Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Training the Mind:

Newsweek has an interesting article showing Sam Harris to be more religious than you'd expect. I remember, a little while back, a few of his right wing Christian critics uncovered his affinity for Eastern philosophy, suggesting him a hypocrite or fraud. I'm not so sure; Harris may be a defacto Buddhist which is not inconsistent with atheism, or atheistic rationalism.

This passage on Harris' approach to the mind interests me on a personal level:

Harris says he became interested in spiritual and philosophical questions while an undergraduate at Stanford University. At 18, he experimented with the drug ecstasy and was struck by the possibility that the human mind—his own mind—might be able to achieve a state of loving unselfishness without the help of drugs. So he left college and traveled to India and Nepal, where he studied with Hindu and Buddhist teachers who could help him attain a kind of peace and selflessness through meditation. Over the next 10 years, he read religion and philosophy on his own and spent weeks and months—adding up to two years—in silent retreat.

He finally returned to Stanford to complete a philosophy degree. Though he prefers the Eastern mystics, he sees some wisdom in the Western mystical tradition as well. “If I open a page of [the 13th-century Christian mystic] Meister Eckhart, I often know what he’s talking about.” Harris pursued a doctorate in neuroscience because he hoped science would give him the tools to rationally explore human experience.

Harris’s true obsession, then, is not God but consciousness, the idea that the human mind can be taught—trained, rationally—to be more loving, more generous, less egocentric than it is in its natural state. And though he knows that he can sound like a person who believes in God, he thinks that God is the wrong word to describe his beliefs.

I'm interested in the ability of adults to retrain their mind. Contrary to a line of thought popular among various Enlightenment philosophers, the mind, especially the adult mind, seems hard wired at an early age, not of infinite plasticity.

"Why is he that way? Why does he say and do those things?" "That's the way he's always been and probably always will be."

The mind of a child certainly seems more plastic. Think of how easier and more natural it is for children to learn languages than adults. That might be the proper analogy; adults can change the way they think and in turn how they feel and behave, boost their IQs, unlearn their neuroses; but it may be akin to learning and mastering a new language. Not easy for adults. How many folks have the will and discipline to stick with it?

Or perhaps once one has the discipline to break through an initial rut -- indeed a mind lock that can last decades -- it's smooth sailing from then on.

I doubt the ability of psychiatry to change people without chemicals; psychotropic drugs like SSRIs seem more effective or at least easier for most folks in a rut.

A good talk therapist, to me, seems not much different, in principle, from a good bartender. Though I have been admonished to check the claims of the cognitive emotive therapists.

And there is a guy named Dr. John Sarno whose theories seem enticing. A lot of self help, psychology and psychiatry is pseudo-religious woo woo (as Michael Shermer has termed Deepak Chopra's excesses). I'm looking for something serious beneath the woo. I want something that has credibility with hard nosed skeptics, not likely to be swept up in a con. And philosophical literature that is not "light weight." Chopra and the Mararishi Mahesh Yogi, I've heard, are like the Joel Osteens of Hindu/Eastern philosophy. There are more serious sources to the ideas they sell for which Western audiences seem to have an appetite.

But what intrigues me about Dr. Sarno is that his methods have actually worked on a number of famous people -- indeed no dummies -- with hard nosed skeptical kind of minds. Two names are John Stossel and Howard Stern. And when I say "worked," I mean something objective and verifiable, not, "oh he makes me feel better." Dr. Sarno cures middle aged folks of crippling, chronic back pain and shows them it's all in their head. Not just a little pain, but pain so severe it reduces patients to wheelchairs, and for which MDs have suggested operations.

Anyway, something about meditation -- the various kinds -- seems, if not extremely helpful, key to this kind of mind retraining. And it's something that needs to be done religiously, two three times a day, everyday. Like the person who physically exercises religiously five times a week, it's not easy. Or at least not seemingly, at first, easy, rather something that takes discipline.

But I've heard, once in the zone, it's effortless.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is the DOI a “Christian” Document?

That's the title to my latest post at LoOG.

I referenced the following article by Peter Lawler at Postmodern Conservative.

Here is a comment I left at that blog:

... I would add J. Adams in with Jefferson and Franklin. Adams may have been culturally more Calvinistic than the other two, but theologically he was at home with Jefferson and Franklin.

And the the latter two were not "deistic," but seemed to believe in a God every bit as "theistic" as John Adams'. The "Deists" of the day (Paine, et al.) did dig the term "Nature's God," so that point is valid. The DOI attempts to unite Deists, Unitarians and orthodox Christians, each of whom hold certain theological positions that contradict the other.

Those are the perils of America's Founding civil religion and trying to claim it for yourself. There is a little bit of it for everyone, and a little bit for no one.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I wanted to write a follow up to Mr. Ridgely's post about meaning of terms as it relates to the Christian Nation controversy. When I first began this inquiry about seven years ago, I assumed -- wrongly -- that most America's Founders were strict deists and would not have considered themselves Christians.

I found out they were more theistic and many of these "deists" -- notably Thomas Jefferson -- thought of themselves as "Christians" in some sense. But also that many rejected (either explicitly or implicitly with their silence) orthodox Trinitarian minimums that CS Lewis would say make up "mere Christianity." Therefore, they weren't "Christians."

I used that as the normative definition of "Christianity" while not being much of a believer myself because it helped refute the "Christian America" thesis.

I began to rethink whether I, as a non-believer, should be personally terming someone not a Christian when they called themselves one, after a number of dialogs with interlocutors. One of them was Eric Alan Isaacson a prominent attorney and Unitarian-Universalist. He wrote to me:

Hi Jonathan,

I’m troubled by those who insist that only people who believe in one way can be “true Christians.” If Mormons consider themselves followers of Jesus, that’s good enough for me to regard them as Christians. If Trinitarian Evangelicals regard themselves as followers of Jesus, I’ll consider them Christians too — even though, so far as I can tell, Jesus never claimed to be God.

If someone like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley honored Jesus and endeavored to follow his teachings, they should not be denied the name “Christian” merely because others who claim that name have embraced any number of extra-biblical doctrines.

I’ve heard Catholics occasionally say that theirs is the only “true church,” suggesting perhaps that Protestants are not truly Christians. I’ve heard Protestant preachers denounce the Pope as the Anti-Christ, insisting that Catholics can’t be true Christians because they follow the Pope rather than Christ.

I must confess, such attitudes offend my sensibilities.

And yet, I find you, an open-minded and liberal chap, adopting the same stance, and suggesting that Unitarians and Mormons can’t be Christians.

I am reminded, quite frankly, of how New Hampshire’s Supreme Court ruled in 1868 the Dover, New Hampshire, First Unitarian Society of Christians’ chosen minister — the Rev. Francis Ellingwood Abbot — was insufficiently “Christian” to serve the Congregation that had called him. Justice Jonathan Everett Sargent’s opinion for the court quoted passages from Abbot’s sermons, to show that the minister was too open-minded to serve his congregation.

The Rev. Abbot, after all, had once preached:

“Whoever has been so fired in his own spirit by the overwhelming thought of the Divine Being as to kindle the flames in the hearts of his fellow men, whether Confucius, or Zoroaster, or Moses, or Jesus, or Mohammed, has proved himself to be a prophet of the living God; and thus every great historic religion dates from a genuine inspiration by the Eternal Spirit.”

In another sermon, Rev. Abbot even declared:

“America is every whit as sacred as Judea. God is as near to you and to me, as ever he was to Moses, to Jesus, or to Paul. Wherever a human soul is born into the love of truth and high virtue, there is the ‘Holy Land.’ Wherever a human soul has uttered its sincere and brave faith in the Divine, and thus bequeathed to us the legacy of inspired words, there is the ‘Holy Bible.’”

“If Protestantism would include Mr. Abbot in this case,” Justice Sargent opined for New Hampshire’s highest court, “it would of course include Thomas Jefferson, and by the same rule also Thomas Paine, whom Gov. Plumer of New Hampshire called ‘that outrageous blasphemer,’ that ‘infamous blasphemer,’ ‘that miscreant Paine,’ whose ‘Age of Reason’ Plumer had read ‘with unqualified disapprobation of its tone and temper, its course vulgarity, and its unfair appeals to the passions and prejudices of his readers.’”

Hale v. Everett, 53 N.H. 9, 16 Am. Rep. 82, 1868 N.H. LEXIS 47 (1868). See Charles B. Kinney, Jr., Church & State: The Struggle for Separation in New Hampshire, 1630-1900 113 (New York: Teachers College, Columbia Univ., 1955) (“One of the more celebrated cases in New Hampshire jurisprudence is that of Hale versus Everett.”); Carl H. Esbeck, Dissent and Disestablishment: The Church-State Settlement in the Early American Republic, 2004 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 1385, 1534 n.541 (“As late as 1868, the state supreme court decided that a Unitarian minister would not be allowed to use the town meeting house because of his heterodoxy, and in spite of being called and settled by a majority of the community.”).

You might suppose that being run out of the pulpit would sour the Rev. Abbot in his attitudes toward those who thought themselves more orthodox than he was. You would be wrong. Abbot went on to edit The Index, and on his retirement from that position in 1880 addressed those who gathered in his honor: “I know we are here Unitarians and Non-Unitarians, and I rejoice to stand with Christians, with Catholic and Protestant Christians alike, for justice and purity; and I will always do so. These things are more important than our little differences of theological opinion.” Farewell Dinner to Francis Ellingwood Abbot, on Retiring from the Editorship of “The Index” 14 (Boston: George H. Ellis, 1880) (remarks of Rev. Abbot, June 24, 1880).

It may be noted that Frederick Douglass praised Rev. Abbot for doing “much to break the fetters of religious superstition, for which he is entitled to gratitude.” Farewell Dinner, supra, at p. 48 (letter of June 15, 1880, from Frederick Douglass to the Rev. M.J. Savage).

I think it a tremendous mistake, Jonathan, for you to side with the likes of Justice Sargent, who think they are entitled to determine who can, and who cannot, be called a true “Christian.” In truth, Justice Sargent may have been somewhat more liberal in his attitudes than you are – for he and the New Hampshire Supreme Court at least accepted the notion that one can be a genuine Unitarian Christian, even as they ruled that Rev. Abbot was far too unorthodox even to preach in a Unitarian church.

Peace be with you!

Eric Alan Isaacson

So, for personal reasons, if someone calls themselves "Christian" whether they are the Pope, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, President Obama, Bishop Spong, a Mormon or even an atheist who considers himself "Christian," they are one.

But not everyone views things that way. The Christian Nationalists certainly don't. That's why we need clarity and working definitions. We need "ifs." For instance, pay attention to historian Paul F. Boller's "if" when summarizing George Washington's faith:

[I]f to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and his atonement for the sins of man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper are requisites for the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence which we have examined, can hardly be considered a Christian, except in the most nominal sense.

-- George Washington & Religion, p. 90.
Sunday Morning Thought:

There are many arguments against gay marriage, some harder to deal with than others. One that strikes me extremely shallow is gays already have an equal right to marry -- someone of the opposite sex.

If the person making this argument is a non-Catholic (or natural law) believing religious conservative I might ask do you really think it's a good idea for a person fully or predominantly attracted to the same sex to be in a marriage with someone of the opposite sex. Ladies, do you really want to be married to a man who is more attracted to other men than he is to you?

Such marriages do exist and produce offspring. And that leads me to the Roman Catholic (or technically, natural law based on universal principles applicable to everyone) argument.

As I understand this teaching on marriage -- indeed explained to me personally by Robert P. George, about as high an authority on the teaching as it gets -- sex must be both procreative and unitive. Prof. George explained to me that Henry VIII’s marriage where he truly did not seek to unite with his wife, but rather used her in an instrumental sense to sire an heir was not valid under this theory.

Well, all of the homosexual men who are engaged in heterosexual marriages — indeed oft-having kids from those relationships — are the quintessential “instrumental” uses of procreative sexuality and hence are in relations that are no more “marital” than Henry VIII’s was.

Accordingly, homosexuals are not qualified for heterosexual marriages. Therefore they have no equal right -- at least no equal natural right -- to marry someone of the opposite sex.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rush Limbaugh on the Other Hand:

Doesn't do as well as Norman Finkelstein in dealing with the "argument from emotion," at least not at that point in his life.

I've Never Been in a Crowd Like This, They're Nuts:

This post is not about my opinion on the Israel-Palestine issue. My ideal solution -- a secular pluralistic one state solution where Jews and Palestinians get equal rights of citizenship, and in turn there is NO SHARIA, that Palestinians respect the liberty, equality and property rights of, for instance, the gay bars in Israel -- is probably unworkable. And I have no idea what to do on the competing real estate claims.

I'm actually more interested in the public debate -- how to deal with someone who tries the "argument from tears" -- angle. There is another amusing video with Norman Finkelstein where he accused Alan Dershowitz, to his face, of being a plagiarist during a debate. Dershowitz is a big boy and can well handle himself; he's not someone against whom you take off your white glove and slap without expecting full fury in return. Dershowitz hit back hard and is arguably responsible for Finkelstein being refused tenure at DePaul (though they deny AD played a key role).

But as Nietzsche says, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. When one emerges through battles like that, it shows in rhetorical debates. Finkelstein makes this poor girl's head explode.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Comparing the Faiths of Presidents Washington and Obama:

In my last post I noted, provocatively, that there is more evidence for President Obama's "mere Christianity," than for Washington's.

A commenter challenged me with Peter Lillback's "George Washington's Sacred Fire." I've read the book in meticulous detail (all 1200 pages of it). The blog "Religion in American History," run by college prof. historians, asked me to review the book which I did here. I also reproduced the review at GWSF's Amazon page.

I'll let you read from those links my scholarly attack on why I think GWSF fails to prove GW a "mere Christian." (A "mere Christian" is synonymous with am orthodox Trinitarian.)

The larger story of interest for many may be Glenn Beck's role in publicizing the book. I got the book when it came out in 2006 and began blogging about it. I don't know the exact numbers of its original run; I seem to remember it doing well with the "Christian America" crowd (WorldNetDaily et al.). Yet, I never saw it at my local Borders until Beck promoted it.

From Beck's radio show May 19, 2010:

BECK: Yesterday, it was like 475,000 on Amazon.com. I think it was two or three when I checked.

LILLBACK: Up to two now. Thanks to you. Boy, I'll tell you, you're the best publicist in town.

Suddenly I was in demand as Lillback's most persistent critic on the matter. I don't think the book is without its merits. It really could have used an editor to pare it down. The book has two theses, one of which I think Lillback easily proves, the other, he does not.

I think I wrote my review in harsh terms because Lillback uses the same polemical rhetoric to attack historian Paul F. Boller (and others) when I see Lillback engaging in many of the same scholarly overreaches for which he attacks Boller. It's kinda strange. I've seen Lillback speak publicly (never live) and he usually comes off as a "nice guy." But in GWSF he comes off as mean when discussing Boller and other historians.

But what Lillback easily proves (where many modern historians go wrong) is that GW was not a "Deist" as strictly defined (one who believes in an absentee landlord God). GW was a theist, believing in a warm, active personal Providence. (I think I understand why some scholars think of GW as a strict Deist; some of his letters do seem to refer to an impersonal Providence; but others clearly don't.) To prove this, Lillback can simply quote Washington over and over again.

Besides showing that Washington was more "religious" than scholars have argued, he also shows GW was more "religion friendly," and many of the folks to whom GW was friendly were orthodox Trinitarian Christians. (The problem is GW seemed "friendly" to just about EVERY religion, except Tory Christianity and that which did not produce virtue.)

But Lillback fails to show, at least from the horse's mouth, that GW was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. We can study all 20,000 pages of GW's known recorded utterances (public addresses, private letters). If one puts the words "Jesus Christ" in its search engine we get only ONE result, in an address written by one of GW's aides, but given under GW's imprimatur.

My co-blogger at American Creation, Brad Hart, using Lillback's own research lists the God words GW used in prayer. Orthodox language is conspicuously absent.

To make the case FOR GW's "mere Christianity" Lillback makes a number of leaps, speculative and for which there are other reasons to doubt, to impute orthodox Trinitarian dogma into GW's more generic religious talk. (Again, I detail this more in my linked to review.)

[It's surprising that Glenn Beck so loves this book. I wonder how much of it he read. Lillback's "thesis one" certainly fits with what Beck believes. But Beck is a Thomas Paine loving Mormon. And to argue "thesis two," Lillback commonly attacks Paine and affirms a Trinitarianism in which Mormons do not believe.]

Barack Obama, on the other hand, has been far more explicit in affirming (at least something close to) orthodox doctrine. Obama's Easter Prayer Breakfast is far more explicitly Christian than anything recorded coming out of GW's mouth:

... But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ's sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.

For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind's eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world -- that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.

We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.

And such a promise is one of life's great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs -- by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.

It's not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered -- by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.

Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging -- watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.

"Father," He said, "into your hands I commit my spirit." Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God's children.

So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption -- through commitment and through perseverance and through faith -- be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.


Also see Obama's interview with Christianity Today where he states:

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. ...

[Thanks to reader Michael Heath for the links.]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is Obama A Christian?

My post at my new blog here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Blog:

I now blog for the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. The One Best Way merged into it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Christian Nation Controversy:

[I just sent this over to The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.]

As noted in my original post, I've researched/blogged extensively on the Christian Nation controversy over the past six years. I've made a number of valued connections with various scholars and writers on the matter, very notably Ed Brayton.

Also as noted, I'll try to publish here on the Christian Nation controversy as it relates to current events. But I figure I should do an introductory post on the controversy letting you know what I'm all about.

The funny thing about being a libertarian is we don't really have a dog in this fight (provided the heritage isn't used to contradict libertarianism). Some libertarians are quite secular minded, others quite "Christian heritage" minded.

I try to strike a modest balance; though admittedly I'm more critical of the "Christian America" types. But ultimately I want the facts; and I want clarity.

With that, whether America was founded to be a "Christian Nation" depends on what those terms mean. Indeed, the definition of "Christianity" needs clarification.

A variety of different "expert" epistemological perspectives -- the historical, the political, the theological, the personal, and others -- have addressed the "Christian Nation" controversy.

And whether something is actually "Christian" may depend on which definitional perspective one uses. Here are a few (there are others):

1. Identificatory: You are what you call yourself; anything that calls itself "Christian" is "Christian." Mormons, President Obama, Bishop John Shelby Spong, the Pope and Pat Robertson are all "Christians," accordingly.

2. Ethno-Heritage: This may be looser than identificatory; the atheist Richard Dawkins is certainly a product of "Christendom." I don't identify as a "Christian" but was baptized Roman Catholic, hence may be a "Christian" under some definitions.

Think of the old joke, an Irishman is accosted by the IRA and asked "Are you a Protestant or Catholic?" The man nervously answers, "I'm an atheist; I'm an atheist." To which the IRA responds, "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant atheist?"

1 & 2 are "loose" understandings of the term "Christian" and, accordingly, I think it pretty obvious that America was founded to be a "Christian nation" and still is. I don't think anyone argues Muslim mosques not Christian churches abounded in early America.

But there are other, stricter understandings of the term "Christian." And the controversy, as I see it, is those who proudly trumpet "America was founded as a 'Christian Nation'" mean something far more meaningful and stricter than 1 or 2.

Which brings us to the strictest understanding:

3. The theological. Indeed the personal theological. As in the Roman Catholic Church is the one_true_Christian_church; all others are heretics. Or only "born again Christians" are "real Christians." Or only Calvinists who believe in TULIP are true born again, elect, "Christians."

This perspective, properly understood, tends NOT to support "Christian Nationalism." Indeed, the evangelical Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island) believed the inevitable existence of large numbers of "unregenerate" in any given population meant no "Nation" could call itself "Christian" even if "real Christians" were in it.

4. The historical. How "Christianity" defined itself throughout its history. Here we cannot claim TULIP or Roman Catholicism as the one_true_way. When trying to do "history" not "theology" it would be absurd for an evangelical, for instance, to claim Roman Catholicism as not "real Christianity."

Consensus v. heresy presents a challenge. Christianity "officially" defined itself according to a biblical canon and official creeds (i.e., Nicene Trinitarianism) interpreting thereof. Yet, all sorts of heresies have abounded in Christendom since then. If we include the heresies as part of "historical Christianity" then America's Founding seems more authentically "Christian."

The heresies present problems for the "Christian America" reading in that so many notable Founders and those who influenced them believed in, for instance Arianism, Socinianism, Universalism, and otherwise rejected the infallibility of the biblical canon.

And Christian Americanist types tend to follow CS Lewis' theory on "mere Christianity," that defines "historic Christianity" according to its orthodox Trinitarian minimums. (That is, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, capital O Orthodox and reformed or evangelical Protestants disagree on a number of things; but they agree on THOSE minimums.) To them, to disbelieve in the Trinity (as so many Founders did) is to be anti-Christian and anti-biblical. This is more the top down consensus view that defines Christianity.

Yet, CS Lewis didn't invent this notion that "if you don't believe in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, you are no 'Christian' regardless of what you call yourself." I've seen folks from the Founding era literature -- mainly expert theologians -- make this very claim. Indeed, the largest churches in the late 18th Century defined "Christianity" this way.

According to these standards, J. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin clearly were not Christians, and it's likely that neither were Washington, Madison, G. Morris, Hamilton (until the end of his life) and many others. They weren't "Deists" either (Paine, Palmer, and Allen were).

An overwhelming majority of Founding Fathers were affiliated with orthodox churches for, at the very least, "social network" reasons. Determining whether a late 18th Century Episcopalian, for instance, really did believe in "mere Christianity" as Patrick Henry did, but Thomas Jefferson did not (both Episcopalians) requires scratching beneath the surface. Indeed, digging deep. And with many lesser names, we just don't know.

Yet having the first four, arguably the first five or six American Presidents as not "mere Christians," does not do well for a "Christian America" reading of history.

Likewise many of the philosophers and divines who influenced the American Founding flunk this historical standard of "mere Christianity." They include the Revs. Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Samuel Cooper, and Samuel West (Americans). And the Revs. Joseph Priestley and Richard Price (British). From an earlier British era, John Locke, John Milton and Samuel Clarke likewise flunk "mere Christianity."

Yet, a more generous understanding of "historic Christianity" that includes the heresies makes the American Founding more authentically "Christian" in an historical sense. The Reverend Jonathan Mayhew (the "morning gun of the Revolution") was an Arian? So what. Arius was an early church father (against whom the Nicene Creed was written). These Founders tended to believe in universal salvation? So what, the Church father Origen did too.

The "Christians" (as they understood themselves) of the Enlightenment tended to embrace these heresies, many of which trace before the Enlightenment, indeed way back to the early Church.

One clever reader of mine reacted with the question: Was America founded, in a political-theological sense, on a "Christian heresy?"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Science, Not Woo Woo:

I recently blogged about a theory of human psychology (I honestly don't know what to call it) that I hope slowly unfolds on my blogs over the next few years.

I hesitate to discuss this because, as far as I have gleaned, most popularizers of bits and pieces of this truth have something about them that poisons their well, as I see it. (I know poisoning the well and appeal to authority are both logical fallacies; so me appealing to, for instance, Deepak Chopra's "authority" would be as much of a logical fallacy as you writing him off as a crackpot if I try to cite a point of his that I think is valid.)

These popularizers usually take this truth discovery and add in some unprovable quasi or overtly religious "woo woo," as Michael Shermer has put it when discussing his problems with Deepak Chopra.

So I was quite happy to see a news story on this study by Harvard psychologists confirming what I'm trying to get at.

It's about human minds being most happy when in "the moment," in the present, not being "distracted" about the past or the future or about being somewhere else. Indeed a certain timelessness can occur when being in the moment. When not in that moment, when the mind is in a state of worry or stress ("something on your mind that is bothering you") that has to do with the past or the future, it is less than optimally happy.

For those who are teachers and really enjoy what we do, think of how much faster time goes by when we are teaching than when we are sitting in a faculty meeting for the same period of time wishing we were somewhere else. There is something about focusing the mind on tasks for a continuing period of time -- see it as distracting you IN to "the moment" -- that frees it up and speeds up time. I remember friend of mine who worked masonry construction, telling me how much he liked his job, how time flew by when he worked.

Busy minds with lots of mental chatter going on -- though many of them are brilliant -- are less happy.

Psychology is NOT my discipline. So if there is "expert literature" with an academic imprimatur that validates this, I have a lot of learning to do. I'm more interested in philosophy. And I suspect there is more serious work out there from Eastern and Stoic philosophers than the popularizers of this truth in the West (guys like Chopra, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, and even the "Judeo-Christian" Roy Masters who tries to popularize these ideas for religious conservatives).

But ultimately this discovery is not justified by appeal to scientific studies or appeal to great philosophers, but rather by personally experiencing this truth. That is, the ideas need to resonate with individuals in an "a ha," "that's right," sense.

This is not about winning arguments or convincing someone you are right. That's a different game.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

I Get Hate Mail-Hate Comments:

Not very often. In fact, almost never. (Scrupulously avoiding the ad hominem goes a long way here.)

So when I see one, I pay attention. From the following post entitled, Three Misuses of the American Founding & Religion For Political Purposes, commenter Kari writes:

Some of you who doubt the christianity of our forefathers should actually read some historical documents with quotes by them, nearly all of them not only believed in but worshipped Jehovah God and were Christians who definetely [sic] believed in Jesus Christ! I am so tired of everyone trying to change history and say that our forefathers really weren't Christians. IT IS IN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS...READ IT!!! Stop living in denial and read for yourself. Why do you think there were so many references to God and the 10 commandments made by these men. Did Christians falsify things to our advantage? I think not. Our nation used to be a Christian nation, that was the only way that a small group of colonists was able to win their independence from England who was a SUPERPOWER!! These men prayed daily for God to be with them during this endeavor and he was because they worshipped him and believed in his word...our whole nation did.

It is a shame that as Americans our true history is being removed from history books and warped and twisted by heathens who do not believe in God or His divine words. It should be a requirement that all judges(especially supreme court), lawyers and politicians read all of our historical documents that set precendence [sic] in the forming of the laws of our once great country and be forced to follow them.

People like you sicken me for you are warping history to suit yourself!

Well I think this is directed towards me, so I will answer.

1) Kari never touched one point I made; I would appreciate if she told me where in my post I specifically went wrong.

2) If you are "sickened" by what I write, I cannot apologize because because I have done nothing wrong. I have only recited facts and logic (and admittedly my understanding thereof which may be subject to debate). Perhaps the facts of history, not the myths that you were taught by Christian Nationalist history revisionists "sicken" you.

3) Jehovah God, Christians, Jesus Christ, Historical Documents and Ten Commandments.

a) From my meticulous study of the primary sources, I admit a strong majority believed in "Providence" and, as part of "Christendom" thought of themselves as "Christians" in some sense.

b) However -- and she can correct me if I am wrong -- that's not enough to be a "Christian" and believer in "Jehovah" as the "Christian Nationalists" articulate the concept.

c) Alternatively, some friends of mine, very generous in their ecumenicism, argue any kind of connection to belief in an active Providence equals Jehovah worship. For scriptural support, think of Acts 17, where St. Paul encountered seemingly pagan monotheistic Greeks who worshipped the God of the Bible without consciously knowing they did.

The key American Founders (Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, specifically) believed UNCONVERTED Native Americans who worshipped the monotheistic "Great Spirit" believed in the same God Jews and Christians did. I guess Jehovah and the unconverted Natives' "Great Spirit" God are one and the same. Likewise Allah is Jehovah, even if the Muslims, like those Native Americans, get some of the details wrong.

But it's that line of thought -- that Jews, Christians, theological unitarians (Trinity deniers), Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims -- all worship the same God, the true God (Jehovah). I know Mormons and JWs didn't exist during the American Founding. Though the Swedenborgs, who did, make for a good substitute.

I don't see "Kari" as arguing from this corner; correct me if I am wrong.

d) Re the historical documents: You may be able to find some more general God words in the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist Papers. But you don't see "Jehovah" or "Jesus Christ" in them. The US Constitution does use the conventional "In the Year of Our Lord" (i.e., AD on our currency) for dating purposing. Trying to make "God" out of that shows how nominally the US Constitution invokes God. (In other words, if the US Constitution is not "Godless," it is "Godly" in the most nominal sense only.)

e) The Ten Commandments: What are you talking about? Where did George Washington specifically invoke the Ten Commandments? John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both DOUBTED that we had the correct version of the Ten Commandments? What about James Madison? A supposed quotation of his on the Ten Commandments circulated (in large part to the efforts of David Barton who is still trying to live this down) only later to have been debunked.

I think Kari's note is important because it illustrates how corrupt the rot is among the home schooled "Christian Americanists." David Barton et al. may not be so stupid to themselves make such grievous errors. But they give winks and nods to the kind of errors this commenter makes.
Allan Bloom on Firing Line:

I've waited a long time for this. The first 5 minutes is on YouTube. I'll look and see if I can find the whole thing.

You can buy the whole DVD for $10 here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Pot is Bad For the Brain:

It takes a nice, peaceful, brilliantly talented hippie guitarist -- Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of the Doobie Bros. -- and turns him into a Republican military strategist. From 2001:

He's currently working for the Department of Defense as an adviser to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and has also served as a top military adviser for numerous congressmen and senators.

"To most of the world, Skunk Baxter is one of the great rock and roll guitar players. Inside the Beltway, he's one of the leading experts on military defense, and we listen to his advice all the time," said Republican California congressman Dana Rohrabacher. "He knows all about weapons technology and has a better understanding of the strategic game going on than I do, and I'm on the International Relations Committee."

Check him in action: