Category Archives: Lexicon

Holiness = expansive notion of health

There is a reason why the words ‘holy’ and ‘health’ have common root in a word that means ‘whole’, and that is because the concepts have a significant overlap, while being developed in certain different ways.

To be holy is, basically, for an organism to be functioning well, and in particular as relates to God, i.e., the Good. This suggests states not just of what we would call ‘well being’ in a secular sense, but also things from a Christian perspective like an indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, say, and more generally having a disposition of aligning oneself with and being guided by God.

To be healthy is, basically, for an organism to be functioning well, but it doesn’t specify something like God, so the concept as it is typically used in English-speaking culture has a secular or agnostic virtue to it.

In both cases, there is an idea of ‘wholeness’, or well-integrated functioning of an organism that brings it towards what is good.

In its essence, I think, it is useful to conceive of ‘holiness’ in its full state as including the secular concept of health, but then adding to it by drawing out and emphasizing a spiritual component of health in addition.

(Indeed, in Christianity ‘Heaven’ is a society that is brought about where citizens have vigorous, robust, bodily or physical health. Similarly, consider the idea in Christianity that the Christ is ’the way [to God], the truth, and the life.’)

It seems obvious on reflection that optimum human functioning includes something like a spiritual aspect, and therefore the concept of holiness is or can be useful, whether one is monotheistic, polytheistic, atheistic, or what have you.

What is the basic idea with original sin?

What is the basic idea with original sin?

To ask what is the basic idea with original sin it is helpful to ask what is the basic idea with sin. Sin is – in its essence – sub-optimal behaviour.

(Theologically, this can be understood as action leading to separation from God, where God = the Good. Also see here. From a secular viewpoint, however, this is to confuse the issue, as it brings God in first, where the idea of God is in question. In more secular language, we can say sin is behaviour leading to separation from the Good. In Christianity, this idea is refined and developed, and often related to other theological concepts. That sub-optimal behaviour is the essence can be seen by considering things like the 7 deadly sins, which are typical sub-optimal behaviours such as over-eating, laziness, and so on.)

Original sin, then, is the idea that there is something heritable in human nature that can lead to sub-optimal behaviour. Often, people can get pulled off the track by details in the story of the Garden of Eden – was there really a garden, were there really just two primordial humans, was there really a serpent, and so on.

In more secular terminology, we might say there is something related to the brain that can often lead to sub-optimal behaviour in humans, especially in a non-natural environment. This latter point can use some expansion.

Adam and Eve leave the ‘garden’ – my guess is that this comes from a cultural memory of entering agricultural society, including, among other things, more difficult child birth (Genesis 3:16), something that tends to be easier in hunter-gatherer societies for some reason (including increased pelvic depth, perhaps due to nutritional differences), and ’toiling the land’ (Genesis 3:17), a seemingly direct reference to some kind of shift to agriculture as opposed to hunting-gathering or primarily pastoralist society.

So, the basic idea is we now have a mismatch, where part of how our brains often work (captured by the change in human cognitive nature told in the story of the garden) tends to lead to certain kinds of sub-optimal behaviour, at least in a society like we have now (having left ’the garden’).

So understood, the idea of ‘original sin’ seems relatively obvious. Many people engage in sub-optimal behaviour, like gambling, over-eating, and so on, and this probably has something to do with our evolved cognitive structures, and perhaps in specific with a mismatch between our agricultural (industrial, and so on) society and the one we evolved for a longer period of time in.

It seems part of getting this point for many people is probably switching from an articulation of what is going on in traditional theological terms to a conceptual vocabulary that connects more easily with other contemporary ideas.

The Christian forest for the trees

There are some who want to conceive of Christianity in terms of, say, abstract, theological notions of the nature of the Holy Trinity.

Yet, if anything is at the core of Christianity, a guide to it is not these theological disputes but things like Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Love, Joy, and so on.

I.e., things like the fruit of the Holy Spirit are probably one of the best guides to what is at the core of Christianity.

Also see here.

‘Christianity’ cannot be true

‘Christianity’ cannot be true because Christianity contains conflicting claims.

When someone says Christianity is true, what they mean is that a specific set of beliefs, ideas, practices, and so on – out of the many that form Christianity – is true, useful, and so on.

Similarly, when someone says that God exists, they mean a specific conception of God.

So, if you say that Christianity is true, you are saying a specific conception of Christianity is true.

Also see here.

What is the essence of materialism?

Materialism in its coherent version is essentially chronological, not metaphysical.

That is, materialism says there is mind, but mind (in some way related to the development of the brain) comes about through evolution, and is therefore a relatively late development in the universe.

This is contra the position that mind is at the beginning of the universe, i.e., the typical Christian view.

More specifically, in Christianity, mind in some sense creates the order in the universe, whereas in materialism mind is created by an ordering of the universe.

I.e., ‘materialism’ isn’t about what there is, but about when certain kinds of things came about.

Omni-God

An omni-God is a God who has the attributes of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and omniscience (and perhaps omnipresence).

However, saying these words is not enough to say exactly what they mean.

(Similarly, when a translation of Genesis, say, has God being described as ‘almighty’, what exactly does this mean? It is easy for a contemporary reader, who might be acquainted with the standard classical theological understanding of omnipotence, to ascribe that classical conception to the word ‘almighty’. Yet, that could be an anachronistic understanding – projecting our Aquinas-descended theology onto the Biblical writers, perhaps.)

A classical philosophical understanding of this, or ‘classical omni-God’, can be thought of as involving God not as a being but Being itself, out of which all things share in being. It is not just that they are created at some point in time by God (i.e., whenever He wills it), but also that at any moment their existence is due to God, as God is the base of existence. That is, in this classical conception, there is no being proper except for God’s being. Similarly, God can change all being at any moment. So, this conception of God’s omnipotence involves His being able to do anything ‘in the snap of a finger’, where the only constraints are typically understood as those of basic logic. This conception owes a significant amount to Aquinas and Plato, and is essentially an abstract, philosophically-driven conception of God.

What sort of alternatives are there to this approach? One possibility is what could be called an ’empirical omni-God’. This conception treats highly abstract, philosophical conceptions of God as secondary, and instead seeks to assemble an accurate conception of God’s nature by empirically assembling evidence of various kinds, building up to or thereby inferring certain of God’s attributes (omnipotence of a certain sort, and so on). This view owes a significant amount to William James, and is essentially an empirical conception of God.

So, the classical view is more a top-down conception of omnipotence (and so on), the empirical view is more a bottom-up conception.

What is worship?

Some people disagree with the idea of a non-classical ‘omni’-God (a classical omni-God being an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent entity in the classical philosophical sense, derived significantly from Plato) because they believe this would not be worthy of worship.

My suspicion is that often this reflects a misunderstanding of what worship means. In its most basic sense, worship is reverence. In Christian terms, this is typically accompanied by a sense of awe.

Consider the key Christian metaphor for understanding the nature of our relationship with God, of Him being a Father and us being (potentially) His Children. Now consider: can one reverence one’s own (actual) Father without thinking him omnipotent, and so on, in the classical philosophical sense? Similarly, another way to describe reverence is deep respect tinged with awe. Imagine someone said they could not have deep respect for their (actual) Father because he wasn’t omnipotent in the classical philosophical sense!

Regardless of what someone might say, however, it is clear that people do have deep respect or reverence for their (actual) Father without believing he is omnipotent, and so on, in the classical sense. Furthermore, many people revere with a sense of awe God without conceptualizing Him in the classical omni-God sense.

So, it seems that God can be the classical omni-God or not, and regardless be worthy of worship, i.e., reverence and awe.

Disambiguating ‘faith’

The word ‘faith’ often trips up people who are outside Christianity (and, indeed, some inside of it), because it is a word with multiple meanings. What are some of those?

1. Faith as in a spiritual life. ‘My faith life …’ = ‘My spiritual life …’

2. Faith as in a religion. ‘My faith teaches that …’ = ‘My religion teaches that …’

3. Faith as in conditional belief, which will become warranted upon confirmation. ‘First, have faith in God, then …’ This is typically used when talking about developing a relationship with God, and so refers to having faith in the character of God. God seems to be saying you should do x, but is x really going to have good results? So, conditionally, act on x, and then see what the result is. If the result is good, your faith will be confirmed. You have reason to act because many others have, and testify to the results, say.

However, it can also be used when talking about faith in the existence of God, and proceeds in a similar way. How do I know there is a God? Well, listen to Him and act on his advice. Judge by the results you get. And so on.

4. Faith as in knowledge, obtained often through religious experience. ‘I know there is a God by faith …’, as in the ‘light’ of the ‘Holy Spirit’ which enters ones and gives (say) a direct knowledge of God and the existence of ‘Heaven’, typically in a dramatic experience of ‘conversion’. (This sort of experience happens to many Christians.)

Similar to 3., this can also apply not only to the existence of God, but his character, as typically an experience of this sort involves that there is a God and something about what kind of God He is (a God of ‘light’, or goodness, and so on – these are attributes perceived in the experience, and they are perceived as belonging to something, i.e., ‘God’).

As mentioned above, however, some Christians misunderstand the proper use of this word (as also happens in regular language, where people use a word mistakenly). For example, they will (perhaps lazily) invoke it to ward off criticism, saying they know something simply by faith, where it is construed by the would-be critic as blind faith – simply believing something without any (epistemological) reason for doing so. A similar situation might apply to, say, 3. above, where a person thinks the Christian is advocating blind ‘faith’ in God, without an appeal to any consequent empirical verification! Of course, that doesn’t make any sense, and so the Christian is disregarded.