According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, May 13, 2011

Being Human 2

May 12, 2011

On Tuesday I began a series on Joel B. Green’s book Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible. Over the course of the next few months, once or twice a week, I will work through the questions raised by Green on the nature of humanity in the context of scripture, theology, and modern neuroscience.

The view that humans are composed of a physical material body and a separate immaterial soul is the default position for most Christians. This dualist view is increasingly difficult to reconcile with improved understanding of biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience. I’ve posted on some of this before. The posts can be found through the Science and Faith Archive on the sidebar – scroll down to the heading Science, Faith, and Being Human. Dr. Green gives definitions for some of the important concepts and terms at play in the discussion of the nature of humanity. The two extreme positions are:
Reductive Materialism has it that the human person is a physical (or material) organism, whose emotional, moral, and religious experiences will ultimately and decisively be explained by the natural sciences. People are nothing but the product of organic chemistry. (p. 30)
and
Radical Dualism advocates the view that the soul (or mind) is separable from the body, having no necessary relation to the body, with the human person identified with the soul. … in this view the soul acts apart from bodily processes and the body is nothing more than a temporary and disposable holding tank (or shell) for the soul. (p. 31)
I’ll give some intermediate options after the jump.

Where would you put your position on the continuum between these two poles? Closer to reductive materialism or radical dualism?

There are a number of positions between the extremes of reductive materialism and radical dualism.
Wholistic dualism … a form of substance dualism, but posits that the human person, though composed of discrete elements, is nonetheless to be identified with the whole which, then, constitutes a functional unity. (p. 31)
Various forms of monism are also defended from a Christian perspective.
…the monists with whom I am concerned argue that the phenomenological experiences that we label “soul” are neither reducible to brain activity nor evidence of a substantial, ontological entity such as a “soul,” but rather represent essential aspects or capacities of the self. (p. 31)
These four terms form a basis for the discussion that will come in future posts. There is another important aspect of human existence that we should consider before moving on though.

Individual vs Community. The witness of the bible in both the Old and New Testaments is to an embodied existence of humans, humans always considered as in relationship to God, and humans who are always considered in the context of human community. The cultural blinders like those that impact interpretation of body and soul in scripture also impact interpretation of the communal nature of personhood.
Given the strength of Cartesian categories and the experience of many since the Enlightenment, it is perhaps not surprising to see the degree to which humanity has come to be understood “one person at a time,” so to speak. This is not biblical faith however. Although biblical faith would naturally resist any suggestion that our humanity can be reduced to our physicality, it also challenges those, past and present, who insist that the human person can ever be understood on individual terms.
Thus a consideration of the nature of humanity in the bible in the context of modern neuroscience must deal with both the embodied nature of humans and the relational nature of humans. This impacts the understanding of eschatology, salvation, and mission. As a people we are much more than a collection of individuals.

Dr. Green considers poses several questions that highlight the relational nature of humanity and this impact this may have on our understanding of the biblical view of humanity. These questions can help shape the discussion today.

How should we understand salvation? Does salvation entail a focus on the inner state of individual human souls?

To what extent should the mission of the church focus on the soulish needs of persons, on society-at-large, or on the cosmos?

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