Greatness: Constructed Reality and You

Here’s the thing: you’re already familiar with constructed reality on a day-to-day basis.

Have you ever had a dream that felt real? So real you couldn’t tell it was a dream until afterward? A dream in which all the pieces fit together, logically, within the dream (even if they seemed entirely absurd after you woke up)?

That’s a constructed reality. Dreams are our minds’ way of communicating to us, when we’re unwilling to listen to direct signals. It builds up a whole world for us, a whole universe, and lets us experience what we refuse to accept in logical impulses.

My point is this: our brains are GOOD at building realities. We all know it. We all experience it all the time.

Have you ever seen someone hypnotized? I very much hope so. It’s an amazing experience (being hypnotized, yes, but even just watching). You tell someone he’s a chicken and he begins to behave as though he’s a chicken. Yeah, that’s a silly one. My favorite is the three-year-old. Watch how someone becomes a three-year-old, within his own mind.

As a matter of fact…HAVE you ever been hypnotized? You can realize you’re participating in an imaginary universe (you’re conscious the whole time) even as you are completely submersed in it. You’re not ACTING, the suggested scene becomes truly real for you and imposes itself on you, but there’s a part of Man that can sit outside and watch, even as the body and mind are caught up in the illusion.

That’s a very important point, right there, and it’s what keeps the rest of what I’m saying from being just mad, useless ramblings. We are capable of stepping outside and watching the play, even as our bodies and minds are trapped within it. Most of us choose NOT to, which…

Well, you’ve heard that rule about hypnosis, that the hypnotist can’t make you do anything you normally wouldn’t do. That’s not entirely true. It’s possible, in normal hypnosis, to let the monitoring part of your mind…go to sleep. Most people don’t (they don’t trust the hypnotist), but it’s possible, and then you just go along.

It’s also possible, as a hypnotist, to build so deceptive a world, so captivating an illusion, that the environment itself (rather than your suggestion) causes the hypnotized to do something they wouldn’t normally do. Maybe you couldn’t Command a hypnotized woman to take off all her clothes in front of a huge audience, but you could convince her that her clothes were full of vicious, biting ants….

Both of those are real concerns. What we do, with our science and our logic and our arm’s-length consideration of philosophy, is put to sleep that monitoring part of our mind. We like to stop thinking of this world as an illusion, because that’s less WORK. It also means we no longer have the freedom to manipulate our own role within it, or to stop the play if it gets too absurd (or repulsive).

We need to be reminded, from time to time, that the reality we’re living in is just an illusion we’ve dreamed up for ourselves. We need to look at it from the outside because we (especially we Christians) know we have that power, that perspective. Constantly examine your life, your reality, to make sure it’s not misusing you, not leading you down paths you don’t want to follow.

Greatness: Okay, for Real, The Matrix

(Now…I always have trouble in these conversations knowing exactly when to STOP. That is, I can’t necessarily tell when I’ve lain a foundation AND drawn an explicit conclusion. Or, more often, I’ll lay a foundation and think the conclusion is so obvious that it would be insulting to ACTUALLY state it explicitly, and so I don’t, and then find out I was overly obscure.

That will be an ongoing issue. Any time you see me drop a conversation before I’ve made my point, and you’re not quite sure where I was going with it, please mention that in the comments, and I’ll try to fill out my argument.

All that said, today’s post might be going too far. If you already know where I’m going tying in “The Matrix,” please feel free to skip it.)

(See! I made it past the parentheses this time! Well, not yet….)

The Matrix took me entirely by surprise. I suppose it did that for most folks since, coming into the theatre, all we really knew was that Morpheus couldn’t tell us what the Matrix was. And something about Kung Fu.

It was, however, in its entirety a visualization of Post Modern Social Constructionism. I’m not trying to use The Matrix as a metaphor or anything — it was very clearly drawing on these ideas from the beginning. It’s useful to me, as it has provided a very popular, base-level understanding of what Social Constructionism implies about the universe.

(Okay, I’m sometimes a stickler for proper typography and whatnot, but I’m writing this on a forum that doesn’t EASILY allow for hypertext markup, and I’m going to be referring to The Matrix far too often for me to switch into Edit HTML mode, add the less-than-i-greater-than brackets, and switch back out every time I name it. So I’m just going to throw it in title case, and trust that all of us consenting adults reading this article can recognize that I’m referring to the movie whenever I capitalize the “The,” and to the computer construct when I don’t, and make your best judgment calls when I start a sentence with it….)

The Matrix presents us with a universe exactly like our own, reality just as we know it, and then proceeds to demonstrate that this reality is simply a constructed hallucination — sensory input fed directly to our brains. Remember the “brain in a vat” question that I posted about early on? It’s been around for AGES. The Matrix is just another story along the way that has played with the idea.

In the Matrix, all the people are sharing in the same hallucination. They can all point to the same object, and say, “That object is red, and round, and suspended from that tree-shaped thing.” They can coordinate their descriptions of the world, and verify each other’s claims about reality, and successfully build more and more complicated technologies that function more and more effectively based on their observation of this entirely fictional reality.

(Did you catch that? It’s science, as we know it. We SEE it happening within the movie. Neo’s a hacker, after all. Within the Matrix science examines and describes and tests and discards disproved hypotheses and — within the story — all of that only succeeds in supporting the artificial reality, none of it has any ACCESS to the kind of information that would serve to reveal Real Truth. Science can only test the materials of observable reality, which is self-supporting.)

Now, for the sake of completeness, I’m going to make some explicit comparisons. Whereas the reality inhabited by most of the human population in The Matrix was one built using computer code (machine language), Social Constructionism (at least my form of it) proposes that this reality is built out of human language. Whenever we interact socially with another person, we are taking part in (ahem…”jacking in” to) the constructed reality — the shared hallucination of what is real.

In other words, the fake world which we are fed to keep us docile and powerless is provided, not by malevolent machines seeking world domination, but by…us. By our constant desire to understand the world around us, down to the last detail.

So. In The Matrix we have a scene where Neo and Morpheus face each other in a construct training room, and they fight (yada yada), and Morpheus asks, “You think that’s air you’re breathing?” And…well, the whole point of his training is the realization that everything around us is a fiction that we are fed. And, if we choose not to play within the rules, then we can be stronger than human bodies are capable of, we can leap farther, we can defy the laws of gravity (because they’re “rules” that people choose to obey, not governing forces with authority over us).

Christians believe this, on some level. Christians believe that all of natural reality, all the laws of this reality, are “rules” that we, out of politeness, choose to go along with. Otherwise how could Jesus have called a man forth from death? How could Elijah have raised a dead child? They weren’t practicing medicine, they were performing miracles. Walking on water, turning water to blood (or wine), blotting out the sun or causing it to stand still for half a day (or cast its shadow backward several steps). We BELIEVE that the laws of nature are pliable. Social Constructionists explain why.

So why are there walls? Why don’t I have a big pile of gold? Why don’t any of us fly? Eh? Eh???

There’s a reason I keep referring to it as “reality,” in spite of my claims. It IS real to us. There’s a scene in the movie where Trinity looks all serious and says, “The mind makes it real.” That’s exactly it. Social Constructionism is something that happens within our mind — our only connection to our environment. If our mind believes there is a wall ahead of us that will block our way, we will not be able to walk through it. If our mind believes we are bound to the earth, it won’t let us fly.

Yeah. That’s an easy one to prove (or at least, to support) in the negative. Not so easy in the positive, because I don’t know anyone who has achieved transcendence on such a level that he can bestow it on others.

Y’see, even if you MET someone who had freed himself enough from the constructed reality that he could fly, YOU wouldn’t believe he could fly. It doesn’t work within your universe. And your mind would be doing everything it could to keep him from flying or, if not that, to convince you that he wasn’t. At long last, you (and those sane folks around you) would probably just convince yourself it was a dream or hallucination, if nothing else worked.

Right. Tricky. I’m not trying to play word games here to wriggle out of an argument. I’m just recognizing that I CAN’T logically prove to you a system that, at its basest, denies the practical accuracy of logic.

And, to sell out all those Social Constructionists depending on me for a dispassionate, reasoned answer, I can’t provide that, either, because my philosophy was born out of my religion. I already TOLD you where the positive proof comes from, for me. It’s in axe-heads floating to the surface, and snake-statues curing poison, and ten loaves becoming twelve basketsful, and that fig tree and that mountain and the fish with the denarii in its mouth.

It’s right there in Genesis. God made a world outside of Heaven, a temporal place, and in it he constructed Man out of temporal components, but breathed into it Life. He made Man in his own image — Infinite, but wearing a temporal suit.

So. We (the movie and me, both) propose a world of Real Truth, that we can’t see or touch or taste or feel, but that is yet somehow far more important than the environment we experience, and a reality that we CAN see and touch and taste and feel, that exists only as a dream which we are all sharing in.

Not only that, but it’s vitally important to exist within that dream world, but a Man can do SO much more within it once he has recognized it for what it is. He’s still vulnerable — always vulnerable to the seductive lie that imagined reality IS Real Truth — but he’s able to do more than all the dreaming sheep around him and, with any luck at all, liberate a few of them along the way.

There we go. Now I’m done with The Matrix unless (miracle of miracles) we get some comments conversation going.

Greatness: The One with All the Matrix

(That was for you, Kris.)

(I wonder if, a hundred years from now, English Majors reading through my blog posts will all see me occasionally speaking directly to a “Kris with a ‘k'” and just assume it was a girl, and then someone will do a dissertation in which they link the Kris from my blogs to the famous network designer Kris Austin and then there’ll be ANOTHER dissertation about how I was gay, and Kris was my lover, and Trish and Nicki were both beards (err…cover wives). And then everyone will stop reading my blog and they’ll stop using the kristonian network structure that revolutionized the world because, y’know, Kris Austin was obviously gay….

Dammit, Kris!)

(Okay, for the record, “Kris” or “Kristopher” is just the German spelling. And, while we’re on the topic, “Erin” is the Irish spelling, not just the girl name.)

Okay, what was I going to say? I’ve forgotten completely….

Greatness: Some Honesty to Upset You Science-Types

I’d kinda planned on skipping these points, or glossing them over, so as not to lose some of you completely (I’m looking at you, Kris). But, any meaningful philosophical discussion really does require a significant degree of intellectual honesty, so I’ll drop some on you.

I believe pretty much everything modern science claims to be true of the universe, is true of the universe. There! You’ve gotta love that. Evolutionary speciation, Einsteinian can’t-go-faster-than-the-speed-of-light-for-no-good-reason-really, Heliocentricity, all that.

I ALSO believe pretty much everything ancient science (often called “Mythology”) claimed to be true of the universe, was true of the universe. See? That’s where I lost you.

Today, the world is fifteen billion years old, or whatever actual number you want to claim. Four hundred years ago, the world was four thousand years old. That’s where I’m going. All natural matter may be constructed out of 136 elements, but two thousand years ago it only took four elements to do the same thing.

I honestly, seriously believe that our world is socially constructed. All of the rules that govern the universe, all natural laws (as well as all nature) are pieced together from the mind of Man. Everything that can be tested, everything that can be measured, everything that can be communicated by way of symbols is simply a manufactured (might as well say “imaginary”) expression of some Real Truth to which we have NO shared access.

Therefore whatever number we put on the age of the earth is just an expression of how we are currently interpreting the nature of the world. If it is more useful for our present-day scientists to believe in time-intensive evolution in order to construct a functional explanation for the nature of animals as we observe them today, then our universe is flexible enough to include a world that’s billions of years old.

All it takes to make it true is to say it, and convince other people to believe it.

I believe lightning used to be heavenly javelins, and now it’s static discharge. I believe birds used to fly because they had so much Air in their nature, and now they do it using updrafts and hollow bones. I believe heat used to be an invisible liquid-like agent that flowed between objects, seeking balance, and now it’s an expression of energy.

I believe margarine used to be better for you than butter, and then butter was better for you than margarine, and now margarine is better for you than butter (I think). And where do we stand with eggs? And coffee?

NONE of this is real. It’s all just a game that all of humanity is playing, every day, and we change the goal sometimes, and we change the rules sometimes, but for the most part, at any given time, everybody agrees to a basic set of rules and we all follow them, and keep playing. That’s what society is.

That’s constructed reality.

There IS something real out there, but it’s not governed by any Natural laws. It’s not accessible to science, or logic. It’s Other, it’s Outside. We encounter it all the time, but in the process of trying to explain it, communicate it, understand it, we make something not-quite-like-it, we make a symbol, and then we pass that symbol around for years, forgetting the original source that it was supposed to describe. We make up uses for that symbol, and modify it over time, until it is very much a part of our lives, but no longer CLOSE to the Truth it was supposed to describe.

And then we encounter that Truth again, and it’s entirely foreign to us, so we try to understand, describe, and we end up making a NEW symbol for it, which we adopt, and pass around, and use for different purposes, but neither one is the actual thing, see?

So we still have myths about lightning as the javelins of the gods (the old symbol), and we still keep those around, and use them for certain purposes (they make good poetic images, for instance), but obviously that’s not the REAL thing, lightning. We know that now, because we’ve encountered lightning on a different level. We have a new symbol for it, this static discharge idea…. But that’s NO MORE the real thing than the javelin image was.

ALL of it (everything we say is true of the universe) is just a symbol we’re passing around, and modifying with each iteration, until it’s not the same thing at all. In other words, the MORE accurate you make your description (through testing and discussion and professional journals) the LESS like the original impulse it is. Yeah, you hate this paragraph now that I’m talking about lightning as static discharge, but go back and reread the paragraph before this one. It’s a constant cycle. It’s HOW WE DO THINGS.

Do you see what I mean? Do you see what I’m saying? It’s basically what you believe, too, except….

Ehff. You tell me. That’s what comments are FOR.

Government: *Crickets Chirping*

The thing about Government is, nobody agrees with me, and a couple of you are patriotic enough that I’m scared of hurting your feelings. Also, I don’t really feel that passionately about my opinions, I’m just pretty sure they’re right.

THAT’s all. So…not worth rocking the boat until I’ve got more of you following my line of reasoning on OTHER issues.

Or, to put it another way…I’ll get back to that.

God: Trish’s Church and Manufactured Meaning

I’ve PRObably made it clear already that I don’t think Meaning can be manufactured (so the title of this article is intended to be a little tongue-in-cheek). Meaning comes from our encounters with Real Truth, and therefor anything we can Construct must inherently be other than Real Truth and, therefor, not a source of real Meaning.

To recap: the Constructed reality is USEFUL, while unconstructed Real Truth is MEANINGFUL. One is one, the other is the other.

Okay. Now we’re back to Trish’s church which, as I have said, presents me with a challenge.

When I say Trish’s church, I don’t mean her ideal philosophically perfect one. I mean the one here in Tulsa that she decided she liked, and that we both attend. It’s…it’s either Memorial Drive Church of Christ or Memorial Road Church of Christ. Whichever one ISN’T in Edmond.

Anyway. They have, I think, a pretty good example of exactly what I think a church service shouldn’t be. It’s a manufactured experience, a rigorously scripted spectacle of worship. It involves the audience, draws them in, makes them feel like they’ve been in the presence of God (all those things I talked about two posts ago).

It’s not extreme. It’s not an extremely liberal Church of Christ, which means it’s definitely not an extremely liberal Protestant church. I’ve seen worse. There’s nothing particularly unpleasant about Memorial’s service, even to someone who grew up in very conservative churches, as I did.

I’m pretty sure Nicki (and Kris?) and Toby (and Gwyn?) all disliked it for the liberalness of it, mainly. That aspect of it did make me slightly uncomfortable, but not much. What got to me was the….

Well, it’s like this: they have a praise team. That’s a liberal thing, that gets to people. What bothers me about it, though, is not that there are women leading singing or that we’re approaching the sinful idolatry of having a choir…it’s just the scripted aspect. I don’t like for a church service to be manufactured even as much as every single worship service IS, and when you start trying to coordinate eight people just for the song leading, you start manufacturing down to the nitty gritty.

Last Sunday I noticed that three of the four prayers seemed to have been written by the Worship Leader (the Captain of the Praise Team, and coordinator of the rest of the worship service) and handed out to the men saying prayers so that they’d better fit with the theme of the service. That MAY have been a misperception on my part (it’s not like there was a byline in the prayer), but it certainly seemed that way.

Now…the minister is an exception. I have appreciated every word I’ve ever heard Terry preach — and this is not something I can say of any other minister I’ve heard, including my dad. Terry preaches a lot of the things I believe, and I try not to make that a deciding factor when choosing a church, but it does make it easier to sit through a sermon, let me tell you.

Anyway, I have never felt that the sermons were particularly dictated by the themes of the Worship Leader, but rather that the Worship Leader crafted the rest of the service to highlight the sermons.

(I’m rambling a bit, I know, but I need to present the whole cloth before I can start fashioning my final point.)

It’s just this: the worship service is (I think) the defining role of a modern-day church. The worship service is what we DO as a church. It spawns lots of other things (Elderships and missions and youth groups and Bible classes and fellowship dinner), but all of these things develop because, first, we created a building and a congregation to participate together in the worship service.

(That’s WHY if you had two Christians who attended different churches but, say, would go out together to perform good deeds and feed the poor, and support and encourage each other, and all the other social things Christians do, you’d still say they’re members of different congregations. Because they attend different churches to observe the worship service.)

I’m fairly confident a church is defined by its worship service, and (as I said above) the Memorial church’s worship service is exactly what I think it oughtn’t to be — an exquisitely crafted religiouslike experience. And yet (here’s the challenging part), the church community seems to be exactly what I think a church community ought to be. They interact as Christians ought to interact. They are active in the world, apparently deliberately reshaping it to be more like the world God would want for Man, and they BELIEVE in God in a way I have rarely seen, even among my friends (let alone in churches!).

It bothers me. I would REALLY like to say that it’s all because of Terry. The preacher does such a good job saying the right things (remember, I already said he says the things I believe) that the congregation can’t HELP but hear his true meaning, and so they overcome the influence of the crafted worship service to actually experience Real Truth on their own.

I want to believe that, for the sake of the things I believe. I’m not so arrogant as to casually do that, though. It could be the…whaddyacallit…counterproof? Something like that. A test result directly contradicting a proposed hypothesis. It could be that the very existence of Trish’s church proves me completely wrong.

I don’t think that’s the case, either. Rather, Trish’s church seems to me to be an exception. A proof that Man can, in spite of his environment, twist just about anything into the shape he wants it to be. This church just happens to have enough people anxious enough to find Real Truth that they have taken the good and left the bad, and made this church into what they needed it to be, in spite of the inherent aspects of its methods that SHOULD have been obstacles.

I understand exceptions. I’ve told you recently that I’m a fairly pragmatic fellow, and the world constantly throws up exceptions to any good rule (it’s part of my argument for social construction, and against logical naturalism). I’m thinking Trish’s church is more like America — a very successful, very admirable anomaly. That’s no reason to build churches according to the example of Memorial, though, no more than it’s a reason to endorse Democratic Anarchy according to the example of the U.S. It’s just something to wonder at, I think.

I THINK. But, as I said, I recognize that it’s a challenge to my beliefs, and I constantly assail that challenge, rather than simply writing it off as an anomaly. That’s why I bring it up here. I’ll let you see my thought process, see the way I consider and examine.

Ahp! I’ve said a lot, and I think I hit my main points pretty early on and then rambled where I should’ve done follow-through, so maybe this will have been a pretty useless article. I dunno. Comments will tell, I guess.

Greatness: Resources, Powers, and Good and Evil

Power is not good or evil. Power is a tool.

(Fantasy authors are obligated to devote at least one chapter in their first novel to this topic. Generally it is a discussion between an old, wise man, and a confused young hero.)

The metaphor generally goes something like this:
* A hammer is a useful tool for building things.
* A wicked man can use a hammer to kill another man.

Umm…that’s the gist of it right there. A tool is not good or evil, it’s just a method for Man to express his base nature (whether IT be good or evil). That fact begins with hammers and goes right on up to money and/or magic.

It frustrates me to see people with access to resources that they are unwilling to use, for fear that the resource will somehow taint them. No…that’s not right. What frustrates me is that people can see very powerful resources being put to wicked use (money, political power, social networking), RECOGNIZE the power of those resources, and then (because wicked people are using them) these good people swear off those resources forever.

In other words, we see people using power in bad ways, and so we leave that power entirely in their grasp, and don’t even try to use it in good ways.

There is some kind of social concept floating around, somewhere, about “legitimate” ways to achieve your ends, I guess. Praying for a new bicycle, I know, is strictly against the rules. Buying your way into Congress is, too, even though we know everyone in Congress got there that way.

I dunno. I’m more of a pragmatist than most, I guess. This world is what it is — you’re welcome to despise the unfairness of the systems of power and resources that it runs on, but unless you’re willing to use those (for noble purposes), you’ll always be at a wholly self-imposed disadvantage in your attempts to make things better.


God: God’s Divine Plan and the Meaning of Life

I’ve already told you the meaning of life (that is, the reason for this temporal existence). It’s an opportunity for us to learn that Man’s way doesn’t work — that striking out on our own is…unpleasant. Even with all the beauty and the love and goodness we DO manage to effect, the sum total of human independence is a life we DON’T want to live.

Life is a chance to learn that.

After all, most of the beauty and the love and the goodness are aspects of God in our lives ANYWAY, so living independently merely reduces the amount of it. And, that reduced amount doesn’t make up for the genocide and the starving babies and etc.

So. Where, then, our interventionist God?

I’ll say this: I don’t believe God has an ultimate plan for the things that will happen in this world. I don’t think he’s in control, and I don’t think he’s trying to be. Oh, he’s CAPABLE of it — he’s shown before and he shows again every day that there’s nothing in this world so real that he can’t bend or twist it to his needs. But, for the most part, he doesn’t have much in the way of needs.

He needs a voice calling out his name, so that others will hear and remember what they already know. He needs a perfect life lived and a payment in blood to forgive on the infinite scale the mistakes made in this finite place. And that’s been done. I think, pretty much, that’s the plan. Oh, yeah! He needs people to be people (and learn why that doesn’t work).

That’s life, right there. That’s God’s divine plan for this world. I don’t think God has a plan that involves where you work, or what color your baby’s eyes are. Life is in OUR hands — he gave us dominion over this world and it goes all the way. And — rain on the just and the unjust — he gave dominion to ALL of us. Not just the good ones.

I’ll say it loud: God is not responsible for the state of this world. People are. People made this world.

God’s not even responsible in an initial kinda way, because he didn’t MAKE people in this world. He starts them out in Eden, and starts them out with a nature that will keep them there, but their own proud curiosity drives them (and, of course, by “them” I mean “us”) out of Eden and into this world, which we then help make more like it is.

This world, the one we live in day to day, is not of God’s making, but it (as a whole) fits within his plan for that other world, Infinity. Life is broken (we broke it), and that simple realization is an opportunity to learn why we should let go of it.

Does this all sound like I’m repeating myself? I’m actually trying to extend the argument to a conclusion. God’s Plan has nothing to do with our day-to-day lives. If God controlled that — if he exerted his dominion over how the world runs, and its general course — then life wouldn’t be able to serve the purpose it serves. It’s not that he’s an uncaring God (as some have said) and certainly not that he’s an absent God. It’s just that this life is doing what it was meant to do — it’s hurting as much as it heals. Which is a reminder that there’s a world that doesn’t hurt at all.

But what about prayer? I can practically hear you shoving each other out of the way to be the first to challenge me with that. Didn’t I say I believed in prayer? Am I shoving God out of the world entirely now?

Not at all. There are two answers here, and the difference between them is kinda subtle. (Also, one of them presumes I’ve done a better job establishing the whole nature of constructed reality than I have, but I’ll ignore that for now.)

First: people are born in Eden, entirely devoted to God’s giving, and only through living learn to try to live outside of Eden, which enters them into this world, which is Man’s dominion, not God’s. By trusting yourself wholly to God, by walking in the light, as it has been said, you begin the process of removing yourself from Man’s world and entering back into God’s. Prayer for THINGS doesn’t qualify as this — asking God to work miracles and bend the reality that we think of as reality, that’s insisting on staying within this reality but wanting it to be a better one.

But committing yourself to God, within this life, removes you mostly from it and entrusts your self to a world where God IS in complete control. That’s what Eden is all about.

That’s the first option. Your frame can be ambling around in the real world, while your spirit rests in God’s dominion.

The other option is one I offered above as a possibility: miracles, powerful prayer, interventionist deity. And I believe in these things, and I think it’s the only possible way to claim that God lets us run our own lives, but still loves us.

Because he’s there as a safety net, as a protector, as a Providence. He gave us full control, but part of that control is the capacity to ask God to help out. He is very much there, and he is very much paying attention — he’s just not running the show. A mother watching her children perform a puppet show, maybe. She’s paying attention and deliberately not interfering, for their sake, but she’s still there in her full capacity as their mother, ready to step in and save them if they get hurt, or to correct them if they take this little play too far into wickedness.

It’s a pleasant metaphor, and it gets a basic idea, but I’m not trusting it too far. Get the gist out of the image and then let it go, because it’s not a whole parallel. Still, God is there, constantly, watching and listening and dearly loving us. He answers prayers, he changes things within this world (perhaps things we could change on our own, through magic or logic or technology, perhaps things we couldn’t), but he doesn’t guide its flow. He doesn’t tell us what our world should be…or, rather, he did, once, and we saw it, and we shrugged, and we said, “Ehh, I could do better.”

And that’s this world. The other one is still there, waiting for us, and God DOES have an active hand in that world — he’s constantly maintaining it as the perfect residence for Man, and constantly inviting us back to it. We get to live in this sandbox of a Life for as long as we need to, to learn, and it’s all ours, but God’s is there, too, just as real, and always open.

God: The Call to Worship

Trish’s church presents me with a real challenge….

Let me say this: the body has cravings. A body needs certain things to survive, and it expresses these needs to the mind as desire. I’m not trying to posit some clever point here, I’m just trying to state something we’ll all agree on, so if you don’t like that wording, rearrange it as necessary.

Sometimes you get hungry. You get hungry because you need nourishment for energy to keep on living. I don’t mean to say “every time you get hungry, that time is because you need nourishment.” What I mean, the reason animals get hungry at all, is because they need nourishment, and that craving is a message from the body to the brain.

Now let me go on to say this: people have a need for God in their lives. Again, I’m not ASSERTING that people have a need for God in their lives, whether they accept it or not, and advocating that we go out and add God to people’s lives because they’re ignorant….

They’re not. That’s exactly as likely as someone being unaware that they need food to go on living. Yes, it’s a condition that occurs in some, but the vast majority of people KNOW when they have a need, whether or not they are able to fill that need in a responsible way.

So it is with God, and worship. Worship of God is something imposed on Man by the majesty of his (Man’s) existence, not by the arrogant will of an egotistical God. We need, for health and happiness, to cry out to God in wonder and humility. We need to experience God’s role in our lives, and actively step into his presence. We need to feel the divine blood coursing through us. There is a thirst in Man to experience such majesty.

And here is my concern with organized religion: it meets that need.

How many sermons have you heard stressing that, “Christianity is not what happens in this building…it’s what happens when you go outside!” Why are all of those sermons necessary? If any of them worked, why would they keep getting preached?

If the need to experience God’s majesty is like hunger, organized worship is like candy. It meets that need, in a most pleasant way. It satisfies your craving AND leaves you feeling good…but without the nutrients you need. Most of the time when you’re hungry, it’s not from lack of sugar and chocolate. It’s from lack of vitamins, nutrients, but you can satisfy the craving without actually healing yourself. And so your Mom reminds you, all the time, “eat some vegetables.” You buckle down and force yourself to eat some healthy food every now and then, because you know you’ve gotta, but when you get hungry, your desire is not for healthy food, but junk food.

Church is junk food. That’s why we have preachers telling us over and over again, “Get out there and eat some vegetables.” Church is a spectacle, crafted majesty. It’s an opportunity to CREATE that feeling of being in God’s presence (by just the right combination of socializing and ritualizing and performance, and DON’T get the mixture wrong or your whole congregation will rip apart). The thing is…that’s a feeling you usually have to WORK for.

In real life, you have to devote yourself, day and night, to consideration of God and his holy message in order to get the kind of insight and understanding a preacher can hand you on Sunday morning. You have to step out of your comfort zone and get dirt on your hands helping strangers, helping the poor and sick and needy, to get the kind of spiritual high that church offers with a well-chosen selection of songs. You have to be prepared with an open heart and mind when you stumble upon the most amazing display of natural beauty, to get the kind of quiet joy that church just POURS into you….

An interesting thing about junk food is that it creates its own cravings. You learn to be hungry, not when your body needs nutrition, but when your body wants more junk food. And you confuse the two, and you begin to realize how hungry you always are, and how much that junk food satisfies your hunger, and suddenly it seems like that junk food is an important part of your diet (more important than the broccoli and sprouts that you’re NEVER hungry for).

Church is like that. You hear people talk about how they couldn’t make it through a week without the energy they get from church on Wednesday night. And I always sigh inside, because they’re admitting their surrender. If they didn’t have church on Wednesday night, they couldn’t make it through the week without being HUNGRY for God.

And, I like to think, when they felt that hunger they’d go out and sate it. Not with some cheap, easy fix. Not with artificial preservatives (I’ll have to do more with that line, sometime…), but tracking down and hunting real spiritual food. Actually loving and forgiving neighbors, actually experiencing God in this life, or understanding God’s plan for the next.

I’ve also heard it said (although I can’t personally attest) that when you really start eating healthy, your body starts to crave healthy food. And, suddenly, junk food isn’t even attractive anymore. You can eat a little bit, but it mostly makes you uncomfortable.

I like that part about craving healthy food. I like it within the metaphor — that if we were somehow driven to earnestly serve God (rather than to meet our own needs in a hall of worship), day in and day out, maybe some day we would learn to do that naturally, easy, to walk constantly in the presence of God. To experience his majesty throughout our life, not just in the individually packaged, Fun Size doses three times a week.

All that said, Trish’s church presents me with a real challenge. I’ll explain how another time.

God and Greatness: Attainable Virtue

It is a very good book, as I said before. It SUCKS, as I said before, but it is a very good book. You all have to read it, on pain of dire disgrace.

I liked this bit:
God had said that it was only the men who could give up their jealous selves, their futile individualities of happiness and sorrow, who would die peacefully and enter the ring. He that would save his life was asked to lose it.

Yet there was something in the old white head which could not accept the godly view. Obviously you might cure a cancer of the womb by not having a womb in the first place. Sweeping and drastic remedies could cut out anything — and life with the cut. Ideal advice, which nobody was built to follow, was no advice at all. Advising heaven to earth was useless.

I love that last paragraph. Not the particular application to which it’s put — I just included that for context — but the central idea. It’s why I’m saying so much of what I’m trying to say — why, even if the church WORKS as it is, we drastically need to revise what we do with it in our lives.

Any religion of Man which makes it evil to BE a Man, is doomed from the start (although, if human history is any example, destined to be quite popular). We can’t HELP being people, we were made that way. It needs to be a starting point, not a destination avoided at all costs! Egads!

Anyway, I’m drained and spent. Stupid, stupid, stupid history! Danged dirty Mordred. If ever anyone needs a punch in the face, it was him. Seriously, this is worse than Gladiator (at least in that, it was Russel Crowe getting the whack). This is…Germanicus. Well…it’s King Arthur. Real tragedy. Damn.

Go pick up a copy. Read it. We can share in the cursing.