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Who is your PhD for?

It may sound like an odd question, even presumptuous to ask who my PhD is for. I’ve always justified my choice to do one on the grounds that I love research and I found a subject I wanted to explore. (Why do people act environmentally friendly – answer, we always do.) In other words it was all about me. But if that were true, then I know from my own experience that I probably would have got bored. I have only been able to sustain interest in the most mundane of activities by looking beyond myself.

My experience is supported by a number of philosophers and scientists. Hegel’s philosophy in a nutshell is that a person can have a full existence not only if it lives for itself but also lives for another. Freud says that while pleasure comes from the release of tension, ultimately ending in the final release and death, our instinct for life goes beyond the pleasure principle. According to neuroscience research, neurons survive when connections are made to other neurons.

The question is, who else is my PhD for?

The immediate and obvious answer is that my PhD is created for my supervisers and viva examiners. After all, at the end of the day, I don’t want to have nothing to show for the time and money (especially as its not my money). So even though it is my research, I don’t think I have ever rejected any of the guidance or recommendations provided by my superviser. And I do have one eye to what the examiners will read and how I might justify what I have written, to the extent that I have cited my intended examiners’ work.

But if that’s all my PhD is for, it would probably be pulped after viva instead of being available in the library. instead, it becomes another brick in the wall of knowledge, waiting for others to build on it. So my PhD is for other researchers.

But I don’t intend that my PhD collects dust in an academic library, hoping that someone finds it. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no-one around, does it make a sound? Similarly, as Hegel argued, does my research exist if there is no one to at least acknowledge or recognise it. One of my favourite metaphors for doing a PhD is pregnancy and childbirth, complete with labour pains; why would I not want to show off my baby? not just at conferences and in articles, but a book,this blog and other social media channels. My PhD started life as an environmental problem. Well, I do think it may or may not suggest particular policy actions. I hope its not presumptuous of me to think that my PhD is for society.

Finally, before I started, I prayed that whatever I produced from my research would not contradict the Bible. As far as I can see, God has answered my prayer. Indeed, my research has given me a greater understanding of many of the paradoxes in christianity. Furthermore, Hegel’s philosophy is obviously influenced by christianity and one cannot deal with him without dealing with the spirituality, which is heavily interwoven in it. So in the end my PhD is for God.

The Bible – God’s Thesis

There are many different ways to read the Bible. Some people choose to read it literally, which is problematic because not every part is meant to be a chronological narrative. Others read it christologically where every bit points to Jesus. Others will look for consistent patterns throughout or even as a love letter from God. I would like to posit it, in the greatest respect, as God’s Thesis.

Firstly, the Bible can be divided into sections equivalent to that of a thesis. The first 11 chapters of Genesis, from creation to the tower of Babel, is his introduction. It is difficult to argue that it is historical. It seems more mythical. It therefore succinctly states God’s overall argument: I created man, man disobeyed me, but I will save them even though no-one deserves because I love man. This is best captured in the story of Noah, who trusted God and did something which sounds ridiculous and unreasonable – build a boat miles away from water – because the boat  became the source of salvation through God’s power. (Ok, so God was a researcher-participant.) Noah’s drunkenness and Tower of Babel emphasises man’s ongoing capacity to sin, even after being saved.

From Abraham through to the letter of Jude, including the gospels, God presents his evidence and analysis for his overall argument. of course, there are many things which point to Jesus but also many references to first 11 chapters, including Jesus. The conclusion of God’s thesis is the book of Revelation. It summarises the evidence and reveals God’s message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

The Bible has also been put together like an academic thesis. God is the lead author with a large research team whom he has selected himself. Many of his team had other jobs. Not all the material written or researched has made the final cut, indeed the value of some of the writings, such as Hebrews and 2 Peter, was not seen until quite late in the day. One could say the real writing up didn’t really begin until about 300 AD and the various church councils. In a sense, his thesis has been complete for 1,500 years and since then God has focused on teaching and the conference circuit. Obviously, one cannot draw exact parallels between God and an academic, after all knowledge is created by him in the first place.

Finally, everyone calls it God’s Word or logos. In other words, the Bible describes his underlying reasoning, i.e. his argument or thesis. Of course, no post of mine would be complete without mentioning Hegel. The Bible is arguably a dialectical text; it deals with the paradox of God’s love and wrath, of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, and of God’s as divine and as human. It includes many things which seem ridiculous, not least the idea of God dying. So, God’s Word is not just a thesis but a synthesis of a thesis and antithesis. As a dialectical text, it also a conversation between God and his creation.

As a PhD student and Christian, I have sought to ensure that everything I read is within a biblical framework (or at least I hope so) but still true to the text. One could argue that research is all about understanding God (the author) through understanding the world (his creation). This ultimate purpose of research – among all the other human reasons – is reflected in the The Bible.

Yes, Yes, Oh God, Yes

Sex

Having an orgasm leads to an altered state of consciousness. This will probably not come as much as a surprise if you have had sex or masturbated to the point of ejaculation. But, just so you know, your suspicions have been confirmed by new scientific research, according to an article by Kayt Sukel in the New Scientist. What is interesting is what neuroscience tells us about the parts of the brain that are involved in sex and orgasms.

The neuroscientific research shows that it is the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain for “aspects of consciousness such as self-evaluation and considering something from another person’s perspective” that is active at the time of orgasm following self-stimulation masturbation. However, it also showed that a specific part of the prefrontal cortex, the left orbitofrontal cortex, appeared to switch off when orgasm followed partner-stimulated masturbation.

The pre-frontal cortex happens to be the part of the brain responsible for self-control, organisation of thoughts, creation of narrative and ultimately finding a reason or purpose for things. The researchers, Barry Komisaruk (Rutgers University, US) and Janniko Georgiadis (University of Groningen, The Netherlands) surmised that self-stimulation required greater mental effort to create a fantasy or image to take the place of a partner, whose presence would make it easier to let go. If someone else is stimulating us, there’s not that much we need to do. So a part of the prefrontal cortex turns off – the altered state of consciousness. This is perhaps why the ‘Yes, Yes, Oh God, Yes’ moment is more pronounced during sex. But I think that that expression is more than a figure of speech in the throes of passion.

But if the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that creates purpose and organisation, then atheists will say that God is simply notion of the prefrontal cortex. I don’t think this disproves the existence of God. On the contrary, if there is an external God and he does communicate with us directly, He is most likely to communicate with us through the prefrontal cortex. That is how he would relate to us.

I can’t speak for other faiths out of ignorance, but Christianity is meant to be about how God wants to have a relationship with us. In the Bible, this relationship is often described metaphorically as the marriage between a bride and bridegroom. Perhaps this isn’t as metaphorical as we might think. Perhaps the orgasm we get from sex is meant to be God’s way of giving us a temporary experience of what it’s like to be in an (eternal) relationship with Him in Heaven. He’s telling us, ‘If you like sex and orgasm, then you are going to love being with me’.

Obviously the above research is not conclusive but Komisaruk and Georgiadis suggested that there are many valid reasons why we don’t have orgasms during sex but ultimately it’s down to not letting go and giving up control to let someone else pleasure and satisfy us. In the same way, the only way that we can experience this erotic relationship with God is if we completely submit to Him and let Him pleasure and satisfy us. Perhaps in heaven, our left orbitofrontal cortex will be completely turned off and we will be in constant state of sexual orgasm. (Perhaps the experience of the Fall described in Genesis, when we are supposed to have turned our backs on God, is when the left orbitofrontal cortex became switched on. Maybe that’s why the whole of humanity became infected with ‘sin'; there was actually a physiological change in our thinking.) Orgasm following from masturbation, on the other hand, does point to this relationship but is only a shadow because we are still in control.

Apparently, it’s also possible for women and children to have orgasms while being raped or abused. Now, rape and sexual abuse is a horrible act so this understandably creates confusion. I’m not expert so this paragraph should be taken with a pinch of salt. But perhaps the victim, either consciously or subconsciously, gets to the point where they realise that the abuser is going to do it to them whether they resist or not. So they just wait for it be over, essentially giving up.

This blog post does raise an interesting issue about certain controversial narratives about Jesus, such as in The Last Temptation of Christ or the Da Vinci Code. Though this is not in the Bible, Mary Magdalene has historically been portrayed the physical lover of Christ. Christians have traditionally rejected this but in light of the above research I wonder whether, actually, the Mary Magdalene-as-lover narrative is just another way of talking about being in relationship with God. Mary gave herself, submitted herself, completely to Christ (God) and allowed him to satisfy her. (I am not suggesting that she actually did have sex with him. But, when one thinks of the Hegelian dialectic between contradictory ideas, perhaps that’s what we have here.) Theresa of Avila has described a perfect union with God as ‘devotion of ecstasy’.

Indeed, the whole Christian faith is based on a sexual act – the Holy Spirit of God coming into Jesus’ mother Mary. Mary entered that altered state of consciousness, she went to Heaven and back. In John’s gospel, the writer always describes himself the ‘disciple that Jesus loved’. Luke’s gospel and his Acts of the Apostles is written in the form of a letter from the writer to Theophilius, which is Greek for ‘lover of God’. There’s even a whole book in the Bible, The Song of Songs, which is erotic love song between newlyweds and is also taken to be an allegory for the divine relationship between us and God.

Right, I’m off to my room to pray…

 

 

St Paul’s: what happened to true religion?

In a nutshell, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Right Reverand Graeme Knowles, really does need to question his priorities.

The Dean claims that the Church stands “alongside those seeking equality and financial probity”. He says that “the debate about a more just society is at the heart of much of our work at St Paul’s and indeed we hope to contribute to the wider debate in the very near future through a Report from the St Paul’s Institution”.

And yet, he blames the need to close the Church on the ‘health and safety concerns’ arising from the camp of protestors. He says that it is “simply not possible to fulfil our day to day obligations to worshippers, visitors and pilgrims”.

Now, I don’t want to accuse a minister of a big church of forgetting what the Bible actually says. I am no expert either. But I am pretty sure that biblical worship is not something that’s confined to what goes on in church. No, worship takes place 24/7 in all areas of one’s life.

In fact, the biblical definition of true religion is standing up for and looking after the vulnerable in society.

Instead of interfering with worship, the #Occupy London Stock Exchange protestors are closer to what worship is all about. Maybe there are “health and safety issues” but what the Dean should have done is close St Paul’s to show solidarity with the protestors. Or, even better, opened up St Paul’s to the protestors as a very big tent.

 

 

 

What we must do. (via my purplehoneyjar)

I can’t agree with everything that Bertrand Russel says in this quote but why is it that atheist philosophers have much to say to Christians?

“We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world – its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is, and not be afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotism. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear p … Read More

via my purplehoneyjar

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