J. Michael Jones: Finding a Christian (metaphysical) View of Nature, Part II

Evening Light. Photo by David Cornwell

Finding a Christian (metaphysical) View of Nature, Part II
by J. Michael Jones

The Implications of our View on the Material on our View of Nature. While Platonic Dualism found a welcoming home within the Church, the Rousseauian view of nature (I’m using nature here as a sub category under material) has completely swept western culture as the dominant view. In review, Jean-Jacques Rousseau saw nature in its raw form as perfect, even after the Fall of Adam. He believed that every time humans touch nature, they make it worse. This is the fundamental view today and it is a philosophical view and not one of science. This is an over-simplification, but if there was no Rousseau (who was also influenced by Hume, Locke, and others) there would be no signs in the grocery store such as, “Natural,” “Nature Made,” “Organic,” “unprocessed,” “Non-GMO,” and the more recent, “Ancient” as in ancient grains. These terms carry very positive connotations about being healthy, but it is not based in real science but on the emotional overlays of Rousseauian theory. All those terms are other ways of saying that product has less human touching and therefore, assumed, to be better. In reality, human intervention can be good, or it can be bad, but it is not intrinsically just one or the other. Our Navigator staff in college staff sold us Shaklee vitamins. He implied they were better than other vitamins because they were from a natural source (less touching by humans), implying that was being closer to what God wanted.

To a scientist, a chemical is a chemical, no matter if it came from a plant or a lab. That health risks must be evaluated on the rational science behind it, not on the broad notions that non-intervention is better than intervention. For me, if I ever eat the meat of a puffer fish (highly poisonous), I want there to be a lot of interventions by humans. I want it to be well-processed by a well-trained—preferably Japanese—chef.

Rousseau was reacting to the perverted Christian notion that the material, including nature, was inferior and dirty and our role was to exploit it. So, he swung to the opposite direction, advocating that we completely leave it alone. But the Biblical view is that sin has damaged nature and our role is to bring it back as close to the state of Eden as we can. We are to be stewards of the earth, not pillagers thereof. While nature is full of toxins, carcinogens and poisons, humans have also introduced plenty more. But the good or ills of anything can’t be measured by the amount of human manipulation or the lack thereof, but by the merits of those goods or ills alone.

The Theological Implications of Your View on the Material. First, look at how your perspective influences your theological notions of spirituality. If you adopt the Platonic-Christian view of the material, then you would believe that your soul is an unattached mist (Pythagoras called this “Metempsychosis”) and therefore has great fluidity. It can change on a dime, just with the will. In that case you believe in a system of obtaining spirituality that is hierarchical. You start to see yourself as a good person, soon after becoming a Christian, then a godly person, and finally—through this distorted view of sanctification—a saint. You also measure others’ spirituality with the same false parameters (which are usually built on skillful pretense). You start to over-trust yourself or your spiritual leaders, until you are greatly disappointed.

Likewise, those things which are above the material, the so-called “supranatural,” have great merit in this system. That’s why so many seek miracles to authenticate spiritual experience. The true Biblical perspective is that everything this side of nothing, including the material, is a miracle because God made it out of nothing. This was the thinking behind Albert Einstein’s statement, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” It makes no sense that God put up a wall between the created-material and the created-immaterial and only the immaterial is of value. There is no less a presence of God where someone’s cancer is cured by the most sophisticated medical treatments, based on decades of research by smart and dedicated people (using the brains God has given them) and relying on the complex biological systems (which God has created) than where the cancer just disappears with the assumption it was by a “miracle.”

In the Platonic-Christian model, your concept of God is the other, in the ether, higher than this nasty world. We are reminded of the influence of Platonic philosophy every time we attend a Christian funeral (as I did yesterday). The theme is repeated over and over, “He (or she) is in a better place now. They have been set free of the bondage of this world.” While those statements offer some comfort to the grieving, there is a complete disregard for the scriptural notions about our eternity being connected to this repaired and renewed earth. The Greek word for paradise (παραδείσῳ or paradeisō), as appears in Luke 23:43 when Jesus is speaking to the thief on the cross, is from the Persian word to imply an enclosed garden, much like Eden. A real, material garden.

In Platonic-Christian model, God can be respected, honored, and feared, but He is not a God that you can imagine has felt empathy with what you have felt. It is harder to imagine this God finding pleasure in your physical work, your art, your rest, your hobbies, and your idleness. He would only have pleasure in your transcendence from the mundane. The Platonic-Christian view of the eschatology is that this nasty world will end, and we will spend eternity as immaterial vapors in an immaterial numinous place.

The Islamic view of Allah has even a greater influence of Plato (and others) thinking than Christianity, at least at this point in history, so they see God even more in this light. This view of the material permits the acts of terrorism. If this world is insignificant as compared to the immaterial, then driving a truck-full of explosives into a nursery school is worth the immaterial gain. The Medieval Church did the similar acts of violence around the world with the same logic.

On the other hand, the Biblical concept would see that the Fall of Adam has penetrated deeply into the material. None of us have perfect circuits in our brains, or perfect bodies. History is not perfect either but has real injury. Wounded human history is dangerous. All things do not happen for a reason, as a Hallmark card would declare. Some things work for our harm, because of the consequences of sin in the material world. That sin is real, and it is not conquerable (by us), although it is our call to oppose it. But, with this view, we would also have a deep dependence on the mercies of God and the redemption of Christ.
With a more Biblical view, we would also look at all other people as soulmates, as comrades in a fallen world. We, with great humility, would see even the most evil people with the attitude of, “but for the grace of God, there goes I.”

The Psychological Implications of Your View of the Material. I can remember a vivid moment in 1984 when I first learned that depression could sometimes be “endogenous.” A paper was just released where a blood test, call the dexamethasone suppression test, could predict if the depression was organic (meaning from brain structure—either genetically or environmentally acquired) or because of emotional factors. I was a solid evangelical at the time. I remember shaking my head and laughing—more like sneering—at the physician with who showed me the study. As an evangelical, unknowingly, I had been taught the Platonic-Christian model of the material, rather than the Biblical model.

If the material is insufficient, then the Christian twist to the Platonic view is that the “spiritual” is all that matters. We are Heaven-bound creatures with no investment in this ball of nasty dirt we call Earth. Even the word dirt has its roots in the Middle English with two meanings, nasty shit or the substance of this earth.

Following that thought, the psyche or self (we can use the Christian word “soul” here too) therefore has no union with the physical body. The cranium is where this ghostly, immaterial, us resides. The soul is not attached to the brain any more than water is attached to a glass picture that contains it. Therefore, it would make no sense that something structural within the brain, either from our genetic makeup or physical and emotional traumas, could be causing depression. In our eyes then, all parts of the human character, judgement, happiness or sadness, the things that make up the fruits of the spirit, sexual orientation or identity, are the results of personal, moral choices.

With trepidation, I will share a personal story how I have struggled my entire life with a general anxiety disorder. It was present in my preschool years and up until the present. After spending enormous energy—much more than I should have—trying to understand it though introspection, I suspect that it is from a genetic cause. I say this because I’ve had no childhood trauma to account for such an early manifestation of anxiety. My dear mother, who I just lost a few weeks ago, struggled from severe anxiety her entire life requiring her to be medicated up until the end. Some would say that maybe she taught me to be anxious, yet I have three siblings who endured the same mother without such an affliction.

The reason I share this with some apprehension is that the usual assumption in the Christian community—if not the community at large—for someone to declare their anxiety as genetic problem is a sorry excuse at best. That my anxiety must be from a deep moral failure. If it makes anyone feel better, this was my own assumption for most of my life. I lived perpetually in a state of shame. Men are not supposed to be anxious, especially godly men. I was told that countless times by my college Navigator leader.

However, anxiety has been my lifelong nemesis. If I were a Muslim, it would represent my personal jihad (which is the Muslims’ rite to struggle). However, in defense of myself, I will say that I’ve spent uncountable hours (in the thousands) working on this through prayer, Bible study, verse memorization, exercises in trusting God, listening to lectures and sermons, reading books, attending seminars, meeting with psychologists, all with some help but no cure. Also, for the sake of “exposure,” I took up rock climbing and mountaineering because of my acrophobia. I signed up for a coast-to-coast speaking tour when I worked at Mayo Clinic, because of my glossophobia (fear of public speaking). So, in both cases, leading up to each of the exposures, climbing a mountain or speaking in a hotel ballroom in front of hundreds of people, I would lay awake for night after night in a cold sweat.

In the case of the psychological, if we had the more Biblical perspective of the material, we would believe that God created the material and saw that it was good. Different from the Platonic-Christian view, it is also real. The material matter does matter. God is our biological father and the material Earth is our mother. I don’t mean this in an animistic or pantheistic way. Of course, God is the creator of all, including the Earth and it is subject to Him as His creation. But we have this material bond with planet Earth, and all the material that God intended. Jesus deliberately spat on the dirt and made mud to heal a blind man’s eyes. It was his destiny to die on a material tree and be put into the material ground to exonerate us.

Our material brains are the hardware on which our souls rest as software. Brain structure does matter and is intimately attached to who we are. It is not perfect as all the material is under the Fall. So, with this paradigm, people are born with; personality traits, tendencies toward cheerfulness, depression or anxiety, sexual orientations, or where the sexuality identity of their brains may not match that of their genitals. Life events can alter this material brain as well. It could be a brain injury or a serious emotional trauma (e.g. PTSD) that changes the circuits, lending us more to anxiety or depression. Yes, within the immaterial, we can make changes. I have chosen to work on my anxiety for my entire adult life. If I had not, I would be in much worse shape. However, I never expect a cure, because the material is real, not just a shadow and the brain… not so pliable.

The Social Implications of Your View on the Material. Our view of the material also has a profound influence on our social perspectives. If human behavior is built upon the fluid choices of the soul, then our personal choices are defined by our character. There is no excuse for bad behavior. Bad people do bad things and good people do good things. You can continue down this line of thinking that the dumb are dumb by their own choices. That the rich are those who work the hardest and the poor are those who are the laziest, and that the refugee is a refugee by their own making.

In this way of thinking, not only does the material layout of the brain have no influence on your outcome, but neither does your upbringing. If you are a drug abuser, poor, violent and with mental health problems, then it does not matter if you were raised in horrible world of violence and despair. Those things can’t matter because, in this scenario, your character is not built on the material, but upon your spiritual character.

Ben Carson is the darling of the Evangelicals because he proves to the world that coming out of the “ghetto” is one’s own moral choice. Therefore, we don’t need to listen to those who cannot pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. We don’t need to have empathy for those who are the product of generations of discrimination at the best and total abuse at the worst. Neither do we need to have sympathy for those running from war because it was their choice to create such a bad culture where war runs rampant (which are often proxy wars by the “civilized” superpowers, being played out on their soil).

The Platonic Dualistic view (the universe is divided between the material and the immaterial, and the immaterial is all that matters) sits on one end of the social spectrum. That end is most attractive to the affluent, those who had nice, stable upbringings, and who have fewer issues of mental illness. It always feels good to believe that you have things so good because you have earned it and others don’t because they have characters inferior to yours. This end is also very attractive to the Christian, because within the Christian’s value of spirituality, they want to, at least appear, that they are good because of their personal good choices.

On the extreme opposite end of this spectrum rests those who hold the Impersonal Universe perspective on the material. For them, there is nothing but the material. There is no God, no spirituality and no choice. If the universe came into being by chance and now follows the laws of physics, it is a deterministic view of being or what is called a natural fatalism. If we are a serial killer, we are not culpable, because the physics, including the physics and biochemistry of brain function is fixed. In that model we are just robots anyway, carbon-based robots. Robots who smash and kill other robots have no less value than robots that save other robots in the Impersonal Universe.

The Political Implications of Your View on the Material. The political connects directly to the social. On the far right of the political spectrum are those who believe that all behavior is determined by simple free moral choice because we are immaterial and can change at any moment, if we have the moral will. So that side gravitates toward “personal responsibility.” This would mean harsher imprisonments for criminals. Seeing the poor and mentally ill as deserving the state they are in (and not funding programs to help them), and the same being true for immigrants and refugees. This would lead to not only less money for social services and more for the military to protect us from the bad guys. This side is most appealing to the Evangelical because it supports the Platonic view of the material, which as I have mentioned, the Church has-erroneously—adopted.

On the far left, there is yet another quandary. They correspond to the Impersonal Universe view, which states that there can be no sin, no failures and no fault. This side would favor pure socialism as the best form of justice as it is a no-fault position. Everyone should have the same salary, the same benefits, punishments should be soft and there are no bad guys.

Summary; Finding a Christian View of the Material, Based on Scripture. In Genesis 1:31, it says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” (NIV). So, all that God has created, was created outside Himself, created in measurable material and was very good. An expansion of this simple text is that the physical earth is very good, all the creatures are very good, and all the humans are intrinsically good because they are the result of this creative act of God. However, sin is also real and has influence this material world. The influence is also material, hardened and persistent.

We look to God for immediate redemption, from a justification perspective. However, the road to bringing redemption in our material universe, including our own brains, is slow and methodical. We therefore look at others with an exhausting grace. Jesus knew this well. He held people accountable, “go your way and sin no more,” but loved them deeply, knowing that the blemishes within our souls are written in stone, not smoke.

59 thoughts on “J. Michael Jones: Finding a Christian (metaphysical) View of Nature, Part II

  1. Near-future SF.
    Focusing on one (fictional) breakthrough, its ramifications, and what people do with it/what it does to people. According to some of the Golden Age authors such as Asimov & Clarke, that’s almost the definition.

    However, there is one thing that after a few years turns “Near Future” into “Alternate History”: Having to tie the near-future story into an ever-moving Present. And what happens when the Near-Future happens and it’s different from the one in the story. RL type examples: The Second Russian Revolution and Social Media/Smartphones going viral.

    A similar thing happens in one of my current interests, My Little Pony fanfic. Between each season of the show, as the next season premiere dates approached the main fan sites would count down with “X more days until all your fanfics become obsolete!” (Since said fics were written before any plot twists or official worldbuilding of the next season.)

    And since Christian Apocalyptic (I’m talking about YOU, Left Behind) bears more resemblance to near-future technothriller than typical SF (and always seems to be set Twenty Minutes into the Future), it’s very prone to this.

    P.S. There’s a YouTube channel I discovered recently called “Extra Sci Fi” which does weekly animated videos on the history of the genre. Its main playlist (now partway through Season 2) is at:


  2. You are so right HUG that it is the disciples of ideas that take them in new and more extreme directions. On another subject, this novel I just wrote was steered (by bookstores) into the “Science Fiction” genre. Then I thought about your writings and those are true science fiction stories. Mine is only science fiction by the fact it is about two years ahead of its time, not a millennium, not in another galaxy or dimension.


  3. Iain, I can’t argue with you on this point either. My error, if there is one, is trying to oversimplify. The history of philosophical movements is messy has many sources and mixes. There are even the non-Greek origins of dualistic thinking which traveled out of Asia through Persia. However, even this stripped down article and over-simplification is hard for many to follow who have not read a lot of philosophy. If I attempted to try and explain the different forms of dualism (rather than simply lumping as one concept) I’m afraid that many would fall asleep before they got to the end. But I’m sorry to have used philosophical stereotypes and oversimplifications but I felt like I had to make a choice between being understood and being precise. But thanks for giving this article the thought that you have.


  4. I think Augustine was a good example of this. Please correct me, but I think he came out of nine years of Manichaeism, an extreme form of dualism.

    More and more I am convinced that Augustine the man brought a lot of personal baggage into his theology, and the church failed in discerning which parts had been overly-influenced by this baggage.

    No, I don’t suspect that Plato saw this earth as dirty, just limited and inferior. It was the others who made it dirty.

    “I am not a Marxist.” — Karl Marx, near the end of his life
    “I am not a Darwinist.” — Charles Darwin, also near the end of his life

    It seems fanboys like to grab onto something and take it to its farthest extremes.


  5. There is a fundamental difference between Cartesian dualism and Platonic dualism, particularly the neo-Platonism which influenced the early church (and indeed Islam) and unless I am misunderstanding you (again!) you seem to be mixing the two. Unlike Cartesian dualism, which is about a fundamental distinction between mind / soul and matter, (neo-)Platonic dualism is about the fundamental distinction between contingent / created things and their separate, uncreated origin, which pagans often referred to as “the One” (in contrast to the multitude of created things) and Christian neoplatonists identified with God. The important thing, though, is that in Platonic thought the mind / soul is very firmly on the created side of the divide, along with the whole of the material world and all contingent created things: God, and only God, is on the other. This line of thinking is utterly unrelated to Cartesian mind / body dualism. (My understanding is that it is this distinction that Islam particularly emphasises, not the mind/body distinction, but by the sound of things you may know better than I on this.)


  6. My impression was that certainly the most fundamentalist kind of US evangelical were Calvinist: a lot of the more public ones are, certainly: John Piper for example. I may have got this wrong.


  7. Really sorry to have misunderstood. In the article You said that “this” view led to terrorism and unfortunately this rather reads as if you meant the Islamic view of God, rather than the dualist view of creation.


  8. What I’ve learned about God from the way He has created nature is that He is multidimensional. The pleasure of sex certainly makes us procreate and spread our kind, but it is a heck of a lot of fun too. It changes us psychologically . . . for the better. Apples enslave us to spread their seeds (by tasting so darn good), but there is great joy in the apple beside being a Johnny Appleseed. I think a really gnostic-type of Evangelical would say that the sexual arousal that you get when you are around a woman (or vice versa) is evil and dirty as a good you would only see their spiritual self. God would say, “Man, I made all of you horny to spread my people, but I did make you horny and that’s reality.” Then He chuckles. But that is why so many “Godly” evangelical leaders are caught boinking their church secretaries because they are out of touch with their humanity. Someone who is in touch with their material self would know that they are horny and cannot be trusted and that flirting is, well, flirting and is intended to lead to sex if you are not careful. The others live in denial until it is too late.


  9. Thinking on it more, it seems to come from a concept that God designed things to serve one purpose and ONE purpose only, and to deviate from that one purpose is sin. How this guy would apply that to other natural things (or whether only to sex – and if so, why?) would explain much. Are apples only for making new apple trees? That’s what they’re designed for, right? What about flowers? And *how* do we determine what God’s one intended purpose is?


  10. Iain , Do you really think that most evangelicals are Calvinist ? then why do they “have” to walk the aisle and ask Jesus in their heart as is noted here so many times. No one mocks the Sinners Prayer more than a Calvinist. Just wondering.


  11. Of course a good many Europeans had become disenchanted with and disengaged from Christianity before the 20th century arrived, but the one-two punch knocked the Christian lights out of many of the rest.


  12. So, how would this guy’s view of sex and marriage and childbearing fit into this discussion of the philosophy of nature? (I suspect it’s platonic as hell, pun intended…)

    “Let me be blunt. If you’re not financially stable enough to support children (or don’t reasonably foresee yourself being so in nine months), you’re not financially stable enough to get married. If you’re not done with school yet and consider this to be an insurmountable impediment to having children, then you should also consider it an insurmountable impediment to marriage. If you don’t think yourself mature enough to care for a child, then you’re not mature enough to have a spouse. If you’re not theoretically open to conceiving a child on your wedding night—if this blessing would be a disaster for you—then you’re not ready to have a wedding… It seems to me that if you think you can demand marriage without at least being open to children, you believe you have a right to sex. But you don’t.

    Sex (and the person with whom you’re having it) are gifts from God, given under certain conditions and designed to fulfill certain ends. It’s immoral and illogical to use them for whatever ends you like merely because you have walked an aisle and said, “I do.””



  13. Gnosticism is one of the oldest and most natural religious responses in the ancient human catalog of religious responses. It is not interchangeable with Platonism, and it will not go away as a subgroup of Christianity or any other religion, because it responds to the deepest existential and moral disquiet that human beings have in facing a menacing and violent universe. All around us Christian and non-Christian people hold unknowingly to Gnostic metaphysics as reflexively as they would to a rope thrown out to them as they were free falling down an abyss. Will it hold them? I don’t believe so, but you cannot hold them at fault for their reflex to grasp for it. Provide them a living counterexample; that’s the only thing that may speak or matter to them. Chasing words with other words is futile. They are reaching out for dear life, not words.


  14. Iain, you are most correct in these statements and I’m in agreement. It was not fair in my article to refer to Platonic dualism as if it were an invention of Plato himself. I like Plato. However, for me to be more accurate, I would need to say a perversion of the Platonic perspective (as with Gnosticism or Manichaeism). I think Augustine was a good example of this. Please correct me, but I think he came out of nine years of Manichaeism, an extreme form of dualism. He was only able to leave the cult of Manicheism by adopting Platonic thinking, which was less extreme. I think I read, either from his own writing or from Bishop Ambrose his de-culting, mentor, that Augustine was tutored back into orthodoxy by the help of Plato. So most of the views I was talking about were more of the extreme views of the Gnostics or Manichaeans, who themselves had perverted Platonic ideas. No, I don’t suspect that Plato saw this earth as dirty, just limited and inferior. It was the others who made it dirty.


  15. It has been a while since I’ve studied early Church history, but I agree that the scholars, those leaders who met in the great early Church councils were in tune with right theology and opposed this creep of dualism into the church. The creeds written within the first 500 years, were all outstanding arguments against the dualistic tendencies to describe God or Christ. However, it was in the practice, the laypeople, the village priests, and nuns who had this cultural bend towards the dualistic perspective (as well as several of the outspoken heretics). The Church leaders gave a great effort to squish the Platonic influence, (although Augustine was a great admirer of the philosopher and sought to incorporate it within his own theology).


  16. More like WW1 & WW2 were a one-two punch.

    Those who hadn’t already abandoned it after the horrors of WW1 did after the still-greater horrors of WW2.


  17. Here is what I’m trying to say, in other words. If someone is hell-bent on doing terrorist acts (revenge, political and etc.) they look for a philosophical support for that act.

    “Men of Sin” will glom onto any Cosmic-level Authority — Bible, Koran, Darwin, Freud, Marx, Nature, Science — to get Cosmic-level Justification for they want to do anyway.

    Deconstruct “What is Right” and “What is Wrong” and what’s left is “What I Wanna”.


  18. The first paragraph written by TS Gay @ 7.48 is similar to what Fr Stephen has written about “choice” – that there is a lot less about which we have real choice than we think. We do have a will because we are human and that is part of what makes us human (our Nature), but our “free will” is influenced by a lot of things that cloud our already opaque vision.

    And Mule writes to the point as well.

    The thing is (and I’ve commented about this on JMS’s own blog), the Christian East never had what he calls the Platonic Dualistic view. My understanding is that that view arose in the West because of its different philosophy regarding how we know what is true, not only intellectually, but experientially. (I know only enough about this to make me dangerous…) JMJ’s description of “the Biblical view” would find connections with the work of the Eastern Fathers – the Cappadocians, St John of Damascus, St Maximos the Confessor, others. What he describes as the “Platonic-Christian model” doesn’t really have any place in the thought of the Eastern Church. Again, some of the vocabulary of Platonism was used to by Christians to help describe what certain aspects of reality are like, in order to help answer the questions of the educated people of the ancient world; but real scholars who know much more than I do about this are emphatic and unanimous that the early Christians, especially the Greek-speaking Eastern Fathers, were not Platonists (or Neo-Platonists).

    Again, this doesn’t mean that there is no good to be found in the Western understanding of Christianity, nor does it mean that we in the East have always comported ourselves according to our theology. To me, it’s simply another indication of how much American Christians in general are ignorant about the theology of the Eastern Church. (And I hope whatever knowledge JMJ does have about Orthodox Christianity – perhaps gained through his travels – has not been gained because of the unkindness of Orthodox Christians.)



  19. Headless U Guy, thanks for the link as I have mangled the story in my memory, but kept some of it at least. Cliff Robertson also played JFK in PT 109 which actually hurt him as typecasting. However my memory does recall that he was married to the beautiful and rich Dina Merrill who in the 60’s was high on John Barry’s list of sexy , beautiful women. She never reached up the upper ranks of stardom but I always like her Grace Kelly type , high society beauty. Anyway, I did appreciate the novel and movie as it rang true.

    I have checked with my wife and fortunately I am not suffering from the Algernon effect, my wife says my IQ has been constant but yet she says it with a hint of resignation , I guess she knows I am maxed out.


  20. There seems to be a bit of a mélange here between all sorts of rather distinct ideas.
    Firstly there is Platonic dualism. Plato’s idea was not that the world was dirty or inferior at all, still less that the soul was “unattached mist” inside the body. What Plato taught was that the world of external physical forms was the misty,illusionary one, that what we think of as the ‘”real world” is in truth a distorted ephemeral projection of a fuller and more realised unperceived reality beneath. The aim is not to escape the physical world and go elsewhere but to perceive more perfectly this new reality lying beneath / behind it. Metempsychosis is not the belief in an ethereal soul, but the belief that people are on death returned to earth to be born again in different forms.
    This is not the same thing as Cartesian dualism, which is indeed the belief that there is an absolute distinction between mind / soul and body, and that the former is a sort of “ghost” inhabiting the body as an inanimate machine. It is also associated with the idea that our “real” self is to be identified exclusively with the “ghost” and not the machine. Cartesian dualism does not consider the body and physical things to be dirty or inhibiting or to be escaped from (at least not necessarily so). It’s attitude to physical things is utilic – considering them morally neutral and inanimate – tools to be used.
    The attitude that the body is evil and dirty and that the aim is to escape from it is not inherent to either of these, and is more appropriately with Gnosticism or Manichaeism. This idea assumes that the physical has its own independent reality which is harmful to and traps the soul, and is thus incompatible with Platonic dualism which denies such a concrete independent physical reality to the purely material. It also has a somewhat different attitude to classic Cartesian dualism, in that rather than perceiving the soul as an independent agent controlling the bodily machine, it sees the soul as controlled and trapped by the body and unable to act and be as it will and realise its full potential without escaping it.
    The notion that “material brains are the hardware on which our souls rest as software” is Cartesian dualism in a nutshell, and this a profoundly modern idea. What you seem to be trying to do is to cling onto the absolute soul / body distinction but define more clearly, or differently, where the dividing line lies. Most pre-modern thinkers would reject this concept, perceiving our minds and bodies to be indivisibly part of ourselves, with survival of the soul a transformation and separation of a residual to be reunited in resurrection, not the extraction of a wholly separate spiritual passenger.
    I’m quite surprised to see evangelicals characterised as believing in extreme free will and the possibility of leading a sinless life through one’s own efforts, since they are principally Calvinists and believe the diametric opposite, that everything is the providence of God and one cannot by one’s own efforts be good. Their reluctance to help the unfortunate stems from the view that God disposes who is rich or poor, sick or well, and people need not, and indeed shouldn’t, interfere.


  21. Hi Christiane,

    Aside from the mix-up of the initials… I have read much of JMJ’s blog, and read the text of his book which he posted there while writing it a few years ago. He lived in Egypt for some time as a missionary and health care provider, learned Arabic and had many Muslim friends. His understanding of Islam comes from having been in that environment, not simply ideas formed by some books or newspapers he read.

    Just so you know. He’s probably busy at work right now and can’t get back yet to answer your questions.



  22. Christine / Iain, no, I am not this E. Michael Jones, and I regret that you have grossly misinterpreted what I’ve said. Terrorism, as I’ve tried to point out, has been part of Christianity, Islam, Communism and virtually all sorts of human endeavors. I absolutely do NOT ascribe to the notion that Islam is a terrorist religion any more than Christianity is. I did study Islam for five years before I was a missionary to Muslims in Egypt. The point that I was trying to make and articles like this (versus an entire book) force one to generalize and oversimplify. Here is what I’m trying to say, in other words. If someone is hell-bent on doing terrorist acts (revenge, political and etc.) they look for a philosophical support for that act. We all do. In the case of the many Muslims, I’ve talked to, including spending time with the pro-Taliban in NW Pakistan in 2006, they clearly communicated that the reason that they can support terrorist acts is that this world is only a shadow of the real world in Heaven. That’s why the foot soldiers are promised 40 virgins in Heaven for acts today. I profoundly love Muslims and am often in the setting of defending them. They were our saviors on the mission field when the evangelicals wet off the rails. Christians have done exactly the same thing (see the 40 years war) over and over for the same philosophical reason. If you chose to want to twist my meaning, I have nothing else to say about it as I’ve been clear. Sufi is a minor aspect of Islam (I’ve attended Sufi services and it is very mystical) and is certainly pantheistic in nature but this not a comprehensive article to cover every possible tradition of every possible religion. To try and paint me as a Muslim-hater is one of the most disturbing things I’ve faced in a long time. Most of Evangelical friends paint me as a Muslim-lover, which I accept with pride.


  23. “””We who believe in free will must consciously examine the decisions we make to make sure they’re our own.”””

    Yep, and I want to go on record as believing is lower-case-F “free” will, not upper-case-F “Free” will.


  24. The Far Right in America has always been robust, and is certainly growing.
    I still see no sign of a Far Left in America.

    What gets called “Left” in America – things like Universal Health Care – are Centrist almost EVERYWHERE else. A hard-line Materialist Left is really nowhere to be found. Most Americans have no idea what a Left even is, as they have never encountered one, as it has been essentially extinct in America since the 1950s [the “hippies” of the 1960s quickly involved into Centrist Neo-Liberals].

    What is happening in America is a deep cleavage between entirely Centrist positions and a Far [White Supremacist] Right. There is nothing what-so-ever “Left” about things like Universal Health Care and Labor Rights laws – very market oriented nations, such as Germany, the UK, and France, have all those things.

    > Where are the dynamic “middle of the road” leaders when you need them???

    Today we call them “Progressives”.


  25. Indeed. From an Atomist/Materialist/Spinozan pov, Rousseau, Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, Aquinas, Derrida are all swimming in the same pool. And most of what passes for left/right politics derive from the same.


  26. There is always the disturbing understanding that many parasites alter the chemical environment of their hosts to induce their hosts to adopt behavior against the best interests of their hosts, but beneficial to the parasite.

    It’s hard to stand against the “accepting, tolerant” culture (which it really isn’t). You have to be convinced in your nephrons that you’re right and be the a$$hole ALL the time.


  27. Yes his views of “materialism” and the “left” are rather facile. This bothers me not because I want to defend them but because one should be able to clearly articulate viewpoints with which one disagrees. Otherwise you just come off as an apologist trying to “win” a debate.


  28. –> “There seems to be no doubt that our so called free will is much weaker than intuition implies. This means especially that we who uphold freedom, rather than the YRR or the totalians, must come to grips with a compatible metaphysic. We humans may not be as free to as great extent as we think, but there is no other freedom to be had. Bottom line, responsibility arises from people’s desires and attitudes rather than the causal origins of their actions.”

    I recently listened to a podcast that covered a wide range of sci-fi topics, one being the future of A.I. and computing connectivity with our own brains. The person being interviewed suggested that our brains are probably currently “hacked” more often than we’d like to think. (Examples: generic advertising, the whole Facebook/social media controversy.) In other words, are our thoughts REALLY our thoughts, or is someone planting a notion in there that causes us to act differently than we normally would? I found it good food for thought. We who believe in free will must consciously examine the decisions we make to make sure they’re our own.

    I remember having a religious discussion with my sister AGES regarding my stance (at the time) that homosexuality was a sin. She asked me, “Has your church brainwashed you?” At the time, I insisted it hadn’t, because I truly believed that what I believed at the time was “from inside me.” But since that time, I’ve changed my opinion/belief on that topic, so perhaps I was a bit brainwashed then by the evangelical stances prevalent all around me. Heck, maybe I’m a bit brainwashed now by the “accepting, tolerant” culture prevalent now?

    Food for thought, eh?



  29. I like all your points, ATW. My one quibble might be with your assertion the far right and far left are less populated than we think. I might’ve believed this five or ten years ago, but it feels like more and more people are drifting to the extremes these days, led there by charismatic figures and in response to (or “over-reaction,” in my opinion) feeling like “the other side” is winning.

    Where are the dynamic “middle of the road” leaders when you need them???


  30. Liked your anecdotes, Mule! I’m sure we’ve all had weird interactions and moments like these, but it’s always a pleasure reading someone else’s experience.


  31. Boy is there a lot of briars to chew on here. It would be hard to do justice to everything, and all of the writers arguments have obviously been deeply pondered and expertly addressed.

    Once again, I have to take issue with the old chestnut that ‘Platonism’ entered the Church with its ‘Hellenization’ in the first three centuries, that hoary Protestant (and for some reason extremely appealing to Lutherans) myth that the Church abandoned its ‘pure’, ‘earthy’, ‘material’ Hebraic roots to become lost in pure Greek abstraction, metamorphosing from Tevye the dairyman to a Guild navigator from Dune. Mr. Jones’ fourth paragraph, in particular, appears to be a earnest depiction of Eastern Orthodox theosis by someone who knows absolutely nothing about Orthodoxy, like Douglas Jones in Credenda/Agenda a couple of decades ago.

    The divide in Orthodoxy is not between the ‘material’ and the ‘spiritual’/psychological, but between the created and the uncreated.

    The problem with the material/’spiritual’ divide is not that it is Christian, but that it remains a feature of Christianity 2.0. I’m still working out my thoughts about Christianity 2.0 and whether it is a valid expression of the ‘faith once delivered’, but in general I find born-againery not so much Platonic as Nestorian and semi-gnostic. The water in the baptismal font doesn’t do anything. It’s just a funny religious way of telling people that in my brain, which is Where Everything Really Matters, I have flipped the switch on the proposition ‘Jesus is Lord’ from 0 to 1.

    The beef the ancient Church had with Nestorius was that he taught that there was no real union between the human nature of Jesus and the divine nature of the Son. The relationship between them was, as far as I can make it out, an Islamic one; a moral union between master and servant. God really and truly cannot penetrate matter and divinize it. Our most holy Lady was a brood mare that gave birth to a man, not the Ark of the Covenant who protected us from God.

    Indulge me for a couple of anecdotes. When I was contemplating Orthodoxy, I was asked by a couple of elders in my then-PCA church what was so attractive about it. I responded that I always believed that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was about the restoration of man into his former condition as a ‘participant in the life of the Holy Trinity’. When I looked into their faces, they were aghast, as if I had just kissed the trunk of an idol of Ganesh. No, i was told. God was infinitely separate from His creation, Transcendant was the word they used. ‘Remember how you used to laugh at a child who asked you if God’s omnipotence meant that He could create a rock too large for Him to lift? Now you’re asking me to believe that God’s transcendence means that by creating, God created a chasm too wide for Him to span’. I left that church the next day, returning to the Assemblies of God, which I still believe was a step in the right direction (towards Orthodoxy).

    The second was when a Restorationist (Church of Christ) fellow took issue with my icon-bowing, amulet-handling, priests-hands-kissing, Mary-invoking idolatrous ass, and told me that the difference between the Old and New Covenants was that under the Old Covenant all the benefits were material, whereas under the New Covenant, all the benefits were spiritual. Now, I find it curious that the Orthodox and the Restorationists share some common conceits; neither have instrumental music in their services, both emphasize the New Testament and relatively ignore the Old, both believe that they are the One TRVE Church, and outliers like myself can be real pricks about it, but I found the Restorationist’s statement intriguing. ‘You’re telling me’, I replied, ‘that the Covenant marked by the appearance of God, Who IS a Spirit’ in material flesh, mostly manifests itself within the confines of our craniums?’


  32. So is panentheism in Christianity an outlier – the point is simply that Islam has a similar number of different views on this sort of thing to Christianity.


  33. The Platonic-Christian view of the eschatology is that this nasty world will end, and we will spend eternity as immaterial vapors in an immaterial numinous place.

    How does that differ from Silicon Valley Zillionares looking forward to The Singularity and uploading their consciousness into the Cloud, shedding the Meat and Meatspace to live forever as a long digital string of ones and zeros?


  34. Iain, of course from the little I know the Sufi tradition is a minority tradition in Islam (at least at present), and a bit of an outlier.


  35. Interesting writing. I resonated with the criticism of the Rousseauian virw – one runs into that a lot. And the criticism of Platonic Dualism is pretty good too. However, I find the criticism of the Materialist view, which is not that different from the Panentheist view, lacking. I have previously traced my own “conversion ” to that view here. Whereas the Dualists take Plato, and others take Rousseau, I take Spinoza (not that I am a philosopher by any means, just a surficial dabbler). And I find the criticism of that view lacking here, in that it is based on dislike/reculaion (killer robots…), as if our dislike of something makes it false… (shades of Rousseau? 🙂 ). What matters is whether something is true, not whether it is ‘nice’.


  36. Good writing and a lot to think about in this article. There is a lot of truth and wisdom in what Jones writes, at least truth to me. I know it is not trendy or fashionable but Christianity and going on in the world at times comes down to the “common” sense. Some of this goes back to the familiar nature vs nurturing debate.

    Jones is someone that knows how the brain “works” due to his profession and experience, that is clear. What makes a genius a genius and John Barry John Barry? There was an old movie Charley about a low IQ man who though chemicals became brilliant but it wore off, I think the novel was Flowers for Algnon or something but the high IQ was not lasting so what was the real Charly and was he worth less when he was not the productive high IQ guy. How the world treated and how he reacted was a great storyline. At both spectrums Charley did the best he could which is what it is all about.

    So this is a series I am looking forward to . In honour, I will play my music box brief with the song If I Only Had A Brain which is also part of the dialogue. The Scarecrow had it , just did not use it until he had too, just like me.


  37. There seems to be no doubt that our so called free will is much weaker than intuition implies. This means especially that we who uphold freedom, rather than the YRR or the totalians, must come to grips with a compatible metaphysic. We humans may not be as free to as great extent as we think, but there is no other freedom to be had. Bottom line, responsibility arises from people’s desires and attitudes rather than the causal origins of their actions. Therefore this requires establishing guidelines for holding people accountable, not lunging after freedom.
    I hesitate to mention this in this thread, but it is relevant. Jordan Peterson described, in his first book, how chaos ensues when a culture is disrupted. His second book describes guidelines as an antidote. This is why( whether the guidelines are good or not) it is so popular.
    As to the modern middle ground that this post is representing there is support . Harry Frankfurt’s “Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility” (1969) and P.F.Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” are influential versions grounded in psychology.


  38. “Early Christians proclaimed a gospel of Christ’s bodily incarnation, bodily sacrifice, bodily death, bodily resurrection, and bodily ascension. The faith of the ancient church was not about spiritual escape but about the redemption and transformation of human life in its fullness…” Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism


  39. “””Wounded human history is dangerous. All things do not happen for a reason, as a Hallmark card would declare.”””


    “””The Platonic Dualistic view …. sits on one end of the social spectrum. That end is most attractive to the affluent, those who had nice, stable upbringings, and who have fewer issues of mental illness.”””

    This, so true. When the Material works well, dualism prospers as a method of appropriating success.

    “””On the extreme opposite end of this spectrum rests those who hold the Impersonal Universe perspective … If we are a serial killer, we are not culpable, because the physics,”””

    I offer the quibble that this extreme – the robots extreme – exists principally in theory, to provide a tidy opposite to the first perspective. In the real world these people are astonishingly few; I do not believe I know even one. Whereas the first perspective is very well represented.

    I suspect the true, operational, alternative pole of Dualism, is Apathy. If whirling atoms is the beginning and end, then, … shrug. This is not an encampment where one will find much Philosophy to examine; they will be impatiently waiting for you to leave. Apathy is more impenetrable than any Philosophy. There are more than a few former success-appropriating Dualists over there [upside is that some of them can afford very good bourbon].

    “””The political connects directly to the social.”””


    “””On the far left, …. This side would favor pure socialism”””

    Emphasis, “far”. Again, the same as above, this camp is far less populated. As a card carrying Socialist, wonk, and subscriber to Dissent I do not know even one person who supports the idea of anything like no-fault “pure socialism” [there are flickers of such a thing in South American populism, that’s about it]. This “far left” is little more than an intellectual trope.

    “””the road to bringing redemption in our material universe, including our own brains, is slow and methodical”””


    “””We therefore look at others with an exhausting grace”””

    And remember the degree to which each of us have exhausted the grace of others! 🙂 Especially if one is married [or a parent, I assume].


  40. My impression is that many Europeans abandoned Christianity after WWII because they felt it provided no explanation of or solace for the savage period they had just lived through; in a word, they came to believe that Christianity failed as a religion.


  41. I can’t speak for medieval Moslems, but I can more confidently say that a modern evangelical would explain the savagery of the 20th century via an abandonment of God. And as usual, they’d be half right. :-/


  42. Just to be clear, I think there are far too many variables in play, too many causes overlapping, when societies behave violently to lay the blame solely, or primarily, at the feet of metaphysics or theology. Better not to conclude anything at all than simplify the very complex matter of how a religion, as one possible cause among many, relates to a society’s proneness to violence.


  43. I wonder what a Moslem theologian of the Islamic Golden Age could say about the proneness of modern Christian religion to violent fanaticism and terrorism given the fact that a group of nations that were the inheritors of nearly two millennia of Christianity presided over WWII, wherein the total number of civilian deaths in the European theater alone was 20,000,000. Savage, barbaric contempt for the material world on the grandest scale that has ever occurred; the metaphysics underlying that must presumably be as contemptuous of all the things physical.


  44. Hello Iain,

    Yes, I see the different initial and if these are two separate authors, I am very contrite. I do stand by my discomfort with J. Michael Jones’ comments on Islam, though.
    I hope I will be forgiven any faux-pas by guest author J. Michael Jones for the other observations I made concerning ‘E’MJ. If Chaplain Mike wants to discard my comment, I have no problem with that at all.

    Thanks for the clarification.


  45. This chap would appear to be “J” Michael Jones, rather than “E”? I am disturbed about his comments on Islam, though, and he seems not to have bothered to check his understanding of it. From what I have read Sufi tradition in Islam is very panentheistic, and Islam has an understanding of creation similar to traditional Christian concepts, emphasising the closeness or aloofness of God from creation in varying degrees in much the same way as Christian thought varies. To describe religious terrorism and fanaticism as a facet of Islam in particular displays a shocking level of ignorance, I have to say.


  46. Is the author E. Michael Jones the same person who is so very controversial, Chaplain Mike. If so, that may be why I am finding many of his comments disturbing. Especially his generalizations about Islam in this post..

    He is supposed to be a ‘Catholic’ traditionalist, and I suspect he has some very serious disagreements with the Church regarding its PRESENT teachings on respect for other faiths, for example:
    “841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
    (Vatican Catechism excerpt)

    I believe he was once supposed to speak at a Catholic university and the event was canceled because complaints were made to the university regarding his views where he was felt to be disrespecting another Abrahamic faith. (?)

    Either he is controversial because he holds controversial views on ‘the culture wars’ OR because he is much misunderstood. My guess is that it appears to be the former. He certainly does not seem to be in sync with Catholicism as it is in this present time, no. (?)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: