Archives for category: Religious

Scientists expect to be able to test everything. Perhaps, but it seems unlikely. There are things that might be real that might be untestable, unverifiable. Multiverse is untestable, yet many believe. It is equivalent to deifying infinity to the infinity power. Hawking recognized and devised maths to limit the possible number of universes to a finite set. Yet, the notion is still totally untestable. To me, the notion of the transcendent is required. Denying anything other than the quantum foam and the matter/energy of space-time, quite frankly, denies the possibility of knowing anything. It denies rationality and reason itself. I simply don’t find that reasonable. It is irrational. I suspect science will find reproducible ways to test for transcendence. I’m not sure the results will actually tell us anything useful. I suspect proving the existence of “a transcendent” will not make us wiser. It won’t answer the big questions. It won’t answer the ultimate “Why?”.

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Simplistic, but valid: From nothing comes nothing.
Either something exists, or nothing exists.

We can side with the likes of Stephen Hawking and assert eternal existence of gravity and quantum vacuum and, also, assign it practical [and mindless] divinity. Then we can reasonably speculate that myriad minuscule fluctuations in the quantum foam converged to burst forth from the singularity. Inflation, then space-time, which is running down, back down to the nothing.

Or, we can assume transcendence. That is, we can assume an eternal something that is truly beyond nature. Eternal is the key, and transcendence is required, or it is just natural, and we are back to nothing. There are some significant hurdles to deal with in assuming the divine, but an eternal transcendent actor can only be referred to as god. (Peterson says as much, often.)

If we hold to the first, methodological materialism, or naturalism, or atranscendence, then we are stuck with nothing and there simply is no such thing as agency. No choice is any more significant than any event. It takes two things to do anything: Time and Energy. States and systems exhibiting disequilibria will tend to equilibrate, taking time and using energy. Disequilibrated systems do anything that takes time and uses up energy, as long as it lessens the disequilibration. Often, order arises, emergent phenomena. A simple example is a dust devil in a dirt field. The ground heats unevenly under the sun, and the air warms slower, disequilibria. A warm thermal begins to rise, often beginning to spin, and up arises a dancing, self-organizing, dust devil, chasing the warmest spot near it. It is a dissipative system, more efficient at increasing entropy than simple convection. Assuming atranscendence, the dust devil is the same as any choice I make, any idea I conceive, any action I take. It all, only, tends to use up time and energy bringing the universe back to closer to the absolute and eternal nothing of its beginning.

Given my definitions above, the options are god or not-god.

That is, god is that which is eternal and transcendent.

Not-god is that which is yet eternal but nothing, that which momentarily and currently is subject to unwinding the initial winding of the singularity, and the unwinding is simply the using up of time and energy. (It makes no difference in this assumption whether the big bang is a single freak occurrence, or if it is quasicyclical, repeating randomly for all eternity.)

If we accept the god assumption, we are faced with eternity. We exist in time, but we will exist in eternity (and perhaps have always existed in some sense). The questions religion and philosophy address boil down to this: In eternity, with-god or without-god? One choice with two options. We will enter eternity having chosen god or refused god.

In that assertion, I’m assuming the god condition of eternal and transcendent reality. Given that assumption, the choice, the ultimate choice, true agency, is between with-god and without-god.

There either is choice, or there is nothing.

I admit I am defining nothing as meaninglessness.

I’m defining eternal and transcendent as meaning, reason, and rationality. It is my assertion, my premise. It is fundamental within me. (It is fundamental within the universe.)

Choice, agency, is the only thing that matters. If not-god is the reality, then there is no choice, no meaning, no rationality, no reason, nothing. If god is the reality, and there is no choice, no agency, regarding eternity with god or eternity without god, then we are back to nothing, back to no choice, no meaning, no rationality, no reason.

Given any reality approximating that, truth has no meaning in any case where choice, true agency, isn’t foundational and intrinsic. Individual agency must be real or there is not even anything that can be called truth, not in the abstract, not in the concrete, not in the ideal, not even in the notional. If I have no choice in the matter, no agency, nothing matters and nothing is the only true reality. If there is such a thing as reality, choice is real; agency is real.

Obviously, I cannot get away from the notion of truth, and one might argue such persistence makes it deeper, more real, than choice. No. First, we must not conflate Truth with Reality. That which is real is not the same as that which is true, not even in the ideal. It goes to meaning. If the not-god reality is real, then all that we seem to know is simply a random confluence of quantum fluctuations that happen to have congealed into a mass hallucination. If my mind is merely matter and energy and chemical processes running in patterns dictated by quantum fluctuations, I have no mind, and I have nothing on which to base any assumption. I can have no reason to assume any of it will continue. I have no real reason to base any of it on.

In that case, I have no reason. There would really be no reason and no such thing as reason, only matter, only energy, only a persistent, sequential running down and unwinding.

Frankly, I find it unreasonable to assume there is no such thing as reason.

I find it irrational to assume there is no such thing as rationality.

It seems as certain as anything else that there must be an eternal transcendent actor. Being confined to time and nature, we cannot hope to know this super-nature directly. We can only hope to systematically and rationally investigate it and aim at truth, as we do with all of nature. The nature of nature, our reality, seems to include something transcendent that we typically call mind. There isn’t a significant difference between “mind” as we use it, and “spirit” as we use it. There is no quantifiable reason to suppose mind is any less real than matter. Consciousness is really a thing, a thing we do not understand. Our religions may be so far from truth as to be laughable, but so may our sciences.

Again, without choice, there is no truth.

If I am not really a free agent capable of making real choices with meaningful consequences, then there is simply nothing, at least nothing that has any meaning, nothing that matters.

I’ve seen my share of references, so I assume you’ve seen the headlines too.

Pope Francis is reported to have said those who refuse God eventually disappear. Official sources clarify that the report is exactly that, a report, not a quote. Given the Pope’s penchant for unorthodox views, I wouldn’t put it past him, but this ancient reporter seems likely to have added his own slant. I’m not sure why the Pope would interview with someone who is known for overt agenda, but oh well.

Apparently, it wasn’t supposed to be an interview at all. “A recent meeting between Pope Francis and Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, 93, was a “private meeting for the occasion of Easter, however without giving him any interview,”” … “Scalfari, a self-proclaimed atheist…”

I pulled from the Catholic News Agency, CNA news report here.

Regardless of what the Pope may think, Jesus had a few things to say about hell, and folks talk about translation and context, which is certainly needful, but Jesus didn’t pull any punches here: http://biblehub.com/matthew/18-8.htm What might he have meant by fire that endures the ages if not a fairly conventional definition of hell?

There are limitations to the information we have, and there is even more limitation to our potential to understand. Our understanding is truly finite and limited.

What a conundrum we have when we consider time.

If we exist, there is time. It exists as sure as anything.

Time is hardly more than the running down of our universe. Sure, we can complicate, and when we must consider the things that time affects, we must be more precise, but I consider here time of itself, moreover, eternity.

If time exists, eternity must. Time began with the universe. Time is a property of the universe, the space-time continuum, we correctly call it.

Eternity is without time; there is eternity; eternity is.

See? Eternity is not a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Time is what you have when you do not have eternity, or rather, when you are limited and expiring.

Can we accept eternity as a foundational, fundamental, encompassing premise? I assert we must. We know time is finite, at least as it pertains to our existence, our reality. If time is finite, must there not be more, something beyond time, something that has nothing to do with time, something for time to happen in? How can we be reasonable if we reject the notion.

How can we reason at all if we assume that all that exists is finite? Accepting nothing beyond the finite defies meaning as a premise. It reduces all to fundamental happenstance with no intent, no direction, no meaning, no reason. I hold it unreasonable to assert there is no reason. I hold it meaningless to assert there is no meaning. As has been rightly observed, we act as though we believe in reason and meaning. We act as though we mean something when we say it, as though we are reasoning when we suppose something.

Let us agree on eternity as a foundational premise.

Now, is eternity divine?

That is a question that seems certain to have two, and only two, possible answers, yes or no.

A religious view would probably shun the notion of eternity as the divinity, but can it not be fundamentally divine? Yes, it can. It is also possible that it is not. If not, we are looking again at utter happenstance with no possibility of meaning.

Still, blatant finitude, absolute meaninglessness, is a possibility we cannot disprove. Yet, if there is infinity, eternity, and it is divine, we end up assuming some divinity, some ultimate divine, eternally existent, infinite (not finite in any way) being. Well, hold up. Not necessarily a being. Still, something ultimate, infinite, unlimited, unbounded.

Shifting from the external and ultimate, let us look within. We do not, and perhaps cannot, understand consciousness. We have working models—workable, useful tools, but no understanding. We act as though we have a soul, but we explicitly denounce the soul as unknowable, unverifiable. We treat each other as sovereign souls (at least ideally–we know we should), as entities embodying the divine, the image of God, be that defined as it may. We, at least ideally, act as if it is so. If we act as though we have a soul while discounting it, what can we surmise as basis? Can we suppose that there must be something divine, eternal, within? Is there some attribute and capacity of ourselves, our consciousnesses, that is actually and truly eternal? It seems a reasonable assumption, a justifiable premise.

If we accept eternity, and we assume we are, at least in some way, part of it, then ultimately, we will exist long after the universe, long after world’s-end. (There I go assuming time again.) Fundamentally, the worthwhile possibilities for consideration are only two: With the divine in eternal existence, or without the divine in eternal existence. Unbounded existence with God, or without God. Regarding this latter, what more definition of hell might one propose?

I find it an undeniable possibility that there be no heaven, but if there is heaven, there most certainly is hell.

Micah 6:8

 

There is a disappointment and anticlimax after all beginnings. “In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants–‘sons’ is the word he uses…. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them…”

Screwtape

I’m not going to explain any of my own history, but I identify fully, exactly, with Jordan Peterson. #jordanbpeterson @jordanbpeterson
Also with Lindsey Shepard.
My views don’t align well with any group I know of. I suspect Peterson would say the same of himself, except maybe for some of his fellow clinical psychiatrists.
 
If he happens to see this, I encourage him to stay strong and to focus on doing what is right. Stay faithful to your heart, your convictions, and the truth as best you can see it.
 
I stand pragmatically. I stand for all I know of history and science, and for realizing what can work, and what cannot.
 
Freedom is the only thing that can work.
 
Coercion is evil, always.
 
Stand for everyone, every group, every segment, no matter their differences, no matter their color, no matter their age, no matter their politics, no matter their religion, no matter their nationality, no matter their conformity. Stand for the individual! Stand for free exercise of conscience.
I support Peterson in his stand against using public education as indoctrination. https://youtu.be/s0EuQe6BOWo
I stand for the abolition of coercive, compulsory education laws.
There are many things that need fixed in education, including basic civility, respect, and freedom in all regards, but none of it matters while we officially coerce parents to force their children to conformity. Public education fails because its only true goal is to make conforming drones, compliant to the political will of the dominant faction.
We are free people, free individuals. It is fundamental. Everywhere freedom is suppressed, every time people resist, and resistance is not futile.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

In church ( #Wickline ) this morning, Pastor spoke about Noah. He pointed out that the Noah story is not really a kids story. It is practically R-rated. I’ve been listening to #JordanBPeterson recently, and I think he influenced me to strike on something Pastor Eric Snyder said that made me realize the primary point of Noah. All these years, all the study, all the careful reading, rereading, and researching, and I finally noticed the point: It was God’s fault!

Look at the telling of the Noah story. The whole point is that God decided He’d messed up. He was going to wipe it all out. Yet, he noticed Noah. Noah apparently loved his neighbor. Noah apparently wasn’t about doing evil continually.

So, God gave Noah instructions. Noah obeyed. God saved Noah.

The story tells us that everyone else died, including all the critters. What a tragedy! Yet, that is the point. Again Referencing Peterson, we humans are wired to handle tragedy, but malice breaks us. That seems to be the point of the fifth verse of chapter 6. It seems God noticed that humans were malignant, bad, causing pain (as I understand Strong’s for “wickedness”). The whole of human thinking, every thought of the heart, was only to do evil (malignancy, bad, cause pain) all the time.

They were hurting each other so bad it made God regret the whole thing. Read v. 6-7. It is clear in the English.

Granted, I don’t accept that as good theology, but there it is, right there in the bible. It works with the story. It makes the point of the story.

The divine nature was so touched by the deliberate malice of his creation, that he thought it necessary to wipe it out. Thus, the point. God brought the tragedy, not to end the suffering, but to thwart the cause. It has taken a long time, and we still have miles to go before we rest, but we are learning that betrayal is the gravest sin. Malice is bad. Deliberately causing pain is wickedness in the extreme. Coercion is evil. We are learning. The wise author of the Noah story knew it would help.

Besides, it is good to be able to get mad at God for tragedy. Hopefully, we can pray, even rant and scream, to God and work out our furry on the Almighty, who is more than enough to handle it.

So, feel free to blame God if you think you need to. He’s big enough to take it. He won’t take offense. He won’t hold it against you. Remember, God loves you. God himself died for you because he knew you understand that.

And when it comes to you, you against the world, stand! Keep the faith. Trust God and walk in love and mercy anyway. Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Even if the world goes to hell around you, you can trust that God notices, and you just might be that light that sets it all to working again, just a little better this time.

Eternity is not a long time. It is characterized by the absence of time.

It is unreasonable to try to describe eternity in concrete quantifications. It is even more than infinite, more than infinities and what mathematics and number theory can tell us about such.

Eternity is less comprehensible than the vastness of space. We cannot comprehend size. There is too much. We deceive ourselves into thinking we know something about it because it is easy for us to measure things from fractions of micrometers to thousands of kilometers. But the vastness is beyond that, beyond our ability to reason or analogize.

A rough approximation of the basics of small goes like this: If you place a sewing pin in the middle of the field of a domed football stadium, and then increase one of the iron atoms, proportionally, to where the nucleus was the size of the pinhead, then the rest of the atom would be close to the size of the domed stadium, and the electrons would still be too small to see even with a microscope. And that is only the beginning of small. Consider the Planck Length, at 1.6 x 10^-35 meters.

That brings us to a beginning of comprehending how utterly incomprehensible size and space really are. Think of all the empty space, the percentage of volume, within the atom, and remember that atoms cannot approach one another closely under the conditions in our living world. What we call solid matter isn’t solid in any quantitative mathematical sense.

Then we go the other way. There are many examples, and graphics, and short videos, and these help us realize that our whole planet is incomprehensibly tiny in light of the approximate 8.6 x 10^26 meters estimated for the observable universe. Then, how much bigger is what we can call space-time? Yeah, we don’t get it.

Eternity is even more. We don’t even have anything to compare it to.

We try to use time to comprehend eternity, especially since we do understand time, but we can’t.

We pretend we consider time. We always ask what time it is, but we don’t care. We know we have limited time, so we prioritize. Keeping time helps with that, but we don’t consider time, and we really don’t know, nor care, what time it is.

We all know we have very limited time, especially when we consider the span of history, and prehistory, and the time of the universe. We all die young. One hundred years is longer than most of us get, but even that is short. A single human life is a trivial amount of time in the scheme of history.

Yet, so many manage to do something of significance, by human reckoning. All of us do something significant for our loved ones. Sadly, that is sometimes a sad thing, but most of us have our moments where we positively affect others and improve our world. We don’t all get our 15 minutes of fame on the big stage, but we all do for a few.

Still, there are a few names that gained worldwide fame, and lost it. A few names have survived the millenia, but no name is known by every living soul on earth. Eventually, no name will be remembered among human descendants that we know today. If we continue for eons, it all obviously matters to us, but sooner or later, after some long time, all of humanity and our descendants will be gone, even erased. Even if we assume humanity spreads throughout the galaxy, even if we assume some means of spreading to many galaxies, eventually, it will all be gone. Millions of year? Billions of years? Even if we assume our descendents persist to the end of the universe, it will then all be gone.

See, we know where we sit there. We can comprehend the time. We know it all turns out insignificant in the end, but it is significant now, and some of us are better at using it well than others, but then again, “well” is subjective. Do we define doing well as becoming famous? By doing something important on the grand scale? Don’t we mostly define it as doing what we need to do, fulfilling our obligations, coming through when people are depending on us? Yeah. We advance mostly by people just doing what they need to do. We hold back the night by each of us keeping our candle and doing what good we can, and refusing to do something wrong, at least most of the time. Time. It will end.

All of space-time will end.

Will there be nothing then? Or will there be something still?

I am as confident of being there to see what it is, and I am as confident about it as I am of anything in the future.

Eternity. Don’t ask what will happen after some time. There is no time. We can’t think of before and after. That pertains to time, to space-time.

What will be after space-time is gone is simply unknowable.

In the meantime, don’t get hung up on how long things take. They really don’t take long.

 

 

Quoting:

Pluralism holds the key to the vitality of American religiousness as well as to the development of religious civility. One might think that economists long ago would have pointed this out to their colleagues in sociology who were so enamored of the strength of monopolies, since Adam Smith had laid out the whole analysis with such clarity long ago. Trouble is that until very recently, economists were so little interested in religion that the entire chapter on these matters in Smith’s classic The Wealth of Nations was (and is) omitted from most editions. It was not until I began working out the stimulating effects of pluralism on my own that someone suggested I read Smith–and I found this puzzling because initially I could find nothing on the topic in the readily available editions. Today, colleagues in economics find my emphasis on pluralism and competition fairly obvious, while many sociologists of religion continue to believe that I am obviously wrong–that competition harms religion and that I have been misled by inappropriate analogies with capitalism. Of course, the great majority of social scientists pay no attention to such peripheral matters, being secure in their knowledge that religion is doomed and soon must vanish.

Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, 2011, HarperOne, HarperCollins paperback edition 2012, page 367.

Here is an online source for Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN20.html#V.1.195

It seems to me, Islam is quite capable of working itself out and peacefully meeting the needs of its adherents without conflict against other faiths. However, governments (Kings and tyrants in some cases) meddle. Governments in Islamic communities are pushing and skewing, and even funding and enabling radicals who support the preferred views.

Our nation, our government, needs to get out and leave the people alone.

If our nation can work with the rest of the world to free religion from government completely, at all levels, I’m confident all faiths can fulfill the need we have.

Fundamentally, government is the problem. Ronaldus Maximus was correct.

We need to address the correct problem.

The civil authority and the religious authority need to be completely separate, and the civil authority needs to be limited, strictly limited.

Militant German atheist Karl T. Griesinger complained in 1852 that the separation of church and state in America fueled religious efforts: “Clergymen in America [are] like other businessmen; they must meet competition build up a trade…. Now it is clear…why attendance is more common here than anywhere else in the world.”

That, of course, is Rodney Stark in The Triumph of Christianity.

You want better schools? Separation of school and state!

Write your representatives and request adding “and education” to the first amendment of the Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or education, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Petition your government to get out of schools altogether, especially the federal government. We need our states to reduce dependence on federal money and gradually outlaw federal involvement in any aspect of education within the state.

Our churches, as a whole, inclusive of the plurality, are the best and most successful in the world. Religion is one of our fundamental needs, and we are very successful with it precisely because the government is totally hands off. Education will be likewise if we get the government out of it.

Don’t most of us think our neighbor, our coworker, our friend needs a bit more, a bit deeper religion, a bit more lofty goals? Isn’t, “Aim a little higher,” some of the best advice each of us has received from someone we respect when we stooped a bit low; when we chose to be less than our best?

Of course.

How do we help that neighbor, that coworker, that friend? We don’t run to the government, that is for sure.

We do our best, we live our best in the areas where government is least involved.

Let’s get the government out of our schools.

I came across an article about, Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife, by John Martin Fischer, Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin.

I’m writing a bit more below the block quote, but in response to an article in Slate, I posted, to Facebook, the following:

Quite interesting. I don’t suppose I’ll read the book, but the article is interesting.

They talk of meaning. Generally meaning must be more than physical and naturalistically materialistic.They do qualify meaning as meeting reality, relevant in the waking world, as it were. I suppose one can hold meaning to only mean so much. Kinda meaningless, though.

He describes some evidences taken as establishing reality and some more-than-natural essence (supernaturalism, of course), but everyone will weight such differently. I particularly don’t accept the argument that blind folk having visual content in their NDE makes it more real and stronger evidence of supernatural, because I don’t see sight as evidence of supernatural.

I agree in general with his statement, “We offer an explanation of NDEs that is naturalistic but that also preserves the beauty and meaning of these experiences. NDEs are awesome, wondrous experiences. We explain how they can have these characteristics within the context of the natural world.” Where I diverge is I do not accept that such ephemeral essences of beauty, meaning, awe, wonder, etc. can be explained purely in context of the natural world.

Ultimately, universally speaking, we’ve had 13 billion years to find some evidence of the foundation of meaning, the underlying and overarching reality that is more than our natural universe, and the only real evidence we have is our sense of awe, our sense that there must be more. The fact that it just seems wrong that the truly good is impermanent. The fact that we know there is such a thing as good, even when people disagree exactly how to define it, is our only real evidence that there is anything real at all.

I am more than a random confluence of quarks, strings, and quantum states, and I honestly am not sure I will ever consider that proven. I do honestly believe that sooner or later, in terms of a human life or in terms universal, I will step out of time, space, matter, and energy, and enter eternity. It is my true desire to be ready. I and my understanding are not all that I am, not all that is, not the sum of all that matters to me. There is something more. I call it God. I endeavour with open heart to be subject to God and that which can truly be called good.

We take the reports very seriously; indeed, we take them at face value. People really do have NDEs with the content they report. And they are beautiful—deeply and profoundly transformative in positive ways, altering their moral and spiritual outlook, and diminishing their fear of death. We offer an explanation of NDEs that is naturalistic but that also preserves the beauty and meaning of these experiences. NDEs are awesome, wondrous experiences. We explain how they can have these characteristics within the context of the natural world. We do not have to give up the tools of science in order to understand NDEs, and we do not have to give up the beauty and awesome nature of these experiences in order to explain them in terms of the natural world.
We believe that the key to reconciling naturalism with the deep meaning of NDEs is to recognize two important parts of the human attempt to come to grips with the world. One part of this inquiry seeks understanding, and the best way to achieve understanding is through science. But another part involves seeking to feel comfortable and at home in the world; this is not merely a cognitive project, but one that engages our emotions.
Stories are the best way to achieve this kind of emotional resonance. Human beings strive to understand the world, but we also aim to be at home in it. Thus, we are storytellers as well as scientific inquirers. Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife explains how storytelling and scientific understanding fit together in a coherent way. Seeing this helps us to present a naturalistic interpretation of NDEs—an interpretation that is nevertheless deeply respectful of these awesome experiences.

He addresses the deep meaning, yet what can that mean in a purely naturalistic context?

He asserts the best way to seek understanding is through science, yet it is not the only way, and “best” is lacking. Science is our only repeatable way to verify reality and how things work. Whether it is best or not is subjective and depends on value, which itself is subjective. Subjective things can be monitored over time for evaluation, but so much of what is involved depends on the individuals examining and evaluating.

Scientific investigation lets us share our investigations and findings. It helps me check you, and you check me, to try to ensure that we are not fooling ourselves, and we really must admit we are the easiest to fool. Check Scott Adams’ (Dilbert) blog. He likes to point out how we fool ourselves and can hardly do differently. (But that is a different topic.)

As a Christian, I hold certain views of eternity, the afterlife.

I like to say eternity because it necessarily steps outside time, and time, space, matter, and energy, are all that is, all that makes what nature is, all that can be called naturalistic and materialistic. Science has us convinced the universe is not eternal. It is well confirmed, and thorough thinking confirms it. Nature is temporary. Our universe, all that is and all we know of it, is only about 13 billion years old. Science differs on how it might end, and how much time will elapse before it ends, but no scientific evidence suggests our universe will continue. It will end.

If there is no eternity, there is, in a very real sense, nothing, nothing at all.

Is it reasonable to suppose that in 100 years I will be exactly as I was 100 years ago?

It is a possibility. I accept that, but nothing in me can believe it. There is more, and I am, and always will be, part of that more.

If all that is me, all consciousness, all essences, ends up as it was before me, then nothing different can be supposed of the universe. If all the matter comes apart, all the energy dissipates, all the subatomics cease, even space will cease to be, and time. With no time, there is nothing. With no time there is no time to change. There will be nothing, nothing in any sense we can understand from science. Only the supernatural can still be, and it must be eternal or exists not at all.

Back to NDEs, I suppose all such experiences are limited by our brains, by our understanding, by all that makes us individual. Near death experiences, out of body experiences, are necessarily limited by ourselves, by our capacities. Even if such a spiritual experience exceeded all bounds of human intellect and capacities, the experience could be retained in this natural life only as some vague knowing, with no expressible understanding. That is, anything learned or experienced beyond natural capacity while unconstrained by anything natural would be lost as soon as it was restrained to the natural world, body, and mind.

In short, there either is only the natural, or there is more. I believe it is inherently impossible to quantify the supernatural in any way. I likewise hold it impossible to find any naturally observable phenomenon that exceeds natural scientific investigation and explanation with the laws of nature. I still believe in miracles, but I expect we will always be able to explain the ones we can catch and quantify, but miracles are not always so. Some miracles are truly unique, and such cannot be investigated and quantified. Some things just can’t be explained. Even science tells us that.

Continuing with Dr. Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, in chapter 12 he explained how Islam killed and drove out scores of millions of Christians and Jews. The European pilgrims to the Holy Land were coming under ever-increasing attack and were being subjected to taxes and tolls, and as the Muslims threatened Constantinople, Europe responded, which is what he titled chapter 13 about the crusades.

The Crusades were hardly more than a defensive effort to secure the route to the Holy Lands, and to ensure access to and the security of the Holy Lands. As radicals are doing today, radicals then tore down historic sites and monuments. The Crusaders were only trying to stop that. They didn’t try to Christianize the residents either.

Check for yourself. You will see the Crusaders pretty much left everything alone on the whole. Sure, there were bad things, but it was a bad time for warfare. By the standards of that era, the Crusaders were typical, and the Muslims were worse, but not much worse, by the standards of the day.

The Crusades were not profitable. No one ever thought they would be. The Crusades certainly were nothing like colonization. They were preservative, not creative. There was no effort at all to establish any European culture, not Christian or otherwise. Keep in mind that Syria was a principal region of Christianity until shortly after the Muslims started killing them all.

Frankly, the Muslims thought of the Crusades as trivial, just a nuisance. Muslims tended to think it was better Palestine be a protectorate of the Franks than the Turks. (Islam had its racial and cultural divides as well, even from its earliest days.) It wasn’t until the Ottoman Empire began to fall apart at the beginning of the 20th Century that Islamic propaganda began decrying the West in any way possible, including dredging up whatever they could from centuries past.

There were Western denunciations of the Crusades, particularly from anti-Christian writers such as Voltaire and David Hume. Most of that was simply bias. The practical effects of the Crusades were positive, but short-lived. One could argue for or against, but history relegates the Crusades to a minor role, no matter the topic.

In chapter 14, he discusses the myth of the Dark Ages.

As an engineer, by training and by general understanding of history, I’ve always known there were no Dark Ages from an engineering standpoint. Architecture and all technical arts (metal working, machines of all sorts, etc.) grew and developed from the fall of the Roman Empire. Capitalism was born then. Good stuff.

Dr. Stark more or less says that the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Edward Gibbon were simply blinded by their hatred of Christianity, and they simply refused to see all the progress of those times, simply because it was all associated with the Church.

Of course, it was only because of the foundations of Christianity that science, the arts, and all technologies advanced so thoroughly. Other schema can be proposed to similar ends, and there have been various eras of advancement in various cultures, but the Greco-Roman and most every other culture of the several centuries since the early Roman era, and also the cultures of Islam, all failed to significantly advance anything except for the rich and powerful. And, there was slavery. Slavery pretty much accounted for all the rich and powerful had, and slavery pretty much accounts for all that those societies accomplished and built. All non-Christian cultures have been based on slavery. While slavery was tolerated under Christianity, it was extincted by condemnation and neglect. Slavery began to end in Christian communities when the clergy extended the sacraments, particularly holy communion, to slaves. In Christendom, slavery began to diminish by the mid-600s (St. Bethilda is an example). By the end of the eleventh century, slavery was essentially abolished in all Christian cultures (which was essentially all of Europe, but only Europe, since Islam was effectively killing it everywhere else).

The last centuries of the Roman Empire strangled the world. It bound people to the state. For centuries it was the state and the gods of the state, then it was the state and the Church, which was wed by a relatively strong and egoistic ruler. That, obviously, was for the overall detriment of the common man. After Rome fell, the church did not. The church was significant and beneficial overall, but the church played in power and politics, and no good can come of such. No good comes from playing power and politics in general; so much the worse when granting it the imprimatur of divine sanction.

The state must be constrained, limited, and small for people to be free and to grow. Freedom is the essential ingredient to growth and progress in societies.

I’ve completed just over half the book so far, and I enthusiastically recommend it.

 

Regarding chapter 12 in Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, I find his opening assertions remarkable.

In chapter 9, on assessing growth, he points out that through Constantine’s conversion, to about 350 CE, we have sufficient reliable data to say that a simple logarithmic growth model of 3.4% per year holds. However, he points out that it had to slow rapidly after that.

Here is why:

Year Christians in Roman Empire
40 1,000 Thousand
50 1,397
100 7,434
109 10,044 Ten Thousand
150 39,560
178 100,887 Hundred Thousand
180 107,864
200 210,517
247 1,013,331 Million
250 1,120,245
300 5,961,288
312 8,904,029 (Milvian Bridge)
316 10,178,146 Ten Million
350 31,722,471 (around half the empire)
385 102,231,768 Hundred Million
454 1,026,840,633 Billion
523 10,313,835,968 Ten Billion

See the problem?

Dr. Stark presents the table above in chapter 9, and I’ve added some numbers for clarity.

I recalculated the numbers by dropping them in a spreadsheet, adding 3.4% per year, one year at a time. My numbers matched his. It is clear that the 3.4% growth rate dropped off rapidly after Christians became the majority. Otherwise, there would have been more Christians than living people. I’m sure various factors ensured it slowed rapidly. Probably the largest factor was that there were simply fewer non-Christians. If everyone you know is Christian, you can’t convert any of them. Probably official sanction slowed the growth too, simply because of loss of zeal.

Regardless, the growth seems astonishing when considering only the numbers, but when one thinks that 3.4% growth means that on average every 100 Christians brought 3 or 4 new converts into the fold every year, then it doesn’t seem remarkable at all, other than that it seems to have been so consistent. For over three centuries, the fervor of Christians stayed high.

Back to my point, chapter 12. He opens the chapter explaining how little information is still available about Christianity east of Jerusalem. He suggests Syria was the “center of gravity” of the entirety of Christendom until about 700 AD. There apparently is evidence that most of the eastern world had significant Christian populations, including India and China, until the coercive religions arose and wiped them out with the sword. (Of course, I’m referring to Islam, but I’ve only read a couple of pages of the chapter so far. I assume he will note other persecutions and massacres attributable to other religion and culture.)

What I find most remarkable is he concludes that Christians in the west (the Roman Empire) accounted for ONLY a third of all Christians in the year 500. Think of that.

There were tens of millions of Christians in the west. If there were twice as many Christians in the east and in northern Africa, that means the aggressive religions and cultures slaughtered around one hundred million Christians (100,000,000 people of several ethnicities). Actually, even more, since it was over centuries that they were wiped out. There would have been some births and conversions in that time.

Contemplate that.

I always encourage keeping perspective. Try to look at the big picture as well as the details.

The world wars of the 20th Century were horrific, and still in the minds of many of us. Estimates vary, but war deaths through the entire 20th Century are only about as many total as the deaths of Christians who lived in the east before they were extirpated.

Dr. Stark indicates that in many Muslim areas, Christians remained a majority, though repressed, until the beginning of the Fourteenth Century, at which point the Muslims conducted a relentless, violent extermination of the Christians, forcing conversion or death.

I suppose many acquiesced and switched allegiance, but we have ample evidence that a significant proportion of Christians will accept execution rather than renounce Christ.

From chapter 12:

After centuries of gradual decline, the number of Christians in the East and North Africa suddenly reduced to less than 2 percent of the population by 1400. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Christianity had been essentially restricted to Europe.

I’ve made assumptions here, and calculated in ways Stark hasn’t suggested (at least not as far as I’ve read to date), but the fact is obvious. Christians of all ethnicities have experienced horrific violence at the hands of other beliefs and cultures.

When it comes to blame and grievance, I believe there never has been and never will be any shortage. On the whole, we are all in this together, and we just better keep working on doing our part to make it better. We must refuse coercion. We must live and act right in our own lives, respecting the life and property of others.

Do good and pray for those who despitefully use you.

My comments on Rodney Stark’s Triumph of Christianity are what strikes me, and not an effort to be thorough.

Constantine’s combining of Church authority with State power was a mistake. It has hurt society and humanity.

Constantine was tolerant and cooperative with the pagans and other religions, yet he was intolerant of dissent within Christianity from Christian orthodoxy. His objection to dissent, and his application of state power against it was probably mostly trying to keep a strong unity, probably largely motivated by political ambition and avoidance of schism, which tends to lead to strife. (I don’t think Constantine was power-mad. I think he was sincere, but perhaps suffering from some noble-cause-corruption.)

I suppose Constantine was generally traditional.

That would mean that he expected people to honor their traditions whether they were different from his or not. It seems the Roman distaste for Christianity from the beginning was rooted in an expectation of following tradition and honoring the beliefs and gods of one’s family and heritage. Conversion to Christianity thwarted that. Conversion to Christianity abandoned one’s religious heritage. Traditionalists are likely to be incensed by such a change. Gradual change over generations was one thing. The dramatic conversion to Christ alone was seen as extreme, extremist, and antisocial.

For Constantine, with his Christian mother, Helena, he probably did not see his own conversion as abandoning his heritage and tradition. However, he probably respected such traditionalism among the pagans and other religions. He probably also tended to judge individuals by the content of their character, their abilities, and their political loyalty. He apparently continued always to honor and promote people around him without regard for their religious beliefs. He probably only considered whether or not they were reliable, and consistent behavior with regard to one’s beliefs, whether Christian or other, was evidence of conviction and reliability.

Regarding Constantine’s conversion, I suspect he was raised consistent with general Roman pagan tradition and beliefs. He probably had significant influence from his mother with regard to Christianity, but as a likely ruler of Rome, Roman religious practice was probably his own before conversion.

If one runs the numbers, given reasonable and plausible mathematical models (as Stark does in the book), one realizes that the Christians, who had been feared as potentially adverse political opponents, were at least a large minority, and probably already a majority, especially in the aristocracy. Constantine probably was mostly an opportunist. He saw the trend of increasing Christian unity and population proportion, and he decided it was time to embrace his mother’s faith. I think he was sincere, but I am nearly certain he saw only advantages for himself politically. Emperors were often assassinated by troops or guards. Applying Christian ethics in his administration and military leadership was very likely to improve his chances of staying in good graces with his subordinates and bodyguards.

I close this comment by reiterating that I consider the use of state power with any regard to religion a mistake and inherently wrong.

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