultural milieu, lo they agreed with the Fathers in their milieu, and with the classical metaphysicians (from Pythagoras on) in theirs – and with the Magisterium of all the faithful. E.g., Platonic Forms are all over the OT, as types. Philo the Jew insisted that Pythagoras and Plato learnt their chops – and about the Forms and the Lógos – in the schools of Syria – i.e., of Palestine and its environs. Then the Greek schools of Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle suddenly resemble the ancient Prophetic schools of Palestine, Syria, Arabia, and Egypt; of Qumran, Damascus, and of Arabian colleges (where Paul studied the normal 3 years prior to his priestly initiation) now lost to time.

      So it goes, again and again. I keep finding my own worries resolved in the deeps of time, by my forefathers.

      I have learnt that it is foolish of me, puerile, jejune, and presumptuous, to toss overboard the work of 4K years of scholarship and mystical insight, in favor of stuff cooked up de novo since 1800 or so, and ignorant of its patrimony – *modern* stuff, that is to say, all of it heavy laden with loads of baggage: with massive, radical stupid ontological, epistemological and moral errors that “Enlightenment” thought drags along in its train, *and that prevents modern minds from understanding their classical and Hebrew patrimony* (and reality in general). Who am I, forsooth, to think that *Augustine,* for God’s sake, got something badly basically wrong, until I have completely understood him, his sources and teachers, his critics, and theirs?

      It’s an endless project, and endlessly fun. Keeps me humble, too. But, also, alerts me to modern error.

      … you are satisfied (or currently believe you are) with your theology; and this absolutely blocks your capacity to understand anything radically different.

      In fact I am *not* satisfied with my present understanding of theology, which is why I keep reading you (among many others). My understanding keeps growing, and I doubt that shall ever end. If God were finite, then maybe it could. I could then arrive some day at a complete comprehension of reality, at least in principle (I hope it never happens. Learning is beautiful. Like singing. You can sing a motet a million times, and never get to the bottom of it (I’m a church chorister, so I know). So also with any truth).

      But then, it *can’t* happen, can it? In the first place, as Nicholas Rescher has emphasized, there are an infinite number of true things we can say, and thus learn, about even a simple thing such as a stone. It is not possible for us to finish specifying everything there is to specify about any particular thing. In the second place there is Gödelian Incompleteness: only were I an infinite mind might I complete a consistent specification of all truths that can be specified by the infinite stack of logical calculi that are pertinent to the stone. Finally, on either Rescher or Gödel, and a fortiori on both, the realm of the actual, and thus of the knowable, keeps growing by an infinite number of truths with each passing moment. So beautiful!

      Brittleness is the cost of a complex and coherent model – absolutely everything, every ingredient, must be exactly right – or it falls to pieces.

      Well, that’s just the way that truth must be, no? It cannot but be comprehensive and totally adequate, so that every bit of it is exactly right. What’s the alternative? A truth some parts of which are false?

      If you err and stray from the truth, why then you err. That’s all. Having strayed from the strait and narrow path that leads up to the summit, you are likely to fall into some abyss or other. Like Azazel.

      A model is brittle and prone to fail only insofar as it be wrong. Wrong models *should* fall to pieces, whether complex or simple; the sooner, the better. Reality is complex and manifold, so simple models such as a boy or a savage can comprehend and credit without much thoughtful work are particularly prone to failure. E.g.: heavy objects fall faster than light objects. Nope! E.g., if I sacrifice my boy to the sun god, he will help me, or at least not hurt me. Nope!

      E.g., if I just mean well with all my might, why then I’ll be OK in the end. Nope!

      If a model is true through and through, why then it is robust, and flexible, and capacious; therefore, competent to novel developments. Classical metaphysics, e.g., subsumes those of William James and Whitehead, without doing violence to either of them; this in just the way that QM subsumes Newton. Indeed, classical metaphysics likewise cleanly subsumes both Newton and QM.

      I’ll explain how, if you like.

      The coherent model of classical theology, which furnishes elbow room to so many diverse thinkers – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Oriental (and indeed, Jewish) – has lasted 4,000 years, counting its Hebrew antecedents. If it was just basically wrong, its error would long since have been discovered, and it would have been by all and sundry dismissed and discarded, as were Manicheism, Mithraism and Greek polytheism (nobody honestly believes that stuff anymore). After all, it has been under constant attack since birth. Brittle, it manifestly is not. On the contrary, it is demonstrably robust, flexible, and capacious.
      I have it on good authority that orthodoxy shall prevail against any challenge. Matthew 16:18.

      I’m betting you do not really, in your heart of hearts, mean to stand in defense of the Gates of Hell. Because why? Because I love you, Bruce. I know your heart is solid. So I feel sure that, like Emeth, you shall find your way into the stable, when push comes to shove. I look forward to seeing you there, despite your fond earnest honest notions about Tash. Aslan knows your heart, and so he shall welcome you there, if you but agree to his invitation – whatever that agreement might cost you.

      • @Kristor – You seem to have an inaccurate idea of my motivations. I have a handful of people I discuss things seriously with; and we have given our broad perspective the name Romantic Christianity. People can drop-into our blogs if they want, but we do nothing to publicize, nothing to ‘recruit’ – I spend most of my time trying to clarify not persuade. It is extremely easy to avoid this!

        How I work and what I demand – and why I demand it – from theology is exemplified by today’s blog post (linked below). This post also explains why your way of arguing from (your personally selected) *weight* of authority/ history/ scholarship has precisely no traction with me as of 2022 – which is where we actually are.

        And when I observe the behavior of most of those who agree with you – as of 2022 – and by your chosen real-life theological authorities; I am not impressed in the slightest degree: rather, I am utterly appalled and disgusted.

        From what I see (nearly-all) of the most devout, scholarly, theologically-informed adherents to external church authority cannot even notice that we are two years into by-far the biggest crisis in the history of Christianity – the willing collusion and self-destruction of exactly the churches to which they adhere – most of them (nearly-all) now explicitly side with the (obvious!) servants of Satan, and actively sustain one or more of their (obviously!) evil-motivated ideologies and strategies.

        Since that is precisely what the weight of tradition and church-obedience has come to – I reject it utterly unless I can affirm it for myself, from the resources given me; and am equally rejecting of arguments that assert I ought to (for my salvation!) place myself trustingly under such external tutelage and authority.

        To trust and obey that which is in truth hostile to our salvation is the height of folly; and to advocate this course of action to others is even worse.

        Because matters (here and now) are clearer and simpler than ever, and getting ever-clearer, ever-simpler. Good and evil are distinct and move further apart. So that now (it was not always thus) any sincere and well-motivated person can discern what is needed – ‘can’ but also he *must* discern what what is needed – because no authority, no church, should now be trusted to do it for him.

        God has not left any of us bereft of all that we need of divine personal guidance and knowledge – if only we choose to accept it.

        https://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2022/02/how-important-to-you-is-real-personal.html

      • Quoting from the post you linked:

        The problem is that if there is (as all mainstream Christian denominations assert) one God, omnipotent, omniscient and who created everything from nothing; then everything is God; and the whole of creation is Just God’s Puppet.

        Sorry, no; from the fact that God created all things it obviously does not follow that he is all things, for in that case there would be no such things, but only God, and he would never have created. Again, from the fact that God causes all things to be it simply does not follow that he enacts all their acts.

        It appears that you have founded your rejection of Christianity upon conclusions that do not follow from the premises you cite.

  12. Alan – I don’t feel that we are making any progress. Obviously my explanations don’t work for you – because you keep coming back with questions that I find bizarrely off topic! When you mention the Fourth Gospel – I went to the trouble of collecting my ideas into a book form, which – at least I believed so – explained upfront just what I was about, and how I regarded that Gospel.

    wrt intuitions: I think think is how it works… Specific primary intuitions are ‘tested’ by living in accordance with them. ‘Living’ here includes thinking. We make an overall evaluation of ‘how things are going’ and decide on that kind of basis.

    If things are going sub optimally or unacceptably, then we may try living and thinking in accordance with different assumptions – which we will need to find or discover.

    I don’t see how else they could be tested. This involves an assumption that any formulation of a specific intuition is not primary, but subordinate to some overall evaluation of ‘life’ – some overall intuition (‘heart-thinking’?).

    At some point I think we need to introduce the capacity for what I call ‘direct knowing’ – a divine, transcendental sharing of knowing – an un-mediated knowing that is as valid as our motivations and capacities will allow.

    The above entails that we be able to identify (reasonably exactly) our own primary intuitions, and realize that other are possible.

    • Bruce, regarding intuition, I agree with you that “Specific primary intuitions are ‘tested’ by living in accordance with them.” My idea of “living” with them also involves subjecting them to rational scrutiny and also cross-checking them with other intuitions.

      This is rather important. One big reason civilization is currently trying to destroy itself is that with no general agreement about the basic natures of reality, knowing and goodness, people have no choice but to despair until they discover a Truth that is big enough to save them and make civilization tolerable again.

      The problem is not just that they reject Christ. It is much worse than that. They reject the possibility of knowing or of the cosmos making any sense. True knowledge of things that matter has been outlawed. Some people affirm life-giving truths out of the soundness of their intuition, ignoring what The Man teaches. But a lot of other people agree with the Man and police themselves against truth. Sounds like a Thought Prison, come to think of it, and most people incarcerate themselves voluntarily.

      (I’m not just gratuitously inserting Charlton-speak in order to curry favor. Sometimes the flow of ideas leads naturally to it!)

      The way out of prison for the intellectual person begins when he allows himself to think about thinking. Since there currently exists no trustworthy authority (over truth or anything else) which is widely acclaimed, each individual must search for this Trustworthy Authority himself.

      Whether or not there is an acknowledged authority, our knowledge is based on intuition, the faculty of the mind which grasps truths immediately. This does not mean “instantaneously,” it may take years. “Immediately” here means without mediation. It is grasped not because of cogitation on true propositions, but instead because when the mind is right, the thing appears indubitable.

      But since reality is objective, the man of integrity cannot just pick something that sounds good to him. Since he is not infallible, he might be wrong. Things must be tested. And things that have propositional content must be tested, among other way, by comparing them with other propositions. They must also be tested against the words of the Highest Authority, God. Truth is a system, and its confirmation includes, but is not limited to, checking the system for internal consistency and for consistency with other truths.

      If we are to help the victims of modern times to think rightly, we will have to understand the role of intuition. Since you place so much stock in intuition, I see you as an ally.

      About that other thing you mentioned. That intuition might be mistaken and so you can’t just sit on your own interpretation seems as obvious to me as the rising of the sun. There do exist false prophets. It sure seems to me that your religion, where it differs from the mainstream, comes from within yourself and has not been truly tested. The personal test of truth is necessary, but not sufficient.

      • “It sure seems to me that your religion, where it differs from the mainstream, comes from within yourself and has not been truly tested. ”

        Yes, but who exactly is to do the testing? Am I to take somebody else’s word that theory X has been truly tested? Maybe – if I trust him and he is honest and competent – but how will I know that?

        We are back with intuition – back with my own discernment.

        I do not believe it was always thus – men were much more immersed in and not-distinguished-from their groups in the past, But nowadays we always come back to our own personal discernment, if we are to take the necessary responsibility for our beliefs.

      • When testing things you do not just have to take the other guy’s word for it. The way it works is that someone points out to you a piece of evidence that seems pertinent to the thing for which you are seeking confirmation. You consider whether you see it in the way that the other person seems to see it. It was not something that came strictly from you, but is a thing that another person is capable of grasping.

        Your assertion that “men were much more immersed in and not-distinguished-from their groups in the past,…” is most relevant here. In the past people lived more in communion with their neighbors/comrades/parishioners/whatever. They had more trust in the thinking of other people and of the collective. Most people went along with their comrades in all things religious/philosophical, and so they had little difficulty grasping and evaluating an idea coming from outside themselves. They might reject it, but they understood it.

        In the modern rootless world mutual suspicion and incomprehension is more and more the norm. Especially when the Mainstream is Out to Get us. So a retreat into relying solely on one’s own mind for one’s fundamental beliefs about reality strikes me as understandable, now that I have formulated this line of thought.

  13. @Kristor & Alan – This discourse of ours seems a poor thing, compared with the joyfulness of really doing theology oneself, for oneself – for keeps.

    For me, being quizzed and responding in this fashion seems like quibbling over details without getting down to assumptions. My answers never satisfy you; your descriptions of what I supposedly-believe reveal to me by how-far we are talking-past each other.

    Surely this is a miserable activity? Surely this pervasive feeling invalidates our conversations?

    I have had unsurpassed joy from doing inner work on ‘theology’ – in moments of clear, grasping, *real* thinking; intuitive insight. I try to communicate this joy in my writing – for instance the Lazarus Speaks book stems from a joyous couple of years reading and rereading the Fourth Gospel; or recent blog posts on creation, Heaven and the like.

    But with some authors and particular works – the glowing joy of lucid thinking is solid and lasting, whereas with other authors it either crumbles or hardens as I (try to) live and think by it. Some thoughts lead on to more and better things – to courage and love; others lead only into a kind of thought prison, or towards despair.

    That is a discriminator I take seriously.

    • Speaking for myself: Bruce, I speak harshly at times because I have affection for you as a brother in arms and respect you as a formidable warrior for our side. You are spectacularly right on some things of first importance and wrong on some very important things and I want to do what I can to set you right. Not that man should ever get credit for setting people right. It is God who changes souls.

      One practical reason I keep asking my questions: I think you’re dodging them. Which seems a bit strange because in general you seem not to be a dodger.

      But I also don’t want to wear out my welcome.

      • “One practical reason I keep asking my questions: I think you’re dodging them.” I can see how it would look like that to you. You ask a question, I give an answer – but that answer does not make sense *from your assumptions*; or begs too many questions that need to be sorted-out first… therefore you ask another question… Rinse and repeat.

        All my answers always seems unsatisfactory; until I get fed up with this futile exercise and then you feel evaded!

      • A certain classic movie quote comes to mind. You know, “What we’ve got here…”

        So it would seem that this is what we’ve got here: You have some (ideas, concepts, beliefs, whatever you want to call them) that seem to you to be (true, valid, useful, whatever word you want to use), and not for you alone, but in reality. And not only that, but you see your notions as (superior, more in accord with reality, more useful, however you would put it) as compared with the notions of the vast majority of mankind. But aside from an infinitesimal part of mankind, others are unable to (grasp them, affirm them, believe them, have true communion with you over them, however you want to say it.)

        Which, if correct, suggests that Something is Fundamentally Wrong with Things. At least from my perspective.

  14. “Brittleness is the cost of a complex and coherent model – absolutely every-thing, every ingredient, must be exactly right – or it falls to pieces.”

    As some would characterize Noah’s ark.

    • I don’t know about Noah’s Ark, but brittle certainly characterises Dr Charlton’s testy reponses to Kristor and Allan above.

  15. Christianity will be powerless and incoherent for as long as they don’t know their own God, having him dissected with a paring knife in 284AD. Atheism instead, is as effective. I see it as a zealous religion, a bigoted belief in nothing.

  16. Hey lads and lasses, before i reply to this tome would you consider backing up discussions like this? Depending on Algol to be dependable would be a mistake imho. Perhaps i should ask for whomever responsible to back up the whole site outside of frontpage posts and such. The internet is downgrading let us not be a part of that please.

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