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BibleHeavenly Participation(2011) by Hans Boersma

Lorin Friesen, June 2013

Heavenly Participation by Hans Boersma is almost a brilliant book. It contains a number of brilliant insights, but these insights are packaged in a way that limits them, and mental roadblocks are put into place to prevent these insights from being applied in a more adequate manner. I suggest that Boersma is not to blame for the packaging and the mental roadblocks. Rather, they are aspects of the religious culture within which Boersma writes. In addition, my impression is that Boersma is not aware of all the implications of what he has written. Rather, he sees an inadequacy in his experience of Christianity and is attempting to head in a direction which he thinks is profitable.

This essay began as a critique of Heavenly Participation. However, as I was thinking and writing about the content of Boersma’s book, a number of concepts became clearer in my mind. Therefore, this essay will attempt to analyze the major topics mentioned in Heavenly Participation and present them in the form of a comprehensive understanding, which will then be illustrated by quotes from Heavenly Participation. [1]

I know from personal experience that writing a book is a major project and that one becomes emotionally invested in one’s work. Therefore, I would like to begin by emphasizing that my quarrel is not with Boersma. He has done a lot of research and is clearly an expert in the topic on which he writes. Instead, my goal is to point out flaws in the current Christian worldview—not to attack Christianity but rather to rebuild it upon a more robust foundation. The introduction to Heavenly Participation makes it clear that this is Boersma’s goal as well.

Hans Boersma is a professor at Regent College, a well-known graduate school of Christian studies. This position is to be respected, but I suggest that any position such as this also carries an inherent weakness. As I continue to analyze the writings of Christian academics I notice a common thread. They recognize problems clearly and attempt to come up with answers, but these answers are still presented within the worldview of the problem. Using biblical analogy, the wine may be new but the wineskin is still old, and what is needed is both new wine and new wineskins. It has been my blessing/curse to do most of my research independently outside of an institutional setting. This is a curse, because academics tend to ignore those who have not acquired their learning through ‘proper channels’, but it is also a blessing because I have not imbibed the existing worldviews through the osmosis of working within the system. Instead, my starting point is the theory of mental symmetry, and I keep discovering to my delight that this theory is an amazing wineskin capable of holding all manner of wines.

Thomas Kuhn makes a similar observation in his book on paradigms: “Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change. And perhaps that point need not have been made explicit, for obviously these are the men who, being little committed by prior practice to the traditional rules of normal science, are particularly likely to see that those rules no longer define a playable game and conceive another set that can replace them” (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p.90).

The major theme of Heavenly Participation is restoring a sense of mystery to human existence, and the author examines medieval theology in substantial detail. Heavenly Participation is a scholarly work that reflects substantial research, however it is primarily an analysis of the writings of early church fathers, medieval thinkers, and a fairly recent Catholic school of thought known as nouvelle théologie. Therefore, we will start this essay by examining the topic of God and mystery.

The Transcendence of God

Boersma goes to great lengths to ensure that any discussion about God maintains a proper deference for God. “God truly reveals himself in this world and in human language, so that this world really does have being, and human words really do attain to the mystery of God. On the other hand, over against the Platonic tradition, the otherness of God needs to be preserved as well: God’s transcendence implies that it surely would be erroneous to equate our being with the being of God or to assert that human language could adequately comprehend God. The resulting doctrine of analogia entis was the Great Tradition’s way of avoiding a mingling of the divine and the human. The relationship between creation and Creator is merely a sacramental or analogous relationship” (p.72).

“It was one thing to insist that there was a link between God’s eternal truth and our temporal truth claims, but Bouillard [2] was nervous that the neo-Thomists, by emphasizing this link, were losing sight of the infinite difference between the two. After all, any claim that human knowledge was a full and adequate rendering of divine self-knowledge would be the height of superciliousness. Human beings could never claim to comprehend fully the truth of God, even if one accounted for the fact that we were dealing with divine revelation and with the church’s officially proclaimed dogmatic statements of truth” (p.166).

Boersma’s focus upon the bigness and otherness of God is a welcome change from the typical Christian self-help booklet that emphasizes being the ‘buddy’ of God. In theological language, this describes the contrast between the immanence of God and the transcendence of God. If one believes that God is only transcendent, then this leads to deism, which states that God created the universe and then ‘walked away’ in order to allow the cosmos to run by itself. Focusing solely upon the immanence of God, in contrast, leads to pantheism, which views the universe as God. However, what Boersma seems to be addressing here is not a doctrine of transcendence but rather the feeling of transcendence. Boersma is afraid that using language to talk about God will cause a person to lose a proper sense of respect for God. Thus, we are really dealing with an attitude, and attitudes can be analyzed from a cognitive perspective. Therefore, I would like to examine the attitude of transcendence with the help of a few examples interpreted by the theory of mental symmetry.

Let us start by looking at the child’s concept of transcendence. As far as a four-year-old is concerned, next week is an infinity of time away, and the little child feels that anyone who is more than 20 years old, such as mother, father, or God, has lived for an infinity of time. Thus, we see that mental content is required to grasp the concept of infinity. In simple terms, a person will naturally view infinity as bigger than the biggest thing that he can imagine. Thus, a person who cannot imagine very big things will also view infinity as rather small. Notice that we are not talking about the definition of infinity but rather an intuitive grasp for infinity. Obviously, it is impossible for finite creatures to get a full grasp of infinity, but it is possible to gain a feeling for infinity that is more adequate.

Suppose that one tries to define infinity very carefully. This is done in mathematics, where infinity is given a special symbol: ∞. The math student may know how to manipulate infinity properly, but I suggest that giving infinity a special symbol will not lead to an intuitive grasp for infinity. For instance, when a student is solving mathematical equations, it is easy for him to confuse numbers with infinity. “What is three divided by one? Three. What is three divided by zero? Infinity.” Thus, infinity is treated in practice as another number, and the teacher has to remind the student that infinity is not a number but rather transcends all numbers. Therefore, the concept of transcendence may be well defined, but the feeling for transcendence is not there.

Mental symmetry suggests that a concept of God emerges when a general theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. Teacher thought is driven by the emotion of order-within-complexity. Thus, a general theory feels good to Teacher thought because a simple explanation is being used to describe many specific elements. When a single explanation can be used to explain everything, then the result is a universal theory, and a universal theory that applies to personal identity leads to very strong concept of God.

One can see that the young child has an inadequate concept of infinity because his mind contains insufficient details. He hasn’t lived long enough to grasp what it means to live long. Saying this another way, a concept of God must be constructed; in order to gain an adequate sense of bigness, a vast array of complexity must be assembled to generate order. The result is a mental kingdom in which a single monarch rules over many subjects.

Gaining a more adequate sense of bigness requires comparison and analogy. For instance, this star chart makes it possible to gain a sense for how much larger the universe is than the earth through a series of comparisons. As this picture shows and Wikipedia describes, when the Hubble space telescope was pointed at a tiny square of ‘empty space’ 1/10,000,000th of the area of the sky, 10,000 galaxies appeared in the image. Compare this with Ptolemy’s model of the universe and its celestial spheres, which suggested that the distance from the earth to the edge of the universe was only 73,000,000 miles. Thus, we see that the medieval world had an inadequate concept of the bigness of the universe because it lacked the knowledge and tools to compare sizes properly.

Now let us look at the math student and his concept of infinity. Teacher thought uses words and symbols to construct general theories. For instance, mathematical theories are constructed using mathematical symbols assembled into the ‘sentences’ of equations. The symbol ∞ is simply a squiggle on a piece of paper. Mathematical theory gives this symbol the meaning of infinity. However, in order to truly gain a sense of infinity, this symbol must be used to represent infinity. In other words, a general theory in Teacher thought is at best a description of universality. In order to convey universality one must go beyond the realm of Teacher words. In terms of our kingdom analogy, a written set of laws can describe the order-within-complexity of a large kingdom, but unless these laws are applied to a set of people, there is no actual universality; one is still dealing with the symbol ∞ and not with infinity itself.

Notice that the sense of bigness comes not from abandoning words but rather from using words as symbols to represent something else that is big. For instance, for the average person, E = MC2 represents bigness because it is mentally associated with the explosion of an atomic bomb, which is capable of vaporizing the objects of normal human existence. For another example, consider the two images on this blog page. One is a picture of galaxies and the other a picture of bacteria. Like the two symbols ∞ and 8, these two images look quite similar, but they represent other things that are vastly different in size, just as the number eight represents a small number, while the number eight lying on its side represents infinity.

Putting this all together, the mind generates a sense of transcendence by learning about bigness. It is impossible for the human mind to gain a complete grasp of bigness. However, it is possible to gain a more adequate sense by comparing big with little, or in other words forming order-within-complexity. Thus, Teacher thought, with its sense of order-within-complexity, can be used to construct universal theories. However a Teacher theory is only a description of universality. In order to grasp more adequately what universality really means, the symbols used by a Teacher theory must represent something else and that something else must be big or universal.

Now let us compare these conclusions with what Boersma states. Instead of using analogy to compare big with little, Boersma says that analogy should not be used to compare man with God: “The doctrine of analogy does not just argue for similarity but also insists on the infinite difference between creator and creature. In fact, dissimilarity is the main point of the doctrine of analogy. Although there is a certain similarity between the way God is and the way creation is good, nonetheless, an infinite difference remains—and never decreases, not even slightly—between the goodness of God and the goodness of creation” (p.71).

Instead of using Teacher thought to construct general theories of order-within-complexity, Boersma says that it is not possible to understand the nature of God, or even understand how the mind attempts to understand the nature of God. “The modesty that theology needs is the recognition that we cannot rationally comprehend God. Theology is based on mystery and enters into mystery. Not only can we not grasp God, but, adds the fourth-century mystical theologian Gregory of Nyssa: ‘I also asked: who has known his own mind? Those who think themselves capable of grasping the nature of God would do well to consider whether they have looked into themselves...’ For Gregory, not only is the nature of God himself a mystery to us, but as human beings created in God’s image, we also remain a mystery to ourselves” (p.26).

Finally, Boersma does not appear to be using words and symbols to represent something else in his search for transcendence. Instead, he spends most of his time describing the words that were written by church fathers and medieval scholars about God and transcendence. Similarly, Boersma claims that the Eucharist is a symbol of universality: “Thus, when he discusses baptism and the Eucharist—the two material elements for which we usually reserve the term sacrament—Schmemann makes a point of connecting the water, as well as the bread and the wine, with the rest of the cosmos” (p.9). This may be a valid analogy, but merely saying that the water is connected with the rest of the cosmos does not produce a feeling of transcendence, just as saying that ∞ is infinity does not convey a sense of infinity. [3] Thus, it appears that even though Boersma repeatedly reemphasizes the transcendence of God, he is recommending a mental path that actually makes it more difficult to grasp the transcendence of God. I suggest that one can find a reason for this contradiction in the medieval thinking which Boersma advocates. We will now look at Western medieval thought through the descriptions of others and we will explain these observations using the theory of mental symmetry.

Medieval Thought

Michel Foucault, in The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, analyzes what he calls the ‘medieval episteme’, and says that medieval thought was characterized by magical thinking. According to Foucault, the main feature of medieval thought was an overuse of similarity and analogy—claiming that items were related based upon surface resemblance.

Foucault describes one kind of medieval analogy in the following quote, using his typical florid language: “The second form of similitude is aemulatio: a sort of ‘convenience’ that has been freed from the law of place and is able to function, without motion, from a distance. Rather as though the spatial collusion of con­venientia had been broken, so that the links of the chain, no longer con­nected, reproduced their circles at a distance from one another in accord­ance with a resemblance that needs no contact. There is something in emulation of the reflection and the mirror: it is the means whereby things scattered through the universe can answer one another. The human face, from afar, emulates the sky, and just as man’s intellect is an imperfect re­flection of God's wisdom, so his two eyes, with their limited brightness, are a reflection of the vast illumination spread across the sky by sun and moon; the mouth is Venus, since it gives passage to kisses and words of love; the nose provides an image in miniature of Jove's sceptre and Mer­cury’s staff” (Foucault, p.18).

Boersma appears to be describing a similar sort of ‘connection at a distance’ in the following description of the Eucharist and baptism: “Schmemann rejects the opposition between nature and the supernatural, and he attempts to reintegrate the two sacramentally. The ‘sacramental tapestry’ of the subtitle speaks of a carefully woven unity of nature and the supernatural, according to which created objects are sacraments to participate in the mystery of the heavenly reality of Jesus Christ...Thus, when he discusses baptism and the Eucharist—the two material elements for which we usually reserve the term sacrament—Schmemann makes a point of connecting the water, as well as the bread and the wine, with the rest of the cosmos... Schmemann, in this quotation, laments the way in which we often oppose nature and the supernatural to each other. In the church’s sacraments—baptism and Eucharist—we witness the supernatural restoration of nature to its original purpose” (p.9). To the Christian believer who is used to discussing baptism and Eucharist, such ‘connection at a distance’ may feel normal, just as the analogies made by medieval thinkers felt normal to the typical medieval listener. But, think how the typical post-Christian secular thinker would respond to such an analogy.

Foucault mentions that symbols played a major role in medieval thinking: “The face of the world is covered with blazons, with characters, with ciphers and obscure words - with ‘hieroglyphics’, as Turner called them. And the space inhabited by immediate resemblances becomes like a vast open book; it bristles with written signs; every page is seen to be filled with strange figures that intertwine and in some places repeat themselves. All that remains is to decipher them: ‘Is it not true that all herbs, plants, trees and other things issuing from the bowels of the earth are so many magic books and signs?’” (Foucault, p.26).

Is there any connection between physical appearance and medical benefit? Some holistic medicine sites claim so. A paper on the doctrine of signatures, as this is known, concludes that there is no evidence that medicinal properties were discovered through ‘plant signatures’. Instead, it is suggested that the doctrine of signatures is a post hoc connection that is a useful mnemonic for spreading medical knowledge. In other words, physical resemblance is a risky basis for gaining knowledge, but it is a good tool for education.

Symbols were thought to have magical power: “Divination is not a rival form of knowledge; it is part of the main body of knowledge itself. Moreover, these signs that must be interpreted in­dicate what is hidden only in so far as they resemble it; and it is not possible to act upon those marks without at the same time operating upon that which is secretly indicated by them. This is why the plants that re­present the head, or the eyes, or the heart, or the liver, will possess an efficacity in regard to that organ; this is why the animals themselves will react to the marks that designate them” (p.31).

Boersma appears to be describing the same type of symbolically driven magical thinking in the following quote: “De Lubac’s argument has implications beyond the Eucharist and the church. If the connection between the two is a sacramental one, it implies that much more is going on in the Eucharist and the reception of Christ’s body by individual believers. Participation in the sacramental body of Christ means that the believers themselves are mystically transformed into the ecclesial body of Christ” (p.158).

The medieval mind used the visible symbol as a starting point for interpreting deeper resemblances: “The world is covered with signs that must be deciphered, and those signs, which re­veal resemblances and affinities, are themselves no more than forms of similitude. To know must therefore be to interpret: to find a way from the visible mark to that which is being said by it and which, without that mark, would lie like unspoken speech, dormant within things. ‘But we men discover all that is hidden in the mountains by signs and outward correspondences; and it is thus that we find out all the pro­perties of herbs and all that is in stones. There is nothing in the depths of the seas, nothing in the heights of the firmament that man is not capable of discovering. There is no mountain so vast that it can hide from the gaze of man what is within it; it is revealed to him by cor­responding signs’” (Foucault, p.31).

Similarly, Boersma describes how medieval beliefs about the symbol of the Eucharist were used as a starting point for interpreting the universe: “Debates surrounding a participatory or real link between Christ and creation came to a head in connection with the issue of the ecclesiastical sacrament of the Eucharist... So, for good reason, by the time the sixteenth-century Reformation came around, the church had been debating the nature of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist for centuries. Accordingly, I will devote special attention to the implications of medieval developments surrounding the Eucharist...While the church fathers and medieval theologians did look to the bread and wine of Eucharist as the sacrament in which Christ was really present, in making this point they simultaneously conveyed their conviction that Christ was mysteriously present in the entire created order” (p.25).

One also finds that the medieval mind struggled with the tension between immanence and transcendence, or as Foucault puts it, sympathy and antipathy: “Sympathy is an instance of the Same so strong and so insistent that it will not rest content to be merely one of the forms of likeness; it has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, of mingling them, of causing their individuality to disappear - and thus of rendering them foreign to what they were before. Sympathy transforms. It alters, but in the direction of identity, so that if its power were not counter­balanced it would reduce the world to a point, to a homogeneous mass, to the featureless form of the Same: all its parts would hold together and communicate with one another without a break, with no distance be­tween them, like those metal chains held suspended by sympathy to the attraction of a single magnet. This is why sympathy is compensated for by its twin, antipathy. Antipathy maintains the isolation of things and prevents their assimilation; it encloses every species within its impenetrable difference and its pro­pensity to continue being what it is: ‘It is fairly widely known that the plants have hatreds between them­selves ... it is said that the olive and the vine hate the cabbage; the cucumber flies from the olive . . . Since they grow by means of the sun’s warmth and the earth’s humour, it is inevitable that any thick and opaque tree should be pernicious to the others, and also the tree that has several roots’” (p.23).

I am not suggesting that medieval scholars were unable to think clearly. Medieval philosophy contains a number of deep insights, but this clear thinking is combined with magical thinking. One sees this, for instance, in alchemy, with its mixture of chemistry and magical philosopher’s stones.

I suggest that we can use mental symmetry to help us understand the underlying flaw in medieval thought. Modern technical thought, with its use of mathematics and rigorous logic, tends to look down on analogy (though this is now starting to change). The problem is not the use of analogy, but rather basing analogy in Mercy experiences rather than Teacher theory. The physical world is composed of matter arranged into objects, such as rocks, trees, persons, and bananas. Encounters with physical matter program Mercy thought with experiences which Perceiver thought organizes into facts using object recognition. For instance, I may have an encounter with John standing on a big rock under the trees eating a banana. Mercy thought remembers this experience, while Perceiver thought distinguishes the rocks from the trees from John and his banana. All of the analogies described in the previous paragraphs involve physical objects, and any analogy which goes beyond physical objects is anchored by an analogy involving physical objects.

The Wikipedia article on magical thinking says that physical resemblance plays a major role in magical thought: “Prominent Victorian theorists identified ‘associative thinking,’ (a common feature of practitioners of magic) as a characteristic form of irrationality. As with all forms of magical thinking, association-based and similarity-based notions of causality need not involve the practice of magic by a magician. For example, the doctrine of signatures held that similarity between plant parts and body parts indicated their efficacy in treating diseases of those body parts, and was a part of Western medicine. This association-based thinking is a vivid example of the general human application of the representativeness heuristic...For example, in E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s account, amongst the Azande tribe members rub crocodile teeth on banana plants to invoke a fruitful crop. Because crocodile teeth are curved (like bananas) and grow back if they fall out, the Azande observe this similarity and want to impart this capacity of regeneration to their bananas. To them, the rubbing constitutes a means of transference.”

If you search the Internet for ‘doctrine of signatures’, you will find some valid examples, whereas everyone knows that rubbing crocodile teeth on banana plants does not work. When analogy is based in Mercy experiences, then I suggest that there is no way of knowing which analogies are valid or not. From the perspective of Mercy experiences, saying that kidney beans help the kidney because they look like kidneys is no different than saying that crocodile teeth help banana plants because they resemble banana plants. In order to separate one from the other, a deeper form of analogy is required—based in Teacher understanding. Without a foundation of Teacher-based analogy, kidney beans and crocodile teeth will become mentally jumbled together, which describes the state of medieval thought.

Moving further, Jürgen Habermas describes the Mercy basis for medieval thought in The Structural Transformation Of the Public Sphere. He states that medieval leaders used personal status to overawe their subjects into accepting pronouncements of truth. In other words, because a king wore fancy clothes and acted in an elegant manner, he possessed emotional status that allowed him to proclaim truth. Mental symmetry describes this as using emotional experiences in Mercy thought to overwhelm factual processing in Perceiver thought. In other words, truth is not true because it describes facts, but rather because it is pronounced by the right person or conveyed using the right emotional aura.

One finds this flavor of emphasizing emotional aura in Heavenly Participation: “Some of the younger Evangelicals may even question the balance of Reformation theology and may sense that the centrality of the Word and of Christian doctrine has unnecessarily downgraded the Eucharist and led to an unfortunate devaluation of liturgical imagination, as expressed in sacred art and colored vestments, in the smells of incense and the flickering candles” (p.86).

I suggested that analogy can be based in either Mercy experiences or Teacher theory. The medieval mind lacked a general Teacher theory that could describe nature. As a result, the physical world was approached with a sense of mystery, indicating an absence of Teacher understanding, together with a feeling of hidden personal presence, indicating the underlying basis in Mercy thought with its focus upon people. In Boersma’s words: “The argument of part I of this book is that until the late Middle Ages...people looked at the world as a mystery. The word ‘mystery’ did not have quite the same connotations that it has for us today. Certainly, it did not refer to a puzzling issue whose secret one can cover by means of clever investigation. Our understanding of ‘mystery novels’, for example, carries that kind of connotation. For the patristic and medieval mindset, the word mystery meant something slightly but significantly different. Mystery referred to realities behind the appearances that one could observe by means of the senses. That is to say, though our hands, eyes, ears, nose, and tongue are able to access reality, they cannot fully grasp this reality. They cannot comprehend it... Throughout the Great Tradition, when people spoke of the mysterious quality of the created order, what they meant was that this created order—along with all other temporary and provisional gifts of God—was a sacrament. This sacrament was the sign of the mystery that, though present in the created order, nonetheless far transcended human comprehension. The sacramental character of reality was the reason it so often appeared mysterious and beyond human comprehension” (p.21).

Classical Thought

As any history of science will tell you, the watershed between medieval thought and classical thought was the development of general Teacher theories. Kepler played a major role in starting this scientific revolution with his laws of planetary motion, Galileo encouraged the revolution with his observations and experiments, while Newton summed things up with his three general laws of movement.

Analogy that is based in Mercy thought focuses upon objects and experiences. In contrast, analogy that begins from Teacher theory looks for common processes and mechanisms. That is because Mercy thought deals primarily with space while Teacher thought primarily with time. Mercy-based analogy notices when objects look similar, whereas Teacher based-analogy notices when items act in a similar manner. For instance, as we shall see later, a ball looks different than an arrow, but if I throw a ball and shoot an arrow they will both act in a similar manner by tracing a similar path through the air.

Habermas says that the first stage of Western society was followed by a second stage in which emotionally based thought was replaced by rational thinking. People stopped looking to authorities for truth, learned to think for themselves, and based their truth upon facts gathered through travel, trade, news, and tested in coffeehouse debates. In the language of mental symmetry, Perceiver thought has to ‘wake up’ from being mesmerized by Mercy emotions and learn how to process and evaluate information. When Perceiver thought discovers a collection of facts, then Teacher thought will naturally feel driven to bring the order of a general theory to this complexity of facts. Saying this another way, Perceiver thought collects mental building material and Teacher thought forms this building material into a mental structure. Theories are built out of facts; theories are emotional but facts are not.

In order to make a mental transition away from Mercy-based analogy to Teacher-based analogy, Perceiver thought has to become independent of Mercy emotions. This can only happen if truth does exist ‘out there’ independently of authority, waiting to be discovered. Travel, trade, news, and debates all make it possible for finite humans to gain a more accurate comprehension of this truth. If there is no truth ‘out there’, then it is impossible to fully escape Habermas’ first stage. Instead, the best that one can do is to compare the pronouncements of one monarch with another in order to come up with some form of consensus. Saying this another way, during Habermas’ first stage, truth was proclaimed. During his second stage, truth was discovered. If no truth exists to be discovered, then the only option that remains is to proclaim truth. If one steps back and examines Boersma’s book from a distance one notices that he quotes authorities fastidiously, but he does not appear to step ‘out there’ to search for truth.

Instead, Boersma describes the mental transition of the scientific revolution in negative terms as ‘unraveling the tapestry’: “Nature and the supernatural drifted further and further apart as the Platonic-Christian tapestry unraveled further. As a result of its revolt, the natural realm managed quite well by itself, and the gift of supernatural grace had precious little to do with the hopes and dreams of people’s everyday lives...for Thomas, nature was no longer in need of the supernatural and could manage its own affairs without supernatural aid” (p.66). That accurately portrays what happens when Teacher thought with its general theories replaces Mercy thought. Mystery gives way to rational understanding.

Theology used to be regarded as the most important discipline because it dealt with God, whom Mercy thought regarded as the most important person. When Teacher theory replaced Mercy status in the scientific revolution, then theology lost its preeminence. As Boersma states, “It is difficult for Christians—whether Catholic or evangelical—to imagine a time when theology was regarded as the most important discipline. The modern [mindset] taught us to look to other sources as the main guides for establishing our life together. The argument that theology is the most authoritative guide for common public life seems profoundly presumptuous to many who have grown up in modern liberal democracies” (p.19).

I suggested earlier that a mental concept of God emerges when a general Teacher theory applies to personal identity. I also suggested that a general theory has to be constructed. Applying this to the previous paragraph, the Mercy viewpoint is to view theology as the most important discipline because it deals with God, who is the most important person. In contrast, a Teacher viewpoint would view theology as the most general discipline because it deals with God who is a universal being. This describes the approach which I have attempted to follow. If one begins with the Teacher meta-theory of mental symmetry, one can show that the steps which must be taken to reach mental wholeness correspond to the doctrines of Christianity and that the image of God that emerges when mental wholeness is reached corresponds to the Trinitarian Christian God. In addition, the same cognitive model can be used to explain a number of different fields. Thus, if one takes a Teacher perspective, then theology becomes once again the preeminent discipline—because it describes universal principles.

I suggest that approaching God from a Teacher perspective makes transcendence a natural property of God, for the simple reason that Teacher thought is different than Mercy thought. In order to understand this point, we have to introduce the concept of mental networks, which can form in both Teacher thought and Mercy thought. Stated simply, mental symmetry suggests that collections of similar emotional memories will combine to form what I call mental networks. The most obvious illustration of a mental network is a habit. Once a mental network forms, then a person will feel emotionally driven to act and think in a way that is consistent with the structure of that mental network. Think, for instance, of carrying out a habit or attempting to break a habit.

The mind represents people as mental networks within Mercy thought for the simple reason that people are bundles of related emotional experiences. Similarly, whenever a person continues to develop or use a Teacher theory, then that theory will form a mental network within Teacher thought which will drive the individual to interpret everything in the light of that theory. For instance, whenever I encounter a book such as Heavenly Participation, I am emotionally driven to use the theory of mental symmetry to analyze and interpret this book.

When analogy is based in Mercy thought, as one sees in medieval thinking, then Mercy thought is being used to represent both finite humans and the universal being of God. Therefore, the natural tendency will be to view God as a sort of superhuman being. Justin Barrett, a researcher in the cognitive science of religion, has done experiments illustrating this viewpoint. He discovered that when the typical Christian believer is given time to respond, then he will describe God in theologically correct terms, such as omnipotent, and omnipresent. However, when intuitively evaluating a situation, the same Christian believer will act as if God is subject to the finite limitations of normal human beings, such as being unable to be in two places at once or unable to listen simultaneously to the prayers of many people.

I suggest that this explains the theological tension between immanence and transcendence, together with the medieval struggle between sympathy and antipathy. If both humans and God are interpreted using Mercy thought, then the only way to keep these separate is to emphasize their differences. However, if this difference is emphasized too strongly then the relationship between the two breaks down. Saying this another way, if God is the buddy of man then the Christian doctrine of personal salvation is not required because man does not need saving, whereas if God is totally different than man, then there is no doctrine of personal salvation because there is no way to know God.

This tension resolves itself if one views God from a Teacher perspective and humans from a Mercy perspective. The theory of gravity applies everywhere, exists everywhere, cannot be overcome, applies to everyone, and applies without exception. Similarly, a universal God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, no respecter of persons, and holy. Notice how the classic Christian statements about God emerge naturally, which means that there is no need to repeatedly emphasize the transcendence of God. Notice also the difference between Teacher-based science, Mercy-based theology, and Teacher-based theology. Science believes in universal theories but does not approach these theories in personal terms or apply them to personal identity, hence no image of God. Mercy-based theology views God as a sort of über-person and thus has to continually emphasize the distinction between God and man. Teacher-based theology views God as a living universal theory. [4] That is why I suggest that a mental concept of God emerges when a general theory applies to personal identity. It is mentally natural to view a Teacher theory as a type of person because mental networks can form both within Teacher thought and within Mercy thought and the mind uses mental networks to represent people.

That brings us back to the earlier discussion on transcendence. Merely proclaiming that God is a universal being based in a general Teacher theory is not sufficient, just as learning how to use ∞ in mathematics is insufficient to give a person a grasp of infinity. Instead, if God is to be seen from a Teacher viewpoint, then one must construct a general Teacher theory that applies to personal identity and this Teacher theory must be more universal than other general Teacher theories, which means incorporating all other theories as subsets.

When such a general theory does not exist, then it is not possible to view God from a Teacher perspective. That describes the situation today. Some aspects of theology can be explained theoretically, but core Christian doctrines are still regarded as mystery. In this sort of mixed situation, one can use Teacher understanding to build part of the way and then one must use Mercy feelings to fill in the theoretical gaps. For instance, one sees this combination in the apologetics of Ravi Zacharias, analyzed here. Rational thought is used to lead the believer to Christianity and to show the reasonability of the Christian faith, but the believer is then expected to accept the core Christian message on the basis of blind faith.

This hybrid approach works because Mercy feelings can substitute for Teacher emotions. Thus, Mercy emotions of religious fervor can be used to substitute for a lack of Teacher understanding. For instance, if the religious worshipper says that ‘God is love’ with sufficient pomp and circumstance, then Teacher thought will sense these strong feelings, interpret them from a Teacher perspective, and conclude that a universal statement has been made. Saying this another way, proclamations about a universal God will feel universal if they are made with sufficient emotional intensity. Instead of constructing the concept of a universal God, the existence of a universal God is being proclaimed accompanied by a feeling of universality. I suggest that this describes the mental mechanism behind religious mysticism.

Because religious fervor fools Teacher thought with feelings of generality, this method cannot be analyzed, because analyzing it stops it from working. Thus, this method will always be accompanied by a statement that rational thought must not be used. When one is constructing a mental concept of God, then mystery indicates failure. When one is using religious fervor to substitute for understanding, then mystery becomes the primary attribute. Instead of lamenting the inability to understand adequately the nature of God, the celebrant will revel in the mystery of the divine. In crude terms, ignorance becomes bliss, and paradox becomes truth.

Boersma illustrates this celebration of mystery with the mystical theology of St. Gregory of Nyssa: “Paradoxically, Gregory describes the most intimate union with God (the third way) as an entry into darkness. The soul, Gregory explains, ‘keeps on going deeper until by the operation of the Spirit it penetrates the invisible and incomprehensible, and it is there that it sees God’...Gregory, who had a predilection for paradoxical expressions, speaks of ‘luminous darkness’ to describe the goal of the mystical life. Clearly, this goal is not just an intellectual knowledge of God. The goal, Gregory suggests, transcends all knowledge because the ‘darkness of incomprehensibility’ means that the goal lies beyond us...For Gregory, the essence of God is beyond human comprehension, and this is the ultimate reason for human silence” (p.160).

This attitude is expanded in the following passage which was quoted earlier: “The modesty that theology needs is the recognition that we cannot rationally comprehend God. Theology is based on mystery and enters into mystery. Not only can we not grasp God, but, adds the fourth-century mystical theologian Gregory of Nyssa: ‘I also asked: who has known his own mind? Those who think themselves capable of grasping the nature of God would do well to consider whether they have looked into themselves...’ For Gregory, not only is the nature of God himself a mystery to us, but as human beings created in God’s image, we also remain a mystery to ourselves” (p.26).

Viewed from a Mercy perspective, such a profession of ignorance sounds respectful, especially when talking about God as the ultimate being. However, examining this from the Teacher viewpoint of building understanding, such a celebration of ignorance actually makes a student unteachable. The student who confesses that he doesn’t understand and would like to understand is being modest. In contrast, I suggest that the student who states categorically that it is impossible to understand is being proud—proud of ignorance.

When Teacher understanding of theology is inadequate, then there is no choice but to follow a path of at least partial mysticism. “I don't understand everything, but God does and He is in control. Praise the Lord!” But, if a rational general Teacher theory of theology does exist, then a person must then choose between constructing an adequate concept of God and basking in ignorance. As we shall see later, the problem is that mysticism works in the sense that it produces the feeling of having encountered God. If merely sensing the presence of God is adequate, then divine mystery and mysticism suffice.

In addition, the longer that mystery is used as an excuse to avoid learning, the harder it is to abandon mystery and start learning. Mystical theology could be compared to the student who has been sleeping through most of his classes who suddenly wakes up and discovers that everyone is way past him. Obviously, he will feel strongly tempted to go back to sleep and continue dreaming that he is the best student.

Before we continue, let us summarize what we have stated so far. We begin by looking at transcendence and suggested that it is impossible for humans to truly grasp the concept of infinity. However, it is possible to gain a more adequate sense of transcendence by using analogy to compare small and big. Symbols can be used to represent infinity, but the mind only gains a feeling for infinity if these symbols are used to represent something that is truly universal, infinite, or transcendent.

We then saw that Boersma says that analogy should not be used to compare finite humans with a transcendent God, and that theology is based on mystery and enters into mystery. And, instead of exploring what religious symbols such as baptism and the Eucharist mean, Boersma spends his time focusing upon the symbols themselves.

We then suggested that Boersma’s statements reflect the medieval mindset, since Boersma is advocating a return to the medieval sense of mystery. We then saw that the medieval mind used a form of analogical thinking that was based in Mercy experiences and physical resemblances. We also saw that the medieval mind believed that Perceiver truth was based in the emotional status of people and experiences, and when we examined Boersma’s approach we saw similar characteristics.

Finally, we saw that theological thought that is based in Mercy status will struggle with the tension between immanent and transcendent, which it will ‘solve’ by emphasizing the dissimilarity between man and God, and we saw that this type of thinking leads naturally to mysticism, which requires emphasizing the mystery of God and theology.

Let us turn our attention now to Habermas’ second stage, which we have already described briefly. One of the key concepts to emerge during this stage of society was the rule of law. During the first stage, important people used their Mercy status to impose truth upon Perceiver thought. Under the rule of law, Perceiver facts apply to everyone, including important people. Therefore, if one wishes to determine if a society is in Habermas’ second stage, one significant question to ask is whether important people submit to the law or are above the law.

Boersma talks about applying Perceiver truth to the person of God: “If it is true that we can apply ‘being’ to God and creatures in the same way, then ‘being’ forms an overarching category in which God and creatures both share...Univocity means a reduction of God: God is subordinated to a higher concept namely, that of being. For Scotus, God is simply one of many beings—all understood in the same, univocal sense of ‘being.’ Thomas’s Platonic proclivities had ensured that, for him, God does not simply belong to a different category (or genus) of being than creatures do, but rather that he far transcends every category of being. The new understanding, by contrast, turns God into one of many categories” (p.75).

I suggest that this medieval dilemma results from viewing God from a Mercy perspective. Perceiver thought demands that universal truth apply to everyone, as illustrated by the rule of law. But, if truth applies equally to both God and man then, as Boersma points out, this minimizes the difference between God and man, in the same way that Queen Elizabeth of England would lose some of her aura if she had to pay parking tickets like the average person. However, this problem solves itself if one views God from a Teacher perspective. On the one hand, the mind represents both God and humans as mental networks, thus both God and man possess ‘being’. On the other hand, God is based in the Teacher mental network of a universal theory, while humans are represented by Mercy mental networks composed of finite collections of experiences. A general theory possesses a different sort of being than a finite person, in the same way that ‘Lady Justice’ is a different sort of person than Lady Jane next-door.

As Boersma points out, Scotus’ concept of univocity opened the door to viewing God as a divine tyrant: “The newly conceived external connection was guaranteed by the will (voluntas) of God. For Aquinas, we might say, divine decisions had always been in line with eternal truth. For example, when God condemns theft or adultery, this was not arbitrary divine decision, but it was in line with the truth of divine rationality...The new voluntarist approach departed from the Platonic-Christian synthesis by arguing that God’s will determines the moral status of a particular act and that his intellect simply follows along. The consequences were close at hand: if something is good strictly because God wills it to be good, then couldn’t God declare anything, even the most horrible act, to be good” (p.76).

Again, I suggest that this conclusion reflects the medieval belief that Mercy status is required to proclaim Perceiver truth. Viewing God from a Teacher perspective solves this problem as well. This is illustrated by Kant’s categorical imperative, which says (in one formulation) that an action is moral if it is possible for everyone to do this action. For instance, stealing is immoral because it is not possible for everyone to steal. Instead, stealing only works if some people steal but most people do not. A universal Teacher being will naturally generate sequences that apply universally. One could compare this to the way that a law becomes universally applicable to all individuals within a country when it is signed into law. Except, in the case of a Teacher-based universal being, the law would not just be signed into effect but it would also become universally enforced. Saying this another way, if God is a Teacher-based universal being, then when God ‘moved’, the result would be a new ‘law of gravity’ or some other universal law. Thus, the nature of God, combined with Kant’s categorical imperative, would ensure that whatever God does is by definition moral. Repeating this once more, if an action is moral if everyone can do it, and if God’s ‘movement’ makes an action possible for everyone, then God’s ‘movement’ is by definition moral.

Boersma comments that the discovery of the laws of nature allowed man to exist independently of God: “Second—and this point is particularly important in connection with the origin of an autonomous, desacramentalized realm of nature, univocity in effect renders the created order independent from God. We can now say of the created order that it exists just as much as we can say of God that he exists. No longer does created existence have being by participation only” (p.76). This may be true if God is a Mercy-based person, but if God is rooted in universal Teacher theory, then the discovery of natural law actually helped Western society to grasp an aspect of the nature of God. Thus, while modern man no longer felt the presence of God, he did start to acknowledge the universal laws of God, albeit in a peripheral manner. As the parable in Matthew 28 asks, which son did the will of God, the one who said he would obey but didn’t, or the one who said he would not obey but did?

Postmodern Thought

Today’s world is not medieval but rather postmodern. Boersma describes postmodernism and how it affects Christian thought: “It seems clear that, particularly since the 1960s, a widespread skeptical relativism has affected Western culture. Many of us are no longer quite as assured of the certainties that modern methods claimed to bring as were preceding generations. While, ironically, we continue to make use of the ever-increasing prowess of technical progress, many of us have become less confident about universal truth claims...In my own evangelical teaching context, I notice a fairly pervasive hesitation of students to claim that their own particular convictions carry weight beyond their personal lives” (p.156).

I suggested previously that people in Habermas’ second stage assumed that Perceiver truth exists ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered. As Boersma states, this assumption is no longer present in current society. Similarly, we will see later that science is based in the assumption that the natural world functions in a way that is repeatable; the path that an arrow takes flying through the air is similar to the path that a ball takes when it is thrown. In the language of mental symmetry, Server thought can observe these various sequences and notice a similarity. Thus, Perceiver thought can gain confidence by noticing objects that are repeated in the external world, while Server thought can gain confidence by noticing sequences that are repeated externally.

This confidence is no longer present in postmodern times, because nobody is certain about anything. Rather, people are afraid of generalizing beyond their personal experiences. However, two major islands of certainty still remain—both of which are inevitable byproducts of personal experience. First, whenever I repeat an action, I will gain Server confidence in this action. This is called practicing. Second, whenever I become sufficiently emotionally involved with a person, situation, or theory, a mental network will form. Thus, postmodern thought does not stop academic research or bring an end to science. Instead, what continues is the process of learning backed up by the mental networks of the institution and its experts. Today, the main goal of getting a postgraduate degree is often ambiguous. Is it to discover something new, or is it to learn the process of doing research in order to be able to function as an expert within the institution?

One can see a similar transition in Thomas Kuhn’s book on paradigms shifts. In the book itself, Kuhn views science as an attempt to describe how the natural world functions. However, in the appendix to his book, Kuhn redefines science as the behavior that is practiced by a group of scientists: “A paradigm governs, in the first instance, not a subject matter but rather a group of practitioners” (p.180). Thus, science turns from a study of nature to a social club with secret handshakes, codified procedures, and recognized authorities.

Similarly, the title Heavenly Participation combined with a picture of angels on the cover implies that the book will talk about angels and discuss what it means to participate with heaven. However, instead of attempting to discover truth about angels or heaven ‘out there’, one finds an academic analysis of how medieval scholars approached this topic. And, the author appears to be driven primarily by the fact that people’s personal lives lack a sense of mystery. Thus, instead of escaping from postmodern thought by analyzing medieval thought, it appears that Boersma remains caught within the mindset of postmodern thought.

Mental symmetry suggests that it is possible to escape from the maze of postmodern thought by taking a cognitive approach. Postmodern thought says that methodology is all important and that a person can only truly know his own experiences. Thus, postmodern thought is continually deconstructing the process of learning. A cognitive approach says that universal truth and universal sequence can be found in this self-reflective activity. Methodology is not random; patterns can be found in deconstructionism. These patterns reflect the structure of the mind. I cannot escape my mind, therefore, as far as my mind is concerned, these patterns are universal. And, because everyone has similar minds, these patterns are present in all people. The result is Perceiver confidence, based in the structure of the mind. One then discovers that the mind will only function adequately if a process of personal transformation is followed. But, this is a general process that must be applied in many areas and tailored to specific situations. Therefore, one gradually gains the Server skill of following the process of personal transformation.

Thus, a cognitive approach modifies the assumptions of postmodernism. One is still basing truth in personal experience, but this truth does not come from personal feeling but rather from the structure of the mind. One is still comparing the views of the experts, but not to average or evaluate their opinions but rather to observe how the mind functions. One is still learning process and methodology, but the process that is being followed is not becoming part of academia or some other institutional structure, but rather building a mind that is whole.

When one pursues this twist on postmodern thought, one discovers that the process of gaining mental wholeness corresponds to the doctrines of Christianity, which leads to the hypothesis that Christianity is an accurate religion. In addition, one discovers that scientific thought is also a partial attempt to gain mental wholeness, making it possible to integrate Christianity with scientific thought. And, one discovers that the physical world functions in a way that is compatible with the human mind, again leading to the hypothesis that natural law exists ‘out there’. And, because one has developed Perceiver confidence by analyzing the mind, and gained Server confidence by developing the mind, one is able to approach the physical world with confidence—even though one is not totally certain that external truth exists, and one is able to approach God and the supernatural with confidence—even though one is not totally certain that either exist. The personal confidence that one has developed combined with the patterns that one notices provide a sufficient basis. Saying this another way, when one discovers common patterns, this narrows the gap of faith that has to be jumped, while building confidence increases one's ability to jump gaps. Eventually, one becomes able to jump across the gap that separates personal experience from external reality. But, when one does so, one realizes that the same process—of looking for similarities in order to minimize the gap and building confidence in order to learn how to jump gaps—can also be used to explore the nature of God, the spiritual, the supernatural, as well as physical reality.

If one applies postmodern skepticism to this process, what exactly can one know about God and the non-physical? Obviously, it is not possible to prove empirically that either exists, because one is not dealing with physical bodies and the physical world. Instead, one ends up with a mental concept of God along with mental concepts of the non-physical. And, because these mental concepts naturally develop within the mind, and because people feel driven to express their mental concepts, one will find partial illustrations of God and the non-physical—within the physical world. Thus, even though one cannot see God or see the non-physical, it will be possible to find physical examples which exhibit attributes of either God or the non-physical. For instance, a large organization is a physical example of Teacher order-within-complexity that applies to personal identity. By examining different large organizations and the effect that they have upon individuals, one can study what it would be like to live under various concepts of God.

In order to determine whether such a God really exists, one can then look at independent sources such as religious documents and see if their description of God matches the mental concept of God. This independent corroboration can provide confidence that the mental concept of God may correspond to a real God. Going further, if one wants personal evidence that such a real God actually exists, then one can act as if a mental concept of God reflects reality and see what happens. Acting as if a concept of God really exists is a risky business. In religious language, this is called acting by faith, in scientific language it is testing a hypothesis.

Can one truly understand God? No and yes. Maybe the abstract physicist can do better, but I find the idea of a universal being that lives outside of time to be quite incomprehensible. However, my mind is capable of emulating such a real being, because I can form a mental concept of God and that mental concept will function as a Teacher mental network, making it possible for me to interact with a mental concept of God that does not just sit there but actually functions.[5] Thus, I can comprehend God in an analogical sense. In addition, I can explore visible expressions of Teacher mental networks to understand better what a corresponding God would be like. And, if I act as if my mental concept of God is valid and experience results, then I am having meaningful interaction with an external being who may be God. Finally, if my mental emulation of God exhibits traits that correspond to the traits described by some religion, then this provides independent confirmation.

These conclusions may sound rather skeptical, but I suggest that the same limitations apply to a knowledge of fellow human beings. I cannot truly comprehend what it is to be another person, especially if he has a different cognitive style. But, my mind can form a mental network that represents that person, and most of my social interaction with that person will be guided by the mental network that represents that person, and that mental network will predict how the person will respond. Cognitive science refers to this indirect interaction as Theory of Mind. My mental concept of a human being is backed up by the structure of his physical body, while a mental concept of God is backed up by the structure of my mind. Thus, I suggest that there is no essential difference between the way that a person interacts with fellow humans and the way that a person interacts with God, for both interactions use analogy to extrapolate from mental networks.

Technical thought and Meta-theory

Boersma complains that modern existence with its focus upon natural law lacks a sense of mystery as well as the feeling of being connected with God and the supernatural. These are valid observations, however I suggest that a more integrated solution exists than ignoring modern science and embracing medieval thought.

In simplest terms, mental symmetry suggests that existence consists of pockets of structure tied together by regions that are less rigorous. One could compare this to a vast sports arena in which soccer is being played here, football is being played there, volleyball at another location, and so on. Anyone who is on a playing field submits to the rules of the corresponding game, while the region outside of the playing fields is governed by the expectations of normal social interaction. This is similar to the modal aspects of Dooyeweerd (I have major questions about many other aspects of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy). One sees this throughout the typical day. The workplace is an example of technical thought, governed by specific rules and motivated by a specific bottom line. Similarly, eating at a restaurant, shopping at a store, driving down the street are all guided by rules of expected behavior. Existence between these pockets of order is less structured and more open-ended.

A similar distinction occurs within the mind, which can function in a rigorous manner which I refer to as technical thought, and a less rigorous manner which I call normal thought. Technical thought corresponds to what Thomas Kuhn calls normal science while normal thought corresponds to Kuhn’s revolutionary science. Technical thought limits thought and/or action to a restricted playing field, which is defined by a limited collection of clearly known Perceiver facts, clearly defined Server sequences, and measurable goals. For instance, in a game of soccer the players all stay on the playing field, the rules of the game define exactly what each player can do, and everyone knows what a goal is and what the score is.

Technical thought always applies to some restricted playing field, and there are many playing fields, each with its own form of technical thought, just as there are many games, each with its own set of rules. The region outside of technical thought is guided by normal thought, in which Perceiver facts are partially known, Server sequences are partially defined, the context is fluid, and general goals are pursued. Think, for instance of a normal day in which one knows approximately what one will do but is continually faced with interruptions. That defines normal thought. Technical thought typically uses math and/or rigorous logic. Normal thought, in contrast, is guided by analogy.

The universe itself is a type of ‘playing field’ guided by the laws of nature, and scientific research is now exploring the boundaries of natural existence where the normal laws of nature cease to apply. In Dooyeweerdian fashion, mental symmetry suggests that the supernatural is also a realm that is guided by its own set of universal laws, and suggests that the laws of ‘supernature’ can be related to the laws of nature through symmetry, a semi-rigorous form of analogy.

I mentioned previously that whenever a person continues to apply technical thought within some playing field, then a mental network will eventually form, and that mental network will emotionally drive a person to continue playing that game. Just as a habit responds with strong urges when a person attempts to break it, so an individual will experience a strong urge to defend the rules of the game that he is currently playing. Similarly, Kuhn says that scientists find it very difficult to evaluate competing paradigms and often respond to alternative theories by ignoring them or belittling them, indicating that the technical thought of a paradigm is being emotionally maintained by an underlying mental network.

One could compare the interaction between technical fields to cross-cultural encounters. Each culture has its own collection of mental networks that define ‘normal behavior’. Meeting a person from another culture will create a sense of mystery, because one is encountering someone who is exotic and strange. The primary response to a truly cross-cultural encounter is culture shock, which will drive a person to retreat to what is familiar. In order to overcome cultural shock, a person must learn the rules of the alien culture. Whenever a person tries to integrate two cultures, then the major problem will be dealing with culture shock and overcoming feelings of cultural preservation. If a person talks about integrating radically different cultures and worries that there will be no sense of mystery, then this tells us that such an individual has never truly encountered another culture.

Now let us apply this to the relationship between the natural and the supernatural. Humans live within the natural realm, which is governed by the rules of natural law. Living within this realm leads to the formation of a very potent mental network, known as common sense. The natural scientist rejects the concept of the supernatural not because it violates natural law, but rather because it is inconsistent with his mental network of common sense. One can tell that this is the case, because the scientific rejection of the supernatural is a gut response marked by suppression, sarcasm, and ridicule. If a scientist actually were to encounter the supernatural, then he would find this experience more emotionally threatening than the most extreme cross-cultural encounter. In the language of Heavenly Participation, he would experience a profound sense of mystery.

This leads us to a rather interesting conclusion. A person who only knows the rules of one game will experience major culture shock when encountering a different game with different rules. If such a person is worried that ‘leaving his game’ might not lead to a sense of mystery, then this suggests that this person has never really tried to step outside of the playing field of the game which he finds familiar. Boersma states several times that humans have no real knowledge of the ‘rules of the game’ and apply to either the divine ‘playing field’ or the supernatural ‘playing field’. If one travels to a foreign land without having any knowledge of the local customs the result will be massive culture shock—an overdose of mystery. Similarly, when the Bible talks about humans having an encounter with either God or angels, their most common response is one of raw terror.

In order to overcome this terror of the unknown, a meta-theory is required that can bridge these two radically different ‘games’ of existence. We will see later that Heavenly Participation mentions a number of key concepts which can be used to form such a meta-theory. However, these concepts are presented within the framework of medieval theology as interpreted by nouvelle théologie. Thus, instead of breaking out of the large box of natural existence, Heavenly Participation limits itself primarily to the specific playing field of religious medieval scholarship.

Analogical Reasoning

One key concept is that a meta-theory must use analogical thinking and not rigorous logic. In other words, one cannot tie together all of the various games of existence by using the rules of some particular game. This, I suggest, is a common flaw in philosophical thought, because the philosopher recognizes that the rules of a game only apply to a limited playing field, but then demands that one must use the rules of some game to tie together the various games. Thus, I suggest that the medieval mind was right in using analogy to come up with universal answers, because only analogy can bridge the different ‘pockets’ of technical thought. However, I have also suggested that medieval thinking misused analogy. How does a person use analogy without misusing it?

While analogy is not as rigorous as technical thought, I suggest that it is possible to make analogy semi-rigorous. Suppose that I am making an analogy between one concept and another. The analogy can be made more rigorous by comparing the details of the one concept with the details of the other. The further one can go before the ‘analogy breaks down’, the more rigorous the analogy. An analogy can also be made more rigorous by looking for the same analogy within several different contexts. Every context within which the same analogy appears adds clarity and rigor to this analogy, as well as making the analogy more universal. This describes the method which I have used to expand and clarify the theory of mental symmetry. As I continue to use mental symmetry to examine different fields, I find that the theory survives—increasing its universality, and I also find that each specific field adds detail and clarity—increasing the rigor of the model.

Technical thought can assist analogical thinking by acting as a source of analogies. Normal existence may lie outside of technical thought, but it also has many similarities to aspects of technical thought, and the rigor of technical thought makes it possible to examine these similarities in greater detail. In addition, analogical thinking can be used to extend technical thought through parallel and symmetry. For instance, electronics with its resistors, capacitors, and inductors is quite different than a physical system with masses, springs, and dampers. However, it is possible to relate these two dissimilar areas through symmetry and use the same set of equations in both areas. In a similar vein, mental symmetry suggests that the supernatural and the natural are related through a symmetry that is like the symmetry between wave and particle, time and space, or energy and matter.

Finally, as I mentioned before, I suggest that semi-rigorous analogy must deal with process, sequence, and mechanism, rather than surface resemblance. In the language of mental symmetry, it should be based in Teacher theory and Server sequence rather than Mercy experience and Perceiver objects.

This does not mean that analogy does not include objects and experiences, but rather that one should go beyond physical objects and experiences to Platonic forms, something which Boersma strongly emphasizes. In fact, Boersma refers repeatedly to what he calls the Platonic-Christian synthesis. Boersma’s analysis of how Platonic forms play a role in Christian doctrine is perceptive, however we will see later that his application of Platonic forms limits this analysis.

Platonic Forms

Boersma defines Platonic forms in the following passage: “What Gregory does here is distinguish between what is common to all people and what is particular to individuals. He applies the Platonic distinction between universals (which were common) and their particular, distinct instantiations...In other words, Gregory uses his Platonic background to argue that universals provide an anchor for the particular instantiations” (p.48). In simple language, a Platonic form is a general category that describes the essence of many related specific items. For instance, the Platonic form of a chair is an idealized mental image that represents the essence of ‘chairness’.

Thomas Kuhn’s analysis of paradigm shifts gives a clue as to how the mind forms Platonic forms. When a scientist acquires a new theory this actually modifies his view of the world and he sees objects in a slightly different way. Kuhn refers to this mental effect is incommensurability. In the language of mental symmetry, a Platonic form emerges when Perceiver facts about Mercy experiences are adjusted by Teacher thought. Saying this a slightly different way, a Platonic form is an imaginary Mercy image that results from adjusting Perceiver facts in a way that increases Teacher feelings of generality. For instance, think about the Platonic form of a circle. First, Mercy thought is filled with images of round things from the real world. Perceiver thought notices that these images are all similar and comes up with the category of circle. Teacher thought then forms a general theory of circles by looking for the essence of ‘circleness’, in order to generate order-within-complexity. This Teacher simplification modifies Perceiver facts about circles leading indirectly to the imaginary image within Mercy thought of an ideal, perfect circle, the type that one encounters when studying geometry. The perfect circle of geometry does not exist within real life. Real circles can become more like geometric circles but there is no such thing as a real circle of geometry. Thus, even though the raw material for a Platonic form comes from the external world, the Platonic form is an imaginary image that emerges when Perceiver facts about this raw material are modified by Teacher understanding.

We have seen that the medieval mindset believes that all of imaginary objects are based in physical symbols. Thus, the medieval mind will find Platonic forms confusing. On the one hand, a Platonic form does not exist anywhere in real life, while on the other hand the medieval mindset with its Mercy bias bases its thinking in physical objects and physical resemblance. Thus, the medieval mind will struggle over the reality of Platonic forms. Do they really exist or are they purely imaginary?[6]

I suggest that this confusion between Platonic form and physical symbol describes one of the major cognitive flaws in the medieval-based thinking of the Catholic Church.[7] In simple terms, the Platonic form is being equated with the physical symbol that represents this Platonic form. One sees this, for instance, in the doctrine of transubstantiation, which equates the physical symbol of bread and wine with the Platonic form of the sacrifice of Jesus. Similarly, the physical symbol of baptism is equated with a Platonic form of personal rebirth, the physical institution of the Catholic Church is equated with the Platonic form of the church, and the physical symbol of the Pope is equated with the voice of God.

The solution, I suggest, is to approach God and theology from a Teacher perspective, because Platonic forms are the mental result of Teacher thought interfering with Mercy thought. As far as the human world of Mercy experiences is concerned, Platonic forms do not exist. But, Platonic forms do ‘exist’ within the abstract realm of Teacher thought.

Turning now to Heavenly Participation, Boersma interprets the death and resurrection of Jesus as a Platonic form, and we will suggest later that this makes sense from a cognitive perspective: “The patristic basis for salvation was given with the fact that all ‘men’ shared in Christ as the one ‘man.’ In other words, the Christian doctrine of salvation arose from the conviction the destiny of our particular human natures depends on their participation in the one humanity of Christ...More importantly, perhaps, it seems to me that Platonic philosophy allows the church fathers (as well as the subsequent medieval tradition) to argue for a christological anchor that is not caught up in the narrative flow of history and the vicissitudes of human life. The Platonic connection allowed Christians to say that the eternal Logos—infinitely transcending the created order—provides the foundation and stability of the created order and of human history” (p.51).

However, Boersma focuses upon the physical symbol that represents the death and resurrection of Jesus, equates the Platonic form with this physical symbol and then argues from the physical symbol to the Platonic form. This is seen in part of the quote made earlier: “Accordingly, I will devote special attention to the implications of medieval developments surrounding the Eucharist...While the church fathers and medieval theologians did look to the bread and wine of Eucharist as the sacrament in which Christ was really present, in making this point they simultaneously conveyed their conviction that Christ was mysteriously present in the entire created order” (p.25).

Boersma questions those who downplay physical symbols and attempt to focus upon Platonic forms. As quoted earlier, “Some of the younger Evangelicals may even question the balance of Reformation theology and may sense that the centrality of the Word and of Christian doctrine has unnecessarily downgraded the Eucharist and led to an unfortunate devaluation of liturgical imagination, as expressed in sacred art and colored vestments, in the smells of incense and the flickering candles” (p.86).

And, rather than emphasizing the Platonic form of the church, Boersma focuses his attention upon the physical symbol of the institutional church. “The doctrine of the church has suffered chronically from the Protestant emphasis on the invisible church and particularly from the anti-institutional fear of hierarchical structures that appears common among evangelicals” (p.105).

Thus, the concepts which Boersma states regarding Platonic forms appear to be contradicted by the manner in which Boersma downplays Platonic forms in place of physical symbols. One sees this transition in the following quote, which begins with Platonic forms and ends with physical symbols: “We have already observed that the general sacramental mindset of the Platonic-Christian synthesis came to its fullest expression in the ecclesiastical sacrament of the Eucharist. Everyone understood that God most truly and fully gives himself in the body of Christ in the Eucharistic celebration. Thus, people experience participation in heavenly realities—in the eternal son of God himself—nowhere as gloriously as in the Eucharist itself. Heaven and earth, nature and the supernatural come together in the real presence of Christ on the altar” (p.57).

I suggest that the best approach is to tie symbols and Platonic forms together with the help of a Teacher general understanding. However, if the choice is between Platonic forms backed up by physical symbols and no Platonic forms at all, then obviously the former is better than the latter. And, if one compares the history of the Catholic Church with the history of Protestant churches, one sees the stability that is generated by physical symbols backed up by a physical institution. Protestant congregations seem to oscillate between a high concept of God and God as my buddy, whereas the Catholic Church continues with a steady reverence for God and the church.

What should be the relationship between physical symbols and Platonic forms? I suggest that one can work this out from the definition of a Platonic form. A Platonic form is an imaginary image that emerges when Teacher thought works out the essence of many similar real objects and experiences. Platonic forms do not exist in the physical world. All that exists is physical symbols. Therefore, any quest to search the physical world for Platonic forms is futile. However, even though Platonic forms do not physically exist they are based in objects and experiences that do exist. Thus, it is appropriate to use symbols to represent Platonic forms. Going further, because mental networks must to be triggered to be activated, physical symbols are needed to remind people of Platonic forms. And because some physical objects and experiences are more form-like than other physical objects and experiences, some objects and experiences are more appropriate to use as physical symbols than others. For instance, a Golden Retriever is more representative of the Platonic form of dog than a Dachshund, a Shih Tzu, or a Pug. The key, I suggest, is to vary the symbol that is used, the ritual that is followed, and the people that administer this ritual, while still choosing symbols, rituals, and people that epitomize the Platonic form. If the same person always performs the same ritual using the same physical objects, then the natural tendency will be to equate the physical symbol with the Platonic form. If a person feels emotionally uneasy when the persons, rituals, or objects are varied, then this indicates that the physical symbol is being equated with the Platonic form. However, if any person, ritual, or object is used to represent a Platonic form, then this indicates that the concept of Platonic form is not adequately understood.

Similarly, if a religious symbol represents a universal Platonic form, then it is essential to provide both religious and non-religious illustrations of this Platonic form. For instance, if the Eucharist celebrates the Platonic form of Jesus’ sacrifice, then the celebration of the Eucharist should be accompanied by examples or testimonials that illustrate the universality of this Platonic form. If these examples cannot be found, then this indicates that the physical symbol has taken the place of the Platonic form, because a Platonic form—by definition—is based upon many similar specific experiences and situations.

I suggest that there are three potential problems with equating a Platonic form with a physical symbol. The first problem is that the symbol can substitute for the Platonic form. A Platonic form is a powerful concept because it encapsulates the essence of many individual situations. When the physical symbol substitutes for the Platonic form, then a person will feel that manipulating the symbol can change the essence of something, leading to superstition and magical thinking. For instance, Boersma appears to be describing the Eucharist in a superstitious manner in the following quote: “De Lubac’s argument has implications beyond the Eucharist and the church. If the connection between the two is a sacramental one, it implies that much more is going on in the Eucharist and the reception of Christ’s body by individual believers. Participation in the sacramental body of Christ means that the believers themselves are mystically transformed into the ecclesial body of Christ” (p.158).

Second, those who manipulate the symbols that are being equated with Platonic forms gain emotional power. For instance, if physical participation in the ritual of the Eucharist is able to transform my essential character by bringing me grace from God, then those who perform this ritual literally have the power to bring me closer to God or cut me off from God. Thus, maintaining a good relationship with the church, its priesthood, and its rituals becomes more important than maintaining a good relationship with God. Constructing a mental concept of God becomes of secondary importance; what really matters is participating in the rituals of the church—whether one comprehends these rituals or not.

Third, if rituals involving symbols are repeated long enough in enough places, then the symbols will create their own Platonic forms, which will replace the Platonic forms that the symbols represent. For instance, there is nothing universal about eating a piece of cake at a particular restaurant. But, if this action is filmed and becomes a memorable scene in a famous movie, then this specific action will acquire feelings of universality, not because it is universal, but because many people have watched this scene. Modern media uses this principle to generate feelings of significance. What is portrayed on the television screen may not be significant, but the fact that millions are watching this scene makes it significant. This mental mechanism, I suggest, plays a major role in Habermas’ third stage of society. Similarly, because the ritual of the Eucharist has been celebrated by millions of people for thousands of years, a Platonic form now exists within people’s minds which summarizes the essence of ‘celebrating the Eucharist’. Thus, when one celebrates the Eucharist, one feels that one is participating in a ritual that stretches around the world, bridges cultures, and spans the centuries.

However, if the ritual of wearing ostrich feathers and throwing oranges were repeated by thousands of people from around the world in a ritual that started many years ago, then these actions would also feel universal and would be given mental meaning through the development of a Platonic form. It may seem disrespectful to compare the Eucharist with ostrich feathers and oranges, but that describes the Belgian Carnival of Binche, which has been celebrated since the 14th century and has been declared a Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Notice that if one person wears strange clothing and carries out unusual rituals, then this is considered to be abnormal. However, if many people wear strange clothing and carry out unusual rituals just as their ancestors did, then the mental result is a Platonic form which makes the strange clothing and unusual rituals feel meaningful.

The situation becomes particularly perplexing when there is a multiplicity of competing religions each with their own set of rituals. How is the religious outsider (or insider) supposed to know which rituals lead the participant to God and which ones are meaningless? In order to answer this question, I suggest that one has to examine the Platonic form behind a ritual and determine if this Platonic form has any meaning. If the mere celebrating of rituals produces meaning, then this leads to situations such as the Missionary Church of Kopimism, which is now officially recognized as a religious community in Sweden.

Summarizing, celebrating the Eucharist in a dignified and ordered manner will create Teacher emotions. The structure of the ceremony itself will generate Teacher feelings, as will the knowledge that this same ceremony is being celebrated around the world and through the ages. These are legitimate feelings which help to reinforce the concept of a Platonic form. However, these Teacher emotions cannot be used to evaluate or demonstrate the validity of the Eucharist, because any structured ritual that is repeated for long enough will generate similar Teacher emotions.

John 6

At this point, the Christian reader may be thinking of the sixth chapter of John, in which Jesus tells his disciples to ‘eat his flesh and drink his blood’. Because this biblical text is often used to support the doctrine of transubstantiation, let us examine the context within which this quote occurs, guided by the theory of mental symmetry. We will take a few paragraphs to analyze this chapter in order to let the overall theme sink in properly.

The story begins with the well-known miracle of the ‘feeding of the 5000’. Our goal here is not to determine whether this miracle actually occurred but rather to examine the interaction between Jesus and his audience with regard to the relationship between Platonic forms and physical symbols. The crowd’s reaction to this miraculous feeding is to attempt to make Jesus a king, to which Jesus responds by running away. Thus, we see that Jesus is rejecting an attempt to set up a physical institution. The people respond by searching for Jesus and when they find him, he tells them that they haven’t learned anything from his miracle but all they want is free food. In other words, they are focusing solely upon physical symbols and are clueless about the Platonic forms behind these symbols. Jesus tells them that they should work for food that is eternal and not for physical food, and that this eternal food comes through him from God in heaven. Thus, we see that Jesus is emphasizing the Platonic form behind the physical symbol and saying—in religious language—that the Platonic form has its basis in Teacher understanding. The people respond by asking Jesus what they should do, again indicating a focus upon the physical. Jesus answers by saying that the solution involves Perceiver facts and not Server actions, and that they should believe that he comes from the unseen God, again bringing the attention of the people back to unseen Teacher understanding.

The people respond by saying that ‘seeing is believing’, and ask Jesus to prove his words by giving them free food from heaven just like the manna in the wilderness that their ancestors received under their great leader Moses. Jesus answers by telling them that they don’t understand. The real source of ‘bread from heaven’ wasn't their Mercy-based religious leader but rather the unseen God. Physical bread has no magical properties whereas bread from heaven gives life. Again, Jesus is emphasizing the Platonic form over the physical symbol. However, the audience ignores everything Jesus says and only hears the word ‘bread’.

Jesus then says that he is their food, and that it is the relationship with him that counts and not physical food. He explicitly tells them that they are focusing upon the physical and refusing to go beyond the physical. Jesus tells them that his source is the unseen God and that he can connect them with this unseen source. In other words, he is the Platonic form that is being expressed as a physical symbol. The people respond that Jesus cannot have anything to do with Platonic forms because they know his mom and dad and are certain that he is just a local boy from Nazareth, again indicating a fixation upon the purely physical. Jesus answers by telling them that they are not basing their thinking in an unseen God and need to follow a path of education and understanding, and that he can translate understanding into real experiences. Their ‘bread from heaven’ is just physical bread, whereas his ‘bread from heaven’ is an eternal Platonic form.

Now comes the passage about ‘eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood’ that is used to support transubstantiation. Notice that Jesus is in a predicament. His audience is unable to think outside of the box of physical reality, and they are determined to force Jesus to fit within their mental network of natural existence, because they see an opportunity to get free food. They have shown repeatedly that they are incapable of transcending the physical symbol. Therefore, Jesus uses the language of physical food and physical existence—the only language they can understand—in order to make sure that his message incompatible with their mental network of natural existence.

Jesus then tells his audience that the bread he is talking about involves using his physical body to bring life to the world, and they respond by asking him if he is talking about some sort of cannibalism. Jesus then states that they have no life unless they identify with him—unless they ‘eat his flesh and drink his blood’. Jesus adds that this is an analogy, for just as he identifies with God and receives life from God, so they ‘eat his flesh and drink his blood’ and receive life from him. In other words, the physical symbol of ‘eating flesh and drinking blood’ is a reflection of a Platonic form.

The audience is now forced to respond. Those who focus solely upon the physical leave in disgust. Jesus asks his disciples if they will leave, to which Peter responds that Jesus is a source of words that lead to eternal life. Thus, we see that Peter is able to think outside of the physical box by focusing upon the Platonic form that lies behind the physical symbol.

In conclusion, when one examines the whole story, one sees that the people are fixated upon physical symbols while Jesus is insisting upon focusing on the Platonic forms that lie behind the physical symbols. Jesus goes out of his way to repeat that physical bread has no magical properties. One does find an equating of physical symbol with Platonic form in this passage, but it is Jesus equating himself with the Platonic form of personal salvation—which describes the doctrine of incarnation that we will examine in a moment. And, instead of honoring those who focus upon physical symbols, Jesus goes out of his way to offend them.

In what way is Jesus a Platonic Form? I suggest that Boersma gives the outline of an answer, which we will develop further using mental symmetry. However, in order to understand this answer, we have to take a closer look at the theory of mental symmetry.

Direct versus Indirect

I have mentioned that a concept of God emerges when a general theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. Looking at these two cognitive modules on the diagram of mental symmetry, one can see that they are interconnected in two ways. The first is a direct connection through Exhorter thought, while the second occurs indirectly via Server, Contributor, and Perceiver. Describing these two paths in detail goes beyond the scope of this essay, but I will attempt to convey the essential ingredients.

The direct path through Exhorter thought travels along the row labeled emotion. In simple terms, this leads to the feeling that man and God are united, which is done by jamming these two together. This path describes the alternative of mysticism which was mentioned earlier, which uses Mercy emotion to substitute for Teacher emotion (and vice versa), which will generate an emotion of mystical union with God. The problem with the direct path is that finite is not the same as infinite. Thus, the only way to make them feel the same is by suppressing mental content, which means ignoring Server sequences and Perceiver facts. Saying this another way, whenever Mercy feelings of fervor are used to substitute for Teacher feelings of generality, then one is implicitly making the category error of confusing finite with infinite.

Heavenly Participation emphasizes mystical worship, but pulls back from completely following this option: “The highest aim of theology is no doubt mystical participation in the mystery of God’s own self knowledge. Thus, in no way bypassing the very human mode of academic knowledge, the theologian aims at the unity of wisdom” (p.182).

The indirect path describes the option of analogy and incarnation, and it contains a Server component, a Contributor component, and a Perceiver component. All three of these are needed to connect universal with specific.

The Perceiver component is seen in Platonic forms which were discussed earlier. Remember that Perceiver thought takes the specific experiences of Mercy thought and organizes them into categories, which Teacher thought will then distill into their essence in order to find order-within-complexity. This Teacher processing leads in Mercy thought to the imaginary image of a Platonic form. A Platonic form is an image, because Mercy thought works with images. The Teacher equivalent to a Platonic form is the variable, a word or symbol that is used to represent an idealized Perceiver category. For instance, when I think of a chair, I visualize the Platonic form of a chair, a simplified concept that does not exist in real life. Thus, the Platonic form is a general image that is used to represent all chairs. Similarly, instead of talking about ‘the red apple on the teacher’s desk’ or ‘the orange growing on the tree outside’, math uses variables such ‘x’ and ‘y’ to represent apples, oranges, or other specific items. In both cases, a group of specific items is being represented by a generic category, in one case an image, in the other case a symbol. When discussing Platonic forms, we examined the right hemisphere relationship between Perceiver facts and Mercy experiences. We will now examine the left hemisphere relationship between Teacher symbols and Server sequences, which will help us to understand the Server component of the indirect path.

Math as Representation

Server thought is the cognitive module that handles action, movement, and sequence. I suggest that the Server component of the indirect path is seen in what Boersma calls coinhering: “‘Sacramental time’ or ‘the time of the Church’ means that past, present, and future can coincide. As a result, people from different historical eras can participate or share in the same event” (p.124). “Time participates in the eternity of God’s life, and it is this participation that is able to gather past, present, and future together into one. Taylor illustrates it well by referring to the two events of the sacrifice of Isaac and the crucifixion of Christ: ‘These two events were linked through their immediate contiguous places in the divine plan. They’re drawn close to identity in eternity, even though they are centuries...apart. In God’s time there is a sort of simultaneity of sacrifice and crucifixion” (p.126).

‘Inhering’ is not merely ‘the time of the church’ but actually describes one of the basic foundations of scientific thought. For instance, suppose that I throw a ball through the air and then, at some other time, shoot an arrow through the air. Science observes the path of the ball, compares it with the path of the arrow, and notices a similarity. By using equations such as E=mv2/2, F=mg, and F=ma, it is possible to calculate the path taken by all manner of objects thrown, dropped, or even orbited. Calculating these paths comprises a major part of high school physics, which I taught for several years. Notice the commonality between what physics is doing and sacramental time. Physics does not care what moved, whether it was an arrow or a ball or an astronaut in freefall. Physics also does not care when this movement occurred. It may have happened in the distant past, it may be happening right now, or it might involve a planned movement in the future. All that matters to physics is that a physical movement occurred—a Server sequence. What ties all these Server sequences together is the general laws of Newton, described using the Teacher language of symbols.

Notice again the relationship between universal and specific. On the one hand, I am throwing a specific ball or shooting a specific arrow. On the other hand, this specific Server action can be represented by a general Teacher equation.

I have suggested that an image of God emerges when a general Teacher theory applies to Mercy identity. In the same way that the general Teacher theory of Newton’s laws ties together physical movements past, present, and future, so the general Teacher theory behind a mental concept of God ties together sequences of events past, present, and future. Boersma tells us that theology has been improvising and imagining, guided by this principle: “Doctrine is thus a matter of improvising with a canonical script. In fact, Vanhoozer’s language emphasizes development in some ways more strongly than Congar’s. We repeatedly encounter in Vanhoozer the language of ‘imagination,’ as well as related terms, such as ‘improvisation,’ ‘spontaneity,’ and ‘creative understanding.’ For Vanhoozer, development of doctrine is based on the church’s creative improvisation on the biblical text” (p.133).

Saying this more mathematically, canonical script is written as a series of general equations and human activity fills in these general statements with specific examples and applications. This is a very powerful concept, and I suggest elsewhere that it allows humans to have personal freedom, as postulated by open theism, without encroaching upon the sovereignty of God. God, as a universal being, writes in universal language, while humans, as finite creatures, have the freedom to choose the specific manner in which this divine script will be implemented.

In Boersma’s words, “Bouillard articulates the difference between truth as it is in God and truth as it is filled here below by distinguishing between eternal affirmations and temporal ‘representations’: History...manifests at the same time the relativity of notions, of schemes in which theology takes shape, and the permanent affirmation that governs them. It is necessary to know the temporal condition of theology and, at the same time, to offer with regard to the faith the absolute affirmation, the divine word that has become incarnate” (p.167).

Inhering is a key concept. However, while theology has been ‘improvising’ and ‘imagining’, science has been demonstrating this principle for hundreds of years using countless events. Thus, Boersma’s concept of inhering is not just a religious concept but rather a universal concept that governs the relationship between math, science, and the physical world. When the physicist writes mathematical equations, then his ‘chicken scratches on pieces of paper’ correspond to the functioning of the world. That is the amazing thing about science: Math can be used to represent physical processes. And, if one views God from a Teacher perspective, then one concludes theological statements about God must describe universal principles—for that is what it means to approach God from a Teacher perspective.

Notice also that the previous paragraphs are an illustration of semi-rigorous analogy, because I am pointing out an analogy between the practice of physics and the teaching of theology. However, instead of merely pointing out a physical resemblance, I am looking for common mechanisms, using the technical thought of physics to add precision to the analogy. By doing this type of analogical thinking, one can construct meta-theories that bridge radically different disciplines. This type of semi-rigorous approach goes beyond ‘improvising’ and ‘imagining’ universality to constructing it.

Before we continue, I need to emphasize that either Perceiver Platonic forms or Server inhering by themselves are insufficient to bridge finite with infinite. If one focuses purely upon Platonic forms, then this will lead to a static view of perfection. God will be seen as the ultimate Platonic form who sits there doing nothing, because if he did anything then he would move from his state of perfection. Similarly, if one looks merely at Server inhering then this will lead to an understanding of universal mechanisms, but these will be viewed in impersonal terms, the way that science views universe. The solution is to tie these together, by adding a sense of time to Platonic forms together with a sense of ‘abstract people’ to Server mechanisms. Contributor thought ties together Perceiver facts with Server sequences and we will now look at the central role that Contributor thought plays in incarnation.

A Cognitive Explanation of Incarnation

Incarnation bridges infinite with finite, general and specific. The Perceiver side of incarnation involves Platonic forms; the Server side of incarnation involves inhering, which includes variables, equations, and similar sequences. These two aspects of analogy are tied together by Contributor thought, and this is where it gets a little complicated. As the diagram of mental symmetry indicates, Contributor thought connects Perceiver facts with Server sequences. However, Server sequences come in two completely unrelated varieties, thanks to the physical body. The body can talk and it can act; both are sequences. Talking creates sequences of words which Server thought organizes into grammatical structures. (In the language of linguistics, Server thought organizes Teacher morphemes using Server syntax.) Action creates sequences of movement which Server thought organizes into skills. As we all know, there is often no relationship between what a person says and what a person does.

Words are the basis for abstract thought, while actions drive concrete thought. In abstract thought, Contributor thought connects words with facts to generate meaning. In concrete thought, Contributor thought connects actions with objects to generate cause-and-effect. [8]

Concrete thought is driven by Mercy emotion. For instance, if I go to a restaurant then I can order some food. Why do I order food? Because the Mercy experience of being at the restaurant with a full stomach is more pleasant than my current location of being at home with an empty stomach. This type of thinking characterizes goal-oriented behavior: Perceiver facts provide a map in which to place Mercy experiences, while Server actions are used to move from my current location in this map to another location which contains better Mercy emotions. When performing physical movement, I move my body from its current location to where I want to go. What makes concrete thought concrete is the fact that I can express it with my physical body in the physical world. But, it is also possible to improve my current location in other less physical ways, using the same mental circuit of goal-oriented behavior. Contributor thought, with its knowledge of cause-and-effect, calculates the best way to reach the most desirable goal. For instance, Contributor thought may conclude that walking to the refrigerator to find food is more efficient than driving to a restaurant, or it may decide that eating at McDonald’s is cheaper than going to a steakhouse.

Abstract thought is driven by Teacher emotion, which looks for order-within-complexity. In abstract thought, Server sequences provide the basic elements, while Perceiver thought does the ‘moving’. For instance, ‘throwing a ball’ is a Server sequence, as is ‘shooting an arrow’, or ‘sacrificing Isaac’. When Perceiver thought notices that one sequence is like another, then this ‘moves’ toward the Teacher goal of greater generality. Abstract thought is abstract (and harder to grasp) because it cannot be expressed directly by my physical body. Contributor thought, with its knowledge of meaning, arranges and rearranges sequences of words in order to generate the greatest Teacher emotion. For instance, the Contributor person enjoys solving crossword puzzles. The clues to a crossword puzzle provide partial meanings to words, while the end result of solving the puzzle is an interlocking grid of words that demonstrates pleasing order-within-complexity.

Concrete thought lives within time, because actions, which take time, are being used to lead from one location or experience to another. Abstract thought, in contrast, lives outside of time, because it compares sequences that are separated by time. If one recognizes that a concept of God is based in a general Teacher theory, then it becomes cognitively natural to view God as living outside of time, tying together the various similar events of history.

Notice that the connection between concrete thought and the physical body is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that this relationship makes it easy to develop concrete thought. The curse is that this direct connection mentally tends to lock concrete thought into the space-time structure of the world. In a similar manner the lack of a connection between abstract thought and the physical body makes it more difficult to develop abstract thought but also makes it easier for abstract thought to become independent of physical constraints. Saying this in simple language, I am forced to act in the world but I can talk about anything.

Because of the distinction between words and actions, Contributor thought exists in two forms: Practical Contributor thought works in concrete thought with specific people, events, and experiences within Mercy thought, bringing ‘salvation’ to these items by implementing a plan that leads them from where they are to another place that is better. Intellectual Contributor thought works in abstract thought with words and general theories in Teacher thought, rearranging them to bring greater Teacher order. Stating this in religious language, Contributor thought acts as an incarnation that ties together God and man. In the human realm, the incarnation lives and acts within time as Jesus, a name which means salvation, while in the divine realm, the incarnation lives with God outside of time as the living word. In order to tie these two halves of Contributor thought together—the ‘living word’ with the ‘word made flesh’, one must follow a path of cognitive development that correspond to Christian doctrine, and if one interprets this cognitive path in physical terms, it corresponds to stages in the life of Jesus as described in the Gospels. Mentally speaking, Contributor thought acts as an incarnation which ties together general theories in Teacher thought with specific experiences in Mercy thought. Physically speaking, the Bible says that a person, whose behavior matches that of the Contributor person, is an incarnation who bridges God and man. The fact that a mental incarnation corresponds with the account of a physical incarnation leads one to the hypothesis that Christianity is an accurate religion.

In the words of Boersma, “For the Great Tradition, it was in Christ that ordinary or successive time participated most fully and gloriously in the eternal time of God. Christ himself, we could say, is the great sacrament, the mystery par excellence. In him, the eternal Word enters into the temporal succession of events, thus allowing time to participate sacramentally in eternity. Every other temporal event that takes place in the ordinary time of human history thus derives its being and significance from the great Christ event itself. Temporal events have meaning because of their sacramental connection—their ‘simultaneously,’ as Taylor calls it—to the incarnate Logos, Jesus Christ himself” (p.127). Boersma refers to this as ‘the mystery par excellence.’ In contrast, mental symmetry suggests that it is ‘the analogy par excellence.’

Personal identity resides within Mercy thought; practical Contributor thought improves Mercy experiences. A person experiences personal improvement when these two come together by using practical Contributor thought to improve personal identity. Practical Contributor thought is capable of bringing some salvation to experiences and people. However, when practical Contributor thought becomes integrated with intellectual Contributor thought, then the personal salvation that Contributor thought can bring becomes far greater. This happens, for instance, when a person becomes educated. The uneducated individual is limited primarily to manual labor—using actions to get from one place to a better place. In contrast, the educated individual can use understanding to transform the way that actions are used to get from one place to a better place. For example, manual labor uses shovels to dig holes, while education makes it possible to design and build mechanical shovels which can be used to dig far bigger holes in far less time. But, in order to experience this greater salvation, Contributor thought must still be used to improve personal identity, which means performing the Server actions that are part of the Contributor plan and accepting the Mercy experiences through which this plan leads.

The Bible often uses the term ‘flesh and blood’ to refer to physical existence, with the ‘flesh’ representing human effort and the blood ‘personal life force’, thus I suggest that the analogy mentioned in John 6 does have meaning if one interprets it cognitively—which Peter did but the crowd was incapable of doing.

In our examination of John 6, I suggested that Jesus is claiming to be both Platonic form and physical symbol. I also suggested that the Platonic form must always take precedence over the physical symbol. If one follows the cognitive process of constructing a mental incarnation to bridge abstract thought with concrete thought, then a Platonic form of Jesus the God/man will form within the mind, and this Platonic form will naturally take precedence over any physical symbol. In religious language, this is known as ‘Christ in you’. When a Platonic form is equated with the physical symbol, then the danger is for the physical symbol to replace the Platonic form, or for the physical symbol to create its own Platonic form. Boersma refers to three ‘bodies of Christ’, but none of these is connected with the idea of a Platonic form of Jesus living ‘within a person’: “The three bodies of Christ are the historical body (the body born of the virgin), the Eucharistic body (signified by bread and wine), and the ecclesial body (the body of the church)” (p.113).

We have seen that the physical symbol of the Eucharist represents the Platonic form of personal identity identifying with a mental concept of Jesus. Similarly, I suggest that the physical symbol of baptism represents the Platonic form of ‘dying to self’, which happens when mental networks of personal identity fall apart and are reassembled. One gains the impression from the following quote (made earlier) that these two physical symbols have become disconnected from the Platonic forms that they represent and have themselves turned into Platonic forms. “Schmemann rejects the opposition between nature and the supernatural, and he attempts to reintegrate the two sacramentally. The ‘sacramental tapestry’ of the subtitle speaks of a carefully woven unity of nature and the supernatural, according to which created objects are sacraments to participate in the mystery of the heavenly reality of Jesus Christ... Thus, when he discusses baptism and the Eucharist—the two material elements for which we usually reserve the term sacrament—Schmemann makes a point of connecting the water, as well as the bread and the wine, with the rest of the cosmos... Schmemann, in this quotation, laments the way in which we often oppose nature and the supernatural to each other. In the church’s sacraments—baptism and Eucharist—we witness the supernatural restoration of nature to its original purpose” (p.9).

And yet, we also find Boersma saying something quite similar to what mental symmetry suggests: “The focus on faith and mystery does not come at the cost of reason and concept. While the discipline of theology means that it is initiation, it can also take the form of an academic discipline. The paradoxical combination of the seemingly mutually exclusive elements is possible because of the paradox of the incarnation...Even though God’s gift of faith is a ‘total gift’ it does become ‘human property.’ Faith is a human habit (habitus) of virtue that becomes embedded in human nature...Chenu even go so far as to applaud the medieval rise of the theological systems, understanding by the word ‘system’ ‘a logical whole, planned architecturally wherein the various elements are so disposed as to knit together and buttress the entire structure’...The truth of reason and the truth of faith are better and more truly served by maintaining theological systems in their full of integrity” (p.180). Three key concepts are mentioned here: First, there is a recognition that theology involves both academic thought and personal initiation. Second, there is the idea that theology must become embedded in human nature and that God’s faith must be made a human property. Third, there is a call to organize theology into the order-within-complexity of a general Teacher theory. Unfortunately, this is accompanied by a ‘paradoxical’ and a ‘paradox’ which largely negates the rest of the paragraph.

Mental symmetry suggests that there is no inherent paradox to either incarnation or theology when one understands how the mind functions. There may not be complete understanding, but there is analogical comprehension together with emulation, and that is the best that one can do when dealing with other people.

One final point of a more technical nature. I have suggested that incarnation as a Perceiver component, a Server component, and a Contributor component. In actual fact, Contributor thought plays a role in all three aspects of incarnation. When constructing Platonic forms, Contributor thought plays the passive role of connecting words with meanings; when inhering Server sequences with Teacher sentences, contributor thought plays primarily the passive role of determining cause-and-effect. In contrast, Contributor thought plays a far more active role when combining the Perceiver component of incarnation with the Server component, using a highway analogy, Server sequences are like roads, while Perceiver facts are like intersections. In order to actively use Contributor thought to optimize a journey, there must be an interconnected web of roads.

Piaget’s Cognitive Stages as an Analogy

Boersma’s proposed solution is to return to the thinking of medieval times. It is interesting to view this transition in the light of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. Before we do this, I should mention that I am about to use analogy to extend the application of Piaget’s stages. Habermas’ stages and Foucault’s epistemes both portray the historical progression of the general mindset of Western society, therefore it is appropriate to apply them to our discussion. Habermas does have a third stage, in which mass media uses repetition to create artificial Platonic forms as discussed earlier, and Foucault’s modern episteme describes a society in which technical thought is dominant. I am fully aware that both of these are accurate portrayals of modern society. Thus, my research is trying to ‘swim against the stream’ of the spirit of our age by providing a meta-theory that can tie together the fragments of technical thought as well as construct a concept of God sufficiently strong to overcome the influence of mass media and its cousins. In order to analyze where society could go if it chooses to develop further, one must go beyond a mere analysis of history. In this case, I am using Piaget’s stages of childhood development as an analogy, applying what he says about individuals to groups of individuals—an example of semi-rigorous analogical reasoning.

During Piaget’s preoperational stage, the young child practices magical thinking. He is incapable of thinking without the help of external objects. He practices pretense, in which he uses objects based upon surface resemblance. For instance, a banana may be used as a telephone because it looks like a telephone handset. He practices animism, believing that inanimate objects have lifelike qualities. He does not believe that objects function by themselves, but rather thinks that if the clouds are moving then someone must be blowing them, an attitude known as artificialism. Finally, he uses transductive reasoning by drawing relationships of cause-and-effect between events that are not really related.

All of these attributes can be seen in the medieval Christian mindset. I have already mentioned the attribute of magical thinking, as well as overuse of analogy based upon surface resemblance. Moving further, the medieval mind was unable to think of theology in purely internal terms but rather required the physical symbols, such as the physical bread and wine of the Eucharist, the physical institution of the church, and the physical connection of apostolic succession. The medieval mind approached the natural world with a sense of artificialism, believing that the supernatural was behind physical events. And, transubstantiation can be seen as a form of animism, because lifelike qualities are being attributed to inanimate objects.

Piaget’s preoperational stage is followed by the concrete operational stage, in which magical thinking is replaced by rational thought. In simple terms, life loses its sense of mystery. But, the child in this stage is only capable of thinking rationally with concrete objects. This corresponds to the overall mindset of rational science. It believes that nature is governed by rational law but it limits its thinking to concrete objects and refuses to consider the possibility of non-physical existence.

Boersma points out the physical fixation of rational science and appears to be recommending a return back to Piaget’s preoperational stage. In contrast, mental symmetry suggests moving forward beyond the concrete operational stage to Piaget’s formal operational stage, because it is in this stage that the child (now a teenager) acquires the ability to think rationally about abstract and imaginary concepts. In other words, I suggest that the problem isn’t rational thought, but rather the inability to apply rational thought to non-physical existence. Science is now starting to make a shift beyond the purely visible to the partially visible. In physics, elementary interaction is now attributed to virtual particles which do not actually exist, cognitive science is starting to tackle topics such as religion and spirituality, while neurology has acquired the ability to observe and manipulate aspects of human thought.

The child who leaves the preoperational stage may lose his sense of mystery, but he eventually regains something similar when he discovers the adult ‘mystery’ of romance. Copious words have been written attempting to comprehend the ‘mystery’ of the opposite sex. Why is this a mystery? Because men and women are inherently different, both physically and mentally. In general terms, I suggest that whenever two beings who are inherently different attempt to interact, there will always be a feeling of mystery. Even if they fully understand each other, each will still feel exotic to the other because each naturally functions in a way that is different than the other. That is because one person ‘understands’ another person by using a mental network to emulate another person.[9] One could compare this to an English speaker communicating with the Japanese speaker. It is possible for one to get a reasonably good idea of what the other is saying through translation. But, translation is never perfect, it is always an emulation, and this imperfection leaves room for mystery.

The apostle Paul agrees that childish mystery and childish reasoning should be left behind and replaced by adult knowledge: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13).

Maintaining a Feeling of Mystery

As I have mentioned, Boersma goes to great lengths to ensure that any discussion about deity recognizes the transcendent nature of God and does not confuse God with man. We examined this topic at the beginning of this essay when looking at transcendence. We will now return to the topic of transcendence and mystery, which will lead us to a discussion about the supernatural. As was mentioned previously, when one is dealing with physical objects such as people and galaxies, it is easy to tell that they are vastly different, because they are vastly different. Rational thought does not diminish the transcendent magnitude of a galaxy but rather reveals it. However, God—if he exists—does not inhabit the physical realm, but is an invisible being. How can one maintain a distinction between one invisible object in another? Stating this more simply, how can one tell the difference between a gvrsresz and a bbkljbgi if neither refer to physical objects? After all, both are composed of seven consonants and one vowel. One cannot point to a gvrsresz and say, “Look, you can see that this is obviously not a bbkljbgi.” I suggest that the answer lies in mental structure. If invisible items are expressions of different cognitive modules, then these invisible items will naturally remain distinct. In contrast, items which are based in the same cognitive module will tend to group together and can only be kept distinct through mental effort.

Now let us apply this to this distinction between God and man. Mental symmetry suggests that the mind contains two cognitive modules that function emotionally. Mercy thought places emotional labels on experiences, while Teacher thought feels good when it discovers order-within-complexity. Mercy thought deals with people, personal emotions, personal identity, and personal status, while Teacher thought works with words and constructs general theories. Social interaction is guided by Mercy thought and Mercy emotions, whereas academic thought involves constructing and using paradigms, which generate Teacher emotion.

Mental symmetry suggests that a concept of God emerges when a general theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity within Mercy thought. Thus, it is cognitively natural to regard God as different than people, because a concept of God is based in a Teacher mental network whereas mental images of people come from Mercy mental networks. One does not confuse the theory of gravity with John the next-door neighbor, because the theory of gravity is a general theory in Teacher thought, while my mental concept of John is composed of a collection of emotional experiences within Mercy thought. In essence, a concept of God is like the theory of gravity viewed as a person. Except God is the ultimate universal theory that ties together all other lesser general theories such as the theory of gravity. This leads us naturally to Christian attributes of God such as universality, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and perfection. After all, the theory of gravity applies universally, it sees everything that we do, it exists everywhere, it exerts its force everywhere, and it applies without exception.

Integrating Natural and Supernatural

Now let us turn our attention to the nonphysical. Boersma says that his goal is to integrate the natural with the supernatural. In order to integrate two realms, one needs to know the nature of these realms. Obviously, it is not possible to determine the nature of the supernatural by studying the natural. Similarly, it is not possible to come up with direct physical evidence for a non-physical realm. Thus, one is forced to use analogical reasoning by comparing partial evidence from several areas and looking for common elements.

Since we are approaching the topic from a Christian perspective, let us begin by examining what the Bible says. The Bible describes two main categories of non-physical beings: angels and spirits. Biblical references to angels and spirits can easily be scanned by searching a computer Bible program for the appropriate Hebrew or Greek terms. When one examines these references, a number of characteristics emerge. Notice that I am not asking the Mercy question of whether angels or spirits are good or bad. Instead, I am posing the Perceiver question of whether angels and spirits fall into different fundamental categories of beings.

The distinction between angel and spirit as well as the connection of these two with non-physical existence is brought out in the following passage: ”Paul began crying out in the Council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!’ As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’” (Acts 23).

An angel is called malaach in the Old Testament and angelos in the New Testament. Both of these words mean messenger and are used to describe either human or non-human messengers. In almost every reference, an angel is either delivering a message or performing a task. An angel always refers to a distinct being with a defined personality. Angels function independently of people and never does it mention an angel inhabiting a human. While humans have physical bodies, angels appear to be associated with names, and the term messenger itself implies an intrinsic connection with words.

The term ruach in the Old Testament and pneuma in the New Testament is used for spirit. A spirit is quite different than an angel. Sometimes, a spirit is portrayed as an independent non-physical being. Other times, the term spirit refers to a deep desire within a human person. Ruach is also the word for ‘wind’, which describes a physical force which lacks inherent shape.

Unlike angels who function independently of humans, spirits often inhabit humans and interact with human desires. There appears to be a symbiotic relationship between human desire and spirits. A spirit can amplify a human desire or express this human desire in a non-physical manner, but this amplification or ability will only be present as long as the spirit is inhabiting the human. It appears that a spirit can only inhabit a person with corresponding human desires. If these human desires change, then the spirit will leave as well. If the spirit is ‘cast out’ and the human desires do not change, then the spirit can return. In a similar manner, the spirit of the human is described as the part of his being that energizes him and gives him life. The Bible also talks about a Holy Spirit, who is different than the spirit of a human or a spirit as an independent being.

In contrast, the word soul (nephesh or psyche) always refers to a natural life form, either human or animal. When applied to a person, the term soul refers to the person himself. Thus, a person has a spirit but is a soul. The Bible talks about the soul leaving the body at death and also refers to disembodied souls, indicating that the soul describes the non-physical aspect of personal identity. If one distinguishes between mind and brain, then what psychology calls mind appears to correspond to the soul.

In summary, biblical evidence suggests that angels and humans are both independent beings who exist in independent external realms, whereas spirits interact heavily with humans and can exist symbiotically with humans. Biblical references imply that a human is a soul and has a body and a spirit. When a person dies the body ceases to function and what remains is a soul with a spirit.

Now let us turn our attention to the cognitive realm using the theory of mental symmetry. One can see that the left side of the diagram of mental symmetry is symmetrical with the right, which explains the label mental symmetry. Thus, the mind itself is symmetrical. However, the interaction between the mind and the physical world is not symmetrical. Humans live in a world composed of Mercy experiences arranged into Perceiver objects, use Server thought to change the world through actions, and use Teacher thought to communicate with others. Saying this more simply, human concrete thought interacts with the physical world while humans use abstract thought to build understanding and communicate with other humans. This defines natural thought for humans. As was mentioned earlier, it is the presence of the physical body that makes concrete thought concrete.

However, it is also possible for the human mind to function in a mirror-image way that is not naturally human, in which Perceiver switches with Server and Teacher with Mercy. One sees this illustrated by the professional, who is identified by a Teacher word such as butcher, barber, or physician. A professional is viewed primarily as a person possessing a collection of Server skills, not as a person inhabiting the Perceiver object of a physical body. Normal human interaction emphasizes personal identity. For instance, I interact with John and not with Jerry, because John is not the same person as Jerry. Professional interaction emphasizes skill over personal identity. For instance, I want to make sure that I am dealing with a skilled physician and I do not care whether this is John or Jerry. Normal human activity is guided by Perceiver location: Am I in my home or at my friend’s place? Am I in Canada or in Japan? Professional activity, in contrast, focuses upon the job rather than the location: Am I performing a hip operation or filling a tooth cavity? The physical location of this activity, or the person receiving my service are of secondary importance. Thus, I perform my skill in some random location, and then move to another random location to perform another aspect of my skill. I may do a surgery in Vancouver and then do a similar surgery in Nairobi. In other words, what actually defines the ‘location’ of the professional is not his physical location but rather his skill. He may travel around the world, but wherever he goes he is always performing the same skill.

The Internet provides another example of mirror-image ‘movement’. A webpage consists primarily of a series of Teacher words rather than Mercy experiences. The physical location of the computer that generates this webpage could be anywhere in the world, illustrating that when Perceiver thought does not provide the map, physical location actually becomes irrelevant. When one clicks on a link to enter another webpage, one is ‘teleporting’ from a computer at one unknown physical location to another computer at another unknown physical location. These two computers could be located on opposite ends of the globe, but as far as the person browsing the web is concerned, they are only one click away. On the other hand, two webpages that deal with totally different information could be stored on the same computer, but they are ‘far away’ because it takes many clicks to get from one webpage to the other.

Thus, we see two symmetrical ways in which the human mind can function, one compatible with the human body and the other a mirror-image of natural human activity. These two ways of functioning can interact, but they interact as self-contained entities, each operating within their own structured environment.

Behind all of this lies a more nebulous realm of mental networks, which provide the motivation for both abstract and concrete thought. Mental networks interact symbiotically with both human and professional activity. Ideally, abstract and concrete thought provide the structure while mental networks provide the motivation. However, mental networks can also drive a person to function in an irrational manner, or can emotionally lock an individual into a profession or culture.

I suggested earlier that concepts about the invisible will naturally remain distinct if they are expressions of distinct mental circuits. It appears that human existence corresponds to concrete thought, angelic existence to professional abstract thought, and spiritual existence to mental networks. All three of these are cognitively distinct. Thus, if a person has difficulty keeping these mentally distinct, then this suggests that the corresponding mental circuits are incomplete within his mind.

Turning our attention to anecdotal evidence of the angelic and the spiritual, almost all angel stories and UFO encounters begin with a supernatural being teleporting into some location, performing an activity or delivering a message, and then teleporting out of the location. For instance, “I looked back and the person who helped me had disappeared,” or “the UFO started moving at high speed and then suddenly vanished.” Many of these stories also talk about angels or aliens naturally existing as beings of energy and temporarily occupying physical bodies in order to interact with humans.

One can find a description of spiritual existence in Swedenborg’s portrayal of heaven. According to Swedenborg, existence within heaven is guided by a person’s ‘ruling loves’. In the language of mental symmetry, a person is defined by his core mental networks and all lesser mental networks will either become consistent with these core mental networks or else fall away. In religious language, a person will become pure in the sense that all of his being will express his fundamental nature—whether good or bad. In order to live sanely in such a realm, a person would have to construct a mental concept of God sufficiently universal to encompass all aspects of human existence, allow this mental concept of God to form a Teacher mental network, and then submit every other mental network to this core Teacher mental network.

Swedenborg’s theology is not Christian, primarily because it accepts the spiritual while rejecting the realm of Teacher thought. First, Swedenborg says that all angels are humans who have died, and that there is no such thing as a being who was created as an angel, thus Swedenborg rejects the concept of finite beings who live within Teacher thought. Second, Swedenborg does not associate God with a universal understanding in Teacher thought but insists that God has a physical body like humans, while somehow remaining infinite. Finally, if one examines Swedenborg’s description of heaven, its inhabitants are all emotionally trapped in their respective locations by the ruling loves of their Mercy mental networks. None of its inhabitants possess the Teacher mental networks of professionalism that would allow them to perform similar skills in different locations.

Functioning as a Specific Entity within Universality

I suggested previously that an image of God emerges when a general Teacher understanding applies to personal identity. A profession functions within a general understanding. Both involve Teacher thought, but a general theory ties everything together, while a profession involves a fragment of understanding or finite collection of skills within the general understanding. For instance, suppose that I am a worker building a skyscraper. As a finite individual, my professional skill plays only a small role in the entire project, and it is not possible for me to gain a total understanding of what it means to build a skyscraper. However, it is possible for me to become an expert in my skill and to gain some knowledge of the overall task.

Obviously, in order to place my skill within a general understanding, it must be possible to compare my personal skill with the general understanding. In religious terms, in order to be righteous, it must be possible to compare my nature with the inherent nature of God. Thus, if the nature of God is completely dissimilar to the nature of man, as Boersma suggests, then it becomes very difficult to define righteousness.

A similar interaction between finite and infinite exists within Mercy thought. My physical body is a finite chunk of physical matter that occupies a finite location. But, this physical body inhabits a physical universe that is, practically speaking, universal. Similarly, personal identity is mentally represented as a collection of mental networks within Mercy thought, while a sense of divine spirit emerges as Mercy thought sees how all experiences and mental networks interact. Because the physical universe is solid it is possible for a person to ignore the rest of the universe and simply move unthinkingly from one physical location to another. The concept of divine spirit that will then emerge is a ‘spirit of this world’ because it is based upon the physical environment. For instance, our world is now interconnected with a global web of travel, commerce, and communication. This will naturally cause a concept of Gaia to emerge—a worldwide divine spirit. In a similar manner, living in the concrete jungle of the city or the real jungle will also cause the concept of divine spirit to form within Mercy thought.

However, it is also possible to use Perceiver thought and Teacher understanding to comprehend the interaction that is occurring in the external world. This will also lead to a concept of divine spirit, but in this case invisible Platonic forms are the mental building blocks, and not external physical structures. These Platonic forms will cause a person to view the world in a totally different way. In religious language this is called a ‘spirit of God who is based in truth that the world cannot receive.’

‘Third culture kids’ provide a partial illustration of this. A person who grows up in one culture is drawn by his mental networks to the specific experiences and practices of his culture, and he experiences culture shock when he tries to live in another culture. The third culture kid has grown up in more than one culture and therefore is not emotionally attached to any specific culture. Instead, he finds himself resonating with other third culture kids—regardless of the specific cultures involved. For instance, a third culture kid who grew up in Japan and Canada will find himself more attracted to another third culture kid who grew up in the totally unrelated cultures of Brazil and France, than he will to a monoculture individual who grew up in either Japan or Canada. Thus, what he finds attractive is the Platonic form of culture, rather than some specific culture. For him, the ideal country is everywhere and nowhere, because every country contains aspects of culture that are interesting, but no single country contains all desirable aspects.

Applying this to Heavenly Participation, Boersma himself is a sort of theological ‘third culture kid’ because he is examining Catholic thought from a Protestant background and attempting to present a ‘third culture’ that blends these two. Thus, while Boersma verbally equates Platonic forms with physical symbols in Catholic fashion, he himself is probably focusing upon Platonic forms and not physical symbols—because he is a third culture kid. However, the typical Catholic believer who grows up in a culture of physical symbols and sacraments will not think like Boersma. Instead, there will be a strong tendency to apply magical thinking to physical symbols and to approach Christianity from a superstitious perspective, which one sees illustrated by the culture of countries in which Catholicism plays a major role.

Flesh versus Spirit

Looking at this from a slightly different perspective, I suggest that one is looking at a contrast between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. When emotional experiences from the environment form mental networks and these mental networks guide behavior, then motivation is extrinsic. In order to make motivation intrinsic, these mental networks must be torn apart and reassembled.

This type of mental reassembling happens in education when a student is told, ‘Say it in your own words and don’t just repeat what I said.” ‘Repeating what someone else says’ is an example of extrinsic motivation, while ‘saying it in your own words’ reflects intrinsic motivation.

One sees extrinsic motivation illustrated by the behavior of the parent when he finds himself acting ‘just like his father or mother.’ Mental networks that represent mother and father will naturally develop in Mercy thought within the childish mind. When these mental networks are triggered, then they will attempt to express themselves. This explains why little children have such an annoying tendency to replicate the mannerisms of their parents. When a young child grows up and finds himself in the role of a parent, then these same mental networks representing father and mother will once again become triggered, and the parent will find himself instinctively responding to his children in the same way that his parents responded to him. If the mental networks representing mother and father are never torn apart and reassembled, they will naturally attempt to replicate the behavior of mother or father whenever triggered.

The apostle Paul contrasts these two forms of motivation in his discussion of flesh versus spirit, and he says that the goal is to become motivated by the spirit rather than the flesh. He makes it clear that this involves tearing apart childish mental networks and reassembling them in integrated form, held together by a mental concept of God, and guided internally by incarnation: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete. You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we” (II Corinthians 10).

In religious language, extrinsic motivation is idolatrous, because it is driven by structures that are ‘swallowed whole’ from the environment. Intrinsic motivation, in contrast, is motivated by Platonic forms. Remember that a Platonic form is based in physical objects and experiences. But, these objects and experiences have been mentally reassembled to create an internal image that is more perfect and more ideal. Real objects can be enjoyed as partial illustrations of Platonic forms, just as the third culture kid enjoys cultural experience and loves traveling to new countries, but one no longer idolizes specific objects, cultures, or countries.

If physical reality had no inherent structure, then there would be nothing for the mind to learn, because it acquires its initial content from the structure of the physical world and the physical body. The problem is not the physical world with its solid structure but rather a mind that swallows structure whole without mentally digesting it and then submits to this undigested, externally imposed structure. Similarly, rote learning is not the fundamental problem in this education because rote learning provides the initial content for education. Instead, the problem is when rote learning does not lead to critical thinking. Thus, we find ourselves back at Piaget’s stages of child development, this time applied properly to the developing child. Learning starts with blind faith, idolatry, extrinsic motivation, and rote learning. Critical thinking makes this content ‘my own’ by analyzing, digesting, and reassembling this externally imposed content.

This process of mentally reassembling extrinsic content to build Platonic forms becomes short-circuited when Platonic forms are equated with physical symbols. When this happens, then Platonic forms must be protected by separating these physical symbols from normal existence. For instance, the bread and wine of Eucharist must be stored in ‘holy’ locations, handled by ‘holy’ men, and administered during ‘holy’ ceremonies.

One can find a secular illustration of holiness in weights and measures. The length of one meter is a Platonic form. However, until 1960 this Platonic form was equated with the physical length of a specific physical bar of platinum stored near Paris. This bar was preserved in a special location under controlled conditions and only selected experts were authorized to occasionally access this bar. These precautions were necessary to preserve the purity of the physical symbol that was equated with the Platonic form.

This essay has focused upon the Catholic practice of equating the Platonic forms of Christianity with physical symbols. Protestant Christianity bases its truth upon blind faith in the Bible. I have suggested elsewhere that all education begins with blind faith in a textbook, and that one main purpose of religion is to form a valid mental concept of God by building a general Teacher theory that applies to personal identity.

As we saw when looking at Habermas’ first stage, blind faith believes that truth is proclaimed by people with emotional status. Blind faith in a holy book can be transformed into a mental concept of God if a person believes that this holy book is the word of God. Mentally speaking, this means believing that a Teacher mental network was the source of the book rather than a Mercy mental network, because a Teacher mental network is used to represent God while Mercy mental networks are used to represent people. This transition can only occur if several factors are present: First, the content of the holy book must describe a general theory that applies to personal identity. If this requirement is met, then the holy book can claim to be a word about God. Second, the structure and content of the holy book must transcends the knowledge of the society in which it was written. If this requirement is met, then it is possible to claim that the book was not written by humans, but rather was dictated by superhuman agents to humans. Such a holy book can then be viewed as the word of God. Saying this another way, if no Mercy mental network can claim responsibility for the holy book, then it is reasonable to postulate that a Teacher mental network wrote the book, but only if the content of the book forms a Teacher mental network. In religious language, such a holy book becomes a revelation by God about God.

I suggest that the Protestant method of the holy book is cognitively superior to the Catholic method of holy symbols—when it is actually followed. That is because a book is written in words, which are the raw material for Teacher thought. In contrast, the Catholic method uses visual images, which must then be translated into the abstract language of Teacher thought. In addition, a book can be studied apart from its authors, making it possible for the reader to focus upon Teacher emotions of understanding without being distracted by Mercy feelings. In contrast, holy symbols and holy rituals are saturated with Mercy emotions, which makes it difficult to understand the Teacher theory that lies behind these symbols. Finally, reading forces the mind to form images internally, leading naturally to Platonic forms, while physical symbols present the mind with ready-made images.

Boersma short-circuits the Protestant path to forming a mental concept of God by saying that the church is responsible for the Bible and not God. “The Bible is, first and foremost, the church’s book. Consequently, Scripture itself, throughout its pages, points us to the church as the living embodiment of the truth. The church, not Scripture, is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Of course, we should in no way neglect the centrality of Scripture, or its ability to sit in judgment on errors in the church...Thus, an authentically evangelical view should begin with the church as the primary object of evangelical resourcement” (p.106).

Let us examine Boersma’s claims that ‘the Bible is first and foremost the church’s book’ or that ‘the church, not Scripture, is the pillar and foundation of the truth.’ If this is true, then the church should fully understand the content of the Bible, because the author of a book understands a book better than anyone else. But, Boersma also states, as quoted earlier, that “Human beings could never claim to comprehend fully the truth of God, even if one accounted for the fact that we were dealing with divine revelation and with the church’s officially proclaimed dogmatic statements of truth” (p.166). In contrast, I suggest that the church partially understands the content of the Bible, and that one can learn about the Bible by studying the church fathers.

Boersma also suggested earlier that “The doctrine of the church has suffered chronically from the Protestant emphasis on the invisible church and particularly from the anti-institutional fear of hierarchical structures that appears common among evangelicals” (p.105). Thus, we can conclude that Boersma is talking here about the physical institution of a church peopled by physical humans and not an invisible Platonic form of a church guided by superhuman agents.

Just as it does not make sense to insist that one cannot paint and then claim to be the source of the Mona Lisa, so I suggest that it does not make sense to claim that the church is the pillar and foundation of truth and that the Bible is first and foremost the church’s book and then turn around and claim that human beings cannot fully comprehend the truth of God.

If one compares the Bible with other books from that era, one does conclude, as Boersma suggests, that the Bible is far too clever to have been written by normal human beings. But, this leads to the conclusion that someone more clever than the church dictated the Bible and that the church is only the custodian of the Bible—claiming anything more would be intellectual theft of the highest order.

Matthew 16

Matthew 16 contains the quote about Peter being given ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ which is traditionally used to support the supremacy of the institutional Catholic Church. Therefore, we will take a few paragraphs to look at this passage.

It begins with the religious experts coming to Jesus and asking for a ‘sign from heaven’. He answers that they know how to go from physical symbol to hidden understanding when interpreting the weather—‘it will be fair weather, for the sky is red’, but that they are unable to go beyond physical symbols when dealing with more fundamental issues.

The disciples of Jesus then forget to buy bread. Jesus responds by warning them about ‘the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees’, and they think he is talking about physical bread. Jesus reminds them of the feeding of the 5000, which we discussed earlier when looking at John 6, and says “How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?” (v.11) Thus, Jesus’ comment backs up our earlier conclusion that Jesus was not talking about physical bread in John 6. The disciples then realize that Jesus is talking about Platonic forms and not physical symbols. “Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (v.12).

Jesus asks the disciples what others think he is. (Notice that he is not asking the Mercy question of how much personal status others assign to him, but rather the Perceiver question of what type of person others think he is.) The disciples answer by comparing Jesus with John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah, three important religious people. Peter, in contrast, recognizes that Jesus is not based in Mercy mental networks but rather has his source in the Teacher mental network of God. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v.16). Jesus responds by saying that Peter’s knowledge did not come from Mercy mental networks based in visible people but rather the Teacher mental network of an invisible God. “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (v.17).

Now comes the passage about Peter being the rock and being given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. As this Greek lesson makes clear (scroll to the bottom of the page), the verb tense being used should be translated “and whatever you bind on the earth will have been bound in heaven”, as one finds in the NASB, suggesting that the symbol on earth is a reflection of a Platonic form in heaven and not the other way around.

This is brought out in the very next paragraph where Peter uses his newly given authority to ‘bind things on Earth’ to take Jesus aside and rebuke him for saying that he will die and be resurrected. Jesus responds by focusing upon the Platonic form behind Peter’s words, “Get behind me, Satan!” and says that Peter is being driven by human Mercy mental networks and not by a Teacher mental network of God. “You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (v.23). Jesus then turns to the disciples and says that death-and-resurrection is actually a Platonic form. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (v.24).

The next paragraph contains the story of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus appears to Peter and two other disciples as a Platonic form. “And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matthew 17:2). Peter responds by calling for the construction of physical symbols. “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (v.4). This comment causes Peter to lose sight of the Platonic form. “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them” (v.5). And Peter is told to listen to the words of Jesus. “A voice out of the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!’” (v.5).

In conclusion, the thrust of the entire passage is the supremacy of Platonic forms over physical symbols, and the necessity of following a Teacher mental network rather than Mercy mental networks. Peter is commended when he follows a Teacher mental network rather than a Mercy mental network, he is rebuked when he places a Mercy mental network above a Teacher mental network, he is told that death-and-resurrection is a Platonic form, and he is rebuked for focusing upon physical symbols rather than Platonic forms. Thus, I suggest that using this passage as a justification for the pre-eminence of the physical institution of the Catholic Church is like ‘building a Tabernacle for Jesus’, which will tend to cause a person to lose sight of the Platonic form of Jesus and to stop listening to the words of Jesus. This does not mean that the Catholic Church with its physical symbols is wrong. Rather, I am suggesting that a focus upon physical symbols—even accurate physical symbols—will cloud a person’s vision of Platonic forms and detract attention from the biblical message.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

I should emphasize that Boersma does not talk about Mary, therefore the material in this section has nothing to do with Heavenly Participation. However, Mariology does play a defining role in the Catholic Church, and I suggest that the Catholic concepts which Boersma does mention lead naturally to a form of Mariology. Therefore, I would like to discuss Catholic belief in Mary from the viewpoint of Platonic forms, the Church, holiness, and personal salvation. Unless otherwise indicated, the quotes in this section are taken from a short, well-referenced history of the church and its view of Mary through the centuries, written by Sr. Isabell Naumann, a professor at a Catholic seminary.

Analyzing Mariology means entering the medieval realm of analogies combined with the politically incorrect topic of gender. In order to make this discussion semi-rigorous, we will use the psychological characteristics of typical female thought and male thought to define male and female, and we will base our analogies upon cognitive similarities. In other words, if cognitive modules interact in a specific manner in one context then they will probably interact in a similar way in other contexts.

Mental symmetry suggests that female thought tends to emphasize the three emotional modules of Mercy, Exhorter, and Teacher, while male thought emphasizes the three confidence modules of Server, Contributor, and Perceiver. Obviously, this is a generalization which is heavily modified by cognitive style. For instance, the female Mercy person tends to exhibit more ‘female traits’ than the female Contributor person. Saying this another way, female thought focuses upon mental networks, whereas male thought emphasizes structure and tends to avoid dealing directly with mental networks, as elaborated in this webpage or summarized in this Psychology Today article. The female focus upon mental networks can also be seen in Belenky’s stages of development. Because we are dealing with the essence of typical male thought and female thought, one can speak of the Platonic form of male and female.

With this in mind, let us examine the virgin birth from a cognitive perspective. In simple terms, the doctrine of the virgin birth, which comes from the Bible, claims that Jesus had a human mother—Mary, but that his father was the Holy Spirit.

A Platonic form takes existing experiences from the physical world and reconnects them together in a novel way—guided by a general Teacher understanding—to produce an imaginary image. Saying this another way, the experiences come from the world while the connections between these experiences come from a mental concept of God. Saying this in the language of male and female, a Platonic form has a human mother and a divine father, which corresponds to the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth.

Notice that a Platonic form is created out of Mercy experiences which are not special, but which are then made special by connecting through Contributor thought to Teacher understanding. The end result is an imaginary Mercy experience which is special, because it is more idealistic and less flawed than normal Mercy experiences. Saying this in the language of male and female, ‘female’ identity is transformed through a relationship with ‘male’ incarnation into a ‘female’ form that possesses Teacher elegance and Mercy flawlessness. Obviously, this is a generalization—as are all Platonic forms. Individuals following this process may be either male or female, but as a group going through this process, they can be represented by the Platonic form of female. Thus, this analogy would apply to ‘the church’, which comes from the Greek word ecclesia, which simply describes a group of people who are ‘called out’.

This analogy is found in the writings of Paul: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5). In other words, the church is like the bride of Christ. In the physical realm, a husband is incapable of making his wife beautiful, however when dealing with the Platonic form of male and female, an incarnation ‘husband’ is capable of making a church ‘wife’ beautiful and flawless, as described by Paul.

Now let us examine what happens when the focus is upon physical symbols rather than Platonic forms. In our look at John 6, we saw that the crowd fixated upon the bread and was incapable of comprehending the analogy of bread from heaven, and it focused upon the physical parents and hometown of Jesus and was unable to evaluate any unseen connection with God. Obviously, if this crowd were told about the virgin birth of Jesus (which it probably was), the focus would be upon the physical side of the story: Mary got pregnant and gave birth to a boy. And, what would matter is physical connections. In their minds, Jesus could not be special because his family was not special. But, by the same token if Jesus did end up being special, then his family would be regarded as special as well. Putting this together, one concludes that a Mercy-based perspective will naturally exalt Mary because she gave birth to a son who is believed to be the incarnation of God.

When a Platonic form is equated with a physical symbol, then the Platonic form no longer comes from many experiences in the world, but rather is based in specific experiences which must be kept separate from the world. Thus, Mary will be mentally transformed from being regarded as merely a Jewish mother to being viewed as a semi-divine being who is totally different from all other women. [10]

Examining church history tells us that Mary was given the title of Mother of God quite early. In the words of the 5th century St. Cyril of Alexandria, “I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if Our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?” St. Cyril also wrote, “Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! You did enclose in your sacred womb the One Who cannot be encompassed. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! With the shepherds we sing the praise of God, and with the angels the song of thanksgiving—Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will! Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Through you came to us the Conqueror and triumphant Vanquisher of hell.”

This focus upon the physical role played by Mary will give a female slant to the process of personal salvation. The apostle Paul in Romans 5-8 uses a male analogy to compare the rebellion of Adam with the salvation of Jesus, within the context of describing the internal process of ‘dying to self’. In contrast, the early church used the female analogy of comparing the rebellion of Eve with the obedience of Mary, an analogy which is not found in the Bible. In the words of the 2nd century St. Irenaeus of Lyon, “Just as Eve, wife of Adam, yet still a virgin, became by her disobedience the cause of death for herself and the whole human race, so Mary, too, espoused yet a Virgin, became by her obedience the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race.... And so it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by Mary’s obedience. For what the virgin Eve bound fast by her refusal to believe, this the Virgin Mary unbound by her belief.”

We saw earlier that when a physical symbol becomes equated with a Platonic form, then the purity of the physical symbol must be preserved in order to protect the Platonic form. If people focus upon the physical role played by Mary in the virgin birth, rather than the Platonic involvement of God or the Platonic form represented by the virgin birth, then like any holy item, the holiness of Mary will have to be protected. And, because Mary is the Mother of God, the holiness of Mary will have to be protected in major ways. This is reflected in the four primary Catholic doctrines about the Virgin Mary. First, Perpetual Virginity says that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, a belief which is contradicted by the biblical statement that Jesus had younger brothers and sisters. Second, Immaculate Conception states that Mary, unlike other human beings, was born without sin. This doctrine also is not found in the Bible. Third, the Assumption states that Mary entered heaven bodily. Again, this is not mentioned in Scripture, which only talks about Enoch and Elijah bodily entering heaven. These three extra-biblical doctrines were added to the original concept of referring to Mary as the Mother of God. Notice that these four doctrines encase the physical birth of Jesus within a bubble of holiness. Putting these three doctrines together, the mother of Jesus was born into the world sinless, the womb in which Jesus was born was never sullied by any human man or other child, and Mary entered heaven with her physical body.

It is interesting that Jesus himself downplays his physical connection with his mother Mary: “While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 20). In other words, Jesus defines his family not by Mercy-based physical connections but rather by Teacher-based righteousness—acting in a manner that is consistent with a mental concept of God. In addition, Jesus downplays the physical side of his birth and emphasizes the Teacher side. “While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.’ But He said, ‘On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it’” (Luke 20).

If it was natural in the Roman era to focus upon physical reality and ignore Platonic symbols and cognitive transformation, then why are the writings of Paul consistent with a cognitive Teacher-based perspective? Paul himself says that his thinking and behavior began just like the others around them, but that he then acquired knowledge from a superhuman source: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Galatians 1). Thus, we find that biblical content about Mary and personal salvation is cognitively far superior to the opinions given by ‘doctors of the Catholic Church’, consistent with our hypothesis that the Bible is an inhumanly clever book. And, we find Paul explicitly stating that his knowledge is inhumanly clever. Thus, we find ourselves concluding that not only is the Catholic Church merely a custodian of the Bible, but it is actually a flawed custodian of the Bible. And, if we compare the doctrines of Mariology with our look at John 6, we find that they match up more with the thinking of the crowd than with the words of Jesus.

We saw earlier that Medieval thinking required physical symbols as mental anchors for analogies. Similarly, the medieval mind used Mary as a physical symbol to anchor the Platonic form of the church. Saying this another way, the idea of the church was too abstract, but Mary was a concrete individual who could be visualized. Naumann describes this viewpoint. “It was no longer the knowledge about Mary’s importance in the history of salvation that stood in the foreground, but Mary’s effectiveness in the here and now. Here we have a development from the truth of Mary’s position in the objective work of salvation to her influence on the subjective course of salvation: the Mother of God became the Mother of the faithful, the ancilla domini, the domina and regina nostra who in the present time fulfills an essential task in distributing the fruits of salvation. The typology Mary-Church is no longer seen as purely metaphorical, but, rather, Mary is the model for the virginal-fruitful Church and thereason for the Church’s salvific efficacy toward its members. This development remained prevalent throughout the medieval period.” The Wikipedia article adds that “From the middle of the 11th century onwards, more and more churches, including many of Europe’s greatest cathedrals (e.g. Notre Dame de Paris and Notre-Dame de Bayeux among others), were dedicated to Mary. Marian pilgrimage developed large popular followings and prayers such as the Regina Coeli were composed. At the height of the pilgrimage movement in the 11th and 12th centuries, hundreds of people were traveling almost constantly from one Marian shrine to the next.”

Boersma says that the Enlightenment eliminated the medieval sense of divine mystery. Similarly, Naumann says that “The effects of the Enlightenment on the Church were particularly felt in the area of Marian devotion and teaching. In contrast to the more demonstrative and effusive Catholic representation of Marian truth and devotion of the Baroque, the time of Enlightenment presented a reduction of Marian doctrine to a purely moral level of values and virtues associated with a milieu of bourgeoisie. There is a marked descent from the praise of Mary’s glories as Queen of Heaven to her being a model character of a mother’s love and concern for home duties. This Marian content, rationalized and reduced to mere morality and ethics by many Church authorities, was kept alive to a significant degree in popular piety.” Thus, Mary became reduced to a Platonic form that represents various attributes of the model housewife.

Like Boersma, the 19th century attempted to reawaken feelings of mysticism by turning its back upon secular thought and looking to earlier sources for inspiration. As Naumann says, “The influence of the Romantic affected the concept of the Church in a way which brought again to the fore the inner reality of the Church and its ‘organic’ unity. Through the impact of ‘Modernism’ and the counter ‘Orientation’ on neo-scholasticism, the Church increasingly closed itself off to the spirit of the time and became defensive. Within this atmosphere of Catholicism the nineteenth century inaugurated again a re-awakening of Marian piety marked by Marian pilgrimages and apparitions, and inspired by the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which commenced the so-called Marian century.”

Thus, we see that Mariology is actually an aspect of folk religion and not theology. Devotion to Mary was weakest during the Enlightenment with its focus upon Teacher understanding, and much stronger during the Middle Ages as well as the Romantic 19th century, with their focus upon personal Mercy experiences. This is consistent with our earlier suggestion that veneration of Mary is a byproduct of Mercy-based thought.

After Vatican I, the attention turned from physical symbols back to Platonic forms. In Naumann’s words, “This notion of the inner reality of the Church was given a strong impetus by Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, in which he brought together the Body of Christ and the ‘People of God’ united to Christ, and Mediator Dei. The different streams of this newly-inspired reflection upon the Church’s inner reality, its mystery, flowed into the discussions of Vatican II, and placed the Church at the center of attention.”

But, this transition occurred after centuries of devotion to the Virgin Mary, buttressed by countless shrines, cathedrals, and institutions constructed in her honor. Anything that is repeated by so many people over so many centuries will naturally turn into a Platonic form. Thus, Mary, who originally was used as a physical symbol to represent the Platonic form of the church, now became viewed as a Platonic symbol alongside the church.

In Naumann’s words, “The awareness of returning the image of the Church to patristic notions also brought into the ecclesiological foreground the patristic image of Mary and the Church intertwined. The task of Mary is also the task of the Church: ‘As it is the mother role of Mary to give to the “World” the God-man, so it is the mother role of the Church, culminating in the celebration of the “Eucharist” , to give us also Christ as the head, sacrifice and nourishment for the members of his mystical body.’ Finally, the ‘Eschatological’ significance of the close association of Mary and the Church finds expression in the dogmatic definition of Mary’s Assumption.”

Naumann adds a quote from de Lubac, who Boersma also quotes: “De Lubac also refers to the patristic tradition in which ‘the same biblical symbols are applied, either in turn or simultaneously, with one and the same ever-increasing profusion, to the Church and Our Lady.’ All the sources of the Church’s tradition point to the fact that everywhere the Church finds in Mary ‘its type and model, its point of origin and perfection: “The form of our mother the Church is according to the form of his [Christ’s] mother”.’”

Notice the natural cognitive parallel between the role of Mary and the role of the Catholic Church being portrayed in these quotes. Originally, physical symbols were equated with Platonic forms, therefore these physical symbols had to be separated from normal life, and the institutional church with its sacred spaces became the custodian of these physical symbols responsible for protecting their sanctity. Thus, the church with its holy symbols became the vehicle to lead people to a knowledge of Platonic forms. Similarly, the Virgin Mary gave her womb as a sacred space to be the custodian for the physical body of Jesus. Thus, the Virgin Mary with her virgin womb became the vehicle to the people to knowledge of Jesus and God.

The Platonic form of Mary now became an integral aspect of the central Christian doctrine of personal salvation. Naumann says that Pope John Paul II “speaks of a ‘Marian dimension of the life of Christ’s disciple’” that is, Mary’s motherhood is ‘a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual. . . . At the foot of the Cross there begins that special entrusting of humanity to the Mother of Christ. . . .’ Like the apostle John, the Christian who responds to this gift ‘“welcomes” the Mother of Christ “into his own home” and brings her into everything that makes up his inner life, that is to say into his human and Christian “I”. . . . This filial relationship, this self-entrusting of a child to its mother, not only has its beginning in Christ but also can be said to be definitively directed toward him.’ The Church always maintains a close link with Mary ‘which embraces, in the saving mystery, the past, the present and the future, and venerates her as the spiritual mother of humanity and the advocate of grace.’”

We have seen how equating Platonic forms with symbols and focusing upon symbols rather than Platonic forms modifies the biblical doctrine of personal salvation. In contrast, I suggest that a cognitive viewpoint can explain the biblical doctrine of personal salvation.

Looking at this very briefly, one begins with the Christian doctrine of original sin, which says that humans are incapable of saving themselves but need to be saved by God through Jesus. Examining this from a cognitive perspective, one observes that living in a physical body programs the childish mind with flawed Mercy mental networks. We have already seen that childish thought leads to magical thinking, which bases analogy upon surface resemblance, and idolatry, which pursues extrinsic motivation. In addition, the childish mind tries to identify with pleasurable experiences, instead of using goal-oriented behavior to reach them, and tries to deny unpleasant aspects of personal identity instead of changing them. For a simple example, if a child sees a cookie then he will try to take it, and if he is caught taking a cookie then he will try to deny it. Notice that in each of these cases the problem is not with the Mercy experiences themselves, but rather with the connections between Mercy experiences.

Thus, the Mercy mental networks of childish identity need to be torn apart and reassembled, but this cannot be done when the mind is built upon these Mercy mental networks, for that would be like using my arms to rip my body apart—the pain would be too great and as soon as my body started fragmenting I would lose the ability to use my arms. The solution is to build a Teacher mental network that applies to personal identity—which is by definition a concept of God—and to use this Teacher mental network to reassemble childish Mercy mental networks. The pleasure of Teacher understanding will balance the pain of personal fragmentation, while the structure of the Teacher mental network will hold the mind together as Mercy mental networks are being fragmented. In order to carry out this process, a Contributor incarnation is required who can translate between Teacher understanding and Mercy identity. In religious language, a person is saved from original sin by God through Jesus.

Unfortunately, if the childish mind attempts to construct a Teacher understanding, then childish Mercy mental networks will impose their structure upon any Teacher mental network of forms, leading to rationalization rather than rational thought, which will express itself as a concept of God that is formed in the image of personal identity. Instead of understanding what it means to be mentally whole, a person will feel good about his personal inadequacies. Thus, we conclude that personal salvation must begin with an accurate Teacher understanding that is received from some outside, superhuman source.

The New Jerusalem

We will finish this essay by returning briefly to Heavenly Participation. Boersma ends his book by looking forward to ‘the New Jerusalem’ in which heaven and earth are intertwined and ‘there is no longer any temple’. “This sacramental participation will reach its perfection in the New Jerusalem, which John describes as a ‘new heaven and a new earth.’ In this eschatological reality, the sacramental intimacy or real presence will be such that heaven and earth will seem nearly indistinguishable. Earthly participation in heavenly realities will be such that God’s ‘dwelling’ will be among us without the existence of a temple in the city” (p.187).

Boersma tells us that he has no idea what this means: “The transformation of the created order is staggeringly beyond anything that human language is able to express. If sun and moon will disappear from the new heaven and earth, it should be obvious that any language that Scripture may use to describe the eschaton is merely analogical in character. If the very glory of God’s essence will fill the New Jerusalem, this must mean that anything entering into the city will get thoroughly divinized. This earth will be sacramentally transformed by the heavenly reality. The New Jerusalem means heavenly participation of a kind that far outstrips earthly imagination” (p.25).

I agree that analogical reasoning must be used to analyze such a description, however I have suggested that it is possible to make analogical thinking semi-rigorous by expanding from known structure. Heaven and earth may be new but two elements remain unchanged. God is still there and humans are still there, and mental symmetry suggests that it is possible to comprehend—at least to some extent—the essential nature of both God and man. Let me say this again. Scientific thought is based in empirical evidence from the physical world. If there is a ‘new earth’, then it is not possible to use natural law to analyze this new earth, because natural law describes the present earth. However, if the same humans inhabit both the current earth and the ‘new earth’, then what will remain unchanged is their souls (or in psychological language the non-material ‘mind’ part of the mind/brain combination). So, if my mental structure is instantaneously changed when I ‘get to heaven’ (a common perception of many Christian believers) then it is not me who arrives in heaven but someone else. Similarly, the only way that I can make it to the new heavens and Earth is if the structure and content of my soul remains intact. Thus, I suggest that it is legitimate to attempt to analyze such an existence by beginning from a cognitive foundation and then using analogy to extend this structure, as we have done in this essay. For, if the structure of the present Earth is compatible with mental sanity, then one presumes that a new and improved earth will also be compatible with the structure of the mind.



[1] My overall goal is to put together a systematic theology based upon mental symmetry. But, I am an associative Perceiver person, therefore the only way that I can be systematic is by going through a book, analyzing it, and then making this analysis more systematic. By examining a variety of books, I can gradually cover the field in haphazard fashion. The next essay uses a book on the attributes of God written by Bill Bright as a starting point for examining the nature of God as well as American evangelical Christianity.

[2] Boersma makes most of his points by quoting other religious authors. That is why many of the quotes from Heavenly Participation contain references to various experts, such as Bouillard, Schmemann, or de Lubac.

[3] If words connecting water with the cosmos mentally trigger something else, such as emotionally rich memories of religious rituals, then merely saying these words may produce feelings of transcendence. However, these emotions are still being produced by something that has been added to the words and not by the words themselves.

[4] It may seem strange or cold to describe God as a ‘living universal theory’. However, if one takes this perspective, then the standard Christian attributes of God emerge naturally. Instead of being a riddle wrapped in an enigma, the traits of God make sense. This is developed further in the essay on the nature of God. The resulting concept of God is emotional, personal, and biblical, but not anthropomorphic.

[5] Emulation is a computer term. For instance, when I run a program on my Mac OSX computer that allows me to run Windows programs, then I am using my Mac to emulate a PC.

[6] Do Platonic forms really exist? Not in physical reality. But if a spiritual realm exists that interacts with mental networks, then it is possible that Platonic forms might actually exist in this spiritual realm.

[7] Until the 11th century split between Catholic and Orthodox, the Catholic Church was basically the only church, and before the Protestant Reformation the Catholic Church was the only Western church.

[8] Technical thought emerges when Contributor thought takes control of the mind and limits the context to a limited, clearly defined collection of Perceiver facts and Server sequences. In normal thought, Contributor thought loosens this grip and allows the mind to use partially defined Perceiver facts and Server sequences.

[9] Remember that an emulation is a program that is run on one computer to model the behavior of a different computer. In a similar manner, emotional experiences with other people will form mental networks in my mind that represent these people. When I think of one of these people, then the corresponding mental network will be triggered within my own mind and start to ‘run’, allowing me to predict how the other person will respond. Hopefully, this mental network contains enough correct detail to make this an accurate prediction. Notice that I am not just remembering the likes and dislikes of another person. Instead, my mental network is emulating that person’s likes and dislikes.

[10] If Catholicism spreads to a culture that worships female deities, then the pre-existing mental networks of that culture will reinforce the concept of viewing Mary as a semi-divine being.