Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I Did on my Summer Vacation: Had a Spiritual Crisis

School is almost back in session and I haven't managed to slough off the spiritual ick of this summer. I would love to make my spiritual issues sound noble, but they aren't really. Basically, I've been in reaction to some very insidious spiritual disease infecting the Church on a universal scale (and even penetrating the blessed but imperfect community of Duke Divinity). I still believe that the crisis of the Church is bad and real, but I haven't been taking it well. And it's personal to me because I feel a vocation to do Patristics. And hopefully I'll be employed at a seminary. So a main part of my work will probably be doing a core class on Early Church History (whatever is the equivalent to Duke's CH 13). So this will be my primary means of ministry to the future leadership of the Church.

This is something which I have come increasingly to feel as a clear vocation and this work has become like an inseparable part of me very quickly. I grew up Christian, but had a long period of discontentment and seeking. The exquisite abundance of the Church Fathers' and Mothers' thought, the vibrancy and richness of orthodox dogma, the absolute and astounding beauty of the life of virtue and holiness to which early theologians aspired -- these are the things I was seeking. Finding patristics at this point feels like traveling halfway across the world only to discover that finally you feel at home.

Fall 2009: No Crisis

I was almost ecstatically happy in the Fall. I felt like I was eating, sleeping, and breathing God. I couldn't stop saying prayers of gratitude for the Fathers, for my advisor, for Duke Divinity, for my life, for the leading to this place, for God being just so utterly, deliciously wonderful and for the chance to spend all my time thinking deeply about that wonderfulness. And most of this was because of CH 13. Twice a week, I got regaled with the stories of this wonderful group of people who are the Church Fathers -- these men and women who put themselves totally at the disposal of God to pursue God's goodness, to seek ever deeper and closer fellowship with God, to help others in the Church to draw closer and not be led away from true communion with God, to demonstrate to emperors that God is greater than human rulers and that God will not condone atrocities, to speak all around and right up to the edge of the dark-bright mystery of God's ineffable being, to give voice to the narrative of the economy of salvation again and again, each time enriching the picture with more imaginative, evocative, and illustrative words, themes, and Biblical allusions.

For the record, I was rather anti-orthodox when I came here; I was much more about social justice and Moltmann and Kierkegaard and Tillich and existentialism and universalism and quasi-unitarianism and feminism. Oh -- and I had a fairly well-considered and totally heretical Christology. I also sort of the thought the resurrection was a really unimportant bit of doctrine. I was kind of bummed about Duke, afraid it would be too conservative. What I really wanted to do was go to Drew and work with Catherine Keller on process theology. [Yes, I am serious: process theology. I was all jazzed when I got her latest book in Fall of 2008, when I was doing my applications for Divinity School. I still have the book and I can show you if you don't believe me.]

Spring 2010: Crisis Brewing

So CH 13 was the instrumental means of grace for me. Yay. So what's my crisis?

The crisis is that ever since the end of the Fall semester I've been realizing that meeting the Fathers didn't "work" for everyone. Hence the existence of the discipline of "Early Christianity." OK, but there are bound to be non-Christians looking at Christian stuff with their secular humanist methodologies. That's fine. I can deal.

Of course, I also met Christians who were all into the social-historical "Early Christianity" thing. But not everyone got to take CH 13 with J. Warren Smith. Maybe they didn't get the special dispensation of grace. OK; that makes sense.

But then I noticed that there were people in the Divinity School who took CH 13 who still seemed to be lacking some grace! In fact, some of them were kind of hating on the Fathers. But maybe they didn't come to class enough and just swatted up the material with study guides for the final. It really does make a difference when you let it sink deep into you meditatively and reflectively over the course of a semester....

But then I discovered there exist persons in the Div School who did CH 13, who took further patristics courses with Warren Smith, and who actively dislike orthodoxy. And there are also some real serious CH 13-haters who somehow came away thinking that it's all about white people trying to write off "the black experience" or that the entire Early Church was about vilifying sex and/or oppressing women.

Brief Moment of Horrible Un-Christian Arrogance

I know there are a lot of people going into ministry (even at Duke) who aren't um... well... "intellectual powerhouses." They have other gifts and other gifts are good. Other gifts are important. I celebrate other gifts. Yay. Celebrate. Woo-hoo.

But at a certain point I stop celebrating and I start thinking, "WHAT?!?! Did you miss the bit in the very first class where he said it's NOT about White European Males and that we weren't even going to meet a European until Irenaeus and the next one would Anselm in the 11th-12th century? Are you really saying that your main take-away message from an entire semester was "Early Church hated sex"? Very odd that they managed to make it to the Middle Ages with growing numbers, considering the whole "anti-sex" thing.... Did you just not even read the Life of Macrina? Or did you just decide that said oppressive things before you even read it? Did you just figure that because it's an ancient text by a man and is about someone female that of course it must be just chock full of patriarchal bias and unabashed sexism? This raises a very critical question: How dumb can you be, exactly, without getting kicked out for crappy grades after the first semester?"

Summer 2010: Super Crisis Maelstrom

I'm having a crisis not because I'm doubting the value of orthodoxy, but because I know how important orthodoxy is. I know that it is a very important part -- perhaps the most important part -- of a good spiritual life and relationship with God and of effective ministry. I know that orthodox theology IS life-giving; you can't have full fellowship with God without it. And yet I see how "untrendy" it is. Even in the Church, there are a lot of people who want other things to be more important than orthodox theology. And, after much reflection (both logically and in light of my own experience as a erstwhile heretic) I have come to the conclusion that this trend against orthodoxy is very, very bad. Ironically, it amounts to "putting God in a box" (although this is often used by the heretical types to describe orthodox dogma); heretical Christianity becomes not about the rich and paradoxical statements of the creeds and councils, but about a decision to utterly ignore God's being and instead to make God say what we want to hear. And this applies to both liberals and conservatives.

I believe that the Church and her future leaders need more orthodoxy. Not for some airy-fairy theoretical reason, so that we can all be "right" for the sake of being "right." And not for some reason born of historical toadyism, as if anything old and traditional is automatically good and to be preserved uncritically. And not because I'm one of those "propositional Protestants" who thinks that proper formulation equals salvation or that God can't work with us if we're not really smart and abstract and totally right about who God is. The reason we need orthodoxy is utterly spiritual and pretty darned practical. Because without orthodoxy, the Christian life becomes deeply unfulfilling and won't sustain us to do anything good. We won't be producing fruits -- we'll be laboring to try to manufacture fruits that are composed mostly of corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavor and Red #40. It's harder to try to make fruit than to let fruit just grow; we might manage to crib something together that vaguely resembles spiritual fruit, but it won't look or taste quite right.

And my problem is that I'm out to give the Church what it needs and what it doesn't want. And I'm angry that it doesn't want it. I've been wanting to kick the world for most of the summer. So, my real problem is that I'm angry. I vented and prayed and thought and prayed some more. I made a desperate cry for help. Got no answer. So I vented again, prayed, thought.

A pretty good proverb: "If you're angry, you're wrong." Maybe not totally right, but a good check to perform if you have anger issues. So I asked very honestly if I was perhaps wrong about the whole orthodoxy thing. Pretty sure that's not it. So there's something wrong happening that is making me want to kick people. I think I'm finally starting to get a handle on my problem.

1) It's easier and feels better to be angry at people for not liking orthodoxy than to be sad. Anger is kind of an ego-boost: it stirs up energy and makes you feel like you can fix things, right the wrong. The point is, I can't. I can't argue anyone into good doctrine. I hope that God will move in people's hearts to draw them closer, but I know from my own experience that God's grace is not an irresistible Calvinist caveman who wacks people over the head and drags them to faith. I am little. I can't fight this fight. This is a major trend of badness that has infiltrated the Church. I'm trying to do the same thing as the ministerial nuts who notice that there is poverty and disease and war and oppression and forget that Jesus already saved the world and think they've got to go do it all themselves. So, partly I need to deal with being sad that things are how they are and that people are cutting themselves off from truth.

2) I'm also being kind of lazy. I managed to get spoon-fed orthodoxy-based spiritual practice on a regular basis during the year by being in numerous patristics courses. This summer, I read one good scholarly book on patristics which was faithful -- and then followed that with a bunch of secondary literature which is not orthodox and not life-giving. No primary texts. And my asceticism has slipped; now that I'm not pressed by classes and deadlines, it's easy to feel like eating, sleeping late, watching TV. I'm all angry and fruitless because I'm not practicing what I preach. I've been so caught up in my reaction against heresy that I haven't spent enough time sinking deep into orthodoxy, thinking about God and being and letting that truth sustain me.

A Spiritual Practice for Me

I realize that I don't know how to do patristic spirituality by myself. It just happened when things were brought up in my patristics classes. I'd think about the arguments against the Eunomians or about allegorical interpretation or Christology or Nyssen's anthropology and then I'd just sort of -- turn to God. It just kind of happened. I've kept listening to the recorded CH 13 lectures. It sort of helps. Except that I listen while driving and almost ran a stop-sign the last time I got too into it. Also, it's the 5th or 6th time I've listened to the whole set now. It'd be nice if there were some *little* surprises every now and again...

So currently, my spiritual practice is rather non-existent because what I used to do before I came to Duke was based on a very wishy-washy theology. It is pretty directionless and vapid -- and it also feels icky because it reminds me of the sad time when I my dogma was bad. And also, I think I might be spiritually "remedial" -- I have special needs because of my severe social anxiety, my sensory processing problems, and my ADD. If I'm around other people, I'm generally overwhelmed and am going to be manic and hyperactive or else hyper-vigilent or else totally glazed and shut down -- very hard to think about God in the midst of that kind of brain chemistry. So I need some practices I can do while I'm alone.

There are plenty of practices in lots of Christian traditions. I'm sure I could try a bunch and see what works. But how would I know what "works"? I don't want to make the mistake of thinking that some sort of subjective emotional experience actually constitutes effective spirituality. So, I've decided that I'm going to interrogate whole subject of spirituality from an orthodox perspective and then figure out what sort of practices support the ends of "spirituality" and fix something up to be a nice, doctrinally sound spiritual discipline for me. And I want to get this going before classes start up and things get crazy -- especially because I only have one patristics-type class this semester and it's only partly about patristics. And I really don't want to just hang around CH 13 spooking out the first-years....

So I am hoping to blog through my investigation of "spirituality" and my figuring out a happy little orthodox spiritual practice that socially awkward Christian Platonists can do. I will do so in the coming days before classes start, unless my advisor magically gets all his work for the new semester done at warp speed and notices the email I sent that said I'm having a spiritual crisis and tells me some spiritual practice stuff to do, which would probably be quicker, easier, and more effective than me trying to figure it out myself.


  1. I'm really fascinated by the approach of investigating spirituality "from an orthodox perspective" to find a "happy little orthodox spiritual practice": what does that look like? What are you finding?

    Before I get into the body of the response, there's one thing on language: I'm not at all sure what you mean by the adjective "orthodox". The term is an overloaded term, with a strong claim from the Orthodox Church (people you might want to check out for spiritual insights, BTW), and a lot of somewhat vague definitions within the Protestant tradition. What constitutes "orthodox", and how do I determine if what I am reading is orthodox or is not? Is Meister Echkart a source of orthodox information? Is Calvin? Is Pope Benedict XIII? Is Sun Myung Moon? Is Heschel? If so, why? If not, why not? Is MLK, Jr, orthodox despite his theology being deeply informed by Gandhi's Hindu-based spirituality? Is process theology orthodox? Is a relational conception of the imago dei? How do we know what is appropriate to apply the "orthodox" adjective to, and how is that communicated in the term "orthodox"?

    Is Scott Peck orthodox? If Scott Peck is orthodox, BTW, you certainly should read his stuff for spiritual insights from a hybrid religious/spiritual and scientific view-point, with fairness to and intelligence within both perspectives. He might help you get an intellectual/metacognitive handle on the crisis and spiritual development in general.

  2. One more thing: good for you for being angry. Angry is a holy emotion: God gets angry (even in the Incarnation), and so to be like God is to get angry now and again. But being angry is like wielding a chainsaw: while it can be an extremely effective--arguably necessary--tool, it can also do a lot of damage if it gets away from you. Focusing that anger and applying it appropriately is part of the challenge of being a Christian, as Dr. Smith explained so well on your Facebook page. One of my pet peeves is the kind of "I'm Okay, You're Okay" and non-confrontational conception of Christian love: if the church has stopped challenging to our cultural context, even as that context leaves people spiritually impoverished, is it any wonder people are finding the church irrelevant?

    Now, to the body of the response. Speaking as someone who is interested in patristics and orthodoxy, but doesn't find the same kind of awesome divine bliss within it, let me explain where I'm coming from. The depiction you've presented of people like me is rather thin, and you're not going to accomplish very much by fighting with that strawman: your arguments just aren't going to be applicable to the audience, so they'll just whizz by. So let me make the target a bit more clear.

    The biggest issue is the assertion that "orthodox theology IS life-giving; you can't have full fellowship with God without it." To a lot of people-myself included-that's an undemonstrated hypothesis. Existentially and practically, what does that look like? How do I live differently because of a particular theological doctrine? What claims does the doctrine have on my behavior? What decision will I make differently because of a particular theological doctrine?

    Similarly, if you're going to claim that my spiritual health is tightly tied to my orthodox theology, you're going to have to somehow account for Gandhi and Sitting Bull and George Fox and the Buddha and the Dali Lama and a whole world of people who seem to be astoundingly spiritually developed, yet would decidedly fail a Christian orthodoxy test. If I can get to be Gandhi or the Dali Lama without Christian orthodoxy, then I have a long way to go before Christian orthodoxy becomes relevant.

    You can claim that the spiritual journey is easier given Christian orthodoxy-but now you've made an empirical claim again, and that's something you should be able to back up with precise and practical examples.

    Ultimately, the issue is one of epistemology: when you say that orthodoxy and spiritual health are intertwined, you're making a claim about how reality works, but under what basis should I accept that claim as true?

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  4. In response:

    1) Not sure what my happy little orthodox spiritual practice looks like yet. I'm trying to work it out. That is, it's not like an artifact I'm going to stumble upon or some natural phenomenon I can find, describe, and analyze. I'm basically going to build it in a rational way (with reference to the tradition) by considering the telos of spiritual practice and then figuring out what sorts of activities work to achieve that telos. So, as I work through it, I'll blog what it looks like and I'll (hopefully) live what it looks like.

    2) There's a reason I typed "orthodox" with a little "O" -- while E. Orthodoxy is orthodox, lower-case orthodoxy is bigger than Orthodoxy -- E. Orthodoxy has been developed in a specific and particular historical way. And some of its particular developments make me a bit wary of just adopting an Orthodox spiritual practice (for instance, the eventual adoption of hesychasm).

    3) As I understand it, orthodoxy is like a fence; it delineates and bounds off doctrine as essentially Christian and faithful to God's revelation in the economy. It permits paradox (arising from divine transcendence and the creature/creator distinction) but is also guided by logic (like the principle of non-contradiction -- which, incidentally, admits of paradox). Basically, orthodoxy is what says "this is Christian; everything outside this isn't." While the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the core of the faith and Scripture is our witness to the activity of God in the economy, orthodoxy is a means of articulating in more discrete terms the core of the faith which then can serve us as a Rule of Faith for our interpretation of the Biblical witness. Orthodoxy is a litmus test for faithfulness to the first-hand experience of the disciples and apostles who knew the risen Christ. It's not a made-up doctrine, but an articulation of belief born of reflection on experience which was judged to be most faithful and adequate (I use "adequate" in a psychological/biological sense with the connotations of "robust" and "well-adapted to survival"). It is a means of continuity and of self-definition for the Church. It is what tells us that we are worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who was revealed in the Christ as the Incarnation of the pre-existent and fully divine Son. So, in my view, it is what tells us that we are actually Christian and not just doing something else or worshiping something else. My definition of orthodoxy and its sources is actually that held by the capital-O Orthodox church: the creeds and formulae produced by the ecumenical councils which preceded the Great Schism. Any other texts (written or non-written) get critically evaluated in light of those. And there is a lot of leeway there, too. If something is not decided by the councils, then I personally might think that interpretation X is most in line with Scripture and tradition and my own experience; someone else might think Y. But both are diverse opinions which are still under the "umbrella" of orthodoxy. [Next part coming....]

  5. 4) I will check out Scott Peck, since I don't know him. But I'm maybe not as "sheltered" as you think. I grew up in a very fundamentalist household, but I spent over a decade as an active spiritual "seeker". Besides being a Quaker for about 5 years (which is itself a tradition very hip to diversity), I investigated a number of different Christian traditions, was involved in interfaith practices at mosques with Muslims, did yoga (not as exercise but as spiritual discipline), checked out Zen Buddhist meditation for a while, said daily morning prayers with Benedictine monks at a monastery for a while, maxed out on Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, did a pretty thorough investigation of Hinduism, and was introduced to Native American spirituality and goddess tradition by some friends. This is not to mention the large assortment of stuff that is best consigned to the rubric "New Age". I'm not by any means a scientist, but I'm fairly well-educated and have been interested in cognitive psychology for a while. While there's always more to learn and I like learning and certainly whatever I take in will enrich my perspective, I'm fairly sure that I'm not going to find an answer to a spiritual problem in a science book or in a non-Christian tradition.

  6. 5) I'm sorry if I wasn't doing justice to the subtlety or complexity of your perspective; I certainly don't want to be sparring with straw men. But I don't particularly want to be sparring either. What I've come to realize in the course of my reflection is that my arguments for orthodoxy *are* just going to whizz by. I'm not making empirical assertions or demonstrations of hypotheses, I'm making universal truth claims. If God were something we could measure out in teaspoons or titrate or weigh, then I could figure out an empirical argument to convince the world that orthodoxy is true. But then, it would be a pretty weak sort of God who could be definitively proven and comprehended by his creatures. In the here and now, God is just going to stay an undemonstrated and undemonstrable hypothesis. There was Jesus as God incarnate, but bunches of people thought he was not God but a rabble-rouser or a blasphemer or just "some nice moral teacher guy". While I totally value logic and I think that the Christian faith is utterly reasonable (especially since I see God as the source of human reason), I also don't think it's the job of Christians to prove God empirically. I know we like empirical proof. We like experience; our subjectivity does limit us to working with what we experience and respond to -- even to take the very first steps of faith and trust. I wish I could offer absolutely irrefutable proofs that this is the way; then the whole world would be Christian and orthodox and it would make me bubble over with happiness. But I can't do that. I can articulate truth in a reasonable fashion, as richly and passionately as I can. I can try to live in absolute integration with my orthodox faith (which is partly why I need a spiritual practice) and hope that my life bears fruit. But what happens in people's hearts and minds about orthodoxy is a matter between them and God. I should know, because I was NOT orthodox when I came here, by any stretch of the imagination. There is a very subtle interplay between grace and human will that I don't pretend to be able to describe or define. We don't simply "decide to be orthodox" but I also don't think grace comes in irresistibly and makes us think things against our will. If anything convinces someone else that orthodoxy is true, life-giving, etc. it's not going to be me and my arguments; it's going to be God and His working within that person's heart and mind. I've been thinking about this a lot since it goes to the core of my vocation as a Patristics theologian. You might think this is a cop-out from serious debate, but I'm not going to be demonstrating much. I think the point is that I should assert the truth as formulated, explicate it, and bring my life into alignment and integration with those truths I espouse about God. I'll present and explain the best "arguments" that I can as eloquently as I can. But the onus is not on me to "prove" anything because it's not about human proofs. What happens with other people in response or reaction to me doing my thing is between them and God; I am responsible for how well, how earnestly, and how faithfully I do my part -- not how successful I am in convincing people. I've been struggling with epistemology for a while now. My conclusion is that there just *is* no basis independent of Christian faith on which anyone should or could accept (as "true" and "fully proven") assertions about the distinctive truths of Christianity. And faith is not a human work. I'm getting more comfortable with the impasse.

  7. 6) If you want to be Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Sitting Bull, or Gautama Siddhartha -- go for it. Of course they fail the Christian orthodoxy test -- they never claimed to be Christian. As a category, "orthodoxy" is rather internal; it only applies to people claiming to be adherents of a particular religion. If you really like what you see in them, then I have nothing to say. I will have something to say if someone calls them "Christian", though. They had very deep spiritual lives; whether their spiritual development is "high" or "true" is something that has to be evaluated in terms of some sort of criterion. And my criterion is the essence of Christian faith and the Gospel as I believe it is articulated in Scripture and explicated by the formulas of orthodoxy. I'm sure they did some good stuff, but my answer to that is that God is good and grace is universal. The Greek and Roman philosophers did some good stuff, too and I like them a lot. But I will always evaluate their ideas of virtue or spirituality in light of Christianity. How do you decide that these people are astoundingly spiritually developed? How do you decide that they are to be emulated or that their spiritual estate is one to which we should aspire? But, like I said, if they have what you want, you certainly can follow their paths without recourse to orthodoxy and Christian orthodoxy isn't relevant to those paths. I'm not saying they are evil people; but I want something that they don't have. I want to be closer to God than I think they are. I want to be farther along spiritually than I think they were. I simply can't and won't settle for being as close to God as the "the Buddha" or Gandhi -- not when there's a better option. I want to be as close to God as Jesus (or as close as a human being can come given that we are not going to be ontologically changed into consubstantiality with the Father). So I look primarily to Jesus and to people who followed Jesus.

  8. Looking forward to the blog posts reflecting on spiritual practices in light of your boundaries of orthodoxy and reflecting on tradition. The recommendation for Scott Peck isn't because I thought you were sheltered, but rather because he's gone out of vogue yet has some profound insights into the psychology of love and spirituality which are well-informed by a theological mind. He's on my short list for spiritual development teachers who actually *say* something.

    For the record, I'm not looking for you to prove God or Christianity. I'm asking what are the demonstrable consequences of this claim: "orthodox theology IS life-giving; you can't have full fellowship with God without it." If there are no demonstrable consequences, then I'm not sure why I care. If partaking of something "life-giving" in no way alters my experience, then what does it even mean for this thing called "orthodox theology" to be called "life-giving"? If it does alter my experience, then there is some kind of real-world consequence accessible to consideration.

  9. As for Gandhi, Dali Lama, et al.-

    You say, "I want to be closer to God than I think they are. I want to be farther along spiritually than I think they were." Granted. However, I'd like to start by being as far along as they are.

    The Dali Lama expresses the love of God more perfectly than anyone else I've seen. I state this based on an empirically-accessible criterion: when in a situation where love in the most wonderful Christian tradition is just one of many options, the Dali Lama chooses the love option and enacts it with more honesty than anyone else I've witnessed.

    Similarly, Gandhi expressed lived faith in God more perfectly than anyone else I know. This is accessed by looking at his record: given choices between playing it safe and being faithful to God, he chooses faith in God. In true Christian fashion, he achieves victory in loss, loves his enemies, and cares for the least.

    In short, both of them are better at living a Christian life and report a stronger relationship to God than I have. Even I-now have a stronger relationship to God than I-back-then had. So given all that, why should I care about orthodoxy? Even granting orthodoxy gets you from Gandhi to Jesus, I'm still trying to play catch-up to Gandhi, so why should I care about orthodoxy?

  10. Well, I don't agree with your evaluation of Gandhi et al. I'm particularly wondering how you say they were better at living a *Christian* life. I need a little more Christ to call something "Christian". Or am I missing something? Do you basically call Christianity "victory in loss, loving enemies and caring for the least"? If that's the gist of Christianity and you can get there being Buddhist or Hindu (like Gandhi and the Dalai Lama), then what's the point of Jesus? I mean that as a real question to understand your perspective, not as a snarky challenge. Because I can't see why Jesus matters in this set-up, but I remember you saying things about getting Jesus back into Quakerism and reminding Friends that they're Christian. So how does Jesus fit in here? Since you don't like orthodoxy much, then what makes something "Christian" in your opinion?

  11. Here's how I figure it. God is true and universal. Therefore, God is accessible to all people, even if particular vital truths (like the incarnation of God as Jesus) are not immediately present.

    Now, Gandhi describes God like this: "I do dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever changing, ever dying there is underlying all that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and recreates. That informing power of spirit is God, and since nothing else that I see merely through the senses can or will persist, He alone is. And is this power benevolent or malevolent ? I see it as purely benevolent, for I can see that in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists. Hence I gather that God is life, truth, light. He is love. He is the supreme Good."

    That sounds awfully familiar to me: that's the same thing I identify as the Christian God. It wouldn't phase me at all to hear what Ghandi said come from some saint of the patristic age or some medieval mystic.

    Given that Ghandi is describing the Christian God, when Ghandi reports being guided by that force and Ghandi lives a life faithful to that force, that's Ghandi being guided by the Christian God and living a life faithful to the Christian God, even if Christians failed to convince him to formally convert.

    So, given that Ghandi's faith is invested in the same place that my faith is invested, Ghandi and I are on similar spiritual tracks. Except Ghandi is far ahead of me, and apparently without needing to tap into orthodox theology.

  12. And Jesus? If Gandhi has got enough of a sense of God to be spiritually far along and closer to God than some Christians -- without Jesus -- then what makes the "vital truth" of the incarnation so vital? What's Jesus doing in this whole scheme?

  13. One more thing: Ghandi's alignment with the Christian God is also shown in action. A self-professed Christian could have done many of the same things and lived many of the same beliefs as Ghandi did and I would buy that it was in alignment with God's will and leading. So if the only difference in belief and action between Ghandi and a hypothetical amazing Christian is a formal acknowledgement of Jesus as God, I'm willing to call Ghandi pretty amazing by Christian standards.

    Now, to answer the direct questions that I so cunningly dodged.

    > So how does Jesus fit in here?

    Jesus is God. Now, *why* was it fitting for God to come as Jesus? Why did the Word become Incarnate? That's a question that only God can know for sure. I'm fond of Athanasius's recounting, but don't really have an answer for you.

    > Since you don't like orthodoxy much, then what makes something
    > "Christian" in your opinion?

    That's not really black-and-white with a clear delineation. It's like asking what makes something "American". Is the PATRIOT ACT American? Is it anti-American? In a sense, it's both. It was passed by Congress, so it's certainly a product of America, and in that sense, it's American. But it's damaging to the lived idealism that is the basis of the American identity, and so in that sense it's anti-American. "Christian" is the same way. To one extent, if you take on the identity yourself, you're a Christian and I can't say boo about it. But to another extent, being a Christian is about submitting your life to God's will. In that case, judging what is or is not Christian is a lot tougher: if I saw a man about to murder his unwitting son, I wouldn't call that Christian-but that could be Abraham, and he's the father of faith!

  14. I believe that Jesus is God. I believe that Jesus saved and is saving the world. I believe that while the mortal Jesus was with us, He taught us many useful things and charged his disciples to tell the world. I believe that God being incarnated as a Jew wasn't an accident or arbitrary choice, but a confirmation of a chosen people who received particular revelations from God throughout time in order to prepare them to receive God and enact Jesus's salvation.

    But the fact that Ghandi doesn't concur with those assessments of reality doesn't change the fact that he's worshipping the same God and has a relationship with the same God. Unless you're positing another god who is light, love, truth, and the master of the soul?