Monthly Archives: June 2013

What is ‘Jesus’?

The answer is not: “a man-God who walked around on Earth for about 33 years, 2,000 years ago.”

‘Jesus’ comes from a word meaning ‘God is help’, and in Christianity, Jesus is often thought of as a ‘mediator’ between the divine and human, by partaking of both natures in some sense. It is only in a brief, limited way, however, that God, according to Christianity, in this sense incarnated in human form on Earth. I.e., ‘Jesus’ is often primarily thought of anthropomorphically – as being co-terminous with the human-divine being who walked about on Earth, but this is not right.

This can be better seen by considering the tradition within Christianity of equating Jesus with the Logos. The Logos is perhaps a better fit for the notion of the ‘living Christ’, i.e., an active principle in the day-to-day activities here and now, as opposed to an historical figure. ‘Logos’ is a word meaning something like ‘thought, word, ordering, wisdom’ (and its technical meaning differs from, say, Stoicism to neo-Platonism to various strands of Christianity).

One can use a simple metaphor to help understand the Christian trinity if thinking of Jesus as the Logos: God the Father is ‘mind’, God the Son is ‘thought’, and the Holy Spirit is the ‘breath’ which occurs when thought, which comes from mind, manifests as speech. They are three distinct aspects of one process. (Compare this metaphor with the image here, say.) In Christianity, the ‘divine wisdom’ or ‘ordering’ of things is constantly manifesting in the world. This is often what are called ‘miracles‘, i.e., ‘signs’, understood in the proper sense (non-chance co-incidings of things, attributable to God).

Using this analogy, the manifesting is ‘speech’, which comes from the divine ‘mind’, through the ‘thought’. I think this puts the historical notion of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ into a better scope – according to Christianity, the historical episode is a particular manifestation of the divine wisdom.

What is the point of ‘inerrantism’?

A belief in the inerrancy, in some sense of that term, of the texts which are combined to make The Holy Bible is common in Christianity. What are the advantages of such a belief?

It seems there are at least two key benefits. The first is ‘epistemic simplicity’. This in turn seems to apply to two major questions: 1. Where are important truths? In The Holy Bible. 2. Is this written here in The Holy Bible true? Yes. One doesn’t need to worry about where relevant truths about how to live in the large part may be found, or whether one needs to sift falsehood from truth where those truths are to be found.

The second key benefit is that believing a certain source is inerrant will lead one to seek truth from that source. I.e., the belief will cause one to seek usefulness in the texts. This is useful if, indeed, there is significant truth or usefulness to be found in the texts.

So, what is the problem with an inerrantist approach?

One problem with the supposed first benefit is that it often evaporates to an extent, because saying that the texts (or the original texts from which we now have copies) are inerrant doesn’t actually specify in what way they are inerrant. How is one supposed to interpret the texts (including language, culture, symbolism, intent, relevant importance, and so on)? How does one synthesize seeming contradictions? That is, by saying they are inerrant, one is saying “Under some interpretation, they are true.” This can end up saying surprisingly little in some cases.

A problem with the second supposed benefit is that it leads to someone taking on board as true, whether on not they make sense, all sorts of things. This can easily swamp the relevant truths that might be in the Bible, or at least make it feel that way until the person has been able to interpret the rest of the truths correctly.

On the other hand, one interesting thing about the second supposed benefit is that one can get a similar sort of benefit without being an inerrantist. For example, if one believes there is warrant for there being significant truth in certain interpretations of parts of the Bible, because there are traditions or practices which make use of them and are in turn useful. In this case, one has motivation (although perhaps not as much motivation as an inerrantist) for seeking truth in certain Christian texts, without feeling one must make sense of everything in them.

So, one can focus more time on what works or seems like it might work, and less on worrying about things that don’t seem to make sense presently. (Of course, sometimes it’s useful to focus on things that don’t seem to make sense, as that can signify a potential breakthrough. The point still applies, however.)

What is the point of meal-time ‘grace’ in Christianity?

‘Grace’ is similar to the word for ‘thank you’ in certain Romance languages, and in the context of meal-time grace not surprisingly refers to the gifts we have been given (by God in Christianity, but it applies secularly as well – God gives you a beautiful set of shooting stars, or you are ‘given’ them by, say, the universe – this latter sense of being ‘given’ something makes sense in the context of purposes of meal-time grace, as will be seen).

What is the point of saying grace?

1. Habit for creating gratitude. I.e., it is often an instance of, but can also be thought to point to or be used to remind one of (and so is ‘sacramental’, i.e., a sign) abundance in one’s life (and, in the context of Christianity, also the abundance God wants for us).

It seems that focusing on abundance tends to create abundance in humans – not just a sense of abundance by noticing things that are good, but it also creates more of the good – whatever the psychological mechanisms.

Habitual gratitude – focusing on what’s good in one’s life – is probably a net benefit for most people. (Of course, it should be combined with a kind of realism – accurately seeing problems and taking effective action to respond to them.)

2. It can be thought of as a kind of meditation, as is the case with many kinds of prayer – a short period to empty and quiet one’s thoughts, and then recollect them towards, in this case, a feeling of gratitude or abundance.

3. Signals a starting point for a meal as a social group.

This seems to give the meal more significance for a group.

On top of this, for Christians,

4. Opens to God – it can involve listening to and communicating with God, and developing one’s relationship with Him, or so the idea goes.