God: A Metaphor

I’ll give you a simple metaphor, that may help convey what I’m trying to say about sin.

I’ve spoken several times about our Infinite Decision. When we die, we will become Infinite Beings (not the frail temporal things we are now). We’ll still be US, we’ll still have the same soul, the same memories, the same disposition that we had in life, but we’ll have perspective and power like we have never known.

And we’ll have to use that perspective and power to decide, based on what we know, whether or not we want to go to Heaven, and submit to God for all time.

That decision is like a Final Exam. Yeah, Comprehensive. Naturally. And it accounts for 100% of your grade for the semester.

Our lifetime is the time given us to study for the final. Our entire lifetime is provided for us to learn what we need to know to pass that ultimate test.

Committing temporal sins (and by this I mean breaking commandments, lying, stealing, even murder) are the metaphorical equivalent of goofing off during that study time. Got it? Committing temporal sins is not, in any way, failing the test. You’re not even TAKING the test. There was a time when the rules were different — when your performance throughout the semester was factored into your grade too. That was a LOT of Fs, though. (Thus Jesus’ sacrifice, which changed the grading so only the Final counted against you.)

Your lifetime is the only chance you’ve got to study for the test. Some people will spend that whole time studying — and still fail the test, because they’ve studied the wrong things, or studied in the wrong way, or just don’t understand the teacher well enough to answer what he wants. Some people will goof off all semester, then cram the night before, and pass with aces. Most people will spend their whole semester wavering back and forth — sometimes attending class, sometimes skipping, sometimes doing their homework, occasionally studying — and then it’ll just depend how well they’ve learned which topics.

Let’s say the commandments are a study guide. Or even a practice test. It doesn’t matter HOW WELL YOU DO on a practice test, that grade doesn’t go in the book. Got it? Temporal acts don’t count toward your final grade, good or bad. What matters is, in the time you were given, did you learn the material?

Do you know how to be Infinitely Perfect? It’s not out of our reach. In fact, we’re born with it, and every layer we add to the world around us hides our own perfection from us. We have all the materials we need to strip away the layers, and see the truth in ourselves. We can’t see it anywhere else (not in this form, not really — we see as through a shadowy mirror), but we can find it in ourselves. We can be confident in our place in Heaven, but we have to learn to look for it, to think the way the teacher thinks. We have to stop having panic attacks about what our grade is going to be, and start really, really, deep-down LEARNING what life is all about. What God is all about. What Man is meant to be.

It matters. It’s the only grade that ever really will.

God: Jesus’ 6 Commandments

Okay, I’ve talked about sin in an abstract way, and repeated myself four times and am still getting the same questions, which means I haven’t been clear.

Also, a lot of my answers were, “This will have to wait until later,” so I’m going ahead with the later, now. I’m going to post two separate posts today, both with pretty much the same theme, but divided based on their scriptural foundations (also because they’re long).

The first is a passage that I’ve been meaning to put here every day for the past week and a half, because of how it applies to things I’ve already said. And, I mean, at least once a day I’d think, “AAARGH! How could I NOT have done that yet?!” style of thing.

In Matthew 5 (yeah, Sermon on the Mount territory), Jesus starts talking about sin, and commandments, and the Law. Jesus starts addressing some of the issues I’ve been talking about — the Godaccountant myth, the role of sin in our lives. He says, right out, that sin is not sin because of a wicked action, but because of the effect it has on who you are as a person — because when you think like a sinful person, you are constructing for yourself a sinful world, rather than a righteous one.

Let’s get right to it:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear [that is, in my opinion, until the distinction between the two disappear when constructed reality comes to an end], not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.”

By “the Law” I don’t think he’s talking about the laws of the Pharisees, because he goes on to say:

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

So he’s calling for a rightneousness above and beyond obedience. Toby and I were talking about this yesterday. Actually…Nicki and I were talking about it, too. By being obedient to a ruleset you can behave (like the Pharisees and teachers of the Law) without ever committing your heart to the underlying truths that MAKE those sins sinful, and those righteous acts righteous. This is what Jesus means when he says your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law — you must be righteous because you’d LEARNED to be a good person, not just because you’ve avoided doing bad things. Need some examples? Jesus provides.

“You have heard that is was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Later:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Well what kind of a chance does THAT leave us?

None, under the Godaccountant myth. But it makes perfect sense when you consider it from the point of view I was describing yesterday (in my comments to Nicki on a days old post). Here you have, in two instances, ultimate temporal sinful acts (murder and adultery), and Jesus is saying that the ACTIONS of the sins don’t matter because, long before you’ve committed them, you’ve already committed the real sin in your heart.

What I claimed yesterday was that, by his death, Jesus cleansed us (all humanity, even) from all the eternal consequences of our temporal acts.

(Temporal means “something bounded by time.” It’s a counterpart to infinite. It’s NOT just a typo on temporary, and doesn’t exactly mean the same thing. A life is temporal. The Roman empire was temporal. These things are not necessarily short-lived, except against the backdrop of eternity. Just…to clarify.)

Back to my point. We are already FOGIVEN for murdering anyone we murder. We are already forgiven, by the blood of Christ, for committing adultery. Those actions cannot commit us to Hell — we’ve been redeemed for once and all.

BUT, when we die, we will have to be the kind of person who can say, “Yes, God, I believe in the sanctity of all souls enough to peacefully coexist with ALL of the Saints, for all eternity.” If we have lived our lives, if we have built for ourselves a world in which our own selfishness causes us to take another person’s life, we are not preparing ourselves to be able to make that decision.

We’ll have to say, “Yes, God, I understand the purity of perfect love and the devotion to one love for one person above all others, so I am ready to be submitted and faithful to you for all eternity.” Monogamy is Unnatural. Commitment to one love above all others, for all time, is not a thing of this world. It’s PRACTICE, and practice we desperately need, because when we leave this world with its laws, we enter a new world with Laws that we cannot break, and one of those is utter, self-sacrificing devotion to God’s love. If we have lived our life indulging in our own desires, chasing after every love that can satisfy us, we will NOT be ready to accept God’s one love when the time comes.

It’s not a matter of committing a sin — it’s a matter of BEING a sinful person. A man could lust after a woman once, and delight in it so much, learn so little from the consequences, that he condemned himself to Hell at that moment. A man could spend his whole life chasing every woman he can get his hands on, acting in lewd and terrible ways, and if he realizes in the end that it’s all for nothing, if he really LEARNS that this lifestyle has nothing to offer him, but that there’s another one available (and if he’s learned enough of God’s providence elsewhere in his life to be able to faithfully accept it), then he has lived a good life, in that he prepared himself to accept Heaven.

It’s about Learning, not about doing good. It’s about preparing ourselves to be the kind of people who live in Heaven. That requires trials. That requires suffering. That requires abject misery at times, to truly understand why I can’t GET what I want — I have to take what God gives me, and just trust that that will be good enough.

I promised 6, didn’t I? Okay, you are all familiar with the sins passage in the Sermon on the Mount, and I HIGHLY encourage you to read it through, twice, before you put this post away for the day. I’ll summarize and commentate, though.

Of divorce, Jesus says that there is virtually no condition under which it is acceptable, because the very act of divorce is denying the viability of an eternal, self-sacrificing, dependent love (which is the primary relationship we are supposed to have with God). If you choose to divorce, you are practicing making the wrong decision in Infinity. Got it?

I’ve known people who refused to associate with willingly divorced people because of this passage. How so? Yes, Jesus calls it a sin, but he does this a paragraph after saying the same of being ANGRY WITH YOUR BROTHER! Come on! Jesus’ point is that we are all sinful, every day, and if we can’t learn to get BETTER through the experience, yes, we’re barring ourselves from Heaven, but committing temporal sins is not a punishable offense. That price has been paid. EVERYBODY’s going to fail, again and again and again — the system was set up for that!

On oaths, he says don’t swear to this extent or that extent, but let yes be yes and no, no. Again, because if you have to swear to the truth of something, you’re implying (and believing, and constructing in your reality) that the standard is untruth. If you begin by assuming most things most people say are lies (yourself included), then you are crippling your ability to interact with others, and giving yourself license to lie to others, which cripples the potential of the relationship. By lying, you deliberately keep a relationship from achieving the potential it could — a sin. By swearing an oath, you convince yourself that most of the things said are lies, which has the same effect. In other words, Jesus is establishing clearly that the sin is NOT what you do within this imaginary world, it’s the impact that your thoughts and actions have on who you are as a person.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

This is a very important one, because it’s answering the complaints that are bubbling in all your minds. “But that’s not FAIR!” I know, evil should be punished, and good should be rewarded. The fact of the matter is, we do not want Justice, we could not SURVIVE Justice and, thank God, we don’t ever have to face Justice (at least, not for our temporal actions). All of you that are thinking there HAS to be some punishment for our earthly deeds, are thinking eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. That’s sinful. That’s constructing for yourself a world in which human failure (an in-built trait in our corporal forms) goes unforgiven. You’re constructing a world in which God can’t forgive you for YOUR striking him — for YOUR demanding he go with you where he doesn’t want to go, for YOU taking what is rightfully his out of base selfishness — you are constructing a world where God cannot forgive you for being human.

GOD didn’t make a world like that — he went out of his way to make a world where we CAN be forgiven. Where all of our rebellions against him and demands of him result in him giving us MORE, and acting with more love toward us. If we create a world WITHOUT that potential for ourselves (and legalists do it ALL THE TIME), we are deliberately stripping ourselves of our single greatest potential — Grace. And that is a sin. So we should live as though we BELIEVE in a generous and forgiving universe, in spite of the human failure we have to face every day.

And the last of Jesus’ commandments here, which ends with the most perfect summary.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. [Build for yourself a world in which Love always makes sense. If you hate where it makes sense to hate, you are constructing a world that includes hate. If you love even when it makes sense to hate, you’re constructing a world entirely full of love, which is a much better one to live in, Carebears aside. Continuing:]

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collector’s doing that? [In other words, loving those who love you is only constructing a Naturalistic world — that is a temporally logical thing to do, it’s not a Good act, even though it’s not a bad one.] And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

And how many Sunday School teachers stumble over that last line? It’s not a poser. It’s not an impossible command. Because Jesus is calling us to make an Infinite decision. Physical bodies can’t even make that choice, so Jesus isn’t saying, “While you’re alive, do what God does.” He’s telling us to BE like God — again, something we can’t even do while we’re temporal. So we have a lifetime to perpare ourselves for that. We have a lifetime to learn from our mistakes (failing and failing and failing in our quest to BECOME perfect). The perfection will never happen in this world — it’s not supposed to. It’s not natural. When perfection comes, all else will have faded away. All that will be left, are the things we have learned about Faith, Hope, and Love. If you’ve learned enough of these three, you get to go home. Simple as that.

God: Verses

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Greatness: Metals

As I have said before, all of our constructed reality begins with a foundation of Real Truth — chaotic energy that gives strength to the forms we build. However, most of our reality is an abstracted reflection of an abstracted reflection of an abstracted reflection to such an extent that the underlying Thing is entirely obscured. Obfuscated, if you will.

You probably won’t. Fair enough.

There are, however, things in Nature that are still mostly pure, still relatively recognizable as their base Form. Metals, I think, are one of those things. Metals are nearly pure Truths manifest in our reality. It helps that, to begin with, they are a very human kind of Thing.

Consider how much the history of Man has been shaped by and dependent on metals.With food and air and water we survive, but with metals we conquer. Consider how long gold and silver have represented kings and gods, and how bronze and iron and steel have allowed us to build mighty nations and reshape our world.

Metals are chaotic energy made manifest. They are magic, barely leashed. They are also an excellent example of what I was talking about the other day, the way humanity responds to Real Truth in our world, and I hold them up as a standard for how we SHOULD respond to them.

Because we have “precious metals,” and we have “practical metals,” (although no one uses that expression). And each kind serves its own purposes, and each kind is extremely valuable to us.

Bronze, iron, steel are examples of utility, of us taking Real Truth and taming it to our purposes. They are tools (in a very real sense), that we place in submission and then use to shape our worlds.

Gold and silver are different, though. Oh, sure, they have their practical uses (and will have them, more and more, as we strive to MAKE them useful), but throughout history they’ve been honored for their majesty — for their shine and beauty. We may make a hammer out of steel, but we make a wedding band of gold. It’s something Different. It’s something Meaningful. We prize precious metals, not for their utility, but for their Significance. They captivate us and enchant us, and we recognize that and, for most of our history, we haven’t tried to bend them into the shapes of usefulness. We’ve placed steel helmets on our soldiers, and golden crowns on our kings, and recognized the deep-down, fundamental differences between the two.

God and Greatness: The Meaning of Life

I feel like I’ve lain enough of a foundation now that I can begin to draw some conclusions. If I’m wrong in this, let me know. I like a challenging comment as much as a supportive one (although I do like a little bit of cheer-leading from time to time, y’know, ‘cuz of the ego).

I’ve got some very contradictory ideas already stated, and Nicki’s called me on them (these particular ones I’m talking about, I mean), and I recognize the contradiction and that’s part of the reason I’m working on this blog. Getting everything spread out and written down makes it a lot easier for me to chase down those conflicting ideas.

Anyway, these particular ideas I’m talking about are the use of magic to construct worlds, the responsibility of Man to live up to his potential, and the inherent wickedness of trying to out-create God.

There’s another question which isn’t immediately related to those things, but which I’ll tie in. That’s this: why would a Christian, believing that Heaven is the ultimate goal of Man, believe that God would create earthly life? What’s the point of life, other than an opportunity for Man to fail, and get stuck in Hell?

It can’t be “to spread the word of God” because if God just skipped the Life phase, everyone would start out in his presence and not NEED to hear the word. It can’t be “to prove he’s worthy of living in Heaven” because we’re told from the start that we’re NOT.

I think it’s just this: Life is a chance for us to get it out of our system.

When transient beings make decisions, those decisions are transient. When infinite beings make decisions, those decisions are infinite. Not in duration, necessarily, but in significance.

We look at the fallen angels as our example. They lived in Paradise (real, whole, base Heaven), and decided that they wanted to rule over dominions of their own, and so they tore themselves away from True Reality to a place where they could make things of their own. And, to all appearances, they don’t get to go back. That’s the infinite decision there.

God created Man, then, with earthly bodies, so that we could test and retest and retest our ability to make a better world. You could even pretend he was being open-minded about it, figuring if we COULD make a better world than his, we deserved the right to it. There will be a lot of people who feel like they have, and they’ll commit their eternal selves to a temporally constructed world. Who knows — maybe they’ll get to have that world for their eternity. It’ll be Hell, in that it’ll be an eternity without God, but it might still be just what they built.

Life is an opportunity to discover, once and for all, that we can’t do it ourselves. To prepare us to accept God’s Heaven forever, once we actually see it. I think everyone is welcome in Heaven (I think the Bible says so clearly), but not everyone is prepared to accept it.

It is possible to live a life, from the beginning, entirely devoted to eternal Paradise. Jesus did. It is…extremely unlikely. It IS possible to learn your lesson early, and every time reality tempts you away from total dependence on God, to return there quickly, as you learn what’s going wrong. Look at Abraham and King David, and even King Solomon. Look what they were given, in this world, for their devotion to and dependence on God’s eternity. And look at Ecclesiastes for a very perfect description of what Life is all about. Life is about learning that everything outside of True Reality is meaningless. Sure it’s fun, sure it’s invigorating, but it’s flash and bang and gone — meaningless.

Most people, of course, don’t even manage the King David route. Some start out that way, but somehow end up tempted too much by their own pride (like Solomon). Some start out brash and bold and self-dependent, but find their way to Paradise-living late in life. Most of us, I think, come and go. Sometimes walking in the light, sometimes walking out of it, and always, always wishing we were walking in the light. Know what I mean?

I think at the end, we’ll all have access to Heaven. I don’t think, at the end, we’ll all have learned enough of our lesson to accept it, even then. Jesus will have redeemed many, many, by his example and his message and his death. People who wouldn’t have believed, or wouldn’t have believed strongly enough, without him, will be able to make the decision to be saved, because of him. Even so…when that time comes, there will be those who will have learned enough to contain their pride, and those who won’t.

Maybe we’ll all get accepted in at the moment of our death, and those who can’t take it will dwindle away over time. Maybe God, infinitely knowing, will cull out those failures before they come in (it matches more closely with the Bible telling, anyway). More likely, I think, we’ll make our own decision, as soon as we become infinite. As soon as we can see clearly, no longer limited by our temporal understanding, we will make an infinite decision. That’s not unfair — it’s the nature of the infinite. And in that moment we’ll decide whether we have learned to be dependent on God, living in Heaven for the rest of…ever, or if we’ve decided that it were better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.

So…live your life. That is God’s expectation of Man. Not to throw it away, constantly hoping for the next, but to spend our finite time learning all the lessons of trial and error necessary to prepare us to make good decisions, when the time comes. Or, rather, when time goes away.

What then? Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? By no means. Living your life fully doesn’t mean crippling yourself by indulging in every vice. It DOES mean understanding vices, and what makes them vices. It DOES mean trying things on your own…and learning that it’s just not as good. Life is a playground with sand under the jungle gym. Yeah, we’ll fall from time to time. It’s expected. It’s also protected. It hurts…temporally. It hurts, and then the hurt goes away, and we get to try again.

You don’t really get that in infinity.

So…yes, you’ll fail. Your job, your responsibility, is to learn from that failure, not to surrender to it.

Go, learn, grow. Live and live and live. Death is part of it, too. If there were no death, Life would just be a prison of meaninglessness. As it is, Death is our opportunity to step into the real. Will you?

Greatness: Solipsism

Okay, this is a tricky one, because I learned in philosophy class that it was pretty much true, and so I didn’t bother memorizing all the reasons. After all, it made perfect sense to ME. But I keep meeting people who don’t get it.

Well, okay, good point. I don’t ever meet people. BUT I am constantly surprised to rediscover that of the little group of five people I DO know, only two of them will even give me the benefit of the doubt on this one.

So I’ll try to lay a foundation.

I titled this bit “solipsism,” because (if I’m remembering my terminology correctly), that’s the description of the ultimate logical result of the issues I’m going to discuss. It’s also considered, in terms of philosophical conversation, catastrophically bad. But, the thing is, it can’t be helped.

Solipsism, in brief, is where you discover through your philosophy that you cannot meaningfully account for anything other than your own self, and only that on the very basest level. A philosophy that collapses to solipsism is considered a failure, if I understand correctly. Mine does. Kinda.

Anyway, whatever, I don’t have any problem with solipsism. As I say, it makes sense to me. Descartes was starting with solipsism (not ending with it, which is the catastrophic failure bit), when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” It’s oft-quoted and, as a direct result, quite completely overlooked. The point of that essay was Descartes’s effort to find some absolutely solid foundation upon which to build his understanding of the universe.

Perhaps I should start there. What foundation could you use? The standard, most rational human foundation is human sensory experience. That which you can see with your own eyes, measure with reliable instruments…that is a reliable foundation.

But what of dreams, so vivid they seem real? What about hypnotic visions, or plain ol’ hallucinations. Everyone knows that the senses can, under some circumstances, provide entirely realistic impressions quite contrary to what everyone knows to be the truth. Consider advanced psychosis, like in A Beautiful Mind. Your mind can quietly people your world with sensations, experiences, even identities entirely of your own concoction, and the only apparatus you have by which to test these hallucinations against reality is, in fact, the same set of faculties generating the phantasms.

Consider in the world of the Matrix, where sensations are pumped directly into a person’s brain. It’s a theoretically realistic principle. I remember in our philosophy class we referred to that as the Brain in a Vat problem. If you were merely a brain, suspended in a complex chamber designed to keep you functioning and pumping you with the exact same electrical impulses you’d receive from your various nerves if you were alive…how would you know?

Solipsism. You can’t. Our only measure of reality is our nervous system, which we know to be subject to failure. And that leads to…nothing. That’s the PROBLEM with solipsism. You can kinda argue ANYONE to a standstill there, but you can’t do anything with it.

It makes perfect sense, to me, though. It perfectly describes what sounds most like reality to me. Men are, at essence, nothing more than motive will. We are nothing more than a Mind, constructing for ourselves bodies, worlds, experiences. That we consistently create similar enough structures that we can patch them together via language — well, that makes sense, given that we were all of us designed according to the same model, and given function through the power of the Word.

There I’m talking about Logos, not biblos. Y’know, for the Bible Majors out there.

(There’s another philosophical puzzle that goes along with the Brain in a Vat problem, and that’s the question of what physical bits make you you. If you cut off your arm, and replaced it with a prosthetic arm, would you still be you? What if you replaced your leg? Your kidneys? Your heart? The question is…where does your soul reside? I think everyone ends up guessing brain, because we’ve never heard of a successful brain transplant. That seems easy to me. I don’t know where I was going with this paragraph, but I’m kinda hoping Toby will jump to my aid here, because I know he’s fond of this puzzle. How exactly does it go?)

Anyway! Back to Descartes. Before we had The Matrix or A Beautiful Mind to pose the big questions of what can we rely on, Descartes was already working on it. He said, basically, that because there is a conscious will somewhere able to think “I think,” it must exist, and because I’m aware of that happening, the “I” must, necessarily, be me, so I can start out with complete faith that I am an extant consciousness. Congratulations. He’s reasoned his way all the way up to Brain in a Vat.

He builds from that, all the way up to a complete apology for contemporary assumptions of rational science. Oh, sure, there are huge logical leaps along the way, and you can’t really take many of his conclusions for granted, but you can easily admire his recognition of the problem, and his beginnings to answer.

There’s another bit in Descartes that I just love. It’s not new to him, but he did a good job with it. He posits (yeah, Kris, I said it again — that’s exactly the right word) posits, in fact, the Categorical Imperative. Wait…is that right? Or is Categorical Imperative something the Ferengi demand of the Bothans? I dunno. I THINK I’ve got my phrase right. Anyway, Dan can correct me here, because this is one of HIS favorite bits. It is, essentially, a philosophical rewording of the Golden Rule (which, yeah, appears in several cultures apart from Jesus’ teachings anyway).

But Descartes says, essentially, the only thing we can confidently believe in is the existence of people. Moreover, all people are equally absolute agents in a sea of uncertainty, and so there is a certain Human Greatness inherent to all Men which must be respected. So don’t do anything to deny or defy the greatness of others. Don’t keep them from achieving their potential. Of course, it goes without saying you shouldn’t limit your own potential, either.

Any of this sound familiar? Ugh. It’s too late, and I’m too tired to draw all the conclusions, but it should be quite apparent — throughout this article I’ve been describing the problems, the questions that first led me to some of the foundational stuff I’ve been talking about for the last week. If you’re curious (or unclear) what I meant by any particular thing herein, ask explicitly and I’ll clarify tomorrow. Until then, be glad you’re alive. I am.

God story

Remember that scene in the Old Testament, where Elijah is running from the agents of Jezebel, and he’s hiding in a cave, and God comes to talk to him to tell him he’s being a coward?

That’s the whole story, right there. That’s all we needed. It could’ve been a vision from God, it could’ve been an inspiration in Elijah’s heart, it could’ve been anything to get him moving again. We didn’t even need to know WHAT started him back out into the world.

But the story goes into entirely excessive detail, which is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. God comes to speak to Elijah, and you kinda get the impression the prophet is expecting it. So first there’s a terrible earthquake, and the whole mountain shakes from the power of it, but God isn’t in the earthquake. Then there’s…oh, a whole procession of mighty, thunderous things, none of them are God. And then there’s a quiet whisper, a gentle voice telling Elijah what he needs to hear. And that’s God.

Remember that passage? If so, isn’t that an awesome story?

If not…go find it. I don’t know exactly where, and the search will do you as much good as the destination, anyway. Go find that story, and read it. It’s awesome.

Greatness: Real Truth

So far I’ve used this term a little loosely, but relied on the capitols to convey my meaning. Let me attempt to clarify a little.

When I say “reality,” I don’t mean it. I mean what we THINK of as reality or, in other words, the whole constructed universe. In other words, I’m using YOUR definition of reality.

When I say Real Truth, I’m talking about the opposite thing. That basic essence which is unconstructed, the God-breathed foundation on which our ephemeral fantasy is built.

Everything in our reality is a pale reflection of some Real Truth, although generally so distrorted as to be unrecognizable. Here’s why:

We expect the world to make sense.

On a basic level, there’s no good reason to expect this. The Rationalists reasoned that God had made Man greater than all the rest of Creation by giving him Reason, and therefore it only made sense that a loving God would cause the rest of Creation to be inherently reasonable.

God never promised that, though. And, until the Rationalists, Reason wasn’t really all that prized by Man, so even that expectation is a fairly new one. Naturally, all of modern Western Science is BUILT upon that assumption (which originated in the Catholic church, naturally), and we worship modern Western Science, so we tend to make the same assumption.

However, Science without God must admit that there’s no good reason to expect the universe to be reasonable and ordered and, moreover, God himself never promised it would be. In fact, nature is, itself, plenty testamental to the fact that it ain’t. For this simple reason: things don’t start out ordered and reasonable, they have to be made that way by Science.

Now, in my effort to clarify Real Truth, I’m obfuscating Science a little, and I apologize for that. Science is, essentially, the codification of Social Constructionism. Outside of Science, Social Constructionism just happens. Within the Scientific community, however, it is pursued as a constant, all-out crusade.

No, Nicki, I’m not talking about Science as a political agenda. Yet. I’m just saying, the very principles that are foundational to Science also generate a constant, dramatic and altogether proactive Social Constructionism, whereas most Constructionism through the course of history has been reactive.

Real Truth is fickle, chaotic, inscrutable. Real Truth is far greater than physical existence, than our temporal shells. You can imagine it as a hundred-dimensional entity that we are trying to observe from our three (or four, or five, or whatever you want to call it). What we glimpse of Real Truth makes no sense to us, and leaves us feeling uneasy.

So we call it a Thunder God or a Phoenix or a dragon. Real Truth is chaos within our ordered world, and irritates us so, as Creators in our own right, we begin trying to make sense out of the chaos. We react to Real Truth in exactly the way a clam (oyster? whatever) reacts to a mote of sand — we begin wrapping it in layers to make it easier to deal with.

Our first step is to give it a name. Remember what I said yesterday about Symbols? A name is the first Symbol of a thing. We name it, and use that name to try to understand it. Not only that, but to share our understanding of it with others. Once we have named the thing, we begin the process of taming it. We construct little realities which can contain it, and see how it behaves within them. With each test, we drape a new layer of understanding over it (the Thing behaves like this, and THAT makes sense, so we’ll consider the Thing normal). Once we’ve reasoned away a sufficient amount of the Thing, we can accept the minor irritations of its quirks, until it finally settles quietly into our reality.

Electricity is like this today. Electricity is an excellent example of a Real Thing, because it still has some vestiges thereof. Scientists feel like they have a pretty good grasp of what electricity is and how it works (they’ve mostly tamed it), and so for the most part we consider it normal. It’s definitely got its quirks, though. Sometimes, against all reason, it will misbehave. And, of course, its great-granddaddy — Lightning — is still more mystery than not.

As recently as a hundred years ago, I think, you could argue the same thing about Heat. And human blood. As little as two hundred years ago it could have been dragons.

Our world is an ocean of mother-of-pearl. Our world a massive, extremely complex facade that we have built to make the thin threads of Real Truth fit into a reasonable pattern. It is ASTONISHING how well Science works, how well the pieces fit together to be SO accessible to the human mind — until, of course, you consider that perhaps the human mind built the structure it’s seeking to understand.

I think we rob Real Truth of some of its potency with each layer we drape over it. Then again, we make it something we can use. Consider how Man trembled at Thor’s thunder, and the significance it bore in his world whenever it flew. Then, it was not just a dangerous thing, it MATTERED.

That’s not true anymore. There are some people who still give it strength, but we’ve made thunder safer by naming it and beginning to describe it — we’ve robbed it of its moral significance but we’ve learned from it and made electricity of our own, which serves our purposes instead of us serving its.

We take the big “F” out of Prometheus’s Fire, that lit the darkness and gave Man the power to rival the Gods, and turn it into little fire, which can be used to temper steel and from tools and weapons and make everyday life a little bit easier. That is what we do to Real Truth whenever we find it — we tame it, bury its essence beneath layers of utility, and use it to make our Constructed lives easier.

That’s what I mean when I say Science is a magic — it’s the last magic. It has tamed every beast, it has conquered every land. There are still threads of Real Truth out there — quarks, strings, even fusion — and new ones will constantly appear. But we’ve given up on prophets and soothsayers, on Oracles and story-tellers to examine the Real Truth and give us something Meaningful for our lives. Instead, we immediately rush it off to the Scientists and ask them to make something useful out of it.

That gets me down. More than being a tech writer, more than 18 months straight of writer’s block, more than the children hurting and dying in Dan’s sad Number 5 — more than anything else, I hurt for our constant, overwhelming desire to understand, rather than to be amazed.

Greatness: The Forms of Magic

There are various kinds of magic. Essentially, it is just this: changing the world to suit your desire. It can be done gradually with tools, and then is considered no kind of magic at all, but just “doing stuff.”

As I said before, sorcery or bulldozers. It’s all the same, really.

I would try to define it differently, but really there’s nothing other than “not by normal means” that will do. I can add that in — “changing your world, not by normal means, to suit your desire.”

Expectation:
The simplest method is expectation — expect the future to be more suited to you than the present, and wait for that to come true. It allows for failures in faith because, instead of being one instantaneous flash forcing a change to reality, it’s more of a constant nagging, incessantly requesting a little something and reality, eventually, will give way.

You see expectation in many religions, as well as the “Power of Positive Thinking” guys, and it has been sanctified by the Scientologists. I believe in the power of scientology, because it’s nothing other than optimistic expectation (with some symbolism to power it). At least, from what little I know about it.

Symbolism:
Not far behind expectation is symbolism. It is a very common kind of magic, and absolutely central to the idea of Social Constructionism. Symbolism uses an easily manipulable symbol (concrete or abstract) to reference a less manipulable object (concrete or abstract). Once a sufficient similarity has been established between symbol and object, manipulating one affects the other.

The ultimate example of this is language itself. We use word-symbols to reference reality and, by changing and using names, we are able to alter reality. I’m doing it right now, and every one of you is under my spell (at least for a moment, until you manipulate your own word-symbols right back into the shape you want them).

I highly recommend symbolism — it’s the story-teller’s main craft. The purpose of myths, archetypes, and legends is to provide a single symbol for a highly abstact (but highly significant) concept. By saying, “Man can be this” and putting forth Odysseus or King David or, yeah, Jesus, you can then use the symbol in direct details in ways you couldn’t trying to describe all the vast kinds of Man.

(Yeah, that’s why I capitolize it, I’m doing that very thing.)

One of the most commonly-used and absolutely dreadful kinds of magic is the symbolism of self-image. We have this idea that “I am this” and “I am this bad” and “I have these weaknesses,” and we create an entirely imaginary symbol that we call “I” — and let me tell you, self-image is a LOT more manipulable than an actual person — and we twist it and turn it and, over time, become as people more and more like the symbol.

There’s a good counterpart to the same thing, naturally. We just don’t use it NEAR enough….

Conjuring:
I’m not positive on this, but I’m fairly confident Man is not the only creature capable of manipulating the void. I don’t know whether I draw this from the Bible, or just from Milton, but it seems like Satan and all his demons have the same faculty. I imagine the demons are those angels, Heavenly beings with the capacity to shape reality but not the ability (because there is nothing intangible in Heaven, all of it is Real Truth, all of it is Established), and so they abandoned Heaven, in their pride, for the opportunity to muck about.

I don’t imagine they’re any more powerful than we are. Probably less so. But they’re also mostly Outside — they have SEEN Real Truth, so they have no trouble recognizing how very much of reality is entirely insubstantial. So they have an easier time of it.

And that gives them the illusion of great power, superhuman strength, and so throughout time people have turned to demons (faeries, what have you), asking them to change the world for US. And that is the same as sacrificing your authority over reality in order to have one, for the moment, more like what you want. You’re stepping OUT of your constructed world, into theirs. A dangerous place to be.

Wizardry:
This is probably closer to what you think of as magic. It’s a systematic manipulation of reality based on a pre-defined Symbol structure. I really like the classical elements (Earth, Fire, Air, Water), so I’ll use it as an example. Wizardry describes all of reality as a combination of these symbol-pieces and suggests that if you manipulate just the BASE pieces, everything else will fall into place.

You can add to the Air in a bird, and it will fly higher, or add to its Earth and it will drop like a stone.

Eventually, Wizardry becomes basically mathematical, at which point it becomes kinda boring. And, yeah, you guessed it, I’d refer to all of modern Science as precisely this.

Sorcery:
Sorcery is really just something I like to imagine for my novels. I can’t really conceive of it existing. Sorcery is the manipulation of Real Things. Changing or controlling the base energies and powers that are reflected in our Constructed realities. Sure, God could do it, but he’s got no reason to. Even if there were sorcery, it would still only allow for manipulation of Real Things, whereas God holds the power to CREATE them, giving him still the trump card.

That said…I haven’t gotten NEARLY far enough in this conversation for you (or even me) to clearly picture what a Real Thing might be like, or how it could be manipulated (other than manipulating its reflection, which is just normal, everyday magic).

God and Greatness: Jesus, Miracles, and Social Constructionism

I very nearly wrote this as a comment on my previous post, but decided it was important enough to merit a post of its own.

It’s important to note that all of my thoughts on God and Greatness, as expressed throughout this blog, began sometime in high school (yes, BEFORE the Matrix), while considering the words of Jesus.

It began at the passage about the mountain and the mustard seed.

Jesus said, “If you tell this mountain, ‘Go and throw yourself into the sea,’ and you have even the faith of a mustard seed, it will do it.” That made a lot of sense to me. Didn’t God, in Genesis, give Man dominion over all the earth? Didn’t Jesus call us all Sons of God? Jesus did miracles. Moses did miracles, too. And Elijah, and David, even, if you want to look at it like that….

After all, isn’t that the point of prayer? That you can, by asking, get a miracle happened? That’s like performing one, no?

Well, that’s how we’re taught the passage. If you ask God for something, and have faith in Him (and if you’re a faithful enough person that what you want meshes with God’s will), it will happen. God will answer your prayer, and move the mountain.

That is…that is not at ALL what Jesus says. It’s not even CLOSE to what he tells his followers.

And reading through his actions, the miraculous things he does, you see two sorts: there are those things he asks God for–and God grants them instantly–and then there are those things that he commands. He commands the injured to be healed, and they are. He commands the fish to have his tax payment in its mouth, and Peter goes and finds it true. He commands the fig tree to whither, because it displeased him. And he tells his followers, “If you command a mountain to move, it will.” And the story of the Bible gives us NO REASON to try to explain that away, as anything other than literal, direct truth.

That’s my basis. There are things that Jesus does as the Son of God. Then again, there are things he does as the Son of Man, and it’s not for no reason that he is called both. Yeah, I did it on purpose to make you read the sentence twice. Paul calls us co-heirs with Christ. Jesus, in the passage with the tax-paying fish, called Peter (and–as I’m not Catholic, I’ll say this–and by extension, all his other followers) equally sons of the king.

This feeds into the Don’t Worry speech in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “When the one greater than the Temple comes, what does the Temple matter? Eh?” Reality was made for us, not the other way around. Mountains don’t MATTER. Water doesn’t MATTER. Jesus walked across the surface of the sea, defying reality, but when it comes right down to it, the sea is just a THING. Jesus is the son of God.

And we are too. That was most of his point.

Reality is just a dream we’ve constructed. We, on the other hand, are True Things. We are from a place greater than this, we can reorder EVERYTHING around us because we gave it the order in the first place.

It fits with everything else you’ll read in the Bible. It fits with everything Jesus said. This is not just a sojourn, it’s a fantasy. We have a responsibility to learn from it, to grow in this temporary soil, but it’s not Real. It doesn’t MATTER.

When you look at it like that, miracles are easy. Magic is easy. But, then again, isn’t magic evil? No. I’ll say that immediately and without reservation, no. I’ll go on to say, you shouldn’t do it, but that’s another issue entirely.

Tools are not evil. Power is not evil. What Man does with it…that can be good, or it can be evil, but a capacity for change is not, in itself, morally aligned. Reordering reality can be used to improve people, or to destroy them. That’s true whether you’re using Social Constructionism or bulldozers. Same thing.

That said…I already answered this in yesterday’s post, and Nicki brought it up specifically in her comment. When we attempt to Construct a reality to suit our needs, we tend to build something other than the Paradise God provided. It’s possible to be making something closer to it than the world at large (happy families do it all the time), and that’s a good thing, ain’it, but the most powerful wizard couldn’t match the happiness, or goodness, of a truly submitted Christian.

Hmm. Thoughts. Let me know your reactions.