Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Monday, July 24, 2017

Roger Olson - Is God Infinite or Personal? The Rise of Boston Personalism as Foundation to (but different from) Process Theology and Revival in Open and Relational Theology

Is God Finite?

by Roger Olson
July 23, 2017

Most Christians in the middle or to the “right” of the middle of the Christian theological spectrum will automatically recoil at the question “Is God finite?” The knee-jerk reaction even I feel is “No, of course not. What a silly question.” On the other hand, when asked to explain God’s infinity many such Christians (middle to right of the theological spectrum) have some difficulty. “Unlimited?” “Eternal?” “Omnipotent?” All are answers one hears as attempts to pin down what “infinite” means in relation to God.

To the best of my knowledge, however, nobody thinks or can show that the Bible itself actually says God is “infinite.” The word itself simply means “not finite.” But what does “finite” mean?

This became a divisive issue among European Christians especially during the so-called “Atheismusstreit” (atheism controversy) that broke out in German universities in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The person who launched it was philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte who argued that God can either be infinite or personal but not both. Fichte’s claim possibly cloaked an atheistic intention; it’s somewhat difficult to tell as atheism was illegal at that time and place.

Perhaps the most important legacy of Fichte was G. W. F. Hegel who, after Fichte, tried to “fix” the problems Fichte and others raised about God and defined God as “Absolute Spirit” and the “wahrhaft Unendliche” (“true infinite”) that includes the finite in itself.

Now jump to the early 20th century. One of the nearly forgotten but very influential Christian philosophers of religion throughout the early and middle 20th century was Edgar Sheffield Brightman (d. 1953) who taught at Methodist-related Boston University. Brightman was very interested in theology and sought to reconstruct the Christian idea of God to make it fit the facts of experience more adequately. He launched a brief movement called “Boston Personalism” that was eventually replaced, for most liberal-leaning Protestants in the U.S., by Process Theology. (Here it might be helpful to note that Brightman was Martin Luther King’s mentor at BU during his doctoral studies there.)

Over the years I have heard of Brightman and Boston Personalism and read some secondary sources (book chapters, journal articles) about him and it. But I never, until recently, actually dipped into a primary source. Because of a recent challenge to do so, by a philosopher of religion influenced by Brightman and Boston Personalism, I bought the “classic” of Boston Personalism at a used bookstore and read it. The book is The Problem of God by Brightman published by Abingdon Press (the Methodist publishing house) in 1930.

Here I do not have space to go into all the “ins” and “outs” of Brightman’s (and Boston Personalism’s) idea of God. I will just mention a few points I found interesting and say that I found them interesting partly because I think they left a lasting impression that is not directly connected with Process Theology. (Most scholars of modern theology seem to think that Brightman laid the foundation for Process Theology’s later rise and replacement of Boston Personalism as the “theology of choice” among liberal-learning Protestants in America.) In other words, I “hear” and read echoes of Brightman’s view of God as “finite” elsewhere—not only among Process theologians and those influenced by A. N. Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne.

In The Problem of God Brightman argues at some length, but in winsome style (the book is really very easy to read), that throughout the history of thought about God (especially but not only Christian) there has been a back and forth tendency that he calls “expansion” and “contraction.” The expansion tendency has been to think of God as so different from humanity as to make God useless for human religious need. (And Brightman does argue that God is necessary for humanity and includes in the book some strong arguments against atheism in all its forms including secular humanism.) One notable example of that, he argues, is the attribution to God of “infinity” which does lead, as Fichte argued, toward a de-personalizing of God. Pushed to its logical conclusion, “infinity” is incompatible with personality and we need a personal God because our basic religious need is for God to deal with suffering. (I will leave that there and challenge doubters to read the book which is available on line through Amazon and other re-sellers of out-of-print books.)

The contraction tendency has been to think of God as so similar to humanity, so anthropomorphic, as to be also useless religiously. Another human religious need is to have someone to worship and be powerful enough to bring value out of evil.

In true Hegelian style (although Fichte actually said this before Hegel), Brightman’s thinking is about “thesis” and “antithesis” searching for “synthesis.” The “thesis” would be the expansion tendency and the antithesis would be the contraction tendency. So what is the “synthesis?” That God is finite and personal but supreme above all other finite and personal beings.

So, in what sense is God “finite” for Brightman (and his Boston Personalism followers—a few of which are still around)? And why do I care?

Well, first of all—to why I care. I long ago rejected the notion that God is “infinite.” I rejected it when I first heard it articulated which was probably in some seminary class. I immediately thought that the concept itself was beyond comprehension (except perhaps in mathematics) and that attributing it to God led away from thinking of God as personal, present, involved, loving and able to be affected by us. With Brightman (who I only learned about later) I thought of that attribute of God in traditional theology as an inappropriate expansion of the concept of God brought into Christian thought through philosophy, not the Bible.

On the other hand, I have never felt comfortable with saying that God is finite. That “feels” to me like too much of a contraction of God. So I have preferred to think of God as not infinite but also not finite—insofar as the latter implies a God who is limited in knowledge and power. I have long, perhaps always, preferred to think of God as self-limiting in relation to the world he created. I kept looking for some serious discussion of that concept in Brightman’s book but did not find it. That is interesting because, around the time Brightman wrote The Problem of God the great Baptist theologian Augustus Hopkins Strong was advocating (or had been advocating) the solution (to the same problems Brightman identifies) as “God’s Self-Limitations.” (I do not know the exact date of that essay; it is included in a volume of Strong’s essays published by Judson Press in 1899.) I can’t believe Brightman knew nothing about Strong’s alternative and I wish he had responded to it. Perhaps he did in another publication.

Anyway, my preferred alternative to the problem Brightman identified in historical Western thinking about God—going back to the Greeks—is God’s self-limitations. That, of course, has become one of the major themes of non-Process Christian theologians such as Emil Brunner and Jürgen Moltmann.

So what did Brightman mean by God’s finitude? A careful reading of The Problem of God reveals that he did not mean that God is pathetic, or “evolving,” or powerless. He did mean, however, that there is inherent in God’s eternal being “the Given” which is a particular nature that governs what God can and cannot do. Clearly Brightman was no nominalist/voluntarist! He was a realist with regard to God. He believed God has a specific nature and it includes certain limitations that are not voluntary on God’s part. Among those limitations are that God cannot know the future insofar as it contains events not yet knowable because they will be determined by free will beings other than God and that God cannot coerce free creatures to do his will. According to Brightman, these denials/affirmations about God are necessary “contractions” apart from which the “expansion” would make God religiously unavailable if not irrelevant.

Well, it should be obvious to all readers who pay any serious attention to conversations about God taking place in even evangelical Christian theology how Brightman’s influence may have “trickled down”—even where his name is not known.

Here are a few things about which I agree with Brightman—after reading The Problem of God:

  1. First, he was not afraid to think about God metaphysically.
  2. Second, he recognized and articulated one of the main problems in Western theism including much traditional Christian thinking about God—the problem of the continual alternation between expansion and contraction.
  3. Third, he affirmed that God’s personhood is primary for religion. An impersonal God is of no religious interest or use.

Here are a few things about which I disagree with Brightman—after reading The Problem of God:

  1. First, I would not go so far as to call God “finite.” I think that at least strongly hints at too much contraction in the doctrine of God.
  2. Second, I think all the problems he identifies can be solved by replacing “the Given”—as he thinks of it—with God’s loving self-limitation in relation to creation.
  3. Third, as a philosopher, not a theologian, Brightman relied too heavily on reason and experience to the neglect of revelation and tradition (the four parts of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral).

In some ways my recent book Essentials of Christian Thought turns out to be an alternative to The Problem of God although not entirely in disagreement with the latter.

I found reading Brightman’s The Problem of God a satisfying exercise even as I found myself disagreeing with many of its point. One quandary left over from reading the book is whether Brightman believed in an eventual triumph of good over evil. I find hints in the book that he did, but I’m not sure how his “finite God” could bring that about.

One thought I had was more of a “wonder,” a question, whether my friend Thomas Jay Oord ever read the book or any of the writings of the Boston Personalists and whether he was influenced by them. I think I see certain real points of congeniality there—especially Oord’s basic idea that God cannot coerce free will beings. Tom does not seem to me to “fit” into the category of Process Theology (even though he studied with Cobb at Claremont). Might his theology “fit” more closely into the category of Boston Personalism?

I know of one other theologian who is working to revive Boston Personalism—Gary Dorrien who teaches theology at Union Theological Seminary. (Which is not to say Dorrien follows Brightman or anyone else slavishly; I have just heard him say publicly that he feels a special affinity for Boston Personalism and wishes to breathe new life into it as a live option for liberal Protestant theology.)

By no means do I intend this question as a criticism of Tom Oord or Gary Dorrien; as a historical theologian who focuses especially on modern theology I’m always curious about connections—especially ones not known or recognized. I believe there can be connections, strings of influence, that are not conscious or even known. This is what I call my “trickle down theory” of historical theology. Thinkers like Brightman can “release,” as it were, ideas into the theological “atmosphere” that later re-appear even where he is not known or his influence recognized.

Can a Fundamentalist Exist in the Trump Era?

You Might Still Be a Fundamentalist Even If…

by Roger Olson
July 18, 2017

In January of this year (2017) I served on a panel at a session of the American Society of Church History’s annual, national meeting. The subject of the discussion was “The Future of Evangelicalism in America” which is also the title of a book edited and written by the panel’s participants. I was the only theologian on the panel as I was also the only theologian who authored a chapter in the book which was published in 2016 by the University of Columbia Press. The other authors and panelists were historians and sociologists of religion. One difference that emerged among us, especially during the Q&A time after the panelists’ presentations, has to do with how best to define “evangelicalism.” I define it as a deep and wide historical-theological tradition within Protestant Christianity and as a distinct spiritual ethos found primarily among Protestant Christians.

Understandably, given the influence of the media and the participation of many voters calling themselves evangelicals during the 2016 American presidential election, many others, especially in the audience, tended to think of “evangelical” as a political identity nearly identical with “Trumpism.”

During the Q&A I was specifically asked by a member of the scholarly audience, composed mostly of church historians, how it is possible that certain notable evangelical thinkers and leaders have spoken out publicly against Trump. The person named names and they were all people I would identify as inhabiting the “far right” of the evangelical spectrum. (I will refrain from naming names here, but many readers will know who they are.)

Reading the faces and body language of the audience I felt that this question was of special interest. During the presidential campaign and in the period between the election and the inauguration several “evangelical notables”—all of whom I would call fundamentalists—broke from their own ranks, their own cohort, their own tribe to denounce Trump as unfit to be president of the United States. The question aimed at me was how to explain these men’s seemingly odd, unfitting, peculiar political posture when nearly all of their own friends and colleagues loudly supported Trump.

My off-the-cuff response to the question was that I considered the persons named primarily motivated by theology and as intelligent, thoughtful men. Obviously my understood intention was to distinguish them from the majority of their own “pack” or “tribe” many of whose influential self-appointed spokesmen, mostly pastors of fundamentalist churches, supported Trump.

However, and this is my point here, the mere fact of not supporting Trump and of expressing dissenting opinions about Americanism mixed with Christianity does not make one any less “fundamentalist” theologically, spiritually or dispositionally.

Fundamentalism is a particular theological and spiritual posture within evangelical Christianity. Some people will insist on a clear line of distinction, even difference, between “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism.” There is some support for that clear differentiation historically and theologically. However, in the wider view fundamentalism has always been evangelical Christianity’s “far right wing”—theologically.

However, neither evangelicalism nor fundamentalism are political identities; this confusion is the creation of certain sociologists of religion and the media.

There is and has been since at least 1942 a line, however blurred it may be, between moderate-to-centrist evangelicalism and fundamentalism. This is especially the case in Great Britain and America. I won’t attempt to speak for the situation in other countries. Fundamentalists are evangelicals who display the following characteristics:

  1. belief that “biblical inerrancy” is a “super badge” (Carl Henry’s own term) of evangelical identity, 
  2. belief that true evangelical Christians will always interpret the Bible as literally as possible,
  3. belief that true evangelical Christians will never have Christian fellowship with non-evangelicals (“biblical separationism”), and,
  4. a habit of searching for, “finding,” and exposing heresies especially among evangelicals.

To make my point here as clear as possible without naming any names…. Imagine influential American fundamentalist evangelical theologian “John Doe.” Dr. Doe is well-known for bearing all the characteristics of fundamentalism I mentioned above. However, like many American fundamentalists, he wants to be considered a mainstream evangelical leader and spokesman. In the past, anyway, he has been aggressive toward those among American evangelicals he considers heretics, “sheep in wolves’ clothing,” people he considers not authentically evangelical, and has worked to undermine their acceptance and influence among evangelicals.

Then, surprisingly to many people who think of both “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” as political identities, Dr. Doe breaks ranks with his fundamentalist evangelical cohort and denounces their favorite politician as unfit to be president of the United States. Then he goes even further and denounces the prominence of “Americanism” mixed together with Christianity—something his own cohort is especially known for.

I understand the confusion Dr. Doe creates among those ignorant about evangelical and fundamentalist history and theology—especially those who have wrongly come to identify these categories as political identities. What I don’t understand is the tendency on the part of some moderate-to-centrist evangelicals to think that, only for this reason, Dr. Doe must no longer be “one of those fundamentalists.” He might have broken ranks with some outspoken fundamentalists—about these matters—but this alone does not make him now no less a fundamentalist or now a moderate-to-centrist evangelical (non-fundamentalist evangelical).

My plea here is for everyone to take a deep breath and remember that neither“evangelical” nor “fundamentalist” is really, historically-theologically speaking, a political identity. A person can be a true blue fundamentalist and nevertheless be opposed to both “Trumpism” and “American exceptionalism” cloaked with the cross and the Bible.

Roger Olson - A New Christian Dogmatics from Eerdmans

A New Christian Dogmatics from Eerdmans

by Roger Olson
July 16, 2017

I recently received from publisher Wm. B. Eerdmans a complimentary copy of Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction by two Dutch theologians Cornelis van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink (2012/2017). It’s a beautifully hard cover volume encompassing 806 pages (including indexes). On the back cover and inside are glowing endorsements by Richard J. Mouw, Michael S. Horton, Charles Van Engen, and John Bolt—all well-known Reformed theologians with evangelical credentials. I have not read the whole volume yet, but have glanced through it and read portions. It is very contemporary, moderate, irenic, broadly Reformed in posture and orientation, and accessible in language. The authors quote a broad range of theologians and philosophers but the influences of certain 20th century Dutch Reformed theologians such as G. C. Berkouwer and Hendrikus Berkhof are notable.

One of the first things I noticed as I scanned the table of contents is that the doctrine of Scripture appears as Chapter 13—on the heels of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Chapter 12). That is not to say, of course, that the Bible is not mentioned or used as an authority for theology before that; it is only to note that a complete account of a doctrine of Scripture follows that of the Holy Spirit—which is ironic (at least to me).

Years ago my good, late friend Stanley J. Grenz published his similar one volume “dogmatics” entitled Theology for the Community of God (also published by Eerdmans) and included the full discussion of a doctrine of Scripture after the doctrine of the Holy Spirit—late in the order of chapters. For that he was pummeled and vilified by certain conservative evangelical theologians. I am waiting to hear from them now about van der Kooi and van den Brink who do the same.

Of course, as an evangelical Arminian, I am especially interested in these Dutch Reformed theologians’ treatment of the doctrines of God’s sovereignty—especially providence and election/predestination. I found them to be very moderate—following closely Berkouwer and Berkhof (Hendrikus, not Louis!). There is no hint here of the aggressive “five point Calvinism” of many American Calvinists.

In sum, if someone asked me to recommend to him or her a moderately evangelical, one volume systematic theology from a broadly Reformed perspective I would recommend this one while cautioning that I have not yet read every page. What I have read pleases me even though, naturally, as an Arminian, I would have trouble using it as my own textbook in a course in systematic theology.

We evangelical Arminians need a good, broadly evangelical (not only Wesleyan), contemporary, one volume systematic theology from an Arminian perspective. I have heard rumors of such—that it is “in the works”—from a British Nazarene theologian, but he has cautioned me not to expect it anytime soon. I hope that it may yet appear in publication during my lifetime. I will not write one; I’m not a systematician but a historical theologian. I will leave it to others to risk systematizing revelation and Christian belief; I’m not at all convinced it can be successfully done. I agree with Alfred Lord Tennyson who famously wrote:

“Our little 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.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ghost Sightings of the Third Kind - Are They Real Or Unreal?

Even though its fun to write and talk about the paranormal (which I occasionally have done) there are many reasons why its a created fabrication dependent upon our physical surroundings. In Gettysburg last year as evening stole into the depths of the once torn Civil War town and outlying battlegrounds run red in sadness and despair, I witnessed long lines forming by the hundreds as tourists gathered together to go on ghostly walking tours. Yes it can be fun, and spooky, and eerie, and even educational, to consider the realm of the dead. But caution is always advised.

Now lest Christians think they are immune because of the residency of the Holy GHOST (Spirit) in their lives let us also consider that to the standard, run-of-the-mill, ghostly sightings should be included any "angel or demon sightings," conversations with "dead saints," the devil, or even "sightings" of God Himself beyond the spiritual sense of conviction, worship, praise or thanksgiving.

The ancient cultures of the bible believed no less in the supernatural than our contemporary cultures do today. This phenomena can also be found in literature both old and new lending itself to the idea that our physical being is remarkably created in such a way as to be sympathetic to, or to sense in a "sixth sense" sort of way, our surroundings - both in what we see and what we don't see but feel or sense.

The reality is, though the human body is like a cosmic tuning fork sensing the unseen, it is well to remember that we are also susceptible to manipulation by our physical surroundings through invisible chemicals in the air, ultrasonic sound waves, "waking states" of sleep, and powers of suggestion by ourselves or others. What we think is there is really not - however strong its urge. And despite similar encounters by other people experiencing similar "unrealities" they too are more probably influenced by the invisible affects of our surroundings without realizing it.

To be fair, I believe God understands how finely-balanced our bodies, minds, and spirits have become over the many years of its long evolutionary development. We see God work time-and-again with all sorts of afflicted people through their stories in the bible. Even with the saints throughout the history of the church (the biblical prophets come to mind). It doesn't mean that our "ghostly sense perceptions" are any more real by default - it simply means we have an amazing constitution that differs little with our more recent historical/biological past and that our Creator God is intimately acquainted with us.

As the Psalmist would say,

"He hears the cries of the afflicted and grants heaven's peace; He attends to those broken in soul comforting their hurts and drying their tears; to the weak, the destitute, the overwhelmed He comes by night to minister to the broken heart; God is the Great Healer of mind, body, soul, and spirit."

Of course science fictions movies have taken this idea of the supernatural sense within our beings to a whole new level of perception when portraying storylines that allow us to "transcend" our earthly bodies into the heavenlies (consider movies like Phenomena, Transcendent with Johnny Depp, or Morgan Freeman's series Down the Rabbit Hole). These are pseudo-fictional movies and documentaries expressing the possibility of greater "there-ness" found in our human makeup. Its fun to imagine, and possibly even true (everything and everyone is connected in some sense), but it can also function as an escape-mechanism by transferring all our hurts and needs into an imaginary realm where we might find a kind of "spiritual" healing rather than to deal with the realities of our suffering in a real world which has so deeply harmed our souls.

And though its fun to imagine and believe (I certainly like to think about these possibilities myself), for some, its an invitation to explore what usually amounts to a fearful state of black darkness descending into the realm of the imagined "spiritual" or "ghostly/demonic/angelic encounters". Like the "demonics" of the bible, these sad souls were physiologically under the influence of suggestion, disease, or abuse. But when encountered by our gracious Lord and Redeemer their souls were miraculously healed of the causes of their affliction, grief, or madness.

In short, this is my armchair discussion of some of the many physical factors which can influence the human psyche to believe something that really isn't there, never was there, and yet seems to be real and present. I apologize ahead of time for my skepticism of the supernatural. Even though I sometimes write about it in my stories and poems it is but an attempt to communicate to those caught up in this "other worldliness" thoughts and convictions that might heal deeply held wounds. As such, I would use this kind of literary medium for that intended purpose while exploring my own consciousness of the "other worldly."

Certainly my Pentecostal friends would think me a poorer sort of Christian than if I were to join their circles preaching dreams, interpretations of dreams, sightings of the supernatural, and so forth. And without discounting their experiences I do question many of them and would urge greater caution to be careful to what you listen too. Not all of it is of God but illusions brought on by our exhausted spirits worn by life, tragedy, sorrow, and hardship. And so, in another "sense", our great God comes to us knowing all our constitutional frailties. He comes to minister as we are, where we are, and even how we are. Thank you Jesus for your grace and mercy.

R.E. Slater
July 21, 2017

* * * * * * * * *

The Science of Ghosts: What's Really Happening When Your Brain Detects a Ghoul?

by Philip Perry
July 18, 2017

Once, in middle school, a gang of boys and I were lured to a spot behind the Dunkin' Donuts in our town. We went after dark, to a place where a kid from school witnessed a paranormal experience. Once there, we saw nothing. We chided our classmate until suddenly, a column of white light appeared out of nowhere. We scattered.

It sustained itself for a few minutes. Then suddenly, it cut off. A few moments later, just as mysteriously, it went on again. We stayed there quietly studying it, scared out of our minds. Until someone in our group finally pointed out a streetlight overhead. The bulb was getting old. That was the last time I believed in ghosts.

Do you? If so, you’re in good company. 45% of Americans do. In one poll, 28% of them admitted they’d had contact with one, personally. Senior research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Joe Nickell is the world’s sole, full-time, scientific paranormal investigator. After five decades of research, he hasn’t turned up a shred of evidence that points to the existence of ghosts. Magicians Harry Houdini and James Randi arrived at a similar place.

It’s not for lack of trying. In a video for Vox, Nickell says he’s employed blood pattern analysis, linguistic analysis, aspects of psychology, and more. It isn’t just him. Not one haunting or ghost sighting has ever rendered any evidence.

One of the problems is, it’s hard to grab raw data. All we usually have is a personal account. And these vary widely. One person will interact with an actual human figure, while another will observe mere objects flying across the room. There are a few grainy, blurs in some photos. But it’s hard to extrapolate from that.

Photographic evidence such as this isn’t enough to go on. Getty Images.

Though electromagnetic field (EMF) meters have been made popular by movies like Ghostbusters and TV shows such as Paranormal Lockdown and Ghost Hunters, there’s no scientific proof of any link between supernatural phenomenon and the magnetic field. Despite a general lack of evidence, such experiences feel poignant and real.

In a recent TED talk, Carrie Poppy explains her brush with the paranormal, how it made her feel, and later on, what she came to realize about it. She’s the co-host of the popular podcast Oh No Ross and Carrie, which explores and demystifies spiritual, religious, and paranormal topics, among others, through a scientific lens.

At the time her ghost sighting occurred, she was alone in her house. Suddenly, she felt a presence. Poppy felt like she was being watched. The feeling grew and grew and as it did, a pressure began to build inside her chest. The feeling increased slowly over the course of a week and rose to a fever pitch. She started to hear whispering sounds and became convinced that her house was haunted. Poppy tried to do a cleansing by burning a sage stick and other things. But no matter what she tried, the pressure on her chest got worse. It was also growing painful.

Finally, she took to the internet and arrived on a ghost forum for skeptics. She told them what she was experiencing and one of them said she had the symptoms for carbon monoxide poisoning. These include pressure on the chest and auditory hallucinations. The utility worker who rectified the problem, told her that if she hadn’t of gotten it fixed when she did, she wouldn’t have been alive the next morning.

There are many scientific explanations for ghost sightings. Ghost. By: Jordi Carrasco. Flickr.

The process by which one experiences something that isn’t there is called misperceived self-representation. So what else might induce this, besides carbon monoxide poisoning, brain damage, or an episode related to mental illness? Well, several things actually. There is a condition called sleep paralysis for one, also known as waking dreams.

This affects around 8% of the population. It usually occurs in the twilight hours of the morning, when one is between a waking and dreaming state. You can’t move your body and sometimes experience visual hallucinations. Grief also tends to increase the chances of a ghostly encounter. Psychologists say it might be a way for the mind to process and deal with loss. Usually, the person they see is a comforting figure who appears serene.

Another ghost-inducing phenomenon is called infrasound. This is a vibration that occurs below our normal range of hearing. That’s below 20 hertz (Hz). Certain machinery (like engines), whales, and extreme weather can all cause infrasound.

Some studies suggest that it can result in symptoms including feelings of depression, the chills, and the sneaking suspicion that someone is watching you. According to Hayden Planetarium director and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, infrasound at 18 Hz vibrates at such a rate that the eye can pick it up, which might cause visual hallucinations.

So if you or someone you know claims to have seen a ghost, believe them. But also, look for what evidence or phenomenon might be behind the sighting. You could end up finding a faulty lightbulb was the culprit all along.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Commentary - Jean Vanier's World of Love and Kindness

Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier’s world of love and kindness

"How a visit to an ‘idiot’ asylum inspired the founder of L’Arche"

July 1, 2017

Some of the time, most of the time, it’s tricky to believe in God. There’s just too much that’s sad — and behind it all, the ceaseless chomping of predators. Then sometimes the mist lifts and just for a moment you can see why the saints insist that everything’s OK. There’s a documentary out now, Summer in the Forest, that for a while cleared the mist for me and made sense of faith.

It tells the stories of a group of men and women with learning disabilities who live alongside volunteers without disabilities in Trosly-Breuil, a small French village north of Paris. The community is called L’Arche — The Ark — and it was founded 53 years ago by a French-Canadian former naval officer, Jean Vanier. In his mid-thirties, Vanier visited an institution for ‘idiots’ and was struck by the great loneliness there. Where most of us would scuttle away guiltily, Jean Vanier made a decision in the autumn of 1964 that sent his life’s trajectory off at an odd angle.

He invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the asylum where they’d spent their adult lives, and come to live with him in his cottage in Trosly-Breuil. He thought it would be fun, he says. He thought they could go for drives.

In the film, a now elderly Philippe Seux explains what Vanier’s decision meant to him: ‘In the psychiatric hospital, there was nothing to do — just sit on your arse all day doing sod all. When some lads misbehaved, they were given injections to calm down. It was quite a relief to be out of there, I can tell you.’

The cottage became L’Arche, which in turn became an international movement over the years, and there are now hundreds of L’Arche communities worldwide, where men and women who would otherwise live locked up can live as family. The strange and lovely thing is that if Summer in the Forest is to be believed, it’s a family filled with unusual joy.

Jean Vanier is now 88 and, if you ask around in Catholic circles, it’s whispered he’s a saint. He still lives in Trosly-Breuil, but in his spare time he’s a sort of secret superhero for peace — flying around the world to broker between powerful players. Justin Welby called on him this year to mediate between cross bishops, and it’s said he made them all wash each other’s feet. Though Vanier’s life has been punctuated with great accomplishments and prestigious awards, it’s that first invitation to Raphael and Philippe that seems most impressive. You can change the direction of your life — you can change other people’s lives! Deep in my everyday rut, I forget.

When I spoke to Jean Vanier, England was simmering in the aftermath of the election and the Grenfell Tower fire. Summer in this city — all the railing against the rich — seemed a far cry from Summer in the Forest. Vanier lives with and champions the very poorest people. I asked him: All this rage against the rich, can good come of it? Will it be productive? He replied: ‘I mean, it’s not only unproductive but it kills oneself. If you hate people, then you begin to hate yourself. You destroy yourself and no more peace! You are just continually in anger.’

So what are we to do? (When you’ve got a candidate for sainthood on the line, you cut to the chase.) ‘When there is a lot of poverty it should be a call for a lot of people to rise up to share tenderness,’ he said. ‘It’s what the Samaritan did when he bent down and started looking after this Jewish guy somewhere between Jericho and Jerusalem. Something suddenly rose up in him that he could communicate life, and he did it to this guy who was a sort of enemy in religion. We all have that — that’s the beauty, we all have that potential. If we can cool the anger down.’

One way of cooling the anger — better than another smug-fest pop concert — might be a giant screening of Summer in the Forest in Trafalgar Square. This, I think, is actually a genuinely good idea. The residents of L’Arche, unlike most Corbynistas, are some of the least fortunate people on the planet. But they have a laugh. The documentary shows the canteen at breakfast. One young man, David Surmaire, says: ‘I’m a strong man, me. People who treat me as if I’m small — they have to stop it.’ Then he drops to all fours, and barks like a dog while his girlfriend miaows. They’re having a blast. Jean Vanier eats all his meals in the canteen. He sits to one side and gently teases his friends.

Michel Petit, the real star of Summer in the Forest, is a barrel-bellied 75-year-old with the gait and purposefulness of a toddler. In his pre-L’Arche life he spent angry decades in a home. He says, simply and seriously to camera: ‘Jean Vanier is a man who loves us very much. He loves me very much. He taught me about calm.’

To me, Jean said: ‘I’ve been with these people now for 30 years, they are super people. Because they are people of fun, they love to celebrate. Every meal can become a celebration. That doesn’t mean to say that now and again people won’t prod their next-door neighbour with a fork — this is life. But the fundamental movement from many people with disabilities, they have been so pushed down, they don’t know they’re lovable, and then the day that they discover that they are lovable and they can trust themselves, then it becomes whoopee!’

The L’Arche communities are peaceful places, but they’re a puzzle for the West. We all talk great game on equality but the truth is most of us think: ‘I’d rather be dead than very disabled.’ Witness the hundreds of poor babies with Down’s syndrome aborted each year. So how can these men and women at L’Arche be living better lives than our own?

Vanier explained: ‘Look, there are two realities, two cultures. There is a culture of power and there is a culture of relationships. The men and women I live with see that it is good to be together and we don’t have to solve all the problems of the world when we are together. They teach me to lighten up. But then now and again,’ he said, ‘you get people from The Spectator who ring you up and you have to start being serious…’

I looked down at my great list of serious questions, and ploughed on. Here in the UK, the dominant philosophy in the social services is one of ‘care in the community’. The idea is that people with learning difficulties should live not in homes, but in their own flats, independently. Communities like L’Arche are closing down. Isn’t that lunacy?

‘We did that for a while right in the early days,’ said Vanier. ‘We found jobs for people and got them into apartments and everything, but then they found that television and beer go really well together and then we had to work with the AA! The point is not just to have independence, it’s to have friends. People belong together in a shared life.’

‘If I could change the law,’ he said, ‘I would organise it so that industries can be welcoming people with disabilities, meaning they don’t have to pay such high prices, they have much greater flexibility in wages and time and so and so, that could be adapted to people with disabilities.’

Oh what a hot potato this is in England! Rosa Monckton argued the same case in this magazine a few months ago. She suggested that people with learning disabilities who long to work, should not have to be paid the minimum wage. The reaction was apoplectic, I told Jean. ‘What a shame!’ he said. ‘The Down’s people would bring in laughter to the businesses! It would benefit everyone. But anyway…’ Anyway. It’s life, and we’re all in it together.

According to the philosophy of L’Arche, men and women with learning disabilities — loving and guileless — teach us how to live. But, says Vanier, they have another lesson for us too — they also teach us the mystery of living with loss. This I find unnerving. What is the mystery of loss?

‘We all live with loss,’ said Vanier. ‘It’s inevitable. We begin, most of us, by being loved totally when we’re born — then we enter into a world of loss, a mystery of loss. Every time you lose a job, or something precious, or there’s death, there’s loss. We cannot live without this movement of loss and gain. But some people are so frightened of loss, they are just scared stiff of loss.’

He laughed. I didn’t. I thought of a life spent acquiring and keeping safe: a husband, the baby, a house, the great stream of packages from Amazon. The possibilities for loss give me vertigo.

‘You can’t escape it,’ said Jean Vanier, gently. ‘In the end, you even lose what you feel is yourself. We all do. There’s a beauty in that. There’s a beauty even in something like Alzheimer’s, because it is a cry. It’s not a disaster, it’s a cry for a one-to-one.’

But how can that be beautiful? Isn’t it just catastrophically sad?

‘We have to learn to cry,’ said Jean Vanier, ‘because we’ve created an identity of power and not an identity of relationships, and that’s what the whole film is about — an identity of relationships.’

It’s true that Summer in the Forest turns the world upside down. If these men and women, who have so little of what the world admires, can be so happy, then we must be going about things a little wrong. The mystery of loss remains a mystery to me — but I’m left with the image of Sebastian, a member of L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil, whose life is spent lying scribbled up on a sort of motorised bed: limbs useless, head twisted sideways. In the film he’s shown having his heart checked by a doctor. When the doc is done, Jean, standing beside him, leans his head down next to Sebastian’s. ‘You are so beautiful, Sebastian,’ he says. Sebastian, who should by all rights be furious with life, accepts Jean’s love.

The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today’s Children (and what to do with it)

The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today’s Children
(and what to do with it)

May 24, 2017

There is a silent tragedy developing right now, in our homes, and it concerns our most precious jewels - our children. Through my work with hundreds of children and families as an occupational therapist, I have witnessed this tragedy unfolding right in front of my eyes. Our children are in a devastating emotional state! Talk to teachers and professionals who have been working in the field for the last 15 years. You will hear concerns similar to mine. Moreover, in the past 15 years, researchers have been releasing alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in kids’ mental illness, which is now reaching epidemic proportions:

How much more evidence do we need before we wake up?

No, “increased diagnostics alone” is not the answer!

No, “they all are just born like this” is not the answer!

No, “it is all the school system’s fault” is not the answer!

Yes, as painful as it can be to admit, in many cases, WE, parents, are the answer to many of our kids’ struggles!

It is scientifically proven that the brain has the capacity to rewire itself through the environment. Unfortunately, with the environment and parenting styles that we are providing to our children, we are rewiring their brains in a wrong direction and contributing to their challenges in everyday life.

Yes, there are and always have been children who are born with disabilities and despite their parents’ best efforts to provide them with a well-balanced environment and parenting, their children continue to struggle. These are NOT the children I am talking about here. 

I am talking about many others whose challenges are greatly shaped by the environmental factors that parents, with their greatest intentions, provide to their children. As I have seen in my practice, the moment parents change their perspective on parenting, these children change.

What is wrong?

Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood, such as:
  • Emotionally available parents
  • Clearly defined limits and guidance
  • Responsibilities
  • Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
  • Movement and outdoors
  • Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom

Instead, children are being served with:

  • Digitally distracted parents
  • Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”
  • Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
  • Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
  • Sedentary indoor lifestyle
  • Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments

Could anyone imagine that it is possible to raise a healthy generation in such an unhealthy environment? Of course not! There are no shortcuts to parenting, and we can’t trick human nature. As we see, the outcomes are devastating. Our children pay for the loss of well-balanced childhood with their emotional well-being.

How to fix it?

If we want our children to grow into happy and healthy individuals, we have to wake up and go back to the basics. It is still possible! I know this because hundreds of my clients see positive changes in their kids’ emotional state within weeks (and in some cases, even days) of implementing these recommendations:

Set limits and remember that you are your child’s PARENT, not a friend

Offer kids well-balanced lifestyle filled with what kids NEED, not just what they WANT. Don’t be afraid to say “No!” to your kids if what they want is not what they need.

  • Provide nutritious food and limits snacks.
  • Spend one hour a day in green space: biking, hiking, fishing, watching birds/insects
  • Have a daily technology-free family dinner.
  • Involve your child in one chore a day (folding laundry, tidying up toys, hanging clothes, unpacking groceries, setting the table etc)
  • Implement consistent sleep routine to ensure that your child gets lots of sleep in a technology-free bedroom

Teach responsibility and independence. Don’t over-protect them from small failures. It trains them the skills needed to overcome greater life’s challenges:

  • Don’t pack your child’s backpack, don’t carry her backpack, don’t bring to school his forgotten lunch box/agenda, and don’t peel a banana for a 5-year-old child. Teach them the skills rather than do it for them.

Teach delayed gratification and provide opportunities for “boredom” as boredom is the time when creativity awakens:

  • Don’t feel responsible for being your child’s entertainment crew.
  • Do not use technology as a cure for boredom.
  • Avoid using technology during meals, in cars, restaurants, malls. Use these moments as opportunities to train their brains to function under “boredom”
  • Help them create a “boredom first aid kit” with activity ideas for “I am bored” times.

Be emotionally available to connect with kids and teach them self-regulation and social skills:

  • Turn off your phones until kids are in bed to avoid digital distraction.
  • Become your child’s emotional coach. Teach them to recognize and deal with frustration and anger.
  • Teach greeting, turn taking, sharing, empathy, table manners, conversation skills,
  • Connect emotionally - Smile, hug, kiss, tickle, read, dance, jump, or crawl with your child.

We must make changes in our kids’ lives before this entire generation of children will be medicated! It is not too late yet, but soon it will be…

Brain McLaren - Why Pastors and Priests are Leaving the Church and What To Do About It (Part 2)

Why Pastors and Priests are Leaving the Church
and What To Do About It (Part 2)

by Brian McLaren
June 26, 2017

As I see it, there are four options for clergy who are being worn down by an unsustainable status quo:

1 - Start new faith communities.

2 - Precipitate a crisis/intervention.

3 - Launch a transformation.

4 - Retire early or get into another line of work.

Many are choosing Option 4, as I mentioned earlier. But if too many more generations of our most creative and visionary leaders throw in the towel (or are driven away), the Christian church (in America, at least) creates a downward death spiral of boredom, narrowness, shrinkage, and stagnation … or (as I’m actually more worried about) it renders itself easily manipulable by demagogues and extremists who deal in nostalgia, lies, flattery, and violence. As I wrote in The Great Spiritual Migration, there’s something worse than Christianity dying: namely, Christianity killing. It has done so in the past, and it can do so again in the future, only now, with more horrific weapons at its disposal.

So let me say a brief word about Options 1 – 3.

1. Starting new faith communities is not easy; just ask anyone (including yours truly) who has done it. But it is vital to create living models of innovation at this moment – not simply incremental improvements of the existing model, but creative new models that start from scratch, so to speak, returning to sources (Jesus and the Gospels, for starters), and facing current and emerging realities.

New communities who seize this moment will model a kind of engaged spiritual (or contemplative) activism, and they will be aligned from the start to embody the gospel as it pertains to contemporary crisis, beginning with these four (that I wrote about back in 2007 in Everything Must Change):

1 - the planet, unsustainable economies, and climate change;

2 - poverty and obscenely expanding economic inequality;

3 - making peace between individuals, races, religions, classes, cultures, nations, and civilizations; and,

4 - the dignity of all people, no exceptions.

2. Precipitating a Crisis/Intervention often simply means telling the truth and doing something about it. The truth is that most of our denominations and congregations are shrinking and wrinkling. Evangelicals used to take pride in the certainty that their conservative theology would inoculate them from “liberal” decline, but that myth has been largely exploded. (Just ask any knowledgeable Southern Baptist.) If individual congregations (and, please God, denominations) face these realities, they will discover that a non-denial of reality is a wonderful liberator of creativity, which will allow them to think more like their colleagues in #1 above. In fact, the models created by #1 provide examples for imitation and adaptation for #2 and #3.

3. Launching Transformation makes sense in congregations where there is a good measure of health and strength. Transformative leaders can pilot their congregations through a period of reimagining and reinvention. In other words, they can upgrade the airport or intersection while it continues to function.

Leaders who are engaged in these three options need some distinct skills, but they are working toward the same goal. It’s important for them not to see one another as competitors, but as allies. We’re in this together.


A quick anecdote to close: some years ago, I spoke at a large denominational assembly. At the end of my talk in a Q & R time, a clergywoman went to the mic and said, “I’m going to retire later this year, and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t.”

I cringed, thinking that I had unwittingly unleashed this kind of negativity. She continued, “All I can tell you is that everything I’ve tried has failed. I’ve spent my entire career trying to help churches that are worse off than when I started.”

I was thinking at that moment that the bishop must have been mortified that I had influenced one of his clergy to demoralize her colleagues in this way.

In the middle of my cringe, though, she got a sparkle in her eyes, and continued, “But if there are any younger clergy here who want to try to put into practice what this man [referring to me] has been talking about today, then as soon as I retire, I’m available as a full-time volunteer. Because I’m not giving up. I’m more motivated than ever. I have a whole career behind me of small measures that I know won’t work. I’m ready to get more radical in the years I have left.”

The room broke into applause.

That’s the spirit we need.


I’ve been involved with these three options for decades, now, and if you’d like to join a cohort of leaders who want to learn, grow, and lead together, I hope you’ll check out the Convergence Leadership Project. Registration is open now for an August 1 launch.

Roger Olson - The Disappearing Difference between Rhetoric and Argument

Perception vs. Perceiving
by R.E. Slater

Perception is all we know and it is happening in our consciousness. Perceived is therefore the same as perception for we can never ever be sure about the objective reality of the perceived.... Consciousness that does the perceiving is the only reality that we can ever know or be sure of. - Quora

When we perceive something, we become aware of or notice it. Sometimes we perceive things by using our senses of sight, hearing, and smell. Or we can use our mind to perceive things, which means that we are able to recognize or understand them. - Urban Dictionary

Today's post-truth societies writes its own narratives based upon its own agendas. Jesus said to love one another. If our beliefs are not humane, or humanely enacted, then we are not loving one another.

I've been thinking a lot about things over the years which is also why I've written so much. Except for today. I couldn't focus. The news continues to be exceptionally bad for a nation broken too many times. Without getting into anything, here is something I had worked on back in July of 2017....

"When writing, the best I can do is to expand people's ingrained perceptions knowing that for many, their perception is their reality.

"The term 'interprefacts' may be apt here when claiming perceptual 'truth-claims' as 'fact'. The point is, all claimed 'facts' are someone’s interpretation of reality, including 'belief-claims" in politics, religion, or the bible.

Whether we know it or not, we promote our own narratives at the expense of who we are. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, 'Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be.'
In another sense, 'Our beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals.' I think this is a wise observation. What this means is that outcome matters. What we believe produces good or bad outcomes.

Thus the necessity to examine one's beliefs that they error on the side of humanity. The tools we have at hand are always available - compassion, wellbeing, and care for the other. In Jesus' words, if our outcomes are less than humane than our beliefs must be adjusted 'er we fall into blinded darkness.

R.E. Slater
May 27, 2020

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Clue: front "half" view or distorted
side view looking to the left?

The Power of Perception:
You ARE what others PERCEIVE!

by the Knowledge Center

Perception is an amazing thing. A double-edged sword that can help you cut through the maze of social dynamics; or one that can cut you down to size. Forming a perception about someone or something comes naturally to us, and we do it subconsciously, whether you want to or not; or even when you tell yourself it is not the right thing to do. Let’s not deny this instinctive nature of ours, as it does help us make sense of our social environment, and of the person whom we are interacting with.

It takes just a few seconds to create an initial perception of someone. In quick time, this perception will become a “judgement”. Sometimes there are already preconceived perception biases existing even before the events happen. On this, I will share a little more on the research that I am conducting on perception bias.

Whether you are perceived positively or unfavourably, will suggest the level of difficulty for you “the perceived” to validate yourself subsequently. That is, if you are perceived positively in the beginning, it is easier for you to continue to reinforce that preception to create a favourable subsequent judgment.

Basically, how you come across to someone is defined through your ‘Presence’; how you ‘Behave’; and how you ‘Communicate’. I call this the “PBC”. This sums up a “persona” that you want others to see of you. Instead of an elaborate explanation, let me share a story to showcase what I mean:

I was posted to an overseas assignment several years back. During a visit from my family friends and hosting them to a sumptuous dinner and a night out to the city, our guests were immersed in the sights and sounds of the weekend city-life of the place. There were great scenery and beautiful people dressing to the nines for the weekend. In particular, we saw two exceptionally well-dressed ladies in the crowd. As our friends were appreciating and commenting on how good they look (there you are – our perception), we were drawn to witness a commotion between these 2 ladies in no time. They were hurling verbal insults at each other. We were obviously shocked. The way they behaved and communicated did not carry their Presence. All the ‘positives’ we perceived of them earlier on just disappeared. This disconnect in the persons’ “PBC” is obvious!

- KC (2016)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Disappearing Difference between Rhetoric and Argument

by Roger Olson
July 10, 2017

Recently (during and since the 2016 U.S. presidential election) there has been a lot of “chatter” about “facts.” Someone publicly labeled a public truth claim an “alternative fact.” This neologism created a great deal of consternation, controversy, and more than a little tittering.

This event, or series of events, provoked me to think about truth claims, “facts,” and reality. Long before someone uttered the phrase “alternative fact” someone else said that “perception is reality.” I’ve uttered that myself in certain contexts. Some years ago the “sociology of knowledge” became interpreted by many intellectuals and academics as the “social construction of reality.” Others cautioned that the sociology of knowledge should be interpreted only as the “social construal of reality.”

For quite a long time now European and North American intellectuals (and please don’t think you’re not affected by what they think and say, something I’ll explain later here) adopted “anti-realism” or its softer version “critical realism.” The “social construction of reality” expresses anti-realism; the “social construal of reality” expresses critical realism. Both points of view accept the sociology of knowledge but with different degrees.

I long ago gave up any thought that “facts” (truth claims) match reality perfectly—as it actually is. I adopted a critical realism posture toward truth claims. All truth claims construe reality from within some narrative, some story about what is real and important, some perspective on “the world,” some point of view. As some thinker said, there is no view from nowhere.

I worry, however, that many people in the Western world (Europe, North America, places influenced by their intellectual trends) either 1) Don’t know or accept the inescapable social construal of reality or 2) Embrace the anti-realist social construction of reality view.

Some readers may know that much of what I am talking about here comes, at least partially, from American sociologist Peter Berger who died very recently. I was privileged, over the past two-to-three years to call him my friend. He initiated the friendship and I was simply “blown away,” to use an American colloquialism, by that. We met over lunch a few times, corresponded a few times, and he invited me to respond in a public colloquium or symposium to one of his last books. And he suggested to the editor of a volume of essays responding to that book that I write a chapter. By “friend” I don’t mean we were “chums” or “buddies” or anything like that; we knew each other and had some friendly social as well as professional interactions.

Through my friendly acquaintance and interactions with Berger, widely considered one of the “fathers” of the sociology of knowledge, I discovered that he was not, as many have assumed, an anti-realist. He believed, he told me directly, that there are methods of research, in sociology itself, that filter out bias, subjectivity and perspective. This felt a bit inconsistent to me—at least with many people’s interpretation of Berger’s sociology of knowledge epistemology.

It was not Berger, however, from whom I first learned about critical realism and the role that narrative, perspective, and social location play in everyone’s construal of reality. I first learned that, something I already suspected, from…(drumroll)…Wheaton College philosophy professor Arthur Holmes. In some of his writings (e.g., Contours of a Worldview) he used the term “interprefacts” for all truth claims. The point is that all “facts” are someone’s interpretation of reality. Holmes, an evangelical Christian philosopher who influenced two or three generations of Wheaton College students, and through his writings many others, was a critical realist. (I’m not claiming that he was always consistently that; I’m only saying that some of his writings seemed to me to assume that posture toward epistemology.)

Of course, as everyone who has studied these matters knows, a breakthrough classic of critical realism, if not anti-realism, was Thomas Kuhn whose book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) fell like a bombshell on the playground of the philosophers and scientists. Kuhn argued that, even in the “hard sciences,” there is no pure objectivity, no “view from nowhere.” Kuhn used the term “paradigms” for what sociologists of knowledge meant by terms like “perspective” and “social location.” All this is modern intellectual history.

Here’s the point and the “rub.” My own experience and observation of my culture—North American academia—leads me to believe that many people with tremendous influence—even where their names are never heard or known outside of academia—have adopted the belief that because of the sociology of knowledge, critical realism or even anti-realism (belief that “knowledge” never even comes close to matching reality-as-it-is if such even exists), because of the “social construction of reality,” all that’s left to us is rhetoric. The traditional ideas of “facts” and “arguments” are simply “old school thinking.” Since that is the case, many movers and shakers of culture believe, there is really no “line” between argument and rhetoric. All arguments (about what is the case) are actually only rhetoric and therefore….

Yes, what follows the “therefore?” Bear with me as I give an example in order to answer that question. A few years ago I met and had lunch with a man who is an executive of a major American “news” corporation that owns numerous “news” outlets spread out all over the United States and even the world. If I mentioned its name every reader would recognize it (or at least one or more of its news outlets—print or broadcast). This executive told me what I already suspected. A high executive of the corporation publicly stated to the people working under him that the purpose of the corporation, other than earning a profit, is to “promote our narrative.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I admire and respect that news organization executive for at least admitting the truth. But this is why I have largely given up reading, listening to, or watching news outlets. Most, if not all, are driven by some “narrative” which means, some perspective on reality that is tied to a particular group’s overall social location and agenda.

Now, some of you, my dear readers, might be thinking, and preparing to say that this has always been the case so why now stop reading, listening to, and watching the news? I believe there was a time in my life—long ago—when at least some journalists actually tried to deliver news objectively—without his/her delivery being driven by a narrative or agenda. Of course, I don’t believe there ever was a time when news was delivered in a purely objective manner such that the words being spoken matched reality perfectly without any distortion and without any perspective playing a role in how it was gathered and stated. But I think there was a time, even during my own lifetime, when most journalists and academics believed the “pursuit of truth” was worthwhile and that there was a real difference between rhetoric and arguments, between information and manipulation. Now, however, it seems to me that all news delivery includes blatant manipulation. If nothing else, the manipulation lies in delivering “news” that people want to hear or read and ignoring “news” that will harm ratings or readership. But I believe I detect also in it a not-very-well-hidden agenda to persuade readers and viewers toward a certain perspective on reality. In other words, much, if not all, “news” is really social engineering. Once your “eyes” are opened to it, you can’t miss it. It’s everywhere. We all know it’s part of contemporary advertising, but many people still dream that somewhere there is a news outlet that is dedicated to facts separated from any narrative.

So, do I blame the journalists? No. In fact, when I do watch television news (which is rare) I actually have feelings of sympathy for the talking heads, most of who probably know that what they are communicating under the guise of “facts” is really part of some nameless, invisible group’s social agenda rooted in a narrative about how reality is or should be.

Oh, I could give hundreds of examples. One very obvious one is how little we read or hear in American news about events taking place in Africa—unless it affects “American interests.” Do you want to know something about Africa? Watch Anthony Bourdain’s CNN series “Places Unknown.” It doesn’t even pretend to be news, but many of his episodes take place in Africa—from Libya to Senegal to Ethiopia to Zaire. From them you will at least realize what earth-shaking things are happening in Africa that you will never read about in or hear about on American news.

So, some of you will want to say “Watch the news on BBC!” and “Read The Economist.” I have; I’ve stopped. In my opinion, both are also driven by narratives and agendas and by people “at the top” who expect them to promote those narratives and agendas.

Some of you, at least, will think I am being “Chicken Little,” but I don’t think so. In fact, I will go further than Chicken Little and say that the sky has fallen already; it’s too late even to hope for a return to real concern with “the facts” separated from someone’s narrative and agenda. In my opinion, relying on memory and on things I have read about him, Walter Cronkite at least cared about the facts, about attempting to tell us Americans about the realities of world events.

Today, as I see it, the lines between argument and rhetoric, fact and persuasion, news and social engineering (and entertainment), have largely been erased both in academia (professional societies are driven by narratives and agendas that determine what is appropriate to think and say and what is inappropriate to think and say) and in journalism. Which means both are dead in any traditional sense.

If you want to watch a fascinating documentary that well illustrates the implicit anti-realism I am talking about, please get your hands on and watch the final episode of the series The Day the Universe Changed: A Personal View by journalist James Burke (1985). It is entitled “Worlds without End: Changing Knowledge, Changing Reality.”