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Lorin Friesen, May 2015

I have posted essays on several different branches of Christianity, but I have not yet taken a look at the version of Christianity in which I grew up. My last name is Friesen, which is a common Mennonite name, and Mennonites form the largest group of what is known as Anabaptists. Because this is a review of my personal culture, there may be some emotions in this essay. However, I have tried my best to place these feelings within the structure of rational analysis.

The Naked Anabaptist (which this essay will refer to as TNA) was written in 2010 by Stuart Murray, a British non-Mennonite who found himself resonating with the approach taken by the Anabaptists. His goal is to describe what pure Anabaptism looks like when one removes the ‘clothing’ of Mennonite culture. One of the best ways to understand one’s culture is by approaching it from the perspective of an outsider. Stuart Murray attempts to do this with the culture of my childhood. This essay will also quote from the second edition of Becoming Anabaptist, a history of Anabaptism, published by J. Denny Weaver in 2005. We will refer to this book as BA. In addition, the Mennonite online Encyclopedia is a good source of information and Wikipedia usually provides a well-written summary.

In brief, I suggest that Anabaptism attempts to pursue a number of good goals from an inadequate foundation and that many of the problems of the Mennonite culture are the result of this inadequate foundation. In contrast, if one places Anabaptism within the theoretical foundation of mental symmetry, then theory predicts that it should be possible to pursue the goals of Anabaptism without experiencing these unpleasant side effects.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines an Anabaptist as a “member of a fringe, or radical, movement of the Protestant Reformation and spiritual ancestor of modern Baptists, Mennonites, and Quakers. The movement’s most distinctive tenet was adult baptism. In its first generation, converts submitted to a second baptism, which was a crime punishable by death under the legal codes of the time.”

It is curious that the terms ‘fringe’ and ‘radical’ would be used by the world’s premiere encyclopedia in 2014 (the date the article was last updated) to describe a cultural or religious group. If one searches the online Encyclopaedia Britannica for the terms ‘fringe’ and ‘radical’, the first reference is to is a branch of Marxism, the second to Anabaptism, the third to chemistry, and the fourth to the French Radical-Socialist party.

Compare this with the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on genderqueer, which explains that “despite the growing visibility of genderqueer individuals in the 21st century, gender nonconforming behaviour, especially by individuals assigned male at birth, continued to be highly stigmatized and frequently punished. Studies show, for example, that gender nonconforming high-school and college students experience greater levels of harassment and violence than do nontransgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual students.” In other words, the Encyclopaedia Britannica feels that it is fine to use terms such as fringe and radical when talking about Anabaptists but not when discussing genderqueers.

As Murray summarizes, Anabaptists have been regarded as fringe radicals for much of their existence: “Anabaptists faced serious difficulties in both Catholic and Protestant zones; they were persecuted because they refused to submit to the demands of the state churches and conform to the beliefs and practices of their superiors. They were, indeed, regarded as troublemakers who were teaching heretical ideas, setting up unauthorized churches, calling people to be baptized as followers of Jesus, questioning the legitimacy of violence and wealth, and in other ways disturbing the status quo. Unlike Catholic and Protestant Christians, they had no zones of their own where they could practice their faith unhindered... Their contemporaries wavered between dismissing the Anabaptists as a minor irritant and damning them as dangerous heretics, writing at length about their deviant behavior” (TNA, p.32).

Historians have also treated Anabaptists as fringe radicals. As Murray says, “Until quite recently, historians generally endorsed the judgments of those who were opposed to the Anabaptists. They either treated Anabaptists as marginal or presented them in a very negative light” (p.33). The online Mennonite Encyclopedia explains that “Anabaptist historiography was formerly the privilege of its enemies. The Anabaptists could not take part, for from 1528 on the German imperial and national laws threatened death to any defender of Anabaptism. Any attempt to refute false accusations was directly followed by persecution and arrest. Therefore the opponents of Anabaptism were able to spread the most absurd assertions concerning the life and doctrine of the Anabaptists without having to face a rebuttal. They took copious advantage of their position... The difficulty of securing a printer also handicapped the Anabaptists in publishing their views. An Amsterdam printer was executed in 1544 for publishing a book by Menno Simons. This one-sided attitude dominated the body of church historical writings far beyond the 16th century... These works were used as sources by later historians, who took them over without question; very few historians went back to the original confessional writings of the Anabaptist leaders; it occurred to only a few to compare them with the statements of contemporary opponents. Well into the 19th century the great Anabaptist movement of the 16th century was uncritically identified with the Peasants’ War of 1525 and the events in Münster.”

Using the language of mental symmetry, Anabaptists were regarded as fringe radicals because they did not submit to the Mercy mental networks (MMNs) of culture and social status. As a result, my ancestors had to flee from one one country to another to avoid persecution, first from the Netherlands to Prussia, from there to Ukraine, and then finally to Canada. One of the primary premises of the theory of mental symmetry is that a mind that is driven by childish mental networks of status and culture is fundamentally flawed, and that mental wholeness can only be achieved by transcending this childish emotional foundation. I first learned this from my Mennonite heritage. From early childhood, the lesson has been drummed into me that behavior does not automatically become right when it is preached by authorities or practiced by the majority. Culture can be wrong and authorities can be mistaken.

Mennonite history also makes it abundantly clear that those who question culture and refuse to submit to authority will be persecuted and will be written off as fringe radicals. Rejection by society has become part of Mennonite identity. For many centuries, the book that was regarded as second to the Bible by Mennonites was the Martyr’s Mirror, a 1500 page volume filled with stories of Anabaptists who died for their faith, first published in Holland in 1660. Even today, this book is often given as a wedding gift among the Amish and Old Order Mennonites. (Imagine being given a tome on torture as a wedding gift!)

That brings us to the inadequate foundation. What happens when one is taught from childhood that childish thinking is inadequate? What happens when choosing not to submit to culture itself turns into a culture to which one is expected to submit? Going further, how can one transcend childish culture without developing a persecution complex? These are not simple questions to answer.

Before continuing, I should emphasize that Mercy thought is not inherently evil. The problem is not MMNs but rather childish MMNs. The mind will always use MMNs to represent people and these MMNs will acquire emotional status. Similarly, a culture will always lead to the formation of MMNs. The problem is when these MMNs form the foundation of the mind rather than being an expression of mental integration. Because of the nature of embodiment, the childish mind inevitably builds itself upon a foundation of personal and cultural MMNs. The struggle is not to suppress or destroy these MMNs but rather to place these MMNs within an internal structure of mental wholeness—which will mean taking childish MMNs apart, analyzing the pieces, and then rebuilding these MMNs in adult form. One does this not to avoid culture but rather to transform culture.


The story of Münster illustrates what can happen when childish identity attempts to rebel from childish identity. The Mennonite Encyclopedia says that Anabaptism has historically been equated with the events in Münster, and one can see this in the current Encyclopaedia Britannica, since almost 1/3 of the article on Anabaptism focuses upon the story of Münster. Quoting from this article, the election of an Anabaptist majority to city council was followed “by the expulsion and persecution of all non-Anabaptists and the creation of a messianic kingdom under John of Leiden. The city was surrounded in 1534 by an army of Catholics and Protestants, which perhaps encouraged further reforms, including the common ownership of goods and polygamy, both with the declaration of biblical precedent. The city was captured in 1535, and the Anabaptist leaders were tortured and killed and their bodies hung in steel cages from the steeple of St. Lambert’s church.”

Interestingly, it was precisely in this same year (1534) that Henry VIII of England passed the Treasons Act, in which Henry demanded that everyone recognize—upon pain of death—the legitimacy of his second marriage, as well the Act of Supremacy, which officially declared Henry to be the “Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England”. And between 1536 and 1541, all of the monasteries in Great Britain were confiscated by the crown, primarily in order to fund Henry’s military campaigns.

Two lessons can be learned from the debacle at Münster. The first lesson is that one cannot use the methods of childish identity to rebel from childish identity. What made the Anabaptists of Münster evil was not that they were worse than their enemies but rather that they were like their enemies. What the Anabaptists did in Münster is not much different than what Henry the VIII did in England. And the biggest criminals in the Peasants’ War of 1525 were not the peasants, but rather the aristocracy who triggered the rebellion by systematically confiscating the property of the peasants, and then responded by slaughtering 100,000 of the peasants when they revolted. In addition, “Henry VIII (1509-1547) was known for his persecution of foreign Anabaptists. Between 1535-1546 large numbers of foreign ‘Anabaptists’ were executed or burned at the stake for heresy. In 1535, some 25 Dutch Anabaptists who had fled the Amsterdam Uprisings were quickly rounded up. They were arrested, condemned for heresy and burned at the stake within the month.”

The second lesson is that when one uses childish identity to rebel from childish identity then that rebellion will define one’s identity. Weaver says that “Anabaptism became virtually synonymous with Münster. In spite of the peaceful pacifist stance that came to be the norm for Anabaptism, religious and political authorities feared and assumed that Anabaptism’s rejection of the established ecclesiastical authority would inevitably lead to another Münster... Historiography has reflected the presumed identity of Münster and Anabaptism. In a virtually unbroken line of writings from Martin Luther and Heinrich Ballinger to Karl Hall in the twentieth century, it was assumed that early Anabaptism began with the revolutionary Thomas Müntzer [the leader of the 1525 peasant revolt] and reached its logical conclusion at Münster” (BA, p.132).

These two conclusions can be explained from a cognitive perspective. The mind uses mental networks to represent people. Mental networks form an emotional hierarchy; mental networks with strong emotions will impose their structure upon mental networks with lesser emotions. Therefore, a person who is represented by a strong mental network will naturally be given social status and treated with deference. Piaget’s stages of cognitive development make it clear that the childish mind is governed by mental networks that represent people (which I will refer to as childish MMNs). And as described by Jürgen Habermas, this same mindset ruled society in 16th century Europe. This is explained in much greater detail in Natural Cognitive Theology.

Thus, it was considered normal for the ruler of a state to impose his religion upon his people, because rulers were mentally represented by potent mental networks. In fact, that was the guiding principle of the Peace of Augsburg, signed in 1555. The subjects of each German state had to practice the same form of religion (Catholic or Lutheran) as the ruler of that state. However, if some peasant attempted to determine the religion of a city, then this was considered abnormal, because the medieval mindset associated peasants with lesser mental networks, which should not impose their structure upon greater mental networks. Thus, the primary sin of the Anabaptists at Münster was that they acted like rulers rather than peasants. (This focus upon class structure was still present in Edwardian Britain as well as the rest of Europe, and it took the horrors of World War I to overturn this mindset.)

Going further, if a ruler commits some egregious act, such as Henry VIII with the Church of England, then that act will not define the identity of the ruler, because that individual is already represented within the mind by a potent mental network. Instead, the emotional incident will alter the nature of this potent mental network. Thus, Henry VIII is remembered primarily as the King of England, and secondarily as an individual who was driven by feelings of lust and power to take over the English church. However, if some group of nobodies commits an egregious act, then this act will create the mental network that defines their identity. Instead of being forgotten as nobodies, they will now be remembered as the people who performed the horrible act. And because Mercy thought (where mental networks of personal identity are stored) functions associatively, any person who is connected with this group will also be identified by this horrible act. Thus, Anabaptist became equated with Müntzer and Münster, this was regarded as evil because peasants had acted like monarchs, and monarchs suppressed Anabaptists because they did not want their role to be usurped by mere peasants. Instead, the right of monarchs to arbitrarily impose their wills upon their subjects was codified as the Divine right of Kings. Quoting from Wikipedia, “A monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm, including (in the view of some, especially in Protestant countries or during the reign of Henry VIII of England) the Catholic Church.”

What the Anabaptists did at Münster was nasty. For instance, Jan van Leiden imposed polygamy upon the citizens of Münster (possibly because the city was under siege and there were three times as many women as men) and executed a group of 49 dissidents who opposed this imposition of polygamy (BA, p.130). But Bishop Waldeck, who led the besieging forces, was even worse: “When the bishop’s forces finally entered Münster... the killing continued for two days. Nearly all of the defenders perished, and the Bishop reasserted his control of the city.” The three Anabaptist leaders died dreadful deaths: “After horrible torture – their flesh was torn and then their tongues ripped out with hot pincers – they were executed by piercing the heart with a hot dagger. The bodies were placed in three cages and hung on the tower of Saint Lambert’s church is a warning for all to see” (BA, p.131).

The point is that one cannot defeat childish thought by using childish means. Somehow, one has to escape the vicious circle by transcending the methods of the enemy. This is the lesson that the Anabaptists had to learn after Münster, and this is what Stuart Murray finds compelling about Anabaptism. Christianity used to be the dominant religion of Europe. Using the language of mental symmetry, Christian belief was mentally reinforced by mental networks of status, power, and culture. Murray refers to this as Christendom: “This partnership (some would say collusion) between church and state was responsible for other features of Christendom that few now would justify. Whatever the undoubted accomplishments of Christendom, this was a brutal civilization that terrorized its own subjects through inquisition, torture, and witchhunts; oppressed them through a deeply resented tithing system; persecuted dissidents; and expanded its influence through wars, forced baptisms, and crusades. Christendom, as the Anabaptists argued in the 16 th century (and many now would acknowledge), distorted the gospel it claimed to uphold” (TNA, p.75).

Europe is now completely post-Christian, Canada is largely post-Christian, while the United States is in the process of becoming post-Christian: “Christendom is disappearing and a new landscape is becoming visible. It is this landscape, with so few familiar features, that many Western Christians find threatening, bleak, and disorientating. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus today? How can the churches sustain themselves and engage with a society that has marginalized their influence?” (TNA, p.77).

Anabaptism is relevant today because Anabaptists have been forced to learn what it means to conduct church without political power: “Anabaptists have almost always being in the minority, on the margins, operating in a contested environment, unable to exercise control even if they had wished to, and perceiving themselves as resident aliens” (TNA, p.81). “As representatives of a broader and older dissenting tradition, Anabaptists bring to these parties not only a trenchant critique of Christendom but an alternative interpretation and embodiment of Christian discipleship. There are other ways of being Christian, building Christian communities, and sharing Christian faith than those with which the mainstream traditions have been familiar” (p.83).

One of the major lessons that I have learned from interacting with several branches of academia over the last few years is that Western society is not just post-Christian, but rather post-everything. Existing understanding in all areas of thought is now being deconstructed, written off as opinions that were imposed upon the general population by power groups. This attitude is examined further in an essay on Norman Fairclough’s book Language and Power. (In brief, Fairclough’s approach deconstructs itself; if all theory is opinion imposed by power groups, then this also applies to Fairclough’s theory.) As Murray says, “Post-Christendom is one of the many ‘post’ terms commentators are using to describe the shifts taking place in Western culture. There are numerous others: postmodern, post-industrial, post-colonial, post-imperial, post-secular, and more. The post prefix means ‘after’ and indicates that we are experiencing a time of transition. Familiar features of the social landscape are disappearing into the past, but it is not yet clear what is emerging out of the mist of the future” (TNA, p.72).

Anabaptism is significant today because it provides something that one can head towards in a society that is heading away from existing societal and theoretical structures. Postmodernism is proficient at tearing down, but it does not know how to rebuild. Anabaptism provides clues about rebuilding, because it has been forced for centuries to live apart from existing societal and theoretical structures. However, I suggest that Anabaptism is not sufficient. It may point in the right direction but it too is built upon an inadequate foundation. This led to problems when Anabaptism was originally founded and it will also lead to problems when Anabaptism is followed today.

Nonviolence and Extremism

Let us begin with the lesson reinforced by Münster. Anabaptism began in Switzerland as an extension of the Reformation work of Zwingli in Zurich, and seven core Anabaptist beliefs were formulated at a conference in Switzerland in 1527 (which is considered by some historians to be the official start of Anabaptism). This formulation became known as the Schleitheim Confession. Pacifism is one of the seven statements of the Schleitheim confession. This conference occurred before the rebellion at Münster, which is why I say that Münster reinforced the lesson of nonviolence rather than taught it. The Mennonite Encyclopedia suggests that what it calls the ‘extreme excrescence’ of Münster occurred largely because the authorities killed the moderate Anabaptist leaders: “The few fanatical manifestations among the Anabaptists, which modern research has shown to have occurred largely when their sober leaders had been forcibly removed, were the principal foundation for the attacks of the writers—chiefly theologians—of the 16th century. In their hostile attitude the writers made no distinction between the character of quiet Anabaptism and the extreme excrescences.”

There were also many Anabaptists in Germany and the Netherlands. Menno Simons, a Dutch Anabaptist, played a major role in organizing the Dutch Anabaptists and they became known as Mennonites. Simons also taught non-violence: “In contrast to Münster, Menno most certainly stressed that Anabaptists refused the sword and were defenseless. Although they arrived there by differing routes, both the Dutch Anabaptists and the Swiss brethren had developed quite similar concepts of the church as a separated, suffering, non-resistant minority” (BA, p.148).

I am a Mennonite. I believe in pacifism. My father served in alternative service as a conscientious objector during World War II. Pacifism is often portrayed as an unrealistic and idealistic option. The nastiest e-mail letter I have ever received was from an ‘American evangelical Christian’ who tore into me for merely suggesting that killing people messes up one’s mind. However, I suggest that the wrong question is being asked.

The real question, I suggest, is not why pacifists try to shirk public responsibility by following idealistic goals. Rather, I suggest that the real question is why the average person insists upon regarding brutal savagery as normal. For instance, the chairman of the Schleitheim conference was arrested by Catholic authorities in 1527 and his official sentence reads as follows: “Michael Sattler shall be committed to the executioner. The latter shall take him to the square and there first cut out his tongue, and then forge him fast to a wagon and there with glowing iron tongs twice tear pieces from his body, then on the way to the site of execution five times more as above and then burn his body to powder as an arch-heretic.” It is not normal, by any stretch of the imagination, to respond in this manner to a call for nonviolence.

As the Mennonite Encyclopedia points out, many core Mennonite beliefs that were regarded as extreme in their day are now accepted as normal. When historians finally decided to read Anabaptist writings, “an amazing reversal took place in the judgment of scholars regarding Anabaptism. In the meantime many of the Anabaptist ideas, such as liberty of faith and conscience, the rejection of force in religious matters, complete separation of church and state, for which the old Anabaptists had struggled so long and valiantly, had already become so commonly accepted that the movement, so long despised, now attracted the scholar. ‘Thanks to the research of recent years,’ wrote Adolf Harnack (Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte III, 1910, 772), ‘the portraits of distinguished Christians from Anabaptist circles have been given us; and not a few of these honorable and strong-minded men are more comprehensible to us than a heroic Luther or an iron-willed Calvin.’” Similarly, the Mennonite Brethren webpage on Anabaptism points out that “The Anabaptists were not part of the great Protestant Reformation but established a third option. They upheld distinct values. Today, of course, many other groups have accepted much of what the Anabaptists rediscovered, and the differences between Protestantism and Anabaptism have decreased.” And the Wikipedia page on Anabaptism notes that “The Anabaptists were early promoters of a free church and freedom of religion (sometimes associated with separation of church and state). When it was introduced by the Anabaptists in the 15th and 16th centuries, religious freedom independent of the state was unthinkable to both clerical and governmental leaders.”

With this in mind, it is interesting to note how the Encyclopaedia Britannica presents the Schleitheim Confession. Notice how the following passage is peppered with words such as ‘rejection’ and ‘forbidden’: “Other articles concerned excommunication, the Eucharist, separation from the world, leadership by ‘shepherds,’ nonresistance (refusal to bear arms), and rejection of oaths. The aim of the Anabaptists was the creation of an entirely separate church, the members of which would be forbidden to associate with Roman Catholics or with other Protestants.” Putting myself in the shoes of my ancestors, if both Roman Catholic leaders and Protestant leaders were trying to kill me, then I too would attempt to create an entirely separate church that did not associate with murderers and torturers. However, the Encyclopaedia Britannica does not see things that way. Instead, it concludes the article by saying that after Sattler’s execution, “His antagonists drew up nine articles that refuted the Schleitheim Confession and demonstrated the official opinion that Anabaptism was immoral and treasonable.” If the editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica feel that ‘official opinion’ has ‘refuted’ the ‘radical, fringe’ ideas of Anabaptism such as nonviolence, separation of church and state, and freedom of religion, and has ‘demonstrated’ that they are are ‘immoral and treasonable’, then I suggest that they move to an area controlled by ISIL, where official opinions regarding religious belief are currently being imposed through torture and execution and where ‘radical’ ideas such as non-violence, separation of church and state, and freedom of religion are rejected as ‘immoral and treasonable’.

I am sure that this is not what the Encyclopaedia Britannica means to say. Rather, I suggest that it is merely following the British tradition of using the label ‘Anabaptism’ as a generic term for heresy and fanaticism. As the Mennonite Encyclopedia article on English Anabaptism elaborates, “All of the Separatist groups were at various times labeled ‘Anabaptist’ by their enemies, as the prolific anti-Anabaptist literature of the first half of the 17th century testifies... ‘Anabaptist’ became synonymous with ‘heresy’ or ‘fanaticism.’ In the 16th century the term was used to refer to contemporary Pelagians (‘free-willers’), to Antinomians, to Familists, and to other groups which had no relationship to the historic Anabaptist movement. Archbishop Whitgift accused T. Cartwright of being an Anabaptist. In the 17th century the term sometimes refers to Socinians, Ranters, Quakers, and other groups, as well as to the Independents and Baptists. This indiscriminate usage calls for great caution and discernment on the part of anyone making use of English Anabaptist sources.” Murray, a British author, adds that “Most church history textbooks and courses now offer a more balanced treatment of early Anabaptist history, but old caricatures still appear in unexpected places” (TNA, p.27).

Analyzing this from a cognitive perspective, the childish mind naturally builds itself upon MMNs of personal status and culture. This leads inevitably to cruelty and xenophobia, because mental networks struggle for domination, impose themselves upon one another, and feel threatened by mental networks that function in a different manner. This describes the sort of nasty culture that naturally emerges from the childish mind: Because childish mental networks struggle for dominance, non-violence will naturally be rejected as radical; because the childish mind is ruled by MMNs, separation of church and state will naturally be regarded as abnormal; because potent mental networks impose their structure upon lesser mental networks, there will naturally be no freedom of religion; and because the childish mind is built upon a foundation of childish MMNs, whatever questions such a culture will naturally be labeled as immoral and treasonable.

Thankfully, that is no longer the official position. Instead, Western society now agrees that childish thinking is fundamentally flawed, because every child in Western society is condemned to twelve years of re-programming before being allowed to enter normal society. One of the primary rules of education is that violence is not permitted, and when a school environment becomes violent, then education breaks down. Pacifism merely takes this universal belief to its logical conclusion. The typical American conservative Christian household illustrates what happens when this belief is not taken to its logical conclusion. Children will be raised in a sheltered environment, often home-schooled, in order to protect them from the ‘unwholesome’ world. And then these same children will be praised when they join the Army where they become traumatized by both experiencing and imposing inhumanity and death. I suggest that this is like protecting the virginity of a girl and then encouraging her to work as a prostitute when she becomes an adult. (One can see this comparison more clearly by rephrasing it as a question. Which has a greater dehumanizing impact on a person’s value of human life, killing someone or having cheap sex with someone?) As the MB page on Anabaptism points out, “The reformers fragmented and compartmentalized Christian living. Luther wrote, ‘As a Christian, man has to suffer everything and not resist anybody. As a member of the State, the same man has to fight with joy, as long as he lives.’ The Anabaptists rejected such ethical dualism.”

This may sound like strong language, but I need to emphasize that one is not dealing here with philosophical debates carried out by academics sipping tea in comfortable chairs by a cozy fire. Rather, one is dealing with conclusions about life-and-death issues reached by individuals who were literally torn to shreds for daring to question the status quo. I myself am also not approaching the subject merely as an academic in an easy chair. While I have never been physically tortured, I do know—extensively—what it means to be ostracized for following beliefs that question the status quo. Even Menno Simons, the leader who organized the Anabaptists who became known as Mennonites, lived the last twenty years of his life with a price on his head: “By 1541 Menno’s influence had grown to the point that the Regent Maria, in Brussels, authorized the courts of Friesland to pardon a penitent Anabaptist who would betray Menno. The following year a price of a hundred gulden was placed on Menno’s head” (BA, p.145). (100 gulden was about a year’s salary for a skilled laborer.)

Saying this more generally, Anabaptists have learned that belief has a personal cost and that truth is not merely abstract doctrine that is verbally asserted. In the words of the Mennonite Encyclopedia, Anabaptists “understood Christianity in terms of discipleship to Christ and acceptance of His full lordship with consequent absolute obedience, rather than chiefly enjoyment of forgiveness and peace with God through justification, although insisting on the latter. They understood salvation not primarily as the attainment of a right status but rather as the production of a right life.”

Romans 13

Romans 13 has historically been used as a scriptural justification for the supremacy of the state: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Rom. 13:1-4, NASB). As this passage points out, the state does play a legitimate role in using force to impose law and order.

But notice what is stated in the immediately preceding verses: “Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:16-21). Paul makes it very clear that attitude and behavior should not be guided by childish MMNs of personal status with their struggles for power. Instead, one should overcome MMNs of childish conflict with behavior that is guided by transformed MMNs of love and forgiveness. The passage immediately preceding that describes the seven ‘spiritual gifts’ that form the foundation of the theory of mental symmetry. When one recognizes that people fall into cognitive styles, then MMNs of personal identity stop being the source of truth and law and instead become submitted to the TMN of a general understanding of how the mind works. (A study of history suggests that the unregenerate Contributor person makes the ‘best’ dictator. I have also discovered over the years that the typical Contributor person is most opposed to ‘being put in a box’ by the concept of cognitive styles.)

Returning now to the beginning of Romans 13, Paul is emphasizing that all authority flows from the TMN of a universal concept of God. (Mental symmetry suggests that a concept of God emerges when a general theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity.) The fundamental point of this passage, I suggest, is that one should not rebel from authority but rather submit to a higher authority, because what is being emphasized is not the wielding of human power, but rather the universality of divine authority. Saying this another way, it is not proper to rebel from man, but it is proper to submit to God rather than man.

This is quite different than the way that this has historically been interpreted as some tyrant using MMNs of personal status to impose himself upon others and then justifying this tyranny by appealing to religious belief. The idea of using God as an official excuse for murder and confiscation of property is also contradicted by the verses that immediately follow: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10). The beginning of Romans 13 examined authority from a Teacher perspective, focusing upon the universal authority of God. Here, Paul is presenting law as a general Teacher theory. Teacher thought feels good when many statements can be summed up by a simple statement. Paul is saying that the law can be summed up by the simple statement of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Far from suggesting that the authorities are somehow exempt from rules against murdering and stealing, Paul makes prohibitions against murder and theft aspects of a universal law of love. In other words, the state does have a right to punish evil and collect taxes, but not because rulers are above the law, but rather because all human activity is governed by universal law.


Returning to Anabaptist history, Wikipedia summarizes the Schleitheim statement about nonviolence (which can be found in its complete form here ): “Violence must not be used in any circumstance. The way of nonviolence is patterned after the example of Christ who never exhibited violence in the face of persecution or as a punishment for sin. A Christian should not pass judgment in worldly disputes. It is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a magistrate; a magistrate acts according to the rules of the world, not according to the rules of heaven; their weapons are worldly, but the weapons of a Christian are spiritual.”

Notice the reason being given for nonviolence, which is the example of Jesus. Jesus did not use force to impose himself on others but rather was willing to die for his beliefs. I have suggested that the childish mind is ruled by MMNs—mental networks composed of emotional memories that represent respected individuals and cultural norms. Notice that the Schleitheim confession does not change the fundamental mindset of being mentally ruled by MMNs but rather submits the mind to the MMN representing Jesus. Saying this another way, the attitude of being ruled by masters does not change, but the mind does submit to a new master—one who chooses not to use force to lord it over others. This is a major step forward. Repudiating violence is far better than tearing people’s skin to shreds.

But the Mercy bias still remains. The structure of the childish mind with its submission to MMNs of status and culture is still intact. One can see this limitation in what the Schleitheim Confession proposes as the alternative to physical force. The question is raised of “whether a Christian may or should use the sword against the wicked for the protection and defense of the good, or for the sake of love. The answer is unanimously revealed: Christ teaches and commands us to learn from Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart and thus we shall find rest for our souls. Now Christ says to the woman who was taken in adultery, not that she should be stoned according to the law of His Father (and yet He says, ‘What the Father commanded me, that I do’) but with mercy and forgiveness and the warning to sin no more, says: ‘Go, sin no more.’ Exactly thus should we also proceed, according to the rule of the ban.” In other words, Christians should impose standards by banning the disobedient rather than killing them.

This practice is known in Mennonite circles as shunning, in which a community breaks off interaction with the offending member. Shunning is one of the seven statements of the Schleitheim Confession: “A Christian should live with discipline and walk in the way of righteousness. Those who slip and fall into sin should be admonished twice in secret, but the third offense should be openly disciplined and banned as a final recourse. This should always occur prior to the breaking of the bread.” Notice that MMNs are still running the show. Anabaptists lived in a society in which those who violated the norms of culture were physically put to death. Shunning replaces physical death with mental death; it acts as if a person is no longer alive. The physical action has changed, but the underlying mindset remains the same.

Menno Simons preached the revolutionary gospel of physical non-violence, but his intransigence over shunning led eventually to a split between the Dutch Mennonites and the Swiss Anabaptists. Weaver explains what happened: “The first unsolvable crisis relating to discipline had far-reaching effects, including a schism within the Dutch Anabaptist movement and a contribution to breaking off relations between Dutch and South German Anabaptists. When Leenaert Bouwens banned a man in Emden in 1555 for reasons no longer known, Leenaert also insisted the man’s wife should join the congregation in shunning him. When she refused, Leenaert also banned her... this episode not only brought the Waterlanders into existence [a Dutch faction that rejected this extreme shunning]; it also helped to precipitate the separation of Dutch and Swiss South German Anabaptists... Within two years, however, both Menno and Dirk Philips had published tracts defending the stricter view on marital avoidance... The long-term result of these exchanges between the Dutch Mennonites in the South German Anabaptists was that Dirk Philips and Leonart Bouwens [the successors to Menno Simons] lead the way in having the Southerners and their baptism no longer accepted as valid” (BA, p. 154).

Summarizing, Menno Simons was convinced in old age by the next generation of leaders to adopt stricter standards of shunning, including wives shunning husbands and vice versa. A group of Dutch Mennonites rejected this harsh approach and refused to be called Mennonites. The Swiss Anabaptists also rejected this form of shunning and ended up being shunned themselves by the Dutch Mennonites. Thus, Menno Simons is to be praised for leading a religious group that avoided physical murder, but he and his succeeding leaders excelled at the practice of committing mental murder.


The term Anabaptist means to be baptized again. The Catholic Church practices infant baptism, and Lutheran churches as well as Calvinist churches have continued this practice. The Anabaptists, in contrast, insisted that infant baptism had nothing to do with personal salvation, and adult baptism was one of the seven articles of the Schleitheim Confession: “Baptism is administered to those who have consciously repented and amended their lives and believe that Christ has died for their sins and who request it for themselves. Infants, therefore, were not to be baptized.”

Murray explains why adult baptism is significant: “For believers baptism meant a believers Church, not a territorial church; entered by choice, not birth; requiring active participation, not just attendance. It also meant that discipleship was not a higher calling for monks and nuns but expected of all believers... These were revolutionary ideas in the 16th century” (TNA, p.37).

Examining this from a cognitive perspective, the mental networks that one acquires as a child are fundamentally flawed and they need to be torn apart and reassembled. Thus, baptism is an appropriate symbol of personal salvation because it represents rebirth. Infant baptism conveys the wrong message because it associates personal salvation with childish MMNs rather than the transformation of these MMNs. Childish MMNs are acquired automatically merely by growing up within an environment. Transforming these mental networks, in contrast, is a choice that is only mentally possible when a child develops cognitively and becomes capable of believing Perceiver facts and gaining Teacher understanding. Thus, adult believers baptism accurately portrays the method by which childish identity is transformed. (This is less of an issue today in Protestant churches that continue to practice infant baptism, because it is generally recognized that the external act of infant baptism needs to be followed by an internal decision taken as an adult.)

This was not a trivial question for the early Anabaptists. As the Encyclopaedia Britannica relates, “In its first generation, converts submitted to a second baptism, which was a crime punishable by death under the legal codes of the time.” When Anabaptism came into being, adult baptism was a crime punishable by death. And infant baptism was not just regarded as a symbol of personal transformation, but rather as a requirement for personal salvation. Thus, there was a multiplicity of errors, because childish identity was using physical force to impose the message that salvation is achieved through a physical action applied to childish identity. The first generation Anabaptist recognized through adult baptism that existing personal identity must die, and there was a very real chance that by taking this step existing physical identity would die as well.

However, baptism is not a symbol of death, but rather a symbol of rebirth. The human mind cannot exist without mental networks. Instead, the only way to dismantle core mental networks is by replacing them with an alternative set of core mental networks. What was the alternative proposed by the early Anabaptists? One can answer this question by examining the original text of the Schleitheim Confession. Every point is backed up by several quotes from the New Testament. This describes the fundamentalist attitude of absolute truth, in which Perceiver thought bases its beliefs in a holy book. Cognitively speaking, Mercy mental networks of respect for God are mesmerizing Perceiver thought into knowing that the Bible teaches absolute truth. Thus, the Schleitheim Anabaptists replaced the MMNs of respect for culture and authority with the MMN of respect for the Bible. One can see this transfer of allegiance in the incident that sparked the birth of Anabaptism. Wikipedia explains that “Anabaptism in Switzerland began as an offshoot of the church reforms instigated by Ulrich Zwingli. As early as 1522 it became evident that Zwingli was on a path of reform preaching when he began to question or criticize such Catholic practices as tithes, the mass, and even infant baptism. Zwingli had gathered a group of reform-minded men around him, with whom he studied classical literature and the scriptures. However, some of these young men began to feel that Zwingli was not moving fast enough in his reform... When the discussion of the mass was about to be ended without making any actual change in practice, Conrad Grebel stood up and asked ‘what should be done about the mass?’ Zwingli responded by saying the council would make that decision. At this point, Simon Stumpf, a radical priest from Hongg, answered saying, ‘The decision has already been made by the Spirit of God.’... To Zwingli, the reforms would only go as fast as the city Council allowed them. To the radicals, the council had no right to make that decision, but rather the Bible was the final authority of church reform.” Anabaptism officially began a few months later when sixteen of these reformers gathered together and Conrad Grebel performed the first known adult baptism associated with the Reformation. (Some historians consider this event to be the start of Anabaptism, others regard the Schleitheim Confession as the official beginning.) The Mennonite Encyclopedia agrees that “From the court records of the Anabaptists who were seized at the beginning of the Reformation era it is at once evident that they possessed an amazing knowledge of the Bible... it alone was authoritative for doctrine and life, for all worship and activity, for all church regulations and discipline. That all members should read the Bible was to them a self-evident duty, and it was often the only book in the home that was steadily used... The Anabaptists, being Biblicists and usually unsophisticated readers of the Bible, not trained theologians or scholars, and having made a more complete break with tradition than the reformers, were more radical and consistent in their application of the principle of sole Scriptural authority. They sought to obey the Bible in simple faith, without calculation of consequences for the socio-political or ecclesiastical order.”

I suggest that all education, religious or secular, begins with a similar attitude. The primary student, for instance, blindly accepts truth that is written in a textbook. For the childish mind that is ruled by MMNs, this is the only possible starting point. The childish mind naturally swallows truth blindly from the experts. If one wishes to educate the childish mind, then one must use experts to present the right truth. My thesis is that religious truth is ‘right’ if it leads to mental wholeness, and the correspondence between New Testament theology and mental wholeness is described in detail in Natural Cognitive Theology.

However, I suggest that the starting point of blind faith in absolute truth also has inherent limitations, because it leads naturally to the three elements of fervor, self-denial, and transcendence, a combination which I refer to as the ‘religious attitude’. First, MMNs struggle for emotional domination. Therefore, if some MMN acts as my source of truth, then my natural response will be to focus upon the source of truth while ignoring other mental networks. This focus expresses itself as fervor. Second, an MMN will only remain a source of truth if its emotional status is far greater the emotional status of the mental networks of personal identity. Saying this more simply, I will feel that I am nothing compared to my source of truth and I will feel that it is my duty to deny myself for my source of truth. Third, if I feel that the source of truth is much more important than personal identity, then I will also feel that it is not possible for me to understand truth fully, leading to an attitude of transcendence. Restating this in religious terms, fervor focuses upon God to the exclusion of normal life, self-denial suppresses personal identity in order to follow God, while transcendence emphasizes that God is too high and lofty to be grasped by mere humanity.

One of the distinctions of Anabaptism is a focus upon belief and behavior rather than merely belief. Murray explains that “Anabaptists have generally been wary of fixed statements of faith, which imply there is no need to listen to others or to continue to wrestle with Scripture. Creeds are concerned only with beliefs, but Anabaptists are equally interested in behavior” (TNA, 44). Anabaptists combined behavior with belief by interpreting the Bible in the light of the life of Jesus. Weaver says that “the assumption of the normative value of the teaching and example of Jesus and also the early church gave priority to the New Testament, and particularly to the narratives about Jesus over other parts of Scripture... Hence, there developed what later interpreters could call a hermeneutics of obedience, the idea that biblical interpretation resulted from the commitment to read the Bible with the view to discovering how to live in its story, and in particular, to live in the life of Jesus” (BA, 172).

Applying truth is imperative (the process by which belief transforms behavior is described in Natural Cognitive Theology) and constructing and following a mental concept of incarnation plays a central role in this process. However, when applying truth and following Jesus are taught with a religious attitude, then this attitude will end up distorting both the message and the example. I suggest that this distortion has expressed itself in different ways during various stages in the history of Anabaptism.

Separation from the World

Anabaptism began under heavy persecution. The Schleitheim Confession responded to this persecution with an attitude of fervor. As Wikipedia summarizes, one of the seven statements of this confession is that “The community of Christians shall have no association with those who remain in disobedience and a spirit of rebellion against God. There can be no fellowship with the wicked in the world; there can be no participation in works, church services, meetings and civil affairs of those who live in contradiction to the commands of God (Catholics and Protestants). All evil must be resisted including their weapons of force such as the sword and armor.” Notice how following God is interpreted as withdrawing completely from religious and civil interaction. As Murray states, the early Anabaptists did not have much choice: “Persecuted communities often have little option but separation if they hope to survive. If the state is trying to eradicate you, if other churches brand you as ‘heretics’ and neighbors are expected to denounce and betray you to the authorities, what else can you do?” (TNA, p.38) However, the fact still remains that the Anabaptists responded with fervor, focusing upon following the Bible and the example of Jesus to the exclusion of secular involvement.

Menno Simons, in contrast, did not completely write off secular authority: “Both the Dutch Anabaptists and the Swiss brethren had developed quite similar concepts of the church as a separated, suffering, nonresistance minority. However, Menno sought accommodation from the authorities whereas Schleitheim had articulated a more antagonistic relationship with civil authorities” (BA p.148). But Menno Simons adopted fervor in other ways. First, Simons believed that the purpose of shunning was to keep the church separate from the world: “The latter years of Menno’s career included a number of conflicts within the churchly community on questions related to church discipline. Important to the leaders was how to establish a church ‘without spot or wrinkle.’ Discipline served the purpose of keeping the church pure” (BA p.153).

Second, Menno Simons held a strange view of incarnation, ‘known as celestial-flesh Christology’, which he adopted from Melchior Hoffmann, “the founder of Anabaptism in the low countries” (BA, p.113). As this blog post by a Mennonite pastor explains, “Menno followed the earlier Dutch Anabaptist leader Melchior Hoffmann and his fellow leader Dirk Phillips in affirming that Jesus was fully human and divine. But they added something that is not part of the orthodox view. They believed that Jesus did not receive his flesh from his mother Mary. God imparted to Jesus human flesh directly from heaven. In other words, Jesus shared human flesh with us but it was not flesh descended from Adam, like ours, but newly imported flesh from heaven. This is why it is sometimes called a ‘celestial flesh’ Christology.” Fervor feels that following God implies being separated from normal existence, and for the Anabaptists, following the example of Jesus played a major role in guiding fervor. Thus, Menno Simons taught that the physical flesh of Jesus was separate from normal human flesh. Notice the chain of logic. The Anabaptists interpreted fervor primarily as following the example of Jesus, and fervor ended up modifying both Hoffmann’s and Menno Simons’ doctrine of Jesus. (Catholicism does something similar, by saying that Jesus did acquire his flesh from his mother Mary, but then asserting that Mary was not a normal, sinful human being.)

The problem does not lie with following the example of Jesus. Acting like Jesus is far better than acting like religious and civil authorities who torture and kill anyone who disagrees with them. Rather, the problem lies in following the example of Jesus from the Mercy perspective of MMNs, because a Mercy focus upon people and emotional status will lead to the attitude of fervor. Compare this with what Paul says: “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:16-19). Instead of viewing Jesus from the Mercy perspective of ‘the flesh’ as a person with great emotional status, Paul says that he now views everyone from the Teacher perspective of a universal God (based in the TMN, or Teacher mental network of a general understanding). A Mercy perspective leads to fervor which divides holy from secular. A Teacher perspective leads to reconciliation which places both holy and secular within a general Teacher understanding of God. (I suggest that this distinction between viewing Jesus from a Mercy perspective and viewing incarnation from a Teacher perspective is one of the primary themes of the book of Revelation.)

Saying this more generally, I suggest that the mental concept of a universal, monotheistic God will emerge within the mind when Teacher thought acquires a sufficiently general theory that applies to personal identity. And when this theory turns into a TMN, then this concept of a monotheistic God will acquire the emotional power that is needed to transform childish MMNs.

Hoffmanm’s focus upon the end times also reflects an attitude of fervor: “Different from Swiss Anabaptist leaders, Hoffmann did not use baptism as the basis for forming permanent congregations. His conventicles kept the covenanted one’s pure while awaiting the near return of Christ rather than organizing them for ongoing congregational life... His view of baptism thus had a spiritualist component to it, and Hoffmann’s expectations for the near end of the world in just a few months clearly constituted the most important part of his message” (BA, p.119). In other words, Hoffmann was so strongly convinced that following God meant leaving the world that he did not even organize his followers but rather taught that those who follow God would leave the world in a few months.

Self-denial can be seen in the covering letter to the Schleitheim Confession: “A very great offense has been introduced by some false brothers among us, whereby several have turned away from the faith, thinking to practice and observe the freedom of the Spirit and of Christ. But such have fallen short of the truth and (to their own condemnation) are given over to the lasciviousness and license of the flesh. They have esteemed that faith and love may do and permit everything and that nothing can harm nor condemn them, since they are ‘believers.’ Note well, you members of God in Christ Jesus, that faith in the heavenly Father through Jesus Christ is not thus formed; it produces and brings forth no such things as these false brothers and sisters practice and teach. Guard yourselves and be warned of such people, for they do not serve our Father, but their father, the devil. But for you it is not so; for they who are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with all its lusts and desires.” Notice how the Schleitheim Confession preached against those who ‘are given over to the lasciviousness and license of the flesh’ while declaring that ‘they who are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with all its lusts and desires.’ The error here, I suggest, does not lie in resisting sensory gratification, but rather in concluding that physical desire is inherently bad. Childish desire is inherently destructive. But the solution is not to suppress childish desire through self-denial but rather to transform it. Instead of seeking short-term gratification that ignores long-term consequences, one should pursue long-term pleasure guided by understanding.


One can also see a focus upon self-denial in the Anabaptist emphasis upon martyrdom. As Weaver says, “Menno believed that faith in Christ necessarily exhibited itself in the visible church that emphasized discipline and follow the example of Jesus, including believers baptism, nonresistance, non-swearing votes, and endurance of suffering to the point of martyrdom” (BA, p.147). The early Anabaptists were treated in a brutal fashion, and as the Martyr’s Mirror describes, many died a martyr’s death. The classic tale in this volume is that of Dirk Willems. After being arrested and imprisoned as an Anabaptist, “he escaped using a rope made out of knotted rags. Using this, he was able to climb out of the prison onto the frozen moat. A guard noticed his escape and gave chase. Willems was able to traverse the thin ice of a frozen pond, the Hondegat, because of his lighter weight after subsisting on prison rations. However the pursuing guard broke through the ice yelling for help as he struggled in the icy water. Willems turned back to save the life of his pursuer, thus being recaptured and held until he was burned at the stake near his hometown on 16 May 1569.” Stories such as that of Dirk Willems played a major role in encouraging Anabaptists to transcend their bloodthirsty times, just as Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross has provided an example for Christians to follow over the ages. But there is a huge difference between being willing to pay the price for long-term reward and building one’s identity upon self-sacrifice. When a copy of The Martyr’s Mirror becomes the classic wedding gift, then this indicates that self-denial has become a core aspect of personal identity. The result is a persecution complex, in which a person feels uncomfortable and uncertain when not being persecuted. I spent two summers with my family presenting musical programs in the Russian Mennonite churches in Germany in the 1990s, and one of the lessons I learned from observing these churches is that knowing how to be a ‘suffering Christian’ under communism in Russia did not necessarily teach one how to be a ‘prosperous Christian’ under capitalism in modern Germany.

Compare this with what the writer of the book of Hebrews says about Jesus’ attitude towards suffering: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1-3). This passage instructs us to follow the example of Jesus, but emphasizes that Jesus did not build his identity upon self-denial, but rather ‘despised the shame’, ‘endured the cross’, and focused upon ‘the joy set before Him’.

Looking at this from a cognitive perspective, Teacher thought looks for order-within-complexity. Teacher thought feels good when a simple explanation can be used to describe many experiences, and this Teacher theory can turn into a TMN that will emotionally impose its explanation upon the rest of the mind. It is possible for the religious attitude of self-denial to turn into a general theory that is used to explain personal identity. As Wikipedia says, “Next to the Bible, the Martyr’s Mirror has historically been held as the most significant and prominent place in Amish and Mennonite homes”, physically illustrating the manner in which a religious attitude of self-denial can warp the message of the Bible. It is not mentally healthy when persecution of the MMNs of personal identity turns into the TMN of a general theory that states that ‘I am unlovable’, because Teacher thought is then finding pleasure in Mercy pain.

The solution is to place personal suffering within the larger context of a Teacher understanding of the character of God. This larger viewpoint is described in the verses immediately following the biblical passage quoted earlier: “You have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.’ It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:5-11). Notice that personal identity is repeatedly being connected with a concept of God, because the emphasis is upon being a ‘child of God’ rather than ‘a persecuted believer’. Suffering is being interpreted as discipline from a Father God. The purpose of suffering is not the negative goal of denying self but rather the positive goal of becoming righteous—naturally behaving in a manner that is consistent with the character of God. The author then warns of the danger of attaching personal identity to painful Mercy experiences rather than to a Teacher understanding of God, and gives the example of Esau, who rejected the personal benefit that results from connecting one’s identity with God in exchange for short-term sustenance: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Heb. 12:15-17). Building one’s identity upon personal suffering will bring meaning to personal existence in the short term, but it is a godless, defiling, root of bitterness that will emotionally prevent a person from being blessed by God.

Simply Follow Jesus

That brings us to the third attitude of transcendence, which feels that I lack the emotional status to make definitive statements about truth and understanding. Mennonites have always been distrustful of abstract theory and have preferred to focus upon practical behavior. The article on Mennonite theology in the online Mennonite Encyclopedia opens by saying that “An old and almost universal tradition among Mennonites views ‘theology’ with much distrust. It is well expressed in the following statement by N. van der Zijpp regarding the Dutch Mennonites: ‘From the very rise of Anabaptism Dutch Mennonites were often very averse to theology, fearing that systematic theology might be a hindrance or even a danger to real Christian piety. This is not only found among many of the martyrs, but for instance also in Galenus Abrahamsz and in general among those Mennonites who were influenced by Collegiant opinions. The fear that simple pious love for Christ might be depraved and sterilized by theological speculation is still a common phenomenon in present-day Dutch Mennonitism.’... Another root of the fear of theology was undoubtedly the experience that theological speculation and disputation was often remote from life, a type of rationalistic intellectualizing with little fruit in piety and ethics, whereas the Anabaptist-Mennonite emphasis was on newness of life, holy living, and discipleship. Some scholars hold that the Anabaptists deliberately chose not to write ‘theology’ in the usual sense because of their basic understanding of Christianity in dynamic life terms rather than as a set of intellectual propositions to be integrated into a logically coherent whole.” Notice how ‘simple pious love’ is being contrasted with ‘theological speculation’. Using cognitive language, Christianity is being interpreted as submitting the MMNs of personal identity to the MMNs that represent the example and words of Jesus. In addition, there is a fear that the Teacher emotion of a ‘logically coherent whole’ will cause the Anabaptist to abandon Mercy concerns such as ‘newness of life, holy living, and discipleship’.

Part of the reason for this is that theologians over the centuries have generally been the most vocal critics of Anabaptists: “This fear of theology had its origin in part in the bitter experience of the Anabaptists (and later Mennonites) that it was the theologians who were their worst enemies, whether Lutheran, Reformed, or Catholic, and who were often responsible for prodding the rulers into harsher measures of persecution; Melanchthon and Bullinger are good examples of this. Anabaptists frequently referred to the theologians as ‘Schriftgelehrten,’ i.e., ‘scribes’ (with the New Testament overtone of condemnation as enemies of Christ). Later on in the 17th-19th centuries it was the theologically trained pastors who were the harshest critics of the Mennonites and who attempted, often without success, to prevail upon the princes to refuse to admit Mennonites to their territories, or to expel them after admission, or to forbid their public worship. The princes for their part often favored the Mennonites because of the economic advantage they brought, and were therefore on the whole more tolerant than the ‘theologians.’ Theological literature contained much bitter invective and harsh condemnation of the Mennonites.”

Theology is a dangerous pursuit, because it attempts to build an understanding that applies to personal identity. Mental networks struggle for emotional domination. Therefore, the default is for the MMNs of childish identity to impose their structure upon the TMN of general understanding. Using religious language, it is very easy to form a concept of God in my own image rather than allow a concept of God to transform personal identity. When religious leaders are given emotional status and are revered as sources of truth, then it is natural that the theology that is taught by these leaders will become warped by personal status. Going further, Teacher thought wants universal statements that apply everywhere. Therefore, the rationalizations of the revered theologians will be expressed as universal statements that apply to everyone. Given this sort of environment, Anabaptists with their simple faith have tended to be like the little boy in the fable who points out that the Emperor has no clothes.

As the article on Mennonite theology explains, “The major reason for their suspicions of the dominant theologies was based on the ways they saw theological interpretation used to detract from the hard sayings of Scripture (for example, in relation to baptism or the rejection of violence), or to justify doctrines which appeared to make no demands (faith apart from discipleship), or to perpetuate a form of legalism by putting all doctrines on the same level. They also decried what seemed to be a lack of careful controls for interpreting the sense of Scriptures and the reservation of theology for the experts only. For them the true test of a theological statement was its compatibility with the life and doctrine of Jesus Christ and the apostles. The measure of true theological understanding depended not primarily upon the level of intellectual ability but upon the openness and abandonment to God’s will as revealed in Jesus Christ and the teaching and example of the apostles. Throughout their subsequent history, Mennonites have frequently dogmatized this critique and expanded it into a general anti-theological stance rather than discriminating between good and bad theology.” Summarizing, theology has historically tended to explain away concepts that threaten core MMNs, come up with theories that do not apply to personal MMNs, use MMNs of personal status as a basis for making theological statements, disregard the MMN of Jesus’ example, and avoid the concept of submitting childish MMNs to the TMN of a concept of God. As a result, Mennonites have often responded by rejecting the very concept of theology.

The solution, I suggest, is to approach theology from a cognitive perspective and to recognize that the mind is governed by inescapable, universal, cognitive principles that are independent of people and their emotional status. The inherent emotional conflict between TMNs and MMNs is a universal cognitive mechanism that cannot be avoided. This internal conflict will occur whether one acknowledges it or not. Therefore, it is imperative for a student of theology to apply truth personally; if the TMN of theological understanding is not used to transform the MMNs of childish identity, then childish MMNs will warp the TMN of theological understanding. One or the other will occur. This changes the need to apply truth personally from a Mercy focus upon ‘submitting to authority’ to a Teacher focus upon functioning in a way that is consistent with ‘how the mind works’. A Mercy attitude of ‘submitting to authority’ will always become corrupted when one becomes ‘an authority’ oneself. In contrast, a Teacher understanding of how things work continues to work regardless of personal status.

Using an analogy, suppose that a fence is placed in front of a cliff to stop people from falling off the cliff. Fences are constructed by authority figures who use their emotional status to put signs on fences with warnings such as ‘Anyone who crosses this fence will be punished by the authorities’. If one becomes an authority, then one can use this authority to put up a different sign or tear down the fence. That is what happens when truth is viewed from the Mercy perspective of submission to authority. As Anabaptists have experienced, many theologians have used their authority to ‘rewrite the signs’ and ‘tear down the fences’ of Scripture. A cliff, in contrast, is governed by the natural law of ‘how the world works’. The law of gravity applies equally to peasants and presidents, Anabaptists and theologians. Thus, the key is to recognize that New Testament theology and the example of Jesus are consistent with the natural universal law of ‘how the mind works’. That is the thesis of Natural Cognitive Theology, which builds a systematic theology upon a cognitive model of ‘how the mind works’. Because this theology is based upon how the mind works, it is not just an abstract structure divorced from personal application, but rather an understanding that is based in cognitive development which recognizes the need for cognitive development. In other words, learning how the mind works is both a theoretical struggle to understand abstract concepts about cognition and a pragmatic struggle to get my mind to work. The one cannot be divorced from the other.

The Schleitheim Confession contained the seeds of this solution, but was incapable of following it to its logical conclusion. One of the seven articles is a prohibition against taking oaths. Quoting from the Wikipedia summary, “No (oaths) should be taken because Jesus prohibited the taking of oaths and swearing. Testifying is not the same thing as swearing. When a person bears testimony, they are testifying about the present, whether it be good or evil.” Perceiver thought is responsible for working out facts. An oath uses emotional MMNs to support Perceiver truth: “I swear on the Bible that I am telling the truth.” Perceiver thought needs to learn how to determine facts independently of Mercy emotions. As Habermas describes, European society acquired the ability to use Perceiver thought in this manner during the age of enlightenment. A person who is ‘testifying about the present, whether it be good or evil’, is using Perceiver thought independently of Mercy emotions. The problem is that the fundamentalist attitude of blind faith in the Bible is itself a form of oath, because the facts of the Bible are being believed because of the emotional status that is being given to the source of the Bible. Therefore, if one wishes to become completely free of oaths, then absolute truth (based in some authority) must be replaced by universal truth (based in how things work).

Mennonite Culture

Over time, these three religious attitudes of fervor, self-denial, and transcendence became expressed in a different manner through Mennonite culture. Fervor turned into living in communities that were separate from the secular world. As Weaver explains, “It was opposition and persecution that forced the radicals outside the established church and help to instill a sense of separation... When they failed to remake the established church along the lines of their vision of a more just society, that social component received expression through the structure of an alternative society, outside of or separated from both established ecclesiological and political structures” (BA p. 173). For instance, between 1800 and 1915, many of the Mennonites (including my ancestors) lived in separate colonies in Ukraine with their own local government, economy, and schools. More recently, from 1930 to 1970, the Mennonites in Paraguay functioned as a largely autonomous community. It is good to attempt to apply one’s beliefs through community. However, combining this with an attitude of fervor leads to inherent contradictions.

First, the goal of forming a separate community of believers is to focus fully upon following God by removing oneself from the world. But when the mind is ruled by MMNs, then separating oneself from the world often means submitting to the MMN of some charismatic or domineering leader, and early Anabaptist history is full of groups clustering around leaders.

For instance, the Hutterites are a branch of Anabaptists that live communally in separate colonies that are distinct from normal society. Weaver describes the process by which Hutter became leader of the Hutterites in 1533. Quoting from two parts of this story, Hutter “came convinced that he had a unique calling of God to lead the federated groups, and the move was intended to be permanent... Some dissidents wanted Hutter to leave with him to found a new group, but Hutter announced that he would stay to correct the abuses in the house of God. Schützinger took this statement as criticism of his leadership, and within two weeks Schützinger and Hutter were deep in conflict over Hutter’s leadership role... Gabriel declared that Hutter’s ‘proud and arrogant’ bearing suited him better to be an itinerant preacher than a residential pastor” (BA, p.99). Skipping ahead, “The seeming harmony following Hutter’s assumption of leadership did not long endure. Hutter moved quickly to separate members he considered unfaithful or unwilling to follow his stricter discipline. Several of these appealed to Ascherham and Plener, and within two weeks these two deemed intervention necessary. Accompanied by assistants, Ascherham and Plener arrived unannounced early on Sunday morning, October 26, to confront Hutter. The discussion soon became heated, with raised voices and mutual recriminations, and expanded to include a number of issues and past events. The assembled congregation was left confused, unable to determine who was right. The next day, Hutter sent messengers to the other two communities to inform them that their leaders were liars” (BA, p.101).

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident but rather illustrates the type of interaction that occurred in many of the early Anabaptist groups. The point is that fervor leaves intact the underlying mindset of building one’s mind upon the MMNs of authority figures. Even if one chooses to follow the Bible and the example of Jesus, the Bible is a finite book that does not describe all possible situations, and the example of Jesus only covers some situations. Therefore, if one attempts to create a community based upon this mindset, then religious leaders are needed to expand the biblical text to cover the situations of normal life, which leaves one back at the starting point of being mentally ruled by authority figures with emotional status.

The second contradiction is that setting up a community that is separate from normal culture will end up creating its own culture, especially for the succeeding generations. And because everyone in the separate community is ‘following God’, these new cultural norms will acquire religious overtones, and social pressure will be used to convince one’s neighbors to ‘follow God’. Having grown up in a Mennonite culture, I can state from personal experience that this is a potent social force.

An additional effect emerges when separated community is combined with non-violence. The Schleitheim Confession says that “The rule of the government is according to the flesh, that of the Christians according to the Spirit. Their houses and dwelling remain in this world, that of the Christians is in heaven. Their citizenship is in this world, that of the Christians is in heaven. The weapons of their battle and warfare are carnal and only against the flesh, but the weapons of Christians are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil. The worldly are armed with steel and iron, but Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and with the Word of God.” A ‘carnal weapon’ uses physical force to attack the physical body of an opponent. A ‘spiritual weapon’ uses behavior to appeal to the conscience of an opponent. One can see this, for instance, in the archetypal story of Dirk Willems.

Murray describes how Anabaptism was often viewed by opponents in the early days: “The Anabaptists might be heretics, but their lifestyle was undoubtedly distinctive and attractive. Franz Agricola, a 16th century Roman Catholic opponent, expressed his confusion: ‘As concerns their outward public life they are irreproachable. No lying, deception, swearing, strife, harsh language, no intemperate eating and drinking, no outward personal display, is found among them, but humility, patience, uprightness, neatness, honesty, temperance, straightforwardness in such measure that one would suppose that they have the Holy Spirit of God.’ There are even accounts of non-Anabaptists arrested on suspicion of being Anabaptists because they lived good lives – and escaping prosecution only by cursing freely and persuading their accusers that they were not really as holy as they appeared” (TNA, 58).

Such exemplary behavior is truly commendable. However, when this becomes a standard of culture, then it can lead to emotional bondage—to ‘them’. When one chooses not to use physical force to defend oneself, then maintaining the goodwill of one’s neighbor becomes literally a matter of life and death. Everything that one does or says becomes judged by the standard of ‘what will they think’ and ‘how will this affect our testimony’? Many a time I have been told that ‘we’ are subject to a higher standard of behavior than ‘them’, and that ‘we’ must avoid anything that would cause ‘them’ to think less of the Christian message. I never did find out who ‘them’ was. All I knew was that ‘jana’ (‘them’ in low German) saw and judged everything that I did and said. Examining this cognitively, the outside world with its MMNs of approval and disapproval is being generalized by Teacher thought into what Heidegger would call ‘the They’. For the average person, following ‘them’ is something that happens automatically as Heidegger portrays, expressed by phrases such as ‘one does not do such a thing’. For the Mennonite (or Jew) living in a separate community, what ‘they think’ becomes a powerful, consciously analyzed TMN that guides a significant portion of personal and community behavior. (This webpage describes the fear of ‘What will they think?’ from a Jewish perspective.)

A Pragmatic Example

The solution, I suggest, is to replace the TMN of ‘them’ with a TMN based in a general understanding of ‘how things work’. The ultimate goal should not be to behave in a manner that pleases the MMNs of surrounding culture and prevents them from killing us, but rather to think and behave in a manner that is consistent with the TMN of an understanding of how the world works and how the mind works, so that natural consequences will not lead to personal harm. And because both ‘us’ and ‘them’ are subject to the same universal laws, ‘they’ will see that ‘us’ are experiencing the beneficial consequences of acting in a way that is consistent with natural law, and ‘they’ will respect ‘us’ and want to learn from ‘us’. Using Jewish religious language, this is called ‘being a light to the nations’.

For instance, we saw earlier that “The princes for their part often favored the Mennonites because of the economic advantage they brought, and were therefore on the whole more tolerant than the ‘theologians.’ Theological literature contained much bitter invective and harsh condemnation of the Mennonites.” When theology is based in the MMNs of personal status, then it is pointless to argue with theologians. The solution is not to abandon theology or abstract understanding, but rather to gain an understanding of ‘how things work’, apply this understanding, and allow the resulting ‘economic advantage’ to convince the princes. The Mennonites have applied this principle to some extent pragmatically, because they followed the instructions and example of Jesus, which are consistent with how the mind works, which created good citizens who built prosperous communities that brought economic advantage to the region.

The Mennonites used this approach when emigrating from Prussia to the Ukraine in the 1800s under Catherine the Great. The Conrad Grebel Review states that “In the mid-eighteenth century, the enlightened Russian monarch Catherine the Great invited foreigners to settle her newly conquered lands in the Volga region and southern Ukraine. She offered a standard set of legal and economic privileges to any foreigners who would agree to immigrate, since clearly no one would come if they were to be placed in the same position as Russia’s enserfed rural population. In almost all instances, foreigners would accept Catherine’s privileges as offered, and settled where they were assigned with no negotiation. The Mennonites behaved differently. The Mennonites of Poland were ready to move, for they were in the process of being absorbed into the rapidly expanding Prussian state which, as we have seen in my introductory anecdote, categorized them as an undesirable and suspect population. The Mennonites, therefore, sent two representatives to Catherine’s court where they negotiated with her powerful favorite, Potemkin. They surveyed and chose the land they wished to settle on; and they negotiated a special deal, which gave the Mennonites greater economic and political privileges than other foreign settlers had received. Obviously, such negotiations implied that the Mennonites had something to offer the Russian state, which they did. They were well known as excellent agriculturists who had drained and successfully farmed the swampy land of the Vistula river basin in northern Poland” (Vol. 20, No.1).

The Mennonite Encyclopedia describes the influence that Mennonites had upon agriculture in Ukraine: “The greatest change and influence on the agricultural and economic life came through the Agricultural Association and its chairman, Johann Cornies. After Cornies had demonstrated on his estates what progress could be made in the raising of cattle, horses, sheep and trees, he exercised a tremendous influence on the surrounding Mennonite and non-Mennonite population not only through his example, but also through the Agricultural Association, which was sponsored and supervised by the Guardians’ Committee, a government agency. In 1845 he had on two estates 22,000 merinos, and in 1847 his herd of horses on one estate alone numbered five hundred. His sheep, cattle and horses were sought far and near. Through the introduction of the summer fallow, fall plowing, rotation of crops and other means, he demonstrated the successful raising of grain on the steppes. Neither of his estates bore a trace of a tree when Cornies acquired them. By 1845 he had some thirty-five acres of shade trees, about sixteen acres of fruit trees and a large nursery. Thus his estates became an experiment station where the surrounding farmers obtained advice and help and were enabled to improve their stock and farming methods. The Guardians’ Committee authorized him to enforce rules and regulations regarding improvements of farming methods and the settlement in general. Under the supervision of the Agricultural Association orchards and shade trees were planted. After twenty years more than five million trees had been planted in the forty-seven villages of the Molotschna. Among the fruit trees grown at this time were grapes and mulberries, the latter for their leaves, which were fed to the silkworms. For a while the silk industry was one of the main sources of income. In 1835 Cornies made it obligatory in the whole Molotschna settlement to summer fallow some land. Simultaneously he introduced the following rotation of crops: summer fallow, barley, wheat and rye. In 1845 this improvement was also introduced in the Chortitza settlement. Very soon the results of the new methods of farming were evidenced by increased yields. Cornies exercised great influence among the Mennonites, other colonists and the surrounding Russians, especially the Dukhobors and the Molokans, as well as the native tribes such as Kalmuks, Tatars and others. To all of them he was a friend and adviser, trusted and honored. It has sometimes been said that the Mennonites failed to do mission work among the surrounding population. While this is true of direct evangelism, there is hardly anywhere in the history of the Mennonites an example that exceeds this one in the Ukraine, where the neighboring population was given an opportunity to watch the demonstration of consecrated Christian living, benefiting by the advice and the help given freely out of Christian love.” Note the connection that this article makes between practical improvement and Christian witness, a connection that continues today with Mennonite relief organizations such as the MCC.

The Meserete Kristos Anabaptist church in Ethiopia provides a non-European example of Christian witness through practical help. This church began under the work of Mennonite medical missionaries in the 1950s, expanded when it was forced to go underground during the period of Communist rule, and had over 250,000 baptized members as of November 2014. As the article describes, the Meserete Kristos church “engages in a holistic ministry to a society in great need... It employs more than 300 people and has an annual budget of $3.7 million supplied by international nongovernment agencies such as Mennonite Central Committee and others... RDA’s vision is for ‘a poverty-free and transformed Ethiopian society where economic, social and spiritual needs are met and sustained for successive generations.’ Its mission is ‘to glorify God by addressing basic and spiritual needs of rural and urban communities in a sustainable manner through tackling the root causes of poverty.’ RDA is committed to working with and empowering local communities to feed the hungry and destitute through famine relief and food or cash-for-work programs; to improve food security by soil enrichment and conservation through composting, terrace building and tree planting; to improve community health through basic education, protecting water sources, teaching sanitation and the use of latrines, and improving nutrition...”

Examples such as these show that the Anabaptist approach is not mere wishful thinking but is a legitimate way of living that generates personal and societal benefits. However, I suggest that the religious attitudes of transcendence and self-denial have limited the scope and effectiveness of the Anabaptist message. First, transcendence has caused Mennonites to emphasize the pragmatic side of Christian transformation. The Conrad Grebel Review article notes that a “group must have some skills to offer their host governments or monarch. The Russian Mennonites were an unusual mobilized diaspora in that they were predominantly rural, whereas most such mobilized diasporas have been urban; the Mennonites’ skills were agricultural, rather than mercantile or industrial.” Similarly, Mennonites are best known today for their practical relief efforts. Second, self-denial has caused Mennonites to focus upon denying self in order to help others. Thus, Mennonites are known for their practical relief efforts, in which they reach out to help others.

The positive side of this combination is that the Mennonites are generally able to bring assistance to third world countries in simple, concrete ways that are more effective and cost less than the typical government or NGO effort, because the goal is to assist the local individuals in simple ways rather than build organizations or carry out grandiose schemes. The negative side of this combination is easier to see if one looks at the Amish, the most conservative branch of the Mennonites.

The Amish

First, the Amish are famous for their fervor, because they equate being a Christian with living in separate communities that are distinct from the outside world.

Second, self-denial lies at the core of Amish identity. As Wikipedia explains, “Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut (humility) and Gelassenheit (calmness, composure, placidity), often translated as ‘submission’ or ‘letting-be’. Gelassenheit is perhaps better understood as a reluctance to be forward, to be self-promoting, or to assert oneself... Modern innovations like electricity might spark a competition for status goods, or photographs might cultivate personal vanity. The Amish consider the Bible a trustworthy guide for living but do not quote it excessively. To do so would be considered a sinful showing of pride.”

And the Amish expand transcendence to include a suspicion of higher learning in general: “The Amish do not educate their children past the eighth grade, believing that the basic knowledge offered up to that point is sufficient to prepare one for the Amish lifestyle. Almost no Amish go to high school, much less to college. In many communities, the Amish operate their own schools, which are typically one-room schoolhouses with teachers (young unmarried women) from the Amish community. These schools provide education in many crafts, and are therefore eligible as vocational education, fulfilling the nationwide requirement of education through the 10th grade or its equivalent.”

Notice how the religious attitudes of fervor, self-denial, and transcendence have turned into primary features that define the very existence of the Amish, indicating a mind that is ruled by MMNs. One can tell that MMNs rule the mind because the MMNs of identity, family, and culture provide the standard for evaluating behavior. As was quoted earlier, ‘Modern innovations like electricity might spark a competition for status goods, or photographs might cultivate personal vanity’. These MMN-based rules are then enforced by MMNs of culture. As this webpage explains, “All aspects of Amish life are dictated by a list of written or oral rules, known as Ordnung, which outlines the basics of the Amish faith and helps to define what it means to be Amish. For an Amish person, the Ordnung may dictate almost every aspect of one’s lifestyle, from dress and hair length to buggy style and farming techniques... The Amish are averse to any technology which they feel weakens the family structure. The conveniences that the rest of us take for granted such as electricity, television, automobiles, telephones and tractors are considered to be a temptation that could cause vanity, create inequality, or lead the Amish away from their close-knit community and, as such, are not encouraged or accepted in most orders.”

It is good to emphasize the MMNs of family, especially in today’s consumer society, which is driven by the objective theories of science and the material progress of technology. However, it is interesting to compare the Amish concept of family with what Jesus says about family, since Anabaptism is built upon the foundation of following the example of Jesus.

When Jesus began his ministry, his natural family concluded that he had lost his mind and tried to shun him, and Jesus responded by redefining family to be a family of faith based upon following God rather than man. Mark describes it this way: “And He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” (Mark 3:20-21, NASB). Jesus responded by saying that his family consists not of his natural family but rather of those who do the will of God: “Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.’ Answering them, He said, ‘Who are My mother and My brothers?’ Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:31-35).

The Amish, in contrast, do precisely the opposite by defining ‘the family of faith’ to be one’s natural family: “Unlike other church congregations whose membership is based on whoever visits, stays and joins, the Amish congregations are based on the physical location of their residence. Contiguous properties are encircled with a congregation’s physical boundary. Each congregation is made up of 25–30 neighboring farm or related families whose membership in the congregation in which their farm is located is the only congregation available for membership. Accordingly, each member is also a neighbor. There is no ‘church hopping’ from church to church like modern Protestant churches, and relationships are assumed to be long-term.” It is good to be neighborly, especially in today’s society where one often does not even know the identity of one’s next-door neighbors. But it becomes difficult to implement the Anabaptism goal of following the example of Jesus rather than the MMNs of culture when following Jesus becomes defined so strongly in cultural terms.

Compare this with the Mennonites in Paraguay, who have been forced to distinguish Mennonite culture from Anabaptist faith by the numerous converts to Anabaptism among the Chaco aboriginals. Quoting from the article on Paraguay mentioned earlier, “Today there are three relatively large Mennonite conferences among the Enlhit, Nivaclé, and Toba, with 39 local congregations and close to 10,000 baptized members. As well, the ethnic groups of the Guarayos and the Ayoreos are in the process of structuring as conferences and asking for membership in Mennonite World Conference. They find it strange to realize they are ‘Mennonites,’ because they always thought being a Mennonite meant belonging to an ethnic immigrant group of Prussian-Russian-Canadian origin. They even like to call themselves ‘Mennonite Brethren,’ not in the classic denominational sense as MBs but as ‘Brethren of the Mennonites.’ Even more, immigrant Mennonites have difficulty accepting that their native partners are authentic and probably even better Mennonites than they are themselves, if being Mennonite means relating to the experience of Menno Simons and the Anabaptists. Now there is a vital process underway for Enlhit and Nivaclé to embrace Mennonite theological and congregational identity.” Thus, the presence of 10,000 non-cultural Mennonites who have converted to Anabaptism who call themselves Mennonites is forcing the ethnic Mennonites to re-examine what it means to be a Mennonite. This re-examination is encouraging the Mennonites in Paraguay to follow the example of Jesus, who redefined natural family to be a family of faith.

Returning to our look at the Amish, I have suggested that the long-term solution to the Anabaptist bondage to MMNs is to replace these Mercy mental networks with the TMN of a general understanding. This becomes very difficult when Amish education stops at precisely the point when a student begins to develop abstract thought. Repeating an earlier quote from Wikipedia, “The Amish do not educate their children past the eighth grade, believing that the basic knowledge offered up to that point is sufficient to prepare one for the Amish lifestyle. Almost no Amish go to high school, much less to college. In many communities, the Amish operate their own schools, which are typically one-room schoolhouses with teachers (young unmarried women) from the Amish community. These schools provide education in many crafts, and are therefore eligible as vocational education, fulfilling the nationwide requirement of education through the 10th grade or its equivalent.” Thus, instead of developing the abstract thought that is needed to form a general understanding, the Amish school student learns practical skills that make it possible to function within the Mercy-driven Amish community.

Behind this Amish response lies a deep theological question. Should one approach Christianity from the Mercy perspective of culture, concrete experience, and emotional status or from the Teacher perspective of abstract understanding and universality and understanding? Saying this another way, both Teacher thought and Mercy thought form mental networks. The mind uses Mercy mental networks (MMNs) to represent people. Should the God of Christianity be represented by a Mercy mental network or by a Teacher mental network? Saying this more pointedly, how does one know that one is not following a false God? This question is pursued in some detail in Natural Cognitive Theology. Therefore, I will only mention two points here.

First, as the theologian N. T. Wright points out, Christianity is unique among religions in being based upon abstract theology rather than concrete religious ritual. Quoting from an article in Christianity Today, “Theology, argues Wright, is something Paul pioneered. Jews and Romans could talk about spiritual matters such as fortune, or unseen powers that require our placating. But theology does work among the earliest Christians (and us) that it never had to do for their predecessors. Theology does the work for Paul that circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath did for the old Paul, the zealous Jew Saul of Tarsus. It marked out a community as distinct from the world.” Consistent with this, I present the thesis in Natural Cognitive Theology that Christian theology, including the concept of a Trinitarian God, makes natural sense when approach from the Teacher perspective of a universal theory of cognition. Thus, evidence strongly suggests that Christianity needs to be approached from a Teacher perspective.

Second, the cognitive science of religion has discovered that it is cognitively natural for the mind to believe in a Mercy-like superhuman god while cognitively unnatural to believe in a Teacher-like universal God. This has been demonstrated by a series of experiments carried out by Barrett and Keil, which “reveal that subjects do use anthropomorphic concepts of God in understanding stories even though they may profess a theological position that rejects anthropomorphic constraints on God and God’s activities. It appears that people have at least two parallel God concepts that are used in different contexts, and these concepts may be fundamentally incompatible... The concept of God used in the context of listening to and remembering stories is not the same as the concept of God that is claimed in a more abstract, theological setting. The ‘God’ condition of the first study showed a great disparity between the theological beliefs about God and the properties attributed to God in the course of processing stories.” In other words, not only is viewing God from a Mercy perspective the wrong way to interpret Christianity, but it is an expression of the natural, unregenerate mind.

The Amish illustrate what happens when one attempts to approach Christianity from a Mercy perspective and live in this fully. As anyone who observes the Amish can see, this type of Christianity is incompatible with the modern world of science and technology. The Amish were not always technical conservatives. This CNN interview explains that “If you look back in time, Amish people were ahead of the game when it came to agricultural techniques. They were in fact recruited by the aristocracy to come into areas of Europe that nobody else wanted to farm—because they were too boggy, marshy—and the nobility in that area wanted to raise the productivity of the land they ruled over. So they would bring in the Amish or ancestors of the Amish because they were so innovative and hard working.” The rejection of modern technology began in the late 1800s with the Old Order Amish: “‘Old Order’ Amish is strictly an American term which came into usage as some Amish Mennonite congregations resisted ‘new’ methods of church work as well as ‘new’ forms of social organization and technology. One cannot properly speak of ‘Old Order’ before 1850, and its usage came gradually after about 1870, or following the Amish Ministers’ Conferences 1862-78, called Diener Versammlungen, which finally crystallized the differences between the more progressive Amish and the Old Order groups.”

It was during this time that modern technology expanded from the factories of the Industrial Revolution and started to transform the daily lives of people through what could be called the Consumer Revolution. Cognitively speaking, the Teacher-based understanding of science began to transform the personal MMNs of identity and culture. The Old Order Amish responded by rejecting most modern technology in order to preserve the MMNs of family and culture. But if following God means turning one’s back on science and technology, then who created the universe with its natural laws? The point is that following completely a concept of God that is based in the MMNs of status and culture will cause a group of people to turn their backs upon a society that is guided by the Teacher concept of a God of universal law and order. But if God and Christianity only make sense from a Teacher perspective, then the Amish path literally turns its back on God while claiming to follow God fully.

Instead of attempting to gain a general Teacher understanding of the character of God and how this character is expressed through universal law, the Amish have generally quibbled over specific Mercy details that have nothing to do with the pursuit of godliness: “Among the culture traits which the Old Order Amish have resisted in the past, and with which some communities have compromised only after a long struggle and others not at all even to the present day, are the following: buttons on coats and vests, wearing a mustache, men’s suspenders in various forms, hats for women, ‘store’ clothes, talon fasteners, ‘bosom’ shirts, detachable collars, modern styles of underwear, patterned dress goods, fine shoes, low shoes, ladies’ high-heeled shoes, parted hair, parted hair except in the center, meetinghouses, four-part singing, hymnbooks with printed musical notes, laymen’s use of Bibles at preaching service, Sunday schools, revival meetings, high-school education, central heating, carpets, window curtains, storm windows and screens, writing desks, upholstered furniture, brightly painted farm machinery, painted wagons, top buggies, ‘falling’ buggy tops, buggy springs, rubber-tired buggies, buggy steps, fancy buggies, whipsockets, dashboards, sausage grinders, lawn mowers, bicycles, windmills, sewing machines, steam threshers, tractors with tires, tractors for field work, tractors at all, elaborately decorated harness, musical instruments, telephones, electricity, automobiles, and many others.”

A Cognitive Perspective

Before continuing, let us step back and take a cognitive perspective. When a person follows a mental concept of God that is based upon the TMN of a general understanding, then there are a number of personal benefits. The Amish path of using the religious attitude to follow a culture based in the example of Jesus produces a partial version of these benefits, which others find attractive.

The first benefit is peace. The partial version of this is non-violence. Teacher thought feels good when everything functions together in a smooth manner. When MMNs submit to the TMN of a universal concept of God, then the peace of God will rule the mind, leading to good thoughts and good behavior. One can see this in Kant’s categorical imperative, which defines moral goodness in universal terms—if something can be done by everyone, then it is morally good. Saying this more simply, when laws apply to all individuals regardless of personal status, then there is law and order, which leads to personal well-being. This is also described in Philippians 4: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:6-8). Notice how personal MMNs are being directed as requests to God, and a concept of God that transcends reasoning is keeping people both emotionally and intellectually close to the example of Jesus. This leads to a mindset that dwells upon all kinds of goodness expressed through a society of peace.

Non-violence, in contrast, suppresses childish MMNs through an attitude of self-denial and then uses the MMNs of culture to limit the struggle that naturally occurs between childish MMNs. Peace fills the mind with goodness guided by understanding. Non-violence suppresses badness guided by culture. These two are not the same.

The second benefit is purity. The partial version of this is simplicity. Most people are complicated in the sense that their minds are ruled by a multiplicity of incompatible mental networks. Teacher thought brings order to complexity. When the MMNs of personal identity submit to the TMN of a general concept of God, then Teacher thought brings consistency to these various mental networks, leading to internal purity. With purity, everything is the same substance. The pure person is the same everywhere, in all contexts. There are no hidden motives or inconsistencies; all desires point in the same direction.

Simplicity is different, because it brings order to complexity not by using Teacher thought to make everything consistent, but rather by using Mercy thought to reject things. The Amish live a simple life, but this simplicity is achieved by rejecting most of the complexities of modern life. However, one can see from the list of prohibitions mentioned a few paragraphs earlier that the understanding of the Amish is not simple. Instead, it is a hodgepodge of disconnected taboos held together by the MMNs of status and culture.

I suggest that Paul is comparing these two ways of thinking in 1 Timothy 4: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:1-7 NASB). When the beliefs of Anabaptism are replaced by the MMNs of culture, then this can accurately be described as ‘falling away from the faith’. Spirits are related to mental networks, and a ‘daimon’ was originally an autonomous spirit that motivated behavior. This is reflected in the modern term ‘daemon’, which describes a computer program that runs autonomously in the background apart from the control of the user. The mental networks of culture and ‘how we do things’ act as mental spirits and daemons, imposing their structures upon the mind when they are triggered. The result is a seared conscience. Instead of being guided by the TMN of an understanding of the character of God, conscience becomes redefined as a collection of taboos that focus upon denying personal pleasure and forbidding unacceptable experiences. Paul contrasts this with an attitude that does not reject Mercy experiences but rather views everything as an expression of a universal concept of God based in goodness and wholeness. This does not mean that one swallows all experiences uncritically. Instead, one ‘sanctifies’ (sets apart to God) Mercy experiences by placing them within a general understanding of the nature of God. Saying this another one way, one views sin not as something that is bad in Mercy thought, but rather as a childish way of gratifying oneself with a fragment of goodness in an unwholesome manner. Paul then says that one should avoid common, traditional myths (the MMNs that maintain a culture). Instead, one should discipline the mind in order to become guided by a mental concept of God.

Moving on, the third benefit is humility. The partial version of this is Demut or unassertiveness. Humility recognizes that cause-and-effect is independent of the MMNs of personal status, and that asserting personal status can blind a person to seeing how things really work. For instance, it is obvious that the laws of physics apply to everyone, regardless of personal status. If one drives a vehicle in a manner that disregards the laws of physics, then the result can be personal injury or death. A mind that is driven by MMNs of status and culture often thinks that it is immune to the laws of physics, and one continually reads about such individuals harming themselves and others in vehicle accidents.

Demut suppresses the MMNs of personal identity rather than submitting them to the TMN of an understanding of how things work. Demut is continually tempted by pride and it avoids situations that might trigger feelings of pride. Humility, in contrast, focuses upon enjoying the situation and thus regards what people think as secondary.

One finds this type of attitude described the end of Romans 12, which was quoted earlier: “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:16-21). This section immediately follows the passage on spiritual gifts, which describes how the mind works. Paul begins by saying that social interaction should not be guided by MMNs of personal status. Instead, one should value that which is good for everyone. Instead of functioning at the Mercy level of MMNs fighting for dominance, one should allow universal Teacher laws of cause-and-effect to function. Instead of focusing on the personal MMNs of enemies, one should change the focus from people to natural cause-and-effect by meeting their needs, thus breaking free of the vicious circle of retribution.

The fourth benefit is righteousness. The partial version of this is Ordnung or societal structure. Righteousness acts in a way that is consistent with a Teacher understanding of God. It gains an understanding of how things work and then chooses to act in a manner that submits to this understanding. Ordnung, in contrast is driven by MMNs of status and culture. The average Amish person will try some new technology. The Amish community will see if this technology supports the MMNs of family and culture, and then the Amish bishops will use their emotional status to impose a decision upon the community. One becomes righteous by following God in the absence of societal approval. Ordnung, in contrast, is rooted in societal approval.

Jesus compares these two ways of acting in the sermon on the Mount: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:1-6).

The key point here is that mental networks take ownership of behavior. The topic of this passage is righteousness. The default is for the mind to be motivated by MMNs of status and culture. The TMN of a concept of God will only take ownership of behavior if it is not being motivated by existing MMNs. Thus, the left hand (controlled by Mercy thought in the right hemisphere) should not be aware of what the right hand (controlled by Teacher thought in the left hemisphere) is doing. Mentally speaking, behavior that is motivated by the TMN of general understanding rather than the MMNs of culture leads to the ‘reward from God’ of being righteous, acquiring a personal character that naturally acts in a way that is consistent with the character of God. On the surface, the Amish go out of their way to avoid actions that seek human approval. However, at a deeper level, Amish society in general is guided by an Ordnung of unspoken rules that are enforced by human approval and disapproval.

Summarizing, in each of these four cases, MMNs of culture and status are being used to impose a way of functioning that mimics what emerges naturally when the mind is guided by the TMN of a concept of God. It is quite possible that Teacher thought does play a role in enforcing non-violence, simplicity, Demut, and Ordnung. However, MMNs are firmly in charge and Teacher thought is added later. For instance, MMNs of family are used to accept or reject technology, and then this censored version of technological society is guided by rational Teacher thought. Comparing this with the non-Amish, the mindset of modern secular society is also incomplete. The development of technology may be guided by the universal Teacher theories of science, but science ignores the MMNs of personal identity. The Amish may use MMNs of family improperly to filter technology, but secular society tends to ignore the MMNs of family, imbibing all technology without filtering. The solution, I suggest, is to extend Teacher understanding to the subjective, so that one is guided both by a scientific understanding of how the natural world works and by a general understanding of how the mind works. The goal of mental symmetry is to provide this missing Teacher understanding.

The Mercy Bias of Mennonite Thought

Now let us return to the typical Mennonite. The Amish provide an extreme example of religious attitude overwhelming Christian faith. I suggest that Mennonite thought in general struggles with less extreme versions of the same issues. For instance, it was repeatedly made clear to me as a child that we were subject to a higher standard than those around us. Mennonites (when I grew up) did not smoke, drink, dance, play cards, or have a television in their homes. And one dared not enter a movie theater regardless of what was being shown because that might ‘hurt one’s testimony’. The typical conservative Mennonite enforces these taboos without thinking, while the typical progressive Mennonite belittles these taboos as infantile expressions of a childish mindset.

My parents took a third approach. Like most Mennonites raised in the 1960s, I grew up without a television (which is good). But I learned all about technology and the outside world by reading through encyclopedias that my parents provided, and my father took our family on many trips to experience the outside world (By college age, I had visited about 20 countries). In addition, my mother would help us to analyze why certain behaviors were right or wrong by looking at long-term consequences. This learning and broadening of cultural horizons led to the development of a TMN of understanding within my mind that made it possible to transcend the restricted MMNs of a Mennonite upbringing. Instead of corrupting Mercy thought through the vacuous entertainment of television, I developed Teacher thought by reading books. And I have continued to follow this path by using a cognitive model based in a universal understanding of the mind to re-evaluate the MMNs of family and culture, instead of merely accepting them blindly or rejecting them wholesale.

Mennonites have also founded a number of schools and colleges. (My uncle, I. I. Friesen, was a founding faculty and president of the Canadian Mennonite Bible college, which is now the Canadian Mennonite University.) However, here too the focus tends to be upon pragmatic service. For example, the following description is found on the page for Engineering Studies at the Eastern Mennonite University, entitled Engineering Studies for the Common Good: “EMU offers a major in pre-engineering, which is designed to prepare you with the STEM training you need and the sustainability and peacebuilding focus you seek... At EMU, you’ll receive the STEM training you need with an emphasis on EMU core values such as cross-cultural awareness, peacebuilding, sustainability and service to others.” Similarly, the Computer Science page says, “EMU’s computer science program seeks to produce skilled computing professionals with a respect for the cultural and social impact of computing technologies in our modern global community.” Notice how engineering is related to ‘cross-cultural awareness, peacebuilding, sustainability and service to others’, while computer science has a ‘respect for the cultural and social impact’.

It is good to have this sort of integrated approach. Engineering does need to be applied in a sustainable manner that works with the environment rather than imposes itself upon the environment. For instance, it is not appropriate to have green lawns that require extensive watering in the middle of an arid climate. As California is currently discovering, this is not sustainable. In addition, it is far better to use engineering to build structures of peace than instruments of war. Similarly, current arguments over surveillance technology have demonstrated that computer science has profound social implications. But one gains the impression that the TMNs of abstract understanding are being filtered through the MMNs of Mennonite culture, rather than constructing the TMN of a universal understanding of God that is capable of transforming all of the MMNs of culture. Consistent with this, for several years I attended a Mennonite church filled with professors with PhDs. I found this environment to be quite stimulating, but I also noticed that MMNs of academic status play a larger role in evaluating truth than one would expect from ‘humble’ Anabaptist Christians, and that while there is a great emphasis upon peace building, there is also a lack of curiosity for the general Teacher understanding that is required to lay a proper foundation for peace. In addition, this church recently experienced a major crisis brought on by a top-down style of leadership that uses MMNs of authority to impose itself upon the people.

The Conrad Grebel Review article describes how this Mercy bias expressed itself historically in the Mennonites of Ukraine: “Despite their self-image as the Quiet in the Land, the Russian Mennonites were not ordinary Russian rural citizens. They were an exceptionally savvy and politically sophisticated group with over a century’s experience in negotiating their social, economic, and religious privileges with high Russian officials. This is not to say that their self-image as the Quiet in the Land was a complete myth. Rather, it is simply to state that in a modern state, in order to be the Quiet in the Land – to be left alone to mind one’s own affairs, to run one’s own economy, one’s own schools, in one’s own language, according to one’s own beliefs – a community requires a political elite that can defend it from the insistent claims of the modern state. The Mennonites had such a political elite” (p.8). Notice the juxtaposition of a people who separate themselves from the MMNs of culture and authority guided by an elite who are adept at maneuvering within the MMNs of culture and authority. Thus, even though the Anabaptist lifestyle is a partial expression of what it means to be guided by the TMN of a concept of God, one finds this lifestyle placed within a package of MMNs of culture and status.

This Mercy packaging was required in an age that was ruled by the MMNs of status and nobility rather than the TMN of the ‘rule of law’. In contrast, when laws apply to everyone regardless of personal status, then it is possible for everyone to enjoy the ‘Quiet in the Land’ that the Anabaptist mindset attempts to achieve. However, the Mennonite ‘Mercy packaging’ actually causes Mennonite society to avoid the rule of law. Quoting further from the Conrad Grebel Review article, “The Mennonites’ status as a mobilized diaspora helps explain what might otherwise seem to us modern Mennonites a curious and somewhat baffling aspect of traditional Mennonite politics, namely their strong preference for the pre-modern monarchical state and their considerable distrust of modernizing and democratizing governments. This seems especially mysterious to us, given that the modern, democratic states of Canada and the United States provided almost the sole safe haven for the Mennonites in the twentieth century. Why did the Mennonites not see that this would be the case? They had good reasons for their prejudice. Traditional states, such as the Russian empire, were organized according to the principle of estate or status groups, what the Russians called soslovie groups, such as the nobility, clergy, townspeople, and peasants. Russia also had ethno-military estate groups like the Cossacks and the Turkic Bashkir host. In such a society there was no expectation of equality before the law. Each group owed the state, and ultimately the Tsar himself, particular service obligations and in turn received specific privileges in exchange. The Tsarist government, therefore, did not find it strange or insulting that the Mennonites should try to negotiate for themselves a particular set of legal and economic privileges in exchange for the economic services they had to offer. This was normal. The Russian Mennonites fit into this soslovie order quite naturally and quickly adopted the service mentality typical of it. The soslovie principle suited the Mennonites’ sense that they were a people apart. The last thing they wanted was to be treated like all the others” (p.11).

Using cognitive language, Perceiver thought looks for universal truth—facts that apply equally to all situations to all people, and Teacher thought finds pleasure in the resulting order-within-complexity. But the Mennonite concept of being a separate community assumes that the same facts do not apply to all situations and all people. When Mercy emotions are too strong, then Perceiver thought cannot function. We see here that the MMN of Mennonite culture is preventing Perceiver thought from applying truth equally to all people. This is significant because in order to move beyond blind belief in a holy book, one must move from absolute truth to universal truth (this mental transition is analyzed in Natural Cognitive Theology). Absolute truth believes that some MMN with emotional status is the source of truth; the Christian fundamentalist views the Bible as the source of truth, and this was the starting point for Anabaptism. Universal truth, in contrast, uses Perceiver thought to look for facts that apply everywhere. My thesis is that the Bible is an accurate description of truth; it describes the universal truth of how the mind works. For instance, the law of gravity is not true because a physics textbook says that it is true. Rather, it is true because it applies equally to all objects. Let go of an object and it will fall to the ground. A physics textbook accurately describes how the law of gravity functions.

Again we see the inadequate mental foundation of Anabaptism. We saw earlier that Mennonites developed the social model of working out a deal with the local prince in which the Mennonites would offer economic advantages in exchange for receiving physical protection, the privilege of functioning as a separate community, as well as exemption from military duty. This system allowed a group of people to pursue a path of non-violence in a pre-democratic society that was ruled by MMNs of social status. But we see here that this way of functioning is incompatible with the rule of law.

And yet, one finds in the Schleitheim Confession a core aspect of the rule of law. Absolute truth believes that Perceiver truth has its source in people with emotional status; the rule of law insists that Perceiver truth applies to all people equally, regardless of social status. Which of these two principles guides a mind or society will be determined by what happens when laws come into contact with people with emotional status. Does the law apply to important people, or are important people above the law? The Schleitheim Confession states that religious leaders are also subject to the law of Scripture. Quoting again from the Wikipedia summary, “Pastors should be men of good repute. Some of the responsibilities they must faithfully carry out are teaching, disciplining, the ban, leading in prayer, and the sacraments. They are to be supported by the church, but must also be disciplined if they sin.” However, this local emphasis upon the rule of law has historically been overshadowed by the global Mennonite emphasis upon a separate community subject to a unique set of laws that do not apply to other communities.

In addition, Mennonites sometimes have gained a reputation of getting rich by placing the rule of law within a cultural package. It is natural for Mennonites to become wealthy over time. A traditional Mennonite upbringing leads to a strong ‘Protestant work ethic’, Mennonite rules help to prevent wealth from being dissipated through frivolous pleasures, while being an outsider to society makes it mentally possible to question the status quo. The end result is that many Mennonites have become quite rich. However, this wealth is often placed within a cultural Mercy package that excludes outsiders. For instance, this describes what happened with the Mennonites in Paraguay: “Mennonite colonies today are unthinkable without the strong co-operatives, which provided the legal and economic framework for their existence and subsistence. As a mixed blessing the co-ops embodied forces that would strengthen a social phenomenon which was not too remote from notions of a ‘Mennonite socialist republic.’ The power of the co-ops would even overwhelm and overshadow the presence and leadership of the churches. To some extent it is fair to say that the colony citizens would look to the co-operatives to provide their basic security system and to meet their needs. On the one hand, this system has enormously strengthened economic growth and solidarity; on the other hand, it was a legal tool to keep out of the system non-ethnic Mennonites and people interested in buying land in the colony area.”

The religious attitude will then become expressed as using wealth to support charitable causes. More specifically, fervor will mean getting involved in charitable causes, self-denial will mean extensive financial giving, while transcendence will mean giving to practical causes. For instance, the two Canadian cities of Abbotsford, BC and Steinbach, MB both have large Mennonite populations, and both Abbotsford and Steinbach have been described as the most generous cities in Canada. It is good to support charitable causes, especially those that meet needs in practical ways, and I am not suggesting that all rich Mennonites are crooked. However, Mennonites have occasionally acquired the reputation of viewing giving money to charity as a substitute for personal transformation, and they can use Mennonite connections to guide business transactions rather than the rule of law.

Rethinking Anabaptism

The solution is to rethink Anabaptism in terms of general Teacher understanding. The Mennonites came up with the solution of a Mercy-driven and Mercy-packaged community in order to obey the Bible without being killed by a lawless, violent society. The rule of law makes this possible for everyone, because the authorities make an agreement with everyone that MMNs of force and social status will be guided by Perceiver laws that apply equally to everyone. Modern governments have learned that the rule of law provides substantial economic benefits, and a modern economy requires the rule of law. Using the language of mental symmetry, business uses practical Contributor thought. The bottom-line, technical thinking of Contributor thought requires a foundation of solid Perceiver facts and consistent Server sequences. Going further, a modern, technological economy requires an underlying foundation of Teacher thought. What holds a technological society together is not the MMNs of people with emotional status, but rather the TMN of general understanding, expressed through the general laws of science and the order-within-complexity of a structured economy. This means viewing God from a Teacher perspective as a universal being, mentally representing God not as the most powerful MMN who is the source of truth, but rather as the most universal TMN who is the source of universal order.

This means redefining what it means to be an Anabaptist. Anabaptism is good because in most cases it is doing the right thing. But we have also seen that it often does the right thing for inadequate reasons. Looking more closely at Anabaptist traits, non-violence is good, not because it is a Mennonite attribute, but rather because it stops childish MMNs from imposing themselves upon society. Humility is good, not because personal identity is nothing compared to God, but rather because it recognizes that universal truth is independent of people and their opinions. Peace and reconciliation are good, not because they are Mennonite traits, but because the goal is mental and societal wholeness. Obeying the Bible is good, not because one must submit to God, but because the Bible is an accurate description of principles that lead to personal and societal wholeness. Emphasizing the application of theology is good, not because theology is bad, but rather because understanding will become twisted if it is not applied. Service is good, not because one should practice self-denial, but because one becomes righteous by following the TMN of a general understanding rather than the MMNs of personal gain or societal approval. Following the example of Jesus is good, not because Jesus is the ultimate Mercy authority, but rather because the actions of Jesus are an exemplar that illustrates universal Teacher principles. Believing that everyone and not just trained clergy can interpret the Bible is good, not because theological training is bad, but rather because truth is independent of personal status. Questioning the pronouncements of trained clergy is good, not because the clergy are inherently corrupt, but rather because new paradigms usually come from outsiders to the field who are not emotionally trapped by existing mental networks of understanding and institution. Interpreting the Bible in the light of Jesus is good, not because Jesus replaces the Bible, but rather because a mental concept of incarnation integrates a universal understanding of how things work. Applying Christianity to all of life is good, not because the secular world is evil, but rather because a mental concept of God is based in a universal Teacher understanding of how all things work. Holding pastors accountable is good, not because of religious fervor, but rather because Perceiver truth should apply to everyone regardless of personal status. Avoiding oaths is good, not because swearing is wrong, but rather because Perceiver thought needs to stop depending upon MMNs for truth and learn how to function independently of Mercy emotions. A focus upon adult baptism is good, not because this defines Anabaptist culture, but rather because childish MMNs are naturally opposed to Teacher thought and need to be re-born in an adult form that is capable of recognizing and submitting to the concept of a universal God. Living in a distinct community that is different than the rest of the world is good, not because one wants to separate from society, but rather because Teacher understanding needs to be applied in a group setting. Living as a ‘pilgrim in this world’ is good, not because the world is evil, but rather because physical existence should be guided by invisible understanding. Living simply is good, not because personal pleasure is bad, but rather because personal identity should be guided by Teacher understanding, and Teacher thought appreciates simplicity. Limiting one’s involvement in government is good, not because government is bad, but rather because providing an example is a far more effective way of transforming society than enforcing rules. Regarding confessions of faith as provisional is good, not because gaining an understanding is a sign of pride, but rather because Teacher understanding takes the form of general principles that need to be adapted to fit specific situations.

And even though shunning is inherently a form of mental murder, there does come a time when one moves forward from a group of people who insist upon disobeying truth, not because one is blocking off these people in Mercy thought, but rather because the ultimate reward comes from the natural benefits of thinking and acting in a way that is consistent with how things work, and not from the social reward of trying to convince people in order to gain an audience. For instance, my ultimate goal in following the theory of mental symmetry is not to teach others, but rather to gain the personal benefit of having a whole mind. Presumably, these personal benefits will motivate others to want to learn the theory so that they can apply it as well, but the ultimate reward comes from applying the theory and not from teaching it.

If these Mennonite principles are applied for the right reasons, then the Mennonites will be a distinct community, not because they are special in Mercy thought, but rather because they are experiencing the personal benefits of living in a manner that is consistent with how things work. To some extent, this is being done by many Mennonites today, but what is missing is a universal Teacher understanding of how the mind works that can tie this all together. I suggest that the theory of mental symmetry can provide this missing Teacher understanding.

I should emphasize that persecution can turn inadequate reasons into more adequate reasons. We have seen in this essay that the MMNs of status and culture provide an inadequate motivation. This motivation becomes internalized when Perceiver thought gains confidence to hold on to truth and Server thought gains confidence to act in a righteous manner in the midst of emotional pressure. And this motivation turns from following man to following God when the MMNs of status and culture are replaced by the TMN of a mental concept of a monotheistic God. The positive way to do this is by gaining an understanding and following this understanding under pressure. The negative way to do this is by losing approval and choosing not to follow approval under pressure. Even though Mennonite culture tends to downplay abstract understanding, Mennonite history is full of individuals who acquired a more adequate motivation through the second, negative, method of suffering and persecution. Choosing not to follow the dictates of culture does not automatically lead to mental wholeness, just as leaving Paris does not automatically lead to Rome. But leaving Paris is a requirement for heading to Rome.

That is the primary problem with postmodernism. Quoting Stephen Leacock, it is like the man who “flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.” It leaves modernism but does not head anywhere. As Murray points out, Anabaptists did not just leave the culture of their day, they also followed the example of Jesus.

An attitude of bitterness will prevent a person from learning through suffering. Bitterness is like mentally ‘refusing to leave Paris’. The Mennonite attitudes of forgiveness, non-violence, and regarding oneself as a ‘pilgrim in this world’ make it possible for Mennonites to learn through suffering without being hindered by bitterness. However, placing the Mennonite culture within the framework of a general Teacher understanding of how the mind works makes it possible to let go of the negative aspects of Anabaptism while emphasizing the positive aspects.

It is interesting to examine my personal background in the light of these principles. As I have mentioned, I was taught like most Mennonites that we were subject to a set of higher laws than those around us. However, the version that I was taught was that our family was expected to follow biblical principles rather than merely submitting to cultural standards as did most surrounding Mennonites. This is probably because my mother’s father was an evangelist who preached the Bible to Mennonites who regarded Christianity primarily as a culture. Thus, the attitude that the Mennonites applied to the outside world was applied by my family to other Mennonites (as well as the outside world). The positive benefit of this was that I approached the New Testament from a simple Anabaptist perspective, assuming that it meant what it said and that one should apply what it says. This methodology of simple interpretation appears to work. For me, the key to escaping the attitude of fundamentalism was the concept of Romans 12 spiritual gifts, because the MMNs that drive the Anabaptist mentality became explained by a general Teacher theory of personality. As this theory has developed, I have had to struggle with two basic Mennonite shortcomings. The first is the feeling that Mennonites are different than other people and that our family is different than the typical Mennonite. My upbringing may have led me to understand key aspects of how the mind works, but this can only become a universal understanding to the extent that I learn from others, extend the theory to include the findings of others, and interact with others. The second is a persecution complex. As I have mentioned, it was easy for Mennonites to build their identity upon the persecution that they were receiving. Similarly, the natural tendency has been for me to build my personal identity upon the repeated rejections that I have received while doing my research. The combination of historical Mennonite persecution together with a personal lifetime of rejection can lead to a rather potent mental network. What I have found so far is that the way out is to recognize the positive benefits that result from responding in a positive manner to persecution and rejection. In the same way that the persecution of the Mennonites caused them to develop a more wholesome way of living as a community, so the rejection that I have received has both motivated and enabled me to discover and embody a general theory of personality and religion. That is a great positive benefit that outweighs any personal cost.

Anabaptism and Politics

I have suggested that Anabaptism needs to be rethought in terms of a general Teacher understanding. We have also seen that the Mennonites have gained expertise in the area of politics. John Redekop is a well-known Mennonite political scientist who has written a book entitled Politics under God, which examines politics from an Anabaptist perspective. In the chapter entitled ‘What Does God Require of Governments?’, Redekop describes a form of government that is highly consistent with what the theory of mental symmetry would suggest. In addition, Redekop’s comments regarding the interaction between church and state are both insightful and compatible with the theory of mental symmetry. Finally, Redekop recognizes that a distinction needs to be made between Christianity and the MMNs of culture, and he warns clearly about the dangers of equating God and country, as tends to be done in American Christendom. However, Redekop still defines Christian ethics primarily in terms of the religious attitude of self-denial. Thus, one again finds the typical Anabaptist mindset of placing Teacher understanding within a Mercy package. I have written a short analysis of Redekop’s book.

Anabaptism and Postmodern Thought

If this Teacher understanding is not present, then the natural tendency will be for Anabaptism to be overwhelmed by postmodern thinking, because there is a fundamental similarity between these two approaches. Anabaptism downplays theology and emphasizes a pragmatic form of Christianity that embraces service rather than power. Similarly, postmodern thought avoids abstract theory and questions systems that are propagated by groups with social power. Therefore, there is a natural resonance between postmodern thought and the Anabaptist approach. As Murray states, “We believe learning and exploring are appropriate responses and commitments for Anabaptists and other Christians today as we journey into an emerging culture that is still taking shape. This commitment to the poor and powerless – and the open-endedness involved in learning and exploring rather than having all the answers – recall us again to the vulnerability implied by the phrase ‘the naked Anabaptist’” (TNA, p.89). Notice how both the Anabaptist and the emerging culture are ‘committing to the poor and the powerless’ and ‘learning and exploring rather than having all the answers’. Murray expands this in another passage: “The frequent association of the church with status, wealth, and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless, and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom” (TNA, p.46).

One can see this affinity in Murray’s connection with Brian McLaren. The back cover of The Naked Anabaptist has an endorsement from McLaren: “I fully share Stewart’s enthusiasm for what the Christian community at large can learn from the Anabaptist way of being Christian, and I hope you share my enthusiasm for this book.” Inside the book, Murray quotes McLaren as saying that Christianity “has focused upon ‘me’ and ‘my eternal destiny’, but it has failed to address the dominant sociological and global realities of their lifetime: systemic injustice, poverty, and dysfunction. We need a form of Christian faith that is holistic, integral, and balanced, that speaks of God’s grace to individuals and societies and the planet as a whole. We so desperately need, as we move into this emerging culture, to learn to live a life of Christ instead of just going to church. Anabaptists know more about this than the rest of us and you (the Anabaptists) need to let your knowledge rub off on others” (TNA, p.166). Unfortunately, a worldview that suppresses abstract thought is incapable of generating ‘a form of Christian faith that is holistic, integral, and balanced,’ because it is the TMN of a general abstract understanding that integrates the experiences of life in a holistic manner.

The Wikipedia article on Brian McLaren says that he is a “leading figure in the emerging church movement”, who is “associated with postmodern Christianity”. Many of his books “deal with Christianity in the context of a cultural shift towards postmodernism. McLaren believes this theology enables him to approach faith from what he considers a more Jewish perspective which allows faith exist without objective, propositional truth to believe.” “Though McLaren is opposed to what he asserts are oppressive, evangelical, literalist hermeneutics, his own hermeneutic is often called into question by conservative Christians. Often McLaren’s own view on interpreting the Bible seems to call for others to rethink the whole process of interpretation. In his book, a new kind of Christian, McLaren writes... ‘Our interpretations reveal less about God or the Bible than they do about ourselves. They reveal what we want to defend, what we want to attack, what we want to ignore, what we are unwilling to question.’”

I am familiar with this mindset because I have encountered it when presenting papers both at secular TESOL conferences as well as at the AAR (American Academy of religion), and I have posted an essay on Norman Fairclough, one of the original promoters of this form of thought. The basic premise is that ‘objective, propositional truth’ does not exist. Instead, all truth is an interpretation that reveals ‘what we want to defend, what we want to attack, what we want to ignore, what we are unwilling to question’. Using the language of mental symmetry, the claim is that independent Perceiver thought does not exist. Instead, all facts are imposed upon Perceiver thought by MMNs of personal status and culture. It is true that Mercy emotions will naturally overwhelm Perceiver thought in the childish mind, and we have seen in this essay that this provides the ultimate foundation for Mennonite culture. However, Piaget’s stages of cognitive development make it clear that Perceiver thought can learn to function independently of Mercy emotions in the individual mind (which occurs during the concrete operational stage), while Jürgen Habermas’ analysis of European history shows that a society in which MMNs determined Perceiver truth (the culture in which Anabaptism came to birth) was followed by a different society in which Perceiver thought was capable of functioning independently of the MMNs of status and culture. Saying that it is difficult for Perceiver thought to function in the midst of emotional pressure, which mental symmetry suggests, is quite different than saying that it is impossible for Perceiver thought to function in the midst of emotional pressure, which is what postmodernism claims. Postmodern thinking shuts down Teacher thought as well as questioning Perceiver thought. Teacher thought wants order-within-complexity; Teacher thought feels good when a simple statement can be used to explain many specific situations. Postmodernism often claims that the MMNs of culture or identity are too complicated to be described by any simple explanation. For instance, Wikipedia quotes Maclaren as saying with regard to homosexuality that “the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex.”

The primary problem with the postmodern approach is that it is self-defeating. If all truth is based in status and power, then the postmodern scholar making this statement is also using his status and power to make this claim. In other words, postmodern questioning can only replace one dictator with another, it cannot free people from dictatorship. As the article on McLaren says, ‘McLaren’s own view on interpreting the Bible seems to call for others to rethink the whole process of interpretation’. Stated bluntly, McLaren is saying that everyone who came before him is wrong while he is right and that people should stop listening to others and listen to him. In addition, when one says that situations are ‘too complicated to be described by any simple explanation’, this statement is itself a form of simple explanation in the sense that it uses a single sentence to sum up the complexity of the situation. Thus, Teacher thought is presented with the contradiction of an un-theory, a general theory that says that there is no general theory. The result of this inherent contradiction is that the postmodern scholar thinks that he is open-minded, while in fact he is close-minded to learning content from other scholars. For instance, Wikipedia says that “McLaren favors what he calls a ‘generous’ approach to biblical hermeneutics, claiming that the foundational and objective hermeneutics of Evangelicals leads them to political conservatism. McLaren has been an outspoken advocate of issues such as social justice and peace.” This sounds very open-minded. However, the Wikipedia article adds that “According to David Cloud, one of McLaren’s biggest desires is to ‘tear down’ the fundamentalist Christianity of his forefathers.”

Anabaptism began with the belief that one should follow what the Bible says instead of submitting to authority figures. However, when Anabaptism meets postmodern thought, then the natural tendency is for this to lead to a mindset that ignores what the Bible says and interprets everything in terms of authority figures. I do not know if Murray subscribes to all of McLaren’s beliefs. However, it is fairly clear what McLaren believes and there is an endorsement by McLaren on the back cover of Murray’s book.

Anabaptism and Sexuality

One of the biggest hot buttons today is that of homosexuality. The Wikipedia article on McLaren says that “Often McLaren’s postmodern approach to hermeneutics and Biblical understanding prompts him to take a less traditional approach towards issues considered controversial by fundamentalists, such as homosexuality... In January 2006, McLaren expressed uncertainty about what the Christian view on homosexuality should be. He suggested a five-year moratorium on the issue.” And we saw that McLaren regards homosexuality as a subject that is ‘too complicated’ for biblical analysis. Instead, McLaren says that “we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do.” Translating this into the language of mental symmetry, McLaren thinks that is not possible to come up with a general theory regarding homosexuality. Instead, one should respect the personal MMNs that are involved in this behavior. A similar approach is taken by the Eastern Mennonite University, which has a webpage devoted to describing the EMU Safe Space. Quoting from this webpage, “EMU Safe Space is an open and loving space affirming people of all sexual orientations, a space to engage respectfully with students, faculty and administrators as a presence in the EMU community for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning community, creating safe dialogue on the issue of homosexuality. Safe Space members commit ourselves to building interpersonal relationships while maintaining a long term vision of equality and justice for the LGBTQ community.” Notice the focus upon respecting the MMNs that motivate alternate practices of sexuality. And the webpage adds that “Membership is open to anyone supportive of the group’s purpose”, implying that those who do not ‘affirm people of all sexual orientations’ in a manner that is ‘open and loving’ are not welcome as members. The Constitution of this club adds that “persons who are found to have views that strongly oppose our purpose may be asked to leave after engaging in discussions with Safe Space leadership” and a comment on this blog page mentions that “There are a number of ‘out’ students at EMU and some have been in very prominent leadership positions. Just about every faculty office in my suite has a Safe Space sticker on the door.” One of the founding principles of academia is academic freedom, which gives students and professors the freedom to hold differing views. If ‘about every faculty office has a Safe Space sticker on the door’, then the social environment may feel safe for MMNs of alternate sexuality, but one also wonders how much academic freedom remains regarding this subject.

We began this essay by noticing that the Encyclopaedia Britannica describes Anabaptism as a group of ‘fringe radicals’ while hesitating to apply such adjectives to a group such as genderqueer. We see here that the Eastern Mennonite University is going out of its way to ensure that genderqueers are not treated as fringe radicals. This brings out an underlying cognitive principle. Anabaptists over the centuries have been treated as fringe radicals who refused to enter the mainstream of culture. If this negative definition becomes a defining aspect of Mennonite identity, then the natural tendency will be for Mennonites to identify with other groups that society regards as outcasts—regardless of why these groups are being regarded as outcasts. In contrast, my thesis is that if one constructs a general theory of mental wholeness, then most of the elements of Anabaptism lie not at the fringe but rather at the center. Saying this in theological language, it is important for Mennonites not to regard themselves as social outliers, but rather as followers of an incarnation who ‘holds all things together’. Viewed from the perspective of mental wholeness, it is society that functions at the fringes, pursuing wholeness in peripheral areas while usually rejecting wholeness when dealing with core issues. However, the centrality of a lifestyle that follows incarnation only becomes apparent if one views Anabaptism and Christianity from a Teacher perspective.

A crisis is currently occurring within more liberal Mennonite churches regarding homosexuality. On the one hand, thirty Mennonite bishops issued a statement saying that “We believe that we cannot be faithful to our understanding of Scripture that homosexual behavior is sin and join with a church body which does not support those commitments”, indicating the Anabaptist practice of submitting to the words of the Bible. On the other hand, “Nearly 700 clergy, academics and others signed the ‘Welcoming Open Letter on Homosexuality,’ which called for the church to accept gays and lesbians into church life and ‘bless monogamous relationships of same-sex couples. For us, to take our faith seriously is to tremble when we observe the exclusion by the church of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers’.” This response emphasizes the Mennonite focus upon peace and reconciliation while remembering as a Mennonite what it means to be persecuted by others for one’s beliefs and practices. Thus, each viewpoint in this debate is underpinned by one aspect of Mennonite culture.

Notice how the three religious attitudes, combined with the Mennonite focus upon non-violence, have been reinterpreted to fit postmodern thought. Self-denial is reinterpreted as focusing upon the ‘marginalized and oppressed’ of society. Fervor is reinterpreted as devoting oneself to supporting the marginalized and suppressed. Transcendence is reinterpreted as focusing upon marginalized lifestyles rather than abstract understanding. And non-violence is reinterpreted as extending unconditional acceptance to the marginalized and suppressed. These are all wonderful sentiments, but where does one draw the line? Is there a line to be drawn when dealing with sexuality?

This is not a trivial question, because John Yoder, whom the Mennonite Encyclopedia refers to as ‘arguably the most influential Mennonite theologian ever’, carried out several decades of sexual abuse guided by his theological interpretation of sexuality. John Yoder “sexually abused over 100 women during the 1970’s and 1980’s while at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. The abuse was widely rumored but not acted upon even when board members became aware of the numerous accusations.” Yoder’s book “The Politics of Jesus was ranked by evangelical publication Christianity Today as the 5th most important Christian book of the 20th century.”

The Wikipedia article explains that “claiming to be practicing ‘new forms of Christian intimacy’ Yoder used his understanding of the Gospel to defend his actions saying ‘that the world – or uncomprehending skeptics in his own circles – will always misunderstand the revolutionary claims of the gospel.’” Yoder’s views are stated in more detail in part four of a five-part series: “Yoder, a prominent theologian, justified ‘non-genital affective relationships’ between two Christians—even those who are single or married to other spouses, according to three women with whom Yoder violated sexual boundaries, a Mennonite Church panel determined. ‘As long as intercourse is not involved, it is not abusive or inappropriate behavior,’ Tina said, describing what Yoder allegedly told her and other women. ‘A sexual relationship between believers is OK even if you’re married to someone else, as long as you don’t have intercourse.’... ‘He has certainly pushed the limits up to that very line,’ Tina said. ‘As the church’s leading intellectual, he felt his job is to push the limits with these ideas.’”

If one is supposed to give respectful, nonjudgmental, unconditional acceptance to the sexual desires of the ‘LGBTQ community’, as the EMU insists, then should one not also give respectful, nonjudgmental, unconditional acceptance to the sexual desires of frustrated academics such as John Yoder? As the ‘church’s leading intellectual’, Yoder was simply choosing to ‘push the limits with these ideas’. If what started as the ‘LG’ community should be expanded to be the ‘LGBTQ’ community, then why stop there? Should it not also be the ‘LGBTQY’ community, with ‘Y’ standing for John Yoder? If most of the faculty at EMU have stickers on their office doors indicating support for Safe Space, then should not the sexual preferences of John Yoder, a fellow Mennonite scholar, also be regarded with dignity? These may sound like sarcastic questions, but one actually finds this kind of attitude towards Yoder in two blog posts on the EMU website. Quoting one passage, “I spent an afternoon interviewing a woman who wanted to speak with me about her relationship with Yoder. She cherished her relationship with him, clearly seeing it as consensual and seeing him as respectful toward her. Her only complaint was that, in the midst of what she saw as a significant relationship, he would not have sexual intercourse with her. (She knew he was married; she was single.) I have also had lengthy discussions with several of Yoder’s former female doctoral students at The University of Notre Dame. All of them experienced him as supportive of them and their work and ministries; none of them experienced him as attempting to engage in inappropriate sexual behaviors with them. Which is not to say that they were unaware of Yoder’s interpersonal awkwardness, even weirdness, as one of the women put it. But mostly they experienced the sort of affirmation and support of women in ministry—of women in varied positions of professional expertise—that he had been articulating since the early 1970s. What other stories are out there that would contribute to a more complete understanding of Yoder’s views of women and his relationships with them? Furthermore, is it relevant that his own revisions of sexual ethics—mostly lying between the lines in his unpublished writings on marriage and singleness—were being considered in the midst of the early stages of the sexual revolution in the U.S.? That is to say, it was not difficult for him to find intellectual/ethical support for the broad outlines of his views about physically intimate relationships outside of marriage.”

At the beginning of this essay, I pointed out the contradiction of American conservative Christians homeschooling their sons in a sheltered environment and then sending them off to experience the horrors of war. We see here a similar level of incoherence, because the Anabaptist tradition of pursuing a path of peace in a community that follows Jesus as ‘pilgrims passing through this world’ has transmogrified into embracing power politics with cultural groups that acquire their identity through common physical urges.

Finally, if one wishes to add a strange historical twist to this discussion, Yoder’s view of sexuality is actually consistent with a practice known as bundling that used to be a part of Western culture and, according to this 2012 blog post, is still carried out by some Amish groups today. The Wikipedia article explains that “Bundling, or tarrying, was the traditional practice of wrapping one person in a bed accompanied by another, usually as a part of courting behavior. The tradition is thought to have originated either in the Netherlands or in the British Isles and later became common in Colonial America, especially in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. When used for courtship, the aim was to allow intimacy without sexual intercourse... bundling was a common practice in certain rural social circles at the time [of the 19th century]. By the 20th century, bundling as a practice seemed to have died out almost everywhere, with only isolated references to it occurring in Amish Pennsylvania.” Traditionally, a ‘bundling board’ was used to separate the boy from the girl. But, Dee in this blog post says that “the Amish do not use a bundling board. Nope. They are in the bed with no board. Another name is ‘bed date’. Usually, from what I’ve read and been told, it is a first date, too.” Naomi adds that “the reason the parents don’t do anything about it is, they are losing their children to the world, so if they get pregnant then they have them because they make them get married. Then they have to join the church. I heard of a case where a girl got pregnant on her first date ever and had to get married.” Mackall confirms this description of bundling and says, in agreement with the blog post, that it is confined mainly to the most conservative groups such as the Swartzentruber Amish. Stevick, writing in 2007, adds that “many Amish critics of bed courtship concede that relatively few girls become pregnant today in most of the plain settlements where bundling persists. Swartzentruber Amish bishop could recall that in their settlement only five young women over a thirty-year span became pregnant before marriage.” However, “One by one, groups have condemned and abandoned bed courtship, and churches discipline unmarried members caught in the practice. Even Swartzentruber settlements in Tennessee and Kentucky have rejected it. By best estimates, probably fewer than 10% of Amish community support or condone bundling today, far less than in the 1940s or 1950s, when bundling was apparently practiced in many settlements.” The point of all this is that dressing up childish MMNs of sexual desire in pre-industrial clothing does not redeem them. They still need to be transformed.

Analyzing Sexuality from a Cognitive Foundation

The long-term solution, I suggest, is to find a basis for truth about sexuality that does not come from the pronouncements of some holy book (or from subcultures based in bodily urges), but rather is rooted in how things work. I suggest that one can find this in the structure of the mind. People can do and say whatever they like, but functioning in a manner that is consistent with the structure of the mind will lead to pleasant consequences while functioning in a manner that is inconsistent with mental structure will cause painful consequences. And these cognitive principles are inescapable because one cannot run away from one’s mind.

One fundamental principle is that the mind cannot handle uncertainty regarding core mental networks. If core mental networks are threatened and the mind has no alternative set of mental networks upon which to integrate, then a person will cling to whatever MMNs do exist in order to regain mental stability. Mental networks regarding sexuality are very potent because sex contains strong emotions, and these emotions come from one’s physical body, which cannot be ignored. Thus, if society questions existing sexual mores without providing an alternative, then people will eventually experience deep emotional instability and they will attempt to find their identities in the sexual desires that exist within their minds. And because the hyper-emotion of fragmenting mental networks overpowers normal emotion, protecting the integrity of these mental networks will become all-consuming. Thus, being gay or lesbian will not be enough. Instead, one will demand a club that explicitly supports one’s MMNs of sexual desire, and all authority figures will have to give public support to this club. That is what happens when a core mental network screams for survival.

Summarizing, the mind is built around core mental networks. Sexual desire builds core mental networks because of its deep emotional impact. When core mental networks start to crumble, then the hyper-pain of mental fragmentation will dominate all thinking. Because the mind cannot exist without core mental networks, the fragmenting mind will attempt to integrate around any emotional MMNs that exist within this context. In order to protect this fragile integration, a person will demand emotional validation from authority figures for these existing emotional MMNs. Saying this another way, if ‘do not have extramarital sex’ leads to ‘sexual freedom’, then the result will eventually be deep internal confusion. This will be followed by ‘I am a lesbian’ (or whatever), which will be reinforced by ‘authority figures need to support my sexual lifestyle’. This is not a trivial effect, because questions regarding sexuality are in the process of overwhelming most aspects of modern society, and the current controversy in Mennonite churches and schools is only one small facet of a much larger struggle.

I suggest that it is possible to use the theory of mental symmetry to make the following statements about sexuality:

1) Male thought is different than female thought. Studies have consistently shown that there is a difference between male thought and female thought. My hypothesis is that the male mind emphasizes the two ‘confidence’ modules of Perceiver thought and Server thought, whereas the female mind emphasizes the two ‘emotional’ modules of Teacher thought and Mercy thought. This general bias interacts with cognitive style. For instance, Contributor is Perceiver plus Server. Thus, a female Contributor person is usually more strongly driven by subconscious emotional thought, whereas Contributor traits tend to be emphasized by the male Contributor person. This hypothesis is backed up by research. A 2013 paper by Ingalhalikar found that males tend to have better motor and spatial skills, indicative of Server and Perceiver thought, whereas females naturally have better verbally mediated memory and social cognition, expressions of Teacher and Mercy thought. A 2012 paper by Kre & De Gelder found that women are better at recognizing and expressing emotions, whereas men have a tendency to express emotion through anger and aggression, suggesting that emotion comes naturally to female thought whereas emotion tends to overwhelm male thought. This is not just the result of social pressure, because Alexander & Hines found that female monkeys prefer to play with ‘female toys’ whereas male monkeys prefer ‘male toys’, and this finding has been replicated by other researchers.

2) The mature mind uses a combination of male and female thought. Love and Guthrie (1999) analyzed several systems of cognitive development and concluded that the male mind typically follows a path of cognitive development that avoids subjective emotions while the female mind usually follows a path of cognitive development that embraces personal emotions and social interaction. However, the final state for both the male and female mind is an integration of logical and emotional thought. Thus, while male thought is different than female thought, male thought and female thought work together within the integrated mind.

One can see this integration of male and female thought in the development of a skill. The beginner is driven by pure female thought. Emotions are present, but facts and sequences are limited and clumsy. The technician is driven by pure male thought. Facts and sequences are well practiced, but emotion is absent. The expert combines male and female thought, expressing knowledge and movement in a flexible manner, combining high quality intuition with emotional subtlety.

A partial analysis of these two ways of mentally functioning can be found in dual process theory. (I suggest that process theory is inadequate because it does not describe male and female thought itself but rather the manner in which male and female thought emerge under embodiment. Thus, female intuition is equated with automatic concrete thought, and male logic with conscious abstract thought.)

3) The physical body plays a major (but not overwhelming) role in programming the mind. Embodiment is currently a hot topic in cognitive research, which basically recognizes that thought is heavily influenced by input from the physical body. Strong embodiment believes that the mind is only capable of generating concepts that are rooted in the physical body and the physical world. Weak embodiment believes that the mind acquires its initial content from the physical body, but that it is possible for the mind to use words and emotions to develop an internal abstract world of thought that is independent of embodiment. Meteyard (2012) reviewed research on embodiment and concluded that the evidence supports weak embodiment and not strong embodiment.

Weak embodiment is a fundamental concept in the theory of mental symmetry. Embodiment leads to the formation of childish MMNs that use the mind in a fragmented, incomplete manner. However, it is possible to use words to construct an abstract Teacher understanding. An understanding that continues to be used will turn into a TMN that can provide an alternative emotional foundation for the mind. Going further, embodiment will either support or attack abstract understanding. If one acts in a way that is consistent with understanding, then embodiment will support understanding, making it possible to expand this understanding. In contrast, if one acts in a way that is inconsistent with understanding, then embodiment will attack understanding, leading to a warped theory. Summarizing, embodiment provides the initial content for the mind; abstract understanding can provide an alternative emotional basis for the mind; abstract understanding cannot ignore embodiment but will either be supported or warped by embodiment. This reflects one of the core Anabaptist beliefs, which is that action needs to reflect theology. The MB (Mennonite Brethren) website says, for instance, that “Becoming a Christian involves not only belief in Christ but also discipleship. Faith is expressed in holy living. In Christ, salvation and ethics come together. Not only are we to be saved through Christ, but we are also to follow him daily in obedient living.”

4) Sexuality has a huge impact upon the mind because of embodiment. Sex provides the mind with experiences that have very strong positive emotions. These emotional experiences will lead to the formation of core MMNs, which will impose their structure upon the rest of the mind. Therefore, the way that one approaches sex will have a fundamental impact upon the core mental networks that shape the mind. Saying this another way, if one’s theology does not affect one’s practice of sexuality, then one’s sexual practice will end up affecting one’s theology. That is because both theology and sexuality lead to the formation of potent mental networks. These will struggle for domination, and one will impose itself upon the other.

5) Sex will have a major impact upon personal identity. Personal identity is composed of the mental networks that a person cannot ignore. Sex uses strong emotional input from the physical body to form mental networks. Mental networks that are based upon the physical body form an essential part of personal identity because one cannot ignore or escape one’s physical body.

6) Sex with multiple physical partners will fragment personal identity. It is possible to have social interaction with some aspect of another person, allowing social interaction to be dissected and placed within a larger mental context. Physical bodies, in contrast, cannot be dissected or altered. Because each person’s physical body is a unique, indivisible unit, and because sex contains such strong emotions, the mental networks that result from having sex with partner A will be incompatible with the mental networks that result from having sex with partner B, causing personal identity to be fragmented. The childish mind does not see this as a problem, because childish identity is naturally fragmented into a collection of incompatible MMNs. However, if one wishes to integrate personal identity, then sexually induced personal fragmentation will become a major hindrance.

6) A healthy relationship occurs when each partner can provide what the other needs. This is a more general statement of the previous two points. The natural tendency is for MMNs to fight for emotional domination, leading to social interaction based upon dominance and submission. The solution is mutual inter-dependence, in which each partner is naturally superior in some area where the other partner is naturally weak. Thus, each is capable of providing what the other needs. If partners are too similar, then interaction will of necessity return to dominance and submission.

7) Homosexual sex inhibits mental wholeness because of embodiment. One of the fundamental principles of mental wholeness is that it involves a ‘marriage’ of male and female thought. This has nothing to do with living in a physical body but rather describes the interaction between two basic ways in which the mind can operate. Heterosexual sex reinforces this cognitive interaction whereas homosexual sex contradicts it.

8) Using sexual orientation to define personal identity is self-defeating. Personal identity is composed of mental networks that reside within the mind. A sexual experience uses external physical sensation to create a mental network. Using external emotional experiences to define internal identity is like using explosions to construct a building. While an explosion cannot be used to build a structure, an explosion can perform useful work when it is contained within a structure (that is how a gasoline engine or rocket motor works).

10) Confusion over sexuality will trump other issues. A mental network that is falling apart will generate a form of hyper-pain that exceeds normal pain. Therefore, preserving the integrity of a mental network will take precedence over feeling good. This is illustrated by the behavior of an abused spouse. While the abuse feels bad, the pattern of abuse is also familiar. Therefore, the abused spouse will often return to an abusive situation because it is familiar—it is consistent with the structure of the mental network of abuse, even though this mental network contains painful experiences. Because the mental networks that are produced by sexuality are emotionally potent, they will dominate thinking and behavior when they fall apart.

11) If one examines the interaction between male and female thought, then Western society is more homosexual than heterosexual. The separation between objective and subjective that pervades Western society leads to a division in concrete thought between male knowledge and skills and female emotional experiences. Similarly, the specialization of technical thought that pervades Western society leads to a division in abstract thought between male knowledge and skills and ‘wholistic’ female processing. This fundamental division between male thought and female thought will lead to confusion over sexuality, because males will think that they should only exhibit male thought and females will feel that they should only exhibit female thought. When a male discovers that there is a female side to his mind (and vice versa), then he (or she) will become confused about gender. Instead, mental maturity involves the integration of male and female thought for everyone, regardless of gender. A mentally whole male, for instance, can express the female side of his mind without thinking that this makes him a woman. However, if there is a societal split between male thought and female thought, then a male who expresses the female side of his mind will come to the conclusion that this makes him a women, because Western society has taught him that male thought and female thought are distinct entities that do not interact—if one is not the one, then one must be the other.

12) Cheapening sex will reduce the value of personal identity because of embodiment. The fragmenting effect of multiple sex partners can be lessened by minimizing one’s emotional involvement in sex. However, if sex is regarded as merely as a physical act, then this will also cheapen self-image because one’s physical body plays such a major role in shaping the mental networks of personal identity. Saying this another way, if one uses cheap material to construct personal identity, then one will end up with a cheap personal identity.

13) Blocking off the female form in Muslim fashion dehumanizes women while leaving infantile sexual desire intact. The physical body plays a major role in defining personal identity. Therefore, if the female body is covered up and regarded as sinful, then the personal identity of women will be treated in a similar manner. Covering up the woman’s body is an external action. Lust is generated internally by mental networks. Covering up the body may prevent mental networks of lust from being triggered within the male mind, but will not have any effect upon the nature of these mental networks.

14) The primary struggle is not the external pursuit of pleasure but rather the internal challenge of acquiring the ability to enjoy pleasure without being fragmented by it. Mental fragmentation creates a pain that overrules normal emotion. Therefore, pursuing pleasure in a manner that leads to mental fragmentation will eventually lead to pain and not pleasure. Pleasure can only be maintained if it is enjoyed in a manner that preserves mental integration.

15) Sexual desire provides a built-in opportunity for gaining mental confidence through the path of patience. Perceiver and Server thought gain confidence by holding on to truth and sequences in the midst of emotional pressure. Responding to sexual desire in a way that values personal identity and preserves mental integration builds the mental confidence that is needed to enjoy pleasure without being destroyed by it. Mental confidence will only be gained if there is sexual tension. If sexual desire is completely suppressed, then there will be no need to gain confidence. But if sexual desire is gratified, then this will lead to mental fragmentation rather than mental confidence. This is similar to a weightlifting program. One will only become stronger if one lifts heavy weights. But if one attempts to lift a weight that is too heavy, then this will damage the body rather than making it stronger.

16) Avoiding patience in the area of sex will make it difficult to practice patience in other areas. Because sex creates such potent mental networks, the way that one responds to sex will impose its structure upon the way that one responds to other emotional situations. Patience builds confidence by deferring pleasure—taking the steps that are required to acquire and enjoy a goal over the long term. The path of patience is destroyed by grabbing the goal instead of taking the steps that are needed to reach the goal. For instance, if people steal cars, then no one will make cars, because people do not want to spend time doing actions that are not rewarded, and no one will be able to keep cars, because vehicles that were acquired through theft can also be lost through theft. In contrast, if people work to earn the money that is needed to buy cars, then those who build cars will be willing to exchange cars for other items of equal value, while those who want cars will have the mental confidence that is required to walk by a car without trying to steal it.

17) The alternative to patience is suffering. If one chooses not to learn through the path of patience, then the only alternative is to learn via the path of suffering. That is because learning requires emotional tension, which can be provided either by positive emotions or negative emotions. If one avoids patience in the area of sex, then one is choosing to learn through suffering in many areas of life, because the mental networks that represent sexual experiences will impose their structure upon other mental networks because of their emotional intensity.