Trinity

In 1959, psychologist Milton Rokeach assembled three mentally ill patients each of whom believed he was Jesus Christ:

Leon: “People can use the same Bible but some of them will worship Jesus Christ instead of worshiping God through Jesus Christ.”

Clyde: “We worship both.”

Leon: “I don’t worship you. I worship God Almighty through you, and through him, and him.”

Clyde: “You oughta worship me, I’ll tell you that!”

Leon: “I will not worship you! You’re a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts.”

Clyde: “I’m living my life. You don’t wake up! You can’t wake up!”

Joseph: “No two men are Jesus Christs.”

Leon: “You hear mechanical voices.”

Clyde: “You don’t get it right. I don’t care what you call it. I hear natural voices. I hear to heaven. I hear all over.”

Joseph: “I’m going back to England.”

Leon: “Sir, if the good Lord wills only.”

Joseph: “Good Lord! I’m the good Lord!”

Leon: “That’s your belief, sir.”

Rokeach intended the study as an inquiry into the nature of identity: If there is only one son of God, how would these men react on encountering one another? He found that they explained the disagreement by calling one another crazy, duped, or disingenuous, but that the conflict was less damaging psychologically than might have been supposed. In his 1964 account of the experiment, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, Rokeach writes, “We have learned that even when a summit of three is composed of paranoid men, deadlocked over the ultimate in human contradiction, they prefer to seek ways to live with one another in peace rather than destroy one another.”

Round and Round

In describing a large water basin, 2 Chronicles 4:2 reads, “Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.” A similar verse appears at 1 Kings 7:23.

Critics point out that this implies that π is 3, and in 1983 about 100 professors and students at Emporia State University in Kansas founded an Institute of Pi Research to lobby (wryly) for adopting this new value in place of the awkward 3.14159 …

“To think that God in his infinite wisdom would create something as messy as this is a monstrous thought,” medieval historian Samuel Dicks told the Kansas City Times. “I think we deserve to be taken as seriously as the creationists.”

“If the Bible is right in biology, it’s right in math,” added economic historian Loren Pennington.

But writing in the Mathematical Gazette in 1985, M.D. Stern of Manchester Polytechnic noted (also wryly) that the word translated as line above is transliterated qwh but read qw. Further, the ancient Greeks and Jews used letters to denote numbers, with the letters q, w, and h taking the numerical values 100, 6, and 5.

“Thus the word translated line in its written form has numerical value 111 whereas as read the value is 106. If we take the ratio of these numbers as a correcting factor for the apparent value of π as 3 and calculate 3 × (111/106), we obtain 3.141509 to 7 significant figures. This differs from the true value of π by less than 10-4 which is remarkable. In view of this, it might be suggested that this peculiar spelling is of more significance than a cursory reading might have suggested.”

The War Prayer

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In 1905 Mark Twain wrote a story in which a pastor leads a prayer asking God’s support for recruits about to march away to war. A white-robed stranger enters, takes the pastor’s place, and explains that he has come from heaven. God has heard the prayer, but wants them to understand its full import. Their wish, cast in other words, is this:

Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Twain’s daughter Jean urged him not to publish the story, fearing that it would be seen as sacrilege.

“Still, you are going to publish it, are you not?” asked a friend.

“No,” Twain said after some reflection. “I have told the whole truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead.”

In the Wings

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When did Shakespeare’s plays come into existence? We tend to think they appeared when he conceived them.

But if God is omniscient, then he has perfect knowledge of the future. Before the creation, he knew that Shakespeare would compose the plays, and he knew the full text of each one.

“A consequence of the view that God knows everything about the future is that all compositions existed before creation,” writes philosopher Richard R. La Croix.

In this sense, “the coming into existence of any composition is an event which occurs prior to the events that cause it to occur” — and, in each case, an effect precedes its cause.

Know-It-All

In order for a god to be all-knowing, he must know even the fact of his own omniscience. But can he do this? He may know the totality of facts constituting the world; call this Y. But in order to know that he has mastered Y, he must also know that “There are no facts unknown to me” — and this is beyond Y.

It seems impossible that a god (or anyone) could ever be sure that nothing exists beyond his ken. “It makes no sense to imagine [a god] arriving at this limit, peering beyond it (at what?), and satisfying himself no further facts exist,” writes philosopher Roland Puccetti. But without this certainty he cannot be sure of his own omniscience, and so does not know everything.

A theist might argue that his god has created all the facts in existence. But an omniscient god would have to be sure of even this — that he is the sole creator, and that there are no facts unknown to him. And how could he come to this knowledge?

(Roland Puccetti, “Is Omniscience Possible?”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 1963)

Divine Mystery

A poem on transubstantiation by Luis de León, quoted by Robert Southey in Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal:

If this we see be bread, how can it last,
So constantly consum’d, yet always here?
If this be God, then how can it appear
Bread to the eye, and seem bread to the taste?
If bread, why is it worshipp’d by the baker?
If God, can such a space a God comprise?
If bread, how is it, it confounds the wise?
If God, how is it that we eat our Maker?
If bread, what good can such a morsel do?
If God, how is it we divide it so?
If bread, such saving virtue could it give?
If God, how can I see and touch it thus?
If bread, how could it come from heav’n to us?
If God, how can I look at it and live?

Brass Tacks

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Published in 1961, the New English Bible was an attempt to translate the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts of the Bible into modern English. Dwight MacDonald found this was “like finding a parking lot where a great church once stood.” As an illustration, he recast the Sermon on the Mount using only phrases that appear in the NEB:

When he realized how things stood, Jesus held a meeting to look into the matter. It was no hole-in-the-corner business. He went up the hill and began. ‘And now, not to take up too much of your time, I crave indulgence for a brief statement of our case. How blest are they that know they are poor. You are light for all the world. If a man wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. I also might make bold to say that you cannot serve God and money. Do not feed your pearls to pigs, and be ready for action, with belts fastened and lamps alight. Thanks for giving me a hearing.’ He then went to lunch with some distinguished persons.

“True, they did preserve ‘Jesus wept,'” MacDonald wrote. “But I’m sure there was strong support for ‘Jesus burst into tears.'”