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BibleOrthodox Christianity

Lorin Friesen, August 2013

When one is dealing with a work of art or an antique, then an original is always far more valuable than a copy. A similar logic applies when dealing with ancient manuscripts. Even if the original no longer exists, a copy that was made within a few years of the original is more valuable than a copy that was made several centuries later, because the more ancient copy is probably closer to the original. The most famous biblical example is the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1948, because copies of most of the Old Testament books were found that were a millennia older than the existing Masoretic text.

A similar logic is used by the Orthodox Christian Church. In the words of one Orthodox website, “The word Orthodox literally means right teaching or right worship, being derived from two Greek words: orthos (right) and doxa (teaching or worship). As the false teachings and divisions multiplied in early Christian times, threatening to obscure the identity and purity of the Church, the term Orthodox quite logically came to be applied to it. The Orthodox Church carefully guards the truth against all error and schism, both to protect its flock and to glorify Christ whose body the Church is. An astonishing number of religious groups today claim to be the successors of the early Church. A yardstick for truth is needed by which to compare what the Church originally believed and practiced with what these groups proclaim. Certainly we all have the right to believe whatever we choose. But it is also just good sense to be acquainted with the options before we make our final choices. It is our hope that this outline of our beliefs will help introduce you to the Christianity espoused and instituted by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. This is the yardstick of truth by which our choices in Christianity need to be measured.”

In simple terms, Orthodox Christianity claims to be the ‘original version’ from which all other forms of Christianity diverged. Historically speaking, this appears to be the case, because the Orthodox Church can trace its lineage back to the time and place where Christianity began. However, the Catholic Church also claims to be the ‘original church’. The Orthodox Church of America puts it this way. “Due to a variety of complex circumstances, the Western church, known today as the ‘Roman Catholic Church,’ split from the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchates of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch in the 11th century. Roman Catholics, however, see it from the opposite perspective, namely that the Orthodox Church broke communion with the Roman Catholic Church. We Orthodox believe that we are the continuation of the ancient Orthodox Christian Church, that we trace our history back to Christ and the apostles, and that the Church was ‘formally’ established on the day of Pentecost. The Roman Catholic Church placed itself outside of this fellowship when it broke off communion with us in the 11th century.”

The purpose of this essay is not to argue which of these historical claims has most validity. As the OCA website continues, “a thorough treatment of the issue would fill volumes, and there are many resources readily available should you wish to research the history of this further.” Instead, I would like to examine the question of authenticity from a deeper perspective.

When dealing with physical objects such as paintings and books, then earlier is almost always closer to the original. That is because the original was created by the author or painter and then revealed to others. Similarly, if an author creates a fictional work, then those who are closest to the author should have the best understanding of what the author really meant, because they have the closest connection with the person who revealed this work. In contrast, scientific thought does not regard the earliest version as the most accurate, because scientists do not create truth but rather discover truth. For instance, objects have always fallen to the ground in the same manner; the law of gravity has always applied. But human understanding of this behavior improved dramatically when Newton formulated his three laws of physical movement.

We read that ‘a yardstick for truth is needed by which to compare what the Church originally believed and practiced with what these groups proclaim.’ But what type of yardstick should be used to evaluate Christian truth, belief, and practice?

My fundamental thesis is that Christianity makes sense when viewed from a cognitive perspective. First, if one uses the theory of mental symmetry to work out the steps that must be taken to reach mental wholeness, then these steps correspond in detail to the doctrines of Christianity. Second, the theory of mental symmetry is compatible with neurology and can be used to integrate many different aspects of psychology and social science. Thus, in the same way that the laws of nature describe universal natural mechanisms, so I suggest that Christian doctrine describes universal cognitive mechanisms. Science uses empirical data—information from the physical world—as a yardstick to evaluate scientific theories. Similarly, I suggest that cognitive data—information from the mental world—can be used to evaluate religious systems of belief.

This essay will examine Orthodox Christianity from a cognitive perspective. The purpose is twofold. The first is to understand which mental circuits are being used by Orthodox Christianity and to see what happens mentally when one practices Orthodox Christianity. This will make it possible to address the second purpose, which is to evaluate the Orthodox Church’s claim of authenticity.

Why is it necessary to evaluate this claim? First, the Orthodox Church has the best legitimate historical claim to being the original Christian church. It can trace its roots back to the time and place where Christianity began, and it does a good job of preserving religious tradition unchanged. Second, religious scholars place a great emphasis upon historical claims. When a Church can legitimately say that it preserves ancient Christian practice, then theologians sit up and pay attention. Going further, if authentic Christianity can be determined through historical legitimacy, then any form of religion that is inconsistent with the Orthodox Church cannot claim to be authentic Christianity. In particular, if the Orthodox Church’s claim of Christian authenticity is valid, and if mental symmetry says anything that contradicts Orthodox Church doctrine, then the theory of mental symmetry cannot claim to be consistent with Christian doctrine. This is a serious problem, because mental symmetry does claim to be consistent with Christian doctrine, and as we shall see, what Orthodox Christianity teaches is significantly different than what mental symmetry states. Therefore, this issue must be resolved.

I have presented the case in previous essays that the Christian message describes the process of internal transformation. (If you want evidence for this statement please read some of the previous essays.) However, in order to understand this message, one must know psychology in order to comprehend how the mind works, neurology to grasp how the brain functions, and computer science to understand how minds are programmed. But the Christian message was originally taught almost 2000 years before the advent of psychology, neurology, and computer science. This needs to be restated. The Christian message is 2000 years ahead of its time. In order to make sense of this message one must understand how the mind functions, but 2000 years ago almost nothing was known about the mind.

What was known 2000 years ago? Aristotle thought that the heart was the seat of intelligence and that the brain was a radiator that was used to cool the blood. Galen, the most advanced Roman physician, recognized that the brain controls senses and performs cognition and he performed neurological experiments, but he thought that the brain controls the body by the flow of animal spirits through the ventricles, a view which is hopelessly inadequate. Plato is responsible for concept of Platonic forms, and Platonic forms play a role in the theory of mental symmetry. While it is a major breakthrough to recognize that the mental concept of a triangle is more perfect than any real triangle, this is a far cry from the in-depth understanding of cognitive mechanisms that is demonstrated by the writings of the apostle Paul. Thus, rational analysis concludes that the Bible is too clever to have been written by the humans of its age, and Paul himself says “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” (Galatians 1).

With science, discovering truth happens before revealing truth. Scientists observe how the world functions, they discover general principles, and then they reveal these principles to others. The scientist is not a source of truth, instead he discovers truth. With Christianity the process occurred in reverse. First, the Bible was revealed by some supernatural source. Over time, people gradually discovered that biblical doctrine describes cognitive principles. The development of psychology, neurology, and computer science have now made it possible to discover that Christian doctrines describe cognitive mechanisms. Thus, revelation was followed by discovery. Because revelation occurred before understanding, one concludes that the original source had to be supernatural.

This reverse order also occurs whenever truth is being taught. Education begins with rote learning as the instructor reveals truth to students, this content teaches the students how to think, and the students then look back and re-evaluate the content that they originally acquired through rote learning. In other words, critical analysis is being applied retroactively. As Thomas Kuhn states, it is only possible to evaluate a paradigm from within that paradigm. Thus, in proposing a supernatural source for the Bible I am simply observing that biblical content had to be taught by someone and no human existed who was qualified to do the teaching.

Normally, a miracle is viewed as a temporary suspension of natural law, a specific situation in which the universal laws of nature do not apply. But examining Christian doctrine from a cognitive viewpoint has convinced me that the Bible makes too much cognitive sense; instead of violating rational thought, it is too rational.

Now let us turn our attention back to the Orthodox Church. It traces its beliefs and sacraments back to the time of Jesus. Therefore, if we apply cognitive analysis to the Orthodox Church, then we can understand the ‘miracle’ of Christian revelation. If Orthodox doctrine and practice also expresses unusual mental wholeness, then we can conclude that the original authors of the Bible probably understood what they wrote and passed this understanding on to the patristic church fathers. However, if Orthodox doctrine and practice reflects the mindset of the Roman era and not the unusually clever thinking described in the Bible, then this provides strong proof that the Bible must have been revealed to humans by some supernatural source, because those who were closest to this source did not really understand the words that they were transcribing.

As we saw at the beginning of this essay, the Orthodox Church claims to have preserved the authentic, original version of Christianity. However, if the cleverness of the Orthodox Church does not match the cleverness of the Christian message, then we can also conclude that the Orthodox Church’s claim to authenticity is invalid, for the simple reason that the original Christian believers were only custodians of the Christian message and did not really comprehend it. We can also conclude that quoting from the church fathers is probably not the best method for determining theological accuracy.

Let me say this once more using an analogy. Suppose that some group of people had a very old book, and suppose that this group claimed that their ancestors had been given this book by a very important person and that they had also carefully preserved knowledge which the author of the book had told their ancestors but had not written down. Now suppose that this ancient tome actually turned out to be an advanced book about computer programming. Over the centuries scholars from other groups had attempted to study this book and had gradually managed to make sense of aspects of the book. However, it was only when computers were finally invented that the core concepts of the book became comprehensible.

It would then be possible to compare the written content of the book with the oral traditions handed down by the group. If these two did not match—if the oral traditions lacked an comprehension of computer programming techniques, then one could conclude that the ancestors of this group did not write the book, they did not understand the book, and they were not the ones to turn to if one wished to comprehend the book. And if the ancient tome was written long before people learned about computers, then one could also conclude that this book had to be written by someone from a totally different society who knew about computers.

If one replaces ‘programming a computer’ with ‘programming the mind’, then I suggest that this analogy applies precisely to the Orthodox Church.

And I suggest that it is valid to use the same standard to evaluate both biblical content and Orthodox Church tradition. That is because the Orthodox Church views church tradition as more fundamental than biblical content. Quoting from a letter that was posted in a Orthodox publication, “As you can see here - since the beginning of Christianity, not everything has been written down. St. Paul urges the Thessalonians to keep the traditions passed on by the spoken word as well as those written in his epistles. Those same spoken traditions have been passed down and preserved in the Orthodox Church to this day. More importantly, the entire Gospel was originally a spoken tradition. Christ himself didn’t write a word of it...the church came before the written New Testament. As mentioned above, Peter and the other apostles were preaching the Gospel before a word of it was written down. In fact, it was only gradually that the writings now included in the New Testament were collected in the form we have them today. There were lots of other writings that were supposedly by apostles and could have been included. It was the church that decided which books were truly the Christian Scriptures.”

Sources

Most of my previous essays began with the analysis of a specific book. In this case, I have attempted to acquire my information from a variety of Orthodox Christian websites. The largest group of Orthodox Christians is found in Russia: 106 million believers, which is 39% of the world total. The Orthodox Christian Information Center (which I will refer to as OCIC) contains a lot of information about Orthodox Christianity, mainly from the viewpoint of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In comparison, there are only 5.3 million Orthodox Christians in United States. The Orthodox Church in America website (or OCA) presents a somewhat kinder and gentler version of Orthodox Christianity than the Orthodox Christian Information Center. The St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Greenville, South Carolina has an online catechism which describes the fundamentals of Orthodox Christianity in simple language (I will refer to this source as SGGOC). I found their website to be extremely helpful. Even though these three websites come from three different kinds of Orthodox Christianity—Russian, American, and Greek, they all contain essentially the same doctrine. The primary difference is that the Russian Orthodox website states this truth more dogmatically.

The OCA website emphasizes this doctrinal agreement. “As far as doctrine, Holy Tradition, understanding of Scripture, etc., there is no difference between Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. The key word is ‘Orthodox,’ with the ethnic designation in front being a secondary consideration. The Orthodox Church as a whole is the unity of what are called local autocephalous or autonomous churches. These words mean simply that these churches govern themselves, electing their own bishops and organizing their own lives. Each of these churches has exactly the same doctrine, discipline and spiritual practices. They use the same Bible, follow the same canon laws, confess the authority of the same Church Councils and worship by what is essentially the same liturgy.”

Finally, the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute carried out an extensive survey of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in 2008, and this 182 page study provides an excellent snapshot of the current state of Orthodox belief in the United States. We will examine this survey at the end of this essay.

There is also an Orthodox wiki, which is a source for many of the Wikipedia articles on Orthodox Christianity. This website contains a lot of scattered information, which makes it difficult to get an overview of Orthodox belief. Therefore, most of my quotes will be from the other websites mentioned here.

Theology versus Personal Experience

Any analysis of Orthodox Christianity must begin by stating that Orthodox Christianity is not based upon abstract theology. Instead, the goal of Orthodox Christianity is to know God directly. Thus, Orthodox Christianity does not just have different doctrine than Catholic or Protestant Christianity, it approaches Christianity in a totally different manner. Thus, the very approach of cognitively analyzing Orthodox Christianity violates the mindset of Orthodox Christianity. Let me repeat this. As we shall see in this essay, the cognitive approach taken by mental symmetry is by its very nature contrary to the attitude of Orthodox Christianity.

For instance, I remember attempting to explain mental symmetry to a Catholic monk who was known for emphasizing an experiential knowledge of God, similar to the approach taken by Orthodox Christianity. He listened graciously as I emphasized and re-emphasized that the theory of mental symmetry includes personal emotions and addresses the topic of transforming personal identity. When I was finished, he told me that my theory was inadequate because I did not grasp the experiential emotional nature of Christianity—despite the fact that emotional processing and personal identity had been the primary theme of my explanation. As far as he was concerned, it did not matter what I said, because he felt that I was taking the wrong approach and he was convinced that I was approaching Christianity in the wrong manner.

Similarly, the webmaster of OCIC points out, “As the site’s creator and Webmaster I would first like to point out that the nature of the Internet as an information medium makes this site—from the Orthodox perspective of ‘acquiring knowledge’—quite limited. For true acquisition of knowledge is an experiential concept involving the transformation of the whole man. This comes through worship, prayer, and ascetic struggle—i.e., an active participation in the Church’s mysteriological life. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that—as Bishop Kallistos has often stated—‘Orthodoxy is not a system of ideas, but a way of life.’ When asked about recommended reading on the Orthodox Faith, Bishop Kallistos says that people should focus on the Lives of the Saints. The Saints are the glory of the Church and exemplify the fullness of Orthodoxy, something which is not a ‘religion,’ but a therapeutic method—a way of cure—undertaken within the Church and involving purification, illumination, and glorification (theosis). In short, Orthodoxy cannot be grasped simply by reading articles and books—one has to experience and live it. The Internet is fine as a conduit of information, but realize its limitations when it comes to deepening your understanding of the Orthodox faith.”

Therefore, before we continue I will attempt to address this concern. I know what it is like to experience emotional trauma, because I lived at home with a schizophrenic brother when I was in high school and university. I know what it is like to give up a career due to personal beliefs because I have done this more than once. I know the feeling of personal inadequacy, because during the early stages of my research I would wake up day after day feeling that I had no reason to live, but continue working because I knew that every other avenue was a dead-end. I know what it means to express myself emotionally, because I do this when I am playing violin. And I know what it means to feel like an alien in my home country, because I am driven by an internal vision that the average person on the street cannot see.

But personal experiences such as these are only part of the story. First, mental symmetry suggests that experiences, emotions, and personal identity can all be explained rationally using a cognitive mechanism called mental networks. Stated briefly, any collection of similar emotional memories will form a network and begin to function in an integrated manner. Personal identity can be explained in terms of mental networks composed of emotional experiences. Whenever a mental network forms, then it will respond with hyper-pain when it is faced with fragmentation. This happens, for instance, when attempting to break a habit. When the mental networks of personal identity face fragmentation, then this feels like ‘dying to self’.

Second, mental symmetry suggests that there are two kinds of emotion. As everyone knows, experiences come with an emotional labels. These are stored in Mercy thought and form the raw material for the Mercy mental networks that make up personal identity. However, Teacher thought also uses emotion to evaluate general theories. Teacher thought feels good when there is order-within-complexity, when many items fit together to form a simple, unified package. Theories that are developed and explored will eventually turn into Teacher mental networks. Thomas Kuhn, in his book on paradigms, describes the mental hold that a general theory has upon the scientist. For a scientist, letting go of a general theory is just as hard as breaking a habit.

Mental symmetry agrees with Orthodox Christianity that words and facts by themselves are insufficient to change the Mercy mental networks of personal identity. However, if words and facts are used to construct general theories in Teacher thought, and if these general theories turn into Teacher mental networks, it then becomes emotionally possible to transform Mercy mental networks of personal identity by holding on to Teacher mental networks of rational understanding.

Obviously, it is only possible to hold onto Teacher mental networks instead of Mercy mental networks if these two mental networks overlap, which means developing a general theory that applies to personal identity. Mental symmetry suggests that a mental concept of God will emerge whenever a general theory applies to personal identity. I examine in another essay how the traits of a Christian God naturally emerge when a sufficiently general theory is applied to personal identity. Therefore, one can say that a belief in God makes personal transformation possible, because personal transformation requires constructing a general theory that applies to personal identity and then holding on to the resulting Teacher mental network.

Summarizing, mental symmetry suggests that the relationship between verbal theory and practical experience should be both/and rather than either/or. Even though mental networks often do not behave rationally, it is still possible to use rational thought to describe the behavior of mental networks. Even though a knowledge of God transcends words, a mental concept of God is constructed by using rational thought to search for universal principles that apply to personal identity. And even though personal transformation goes further than using rational thought, the process of personal transformation remains consistent with rational thought and adds depth to understanding rather than contradicting it.

In contrast, a fundamental aspect of the Orthodox mindset is to view the relationship between rational thought and religious experience as either/or rather than both/and. This either/or approach is brought out in the Wikipedia article that compares Catholic and Orthodox thought. “Vladimir Lossky, a noted modern Eastern Orthodox theologian, argues the difference in East and West is due to the Roman Catholic Church’s use of pagan metaphysical philosophy (and its outgrowth, scholasticism) rather than the mystical, actual experience of God called theoria, to validate the theological dogmas of Roman Catholic Christianity. For this reason, Lossky argues that the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics have become ‘different men’. Other Eastern Orthodox theologians such as John Romanides and Metropolitan Hierotheos say the same. Vladimir Lossky expressed this as ‘Revelation sets an abyss between the truth which it declares and the truths which can be discovered by philosophical speculation.’”

Notice that Orthodox Christianity emphasizes ‘mystical, actual experience of God called theoria’ and that it denounces the use of metaphysical philosophy and scholasticism as ‘pagan’. According to Lossky, revealed truth and philosophical truth are separated from each other by an ‘abyss’, and Orthodox Christians and Catholics are actually ‘different men. This describes an either/or perspective.

This difference in approach began in antiquity. “The Eastern Orthodox teach that none of the Church Fathers accepted or embraced Aristotle’s metaphysics, so the scholasticism in the West based on Aristotle, is simply absent in the East. Meaning that for one to be a theologian one does not seek to obtain a degree from a University (as in the old pagan society and the Academies of Greece) to become a scholar, rather one obtains the vision of God by way of ascetic practice. Roman Catholic theologians hold as a theological conclusion (sententia certa), but not as a matter of dogma (de fide), that ‘our natural knowledge of God in this world is not an immediate, intuitive cognition, but a mediate, abstractive knowledge, because it is attained through the knowledge of creatures’ and that ‘our knowledge of God here below is not proper (cognitio propria) but analogical (cognitio analoga or analogica)’. The Eastern Orthodox call this type of theology kataphatic theology and hold this is inferior to the ‘Eastern Approach’ which is called Apophatic theology.” Summarizing, Roman Catholicism practices kataphatic theology which emphasizes education, uses analogy, and values knowledge about nature. Eastern Orthodoxy, in contrast, practices apophatic theology which gains a direct vision of God through ascetic practice rather than academic learning.

Aristotle lived during the fourth century BC, was the tutor of Alexander the Great, and had a profound influence upon Western thought. His thinking may now be outmoded, but it laid the foundation for modern logic and modern science. However, none of the Orthodox Church fathers accepted Aristotle’s mode of thought. Catholics (and Protestants) associate becoming a theologian with getting a college degree. In contrast, Orthodox Christianity thinks that the goal is not to become a theologian but rather to have a direct experience of God.

We see from this quote that Catholic theologians think—and mental symmetry agrees—that it is possible to learn about the nature of God by using analogy to expand upon the structure of the physical world and the structure of the mind. The role that analogy plays in understanding the nature of God is discussed in another essay. Orthodox Christianity regards this type of reasoning as an inferior form of thought and believes that God must be approached using Apophatic theology.

What is Apophatic theology? SGGOC describes it in simple terms. “We cannot think of God in terms of a philosophy. Words cannot define God, but why? Because, this would limit God to our own reasonableness. We are part of His creation and therefore less than God. The Creator must be larger than the created. God is infinite and beyond all human reason. About all we can say about God is that He isn’t this, but also, He isn’t that either. This is known as ‘apophatic theology’ where we define God by what we know He is not. We can set boundaries that help us to know God, but never totally describe Him. We can say that God is not physically visible or is not a creation. The key is that we must be careful not to use our reason to derive a definition of God beyond what has been revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition or our direct experience of Him. For this ends up being only our own mental creation. It is necessary to go beyond words and reason to understand the true nature of the Divine. The starting point to knowing God is to accept that we are not searching for a definition that can be put into words, but a relationship with Him.”

Summarizing, SGGOC says that knowing God involves a hierarchy of three different methods of knowing. The primary method is direct experience. According to Orthodox Christianity, the only way to know God is through direct experience of Him. Doctrine based in Bible and tradition is a secondary method that provide constraints for this primary method. The difference between primary method and secondary constraint can be illustrated by the approach of the rebellious teenager to rules. Without rules, the rebellious teenager does whatever he wants. Rules act as secondary constraints that restrict this primary behavior. Stated simply, rules act as fences that limit the range of teenage ‘animal behavior’.

Finally, at the bottom of the Orthodox hierarchy lies words, reason, and rational thought, which the Orthodox mindset says cannot lead to a knowledge of God. Reason is not supposed to be used to expand upon the scriptural concept of God; understanding the true nature of God means going beyond words and reason and accepting that the character of God cannot be described using verbal definitions. Quoting from the Wikipedia article on apophatic theology, “In negative theology, it is accepted that experience of the Divine is ineffable, an experience of the holy that can only be recognized or remembered abstractly. That is, human beings cannot describe in words the essence of the perfect good that is unique to the individual, nor can they define the Divine, in its immense complexity, related to the entire field of reality. As a result, all descriptions if attempted will be ultimately false and conceptualization should be avoided. In effect, divine experience eludes definition by definition.”

Orthodox Christianity recognizes that the Bible makes explicit statements about God, but it regards these statements as constraints that help to understand what God is not rather than definitions that describe the essential characteristics of God. After quoting some Bible verses that describe God, SGGOC says, “Remember that whatever you think God is, that He is not. God is not definable. The following are attributes, qualities or characteristics, but not definitions of God. They cannot limit God in any way.”

In stark contrast, mental symmetry does use words, reason, and rational thought to expand upon the scriptural concept of God, and it uses verbal definitions to construct a mental concept of God. Mental symmetry recognizes that it is not possible for a finite person to gain a complete understanding of a universal being, but suggests that it is possible for man to gain an adequate knowledge of the essential characteristics of God. This is discussed in another essay.

Mental symmetry also suggests that it is not possible to have direct experience of God—or any other person. Instead, emotional experiences with people lead to the formation of mental networks, and the mind uses mental networks to represent other people. When I interact with someone whom I know, the mental network within my mind that represents that person will be activated and that mental network will predict how that person will respond. This distinction becomes apparent when a family member or close friend dies. The physical person is dead, but the mental network that represents this person is still being triggered and it is still predicting how that person will respond. Because the loved one is physically absent but mentally present, the result is grieving and a deep feeling of personal loss.

The same principle applies to a knowledge of God. The mind represents people within Mercy thought as mental networks composed of emotional experiences, and the mind represents God within Teacher thought as a Teacher mental network composed of a universal understanding. In each case, a mental network provides the mental image of a person that predicts the character of that person. In the same way that real people interact with me by triggering the Mercy mental networks within my mind that represent those people, so a real God would interact with me by triggering my mental concept of God.

For instance, suppose that I get a phone call from my friend John. If he does not tell me who he is, then as far as I am concerned, I am merely exchanging information with some unknown person or maybe even a computer. However, as soon as I recognize John’s voice then the exchange of information turns into a conversation with a friend. “Oh, hi John. I did not recognize your voice at first.” Recognizing John’s voice, or some other mannerism of John, triggers the mental network within my mind that represents John and the conversation will then be interpreted in the light of this mental network.

Thus, I suggest that it is not possible to have direct knowledge of other people. Direct knowledge can clarify my interaction with another person, it can lead over time to the mental concept of a person, but the interaction is personal because a mental network—composed of connected emotional memories—is being activated within my mind. Similarly, how does one recognize ‘the hand of God’ in some situation? The situation contains some pattern of ‘behavior’ that is triggering the Teacher mental network upon which the mental concept of God is based. “I know that God is in this situation because I recognize his character.” Notice that this recognition of the divine uses the analogical thinking that Orthodox Christianity rejects as inferior. [1]

Summarizing, mental symmetry uses rational thought and analogy to understand God, which Orthodox Christianity says is impossible. Orthodox Christianity bases its knowledge of God upon direct experience, which mental symmetry suggests is not possible.

Notice that we are not dealing with the content of the Bible, because both Orthodox Christianity and mental symmetry regard the Bible as a supernaturally accurate document about God and human nature. Instead, we are examining the methodology used to comprehend the content of the Bible.

Blind Faith

Let us examine this methodology in more detail. Repeating an explanation from a previous essay, philosophy says, and mental symmetry agrees, that it is important to distinguish between belief and knowledge. Belief is a matter of internal conviction; how convinced I am that I am right. Knowledge, in contrast, has to do with accuracy. How accurate are my facts? For instance, belief could be compared to the number on a thermometer and knowledge to the actual temperature.

Mental symmetry suggests that Perceiver thought can acquire a knowledge of truth in one of two ways. First, emotional status can mesmerize Perceiver thought into blindly accepting the statements of some authority as absolute truth. A person who practices blind faith usually does not realize that he is using blind faith. He is just certain that he knows what is true. But if asked to give a reason for his knowledge, then he will respond ‘it is obvious’ or ‘everyone knows that...’ or ‘the experts say’. Thus, he has belief but not necessarily knowledge. If everyone within a community shares the same set of blind beliefs, then these beliefs will be assumed and never questioned. Blind faith only becomes apparent when assumed facts are questioned, either by contrary evidence or by other people.

Second, instead of blindly accepting facts based upon emotional status, Perceiver thought can look for facts which are repeated. Blind faith has certainty. Perceiver thought, in contrast, struggles with doubt. However, it is possible to use Perceiver thought to increase certainty and minimize doubt. The more times a fact is encountered, the more certain Perceiver thought will be that this fact is correct. Thus, when Perceiver thought is used, then there will be less belief but there will also be more knowledge. And when questioned, the person who uses Perceiver thought will be able to give reasons for his belief.

Which of these two methods does the Orthodox Church use? Let us answer this with a simple SGGOC quote before looking at the details. “As Orthodox Christians we have faith in what is beyond the comprehension of our rational mind. We know that God is beyond all rational knowledge. We have no difficulty in embracing miracles that cannot be explained by rational process or by the scientific method. Our religion is based on the absolute revealed truth and we embrace what is mystical and invisible. We believe in and totally trust a loving God.”

The Orthodox Church refers to this kind of belief as phronema. The Orthodox Research Institute says that “Phronema comes from the verb ‘frono’ (‘I believe’). In the religious and theological vocabulary of the Christian Church this term, like so many others, took on a much deeper and richer meaning. Thus phronema does not simply mean a steady orientation towards certain enduring moral values, which people knowingly profess and wisely struggle for throughout life. Rather, it means the completely self-sacrificial trust and faith in religious and ethical truths which derive not from human experience and wisdom, but from the voice of God through revelation, which is self-evident and does not undergo censure or doubt. This super-subjective origin of phronema is expressed in the New Testament with the well-known term ‘mind of Christ’, which is almost synonymous with phronema.”

Notice the various traits of phronema. It is a method of defining Perceiver facts: ‘faith in religious and ethical truths’. It does not use Perceiver thought: ‘which derive not from human experience and wisdom’. It does not look for connections: ‘which is self-evident’. It is rooted in Mercy emotions: ‘this super subjective origin’. It is based in the ultimate emotional source: ‘from the voice of God. It is imposed upon Perceiver thought: ‘through revelation’. It has absolute certainty: ‘does not undergo censure or doubt’. Finally, ‘it means the completely self-sacrificial trust’. As I have mentioned elsewhere, blind faith is always accompanied by an attitude of self-denial, because Perceiver thought will only remain mesmerized if the emotional status of personal identity is much less than the emotional status of the source of truth. [2]

Thus, based upon these quotes, we conclude that Orthodox belief corresponds to what mental symmetry calls blind faith. Orthodox thinking equates this blind faith with the ‘mind of Christ’. In contrast, mental symmetry recognizes that learning may start with blind faith, but if one wishes to discover the ‘mind of Christ’, then one must replace blind faith with rational thought.

A distinction was made at the beginning of this essay between creating truth and discovering truth. If Perceiver thought is to discover truth, then truth must exist out there waiting to be discovered. By ‘truth out there’ I simply mean that patterns exist. For instance, all trees look similar; they all have a trunk, roots, branches, and leaves. Perceiver thought notices this repeated similarity and comes up with facts about trees. When dealing with physical facts, such patterns are easy to notice because we can see them with our eyes. Mental symmetry suggests that the human mind is also governed by repeatable cognitive mechanisms. It may not be possible to see these mechanisms directly, but by observing enough people and reading enough descriptions of how people think from different viewpoints, it is possible to observe common patterns. Perceiver thought gains confidence in facts by discovering similar patterns in more places. For instance, if I want to learn more about trees I examine different trees in different places in order to learn more clearly what defines a tree. Similarly, if I want to learn more about the mind I examine different people talking about the mind using different terminology.

In contrast, blind faith occurs when the mental network representing some person imposes truth upon Perceiver thought. Thus, the focus will be upon the defining experience or expert that was the source of truth who revealed this truth to others. Blind faith becomes confused when there are many sources of truth and it is clarified by returning to the original source of truth.

This distinction can be seen in a monograph on Orthodox Tradition and Modernism posted on OCIC, “‘(Our) religion, which is above reason, does not resemble the rational sciences or arts. (These) sciences and arts, the work of the human mind, are perfected with the progress of time, insofar as its rational power is perfected by philosophy. Religion, the work of God, is, on the contrary, corrupted, insofar as it is separated in time from its first proclamation, if its leaders do not take care to guard it intact, as a deposit entrusted to them by its Author’ (Advice of Three Bishops [London, 1820], pp. xv-xvi). Later on, another Teacher of the Nation, Neophytos Doukas, placed similar emphasis on the Divine provenance of the Orthodox faith, and excluded innovations, saying: ‘The things of the Church taught and enacted by the Divine Apostles, and by the Holy Fathers gathered together in the [seven] Synods, since they were illuminated by the All-holy Spirit, are unalterable; no one can add or subtract anything from them, or transform them…Just as the Divine Legislator dictated them many centuries ago, so they should remain unchanged unto all ages.’”

As this monograph states, scientists can increase the accuracy of scientific understanding over time by observing more carefully how the natural world functions. This is only possible because the world continues to function in a way that does not change. For instance, if I did not see clearly how an object falls to the ground I can pick up the object and drop it again, confident that if I release it in the same manner from the same height then it will fall in the same way. In contrast, the monograph states that religion was revealed during a specific period and remains unchanged since then. The Orthodox Church views itself as the guardian of this unchanging divine revelation. Continuing from this monograph, “Only the Orthodox Church, as I said, remained a faithful observer of Tradition and preserved the sacred Deposit...as the Apostles handed it down, not distorting it with subtractions and additions.”

Saying this another way, belief is not the same as truth. Belief is in the mind; it describes what a person thinks is true. Truth is out there. It is true regardless of whether people believe it or not. The goal of education is not to teach belief but rather to pass on a knowledge of truth. Teaching belief says, “I believe that this is true because I learned it from experts who themselves learned it from previous experts. Now I am telling you what to believe because I have become an expert.” Passing on knowledge, in contrast, says, “I am teaching you in order to give you a shortcut to knowing truth. If you believe that something is true just because I told you, then you have not learned truth. Instead, I will only have succeeded as an educator if you discover for yourself that the facts that I am teaching you are true.” If facts describe something solid that is out there, the best way to preserve truth is by pointing the student to what is solid. Similarly, if facts can be assembled to form a general Teacher understanding, then this understanding can help to preserve truth in the same way that the picture in a jigsaw puzzle tells one where to place each piece. In contrast, if the only way to transmit revelation accurately is by ‘handing it down without subtractions and additions’, then this indicates that there is only belief and not truth.

With the Bible, one is dealing with the unusual situation of a book that was revealed before it was understood. For centuries people did not know that the beliefs of the Bible correspond to the truths of cognitive mechanisms, and they did not realize that it was possible to place these truths into a general Teacher theory. Given this situation, the only alternative is to preserve belief in Orthodox-like fashion until truth and understanding catch up. However, as understanding and the recognition of truth grow, it is important to replace belief with an emphasis upon truth and understanding and not to cling obstinately to belief, or to regard an obstinate clinging to belief as the highest form of Christianity.

Defining ‘God-Centered’

OCA states that “Rather than being ‘man centered,’ Orthodox Christian worship is ‘God centered.’ Worship, as we read in Scripture, must be offered ‘in Spirit and Truth’ and must be ‘well pleasing unto God,’ Who is the only One we strive to ‘please’ by our worship...Worship must always be seen as focused on God, period, and not on ‘me.’ Unless you can impart a change in another’s essential and fundamental outlook from ‘man centered’ to ‘God centered,’ you will probably find that it will be virtually impossible to convince him or others, or to change their attitude toward worship. We’re dealing with two radically different traditions, theologies, ecclesiologies, and soteriologies here, and unless the underlying elements, the internal faith and vision that support their views are changed, their views probably will not change.” What does Orthodox Christianity regard as ‘God-centered’ worship? Worship that expresses the unchanging traditions of the Orthodox Church and not the changing tastes of current society.

Let us look briefly at what it means to be ‘God centered’. While Orthodox Christianity practices apophatic theology, it also believes that it is possible to know something about God through God’s revelation to mankind in the Bible. In the words of SGGOC, “What can we learn from Scriptures? We can learn some of the attributes of God. We will point out how Scripture tells us that God is Spirit, Eternal, Good, Omniscient, All-Righteous, Omnipresent, Unchangeable and Unity.” Notice the common factor of universality. ‘Omnipresent’ tells us that God is universal in space, ‘unchangeable’ indicates universality throughout time, ‘omniscient’ indicates universal in knowledge, and ‘eternal’ indicates that God’s universality transcends space and time. [3]

We will now do something which Orthodox Christianity frowns upon, which is use rational thought to analyze the traits of God. What is the difference between God creating something and revealing it to others, and man creating something and revealing it to others? Humans are finite. Therefore, when man is a source of truth, then he is a finite source. For instance, if a person writes a book, then that book will be written at a specific place and time. Therefore, if one wishes to remain true to this book, then one must preserve as carefully as possible the specific words that were written at this specific place and time. Similarly, rational thought tells us that revelation from a universal being will be universal. Since God is universal in space, God’s revelation will also extend through space. Because God is universal throughout time, God’s revelation will also extend through time. Because God is universal in knowledge, God’s revelation will extend beyond one specific field of knowledge. And because God’s universality transcends space and time, God’s revelation will not be limited to one single period in history.

All I am saying is that God will reveal himself in a way that is consistent with his revelation of himself; the method of his revelation will match the content of his revelation. Orthodox Christianity says that God has revealed that he is omnipresent, unchangeable, omniscient, and eternal. Therefore, it makes sense that God’s revelation about himself will also be omnipresent, unchangeable, omniscient, and eternal.

If this is not true, then there is no way to recognize God. For instance, when I see my friend John I know that it is him because what I see and hear is consistent with what I know about John. Suppose that I have only chatted and exchanged e-mails with John but have never seen him in person. If he tells me that he is tall and skinny with short brown hair and wears glasses, then when I go to meet him for the first time I will look for a person who is tall and skinny with short brown hair who wears glasses.

Similarly, if revelation from God reveals that he is omnipresent, unchangeable, omniscient, and eternal, then one should look for God in the omnipresent, the unchangeable, the omniscient, and the eternal. However, Orthodox Christianity insists that the only way to learn about God is by preserving as carefully as possible a revelation that occurred and a tradition that started at a specific place and time with a specific group—by the Orthodox Church in the place that is now Turkey during the first to fourth century AD. [4]

This appears to be especially true of the Russian Orthodox Church. OCIC relates one interviewer asking “From your fourteen years’ association with Photios Kontoglou, what do you think his legacy is for us? What does his life and witness have to say to us today—especially to Orthodox Christians in America? DC [answers]: Fidelity to Tradition. In iconography, in music, in church architecture, in the liturgy of the Church, in all the other services of the Church, in keeping the faith—in all of these, keeping the Holy Canons, avoiding all compromises in the doctrines of the Church. The whole Orthodox Tradition must be preserved in this country.”

Thus, I suggest that Orthodox Christianity is making the category mistake of viewing God from a human perspective. Orthodox Christianity says that its worship is ‘God centered’, but it is actually ‘man centered’ because Orthodox worship is based entirely upon the premise that a universal God reveals himself in a finite manner, just like a normal human being. Why would Orthodox Christianity make such a category mistake? [5] Because that is the nature of blind faith. Blind faith, by definition, occurs when Perceiver thought is mesmerized by the emotional significance of some specific event or person.

How does the universality of God interact with the finite nature of man? This topic is discussed in the section on inhering in another essay. In brief, mental symmetry suggests—and both Catholicism and science agree—that God’s universal revelations are made in general terms and that the specific form of this general revelation will vary in different situations. Similarly, Protestant Christianity distinguishes between core doctrines that define the essence of Christianity and lesser doctrines where disagreement is permissable.

Preserving Tradition

Another characteristic of blind faith is that it is blind. Thus, it is unable to distinguish between what is important and what is insignificant. For instance, suppose my friend tells me to bring the whatchamacallit from the top drawer in his desk. Because I do not know what a whatchamacallit is, the only way I can guarantee that I have it is by bringing the entire contents of the top drawer to my friend.

Similarly, the OCIC interview emphasizes that all aspects of Orthodox tradition need to be preserved, even if they appear trivial. “Did Kontoglou ever make a distinction between the so-called ‘big-T Tradition and small-t tradition’? Such a view states that there are some traditions in the realm of dogma, doctrine, and spirituality that are absolutely non-negotiable, but there are smaller traditions like beards and rassa that are negotiable...Did he ever make any distinctions like that? DC [answers]: He did not make such a distinction. He believed that innumerable things organically related make Orthodoxy and give it its identity. Everything is organically related. About the Church’s arts, for example, he would say that iconography addresses itself to our sense of sight, while music addresses itself to our sense of hearing, but both seek to express the same essence, the Orthodox Faith. Architecture has its own tradition, particularly recognizable in the dome, in the round arch, and by the surfaces that are used for the wall paintings, which other kinds of architecture, such as the Gothic, do not provide. The architecture of the Orthodox church is a very important element of the totality; in other words, all of these arts are organically interrelated, though using different media. The iconography, hymnody, music, and architecture of the Byzantine tradition are trying to convey the same thing. They have the same point of origin: they all spring from and are used to communicate the Orthodox Faith and make it apprehensible to the believer through the senses. Thus, you can see the organic unity of the fine arts of Orthodoxy. You can also see it in the appearance of the priest, the monk, the form of the prayers, and the Liturgy. All of these things are organically related to one another. If you say that traditional iconography is not essential, or the traditional music is secondary and can be replaced with organs or violins, while still retaining Orthodoxy—that’s not so!”

The Russian Orthodox tendency to preserve even the details of Church tradition is vividly illustrated by the 1666 schism between the official Russian Orthodox Church and the ‘old ritualists’. Thousands of Russian believers were cruelly persecuted for hundreds of years primarily because they wanted to keep their middle finger slightly bent when making the sign of the cross rather than straightening this finger in the new official mode. As the Wikipedia article relates, “Some modern readers may perceive these alterations as trivial, but the faithful of that time saw rituals and dogmas as strongly interconnected: church rituals had from the very beginning represented and symbolised doctrinal truth. Furthermore, the authorities imposed the reforms in an autocratic fashion, with no consultation of the people who would become subject to them, and the reaction against the Nikonian reforms would have objected as much to the manner of imposition as to the actual alterations.”

The second sentence in the Wikipedia quote illustrates another aspect of blind faith. Not only does it receive truth blindly but it also tends to proclaim truth blindly. This is illustrated by the behavior of Patriarch Nikon who instigated the liturgical reforms that led to the 1666 schism. When he was made patriarch, “It was only with the utmost difficulty that Nikon could be persuaded to become the arch-pastor of the Russian Church, and he only yielded after imposing upon the whole assembly a solemn oath of obedience to him in everything concerning the dogmas, canons and observances of the Orthodox Church.” In order to spread his liturgical reforms, “Nikon’s patriarchal staff descended with crushing force upon those with whom he disagreed. His scheme of reform included not only service-books and ceremonies but the use of the new-fangled icons, for which he ordered a house-to-house search to be made. His soldiers and servants were charged first to gouge out the eyes of these heretical counterfeits and then carry them through the town in derision. He also issued an ukase threatening with the severest penalties all who dared to make or use such icons in future.”

The end result is a contradiction between proclamation and practice. Verbally, the Orthodox Church proclaims that it is a single united Church that preserves God’s revelation without alteration. In the words of a 1931 proclamation, “Preserving the Faith in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Synod of Bishops confesses that the Church has never been divided. The issue lies only in who does and who does not belong to Her. Moreover, the Synod of Bishops fervently welcomes all attempts by the heterodox to study the teaching of Christ about the Church, in the hope that through such investigation, especially with the participation of representatives of the Holy Orthodox Church, they will eventually arrive at the conviction that the Orthodox Church, which is the `pillar and the ground of truth' (I Timothy 3:15), has fully and without any adulteration retained the doctrine taught by Christ the Savior to His disciples.”

Similarly, OCA states that “the Orthodox Christian Church remains one, as the Body of Christ is one. Western Church history is replete with what you refer to as ‘the schism… a series of over-reactions to heresy.’ Orthodoxy does not admit the notion, which you imply, of ‘the destruction of the church.’ We could go as far as to say that there is no division in the church, for those who stand apart from the fullness of the truth have not divided the one Church but, rather, have placed themselves outside of it.”

However, in practice, the Orthodox Church is separated into a number of squabbling schismatic groups. As one OCIC article, which the webmaster calls ‘for the most part, a very insightful and correct analysis of the American Orthodox scene’, states, “We live in the poisoned atmosphere of anathemas and excommunications, court cases and litigations, dubious consecrations of dubious bishops, hatred, calumny, lies! But do we think about the irreparable moral damage all this inflicts to our people? How can they respect the Hierarchy and its decisions? What meaning can the very concept of canonicity have for them? Are we not encouraging them to consider all norms, all regulations, all rules as purely relative? One wonders sometimes whether our bishops realize the scandal of this situation, whether they ever think about the cynicism all this provokes and feeds in the hearts of Orthodox people. Three Russian jurisdictions, two Serbian, two Romanian, two Albanian, two Bulgarian ... A split among the Syrians ... The animosity between the Russians and the Carpatho-Russians ... The Ukrainian problem! And all this at a time when Orthodoxy in America is coming of age, when truly wonderful possibilities exist for its growth, expansion, creative progress. We teach our children to be ‘proud’ of Orthodoxy, we constantly congratulate ourselves about all kinds of historic events and achievements, our church publications distill an almost unbearable triumphalism and optimism, yet, if we were true to the spirit of our faith we ought to repent in ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ we ought to cry day and night about the sad, the tragical state of our Church.”

Similarly, this article describes more recent failed attempts to bring unity to Greek Orthodox Christianity. American Orthodox Christians were hoping for Church unity. “There was an expectation within the Orthodox Christian Church that the Ecumenical Patriarch would convene the Great and Holy Council to address momentous and pressing issues concerning the Church in the Third Millennium... For us living in America the status of the ‘Diaspora’ churches and the uncanonical condition of more than one bishop residing in the same city are concerns that the council would address...The apex of this hope was the meeting of 29 canonical bishops in Ligonier, Pennsylvania on November 30-December 2, 1994... Spiritually mature Orthodox Christians living in the United States see unity as the way to retain the faithful.”

However, “These hopes of the faithful were dashed by the reaction of the Patriarch to the Ligionier protocols. He ordered the Greek Orthodox bishops under his jurisdiction who signed the documents to rescind their signatures and denounce the protocols. In July 1996 Archbishop Iakovos was forced to retire after 37 years of faithful and productive service to all Orthodox Christians in North and South America.” As a result, “the last decade of the twentieth century and the beginning of the new millennium continue to be a time of disunity, turmoil and the unraveling of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.”

Similar to the Russian situation in 1666, truth was proclaimed blindly, “Unilaterally, contrary to the provisions of the 1977 Charter and acting without the consultation of the clergy and laity, the Patriarch chose to dismember the Archdiocese of North and South America into four separate entities during the period of transition between the retirement of Archbishop Iakovos and the elevation of former Archbishop Spyridon.” Orthodox believers were accused of not being faithful to revealed truth. “The unfortunate three year tenure of Archbishop Spyridon almost brought the church to schism, exacerbated ethnic tensions within the church and showed the disdain of the Patriarch toward the American church by telling us over and over again, through his hand picked Archbishop, that the Orthodoxy that evolved within our American cultural context was ‘Protestantized’, and that old world Orthodoxy is some how more Orthodox than that lived in the New World. The disdain for American born and educated clergy was also made an issue by attacking their teachers at the theological school.”

Achieving Church Unity

The purpose of these quotes is not to criticize the Orthodox Church but rather to point out the inherent inadequacy of attempting to build universality upon a foundation of specific Mercy experiences and people. If the mental foundation is specific, then the mental structure will also fragment into specifics. This does not mean that the Orthodox Church has never achieved unity. However, the basis for this unity is interesting from a cognitive viewpoint.

The article on Greek Orthodox disunity concludes by looking at the unity apparent in the OCA (Orthodox Church of America). It relates that “the clergy and lay delegates to the Congress elected a new primate of their Church. The process was open and all could participate within the Constitutional Provisions. The demeanor and spirit of this assembly is different from the Greek Orthodox and Antiochian assemblies. There is a level of spiritual maturity not seen in the other assemblies and this may relate to the fact that the OCA is indeed an autocephalous church.” We see here two reasons given for unity. First, the leaders are freely elected by the laity. Second, the OCA is an independent church organization. In other words, Perceiver truth is not being dictated by people with Mercy status and cultural differences within Mercy thought are being respected. These are good principles but they reflect the use of Perceiver thought and not the attitude of blind faith. In other words, the Orthodox Church can achieve unity when it does not practice phronema. But Orthodox doctrine insists that phronema (.ie blind faith) must be the mindset for the One and Only Church. However, no matter how dogmatically one preaches absolute truth, I suggest that universal cognitive mechanisms are still in charge.

The OCIC article on Church unity (or canonicity) quoted earlier mentions two ways in which the Orthodox Church has historically achieved unity. The article begins by saying that the makeup of the true Orthodox Church is not settled but is often a matter of debate. “No term is used—and misused—among the Orthodox people in America more often than the term canonical. One hears endless discussions about the ‘canonicity’ or the ‘uncanonicity’ of this or that bishop, jurisdiction, priest, parish.” And this has been a long-term problem. “The canonical chaos in America is not a specifically ‘American’ phenomenon. Rather, Orthodoxy here is the victim of a long, indeed a multi-secular disease. It was a latent disease as long as the Church was living in the old traditional situation characterized primarily by an organic unity of the State, the ethnic factor and the ecclesiastical organization.”

The first method for achieving Orthodox unity is then described. “Up to quite recently, in fact up to the appearance of the massive Orthodox diaspora, ecclesiastical stability and order were preserved not so much by the canonical ‘consciousness,’ but by State regulations and control. Ironically enough it made not much difference whether the State was Orthodox (The Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Greece), Roman Catholic (Austro-Hungary) or Muslim (the Ottoman Empire). Members of the Church could be persecuted in non-Orthodox States, but Church organization—and this is the crux of the matter—was sanctioned by the State and could not be altered without this sanction.”

In other words, the Orthodox Church does not naturally remain united. Instead, unity has historically been imposed upon the Orthodox Church by the political power of the local state. And the religion of the state that has imposed order upon the Church is irrelevant. This needs to be repeated. The Orthodox Church insists that it is the One United Church that possesses the pure and unadulterated Word of God. But in practice this ‘united church’ has to have unity thrust upon it through edicts from non-Christian powers.

The second method for achieving Orthodox unity is through common culture. “The unprecedented situation of American Orthodoxy is that the Church here, different in this from all other parts of the Orthodox world, is multinational in its origins. Since the Byzantine era, Orthodoxy was always brought to and accepted by whole nations. The only familiar pattern of the past, therefore, is not the creation of mere local churches, but a total integration and incarnation of Orthodoxy in national cultures; so that these cultures themselves cannot be separated from Orthodoxy but, in their depth, are genuine expressions of Orthodoxy. This organic unity of the national and religious is not a historical accident, much less a defect of Orthodoxy. In its positive expression it is the fruit of the Orthodox concept and experience of the Church as embracing the whole life. Catholicity means for an Orthodox more than geographic universality; it is, above everything else, the wholeness, the totality of life as belonging to Christ and sanctified by the Church. In this respect, the situation in America is radically different from the whole historical experience of Orthodoxy. Not only the Orthodox Church was brought here by representatives of various Orthodox nations, but it was brought as precisely the continuation of their national existence.”

In other words, the Orthodox Church has traditionally been the church of an entire nation or culture. Thus, what has brought unity to the Orthodox Church is the common culture of the people who attend the local Orthodox Church. Again this needs to be repeated. Unity is being externally imposed upon the Orthodox Church by the culture from which the Orthodox Church is saving people.

According to this article, the Orthodox Church has never before faced a situation in which it was not given unity by the local culture. “Whereas there, in the old world, Orthodoxy is coextensive with national culture, and to some extent, is the national culture (so that the only alternative is the escape into a ‘cosmopolitan,’ viz. ‘Western’ culture), in America, religious pluralism and therefore, a basic religious ‘neutrality,’ belongs to the very essence of culture and prevents religion from a total ‘integration’ in culture. Americans may be more religious people than Russians or Serbs, religion in America may have privileges, prestige and status it has not had in the ‘organic’ Orthodox countries, all this does not alter the fundamentally secular nature of contemporary American culture; and yet it is precisely this dichotomy of culture and religion that Orthodoxy has never known or experienced and that is totally alien to Orthodoxy. For the first time in its whole history, Orthodoxy must live within a secular culture.”

Before we continue, let us summarize what we have learned so far. We began by reading that ‘Orthodoxy is not a system of ideas, but a way of life’ and that ‘true acquisition of knowledge is an experiential concept involving the transformation of the whole man’.

We then explored what it means to acquire knowledge experientially and saw that this corresponds in detail to what mental symmetry calls blind faith, in which Mercy emotions are used to overwhelm Perceiver thought. We saw that the method of blind faith does not affect the whole man but rather leads to a fundamental mental split between religious thought and secular thought. And because blind faith focuses upon specific experiences it is also mentally incapable of adequately understanding the nature of a universal God.

We then turned our attention to the world of experiences and saw that the Orthodox Church is not a ‘way of life’ but rather a frozen mental snapshot of past life. And what has held this mental snapshot together is primarily the external forces of either state or culture.

Taking a Mercy Perspective

I suggested in a previous article that the fundamental error of the Catholic Church is to equate physical symbols with the Platonic forms that these physical symbols represent. I suggest that the fundamental error of the Orthodox Church is to view everything from the perspective of Mercy thought.

I suggest that the fundamental error of the Orthodox Church is to view everything from the perspective of Mercy thought.

First, the emphasis is upon a way of life to the exclusion of abstract doctrine. Living involves Mercy experiences whereas abstract doctrine uses Teacher thought. Second, knowledge is acquired through blind faith, which uses emotional Mercy experiences to impose facts upon Perceiver thought. Third, one learns about God through direct experience—again using the lens of Mercy thought. Fourth, preserving the Faith means giving emotional status in Mercy thought to the church fathers and accepting their pronouncements. Fifth, practicing the Faith means giving emotional status in Mercy thought to ancient customs and following them without deviation. Sixth, the Orthodox Church views itself as a Mercy source with great emotional status that reveals God to the world. Seventh, the Orthodox Church achieves unity primarily by having it imposed externally by the Mercy status of the state or by having it imposed internally by the Mercy status of the culture.

With this in mind, let us look briefly at the Orthodox church’s claim to be the original and pure Church. My general thesis is that Christian doctrine makes sense if it is analyzed from the perspective of Teacher thought. I have also suggested that the traits of the Christian God naturally emerge if one mentally constructs a general Teacher theory applies to personal identity. However, instead of using Teacher thought, Orthodox Christianity bases everything upon Mercy thought. Orthodox Christianity also claims the Christian doctrine must be accepted through blind faith and that the traits of God are incomprehensible.

One could compare this to an English speaker attempting to understand a book written in Russian. Obviously, the words will not make sense because the reader is using the wrong language. But what if the reader insists that he is using the right language and that the book itself is incomprehensible? As long as no one speaks Russian, there is no way of knowing whether the problem lies with the reader or with the book. But, suppose that someone learns to speak Russian and discovers that the book does not just make sense but rather makes eminent sense. One can then conclude that the reader is using the wrong language.

Similarly, the Christian message is largely incomprehensible when viewed purely from the viewpoint of Mercy thought. But the Orthodox Church claims that Mercy thought is the right language to use and it insists that it is the Bible that is incomprehensible. As long as the biblical message is not fully understood, there is no way of knowing whether the problem lies with the Orthodox Church or with the Bible. But, suppose that people use Teacher thought to analyze the Bible and discover that it makes eminent sense. One can then conclude that the Mercy viewpoint of the Orthodox church is the wrong language.

Understanding cognitive development makes it possible to go one step further. Because humans live in a physical body that floods the mind with emotional experiences, Mercy thought is the first part of the mind to develop. The young child who is in Piaget’s preoperational stage views everything from a Mercy perspective. It is only in the teenage years that the growing child enters Piaget’s formal operational stage and becomes mentally capable of adopting a Teacher perspective. Thus, the mindset that is required to understand the Bible is significantly more advanced cognitively than the mindset used by the Orthodox Church. But the Orthodox mindset does correspond to the Mercy viewpoint that dominated Greek and Roman thought.

This Mercy viewpoint can be seen in the pantheon of Greek gods and mythological figures. Greeks and Romans believed that every aspect of human existence was guided by the Mercy mental network of some god, mythological figure, or personified concept. Instead of having Teacher-based doctrine, the Greeks used Mercy-based mythology—stories that illustrated the character and interaction of the various gods. [6]

Stated simply, the Orthodox Church is treating the Bible the way that the young child of a college professor would approach the writings and practices of his parent. In other words, evidence suggests that the Bible is a supernaturally clever book while those who initially followed the Bible approached this book the way that a young child would approach a college textbook.

I am not suggesting that all Orthodox thinking is childish. However, I suggest that when Orthodox scholars are using adult thought, they are using it primarily to describe and analyze childish thought rather than to transform it. The mental foundation is still blind faith in experts, and educational theory suggests that students need to go beyond this type of rote learning to critical thinking. For instance, consider the term ‘apophatic theology’. It is simply a fancy way of saying that I am incapable of learning. But, learned words are used and church fathers are quoted to describe this state of inescapable ignorance. “Cyril of Jerusalem (315 - 386) tells us, ‘We explain not what God is, but candidly confess that we have no exact knowledge concerning Him. For in what concerns God, to confess our ignorance is the best knowledge.’ We cannot think of God in terms of a philosophy. Words cannot define God, but why? Because, this would limit God to our own reasonableness. We are part of His creation and therefore less than God. The Creator must be larger than the created. God is infinite and beyond all human reason. About all we can say about God is that He isn’t this, but also, He isn’t that either. This is known as ‘apophatic theology’ where we define God by what we know He is not.”

Saying this more clearly in the language of mental symmetry, Facilitator thought is capable of observing, describing, and adjusting the operation of the mind—no matter what the level of cognitive development. Therefore, Facilitator persons have carefully observed, described, and regulated the Mercy-based thinking practiced by the Orthodox Church. This self-analysis is an attribute of adult thought. However, observing, describing, and regulating childish thought still assumes a mental foundation of childish thought.

Similarly, Contributor thought is capable of constructing a technical edifice upon a mental foundation of blind faith. One could compare this to constructing buildings out of blocks of ice. Water becomes solid when it is frozen. Similarly, blind faith becomes solid when Perceiver thought is ‘frozen’. It is possible to build massive edifices out of ice, but the building material is still unnaturally solid and it will melt when winter is over. Likewise, Contributor thought can define terms and procedures carefully even when the mental building material is blind faith and blind obedience, but this mental building material will dissolve when exposed to critical thinking. Obviously, a child cannot perform this type of technical thought, but the mental foundation is still childish thought and not adult thought.

The Positive Side of Adopting a Mercy Perspective

There are also positive aspects to viewing Christianity from a Mercy perspective. In the same way that the adult often suppresses the Mercy feelings of his childhood, so modern Western thought became objective and abandoned the subjective Mercy emotions of personal identity. Traditional culture resonates with Orthodox practice because traditional culture is centered upon the Mercy experiences of personal and social life. In contrast, it is difficult to adopt a Mercy orientation in a modern world which suppresses Mercy thought. Quoting from OCIC, “what is the mysterious obstacle which makes it impossible for Orthodoxy to be Orthodox?...I named that obstacle before: It is the peculiar disease of the society and the culture to which we belong and whose name is secularism. Secularism, as I tried to show, is a world-view and consequently a way of life in which the basic aspects of human existence such as family, education, science, pro-lesson, art, etc., not only are not rooted in or related to, religious faith, but the very necessity or possibility of such connection is denied. The secular sphere of life is thought of as autonomous, i.e. governed by its own values, principles and motivations—different by nature from the religious ones.”

In some ways, being an Orthodox Christian is more difficult in today’s secular society than it was under persecution. As OCIC puts it, “Being a true Orthodox Christian, prepared to preserve unto death one’s faith in Christ our Saviour, is much more difficult in our day than it was in the first centuries of Christianity. It’s true there were persecutions then and Christians were tormented, but the Christians well remembered the Saviour’s words, ‘... fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul’ (Matt. 11:28). Being fortified by God’s grace, they joyfully went to their martyrdom and gave up their lives for Christ. This was also the case in Russia during the torture and persecutions. Now nobody threatens us, living here in freedom, with persecution and torture, but in spite of this, a persecution in its most diverse forms is being carried on against Christianity and against the Christian way of life. Today we see that everything connected with faith in God, with the teaching of God’s Word, with Christ’s teachings and the teachings of the Orthodox Church, in one way or another is being driven out of a person’s life. This process that is taking place in the contemporary world is a process of apostasy, and it can be detected in every aspect of life.”

Thus, even if the Orthodox Church is not preserving all of the Christian message, I suggest that it is preserving an aspect of this message that is largely ignored by others, which is the personal aspect. Quoting from OCIC, “as long as we will not face this unconscious surrender to secularism as the very source of all our difficulties and will not make an effort to deal with what is the real source of all our problems and difficulties, all our attempts to preserve Orthodoxy will suffer from an internal handicap. The real question, therefore, is: can this spiritual problem be solved, and what are the possible ways to its solution?...To answer this question, be it only in a most general way, we must begin with something quite forgotten and certainly out of fashion today: the fundamentally personal character of Christianity. One of the greatest dangers of modern secularism is the reduction of man, of his life and his religion to history and sociology.”

I mentioned earlier that a mental concept of God naturally leads to dueling mental networks, because a concept of God is based in a Teacher mental network while personal identity is based in Mercy mental networks. When mental networks collide, then one will impose its structure upon the other. Personal transformation occurs when the Teacher mental network imposes its structure upon the Mercy mental network. Thus, personal transformation can be viewed as going from God to man—from general Teacher understanding to Mercy heart. The Orthodox Church focuses upon personal identity and Mercy thought, while downplaying Teacher understanding and insisting that Teacher thought cannot be used to comprehend the nature of God. In other words, it understands the ‘to Mercy heart’ part while suppressing the ‘from Teacher understanding’ part. In contrast, modern secular science recognizes that the universe is ruled by universal laws that can be described using Teacher thought—and, as I have shown in a previous essay, using Teacher thought is the key to understanding the nature of God. But science tries to remain objective and it separates theory from personal identity and personal responsibility. Thus, it grasps the ‘from Teacher understanding’ part while suppressing the ‘to Mercy heart’ part.

Post-modern Western society is now recognizing that the Mercy heart has been suppressed. Therefore, many people are turning to the Orthodox Church because it provides what was lacking in modern society—a Mercy heart. But, I suggest that there is a right and a wrong way to add Mercy heart to Teacher understanding. The wrong way is to juxtapose them. The result is two parallel streams which do not connect: Secular society provides ‘from Teacher understanding to the physical world’ while Orthodox faith provides ‘from tradition to the Mercy heart’; secular society uses Teacher thought while suppressing Mercy identity; Orthodox faith uses Mercy thought while suppressing Teacher thought.

Examining the predicament of the modern world, if one adopts the Mercy perspective of the Orthodox Church, then one will conclude, as does the Orthodox Church, that “everything connected with faith in God, with the teaching of God’s Word, with Christ’s teachings and the teachings of the Orthodox Church, in one way or another is being driven out of a person’s life. This process that is taking place in the contemporary world is a process of apostasy, and it can be detected in every aspect of life.”

However, if one recognizes that Christianity uses Teacher thought to transform Mercy thought, then one will see that the modern ‘secular’ world actually contains many fragments of a valid Teacher-based concept of God. The puzzle pieces are there. They simply have to be assembled. Instead of rejecting secular Teacher theories because they ignore the heart, one needs to extend these Teacher theories so that they include the heart. But this means viewing God from a Teacher perspective, and I do not know if the Orthodox Church is either able or willing to take this step.

For instance, remember the illustration given at the beginning of this essay of the conversation with the Catholic monk. My explanation of mental symmetry included personal identity, the heart, and subjective emotions, and I emphasized the value that mental symmetry places upon personal identity, but my explanation was rejected because I was taking a Teacher perspective. In other words, I was using rational words with precise meanings to explain theoretical diagrams rather than using poetical language and hushed tones to describe ecstatic experiences.

Moving on, the Mercy person has a natural spiritual sensitivity and is usually able to look beyond physical experience to underlying personal motives. OCIC says that “Orthodox monastic life involves a system which contemporary psychologists call a ‘feed-back loop.’ By attention to externals, we affect internals; and by the restored internal state, external attributes are affected. Endlessly linked to one another, internals and externals interact with one another to the point that they are no longer separate. The humble spirit manifests itself in the humble face; the sweet countenance in the sweetness of spirit; and the contrite heart within a contrite act. Grace brings what is inside out and what is outside in. Grace molds, blends, and transforms. And if to the naive and un-seeing spirit this seems to be a process that rises out of superstition, then it is the kind of superstition that makes planes fly and radios speak.” In other words, while Orthodox thought does have a Mercy bias, it also attempts to go beyond physical experience to internal attitude.

Like the mature Mercy person, the Orthodox Church is aware of the emotional shallowness that characterizes modern Western identity. Quoting again from OCIC, “Our abnormal life today can be characterized as spoiled, pampered. From infancy today’s child is treated, as a general rule, like a little god or goddess in the family: his whims are catered to, his desires fulfilled; he is surrounded by toys, amusements, comforts; he is not trained and brought up according to strict principles of Christian behavior, but left to develop whichever way his desires incline...When such a child becomes an adult, he naturally surrounds himself with the same things he was used to in his childhood: comforts, amusements, and grown-up toys. Life becomes a constant search for ‘fun’ which, by the way, is a word totally unheard of in any other vocabulary; in 19th century Russia they wouldn't have understood what this word meant, or any serious civilization. Life is a constant search for ‘fun’ which is so empty of any serious meaning that a visitor from any 19th-century country, looking at our popular television programs, amusement parks, advertisements, movies, music—at almost any aspect of our popular culture—would think he had stumbled across a land of imbeciles who have lost all contact with normal reality. We don’t often take that into consideration, because we are living in this society and we take it for granted.”

The Orthodox Christian mindset attempts to add emotional depth to people’s Mercy experiences. Quoting again from the previous article, “The child who has been exposed from his earliest years to good classical music, and has seen his soul being developed by it, will not be nearly as tempted by the crude rhythm and message of rock and other contemporary forms of pseudo-music as someone who has grown up without a musical education. Such a musical education, as several of the Optina elders have said, refines the soul and prepares it for the reception of spiritual impressions. The child who has been educated in good literature, drama, and poetry and has felt their effect in his own soul—that is, has really enjoyed them—, will not easily become an addict of the contemporary movies and television programs and cheap novels that devastate the soul and take it away from the Christian path. The child who has learned to see beauty in classical painting and sculpture will not easily be drawn into the perversity of contemporary art or be attracted by the garish products of modern advertising and pornography.”

The Mercy person is often attracted to ‘the bird with a broken wing’ and tries to help others. Similarly, the focus of the Orthodox Church is upon personal healing. “A fundamental teaching of the Holy Fathers is that the Church is a ‘Hospital’ which cures the wounded man. In many passages of Holy Scripture such language is used. One such passage is that of the parable of the Good Samaritan... In this parable, the Samaritan represents Christ who cured the wounded man and led him to the Inn, that is to the ‘Hospital’ which is the Church. It is evident here that Christ is presented as the Healer, the physician who cures man's maladies; and the Church as the true Hospital. It is very characteristic that Saint John Chrysostom, analysing this parable, presents these truths emphasized above.”

These are all good traits and transforming Mercy thought is one of the primary goals of personal salvation. However, if personal salvation is viewed purely from a Mercy perspective, then I suggest that salvation will be quite limited. We will now examine some of the ways in which Orthodox thought views personal salvation from a Mercy lens and how this limits salvation.

Summarizing the last two sections, we began by suggesting that Orthodox Christianity views religion from the perspective of Mercy thought. It focuses upon experience and tradition rather than abstract doctrine. It emphasizes blind faith, which bases belief in emotional experiences. However, in order to make sense of Christian doctrine, one must view Christianity from the Teacher perspective of general theory. Thus, I suggest that Orthodox Christianity is using the wrong cognitive language to understand Christian doctrine, which explains why Orthodox Christianity claims that theology is incomprehensible.

There are also positive aspects to approaching Christianity from a perspective of Mercy thought. The Orthodox approach emphasizes something that is lacking in Western society, because Western thought tends to suppress subjective feelings. Unfortunately, while Orthodox Christianity includes the subjective it does not integrate subjective experience with rational thought. Thus, it provides an alternative to modern secular existence but not an answer. Orthodox Christianity also recognizes the spiritual realm, which is often ignored by both Western science and Protestant Christianity. Western culture tends to be emotionally shallow. Orthodox Christianity provides an alternative that has depth, meaning, and subtlety. Finally, Orthodox Christianity attempts to heal the sinner rather than merely condemn him.

The Jesus Prayer

Let us begin by looking at what is known as the Jesus Prayer. The most common form of this prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” Analyzing this prayer from a cognitive perspective, the name ‘Jesus’ means salvation. Mentally speaking, practical Contributor thought thinks in terms of cause-and-effect or sowing-and-reaping. Practical Contributor thought uses this knowledge to improve Mercy experiences. An obvious example is physical sowing and reaping, where one plants some seeds in order to harvest many more. When practical Contributor thought is combined with personal identity, then there is personal salvation, because practical Contributor thought is improving the Mercy experiences of personal identity. It is very common for the Contributor person to marry the Mercy person, and the Eucharist symbolizes the joining of practical Contributor thought with Mercy identity.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, practical Contributor thought improves Mercy experiences while intellectual Contributor thought improves Teacher theories. Practical Contributor thought by itself can improve personal identity. However, when practical Contributor thought combines with intellectual Contributor thought and is backed up by a general Teacher theory, then it is possible to experience salvation that is far more universal. The amount of personal salvation that is experienced will depend upon the generality of the Teacher theory combined with the extent of integrated Contributor thought.

For instance, math with its variables and symbols is an example of a general Teacher theory. Intellectual Contributor thought adds depth to this general theory by defining terms, proving theorems, and solving technical problems. Pure math lives within the ‘castles of the air’ of abstract theory and does not bring salvation to anyone. However, when math is applied through science and technology, then there is extensive personal salvation through the invention of all manner of laborsaving, life protecting, and entertaining gadgets.

Translating this into religious language, integrated Contributor thought acts as an incarnation that ‘lives with God’ in Teacher thought and brings ‘salvation to man’ in Mercy thought. The Jesus Prayer summarizes this relationship. Jesus is addressed as both human and divine, describing integrated Contributor thought. Integrated Contributor thought is being asked to bring salvation to personal identity: ‘Have mercy on me’ asks for salvation and ‘the sinner’ acknowledges that personal identity needs salvation.

As I have mentioned, the extent of this salvation depends upon the generality of the Teacher theory. That is why it is important to state the concept of incarnation and personal salvation using both religious and scientific language, because this common language increases the generality of the Teacher theory, making it possible to experience more extensive personal salvation. For instance, the ‘personal salvation’ delivered by science and technology is limited to the realm of objects and devices because science limits its Teacher theories and Contributor plans to the realm of the objective. Similarly, even though Christianity states its belief in incarnation in universal terms, Christian salvation is usually limited to the realm of subjective emotions because the general understanding of Christianity is only applied to the realm of subjective emotions.

With this in mind, let us take another look at the Jesus Prayer. Notice that the fixed reference point in this prayer is actually ‘me the sinner’. In other words, the underlying assumption is that personal identity will always remain inadequate. This attitude is often illustrated by the relationship between the Mercy person and the Contributor person. The Mercy person is prone to saying ‘I am sorry’ and the Contributor person can become annoyed at the incessant apologizing of the Mercy person. I suggest that the Jesus Prayer illustrates this trait of incessant apologizing. This does not mean that Mercy identity does not need salvation. But, in order to implement salvation, the focus must change from Mercy inadequacy to Teacher understanding and Contributor plans. One sees this illustrated by the Lord’s prayer. Personal inadequacy is recognized, but the focus is upon acting in a way that is consistent with Teacher understanding and implementing the ‘kingdom of God’.

Thus, I suggest that the Jesus Prayer limits personal salvation by approaching it from the viewpoint of Mercy thought. In simple terms, personal inadequacy becomes the mental reference point. Such a person can be helped but he cannot be saved because he feels lost when he is not suffering. In the language of mental symmetry, emotion is colliding with hyper-emotion. On the one hand, the penitent individual acknowledges that the mental networks of personal identity are inadequate. Thus emotion causes a person to want to change personal identity. On the other hand, the mind is still integrated around the inadequate mental networks of personal identity, thus hyper-emotion drives individual to preserve personal identity in order to prevent these mental networks from falling apart. The abused spouse illustrates this juxtaposition, because staying in the abusive situation creates emotional pain, while leaving the abusive situation creates emotional hyper-pain.

Orthodox Christianity is the primary religion of Russia. I suggest that the limitations of the Jesus Prayer can help us to understand what is commonly known as the ‘Russian soul’ or the Russian mindset. As one survival guide describes, “There is a widely accepted notion in Russia that there is a ‘soul’ that makes Russians different - a sort of sadness born of oppression that demands a different social order. Whether or not this proud melancholia is fact or fiction is arguable, but the belief is almost universally held with great pride. Acres of print have been devoted to the topic, with no very firm conclusions.” The Wikipedia article on Russian soul describes this relationship more explicitly. “Depth, strength, and compassion are general characteristics of the Russian soul. According to Dostoevsky, ‘the most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything’. Dostoevsky’s ideas about Russian soul are closely connected with Eastern Orthodox Christianity, its ideal of Christ, his suffering for others, his will to die for others and his quiet humility about it.”

Summarizing, one finds great psychological insights in both Orthodox Christianity and the Russian soul, as illustrated by Russian authors. But this is a practical insight that is based in personal Mercy experiences and not general Teacher understanding, and the reference point remains personal suffering.

Hesychasm

I have suggested that the extent of personal salvation depends upon the generality of the Teacher theory that lies behind a mental image of God. However, an image of God emerges as a general theory applies to personal identity. Therefore, it is possible to indirectly make a Teacher theory appear more general by manipulating personal identity, in essence wagging the tail to move the dog.

We have seen that the ‘Jesus Prayer’ does encapsulate the plan of personal salvation. However, in order to extend the realm of this salvation, the Teacher generality of the Jesus Prayer has to be expanded. This can be done by translating the prayer, as we did when looking at the scientific equivalent. Science expands its version of the Jesus Prayer by applying it in many different ways to many different situations.

Hesychasm describes the manner in which the Orthodox Christian extends the Jesus prayer through repetition. As the Wikipedia article relates, “In solitude and retirement, the Hesychast repeats the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.’ The Hesychast prays the Jesus Prayer ‘with the heart’—with meaning, with intent, ‘for real’ (see ontic). He never treats the Jesus Prayer as a string of syllables whose ‘surface’ or overt verbal meaning is secondary or unimportant...There is a very great emphasis on humility in the practice of the Jesus Prayer, great cautions being given in the texts about the disaster that will befall the would-be Hesychast if he proceeds in pride, arrogance or conceit...While he maintains his practice of the Jesus Prayer, which becomes automatic and continues twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the Hesychast cultivates watchful attention (Gr. nepsis). Sobriety contributes to this mental askesis described above that rejects tempting thoughts; it puts a great emphasis on focus and attention. The Hesychast is to pay extreme attention to the consciousness of his inner world and to the words of the Jesus Prayer, not letting his mind wander in any way at all.”

A truly universal Teacher theory applies to all situations. Mental symmetry suggests that the Jesus Prayer is universal because it summarizes fundamental cognitive circuits and because using these cognitive circuits makes it possible to understand and control how the natural world functions. In contrast, hesychasm makes the Jesus Prayer appear universal by saying it all the time. And by all the time, I mean ALL THE TIME. But the same technique could be used to make any statement appear universal. For instance, I could say endlessly that ‘The moon is made of green cheese’.

Unlike continually saying that the moon is made of green cheese, repeating the Jesus Prayer does have some personal benefit because this prayer describes universal cognitive mechanisms. But what makes this prayer universal is not the endless repetition but rather the universality of the cognitive mechanisms. One could compare this with the law of gravity. One does not go around repeating endlessly that ‘objects fall when dropped’, even though this is universally true. Instead, one observes that objects consistently fall when they are dropped, which leads to a universal understanding in Teacher thought.

Orthodox Christianity uses a prayer rope primarily as a way of keeping track of how many times the Jesus Prayer has been said. Orthodox monks will recite the Jesus Prayer up to 12,000 times a day. It is interesting to compare the Catholic approach to the rosary with the Orthodox Church’s treatment of prayer beads. Most obviously, the layout of the beads is different, reflecting a different set of prayers. The rosary is used as a way to bring order to a collection of prayers, and the person using the rosary will focus upon different aspects of the life of Jesus during different days of the week. The author of Rediscover Catholicism, which is analyzed in another essay, says “I began praying the rosary because it is a form of prayer that I find very soothing, both mentally and spiritually. Today, I pray the rosary because I believe it is the simplest way to reflect upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.” In the language of mental symmetry, the rosary uses repeated Server actions to create Teacher order-within-complexity.

For the Orthodox Christian, what matters is the Mercy attitude that is engendered by repeating the Jesus Prayer. OCIC quotes one Orthodox monk as saying, “The whole work of the Prayer of Jesus is for repentance! Because we pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” This means repentance. Because if you pray without repentance it means that you have high-mindedness and are on the wrong path. Why do we pray to our Lord Jesus Christ to have mercy on us? Because we’re sinners. So, we say this prayer only for repentance. If you have high-mindedness, no matter how little, God will not have mercy on you.”

When one is using blind faith, then it is important to avoid ‘high-mindedness’. Remember that blind faith only lasts as long as I feel that my emotional source of truth is far more important than personal identity. When a person feels that God is showing him mercy, then this lifts up the importance of personal identity relative to God. ‘God does care for me. I am not a worm. I am somebody.’ But if a person feels that he really is a somebody who can think for himself, then he will start to doubt his blind faith in God. Therefore, the only way to continue receiving mercy from a God that is based in blind faith is to avoid slipping into an attitude of high-mindedness.

Many Pentecostal Christian leaders have fallen into self-deception, demagoguery, and scandal because they failed to learn this lesson. That is because Pentecostal Christianity is also based in blind faith. Quoting from a Time article on Pentecostalism, “Some suggest that the risk of high-profile meltdowns may be in the very nature of Pentecostal leadership roles. ‘There’s a lot of soul searching in our movement right now,’ says J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, because of the spectacle of highly successful preachers losing their way. ‘There’s a saying, “Your anointing can take you to a place where your character cannot sustain you.” I’m hearing that a lot more often these days.”

The solution, I suggest, is to recognize that personal identity is based in Mercy experiences while a concept of God is rooted in general Teacher understanding. These two are totally independent from one another. The law of gravity, for instance, is a universal law that has nothing to do with personal status. It applies equally to popes and peasants. If Teacher understanding is independent of Mercy status, then it is possible to gain Mercy status without abandoning faith in God—because a concept of God is based in Teacher thought, which is different than personal identity in Mercy thought.

Moving on, SGGOC says that repeating the Jesus Prayer starts by using the prayer rope and then turns into an internal attitude. “To begin to recite the Jesus prayer, add to your prayer rule the recitation of a certain number of repetitions. You might begin with saying it fifty times. This is where the use of a prayer rope comes in. A prayer rope is made of a fixed number of knots. A common one has fifty knots. As you say the Jesus prayer you advance your thumb and forefinger one knot each time. In this way you will know how many times you have repeated the prayer. Prayer ropes are made in monasteries and blessed with prayer in their making...You begin the practice of the Jesus prayer as with other prayers by reciting them with your lips or saying them aloud. Then after you have learned to concentrate your mind on prayer, you can begin to say them in your mind. Finally after much time you will descend from the mind into your heart and your prayers will be said from the depths of your inner most being.”

The prayer rope is regarded as a tool to help the beginner who is learning to repeat the Jesus Prayer. “The prayer rope is ‘a tool of prayer’. The use of the prayer rope, however, is not compulsory and it is considered as an aid to the beginners or the ‘weak’ practitioners, those who face difficulties practicing the Prayer.”

Summarizing, Catholic Christianity uses the rosary as a Server sequence to bring order to Teacher thought, whereas Orthodox Christianity uses the prayer rope as a tool to produce an attitude of personal inadequacy within Mercy thought. Again, we see the Orthodox tendency to view Christianity from a Mercy perspective.

Teacher thought feels good when many disparate items fit together to form a simple structure. I refer to this as order-within-complexity. Teacher thought feels emotional pain when faced with chaos or when there is an exception to the general rule. As one can see from observing the small child, childish identity is naturally chaotic and is continually looking for exceptions to the rule. Thus, the Mercy mental networks of childish identity need to be torn apart and reassembled in a form that is consistent with Teacher understanding. Using religious language, man is a sinner who needs to be saved by God.

However, there is a huge difference between regarding childish personal identity as fundamentally flawed and regarding a person as ‘always a sinner’. For instance, when a teacher marks a student’s test, he does not automatically mark every answer as wrong. (Teacher with a capital ‘T’ refers to Teacher thought. Teacher with a small ‘t’ describes the profession of school instructor.) Instead, the teacher compares the student’s answers with the correct answers and then marks the mistakes as wrong. Mental symmetry suggests that childish identity will always fail God’s test of holiness. In other words, childish Mercy mental networks will always behave in a manner that violates general Teacher understanding. But this does not mean that childish identity will get every question wrong.

Instead, I suggest that both ‘marking every answer right’ and ‘marking every answer wrong’ are expressions of childish Mercy identity, because in both cases the reference is childish identity. In other words, neither the student who insists that he knows everything nor the student who insists that he knows nothing is listening to what the teacher is saying.

Mental symmetry suggests that an attitude of self-denial will always accompany blind faith. That is because blind faith can only function as long as the emotional status of the source of truth is much greater than the emotional status of personal identity. In other words, if God is the source of absolute truth, then I am a worm compared to God. In Catholic Christianity with its focus upon Server actions, self-denial has historically expressed itself through actions of self-denial. In Orthodox Christianity with its focus upon Mercy thought, self-denial expresses itself mainly as a Mercy attitude of personal inadequacy.

In contrast, a Teacher orientation can be seen in the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, which Jesus says provides the pattern for how one should pray: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6). Because this prayer has been repeated so many times, it will probably be more comprehensible if we use mental symmetry to translate it into the language of the school student. “Oh teacher who lives in understanding, I recognize that you are special because of your professional training. May I acquire your understanding, may my actions in normal life reflect your understanding.” Notice how the entire focus is upon Teacher understanding and acquiring this understanding. In contrast, repeating the Jesus Prayer is like the student who continually says “I am sorry for being so stupid. I always do everything wrong.” The reference point for the eternally sorry student is not the understanding of the teacher but his own personal ignorance.

I suggest that this analogy is not an overstatement. That is because the Jesus prayer is being repeated sufficient times to turn it into a prayer of the heart that functions autonomously. “Once this is achieved the Jesus Prayer is said to become ‘self-active’ (αυτενεργούμενη). It is repeated automatically and unconsciously by the mind, having a Tetris Effect, like a (beneficial) Earworm. Body, through the uttering of the prayer, mind, through the mental repetition of the prayer, are thus unified with ‘the heart’ (spirit) and the prayer becomes constant, ceaselessly ‘playing’ in the background of the mind, like a background music, without hindering the normal everyday activities of the person.” Explaining these terms, a Tetris Effect “occurs when people devote sufficient time and attention to an activity that it begins to overshadow their thoughts, mental images, and dreams.” An earworm is a song that gets stuck in a person’s head.

Fabricating Teacher Generality

In order to analyze Hesychasm further, we need to understand how Teacher thought forms a general theory. Both Mercy thought and Teacher thought have the ability to concentrate, which means the ability to hold on to some memory as other memories float by. Teacher thought forms a general theory simply by picking some set of words or symbols and trying to hold on to this memory. The stream of memories that float by will then be examined in the light of the memory upon which Teacher thought has chosen to concentrate. If Teacher thought can continue to hold onto this memory, then it has discovered a general theory. In simple terms, a general theory is a successful obsession.

For instance, when I examine a new topic such as Orthodox Christianity, subconscious Teacher thought within my mind attempts to hold on to the theory of mental symmetry, summarized by the words and symbols of the diagram of mental symmetry. The result is the essay which you, gentle reader, are currently enduring. Thomas Kuhn in his book on paradigms describes the lengths to which the scientist will go to hold on to his current Teacher theory. “Noting first what scientists never do when confronted by even severe and prolonged anomalies. Though they may begin to lose faith and then to consider alternatives, they do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis. They do not, that is, treat anomalies as counterinstances, though in the vocabulary of philosophy of science that is what they are...No process yet disclosed by the historical study of scientific development at all resembles the methodological stereotype of falsification by direct comparison with nature” ( Thomas Kuhn, p.76).

When a set of words turns into an earworm through a Tetris effect, then one is literally bludgeoning the mind into accepting a universal theory. The theory is not universal because it applies everywhere; it is ‘universal’ because the mind is incapable of thinking of anything else. It has been burned into the mind and can no longer be turned off. In the language of mental symmetry, a Teacher mental network has been created that is always activated and that functions like a broken record.

This is a medical condition that has nothing to do with mental wholeness. Orthodox Christianity itself warns that hesychasm—endlessly repeating the Jesus prayer—can lead to hallucinations and madness. “Any ecstatic states or other unusual phenomena which may occur in the course of Hesychast practice are considered secondary and unimportant, even quite dangerous. Moreover, seeking after unusual ‘spiritual’ experiences can itself cause great harm, ruining the soul and the mind of the seeker. Such a seeking after ‘spiritual’ experiences can lead to spiritual delusion (Ru. prelest, Gr. plani)—the antonym of sobriety—in which a person believes himself or herself to be a saint, has hallucinations in which he or she ‘sees’ angels, Christ, etc. This state of spiritual delusion is in a superficial, egotistical way pleasurable, but can lead to madness and suicide, and, according to the Hesychast fathers, makes salvation impossible.”

During my teen years, I lived at home with a schizophrenic brother. One of the symptoms of schizophrenia is hearing autonomous internal condemning voices. I know what it is like to live with a person who is mentally driven by voices that cannot be shut off. My quest to understand Christianity rationally was initially motivated by a desire to escape the schizophrenic madness that I endured as a teenager.

I also know what it is like to have a general Teacher theory that can bring order to many aspects of personal existence. The Jesus Prayer does summarize major cognitive circuits, and it can form the basis for an adequate mental concept of God, but only if this prayer is approached from the viewpoint of Teacher understanding. If ‘have mercy on me a sinner’ turns into an earworm, then one has artificially fabricated a mental concept of God out of the attitude of personal inadequacy. As far as I can tell, it then becomes mentally impossible to construct a concept of God based upon Teacher understanding, because the earworm will inescapably impose its structure upon Teacher thought. Using the analogy of the school student, the student will be incapable of understanding the material because all he will hear is a voice saying ‘you are stupid’.

Notice that we are again dealing with another aspect of viewing everything from a personal Mercy perspective. Remember that a mental concept of God emerges when a general Teacher theory applies to Mercy identity. A concept of God can be made more universal by extending the generality of the underlying Teacher theory, or in religious language, seeing more aspects and illustrations of God’s character. Hesychasm artificially makes a concept of God universal by ensuring that it is active no matter what personal identity is doing or thinking. In other words, God is not universal because he is universal but rather because he is universal for me.

Using another analogy, suppose that my friend claims to be the ruler of the world. I could test my friend’s claim by traveling to different locations and seeing if the local people submit to my friend. That is how one uses Teacher thought to test a general Teacher theory. Or, I could hire someone to accompany my friend wherever he goes and say ‘You are our ruler. We need you. We submit to you’.

One can tell that the Orthodox concept of God is not universal because of the emphasis upon monastic life. Orthodox Christianity claims to be a universal faith. “Orthodoxy should be kept and preserved not because it is the ‘faith of our fathers,’ but because it is the true faith and as such is universal, all-embracing and truly catholic. A convert, for example, embraces Orthodoxy not because it is somebody’s ‘father's faith,’ but because he recognizes in it the Church of Christ, the fulness of faith and catholicity.”

And yet it does not believe in applying this faith universally. “Physical detachment from the world helps the soul to reject the worldly way of life. Experience shows that human salvation is harder to achieve in the world. As Basil the Great points out, living among men who do not care for the strict observance of God’s commandments is harmful. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to answer Christ’s call to take up one’s cross and follow Him within the bounds of worldly life. Seeing the multitude of sinners, one not only fails to see his own sins but also falls into temptation to believe that he has achieved something, because we tend to compare ourselves with those who are worse than we are. Furthermore, the hustle and bustle of everyday life distracts us from the remembrance of God. It does not only prevent us from feeling the joy of intense communion with God, but leads us to contempt and forgetfulness of the divine will.”

Orthodox Christianity has historically viewed monasticism as the center of Orthodox religion. OCIC reminisces that “In past centuries—for example, in 19th century Russia—the Orthodox world-view was an important part of Orthodox life and was supported by the life around it...Every city had Orthodox churches, and many of them had services every day, morning and evening. There were monasteries in all the great cities, in many cities, outside the cities, and in the countryside, in deserts and wildernesses. In Russia there were more than 1000 officially organized monasteries, in addition to other more unofficial groups. Monasticism was an accepted part of life. Most families, in fact, had somewhere in them a sister or brother, uncle, grandfather, cousin or someone who was a monk or a nun, in addition to all the other examples of Orthodox life: people who wandered from monastery to monastery, and fools for Christ. The whole way of life was permeated with Orthodox kinds of people, of which, of course, monasticism is the center.”

But Orthodox Christianity views monasticism primarily as a denial of normal human existence. “In its ‘fuga mundi’, monasticism underlines the Church’s position as an ‘anti-community’ within the world, and by its intense spiritual asceticism cultivates its eschatological spirit. The monastic life is described as ‘the angelic state’, in other words a state of life that while on earth follows the example of the life in heaven. Virginity and celibacy come within this framework, anticipating the condition of souls in the life to come, where ‘they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven’.”

Saying this more explicitly, “a monk should never use his last name. This reflects the Orthodox understanding of monasticism, in which the monastic dies to his former self and abandons all that identified him in the world. Lay people are also called to respect a monk’s death to his past.”

Summarizing the previous sections, Orthodox Christianity plays a great emphasis on the Jesus Prayer. This prayer does encapsulate major aspects of the path of personal salvation. However, the reference point in the Jesus prayer is not the universality of God but rather the personal inadequacy of man. Fhis is illustrated by the ‘Russian soul’, which finds deep personal meaning in suffering. Hesychasm is the practice of repeating the Jesus Prayer. While an emphasis is placed upon saying the prayer with a contrite attitude, hesychasm repeats this prayer so many times that it begins to say itself autonomously in the mind as an earworm. This does not lead to mental wholeness, but instead creates a medical condition, and Orthodox experts warn that hesychasm can lead to hallucinations and madness. In addition, the attitude of endlessly apologizing that this engenders ends up preventing a person from learning, because he is convinced that he is always wrong. In contrast, the focus of the Lord’s prayer is upon the rule and righteousness of God rather than the inadequacy of man.

Thus, Orthodox Christianity fabricates a ‘universal’ Teacher theory of God not by tying everything together with a single general explanation but rather by having a mental recording about God play without stopping no matter what a person does or thinks. Similarly, the Orthodox Christian follows God more fully not by extending the Teacher universality of his knowledge of God, but rather by limiting his personal Mercy experiences to the limited lifestyle of the monastery.

Three Stages of Salvation

Mental symmetry suggests that personal salvation is a three-stage process. The first stage begins with what the evangelical Christian calls ‘asking Jesus to forgive your sins’, which corresponds reasonably well with the Jesus Prayer of Orthodox Christianity. The goal of the first stage is to build an adequate mental concept of God within Teacher thought. This requires personal honesty and ‘believing that your sins are forgiven’ makes this personal honesty possible. This is discussed more fully elsewhere. The second stage applies understanding by doing the Server actions that are consistent with the general Teacher understanding that was constructed during the first stage. The result is righteousness—naturally acting in a way that is guided by Teacher emotion. The third stage replaces childish identity with the new identity that formed during the second stage, which is experienced as dying to self. The goal of the third stage is not to suppress childish identity but rather to transform it so that everyday existence becomes an expression of general Teacher understanding. Using religious language, this is when the New Jerusalem descends from heaven to earth and people live in the presence of God. [7]

I suggest that Orthodox Christianity is stuck in the first stage, denies the second stage, and longs for the third stage. It is locked into the first stage because of the fixation upon personal inadequacy. The second stage is guided by abstract thought and an understanding of the nature of God. Orthodox Christianity belittles abstract thought and says that God is incomprehensible, denying the second stage. Finally, by going beyond external to internal, Orthodox Christianity looks forward to the third stage when the world of Mercy experiences will be transformed by God. What Orthodox Christianity does not realize is that God can only transform the world of personal experiences to the extent that people have constructed a mental concept of God, which means constructing a general Teacher understanding and applying this understanding to personal identity.

This principle is brought out in Ephesians 3, which was discussed in a previous essay. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3).

Paul begins by saying that the name of God ties together all other names. In the language of mental symmetry, God is based in a universal Teacher theory that integrates all other general Teacher theories. Starting from this Teacher foundation, one constructs the mental concept of a Christian Trinitarian God. While the salvation of God that one experiences can transcend human words and thoughts, it is still limited by the ‘power that works within us’—by the mental concept of God that was previously constructed.

Using the example of a ditch digger, I suggest that Orthodox Christianity could be compared to the manual laborer struggling to dig holes by the sweat of his brow using a shovel. He prays to God for deliverance and God tells him to study science. The digger responds that he could never comprehend the ways of God, continues to pray for deliverance, and longs for the time when he will be free of his backbreaking labor and be able to dig holes in comfort. But, if one studies science and applies this understanding, it is possible to design and build machines that allow one to dig holes in comfort. Similarly, if one understands the nature of a universal God, then this understanding can guide action and will eventually transform identity.

Icons

I have suggested that Orthodox thought approaches Christianity from a Mercy perspective. One of the major factors that locks in this Mercy per, spective is the Orthodox emphasis upon icons. Anyone who visits an Orthodox Church will notice the prominent role given to pictures of saints drawn in an ‘iconic’ manner.

The second (or first depending upon how one counts) of the Ten Commandments forbids the use of idols. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Deuteronomy 5). Because of the second Commandment, there has been considerable argument over the centuries over whether or not an icon is an idol, and OCIC discusses this issue in some depth.

In the seventh century, St. John of Damascus declared that “Concerning the charge of idolatry: Icons are not idols but symbols, therefore when an Orthodox venerates an icon, he is not guilty of idolatry. He is not worshipping the symbol, but merely venerating it. Such veneration is not directed toward wood, or paint or stone, but towards the person depicted. Therefore relative honor is shown to material objects, but worship is due to God alone.”

Orthodox Christianity says that icons are venerated but not worshipped. “As every Orthodox Christian knows, the first act of the faithful upon entering a church is to take a candle, light it and put it on a candlestand that is placed next to the proskynetarion or icon-stand on which is set the icon representing the sacred person, persons or event specially celebrated by the particular church and after whom or which it is named. Then he bows before the icon, making the sign of the cross, and kisses the icon, saying a brief prayer. This series of acts is called veneration or ‘honorable reverence’ of the icon. It is not an act of worshipping the icon. The Greek Church Fathers distinguish very sharply between ‘honorable reverence’ ( timetike proskynesis), which is accorded to icons, and ‘worship’ (latreia). Worship is accorded only to God.”

If I saw a person light a candle before an object, bow before that object, kiss that object, and then say a brief prayer, I would conclude that he was worshipping that object. Of course, the Orthodox Christian would strongly reject my conclusion, but I suggest that this strong rejection illustrates a cognitive principle. Whenever two items or actions are cognitively similar, then it takes mental effort to keep them apart, and this mental effort will often express itself as a sharp denial. This principle is expressed by the proverb “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”, which is actually based upon a misunderstanding of Shakespearean English.

Thus, the fact that Orthodox Christianity states so strongly that veneration is not worship suggests that they are essentially the same, because if they really were different then there would be no need to have to continually distinguish between them. For instance, there is no need to insist that a piece of bread is different than an apple, because these two are totally different and there is no danger of confusing one with the other. However, it is necessary to insist that a piece of bread is different than the host of the Eucharist, and the host must be stored within a Ciborium to make sure that it is not confused with a piece of bread.

Examining veneration from a cognitive viewpoint, the following conclusions can be made. Mercy thought handles experiences and images. Mercy thought deals especially with images of people. Mercy thought functions emotionally. If Mercy thought acquires a number of similar emotional memories, then these will form a Mercy mental network. Thought and behavior is guided by mental networks. Therefore, the repeated veneration of icons will lead to the formation of Mercy mental networks and these mental networks will guide behavior.

Thus, it does not really matter if one calls this worship or veneration because those are Teacher words and we are looking here at Mercy thought. The point is that veneration of icons will mentally reinforce the attitude of approaching Christianity from a Mercy perspective, and the primary error of Orthodox Christianity is that it approaches Christianity from a Mercy perspective.

Why should one not approach Christianity from a Mercy perspective? Because this makes human inadequacy the reference point, limiting salvation as illustrated by the ‘Russian soul’. This is consistent with the punishment that is mentioned for violating the second Commandment. “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.” In simple English, idolatry causes the perverseness or crookedness (the meaning of the Hebrew word translated ‘iniquity’) of a culture to pass on to the next generations. This is what happens when human inadequacy is made the reference point. Instead of becoming free of human inadequacy, it passes from one generation to the next.

Why does idolatry make God jealous and why does the idol worshipper hate God? Because God is based in Teacher thought and not Mercy thought. This is brought out in the next two Commandments. The third Commandment says that the name of God should not be made empty (the Hebrew word translated ‘vain’ means empty or worthless). This is normally taken as a prohibition against swearing, but it is really saying that content needs to be added to the Teacher word that describes God. Here too there is a punishment for violating the commandment. The one who empties the name of God will not be held guiltless or unpunished. In the language of mental symmetry, viewing God from a Teacher perspective makes it possible to stop focusing upon Mercy inadequacy. The fourth Commandment is a prohibition against working on the Sabbath. This prohibition is practiced with great precision by the Orthodox Jew. For instance, the light on the inside of a refrigerator will be unscrewed because opening the refrigerator door on the Sabbath and causing the fridge light to turn on is technically a form of work. How does one teach a tribal society to use abstract thought when abstract thought does not exist in a tribal society? One forbids at periodical intervals the use of concrete thought, similar to telling a child to sit in the corner and think. If a person is prohibited one day a week from using Mercy-driven concrete thought , then the only alternative is to use Teacher-driven abstract thought.

However, there is also a sense in which an icon is different than an idol. This distinction is brought out in the following OCIC description. “The Icon is not simply a representation, a portrait. In later times only has the bodily been represented, but an Icon is still supposed to remind people of the spiritual aspect of the person depicted...a simple representation which recalls the earthly characteristics of some face is not an Icon. Even an accurate depiction, in the sense of physical build, still signifies nothing. A person may be very beautiful externally, yet at the same time be very evil. On the other hand, he may be ugly, and at the same time a model of righteousness. Thus, we see that an Icon must indeed depict that which we see with our eyes, preserving the characteristics of the body’s form, for in this world the soul acts through the body; yet at the same time it must point towards the inner, spiritual essence. The task of the Iconographer is precisely to render, as far as possible and to as great an extent as possible, those spiritual qualities whereby the person depicted acquired the Kingdom of Heaven, whereby he won an imperishable crown from the Lord, for the Church’s true significance is the salvation of man’s soul...In calling to mind the saints and their struggles, an Icon does not simply represent the saint as he appeared upon the earth. No, the Icon depicts his inner spiritual struggle; it portrays how he attained to that state where he is now considered an angel on earth, a heavenly man.”

In other words, an icon attempts to portray not just the external Mercy of a person but also the internal Mercy characteristics. That is why I say that Orthodox Christianity longs for the third stage of salvation, because it is during the third stage that the existing world of Mercy experiences is transformed. Therefore, it is valid to distinguish between idolatry and icon veneration, because idolatry fixates upon external objects and experiences whereas icon veneration looks past the physical in order to see the internal. However, the focus is still upon Mercy thought and the starting point is still external objects. As a result, idolatry and icon veneration are cognitively similar because they use the same cognitive module and have the same starting point. Because of this cognitive similarity, Orthodox Christianity has to continually declare that icon veneration is not idolatry in order to prevent one from turning into the other.

In contrast, the traits of a Christian God naturally emerge when the starting point is a general Teacher understanding. Truly escaping idolatry means building the mind around the Teacher mental network of a general understanding rather than Mercy mental networks of culture and experience. Teacher understanding will then modify Mercy memories to be more simple, more pure, and more ideal, leading to the development of internal, imaginary Mercy images known as Platonic forms. When personal identity is transformed, Platonic forms provide goals for Mercy thought, and physical reality becomes viewed as a partial expression of Platonic forms. This is described in more detail elsewhere. What matters here is that building the mind upon a general Teacher understanding will do a far better job of creating—and realizing—an internal world of idealized Mercy images than the veneration of icons.

For instance, the highest experience which Orthodox Christianity claims is to be illuminated by supernatural light. SGGOC says that when a saint “has been thoroughly cleansed and has offered himself entirely to God, then he also receives the greatest experience of divine Grace available to men, which, according to the holy Fathers, is the vision of the uncreated light of God. Those who are very advanced in Theosis see this light, very few in each generation. God’s Saints see it and appear within it, and, incidentally, this is what the halos in the holy icons show us. For example, in the life of St. Basil the Great, it is said that when St. Basil was praying in his cell, those who were able to see him saw that he himself, and even his cell, were shining within this uncreated light of God, the light of divine Grace. In the lives of many of the New-Martyrs of our Faith we read that, after horrible tortures, when the Turks hung their bodies in the squares of the town to intimidate other Christians, on many nights a light appeared around them. It shone so clearly and brightly that, because in this way the truth of our Faith was so brilliantly revealed, the conquerors ordered them taken down so that they would not be ashamed before the Christians, who saw how God glorified His holy Martyrs.”

However, electricity now makes it possible for anyone to have personal light whenever they want. Obviously, electric light is not the same as supernatural light. But two centuries ago, both were equally impossible. If a Teacher understanding of the laws of physics makes it possible not just to flood our environment with illumination but to use electrical energy to drive all manner of electrical and electronic devices, then analogy suggests that a Christianity that is based in Teacher understanding would also lead to major breakthroughs.

Going beyond the Visible

We have seen that Teacher understanding leads to the development of an internal world of imaginary images that is different than the external world of physical objects. When Teacher understanding is lacking, then the main way to create an internal world is to program Mercy thought with physical objects and then take these physical objects away. This happens when a person experiences some personal loss. He used to have something, but he no longer has it, and he wishes to have it back. This, I suggest, drives the path of suffering.

OCIC says that “The most essential thing in Orthodoxy is the podvig [ascetic practice] of prayer and fasting which the Church particularly extols during the second week of the Great Fast as the double-edged ‘wondrous sword’ by which we strike the enemies of our salvation—the dark demonic power. It is through this podvig that our soul is illumined with grace-bearing divine light... We will always remember that by itself totally formal Orthodoxy has no goal if it does not have ‘spirit and life’—and the ‘spirit and life’ of Orthodoxy are first and foremost in the podvig of prayer and fasting; moreover, the genuine fasting of which the Church teaches is understood in this instance to be abstinence in every aspect, and not merely declining to taste non-Lenten foods...You see, therefore, that one who loves only to spend time enjoying himself and does not think of self-denial and self-sacrifice, but continually wallows in every possible fleshly pleasure and delight is completely un-Orthodox, un-Christian.”

In other words, Orthodox Christianity says that the main way to go beyond the external to the internal is by doing without—by experiencing personal loss. Fasting is an effective way of de-emphasizing the Mercy mental networks that depend upon physical stimulation for their existence. But what is even more important is to use Teacher understanding to construct an internal world. It is not just enough to move away from childish identity. One must also head toward adult identity.

However, Orthodox Christianity appears to be limited primarily to starting with physical objects and then attempting to move beyond this. One sees this in the Orthodox view of the Church. For Orthodox Christianity, it is the visible Orthodox Church that defines church. OCIC says that “According to the words of Saint Cyprian, to be a Christian means to belong to the visible Church and to submit to the hierarchy which God has placed in it. The Church is the realization of Christ’s love and any separation from the Church is a violation of this love, in which both heretics and schismatics sin equally. This is the basic thought of his treatise ‘On the Unity of the Catholic Church.’...Saint Cyprian even expressed the decisive thought that, not only can there be no Christian life outside the Church, but there can be no Christian teaching either. The pure faith exists only in the Church. Saint Cyprian also calls the Church by the name ‘Truth,’ and teaches that the unity of the faith cannot be separated from the unity of the Church, for truth is one even as the Church is one...If one examines the faith of those who believe outside the Church, it would be found that all heretics have a completely different faith; as a matter of fact they have only a wild fanaticism, blasphemy, and a decay which is fighting against holiness and truth. According to Saint Cyprian, to be outside the Church and yet remain a Christian is impossible, for to be outside the Church is to be outside Christ’s camp. Those who separate themselves from the Church and those who act against the Church are antichrists and heathens.”

OCIC insists that the Protestant view of an invisible church is wrong. “Western Protestantism, broken into a hundred sects and denominations, naturally had to come to the question: Where is the true church in the midst of all these divisions? And it has found no other way than to come to a teaching of an ‘invisible church’ that mysteriously exists in the midst of all the differences and mistakes and sins of men—a church that is holy, whose membership is known only to God, and that consists only of those who are worthy of being in it...The Apostles founded outwardly ‘visible’ communities with a definite membership, one in soul even though outwardly separated, and all these communities were the single Church of Christ. Such will the Church remain forever. Its aim is to call and prepare men for eternal life in Christ. Therefore, the Orthodox Apostolic Church, for its part, replies: Such an invisible Church which, in the midst of many confessional divisions or above them, would single out the worthy people from among them and would unit them all—does not exist.”

But the visible Orthodox Church does extend to include the invisible. This is mentioned in the OCIC article but described more simply by SGGOC. “In the Church we partake in the communion of the Saints, and experience the joy of union with Christ. By this we mean that within the Church we are not isolated members but a unity, a brotherhood, a fraternal community ... not only among ourselves, but also with the Saints of God, those who are living on earth today and those who have passed away. Not even at death are Christians divided. Death is unable to separate Christians because they are all united in the resurrected body of Christ. Therefore, every Sunday and every time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, we are all present in it together with all the Angels and all the Saints through all the ages. Even our departed relatives are present, if, of course, they are united with Christ. We are all there and communicate amongst ourselves mystically, not externally, but in Christ. This is evident during the Prothesis, where the portions for the Panaghia, the Saints, and the living and departed Christians, are all placed on the Holy Paten around Christ the Lamb. After the sanctification of the Holy Oblation, all these portions are immersed in the Blood of Christ. This is the great blessing of the Church, that we are her members and, as members of Christ’s body, can communicate not only with God but also between ourselves.”

Notice what is being said here. When an Orthodox service is being held in Orthodox Church, then angels and dead Orthodox Christians are also invisibly present at this service and it is possible to communicate mystically with these dead people. And when the communion platter isprepared during the prothesis, then pieces of bread will be laid out on the platter for these dead people—and these pieces of bread laid out for the dead will be dumped into the wine near the end of the service, thus immersing them ‘in the blood of Christ’.

The Orthodox Eucharist also includes a prayer for the dead. Wikipedia relates that “The most important form of prayer for the dead occurs in the Divine Liturgy. Particles are cut from the prosphoron during the Proskomedie at the beginning of the Liturgy. These particles are placed beneath the Lamb (Host) on the diskos, where they remain throughout the Liturgy. After the Communion of the faithful, the deacon brushes these particles into the chalice, saying, ‘Wash away, O Lord, the sins of all those here commemorated, by Thy Precious Blood, through the prayers of all thy saints.’” Exactly what these prayers do is uncertain. “Among the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, while there is no doctrine of purgatory, prayer for the dead is encouraged in the belief that it is helpful for them. Specifically how the prayers of the faithful help the departed is not elucidated; Eastern Orthodox simply believe that tradition teaches that prayers should be made for the dead.”

Examining this from the viewpoint of mental symmetry, the mind represents people as mental networks within Mercy thought. When a person dies physically, then the mental network that represents that person continues to exist within Mercy thought. In the Orthodox Eucharist, these mental networks are being mentally triggered by a religious ritual involving physical pieces of bread and it is believed that dead people—who are now only represented by invisible Mercy mental networks—can be affected by a religious ritual that involves physical bread on earth. Again we see a mindset that views invisible Mercy thought as an extension of visible Mercy thought.

Invisible versus Heavenly Church

Let us look briefly at the cognitive difference between the Protestant concept of an invisible church and the Orthodox Church’s idea of a heavenly church. Mental symmetry suggests that a Platonic form emerges when Perceiver thought organizes Mercy experiences into categories and Teacher thought summarizes the essence of these Perceiver categories. This leads indirectly to Platonic forms—Mercy images of idealized experiences that do not exist in real life. For instance, Perceiver thought will notice that Mercy experiences contain round things and come up with a category of ‘round thing’. Teacher thought will then come up with a general theory of ‘roundness’, leading indirectly in Mercy thought to the imaginary image of a perfect circle. This imaginary idealized image is the Platonic form of a circle. It does not exist, but it is based upon a generalization of items which do exist. Quoting from the Wikipedia article on circles, “The circle has been known since before the beginning of recorded history. Natural circles would have been observed, such as the Moon, Sun, and a short plant stalk blowing in the wind on sand, which forms a circle shape in the sand...In Plato’s Seventh Letter there is a detailed definition and explanation of the circle. Plato explains the perfect circle, and how it is different from any drawing, words, definition or explanation.”

Applying this to the Church, Mercy thought will contain many experiences of church. Perceiver thought will notice the similarities between these experiences and come up with the Perceiver category of church. Teacher thought will then work out the essence of ‘churchness’, leading indirectly in Mercy thought to the imaginary image of the ideal church—or the Platonic form of a church. This describes the Protestant concept of ‘the invisible church’. It does not exist in real life but it is based upon experiences with many imperfect churches that do exist, and the invisible church acts as a standard by which specific visible churches are judged.

Compare this with the Orthodox concept of the heavenly church. The starting point is the physical Orthodox Church, which claims to have preserved unaltered the original version of Christianity. This physical church is then extended to include invisible people and experiences. Saying this more simply, the ‘invisible church’ is based in Teacher thought, while the ‘heavenly church’ is rooted in Mercy thought.

The Orthodox Church suggests that the visible church can affect the invisible church through the mystical magic of the Eucharist. Mental symmetry agrees that there is an interaction between the Platonic form of the invisible church and visible churches—but suggests a rational mechanism for this interaction. [8] On the one hand, the Platonic form of the invisible church provides the ideal standard by which existing churches are judged. On the other hand, because the invisible church does not exist, it must still be realized in physical form. Even though an existing church will never be a perfect example of the invisible church, the struggle to implement a real church will build and test Perceiver facts and Server skills, making it possible to refine the concept of the invisible church. One sees this interplay in the development of new technology. Technology is driven by the Platonic forms created by scientific understanding. However, these Platonic forms are imaginary, and can only benefit people if technology is used to turn them into real objects. Technology is always imperfect, but the process of using technology to produce real objects teaches facts and skills that make it possible to develop better technology.

A Platonic form summarizes the essence of many specific Mercy experiences. Thus, there is nothing holy or special about a specific object that realizes a Platonic form, and a Platonic form can be realized in many similar specific ways. Similarly, mental symmetry suggests that there is nothing holy or special about any specific church—or specific piece of bread or specific cup of wine, and specific churches may implement the Platonic form of the universal church in varied ways. Compare this with the Orthodox mindset which does view the specific implementation of the Orthodox Church as holy and special.

Summarizing, icons figure prominently in Orthodox Christianity, and the Orthodox Christian insists that the respect that is given to icons is veneration and not worship. Icons are drawn in such a way to emphasize the inner character of a person and not just physical appearance. Thus, veneration of icons does go beyond idolatry but it is easy for it slip into idolatry because great emotional status is being given to images. Similarly, Orthodox Christianity emphasizes the physical Church and its sacraments, while believing that angels and dead saints participate in the sacraments of the visible Church. Thus, Orthodox Christianity is rooted in the visible Church but attempts to go beyond the visible to include the spiritual. In contrast, Protestant Christianity views the physical sacraments and the visible church as expressions and illustrations of the Platonic form of the invisible sacraments and the invisible church.

Shroud of Turin?

Orthodox tradition says that the first icon was a piece of cloth upon which the face of Jesus miraculously appeared when the cloth was held to his face. This is known as the Image of Edessa, because the cloth was supposedly stored for many centuries in the city of Edessa, which is in southeastern Turkey close to Syria.

There is evidence linking the Image of Edessa with the shroud of Turin. A lot of research has been done upon the shroud of Turin and the current result is a question mark. Summarizing, the Shroud of Turin is an ancient burial cloth upon which the image of a crucified person has been imprinted through some unknown manner. One possible scenario is that the image of Jesus was imprinted onto the cloth through some sort of energy transfer that occurred during his bodily resurrection.

Supposedly, the shroud of Turin was hidden in a cavity above a gate in the city of Edessa for several hundred years after the life of Christ until being rediscovered in the sixth century A.D. It is suggested that the shroud was folded in such a manner that only the image of the face was apparent, and it is possible to fold the shroud of Turin in such a manner using three simple folds. It is interesting to note that before the sixth century, Jesus was portrayed ‘as a typical clean-shaven, Greco-Roman youth’. However, after the sixth century, the portrayals match the image on the shroud of Turin with considerable detail.

Thus, there may have been an original icon of Jesus that was ‘not made by hands’. However, even if this icon was caused by an energy transfer from the resurrection of Jesus, we are still dealing with a mindset that is based in a veneration of physical objects, which I suggest represents the fundamental error of Orthodox thought. And we are still dealing with a group of Christian believers who did not grasp the implications of what they were seeing.

Incarnation

Let us turn our attention now to the Orthodox view of Incarnation. The idea of a person being both God and man is difficult to grasp, and the early church convened a number of conferences—and condemned many believers as heretics—in its attempt to define this concept more clearly. As Wikipedia summarizes, “Eventually, the Christian Church accepted the teaching of St. Athanasius and his allies, that Christ was the incarnation of the eternal second person of the Trinity, who was truly God and truly a man simultaneously. All divergent beliefs were defined as heresies. This included Docetism, which said that Jesus was a divine being that took on human appearance but not flesh; Arianism, which held that Christ was a created being; and Nestorianism, maintained that the Son of God and the man, Jesus, shared the same body but retained two separate natures.”

The Orthodox wiki says that “Our Lord Jesus is the Theanthropos, the God-man. He is not half God and half man, nor is he a hybrid of the two. Rather, he is fully God and fully man, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity. He has two natures, joined together in the Incarnation without mixture, division, or confusion. As a result of being fully God and man, he also has two wills, one human will and one divine will to which the human one is submitted. He has two natures yet remains one person, one hypostasis.”

Using a simple analogy, this is like saying that an object is simultaneously both a car and a tree. It is fully a car while at the same time being fully a tree. Examining this from a cognitive perspective, Mercy thought stores memories of experiences. When Mercy thought cooperates with other cognitive modules then it becomes possible to use Server thought move from one experience to another experience, use Perceiver thought to transform one experience into another experience, or use Teacher thought to organize experiences. However, when Mercy thought functions by itself then the only two options are to pull experiences apart or jam them together. We saw the pulling apart of experiences in the insistence that idolatry is different than icon veneration. The Orthodox statement regarding incarnation illustrates the jamming together of experiences.

I should emphasize that I am not questioning the Orthodox statement about incarnation. From a cognitive viewpoint, it appears that incarnation is simultaneously fully God and fully man. However, I am suggesting that the Orthodox explanation for this statement is inadequate. Orthodox Christianity admits that its explanation is inadequate, because it merely asserts that Jesus is simultaneously God and man without providing an explanation or mechanism for this statement. Why is this important? Because as we shall see shortly, I suggest that the inadequate Orthodox explanation leads to faulty conclusions.

Mental symmetry suggests that a mental incarnation forms when practical Contributor thought is unified with intellectual Contributor thought. This mental incarnation performs the internal function of tying together personal identity with a mental concept of God. This internal function corresponds in detail to the external function which Christianity claims that Jesus performs in bridging humanity with God. The apostle Paul says that constructing a mental incarnation is a major new aspect of the Christian message. “I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1). Notice the phrase ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’. ‘Christ in you’ describes the mental concept of an incarnation, and Paul says that this was a hidden mystery that he is now revealing. Paul is using proclamation, teaching, and wisdom to ‘present every man complete in Christ’. In the language of mental symmetry, he is using abstract thought as well as applied abstract thought to use mental incarnation to bring about mental wholeness.

Integrating intellectual Contributor thought with practical Contributor thought requires going through the three stages of Christian salvation. As one can see from the diagram of mental symmetry, Contributor thought connects Perceiver facts with Server sequences. Intellectual Contributor thought is abstract; practical Contributor thought is concrete. Thus, integrating Contributor thought means integrating abstract Perceiver facts with concrete Perceiver facts and abstract Server sequences with concrete Server sequences. During the first stage of personal salvation, Perceiver facts about personal identity (in concrete thought) are used to construct a general Teacher theory (in abstract thought). The result is a mental concept of God. During the second stage, Server actions (in concrete thought) are performed that are consistent with the Server sequences (in abstract thought) inherent in the mental concept of God. The result is righteousness. During the third stage, practical Contributor thought falls apart and is put back together by intellectual Contributor thought, resulting in integrated Contributor thought. At each of these three stages, the transformation that occurs in Contributor thought makes it possible for personal identity to go through a similar transformation.

Summarizing, during the first stage, the Perceiver side of Contributor thought becomes integrated. During the second stage, the Server side of Contributor thought becomes integrated. During the third stage, the new version of Contributor thought replaces the old version.

Paul talks about the relationship between the rebirth of incarnation and the rebirth of personal identity in Roman 6. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Notice how the process begins with the childish identity of ‘the old self’ and ends with a reborn personal identity that is connected via incarnation to general Teacher understanding.

One could compare incarnation to a person designing and building an apartment building and then living in one of the apartments. During construction, the builder focuses upon the general task of making sure that all of the apartments are well-designed and fit together properly. Once the apartment has been built, the builder then moves into one of the apartments and lives in it. Both building an apartment and living within an apartment involve the same apartment building, but this one structure is being approached from two different perspectives. Normally, one builds the apartment and then moves into it. With incarnation there would be an ongoing relationship between building and living. On the one hand, constructing the apartment building is guided by knowledge that was acquired from living in one of the apartments. On the other hand, living in one of the apartments is facilitated by knowledge about how the building was constructed.

The Goal of Orthodox Christianity

We have seen that Orthodox Christianity views incarnation as the juxtaposition of God and man. This interpretation has major implications for the goal of Orthodox Christianity. Mental symmetry suggests that the goal of Christianity is to become mentally whole. And when all seven cognitive modules function together in harmony, then this will lead to the mental concept of a Trinitarian God.

The goal of Orthodox Christianity is quite different, and every source that I have read on Orthodox Christianity says the same thing. The goal is to be a god. The goal is not to become like God, but rather to be god. Quoting from SGGOC, God “does not wish him simply to be a being with certain gifts, certain qualities, a certain superiority over the rest of creation, He wishes him to be a god by Grace. Externally, man seems to exist in a purely biological way, like the other living beings, the animals. Of course, he is an animal, but ‘an animal ... which is in the process of Theosis through its inclination towards God’, as St. Gregory the Theologian says in his characteristic way. He is the only being that is distinguished from all else in creation, because he is the only one which can become a god...Having been formed ‘in His image’, man is called upon to be completed ‘in His likeness’. This is Theosis. The Creator, God by nature, calls man to become a god by Grace...Perhaps it is very daring for us even to say or think that our life’s purpose is to become gods by Grace. However, neither the Holy Bible nor the Church Fathers have hidden this from us. Unfortunately, ignorance not only exists in people outside the Church, but also in many within the Church, because they assume that the purpose of our life is, at best, simply moral improvement, to become better men; when we are told by the Gospel, by the Tradition of the Church, and by the holy Fathers, that the purpose of our life is not just that. Man should become better than he is, more moral, more just, more self-controlled, more mindful; all these must happen, but none of them are the great purpose, the final purpose for which our Maker and Creator moulded man. What is this purpose? Theosis – for man to be united with God, not in an external or a sentimental manner but ontologically, in a real way.” Notice that we are not talking here about the relationship between personal identity and Contributor incarnation that is represented by the Eucharist. Instead, Orthodox Christianity appears to be talking about personal identity in Mercy thought becoming one with God the Father in Teacher thought.

Why does Orthodox Christianity teaches that the goal is to become united with God? Because Orthodox Christianity follows a direct mystical path to knowledge about God rather than an indirect rational path. Quoting from Wikipedia, “The primacy of theosis in Orthodox theology is directly related to the fact that Orthodox theology (as historically conceived by its principal exponents) is based to a greater extent than Western Catholic Latin theology on the direct spiritual insights of the saints or mystics of the church rather than the apparently more rational-deductive tradition of the West. Eastern Orthodox consider that ‘no one who does not follow the path of union with God can be a theologian’. Theology in Eastern Orthodoxy is not treated as an academic pursuit, instead it is based on revelation (see gnosiology), meaning that Orthodox theology and its theologians are validated by ascetic pursuits, rather than academic degrees (i.e. scholasticism).”

Protestant theology distinguishes between the immanence and the transcendence of God. The cognitive basis for this distinction is analyzed in another essay. In a similar manner, the Orthodox Church distinguishes between the essence and the energy of God. God’s essence is the aspect that makes him infinite and unknowable, while God’s energy is the part of God that humans unite with in order to become gods. Quoting from SGGOC, “If we were able to unite with the essence of God, we would become gods in essence. Then everything would become a god, and there would be confusion so that, essentially, nothing would be a god. In a few words, this is what they believe in the Oriental religions, e.g. in Hinduism, where the god is not a personal existence but an indistinct power dispersed through all the world, in men, in animals, and in objects (Pantheism). Again, if God had only the divine essence – of which we cannot partake – and did not have His energies, He would remain a self-sufficient god, closed within himself and unable to communicate with his creatures...The energies of God are divine energies. They too are God, but without being His essence. They are God, and therefore they can deify man. If the energies of God were not divine and uncreated, they would not be God and so they would be unable to deify us, to unite us with God. There would be an unbridgeable distance between God and men. But as God has the divine energies, and unites with us by these energies, we are able to commune with Him and to unite with His Grace without becoming identical with God, as would happen if we united with His essence. So we unite with God through His uncreated energies, and not through His essence. This is the mystery of our Orthodox faith and life.”

Summarizing, according to Orthodox theology, if we united with God’s essence, then that would be pantheism and Eastern religion. If God was only essence, then he would be unknowable. God is both essence and energy, and humans become gods by uniting with the energy of God.

But why is the goal of Orthodox Christianity to unite with God? SSGOC answers this as well. Union with God is a deep psychological desire—which is not shared by those who follow rational thought. “Western heretics cannot accept this. Being rationalist, they do not discern between the essence and the energy of God, so they say that they cannot speak about man’s Theosis because God is only essence...In order not to fall into pantheism, they do not talk about Theosis at all. What then, according to them, remains as the purpose of human life? Simply moral improvement. If man cannot be deified with divine Grace and divine energies, what purpose does his life have? Only that he becomes morally better. But moral perfection is not enough for man. It is not enough for us simply to become better than before, simply to perform moral deeds. We have as our final aim to unite with holy God Himself. This is the purpose of the creation of the universe. This is what we desire. This is our joy, our happiness, and our fulfillment. The psyche of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God, yearns for God and desires union with Him. No matter how moral, how good man may be, no matter how many good deeds he may perform, if he does not find God, if he does not unite with Him, he finds no rest. For holy God placed within him this holy thirst, the divine eros, the desire for union with Him, for Theosis.”

This needs to be repeated. Why does Orthodox Christianity say that the ultimate goal is to become unified with God? Because this is a deep psychological desire. And this desire does not seem to be shared by those who approach God using rational thought.

If we are dealing with a psychological desire, then we are justified in taking a cognitive approach. This is actually quite easy to do, because Orthodox doctrine has already provided most of the pieces. Personal identity resides within Mercy thought and is based in a set of finite experiences. An image of God resides in Teacher thought and is based in a general (or preferably, universal) Teacher theory. When an image of God forms, then these two will get in contact with one another, because an image of God is a general theory that applies to personal identity. What will happen when personal identity encounters a general Teacher theory? Personal identity will want to identify with this positive Teacher emotion. Saying this in Orthodox terminology, ‘The psyche of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God, yearns for God and desires union with Him.’

However, I am not God, and finite is not the same as infinite. Therefore, how can one join these two together? As I have discussed elsewhere, there is a direct way and an indirect way to accomplish this. The direct way is to jam the two together and to pretend that finite is united with infinite. Rational thought stops this from happening by insisting that finite is different than infinite.

For instance, one could compare this to a child seeing a pretty toy on the opposite side of a large room. The natural tendency is for the child to run toward the toy. However, if the room is subdivided into separate offices, then the office walls will prevent the child from running directly towards the toy, and the child will be forced to run along the hallways—and he might not even see the toy. Using the language of mental symmetry, Exhorter thought is naturally attracted to the Mercy and Teacher memories that have the strongest emotions. Perceiver facts and Server sequences act like mental walls and hallways that channel Exhorter thought, and prevent it from focusing directly upon the most emotional memories. That explains why the rational person does not feel the urge to be a god. Perceiver facts and Server sequences within his mind are acting as walls and hallways that prevent Exhorter thought from fixating upon mental concept of God. In simple terms, he will know that he is a finite being and that God is infinite.

However, remember that emotional pressure can mesmerize Perceiver thought into believing truth. Therefore, if the emotion of uniting with God is strong enough, then this will mesmerize Perceiver thought into believing that ‘I am god’. When this happens, then blind faith will create Perceiver facts that will unite me and God as ‘the same’ rather than distinguish between me and God as different.

That describes the Mercy side of the equation. In a few paragraphs, we will add the Teacher side of the equation.

The indirect way to connect personal identity with God is through Contributor incarnation. Personal identity can then become a specific example of the general characteristics that describe God. One can illustrate this relationship with an Orrery, which is a small mechanical model that reproduces the movements of the planets. A model of the solar system is much, much smaller than the real solar system, but it functions in a similar manner. Similarly, a whole mind with a Trinitarian concept of God is much, much smaller than any real Trinitarian God would be. However, if one compares cognitive structure with biblical doctrine, then these two appear to function in a similar manner. Using religious language, it appears that man is made in the image of God. [9]

This idea of man becoming able to function in a way that is similar to God is found in II Peter 1. “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Notice the phrase in the middle that is italicized: “you may become partakers of the divine nature.” This phrase is used by Orthodox theologians to prove that the goal of Christianity is theosis, or union with God. Quoting from SGGOC, “Saint Peter tell us that we shall be partakers of the divine nature (2Peter 1:4). It is the divine energies of God that we join and participate in. Grace is not created and we therefore participate directly in God with His energies. The deepest thirst that exists in mankind is not simply moral improvement, but nothing less that union with God.” However, this Orthodox interpretation is not backed up by the original Greek text. The word for ‘partaker’ is koinonos, which means partner or companion. The word translated ‘nature’ is phusis, which describes the way in which a person or thing naturally behaves, either through natural law, habit, culture, or birth. Thus, becoming a partaker of the divine nature means becoming a partner with the way that God naturally behaves, similar to the way that an orrery is a partner with the way that the solar system naturally behaves. This is backed up by the context, which talks about no longer being guided by childish identity but acquiring a new nature through the process of personal transformation, guided by knowledge through incarnation. In the language of mental symmetry, going through the three stages of personal salvation transforms the mental networks of personal identity so that a person naturally acts and thinks in a way that is consistent with the nature of God. In contrast, the apophatic approach taken by Orthodox Christianity says that the nature of God is unknowable.

I mentioned earlier that Orthodox Christianity explains incarnation as the jamming together or juxtaposition of God and man. In effect, this redefines the indirect path to be the direct path. Thus, rather than enabling the indirect path, Orthodox belief in incarnation ends up justifying the direct path. SGGOC explains it this way. “The God-man Christ, the Son and Logos of God the Father, has two perfect natures: divine and human. These two perfect natures are joined ‘without change, without confusion, without separation, and without division’ in the one person of Christ, according to the famous definition of the Fourth Holy Œcumenical Council at Chalcedon, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To summarise, this definition forms the whole theological armoury of our Orthodox Church against Christological heresies of all kinds throughout all ages. So we have one Christ with two natures, divine and human. Now, because Christ is the eternal God-man through the hypostatic union of the two natures in the person of Christ, human nature is irrevocably unified with the divine nature...Now, after the incarnation of the Lord – no matter how much we as men sin, no matter how much we separate ourselves from God – if, through repentance, we wish to unite again with God, we can succeed. We can unite with Him and so become gods by Grace.” In other words, because Jesus’ nature jammed human and divine together, it is now possible for human nature to become jammed together with divine nature.

SGGOC explains that this is different than the Protestant view of Christian salvation. “Orthodox and Evangelicals do not use the word saved in the same sense. This means we are talking about different things. In the evangelical understanding the satisfaction theory of atonement is assumed. It presupposes that the difference between the saved and the damned is the attitude of God toward them, not any inherent quality of their own. It also presupposes that our state of being guilty can be changed in an instant. For an evangelical, to be saved means to be declared ‘not guilty’ by God. In other words it means that when God looks at us He sees Christ’s righteousness instead of our sinfulness...For Orthodox salvation means that we attain to a god-like state through which we attain a real union with God. Salvation refers to the spiritual state of the individual so Orthodox Christians are hesitant to make any pronouncement about their own salvation. For to an Orthodox Christian this would be to make a presumption on the judgement of God. But when Evangelicals make a statement that they are saved they are not commenting on the state of their soul but on the fact that God no longer sees them as a sinner. For an Orthodox Christians to say that they have been saved implies that they have attained a high level of righteousness before God.”

The doctrine of atonement is analyzed elsewhere. Applying the highlights to our current discussion, when two mental networks collide then each will attempt to impose its structure upon the other. A general Teacher theory hates exceptions to the general rule whereas childish personal identity is always attempting to achieve personal gain regardless of the general rule. Saying this in religious language, God is holy and man is a sinner. If God views man directly, then God sees a distasteful bundle of personal chaos. However, if man ‘enrolls in the school of salvation’ then God will see personal identity as an illustration of the general order of the school. That is why ‘for an evangelical, to be saved means to be declared not guilty by God’ because ‘when God looks at us he sees Christ’s righteousness instead of our sinfulness’. Using the school analogy, God sees the young child as a student of the school rather than as a snotty nosed little brat.

As SGGOC states, a common error for the Protestant Christian is to believe that the ultimate goal is to become enrolled in the school of salvation. In contrast, mental symmetry suggests, and mature Protestant Christians would agree, that the goal is to graduate from the school of salvation and not just enroll. Obviously, in order to study in a school one must first enroll in that school, but enrolling is only the first step which needs to be followed by learning and graduating.

God’s holiness is not a problem if the character of God is unknowable. In other words, if I cannot know the rules, that I cannot know if I am violating the rules. Using the language of mental symmetry, a mental network will not attempt to impose its structure upon other mental networks if it has no structure. Thus, Orthodox Christianity does not view sin from the juridical viewpoint of breaking a set of universal laws. The Orthodox wiki article on justification explains that “The word justification refers to the process or state of becoming righteous. As used in theological circles today, it is pregnant with meaning and laden with baggage carried over from the Protestant Reformation. There has been in recent centuries a tendency among biblical scholars to exclusively adopt and employ the standard Western Christian or reformed Protestant juridical definition of the word. It often seems that this understanding of justification is adopted de facto as the only proper way to understand the Pauline use of the word.” However, “It would serve the western Christian well to bear in mind that the juridical concepts of salvation, substitutionary atonement, et. al. were foreign to not only the Eastern Church but also the Western Church (Catholic and Protestant) until the time of Augustine.” In fact, “Because of its less juridical exegesis of Pauline soteriological statements, Eastern Christianity has never had anything approaching the kind of faith v. works controversies that have enveloped and (for both good and ill) theologically shaped the Christian West, whether one considers the late fourth-/early fifth-century Pelagian controversy or the 16th-century Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther. Rather, the East has maintained a somewhat distant and even puzzled attitude toward the theological polemics which have raged over justification in terms of faith or works.”

Again, this needs repeating. Orthodox thinking does not view sin against God as breaking the rules. Mental symmetry suggests that this is a natural result of viewing the traits of God as unknowable. As I have mentioned, if the rules cannot be known, then there can be no sense of breaking the rules. This does not mean that Orthodox Christianity has no rules or no sense of morality. But these rules are ultimately enforced by the Mercy mental networks of Church and culture and not by the Teacher mental network of a concept of God. Consistent with this, a theologian recently told me that one of the major weaknesses with Orthodox Christianity is that it does not have an adequate basis for morality.

This explains why Eastern Christianity is puzzled by the Western Christian argument between faith and works. Faith uses Perceiver thought to believe that God will not punish me for breaking the rules while works uses Server thought to follow the rules. But both of these assume that the relationship between me and God is guided by rules. If one does not think in terms of rules, then the argument between faith and works becomes meaningless.

Instead, Orthodox salvation means becoming united with God. As SGGOC explains, “In Orthodox theology, redemption is not seen in judicial terms, where one is redeemed from the wrath of God as a result of the Fall and granted justification. Redemption is instead where one is called to participate in the divine energies of God as a result of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is a gracious and divine gift which is bestowed by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the Church, granting all faithful, a personal experience of Christ who in turn leads us to God, His Father. St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, ‘The Son of God became man, that we might become [like] God.’”

Because morality is not associated with God, moral perfection does not require a relationship with God. As SGGOC states, “It is very daring for someone to talk about Theosis without first having tasted it. But we have dared what is beyond our power because we have faith in the mercy of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is done so as not to hide from our Christian brothers the highest and final purpose of our life; that for which we were created. This is done so that it will become clear that the only truly Orthodox form of pastoral guidance is that which is intended to lead to Theosis, and is not, as in Western Christianity, aimed at a moral perfection for man which does not depend on God’s Grace.” Notice the last phrase: “Moral perfection for man does not depend on God’s grace.”

And the death and resurrection of Jesus is not required for moral improvement. “This is the purpose of the incarnation of God. If the purpose of man’s life was simply to become morally better, there would be no need for Christ to come into the world, or for all these events of divine Providence to happen; for the incarnation of God; the cross, the death and resurrection of the Lord, and all that we Christians believe to have happened by Christ. The human race could have been taught to become morally better by the philosophers, by the righteous men and teachers, or by the prophets.”

For those who are not familiar with Catholic or Protestant doctrine, the previous paragraphs would be regarded not just as mistaken but rather as heresy by both Catholics and Protestants. Similarly, mental symmetry agrees that childish personal identity is fundamentally flawed, and that it can only be torn apart and reassembled with the help of a concept of God that is based in Teacher understanding. All three would agree that this transformation involves rules, attitudes, and behavior that can be defined in rational, moral terms.

However, mental symmetry agrees that personal salvation goes beyond a legalistic focus upon rules. The goal is not to follow a divine checklist of rules but rather to build mental networks of personal identity that are consistent with the character of God. Childish identity does naturally act in a way that contradicts general Teacher understanding, and rules and procedures are the building blocks out of which general Teacher understanding is constructed. But the solution is not to impose rules and procedures upon childish identity, for that is like trying to fence in a herd of wild animals. Instead, the nature of the animals needs to be changed, and when that is accomplished then there is no need for fences. Similarly, personal transformation tears apart childish identity and reassembles it using a Teacher mental network based in universal rules and procedures. Reassembled personal identity then naturally functions in a manner that is consistent with the character of God. Rules then become irrelevant, not because they are not important but rather because they are naturally obeyed.

This is consistent with the answer given by Jesus in Matthew 22. “One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’” Jesus does not say that an emotional relationship with God ignores rules. Instead, it sums up rules. Notice that Jesus’ description is consistent with the concept of integrated mental networks. Remember that a mental network is a collection of emotional memories that functions in an integrated, emotional manner. Jesus does not just say ‘love God’, referring to specific emotions. Instead, he says ‘love God with all your heart’, indicating that one is dealing with mental networks and not just individual experiences. And he says that this love should involve the ‘heart’ of Mercy thought as well as the ‘mind’ of Teacher thought.

Summarizing, Orthodox Christianity views a number of core doctrines quite differently than either Protestant or Catholic Christianity. Incarnation is seen as a superposition of God and man, rather than an integration between universal understanding and personal experience. The goal of Orthodox Christianity is to become a god and to become united with God, and Orthodox Christianity believes that man has a deep psychological desire to achieve theosis and become united with God. Orthodox Christianity does not view sin against God as breaking a set of moral rules, and it does not believe that God’s help is needed to achieve moral perfection, or that the atonement of Jesus is needed for man to be justified before God. Instead, Orthodox Christianity relates incarnation to becoming a god; if Jesus became both God and man, then this makes it possible for man to become both God and man.

Filling the Intellectual Void

We saw at the beginning of this essay that Orthodox Christianity says that the only way to know God is through direct experience, and that the Bible and tradition are secondary methods that provide constraints for the primary method. Saying this another way, Orthodox Christianity practices apophatic theology; secondary methods such as the Bible and tradition can only establish boundaries about the nature of God but they cannot actually describe God. However, as the old saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum.

Mental symmetry suggests that Teacher thought should be used to construct a mental concept of God. If apophatic theology says that a rational understanding of God cannot be constructed, then this will not stop Teacher thought from functioning. Instead, Teacher thought will then construct an irrational ‘understanding’ of God.

Let us examine this in more detail. Teacher thought likes to make general statements; Teacher thought feels good when a broad statement can be made that covers many specific situations. This leads to a natural tendency to overgeneralize. For instance, instead of saying, ‘You took the largest piece of pie’, the tendency is to say ‘You always take more than your share’, thus turning a specific incident into a universal statement. Perceiver facts prevent Teacher overgeneralization. For instance, the Teacher generalization ‘You always take more than your share’ can be rebuffed by the Perceiver fact ‘But remember that last time I gave you the biggest doughnut and I took the smaller one’.

Applying this to religious thought, when Perceiver facts about God are vague, uncertain, or unknowable, then Teacher thought will use overgeneralization to form a mental concept of God. The greatest overgeneralization is the statement that ‘all is one’ or ‘everything fits together’, because this constructs Teacher order-within-complexity by simply stating that there is order-within-complexity.

In abstract thought, Perceiver facts limit Teacher generalization. [10] As we saw a few paragraphs back, in concrete thought, Perceiver facts act as walls that prevent personal identity from identifying with desirable experiences. For instance, if I see a $100 bill sitting on my friend’s table, then Perceiver thought will prevent me from taking that bill by asserting that it is connected with my friend and not with me.

Putting these pieces together, when a discussion about God and universality does not include Perceiver facts, then there will be a Teacher and a Mercy result. In Teacher thought, overgeneralization will be used to describe God, leading to Teacher feelings of order-within-complexity. Mercy thought will sense this strong Teacher emotion—because emotion is emotion regardless of its source—and will feel the urge to identify with this pleasant feeling. Normally, Perceiver thought will prevent this from happening by insisting that finite identity is different than infinite God. However, if Perceiver facts are absent, then nothing will prevent personal identity from identifying with God.

I suggest that this provides the cognitive explanation for what is known as mystical worship. In simple terms, mystical worship emerges whenever God is approached in a way that lacks Perceiver thought. This will happen when a religion—such as Orthodox Christianity—explicitly says that it is not possible to know Perceiver facts about God. It will also happen when Teacher understanding about God is inadequate and the declaration is made that God is a mystery. It will also occur when doctrinal statements about God are turned into vague platitudes that lack precise meanings. Finally, it takes its most pure form in Eastern mysticism which baldly states that ‘all is one’ and ‘I am God’.

As the Orthodox wiki points out, “the Hesychastic prayer bears some superficial resemblance to mystical prayer or meditation in Eastern religions (e.g., Buddhism and Hinduism, especially Yoga), although this similarity is often overly emphasized in popular accounts. For example, it may involve specific body postures and be accompanied by very deliberate breathing patterns. It involves acquiring an inner stillness, ignoring the physical senses. The hesychasts interpreted Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to ‘go into your closet to pray’ to mean that they should ignore sensory input and withdraw inwards to pray. It often includes many repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me[, a sinner].’ While some might compare it with a mantra, to use the Jesus Prayer in such a fashion is to violate its purpose. One is never to treat it as a string of syllables for which the ‘surface’ meaning is secondary. Likewise, hollow repetition is considered to be worthless (or even spiritually damaging) in the hesychast tradition.”

Summarizing, both hesychasm and Eastern mysticism create a feeling of Teacher universality by excessively repeating a sequence of words. (I think one can safely conclude that saying the Jesus Prayer 12,000 times a day qualifies as excessive repetition.) Both mentally support this Teacher repetition of words by associating it with the Server repetition of breathing. Both protect the Teacher feeling of universality by ignoring Perceiver facts from the physical world. Adding to the list given in the Wikipedia article, both say that the ultimate goal is to be personally united with God. Both say that religious knowledge ‘transcends’ rational thought. Both say that it is impossible to make definitive statements about God. Both say that finite and infinite are combined by jamming them. Both go beyond morality to define religion in terms of ecstatic union.

However, there are also significant differences. As the Wikipedia article mentions, the Jesus prayer is not a mantra but rather a statement of faith. And the Jesus prayer is not supposed to be repeated as a mantra but rather with meaning. Thus, Mercy feelings are being added to the Teacher theory. But the theory is still being artificially overgeneralized using the methods of Eastern mysticism.

The Orthodox prayer website uses the analogy of picture and frame to distinguish the Jesus Prayer from Eastern mysticism. “The similarities between the Jesus Prayer and various meditation practices can be considered to be like the frame of a masterpiece. The masterpiece in the practice of the Jesus Prayer is union with Jesus Christ. The frame is only the methods used. There may be similarities with postures, techniques and other acts of the outer form of this prayer, but the content and aim is totally different and uniquely Christian.” It is true that, unlike the typical Eastern mantra, the Jesus prayer does summarize fundamental cognitive content. Therefore, the ‘picture within the frame’ is different. But the frame is also a significant portion of the entire package, and that frame resembles Eastern mysticism far more than it does other branches of Christianity.

The Orthodox prayer website also mentions nine differences between hesychasm and Eastern mysticism. Looking at these briefly, the first point says that salvation comes through God and not through human effort. But repeating a prayer 12,000 times a day is using human effort to artificially construct a feeling of universality. Second, ‘We are not attempting to find some impersonal God or absolute truth’ but rather ‘focusing on a personal relationship with the God-Man Jesus’. However, a personal relationship assumes that it is possible to know the nature and character of the other person. As long as one insists that the character of God is unknowable, then one is not having a personal relationship with God. Third, ‘we cannot fall into the sin of pride to the unceasing prayer of Jesus because in the prayer we continually seek mercy for our weaknesses’. There may be a Mercy attitude of personal inadequacy, but in Teacher thought the mental concept of a universal God is being artificially constructed—and building a fake concept of God is the essence of pride. Fourth, ‘We are not assimilated in this union, but retain our personhood’. But the goal is still to achieve union with God, the primary goal of Eastern mysticism. Fifth, ‘As we progress in the prayer we gain the ability to discern error. We learn the movements of the devil’. That begs the question, if the method is so godly then why is the devil showing up? Sixth, hesychasm tries to ‘cleanse the body and soul from the negative effects of passions’ and not just ‘seek apathy’. However, the writer of these nine points is a monk living on Mount Athos who is withdrawing from physical passion in Eastern mystical fashion. Seventh, ‘We do not try and attain absolute nothingness’ and ‘We make no effort to negate or destroy the body’. Again, such a statement does not match living as a monk on Mount Athos. Eighth, there is ‘communion with other persons’ and not ‘indifference to the world’. However, Mount Athos is officially a special ‘self-governed region’ which forbids women from entering. All visitors must get a visa signed by four monastery secretaries—dated using the unrevised Julian calendar. That describes a lack of communion with other persons and indifference to the world. Ninth, ‘We do not put great emphasis on psychosomatic methods or on body postures. They can only assist us in concentration.’ But why are psychosomatic methods or body postures being used at all? [11]

Summarizing, mysticism will naturally emerge whenever God is approached in a way that lacks Perceiver content. The absence of Perceiver facts will allow Teacher thought to overgeneralize, while the absence Perceiver walls will permit Mercy identity to identify fully with the overgeneralized concept of God. In its purest form, this describes Eastern mysticism, and there are a number of similarities between hesychasm and Eastern mysticism.

The Big Picture

Let us conclude this analysis by stepping back and looking at the big picture. Why does it matter if Orthodox Christianity practices Eastern mysticism? Who cares if Orthodox Christianity is ‘the authentic original Christianity’ or not? After all, it has been shown that the regular practice of meditation has medical benefits.

Because the fate of the modern world actually depends upon sorting through these issues. In the realm of the objective, mysticism has been replaced by Teacher understanding and blind faith with Perceiver thought. This combination has made available to modern man physical comforts that transcend the wildest dreams of previous generations. The Christian mindset played a major role in the birth of science. But most secular and academic literature associates religion with mysticism and a belief in God with blind faith. In addition, a core of Christianity has always insisted that religion equals mysticism and belief in God equals blind faith. The modern world is being convulsed by political, cultural, and religious upheaval. Mental symmetry shows that Christian doctrine describes the path out of such upheaval to mental wholeness, but this path must be approached using Teacher understanding and Perceiver thought. Orthodox Christianity has a legitimate historical claim to being ‘true Christianity’, but we have seen that not only is it rooted firmly rooted in mysticism and blind faith, but it insists that ‘true Christianity’ does not involve Teacher understanding and Perceiver facts. Instead, I suggest that Orthodox Christianity needs to be recognized as the historical starting point for Christian belief. All education starts with blind faith and then goes beyond blind faith to critical thinking. Christianity follows the same pattern. It is cute to see a little child worship and trust his parents. Is not cute when an adult rejects understanding and clings to childish thought.

Matthew 18 talks about becoming like a child and is often quoted to support the childish attitude of blind faith. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!”

Notice that Jesus is answering a question regarding personal status. The disciples are approaching the realm of Teacher understanding from the Mercy perspective of personal status. Jesus responds that they will only acquire Teacher understanding if they abandon their search for Mercy status and humble themselves like little children. Stated simply, it is very difficult to teach a person who thinks that he is important. There is also a childlike sense of delight that characterizes those who enjoy learning for its own sake without being concerned about pursuing personal status. Jesus then turns his attention to the educator. Children are vulnerable. One should ‘receive children in the name of Jesus’—from the Teacher perspective of personal salvation (A name is a Teacher label, and the name ‘Jesus’ means salvation.) And one must not place a stumbling block in the path of a child is following the path of personal salvation. Unfortunately, there will always be those who prey on the innocent and vulnerable.

For instance, I lived in Seoul for a number of years. Even though it is a big city of over 10 million people, you will find children playing outside and traveling on public buses without adult supervision. This sort of freedom no longer exists in North America, because of the ‘stumbling blocks’ that prevent children from playing in safety.

Returning to the question of Orthodox Christianity, I am not suggesting that only the Orthodox Church practices Christian mysticism and blind faith. In other essays, I have examined how mysticism and blind faith appear in Catholicism and Protestant Christianity. But the Orthodox Church practices the most pure version of mysticism and blind faith, it promotes mysticism and blind faith the most dogmatically, and it has the strongest historical claim to being the original version of Christianity.

I also am not suggesting that there are no Christians in the Orthodox Church. Orthodox doctrine does preserve the core of the Christian message, and it presents this message in a manner that contains significant Mercy depth and meaning, which is especially attractive to those who have become turned off by the frivolity and faddishness of the typical seeker-friendly Evangelical church. The Orthodox Church also has a legitimate sense of history and continuity which is lacking in the typical Protestant church and denomination. However, while Orthodox Christianity contains significant Mercy depth, it is missing the intellectual side of Christianity.

Saying this another way, as I have suggested several times, the extent of one’s personal salvation depends upon the extent of one’s mental concept of God. This is a general principle that applies to science, religion, as well as any major project. In the language of mental symmetry, the transformation that one experiences in Mercy thought will be limited by the understanding that one builds in Teacher thought. Why does one avoid the incomprehensible God of mysticism and blind faith? Because such a God brings very limited personal salvation. As the Russian soul demonstrates, an Orthodox Christian concept of God can bring comfort in the midst of suffering, but it appears to be incapable of going beyond an environment of suffering.

If Teacher understanding is to transform Mercy experiences, then abstract understanding needs to be translated into practical application. Mentally speaking, this translation is performed by Contributor incarnation. It is interesting to note that the Orthodox church split from Catholicism over precisely this issue. One of the major doctrinal issues triggering the East-West schism was the filioque clause. [12] In simple terms, the Orthodox Church says that the Holy Spirit comes directly from God the Father, whereas the Catholic (and Protestant) Church says that the Holy Spirit comes from God the Father through Jesus the Incarnation.

This may seem like an esoteric doctrinal argument, but I suggest that it illustrates the use of two incompatible cognitive pathways. As OCIC states, this doctrinal quarrel had its origin in two different mindsets. “From the start Greeks and Latins had each approached the Christian Mystery in their own way. At the risk of some oversimplification, it can be said that the Latin approach was more practical, the Greek more speculative; Latin thought was influenced by juridical ideas, by the concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks understood theology in the context of worship and in the light of the Holy Liturgy.”

Using the language of mental symmetry, does one go directly from Teacher thought to Mercy thought or indirectly through Contributor thought? The direct path can provide great emotional comfort but it lacks content—because one is attempting to jam together two fundamentally incompatible modes of thought. However, if Contributor thought is used to translate between the Teacher sequences of God the Father and the Mercy experiences of the Holy Spirit, then, as the interaction between science and technology illustrates, there can be incredible cross-fertilization between theory and practice.

In essence, I suggest that the choice is between going back or going forward. Objective science, combined with the consumer society, has left a considerable hole at the core of Mercy identity, a hole that most Evangelical Christianity is only superficially addressing. Orthodox Christianity does fill that Mercy hole by bringing back the Mercy awe and sincerity of the original Christian believers. This may be enough to add personal meaning to today’s meaningless society but it is not enough to transform society.

The goal of mental symmetry is to go forward by attempting to complete the Christian path of salvation. If objective science can be extended to include the subjective, then the resulting complete understanding can provide the basis for transforming personal identity in the same way that physical identity has been transformed. This parallel is explored more fully in the next essay on Pentecostal Christianity. However, following this path means abandoning the blind faith, mysticism, and historical continuity of the Orthodox Church. It also means acquiring Mercy depth through building internal Platonic forms rather than enjoying the exotic, external Mercy depth of Orthodox ritual.

Stating this as simply as possible, the spirit of this world needs to be replaced, but what will fill the vacuum? The spirit of the past rooted in blind faith, or a Holy Spirit based in understanding? The first will comfort, but the second will cure. However, working out a cure is much harder than merely providing emotional comfort.

The Real American Orthodox Church

I would like to end this essay by examining the actual state of the American Orthodox Church. We have examined a number of religious writings, but it is possible that some of this is wishful thinking that describes what should be the beliefs and practices of a group rather than what is theactual behavior of that group. Therefore, we will finish this essay by taking a look at the 2008 survey that describes the actual state of the American Orthodox Church. All the page references given in this section refer to this 2008 survey. This survey was taken of the two largest Orthodox groups in America, which together account for a little over half of the American Orthodox Christians. The first group is the Orthodox Church of America, reflected in this essay by quotes from OCA. The second group is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), which the SGGOC quotes represent.

GOA is primarily a Greek ethnic church, with only 58% claiming English as their mother language and 71% growing up in the Orthodox faith. In contrast, 85% of OCA members consider English their mother tongue, and 51% are converts to Orthodox Christianity, mainly from other branches of Christianity (p.11). Interestingly, 59% of OCA clergy are converts to Orthodox Christianity, compared with only 12% of GOA clergy (p.13).

28% of laity in both churches consider themselves to be conservatives who think that the Orthodox Church should ‘avoid changes in its life and theology’ and 41% regard themselves as traditionalists who are ‘willing to accept evolutionary change’. Only 4% would consider themselves moderates who would ‘accept new developments and changes depending on local circumstances’. This ratio applies to all age groups as well as both converts and those who have grown up in the church. In other words, young believers and new believers are just as conservative as regular believers (p.14).

We saw earlier that the Orthodox Church claims to preserve unchanged the true historical version of Christianity. We see that this attitude of preserving the past unchanged is present in American Orthodox believers, though not as strongly as portrayed by the OCIC Russian Orthodox writers. Examining more closely the attitude of American Orthodox Christians, 44% of Orthodox Christians think that their church is faithfully maintaining historical traditions and should continue to do so, whereas only 21% think that the church is tied too strongly to the past (p.89).

When asked to choose ‘up to three aspects of church that they valued the most’, 90% of Orthodox Christians chose liturgy and sharing in the Eucharist, 50% valued the spiritual guidance provided by the priest, and only one third valued the sermons and homilies (p.22). Thus, we can see that liturgy defines Church for the Orthodox Christian, whereas theology is much less important, which is consistent with the concept that the Orthodox Church emphasizes direct experience with God.

For Roman Catholics, the primary aspect is also ‘sharing in the Eucharist’, but this was only chosen by 61%. For evangelical Christians, sermons and homilies topped the list at 49% and evangelism came in second at 28% (p.28). Thus, sharing in the Eucharist is significantly more important for Orthodox Christians than Roman Catholics, whereas evangelical Christians place the greatest emphasis upon theology and preaching.

When Orthodox Christians were asked what their parish needs the most to strengthen and grow, the number one issue is money, which 34% see as an urgent need. The number two need is for more volunteers, which 30% view as an urgent need (p.35). The need for more money and more volunteers is significantly greater in the ethnic GOA churches than in OCA, though in both groups these are the top two needs. This tells us that the dedication to the Church that is portrayed by the quotes in this essay is not being felt as keenly by the typical Orthodox church parishioner. In fact, the biggest problem is a lack of dedication, measured both in time and money.

93% of Orthodox Christians feel that the primary duty of the priest is to lead worship and administer sacraments. ‘Teaching parishioners about Orthodox doctrine and traditions’ came in second at 54% (p.44). For Catholics, ‘leading worship and administering sacraments’ was also first, but only at 72%, and ‘teaching members about the faith’ was second at 53%. For evangelicals, teaching about the faith was first at 64% and administering sacraments was second at 52% (p.46).

In the words of the survey, “We interpret this finding as a confirmation of the commonly shared (in the Orthodox world) notion of the clergyman as a special person who is ‘set apart’ by way of his ordination and of the spiritual authority implicitly invested into the priestly office” (p.47). Consistent with this, 77% of Orthodox Christians think that the priest acquires a special status that is ‘different’ than the laity when he is ordained to the priesthood (p.59).

We looked earlier at the fragmented state of the American Orthodox Church. 40% of Orthodox Christians think that ‘very little has been done to achieve Orthodox unity’, while 42% think that ‘unity will be eventually achieved through increased cooperation’ (p.92). Thus, the lack of unity is regarded as a significant problem.

We saw earlier the Orthodox church doctrine equates Christian belief with blind faith. Consistent with this, only 16% of Orthodox Christians think parishes should have freedom to explore new liturgies, and only 19% think that there should be individual freedom to interpret Scripture and tradition (p.102). Interestingly, with the question of individual freedom, GOA parishioners were the most tolerant at 24%, whereas OCA clergy were the least tolerant at 4% (p.105). In other words, OCA clergy believe very strongly in blind faith, and are quite certain that there is only one approved version of absolute religious truth.

Looking specifically at blind faith, 63% of Orthodox Christians agree that ‘to be truly Orthodox Christian, one must accept unquestioningly all teachings and requirements of the Orthodox Church’ (p.114). This survey question uses quite strong language: ‘accept unquestioningly all’. Thus, blind faith is clearly viewed as the standard for Orthodox belief. 79% think that there is one best and true interpretation of Christian faith and that the Orthodox church comes closest to teaching it (p.146).

Interestingly, only 7% of Orthodox Christians think that ‘only members of the Orthodox Church can be saved’, which is quite different than the rather exclusive tone portrayed by the Russian Orthodox OCIC website. While 87% could not imagine being anything but Orthodox, and 84% think that Orthodox Christianity contains more truth than other religions, 57% said that how a person lives is more important than whether they are Orthodox Christians (p.130).

Comparing this with Catholics, only 55% of Catholics think that Catholicism contains more truth than other religions, and 88% of Catholics think that how a person lives is more important than being Catholic (p.134). Thus, Orthodox Christianity is considerably more exclusive than Catholicism, but almost all American Orthodox Christians would shy away from saying that one must be Orthodox to be a Christian.

Looking at specific beliefs, 98% think that a person must ‘believe that Jesus rose from the dead’ in order to be a good Orthodox Christian, while 97% think that a belief in transubstantiation is a requirement for being a good Orthodox Christian (p.155). Thus, we see that transubstantiation is really a defining belief for Orthodox faith.

Again comparing this with Catholics, the same two beliefs were emphasized, but only 77% think that belief in the resurrection is a requirement to be a good Catholic, and only 64% think that belief in transubstantiation is a requirement (p.164).

Looking at the source of belief, 92% of Orthodox Christians consider the Bible to be a fundamental source of authority, and 88% consider Orthodox doctrine and tradition to be fundamental. In contrast, only 45% regard human reason and understanding as a fundamental source of authority (p.166). Again one sees the emphasis upon blind faith. Interestingly, personal experience is only accepted as a fundamental source of authority by 44%, implying that the average Orthodox Christian does not really believe that knowledge about God can be acquired through direct experience. This is consistent with the earlier suggestion that ‘direct experience of God’ provides a feeling of divine presence but does not transmit knowledge or content.

Turning our attention now to the relationship between mainstream American culture and the Orthodox Church, the top two American cultural patterns that Orthodox believers think will have the most influence on their church in the future are ‘more people living in non-traditional families’ at 50%, and the ‘rise in consumerism and materialism’ at 44% (p.72). Thus, we see that the Orthodox Church is vulnerable to outside cultural influence.

Consistent with this, the issue that Orthodox Christians feel needs to be discussed the most is the problem of youth leaving the church. 80% felt that this is a significant problem. The number two issue is the relationship between American culture and Orthodox tradition which came in at 60% (p.78). This needs to be restated. By far the biggest problem facing the Orthodox Church is that young people are leaving the church. Parents are not teaching the faith to their children, and young adults are not involved in the church (p.85). And yet, 89% think that it is very important that their family grows up as Orthodox Christians (p.148).

Summarizing, the American Orthodox Church holds on to tradition and is based in blind faith significantly more than the Catholic Church. Most agree that being an Orthodox Christian means blindly accepting all Orthodox teachings and requirements. The vast majority think that there is only one official church-approved correct way to interpret the Bible.

Orthodox Christians feel very strongly that their Church performs holy rituals. 90% value the church primarily because of the Eucharist and church liturgy, 98% believe the bread and wine turns into the body and blood of Christ, and 93% think the primary duty of the priest is to lead worship and administer sacraments. Most Orthodox Christians think that priests are special people who are different than normal laity.

However, only 7% believe that only Orthodox Church members are Christians. And Orthodox Christians must not really feel that their Church is that holy because of the difficulty in raising money and attracting volunteers. Finally, while the Orthodox Church is gaining converts—especially among clergy, the number one problem it faces is losing the next generation. I suggest that this is what happens when one attempts to go back in a society that is moving forward. One will attract primarily those who already are facing backwards while those who are going forward will leave.

Mental symmetry suggests that blind faith occurs when Perceiver thought is overwhelmed by emotional pressure. Blind faith could be compared to ice. If the temperature rises from -40°C to -1°C, then ice will remain frozen even though it is much warmer. However, if the temperature rises any more, then the ice will start to melt. Similarly, if Perceiver thought is sufficiently mesmerized, then it will remain ‘frozen’ even if the emotional pressure becomes less intense, but eventually a transition point will be reached where blind faith fragments and Perceiver thought becomes ‘unfrozen’. On the one hand, the American Orthodox Church survey indicates that Perceiver thought is still largely frozen; blind faith is still the standard. However, the difficulty in raising money and getting volunteers, the fear of being influenced by outside culture, and the failure to attract the youth are all emotional indicators that suggest that the mental ‘temperature’ is becoming less frozen. Blind faith may still be the standard, but it is backed up by less emotional pressure than before. If this emotional pressure continues to lessen, then the Orthodox Church will eventually experience the crisis of faith that has convulsed both evangelical Christianity and Catholicism.

Conclusion

I suggest that this essay leads us to several counterintuitive conclusions. First, Orthodox Christianity claims to preserve intact the original version of Christianity and it goes to great lengths to honor and preserve religious tradition. Ironically, this Mercy-based attitude of attempting to preserve the essence of original Christianity causes Orthodox Christianity to misinterpret the Christian message and leads Orthodox Christianity to make doctrinal statements that mental symmetry would view as fundamentally anti-Christian and a careful reading of the biblical text would regard as heretical.

Second, the Orthodox attitude of giving great honor to God actually ends up doing God a great disservice. I have attempted to show in other essays, as well as in God, Theology & Cognitive Modules, that Christianity makes sense when evaluated using Teacher thought. We have seen that the fundamental characteristic of Orthodox Christianity is to view religion from the perspective of Mercy thought. This means that Orthodox Christianity is using the wrong mental language to understand Christianity, which explains why Orthodox thought claims that Christianity doctrine is fundamentally incomprehensible. However, instead of recognizing that it is using the wrong mental language, Orthodox Christianity insists that it is using the correct approach and that the flaw lies with Christian doctrine and the Bible. Saying this another way, the Mercy-based approach of Orthodox Christianity prevents it from adequately comprehending the Teacher-based structure of Christianity. But instead of recognizing that its Mercy-based approach is flawed, Orthodox Christianity maintains that God and the Bible are ultimately incomprehensible.

This leads us to the third counterintuitive conclusion. Because the content of Christianity displays such a deep Teacher understanding, and because the Orthodox Church, which preserves the thinking of early Christianity, is so strongly rooted in Mercy adoration, this leads us ironically to conclude with considerable confidence that the Bible could not have been written by humans authors and that Jesus was an extremely unusual person. When the earliest followers of Christianity make the category mistake of approaching the Bible with the completely wrong perspective, and when the Teacher structure of the Bible totally transcends the Teacher understanding of the earliest Christians, this tells us that with significant certainty that the Bible had to have a supernatural origin, because it is written in a cognitive language that no one in the Roman era spoke fluently. Looking at this from the other side, the level of Mercy dedication exhibited by Orthodox Christianity implies that the earliest Christians had an encounter with someone who literally ‘blew their minds’.

The fourth counterintuitive conclusion involves theological methodology. Theologians are much like antique dealers. They are continually looking for earlier sources, and give great weight to the writings of the church fathers. Entire chapters are written debating whether a theological viewpoint has or has not been influenced by the thinking of some early Greek, Latin, Hebrew—or other—stream of ancient thought. For instance, in the first two chapters of Beyond the Bounds, proponents of Calvinism and Open Theism both attempt to show that their thinking is based in the ‘good’ sources of Jewish rabbis and Hebrew Scriptures and that the thinking of their opponents is rooted in the ‘bad’ source of pagan Greek philosophy. Ironically, this attempt to focus upon earlier sources leads theologians away from the content of the Bible, because the earliest followers of Christianity tended to have the least understanding of the Christian message. Even more ironically, this focus upon earlier sources is itself guided by a deep emotional respect for the Bible. However, when the starting point for a religious scholar is blind faith in the Bible and ‘statements of faith’, then this indicates that one believes that truth is revealed by important people, and this focus upon personal sources of truth will cause one to examine earlier sources in order to gain a more accurate understanding of the biblical message. Thus, emotional respect for the Bible is leading biblical scholars to base their thinking upon those who misinterpret the Bible.

The fifth counterintuitive conclusion is that a less dogmatic approach to the Bible actually allows one to say more about God and the Bible. The doctrine of scriptural inerrancy states that every word of the Bible was directly inspired by God in the original manuscripts. This may be true, but it is a statement of faith, and when the starting point is a statement of faith then scholarship will consist primarily of comparing the opinions of religious experts and church fathers. In order to adopt other methods of thought, one has to weaken the attitude of blind faith, which ends up diluting statements of faith. In the language of mental symmetry, if truth is defined by using Mercy status to overwhelm Perceiver thought, then Perceiver facts will be established by examining the opinions of those who have Mercy status. In order to use Perceiver thought, one will have to give less Mercy status to the experts, which means that one will begin to doubt truth.

Cognitive analysis leads us to conclude that the Bible is an unusually clever book. One could go further and state that every word of the Bible is divinely inspired. However, that is a statement of faith, and statements of faith tend to shut down critical thinking. I have been working with the theory of mental symmetry for several decades, and so far I have not found any contradiction between the theory of mental symmetry and biblical content. But there are still major sections of the Bible, such as many of the strange laws in the book of Leviticus, which I do not understand. Because so much of the Bible does make sense, my assumption is that the fault lies with me and my incomplete understanding and not with the Bible. Ironically, if one treats the Bible as an unusually clever book, one ends up respecting the content of the Bible more than if one regards by faith every word of the Bible as inspired. It is possible that every word is inspired, but if one starts with this as a statement of faith, then this leads to an attitude of blind faith which limits the ability to use rational thought.

Similarly, one could insist that the Bible is the ‘Word of God’, but this again is a statement of faith. The end result is a Teacher un-theory that explains nothing, because every question can be answered by the assertion that God knows everything and can do anything. Therefore, I would like to conclude this essay by briefly examining my suggestion that the Bible ‘has a supernatural source’ in order to ensure that this also does not become a meaningless statement that explains nothing.

Because Teacher thought must be used to fully understand the Bible, and because the Bible could not have been written by humans from the Roman era, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the Bible was transmitted by beings whose ‘natural language’ was Teacher thought. Mental symmetry suggests that an angelic realm exists that is the mirror image of the human realm. Humans live within a physical world of Mercy experiences; angels would inhabit a non-physical realm of Teacher words, waves, and energy. This implies that the Bible came to humans via the angelic realm.

Consistent with this, it is interesting to note that the Gospels relate that almost every human who interacted with Jesus misunderstood his purpose and nature, and whenever a human did grasp Jesus’ purpose and nature, Jesus told that person that he had received his insight from a supernatural source. In contrast, one finds numerous accounts of angels cooperating intelligently with the plan of Jesus in the Gospels.

I am not suggesting that the Bible was written by aliens, and I am not implying that Jesus is an angel or that Jesus was born on a UFO, because that merely replaces one form of blind faith in the inexplicable with another. Instead, I am suggesting that the account of Jesus given in the Gospels makes the most sense if one views Jesus as a person who was living simultaneously within the human realm and a mirror-image angelic realm. Consistent with this, many Christian theologians suggest that Old Testament references to ‘the angel of the Lord’ are pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus. This does not mean that Jesus was an angel, but it implies that he may have resided in the angelic realm before coming to earth. We have seen in other essays that it makes deep cognitive sense to regard Jesus as an incarnation who is both God and man. However, if one approaches the Gospel account with the Orthodox Christian viewpoint view that Jesus is a juxtaposition of knowable man and unknowable God, then one ends up with the Buddhist-like conclusion that man can become united with God, because one is jamming together finite personal identity in Mercy thought with a vague, overgeneralized concept of universality in Teacher thought. Similarly, if one asserts that ‘Jesus is God and God can do anything’, then this may sound reverent but it ends up explaining nothing. In contrast, if one views Jesus as a being who interacted with the mirror-image angelic realm before becoming incarnate and who maintained this mirror-image awareness as a human, then this provides a rational framework within which to place the Gospel account of Jesus.

And if it feels like I have just introduced a new topic that needs to be analyzed and discussed, then that is the sign of a good general theory. A poor theory has very little explaining power. Like a small cavern or a poorly written computer game, a little exploration will review the walls of the cavern, the limitations of the game, and the extent of the theory. A good general theory is like a large system of interconnected caverns or a huge virtual world in which each discovery unveils new avenues to explore. After using the theory of mental symmetry for thirty years, I feel that I am only beginning to grasp the various parameters of this cognitive model. In contrast, there is nothing to explore with an un-theory such as ‘God is incomprehensible’ or ‘God can do anything’.



[1] I am not saying that there is no direct interaction. Instead, I am suggesting that direct interaction contains too little bandwidth—not enough information—to generate personal relationship. In order to become personal, interaction must trigger mental networks that already exist within the mind which were built up over time. Building up such mental networks requires the use of analogy—which Orthodox doctrine insists cannot be used with God.

[2] An attitude of religious self-denial is based in the Mercy feeling that God is very important and I am ‘a worm’ compared to God. Mental symmetry recognizes that humans are finite and it defines God as a universal being. But mental symmetry also suggests that it is possible to use rational thought both to understand finite humans and to comprehend the essential characteristics of God. Religious self-denial, in contrast, throws up its hands in despair and concludes that man is too insignificant to be able to comprehend anything about God. Obviously, a finite being cannot fully understand an infinite being. But a finite being can gain a reasonable understanding of the general nature of a universal being. For instance, a finite human cannot comprehend the movement of every particle in the universe. But a finite human can learn the general laws of physics that describe the movement of these particles, and a finite human can use these laws to analyze the movement of a few particles.

[3] The Gospel account of the life of Jesus may portray the fundamental essence of the nature of God and the interaction between God and man. However, there are many facets of this interaction, such as the development of science and technology, that are not illustrated by the life of Jesus. Thus, the Gospel account may contain the core aspects of the relationship between God and man, but the universality of this relationship becomes apparent as one goes beyond this single period in history. Going the other way, when one examines the life of Jesus in the light of other knowledge and the rest of history, then one gains a fuller grasp of the Gospel story of incarnation.

[4] Orthodox Christianity also says that one can learn about God through direct experience, but this direct experience only provides a vague general feeling and thus cannot really be described as learning. In the words of one Greek Orthodox page, “We know God when we experience His presence as filling and overtaking us, when we feel completely dependent on him, ‘as infants feel dependent upon their mothers’ (St. Basil). We know God not through our concepts and ideas only, but beyond and above them: for our entire existence is united with Him. We know God when we are familiar with Him as ‘the cattle are familiar with their manger.’ We know God when ‘we breath Him,’ when we feel His presence any place we are or go; we know God when we constantly depend on Him, when our lives belong to Him, when our lives become a constant praise of His Holy Name.”

[5] A category mistake is wrong because the answer is based upon the wrong category. For instance, ‘2 + 2 = 5’ is a mistake. ‘2 + 2 = banana’ is a category mistake.

[6] According to Plato, the Greek gods could see Platonic forms clearly, but they were not the embodiment of Platonic forms. Mercy-based thought looks up to Platonic forms as ideals. In contrast, a Teacher-based system is constructed upon Platonic forms.

[7] The Bible strongly implies that the New Jerusalem should not be viewed in mystical terms, because it is described as a city in which there is no temple. A similar ‘descending to earth of a heavenly city’ occurred with physical objects during the consumer revolution, which began around 1880. That is when the ‘heaven’ of scientific thought began to transform the ‘earth’ of everyday life through the widespread introduction of consumer devices. One of the byproducts of this consumer revolution was tocall into question the existing ‘temples’ of organized religion.

[8] Does a Platonic form really exist? This question has been argued since the time of Plato. Mental symmetry suggests that Platonic forms do not exist in the physical world. However, if a spiritual realm exists that interacts with mental networks, then it is conceivable that Platonic forms might ‘exist’ in such a realm.

[9] Mental symmetry suggests that the human mind is composed of seven interacting cognitive modules. Curiously, the book of Revelation talks about the ‘seven spirits of God’.

[10] Perceiver facts can also help to build general theories by pointing out similarities and analogies.

[11] Body posture can be used effectively to reinforce Teacher understanding. The problem is that the general Teacher theory is not being based upon universal principles of how the world or the mind functions, but rather upon the specific sequences that I am producing by moving or holding my body in a certain manner. Physical posture and physical movement are helpful for teaching knowledge that was acquired from some other source. However, when body posture is used to reinforce an apophatic, mystical theology that rejects the very concept of knowledge, then the physical movement itself will become a source of Teacher ‘understanding’. This relates to the distinction between human righteousness and divine righteousness that was discussed in a previous essay.

[12] Another major contention was that the Catholic Pope was attempting to impose his authority upon the Orthodox Church. This, I suggest, reflects the Catholic error of equating the physical symbol of a Pope-led structured church with the Platonic form of a God of order-within-complexity.