christianity philosophy theology


I’m happy to be accused of ‘middle-ism’ ((Painting two extremes and arguing that the middle is best or most correct)), but with regard to the question of inherent meaning in/to any things or events ((In a sense, things are events??)), it seems that meaningfulness is between the extreme on one hand of seeing too little – or no – meaning (nihilism) ((from Latin nihil – ‘nothing’)), and the extreme on the other of seeing too much meaning (superstition) ((from Latin superstitio – ‘over-standing’)).

The spectrum seems an honest one.

Nihilism is as far as you can go in the direction of denying any/all kinds of meaning, purpose or value.  Superstition is as far as you can go in the direction of affirming any/all kinds of meaning, purpose or value.  Judaeo-Christian monotheism opposes both.

In opposition to nihilism, monotheism says that there is inherent meaning, purpose and value to things/events ((Interestingly, however, Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, thought that – at some level of experience – ‘everything is meaningless’.)).  Life is seen to have at least some kind of purpose, meaning and value – even if non-omniscient humans cannot omnisciently know the content of them ((Stop and ask, however: Isn’t our utter inability to know everything one of the first things we can truly know?  And doesn’t this overturn full-on agnosticism?)).  Life (from amoeba to anthropos) is seen as the result of a purpose, desire/will, intent – and not a meaningless accident with no purpose.

In opposition to superstition, monotheism resists falsely attributed meaning to things like cats walking under ladders, mirrors breaking, crystals, idols, necklaces (yes, even cross-shaped ones).  It is not that ladders, necklaces, cats, crystals and mirrors have no meaning or value, but that meaning/value is falsely attributed to them.  Ladders evidence human tool-making, and necklaces their art; cats and crystals show the creativity of the Creator (and the natural processes employed), and broken mirrors point to anything from carelessness to human art/illustration ((I shattered a mirror in a camp talk making the point about how sin shatters human nature which like a mirror reflects God into the world.)).

There are other points on the spectrum on both sides of monotheism that (in both directions) gradually approach nihilism and superstition.  Something like this gradient seems accurate: nihilism (atheism), pantheism, panentheism, deism, monotheism, henotheism, polytheism, animism, voodoo/spiritism.

Pantheism (I like to say) is characterised by a rejection of all particular beliefs, whilst affirming the general notion of some kind of universal ‘energy’ that can be appreciated, sensed, or ‘felt’ etc.  Even ‘prayed to’; there are degrees within pantheism, too ((I’ve heard people talk of putting thoughts ‘out into the universe’ which will return, etc.)).  Pantheism ((Atheism and pantheism are mere millimetres apart.)) is very tolerable and acceptable as it allows people to identify as ‘spiritual’, without having to bother with ‘doctrine’.  It prefers general over the particular.

Polytheism, however, has a myriad of gods whose action is attributed to all manner of things/events.  The sun god brings out the sun, the corn king provides corn, etc. ad infinitum.

To the nihilst/atheist, all other positions (including monotheism) are superstition.  To the polytheist, monotheism is a kind of nihilism/atheism.  The early Christians, for example, were called atheists – for they were ‘atheists’ about the Roman idol gods ((Ah, but ‘some of us just go one God further’ is the Dawkinsesque line.  But as we’ve seen, the spectrum is not like that – killing off all meaning is a bit harder than killing off extreme superstition.)).

art bible christianity ethics theology


Proverbs 22:7 – “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”

A friend recently (and wisely) observed that this is unfortunately ‘heard’/’taken’ as a command rather than as a lamentation.  Which made me think about how much interpretation we can do even with simple sentences.  The above verse could be (mis)understood in the following senses:

  • That this is the way things are intended to be: ‘God wants the rich to rule over the poor and delights in the borrower being a slave to the lender.’
  • A cold, apathetic, uncaring, indifferent (‘scientific’), and descriptive observation: ‘The rich have more power than (and often power ‘over’) the poor, and the borrower is indebted to the lender.’
  • An implicit command: ‘Don’t be poor!  Don’t be ruled by the rich!  Don’t borrow money! Ever!  It’s is wrong!’
  • A lament with an appeal to listen and live life accordingly: “Money quickly becomes a thing that is used to control and enslave people.  Large gaps between the rich and poor and large debts are all too real.  Please listen to this, and avoid doing that to others or yourself!’

mind over matter

The mind/matter issue is centuries old, and is probably here to stay.

The philosophy of naturalism says that mind is not a distinct category of existence (ontology), but is rather some kind of emergent property or state of purely material elements.  It actually proposes not that matter ‘makes’ or ‘gives way to’ mind, but that mind actually is nothing more than matter behaving in a certain way.  It’s the classic naturalistic insistence that – at the end of the day – there is only one kind of substance/stuff, and it’s natural.  All phenomena can be explained in terms of the most indivisible units of matter.