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BibleThe Divine Conspiracy

Lorin Friesen, October, 2015

This is a continuation of the discussion of Dallas Willard. This 74 page essay will examine Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy (DC), written in 1998. DC includes an analysis of the Sermon on the Mount, which we will go through in detail. Before we begin, I would like to remind the reader that my primary goal is not to critique Willard. I am a Perceiver person, and one of the traits of Perceiver persons is that they do not have a conscious ability to concentrate. (It appears that Contributor persons, Mercy persons, and Teacher persons can concentrate.) This means that my mind functions associatively and needs to be triggered by the thinking of others. I find that I can make significant progress when I look in detail at someone whose thinking overlaps with mine. The words of the author then trigger ideas in my mind, making it possible for me to use Perceiver thought to clarify the concepts of the author. Subconscious Teacher thought in my mind then takes these clarified concepts and uses them as bricks to build a general theoretical structure. (Because I interacted with a Teacher person for several years, Teacher thought functions within my mind.)

This book begins with a clear and accurate description of the problem: “There now is no recognized moral knowledge upon which projects of fostering moral development could be based. There is now not a single moral conclusion about behavior or character traits that a teacher could base a student’s grade on” (DC, 3). Instead, all morality is considered to be a matter of personal opinion, and one is not supposed to impose one’s opinions upon other people: “If you lowered a student’s grade just for saying on a test that discrimination is morally acceptable, for example, the student could contest that grade to the administration... The teacher would be reminded that we are not here to impose our views on students, ‘however misguided the student might be.’ And if the administration of the university did not reach that decision, a court of law soon would” (DC, 3). Using the language of mental symmetry, moral truth affects the MMNs of personal identity. But when one is dealing with potent MMNs, then the default is for Perceiver truth to be overwhelmed by the emotional intensity of these MMNs. Thus, moral truth has traditionally been based upon MMNs of personal authority. For instance, something is true because the Bible says so or because ‘the founding fathers’ say so. These traditional experts are no longer respected, and so Perceiver thought now has doubts about what they say. However, Perceiver thought has not gained the confidence that is required to evaluate facts when faced with emotional pressure. Thus, the general mindset of Perceiver thought being overwhelmed by Mercy emotions remains; everyone now ‘knows’ that truth is imposed upon society by people with power. This leads to the strange situation where political power is now being used to impose the view that political power should not be used to impose views. (Going further, this is now leading to deep uncertainty as core mental networks are being to crumble, which is being ‘solved’ in many cases by a return to a fundamentalism that uses political power blatantly to impose views.)

Rational thought still continues to function within the specializations of abstract technical thought, in which one learns facts and becomes skilled in manipulating these facts, but one does not think about extending these facts beyond the technical specialization or about applying these facts to one’s personal identity: “You could never grade someone for holding Utilitarianism or Kantianism to be true or false. One can only know about such theories and principles, and think about them in more or less clever ways. You can brightly discuss them. For that the young man got his A’s. But that, of course, had no bearing on his character or behavior because it is only literary or historical or perhaps logical expertise, not moral knowledge” (DC, 5).

Willard wrote SoD in 1988. DC was written in 1998. SoD focuses upon practical theology, and I have complained that Willard does not recognize in this book the impact that a general theory has upon thought and behavior. DC recognizes the power of a theory that turns into a TMN and spreads to the rest of the population: “The killing fields of Cambodia come from philosophical discussions in Paris... The absurdity of our existence now falls upon the masses of humanity through several generations of intellectual and artistic elites. It surfaced in its modern form within a very small circle of intellectuals during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries... Currently, through pop ‘art’ and the media the presumed absurdity of life that elites previously had to be very brilliant and work very hard to appreciate is mindlessly conveyed to hundreds of millions” (DC, 7). Similarly, Willard is no longer simply telling us to practice spiritual disciplines, but rather stating that action needs to be guided by understanding: “‘Practice routinely purposeful kindnesses and intelligent acts of beauty.’ Putting these into practice immediately begins to bring truth, goodness, strength, and beauty into our lives” (DC, 10).

Thus, Willard’s careful observation has led him to the conclusion that careful observation is not enough. Instead, one needs an underlying understanding to guide this careful observation — and make careful observation possible. But Willard’s solution is still formulated in terms of phenomenology: “I think we finally have to say that Jesus’ enduring relevance is based on his historically proven ability to speak to, to heal and empower the individual human condition. He matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives” (DC, 13). History does provide evidence of Jesus’ enduring relevance. But Jesus was relevant because he is the incarnation of God; he did nothing on his own initiative but only did what was consistent with the character of God (John 5:19, etc.). And God is a universal being whose character we grasp by constructing a general Teacher theory and who we follow by acting in a way that is consistent with this general understanding. As an incarnation Jesus brought the nature of God ‘to ordinary human beings’ by ‘living their ordinary lives’, but what he brought was the nature of God. He does ‘promise wholeness’, but this is a wholeness of the mind. Instead of basing his authority in the MMNs of personal status, he was guided by the TMN of an understanding of God: “He did not teach ‘in the manner of the scribes’ but instead ‘as having authority in his own right.’ Scribes, expert scholars, teach by citing others. But Jesus was, in effect, saying, ‘Just watch me and see that what I say is true. See for yourself that the rule of God has come among ordinary human beings’” (DC, 20). ‘Seeing for yourself’ is a good starting point for learning how to be guided by the ‘rule of God’, but if one wishes to be guided by the rule of God as Jesus was, then one must first construct a mental concept of God and then choose to be guided by this mental concept. I suggest that this is what it means to submit to the ‘kingdom of God’.

Heart versus Will

Willard, in contrast, defines kingdom in terms of Contributor choice: “Our ‘kingdom’ is simply the range of our effective will. Whatever we genuinely have the say over is in our kingdom... attacks on our personhood always take the form of diminishing what we can do or have say over, sometimes up to the point of forcing us to submit to what we abhor” (DC, 22). The Contributor person is conscious in the part of the mind that chooses, and free will plays a large role in the personal identity of the Contributor person. For instance, the Contributor person will sometimes choose the opposite of what another person suggests in order to ‘be himself’. While free will is an aspect of personal identity, one can only choose between options that are suggested by Exhorter thought, which themselves are based primarily in mental networks. Thus, if one really wants to transform personal identity, one must transform the underlying mental networks. Willard (almost) says this later in the book: “Our treasure focuses our heart. ‘Your heart will be where what you treasure is,’ Jesus tells us. Remember that our heart is our will, or our spirit: the center of our being from which our life flows. It is what gives orientation to everything we do. A heart rightly directed therefore brings health and wholeness to the entire personality” (DC, 206).

I suggest that we treasure that which expresses core mental networks, and that ‘the heart’ describes the MMNs of personal identity, which are inevitably shaped by core mental networks. These mental networks ‘give orientation to everything we do’ (and think), and they either drive us towards mental fragmentation or to mental wholeness. However, I suggest that the heart is not the same as the will. The heart is something emotional residing within Mercy thought. Will is something non-emotional within Contributor thought that chooses between options that come from the heart. (Everyone has a will, but the Contributor person is capable of being truly stubborn.) For the Contributor person, heart and will are closely related. Willard, assuming that everyone is like the Contributor person, says that the heart is the same as the will, and that these two are the central aspect of the human spirit: “It is the ‘will’ aspect of personal/spiritual reality that is its innermost core. In biblical language the will is usually referred to as ‘heart.’ This it is that organizes all the dimensions of personal reality to form a life or a person. The will, or heart, is the executive center of the self” (DC, 80). “The heart, or will, simply is spirit in human beings. It is the human spirit, and the only thing in us that God will accept as the basis of our relationship to him” (DC, 81).

One can see the relationship between free will, mental networks, and kingdom by observing what happens when governments attempt to legislate morality. Suppose that a government chooses to pass some law that goes against the mental networks of society, such as prohibiting alcohol under prohibition. Such laws will ultimately fail, because people will be driven by their mental networks to make choices that violate the law. Similarly, Western attempts to ‘impose democracy’ upon tribal societies have consistently failed. That is because mental networks of culture and ethnic identity run stronger and deeper than the ‘free will’ of a democracy. If one wishes to transform an individual or society, then one must change the underlying mental networks.

One of the characteristics of childish MMNs is that they are continually struggling for dominance. In Willard’s words, “Apart from harmony under God, our nature-imposed objectives go awry. The social and individual chaos of human desires sees to it. Much of our time and energy is spent trying to dominate others or escape domination by them, from ‘office politics’ to tribal warfare to international relations on a global scale” (DC, 23). The solution is to place the MMNs of personal identity within the structure of a TMN based in general understanding. As Willard says, “We can only love adequately by taking as our primary aim the integration of our rule with God’s. That is why love of neighbor is the second, not the first, commandment and why we are told to seek first the kingdom, or rule, of God” (DC, 26). I suggest that it is possible to combine the will of God with the will of man because God deals primarily with generalities while humans live in finite experiences. Willard says something similar: “By relying on his word and presence we are enabled to reintegrate the little realm that makes up our life into the infinite rule of God. And that is the eternal kind of life. Caught up in his active rule, our deeds become an element in God’s eternal history” (DC, 27).

I suggest that Willard’s comments regarding the kingdom of God (which I think are accurate) make more sense if one distinguishes between mental networks and free will. Willard says that the will of God is sovereign and cannot be frustrated: “We will not doubt that that kingdom has existed from the moment of creation and will never end... It cannot be ‘shaken’ and is totally good. It has never been in trouble and never will be. It is not something that human beings produce or, ultimately, can hinder.” (DC, 25). He adds that God’s will does not currently apply the human heart: “Indeed, the social and political realm, along with the individual heart, is the only place in all of creation where the kingdom of God, or his effective will, is currently permitted to be absent” (DC, 25). However, individuals can choose to cooperate with the will of God: “We do have an invitation to be a part of it, but if we refuse we only hurt ourselves” (DC, 25). If one recognizes that the mind is driven by mental networks and that free will cannot override core mental networks, then one concludes that the kingdom of God extends everywhere, including the social and political realm as well as the individual mind. Stated bluntly, as far as I can tell God can and does use core mental networks to guide people and societies wherever he wishes. Anyone who attempts to ‘swim against the stream’ of the mental networks of society will realize how strong and pervasive these mental networks are. I am not suggesting, as Calvinism does, that there is no such thing as free will, or that it is impossible to change one’s basic desires. Instead, I think that every individual is given sufficient grace in at least some situations to choose whether to walk towards God or away from God, and that Christianity describes the path by which one can change one’s core mental networks.

And I suggest that it is possible for people and groups to choose whether or not they will cooperate with the sovereignty of God. As Willard suggests, we ‘have an invitation to be a part of’ God’s plan, and ‘if we refuse we only hurt ourselves’. On the one hand, I suggest that it is impossible for society as a whole to escape the rule that a sovereign God has over the mental networks of groups of people. In other words, the plan of God works with generalities and applies to the group. (Humans might have some influence at the group level. For instance, see James 4:16-18.) But on the other hand, individuals within this group have extensive personal freedom as to how they will cooperate with this plan. For instance, Israel is a nation that is chosen by God, but this does not mean that every individual Jew is chosen by God. Instead, biblical promises to Jews apply to a ‘believing remnant’ within the Jewish nation. Even when there is not a believing remnant, God can still use a group (such as the Jews) to carry out his purposes, but this will probably be painful for the individuals within this group. For example, when the Jews were being hounded from one European country to another during the Middle Ages, they were carrying out their divinely appointed role of being ‘A light to the nations’. But for the typical individual Jew, carrying out this role was not a pleasant task.

Willard also says (and I agree) that “Jesus’ own gospel of the kingdom was not that the kingdom was about to come, or had recently come, into existence. If we attend to what he actually said, it becomes clear that his gospel concerned only the new accessibility of the kingdom to humanity through himself” (DC, 26). Using the partial example of science and technology, natural law has always applied. But the scientific revolution made it possible to cooperate with natural law through technology in a way that was not possible before, leading to a new world of labor-saving and life-saving gadgets. I suggest that a similar principle applies to the coming of Jesus and the institution of Christianity. And these two are related because the theology of Christianity preceded the general theories of science. Science came to birth in the Western Christendom and not elsewhere. Christianity deals with the heart — it brings the MMNs of personal identity into direct contact with the TMN of a holy and sovereign God. Therefore, Jesus had to provide a way of forgiving sin and reconciling man with God. Science can function without this method of forgiveness because it builds an objective general understanding of the natural world that avoids the MMNs of personal identity.


Willard points out that conservative Christianity now views salvation primarily in terms of forgiveness: “Forgiveness alone is what Christianity is all about... you can have a faith in Christ that brings forgiveness, while in every other respect your life is no different from that of others who have no faith in Christ at all” (DC, 36). I suggest that this is a natural result of using an MMN to represent God. Mercy thought uses MMNs to represent people and Mercy thought places labels of good and bad upon experiences. Therefore, a person who is mentally represented by a potent MMN can impose an emotional label of ‘bad’ upon the MMNs of personal identity. When God is viewed as The Most Important Person in Mercy thought, then God has the emotional power to label me as bad. Similarly, God also has the emotional power to change this label and label me as forgiven. Notice how all of Christianity boils down to what God thinks of me. Once I am ‘forgiven’ then everything has been solved. This describes the type of insipid Christianity about which Willard complains. Willard puts it this way: “The theology of Christian trinkets says there is something about the Christian that works like the bar code. Some ritual, some belief, or some association with a group affects God the way the bar code affects the scanner... God ‘scans’ it, and forgiveness floods forth. An appropriate amount of righteousness is shifted from Christ’s account to our account in the bank of heaven, and all our debts are paid. We are, accordingly, ‘saved.’ Our guilt is erased” (DC, 37).

A totally different picture emerges if one views God from a Teacher perspective as a universal being whose character is expressed in how things work. To be separate from God does not just mean that he thinks that I am bad. (Teacher thought will view the chaotic and contradictory MMNs of childish identity as bad.) Instead, it also means that I am driven by my core mental networks to try to function in a way that fights the fabric of my mind and violates the structure of the universe. The goal is not to be merely forgiven, but rather to be completely reprogrammed so that I can learn how to function in a manner that is mentally whole and which cooperates with the universe. Forgiveness from God is merely the starting point that enrolls me in the school of God’s character where I learn how to think and behave in a sane manner. Saying this another way, forgiveness transfers me as an individual into the Teacher domain of God’s cooperative kingdom, in which one learns how to intelligently cooperate with the ways of God (Col. 1:9-13).

Notice that both justification and sanctification are required. Justification enrolls in God’s school, while sanctification studies in the school. The feeling of being forgiven or justified comes from Teacher emotion and not Mercy emotion. Teacher thought views childish identity as fragmented, lawless, ignorant, and chaotic. Childish identity with its Mercy fixation interprets this as being labeled bad by God. When personal identity enrolls in the ‘school of incarnation’ then Teacher thought views personal identity as an example of the order-within-complexity of this school, and childish identity interprets this change in Teacher status as ‘God labeling me as good’. But when the classes start and the testing begins, then childish identity typically gets confused and thinks that ‘God no longer loves me’, not realizing that “God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12: 7 NASB). Viewing God from a Mercy perspective thinks that it is sufficient for God to label me as good. Viewing God from a Teacher perspective realizes that salvation means transforming the MMNs of my mind so that they become consistent with the Teacher structure of the systems that God has created.

‘Liberal Christianity’ also views God and people from a Mercy perspective, but it thinks that the goal is to stop using Mercy status to label people and groups as bad. Willard tells how this started: “In 1963 the National Council of Churches (NCC) adopted a policy of direct participation in the struggle of black Americans for social and economic equality. Shortly afterward came involvement in protests over the war in Vietnam and also in movements of liberation in other countries. Later came issues of gender, sexual preference, ecology, speciesism, and generalized ‘correctness’” (DC, 51). The result was that “religious belief became commitment to civil rights in some broadened sense — including, more recently, a right not even to have offensive symbolism or language used in your presence” (DC, 51).

As Willard points out, both conservative and liberal Christianity lack the concept of Christianity as a school and Jesus as the teacher: “The disappearance of Jesus as teacher explains why today in Christian churches — of whatever leaning — little effort is made to teach people to do what he did and taught. Once again, it is a natural consequence of our basic message. Who among us has personal knowledge of a seminar or course of study and practice being offered in a ‘Christian Education Program’” (DC, 57).

Willard suggests that part of the solution involves recognizing that God has positive emotion: “Central to the understanding and proclamation of the Christian gospel today, as in Jesus’ day, is a re-visioning of what God’s own life is like and how the physical cosmos fits into it... We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness” (DC, 62). Associating God with joy is an important concept. I have learned over the years that most people do not connect theoretical understanding either with emotions or with a concept of God. People continually refer in passing to elegant equations, beautiful landscapes, awe-inspiring structures, and other similar examples of Teacher order-within-complexity, but very seldom does anyone clearly state that a general theory feels good. Similarly, theologians and philosophers continually talk about God as a universal being, but the average person does not associate God with universal truth, general theories, or Teacher emotion.


Before we continue, let us look briefly at the different concepts of atonement in Christianity. If one examines them from a cognitive perspective, one can see a cognitive development. One of the oldest concepts was Moral influence, which “holds that the purpose and work of Jesus Christ was to bring positive moral change to humanity. This moral change came through the teachings and example of Jesus, the Christian movement he founded, and the inspiring effect of his martyrdom and resurrection.” In cognitive language, Jesus is being mentally represented by an MMN with emotional status, which is using its emotional power to impose its structure upon the rest of the mind. Another ancient view was Christus Victor: “Christ's death defeated the powers of evil, which had held humankind in their dominion. It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers.” This describes the way in which MMNs struggle for emotional dominance. The MMN that represented Jesus is more powerful than the MMNs of evil. Another common ancient view was the ransom theory: “‘Redeeming’ in this case literally means ‘buying back,’ and the ransoming of war captives from slavery was a common practice in the era.” This goes beyond mere Mercy thought to include practical Contributor thought, because involves a form of business. However, the basic unit is still the MMN of personal identity, because people are being bought and sold.

Irenaeus proposed the recapitulation theory of atonement. “For Irenaeus, the ultimate goal of Christ's work of solidarity with humankind is to make humankind divine. Of Jesus he says, he ‘became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself’. This idea ‘has been highly influential in the Greek Orthodox Church’, having been taken on by many other Church Fathers, such as Athanasius, Augustine and Clement of Alexandria. This Eastern Orthodox theological development out of the recapitulation view of the atonement is called theosis.” This is basically a rationalization of mysticism. We have seen that mysticism leads to the feeling of being directly united with God. In order to achieve this mystical union, mental content must be suppressed, because facts stand in the way of overgeneralization. Thim him him himhe reasoning is as follows: It is logically impossible for man to become God. But Jesus performed this logical impossibility by being both man and God. Therefore, this ‘proves’ that it is possible for man to become God. This method of thinking is analyzed in more detail in the article on Orthodox Christianity.

Notice that all of these early views of atonement regard MMNs of personal identity as fundamental units. The satisfaction theory was originally proposed in the Middle Ages by Anselm of Canterbury. It does not view the person as the fundamental unit. Instead, it is guided by Perceiver thought and the fundamental units are the MMNs of sin: “Since one of God’s characteristics is justice, affronts to that justice must be atoned for. It is thus connected with the legal concept of balancing out an injustice. Anselm regarded his satisfaction view of the atonement as a distinct improvement over the older ransom theory of atonement, which he saw as inadequate.” Notice the cognitive development. No longer are the MMNs of personal identity regarded as indivisible units. Instead, Perceiver thought has gaining the ability to analyze these MMNs. This emergence of independent Perceiver thought occurs in Piaget’s concrete operational stage. Saying this another way, the focus is upon divine law and justice. The role of Perceiver thought is developed further in the concept of penal substitution: “It argues that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive the sins.” Perceiver thought deals with facts; a fact is a collection of many similar Mercy experiences. For instance, ‘a tree’ is a Perceiver fact that includes many related Mercy experiences, such as ‘the tree in the front yard’, ‘the trees in the forest’, ‘the tree shown in the picture hanging on the wall’, and so on. The point is that many specific experiences qualify as an example of a tree. (This generalization and abstraction can be seen in Platonic forms.) If Justice involves Perceiver thought, then it is possible to satisfy the Perceiver rules while changing the specific person who is being punished. Because Perceiver thought is functioning, the focus is upon rules and sinful events rather than upon the MMNs of people, and because Perceiver thought is functioning at an abstract level, it is possible to punish one person in place of another. The governmental view of the atonement adds one more level of abstraction by placing specific Perceiver rules within the general Teacher structure of ‘divine justice’. “It teaches that Christ suffered for humanity so that God could forgive humans without punishing them while still maintaining divine justice.” The focus here is not upon specific acts of sin but rather upon the general concept of sin. “Governmental theory holds that Christ's suffering was a real and meaningful substitute for the punishment humans deserve, but it did not consist of Christ's receiving the exact punishment due to sinful people. Instead, God publicly demonstrated his displeasure with sin through the suffering of his own sinless and obedient Son as a propitiation. Christ's suffering and death served as a substitute for the punishment humans might have received. On this basis, God is able to extend forgiveness while maintaining divine order.”

Summarizing, the various theories of atonement make most sense when viewed from the process of cognitive development (as described by the stages of Piaget). Thus, one can interpret the progression of atonement theology itself as part of the process of personal transformation. As people’s minds became more developed cognitively, it became possible for theologians to come up with concepts of atonement that reflected higher levels of cognitive development. Using the analogy of school, atonement can be interpreted as the steps that are required to set up a school and get it officially recognized as a method of educating students. This is not a trivial task, especially when the purpose of the school is not just to educate the individual but rather transform him at the most basic level. The student who progresses through school will gain in increasingly sophisticated understanding of what it means to be a student, and that is what one finds when one examines how theories of atonement have developed over the centuries. This is obviously just an overview, but I suggest that it provides a possible framework for further examination.

The primary problem with the substitutionary model of atonement is that it gives the impression that the consequences of sin can be avoided, and that justification is ‘just as if I had never sinned’. That is like a fat rich man telling his butler, “Jeeves, the doctor says that I need to get some exercise. Will you jog around the mansion a few times for me?” Similarly, there are fundamental principles of moral cause-and-effect that cannot be negated through some form of substitutionary punishment. If I eat too much, I cannot get someone else to become fat. There is a substitutionary atonement, but I suggest that the substitution lies primarily in setting up a school system that makes it possible for others to be personally transformed. And there is a generality to atonement, but this generality is expressed as a process of salvation that applies to many people. One sees a partial illustration of this with modern inventions. Generally speaking, Kandthe inventor who comes up with some laborsaving gadget or new-and-improved process endures hardship in order to bring benefits to many other people.

God and Spirit

Continuing now with Willard, everything that Willard has said so far in DC is consistent with mental symmetry, and all we have done is add a cognitive explanation to Willard’s description. We will now look at Willard’s discussion of spirit and the nature of God. While it contains some significant points, I suggest that it also reflects Willard’s cognitive style as well as his philosophy.

We have just seen that Willard defined God as a universal being that is full of joy. One forms a mental image of such a being by constructing a sufficiently general Teacher theory that applies to personal identity. I suggested earlier that one can construct a general theory either by building upon nothing and using overgeneralization, or by building upon something and explaining the essence of this something. Willard says that we need to build a concept of God upon the content of something: “To trust in God, we need a rich and accurate way of thinking and speaking about him to guide and support our life vision and our will. Such is present in the biblical language, of course, and it continued to be carefully crafted in the works of Christian writers well into the twentieth century” (DC, 65).

But if one examines the example that Willard gives, it is actually an illustration of building upon nothing: “In the grand and carefully phrased old words of Adam Clarke, God is ‘the eternal, independent, and self-existent Being; the Being whose purposes and actions spring from himself, without foreign motive or influence; he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, the most spiritual of all essences; infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made; illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only by himself, because an infinite mind can only be fully comprehended by itself. In a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived, and from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, and right, and kind’” (DC, 66). This quote gives the impression of saying something because it uses ‘grand and carefully phrased old words’. But if one looks at the meaning of these fancy words, it actually says that God is so big and so perfect that we cannot know anything about God. Thus, in reality it says nothing, but it uses technical language to say this nothing. Such a belief in the transcendence of God is one aspect of the religious attitude, which views God from a Mercy perspective as far more important than personal identity. If the MMN behind God has much greater emotional status than the MMNs of personal identity, then it follows that it would be presumptuous for me to suggest that I could know anything about God.

Suppose, in contrast, that one constructs a mental concept of God based in a general understanding of how things work. The resulting order-within-complexity leads to a mental concept of God that really is awesome and universal, rather than one that uses fancy, ancient words to give the impression that God is awesome — while saying nothing. If one views Romans 12 spiritual gifts as a description of cognition, it is possible to construct a general theory that includes all of thought, social interaction, personality, Christian doctrine, spiritual transformation, religion in general, and the philosophy of science. (I examine a number of the character traits of God in light of mental symmetry in another essay.)

Willard’s next step can be seen in the following quote: “Think of someone whose every action, whose slightest thought or inclination, automatically assumes the reality of the God Adam Clarke describes. When you do this you will have captured nothing less than the thought of Jesus himself, along with the faith and life he came to bring... With this magnificent God positioned among us, Jesus brings the assurance that our universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be” (DC. 66). In other words, Willard says that if one starts with a concept of God that is based upon fancy, empty words, then this will lead to the assurance that God is good because Jesus says so. Using a non-religious analogy, if I start with the concept that electricity is mysterious and powerful, then I can feel safe around electricity because Benjamin Franklin says so, because Franklin worked with electricity. But how can one feel safe around electricity if it is inherently mysterious and powerful? How can one know that Franklin has an accurate knowledge about electricity, and how can Franklin be capable of having an accurate knowledge about electricity if it is inherently mysterious?

One can feel safe around electricity because one can understand how electricity works and one can use this understanding to channel electricity so that it works in a way that produces good personal results, such as lighting rooms, cooking meals, and powering computers. Similarly, if God’s universal nature is reflected in the universal laws of how things work, then one can gain an understanding of the nature of God by learning how things work. Going further, if Christian doctrine and the Christian concept of a Trinitarian God naturally emerge when one gains an understanding of how the mind works in an integrated manner, then one can know with considerable confidence that the Christian God is the real God, a good God, and a non-physical person. The Christian God is probably the real God because a 2000-year-old book made abnormally accurate statements about the mind that are only beginning to be understood today. The Christian God is a good God because a Christian concept of God emerges when all of the mind works in harmony, and a person experiences goodness when his mind functions in an integrated manner. The Christian God is non-physical because it is a theory of the invisible mind that holds everything together. And the Christian God is a person because a concept of God emerges from the part of the mind that is used to represent people. None of these connections can be proven with total certainty. But as one continues to explore these various aspects, one can gain increasing certainty that they are valid statements, which is more certain than Willard’s jumping from ‘God is unknown’ to ‘God is safe’ because Jesus says so.

It is interesting to note that safety is a strong need of the Contributor person. Safety is not the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of God. But the Contributor person needs safety because Contributor thought functions upon an assumed foundation. Both abstract and concrete technical thought begin by assuming that some collection of Perceiver facts and Server sequences is known with sufficient certainty. But what if some significant fact or sequence has not been included? What if some part breaks, some fact proves to be false, or some action fails? That is why the Contributor person longs for a backup sense of safety. Many Contributor persons throughout history have died because they pursued some risky plan without considering all of the significant details. Similarly, everyone needs safety when committing to some plan or theory, because committing to a plan or theory implies submitting to Contributor-controlled technical thought.

Moving on, a general theory that is based upon content will obviously apply to the content that it explains. If I have a general understanding of electricity, for instance, then I will naturally think of this theory when I am working with electricity. But how does one apply a general theory of God that lacks content to the world of content?

Willard does this in two ways. First, he uses the historical example of Jesus: “Incarnation in the person of Jesus is the most complete case of ‘God with us,’ or ‘Immanuel.’... the sight of Jesus interacting with the enveloping kingdom day after day; his transfiguration and his resurrection presence; his ascension; the coming of the spirit with a sound ‘from heaven’... all of these gave the early church the strongest possible impression of the reality and immediate presence of the kingdom of Christ” (DC, 70). In other words, we can learn content about God indirectly through the historical record of the example of Jesus. That may be useful, but it is also doubly indirect. In contrast, learning through understanding is better than learning through experience because understanding summarizes many experiences, while learning myself is better than learning through someone else because I am getting the education first-hand.

Second, Willard says that heaven invades human space: “Experiences of God in space around us are by no means restricted to the biblical record. They leave many people skeptical or uncomfortable, but they continue to occur up to the present day. Groups I speak to almost always have people in them who have experienced some manifestation of God from and in the space where they are” (DC, 71). When God invades the ‘space around me’, then that is both real and personal. But if this ‘leaves many people skeptical or uncomfortable’, then that is a sign that existing mental Teacher order is being threatened. This means that God is being viewed as a disruption of natural Teacher order rather than as the ultimate source of Teacher order. Going further, if a familiar system is disrupted, then that leads to feelings of unease and discomfort rather than a sense of safeness and security. Instead, one feels safe when encountering a familiar system. For instance, suppose that I am walking down a dark alley. If an unknown stranger shows up, then I will not feel safe. That is because I do not know what the stranger will do. Similarly, how can one feel safe if I sense the presence of an unknowable God? In contrast, if a policeman shows up, then I will feel safe — if I know that the policeman will uphold law and order.

Willard tells us why he thinks that it is not enough to say that God lives in my heart: “‘In my heart’ easily becomes ‘in my imagination.’ And, in any case, the question of God’s relation to space and the physical world remains unresolved. If he is not in space at all, he is not in human life, which is lived in space. This ill-advised attempt to make God near by confining him to human hearts robs the idea of his direct involvement in human life of any sense... It gives us a pretty metaphor but leaves us vainly grasping for the reality. We simply cannot solve the problem of spirit’s relation to space by taking spirit out of space, either beyond space or ‘in’ the heart” (DC, 75). Willard is addressing a valid concern, because he is looking for a form of Christianity that affects people’s behavior and not just one that is limited to words and beliefs. And Willard’s statement reflects Husserl’ concept that one is never just thinking but always thinking about something. However, I suggest that there are some shortcomings with Willard’s statements. First, one should not underestimate a God ‘in my imagination’, because a concept of God that turns into a TMN has sufficient emotional power to dominate thought and behavior within the individual mind, as well as drive groups of people to build or destroy civilizations. As Willard said earlier, “The killing fields of Cambodia come from philosophical discussions in Paris” (DC, 7). Second, confining God to the human heart does not remove God from direct involvement in human life. I speak here from personal experience. I spend much of my time thinking about God and the theory of mental symmetry. Even though most of my interaction with God occurs internally as a concept of God shines upon my heart, this internal interaction has had a profound effect upon my human life. As Willard says elsewhere, “Of all the disciplines of abstinence, solitude is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops” (SoD, 161). Third, if a concept of God only becomes meaningful by ‘relating to space and the physical world’, then this tells us that the TMN of natural physical order is being regarded as foundational.

I am not suggesting that a concept of God that applies to the heart is enough. Instead I am recognizing that at the present time it is possible to transform the mind so that it is fully renewed by a concept of God, while it is not possible for the physical body and the physical world to be fully renewed by God, because they are still subject to laws of natural decay. Saying otherwise does not make it so. And I suggest that the relationship between the mind and reality is not just ‘a pretty metaphor’. That type of phrase is typical of the emotional belittling used by abstract technical thought. There is an extensive similarity between the structure of the mind and the structure of the natural world, and it is these extensive similarities that welllead to the concept of a universal God, and not the technical thinking of philosophy.

Moving on, Willard says that “I am a spiritual being who currently has a physical body” (DC, 75). This is quite different than the typical scientist who says that nothing exists except the brain. Notice that this statement is consistent with the philosophy of Husserl, who views subject and object as an integrated unit. Thus, one sees here a combination of spirit and body. Similarly, the theory of mental symmetry can be used to analyze both the mind and the brain. However, the starting point for the theory of mental symmetry is the structure of the mind, which is then tested by information about the brain. While neurology can tell us a lot about the various aspects of thought, evidence strongly suggests that the non-physical mind ties these various pieces together. As Willard says, “That very unity of experiences that constitutes a human self cannot be located at any point in or around this body through which we live, not even in the brain” (DC, 75). Willard extends this by suggesting that “God relates to space as we do to our body” (DC, 76). In other words, God is a spirit who works through the physical universe, and I agree that the physical universe is one of the realms through which God expresses himself.

Willard says that the spirit is non-physical, a source of power, and capable of thought and valuing (DC, 80). Using the language of mental symmetry, I suggest that the spirit is something non-physical that gives power to the mind by interacting with mental networks. Mental networks have an emotional strength. These emotions are felt in the body and it appears that mental networks can be supercharged by being inhabited or possessed by spirits. This implies that the mind either is the soul or is a part of the soul and that the mind interacts with both the brain/body and the spirit and/or spirits. Consistent with this, the Bible talks extensively about being possessed by spirits, but it never talks about an angel possessing a human. Willard says that “The heart, or will, simply is spirit in human beings” (DC, 81). As I have mentioned before, I suggest that this is somewhat accurate for the Contributor person. However, the heart with its mental networks and the will which chooses are associated both with different cognitive modules (Mercy thought; Contributor thought) as well as different parts of the brain (orbitofrontal; dorsal striatum and possibly anterior cingulate).

When one starts with the non-physical (such as Willard with the spirit or mental symmetry with the mind), then physical death becomes viewed as a continuation of human existence rather than as an interruption or cessation of existence, because the starting point is not the physical body. In addition, one thinks in terms of a long-term personal existence that starts now and extends beyond physical death. As Willard says, “We should not be anticipating going through some terrible event called ‘death,’ to be avoided at all costs even though it can’t be avoided. That is the usual attitude for human beings, no doubt. But, immersed in Christ in action, we may be sure that our life — yes, that familiar one we are each so well acquainted with — will never stop. We should be anticipating what we will be doing three hundred or a thousand or ten thousand years from now in this marvelous universe” (DC, 86). And one also views present existence from a larger perspective that includes both the seen and the unseen. In Willard’s words, “Every event takes on a different reality and meaning, depending on whether it is seen only in the context of the visible or also in the context of God’s full world, where we all as a matter of fact live. Everything he taught presupposes this, and to be his students we must understand and accept it. It is in this sense ‘axiomatic.’” (DC, 88).

Summarizing, when dealing with specifics such as the example of Jesus or the interaction between spirit and body, then Willard’s comments make a lot of sense, with the proviso that he is viewing the mind through the lens of a Contributor person. However, when dealing with the general topic of the nature of God, then Willard’s comments seem to lack content. Willard says in his summary that: “I personally have become convinced that many people who believe in Jesus do not actually believe in God” (DC, 91). Similarly, my reading of Willard leads me to the conclusion that he believes strongly in Jesus. However, when it comes to God, then one gains the impression that Willard believes more in the philosophical God of Husserl than he does in the God of the Bible. On the one hand, Willard insists, and I agree, that Jesus is smart: “‘Jesus is Lord’ can mean little in practice for anyone who has to hesitate before saying, ‘Jesus is smart.’ He is not just nice, he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived. He is now supervising the entire course of world history” (DC, 95). On the other hand, Willard thinks that learning about structure of the universe has nothing to do with universal questions of value and existence: “The multitudes of theories, facts, and techniques that have emerged in recent centuries have not the least logical bearing upon the ultimate issues of existence and life. In this respect they only serve to distract and confuse a people already harassed witless by their slogans, scientific advances, ‘labor-saving’ devices, and a blizzard of promises about when and how ‘happiness’ is going to be achieved” (DC, 93). In contrast, I present the thesis in Natural Cognitive Theology that there is an extensive similarity between ‘the ultimate issues of existence and life’ and the development of ‘scientific advances’, ‘labor-saving devices’, and a search for personal happiness. Here, Willard seems to be acting like the typical Contributor expert who belittles what lies outside of his paradigm.

The Sermon on the Mount

We have examined the first part of The Divine Conspiracy (DC). We will now look at Willard’s analysis of the Sermon on the Mount. As before, my primary goal is not to critique Willard but rather to understand why he says what he does, and to use his writing on the Sermon on the Mount as a starting point for further analysis.

Willard begins by asking “What is genuinely in my interest, and how may I enter true well-being? Of course we already know that life in the life of God will be the good life, and Jesus’ continual reassertion of the direct availability of the kingdom always kept that basic truth before his students and his hearers” (DC, 97). This is a good starting point, because fundamentalism leads naturally to an attitude of self-denial which assumes that God wants me to suppress my desires. Similarly, the basic premise today is that all rules are imposed by dominant groups of people upon the rest of the population. Therefore, it is very important to realize that rules are required for personal happiness, and this is one of the primary principles taught by Willard. But how is Willard so certain that ‘life in the life of God will be the good life’? His arguments in the previous chapters were less than convincing. My guess is that Willard has become convinced of this by observing history and by interacting with college students. Because people today are so open about their lifestyles, and because everyone is experimenting with lifestyle, one merely has to observe how people behave and where this leads in order to learn that violating the moral rules of Judeo-Christianity leads to painful personal results. My mother taught me to think this way when I was young. This is a valid form of evidence, but I suggest that it is still functioning at the level of specific Perceiver facts rather than at the level of general Teacher understanding.

Poor in Spirit

The Beatitudes begin with ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’. Willard interprets this as those who have nothing and know nothing: “Standing around Jesus as he speaks are people with no spiritual qualifications or abilities at all. You would never call on them when ‘spiritual work’ is to be done. There is nothing about them to suggest that the breath of God might move through their lives. They have no charisma, no religious glitter or clout. They ‘don’t know their Bible.’ They ‘know not the law,’ as a later critic of Jesus’ work said. They are ‘mere laypeople,’ who at best can fill a pew or perhaps an offering plate. No one calls on them to lead a service or even to lead in prayer, and they might faint if anyone did. They are the first to tell you they ‘really can’t make heads nor tails of religion.’ They walk by us in the hundreds or thousands every day” (DC, 101). Willard says that God chooses for some reason to bless such people: “Those poor in spirit are called ‘blessed’ by Jesus, not because they are in a meritorious condition, but because, precisely in spite of and in the midst of their ever so deplorable condition, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Christ” (DC, 102).

I suggest that Willard is being misguided here by “the constant cry of phenomenology, ‘To the things themselves.’ The thing itself, whether it is a psychological event or something else, is to be the ultimate source of our knowledge of it.” Thus, Willard sees poor in spirit as something that stands alone, which can be examined in isolation. However, poverty is always relative to some standard. The nobility of the past were regarded as rich, but they lived in conditions which we would today regard as squalid poverty. For instance, it was common for people to relieve themselves in some corner at the palace of Versailles and Louis XIV instituted a rule that the hallways would be cleaned of faeces once a week. Similarly, ‘luxury hotels’ in Third World countries often have less conveniences than ordinary hotels in Western countries. What passes as rich in one country or age merely qualifies as middle-class or even poor in another. This is doubly true when dealing with spiritual poverty. Most of those who ‘walk by us in the hundreds or thousands everyday’ are not spiritually poor. Instead, they feel quite adequate inside. The average person who ‘fills a pew’ has no sense of spiritual inadequacy. In contrast, the individual with a sensitive conscience is very aware of spiritual inadequacy.

Willard argues that “Jesus did not say, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit because they are poor in spirit.’ He did not think, ‘What a fine thing it is to be destitute of every spiritual attainment or quality. It makes people worthy of the kingdom.’ And we steal away the much more profound meaning of his teaching about the availability of the kingdom by replacing the state of spiritual impoverishment — in no way good in itself — with some supposedly praiseworthy state of mind or attitude that ‘qualifies’ us for the kingdom” (DC, 102). However, I suggest that Willard is making the error of viewing spiritual poverty outside of a larger context. As Willard says in SoD, there is nothing inherently good about being poor: “Anyone who has had to deal with the needs of food, housing, health, transportation, and education from the position of real poverty knows how bafflingly complex it is. Merely getting a sick baby to a doctor, for example, or obtaining a few days supply of food can easily occupy most of a day or more” (SoD, 204). And I agree that being poor does not qualify a person for God’s kingdom. However, I suggest that spiritual poverty is a doorway to God’s kingdom for the simple reason that one can only give a gift to someone who needs that gift. One cannot give a gift to someone who thinks that they have enough. And that is where the relative standard of poverty comes in. It is not being spiritually poor according to the standards of other people that opens the door. Rather, it is being poor according to one’s own internal, invisible, spiritual standards. For instance, I have spent most of my life attempting to answer spiritual questions that the average person feels no need of asking. But I ask them because I see within how far I fall short of God’s standard of mental and spiritual wholeness, and when I am driven by this sense of internal inadequacy, then I find that I make both spiritual and intellectual progress. To me this seems like an obvious point. The only explanation I can come up with for Willard missing this point is Husserl’s statement that one should attempt to view individual situations outside of any general context.

Instead, Willard belittles this approach: “If all we need to be blessed in the kingdom of the heavens is to be humble-minded through recognizing our spiritual poverty, then let’s just do that and we’ve got bliss cornered. We escape the humiliation of spiritual incompetence because, strange to say, we have managed to turn it into spiritual attainment just by acknowledging it. And we escape the embarrassment of receiving pure mercy, for our humble recognition makes blessedness somehow appropriate... this also means that we can very neatly tell people how to engineer their way into the kingdom. Perhaps many will find that they are already there! ‘Just be humble-minded,’ it is said. (Who doesn’t think that he or she is humble-minded? Perhaps there are some.)... Here we have full-blown, if not salvation by works, then possibly salvation by attitude. Or even by situation and chance, in case you happen to be persecuted, for example — meritorious attitude or circumstance guarantees acceptance with God! Can we really imagine that Jesus had anything like this in mind” (DC, 103). When one sees this type of belittling language being used, then that is generally a sign that an underlying TMN is being threatened. Being truly ‘humble-minded’ is not something simple that is ‘all we need’ or something that one ‘just does’. Instead, real spiritual poverty means having one’s insides ripped apart. It is far more than mere embarrassment, but rather a sense of shame and failure at the core of one’s being. If one really wishes to be transformed by God, then I suggest that a sense of spiritual poverty is far more important than Willard’s spiritual disciplines. One sees this contrast illustrated by Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee had spiritual discipline; he prayed regularly and fasted twice a week. The tax collector, in contrast, had spiritual poverty. Jesus says that the tax collector was heard by God and not the Pharisee.

Another reason that Willard may be missing this principle is that only an image of God that is based in content will lead to a sense of sin and personal inadequacy. A God of mysticism that is based in the absence of content will not create a sense of guilt and spiritual poverty because one can only fall short of the standard if there is a standard, and in order for there to be a standard, there must be content. Using the language of mental symmetry, the TMN of a concept of God will only impose its structure upon the rest of the mind if it has structure to impose upon the rest of the mind.

And because Willard does not realize that poverty occurs within a context, he thinks that meeting this as a requirement would mean seeking poverty and persecution: “If the usual interpretation of Jesus’ Beatitudes as directions on how to attain blessedness is correct, you would have to be poor, have to mourn, be persecuted, and so forth, to be among the blessed. We would therefore expect anyone who seriously accepted this interpretation to seek to become poor, sad, persecuted, and so on, but very few people actually do this” (DC, 104). However, I suggest that one can be poor in one of two ways. There is the path of suffering which makes me poor according to the accepted standards of society. As Willard states, choosing to follow a path of suffering is masochism and not Christianity. But there is also the path of patience which makes me poor by raising my internal standards so that they are more like the eternal standards of God’s holiness. That will only happen if I allow specific situations in my life to be interpreted in the light of a general understanding. And, if I read Willard correctly, Husserl rejects this approach: “Since experiences and their essences can be absolutely given, our investigation of them is never complete, our knowledge claims about them never are what they should be, until all presuppositions have been removed, either by refutation or by full confirmation in the light of ‘the things (experiences) themselves.’ The removal of all presuppositions is the second methodological foundation of Husserl’s mature phenomenology.”

Going further, one gains the impression that Willard thinks that Jesus is also a follower of Husserl: “We must look more closely at how Jesus taught, at the strategy of his approach to teaching and learning. Doing this will enable us to return to the Beatitudes with the joy and insight they brought to his first hearers. The Beatitudes simply cannot be ‘good news’ if they are understood as a set of ‘how-tos’ for achieving blessedness. They would then only amount to a new legalism. They would not serve to throw open the kingdom — anything but. They would impose a new brand of Phariseeism, a new way of closing the door — as well as some very gratifying new possibilities for the human engineering of righteousness. As already suggested by our reference to ‘show and tell,’ Jesus teaches contextually and concretely, from the immediate surroundings, if possible, or at least from events of ordinary life. As already suggested by our reference to ‘show and tell,’ Jesus teaches contextually and concretely, from the immediate surroundings, if possible, or at least from events of ordinary life” (DC, 107). Notice that the goal is to ‘return to the thing itself’, to ‘return to the Beatitudes with the joy and insight they brought its first hearers’. And Willard is convinced that Jesus is not teaching either a system of righteousness or a ‘set of how-tos’. Instead, Jesus is teaching in the fashion of Husserl by relating subject and object in specific situations, ‘from the immediate surroundings’.

And instead of applying a general understanding, Willard says that Jesus is using specific situations to point out contradictions in people’s general understanding: “His use of concreteness in teaching takes yet another form, one absolutely necessary for our understanding of the Beatitudes. This use is found where he corrects a general assumption or practice thought to govern the situation at hand. He does this by pointing out that the case before him provides an exception and shows the general assumption or practice to be an unreliable guide to life under God” (DC, 107). In other words, Jesus is following Husserl by saying that we should always question our general assumptions.

Before we continue I need to clarify what I am trying to say. Following a set of how-to’s is salvation-by-works, because one is using concrete technical thought to reach a goal. For instance, ‘turn right, follow the road, and you will reach the restaurant’. Similarly, ‘be humble, follow the road, and you will reach heaven’. Adding abstract technical thought is better because it uses abstract knowledge to come up with new ways of reaching the goal. For instance, ‘go to college, study dentistry, and you will find better ways of having good teeth’. This goes further than mere salvation-by-works because it is guided by the Teacher understanding of some specialization. However, it is a form of human righteousness because it is guided by a finite understanding expressed as a set of limited rules and procedures that can be fully grasped by finite humans, which leads to improvements in some restricted area. Integrating concrete technical thought with abstract technical thought is essential and it lies at the heart of creating a mental concept of incarnation. But it is not enough. We see this illustrated by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he accepted death in order to follow the will of the Father. Similarly, I suggest that Contributor-controlled technical thought needs to die and become reborn in a more general form that is an expression of a general Teacher understanding. Explicitly, Willard, following Husserl, says that one should not do this. However, implicitly we are seeing that everything that Willard writes seems to be structured by the general framework of the philosophy of Husserl. But how can one distinguish between being guided by the righteousness of Husserl and being guided by the righteousness of God? I suggest that one finds God’s righteousness in ‘how things work’: how the mind works, how the natural world works, and how God works in history. No human created the mind, no human created the natural world, and the events of history stretch beyond the abilities and life span of any individual human. The theory of mental symmetry tries to describe this righteousness. The fact that one can use mental symmetry as a meta-theory to explain the findings of other scholars provides evidence that one is looking at how things work and not just being guided by some person or specialization.

Jesus did find teaching opportunities in specific situations and he did point out inconsistencies in the assumptions of others. But he did more than this, because everything he did was an expression of God’s righteousness: “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner’” (John 5: 19).

Concrete Teaching

Willard says that “This ‘concrete’ or contextual method of teaching is obviously very different from how we attempt to teach and learn today, and the difference makes it difficult for us to grasp what precisely it is that Jesus is teaching... The aim of the popular teacher in Jesus’ time was not to impart information, but to make a significant change in the lives of the hearers. Of course that may require an information transfer, but it is a peculiarly modern notion that the aim of teaching is to bring people to know things that may have no effect at all on their lives” (DC, 112). As usual, Willard’s description of the problem is excellent. Modern learning takes an objective approach, which assumes that Perceiver facts need to be separated from subjective Mercy emotions. This was originally done by science to protect Perceiver thought, because the emotional intensity contained within MMNs (which the mind uses to represent personal identity) will naturally overwhelm Perceiver thought. This emphasis upon objective facts is not present in non-Western cultures (I spent seven years in Korea and the thinking there is quite different) and did not exist during the time of Jesus. But the audience of Jesus suffered from a different flaw, which was an inability to go beyond the concrete to the abstract. For instance, one can see in John 6 how Jesus is trying to lead his audience beyond their fixation upon the physical and the concrete.

As Willard says, it is vitally important to apply Perceiver truth to personal identity, in order to transform personal identity. But a concrete method of teaching is insufficient. Instead, only the TMN of a general understanding is sufficient to overcome the MMNs of culture and childish identity. Unlike Jesus’ society, modern society knows what it is like to be guided by abstract understanding. This modern approach needs to be extended by learning Perceiver facts about personal identity so that personal identity is guided (and transformed) by abstract understanding. In other words, one should not return to the concrete thinking of Jesus’ time, but rather add the concrete to the abstract thinking of our time. Willard does this implicitly by extending the abstract thinking of Husserl to the concrete thinking of Jesus’ time; he prefaces his analysis of Jesus Sermon on the Mount with an extensive philosophical discussion, and I am quite certain that Jesus’ audience did not start with this sort of abstract philosophical analysis.

Willard mentions what is known as a flashbulb memory to demonstrate the effectiveness of teaching by concrete example: “I recall with perfect clarity where I was and what I was doing when I heard that John Kennedy had been shot... I remember exactly which corner of the gym and which way I was facing the instant I heard... We automatically remember what makes a real difference in our life. The secret of the great teacher is to speak words, to foster experiences, that impact the active flow of the hearer’s life. That is what Jesus did by the way he taught” (DC, 114). Perceiver facts are easier to remember if they touch emotions. That is an educational principle. Stated more generally, facts are remembered best if they either make sense or have meaning — if they fit within a general Teacher structure or else bring some MMN to mind. However, the flashbulb memory is not an example of a fact touching emotions but rather of emotions overwhelming Perceiver thought into remembering some specific situation. For instance, Willard remembered exactly which corner of the gym he was in and which way he was facing. Universal truth applies to many situations. A flashbulb memory burns a specific situation into the mind. Flashbulb memories are a good basis for absolute truth with its blind faith, but they make it difficult to discover universal truth because they overwhelm Perceiver thought.

A flashbulb memory can be caused by either Mercy emotion or Teacher emotion. McCauley also discusses flashbulb memories, but he says that a flashbulb memory can also be created by the pervasiveness of a change and not just by the intensity of the experience. Using the language of mental symmetry, it can be caused either by the Mercy intensity of the event or the Teacher generality.

Why would Willard use a flashbulb memory as an example of learning truth? I suggest that the answer lies in the nature of technical thought. As I mentioned before, Perceiver thought works with facts the way a craftsman makes tools. Contributor thought reaches in from next door and takes tools from Perceiver (and Server) thought assuming that they are sufficiently well made. Thus, the primary question for Contributor thought is not ‘How was that tool made?’ but rather ‘Is the tool solid?’.

The Beatitudes

Moving on, I suggest that the Beatitudes describe a sequence of reaching mental wholeness. They are described in Matthew 5:3-12. Let us look at these briefly.

1) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” As we have seen, God can only give a gift of grace to those who need grace. This is the doorway to the kingdom of heaven as opposed to the kingdom of man. As it says in James 4, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

2) “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Honesty before God leads to personal pain, as the TMN of a concept of God imposes its structure upon childish MMNs. This will lead in the short term to personal sorrow in Mercy thought, but it will be followed in the long term by the joy of Teacher understanding that personal honesty makes possible. Saying this another way, one first feels ‘I am bad’, but this will be followed by ‘I understand why’.

3) “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” Gentleness (or meekness) recognizes that the MMNs of personal identity need to submit to the TMN of an understanding. Instead of imposing myself upon other people, I submit myself to an understanding of how things work. This creates the sort of person that is capable of naturally benefiting from the earth, because one is cooperating with how things work, rather than attempting merely to impose one’s will upon the environment.

4) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Righteousness is action that is guided by a general Teacher understanding of how things work. When I understand how things work then this will lead to a desire to think and behave in a way that is in harmony with universal structure.

5) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” When a person becomes righteous, then sin is no longer viewed as something that is labeled bad by Mercy thought, but rather as a painful consequence of behaving in a way that is inconsistent with how things work. Instead of saying ‘you are bad’, a person will say ‘let me show you a better way’.

6) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” As one becomes righteous in more areas of life, one becomes pure in heart in the sense that all MMNs point in the same direction, guided by the TMN of an integrated Teacher understanding. One then begins to see the universal nature of God exhibited through the way that specific situations unfold and interact.

7) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” One is then capable of using Teacher understanding to reconcile conflicting MMNs, and others will see that one is being guided by the mental concept of a universal God.

8) “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Behaving in a manner that is guided by a universal TMN will question existing power structures that are based in MMNs of personal status. But it will also lead to the birth of a new kingdom that is guided by the TMN of a concept of God.

9) “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” As the TMN of a kingdom of God spreads, this will threaten people’s childish MMNs and they will lash out in response like cornered animals. This response is similar to the way that childish MMNs react to personal honesty. The key is to focus upon the positive result that is occurring in Teacher thought and not upon the painful Mercy experiences that one is currently enduring.

Willard, in contrast, says that the Beatitudes “serve to clarify Jesus’ fundamental message: the free availability of God’s rule and righteousness to all of humanity through reliance upon Jesus himself, the person now loose in the world among us. They do this simply by taking those who, from the human point of view, are regarded as most hopeless, most beyond all possibility of God’s blessing or even interest, and exhibiting them as enjoying God’s touch and abundant provision from the heavens. This fact of God’s care and provision proves to all that no human condition excludes blessedness, that God may come to any person with his care and deliverance” (DC, 116). In other words, God violates human expectations. This sounds more like a God of Husserl who questions human assumptions than a God of universal truth and order.

Willard concludes that “by proclaiming blessed those who in the human order are thought hopeless, and by pronouncing woes over those human beings regarded as well off, Jesus opens the kingdom of the heavens to everyone” (DC, 119). I have suggested that mental networks impose their structure upon the mind when they are triggered. This means that the most powerful mental network within some context provides the content to which other mental networks adjust. Notice that the reference point in Willard’s quote is ‘human order’. Willard does not say ‘This is the structure of the kingdom of God, and human order is a twisted version of that.’ Instead he says that ‘The kingdom of heaven is the opposite of human order’, implying that ‘human order’ is the core mental network around which other mental networks are organized. In contrast, one gains the impression from Willard that ‘the kingdom of the heavens’ has no structure because it is open to everyone. In other words, we see again that Willard is viewing God and heaven as something that invades or violates human structure.

Willard makes this point so strongly that it sounds like a caricature: “We must see from our heart that: Blessed are the physically repulsive, Blessed are those who smell bad, the twisted, misshapen, deformed, the too big, too little, too loud, the bald, the fat, and the old — for they are all riotously celebrated in the party of Jesus... Even the moral disasters will be received by God as they come to rely on Jesus, count on him, and make him their companion in his kingdom. Murderers and child-molesters. The brutal and the bigoted. Drug lords and pornographers. War criminals and sadists. Terrorists. The perverted and the filthy and the filthy rich” (DC, 124). One can use an analogy to illustrate the shortcomings of Willard’s approach. Salvation-by-works is like trying to get to some destination by walking. Unfortunately, the destination is not only too far to walk, but it lies on the other side of an ocean, which one cannot cross by walking. The kingdom of heaven is like being offered a ride on an airplane. Willard is saying that the kingdom of heaven is open to anyone who lies exhausted or wounded by the side of the road. To a certain extent this is true, because anyone who responds to the offer of an airplane ride by saying “I do not need a ride, I can walk” will not arrive at the destination. However, merely lying by the side of the road is not sufficient, because many of these ‘dregs of society’ either do not want to be helped or are not willing to entrust their lives to the strange gadget of an airplane; they either lack a sense of spiritual poverty or have insufficient Teacher understanding. And one does not have to be stranded by the side of the road to realize that an airplane ride is required. Instead, one can also become aware that the destination lies across an ocean. The first option describes the path of suffering, the second the path of patience. Patience is driven by an internal vision of how much better things could be and how far I fall short of this goal. (This internal vision comes from Platonic forms which are the indirect result of Teacher understanding.) Finally, an airplane is a complicated device that exhibits Teacher order-within-complexity, designed by those who have an understanding of the general laws of nature. When an airplane lands in a pre-industrial village, it disrupts the natural order of traditional thinking. But an airplane is an expression of a higher level of Teacher understanding. Using religious language, it is an expression of the kingdom of heaven and not just a violation of the kingdom of traditional man.

Willard said that it was a real eye-opener when he realized that the Sermon on the Mount contains Teacher order-within-complexity: “What is now called his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5 — 7) should indeed be read as a sermon, as one unified discourse... to say that this passage in the Gospel of Matthew was a sermon or a talk means that it is organized around one purpose and develops along a single line of thought. This is crucial for a correct understanding of what he is saying here” (DC, 132). Sequence plays a fundamental role in Teacher understanding. Therefore, as a structured sermon, later elements build upon earlier elements: “We must keep the order of the treatment in mind and recognize its importance. That is what we would naturally expect when we realize that we are hearing from someone who has absolute mastery of the subject matter with which he is dealing and is absolute master of how to present it. The later parts of the Discourse presuppose the earlier parts and simply cannot be understood unless their dependence upon the earlier parts is clearly seen” (DC, 138). And Willard says that the structure of the Sermon on the Mount reveals the brilliance of Jesus’ thinking: “The brilliance and profundity of Jesus stand out in the overall structure and outline of The Discourse on the Hill, as he forcefully conveys an understanding of human life that actually works” (DC, 136). More generally, Willard says that “God’s true law also possessed an inherent beauty in its own right, as an expression of the beautiful mind of God” (DC, 141). Order, structure, beauty, careful thinking, and sequence are all attributes of a general Teacher theory. Going further, Willard says that God’s law describes ‘how things work’: “A time will come in human history when human beings will follow the Ten Commandments and so on as regularly as they now fall to the ground when they step off a roof. They will then be more astonished that someone would lie or steal or covet than they now are when someone will not. The law of God marks the movements of God’s kingdom, of his own actions and of how that kingdom works” (DC, 142). Thus, when Willard is going from specific to general, then his comments make sense and are consistent with mental symmetry. However, Willard appears unwilling to build upon generality or start from generality. Again one sees the impact of phenomenology, which handles specifics well but does not know what to do with generality.

Going further, the mind represents people as MMNs within Mercy thought, and general theories will naturally turn into TMNs in Teacher thought. Emotional experiences and mental networks are the source for Exhorter desire, and Contributor thought uses free will to choose between options suggested by Exhorter thought. In Willard’s words, “Actions do not emerge from nothing. They faithfully reveal what is in the heart, and we can know what is in the heart that they depend upon” (DC, 144). ‘Keeping the law’ deals with behavior at the level of Contributor thought by choosing not accept forbidden Exhorter urges. This can suppress unwanted behavior but it does not change one’s basic nature. Acquiring a new set of mental networks, in contrast, will transform personal identity, leading to a different set of desires. As Willard says, Jesus “knew that we cannot keep the law by trying to keep the law. To succeed in keeping the law one must aim at something other and something more. One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow” (DC, 143).

I have suggested that a person becomes righteous by being guided by the TMN of a general understanding rather than being guided by MMNs. This distinction is reflected in the two Greek words dikaiosune and arete. Willard says that “in the Hebrew and New Testament traditions, dikaiosune remains preferred. Perhaps this is because it retains a note of emphasis upon relationship of the soul to God, whereas arete predominantly stresses human ability and fulfillment by itself” (DC, 145). Looking at this more precisely, dikaiosune comes first as one chooses to follow the TMN of a general understanding rather than childish MMN. This then creates the context for arete, which is motivated by the Platonic forms of goodness within Mercy thought, which are the indirect result of a general Teacher understanding.

Anger, Contempt, and Condemnation

Continuing with the Sermon on the Mount, Willard’s discussion of anger, contempt, and condemnation is perceptive. Willard says that anger “is a feeling that seizes us in our body and immediately impels us toward interfering with, and possibly even harming, those who have thwarted our will and interfered with our life” (DC, 147). We saw when looking at abstract technical thought that there is an interaction between technical thought and mental networks. Technical thought with its logical choices is rational when functioning within some general theory. However, when the theory is threatened, then the underlying TMN will sense the incompatible input and respond emotionally. Similarly, the Contributor person uses concrete technical thought to pursue some plan in a rational manner. But when the MMN driving the plan is threatened, then the threatened MMN will use anger to try to protect itself. Saying this more generally, I suggest that anger is the emotional response of a mental network protecting itself from attack, like the behavior of a cornered animal. In Willard’s words, “To rage on I must regard myself as mistreated or as engaged in the rectification of an unbearable wrong, which I all too easily do” (DC, 149). In other words, anger naturally emerges when some MMN is being threatened, such as an MMN of personal identity or else some other MMN that is being ‘unbearably wronged’. In the Contributor person, anger tends to emerge when will is thwarted. In contrast, I have found as a Perceiver person that feelings of anger often come from perceived injustice.

Willard says that “Close beside anger you will find its twin brother, contempt” (DC, 147). We saw earlier that a Contributor person often responds with belittling when the underlying TMN is threatened, or when another person does not meet the standards of abstract technical thought. Willard’s comments regarding contempt suggest that a similar emotional response naturally emerges when an underlying MMN is threatened, or when another person does not meet the standards of concrete technical thought. Thus, I suggest that Willard’s comments are insightful but they also reflect the mind as viewed by the Contributor person. For instance, Willard says that “We can and usually do choose or will to be angry. Anger first arises spontaneously. But we can actively receive it and decide to indulge it, and we usually do” (DC, 148). As a Perceiver person, I have also found that anger arises spontaneously, but unlike a Contributor person, I have found that choosing not to get angry is not enough. My father is a Contributor person, and I have never seen him lose his cool. I used to have problems getting angry (and still do on rare occasions) and my father would consistently tell me to control myself. But the Perceiver person cannot ‘control himself’ like the Contributor person can. However, I have also found that as a Perceiver person I have closer access to the underlying networks that drive anger, and I have found that placing MMNs within the structure of a general understanding removes the motivation for anger. As Willard describes, the Contributor person who chooses to allow anger to flow can turn into an angry person who finds it difficult to control anger. In Willard’s words, “We can actively receive it and decide to indulge it, and we usually do. We may even become an angry person, and any incident can evoke from us a torrent of rage that is kept in constant readiness” (DC, 148).

The common perception today is that all Perceiver ‘truth’ is the result of some MMN of identity or culture attempting to impose itself upon the rest the population, and the general conclusion is that one should oppose this imposition of ‘truth’ by asserting one’s own MMNs. One byproduct of this is that “Influential people tell us today that we must be angry, that it is necessary to be angry to oppose social evil... A leading social commentator now teaches that despair and rage are an essential element in the struggle for justice” (DC, 151). As Willard suggests, the long-term solution is to replace anger with love: “The answer is to right the wrong in persistent love, not to harbor anger” (DC, 151). Love can be defined as MMNs interacting in a mutually beneficial manner, but I suggest that this can only happen when MMNs interact within a grid of Teacher understanding that imposes peace through the rule of law.

Going further, Willard says that “Contempt is a greater evil than anger and so is deserving of greater condemnation. Unlike innocent anger, at least, it is a kind of studied degradation of another, and it also is more pervasive in life than anger” (DC, 151). He adds that “The intent and the effect of contempt is always to exclude someone, push them away, leave them out and isolated” (DC, 152). Using the language of mental symmetry, anger results when an MMN within my mind feels threatened. The goal of anger is to express or protect this MMN. Contempt is the feeling that an offending MMN has no right to exist. Anger says, “I hurt and I want to express myself.” Contempt says, “You hurt me and you have no right to exist.” Consistent with this interpretation, Willard says that “Some attention has recently been paid to twelve- or fourteen-year old children who kill people for no apparent reason. Commentators have remarked on the lack of feeling in these young killers. But when you observe them accurately, you will see that they are indeed actuated by a feeling. Watch their faces. It is contempt. They are richly contemptuous of others — and at the same time terrified and enraged at being ‘dissed,’ which is their language for contempt” (DC, 152).

Willard describes one further level, which is calling a person a fool: “‘You fool!’ said with that characteristic combination of freezing contempt and withering anger that Jesus had in mind, is a deeper harm than either anger or contempt alone” (DC, 153). Willard adds that “The fool, in biblical language, is a combination of stupid perversity and rebellion against God and all that sensible people stand for. He is willfully perverted, rebellious, knowingly wicked to his own harm” (DC, 154). Using the language of mental symmetry, a fool is someone whose MMNs have no right to exist according to the mental networks of culture and common sense. With contempt, I am saying that some MMN should cease to exist. When calling a person to fool, I am saying that society says that some MMN should cease to exist.

The next principle is described in the following verses: “Whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:24). Willard interprets this as interrupting a ritual in order to seek reconciliation: “Imagine ourselves being married or baptized or ordained to some special role, such as pastor. In the midst of the proceedings, we walk out to seek reconciliation with someone who is not even there. That pictures the kingdom love that is kingdom rightness” (DC, 156). Cognitively speaking, religious ritual uses concrete technical thought to maneuver between MMNs of holiness without blaspheming them. As Willard’s illustration demonstrates, interrupting a religious ritual means leaving the mental predictability of technical thought and questioning the integrity of potent religious MMNs. However, I suggest that one is dealing here with a more profound issue involving Teacher thought and TMNs. Notice that one is supposed to seek reconciliation when offering a sacrifice to God in order to avoid the burning fire of Gehenna. Teacher thought functions emotionally. Therefore, Teacher thinking will be warped by pre-existing Mercy emotions. If I try to use Teacher thought in a context that is governed by Mercy conflict or hurt, then I will gain an understanding of my hurt, and when this understanding turns into a TMN, then Teacher thought will reinforce the Mercy pain. Mentally speaking, this is hell, because my general theory of personal pain is blocking me from constructing a better concept of God, while keeping me within the context of my pain. This is like the guerrilla fighter whose theory of existence is based upon opposition to some enemy. If he wins, then he loses his primary reason for existence, but as long as he does not win, he remains a hunted person in hiding.

The next principle also involves the danger of turning personal conflict into a structure that affects understanding: “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent” (Matt 5:25-26). Willard says that “If we do not approach our ‘adversary’ in this way, we limit ourselves and our adversary to the human system and its laws, and we will endure the bitter fruit of it” (DC, 157). I agree, but I suggest that there is more to the story involving Teacher thought. Notice that the danger in this case is not hell but rather prison. We have seen that technical thought restricts the mind to some limited context. A court of law uses technical thought (lawyers are experts at using technical thought and tend to be Contributor persons) to bring a resolution to conflicting MMNs. Going to court is better than fighting it out directly, but working within the structure of the court system will cause this structure to turn into a TMN which will emotionally drive a person to think in terms of legal action. As Jesus says, it will take a lot of expensive mental processing to transcend this form of technical thought in order to form a more general concept of God. Therefore, it is important to try to follow a higher strategy, because even making an attempt at reconciliation will associate the MMNs of personal identity with a general Teacher understanding that transcends technical thought. This idea of the kingdom of God transcending technical thought is portrayed in verse 20: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Sexual Desire

The next section deals with sexual desire. Willard’s comments here are especially perceptive. I suggest that this is because one is dealing with the interaction between the mind and the body, which is where the philosophy of Husserl is most useful. Before we continue, notice that the effect that Husserl’s philosophy has upon the thinking of Willard is an illustration of principle that we have just discussed. Willard is using abstract technical thought to analyze a topic that should be approached using general Teacher understanding. We are finding that this technical approach has imprisoned the thinking of Willard and that it is taking him a lot of intellectual effort to transcend the limitations of this mental prison.

Willard begins by discussing the relationship between thought and embodiment: “When one is inhabited by fantasizing visual lusting, it, like anger and contempt, makes its presence known. It is detectable in one’s ‘body language’ and expressions. As a result it has pervasive effects on everyone in the situation, even though it is not ‘acted out.’ Indeed, being what it is, a condition of the embodied social self, it is always acted out to some degree and simply cannot be kept a private reality. ‘The look’ is a public act with public effects that restructure the entire framework of personal relations where it occurs” (DC, 161). Using the language of mental symmetry, MMNs will express themselves through body language because of embodiment, this body language will be noticed by others, triggering MMNs within their minds, and these MMNs will affect social interaction. For instance, if I think of another person in a sensual manner, then this thinking will generate visual clues which will trigger similar sensual thoughts in the mind of the other person, adding a sensual element to the social interaction. We all know that this can and does happen. Saying this more generally, embodiment extends the influence of mental networks to the realm of physical sensation and social interaction, but this does not mean that one can ignore mental networks and focus solely upon physical sensation and social interaction.

Going one direction, acting out an undesirable thought is worse than merely thinking it. For instance, “Actual adultery involves all the wrong of ‘adultery in the heart’ and much more besides. Jesus never suggests that actual adultery is acceptable if it is only done ‘in the right way,’ or that if you are already engaged in heart adultery you might just as well go all the way” (DC, 162).

Going the other direction, if one wishes to change behavior, then one must change the thinking that lies behind the behavior. And it is this ‘thinking behind the acting’ that Jesus is addressing in the Sermon on the Mount. Willard explains that “The Greek preposition pros and the dative case are used here. The wording refers to looking at a woman with the purpose of desiring her. That is, we desire to desire. We indulge and cultivate desiring because we enjoy fantasizing about sex with the one seen. Desiring sex is the purpose for which we are looking” (DC, 165). Looking at this cognitively, we have seen that MMNs have a natural tendency to impose themselves upon each other. Lusting after an object or person carries with it the sense of totally possessing something by completely imposing oneself upon it or by submitting to it totally. Love, in contrast, interacts with an MMN in a way that enhances it. Saying this more simply, lust is personally demeaning while love builds people up and enhances personal meaning and value.

Modern specialized thought associates personal identity with free will — which Willard also does. Therefore, the assumption is that a thought or behavior is not personally demeaning if a person chooses to do it" “Almost anything in the way of sexual relations is now regarded as correct as long as both parties consent to it” (DC, 162). But there is no such thing as libertarian free will. Free will exists but it is limited; free will cannot override core mental networks. And sex uses embodiment to express interaction between core mental networks of personal identity. As Willard says, “Intimacy is the mutual mingling of souls who are taking each other into themselves to ever increasing depths. The truly erotic is the mingling of souls. Because we are free beings, intimacy cannot be passive or forced. And because we are extremely finite, it must be exclusive” (DC, 163). In other words, the real intimacy is happening internally between MMNs of personal identity and sexual behavior that demeans these personal MMNs will be personally demeaning, even if I choose to do this behavior and do not have it forced upon me.

Sex is obviously a physical interaction between two physical bodies. The strong feelings associated with sex will lead to the formation of strong MMNs, and because of embodiment these MMNs will be intimately connected to personal identity. Since sex has such a strong physical aspect, the natural conclusion is that sex is only a physical action. However, as Willard says, the emotional intensity of sex comes from the MMNs of personal identity that are interacting. This means that sex becomes meaningful when one has sex with a person with whom one has a deep emotional relationship. However, one of the basic principles of a mental network is that fragmentation leads to deep pain. Because the body of one person is physically different than the body of another person, sex with multiple partners will lead inevitably to mental fragmentation, which will limit the pleasure of sex.

The strong physical component in sex also leads naturally to the mistaken conclusion that sexual desire can be controlled through purely physical means. But changing the environment merely prevents MMNs of physical desire from being triggered. It does not reprogram these MMNs. As Willard says, “There have been men, even groups of men, who made it their goal not to look lustfully at a woman. (They thus made the typically pharisaical mistake of trying to control the act instead of changing the source.) And they have achieved that goal. They did not look at a woman for years, not even their mother or sister” (DC, 166).

Cutting off an Offense

We now come to the strange passage about cutting off one’s arm and gouging out one’s eye: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt. 5:29-30).

Willard says that Jesus is making the Pharisees look ridiculous by extrapolating their rules into absurdity: “If you blind yourself, you cannot look at a woman to lust after her, because you cannot look on her at all. And if you sufficiently dismember yourself, you will not be able to do any wrong action. This is the logic by which Jesus reduces the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees to the absurd” (DC, 167).

However, I suggest that there is more to the story. In Matthew 6, Jesus says “When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:3-4). The discussion there is about righteousness, which one achieves by doing actions that are guided by a TMN rather than by an MMN. Teacher thought is in the left hemisphere of the brain and the left hemisphere controls the right half of the body. Thus, one could translate Jesus words as ‘Do not let MMNs in your right hemisphere be involved with the actions that are being guided by TMNs in your left hemisphere’, which is an accurate statement.

Applying the same logic to the present passage, one can construct a general Teacher theory explicitly by observing Perceiver facts (your right eye) or implicitly by repeating Server actions (your right hand). We have seen that a mind that is driven by unhealthy MMNs becomes even worse when these MMNs are reinforced by the TMN of a general theory, because the TMN will motivate a person to think and act in ways that are consistent with the unhealthy MMNs. Using the language of Jesus, the right eye or right hand will cause a person to stumble. Teacher thought brings integration to the mind by tying the various pieces together in a consistent manner. But it is possible to integrate the mind around a twisted Teacher theory. Think, for instance, of the person who turns the statement ‘I am unlovable’ into a general theory and uses this theory to explain personal existence. The final result is that one becomes whole but ends up in hell, because one is driven by a general theory that is incompatible with the nature of God and how things truly work. Jesus is saying here that one should respond by censoring the offending Teacher theory. This will lead to mental fragmentation, but at least one can build healthy thinking in a fragment of the mind. Curiously, this describes the approach advocated by Husserl and followed by Willard. Willard is rejecting offending Teacher theories in order to focus upon understanding the situations themselves free of general bias. On the positive side, this anti-theoretical approach leads to numerous good insights. But on the negative side, Willard’s theology is not whole; it is missing the ‘right hand and right eye’ of general theory. I too have followed a similar strategy socially because I have done my research largely outside of an academic environment in order to avoid the unhealthy Teacher theories that result from the methodology and environment of academia. As we quoted Willard as saying at the beginning of this essay, academia has literally turned into an offensive system that causes people to stumble. I am now attempting to ‘reattach the right hand and right eye’ by using the theory of mental symmetry to analyze the theories and habits of others.


Moving on, Willard describes the general attitude regarding divorce at that time: “One of the most important things in the male mind of Jesus’ day, and perhaps every day, was to be able to get rid of a woman who did not please him. And on this point the man really had great discretion, whereas from the woman’s point of view divorce was simply brutal and, practically speaking, could not be chosen... A man was generally thought to be righteous or good in the matter of divorce if, when he sent his wife away, he gave her a written statement that declared her to be divorced. She at least had, then, a certificate to prove her status as unmarried. This allowed her to defend herself against a charge of adultery if found with a man, for such a charge could result in her death” (DC, 168). Using the language of mental symmetry, males were using physical and political power to impose their MMNs upon women and they were being guided by MMNs of personal pleasure. The ‘certificate of divorce’ cloaked these childish MMNs in the legal structure of technical thought, bringing some relief to women.

As Willard says, the key issue here involves the nature of underlying mental networks: “It is the hardness of the human heart that Jesus cites as grounds for permitting divorce in case of adultery. In other words, the ultimate grounds for divorce is human meanness” (DC, 169). Looking at the topic from the viewpoint of mental networks, “Divorce was never God’s intention for men and women in a marriage. Divorce disrupts a natural unit in a way that harms its members for life, no matter how much worse it would have been for them to stay together. Marriage means that ‘they are no longer two, but one flesh’ (Mark 10:8). This is an arrangement in nature that God has established, and no human act can change that order” (DC, 170). In other words, marriage is a physical illustration of deep cognitive principles, and violating marriage damages the mind in fundamental ways. Using the language of mental symmetry, the female mind emphasizes the emotional modules of Teacher, Mercy, and Exhorter, while the male mind emphasizes the confidence modules of Perceiver, Server, Contributor. When the mind becomes whole, then these two ways of functioning become internally ‘married’. This topic is explored more in another essay.

Jesus says that divorcing a wife causes her to commit adultery. Willard explains this by saying that a divorced woman had few options in Jesus’ time: “In the Jewish society of Jesus’ day, as for most times and places in human history, the consequences of divorce were devastating for the woman. Except for some highly unlikely circumstances, her life was, simply, ruined... she might, finally, make a place in the community as a prostitute. Society simply would not then, as ours does today, support a divorced woman to any degree or allow her to support herself in a decent fashion” (DC, 171). This may be true, but I suggest that there is more to the story when one examines the issue cognitively.

Sex creates strong mental networks. Marriage places these mental networks within a framework that is compatible with mental wholeness. Divorce fragments these mental networks and makes this fragmentation official. Adultery uses sex to create mental networks that fragment the mind. Thus, divorce leads to the same fragmented mental state as adultery, and marrying a divorced person spreads this fragmentation to the other partner. This fragmenting effect occurs in strongest form in the female mind because the female mind lives within mental networks while the male mind only works with mental networks.

That brings us to the famous ‘escape clause’ which is often invoked to justify divorce in some specific situation. Willard points out that he used to be “vastly ignorant of the things men and women do to one another” (DC, 173). Using the language of mental networks, Jesus’ statement about ‘except for the reason of unchastity’ seems to be saying that one should not create a deep mental split through divorce unless such a deep mental split already exists. In other words, it is better to be mentally maimed and enter heaven than mentally integrated and end up in hell. However, it is obviously far better to become mentally whole and become naturally attracted to a heaven of mental wholeness.

More generally, Willard suggests that “It is not an accident that Jesus deals with divorce after having dealt with anger, contempt, and obsessive desire. Just ask yourself how many divorces would occur, and in how many cases the question of divorce would never even have arisen, if anger, contempt, and obsessive fantasized desire were eliminated. The answer is, of course, hardly any at all” (DC, 172). This is a significant point, because one must deal with mental networks themselves before one has any hope of dealing with the interaction between mental networks.

Avoiding Oaths

This same principle applies to Jesus’ next discussion about avoiding oaths. There is no point in attempting to control a person’s words until more fundamental issues have been addressed, because words are an expression of something deeper. An oath uses an emotional MMN to back up a Perceiver fact. The underlying assumption is that absolute truth is based in potent MMNs. Therefore, one makes a fact more absolute by basing it in some potent MMN. As Willard points out, this type of Mercy-based thinking was dominant in Jesus’ time, with its “practice of giving oaths or swearing by something of importance, especially God himself, in order to lend weight to a statement one is making. In a society like our own, where the sacred is not real — not really real — oaths may only have the effect of a legal formality that makes possible the crime of perjury, of lying ‘under oath.’ But in a world where people actually believe, ‘the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to any dispute’” (DC, 173).

Jesus says that one should not tell oaths because all MMNs fall within the realm of the TMN of a concept of God: “Make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King” (Matt. 5:34,35). Instead, Perceiver thought should function independently without needing to be backed up by any mental networks: “Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (Matt 5: 35).

Stated more generally, Jesus is pointing out the inadequacy of the mindset behind fundamentalism with its belief in absolute truth. When one believes that a Perceiver fact is absolutely true if it comes from a holy book such as the Bible, then one is using a form of oath, because one is using Mercy status to overwhelm Perceiver thought into knowing what is true. Notice that Jesus is not saying that one should base an oath in a good Mercy source, because heaven, earth, and Jerusalem are all good. Instead, the problem lies in the oath itself. Anything more than merely saying yes or no is inherently evil. More specifically, the Greek says that one’s ‘logos’ should be either yes or no, and that more than this comes from evil. Using cognitive language, Perceiver thought should function by itself to determine truth and falsehood, and the approach of using MMNs to overwhelm Perceiver thought inherently comes from evil. One of the primary goals of mental symmetry is to replace the fundamentalist attitude of absolute truth based in the words of the Bible with the rational attitude of universal truth based in the repetition of how things work. Notice that nothing is being said about the content of the Bible (or the content of the oath). Cognitive evidence strongly suggests that the Bible is the most accurate description of truth about the mind that exists. But I suggest that Christian fundamentalism believes the right facts for the wrong reason.

Willard, in contrast, interprets oaths from the perspective of a Contributor person, seeing an oath as a way of imposing one’s plan and will upon another individual: “Jesus goes right to the heart of why people swear oaths... It is a method for getting their way. They are declaring some promise or purpose or some point of information or knowledge dear to them. They want their hearers to accept what they say and do what they want. So they say, ‘By God!’ or, ‘God knows!’ to lend weight to their words and presence. It is simply a device of manipulation, designed to override the judgment and will of the ones they are focusing upon, to push them aside, rather than respecting them and leaving their decision and action strictly up to them” (DC, 174). What Willard says may be true, but I suggest that it is secondary, because one is dealing here primarily with the interaction between Perceiver thought and Mercy mental networks rather than the preservation of Contributor free will. It is common for the Contributor person to use the MMNs of culture and religion to manipulate the feelings, beliefs, and decisions of others. This is the primary method by which Contributor dictators control a society or country, and I suggest that Western society is increasingly under the thumb of a Contributor-led minority that is creating and triggering mental networks in order to guide the population. The way of escape is not to fight the dictatorship because that merely replaces one dictator with another. Instead, the solution is to teach people how to think for themselves, and one major aspect of this is to become mentally free of the attitude of fundamentalism — to replace oaths with a simple yes or no.

Personal Justice

Jesus then talks about personal justice: “The wrongs in question are clearly personal injuries, not institutional or social evils. How do we know that? It is clear from the parts of the old law referred to” (DC, 176). Willard says, and I agree, that the goal here is to change the nature of the situation: “Within the human order, the presumption is that you return harm for harm (‘resist evil’), that you do only what legal force requires you to, and that you give only to those who have some prior claim on you (those who are ‘family’ or have done you a favor, etc.). The presumption is precisely reversed once we stand within the kingdom. There the presumption is that I will return good for evil and ‘resist’ only for compelling reasons, that I will do more than I strictly must in order to help others” (DC, 178). Notice that Willard’s reference point is still the accepted MMNs of society, because he talks about a person following the inverse of accepted standards. As a result, Willard has to discuss a number of cases where common sense would say that one should not do the opposite of what is accepted.

Instead, I suggest that the goal is to replace a mindset that is governed by the rules of technical legal thought with a mindset that is guided by a general Teacher understanding of God’s character. One does this by going beyond the requirements of the law. Righteousness is action that is guided by a TMN based in the character of God rather than by MMNs of human culture and power. When one satisfies the legal requirements, one is submitting to MMNs of political power. When one goes beyond the legal requirements, then one is following a different mental network. Willard describes this changing of mindset: “If we respond as Jesus indicates, the force of their own actions pulls them off their stance and forces them to question what kind of people they are” (DC, 180).

Jesus describes this ‘different mental network’ in the next verses: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous... you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:43-45, 48). Using cognitive language, one should not be guided by MMNs that divide people into the two groups of friends and enemies. Instead, one should use the words of prayer to apply the TMN of a concept of God to the situation. God is guided by universal principles that shine equally upon all MMNs, and this universal standard in Teacher thought should guide personal thought and behavior. Willard says something similar: “In every situation we have the larger view. We are not passive, but we act always with clear-eyed and resolute love. We know what is really happening, seeing it from the point of view of eternity. And we know that we will be taken care of, no matter what. We can be vulnerable because we are, in the end, simply invulnerable” (DC, 181).

Willard says that Jesus’ examples apply to personal justice and I think that this is an important distinction. God’s universal kingdom of righteousness already exists. When I choose to go beyond the legal requirements, I am not creating a system of universal justice, rather I am using the specific MMNs of my situation as an opportunity to become guided by God’s already existing kingdom of righteousness. Saying this another way, one does not have to continue acting forever in an altruistic manner. Instead, altruism (or going beyond the law) is required to make a transition from following man to being guided by God. Once this transition has been made within some context, then it is possible to reintroduce MMNs of personal desire and justice, because they will now be placed within the general structure of a Teacher understanding of God’s character. I suggested earlier that using technical thought to follow a legal solution leads to mental imprisonment, and that there is a cost to transcending this mental prison. One aspect of this cost is going beyond the requirements of the law, because one must do more than the law requires in order to become mentally free.

Summarizing this section, a mind (or society) that is guided by conflicting MMNs needs to be replaced by one in which MMNs interact in a loving manner. This love is only possible if the mind is governed by the TMN of a general understanding of God. Saying this another way, one cannot go directly from competing MMNs to loving MMNs. Instead, one must first take the detour of constructing a general understanding of God’s character based in universal principles of how things work, and this system of morality will then provide the foundation for a society of love. Willard agrees that the goal is not to follow a technical set of laws but rather to allow MMNs to be guided by God’s universal love: “The Pharisee takes as his aim keeping the law rather than becoming the kind of person whose deeds naturally conform to the law. Jesus... concludes his exposition of the kingdom kind of goodness by contrasting the ordinary way human beings love, loving those who love them, with God’s agape love. This is a love that reaches everyone we deal with” (DC, 184). This is only possible within the framework of a universal system of morality that goes beyond the fundamentalist attitude of blind faith: “By contrast, the Christian teaching about moral goodness that derives from the principles laid down by Jesus does have a historical, theoretical, and practical claim to constitute the true body of moral knowledge. This is not said to encourage blind acceptance but precisely the opposite. It is said to encourage the toughest of testing for those teachings in all areas of thought and real life.” (DC, 184).

What Willard says is very important. However, I suggest that one can go further. Willard says that ‘The principles laid down by Jesus have a historical, theoretical, and practical claim to constitute the true body of moral knowledge’. Willard then adds that these moral principles need to be tested in all areas of thought in real life. In other words, Willard is starting with the fundamentalist attitude of viewing Jesus as the ultimate Mercy source of absolute truth, and then he is adding to this the critical thinking of using Perceiver thought to see these principles as universally true. It is true that all education, both religious and secular, starts with fundamentalist belief in absolute truth revealed by teachers and textbooks, and that one can only use critical thinking to retroactively examine these beliefs to see if they do correspond with universal truth. However, Willard does not seem to realize how much one can learn from secular science about both the use of critical thinking and the framework of universal truth. Instead, Willard concludes pessimistically that “There is in fact no body of moral knowledge now operative in the institutions of knowledge in our culture” (DC, 184). This is correct, but it is not totally correct, because it is possible to rebuild Christian doctrine entirely upon a theoretical foundation of ‘how things work’ in a manner that is consistent with science and its search for the universal laws of nature. In other words, instead of stretching beyond fundamentalism in the direction of universal truth, I suggest that it is possible to use fundamentalism as an introduction to universal truth. The former is still ultimately based in MMNs of personal authority, while the latter uses MMNs of personals authority as a stepping stone to a new basis in the TMN of a universal concept of God. Using religious language, the former studies the kingdom of heaven as a citizen of the kingdom of earth, while the latter reaches down from the kingdom of heaven to redeem the kingdom of earth.


So far, the Sermon on the Mount has focused upon acquiring a concept of God that is not based on childish MMNs which goes further than abstract technical thought. Matthew six begins by talking about righteousness, which is action that is guided by a Teacher understanding of God. This lines up with Willard’s suggestion that the Sermon on the Mount should be viewed as a sequence. As we have already discussed, becoming righteous means doing actions that are guided by the TMN of a concept of God rather than by MMNs of culture and personal status, and Willard recognizes that this distinction applies to the modern university professor as well. Willard describes what it means to be motivated by childish MMNs: “Desire for religious respect or reputation will immediately drag us into the rightness of scribes and Pharisees because that desire always focuses entirely upon the visible action, not on the source of action in the heart. The scribes and Pharisees, Jesus pointed out, ‘do everything they do with the aim of being noticed by others’... They relish loudly respectful greetings in malls and public places, and being called ‘Professor’ or ‘Doctor’” (DC, 188).

I have suggested that mental networks ‘take ownership’ of the actions that they motivate. Thus, any action that is motivated by some MMN will not become mentally attached to the TMN of a concept of God. As Willard says, “When we do good deeds to be seen by human beings, that is because what we are looking for is something that comes from human beings. God responds to our expectations accordingly. When we want human approval and esteem, and do what we do for the sake of it, God courteously stands aside because, by our wish, it does not concern him” (DC, 190). I am not suggesting that becoming righteous occurs only within the mind. However, I do suggest that this principle always functions cognitively and that it may function externally with a real God as well.

One of the shortcomings of being motivated by MMNs of personal approval is that people can only judge what they see. As Willard explains, Jesus uses the word hypocrite to describe a person who follows approval, because such a person is an actor who gives the appearance of having a certain character quality. In psychological language, a hypocrite has extrinsic motivation, while one should be motivated intrinsically: “The term hypocrite in classical Greek primarily refers to an actor, such as one sees on the stage, but it came to refer also to anyone who practices deceit. It is clear from the literary records that it was Jesus alone who brought this term and the corresponding character into the moral vocabulary of the Western world. He did so because of his unique emphasis upon the moral significance of the inmost heart before God” (DC, 191).

One can see this extrinsic motivation in the typical fasting of Jesus’ time: “‘The hypocrites’ of Jesus’ day tried to look as gloomy as possible when they fasted. They had even developed special ways of disfiguring their faces with special markings in order to make sure people knew they were fasting. Here again Jesus points out that they get what they want. They want to be noticed in being ‘devout,’ and they certainly are noticed” (DC, 195).

Notice that one is dealing here with two separate yet related distinctions. The first is the difference between internal and external motivation. Being motivated by the MMNs of social approval is inherently extrinsic because people can only judge what I say and do in public and do not know what I think or do in private. (With the pervasiveness of the Internet, computer surveillance, and meta-data processing, it is now possible for governments and corporations to know to some extent what I think and do in private.) The second distinction is between concrete thought and abstract thought. Willard clearly recognizes the first distinction between visible and invisible: “God is spirit and exists at the level of reality where the human heart, or spirit, also exists, serving as the foundation and source of our visible life” (DC, 194). However, as we have seen, Husserl’s philosophy prevents Willard from fully recognizing the distinction between concrete and abstract. Internal motivation gives a person an identity and motivation that is independent of the environment, while abstract understanding leads to a general character that applies in many situations. Righteousness combines these two by being internally motivated by the general understanding of a concept of God.

As we saw when looking at SoD, Willard focuses upon the negative aspect of righteousness by emphasizing secrecy: “The discipline of secrecy will help us break the grip of human opinion over our souls and our actions. A discipline is an activity in our power that we do to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. Jesus is here leading us into the discipline of secrecy. We from time to time practice doing things approved of in our religious circles — giving, praying, fasting, attending services of the church, and so on — but in such a way that no one knows. Thus our motivation and reward for doing these things cannot come from human beings. We are liberated from slavery to eyes, and then it does not matter whether people know or not. We learn to live constantly in this way” (DC, 200). What Willard says is correct. However, it is only part of the story, because it tells what to go from while leaving out what one should go to. In contrast, the emphasis in Matthew 6 is upon receiving a reward from God. The phrase “your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” occurs twice in this passage. Thus, one does good in secret not just to stop being motivated by praise-of-men but rather to start being motivated by righteousness.

Willard adds a perceptive observation. “It seems to be a general law of social/historical development that institutions tend to distort and destroy the central function that brought them into existence. A few years ago Clyde Reid wrote a painfully incisive discussion of how our church activities seem to be structured around evading God. His ‘law of religious evasion’ states, ‘We structure our churches and maintain them so as to shield us from God and to protect us from genuine religious experience’” (DC, 201). I agree with this statement. However, I suggest that this involves a different cognitive mechanism than being motivated by MMNs of human approval. Instead, one is dealing here with a distinction between righteousness and human righteousness, which was discussed earlier when looking at the specialization that is so prevalent in modern society. Righteousness is when the Server actions of a person are guided by a Teacher understanding of how the mind behaves or how the world behaves. Human righteousness is when the Server actions of a person are guided by a Teacher understanding of how we as a group of people behave. Setting up an institution, such as a denomination, a profession, a bureaucracy, or a university will naturally lead to human righteousness, because everyone is expected to follow the guidelines of some written Teacher understanding. As Willard says, human righteousness shields a person from a concept of God because it uses ‘how we do things’ to give stability to some general Teacher theory that takes the place of a mental concept of God. Instead of naturally acting in a way that is consistent with how God has created the mind and the world, one learns to act naturally in a way that is consistent with the regulations of the bureaucracy, or the accepted practices of the profession. As far as I can tell, the only way to avoid being driven by human righteousness is by being driven by an even stronger sense of of righteousness. But this is only possible if one has a general Teacher understanding of the character of God.

Jesus then talks about treasure and the heart. Willard says that “Our treasure focuses our heart. ‘Your heart will be where what you treasure is,’ Jesus tells us (Matt. 6:21). Remember that our heart is our will, or our spirit: the center of our being from which our life flows. It is what gives orientation to everything we do. A heart rightly directed therefore brings health and wholeness to the entire personality” (DV, 206). This is approximately correct, except that Willard as a Contributor person is confusing will with heart. Using the language of mental symmetry, I suggest that treasures reflect our core mental networks. These impose their structure upon lesser mental networks, such as the MMNs of personal identity — which I would equate with the heart. Saying this another way, my strongest mental networks determine what I treasure and they set the direction for the rest of the mind. Personal identity, in contrast, can be defined as the set of mental networks that cannot be ignored. For instance, it is impossible for me to ignore my physical body. Therefore, the mental networks that represent my physical body are a major aspect of my personal identity.

As Willard says, an earthly perspective will distort one’s sense of value because one will treasure the wrong things: “The person who treasures what lies within the kingdom sees everything in its true worth and relationship. The person who treasures what is ‘on earth,’ by contrast, sees everything from a perspective that distorts it and systematically misleads in practice. The relative importance of things is, in particular, misperceived” (DC, 206). What Willard is describing is a byproduct of Teacher thought. As I mentioned before, Teacher thought forms general theories by altering relative importance — by taking some ‘citizen off the street’ and ‘crowning this citizen as monarch’. A general statement feels good to Teacher thought. This Teacher emotion will be sensed by Mercy emotion, affecting one’s sense of value. As we have seen, a general Teacher theory can either help us to understand the character of God or else hide the mind from noticing the character of God. The second situation leads to what Jesus calls ‘a light that is darkness’, because it regards the wrong items as important, and while ignoring the truly important as insignificant.

As Willard says, “You cannot be the servant of both God and things ‘on earth,’ because their requirements conflict. Unless you have already put God first, for example, what you will have to do to be financially secure, impress other people, or fulfill your desires will invariably lead you against God’s wishes. That is why the first of the Ten Commandments, ‘You shall have no gods who take priority over me,’ is the first of the Ten Commandments” (DC, 207). Willard’s comment regarding the First commandment is very significant, because I suggest that one can only become mentally whole to the extent that one is guided by a truly universal Teacher concept of God. Saying this another way, the rebirth that one experiences will be limited by the extent of one’s concept of God. Willard emphasizes that “The treasure we have in heaven is also something very much available to us now. We can and should draw upon it as needed, for it is nothing less than God himself and the wonderful society of his kingdom even now interwoven in my life” (DC, 208). Using the language of mental symmetry, a universal concept of God applies also to current experience and not just to some future heavenly existence.

I suggest that the process of becoming mentally whole can be divided into three stages: First, one uses personal honesty to construct a concept of God in Teacher thought. Second, one becomes righteous by following this concept of God. Third, personal identity is reborn within a mental framework guided by a concept of God. The struggle between two masters becomes most apparent when one is in the second stage laying the foundation for the third stage. On the one hand, earthly treasure is based upon embodiment and the physical environment. Earthly treasure goes beyond hedonism. One is not just attempting to satisfy childish MMNs. Instead, one is using concrete technical thought to satisfy childish MMNs more effectively, more efficiently, and in a more lasting manner. For instance, hedonism tries to keep my physical body warm and protected, while earthly treasure builds a house in which my physical body can live. Earthly treasures is far better than hedonism, but it is still based in the assumption of physical need and physical desire; it is still rooted in embodiment. As Willard says, “The entire posture of our embodied self and its surroundings is habitually inclined toward physical or ‘earthly’ reality as the only reality there is. Hence, to treasure anything else must be wrong. It is to rest on illusions” (DC, 208).

Heavenly treasure, in contrast, is an indirect expression of a general Teacher understanding. Righteousness describes the left hemisphere aspect of incarnation, which performs Server actions that are guided by Teacher understanding. Treasure describes the right hemisphere aspect of incarnation, in which a Teacher understanding leads to Platonic forms, which are invisible images that idealize the essence of Mercy experiences. This type of heavenly treasure is not an illusion, because it is based in a general understanding of how things work. For instance, the treasure that is based in the ‘heaven’ of understanding how the natural world works motivates us to invent new technology. I suggested earlier that free will is limited and that it can only function in the presence of strong mental networks if it is possible to choose between two conflicting sets of mental networks. Constructing a mental concept of God and following this concept in righteousness will create an alternate set of treasures (or core mental networks) to existing earthly treasures. But such a situation is unstable, because the set of mental networks that one chooses to follow will grow at the expense of the other set of mental networks; the internal master that one chooses to serve will become stronger causing one to hate the master that one chooses not to serve.

Don’t Worry

This provides the basis for Jesus’ next statement, which is usually quoted out of context: “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on” (Matt. 6:25). This is typically interpreted as some version of ‘do not worry be happy’. But Jesus introduces this statement of carefree existence by saying ‘for this reason’. In other words, when one is guided by Platonic forms that are an expression of an understanding of the character of God (heavenly treasure), then one will naturally function in a way that meets personal needs. Using a simplistic illustration, whenever one finds oneself in a difficult situation, understanding will make it possible to come up with a MacGyver-like solution. Jesus then makes two comparisons of value: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” This can be interpreted both physically and cognitively. Physically speaking, food is something external and physical that sustains life, while clothing is something external and physical that protects and covers the body. Earthly treasure deals with physical needs such as food and clothing, while heavenly treasure addresses the need behind the need, such as life and the body. Cognitively speaking, life is reflected in mental networks, while food is input that is consistent with the structure of a mental network, which ‘feeds’ this mental network. Similarly, body describes the MMNs of personal identity, while clothing refers to the cultural MMNs that reinforce and protect MMNs of personal identity. Earthly treasure can preserve personal identity by providing consistent input and compatible culture, while heavenly treasure can transform personal identity by rebirthing MMNs of identity within a lasting framework of general understanding. Obviously, meeting only lesser needs will lead to anxiety: “If we do value ‘mammon’ as normal people seem to think we should, our fate is fixed. Our fate is anxiety. It is worry. It is frustration. The words anxious and worry both have reference to strangling or being choked. Certainly that is how we feel when we are anxious. Things and events have us by the throat and seem to be cutting off our life” (DC, 209). That describes how one feels when mental networks of identity are being threatened.

Willard says that Jesus’ comment about ‘feeding the birds’ is merely humor: “The regular provision of God for birds was the basis for some humor in Jesus’ teaching, repeated a number of times in the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount he emphasizes his Father’s provision for us by asking rhetorically, ‘Aren’t you better than birds?’” (DC, 210). However, there is more to the story when one examines this cognitively. A bird is a creature of the ‘air’ of Teacher thought, with its ‘hot air’ of speech and ‘heavens’ of abstract thought. Cognitively speaking, those who fly through the air of pure abstract thought, such as philosophers and mathematicians, find ‘food’ in general Teacher understanding (the heavenly Father), even though this understanding is not backed up by any facts or empirical evidence that is ‘gathered into barns’. Jesus is emphasizing that personal identity that reflects Teacher understanding is ‘worth more’ than Teacher understanding that is divorced from reality and personal identity. Similarly, the technology that grows from the ‘field of knowledge’ leads to the ‘clothing’ of a culture that is far more spectacular than any culture that is the most Solomon-like expression of revealed truth. Thus Jesus appears to be asking that if fleeting technology is so wonderful, then will not heavenly treasure lead to something even more wonderful? Luke 12:28 adds that the ‘grass in the field’ is “today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace”, which portrays how today’s technology quickly becomes obsolete and leads to the fire of frustration.

Jesus then summarizes the three stages of personal salvation: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 5:33). First, build the TMN of a mental concept of God that rules over MMNs. Then, become righteous by allowing Server actions to be guided by this TMN understanding. Finally, allow the MMNs of personal identity become reborn in an environment that is an expression of this TMN understanding. Using the partial example of science and technology, the scientific revolution is followed by an industrial revolution which leads to a consumer revolution.

As before, Willard emphasizes the distinction between internal and external: “Some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen are elderly people whose souls shine so brightly their bodies are hardly visible... And this beauty is not just for old people. The natural beauty of the human being is given from the kingdom to every person who will receive it” (DC, 211). And he recognizes that following God means not following the MMNs of personal status and culture: “In every situation, with prayer and supplications, with thanksgiving, let God know what you want. And the peace which God himself has will, beyond anything we can intellectually grasp, stand guard over your hearts and minds, which are within the reality of Jesus the Anointed’ (Phil. 4:6 — 7). We will find all this so much easier, of course, once we have been freed from our old dependency upon the opinions of others and upon our ‘treasure’ of material goods” (DC, 213). But he seems to define heavenly treasure primarily as the opposite of earthly treasure: “If we do not treasure earthly goods we must be prepared to be treated as more or less crazy. This is also true if we escape the delusions of respectability and so are not governable by the opinions of those around us, even though we respect them in love” (DC, 213). Thus, what appears to be missing again from Willard is a positive concept of heavenly treasure based in a general Teacher understanding of the nature of God.

Willard concludes this chapter by giving the example of Dirk Willems (whose name he misspells as Willens) as an illustration of Christlikeness. Willems is the archetype Mennonite hero who escaped imprisonment and was fleeing across a frozen river to safety when his pursuer fell through the ice and Willems turned back to rescue his oppressor from drowning. Willems was ‘rewarded’ by being burnt at the stake. This example of religious self-denial has inspired many Mennonites over the centuries. However, like Willard, it still defines following God negatively as not following man and not seeking to preserve self. I am surprised that Willard does not refer to the Mennonites or Anabaptists more often, because they share Willard’s focus upon practical theology. I am not trying to belittle the personal sacrifice made by Christian martyrs such as Willems. Personal transformation always carries with it a heavy cost. Instead, I am attempting to point out that the primary theme of Jesus is not that the kingdom of earth is passing away but rather the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven is not an inversion of the kingdom of earth. Rather, the kingdom of earth is a distortion him and a partial expression of the kingdom of heaven.


Moving on now to chapter 7, Willard reemphasizes, and I agree, that it is important to remember that these points follow chapters 5 and 6: “If we are still dominated by anger, contempt, and lusting — still ‘ruling our house with an iron lung,’ and so forth — the tender areas into which Jesus now moves will simply be incomprehensible. We must start at the point Jesus himself chose — the nature of true well-being, or ‘blessedness’ — and follow his order through the setting aside of anger, contempt, absorbing lust, manipulation, and payback, and on to the forsaking of dependence upon human reputation and material wealth. Then we will be ready for what comes next” (DC, 216). The main topic for chapter 7 is social interaction, which I suggest can only be dealt with adequately after one has become transformed individually. These points “illustrate the inner texture of kingdom life with family, friends, co-workers, and ‘next door’ neighbors. They illustrate the kingdom attitude toward those closest to us” (DC, 217).

The first principle has to do with judging others. As Willard points out, MMNs naturally struggle for dominance, which motivates people to naturally interact in a judging manner that condemns conflicting MMNs expressed by other individuals: “Condemnation — giving it and receiving it — is such a large part of ‘normal’ human existence that we may not even be able to imagine or think what life would be like without it” (DC, 218). However, it is possible to ‘judge others’ accurately when the mind is transformed. Jesus mentions three principles in these verses. The first is that the goal is not to condemn others but rather to help them to see clearly. The brother has a ‘speck in his eye’. Using the language of mental symmetry, the goal is not to attack another person’s MMN but rather to clarify another person’s TMN, so that he understands the situation more accurately. Willard describes this aspect of judging: “The term krino... has as its primary meanings ‘to separate, make a distinction between, exercise judgment upon,’ ‘to estimate or appraise’... We do not have to — we cannot — surrender the valid practice of distinguishing and discerning how things are in order to avoid condemning others” (DC, 225).

The second principle is that I can only help another person to see clearly in areas where I have learned to see clearly myself. As the beginning of Romans 2 implies, the natural response is for me to try to point out errors in others that correspond to my personal shortcomings, because the behavior of others will trigger MMNs within my mind that I am trying to suppress. In other words, it is precisely because I have a log in my mind that I will feel motivated to point out the corresponding speck in my brother’s eye. Willard describes this tendency: “The result of condemning and blaming is sure to be a counterattack in the very same terms. The parents who have reproached a child for using drugs, for example, soon find themselves condemned for coffee, tobacco, or alcohol use. This is a well-known case of exactly what Jesus said: ‘Don’t condemn or you will be condemned. As you have meted out condemnation to others, so they will mete out condemnation to you’” (DC, 222). Notice also that a speck in someone else’s eye is the same size as a log in my own eye. My speck appears like a log to me because it is much closer, and the speck in someone else’s eye will appear to him as a log. Similarly, situations that trigger the MMNs of one person’s culture will have a much greater impact upon the thinking of that person than situations that trigger MMNs within some other person’s mind.

Finally, this judgment is different than the objectivity practiced by science, which tries to avoid logs in my eye rather than deal with them. In contrast, clarity of thought is not gained by avoiding problems but rather by overcoming problems. Using the language of mental symmetry, Perceiver thought does not protect itself by avoiding Mercy emotions but rather by gaining the confidence to think in the midst of Mercy emotions.

This explains the next comment that Jesus makes: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt. 7:6). Mercy experiences are holy when they are expressions of a Teacher understanding of the nature of God. (There is also a Mercy form of holiness that comes from regarding objects and events as special and then building walls to separate these special MMNs from normal life.)

A person who is driven by childish MMNs does not want an understanding, because rational thought makes him feel bad. A pearl is a gem that grows over time as one responds to an irritant. A person driven by childish MMNs does not want to learn from problems but rather wants to get rid of problems. If one tries to ‘take the speck out of the eye’ of these individuals, then they will respond by emotionally belittling the information (trample underfoot) and by attacking the messenger (tear you to pieces). That is because their goal is to eliminate any mental network that threatens the integrity of their childish MMNs. Willard describes this attitude: “Having no adequate sense of themselves as spiritual beings, or of their place in a good world of God, they regard any negative appraisal of what they do as condemnation of themselves as persons” DC, 225).

Looking further at what Willard says about judging, he suggests that four principles should be followed: “First, we don’t undertake to correct unless we are absolutely sure of the sin” (DC, 218). This may be wise advice, but it is also an expression of technical thought which requires sufficient certainty to function. Obviously, one does not want to start correcting another person and then find out that one is mistaken about the facts. Sharing understanding with the other person avoids this potential problem because it helps the other person to shine light internally upon his own situation instead of attempting to shine light externally upon the situation from a distance. This principle is easy to follow with mental symmetry. Instead of saying “You are a controlling person”, one can say “Do you understand the struggle that the Contributor person has with being a controlling person?” One advantage of this approach is that learning can go both ways. For instance, it may be totally obvious to me as a Perceiver person that some Contributor person is functioning in a controlling manner, but only the Contributor person knows what it is like to struggle with this problem up close, and I can learn more about Contributor thought by hearing about the struggle from the perspective of the Contributor person.

Willard’s second point is that “Correction is reserved for those who live and work in a divine power not their own. For that power is also wise, and it is loving beyond anything we will ever be” (DC, 219). When one is guided by a Teacher understanding of cognitive styles and how they function and interact, then one is being guided by a wisdom and love that transcends the love of one MMN for another. Even if some extra ‘divine power’ is being added, it would be far easier for a real God to guide a mind that is already heading in the right direction than for a real God to fight what the mind is doing.

Willard’s third principle is that correction “is not a matter of hammering on their wrongness and on what is going to happen to them if they don’t change their ways. It is a matter of restoration” (DC, 219). Restoration is better than condemnation, but even better than restoration is transformation. Mature practical Contributor thought is naturally good at restoration; taking some MMN and fixing it. Contributor thought backed up by a general Teacher understanding is capable of transformation, which means rebuilding an MMN in a better way rather than just fixing it up. Willard’s point is that “The ones who are restoring others must go about their work with the sure knowledge that they could very well do the same thing that the person ‘caught’ has done, or even worse. This totally removes any sense of self-righteousness or superiority” (DC, 219). In other words, correcting another person does not mean that my MMNs have achieved dominance over the MMNs of the person that I am correcting. Willard’s advice is good, but he is using a negative method to achieve it. Instead of recognizing that both parties are capable of being trapped by the childish MMNs that are being corrected, one can achieve the same feeling of personal humility by recognizing that both parties are equally subject to the same TMN of how things work. Instead of saying “I too am a fallible human”, one says “I too am a person under authority.” Of course, as Willard says, it is possible that the person giving the correction could also fall into the same problem, but if this feeling of mutual weakness becomes the guiding principle, then the childish MMN that is being corrected actually becomes the reference point that is imposing its structure upon the interaction. One is thinking in terms of the specific sin rather than in terms of the righteousness of God.

Willard describes the mindset that results when sin becomes the reference point — a core mental network around which the rest of the mind integrates. When a mental network of sin cannot be ignored, then it becomes an aspect of personal identity: “I have observed many good people who seem to feel a positive obligation to condemn others, and in some cases they do it without anger or contempt, even with some degree of sorrow and compassion. Yet the effects of condemnation remain the same. It remains a stinging attack, a shocking assault upon the one condemned. Whatever good it may do in human affairs comes at a very high price. And often it grows into shame... In shame we are self-condemned for being the person we are. It touches our identity and causes self-rejection. We feel ourselves to be a failure just for being the person we are. We wish to be someone else. But of course we cannot. We are trapped, and our life is made hopeless” (DC, 222).

Willard concludes that it is wrong to attack people because of who they are: “This explains why discrimination against people because of the kind of person they are, their identity, is so hateful and destructive. It also explains why the gospel of the kingdom has such transforming power in human life. For that gospel opens the kingdom to everyone, no matter their classification, and it enables us really to become a different kind of person, beyond all condemnation, blame, and shame, and to know it” (DC, 222). This is a significant point. However, it is very important to understand this point accurately, because I suggest that a faulty understanding of this principle is currently in the process of destroying Western civilization. The fundamental problem, I suggest, is a confusion between mental hardware and mental software. Using the analogy of a computer, what defines the ‘identity’ of my computer? Is it the components and wiring of the computer or is it the programs the computer is running; is it the hardware or is it the software? At first glance, it sounds good to say that one should not ‘discriminate against people because of the kind of person they are’. But what if a computer virus running on a computer prevents it from functioning properly? If one exists ‘beyond all condemnation, blame, and shame’, then one has no basis for either judging or removing computer viruses. The solution, I suggest, is to re-phrase a person’s right to exist in terms of mental hardware. Every cognitive module and every cognitive style has a right to exist. One cannot change one’s cognitive style or rewire mental structure, but one can reprogram core mental networks so that they drive the mind to function in a manner that uses all cognitive modules in a cooperative manner. Using computer language, one can remove computer viruses and one can reprogram the operating system so that the computer is not vulnerable to computer viruses. We do this all the time with real computers. The example that Willard gives of proper judgment implies this distinction. “A dentist may examine a patient’s teeth and say, ‘I see you have not been brushing regularly. Your gums are receding, and there is a cavity over on this right lower side.’ When he does this, he is indeed judging the condition of the patient’s teeth and gums and practice of dental hygiene. He is discerning, seeing and saying what it is” (DC, 225). The dentist’s judgment can be distinguished from the person because teeth and gums follow rules that are independent of what people think. This makes it possible for the TMN of an understanding of how teeth and gums work to guide the discussion, rather than MMNs of personal habit.

Willard interprets ‘the board in my eye’ as the attitude of condemnation: “Condemnation is the board in our eye. He knows that the mere fact that we are condemning someone shows our heart does not have the kingdom rightness he has been talking about. Condemnation, especially with its usual accompaniments of anger and contempt and self-righteousness, blinds us to the reality of the other person. We cannot ‘see clearly’ how to assist our brother, because we cannot see our brother. And we will never know how to truly help him until we have grown into the kind of person who does not condemn. Period” (DC, 224). Willard’s statement may be accurate in general terms, if it is interpreted properly, but I suggest that Jesus is saying something more precise. As Husserl points out, one uses one’s eyes to look at objects and people. The reference point should not be ceasing condemnation but rather gaining clear sight. The contrast is not between judging and not judging, but between judging and understanding.

Swine and Dogs

Moving on to pearls and pigs, Willard questions the standard interpretation: “We may have certain wonderful treasures, of truth and of service perhaps, that we could give to others. Perhaps the ‘treasure’ is the very gospel itself. But there are some who are not worthy of those treasures. We have to watch for such people. Normally they are thought of as people who will not accept our ‘treasure’ or would not use it rightly. They are the ‘pigs’ or the ‘dogs’ in question. And we are not to waste our good things on these worthless or evil people. So goes the standard reading of verse 6” (DC, 228). Obviously, Willard is reacting to the attitude of regarding ‘us’ as part of the ‘inside group’ that has a monopoly on absolute ‘truth’. This belief that ‘I am valuable because I have the truth and you do not’ is a natural byproduct of basing Perceiver truth in the MMNs of personal status. As Willard says, “Our ‘pearls’ often are offered with a certain superiority of bearing that keeps us from paying attention to those we are trying to help. We have solutions. That should be enough, shouldn’t it? And very quickly some contempt, impatience, anger, and even condemnation slips into our offer” (DC, 229).

As usual, Willard’s description of the problem make sense. However, he then defines what Jesus and God do as the opposite of what the world does, which makes childish judgment the reference point: “Let us be clear once and for all that Jesus is not suggesting that certain classes of people are to be viewed as pigs or dogs. Nor is he saying that we should not give good things and do good deeds to people who might reject or misuse them. In fact, his teaching is precisely the opposite. We are to be like the Father in the heavens, ‘who is kind to the unthankful and the evil’” (DC, 228).

Looking at this cognitively, I suggest that judgment is unavoidable. That is because the mind is always driven by core mental networks, and these mental networks will ‘judge people’ by imposing their structure upon the MMNs that represent people. We see this principle illustrated by Willard in two ways. First, he usually judges the kingdom of God to be the opposite of childish thought. Second, when Willard examines specific situations ‘without judging’, he is actually being guided by the TMN of the philosophy of Husserl and we have seen that this philosophy is imposing its judgment upon his interpretation of Christianity, the Bible, and the nature of God. Going further, when God ‘is kind to the unthankful and evil’, then I suggest that God is actually applying the ‘judgment’ of universal thought by placing both good and evil individuals under the rule of the same universal laws. Willard complains that “It is hard to imagine anything more opposed to the spirit of Jesus than this. Indeed, the very coming of Christ, the pearl of God, into the world, would be a case of pearls before pigs thus understood” (DC, 228). However, I suggest that the coming of Jesus to Earth was, to a large extent, a case of throwing pearls to the swine. This is clearly portrayed in Matthew 12 and 13. In Matthew 12 Jesus heals a man who is blind and mute and the Pharisees respond by saying that he is casting out demons by the ruler of the demons. Jesus realizes that they are incapable of accepting the truth, tells them that they are committing the unpardonable sin, and in Matthew 13 he begins teaching only in parables. In Matthew 23 he changes his approach and attacks the Pharisees directly in public with his eight woes. In Matthew 26, these ‘pigs and dogs’ respond to his teaching by planning to kill him and in Matthew 27 he is crucified. Thus, Jesus does stop teaching others directly when they show themselves to be ‘pigs and dogs’ and he resumes teaching others directly only when it is time for him to die, knowing that they will turn and tear him to pieces.

Willard says that “The problem with pearls for pigs is not that the pigs are not worthy. It is not worthiness that is in question here at all, but helpfulness. Pigs cannot digest pearls, cannot nourish themselves upon them. Likewise for a dog with a Bible or a crucifix. The dog cannot eat it. The reason these animals will finally ‘turn and rend you,’ when you one day step up to them with another load of Bibles or pearls, is that you at least are edible” (DC, 229). What Willard is saying is true. It is important to give others what is appropriate for helping them. But the best way to know what to share at the right time is by being guided by a general understanding of how the mind works. This understanding allows one to judge where a person is in the process of reaching mental wholeness and then share what is appropriate for taking the next step, just as a physical map allows one to judge where one is so that one can know what step must be taken to get closer to one’s destination. In contrast, the typical ‘witnessing fundamentalist Christian’ does not share truth primarily to help others but rather to satisfy internal demands imposed by MMNs of duty and self-denial. Willard rightly complains about “our efforts to correct and control others by pouring our good things, often truly precious things, upon them — things that they nevertheless simply cannot ingest and use to nourish themselves. Often we do not even listen to them. We ‘know’ without listening” (DC, 229). But I suggest that the best way to escape this problem is to be guided by the TMN of an understanding of how things work, because one will then realize that preaching too much prevents people from learning how things work, and one will focus upon helping people to understand the universal truth that they are encountering in real life.

Holiness and pearls are both expressions of deep value. True holiness (as opposed to the Mercy holiness of regarding something as special and then protecting it behind physical and mental walls) emerges when some MMN is reborn within an environment guided by the TMN of a universal concept of God. A pearl forms over time as a person responds to some irritant in a transformative manner. In contrast, Willard regards free will as the ultimate value, indicating his Contributor perspective: “God has paid an awful price to arrange for human self-determination. He obviously places great value on it. It is, after all, the only way he can get the kind of personal beings he desires for his eternal purposes. And just as we are not to try to manipulate others with impressive language of any kind (Matt. 5:37), so we are not to harass them into rightness and goodness with our condemnings and our ‘pearls’ or holy things” (DC, 230).

Jesus speaks next about asking: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8). We see here the social form of Jesus’ earlier instructions that one should merely state yes and no without swearing. The purpose of saying only yes and no is to permit Perceiver thought to function without being overwhelmed by MMNs. Similarly, the purpose here is to allow personal identity to function within a grid of general Teacher understanding. Stated simply, one allows the system to function. Willard describes the universal nature of this existence: “We cannot have one posture toward God and a different one toward other people. We are a whole being, and our true character pervades everything we do. We cannot, for example, love God and hate human beings” (DC, 232). Thanksgiving in prayer is a way of admitting to Teacher thought that personal identity exists within a structure that is an expression of general Teacher understanding: “Thanksgiving will be a constant theme just because that is the reality of our relationship to God. Thanksgiving goes hand in hand with praise. We are thankful when we know we are living under the provisions of his bountiful hand” (DC, 244).

Looking at this another way, a physical landscape does not need human help either to exist or to be governed by a set of universal natural laws, and every baby is born in a body that occupies a certain location in this landscape. In contrast, a mental landscape that is governed by a universal Teacher understanding must be constructed, and when reborn personal identity begins to live within this mental landscape, it is fragile and can be torn apart. All of one’s physical body naturally exists within the physical environment. But this will only occur mentally if all of the MMNs of personal identity are reborn within a grid of God’s character. As Willard says, “Life in the kingdom of God is not something we do, like investing in the stock market or learning Spanish, that allows us to reserve dominion over our own life and use the kingdom for our purposes. We have to surrender the inmost reality of the self to God as expressed in Jesus and his kingdom. We cannot ‘use’ it while holding our inmost self back from it” (DC, 233). Note that one is not submitting to the MMN of some individual in a self-denying fashion. Instead, one is submitting to the TMN of a general concept of God and choosing to exist within the framework of truth and righteousness that was formed by following the principles of the previous chapters. Willard describes a primary characteristic of what it means to live within a grid of understanding: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer... stresses that in the spiritual community there is never any immediate relationship between human beings. Another way of saying this is that among those who live as Jesus’ apprentices there are no relationships that omit the presence and action of Jesus. We never go ‘one on one’; all relationships are mediated through him” (DC, 236). Using the language of mental symmetry, MMNs of personal identity do not interact directly. Instead, they are placed within the grid of understanding and this grid buffers them from direct conflict. Saying this more personally, I am always aware of where I am and where others are within the ‘map’ of mental maturity and wholeness. I do not expect either myself or others to jump instantly from one location in this map to another. Instead, I recognize that everyone, including myself, can only move step-by-step from one location in this map to another. Willard quotes Bonhoeffer as saying “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal that we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” (DC, 237).

Willard says that there are two kinds of cause-and-effect: “One is entirely under our control. The other, which works through the request, is not. If you have weeds in your garden or a flat tire... you had better just pull the weeds or fix the tire if you can... If you have a friend who is addicted to heroin, however, or lost in the jungles of intellectual faddishness, then whatever else you may do to help him, you had better pray. Not just because ‘fixing him’ is beyond you, but because it is good it should be beyond you” (DC, 240). Expanding on this, natural cause-and-effect can be analyzed using abstract technical thought and can be manipulated by using concrete technical thought. For instance, I can understand what causes a tire to go flat and I can learn the skill of fixing a flat tire. Requests, in contrast, are directed at people. But we know that libertarian free will does not exist. Instead, a person will be driven to behave in a manner that is consistent with core mental networks. God appears to manipulate humans and society at this level of mental networks. Because God is a spirit, and because the spiritual realm interacts with mental networks, God can ‘know a person’s heart’ and be able to predict how a person or society will respond in a given situation. Similarly, when God is answering a prayer, his preferred method is to first transforms people’s mental networks so that they are capable of handling the answer. One corollary of this is that there is no point in praying to God about something that does not affect mental networks: “Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about ‘good things’ that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start by praying for what we are truly interested in. The circle of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love” (DC, 242).

Willard mentions another aspect of living in a structure held together by a general Teacher understanding, which is the tension between the perfection of Platonic forms and the imperfection of real life: “The human condition... is one of labor, glory, dust, and death. It is one of constant incongruity between human dreams and dignity, on the one hand, and human realities, on the other. We are incarnate and finite beings, trailing clouds of overaspiration and ragged incompleteness. When our ‘spirituality’ disconnects from the natural contexts and relationships that are always there nevertheless, one of the chief signs of what is happening is that we lose our ability to laugh” (DC, 238). Platonic forms will always be more perfect than real life, because they emerge as Teacher thought looks for the pure, perfect essence of real experiences. For instance, the Platonic form of a circle is an internal image that is more perfect than any physical circle in real life.

Laughing at this incongruity is far healthier than clinging to MMNs of finite existence. As Willard says, “One of the things that disappear when we are grinding away at others with our condemnations, blamings, and ‘pearls’ is, precisely, laughter. We become insufferably grim” (C, 238). But it is also important to laugh in the right manner, because laughter is a sign of emotional belittling. One laughs about things that are not important. Laughing at the discrepancy between Platonic forms and reality is good, but it is even better for reality to become more like the perfection and simplicity of Platonic forms. A quote from a few pages back describes this sort of thing: “Some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen are elderly people whose souls shine so brightly their bodies are hardly visible” (DC, 211). There is a kind of humor that belittles important subjects which should be avoided, like many of the jokes about St. Peter and the Pearly Gates. But there is also a form of humor that reveals deep truths. For instance, I like the joke about the man who falls off a cliff and grabs onto a branch on his way down. As he sees the branch gradually giving way, he calls “Is there anyone up there?”, to which a voice responds “Let go of the branch.” After a moment, the man responds, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Asking, seeking, and knocking are aspects of living within a mental landscape without attempting to use emotional pressure to overwhelm this structure. (If the structure of the spiritual realm is an external expression of internal content, as many suggest, then this type of internal existence would be a prerequisite for living within the spiritual realm.) Willard describes how this affects social interaction: “Once I back away, maintaining a sensitive and nonmanipulative presence, I am no longer their problem. As I listen, they do not have to protect themselves from me, and they begin to open up. I may quickly begin to appear to them as a possible ally and resource. Now they begin to sense their problem to be the situation they have created, or possibly themselves. Because I am no longer trying to drive them, genuine communication, real sharing of hearts, becomes an attractive possibility” (DC, 231).

Willard says that “Our confidence in God is the only thing that makes it possible to treat others as they should be treated” (DC, 235). Jesus gives two illustrations of this confidence: “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:9-11). Notice that Jesus talks about a son asking a father, which implies that MMNs of personal identity have become an expression of the TMN of a concept of God. When personal identity exists within a general Teacher understanding, then the temptation is to try to protect the general theory by belittling others or withdrawing to the confines of one’s ‘castle in the air’. One can see both of these tendencies illustrated by abstract technical thought. For instance, whenever I examine a new book or author, there is always the possibility that the theory of mental symmetry will fail to explain this new material. Using figurative language, the new material may turn out to be a stone that I cannot crack, instead of a loaf that can be broken apart, chewed upon, digested, and added to my body of knowledge. Turning to the other example, Teacher thought deals with lines, sequences, and strings. A snake is visually a ‘living string’ with a minimum of structural content. Because humans are finite and vulnerable, it is always possible that some transcendent or traumatic experience will overwhelm the mind and turn, snakelike, into a simplistic Teacher theory that overwhelms understanding. In other words, when one attempts to live in a grid of Teacher understanding, then mystical experiences become the enemy of life under God, because they are too simplistic to include life. The promise is that one will receive fish and not snakes. Fish live in the water of Mercy experience but, like loaves, they too can be broken apart, swallowed, and digested. Whether this interpretation of loaves and fishes is valid or not, I can state with certainty that these two fears exist. (And if one applies this definition of a snake to the temptation in the Garden of Eden, then the details of that story also make cognitive sense.)

Open Theism

I have suggested that God lives in generalities while humans live in specifics, and that the ‘will of God’ is usually described in generalities that can be fulfilled in a number of different specific ways, leaving substantial room for human freedom. Similarly, Willard suggests that God’s “nature, identity, and overarching purposes are no doubt unchanging. But his intentions with regard to many particular matters that concern individual human beings are not” (DC, 246). I was led to this conclusion by the relationship between a concept of God and a concept of personal identity that occurs within the mind and by the relationship between the universal natural laws of physics and specific physical experiences. In addition, this interpretation appears to be consistent with the Bible as well as personal experience. Willard gives a Contributor reason, focusing upon free will: “All of physical reality, quarks and all, is subject to his [God’s] will. Our own body is, to a significant degree, immediately responsive to our thought, desire, and will” (DC, 247). I agree with Willard’s conclusion; however, I suggest that one can go further than merely proclaiming that ‘all of physical reality is subject to God’s will’. Adding the word ‘quarks’ makes this sound more scientific, but it does not add any details to the explanation.

Willard says that “God’s ‘response’ to our prayers is not a charade. He does not pretend that he is answering our prayer when he is only doing what he was going to do anyway. Our requests really do make a difference in what God does or does not do. The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best” (DC, 244). Willard adds that he “was raised in a theology that presents God as a great unblinking cosmic stare, who must know everything whether he wants to or not, and who never in the smallest respect changes his mind about what he is going to do” (DC, 245). I agree that prayer becomes psychologically impossible — and human existence meaningless — if one really believes that God is only pretending to be affected by human words, human character, and human conduct. This topic is explored in more detail in an essay on open theism.

I suggest that there is a cognitive reason why most evangelical theologians are so averse to discussing the concept of open theism. I have mentioned that one can only transform core mental networks by replacing them with an alternative set of mental networks. This same principle applies when attempting to transform the TMN of a mental concept of God. In other words, the only way to transform an inadequate concept of God is by replacing it with a more adequate concept of God. The fundamentalist concept of God is based in words that are reinforced by MMNs of personal status. When a mental network continues to receive inconsistent input, then it will start to fall apart and it will respond to this threat of disintegration by generating strong hyper-emotions, similar to the way that a habit that is in the process of being broken generates exceptionally strong urges. Teacher thought wants theories to apply universally without exception. When the Teacher theory of a concept of God is based in the words of the holy book, then the natural way to universalize this concept of God is by using words backed up by emotional status to verbally proclaim that God is universal. Hence, a strong doctrine in the sovereignty of God. But this doctrine of divine sovereignty is being severely tested in today’s postmodern and post-Christian world. As Willard points out, few Christians actually act as if God’s sovereignty extends to all of human existence. Instead, as long as a concept of a ‘sovereign God’ is based in words from a holy book, people will act outside of the religious realm as if God is not sovereign, to which theologians will verbally insist with even greater emotional fervor that God truly is sovereign, making the discrepancy between words and practice even more obvious, leading to a stronger verbal insistence. Accepting a doctrine of open theism threatens the integrity of a mental concept of God that is based in words and personal status. Thus, this must be avoided at all costs, even if everyone acts as if open theism is true. The way out of this dilemma is to construct a universal concept of God that extends beyond mere words and outside of the ghetto of religious experiences. That is what I am attempting to do using the theory of mental symmetry. Willard is able to describe this problem because he too has replaced his fundamentalist concept of God with a more adequate concept of God, namely, a concept of God based in the general Teacher theory of Husserl. This concept of God has its own weaknesses but in many ways it is more adequate than the fundamentalist version of God. One can tell that Willard’s mental concept of God is more adequate because it allows him to come up with many significant principles about spiritual transformation.

Willard then takes several pages to discuss prayer. If a mental concept of God is based in Teacher thought, and if Teacher thought uses words to construct theories, then it makes sense that one would use words to interact with a concept of God. This does not mean that all prayer involves words. For instance, Romans 8:26 says that “We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Cognitively speaking, the deep groanings suggest that the communication here is happening between core TMNs and core MMNs. (Note also that this type of prayer occurs at the end of the process of personal transformation, when personal identity is living within a general understanding of God’s character. These chapters are discussed in another essay.) As I suggested earlier, if a concept of God is based in a general Teacher understanding, then it is possible to make hypotheses about the nature of God based upon the nature of Teacher thought, as well as hypotheses about the nature of prayer by examining the interaction between Teacher thought and Mercy thought. These hypotheses can then be tested by comparing the predictions of mental symmetry with the descriptions in the Bible as well as the experiences of people.

Both mysticism and fundamentalism lead ultimately to the conclusion that the nature of God is unknowable. First, we have seen that mental content will threaten a Teacher ‘theory’ that is based in overgeneralization. Thus, mysticism must be mentally supported by the belief that God is too perfect to handle interaction with mortal humanity. Second, transcendence, a byproduct of fundamentalism, feels that I am too insignificant compared to the emotional status of God to be able to make any meaningful statements about God. To say anything about God would be pride. That is why God has historically been viewed by many as a ‘great unblinking cosmic stare’. In addition, viewing God from the perspective of Mercy thought will conclude that perfection is a state of being. If God is perfect, then any movement from his state of perfection would make him imperfect. In contrast, seeing God from the perspective of Teacher thought will conclude that perfection is a process, or way of functioning. The goal is not to reach some state of perfection and passively rest there, but rather to learn how to act and function righteously in a way that is consistent with the way that God acts. That is why one prays that the ‘will of God be done on Earth as it is in heaven’.

Willard describes this mentality, and says that he does not subscribe to it: “I am acquainted with highly placed intellectuals who hold that we know nothing of the nature of God. And yet they do not hesitate to affirm that it would be beneath God’s dignity to receive anything from human beings or to ‘answer’ a request. God is too ‘great’ to be bothered, like ‘great’ human beings, no doubt. But if we know nothing of the genuine nature of God, one might reply, we certainly do not know that. This is a very old prejudice, at least as old as Plato, who regarded the belief that the gods are ‘turned aside from their purpose by sacrifices and prayer’ as one form of insolence toward God” (DC, 252). “This unfortunate idea is reinforced from ‘the highest intellectual sources’ by classical ideas of ‘perfection,’ which stressed the necessity of absolute inalterability in God” (DC, 253). Willard says that he does not believe in this concept of God because of the historical record: “Far from fitting the classical pattern of God as ‘the Unmoved Mover,’ the God shown in the historical record is ‘the Most Moved Mover.’ This is the One who lives with us and whom we approach from within the community of prayerful love” (DC, 253). However, these ‘highest intellectual sources’ to whom Willard refers had access to the same historical record as Willard, and yet they ignored it while Willard does not. Why? The reason may be that Willard has a concept of God that is based in a Teacher understanding — the general theory of Husserl. And this general theory allows him to say at least some things about God and prayer. I too am making hypotheses about the nature of prayer and God, guided by a general understanding, and the fact that I have a general theory makes it emotionally possible for me to make these statements. I do not say this lightly, because the theory of mental symmetry forced me to think through my existing concept of God, and this process of thinking triggered strong emotions of self-denial and transcendence, such as ‘Who am I to try to understand God?’ and ‘God is too perfect to be described in human terms’. (This is discussed in more detail in Natural Cognitive Theology.)

Willard says that “To suppose that God and the individual communicate within the framework of God’s purposes for us, as explained earlier, and that because of the interchange God does what he had not previously intended, or refrains from something he previously had intended to do, is nothing against God’s dignity if it is an arrangement he himself has chosen” (DC, 253). I agree with this statement. However, it also sounds like something that Husserl would say. The general theory of Husserl has decided that communication between subject and object is of fundamental importance. Similarly, Willard suggests that God has decided that communication between man and God does not contradict God’s dignity.

Going further, Husserl says that one should examine specific situations in which subject and object interact. Willard uses this approach to examine prayer. He describes scientific studies on prayer. The most well-known study “dealt with 393 coronary care patients who had had heart attacks or severe symptoms. It was a double-blind study; neither the patients nor the medical staff caring for them knew who was being prayed for and who was not... Of the group prayed for, significantly fewer died, fewer required use of the most potent drugs, and not one had to be put on life support” (DC, 248). Willard concludes that “These carefully researched examinations of the effects of prayer on life show, I believe, that personality in its human form has effects — through appropriate exertions of thought, will, and desire — that work beyond the familiar channels of physical causation” (DC,249). Thus, Husserl’s concept of internal events makes it possible for Willard to go ‘beyond the familiar channels of physical causation’. This is good. In addition, Willard suggests that prayer involves communication with a real God that goes beyond mere ‘soul prayer’: “This ‘external’ kind of prayer is a matter of coming to a person other than oneself and asking that they do something that one cannot do oneself. It is coming to One who has repeatedly invaded human history and continues to do so. It is intelligently working with him to accomplish ends that fulfill his purposes in creation and in fostering human life upon the earth for a short while. It is therefore prayer of the spirit, or kingdom prayer, not mere soul prayer. Soul prayer is an exercise of powers inherent in the human being without reference to a ‘God beyond’” (DC, 249). This is similar to my suggestion that human interaction with God can be analyzed cognitively but is not necessarily limited merely to the cognitive. But what sort of God is Willard interacting with? One who ‘repeatedly invades human history’. Notice how Willard again views human history as the structure and God as the invader who violates this natural structure. In contrast, my goal is to try to understand the fuller structure of God’s plan in order to grasp the role that human history plays as an aspect of this divine plan. Willard says that humans intelligently work with God ‘to accomplish ends that fulfill his purposes in creation’. But Willard only refers to the personal, concrete aspect of the divine plan: “What God gets out of our lives — and, indeed, what we get out of our lives — is simply the person we become. It is God’s intention that we should grow into the kind of person he could empower to do what we want to do” (DC, 250). I fully agree with Willard that personal character development is one facet of the divine plan. But one can see what is missing from Willard’s analysis by comparing it with the writings of N.T. Wright. Wright focuses almost totally upon the larger picture of God’s plan in history — which Willard alludes to but never elaborates upon. (Going the other way, N.T. Wright largely ignores personal character development, defining righteousness as something that God imputes ‘juridically’ rather than a character trait that a person acquires. If one wants a more complete picture, one has to combine Willard with N.T. Wright, but that means going beyond technical thought, because I suspect that both Willard and Wright are Contributor persons who are using technical thought to squeeze existence into some limited theoretical structure. Like Willard, Wright’s theology also appears to be driven by an implicit TMN — the mindset of being a theoretical exegete.)

The Lord’s Prayer

That brings us to Willard’s analysis of the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer begins: “Our father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Cognitively speaking, a name describes personal identity from a Teacher perspective (rather than the normal Mercy perspective). For instance, the name ‘pharmacist’ describes an individual with a set of skills and knowledge that involve the field of pharmacy. God is described here as an invisible being who relates personally to many individuals, consistent with the idea of a being who is mentally represented by a TMN that is general which does not directly involve the physical realm of experiences. As I have mentioned, the standard practice in religion is to view holiness from a Mercy perspective, treating experiences, rituals, people, events, places, and objects as holy and then protecting this holiness by placing them behind walls. Cognitively speaking, the holy item or person is mentally represented by some special MMN, and the specialness of this MMN is protected by preventing Perceiver thought from building any connections between this MMN and the normal experiences of life.

The prophet Isaiah describes the cognitive fallacy behind worshiping an idol: “He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, ‘Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.’ But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god’” (Is. 44:14-17). Isaiah is pointing out the Perceiver connection between the half of the tree that is burned and the half that is worshiped. Both halves come from the same tree. Idolatry associates part of the tree with some emotionally potent MMN and then suppresses the Perceiver connection between this part of the tree and the rest of the tree. The idol worshiper is incapable of realizing this connection, because the Mercy emotions of worship overwhelm Perceiver thought. As Isaiah says, “They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination’” (Is, 44:18-19).

Jesus says, in contrast, that one should approach holiness from a Teacher perspective by regarding God’s name as holy. Teacher thought forms a general theory by focusing upon some (usually) verbal element and regarding this as more special (or holy) than other verbal elements.

One does not find these concepts in Willard’s analysis of the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. Instead, one finds something that sounds more like mysticism: “A common way of bringing ourselves into the ‘address’ position is to enter a deep, meditative reading of some choice passage of scripture. Martin Luther said that those well trained in ‘warming up the heart’ for prayer will ‘be able to use a chapter of Scripture as a lighter’... Reading or singing the great hymns, or using written prayers the Lord has given his people through the ages, are also extremely useful. This activity must not be hurried. Quiet, deeply meditative absorption of the words, receptive of images that fill out the realities they refer to, is sure to bring us to proper orientation before God. Certain bodily postures may also be useful in this regard. Luther, once again, recommends that we ‘kneel down or stand up with folded hands and eyes toward the sky’” (DC, 257). This is not Buddhist mysticism because Willard is advocating reading the Bible or singing hymns rather than staring at a candle or saying ‘Om’. Reading the Bible or singing hymns has some content, while staring at a candle or repeating some nonsense syllable is devoid of content. However, one can see the mystical bent by replacing the Bible with a physics textbook. Imagine if a physics teacher said that “A common way of bringing ourselves into the proper attitude regarding the universal laws of nature is to enter a deep, meditative reading of some choice paragraph in the physics textbook. Quiet, deeply meditative absorption of the words, equations, and illustrations is sure to bring us to the proper orientation regarding the universal laws of physics. It is recommended that one read a textbook when kneeling down or standing with folded hands and eyes toward the sky.” Phrased this way, one gains the impression that what Willard is suggesting contains more Mercy holiness than Teacher holiness. Willard’s summary of this phrase conveys a similar impression, because he suggests “that the name ‘God’ would be regarded with the utmost possible respect and endearment” (DC, 258).

I am not suggesting that one should only use Teacher emotions to approach God, or that physics textbooks contain no emotional Mercy experiences. Far from it. For instance, consider the following problem from an actual physics textbook: “You are kidnapped by political-science majors (who are upset because you told them political science is not a real science). Although blindfolded, you can tell the speed of their car (by the whine of the engine), the time of travel (by mentally counting off seconds, and the direction of travel (by turns along the rectangular street system).” This sample problem is full of Mercy emotions. But one is still supposed to keep the name of physics holy by approaching this problem from the Teacher perspective of the general equations of physics. One does not gain that impression from Willard’s description. Instead, Willard says that one should approach the name of God using the Mercy perspective of a child: “We want to remember that it is the prayer of an adoring child, somewhat jealous for its parent. And we want to let ourselves sense its longing that ‘Abba,’ who in this case really is ‘the greatest,’ should be recognized as such. We want to dwell on this meditatively and perhaps weep for sadness that God is not so understood. We want to enter into the alarm of the little child who stumbles across those who do not think its father or mother is the greatest and best” (DC, 259). Teacher holiness does create an emotional response. But it is different than the Mercy response being described here. For instance, it hurts me deeply when people treat God like an idiot who is ‘beyond’ rational thought. It brings me to tears when I see internally how much better the world would be if people allowed their minds to be organized and structured by the TMN of a universal concept of God. And it disturbs me greatly when Willard says that Jesus the incarnation of God is ‘a brilliant person’ and then turns around and treats God, whom Jesus is the incarnation of, in an infantile manner.

I have suggested that process of personal salvation can be divided into the three stages of constructing a mental concept of God, becoming righteous by following this concept of God, and then becoming reborn within the grid of understanding held together by the concept of God. One can see these three stages in the Lord’s prayer. The verse we have just examined talks about forming a concept of God. The next verse talks about righteousness: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). One sees rebirth into a kingdom of God in the final verse: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (v. 13).

Willard talks about righteousness: “We are therefore asking that, by means beyond our knowledge and the scope of our will, we be assisted to act within the flow of God’s actions. But we are also praying over the dark deeds of others in the world around us. We see how they are trapped in what they themselves often disown and despise. And we are especially praying about the structural or institutionalized evils that rule so much of the earth... Culture is seen in what people do unthinkingly, what is ‘natural’ to them and therefore requires no explanation or justification. Everyone has a culture — or, really, multidimensional cultures of various levels. These cultures structure their lives. And of course by far the most of everyone’s culture is right and good and essential. But not all. For culture is the place where wickedness takes on group form, just as the flesh, good and right in itself, is the place where individual wickedness dwells. We therefore pray for our Father to break up these higher-level patterns of evil. (DC, 260). This is a good prayer, but I suggest that Willard is unclear of the distinction between culture, habit, human righteousness, and righteousness. Culture is guided by MMNs of personal status. One behaves in a certain manner in order to receive approval from ‘them’; one receives disapproval from neighbors for behaving in a way that violates social norms. Habit is based in pure repetition. Whenever Server thought repeats some action, this repetition builds Server confidence, and the resulting habit is implicitly backed up by a nonverbal Teacher theory based in the essence (or typical sequence) of the habit. Habit acts in a certain manner because ‘that is the way we have always done things’. Human righteousness is Server action that is explicitly guided by some written Teacher theory, such as the rules of a bureaucracy, a set of regulations, or the knowledge and skills of some specialization. Finally, righteousness is Server action that is explicitly guided by a general Teacher theory based in how things work, which has formed a mental concept of God. Willard lumps together culture and habit. These generally occur together, but they are driven by different cognitive mechanisms. Willard also describes the human righteousness which leads to the ‘structural or institutionalized evils that rule so much of the earth’. But Willard does not define righteousness. Instead he views God’s righteousness as the disruption of culture, habit, and human righteousness. Again we see God’s kingdom being described as the opposite of man’s kingdom, and God being viewed as a disruptor of human order rather than as a source of divine order.

Moving on, the phrase “give us this day our daily bread” (v. 11) could refer to our daily needs: “The emphasis is on provision today of what we need for today. This is because God is always present today, no matter which day it is” (DC, 261). But the phrase also makes sense within the context of righteousness. Righteousness is acting in a way that is consistent with Teacher understanding. This occurs in the present because one can only act in the here-and-now. But righteousness involves understanding and not just action. When one acts in a manner that is consistent with understanding, then this action builds Server confidence, which gives stability to Teacher understanding, making it possible to gain more understanding. Similarly, if one acts in a manner that is inconsistent with understanding, then this action will also build Server confidence, but because the Server sequence is inconsistent with the Teacher understanding, this will make it difficult to gain more understanding. Thus, there is a continual interplay between how I act today, becoming righteous, and gaining more understanding in Teacher thought. In other words, acquiring understanding could be compared with eating one’s daily bread, because each day one must break off a piece, chew on it, and digest it.

The next phrase is “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12). The word ‘debt’ (opheilema) means owing a debt or falling short of some legal standard. It does not mean doing something nasty to someone else. Cognitively speaking, the way one treats painful MMNs that affect personal identity will heavily influence one’s concept of God. First, an attitude of bitterness that clings to painful MMNs without forgiving will lead to the TMN of a concept of God who does not forgive. In other words, the general understanding will treat the painful experience as a fundamental, un-changeable, universal aspect of personal existence. One sees this described in verses 14-15: “If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Second, if one views painful MMNs as falling short of the TMN of some concept of God, then the way that one deals with these painful MMNs will be regarded as a universal principle by Teacher thought, leading to a concept of God that forgives me the way that I forgive others. In the first case, MMNs are imposing themselves upon the TMN of a concept of God, while in the second case, the Server sequences that lead from one MMN to another are influencing the TMN of a concept of God. When cultural MMNs are sufficient to guide behavior, then there is no need to bring God into the picture. It is when cultural MMNs are inadequate — when a debt occurs — that one looks to Teacher thought and a TMN for assistance, but only if one regards sin as falling short of some TMN and not just as violating an MMN. We saw a similar principle previously when looking at righteousness and altruism.

Willard says some good points about this verse, but he frames the discussion in terms of personal MMNs rather than in terms of the TMN of a concept of God by using the word ‘pity’: “I have used the word pity through much of this discussion of ‘forgive us our sins,’ rather than the word mercy or the even more dignified compassion. This is because only pity reaches to the heart of our condition. The word pity makes us wince, as mercy does not... I need pity because of who I am. If my pride is untouched when I pray for forgiveness, I have not prayed for forgiveness. I don’t even understand it” (DC, 264). Willard is saying that forgiveness should emotionally touch MMNs of personal identity. This is a good point, especially for the Contributor person, who tends to view justice in impersonal, technical terms. Willard also emphasizes the need to forgive one’s parents and relates this to the Ten Commandments: “We each of us have a deep, biological need to honor our parents. This need is reflected in the commandment: ‘Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that your God Jehovah has given you’ (Exod. 20:12)... Even if they are good people, it is almost always true that they have been quite wrong in many respects, and possibly still are” (DC, 264). This is also an important point. That is because experiences with parents form powerful MMNs within the mind of the child and part of growing up means analyzing and mentally digesting these MMNs. But both of these important points deal with the Mercy side of forgiveness. Thus, we see again that Willard is ignoring Teacher thought.

Willard’s systematic focusing upon Mercy thought to the exclusion of Teacher thought illustrates the effect that a general Teacher theory has upon thought. Willard is not just ignoring Teacher thought as a result of a lack of training, the way that a typical preacher would do. Instead, he is using abstract technical thought to avoid general Teacher theories in a systematic and coherent manner, guided by a general Teacher theory that says that one should not be biased by a general Teacher theory. We asked at the beginning of this essay why Willard is associated with the emergent church. The average emergent church adherent is guided by postmodern thought, which thinks that all truth is based in personal power and thus sees no need to learn from earlier sources that have now become discredited. Willard, in contrast, is well-versed in the historical sources, but he is driven by the TMN of his philosophy to systematically focus upon the pragmatic side of theology while ignoring abstract theology. In other words, Willard does not just ignore theology. Instead, he constructs a systematic un-theology. This inherent contradiction makes it necessary to examine Willard in extensive detail, while his systematic approach makes it possible.

It is interesting that the Lord’s prayer contains two ‘likes’, which operate in opposite directions. Humans are supposed to act in a way that is like the way that God acts in heaven. And God forgives in a way that is like the way that humans forgive on earth. Cognitively speaking, the first ‘like’ involves Server thought while the second involves Perceiver thought. Server thought is supposed to act in a way that is consistent with the TMN of general understanding. This lays the foundation for rebirth of culture and personal identity within Mercy thought. Going the other way, Perceiver thought is supposed to think in a way that applies the same Perceiver facts to all personal MMNs. This lays the foundation for a universal concept of God within Teacher thought.

Moving on, verse 13 says “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Willard says that “This request is not just for evasion of pain and of things we don’t like, though it frankly is that. It expresses the understanding that we can’t stand up under very much pressure, and that it is not a good thing for us to suffer. It is a vote of ‘no confidence’ in our own abilities... The bad things that happen to us are always challenges to our faith, and we may not be able to stand up under them” (DC, 265). I agree with Willard that this is a request to avoid ‘pain and things we do not like’. However, I suggest that it is a Teacher request and not a Mercy request. One is asking to be a member of the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of Satan. This is brought out in the rest of the verse: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” (v.9). A Mercy request asks to avoid specific unpleasant experiences. A Teacher request asks to be ruled by a new set of universal laws. The previous part of the prayer (as well as the Sermon on the Mount in general) is constructing the TMN of a kingdom of God. The request in verse 13 is to live as a citizen in this kingdom of God. In contrast, Willard phrases this request in negative terms. Instead of appealing to the universality of TMN of the kingdom of God, he bases his request upon the weaknesses of the MMNs of personal identity. MMNs of personal identity are weak and vulnerable when they attempt to operate on their own. But the emphasis of this passage is upon the adequacy of the TMN of the kingdom of God and not upon the inadequacy of MMNs of personal identity.

Willard says that it is possible to gain confidence in God’s kingdom, but he bases this confidence upon human experience rather than upon an understanding of God’s universal nature: “Our bedrock certainty of this will stand firmly upon our many experiences of the presence and goodness of our Father. We will have firsthand experience of how his strength is brought to perfection in our lives precisely by our weaknesses, combined with hopeful faith” (DC, 266). What Willard says is true, but it is still only the experiential side of the picture.

Willard suggests that “Suffering and ‘bad things’ happening to us are not the Father’s preferred way of dealing with us — sometimes necessary, perhaps, but never what he would, on the whole, prefer” (DC, 267), and I fully agree. Willard adds that “We project upon God the sadistic tendencies that really are present in human beings. Given the anger, hatred, and contempt that pervades human society, it is not uncommon that individual human beings actually enjoy the suffering of others. One of our worst thoughts about God is that he too enjoys human suffering” (DC, 267). I totally agree with Willard’s description of the problem. But how does one solve this problem? As I suggested before, if religion is based in Mercy respect for God and the Bible, then one will assume that following God means denying self, and this will turn into the TMN of a concept of a God who loves human suffering (similar to the way that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others). Willard is able to escape this mindset implicitly because his mind is actually governed by the TMN of the philosophy of Husserl. Similarly, the average person today questions the concept of a ‘God who enjoys human suffering’ because we live in a consumer society full of good gadgets and experiences that result from living within a world that (to some extent) submits to the general Teacher understanding of science.

Willard gives an example that illustrates the implicit effect that modern technology has upon Teacher thought: “At other times I will use just the words of the address, ‘Our Father filling the heavens,’ to establish and reestablish address and orientation as I go through the day. For some reason I especially profit from using those words while driving Los Angeles freeways. They put the vast, sprawling urban landscape, with a greater population than many nations, into its proper perspective before God” (DC, 268). Driving along the freeways of Los Angeles is an excellent illustration of what it means to live within a grid of a general understanding, for these highways literally form an integrated grid that makes it more efficient to travel from one location to another. However, it is a physical grid rather than an internal grid, and it is primarily an example of human righteousness rather than God’s righteousness. This network of highways was constructed by humans, who also provided an extensive set of written regulations that guide how one should traverse these highways. And these written regulations are enforced by human authorities. When Willard focuses upon ‘our Father filling the heavens’ while driving LA freeways, his concept of God is growing in generality not because of acting in a manner that is consistent with an internal understanding of universal principles of how things work, but rather because of acting in a manner that is consistent with an external structure of man-made principles of how people move. I am not suggesting that Willard’s response is wrong. Rather, I am pointing out again how the philosophy of Husserl helps Willard to explore the practical sides of theology, while preventing him from fully developing this theology.

The False Prophet

We now come to the final section of the Sermon on the Mount. One of the major themes of this essay, and of the Sermon on the Mount, is the limitations of Contributor-controlled technical thought. One might gain the impression from this that Contributor thought is inherently deficient, but that is not the case, because it is also possible for Contributor thought to work within the larger context of mental networks. Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (v. 13-14). Practical Contributor thought makes choices and follows a plan in order to improve some bottom line. There is a bottom line in the Sermon on the Mount, but the goal is not to improve some MMN but rather to transform mental networks, because the choice is between life and death, between mental networks that enable life and remain integrated and mental networks that imprison or fall apart. Contributor-controlled technical thought always works with some limited set of Perceiver facts and Server sequences. This narrowing of thought and action is still required in the Sermon on the Mount because the Server sequence and Perceiver gate that leads to life is narrow.

Contributor thought can work with mental networks in one of two primary ways. The Sermon on the Mount describes the narrow path, which chooses not to build upon MMNs of status and popularity. However, the Contributor person can also become skilled at manipulating the mental networks of society in order to achieve personal status. That describes the thinking of the Contributor demagogue.

Jesus describes the thinking of this demagogue or false prophet: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (v.16). ‘False prophets’ cannot be trusted. These emerge naturally from an attitude of fundamentalism, because Perceiver truth is based in MMNs of personal status and truth is presented through words. When truth is expressed through words, then the only way to spread truth is by talking, and when truth is based in MMNs of personal status, then the only way to get people to believe truth is by manipulating MMNs. Because people can only judge what they can see, manipulating MMNs means acting and talking publicly in a manner that resonates with the MMNs of an audience. Because self-denial is a core attribute of fundamentalism, a religious ‘false prophet’ will publicly ‘wear the clothing’ of a meek sheep who practices self-denial. However, this same false prophet will also be driven privately and internally by childish MMNs. That is because fundamentalist belief only remains intact as long as the source of truth has much greater emotional status than the MMNs of personal identity. By becoming a source of truth, the false prophet gains social status, which will cause him to doubt the truth that he is preaching. Thus, not only will the false prophet be internally driven by childish MMNs, but these MMNs will function free of the social constraints that regulate normal activity. That is why the false prophet is ‘inwardly a ravenous wolf’ and not just a normal person inside. Summarizing, the false prophet preaches truth by manipulating audiences emotionally, he appears humble in public, but in private he is driven by unbridled power and hedonism. Unfortunately, both religious and secular examples are easy to find.

Contributor thought works with Perceiver facts and Server sequences that are sufficiently well made. Jesus says that one can test mental networks by looking at fruit: “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (v. 16-20). A mental network will drive a person to produce external ‘fruit’ that is consistent with the structure of the mental network. Jesus emphasizes this consistency. If a person naturally behaves in a ‘prickly manner’, then this indicates that there are prickly mental networks inside, and these mental networks will not lead to good fruit. A person naturally wants pleasant results. Therefore, if mental networks drive a person to produce unpleasant results, then that person will attempt to suppress these mental networks (cut down the tree that does not bear good fruit), which will lead to frustration (the branches will be thrown into the fire). This frustration is a sign that something is being suppressed inside.

Jesus then talks about two primary ways in which the path of reaching life will be distorted. First, he says that “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (v. 21). I suggest that this describes the weakness of Christian fundamentalism, with its focus upon verbally asserting the words of a holy book. Jesus does not say that no one will enter who verbally calls Jesus Lord. Instead, he says that not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven. Thus, it is good to have correct abstract theology, but it is not enough. Instead, a Teacher understanding of the character of God needs to be applied in Server action.

Second, Jesus says that “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (v.22-23). This statement is typically applied to the charlatan televangelist, and that may be true, but there aren’t too many religious faith-healing quacks, while this passage talks about many responding in this manner. We have seen that science is guided by abstract technical thought with its mathematical equations. A concept of incarnation emerges within the mind as abstract technical thought combines with concrete technical thought, and the description of Jesus in the Gospels is consistent with being a Contributor person. Thus, it is cognitively accurate to say that science calls upon the name of Jesus. And what does science primarily do with the ‘name of Jesus’? First, it makes predictions. In religious terms, it prophesies. Second, it disproves and rejects thinking that is driven by childish MMNs. In other words, it casts out demons. Third, science leads to technology which performs many powerful and amazing works (the Greek word is dunamis, which is generally translated power). But science is also objective; it transforms the physical world but does not apply the transforming work of the name of Jesus to the subjective and the personal. The objective nature of science is seen in Jesus’ statement that he does not know these people — they have not applied technical thought to personal identity. These individuals are rejected as lawless, because they know what it means to think in a lawful manner with natural law and they choose not to apply this lawful thinking to personal identity. Thus, they are rejected by their own technical standard as unknown and lawless.

Finally, Jesus contrasts the mental foundation with the superstructure that is built upon this foundation. This distinction is very important to the Contributor person because Contributor thought takes a limited set of Perceiver facts and Server sequences and then uses these as the ‘rules of the game’ for manipulating other facts and sequences. Jesus portrays this not as playing a game but rather as building a house for personal identity. In other words, instead of being like the professional soccer player who begins by pursuing the objective bottom line of kicking a ball into a net, and then find that this objective bottom line turns into a MMN that becomes part of personal identity, Jesus’ illustration of building a house explicitly treats personal identity as the bottom line: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall” (v. 24-27). The Sermon on the Mount has focused upon building a solid foundation. Water is a picture of raw Mercy experience (it is matter without shape; Mercy experience without the stability of Perceiver facts). Wind is a picture of raw Teacher thought (it is an invisible power in the air). What Jesus appears to be describing here is strong emotional pressure. If the mental foundation is solid, then the structure in which personal identity lives will remain intact. However, if the mental foundation is not solid, then there will be a great personality crisis. It is common for the Contributor person to have a midlife crisis in which he climbs to the top of some ladder of success and then realizes that he has climbed the wrong ladder. Using the language of Jesus, he has built his house upon the wrong foundation.

I have suggested that Jesus was a Contributor person, and we have just interpreted Jesus’ words from a Contributor perspective. One might gain the impression from this analysis that Jesus’ message applies only to the Contributor person, but I suggest that that is not the case. Instead, one needs to distinguish between Contributor control, Contributor-controlled technical thought, and mature Contributor thought. It is possible for the Contributor person to function in a controlling manner with his mental ‘foot on the brake pedal’. (The subthalamus is the brain location for this ‘brake pedal’.) This type of Contributor person does not give freedom to cognitive modules. Contributor-controlled technical thought, in contrast, coordinates the activity of several cognitive modules. However, it does so in a rigorous manner that only gives some freedom to these cognitive modules. The type of mature Contributor thought that Jesus is describing also coordinates the activity of other cognitive modules. But it does so in a manner that gives these other cognitive modules the freedom to function independently. Thus, even though Jesus is describing the mind from a Contributor perspective, he is describing a mind that is functioning in a whole manner. This explains why the church is referred to as the ‘body of Christ’ with ‘Christ as the head’. Contributor thought functioning in a mature manner does coordinate the operation of cognitive modules. But it does so in a manner that encourages each cognitive module to develop its full potential. Presumably, a real Contributor incarnation of God would function in a similar manner to coordinate the functions of different individuals via their mental concepts of incarnation. We have seen that Willard also describes the mind from a Contributor perspective, but he is describing a mind that is somewhat whole and somewhat free (but still more free than the mind under Contributor-controlled technical thought).

Apprentices of Jesus

Now let us turn to what Willard says about this passage. Looking at the ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’, Willard says that “All one has to do to identify those who would mislead us is watch what they do and pay little attention to what they say. What they do will be the unerring sign of who they are on the inside. Trees and plants manifest their nature in their fruit: figs by bearing figs and not grapes. And what people do reveals, when thoroughly and honestly considered, the kind of person they really are (Matt. 7:16 — 20). Those to be trusted are the ones who actually learn to do what Jesus taught was best. Calling him ‘Lord,’ or even doing astonishing things in his name, is no substitute” (DC, 274). Thus, we see that Willard is avoiding the fundamentalist path of giving merely verbal assent to truth and focusing instead upon applying this truth in action.

But Willard interprets the rest of this passage in terms of Server actions: “The one who hears him and does what he says accordingly builds the house of his or her life to be totally indestructible. The house is built upon a rock, not upon sand, where the winds of life will knock it down. And all this is to say, in plain contemporary language, ‘Just do it!’... The narrow gate is not, as so often assumed, doctrinal correctness. The narrow gate is obedience — and the confidence in Jesus necessary to it... The broad gate, by contrast, is simply doing whatever I want to do. The fruit of the good tree is obedience, which comes only from the kind of person we have come to be (the ‘inside’ of the tree) in his fellowship. The wolf in sheep’s clothing is the one who tries to fake discipleship by outward deeds” (DC, 275). Notice how how each illustration is interpreted in terms of Server action — doing. Willard goes beyond mere habit by focusing upon the internal MMNs that motivate action, but there does not appear to be a deeper analysis. Instead, the main theme of this chapter is copying the example of parents and teachers: “One thing is sure: You are somebody’s disciple. You learned how to live from somebody else. There are no exceptions to this rule, for human beings are just the kind of creatures that have to learn and keep learning from others how to live. Aristotle remarked that we owe more to our teachers than to our parents, for though our parents gave us life, our teachers taught us the good life... Originally we are the disciples of our parents or other family members most intimately related to us. Usually this is very good. They may be dear, strong people who know God and walk in his ways... Then we are the disciples of our teachers, then of our playmates and peers — one of the most potent of ‘discipling’ relationships — then perhaps again of our teachers. But now, in our teens and twenties, our teachers play quite a different role. They do much to set in stone the major thrusts of our more or less consciously chosen self-image that will make or break us in the important connections of our life” (DC, 272).

Willard is stating an important lesson that many Contributor persons need to learn: “It is hard to come to realistic terms with all this. Today, especially in Western cultures, we prefer to think that we are ‘our own person.’ We make up our own minds. But that is only because we have been mastered by those who have taught us that we do or should do so. Such individualism is a part of the legacy that makes us ‘modern.’ But we certainly did not come by that individualistic posture through our own individual and independent insight into ultimate truth” (DC, 271). The Contributor person likes to think that he is a ‘self-made man’, but the Contributor person is far better at improving ideas than coming up with ideas in the first place. Instead, it is quite common for the successful Contributor to steal ideas from others without acknowledging or rewarding the source. That is one major reason why it is in the Contributor person’s best interest to give freedom to other cognitive modules. His originality comes from them and not from conscious thought. However, following role models is not the same as righteousness. Willard is describing the process by which character is shaped by the MMNs of respected people, such as parents and teachers. Righteousness, in contrast, means having character shaped by the TMN of a mental concept of God. Willard is accurate in suggesting that our character is shaped by mental networks. But he does not discuss being shaped by a TMN — because his thinking is being shaped by the TMN of the philosophy of Husserl, which rejects the concept of being shaped by a TMN. Therefore, Willard states categorically that ‘you learned how to live from somebody else’ and that ‘there are no exceptions to this rule’.

But like Husserl, and unlike the typical postmodern focus upon social interaction, Willard recognizes that one can also be shaped by internal examples: “The most exalted outcome of submersion in the risen Christ is the transformation of the inner self to be like him. So the kingdom of the heavens, from the practical point of view in which we all must live, is simply our experience of Jesus’ continual interaction with us in history and throughout the days, hours, and moments of our earthly existence” (DC, 280). This focus upon being guided internally by an MMN representing the invisible person of Jesus is very significant, but it skips over the fact that Jesus is an incarnation of God who is the ‘word made flesh’. In the words of Willard, “What is it, exactly, that he, the incarnate Lord, does? What, if you wish, is he ‘good at’? The answer is found in the Gospels: he lives in the kingdom of God, and he applies that kingdom for the good of others and even makes it possible for them to enter it for themselves. The deeper theological truths about his person and his work do not detract from this simple point. It is what he calls us to by saying, ‘Follow me’” (DC, 283). Notice how Willard ignores the ‘deeper theological truths’ of incarnation and reduces discipleship to the ‘simple point’ of copying the example of Jesus.

But Willard says on the same page that he spends most of his time thinking about the ‘deeper theological truths’ of philosophy: “My main role in life, for example, is that of a professor in what is called a ‘research’ university. As Jesus’ apprentice, then, I constantly have before me the question of how he would deal with students and colleagues in the specific connections involved in such a role. How would he design a course, and why? How would he compose a test, administer it, and grade it? What would his research projects be, and why? How would he teach this course or that?” (DC, 283). It is good to follow the example of Jesus. But Willard is doing more. Instead, he is following the example of Jesus and regarding Jesus as an incarnation of philosophy, because Jesus guides how he translates the general Teacher theories of philosophy (especially the philosophy of Husserl) into the practical world of experiences with his students. (The problem is not with following a general Teacher theory. That appears to be cognitively inevitable for anyone who studies theology or philosophy. Rather, the problem lies with following a Teacher theory that causes one to systematically exclude significant aspects of Christianity.)

As usual, Willard accurately describes the problem: “As his disciple I am not necessarily learning how to do special religious things, either as a part of ‘full-time service’ or as a part of ‘parttime service.’ My discipleship to Jesus is, within clearly definable limits, not a matter of what I do, but of how I do it. And it covers everything, ‘religious’ or not” (DC, 284). When religious truth is based in MMNs, then one will naturally regard some aspects of life as religious because they relate to the MMNs that are the source of truth and other aspects of life as secular. As Willard points out, this type of thinking is fundamentally flawed.

And Willard describes a critical practical aspect of what it means for Jesus to be the incarnation of God: “To every person we can say with confidence, “‘You, in the midst of your actual life there, are exactly the person God wanted.’ The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels show us how to live the life we have been given through the time, place, family, neighbors, talents, and opportunities that are ours. His words left to us in scripture provide all we need in the way of general teachings about how to conduct our particular affairs” (DC, 284). Mercy thought deals with experiences while Teacher and Server thought work with sequences. Thus, one critical aspect of being driven by Teacher understanding is to focus upon how one does something rather than the experiences in which one lives. Similarly, science focuses upon the path taken by an object as it flies through the air while ignoring the identity of this object. But the reference point for Willard is still ‘the life we have been given through the time, place, family, neighbors, talents, and opportunities that are ours’ — the MMNs of personal identity and culture.

Willard also recognizes the significant point that doing one’s job ‘the way that Jesus would do it’ sometimes means not doing things the way that people would do it: “A gentle but firm noncooperation with things that everyone knows to be wrong, together with a sensitive, nonofficious, nonintrusive, nonobsequious service to others, should be our usual overt manner” (DC, 285). This is an important principle which I refer to as interacting with others on on a contract basis. What guides my life is the TMN of a general understanding, and my interaction with others involves some limited subset that is consistent with my general Teacher understanding. Thus, I regard interaction with others as puzzle pieces that fit into the general picture of my Teacher understanding, because I want to explicitly follow my concept of God, and not just be implicitly swallowed up by the TMNs of modern society. What Willard suggests is slightly different. Notice that he is choosing not to cooperate ‘with things that everyone knows to be wrong’. Thus, he is being guided by the MMNs of society. He adds that “In my opinion, at least, as long as one is on the job, all peculiarly religious activities should take second place to doing ‘the job’ in sweat, intelligence, and the power of God. That is our devotion to God. (I am assuming, of course, that the job is one that serves good human purposes.)” (DC, 286). Notice that the standard guiding Willard is not the TMN of a concept of God but rather the MMNs of ‘good human purposes’. I am not suggesting that following God leads to bad human purposes, but rather that the Mercy realm of ‘good human purposes’ needs to be an expression of the Teacher understanding of a concept of God. Saying this another way, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and not the first. As usual, Willard is addressing a legitimate problem, because he is attempting to avoid the fundamentalist approach of ‘serving God’ by adding religious MMNs to a secular setting. But he rejects this fundamentalist approach not for theological reasons but rather because it does not work: “I once knew of a case in an academic setting where at noon one professor very visibly took his Bible and lunch and went to a nearby chapel to study, pray, and be alone. Another professor would call his assistant into his office, where they would have sex. No one in that environment thought either activity to be anything worth inquiring about” (DC, 286). And Willard still seems to be regarding being a disciple of Jesus as something secondary that modifies the TMN of his professional career, rather than regarding his professional career as a subset of the TMN of his understanding of God.

This inverted priority is illustrated by the example that Willard gives: “As his apprentices, we are personally interacting with him as we do our job, and he is with us, as he promised, to teach us how to do it best. Few have illustrated this better than Kirby Puckett, thirteen years the centerfielder for the Minnesota Twins baseball team. He had a career batting average of .318, made the All-Star lineup ten years in a row, and won six Golden Gloves for defensive play. He was one of the most loved men ever to play the game, and a well-known Christian” (DC, 287). It is commendable to play baseball with a good Christian attitude. But why is someone who devoted his life to the objective practice of hitting a ball with a piece of wood being regarded as an example of following God? Life is more than baseball. This illustrates what happens when one regards being a disciple of Christ as a subset of doing one’s job. Life would be better if people did their jobs with the Christian attitude. But life would be even better if people quit pursuing careers that glorified the useless — or the destructive.

There is a sense in which Willard is right. If God lives in generalities, and if humans live in specific experiences, then it is important for me to follow God within the specific experiences of the life in which I find myself. Being a disciple does not mean practising religious self-denial by heading halfway around the world to serve God in some impoverished country. Instead, it means being a disciple in my present location and my current job. But if God lives in generalities, then this means that God is very concerned about the overall structure of my life, my general sense of priorities, and the underlying values that guide my specific goals. And it is at this general level where the person who is ‘doing his job as a Christian’ is not seeking or following the kingdom of God. For instance, one would think that the theory of mental symmetry would be very helpful as a business seminar, and many individuals who do similar research make a living giving seminars to governments and corporations. However, I have discovered that mental symmetry does not work within the corporate environment because it says too much. It does not just help people to sell more products, it also questions why they are building their life around selling products. It does not just make them better employees, it also shows up shortcomings in the entire business culture. Truly following God as a disciple means following a better system and not just playing a more competent role within the system. That is the kingdom of God. Willard recognizes the struggle that is occurring at this more general level: “Currently the minds and souls of Christians and non-Christians alike are constantly hammered by the innumerable fists of an ‘information society’ and an inescapably media-saturated social consciousness set squarely against the reality of the kingdom of God... It is silently but ponderously conveyed by our entire system of education, Christian and otherwise. The essential teachings of Jesus emphatically do not receive its stamp of approval” (DC, 306). But describing the problem is not the same as coming up with an adequate answer.

If one does not extend the kingdom of God to this more universal level, then other structures, such as the habits of ‘how we do things’, will take the place of the kingdom of God. Again, Willard describes the problem succinctly: “The weight of the tradition of client, or consumer, Christianity, which now without thought dominates the local congregations and denominations of Christian people — indeed, the entire Christian culture — stands against any such intention — not consciously, perhaps, but just by the inertia of ‘how things are,’ of the daily rounds and what ‘has to get done.’ This established order can actually keep pastors or teachers in a church setting from thinking of making disciples as an issue that concerns them at all” (DC, 303).

Moving on, Willard mentions another important point about discipleship. ‘Counting the cost’ of being a disciple is typically viewed as being honest about all that one has to give up in order to follow Jesus. That is because fundamentalist belief leads naturally to an attitude of self-denial. However, Willard says (and I agree) that counting the cost actually means comparing the benefits of being a disciple of Jesus with what one loses if one is not a disciple. Referring to the parables in Matthew 13 that compare the kingdom of God with discovering a hidden treasure in a field or finding a pearl of great price, Willard says that “These little stories perfectly express the condition of soul in one who chooses life in the kingdom with Jesus. The sense of the goodness to be achieved by that choice, of the opportunity that may be missed, the love for the value discovered, the excitement and joy over it all, is exactly the same as it was for those who were drawn to Jesus in those long-ago days when he first walked among us” (DC, 292). Using cognitive language, Willard says that being a disciple makes sense from the viewpoint of concrete technical thought. The practical Contributor person naturally thinks in terms of cost and benefit, opportunity, and the bottom line. Willard is emphasizing that being a disciple does not mean denying self but instead is a form of enlightened selfishness. As it says in Hebrews 12, we should “Run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Jesus did ‘count the cost’, and he concluded that the ultimate benefit was worth the cost of enduring the cross. This is a very important point, but it still involves only concrete Contributor thought. What is missing is the way that abstract Contributor thought transforms and supercharges the goal-oriented behavior of concrete Contributor thought. Jesus was not just a human Contributor person. Instead he was an incarnation of God who became flesh to live on earth as a human Contributor person.

And Willard also describes what may be the most powerful reason for being a disciple of Jesus: “There is a widespread notion that just passing through death transforms human character. Discipleship is not needed. Just believe enough to ‘make it.’ But I have never been able to find any basis in scriptural tradition or psychological reality to think this might be so. What if death only forever fixes us as the kind of person we are at death? What would one do in heaven with a debauched character or a hate-filled heart? Surely something must be done now” (DC, 302). I mentioned earlier that one of the benefits of recognizing the spiritual realm is is that one views death as the continuation of personal life rather than as the interruption or end of physical life. An attitude of fundamentalism will think that going to heaven means completely denying self and focusing totally upon God with an attitude of fervor, as one sees described in the endless worship of Revelation 4. This will lead to the assumption that ‘passing through death transforms human character’. Like Willard, I think that this assumption is both scripturally and psychologically faulty. That is because the mind integrates around core mental networks. When one lives in a physical body, then it is possible to use embodiment to make up for inadequate mental networks. Even if my mind is falling apart, my body will still stay in one piece. Thus, I suggest that embodiment should be seen not as an excuse or a limitation but rather as an opportunity. Because my body helps to hold my mind together, it is possible to transform my mind in major ways and acquire a new set of core mental networks. This is no longer possible once the body is gone, which means that death ‘fixes us as the kind of person we are death’, and we will then be naturally and irresistibly attracted to the kind of environment that resonates with our core mental networks. As Willard says, ‘What would one do in heaven with a debauched character’? Swedenborg describes this type of divine judgment and I think that his description makes sense (though much of Swedenborg’s theology and detailed description of heaven do not make sense). What I would add to Willard’s concept of divine judgment is the impact of TMNs. In order to flourish as a disembodied mind, it is not enough to merely have healthy MMNs. One also needs to live within a general structure that promotes personal wholeness and well-being. (We will see later that Willard mentions this in RoH.) For instance, there is no point in having a beautiful house if war engulfs the country. Instead, one wants a beautiful house within a law-abiding country. That is one major reason why I keep emphasizing having the concept of a God of eternal order and structure and not just the concept of a God who invades human order and structure. Christians say that heaven means living with God, but this is not just an idle statement. Instead, it describes a very deep need. I have referred repeatedly to rebirth as placing the MMNs of personal identity within the grid of a general understanding held together by the TMN of a concept of God. We do not realize the importance of this because our physical bodies currentlylive inescapably in a universe governed by universal natural law. When one dies, one does not just leave the physical body, one also leaves the physical universe. It is easy to ask God for miracles when one exists securely within the structure of a well-ordered universe. But suppose that one lived in a realm of miracles. The chaos and lack of order would be hell. Willard intimated this in his discussion of miracles.

To some extent, Willard addresses the need for a transformed understanding. Abstract thought uses Perceiver facts or beliefs as mental ‘bricks’ to construct the edifice of a general Teacher understanding. Willard emphasizes that Perceiver beliefs need to be changed, but he does not appear to recognize that these beliefs need to be placed within the structure of a new understanding. Again, this is consistent with the philosophy of Husserl, which emphasizes accurate facts while downplaying general understanding: “We always live up to our beliefs — or down to them, as the case may be. Nothing else is possible. It is the nature of belief. And the reason why clergy and others have to invest so much effort into getting people to do things is that they are working against the actual beliefs of the people they are trying to lead” (DC, 308). Why do people ‘live up to their beliefs’? Because a system of beliefs will turn into a TMN and that TMN will impose its theoretical structure upon thought and behavior.

But instead of presenting discipleship as an integrated curriculum, Willard presents it as a collection of fragmented attempts to acquire specific character traits. For instance, Willard says “Imagine, if you can, discovering in your church letter or bulletin an announcement of a six-week seminar on how genuinely to bless someone who is spitting on you... Or suppose the announced seminar was on how to live without purposely indulged lust or covetousness. Or on how to quit condemning the people around you. Or on how to be free of anger and all its complications” (DC, 314). Willard goes beyond merely acquiring new habits to addressing the MMNs that motivate these habits: “The emphasis all too often is on some point of behavior modification. This is helpful, but it is not adequate to human life. It does not reach the root of the human problem. That root is the character of the inner life, where Jesus and his call to apprenticeship in the kingdom place the emphasis” (DC, 315). And Willard points out the disconnection that exists in academia between Perceiver belief and personal behavior: “I sometimes joke with my students at the university where I teach by asking them if they believe what they wrote on their tests. They always laugh” (DC, 317). He points out that Christian belief means acting as if something is true: “Nearly every professing Christian has some information about the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, and other standard doctrines. But to have the ‘right’ answers about the Trinity, for example, and to actually believe in the reality of the Trinity, is all the difference in the world. The advantage of believing in the reality of the Trinity is not that we get an A from God for giving ‘the right answer.’ Remember, to believe something is to act as if it is so” (DC, 318). What Willard says is very significant. But it still involves primarily concrete Contributor thought — the connection between Perceiver facts and practical Contributor plans. This portrays ‘Christ in you’ as an ethical man who follows God but not as an incarnation who proceeds from God.

One can see this pragmatic focus in what Willard calls the two primary objectives of discipleship: “The first objective is to bring apprentices to the point where they dearly love and constantly delight in that ‘heavenly Father’ made real to earth in Jesus and are quite certain that there is no ‘catch,’ no limit, to the goodness of his intentions or to his power to carry them out” (DC, 321). It is very important to believe that following God leads to good Mercy experiences for personal identity. But notice that Willard is limiting his concept of God the ‘heavenly Father’ to God revealed through Jesus in concrete existence as an ethical man following God. Willard adds that “The second primary objective of a curriculum for Christlikeness is to remove our automatic responses against the kingdom of God, to free the apprentices of domination, of ‘enslavement’ (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6), to their old habitual patterns of thought, feeling, and action. These are the ‘automatic’ patterns of response that were ground into the embodied social self during its long life outside The Kingdom Among Us” (DC, 322). It is imperative to re-build the MMNs of childhood that are the result of embodiment. Using the language of Paul, one must die to the flesh, and come alive to the spirit. But I suggest that this is done by re-birthing MMNs of personal identity within an internal framework of truth and righteousness held together by the TMN of a concept of God. In contrast, Willard focuses upon disrupting the body: “The training that leads to doing what we hear from Jesus must therefore involve, first, the purposeful disruption of our ‘automatic’ thoughts, feelings, and actions by doing different things with our body. And then, through various intentional practices, we place the body before God and his instrumentalities in such a way that our whole self is retrained away from the old kingdoms around and within us and into ‘the kingdom of the Son of His love’” (DC, 322). This was examined earlier when looking at SoD.

The Nature of God

I am not suggesting that Willard avoids theory and understanding. Far from it. His combination of philosophy and fundamentalism leads to a number of insights regarding Teacher thought and the nature of God.

Willard points out that the order-within-complexity of the universe implies the existence of some divine being with great Teacher order: “All of ‘natural’ reality, including you and me, owes its existence and therefore its astonishing order and magnificence to something other than itself” (DC, 326).

Teacher thought functions emotionally and looks for universal theories. A concept of God that is based in Teacher thought will result in love for a being who is universally present: “If anyone is to love God and have his or her life filled with that love, God in his glorious reality must be brought before the mind and kept there in such a way that the mind takes root and stays fixed there. Of course the individual must be willing for this to happen, but any genuine apprentice to Jesus will be willing. This is the very lesson apprentices have enrolled in his school to learn” (DC, 324). “When we come to the task of developing disciples into the fullness of Christ, we must be very clear that one main part, and by far the most fundamental, is to form the insights and habits of the student’s mind so that it stays directed toward God. When this is adequately done, a full heart of love will go out toward God, and joy and obedience will flood the life” (DC, 325). In other words, if a concept of God feels more universal, then this will lead to powerful emotions associated with God.

One can make a concept of God feel more universal either by making it more general or by thinking about it more often. The Orthodox Christian Church uses primarily the second method. The extreme example is that of hesychasm, mentioned earlier, in which one says the Jesus prayer so often that it becomes ever-present within the mind. The theory of mental symmetry uses the first method, by attempting to construct a general theory. Willard also appears to be advocating the use of rational thought to extend a concept of God: “After times of study and teaching, we will pay most attention precisely to the puzzles and ambiguities in our own minds and in the minds of our hearers. What makes no sense? What is not understood? These unclarities are more important than questions about evidence or proof, though the latter are not to be slighted. Most but not all uncertainties in the minds of disciples — and this is only somewhat less so for people in general — are the result of unclarities and failures to understand. These shut down confidence and love, and we must never rest until they are cleanly dispersed from the mind” (DC, 328).

Perceiver thought deals with specific facts and beliefs. Teacher thought assembles these ‘bricks’ into a general understanding. If one wants to interact emotionally with God, then one must go beyond holding on to specific Perceiver beliefs. Willard points out that remaining at the level of specific Perceiver beliefs is a shortcoming of “theology on the right. It tends to be satisfied with having the right doctrines or traditions and to stop there without ever moving on to consuming admiration of, delight in, and devotion to the God of the universe. On the one hand, these are treated as not necessary, because we have the right answers; and on the other hand, we are given little, if any, example and teaching concerning how to move on to honest and full-hearted love of God” (DC, 329).

Willard also recognizes that one does not have to use technical thought to think about God: “The other harmful myth that I should mention here is the idea that one has to be some kind of profoundly technical scholar to deal effectively with questions about God as creator. Certainly we do need technical scholars, and we should treasure them and pray for them. Today they are in short supply among Jesus’ people. Perhaps you should become one. But the work of presenting the lovely God through his creation is basic pastoral work, and it is the work of a friend or neighbor” (DC, 331).

So far, what Willard advocates is consistent with mental symmetry. However, Willard concludes that the only way to construct a rational concept of God is by starting with the Bible and focusing upon the life of Jesus: “More often than not, it is not evidence or proof they need. They need someone to make sense of God in relation to what they are sure, rightly or wrongly, they know about themselves and their world. Surely there is reason by now to conclude that this cannot be done except through God’s self-disclosures and, I think, through Jesus above all” (DC, 330). Saying this more succinctly, Willard concludes that what mental symmetry has done ‘cannot be done’. He concludes this because the abstract technical thinking of philosophy has failed to construct a mental concept of God: “Modern attempts to think about God independently of historical revelation have been thoroughly victimized by currents of nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy that simply make knowledge of God — and maybe everything else — an impossibility. Indeed, something laughable” (DC, 329). Therefore, Willard builds his general concept of God primarily upon the description of Jesus in the Gospels: “The key, then, to loving God is to see Jesus, to hold him before the mind with as much fullness and clarity as possible. It is to adore him... we teach his beauty, truth, and power while he lived among us as one human being among others. The content of the Gospels should be explained and brought to life in such a way that the Gospels become a permanent presence and possession of the mind of the disciple” (DC, 334). Thus, we find ourselves again meeting the philosophy of Husserl: Focus upon the life of Jesus and do not be misled by assumptions or guided by a general theory.

Similarly, Willard says that one gains a love for God by focusing upon one’s own life: “We will never have the easy, unhesitating love of God that makes obedience to Jesus our natural response unless we are absolutely sure that it is good for us to be, and to be who we are. This means we must have no doubt that the path appointed for us by when and where and to whom we were born is good, and that nothing irredeemable has happened to us or can happen to us on our way to our destiny in God’s full world” (DC, 337). This reminds me of the joke of the person who was talking endlessly about himself and then finally said, “But enough about me. Let us talk about you. Tell me. What do you think of me?” What Willard says is significant. Giving one’s heart to a system that does not care about the well-being of the individual is a recipe for disaster. Communism and the First World War provide two striking examples. As always, Willard is addressing a legitimate problem: “Any doubt on this point gives force to the soul-numbing idea that God’s commandments are, after all, only for his benefit and enjoyment, and that in the final analysis we must look out for our selves. When the ‘moral failures’ of well-known Christians (and unknown Christians, for that matter) are examined, they always turn out to be based on the idea that God has required them to serve in such a way that they themselves must ‘take care of their own needs’ rather than being richly provided for by God” (DC, 338). Using cognitive language, religious self-denial assumes that following God means denying self. Going further, associating God with religious MMNs, combined with the objective nature of science, leads to the emergence of a secular realm where one does not think about God. This leads to the natural assumption that one can only find personal well-being in the secular realm apart from God. However, the solution to this problem is not to focus upon me but rather to construct a concept of God based upon universal principles of how things work, and then to learn how to behave in a manner that is consistent with these universal laws in order to find lasting personal well-being. Using religious language, the righteous person will naturally be blessed by God because he lives in a manner that is consistent with the character of God.

Transforming Mental Networks

Willard then discusses the importance of honoring father and mother: “At the heart of our own identity lies our family, and our parents in particular. We cannot be thankful for who we are unless we can be thankful for them. Not, certainly, for all the things they have done, for they may have been quite horrible. And in many cases we must come to have pity on them before we can be thankful for them... They are a part of our identity, and to reject and be angry with them is to reject and be angry with ourselves. To reject ourselves leads to sickness, dissolution, and death, spiritual and physical. We cannot reject ourselves and love God” (DC, 339). Using the language of mental symmetry, the childish mind integrates around MMNs that represent mother and father. Therefore, treating these mental networks with disrespect will cause deep emotional harm. This means that coming to terms with parental MMNs is a major aspect of becoming mature. But the only way to become truly free of one set of core mental networks is by building the mind upon another set of core mental networks. That is why the primary task is to construct the TMN of a mental concept of God. If this is not done then MMNs that represent parents will remain an aspect of identity, which is what Willard seems to be saying: “They are a part of our identity, and to reject and be angry with them is to reject and be angry with ourselves. To reject ourselves leads to sickness, dissolution, and death, spiritual and physical.”

When undesired mental networks remain in charge of the mind, then submitting to these mental networks will minimize internal conflict, but one will still experience painful consequences by operating in a manner that violates how things work: “If we think we are facing an irresistible cosmic force of evil, it will invariably lead to giving in and giving up — usually with very little resistance. If you can convince yourself that you are helpless, you can then stop struggling and just ‘let it happen.’ That will seem a great relief — for a while. You can once more be a normal human being. But then you will have to deal with the consequences. And for normal human beings those are very severe” (DC, 343).

Therefore, personal transformation means changing the childish MMNs that were acquired through embodiment: “There is almost nothing we do as adult human beings that does not depend on our body’s ‘knowledge’ taking over. Speaking, kitchen work, and driving about in our community are things we have to think very little about as we do them. Unfortunately this remains true when what our body ‘knows to do’ is wrong” (DC, 344).

Fundamentalism leads naturally to the attitude of transcendence, which concludes that God does everything in the process of personal transformation and I do nothing. In practice, this ends up replacing transformation with fervor — focusing upon God in order to deny self: “The importance of the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be overemphasized. But today our practice in Christian circles is, in general, to place almost total emphasis on the apex of this triangle, the work of the Spirit of God for or on the individual. This takes various forms, depending on the history and outlook of the individual or group. Very commonly church participation is recommended on the basis of how it will change our lives, because God will be there and we will be just overwhelmed” (DC, 348). In other words, the assumption is that fervor will lead to MMNs of religious experience, which will overwhelm the mind through their emotional intensity.

However, instead of using MMNs to overwhelm Perceiver thought, one should gain the confidence to be able to use Perceiver thought in the presence of emotions, and this Perceiver confidence can only be acquired gradually as belief is tested within emotional situations and survives intact: “It is absolutely essential to our growth into the ‘mind’ of Jesus that we accept the ‘trials’ of ordinary existence as the place where we are to experience and find the reign of God-with-us as actual reality. We are not to try to get in a position to avoid trials. And we are not to ‘catastrophize’ and declare the ‘end of the world’ when things happen. We are to see every event as an occasion in which the competence and faithfulness of God will be confirmed to us. Thus do we know the concrete reality of the kingdom of the heavens” (DC, 350).

What Willard has said so far lines up with mental symmetry. But when it comes to developing a general theory of personal transformation, then Willard steps back and says that one should focus upon specific events and the example of Jesus: “Not only is the outcome of our progression in the kingdom not under our control, but we are not told in any systematic way how to do our part in the process... Perfectly general instructions simply cannot be given... The assumption of the way of Jesus is that we will, once we have decided to ‘hear and do,’ do whatever is required to carry out the decision. The precise details of this process will be modeled and picked up by the devoted individual from the group, from redemptive history, and from the good sense of humankind. And that is exactly what we see when we look at the history of Jesus’ people” (DC, 350). Thus, Willard is providing the general instruction that there are no general instructions; he is telling us systematically that there is no systematic way. Unfortunately, that describes the philosophy of Husserl.

Willard then turns to the spiritual disciplines that were discussed in SoD: “We do not just hear what Jesus said to do and try to do that. Rather, we also notice what he did, and we do that too. We notice, for example, that he spent extended times in solitude and silence, and we enter solitude and silence with him. We note what a thorough student of the scriptures he was, and we follow him, the Living Word, into the depths of the written word. We notice how he used worship and prayer, how he served those around him, and so forth. We have Bibles with red letters to indicate what he said. Might we not make a good use of a Bible that has green letters for what he did? Green for ‘go,’ or ‘do it’?” (DC, 352).

Willard adds that “Being a man of the scriptures, Jesus understood that it is the care of the soul or, better, the care of the whole person, that must be our objective if we are to function as God designed us to function” (DC, 352). Willard’s statement is correct, but that is precisely what Willard does not do in his approach to Jesus. Jesus was not just a man. Instead his ‘whole person’ included human and divine. (And probably angelic as well, if the theophanies of the ‘Angel of the Lord’ in the Old Testament are pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus. Jesus definitely exhibited traits, such as healing power and mind-reading, that one encounters when reading about the angelic/UFO realm.)

Because Willard does not present a set of core mental networks to which one is heading, he ends up defining personal transformation in terms of the childish mental networks of embodiment from which one is being transformed: “Somewhat ironically, perhaps, all of the ‘spiritual’ disciplines are, or essentially involve, bodily behaviors. But really, that makes perfect sense. For the body is the first field of energy beyond our thoughts that we have direction over, and all else we influence is due to our power over it. Moreover, it is the chief repository of the wrong habits that we must set aside, as well as the place where new habits are to be instituted” (DC, 354). And Willard regards these physical ‘spiritual’ disciplines as axiomatic — the core mental networks upon which one bases the process of personal transformation: “There has been abuse and misunderstanding, no doubt, but the power of solitude, silence, meditative study, prayer, sacrificial giving, service, and so forth as disciplines are simply beyond question” (DC, 355). Notice how Willard regards these disciplines as ‘simply beyond question’.

In contrast, mental symmetry defines personal transformation as heading towards a way of functioning in which all seven cognitive modules work together in harmony. What holds this approach together is not one’s physical body but rather one’s spiritual gift, a definition of personal identity that is expressed through a physical body but is independent of the physical body.

Willard suggests that one’s relationship to God’s kingdom goes through five stages as one follows the process of becoming transformed: “1) Confidence in and reliance upon Jesus as ‘the Son of man,’ the one appointed to save us... 2) This confidence in the person of Jesus naturally leads to a desire to be his apprentice in living in and from the kingdom of God... we live within his word, that is, put his teachings into practice (John 8:31). And this progressively integrates our entire existence into the glorious world of eternal living... 3) The abundance of life realized through apprenticeship to Jesus, ‘continuing in his word,’ naturally leads to obedience. The teaching we have received and our experience of living with it brings us to love Jesus and the Father with our whole being: heart, soul, mind, and (bodily) strength. And so we love to obey him, even where we do not yet understand or, really, ‘like’ what that requires... 4) Obedience, with the life of discipline it requires, both leads to and, then, issues from the pervasive inner transformation of the heart and soul... 5) Finally, there is power to work the works of the kingdom. One of the most shocking statements Jesus ever made, and once again it was in his ‘commencement address,’ was that ‘those who rely on me shall do the works I do, and even greater ones’” (DC, 368). Looking at this cognitively, the starting point is fundamentalist belief in Perceiver facts about Jesus. Practical Contributor thought then adds Server actions to these Perceiver facts. The resulting Contributor plan is then extended by reading about Jesus and putting his words into practice. As this Contributor plan continues to be followed, it causes mental networks to emerge which emotionally motivate a person to naturally follow Jesus. One can tell that a person is being motivated primarily by MMNs rather than TMNs because ‘we love to obey him, even where we do not yet understand’. These new mental networks of obedience replace existing MMNs leading to a ‘pervasive inner transformation of the heart and soul’ and this inner transformation motivates a person to behave in ways that transcend normal activity.

Notice that this process involves primarily concrete thought and physical discipline. Abstract thought may be present, but it is secondary to concrete thought. As Willard summarizes, “We must be intelligently active in stages or dimensions 2 through 5. We do this by unrelenting study under Jesus, and in particular by following him into his practices and adapting them to form an effective framework of spiritual disciplines around which our whole life can be structured” (DC, 369). However, Willard himself did not use only concrete thought. Instead, he spent his life in a profession that regards abstract technical thought as superior to all other forms of thinking, and he took fifteen years to write an abstract tome on the philosophy of Husserl, a philosophy that appears to shape everything that Willard says about God, Jesus, and Christianity. But nowhere in these five stages do we find the recognition that general understanding in Teacher thought will shape one’s practice in concrete thought. Instead, Willard says that “In order to implement something like a curriculum for Christlikeness in the context of a local assembly of believers, it will usually be vital to just do certain things and not talk a lot about them — at least until some time later” (DC, 371).

Driven by Vision

But Willard clearly describes the Platonic forms that are the indirect result of a general understanding in Teacher thought, and how these Platonic forms shape one’s internal visions: “Those who have apprenticed themselves to Jesus learn an undying life with a future as good and as large as God himself. The experiences we have of this life as his co-conspirators now fill us with anticipation of a future so full of beauty and goodness we can hardly imagine” (DC, 375). I am motivated by a similar internal image of how things could be. But this vision is the indirect result of a general understanding of how things work.

Willard recognizes that one must become internally transformed before one is capable of living in such a paradise: “The intention of God is that we should each become the kind of person whom he can set free in his universe, empowered to do what we want to do. Just as we desire and intend this, so far as possible, for our children and others we love, so God desires and intends it for his children. But character, the inner directedness of the self, must develop to the point where that is possible” (DC, 379). The type of internal character that is required to make this possible is one that functions naturally in a way that is consistent with how things work, which requires a general understanding of the ways of God.

Willard sees through the false vision portrayed by science: “We listen with a thrill and a shudder as our scientists and philosophers speculate on these subjects. Nearly always they speak of the future of the physical cosmos, and possibly of the human race as well. But they have no hope or thought of a future for the individual — not so much, even, as to discuss it” (DC, 377). Science does have a general Teacher understanding of how the natural world works, and this leads to potent Platonic forms about how things could be. But this vision of future perfection does not include the individual because the theories of science avoid the individual.

Willard describes what happens when one attempts to realize visions of human paradise without being guided by a general Teacher understanding of how things work: “The greatest temptation to evil that humanity ever suffers is the temptation to make a ‘Jerusalem’ happen by human means. Human means are absolutely indispensable in the world as it is. That is God’s intention. We are supposed to act, and our actions are to count. But there is a limit on what human arrangements can accomplish. They alone cannot change the heart and spirit of the human being. Because of this, the instrumentalities invoked to make ‘Jerusalem’ happen always wind up eliminating truth, or mercy, or both. World history as well as small-scale decision making demonstrates this. It is seen in the ravages of dictatorial power, on the one hand, and, on the other, in the death by minutiae that a bureaucracy tends to impose” (DC, 380). Dictatorial power uses the MMNs of personal status to impose change upon a society, while a bureaucracy is guided by a TMN of human righteousness based in how we organize and do things. In both a dictatorship and a bureaucracy, Platonic forms (which also form mental networks within the mind) are being overwhelmed by other more potent mental networks. Stated more generally, if the Teacher understanding that shapes Platonic forms is not explicitly recognized, then Platonic forms will be overwhelmed by other mental networks, because a Platonic form is a secondary mental network that depends upon the TMN of a general understanding for its structure, perfection, and emotional intensity.

Willard agrees that a vision of future paradise can only be maintained with a sufficiently powerful concept of God: “To share the prophetic vision, then, it is not enough to ‘sorta’ believe in a ‘sorta’ God. But with the great God of Jesus squarely in the picture, everything else takes on a different nature and appears in a different light. Human history is then no longer a human affair. It is Someone Else’s project” (DC, 383). But how can a ‘great God of Jesus’ be sufficiently powerful if one consistently ignores that Jesus is an incarnation of God? And how can one have a kingdom of heaven if one thinks only in terms of the physical universe? “We can be sure that heaven in the sense of our afterlife is just our future in this universe. There is not another universe besides this one. God created the heavens and the earth. That’s it. And much of the difficulty in having a believable picture of heaven and hell today comes from the centuries-long tendency to ‘locate’ them in ‘another reality’ outside the created universe” (DC, 392). I suggest that Willard’s statement regarding the physical universe is addressing a legitimate problem, because the religious attitude will naturally tend to think that ‘living with God in heaven’ means turning one’s back upon the physical universe in some sort of gnostic fashion. The book of Revelation clearly states that the new Jerusalem will not remain in heaven but rather come out of heaven down to earth. Cognitively speaking, the invisible Platonic forms that come from Teacher understanding will eventually express themselves in physical reality. But Revelation also states that there will be a new heavens and a new earth. Thus, while the afterlife will definitely include a future in some hyper-universe that may include the present universe, it will definitely be more than merely a future in this current universe. Again we see that Willard’s reference point is the TMN of the structure of this universe: “If there is anything we know now about the ‘physical’ universe, it surely is that it would be quite adequate to eternal purposes” (DC, 392). I agree that the physical universe is an aspect of God’s eternal purposes, but my research has led me to conclude that the present physical universe by itself is NOT ‘adequate to eternal purposes’.

Let us examine this further. We saw earlier that Husserl regards the connection between subject and object as fundamental. On the one hand, this makes it possible to consider the existence of a spiritual realm that is separate from the external realm of physical objects. On the other hand, this also leads one to conclude that the spirit and body are inseparably linked. One sees this same distinct-yet-linked viewpoint in Willard’s treatment of life-after-death and the physical universe. As usual, Willard’s official starting point is not general theory but rather specific description about Jesus’ post-resurrection body: “The absolute bedrock of their confidence concerning their future was, rather, in their experience of the postresurrection Jesus. He had a body: a focus of his personality in space and time that was publicly observable and interacted with physical realities. But it was radiant, and therefore it was called ‘the body of his glory’ (Phil. 3:21). And it was not restrained by space, time, and physical causality in the manner of physical bodies... In God’s universe matter is ultimately subject to mind or spirit. That is a given in the tradition of Jesus and his people” (DC, 396). Notice how the relationship between spirit and body remains, but the direction changes. Instead of the spirit being dependent upon the body, the body becomes an expression of the spirit. This is consistent with what Paul says in I Corinthians 15 (which Willard also quotes): “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (42-44).

The problem is that one can only think about cutting off the branch on which one is sitting as long as one does not actually do so, but if one ever were to cut off the branch, then one would fall to the ground and stop thinking. In other words, the present physical universe by itself is ‘quite adequate to eternal purposes’ and the ‘experience of the post-resurrection Jesus’ can be an ‘absolute bedrock of confidence’ as long as one is merely contemplating the future — while inhabiting a physical body within the physical universe. But if physical matter ever became an expression of spirit, then living within a spiritual body in a spiritually transformed world would by its very nature turn the ‘absolute bedrock of confidence’ into shifting sand. Thus, the only way to actually live in a spiritual realm and/or a spiritual body and maintain one’s sanity is by replacing physical stability with some other kind of stability, and the universal laws of nature with another set of universal laws. As far as I can tell, the best alternative is to find stability in the structure of the mind and the character of God, held together by the TMN of an understanding of how the mind functions and how God works. Without this alternate source of stability, one must conclude, as Willard does, that “The life we now have as the persons we now are will continue, and continue in the universe in which we now exist” (DC, 395).

Willard seems to regard the spiritual realm and the physical universe as inseparably linked. In contrast, I suggest that the spiritual realm, the mind, the physical universe, and the new heavens and earth are all distinct and separate domains subject to their own set of universal laws, and that these various sets of laws are related through similarity and symmetry. These various domains all find their unity in the character of God, and because man is made in the image of God, one can decipher the relationship between these various domains by understanding the structure of the human mind.

I like Willard’s vision of eternal existence: “We should not think of ourselves as destined to be celestial bureaucrats, involved eternally in celestial ‘administrivia.’ That would be only slightly better than being caught in an everlasting church service. No, we should think of our destiny as being absorbed in a tremendously creative team effort, with unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast plane of activity, with ever more comprehensive cycles of productivity and enjoyment” (DC, 399). But I want to build my mind upon a foundation that makes it possible to live in such a realm and not just contemplate it from a distance.

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