Merry Christmas, Figure It Out

There are good Christmases, but none perfect, because the “not yet” of Christmas is never totally immersed by the “already”. Because the cosmic template of the feast, the original Christmas event, was a dire, frightening “not yet”.

Unwanted pregnancy. Destroyed love affair. Angels giving out impossible assignments. Reputations trashed. Futures gone. Leaving home, huge pregnant. Uncomfortable travel, to a place not chosen. A birth, horribly timed. No place to rest. No place to put the baby. Relying on the kindness of strangers in a strange land. Uninvited guests from foreign countries. The news that soldiers are searching for the baby to slaughter him.

What could be more “Not yet” than this story, against the background of some vague promises from angels that this would be a wonderful experience? There’s never been a more empirically disappointing Christmas than the first one, and that’s our template. We’re meant, by a mystical bond with the liturgical template, to experience the “not yet” against the longing of the “already”.

So the experience of Christmas never quite ascends to the vision of Christmas, which, like all visions, is made of just the bright shiny bits with the dark seams of the original, and even the disappointing memories of our past holidays, always dropping away. It’s o.k.; follow the star, and figure it out. .

So I snap back to the start of it all, where the angel appears with greetings – “Merry Christmas”. We now know that what the angel actually said was “Merry Christmas, figure it out.”

Why Not Rather Be Defrauded?

 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? (1 Corinthians 6:1-7 ESV)

This is the passage where Paul tells the Corinthians not to go to court with each other, and then we sit around in Bible studies and explain to each other why we can’t obey this any more.

The cultural roadblocks are not as important as the central idea, which is:  the reputation of Jesus is more important than personal justice for yourself.  In fact, we usually find ourselves choking over the practical problems after we’ve already stepped around the central idea, in imagination or in actuality, to get to the apparatus of justice.  We wouldn’t struggle so much over this passage if we accepted the premise before we set out to exegete the impossibility of satisfaction for those who’ve ignored the premise.

That said, we should acknowledge the practical blocks in the cultural differences between us, in the 21st century, and Paul’s world of 1st century Roman occupation.  Everyone wants to talk about how there are no church courts now, and no common acceptance of their authority in property matters even if we could manage to cobble them together.  But the biggest cultural divide comes before that one, even, and is missed:  there is a clear line between those inside the church and those outside.   Paul and his audience know immediately and intuitively that the secular courts are outside the church.   Once this primal division has been blurred, the rest of the passage is going to be harder than it was designed to be.

It isn’t just that the courts were Outside.  Inside was clear, too.  The readers of the letter could look around at “brothers” and know the names of Those Inside.   Those conservative churches who still take membership seriously and even – gasp! – exert church discipline are Paul’s heirs.  That such strictness is abused more often than not does not invalidate the truth that each local congregation has the obligation to hold members to standards of visible living.

We also lack any agreement inside the church that the church even has the authority to impose an adjudication of a real property dispute.  We’ve successfully stripped the church of any authority, and “we” means a broad open conspiracy between clergy and lay to strip clergy of all pastoral authority.  “Look, the church is hamstrung!  I know, because I hold the knife.”

It’s silly to blame Paul, or to smirk knowingly at his primitive niavete, when the “cultural differences” are mostly differences we’ve cultivated.  We’re the culprits in the prequel.

But back to the central point, which as usual, is not culturally distant from us.  Put the reputation of Jesus above your need for justice.  Once this submission is embraced, the case-by-case minefield could be navigated.

So what we acknowledge is that this is a hard passage to obey – once we try to imagine how to disobey it.

God is not in control and everything serves His purpose.

God is NOT in control of earthly events, and everything serves His purpose.  Let me say that again:  God is NOT in control of earthly events, and everything serves His purpose, because of the strength of His love.  

The Christian God, unlike all other conceptions of God in history, including the Aristotelian one most of you are now struggling with, accomplishes his end by love, which precludes control.  The story arc of the Bible shows Him gradually shifting from power to love alone, like every parent must do with every child.  So sovereignty, in the Christian universe, is not SIMPLY an issue of the silly calculus of free-will versus His action.  The question is more nuanced and interesting than that.  

He accomplishes His purpose without control?  Sure, the Bible actually opens by posing the problem, divests God of control as the story develops toward the Nativity scene (the least control you can have is to be an infant), and climaxes in the victory of the Apocalypse.  

Meditate on what God actually did in the first few moments of the world.   In the Garden, He:

1. indisputably, voluntarily gave up control, which

2. indisputably went badly, which

3. indisputably served His purpose. 

Extrapolate at will.

The Necessary Oomphalos

Apparent Age is a fringe thought. From the view of the typical secularist it is one of the craziest uncles in a crazy family of religious ideas. When the evidence of an old universe first put pressure on the literal reading of Genesis, some sincere creationist argued that Adam must have had a belly button, that he must have appeared 30 years old right down to his inny oomphalos a minute after he was made. So then, goes the argument, the universe might appear 13.5 billion years old, but it is really 6,000 years old, but with a belly button, put there by God’s finger to fool us.

Is it surprising that this Oomphalos idea has been ridiculed? It’s been characterized as arguing that God builds trickery into His creation. And Christians weren’t pepared to defend that systematically, so we took to ridiculing our own uncle. Even though we believe that God made the world by His word, we wouldn’t be associated with such an unsophisticated notion as that “apparent age” nonsense. But it won’t do. Us supernaturalists need to think this thing through and admit that any belief in miracles is also a belief in apparent age. There is no such thing as a miracle that does not alter the apparent age of the object of the miracle.

We need to embrace our inner kook. We need to move our crazy uncle from the closet under the stairs out onto the front porch and paint OURS on his forehead. Not because he is useful, but because if you believe in miracles at all you are an Oomphalist. You can’t conceive of an act of special creation which doesn’t involve apparent age. It has nothing to do with trickery, and everything to do with the character of things as reified time. Time is what things are. To make a thing, or alter a thing, is to manipulate time, or nothing at all.

I don’t know if Adam had a bully button — I don’t know why he would — but if you think he existed you must picture him with human parts of some Hair, then. And if you could pluck one hair from his numbered head and analyze it scientifically, how old would it appear? Can you even conceptualize a hair that appears 10 seconds old? Isn’t a hair, by definition, a thing that has grown over time? Isn’t the age of the thing intrinsic to the thing? I mean, everything is a product of a certain process, and it is not also something else alongside that. The essence is in the elapsed time, not, again, somehow alongside it. Take another miracle story: Jesus turns water into wine. Look at the wine five minutes after it was created and tell me how old it is. The physical process of fermentation is the very definition of wine. I’m sure there are chemical measurements that can quantify the amount of fermentation and elapsed time. That wine looked like old grape juice or it didn’t look like anything at all. Jesus wasn’t trying to trick anyone; He was just making real wine.

The most accurate imagining of creation in literature must be the creation scene from The Chronicles of Narnia. Read it again: trees don’t just materialize out of thin air (materializing from air is a modern, jejune innovation), they grow, but quickly. After all, isn’t the meaning of “tree” a certain product of light, air, water, and dirt? If God would try to make a tree that was not a product of light, air, water and light it would not actually be a tree. How many rings could you have measured on the trees of Eden, the morning they were made? To think you are obligated to imagine an Eden tree without rings is an insult to God’s work. Whether they grew in a nano-second or a minute or in a fashion such that sequence itself is not applicable, I don’t know, but let’s not imagine them without rings, nor imagine Eve without glorious shining tresses. God saw His work, and thought it good.

The age of the wine at Cana is not apparent; it’s actual. There’s no meaning of the word “age” outside some physical metric. When the metric equals five, the age is five. That’s all the word means.

So it isn’t that the age is an appearance or a trick: the Cana wine really is 5 years old a scant 5 minutes after it was made. It is actually, literally, chemically 5 years old. If you manage to recover from the docetism that has been baked into your neurons by our post-enlightenment sun, you would be unable to imagine a thing apart from its accumulated physical metrics.

But this is not an argument to offer to skeptics or scientists, because it can’t be used in their work. If the universe appears 13.5 billion years old on a scientist’s instrument, it is actually that old. We can believe that God made it 6,000 years ago if we want, but it is not accurate to say it is now 6,000 years old. It is not.

Matthew 27: 24-31: That One: He’ll Do Just Fine.

“His blood be on us and our children.”

They were passionate about something. These are not the words of people who are doing someone else’s bidding. They were rioting, and Pilate gave them Jesus and released Barabbas to satisfy them. All my life evangelical preachers have implied that the cry for Barabbas was just a pretext of the crowd. The crowd, we’re told, wanted Jesus to die more than anything, and Barabbas was a convenient transaction who wandered into the scene.

But that’s reading into the text something that is not shown. I think the opposite is true. At face value, the crowd passionately wanted Barabbas and he was their focus. His meaning to the crowd is the missing backstory, which the gospel writers just left out. And if this is so, then Jesus was the crowd’s lucky find, not Barabbas. Jesus was the one simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For sure, the Pharisees and Sanhedrin were the drivers of the plot and they used the passion of the crowd. Their goal was the death of Jesus; but the crowd’s goal was the release of Barabbas.

This means that the videotape of the trial, in our heads from a lifetime of Sunday School illustrations, is wrong. Our picture has Jesus as the focus of the dramatic scene. He is front and center, and the camera is on him. But I think the crowd saw a different scene. They saw him fleetingly, peripherally, a figure over to the side who they traded away to save their hero, Barabbas, and he was the figure in bright lights.

If you had read the story the next day in the Jerusalem Post, you would have read a story about Barabbas, with a paragraph about Jesus. We are the crowd; we did not regard Him, even as we killed Him.

Luke 20:18: United or scattered by the cornerstone

“…everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”   (ESV)

I’ve heard this exegeted a dozen ways, none of them convincing.  What I haven’t heard are the two verbs contrasted.   “Broken” and “crush” are two different words in the Greek.

The first, sunlasthesetai = future passive of suntthlao  = sun (together) + thlao (crush).   The “sun” ((English’ syn) suggests the result of the force is a pile, or mass of material.

The second, likmesei = from llikmao = from liknon (a winnowing fan) – so the verb means grind to powder, which is something that can be winnowed, or scattered in the wind.  The result of this force is the opposite of a pile or mass of material.

So the two verbs hold contrasting images:  “together”, versus “scattered”.

So I think it means something like “everyone who gets on the right side of Me will be pounded together, but everyone who gets on the wrong side of Me will be scattered apart.”

Let It Be According To Your Faith

Matthew 7: the healing of the centurion’s daughter.

In fact, the centurion was wrong at some level, wrong in his assumption that he needed to extract a word from Jesus. There is a hint here, as elsewhere in the Gospels, of Jesus’ puzzlement that we so need His imprimatur.

In all of the life we know in this world, healthy people don’t actually want friends who remain utterly dependent. Only in some styles of piety is that a picture of health.

Matthew 13: Divine unDesign

Jesus says the kingdom is like a field where the farmer planted grain, but his enemies planted weeds.  When the busybody farm hands asked to uproot the weeds, the farmer said “no, you’ll just kill the crop.”   The field is the world.

So Jesus is telling us, again, that God intentionally lets the world appear un-designed. You want design?  It is called Judgement Day, and trust me, you don’t want it.

Despite the fact Jesus says this over and over, we evangelicals are fixated on finding evidence for God’s plans in the affairs of men.   We feel the need to prove to the unbelievers that God is at work in the moral universe.

He is at work, but His work is — stay in Matthew 13 with me — His work is the tiny, tiny mustard seed of the good news in your heart.   In some way we can’t see, Jesus says, it will bring good fruit.   But when you look at the whole field, it looks like chaos.   Yes, he says, that is the unDesign of love.

The Layers of Intelligent Design

First, the primordial cosmos: the earth was “without form and void”. This is not something other than matter. (You actually can’t imagine something other than matter. Even when you imagine energy, you create a picture drawn from visible aspects of matter.)
What God made was, rather, unorganized matter. The language suggests “random” – the only apophatic concept we own, meaning “without pattern”. Notice, this first stage of creation has no moral color. Which is surprising, since we are inclined to sense randomnity as ominous. (Our bias is born from the threat to life, limb and fortune humans feel in random events.) But this is not bad, it is just not done. Later, when God says it is “good”, His first known value judgement, it is not because He fixed something bad, but because he finished His science project. So there are degrees of good before the Fall, and this spectrum of goods is far wider than a mere nuance. No, the movement from starting a work to finishing that work offers full joy; Fall and Redemption do not add any depth to God’s experience.
There is no reason to think the ensuing drama wipes out these first categories: the Beginning, the Good, and the Very Good. Humankind imposes an alien meme, the Bad, which obscures but does not obliterate the first pattern of joys.
During Creation Week God organized the stuff on a macro scale by adding light, and atmosphere, and history, trigonometry, and bugs. Light, alone, would flip a switch making the heavens and earth into a self sustaining machine and would energize the chemical substrate. Physics can fill in the rest. (I’m not interested in connecting the text with what our instruments see, but in seeing what is in the text.)
There is no reason to think this work obliterated or exhausted the primordial and formless stuff, which was not evil or needing cleansing (sorry, Manichees), but just needed organizing. I believe we still see this original stuff with eyes and augmented eyes.
When we look at the night sky we see a stamp of “design”, which the biblical writers sing of, but their vision of Yahweh’s mark on creation is not what we usually mean by “design”, which is something like “handmade pattern indicating a purpose”. Rather, they see size, scale, and pretty lights. Art for art’s sake. Art is a means to no end. It is an end, an object of contemplation.
The fabrication of the Garden, later, will reveal that this Creation, whatever it looked like, though it is “very good”, has no clear human purpose, except as raw material for a further ordering. So even before the Fall there were at least two strata in the created universe that were not meant to look “designed”, even to unfallen human perception. If you could transport back in time to the moment when God cried “very good!” and startled the great cranes from their brakes, you would not see anything with a purpose. You would see pretty. You would not see architectonics. Yahweh’s aesthetic is remarkably childish, or child-like.
Now we come to the Garden. Pre-fall Eden seems to mean little to Christians except that it evokes nostalgia for their tropical vacations. Meanwhile we argue with the evil evolutionists about design in the natural world. But Eden is crucial for grasping what God did and why. The distinction between the garden and the wide world is precisely /the degree of apparent order/. And, in this context, the word “order” means something like “pleasant to humans”. It was an island of suitableness within the infinite ocean of the Creation, which was itself on top of, or imposed on, the deep layer of formless stuff. The idea was probably that the Garden would grow and take over all the Creation, which of course never happened. So the Garden was the one place visibly designed by God for humans, and only there. We do not perceive this Divine design now. A flaming sword has been set at its door. /So – the created “order” we do perceive now is a level of order that God thought was very good but not yet particularly suitable for humans./
4. The Creation, fallen. Whatever degree of design the original creation displayed — something less than what God had in mind for us — must be broken down now, to some unknown degree. And our vision is also broken. So we actually are looking through 3 or 4 dark glasses.
I realize I am speculating here. The point is not to nail all this down into creedal clarity. The point is that the concept “design” is used by biblicist culture-warriors as if it means one precise thing. It is either “evidence of design” or, I guess, “evolved by chance”. I find this dichotomy simplistic to the point of harmful— from a biblically literalist point of view. In contrast, the biblical concept of design is richly nuanced, and not nearly exegeted, to date. We do the biblical picture great trauma by talking about it so superficially.
Those of us who aren’t so certain to argue that we see “design” in the physical universe are often looked down on by our more dogmatic brethren. As if we don’t really believe the Word. Not so; we just see more in it than you, and see more that we don’t clearly see. It’s hard to fight over something you know you aren’t seeing clearly.

John 9: Jesus talks about design

The sermon today really was about the healing of the blind man in John 9, though it might be hard to see that from these notes:

1. Man chose a random universe. If this part is left out, the rest makes no sense. And this is the part secularists insist on leaving out, so that the rest makes no sense. In other words, they choose a random universe, re-capitulating Adam’s choice. 5 minutes later, they object to the very notion of a federal head.

2. Bad things happen, randomly. See: statistics.

3. God stops some bad things. This is an assertion. By definition, it is untestable, as are all assertions about the intangible universe. That it is untestable means exactly nothing, unless you’ve already decided that all truth is testable. That decision has nothing to do with the nature of the world, and everything to do with how you want to spend your short time in it. It makes sense to hold that all truth is testable, if there are no truths outside the means of testing. That the testers can’t see this logical circle is my personal all-time greatest mystery of life.

4. Love does not excise bad things from the relationship, but instead builds them into the relationship, the design. The artist integrates mistakes. ( All watercolorists will now say “amen”.) So, in the end, love is the intelligent design. We cannot know the universe as it was built originally; the stamp of design from the act of creation has been written over by the palimpsest on our retinae. Love is the intelligent design. This is also an untestable assertion. You can either live in this universe, if you like, or another kind, if you like. Why you like what you like will always be perceived by yourself as an axiom. The theological term for axiom is “ex nihilo”; the phenomenological term for the same…well, phenomenon…is “miracle” . Since the atheist mind simply labels things that appear in his mind as axioms, he actually has more experience with miracles than the rest of us. He has merely internalized them.

5. The materialist might not allow for “love”, it might be just “the will to survive”. Yet, in this view, isn’t the will to survive just another random event, seen from the inside? So, the species has the will to survive, because the sun exists, but that the sun exists means nothing at all. It just exists. Therefore, the cessation of the will to survive is the loss of nothing at all. Therefore, to live is not preferable to suicide, and suicide is not preferable to life. But the materialist is left with: “It is axiomatic for me to want to live.” I believe you — but all you are saying is that this impulse drops into your brain from an unknown source. Suppose Hitler would have an impulse to kill you. In the end, isn’t the war between his impulse and yours simply two particles, colliding at random?

Globalization and St. John’s Apocalypse

The dissolution of national identities derives inexorably from the Biblical view of the human heart.   This trend over long history is not a Judeo-Christian prescription; it’s just a description.

It is men who drive history, not something outside us.   Technology is just the storehouse of men’s tools. And men make tools to, first, survive, and then, to get the life they want.   So when I say technology is driving globalization all I mean is that what men want is in the direction of globalization, and men will go through the dissolution of national borders to get what they want, no matter what.

The real interesting question is not “what entity is driving events?” but “what do men want?”    This question is nothing more than Aristotle’s question of the final cause, or destiny.

The first, the root assertion of the New Testament happens also to be one with which we can empirically agree or disagree, using all the data of human culture.   That first assertion is:  men want things they shouldn’t want.   The “heart”, which is the organ which WANTS, is broken.

Note:   If you find the New Testament reliable in an area where you can look around you and either agree or disagree (is the wanting organ in man broken or not?)   then you proceed to trust it in further areas where you cannot look around and test it (i.e. God sent His Son to deliver us).

So, what do men want? Answer: They want pleasure.   After they have solved the problem of survival, from that moment on they start making tools to get pleasure.   Money is a shorthand symbol of convenience for pleasure.   A free-market economy is simply the most efficient means to allocate resources to produce maximum efficiency, and efficiency is defined by the end, the final cause, the destiny, which is itself chosen not by economics but by the heart of man:   pleasure.  So, economics is the system of efficient production of pleasure.

Continue reading “Globalization and St. John’s Apocalypse”

Genesis 2: Eve’s curiosity

Eve’s sin was to prefer the exploration of the world to obediance to God, taking the evidence of her senses as the final arbiter on good and evil.   And the context of the incident is important: Eve could explore 99% of the universe with impunity.   This freedom to explore a rational universe accounts for the contrast between the rise of the universities on Catholic soil and the stillbirth of the same in Muslim Spain.

We assert that the universe of the senses is really there, is rational, and is given by God to explore and understand (“tend the garden” in Genesis terminology).   But we FURTHER ASSERT there is data in the moral life of man not gleaned from the senses, and that the intangible soul must deal with a creator.   The relationship to the creator is the constraint on intellectual work.

Inerrancy or Silence

When the church abandons the belief that the New Testament is inerrant, it eventually runs out of anything to talk about.   I expect this offends lots of good Christians, and so qualifiers and anti-strawmen exercises are in order.

First, I acknowledge there are lots of problems with the traditional discussions of inerrancy, mostly for the same reason the effort to define how Jesus is present in the Supper quickly becomes absurd.    It is one thing to believe something is true; it is another to explain how it is true.    We believers believe lots of things we can’t draw as an algorithm.   (I’m not saying we believe because something strains credulity.  I’ll let Tertullian  explain that one to me someday, but in this incarnation I’ve found it useless.)  Indeed, the impulse to need to explain how something works is often an inability to believe — or it is a desire to not look like a simpleton.   We have to convince everyone around us that a piece of bread becoming God’s flesh for us makes perfect sense, you see,  because we’re still just as smart as you are, even though we’ve bought this whole thing about a bearded guy in the sky.

Inerrancy has become a repulsive idea for lots of people who grew up conservative churches, because when they were kids they were taught all kinds of silly things, stemming from the confusion between “without error” and “physically true and without metaphor and subject to canons of materiality we only use here and no-where else in language”.    When God says pi is equal to 3 He is not making a goof.   He is talking like you do.   He gets to apply the principle of materiality to His verbal precision just like you do.

So there are understandable reasons Christians have dropped inerrancy, if we allow that escaping baggage is acceptable. Continue reading “Inerrancy or Silence”

Notes from church: July 5, 2009

Loss of the capacity to believe in anything beyond the senses, leads to loss of belief in the universe as a moral construct, leads to all theories of salvation sounding abstract, leads to the poverty of having only romance as a filter to approach God, leads to contemporary worship music.


The Old Testament injunction to “Remember God” is the equivalent of the New Testament “faith”.


I Corinthians 9.24-27

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, [2] lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

This passage simply does not reflect that beloved evangelical dichotomy, as in “… a relationship with God based on forgiveness as opposed to one based on performance.” 


“Eternal perspective” as used in evangelical preaching, usually amounts to docetism.  Only what is done for Christ will last, and so on.  The implication is that only the ghostly souls of men will pass into the next age; spend as little work as possible on things like art, engineering, plumbing, which are hay and straw, to be burned up on the last day.   

This is a terrible, soul-killing perspective, and not what the Bible is selling. 

“conscience” in Hebrews 9.14

When we hear the phrase “purified conscience” our Western reflex is to think of sin, or guilt.  Sin, if we have a Judeo-Christian background, or just guilt if our reference is more generically secular.    Religious or not, our experience is that something bad gets “on” the conscience, and must be removed.

Not so, here.   That which is being removed is “dead works” — those formerly positive sacrificial obligations of the Law, which have now been rendered superfluous by Jesus’ sacrificial blood.

So the conscience, here, is not a ledger that registers bad marks which must be removed, but is a table of positive obligations which must be…removed.

Conspiracy Theorists and Intelligent Design

1.  The uncritical attribution of malignant design

I know a man who is paranoid.  I don’t mean he is sometimes anxious that others are out to get him, or that he is occasionally dramatic about threats.  No, he is paranoid, which means he observes a phenomenon, and then projects onto the unseen backstage of that occurrence a malignant conspiracy, without evidence, and as a matter of routine.  He is certain of the conspiracy he sees.  He has no moments of uncertainty about his interpretations, no doubts like the rest of us struggle with.

We underestimate the strength of the paranoid view.  We should not think the conspiracy theorist simply looks at the evidence the rest of us see and mis-interprets it — no, quite the opposite.  He does not need evidence of any kind.  The existence of evidence for a malignant design in one instance does indeed fuel his delusion in the next instance, but the absence of evidence today does not diminish his paranoia tomorrow.

Because it is bred in his bones.  It is the color of his glasses, not the color of the world. The conspiracy theorist is seeing his own soul, draped over the contours of the world.

Paranoia has nothing to do with intelligence, or education, or training in critical thinking.  The man I know is smart and terminally degreed in the sciences, and quite successful in his field.

Again, as I have said so many times, the world-view is not a cognitive product.  It is a product of the heart, and will absolutely overwhelm the cognitive faculty, for a whole lifetime.  But it appears, from the inside looking out, like a cognitive product.  We all think we are seeing the world through the lens of pure rationality.

What is wrong with the paranoid heart?  How did it come to be?

Forgive me a little amateur psychoanalysis.  We see in the external universe the mirror of our own soul.  The child who is not loved well, the child who suffers the manipulations of selfish adults, is formed in the soul by these acts of his narcissistic caregivers.  He is designed.

He is not peaceful around his keepers.  He learns early they will use him or neglect him for their own pleasure or laziness.  He must care for his own survival — if only emotionally — at a much younger age than any child should have to feel the weight of his own existence.  At the plastic stage he is takes on an impression, which becomes the shape of his seeing, forever.

To him, it is normal.  Most of us see around us a landscape where threats stand out from the benign backdrop.  The paranoid, though, does not see a threat as an occasional looming exception against a pattern of nuetrality; he sees threat, period.  It’s all threat to him.  It requires no effort, nor is it the result of any discursive reasoning.  He thinks you see it, too.

2. The uncritical attribution of benevolent design

In the same way, the child who is loved is formed by those acts of love.  His soul is formed in a million little ways by mom and dad’s selfless regard and care, so that as he ages and becomes more self-aware he sees internally — as he looks at his own mind and emotions and will — he sees in his internal landscape the result of conscious, benevolent design.   And when you see good things in your character that you recognize came not from yourself but from someone who loved you without self regard, you feel gratitude.

When you then look out on the world and see beauty and goodness, it is normal to see these as benevolently intended by some overarching personality.  It is as normal as the backside of your eyelids.  It requires no effort, nor is it the result of any discursive reasoning.  You think I see it too.

3.  The vision of design in Paul

That text in Romans has always puzzled me — you know the reference — where Paul says that those who look out on the universe and see God’s great works but do not give Him gratitude or acknowledge Him start down a slope that ends in perdition.  Notice he is not making a cognitive argument.  Paul is saying their hearts do not function, they do not feel gratitude, and this lack of personalistic perception is the definition of corruption.

I’ve never been comforted by all the talk of “awe and mystery” from some religionists.  We are supposed to behold the starry skies, say these, and feel the “awe” of the greatness of God, and worship Him and so on.  Well, awe only prompts the right response when we perceive the great work as for us. I can be awed by the huge, even beautiful universe but still only feel far away from this huge, distant architect. 

4.  Conclusion, as usual: love is all

I’m convinced the biggest determinant of world-view is the depth and skill of parental love, and the only thing that changes world-view in the adult is love.  Personal love, within friendship, enfleshed stuff.

When you have been loved you perceive love.  When you have not been loved like you should have been, you have been abused and used, and bitterness and fear are normal to you.  The conspiracy theorist is an extreme degree of this, of course.  I’m not saying you are either a theist or paranoid.  I’m only illustrating a spectrum by its two extremes.

None of us are capable of stepping outside of what looks normal to us and “proving” by arguments to ourselves or others an alternate reality, any more than we are capable of seeing around our corneas by straining harder.  Since we cannot do this for ourselves, it is worse than useless to try and get others to do the same.

What we can do, is love.  Only love touches the heart, and only the heart touches the mind.