Trading One Certainty for Another (or the Delusion of Certainty)

I came across this essay recently and I thought I would engage it a bit.  The writer seems, to me anyway, to be making the same mistake that many former evangelicals/fundamentalists do once they walk away from those traditions/mindsets, which is she simply trades it for a secular/atheistic fundamentalism.  An underlying sensibility or theme running through all fundamentalism is the need for certainty.  She may have stepped out of religious fundamentalism, but the need for certainty is still so clear in her thoughts here.  I think that is the main take-away for me, but I will just move through this and respond as a progressive, the very person she is addressing.
“I appreciate that progressive Christians don’t use this “God is a mystery” statement to shoehorn people into accepting a specific set of doctrine, I really do. Perhaps the problem is that when I hear this “God is a mystery our brains cannot grasp” rhetoric coming from progressive Christians, I think of myself and my own journey, and the way this rhetoric made me feel boxed in.”
Well, I’m sorry this reminds you of when the statement was used to silence you and how it made you feel, but you just pointed out that this is not how progressives use that statement, so?
“Because, I think, holding together the many contradictions I experienced became too difficult.”
This is question-begging. Whether or not they are contradictions is a disputed matter.  Plus, allowing for mystery is often what unravels apparent contradictions.  She over-looks how the very thing she doesn’t quite get, may have been the very answer to those so-called contradictions.
“The progressive Christian’s embrace of mystery stands in stark contrast to the atheist’s decision to jettison mystery. Some of us look at the contradictions, and it becomes too much. We’d rather solve the mystery than embrace it.”
The first sentence just made me laugh.  The atheist embraces mystery as much as anyone.  The atheist hasn’t proved God doesn’t exit.  He believes that by faith.  The atheist has hardly figured out the many mysteries of life, of the universe.  There is no contrast here whatsoever, let alone a ‘stark’ one.  Further, she reveals she has just traded for another ideology that seeks certainty when she says she would rather ‘solve’ the mystery than embrace it.  She’s missing quite a bit here.  No progressive Christian says we should not try and solve every natural mystery we can through the use of science and all the powers at our disposal.  But we also recognize that when it comes to meaning, purpose, love, beauty, poetry, literature, music, drama, and life in general that such are beyond the reach of science or some physical measuring logic.  In these other areas, the most important areas in our lives by the way, there will remain much that is mysterious and that is okay.
“I just didn’t find the call to “embrace the mystery” as comforting as others seem to, perhaps because for me it began to seem as though this rhetoric had the same goal as that of the rhetoric I heard growing up—to get me to believe something that does not make sense to me, just because.”
Well, you just told us you know that progressives are using the statement in a different way than fundamentalists.  Do you believe that or not?  I guess not. I can tell you that no progressive I am aware of wants anyone to embrace the mystery ‘just because.’  Either one does or he doesn’t—or he is somewhere in-between.  I’m not sure we care if you embrace it or not.  We simply are willing to forgo certainty and embrace the fact we don’t know everything.  More people should try it.  The last time I checked, no wars broke out when someone said ‘I don’t know–that is a mystery to me’.
“Progressive Christianity didn’t make sense anymore either. I didn’t go straight from evangelical to atheist, I actually explored Catholicism first.”
Just because one goes to a Catholic church doesn’t mean they left fundamentalism behind.  There are some very conservative Catholic priests who also inhabit a type of fundamentalism.  It’s possible then the writer has never really given a progressive Christian community a chance or even understood it well.
“What bothered me was that my experience didn’t line up. I had trusted God on some things I thought he was telling me, and those things turned out to be flat wrong. And no, I hadn’t simply “misunderstood.” I was no longer sure that I was able to listen to God and hear what he was saying to me, because I couldn’t tell his voice apart from my own internal monologue. Suddenly the “mystery” became painful. Was God playing a cruel joke on me? In the midst of this, all those times I had let go and embraced “mystery”—whether as a conservative or as a progressive—began coming back to haunt me. “It’s a mystery our brains cannot understand” began to feel coercive. It hurt.  And so I let go…”
This was the most telling part of the whole essay.  Let me get this straight, you now know this God never existed but you hadn’t simply ‘misunderstood’?  How is that possible?  If this God you were praying to didn’t exist, then you most certainly misunderstood whatever it was you think you were being told—you misunderstood your own voice then.  And what in the world does that have to do with the ‘mystery’?  That you found this mystery ‘coercive’ and that it hurt goes back to your fundamentalism, not a progressive understanding.  The writer seems to be saying, “Because God didn’t do what I wanted, I no longer believe and I’m upset it’s all a mystery.”  Well, God is not a slot machine or vending machine.  God isn’t a genie in a bottle, existing to fulfill our wishes.  I’m sorry your view of God was shaped by such a cheap and ignorant tradition.  But please don’t blame that on progressives or even God.
“…I unleashed my brain on all of the things I’d told myself were “a mystery,” and rejected the idea that the problem was that I just couldn’t understand them.”
This is what fundamentalists told you, remember, not progressives.  Progressives would say that sometimes understanding something, truly understanding it, is to recognize and embrace the mystery of that thing.  This is how we can truly understand it.  Don’t mistake understanding something with being certain about it or understanding it like you understand a math equation.  That is not how you know your spouse or significant other, right?  You can ‘unleash’ your brain as much as you want on why a child dies in a tornado or why two people fall in love, you will still come up short.
“I trusted myself, and my ability to think and reason, and I ran wild on the newly open theological terrain before me like a small child in a meadow.” It’s not that I had all of the answers, it’s that I was finally able to go looking for them without turning myself back at the gate.
This is something progressives encourage, so the point?
“In the end, “your human brain can’t understand the mystery that is God” became a cage—regardless of who was saying it—and it was only when I managed to say “no, I don’t believe that” that I was able to fly from the cage.”
Again, this is something fundamentalists told you, not progressives.  I think what bothers both religious fundamentalists and secular/atheist fundamentalists is the progressive’s embrace of uncertainty and mystery.  The fundamentalist has a need to be certain, to avoid risk, and to know he/she has the ‘right’ or ‘correct’ answer to everything.  They need to be able to judge others as to their ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ and to put people in camps, those who are inside and those who are outside.

I’m afraid all the writer did was fly from one cage into another.  Good luck with that.  One day I hope she can leave the cage altogether.
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44 Responses to Trading One Certainty for Another (or the Delusion of Certainty)

  1. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    I think you are failing to get the real subtext here, which is that the certainty that there is a “mystery” is a fundamentalism and fixation all its own. Sure there are lots of things we don't undertstand. Dark energy, gravity, etc.. But saying that the trinity is something that is mysterious and beyond our puny grasp assumes that it is at least true and existing, which is itself not only contested, but without any (worthy) evidence. It was created by peoply trying to square several cultural and theological circles, who ended up tying themselves up in knots of perplexity. And then they had the audacity to call it “a mystery”! Nope. BS is more like it.

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  2. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    You are confusing two different things. Dark energy and gravity are natural mysteries. The Trinity is a mystery like love is a mystery. Also, there is no certainty in recognizing something is a mystery—it is the very absence of certainty—we are saying we don’t understand it completely. If there is any certainty in that, it's called just being honest. If that sort of certainty bothers you, then it is you who is missing the subtext.

    Also, this has nothing to do with ‘puny brains’ as it has nothing to do with pure brain power, pure intelligence, knowledge, and so forth. If you think understanding why a child dies in a tornado or why two people fall in love can be reduce to brain power I feel sorry for you.

    There is no subtext to the rest of your comments, only the usual question-begging.

    Thanks though, always interesting.

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  3. Burk says:

    .. we are saying we don’t understand it completely.”

    I am saying that you don't understand it at all, because it does not exist at all. It is a mystery as much as Peter Pan is a mystery. To answer this, you would have to have some decent evidence for its existence, which you do not.

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  4. Darrell says:

    Question-begging is neither a response nor an argument. All evidence is interpreted, so…

    Nothing in your response except…certainty…

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  5. Hi Darrell

    In what sense is the reason why two people fall in love mysterious? What is the mystery we are trying to solve here? It's alway felt like the least mysterious thing in the world to me – circumstance, compatibility of personality, sexual chemistry, cultural reinforcement, loneliness, yearning to know oneself through others, fear of growing old alone, and so it goes on. None of these feel like particularly mysterious forces to me.

    Certainly the way these factors come together in the individual case is too complex to make predictions reliable, but then there is unpredictable complexity in a swirling current too, but does that count as mysterious?

    Bernard

    Bernard

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  6. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    For something to BE mysterious, it first has to BE. We have existence proofs of dark energy, and of love, and of swirling water. We have no existence proof of trinities, peter pan, or god.

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  7. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “In what sense is the reason why two people fall in love mysterious?”

    Think of all the works of literature, Shakespeare, poetry, music, drama, and all the countless attempts to talk about two people and love. If you don’t think all that has to do with the mystery involved, then I’m not sure you grasp the depth involved or the imaginative powers who have indeed thought it a mystery. Are you suggesting that science has explained all that goes on when two people fall in love? Also, we are not talking about the ‘reason’ they do. We are talking about the intangibles involved, the very fact that they do, all that goes beyond reproduction and survival. What is this ‘thing’ called love? It’s an age-old question and one wrapped in mystery. Your question sounds a little like someone without an imagination, a Spock, who thinks all can be reduced to logic and science. I hope that’s not true?

    And we are not trying to ‘solve’ the mystery. That is the very point. It’s okay for it to be a mystery. I’m okay with mystery. Are you?

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  8. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    Whether or not God exists is disputed, so you beg the question. Further, you make the philosophical category error of presuming that God is either something physical or a mythical figure no one believes exists.

    So you completely miss the writer’s point. She is not saying that the ‘mystery’ part is false because God doesn’t exist to begin with. That would have required one sentence (and would have been question-begging, but oh well…). She is speaking to much more than simply saying God doesn’t exist—she is trying to draw parallels between progressives and fundamentalists and this concept of mystery.

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  9. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    But her solution is to become atheist.. i.e. to deny the very premise of this purported mystery, which is after all the logical conclusion to make.

    This means that your blog of the virtues of “allowing” for mystery, etc is quite beside the point, if her ultimate solution is more radical and more sensible.

    Progressives do indeed embrace the mystery just because.. because they have indoctrinated into believing the existence of something that is utterly invisible, unknowable, and therefore, if it were to exist, quite mysterious, .. except for the vast logorrhea that has be devoted to figuring it out and making all sorts of bald claims.

    While fundamentalists may assert more counterfactuals that progressives do, that does not relieve progressives of making critical counterfactual assertions.

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  10. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    “But her solution is to become atheist.. i.e. to deny the very premise of this purported mystery…”

    Becoming an atheist was her ‘solution’ to the fact, according to her, God didn’t do what she wanted. The mystery part is completely secondary. Did you even read her essay?

    The rest of your comments are just question-begging rhetoric-nothing there.

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  11. Hi Darrell

    What is this thing called love? you ask, as if this is a great mystery. Well, I find it quite wonderful and delightful, but not at all mysterious.

    Shakespeare celebrates love at great length in his writing, particularly in his sonnets, but I'm not sure he ever treats it as a mystery.

    You speak as the mystery of love as residing in its intangibles, but this is circular, assuming intangible is to assume mystery. Love is very much tangible. We experience it, the rush of affection, of certainty, of commitment and desire. All quite tangible to the person experiencing them, and ultimately observable by others in the actions of those who claim to be in love.

    What precisely do you find mysterious about love? Why we should have evolved a capacity for it? How a particular culture has developed behavioural norms about it? How the hormones are released? What don't you get?

    Bernard

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  12. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    I didn’t realize you had figured love out! Just think of all the great works of art, literature, poetry, and music that have talked of love and its mystery—and here you come and tell us, “It’s not all that mysterious.” Wow. I’m just going to let that hang there.

    You are mistaking physical effects for the thing called ‘love’, which is very intangible and clearly not the effects Shakespeare was speaking to (or anyone else for that matter).

    I’m glad you’ve figured it out Bernard, the rest of us will keep wrestling with the mystery.

    Sorry for the glib response, but I can’t take you seriously here. Plus, I’m not sure what it has to do with the post.

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  13. Hi Darrell

    Glib indeed, but I don't mind.

    In terms of relevance, your post makes much of the concept of mystery, and the mystery of love is the prime example you offer.

    And so, I ask, what is this mystery of love of which you speak, so we can see whether it is an apt analogy for the way the progressive church treats the mysteries of religion. I don't know what you're getting at when you say love is mysterious, and hence I can't tell whether your claims regarding the religious treatment of mystery make any sense.

    What exactly do you find mysterious about love? This will help us get a little closer to what you mean when you use the word mystery.

    So often these discussions turn out to be nothing more than attempts to clarify the way the other is employing language, and we could head that off at the pass in this case if you could offer clarification.

    My pre-conception here is that progressives aren't nearly as accepting of mystery as agnostics, for example. The agnostic says, I have no idea if true moral values exist, or even if the idea can make much sense, for example. The progressive says, although the process by which we gain knowledge is mysterious to me, I still believe that I have knowledge of moral truths. In doing so, it seems to me, they rather neuter the mystery, by depriving it of the power to elude us.

    Anyway, something about love is clearly mysterious to you. What would that something be?

    Bernard

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  14. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    I still can’t believe you are seriously asking what about love is mysterious. You are an educated person, a person of the world I would assume. Do you mean to really tell us that all the literature (something like Anna Karenina), poetry, sonnets, music, dramas, and so forth, which speak to issues of love, are not trying to capture something mysterious? Are you joking? This sounds like something a freshman in high school might ask out loud to impress the girls in class.

    Since you don’t think there is anything mysterious to love, then why don’t you tell us exactly what love consists of—what it is. Break it down for us. Since there is no mystery, you must know, right? There is no mystery to a math equation, right? There no mystery to combustion, right? So please tell us. In the telling, you will answer your own question.

    “My pre-conception here is that progressives aren't nearly as accepting of mystery as agnostics, for example. The agnostic says, I have no idea if true moral values exist, or even if the idea can make much sense, for example.”

    You are confusing either ignorance or the idea of, “We can’t know this” with mystery. The agnostic says “I don’t know” or can’t know this. The progressive says, I understand something a little, I’ve experience something, I know something of this, but at its core, it’s still a mystery. Two different things.

    But please, illuminate us about what love is without resorting to any explanation that leaves room for mystery. Also, does your spouse know that you know what love is, exactly, without resort to mystery? That may come as a surprise to her. Maybe you should let her respond to the question of whether you understand love or not, without resort to any mystery.

    Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
    Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes;
    Being vex'd a sea nourish'd with lovers' tears:
    What is it else? a madness most discreet,
    A choking gall and a preserving sweet.
    (Romeo and Juliet, 1.1)

    Yeah, your right, no mystery there.

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  15. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    You seem to take the term “mystery” to mean something that is not completely understood, or difficult to understand. If so, yes, you will find mysteries everywhere.

    But my understanding is that “mystery”, as used in the link in a religious context, means more: that something is a mystery implies it is unknowable to us, even in principle. Could you clarify this?

    In this sense, I don't quite see how a math equation (your example) can be seen as being mysterious.

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  16. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    Well my reference to the math equation was to note that it’s not mysterious. If love is not mysterious, if it can be broken down for us like a math equation, then Bernard should be able to do that, right? Or at least something similar to that, right, if there is no mystery to the what love is? If he can’t, then doesn’t that tell us there is indeed a mysterious aspect still present?

    I can’t speak for the writer, but I think progressives are using the term mystery to speak to something that can’t be reduced to a math equation or pure logic. There is always a remainder that we don’t quite understand. There is always sense of not quite grasping the immensity, the scope, and the enormity bound up in this idea of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Gospel and so forth. Just like with the idea of love, or beauty, or goodness, there is always a remainder, a mysterious aspect, we continue to strive to understand. Thus, it is not that it is unknowable, but it cannot be mastered or completely explored. When we think we have mapped as much as we can, we come over the hill and find an entirely new or unexplored area or aspect. Frankly, this is exactly what we find with the people in our lives, especially those we love.

    Anyway, that is how I think about it.

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  17. Hi Darrell

    I'm just trying to clarify what you mean by mysterious. If you told us what exactly you find mysterious about love, we'd be closer to understanding your use of the word, and from there a meaningful discussion might follow.

    Of course, I can't force you to address this. So let's move on.

    The bigger picture here is whether there is a fair analogy between the mysteriousness we all accept (complexity or weirdness such that our understanding is incomplete – or indeed non-existent) and the kind of mystery evoked by religion. It may well be the writer you critique is asserting a difference here, and that may well be valid.

    Let's take something like the existence of a loving God. We all accept certain mystery as to the nature of the universe. We all accept that a great deal lies beyond that which we know, and we can rightly call this mystery.

    But, it seems to me, the believer has a tendency to fill in this gap in a way that the non-believer doesn't. The believer says, well, I think that in this great unknown I can detect a loving God, for example, or a purposeful universe (the means of detection themselves being thoroughly mysterious). By contrast the non-believer's stance is, the unknown is unknown. That's what makes it mysterious.

    In this sense, the unbeliever is more accepting of mystery, I would argue. Perhaps it is this difference, the believer's tendency to simultaneously to both pronounce mystery, and offer explanation for it, that left the writer to feel a little frustrated.

    Bernard

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  18. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    You told us that love is not mysterious. I’m asking you then to tell us what love is without any resort to mystery at all in your explanation. Please do.

    Of course, I can't force you to address this. So let's move on.

    I think you are mistaking “I don’t know” or “I can’t know” regarding physical/material aspects to the universe with the idea of mystery bound up in things we do know and understand, like love, beauty, the good, but in very limited ways, where there is always a remainder, and thus lies mystery.

    And in fact this is what we do; this explains the literature, art, music, poetry, philosophy, and theology trying to articulate something about the mystery of these things we experience and “know” but know in such limited ways.

    Whereas we might reasonably say to the question, “Does life exist on other planets?”, “I don’t know ” we would never say, “I don’t know anything about love, the good, or beauty”, because we do know and experience those things, but there is always a remainder of mystery, because we do not “know” those things exhaustively. I think it is the same with God and that is why I used that analogy.

    One thing I find interesting is that no one has taken the writer’s actual words, or my actual responses, in the context of the whole, and said anything pertinent to her or mine’s point. Burk thought she was making a case for atheism, but she was clearly trying to show that there is little difference between fundamentalists and progressives when using the word mystery and I think she utterly failed to make that case.

    Does anyone want to address any main points in the post?

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  19. Hi Darell

    You say that God, like love, is mysterious in the sense that we don't know it exhaustively. Well, I don't think I know anything exhaustively. I know roughly how cake batter transforms to a cake in an oven, but I don't think it mysterious. Is God like a cake in an oven in this sense. Is love?

    Presumably there's more to it than this. What is this mysterious extra ingredient, beyond complexity or lack of critical data, that makes love especially mysterious?

    I see what you're getting at here. This vagueness of definition is often a method of defending an idea from scrutiny, which is why I'm pushing you on it. It may well be one of those areas on which you refuse to engage, however, and that's your business.

    And, lest you accuse me of a similar avoidance, love to me is the term we have crafted to describe particular types of emotional experiences and social commitments and attachments. Which, while endlessly complex, is hardly mysterious.

    Bernard

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  20. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    If we could define (solve it like our writer wants to) the mystery of love (or of God, beauty, the good, or of mystery itself) it would no longer be a mystery. The claim that there is something more to any of these questions is not a defense against scrutiny (my goodness in the annals of time, no questions have been more scrutinized!) it is an admission of honesty. But, some need certainty-that is the true issue here.

    You will forgive us Bernard if your view of love is on the same level as the dictionary—something the freshman would cite and most of us would rather go with Shakespeare or Dostoevsky. You might as well have gone to the dictionary, looked up the word “God” and told us there it was, no mystery any longer, it’s all summed up right there. Discussion over. Again, you must be kidding. I hope you would never allow your students to provide such an answer.

    To claim there is no mystery to love is either a great failure of imagination or a sad ignorance.

    But I digress; I guess no one wants to address any of the actual points of the writer or myself. Oh well.

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  21. Darrell

    All I asked was what you find mysterious about love. Your inability to even address this is precisely the type of vagueness that allows you to protect your view from scrutiny.

    Bernard

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  22. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    I thought I had answered. I thought I had noted all the literature, music, songs, poetry, sonnets, dramas, art, and so forth trying to plumb the depths of this thing we call love. There is a remainder always, something we can’t quite grasp no matter how much we do know and experience love. Therein lies mystery. I don’t know how much more clear I can be. If you want to know what I find mysterious about love read Shakespeare and Dostoevsky. Read the great poets. Listen to the blues. Live life for a while. If you don’t know what I mean after that, then I can’t help you.

    You noted yourself there are things we can’t know exhaustively, which must mean there remains some mystery, right? So I’m not sure what the problem is. I can’t imagine a person in the world, theist or atheist, who would not agree that this thing we call love is mysterious in many ways, no matter how much we might still know about it and experience it. I am making a very common and agreed upon claim here. I have no idea why we are even talking about this.

    By the way Bernard, I know that your imagination and sophistication would never allow you to claim love was little more than a dictionary definition, so I can only believe you are preoccupied, not hearing me, or talking about something completely different than I. I don’t think we are on the same track here. Those answers and even the very claim that love is hardly mysterious are beneath you. You are better than that.

    But, I still digress. Does anyone want to speak to the post, the writer’s essay and my response? It would be nice to know if that part was understood before we spoke to something no one disagrees with—that love is a mystery. I think a forest-trees thing is going on here.

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  23. Hi Darrell

    With regards to the post, you appear to claim that progressives are in some sense more open to mystery than atheists. You invite the writer to escape the cage.

    It may be worth bearing in mind that a great many of those who would call themselves atheist (Bertrand Russell for example) are technically speaking agnostics, which is to say they do not dismiss the possibility of the unknown, they just choose not to believe in any specific explanation of it.

    In this sense, I would suggest it is the atheist who has escaped the cage. They see an unknown, and simply accept it for what it is, unknown. By contrast, the believer seems to want to negate the mystery to some extent, by filling in some of the gaps. Yes, we don't know why there is something and not nothing, except that, we think the world is benign, or purposeful.

    So, that would be my take on your post.

    Of course, central to your argument is your definition of mystery, and suggesting I read Shakespeare and then I'll understand doesn't help me get to your definition. As a Drama teacher, I'm fairly familiar with Shakespeare's treatment of love, and he does indeed shine a light on this aspect of our condition – our obsessions, jealousies, fears, longings and loneliness.

    The great joy of literature is that at its best it shows us that we are not alone, that this difficult, excruciating and thankfully uplifted experience of being alive forms part of a greater pattern, that we are no the only ones to have felt this way.

    But, you claim, in all the talk of love, there is always some mysterious remainder, some thing we can't quite get a hold of. I'm simply interested in what this mysterious thing is, to you. If you could name it, or describe the feeling of puzzlement that overwhelms you when you think of love, we could get closer to what you mean by mystery.

    Bernard

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  24. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “With regards to the post, you appear to claim that progressives are in some sense more open to mystery than atheists.”

    I just re-read my post and nowhere, that I can see, do I even mention the idea of being open to mystery or making any comparison to atheists in the sense of being open. Are we talking about the same post? This tells me you are not “hearing” either the writer or my responses.

    “…they do not dismiss the possibility of the unknown, they just choose not to believe in any specific explanation of it.”

    That is just not true as far as atheists. They do choose to believe specific explanations for things (morals are subjective) because they rule out other explanations. They are not open to any explanation other than a natural one.

    “In this sense, I would suggest it is the atheist who has escaped the cage. They see an unknown, and simply accept it for what it is, unknown.”

    This is simply not true by your own admission. You see this thing called love and tell us there is nothing mysterious about it—that it is not unknown. Atheists do need certainty or otherwise they would all be agnostics and just claim ignorance.

    “Yes, we don't know why there is something and not nothing, except that, we think the world is benign, or purposeful.”

    But atheists don’t believe it is purposeful beyond the purpose we imagine and hardly benign. Nature is a-moral. But so what, the atheist doesn’t accept mystery here—they are sure science will one day “solve” these questions. You are confusing, again, the unknowns we have regarding the natural world and the mysteries bound up in the areas of meaning, love, beauty, and the good. Two different things.

    “But, you claim, in all the talk of love, there is always some mysterious remainder, some thing we can't quite get a hold of. I'm simply interested in what this mysterious thing is…”

    I have no idea what it is—that is why it’s a mystery. Maybe it’s God. Further, it is not my claim. It is the claim of any reflective, thoughtful, and intelligent person. As a drama teacher, to claim there is nothing mysterious about love is really quite sad. It is teacher malpractice. In all my correspondence with you, I would never think you to claim such–you are better than that–I have to believe.

    Again, I digress. It appears no one read the writer’s essay or my responses but instead (squirrel!) were side-tracked by the word “mystery” in some weird anal-retentive side-show. Oh well.

    Here’s a clue: The essay is about fundamentalists and progressives, not atheism. It is also about the need for certainty. It is not about mystery. And no one even addressed the reason she gives for not believing in God anymore. There is so much more going on than that in her essay. Too bad it was missed.

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  25. Hi Darrell

    Your insults aside, there is a problem here regarding definition, and I've no idea why you avoid it so.

    You make a central claim that there is something inherently mysterious about love. Now, in order to dig into that, we need to know what you mean by your use of the word mystery.

    I tried to get at this by asking what you mean when you say that at the heart of love there lies a mystery. Your response seems to be 'what the poets mean', which, as a basis for meaningful discussion, is perhaps not as helpful as it needs to be.

    You now say you don't know what the mystery at the heart of love is, that's why it's a mystery. I suppose I could apply that to anything, couldn't I? Perhaps there is a mystery at the heart of a pumpkin. You might ask what I mean by that, and I would say 'well, I can't say, that's what makes it a mystery.'

    But in all of this, there is such a strong whiff of avoiding analysis by refusing to define terms with any sort of rigour. What on earth could one mean by the mystery at the heart of love? Let me make it easier, and offer some options, and you can tell me if I'm on the right track with any of them:

    Perhaps you mean the mystery of qualia: why love feels the specific way it does, and how this first person experience is generated (the same mystery that sits at the heart of eating a pie or sneezing).

    Perhaps you mean the way people in love appear to behave in ways that from the outside seem entirely illogical, but from the inside appear like the only sane option.

    Perhaps you mean the way love can cause us to put the needs of others before the needs of ourselves.

    Perhaps you mean the way love is an experience that seems to hold steady across time and place.

    Perhaps it is the mystery of trying to fathom how best to behave when one is in love, the irreducibly difficult problem of making love last.

    Perhaps it is the sheer complexity of human relations that your refer to, the difficulty one has in predicting love's future course.

    Perhaps it is the struggle to reconcile one's immediate emotional needs with the desire for long term stability and reward within a relationship.

    Or maybe something else.

    Try to at least define what it is you're referring to, that we can assess whether these statements about mystery are at the very least meaningful. The word mystery is very often used as a smokescreen, a way of saying 'I don't want this view of mine to be examined, lest it be found wanting.' I think you're much more confident of what you're saying than that.

    Have a go.

    Bernard

    Like

  26. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    I really mean no insults. I’m trying to understand the fixation. I honestly believe that anyone who would seriously say that there is no mystery to love is…what? What would anyone say to that? It’s a ridiculous and silly comment. I’m sorry but it is. And I think it is beneath you—you are better than this—I’ve seen that in the majority of your comments over time.

    About love, yes, Bernard I mean all that and more. I mean all that and all that is left over from that. Since I doubt that you’ve said everything that can be said about love, I think I’m safe in saying such.

    Why are you avoiding your complete misreading of the writer’s post and my responses? Why are you avoiding the post? Let’s say we agreed that the mystery of love, which I analogized with the mystery of the Trinity, is not like the mystery of what’s inside a pumpkin, which isn’t a mystery at all and doesn’t even fit because it’s a physical object (so no it can’t be applied to anything).

    Let’s say we were reasonable and did that and we agreed that while there is much about love we do understand and experience, there is much we do not as well. I’m sure we could agree to that, because there is not a reasonable person in the world who would not. Let’s say we did that: What in the world would that have to do with the post? Why don’t you explain why you are avoiding the post to fixate on something extraneous.

    Like

  27. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Maybe this would help us. My statement that the Trinity is a mystery like love was in a comment response to Burk, it wasn’t even in the post. You are making something central that wasn’t even a minor point in the post. Before we run down rabbit trails that, frankly, are a little embarrassing, why not address key parts of the post. Do you agree with this statement from the post?

    “No progressive Christian says we should not try and solve every natural mystery we can through the use of science and all the powers at our disposal. But we also recognize that when it comes to meaning, purpose, love, beauty, poetry, literature, music, drama, and life in general that such are beyond the reach of science or some physical measuring logic. In these other areas, the most important areas in our lives by the way, there will remain much that is mysterious and that is okay.”

    Like

  28. Darrell says:

    One more quick point before you continue down this road:

    Wouldn't you agree that those the most comfortable with mystery are those who are willing to admit there actually is mystery and there is something they don't know or understand about something, love for instance, something they can't define neatly or place in a box and that such is okay-in fact is the very point?

    Conversely, wouldn't you agree that those who claim there is no mystery to something, love for instance, and think they can define it, box it, be certain they know what it is, are actually the ones least comfortable with mystery?

    Is it possible, like the writer of the essay, you are actually demonstrating your discomfort with mystery and the need for certainty, for definition, for boxes?

    You yourself said that you knew nothing exhaustively–thus you agree there is still some mystery to everything. Probably less mystery to a pumpkin than love, but still there is something extra to everything according to your own view (I don't think there is much mystery to a pumpkin but to each their own).

    Anyway, food for thought.

    Like

  29. Hi Darrell

    I'm more than comfortable with mystery. I'm just a great believer in defining terms before discussing them. Otherwise it's all just rhetoric, in the end.

    And the word mystery, used in your post, and in fact central both to the essay and your response, remains entirely undefined. As such, you end up saying rather less than you imagine.

    I've tried my best to get you to focus on defining the key term here, but for some reason I have failed miserably in this task. Whether that is due to my lack of clarity, or your reluctance, I can not say.

    That is, however, what I was attempting to do. If terms aren't defined, then meaningful dialogue becomes impossible.

    Bernard

    Like

  30. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    If you re-read the post, it is about mystery in a peripheral way only. The comment you are focused on was one I made in a comment to Burk; it is not in the post. It is not central to anything I’m saying in the post and I think I would know what my own point was. So indulge me—grant me the benefit of the doubt. Further, I noted that I would accept all those definitions of love you gave us, but that such hardly captures exhaustively what loves means. There is always a remainder, you noted this yourself. But all that is beside the point of the writer or the post. Do you mean to tell us you can’t discuss the writer’s points or mine until you have a definition of love you understand, when that isn’t even pertinent to the post and forgets that even with every definition, there is still mystery because definitions do not capture exhaustively things like love, beauty, and meaning? That is why those things can be written about for centuries—because they are never completely captured.

    Thus, you haven’t addressed anything of significance in the post. Why?

    Finally, the way mystery is used is addressed and defined by contrast. I note the difference between natural mysteries and those having to do with purpose, meaning, love, beauty, the good and so forth. The Trinity would fall into those type mysteries. There is much about all those areas we don’t fully understand, there is still mystery. Or do you dispute that too?

    I will ask again:

    Do you agree with this statement from the post?

    “No progressive Christian says we should not try and solve every natural mystery we can through the use of science and all the powers at our disposal. But we also recognize that when it comes to meaning, purpose, love, beauty, poetry, literature, music, drama, and life in general that such are beyond the reach of science or some physical measuring logic. In these other areas, the most important areas in our lives by the way, there will remain much that is mysterious and that is okay.”

    I think the way you answer the above will tell us if you are comfortable with mystery or not.

    Like

  31. Hi Darrell

    Well, the quote you offer is very hard to either agree or disagree with without a definition of the word mysterious.

    You are saying that the important elements of life do not yield easily to a scientific treatment. I agree wholeheartedly. It's why we have the arts, and our instincts, and emotions. Abandoning reasoned analysis and simply playing in the moment is where so such of life's joy can be found. Everybody agrees with this: fundamentalists, progressives, atheists… Of course.

    If you wish simply to use the word mysterious to denote things that best enjoyed unexamined, like sausages then fair enough. But it's an odd usage.

    To turn to the post: the non-believer might say, and I believe the article writer does, that 'it's mysterious' is often a cop out. Take consciousness. None of us have a good working model of what consciousness is, or how to account fully for the observed correlation between neural activity and conscious experience.

    We can either say, as I suspect the writer would: “This is an unknown for now. We're learning a little more, day by day, and only time will tell how complete our explanations will ever be”, or we can throw a personal narrative at the problem, maybe:

    “Well, I think there is a soul that can exist, and experience consciousness, independently of the physical brain.”

    And when asked – how would that work? the answer becomes “it's a mystery.”

    So, in the face of an unknown – how does consciousness work? – a narrative is offered, and indeed believed, despite some pretty interesting problems thrown up by that narrative. (Does the soul sleep when we do? If the soul can sleep, what makes us think it doesn't also die? Does this soul feel the effects of being drunk or drugged? How about of being brain damaged? How does the information taken in via the physical brain, transfer to the non-physical soul?)

    If I am getting the writer correctly, it is this use of 'mystery' to avoid answering pesky questions, or indeed to sanction speculation as a valid foundation for belief, that turned her off progressive religion.

    It will not surprise you to hear I have a great deal of sympathy with her view. It sits better with me, when confronted by something we don't understand, to simply accept we don't understand it.

    Still, each to their own.

    Bernard

    Like

  32. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “Well, the quote you offer is very hard to either agree or disagree with without a definition of the word mysterious.”

    So now you are saying you need to know what the definition of ‘mystery’ means before you can discuss the post? Seriously?

    “Everybody agrees with this: fundamentalists, progressives, atheists… Of course.”

    Everyone does not agree with this. Fundamentalists do not have this same sensibility. Whether it is science or the Bible, they think they can ‘solve’ these mysteries or know with certainty what they really mean. The writer notes she wants to solve these mysteries. She does not embrace mystery but seeks for certainty—the hallmark of fundamentalist.

    “If you wish simply to use the word mysterious to denote things that best enjoyed unexamined, like sausages then fair enough. But it's an odd usage.”

    That isn’t even close to what I mean, which is clear from the post. Love, meaning, beauty, God, and the good have been examined for centuries in deep ways and will continue to be examined for centuries to come. No questions and areas of life have been more examined (are you serious?). No one writes poems or songs about photosynthesis. And the analysis is reasoned, we simply know that reason cannot exhaust the topic. Read the post.

    “To turn to the post: the non-believer might say, and I believe the article writer does, that 'it's mysterious' is often a cop out.”

    But notice she admits that progressives do not use the word to do that—fundamentalists do. Read the post.

    “If I am getting the writer correctly, it is this use of 'mystery' to avoid answering pesky questions, or indeed to sanction speculation as a valid foundation for belief, that turned her off progressive religion.”

    She gives the reason she gave up belief: God (the being who doesn’t exist) didn’t answer her prayers. Read the post.

    “It will not surprise you to hear I have a great deal of sympathy with her view. It sits better with me, when confronted by something we don't understand, to simply accept we don't understand it.”

    But she doesn’t accept that: “We’d rather solve the mystery than embrace it. How many mystery novels have you read where the mystery remains unsolved at the end? Mystery is a well-loved genre because in the end you get to see how all the pieces fit together. Some of us want to try to complete the puzzle, rather than leaving the pieces in a jumble and embracing the chaos.”

    Read the post.

    If you are in agreement with the writer as you yourself note, and concur with her quote above, then it would appear you are not comfortable with mystery (maybe you should ask her to define how she is using the word). I would rather embrace the mystery (or chaos as she puts it), but to each their own.

    Like

  33. Darrell says:

    “If I am getting the writer correctly, it is this use of 'mystery' to avoid answering pesky questions, or indeed to sanction speculation as a valid foundation for belief, that turned her off progressive religion.”

    Forgive me Bernard, I should have read your answer more carefully. I see you are noting why she gave up on progressive religion, not belief in God.

    However, I addressed this in the post. Catholicism does not equal progressive. She then moves directly into why she gave up her belief in God and it wasn’t because of progressive Christianity or their use of the word ‘mystery’, it was due to something she expected God to do and God didn’t come through for her. What that has to do with mystery or progressive Christianity she never makes clear.

    Further, in your speaking of ‘mystery’ you fail to note the difference even she notes in how fundamentalists use it as opposed to progressives.

    Like

  34. Hi Darrell

    the above demonstrates very well why we are much better off if we at least attempt to define terms. Your definition of mystery comes in and out of focus here. Sometimes, you seem to be very clearly saying that mystery is about those things that are too complex to analyse (love is mysterious because we can not hope to predict how its course will run in any given case) and other times you seem to be saying that complexity aside, even if we had the computational power, that some element of love is in principle non-computable.

    Unfortunately, you can not say either what this element consists of, nor why it sits beyond the realm of the computable. Your best attempt seems to just point in the direction of poetry and say 'you know, it's in there.'

    Unfortunately, it's impossible to build a case upon such vagueness. You and I can not get into the writer's head, so it may be futile trying to discuss her point, or your feeling of having rebutted it. What interested me about the discussion initially, was this idea that in some way the progressive has escaped the cage, and lives comfortably with mystery. My sense is that this is a hard claim to justify, as progressives do appear to enjoy filling on the gaps with their own narratives (I offer consciousness and the soul as a possible example).

    Anyway, we're getting nowhere here, so I'll leave it.

    Bernard

    Like

  35. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “the above demonstrates very well why…”

    The ‘above’ what? My response? Which part? What were you saying about ‘vagueness’?

    “You and I can not get into the writer's head, so it may be futile trying to discuss her point…”

    Right, we cannot get in her head, but we can take her at her word. We can read. Here are her words again:

    “We’d rather solve the mystery than embrace it. How many mystery novels have you read where the mystery remains unsolved at the end? Mystery is a well-loved genre because in the end you get to see how all the pieces fit together. Some of us want to try to complete the puzzle, rather than leaving the pieces in a jumble and embracing the chaos.”

    You note you sympathized with her but have been telling us at the same time you are comfortable with mystery. How does that work given what she says here? Why the sympathy, then? Would you rather solve the mystery than embrace it?

    Further, you speak of being comfortable with mystery, but only if you are able to define it away. The great majority of people whether educated or not, know what love and mystery mean (dictionary sense at least) and would understand how it was being used in this post. They would still know that a definition alone, of love at least, would not mean there was no mystery to the concept of love. A definition does not explain mystery away. I think the fixation on definitions (these are not highly technical terms or terms like ontology) was a dodge—a way of not addressing the post—why, I don’t know. Perhaps mystery does make one uncomfortable.

    “My sense is that this is a hard claim to justify, as progressives do appear to enjoy filling on the gaps with their own narratives (I offer consciousness and the soul as a possible example).”

    You don’t understand. Mystery is not about filling in gaps. This reveals your presupposition that mysteries are simply things science hasn’t figured out yet, thus the gaps. It reveals the need for certainty, the need to fill in the gaps, so called. Narratives do not fill in gaps. Narratives, including yours, tell us what the gaps mean (for you they mean science hasn’t got there yet). For the progressive, love, the soul, meaning, purpose, beauty, and the good are not gaps to be figured out (they are not even ‘gaps’), but the very things that make life wonderful and part of that wonder is that we do not fully understand them. One thing we do understand is that these areas are beyond a scientific reduction or an empirically based logic. If that is a ‘gap’ for you it simply reveals your empiricism.

    Mystery bothers all fundamentalists, which is another reason to embrace it.

    Like

  36. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    I think Bernard has a very valid point. Clear definitions are not only important but essential to a clear and precise exchange of ideas. It may also happen that by trying to clarify the meaning of a word we realize that the idea we thought we saw clearly was after all not clear at all or even incoherent.

    In this case, it seems you want to apply the word mystery at the same time to religious mysteries (like the trinity) and to a vast array of other phenomena. Not clear what concept you have in mind that would usefully cover all these cases.

    As to the article you provide, what the author is objecting to, as far as I can tell, is the tactic of invoking mystery in lieu of proper investigation or to cover contradictions or beliefs that don't make sense when taken at face value. To be sure, she doesn't give many examples and, frankly, it's not clear to me what fundamentalists or progressive Christians are claiming. Therefore, I couldn't say whether she's right or wrong. But I believe this is her argument.

    Examples would include, I think, religious mysteries like trinity or transubstantiation (for Catholics). In the latter case my understanding is that the official doctrine is still that the bread really becomes the body of Jesus (it's not a metaphor or a symbol), even if no physical changes occur at all. How could that be? Well, it's a mystery.

    Another example would be I suppose the skeptical theism “solution” to the problem of gratuitous evil. That is to say: we don't know what God's reason are to allow gratuitous evil but, hey, it's God! How could we expect to know? It's a mystery – just accept it.

    Like

  37. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “I think Bernard has a very valid point. Clear definitions are not only important but essential to a clear and precise exchange of ideas.”

    In principle I agree but the words “love” and “mystery”, beyond their dictionary definitions, are not given to ‘clear’ and ‘precise’ definitions or meanings at least. And yet, most people know what we mean when using those words. They are not technical terms. The context of the post gives us enough to address the substance of the post. Bernard wanted a definition of love to try and show it was hardly mysterious. Talk about missing the point. I can look up the word “God” or “divinity” in the dictionary and that hardly plumbs the depths of the two. Defining something doesn’t rid it of its mystery, unless of course, we are simply speaking of pumpkins, or we are interested in defining away something.

    I also like the tact of trying to get someone to tell us what the mystery is or consists of, when the whole point is that we don’t know…that is why it’s a mystery.

    “In this case, it seems you want to apply the word mystery at the same time to religious mysteries (like the trinity) and to a vast array of other phenomena.”

    What do you mean by “at the same time”? What vast array of phenomena do I mention in addition to the Trinity? I notice that no one is actually quoting me or the writer and addressing anything I (or she) actually wrote. Why is that?

    “As to the article you provide, what the author is objecting to, as far as I can tell, is the tactic of invoking mystery in lieu of proper investigation or to cover contradictions or beliefs that don't make sense when taken at face value.”

    But no one is noting that she is saying this of fundamentalists not progressives, right?

    Like

  38. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    What vast array of phenomena do I mention in addition to the Trinity?

    You write that the Trinity falls into the same type of mysteries as “purpose, meaning, love, beauty, the good and so forth”. These are very different ideas. So, I'm looking to a definition of mystery that would usefully include all these cases. For one, Trinity is in a class by itself, being specifically a Christian religious doctrine: there is no mystery at all for non Christians.

    But no one is noting that she is saying this of fundamentalists not progressives, right?

    But she is: “Perhaps the problem is that when I hear this “God is a mystery our brains cannot grasp” rhetoric coming from progressive Christians […]”

    Later: “The progressive Christian’s embrace of mystery […]”

    What she says progressive don't do is using “God is a mystery” to “to shoehorn people into accepting a specific set of doctrine”.

    Like

  39. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “You write that the Trinity falls into the same type of mysteries as “purpose, meaning, love, beauty, the good and so forth”. These are very different ideas.”

    They are different ideas, but the same category. I note that here:

    “No progressive Christian says we should not try and solve every natural mystery we can through the use of science and all the powers at our disposal. But we also recognize that when it comes to meaning, purpose, love, beauty, poetry, literature, music, drama, and life in general that such are beyond the reach of science or some physical measuring logic. In these other areas, the most important areas in our lives by the way, there will remain much that is mysterious and that is okay.”

    Would you not agree that there is much mystery as to the meaning of life, purpose, love, beauty and what is trying to be captured in all those areas by creative endeavor? I am comparing the Trinity to those areas. They are mysterious in the same way and beyond the reach of a scientific reduction or measuring logic. Unless, perhaps you think there is no mystery to those areas? But how does defining the word 'mystery' or 'love' matter in context here? The question is: Is there still mystery to these areas, even if we understand and experience all of them on some level? There seems to be a forest-for-the-trees thing going on here.

    “But she is: “Perhaps the problem is that when I hear this “God is a mystery our brains cannot grasp” rhetoric coming from progressive Christians […]””

    But she isn’t. You are not quoting in context—you need the next part:

    “…I think of myself and my own journey, and the way this rhetoric made me feel boxed in.”

    All it does is make her think of the way fundamentalists used the word, which made her feel boxed in and she’s already admitted the difference between the way progressives use it and fundamentalists. Do you agree with her that there's a difference?

    Like

  40. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    But how does defining the word 'mystery' or 'love' matter in context here?

    A very strange question. Precise and non ambiguous definitions make clear to everybody what one is talking about. They enhance clarity. They help prevent misunderstanding. Failure to define a term may mean that the corresponding concept is vague or even incoherent.

    You put Trinity with all the other concepts. But Trinity is a mystery only for those Christians who accept it. For the rest of us, not only is there no mystery at all, it's not even a problem to solve.

    Now, because you have not provided a definition, I must try to guess: perhaps, when you apply the term “mystery” to a phenomenon, you imply that there is a non-natural element to it (as with Trinity). If so, in order to apply the term to love and all the other items, you must make the rather large assumption that these cannot be understood in natural terms alone. How would you know that?

    If, on the other hand, you use mystery to mean something not completely understood, then a pumpkin is a mystery. But Trinity is not, except to those who believe in it.

    If you mean by mystery something that cannot in principle be understood (in natural terms? or in any manner whatsoever?), then you need to do more than simply asserting that love & the rest are mysteries. You need to explain why they cannot be understood, ever.

    Or perhaps you want to imply that the natural world cannot be completely understood – which of course may be the case. But then everything becomes a mystery and the word itself becomes somewhat pointless.

    Do you see how complicated it is to discuss this if we have to guess what you mean? It would be very simple for you to clarify your meaning. It's a mystery to me why you don't do it.

    But she isn’t.

    The rest of the sentence does not change the meaning. The text is plain and very clear: she says she hears the “God is a mystery our brains cannot grasp” rhetoric from progressive Christians. This means she hears it. It means that, if she is truthful, progressive Christians use this rhetoric. That this also reminds her of something else does not change a thing.

    Mind you, it doesn't really matter to me whether or not progressive Christians use this rhetoric. But it is clear that the author claims they do.

    Does anybody else read this differently?

    Like

  41. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “Failure to define a term may mean that the corresponding concept is vague or even incoherent.”

    Again, that would be true if we were using the word “ontological” or some other technical or archaic term. I don’t think the words “love” and “mystery” fall into that category, especially given the context of the post. So I don’t think your point holds here. I still see this need to define, this need to be certain, as a way to either define mystery away or to avoid the substance of the post.

    “You put Trinity with all the other concepts. But Trinity is a mystery only for those Christians who accept it. For the rest of us, not only is there no mystery at all, it's not even a problem to solve.”

    I will ask again, have you solved all those other areas? You can tell us what the meaning of life is? What love is? What beauty and the good are? Are you saying you can explain exactly what the Trinity represents or means?

    “Now, because you have not provided a definition, I must try to guess: perhaps, when you apply the term “mystery” to a phenomenon, you imply that there is a non-natural element to it (as with Trinity). If so, in order to apply the term to love and all the other items, you must make the rather large assumption that these cannot be understood in natural terms alone. How would you know that?”

    How would you know we could not? That is exactly what I am assuming. I don’t think you can reduce love, or beauty, or meaning to the natural alone. No Christian does. Most people, for that matter, don’t as well. I would have thought this obvious from reading my blog. I don’t think you can hook people up to monitors and show us on a gauge that “love” is happening. Do you?

    “If you mean by mystery something that cannot in principle be understood (in natural terms? or in any manner whatsoever?), then you need to do more than simply asserting that love & the rest are mysteries. You need to explain why they cannot be understood, ever.”

    Yes, in natural terms, I don’t think we can exhaustively understand or know everything about love, or the Trinity, or all those other non-physical areas. Do you? I think we can begin to know something about those areas through was is normally called wisdom, education, and living life. JP, if I could explain why we can’t understand everything about those areas, I would be the most famous, richest man in the world. Are you kidding? Are you telling us we can completely understand love and those other areas of life, with no mystery left over whatsoever?

    I have clarified my meaning. It is called the normal use of words and context. I’ve clarified even further in all the comments. Forgive me but I see this as a dodge. (Continued)

    Like

  42. Darrell says:

    (Continued)

    “The rest of the sentence does not change the meaning.”

    I absolutely disagree- completely. Here is the entire paragraph:

    “I appreciate that progressive Christians don’t use this “God is a mystery” statement to shoehorn people into accepting a specific set of doctrine, I really do. Perhaps the problem is that when I hear this “God is a mystery our brains cannot grasp” rhetoric coming from progressive Christians, I think of myself and my own journey, and the way this rhetoric made me feel boxed in.”

    How anyone could read the above and not understand her to be saying that when she hears progressives talking about mystery it reminds her of her fundamentalist (conservative evangelical) upbringing and the way they used it and the way it made her feel is beyond me.

    This was my response in the post to her above statement: “Well, I’m sorry this reminds you of when the statement was used to silence you and how it made you feel, but you just pointed out that this is not how progressives use that statement, so?”

    How does my response not logically follow?

    JP, I’m not sure the defining of terms is the issue here. I think the issue is reading in context and “hearing” the writer. I don’t think you are doing that.

    Putting that aside, JP, do you agree with this statement:

    “Don’t mistake understanding something with being certain about it or understanding it like you understand a math equation. That is not how you know your spouse or significant other, right? You can ‘unleash’ your brain as much as you want on why a child dies in a tornado or why two people fall in love, you will still come up short.”

    And, do you agree with the writer’s statement:

    “We’d rather solve the mystery than embrace it. How many mystery novels have you read where the mystery remains unsolved at the end? Mystery is a well-loved genre because in the end you get to see how all the pieces fit together. Some of us want to try to complete the puzzle, rather than leaving the pieces in a jumble and embracing the chaos.”

    I would rather embrace the mystery and I think a key factor in any fundamentalism is the fear of mystery and the need for certainty. Agree or disagree?

    Like

  43. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    Concerning the quote, I was only pointing out that the author clearly states that progressive Christians do use the mystery rhetoric, just as the fundamentalist. Yes, of course, she also says that what progressives use it, she is reminded of what the fundamentalists used it for – but that doesn't change the fact she claims progressives do use the rhetoric.

    I don't quite see the connection you make between fundamentalism, fear of mystery and the need for certainty. Are you saying religious fundamentalists reject mysteries? This doesn't seem right to me. Don't they believe in Trinity, for example? I'm lost here. Perhaps you can clarify.

    Like

  44. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “Concerning the quote, I was only pointing out that the author clearly states that progressive Christians do use the mystery rhetoric, just as the fundamentalist.”

    She calls it “rhetoric” because that is all it is to her now she is an atheist. That simply means they use the word mystery and so do fundamentalists, but she just noted they use the word differently. Do you see that? However, when she hears it, no matter where it’s coming from, she is reminded of the way fundamentalists use the word, not progressives. Do you see that?

    Here is the paragraph again:

    “I appreciate that progressive Christians don’t use this “God is a mystery” statement to shoehorn people into accepting a specific set of doctrine, I really do. Perhaps the problem is that when I hear this “God is a mystery our brains cannot grasp” rhetoric coming from progressive Christians, I think of myself and my own journey, and the way this rhetoric made me feel boxed in.”

    No one is disputing that progressives talk about mystery and use that word (she can characterize it as rhetoric if she wishes) too. But that’s not her point.

    “Are you saying religious fundamentalists reject mysteries?”

    Yes, I am. I’m saying it of any fundamentalist, religious or otherwise. I’m saying it of the writer too. As the writer noted, fundamentalists try and explain the Trinity. It is only when someone objects, or doesn’t seem to get it, that they resort to saying things like “The trinity is a mystery that our human brains cannot fully grasp. You just have to accept it.”

    They don’t like saying those sorts of things though. They like it when someone responds, “Oh, that makes complete sense—I get it—no mystery there.”

    There are many people who feel one hallmark of fundamentalism is the fear of mystery. See: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/irreverin/2015/05/10-ways-to-spot-afundamentalist/ and number 3.

    “We’d rather solve the mystery than embrace it. How many mystery novels have you read where the mystery remains unsolved at the end? Mystery is a well-loved genre because in the end you get to see how all the pieces fit together. Some of us want to try to complete the puzzle, rather than leaving the pieces in a jumble and embracing the chaos.”

    This is why I think she traded one certainty for another. She wants certainty, not mystery. One cage for another. I would rather embrace the mystery (chaos).

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