iGod, Part 1 – Divine Uplink

The Holy Spirit is that little piece of me that I like to call God.

Red Telephone

Red TelephoneNot long ago, a friend sent an email announcement to me and some others, outlining a plan to go into the missionary field. The email cited God’s leading and their prayerful consideration. It also stated that this consideration had begun when he heard God speak to him, audibly. I’ve heard claims to hear the audible Voice of the Lord before, but I will admit that it has been some time. And as with everyone I’ve known who claimed to have received the Big Call on the red telephone, the experience left my friend brimming with a sense of calling and purpose. The conversation that followed between us was both respectful and quite long. The story sounded so very familiar. It sounded like a story that I myself would once have told.

To Walk by the Spirit

In my younger days, I walked in the Spirit quite fervently, or so I thought. I have been in groups of most stripes at one time or another. I’ve spoken in tongues. I’ve walked blood lines. My calling was to be that of an apostle. During my days of college street evangelism, I followed the immediate guidance of the Spirit to engage specific people with boldness. I’ve seen the devil, in human form. My prayers were recorded and tracked in journals. I’ve meditated on the Word and listened carefully, through countless hours of prayer, to hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. And I’ve kept prayerful vigil over the NICU table of my infant daughter, when we very nearly lost her to meningitis.

My views on prayer and on walking by the Spirit changed with time, as one would expect. Eventually, I became a member of a conservative and liturgical church, quite far indeed from the “charismatica” of my younger days. And so, my remarks here are meant to address the entire gamut, from my recent conversation to the far more conservative views.

Myriad views exist regarding what the Christian walk really ought to look like. Our mistake as Christians is not that we sometimes get the whole “walking by the Spirit” thing wrong. It is that we have no possibility of getting it right. We cannot get it right because we are the ones on both ends of the phone line. We play at God, but not in the way we think.

Presumption

Charismatic Christians routinely claim to hear from God. More conservative Christians temper their claims. We often say that God seems to be leading us, and we combine it with the slow revealing of God’s will via our circumstances and counsel from others, etc. At bottom, however, nearly all Christians will admit of receiving spiritual information from the outside, in some way or other. That is, some percentage of our thoughts originate with God, not with us. We may not claim to have the red telephone – to hear from God audibly – but we still claim input from above.

What if this is not true?

What if our minds have never, not once, received input from a spiritual source? What if everything in our minds is the result of input from others and the normal routine workings of the brain? If the red telephone assumption is false, and if our thoughts originate with us, then we stand in danger of taking Divine credit for our human thoughts. If we’re not getting input from a Divine Uplink, then our felt certainty about the Bible and the Gospel message is simply “us talking”.

Diagnosis: Idolatry

And such is the actual state of affairs. The Holy Spirit is simply that little piece of ourselves that we Christians like to call “God.”

Knowing Truth… We say that it is the Holy Spirit that gives us an inner witness of the Gospel’s truth. All people, of course, have an analogous sense of felt truth about their beliefs. But it takes Christianity to profess that our inner certainty isn’t human; it is divine. In reality, our intuition engine for discerning truth from falsehood is simply our brain. And as the many divergent sects and cults of Christianity make more than manifest, we are no better at winnowing spiritual fact from fiction than anyone else. But we like to think of our felt certainty regarding the Bible as actually being God within us. The part of our brain that we use for discerning spiritual truths, we call God.

Comfort & Guidance… We say that it is the Holy Spirit that gives us comfort and guidance. All people, of course, have the ability for contemplation and reflection. All people can marshal inner resources of consolation by various means. But it takes Christianity to profess that this normal human function is, in our special and isolated case, actually God himself. We dub this part of our humanity to be God.

Moral Enabling… We say that it is the Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to sacrifice self, to live morally, and to walk by compassion and conscience. All people, of course, engage in altruism and self-sacrifice. But it takes Christianity to profess that these normal human behaviors, in our special and isolated case, are beyond human. We call that part of ourselves God, even as we insist that others must confine themselves to humbler attribution.

You see, we have all been idolators. We have called our thinking and feeling parts The Holy Spirit. We have called our own inner voice The Holy Spirit. We have called our contemplations and comforting thoughts The Holy Spirit. We have called our good moral choices The Holy Spirit. To observe but the first of several ironies which I will touch upon, we feel humble as we do so. We felt humble, even as we call our human parts God. We believe that human pieces of us are very literally God Himself. The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God within us. And for as often as we make such attributions, we idolize ourselves.

I know the Holy Spirit, and I know Him quite well. And of course, He seems real. That’s because He is real. He is as real as I am. He’s me. And you. And us. The Holy Spirit is but the wedded offspring of Idolatry and Solipsism.

Sections to Come

I will chase down some outworkings of this idolatry in the sections to come. But as is my custom,  I’ll also discuss objective ways in which we can tell whether I am correct, or whether I am simply blasphemous in my assertions.

Comments

  1. archaeopteryx1 says:

    I just hope he remembers to pack his meds.

    As for you, like Virginia Slims used to say, you’ve come a long way, baby —

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  2. It was only after I gave up my faith that I realized that God sounded an awful lot like me.

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  3. That’s because He is real. He is as real as I am. He’s me. And you. And us.

    This is a great observation. To me, this is the only way to think of God without a contradiction. There are hints about this in the Bible: “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” in Exodus 3:14, “The kingdom of heaven is in your midst” in Luke 17:21. “Before Abraham was, I am” in John 8:58, etc.

    I think, God is an abstract “self”. Look up any definition of “conscience”:

    an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior. — Google

    When I read the book of Joshua, I wondered, how did Israelites know that it was God who commanded them to exterminate whole nations to seize the land? In Churches, they quote Deuteronomy to say that God used Israelites to punish Canaanites for wicked practices invloving child sacrifices and temple prostitution. But why didn’t God punish these people themselves with some sort of disaster? I would never want to be in Joshua’s shoes. I guess, the moral of the story is “Don’t do such things unless you see the waters of a river stop to let you through.”

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    • Agrudzinsky,

      Good thoughts. I have been re-reading Shermer on “The Believing Brain” again, revisiting the discussion of the felt presence of “another” that plagues oxygen deprived mountain climbers, sleep deprived athletes, sensory stimulated worshippers, etc. Its a fascinating thing, how we partition our experiences and designate “otherness” to ourselves. Your tie in to “I am” is interesting to contemplate. Do you think such double entedres were deliberate?

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      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        “Do you think such double entedres were deliberate?”

        While I can’t speak for Agrudzinsky, possibly I can offer some exploratory insight.

        While this in no sense confirms anything, I will say that the Catholic Church, for an organization that hides child-molesting clergy, is surprisingly forthcoming in its, The New American Bible. Not only does it confirm the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis, when one might think it would be in their best interests to continue to insist that it was written by Moses, it specifically mentions that of the four groups who separately wrote pieces of what would become the Torah, the Yahwist (J) Source had a sense of humor, and liked to use various plays on words.

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        • I’m always curious to hear what people think of this question. Much of what I hear in apologetics seems to revolve around post-facto identification of double meanings. But as with Shakespeare, there are markers when its actually intended, and it seems an abused excuse a lot of the time. Yet I do agree, there is some very clearly humorous, tongue in cheek, and even base content there. 🙂

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      • Do you think such double entedres were deliberate?

        Check out this book http://www.julianjaynes.org/bicameralmind.php

        Julian Jaynes argues that human consciousness started from “hearing voices”, much like the schizophrenics do, so religion was a step in evolutionary development of the brain. I think, this step is not completely phased out. I have many thoughts in this regard, but have no time to go into them now.

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        • Cool, looking forward to it. Have seen some bicameral mind discussion before, but don’t think I’ve read this one.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            Anybody ever consider the relationship of the Trinity to the Super Ego, Ego, and Id?

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  4. Great post! I remember fighting so hard to get the red telephone to ring, but it never did for me. I truly believed that at some point as a Christian I would understand the different sense of the “leading” of the God I believed in, but I was never able to distinguish that “sense” from my own mind. And I always wondered about my Christian friends who said they “heard” or “felt” God’s guidance – what they said always sounded like advice that they got from others or the workings of their own thoughts.

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