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Nulla Scriptura Revisited

One of the keystones of traditional Protestant theology is the concept of sola scriptura.  This means literally “by Scripture alone”.  That is, all doctrines and practices of Christianity must be derived from Scripture.  Tradition, commentary, and development are not necessarily bad, but they may never be normative for belief and practice.  My post from some time back, “Nulla Scriptura” was a deliberate pun on this, as it means, “by nothing [of] Scripture.”

Back here, I said the following:

Of course, I’d say that open theism, as well as many other flavors of Protestantism, has too high a view of Scripture, anyway. I don’t mean that in the sense of saying that Scripture isn’t inspired, or of encouraging a “low” view of it. Rather, I mean the tendency to take it more or less as is without looking at context or the philosophical implications. I’ve read essays by open theologians in which they’ve gone so far as to say that if the theology or philosophy says one thing, and Scripture says another, then Scripture must be preferred, even if it seems to paint God in peculiar ways (e.g. limited knowledge, changing His mind, etc.). By that logic we’d have to jettison the value of pi!

What I want to do here is to elaborate on that concept, both in a general, theoretical way, as it pertains to Christianity and Christian thought in general; and also in a concrete, specific way, as it pertains to my own church, the Catholic Church, particularly in 21st Century America.

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Quote for the Week

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business con­cern.

–C. S. Lewis, from the Preface to the Paperback Edition of The Screwtape Letters

The Most Evil Song of All Time!

Now that I’ve got your attention…. 😉  First, let me tell you what I don’t mean.  I don’t mean it’s a poorly-crafted song–it’s quite well done.  I’m not saying I dislike Savage Garden–they were a very listenable pop group, and another song of theirs, “To the Moon and Back”, is quite a good song, which I like a lot.  I’m certainly not saying the song is evil in the sense that certain people over the decades have claimed that rock is “the Devil’s music”, or that hidden backward messages are planted in songs, or any of that claptrap.  So, you may then ask, what the heck do you mean?

In order to do that, I’ll have to quote some of the lyrics, my emphasis.  It’s easy enough to Google song lyrics, but if you’re too lazy to do so, they can be found here, among many, many other sites.  I provide the link so that you can see the entire context for the lyrics I’m going to quote here.  The parts I’m going to quote adequately make my case, I think; but I don’t want anyone to think that I’m cutting out stuff that contradicts my thesis.  In fact, I’m also going to quote part of the song that actually does indicate (slightly) the opposite of what I’m arguing for.

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Quote for the Week

The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naïvety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message.

–C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms; from here

Quote for the Week

It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read without attention to the whole nature & purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.

–C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3; from here

Who Do Men Say That I Am?

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

–C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 55-56

In my youth, I was in effect an Arian.  That is to say, while I thought Jesus of Nazareth was just swell, and was even willing to posit that he might, just might, be more than an ordinary human, I did not believe him to be God incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity.  I held that view from the time I first began to think seriously about theology–in my early teens–until about the age of twenty-four.  At that point I came to believe in the Trinity through what I only semi-facetiously describe as Divine intervention.  That’s a long story, though, and for another day.  The point is that I first encountered C. S. Lewis’s famous “trilemma“, stated in brief in the blockquote above, during my Arian days.  At that time, I found it unconvincing, irritating, in fact.  Now, as a Trinitarian, I’m still inclined to be skeptical of its ability to convince a non-Trinitarian.  In short, for various reasons I don’t think it’s going to convince someone who disbelieves in the divinity of Christ to accept that notion–it didn’t convince me back my Arian phase, after all.  However, I do agree with a deeper point it makes; and that is something that ties in to another post or two that I’m working on.  Thus, I think it’s worth unpacking in a separate post, here.

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I Ain’t Got No Body: Embodiment (or not)

Here we talked about the creation of the material world and embodied intelligences (us) by God.  Over here we looked at how truly free creatures must be created at a certain “distance” from God’s perfection, with the (probably inevitable) corollary that at least some, if not most, of them will fall away to one degree or another.  Let us now start connecting these two threads and see where this leads us.

First, it is worth pointing out a slight nuance in the concept of the Fall.  To the orthodox, the Fall of mankind came after embodiment.  That is, humans were originally created as embodied souls.  Since humans were, in this narrative, primordially innocent, there was thus nothing “wrong” with embodiment.  Had the Fall not occurred, humans would have lived embodied lives in innocent perfection.  Embodiment is a feature, not a bug, so to speak.  The Fall distorted the relationship of body and soul; but that relationship in and of itself is fundamentally good.  It is also important to point out that in this  model, we don’t have a body; that is, we are not actually a spirit that just inhabits a corporeal form.  Rather, we are a body; or better, we are a holistic combination of body and soul making up one single hypostasis (person).

C. S. Lewis puts it in somewhat mystical language in Chapter 14 of The Great Divorce:

I saw a great assembly of gigantic forms all motionless, all in deepest silence, standing forever about a little silver table and looking up on it.  And on the table were little figures like chessmen who went to and fro doing this and that.  And I knew that each chessman was the idolum or puppet of some one of the great presences that stood by.  And the acts and motions of each chessman were a moving portrait, a mimickry or pantomime, which delineated the inmost nature of his giant master.  And these chessmen are men and women as they appear to themselves and to one another in the world.  And the silver table is Time.  And those who stand and watch are the immortal souls of those same men and women.

Thus the body and the soul are in a sense different manifestations of the same thing, merely seeming different (puppet vs. giant) because of our perception of time.

In the Gnostic mythos, the body, along with the rest of the material cosmos, is created by the evil and/or ignorant Demiurge, who makes it as a sort of imperfect, Bizarro-world copy of the dimly perceived Pleroma (the perfect spiritual world of the Aeons, the angelic intelligences created by God).  Thus, embodiment is a bad thing, as the material world itself is a bad thing, at best a pale reflection of the true Good, at worst a cesspit of suffering and limitation.  Some versions of the Gnostic mythos posit embodiment as a theft of the Light–the spiritual essence that comes from the Pleroma–by the Demiurge and his Archons; in some versions, Sophia (the Aeon whose sin led to the existence of the Demiurge in the first place) deliberately “seeds” the human body with the Light, as a long-term “time bomb” that will defeat the Demiurge and ultimately bring about the end of the material cosmos.  In this reading, embodiment is a good thing for the goal it will ultimately achieve; but it is still bad for us at the present.  Our goal is to escape embodiment and return to the Pleroma.

Thus, the Gnostic perspective holds embodiment to happen after the Fall, or perhaps to be a sort of Fall itself; and the antagonism of the spirit and the body is not an accident, but it is baked into the cake, so to speak.  We are not a body-soul amalgam, as in orthodoxy, but a soul–our true self–which is unfortunately connected to a body (or possibly many bodies–some forms of Gnosticism posit reincarnation) as a result of the entrapment of the Light in matter.

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All Things Dull and Ugly

In which I try to show that God is better than we are.  But of course he is! you say.  Let me explain.

I ran across this on Facebook a couple of days ago, and it is certainly food for thought.  I was moving in a certain direction with my last few posts on universalism, but this and some other things have induced me to deviate a bit on the way to where I’m going with the series, since pertinent issues keep arising.

One issue with hell that’s often brought up is this:  Those in Heaven experience perfect happiness; and yet if some (or many) are in hell, then some of those in Heaven will have friends and loved ones–even spouses, parents, or children–in Hell.  This would obviously seem to make heavenly bliss impossible.  So how can the saved experience Heaven if some whom the love are in Hell?

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His Dark Materials, Part 2: Commitments, Propaganda, and Blurry Lines

Just to be clear, if you’ve clicked on the video before reading, I’m not invoking, nor am I exemplifying, Godwin’s Law.  Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

I began writing about Philip Pullman’s series of novels His Dark Materials with a discussion of what I believe to be the wrong reasons for dismissing, criticizing, or derogating it.  Many, especially in Christian circles, have dismissed it as a piece of atheist propaganda meant to destroy children’s belief in God.  Pullman, in essays about C. S. Lewis, has made the counter claim that Lewis, in his Narnia books, was propagandizing to bring children into the Christian fold.  My contention was that whether or not either one of them was right was beside the point in terms of the literary merit of either series of books.  What I want to do briefly here is to explore that blurry boundary between writing with a passionate aim and propagandizing, and how these relate to art.

To some extent art is about technique and skill.  The very word “technique” comes from the Greek technēs, very inadequately translated as “art”.  It is better translated as “skill” or “craft” or “art” in the sense of the “art” of doing something.  The word for builder or carpenter, tektōn (the word, by the way, which in the New Testament describes the professions of Joseph, husband of Mary, and of Jesus of Nazareth, and which doesn’t necessarily imply what we call carpentry), is related to technēs.  Without skill or craftsmanship, without having mastery of one’s craft and doing a good job at it, one cannot create art, be it painting a picture, carving a statue, building a good house, building a stone wall, writing a novel, singing a song, or making a movie.   Read the rest of this entry

Open and Closed Systems, 1: Open Systems

In this post I want to give a rationale for my “Towards a Gnostic Orthodoxy” series.  After all, one might say, “If you’re orthodox, then why isn’t that enough for you?  Or, if you have that many problems with orthodoxy, why not be honest and leave outright?”  There are less polite ways in which these questions could be posed, obviously; but they are legitimate.  Thus, I want to look at what I’m trying to do here and give at least some motivations for it.

All religions, philosophies, and world views acknowledge, at least in principle, the finitude of the human mind and the human condition.  Our minds and understanding are limited; enormously limited, in fact, with respect to all there is to know in the universe in all its complexity.  We know very little, and with respect to all that there is to be known, we may always know very little.  What seem like great strides to us may be minute baby steps, little children chipping pebbles from the side of Mount Everest, in the big scheme of things.  So much as this everyone, in principle at least, would agree. Read the rest of this entry