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How NOT to Talk About God

McDonalds

This is part one of a two-part series, adapted from Stephen Bullivant's new book, The Trinity: How Not to Be a Heretic (Paulist Press, 2015).


 

A Parable

Here’s a cheerful thought: imagine that the only food you have ever eaten has been bought from a McDonald’s. All your knowledge of eating and drinking, and all your taste experiences have come from Big Macs, McNuggets, McFlurries, and those little carrot sticks you can get with Happy Meals. Every word or concept you have to think, talk, or dream about food is patterned on fries, McShakes, and those strangely alluring oblong apple pies that come in a cardboard sleeve. “Happy are they...” (Psalm 1:1).

Now suppose that, one day, you are whisked away to the restaurant of one of the world’s greatest chefs: Heston Blumenthal, for example. In dish after dish you are introduced to flavors you had never dreamt were possible. Beetroot jelly, bacon-and-egg ice cream, salmon in liquorice, snail porridge...nothing in your previous culinary life could have prepared you for this. You are overwhelmed by these strange, astounding new experiences, like nothing you have ever tasted before. More to the point, they are like nothing you could ever even have imagined tasting.

The meal is wonderful, almost too wonderful in fact. Your senses have been overloaded. You are spent from striving to keep up, from trying to make the most of each new surprise. The coffee at the end of the meal therefore comes as a blessed relief. Chef Blumenthal makes excellent coffee, but so too do McDonald’s. Finally: something you can get your head, and taste buds, around without feeling exhausted.

But here comes Heston, suddenly appearing before you, dressed all in white: “Did you enjoy it? I put a lot of effort into these dishes, and it’s important for me to know how people find them. What was it like?”

***************

The meal was truly amazing, perhaps the peak experience of your life so far. Naturally, you want to tell him what it meant to you (and later, you’ll want to tell everyone you know just how great it was too). However, when you start working out how to put it into words, you realize you’re in trouble. After all, all your ways for thinking and speaking about food come from your experience of the McDonald’s menu.

One thing you could do, of course, is attempt to describe the meal in the terms with which you are familiar. You might say, “That bacon-and-egg ice cream was like a cross between the greatest ever Egg McMuffin and the most perfect McFlurry known to man.” Or you could say the snail porridge was as though “someone had distilled the tastiness of a trillion McChicken Sandwiches into every bite.” Or perhaps you would compare the liquorice salmon to “all the wonderfulness of a Filet-O-Fish sandwich, times infinity, and to the infinite power.”

It strikes you, however, that perhaps Heston may not take kindly to such a compliment. Even expressed in these superlative-laden terms (“the most perfect,” “infinite”), you are still comparing his Michelin-starred cuisine with everyday fast food. You are saying, in fact, that the difference between them is only one of degree. His food and McDonald’s food are effectively in the same league: it is just that Heston’s food is a million (or an infinite number of) places higher up. No matter how delicious McDonald’s food is, Heston might still consider having his food described in terms of it—even in such maxed-up terms—false and insulting. But what else can you do?

Well, you could try changing tack entirely. Rather than likening Heston’s meal to McDonald’s food, why not do the opposite? For instance, you could answer him by saying “That meal was nothing at all like a Supersized Extra Value McNugget Meal,” or “Your snail porridge was the perfect negation of the entire McDonald’s menu.” In stark contrast to your first attempt at describing the meal, this drives a clean wedge between it and your previous food experiences: the two are in no way alike. You don’t have the words or concepts accurately to describe the meal. And yet you still want to say something true about it. So the best you can hope for is to say what it is not.

However, once again, it occurs to you that this might not go down so well either, and understandably so. He has slaved away in a hot kitchen for hours on end, lovingly crafting a mind-bending array of delights, and all just for you...and the best you can do is say “well, it wasn’t like a McBacon Roll.” Seriously?

Now you really are in trouble. Heston Blumenthal stands before you expectantly, puzzled by the pause. You have no words to describe what you have just experienced. You could barely take it all in while you were eating it; you haven’t a hope of talking about it meaningfully and satisfactorily now. And then, suddenly, you realize that that might be the answer.

“Mr Blumenthal... I... I... I’m lost for words.” An awe-filled, reverential silence replaces the awkward one of seconds before. Heston smiles.

You say it best when you say nothing at all.

More Than Words

This parable tells us much—though not quite all—of what we need to know about talking, and not talking, about God.

The basic problem is this. The great bulk of our words, and thus our means of thinking and imagining things, are patterned on everyday, mundane, physical objects-in-space. As such, we find it reasonably easy to describe stuff in straightforward, literal terms. (“The black laptop I am typing on is sitting on a desk. To the left of it are a red pen, an open Bible, and a yellow USB stick,” and so on). However, as soon as we try to talk about more abstract things like ideas, concepts, feelings, or emotions, we swiftly begin to struggle. How often, for example, have we answered a question about how we feel about someone or something with “I’m not quite sure,” “I can’t quite explain it,” or “I find it difficult to put into words”? Certainly, I should find it impossible to fully describe what my wife and children mean to me in literal, direct words. Although I am, undoubtedly, the world expert on my own feelings about my own family (as you are about yours), I simply don’t have the right words to come close to communicating them.

What we often do instead is use figurative, metaphorical, poetic language to give some inkling of what it is we’re trying to talk about.

"Love is like a butterfly,
as soft and gentle as a sigh;
The multicolored moods of love,
are like its satin wings."

Fellow Dolly fans will agree that this does capture something of what love is, or can be, like: beautiful, fragile, and fluttery (although these are all still metaphors, of course). Nevertheless, “love is like a butterfly” is very far from being a direct description. Even as a simile (“x is like y”) the comparison breaks down very quickly: love is not, for example, what the Very Hungry Caterpillar turns into. Note also that this doesn’t just apply to feelings or emotions. The best science writing is full of metaphors and figurative images—unobserved cats in boxes, flies buzzing around cathedrals, computers made from meat, and so on—precisely because we find plain speaking and thinking such hard work.

If this is the case with things like food and feelings and atoms, what hope have we of saying something adequate about the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16)? If we struggle when talking about creatures and created things, how dare we speak of the “Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible,” himself?

“God is above whatsoever we may say or think of him”

Maybe there isn’t any problem here. After all, scripture is the word of God, written in human words. And it uses them to tell us about God all the time. Here are just three examples, out of thousands and thousands:

"God is love." (1 John 4:8)

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty! Who was and is and is to come!" (Revelation 4:8)

"Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond all measure." (Psalm 147:5)

Even more to the point, God appears to be perfectly happy using human words to describe himself:

"For I the Lord do not change." (Malachi 3:6)

"I the Lord your God am a jealous God." (Exodus 20:5)

"No one is good but God alone." (Luke 18:19)

The problem is that our understandings of words like “love” or “almighty,” or “great” are again patterned on our earthly, creaturely experiences. We might have a rough idea of what it means to have a “great cat,” to eat a “great hotdog,” or to be a “great football player” (although there’s still huge scope for disagreement as to what counts as true greatness in any of these areas). Yet surely, whatever it means for a cat, hotdog, footballer, or any other created thing to be “great,” that must fall insultingly short of what it means for “the Lord your God” to be so too. So while we can be sure that God is great, with our finite created minds, and limited earthly experience, we can have little conception of just how God is great, or just how great God is. “God is above whatsoever we may say or think of Him,” as St. Thomas Aquinas once put it.

The danger comes if we forget this. If we imagine that God is great, or loving, or powerful, or jealous in pretty much the same way that, say, a human being might be those things. By doing this, we end up creating a God, or rather an idol or “so-called god” (1 Corinthians 8:5) in our own image. We put ourselves on a pedestal, supposing that God is just like us, but a bit better. Nor can we avoid this by saying that, unlike us, God is super- or omni- or perfectly or infinitely loving or powerful or whatever. This is, remember, exactly what we tried to do in the parable earlier, describing Heston’s food as being like McDonald’s, but infinitely or perfectly or supremely more so. We risk ending up with a God who differs from us mere creatures—“all are from dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecclesiastes 3:20)—only by degree. It is as though we could simply take the goodness of Creation (Genesis 1:31), and by turning it up to eleven, somehow reach up to the goodness of the Creator himself. Of course, we cannot do that, and scripture itself warns us against thinking we can:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

"You say it best, when you say nothing at all"?

Since our thoughts and words are doomed to fail us, the highest, most fulsome praise we can give will always fall insultingly short of “the Most High” (Psalm 91:1). Can we then say nothing that is true or accurate about him?

Again, as we learned in our parable, there is something we can say. If all our words and concepts aren’t up to the job of describing God, let us just be honest about it. Why not just go through the dictionary saying what God isn’t? We can start with “God is not aa (a type of Hawaiian lava)” and end up with “God is not zymurgy (the study or practice of fermentation).” And if we get bored a few weeks in, we can even amuse ourselves by doing it Wayne’s World style for a couple of days: “God is a nonagon (a nine-sided shape)... not!”

On one level, this might seem like an improvement. For again, quoting St Thomas, “What God is not is clearer to us than what he is.” We’ve guarded ourselves against describing God in terms that are beneath him: well done us. Yet, on another level, all this feels very unsatisfactory. All we’ve done is given a long litany of God’s non-attributes. Talk about damning with faint praise. Is this really the best we can do?

Perhaps Alison Krauss—or for those of you with poor taste in music, Ronan Keating—was right all along. Maybe we do say it best when we say nothing at all. Rather than “heap up empty phrases” (Matthew 6:7), or tediously list what God isn’t, why don’t we just shut up?

“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)

 
 
The Trinity: How Not to Be a Heretic
 
 
(Image credit: Occupy Corporatism)

Stephen Bullivant

Written by

Dr. Stephen Bullivant is Senior Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at St Mary's University, England. A former atheist, he studied philosophy and theology at Oxford University, and converted to Catholicism while completing his doctorate on Vatican II and the salvation of unbelievers. In 2010, he was the first non-American to receive the "LaCugna Award for New Scholars" from the Catholic Theological Society of America. Stephen writes and speaks extensively on the theology and sociology of atheism, and the new evangelization. He recent books include Faith and Unbelief (Canterbury Press, 2013; Paulist Press, 2014), and (co-edited with Michael Ruse) The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (Oxford University Press, 2013). His latest book is called The Trinity: How Not to Be a Heretic (Paulist Press, 2015).

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  • Loreen Lee

    Once again I am being told to bask in the glory of being 'shut up'. Yes. This is very gpod advice. I find it difficult even to describe my 'neighbour' let alone my 'self'. !!!

    • William Davis

      Lol, I'd describe my neighbor as neighborly. My wife gets mad when I describe her food as "very edible". Too bad silence isn't an option for when she asks for my opinion here ;)

      • Loreen Lee

        I generally do not find I am able to say very much when my mouth is full... (in an analogical way of speaking of course!).

      • Loreen Lee

        Maybe in the future I'll learn how to 'not' use satire. Actually, I just think it's another phase I'm going through. Like really; should I think hard on this?:

        "You say it best, when you say nothing at all"?

  • Doug Shaver

    What's the takeaway lesson here? That I shouldn't believe anything that any theist tells me about God, because no true statement about God is expressible in human language?

    • Stephen Bulivant

      I think the main take-away lesson is 'stay tuned for part 2'...

      • Papalinton

        Do the upvoters for this comment know something that we don't know? Apart from that I really cannot see the informative value of merit in this comment

        • Damon

          Perhaps they have read Stephen's book and have a good idea of how he'll be concluding this post in part 2

        • Kevin Aldrich

          SB is a smart guy. He would not write a post on how NOT to talk about God unless he could follow up with one on how TO talk about him.

          • David Nickol

            I expect Part 2 to contain the recipes for

            JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM
            Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

            SNAIL PORRIDGE
            Artichoke, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

            SALMON POACHED IN A LIQUORICE GEL
            Artichoke, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Awesome.

            Actually, if the guy who only ate McDonalds food suddenly was given a gourmet meal like SB described, he'd probably spit it out and say, "What is this [email protected]?

          • Stephen Bulivant

            'O KEVIN, you have searched me and known me.
            You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
            You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
            Even before a word is on my tongue, O KEVIN, you know it completely.'

          • Stephen Bulivant

            'O KEVIN, you have searched me and known me.
            You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
            You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
            Even before a word is on my tongue, O KEVIN, you know it completely.'

    • Loreen Lee

      Perhaps, in order to be both consistent and complete, this post will end further speculation regarding a definition of God, as given in the 'proofs' of his existence on SN, for instance!.

      • One could well be both consistent and complete. One just couldn't prove it in a closed formal symbol system. Formulating arguments and clarifying definitions remain indispensable aspects of earnest inquiry.

        What might would end, instead, is argumentATION, endless deductive clarifying grounded in mere plausibilities (intuitions and counterintuitions) without the benefit of probabilistic methods (inductive inference, falsification, measurement, testing, verification, experimentation, etc, sometimes known as science).

        Even the argumentation would seem reasonable enough to me, for sport even, as long as all remain cognizant of how it's so very weakly inferential, all this notwithstanding that Peirce considered same a fetish and doesn't, therefore, exert much normative impetus for those who, rightfully, don't find such argumentation persuasive, much less universally compelling.

        Loreen, if ever you turn from philosophical considerations, you might really enjoy and resonate with Simone Weil's story and writings. You obviously have several reading piles :)

        • Loreen Lee

          Hope you don't mind me continuing in my long standing tradition of 'satiric commentary'. I wish I could clone these expressions sufficiently so that they could fool people into thinking they were Zen koans. But I'll have to upgrade a bit on the subject matter before even thinking about trying this.

          Yes, perhaps it is the endless debate on these sites, and the 'fetish' which you acknowledge Pierce also regarded the arguments for God that this post indirectly refers to. That in any case has been what my comments in this post have been directed to. I even tried to turn around the glory of being 'shut-up' into a more positive context.

          Enjoyed reading about Weil. I wondered if Waiting for Godot was taken from her Waiting for God. !! But say, she was a philosopher and an anarchist, among other possibles, so rather than take up her writing, etc. I shall regard meeting her as an introduction to a very good role model.

          My remark about being consistent and complete was included merely on the prospect that I don't really expect there to be any silence regarding 'who' God is in the near or distant future.

          Thanks again, for your advice, and response......

    • William Davis

      I like the use of Psalm 91:1, speaking of God Most High. Why is he Most High? Because he is El, head of the Canaanite pantheon. He is the highest of all the gods, and King Melchizedek was his high priest. Let's bring in Psalm 82 for some help:
      1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
      in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
      2 “How long will you judge unjustly
      and show partiality to the wicked?Selah

      That question is a very important one that Christianity has yet to answer. At least it is all over the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps blaming the bad things on bad gods makes a lot more sense, that's what the pagans did ;)

  • I recognize that the analogy is not 100% accurate, but in the parable I do not see why the subject is at a loss for words in speaking to Heston or anyone else. This is a ludicrous scenario, but presumably Heston was aware that you had never tasted anything but McDonald's and so on. In this case he would not expect you to be able to describe the food in its own terms, but only based on your experience. In fact, he would be a pretty miserable person if he were to be disappointed with your lack of ability to accurately describe your culinary experience.

    Ultimately, even given these restraints, I do not see why the response of "Heston, that was the greatest culinary experience I have ever encountered. I cannot think of anything to compare it to, it is unlike anything I have ever encountered before, but I loved it! Delicious, interesting, beautiful. It has opened culinary and flavour horizons I did not even know existed, or that I had the ability to perceive. I can only guess that you have access to more ingredients than I have been exposed to and/or you posess skill of the extent I never imagined was possible." I don't see why Heston would not consider this to be an excellent compliment or comment.

  • With respect to trying to describe your experience to someone else, I
    would think you can only say the same, or similar things. Would this be
    terribly helpful to someone trying to gauge or understand your
    experience who has no access to it? Of course not, but when has language
    ever been of much assistance with respect to flavour and taste? All we
    can say and do say is how much we liked it. If we have a shared
    reference point, this can be helpful in conveying more information.

    Of
    course there is nothing in the example about the context we are dealing
    with on this website. Here I think the question is: following the
    experience of tasting Heston's foods, what would the taster be able to
    convey to his fellow McDonalds confined eaters? Would he be able to
    convey the experience of completely unknown flavours? Obviously not.
    Would he be able to convey the magnitude of the improvement in quality.
    Perhaps not, but if the others have some idea of a scale of food
    quality, using superlatives should meet with some success.

    Now, based solely on the account, should the listeners believe that Heston and this amazing
    meal exists? I would say no. If the taster
    were to tell me that I could easily have this experience too, I would
    just try and it should easily be confirmed one way or another. If I were
    to try and find only more McDonald's, I would conclude I had been lied
    to. If I were told that it was all true but I could only experience it
    after dying, I would have a hard time believing it and would likely
    distrust this account too, absent significantly stronger evidence. I
    would not amend my conduct in any way on the basis that Heston's food
    exists.

  • I do not think you are trying hard enough with the love analogy. There are different uses of the term love, but i discussing what I mean when I say I love my wife, I am certainly not confined to metaphor and poetry.

    I would say something like this: "When I say 'I love my wife' I mean I have entered a wonderful social relationship with her. Through many direct and indirect interactions with her over a long period of time, I have learned a great deal about this individual. My experiences with her challenge and gratify me. Our conversations are interesting, we make each other laugh, we help each other in difficulty. I cannot say exactly why I am the way I am and she is the way she is, but our personalities compliment each other. It feels good to be around her and bad to be apart for long periods of time. Through this interaction our own subjective intentions numerous social and I would say biological factors, we have grown to feel attached in a deep social way. When something good or bad happens to one of us the other feels a lot of the good or bad as well. When I say I love her, it is based on these relationships and events, as well as strong positive feelings that accompany them and that generally I have about her. It involves a strong feeling of attachment, obligation, desire, comfort and so on." Of course, I could write pages detailing more on this that could elaborate on the experience. But suffice to say that we are not limited to insect analogies when describing love!

    As with ANYTHING including a pen or a laptop, we are limited by any lack of shared experience in trying to describe someone to someone else, who may lack that shared experience.

    • Loreen Lee

      I would like to understand better the distinction Aristotle made in his -meta-physics (which has been described to me as what you are only ready to do after you have completed the 'science') between what is 'said' about person, and what constitutes his substance, i.e. what makes him/her a person, i.e. a primal form, never to be repeated individual, that can be described in the way you talk about your loved one: i.e. in the context of lived experience: concrete rather than abstract: et. etc.including such things as attributes, physical descrip6tion, etc. etc. etc.

      I think Aristotle also distinguished substance from essence, which would be the definition, which cannot (as in what is 'said' about person), be said, because with a definition the individual must necessarily be placed within the context of the species. (Man (an individual?) is within the species a 'rational/differentia' animal. I therefore can't define my 'self'. God?: His essence is his existence? Does this mean that his existence is his definition/essence??/ within this context. Is this what Aristotle means by what is (merely' 'said'?????

      I believe this distinction has been lost some where along the way, in Western theological and philosophical circles. ??? I'm so glad that we now have Wikipedia and the Stanford encyclopedia!!!!! Maybe at least there is a chance that I might become 'educated'. But that is merely something I 'said'!!!!

  • Of course, there is another possibility to account for the apparent difficulty in describing God, or our religious experiences with him: none of it is true.

    Perhaps, words cannot capture what God is with any resolution is because there is nothing there to capture. All of the religious experiences we have are emotional experience we subjectively have in our own minds. They are positive emotional responses to a number of biological and social realities. What we are having difficulty pinpointing here is what we always have in discussing subjective emotional experience.

    • William Davis

      Exactly, that is why it is so vague and difficult to test. It also varies from brain to brain due to variations in neural structure.

  • William Davis

    No description of anything is complete without mathematics. Words by themselves are vague, we need numbers to be specific. The author of revelation was obsessed with numbers, such as 666, maybe he was on to something. Any good science is highly mathematical, and math is far better for describing truth than qualitative assessment. Perhaps reason and science are the real paths to finding God.

    • Loreen Lee

      Yeah - that's a good point. Back to Pythagoras, onward to the religion of the cosmologists: Pure Identity; The-o logy rather than An-a-logy. :It's the only way to be both consistent and complete. Forget about the 'details' in Derrida's 'differance', and the math-music of unity/harmony in diversity. All we need is to play the numbers!!!!
      I expect you know from your research that the Hebrew alphabet was expressed in numbers. 666 they say referred to one of the Roman Emperors, but I forget which one. More 'scientific' work for you to do!!!!! LOL????

      • William Davis

        Caesar Nero. Rome is the city on the seven hills (the beast). Bart Ehrman has a pretty good write up on Revelation, but I'm sure there are others. I'm fascinated by the Final Theory of Everything first proposed by Spinoza, but pursued by great scientists like Einstein and Hawking. Some of us see the beauty of God's work in equations :)

        • Loreen Lee

          Just read a blog post. Hawking has given up on this Theory of Everything. Said it would make us too complacent!!!! I see the beauty of God's work in your historical research!!!!

          • William Davis

            It surely won't be as simple as a single equation, and it may be unattainable. I still think it is worth pursuing, if nothing else for the journey and what we find along the way :)

          • Loreen Lee

            I spent yesterday reading a Post-Modern book on language. Language (in Hegel I believe) is contrasted with Mathematical form, as dynamic form. These theories derive from earlier theories of semantics, and include now examination of the unconscious as expressed in language, including emotion, and rhythm/poetry. They have even said (because we are unaware of all of the factors), that language speaks for us. But at least we are still able to 'articulate'!

            Mathematics, unlike language is unable to represent the qualitative, even I believe in psychology. So apart from the 'limitations of language', I would 'project' that if we were 'truly ruled by mathematics' it would indeed be a 'godlike' rule and we would no longer have anything to 'say'....We would be struck 'dumb' in 'awe'!!! .The 'problem' presented in this post would have at last found a solution. We would indeed be reduced to 'silence'. !!!!

          • William Davis

            We can build life-like computer simulations using pure mathematics and algorithms, but emotion and "intelligence" are still elusive, so there be a deep truth to that, we'll see where that goes.
            Music seems to be a bridge between mathematics and qualitative experience. Music is highly mathematical, but the experience of music does not "feel" mathematical. No surprise music has been an important part of Christianity :) I like some of the Old hymn, one of my favorite was Martin's Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is our God". It was more the music than the words, but still. I also like Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, not to mention a good bit of rock. Perhaps I should have brought up the Christmas tunes I like, talking positive about Martin Luther might be bad on a Catholic site :P

          • Loreen Lee

            Don't 'worry'. They play Bach and Mozart, even in the Catholic Church.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    As a fellow writer, I'm tipping my cyber cap to Stephen for his brilliant extended metaphor that opens and illustrates this OP.

  • David Nickol

    In dish after dish you are introduced to flavors you had never dreamt were possible. Beetroot jelly, bacon-and-egg ice cream, salmon in liquorice, snail porridge...nothing in your previous culinary life could have prepared you for this. . . .

    The meal is wonderful, almost too wonderful in fact. . . .

    In all likelihood, people who had eaten only McDonald's food all of their lives would find beetroot jelly, bacon-and-egg ice cream, salmon in liquorice, and snail porridge somewhere between bizarrely unappealing and disgustingly inedible. (I personally don't want to try any of those myself!)

    I think people have to develop a taste for haute cuisine, and a diet of only McDonald's food is not only going to leave a person without a vocabulary for describing a gourmet meal; It's almost certainly going to leave a person unable to appreciate it.

    I remember reading the story of a food company that produced a really fine ketchup with a robust tomato flavor, and it did not sell, so they started scorching it and it became popular, since it then tasted like what people were used to.

    Perhaps Catholics might conjecture that if God is like gourmet food or the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, it will take a long sojourn in purgatory for those who are accustomed to steak and potatoes or rap music to develop a taste for Him.

    • William Davis

      You are correct, taste is definitely acquired. I had to change my eating habits as I began to notice the bad effects of fast food, and I decided to go all out into whole foods. At first things like Kale, avocados, broccoli, ect., were repulsive, but after forcing myself to eat for a while, my tastes changed. Now anything from McDonald's is repulsive, and my real foods taste great to me, though others are repulsed by my "super smoothies" and such. The enjoyment of food is an epicurean thing, I'm glad to see the church has moved past traditional asceticism. I greatly appreciate the Buddhist middle way between asceticism and epicureanism, perhaps Christianity has found itself on the middle way as well. Chasing pleasure is what causes problems, not pleasure itself. I suppose everyone has a variable tolerance of how much pleasure they can experience before chasing it. Thankfully I've never been inclined toward gluttony, sadly many struggle with this daily. That said, perhaps chasing knowledge and wisdom can have addictive properties, strange as it may sound, I know fundamentalists who seem addicted to the Bible. Perhaps I use the chase as an excuse to escape other things I should be doing, but don't really want to do. I suppose there is a flaw in every path.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Maybe I should not ask, but what does this mean?

        I'm glad to see the church has moved past traditional asceticism.

        You might look up the virtue of temperance.

        • William Davis

          Traditional asceticism looked at all pleasure as something of the flesh, including enjoying food (related to gluttony). Comparing God to food would have an ascetic flipping his lid. This was mostly monks, but 1 Corinthians 7 clearly expresses ascetic views when it comes to sex.

          Not only do I know what temperance is, I have always practiced it. I rarely drink alcohol (and only small amounts of wine when I do), I eat extremely well (and know a ton about nutrition and medicine so I know what eating well is), and never really have been big on food. I've never had sex with anyone but my wife. I exercise regularly. I behave this way because I understand cause and effect and I realize my actions have consequences. What I consume and my physical activity level has a direct effect on my mind, I notice my mood drop (not significantly but noticeably) when I don't exercise enough. God helps those who helps themselves. I'd be a good Catholic if I believed in God, lol.

          Sorry if I was rude the other day. I've had Christians who justified being very rude to my mother and sisters because of those verses in 1 Timothy that contradict 1 Corinthians 7. It's not your fault, and it was unfair for me to impugn you. I don't know your heart, but I personally find blaming women for the fall (and thus all the suffering and evil in the world) to be extremely repulsive and unjust. The whole shut up and have babies thing isn't very nice either (a fair cry from the ascetic view of stay away from sex in 1 Cor 7).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Dang. I wrote you a brilliant response and then SN went bonkers on me. I'll try to recreate it . . .

            Thanks for your gracious words.

            According to the NAB, in 1 Cor 7 St. Paul was probably writing against "traditional asceticism" not defending it. Personally, I don't see anything untoward in chapter 7.

            As for St. Paul blaming Eve for the fall, he says Eve was deceived and transgressed. Eve was deceived. Adam was not. So who is more to blame?

          • William Davis

            I like 1 Cor 7. I don't Like 1 Timothy. (though I plan on having sex. I follow his policy for marriage there completely. I like Paul (even though I think he had hallucinations, sorry) and the thought that someon was forging letters in his name makes me angry. I would just encourage you to look at the arguments and consider the theological differences, I'll let you use your own source, but catholic-resources is reasonable.)

            I find it hard to believe that Adam suddenly lost his free will because Eve was fooled by the snake. The Bible says in Gen 3

            Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LordGod had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a]knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

            It indicates Adam was with her. Why didn't he stop her or confront the serpent. He just stood there like a goof and did what Eve told him. Sorry, I'm go with Genesis. No offense, but maybe the author of 1 Timothy wasn't that familiar with Genesis, it certainly doesn't read that way to me.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There is no need to assume that Adam was standing next to Eve the whole time.

          • William Davis

            The Vatican says otherwise, or at least that Man is to blame.

            Man's first sin

            397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command. This is what man's first sin consisted of.278 All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

            398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully "divinized" by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to "be like God", but "without God, before God, and not in accordance with God".

            http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p7.htm

          • Kevin Aldrich

            These CCC points do not say or imply that Adam was standing next to Eve. "Man" also has a generic meaning. It means human beings. In this case it can refer both to Eve and Adam separately. In Catholic theology, everything that happened in Genesis 3 is incapsulated in Adam.

          • William Davis

            In my household, my wife and I share responsibility, but when it comes down to it, I have the final say. I rarely abused this, but it's there. If man has the authority, to be fair, he must also have the responsibility. A good leader always takes responsibility for outcomes, even if a subordinate suggests them. That is just how I look at it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Agreed.

          • William Davis

            I won't lie and say I've never blamed my wife for something she talked me into, lol. In the end, however, that is the selfish part of me wanting to rationalize my own failure to take a stand where needed. There have been a few times where I've rejected what she wanted to do but let her do while washing my hands of it like Pilot, but that's never a decision with the gravity of "first sin" ;)

          • William Davis

            If you think about it, Paul clearly was familiar with Genesis 3, I don't find original sin in the text (the curses were specific) but I find it strange that he never mentioned who was the blame until this letter where he contradicts himself and Genesis in one passage. It really isn't like Paul to make these kinds of mistakes.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Maybe it is your take on these passages that is the problem.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Perhaps Catholics might conjecture that if God is like gourmet food or the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, it will take a long sojourn in purgatory for those who are accustomed to steak and potatoes or rap music to develop a taste for Him.

      Or, after a lifetime of rejecting God and objective goodness, and consequently becoming hardened in many vices, and then coming face to face with God, reject him definitively--that would be the condition of hell.

      • David Nickol

        The Catechism says

        1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

        If something (eternal separation from God) is truly chosen, then it seems to me it cannot be viewed by the one who chooses it as a punishment. If a person truly chooses to reject God in this life and the next, then I think we must imagine that person as—in some sense, at least—happy on earth and happy in hell.

        But it seems clear that, over and above "eternal separation from God," the Catholic Church claims there is punishment in hell. "Eternal fire" may be figurative language, but certainly it must represent something dreadful. So if hell involves some form of punishment other than or in addition to eternal separation from God, I don't see how it makes sense to say hell is chosen by people who go there.

        Surely an all-just God would not let a human being choose eternal punishment without the human making a fully informed choice. One might argue that people in prison (assuming they were justly convicted and sentenced) are there as a result of their own choices. But they are not there as a result of a fully informed choice, unless they knew for a fact when the committed their crimes that they would be sent to prison, for how long, and exactly what the experience of prison would be like.

        In order for hell to be "fair," it seems to me a person who chooses it cannot regret the choice. He or she cannot say, "If only I'd known . . . ." because if there was anything at all he or she did not know when making the choice of hell, then the choice was not fully informed.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think what you are saying is reasonable.

          I hope I'm not being a heretic here, but I can imagine that at the particular judgment, two judgements are being made. Christ judges the person and the person "judges" God. The person who self-condemns to hell says to God: "I don't want you or anything you are offering."

          Second, as to the punishment in hell it seems to me that the choice of hell is finally a choice that is the opposite of communion, meaning to the extent that there are relationships in hell, there is no friendship. On top of that are no consolations like we get on earth. No pleasures of the senses, no pleasure in the imagination or memory, no enjoyment of power over other persons, no pleasure in comparing yourself with others.

          If that is fire, it is a cold fire.

          • Loreen Lee

            Quote: no enjoyment of power over other persons, no pleasure in comparing yourself with others.

            These I would associate with hell rather than the pleasures even of earth.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            They are pleasures many enjoy on earth but they are, as you say, hellish pleasures, temporary, unsatisfying, diminishing oneself, bitter. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

  • Krakerjak

    God is indescribable and incomparable to or with anything that we know or have experienced. That could have been said in one or two sentences.
    "You say it best, when you say nothing at all"?

  • Krakerjak

    Today I came across a link to Mr. Vogt's readmore video on EN.....and was curious...so I viewed the video, and found the introductory part of the thing to give a lot of good advice and tips in regard to more effective reading habits, and though I am not endorsing the whole course that he is advertising, I do endorse the initial introduction on more effective reading and retaining and absorbing what you read.

    http://readmorebooksnow.com/

    Though not a theist myself...What I do not agree with is the rude comments regards Mr. Vogt, including name calling such as referring to Mr. Vogt as a "mercenary little wretch".,/b> The reason I bring attention to this is because of the blatant disrespect and contempt that is generally reflected for theists on the OutshineTheSun site.

    Rude comments regards Mr. Vogt, including name calling such as referring to Mr. Vogt as a "mercenary little wretch".
    http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.ca/2014/10/milestones.html#comment-1873129006

    Over at EN, they seem to pride themselves on being so objective and fair minded and without the smallest bone of contempt for theists among them. Why do I laugh? I laugh lest I weep. Andrew...the Overlord of EN ignores most or the contemptuous remarks toward theists to go scott free, as he is generally wont to do.

  • Krakerjak

    1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and
    its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a
    state of mortal sin descend into hell,

    Why is it that so many theists seem positively gleeful when the church officially endorses the doctrine of hell and that people who live out of wedlock or who masturbate or who are drunkards ,dopers or promiscuous are going there when they die if they don't repent and confess their sins before they die.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I don't know a single Catholic who has ever expressed glee over the thought of someone going to hell.

      I'll even go out on a limb and say that sins related to temperance are the easiest to repent of because they promise great rewards but always and obvious betray one. Only Catholics need go to confession and must only if it is humanly possible.

      • Papalinton

        Reputedly from Pope Gregory 1:

        "The bliss of the elect in heaven would not be perfect unless they were able to look across the abyss and enjoy the angonies of their brethren in eternal fire."

        • Kevin Aldrich

          "Reputedly" is the operative word.

          • Papalinton

            Apparently Jesus was said to have been dead for three days, only to have reputedly revivified to full physical health and reputedly to have levitated into the sky where he is now reputedly living in blissful and unabashed comfort.

            Yes, I take your point about the operative word, "reputedly".

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The quote is "allegedly" by Gregory because it apparently can only be traced back to Nietzsche or Lea, about 1200 years after Gregory lived.

            I agree the word "allegedly" can be applied to the Resurrection but that is an event reported in writing maybe 30 years after it allegedly happened by Paul and then later by others.

            Can you provide evidence that Gregory said what you claim he said?

          • Papalinton

            ... "allegedly" is the operative word. And Paul never met the man.

          • Papalinton

            In fact, Paul never mentions the Lord's Prayer, the Transfiguration, the Sermon on the Mount, Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, the 3 Wise Men, Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents, Galilee, Nazareth, Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot, Gethsemane, Calvary, the Temptation by Satan and a host of other christian keystone incidences. Paul never refers to Jesus as the 'Son of Man', one of Jesus's favourite ways of describing himself. 1 Timothy 6:13 mentions Pilate, but 1 Timothy is not by Paul.

            So if these aspects were so central to the oral tradition, all of them touted in the gospels, then how is it Paul makes no mention, not one, of these fundamental details so central to the Christian narrative?

            During Jesus's time, this oral tradition apparently builds up, miracle by miracle, incident by incident, story by story, added into the 'oral tradition' collection. Jesus dies. This 'oral tradition' continues to build. Twenty years later Paul is on the scene, persecuting Christians remorselessly, and in the midst of a massive epileptic fit with associated religious episode [a very common occurrence that we now scientifically/medically know can present as a feature of epilepsy], then becomes a christian as a result of this epileptic episode. In all his writings he makes not one mention of any of these core and pivotal features of Jesus life. Not one. A complete void. No mention whatsoever of the central themes of the oral tradition. A couple of decades later the 'oral tradition' comes pouring out, in spades. The four gospels spill out a profusion of stories, sayings, etc that are claimed to be founded on the 'oral tradition'. The great irony here is that, like Paul, none of the gospel writers ever met Jesus either. Indeed we don't even know who wrote the Gospels. There has been much speculative pontification by apologists but the overwhelming majority of gospel scholars and intellectuals acknowledge that not one of the Gospels were written by those whose names are allotted to them. And of course we also know that half of the purported letters in the NT attributed to Paul, are not Paul's.

            I put it that any right-thinking, half-sensible skeptical person would consider the Christian narrative as simply too much a stretch beyond all reason, logic and common sense to be adjudged factually historical. And that is what we are pretty much experiencing as a society/community as more and more people turn away from theology as an explanatory paradigm about us, humanity, the environment, the world, the universe. It simply does not add up to a cogent, credible and authoritative explicative model, based as it is on ineffability, unexplainable mystery, magic, prophecy, supernatural intentionality and cosmic agency.

  • Krakerjak

    1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and
    its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a
    state of mortal sin descend into hell,

    Why is it that so many theists seem positively gleeful or celebratory , when the church officially endorses the doctrine of hell and that people who live out of wedlock or who masturbate or who are drunkards ,dopers or promiscuous are going there when they die if they don't repent and confess their sins before they die.

  • Krakerjak

    Just a bit of humor for the day. Not intended to offend anyone.

  • Krakerjak

    I posted this earlier in the day to inject a bit of humor, and no way was I intending to offend anyone....I thought it was fairly innocuous and humorous...but someone had it deleted. Perhaps it was deleted unintentionally. Je suis Charlie.

  • Krakerjak

    OK......nothing to see here.....Censors and thought police seem to be out in full force.

  • Krakerjak

    "You say it best, when you say nothing at all"

  • Michael Murray
  • Jon

    Read your book on the Trinity and couldn't put it down! It was outstanding!