Why a Trinity is Essential

This is the beginning of a multi-part discussion. I hesitate to post it so early in the blog/podcast’s existence, but it is one of the main lenses that bent my light back into alignment with The Light. I began to develop it about 10 years ago, and it’s still not complete. It’s a super complex analogy in my head, but I’ll try to make it simpler out loud. I begin here on a long arc toward distinguishing between truth, belief , and feeling, in hopes of relinquishing relativism while promoting something akin to relational Christian theology.

Where two or three gather in my name, there also I will be with them.

Matthew 18:20

Let me just start off by saying that this one is going to be a doozy. It’s probably best to read this as creative writing. We’re going to explore creation from a pseudo-scientific-semi-mathematical perspective, then cram it down, no, expand it up to the Christian ideology. This is not apologetics or Big Bang vs Intelligent Design… But don’t let me over-explain it before I explain it. So, let’s go…

A Pointless Beginning

If we look at the Big Bang, the beginning premise is that at some point long ago, everything in our universe was crammed into a single point, which even my 8 year old knows was smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. This is where we will begin; I want to first explore the idea of a ‘point’.

A mathematical point is single location on a line or grid that can be described as a number or set of numbers, respectively. The issue here is that a point’s existence is reliant on a structure larger than it also existing. There must be a line or grid on which the number is defined.

Jumping back to the Big Bang, if the entire universe is contained within a point, on what grid could that point be defined? If the grid was held within that single point, we begin to run into a paradox, if not a full on contradiction. Without a grid, there would not really be a number to assign such a point. And who would be there to give it such a number? If the whole universe is contained in that point, there could be nothing outside of it to observe it. We’re beginning to get at the problem of a singularity of space-time, but before we go further or introduce an external observer, let’s unpack this a little more.

As I suggested in the previous post, I do not understand numbers as constituting a physical reality, only a linguistic sign. To abuse Jaques Derrida’s term differance, a sign can only exist meaningfully in relation to the traces left on it by all the other signs that are absent. Oversimplified: a word only has meaning because of all the other words that it is not. I include all this mumbo-jumbo to say that a singular entity cannot exist, or at best is meaningless by itself.

If, indeed, the universe ever was condensed into a single point, it did not exist at that point.

As far as I understand though, the Big Bang universe was not ever truly a single point, only a very small, very densely packed “pre-thing” or “non-thing.”

… … …

What about Biblical creation? Was it creatio ex nihilo, ‘creation out of nothing’? Did it, could it, have started from a single point? Was God alone before he created? Was there a God before Creation?

Let’s start by looking at Creation via language. First, we’ll look at Genesis 1, where God spoke everything into existence. Oops, Genesis doesn’t tell us how God created the universe, it just says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” While we assume this means the universe as we know it, it could be that there was already a universe of chaotic ‘stuff’ and God ‘created’ by assembling the chaos into the ordered cosmos we now know. This is how we (who are made in God’s image) create – we take raw materials and order them, shape them, into nameable (and usable) things. Maybe the ‘image’ in which we are created is to be creative. Is not one of the first commands to have dominion over the earth?

Our dominion in not over ‘nothing’, and we don’t create from ‘nothing’. Did God ever rule over ‘nothing’; did He ever create from nothing?

Biblically, it seems clear that there was at least a spiritual host, over which God reigned, before our creation: “let *us* make man in *our* image.” But if God (and possibly a heavenly host) created this universe, what was there before, in the beginning-beginning?

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1 ESV

Okay. Now we have at least 2 entities in the beginning: ‘The Word’ (presumably Jesus in some form?) and ‘God’ (the Father?). We’ll assume this “beginning” is The Beginning, before universal creation, because John goes further to say, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3 ESV)

Noowwww, we’re starting to get somewhere. And at the same time, we’re getting back on track toward answering the question, “is a trinity is necessary?” We have found two entities, and if we simply add to the Father and Son of John 1:1 the Holy Spirit of Genesis 1:2 (“[…]and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,”) we have our Trinity existing at, or more precisely, before the beginning of creation.

But this is basic Trinitarian theology, so why did I introduce all the stuff about geometry and linguistics? To prime us for seeing that a trinity, and by a short leap, The Trinity, is logically necessary for existence in general.

Going back to examine our first point: If a single point can not exist alone, what would allow it to exist?

Let’s visualize this real quick. Imagine there is one single point, and next to it, another single point. Now, what does “next to it”  mean when we are talking about singular points? “Next to it” is meaningless because we still have not defined a a space in which these points exist. But to add an entire space is going too far, too fast too furious. (Lucretius the Epicurean suggested a precreation universe filled with ‘atoms’ that where in what we may describe as a zero entropy state: they were evenly distributed and not interacting. Only after one of them swerved and touched another did they begin to pile up, initiating creation.)

Let’s look at that primary interaction. We can relate the two points to each other in a simple way: when the two points touch, they create a line. According to Wolfram “A line is a straight one-dimensional figure having no thickness and extending infinitely in both directions […] uniquely determined by two points.” Not only do the two points determine the line, but the line is the medium between the two points. Here, we do not have space or even a grid; we can’t even define distance or time yet. We don’t really even have a line, only a line segment. But what we do have is a primary infinity – the line between the two points, no matter how apparently small, can in theory be divided and subdivided infinitely. We now have three entities – two points and a line – that act as a single unit but contain the infinite.

(We have twisted Spinoza. For him, what is most Primary (Descartes’ ‘Substance’) is not infinite in number, but infinite in essence. Further, in our model, because of the immediate emergence of three at once, I am tempted to argue that essence, existence, and being co-emerge simultaneously; that only because of our viewing angle do we perceive anyone of the qualities to be primary.)

Now we have a working metaphor for our un-mathematical ‘proof’: in order for any one thing to exist, at least three definable things must exist – the thing itself, a thing to which it can relate, and the relationship between them.  And as soon as these three things exist, an infinity of possibilities exists. Specifically, the infinite lies in the relationship -the line- between the two points. We could imagine the existence of any number of beings before the creation of our universe, but we cannot imagine any existence with less than three.

(That may be the most overly complicated love story ever.)

Seriously, it’s a pretty abstract idea to follow. Let’s imagine a more concrete scenario to get the picture. Imagine being alone in a room, completely blindfolded and wearing really good noise-cancelling headphones: you can sense nothing but your own body. If someone else came into the room under the same restraints, you may each think you were alone in the room. The only way to discover each other would be to physically touch. It would be as if the other person didn’t exist until there was a connection, a communication.

Creation of Adam – Michelangelo       (public domain)

Now there are many downfalls to our example, but it gets the point across. Two (or more) entities must touch/interact/communicate in some way in order to exist with each other. Even if we admit that existence is possible without connection (see Lucretius’s pre-creation state), when we take seriously the idea of differance we can stand firm on the idea that there is no meaning shared between two entities that do not interact. In my opinion, it is the touch, the interaction, the shared communion if you will, that is the foundation of existence and meaning.

The Last Supper – Leonardo Da Vinci (public domain)

At this point, we become tempted to play the analogy game: one point could be God the Father, the other could be The Son, and the line between them the Holy Spirit. I like the analogy this way because it gives God and Jesus subjectivity, while the Spirit is the way they connect. But just as easily, this trinity could be ‘creator’, created, and their interplay. I also really like the idea of two subjects and a consciousness that emerges between them. Still more, the naming of any set of three may be appropriate, but the reality that a trinity is necessary allows for a trinity to be found in all relationships. We can, therefore, say that the existence of the form of the trinity is omnipresent.

Ultimately, it would be a mistake to place God or Christ or the Holy Spirit at any fixed point, as this leads us to idolatry. At the same time, a line seems too simplistic to me, and therefore I only use it as a simplified model for what I imagine to be perpetually moving, multi-layered, multi-dimensional fields of existence; maybe something like a multi-dimensional Venn diagram.

The illustration I’m proposing is a dialectical ontology of the divine. Returning to the analogy of the line, it is only by traversing the line, by moving between individual points along the path of the unity, that can we have meaningfully experience, whether of the Divine, the resurrected Christ, or simply the other. When we stop the movement of any point, we objectify it’s being, effectively killing it. All living beings continually emerge in their subjectivity by remaining fluid. As a most concrete analogy, our blood must pump throughout our bodies in order for us to stay alive.

Likewise, the “mystery” of God is not that we can never know Him, but that our experience of God is not static – it cannot be contained in a single nameable time, person, place, or thing. Recall the story of Moses and the burning bush: the fire did not consume the bush, it gave it meaning! As a side note, I have heard Hebrew scholars say that the name Yahweh tells Moses is better translated as “I will be who I will be,” as opposed to “I am who I am.” “Will be” denotes active becoming while “am” signifies only present-ness. I take them together to get, “I am and I will be.” I’m thinking ‘alpha an omega’ language here; with the point being that God, Jesus, and the Spirit are not present only in the beginning and end, but everywhere in between as well. The Trinity is present with us along a line-like path. We walk “the straight and narrow” to be in communion with God.

As Johnny Cash put it, “I walk the line.”

I will spend the next few posts building on this idea by developing a model of existence that shifts between three modes of sensing: feeling, believing, and knowing.

3 The Relativity of Stained Glass and Math: Epilogue

A History (and Future) of Disbelief

Can literacy go too far? What happens when a system gets too large? What does this have to do with Singularity?

In the last post, we looked at how fluent literacy can lead to a type of authoritative rebirth that we called re+authoring. We discussed the end of the Dark Ages and the beginning of the a Renaissance. (The word, “renaissance,” literally means rebirth.) Marking this historic transition was the restoration of various types of literacy. 

Since then, in the Western world, there has been a general increase in literacy. Paired with the ideas of the Enlightenment, naturalism and the birth of modern science, over time myriad doubts about the accuracy and viability of the Bible began to spring up, both from inside and outside the Church. (Speaking of Christianity after the Reformation, I feel like I should say “the Churches,” plural, but it just comes out awkwardly.)

Not only do we get skepticism and relativism from thinkers such as Hume and Kant, but we also get dog-piled by the loss of traditional authority in Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. In this same time frame, a budding new middle class was thirsty for status of any kind. This meant that ideas could spread rapidly by attaching the knowledge and understanding of such philosophies to aristocrat-like intellectual status. Further, the (semi-)dismantling of the feudal system gave many, if not most, some sense of hope for upward social mobility. As the traditional pairing of education and wealth persisted, each socially lower class reached upward, not just in the capitalist sense, but also “intellectually,” getting drunk on the trickle down of a more and more watered-down version of the newest ideas. In sequence, as a result of the spread of secular philosophy, we see a deterioration of the authority of the Church and Christian religion.

I could be wrong, but I think that each of these philosophers distanced themselves from Christianity in one way or another for the sheer fact that Christianity was failing to deliver on the goals and ideals put forth in the Gospel. I don’t think it was an impatience with the eschatological, but with the failure of the Church to exhibit, practically, the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount (among others). It’s as if these thinkers sought to scaffold the morality and metaphysics of Christianity without the mythology. For example, Nietzsche’s “Death of God” is as much a critique of the absence of activated belief and the lack of morality that logically follows, as it is a denial of an actual Being. (Tangentially, what purpose would an ubermensch serve if everyday Christians practiced the Golden Rule?)

The Two Barriers

…But I digress. When a young literate, but perhaps only semi-fluent, person who has not had their needs met by the Church reads or hears a phrase such as “God is dead,” it rings true without needing to inspect the details that lead to such a conclusion. These details were readily available to the one passing down such ideas, and because the messenger is inherently more fluent than the receiver, he/she is capable of choosing whether to re+author or re-write the text as he/she passes it down. To put it another way, the teacher always knows more than the student, therefore the teacher has the power to skew the lesson to his/her motives. This power dynamic can create a barrier to true fluency.

There seems to always be at least 2 barriers to fluent literacy: getting the illiterate literate, and finding benevolent authority for those who remain illiterate regardless of efforts to educate.

The remedy to the first issue, getting the illiterate literate, seems to be a no-brainier – education… … … But I’m just gonna leave that alone for now because of the mess that the American education system is. Maybe this isn’t even a barrier in other countries…

The second issue, which is really, ‘how do we govern the ignorant,” is even stickier. (Does a statement such as that provoke a fight in the comments section?) My original wording has my answer built in: the perpetually illiterate need a benevolent authority to guide them. The problem remains: where to find this ‘benevolent authority.’

The simple, Christian answer is, as always, Jesus! But because He is no longer physically present, finding a human proxy is quite the tall task. While no human is purely good or completely evil, the continuum of theologies developed from the mixture of re+authoring and re-writing the Gospel has divided Christianity into hundreds of denominations. The overlap and disagreement between any two could be both miniscule and infinite. Nowadays, to speak of the authority of the church could mean something different for almost everyone who speaks of it.

None the less, Christianity at least has a model for benevolent authority in its Christ. How about secularism?

How Science Will Fail.

Contemporary Science has as it’s biggest strength it’s biggest weakness: decentralization. Looking at the way that the Reformation took absolute (corrupting) power from the centralized Catholic Church’s hands, the decentralized nature of Science prevents such a circumstance from occurring in the first place. At the same time, the overwhelming project of science demands multiple authorities, each  so specialized in increasingly siloed disciplines, that to make generalized practical statements, much less a coherent cosmology, is nearly impossible. Further, the limited resources for research grants has introduced capitalistic competition to the field, along with all its trappings and temptations.

All that aside, the literacy issue poses the largest threat to science as a cosmological competitor to religion. As Galileo would have it, mathematics is the language of science, and many of us do not have the ability to become literate enough in math on the scale necessary for full scientific understanding. Likewise, because of specialization, scientists from one discipline may be (are probably) only partially literate in another. A zoologist probably doesn’t fully grasp subatomic physics, and vice versa. To understand all of science, one must only understand the basics of most of it – any truly universal cosmology faces the challenge of not being an inch deep and a mile wide. So far, the solution to this problem has been to forgo a unified theory, and allow each discipline to be it’s own authority, because they seem to overlap decently. This potentially creates another problem: who gets to be the authority where disciplines overlap? What happens when two disciplines that should overlap don’t? What happens when the links in the chain of authors doesn’t hold together?

Mathematics is like a big building with many apartments. We have at least Arithmetic and Analysis, Algebra and Topology – and we have Geometry and Probability-Theory. Very often the tenants of these different apartments seem not to understand each other.

Paul Lorenzen, “Constructive and Axiomatic Method.” Protophysics of Time: Constructive Foundation and History of Time Measurement (Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science Book 30)

Although the quote is about math, it also highlights the current problem of macro and quantum physics. The scientists understand each other, but their equations don’t – the equations that work for large objects don’t work for small objects. Currently, all attempts to create a Unified Theory have resorted to a sort of metaphysics (ahem, I’m looking at you, multi-verse). Interestingly, most people don’t recognize it as a metaphysics because the language is advanced mathematics, which is not easily comprehended. And when it get translated to literature, something gets lost in translation.

While there are numerous important and critical scientists in every field, the names we all know – Arthur Eddington, Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson, etc. – are mainly popular because of their ability to translate such math into the language of the laity. They have become the apparent authority not only for their scientific achievement, but because they are so fluent in their language that they can translate/re+author, it into another. These authors give their subject new life;  in their re+authoring, their subjects are reborn.

But up to what level can we trust these authorities? If we do not, cannot, read the language of their ideological foundation, what is to stop them from misusing the trust and power we give them? Could the limited number of them precipitate into a scientific oligarchy? Can the peer review process prevent a conspiracy toward malevolent authorship?

Just as the overreach of papal power was prevented from within the church, science might just take care of itself.

The Cyborg Reformation

If human-machine integration is to truly take place – if the augmentation of humans with computers is to reach it’s full potential – then one day, our brains will be bio-digitally synchronized with the complete catalogue of scientific information.

But will we be able to glean meaning from it? Will there be any meaning left- or just information?

Just as verbal literacy led to widespread critical viewing of the Biblical text, will universal mathematical literacy promote cynicism toward the lack of a unified Science? Will there be a unified science by then? Is unification and/or computational singularity an eschatological dream?

Let’s examine the problem of cyborgism – augmentation of computers into the human animal – for just a moment. When humans have a supercomputer in/with/as their brain, everyone should be fluent enough in mathematics to translate the various math equations that explain the big bang, or Higgs Bozon Particles, or gravity, etc. Once fluent, what if we can all easily deconstruct the construct of physics, what if we can all find the inconsistencies that derail any unification theory? What if we find out the multi-verse was all just a mathematical metaphor, equational poetry for the actual physical world? What if it’s just a “play on numbers” that tricks our logic into following a valid syllogism based on false premises? What if we recognize that the numbers still don’t add up to our conscious experience?

Will the same system that created the technology create a technology that undermines that system?

You may recognize these proposed questions as slight variations of the criticism of Christianity (or any religion.) The analogy only works if one accepts math as an actual language, just as Hebrew, Greek, Latin or English are. Many people, especially mathematicians and scientists, believe that math is more than a language; they see it as the essence of reality. Some believe that we can break down the physical world to a point where only numbers would remain. To an extent, many believe that underneath everything, there is (only) math.

I disagree. I don’t believe there is an “underneath.” More precisely, I think the physical world is the underneath. Not necessarily in a fully Platonic way, but in that if physical matter is broken down, I think one will only find more physical matter. I believe that only when physical matter is added together do we get something more.

The physical must be added to in order to get a metaphysics!

‘Meta’ + ‘physics’ literally means “after the physical.” One must have a “protophysics” to be under or before the physical. But before we get too deep into a discussion about if Math is a first principle, or whether the chicken or the egg came first, let us just look at what makes a chicken come from an egg, and what makes a viable egg come from a chicken…

Here, unfortunately and for many reasons, I must leave you with a cliffhanger. First off, I’m not sure how to wrap this up quickly and neatly, if at all. Second, this is a good place to launch into a much larger discussion of emergence.

The next posts will begin a sort of typological cosmology that I am still working out. It will try to explain how singularity is synonymous with non-being, while at the same time claiming that a trinity (the Trinity) is the bare minimum for existence – an existence that goes from zero to infinity instantly. For now, a respite…

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. “Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it. Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord . But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death.”

Proverbs 8:22‭-‬36 NIV

2 The Relativity of Stained Glass and Math PT 2 : Authors vs Authorities

If we are not fluent, we are illiterate.

The last post left us with the nearly helpless idea that when we are illiterate (which we mostly are), we must rely on authority to enlighten us. Simultaneously, we must also be weary of authority, because whether in science or religion, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A major source of power comes from being fluent in an system in which others are not.

Our resolution was to become literate, so that we may not be reliant on authorities, but instead, authors in our own right. This can be a daunting task that goes in a few directions; we will follow what we can.

Christian Authorship Among Mixed Means

Unlike the meaning embedded in Medieval stained glass imagery, the equations of theoretical physics cannot be fully fleshed-out to us by reading aloud from the author/authority’s work. Although some see math as the truly catholic, ahem, universal language, the fact is that most are ignorant of its higher forms – calculus, non-Euclidean geometry, etc. For many, an advanced mathematical model is codified in a foreign language. Therefore, whether written or spoken, it may not be comprehended by one who is unlearned in such mathematics. In this case, fluency and literacy are one and the same.

Wait! Can’t something similar be said of Christianity? I would posit that one could be taught all the words in the New Testament, but not really know what it means to be  Christian – to inhabit the being of one who follows Christ – because the epistemology and the ontology of the Christian rest in praxis 👀👀👀. More plainly, the foundational truth of Christian-being can only be arrived at through action. I know many a Pauline disciple are shouting, “You just need faith to be Christian!” Sure, but how do we know one has faith? Through their actions. As the apostle James famously puts it, faith without works is dead. Or, as Deitrich Bonhoeffer puts it in chapter two of Discipleship, faith and obedience arise and act simultaneously; “Faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”

Of course, to know how to act like Christ, we must learn about Him. This is one place where the verbally illiterate has the advantage over the mathematically illiterate – the former can listen to the Bible being read in his/her language of fluency and begin to grasp its message. Conversely, advanced math is equally opaque whether spoken or written. (I will not address translation concerns here, instead only deal with interpretation, as translation is a type of interpretation.) Ultimately, and with reference to the first Pentacost after the resurrection (Acts 2:1-13) where the language barrier was miraculously dissolved in the dissemination of the Gospel, I believe that the Holy Spirit is expected to translate to the faithful reader/listener. I’m not sure the same can be said for calculus. Is there a holy spirit of calculus?

The fact remains: there are many different interpretations of every Bible verse. So, we should take a minute to examine hermeneutics – the task of interpreting.

Contemporary hermeneutics is often overlayed onto literary semiotics (the study of the basic elements of language/writing). Without getting stuck in the weeds too much, we will quickly look at the ideas of a philosopher from the 20th century, Roland Barthes.

One of Barthes’ most famous ideas is presented in his essay “The Death of the Author.” Jumping right to the punchline, Barthes asserts that every time a text is read, it is (re)authored by the reader. In his view, through the act of interpreting the meaning of a text, it is authored as much by the reader as its writer. The essay includes a criticism of dogmatic interpretation of texts, including the Bible. Barthes claims one of his purposes as being the liberation of the activity of interpretation, noting that to do so might be considered counter-theological because “to refuse to arrest¹ meaning is finally to refuse God…” The implications appear counter to religion, but can also be utilized in understanding the democratization of Biblical authority.

For Barthes, authorship (thus authority) is decentralized.

In arguing this, he accidentally gives proof to the Pentacostal activation of the text. As we read the Bible, we interpret it. Thus, it is revealed to us. When I say read, I mean READ the Bible – not just eyeballing the words, wondering if it’s been long enough since we’ve last checked our social media, or scanning for something that  we already know and that agrees with our agenda – I mean when we read-read; when we look up the words we don’t know, check the concordances, read and reread until we inhabit the words the way The Word desires to inhabit us. When we read this way, we can expect the Holy Spirit to reveal what the tongues on fire are saying to us. When we read on this level, in a sense, we are (re)+authoring the text. We are becoming an authority on it.


Here, we find ourselves in the greatest danger.

It is at this point, when we begin to feel like we are gaining authority on the Bible, we should take a step back and learn a lesson from Science.

Of all the stages of contemporary scientific endeavor, possibly the most critical phase for confirming a finding is peer review. Peer review means that when a new discovery is made, other scientists in the same field, with the same or higher credentials, check the work for soundness and validity.

Returning to our look at Christianity amongst the low literacy rates in the Middle Ages, we can see how important peer review is in keeping (Biblical) authority in check. Namely, when no one could put review the church, the church made it’s own rules of the Biblical texts.

In the centuries following Roman Emperor Constantine’s appropriation of Christianity, (making it the official religion of the western world,) the Church expanded greatly in every way. Across this time, we see a direct correlation between the church’s temporal distance from the resurrection of Christ, and the theologically-promoted physical distance between Heaven and Earth, as evinced by a change in the locus of authority. In this process, as the church became more powerful, the source of its authority shifted. This movement could be described as going from the Word of God to the word of Rome vis-a-vis the Papacy. More concisely, the Church’s authority transformed into power. We will now look at how early Christian peer-review was lost, and how that translated into power becoming centralized.

Authority vs. Power

The Epistles of the New Testament are letters written to churches, presumably passed between local congregations and read aloud to each. Based on my reading of the Epistles, when I think of the first and second century churches, they seem like places where people learned about Christ and how God had already forgiven their sins through Jesus’s death and resurrection. The Church’s mission seemed to be letting people know this good news and asking them to turn from their flesh-ly ways to build a more heavenly community of forgiveness here, on Earth, in preparation for the new Heaven and Earth to come.

It was the responsibility of the hearers to live out, in their communities, the gospel they heard described, therefore, taking part in the authorship of the good news to their community.  I would call this benevolent authoring, or as a noun, benevolent authority. Benevolent authoring has no relationship to literacy, because it’s goal is irrelevant to language, it’s aim is action.

Jesus, himself the Benevolent Authority, re+authored the Bible of his time by living out it’s truths. In His own words, He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. He fulfilled it by putting all of its teaching into meaningful action. By contrast, the Pharisees lived by the Law, they did not live out the Law; they lived beside the Law, not through it; they may have best memorized and obeyed the Law, but did not know how to Live, because of the Law.

We are called to be Christ-like, to re+author the word daily, not only by reading it or memorizing it, not just by living in it, but also by living it out. Here’s a quick scriptural example from Matthew:

In Matthew 3:2 (ESV), we see John the Baptist preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” After His baptism by John, and testing in the wilderness, Jesus begins his ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). Christ does such a good job of this that “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29 ESV) It was as if Jesus had not simply read the Law and the Prophets, but written it himself! He subsequently “called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” and instructed them to “proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 10:1 and 7 ESV).

“The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It’s almost like John the Baptist wrote it, Jesus lived it, and the disciples copied it. But because of the way each participated in it, they all shared in its authorship. They each had authority.¹

This next point is crucially important:

To author a text is to give birth to it; to re+author a text it’s to give it new life. Jesus was the word made flesh –  the living word – he was the meaningful activation of the text. His murder was an attempt by power-seeking authorities to fix the meaning of the Word¹, but his resurrection was a radical re+authoring of the Word. Likewise, if we live out – re+author – Christ’s example, we will be re-born (born again), and share in His resurrection. This is a call to action, not to speaking. We are to re+author, not re-write.

To continually re+author the gospel in this way is to continually re-surrect (rise again) the Christ. In the same way Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, we are involved in the resurrection of Him when we live as he lived. But, we can only know how to live because Jesus first lived. This is how we keep the Kingdom of heaven at hand!

… … …

In contrast, I understand the Church of the Middle Ages as promoting a Heaven that was NOT at hand. The church acted like an earthly kingdom whose mission was to constantly remind people that they needed God’s forgiveness and let them know where and how to earn it. The responsibility of the people was to rid themselves of sin, and because the logic was that Heaven (and God and Jesus) was far away from Earth, the responsibility of the clergy was to act as intermediaries between man and God. In order to perpetuate its power, the Church had to regulate the maintenance of the salvation of its parishioners. In turn, in order to ensure one’s own salvation, the status quo of papal hegemony had to be maintained.

This positioning gave the papal hierarchy absolute power, including authority to interpret, to re-write the Law as they saw fit.  I call this power authoring. Power authoring has a direct relationship to literacy in that the powerful need those who are overpowered to be illiterate in the language of the Law so that the rules always work in the powerful’s favor. In contrast to the benevolence of re+authoring, power authoring is malevolent re-writing.

So, where does peer review come in for either of these situations?

In the early church, there were many disciples/apostles and followers who had first-hand encounters with Jesus. Therefore, the news being spread could always be fact-checked. I have heard contemporary apologists claim that the obligation to factual accuracy in the story of Jesus and His teaching was critical in the foundation and growth of the early church. So much so, that we can see evidence of this in the disputes between Paul, Peter, and others over theology in the Epistles.

Alternately, by the middle ages, the Bible, prayer, and liturgy were the only available re-sources for learning about Jesus. There were no verifiable first-hand encounters with Jesus. As discussed, Bibles were scarcely available, so instruction on how to pray, source material for liturgy – anything found in the Bible – was restricted to those who had access to a Bible and were fluent in it’s language. More often than not, the people in such position were also under the influence of power, and the Empire.

But toward the end of the Medieval Period, there was a rise in literacy. In fact, many would argue that literacy is one of the main things that ushered in its end.

Where did the end of the church’s power come from? Within.

Inside the Church was the humble, devout, monastic order. These copiers of the Biblical text were often highly literate. But, apparently, reading the same Book repeatedly was a little boring to some of them, and there began a bit of an underground book exchange. According to Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve, the desired texts were often the old Greek classics, as well as other pagan or secular texts. These same texts were also sought after by the growing wealthy, literate class outside of the clergy.  Here we see the rise in the literacy (fluency) of ideas that were outside that “arrested meaning” found in the orthodox ideology which was sanctioned by (papal) authority.

By the turn of the 16th century, the ideas of the Ancient Greeks and Romans had worked their way back into the minds of the literate world. Paired with an ever growing and ever more apparent corruption within the church, the Humanist idea of individual agency likely helped open the mind (and heart) of Reformation hero, Martin Luther. His critical (re)reading of the Bible and his courageous peer review of Papal procedure led him to see – to re+authorize, if you will –  the Biblical truth that the relationship one has to God through faith in Christ is constitutional to salvation, not  payment of indulgences or other such works.

Already in full use by Luther’s time, the invention of the Guttenberg press also helped catapult literacy by lowering the production time and cost of printed materials, increasing their availability for private consumption.

I noted in the previous post that very few fully literate adults have the ability to read the Bible and fully comprehend it. Escaping the question of whether anyone fully understands it, I wholly believe that it was not meant to be understood in isolation, but that reading the text together in a group gets us closer to comprehension than any individual exegesis could. If this is true, then an increase in literate individuals could have strengthened, and been strengthened by, a kind of collective fluency.

Clearly though, Luther accelerated the democratization of literacy by translating the Bible from Latin to the common German language. The ‘Luther Bible’ more readily allowed the laity to read for themselves the promise of the gospel.

Quite literally, Luther’s re+authoring of the Bible helped suture the wound between the medieval church and the resurrection, in a sense narrowing the gap between Heaven and Earth. Once again, the Kingdom was near.

To be continued…

It seems to be our nature to want fixed, unchanging meaning; a God we could pinpoint would seem to help us grasp our present reality. But the Bible itself reminds us that life cannot be grasped, it is like smoke or vapor. To attempt to hold it is vanity. Its meaning always escapes,  we are told by the teacher in Ecclesiastes. Keeping this in mind, for a text, any text, to ‘live’ it must continually be read anew, re+authored. Like the spirit, or breath, of God hovering over Creation in Genesis, it should always posses a vaporous quality. To lock down the message leads to litigiousness, and to overemphasize the Law makes us miss the One who came to fulfill it.

Read the Bible. Study it. Read it with others. But don’t choke the Life out of it! Re+authorize the Word by faithfully acting on peer-reviewed understanding. Perhaps in this way, we can stay mindful that the Kingdom is, indeed, at hand.

1. According to Mark 1:14, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Relativity of Stained Glass and Mathematics

A New Creation?

In the beginning was the Probability, and the Probability was greater than zero, and the Probability was One. All things were created through Probability, and outside this Probability, Zero has been created. Life was in that Probability, and that life was the light of homo sapiens. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.

General Literacy

Literacy rates during the Medieval Period in Europe are, apparently, hard to gauge. We’re talking about the Middle Ages, roughly AD1000 to 1400 give or take 100 years, so there is a decent amount of change, and large swaths of peoples and cultures to account for, so the numbers are fuzzy at best. Depending on where you look and how you define literacy, the numbers could be lower than 5%, and restricted mainly to nobility and clergy. But with a more liberal definition, say, being able to make out enough Latin, French, or “English” to equate to a contemporary 3rd grader, numbers could look closer to 40%, but maybe up to 90%. (Source). For comparison, literacy in the United States of America today is between 80 to 99%. (Source)

Okay, maybe not the best sources, but the numbers line up with the general consensus of what I’ve been taught all my life. [And, if I think it’s true, and I can find at least one place online that agrees, it must be #FACTS! 👀]

So, what do all these boring, made-up statistics have to do with stained glass or math? Let’s start with the glass.

Stained Glass Liturgy

The technology of stained glass developed into a high art form in the Middle Ages.  Artists used a variety of techniques to create the beautiful windows of colored-glass that filled the facades of Gothic cathedrals. These windows were designed to depict symbolism from, and illustrations of, biblical narratives that helped relate the Christian Story to a mostly illiterate parish. Of course, if the pictures were all the parishioners had, the story would have been quite incomplete.

Notre Dame Cathedral, North Rose Window, detail of center, Chartres, France, c-1235

(photo- ©  Mossot / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The textual, literary narrative that preceded the images, was needed to guide the subsequent interpretation of the images. More than simple illustrations though, when backlit by the flicker of sunlight, the images brought to life the stories and characters the churchgoers learned and heard about in the lectionary. The iconography not only sparked the imagination, but also helped inform ideology.

What church-goers learned was a story about an (in my understanding, the) ultimate truth. A truth that was reinforced by every authority they knew, reiterated from birth and passed down through the generations. Religion, as such, was the basis for all understanding – everything from man to Heaven, everything in between, and their origins. In the Middle Ages, the ultimate authority on that truth would have been the Papal hierarchy of the Catholic Church. And this hierarchy was intimately tied to a lineage of authority – and more specifically, a lineage of literate authors.

Here, I’ll take a minute to define what I mean by literacy: fluency in reading (and writing) that allows for comprehension. By comprehension, I mean the ability to read information well enough to interpret it. And by interpret, I mean the ability to “put it another way,” to create an analogy between the actual information (words) presented and others ways of understanding the same idea. I’m not necessarily positing a full-on hermeneutics, but something close.

That ‘something close’ is what I’m getting at with the words ‘fluency’ and ‘comprehension.’ Even if one is able to sound out all the words of a text, if it takes him/her so long to do so that by the time they get to the last words of a sentence or paragraph, that they forget the first words, it will be impossible to comprehend the full meaning of the sentence, verse, section, or chapter, much less a whole book. By that definition, my assumption is that the large majority of medieval lay persons were illiterate. But to be generous, we will assume a semi-literate population.

With this in mind, few 3rd graders have the ability to read the Bible with a fluency that allows for full comprehension. (Let’s be honest, few fully literate adults, including myself, actually read or comprehend the Bible on their own.😂😳😒)

Even if comprehension wasn’t an issue, having access to an actual Bible (or any book) to read was uncommon in the Middle Ages. In fact, books were a rare commodity in general, and essentially a luxury item similar to a nice piece of furniture. The sheer lack of books, including Bibles, almost guarantees that few people had enough practice reading to possess such a skill as reading well.

This is where the stained glass comes in. If the gap between the layperson and clergy was as wide as it appears to have been, a visual aid was sure to help with memory and comprehension – that’s why, nowadays, all presentations have PowerPoints, right? … RIGHT?!?!

Specific Literacy

The Friedmann Equation for the expanding of the universe.

The above equation models the Big Bang… wait maybe it’s the equation below this paragraph… Maybe both of them – one of them… Oh! I don’t know. They mean something about the expansion of the universe… … … I think… I mean, that’s what Google told me when I searched “mathematical equation for the Big Bang.”

The Friedmann Equation for the expanding of the universe.

(I know what you are thinking, “Which big bang?” – OUR Big Bang!) Anyways, you get the picture. Unless something has gone terribly right, no one who reads this blog post will have any clue what these cryptic arrangements of letters and symbols actually mean. We might be able to name some of the variables, symbols or letters. Maybe some of the more mathematically/scientifically inclined could parse a little of it. But most of us, not so much. Let’s try this one:

Many more people can understand the simpler math of Isaac Newton’s physics (which is interesting, as his equations describe the world we more readily perceive – large objects in motion.) Still, many fully functioning adults cannot read or understand any of them.

A Mathematical Model

In many ways, Science has become like a new religion. And school, academia, is the place most of us learn to study STEM. The language of science is Math, and while there are millions of people who claim to “f√©<ing love science,” as a society, we are largely illiterate in the kind of mathematics it takes to truly understand science. Ask the average person and they’ll admit that they hated math in high school. Testing confirms Americans are only elementarily fluent in the subject: “In math, Americans with a high school diploma performed about the same as high school dropouts in other countries.” (Source)

Ultimately, very few people in the population at large understand the language of mathematics. To be generous, I’ll say we are, as a society, semi-literate in Math (thus Science).

We are, at best, semi-literate in the language of our dominant ideology.

Essentially everything we, as common folk, know of science, especially physics (even more so theoretical physics) is told to us through analogy and metaphor by an authority. This means we are only getting part of the picture when we watch YouTube videos about block holes, wormholes, string theory, or time travel. Ask anyone who really knows the math and they will tell you that even the best verbal analogies and computer generated visualizations do not accurately mimic the mathematics. It is only with a deep fluency in the language of math that we can accurately understand the descriptions and predictions that science makes about our world.

Math, such as the above examples, is the basis for all of the science that gives us all of our understanding of all existence, from quarks to multiverses, everything in between, and their origins. It is no coincidence that similar math and science make our mobile phones work. (Link1 and Link2 give us a glimpse into how.)

You are probably looking at your phone right this instant. Now, think about what you are actually looking at.

A piece of glass with light shining through it.

When illuminated, the light emitting diodes composing the images on your screen bring to life the forces and theories screen-watchers learn and hear about in their free time (because they didn’t care at school). The imagery not only sparks the imagination, but also informs ideology.

What screen-watchers learn is a story about an ultimate truth. A truth that has been reinforced by almost every authority they have known, reiterated from birth and passed down through the generations.  The ultimate authority on that truth has been the academic hierarchy of the sciences. And this hierarchy is intimately tied to a lineage of authority – and more specifically, a lineage of authors of mathematical models.

Your phone is kind of like a portable stained glass window; instead of colored glass backlit by the sun, it’s clear glass with colored light shining through. But just like a Medieval cathedral window, it is a visual plane where a semi-literate people look to fill the gap in their knowledge.

Authors vs Authorities

When we are illiterate, we must rely on authority to enlighten us. At the same time, we must always be weary of authority, because “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Authority misusing it’s power is nothing new, it happens in every religion and in the sciences, too. Therefore, we must become literate so that we may not be reliant on authorities, but authors in our own right.

I will continue to build the case for self-authorship in the next post, as well as continue to compare and contrast our relationship to the authorities in science and religion.

If you were offended by one critique or the other, it is simply illustrating your epistemological bias. Unless you are an authority, or at least literate, you are at risk of being played by an authority.