Christ and Nothing

Vicq Ruiz asks a fascinating and hard question:

Mr. Wright:

I would be most interested to have you expand upon (or point me to an expansion upon, by you or by another) one paragraph in your essay which appears to be no more than an assertion…..

The only real alternative of the apparent many options is either Christianity or something leading to Christ, or else is a heresy or perversion whose only good was borrowed from the Church, so that any partial good found in these pagan, Jewish, or heretic thought is perfected in Christianity.

I have always responded to Pascal’s wager and to like arguments with the “many alternatives to Christian belief and to atheism” rejoinder.

My paragraph is unsupported as quoted, but it is quoted from a context discussing a particular question, namely, what makes the atheist model of the universe inferior to the theist, and to the Christian.

Yes, obviously there are many alternatives to Christianity. That is not in dispute. You may find yourself preferring one over the other for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is loyalty to whatever upbringing you happened to have been brought up in. That is also not in dispute.

What is in dispute is my rather bold statement; I say that there is something in theism which anyone fleeing atheism seeks, and that Christianity has more of this something, a better and cleaner and clearer version, than the alternatives.

Hence, there is no argument that other alternatives exist, and no argument that other alternatives may be more appealing on other grounds unrelated to this something than Christianity. The only argument is whether this something is something anyone fleeing atheism seeks, and whether Christianity has more of it.

So what is the something?

The one thing that motivates an ex-atheist to flee atheism is a hunger for the divine. The only reason for disembarking from a universe where there is no god is to find one where there is.

That leads us to the next question. What is there about the divine that makes men crave it?

I submit to your candid judgment that even those who think the hunger for the divine is a delusion all agree on the elements which make the divine appealing to those for whom it has an appeal:

First is truth.

There are countless mysteries and unanswered questions in this universe, and science only attempts to answer the trivial mysteries of physics. The central enigma of the universe is Man. We are the one thing we care most about and know least about. We do not know why we are here or where we are going or why. We do not know right from wrong. We do not know why we suffer, or why we do bad things when we so desperately want to do good things. We don’t even know why we do good things when we are ready to do bad things. If there is no God, we have no method better than the labyrinthine confusion of philosophy to lead us to these ultimate answers. Physics only tells us how things work. It cannot explain why we are strangers and exiles in the cosmos. Those who hunger for God hunger for truth.

As I said, even those who scoff at Man’s search for truth as chasing a mirage will not dispute that the hunger exists, and will not dispute that, except for children, smug teenagers, and those sad souls who have successfully been retarded to lifelong smugteenagerhood in their psychology, all men seek to slake this hunger.

Second, there is beauty.

For an atheist, there is manmade beauty, and there are things in nature men find beautiful, but arbitrarily , or due to psychological or evolutionary programming over which they have no control.

An atheist seeing something beautiful in nature is not seeing something he rightly should be grateful to see, for, even if he feels the sentiment of gratitude, the sentiment is illogical, because there is no one to whom to be grateful. We humans have the same reaction to the sublime wonders of nature as we have to the sublime wonder of great art, but, for the atheist, there is no artist: The beauty is accidental, unintentional, and not the produce of an intelligence working for a deliberate purpose.

The atheist has no choice but to conclude that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if men universally find one thing or another beautiful, this can only be because there is some material circumstance, a chemical feature of the brain or psychological condition enforced by evolution, which just so happens to afflict all men, and force them to the same aesthetic response.

A more philosophically inclined atheist might believe there is a Platonic form or aidos of beauty that exists in the mental realm of eternal abstractions: but this form arises not due to any intelligent purpose. It is a blank fact of existence, like saying water is wet or triangles have three sides, and hence anything beautiful in the universe of the Platonic atheist is not beautiful for any deliberate reason.

Unintended beauty is ultimately vain and meaningless. For art without an artist is not art at all, as a message without a messenger is not a message at all. It is merely something created by the beholder when he beholds: a subjective thing he invents, not an objective thing he perceives.

Third, there is justice.

We live in a world where Stalin died comfortably in bed, as did Mao, and where Jack the Ripper was never caught. If death is a dreamless oblivion, which, in an atheist universe it must be, then justice is limited to what mortal men can wreak upon each other, limited by their lack of knowledge and power to find the guilty and their inability to punish them as they deserve. Mao, even had been brought to justice, could not have been executed more times than Jack the Ripper, even though the murders Mao commanded (between 35 million and 70 million) are seven or eight orders of magnitude greater than Jack’s (between five and eighteen). The justice of mortal men is woefully inadequate at best.

Also, without God, there is no definition of justice, aside from what rather inadequate definitions we can deduce from our own sentiments or from nature. Again, an atheist Platonic philosopher might be able to deduce a form of justice existing the timeless mental realm of concepts, but, as with the question of art without an artist, such a form of justice would be a raw fact, a justice without a judge, a moral law without a legislator, moral imperatives with no deliberate intelligence behind them, and therefore lack moral force.

There may be a reason, if you are a crewman, to obey a captain who says a storm is coming and the crew must batten down the hatches, even if you don’t think it wise, because you trust the captain or respect or fear his authority lawfully placed over you; but there is no reason to “obey” signs in the clouds presaging a rainstorm if no human wisdom sees a need for battening down the hatches, because the unintelligent forces in the air gathering the storm are not a lawful authority placed over you. Ignore signs of a storm may be impractical or foolish, but it is not a moral error; it is not a violation of a law, not a violation of an ethical maxim. There is a pragmatic dimension to paying attention to cause and effect, and noting the clues or side effects of possible dangers which nature provides, but this is not the same as obeying a lawful order. A man “obeys” nature only when it is in his long-term best interest to do so.

Fourth, there is a craving for communion and companionship, of union with God. We want love.

Related to this is the desire, difficult to explain, to live at peace with the natural world, or return to Eden. A strange homesickness for paradise hangs across the religious thinking of all men of all cultures and ages, as if this world is a place of exile, as if there is a walled garden or lovely mountain or golden age drowned in the past where death and sickness never come, and wine bowls are never empty. A religion or world view which promises to satisfy all other cravings of man for the divine, but not this one, would be a very pessimistic one. Atheists seem not to suffer this hunger, or else they are science fiction fans who hope that a golden age will arise in the future, or they are socialists who think men can produce a golden age now merely by enacting a sufficiently murderous dictatorship to eat the rich and kill the Jews.

Fifth is a desire for the forgiveness of sins.

This is a craving difficult to explain to the modern mind, as every effort of art and propaganda and conditioning and every lie and more lies and yet more lies have been strained to the effort, largely successful, of a raising a generation utterly ignorant that moral law exist or that they have fallen short of it. The modern effort to expunge guilt concentrates exclusively on encouraging those behaviors, especially sexual perversion, which make a man guilty of breaking moral law, but to abolish or to bury his awareness of the guilt by telling him not to feel it.

In other words, the effort is not to be guiltless by heeding the conscience; the effort is not to feel guilty by benumbing the conscience.

The whole effort of political correctness, the cult of self-esteem, the paradoxes and foolishness of moral relativism, the degrading absurdities of the divorce culture and the sexual revolution, the continual thundering from our elite that we are never to judge right and wrong, never to have an opinion about good and bad, or, if we do, to keep it to ourselves, the equation of decency with oppression and indecency with freedom, all hinge on the central thought that the conscience is foolish and arbitrary if not positively evil, and must never be followed.

A person successfully indoctrinated in this mindset—the psychiatric name for it is sociopathy, or, to call it by its older and clearer name ‘moral insanity’—is unable to appreciate even the concept of sin and redemption, much less understand the normal human hunger for it.

Unfortunately for the sociopaths of a sociopathic age, nature is not so easily wished away. One of the unintended consequences of sociopathy as a way of life is the imposition of the strictest possible yet utterly capricious rules of political correctness. The accused has no defense against accusation, any more than a witch accused by a witchhunter, and the selfsame parrot speech which was perfectly orthodox yesterday (for example, defending the rights of women or homosexuals to avoid any accusation of sexism or homophobia) will be denounced as satanic heresy tomorrow (as Islamophobia). Soviet style public apologies and self criticism is called for, but there is no forgiveness in this system, and the sins are known to all parties involved not to be real sins, not to be serious, not to be substantial.

The final cause is love of life and fear of death. All men are mortal and no man wishes to be.

We live in a world where we hate and fear pain and death and we crave an eternity of unwearied joy, and this material world has nothing in it to satisfy that longing.

Now then, each of these things has a more and a less excellent form. To have partial knowledge of truth is better than utter ignorance, but to know and live the truth in its completeness is better. Again, to live in a universe where everything is a matter of mere opinion or is merely a lie told by the strong to deceive and oppress the weak would be hell; to know a truth, even if it were bitter, would be better; to know a truth and discover it to be far more beautiful, a triumph of boundless joy, would be best of all.

Now then, I am not making any argument at this point about the truth or falsehood of the claims made by any particular religion, philosophy or worldview! I am merely making a statement about the claims themselves. I say that the Christians make a more ambitious claim that any reasonable alternative. If the Christian worldview is true, the human desire for truth, beauty, justice, love, redemption and eternity is more fully satisfied than it would be if any alternate claim were proved true.

While there are myriads of opinions, theories, worldviews, philosophies, heresies and denominations, there are also certain broad categories into which, without any injustice, large groups of these worldviews fall.

We can list the possible relationships the natural world might have with the divine, because there is not an infinite number of possibilities. God is either immanent (within nature) or transcendent (outside nature) or both, or neither. God is either none or one or many. I believe that covers all the possibilities, or, at least, all the major ones.

If there are no gods, this is atheism. In this case, god is neither immanent nor transcendent, because he does not exist at all. There is no relationship between the natural world and the supernatural because the supernatural is nonexistent.

If there is no material world, this is Buddhism, or Gnosticism, or some other form of Immaterialism. In this case, God is both immanent and transcendent, because God is all that ultimately exists, everything else being an illusion or emanation of God. There is no relationship between the natural world and the supernatural because the natural is nonexistent, a mere delirium.

If the divine is one and the same as the natural world, this is pantheism. In such a case god is both one and many, a multiform unity that permeates all beings. The Stoics and Neoplatonists had conceptions along these lines, as do Taoists, Hindu and Theosophists.

If the divine set the world in motion at the moment of creation and otherwise neither touches nor interferes with His work, this is Deism. The god is transcendent but not immanent.

If there are many gods which arose from the natural operations of the world, and who are therefore contingent but not necessary beings, this is polytheism or paganism. Such gods are immanent but not transcendent. All of primitive animism, the pantheons of Africa and the Americas, the various folklores and myths of the classical and Norse fit into this definition, as does Shinto, and, I dare say, any religion which lacks a theology. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism cannot be neatly fit into a polytheistic definition, because their theology is more subtle and civilized.

While there is nothing that makes it theoretically impossible to posit the existence of many transcendent gods, I confess I can bring to mind no real examples from history or anthropology.

Of those who believe God to be transcendent and immanent, that is, both above the world and working within it, all are either monotheists, as Jews, Christian, and Mohammedans; or else hold there are two equal and opposed gods of light and darkness, as the Zoroastrians or Manicheans.

In sum, either there is no god, or there are many gods, or two, or one. Either the god is outside nature, or is nature, or is inside nature, or is both outside nature and active within it.

So our choices are atheism, pantheism, deism, polytheism, Manichaeism and monotheism.

Let us look at each in turn, and see how well, were we living in a universe where their claims were true, each worldview satisfies man’s hunger for truth, justice, beauty, love and forgiveness and eternity.

The atheist world view has no possibility of sating a man’s craving for forgiveness or for eternity. If there is no god, there can be companionship with god, no relation at all. If the natural world is all there is, and the natural world is governed by the second law of thermodynamics, then even a medical breakthrough expanding man’s life to Methuselah’s span, or a method of preserving one’s brain information and personality and sense of self in some other vessel aside from frail human flesh, must of necessity fail in the end. Beauty and justice likewise are either manmade inventions or arbitrary human reactions to inanimate natural forces. Life is inescapably meaningless and vain in this world view. The best one can hope for is the distraction of hedonism, or the resignation of stoicism.

Pantheism abrogates the possibility of a personal relationship with God, because the world-godhead, being everything, is impersonal. There is no justice in such a universe, because all things, just and unjust alike, are equally divine and equally part of the world-godhead. There is no beauty because all things, fair and foul alike, are part of the world-godhead. In pantheism, thou are God, and anything is God. Truth and justice and beauty exist only insofar as nature provides them.

Panetheism is a related doctrine, which holds that there is God in all things, but also a Pleorma or Nirvana or other state outside the natural world where God extends, or has a stronghold, or from which He comes. The difficulty here is that such conceptions of God preclude the possibility of personal relationship not because God has not personality, but because you do. The best that can be hoped for is to achieve the enlightened disinterest of the Buddhist, or the extinction of illusion of self in the universal-soul of the Gnostics. The craving for justice is revealed to the enlightened eye as a deception of the archons, or as an attachment of the false self to illusory things.

Deism precludes the possibility of any personal relationship with God, or of having prayers answered, or of any aspect of the religious life aside from a convenient theory that the world was designed by an intelligent creator. The relationship with God is that of automaton to watchmaker.

Polytheism can satisfy many of the yearnings listed, but these gods, because they are natural beings, can suffer (as the Hindu gods do) or die (as the Norse gods do). Polytheistic gods are immanent but not transcendent. They can be closer to truth and justice and beauty than mortal men, but they are not the source of it. They are longer lived than men, but are not eternal: all the gods of myriad worlds die at the Kali Yuga when Brahma opens his eyes and restarts the Great Year. Odin dies in the jaws of Fenris. Zeus’ fate, foreseen by Prometheus, is that he shall be overthrown by his son as his father was overthrown by him, and his grandfather by his father.

As a matter of logic, there is only imperfect justice in a polytheistic world, as Aeneas found out, for having the love goddess favor you does not mean the queen of the gods will not despise you.

A polytheism either has to assume some power above the gods, call it fate or karma, acts automatically and unthinkingly to punish the wicked and reward the just, in which case the fates are merely like the laws of nature; or assume that there is no power, in which case justice will be rendered when the caprice of the gods so decrees, if at all.

No polytheistic god can be omnipotent, since other gods equal or surpass him in power, and, without omnipotence, truth and justice and beauty do not flow from the god.

Or, if one polytheistic god is omnipotent above the others, that this alleged polytheism is at heart a monotheism, and the so-called gods are His servants or emanations or creations, like angels.

Oriental religions do not fit easily or comfortably into our Western categories, but for the purposes of this question, a worldview like Taoism or Confucianism have the same advantages and disadvantages as Deism. They are practically agnostic religions, or theosophical or philosophical schools rather than what we would call a church. As in Deism, the divine is remote and mysterious, and the most one can hope to find is serenity and virtue which follows a submission to the discipline of rite or enlightenment inspired by the divine. In effect, these are not religions at all, but philosophies or metaphysical speculations surrounded by an accretion of folklore and public ritual: so they have the drawbacks of Deism and Polytheism at the same time.

Manichaeism suffers a simpler version of the same problem as Aeneas faced: if there is a bad god, Angramanyu, equal in dignity and power with the good god, Ahuramazda, then the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. The bad god is not a void nor an error nor a rebellious underling, but a positive power equal in majesty to the good god. On what ground does the eschatology rest? If fate has decreed the Wise Lord will prevail over the Wicked Spirit, then fate is superior. If this is the decree or promise of the Wise Lord, then the Wicked Spirit is not his equal in power, in which case the theology is a monotheism disguised as a Manichaeism. If the Wicked Spirit is equal, then he can challenge or overthrow the promises of the Wise Lord.

Monotheism promises or proffers all these things polytheism or Manichaeism promises, but in a more perfect form. An omnipotent creator-god who is both outside the world and acts within it has the power to create beauty and exact justice, either in this life or the next, and is the source of beauty as of life, the source of law and justice which men crave and for which they weep, and all the majesty and fairness of creation is His artwork, and gratitude for the beauty of the world has a proper resting place.

Buddhism is the sole non-Abrahamic religion which has many or most of the features of Monotheism promises in regard to truth, justice, beauty, love, and forgiveness. It is almost a monotheistic religion, as there is one supreme being, Brahma, from which all gods come and to which they all return.

But Buddhism is almost a negative reflection of Monotheism. The soul either is endlessly reincarnated, in which case justice is never final because suffering never ends, or the soul achieves nirvana, in which case the illusion of self is abolished, and there is no further need for justice nor communion with god, nor, indeed, for anything.It does not sate the spiritual longings of man as much as abolish them.

Buddhism in its strictest form is a type of spiritual Stoicism and Gnostic renunciation of all life and pleasure. Buddhism ultimately does not promise us paradise, but self-annihilation. Not that our desires for truth and justice and beauty will be satisfying to beyond overflowing, but instead that the desires are false, and the enlightened will be free of them.

Nonetheless, for this and other reasons, Buddhism is the only religion of dignity and universality equal with the faith of Abraham, capable of making a worldwide appeal, and addressing (even if it does not, in my judgment, sate) the basic human hungers for divine things.

Of non-Christian Monotheism, Judaism and Mohammedanism, merely looking at the nature of what they promise without regard to the truth or falsehood of the claim, it is evident to an outside observer than less is promised.

The God of the Jews is remote, and too perfect for men, too holy. The Allah of the Mohammedans is just as remote, but is moreover bloodthirsty and commands His votaries to jihad, warfare, bloodshed and the sword. The Christianity Trinity is a community of reckless love, and the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ promises kingship and apotheosis to His followers. The heresy of Mohammed is called “Islam” which means “Submission” and it is well named, because while the rules commanding charity and forbidding idolatry are as a noble and enlightened as similar Christian and Jewish rules, the relationship of God to Man is a master-slave relation.

It scandalizes the Mohammedan to contemplate that God became Man in order that Man should be the sons of God, and the various Christian doctrines of trinity and incarnation likewise offends the faithful and observant Jew.

There is no point in minimizing the outrageousness and scandal of the Christian claims, nor is this the proper place to defend them. We are only looking at the scope of the claim made, not whether the claim is true.

The Christian claim is scandalous precisely because we say God loved us so much that even the remoteness and holiness of God, perfect and pure far above the stench and moil of the material world was forsworn in order to rescue mankind. The Jewish claim is that certain elect prophets have the Spirit of God in them; the Christian claim is that this Spirit is poured out abundantly into the heart of any baptized man who asks for it. Jewish thought about the afterlife has the same vague quality as the thought of the Greek, a place of shadows. The Christian promises are explicit and clear. The Jews still await the first advent of their messiah; we await his second advent, and in the meanwhile rejoice to know He is in our midst whenever three of us are gathered together.

And so on. The Christian claims might be dismissed as being too extravagant, but to any objective observer, it is clear that the Christians claim Christ to be the fulfillment and expansion of the promises made by God to the Jews about their messiah.

It is equally clear that Islam is a dependent religion, a heresy, which took certain parts of the Catholic faith, such as the monotheism, and took certain of the tales and histories, as the story of the Garden of Eden and the Great Flood and the Virgin Birth, and left out the pith of the stories and left out the sacraments which are the core of Christian life.

I call it a dependent religion in that Islam is a religion which rests for its authority on stories in the Old Testament and the New, which its votaries are forbidden to read. If the Bible is false, Islam cannot be true, because Islam is a summary restatement of the Bible with some added political matter, dietary laws and such. The way to escape the paradox is to claim that the Bible was corrupted by the Jews and Christians, and that all the original prophets, including Jesus, preached Mohammedanism. In this claim, Mohammad is restoring and completing the prophecies of former prophets and teachers, and excising unauthorized accretions.

One of those accretions is the doctrine that God gave the Holy Land to the Jews. Another is the divinity of Christ. Mohammedanism is Christianity with the human parts left out. Its appeal, like Puritanism after it, is in its militant simplicity and legalism. The legalistic character of the faith makes them a nation of Pharisees.

The desire for truth, justice, beauty, mercy and eternity are desires that the faith of Mohammad addresses, but with a barbaric crudeness. Without Christ, there is no communion with God, and men cannot be the sons of God. Allah has no sons: He has servants. He has slaves. The way to find peace is submission.

Now, if upon consideration we candidly conclude that the Christian claim is false, then the next most desirable claim which will appeal to any man fleeing atheism would be those of Judaism or Islam, which are monotheistic but cannot promise community with God, or Buddhism, which promises self-annihilation and absorption into God, but not community with Him.

Next is Manichaeism or Polytheism, which can promise truth and beauty, but not justice and not community; less desirable is Pantheism, whose all-immanent god is so all pervasive s to be meaningless; and yet less desirable is Deism or Taoism, which make no promise aside from a certain philosophical resignation or serenity. These last two promise truth but not justice nor beauty.

And atheism, as far as the supernatural is concerned, promises nothing at all.

In terms of Pascal’s Wager, then, the options are not infinite, once the reason is convinced that the atheist account of the universe is woefully, even absurdly, in adequate to explain the central enigma of Man and Man’s role in the Cosmos. Atheism cannot explain the fact that man is an exile here in the cosmos and is lost in it, because to an Atheist this cosmos is and must be all that there is. There is no other place for Man to come from or go to.

Atheism sits cheek by jowl with nihilism. From the axiom that there is no God, an intelligent legislator behind the laws of nature nor the laws of morality, it is a simple and logical deduction to say that life is without innate meaning, and the morals are human inventions.

The Objectivist atheists, who do believe in absolute truth and absolute moral rules, are grossly outnumbered by the socialist and political correctness atheists, who believe in no one and nothing but the all-powerful, all-loving, all-wonderful State, and their own all-wonderful selves.

Obviously the Objectivists are nobler, closer to the truth than the socialist nihilists, but just as obviously they have a harder time logically defending a non-nihilistic atheist worldview—they have a harder time because these things do not naturally go together. An argument to show that selfishness is a virtue only with difficulty can also show why it is wrong not to be selfish and let the State steal money from more productive people and give it to you.

Buddhism, Taoism, Pantheism, Panetheism, Deism, and Theosophy, and all the philosophies and cults of the New Age movement, are also on the smooth slope to atheism and nihilism. They do not speak to fundamental human desires for the divine. They have a certain appeal due to their elegance, their elemental simplicity, but their fate is either to be wedded to a more satisfying polytheism, myth and folklore, as Buddhism is wed to Hinduism, or to exile themselves to being the doctrine of militant aristocrats or those copying that mind-set, as Zen Buddhism of the Bushido class is akin to the Stoicism of the Roman patricians.

Polytheism is always local, like the saint cults of the Catholics. But unlike the monotheism of the Catholics, there is nothing in the worship of Zeus to appeal to anyone from a city state whose founder was not a demigod son of Zeus.

Modern polytheists are theologically more similar to pantheists or theosophists. Polytheistic gods are more like superheroes or angels than like the omnipotent and omniscient creator and sustainer of all reality of Buddhist and Judeo-Christian thought. Any true pagan these days is really a pre-Christian. Once he understands that his myriad gods are merely created beings like himself, no more worthy of worship than kings, whatever the desires are which pulls him toward paganism will pull even more strongly to a larger and more coherent version of the same thing.

So, no, there is not an infinite variety of choices. Pascal’s wager is between the infinite and unwearying joys of heaven and the claustrophobic emptiness of the grave. The other choices are halfway stops on the spectrum leading from the nothingness of nihilism on the one side to the infinity of Christ on the other.

Pascal’s Wager presupposes that we do not have clear knowledge one way or the other on any of these deep questions. In other words, his wager takes into account that this is a matter of faith, faith in what is promised, not a matter of weighing evidence of matters open to inspection.

Putting the evidence to one side, then, the promises of Christ fulfill the promises made to the Jews and retain the sacraments, blessings, communion and promises ignored and redacted by Mohammad. Buddhism promises escape from pain through embracing nonbeing, whereas Christianity promises endless and abundant joy, a perfection of our natures, not an abolition. Polytheism cannot promise anything on an ultimate level, because it lacks an ultimate God. Deism and Pantheism and Taoism promise only serenity born of philosophical discipline. Therefore the same logic which makes Pascal Wager viable as an argument against atheism—that you lose nothing and stand to gain everything—applies with equal force to these Deistic and Philosophical version of God, gods that neither live nor make demands.

The only real choice is between Christ and Nothing.

The other alternatives exist, but, for the variety of reasons I give above, they satisfy the human longing for truth, beauty and justice, or the craving for communion, forgiveness and eternity insufficiently or imperfectly. They exist but are not satisfying.

Pascal’s Wager, properly understood, applies with equal force to the Polytheism of the Norse or Greek as to the atheism of the post modern: because, compared against the infinite joys the Christian promise, joy that never grow tiresome, the future of fighting alongside the Norse gods to die, or the future of mourning in the house of Hades alongside Achilles as a shade, is tantamount to the oblivion of the atheists. So, too, with the other possibilities.

The other alternatives exist, but the existence of the Christian alternative is a  temptation and a scandal to them.

They exist, but the reasons which draw men to the other alternatives is usually something other than a love of God or a longing for things divine. The Jew does not believe the promises of messiah have been fulfilled. The Mohammedan believes only one prophet of God is trustworthy, and that all others Biblical books have been corrupted or redacted. The Theosophist and Deist and New Ager seek a simplistic god that satisfies a philosopher’s craving for mathematical elegance, or a sloth’s craving for a god who makes no demands. The pessimistic Pagan does not believe in the promises of joy beyond bounds, and in a God who, unlike his own filthy gods, is actually just and wise and kind and lovelier than sunlight.

I mean no insult to any of these other faiths or cults or heresies when I say that Paganism and Judaism are pre-Christian, containing currents that flow toward and point toward and prefigure Christ.

I submit that the core values and virtues which make Judaism and Paganism admirable are not trivia like dietary laws and a plethora of gods, but the Jewish optimism which declared the world good from creation, and the pagan spiritualism which regards created things as holy, and made goddesses of trees and rills and mountains.

Mohammedanism, Gnosticism, Deism, and Theosophy are post-Christian, containing references and relics and survivals of Christ, but lacking the core of he faith, Christ Himself. They are, to be technical, the spirit of Anti-Christ, since these breakaway cults and blurry daydreams keep much of Christianity, but seek always to reject the sacraments, and to reject Christ.

I submit that their main appeal for pre-Christian or post-Christian faiths is still those Christian elements in their worldview: beauty, truth, justice, but truth most of all.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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152 Responses to Christ and Nothing

  1. Stephen J. says:

    I was particularly struck by this sentence: “We live in a world where we hate and fear pain and death and we crave an eternity of unwearied joy, and this material world has nothing in it to satisfy that longing.” For myself this has always matched my own experience, but I can’t help but think of atheists like Isaac Asimov, who claimed not to fear death because its inevitability made fear pointless and its oblivion made fear unnecessary, or Christopher Hitchens, who claimed that eternal life of any kind, no matter how joyful or enriching, would become intolerable the moment it became something compulsory or inescapable.

    Are men like these simply unlucky enough to be born without that longing, or have they been so conditioned (perhaps with their own willing participation) by the World, the Flesh and the Devil that they sincerely no longer feel it? Are they simply, fundamentally mistaken? Or is there, on some level, a certain dishonesty going on, where certain longings and feelings still exist but are never acknowledged because their pride refuses to countenance admitting a mistake? I don’t suppose anyone can know for certain (and it is all too easy to unfairly and Bulveristically impute bad faith with the latter assumption), but I can’t help but wonder.

    • I am neither a mind reader nor the father confessor to either of those two gentlemen. I am however, a philosopher, and so I can recognize their philosophy from a mile away, even if they themselves might not.

      Isaac Asimov is uttering the maxims of the Stoics. The bit of logic he states (that since death is unavoidable, and since fear is the emotion that propels us to avoid what is avoidable, therefore fear is a futile ergo illogical emotion with which to regard death) could have come straight from the mouth of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca.

      Christopher Hitchens is uttering the maxims of the Hedonists. He claims (not very convincingly) that eternal life would pall because it would become boring, therefore it is more fun and pleasant to die.

      There is also a second strain to Mr Hitchens’ comment, where he states that life in eternal paradise would be intolerable because it is compulsory. These words come straight from the void of nothingness-worship called Nietzsche, in whose warped mind only that definition of the self as willed by the willpower are authentic and valuable, and anything where one is the passive receiver (such as love) are worthless. Hence to find oneself eternally alive in the midst of infinite joy, if one were not oneself the cause of the life and the cause of the joy, the one who called it into being and defined it, if, in other words, one were not God Almighty, then, like the Devil one must rebel, lest one be tempted at any time to be happy, or be in debt, or not be the author of one’s own being. This satanic philosophy is called Nihilism, and its modern variant is the notion that we must each of us be our own creator and father.

      The difference between an almost dignified atheist like Asimov, and a jackass atheist like Hitchens, is seen in the difference between Stoicism, which has the doomed grandeur of pagan virtue clinging to it, and Hedonism, which is a psychopathology of the terminally whining brat.

      • Vicq Ruiz says:

        Mr. Wright:

        Thank you for your detailed response to my post.

        And I am coming to appreciate your classification of atheism as either stoic or hedonistic. I am only now, after several decades, coming to recognize as such the stoic drivers of my belief system.

    • Robert Mitchell Jr says:

      I would point out that for all his bravo about not fearing Death, Mr. Asimov had a real problem with flying……

      • Mary says:

        Flying can be avoided, unlike death. 0:)

      • That is a fear of a method of death, and one I share with Mr. Asimov. I have had a gun pointed at me three times in my life, one of which was myself putting a gun into my mouth, I would rather have it done a dozen more than step onto an airplane.

        This is like stoically not fearing drawing one’s self a bath, letting the veins open, and sipping the wine till oblivion, and the terror of dying from sepsis where the infection attacks the pain centers of the brain.

        One can fear dying, especially in heinous ways, which one does experience, but not fear one’s inevitable death, which one does not experience. Or one can fear the road to death, but not the destination.

      • Tom Simon says:

        Asimov’s fear of flying was a phobia, that is to say, an emotional aberration, and he openly acknowledged it as such. He wasn’t afraid of flying because the plane might crash; he was afraid of flying because the thought of not being solidly on the ground made his nerves scream with irrational panic.

        In one of his books of autobiography, Asimov mentions an occasion during the Second World War when he managed to fly in an aeroplane without feeling this panic. He was conducting an experiment to test the aerial visibility of a new kind of marker dye for downed pilots and shipwrecked sailors at sea. So long as his full attention was on the experiment, the panic never touched him. But when he was in a plane with nothing to do except sit around and be a passenger, his fears commanded his attention and ran away with him.

        • Sean Michael says:

          Regrettably, Isaac Asimov’s SF works are no longer among my favorites, as they were when I was a boy. I reread the original three Foundation volumes a few years ago and found them at times to be plain and flat. This was not new: by 1975 I was getting tired of Asimov’s novels, because of that same plainness and flatness already mentioned.

          I only became aware of Asimov’s atheism later. Probably in one of his essays or autobiographical books (I do have his I. ASIMOV memoir).

          Sean M. Brooks

  2. Mary says:

    hmm. In my experience, modern-day neo-pagans are really, really, really liberal Christians. When liberal waters down Christianity to make it palatable — having already eliminated such unpleasantness as sin — sooner or later God and Christ will be eliminated. But if you look at the neo-pagans, you will find no rites that are prescribed to avoid offending the gods; no rites to determine which gods you have offended; and no rites to propitiate the gods once you determine the offended one.

    They would have been fed to the lions as atheists in Rome. If not as witches.

    • Your experience with neopagans matches mine. It was the neopagans, of all people, who first convinced my dark and icy atheist heart that the Christians were not the source and summit of all evil and illogic in the world. I had found a more illogical: Christians who wants the yummy fruit of Christian belief without the branch and trunk and roots and soil, and all that unpleasantness of sin and redemption.

      Now, looking back, to me my witch friends do not look like Witches at all, but as postchristians: members of the ubiquitous Leftist religion with a stamp-collector’s fondness for any spiritual or religious belief that rejects Christ.

      Their complain against Christ is Leftist: that Christ condemns rejects the innocent perverts and hedonists who are minding their own business and harming no one, that Christ, by demanding sexual self-control is a comical yet evil repressed and repressive villain, etc. It is the same lie the serpent told Eve in the Garden. He said God was not abundantly lavishing good onto you, but instead was standing between you and your good, preventing you from having it, stopping you from doing what you truly want and need to do to be your own authentic self.

      The lie is that sin will make you happy. When it does not, the second lie is that sinning more will make you happy. And when that does not work either, the lie is that there is some conspiracy in the whole world-system, and that if only those dread and dreaded Christians, those never-sufficiently-to-be-damned Christian would stop disapproving of sin and vice and self-destruction, that somehow, by rainbow-powered sparkle-unicorn fairy magic, self destructive vices would be no longer self-destructive, but merely fun and cost-free and consequence-free.

      • Stephen J. says:

        “The lie is that sin will make you happy. When it does not, the second lie is that sinning more will make you happy.”

        I’d actually say it’s even subtler than this: the lie is that anything that makes you This Happy cannot be a sin.

        Leave aside the costs of any betrayal or infidelity that may be involved, and the moral undermining that comes from establishing that a sufficiently strong desire constitutes acceptable grounds to trump one’s given word; forget that happiness based on physical satiation is temporary, subject to diminishing returns, and in all too many cases can become an addiction before one realizes it; discount the risk of coming to conflate physical passion with emotional attachment and willed service, so that if the passion should happen to hit a temporary lull one will assume neither attachment nor service need be treated as still real, present or necessary; disdain the possibility that tastes can be distorted and amplified by repetition, and that sufficient repetition of distorted acts can have physically deleterious consequences. Sweep all that aside. (And it’s actually surprisingly easy to do; all these considerations are based on rational awareness of past and future, of action and consequence — and no pleasure so intensely concentrates the mind in the present moment, makes it so unable to remember even minutes before or imagine even minutes hence, as erotic passion.)

        If, in the moments of delirium or the blissful afterglow, you feel Happy, it couldn’t have been a sin, and anybody who tries to raise any of the foregoing points as reasons to deny you that Happiness is just being a curmudgeon.

  3. masdiq says:

    “Union with God” is what it comes down to, I think, for in that all the others are found. You say, “The central enigma of the universe is Man. We are the one thing we care most about and know least about.” So, within the hunger for truth, I’d add that there’s a strong hunger for the knowing of oneself; to know what we are at the most fundamental level. I think this is why so many stories feature characters who, for at least one moment, wonder, “Who am I? What makes me who I am?” It’s a primal hunger. I can easily imagine that union with God contains complete and infinite comfort and satisfaction because we will clearly be able to see not only God, but the true nature of ourselves within Him.

  4. John Hutchins says:

    While there is nothing that makes it theoretically impossible to posit the existence of many transcendent gods, I confess I can bring to mind no real examples from history or anthropology.

    Monolatry of Mormonism.

    • I confess I don’t know enough about Mormonism to know to what you refer.

      • John Hutchins says:

        Our intelligences are co-eternal with God, who formed us as spirits first and then later sent us to earth. If we are faithful then we become joint-heirs with Christ and therefore gods, which sets up a plurality of gods. Christ has been eternally God and part of the Godhead and did what He saw His Father do, which sets up an eternal progression (or regression) and therefore a plurality of God’s even though only one God exists for this creation and for us.

        • mhssu says:

          Interesting- *this* creation? There are others? Also, is it true that what the Mormons call “the godhead,” Trinitarians would call “tritheism?”

          • John Hutchins says:

            “There are others?”
            To begin with there isn’t an end to the creations of God and there are innumerable other worlds that God has created that also have intelligent inhabitants. To end with there obviously had to have been previous creations completely unrelated in time and space to ours for the system to make any sense.

            Trinitarians would call it any number of things from atheism to trinitarianism. There are three distinct beings but one in power, purpose, unity, and mission.

            • Tom Simon says:

              To end with there obviously had to have been previous creations completely unrelated in time and space to ours for the system to make any sense.

              To this claim I make the same reply as I do to the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (which I also reject). Where are these creations? By what, other than your own writings, can one demonstrate the existence of any of them?

              If it is obvious that there had to be previous creations for the system to make sense, and there is no evidence of such creations to be found, then the simplest and most reasonable conclusion is that the system doesn’t make any sense and is, in fact, incorrect.

              • John Hutchins says:

                ” other than your own writings”

                Actually, it comes from such places as the Gospel of John, such as John 5:19. Or Revelation 21:1. Or 2 Peter 3.

                • gray mouser says:

                  You may seriously want to go back and check the larger context of the three verses you referenced.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    2 Peter 3 is a chapter, not a single verse. I could have just as easily said Revelation 21-22. I could also just as easily have put John 5:17-47 with the restriction to vs 17 instead of the whole chapter because 1-17 are giving context of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath.

                    • gray mouser says:

                      Yes, I am aware that 2 Pet. 3 refers to a whole chapter rather than a verse. My apologies for not specifically calling it a chapter. But if you take all of those verses (or chapters in the case of 2 Peter and Rev.) into account it becomes quite clear that none of the Scriptural authors are talking about the “previous creations” you mentioned.

                      John 5 has nothing to do with any sort of pre-existing creation. Indeed, if you limit the verses read to 17-47 as you suggest the immediate context is Jesus’ claim to equality with the Father and the Jews’ desire to kill him (vv. 17-18). Beginning with v.19, immediately following the healing on the Sabbath which has the Jews wanting to persecute Jesus for that alone and then kill him for making himself an equal to God, you have Jesus reiterating his equality to God. It’s like in John 6 when people begin to grumble about him telling them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Far from telling them they misunderstood him he doubles down on his claim. People don’t like Jesus’ claim to be equal to God? Hey, guess what, folk? “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. ” He’s not only equal to God in the sense that he can heal on the Sabbath he’s equal to God in some weird way in which he SEES what God the Father is doing. The remainder of the chapter is a discourse and explication of this.

                      2 Peter 3 talks about not a previous creation but rather the end of history and the destruction of the world. The reference to the flood is used as an argument against those that say God isn’t keeping his promise (and is itself an example of a typological reading of Scripture which demonstrates a foreshadowing of what will happen). Peter basically says that those who are scoffing at the delay of Jesus’ Parousia and saying that therefore that he will not come or simply using the delay as an excuse to not reform their lives shouldn’t serve to dismay the believer. Any attempt at reading “the world that then existed” in v. 6 or “the heavens and earth that now exist” in v. 7 as being metaphysically distinct are tendentious in the extreme.

                      Rev. 21-22 is an apocalyptic presentation of what will happen at the end of the world. John sees the new heaven and new earth after the old heaven and earth have passed away. In other words, he sees the renewal of the created order by God after the end of history and the destruction of the world. He is having a vision of the eschaton. There’s nothing in those two chapters that imply in any way that there were creations previous to ours. (But even beyond that John sees the New Jerusalem adorned like a bride, that is, he sees the eschatological perfection of the Church. While God is always present to his faithful in this life, and in a special way in the Eucharist, it is at the eschatoon that we will finally be able to say that “the dwelling of God is with men” in a perfect way since there will be “no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:3, 22).

                      You’re not really engaging in exegesis but rather eisegesis.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      John 5: Logical conclusion of Christ not doing anything but what He saw His Father do and Christ having lived, sacrificed Himself, and risen again with a body and a resurrected being is that God, the Father did likewise.

                      2 Peter and Revelation are both discussing the creation of a new Heaven and new Earth (which if one compares with Isaiah 65:17 where it has the same verb in Hebrew as Genesis 1:1). They are clearly saying that Earth will become Heaven and there will be a new Earth.

                    • gray mouser says:

                      I don’t know why I can’t reply to your answer below so I’ll cheat and cut and paste up here.

                      John 5: Logical conclusion of Christ not doing anything but what He saw His Father do and Christ having lived, sacrificed Himself, and risen again with a body and a resurrected being is that God, the Father did likewise.

                      Well, no. It’s not a logical conclusion if you take into consideration the context of the passage in question. Christ just healed the man on the Sabbath and that is why the Jews persecuted him (v. 16). Immediatley following it says, “But Jesus answered them, ‘My father is working still, and I am working’.” (Jn 5:17) The work Jesus is talking about in this context is the work of salvation, which is prefigured and witnessed to by his healing miracles. It doesn’t have anything to do with any “previous creations.” This is also why he is talking about judgement so much in the later verses.

                      2 Peter and Revelation are both discussing the creation of a new Heaven and new Earth (which if one compares with Isaiah 65:17 where it has the same verb in Hebrew as Genesis 1:1). They are clearly saying that Earth will become Heaven and there will be a new Earth.

                      I don’t see that anywhere in 2 Peter 3. Both the heavens and the earth will be destroyed: “the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). Nothing there about the earth becoming the heaven. In verse 13 he says, “But according to his [Christ's] promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Nothing there about the earth being made into heaven, either.

                      Turning back to Revelation John says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (Rev. 21:1) But here not only does the earth and heaven pass away but John seems to go out of his way to say that the SEA does as well. Which is odd since the sea is part of the earth. This most likely has to do with the symbolism of the sea which occurs earlier in Revelation, however, and so is understandable in the context of the whole book. The rest of Rev. 21 is a description of the Bride (who looks like … a giant cube! Which is odd for a bride and even a bit strange for a city.)

                      Chapter 22 continues the description of the Bride (that is, the Church in her eschatological glory), talks about the prophecy in the book, and ends with Christ’s assurance that he is coming soon. Nothing in there about the earth being made into heaven.

                      I have to admit, this is the first time I have ever even heard of this idea. It’s somewhat interesting but lacks any sort of textual basis. I’d love to see a direct citation for your claim.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      John 5:19 “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” And then proceeds to talk about the Resurrection and stating that God the Father “has life in himself” and that the Son will likewise.

                      “Nothing in there about the earth being made into heaven. ”
                      It is odd that you describe the Earth being made into heaven and then claim that is not what you are saying. There appears to be a difference in understanding here.

                      “I’d love to see a direct citation for your claim.”

                      Primarily comes from The King Follett Discourse and Sermon in the Grove, both some of the last sermons given by Joseph Smith. That said, the Bible is not the only place that the ideas are found. The sermons just explain it in terms of the Bible in a way that had not been previously explained explicitly. The ideas are also found in such places as D&C 132 or throughout The Pearl of Great Price.

                    • gray mouser says:

                      Again, I don’t know why I can’t reply to your answers directly so I’ll cut and paste here.

                      I said: “I’d love to see a direct citation for your claim.”

                      To which you replied:

                      Primarily comes from The King Follett Discourse and Sermon in the Grove, both some of the last sermons given by Joseph Smith. That said, the Bible is not the only place that the ideas are found. The sermons just explain it in terms of the Bible in a way that had not been previously explained explicitly. The ideas are also found in such places as D&C 132 or throughout The Pearl of Great Price.

                      I should have been more clear. I’d love to see a direct citation for your claim from the Bible.

                      Hey, I’d even settle for a citation from Scripture that isn’t directly contrary to your claim. The passages you cited in your replies thus far are simply unrelated to your claim. It’s not a matter of them being only implicit supports, for example, it’s that they have nothing to do with the idea of “previous creations.” If those are the Scriptural passages used in The King Follett Discourse, Sermon in the Grove, C&D, and the Peark of Great Price then it’s cvery problematic since those works would be using passages that are completely out of context in order to support a non-Biblical doctrine.

        • Tom Simon says:

          Our intelligences are co-eternal with God,

          Then God did not create our intelligences? In other words, we ourselves are not created, contingent beings? This is a clear contradiction of Jewish and Christian doctrine on the subject — and a long way from the common-sense understanding of what human beings are, for that matter.

          As Aristotle points out, matter is the mode of individuation: if you have a million disembodied human intelligences, not yet distinguished by their possession of different bodies, how do you tell one apart from the other? How, indeed, do you know that there are a million, and not a thousand, or ten, or just one?

          (Thomist philosophy, indeed, holds that the only reason angels — which are disembodied spirits by nature — can exist in numbers greater than one, is that every angel created is of its own unique species; each angel’s essential nature is so different from every other that they can be told apart without any help from location, time, or any other extrinsic identifying marks. There is not ‘this angel here’ and ‘that angel over there’; there are Gabriel and Uriel (for instance), whose natures are so different that you don’t need terms like here and there to distinguish them. None of this can be said to be true of human spirits.)

          • John Hutchins says:

            “Then God did not create our intelligences? ”
            Correct, God did not create our intelligences but did create our spirits (which isn’t what you mean by spirit, fyi) and Christ created the world in which we live. God is then the Father of our spirits.

            ” In other words, we ourselves are not created, contingent beings?”
            Only sort of.

            “This is a clear contradiction of Jewish and Christian doctrine on the subject”
            It is a clear contradiction of what Jewish and Christian doctrine are after having fallen in love with the wisdom of the world as found in Greek philosophy and (to perhaps a lesser extent) Egyptian thought. I see this view being clearly laid out in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

            “how do you tell one apart from the other?”
            Spirits have bodies just not like ours. Intelligence is also something material in nature.

            Gabriel is Noah in his disembodied state, the new name which he has received.

            “angels”
            Angel simply means messenger from God and the term can be used to describe men in various states pre and post mortality and is also sometimes used to describe mortal men that have been sent from God as well.

            • Tom Simon says:

              Correct, God did not create our intelligences but did create our spirits (which isn’t what you mean by spirit, fyi)

              I’ll thank you not to tell me what I mean. The Catholic position, at least, is that what we refer to (loosely) as a human spirit is what Aquinas calls the rational soul; intelligence is a function or faculty of the rational soul, and does not exist independent of it. If God created our rational souls, he created our ability to have intelligence; if he did not create our intelligence, he did not create our rational souls. There is no middle position.

              ” In other words, we ourselves are not created, contingent beings?”
              Only sort of.

              There is no ‘sort of’. Either a being is dependent upon something else for its existence, or it is not.

              “This is a clear contradiction of Jewish and Christian doctrine on the subject”
              It is a clear contradiction of what Jewish and Christian doctrine are after having fallen in love with the wisdom of the world as found in Greek philosophy and (to perhaps a lesser extent) Egyptian thought. I see this view being clearly laid out in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

              You are, of course, bound by your heresy to claim that Jewish and Christian doctrine are false. Your mere assertion that we have ‘fallen in love with the wisdom of the world’ is not persuasive, and is perhaps not meant to be. It is a null rhetorical assertion.

              St. Paul observes that even those who have not the Law are a law unto themselves: that is, the moral law, and also the intellectual law of correct reasoning, are discoverable even by persons who have not received either the Mosaic Law or the Holy Spirit. This corresponds with experience: reasoning works: God has created a universe that can be reasoned about, and if you apply correct reasoning to any natural thing, having correct knowledge of it, you will find that the conclusions of your reasoning also correspond to reality. As C. S. Lewis liked to put it, the world has emeth — not merely ‘truth’ (which is the usual loose translation of the Hebrew word), but a particular kind of truth that is perhaps the touchstone of Scriptural philosophy: internal self-consistency, dependable validity — in a word, faithfulness.

              When you deny that the rules of logic (which are what you mean by ‘the wisdom of the world’) apply to religion, you are, from the point of view of anyone who has sufficiently investigated those rules and discovered their necessity, saying that God is either irrational or nonexistent. An irrational being could not have created a world which is so thoroughly accessible to reason; which leaves us, being presented with such a world, to conclude that either God is nonexistent or you are mistaken.

              • Darrell says:

                Mr. Simon

                I’ll thank you not to tell me what I mean.

                I suspect that Mr. Hutchins was simply colloquially saying that the Mormon understanding of spirits is so substantively different from that of the Roman Catholic understanding of spirits that when he wrote “God…did create our spirits” he is not describing the same thing that you would be if you wrote the self same sentence.

                • John Hutchins says:

                  This is exactly what I meant, unless Mr. Simon is LDS there is nearly no chance that he means what I mean when discussing spirit.

                  • Mary says:

                    So why did you use the meaning? And in such a phrasing? You should have made it clear that you were referring to some loosey-goosey Mormon notion, not his.

                    • DGDDavidson says:

                      I rather enjoy the discussions of Mormonism that appear from time to time in this blog, but let’s keep it nice.

                      Mr. Hutchins merely explained that he was using a term in a specific way that differs from the regular understanding. There’s no reason to attack him for it.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      I did make clear that I was referring to my own meaning, I put *which isn’t what you mean by spirit* when referring to spirit.

              • John Hutchins says:

                “Either a being is dependent upon something else for its existence, or it is not.”
                But what part of its existence are you referring to? Jesus Christ was dependent on Mary for His earthly existence, just as we are dependent on our parents for ours. An intelligence placed in a sphere in which it can act for itself is said to now have existence where as it previously did not exist in that state.

                “If God created our rational souls, he created our ability to have intelligence; if he did not create our intelligence, he did not create our rational soul”

                As Darrell points out, I was pointing out that according to LDS doctrine a soul is the joining of Spirit with Body, a Spirit is an intelligence that has been organized by God into its spirit body, spirit being a different form of matter then what we experience normally. As I said when I say spirit I don’t mean anything similar to what you mean when you say spirit.

                “not persuasive”
                You quote Aristotle more then scripture and Aquinas does so as well. In speaking of God Aquinas usually only references scripture in challenges to his position and responds with Aristotle. You can disagree with me as to whether it is right to use Greek thought as doctrine but you can’t seriously be disagreeing with me that Greek thought is being used as doctrine.

                ” and also the intellectual law of correct reasoning”
                Um, he says that by their actions, elsewhere and repeatedly he says they do not know God, that God is not discoverable through the wisdom of the world which is foolishness to God, and etc.

                “When you deny that the rules of logic”
                The rules of logic are fine and despite various parties trying to say that I deny them I nowhere claim to be.

                “which are what you mean by ‘the wisdom of the world”
                What was that about not telling people what they mean? I was actually correct in saying that we mean different things, this is not what I mean. If you have questions about what I mean then you are free to ask.

                “God is either irrational or nonexistent”
                I would ask you to walk through how you get this conclusion from my position but since you clearly don’t yet have a grasp on my position then that would be futile.

                • Mary says:

                  You are introducing a “part” of existence where it has no place. God is the creator of all things and therefore of all of us, without distinction of parts.

                • Mary says:

                  Aquinas was doing philosophy and therefore rightfully treated the subject matter at hand. He also quoted Aristotle to argue with him, as he did not with Scripture (though, of course, he had to show that some interpretations are inaccurate because of conflicts).

                • Mary says:

                  “according to LDS doctrine a soul is the joining of Spirit with Body, ”

                  In which case using the word “soul” is disingenuous and misleading, because not from the earliest days where we have records of people’s beliefs in souls has anyone used that term to mean that.

            • Tom Simon says:

              “how do you tell one apart from the other?”
              Spirits have bodies just not like ours. Intelligence is also something material in nature.

              I shall repeat Mr. Wright’s frequent question, in various forms. How much does intelligence weigh? How many candlepower of luminosity does it have? What is its temperature? How big is it? What is the amperage of a syllogism? What is the molar quantity of a concept?

              The fact is that while, in this world and in our circumstances, intelligence resides in a material host, and relies upon the operations of the host matter (as a computer relies upon the operation of the semiconductors of which it is made), it is not identical with the host, and can be (in principle) translated to an entirely different material substrate, provided that the substrate is capable of what we might call intelligent organization. It is analogous to the properties of language (which is at bottom an intellectual phenomenon). The letter B is a B, whether it occurs in the form of spoken sound-waves, ink on paper, an impression in a clay tablet, an embossing on metal type, electronic signals (in progress down a wire), magnetic domains on a hard disk, radio waves, or any other medium which can carry or propagate information and to which a value equivalent to ‘B’ is assigned. A computer program will run with equal validity on an electronic computer, an optical computer (supposing that you have solved the technical problem, still thorny at present, of constructing optical instantiations of all the necessary logic gates), or a mechanical device such as Babbage’s Analytical Engine. The output of the program is dependent crucially upon the structure of the system and not at all upon the particular properties of the material medium — else it would be impossible to perform the same operation in different material media in this way.

              Gabriel is Noah in his disembodied state, the new name which he has received.

              That is not contained in any Jewish or Christian Scripture. It may for all I know be found in the Book of Mormon, but I do not accept that as authoritative, for reasons I have gone into before.

              Angel simply means messenger from God and the term can be used to describe men in various states pre and post mortality and is also sometimes used to describe mortal men that have been sent from God as well.

              Both the Old Testament and the New contain descriptions of angels that are obviously not men; and the New Testament especially makes statements about the destiny of the human soul after death that do not square with the idea that humans can become angels. The equivalence (even potential) of the two is a very late, corrupt, and unlearned accretion on popular angelology. You are fond of saying that the Christian churches fell away from true Christianity at a very early date, though you have never presented any argument for this view that I could not knock holes through in five minutes. Well, here is evidence that you have fallen away from true Christian doctrine at a very late date — that you have subscribed to an error which was originated by people that (according to you) were never proper Christians at all, and (according to us) were naive and accidental heretics, having drawn an erroneous equivalence between angels and the spirits of the dead, through ignorance of the relevant Scripture and theology.

              • John Hutchins says:

                Could you please give me any case in the Old or New Testament where it says explicitly angel (not Seraphim) and demonstrates that they are “obviously” not men? Revelation repeatedly has an angel state that he is a man and there are many cases in the Old Testament where angels are described as men.

                “but I do not accept that as authoritative, for reasons I have gone into before.”
                D&C, and I do accept it as scripture.

                “How much does intelligence weigh?”
                Quite possibly the same as a photon.

                “How many candlepower of luminosity does it have?”
                Haven’t measured it and this is assuming that it can be acted upon in such a manner to be so measurable.

                “What is the amperage of a syllogism? ”
                syllogisms are not intelligence but an operation of intelligence.

                “molar”
                wasn’t aware intelligence had teeth, in fact I quite believe that it has none until it inhabits a body of some form.

                “quantity of a concept?”
                Again, concepts are not intelligence but an operation of intelligence.

                Please quit trying to argue with me as if I were a reductive materialist when I have clearly already stated that I am not. Also, having explicitly stated that intelligence is a part of ones spirit and the spirit inhabits the body what makes you think that I equate intelligence with the body?

                • Mary says:

                  Quit offering reductive materialist arguments, and we will stop trying to argue with them. If you assert something is material, being asked about its material properties is only to be expected, and silly goose answers — really “quite possibly the same as a photon”? — do not help your case.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    ” silly goose answers — really “quite possibly the same as a photon”? ”
                    An extremely legitimate response to the question asked and one that is very likely the true response to that question.

                    “reductive materialist arguments,”
                    I am not doing so.

                    • Mary says:

                      Very likely the true response? On what grounds do you make that assertion?

                    • No. Your response was not legitimate, it was a dodge. Come now.

                      You were asked how much a non-material category, called ‘intelligence’ weighed. It is a simple question, meant to show that non-material categories do not have physical properties like physical objects. Instead of answering the question like a man, you cringed to one side by saying the category of intelligence weighed as much as a photon. By that logic, a genius twice as ‘bright’ as an idiot would have twice the weight, or his brain would, or his thoughts would, or the contents of his thoughts when he was thinking clearly and staying on-topic.

                      The problem with your analogy is that photons do have mass. That is why light bends when passing near large stars. Photons have all the other properties of material objects. They are no more ‘immaterial’ than bricks. Intelligence, on the other hand, is utterly immaterial, in that no property of it, no definition, no use in any sentence or thought of any kind whatsoever does or can possibly make reference to any material thing.

                      In other words, you witticism is that same as if you answered: How much does intelligence weigh? Perhaps intelligence weighs the same as a brick.

                      It is a nonsense statement. It is a dodge. You were caught by an unanswerable question, and you don’t admit it (or, worse, don’t realize it), but uttered words without meaning in order to create the unconvincing illusion that you had an answer.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      John C Wright,
                      I wasn’t trying to say that intelligence was immaterial or massless, I am actually thinking of D&C 93 in saying that it has the mass of a photon:

                      29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

                      Also, from D&C 131:

                      All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

                      and from D&C 88:

                      7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

                      8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;

                      9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;

                      10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.

                      11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

                      12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—

                      13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

                      So as you see, it wasn’t a witticism but actually, possibly, the truth.

                    • No, sir. None of the passages you quoted bear the interpretation that intelligence, which is a category of judging the wit and wisdom of a thought, weighs the same as matter. Even if this source you are quoting is true, it does not support your argument nor save you from the paradox.

                      The Christian Science of Mary Baker Eddy was invented (or, if you like, discovered or revealed) as about the same time as the doctrines your body of worship were. She elected the opposite doctrine, that all things which seemed to be made of matter were made of divine thought, and the matter itself is not merely an illusion but THE illusion, the one error that creates sin, sickness, and death.

                      It is like the theological version of the debate between Lucretius and Bishop Barkley. Lucretius held that the gods were made of fine atoms like fire, whereas Berkley held that all material substance was sustained by the thought of God and was thought.

                      However, neither of them could overcome the same problem you are having, which is that immaterial things cannot be reduced to or described in terms of material things, nor visa versa. Even if they were somehow one substance, the human categories of thought do not allow us to make any meaningful statements about the concept.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      If intelligence is the light of truth (D&C 93) which is the same light which shine and gives us light (88) then it is not only material (131) but also light and therefore photons, which reading may or may not be correct.

                      Regardless of the correctness or incorrectness of interpreting those passages as literally talking about light, there is clearly a material particle that carries as a property intelligence according to what the passages are saying. As light cleaves to light (D&C 88) and one intelligence can be said to be greater then another with God being greatest of all (Abraham) then a person or spirit can be said to have more intelligence then another, and assuming that one has found a way of seeing or measuring intelligence then it would be measurable. This does not mean that the operations of thought, reasoning, so forth, are measurable but that they occur by means of and operating in intelligence.

                    • Mary says:

                      And if Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, obviously we have leaves and grapes.

                      Holy Writ uses metaphors.

    • mhssu says:

      I’m not sure if that counts- the Mormon gods are limited and contingent, sharing absolute metaphysical priority with a number of other elements, among them matter. They’re not really “transcendent,” as such, so it amounts to a version of polytheism.

      • John Hutchins says:

        They are certainly transcendent in the sense that they are outside of this creation and this time and exist eternally, obviously they are not outside of material existence as nothing is. God is certainly a necessary being as 2 Nephi 2 very clearly lays out, Christ also is a necessary being, neither is limited in any meaningful sense.

        Also, it is Monolatry not polytheism; worship of one God and this being of necessity while recognizing there are many gods as opposed to the polytheistic version which is Henotheism.

        • Tom Simon says:

          If they are not outside material existence, then they are not transcendent in the theological meaning of the term. (Indeed, our understanding of material existence is such that nothing material, as we know it, can possibly exist eternally or be outside time.) If they are material beings, they are not necessary, but dependent upon matter itself, which then becomes the necessary being; and if they are made of matter, they cannot be the creators of matter.

          I find the whole position radically incoherent.

          • John Hutchins says:

            I find the position that a being can exist outside of a material existence to be radically incoherent. As I pointed out to The OFloinn, from each of our perspectives the other is nearly an atheist.

            They aren’t creators of matter but organizers of it, matter is co-eternal as was originally pointed out by mhssu.

            • Darrell says:

              Mr. Hutchins

              Two questions:

              Why would being existing outside of material existence be radically incoherent?

              Why would Mormons view Roman Catholics (and by extension Orthodox Christians) nearly atheists and vice versa?

              • John Hutchins says:

                “Why would being existing outside of material existence be radically incoherent?”

                Because it posits that nothing is something which is contradictory.

                “Why would Mormons view Roman Catholics (and by extension Orthodox Christians) nearly atheists and vice versa?”

                The non-rigorous version is that atheists believe that nothing is God and RC believe that God is nothing, ergo they are both the same. The other direction should be obvious, our conception of God is so very different that according to Greek thought what we say is God only matches with that idea of God in a very few points and half the time to match on those points we are nearly talking about different things.

                • Tom Simon says:

                  The non-rigorous version is that atheists believe that nothing is God and RC believe that God is nothing, ergo they are both the same.

                  In fact, Catholics do not believe that God is nothing. That is either a deliberate lie, or an appallingly foolish error that arises from the false assumption that materialism is true.

                  There is this much truth in what you say: if everything is matter and matter is all that can exist, then there is and can be no such thing as God. But a close analysis (such as that done by Aristotelians, Thomists, or even Cartesians) reveals that the materialist hypothesis does not ‘save the appearances’: it fails to account for an enormous number of phenomena that we regularly perceive, including the fact that we are able to perceive phenomena.

                  The other direction should be obvious, our conception of God is so very different that according to Greek thought what we say is God only matches with that idea of God in a very few points and half the time to match on those points we are nearly talking about different things.

                  This is correct. Your conception of God corresponds more nearly with the pagan conception of gods, and departs from the beliefs of both Judaism and Christianity. It has nothing whatever in common with the Platonist or Aristotelian conceptions of God, which (as Aquinas, Maimonides, and others have demonstrated) are in fact reconcilable and commensurable with the Jewish and Christian conceptions. In particular, your God is not necessary — the material universe could, and on your terms must, exist without him, because he did not create it. Greek and Christian philosophy begins with the contingent nature of the things that are seen, and its first conclusion is that since contingent things must be contingent upon something that is not contingent, there must be something that is unlike the objects of sense-perception which we find in the material universe. From there it takes a long, difficult chain of reasoning (with several angles of attack) to arrive at the classical conception of God; but every step in that chain is strictly necessary — there are no valid alternatives, given the initial data.

                  Your approach is simply to proclaim as dogma a hypothesis which is not supported by any empirical evidence, and then to claim that the methods of reason are incorrect and their conclusions (which disagree with yours) must therefore be false. If you were consistent in your approach, you would refuse to engage in any kind of reasoning whatever, because if the method of reason is false in general, then every single instance of reasoning must be invalid. It might be possible by sheer coincidence to come up with true conclusions by an invalid method; but only a fool would base his understanding on nothing more than the hope of a helpful coincidence.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    “methods of reason are incorrect ”
                    Quit claiming this as I do not claim this or there is no point in me explaining my beliefs at all.

                    You agree with me on both cases yet wrote a long response as though you didn’t. I said non-rigorous and so it was but as you say it is correct given the assumptions.

                • Tom Simon says:

                  Because it posits that nothing is something which is contradictory.

                  You are committing an elementary error of equivocation. The number 5 is something — it is a number — but it is not a material body. It is a property that describes various sets of material bodies: I have five fingers, there are five plates in my cupboard, my car has five tires (including the spare), and so forth. But ‘fiveness’ is not inherent in any of these sets and is not exhaustively described by them; it is an immaterial property shared by groups of objects that have no material properties in common.

                  This is a very elementary example, but it is enough in itself to defeat the idea that ‘something’ must necessarily and only mean ‘some material object’. That being so, it becomes obvious that you are using language in an improper way when you call non-material entities ‘nothing’.

                  Indeed, I will point out that we have constant and immediate experience of a physical entity that is not material in nature: and that is the matrix of the universe itself — the space-time continuum. Matter (and energy, which is equivalent to matter, and so I will give you energy as ‘material’ according to your terms, though you do not trouble to claim it explicitly) exist in the space-time continuum; indeed, it is questionable whether they could exist without it, and certain that they would be undetectable without it. We know matter because it has size and extension; we know energy because it propagates forces from one body to another: that is, we know matter because of its presence in space, and energy because of its operation in time. But space and time themselves are not made of matter and energy; if they were, they would be unable to act as the medium in which matter and energy are manifested. They are therefore logically prior to matter and energy: which is not to say that they existed previously, but that matter and energy, at every moment of their existence, are contingent upon the space-time continuum in which they ‘live and move and have their being’.

                  Let us draw up a formal argument. This, by the way, constitutes part of the so-called proof from motion, though in that proof, not all of these steps are usually made explicit:

                  1. Matter can move through space.
                  2. Two bits of matter cannot occupy the same space. (I leave out special cases like the so-called Bose-Einstein condensates, because we observe that matter does move even when no Bose-Einstein condensates are present. Let us confine ourselves to the general case for the present.)
                  3. Therefore (from 1 & 2), there are parts of space that do not contain any matter, so that they are available for matter to move into.

                  Definition A. Let us call these parts of space which do not contain any matter, vacuum.

                  4. There is no matter in a vacuum (true by definition).
                  5. Everything that exists is matter.
                  6. Therefore (from 4 & 5), vacuum does not exist.
                  7. Therefore (from 6 & A), there is no space which does not contain any matter.
                  8. Therefore (from 2 & 7), matter cannot move through space, because all the space is already full.
                  9. Statements 1 & 8 are contradictory.

                  In formal logic, step 9 is represented by the symbol ⊥, sometimes called ‘bottom’. According to the rules, once you have reached bottom, you are allowed to make any statement as your next move; but if you don’t want to circle round and arrive at the same contradiction again, you will have to make a statement that is contrary to one of the assumptions that led to the contradiction in the first place.

                  Now, in the chain of logic I gave above, every statement is a conclusion, except 1, 2, and 5, which are the premises given. Statements 1 & 2 (the existence of motion, and the fact that a volume of space can ordinarily be occupied by only one body at a time) are derived from immediate sense experience which I trust (since you can move your fingers to type messages to me) you share and will not dispute. The only remaining premise that we can alter is 5. So we start afresh:

                  10. Something exists that is not matter.

                  Now, the question is whether God is a material being (your conception) or a being analogous to the space-time continuum, that is, a non-material being which is necessary in order for matter to have a medium in which to exist. Classical theism (including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism) claims the latter. But it is this very claim that you reject as incoherent, because you are wedded to the axiom given as statement 5 above. Since the existence of motion, and of moving bodies, which we see every day, is incompatible with that axiom, I conclude that it is your position, not mine, that is incoherent.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    “There is no matter in a vacuum (true by definition).”
                    So having given me that energy and matter are the same then this premises falls flat on it self. Give me a pure vacuum devoid of energy and then we can talk.

                  • 1. Matter can move through space.
                    2. Two bits of matter cannot occupy the same space. (I leave out special cases like the so-called Bose-Einstein condensates, because we observe that matter does move even when no Bose-Einstein condensates are present. Let us confine ourselves to the general case for the present.)
                    3. Therefore (from 1 & 2), there are parts of space that do not contain any matter, so that they are available for matter to move into.

                    I suggest that if you intend to prove something using axioms drawn from physics, you should not use the physics of the nineteenth century. There is no matter as you seem to understand the term; there are only excitations in infinite-dimensional quantum fields. Sometimes the sum of all the excitations acts a bit like the traditional conception of solid matter, but this is not the fundamental nature of the thing.

                • Darrell says:

                  Because it posits that nothing is something which is contradictory.

                  Neither Roman Catholicism nor Orthodox Christianity posit that nothing is something. Rather they both claim that God is God and not composed of something else.

                  The other direction should be obvious, our conception of God is so very different that according to Greek thought what we say is God only matches with that idea of God in a very few points and half the time to match on those points we are nearly talking about different things.

                  Even if Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians were wrong and worshipped an imaginary deity or God was, in fact, composed of matter it wouldn’t make them atheists. It would simply mean that their theology was incorrect.

                  Depending on which Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian that you are asking, I’ve heard Mormons considered heretics or to be worshipping a false or imaginary god but I’ve never heard them seriously described as atheists. That said, I’ve never understood the Roman Catholic (and rarer, but still extant) Orthodox Christian arguments about who are “real” Roman Catholics or “real” Orthodox Christians. Those arguments always strike me as being theologically illiterate but they may intend to be describing heretics.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    “but I’ve never heard them seriously described as atheists.”
                    Mr. Simon is doing a decent job of trying to describe me as an atheist, [edit] which I see you already responded to []

                    • Mary says:

                      No, he isn’t. He’s merely pointing out the radical incoherence of your view of God.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      There is a reason I had quit responding to comments by you, Mary. I think I will return to that practice.

                    • Mary says:

                      Yes, because you don’t like having radical incoherence pointed out to you. Odd. One would think that with your professed contempt for Greek philosophy, and therefore for logic, you would be proud of them.

                      Except of course that turns on the idea that one should not be so radically incoherent as to be insulted by the idea you don’t follow something you have professed contempt for. So it’s clear after all.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      You can see how infinitely laborious and fruitless it would be to try to refute every objection they offer, when they have resolved never to think before they speak provided that somehow or other they contradict our arguments.

                    • Mary says:

                      Because it can’t possibly be that your arguments are worthy only of contradiction.

            • Tom Simon says:

              I find the position that a being can exist outside of a material existence to be radically incoherent.

              In other words, you can’t conceive of anything that exists that is not matter; you require that everything that exists be reducible to matter. This is not an incoherent position, but it does not allow for the existence of anything resembling what Christians call God. (It also doesn’t allow for all kinds of other mental and spiritual phenomena that are directly accessible to our conscious awareness, as Mr. Wright has been trying to show Dr. Andreassen with sadly little effect.) To be a materialist and not an atheist is an incoherent position, unless you completely redefine what you mean by theism.

              They aren’t creators of matter but organizers of it, matter is co-eternal as was originally pointed out by mhssu.

              The problem is that matter is provably not eternal. Furthermore, the Jewish and Christian position is quite clearly that God is the creator of the material universe, not merely its organizer. In Aristotelian terms, the Christian view is that God is the Uncaused Cause and Prime Mover; the Mormon view, apparently, is that matter is the Uncaused Cause and Prime Mover, and that God is merely contingent upon matter.

              • John Hutchins says:

                “The problem is that matter is provably not eternal. ”
                Please prove that matter/energy is not eternal.

                “Christian view”
                You mean the Aristotelian view, Prime Mover and Uncaused Cause never appear in the scripture.

                ” God is the creator of the material universe”
                “And the world was without form and void”, let alone discussions as to the first verse, would appear to leave that the earth existed prior to the creation in an unorganized state.

                “It also doesn’t allow for all kinds of other mental and spiritual phenomena that are directly accessible to our conscious awareness”

                I said outside of material existence, not that they are all matter nor that matter is reducible to the base measurements.

                “unless you completely redefine what you mean by theism.”
                And Darrell says he has never heard anyone describe Mormons as atheists.

                • Darrell says:

                  And Darrell say he had never heard anyone describe Mormons as atheists.

                  I have never heard anyone seriously describe Mormons as atheists. While Mormons and Orthdox have significantly divergent interpretations of who “God” is I don’t see how that makes Mormons atheists anymore than saying that a pagan who worships Thor is an atheist.

                • mhssu says:

                  Isn’t the beginning of the universe (and thus, of matter/energy) standard cosmology? In any case, even if it is not, firstly there are good philosophical reasons to believe it (such as William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological argument), and furthermore physical matter seems by its nature composite and thus contingent, and thus even if eternal would depend on a more prior metphysical principle, which, if not your God, must then be something greater, which has a power yours lacks.

                  Aristotelianism really came into Christianity in a big way in the time of Aquinas, but by then the immateriality of God and his absolute metaphysical priority to all things had been established dogma for centuries. Tom’s just putting this dogma into Aristotelian parlance.

                  Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 have traditionally been interpreted, both by Jews and by Christians, as describing temporally successive states.

                  So you think that “matter” and “mind” are necessarily joined in God? It seems a strange supposal, for if God is thus composite, does that not entail that there are other things than God by which God exists, namely His parts, which sustain Him in being?

                  Also, what is the Mormon stance on God’s relation to morality, existential purpose, and the like?

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    “furthermore physical matter seems by its nature composite”

                    How is physical matter composite?

                    “Aristotelianism really came into Christianity ”
                    And Augustine openly (as in he says he is doing it) rejects Christian tradition and scripture in favor of Platonic thought, as did some others before him.

                    “Genesis 1:1 and 1:2″
                    -There is no “the” in the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1; as in it is not necessarily specificying that it is “The” beginning.

                    -The word “create” (Bara’) means to form, fashion, or shape and it is only in Genesis and only in relation to God that anyone ever suggests that it means “make out of nothing”. Wikipedia erroneously says that it is only used in reference to God, but this is not true as a quick check of the Hebrew in Joshua 17 would show.

                    -Elohim – literally, “The Gods”; what a great verse to bring up in debating whether there is a plurality of Gods! Mormons believe in a divine council of Gods that holds and has eternally held authority.

                    -The Heavens and The Earth – So you realize that Isaiah has this exact same phrase in imagery that is then used in Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3?

                    1:2 is actually usually seen as a descriptor of the state of the Earth from 1:1, with 1:3 being taken as describing a different time.

                    “So you think that “matter” and “mind” are necessarily joined in God?”
                    Yes, and in everything.

                    “God is thus composite”
                    Mindful matter is not of necessity composite.

                    • mhssu says:

                      Any physical thing among other physical things is at the very least composed of Form, plus a principle of individuation (ie, Aristotelian Prime Matter), and is therefore composite. Further, things physically extended by their very nature have parts in space, again entailing composition.

                      As for the word create, it’s not surprising that it would be used of ex nihilo creation only in the case of God- it’s not like anything other than God could go around pulling it off. In any case, to go about creating the whole of the cosmos- “heaven and earth”- seems necessarily to involve creatio ex nihilo. It seems strange that Mormonism would deny a power to God that seems so clearly something that would be a part of omnipotence- it is neither incoherent nor inconceivable, and would magnify God’s greatness rather than lessen it.

                      As it stands, given his lack of metaphysical priority, his inability to create ex nihilo, his membership of a kind among (ontological) equals, and his contingency upon matter, it’s difficult to differentiate the god of Mormonism from a sort of slightly mightier Zeus- something that differs from us greatly in might and majesty, perhaps, but not something to which we would necessarily owe ultimate obedience, nor really an answer to any of the philosophical and existential questions that Mr Wright raises.

                      To believe in a council of “gods” is to subscribe to polytheism, whether you worship one of their number, three, or more. That, it seems, puts the Mormon tradition squarely outside that of historical Christianity.

                      On the temporal succession between genesis 1 and 2, you’re going against tradition here. For theological considerations alone ( textual arguments we also have) that God may have the primacy rightfully due to Him, the reading that better emphasizes his superiority and priority to the material world should be adopted.

                      As for the joining of matter and mind, it’s hard to see why they should be necessarily joined, rather than contingently so. Further, as a composite of two such differentiable parts, namely mind and matter, surely your god is thereby composite?

                      An alternative that avoids composition in God despite His “materiality” is that you are in reality some kind of monist- there isn’t really “mind” and “matter,” but both are, perhaps, concepts abstracted from some further substance. This is somewhat more respectable, though the problem of composition via extension and physical parthood still presents itself. Regardless of that, insofar as one admits of a plurality of such monads, one must still admit of a form individuated into varying instances to ground such plurality, which again introduces composition into the divine.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      “composed of Form”

                      And the earth was without Form and void.

                      “it’s not surprising that it would be used of ex nihilo creation only in the case of God”
                      This is the claim but it is nowhere proven, one has to assume that it is talking about ex nihlo creation even though no where else that the term is used it is so doing, not even when God creates man. If something is impossible to do then God can not do it and saying that He can is claiming a contradiction, not magnifying Him.

                      “That, it seems, puts the Mormon tradition squarely outside that of historical Christianity. ”
                      No Duh, claiming to have multiple transcendent deities didn’t tip you off to that?

                      “polytheism”
                      polytheism is the worship of many Gods, henotheism is the belief in many Gods with the choice of worshiping one, monolatry is the worship of one God out of necessity and the belief in other non-worshipable gods, mormons are monolatrists

                      “as a composite of two such differentiable parts, namely mind and matter”
                      You are assuming that they are differentiable. Is Jesus Christ, who is God, composite because He has a body of flesh and bone?

                    • mhssu says:

                      Re: polytheism/monolatry. Could you explain how it is that “necessity” attaches to the worship of the particular god among others that you worship? I don’t see how it makes much of a difference, in any case- the principle is that your god has ontological equals, and is thus inferior in concept to that which has no equal and can have none.

                      Re: “the earth was without form…” Not in the sense I was talking. To be literally without Form, in the Aristotelian sense, is not to have a nature at all, and if a thing doesn’t have a nature it doesn’t exist. To said to be at all, the earth would have had the form of earth. A charitable interpretation would have it that the writer didn’t mean that the earth lacked form in this way.

                      Related: since Mormons hold that matter is uncreated, it follows that they believe in an eternal cosmos (something in common with the Aristotelians!). Human history, however, is finite. Does Mormonism have any doctrine to the effect that God waited for an eternity before beginning creation, or was there some sort of prehistoric divine succession that culminated in this latest iteration?

                      Re: composition, in the incarnation, yes, God takes on composition- orthodox Christian theology has it that He adds human nature contingently to the divine nature, neither forming some new midway nature, nor splitting His person. In his human nature, he had the composition appropriate to contingent and finite humanity- limbs, parts, extension, physical senses, immaterial intellect and physical parts, and so on. This does not diminish His metaphysical priority, because He is not *essentially* incarnate, qua God. It is why the Incarnation, to orthodox Christians, is such a huge deal.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      I don’t see how it makes much of a difference, in any case- the principle is that your god has ontological equals, and is thus inferior in concept to that which has no equal and can have none.

                      A being that exists is superior to any conceived being which does not exist. Giving impossibilities to a being does not make that supposed being any superior. A being that is able to make others equal to itself, which is greatest of all, is superior to a being which is unable to fulfill promises of heirs and joint-heirs.

                      Could you explain how it is that “necessity” attaches to the worship of the particular god among others that you worship?

                      We don’t worship any other God, just recognize that they exist.

                      2 Nephi 2 explains the necessity part, reading the whole chapter is best:

                      And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.
                      14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

                      “an eternal cosmos”
                      From eternity to eternity, yes.

                      “Does Mormonism have any doctrine to the effect that God waited for an eternity before beginning creation, or was there some sort of prehistoric divine succession that culminated in this latest iteration?”

                      There is no beginning to the creations of God neither is their an end: “And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.” Pearl of Great Price: Moses 1:38.

                      “, because He is not *essentially* incarnate,”
                      Yet Jesus has and will eternally retain His resurrected body making Him *essentially* incarnate or God’s promises are void.

                    • mhssu says:

                      A being that exists is superior to any conceived being which does not exist. Giving impossibilities to a being does not make that supposed being any superior. A being that is able to make others equal to itself, which is greatest of all, is superior to a being which is unable to fulfill promises of heirs and joint-heirs.

                      So you would admit that, per impossible, if a God to which there could not in principle be ontological equals, in virtue of whose sustaining power all other creation is radically dependent, etc., existed, he would be greater than that of Mormonism? It seems that your assertion that such a being is impossible requires some backup, since there is no obvious contradiction in the concept thereof. A being to whom there could not in principle be equals in power, metaphysical priority, majesty, authority, etc. is superior to that which could in principle have equals. To be “heirs and joint-heirs with Christ” would simply be subject to a different understanding than absolute ontological equality with God.

                      I know that you worship one particular god, who is a being among (ontological) equals. My question was, why this one? Is there any necessary principle by which this is mandatory? Why worship one rather than others? Are there independent moral principles by which this is so, and if so, are they grounded in some superior divinity?

                    • Mary says:

                      “And Augustine openly (as in he says he is doing it) rejects Christian tradition and scripture in favor of Platonic thought, as did some others before him. ”

                      And on what evidence do you make this assertion?

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      So you would admit that, per impossible, if a God to which there could not in principle be ontological equals, in virtue of whose sustaining power all other creation is radically dependent, etc., existed, he would be greater than that of Mormonism?

                      No, I admit that others think so, also creation is dependent upon God as 2 Nephi 2 was saying as well as the D&C 88 quote I gave above shows.

                      A being to whom there could not in principle be equals in power, metaphysical priority, majesty, authority, etc. is superior to that which could in principle have equals.

                      An assertion, similar in nature to Aristotle using a quote from the Iliad to assert that there is only one. An assertion that requires ignoring what the scriptures say in relation to Jesus being equal, or making Himself, equal to God, the Father. An assertion that likewise requires explaining in relation to Jesus’s intercessory prayer of John 17.

                      Is there any necessary principle by which this is mandatory? Why worship one rather than others? Are there independent moral principles by which this is so, and if so, are they grounded in some superior divinity?

                      God is the light of truth, the creator of Heaven and Earth, the Father of our spirits, and the giver of law to all things, and perfectly moral. By way of the fall all men know good from evil, just as God knows good from evil, having tasted the bitter so that we can know and choose the sweet. All of us have done that which we know to be wrong and are therefore of ourselves condemned having fallen short of perfection, and therefore the glory of God. God, our Father, loved us so He sent His Son as Lord and Savior so that if we believe on Him we might be saved, having our sins remitted on condition of obedience to the laws and ordinances of gospel. Therefore if one wishes to be happy and choose what is right then they must of necessity serve God. If one were to attempt to serve another morally perfect being that is not our father, not our creator, not our law giver, not the light of truth, and did not send his son to save us and therefore has no claim over us then we are not following truth and can not be saved by this other god, nor would the other god allow us to worship him, just as angels forbid those they visit to worship them.

                • Mary says:

                  We’re speaking English here. In English, the term “Christian” refers to the religion practiced for centuries, which you are passionately disclaiming, and therefore you should disclaim the term, too. And react with horror when it is applied to you.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    Christian is a term that applies to all those that believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and attempt to follow His teachings; What they believe about the terms involved is less important.

                    • Mary says:

                      Muslims believe in Jesus, too. Who are you to insist that the terms “Lord and Savior” are so crucial?

                      And why are you so bent on associating yourself with a religion you treat with such contempt?

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      I realize that there are people that call themselves Christian that do not think of the Lord as their Lord or Savior; that have a lower opinion of Our Lord Jesus Christ then those in Islam. Since Christ means the anointed one, being the one that is the legitimate heir and being anointed as Lord, then saying that one is Christian while not believing that Christ is Lord is a contradiction in terms.

                      I can understand that one may wish to insist on being called Christian while not attempting to live as Christ taught, not attempting to show love to those that are lost and gone astray or recover them, and who strain at gnats while ignoring the weightier parts of the law and gospel, but since we are discussing who has the right to take upon them the name of Christ and be therefore Christian then I think it best that we listen to the only possible authority on the subject, being Jesus Christ: “”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21 (21-23). If we wish to be claimed as His then we would do well to listen to Him and serve and love others as laid out in Matthew 25:31-46.

                      I, of myself, have no authority to deny others to come unto Christ; in fact I am commanded to invite others to come, to repent and be saved, so while I may not be pleased when others put Christ to open shame and curse, persecute, and say all manner of things falsely because of Christ I must let God judge between us and work out my own salvation in fear and trembling before Him.

                      If you associate Christianity primarily with holding the correct metaphysical beliefs of Plato and/or Aristotle, even at the expense of what God has revealed, then I must disagree with you as the world did not know God through wisdom. If you claim that I do not believe in logic or reason because I reject the wisdom of the world as foolishness to God and trust in the Spirit of God to teach the things which no man knoweth but through the Spirit, then again I must disagree with you as that is not what is meant when I say I reject Greek Philosophy, which thing should be clear. If you had a desire to understand what I was saying then you could ask, as is I feel I must agree with Augustine, something which doesn’t always happen, in that it would be fruitless to try and refute every objection you offer, when you have resolved never to think before commenting provided that you have some contradiction to whatever I say.

                    • I consider those validly baptized to be Christians.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      Mr. Wright,

                      Apollos was a Jew that knew of Jesus but knew of the baptism of John and not the Holy Ghost and needed to have the way of God explained more fully such that those that he baptized needed to be re-baptized as he had not given them a valid baptism yet they are called disciples before they were given a valid baptism.

                      If one knows that ones baptism is valid and all else lack authority then we should be assured that the workings of the Holy Spirit and the fruits thereof will give that one charity and love towards ones fellowmen who are trying to be humble followers of Christ and walk in His way even if they do not have the full light. If one does not know that ones baptism is valid and that they have the Holy Ghost as their companion that will teach them all things and bring all things to their remembrance then one should still attempt to be a humble follower of Christ and attempt to show love and fellowship to all men. If one claims to have a valid baptism and does not attempt to show love to their fellows then we, and they, should be able to determine that they in truth do not know God, as God is love.

                    • A man can be full of love and not be a Christian. A Christian can be a heretic and still be a Christian, but, after a certain degree of heresy, the doctrines being taught and believed are so far away from the truth, that to call him a Christian is to strain the metaphor. I would not call a Mohammedan a Christian, even though he believes Jesus (Isa, as they call him) existed, and believe he was a prophet of God. They do not believe in the crucifixion nor in the resurrection. A Christian Scientist believes in the resurrection, but not in the divinity of Christ. An Arian believes in the resurrection but not in the equal divinity of Christ. I would say an Arian is unambiguously Christian and a Muslim unambiguously is not. The ground between Arianism and Mohammedanism is marshy and debatable.

                      There are false Christs and false prophets. The simplest way to tell is to discover whether the prophets holds the sayings and teachings of all previous prophets to be false. If so, he is likely to be a a false prophet. Or, if your idea of Christ has no relation to what all Christians throughout all time and in every nation have said of Christ, you are bowing to a false idea.

                      Theology is not a science. In science, one lone scientist, an Einstein or Newton, can come up with a theory to explain all the empirical evidence in a new way, and whether or not the rest of the world agrees with him is irrelevant. Theology is more like morality. In morality, one lone moralist, a Peter Singer or Marquis de Sade, can come up with a theory of moral behavior that defies what all other moral teachers and thinkers and sages and philosophers have taught throughout all ages only by teaching immorality.

                    • Mary says:

                      We were talking about whether they were Christians.

                      Anyway, the word “valid” is important in there. Mormon baptism is not valid because Mormons do not intend to perform the baptism that Christ instituted. They claim it is the same baptism that John the Baptist instituted, even though in Acts we are clearly told that these people needed to be rebaptized.

                      Since to baptize validly you must intended to baptize with the baptism of Christ — invalid.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      Mr. Wright,

                      Theology is revealed; One lone prophet (or our Savior) is able to have things revealed that were “hidden since the foundations of the world”. One lone prophet (or our Savior) can overturn the traditions and understanding of scripture as had been held generally for a thousand years. One should consult the living God on who is a Christian and what is to be believed about Christ, rather then public beliefs or the writings of the dead who never received a vision of Christ. Someone seeing Jesus standing at the right hand of God should be trusted more then one that has all the training and knowledge of the world but has never seen Jesus.

                    • And yet that selfsame Jesus warned you of false prophets and false Christs, did He not? And the Bible gives explicit instructions on how to detect false prophets, and what is to be done with them, does it not?

                      Heretics are rebels who take one part of the teaching and use it to dismiss other parts of the teaching, or take some claim outside of teaching, such as the word of a prophet like Mohammad, who performed no miracles and did no works showing him to be a prophet of God, and use it to dismiss the other parts of the teaching.

                      Do you consider Mary Baker Eddy to be a true prophetess? And yet her followers reliably and frequently heal the sick. Do you consider Mohammad to be a true prophet?

                      For myself, I will be skeptical, and demand that anyone claiming to be a prophet to show his apostolic succession back to the first apostles, who learned their teaching from Christ. Anyone claiming that the truth entered the world with Christ, and then jumped over all the followers of Christ for anywhere between seven to fifteen to eighteen hundred years, has to assume a conspiracy theory view of the universe.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      And yet that selfsame Jesus warned you of false prophets and false Christs, did He not?

                      Yes, and said by their fruits ye shall know them.

                      I will be skeptical, and demand that anyone claiming to be a prophet to show his apostolic succession back to the first apostles

                      Peter, James, and John came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and restored the priesthood.

                      “Do you consider Mohammad to be a true prophet? ”
                      “Ye shall know them by their fruits” – There are many things in Islam that make me think that it might be possible that Mohammad did receive visions or visitations of angels. There are likewise many things in Islam that make me think that there are things that were not given him by any vision or angel from God included in the religion. Where he was a prophet and (perhaps) fell (or his followers), was never a prophet and invented it of himself, or was a false prophet, the end result is the same.

                      Anyone claiming that the truth entered the world with Christ, and then jumped over all the followers of Christ for anywhere between seven to fifteen to eighteen hundred years, has to assume a conspiracy theory view of the universe.

                      Truth entered the world with Adam and was taken, restored, and additional truth given many times and in many places since then. Every people was and is given that portion of God’s truth that He sees fit to give them and I am in no position to judge God for revealing more truth to a prophet in frontier America or for not giving more to those in India or Africa, but trust that God in His infinite knowledge, goodness, and wisdom knows what He is doing.

                      I know both by way of the Biblical tests of a true prophet and by way of the Holy Spirit that not only Joseph Smith but all modern prophets up to the current one, Thomas S. Monson, are prophets of God.

                    • You know enough about God’s design to know that He does not act irrationally, nor contradict himself. Any further revelation after Jesus, and new prophets, would build on, but not remove, the work of Jesus, in the same way Jesus Himself removed not one jot nor tittle of the law, but gave it an deeper spiritual dimension the stiff-necked pharisees did not see nor foresee.

                      You cannot use the Bible tests, without admitting the authority of the Bible. To admit the authority of the Bible is fatal to any Protestant or mystery-cult claim of secret knowledge unknown to the main body of Christians, for it uses the Bible, which we Catholics wrote, compiled, selected, sanctified, cherished, copied and preserved, but does not use any other documents or tradition we preserved. If the synods and councils in the Fifth Century which established the list of which books and letters to include and which to exclude was a valid use of Church authority, then the synods and councils in the Fourth and Third century were also valid, because the Church cannot exercise authority she has lost by her apostasy.

                      The devil’s main purpose is to remove the sacraments. All the rigamarole about Luther and Zwingli and Calvin and Mary Baker Eddy and Joseph Smith and Mohammed is merely direct to that single end: that the faithful will eat bread that is merely bread, and is not the bread from heaven which is the real presence of Christ.

                      I doubt not that you will still be saved, because God is gracious, and may cover your invalid baptisms with a baptism of desire, but you are like Long John Silver, missing one of the two legs on which faith stands, which is the sacraments.

                    • Mary says:

                      “Yes, and said by their fruits ye shall know them.”

                      Yes, and the fruit of Mormonism I have often heard of is the belief that Mormons get to have their own universes to be God of, in due course.

                      Literally as proud as Lucifer, that belief.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      You cannot use the Bible tests, without admitting the authority of the Bible. To admit the authority of the Bible is fatal to any Protestant or mystery-cult claim of secret knowledge unknown to the main body of Christians, for it uses the Bible, which we Catholics wrote, compiled, selected, sanctified, cherished, copied and preserved, but does not use any other documents or tradition we preserved. If the synods and councils in the Fifth Century which established the list of which books and letters to include and which to exclude was a valid use of Church authority, then the synods and councils in the Fourth and Third century were also valid, because the Church cannot exercise authority she has lost by her apostasy.

                      To start with the Catholic Church did not *write* any of the books of the Bible and if it did then the synods and councils impeach themselves as that is by no means what they claim to be doing. In fact if the councils are even defining anew the canon of scripture they still are impeaching themselves, instead their purpose was to clarify which scriptures were already canonical and had been since the Apostles had first written them.

                      Second, it is extraordinarily odd that writers from the first century quote scripture from the New Testament if the scriptures were not valid, sanctified, cherished, copied, or preserved until the Third and Fourth centuries. The authority found in scriptures was not given to it in the Fourth century but comes from the authority of the writers of the scripture and the councils could but recognize the already existing scriptures as being authoritative as well as perhaps compile them into one set.

                      Next, most of the tests of a true or false prophet are found in the Old Testament which comes by way of the Jews. The authority found in those passages was not given by the Jewish scribes, the same organization that Jesus condemned as not having authority, but by the prophets of God that wrote the words. The scribes could only recognize the already existing authority of the scriptures.

                      Any further revelation after Jesus, and new prophets, would build on, but not remove, the work of Jesus, in the same way Jesus Himself removed not one jot nor tittle of the law, but gave it an deeper spiritual dimension the stiff-necked pharisees did not see nor foresee.

                      Precisely, The Book of Mormon and other latter day scriptures build on and do not remove anything from the Bible or from the works of Jesus. The Pearl of Great Price and D&C do give a deeper spiritual dimension to the words of the Bible that the Doctors of Christianity did not see nor foresee. The Book of Mormon fulfills many of the promises found in the Bible as does the restoration of the fulness of the eternal gospel.

                    • “To start with the Catholic Church did not *write* any of the books of the Bible….”

                      Riiiiiight. The Early Christians aren’t Christian and were not members of the Early Christian Church. Got it. St. Peter was not the first Pope. All these Apostles and disciples with their baptisms and Eucharists where not Catholic and were not Christian.

                      The Muslims teach that all the Early Christians were Islamic, until a secret conspiracy of St Constantine (or perhaps vri-powered space nazis from the Moon) corrupted their texts and removed all the references to Mohammad.

                      “… if it did then the synods and councils impeach themselves as that is by no means what they claim to be doing. In fact if the councils are even defining anew the canon of scripture they still are impeaching themselves, instead their purpose was to clarify which scriptures were already canonical and had been since the Apostles had first written them.”

                      This is a farrago of nonsense, akin to saying that the Founding Fathers only wrote into the Constitution those things which were Constitutional. Worse, it is like saying that George Washington was not an American, therefore the things that George Washington published, such as his Farewell Address, are not part of the American history.

                      Are you using the word “canonical” in some special metaphorical meaning, or are you aware that that word refers to those things which the Church degrees to be part of the Church orthodoxy?

                      Your argument is that the Church, by settling disputes over what was authoritative and what was not, was merely acting to recognize the authority of the community that wrote and used the books for the previous four hundred years.

                      And that community was — who? It was corporate body. What was her name? Who was her head and who was His chief vicar on Earth?

                      The reason why the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is in the copy of the Bible on your nightstand and the Didache is not is because and only because the Catholic Church says so.

                      The reason why St Paul’s epistles and St Luke’s Gospels are in the Bible is because the Catholic Church says so.

                      The vision of the Shepard of Hermas did not make it into the Bible and the vision of St John of Patmos did is because the Catholic Church says so.

                      Do you think it is outrageous of me to call St John, St Paul, and St Peter Christians? They were certainly followers of Christ.

                      Do you think it outrageous of me to call them Apostles? No?

                      They why do you think it outrageous of me to call them members of the Christian Church, which they founded. This was ONE THOUSAND YEARS before the schism with the Eastern Church, and five hundred years before the schisms with the Monophysites and Nestorians.

                      So do you think it outrageous for me to call the only Christian Church that existed at that time by the name it bears to this day? Or to say that the founding members are members?

                      The idea that there was a non-Catholic Church at the beginning of the Christian Era, which the Catholics with evil glee rapidly and completely erased all trace of, but that your prophet, be he Mohamed or Joseph Smith rediscovered by a solitary miracle, and all we have to do is trust your one prophet and ignore all our countless prophets, saints, and martyrs and their miracles, and finally we will have the truth. Which, strangely, always seems to consist of our Catholic eternal truths, colored by the local prejudices particular to the time and place in which the so called One True Prophet happens to have lived.

                      I confess you have stepped over the line of a serious and sincere advocate here, and are in the land of lunacy. I understand the argument that the Catholic Church somehow became corrupted. I do not believe it, but it is an understandable argument. I don’t understand the argument that the Catholic Church never existed, and the Bible popped full grown out of the head of your Prophet, like Athena from the brow of Zeus. I don’t understand that argument that if the Catholic Church officially recognizes as canonical the scriptures which had been used by previous generations of Catholics, that suddenly the Catholic Church is not Christian. The argument, such as it is, is incoherent.

                      Your claim that your organization (it is not technically a church, unlike the Orthodox, because it has no apostolic succession back to Christ’s apostles) is building on the Christian Church when it is in rebellion against it, stealing our book and adding the doctrines invented by one man is insupportable. Can you not at least admit it is what you are doing? Even Luther did not claim to be starting a new Church, merely reforming the existing one.

                    • Darrell says:

                      Mr. Hutchins

                      To start with the Catholic Church did not *write* any of the books of the Bible and if it did then the synods and councils impeach themselves as that is by no means what they claim to be doing. In fact if the councils are even defining anew the canon of scripture they still are impeaching themselves, instead their purpose was to clarify which scriptures were already canonical and had been since the Apostles had first written them.

                      Mr. Wright is, of course, assuming that the writers of the books of the New Testament were members of the Church. If the Roman Catholic Church is the continuation of the Church founded by Christ then they did in fact write the New Testament. If the Roman Catholic Church is in fact a heretical schism from the Church as the Orthodox Christian Church claims then it would still be fair to claim that the Roman Catholic Church wrote the New Testament — along with the non-schismatic Church — as their direct lineage still exists. What Mr. Wright wrote would only be incorrect if the Roman Catholic Church is in fact a fraud that is feigning Apostolic Succession and that they are not a continuation of the original group founded by Jesus Christ and expanded through His Apostles. This holds true even if you deny their authority to maintain and protect the Deposit of Faith — or that the Deposit was corrupted at some point.

                      Second, it is extraordinarily odd that writers from the first century quote scripture from the New Testament if the scriptures were not valid, sanctified, cherished, copied, or preserved until the Third and Fourth centuries. The authority found in scriptures was not given to it in the Fourth century but comes from the authority of the writers of the scripture and the councils could but recognize the already existing scriptures as being authoritative as well as perhaps compile them into one set.

                      This is an uncharitable reading. The argument is that the Church recognized or sanctioned these books that they had preserved, cherished, and used all along. Just because not all inspired books made it into the collection of the New Testament did not, and does not, mean that they are less inspired or less instructive. It simply means that they were not needed for the purpose that the New Testament was intended.

                      Of some note, any authority Scripture has comes from God — not the writers. The Church is guided by and provided authority by the Holy Spirit. So every time you make a mocking and dismissive swipe at “councils” you are effectively denying the authority of God. I realize that you believe that the Church is not sanctified and guided by God and that it is simply a bunch of guys making decisions guided by Greek philosophy but that is not what any Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian believes so continuing to emphasize this point is not compelling.

                      Next, most of the tests of a true or false prophet are found in the Old Testament which comes by way of the Jews. The authority found in those passages was not given by the Jewish scribes, the same organization that Jesus condemned as not having authority, but by the prophets of God that wrote the words. The scribes could only recognize the already existing authority of the scriptures.

                      The authority of the Old Testament does not come from the prophets and I have no idea why you would believe that. Any authority that it has comes from God Himself.

                      Within Orthodox Christianity (both big and little o ) there were and are no prophets after Jesus Christ. The prophets prepared the way for Jesus Christ as did Judaism. The Incarnation was the fulfillment of God’s message to man. In other words, Jesus Christ provided the fullness of what God had to say. The Church (not the Holy Bible) is the medium of preservation of God’s message and is the body of Christ (inextricably linked to Holy Communion) guided by and protected by the Holy Spirit.

                      So to a Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian when you argue that the Church failed and vanished, you are arguing that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit were defeated and failed.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      Mr. Wright,

                      Authority comes from God, and God determines the measuring stick against which we will be judged. Scriptures get their Authority from God, not man. A prophet or apostle writing scripture gives that scripture the authority from God that the prophet or apostle posses and once written it is valid scripture, regardless of whether any earthly organization ever uses it as scripture. A *church* can not write a book of scripture, only those with apostolic or prophetic authority from God can write.

                      As for assuming they are members of same church; one of the entire reasons for the councils was that there were multiple versions of Christianity, and many that died rather submit to the Roman Pontiff. Saying that it was the only Christian Church, or church that claimed to come from Christ, in existence wasn’t even true when John was writing his epistles , nor even by the time that Paul was put to death. It is impossible for you to be unaware of this.

                      [edit:] Darrell:
                      Even being members of the Church it is still they that wrote and not the Church as a whole; with the possible exception of the record in Acts.

                      Assuming the Roman Catholic Church retains apostolic succession is precisely the point of disagreement.

                      The Ecumenical Councils are not supposed to be making new doctrines but clarifying and codifying what has been universal from the Apostles. This per what Roman Catholic authors say on the subject, perhaps the Orthodox say something different.

                      “authority of God.”
                      I am denying that the councils have authority from God, not denying that God has authority. I am pointing out that there decisions come not from manifestations of the Spirit, not from prophecy, nor revelation, but from philosophical debates centered in Greek Philosophy, from politics, and occasionally from throwing punches.

                      ” no prophets ”

                      How does this square with what Paul saying in 1 Corinthians, or what is stated in Acts?

                      “IOW, are there any breakaway sects from the LDS that claim their own prophets?”

                      There are over 100 breakaway sects with a total combined membership of less then what the LDS church baptizes in new converts every year.

                    • Why is the Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles not in the Bible on your bedstand, but the Revelations of St John is? It dates from the late first century.

                    • Darrell says:

                      Mr. Hutchins

                      I am curious, are there multiple versions of (I apologize for any offense at the term) Mormonism? IOW, are there any breakaway sects from the LDS that claim their own prophets?

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      Darrell,
                      In what way do you see Mormons thinking that Christ failed? He atoned for our sins, overcame death and hell so that all mankind may be saved, and called Apostles such that knowledge of Him has spread, as you point out, to a few billion people, even if we exclude Islam from those having a knowledge of Jesus and His mission.

                      In what way do you see Joseph Smith as being more important to Mormons then Jesus? Joseph Smith did not atone for our sins, did not overcome death and hell, and all that he preached is wholly dependent on Jesus being Lord and Savior and having come in the flesh. If there was no Jesus Christ then Joseph Smith would be irrelevant and if there were no knowledge of Jesus Christ had on the Earth then Joseph Smith’s mission would have been all the more difficult but all the more important.

                      Re: Scripture:

                      Scripture is not like a truck but more like a novel in that it is fine to say that Ford built the truck but saying that the publishing company wrote ‘Count to a Trillion’ is nonsensical. It is likewise fine to say that the Church built a place of worship but not to say that it wrote the Gospel of John.

                      Re: Apostolic succession:

                      If we are talking about the Church of Christ and there was a hostile takeover and the truth lost then it would no longer be the Church of Christ. The Church of Christ is not like General Motors whose ownership can change hands with no loss in continuity of what the organization is as it is either the Church that Christ holds to be His or it is not. If the authority from God is gone then it has ceased to be the Church of Christ even if otherwise nothing changed.

                      “Have I done you the same disservice of not charitably reading your posts?”

                      I am sorry you think that I am purposefully misunderstanding your posts, I am not

                      “I said nothing different from this.” in regard to the councils:

                      Then the councils can not be creating the canon but recognizing the canon of scripture or otherwise it would seem they are creating new doctrine. Perhaps my understanding is wrong but it doesn’t seem that one can not say that the authority of the Bible comes from the councils but that the councils recognized the authority that the books of the Bible were given by God through way of their authors at the time the books were written.

                      “your prophets are false”

                      In saying this I would ask by what test from the Bible do you know they are false? However, getting into that would likely greatly extend this set of comments.

                      “This has the odd ring to it that size matters”

                      I was editing the comment and had written explaining each of the major groups that broke away and problems with them but time was running out on the edit feature. I don’t think that size necessarily does matter, but it is quicker to bring that up then have to try and explain anything else. Perhaps I should have left that response out of the edit and had a separate response.

                      Basically the breakaways fall into one of three categories:

                      1. Those that rejected Polygamy to start with and followed Emma Smith in holding that the church needed to be led by the direct descendent of Joseph Smith. This is the largest group of breakaways and one that has had lots of fracturing. The main group, being the one that used to be led by a direct descendent of Joseph Smith, has imploded recently into liberal Christianity with nothing left from the restoration and is largely dependent on LDS tourists visiting historic sites they control for operating funds.

                      2. Those that refused to give up Polygamy. I believe the largest group of this is the FLDS, at least they are the ones that get into the news the most. There is likewise lots of fracturing within this group. Their claim of continued authority is that two Apostles left the quorum of the Twelve and then were later
                      excommunicated over the issue of polygamy.

                      3. Those that disagree with the LDS church over some point of policy. For instance the short lived Gay LDS church. They don’t often claim to have authority or prophets, and certainly no continuity in terms of being the same church with apostolic authority.

                      The main church of the 1st variety had the strongest claim out of the breakaways but unfortunately for them the source of that claim has ceased to be valid, they don’t have any more direct male line descendents of Joseph Smith and one of their recent Prophets gave up the church and said it was false.

                      Since, except for the last set, all claim to have continuing prophets and continuing revelation then it is possible to judge them and their line of prophets according to the standard set in the Bible. Further, as with all things, one can ask God and receive an answer by the power of the Holy Ghost on the subject. In this way I know that Thomas S. Monson is the current Prophet.

                    • Darrell says:

                      Mr. Hutchins

                      If this has not been an involved conversation up to this point, I suspect that it is set to become so. Bearing that in mind, if you would like to continue it with me I would invite you to move it to my blog at http://www.somewhither.net. Please let me know if this is your desire.

                      I do want to make a few points before we either move the conversation elsewhere or end it. I am not particularly interested in disproving, were that even possible, your truth claims about the LDS but rather I am simply curious as to why the LDS (and Roman Catholics for that matter) believe what they do and as part and parcel of that, provide an Orthodox Christian perspective and explain misconceptions that people often have about the Orthodox Christian Church.

                      We have reached a stage of conversation where axioms of faith are involved (such as very different understandings of the Holy Bible) and I can’t possibly explain Orthodox Christianity without your taking a leap of faith and assuming some of the axioms for sake of the argument I am making. As an example, if I say X and you respond with, “The LDS interpretation of New Testament passage Y shows this to be false.” then we are unlikely to advance much further because the Holy Bible is simply one part of Holy Tradition within Orthodox Christianity and cannot be interpreted apart from it. We can’t just say, as I think that you intend, that we will ignore, for example, the Pearl of Great Price since it is not shared between our traditions but we can argue Scriptural passages because the Holy Bible, from an Orthodox Christian perspective, is meaningless outside of Holy Tradition.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      Darrell,

                      I would be happy to continue the conversation elsewhere.

                      “from an Orthodox Christian perspective, is meaningless outside of Holy Tradition.”

                      This brings up a bunch of questions, which should probably be asked on your site.

                  • Darrell says:

                    Mr. Hutchins

                    Even being members of the Church it is still they that wrote and not the Church as a whole; with the possible exception of the record in Acts.

                    Is this what this conversation has devolved to? As a corporation Ford Motor Company doesn’t exactly build or sell cars and trucks either but I’d like to think that it would not be insurmountably difficult for someone to apprehend my meaning if I were to say either, “Ford built my truck,” or, “I bought my truck from the Ford dealership.” If you responded with, “No, no your truck was built by Sammy, Fred, Debbie, and Otis and you bought your truck from Juan,” I’d probably decide that you were crazy and leave the room.

                    Assuming the Roman Catholic Church retains apostolic succession is precisely the point of disagreement.

                    It saddens me that I was not sufficiently clear. I thought that I mentioned that even if they no longer had the authority from God as long as they could actually trace direct succession back they could rightfully claim to be part of the same organization — even if there had been a hostile take over and the truth lost. I am beginning to suspect that you don’t want to understand my point. Have I done you the same disservice of not charitably reading your posts?

                    The Ecumenical Councils are not supposed to be making new doctrines but clarifying and codifying what has been universal from the Apostles. This per what Roman Catholic authors say on the subject, perhaps the Orthodox say something different.

                    I said nothing different from this.

                    I am denying that the councils have authority from God, not denying that God has authority. I am pointing out that there decisions come not from manifestations of the Spirit, not from prophecy, nor revelation, but from philosophical debates centered in Greek Philosophy, from politics, and occasionally from throwing punches.

                    And I would point out that your prophets are false. Now we have both made assertions and I suppose we should feel better having done so. Unlike the LDS faith that has had no dissent or debate, or so you seem to claim, no one that I am aware of has staked the same position for Ecumenical Councils or the Church in general. The claim is that is the Church is the Body of Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit. Not that people are transformed into mannequins animated by loa.

                    How does this square with what Paul saying in 1 Corinthians, or what is stated in Acts?

                    You aren’t specific enough for me to truly understand what you mean but I’ll attempt to answer what I think is your question. The Orthodox Christian Church teaches that John the Forerunner was the final Prophet. Prophets are those who spoke for God and prepared the way for the Incarnation. Jesus Christ delivered the totality of His message and the Church which he founded preserves and spreads it. The Mormon view of history and theology actually has Joseph Smith as more important than Jesus Christ (I am certain that you find my saying this to be offensive but you don’t seem to mind making offensive statements and so here we are) because Jesus was not actually necessary. All that He did was lost and undone and could have been more effectively accomplished via Prophets or, perhaps more damning from an Orthodox Christian perspective, Jesus Christ was essentially the forerunner of Joseph Smith and prepared the way for him and his prophecies.

                    This does not mean that there is no more prophecy within the Church. I’m not a Roman Catholic and yet I regularly hear about prophecies coming out of the Roman Catholic Church so I suspect you probably have heard this as well. The same is true of the Orthodox Christian Church, but we are smaller and less well known in the West. This prophecy, however, is not the same thing as being an OT Prophet. The message has been sent, delivered, and preserved. Within the Orthodox Christian Church there is no Vicar of Christ because Christ still is present in the Church and has no need of a vicar.

                    There are over 100 breakaway sects with a total combined membership of less then what the LDS church baptizes in new converts every year.

                    This has the odd ring to it that size matters, which is particularly odd from a restorationist that believes Christ’s Church dwindled and disappeared and very well might do so again.

                    That said, if total adherents matters then there are something akin to:
                    ~14 million LDS
                    ~17 million 7th-Day Adventists
                    ~51 million members of the Assemblies of God
                    ~72 million “Oriental” Orthodox Christians
                    ~73 million Anglicans
                    ~225 million Eastern Orthodox Christians
                    ~1.2 billion Roman Catholics

                    If size is a determiner then Roman Catholicism wins by a wide margin — even if call the 1.2 billion a lie and were to cut the number in half.

            • Mary says:

              I find the position that a being can exist outside of a material existence to be radically incoherent.

              Given that you are using “radically incoherent” to mean “I don’t get it” — what is that but the wisdom of the world? A selfish luxury-loving sinner has only to find the position that sin is wrong to be radically incoherent to be right by this logic.

  5. Pingback: My theological positions | aeolipera

  6. mhssu says:

    I wonder what motivates your admiration for Buddhism, Mr Wright. Certainly, I don’t see how it at all begins to slake the thirst for divine things, as the basic motivation of the Buddhist strikes me as base, for all its subsequent development. The Buddhist’s overriding motivation, as I understand it, seems to be merely the extinguishing of suffering. Their means to do this is extinction. Their metaphysics denies real selves and persistence over time- even their notion of reincarnation is more like the recycling of soul-parts, rather than genuine continuation of an actual self. Buddhism seems as complete and pitch-black a nihilism as I have ever come across, though naturally it has a certain stability in society due to its great antiquity. For all that may be justly abhorred in the modern hedonist, he will not really feel good in affirming that he idolizes the Void, and thus retains some orientation, however mangled, toward the Good, the Real, and the Beautiful. The Buddhist, on the other hand puts forth all his power, all the discipline and organization and conscientiousness that justly accrues to the very highest of human endeavour- to attain the Void, the antithesis of all that is good, real and beautiful, which in my opinion is a considerably more advanced defect. By comparison with the implicit, waffling and inchoate nihilism of the modern postchristian, who is like an imp playing in the shallows of Hades, the philosophical Buddhist is a prince of Hell.

    The comparison with the Stoics I don’t find quite apt- the Stoics sought Virtue, to live according to the Logos, come what may, and that is worth admiring, as much as the ancient Israelites who did not entertain hope of the world to come, but nevertheless obeyed.

    The Buddhists are something like the unholy philosophical offspring of Heraclitus, Democritus and Epicurus- they never had an Aristotle to solve the riddle of change, and are thereby left groping in the dark.

  7. Malcolm Smith says:

    We live in a world where Stalin died comfortably in bed…”
    Maybe, but he didn’t live comfortably at home. He slept in a different house every night, the streets cleared as he passed, his quarters walled by guards, even with a guard protecting his tea. He was the chief prisoner in the vast prison he had created.
    I could go on with other examples. In this life virtue is often unrewarded. But one of the things I have noted in my 63 years is that the wicked who go unpunished are a much rarer phenomenon. They don’t always come to a bad end. They may appear successful in the eyes of the world. But they live wrteched lives, surrounded by false friends and real enemies, unloving but longing for love, gnawed by negative emotions, seeking out pleasures which are both temporary and unfulfilling. The irony is, they just accept that this is how life is. Probably even in hell they will never really understand.

    • Tom Simon says:

      Actually, from the sources I have read, Stalin died very uncomfortably indeed. This is his daughter Svetlana’s account of his death, as reported (and condensed) by Martin Amis in Koba the Dread. The ellipses are in Amis’s text:

      For the last twelve hours the lack of oxygen became acute. His face and lips blackened. . . . The death agony was terrible. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed like the very last moment, he opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry, and full of fear of death. . . . [Then] he suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something up above and bringing down a curse on all. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace.

      According to Paul Johnson in Modern Times, another witness said Stalin’s last gesture reminded him of a Russian peasant trying to ward off imaginary wolves. At any rate it was not a happy ending. Stalin had sent twenty million Russians on ahead of him, but Death was not propitiated by the offering. All Stalin’s power and all Stalin’s atrocities could not ease by one jot the torment of his own passing.

      On the contrary, he prepared for himself the agony by which he was to die. Martin Amis sardonically observes:

      No doubt he had had time to ponder an uncomfortable fact: all the Kremlin doctors were being tortured in jail, and his personal physician of many years, Vinogradov, was moreover (at the insistence of Stalin himself), ‘in irons’.

      • Sean Michael says:

        There were also rumors and reports that Lavrenti Beria poisoned Stalin using a toxin called warfarin. Because Beria feared he would be executed in the looming purge Stalin was planning. The “Doctors plot” being fabricated by Stalin in preparation for this purge.

        Sean M. Brooks

        • Tom Simon says:

          That’s an interesting bit of trivia. However, I find it unlikely, since Stalin suffered a massive stroke a few days before he died, and indeed one side of his body was paralysed as a result. That is not an effect that warfarin could produce; in fact, since warfarin is used medically as an anticoagulant to prevent thromboses and embolisms, it would tend to prevent strokes. If Beria was trying to poison Stalin with warfarin, he was an incompetent poisoner; giving Stalin more warfarin might have saved his life.

          • Sean Michael says:

            Dear Mr. Simon:

            Thank you for correcting the rumor I mentioned about Stalin. One of the sources I googled said the warfarin bit was based on Khruschev’s unreliable memoirs.

            I do get the impression from what I’ve read is that the Politburo did not try very hard to get the best possible medical care for Stalin after he was discovered ill. For obvious reasons!

            Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

      • lotdw says:

        I just want to note that you and Mr. Smith’s posts were very well written and enjoyable (in a sense other than “fun”). I especially liked “the chief prisoner in the vast prison he had created” and “Stalin had sent twenty million Russians on ahead of him, but Death was not propitiated by the offering.”

      • Mary says:

        I’ve heard rumors to the effect that he suffered as much as he did partly because no one dared intrude on his bedroom until long after he normally rose — the stroke had its chance to work its damage unhindered.

        To be sure, there was little that could be done at the time.

        • Sean Michael says:

          Hi, Mary!

          That too is what I’ve read, that Stalin’s servants and guards were too frightened to enter his bedroom till long after his normal hour for rising. As you said, that delay increased the damage caused by Stalin’s stroke.

          Sean M. Brooks

  8. CPE Gaebler says:

    “Panetheism is a related doctrine, which holds that there is God in all things”

    Should be “Panentheism”

  9. Base Delta Zero says:

    I’m not sure I understand your concept of beauty and justice being worthless without a Creator… sure, I can see the problem in the ‘chemical feature’ interpretation, but in the ‘sublime aspect of transcendent Reality’ version? What difference does it really make if there is a creator, or if Beauty is something that arises organically, a force of existence in itself? ‘A blank fact of existence’, perhaps, but how is ‘This has the Platonic characteristic of Beauty’ any more a ‘blank fact’ than ‘God has decreed this to be Beautfiul’?

    With Justice… I think the example of the captain and his crew is… revealing, perhaps? How is it better that the captain sees the signs in the rainstorm and commands his subordinates than that the crew decide on their own? Obeying a lawful virtue is different from avoiding danger, true, but is obedience truly the only virtue?

    Heh. I kinda agree on the ‘Forgiveness of sins’ bit, but for a completely different reason. I think ‘restitution by negation’ is more a universal thing than a modern innovation, mainly.

    Also, I am not a Muslim or a Pagan of any sort, but I think you’ve sort of misunderstood these religions… it’d be a bit of an explanation, though.

    also
    “So I mean to insult to any of these other faiths”
    should be “So I mean NO insult” right?

    Did you actually read the essay? Although it should be ‘So I mean to insult all of these other faiths’…

  10. To believe in a council of “gods” is to subscribe to polytheism, whether you worship one of their number, three, or more.

    I wonder if this comes from the plural addresses that (at least the English versions) God uses in Genesis, Let Us make man in Our image…. Although the text has him speaking plurally, but acting singly.

    I have heard some say that it is so because of the Trinity. But that doesn’t seem right since Genesis is a Jewish document and the text reads as such in the Jewish version as well as the King James. On the other the Jews do believe in a savior (hasn’t shown up yet) so they will have to work out their own answer to the problem of the Godhead just as the Christians did.

    I have also heard it said that God is talking with the Angels that apparently (I don’t actually know) came before Man, but while God speaks as if the angels are assisting, it is only God acting.

    It is quite a common question if I am guessing the source of the belief right. Heck, I stole the idea of a council of Gods for my cyclical universe story right from Genesis. It is the first thing that occurred to me, “who is he talking to?”

    Also I have to thank everyone for this conversation about Peter and Revelations. 2 Peter:3 fits like a glove description for my story. How sweet!

    “the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up”

    Fits with the description of the collision of the branes in string theory in the cyclical cosmology and so does,

    But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

    • I have heard a much simpler explanation. Among Jews of those days, it was a common linguistic form to speak in the plural for majestic emphasis, to show the dignity of the speaker. It is called “the intensive plural.”

      There is a similar thing in “the editorial we” or “the royal we” in English, albeit in these cases, the plural is used because the editor or the king is speaking in the name of a group of people, i.e., the editorial position of the newspaper or the mystical body of the whole nation.

      Some Christians say this prefigures the Trinity, but I am not convinced that was Moses’ intent when he wrote it.

      • Mary says:

        To be sure, to know that, you have to know the Jewish practice and think it relevant to your interpretation of Scripture. . . one of the many reasons why Scripture forbids the private interpretation of Scripture is that many people don’t know things that they need to do it rightly.

      • Thanks, what you and Mary point out is more consistent since scripture supports neither explanation I wrote. My “sources” were merely lay-folk with whom I have had discussions. Not uncommon views though.

      • John Hutchins says:

        “. It is called “the intensive plural.”"
        Then who is God addressing when He says “let us make Man”? Or what is meant by “The man is become as one of us”? As in, I know that this explanation is the standard one but it leaves God appearing to be schizophrenic, or something else that is not explained must be posited (like him talking to angels) that is not necessary if Elohim means exactly what its literal meaning is rather then trying to force it to mean something else. Also, what do you make of Psalms 82?

        “the plural is used because the editor or the king is speaking in the name of a group of people”
        Which is precisely what my explanation is saying is happening.

        • Darrell says:

          In Orthodox Christianity it is generally taught that God the Father is speaking to God the Son. That said, it isn’t actually understood that this is a transcribed conversation.

          • John Hutchins says:

            Good answer, and for the two Genesis statements mentioned this is actually what is written elsewhere in my scriptures, the Orthodox always surprise me. Still leaves Psalms 82 (and Job 38:7).

            • Darrell says:

              [T]he Orthodox always surprise me.

              Well we are the original uncorrupted Church founded by Jesus Christ. :-)

              Psalms 82

              I am assuming that you are referencing what I would call Psalm 81.

              This is understood by the Orthodox Church as a prophecy (as well as a song) where God the Son addresses members of his Church. Central to Orthodox Christian theology is the concept of theosis where our purpose is to become like God. This ties directly into the Orthodox Christian understanding of sin — where sins are those actions where we miss the mark of becoming/acting like God.

              Job 38:7

              My Septuagint is translated as “When the stars were made and all My angels praised Me in a loud voice.” I suspect that your version is different as I’m not sure what your question is. We understand the verse, along with some others, to mean that the universe is dependent upon God.

              • John Hutchins says:

                “original uncorrupted Church founded by Jesus Christ”
                I am not sure that me, being a restorationist, finding Orthodoxy to be closer in understanding and doctrine in many points to what is had in the restoration is any sort of support to this claim. If the restoration was necessary then uncorrupted would appear to be out, assuming that “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” and “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” mean anything like what they appear to mean. If the restoration is the deception of men or devil and I am deceived in my experiences with God, in my understanding, and in the fruits of the gospel then being closer in belief to me would appear to not be a good thing.

                • Darrell says:

                  I was being funny, but much of Protestant/Restorationist thought has been a reaction (at least initially) against the established church or churches of their area and an attempt to return to or rediscover the original Church of Jesus Christ. It is no great surprise then that in their search they recovered some of what had been corrupted or misunderstood.

                  Had they only looked to (or perhaps even known of) the Orthodox Christian Church then they would have found the object of their desire and their thirst been quenched.

        • Then who is God addressing when He says “let us make Man”?

          I cannot tell if you are making a joke. You must know that not all language is in the form of an address from one party to another, nor is such speech schizophrenia.

          When Scarlett O’Hara says, “I swear to God I will never go hungry again!” she is not talking to God in an address or conversation, she is taking an oath. The act of speaking the oath is the selfsame act as taking the oath.

          When an atheist takes an oath, it is even more clear that the words are not being spoken to any witnesses as an address, they are spoken in the presence of witnesses so that later witnesses can confirm that they were spoken, and what they were. But the testimony of the witness would be just as valid if he did not understand the words spoken, but merely knew that the oath-taker had taken the oath. He is not hearing a message, but merely confirming that the act of oathtaking took place. And a man who takes an oath not in front of a witness is not a schizophrenic, nor is he ‘talking to himself’ after the fashion of an absent minded mutterer.

          To make it even more clear, oaths spoken not in front of witnesses are just as binding on men of honor, atheists or not. What he is doing is binding his will to a proposition. He is performing an act by means of words, not merely speaking words for the purpose of communicating a message.

          Likewise, while such things are always said in the presence of witnesses, they have the same force and effect as if they were spoken in isolation, or if everyone in the room is momentarily deafened by a passing train: a priest pronouncing a couple man and wife, a judge condemning a prisoner to death, a king issuing a decree.

          A man signing a contract is the same form of act, except that it is written rather than spoken. But when a man writes his name on a contract or signs a will, he is not writing a message to someone. He is willing into being something he has the right and power to will into being.

          A properly executed signed last will and testament is valid even if it sits in a box for a hundred years and no one sees it, and it is still really a will; whereas a letter that is never sent is not really a letter, because if it does not get to its intended recipient, it serves no purpose.

          Again, the act of keeping a diary or a journal is not intended to convey a message, nor can it be seriously maintained that everyone who keeps a diary is schizophrenic or muttering to himself absentmindedly.

          When God says “Let there be Light” He is not addressing the void and commanding nothingness to change itself into light, nor is He talking to the as-yet-existent light and commanding it to come into existence, nor is He talking to angels asking them to allow or cause light come into being.

          The words are a decree. He is defining something in to being. For Him the act of creation is the act of speech.

          • John Hutchins says:

            I am fine with God organizing things by speaking, and I will accept this explanation for “let Us make man”, that still leaves “The man is become as one of us” and Psalm 82.

            • Darrell says:

              This is the translation of the Septuagint that I have. I fear that it may be greatly different from your version.

              Psalm 81 (82)

              1 God stood in the assembly of gods; He judges in the midst of gods, saying,
              2 “How long will you judge unjustly, and favor the persons of sinners?”
              (Pause)
              3 Judge an orphan and a poor man; justify a humble and poor man;
              4 Rescue a poor and needy man; deliver them from a sinner’s hand.
              5 They do not know nor understand; they carry on in darkness; all the foundations of the earth shall be shaken.
              6 I said, “You are gods, and you are all sons of the Most High.
              7 But you die like men, and like one of the rulers, you fall.”
              8 Arise, O God; judge the earth, for you shall inherit all the Gentiles.

              • John Hutchins says:

                That is a good translation; has the assembly of gods, God judging in the midst of gods, you are gods, and sons of the Most High.

                Hebrew transliteration of Job 38:7, angels is bene-elohim; lit. the sons of God and the same as found in the psalm 81 or 82 which Jesus quoted in the gospel of John: “ye are gods, sons of the most high”. So that it reads and “all the sons of God” rather then “all My angels”.

                • Darrell says:

                  The Septuagint isn’t written in Hebrew, but in Greek. The word in question is therefore not the Hebrew bene-Elohim but the Greek ἄγγελοί which is normally transliterated as angels.

                  The Septuagint is the version of the Bible used by the Apostles and it was only later that the Masoretic version of the Bible appeared in, at least part, to counter the ownership of the Septuagint that the Early Christians had taken and to help create separation between the Church and post-temple Judaism.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    I see what you are saying.

                    The Dead Sea Scrolls would appear to complicate things a little. There are places, such as the oldest Isaiah, where the Dead Sea Scrolls appear to conform closer to the Masoretic then the LXX, and other sites and texts that conform closer to the LXX. It would appear that the split is older then what you are stating. Regardless, we agree on the Psalm and I can’t find anything good from the Dead Sea Scrolls on Job.

                    I have to drop Job from consideration as I can neither read Greek nor actual Hebrew characters even assuming I found a scan of the scrolls containing Job and there is disagreement on this point.

                    • Darrell says:

                      Sadly my Greek is worse than elementary as I am proactive enough to buy books on how to learn Greek but too lazy to use them in any organized way.

                      I was unclear and have added some confusion and that was not my intent. There have always been numerous versions/translations/what-have-you of the books of the Old Testament. Among the most popular (if not the most popular) in the time of the Apostles and early Church Fathers was the Septuagint and this was the version used by the Apostles and referenced by Jesus.

                      Over time the Rabbinic Jews began to eschew the Septuagint and eventually settled on a finalized translation/version around 700 to 1000 A.D. while the Church continued to use the Septuagint which was finalized around 300 B.C.. The Protestants in an attempt to return to the authentic Church compared the Septuagint against the Masoretic Holy Bible, which they thought to be older and more “authentic” and so tended to rewrite/edit/redact the OT so that it compared more favorably with the Masoretic text. These are the OT Holy Bibles that most people are familiar with today.

                      Orthodox Chrstianity does not understand the Holy Bible to be magical or in some way akin to the Qu’ran — which is thought to be written in the language of Heaven (Arabic) and which an exact copy of is located in Heaven. Rather it is intended for teaching within the Church and understood within the whole of Holy Tradition.

                      We don’t use the Septuagint because it is the oldest (whatever that means) version of the OT, we use it because it was the Bible of the Apostles and thus the Bible of the Early Church. This is a commonly misunderstood point – the Church is really reluctant to change or innovate and the misunderstandings created by the normative use of a Holy Bible created roughly a 1,000 years after Christ by Rabbinic Jews who denied the divinity of Jesus is a great example of why.

    • Mary says:

      Using plurals as singulars was in fact a practice for treating someone with extreme respect. Ala the royal we.

      This is why the Quakers stuck to thous and thees long after everyone else dropped them, and Quakers mangled them all into thees. Ridiculous flattery, calling a single person You.

  11. Geoffrey Britain says:

    “Fifth is a desire for the forgiveness of sins.”

    That is the conventional view.

    Might I suggest that another POV be “a desire for freedom from sin”?

  12. Sylvie D. Rousseau says:

    Theology is not a science.
    Like Mr. Hutchins with his “revealed theology”, you are equating theology with religion. Properly speaking, formal and systematic theology, as it exists in the Catholic, Orthodox and several Protestant churches, is as much a science as philosophy.

    You said more than once that the Catholic Church has something to do with natural and mathematical science as we know it. As I understand it, it is because philosophy, which was nurtured by the Church and theology, as well as the systematic exposition of faith, are necessary to form the rational mind and ethical judgment of man.

  13. Sir Robert says:

    “We do not know right from wrong.”
    I just wanted to know if by this, you deny the concept of Natural Law or that the Natural Law of “right and wrong” is “written on the heart?” Could you comment more on this, please?
    Thank you, and very well done on the article…great questions.

    • No, I do not deny that. I merely point out the one bit of Christian teaching that is empirically verifiable: no matter how bad you think the human race is in your most pessimistic moments, not only is there someone, somewhere, who has done something even worse, there is also an intellectual with a pen somewhere busily writing a justification for it. We humans, as a race, do not know right from wrong, or, to be more clear in my wording: we know what is evil and do it anyway.

  14. Touching the weight of intelligence, it may be measured as follows. Acquire a living human brain, which is intelligent. Weigh it – you will need an accuracy of a few electron volts. (Here I follow the particle physics convention of measuring mass in units of energy, ignoring the factor c-squared.) Now disassemble it into its constituent atoms; the intelligence has disappeared. Weigh it again. You will get a slightly different answer. The difference is the weight of the intelligence that disappeared in the disassembly process.

    • Darrell says:

      Perhaps off topic, but you previously wrote, “that core of moral truths which all men, upon sufficient reflection, will reach and assent to” and I was curious as to how you define all men and what leads you to believe your statement to be true?

      • Sir Robert says:

        Check out “The Abolition of Man” by C.S. Lewis. It is a good argument for universal morality.

      • “All men” means all adult humans capable of moral reasoning; I except the insane, including not only those confined to asylums due to hallucinations, but also those who are able to function in society such as sociopaths. Alien intelligences may, but need not, be “men” by this standard.

        I am convinced that such a core exists and is compelling because there is actually no enormous controversy among human societies over what is moral. Where there is disagreement, it is in the underpinnings of morality, as in how we know what is moral; or it is about who is subject to morality, as in the case of tribesmen who do not recognise moral obligations to strangers; or it is in matters of emphasis or practicality, as in weighing individual freedom against social consequence.

        Lewis’s Tao, or for that matter Mr Hutchins’s “light of the spirit”, both match the thing I am talking about, even though no two of us agree on where the thing comes from or how we may discover it.

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