Category Archives: God

Happy New Year — Does Even God Know the Future?


Happy New Year! Does God know the future? Physicist, theologian, and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne thinks He might not. In the following short video excerpt of a longer interview for Closer to the Truth, Polkinghorne talks about the classical Christian view held by Augustine and Aquinas, and then offers his alternative point of view.

While we’re at it, why not listen to Polkinghorne define “time” for a different interview with Closer to the Truth? Here he also touches on theology and God’s knowledge of the future:

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Ancient Mystery Religions Prefigured, Possibly Shaped, Elements of Christianity


Ancient mystery religions and other pagan religious practices prefigured and might have even shaped elements of Christianity. Four sources and brief book excerpts support the claim:

(Boldfacing was added to the following excerpts. Italicized sections appear in the originals.)

Meyer & ‘The Ancient Mysteries’

The late Dr. Marvin W. Meyer of Chapman College, writing in the introduction to a 1987 book he edited, The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook — Sacred Texts of the Mystery Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean World:

“The mysteries were secret religious groups composed of individuals who decided, through personal choice, to be initiated into the profound realities of one deity or another….

“The word mystery (mysterion in Greek) derives from the Greek verb myein, ‘to close,’ referring to the closing of the lips or the eyes….

“Closed eyes brought darkness to the prospective initiate both literally and metaphorically, and the opening of the eyes was an act of enlightenment. Just as one of a baby’s first responses to the world is the discovery of light through the opening of the eyes, so the initiate, sometimes described as one reborn, also saw the light….

“The development of early agrarian or fertility festivals into the mystery religions involved, first and foremost, the conviction on the part of the worshipers that the cycle of nature related directly to human life. Plants and animals participated in a cycle of death and life, and so also did human beings. Death came to all the divine forces of nature — Kore, Dionysos, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, the Mithraic bull — but finally life was victorious. Kore returned from the realm of Hades; Dionysos vivified his devotees; Adonis rose from the dead; Attis gave an intimation of new life; Osiris reigned as king of the underworld; and the bull provided life for the world

“Ordinarily the mystai [initiates] partook of food and drink in the ritual celebrations, and sometimes they may have become one with the divine by participating in a sacramental meal analogous to the Christian Eucharist….”

MacMullen & Lane: Paganism as mother

In the preface to the 1992 book Paganism and Christianity 100-425 C.E.: A Sourcebook, editors Ramsay MacMullen of Yale University and Eugene Lane of the University of Missouri say:

“The emergence of Christianity from the tangled mass of older religious beliefs, eventually to a position of unchallenged superiority, is surely one of the most important single phenomenon that can be discerned in the closing centuries of the ancient world.”

They go on to say, however, little attention is given to “the body in which Christianity grew.”

They ask, “How about the mother? Will she not help determine the manner in which the child enters the world and, to some extent, its shape and nature?”

Then MacMullen and Lane give this illustration:

“In most regions of St. Paul’s or St. Augustine’s world, attendance at holy places on religious anniversaries was a time for friends and family together to enjoy the meal that followed the sacrifice. That was how reverence was paid to the sanctuaries of saints in the fourth century — not because those attending were still ‘pagan’ (they would have indignantly rejected any such label) but because the ceremony still lacked any distinctively Christian form.”

Placher

William C. Placher, professor at Wabash College, in his 1983 book A History of Christian Theology:

“The mystery cults — some imported, some homegrown in Greece — offered something many Greeks found spiritually more satisfying. Those who joined a mystery cult underwent a secret initiation. There they learned the story of a deity who had died but then risen to new life; and they became somehow united with that deity, so that they too would rise to new life after death. The mysteries offered a personal connection with a deity and a hope beyond death, and the emphasis on membership gave people a sense of belonging in a society where many traditional institutions had collapsed. All this provided Christians with an obvious analogy. Join our fellowship, they could say, and become one with Christ, participating in ceremonies of baptism and the sharing of bread and wine, and you, like Christ, will be raised from the dead.”

Hinson

E. Glenn Hinson of Baptist Theological Seminary in his 1996 book The Early Church:

“Numerous oriental religions thrived in the West when Christianity put in its appearances. The Mysteries of Eleusis, originating several centuries before the Christian era, were patronized by emperors from Octavian on. They used the planting of seed as a symbol of the promise of life that lies beyond death….

“The cult of the Great Mother, a fertility goddess connected with agricultural rites, enjoyed wide currency in the ancient world as far west as the British Isles. Acknowledged in Rome as a legitimate foreign cult in 205 B.C.E., by the time of Augustus it had gained immense popularity. Originally a wild and enthusiastic cult, involving even human sacrifices, it was modified by combination with the cult of Attis. The mythology of a dying and rising god replaced earlier orgiastic rites. A colorful pageantry combined with the promise of immortality to attract many. In time Cybele adopted the taurobolium, a bath in bull’s blood, popularized by Mithra. Symbolically ‘buried’ in a pit covered by a lattice-work of boards, the devotee was said to be purified of sins and raised to new life.

“Isis and Osiris, an ancient Egyptian cult, was introduced to the West by the Ptolemies. Soldiers, sailors, slaves, and popular writers disseminated it all over the empire. Its most attractive features were the myth of a dying and rising god and an appealing liturgy….

“Mithra, a Persian sect that grew out of Zoroastrianism, advanced westward by way of the Roman army during the Flavian era (68-96). Remarkably similar to Christianity in many respects, it turned out to be the strongest competitor, though limited by the fact that the cult excluded women. Like Judaism and Christianity, Mithraism emphasized morality. It viewed life as a perpetual struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, the gods and demons. Mithra, one of the lesser deities in the Zoroastrian hierarchy, identified with human beings in their struggle. Mithraic altars depicted Mithra astride the back of a powerful bull, hurling his dagger into its side as a serpent twines around one of the bull’s legs to lap up the blood spurting from the wound. To underline the importance of morality, Mithraism emphasized judgment. At death anyone stained with evil would be dragged by the emissaries of Ahriman to the depths of hell to suffer indescribable tortures, whereas the pure would ascend to the celestial realm, where the supreme god Ormuzd ruled. En route, Mithra himself would serve as the guide past the seven planetary spheres guarded over by angels. After a general resurrection, Mithra would judge all humanity once and for all and cause fire to consume all wicked spirits. Mithraism developed rites and organization similar to Christianity’s, but, since they were of late origin, most were probably borrowed. The most important right was the taurobolium, which promised immortality.”

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Again, boldfacing was added to the above excerpts. Italics belong to the originals.

A thread of Christianity present in Socrates — an excerpt from ‘Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline’


The late Colin Wilson, writing for Philosophy Now:

“In the next chapter of Beyond the Outsider, ‘The Strange Story of Modern Philosophy’, I begin by considering the ‘world rejection’ of Socrates, who tells his followers that since the philosopher spends his life trying to separate his soul from his body, his own death should be regarded as a consummation. This is consistent with his belief that only spirit is real, and matter is somehow unimportant and unreal. This notion would persist throughout the next two thousand years, harmonising comfortably with the Christian view that this world is unimportant compared to the next.”

from Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline | Issue 56 | Philosophy Now.via Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline | Issue 56 | Philosophy Now.

‘Religious Trauma Syndrome: How some organized religion leads to mental health problems’


In an interview with Psychologist Valerie Tarico, Dr. Marlene Winell says,

“Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group. The RTS label provides a name and description that affected people often recognize immediately. Many other people are surprised by the idea of RTS, because in our culture it is generally assumed that religion is benign or good for you. Just like telling kids about Santa Claus and letting them work out their beliefs later, people see no harm in teaching religion to children.

“But in reality, religious teachings and practices sometimes cause serious mental health damage. The public is somewhat familiar with sexual and physical abuse in a religious context. As Journalist Janet Heimlich has documented in, Breaking Their Will, Bible-based religious groups that emphasize patriarchal authority in family structure and use harsh parenting methods can be destructive.

“But the problem isn’t just physical and sexual abuse. Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging…”

Read the entire interview at: Religious Trauma Syndrome: How some organized religion leads to mental health problems.via Religious Trauma Syndrome: How some organized religion leads to mental health problems.

Cornel West as jazz man, as blues man, as ‘a Christian but not a Puritan’


This is a great interview, not only for its content (Dr. West’s responses are energizing), but also for the dynamic way in which it was filmed. Dr. West has several connections to make, touching on jazz, blues, classical music, death, literature, religion, and of course philosophers. Highly recommended!

Calvinism leans on this fallacy


Thanks to Randy Ferebee for sharing Ben Irwin’s series on his departure from Calvinism.

In Part 9 of the series, Irwin says something that deals with part of the backdrop for my post about the John Piper-Charles Spurgeon perspective on predestination and predetermination.

That backdrop deals with how language is used, and whether language can be used, to discuss an inspired text with any sense of clarity.

On a related note, Irwin writes:

“In linguistics, there’s a fallacy known as illegitimate totality transfer. It’s when you take one possible meaning of a word and read it into every occurrence without regard for context. (For example, ‘green’ can be an idiom for money. But that doesn’t mean ‘green’ always means money.)

“We run a similar risk when we read the accounts of people like Abraham and Moses. We see they were chosen by God in some way, so we assume everyone who comes to know God was predestined in exactly the same way. But on what basis?” — from The day the tulip died, part 9, by Ben Irwin

“Illegitimate totality transfer” sounds a lot like a particularly philosophical use of “equivocation” and “equivocal” meanings.

As I noted in my post, John Piper seems to think along the following lines: if God predetermined certain things, like Jesus’s betrayer, then God must have predetermined everything.

He goes on to say some people have driven themselves mad by trying to figure out how God can predetermine (not merely predestine) everything, even the position of a dust speck in a sunbeam, thus nullifying all human choosing (while still holding humans responsible).

Maybe that’s because pondering madness begets madness.

On ‘Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide’ from The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss


Tim Ferriss is one of the most interesting guys out there. In this long and worthwhile post, he talks about a time of depression and suicidal ideation.

I’m linking to and excerpting the post not merely as a public service announcement, although that aspect is certainly critical.

Ferriss’s post fits with the overall purpose of my blog. Unfortunately, the research is consistent and clear: for many who have suffered religious authoritarianism, spiritual abuse, or cult dynamics, suicide can be a real, substantial temptation.

Ferriss doesn’t seem to be a religious man in any traditional sense of the word, but he makes an interesting observation:

I personally believe that consciousness persists after physical death, and it dawned on me that I literally had zero evidence that my death would improve things. It’s a terrible bet. At least here, in this life, we have known variables we can tweak and change. The unknown void could be Dante’s Inferno or far worse. When we just “want the pain to stop,” it’s easy to forget this. You simply don’t know what’s behind door #3.  — via Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide | The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss.

Read the entire post: Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide | The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss.

Some Christian beliefs make matters worse, insisting that God ordains each sin (and suicide is considered a sin).

However logically and systematically consistent some theological thinkers might be, the idea of God ordaining horrible things is abhorrent.

At very least we could acknowledge that an impassible God becoming incarnate to die in place of his creatures is anything but logical. Perhaps loving, but not logical.

Here one of G.K. Chesterton’s quotes pops into mind: “The mad man is not the man who has lost his reason. The mad man is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

Maybe some theological thinkers have been orthodox and mad.

Logical and insane.

Logic and analysis are good. Problems come along when a mind becomes so focused on and so obsessed with the parts that it can no longer see the connections and the wholes. No one can live while seeing only fragments and pieces.

Which reminds me of a thought that, I think, came from C.S. Lewis: for the modernistic scientist, a real bird is a bird opened on the dissection table, pinned down and pulled apart. In an earlier time, a real bird was a bird on the wing, with its song.

Everyone knows the bird has guts. But even in a natural order sparked by a blind watchmaker, who would think the bird exists merely in relation to the functioning of its internal organs? The bird exists in relation to the rest of the natural order — bugs, fish, soil, water, and trees, as well as humans and human culture. We appreciate these relationships — they’ve been there as long as we can remember, as far back as we can see in art and literature.

Endless dissection is useful, even helpful, but discoveries made through analysis are never for themselves, but for better understandings of wholes.

Over-analysis of a single situation leads into a singular focus, a mental microscope on a single cell, with no context for its wider circumstances, its situations and connections. The suicidal person might feel like this one bad circumstance is all there is. But there is so much more.

So for some scientists and some theologians, reasoning has been a force for good, for making connections and seeing wholes, for continuing to live in spite of extraordinary difficulties.

They use reasoning to see the connections and the wholes — in other words, the meaningfulness of everything that exists.

Also see:

Walker Percy’s passage on “the ex-suicide” from his book Lost in the Cosmos.