Revelation 18 elaborates the defect of our culture of sexual immorality: it cheapens our relationships, and so leads us to prefer property to people.
It’s a little depressing.
Brains – Revelation 9 recounts the strategy used by the Most High to force animals to evolve social behaviors.
Ouch! Damn those mosquitos!
The driving motivation for the writing of The Soul Comes First was a reading of the Book of Revelation as just what John said it was: a visit to the Holy Mind in which the angels revealed their relationship to and experience of Christ. The difficulty of the writing is that the insights are like the M.C. Escher drawing of hands drawing each other. Genesis makes sense only if you’ve read Revelation, which makes sense only if you’ve read Acts, which depends upon the Gospels, the chain continuing to a dependency on Genesis.
We have to grok it all at once. I’m afraid that I didn’t succeed very well with that problem.
But the insights continue to trickle in.
Genesis 2:7 says [NIV]:
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
This has been interpreted literally as meaning that Adam was the first instance of the species homo sapiens sapiens. There are those that take a different tack: that Adam and Eve were the sole human survivors of a geological catastrophe such as a major volcanic eruption. But the continuity of the archaeological record undermines all of these interpretations.
Revelation 4 starts where Genesis starts [NIV Gen 1:2]:
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
This is the scene that John encounters: the “Spirit of God” being the corporate body of the angels united under the guidance of Unconditional Love. In John’s vision, there are twenty-four of the former – described as “elders” – gathered around the “one on the throne.” We should understand the latter to be Unconditional Love, which is warded by fearsome beasts that prevent the approach of the elders.
So this is the initial state of Heaven before the investiture of God in the Earth. What comes next in Revelation is the sequence of that investiture: a scroll with seven seals is opened, and selfishness is given dominion over the Earth. Then from among the twelve princes of heaven, twelve thousand are sent from each down to Earth. These are the masculine angels that generate change; the feminine angels are held in reserve until a measure of safety is created.
Paleontology tells us that it took approximately a billion years before that safety was attained. Finally, in homo sapiens sapiens, God recognized a species with the potential to express love.
Genesis 2 starts with God’s reflection on that process. The species “man” was created from the dust of the ground, rising up only through an enormous commitment of intention and attention to the manifestation of the potential for life to receive love. If done too early, the gift would have been wasted: it would have been corrupted by selfishness. So love was held in reserve when the 144,000 were sent down from heaven, and remained aloof for a billion years.
God having spawned homo sapiens sapiens as an animal with the potential to elaborate love, Unconditional Love then breathed itself into one such animal, Adam, making him Man. Love was joined to biology, making it possible for us to escape the brutal practices of natural selection as described by Darwin. Recognizing that Adam should not be alone, Unconditional Love then sought for a mate to share the stewardship of spreading love throughout the world. Thus was one female animal imbued with love, creating Eve – the first Woman.
This is what we celebrate when we call them “First Man” and “First Woman” – not the material superfluity of their physical forms, but the transformation that comes with becoming imbued with Unconditional Love.
How did this make Adam a “living being”? Because one of the forms of selfishness is death. Through the link with Unconditional Love, Adam was freed from that captivity. He acted with fearless generosity. It was in seeking to become God’s equal that our thralldom to selfishness was reimposed.
In reflecting on all the evil we have committed since, I have called it “the great working out through the flesh of our dependency on sin.” Each generation becomes a little stronger, and with Jesus to light our way as an exemplar, eventually love will have its way with us.
I have signed up for the Zacharias Trust’s e-pulse feed, produced by the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. The foremost member of that community is John Lennox, who has engaged Richard Dawkins and other militant atheists in debate on whether evolution disproves the Bible.
The conflict arises from the way that Genesis describes creation as occurring in six “days.” The term is vague, and long prior to Darwin we had Christian scholars cautioning that it shouldn’t be taken literally. But without any science to help interpret the book, the tendency was to take the common translation as cause to celebrate the glory and power of the Creator.
In the New Testament, that glory and power is manifested in a different way – it is through Jesus’s parables that explain that no matter how big a mess we make of things, it doesn’t affect God. He is going to love us anyways. Even more, when we turn our will and intelligence to caring for the world we live in, great power comes to us – power that is inaccessible through any other means. Power that gave Jesus authority even over death.
I met a family whose daughter studied with Lennox, and they shared his perception that the people he debates have a deep hunger for the love that God brings. They have just convinced themselves that the evil done by men proves that God doesn’t exist. In their quest to support their conviction, they use the conflict between the translation of Genesis and the fossil record to argue that the whole of the Bible should be discarded.
The apologists use a number of techniques to try to defend their faith. One is intelligent design – the idea that we can use evolution to prove the existence of God by demonstrating the infinitesimal probability that evolution could merge single-celled organisms into something as complex as a human being. Others shut their eyes and insist that if evolution is advanced as proof against God, then evolution must be wrong. And a final group insists that we should just stop arguing about it, and prove God’s existence through the works of our love.
But what of this: what if there was no contradiction? What if God prepared the way for reconciliation between naïve faith and sophisticated scientific understanding by writing evolution into the Bible long before it was formulated by Darwin? Would that not be a magnificent demonstration of his power and love for us?
For this is what I read. Genesis records that light allowed photosynthetic organisms to escape the dark depths of the ocean. From there they migrated from salt waters below to fresh waters above. Next they learned to survive outside of water, becoming plants that spread across the face of the earth. Then sight arose, resolving the light into the sun and the moon, and supporting seasonal migration. After the extinction of the dinosaurs, the fish and birds dominated the earth until the rise of the mammals. And finally we have man, whose flexible brain liberated life from the Darwinian struggle, to the point today that we can design simple creatures ourselves.
Evolution does not contradict the Bible; rather the elaboration of Darwin’s theory has substantiated the Bible. The Bible contains the history revealed by paleontology written thousands of years before science gave us the tools to interpret the fossil record.
So Christians, take heart: there is absolutely nothing to apologize for.
And let’s just put the argument aside and get around to the business of applying our intelligence to the restoration of the planet that God provided to sustain us on our journey to understanding.
Locally, the cultural transition from polytheism to monotheism always involves an argument about divine merit. The critical consumer of religion would have been expected to ask “Why should I worship your god?” Not surprisingly, then, the major tenets of monotheistic religions are concerned with the nature of God. In the Old Testament, God is the omnipotent creator. In Islam, the fundamental tenet of faith holds that “There is no divinity except in God (and he has no partners).”
This creates the context for today’s tawdry and tendentious theological arguments between Jews, Christians and Muslims. For the Jew, God is the commanding but devoted groom to the Chosen People. To the Christian, God manifested as man in an act of redemptive service. For the Muslim, God is the fundament of reality and thus the only meaningful subject for contemplation. The Jew argues against Christianity and Islam as against adultery. The Christian, presented with contradictory scripture, uses fragments of Jesus’s teachings to argue that he is the only path to redemption. And while the Qur’an holds that none of God’s messengers can be ignored, it also teaches that Mohammed (pboh) was the culminating prophet, and so that the Qur’an is authoritative scripture, even when it grossly elides the writings of the Torah and Bible.
These controversies provide fertile ground for political manipulation. Al Qaeda was led by a man whose principal concern was the corruption of the Holy Places by the Saudi dynasty. The House of Saud in turn uses its oil wealth to propagate the literalist theology of the Wahabbists that supported their claims to monarchy. The Republican presidential front-runners rally their base by proposing crimes against humanity justified by the idea that Muslims don’t value their own lives. And the Zionists rally Christian support for a slow annexation of Palestine by reference to an ancient land grant and obscure end-times prophesy in the Book of Revelation.
The mature religious scholar admits that all arguments concerning the nature of God are futile. God is infinite, and therefore cannot even be described, much less understood. Unfortunately, this leads to religious relativity. The principal deity of any religion (such as the Hindu Brahma) can be identified with God. In the Qur’an, tolerance is suggested by the warning that not all the prophets of Allah are known to us. Worse, in the Old Testament other gods are mentioned by name, and the inducements to worship only Yahweh are backed by dire threats. To the modern reader, the character of Abraham’s God is not always appealing.
The way out of these dilemmas is to recognize that while God may by the object of religious devotion, humanity is the subject of religious action. That perspective leads us to wonder, of each stage in the journey, what it was the humanity received for its devotion. Naturally, the history of the traditions of Abraham is limited to the human perspective, and in focusing on males leaves much wanting for those seeking to bring women back into the process. But the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an are all the record we have. What can we make of them?
Prior to Abraham, a mature reading of Genesis would hold that man was offered the guidance of divine wisdom and the support of divine mercy. This was constrained in the covenant with Noah, in which a frustrated God makes men responsible for managing their own justice.
The story of Abraham and his progeny charts the development of moral fortitude in humanity’s change agent, the unstable male. The degree of the necessary transformation is foretold when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, with a ram substituted when Isaac shows fear. It is two generations later that significant strength arises in the lineage, when Israel takes under his wing Joseph the orphaned first-born of his true love Rachel. Even so, while Joseph’s virtue impels his rise to the top of Egyptian society, the Hebrews are subordinated to Egyptian culture. His strength seems to fail its purpose. From the history of the Patriarchs, the only obvious lesson is that boys need fathers.
The story resumes with the Exodus from Egypt and wanderings to the Promised Land. Raised as an Egyptian prince, Moses possesses all the intellectual skills necessary for leadership, but his people are psychologically weak. The work done in this part of the Bible is to create a society devoted to rational problem solving. This is accomplished through the propagation of a complex legal code and foundation of a dedicated tribe of philosophers.
With this resource in place, God again enters into direct relationship with the people after their entry into the Promised Land. The nation, established through conflict, is beset by enemies, but God raises up heroes to prevent its destruction. Once again, however, the investment is betrayed, as the people demand the earthly trappings of monarchy as a means of focusing resources to ensure their security. The great prophet of this era is Elijah, but ultimately it is the tangible presence of the monarchs that commands the devotion of the nation. The consequence is its destruction, with the elite carried off to Babylon.
In this setting, deprived of political power, the greatness of the prophetic relationship is proven in the person of Daniel. Like Joseph entering the royal court as a slave, Daniel is not assimilated, but expresses spiritual gifts that force both the Assyrian and Persian kings to recognize the authority of God. But the Israelites as a whole did not heed this lesson, returning to Jerusalem as an administrative power that evolved into monarchy, with the priests relegated to the role of law-keepers, decaying eventually to profiteers from animal sacrifice.
To that point, then, God had succeeded only in the private sphere. In the public space, the institutions of state and religion were used to suppress the psychological and moral freedom that comes with a personal and direct relationship with God. Overcoming this injustice was the great goal of the ministry of Jesus. In a few short years, he demonstrated that God exists to serve humanity, raised up an entire generation of prophets equal to any among their ancestors, supplanted legal codes with the rule of love, and motivated the lower classes to discover the power that arises from banding together in mutual concern. Recognizing the trap posed by written scripture, Jesus offered his wisdom in parables, leaving it to his Apostles to reconstruct for posterity the history of his ministry. Of course, upon hearing the news of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, any person familiar with the story of Isaac would recognize that the covenants of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Jesus.
At the close of the New Testament, we have a history of cultural evolution starting from superstitious origins that culminated with ethical maturity that allows even common individuals to experience direct relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. But we had seen this on a lesser scale prior to the conquest of the Promised Land, and the outcome was eventually a corruption of the divine relationship by human power. Indeed, while the Church at first organized around ministry to the disadvantaged, with the collapse of the Roman state it was left as the only European institution. It was not long before the temptations of authority began to corrupt its mission.
While this corruption did not manifest itself fully until the Renaissance (when the European kings moved to dismantle Feudalism by meddling in Ecumenical affairs), the counter-reaction was established in the seventh century as Islam. Islam summarizes the Hebrew experience, defining a religious observance based upon holy edicts (though limited in scope as compared to the Torah), but yet encouraging individual moral judgment through a personal relationship with the creator. Where the Church and Empire had acted vigorously to suppress even mild forms of heresy, Islam recognized local differences, holding that each community chose its authorities through popular acclaim. Even more, the original “people of the book,” the Jews and Christians, were welcomed explicitly as coreligionists, not rejected as competitors.
In two short centuries, the tolerance and vigor of this teaching allowed Islam to grow into the largest empire known to that time. In defending their privileges from Muslim expansion, the authorities in Europe were forced to devolve power to lower levels of the society. As the balance between the two cultures was righted, neither the caliphs nor monarchs would be capable of subordinating religion to the service of the state. Rather, the state came to assimilate religious virtues, allocating resources from the wealthy to support the poor. In the twentieth century, the greater danger to religion was irrelevancy, a threat that has allowed the morally corrupt to foment and exploit literalism and aggression among those daunted by the complexity of modern society.
The secular historian might be tempted to dismiss the beneficial evolution here attributed to religion as due to cultural accident. Against this, we must ask what antecedents foretold the Law, the moral parables of Jesus or the social contract of the Qur’an. Even should such antecedents be surmised, we have to ask why in every case the seminal prophets should have dedicated their work to the glory of a compassionate and forgiving God, and whether anything other than divine participation can explain how those individuals, often culturally isolated, should have created philosophies so ideally suited to propagate moral discernment and freedom in societies that suffered from their lack.
For the person of faith, of course, no such doubt need be addressed regarding their personal religious experience. What I hope that I have illustrated, rather, is the degree to which those experiences are harmonized when we discard our arguments regarding the nature of God, and focus instead on the majesty of the transformation that monotheism has wrought in human nature. What faces us now is to discern the next step in the process, the step that Islam, with its teaching that Mohammed (pboh) is the last of God’s messengers, forces us to recognize must bring us to full realization of God’s purpose for humanity.
The atheist’s complaint against religion is frequently rooted in charges of anti-intellectualism. This is evident in Nicholas Baker’s article in this quarter’s Skeptic (Volk. 20 No. 4), Christianity’s Negative Impact on Modern American Education.
I must admit to being befuddled by these charges. Upon encountering atheists decrying intellectual incoherence in the faithful, I often invite the critic to come out and respond to the writings under the New Physics page of this blog. I have also offered the material to scientists through various forums. So far, I have received no response.
A colleague at work invited me down to the atheist Sunday Service in Santa Monica. In the event, a couple of sarcastic remarks regarding faith rankled, but for the most part I found a group of well-meaning people that seemed to have no interest in their spirituality. I confirmed this with my friend later, saying that I didn’t think that I would fit in to the community. When I offered that my experience was that my very presence forced people to confront their spirituality, he confirmed my decision.
It is the anti-spirituality of atheism that concerns me most. Until it is recognized, I am afraid that it is going to be impossible to reconcile the two communities.
An anti-spiritual emphasis is not entirely unique to atheism – I had a Kabbalist tell me that men were not to enter spiritual experience until they were forty. The violence outbursts of nationalism that rocked the world in the 20th century may be symptomatic: where once European politics was dominated by the egos of kings, public education may have facilitated the formation of gestalts that were driven by the masculine urge to power. Jung’s work on the collective unconscious may have been an attempt to understand the dynamics, and he writes in his biography of looking up at the mountains before World War II and seeing a tide of blood pouring over them. I sometimes suspect that, in the aftermath of the war, psychologists settled on denial of spiritual experience as a necessary practice of quarantine to prevent future epidemics. I have encountered some that say they diagnose schizophrenia only if the voices create fear in the patient. And when I sought counseling to deal with family-related stress, once the therapist determined that I was stable, she began asking me questions about reincarnation and process theology, with a focus on understanding why so many of us are immature spirits.
Unfortunately, any policy of denial creates a context of conspiracy that feeds a revolutionary counter-reaction. I believe that this is probably the basis of the anti-intellectualism that Mr. Baker confronts.
The illustration for Mr. Baker’s article shows Jesus whispering a test answer into the ear of a struggling student. This is a point made explicitly in the article: “When it comes to academic achievement, helping a student solve a math problem, using math and the student’s actual brain, displays better family values than does teaching the student to distrust intellect while pleading for an answer to fall from the sky.”
Mr. Baker’s attitude is rooted in the conflation of the brain and mind. While I did not force my children to read the Bible, I struggled against this prejudice with making them aware of the nature of intellect. As I perceive the operation of my mind, the brain is not a logic circuit, it is an interface that ideas use to become invested in the world, and an anchor that they use to create new forms of association. Ideas are spiritual constructs. As possessors of brains, we are their dance partners.
The most painful part of parenting my children through the prejudice of scientific materialism was when my younger son, struggling with his studies, attempted to engage me in discussion only to have his older brother come downstairs and tell him how wrong he was. For years I had attempted to open Greg’s mind to the world of ideas that Kevin had gained access to as an infant. Before Kevin’s intervention, I had felt the door finally opening, and it broke my heart to have him slam it shut. I dealt with the matter pretty harshly, telling him “If you don’t stop abusing your brother, I am not putting a single cent into your college education.” In later conversation, I told Kevin that “ideas are strongest when they are shared.”
This is known among mature scientists. Edward Teller’s office at LLNL had pictures of all the great scientists of his era, and I could feel their personalities reaching out through them. In another incident, I saw a divorced father at dinner with his son, the beautiful mother, and the wealthy man she had married. The son had asked a technical question, which the father answered after a pause. The child challenged him “How do you know that?” To which the father could only answer “I was informed.”
Personally, I had the experience in high school AP Biology of working in a classroom of collaborative students. During the AP exam, I became stuck on a couple of questions and found the answers arriving during final review. The teacher reported that to her surprise – given the brilliance of students in prior years – we had achieved the highest average score on the test in all her years of teaching. And in discussing morality at work, I have shared that when I reach a road block, I frequently open my mind and an answer comes to me. At times that has been as explicit as having a person’s voice come into my head and say “Do it this way…”
Baker does not articulate this experience, and given his reaction to Christian values, I think that he may not be conscious of the operation of his own mind. If he was, he would understand the preconditions for sustaining such exchanges. It requires surrender of the ego (something that nature often forces upon scientists) and a genuine concern for others. This is the teaching we find in the Bible. In denigrating the value of the book’s moral teaching, Baker and his colleagues are undermining the attempts by Christian parents to open the door to the gestalt of civilized ideas known to the faithful as “The Holy Spirit.” That is no small matter.
Until they arrive at an alternative technology, Baker and others might do well to be more gentle with their public pronouncements. The emotion they attach to their crusade is going to make it extremely difficult for them to reconcile themselves to Christ when those investigations force them to confront his existence.
Particularly during life’s difficult moments, religion is a source of comfort for us. When a child dies, when we lose a job: we are sustained by the relationships and wisdom that we develop in worship, study and charitable work.
Because this aspect of religion is so important to us, we seek in scripture for meaning that applies to us in our lives as human beings. We tend to emphasize that part of the story, and when we don’t find what we’re looking for, maybe even expand our searching into parts of the story that don’t really apply to us.
But if spirit is a part of the natural world, a form of consciousness woven into the very fabric of space, why should intelligence have manifested only here on Earth, in humanity? If spirit began evolution when the universe formed, or even earlier, it stands to reason that it’s got a long history of its own. What would coming to a planet be like? How would spirit go about learning about a new world? How would it go about improving itself through that investment?
When I re-read the Bible after developing a physical model of spirit (not really a theory, because the mathematics needs to be elaborated), I saw it in this light. The Bible made a whole lot more sense to me than it did when I turned away from it as a teenager.
That understanding is captured in The Soul Comes First, which you’ll see as a link on my sidebar.
Now the Bible is a complex book, with a lot of ideas in it. Summarizing it in seventy pages, even when looking at it from 30,000 feet, means compressing a lot of ideas into very few pages. So it’s heavy going. Here’s the short skinny:
This reality was designed as a place of healing for souls infected by selfishness.
The creation myth in Genesis records the investment of a collection of such souls as they explored the Earth through the evolving senses of living creatures.
The founding of monotheism through Abraham is about creating masculine strength in a culture dominated by powerful women.
The Old Testament, from Exodus on, records the expansion of monotheism as a national culture. The investment made by God at this point was in creating a capacity to reason through adherence to the law. The experiment failed for various reasons – the most significant being the desire of the people to centralize human authority. This eventually led to demotion of spiritual leadership in favor of political leadership, and destruction of the nation.
Jesus came to demonstrate that love will overcome any system of tyrannical laws. Not only did he demonstrate the power of love through miracles, he trained a collection of men (the Apostles) to emulate his mastery.
The Book of Revelation is exactly what John said it was: he was taken up to heaven, where the angels shared with him their relationship to and experience of Christ.. The visions of the seals are interpreted as the forms of selfishness that the infected angels brought to the Earth with them; the trumpeted disasters are the extinction episodes revealed to us by paleontology; the bowls describe the exhaustion of the natural resources humanity is exploiting.
Items 2 and 6 establish that paleontology and evolution science have revealed things that were known to the ancients long before we had the science to study them.