Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The West Texas Confession


Much of what is marketed as Christianity, while good and helpful, is actually a substitute that obscures the core power of the Bible and Jesus. Since I have recently moved to West Texas from Wheaton Illinois I want to at this time outline my current beliefs so that I can communicate them clearly and systematically. My intellectual background includes studies in Electrical Engineering (i.e., Physics), Information Technology, Management, Theology, Liberal Arts, Economics and Education Reform. Here is what I think I have learned so far, much of which is at odds with some popular teachings.

0. Summary

Proposed celestial evolution has no viable mechanism (mutation/natural selection doesn't apply and a multiverse doesn't make logical sense), so some form of intelligent designer seems to make more sense.

The earliest written records in history are from Sumer and, though in mythology form, they do seem to include references similar to the earliest historical accounts claimed in the Bible.

A misinterpretation of "Logical Positivism", which equates what we see and what our instruments measure with actual reality, is at the root of misinterpretation of valid formulas in quantum mechanics and relatively and is the cause of some seemingly unsolvable dilemmas. Physicists/scientists have become the modern day priesthood, requiring the quantitatively illiterate mass of people (i.e., people are unable to understand/interpret their formulas directly) to trust their interpretation of how the world works without giving them the ability to interpret the formulas for themselves.

There is no actual difference between "natural" and "supernatural", other than one type of event is observable/repeatable and the other is not.  The goal is to separate truth from fiction/mythology, whether a particular event is repeatable or not.

The main conflict and goal of life, as implied by Genesis and Revelation, seems to be maintaining full individual freedom of choice (required for value, love, motivation, etc.. to exist) while at the same time creating a good society (Garden of Eden, healthy families, good nations, Heaven).  The answer to the dilemma of how to have both seems to be to freely choose to sacrifice ourselves daily to do what is right.  To be "born again" one has to first be willing to die.  To be a "follower of Jesus" is to be willing to sacrifice ourselves as Jesus did.  Both Baptism and Communion symbolize the followers of Jesus' willingness to sacrifice themselves as Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself.  Willingness to sacrifice everything, coupled with a commitment to do what is right, eliminates daily stresses and worry and gives a person the motivation to do great things, to become a hero.

Many Christian teachers have replaced this meaning in favor of the more marketable "Jesus sacrificed himself and we just accept his payment to God for us", without also including an up front discussion of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  That is similar to how some vendors market their product as being "free" without discussing up front the actual future cost.  To understand the specific differences at issue, see the Penal Substitutionary Atonement debate and compare to Communal Substitutionary Atonement.  So some have emptied the meaning of baptism and communion to be only "remembering/accepting how Jesus paid our debt to God" and have re-purposed the symbolism to focus on group membership rather than a shared commitment to self-sacrifice.  Then some infuse a form of Christian mysticism and ritual in order to substitute for the meaning and power that they perceive is now missing from the center of Christian teaching.  They replace discussion, debate and active learning with monologue and use various forms of social control to maintain the unity of their organization.

The word "antichrist" combines two roots: αντί (anti) + Χριστός (Khristos). "Αντί" can mean not only "against" and "opposite of", but also "in place of".

1. Evidence (What)

Before we can use reason to determine how the world works or communicate information, first we must observe raw information about the world we live in.

1.1 The Natural Record

Observational Science is using our senses and various tools to observe the current state of nature. From those observation and by using some assumptions, through theoretical science we may be able to extrapolate what likely happened in the past and therefore what is likely to happen in the future.

1.2 The Historical Record

People have recorded their perspectives of what has happened in their lifetimes. By trying to determine what the authors were trying to communicate to their intended audiences, if the authors were truthful and accurate and their writings were not altered over time, then we can determine what likely happened in history. From that history then through philosophy/theology we can determine what we should do in the future to avoid past problems and to build upon past lessons learned.

2. Reason

2.1 Inductive and Deductive Logic

By observing the world we inductively derive knowledge and rules that are likely, but not guaranteed, to be true to help determine what is likely to happen in the future. Inductively derived information gives us the assumptions/premises that, if true, we can use with deductive logic to determine additional information that is also true.

2.2 The Role of Faith

Faith is just another name for how we use inductive logic in our everyday lives. Faith is what is needed to treat something we inductively derive to be probably true as if it is definitely true. For example, when we step in an elevator there is a small probability that it will fall, but because we have faith it will work we treat it as if it will definitely work and don't give it a second thought.

3. Communication

3.1 Prayer

Prayer was originally intended to be a two way discussion between God and Man. Since God knows what we are going to say and does not speak back currently, at this time the main value of prayer is in thinking through/articulating issues and in helping people give up worrying by reminding them that God values them and He is in control of their situation, even in situations of failure or death.  Many times public prayer is used for the practical purpose of maintaining a sense of group unity and demonstrating the oratory skills of the leader.  The Biblical command to pray in secret rather than in public applies to leaders with good intentions as well as those actully intending to use their public prayers just for marketing purposes.

3.2 Teaching, Preaching and Evangelism

Teaching, preaching and evangelism are all forms of education, which includes both providing information and, perhaps more importantly, providing motivation to the learner. As with all learning we should enable self-directed learning, offer "bite sized chunks" of information and in some way certify/advertise the knowledge learned. We should get away from pastor/teacher-focused (sage on the stage) education and move to self-directed (guide on the side) project-based, non-repetitive, learner-focused education.

4. Philosophy/Theology and Theoretical Science

4.1 The Books of the Bible

The books collated into the Bible in addition to containing history also includes the philosophical/theological concepts to use to interpret how history can be applied to make future decisions. Most of the concepts are qualitative rather than quantitative.

4.2 Observational Science

Most information determined from Observational Science is quantitative, so most of theoretical science is determining quantitative formulas to predict what will happen in the future. Scientists are good at determining what formulas fit historical numerical patterns, but they are sometimes not as good at providing a well-reasoned qualitative interpretation of, at a foundational level, what their valid formulas mean.

5. Intelligence (Who)

5.1 Humans

We are not our bodies, but our ways of thinking. Cut off any part of the body other than our brain and we can still be our selves. We can be thought of as one individual, but we can also be defined by the "sets of ways of thinking" that we hold to. Conversely, the different "sets of ways of thinking" can be considered different "individuals" in our mind. This is the way that people can be "filled with the Holy Spirit" or "possessed by demons". We can be thought of in two ways at the same time: We are both whole individuals that persist over time, but we are also subsets of ideas that can change over time.

5.1.1 Races

The characteristics that separate races are superficial. Genetically, to reduce genetic defects it is healthiest to intermarry with people who are the furthest genetically from us. Different cultures can have better or worse social standards, so we should take the best traits of each culture.

5.1.2 Gender Roles

Both genders are equally valuable but each gender is in general designed to be better are different tasks. Just as we should be caring of people with physical struggles, we should be caring for people with gender identity struggles. We should work to maximize freedom even when we believe others are in error. But freedom also means not trying to force people to believe that gender identity or gender attractions that don't match genetics are normative.

5.2 God

God is eternal and the designer of the Universe, which is not eternal. If "something" cannot come from "nothing", then then only other alternative would be for the creation to be eternal. In either case something has to be eternal.

5.3 Holy Spirit

The result of having the Holy Spirit being in our minds is a strong motivation because we are convinced we are doing the right thing. As we change our minds and habits to become more holy, doing what is right can become strongly motivational. So, it is valid to look at the Holy Spirit in two ways: as the person of the Holy Spirit inhabiting a subset of our mind, while at the same time saying that sets of ideas are changing our minds to motivate us to be more Holy, whatever the cost.

5.4 Jesus

Jesus is the example of sacrifice, to the point of being willing to die, that we as followers of Jesus are committed to following. His ways of thinking fully matched God's ways of thinking as well as the Holy Spirits ways of thinking.

5.5 Angels and Demons

Angel means "messenger". These messengers can apparently be given bodies but they don't necessarily need physical bodies. Demon's on the other hand apparently can only be in minds, either human or animal, but cannot exist outside of minds. Demon possession can be thought of in two ways: either as a set of bad ideas that should be rejected as not one's own or as another individual inhabiting a subset of a mind.

5.6 Animals

Animals minds apparently cannot conceive of symbolic language or ideas.

5.7 Plants

While plants can react to their environment they do not have central minds that process, store or communicate information.

6. History (When)

6.1 Time

Time is just our "perception of change". What we call the "past" is our current memories and what we call the "future" is our current mental plans. So God did not create "time" itself but rather He created the regularly recurring changes we use as "clocks" to measure the passage of other changes, which is how we commonly think of "time". So the Relativity theory formulas describe human/device perceptions rather than what is actually happening in space independent of the observing device/person.

6.2 Origins

6.2.1 Freedom of Choice

God didn't have to give Adam and Eve freedom to choose from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. By giving them that choice it shows that God believes maintaining freedom of choice is more important than maintaining an ideal society, though he is working to provide both.

6.2.2 Good Society

The Garden of Eden was the initially intended society, at least for individual families. We should each be able to rely on nature for our necessities rather than solely relying on others in society. Even if we live in cities we should be able to, if necessary, move to a location and become self-sufficient in the necessities. Otherwise we effectively become slaves to our society.

6.2.3 Death and Suffering and Forgiveness

Death and suffering motivates us to want a world where there is no death or suffering. Death is not the end but it symbolizes ultimate sacrifice. If Adam and Eve were willing to die rather than eat the fruit, then they would never have eaten, regardless of the amount of time.

6.3 History

6.3.1 Freedom of Choice

The wide variety of societies over history are needed to allow different societies to make varying choices to, in the end, demonstrate that God's way of setting up society is the best.

6.3.2 Good Society

The goal of history is to show how to set up the best society.

6.3.3 Death and Suffering and rebuilding

Societies that try to use force to set up the ideal, Utopian society typically end up causing the most death and suffering. Societies that work to maximize freedom end up creating the best societies.

6.4 Futures

6.4.1 Freedom of Choice

Heaven and Hell is just the separation of people who are willing to sacrifice themselves to follow God from those who are not willing to do that. People who make good choices will create a good society (Heaven) and those who make bad choices will create a very bad society (Hell). Also, God is not required to make the world work just as well for those who do not follow Him. So Hell is a very bad place even without the need for God to eternally torture people in Hell.

6.4.2 Good Society

Heaven is a place where freedom of choice is maintained but those in Heaven have shown that they naturally will choose to do what is right. Good relationships and good societies are both forms of good "trade". "Virtues" are just heuristics that generally promote good "trade", good relationships and good societies.

6.4.3 Death, Suffering and Resurrection

Death and suffering were not originally intended but are useful to motivate us to want a world without death and suffering. Even though death is not the end, it is symbolic of making the ultimate sacrifice as followers of Jesus.

7. Creation, Natural and Supernatural (Where)

7.1 Nature, simplicity/complexity and substitutes

There is no actual difference between "natural" and "supernatural". If something is re-creatable we call it natural and if we can't re-create something we call it supernatural. Natural objects hide complexity and interact with simplicity. Since the designer has a broader view of how things should work, in general doing things naturally is the best method. There are two kinds of substitutes for nature. One kind of substitute is a good substitute for areas where we cannot do something naturally (such as exercise when we can't do hard labor). A bad kind of substitute is where we think we are improving on nature, trying to maximize superficial traits at the cost of more important traits.

7.2 Miracles

We call something a miracle if it isn't repeatable and we don't understand the mechanism. Once we understand the mechanism or can repeat the event we call it natural rather than a miracle. Since we can't repeat or understand everything, by definition some miracles are possible.

8. Goals (Why)

8.1 Value, Motivation

8.1.1 Honor/Worship

To worship is to ascribe value to something, not just singing or adoring as the term "worship" is commonly understood. Worship is important because when we increase the value we ascribe to God we are also therefore increasing the value ascribed to His creation and to human life. Value is a perception which is only partly based on usefulness. We many times derive our value from the perception of others around us, so it is important to surround ourselves with people who value us and to remind ourselves that God values us and others highly.

8.1.2 Happiness/Enjoyment

True happiness comes from knowing we are doing the right thing, even if that causes short term pain. Short term pleasure can at the same time be causing unhappiness.

8.1.3 Faith, Hope and Love

Faith, Hope and Love all have in common embracing risk. Faith allow us to live is a world of current risks. Hope motivates us to act as if the future will be better even when there is risk of failure, pain and death. Love gives to others even when there is a risk that giving will not be reciprocated.

8.1.4 Rituals Baptism

Baptism is intended to be a physical demonstration of our willingness, as followers of Jesus, to sacrifice our lives, as Jesus did, to do what is right. Communion

Communion is intended to be a reminder of our commitment, as followers of Jesus, to sacrifice our lives as needed to do what is right. As we remember Jesus we also remember that to be a "follower of Jesus" means we are willing to die, as Jesus did, for what is right.

8.1.5 Mysticism

Mysticism is used in place of reason when people want to deal with certainties rather than probabilities where they don't have enough information. Mysticism should be rejected in favor of reason.

8.2 Freedom (How)

8.2.1 Providence and Free Will

God has full control but we also have full free will. Which one we perceive is just a matter of how much information we have. If God controls all the forces on dice being rolled then he also controls the outcome of the roll, but if we don't see how he is controlling those forces then the outcome looks random to us.

8.2.2 Sin, Repentance, Justification, Virtues and Sanctification

Something isn't virtuous because God commands it but rather by nature he commands what He knows, as the designer, is virtuous. Repentance is a decision rather than a "work". Once we repent we are justified but it may take time to train the habits of the various virtues. That learning/growth process is called sanctification.

8.2.3 Jesus and Atonement, Forgiveness

We are forgiven when we try to turn away from doing wrong and we decide follow the example of Jesus. Forgiveness should be continually offered (for one reason, holding un-forgiveness hurts the person who was wronged), but the actual benefit of forgiveness isn't actually received by the wrongdoer until they turn from doing the wrong.

8.2.4 Excommunication

We should have freedom of association and of disassociation. We need to make it clear what groups believe and disassociate in a friendly way from those who believe differently in key areas so that outsiders can see clear distinctions between groups. But we should always be open to trade with others who have opposing beliefs.

8.2.5 Work and Rest

A day of rest is important so that we don't become slaves to our work. Rest is more enjoyable when we feel we have accomplished something valuable from our work. Many times we can do better thinking and planning during times of rest such that even with a time of rest we are more productive than if we worked constantly.

8.3 Good Society (How)

8.3.1 Liberty

Value is determined by the free determination of others around us, so freedom of choice is required for worship and love to be of any value.

8.3.2 Education

To make truly free choices we must have correct and accurate information. So, freedom of education is foundational to freedom of choice. Therefore in a perfect world education should not be provided/regulated by the state through forced taxation.

8.3.3 Leadership and Councils

Following the collective wisdom of leaders and councils is very helpful, but we must not follow leaders/councils blindly and we must retain our freedom of choice without coercion.

8.3.4 Laws

Laws, rules, standards, best practices, virtues, ethics, suggestions, are in essence all the same. Each are ways of educating/motivating people concerning practices that maximizes the likelihood of good trade, relationships and society.  Laws differ only in that they have law enforcement attached to coerce people to follow the practices deemed by the state to be laws.  If we have a focus on trying to have good trade, relationships and societies we will naturally do what is in the laws.

8.3.5 Contracts

Trade increases the value to both parties in the trade. Trade over time requires trust in the commitment to deliver the value at a later time. So, to maximize value we must honor our contracts.

8.3.6 Marriage

Marriage is a freely entered into contract to deliver value over time. Therefore marriage should not be regulated by the state, but rather it should be affirmed/dis-affirmed by families, churches and/or other social organizations.

8.3.7 Church

Church was intended to be individuals getting together for a shared purpose, much like home education groups function today. But to maintain unity and to maximize the likelihood of success of the group, churches and denominations over time have naturally put into place organizational leadership, structures, rituals and mysticism that focuses on maintaining the unity of the group. Rather than being centrally lecture-focused and leader-focused, churches should be decentralized, with a project and team focus.

8.3.8 Belief Systems

All belief systems have some form of wisdom, but we still need to decide what is true and what is not true in each belief system

8.3.9 Forms of government Before the flood

Sex and violence seems to have been more prevalent in the society before the flood. Sumer/Egypt

All the key events in the book of Genesis are found in some form in Sumerian mythology/history. Moses rejected the mythology of Egypt in favor of the history that Sumerian myths were based on. The Israelites left the corruption of Egypt to recreate a society more similar to the Garden of Eden, as Abraham had done before them. Israel

Israel was intended as an example of a group of people following God, but the intent was to maintain freedom. High value was placed on not becoming a slave to work. Moses says he never took anyone's donkey, so government infrastructure was minimal. Samuel said God wasn't pleased that Israel asked for a King who would build and army, amass wealth and go to war. Much of Genesis is written to show the problems of society without a law to guide the people and to justify submitting to the laws in the Torah. The temple and the sacrifices were needed as physical symbols, but were not ultimately what God wanted. Roman Empire

Today the West is a descendant of the Roman Empire rather than being a descendant of Israel. We follow the example intended by Israel and their laws but we were not intended to be under the same laws as Israel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Christian Yoga - The Missing Manual

I first became aware that the Christian college where I work offers a Yoga class back in 2008 so I began researching the topic.  I ended up visiting Yoga classes at the Science of Spirituality, Theosophical Society and the local Hindu Temple to compare their practices and teachings.  The Yoga class at the Hindu temple was the most interesting and that motivated me to learn more about Yoga from the Hindu perspective.  A May 2013 episode (51 minutes) of the Moody Radio show "Up for Debate" on Christian use of Yoga referenced my hands-on research of this topic.

In my initial thinking, I used two arguments that Christians should refrain from Yoga (which I think are still valid, but I now think there is a better way to address this question):

1. Paul argued that while eating meat sacrificed to idols was technically O.K. since idols aren't real (similar to how Yoga is technically O.K. because it is just stretching), he said he wouldn't do it because it could confuse others (my paraphrase).  Also, note that at least two other passages (Acts 21:25, Rev 2:14) seem to condemn Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols.

2. The writer of the book of Kings argued against worshiping God at high places, where the other religions were worshiping.  If you think about it, going up a mountain to worship God requires physical labor (like Yoga), the air is a little thinner so possibly making people at little light headed after climbing (somewhat similar to and including an adrenaline high), and the view is awesome.  Those characteristics help motivate people to think about the big picture (the "mountain top experience", or more simply, a "high"). So it would be easy to think you are getting a spiritual experience on top of a mountain, substituting for a focus on Truth. I like this analogy because it says leaders who were wholly devoted to God nevertheless did not take down the high places, leading to a situation a few generations later where most of the society rejected God.

But I ended up deciding that the best method of addressing this question might be to argue that if you are a Christian considering or practicing Yoga, then I would suggest that you should learn more about the Hindu history and philosophy of Yoga directly from Hindus so that you can make good decisions on this topic.  That is what this blog post is intended to help you do.  So, this is my attempt at a "missing manual" for Christians considering Yoga.

Now, six years later, the college is offering "Lenten Yoga: a contemplative practice for the Lenten Season", which has motivated me to make this updated post.  Also, now I see that there are more Hindu discussions of the meaning of Yoga on YouTube which were not available when I did my initial blog post six years ago.  So, now you can get the information directly from Hindu sources.  If you watch the three following videos, you will understand more about Yoga than probably 99% of westerners.

1. Here is a set of videos discussing the possible future merging of Christianity, Hinduism and Atheism, followed by a discussion of atheists and Christians using Yoga for health benefits at first, then graduating to an understanding of the spiritual meanings/benefits of Yoga (17 minutes).  I also added a video clip on the end of Billy Graham discussing his inclusivist beliefs (which says good people of all belief systems are chosen to go to Heaven, which is similar to but a little different than Universalist beliefs), which C.S. Lewis also shared (the two most honored Christians at the college where I work):

2. Here is a video talking about a panel discussion on the topic from Hinduism Today (15 minutes).  I also added on the end a video clip of Father Keating discussing how his Christian beliefs (step 1) are transcended by Hindu/Buddhist concepts of Oneness (steps 2 and 3 of the "spiritual journey"):

3. Here is a link to buy the below video on Yoga philosophy from the Christian perspective.  This one isn't a Hindu source, and I don't necessarily agree with all the assertions, such as the Yoga moves themselves having actual spiritual/mystical/demonic implications.  Also, I always thought that the idea of Kundalini, being the waking of a sleeping snake at the base of our spine, came from the fact that our intestines look like a coiled snake rather than being a reference to the serpent in Genesis and Revelations.  But in any event this Christian author did grow up in India and the video has some very interesting first hand accounts from the Christian perspective (77 minutes):

If you want more information, check out the Wikipedia article on Yoga, and the origins of the Sun Salutation: "Its origins lie in India where they worship Surya, the Hindu solar deity".  Compare that to Ezekiel 8:15-16 where it says:
15 He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? Yet you will see still greater abominations than these.”
16 Then He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house. And behold, at the entrance to the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar,were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun.
I know that most westerners aren't intending to worship the Sun when they do a sun salutation, but at the Hindu temple they did say during our sun and moon salutations that we were "honoring the Sun" and "honoring the Moon".  So I would still suggest thinking about that passage the next time you do a Sun or Moon salutation.

I am a Christian libertarian so I believe that the ten commandments were really talking about how to maintain freedom, through right motivations (don't covet), respect for ownership of yourself (don't kill) and your work (don't steal), and respect for free trade/contracts (no adultery, honor parents, honor God). But to make free choices requires that you have all the information. Now that you have more background information on Yoga you are more free, and also more responsible, to make good decisions.

If you aren't a Christian, then perhaps none of this matters. But if you are a Christian who believes the God of the Bible actually exists, then perhaps Pilates or some other categorization of similar stretches might be a way to obtain the same physical benefits without risking disrespecting God. God gives us freedom to do what we believe is best, but choose wisely.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Road-map to Self-Directed Christian Liberal Education