Fundamentalists and Creationists may cringe at this idea, but what we have in Christian thinking is a wonderful example of Intellectual Darwinism -- the competition for survival among various ideas.
When Rick Warren tells us about Heaven and the Afterlife, he justifies his assertions by citing The Bible. He does not cite things happening in the real world. This is because nothing in the real world is affected by Heaven or the Afterlife, so the Bible is the only source for Heaven and Afterlife information.
This means that Warren and other Protestant preachers, can say anything they like about Heaven and the Afterlife, as long as they can find a passage in The Bible to support it. In Rick Warren's case, he makes his range of possible sayings even wider by citing not one, but any one of fifteen different Bibles.
So... Warren has a lot of choice in what to say. Out of those many choices, which ones does Warren choose to say?
Warren is popular, which means a lot of people listen to him. This means that what he chooses to say is what a lot of people, his congregation, want to hear. And, they want to hear it in an "earthly sincere" way... they are willing to pay money to hear it.
Warren competes with a lot of other Protestant preachers. All of those preachers have in common that they pick and choose ideas and back them with Bible citings. Some are more popular, some are less popular, some grow in popularity, some shrink. All this sounds like a selection process, and it's a process that repeats over and over... which makes it sound like a very Darwinian selection process.
Those ideas which people "sincerely like to hear" (that they are willing to pay to hear) will become more popular for preachers to say.
(Side note: What is popular is location sensitive, too. This was brought out when the Jeremiah Wright controversy erupted during the 2008 election campaign between Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. Jeremiah Wright normally preached to a black urban audience in Southeast Chicago. There his words were well adapted to the local environment. When the national media started listening, they where shocked! They were shocked because they were taking his words out of their Southeast Chicago urban context.)
Interestingly, the ideas embraced by the Catholic Church have come about through a different selection process -- the enduring organization selection process.
The Catholic Church that we experience today is the organization that has survived two thousand years of organizational selection choices.
By that I mean, whenever there was a controversy in thinking that split the church organization, there was a side that survived as the Catholic Church, and a side that did not. For instance, The Reformation Movement in the 1500's split the church into the Catholic church and the early Protestant churches. At the time of the split there were ideas that were embraced by those who became Protestants, and there were ideas that were embraced by those that remained Catholics. Those ideas that were embraced by the Catholic hierarchy are now Catholic ideas.
At each controversy, the set of ideas espoused by what is now the Catholic Church became the "right" ideas for the Catholic church. They became the right ideas simply because the part of the organization that survives as the Catholic Church today embraced those ideas. The ideas' logical, emotional or citative rightness or wrongness is not important. All that mattered to idea survival was: would that idea become one of the ideas of the part of the organization that endured?
For the ideas that are Catholic, organization survival is the key to idea survival. For those ideas that are Protestant, popularity among the congregation is the key to survival. The two selection processes are different, but both are Darwinian.
Note again that all Christian ideas about Heaven and Afterlife map only to human thinking, they don't map at all to the physical reality of this universe because Heaven and Afterlife have no noticeable effect on the physical universe.
Chapter 16: What Matters Most
"Life is all about love."
"Relationships take time and effort, and the best way to spell love is T-I-M-E."
Here we have an inconsistency. Warren tells us we are Christ-like, then in this chapter exhorts us to spend time on our relations. But... how much time has Christ spent with us humans? Over the lifetime of Earth, he was here with us for only 33 years. Hmmm... in proportion, that's less time than a father handing his child a dollar and saying, "Go watch a movie, kid."
One could argue that Christ is always with us as a holy spirit. If that's so, then the parent is always with his child... in spirit.
So, on this I call inconsistency.
Also, keep in mind that Christ is a Class Two Immortal. That means that his suffering on earth was short. Living thirty three years of mortal existence was probably a lot more suffering than a single day of torture and humiliation at its end. If anything, that last day was a relief because it meant the end of mortal existence was finally at hand!
And, again, for a class two immortal (one that can't die) mortal existence is too short to be more than a summer camp-like experience. And, it entails no risk, it's even less risky than a roller coaster ride. There is just not that much to get excited about.
Christianity makes a big deal, a huge deal!, about Christ's suffering for us, but in the eyes of a class two immortal, what he experienced as recounted by the Bible was, in Internet parlance... meh.
I call this another inconsistency.
Chapters 17-18: A Place to Belong and Experiencing Life Together
These chapters are about tweaking the clannish thinking pattern. Thinking in small groups is different than thinking in large groups for two reasons:
First, the physics of communication says that the number of messages passed in full-mesh communications -- everyone talking to everyone -- goes up very fast as size increases. The rate is 0 (talking only to oneself), 1 (talking to one partner), 3, 6, 10, 15(five partners)... very fast. So, if everyone is going to have a chance to talk... communicate... the group must stay small. When a group gets too large for full-mesh communications, it migrates to hierarchy communications -- the kind where you have a leader and followers.
Second, small groups tweak the clannish thinking instinct in humans. Being an instinct means that a particular way of thinking is an easy way to think. Clannish thinking taken to a modern extreme produces cult thinking, and what looks to an outsider like brainwashing. But this thinking style was well adapted to living in a Stone Age village, so it used to be a very common and handy way of thinking.
One of the key features of clannish thinking is erecting a large barrier between what happens inside the group and what happens outside the group. Warren is not calling for this, but it is an instinctual outcome of forming a tight clan. He doesn't have to call for it, it will happen on its own.
Chapter 19: Cultivating Community
"Community requires commitment."
It is interesting that this is the same advice that is said about the marriages of middle-age people: it takes time and commitment. As I pointed out earlier, this is meaningless advice to young people who are still in romantic love. Is this also meaningless advice to college-age people who are making their communities in a post-high school world?
Is community-making something that comes naturally to young people, but an ability we slowly lose with age? I haven't seen a lot written directly about this. And this is my first time thinking about this particular phenomenon. But... making community may be one of those things that comes easily to young humans, and gets harder with age. As we age, we fear strangers more, we spontaneously trust others less, and we have less curiosity about new things happening around us. All this may lead to having to "work" at maintaining community relations.
Chapter 20: Restoring Broken Fellowship
"Relationships are always worth restoring."
This chapter is about good old fashioned human relations. There is very little divine in it. And for this reason it is also more Warrenish and more contemporary than previous chapters.
Chapter 21: Protecting your Church
"It is your job to protect the unity of your church."
This is very much about organizational Darwinism. If the organization of the church does not survive, then the church, as Warren recognizes it, is lost. I find it interesting that once you say, "Yes.", once you become a member of a church, organizational survival becomes a top priority. This is the topic of a lot of New Testament writing.
Closely related to this, and number one on the survival list, is conflict resolution between church members. It is interesting that Warren focuses on small group dynamics. He envisions small, tight groupings with full-mesh communications as being the heart of the church organization. There is not a lot of discussion of hierarchical organization or communications.
Chapter 22: Created to become like Christ
"You were created to become like Christ."
This is more nonsense. Christ is a Class Two Immortal. He lives in four dimensions of space and two dimensions of time, minimum. We are mortals. We live in three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. (string theory dimensions don't count in this discussion). How are we supposed to know anything about the thinking of such an alien being? We are asking for the equivalent of a Loony Toons animation character understanding the world and motivations of the artist drawing it.
...Not a chance!
If Bugs Bunny worships his creator, is his creator impressed? Only if he's crazy. Hmm... well... now that I've thought of it... Hmm....
Further problem, giving a being a mortal experience does not prepare him or her for being a Class Two Immortal. If anything, it's a distraction, because it gives him or her the really wacky priorities I discussed earlier. This argument that a mortal existence is preparing us for an immortal one makes me think of going to summer camp as a young boy. At summer camp I was taught camping, horseback riding, archery... which were skills I would never use in my normal non-summer camp life! It was simply a broadening experience. Is our life on Earth simply a broadening experience for our souls?
The concept of being created in God's image is warm and fuzzy, but it is a conceptual minefield. The heart of the minefield is: the more we are created in God's image, the more he thinks like we do. From my previous examples: If we are created in God's image, does God recognize the concept of efficiency, as we humans do? If he does, why is the universe so big and so old? Why isn't it more efficient? If he doesn't recognize efficiency as we humans do... efficiency is an alien concept to him? How much in his image are we made?
This is just one example of the conceptual minefield of declaring that humans are made in God's image.
What this chapter comes down to is... generations of wishful thinking. Christians have gone through a Darwinian process of idea selection, and Christianity as we know it today is the product of two thousand years of idea selection happening in a complete vacuum of any real experience to verify the ideas selected. The Christian ideas we have today are those that have felt warm and fuzzy to generations of people who want to be Christians. That is their one and only strength.
This business of the difference in dimensionality between a creator and his creations is not a "Ho-hum... so what? God still loves me." issue. It's big. It makes a difference. It means that what God is thinking when he says something is quite different than what humans are thinking when he says something.
To see how big a difference this makes, lets look at an Earthly analogy of a creator with different dimensions than his creation. Lets look at... Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse cartoons (animations).
Walt Disney was a 3D, 1T being who created a 2D, 1T universe which contains a being called Mickey Mouse.
First off, did Walt Disney love and care for Mickey Mouse? He most certainly did!
Second, did Walt Disney care if Mickey Mouse went to church and praised Walt Disney as his creator? Not in the least. If he did care, he would have drawn cartoons with Mickey Mouse doing that.
Notice that Walt Disney could easily have done this, but he would have considered it meaningless.
Notice also that this level of control means that Mickey Mouse has no free will. Mickey Mouse is not going to surprise Walt Disney that way.
Mickey may surprise Walt Disney in how Walt feels about the way a cartoon turns out, but he's not going to surprise him with any spontaneous action in the cartoon.
Third, how does Walt Disney communicate with Mickey Mouse? Well... he draws a cartoon, that's how he communicates. If he discourses with Mickey, he does it by drawing himself in a cartoon talking with Mickey.
Is Walt really in the cartoon? No.
Are Mickey's actions affected by what the cartoon Walt says? No, only the real world 3D Walt affects Mickey's actions.
Conversely, how does Mickey communicate with Walt? Well... Walt thinks about him, and Walt draws a cartoon where Mickey is talking. Mickey never says anything to Walt that Walt doesn't draw him saying.
Fourth, if Walt tells Mickey, "I'm going to bring you into my 3D world." what does he mean? Does he mean that the soul of the cartoon is going to move out of the cartoon? No, he means that he's going to have an actor put on a Mickey Mouse costume and do a 3D caricature of the 2D cartoon character. This action is very real to Walt, but utterly meaningless to the cartoon Mickey.
Did cartoon Mickey's 2D existence prepare him for being a 3D costume? Walt Disney would say, "Oh yes! If I hadn't drawn the cartoon, and learned from that, I wouldn't have known how to create the costume, and the actor wouldn't have known how to act while wearing it."
The point being, in the Creator's eyes there is a distinct linkage, but the creation does not experience a thing!! Mickey Mouse cartoons are not changed one wit by the creation of a 3D Mickey costume -- the soul of Mickey does not move from one to the other.
It is likely that Man's relation God is similar to this Walt Disney - Mickey Mouse relation. That means that what God plans for man, and what man thinks God is planning for man bear almost no relation to each other. It means that preparing to go to an afterlife may have quite a different meaning for the creator than it does for the creation.
It means that the soul that is part of our 3D body may not have any noticeable connection to the 4D "perfected" body that the Creator makes from the inspiration our human mortal experience has given him.
Notice that this God I'm describing is a loving and caring God. He loves and cares about humans just as Walt Disney loved and cared about Mickey Mouse. If our creating God does his loving and caring in his 4D, 2T universe, we 3D, 1T creations of his will likely not feel a thing of it. If God creates 4D, 2T images of us, we 3D, 1T physical forms will have no knowledge of it, neither will our 3D, 1T souls.
I offer this as an alternate description to the Warren/Christian description of a loving, caring creator God. Even if God cares, he may care the way Walt Disney cared about Mickey Mouse: meaning, his care was nothing Mickey Mouse could actively intervene in, the care was completely outside of Mickey's control.
This alternate concept is also, by the way, a good example of the dangerous thinking that comes from being a self-aware thinker, and it is the kind of thinking that religion is trying to protect us humans from. Thinking that we can influence how God thinks about us is much more comforting than thinking that our actions have absolutely no effect on our Creator's thinking about us.
Chapter 23: How We Grow
"God wants you to grow up."
This is pure anthropromorphising... giving God human attributes. Warren would like us to grow up, so he's saying God would like us to grow up. Warren is also telling his definition of growing up, his definition is becoming more Christ-like, which he then goes on to vaguely define using Bible snippets.
And, once again, since Warren connects what he asks for to The Bible, not to the real world we experience, there is the hazard of delusion and fanaticism in his method. This hazard is ignored by all Christians: they just don't see it.
This blindness is something I find curious: many Christians I talk with feel that being Christ-like is actually a bulwark against the "jackboot totalitarianism of atheism as it evolved in Communism and Fascism." But I see nothing in Warren's exhortations to support that claim. I also see many violations of that claim when I look at the history and see many examples of Christian intolerance. So... I find it curious. The claim is definitely in my "Mysteries of Life" file.
Chapter 24: Transformed by Truth
"The truth transforms us."
The polite adult in me says, "This chapter is full of True Believer jargon, and therefore hard to understand."
The truth-telling child in me says, "Warren is babbling, just spouting words, even more than he usually does."
An example: "The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make us like the Son of God." Ohhh... oh... it sounds so nice! But what does it mean?
Chapter 25: Transformed by Trouble
"God has a purpose behind every problem."
Once again, Warren chooses not to face the contraction of a saying we have a totally controlling Creator, and saying we have enough free will that God cares about what choices we make. He says we have a Walt Disney - Mickey Mouse relation, then says that the Walt Disney part (God) cares about the choices that the Mickey Mouse part (humans) makes... what? Walt Disney draws Mickey Mouse. What choices does Mickey have?
If what Warren says is true, if God cares about what we do, if this is also a God who controls our every action and thought...
This is a Creator we are supposed to be made in the image of?
This is a Creator we are supposed to understand?
I don't see how this can be.
Second example of contradiction:
Warren says, speaking of Romans 8:28-29, "This is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood passages in the Bible."
Why would God write a Bible that can be misunderstood? Did he do it to give Rick Warren and thousands of other pastors gainful employment? Where's the divine inspiration in writing something that can be misquoted and misunderstood? Where's the "the Bible is always literal and right." in that statement?
Hmm.... And Warren and other Christians don't see this contradiction. I find this oversight to be one of the most consistently strange parts about believing in Christianity.
Chapter 26: Growing through Temptation
"Every temptation is an opportunity to do good."
This is Warren's first discussion about Satan.
Satan and temptation are curious things to think about. Certainly humans have the capacity to do wrong... but what is wrong?
The reason I ask this is that the older I get, the more uncomfortable I get with the concept of an evil person. History is filled with stories of people doing evil things. But history is not filled with people who wake up in the morning... stretch a bit... then say, "What a fine day to do evil!" Quite to the contrary, history's most famous evil-doers all felt they were doing good.
Just a couple of examples: Hitler preached family values and felt his purpose in life was to lead Germany out of self-defeating chaos and into a well-deserved greatness. Stalin campaigned that he was moving Russia out of backward feudalism and saving it from the horrors of chaos, anarchy, fascism and captialism.
It has been argued that Hitler and Stalin were both hypocrites who lied to their people, but that's not a necessary explanation. Evil, lying and hypocracy are not necessary to explain their actions, and if you declare those as the basic motivators of these men, it doesn't explain well why they developed such enthusiastic followers.
What works better as a motivation explanation for evil people is... delusion -- these people wake up in the morning thinking they are doing right, and great, but their thinking is at odds with the harsh reality of the world around them. They are delusional, not intentionally evil.
How does temptation fit into this?
I see temptation as being more about distraction and defection. One form of temptation is life offering attractive alternate choices that are a distraction from a person's higher goals -- should I pursue a career or a family? The second form of tempation is life offering opportunities to defect against family and community -- should I steal to better my own life or the lives of those I care for?
The role of Satan in all this is very curious, but I'll talk more about that when Warren brings him up again.
Well... I thought before I read more. So, here's more about Satan.
What is the relation between Satan and God?
Here are some possibilities, using my Walt Disney -- Mickey Mouse metaphore.
1) Satan could be a co-creator. He could draw some of the animation. Or, he could be like an animation producer, while I'm an animation director, and he tells me, "You need to put some evil in this story, or I won't give you anymore money to make this stuff." If this is the cause of Satan, it means I'm the creator, but I'm not totally in charge of my creation.
2) Satan could be an imp. He comes in at night, after I finish my work, and changes it. This is a Satan that sneaks his work in behind my back. Once again, I'm not totally in charge of my creation, but in this case, unlike case one, I'm not aware of that.
3) He could be a sub-plot I create. He is my creation, just like Mickey is, and I introduce him to make Mickey's story more interesting. In this case, I'm still totally in charge.
4) He could be someone that Mickey made up. He did it as a way to explain to Minnie why he was doing bad things when she catches him doing them. This explaination is the same as the sub-plot explanation above, unless Mickey has some kind of free will.
These are some possibilities for Satan.
Rick Warren's Satan seems to be most like Case 3: he's a creation of God who's there to make human lives more interesting, to help humans build their character.
Chapter 27: Defeating Temptation
"There is always a way out."
I think Warren's advice to deal with temptation by walking away from it and finding something else to do, is good advice. The other piece of good advice for dealing with temptation is to have a plan. If a person has a plan, a plan they have "bought into", then following the plan will usually offer them an alternative to succumbing to temptation.
Roger thinking: Making a plan, and buying into it, take time and practice. It also takes a mature style of thinking. One of the earmarks of youth culture, particularly "loser youth culture", is lack of a good plan. Part of growing up is growing into a good plan.
Further Roger thinking: A few months ago I read that the 80's grunge rock band Nirvana sells the most songs of any now-defunct group. "How odd!" thinks I, "They outsell Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra? Something like those two are what I would have guessed to be a top seller."
So, taking advantage of the Internet's burgeoning video selection, I found a Nirvana music video, "Smells like Teen Spirit", and watched it. Wow!... So this is where grunge rock came from... totally incomprehensible lyrics (I checked those on-line, too, even written out they are incomprehensible), whiney not-musical vocals, really ugly video on many levels... all-and-all, really ugly and annoying!
When I watched Weird Al Yankovic's take-off, "Smells like Nirvana", it confirmed I was not alone in how I interpreted what I was seeing. (this video, by the way, is hilarious!)
If you want to see them, here are some pointers and keywords.
Watch this one first:
Keyword on Google video/YouTube: nirvana - smells like teen spirit
Then this one, and laugh:
Keyword on Google video/YouTube: Weird Al Yankovic- Smells Like Nirvana
And yet, this is the most popular? As in... American people spend more money getting this kind of out-date-music than any other? How strange!
Let me say again, it's the magnatude that is worrysome. The fact that there is grunge rock is fine: that's freedom of expression. The fact that some people like to listen to it is fine, that too is freedom of expression. But, when this is one America's most popular styles of music, it says to me that too many Americans are not thinking about what will make America even better, and that I find worrysome.
In the context of this discussion, I equate this grunge rock style of music to music without a plan. More than that, it rejects a plan. That's what makes it disturbing to hear it's that it's still so popular.
Plus... I really don't like listening to it!
Chapter 28: It Takes Time
"There are no shortcuts to maturity."
Here the Contradictions of Christianity crop up again. If God wants lives that are "ripe fruits", why do some people die early? Why do some people die in the womb? (miscarrage)
Warren says God could transform us instantly, but he chooses not to. Which leads back into the "How do you know this?" --> "The Bible says it is so." --> "It is a logical contradiction." --> "God works in mysterious ways" --> "If he's that mysterious, how can we say we are made in his image?" tangle of logic that makes the divinity of Christianity look quite hopeless to me.
When I see this tangle come up, I see a product of man being marketed as a product of God.
Chapter 29: Accepting your Assignment
"You were put on earth to make a contribution."
Here we get into that most product-specific of Christian pitches: that we are here on earth to serve the Christian God. We are a chosen people... of a chosen species, of a chosen planet, of a chosen star, of a chosen galaxy, of a chosen universe! Whew! Pretty chosen, all right!
Once again, we run into ambiguity.
Warren says, "You were created to serve God."
Does that "you" include non-believers, too? How about non-humans? How about people doing evil?
As a reader of Warren, and the Bible, I can't tell. <sigh>
Warren says, "The Bible says, 'He saved us and called us to be his own people, not because of what we have done, but because of his own purpose.'" Which he interprets to mean, "Anytime you use your God-given abilities to help others, you are fulfilling your calling."
Yeah... but... God only calls me to be a Christian? I'm only doing God's work when I'm helping others? Why did he create such diversity, and then toss most of what he created into irrelevance, and ask for just this one task. Once again, I say... what a waste! God is either stupid, insane, or we are not made in his image so we don't understand him whatsoever.
Warren says, "It cost Jesus his own life to purchase your salvation. The Bible reminds us, 'God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God.'"
Yeah... but Jesus didn't die. He lives! And while he was hanging on the cross... he knew he would! A day of crucifixion is not a great price for a Class Two immortal, it's the equivalent of the sting of popping a pimple for a human teenager.
This is not a great price. This is more poorly thought out Christian logic.
And what about the Jewish leaders who ordered Christ's crucifixion? Are they evil, or actors who are necessary to make a dramatic scene happen? Will they go to hell for being evil, or heaven for making Christ's death scene so dramatic and memorable?
These are the kinds of inconsistencies in the Christian storyline that bother me a lot.
Chapter 30: Shaped for Serving God
"You were shaped to serve God."
"God never wastes anything."
This chapter is the fuzziest Warren has written so far. I cringe at the logic holes.
For example, he has no sense of the contradiction between saying "You are God's handcrafted work of art." and a person having free will. The way Warren reads, free will happens only when a person chooses not to go into God's service. If a person dedicates himself or herself to God's service, they are doing just what God wants them to do, and they have just the right tools to do what God wants them to do.
A little later he writes, "God never wastes anything. He would not give you abilities, interests, talents, gifts, personality, and life experiences unless he intended to use them for his glory. By identifying and understanding those factors you can discover God's will for your life."
Ouch! A billion-light-years-across universe to support a single planet of humans is not a waste?
What about the "abilities... life experiences" that God gives to those who don't become Christians, or do become evil. Those aren't a waste?
And... what are you going to discover? What does discovery mean in this context? God rules your actions, and those of all around you, so you don't have choice. Without choice, what are you going to discover here on Earth? What are you taking with you when you leave?
In Warren's words, "You are the way you are because you were made for a specific ministry." This is predestination. If you are predestined, what is it your soul is going to discover?
In sum, Warren is spouting more feelgood thinking here, but a logical framework behind what he is writing in this chapter is nonexistent.
-- The End --