Category Archives: theology

The Animist side of Christianity


“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” – C.S. Lewis -the voyage of the Dawn Treader

dawn treaderRecently I encountered an article on Facebook from ‘the week’, a to me unknown publication, which argued that Paganism might be making a comeback in the US. Now while a compelling case could be made for this idea, I must say that with this specific article even my Pagan FB friends didn’t seem to take the article very seriously. I could also remark that the word ‘come-back’ is a bit weird since ancient European or Mid-Eastern Paganism has never been present on North-American soil as a majority religion. Not even in the pre-Columbian  Viking settlement, since Leif Erikson was  actually an Orthodox Christian, but that’s besides the point

Although no-one seemed to have been particularly impressed by the article in the the interesting and quite respectful Facebook conversation it created on my wall, and I’m not going into all the issues here (write your own blogpost about Paganism and scapegoating if you feel inclined to do so, I will surely read it and probably even share it!), there was one thing that caught my eyes because I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now. And that ‘thing’ is the first difference given in the text between a ‘Christian’ worldview and a Pagan one: in Paganism, according to the text, we have a ‘world full of agencies’, as they call it:

“As seen in the ancient Greek, Celtic, and Norse traditions, the pagan idea most alien to the modern worldview is probably the belief that the entire cosmos is animated by agencies.”

I must confess that the word ‘agencies’ sounded for a second like they were talking about dull bureaucratic entities, but since those are never very animating in any sense of the world that can’t be what they meant. What they do mean something like a world animated with spirits, or a world full of persons, some of which are humans. In other words, basically they’re talking about an Animist worldview.

And here comes my main point: while some people might not like the idea of an Animist worldview (some of which are connected to Modernism, others probably to fear of the unknown), this is not at all something that needs to be opposed to Christianity. But indeed i’s rather something antithetical to modernism and its philosophical forefathers, and thus also partly to the forms of Christianity that either helped forming modernity or in a secondary move also those that have been shaped by it.
It probably starErasmus 2ted with Erasmus or even Scotus and was very prevalent in the Renaissance tendency to get rid of everything viewed as ‘superstition’. And so in Christian modernism (which includes a lot of protestant traditions) we find a fear and adversity to any even remotely animist idea. A commenter on the first post of the series on ‘faerie’ on Dr. Richard Becks  experimental theology blog gives us a nice example of this resistance to ascribing any animist dimension to this Reality we live in:

When we re-enchant the World, what are we doing? Part of the Reformation’s emphasis was to strip the world of fantasy, not of spiritual. Peasants no longer had to fear that an irate saint of the local bridge would drown them if they did not drop a florin in the toll-box. Of course, the agents of the so-called Enlightenment took the critique without their source. There were no such things as spirits, devils, angels, gods etc. nothing that man’s “ever-watchful eye” could not prove.

(Note that the guy is going way too far for a pure reformation or actually any small ‘o orthodox Christian’ worldview. Luther himself would be quite shocked to hear that there are no devils for example…)

The main fear here, apart from a modernist control issue and a humanist ‘man conquers nature’ ideology, is probably that of idolatry: that the ‘agencies’ if we acknowledge them will become too important, and that they might take the place God only deserves. This is a valid concern, and people who do acknowledge those realities do sometimes fall into this trap indeed. But an argument out of fear of consequences is never a good way to accept the reality of something.
I will also add here that strangely enough the same concerns are never uttered towards human power, systems, and Winkian Powers like Mammon, while those are recognised and their claims to legitimacy are sometimes uncontested. No matter if they are seen as personal or not, their influence stays the same, and keeps us from God and from seeking first the kingdom and Hid righteousness all the same…

So it might go completely against the grain of a lot of modernist Christianity, buDyingDryadt it certainly is my intuition that recognising this ‘Animist dimension’ of the created world is not really a heterodox oddity of some ‘progressive’ green modern thinker, lost in basckwards synchretism and making up stuff that has no basis in either the bible or Christian tradition or something else fringe and new. I’d rather say that it is just a part of Christianity, even though it might be hidden for eyes that cannot see it. It is very clearly present in the bible, and moreover has been often voiced by the Christian tradition.

And I’m not only thinking about angels in heavely realms here… (I do believe that Charismatic Christianity and Pentecostalism were among other things part of a movement of the Spirit to bring this and other spiritual dimensions back into modernist Christianity, lest it be rendered completely impotent as a dead muggle religion, that often has been moved only in the private space altogether.)

As one of my Facebook-commenters said: “I might be simple-minded, but, how could you read the Psalms and not be basically OK with animism?”. There are lots of verses in the psalms that seem to ascribe agency and the capacity of worshipping God to animals, trees and the elements of nature. When I was a kid one of my favourite songs was about trees that clap their hands for God.

We do take this as pure metaphor as moderns. I don’t know if that’s the best way of viewing it though. There is a rather animist worldview in the background of most of the bible that we just dismiss as moderns. The problem for Christianity is not that the world isn’t full of living beings, but that the are not to be seen or treated as divine in themselves. This is the danger of animism.

zone50But I would say that it’s quite clear most moderns outside of the New Age and Neo-Pagan niche are not at all in danger of divinizing nature, thus and giving so much respect to creation that it diminishes our respect for the Creator. Au contraire mes amis, most of us can need a healthy dose of realisation that Nature is Alive. That we humans are not everything. And also that God Himself is Present and Neo-Paganism (as well as New Age, but also the rise of Charismatic Christianity on the other side) is indeed an answer to this reductionist modernist desacralisation and disenchantment. Smashing the mystery out of Christianity (something that goes back at least to the reformation), is a good way to sterilise religion and in the end kill it from within. Too much Bultmann-manouvres and Christianity dissolves completely…

I’m not saying anything new here. The pre-modern church has always believed in intelligent non-human agents in the cosmos and in nature. Even the Pope seems to agree with that, which can be read through the lines in his ecological encyclical Laudaro Si (read it here Did you ever think of a time when we would read Papal encyclicals on the internet?). The title alone is a strong reference to the Animist dimension, as it is a quote from Saint Francis’ canticle of the sun.

The canticle (just as psalm 148 for example) is a perfect place to see how the Animist dimension is fitted into a Christian worldview. The elements and the creatures (yes, even death) are seen as persons, fellow creatures that all are made by the same Creator, and that all worship the same Creator. And while it starts very certainly with an affirmation of a very Monotheist God-centered Christianity, all the other things are fitted neatly in there too. So let’s meditate on this text and psalm 148 for a while to close our thinking about the Animist dimension of Christianity… (This translation comes from wikipedia. )zonnelied

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.
Amen

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

Monotheism or monopolytheism?


Today we’ll talk about the funny word in the title. ‘Mono-polytDBH experienceheism’ is a word used by David Bentley Hart in his rather heavy philosophical tome ‘the experience of God’, a book that tries to explain what the word ‘God’ God means in the monotheistic traditions . The word mono-polytheosm describes the idea that God is a being more like the gods of polytheism, but still the only one in his species. That’s the way in which I will use it anyway.  (Hart also uses it more or less as a synonym for ‘theistic personalism’, but that’s a term and discussion that I feel no connection with at all and will leave for others. Philosophy, theoretical theology and a multitude of deep words can be very important one one hand to really say something meaningful about Reality, but on the other hand one can easily drift off to get lost in conceptual words too that have not much relevance, or even reality behind them in any way at all…)

To start I offer a quote from Hart for a definition of the term:

“a view of God not conspicuously different from the polytheistic picture of the gods as merely very powerful discrete entities who possess a variety of distinct attributes that lesser entities also possess, if in smaller measure; it differs from polytheism, as far as I can tell, solely in that it posits the existence of only one such being. It is a way of thinking that suggest that God, since he is only a particular instantiation of various concepts and properties, is logically dependent on some more comprehensive reality embracing both him and other beings.” (DBH, the experience of God, p 127-128):

To be honest, Hart might always require slow reading and re-reading. One of my FB friends recently assured me that she needs a dictionary too when reading him, and unlike me she has English as her first language and is quite intelligent.

Back to Mono/polytheism. The main question is what I am talking about when I as a Christian and Monotheist use the word ‘God’. In a classical monotheist definition as used in Abrahamic faiths, and according to Hart also in other tradition like certain forms of philosophical Hinduism, this is something completely different from what is meant with the ‘gods’ in a polytheist fashion. Really ‘God’ has no plural and can’t have one either. God is the Creator, the Source and Ground of Being. The One, both transcendent an immanent in all of the multiverse. If the creation story is true in any way, as well as the rest of the bible, God is Universal (quite probably multiversal even, I’d add). Surely while I believe that Christians have special revelation of God in the person of Christ, other people have concepts of Him too. Not only the Abrahamic names of Yahweh, Allah but also the Manitou or Great Spirit of the original Americans, or the Hinduist Brahman or Ọlọ́run in Yoruba are ways to describe this Multiversal Creator. Yes, some things will differ, some pictures will be better than others, but there is One God behind all of existence. And all our talk of this Ultimate Reality is just primitive babytalk anyway, even in the most refined theological schools.

Some philosophers or theologians, for example in Christian Orthodoxy,  go as far as saying that God does not ‘exist’ because His mode of being is completely different, as he is the Source of Being, and maybe even Existence and Being itself. But all of these words are just mere fingerscratches on the surface of something bigger than the sun…

The problem is that not all people define God in this way. In certain views, which are those I would see as ‘monopolytheism’ we do have a “God” that is not completely the source of all Being, and depending on other things, and subject to certain natural laws (or ‘higher magic’?) that maybe even preceded it and that it can’t go against. Which means that our “God” still has a Higher Reality to depend on and answer too somehow…

This certainly seems to be an existing picture of God that I sometimes encounter in several schools of theology, especially in certain schools of modernist ‘liberal’ theology, probably including process theology, but similar sentiments can be uttered by ‘conservative’ Christians too sometimes. It also seems related to -though probably incompatible with- a form of deism in which God made the laws of nature and afterwards isn’t able to break them even if He wanted. (The lengths some people go to combine abstract philosophic notions of God with cramped modernist assertions against miracles can be quite amusing…) demiurgeThe problem is that we end up with something that is more like a demiurge than the Creator. (And if there’s a demiurge, maybe there’s a Higher God in the background that’s more important…)

It’s also often the picture atheists paint of the “God” they reject. Well, no disagreement with them, since I reject it too, but that seems very hard to explain sometimes… It is this “God” too that is rejected in the simplistic ‘only atheists of one god more’ argument that sound not very logical if you really think about what God is and what Gods are.
(Sorry Brian McLaren,I once again go with David Bentley Hart here )

Let me also be clear here that I do not per se have to reject polytheism here, even if being a more than convinced monotheist. I actually happen to have no problem at all with the existence of the gods, but just want the clear that whatever they are, they are not God and not in the same league at all. If they exist they are powers of nature or higher beings inside the word, or maybe entities on (fallen) archangel-level, or in some cases even thoughtform-entities (Hey Fotamecus, did you beat old Chronos already?) or just anthropomorphic personifications of actually rather impersonal forces inside this world. (WATCH OUT WITH WHAT YOU SAY HERE, I KEEP MY EYES ON YOU!)

It might even be that in a soft polytheistic vein what is called ‘gods’ are only personifications of the One, the Divine, which is thus just a way to describe aspects of God. Certain schools of Hinduism and some African religions seem to think that way. If I understand Yoruba well the orishas might function in such a way for example.

Still I as a Christian believe that I have access to a much clearer view on and path to the Multiversal Creator, wich is found in Christ as the most fully revelation of God. Yes, the most scandalous claim of Christianity is not the trinity which mostly leads to more philosophical discussions, long words and misunderstanding of these words, but rather the Incarnation, the idea that in the person of a human Jesus the Creator stepped into His Creation and even shared in our suffering -well, got tortured to death eventually even-, and in partaking in death conquered death, sin and evil, But that’s another thing. Let’s note also that the Living Word (Logos) is something completely different from all our human formulations.

So like the title says, I don’t care for thing mono-polytheism (and even less for any form of monopoly-theism, in that matter). If God is not the Absolute, the One, the Creator it makes no sense being a monotheist at all. We end up with a conceptual demiurge at best, and a self-created illusion or even God-replacing egregore at worst… Conceptual idolatry is always a danger for those who want to define God instead of just letting God be God while acknowledging that no theology will hqdefaultever fully describe the One. (Except for the Living Word, Christ, but here we have the same problem that we need Christ to just be Christ, and not try to trap him in our formulations and description like a dried butterfly in a museum collection.)

So for anyone who wants to discuss God and theology with me, please accept that the classical monotheist definition of God as the Creator of the universe (from which everything originates, including the regularities that we call ‘laws of nature’), not some being inside the universe bound by the ‘laws of nature’ is crucial for me. You can deny the existence of this God, but arguing about the existence of merely a one-of-its-kind god in this world is not something I want to defend and something I’m completely not interested in at all.

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

Atheist Faith in Reason as a Relic from Theism…


believe_800My problems with modern atheism are completely different from what most atheists assume they are. I say that not only as a Christian, but my inner atheist completely agrees with that, and is often the most frustrated part of me when I’m reading the ‘new atheists’ for example.

I actually don’t have much problems with people accepting accepting the possibility of atheism (the belief in absence of God). But a negative belief in God is not at all the only thing most modern atheism is about. Most of it is more built on a foundation of  a positive belief in reason, logic and science, which are often given a likewise inerrancy as fundamentalist Christians gives to the bible.

And I wile already have a problem with an an absolute faith in human reason when looking from a Christian paradigm (I think modernists on all sides, from Christian fundamentalists to new atheists have way too much unsubstantiated faith in it), I must say that in a paradigm without Rational Creator an unspoken belief that human reason can come to infallible truths is completely out of place and utterly naive. I will explain later what I mean with that.

My other problem with atheism is the assumed materialist worldview that from my experience not that very plausible. I won’t be easily gaslighted into the idea that the supernatural world does not exist. (I do even think that the way in which the universe manifests itself in such an non-magical way to most modern Western is some sort of magical trick, but that’s another story.)
I won’t even go into the problem that reason and abstract thought are way too transcendent and immaterial for a consistent materialistic worldview now, that might be for another time.

To explain why I have a big problem with combining materialism (the idea that the matter that we can observe scientifically is all there is) and absolute rationalism, and think  such a combination completely untenable and tautological I have to put onDSC03152 my atheist hat and explain this more from the inside…

(I put on my atheist hat now, which is actually an orthodox Pastafarian colander..)

To start we assume that there is no Rational Creator God behind this world. I do explicitly mean a Rational Supreme Being here that is behind the universe/multiverse as Creator and Sustainer here, and lower gods, spirits or body thetans are completely irrelevant here.
So whatever the source of all this is what we see and know, there is no such thing as a Creator! This means that we humans are just a species of apes wandering around on a tiny rock planet circling around a yellow dwarf star. We evolved without any plan into what we are somehow in a universe that wasn’t made for us. All of our reason and logic, and everything based on them is this just a by-product of processes in which our forefathers adapted themselves to their environment in order to survive the law of the jungle.

If  those ideas sound completely counter-intuitive to you, as a believer for example, I still ask you to try to consider the paradigm that I’m proposing here for now and try for now to climb into it and see the consequences of it.  (This is always the best option when encountering another worldview btw.)

When it comes to trusting our human reason we clearly have 2 problems :

– There is no reason at all to trust that the universe itself is fashioned in such a way can be reasonably understood by any rational being.
– Neither is there any reason to trust that the reason of our evolved brains has any way of accurately describing the world we live in, even if the universe would by some magic -otherwise than the will of a Rational Creator- be rational and intelligible to an actual rational being.

So once we let go of the notion that there’s a Rational Creator behind the Universe, which we might do because it indeed seems to be a bit of wishful thinking, we should be very very careful with trusting our own reason. There is no guarantee at all that there is any chance that  our reason and logic will really be able to nail Reality for us.
If we’re really intellectually honest we will have to be very humble intellectually, and letting go of the idea Rational Creator (or even believing in an irrational Creator if anyone wants to go there) also means that forms of modernist faith in reason and empiricism are nothing but naive relics of theism, and its faith in a rational universe that stems from a belief in a Rational Source behind the Universe, as Christians, other monotheists, Platonists and Hindus would do.
There simply is no reason to trust human reason very much, let alone think that our thought systems built on it can be absolute, objective or have any degree of infallibility…. The universe is a place not made for humans, and there is no guarantee except for wishful thinking that we will be able to really understand it. Reality can be bended into a lot of explanatory frames, which if good enough will all work.

But we’ll never be able to really pin down Reality.

Science indeed does a good job in making explanations and offering working models about the parts of Reality that are most accessible to us, but even those are approximations and will never be more than that. Yes it can be trusted up to a certain point, but always in the utmost humbleness and scepticism. It’s not because something works that it is true. The Ptolemaic geocentric cosmology was rationally sound and worked too.

Add to that the placebo-factor with the Newtonian law that something that’s in a certain state will remain in that state until enough energy is used to change the state (a brain or a society will remain in a paradigm unless it really can’t otherwise) and people stay in imperfect paradigms all the time because they can’t otherwise. Well, and every paradigm is imperfect anyway. Just get used to it.

So let’s go back to my basic point:  believing that reason al logic will ever enable us to completely understand the Reality in which we find ourself is nothing but a relic from the optimism of a theistic worldview that believes in a Rational Creator. We delude ourself with self-conceit if we trust too much in our human reason. The universe is basically absurd, and any certainty about the nature of the universe and our own rationality in another way is wishful thinking.

As atheists, Nietzsche and Camus were certainly onto something. The new atheists and any rationalist or logical positivist are just holding on to naive leftovers from theism in their reliance on how much both our reason, logic, and the intelligibility of the universe itself can be trusted.

(I take my hat in my hand and wonder if it it still belongs on my head when saying the following:)

And here I cchaosan only fall back into the  metaparadigm beyond chaos magick. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, please read this post here.) Groundless postmodern paradigm shifting combined with the power of belief to find the best working worldview is the only thing that remains for me here. Yes, I can use belief in reason as a paradigm, but it’s still a make-believe game that needs a lof of belief from my side to really make it work. 

I couldn’t go back to belief in reason here. I can’t go back to belief in progress. I can’t go back.  Reality is absurd and not made for us, and having faith in human reason and logic or in the rationality and intelligibility of the universe is utterly a form of self-deceit, but it’s a nice placebo.
Choosing the most soothing paradigm and remaining in it for as long as it’s lasting is the only solution to not slide into madness though.

(I put off the atheist hat now)

But I still go with Lewis, and not with Lovecraft. We are slightly irrational and confused beings in a world that has a Rational Source, and not more or less good and normal beings in a world that is utterly irrational, alien and dark behind the facade.

In the end I might be a notorious paradigm shifter, but I’m not (and have never been) a completely groundless postmodernist, rather a probably slightly crypto-Platonist/Aristotelian Christian with a healthy dose of humbleness about human capacities, so I still have the option to believe in reason and logic (even though they are in no way absolutely reliable). By the way, I’m a Christian because of Christ, and glimpses of a Love more Real than this whole universe. Not because of rational arguments and apologetics.

This might still be a very conscious choice though, because both possibilities seem equally plausible, unlike an enlightenment atheism that relies on an almost absolute faith in reason, logic and science in a materialist universe. That’d be, if I actually do follow reason here, too absurd even for a completely absurd universe.
I’m not naive enough for that.

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

 

 

The healing light (Chp 1-3): the science of faith healing


This is my first actual p51oDtrUSsML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ost in a series of blogging through Agnes Sanfords book ‘the healing light’ (1947), subtitled ‘the art and the method of spiritual healing’ which can be read in PDF here. The introductory post can be found here and I will try to cover the whole book in parts throughout the next months, with some spin-off posts addressing certain topics that need to be looked at some more and from different angles. In this post we’ll cover the first 3 chapters.

It’s probably clear already that, while I did learn some things from it, this is not a book that I agree with completely. I can even say that it sometimes takes an approach that sounds quite alien to me, but it was very interesting to read through nonetheless. As the foreword (written by someone named Glenn Clark) says:

Agnes Sanford was born in China as the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary, she has lived for years in New Jersey as the wife of an Episcopalian rector, and she has studied and tried every form of healing that has ever been known. Never have I met one who combined the metaphysical and the sacramental approach as she does. I have never met anyone more Christ-centered nor anyone more church-centered and yet more utterly unconcerned about the creed or lack of creed of those that she administers to.

Before we start with the content of the first three chapters let’s make some more general remarks about the book;  Agnes’ writing style is easy to read. She regularly jumps from more theoretical and instructional parts to a lot of anecdotes, and stories of healing and other own experiences. Her way of writing indicated that she isn’t merely trying to teach some kind of theory that she made up, but that she has a lot of experience with Divine healing and prayer, and afterwards has distilled theory and methods out of that that she wants to share.
The implication of this for me is that I do trust her heart, and her connection to God, but not all of her conclusions and theories. There seems to be a bit of new thought influence and a quite mechanical ‘scientific’ worldview for example that I can’t completely follow.

So, for the actual content of the first 3 chapters then. She lays the basis for faith healing, a scientific explanation of how it works according to her, and a first articulation of her method. It’s probably interesting to start with her theology of healing and the role of God in that:

God is both within us and without us. He is the Source of all life; the Creator of universe behind universe; and of unimaginable depths of inter-stellar space and of light-years without end. But He is also the indwelling life of our own little selves. And just as a whole world full of electricity will not light a house unless the house itself is prepared to receive that electricity, so the infinite and eternal life of God cannot help us unless we are prepared to receive that life within ourselves. Only the amount of God that we can get in us will work for us.

She then begins with developing a ‘scientific’ method for faith healing, in full confidence that it’s possible to use this ‘law of nature’. Like I mentioned before she seems to think that the universe is fully answering to natural laws that God has put into His Creation. Miracles for her are not breaking the laws of nature but following laws of nature that we don’t know yet, and if we as humans will grow to understand them more we will be able to use them just as easily as we use the laws of gravity and electricity now in our technique.

Few of us in the north would ask God to produce a full-blown rose out of doors in January. Yet He can do this very thing, if we adapt our greenhouses to His laws of heat and light, so as to provide the necessities of the rose. And He can produce a full-blown answer to prayer if we adapt our earthly tabernacles to His laws of love and faith so as to provide the necessities of answered prayer.
Some day the world will come to understand this fact, as it now understands the miracle of sound waves, for one generation’s miracles are the commonplaces of another generation.
Some day we will understand the scientific principles that underlie the miracle-working powers of God, and we will accept His intervention as simply and naturally as we do the radio.

And this is already something where I might not really agree. Even if she is right about miracles following for us unknown laws of nature, -which is very plausible to me- then still I highly doubt that we are able to hack those laws and use them as easily as we do with the laws of gravity and electricity in our machines… This is a bit too much modernist thriumph of technique talk for me…
But that there is a ‘natural law’ behind how miracles operate and that we might be more effective in praying according to this law is not something I have a problem with.

The method that she has worked out then, and that she returns to several times in the book has 4 steps:

1. The first step is getting in contact with God. This is worded a bit strangely because she writes for Christians and non-Christians alike, but she’s not compromising here. Maybe having a bit too much optimism about how easily non-Christians can ‘tune in’ to God though.
Later in the book she recommends meditation as a help at this first step, based on the psalms verse of ‘be still and know that I am God.’. Her point is here to actually get in contact with God, something which she seems to do very naturally herself.

2. The second step is ‘turning on the energy’, which she recommends to do with a prayer like “Heavenly Father, please increase in me at this time Your lifegiving power.”

3. The third step is to believe that this power is coming into use and to accept it by faith. This is the next thing that can be easily written about, but isn’t easily as easily done and turned into a method as it might sound to her.
“No matter how much we ask for something it becomes ours only as we accept it and give thanks for it. “Thank You,” we can say, “that Your life is now coming into me and increasing life in my spirit and in my mind and in my body.””

4. The fourth step is observing the power at work. This needs an actual goal to accomplish so we can see it it has worked, so this is where the actual healing takes place.

She adds that if it it doesn’t work that it doesn’t mean that healing doesn’t work, but that we do it wrong and need to find a right way for it to work, and that we better learn to know how to pray effectively.

How strange it is that people who fear to do this do not hesitate to pray for the most difficult objectives of all, such as the peace of the world or the salvation of their souls! If they have so little confidence in prayer that they do not dare to test their powers of contacting God by praying for an easy thing, it is probable that their cosmic intercessions are of little force. If everyone who prayed for the peace of the world had enough prayer power to accomplish the healing of a head cold, this would be a different world within twenty-four hours.

She does speak about prayer power to accomplish things, but that doesn’t mean that she reduces prayer to a magical power by which Divine power gives us everything we want if we just know how to ask it. There is one small detail that isn’t small after all, and that is that we need to pray according to Gods will:

There is no great mystery concerning the will of God, in so far as it applies to our small selves. God’s will is written into His nature,and the nature of God is love. Therefore, when we pray in accordance with the law of love, we are praying in accordance with the will of God.

It might sound simple, but it isn’t that simple. Elsewhere she really implies in certain places that only living in accordance with ‘the law of love’ keeps us connected to God. Which is not exactly the fluffy new age stuff that some might think she is saying at first glance… Love is foundational to everything she writes and seems to be a reality she’s expecting to manifest in everybodies life. She seems to have had such a lifestyle in which she naturally tried to love all people and God (and even the rest of creation). But that will come back in a later chapter.

So, while it sounds easy to have a method of faith healing based on a ‘scientific’ method and an to us unknown law of nature that can be used if we just know how, it seems that she at least requires 3 things that are easier said than done:

A) connecting the Creator
B) have real and specific faith in healing
C) naturally living a lifestyle based on loving God and our fellow humans…

If you master those things, faith healing is as simple as turning on a radio apparently…

I must say that, even though I have a tiny bit of experience with prayer healing very similar to what she describes, I cannot say how good her method works. I feel not that good at step #1/A, I am more a person who prays ‘if it be your will’ than who has faith for healing to really happen when it comes to #3/B, and while I try, I don’t know if I really can say anything about really living a life of love in C… Maybe a better (wo)man than me could try it for me though.

So what do you people think? A lot of this is very controversial ground, so I’m open to input from all angles except for those who are mocking or engaging in anti-supernatural gaslighting…

Peace

Notes: Some of these quotes might sound like God being an impersonal energy, but in other places she does affirm the personality and will of God. She is not at all pantheist, but she does like the Eastern Orthodox believe in a distinction between the transcendent essence of God and the immanent energies of God, that sustain all of creation.
Her Christianity also shows in the importance she places on the person of Jesus. One of the most quoted parts of the bible in the book is the sermon on the mount, which seems very foundational to her faith -something I do agree with-. She doesn’t mention the cross yet, but later on in a later chapter she’ll develop a theory of atonement in which the cross and resurrection are very important.

The healing light(Agnes Sanford): introduction


51oDtrUSsML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I haven’t been very active here lately, but for those wondering: I do still plan on blogging here more or less regularly this autumn to process my own thoughts about certain subjects. I’ll probably end up writing about very different stuff like I always do, ranging from philosophy and social justice to science and thoughts about God and religion… But since I’m still in the fallout of my year of demodernisation one of the subjects that I want to address more thoroughly is the supernatural in all of its aspects…I have done some explorations of the occult from a Christian point of view already lately, and the next thing to tackle is a subject I’ve avoided for years: faith healing.

The book that I will use to work through for the series is Agnes Sanfords ‘the healing light’ (1947), subtitled ‘the art and the method of spiritual healing’. It’s a thoroughly Christian book if you take the time to really read and digest what she’s saying, even though her wording might seem what ‘new age’ sometimes at first glance. The basic idea of the book is to give a scientific method for faith healing, which to me is a completely weird way of looking at it to begin with. So there’s not only bible stuff but also a theory of Gods healing energy that works like electricity and the way in which our subconscious needs to be re-programmed. But if you read through in the end you get not only a method of faith healing that is ultimately rooted in the radical love described in the sermon on the mount and wouldn’t work without it, but also a very interesting presentation of the gospel of Christ from an unexpected angle, and a whole lot about how destructive sin is and why we need Jesus…

I also struggled with the book exactly because it says some of the same things as some of the the hypercharismaniacs that I have problems with as a Christan, with only some very important details that differ. I think her approach if developed further theoretically might also be useful to make a difference between the unwittingly done human magick that might sometimes replace the works of the Holy Spirit in certain overhyped charismaniac situations.
The most important thing for her is being ‘grounded’ (my term, not hers) in Gods love through Christ. Her ultimate vision is one I share, of a world where the only thing possible is loving God and our fellow humans (and all of creation) with all that we are.

And yet, there still are a lot of things in her writings that I find hard to accept, starting with her scientific approach and treating faith healing like using a law of nature, which actually makes it all the more interesting to work through…

For the more theoretical and philosophical side of the supernatural I’m also reading C.S. Lewis’ ‘miracles’ at the moment, a classic with a lot of wisdom that often sees right through the blind spots of a lot of our contemporary modernist discourse…. I probably will incorporate some thoughts from Lewis too, but I will warn beforehand that the main focus of these series (as all of my writings) will not at all be on proving anything.

As always I do write for everyone who wants to read it, no matter if they’re Christian, Pagan, atheist, Muslim or Zorroastrian, but I want to state clearly that it is not in my intention here on this blog to prove anything, I just want to share what I’m processing to people who are open to my thoughts and experiences. I do have enough experience with the supernatural to never doubt for myself that it is real, but no conclusive proof to convince anyone else, especially one who takes unbelief as an unquestioned starting point. So I will not even go into that kind of discussions, which are generally a big waste of time and energy anyway, and hardly ever convince anyone.

(Note also that antisupernatural gaslighting is forbidden here and will be moderated. Rejecting someones honest experiences as lies and a fraud because they don’t fit in your worldview, or even calling them crazy is strictly prohibited. This is supposed to be a safe space where people of all stripes should be able to share experiences, even if they do not at all in my Christian worldview or that of Mr. Dawkins… )

PS: the book is still in print, but an older edition can be found here.

I hope you’ll enjoy this series

peace

Bram

spiritual warfare against obsolete paradigm fragments?


Foto0067Note beforhand: this is basically a personal story based on my own experiences with enlightenment naturalist fundamentalism as a supernaturally minded Christian, but other totalitarian paradigms ( with Christian fundamentalism in all its forms as another good example, modernist ideologies are often completely absolutitist!) can give roughly the same problems as described here. So I think, if you can pierce through my Christian and esotheric lingo here that any person who’s ever gone through a deep paradigm shift or conversion should be able to get something out of this, and recognise the problem of the old obsolete worldview coming back and trying to invade and subjugate their world again. So bear with me, while this post is mostly my story from a supernaturalist Christian POV, I also will try to find a more general outlook on the subject too that might be helpful for people of completely different persuations…

You’ve all seen my title, which might be one of my weirder and more obscure ones… What on Earth do I mean with a hermetic-sounding title as ‘spiritual warfare against obsolete paradigm fragments’ and why would anyone be interested in it? To explain that I have to tell you a part of my own story but before I start I will give some general notes:
* I use the word paradigm for something like worldview, underlying system of thought through which one sees and interprets the world.
*The paradigm from which I write this myself will be a bit spiritualised, and because it fits my purposes most I might sometimes treat paradigms and thoughtsystems further on as if they were living entities of some sort.(classification somewhere in the order of thoughforms, family of egregores and mass-thoughtforms and probably closely related to illustrous entities as the zeitgeist) You can take that literally if you really want  but it works exactly in the same way if you see it just as a psychological tool to visualise some concepts… I’m completely agnostic on this matter actually…
* I will use the word ‘supernatural’ for things relating to both the Divine Uncreated and the spirit world or anything else beyond what the current consensus of science regards as the laws of nature. This is probably because I’m too lazy to find a more accurate word in the lingo of some weird niche, or maybe because I already have enough of that in my text already…
The supernatural paradigm is this the worldview in which the material world is only one dimension of the actual Reality, with other dimensions including a spiritual dimension to the natural world that are out of reach of our natural senses. I use it quite broadly.

Let’s start the story now…

I grew up as a pentecostal kid in a very secular country, with an awareness of what could be called lazily the supernatural world -even if I hadn’t always been given a very balanced understanding of it in that environment- and have been living in that awareness ever since. This doesn’t mean that I’m a great mystic at all, but throughout my life I have always had my encounters with God, answered prayers and very sporadically other things in the invisible world too. I’ve always known on a deeper plane that the rational that there is a whole invisible dimension to Creation, and an even more grand Uncreated dimension that’s intertwined with the created… And I dare say that just being alive affirms this ‘supernatural paradigm’ every day…

I know that I am in a minority with this outlook in a (post-)modern secular society, and I probably lost a lot of readers with that first paragraph alone… These are things one does not talk about. Some people I know would even suspect that my mental health should be checked after reading such things. (You know, believing in imaginary friends is clearly a mental illness…) So would not even be inaccurate to say that I’m ‘in the closet’ most of the time about this part of my person as an intelligent Westerner in a secular world. Always, from the age of a child on, I’ve known that there was no other option but live counter to the dominant paradigm around me. I’ll always be out of the box…

This might not be that unnatural for a pentecostal kid in a very secular post-Catholic world, although I assume other personalities might find other coping mechanisms than I did… I never had much problems having different paradigms next to each other. Being part of a religious minority that’s virtually unknown to the general public can have that effect on you. And here probably also lies the root of why I am incurably postmodern: There wasn’t much option for me with the personality type that I have to let the worldviews exist next to each other in one way, as different pictures describing the same world while focussing on certain things, but sadly enough ignoring/denying other parts of reality too. None of the paradigms will ever give a complete outlook on the world, they are all like small windows on a bigger landscape…

To continue my story: as a teenager my parents became part of a vineyard churchplant -of which I’m still a part- so I always remained connected to the Christian supernatural paradigm through my church, even though it’s generally not the most energetic charismatic churchon the planet… But late in my teenage years and in my twenties I also started opening my world and reading other branches of Christianity, as well as people of other persuations, later including interreligious dialogue with a lot of interesting and very different people.
It was not just books and people, but from the early 2000’s also the internet even exposed me to more different ideas and traditions. And then suddenly I found myself in the middle of the ’emerging church dialogue’, that gave me words to describe that I was indeed ‘postmodern’. But it lacked greatly on other aspects, like the supernatural dimension of this world, and more than before it opened me up for a more ‘liberal’ Christianity that tended (for me) to synchretise with modernist enlightenment materialism and a more naturalist wordview. With exploring the postmodern side of my faith I opened a door in my Christianity for something completely opposed to it but prevalent in some contemporary versions of it.

At the same time I encountered another paradigm that could never be mine, and one that some people clung to in a very totalitarian way that demanded the rejection of all other paradigms. I’d always lived in a world where the supernatural was ignored or even rejected by the standard paradigm, but the atheism I encountered went much further, and was agressive and totalitarian in a way that reminded me of the fundamentalism in my religion that I had distanced myself from long ago. Using ‘science’ and reason in the same way as ‘the bible’ and very weird things called ‘the bible’ that were actually far-strected interpretations of it on were used in religious fundamentalism, there people wanted atheism to be the only option in the world, and regarded anything that could be seen as supernatural or religious as unscientific, irrational and stuff for people of a lower intelligence. (Very French revolution, but without the guillotines?)

I’ve always found it hard to converse with this kind of people for some reason…

This agressive ‘new atheism’ was too far from my mode of being to ever compel me in the least, but there were other ways in which enlightenment reductionism denying my supernaturalist paradigm sneaked into my religious worldview to open the doors for this mode of thinking. Through the emerging church and other more liberal versions of my faith, and certain people around me or on the internet,  the ‘supernatural’ dimension became more and more disconnected from my operating worldview… even though the world I lived in was still supernatural in practice. In the end it felt a like being sucked down into a paradigm that was never mine to begin with but actively tried to erase certain dimensions from my world… (I do think I have at certain times spent too much time discussing on fora on the internet where a very agressive version of the new atheist ideology hung as a group spirit, trying to push me into a corner until I’d accept that its worldview is the only possible valid one. This probably put some anchors in me for the thing to get a foothold inside of me…)

Now, I want to be very clear that I surely love science and am often fascinated by its findings, and in between its limits science is possibly one of the most efective systems humans have ever created. Learning about science is one of the things I will never stop to do… I also don’t have a problem with people not sharing my religion or not believing in God… But I do have a problem with reductionism, and people who want a world restricted to what they can understand through ‘science’ -and manipulated by technology- while shutting out everything else…  When I read. things (or speak to people) that promote a certain kind of enlightenment-atheist ideology it feels (and this is a weird visualisation probably) like some kind of miasma is sticking to me, trying to get inside of me, numbing some of my unnamed senses and trying to pull me. It’s much more nuanced and less spectacular than what my description  probably sounds like when written down like this, but it’s the best way I can describe it.

There is something very disorienting in an having to fight an agressive paradigm that’s actually already obsolete to you but that is very dominant and seems in a sense completely compelling when exposed to a higher dose of it, even though it actually contradicts the very core of your own being. (Bring in narnia-metaphors… drumroll…) The whole thing itself like saying to Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals will never be able to talk, and insist on a world of non-talking beasts. Or even like the witch with the silver chair, telling the children and the prince that there is no upper world, no sun, no Aslan,.. And so on. It al sounds very ‘reason’able, but if you’d take a step behind and take a deeper view it feels somehow like there is more behind it. The (un)spiritual miasma that sticks to me, and numbs my senses and control what comes in to tha point of only being able to see the world through naturalism/materialism. This is extra weird since that wordview has never been part of my ‘working pantheon of paradigms’ and obsolete to me from the beginning on. Why would it even try to creep in and take over?

So I guess this is where the part of spiritual warfare comes in. No matter if you take this term more literally or as a psychological metaphor, the effect is the same: an invading worldview that you have left behind and don’t want can try to take over your perception of the world, and your modes of thinking. I think it’s important to be aware of  such things, to learn to recognise how it happens, and so be able to stop the attacks…

So this was my  story, which outlined the problem of spiritual warfare against aggressive paradigm fragments in a very specific casus based on my own experience.What we should do now is look at the problem in more general terms, and at possible solutions.

When it comes to the solution I have less experience in succesful overcoming the problem (I’ve only been understanding the problem in these terms for a few days now) so I will be much shorter, -this post is way too long already anyway-:

I’m not that sure I can tell you the best way to fight invading paradigm fragments, but being aware of them is probably the best first step to start with. It’s always much easier to fight something when you’re aware of it than when it want to take you over while you don’t have a clue that anything is happening…

But I used the metaphor of spiritual warfare. Maybe if we are aware of such things it’s not such a bad idea to visualise them as entities trying to invade your inner world and expel them in the name of Jesus, that’s very effective for Christians. People of other spiritual paths can take their own rituals of banishing or expelling.  That’s something that might work for me at least, even though it’s most likely a psychological tool…
(It doesn’t have to be an actual entity to react positively to being sent away in the name of Christ. Sending negative thoughts away in the name of Jesus (or taking them capture in Charismatic lingo) can also be very effective.)

I do think that throughout my text here I already gave the general description of the problem: a paradigm that has been already discarded and has been rendered obsolete, but that nonetheless tries to come back to take over your whole outlook on the world. It could, if it works better for you, also be visualied as a mental computer virus too, that tries to rebuild your whole operating systems from fragments that get inside and reform it according to the will of a very totalitarian tradition.

It is not the case in my example, but if that totalitarian tradition has once been your total worldview the spiritual battle might be a lot harder even. Note that I took a very specific example but that even for me there are other paradigms that try to invade sometimes. I can have the same kind of problems with fragments of other paradigms that make no sense to me at all anymore that come back -the fundie influence on my childhood pentecostalism, the weirdness of Charismatic Christanity- but I rarely encounter those in such a dominant way personally. Another very invasive ideology that seems to want to take over my theology sometimes is a very agressive and  totalitarian form of calvinism that is virulent on the internet…

So, for those still with me here: if any of my readers know of another effective way of expelling or ‘banishing’ paradigm-frangments that keep on sticking to you, trying to invade you again while you know that the paradigm is obsolete, please tell me.

If you find that I’m talking absolute nonsense please ignore me, this is probably not meant for you…

peace

Bram

Conversion


Conversion is more than a change in direction, it’s a change in connection. (Frank Viola & Len Sweet’)

I was recently re-reading the introduction to A Jesus Manifesto jesusmanifestby Frank Viola and Len Sweet, a book that urges Christians to put Christ at the centre of their faith in very powerful language, when my eye fell a sentence which seemed to be filing in a gap in my thoughts somewhere, even though I can’t even exactly say why. But it did remind me that there are much more different factors in conversion than most people think of….

Conversion is more than a change in direction, it’s a change in connection.

Conversion, often simply seen as the change of religion, which can be more accurately be described as the turning towards Something Higher that hadn’t an important place in someones life before, deeply impacts a person, and it does not happen overnight. One does not just become a Christian, or Marxist, or modern Pagan, or very convinced atheist without changes on different levels or domains of their lives.

There are at least 4 different levels that I will explore in this post.
Edit: Note that I’m only talking about the individual level here, and thus about conversion of a human being in one lifetime, not of his family or culture over the generations…. Shifting baseline is a very strong factor here, and things like forced conversions will play out very differently over a longer time and beyond individuals… Even the kakure kirishitans are not recognisable as Catholics anymore…

Intellectual acceptance of information
This is the lowest level of what happens during conversion, and if it happens it’s  not actually a conversion at all yet. Just accepting information as true in the abstract can be a step in a conversion, but it’s not at all the most important thing, even though some atheists and Christian apologists use all their energy to work on this domain. At least that that’s what I would conclude from the way they try to convert people by using a lot of reasoning and logic.(I suppose  personality type is very important here too.)

The issue is that belief and faith are not the same thing at all. Belief is accepting information, while faith is trusting Someone/something. Americans who have faith in the constitution don’t believe that the document exists, but that it is important, and that it should be followed because it will bring liberty for all and yadda yadda… Christians should have faith in God, and thus trust God to take care for them in some kind of way. (See psalm 23 for example) Mere belief in something that goes against the naturalist worldview is not ‘religion’ at all. It is often part of religion, but some people can have just a very intuitive connection to God (or another deity) with no concrete beliefs at all, only a deep natural connection. That’s what faith is, not just ticking the box before every line of the creed…

Acceptance of a Reality in a Paradigm shift
This is a step deeper, and goes beyond the rational to the acceptance of a Reality that is percieved in one way of the other, and thus accepted. Often a paradigm shift happens when the data don’t seem to fit with the beliefs held, and the old worldview is rendered obsolete by the actual world as encountered by the person. This is often not a choice, but a realisation that just needs to be surrendered to.

On the other hand, just accepting a reality does not convert anyone either. I can believe_800happily accept the existence of Loki, fairies, or the information in Marx’ das kapital’ without converting to anything at all. A lot of people believe in God, not just as information but a knowledge of a Reality, without doing anything with it.
That’s no conversion at all yet.
Only if I make a connection and change my life towards one of the things I’ve acknowledged as a reality I really convert myself..

Polytheists are very interesting in this regard. They acknowledge the existence all kinds of gods, but that doesn’t mean that their path involves all of them. The polytheist will have connection with certain gods or deities and not with others that are as real to them, just as a human I do have friendship with certain people and not with others, even though I do completely believe in their existence…

So what’s needed for a real conversion is not just accepting how reality is, but aligning ourselves with that Reality.

Change in direction
So a  change in direction is what is often seen as a definition of conversion. You change your ways, and thus convert. ‘Repent and follow me’ is what Jesus said.
But there is a-one problem: this still can be completely outward, or in other words, fake. One can pretend to convert, and change outward ways without having any conversion at all.

Forced conversions for example are often lacking in this area. People are outwardly converting to the new religion, and become nominal Christians, or Marxists, or Muslims, but in their heart and behind closed door they remain connected to their old gods or God. Crypto-paganism probably lived on underground for centuries after the moment when Christians or Muslims made their religion the State religion.

The same has happened with Christians under rule of other religions that 330px-Maria_Kannonexpected them to convert, sometimes under threat of death too. The Japanese kakure kirishitans are a fascination excample of that: the Japanese Catholic Church went undergound during the Edo period after the Shimabara Rebellion in the 1630s when Catholicism became forbidden, and remained hidden until recent times, slowly evolving to something hardly recognisable.

No-one can really be forced to convert. It’s easier to take someones life than to take away the connection they have with their God in some cases. True believers will keep their connection no matter what happens…

Making a New Connection
Real conversion is also making a New Connection, as Frank Viola and Len Sweet said in the original . Not just an outward change in direction, but an inward change in connection.
We turn away from our former values, and gods, and embrace Something New that will guide our life, and connect with it.
When we become Christians we will from now on follow Christ, make Him the center of our life, and build our life around Him.
Others see that the deep Truth in Marx’ writings calls us to change not only our lives but the world for better. Or or give ourself over to the Higher Truth of science and reason because there’s nothing else to demand our obedience as source and truth. And so on… But it is only when we make the connection to whatever Higher thing we have come to believe in as real, that we really convert…

This does have several implications for us as Christians, as well as for others I suppose…

what do you think?

peace

Bram