Are Northfield area churches waking up to the cognitive revolution?

NY Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column earlier this month titled: The Neural Buddhists: The cognitive revolution is not going to undermine faith in God — it’s going to challenge faith in the Bible. (He references a 1996 article by Tom Wolfe, titled Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died.)

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day.

Brooks sees these four ‘beliefs’ (bullets are mine) emerging from the scientists who are writing books on this subject:

  • First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships.
  • Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions.
  • Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love.
  • Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

Related to all this is the story of brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor and her stroke. The video of her presentation at TED in February (transcript there, too. YouTube version of her video here) is an internet sensation. Over the weekend, the New York Times ran this article: A Superhighway to Bliss: Jill Bolte Taylor’s message, that people can choose to live a more peaceful, spiritual life by sidestepping their left brain, has resonated widely.

She ends her speech with this (see the complete transcript):

So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are — I am — the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the “we” inside of me.

Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.

I’m not one to embrace her New-Agey conclusion of world peace. And she completely misses one entire element of her stroke experience that I think is more significant as it’s easily available to the average person: self-awareness. Georgianne Giese, one of the commenters on that TED page, wrote:

Dr. Taylor’s “self awareness” module was able to monitor, record, and remember everything that was happening to her throughout her stroke experience. Just where is THAT located? And how was it able to describe and record both the functions and non-functioning of both sides of the brain during this episode? This “self awareness” module goes beyond the analysis and feeling processes Dr. Taylor described, as it was able to observe and reason about both.

Since I don’t go to church, I’m curious about which Northfield churches, which ministers, are talking to their congregations about any of this stuff.

At the most basic level, do any ministers even discuss the problematic aspects of believing in a personal God and the Bible as his word?

220 thoughts on “Are Northfield area churches waking up to the cognitive revolution?”

  1. Paul & Bright- Thank you for getting us back on track. I copied this from the second line of Griff’s post of the original article by David Brooks: “The cognitive revolution is not going to undermine faith in God — it’s going to challenge faith in the Bible.” This is what many of you have challenged David L. and myself about. David L. fell into the trap of defending his facet of the Faith against those who are not part of it, and I think he did a pretty good job. Unfortunately, none of us, if we are honest, has 100% of the revealed truth of the word of God in our particular stream. That is why we can grow in the faith.

    As far as there being common moral truths in all the great religions, I attribute this to us having a common ancestor- Adam, not some ape. Since these moral truths would have been passed from generation to generation orally before they were written down, I interpret this observation in this way. If you compare Islam, Judism and Christianity, we all have a common ancestor- Abraham, and he- Noah, and he, Adam. If the acount of the flood is true, as I believe it is, then it would follow that all the ancestors from Noah (all of us) would carry a precusor of the original teachings, and they would have been passed down orally within each race. It just depends on what you believe is an accurate interpretation of history. Some of you may label this circular logic, but I don’t think it is. Since science deals with observable phenomina, then there must be a basis to judge what we observe. I believe it is the same with the things of God. Whether you attribute this to God or not depends on your convictions.

    This leads us back to the question- what should we believe in? If a person is going to call himself a Christian, then he will be hard pressed to find anything in the Koran to base this on. He is (or at least should, I believe) base his faith on Biblical truth. The Bible, as it has been demonstrated in my and my friends’ lives, has proven to be accurate. I know we as Christians have many times failed in our demonstration of these truths. What the world is looking for right now is not a lot of hype, but some reality. He has promised in His word to produce signs that follow us believers. It is up to us to believe. Now, please don’t get under condemnation over this statement. He is also faithful to gently lead us into truth. And, as it is written, His word will not return to Him wihout accomplishing that thing for which He sent it out.

  2. John: I wasn’t trying to defend my faith so much as trying to determine what cognitive revolutionists have to teach the “churched”.

    “Church-bashing”, “religion-bashing”, and “faith-bashing” seem to be a popular sport among certain segments of the population. Especially popular is using centuries-old practices of some people, who have claimed to be Christians, to argue that faith communities have nothing to teach modern man. These people often build false, incomplete, or ignorant systems of thought as substitutes for the previous faiths.

    Among the new faiths of modern man are: materialism, relativism, liberalism, sciencism, secularism, historicism, existentialism, nihilism, and, currently the most popular – undifferentiated pluralism.

    In my opinion, the “churched” and the “unchurched” must not shirk from the confrontation and clash of cultures, but must work toward a common understanding of what is demanded from us – morally, ethically, and politically. Both sides must admit the truths offerred by the others if we are to all, not only “get along”, but live meaningful and purposeful lives.

    The first thing to do is to admit that there are morally certain truths. Otherwise, the world is just full of chaos, with or without God.

  3. David L.- Well stated, IMNSHO. We ought to get together for a cup of coffee sometime. The way my schedule has been going, it may be next year, but I’ll give you a call sometime.

  4. David, I notice your claim that a starting point is the agreement that there are moral certainties. But morality, while linked closely to some major religions, is not the same as religion; Christianity’s Jesus says the most important laws are to love God and neighbor as self, but religion is not morality; you can have morality without religion, and in some cases, you can have religious sinners (religious but not moral).

    Furthermore, Jesus is cited in the gospels in numerous contexts where he challenges people’s assumptions and certainties about morality:
    – If the assumption (certainty) was that the Jews were the chosen people and the covenant and salvation were only for them, Jesus challenges it by telling the story of the Good Samaritan, and the gospel writers challenge it by telling the story of the Caananite woman and the Roman soldier (outsiders to Judaism) who ask Jesus for favors and prove to have great faith.
    – If the assumption (certainty) is that the Judaic law is to be followed carefully and to the letter, then Jesus challenges this by healing and picking corn on the Sabbath (“the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath”).
    – If the certainty was that only certain people (high priest?) could declare a Jubilee year in which debts were forgiven, Jesus challenges this by declaring one himself.
    – Etc.

    One could claim that now we have moral certainty because Jesus clarified everything for us, so the book is now closed. A hard claim to defend in the end.

    Or one could claim that Jesus’ challenge was that our certainties might always be challenged; there might always be exceptions to many rules.

    In this way, it might be that Jesus was a supreme relativist because he reminded people of the limits of human culture and certainty, and the radical claims of transcendence (which to some might include cultural evoltion, but to others might merely include a supreme God).

    Jesus is, in this way, like the line from Isaiah: “My ways are as far above your ways as the heavens are above the earth.” When faced with the supremely transcendent, what human understandings and laws can stand?

    This is where some agnostics and atheists may have some good instincts about certain truths: Authentic religion should not be self-serving (as it too often is), but should be compassionate and humble in the face of life’s wonders and mysteries. Instead, atheists and agnostics sometimes watch those of us who call ourselves religious, and they see things that often seem inauthentic and sometimes downright hypocritical. Sometimes atheists and agnostics are more in touch with mystery and transcendence, and we religious folks are stuck in the letter of the law (or scripture, or church doctrine, etc.).

    You have your list of “modern” faiths (some of them are actually as old as religion: materialism?). There’s another so-called “faith” that causes as much trouble now as it did in Jesus’ time: Conservatism, which sometimes takes the form of undue attention to the letter of the law, to the point of losing the spirit.

  5. John:
    Here’s your circular argument:
    – Various conceptual revolutions (including the so-called revolution du jour, cognitive) challenge literal faith in the bible. Yet…
    – …in the face of this, you assert that there are various truths that have been passed on orally from Adam, Noah and Abraham, because you take all these stories in the bible very literally, as history, not as fable-written-as-catechism. Truths were passed on from Adam, Noah and Abraham, you claim, because you believe they were.
    – So it begs the question: You assume (by your particular flavor of Christian belief) the very thing that is being called into question.
    – Yet you claim it’s not a circular argument.

    You have a right to your beliefs, but you should call a spade a spade (in this case, admit the circular argument instead of claiming it is not one).

    Also consider that those who study the literary forms of the various books of the bible might not be destroying an always-held truth, but restoring an understanding of the biblical texts as they were originally intended by their first writers and as they were heard by their first audiences (restoring something that was lost over time and translation, over centuries). This might not be about the evil academics and secularists imposing falsehoods, but about an effort to strip away false modern expectations (of journalistic and scientific accuracy) that have been imposed on modern readings of the bible.

    Most early exegesis read the texts of the bible as spiritual allegories and symbols, not as historically-scientifically accurate. That only came later as new cultural expectations in evolving cultures dealt with new philosophies and sciences.

  6. Paul- In your last post, you said,”…You assume (by your particular flavor of Christian belief) the very thing that is being called into question.” If you read my comment again, I thought I was making it clear that I CHOSE to believe the Bible as true. Perhaps I didn’t make that clear, but that was my intention. We all have to choose what foundation we work from to make our decisions. After seeing Biblical truth demonstrated in my life and the lives of my family and many friends, this has bolstered my confidence that I made the right decision. From my experience, it appears that the Kingdom of God works inversely to the pattern of the world. When I was an unbeliever, my challenge to believers was ‘”Show me the goods!” When someone did, I then found out that I will see something of God when I believe it, not I will believe it when I see it. There are other concepts that seem to be opposite, but I will not go into all those here.

    One term I have a little problem in reconciling is the term “literal interpretation.” I just take the Bible at face value for what it says. If the passage is poetry, then it is poetry. If it is propheting (predictive), then it is prophetic. If it is directive, then directive. If comparitive, then comparitive. When you say I am a literal interpreter, I perceive a condiscention, as if I am just following some fables of men. I could make the same judgement of humanism, for that matter (and that would be accurate.) The question we seem to be dancing around here is the “why” of faith. When I say I experience God’s involvement in my daily life, then I am saying I can find tangible evidence of this, not just some feeling. I have seen healings in myself, my immediate family and others. These have not been just a headache going away. When my second daughter, at the age of 10 mo., had her finger pinched in a door and broken to a 90 degree angle, and through prayer, have that finger straighten and the swelling go down instantly, then that pretty much makes a believer out of me. Has every person I’ve prayed for been healed? No. Can I axplain why? No. But just because I can’t explain nor have any control over the outcomes does not deter me from praying for the sick and injured.

    I have an aquaintence on the mission field in the mountains of Mexico. He has seen about 100 people raised from the dead. These are not just somone going unconscious and coming to, but two day old, deteriorating corpses. In fact, one of the resurections so shocked the small village they had gone into that all the people fled into the jungles. They eventually returned to the village to find their previously dead companion quite alive and well. Did this cause a mass turning of these people to the Lord? You better believe it. He also said that he has prayed for probably over a thousand dead people, but only these 100 or so actually came back. Can he/I explain this? No. Does he still pray for the dead? Yes, on every occasion he comes across. One of we humans’ mistakes, I believe, is trying to put God into a bottle so we have Him figured out and have the right “code” to access the miraculous. The Kingdom just doesn’t work this way. He is still soverign.

    In saying all this, I am just trying to point out that I have tangible evidence that the God of the Bible is quite alive and well. I am not just making an assumption out of convenience or naivete. When I am challenged by someone to “do some sign,” I will decline. I have no power in myself to produce any results. When God moves in a situation, though, it is quite evident. God will reveal Himself and glorify Himself as He choses.

    As far as the passing on of truths, I was only trying to establish the connection between Islam, Judaism & Christianity. But I do believe the explanation of the flood is plausible. I think it is interesting that all the ancient religions of the world make reference to the flood. There is also archeological evidence of a flood, such as petrified trees standing straight up in a hillside of soil in South Dakota. If I am making any assumption, it is that there is a God, but from my anecdotal evidences, I think my assumption, if it be, is validated.

    You made this statement in your post #204,”…Jesus is, in this way, like the line from Isaiah: ‘My ways are as far above your ways as the heavens are above the earth.’ When faced with the supremely transcendent, what human understandings and laws can stand?” I agree with this, but I’m not sure I understand what you are trying to accomplish with the statement. On the one hand, you question my “literal” interpretation of the Bible, yet this would appear to invalidate any attempts to question it’s authority. What did you really mean, here?

    You also said, “…Authentic religion should not be self-serving (as it too often is), but should be compassionate and humble in the face of life’s wonders and mysteries.” I believe this is true. It is also written in NAS:James
    {1:27} Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
    2002 (C) Bible
    That is why I made this statement in my post #201, “…I know we as Christians have many times failed in our demonstration of these truths. What the world is looking for right now is not a lot of hype, but some reality.” God challenges us many times in His word to test Him and see if what He says is true. This is the invitation in NAS:Psalms
    {34:8} O taste and see that the LORD is good;
    How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
    2002 (C) Bible
    Like the old ad said, try it, you’ll like it.

    Oh, just one more question. What on earth were you doing up at 2:51 am?! Do you have a night job or something?

  7. In my opinion, the “churched” and the “unchurched” must not shirk from the confrontation and clash of cultures, but must work toward a common understanding of what is demanded from us – morally, ethically, and politically. Both sides must admit the truths offerred by the others if we are to all, not only “get along”, but live meaningful and purposeful lives.

    The first thing to do is to admit that there are morally certain truths. Otherwise, the world is just full of chaos, with or without God.

    David L,
    I’m glad to hear that you want to work towards a common understanding. Here’s my first question:
    What is a “truth”, and who determines it? More importantly, how does a group of people prove that their “truths” are true, to people who don’t share the same beliefs about the nature of the universe?

    “Truth” is a very high standard you’ve set for yourself. Merely asserting that you believe something is true, and I also believe that something is true, does not prove it to be a “truth.” For a truth to be truly true, it would have to be proven beyond all doubt.

  8. Patrick- As always, you bring up a couple good points. Sometimes, I think we get hung up on the words we try to use to deliniate our convictions. For instance, your comment about having a common understanding, what are your expectations that you see need to be accomplished to achieve this? It seems there is an underlying premise in many of our comments that to have a common understanding means we must have a common belief system. I’m not sure on this, but I’m throwing it out as an idea. It would seem to me that we can have understanding and agreement on specific actions, say a government structure, without having a common belief system. I think the founding fathers were able to achieve this in laying out the constitution. We can choose to live in peace with one another, if that is the common goal, rather than to have total chaos. It seems there is a common value we all have in our sheer existence, and being able to recognize and accept specific differences is, IMHO, a sign of maturity.

    I have this opinion about any militant/radical faction of any belief system is that they are trying to impose their belief system on others rather than coming to an understanding and acceptance of the differences. I think this is exemplified throughout history, re. the Crusaders and the current Jihadists. I don’t think we can point fingers at any particular religion as being intrensically this way, but to deny that some adherents have practiced this is foolish.

    Your assertion about truth would appear to make it subjective in nature. Is it? Can we just say that a particular thing is true just because we believe it? Perhaps, but this sounds foolish also. Perhaps the application of scientific principles cannot be applied here. If something cannot be demonstrated by evidence, does that make it false? Could be. There has been a number of assertions made about things standing up to peer review as being a scientific safety net. How is having a group of agnostic scientists who all believe the same thing review certain evidence any different that having a group of theologians who all believe the same thing evaluate the same evidence? Just because the scientists are agnostic, does that make them more credible? Just wondering. It would seem, according to Ben Stein’s documentary that this could be so.

    For me, this goes back to the responsibility each of us who profess to be Christians has to the world around us. How good of a job do we do in demonstrating the principles we believe in? It is written that the world will see our love toward one another and be drawn to it. I’m not sure we have done a very good job of demonstrating this within our own groups, let alone what Jesus challenged us- love your enemies and bless those who despitefully use you. I miss the mark on this many times, but just because I fail doesn’t mean I’m going to stop aiming there. And just because I fail does not make this any less true.

  9. Patrick:

    First, my critique of the liberal/cognitive/leftist/bobo/scientific/rationalist mentality was an attempt to reach a common understanding about a shared reality. Religion/churches/faith is not an irrational human response; it is necessary if we want to become fully human.

    Second, truth is not a high standard for judging our knowledge/ideas – it is the only standard. For example, evolution is not a “truth”; it is a theory. Most people believe it to be true based upon evidence. If evolution had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be true, then it would be fair to say that evolution is not “true”.

    Truth is when the evidence coincides with the concept. Sometimes truth is discovered when the evidence confirms the concept, e.g. evolution. Sometimes truth is revealed when the concept is discovered which confirms the evidence – e.g. the Bible.

    One of the failures of the “cognitive revolution” is its unwillingness to admit the truths that have been revealed to men through their “religious experiences”. Another failure is attacking revealed truths because of a lack of proof – for example, claiming that pre-born children are not human.

  10. David L, you state:

    For example, evolution is not a “truth”; it is a theory. Most people believe it to be true based upon evidence. If evolution had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be true, then it would be fair to say that evolution is not “true”.

    I agree completely: Evolution is not truth. It is a Theory.

    A Theory (in technical use, which is far different from its colloquial use), is “a more or less verified or established explanation accounting for known facts or phenomena: the theory of relativity.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=theory&x=0&y=0)

    But you also assert,

    “Sometimes truth is discovered when the evidence confirms the concept, e.g. evolution.”

    Are you now suggesting that evolution is a truth? Because science makes no claim to have proven the truth of evolution.

    I offer an excerpt from the testimony of Dr. Ken Miller, Brown University Professor of Biology, in the 2005 “Intelligent Design” trial, as presented in the excellent 2007 Nova documentary “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-404729062613200911&q=intelligent+design+trial&ei=TCqDSPTRLqSK4wKG78CSCw&hl=en):

    ROBERT MUISE [lawyer] (Dramatization): Dr. Miller, would you agree that Darwin’s theory of evolution is not an absolute truth?

    KENNETH R. MILLER [Brown University Professor of Biology] (Dramatization): Well, I certainly would, for the very simple reason that no theory in science, no theory, is ever regarded as absolute truth. We don’t regard atomic theory as truth. We don’t regard the germ theory of disease as truth. We don’t regard the theory of friction as truth. We regard all of these theories as well-supported, testable explanations that provide natural explanations for natural phenomena. [emphasis mine.]

    ROBERT MUISE (Dramatization): Should we regard Darwin’s theory of evolution as tentative?

    KENNETH R. MILLER (Dramatization): We should regard all scientific explanations as being tentative, and that includes the theory of evolution.

    (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/3416_id_06.html)

    Now, Dr. Miller is a supporter, not a critic, of evolutionary theory. He goes on to state (after a discussion of the overwhelming evidence supporting the Theory of Evolution),

    Not a single observation, not a single experimental result, has ever emerged in 150 years that contradicts the general outlines of the theory of evolution. Any theory that can stand up to 150 years of contentious testing is a pretty darn good theory, and that’s what evolution is.

    But it’s still not truth. Again, because there are still unending ways to test the Theory.

    By it very principles, science first looks at the minutiae of the world, seeks to see patterns and similarities, and then develops hypotheses about what predictable principles might be behind the observations we make. Scientists then spend years trying to prove those hypotheses wrong. If a hypothesis is thoroughly tested, and not contradicted by any of the evidence found through that testing, it can eventually come to be commonly accepted, and accepted as that highest thing that science can produce, a Theory.

    Yet you say evolution has proved a truth. I disagree. You can’t prove that you are right, and I cannot prove you are wrong. So now what?

  11. John G, I believe that you hit the nail on the head when you say,

    It seems there is an underlying premise in many of our comments that to have a common understanding means we must have a common belief system. I’m not sure on this, but I’m throwing it out as an idea. It would seem to me that we can have understanding and agreement on specific actions, say a government structure, without having a common belief system. I think the founding fathers were able to achieve this in laying out the constitution. We can choose to live in peace with one another, if that is the common goal, rather than to have total chaos. It seems there is a common value we all have in our sheer existence, and being able to recognize and accept specific differences is, IMHO, a sign of maturity.

    This is, I believe, is the essence of the matter. Our society has been endowed by its creators with excellent democratic institutions designed to help us work and live together positively and peacefully, without ever being required to agree on any universal truths. We can talk with each other, we can help each other out, and when we agree, we can work together to make our society better. When we disagree, we have a well-established set of institutions designed to help us (eventually) hammer out a compromise that we can all live with.

    David L,
    I understand that you believe that there are absolute truths of the universe which you can perceive and observe in your daily life, while the rest of us are deluding ourselves. I am sorry that you believe that all of us who don’t share your world view are misguided, inconsistent, hypocritical, or even not “fully human.”

    I have not attempted to show that your beliefs are wrong. Rather, I have simply attempted to show that there are other belief systems which can be reasonably held, and which cannot be disproven merely by your say-so.

    This seems to be a lost cause.

    I think my time may be better spent having a coffee with John G, contemplating Capital Improvement Plans, and figuring out who to vote for in the upcoming elections.

  12. Oops. Bad formatting above. Here it is again:

    John G, I believe that you hit the nail on the head when you say,

    It seems there is an underlying premise in many of our comments that to have a common understanding means we must have a common belief system. I’m not sure on this, but I’m throwing it out as an idea. It would seem to me that we can have understanding and agreement on specific actions, say a government structure, without having a common belief system. I think the founding fathers were able to achieve this in laying out the constitution. We can choose to live in peace with one another, if that is the common goal, rather than to have total chaos. It seems there is a common value we all have in our sheer existence, and being able to recognize and accept specific differences is, IMHO, a sign of maturity.

    This is, I believe, is the essence of the matter. Our society has been endowed by its creators with excellent democratic institutions designed to help us work and live together positively and peacefully, without ever being required to agree on any universal truths. We can talk with each other, we can help each other out, and when we agree, we can work together to make our society better. When we disagree, we have a well-established set of institutions designed to help us (eventually) hammer out a compromise that we can all live with.

    David L,
    I understand that you believe that there are absolute truths of the universe which you can perceive and observe in your daily life, while the rest of us are deluding ourselves. I am sorry that you believe that all of us who don’t share your world view are misguided, inconsistent, hypocritical, or even not “fully human.”

    I have not attempted to show that your beliefs are wrong. Rather, I have simply attempted to show that there are other belief systems which can be reasonably held, and which cannot be disproven merely by your say-so.

    This seems to be a lost cause.

    I think my time may be better spent having a coffee with John G, contemplating Capital Improvement Plans, and figuring out who to vote for in the upcoming elections.

  13. John G: Thanks for your good comments, questions and testimony in #204.

    I’m not against the choice to believe, but there are different ways to choose to believe in biblical truth, and different ways to interpret. Whether you feel your belief is a choice or a matter of being impelled (that God chose you, and not that you chose God), I still think it’s a circular argument for the reasons I described in my earlier post.

    I attempted in an earlier post to differentiate between the more vague complaint about “literal interpretations,” but I’ll give it another try here:

    First, we all start with the literal interpretation. Where we go from there depends on a variety of factors.

    When you hear the story of Jesus speaking to the Geresene Demoniac, it sounds as if you might take the story fairly literally as a description of a historical event. That’s OK. But when the demoniac says his name is “Legion” (instead of “hosts” or some traditional translation of a Greek or Aramaic word), he’s using a latinate word in an otherwise Greek text. And “Legion” happens to be the name of the occupying army: the Roman Legion.

    If one has been conditioned to take the story literally as one about the literal healing of a demoniac and the release (and demise?) of the demons in him, then one would tend to interpret it that way. I would guess that you would be in this camp.

    If one were living at the time of the disciples and listening to the early gospels proclaimed in the first Chrisitan communities, one might see the demoniac’s naming of his demon as “Legion” as a kind of code for a complaint about the Roman occupation and the suffering that went with it. it’s a Latinate word in an otherwise Greek text, so it would stand out, but not so much that the Roman army or authorities would necessarily catch wind of it and arrest one for listening to or proclaiming that passage.

    The same is true of the parable of the good seed and the enemy who sows the weeds. This may have been read, at the time of the gospel’s origins, as a parable about the kingdom and the Roman occupation, but also about sinners and general evildoers. Don’t destroy the good harvest by trying to get rid of the weeds (don’t bring destruction down upon all of Israel by rebellion against the Roman occupying forces). After all, some of the Romans might benefit from the Christian message.

    The problem I have with the too-literal, or literal-as-historical interpretations, is that they assume that the gospels were written as literal history, or in other words, they bring to their interpretations the same expectations we bring to our modern world, in which we have tape recorders and video cams and strive, at least, for journalistic accuracy. They didn’t have our expectations at the time the gospels were written: There are cultures besides Christianity where we know writers used poetic license to get across a point.

    Getting across the point was more important than historical accuracy in such cultures. So to assume that poetic license was not used, and to expect literal, historical truth, is to impose something on the gospels that was never intened in the first place, and it ends up reading an ancient text very badly through the rose-colored lenses of the present culture and its expectations.

    I believe the bible has a great deal of truth to offer, but I don’t expect the Genesis stories of the creation of earth to be historically or scientifically accurate, or even a dim, symbolic rendering (in which a day of creation lasts x number of years or centuries).

    Regarding unexplainable healings, etc., I’ve had similar experiences (but not stories from Mexico about 100’s raised from the dead. There’s a lot in life that we can’t explain. But the older I get, the more I find that Jesus seemed to prefer teaching over signs and wonders, even complaining about people’s desire for miracles. Sometimes miracles are in the eye of the beholder as much as they are in the event. Some of the stories of healing of the deaf, blind and lame are considered allegories (more than history) for how the teachings of Jesus open eyes and ears, and help people become active, positive players in their lives (instead of being crippled spiritually). I don’t need to see miracles, or to put my hand in Jesus’ side, to believe in the spiritual truths; but netiher do I need the historical literalism.

    Regarding the hour of my posting, I’ve always been something of a night owl, but in the summer when I’m not teaching, and when my wife and daughter are in Iowa visiting relatives, my son loves to stay up and watch movies, and then I always read or write a bit before I go to bed, so at times, I catch up on email or read LoGroNo in the wee hours. Much less likely to happen during the school year.

  14. Paul- I, too, remember the late nights I spent with my kids discussing life issues, etc. There is a reason we have children when we are young. I couldn’t do what I did then at my present age.

    As far as the various perspectives of approaching the Bible, we all must come to some conclusion as to how we are going to do that. There are different perspectives and combinations of words in the original texts that, I believe, cause us pause in this present age. For instance, the creation story in Genesis consists of 3 primary perspectives- Yahwist, Elohist and Priestly. This is most likely the predominant traditions that the writers drew from in recording the original texts. I don’t have a problem with this, in that I believe it gives us three perspectives of God that are important in revealing His character that any one of the sources would be incomplete in accomplishing. I don’t see any difference in three scientists giving their perspectives on a particular experiment. The traditions all come from, or attempt to establish, a common perspective- there is a God who created our universe. The three scientists will come to the same conclusion in evaluating their experiment, even though each will have their own unique perspective. I guess I just don’t see the difference, here, and I don’t think these things should be stumbling blocks to faith.

    The same is true of the Gospels- they were written at different times by different authors and each gives his own perspective of the same story- the birth, life, death and resurection of Jesus. A person can spend a lot of time tearing down various word combinations, which I think we see in other streams on this blog, but miss the importance of the specific perspective of the other person we are tewaring down. I do not have a problem with there being a combination of Romanic and Greek words in the same text. After all, both cultures had a profound effect on the area being refered to. I would use an example of my own household. My oldest daughter and son-in-law live with us right now. He is native Costa Rican, so we have a combination of both languages going on in the house. There are a number of Spanish words that can better describe a particular situation than English words, so we intersperse them where we desire. As far as the word “legion”, this most often refers to a company of 1000 soldiers. It can also mean a strong company. That is not of any significance to me. It appears to be to you, and that is ok. The idea here, in my simple approach to the Word, is two sided. 1) Jesus desires to and can set people free from a lifetime of torment. 2) The other conclusion is that a normal human state is one of being clothed and sane. I suppose you can read other things into this. There has been much read into many things when it comes to the manufacture and support of various conspiracies. I am not saying you are doing this in any way, but I again would offer that each of us must choose how we relate to the Bible.

    There is another example of a particular wording that occurs in the 1st. chapter of the Gospel of John. NAS:John
    The Deity of Jesus Christ
    {1:1} In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    2002 (C) Bible. The idea being presented here is that Jesus is God. The original Greek text does not say this. The best translation would be that “the word was next to or approached God.” Does this mean that our present day translations are incorrect, and that Jesus really isn’t God? I don’t think so. As I have studied the Greek culture, they do not have a word that could be translated “the Word was God,” because they could not concieve of something/one being two things/persons at the same time. The weakness is not in the translation but in the original language. When you hold this verse up in comparison to the other references in the prophetic writings about the Messiah, it is evident that He is God. This is what I refer to as taking the whole counsel of God. Does this make any sense?

    You also made this statement, “I don’t need to see miracles, or to put my hand in Jesus’ side, to believe in the spiritual truths…”. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I also do believe that God is desirous of demonstrating His power in our physical world, and He desires to get us involved in that because He loves us and is not an indifferent God. It was He who sought out Adam in the garden afer he disobeyed, not visa-versa. When He asked Adam where he was, it was not to find him, but to get Adam to come out with the truth and not hide anymore. We can allow anything to happen in our lives that can result in a sense of separation from Him, including intellectualism. Having a high level of intelligence does not, in and of itself, separate us from God unless we allow it to become god of our life. When we confess this, we are not letting Him know something He wasn’t aware of. His desire is that we acknowledge what He already knows.

    You also said, “…but neither do I need the historical literalism.” I suppose you may not, but in my experience, it has helped explain a lot of paranormal events that I could not explain any other way. I believe that the whole concept of we humans being invited to experience the Kingdom of God rather than Him forcing it upon us is a privilege. The “religious” term for this is grace. Whether you choose to be a literal interpreter or a historical critical interpreter is yours to make. My question is whether the historical critical approach builds up your’s or anyone else’s faith in Him? If it does, then may God bless you richly in it, for it is written in NAS:Jude
    {1:20} But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
    2002 (C) Bible. As far as Jesus prefering teaching over signs, it would appear to me that the signs gave credence to the teaching. Even some observers argued this, as in NAS:John
    {3:2} this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
    2002 (C) Bible. The signs aren’t a necessity; they are a privilege.

  15. After watching World Youth Day on EWTN tv yesterday, I am rejuvenated and wanted to share part of the message from Pope Benedict concerning his words, and that is each of us hear the words in our own way in our own hearts, and we will each hear what we need to take from the message or homily, and do what we can to use the gifts we were given to go out and love our neighbors and friends and enemies and poor alike, to honor Christ and to enrich our own lives.

    I think many of us remember stories about how Satan would appear to his next victim as the person to whom the victim would most likely respond in
    a way favorable to El Diablo. Whereas Satan tries to control and manipulate the response, Christ allows the response to come as the respondent feels appropriate for his or her situation and experience.

    This is also the same in musical lyrics oftentimes. Upon hearing a love song, one might think, oh, this is like the love i have for my parents, and another will think, this is about the love I have for my significant other,
    and so on and so forth.

    You try to move as many people as possible but not being too specific. Allow for the interpretations as these will become part of the varied and diverse experiences we know as free peoples of the earth.

    See, the devil only wants you to look at it one way, like the suppressive governments of the 20th century. Whereas Jesus lets us scamper around like children until such time comes and we may decide to follow Him as He allows for sin and error with the church providing a weekly way out through confession and penance (thou we are not to take that lightly by repeating the same sins over and over again…that means a big delay in the enlightenment process, a punishment in itself.)

    Well, I’ll cut back now,Kinda preachy for Monday AM, not sorry though. 🙂

  16. John: You write, “My question is whether the historical critical approach builds up your’s or anyone else’s faith in Him? If it does, then may God bless you richly in it….”

    Thanks for the wiggle-room.

    You also write, “When you hold this verse up in comparison to the other references in the prophetic writings about the Messiah, it is evident that He is God. This is what I refer to as taking the whole counsel of God. Does this make any sense? ”

    It makes sense to a point, but realize that you head in one direction with this, and I head in another: To you, “whole counsel” seems to be a way of reconciling all possible contradictions according to “whole counsel” assumptions. I have a hard time with this. If the original in John doesn’t say that “the Word is God,” but only the translation, then yes, it should receive attention. In one passage, Paul claims that Jesus only becomes Son of God after he obeyed to the death on the cross, which is very different from John’s Christology, for example. I think we do an injustice to tweak John and Paul and other texts, and then claim that they were all in harmony because we assume that the inerrant Word of God can’t contradict itself.

    Some Christians (often those inside organized religion) are never bothered by these seeming contradictions for the very reason you cite: They never notice them. The translations have been tweaked so that we don’t notice potential conflicts. In other words, we’re not reading a careful translation of a sacred text, but a doctrinally corrected translation geared to reconcile all possible differences. It has been censored, in other words, by authority figures that claim the power and truth of a sacred text, but then are unwilling to let that power and truth be, and live with some of the finer details of what it says.

    This would not be my approach. If as Paul says, the body is one but has many members, and if the eye should not say to the ear that the ear is unimportant, then neither should sacred texts be censored and reconciled to reflect a “pure” view of doctrine. This would be like saying everyone should be Catholic, or Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, and nothing else. It seems a position of little faith in God, but great faith in the control of the one doing the censorship; a kind of self-idolatry.

    You have your approach that takes into account what you call the “whole counsel” of God. I’d use my historical-critical approach and ponder how a particular text, written at a particular time, reflects the concerns of those people at that time; and I’d also remember that the view of God reflected in the many texts that make up the bible is a view that was evolving through many dialectics. It was not in any simple way the one voice of one God, but rather, the many voices of many peoples, speaking in various ways, striving for a clearer vision, given changing and challenging circumstances and questions. If in fact one voice of one God speaks through all of that, it’s only in a most mysterious way, not easy or self-evident to grasp at all.

    Your “whole counsel” approach imposes some assumptions on your interpretations of the text (and some choices have already been made for you by the translators, as you’ve noted). My historical-critical approach imposes its own assumptions too, but my scholarly faith about my assumptions hopes that I’ll get a clearer picture of what the writers and editors intended, and I trust that this can be fruitful, and will be enough to provide my daily bread, without having to be censored and reconciled.

    And finally, again, I would note your use of the word “choose” in relation to the way you and I interpret. Again, there is that famous scripture passage: “You did not choose me; I chose you and commissioned you to go out and bear much fruit” (John 15:16). Some people experience religion as a choice. Others experience it as a gift, as something that comes clear, slowly or over a long period of time. I’ve read scripture by way of the historical-critical approach long enough to have seen great value and truths in it, and when things seem plain and true after some labors, it often seems less like a choice, and more like being chosen, or like something is somewhat self-evident. People who use a historical-critical approach sometimes have this experience too.

  17. Paul- I like your comment here, “…Some people experience religion as a choice. Others experience it as a gift, as something that comes clear, slowly or over a long period of time.” I see these as being two facets of the same experience. I look at Christianity as a “gift” from God. I also believe the gift doesn’t do me any good until I receive it (choose) and unwrap and apply it. From that point, there is a lifetime of continuing revelation of what this gift actually entails. I think I use some of your historical critical approach more than I probably recognize. I have not defined my search in these terms. When I was in seminary for the short time I was there in the mid ’70’s, the historical critical approach, for the most part, seemed more like agnostocism. Perhaps that attitude was more in the professor than in the approach itself, so please forgive me if I projected that onto you. Just because I say I take the Scriptures at face value does not mean that I don’t question and wrestle with them. Mine is not a passive approach to the word, just as yours is not. I appreciate your depth of scrutiny and willingness to articulate it. As we often discover through open communication like this, there are probably more things we have in common than there are differences. Hopefully that thought is not repugnant to you.

    One comment about my use of the word “choose”. I believe that when we enter into studying and trying to understand things that are paranormal, and not universally demonstrable, there is a point at which we make a choice of what to believe. I just want to make it clear that these are my choices and not someone else’s, ie.: a bishop or church leader. I believe in the priesthood of the believer. We each have the right, authority, permission, or however you want to term it, to find our own understanding of the Kingdom of God. I (we) do not need to go through some other person to determine the truth of the Scriptures or approach God. You say that I am already doing this because there are discrepencies in the translation, and I am a slave to the interpretations and predjudices of a particular translator. For me, this is where faith comes in- that God was able to get enough of the important things of the Kingdom into the Bible through imperfect men to be able to establish that Kingdom in the hearts of people.

    You also said, “…If in fact one voice of one God speaks through all of that, it’s only in a most mysterious way, not easy or self-evident to grasp at all.” I agree wholeheartedly on this point. In fact, I believe that understanding of the Kingdom of God can ONLY come by revelation of the Holy Spirit. If this Kingdom were that easy to understand with our own intellect, we would not need God’s involvement, nor would the World be in the state it is in today. I believe God’s foremost desire is to have relationship and fellowship directly qith each of us. Back to learning truth,these two scriptures bear that out. NAS:John
    {14:26} “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
    2002 (C) Bible and NAS:Luke
    {12:11} “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say;
    {12:12} for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
    2002 (C) Bible. I believe that any growth we have in understanding and living out the Scriptures comes by revelation, and not our own intellect. God works through our intellect, but the desire to seek Him out does not originate from within our soul. It is deposited there by the Holy Spirit, Christianity is not a passive life of resignation, but an active one of seeking and finding.

  18. John: You write, “When I was in seminary for the short time I was there in the mid ’70’s, the historical critical approach, for the most part, seemed more like agnostocism. Perhaps that attitude was more in the professor than in the approach itself.”

    This brings to mind two things: First, an observation by C.S. Lewis regarding what seems to be the faith experience of many people, as related to Jesus’ words on the cross. Lewis observed that in one gospel account (Mark), Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (quoting Ps. 22). He then used this as an analogy for faith experience, and wondered if perhaps people, as they mature in faith, sometimes experience more alienation instead of less. In other words, to a neophite or beginner, every coincidence is a miracle or answered prayer. To a person of mature faith, with clearer priorites, life’s greatest mysteries still elude, God seems more distant, and one sometimes enters a long, dark night of the soul (yes, a reference to mysticism).

    Second, some passages from scripture came to mind: Paul (in 1 Cor) talks of the difference between being and thinking like a child, or like an adult. And at the end of the gospel of John (sea-shore, disciples fishing), Jesus speaks of how, when Peter was young, he put on his own belt and went where he pleased, but later on, others would put a belt on him and take him where he would not wish to go (this is the way some theology students feel, squirming in class while their childhood faith is challenged to become something more critically differentiated).

    Children take the Genesis story, and the Noah story, very literally. But many seminarians and theology majors tell stories of losing–or almost losing–their religion in seminary or theology school. Maybe adults are ‘supposed’ to read the bible differently, and maybe a mature faith is like C.S. Lewis describes: Maybe sometimes, it looks a lot more mysterious, and more like agnosticism, than like an easy, literal childhood faith.

    Finally, you wrote, “As we often discover through open communication like this, there are probably more things we have in common than there are differences. Hopefully that thought is not repugnant to you.” Not at all. I think our faith in the value of conversation is very similar.

  19. Mine is not a passive approach to the Word, just as yours is not.

    Count me in, too.

    I don’t think we choose God, though. That doesn’t sit right with me, exactly.

    I am not a literalist, but I wouldn’t align myself with “theorists” to prove that point. I just realize there are many messages in the Bible, and mostly the message of love is important. I’d still like more information on the real Jesus. You’d think at least one of those many disciples would have taken notes.

    I think there are more things alike than different between us all. 🙂

  20. Paul- The one thing I have found in my walk with God is born up in a number of scriptures, both Old & New Testament, that attribute God’s ways, judgements, etc. to be unsearchable. It seems the deeper a person goes into God, the more we realize we are just scratching the surface. There are two reactions to this that can be counterproductive- hopelessness and skepticism. These are not the only two, mind you, but I want to touch on these two. Because God is so deep, a person can become hopeless in his pursuit of Him. I like to think it is God’s joy to keep our appetite whet just a little bit. Besides, if we really could figure Him out, He wouldn’t be much of a God. Heb. 11:6 comes to mind here. Hopelessness is a baracade to greater understanding. It seems there is a pattern in the Kingdom that moves around suffering. I’m not sure why God seems to have set it up this way, but it can be exemplified through many of the Biblical stories. Perhaps the examples are there for us to realize that, as Holly stated, there are more things alike than different between us.

    Skepticism, on the otherhand, can lead to apathy, if we are not willing to press through on an issue. It can also produce doubt, which I differentiate from questioning. I believe God challenges us to question Him. This reference in NAS:Malachi
    {3:10} “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
    2002 (C) Bible would seem to indicate that. I have tested God in this, and He has shown Himself to be true to His word. But we are admonished not to test Him as the chilren of Israel did in the wilderness- see I Cor. 10:1-12 and Heb. 3: 7-13. It seems there is a proper way to go about testing God at His word, and it lies in the attitude of the heart. And, just to keep us in reality when we think we have figured God out, Heb. 3:12 says it best.

    Where I come to in this is Heb. 3:13. Let us encourage one another while we have opportunity. There are certainly enough things to be discouraged about in this present time. To know that God loves us, and that we can love one another, is the second of the greatest commandments. I hope to strive toward that.

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