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Home » “Confessions”: Book V -Chapt. 1 – 7

“Confessions”: Book V -Chapt. 1 – 7

12/22/2015

Howard

 

Q: In chapters 6 – 7, he expresses his disillusionment with meeting Faustus and increasingly with Manichaean philosophy. If a pastor or religious leader is without (advanced) learning (let alone a degree in theology or related topic), does that concern you? Why or why not? Should it concern other church-members, but in your experience, is it a big deal for them? One can make the argument that Jesus and the disciples didn’t have degrees or “fancy” knowledge of other things, so how would you respond? What does it say about Christians and the Church at large when they say that the Bible is the most important book in his or her life, yet know so very little about it? Is it every Christians’ responsibility (esp. church leaders, small group leaders, etc) to know as much about the Bible (“advanced knowledge” like biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, ancient history, philosophy, some biblical theology, church history, etc.) as he or she can, or is just a sincere desire or spiritual “calling” enough? Is persuasive speech or great preaching enough? Or is higher learning a privilege reserved for richer or first-world societies?

 

 

It’s sad when we meet our heroes and learn they are human.  At times we elevate some people to near mythical status and set ourselves up for disappointment.  We become angry when we learn that they are not so special or divine.

 

A Pastor or religious leader without advanced learning is something to be considered.  On one hand, pastors have to do so much it’s almost unrealistic for every one to be experts in all things.  A modern pastor not only must know about God, but also have the equivalence of a master’s degree in order to run a business since a modern church is in many ways a business- knowledge of finances and accounting to balance the budget to pay for staff, health benefits, lease agreements and such.

 

A major portion of the pastor’s responsibility is also pastoring, loving and taking care of the people.  In many ways all the theological degrees don’t matter to someone who’s suffered a major loss more than the fact that your pastor took the time to simply be there for you in times of grief. Still, since they are teaching and we should have some sort of accountability that what they are teaching such as a degree.  The more senior the position may require more qualifications.

 

It is sad that Christians can get offended in defense of the Bible when a lot have never read the entire thing let alone understand it all.  They choose their favorite passages and take equal umbrage to criticism to any part of Bible as a direct attack on their favorite passage.  Part of it is an all or nothing approach to the Bible having been elevated almost divine and actually being God.  Bibliolatry, worship of any book, but in this case the worship of the Bible as an idol in place of God.  Part of it may be due to mistaking the Bible as the Word of God, when the Bible has always said the Word of God is Jesus (“The Word became flesh.” – John 1:14).

 

We should all strive to be better people and better Christians.  This includes educating ourselves, but we should never confuse being more learned with being more favored by God.  Our focus of study is how to better know and love Him.  We show our love to God by obeying his commandments.   The greatest is to love Him and the second is to love our neighbor or fellow man.

 

Danielle

 

Q: In Chapter 3, he writes about his first encounter with the Manichean guru Faustus. Describe Augustine’s first impressions about Faustus. Have you come across a scientific theory or bit of scientific knowledge that changed your concept of God? What was it about that scientific discovery that made you reconsider your previous religious beliefs? How did science correct your theology or false religious belief? Was there resistance from your church or your pastor because of it? Can science distance one from God, or allow one to draw closer to Him? In our modern age today, do you believe that science has become too prideful in itself and has pushed religious belief away from legitimacy? Or is this all a sense of scientists and its supporters being too prideful in their abilities – Augustine even writes, “Their conceit soars like a bird; their curiosity probes the deepest secrets of nature like a fish that swims in the sea; and their lust grows fat like a beast at pasture”? What are the dangers Augustine describes when you forget God in scientific discovery?

 

Modern science has many theories of the universe, but none can explain anything beyond physical reality. Science dominates the modern society. Science is strictly objective and believes only in the physical universe that can be detected and measured by scientists. Science believes only in the physical state. Science has analyzed the physical universe and cannot find God. People that believe today’s godless world-view have doubts or total disbelief in God and a future beyond this earth life. People have been taught that they are merely insignificant animals with no soul and no purpose. Science can explain a lot about the workings of physical reality, but scientists cannot explain how physical reality exists in the first place. No scientist can explain why there is something rather than nothing. Modern scientists are good at analyzing the interactions of physical things, but they are not good at theorizing about how the universe exists in the first place.

 

We have all grown up with modern science, so it is hard to think outside the box. Even our religious leaders have become confused. Like everyone else, they also have grown up the modern scientific way. Our priests and pastors believe in both God and modern science – even though science says the universe does not need God in order to exist.

 

Science is not capable of understanding human consciousness. Science can only investigate physical things that can be detected and measured by scientists. The universe cannot simply exist without cause. There is no other answer other than a higher nonphysical power exists. The physical universe is not a freestanding independent thing; it is a continuous interactive process, and human consciousness is at the center. Human consciousness is not an outgrowth of physical reality. The opposite is true. The evidence shows that physical reality actually comes from the nonphysical reality of mind, souls, and God.

 

Today’s world is filled with doubt or even total disbelief that God really exists. Scientists say there is no scientific evidence of a Creator, and many of us are trying to cope with what we think is a meaningless existence. However, religion is the worship of God—not scientific proof of God—so we are caught between two very conflicting worldviews……and our doubts about God won’t go away.

 

What isn’t realized is that—contrary to what we are taught in school—science actually does prove God’s existence. Scientific Theory of God breaks down the walls between science and faith and reveals an understanding of God based on scientific proof.

 

Over the centuries, as technology has advanced, scientists have gradually reduced our known universe to smaller and smaller particles such as molecules, atoms, protons, and quarks, but this process of particle discovery has not gotten science any closer to understanding how the universe exists. Continuing to find smaller and smaller particles will never explain how particles (the entire physical universe) exist in the first place. Scientists cannot explain the universe simply by saying it is made of quarks. What are quarks (or sub-quarks) made of? A particle no matter how small cannot be made of nothing. Science can’t explain how something could come from nothing. Science cannot even explain what nothing would be.

 

No scientist has ever been able to explain what matter is or how it exists, so despite what they claim scientists cannot credibly claim to understand how the universe exists. Matter has always been the biggest mystery in all of science – until now. Einstein was the most famous scientist of the twentieth century. He gave us relativity, but relativity is not a theory of matter. Einstein did not understand what matter is or how it exists. Today’s most famous scientist, Stephen Hawking, does not have a clue as to what matter is or how it exists. It’s even worse.

 

Modern science is wrong. Religion is right. This amazing discovery scientifically proves that we humans are not insignificant, purposeless, and lost in an overpowering universe. We are each a soul living at the center of a physical universe process created by God.

 

 


 

Patricia

 

Q: In Chapter 1, in his introductory praise of God, he writes, “Man turns his lips to you in prayer and his spirit praises you. Animals too and lifeless things as well praise you through the lips of all who give them thought.” Do animals believe in God? Do they praise God? Do they have the same capacity to worship the divine or is it reserved for humans only? Why or why not?

 

The longer I know God, the more I find Him present in everything. Traditional societies have always worshiped nature or various aspects of it, and I believe this to be a direct result of God’s revelation through His creation. In the same way that a Pollock painting preserves the artist’s spirit, nature preserves God’s essence in many different ways.

 

And in that regard, I do believe that the whole nature is created to glorify Him. There is a reason why a magnificent sunrise will not leave most people unmoved. I don’t think this is necessarily a question of individual creatures or “lifeless things” giving individual glory to God; but rather, it is their susceptibility to the laws of their Creator that speaks of praise. Their existence is not haphazard; it is part of a set of laws laid out and readable through everything from mathematics to physics to chemistry to history and biology, etc. The fact that individual creatures and lifeless things exist in such a complex universe and belong to the large interconnected web that makes up life speaks to the wonder of creation under the grand intelligence that gave it spark. This is hard to explain, but relatively easy to experience.

 

One of the greatest experiences of my life was watching the sunrise on top of the Haleakala Mountain in Maui. This spot was a sacred location for the indigenous people of Hawai’i, and being present there explains its sanctity. It is a grand view that not even the hundred selfie sticks of our contemporary picture-obsessed tourists keen on documenting every second of every day can ruin. There is something truly divine about it, and though I cannot explain it, I felt it, along with my atheist companion. The sun took its time to come up, larger than I had ever seen it, with something like dignity and grace and ignorance of all the problems of the world. It truly had a presence of its own, and like the ocean, its grandiosity put our human existence into Lilliputan perspective.

 

https://i1.wp.com/www.pookelaparadise.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Haleakalasunrise.jpg

Sunrise on top of the Haleakala Mountain in Maui

 

The film “Tree of Life” I think achieved the goal of translating the deep connection between the divine and creation into cinema. In it, a grown man finds his way back to God though glimpses of the natural world that speak to the larger realities beyond the everyday, of which he had learned in childhood and forgot after. I believe that there is a collective consciousness that exists in nature, and some creatures in fact benefit from some form or other of individual consciousness, including plants that will follow sound and light and sources of nurture. Can they give praise in the way that humans can? That I do not know, and while I am inclined to say no, I am also inclined to leave this open as a mystery that may surprise me one day.

 

Augustine, for all the grudge I hold against the gross misinterpretation of his writings that the church developed and turned into doctrine, understood God the way only a lover can. His “Confessions” is a love letter to the central presence of his life, at the end of it, after many decades of having known God in many ways. His connection to God transcends most people’s, so his understanding of creation is one that is infused with personal revelation that most will never experience. That is how he can see inanimate things giving praise to God. Parenthetically, it is precisely the very personal nature of his writings that make me believe that the meanings of his thoughts have been grossly misappropriated by the Church into strict doctrine. I see the echoes of many of today’s questionably Biblical orthodoxy going back to Augustine, a man who knew God in ways most people will not. The more I read Confessions, the more I am troubled to see how his writings have so carelessly affected the trajectory of the Christian Church in the Western world, boiled down to mere shavings of Augustine’s deep understandings and turned into harmful theology.

 

 

 

Danny

Q: In Chapter 3, he writes about his first encounter with the Manichean guru Faustus. Describe Augustine’s first impressions about Faustus. Have you come across a scientific theory or bit of scientific knowledge that changed your concept of God? What was it about that scientific discovery that made you reconsider your previous religious beliefs? How did science correct your theology or false religious belief? Was there resistance from your church or your pastor because of it? Can science distance one from God, or allow one to draw closer to Him? In our modern age today, do you believe that science has become too prideful in itself and has pushed religious belief away from legitimacy? Or is this all a sense of scientists and its supporters being too prideful in their abilities – Augustine even writes, “Their conceit soars like a bird; their curiosity probes the deepest secrets of nature like a fish that swims in the sea; and their lust grows fat like a beast at pasture”? What are the dangers Augustine describes when you forget God in scientific discovery?

 

In his years at Carthage (376-383 AD) as a teacher of rhetoric, Augustine remained close to Manichean followers and defended their beliefs against other belief systems (which included Christians), but he began having doubts about it during this time. Manichaeism had promised a rational alternative to various myths about nature and its beginnings, but his readings on the works of the “natural philosophers” (i.e. the equivalent to scientists during his time) made him seriously doubt that the Manichean view of the cosmos. His Manichean friends advised him quell his doubts by meeting with Faustus (which means “Blest”), the foremost African spokesman for Manicheism. Upon his first meeting with him, Augustine considered him to be a charismatic and engaging personality, and a great orator, but when he engaged with him privately, he became disheartened by his lack of learning. Though he was greatly inspired by his speaking skills he found that Faustus could not answer his deeper questions about Manichean truth. Augustine was told that Faustus was adept in the liberal arts, but Augustine later found out that he had not even read the books he was sharing with his own students (presumably Cicero’s dialogues). Though they became friends after, Augustine considered Faustus, “pleasant but ignorant.”

 

This was a turning point in Augustine’s life where his enthusiasm for Manichaeism began to fade. He ceased to practice astrology or make sacrifices to placate demons. This is one instance where science “liberated” a person from wrong or superstitious belief.

 

In my past, I had taken great comfort in knowing that God was completely in control of my life and that everything that happens in the world was all predetermined by God’s sovereign plan. I really believed that God had planned the destinies of every living person since the beginning of time, and that all my thoughts and actions had even been predetermined by God since the beginning of time. However, I stumbled across a book, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom by Gerald L. Schroeder, at a local bookstore concerning the relationship between God and science. I had picked up the book essentially to see that my beliefs in God would be backed up by science, but there was much in there that challenged my preconceived notions I had about God.  One chapter that completely changed the way I saw God and reality itself was titled “The Science of Free Will.” Here, Schroeder explored the question of whether or not the world was strictly deterministic and if the laws of nature, cause and effect, determine all future events. Also, if God knows the future, does it matter that physics or biology might allow choice?

 

 

It was his description of the classic “double-slit” (shown above) experiment that caused me to rethink everything I knew about God and the nature of creation. He wrote, “For free will to exist, causality- the thesis that that identical causes produce identical effects – must not be universally true. There must be some slack in the laws of nature.” (p. 149) Without getting into the details, this experiment demonstrated that electromagnetic radiation (microwaves, radio waves, light rays, X-rays, gamma rays, etc.) and subatomic matter (electrons, protons, neutrons, etc.) exhibit properties that arise simultaneously from waves (fields of energy) and also from particles (discrete entities) – this is often known as the wave-particle duality. (p. 149) Furthermore, how something is determined to be either a wave or a particle is dependent upon the observer of the experiment. Namely, if we measure a subatomic particle as a wave, we’ll detect a wave; if we measure the same particle as a particle it will behave as a particle. So in theory, all matter, including yourself, has this same duality.

 

This is the underlying basis for Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle” where it states that you cannot measure the exact velocity and position of a particle at the same time, because everything in the universe behaves like both a particle and a wave at the same time. Here’s why this is important:

 

The uncertainty principle demonstrated that we cannot measure the present exactly. Quantum physics, and particularly the double slit experiment, demonstrate that even if we could measure all aspects of the present with an error margin of zero, the future would not be predictable… [therefore,] the present condition of the universe does not determine the future of the universe. (p. 157)

 

I remember that this realization struck me really, really hard; so hard, in fact, that I had to put the put the book down and take several minutes to let it sink in. What had sunk in was the reality of free will – free choice – being built into the very fabric of reality. God might be present in all things, yes, but I have the power to choose and determine my own path and destiny. But what troubled me the most was the aspect of responsibility. I could no longer have the absolute comfort in saying, “Oh this happened (or didn’t happen) because God allowed it” or that it was all part of “God’s will.” No. Part of God’s will was that I get to choose and determine the course of my actions.

 

Of course, things get complicated, especially when you get to neuroscience and brain damage and other ailments, which we won’t get into, but for the general, overall aspect of life, our choices are real and they are ours alone.

 

My theology has changed as a result of it, and I have become more convinced of free will and its implications on how God deals with the world. I lean more towards a non-interventionist viewpoint of God’s interactions with the world, which will butt heads with most main-stream believers or evangelicals who firmly believe that God controls everything that happens in this world or universe. And most encounters I’ve had with others when I share this belief with them is that they are somewhat uncomfortable with the notion of a non-interventionist God, and they will sometimes resort to numerous Bible quoting to express their point that God controls EVERYTHING. But then I will respond with other verses in the Bible that side with God clearly giving free will freedom to people and letting them choose his or her outcome in life. And at times, tensions will arise out of a result of those conversations.

 

Can science drive persons away from God? Yes, it can, and that’s the fear many conservative (anti-science) believers believe in (especially when it comes with evolution); however, much of the time, those that do turn away do so because they were raised up with an oversimplified view of God or the Bible for the most part. However, on the other hand, science can reveal the wonders of God and his creativity. Though God and his actions might get infinitely more complex and science can raise more theological questions than answers, it shows how far we are when measured with God’s complexity and eternity, and that (should) make you humbler.

 

Like religious fundamentalists, many atheists and anti-theists elevate science and technology as the end-all and be-all over everything and the great champion over God and religious superstition. They believe that God is an evolutionary artifact or relic from our past that will pass away as more and more people get educated and societies live longer. Again, just as certain religionists have an oversimplified view of science, so too do scientists have an oversimplified view of God and religion as well. Much of the time, straw men are built and argued against when scientists and pastors have debates; both are oftentimes ill-equipped in speaking one another’s languages or areas of expertise.

 

There is still a lot of harm that both sides have done to each other that severely has limited and hampered progress on both sides reconciling with one another, but all is not lost. Both can enrich one another. We are all at heart “believing machines/creatures,” so when you leave God out of science, or anything else in life, there is the temptation to elevate or worship science (or any other substitute) to such a height that it becomes an end to itself or a deity. People get so blind to that that they are not aware that they themselves have become fundamentalists and tend to live in their own self-created bubbles. Though Albert Einstein did not believe in the biblical presentation of God, he did not entirely dismiss religion or even God for that matter altogether. In an essay he wrote in 1940 titled “Science, Philosophy and Religion” he famously wrote, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

 

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