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Sally's Journal
March 29th, 2005
06:17 pm


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Physical to spiritual... This has lots of little bits, and I think what I'm trying to say is in the middle of them all somewhere. But I don't know what it is yet

Let me start with a story*... It was summer, and Mayweek, and we were sat around in a garden drinking pimms in the sun, I and my college friends and the MIT exchange student. And conversation drifted lightly, and touched upon exams, and it was mentioned that at MIT you couldn't graduate if you couldn't swim. Indeed, you had to do an hour compulsory sport a week

Now, I was shocked by that. Because if I was doing a maths degree, I would want my degree to be about whether or not I could do maths. After all, noone would suggest that Steven Hawking wasn't a first class mathematician because he couldn't swim a lenght.

What was more shocking was that there were good, intelligent people - my friends! who weren't shocked by this! For the valid reasons that they could do maths better if they were healthy. (I mean, at the moment I'd be the first to say that you work less well when you're ill.) And that regular breaks for fresh air and exercise were essential for their studies.**

Is the conclusion of that that Steven Hawking*** would have been an even better mathematician if he could swim, and wasn't wasting energy fighting his body? The mind isn't seperate from the body. I remember being trully infuriated when I worked out that an entire furious passionate rage that had left me in tears of anger and despair was due to pre period hormones. I mean, really. Noone who I was raging against was particularly in the wrong, it was just that my body was full of little molicules. Things that I could draw with C's and lines and double bonds, had changed who I am! Me! That still makes me furious. As though by right I should be changed by the people that I talk to, the things that I read and the things that I think about, and yet not changed by the things that I eat and the drugs that I take, that these should alter the body but Not Change Me.

Conclusion, things that affect me physically, be it hormones, eating food, being ill, exercising, holding hands or making love really do affect me mentally (spiritually?) - both the quality of my work, and more intangible things like my models of reasonable human behaviour, whether or not I am happy, what I want to do, and my beliefs in who are nice people. This annoys me, and I often don't believe it is true, liking to think that... oh, I don't know, I am somehow higher than this flesh and blood and this great me-ness should not be tarnishable by the world.

Now, what started this post? Well, cathedral_life was talking about... hmm, lets cite, it'll make far more sense in her words.

I think God is glorified through people making the sign of the cross, even if they don't know what it means. The person in question might not understand or benefit from it at all. It's of secondary importance to me that a person understands what they're doing.

[In fact, so I'm not quoting out of context, here's a link to the whole thing. It's much more interesting than this wibble.]

And that annoyed me. In the same way all the other things above annoyed me. Worshipping God is some glorious thing that we can do because we are wonderful people, rational and made in the image of God. Just blindly doing things without having a clue why is wrong and... well, my gut feeling is that I want to type "it offends God". But what I really worry that this is is it offends my me-ness. It makes us stupid. However, in the same way I concluded that just because the above stuff upsets me, doesn't mean it's not true, so I have reached a point of thinking that just because this way of looking at worship is annoying, doesn't mean it's not true. I mean, people talk the whole time about all creation worshipping god, and there's obviously no implication there that the slugs and mountains understand what they're doing. And doing something without understanding doesn't make it less good. If we just fed the homeless because we were told to, they would be just as fed. If the reason we don't go off with strangers is just because our parents tell us to, we are just as safe as if we actually we doing it out of thought.****

[There is a whole side arguement here about what it says about a God that he thinks crossing yourself is good. Or that burning cows is good. But there will be another lj post to follow, so if that's your flame, let me write the second post first :-) ]

Running out of steam for this post now. In the Bible, from my hazy memories of my youthful evangelical days, I thought that there were lots of bits where it was what you thought that mattered, not really what you did at all. Jesus prasing Mary and getting annoyed at Martha. All the stuff about if you think about doing something it's just as bad as doing something. And that attitude annoyed me too (for I think it's jolly unfair to condemn people for what they were brave and strong enough not to actually do, and that if whether you murdered someone or just thought about it doesn't matter to God well it jolly well matters to you and the person you didn't murder, and god should get a sense of perspective and realise that we're not as in control of our thoughts and feelings as we'd need to be to live up to this) but I thought it was the "Christian" attitude. Which would make Angela's post that doing without thought is OK seem a very anti-christian idea to me.

And yet then when I ponder the whole christianity thing I would rather have vagueness than actions. (see this post) I wave my arms around and say "surely the point is to believe in a God who would send his son to die for us if it was neccessary, not that he actually did and the son actually was Jesus". Which seems in direct conflict to lots of the other stuff I've just been concluding, that the physical state of the world does affect what is mentally possible. Maybe what I'm hedging around is that in the same way that physical things affect me mentally on a simple level, like hormones and moods and sickness and sunshine and sex, the physical fact that Jesus was who he was***** is more important than the fact that God would do that if it was neccessary in some airy intullectual way. And perhaps that if you didn't know anything about what a good diet was, while reading books about nutrition and talking to healthy people is good, you'd have to start somewhere eating something while you were doing all that, to stop yourself dropping down dead, which is important, but also to find out anything about what they were on about when they spoke about foods that made them feel full or fat, or that they didn't like the taste of, or that were great. And some of the healthiest foods might be an aquired taste.

I still don't like these conclusions. I'm such a mathmo.

Hope there's some sense in all that lot. Sorry, those of you who were hoping for something inspiring or insightful, and you just got a lot of very dull truths that the rest of the world worked out ages ago, and a large helping of confusion.

*I'm sure I've told this one before, but it's my LJ

** There were other arguements in favour along the lines that an MIT maths degree says "this person is a good well rounded person from MIT and can do all the things we approve of", not just "this person can do maths" and so they should test this. But this is an aside to my LJ post, so is in a footnote

*** Sorry for all the Steven Hawking cliches here, but it makes my point. I'd watch out though, if you let me get away with this I'll be compairing things to the Nazis before the end of the post

**** Actually, I suppose the problem is that doing what we're told is just as good as understanding in situations that are fully documented. But it's not as good if you need to extrapolate. If you know that feeding the homeless is good because you're trying to give them better lives you can then go on to form your own policies of housing the homeless, etc. If you know that you don't get in cars with strangers because it's the strangers that are dangerous, not the cars, then you'll be wise enough not to get into hot air balloons with strangers.

***** If he was, etc etc, add caveats here to all those of you who are fighting the battle to keep Sally safe from the Christians

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:March 29th, 2005 08:01 pm (UTC)
There are Christians who believe in works and Christians who believe in faith as the way to salvation. Wars have been fought over this. Personally I feel that my works are the only thing that can get me into enough crap to be pushing rocks up endless hills but that at the same time that if I have faith and listen and do what is suggested as good things to do then I have a better chance of a better nice life (I also don't believe that I can go to 'heaven' as the Way Is Shut, or at least the Delphic oracle anounced that it was, maybe when the world is a better place... huh I wibble). Anyway yes - faff and no clear biblical answer.

Also do you do the thing *because it is good* or *so as to get into heaven* because in some way doing it because you were told to without knowing why is just sucking up to the teller and that is not you being good it is you scoring points. In some people's view - which is why you need to exercise brain and also apparently where the faith part comes in.

But I am disturbed by people who say that if Hitler had only repented then he too could go to heaven whilst the nobel and good and kind non-Christians can't. This is disturbing because it suggests that you should do just whatever you like and then turn to God at the last minute.

Oh and yes - you are a better thinker (you everyone) in general when healthy but sometimes illness spurs you on - I think that Hawking managed so much so fast in part because he knew just how limited his time was. Also he would not have had to do the swimming - being disabled and all.
Date:March 29th, 2005 08:39 pm (UTC)
I'm not too sure I've understood the point you are trying to make so my apologies if this comment completely misses the mark!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind

I would take that to mean that those of us who do have rational minds are to use them fully in our worship of God. To do otherwise would be failing to love the Lord with all our minds. But likewise those who are not rationally minded (eg. young children) God does not ask to love Him with faculties which they do not have. He asks them to love him with all their minds, nothing more.

I think it does offend God when people think one way most of their life, then suddenly develop a different way of thinking when they walk into a church building.

[Repeat the above two paragraphs for heart, soul and strength. My focus on mind is because of who I am (someone on the more rational end of the spectrum)]
[User Picture]
Date:March 29th, 2005 09:23 pm (UTC)
Hmmm, it's not surprising you don't get the point, because I'm not sure there was a point. Did you read Angela's post? It probably makes more sense in the context of that...

I would take that to mean that those of us who do have rational minds are to use them fully in our worship of God

I think the point (if there was one) is that it's very easy to get wrapped up in stating that you shouldn't turn your brain off when you go into a church (or a maths exam). But perhaps more easilly overlooked in the life that I have lead is the idea that you shouldn't turn your body off when you go into a church (or a maths exam) - that this is the flesh that God put us in for worshipping him... and that by getting your body into the right state you can learn more about God? That we are constrained by our body, but can also use or body...

It's more a half formed mass of thoughts than a point, really :-)

(Are you dancing at all now it's out of term? I'm a bit scared of the dancesport people, but I'm missing it already...

How was word alive?)
Date:March 30th, 2005 09:37 am (UTC)
Had a look at Angela's post. I might post a reply sometime, although I'm not too sure I know enough about where she is coming from to be able to say something helpful.

I'd agree with her comments about worshiping God first, then seeking to under stand that faith. (Try reading the start on Anselm's "Cur Deus Homo" as I think that makes this point quite nicely). If she is someone who can't offer useful rational explainations for things then I think her statement about not being able to explain that faith stands, but a cursory glance over her writings suggest she does try to reason through things, so I can't see why she would treat faith differently.

Of course I'm talking about someone I've never met (although whom many people have asked me if I knew as, I've I'm matching up people correctly, we both come from Sevenoaks) so probably shouldn't say too much.

Yes we should consider that state of our body when we go to church, but again not in any particularly special way. I'm thinking of just obvious things like: if we've been up all night and are really tired we'll probably fall asleep during the service, etc.. (the same applies to maths exams!)

I'm hoping to dance, but probably won't be able to make anything this week (last bit of house moving tonight, friends down for graduation on Friday). If you want to do Dancesport A next week I'd been happy to partner you; the big uni competitions have now finished, so I imagine all the scary dancesport people are now taking a break.

Word Alive was good; quite tiring; hopefully will make a post about it sometime.
[User Picture]
Date:March 30th, 2005 10:12 am (UTC)

Not that I'm saying anything new here, but....

To continue your food metaphor, you don't need to know the nutritional content of a food for it to do you good - we are hugely complex creatures, and things can work and be good for us without us necessarily knowing why that is. And as other people have pointed out, if an intellectual understanding was needed in order to benefit (or for God to be glorified, or whatever) from spiritual practice, then God would essentially be denying Himself to children and those with a learning disability.
Date:March 31st, 2005 01:33 am (UTC)
"person understands what they're doing" is very important, I'd have thought – it's just an impression I have, though, that meshes with things like Jesus extending the Ten Commandments to thoughtcrime: it's all about loving God and trying to help people and not sin and whatever, all of which are really things that are about volition, I think. Sure, if something happens to occur that happens to do good, maybe it's all part of God's ineffable plan, but I doubt that incomprehending genuflecting does Him much good.
[User Picture]
Date:April 2nd, 2005 10:42 pm (UTC)
I'm back and catching up, so...

Having read your recent posts and cathedral_life's, I think I agree with robert_jones's comment that Christianity is a mystery religion (by which he means the "high" Christianity of LSM). Mystery religion is a technical term for a religion which has a body of secret knowledge accessible only to initiates. My evangelical side recalls that Colossians was written in part to argue against some of the ideas of mystery religions, although I don't care enough to construct an argument against high church practice from that, because I think Christianity is wrong anyway (though Col 2:16 and following to the end of the chapter look fertile ground to me ;-).

The idea of high church Christianity (or, to be fair, very low church charismatic Christianity) involving something which looks like magick and the idea of how our bodies affect us are linked, it seems to me: we can produce altered states and, if we're getting really wild, even visions and whatnot by doing certain things to induce them. These things are known about and practised by a variety of religions and so don't constitute a free-standing argument for any particular religion, although from the inside they may form part of a sort of post-facto irrationalisation, if you like. An explanation for these things without recourse to the supernatural is entirely sufficient, to me.

What I'd like in a religion to which I am supposed to devote my entire life is a way to see what it is about with a cool, clear head. I think the problem with religion for people who're mathematically trained is that they want the same cool chain of reasoning. The songs still do it for me, as I discovered recently when playing through a hymn book left me feeling decidedly odd, but "music powerfully affects your emotions" is not an argument, dammit. That may cause people to denounce me as a rationalist, but I'll gladly own up to that and tell them they're in the same category as shamans or people on E who temporarily love everyone.

As it happens, I think that any reading of the whole Sermon on the Mount bit about anger=murder and lust=adultery which doesn't recognise that it's hyperbole is bizarre and harmful, regardless of what Jesus actually meant (as in, if Jesus did intend to make that precise equation, he was wrong). Seeing as the Jesus of the Gospels is rather more canny than that, I imagine that what he intends to say is that right thought leads to right action, and so on. Evangelicals have a sort of vested interested in reading it more literally because, well, they're evangelicals, and also because it lends weight to their "you may think you're OK, but actually you're a really bad person who deserves hellfire" sales pitch (my copy of Don Carson's The Sermon on the Mount does this to some extent, although to be fair to Carson he also examines the wider context and talks about hyperbole).
Date:April 4th, 2005 07:29 pm (UTC)
At least as of not too long ago: The MIT swimming requirement comes about as a condition of a large donation to MIT from decades ago from parents whose child drowned or suchlike (there was some MIT connection, I forget what). One can be exempted from it on medical grounds. One can fulfill it by taking a test or by making swimming at least one of the four quarters of physical education that one must take.
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