I and Thou was written in 1923 by the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. Buber says that human existence is divided into the two irreconcilable realms of I-It and I-Thou. I-It uses objective rational thought while I-Thou is based upon relation. According to Buber, when a person enters into an I-Thou relation with one’s whole being, then this provides a glimpse of God, who Buber regards in a mystical manner as the Eternal Thou.
Buber accurately describes the inadequacies of modern Western civilization as well as the need to add relation and spirit to Western existence. However, when one attempts to place the content of rational thought and personal relation within the overall contentlessness of Buddhist mysticism, then this leads inevitably to major contradictions, and one’s ethics will be limited to sweeping generalizations.
I have posted a 41 page essay on I and Thou.
Discipleship on the Edge is, as the subtitle states, ‘an expository journey through the book of Revelation’ written by Darrell Johnson, who was an associate professor of pastoral theology at Regent College when he wrote this book. Johnson examines Revelation from the viewpoint of discipleship instead of attempting to predict the future in a sensationalist fashion. The result is a serious work of scholarship that is much easier to read than the typical prediction of doom and gloom.
However, Johnson’s book suffers from one major flaw. Revelation begins by saying that it is ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ’. Jesus is an incarnation who is both God and man. Jesus-as-man was revealed 2000 years ago in ancient Israel. Johnson interprets the book of Revelation as the revelation of Jesus-as-man, and has to twist the text in major ways in order to fit this interpretation. However, I show in the previous essay that if one views the book of Revelation as the revelation of Jesus-as-God, then it makes sense as a single rational connected sequence.
Johnson’s misinterpretation is not deliberate but rather reflects the current thinking of Christianity. In Johnson’s words, “The vision of Revelation 4 and 5 – which has shaped the worship life of the church for more than two thousand years – is the pivotal vision of the book. Everything revealed in the rest of the book is revealed relative to this vision.” Thus, I suggest that Johnson interprets Revelation as the revelation of Jesus-as-man because Jesus has not yet been fully revealed as God. This coming revelation of Jesus-as-God requires an integrated rational understanding of God that bridges objective with subjective, which happens in Revelation 10 with the eating of the little book, and Western civilization is currently in the period of history that occurs before Revelation 10.
I have written a 90 page essay that analyzes Discipleship on the Edge, focusing upon the difference between viewing Jesus as man and viewing Jesus as God.
I have posted a 50 page essay on Genesis 1-3, as well as a 105 page essay on Revelation 4 – 22. I did not initially plan to write an essay on the book of Revelation. Instead, I merely wanted to look at the story of the serpent in the garden of Eden from a cognitive perspective. That turned into an examination of other biblical stories involving serpents, which ended up in Revelation 12 with the conflict between the woman and the dragon. To my amazement, the book of Revelation made sense, and so I kept going.
These essays interpret the biblical text using analogies that are cognitively natural. For instance, water is interpreted as representing disconnected Mercy experiences, while earth and rocks are interpreted as Perceiver facts. These analogies are cognitively natural because Mercy thought is programmed by experiences from the physical world while Perceiver thought connects Mercy experiences by looking for solid connections, just as solid chemical bonds turn a physical liquid into a solid. An analogy that is cognitively natural will tend to be found in everyday speech. For instance, one speaks of ‘getting in over one’s head’ or ‘hanging on to something solid’.
My hypothesis is that the seven days of creation make sense when viewed as seven stages of societal development, while the garden of Eden makes sense as an ideal learning environment. Looking at the serpent in the garden, Teacher thought works with sequences and comes up with general theories. The simplest possible verbal theory is the theory of mysticism which says that ‘all is one’. Similarly, the simplest possible visual theory is a simple string without any appendages, which corresponds to the shape of a snake. If one interprets the snake as mysticism, then the curses which are placed upon the snake, the woman, and the man make cognitive sense.
Mysticism leads naturally to a division between subjective religion which views God as ‘beyond logic’, and objective secular thought which uses rational thinking to interact with the physical world. The book of Revelation appears to be describing the process by which mysticism and its effects are replaced by the rule of a rational monotheistic God. In Revelation 5 – 9, technical thought attempts to transform society and partially succeeds. This is followed by the development of a rational concept of God in Revelation 10 – 11. Revelation 12 – 19 then describes the process by which this concept of God is imposed upon society, which makes possible the new heaven and earth described in Revelation 20 – 22.
Much the information on this website is buried in long essays. Therefore, I have put together a site index with links to all of the topics and Bible passages discussed on this website. This page also includes an index to the topics and Bible verses discussed in Natural Cognitive Theology and God, Theology & Cognitive Modules.I have suggested that the theory of mental symmetry provides a systematic theology as well as a philosophy of science. The broad range of topics that can be found on the site index backs up this claim.
I have uploaded three introductory narrated PowerPoint presentations to YouTube. The first compares two methods of forming a concept of God, the second examines personal identity, social interaction, and culture in terms of mental networks, and the third compares the mindset of absolute truth with that of universal truth.
- Two Concepts of God
- Truth and Belief
These three presentations were given to a non-technical audience and they communicated effectively. The narration is from a written script, so it is free of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’.
Dallas Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California from 1965 until his death in 2013. I found Willard puzzling. On the one hand, what he says is consistent—in detail—with the theory of mental symmetry, while on the other hand, he was an advocate for the emergent church, which downplays theology. Willard’s approach to Christianity makes sense if it is viewed as an expression of the philosophy of Husserl. Willard was a world-renowned expert in the philosophy of Husserl, who also downplays abstract theory while emphasizing the observation of specific events. As a result, Willard’s description of specific aspects of spiritual reformation is superb, while he consistently steps back from viewing these specific aspects from a general theological perspective.
This extended essay examines four of Willard’s books: The Spirit of the Disciplines (1988), The Divine Conspiracy (1998), Renovation of the Heart (2002), and Knowing Christ Today (2009). A 49 page essay examines Husserl, the thinking of analytic philosophy, The Spirit of the Disciplines (in which Willard presents a set of spiritual disciplines that emphasize the physical body), and Knowing Christ Today (which presents Christianity as an alternative to today’s postmodernism and specialization). A 74 page supplementary essay looks at The Divine Conspiracy (which focuses on the Sermon on the Mount). And a 25 page supplementary essay examines Renovation of the Heart (which presents a cognitive model of spiritual transformation).
Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not by Robert McCauley is a well-written volume released in 2011 on the cognitive science of religion that discusses the cognitive foundations for religion as well as examining the relationship between religion, theology, and science.
All of the material that McCauley presents about religion, theology, and scientific thought can be explained easily by the theory of mental symmetry. This is significant because McCauley presents a lot of data. However, McCauley places a different theoretical interpretation upon this data than mental symmetry. I have posted a 49 page detailed analysis.
There are two main conclusions: First, the cognitive science of religion uses the concept of an ‘agency detector’ to explain why the mind comes up with concepts of gods and supernatural beings, which mental symmetry explains in terms of Mercy mental networks. Mental symmetry suggests that the mind contains a corresponding ‘theory detector’ that leads to the emergence of Teacher mental networks as well as a mental concept of God (with a capital ‘G’), and McCauley’s description of scientific thought as well as his concept of ‘practiced naturalness’ support this suggestion.
Second, the cognitive science of religion suffers from a systemic weakness. In the words of McCauley, “Scientific abstemiousness regarding intentional agents and their putative actions is to be compared with… religions’ pervasive recruitment of theory of mind and appeals to agent explanations” (p. 232). In simple terms, a methodology that avoids the concept of agents is attempting to analyze religion by using the concept of agents, which is like asking an anti-Catholic Protestant for an honest appraisal of the Pope. And because science as a whole attempts to avoid the concept of agents, this is a systemic weakness that will tend to be reinforced by peer review rather than minimized.
Bill Gothard was a popular Christian seminar speaker who has a number of connections with the American religious right–and is now being vilified by most Americans, for legitimate reasons. The theory of mental symmetry began back in the 1980s with a study of Romans 12 spiritual gifts. This same system of cognitive styles figures prominently in the teaching of Bill Gothard (though he says that a person receives a Romans 12 spiritual gift when becoming a Christian). In addition, Gothard teaches, like mental symmetry, that “Just as there are universal laws that govern the world of nature, there are basic principles that govern our personal lives and relationships.”
Because of these apparent similarities, and because Gothard is currently in the news, I thought that it was important to take a look at Gothard’s material from a cognitive perspective, and I have posted a 56 page essay.
In summary, the seven life principles that Gothard teaches in his basic seminar describe significant cognitive principles, and his descriptions of the seven ‘spiritual gifts‘ are reasonably accurate, though incomplete. Unfortunately, Gothard has not added intellectual rigor to his material but rather uses the method of proof-by-example. In addition, his thinking is heavily colored by the assumptions of American fundamentalist Christianity. And the principles which he claims are universal he applies almost exclusively to either the Bible or to conservative America.
Thus, by attempting to place the ‘new wine’ of cognitive analysis within the ‘old wineskin’ of American Christian fundamentalism, Gothard ends up ruining them both.
Politics under God was written in 2007 by John Redekop, a Mennonite political scientist ( whom I know personally). Redekop examines government as well as the relationship between church and state from an Anabaptist perspective. Redekop’s analysis is well thought out and is also consistent with what mental symmetry would suggest.
However, Redekop’s insightful look at politics is cognitively inconsistent with his basis for Christian ethics. When analyzing peripheral aspects of state as well as the relationship between church and state, Redekop bases his analysis upon universal principles guided by personal well-being. In contrast, Redekop says that the core of Christian ethics is based upon self-denial rather than personal well-being and upon the absolute truth of the Bible rather than universal principles.
In conclusion, I found Redekop’s book helpful both for thinking through the relationship between religion and politics and for understanding the limitations that tend to characterize Mennonite intellectual thought. I have posted a 41 page essay.
The branch of Christianity in which I grew up is known as Anabaptism. the term means re-baptism and the movement began when Conrad Grebel baptized George Blaurock in Zürich in 1525. The early Anabaptists were heavily persecuted for teaching concepts that are now taken for granted, such as freedom of religion, separation of church and state, believer’s baptism, nonresistance, and the priesthood of all believers.
I suggest that Anabaptists preached–and practiced–many good concepts. However, these good concepts came from an inadequate foundation. Looking back, I can see that I initially learned many of the concepts of mental symmetry as a child from my Mennonite heritage. Over the years, I have struggled to separate these good concepts from the inadequate foundation of Mennonite culture and fundamentalist biblical faith by placing them within the more adequate foundation of a general theory of cognition.
I have posted a 50 page essay on Anabaptism. The primary resource material is The Naked Anabaptist, by Stuart Murray, and Becoming Anabaptist, by J. Denny Weaver.