The Moribund Orthosphere

Bruce Charlton recently noticed that things have been quiet around here lately, and wondered whether it might not be due to an insuperable incoherence in the notion of the “mere Christianity” to which this site has generally been committed as a de minimis condition of true – that is to say, godly – civilization.

It isn’t. Not for me, anyway. There’s a much simpler explanation. For me as for bonald, there has lately been much to write about and almost no time to write. I’ve had little alternative this summer so far but to focus all my energies on my business and my family (for reasons that are all both urgent and happy). There have concomitantly been some interesting developments in my spiritual life, related to the beginnings of my immersion in Roman Catholic spirituality, that have disinclined me to write for the last couple of months – not just here at the Orthosphere, but in my correspondence, and even in my private journal. These developments – not so much a correction as an elaboration, amplification and implementation of the Christian spirituality I had learned as an Anglican – strike me as salutary, but I don’t quite understand them yet. Indeed, with the ground shifting somewhat under my feet, all my understandings, in every department (such as they are), are likewise shifting. This gentle seismic motion is generating a torrent of grist for my intellectual mill – too much, so far, for me to get much of a handle on any of it. So it seems somewhat too early to write about it. But the shift is pervasive, and that means it has been tricky to approach writing about anything at all.

Nevertheless, I feel that I am now ready to begin again. Which will be a relief, because I have about 80 posts waiting to be set down.

The Orthosphere is in no sense coordinated. We don’t vet each other’s posts, and there is no plan about who will post what when. We just write what we feel like writing. I doubt therefore that the late quiet around here is due to any cause other than the happenstance that from time to time opens a moment of uncanny silence even in a room full of people happily chatting away with each other. Such silences are meaningless in themselves. But I find them strangely refreshing, as reminding everyone involved that all our discourse supervenes upon a wider world of far more powerful and urgent currents, with altogether other, bigger, wilder concerns, that nevertheless graciously stoops to admit and support our little engagements with each other.

I suppose that means that such “happenstantial” silences are not in fact altogether meaningless, even vis-à-vis the details of the conversations they punctuate. Silence, after all, is not noise.

In any event, they pass too quickly away, and the subsequent renewal of conversation seems then even more vivacious than before.

So I will not be surprised if things get a bit busier around here in the coming weeks. Or if they don’t. Conversation here at the Orthosphere is like weather. Sometimes there is a lot of it, and sometimes there isn’t.

None of this, of course, is to say that Bruce is wrong in his skepticism about the viability of mere Christianity. I’m of several minds about that myself.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

From time to time, a stubborn and longstanding perplexity resolves suddenly into an intelligible pattern. An opacity clarifies, a lacuna is illumined, and one sees for the first time how to begin thinking about it. The ordered relations of a great mass of ideas are revealed as a new node in their net is neatly knit together, and unsuspected connections to other domains of inquiry suggest themselves. Thoughts that had been stymied by confusion pour forth in a generous, refreshing cascade. Things fall into place.

This recently happened to me respecting the Holy Spirit. I had never known quite how to think about him, had never understood quite what he does within the Trinity. He doesn’t get much attention, compared to the other two Persons. When he does, he is usually spoken of as the Love that flows between the Father and the Son, or as the Life of the Trinity. But these characterizations, while true enough, don’t get at the nub of it. The Holy Spirit is a person, and a person is not just his love or his life, but rather their subject.

What is it that the Spirit experiences, then, that is different from what the Son and Father experience of each other? What does he add to what they are, and know, and do? None of the explanations I had read quite hung together; there seemed to be little to hang them on. I had nothing to work with, nothing I felt I could lay hands on, until the other day, when at last pneumatology began to open to me.

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When a complex orderly phenomenon such as consciousness arises in matter, it is these days often ascribed to a mysterious emergence of properties implicit in those of its material substrates. But really it goes the other way. Consciousness – ordered form in general – does not emerge from the material substrate of our world. It rather immerges thereto, from elsewhere. Novelty of all sorts is added to history from without.

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Ten Things Atheists Suggest Theists Should Bear in Mind

Our doughty and affable atheist commenter Taggard has patiently endured and amiably responded to a lot of attention from Orthospherean theists over the last few days, in long, intense, and – to me, anyway – interesting conversations in the comments of two recent posts. I always learn a lot from participating in such discussions, and these were no exceptions. Taggard provided us with two interesting links, one to a graphic that plots the differences between gnostic atheists and theists on the one hand – who believe they know enough to positively assert the nonexistence or existence of God, respectively – and their agnostic interlocutors, who believe they do not know enough to positively assert anything about the existence of God.

The other was to a list of ten things atheists think theists should bear in mind when they are conversing. This post is a response to that list, which is reproduced below in full. If you plan on reading what follows, it will help first to peruse the graphic Taggard provided:

Agnostic v Gnostic v Atheist v Theist

Makes sense, no? I had never seen it before.

Here then is the list that Taggard linked, with my responses:

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Everlasting Life from the Body of Death

Commenting on my post about the Queen of Heaven, Ilíon asked a searching question:

Was the Immaculate Conception indeed unnecessary? All things are possible with God, of course; yet, “Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4). Making the clean out of the unclean is one of those logical impossibilities, such as making a four-sided triangle, that even God cannot perform.

So, it’s logically impossible for God to bring forth the sinless Jesus from the sinful Mary, but it’s not logically impossible for God to bring forth the sinless Mary from the sinful Anne?

I responded:

An excellent question. It raises a far deeper, more difficult and important question: if Job is right that it is logically impossible to bring impurity out of impurity, how can we be saved, even by God?

I’ll deal with the second question first.

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From the perspective of naturalism into which most moderns – including Christians – have been from birth inculcated, the Resurrection can make no sense. It’s not just that the naturalist thinks the notion is false, he cannot but think it incoherent with the principles of reality as they are plainly manifest to him, as plainly as the nose on his face. From his perspective, the Resurrection, and for that matter the whole religious impulse and rigmarole, arise from a grotesque misprision that is “not even wrong.” The whole thing looks to him like a willfully insane mistake.

Once begin however to take seriously the fact that Nature Cannot Explain Itself, and the Resurrection becomes just as plausible as chickens. Because Nature is insufficient to itself, some Supernature or other is required, upon whose order the regularities of Nature supervene. That Supernatural Order – or Logos, as it has long been called in Greek – is not governed by the order of this world, but vice versa.

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Good Friday

What can it mean to say that God the Son of God died this afternoon?

Non-being is strictly incoherent. We can indicate it, but only as we might indicate a square triangle. When we refer to non-being, there’s nothing actually there to which we might be referring. There is nothing we can say about non-being, except that there is absolutely nothing we can say about it; for there is nothing to it, about which we could say anything. It’s not quite correct to say that it has no properties or characteristics, because it isn’t an item in the first place. It has no ontic hooks upon which properties or characteristics might be hung.

So it isn’t conceivable. It cannot be brought to mind. And this is not a limitation only of our finite creaturely intellects, but of logic: for there is nothing in non-being that any conceivable intellect could bring to mind. Not even God can imagine what non-being is like. Certainly, then, non-being is not possible.

Since non-being is impossible, it is necessary that something exist. Thus in the state of affairs prior to the existence of any and all contingent things, there necessarily exists a necessary being. [When I began to write this post, I didn’t set out intending to stumble upon an argument for the existence of God; but one thing I have learned about metaphysical reasoning is that it almost always ends up entailing the existence of God].

And once a being exists, it cannot somehow un-exist. It can stop becoming, stop recurring, so that it no longer perdures. But it cannot go on from being to achieve non-being. Facts are everlasting, and immutable. And as we have just seen, you can’t get a state of affairs in which there is no God. So God is an immutable fact.

God can’t die, properly speaking. What, then, again, can it mean to say that God the Son of God died on Calvary?

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Maundy Thursday

God could have eliminated the stain of Original Sin from our world altogether. He could speak a single Word of power and wipe it out. Why didn’t he? Why instead did he become a man and suffer death? Why did he then put us through the perils of this life?

It’s simple: the only way he could have wiped out sin is to unmake the world as we now find it.

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