The God-Shaped Hole!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Three Fundamental Emotions

An author and friend of mine has a blog too! This is a reply I posted to one of her posts.

What are the fundamental emotions?

Love and Fear seem asymmetrical because they are not opposites. However, in order to classify them, we must look at their functionalities, polarities, and thus derive their categorization.

(I'll restrict myself to the most contextually sound definition of each.)

Love is a devotion to the other party in the relationship, often expressed in honest concern as well as mushy love notes. It is the emotional equivalent of two particles drawn together because of gravity or magnetism. Hate would be the opposite, the emotional equivalent of particles repelling each other. Keep in mind that relationship-type emotions can be mismatched, such as "I love my car" (when the car can't love him back) or "I hate Bush" (when Bush knows him only as a citizen of America) or "I know my girlfriend loves me" (when she thinks of him as a good boyfriend until Mr Right comes into her life).

Fear and Hope are the polar opposites regarding the future, both immediate and long-term, and even the past if the outcome is not yet known. (Think lottery results in the next morning's paper.) They are expectations, imperative-type emotions in the future tense. Their polarity is based on which outcome is desired. If met, there is satisfaction. (Which seems to explain why some people live in fear; when their expectation is justified, they don't regret the time they spent fearing.)

There are three types of emotions, relationships, imperatives, and identities. We have seen two so far.

Identity-type emotions involve value judgements, identifications, labels. Blogs are fun. My childhood was idyllic. If the moon crashed into the Earth, the result would be disastrous. Jenny is an idiot. ABC's Lost is enjoyable. Jesus has risen. This soup is icky. They can carry any person or tense, and are most easily stated using conjugated forms of the verb "to be." The highest positive identity-type emotion is a passionate positive identification of someone or something as good, great, or ideal. I might call this "faith," believing good things about someone or something. Humanists have faith in humanity. Christians have faith in Christ. Nihilists have faith in nothing except "nothing".

So the three fundamental positive emotions are Faith, Hope, and Love.

In the ESV translation:

In the King James, with study tools:

"pistis, elpis, agape." The "C" button gets a concordance with word-study tools.

Identity-type emotions are properly the emotional equivalents of logical definitions, or of physical things' existence. A thing doesn't "exist" emotionally without an identity. People who are confused on their own identity feel as though they are insubstantial, as though they don't really exist. A solid identity allows them to feel their existence.

Many people confuse "identity" with "role", which is a term that relates specifically to the two sides of a relationship-type emotion: "Father and daughter, slave and master, husband and wife, nephew and aunt." These are not identities in themselves, though people may assign identity emotions to anyone who plays these roles, because of identities built up through life experiences, entertainment, or other forms of culture transmission. I identify the role "father" first with my own father, with his personality characteristics; second, with the Ideal Sitcom Father, Mike Brady, Father Knows Best, Timmy's Dad, Andy Griffith, Cliff Huxtable.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Opposite Of God

What is the opposite of God?

Some posit a huge and terrible evil, a force of nature equal in power to God, such that the two are locked in immortal combat for all of eternity, and for every good, there is a contrasting evil. (In other words, Ahriman.)

Others posit a rebel angel, a supervillan of vast scale, whose desires are debased, whose imagination is devious, whose schemes are cunning, and whose rebellion is destined to fail. (In other words, Satan.)

I propose nothing so grand or vast as the opposite of God.

In fact, I propose that the opposite of God is ... Nothing. And Satan serves it.

Nothing has no desires, Nothing has no strength. Nothing has no thoughts, no existence, no anything.

Nothing has negatives of all the positive attributes of God. Far from being omnipotent like God, Nothing has nullpotence, impotence. Whereas God is creative, Nothing is sterile. Where God is omnibenevolent, Nothing is omniambivalent, omni-apathetic.

God is pure, and nothing can alter Him. He is a rock. Nothing is impure, and anything can alter it.

God is love, outward-directed, other-oriented, and infinitely passionate. Nothing is fear, inward-directed, self-oriented, and infinitely uncaring.

Satan does serve self, but in doing so, he has Nothing at his core. Having tricked humanity into following self and thus Nothing, he has no reward, no crown, Nothing to pat him on the head and say, "good job." Nothing cares nothing about what Satan does for its cause.

When someone has a selfishness, if they pay it no attention, if they do nothing for it, it is as if it does not exist. If, however, someone does something about that selfishness, they have empowered Nothing in their lives, and they will reap its rewards.

I say all this on a conceptual-philosophical level, for after all, if Nothing were some spirit, it would be something, not nothing. Even my description of Nothing is not Nothing itself, it is only a description. The description is vague necessarily, because after all I am describing Nothing.

The closest things to Nothing to which we can point concretely appear in seven realms of human experience:

The Physical: Entropy, the wasting of energy and the ruining of potential.
The Logical: Nonsense, the lack of truth or information or logic.
The Emotional: Uncaring, the inward focus that cuts off all contact with others.
The Spiritual: Madness, the chaos of thought and feeling that all rational beings fear.
The Animal: Wounded beast, dying, growling and snapping at anything trying to help.
The Scientific: Broken tools and bad data, unusable to any and all.
The Moral: Wasting of freedom, conformity and laziness and actionless rebellion.

These things are not some great evil, but a sloughed-off skin of evil, in the end powerless unless someone feeds it; a singularity that pulls in and pulls in, giving nothing back.

God is the opposite of Nothing; He is Everything. Change, Truth, Love, Wisdom, Life, Innovation, Freedom. He is like a fountain that never runs out of water, a fire that never dies. He gives and gives, and gives. He values our ability to choose above all else, for that is what makes us the image of Him. He knows everything there is to know about Nothing, and has nothing to do with it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

What is the God-shaped hole in this atheist humanist tome?

Choice. Love. Dedication. Idealism. Morality. Greatness.

I read this book from cover to cover. I enjoyed it tremendously. She captured the essence of choice, of strength. I am startled by her depiction of "the ideal man."

I am startled, too, by the contrast of a Christian establishment that did not recognize in her works the twentieth century it could have had.

Her egoism, her selfishness, is the God-shaped hole in her heart. She can conceive of someone who does great things, not for the adulation of others, but for the greatness of the thing. That is, in my book, true selflessness; to love something so completely that he loses himself in it, Roark is without self.

Self: defined in my mind as that thing that cares about appeasing other people's opinions, which clutters the mind with all its "what ifs" and "shoulds and shouldn'ts" and generally forces choices that would not otherwise be made.

The man who does not murder because he would be executed is not a moral man. He has morality forced on him, like a dog on a leash.

The man who does not sin because he will be punished is not a moral man. The man who does not sin because it would harm others, the man who does not sin because he does not want to, is moral.

The man who submits to God for the threat of Hell is not submitting to God, but to fear. The man who bows to God because of who God is is the true worshipper.

The person who likes what he likes because others like it is going with the crowd. The person who likes what he likes without being influenced by others is being original, no matter how many other people like it.

The person who is humble because he will be thought of more highly by others is not humble. The person who is humble because he has a low opinion of himself is not humble. The person who is humble because others have a low opinion of him is not humble. The person who is truthful about what he can and cannot do is humble. Thus, Roark is humble, though neither he nor Rand gives much thought to what he cannot do.

Jesus is honest about His abilities to raise the dead and heal the sick, about who He is and why He was here, about Himself being the only way to Heaven, no other name by which we might be saved, and thus Jesus is humble.

God has infinite ability, infinite smarts, and infinite passion. If God is 100%, I am a notch infinitesimally above 0%, as is any creation, including the angels. (If an angel had a stated percent of God's abilities, that angel would have an infinite ability too. The math is solid.) I am, in effect, nothing, compared to God.

Yet I am of the species which went to the moon in a tin can, which built the Internet and created the computer languages, including C++ and Basic. There is nothing in all creation that can rival us for creativity. Compared to a chimpanzee, to a parrot, to a dog, to a mouse, we are the most powerful beings on the planet. We can wipe out a whole culture or civilization (and have) through germ warfare and discrimination, or instantly with the press of a button.

God is an atheist. He has no one to worship, and has infinite abilities, smarts, and passion. Moral relativism is true: every choice is right or wrong in God's eyes. God can lie; He chooses not to.

Whose books and beliefs portray this God-shaped hole of beliving in one's own choices? Machiavelli, Nietzche, Rand, Heinlein, and Matthew Woodring Stover, whose blog is on this very network, and whose political leanings are (for various reasons) not the same as mine.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Clarification of methodology

The Brother Bear post may not have appeared post-modern, but I used the terminology of "sin", "God", "choice", and "consequences" using my internal definitions. They capture the concept, but not the postmodern connotations.

"Sin" is anything that hurts or can hurt another. Murder, lies, and other forms of betrayal are sins. The modern definition is "disobedience of God". While that's the ultimate definition, every sin is disallowed by God BECAUSE it hurts someone or disrupts or ends a relationship.

"God" is that guy with infinite power, infinite smarts, and infinite passion for helping people. Too many people think of Him only in terms of His relationships with people, ie lawgiver, judge, jury, executioner, king, master, savior, etc.

"Consequences" are the intentional and accidental (and sometimes potential) results of an intentional or accidental choice. Given the existence of God, everything that happens in this universe is ultimately a consequence of His choice to make it and all choices He has made since then.

"Choice" is the exercise of the ability to choose; the exercise of will. This is the core of the postmodernism in my thought. To me, choice is that aspect of God that He values most in us. When He said to Himself, "Let us make Man in our image," I thoroughly believe that He meant His ability to choose to do.

I am an obsessive fan of what I call "Will-fiction". The best examples of Will-fiction are Matthew Woodring Stover's science fiction novels, Ayn Rand's atheistic self-determination, Robert Heinlein's libertarian free-marketism, and Phil Geusz's transformation stories. Nietzche's focus on man's abilities was an inspiration to all of these people.

Nietzche was reacting to an aspect of the Church that I also find repugnant: the negation of man.
Man is God's greatest creation. He made us "a little lower than the angels", and then died to be with us forever. While we are nothing compared to His infiniteness, no other ape has gone to the moon in a machine of his own making, and no other ape has created the computers on which we blog.

It is the focus on Will that I find attractive in atheism. Yes, there's a God-shaped hole in my heart too, and its largest section is devoted to God's moralism, on doing for others, on helping and on watching other people do for others.

Superheros and atheism have Choice in common. Choice is what I feel most strongly about. Excercise of Choice in the service of others (not necessarily as they direct, but as will actually help them) is my definition of Love.

Ayn Rand believed in self-sacrifice, though she thought she was fighting it.

More on that next time.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Disney's Brother Bear: Bearly New-Age!

Beware: spoilers ahead!!!

The critics said it was far below par for Disney. The Christians said it would make our children worship clouds and butterflies. The historical accurists said it showed a stereotypical idyllic Native American tribe. The conservatives said it was all about "our friends the animals" and a hyper-environmentalist message.


The story is all about choices and consequences, and has a sadness for sin and a search for justice at its core. I do not recommend it to children, but to any strong Christian over the age of 18.

In a Stone-Age American Indian community, shelter, food, water and fire are life. One young man, Kenai, dislikes the bears because they compete for the food, and they can be dangerous.

When he hurries his preparations for his coming-of-age ceremony,
he does not properly tie his fish in a tree. They fall, and are eaten by a bear.

At the ceremony, he is given the "bear" totem representing love. He thinks love is mushy and dislikes bears, so he thinks the spirits gave him the wrong totem by mistake. After the ceremony, he goes back to his fish to prepare the feast, but sees that a bear took them.

Angry and hurt, he convinces his two older brothers, Sitka and Denahi, to hunt the bear with him in retaliation. Instead of admitting his mistake in not properly tying the fish up, he blames the bear. They go hunting the bear, but the attempt ends in tragic failure: the bear gets away, but Sitka is killed.

Again blaming the bear, still angry and hurt, now driven by
raging hatred, he and Denahi hunt the bear once more. In a dramatic battle, Kenai manages to kill the bear out of revenge.

The Spirits see this act, and judge Kenai by transforming him into a bear. To make matters worse, Denahi sees the ripped clothing and thinks Kenai is the bear they were chasing.

From Wikipedia:

Disoriented and barely escaping Denahi's wrath by falling into the river, Kenai awakens on the shore and in the presence of Tanana [the tribe's matriarchal shaman], who eases him through his initial shock at his change. Although she cannot understand his bear speech, she advises Kenai to find where the lights touch the mountain so that he can ask Sitka's spirit to change him back, and then she disappears without giving him directions. To Kenai's surprise, he finds he can talk with the other animals - but the only animals who are willing to talk to him are two stupid sibling moose, Rutt and Tuke, who are more interested in cracking jokes at Kenai's claims to be a man than helping him. Along the way, Kenai meets a talkative, pesky bear cub named Koda, who claims to know the way to the salmon run where the bears gather to fish and where the lights seem to hug the mountain.

The two become friends along the journey, spurred toward their goal by Denahi's grief-maddened hunt. At the salmon run, Koda reveals to the group that his mother disappeared after bringing him some fish.

Kenai puts two and two together: A bear took his fish, but he killed the bear. The times and places were right, and in a moment of stark and terrible conviction, he realizes he killed his new friend's mother.

That's right, folks. Because he wasn't willing to admit a mistake, his actions escalated, first causing his brother's death, then the death of a mother bear trying to feed her cub. This is the Christian core to this New-Age-ish movie. THIS is why "Vengeance is Mine, saith the LORD." If Kenai had done the right thing, admitted his mistake in not tying his fish in the tree properly, his brother would still be alive, Koda's mother would still be alive. There are more fish, but on the alter of his blame he sacrificed his brother and someone else's mother.

(For the purposes of the movie, which clearly shows bears and other animals talking to each other, we'll treat Koda and his mother as people for now.) He runs from the gathering of bears, realizing that it was all his fault, that his choices caused the consequences.

This is the
best depiction of sin I have seen from any fiction, Disney or other secular, or even Christian. This is also the best depiction of the need to reconcile, of the need for justice.

When Jesus was sacrificed on the cross, He took the sum of all punishment that we rightly deserve for all sins throughout time. He made it possible for the thousand daily hurts to be healed, and for a future world in which they don't exist. His love for us was so great that He was willing to be put to death by mankind, to loosen death's grip on humanity.

Jesus extends this offer to everyone: Accept my death as paying for your sins, and you will be adopted into God's family, be given a new heart that does not blame, hurt, or have petty selfishness. You will be transformed into what I meant you to be. You will be given an infinite lifespan in a wondrous place you've only seen in dreams. Your needs will be filled. Your life will be made whole.

The God-shaped hole in your heart will be filled. Though the world will still be the same dangerous, pain-filled place, God will give you an inner peace that the world says you have no right to have. The stark and terrible conviction you rightly feel for any bad deeds, any petty wrongs, and any spiteful hurts you may have committed... will go away.

Accepting Jesus' offer will not make your life perfect. All He asks is for you to let Him help.

Can this movie be seen in a monotheistic context? Certainly. In our reality, all who have died know the truth about God and their lives. Suppose that in the Brother Bear reality, the Spirits are all the people who have died. In the movie's reality, the Spirits take the place of angels, and have a real, lasting relationship with the Great Spirit.

The Great Spirit was saddened by Kenai's actions, and made allowance for justice by having Kenai's dead brother Sitka transform Kenai into a bear for the purpose of caring for Koda in place of the mother.

The only reason to suppose a polytheistic or pantheistic interpretation is presupposition of the metaphysic used in the film based on our polycultural society. Keep in mind that the other major fantastic element, talking animals, is just as unreal as the spiritism shown, and can be interpreted as a metaphor for clashes of competing cultures, yet nobody clamors about how it symbolically describes the white man's uncaring for black inner-city youth, or whatnot.

The monotheism metaphysic fits just as well in Brother Bear as it does in Lord Of The Rings. (See the first chapter of the Silmarillion, if you don't believe me.)

Welcome to the God-Shaped Hole!

Welcome to GoSH! (The God-Shaped Hole), my somewhat postmodern Christian take on popular culture.

The name is a reference to Pascal, who famously claimed that all people have a God-shaped void in their heart; people try and try to fill it with everything from kittens to sex, but they will remain unsatisfied until God comes into their life.

So look forward to such topics as Disney's Brother Bear, political parties, mental illnesses, choice, theology, philosophy, The Matrix, Tao, Zoroastrianism, all sorts of isms, and a fan-written Narnia/Middle-Earth crossover short story.