Thoughts on Consciousness

“I think therefore I am” is a famous saying. It would have been better, I think, to say, “I am therefore I think.” The reason for this is that I am going to consider two levels of consciousness. I will begin with a very basic definition that applies to everything that has sentient life. All these forms of life have the ability to react to their internal functions and external environments and then act appropriately. As animal life forms became more complex their consciousness increased to match their growing ability to perform various functions. Up until the creation of humans all consciousness was a biochemical-electromagnetic phenomena.

We are told of the coming of a different level of consciousness in Genesis 1:27 where we are told that God created humans in his own image. There is a difficulty here. What is meant by image? It cannot be anything physical about humans. At the time of human creation God had not taken on any physical characteristics. The three persons of the Trinity were pure spirits and people he created were formed from the dust of the earth. How could we and God share any common image? It must be that God added to the biochemical-electromagnetic consciousness that all animals have. This addition must have been portions of his infinite consciousness.

For these two levels to work together God’s consciousness must be compatible with that of humans. I think I can show they seamlessly fit together by pointing you to the person of Jesus Christ. He had a human consciousness and a fully divine consciousness but there no evident separation when he performed miracles. He would be talking to people, do a supernatural act, and then continue to talk as if nothing spectacular had happened. When he did pray before a miracle it was not that he needed to but that he needed to show people he was one with his Father.

Our two levels of consciousness make it possible for us to think and experience on both physical and spiritual levels. Since neither science nor theology have complete understandings of either level, I think we should just be thankful for what we have and be glad that God shared enough from his infinite consciousness so that we could come to know him and believe in his Son.

Advertisements

Let’s Hear a Cheer for Metaphysics

The rather immodest aim of metaphysics is the comprehension and unification of all understanding. However, we have passed the point where any one mind or even any one system can encompass all of our expanding knowledge of the wonders surrounding us. Nevertheless, there is something from metaphysics we need to retain and this is its search for the reality underlying all appearances. It was the goal and the hope of the metaphysician to find a unifying concept of reality that would invest all things with value. Today we lack a recognized and agreed upon set of values and therefore we need the return of the metaphysical ideal.

Some time ago metaphysical studies were divided, and by the division reduced, into theology, philosophy and science. Contemporary theology is chaos, and even if it were not most of it is unrecognized and unheeded in a secular world. Philosophy, instead of studying our minds, studies words and what is left of the noble pursuit is mostly historical studies of past philosophers and critiques of their systems. As for science as a guide for humanity, the magic has mostly departed. Few think today that science is the road to peace and prosperity. Science is good with facts but poor about values.

Politics, the art and practice of government, has much to do with facts, but its ultimate choices have to do with values. And it is in making choices that our political system is floundering. A quick contrast can be made between the current politician, who tends to obtain his or her value system from public opinion polls, and the founders of our country.

The politicians then generally believed in a transcendent deity who was the source of political values and human dignity, and who was the judge of their actions. The judge of contemporary politicians is the election. And their highest aim is reelection.

This decay in the political value system is not the entire fault of the politicians. It is the result of a declining metaphysic. Instead of a nation with a common set of shared values, our culture has allowed values to become so privatized that it is impossible to reach anything approaching a consensus on any given issue. In fact, many people would argue against the possibility or even the desirability of a shared value system.

Governing, though, is an exercise in reality. Real choices have real consequences in real lives. Political actions based either on wishful thinking, or arbitrary or non-existent values, will in the end be destructive. What we need is a politics based on reality. And knowledge of reality comes from a search for truth. And the search for truth leads us back to metaphysics. Therefore, let’s hear a cheer for metaphysics.

American Christianity after Its Reformation

It is easier, I think, to criticize than to provide useful means of improving a given situation. It is easier to tear down than to build up, easier to find fault than to overlook minor errors. With this in mind, while my post “The Reformation of American Christianity” could be expanded into a book if I had the time and interest, I think I should present some ways American Christianity after its reformation should differ from the present version.

A friend once told me his church’s doctrines rested on a three-legged stool. One leg was Scripture, another tradition, and the last, reason. I refrained from telling him his denomination had knocked all three legs out from under the stool and in its present version rested on egos and opinions. A truly reformed (note the lower case r) American Christianity must stand on a renewed and higher view of Scripture than is presently held almost anywhere. Traditions, meaning common practices or supposedly authoritative interpretations, must be looked upon as nonessential differences. And the mind we bring to understanding Jesus Christ must contain the whole potentiality God has given us—not just reason but imagination, intuition, emotion, empathy and all the other facets of grace-fueled thinking.

It is evident that a renewed understanding of Christianity will require new theology. Theology at present is essentially philosophy. An early Christian, Lactantius (who tutored the Emperor Constantine’s children), noted that philosophers all had different opinions and spent their time arguing with each other. He thought Christians should not bother arguing with them. His advice would seem to apply to us today. Theologians of the reformed American Christianity should be mining a corrected view of Scripture to tell us ordinary Christians all that we can understand about the nature of Christ, how we can become more like him (in his human nature), and how we can come to live, think, and act in ways that glorify God.

Our reformed Christianity will have a difficult time returning to the original proclamation of Christianity “Repent of your sins and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The most difficult part will be convincing contemporary people they have any sins of which to repent. Sins, both physical and mental, have been sanitized by the secular world, and by many Christians, through lowering standards of behavior (while being totally intolerant of those who are politically incorrect). The idea behind this attitude is that if some unfortunate attitude or behavior cannot be eliminated by prohibition then it can be legalized and thus made no longer a problem. This fits right in with the advocacy of social chaos and personal dysfunction so prominent in our culture.

The apostle Paul had to speak across a huge cultural divide such as we face when he preached to the Athenians in the Areopagus. Hughes Oliphant Old, in volume 1 of his series The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, described the situation, after the sermon Paul preached in Acts 17:22–31, in these words. “Polite apologetic has been put aside here. There was nothing diplomatic about telling the Athenians, of all people, that they were ignorant. To threaten the day of judgment was to reveal oneself as being hopelessly beyond the pale of humanism, and to affirm the resurrection was to kiss enlightenment a fond farewell.”

Unless reformed American Christianity is totally convinced of the truth of the Word of God, it will not be able to change minds that are immersed in a secularized society. The goal should be to bring people who are confused by all the godless ideas of our time to the point where they will say, as George MacDonald had a woman redeemed by the Holy Spirit say in his book The Curate’s Awakening. “I would like to be loved as an immortal woman, the child of a living God, and not as a helpless—a helpless bastard of Nature!” MacDonald back in 1876 saw the issue clearly. People could be children of God or the fatherless products of nature. He had Helen Lingard make the choice we can hope more and more people make as a result of a clear proclamation that there is a choice to be made.

It would probably not be enough to make an impact on our culture if our renewed Christianity only resulted in a spiritual unity. It would probably not be enough for us. We are, at this stage of our existence, physical creatures and we receive many benefits from being together in groups of various sizes. God knew this and so provided in the Mosaic Law for three national one-week feasts each year. These gatherings are called the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Through all sorts of circumstances these feasts kept the Israelite people united in their corporate identity, even when they did not have their own nation.

We Christians do not have any instructions on how and when and where and for how long we are to be gathered. Yet we probably have a need for doing so and are actually told in the book Hebrews not to forsake doing it. Christians coming together began before the Day of Pentecost and continues to this day, not only in weekly services, but in such events as processions, retreats and on many other occasions. A renewed Christianity would find in the leading of the Holy Spirit, and as a result of the love of Christians for other Christians, ways to express their unity in events of various styles and purposes.

The message of a renewed Christianity will include the kingdom of God as a focus of loyalty. The present diverse and diffused Christianity is neither centered on Jesus or on his kingdom. Renewed churches will see their role as servants of Christians and not as their “owners.” There is enough work for renewed churches to do in proclaiming the gospel, healing damaged Christians, leading in the sharing of resources, and so forth so there will be no need for them to try to limit the unity of the Body of Christ and/or oppose allegiance to the kingdom of God.

The Protestant Reformation produced a variety of new understandings of Christianity and also continuing divisions. Nevertheless, these different ideas of what was right, working together in ways not planned by humans, lit a flame in Europe that, although it is now close to burning out, changed the lives of individuals, the shape of cultures, the destiny of nations and has now spread virtually all over the world. We can only hope that a reformed American Christianity will light in us a fire that will illuminate our darkened world.