Christian Superstitions

This post started out to be a joke (it still may end up as one, says you) or at least to be a mildly humorous look at some elements of Catholic and perhaps wider Christian practice.  The genesis or inspiration arose from a throw-away comment Jeff made in one of his Saturday Ramblings, and I typed a few random stream-of-consciousness notes off the top of my head into a Word document, then saved it and forgot about it.

Until today, that is, when Jeff asked for something and I was unprepared (hmm – hearing distinct echoes of “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee”) so I dug this out in desperation.  But there are a couple of things coalescing this week that encouraged me to try and treat the topic a little more seriously.

For those of you who haven’t heard, this weekend there is going to be a Reason Rally in Washington, D.C.:

“The Reason Rally is an event sponsored by many of the country’s largest and most influential secular organizations.  It will be free to attend and will take place in Washington, D.C. on March 24th, 2012 from 10:00AM – 6:00PM at the National Mall.”

It’s being sponsored and organised by a range of secular, atheist, humanist and such like groups, and it may be a large event; the organisers are saying that the Parks Service has upped its estimate of potential attendance to between 30,000 and 50,000, and they’re very excited, because it’s their chance to be visible, to gain publicity, to make themselves known to others.  Each of the organisations involved has its own agenda, naturally enough, but in the main I think the point of the whole affair is much like this atheist says:

“(T)o remind the people in their lives that they know atheists and that we don’t eat babies.”  She is also honest about her aims:

“When I’m being publicly atheist, my long-term goal isn’t to help atheists be tolerated (though I may take that on as a short-term goal).  My goal is for everyone to be atheists.  Except that doesn’t really mean very much, so I actually want for everyone to be virtue ethicists.  Or even more precisely, I want everyone to be good, aggressive, loving philosophers who will catch me out in errors, so we can all get closer to the truth together.”

(As a side note, I wish more atheists were like Leah Libresco in their engagement with believers; yes, she wants to convince us of the truth of atheism, but she wants to do so by, well, convincing us, not by calling us idiots and bigots.)

The American Atheists organisation will be having their national convention after the rally on 25th – 26th March nearby in Maryland.  It’s also, apparently, “A Week”, which is a week where all manner of non-theists are asked to put up a capital “A” as their Facebook profile picture for the week in order to let people know that they know atheists and that people can be “Good without Gods”.

So what does all this have to do with the title of the post – Christian superstitions?  As I said, initially I was going to have a quick gallop through some of the easy targets – the Bible Codes, End Times, prayer cloths, KJV-Only, diet the Scriptural way, God wants you to be rich so say this prayer and follow this regime and you’ll be rolling in the dough, the Book of Revelation clearly identifies the U.N. as the lair of the Anti-Christ-type things we’ve all rolled our eyes about.  Then I intended to have a look at Catholic practices which can (I should say, which inevitably) veer towards superstition or look like it from the outside, such as the use of sacramentals and old folk piety such as “If you keep the Easter water for seven years, there’s a cure in it” which I learned as a child (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, Easter water is the water specially blessed during the Vigil Mass of Holy Saturday, where there is a special blessing used and the Paschal Candle is dipped into the water, and it is to be used for baptisms; there is also ordinary holy water blessed on Holy Saturday and it is available in containers in the church porch to be taken home and used for blessing the house or persons; it used to be an Irish custom to use this water to bless the house on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve or Hallowe’en).

Wikipedia has a good, basic explanation of what sacramentals are – they include items such as holy water, holy medals, the blessed palms which used during the Palm Sunday Mass, held by the congregation during the reading of the Gospel to emulate the people who waved palms to welcome the entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem (the same crowd which later called for Pilate to set free Barabbas and crucify Jesus) and taken home afterwards to be tucked behind picture frames or mirrors in the home as a protection, holy oil, blessed salt, blessed candles, scapulars, relics – I’ve already done those so you know all about them – and basically if you can say it, perform it, wear it, sprinkle it on yourself, set fire to it or hang it on the wall, it’s included.

Seven (as in the seven years to keep the Easter water mentioned above) is, of course, a lucky number and the attribution of mystical qualities to items or concepts is not confined to Catholics in particular or Christians in general.  The Jews also have similar traditions; seven gains its perceived mystical significance because God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, hallowing it.  The number seven consequently had connotations of completeness or perfection.  Kabbalah is a goldmine (or minefield) of this kind of thing, ranging from serious scholarly work by rabbis steeping themselves in the writings to, well, Madonna’s latest fad.  From the pious requirement to affix a mezuzah on your doorframe (every Catholic who’s ever seen a holy water font inside the front door is now nodding in recognition) to red string bracelets, it’s not just Christians who can mingle folk religion with what looks like superstition.

Okay, so religious people are crazy, we all knew that.  What’s my point?  My point is that, with just two more Sundays in Lent to go (and the Feast of the Annunciation transferred to Monday 26th because it falls on the same day as Passion Sunday), I am going to challenge atheism as insufficiently materialistic.

Yes, you heard me right.  The point of all the discursiveness about salt and ashes and oil and pieces of cloth and beads and bending and kneeling and saying certain words and performing certain gestures and hanging up bits of vegetation and scattering water around?  It’s because Christianity is a densely material faith and under our worldview, the world is drenched in the supernatural.  To quote from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem we learned in school,

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”

The superstitious and even pseudo-pagan elements witness to this; not that they represent a smuggling in of the old practices to be continued beneath the cover of a whitewashed routine, but the recognition that the good things of life – children, crops, rain, light, protection from ills, health and growth of creatures as well as persons – were indeed good, and that now we know the true Author and Giver of all this, we can continue to render thanks.  St. Paul did not overthrow the altar to the unknown god or call the Athenians deluded idiots, he used it as a springboard to teach them that what they were seeking, though they did not know it, was here already: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

Atheism, on the other hand, is a transcendent movement, one that cannot bear this mingling of the divine and the profane.  Not, I submit, because they are too gross and worldly, but because they tend all too readily to Gnosticism.  Spirit is spirit, matter is matter, and never the twain shall meet.  It may seem on the face of it that they stick rigidly to a materialist interpretation of the universe, where there are only atoms in motion in obedience to physical laws that, in the end, have no meaning other than that they exist.  What came before the instant of physical creation is a meaningless question, and for each of us who dies, that is the very moment of the dissolution of the universe (our own small part of it, as our matter returns to the matter from which it arose).

And yet they have a yearning for the purity of the intellect which can be quite touching.  The Reason Rally is a case in point: they wish to celebrate and unite under the banner of “reason”.  Intelligence and critical thinking skills are important to them.  The most vocal of the current crop of “New Atheists” are scientists or philosophers or public intellectuals in some form.  Even Jerry Coyne, the professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, who denies free will in statements such as “If whether we act well or badly is predetermined rather than a real choice, then there is no moral responsibility—only actions that hurt or help others”, even he goes on to say “That realization shouldn’t seriously change the way we punish or reward people, because we still need to protect society from criminals, and observing punishment or reward can alter the brains of others, acting as a deterrent or stimulus.  What we should discard is the idea of punishment as retribution, which rests on the false notion that people can choose to do wrong.”  We still, somehow, have duties and responsibilities and should act in fair, rational ways that conduce to the public good –even though we don’t even have the power to decide what color socks we’re going to wear in the morning.

This exaltation of the pure mind (even if ostensibly “mind” is not considered to be separate from “brain” and “soul” is right out from the beginning) achieves its apogee and apotheosis in transhumanism, the idea that we can use technology to overcome the limitations of the body.  The more visionary or the wilder, take your pick, envisage a future where human consciousness can be uploaded into computer storage, so that a form of immortality may be achieved free of the shackles of the flesh and earthly ills.  We will (or we should) free ourselves from the tyranny of evolution – even though we’ve been informed that evolution is all there is to form us.  The Singularity has been derided as “the Rapture for geeks”, as the idea is that greater-than-human intelligence will be achieved through a combination of “artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement or brain-computer interfaces” and not only will we create non-organic minds, these will live and evolve in ways unimaginable to us at present.  The more practical concentrate on near-future achievements such as cryonics, genetic engineering and cybernetics, where implants link up the human nervous system to act as a control for computer and electronic systems; this is already within reach, they argue, as witness Michael Chorost and his cochlear ear implant.

In such a dream of progress, the messiness and fallibility of the flesh is a more potent argument against divinity than any other; if there is no creator (and how can there be a creator, looking at the imperfection of the creation?), then we are free to take our own development and our own future into our own hands.  Our bodies are not sacred, not temples of the Holy Spirit (or any spirit), they are raw material to be transcended and discarded.  Matter does not matter.

And so we return to where we started out, with the American Atheists and their billboard campaign aimed at Jews and Muslims, which generated some controversy (though not, perhaps, the kind they were seeking).  The primary reason for the offense being taken?  They used the Tetragrammaton on the Hebrew-language billboard, which they wanted to put up near to a neighborhood of Hasidic Jews.

The name that is too holy to write or speak in full, the name that conservative Jews writing in English will abbreviate as “G-d” to avoid irreverence, the name that evoked circumlocutions and euphemism (as the Greeks referred to the Furies as “Eumenides” or “Kindly Ones” to avert misfortune), the name that in legend has the power to shake the foundations of the universe if said in full, haShem that must not be written unnecessarily and when written must be treated with special sanctity, so that papers bearing that name cannot be disposed of regularly, lest they be desecrated, but are usually put in long term storage or buried in Jewish tradition– this is plastered on a billboard in giant letters on paper that will be torn down or plastered over with other advertisements for consumer goods.

What’s the big deal, the American Atheists ask disingenuously.  It’s only a word, and words have no control over us.  Yet by using it, they attribute a power to it which they seek to deny by using it irreverently – and they must know the force of what they are doing, because I don’t think they just happened to get any old Hebrew term when they were translating their message.  See, there is no magic in this word, they say.  We use it freely and we’re not struck down from above.  And by doing this, they show that they attribute just as much power to the correct use of words as any KJV-Only purist.  Get the words right, and all will flow therefrom.  Get them wrong, and be misled into damnation.  They put as much weight on the might of the right combination of letters as any devotee of gematria;  it’s an anti-spell to cancel out the spell of the mystic name, because matter is a dull, dead, inert lumpishness that cannot be inflamed by spirit, and since the magic word can be uttered by lips of flesh with no effect seen by the physical eye, why then, there is no being who possesses that name or else he or it would strike in retaliation.  An immaterial name cannot have an effect, any more than my speaking your name gives me control over you.  Matter and spirit are eternally separate.

But words do have meaning and force and effect.  The word that reveals the sacred name leads us not just to sacred words in general, or the Bible as the word, but to the Word Himself, where the physical and the immaterial have mingled.  The Logos is not just a philosophical concept, it is a Person.  The Word speaks itself because it is a Self that speaks.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  God has given us His name to know Him by, and not just His name alone.

So we face into the final weeks of Lent, where next Sunday is Passion Sunday – the Gospel account of the very physical, very material, very messy and bloody and real dealings of the world with the Word will be read at Mass.  And the day after that we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us”.  Every year, for Christmas or Easter, there comes a new theory to explain in scientific terms the elements of the tales: the star of Bethlehem was a nova, or a conjunction of astrologically significant planets; Simcha Jacobovici with his Talpyot tomb and ossuaries is the most outrageous, but not the only, voice in recent times to reassure us of the historicity of the Gospels by rattling bones for us to deny the miraculous; here is no shambolic intermingling of divinity and humanity but a neat Gnostic division of flesh and spirit, where we have an admirable human, but only a human, dying for a nebulous notion of a different kind of God to that known by the ancients but infinitely malleable to our needs by we moderns.

To quote from the great prayer-poem attributed to the saint whose day we celebrated recently (no, not St. Joseph):

I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,

through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial

through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,

through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.


I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:

light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire,

speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,

stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

No contradiction between one and the other, no dichotomy.  The thin immateriality of atheism is no refuge here.

Every year a debunking under the guise of new research to reassure us that the inexplicable entangling of God with humanity is not so, but we have the reins in our own hand and the heavens remain unstained, lofty and distant until we – in our transcended forms as immaterial intelligences housed in technology not these fleshy shells – bestir ourselves to claim them.

But we superstitious ones are left here, in the dust of the desert, clinging not to symbols or weightless words but to real chunks excavated out of the world around us and handed to us by the wounded hands of the Lord we knew and laid in the tomb and now see in His own true flesh before us: bread and fish; salt, ashes, leaves, oil, water, candles, fire, all things to wear and eat and smear on our heads and sprinkle on our possessions as we bow, kneel, rise up, lie down, sing, call, as we plod on our own, weary, tired feet on the sand and stones, until up ahead, over the brow of the hill, look – the light of the dawn!  So far to go still, but now no longer in the darkness.

57 thoughts on “Christian Superstitions

  1. It’s significant that Marshal McLuahan, who gave the information age the adage “the medium IS the message”, became a catholic as an adult and reportedly went to mass daily. Medium, indeed.


  2. I’m going to be attending “The Reason Rally” as its in my backyard.

    Maybe you could give us an after-action report come Monday.


  3. Remember that one of the beefs the Romans had with the early Church was that those Christians weren’t superstitious enough to be a real religion.

    Religion of the time was apparently all about superstition and magic. Human reason was for those Philosophers over there on the other side of the Adriatic.


  4. It depends on the nature of the organisation, though. If the organisation assumes some level of unity of belief, then potentially yes, you are right. If the organisation makes no claim to shared belief on the matter in question, then no. And there is also the consideration of what else the organisation represents – one can remain loyal to an organisation without approving its leadership if it is in itself seen as more than just the sum total of whatever the current debate is about (eg. the second-biggest party in the UK House of Commons is called ‘Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’: loyal because they are loyal to HM Government, opposition because they disagree with said Government and hurl colourful insults at it every day).

    I do strongly agree with you and cermak_rd on the distinction between holding a belief and trying to compel others to obey it.


  5. Eagle,

    I’m a big believer in expanding one’s horizons. Use this time to see all aspects of the diamond called faith. When and if you choose to re-evaluate you’ll be doing it from a position of knowledge. Have fun…


  6. Also, there is a rather major point in that I don’t know of any atheist “leaders” who are advocating hateful, bigoted laws to be enacted or enforced against people they disagree with. If there was a similar situation in which Richard Dawkins advocated that Christians should be prevented, by law, from getting married and no other atheists were shouting him down, then the situation might be comparable.


  7. If someone willing joins and stays a member of an organisation, the leader of which makes bigoted and hateful statements and pushes for hateful and bigoted laws, then yes. That person can be said top be represented by the leader of that organisation. I look forward to finding the examples you would use for atheists.


  8. Eagle,

    The Scriptures tell us that faith is a gift and is not something that we can choose to do on our own, or intellectually assent to.

    And I do believe that you are right, faith can be lost. We can, and regularily do walk away from our faith, but the Lord seems to work repentance in us (somehow) and brings us back again. And this happens over and over and over all throughout life. Is there a point where God will let one go, completely…and not bring him/her back? The Scriptures allude to that possibility. But there are also other Scriptures that speak of Christ not losing any that were given to Him. I prefer to hope for that scenario…but God will be God and He can do anything that He pleases.

    One of THE biggest questions (maybe THE biggest) ought be, ‘why do some hear and come to faith…and others do not? I do believe that we will have to wait till we get there and see if He will answer that one.


  9. It’s not just him though. Most evangelicals are against gay marriage strongly. Why do you think the petitions circulate in evangelical churches?

    This goes beyond just not wanting members of their church not to have gay sex or take plan B or whatnot but wanting to control what people who aren’t in their congregations and who will never be in their congregations do.


  10. ‘Grounding’ ourselves with physical symbols is a totally natural, and supernatural, experience that wells up from inside us as a need, not a religious frivolity or convenience.


  11. “Its also hard to love a skeptic who is drowning in questions.”

    Nah……not with the inexhaustible love and grace of God that was first shown to us. If a person hasn’t experienced, felt, known, saught out, whatever ‘adjective’ you want to use, for themselves, they most assuradely can’t pour it on to someone else.

    I think, for the most part, that people – in general – are impatient and lack faith. Sooooo, when we get close to a ‘skeptic drowing in questions’, we don’t know what to do with it or about it. Mostly, we don’t know how to be in a relationship with someone who asks questions we can’t answer, or that there are no answers for. Like that chasm of silent doubt is too great for a human lacking in faith, trust, , love and grace.

    I just purcahsed and received yesterday Brennan Manning’s book Posers, Fakers and Wannabes, he says this (among other profound and beautiful things):

    “Get this if you don’t get anything else. The spiritual life begins with accepting God’s wholehearted love for our wounded, broken, surly, frightened, sorry selves. There is no other starting point.”

    For those walking this narrow road who have been brought through the wilderness to this starting point, loving a skeptic drowning in questions is easy, for we know that is how our Father loves us.

    Make sense? Sorry if I got off topic.


  12. I like Paul Tillich’s approach to theSacramental, which are symbols (in contrast with signs) draw us close to the ultimate reality. In contrast, the demonic is that which oppresses and enslaves, which to me is what superstition is. Sacraments become demonic or superstitious when used by religion to control and oppress. Religion which assaults human reason is not sacramental.


  13. This may be a different case in Europe but here in the US atheists only represent about 2 to 3% of the population. They are small, but vocal. But they also don’t have the air time or resources like many fundageliclas. No Atheist Broadcast Network. No dedicated atheist universiites to the degrees that many fundagelicals have. So in many ways its hard to compare. Richard Dawkins does have a following. But he also angers some as well. I wonder if the tables would turn if Rochard Dawkins popped up as often as John Piper or the late Jerry Falwell when a disaster happens and says something repulsive.


  14. And how does that gift of God work exactly? If a person loses their faith was that becuase they never believed all along?

    Some people it seems have faith. Others just don’t seem to get it. It’s like the problem of evil. It’s an issue for many atheists and agnostics, but for many Christians it doesn’t seem to bother them. Maybe that’s becuase their bubble hasn’t been popped yet? Maybe when one is staring down evil it will force people to ask questions.

    Many Christians want to be rejected. Kind of a self-fullfilling prophecy if I can state. It’s easier to reject than it is to love. I learned that by working with mentally ill homeless in downtown Washington, D.C. in my Christian days. Its also hard to love a skeptic who is drowning in questions.


  15. My point is that we are basically unbelievers at heart, and are basically intent on staying that way. it is the Holy Spirit who gives us faith (“faith is a gift of God”), and it is He who keeps us in faith. He might use apologetics, but doing the gospel to people seems to be His main method.

    As Jesus told the disciples, “when they accept you, stay and have lunch. When they reject you…leave them.”


  16. Martha – If this is what you produce when you are unprepared then you truly are … ‘The White Gold Wielder’ (reference to the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant)…

    Again, very enjoyable reading. There is currently a series out (being played on both PBS and EWTN) called Catholicism where the narrator (a Catholic Priest whose name escapes me at the moment) continuously looks at the faith from angles that really cause me to think. Your posts tend to do the same thing. So Pope Benedict, I’m on to you and your Martha of Ireland pseudonym ; )


  17. Or not so exact replicas and after a few beamings they start ACK ACK ACKing like Bill the cat…..


  18. to emulate the people who waved palms to welcome the entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem (the same crowd which later called for Pilate to set free Barabbas and crucify Jesus)

    Not entirely on topic but since you brought it up.

    Not to long ago I saw someone claim the palm was the symbol of the anti-Rome underground and this event was all about the locals wanting Jesus to be their commander who would lead them in driving the Romans out. Anyone know more about this and it’s truth?

    Also Jerusalem wasn’t a small village. Crowds could be from different groups of people. Or did I miss a verse somewhere?


  19. No books, no students.

    If I only took my own advice, I’d be levitating in a constant state of ecstacy. As it is, I’m super-aware of the mote in my brother’s eye but this huge great log sticking out of my own – now where did that come from? I have no idea!


  20. Mark Driscoll is a lousy argument for atheism.

    Maybe a good argument for not being Mark Driscoll, though.


  21. Enjoy yourself, Eagle, and may you meet many friends!

    Is it true someone from the Fred Phelps church has been invited?

    Anyway, if you do run into someone declaring that all the attendees are going to Hell, please remind them that only some of them may end up there and we don’t know who, so it could be the person doing the denouncing.

    Or I suppose you could grin maniacally and declare “Yes, isn’t it wonderful!!!!



  22. Not so off-topic, seeing as how liturgy is the way we mediate between the sacred and the worldly spaces of our lives.

    Good podcasts – sorry, no recommendations. Any listeners out there, as opposed to readers?


  23. Wow, Martha knows how to make my head swim. For “random stream-of-consciousness notes ” they are definitely impacting my brain (mind, spirit, soul, body?).


  24. This was one of Dr. McCoy’s objections to transporter technology – how do you know that it’s really you coming out on the other side, and not a scanned replica?

    Particularly with all the retconning of transporter tech that the writers did in the later series of Star Trek, so that all kinds of things could be done with the pattern bumpers and so forth.

    McCoy was probably right – stick to shuttlecraft!



  25. Love it, Martha. And more, this was exactly the kind of Christian writing on atheism that I loved to read when I was an atheist – none of this “Oh, you don’t believe in Hell? Well, I hope you enjoy HELL!” there’s so much of, but instead “This is why I disagree with your ideas: [insert original and interesting criticisms here]”.

    You’re going to write a book one day, right?


  26. There are going to be a diverse amount of groups and people at “The Reason Rally”. They will have people from Center for Inquiry, Freedom from Religion foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. Also present will a new group for atheists in the US military. Hermant Mahta “The Friendly Atheist” will be there as well. I’ve gone to the Center for Inquiry a few times to listen to their presentations and talk to a few people. The last one dealt with the concept of evil with a twist. It was called “The Evil God Challenge” by Stephan Law. It was there that I was given a bumper sticker that said, “You don’t need God, to love, to hope, to care or to live.” I was on the fence about whether or not to put it on my Honda. It would mean my neighbors would know, people from social groups would know, etc…

    THEN I read about what Mark Driscoll did to Paul Petry at Mars Hill Seattle. I thought of the Christians I know who admire and respect Driscoll and I felt sick to my stomach. I thereby decided to put it on my car and display it with pride. Christianity really shoots itself in the foot. For me it’s hard to believe that there is a pastor who many follow, listen to , buy his books,. etc… that makes me miss Jerry Falwell and a more involved Pat Robertson.


  27. I’m going to be attending “The Reason Rally” as its in my backyard. I’m anxiously awaiitng the debates, Christian protests and tracts. You can’t go down to the National Mall without being evangelized so I’m curious as to what is going to happen this Saturday. Maybe I’ll counter evangelize someone from McLean Bible!! 😀


  28. You know I know the Bible well. I know “Christian” doctrine well. I also know the language, sayings, etc… And yet I don’t conisder myself a Christian. if there is one thing…ONE thing that Christians could do that could woo me over it’s this. Show love and grace. That is notably absent from Christianity today. And its getting worse with doctrine being made an idol. After all isn’t it in 1 Corithinians where Paul says if you don’t have love in your actions you truly have nothing…

    This is the reason why I love the Internet Monk and Wartburg Watch. I do feel love and grace at both places.


  29. If you take much of modern physics seriously (as I understand it, at least), you could make a case that there was nothing there to “beam,”—–that we are some odd, God-created, coagulation of atomic particles.

    In a sense, we’re all “beams” to begin with.

    One of the reasons I believe in God is that this particular collection of atomic particles that is me is solid enough to sit on a chair in Concord, New Hampshire, and write this on my laptop.


  30. So some Christians can represent all christians… can that be used for Atheists? Can some Atheists who are jerks be credited with representing all Atheists?


  31. I’ve heard this logic used by some Christians to discredit apologetics. From science man can only perceive with his 5 senses therefore an immaterial God cannot be known to man. From theology “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”


  32. I have to look further into the whole idea of monism, Kero — I don’t know enough about it to argue. While I would hold that there is a spiritual component to the universe as well as a physical, I am against the artificial separation of the two. I disagree with the view that “spiritual” stuff is out there, or better, or finer, and that “physical” stuff is what we experience every day, the “real” stuff, or the sinful stuff. I think the reality we experience is an inextricable mix of what we would call the spiritual and the physical. I don’t suppose God makes the distinctions we do at all. The only distinction he might recognize is the Creator and the created — and the second class includes both the spiritual and material.

    Father Steven Freeman, at the blog “Glory to God for All Things,” has an excellent explanation of what he calls the two-storey universe, about the relationship of the spiritual and physical aspects of the universe. Do you know his writings at all?


  33. But some of us are monists, Damaris. I don’t believe in these things as spiritual because I don’t believe in the spiritual. I believe only in the physical, in a sense, but not so dogmatically that I’d say things like “G-d has a size and shape”. I believe in mysteries, in profoundly confusing truths, but not in a separate plain or realm or mode of existence. That’s why I think that communion is a (profoundly mysterious) meal and a memory.

    Yes it’s silly in a sense, but for every Peter or Paul (or Mary) there’s a Thomas. I don’t know how to believe otherwise.


  34. Hence, we are, are we not, at the right hand of the Father in glory. We are in eternity. So why is there dog doo on my shoe?

    Because God’s Punishing You, that’s why. If you hadn’t peed in the swimming pool… 🙂


  35. This is Chestertonian in the best sense: it makes me want to stand on the housetops and declaim it for all to hear!


  36. This reminds me of the Philosophy of Science Fiction class I took back in college.
    We spent half the semester arguing over the moral and philosophical ramifications of “beaming” (as in, “Beam me up, Scotty”) — particularly over whether or not people who get beamed are really the same entity on the other end or just exact replicas of someone who ceased to exist during the beaming process.


  37. The Singularity has been derided as “the Rapture for geeks”, as the idea is that greater-than-human intelligence will be achieved through a combination of “artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement or brain-computer interfaces” and not only will we create non-organic minds, these will live and evolve in ways unimaginable to us at present.

    When Singularity hit the cover of TIME a couple months ago, two little statements about the True Believers caught my attention:

    1) One of the most vocal Singularitans was heavily into a gluttony-of-delicacy diet to stretch his lifespan to where he could live to see the Singularity (calculated as happening in mid-century) and then become cybernetically immortal. (Or cyberspace-download immortal.) However, this sounds more like Max Headroom than immortality — even if the download had all the personality and memory trace, the download would start a separate first-person point-of-view from the original. And immediately destroying the original (as in the replicator-plus-disintegrator model of teleportation) just hides the issue.

    2) Another was looking forward to “cyber-reconstructing” his dead father after the Singularity in some sort of cyberspace Resurrection. Again, this would be an after-the-fact Max Headroom, without a continuous first-person POV from the original.

    Our bodies are not sacred, not temples of the Holy Spirit (or any spirit), they are raw material to be transcended and discarded. Matter does not matter.

    “The Planet is about to be spaded under and Recycled. Evolve to the Next Level — join Bo & Peep behind Hale-Bopp!” — Heaven’s Gate Cult


  38. At the risk of inflaming your pride…challenging atheists for being insufficiently materialist is a charge worthy of Chesterton.


  39. We are, in robust reality and actuality, seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He is at the right hand of the Father and we are in Him. Hence, we are, are we not, at the right hand of the Father in glory. We are in eternity. So why is there dog doo on my shoe? At the moment we are fully spirit and fully human. Disregard either one and we are fully in trouble.


  40. This is brilliant, Martha, and very true. Unfortunately it’s not only atheists who tend toward gnosticism. There are many Christians who scorn the material, holding that communion, for example, is only an intellectual remembrance imposed on largely irrelevant physical bread and wine. They also focus more on their soul going to heaven immediately after death than on the resurrection of the body. Encountering God for them is reading and understanding the Bible, not a sacramental union involving both spiritual and material elements. Christianity becomes an intellectual affirmation rather than death, transformation, and new life in God.


  41. You know what would be quite likely to stop some atheists calling Christians bigots? If Christians stopped acting like bigots. When the most senior Catholic in the country calls gay marriage the equivalent of slavery.. he is acting like a bigot and he is a representative of Christians.


  42. You know, if it were up to my reason, and to what I saw when I looked around at this pride-soaked, self-obsessed world full of pain and grief, then I’d more than likely be an atheist, too.

    But no one can believe were it not for the Holy Spiriy. They looked right into His eyes and sae Him raise the dead…and yet they did not believe.

    So. If I have believed (a self-obsessed idolator and superstitious fool ), then anyone can believe…by the grace and mercy of Almighty God.

    I’l keep those souls at ‘The Reason Rally’ in my prayers, and hope that somewhee along the way in their time of trial and need, that someone hands Christ over to them and tells them of the wonderful things that He has done for them, on the cross.

    Thanks, Martha.


  43. Christian superstitions, or more broadly, religious superstitions, part-and-parcel with the most zealous/pious practitioners…

    unbeknownst to me, i accummulated some such perspectives whether or not i considered myself rational…

    and i discovered they were part of every faith expression/tradtion i participated in. some were like the proverbial carrot in front of the horse/donkey. something always out-of-reach but desirable nonetheless. and if it somehow garnered God’s approval/attention, then it was justifiable no matter what the believer or other people thought.

    it was the X-treme prophetic movement & the uber-charismatic types that took the concept of religious superstition to a new level IMHO. and you can do an internet search on the crazy stuff being claimed today as divine manifestations of a supra-natural kind…


    it was the abuses of such antics & the strange urban legends that circulated thru such fellowships that finally transformed me into the skeptical saint i am today. yet i cannot deny the spiritual element of my own personal experiences, nor those of humble saints that have disclosed some rather amazing stories themselves…

    i think for the most part, that God set us here in a physical existence where it is the norm. if He wanted us in heavenly realms, we would be there. but for now we live, move & have our being in a very physical living situation that does include spiritual elements intended to remind us of that Reality…

    i think this should be an interesting thread Martha. there are many different viewpoints & practical experiences from all Christian tranditions that should make for some lively exchanges. looking forward to it…


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