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Chasing the Incarnation

This post from Reditus perfectly makes the point that I have discussed, but less effectively, in my series on dualism.


A haunting image that has been etched into my mind manifested itself to me in a Russian Orthodox church during the All-Night Vigil for the Feast of the Annunciation. At a certain point during Matins (I won’t bore you with the context too much), the bearded priest stood before the icon of the Annunciation and chanted one of those old leftover ancient Slavonic chants with censer in hand. I am not sure why this made such an impression on me: it was a good hour into the service, and I know little Old Slavonic (I can sort of muddle my way through understanding what is going on.) The priest wore a sky blue phelonion gilded in gold, the robust baritone voice echoed through the church, and the melismatic chant reached back into time and grabbed from it some hidden reality that gleamed like the clouds at dusk…

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The Lady Gaga Project

Because I live for the applause….  I do like it when I get traffic here and it’s great when my posts make people think, actually, but as to this post, some explanation:

Way back in the early part of my series on the Fall, I put a picture of Lady Gaga at the top of a post on theology and titled it by quoting “Bad Romance”, purely on a whim and the humorous notion that it might drive blog views.  I doubt it did that very much, but I got a kick out of it, and as it turned out I worked more ideas from the song into later posts.  I’m not exactly one of Lady Gaga’s “little monsters”, but I have a moderate fondness for her music (though the latest album is distressingly weak), and somehow I find “Bad Romance” compelling.

Anyway, I just finished my fifth post themed from “Bad Romance” and I decided I’d put them all here (in addition to the series to which they properly belong and under which they’re already listed).  The topics are not directly connected, but they circle around the Fall of Man and universalism, with a bit on dualism and the Bible, too.  Perhaps after reading some, visitors may be interested in looking back at previous posts in the sundry series.  In any case, enjoy!

Synthesis, Part 1:  I Want Your Ugly, I Want Your Disease

Synthesis, Part 3:  I Want Your Horror, I Want Your Design

Dualism:  I Want Your Drama, the Touch of Your Hand

I Want Your Psycho, Your Vertigo Schtick–Lady Gaga, Open Theology, and My 1500th Post!

I Want Your Love and I Want Your Revenge:  Hell

It’s All in the Mind

It’s hard to find a soul here, in this crowd of skin and bones.–Susanna Hoffs, “Made of Stone”

We’ve seen why the troubles besetting Connor MacLeod and the murky possibility of predestination do not apply to God.  Now we return to the issue of how humans make choices (if in fact the can do so), and if they can hold to these choices forever.  One possible perspective needs to be dealt with before I go on to a fuller consideration of the issue. That perspective deals with the nature of our mind.

First, I am most definitely a New Mysterian–that is to say, I think the so-called “hard problem of consciousness” cannot be solved by humans or human science.  Beyond that, I take it as axiomatic that humans indeed have souls, and that these souls are immaterial and survive death.  I’m not interested in defending these assertions at this point.  As a believer, I take for granted the traditional Christian teaching on the existence of the soul.  If I didn’t believe in the existence of souls, then none of the increasingly large number of posts here would have the slightest significance and I could be spending my time in some more fruitful pursuit.  Thus, the presupposition that we have souls that are immaterial underlies all the follows from here.

Read the rest of this entry

Quote for the Week


We may treat of the Soul as in the body — whether it be set above it or actually within it — since the association of the two constitutes the one thing called the living organism, the Animate.  Now from this relation, from the Soul using the body as an instrument, it does not follow that the Soul must share the body’s experiences: a man does not himself feel all the experiences of the tools with which he is working.

Plotinus, The Enneads, First Tractate : The Animate and the Man, translated by Stephen Mackenna and B. S. Page; courtesy Wikiquote.

Insights, Gnostic and Otherwise: I Don’t Wanna Live in This Place (or do I?)

In my “Towards a Gnostic Orthodoxy” series I’ve been exploring similarities and commonalities between Gnostic and orthodox Christianity.  Here I want to talk about a major difference–a difference that in my view is actually more fundamental than the various differences of Scripture, practice, doctrine, and so on.  This difference is a difference in outlook; or, to put it better, a difference of experience or perception of the world.

The first experience is the experience of being at home.  Sometimes we appreciate the beauty of nature; we perceive the miracle of being an intelligent being on a planet full of intelligent beings; we enjoy good food and good friends.  The sun shines, we love others, things seem to be going well, all is right with the world.  Sure, life isn’t perfect; but how wonderful it is to be alive.  In short, we sometimes feel very  much at home in the universe.  For all its flaws and faults, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be.  This is what I will call the experience or intuition of belonging.  This is the fundamental orthodox insight.

On the other hand, sometimes things don’t seem so rosy.  Things are screwed up; we get ill; the stock market dives; wars erupt in distant lands; our finances bottom out.  We look around and it seems that everything is timed to have the greatest possible bad effects.  We see the faults and failings of even those closest to us, and even the things we take greatest pleasure in seem to loose their savor.  We feel, to quote an old Sting song, that “roses have thorns, and shining waters mud, and cancer lurks deep in the sweetest bud”.  To put it as David Byrne did, we look around and think “This is not my beautiful house!  This is not my beautiful wife!”  In short we feel like refugees washed up on the shore of some foreign land, adrift, far from home, not even sure where home is.    This is what I’ll call the intuition of alienation.  This is the fundamental Gnostic insight.   This is what the video above expresses, albeit in an 80’s, Euro-pop kind of way.  Read the rest of this entry

Dualism: Living in a Material World

Because I can’t reference Lady Gaga all the time; and Madonna was the Lady Gaga of the 80’s (or have I got that backward?).

I’ve talked about dualism a lot here; but it’s been in a more general vein.  That is, I’ve talked about dualistic tendencies in historical Christianity and the backlash against these in modern times.  I haven’t looked in detail at the different flavors of dualism:  ethical, metaphysical, and so on.  Since what I’m looking at in this series is the relationship of orthodox Christianity to Gnosticism, especially any common grounds they may share; since my contention is that there’s more such common ground that is generally assumed; and since Gnosticism posits a spirit/matter duality; for all these reasons, as I continue my quest for a Gnostic orthodoxy, I want to examine the issue of matter and the spirit in this post.

I take the dichotomy as real, of course.  Philosophical materialism–the view that nothing but matter and energy exists–would deny the existence of “spirit”; but I do not subscribe to a materialist worldview.  Almost all forms of Christianity accept the existence of spirit as well as matter, though attitudes towards the two may differ.  For the purposes of discussion here, the material universe is understood to mean the physical universe, made of matter and energy (which are, after all, different forms of the same thing)  which interact according to the four fundamental forces (electromagnetic, weak nuclear, strong nuclear, and gravity), and which is observable by scientific methods.

Spirit, on the other hand, is neither matter nor energy (though it’s often thought of in terms much like the latter); it is not “present” in the material universe, since location is a property of material objects; it can interact with matter and energy, though; and finally, in accordance with traditional theology, it is immortal and indestructible, and it is simple (that is, non-composite; not made up of constituent parts, like material objects are).  God and the angels are pure spirits, and our souls are spirits which are “attached” to–or, better, “associated with”–our bodies. Read the rest of this entry

The Downside of Dualism: Body and Soul

I have been arguing for a more positive view of dualism over the course of the last several posts, while heading towards the larger end of describing my mode of Biblical interpretation, and discussing what I accept, what I reject, and why. My thesis is that Christianity has been traditionally more strongly dualistic than is acknowledged to be the case in modern times, and that a return to a more dualistic attitude would redress a current excess in the other direction, return Christian thought to its roots, and have salutary effects in many areas.  Having said that, I have to come out and say that dualism (appropriately enough!) is a two-edged sword.

The type of dualism I’m talking about there is not the dualism of Daoism, in which the opposition is not between good and evil or spiritual and material, but between opposite principles (dry/moist, hot/cold, male/female, etc.).  It is the dualism that has been prevalent in the West (by which I include North Africa and the Iranian Plateau, since ideas from these areas circulated in the Mediterranean world), that is, a dualism of spirit world/material world and good/evil, the spirit being seen as good or predominantly good, and the material as evil, less good, or at least inferior.

One obvious shortcoming of this form of dualism popped up on the discussion thread at Vox Nova, which I’ve referred to before.  One of my interlocutors, A. Sinner, had the following things to say, my emphasis:

Ah, how tragic it is to see so many people today exalting the life of the body over the life of the soul. Christ Himself says “And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell.”

A society does not need to criminalize everything (indeed, I WOULD in fact argue for the decriminalization of prostitution, etc). But, at the same time, in given circumstances, it CAN criminalize. And certainly it sends a weird message if killing people’s bodies is a crime, but killing their souls (which is what heretics do; their crime is Objectively much worse than any murder) is not.

Given a certain perspective, this is a fair point. Read the rest of this entry

Dualism: I’m of Two Minds on It: Index

Actually, the dualism posts are part of the “Pretty Good Book” series.  However, they make up almost a third of that series, and will end up longer than my “Double Shadow” series.  In addition, the ideas are relevant, I think to the existing “Legends of the Fall” and the upcoming “Towards a Gnostic Orthodoxy” series.  Thus, I’m giving them an index page of their own for anyone who wants to look at dualism in depth without going through the rest of the other series.

I’m a Dualist, Except When I’m Not

The Decline of Dualism

Dualism and Its Discontents

Dualism:  I Want Your Drama, the Touch of Your Hand

Dualism:  Orthodoxy,  Heresy, Refrigerators, and Lawn Mowers

The Downside of Dualism:  Body and Soul

Dualism:  Living in a Material World

Chasing the Incarnation

Dualism: Orthodoxy, Heresy, Refrigerators, and Lawn Mowers

It’s funny–I’ll get to a point where I think I’m about to wind the whole series down, and things come up.  I’ll read something or have a conversation or have an exchange on another blog or think of something, and then I realize there are things I’ve neglected or forgotten to address or need to address.  Then the post to address that leads to another and the whole thing expands.  Sigh.  Oh, well–we’ll just have to deal with it!

Upon thinking, I realized that I still haven’t dealt sufficiently with dualism, nor have I linked it sufficiently into the overarching theme of this series, which is about the Bible.  To deal with the second of these issues first:

Here, here, here, and here I’ve discussed how dualism has come to be perceived as an outmoded and incorrect viewpoint in the modern Western context.  It is seen, especially in religious contexts, as outworn, outmoded, and no longer viable in the modern era.  My contention is that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction against dualism, and needs to return.  I have also discussed how the Greeks were always more dualistic than the Semitic peoples; and though I didn’t say it explicitly, this, I think, is part of the reason for my temperamental preference for the Greeks.

My tendency is to think that Christianity in its origins and for much of its history was much more dualistic than we like to think.  For the reasons stated above, this dualism is more pronounced in the New Testament than in the Old.  This is certainly one factor among many in my preference for the former.  I’ll elaborate on this more in coming posts.  Meanwhile, I think it’s worth taking a look at Christianity itself and seeing if my assertion here is in fact correct. Read the rest of this entry

Dualism: I Want Your Drama, the Touch of Your Hand

I figured that since I was finished with the “Legends of the Fall” series, I was absolved from my promise for no more Lady Gaga.  Anyway, it is relevant here–probably more than it was there.  This time, I just posted the whole dang video.

FWIW, I like the song much better than I do the video.  That’s actually true for me of most of her songs and videos.

OK–back to where we left off last time.  There, I discussed how there has been a tendency since the middle of the 20th Century to try to move away from dualism in theology.  I gave some of the reasons for that, and some of the ways in which this had been manifested.  I also expressed the opinion that the pendulum had swung a bit too far the other way, and explained why.  The only area I didn’t discuss was sex and sexuality.  That’s a topic that can well do with a post all to itself, eh? Read the rest of this entry