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How an Event 40 Years after Jesus Redirected his Followers

April 14, 2016

The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church is still a fascinating and important book! It was written over 60 years ago (1951; 2nd edition, reviewed here, 1957).   Some of its key points deserve mention.

I’ll do that here, as it’s tough to find the book, and not an easy read if you do.  It’s a scholarly work written largely for other scholars… footnotes and occasional phrases in the text in at least 4 languages besides English.

The author is accomplished British biblical scholar, SGF Brandon. Despite its detail and depth, the book never got much traction.  Brandon was one of a small percentage of scholars in that period (to some extent, still) who were concluding that the Jerusalem style of Jewish Christianity was significantly different than the Pauline style of a more “universal” (Jewish/Gentile) Christianity.  The latter was more the source of later Christian orthodoxy.  The Jewish elements would be largely set aside, other than the foundation in Hebrew Scripture (the “Old Testament”), with its concept of a coming Messiah.

In The Fall of Jerusalem… Brandon meticulously makes the case that the events of the Roman-Jewish war ending in the destruction of Jerusalem and The Temple in 70 C.E. (A.D.) radically changed the course of what would become the “Christian faith”. This seems self-evident if one knows much about very early Christianity and the history of first century Palestine.  But even few Christians do.  Surveys have shown few people know much at all about the “fall” of Jerusalem in Roman times or when it took place, either as a date or in relation to Christian development and scriptures.  This is serious miseducation.

It’s popular in recent years for Christians from a variety of strains of the faith to decry that the religion has become more “about Jesus” (particularly the Christ of Paul) than the religion “of Jesus” (his actual teachings as the Gospels present them).  If anyone is looking for the earliest roots and evidences of this, mostly as seen within the New Testament itself, this book is masterful.  In a nutshell, it makes the case that the fall of Jerusalem was a vital pivot point which effectively removed the authority and control of the Jerusalem leaders and encouraged the ascendence of Pauline views of Jesus (generally as “Christ” or Messiah in the sense of cosmic savior, not just Messiah of the Jewish nation, who would “restore the Kingdom to Israel” [Acts 1]).

Brandon regularly notes when he is being speculative, taking much of the wind out of the sails of that criticism of his work.  (I mention this because other reading may bring up his work or that of similarly minded scholars.).  Most of the time he’s pointing out important details in the NT texts that are important clues often passed over.  Here are a few interesting issues, both historically and for the formation of Christianity:

  • Whether the author (“Luke”) of the book of Acts, covering some of the same events Paul refers to, is sometimes in contradiction because he did not possess Paul’s letters (though writing well later).
  • The agenda of Luke in Acts, to present a smooth and unified development of the early Church, contributed to such discrepancies and gives an idealized version that leaves a number of puzzling issues strangely unexplained.  An example is how, when and why James supplanted Peter as Jerusalem leader.  Another, what really happened to Paul on his final visit to Jerusalem where he narrowly escaped death and left in custody of Roman soldiers, the last few years of his life barely being covered and his death not at all.  With this, what became of the large sum he’d collected over several years and was personally delivering to James and his co-leaders, concerned that this major investment of his time and the treasure of his followers might not be accepted. (Doctrinal and ethnic issues were wrapped up in this.)
  • Luke seems to purposely bypass all history of the spread and development of Christian faith in North Africa, particularly Alexandria, then the third largest city in the Roman Empire.  It had a very significant Jewish population in touch with Jerusalem and a bit later was a noted Christian center.  Passing reference to the city in Acts shows Luke knew some form of Jesus-following existed there.  Also that this belief system was distinctly different (inferior or in error?) than Paul’s… again, not fitting well in Luke’s agenda.  Brandon suggests, with extensive analysis, that Alexandrian faith came to be represented, perhaps quite closely, in the Gospel of Matthew.

Among a lot of details, The Fall of Jerusalem importantly points out the big picture point that what happened in 66-70 C.E. turned out to perhaps have changed the course of Christian history and its view of the person of Jesus and the spiritual dynamics involved in following him.  The loss of Jerusalem as the “seat” of authority and of the core Apostles/James (not one of the Twelve) group as far as any ongoing control of the movement was critical.  It may have been the key factor in this major development: observant Jewish following of Jesus was so weakened that it eventually gave way to rabbinic Judaism and largely-Gentile Christianity.  And the need and opportunity for the writing of the Gospels (well after Paul) was created.

Your thoughts?



“Grand Scale Culture Wars” – Part 5 – Knowledge via Revelation and Authority

April 5, 2016

Conflict gets our attention! It’s proven over and over. A current example is American media jumping on every thrust and parry of our presidential primary race.  They, spurred on by us, especially love featuring the purposely pugilistic Donald Trump.

An ancient example is all the “fights” in the Gospels of the New Testament: Jesus vs. demons; Jesus vs. Pharisees; disciples vs. outsiders and sometimes each other; Jesus vs. “the Temple”; Jesus vs. Pilate; Pilate vs. “the Jews”, etc., etc.

We “hate” our continual fights, but we can’t stop loving them either.  We spoke of St. Paul in the last segment, Part 4. He portrays the grandest of all conflicts: those in the heavenlies, in which God has taken on and defeated human-enslaving powers of darkness through the death and raising of Christ.

Paul was no stranger to more earthly conflict.  His inner conflict turned him from persecutor to promoter. (Luke says Jesus gave Paul a livestock analogy: he was “kicking against the goads” prior to reversal of belief.)  He barely survived Jewish mobs and municipal or regional authorities.  He had conflict with his own colleagues – sometimes Peter but especially James, then the top Jerusalem leader. (This was purportedly the brother of Jesus, though Paul never makes it clear he believed he was).  No question Paul’s inner and outer world was filled with intense conflicts.

As his revelations occurred and he developed his unique theology, it’s no stretch to imagine Paul projected the earlier phases of this out upon the heavenly panorama as conceived in his day.  (Not saying none of this originated with God….  It’s not easy to determine either way, particularly if we seek to mediate naturalism and supernaturalism.) As commonly imagined in his day, “heavenly places” were filled with an array of spiritual powers battling God for prizes on earth.  At stake: nothing less than the future of Israel and the world.  Our own souls could be saved in the process.

Also germane is that Paul’s likely “hometown”, Tarsus, was a crossroad mixing Jewish, Greek, Persian and Roman cultures.    He’d no doubt been exposed to everything from mystery religions to Greek philosophy to Persian dualism and concepts of Zoroaster. His predominant input, it appears, was a serious youthful education in Pharisaic Judaism.  Doing what limited psychoanalysis of Paul we can, it makes sense he’d try to reconcile the tensions of these often-conflicting views of the world… views which clearly had battled within him.  We get this from his adult self-descriptions as well as inferences from the little we know of his childhood and youth.

It’s quite possible that his evident knowledge of various perspectives and where he was apparently born reflects a “mixed-marriage”.  Perhaps a Jewish mother and Gentile father.  (Intermarriage seems to have been relatively rare, but clearly did happen… the Herodian family, for example, was mixed; additionally, Tarsus was far north of Palestine, relatively restricting the Jewish marriage pool.) Paul never refers to either of his parents.  Perhaps this is why.  It may have been shameful to part of him, tensions arising because of that other part. And it’s clear Paul was passionately emotional.)  

Regardless of possible mixed ethnicity for Paul himself, he clearly had picked up affinity for both the personal and the conceptual side of his comingled Jewish and Gentile/pagan home milieu.  So add to his internal personal conflicts that he had interpersonal or social conflicts to resolve, to the extent he could.

His high energy and ambition to make an impact drove him relentlessly… with the result that his revelations did bring resolution! Via his visionary experiences, Jews and Gentiles were both invited to join in the one “body of Christ”.  Only faith required… no “works of the law” (Torah)!  Gentiles could enter as easily as Jews.  Ethnic, cultural, class and even gender boundaries were broken down in unity.

The Jerusalem “Church” leaders were not on this “page”! (See Galatians 1 and 2, and 2 Corinthians 11, from Paul himself; then compare Acts for basic confirmation of this, but from a differing later perspective… one which minimizes the conflicts, per Luke’s agenda.)  The page these “founding fathers” were still reading was ambivalent about inclusion of Gentiles… open but not exactly welcoming.  Their own “risen Jesus” visions had not made clear how God would create Gentile legitimacy in participating in a “new covenant” – one still with Israel.  Hebrew Scriptures, to which both Paul and they consistently looked, did not say much about this either.  After all, most Messiah references and implications of a new covenant were actually quite vague, interpreted various ways in this “intertestamental” period.

Apparently Jesus hadn’t clarified the murky problem of Gentile inclusion or a mission to them. The Gospels themselves indicate ambiguity.  Acts, in a dubious description, seeks to show gradual clarification, though not by Jesus directly. Let’s remember that we have multiple indications that Paul and the Jerusalem Jesus-followers shared the belief that Jesus’ “appearance” in glory and triumph was very soon to come.  Coming to believe that Jesus was Messiah and soon to appear was Paul’s basic “conversion” (within Judaism, not to Christianity, which didn’t yet exist).  But with Paul’s background and overriding interests, his vision of Jesus’ role was different than those who’d experienced earlier “appearances” of Jesus.

These appearances were not specified by Paul, nor directly by any Jerusalem leaders, as Jesus presenting himself bodily.  There also were not claims (except by Luke, writing much later) of an “ascension” before which Jesus supposedly walked bodily around Jerusalem or Galilee.  (The problem of conflicting Gospel accounts on where he supposedly went, aside for now.)  So the common claim of orthodoxy that only the “resurrection” can explain the restored faith of the Apostles/disciples can be valid.  However, that need not also require (or substantiate) a bodily resuscitation of Jesus. Visionary experiences suffice quite adequately.  This may have included corporate (experienced together) ones, as Paul refers to (1 Cor. 15)… not an unheard-of occurrence, and not the same as hallucinations.

So we find, among the earliest Jesus-followers, a critical difference of approach involving religious/ethnic boundaries surrounding what Jesus was claimed to have accomplished and his ongoing promise.  In it are the roots of major conflict between the authority of James and Paul.  (Peter, as a co-leader and missionary we’ll tie in loosely with James.)  Paul, on the other hand, was not an official co-leader but at least partially endorsed at first and later tolerated… we often forget that it appears his direct contact with James was very minimal. His time was quite limited with Peter as well, from all we can tell.

This particular “apostolic” conflict was not an intentional or significant part of the narrative drama of what became the New Testament. Nor does this canon (collection of books) seek to feature “intramural” Christian and Jewish-Christian conflicts, though they show through frequently.  The key points in this post are these:

  1. That revelation is central for the most influential NT author, Paul. In it we see the psychological and spiritual power of his own resolution of inner conflict. (However, only partially explained, if he even understood it deeply himself.)
  2. How Paul’s vision of the resolution of a cosmic conflict that (purportedly) affects us all inspires the core of the “Gospel message”. This is the part of “The Gospel” that has come down most powerfully in much, if not most of the Christian Church. In the process, it has supported and carried along earlier forms of supernaturalism shared by Hebrew, Persian, Greco/Roman and pagan religions… and still-to-this-day, most forms of Christianity.  

We will later deal further with how revelation, particularly that of Paul, codifies “Truth” when combined with concepts of authority.  That is, authority as authorization of revelation as well as tradition. This is a big part of a supernatural worldview… pivotal in it.  Such a worldview can coexist, in the same person, alongside a mostly-naturalist one.  The points of conflict or tension are rarely thought through.  The result is a sloppy and pliable view of God, often with an emotional price to pay.  (There’s always an intellectual price.)  Usually, in this view, God is “sovereign”, imposing his will by interventions in the natural systems of the world, using miracles and divine judgment (on both persons and nations).

How closely does this kind of “supernaturalism” fit either what you’ve believed or how you’ve understood the teaching of churches you’ve attended?

Religion and Gender around the World

March 24, 2016

The Pew Research Center has just released interesting data about women and men in their devotion to religion.

The article here includes some global graphics.  Perhaps not surprising to most of us that women, in most parts of the world, are clearly more religious… though not in Muslim regions. But it is still close there and definitely not enough difference to re-balance the sizable edge for women in the rest of the world, especially in most of Europe, the Americas, and Australia.

The Birth of the World’s Largest Religion – “Grand Scale Culture Wars”, Part 4

March 21, 2016

In parts 1 – 3, we’ve taken a high altitude look at the often-warring “ways to truth” of supernaturalism and naturalism.  These are represented mainly by traditional Christianity and science.  The passionate competition between them is not always obvious.  Only certain writers and certain issues bring it to the surface.

Among the issues, perhaps the creation–evolution debate is most significant and heated.  The year 1925, nearly a century past now, was a key marker, already well into this great cultural struggle.  That year was the famed “Scopes Trial” (so named for the science teacher defendant, Mr. Scopes).  This “monkey trial” pitted famous secular attorney, Clarence Darrow, against a very popular political and Christian leader who had been three times a candidate for President, William Jennings Bryan.

The issue: teaching evolution in public school.  Technically the anti-evolution case (Bryan) prevailed.  But in effect, “evolution” (Darrow) won.  Apparently the showing of “creationism” wasn’t pretty.  (I’ve not bothered to check how Bryan argued the case.) The main point is that things seem to remain at about the same state in this stand-off, after all this time. Emotions are still often high on both sides – whether on evolution-creation specifically or any of several, sometimes related issues.

Now if 100 years is not really a long time in terms of the progress of paradigms, maybe 2000 years isn’t either!  I’d argue that is the case! Supernaturalism, in our sense here of two distinct tiers or “way things work” within the universe, is older than that.  But let’s use the beginning of Christianity as a meaningful marking point for current-day supernaturalist thinking.

So what caused the emergence of Christianity out of Judaism? This is a massive topic itself, which we can deal with only in broad strokes here, without the scholarship of documentation.  I will say, however, that out of passion to understand, I have spent many hundreds (if not thousands) of hours deeply exploring this subject, particularly in the last decade.  I’m not merely repeating common conceptions which are often misconceptions.  So…

Where did the New Testament (NT) writers get the ideas that went into this new religion?

The answer is complex but it’s accurate to simplify things by saying it was mainly “revelation” and expectation of the “appearance” of the Messiah.  The latter is often called the “return of Christ”.  The more accurate rendering of the Greek is “appearance” or “presence”, and “Christ” is merely Greek for the Hebrew “Messiah”.  So the point is “appearance of the Messiah”. Or we might add, for Jesus’ original Jewish followers, “(re)appearance of Jesus as Messiah (rather than defeated on a cross).

The two key concepts of revelation and Jesus’ victorious status are interlinked, particularly in St. Paul’s case… where we get the biggest influence on Christian theology.  It appears the original Apostles’ expectation was significantly different than Paul’s.  They expected fulfillment of Hebrew scriptural visions of a Jerusalem-centered Kingdom of God blessing the world through Yahweh, the Jewish God, administering Jewish law.  The Messiah was his human “Anointed One” (meaning of “Messiah”).  Paul, not having known the human Jesus, saw him as a cosmic savior.  This involved a very different nature, status and effect of messiahship: breaking down all meaningful Jewish-Gentile distinctions (though still retaining “privilege” of heritage and such).  Paul brought a new focus on inward spiritual transformation by believers’ identification with Christ (Messiah).

Paul makes the point repeatedly that his information about the heavenly Christ (he spends almost no time on the earthly Jesus) came by direct revelation to him.  He declares he did not get it from any human source.  It was about visions and being transported to heavenly places, with him unable to tell if bodily or only spiritually (2 Corinthians 12).

Now it happens that I believe people sometimes do receive “revelations”, often beneficial, and in extraordinary ways.  Maybe visions or auditory messages.  Or the much-studied and very real-seeming experiences of a “near death” or clinical death situation, and other ways.  In believing this I needn’t be a “supernaturalist”.  I don’t have to separate their source out as above-and-beyond the “natural world”.  And I can still allow for “God” (or a universal “mind”) to be involved, utilizing natural processes still little understood by us.  I know they gradually are being better observed and understood.

But St. Paul, like most ancient Jews and pagans, conceived a powerfully intervening God within a dualistic (what I’m calling two-tier) reality.  The most common current view of God is similar.

Although Paul contributed specifics of theology beyond other NT writers, it seems clear that his “founding” contemporaries, the other Apostles, also “inherited” (in Hebrew Scriptures and strong religious traditions) expectations of Messiah’s arrival.  He would be a God-anointed special human (certainly not divine). In the late Greek and early Roman period in Palestine, many candidates were identified and often rooted out and killed by the occupiers. For the Jews, these were desperate times that called for desperate measures.

Back to the other Apostles and followers of Jesus: after resurrection appearances they expected his soon “return”.  And so it has been passed on down to our day.   (In my view, such appearances were visionary only, as actual historical evidence to the contrary is missing and the supposed “evidence” more than dubious, despite what Christian apologists claim… I know, I used to be one of them.)

These other Jerusalem-based leaders, in a similar way to Paul, combined messianic expectations with faith in revelations to remain Jesus followers after his death.  (Paul had his vision a few years, not days or weeks, after Jesus’ death and never spent much time in Jerusalem.)  From indications both by Paul and Luke (in Acts), these initial “Christians” actually remained a mostly-acceptable sect of Messianic Judaism, not an unusual thing at that time.  For simplicity, however, let’s lump their influence together with that of Paul and others as to the emergence of mainly-Gentile Christianity. (There was a fairly lengthy period of it and a distinctly Jewish Christianity existing together.)

To me, a good part of the sorely-needed solution of a 3rd paradigm mediating between naturalism and supernaturalism comes this way: Respecting the roles of both mythology and history. In the case of Christianity, mythology includes quasi-historical accounts supposedly anchoring theology in history.  [More on this later.] “Myth” includes but is not merely fiction… one might say it is a sort of trinity: psychology, anthropology and theology.  For its part, history as a discipline uses rigorous methodology reflecting science though it is not “hard science” and never fully objective.  But it can and should critique that quasi-history portion of any history-based religion such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Recognizing “the power of myth” neither denigrates it nor accords it the supernatural status claimed by Christian concepts of revelation.  By this I mean particularly revelation to authoritative figures such as Apostles or later-recognized prophets, as this became Scripture (divinely revealed “Truth”).  Recognizing myth, however does call us to what is very challenging to even face, let alone do in depth: examine the very founding-and-operating myths of our own views of the world, whether “religious” or “scientific” or some combination.

What we will look at in our next part will be more depth on the “myth of origin” in the story of earliest Christianity… how it seeks to explain things yet has distorted reality in the process.  We’ll explore how the linkage of revelation and authority was necessary and sets views of the world almost as solidly as concrete.

Your questions or comments are welcomed!

Supernaturalism’s Effect on Faith in Science – Part 3 of “Culture Wars”

March 16, 2016

In parts 1 and 2 of “Grand Scale Culture Wars” we looked at the development of two opposing views of reality: the naturalism of science and the supernaturalism of most of religion (especially traditional Christianity).

In secular higher education students are pressured to accept pure naturalism or humanism separated from all forms of religion.  Actively fighting this on the other side, the churches of most Americans and many students may actually teach mistrust of science. Many more imply it. This while creating “faith” in God’s timely intervention in human affairs… since God operates outside of nature, manipulating it to his will.  (Of course, the issue of when “last days” turns into “failed prophecy” is pushed under the rug.)

For some people, these absolutes of science and religion are just different angles of view, not opposing. But the “guardians” of both tend to put them at loggerheads, as exclusive approaches to truth.  The result: battles, with massive stakes, over things like climate change.  And much more.

Now I realize that it’s not just pure ideological conflict in this example or others.  The fossil fuel industry has a powerful lobby and money talks!  But I have to think that it’s much easier to get both politicians and many regular people on board with denial of extremely strong scientific consensus when there is already great skepticism of science.

This skepticism often grows directly out of supernaturalism.  God created the world and controls it, in this worldview.  We know because “he” tells us so in Genesis.  But he doesn’t use evolution, as “invented” by science.  In fact, as held by roughly 40% of Americans (shown in numerous surveys), God did this creating in seven days, a mere 10,000 or so years ago.  (Apparently, this God is also a huge practical joker, making things only appear to be billions of years older.)

For our purposes, the point is that science is not to be trusted because the Bible, as revealed (if not inerrant) truth, says things that are in conflict with science.  (Per a certain interpretation.) Agreed: there is a problem when “science” goes beyond real science and presumes to claim proof of a negative… that no kind of God exists.  Or crosses the line from theory-checking into speculation.  A problem also exists when foibles of human nature cause biases and blind spots.  And yes, among “objective” scientists like everyone else.

Sometimes that even builds into a mostly-unconscious “conspiracy” to hold onto an outdated explanation of things, perhaps on a major scale.  Thus, new discoveries can be held off… but seldom for long.  And this process does not seem to explain at all the process of coming to consensus on human involvement in climate change. One wouldn’t expect, of course, a science skeptic to use a scientific approach to examining science itself as the internal critic, Thomas Kuhn, did decades ago.  Rather, religious and/or secular fundamentalism has found ways to “explain”, so they think, how science could be so wrong on such a major issue.

Unless and until you study to gain some sense of how large-scale, international science works, don’t buy this dogma-led or money-motivated kind of crap.  But still, I’ll say again, it’s important to always go through critical analysis…. I have “practiced what I preach” on this climate change issue.

We’ve not yet dealt with the development of the power of supernaturalism.  We’ll do that in the next article.  For now, here are a few of the factors that keep the perspective powerful.  First is “the power of myth”.  This phrase was either coined or made popular by Joseph Campbell in a series of popular works up to several years ago.

Our minds strive for a framework of understanding for our reality, our experiences.  Our discussion has already been around this.  These “mythic” (not “untrue”) frameworks do modify over time, both in cultures and in us individually.  They make small-to-large leaps as we mature… from a childhood magical system to something more rational, on to… [higher stages we’ll not discuss yet.]  But culture tends to reinforce a status quo which resists changing mythic explanations very fast.  This goes, perhaps doubly, for sub-cultures such as fervid religious systems, fundamentalism being pertinent here.

So an individual either raised in such a sub-culture or “converted” into it will not only view things through the group’s framework.  They will also experience strong peer or family pressure to not buck the system.  People don’t like the apple cart being upset. When courageous mavericks do buck too much, voicing excessive doubt or proposing changes, they are usually formally or informally excommunicated.  That way, the group resists change and can stay more stable.

Maybe you understand all this.  But think about how things could be better for others, perhaps some friends or family of yours, if they were educated from an early age to understand these dynamics… and to beware. This is one way to promote positive change.

What’s happened to you along these lines?  Or to people close to you?   

Next time we will trace more of how Christianity began with these dynamics and has operated largely under their thumb.


Grand Scale Culture Wars – Part 2 of Series

March 10, 2016


In Part One of Grand Scale Culture Wars, I laid out how American/Western culture has developed serious battle lines in a big-picture “paradigm war”.  This battle of worldviews feeds into our various “culture wars”.

We seem stuck with supporting either the pure naturalism of science (a matter-only universe) or the supernaturalism of religion (especially orthodox Christianity).  It is particularly college students who are presented with an either-or choice about this.  It’s not necessary and we all, with them, deserve better!                                                      

They face what appears to be a simple choice between opposites: a purely natural universe or a natural/supernatural one.  As a result, many late adolescents and young adults raised in religion hit a “crisis of faith”, especially if pursuing higher education in a secular setting.  From classes and the general atmosphere around them, they feel pressured to choose between these competing paradigms.  (Paradigms can be said to be ways of viewing the world, organizing knowledge and finding guidance).  Often at stake, along with this, is the respect of people who utilize them.

For more secular youth, things may run the other direction.  They are exposed to religious friends and organizations which may appeal to an emerging need to “believe in something” or to find higher meaning.  Perhaps they need to be rescued from a trap of despair involving depression or substance abuse.  Along the way, they may have a conversion experience.  Or they may, more moderately, come to align with a religious campus group or a church due to sensing that the pure naturalism and strict secularism of “the university” or general culture is not the whole picture.  But “getting religion” doesn’t realistically resolve things.  They are still on a near-sizzling hot seat.

You can’t win either way??

Both the “switchers” and those holding loyal to their roots find themselves in uncomfortable, sometimes confusing situations.  Their studies, perhaps their budding careers seem to confirm a materialistic universe.  There is pressure from peers and professors.  But their spiritual side (even if they’re not religiously aligned) often screams back that there must be more.  Sadly, there are few settings where pursuing this dynamic within a community does not put them in direct opposition to science and the humanities.  (At least implicitly if not explicitly.)

Ken Wilber, a popular interdisciplinary scholar of “Integral Theory” calls the choice for students brutal.  He describes their situation (not unlike that of others) this way: The good three-quarters of US college students who are spiritual on some level “… cannot discuss their faith with their professors… who ridicule it; yet they are no longer really comfortable with the mythic and ethnocentric version of [the fundamentalist] religion held by many of their friends.”  Their “… brutal choice: continue to believe in the amber-stage of spiritual development OR renounce their faith.”  [Integral Spirituality, p. 182, emphasis his.] (“Amber” stage Wilber says operates on “rule/role mind” and is “absolutistic”.)  Of course, such students can play out other options but they seldom have support or any guidance whatsoever to do so.

As I’ve implied, a very similar problem exists on both sides.  Wilber’s comment on ridicule points it out for the “science” or purportedly “liberal” side.  The problem is rigid and reductionist (oversimplified) thinking.  Little imagination.  Little attempt to synthesize something using concepts from both sides.  And of course, ridicule tends to prompt reaction.  The ensuing charge and counter-charge interaction seldom sheds a brighter light on the underlying big-picture issues.

Why not seek to build upon truths that both religion and science have discovered over the centuries and continue to in “real time”? A person (or organization, etc.) needn’t participate in or endorse any religion’s dogma to do so.  Wilber and some of his “Integral” partners are examples.  He happens to be closer to Buddhism than to Christianity, but doesn’t advocate or oppose either of them broadly.

Only a small percentage of even progressive Christians (or Jews, Muslims, etc.) seek this kind of evolving synthesis while operating within religious organizations.  It’s usually the “spiritual but not religious” who pursue the crossover points of science and religion. It’s fine by me to be “SBNR”, as I actually consider myself, though currently somewhat church-involved.   But we do need paradigm-stretchers from the inside of religious organizations as well!  The reach and potential impact they represent is too great to waste.   

Whatever happened to shades of gray??

Now, this effort isn’t for the lazy-minded.  In some respects, improved and nuanced models of reality (versions “3.0 and higher”) flow from practical common sense thinking.  But creating and explaining a thorough and consistent system… one that can guide and critique both science and religion… is hard work.  Happily, much of it has been done… by the likes of Ken Wilber and people in “Integral” studies as well as by people in the non-orthodox Christian Process Theology (based on the broader Process philosophy). If you are a student, either in school or pursuing lifelong learning, do you feel torn between the seeming opposites? Even if you don’t presently, you owe it to yourself and the rest of us to do some exploration.

But let’s leave aside the specifics of this for now and explore why things have been in such a state for at least the last two centuries.

Here is a nutshell summary: The supernaturalism of ancient Judaism on through to modern Christianity has heavily supported a two-tier concept of the universe.  Science gradually came to challenge this view, not just around the edges but at the core.  Key was the idea, only gradually built up, that measurement and understanding of “laws of the universe” would explain everything ultimately.  No room or need for God.  What we see or can sense directly or with instruments is all there is.  (Thus the much higher percentage of atheists among scientists than in the general population.)

For general tracking, let’s date science (as a structured approach and a growing set of explanations of the universe) back to about 500 years ago.  It took 2 to 3 centuries for science to almost fully split off from theology.  In this period, what we call science was designated “natural philosophy”.  Both it and theology came under the broader “philosophy”, and theology gradually lost its position as “queen of the sciences”.  Most early scientists were churchmen (virtually no women) and often serious theologians.

Remember that the Catholic Church had a near monopoly on educational institutions coming out of the Middle Ages.  This carried over for some time for Catholicism and Protestantism as the latter emerged powerfully in the 1500s.  Protestant theologians, particularly in Germany and England, remained tied to churches but sought to approach study of the Bible and faith along scientific lines, or at least Enlightenment intellectual and humanistic ones.

Science comes to influence Religion, but how far?

Thus arose “historical criticism” of the Bible… very tenuously at first.  Pioneered earlier by the likes of Erasmus and Spinoza, the first such significant work in relation to “historical Jesus” research was by Reimarus.  It was written sometime before his death in 1768, publication purposely postponed.  A friend and noted Enlightenment figure, Lessing, began publishing parts of it in 1774.  Interestingly, such work led directly to that of the scientist and progressive theologian, Joseph Priestly.  He in turn significantly influenced the later-life thinking of both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  Their correspondence in their post-presidency years discussed his work, particularly on the Gospels and Jesus.      

Without going further into the history of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation or the Renaissance and Enlightenment, you probably have some sense of the power of “modern” rational analysis, humanism and the methods of science that emerged between about 1500 and 1800.  If not, suffice it to say that it was beyond profound.  It transformed major structures of society and the worldviews of really everyone, to varying degrees.

Given this, why is the supernaturalism (two-tier universe) of traditional Christianity so powerful?  So robust… standing so long, even to this day in important respects? It has stood against not only the materialism of science but also many of its less radical conclusions such as an ancient earth.  How does it effectively fight the application of scientific perspectives and insights to the updating of its theology?

Please share any thoughts you have and follow the blog for part 3 soon, which will delve into these questions. 

Grand Scale Culture Wars that Affect Us All

March 8, 2016


Issues of culture that are battled over bitterly come and go.  Society evolves.  Conservatism slows but can’t stop it.  It’s “all good”.  (Well, not all, but much of it.)

Here is the longer-term, larger-vision tension, spawning a multitude of skirmishes:

Is there a true “universe” (unified “field” of every thing and every process)?


Are there two tiers to everything: Natural and Supernatural?

The first is represented most by “science”.

The second by “religion”.

Science (for about 500 years) has moved Western culture way over toward “universe”.  This is a great truth.

Religion (for untold eras) has insisted that something/someone lies “beyond” or “outside of” nature or what we can know by our five senses.  This also is a great truth.

But how can both be true? The way we use language, literally, they can’t.  But let’s stretch the language game in a minute… stick with me. 


Let me say that there is both a “universal” unity and an intelligence, maybe a “compassion” that transcends, envelopes and informs that unity.

Among the wonders of science is how much of the way things work has been unraveled.  (And of course, the wonderful technologies following. To borrow originally religious language, it’s awesome!) And even how many distinct “things” there are – objects and forces, the smallest of which still may not have been found.

Among the wonders of religion are encouragement and methods to explore our inner worlds and imagine ways in which this “mind and heart” stuff may come from beyond ourselves, beyond matter/energy.  In this process, we often increase and focus our compassion.  We deal with elements difficult to define and quantify in the typical methods of science.  This is one reason that psychology (a field I’ve spent a lot of time in) is looked at by many as only marginally a “scientific” discipline although it often uses the methods of science in its explorations of human behavior and thought.

But many lovers of science would deny any reality to a connection between what is within us and beyond us… or any place for collaboration with either religion or spirituality.  There can be no conversation with them on the serious issues explored by science and taught to children and adults in our culture.  (While I do not favor teaching “creationism” in public schools, nor support of any religion, I believe strongly that teaching about religion belongs there, skillfully done in a balanced way.)

And may lovers of God (especially the outwardly religious) would reply that the truly important things are only revealed by God….  While science is good, God will still do what God wills to do.  (And some of it is gruesome!)

 The Nature of a Standoff Much in Need of Resolution

 To get slightly more precise, let me phrase it this way:

The supposed “religion vs. science debate” is really a valid and important ongoing tension of realms of knowledge and ways of knowing.  We don’t want to be done with the tension but rather that discussion be respectful, fruitful and not extreme on either side.

For perhaps a century or so, “science” has been so dominant as to become “Science”, largely in the form of scientism.  The idea of scientism is of taking on the trappings of religion itself… rigid dogma, sense of complete authority, answers for all problems, deciphering the meaning (or non-meaning) of life, etc.

Now Science, along with many secular people into neither S/science nor religion, seems to be oblivious to such a charge or else denies it.  Not “true believers” in religion… supernatural religion that is.  They consider capital “S” Science to be a pseudo religion, and seem to have some valid basis, although I don’t agree with their supernaturalism.

The perspective of this kind of religion (probably majority in the US, not Europe) is that God is all-powerful and all-knowing.  As such, “he” (generally conceived as male… not accidentally) can be counted on to intervene, at least occasionally, with miracles and revelations.  Also judgment and eventual salvation of the world. (Oh… as well as saving chosen or choosing individuals – per “Calvinism” or “Arminianism” – the latter not to be pinned on the Armenian people, but on Arminius, a theologian).  The main point for now is that this is a God outside of but personally deciding and intervening in the universe… thus a two-tiered universe.

It’s pretty clear how even one unpredictable miracle here or there can mess up a scientist’s whole career… or the entire endeavor of science! Or so many scientists see it.  Not to mention the Church legacy of dogma resisting science. So we essentially have very powerful institutions and all their money and influence pursuing often-conflicting agendas.  They are driven to keep at bay what they perceive as the threat from “the other guy”.  Given the opportunity, the other would put them out of business.   

Then what’s a student (or other thinking person) to do?

[Sorry, but since most students’ attention span, aside from assigned reading, is somewhere between Twitter and Facebook, the answer will come in the next post in a few days….  To be sure to be alerted, please “follow” this blog… Thanks!]


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