Walt Whitman and the Dim Dhimmi:
Truth, Tolerance, and Non-Contradiction

Logic & Rhetoric — By on June 21, 2007 at 1:14 am

On Sunday mornings, Rev. Ann Holmes Redding puts on the white clerical collar of an Episcopal priest and stands for prayers at St. Clement’s of Rome Episcopal Church in Seattle. But after noon on Fridays she dons a black hijab and kneels for prayer with other Muslims in the Al-Islam Center.
Redding, who will begin teaching the New Testament as a visiting assistant professor at Seattle University this fall, claims to be both a Christian and a Muslim: “I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I’m both an American of African descent and a woman. I’m 100 percent both.”
Despite the fact that the tenets of the two faiths are irreconcilable, Redding doesn’t feel she has to resolve the contradictions. As she tells the Seattle Times:

People within one religion can’t even agree on all the details, she said. “So why would I spend time to try to reconcile all of Christian belief with all of Islam? At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That’s all I need.”

My first reaction to reading Redding’s quote was to think of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” As you’ll recall from your high school literature class, Whitman’s paean of narcissism contained the oft-quoted line,

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The reason that Whitman could–using the language of poetry–make such a claim is because he was–using the language of philosophy–an idiot.
I do not mean this as an insult, or even as a counter-insult (for Whitman has been insulting our intelligence and aesthetic sensibilities for over a hundred years). Rather, I mean it quite literally. To embrace that which is true is an intellectual virtue; to embrace that which is known to be in error is an intellectual vice. In deciding to embrace real, not just apparent, contradictions, Whitman succumbs to one of the most egregious of intellectual vices: choosing to be willfully stupid.


Regardless of how large he may be our how many multitudes his massive ego may contain, the fact remains that contradictions are contradictory. If I claim to believe both that “A is A” and “A is not-A” I am either lying or being willfully stupid. Either way I am claiming to believe at least one thing that I know must, by logical necessity, be false.
Redding takes a similar approach in claiming that it is possible to embrace both Christianity and Islam. While she rejects such orthodox Christian beliefs as the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, she believes that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected. This belief is, as she readily admits, in conflict with the teachings of the Quran. When it is pointed out that she has violated the law of non-contradiction, Redding responds, “That’s something I’ll find a challenge the rest of my life.”
Of course there is no “challenge” in reconciling the two views since they are completely incompatible. The matter is not one of challenge but of impossibility. The law of non-contradiction is non-negotiable. Just because one wants to feel that the two religions are ultimately compatible does not make them so.
It would be easy to dismiss Redding’s unsophisticated beliefs as the confusions of a rather dim dhimmi. But this Episcopalian Muslim is representative of the muddled understanding of pluralism that pervades American culture. We are expected to sing with Whitman, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume,…”
Beliefs that are deeply held should be respected, not because they are necessarily true, but because they are held by humans made in the image of the Triune God. That is why tolerance, particularly religious tolerance, is a virtue. But it is no longer enough to be tolerant of people’s beliefs. We are now expected to “assume” what the other believer “assumes”, even when their beliefs are contradictory. This is particularly true when the beliefs fall under the quasi-religious tenets of secularism.
Take, for example, the claim that we live in a completely material universe that created us quite by accident, without design or purpose. The universe itself–from the atoms to the quasars–bears no intrinsic teleology or purpose. While I believe this assertion is false, it is not inherently illogical. What makes it illogical is when people who hold this view add to it the claim that despite this natural fact, human life can have a purpose. Though the universe is unable to create meaning we are able to create meaning for ourselves…despite the fact that we are but mere matter within the universe itself.
How they are able to create something that exists nowhere in the universe is never explained. Indeed, it is inexplicable and contrary to the very meaning of materialism. Yet the apologists for this view will hedge, like Redding, by saying, “At the most basic level, I understand the two contradictory positions to be compatible. That’s all I need.”
The problem with treating such emotive claims as respectable is that it is intolerant of truth. There is no neutral ground between logic and illogic. Once we say that beliefs shouldn’t be judged on internal consistency but on how they make us feel, we abandon the ability to know and defend truth.
Truth is incompatible with non-truth, which is why we must reject all self-contradictory claims made by others and root them out of our own belief systems. In rejecting contradictory thinking we accept an uncomfortable truth: true tolerance sometimes requires being intolerant of willful stupidity.



  • http://www.timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    The danger is when one’s belief system, instead of simply accepting that a contradiction exists, works to wipe out reality in favor of a fantasy.
    For example, most evangelicals, in their haste to reject the claim that the universe is natural (which is the real claim science makes, contrary to your phrasing that things are “accidental”), will bend language, as you have done, and deny reality such as the claim that evolution can’t happen or can’t change life, despite all the evidence compiled.
    Frankly, Whitman’s not the idiot. And this is a dramatic presentation of the error of many religionists who claim to be practicing philosophy: While your faith nominally claims that you should see Whitman as valuable and not an idiot, you call him an idiot in order to reject his claims, and then delude yourself that somehow it might not be an insult.
    Not even Paul go so deeply into the contradictions that, despite his best efforts to keep the laws, he violated them by his efforts. I’m not sure whether to applaud or throw a tomato.

  • Chris Lutz

    will bend language, as you have done, and deny reality such as the claim that evolution can’t happen or can’t change life, despite all the evidence compiled.
    Nice straw man Ed. Joe said that a that “(w)hile I believe this assertion is false, it is not inherently illogical.” He wasn’t commenting on evolution but on the philosophy of materialism. Add in that your statement is grossly simplistic of the vast majority of people, religious and non-religious, who are critical of Darwinistic explanations and you have yourself a nice straw man to knock down and burn.
    While your faith nominally claims that you should see Whitman as valuable and not an idiot, you call him an idiot in order to reject his claims, and then delude yourself that somehow it might not be an insult.
    My wife calls me an idiot from time to time and usually I deserve it because I was being an idiot. Does that mean she doesn’t see me as human or valuable? Yes it’s an insult. Oh my, Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites. I suppose he didn’t see their worth either. Now you’ve descended to the old tactic of “You’re not acting in a Christian manner.” You’re batting a thousand today.
    Not even Paul go so deeply into the contradictions that, despite his best efforts to keep the laws, he violated them by his efforts. I’m not sure whether to applaud or throw a tomato.
    I’m can only vaguely discern what you are trying to say here. Of course I won’t throw a tomato at you. I guess your ethics allow you to throw tomatoes at people with who you don’t agree.
    All of this aside, it’s interesting to see that you believe you can hold two obviously contradictory positions at the same time and think that is just fine. That defies all sense of logic and reason which you claim to believe and support.

  • http://www.4simpsons.com Neil

    It is bad enough that she holds those views. What makes matters worse is that her Bishop doesn’t have a problem with them.
    Theologically liberal Christians regularly make bizarre pluralistic claims like this while still clinging to their Christianity. This is not much better than what Rev. Redding does.
    If they want to deny the essentials of the faith – the divinity and exclusivity of Jesus, the accuracy and authority of the Bible, etc., then that is their right. It is just confusing for them to call themselves Christians when their views on the essentials aren’t just different but are the opposite of what orthodox Christianity held and countless martyrs died for.
    The other irony is that they give more weight and respect to religions with irreconcilable truth claims than they do to orthodox Christians.
    They obviously think their views are true, but they are quick to label orthodox Christians as arrogant and foolish because we think our views are true.

  • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Matt Anderson

    “…for Whitman has been insulting our intelligence and aesthetic sensibilities for over a hundred years…”
    Ack! Intelligence, perhaps. Aesthetic sensibilities? No way!! Any poet who paves the way for Eliot is good by me. : )
    File this request in the “future post” category, but I’d love to hear why you think Whitman is bad poetry.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Redding takes a similar approach in claiming that it is possible to embrace both Christianity and Islam. While she rejects such orthodox Christian beliefs as the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, she believes that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected. This belief is, as she readily admits, in conflict with the teachings of the Quran. When it is pointed out that she has violated the law of non-contradiction, Redding responds, “That’s something I’ll find a challenge the rest of my life.”
    Actually that isn’t a contradiction. In that case she has accepted one tenant of orthodox Christianity (Christ died and was resurrected on the cross) while rejecting one tenant of Islam (that God swapped someone else in place of Jesus on the cross). You can call this cafeteria religion but then again just about everyone does this to one degree or another. Few people are firmly inside any particular denomination and the denominations themselves were created by people who picked and swapped various doctrines around. How many people would say things like “I’m an Episcalian but I go to the Baptist church nearby because I like its preacher” or “I’m Catholic but I watch the 700 Club every night”? When push comes to shove even inside a religion like Christianity the denominations hold mutually contradictory views.
    For her to truely hold to a contradiction she would need to believe both at the same time which she doesn’t claim to do. Even if she did, though, I suspect she really would be believing in some hidden out that would resolve the contradiction such as God swapped an image of Jesus on the cross but he really did go to hell and then rose up three days later etc.
    Take, for example, the claim that we live in a completely material universe that created us quite by accident, without design or purpose. The universe itself–from the atoms to the quasars–bears no intrinsic teleology or purpose. While I believe this assertion is false, it is not inherently illogical. What makes it illogical is when people who hold this view add to it the claim that despite this natural fact, human life can have a purpose. Though the universe is unable to create meaning we are able to create meaning for ourselves…despite the fact that we are but mere matter within the universe itself.
    You’re right if these people allege the meaning originates outside of human nature but wrong if they are really claiming it originates in human nature itself. In order to avoid contradiction they do not have to argue that the highest origin of meaning would be the random whims of individual humans. I’ll go along with you, though, that the universe cannot contain meaning and yet have no meaning.
    How they are able to create something that exists nowhere in the universe is never explained. Indeed, it is inexplicable and contrary to the very meaning of materialism. Yet the apologists for this view will hedge, like Redding, by saying, “At the most basic level, I understand the two contradictory positions to be compatible. That’s all I need.”
    Well the univerise creates stuff that exists nowhere in it all the time. This post, for example, never existed until you hit the button.
    Neil
    If they want to deny the essentials of the faith – the divinity and exclusivity of Jesus, the accuracy and authority of the Bible, etc., then that is their right. It is just confusing for them to call themselves Christians when their views on the essentials aren’t just different but are the opposite of what orthodox Christianity held and countless martyrs died for.
    A Christian would be a person whose religion centers on Christ. This would include not only what you would call orthodox Christianity but also Mormons and even the old gnostic Christians & all offbeat variations that still center on Christ in some form. Of course all these religions do not agree with each other but categorically it makes no sense to classify them as anything else. While inside the boat I’m sure you’d like to make a few of these people walk the plank the fact is they are all onboard and they aren’t on another ship (such as the Jewish boat, Buddhist boat etc.).
    They obviously think their views are true, but they are quick to label orthodox Christians as arrogant and foolish because we think our views are true.
    But you clearly are just as willing to label her views as bizaar and ‘pluralistic’. (If by bizaar you mean unusual then that’s true but if you mean strange then I think you’re offbase. If a space alien who never heard a word about Christianity, Islam or Judism came to earth and listened to a one paragraph summary of each orthodox view and her view I doubt he would be able to pick her out as the strange one). This is itself an actual contradiction because if she is saying you’re views are ‘arrogant and foolish’ then she isn’t all that pluralistic is she? How ironic that the only person here to actually exhibit contradiction is an orthodox Christian!

  • ex-preacher

    “Though the universe is unable to create meaning we are able to create meaning for ourselves…despite the fact that we are but mere matter within the universe itself.”
    I don’t follow. Humans are able to create all sorts of things – both material and non-material – that the universe itslef does not create.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Yet the universe created humans so in what sense can you say humans create something the universe didn’t create?

  • http://www.sufficientscruples.com Kevin T. Keith

    Well, as to Whitman, it is an article of faith among logicians that we all harbor many unexamined “contradictions” – sets of beliefs, or direct implications of our beliefs, that are incompatible – simply because we have not compared all our beliefs with one another to identify and resolve such contradictions. And it is a commonplace that people often do things they believe they should not, for a variety of reasons. Neither of those facts means people are incapable of using logic or behaving rationally, or are grossly incompetent or immoral in their daily lives. Whitman celebrated the value of human life as it is composed, including its contradictions. I’ll take that over peevish Christians constantly denigrating and cramping the lives of others who merely wish to be let alone. As another, greater thinker said in a different context, “there is grandeur in this view of life” – and no need to tarnish it with a chosen and imposed misery of smallmindedness.
    Regarding Ann Holmes Redding, I don’t know how or why she embraces Islam and Christianity simultaneously. That sounds to me like curing the plague by contracting pneumonia. But if she finds it congenial, that’s her affair. Arguably, in doing so, she has found the only way one could reasonably subscribe to either one individually, let alone both together.
    Though we should be tolerant of the inevitable contradictions into which we all stumble (Whitman teaches us this), you are right that we should not openly embrace obvious nonsense. But by embracing two nonsensical and incompatible sets of beliefs, Redding implicitly teaches that the absurdities of neither are to be taken seriously – a much more sophisticated reading of religion than the dreary debate over allegorical vs. literal interpretations of scriptures.
    By forcing these religions’ contradictions to the fore and dismissing them – as Holmes Redding appears to do – she voids the expectation that factual content and logical coherence are salient features of religion. This immediately resolves the problem of the lack of such content and coherence – but also makes it necessary to identify what role these types of belief systems actually could play in the lives of rational beings. (Possibly there are such roles: as dramatic narratives, as inspirational or thought-provoking texts, or as a framework for a religious life lived as a kind of performance art.) If there is such a role, however, and whatever if may be, it can only be found after the doomed pretense of non-absurd absurdity has been dropped. It may be the case (though I do not know if this was her actual intent) that Holmes Redding has found the way to be sincere in one’s religious beliefs without renouncing reason or reality, by renouncing the pretense that religion can or will attempt to meet the test imposed by reason and reality; by surrendering to the obvious she may have avoided defeat by the true.
    Hilariously, Joe asserts, within the span of just a few sentences: “The law of non-contradiction is non-negotiable. [and] . . . Beliefs that are deeply held should be respected, . . . because they are held by humans made in the image of the Triune God.” He abuses Holmes Redding for the assertion that A = ~A, on the authority of the claim that 1=3 – and expects us to take him seriously! Ironically, Whitman would have.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Joe,
    The universe itself–from the atoms to the quasars–bears no intrinsic teleology or purpose. While I believe this assertion is false, it is not inherently illogical. What makes it illogical is when people who hold this view add to it the claim that despite this natural fact, human life can have a purpose. Though the universe is unable to create meaning we are able to create meaning for ourselves…despite the fact that we are but mere matter within the universe itself.
    How they are able to create something that exists nowhere in the universe is never explained. Indeed, it is inexplicable and contrary to the very meaning of materialism. Yet the apologists for this view will hedge, like Redding, by saying, “At the most basic level, I understand the two contradictory positions to be compatible. That’s all I need.”
    Human life has meaning.
    As a repeat apologist on this blog for materialism, I can tell you that the meaningful quality of life is not contradicted by the fact of an impersonal, indifferent material universe. So I would not agree with the premise of your criticism.
    What is the meaning of life?
    Life gets its meaning from engagement with the world. Life is a continual challenge to find truth, happiness, love, and peace. Any halfway serious attempt to pursue any or all of these goals will provide enough meaning to fill several lifetimes.
    Whether or not the material world is all there is is a fact which will affect how we live our lives. The nature of the cosmos, be it supernatural or not, will also affect what kind of meaning we are able to tease out of our daily existence.
    But as long as each of us draws breath, none of us can avoid encountering some kind of meaning in our lives. Simply by virtue of being alive and conscious and part of a larger society we assume roles which have significance and force.
    Our lives, consciousness, and place in society are not negated by a strictly material universe. These realities are just placed in a very different context than the context that would result from a theistic or Christian universe.
    For example, the purpose of my own life is to promote the values and welfare of my family, the values and welfare of the communities I belong to, and my own values and welfare as well.
    Some other atheist/materialist will likely have different values from me, and a different conception of welfare, and he will be a member of different communities. But the whole notion of meaning and significance will not be very different for him and for me.
    Perhaps it would help you to understand my “meaning” if you were to consider a married couple.
    If, after many years of marriage, the couple grew old and the wife were to die, the husband would find a gaping hole in his life. Perhaps in his bereavement life would appear suddenly shorn of meaning.
    Yet as a Christian, Joe, you would hope that the man would be able to climb out of his grief, and embrace the love and forgiveness and meaning offered to him by God himself.
    So it is that I would hope that a Christian, who is trying to contemplate a universe without God and without the supernatural, would be able to move beyond the huge paradigm shift that is the result of putting God to one side. If he could do that, then the Christian would be able to find the meaning that is available to all. It is a meaning which is available to him even without that special relationship with the divine which he had internalized and nurtured for so many years.
    Or, rather, it is a meaning which would take that old relationship with God and re-process it based on a new understanding of his position and purpose in the cosmos.

  • http://blog.nelmezzo.net David Wright

    Surely there are a few ways these 3 lines of Whitman can be construed to be saying something meaningful (and without Whitman being an idiot).

  • J. J.

    It is just confusing for them to call themselves Christians when their views on the essentials aren’t just different but are the opposite of what orthodox Christianity held and countless martyrs died for.
    Yes, it’s confusing, but it’s easier to get a paycheck that way in America. Many liberal Christian pastors have no particular love for Christ or Christianity. They wouldn’t even identify themselves as “Christian” if they couldn’t draw a paycheck by doing so. If America had some other prevailing religion where they could draw a paycheck by being in spiritual leadership, that’s the religion they would glom on to.
    The clincher is, some of them admit as much.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Ed For example, most evangelicals, in their haste to reject the claim that the universe is natural (which is the real claim science makes, contrary to your phrasing that things are “accidental”),…
    By “accident” I mean created without intention. I’m sure you agree with that. Calling it “natural” (nature is natural) is merely a circular definition.
    …will bend language, as you have done, and deny reality such as the claim that evolution can’t happen or can’t change life, despite all the evidence compiled.
    I don’t make that claim. I agree that evolution happened/happens and that it can change life.
    Frankly, Whitman’s not the idiot.
    No? So you think that people can be intellectually virtuous and hold two views that they acknowledge are logically contradictory?
    While your faith nominally claims that you should see Whitman as valuable and not an idiot, you call him an idiot in order to reject his claims, and then delude yourself that somehow it might not be an insult.
    Saying that Whitman is an idiot for being self-contradictory does not mean that I don’t think he has value (read: intrinsic dignity) as a human being.
    Not even Paul go so deeply into the contradictions that, despite his best efforts to keep the laws, he violated them by his efforts.
    Paul is acknowledging that he sometimes does what he knows he should not do. But unlike Whitman, he doesn’t praise this. He also doesn’t say that they are equal and non-contradictory.
    Matt Any poet who paves the way for Eliot is good by me.
    Ah, but think how much better Eliot would have been had he not been influenced by Whitman. ; )
    File this request in the “future post” category, but I’d love to hear why you think Whitman is bad poetry.
    I may take that up some day in a larger post about famed artists that I think are bunk. The short answer, though, is that Whitman writes like a teenage girl. In fact, you could pull much of his stuff at random, post it on a teenage girl’s poetry blog, and most people would assume that the girl had written such bad poetry hereself. ; )
    Humans are able to create all sorts of things – both material and non-material – that the universe itslef does not create.
    I’m not even sure what “material meaning” is so I’ll leave that point for now. But the rest of your post is merely an unsupported assertion.
    Premise #1 – Materialism is true.
    Premise #2 – Humans can create meaning.
    Conclusion – Materialism is true and human can create meaning.
    I’m claiming that the premises are contradictory and your reply is merely that they can’t be contradictory because you believe that they are both true. What you need to do to support your argument is to explain how, since everything is either matter or a property of matter, meaning can be created. Either it is made of matter or it is a property. Those are the only options that are consistent with materialism.
    Booton Yet the universe created humans so in what sense can you say humans create something the universe didn’t create?
    Great question, Boonton. That is exactly the point I’m trying to get them to resolve. The term “universe” is merely a word that means the sum total of all matter that exists. Ex and Matthew, however, are trying to carve out a space where humans are “in, but not of” the universe and able to do things that can’t ordinarily be done.
    Keith Well, as to Whitman, it is an article of faith among logicians that we all harbor many unexamined “contradictions” – sets of beliefs, or direct implications of our beliefs, that are incompatible – simply because we have not compared all our beliefs with one another to identify and resolve such contradictions.
    No argument there. The question is what are our intellectual duties when we discover these contradictions. Are we, like Whitman, simply to gloss over them?
    He abuses Holmes Redding for the assertion that A = ~A, on the authority of the claim that 1=3 – and expects us to take him seriously!
    The “1=3″ is a tired strawman. Come on, Keith, you’re smarter than that.
    Matthew Human life has meaning. As a repeat apologist on this blog for materialism, I can tell you that the meaningful quality of life is not contradicted by the fact of an impersonal, indifferent material universe. So I would not agree with the premise of your criticism.
    You’ve still never explained how materialism is compatible with meaning. Like Redding, you seem to take it as an article of faith, glossing over the fact that there is no internally consistent way to claim that there is meaning in a meaningless universe.
    David Wright Surely there are a few ways these 3 lines of Whitman can be construed to be saying something meaningful (and without Whitman being an idiot).
    If so, I don’t know how. Words have meaning. Unless we say that Whitman is saying the exact opposite of what he wrote, then we have to judge the merits of his statement based on what he wrote. Whitman, of course, would simply claim that he is above such mundane things as logic and consistency and so my claim that he is an “idiot” is without force. The question people have to answer is whether they side with reason or with Whitman. ; )

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Surely there are a few ways these 3 lines of Whitman can be construed to be saying something meaningful (and without Whitman being an idiot).
    Implicit in Joe’s argument is the assumption that meaning can be perfectly carried by words. Words being a human invention that is still evolving are almost certainly not perfect therefore it’s quite possible for people to hold things that sound like contradictions without really being ‘an idiot’. Joe is right, IMO, that fundamentally A != ~A. The question is does anyone really, really hold such a belief?
    Yes, it’s confusing, but it’s easier to get a paycheck that way in America. Many liberal Christian pastors have no particular love for Christ or Christianity. They wouldn’t even identify themselves as “Christian” if they couldn’t draw a paycheck by doing so.
    It’s true, Jerry Falwell was living on Social Security, housed in a trailer that was getting foreclosed on and eating catfood when he died. In the meantime I’m off to the credit union to cash the $10,000 a month check I get from the ACLU for being an ‘unorthodox Christian’…hahahahahaha suckers!~
    If America had some other prevailing religion where they could draw a paycheck by being in spiritual leadership, that’s the religion they would glom on to.
    Seriously, though, I think this woman honestly holds her hybred Christian-Islamic views. I doubt there’s any huge market for such mixed preachers….as if that was an easy road to riches and fame anyway. What makes you so arrogant that you can presume to know other people’s motivations so well?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Premise #1 – Materialism is true.
    Premise #2 – Humans can create meaning.
    Conclusion – Materialism is true and human can create meaning.
    Missing is
    Premise #1.5 – Humans are made out of matter.
    And the last should be rephrased:
    Conclusion – Materialism can create meaning
    I’m claiming that the premises are contradictory and your reply is merely that they can’t be contradictory because you believe that they are both true. What you need to do to support your argument is to explain how, since everything is either matter or a property of matter, meaning can be created. Either it is made of matter or it is a property. Those are the only options that are consistent with materialism.
    We aren’t addressing whether anything other than humans or matter creates meaning but perhaps this will help:
    Premise 1 – My computer monitor displays Joe’s post
    Premise 2 – May computer monitor is made of matter
    Conclusion – The display of Joe’s post is made of matter.
    Now:
    Premise 3 – The display of Joe’s post has meaning.
    Conclusion – The matter that displays Joe’s post has meaning. Meaning is a property of matter.
    Note here I’m only talking about the display of Joe’s post. Not Joe’s post as he imagines it in his brain or the idea of Joe’s post but the actual display of Joe’s post on my monitor right now, right here.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Joe asks again and again how materialism can make meaning. Let me ask how can non-materialism make meaning? Let’s say for the sake of argument a human beign can create meaning (leave aside the question of meaning from other beigns). Say humans are made of two things:
    Matter – We know what this is
    Not Matter – Call this a soul, thought, whatever you want just for now we will understand ‘not matter’ is what materialism does not think exists.
    All Joe is saying is “not matter” makes meaning. OK, how? How exactly does “not matter” make meaning? Why is meaning a property of “not matter”? You’re just assuming “not matter” creates meaning just as you accuse the materialist of assuming matter creates meaning.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Hi Joe,
    Meaning is not an article of faith for me. It is a fact of life, an empirical fact of life. It is something that I experience directly.
    Also, I never said the universe was meaningless. I just said it was impersonal and indifferent.
    The universe has a stable reality and an intricate, marvelous nature. And as I said in my other comment, by engaging that reality we derive meaning from the universe, from our experience of the universe.
    How is materialism compatible with meaning?
    Well, the simple answer is that it’s compatible because I observe the universe to be materialistic and I also observe my life to have meaning. If my life didn’t seem to have meaning then I wouldn’t be so sure.
    A longer answer would go along the lines of taking a detailed look at the universe and a detailed look at people and what people do, and figuring out how the meaning appears, or at least seems to appear, in their lives.
    The material facts of life are the same for me whether I am a Christian or a materialistic atheist (although my religion/lack-of-religion would affect what I believe to be the material facts of an alleged afterlife). Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you see people walking on water or rising from the dead on your daily commute to work. Just because I am an atheist doesn’t mean I spend my time obsessing over the eventual heat-death of the solar system and the universe, or cutting people off on the highway because they are merely cousins of chimpanzees.
    So if you believe that life, such as it is, holds meaning for a Christian, then you actually shouldn’t be so surprised or incredulous that an atheist, who after all is leading the same life, to a large extent, as a Christian, is also quite capable of having or experiencing meaning.
    I could just as easily pose the question to you, “How the heck is meaning possible in a world where a God created all men as horribly sinful, unworthy creatures, whose only hope of avoiding eternal damnation is to submit to the demand that this God be loved?” But I won’t ask you that, because I know perfectly well that meaning is possible for Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike.
    you [ ... are ] glossing over the fact that there is no internally consistent way to claim that there is meaning in a meaningless universe.
    Having a conversation with you about life and meaning is hardly what I would consider “glossing over” anything.
    If you don’t understand what I am saying, or if you simply can’t accept what I am saying, so be it. But it’s not my fault!
    Cheers,
    Matthew

  • http://blog.nelmezzo.net David Wright

    I agree with your overall point on A != ~A as to the absolute status of truth. But I think you are misusing Whitman in the making of the point. And I think part of the reason is that you are making a genre error. There are all sorts of rhetorical or poetic reasons one might say such a thing and still be saying something meaningful (and which might even be worth saying).
    I could easily see myself in a position in which I acknowledge contradictions within myself. (I would hope not to be as apparently laissez-faire about this as Whitman is).
    But I question this move of dragging a poet into the logician’s court without giving him a better hearing. Ought not poetry be permitted to be less logically tidy then merely propositional content? And can that lack of tidiness signify in its own right (yes, yielding a proposition)? Is it possible that Whitman is saying something meaningful when he says that there are multitudes within him (an interesting way of stating fallenness, although Whitman seems not to realize that he is celebrating fallenness).
    Is it the statement of finding contradictions within oneself that is objectionable or is it the not caring? But if it’s the not caring, then you are objecting to someone’s attitude and if to someone’s attitude, is someone an idiot for a wrong attitude (although they can certainly be culpable for a wrong attitude). The fool says there is no God (but is that mere attitude?). Perhaps the fool is also one who professes to not care about the law of non-contradiction (but is he really doing that–in terms of telling an interlocutor to take a hike within the parameters of a debate about the absolute nature of truth?).
    Is the writer of Proverbs a fool for apparent contradictions at 26:4-5? Or is the writer saying something that needs to be unpacked and listened to? A wisdom genre may allow for for such puzzlements and they may be instructive in ways that propositional content crafted to satisfy a logician would/could not be. A logician rightly cries foul at the juxtaposition of vv. 4 and 5 if this is offered as logical and consistent on the face of it. A reader of a wisdom genre tries to unpack it and see if there is meaning there, despite the apparent contradiction.
    In a poetic genre, is Whitman saying something meaningful despite the attitude?

  • ex-preacher

    Once again, Joe, I think you are using a straw man version of materialism. Not all metaphysical naturalists are materialists, and of those who are materialists, most wouldn’t agree with your definition. Sorry, but the burden of proof is on you to prove your assertion.
    It seems that rather than defend your philosophy, you are spending more and more time constructing and defeating straw man versions of those you don’t like.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Matthew Meaning is not an article of faith for me. It is a fact of life, an empirical fact of life. It is something that I experience directly.
    That’s an interesting way to put it. Are you saying that “meaning” is empirically detectable by the five senses?
    Also, I never said the universe was meaningless. I just said it was
    impersonal and indifferent.

    So where did the “personal” come from in an impersonal universe?
    The universe has a stable reality and an intricate, marvelous nature. And
    as I said in my other comment, by engaging that reality we derive meaning
    from the universe, from our experience of the universe.

    You seem to be taking a leap off into the mystical in order to get to where you want to go. The fact remains that materialism is about matter and the properties of matter. Everything—not just some things—in the universe are therefore reducible to matter. “Meaning”, if there is such a thing, must also be reducible to matter. That’s the only option on the table.
    And if so, then it is empirically detectable (in a material universe everything must be empirically detectable). How might we go about detecting “meaning” using the tools of science?
    Well, the simple answer is that it’s compatible because I observe the
    universe to be materialistic and I also observe my life to have meaning. If my life didn’t seem to have meaning then I wouldn’t be so sure.

    The problem is that the two observations are incompatible. One of them must be wrong. I would suggest that it is the one about the universe being materialistic, since that is hardly proven by ordinary observation.
    A longer answer would go along the lines of taking a detailed look at the
    universe and a detailed look at people and what people do, and figuring out
    how the meaning appears, or at least seems to appear, in their lives.

    You are still skirting around the question of how meaning can be created in an impersonal, non-teleological universe. Meaning would have to be created by our brains which are nothing more than molecules drifting around in particular patterns. All such patterns are ultimately reducible to their constituent parts so ultimately all meaning would be illusory.
    Once again, Joe, I think you are using a straw man version of materialism.
    Let’s examine a few definition of materialism to see if I am presenting a strawman version:
    Wikipedia: “In philosophy, materialism is that form of physicalism which holds that the only thing that can truly be said to exist is matter; that fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions; that matter is the only substance. As a theory, materialism belongs to the class of monist ontology.”
    Infidels (an atheist website): “Materialism (or physicalism) can signify either a broad metaphysical view, or, more narrowly, a type of theory of mind. Metaphysical materialism is a specific kind of naturalism which contends that everything that exists is either physical or dependent upon the physical. Broadly understood, reductionist materialism maintains that everything is strictly physical; more narrowly, it maintains that the mind (at least) is purely physical.”
    The Columbia Encyclopedia: “In philosophy, a widely held system of thought that explains the nature of the world as entirely dependent on matter, the fundamental and final reality beyond which nothing need be sought.”
    The Skeptic’s Dictionary: “Philosophical materialism (physicalism) is the metaphysical view that there is only one substance in the universe and that substance is physical, empirical or material.”
    So far, every source I’ve found seems to use the term in the same way that I’ve used it. Is there another source that I should use?
    Not all metaphysical naturalists are materialists, and of those who are
    materialists, most wouldn’t agree with your definition.

    Let’s use Wikipedia’s definition, since they would have the opportunity to correct it if they disagreed:

    “Metaphysical naturalism is any worldview in which the world is amenable to a unified study that includes the natural sciences and in this sense the world is a unity. According to such a view, nature is all there is, and all things supernatural (which stipulatively includes spirits and souls, non-natural values, and universals as they are commonly conceived) do not exist….
    There are many different varieties of metaphysical naturalism, but all can be separated into two general categories, physicalism and pluralism. Physicalism entails the claim that everything everyone has observed or claimed to observe is in actual fact the product of fundamentally mindless arrangements or interactions of matter-energy in space-time, and therefore it is unreasonable to believe anything else exists. Pluralism (which includes dualism) adds to this the existence of fundamentally mindless things besides matter-energy in space-time (such as reified abstract objects)….
    In lay terms, if metaphysical naturalism is true, then all minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely constructed from or caused by natural phenomena; if metaphysical naturalism is false, then some minds, or some of the contents or powers or effects of minds, are causally independent of nature (either they partly or wholly cause themselves, or they exist or operate fundamentally on their own).

    Let’s examine that section in bold. We could restate it as: If metaphysical naturalism is true, then all minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely caused by the natural laws of physic and chemistry. This is the gist of metaphysical naturalism and the reason most people consider it self-contradictory. If MN is true, then the laws of physics and chemistry are ultimately all that is needed to explain everything we believe. We have no choice in the matter; it is all caused by the impersonal collecting of matter in our brains.
    Now either you believe this and prove the point of my post, or you don’t believe this and you aren’t really a metaphysical naturalist. Which one will you choose? It can’t be the first since you have no free will to make the choice. ; )

  • ex-preacher

    I’m sure it was entirely unintentional, but you left out the rest of the definition from infidels:
    “Nonreductive materialism also allows the existence of nonphysical properties that inhere in, or emerge from, a physical substrate. Consequently, it is sometimes called emergent materialism or property dualism. In the broad sense, nonreductive materialism holds that everything is physical or at least dependent upon the physical; and in the narrower sense it holds that the mind can have both physical and nonphysical aspects even though it must be instantiated in a physical system like the brain.
    “While metaphysical materialism entails a materialist theory of mind, one can be a materialist about the mental without believing that everything is physical (e.g., some theologians are nonreductive materialists about the human mind but believe that God is neither physical nor dependent upon the physical; and some philosophers who think that the mind is purely physical also believe in nonphysical abstract objects).”
    I am not a philosopher, nor the son of a philosopher, but it seems to me that materialism and meaning could co-exist if we concede that meaning cannot exist in a world with no material. I will concede that in a world with no material (brains, people) there can be no meaning.

  • http://www.timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    Nice straw man, Chris. I was noting that Joe is arguing that faith trumps reality. My only point is that when it does, it’s wacky.
    So this woman loves God in ways Joe doesn’t understand. Since when is anyone’s love of God NOT love of God?
    You and Joe may be able to make a logical case for it, but before you do, I must warn you that none of our cats is named “Aristotle.”

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Joe,
    Are you saying that “meaning” is empirically detectable by the five senses?
    It is empirically detectable via the five senses in conjunction with the internal processes of the brain or mind.
    So where did the “personal” come from in an impersonal universe?
    It evolved.
    I told you that the universe is a marvelous place!
    You seem to be taking a leap off into the mystical in order to get to where you want to go. The fact remains that materialism is about matter and the properties of matter. Everything—not just some things—in the universe are therefore reducible to matter. “Meaning”, if there is such a thing, must also be reducible to matter. That’s the only option on the table.
    Maybe I am being a little mystical in my materialistic way, but if there is a meaningful mystical aspect to my life as I find it, then why should I deny it? Because I am a materialistic atheist?
    My first commitment is to the truth, and if the truth is that my life appears to have meaning, I am not going to reject that out of hand because it doesn’t make sense to someone else.
    How might we go about detecting “meaning” using the tools of science?
    Very good question.
    Maybe the tools of science are not the best tools. But if one is clever and persistent, it can be surprising what inquiries we can successfully include within the scope of science. I am sure there are ways of sneaking up on the phenomenon of meaning so that we can test it in a systematic, scientific way.
    The problem is that the two observations [materialism and meaning] are incompatible. One of them must be wrong. I would suggest that it is the one about the universe being materialistic, since that is hardly proven by ordinary observation.
    They are not incompatible. Unless you can get a little bit more specific, I don’t see how we’re going to make any headway on this point. Perhaps you could give me one concrete example of how the two would be incompatible. Otherwise, we just seem to be on very different wavelengths here.
    Meaning would have to be created by our brains which are nothing more than molecules drifting around in particular patterns. All such patterns are ultimately reducible to their constituent parts so ultimately all meaning would be illusory.
    Perhaps you are right, maybe meaning is illusory, in the same sense that a rainbow is illusory. Nevertheless, rainbows do exist, and so does meaning.
    Do we say a rock is an illusion because it is ultimately reducible to its constituent molecules? We could, but normally we don’t, and most people wouldn’t.

  • jd

    Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
    There was a biblical story about a guy like Whitman. He was screaming and yelling and foaming at the mouth and eating leaves of grass. Jesus asked him what his name was and the guy said “My name is legion, for we are many.” Then he asked Jesus not to send them away. Jesus wasn’t having any of that so he sent all the multitudes in the guy to a herd of pigs and the herd of pigs ran off a cliff causing multitudes of death. The guy was left standing alone, puzzled by the foamy grass in his mouth.
    The moral of the story is that any time you meet somebody with multitudes inside him, be sure there are plenty of pigs around and then get out of the way.
    Unless he’s a poet. Pigs eat poets.

  • Alexander Scott

    I find it hard to follow this discussion without a definition of “meaning.” It would be helpful if we could agree on a meaning, so to speak…
    Part of the problem is that Christians (and presumably other non-materialists) would say that the meaning of something (that is, its purpose) is a quality endowed on a system by an outside observer (a transcendence). A scientist can look at a series of equations and deduce their meaning as an outside observer, but a hypothetical conscious element of those equations would be limited in perspective. In one sense, the perpsective is limited to the local environment (what the conscious element can perceive locally within its own equation) but even further the perspective is limited to the closed system. The element may perceive the type of equation (“This is a force law!”) and understand the identity of the other elements, but can never understand the purpose of the equations (“Am I part of a classroom lecture? A journal article? A new theory? Or just part of a student’s memory dump on a midterm?”). It requires an outside observer, someone not part of the closed system, to assign meaning.
    Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is also a closed system. The actors believe the parts to have meaning because they are external to the play (even while being part of it). But if one of the characters were written to say “My next action has this meaning,” we the audience might find meaning in it, but it is absurd to say that it is meaningful for the character. He says it because of the dictates of the closed system, it is all he can say, or think, or do.
    So it is with a materialist universe. You say “I find meaning in the love of children.” Of course you do; your genetics, environment, and interactions have led inescapably to that statement at that time. Maybe tomorrow you’ll find meaning in poetry. And that also will have been determined for you. There’s no escape hatch in the materialistic universe, no way to transcend the closed system, to make choices that have meaning other than demonstrating the rules of the closed system.
    Having stated my understanding of “meaning”, I’m interested to hear how a believer in materialism defines meaning.

  • md

    Joe, you do not have much of an artistic sensibility if you truly believe that Whitman writes like a teenage girl (which is truly a fatuous observation).
    re W’s line about contradiction: there is something in it of Terertius’s “Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto”.

  • md

    and, Alexander: an astute comment, but you must see that a belief in “transcendence” is also part of “your genetics, environment, and interactions”, etc. The action of “escape clause” in your argument is purely semantical.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Joe
    You are still skirting around the question of how meaning can be created in an impersonal, non-teleological universe. Meaning would have to be created by our brains which are nothing more than molecules drifting around in particular patterns. All such patterns are ultimately reducible to their constituent parts so ultimately all meaning would be illusory.
    You cannot always reduce something to its constituent parts without destroying the whole. I could take your post and take each letter and mix them up in a scrabble bag. While all the letters of your post will remain…all the ‘parts’ are there…your post has been destroyed. When dealing with matter you have to deal with the ‘wholes’ as much as the parts. Take a hydrogen atom and take apart all its subatomic particles…it’s no longer a hydrogen atom. To understand the hydrogen atom you have to accept it in terms of its ‘whole’.
    Matthew
    So where did the “personal” come from in an impersonal universe?
    “It evolved.”
    I’d say the personal was embedded in the universe from the beginning. Why? Because the present is a result of the past just as much as the present moment creates the future. Call this materialistic predestination if you want ;)
    Alexander
    So it is with a materialist universe. You say “I find meaning in the love of children.” Of course you do; your genetics, environment, and interactions have led inescapably to that statement at that time. Maybe tomorrow you’ll find meaning in poetry. And that also will have been determined for you. There’s no escape hatch in the materialistic universe, no way to transcend the closed system, to make choices that have meaning other than demonstrating the rules of the closed system.
    Or maybe ‘genetics, environment, and interactions’ cause me to find ‘meaning in children’ because children do have meaning and a human brain with its associated ‘genetics, environment, and interactions’ is the best tool we have so far to detect that meaning. Perhaps there are other types of brains in the universe that can also detect, create and manipulate meaning and perhaps we have the ability to create tools besides human brains to do that job (such as artificial intelligence).
    So your post is on my monitor screen. The display of your post has meaning but if I walk away from my monitor the display doesn’t suddenly become meaningless. (Note I’m talking only about the display of your post, not the original post or the idea of it in your head etc.). Therefore meaning is not bestoyed by someone ‘outside’ the system.

  • ex-preacher

    I don’t think you’ve defined “meaning,” Alexander. You’ve just argued that it requires intervention from outside a “closed system,” a claim I find dubious. I suppose from your viewpoint, God’s existence must be without meaning since from his viewpoint, it is a closed system.
    Your analogies don’t work too well, either. Is it somehow meaningful for the characters in a play to be mouthing lines written by an outside author? That only makes them into robots.

  • http://www.timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    There was a biblical story about a guy like Whitman. He was screaming and yelling and foaming at the mouth and eating leaves of grass.

    Except, of course, Whitman wasn’t screaming. Whitman didn’t yell. Whitman wasn’t foaming at the mouth. Nor was Whitman eating the grass.
    So, other than your story being absolutely unconnected and not analogous to Whitman in any way, it’s still a bizarre observation.
    Your mother was scared by a street poet or something?

  • http://www.timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    To embrace that which is true is an intellectual virtue; to embrace that which is known to be in error is an intellectual vice. In deciding to embrace real, not just apparent, contradictions, Whitman succumbs to one of the most egregious of intellectual vices: choosing to be willfully stupid.

    Right. So let’s start here: It’s wrong, false, and simply stupid to claim, as some do, that others claim “we live in a completely material universe that created us quite by accident, without design or purpose.” While there are accidents along the way, the creation of the universe as we see it is the product of the physical and chemical laws of the universe — without exception, so far as we have found.
    There’s a difference between “accident,” which implies someone intended one result and got another, and gravity, or the laws of chemistry which dictate the creation of organic chemicals necessary to life.
    But to recognize that reality, you’d have to give up some of your favorite fantasies, Joe. You’re unwilling to live in a universe God creates, because it doesn’t have the purposes you wish it did. It doesn’t hate the people you hate. It insists that you actually get out there and love those you don’t want to love. It insists that you learn about it, or suffer the consequences in ignorance. It insists you’re not the prince of creation, as someone promised.
    Tough. The truth requires we be intolerant of willful stupidity, like creationism, intelligent design, hatred of people. It’s a tough standard. That’s why so few live up to it.

  • jd

    Ed wrote
    So, other than your story being absolutely unconnected and not analogous to Whitman in any way, it’s still a bizarre observation.
    It wasn’t my story. It came from the Bible, Mr. History expert. Here’s the analogous part:
    Whitman:
    Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

    Mark 5:9-11:
    “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
    11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.
    Ed, you have a bizarre ability to ignore the obvious. Do any of your history students ever learn who won the Civil War?

  • http://johncoleman.typepad.com John

    I’m with Matt Anderson on this one. I have philosophical disagreements with Whitman just as I have philosophical disagreements with Emerson and Thoreau. But all three could write! Whitman is America’s great national poet (I am somewhat fond of Eliot, Matt — but he is a bit too European to be our poet, I think). I have a copy of Leaves of Grass earmarked beside my bed right now. The only thing Whitman had in common with a teenage girl was his love for teenage boys…

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Ed, you have a bizarre ability to ignore the obvious. Do any of your history students ever learn who won the Civil War?
    The similiariy is that Whitman wrote “I am large, I contain multitudes” while the man said “My name is Legion for we are many”.
    I should probably read the entire poem but I suspect Whitman is saying something like he is broad minded which is why he sometimes seems to contradict himself (as I said before, I don’t think we are talking about true contradictions here). The man in the Bible story, though, is talking quite literally. He is possessed by multiple beings. While Jesus didn’t survey the begins I doubt they held contradictory views.

  • http://www.gryphmon.com Patrick (gryph)

    “This is particularly true when the beliefs fall under the quasi-religious tenets of secularism.”
    I find the Evangelical position of being both against such things as abortion and murder and still at the same time being capital punishment to be entirely contradictory. In a word, – Idiotic. Especially when they are apt to be such consummate Bible bullies toward others about so many other things. And you cannot accept the Bible as “the truth” without also accepting that it is also riddled with contradictions.
    Finally, Whitman, like Wilde, tends to only offend people without a sense of humor. Did you ever actually bother to read the poem Joe? Oh wait, thats right, Evangelicals are against pleasure and happiness. To enjoy simply being human and to be grateful for the other human beings around you such as your family is anathema to those such as Joe.
    I don’t know about you Joe, but I’m certainly glad that God made me a human being instead of say, a tapeworm. But thats just me. Maybe you would rather be a tapeworm. If thats your idea of happiness, then I’m willing to tolerate that, so long as its not in my own intestine.
    Meanwhile, its a fine Sunday morning, so I think I’ll go celebrate. And there shall be pie too.

  • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Matt Anderson

    John writes:
    “I’m with Matt Anderson on this one. I have philosophical disagreements with Whitman just as I have philosophical disagreements with Emerson and Thoreau. But all three could write! Whitman is America’s great national poet (I am somewhat fond of Eliot, Matt — but he is a bit too European to be our poet, I think). I have a copy of Leaves of Grass earmarked beside my bed right now. The only thing Whitman had in common with a teenage girl was his love for teenage boys…”
    Joe, you got owned by that last line. : ) Wish I had thougth of it. Seriously, have you tried reading Whitman out loud? I didn’t like the guy until I did that. It has an incredibly musical quality that doesn’t really come through until it’s audible.
    John: “somewhat fond” of Eliot? Is that possible? Alas–how can anyone read the Four Quartets or Prufrock or Choruses from the Rock and remain only “somewhat” fond? It’s enough to make me question your judgement about Whitman (even though I need an ally in this fight!). : )

  • http://nbr.tumblr.com nathan rein

    I wish someone would have done more than simply dismiss the earlier comment about the trinity. Call me stupid, but it seems to me that the trinity is a mystery. The idea that God can be one, and that God can also be three at the same time, is a staggering example of how the Christian revelation confounds the self-importance of human reason, at least if you believe Augustine’s account. I seem to recall Paul telling us that the gospel is both folly and a stumbling-stone. My point in mentioning this again is that the “law of contradiction” is a human law, and God will and thoughts may not conform to it in a way we can understand. Given this, isn’t it a little arrogant to sit around laughing into our sleeves at Redding, mocking her motivations and implying that she’s intellectually lazy, dishonest, or just stupid?

  • jd

    Nathan:
    Would you care to explain the “law of contradiction” and where it’s found?
    Also you wrote:
    Given this, isn’t it a little arrogant to sit around laughing into our sleeves at Redding, mocking her motivations and implying that she’s intellectually lazy, dishonest, or just stupid?
    Isn’t it a little arrogant to suppose that because God can be three in one therefore some woman can hold two utterly irreconcilable beliefs?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Don’t feel any need to actually say what those utterly irreconcilable beliefs are that she supposedly holds.

  • http://nbr.tumblr.com nathan rein

    @jd:
    Sorry, I misspoke. I guess i should have said “the law of non-contradiction,” which is what Joe called it in his original post.
    You asked:

    Isn’t it a little arrogant to suppose that because God can be three in one therefore some woman can hold two utterly irreconcilable beliefs?

    I can only respond, again, with apologies for being dense, why? I don’t see the connection. After all, it’s not hard to argue that we all hold two utterly irreconcilable beliefs if we can simultaneously believe that God is one and that God is three. (To digress a little: in my view, “three-in-one” is a pretty impoverished reading of the trinitarian mystery. It’s not like a three-in-one convertible parka from Eddie Bauer — unzip one zipper and you have a fleece, unzip another and you have a windproof shell, zip them all together and you have Godhead. No, like the hypostatic union, the doctrine of the Trinity is a little harder for humans to grasp than that: simultaneously three and one. Simultaneously God and man. If you believe this is easily grasped, then you’re not thinking about it hard enough. At least, that’s my best interpretation after trying to digest Augustine on the subject.)
    There are, in other words, contradictions and contradictions. If the gospel is folly, then who are we humans to declare with any finality which contradictions represent mystery and which contradictions represent absurdity? Isn’t this something of an insult to God?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    The curious question remains can one really hold a contradictory belief? I’m not sure the Trinity serves…it’s basically ‘Not Three’ and ‘Not One’ which doesn’t sound like a direct contradiction to me. Likewise the woman in Joe’s example does not hold contradictory beliefs. She has simply choosen to believe some tenants from Islam and some from Christianity. You may argue it’s bad form to dip your toes in two different pools rather than choose one to jump all the way into but it’s not a logical contradiction.

  • jd

    Nathan:
    With apologies, I have not looked at your website to see if you are Christian. I am responding to what you have written here and am assuming that you are Christian.
    You won’t get any argument from me that, as Christians, we hold to some pretty fantastic beliefs. In fact, the whole thing is way beyond my understanding. And I believe that most of the Christian posters here would agree that what we believe is almost beyond belief. Sorry about that sentence but it serves the purpose.
    But to compare our belief in this incredible story of God acting in this world through the Son and the Holy Spirit, with the belief of a woman who claims to be both Muslim and Christian, is ridiculous.
    Christians say that God became man, and that He is the only way to the Father. Muslims deny that Christ is who and what He said He was. As Christ said: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.”
    You won’t find me saying that any beliefs in Christianity are “easily grasped.” I would never claim to “grasp” them at all. But some of Christ’s words are unequivocal: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
    I do not know how anyone can claim to be both Muslim and Christian.

  • http://nbr.tumblr.com nathan rein

    Well, as to my being or not being a Christian, I don’t entirely see how that’s relevant. But I’ve observed that many of the readers of this blog think it’s their job to decide who gets to call themselves a Christian and who doesn’t. Most of those people, I think, would probably tell you I’m no Christian. So I guess it depends who’s asking.
    You call the comparison I draw “ridiculous” and then conclude “I do not know how anyone can claim to be both Muslim and Christian.” You may not, and I certainly don’t, either. I also don’t know how anyone can claim to be God and man, but let’s leave that aside — I mention that only to show that my reason is weak and I shouldn’t depend on it to show me the truth about eternal questions.
    Personally, I can easily imagine that were I to meet Redding herself, I’d find her to be a very silly woman with some very superficial ideas. However, it’s not really up to us, is it? The fact is, Rev. Redding does dare to make the outrageous and, to us, absurd claim that she serves and worships God both as a Christian and as a Muslim. Precisely what Christian purpose is being served by calling her names? “Dim dhimmi” is clever in a sort of sixth-grade way, but is it upbuilding, or even genuinely relevant? How do we know that Redding is not approaching the Father through Jesus in a way that is not obvious to us? What kind of pastoral purpose is name-calling and ridicule supposed to serve? And where do appeals to putatively iron-clad logical principles really lead us other than to an attempt to set human reason above the Gospel?

  • jd

    I completely reject your notion that this is putting human reason above the gospel. That is also ridiculous.
    I’m sure that this is a very intelligent woman, not “silly” or “superficial” as you suggest. She is simply wrong and “beyond my understanding.”
    I am not using my reason to show me the truth about eternal questions. I am taking it on faith in the words of Christ. It’s troubling that you can’t seem to understand that about me and Christians in general.

  • http://nbr.tumblr.com nathan rein

    @jd With all respect, it appears to me you’re depending very much on your reason to tell you what sorts of statements are and aren’t acceptable about God and divine things. You say you’re taking it on faith, but at the same time, it seems that you are confident that you can reason out what Jesus must have meant or could not have meant in language that conveniently overlaps with twenty-first century conceptualizations of religious identity and religious groups. At least that’s how it looks to me. As to the claim that making revelation subordinate to principles like “the law of non-contradiction” is tantamount to placing human reason above the gospel — you don’t say why you find that “ridiculous” or why you “completely reject” it, so I can’t respond to that part of your comment.
    I’d be curious to hear your response to the second and more important part of my comment — what good does this kind of thing do, in the end? How do name-calling, ridicule, and exclusion provide salt and light? I take it from your phrasing that you have now also made up your mind that I don’t qualify for a membership card, so I suppose from your perspective I am speaking as a non-Christian outsider here and thus don’t necessarily deserve to have my questions taken seriously. But, still, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

  • jd

    Nathan:
    I really can’t take you seriously as a Christian brother if you don’t agree with Christ’s statement: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
    It will be interesting to see if you can be straightforward in your next response.
    Note that I’m not asking you to agree with something that I made up. It’s a quote from the Bible. It’s something I take on faith. Yet it is entirely reasonable to believe that it’s true based on my faith that Jesus is who he said he was. It would certainly be unreasonable if you didn’t believe Jesus was who he said he was.
    Maybe I’m dense but I’m not getting your point about reason. Maybe you could try to rephrase it.

  • http://nbr.tumblr.com nathan rein

    How do you know whether I agree or don’t with that statement, and why should that matter as a criterion for taking my questions seriously? My point is that we also don’t know whether Redding is approaching the Father “through” Jesus in a way we don’t understand. It’s not that complicated.

  • jd

    It doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t give me a straightforward response as to whether or not Christ is the only way, but I was hoping you would.
    It’s my belief that you can’t tell much about someone who says they believe that Christ is the only way; but as for someone who can’t say those words–it simply means they don’t believe it.
    How do you know whether I agree or don’t with that statement
    I don’t know whether you agree with the statement–that’s why I asked.
    and why should that matter as a criterion for taking my questions seriously?
    It matters because I’m trying to understand how you see faith and reason.
    As to whether Redding is approaching the Father through Christ in a way we don’t understand: can you give an example of approaching the Father “through” Jesus in a way we don’t understand.?
    You should be able to since you said it’s not that complicated.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    As to whether Redding is approaching the Father through Christ in a way we don’t understand: can you give an example of approaching the Father “through” Jesus in a way we don’t understand.?
    Wouldn’t being able to give an example imply that we understand it?
    In all seriousness I don’t think anyone here has any idea what Redding is doing or what she believes. All we know is that she has apparantly mixed some Christian and Islamic beliefs enough to feel comfortable worshipping in both places. It would appear she is in deeper trouble with orthodox Islam since her belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection directly contradicts one of Islam’s main tenants that Jesus is to be respected as a prophet but not worshipped as a God. Since I haven’t seen exactly what Islamic believes she has adopted here (aside from praying at a mosque) how can anyone say she is or is not a Christian?

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