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September 22, 2012

My Lonely Brain and the Bible

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I think of my Brain as a quite lonely little muscle that is basically a thinking data control center. It stores memory, assesses data, and sends and receives signals as appropriate throughout my physical system. I describe it as lonely for it has no direct connection with anything outside of me, myself, I , separated as it is by a thin layer of bone, skin, and (at one time hair). As capable as it is, however, it must depend on signals from other parts of my anatomy for outside information: sight, smell, sense, taste, hearing, and it receives inside information through my nervous system. On the basis of this information I, me, myself (I am more than sinew, gristle. bone, and Brain, or so I think) can override what Brain reports. Let's call this center of judgment (i.e., I, me, myself)--Mind.

     Because the outside receptors are limited in ability, Brain and Mind are always working with suspect and incomplete data. For example, Brain will sometimes interpret what Eyes see incorrectly, and other data from my several outside receptors are all often contradictory, and this compromises the rational analysis of both Brain and Mind.

     Here is one literary example from the New Testament about outside receptors being mistaken (there are others: for example, Acts 12:9 and 15). In Mark 6:45-50 Jesus comes toward the disciples "walking on the water." The disciples are all terrified (Mark 6:49-50) because they think they see a phantasma (a phantom; translated in RSV as "ghost"). Matthew 14:26 follows Mark; Luke omits the entire narrative, and John 6:16-21 eliminates any reference to a phantasma. So the earliest source (Mark) describes all the disciples seeing something simultaneously, which they all take to be a phantom, and believe strongly enough in such apparitions that they all react in the same way--with terror! The text portrays the situation as follows: that erroneous information from the physical senses has been relayed to Brain, and Mind accepts the report without challenge at least momentarily. Accordingly, Mind calls up the fight or flight response.

     So here I am in the early 21st century asking Mind to make some kind of responsible judgment on the historicity of Mark's narrative on the basis of incomplete and imperfect information, a judgment that Mind and Brain regard as logically and reasonably impossible based on information at hand--only a provisional judgment based on too many assumptions is possible.

     This essay begs a question about Faith, because most readers of Mark simply assume that the incident in some form derives from an actual historical event. In this essay only physical stimuli available to Brain have been considered. My analysis has been rational and based on reason. Is there not, however, another inner source available to Brain that should have been considered? Should Faith be thought of as a responsible source that can inform Brain about an actual event behind the narrative. If so, then Faith can either replace or work alongside reason, although the obvious question is whether Faith is capable of giving any information at all on historical issues. But If it can, when and for what reasons should Faith outweigh and replace analysis and reason? How does it seem to you, gentle reader?

Sent from my ipad, Karpathos, Greece
Charles W. Hedrick

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 6:14pm

Wallace Stevens was a strong influence in my poetry, but I didn’t know anything about Stevens other than his poetry.

My view is that gods are irrelevant. They are useful to some. They can detract or they can add to one’s life. One’s god is formed (in my opinion) not so much by a “holy book” or set of catechisms, but through peering at one’s “mirror.” Gods are formed in the image of the believer and as such have been both a catalyst for both “good” and “evil,” not as clear-cut categories as one might imagine!

I just tend my garden. You remembered my early writings! (Those were two life threatening illnesses ago!) When I say “marvel” I am speaking of the beauty more than complexity. I don’t need a creator to appreciate beauty, just my senses. But, tending my garden has meant more than literally planting a seed in the ground and appreciating the fruit. Over thirty years have been spent teaching literacy to special needs kids, about fifteen years of trying to disseminate biblical scholarship, much of it forgotten or ignored (Dutch Radicals, Tubingens, Minimalists) to folks. I have a large “garden.” The “god” seeds just didn’t germinate!
Posted by Dennis on 9/27/2012 at 4:50pm

I’ll try to briefly explain why I prefer metaphor and marvel. To me, God is the image one gets while gazing at a cracked mirror, reflecting while distorting ourselves. I took down the mirror so I could see myself in the world clearly, so I could see others clearly, and so I could look forward instead of backward. At the same time I don’t try to analyze the world; I marvel at it. Good and evil? This morning the deer were beautiful as they ate the mustard greens, destroying the cole crops I planted in the upper field. They will be all the sweeter when I see them next, on my plate.
Dennis Carpenter
Posted by Dennis Carpenter on 9/26/2012 at 2:29pm
Thanks Dennis,
One poet who does exactly that was Wallace Stevens. He was very religious in his youth (Episcopalian I believe) but the mostly inexplicable poetry of his adulthood was laced with observations of nature processed through human imagination. In short his view was: it is possible to live in the world without recourse to theologizing. Here is what I understand: You stopped admiring a larger image of yourself in a cracked mirror--that is, you stopped seeking God, for you only found in the pursuit an impaired image of yourself. Instead you marvel at all things about you meaning (I think) that you are astonished at the complexity of the world about you--specifically the world of nature. But that is not the same thing as "finding God in the natural order of things." It is appreciating nature for itself without positing a creator beyond. So you just "tend your garden."
So in your view God is not absent, or dead but simply a useless pursuit. But you do beg the question: Does the value we label God add or detract from our lives? You would say, I think: it detracts. How far off am I?
Posted by Charles Hedrick on 9/27/2012 at 10:15am

Hi Charlie:
You said, "Most people, however, take a default position that whatever is stated in the Bible is correct and cannot be bothered with exercising their little grey cells." Yes, it's amazing that, when it comes to what many people believe is the most important issue in their lives (i.e., their ultimate destiny), they fail to exercise reason and instead assume that what others have told them and what they find in one book (out of millions) must be true.
Posted by Lee Penya on 9/24/2012 at 10:08pm

“To what extent does faith drive reason?” Maybe they push and pull each other. Somewhere between faith and reason, if separate, lies reality. Both faith and reason can “tug” at reality, distending or compressing it. Cognitive dissonance. I guess some might say that reason *is* reality. Maybe. It is one way to quantify it. I spent too much time with faith as a child, too much time with reason as an adult. I retired from both, preferring metaphor and marvel which, for me, require neither gods nor quantifiable method. (They also are the perfect complement to good wine!)
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Posted by Dennis Dean Carpenter on 9/24/2012 at 4:33pm
Good Morning Dennis,
These are provocative statements. Could you give us a brief example how metaphor and marvel replace Gods and reason? In the abstract I have a bit of difficulty wrapping my mind around the concept.
Posted by Charles Hedrick on 9/25/2012 at 11:31pm

Dear Charlie:
You asked whether faith can provide any information on historical issues. If faith is merely a strongly held conviction, I don't see how it can provide any information about anything at all. Does the mere fact that a person claims to know--or to strongly believe--X make it any more likely that X is true? I don't think so.
Posted by Lee Penya on 9/23/2012 at 12:52pm
Exactly so! Believing something to be true does not make it true even if it is in the Bible. If it is a historical issue then some sort of evidence is required to show that a position is more probably true or not. Most people, however, take a default position that whatever is stated in the Bible is correct and cannot be bothered with exercising their little grey cells. The Bible has become a holy object that links believers and others to God and the afterlife, so they reason how can it be challenged.
Thanks for your comment.
Posted by Charles Hedrick on 9/24/2012 at 10:12pm

You've been drinking again haven't you?
Roger Ray, D.Min.
Posted by Roger Ray on 9/22/2012 at 4:21pm
Yes, but I do some of my best work at those times. Thanks for recognizing it.
Posted by Charles Hedrick on 9/24/2012 at 7:44am