December’s Scream (2010)

Leave a comment

R.D. Ackerman (2010)

Advertisements

Hearing the Call, Defend Something Greater than Yourself

Leave a comment

When asked to write an article on religious liberties, I originally thought to give an update on First Amendment jurisprudence and maybe to throw in a couple of quips about the direction the courts have taken on religious freedom. Instead, I find myself struck by the awe of our professional calling under the Constitution. I think about the current state of our moral and financial economies as a nation. Moreover, I think of the political philosophy of Eric Voegelin and his view of what it means to seek the higher order in life and the law.

The solemn oath we have taken as officers of the Court is a serious oath to defend the Constitution and all that it stands for. In my view, the Constitution came from and stands for something much greater than ourselves. Indeed, when we think only of ourselves, that’s about all we get. We must always be willing to think of and be willing to defend something greater than ourselves.

The need to defend free speech, religious freedom, and the right to assemble has never been more critical. We live in a society where values have become relativistic, where morality is centered on individual ‘needs,’ and where economic viability is the test for one’s societal worth. Sadly, the First Amendment often finds itself protected only by those who have a certain political view of what it means and the regular absence of a counter-position is misread as victory or consensus. We also forget that relativism is but a subtle form of anarchy. Yet, fortunately, the objectivity of the Constitution provides a societal solace not found in many other parts of the world.

Moreover, much of the ‘defense’ of the First Amendment has resulted in the conclusion that anything of divinity has no place in public discourse. Religion, faith, and a sense of wanting to restore order have been morphed into a negative, if even reviled, position in contemporary jurisprudence. It should not be so. We all ought to self-examine the purpose of being legal professionals and must strive to zealously defend the First Amendment as though the very progress of humanity depended on our advocacy. Indeed, we can only progress when we seek a higher order beyond our present lot in life. But for the idea of something greater and outside than ourselves, we would have no need or desire for progress as humans. We often forget that the difference between human evolution and natural evolution is that human evolution is generally self-directed. You must know that we can define the parameters of a bright and recovering future. We as lawyers can help define the justice necessary for America’s recovery.

In the case of the American justice system, our higher order is reflected in the language of the Constitution. In this vein, the trier-of-fact’s pull toward the higher order can only be had through a tension existing between the conduct that gave rise to the litigation and the law which applies when a given state of events is proved. Each side has a story to tell, both sides are presented and, from the tension between the sides, comes “justice.” The concept of a living justice is a purely noetic experience. Equally, justice must always be reflective of a higher calling toward Reason.

Reason, in the classical sense, is not to be taken as referring to `reason as mere logic or logical constructs’. Instead, “Reason” is a human experiential event, an ever-present “constituent of humanity,” and a “source of order in the psyche of man.” With an air of sincere hope, Eric Voegelin saw Man as being able to actually experience and articulate divinity. This experience, is one that comes from the illumination and presencing of both: a.) the disorder which constitutes man’s limited spatio-temporal material existence, and; b.) that which causes man to be a questioning being containing the divine within him. Please do not confuse the term “divine” with purely theological connotations. Think of it as more of the essence of what makes Man different than a common animal.

Voegelin’s representation of Reason is used here as a paradigm for the workings of a Constitutional jurisprudence. In this vein, all of us called to the profession of law must defend the cornerstone of our higher order, which is the First Amendment. It must also be known that when we fail to defend it, we deny human progress, we deny the opportunity for diversity of thought, and we kill the very spirit of our system of justice.

Historically, it must be acknowledged that the development of the Constitution could not have been anything but a manifestation of America’s pull toward the Divine and was reflective of the experience of Reason. The Constitution was not meant to be a mere recital of ideas and concepts that might prove useful in the governance of human affairs in the eighteenth century and beyond.

Presently, it seems that America is in a pull toward the passions of socio-economic existence and we have voluntarily lost sight of the divinity in us. Our present pull toward the darker elements of American humanity amounts to an outright rejection of the Divinity which inspired the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

In my view, the inspiration for the Constitution was an identifiable experience of reality and the “cognitively luminous force” which allowed resistance against the tyranny and disorder of English rule and allowed the founding of a vibrant new democracy. By reflection on the experience that gave rise to the articulations set forth in the Constitution, Americans came to have a guiding force by which they could direct the higher voice of Reason through their unique cultural experiences. This force was a force within them and a force that defined/created them.

Voegelin’s notion of Reason is founded on the essential claim that `experiences create concepts.’ In the case of the Constitution, the American experience of the 18th century created powerful political concepts. The human experience of the time, however, was only a medium through which the Constitution could come to be a representation of the higher order giving rise to its possibility as a living documentation of human contact with higher/divine order.

The Constitution, as an instrument of communication, is an accounting of the transcendent experience that the Founders had. It was/is account of that which they believed to be “God-given” or divinely-given. The Constitution contains reflections of the metaxy between Man and the Divine which existed long before the American Revolution and which could not have prevented the split between America and Great Britain. The enactment of the Constitution certainly did not serve to completely disenfranchise men from their passions, enslavement of other human beings, or the need for a physical revolution.

The force that allows the human psyche to resist disorder is called the ever present, but oft hidden, “Nous.” Each of us has Nous within us we participate in the Nous of our times. Nous is reflective of a movement toward higher order. However, as suggested above, the noetic movement toward higher order is countered by a natural human pull toward our primitive passions and the matter which makes for our finite human existence in time and space. According to Voegelin, this creates a tension (i.e., metaxy) between the passions and higher order. As such, we are in a state of existential unrest and do damage to ourselves by failing to recognize the divinity in our human purpose.

Humbly, however, we are to recognize that Man is not self-created nor is Man a self-sufficient being which carries within him/her the ultimate meaning of the universe. Rather, humanity is left with questions about the “ultimate ground” of reality. Our experience is taken to be from the position of being an interrogator of reality. Our ability to articulate perceived answers to our own interrogatories becomes our greatest and most respectable endeavor. This work is most reflective of that which makes us what we are. This ability to articulate with regard to the `process of questioning’ allows us to hint at, reflect on and share with others our experience of the “ultimate ground” for our existence, which again, is in us and which created us.

It is our questioning that is, in of itself, reflective of our pull toward that which created us. We know not why we question; Yet, we do know that we are compelled to question. The First Amendment provides a guaranty that we might be able to engage in higher Reason even when we fail to desire the sanctity of our freedoms. By defending that which serves as the force behind our inherent desire to question, we are thinking about the arche’ of our humanity. A necessary mode of tension is created between the higher order and our struggle to attain it.

When in good health, our modes of tension can take the forms of hope, faith, love and trust. This includes faith, hope and trust in our fellow man, whether he be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, or simply questioning. Moreover, the theophanic events of hoping and believing are not dependent on race, creed, religion, ethnicity, or gender. Justice is the mode of tension in the Noetic-Constitutional experience.

The initial appeal to our divine nature in the development of the Constitution of the United States finds itself in the following language from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The phrase “self evident” detectably takes on a sense of having truths and knowledge of the divine arise from within ourselves and yet also directly arises from that which allows us to be or that which created the ability for us to see these truths as self evident.

In fact, the serious disorder of the age was reflected in America’s claims about the conduct of Great Britain. In point, America claimed that Great Britain was acting against the public good, engaging in invasions of rights, obstructing the administration of justice, plundering and ravaging, burning towns, destroying lives, completing works of “death, desolation and tyranny,” and being “deaf to the voice of justice.”

Assuming these things to be true, with a view toward our own times, it certainly appears that early America did not continue to remain in the apeironic depths of its then extant position in the continuum of human time and space. There were no more house burnings, trials by Church and State, or obvious acts of tyranny following the divine encounter of America. Nor was She limited by any belief that man cannot aspire to the divine.

This Nous of the eighteenth century was again manifest in the language of the Constitution itself. To wit, the following was stated and ratified on September 17, 1787:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution of the United States of America.”

The Constitution would then become that “supreme law of the land.” The articulations contained therein would now become the `persuasive force’ that would, in Voegelin’s terms, illuminate America’s existence for its citizens and the world as a whole. The Constitution was now an articulated unit of meaning having arisen from the metaxy of man’s human experience and that which caused him to believe that there was a higher order outside of his epistemological footing of the time. Justice would now take place at a new and ongoing politico-metaxy existing at the junction of the Constitution and the conduct of our daily human affairs.

On December 15, 1791, the United States further exhibited its tension toward the ground of its existence by ratifying the Bill of Rights. Among these fundamental rights, and first mentioned, was the right to free speech. This particular right is an ultimate reflection of the experiential phenomena described by Voegelin in that it secured the right of persons to “articulate” their experiences as questioning human beings. Again, we must remember Voegelin’s claim that our movements toward the divine ground can only be had through articulation of our experiences. The First Amendment affirms man’s questioning nature and so he becomes temporarily vindicated from the disorder and tyranny that began to stifle his questioning existence. America’s pursuit of that which was claimed to be “God-given” would then be further vindicated by enactment of the remaining nine Amendments to the Constitution.

Assuredly it seems that the right to be secure in our persons and property, the right to trial by a group of our peers and the separation of Church and State bolster our ability to seek the ultimate ground of our existence on an individual level.

Nonetheless, Voegelin, in his discussion of the Greek experience of Reason, warns us that humans can find themselves distanced from the Nous and Reason when these things are viewed as something wholly abstract and distanced from the realm of the direct human experience of consciously facing off with reality. We begin to develop certain psychopathology when we lose our openness and desire to pursue the divine. Modern America is exhibiting near terminal pathology relative to the Constitution as higher order given by the divine within us. This is a pathology that is manifest by a disrespect for the value of human life, political party agendas (outside a beneficial conservative/liberal politico-metaxy), and the fears of a society governed by fiscal economies.

As mentioned above, Reason comes about through an interactive experience wherein man and his arche are mutual participants at the metaxy between them. The mutuality of the experience makes for healthy existence. When we focus away from the ground, we become philosophically ill.

That which created us is taken to be as much a part of our existence as the human experience of existence itself and thus plays a central role in our healthy consciousness. Undeniably, it seems that consciousness comes into being, that complete consciousness is the prerequisite to experience and that experience of reality is the medium by which we come to acknowledge our consciousness.

We must also realize that we cannot simply reason ourselves out of the horrors of our time. It must be recognized that “reason” (with a small “r”) is only a tool by which we can come to interpret the material world around us. It does nothing to bring our attention to that which allows or which created our “reason” in the first place. Focuses on “reason” are only focuses on human interpretation of the world and not on that which is in the world per se’.

Thus, it seems that a philosophical ascent to that which is the higher cause or source is much more in line with the ultimate goal of experiencing mankind as something more than mere matter clashing with other matter in the world of conscious reality. The philosophical ascent is the one that soars on the wings of the tension between that which caused us to be and that which we are. All the while, we must maintain an openness to that which compels us to be questioning beings. “Reason,” as an epochal historical event, is to be taken in an ontological sense and is a process happening in the whole of reality and, when recognized, assists us in rising above the disorder of our material conduct.

Matter, in a sense, becomes a constant: Our interactive and questioning nature, when acknowledged, activated and defended, allows for variables and choices beyond what merely “is.”

Our human be-ing becomes a state of interactive questioning, in the sense of “What might be, besides that which is before me?”, Thus, we are moved forward in our be-ing. The First Amendment promotes this process. A passive view of reality would not allow us our individuality or perceived acknowledgment of God-given rights or the Divine or Reason. Denial of the right to question denies our fundamental humanity. Further, the process of questioning is the very eventing of the human consciousness and defines our humanity.

When we solely focus on the mere “matter” of experience or the tools which are used to interpret the matter, we are at most existing at an experiential standstill. A focus on logic, mere sense data, language, passions and scientific method calls us only into the present and past. Questioning is a bridge to the future. Our willingness to defend all questioning provides the necessary materials for this bridge. Although the material necessary to effectuate and answer is within the world, the questioning comes first and is a humanly conscious event beyond the realm of matter.

Again, the Constitution provides an articulation of the structure of government and the relationship of the People to Government. The Constitution wasn’t meant to be temporary and, quite properly I believe, we have not treated it as such. The Constitution is a reflection of what America should be. Unfortunately, it is not necessarily a reflection of who Americans are today.

In order to have a truly free society, there must be a mutual participation between us and the spirit of the Constitution. We must recognize the divine nature of others. When officers of court or everyday citizens reject the divine order reflected in them, we become ill as Constitutionally created, inspired, and driven citizens. Notwithstanding, we should not remain in offense of another’s rejection of Constitutionality, but must seek the production of faith, hope, love and respect by placing ourselves back into a state of unrest at the metaxy of our daily conduct and the Constitution.

There are such things as justice, love and equity in the world by virtue of our interactive role in the whole of reality. We come recognize that there are such things because we engage in conduct and interaction that is substituted by words like “justice.” It is in the experiences of life that we find justice and, as a lawyers, the Constitution reaffirms our daily purpose. Listen to the call of your profession and defend something higher than yourselves.

It Ain’t Easy Believing: Just Let Me Touch His Cloak

4 Comments

It ain’t easy believing. Being a Christian can be a challenge enough for most of us who realize that we are not perfect and were not completely perfected by our altar-call conversion or adult confirmation in the Faith. We’re all screwed up on some level and God knows each of us all too well. His Grace allows us to fulfill the Christian destiny we are intended to realize through the commission and fulfillment of our lives. The necessary fulfillment of our natural destiny exists regardless of our sickly natures and the desire to live by the example of worldly leaders or materialism.

What makes it difficult to believe in today’s Christianity, as a whole, is the division, denominationalism, and radically varying interpretations of even basic Scripture. See generally, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_translations . Frankly, it seems that just the ongoing debate about ‘Faith Alone’ versus ‘Sanctification through Works’ is enough to get Traditionalists and Contemporary Evangelicals into a fight which arrogantly ignores the desperate pleas of those hungry for an undivided relationship with Christ. To put it bluntly, the blood-spray caused by Church infighting has unfortunately clouded the vision of those observers possessing a heartfelt desire for an immediate relationship with Christ.

In many ways, this repulsive division among denominations or individual churches is comparable to the story of the bleeding woman set forth in Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, and as described below where the Good News says:

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” [Luke 8:41-48].

As the fight between Traditionalists and Contemporary Evangelicals rages on, individuals, families and married couples are left to struggle amongst themselves as to where they fit into the picture.

Metaphorically, we are all left trying to touch the healing robe of Christ, while those in charge are trying to aggressively maintain crowd control. Christ is perfectly willing to heal any of us by individual touch, but it certainly does seem that the Church leadership is far more concerned about their Jesus being able to move through the crowd uninterrupted. Indeed, church leaders seem to feel that Christ is only fit to speak from their pulpit and no other. They seem to completely forget that He preached from the Temple, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, on the Mount, and gave the ultimate sermon by his Crucifixion. There was no cathedral, there was no chapel, and there was no temple per se’.

Indeed, the story of the bleeding woman aptly describes Catholic believers, such as me, who are deemed to be out of the Church fold because I love and married a non-Catholic. I am considered to be out of necessary unity with the Church, and unable to touch the robe of Christ through the Eucharist, and the division has admittedly hurt my marital relationship at times. In fact, I cannot even demonstrate the power of the Eucharistic purpose because of the inability to participate in the Communion of the Church so that I might be able to be a good example to my family and to have reason to explain the deep and moving conversion of the heart realized through the altar-call that takes place at every Eucharistic Mass.

For those who immediately think that I ought to completely abandon the Catholic Church, I respectfully suggest that this particular call ignores our Church forefathers’ long history of Faith and practice (as consistently traced back to the Didache), it may be ignoring the literal translation of the Holy Act of the Last Supper, it fails to recognize the value of the Mass (as an all-senses experience of the Glory of Christ), and it fails to acknowledge the identity of a unified Church hierarchy as clearly set forth in Titus and elsewhere in the New Testament. Unfortunately, I think Evangelicals are apt to quickly forget that there was, and remains, an unbroken line of apostolic succession and a method of truth verification, which can be traced to Christ and his Apostles.

All too many American church-leaders have come forward, especially in the last 200 years, who maintain no respect for Church history, a lineage of theological analysis and truth, nor a respect for the basic practices of our Faith as described by the earliest Christians themselves. For some nondenominational pastors, if some portion or a personal interpretation of the Bible seems compelling to them, that’s good enough for the Flock. The sum Truth of the Gospels is vested in no man alone, whether he be the shepherd or the sheep.

Moreover, the ability to trace the internal and practical truth of the Good News exists regardless of the various mistakes made by the organized and human-led Church in the course of Man’s history. The fact that a human-led organization makes mistakes should be no shock to anyone. Along these same lines, critics of Christianity are always ready to point out that there are hypocrites in the Church (i.e., leaders who speak against a sin and commit it themselves). Make no mistake about it! The Message can be true and the messenger false.

Nevertheless, I fundamentally know that Christ would not have denied me his presence and healing on an individual level. If the Church’s leadership constitutes the Vicar of Christ on the Earth, why would it stop anyone from touching the healing power of Christ? If the Church be the body of its believers, how can it stop itself from touching Christ? Just like the disciples, it does not seem that the [c]hurch has the ability to stop a member of the crowd reaching out to Christ on an unmediated and direct level.

To those in Rome, your practices and your theology are correct in His Essence, but your failure to allow the meek and hurting to inherit the unmediated healing power of Christ is nearly a form of spiritual theft. Stop acting like crowd control officers. Christ himself has plenty of authority to allow his fans and followers to touch him and He demonstrated many times that He is also perfectly capable of deciding when to keep on going or whether to stop to help someone in pain. He didn’t stop and heal every person. Not only would this deny important parts of our God-given humanity, His conduct suggests that he knew there was a time and a place for everything and that not every person can or will set forth the legacy of His Truth.

With respect to the mixed-marriage issue referenced above, I am following the mandate of the Catechism at §§ 371-373 [duty to understand that man and woman are created with an inherent unity of purpose, that “God created man and woman together and willed for each other,” and, that they are to be united in transmitting life to their descendants].

In a society that is redefining the definition of the ‘natural family’ on a nearly daily basis, it seems that the Catholic Church ought to give some minimal thought to the idea that there are many Christian couples who aptly demonstrate the purposes of unity, marital sanctity, and holiness that God endowed in his creation of the male and female couple in the Garden of Eden. Should those committed marriages and families not be placed on a pedestal? Or, is it more important that the Church get its shot at nullifying the allegedly invalid marriage and getting the Church’s paperwork straight?

Instead, in this day, we are left with a Catholic Church who can barely define or restrict the sexuality or asexuality of many of its own priests, whose garments have been blood stained by the mortal sins of deliberate pederasty and pedophilia, and a confusing theology which denies men the very purpose set forth in the Catechism and the Bible itself. On the other hand, I’d like to believe that my years of faithful marriage to my wife, our daily work on the health of our marriage, and the four children we have been gifted with, are an apt demonstration of God’s Love as intended to be reflected through the unity of a family.

It is incredibly difficult to maintain family unity without spiritual unity. Once the family is destroyed in its spiritual unity, the natural consequence is a further destruction of society as a whole. The Church’s own failure to recognize the value of a faith marriage, even between those of different specific theologies, can be just as destructive as the division caused overtly by the Enemy.

One might say that spiritual division should not be caused by theological division, but it does seem that one’s theology will color one’s spirituality. Indeed, knowledge of the Bible can easily become a basis for liberation or an intellectual cause for rebellion. The rebellion comes from the flesh not wanting to accept the spirit as described in Scripture (regardless of the exact translation or version). I think most can agree that the basic message of Christianity is set out in the four Gospels.

More important, if the Church truly be the body of its believers, then the destruction caused by theological division and confusion leads to the very atrophy and potential death of the Church as a whole. It is not all that hard to believe that the rigidity of the debate between more than a hundred denominations in the United States alone could cause such havoc. Without a visible and unified Church in society, there can be no rational expectation that believers will be able to find solace in Her arms. The idea of a one holy and apostolic church was based on a solid understanding of human nature. At all times, humans must be led by something greater than themselves.

Those who followed Luther, and continue to do so today, have completely failed to recognize the value of this necessary posit toward true unity in faith. Allowing individuals to simply define themselves as “saved” without the knowledge of the Church’s history, developing philosophies, creeds of faith, and other essentials, is akin to allowing someone to practice surgery without any knowledge of medicine or the process of diagnosis. Again, being a Christian is not an easy task and Christ did not intend it to be so.

One need only review the Book of Matthew to quickly observe that a hefty number of mandated behaviors are described. In fact, He repeatedly describes acts or failures to act that could result in eternal damnation. Not once does he mention that a single altar-call serves as dispensation for the failure to abide in His direct commands. Nor should the Act at Calvary be readily confused or substituted by one’s own personal experience of an altar-call.

Not once does Christ say that all acts of Christian charity will be overlooked because one did not sign up with a particular denomination. The failure to act as a Christian will certainly lead to damnation. However, the commission or living out of different Christian acts by and between believers and others did not seem to be deemed relevant to salvation as defined by Christ himself. The Bible seems to acknowledge that we each have different gifts, talents, and modes of individual and collective worship, and spiritual celebration within our souls.

Nor does it appear that there was a complete and unequivocal forgiveness of all human sins at Calvary. Rather, it was made clear that certain sins could be “retained” by the Apostles, even after Christ left this Earth. What was made clear is that the Grace available upon voluntary remission of sins was all powerful, unlimited, and available for all of human history, until its Earthly end, moving forward from the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Onetime altar-call Christianity does not neatly fit into this oft-ignored dimension of Christ’s life after Calvary. His comment about retention of sins was made after the Crucifixion and His subsequent Resurrection. See, John 20:22-23. This comment is essentially unaltered as between the King James, New King James, New International Version, and New American Bible.

It appears to be very true that Grace and Salvation are available to those who cooperate in God’s Plan, but it says nowhere that the life of a Christian is defined only by an altar-call. Also, I must say that I am tired of hearing non-Catholics accusing Catholics of not giving in to the plan of Salvation. Do they really know what it means to be confirmed as an adult member of the Church? Do they not see the value of the humble acknowledgment that “I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed” before doing a full altar-call through acceptance of the Eucharist?

Moreover, on some level it is probably true that one or more of the denominations are mostly consistent with what the Bible requires of them with respect to fundamental beliefs. However, it also follows that unity in any Church body requires that the congregants maintain similar beliefs and define themselves as a group by the same. Humans, to some extent, really do act like herd animals.

The consistent use of the terms “shepherd” and “flock,” throughout all versions of the Bible, aptly demonstrates the fact that our Maker is all too aware of our herding tendencies. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a member of the flock. All too often, atheists and agnostics accuse Christians of being too easily led. This ignores the fact that we are all apt followers of just about anything pleasing to the body, senses, or self-image. This includes the unbridled adoration of Evolutionism, Nature, or Man itself by so many of Christianity’s accusers.

All the while, we Christians (i.e., the Church) are expected to maintain a number of key beliefs about Scripture and, in many cases, about a specific theological set of principles. The key areas of concerns are seeming as follows: a.) How one is to achieve salvation from the bondage of sin; b.) What sacraments if any are required as part of the faith; c.) The degree and extent to which a Church hierarchy ought to control the dissemination of Scripture and the management of the practices of the Faithful. These views have a direct and, often, negative impact on the credibility of the Church or any organized religion. Most unfortunately, these differences can destroy families, individual Faith, and even nations as a whole.

Every single Church has its own unique view of what Christians are expected to believe about the Church and Christ. Each also has its own view of who ought to be at the helm of the Church. In the past, I have regularly attended Calvary, Catholic, Quaker, Revivalist, Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, Contemporary Evangelical, home churches, and denominationally vague churches. I could not find a single one that was willing to accept that the others were ‘just as good’ in terms of theology and each church body presented with a pastor, priest or other leader who was presumed to have the correct view of the life of a Christian. Yet, not a one of these was willing to acknowledge they could be wrong about their colleagues. Respective unities among Catholics and Protestants seem only to be maintained for the purpose of disavowing the other.

Catholics, Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Conservatives, Reformists, and Liberals all have their own views of how we ought to think about our relationship with God and how we ought to practice the beliefs we maintain.

The Red Letters are not incredibly instructive as to what the Church actually might look like in the 21st Century nor any other time after the ‘veil was torn.’ Furthermore, I am convinced, after reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Luther’s Freedom of a Christian, that there is simply no way that Luther intended to destroy the entire hierarchical and historical infrastructure of the Catholic Church nor did he intended on diluting the importance of Christian works to the point that all that matters is our “faith alone.” Asking that Catholics leave behind the importance of “works” is akin to asking a surgeon to give up his or her scalpel. Asking that Protestants give up the altar-call is akin to asking the same physician to give up his or her reason for being a healer in the first place. See, Matthew 9:12.

In sum, just following the Bible’s Red Letters requires that we fundamentally change our lives and that we work toward being Christ-like. For me, anyway, this is a difficult task because I am not always loving, do not always stand up for what is right (even in public or especially in private settings), and, while I like many people, I have not learned to love them as Christ loves His people. I think we all desire a Church that will help us better lead the life of a Christian and which can act as a vicar for Christ here on Earth. Most people are not born leaders and need to become part of a flock to be naturally effective in their practical exercise of Faith and religious education. However, the Church does not have four walls per se and it is, without a doubt, made up of each of us as believers who may or may not regularly attend a given Church. Who among us will lead the need for unity in Christ, while not ignoring His lineal and eternal history?

As for me, just let me touch His robe. I’m bleeding.

Thoughts on Revelation …

Leave a comment

“There is a great advantage in proving the existence of God . . . by means of the idea of God. For the method enables us at the same time to come to know the nature of God, in so far as the feebleness of our nature allows. For when we reflect on the idea of God which we were born with, we see that he is eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, the source of all goodness and truth, the creator of all things, and finally, that he possesses within him everything in which we can clearly recognize some perfection that is infinite or unlimited by any imperfection.” Renee Descartes

What was arguably learned from the Catholic experience is that despotism by Scripture or Papacy is not the best way to find the Christian ‘experience’ or to share it with others. Religion begins with an internal desire for God’s Grace and a willingness toward the rejection of sin.To wit, the following position on the Friends’ Movement is well stated:

“From what I have said . . . we are dealing with a type of religion which may appropriately be called mystical. This word is a loose and fluid one. It has various meanings. I am using it to signify that God is essentially a God who reveals and communicates Himself, and man is essentially a being with spiritual capacities and therefore susceptible within himself to the “radio activity” of the life of God.”

On an earthly level, it seems fairly obvious that there must be an inclination toward Scripture before it can even become meaningful to the believer. This initial inclination must be on an inward spiritual level. Even if Scripture awakens the Spirit within us, the Spirit is spatiotemporally primary. There must first be a Spirit to receive the voice of Scripture which is, by its nature, external to the Spirit that accepts or rejects it.

Whether one is Christian,Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise, I think one is forced to accept that there is something within our internal human constitution which makes us capable of accepting or rejecting theological thought. It is this element of our humanity where religious aspiration can begin. If we deny our own internal capacity for understanding our Maker, we render ourselves open to the inherentfalsity of a merely propositional religion. To be truly free in philosophy and basic humanity, we must form our own spiritual postulates before becoming amiable to those of higher human/fleshly authority.

Being, for the most part, a radical empiricist, I am inclined to say that our Faith is a purely experiential matter that is indeed primary to the Reason that may be presented by way of Scripture or fellowship. Faith (after experience) is like a flame placed upon the kindling which is our physical body and physical experience— Fellowship (with the entire human community) and Scripture become the fuel for a full illumination of the world in which we move about and through which we can become morally accountable to our Maker.

Nevertheless, one might well argue that if one is capable of having knowledge of the Scriptures, then one has knowledge of God. The interaction with the Scripture itself could be deemed to be the ‘religious experience’ per se’.

In fact, an Evangelical might well argue that a face-to-face confrontation with Scripture is the only ‘true’ religious experience worth theological mention. However, what the person does with the experience, in terms of conduct and judgment, may render inconsistent observations on the part of the beholder of such a person. In other words, the hypocrisy of higher human authority goes a long way to destroying the notion that Scripture, as presented by Man, must be the only source of Divine Revelation. Perhaps it is at this level, of the acknowledgment of rampant hypocrisy, that moral accountability can begin since our acceptanceorrejectionofdirect religious/theophanic experiencebecomes the touchstone for what determines ‘moral’ conduct.

It is probably also the case that we are held to a higher standard of accountability once we have had the ‘religious experience’ and, then, reject or ignore the knowledge gained from the experience. I have to believe that those unfamiliar with such experiences, if this be fully possible, cannot be justly held to the same standard of those who know then reject.

In this regard, the general revelation that I aspire to can be controversial as it infers that there may be adequate grounds for coming to understand the nature of God within the parameters of human reason. To the extent that human reason is itself God given, I personally see no need for theological concern. In my view, we must trust that God will not allow our reason to be taken to any place that we cannot voluntarily return from. This is much in the same sense that we should not be tempted beyond what we can handle.

The choice to sin or to deviate from the ‘natural light’ of our reason becomes a voluntary aspect of our humanity — not a frailty in the gift of reason or conscience. As indicated below, I do not believe that we can use humanly derived fears about deviations from Scripture as a firewall between God and those that he, within his exclusive omnipotence and omniscience, may wish to speak to in a manner other than that which was chosen for us.

I certainly do think that the acceptance or rejection of God is a moral activity of each individual’s spirit and mind. The rejection of God bears a direct moral cost.Similarly, the acceptance of God would render moral reward. In this sense, Faith and Revelation become moral behaviors at the level of human acceptance or rejection. By “behaviors,” I do not mean conduct in a physical sense. Rather, I mean the mentalistic and spiritualistic mechanics of acceptance and rejection of inward revelation. The physical works that flow from this acceptance or rejection become the touchstone for moral accountability and judgment before our Maker.

Now, I am aware of other criticisms that one might well level against the notion of ‘inward revelation’. It may be contended that this presupposes a purely subjective standard upon which one might determine the nature, veracity or quality of the ‘religious experience’. One might even wish to supplant Scripture as the tether upon which our inward revelations are bound. I am inclined to reject this notion.

It seems to me that the ‘revelations’ to Adam, Moses, Saul or others, are indicative of an open and quite direct communication line between the created and their Creator. But for the receptivity (forced, voluntary or otherwise) of Saul, Moses or others, the word of God would not have borne out the effect that it did. In order to have an open line of communication, it seems that there must be an initial acknowledgment of the fact that God is indeed speaking to or through one’s spirit/person. This initial acknowledgment and acceptance is a revelation involving fear, immediacy and a need for further responsive behaviors on the part of the person being spoken to by God. Certainly, we are not more or less human than Moses or Saul. We probably just to a better job of failing to be receptive to our Higher Destiny and God’s call to each of us.

Indeed, the receptivity and responsiveness of a Man becomes a manifestation of Faith and acknowledgment of theDivine acting within us. This is not a subjective matter since we do not nor can we claim accountability for the initial stimulus that leads us to an acknowledgment of a Divine interaction. Either we have had an experience or not. If we cannot claim credit or identify the specific origin for the stimulus, then we can only attribute the experience to God or the evil one. In either human event, the validity and nature of the experience are purely objective.

We cannot be mistaken about the raw experience of revelation. It seems that only our interpretation, judgments and receptivity can fall prey to subjective standards. Indeed, when dealing with the raw experience of God, regardless of the form of manifestation, we are certainly not left to the analytic frolics and detours that human language may make of our experience. One must also acknowledge the role of one’s ego and inclination toward spiritual vanity in assessing the meaning and impact of a direct one-on-one with God’s divine act of Revelation.

For this reason, amongst others, I must very respectfully submit that Scripture cannot ever bear the same qualitative primacy as the initial religious experience which prompted the actual writing of Scripture. Language, whether Greek, Hebrew, English or Latin, leaves room for ambiguity. This ambiguity can be compounded by the passage of time and the separation of others (through time, voluntary conduct or controversy over translation of Scripture) from those who originally had a direct interface with God. Further, one must have an experience of acknowledgment of God or a need for God before Scripture could ever possibly have an effect.

On a separate, but important, tangential point, it seems rather inconsistent with God’s omnipotence that we should ostensibly require God to speak to us through Scripture. The primacy of God’s power over all must necessarily overcome any conclusion that Scripture must be the only or primary way that God might speak to one.

Seemingly, it would be rather arrogant of us to presuppose that we might have the full intellectual authority to bind others to the conclusion that Scripture is the only way that they can come to know God. It is this very type of spiritual despotism that gave rise to the Protestant movement in the first place. Rather, we must kneel before the fact that God is not so limited — He speaks to his people in ways that are not and cannot be categorized or specifically delineated by purely referential treatments.

Certainly, we must all admit of the fact that He did not speak to Moses, Abraham, the Apostles or even us in the exact same fashion or with the exact same content. In Barclay’s Apology, we are even reminded that God obviously would not be limited in His ability to reach disabled and illiterate humans. No single man or church can place one over the other in an advantaged position when it comes to the Word of God as expressed through God’s Revelation. The Holy Spirit can speak directly to any one of us at a time appropriate to the Providence and Judgment of our Maker.

With the above points in mind, I think that it must be properly conceded that God reserves and bears the ultimate right and characteristic of being able to speak in a manner befitting only to Him and which may well lay well beyond our comprehension. Who might we be to so arrogantly limit God’s methods of speaking to any one of us or his People as a whole? It seems that it can be rather cogently argued that the whole of our human experience is a direct communication from God since he is the maker of all that is and can be perceived by us.

In this regard, certainly one might have accused the Jews of spiritual arrogance by pointing to their rejection of Christ as Savior. Were they not presented with a ‘new’ language from God? Were they not strangers to the ‘new’ and ‘vibrant’ way of speaking chosen by God? Was it not that Christ was a physical manifestation of God’s revelation to man? Should the Pharisees, Sanhedron, Priests, or others have precluded the possibility of a new ‘religious experience’ beyond that which was provided in the Old Testament? We must readily concede that no one could have precluded any method, mode or messenger chosen by God.

It makes no theological sense to limit God to methods of communication which remain palatable only to our tastes, desires, weaknesses, and perceptions of the world. We can only remain accountable for rejecting or accepting the modes that have been Godchosen for us on a personal level. If it be that Scripture was God’s way of reaching any one of us, then we must remain fully accountable to Scripture and, in this sense alone, Scripture may assert a necessary primacy in our lives.

Certainly, Moses was in no position to bear accountability to the primacy of Christ’s teachings, especially those which may have ‘changed the rules’. Moses and his people could only be accountable for those manifestations/revelations of God as chosen for them at that time and place. Religion should not be merely seen as the “concept of faith as intellectualadherencetopropositionalbeliefs.” Unfortunately, ‘religion’ has generally become just this.

As stated above, the traditional role or authority of priests and pastors propagates the a merely propositional religion whose ultimate message comes not from within but from the human purveyors of any given set of written or memorialized religious propositions. Again, the self-explanatory life of Christ and His unobstructed presence within each of us is the essential and only necessary religious proposition and the apodeictic response thereto.

Man truly need not bring to God what God already understands through the miracle and direct testament of His creation and the work of His Redeemer. We can only be accountable for our spiritual health or lack thereof before God since these are the only things left to the ostensible discretion of man. “Religion is the work of man. It is something for man to do. It consists in obeying God. It is man’s duty. It is true God induces him to do it. He influences him by His Spirit, because of his great wickedness and reluctance to obey. . . . [U]nless God interpose the influence of His Spirit, not a man on earth will ever obey the commands of God.”

The only possible avenue for truly mistaken theology has to be on the level of one’s philosophy. However, there isn’t much room for philosophical error since philosophy brings Man closer to his Maker. It is only in the development of propositions about philosophical experience that we fall short and commit what might be called “mistakes.”

Day in the Park -- Deep Green

Day in the Park -- Deep Green

<

The Need for Theology

Leave a comment

Theological thinking is the only way to keep one’s self solidly grounded in our God-given humanity. As we enter into an age where more and more information is readily available to all, there is a highly elucidated need for core-grounding. Without this grounding, we risk a grave loss of our very being which is God created and driven. An effective fulfillment of our human destiny can only be driven by that which is consistent with God’s goodness as directly reflected in human nature. If one is an Atheist, the same might be said of strict adherence to atomic destiny or compliance with the natural results of the Big Bang / Evolutionist model of human origins. In other words, all men are bound to a destiny caused by something greater than themselves.

Notwithstanding, the adulterated human mind, for whatever reason, is oft inclined to deviate from its core nature — namely, its designed nature and functions. Our “nature” is that of a carefully designed being bearing reflections of our Maker. Our human “function” is to remain consistent with the ostensible purpose of our creation, which is to exercise our “free will” in a manner that is in direct accord with God’s goodness and the special gifts given only to man juxtaposed to that which was given to the common animal. When we remain consistent and reliable with our intended nature, we become better human beings and guardians of Earth.

Indeed, theological thinking is a ready guidepost to our distinct human nature. Theological thinking is the core ‘philosophy of all philosophies’. Much like music, art and other forms of human creativity, the theological form of thinking is one of the clearly identifiable forms of humanity that simply was not given to the animal kingdom.

Unfortunately, in defining our material nature, one can readily be caught up in comparisons to the animal kingdom, as was well demonstrated in Darwin’s Origin of the Species and the long progeny of human thought left in its wake. We are not mere animals. Humankind reflect a higher form of being founded in creativity and morality.

However, the one consistent theme in human history is a natural tendency toward the Divine which is only to say that theological thinking is what has defined humanity since Man’s beginning. Evolution and the empirically limited sphere of our material being cannot explain for our theological quest. In a strict Cartesian sense, the mere fact that we are able to engage in theological thinking is a priori evidence of the Godly source of such thought. The material nature of our being and Darwinian explanations do not permit human theological thought sua sponte.

Nevertheless, as we become exposed to excessive amounts of information through this Electronic Age, we tend to become weakened and less focused on our inherent nature. We risk losing sight of the fact that our nature is predefined and our “free will” is, perhaps unfortunately, given an opportunity to flourish beyond the bounds of goodness and holiness alone.

Indeed, temptation to sin (conduct contrary to the highest fulfilment of a Godly destiny) is by its very nature a deviation from what already is (e.g., our inherent nature / goodness). Much of what can be found in the electronic media and the press tend to cause deviations that need not be. A solid grounding in theology is the only way to remain true to ourselves and the divinity to be found in each of us.

As for myself, theological thinking and a strong desire to remain true to my design has allowed me to better educate those under my tutelage. When I served as a professor, I was required (in my humble view) to present my students with an opportunity to rediscover and use their natural talents in a manner that will make the world a tolerable place to be and where the Word can be put into practice. Theological thinking requires the student to do no more that to tap into their inherent nature. The role of a professor, much in the fashion of a true Socratic, is to bring the student to the answers that already dwell within them. In other words, we should be assisting the student in uncovering the Inner Light that exists within.

Theological thinking also grants one a clearer insight into the very nature of the physical universe. One cannot help but to conclude that the Earth is the obvious product of a Magnificent Design which can only be the product of a sentient and benevolent Being.

Purely scientific thinking produces, at best, a sterile view of the world that can only lead to a descriptive understanding or exposition of the Universe. Theological grounding more readily leads to a sense of awe and respect for not only the Universe but our role within it. As one views the world with a theological eye, one is much more able to view themselves as a part of an interesting world as opposed a mere observer of process and devolution. As we begin to see ourselves as a part of God’s creation, we can readily begin to empathize with those around us and, thus, the process of fulfilling a higher and more fulfilling destiny can begin.

Unfortunately, as stated above, many of our fellow humans have taken to religious dogma as the only source of higher redemption. This seems to me to be a fundamental rejection of Man’s “Inner Light.”