Tag Archives: science

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

The power found in the True Language of the Universe…


I know I’ve not been very active lately here on this blog. I’m wrestling with some stuff in and outside of my head -it’s not because it’s in my head that it isn’t real…- and though I do have a lot of unfinished posts on various subjects that will hopefully be finished and posted one day although a lot of them might see the light, I’m quite unsure about what to write at the moment. This post is another impulsive train of thought that just needed to be written down, and it does most probably fit somewhere in my demodersiation-project.

As some people kearthseanow already, I’m an enthusiastic reader of fantasy and scifi and likewise books, so after re-reading some Narnia, LOTR, and a few Terry Prachett books late last year I’m currently (re)reading Ursula Le Guins Earthsea series. I do say (re)reading because I’ve only been reading the first 4 ones before, and now I’ve also reading the collection of short stories called ‘tales from Earthsea’, and the last novel ‘the other wind’. It’s both interesting and challenging to me that the worldview in those books is sometimes much further away from mine. LOTR, Narnia, and even Harry Potter (indeed, Harry Potter) do have a pretty Christian background-worldview, while Earthsea seems to have some taoist and pagan (Native American?) concepts incorporated that are further away from my own thinking, with sometimes concepts and philosophies that I can’t agree with, but still very interesting to think about.

For this post there is just one idea I want to touch upon, which is the background behind the magic in Earthsea but also interesting outside of that context: the power of the old speach, which is the language of the making of the world. For those unfamiliar with the books: the world of Earthsea is created by some creator being name Segoy, more specifically it is called into being using that ‘true speech’. (There is a parallel with Christian thought here, but also differences: the world is called into being by the word of a creator as in genesis, though not ex nihilo, nor is the creator very active in the world anymore. So maybe there’ a more deist touch here even…) Wizards in Earthsea still use this very language of old speech since it is very powerful, if you do know the ‘real name’ of something (or someone) you have power over it. It is sort of the language underneath the universe of Earthsea.

Now outside of those books, the idea is still a very interesting one, and, dare I say, important one: If you know the language of creation, the language by which the world was made, and can speak it, you have power over the world.

I don’t think that true name magic is very original, nor do I expect Le Guin to claim that it is a new idea. Ideas like this do exist in a lot of cultures and more ‘magical’ thought (it’s behind the idea of most ‘spells’), but in a way the same idea also lies underneath modern science. We just don’t expect that language by which the world is made to be an actual language with words.

einsteinLet me explain what I mean with that: We modern people describe the world in formula and theories, looking for the ‘true name’ of things in the abstract language of mathematical equations and weird symbols, so we can not just explain the world around us, but also have power over it. We can visualise how an atom looks, and split it, either to make energy and electricity, or to make one of the most abominable weapons ever. We can unravel the language of DNA, and not just to find out how certain characteristics are coded in our genes, but also to alter organisms.

If you learn the language of the making of the universe, which is the same language the universe still speaks, you sometimes can control it. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of scientists are still looking for the ultimate formula that describes everything. We want to unravel the code in which the universe is programmed, so we can be able to re-program it in our own taste… Which is still the same goal that any serious magician had. I’ve said before that science and magic are like twins in a way.

And yes, it is true that to do anything at all, you need to understand the way the world works, learn the language, and submit to it. It is in submission to the rules of the language of the world that we can gain power over it, not just by writing symbols on a board. By submitting to the rules of the grammar of creation we can make the word submit. And as humans we do want this to be absolute. But the question here is ‘can we?’? I do find the modern idea that the universe can be completely understood ‘rationally’ in our terms, in our language and abstract system, to be naive hubris at least.

Now, science is only one attempt to try this, and one that is very useful in one area (the visible, material part of the world), but there are more dialects of the true language of the universe that the universe speaks, and though magic might not be in vogue in the high places nowadays (although our technology can be more evil than a lot of dark magic), there are working systems of magic that have found bits of the language to the universe useful to exercise power. (Chaos magic can be quite effective in the right (?) hands I think for example, if we get outside of the realm of more traditional occult magic(k) )

Let me note here that religion can probably be viewed in similar ways, but with a big difference: the ‘control’ part on our side should be absent for healthy religion, lest we fall back into some form of magic. This is often the case though, and not just in pagan systems, but also in some parts of Christianity. But that would be one more adventure in missing the point. We can use the language of the world (insofar we decipher it) to be able to understand and master nature, but we can only learn to speak the language of God (or the tao, or the order of the universe, depending on your tradition) in order to align ourselves more with Him. But we can’t put the Source of Being in our pocket or use it as a pet hawk to catch the hare we want to eat for Christmas…

In the end we are part of a bigger whole. We humans are not to be masters of the universe. We are almost gods maybe (see psalm 8 in the bible), but we never will be gods. We didn’t make this place, and didn’t invent the rules that were written in all of creation…

So we can try to learn to understand the language of the universe (in part, and in our fallible human way) but we will never be God, never be the Source of being, and in the end we will always be answerable to the Ultimate Source of Being.

(And as a Christian I must add that, while it is impossible for a human to really learn ‘the language of God’, it actually works the other way. God came down and learnt to speak our language, and became human in the person of Jesus. This is the opposite of all our power games. God did not come to make us submit in that way of power, He came as we are. See also this post)

Peace

Bram

C.S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, and science and magic as twins


CSLewis_PipeYesterday I came onto this blog post, in which Ayn Rands marginal notes are quoted like  she has scribbled them into C.S. Lewis book ‘the abolition of man’, a book that I’ve read several times in my life. As someone who knows the ideas of this book, I was quite surprised not only by the vitriol of her comments, but also by how irrelevant some of them are to the text they’re criticising. Update: the complete marginal notes from Rand can be found here (thank you Arend Smilde for the link)

For those who don’t know the book (which can be read online here): Lewis is mostly known for his Christian books, but this is a more a philosophical book that’s actually not particularly Christian. The main point of the book is 2-fold: First there is an Orwellian critique to the modernist project of man conquering nature, in which Lewis states that the final step of this conquering will be ultimately self-defeating on the part of man. The second point is that there is a more or less absolute set of values inherent to this world, which he calls the tao,  with a word borrowed from Eastern philosophy, of which all meaningful human values in all cultures are derived. I do not agree with every detail, and I don’t get more than half of his references, but  I’ve always found the basic ideas of the book, and it’s critique to modernism, quite compelling. (But you need to read the whole book to understand his conclusions, including some weird parts that are hard to read.)

(I also have the idea that some of her remarks about middle ages and the renaissance would not have been made if her issue of the book would have included, like the Dutch version does,  De despcriptione temporum, his inaugural lecture from the chair of mediaeval and renaissance literature at Cambridge University (1954).)

One of the things Rand reacts quite strongly to is the idea that magic and modern science are related:

The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

Lewis as a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature (see also the ‘de descfriptione  temporum’ text I’ve linked to) knows what he is talking about, and anyone who knows something about the life of Isaac Newton for example, who was both a scientist and an alchemist who did weird studies in the occult (and a Christian who wrote bible commentaries)  should know what he’s talking about. Newton can indeed be considered as one of the last great Western magicians as well as one of the first great scientists…

Very important here is what Lewis means with the words science and magic. Both are not means of mere knowledge for him, but of power, power over reality, including power of the one who has it over other humans. Magic is a way to get power using the supernatural, science (and technology) is a way to get power using the natural world. Note also that ‘magic’ as used here is the opposite of astrology, which has the purpose of conforming to the influences of the stars and the supernatural!

Lewis himself does not deny the existence of science as a search for knowledge, and indeed explicitly notes that there are scientists who are seeking for pure knowledge, but that’s not the goal of most applied science both in the 16th century and the momdern time, which shares indeed the goal of magic: to subdue reality to the wishes of men.

I don’t think Lewis would say that this is always a problem, he’s not a luddite and used technology himself, and never rejects it. But what he wants to show us is a dark side that is inherent to modern (applied) science. A dark side that might remind us to the lie of the snake, that told the first couple that they would be like God.

And indeed, science has been used for ‘playing God, and abused in a lot of abominable ways to get power, not only over nature, but also over other humans. Most science nowadays is subdued not to those who want pure knowledge, but to those who want power and money.  This is how we came to have the atom bomb, genetically engineered crops that are very handy in making multinationals richer, etc, (While some other scientific fields not useful for securing power and money are underfunded!)

So what happened to magic? It lost because it didn’t seem to work the way science worked, and was pushed out of the modern worldview which became more and more hermetically naturalistic. But its goal is still the same goal of a lot of modern science.

The point of self-control to be able to conform ourself to reality is also something we should not forget. We are not the creators of the universe, and there are things higher than us we should conform to, like certain laws of nature. I do not mean this deterministically, we should not let every thing we meet rule over us, man is indeed able to fight back when reality is hostile and evil, but we moderns should not forget that we can never be free without self-control

what do you people think?

peace

Bram

Mammoths, speed-evolution, and the Ark of Noah…


Let me start by saying that I don’t have any problem with Christians believing in either 6-day-creation or evolutionary creation, even though I might have a problem with making ‘isms’ out of this kind of ideas. My own position is that the Creation of the world is bigger than what we can investigate scientifically, and that we’ll never know all of the story, no matter how long we dig and measure and theorise, since the visible is not made out of what we can percieve, to paraphrase the letter to the Hebrews. That said I do tend to be convinced by an older earth, and by the general idea of evolution, but the most important thing is to acknowlegde that God is the creator… In the end all our theories about how He did create the world are probably cute and funny to Him, but not really to the point…

A problem can exist when people do have to believe a certain position on this subject to not be dismissed as either a false or at least compromising Christian (with the fundamentalist side) or a dumb idiot that cannot be taken seriously (the liberal side), and I see both of these on the internet all the time… Indeed, the problem is that there is a form of 6-days-creationism that runs rampant on the internet, which isn’t only rigily exclusive (all other views are heretical and make the bible worthless!) as scientifically completely nonsense for people who have done more studies than a simple secondary school curriculum… So people encountering this view might dismiss christianity completely, and I would do the same if let’s say Ken Ham or Doctor Dino would be able to prove me that his view was the right Christianity. I would just not at all be interested in Christianity… And it would have nothing to do with Christ… (Christ Himself should be the reason to accept or reject Christianity. All in Christianity should lead towards Him)

I once had an online discussion with a guy who was a strong believer in a very rigid form of 6-day-creationism. Unlike the view I had a teenager, which believed in an earth of at least 12.000 years, he believed in an earth of approximately 6.000 years. And he surely would have seen my former creationism model as compromised and not biblical, even though it was much more scientifically convincing, let alone more coherent. Which his model wasn’t if we went into details.

One funny discussion we had was about mammoths. As everybody knows, the Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenus) is a hairy elephant which roamed most of the northern hemisphere, and of which a lot of fossils (and even intact frozen specimens) have been found. But somehow the species dissapeared, and now we don’t have any of those hanging around anymore…

In his view the earth had to be completely repopulated with animals and humans after the great flood, some 4000 years ago. And all the mammoths are too recent to be from before the flood, so they are from after the flood.

Especially because, according to a view that some call baraminology, all elephants come from one pair of proto-elephants on the ark. Including the woolly mammoth. Noah did not have much place to put more pairs of elephantids on the ark anyway, and anyway mammoths are actually closer related to the Indian elephant than the 2 living species of African elephants are… (if one can believe phylogenetics, a field of science that is not epmloyed much in the strict creationist camp)

In his time table, the ‘ice age’ was shortly after the flood. And the mammoths were wiped away by the ice age…

Now there are 2 problems:

first there is the problem that it takes a lot of time to fill the Northern hemisphere with mammoths. Elephants are slow breeding animals. To think that they would fill 3 continents in a few hundreds of years, and then all die out because of a climate change is quite extra-ordinary in my view.  Anyone who knows about population statistics will agree with me…

The second problem is the problem of micro/macro-evolution. According to baraminology God created the animals all ‘after its kind’, which later ‘evolved’ into a broader group of species. So a doglike animal would be the forefather of all dogs, wolves and jackals (and foxes?), just like the proto-horse would be the forefather of all of the Equus genus: horses, asses, zebra’s and probly the now-extinct 3-toed fossil specied too… Likewise all elephants are considered to be of one baramin. (the word itself is bad use of Hebrew) So the proto-elephant pair that came from the ark must have evolved really fast in Indian and African elephants, and our Woolly mammoths… So this kind of ‘micro-evolution’ must have gone really really fast just after the flood…

In the end the one pair of proto-elephants from the ark had to evolve really fast in the different species, of which the mammoths had to spread to almost everywhere on the northern hemisphere… And they had to fill those 3 continents, just to die out, and all of that in a few hundreds of years…

I have no idea how he’d explain the numerous exctinct elephantids that are known to man. Except with a theory that ‘micro’evolution happened very fast before and just after the flood, but for some reason slowed down a lot after that… And then the whole theorie sometimes seems to hang on the impossibility of macro-evolution…

All I can say is that I’m glad that my faith does not depend on this kind of weird theories…

shalom

Bram

‘Jesus, the translation of the Ununderstandable Source of Everything’


This blog post is just a rant based on parts of a facebook discussion in which I took part. It’s my way of explaining my faith against ‘scientific’ enlightenment thought, to people rejecting ‘Christianity’ for various reasons, while what they rejected would be something I wouldn’t be that interested in either…

The discussion started with me rejecting the ‘god of the gaps idea’, or something like the idea that ‘God’ is just a hypothesis to explain everything that can not yet be explained by science. I used a lot of words, and pictures that are not part of standard evangelical lingo at all…

A ‘God of the gaps’ is in no way what faith is. Faith is not an obsolete older way to come to the same things as science does now! If that’s the way you look at faith you’re like a deaf man trying to understand an orchestra … There’s no gap to be filled, because the goal is not at all (like in a modern woldview) to be able to describe everyting in an systemathic and abstract way, as if that in any way helps us really understand the world. Facts are the lowest form of truth. A scientific investigation of the world might be able to decribe it and anaylyse it, but it will never get to the core of it.

No, firstly the orchestra isn’t human and part of our dimension system, and the sheet music is not written down in a way we can understand, nor can we ever obtain it, or could we read it if we’d be able to get it. Sure, we can transcibe it like we hear it ourselves, in our own notations (missing a lot of nuances that we might not even hear) and those transcriptions can be good enough to enable us to manipulate the world around us for good (medicine for example) or for bad (atomic bombs, agent orange, …) but whatever our transcriptions, they are only our ways of making sense of our world. Faith has nothing to do with dissecting the music in our metaphor, but with listening to it and let it fill our beings. Fine if you want just a transcription in a human notation system, but that’ll never be the music, and a deaf man investigating the music that way will never get the point of what the music is, not even with the best sheet music transcription… His ears have to be opened.

So let’s move from general religion to Christianity: And as a Christian I do believe that the ‘Ununderstandable’, that also lies at the beginning of everything, has revealed something of itself in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s an accomodation, a translation of that ‘Ununderstandable’ (or God) in a way we can understand enough as human beings for us to connect with it. And I trust the gospel books of the New Testament, I have no problems at all with stories of miracles and the resurrection, even if some details in the stories are not corresponding I don’t see why it would mean that supernatural stories are untrue. Those details are not the point. The bible is there to teach us about God, and to bring us to God in the first place, not about giving us modern science or historical details. It’s usable for liturgt, meditation, whatever. If we can’t see what the facts are pointing too, we’re missing everything…

My own faith is grounded in something that is for me more substantial than any intellectual claim can be, something that has touched me and that won’t let go of me. Even if I know that all of our traditions are full of errors, and that some deviations are more than toxic (and it seems you’ve been hurt by some toxic expressions of Christianity) but that’s not the point. Our traditions are all man-made and fallible, but drop of Truth in them comes from God. (If there’s some left, your TV-preachers may just be like the light of a deepsea devilfish that’s attracting other fishes with his deceptive light to devour them. Any creature that has seen the sun will never be fooled by such monster)

But I just want to say that the substantial reason why I still believe is something beyond reason and intellect, maybe more mystical or existential, I don’t know. I just know that this Truth is more than anything else in this world… And I’m not saying to remove the intellect, but there are places in faith that have to go beyond intellect. But going beyond does not mean abandoning, but take it to it’ss fullest and then go further… But in the end we have to accept the Mystery, and the fact (hmm) that Truth is something that goes far beyond our intellect (or feelings)

You say that only the ‘Lucky ones’ are chosen to be saved, and the others not. Indeed, Christ called some disciples, but the ‘lucky ones’ who know Christ are not just saved for the sake of ‘being saved’, but to bring that salvation to the whole rest of creation. And what they had to share was not just mere ‘knowledge’, but the Way of life. (Christians were first called ‘people of the way’) The idea of secret knowledgde without application is alien to any non-Western human anyway…

Being ‘saved’ is being reconciled (yes, the bible speaks not only of getting saved as a point, but also of being saved as a process) to God, to ourselves, to our fellow humans and the rest of creation. That is the Kingdom of God Jesus announced, in which our human ideas of Power and domination are reversed. The cross, a low and even obscene death in which evil, sin, and death were defeated is also an example of this. Not by power but by self-giving. If Jesus is the ‘human translation’ of the Unknowable source of all things to us, and the idea is that He must be proclaimed to the whole of creation, then there’s no secret message at all. At least, it is intended to be heard by everyone… And in the end it will be heard by everyone, when in the New Heaven and the New Earth everything evil will be no more, and all will be made whole again and reconciled with Him.

To “not believe” makes you reject that reconciliation with the Source of all life… You don’t want it, and so you won’t get it. That why they ‘are already condemned’. Jesus did not come to condemn them, but to save them. The wages of sin (missing the mark, doing what’s wrong,…) are death, not becuse God punishes us with death for it, but because it naturally leads to death. We become cut off from the Source of all life, and we might become something that is not able to stand the Light and Holiness of Gods undiluted presence.

I guess this explanation also shows us the impotence of a lot of christianity: it is indeed reduced to ‘secret knowledge’ one has to believe in to ‘be saved’, but that does not at all transform people, does not fill them with self-giving love and a life reconciled to God and all of creation, that does not bring on a breaking in of the Kingdom of God into this present time… Which is a sad thing. I don’t know who ever said that we are vaccinating the world with a lifeless version of Christianity, and sometimes I’m affraid that’s painfully true…

So, what do you think of my wording? Where am I off? What am I missing? Or am I just a heretic? Does it make sense at all?

shalom

Bram

The emmancipation of myth as a truer form of truth, and Truth beyond theory…


So here we go again with my weird rants, that might irritate some people.

Jason Coker on the pastoralia blog has a very interesting post called ‘the Lords prayer as a political manifesto‘. It’s about a very important subject that I’m struggling with myself at the moment, but I’m not going to repeat his point, you’ll have to read it for yourself (you really should!)

What I want to discuss is (in my opinion) probably one of his most controversial paragraphs up to date, at least from a more or less evangelical point of view.

It’s time to grow up. As long as the religious concept of evil remains limited to the personification of a mythical creature and our ability to imagine better possibilities remains limited to a mythical place, we will be forever relegated to the individualized realm of dualistic pietism.

We must follow Christ and the prophets in moving beyond our childish metaphors and concretely name evil for what it really is – starvation, exploitation, exclusion, vengeance, violence, and the like – so we can name goodness for what it really is: equality, provision, peace, and so forth.

My first reaction is one of protest. Calling satan a mythical creature and heaven a mythical place at first sounds like some kind of liberal theology that tries to do away with all things supernatural. But maybe that’s just how my modern bias tends to read it.

The use of the word ‘mythical’ here is interesting, because in a modern discourse its use would mean something negative. But that’s not the case, as Jason makes clear in the comments in an answer to his use on the ‘m-word’:

Well that’s a big question, but a fair one since I’m the one that dropped the m-word. I have no problem with the idea of realms of existence beyond our field of perception. Such a thing has already been demonstrated in theory by physicists.

However, I think we actually know almost nothing about that sort of reality. Moreover, I think the Bible communicates about those realities along the continuum of myth and folklore – which is not a bad thing, in my opinion, as long as you don’t confuse myth and folklore with objective facts. In other words, I think those stories represent real knowledge…just not the kind of knowledge we wanted it to be in the Modern age.

Especially with the note of Jamie Arpin-Ricci that “mythical” does not equal “fictional” and that Something can be mythical and still be true, I think this is a very important discussion. Tolkien and Lewis already spoke of Jesus as ‘true myth’, but I think it’s time to stop the pejorative use of words like myth, or even fable. (And I’m also talking here to people who use ‘myth’ as a synonym for ‘lie’ as Greg Boyd does in book titles as ‘the myth of a Christian nation’ and ‘the myth of a Christian religion’)

We cannot describe everything in modern categories of scientific knowledge… The fact is, that some of the most important things are far beyond fact and measurement. Creation, atonement, the nature of God, the nature of evil and the powers, the Kingdom in its full realisation/heaven, the final judgement, etc… are all things that are too big too describe with our language and the concepts we know from this world. We need to use methaphor and -yes- myth, because our modern conceptions of absolute truth are inaccurate. This is where Derrida and the medieval mystics meet: language nor science could ever descibe those things. Not because they’re not true, but because they’re more true than our so-called ‘scientific’ knowledge…

So all our methaphors fail. All our ways of decribing and imagining fail too, and indeed, if we think that our litteralised methaphorical stories about satan and heaven are all there is to say, we miss a lot. We cannot speak about these things with more scientifically accurate precision than my pet mice can speak about the openoffice program I’m using.

So what I’m advocating is the opposite of the modern ‘liberal’ idea that discards anything that’s non-scientific. Myth, methaphor and parable are the only ways to speak about the things that are most real! And still it’s not at all about speaking of those things, but about living the Life, and letting Christ transform us. Knowledge, be it scientific or mythologic, is not what saves us, except when we are gnostics maybe, but in reality it can only describe things.

If all we have is a faith in theory, we only have faith in theory, and are left with nothing. I am reminded here of the words of a bend from Antwerp called ‘think of one’ who sing ‘tzen gien fabels ginen thejorie’ (‘it’s no fable, and no theory’) in our beautiful dialect, which in turn reminds me of the working class people I’ve worked with. They used the word theory in a pejorative way, and did not believe that anything mattered that could not be used practically… If we don’t have the life of the resurrection in us, what use is there in all our theology?

So myth can be the only way to communicate something that’s truer than any scientific language can contain, and yet truth that’s not incarnated into our lives is not of worth…

Does any of this make sense?

Shalom

Bram