Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ahem! Freedom... now where was I??

I was headed somewhere, with my post about freedom...  and as discussions often do, the thing has taken quite a different direction, and a life of its own!

The conversation about what freedom really is (and whether we are free agents at all) has been fascinating, & is still going on - so feel free to jump in, if it interests you.

The interesting thing to me, whether you view "freedom" as merely being unhindered in following your own biology, or something more transcendent, is that we all DO value it.  Take away your "right" to choose who you will marry (if you are a westerner), where you will live, what career path you will take...  and there will be protests!

Imagine a world where an external authority dictates what you will wear, the style and colour scheme of your house and car, the food rations you may receive...  It would be impossible to maintain.  People would continue to find new and inventive ways of expressing individuality and pushing for freedom, and ultimately it would lead to revolution.  We've seen it happen!

Even the very fact that we study the limitations of our own biology can be seen as a quest for freedom.  We want to understand ourselves so that we can transcend our limitations.  Some of this is common sense.  Medicine allows us to overcome all kinds of natural limitations.  Cognitive psychology has taught us that we can overcome dysfunctional behaviour patterns once we gain insight into them.  However, WE seek, in various ways, to shape, and in some ways overcome, OURSELVES.  Does this not seem paradoxical to you?  Even Antonio Demasio, a neuroscientist concerned with understanding the physiological basis of the "self", mentions the possibility of "transcendence".  By this, I think he means overcoming biological constraints, and enabling ourselves to be truly "free agents".

So... Now I'm going to take a more ideological/theological turn with all this.  One of the biggest reasons that I have continued as a Christian, is that the more I look into the Biblical narrative, the more I see it as a narrative of freedom.  The problem of freedom is addressed deeply, and finds a solution there that, to me, is very satisfying.

What on earth am I talking about?  Well, freedom is problematic.  We want it.  But it hurts us.  Choices have consequences - and not always pleasant ones.  And think about it... in order for you to be free to make a positive choice, there must be negative options available.  Sticky!!

Our drive for freedom means the perfect world that so many of us long for, where there is no pain, no war, no nastiness...  would not be perfect at all.  Because the only way to simply eliminate these things, is to eliminate freedom.  I've noticed this theme in a few movies... in the original Matrix, it is explained that humans refused to accept a perfect virtual world, so in order to maintain their submission, the machines create a virtual world much like our own - complete with violence and disaster.  Problem solved. 

I had a great discussion with my friend Andrew - who is a practicing Buddhist, also along these lines.  Think about it... without pain, we would not understand joy.  Without the possibility of evil, how can we choose good?  Demasio quotes Scott Fitzgerald as saying "he who invented consciousness would have a lot to be blamed for" - but adds that consciousness (which gives us our ability to choose) allows us to experience pain, but also joy, difficulties, but also love and creativity.

So we have a desire for a world without pain, but an innate drive to seek freedom.  And this creates a problem for us.  It would seem that we cannot have both at the same time.  Or can we?

Forget, for a moment, (if you can) your preconceived notions of the Bible narrative, because I want to examine it from a different perspective - that of freedom. 

At the beginning of our narrative, a perfect world is disrupted by... choice!  Humanity chooses to eat from (think about this!) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Sound like what we've been talking about? 

The consequences are dire.  They bring us, essentially, to where we find ourselves now; a world where we are free to choose, and to experience both good and bad.  We have the gift of conscious minds.  We have the ability to shape and direct ourselves to a very great degree.  We can create.  We can experience love and joy.  However death, famine, war, tragedy, selfishness and greed all make their mark - very largely because of our ability to choose.

However the narrative turns this problem sideways, in a sense.  Whilst the rule of law provides some limits and balance to freedom, it is in itself harsh, restrictive, and a source of pain.  The story that Christians know as the "Gospel" cuts through the whole conundrum in a completely liberating way.  It does not restrict consciousness and freedom.  In fact, it extends these further, by insisting that our consciousness expand to include not only ourselves, but the "other".  It insists on relationship, on knowing ourselves through the eyes of others, and knowing and valuing others as much as we know and value ourselves.  In short - it. insists. on. love.  And not just fuzzy-feel-good love, that includes your dear friends and people you like to be around.  It insists on love that is big enough to include those outside your circle of comfort - even your enemies. 

What happens when we become aware of the thoughts and feelings of another, and begin to value them?  Our motivations change.  We find ourselves listening.  We find ourselves reconsidering things.  And we find ourselves choosing freely, in a way that brings peace and reconciliation.

Does this sound like an answer to the problem of freedom?  I think it does!

Image Credit:


  1. Oh, well done!

    Give me a day or so to chew on this and I'll post a few thoughts. I like it! I like it.

  2. :D You are such a cool blogging friend to have, Ethan!! xx

  3. I've often questioned my Christian friends on what implications their view of freedom has on their understanding of Heaven and the afterlife. Will their freedom cease to exist? For that matter, is their God free?

    Personally, I am from the freedom is an illusion school of thought. We are all prisoners of our genes and environment. We are ever-changing and evolving as humans, but never able to transcend the limits of our individuality. Just my way of thinking about it.

  4. Hey, Doug... I guess I'm one of the "transformation now" brigade - I think we begin to move into a transformed way of living and relating right now - so I don't find it necessary to focus on what the afterlife will be like, though I think it will be a natural extension of the direction we are already moving in. Perhaps without the biological constraints? Seems to me it ought to be a consummation of the union of "freedom and love" begun now. But that's just my thoughts off the top of my head... It isn't something I've studied or thought about in any detail.

    As far as "is God free?" Interesting question. In the sense of "having no constraints", I guess he must be... He is always fully free to be exactly who/what he wants to be. Yet because he is always true to his own nature - you could argue that is in fact a constraint, though I don't think it is. Getting too deep for me!!!!

    Does the thought that you cannot ever transcend the limits of who you are discourage you, or do you find inspiration in fully expressing your own individuality?

  5. Hi Kerry, thoughtful and challenging.
    I think learning and education are paths to transcendence, it allows us to adapt quicker to an ever changing environment, than our genes which take generations to adapt. (The environment is NOT static).

    While you claim Kerry, and many Christians also claim, that the bible and Christianity is a path to freedom, I can also point out people to whom the Bible and Christianity are a path to bondage. Nietzsche claimed that Christianity is a religion of slaves and slavery. Further a disciple accepts discipline, from a master, a teacher, and St. Paul requests followers to be bond slaves.

    I can accept that one can find a freedom or liberation in Christianity, if they devote themselves to love. However are you prepared to say "I think you're wrong, Jesus". Or when Jesus says something in the bible you find hard to deal with, can you say to your spiritual master, "You were wrong here".?

    Is it possible for you to think that Judas was only doing God's wok in the grand scheme of things? Are you prepared give Lucifer/Satan the benefit of the doubt, especially if you dont know, like the rest of, all sides of the story with regard to his fall from heaven?

    Are you prepared to accept that the Gospels etc contained within the protestant and catholic versions of the bible, have been the result of centuries of censorship?

    How far will your freedom go? Can you deny God, say that he does not exist, but then change your mind? Redefine him or her in and out of shape? Can you deny the holy spirit - are you that free?

    What's the extent of your Christian Freedom - or does it have boundaries, rules, containment of thought?

    What do you think?

    1. As a Christian, I'm free to do all of the things you've described.

      Are you free to jump off a bridge because your conscience tells you to? Sure. Would you (in a sane frame of mind)? Probably not.

      What if science eventually fails you? Are you free to reject what you've learned from it?

      Sure, it appears we are restricted to NOT to many of the things you listed, but if we're going by such standards, everyone is in bondage because they don't choose every choice ever given to them.

    2. Hi Stu,

      I don't believe that Christian freedom has boundaries at all. That's what makes it so radical. (other christians might jump in and call me a heretic, here) I think the only "limitation", if you want to call it that, is that such freedom *only truly exists in love*.

      When you step outside of that, you become what Paul called "slave to sin", and perhaps that equates with being biologically determined, in a sense... though that is a thought out of left field and off the top of my own crazy head.

      Back to your question - yes, free to deny God. Free to make up as many religious notions about him as I like. Doesn't make them true though, or even healthy. I think one of the central scandals of the Christian story is encapsulated in a phrase I stumbled on in Paul Young's book, "The Shack", where he says that "God submits to us". At the stage where I read that, it struck me as almost blasphemous... but on reflection I think it is true. God does not change, what is true does not alter. However he only enters our world as we allow him. If we hold him at arms length, he does not invade. If we are not ready to face a certain reality, he does not force us. In a radical sense, he has chosen to enter into relationship with us *on our terms*. And in that sense, he has given us genuine freedom. It takes GOD, to do that!!

    3. On Nietsche, interesting you should mention him! I've been reading about him recently. I gather (and I am still looking into this, so could be quite wrong) that he was anti-religion, but not necessarily anti-God. In that sense, I think he and I would have a lot of common ground. I do think that *we* have fashioned "Christianity" into "a religion of slaves and slavery" - but if you go back to the event that started it all, it was an event that in effect destroyed religion - so the religion we have created is, in so many ways, a subversion of what Christ accomplished.

    4. Hello Adrian.
      If, as a Christian, you are free to do everything I described, why do you equate it with jumping off a cliff? You're scared to death of what god would do to you?
      I am sceptical of science Adrian on the one hand it produces great medicine, on the other it invents better and better killing machines of war.

  6. I also reiterate, choice is informed by what we have learned and how we have been educated.

    1. No-one's disagreeing with you there. I think even St. Paul was on your side "be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds..." or words to that effect ;)

  7. Thoughts on Genesis. why is it that westerners think that their favorite creation mythology, is superior to everyone elses creation mythology?

    Because they think their definition of the divine is superior to everyone else's definition of the divine. I feel it is based on, at best, a sense of exclusivity and at worst a kind of racism. I think it is chauvinistic to say to a tribe or another set of people... Here let us replace your sacred myths, with our superior myth.

    We lost so many good stories, poetry and mythology informing cosmology, when Christianity crushed the life out of the native European myths like the Norse or CElts. We crushed languages and cultures and stories and poems when we replaced aboriginal sacred stories, with our brand of sacred story. They are now lost to us all gone forever, extinct. Is that what Christian freedom means?

    The right to crush other people's culture?

    1. Why is it that anyone thinks their world-view is the correct one??

      I think it is reasonable to assume, that if "the divine" (as in, the ultimate reality that underlies everything) exists as an entity, in some sense (as Christianity attests) and that entity is caring towards creation and desires to communicate... that all mythologies would contain traces of him/her. I would go further and say that every life of every person on earth contains this.

      I think most modern Christians (though not all) would agree that many so-called "missionary efforts" in the past were effectively propagating Western culture, not the knowledge of God, or at best a mixture of the two. There is no excuse for the crushing of cultures, and I do not believe knowledge of God requires it.

      As far as the Bible narrative goes, I see the idea of "outsiders" being embraced as brothers as a central theme. Look at the geneology of Jesus as an example... foreigners, prostitutes, all kinds of very UN-Jewish lineage! So yes, the Jews became , and many Christians have become "exclusive" and feel that they are superior - however the Christian story cuts across this in a way that is quite shocking, when you think about it. I love that very scandal!!!

    2. The Christian story isn't unique among mythologies. Other god beings have been born to virgins. Osiris was the god of ressurection.

    3. I think many atrocities have been done in the name of Christianity (not least of which is the destruction of cultures) that were in no way Christian.
      Jesus said "Do not think I have come to abolish the Law. I have come to fulfil the law and the prophets."
      These words in context apply to the heart of Jewish culture. But the thing about it is that the application can also apply to any culture. Truly understood, what Jesus taught fulfils all cultural teachings and traditions. The thing is that for that to happen an understanding of a particular culture must exist. This doesn't happen when one culture is imposed on another.
      Christianity is a religion of humility although many who claim it as theirs have acted arrogantly. When a culture is experienced sensitively and humbly by Christians then it is possible to discern how Jesus and his message fulfils that culture just as they do the Jewish culture.

    4. Rachel!! You're back!!!

      & I love your thoughts, here - Yes. I believe that something absolutely seminal to ALL of humanity was achieved, through Jesus' death and resurrection. When we codify it into religious forms, we completely misunderstand and misrepresent this. (and the closer we look, the more these "forms" will break!)

    5. I have severe doubts of the ressurection, therefore, that part of the Christian story is not so radical. The Gnostics had a different view, an Mary magdalene who was reported to see Christ out of the tomb, wrote completely different in her gospel. Her gospel was excluded from the bible because it didnt fit the apostles narrow view of the world.
      No single persons world view is the one correct one Kerry, this is what post modernism has taught. However the only way that we can construct a rational world view is when we agree on facts.

      This is why science is so important, because it is based on what we can empirically determine and agree upon. we cannot empirically determine that Christ rose from the dead, their is scant and contradictory history, and it is a matter of faith, not reason, to believe that he rose from the dead.

      Zthis is different to science which started out gathering facts, and building up a picture of reality with small steps, upon which people can agree. facts as tiny as understanding how a land snail breathes, which is more important than what st Paul thought of homosexuals.

  8. Could your Christian freedom Kerry consider that lucifer, the star of the morning, the light bearer, is the one true god and that Jehovah YHWH is to be deposed?

    1. Hooley dooley, Stuart!! I can consider anything - but in the end, even "Lucifer" and "Yaweh" are just names, and it becomes a semantic game! If we follow love, and love guides us... I think we are moving into life and freedom.

    2. We can follow love, with love guiding us, into life and freedom, an we don't need to bring any superstitious notions of god with us.

    3. I want to say a huge AMEN to that - I think most of the content of all religions (Christianity well and truly included) is superstition. Don't misunderstand me, though - I see God as the source of love, life and freedom. :)

  9. Kerry,

    That is an interesting question you ask me. But I don't know what my limits are. So how could I be discouraged? It's not over until my heart stops. And I do think everyone might be happier if they concentrated on being the best they can be rather than placing others on pedestals and trying to be like them.

    1. I'm with you there, Doug! :)

    2. Even if you're placing Jesus on a pedestal Kerry?

    3. Hehe - I realised after I posted that I had completely missed your inference! (I'm a little "slow" sometimes :)

      Funny, but it seems to me that Jesus didn't put *himself* on a pedestal - rather, came to our level and related genuinely and humbly. I do see those as qualities to emulate, but not in a "hero worship" kind of way... (I don't think) Don't you ever see qualities you admire in other people?

      In ordinary life, "Putting someone on a pedestal" implies you are worshipping an idea of someone, rather than the reality - The real "them" is not part of the equation - you are simply using them to represent something in your own fantasy life. Getting to know someone and relating to them genuinely and honestly is quite a different thing.

      Now I can hear the protests as I write this, but if "following Jesus" is a matter of approaching things honestly, being transparent and real, and getting *past* religious observance and ritual, to something that is a present, lived reality... (which I think it is)then somehow, to me, that analogy does not really fit.

    4. To place someonee or something on a pedestal means one thing to me, worship. Jesus had some interesting things to say, but it isn't the final word on human wisdom. To me, Jesus existed historically, but, he was a human, he had to eat, drink, go to the toilet and had sexual urges, like we all do.

      the bible is not the sole source of wisdom, and as tildeb will happily point out, it does have errors and inconsistencies. Why restrict yourself to the bible as the only sacred text? There is so so so much more out there to discover,

  10. Kerry, I don't understand this word you use: freedom.... freedom meaning choice, freedom meaning free of all constraints and limitations, freedom meaning expressing individuality, freedom meaning overcoming, freedom meaning transcendence (dare I even ask?), and then wending your way into suggesting that we can extend freedom by investing belief in (and submitting to) a divine but loving authority. I find this use of multiple meanings rather confusing when you start off by suggesting freedom in and of itself is a virtue worthy of value, which is why we seek it. You also talk of it as a drive. Something somewhere is askew here.

    Genesis is a creation myth. It has been perverted to represent a basackwards 'explanation' for why Jesus had to die. But the order is wrong. The creation myth stood for thousands of years to express - like all myths - a basic human truth... long before a guy named Jesus came along to magically alter the meaning of it. Historically, we know Jesus has nothing whatsoever to do with interpreting Genesis.

    So if you want to hear the personalized message of Genesis, remove any and all vestiges of the christian interpretation. What do you have?

    Well, you all the signposts of a myth, meaning symbols. How do we know they are symbols rather than historical items? Because they are supernatural. If you want to glean the meaning of the myth - any myth - you've got to understand what the symbols mean... a blueprint that makes personal sense because you are the central character. You're the one undergoing the experience. You're the one this message is meant to teach, to explain to you how to live well, how to handle the archetypical problems described in the setting and come out the other side stronger and more heroic for having undergone and learned from the experience. The myth will lead the way if you let it talk to you.

    No myth is added to the human treasury to reduce life, to make life less than it could be. We know the christian interpretation is wrong because it tries to teach us that we are sinful, evil, and wanton creatures with an inherent character flaw. And far too many of us buy into this nonsense because it's protected from legitimate criticism and called 'religion'. So do a little experiment: tell a mother and father of a newborn about how flawed and sinful that baby's character is... and you may very well end up with a broken nose. We know such an assumption is asinine.

    So why do we buy into the christian interpretation when we know in our hearts it is wrong?

    Genesis explains why we need to grow up and leave home. It warns us of the pain and suffering that is life, that you cannot have a mature and meaningful life without struggle, without pain and suffering. It teaches us that life is the boss and dictates terms, that our knowledge of good and evil endows us with the ability to be as gods, secure in the understanding and acceptance that our actions for living have consequences that contain both. And consequences are unavoidable, and that once we have that understanding we can never return to innocence. We are forever separated from Big Daddy's protection through ignorance. And that's okay. That's as it should be... and needs to be (if we're honest). That's why our own children need to grow up and leave our homes if they too are to live meaningful lives... learning as we did that real life means learning to accept the consequences as life dictates them to be.

    As for love, I think that's a rather selective and peculiar reading of the gospels that fails to account for the divine admonishments and immoral punishments for making the 'wrong' choice. But that's another topic.

    1. Hey there, Mr. T!

      I don't think freedom is of itself a "virtue". My point was simply that it is something we all want. Our behaviour shows it, regardless of our beliefs about how "real" it might be. In fact, freedom - much as you and I both desire it (quibbles about definitions aside... you don't want me to tell you what to do or think - that's freedom) is quite neutral. You can freely choose to do good, or do evil.

      I kind of like your reading of Genesis... and it is always good to look at these stories with fresh eyes, as overlaid as they are by years of traditions. Like you, I don't see that the knowledge of good and evil is an inherently bad thing at all - in fact it is an important part of maturity that we recognise both and are able to choose well.

      Regardless of whether you see it in the Gospels, I maintain that love is the only force that combines freedom with goodness (I'm expressing that clumsily - but I hope you know what I mean) It motivates us to make choices that build relationships, community, and peace. I really do see this in the Jesus story - but that is much too big a conversation for today!

  11. Tildeb makes sense.

    Are you talking about the freedom to choose god? Kerry? If that is so I respect that as much as tildebss choice to choose atheism.

    1. Good. I don't think you can be fully Christian without a church and it's rules. I think you are something else other than Christian, more of free spirit. Why limit yourself to one set of scripture?

    2. Lol! Stuart, you've made my day!! I never thought the first person to call me a heretic would be an agnostic!!

      I think right here, you are exposing the heart of what I am on about. I do not see the life, death, resurrection and central identity of Jesus reflected in today's "christian" institutions. We have quite effectively religionised something that, in essence, cuts through all religion - thus robbing it of its power.

      Why would I not add other sacred texts to my reading? Well, I do read from other traditions at times - however the point is more, why would I add ANYTHING to a message that is essentially about subtraction??!! The cross of Christ is an obliteration of all that we would construct, to mediate between ourselves and God. Whether that be tradition, religious observance, "correct" theology, or good works, the list is infinite. It is a glorious offence that changes everything. Are you offended? If you are, that is a very good start!!

  12. Alright, I'm ready. I've got a few thoughts on both the posts on freedom, so I'm just gonna put 'em here.

    For the first post, which angles more towards why do we care, I have just one thought: I think it's the image of God in us. By that I don't mean whether we physically resemble what God may look like... but instead, what if the Image of God meant something else entirely? What if it really meant that humanity, made in the image of God, has the ability to be relational, creative beings - like God - and to value that which he values?

    After all, the biblical narrative on freedom exists (I think) because it's God who first places value on freedom - not humanity. We value freedom, I think, because we are made like him. We're relational. We're creative. And we value things... love, freedom, etc. I think these concepts, as we understand them and strive for them, are our muddled, child-like way of going after what real Love and real Freedom are. That spark of Holiness in our souls.

    There's a section in C.S. Lewis's "The Magician's Nephew" that I think illustrates this well: Digory and Polly travel to a garden to retrieve an apple, which Aslan has Digory plant on the border of Narnia. It grows into a great and vast tree - a magical tree - which will protect the Narnians from the Empress Jadis as long as it lives. From that tree, Digory is given an apple to take home to his world, as a remedy to his mother's illness. She recovers after eating the apple, and Digory plants the core in the garden.

    The tree that grows from the apple core is suggested to have some sort of unexplained connection to the great tree from whence it came, and the narrator says that more than once the limbs of Digory's tree would appear to sway in the breeze even when there was no breeze. The narrator thinks that when that was happening, there was a breeze that blew in Narnia and the London tree couldn't help but move too, as it's parent tree was doing. I don't think I'm really doing it justice; the language used in the book is just superb.

    Anyway, that's my thought on the first post. The second post I really loved even more, and as you talked about the gospel cutting through and being the answer to the problem of freedom? Ah! My skin just tingled and my chest tightened. I think you nailed it on the head: the gospel isn't a Soterian concept (as in, now you won't burn in hell, isn't that great?) but instead a holistic, all-encompassing reconciliation, a way to bring real Love and real Freedom into existence with all of humanity, all of reality.

    That's what is meant (or, I think, was meant) by the phrase "The Kingdom of Heaven" in the early Christian churches. None of the early Christians ever tried to take their message and rise in the ranks of power of their local or global governments. It wasn't a way to regulate people and make sure God was happy with us. We were never meant to try to re-create David's reign in Israel. Instead it was a way to engage us as humans, fully human - mistakes and all - into the Real. To restore us. To make all things right.

    And to engage us as agents of that Kingdom - something that looks like this: (Kerry, you'll recognize this!)

    "the Kingdom looks an awful lot like chains of injustice being loosened, poverty being defeated, and the forgotten and voiceless being raised up. It looks like humanity being valued, like time and materials being poured out like a drink offering. It looks like love, patience, peace, joy, kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness and self-control."

    And that, I think, transcends any labels or established walls of religion. I think that the Kingdom - and the King who brought it, sustains it, and will establish it further - are so much bigger than any silly labels or boxes that we could slap on or around it.

    Ah, Kerry, thank you so much for these posts. I'm breathing just fine, thanks to you. :)

    1. Hey, I like your thoughts. Christianity is about a way to live not rules and regulations. And that's where freedom comes in - the tennants guide rather than force into that way of living. When embraced they free one from duty and become instead desire.

    2. Hey, Rach - I think it's deeper, even, than that - reading Peter Rollins' Insurrection at the moment ... if you haven't read it, you really should!!! I think you'll love it!

    3. Ahhhh.... Ethan! Taking a big, wonderful breath of fresh air now myself!

      "the gospel isn't a Soterian concept (as in, now you won't burn in hell, isn't that great?) but instead a holistic, all-encompassing reconciliation, a way to bring real Love and real Freedom into existence with all of humanity, all of reality." YES!!!

      & I do recognise that quote - it's from one of my favourite authors! :)

    4. I think emarkthomas and Kerry have redefined Christianity to an extent that is unrecognizable. I am not sure that Kerry is a Christian at all, rather some sort of free spirit.
      Emarkthomas may be similar.
      If you're going to such an extent to redefine your thinking, why bother to call your self Christians at all?

    5. That's a really good question, Stuart, and I'm looking forward to reading the answer.

    6. Mr T - Stu has asked it twice - my reply is on his other comment.

  13. Jesus comes to uphold the law, so we're told, and to fulfill it (to make room for a new covenant/law). Yet you choose to 'interpret' this to mean a new kind of 'freedom'.

    Post modern thinking is famous for promoting relativism to the point of absurdity, making the term 'up', for example, to really mean 'down', and 'white' to really mean 'black'. So when one interprets one of the most restrictive sets of religious laws we have ever encountered - Jewish law - to really represent the theme of 'freedom' from someone who champions it (or wishes to replace it with another set of impossible to implement rules), surely we have entered the Po-Mo world of interpretative relativism where words lose relevancy. Jewish law may be interpreted to be many things because of content and context, but to be equivalent to gaining some measure of freedom is not one of them (nor is the commandment to love one's neighbour or enemies as one's self humanly possible). To equate the message of Jesus to be the message of freedom when it is places an impossible and heavily constraining and limiting burden on us is relativism at its finest. Submission to a divine authority even for the best of reasons is still a step away from freedom to choose to do otherwise.

    I also take great issue with Ethan's interpretation on why we value this notion of freedom to represent humanity's inheritance of what god values. This is the kind of intellectual hole that religious sensibilities seems to find so very attractive to fall into. The hole is mixing up the sequencing order that frames our understanding of what causes what and produces which effects.

    Whenever I read of someone slipping ever so effortlessly between the metaphorical and the historical for religious explanations of cause and effect, I cringe because I know I am about to read something that mixes up the order of things... usually the mixing up of metaphor with history, mixing up metaphorical cause and historical effect, and - sure enough - this is what I read here in Ethan's response.

    At the risk of being rude, I shall be blunt: there is no evidence that any god created us. We are not created beings. Any reference to us being created has to be - and must be according to overwhelming and mutually supportive avenues of inquiry - metaphorical and not historical. The Adam and Eve story compared to genetic insight reveals exactly this blatant discrepancy.

    There is nothing but supportive evidence that we are the products of evolution like every other bit of life on this planet. To suggest otherwise is, to be honest, factually incorrect. To continue to do so as if creationism is in any way historically justified in this day and age is actually ludicrous.

    Given this knowledge, we must understand that the values we hold today must have some kind of favourable relationship with this biological reality of common ancestry, that the values we hold today first must have conferred some propagating benefit yesterday or we would have had these values bred out of our species long ago. This is the hard truth that informs our biological history. This is why biology - not god or other metaphorical agencies - plays the central causal effect here for our values. So the argument that it's God who first places value on freedom - not humanity is exactly backwards and, therefore, absolutely wrong because it has confused the metaphorical with the historical.

    1. Hi, Mr T :)

      I think the Scripture you are referring to is "I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it". The intent of the law is to limit the negative consequences of freedom, and I believe that love does fulfil this, in every way.

      I think you will find that most Christians will affirm this view, or similar - I may be a bit of a heretic, in some people's minds, however that is not a radical or twisted interpretation as far as most christian believers are concerned.

      There's never been any pushing of Creationism on this site, either - nor is there ever likely to be. So now I'm going to take you to task, just a little. If you're going to engage honestly with what people are saying, here or anywhere else - don't set up "straw men". Your thoughtful contributions here are most valued - but when you do this, real communication isn't happening.

    2. The intent of the law is to limit the negative consequences of freedom, and I believe that love does fulfil this, in every way.

      I do not see limiting the negative consequences through godly authority as promoting freedom. What that looks like in action are too often very negative, and examples of religious infringements on human rights and personal dignity in every arena we find them exercised abound (in particular, note the strip from the 12th to the 17th).

      Religiously based 'law' has no legitimate authority and pretending it's about love is wishful thinking; it's about imposing authority on the basis of belief.

      The straw man you think I set up with my criticism of Ethan's point was no such thing; if someone is going to suggest that we receive values like freedom from god and argues that we have been created this way, then the person is pushing creationism, plain and simple. The notion of being created by some divine designer is factually wrong and it needs to be vigorously challenged whenever and wherever it arises because it is a falsehood. Arguments and opinions built on falsehoods and privileged from blunt criticism under the banner of protecting 'real communication' does not serve what's true in reality.

      I think communication is enhanced and not limited by honest dialogue that respects what's true first. If we don't respect what's true first, then shifting this notion of freedom into the realm of god and his/her/its magical bequeaths to us is the conversation stopper because it asking us to respect and uphold a belief unsupported by and contrary to reality to be an equivalent position for equal consideration of truth value. And once you do this, you've fallen down the rabbit hole of relativity where any and all beliefs used to support truth claims are equivalent to what's true in reality not on the basis of merit and evidence from reality but on the basis of belief alone. This renders reality's arbitrating role to be moot and that's where honest inquiry goes to die.

    3. Okay. Either I'm not communicating well, or for some reason you're not hearing what I'm trying to express here.

      "Religiously based 'law' has no legitimate authority and pretending it's about love is wishful thinking; it's about imposing authority on the basis of belief." I COMPLETELY agree that religious - or any law - is not about love, and does not bring freedom. A life guided (well, read "controlled") by religious law - no matter how enlightened it might be - is not a life of freedom at all.

      This is an area that christians (perhaps I should say "cultural christians" - since I believe that the institution of Christianity has become very much subverted) tend to be either divided or confused over. There is a tendency to either venerate the law, or try in some way to have the law, and the freedom of love, too. The New Testament is clear, however, that you cannot live by law AND freedom. It is one or the other.

      The law's intent was to limit the negative consequences of freedom, but BY LIMITING FREEDOM.(scuse the caps - I need another little html lesson for italics :) Love takes away the need for the law. It is not "abolished", since murder, theft, etc. are still negative - however love does not do these things. Not because freedom is limited, however, but because it has been made larger. It is no longer self-centric. The "other" is valued and included in it.

      Pardon my knee-jerk re Creationism; Yes, I do believe that God is the Creator of all reality - however I assumed you were talking about literal-Genesis-6,000-years-ago-or-the-whole-show-falls-down Creationism, which is quite irrelevant to the discussions here.

    4. All I know, Kerry, is that under the banner of 'love' from many earnest religious folk comes all kinds of anti-human, anti-life crazy. From the bookends of when human life begins to how it may end come a litany of odious policies presented as god-approved to infringe upon individual liberty in the name of 'love'. From the sick and twisted notion of Abraham ready, willing, and able to sacrifice of his son Isaac to god-so-loved-the-world-that-he-gave-his-only-begotten-son come indications that showing 'love' - like human sacrifice to demonstrate faithfulness - is a very handy label for exerting authority. Your idea of love in the religious sense and another person's idea of love in the religious sense can be polar opposites. I hear this from parents all the time who insist that hitting their children is to 'teach' them proper discipline, which is an extension of showing love. On the flip side, I hear parents who do little if any active parenting insist they do so out of showing love. So I don't know what this notion looks like or translates into improving human well-being in action when related in some way to a theology. I've pointed out that a theistic approach confined within a religious framework of law is problematic in regards to freedom and you seem to agree, but I also fail to appreciate how anything - including love - confined within a religious framework is in any way less problematic. It seem to me what you are in fact suggesting by a rather circumbendibus route is a human concern about the well-being of the 'Other' is preferable to a theistic set of rules and regulations that hinder freedom. In other words, it seems you want your cake (freedom) and want to eat it, too (through Jesus) while rejecting on philosophical grounds that it is fattening (contains religious prohibitions).

      I will reiterate that anyone who suggests that humans (and any of our attributes and characteristics) are 'created' by any kind of divine intervention are, in fact, creationists who, by definition, do not accept the science of modern biology, namely, evolution by natural selection. To be clear, there is no evidence of any kind for any interventionist agency anywhere in our development. To make claims beyond this fact without anything to go by except belief is equivalent to not just making stuff up but tacitly denying that which is well informed by multiple avenues of mutually supportive evidence.

    5. Hi Tildeb,

      Sorry for the slow replies of late - my laptop is in for repair, and I've been working, so the online time and the brainspace are both a bit limited at the moment...

      Good. You're hearing me that "law" is not the answer. I also agree with you that we deceptive humans do all kinds of things and call them "love" when really they are not. Religion is a wonderful tool for enabling this - and as such, I think it needs to burn.

      Quite apart from the sinister motives of twisted people, something I see in christian culture, is that people *do not understand* the heart of christianity. The word "love" is there, but they don't get it. So they play semantic and theological games trying to justify their behaviour as "love", when really, nothing has changed. Internally - they are still the same - the only difference is the story they are telling about themselves.

      On love being confined to a religious framework. I don't think it is. You can love. So can I. I think love and freedom are by nature interwoven. To me, that's the wonder of Jesus - that he took all our religious "frameworks" and restrictions - and smashed them. (ironic that so many religions have grown "in his name", isn't it!) I don't think you need to give love a "correct label" or fit it into a "correct theology" for it to be real.

      If you are following love and freedom - and I am doing the same - we are on the same page. And I think when that happens, we are both following Christ - whether you call him by that name or not.

    6. I simply cannot contain myself over how much abuse, and the continuation of respect and privilege for these instrumental institutions of bigotry and misogyny in the public domain, just keeps on surfacing... and excused under the auspice of 'christian love and charity'.

      Note that it's not from the pulpit that positive change in the moral zeitgeist comes about; it's from secularists who want equality laws to be passed, enforced, and those found guilty held accountable. We don't need any belief in some Christ to do what's right and fair, but we seem to find those who purport to be honouring god usually the strongest regiment manning the barricades against meaningful change towards legal equality. In all sincerity, why do you think this is so?

    7. Tildeb, the story reported in your link is beyond horrific. Like you, I look aghast at such situations and wonder how things could progress to such a point and nobody speak out! It is right to grieve, and to be angry - and that SHOULD lead to action.

      Not every sanctioned injustice in the world is excused by religion - or even Christianity. And don't mistake me - I'm not making that point to excuse the part that religion (and in our culture, that usually means Christianity) often plays - but simply to say that I think the root evil is not religion, per se. HOWEVER, religion can be, as I commented above, "a wonderful enabler" for those who want to conceal their motives to others, and even (perhaps especially?) themselves.

      If we did not have religions, we would use other strong ideologies - whatever the current, popular "zeitgeist" happens to be (I like that word!) in the same ways. In fact, we do. We are not good at being honest about ourselves. "Greenwashing" is the name given to this by people who want genuine environmental change. Environmental ideology has been embraced as an important value by our culture; so what happens? Companies and individuals pay lipservice to environmentalism, which makes them look and feel socially and environmentally responsible while they continue carrying out the same detrimental practices they always have. Al Gore is, I suspect, a wonderful example of an environmentalist "Jimmy Swaggart". There's money in it for him and he is preying on people's fears about something that is a real problem, to promote his own interests. Our Australian government seems to be doing the same. They are using "environmental" policies that they don't really believe in, to sway voters. When you look deeply it is not about the environment, and is likely to have little impact - it's about control.

      Back to religion, though... I think it is infinitely more offensive when something that is SUPPOSED to bring liberty, and purports to be grounded in love, is subverted in this way. Western culture is steeped in christianity, and as you have pointed out many times, the "authority" of an unquestionable divine being makes a fabulous justification for all kinds of things, if people accept it.

      If our religions are an overlay of identity and ideology that we wear as part of our "in group", and to make ourselves feel good about who we are... AND that "in group" happens to be in a position of privilege in society (as Christian groups are in the west) then when you threaten that ideology, you threaten the status quo, and vice versa. (I can feel a post coming on, about the whole "identity" thing.) Jesus was the one who laid aside his identity and position of privilege. Institutional Christianity is, for the most part, doing the opposite.

      I think that the institutional church is participating, and in many instances completely intertwined with, a system that promotes inequality and injustice.

    8. What is it, do you think, that empowers these religious institutions to continue to have effect to promote inequality and injustice?

    9. Wish I had all the answers, Mr. T.

      I think the simple, surface reply to that is just "numbers, and the status quo". Although that is changing, slowly (a healthy change, I believe).

      I think strong reactions to change can be understood as a social/cultural process that is quite... human, and not specific to religion.

      I know so many people who are deeply alarmed at the idea of legal gay marriage, for example. Culturally, I believe this is a reaction to having their "position of privilege" in our society threatened - and the insidious thing about that, is that when you are a member of the "privileged" group, you often do not recognise it. Those *outside* the majority culture feel the inequities keenly, whilst those living comfortably within the walls of privilege are largely oblivious to them.

      In our culture, institutional christianity has been a privileged majority for a long time. However, christianity that truly follows Christ - OUGHT to be different.

      From the perspective of someone who has been a part of all that, and has a bit of an "insider view" of how it all works... an explanation of why, on the whole, it is not is a bit messier, but I have a few thoughts...

      To me, the root of "christian culture"'s fear of change, is a misunderstanding of the heart of their own faith.

      In my circle of Jesus-followers, we have spent years now, teasing out what it means to live under "grace", rather than law. Our christian traditions (for those who grew up with them) were largely ignorant of this even though the word "grace" was thrown about freely. Most Christians I know, grew up with a list of "Do's and do not's" and a fear of divine retribution if we failed to obey. On top of that, we were taught that people we cared about would burn in hell if they did not "see the light" and submit to the same set of rules. It's a horrible, horrible, deeply oppressive view, when you stand outside and really see it.

      I know beautiful, essentially tender-hearted people, who believe this and feel that if society is allowed to "degenerate" to the point where people are ignorant of those eternally important "rules", the consequences will be dire. Put yourself there, and you can see how such an oppressive system gains support. Culture is such a tricky thing to challenge though, because people look THROUGH, not AT it.

      The huge tragedy is that this oppressive view is NOT the Gospel, and when people live into it, they are missing the core of their own faith. Ask most everyday Christians if they understand most of what Jesus is recorded as saying - and if they are honest, they'll tell you they don't. They take an event that in effect smashes all worldviews, and make it the basis for another worldview. It is an event that bursts explosively beyond the realm of law - yet people argue and fight about how best to enshrine it in law (hence denominational splits - aaargh!!) Yet I believe there is hope. If I can see it - and others I know can, too - and if we continue to dialogue and expose what is true - change will come.

      It's ironic that the best discussions I have about this stuff tend to be with atheists and agnostics such as yourself and Stu. But I guess it is much easier to see from the outside. On the positive side, you're not the only ones - and there are other Jesus followers out there who see it too, and are shouting it from the rooftops as well :)

    10. By numbers, do you mean the number of supporters... people who actively participate as members of congregations of a particular religious brand , or numbers in the sense of people who sort of, kind of, identify as being in some way related to a generic denomination?

      By status quo, do you mean state sanctioned privilege, as in clergy being allowed to work in public schools, as members of public panels and appointed advisory boards, and so on?

      I ask because it seems to be an assumption of astounding proportions that some person attributes widespread support and popularity through affiliation - and therefore the person assumes to be a legitimate representative - to maintain religiously inspired inequality and injustice.

    11. All I meant was that, as a political demographic, they are significant, and they have the weight of tradition and inertia behind them. That doesn't make them right. It doesn't even make them truly "christian".

  14. Unlike Ethan, Kerry and Rachel... I don't see any freedom in submission to one set scriptures, one take on the divine. There is so much more available, so much more to consider.

    I think it is at least unimaginative, at worst a kind of supremacist thinking, to consider that Christianity is unique among world religions.

    I think we can determine these religions by their actions. I am first to admit that Christianity does feed and clothe the poor, but Christianity is a religion of rules and regulation, especially the Catholic church, which is Christian, and those protestant denominations like Assemblies of God, who attempt to control every part of a persons life.

    You must also admit that most christians, by the act of conversion, also want to change how people think.

    If Christianity was so free, Most churches would not be opposed to gay marriage. Yet they are almost entirely all opposed, some viciously.

    1. Like you, Stuart, I don't see this connection between christianity and freedom except by either reinterpreting christianity to the point of being unrecognizable or mitigated to the point of irrelevancy.

      And like you, I see many expressions of christianity - which is not alone from those across much of the religious spectrum - not only advocating strenuously against individual freedom and autonomy but vilifying them as some kind of moral flaw and 'militant' secularism. It seems to me Kerry wants one element she attributes to christianity (love) and thinks it is reasonable (and achievable) to omit the rest. From my secular viewpoint, I would gladly trade in all the holy texts, religious prophets, and religions in their name to achieve respect for legal equality of individuals... on which all other freedoms and dignity may only then be built.

    2. Personally I think throwing out all the religious texts would be a shame. We can glean, like you did with genesis and growing up, lessons from the mythologies. It's also useful to understand theology from a point of view of looking at motive. catholic theologies for example, have strong motives regarding power, domination, control and authority, lots of material there for the phenomena of fascism. Further, I think people can intelligently discuss a prophets thinking, and extrapolate upon it, without being slavishly devoted to a prophet.

      However tildeb, I do see your point. Ideally the equality of humankind is by far a better concept to ponder, than the magical properties of a prophet.

      Speaking of equality, I doubt it exists. There is too much evidence to the contrary.

    3. Legal equality differentiates secular democracy from mob rule and it always under attack by those all too willing to bend the knee to some authority other than themselves... be it a god, a prophet, a politician, or the latest guru.

    4. There is no legal equality in Australia and I would say Canada. Money talks with regard to the law.

    5. Sure there is, but the principle itself is constantly under attack and being subverted by those who seek privilege in specific cases. Money in this regards is a great facilitator in undermining principles. Hence the constant need for public vigilance and public criticism.

  15. I can see Kerry, tildeb, and myself tied to a medieval stake, about to burn for heresy and atheism. Anyway Kerry you heretic, to me if there are serious doubts about the truth, the fact of the ressurection, there remains not much else to go on.... The ressurection doesn't offend me, other god beings were ressurected and defeated death, in a variety of mythologies. If you believe in the ressurection as fact, that's fine, but it is a faith statement.

    I remember some years ago being invited to an aog film night, on ressurection of some African church members. It really was a silly insult to my intelligence. people reported to have come back from the dead, 3 days dead, they claimed. Yes I know that people have near death experiences, and some have even woken up in coffins or in the morgue fridge, but they were not really dead.

    If I remember the medicine I was taught, there. Are a number of indicators to a medical person that a person is dead, not just the heart stopping, the lungs ceasing to breathe, but also, the complete cessation of all brain activity, I am sure if I re read some medicine, I could quote the exact phrases.

    think of the medical technology of 2000 years ago. Galen was born about 130 years after Jesus reported birth date, and was perhaps the greatest physician that ever lived, he did scientific studies on anatomy, but he made mistakes... Like we all do... He thought that venous and arterial blood was exchanged through invisible pores in the heart. He didn't properly understand circulation. The greatest physician of the roman era, since Hippocrates didn't have the scientific equipment we have today.

    Jesus died in Jerusalem far from Rome the centre of Knowledge of the day. Jerusalem was a provincial backwater, and a hundred years before Galen was born. Is it so hard to comprehend why people doubt the whole ressurection story? Wouldn't it be more likely that Jesus slipped into a coma? And how can we believe it without an enormous amount of faith, without having placed an electro encephlograph upon Jesus at the crucifixion. You must admit, to have doubt is just being true to ones internal integrity.


    1. Stu, I think the implications of Jesus' death are what is offensive. He effectively took every venerated idea of "God", every "holy cow", and every fable we've ever told ourselves about how good we are - and killed it.

      And I don't think you need to accept a literal, physical resurrection to gain that from the story.

      Having said that, I don't think your coma theory really works. Having been flayed with a Roman lash (there was probably no skin left on his back) beaten beyond recognition, crucified, then speared in the side - dead or not, there is no way he would be walking around "just fine" 3 days later!! Whatever you make of it, it's clear that *something* revelatory happened, and people were changed because of it.

  16. It's just another holy cow story among a pantheon of others.


Feel free to leave comments - I love discussion, & diverse opinions! So comment, add your own thoughts, disagree - you are welcome.

Its okay to comment anonymously if you are shy, but I'd much rather know who you are, & always appreciate it when people "own" their own opinions. Look forward to chatting with you :)