The Hot Medieval Heart of It All

Matthew Livermore:

A conversion story that really gets to the heart of faith

Originally posted on Mama Unabridged:

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Seattle.

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Seattle.

For several months now, I’ve been undergoing a long period of discernment called “The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” that will culminate at the Easter Vigil, when I will join the Roman Catholic Church. I have wanted to write about this for a while, have tried unsuccessfully several times, but felt stymied; it is difficult and often frustrating to attempt to express what can only be said partially, imperfectly. But I’d like to try.

My liberal protestant friends, my feminist friends, my secular friends – they might feel surprise, even confusion, that I could join a church that seems, from one angle, deeply patriarchal and conservative. Of course, I have conservative protestant friends and family as well, who might balk at the strangeness of Catholicism, its Mariology, its visceral worship, its sense of tradition that encompasses but exceeds scripture.

The…

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THE COVENANTS INITIATIVE: A CALL FOR PEACE AND A TOKEN OF HOPE

Matthew Livermore:

A worthy initiative…

Originally posted on Angelico Press:

Editor’s Note: The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World was a departure from what we usually publish at Angelico Press, but we thought it of vital importance in pointing to a new way for Christians to understand the ethos of early Islam, and for Muslims to conceive of Christian/Muslim relations, based on covenants established by the founder of Islam. 

The following is from the author, John Andrew Morrow, addressed primarily to his fellow Muslims, and thus it employs direct language appropriate for such. We realize that not all Angelico readers will agree with all of John’s statements, but we offer this in the hope of making more people aware of the persecution of Christians around the world, encouraging the condemnation of these acts, and furthering peaceful Muslim/Christian relations.

Dr. Morrow and Sayyid Yousif al-Khoei, grandson of Grand Ayatullah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei, at Oxford University

Dr. Morrow and Sayyid Yousif al-Khoei, grandson of Grand Ayatullah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei, at Oxford University

By Dr…

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Teaching badly – really badly

Originally posted on Esse Quam Videri:

You may well have read that Liz Truss is bringing a large number of Chinese maths teachers to the UK to work in hubs within schools. She hopes that we can learn from Chinese teaching methods. I read one article in which a British maths teacher suggested that in many ways our maths lessons are better than those in China. This got me thinking about what makes English lessons better.

It is always good to look at those who get things wrong if you want to learn what is really good. A good place to start would be my own lessons last year with my year 11 history class of A* to C/D grade kids.  At my school I don’t have to teach any particular way and no one from management observes me much and so I am left alone to teach badly – really badly.

With that class…

  • I…

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Requiescat in Pace, Stratford

Originally posted on Angelico Press:

Stratford Caldecott, image courtesy of catholicherald.co.uk

Stratford Caldecott, image courtesy of catholicherald.co.uk

Dear friends,

As many of you may already know, Stratford Caldecott died on July 17 at the age of 60, after a long struggle with cancer. He was a treasure to all who knew him or were otherwise touched by his life and work, and we will feel the world a lesser place now for his absence. His has been and will remain a guiding light for all of us at Angelico Press. Please keep Stratford and his family in your prayers in the coming weeks.

Requiescat in pace, Stratford.

John Riess

The life and work of Stratford Caldecott was devoted to the service of the truth, beauty, and goodness of God, thus opening up minds and hearts to the wonder of the Creator and creation, including our very selves. Below we here at Angelico share what Stratford’s work has meant to us.

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Three essays on the concept of disembodied existence.

These are all A grade essays with the mark out of 35 given at the end.

 

“THE CONCEPT OF DISEMBODIED SELF IS COHERENT”. DISCUSS
Essay 1.

The concept of disembodied existence can often be taken by advocates of dualism, the belief that humans consist of a body and soul which are separate and can be separated at death, as a coherent explanation for the question of life after death. For a dualist the soul holds the relevant qualities of personhood so that we can say a ‘person’ ‘survives’ death.

However, this theory would be greatly opposed by those who believe in materialism, or monism, the belief that we as humans exist as a single unit of body and soul (or mind) which cannot be separated. It would therefore not be coherent for a monist to believe in disembodied existence as the soul does not have intrinsic value outside of the body. It is perhaps first necessary to look at the nature of personhood and different beliefs on what constitutes a person.

One of the major problems with life after death theories is the problem of continuity and identity and in what way we are said to ‘exist’ after death. It is necessary to look at different opinions on what constitutes a person. Some believe that the only real continuity is bodily continuity and therefore it is our bodies by which we identify who ‘we’ really are. The concept of disembodied existence would therefore be incoherent as there is no bodily continuity and therefore no real existence of a person. Other philosophers such as John Locke argue that it is the memories of man that make up his identity and therefore if memories remain it is coherent to say that that person ‘exists’ even if they do not have a body. This view however does have many problems. Locke insists that as soon as memory is lost identification and personhood is lost but this has inconsistencies, if 1 person, for example, lost their memory due to amnesia or an accident would we not call them the same person they were before?

So the question remains that in what way would disembodied existence seem a coherent possibility after death? Disembodied existence seems to sit comfortable with the classical views of Platonic dualism. Plato believed that the soul was imprisoned within the body and that the ultimate goal of the soul was to be released (at death) back to the world of the Forms where it could be reunited with the Form of the Good (God). Thus the body which is purely material dies for Plato and the soul returns to the world of the Forms and is immortal. However, the concept of disembodied existence does not seem so cohesive with other dualistic models. Descarte’s dualistic model, as interactionism, maintains that bodily states can causally affect mental states and mental states can causally affect bodily events. Thus although the soul or mind has a higher fundamental value, and the body is still matter capable of decay, they do exist within interaction of one another. Therefore, it would be conceivable to conclude that one could not survive without the other? Either they both perish at death or they both survive death. It could also be questioned whether the dualistic model of epiphenomenalism coincides with the concept of disembodied existence. Since bodily states can causally affect mind states, even though mind states are of a higher reality than bodily ones, how would a mind or soul survive without the body? It seems to have little or no control over the body, so how can we suggest that it has an objective existence of its own after death?

Of course the main opposition to the belief in the concept of disembodied existence after death will come from the view of the materialists or monists who hold that body and soul are one and are inseparable. Gilbert Ryle holds this view and criticised Descarte’s thinking calling it ‘the ghost in the machine’. Ryle held that there was no such thing as body and mind as different entities and that the confusion had come about through a ‘category mistake’. Thus when we refer to our ‘soul’ or ‘mind’ we are referring like a collective noun as the way in which our body acts or behaves. Thus there is no such thing as an immortal soul and so the concept of disembodied existence is incoherent and incomprehensible. Since for monists continuity after death must involve bodily continuity, an alternative theory for monists on existence after death is that of resurrection or reincarnation.

However, there do seem to be fundamental flaws in both of these monists views as well. Resurrection implies bodily continuity or similarity argued for in Hicks ‘replica theory’ however Greach argues that bodily similarity is not enough, it has to be exact continuity and therefore a replica theory is rejected. Penelbaum also rejects this theory on the grounds that it does not maintain mental continuity and it also has implications for the theories of ethics and moral judgements. How could a replica be divinely judged for something they did not do? Reincarnation also fails as a plausible theory on existence after death as the reincarnated being bears no resemblance either physically or mental (memories) of its past lives and therefore in what way can we say that it is the same person who previously existed?

Perhaps a coherent view of resurrection can be seen in the teachings of St Paul regarding Jesus’s resurrection. St Paul maintains that after resurrection we change by a spiritual process but are still the same person. Like a plant comes from a seed but does not bear any physical resemblance to that seed so we are at resurrection. Perhaps another good example is of a caterpillar into a butterfly, physical resemblance is not there but it is still the same being. It must be remembered for Christian believers that after his resurrection Jesus was unrecognisable to his friends but was still the same person.

So, it can be seen that disembodied existence can be taken as coherent or incoherent depending on ones views of personhood and what constitutes a person (whether we are a psycho-physical unit that is indissoluble, as Hick believes, or made up of both a body and soul which can separated as dualists believe). Disembodied existence is coherent with Platonic thought however it raises questions in other dualistic models on the nature of the interaction between body and soul. However, attempts to prove corporeal existence after death have also failed as continuity of the body is questionable after the death and decay of the body. Perhaps disembodied existence is not objective but means that we exist only in the mind of God or in the minds and memories of others. This too has problems however when regarded to whether this actually constitutes immorality or existence, in what way are we existing or participating in the Mind of God? This would also mean that the mind of God was tainted with our sins. Perhaps the only real evidence of disembodied existence can be brought forward through ESP (extra sensory perception) or the existence of telepathy or clairvoyance. However, these all have dubious grounds and cannot be counted on for reliable evidence for the cohesive concept of disembodied existence. Personally I therefore reject the statement that ‘The concept of disembodied existence is coherent’ as the arguments for any form of after life experience fail unless we presuppose an existence of God which requires faith and cannot be empirically verified. (29/35)

ESSAY 2

Disembodied existence is an incoherent concept. There is a long standing division in the debate of what the human being consists of – whether it be a composite of body and soul or a indistinguishable unity. This impinges on what kind of existence, if there is any, will occur after death. However, evidence on either side is slim – how can we ever know until we die? Which is a notion put forth as an escatalogical verification/falsification of the after life.

However, before we can begin to tackle the question of what kind of existence there is, we must first establish the identity of self and personhood. Flew notes that personal pronouns such as “I”, “you”, “they” and so on apply on to physical entities so if I was to speak of Miriam, I am identifying her as a physical being. I can see, hear and touch her rather that a substance or spiritual self. However, what Flew does not consider is the difference in the application of the word “I”. When one is in use of the personal pronoun, they are not simply talking of physical characteristics, but are referring to something beyond that. For example, I can refer to my self as if my body is separate to me, in phrases such as “my bottom looks big in this dress” or “my body looks fat” so its almost as if your mind can have an objective view of your physical self. On the other hand, your physical characteristics do affect your personality. For example, Mrs Wilson is a short, firey woman with purple hair. If she was tall and blond her personality would be different because her loudness and firey nature are a product of her height – there is a need to compensate in some way to retain control. In the same way, we can see ourselves in this light.

With this in mind, we must run alongside identity with continuity so that we can ask the question, if we do exist after death, how? And how of “me” is there (how am I identified)? In the case of monism, we face many difficulties. In term of subjective immortality, there is , as the traditional Christian church put forth, a resurrection of the dead with Jesus Christ. This would mean that your physical body on earth would die, then your soul would be placed in a new body so you could enter into heaven. However, we have problems with this in relation to our concept of heaven – is that a physical state, requiring physical bodies, and if so why? And to what extend can my new body be me. John Hicks poses that, as we a psycho-physical entities, when our earthly body dies ( as we know occurs because of observation of decay in science), our soul is placed into another body – a replica of what we looked like in our previous life. However, in terms of judgement, how can God condemn or reward our new selves/body on the basis of the behaviour of our previous bodies. This seems unfair. Moreover, a replica is a replica; if I had a replica of the ‘Mona Lisa’ it still would make it the original painting, despite its similarities. Again, to what extent is this truly “me”?

With dualism we do not face so many difficulties in terms I continuity. Firstly, we have disembodied existence. This can however take a number of forms. We, as humans can have a resurrection of the disembodied self. Whereby your substance/soul or form continued to existence after the death of your physical body. In terms of what structure that existence will take, the is a theory that existence could exist objectively, in the awareness of God since God is infinite and immortal, and human being are not. But what kind of existence is this? Surely an omnipotent, benevolent God would be interested in the individuality of His people. After all, it is not our immortality. Furthermore, where sin is concerned – does God then allow sin to enter with Him? We could suggest that He is a compassionate God but then God would be temporal because He would be changed every time somebody else came into His awareness – this is not the simple God of Aquinas.

On the other hand, it is possible that we could exist as a commune of minds, thoughts and dreams. So our after life would consist of all of our ‘paradise-like’ dream and desires. But what happens when the desires of one person conflicts with another? It seems that although disembodied existence does contribute greatly to the discussion of life after death, it appears to be the most incoherent in all of its forms.

Yet, maybe there is a alley that we have forgotten. Reincarnation is a form of life after death that helps to overcome some of the obstacles monists face and that of disembodied existence. Reincarnation bases its belief on the immortality of the soul. The body ceases to exist in the phenomenological world, as Kant put it – whilst the soul transports or is incarnate into another body. However, like all of the theories we have assessed, we are back where we began, with the idea of personhood. Which of the bodies in reincarnation is your ‘self’? – the first, second, third, fourth or fifth? Though some may say that memory of past lives is evidence for the existence of reincarnation – this is not enough. Maybe it is better to take the view of Duns Scotus …… ………; we can never know whether there is an existence of an after life and what form it takes until we die. (30/35)

 

ESSAY 3
The argument for the concept of disembodied existence being coherent is largely followed by dualists, who believe the body and mind are two separate entities and the soul can live on eternally. However, the argument against dualism is monism that sees the body and mind as one. Flew in particular argued that it was incoherent according to language to conceive the concept of disembodied existence as he saw it as a contradiction in terms and likened it to the phrase “Dead survivors”. This essay will now examine in more detail the arguments for and against the concept of disembodied existence being coherent.

Disembodied existence can be considered coherent from the argument of dualism. Plato believed the mind was separate from the body and from the world of Forms. The mind, for Plato, was seen as immortal, and was what continued to live on after death, whilst the body ceases to exist. Another argument was added to dualism by Descartes and became known as ‘cartesian dualism’. Descartes famously said ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ – ‘I think, therefore I am’. For Descartes the mind can continue a disembodied existence. The body and mind interact with each other at all times. There has been evidence to prove that the body produces states on the mind, as well as the mind producing states on the body. But how can something non-spatial effect something spatial? And also if there is so much interaction, would the idea of the mind continuing without the body not be seen as illogical?

Gilbert Ryle saw Descartes model as a ‘ghost in a machine’ with the belief of the mind in the body. The misunderstanding of dualism was seen by Ryle as a category mistake as we are in fact a mind and body unity. To show this he used an example of a foreigner looking at all the colleges and buildings that make up the university and asking where the university was. Ryle swathe university as the mind, and all the colleges and buildings as brain patterns of behaviour. But what about brain states that do not provoke a pattern of behaviour such as lying or pain?

But perhaps disembodied existence is incoherent. Following the beliefs of Richard Dawkins perhaps we are just bytes of digital information and there is in fact no concept of a soul. However, it must be asked then what is our purpose here on earth? The reason put forward by Dawkins that we are here just from successful DNA replication seems to be missing something. Disembodied existence linguistically does seem a contradiction of terms, likened by Flew the same as ‘Dead Survivors’, but the evidence of near death experiences seem to show a pattern in the description of yourself out of your body looking down. Schlick too argues that viewing your own funeral as an after-death experience is imaginable as well as being conceivable.

However, problems with language arise here. Are you really viewing yourself, or just an empty vessel of what is left of your body? Flew believes you cannot even imply the words ‘you’, ‘her’, and ‘I’ to a possible after-life as they are only coherent in this physical world. However, we cannot know for certain that that is the case. A J Ayer believes the words could still be applied to another possible reality. If we are to have disembodied existence, we may still be recognisable. Also, the use of ‘I’ can be seen as distinctly different to other pronouns such as ‘her’ and ‘you’ as it involves a sense of self knowledge, argued also by Badham.
Perhaps what must be argued is if there is continuation after death, what form of life is it? Maybe it is not disembodied existence and we are in fact reincarnated with a new body. In this way the problem disembodied existence is removed, but others still arise. If we are reincarnated how are we continuing as we would be different? The argument against this view is that our soul is still however continuing and able to develop. But one major problem arises if there is to be judgement at the end of time is it morally fair to punish the ‘new’ body because of its soul? So perhaps an after-life consists of another form of existence. We could continue to exist as a product of the mind living from our basic desires, a view held by H Price. But this seems to imply no sense of community, but rather isolation and an after-life created by ourselves could be difficult. People may be driven by selfish desires.

Therefore, the concept that disembodied existence is not coherent (held by monists such as Aristotle and Dawkins) is argued from the view that the mind and body are one, and one cannot continue without the other. But the challenge against this is that there is continuation after death with evidence stemming from the bible. But the term disembodied existence does bring difficulties with language, but just because there is confusion does not mean it could not be conceivable. However, perhaps a solution is brought forward by Hick’s replica theory. Hick saw people as a psyche-physical unity so the mind and body cannot be separated. So maybe an exact replica of ourselves becomes apparent after we die. (29/35)

Consider the view that scripture is divinely inspired (35).

Another good student essay on scriptural revelation.

 

The notion of scripture being divinely inspired is riddled with philosophical problems. Some of the issues arising from it being divinely inspired are: how the text came to human beings?; Did God give it directly or was it human in origin?; moreover, what can we actually learn about God from this text via its inspiration? In attempting to address this question we shall look at a propositional approach to assess the validity of divinely inspired scripture and then a non-propositional approach.

 

For scripture to be divinely inspired in the traditional sense, a propositional approach is required. Evangelical fundamentalist believers wish to maintain that the text comes directly from God. That it reveals ‘truths’ or propositions (facts) about the divine. In this sense the ‘words’ are directly from God. Yet this assertion is unclear. We shall work through different understandings and assess whether they can be held philosophically. The most obvious is a literal revelation for example Moses is believed by some to have experienced a theophany (God revealing God’s self to Moses) and literally giving him a physical copy of the five books of the law and the two stone tablets with the ten commandments on. In this sense scripture is divinely inspired as it comes directly from God. It can contain no errors (inerrant). If this view were held then scripture would indeed be divinely inspired. However, the problem of interactionism causes issue here as it is difficult to see how a non-physical being, outside of the spacio-temporal universe, or transcendent in the traditional sense can act within the physical realm. Moreover, how can Moses be expected to maintain any notion of free will? If God reveals Himself then Moses has no choice but to do God’s bidding because of fear of reprisals and sure knowledge of God’s existence. The appearance of choice here is simply ‘Hobson’s Choice’ – no choice at all. Also how do we ‘see’ or ‘hear’ a non-physical being? These problems serve to demonstrate that a view of scripture as being physically ‘given’ by God is too problematic. A believer may suggest that it comes down to faith for them, faith that God can do all these things, which does not seem to solve the issues identified above.

 

Perhaps then the bible/scripture was dictated by God or the Holy Spirit. One view is that of amanuensis that humans have simply copied the text down through divine dictation. This idea is seen in Jeremiah 20:8 “whenever I speak I cry out” implying that God is speaking through the prophet in front of the king. This would mean that the scripture was inspired as the individual was simply told what to write. Someone like Henry Morris would hold that the Holy Spirit was with the writers (Adam at creation for his argument) to ensure inerrancy. This view holds that God inspired the scriptures. Yet it is difficult to maintain this view for the same reasons outlined above. This issue of interactionism hasn’t been resolved here, God (transcendent) is still interacting in a spacio-temporal way. Also here the writer’s free will is being directly compromised. They have no choice but to write these words, the scribe is simply the body which God takes over to use for his own purposes. William James might suggest that this is an example of mystical experience and hold that the nature of these religious experiences is passivity which has been demonstrated in numerous accounts of these experiences. But an issue with this is that James also states these experiences are ineffable (cannot be put into words). How can the religious experience of amanuensis be ineffable if the aim of it is to write the words of scripture? One way would be to maintain that the person has no knowledge of what they are writing. But we still face the challenge from the violation of free will which questions whether this view can be reasonably held.

 

Perhaps then the scriptures are divinely inspired because the believer/writer has had an experience of the divine and has been inspired to write because of this. In this view the writer would be like the child who is inspired by an excellent footballer or music artist to follow in their footsteps. God plays a more passive role in the writing of the scriptures in this way and partially overcomes the problems of free will and interactionism in the sense that the individual writes their own interpretation because they are inspired by their experience of God. If this view holds then they are inspired to write freely about God. In order to hold this view we must accept that the individual has had an actual experience of God. Swinburne and James suggest that testimony of individuals should count in some way for evidence of God’s existence in the world (Swinburne’s Principle of Testimony) and that people tend not to lie (Principle of Credulity). Even if we accept this then it can only ever be revelation for the individual as the biblical text will always be second hand truths for others who did not experience and were therefore not inspired by the event. Moreover we still must maintain that God has revealed himself to the believer before the writing of the text. This whole issue of whether religious experience can reasonably held to happen casts a vast shadow over this view of scripture’s nature. This issue is too vast to explore fully here save to say that the notion of the individual’s perception of events and the actual reality of these events do not necessarily tally, for example what is the difference between a dream where I experience the divine and a religious experience in a dream? Can I ever be sure that my experience comes through God rather than a phenomenological or material origin? This view seems to lack coherence for scripture being divinely inspired as the free will, interactionism debate is still unsolved as we need to rely on the philosophical soundness of an individual’s religious experience. Also it opens up new problems. How can we maintain a propositional approach that this scripture reveals ‘facts’ about God if it comes from a human source using human language; a language of past, present and future tenses as Dummett points out, a “tense of timelessness”. This could never be an absolutely literal revelation of God. Not to mention the limitations of a spacio-temporal language describing a timeless and spaceless God.

 

It appears then, at this point, that no view so far discussed would allow us to maintain that scripture is divinely inspired because of the problems surrounding free will, interactionism, the limits of language and the certainty of what it tells us of the divine. However, perhaps this is the wrong way of looking at the problem, maybe the ‘truth’ of God comes through a non-propositional approach to revelation in the sense that it is action that demonstrates inspiration.

 

If we accept that God revealing Himself is too problematic for scripture then we are holding that we cannot know whether it is divinely inspired yet the non-propositional approach can avoid the problems discussed above. If propositional revelation is ‘belief that…’ something is the case, ‘God is love’ for instance then non-propositional revelation is ‘belief in…’ scripture. In this view scripture reveals more about ourselves and it is our reaction which ‘reveals’ God. However this view cannot give any ‘knowledge’ about God’s nature directly but is still echoed through Bucky Minster-Fuller’s ideas of God being a verb; that when we are inspired by what we read, regardless of ‘fact’ or propositions our actions in some way echo God’s will. Take the parable of the sheep and the goats’ notion of giving practical help to the needy. If I read this and ‘believe in…’ its message I act in the world. This could be seen as the divine inspiration of the scriptures. However this view cuts both ways. It seems to resolve the problems of interactionism, free will and experience of God but only at the cost of not being able to tell us anything about God as scripture maybe removed from God’s word and left as a purely human document.

 

In conclusion it seems as though holding a propositional approach is too problematic for us to accept that scripture is divinely inspired in some of the more traditional ways and that the main revelation of God comes through human action and inspiration. But one final point needs addressing. It seems that we cannot accept a non-propositional approach, belief in the truth of the Bible, without holding that the Bible contains some form of propositional truth. Otherwise why would religious believers act on these ideas? Since the Bible is not self-authenticating then we must accept that we have to ‘believe in…’ the words in order for the words to have any meaning. It is here that we reach the impasse, without faith in the scriptures the notion of whether the Bible is divinely inspired becomes irrelevant but it is clear that even with faith the assertion that scripture is divinely inspired in the traditional sense is too philosophically problematic to accept.