Saturday, November 21, 2009

Augustine's Lesson for Our Time

It's a familiar story. There are discrepancies between scripture and science; religious authorities claim scripture is true; scientific authorities claim science is true; and people who take the time to see which point of view squares with the best evidence side with science. It's the subtraction story.1

It's a story that has played a big part in my life, derailing my plans for seminary. We think of it as a story that began with the rise of science in Modernity. But in fact, it is not. It played out in the life of perhaps the most important post-canonical Christian thinker, Augustine. And it is chronicled in his most famous work, The Confessions of St. Augustine. How the much-needed lesson from Augustine's life for our time has been overlooked, I could only guess, and I'd rather look to the lesson directly.

If you've read the Confessions you know that Augustine had been a Manichaean. Comparing their writings with "true things which the philosophers have said about this created world," Augustine "could see the reason for what [science] said in calculation, in the order of time, and in the visible evidence..."2 In short, he took the time to see which view sided with the best evidence, and science won: the subtraction story.

An extended quote will be useful:

"What then was the point of this Manes writing on these subjects, which are not necessary for the learning of goodness and piety? ...all he achieved by his numerous statements on these matters was this: he was shown up by people who had an acccurate knowledge of them, and it was thus made perfectly plain how much reliance could be placed on his understanding... He certainly did not wish to be thought little of; for he made it his business to persuade people that the Holy Ghost..was personally and with plenary authority resident in himself. And so when he was caught out making false statements about the heavens and the stars and the movements of the sun and moon, even though these things are not an integral part of religious doctrine, yet it was clear enough that his presumption was sacrilegious: he was talking about things he did not know..."3

This directly prompted Augustine's decision to leave the Manichees. Yet it just as clearly applies to a large portion of the Church today, and it applied to some in the Church in Augustine's day. He continued:

"Now whenever I come across any Christian brother, whoever it may be, who is ignorant of these sciences and has mistaken views on them, I can listen to him patiently enough as he delivers his opinions. ...I cannot see that it does him any harm if he is ignorant about the situation or conditions of material objects [of no practical importance to him]. But it does do him harm if he imagines that this scientific knowledge is an integral part of the structure of the doctrine of piety, and then has the audacity to make overconfident assertions on subjects of which he knows nothing."4

In short, Augustine knew Christians who were doing the same foolish thing which drove him from Manichaeanism. The obvious question arises, why didn't he find it necessary to leave Christianity too? A portion of the quote above says it precisely: "...scientific knowledge [is not] an integral part of the structure of the doctrine of piety," in the case of Christian faith.

On first pass that seems right, and there's a simple way to show why. Believing as a Christian means believing in Christ, as portrayed in and understood through the gospels. But there is no science, modern or ancient, which is "integral" to the gospel narrative. On that "common sense" view, the subtraction story as the narrative of what modern science has made incredible about Christian belief has no traction--it is not integral to faith. Nothing needed can be subtracted by science. That was the gist of my insistence that a "worldview" cannot be Christian. If anything, being Christian means believing that worldviews are all broken.

But that will seem fascile to many. What about what history and philosophy have made incredible? To respond, there needs to be a deep rationale for the inconsistency of trying to subsume the gospel narrative to ANY temporally-mediated point of view.

I believe that giving us that deep insight was precisely what Augustine turned to at the end of the Confessions. He did not just draw the foolishness of trying to turn scripture into science to his reader's attention, he provided the deep rationale for why it is not just foolish, but impossible--for any right-thinking person.

That deep rationale is crucial for everyone whose understanding of Christian faith turns on the assumption that makes the subtraction story possible--which is to say, every Christian I know and all the critics of Christianity that I know of...

What Was God Doing?!

My guess is that second to the famous opening prayer of the Confession that the ancient joke Augustine tells in it is cited most often. "And now I have an answer to the man who says: 'What was God doing before He made heaven and earth?' Someone once, evading the force of this question, is said to have made the jesting reply: 'God was making hells for people who look too deeply into things.'"5 Of course, Augustine--and we along with him--would be the butts of that joke.

But I fear that the crucial point he sets up with it is usually missed:

"...if by 'heaven and earth' we mean 'every [being that is not eternal],' I boldly declare that: 'Before God made heaven and earth, He did not make anything.' For if He did, it could have been nothing else except [something not eternal]. And I wish I knew all those good and useful things which I want to know as clearly as I know this, that before there was any [being that is not eternal] there was no [being that is not eternal]."6 (Bracketed phrases replace "creature.")

Augustine's point is simple, but it's importance for theology and scriptural interpretation cannot be overstated: Since God is eternal, literally nothing that is "tensed" can apply to God. To make the most crucial and obvious connection, the "days" of God's creation cannot be literal days, in which case God would have acted in time and would not be eternal.

How do I know this for sure? Three compelling reasons:

1. Augustine said it: "...You call us to understand the Word who is God...the Word which is spoken eternally and by which all things are spoken eternally. For here it is not the case of first one thing being said and finished, then another thing so that all can be said: no, allo things are said together and eternally. Otherwise there would be already time and change, and not a true eternity..."7

2. Augustine both poked fun at and worried about those who disagree: "Some people, for example, when they read or hear the world which we are discussing ["God created"] think of God as though He were a kind of man or else some great force associated with an enormous mass, and they imagine that by some new and sudden decision He made heaven abnd earth... Such people are...feeble little creatures... ...[who stretch out] beyond the limits of the nest where you are nourishing [them], ...I fear that this poor creature will have a bad fall, and I pray, Lord God, that you will have pity and will not allow the passers-by to tread upon that unfledged nestling..."8 I quoted more than needed to make the point, so that it can sink in that anyone in the grips of the subtraction story will fit the description of Augustine's "poor creature," in that scientific/philosophical/historic accounts of "creation" can only threaten theological accounts when the work of God is conceived of temporally. It is clear that Augustine saw, and provided for a solution for, the present crisis 1,600 years ago. The prescience of his thought can also be seen in statements making it clear that there could be no space or time before God created them.

And 3. Augustine sets up the last three "Books" of the Confessions with the argument that was presented in the previous three posts--an argument demonstrating our dependence on eternity to understand time--and proceeded to an analysis of the first verse of the Bible in the last three chapters.

Some Final Comments

I am not sure that I would like Augustine, if I had been priviledged to meet him. He comes off as arrogant in the same way that Dawkins, for example, does. And the story he tells in the Confessions, if you have read it, is not flattering--and I am not referring to stealing apples from a neighbor. Worst of all to my sensibilities, his prayers are obsequious, whereas I cannot imagine an honest prayer that doesn't include a fair element of Job's "attitude." To my mind faith includes existential honesty, or it is absolutely false--that's my inner Sartre coming out.

That said, perhaps no one loved discovering the truth more that Augustine, and in that he is a wonderful model: We can only be happy "when, with no distractions to interpose themselves, [we] will find in that only truth by which things are true."8 For Augustine the beatific vision was the consumation of the love of truth. (And his prescience even here is amazing, if we take his solution to where "truth" is found to be, "in God": What was Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature if not an exhaustive search, ending in failure, for how to cash in the meaning of how the human mind "mirrors" nature? And what was Augustine's point, if not that human understanding cannot "cash out" the meaning of "God,"; ergo... "When we see these is you who see in us."10)

The besetting sin of those of us who value truth on par with love is a tendency to be a jerk when dealing with--and Augustine's tendency comes out here--"feeble little creatures." But, in fairness, it appears that we--the Church--have played the part, intellectually. We need Augustine, and that seems plain, to extract ourselves form the subtraction story. More importantly, we need Augustine to correct our thinking about God.

I will stop here, though the entailments of Augustine's starting point for theology are exceedingly great. "See, Lord my God, how much I have written on these few words ["In the beginning God created..."]! Really how much! What strength of ours...would be enough to comment in this way on all your Scriptures!"11 I will stop here not only because I am no Augustine, but because I want to avoid obscuring the crucial starting point which Augustine set up for the Church. People who are not disposed to abstraction can be counted on to ask, "But what does that mean?" after having been given a starting point for subsequent thought. Augustine's point, his gift to us in our need today, is to have given us a solution to our present difficulty from which everything else follows. In short, it is a big gift. The Church would be foolish in the extreme not to take it.

1. Charles Taylor, from whom I borrowed the phrase, actually argues against "subtraction stories" in the sense I use it here. (A Secular Age (The Belknap Press, Cambridge, 2007) 22.) Taylor's project is to explain how ancient ways of experiencing life are replaced with modern, and he focuses on how new ways of understanding and living have changed human experience. In his view, simply put, to focus on the past is to mistakenly think that educated people today--allowing for exceptions--feel the change as loss. Surely Taylor is right to point out that a historical perspective that has moved away from earlier perspectives will not, by the very fact of having moved on, experience the past as "lost," since what is past is not present. (Yes, I take pleasure in reducing subtle points to simple truisms, but in my experience that can usually be done: hence, my "metaponderings.") But for institutions that cling to ancient perspectives--and people whose lives are dominated by them--Taylor's argument does not apply, while his phrase does, and aptly.
2. Confessions [Book 5, Chapter 3], tr. Warner (Mentor, New York, 1963) 93-4.
3. Ibid., 94-5 [Book 5, Chapter 5].
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 265-6 [Book XI, Chapter 12].
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid., 262 [Book XI, Chapter 7].
8. Ibid., 308 [Book X!!, Chapter 27].
9. Ibid., 234 [Book X, Chapter 23].
10. Ibid., 345 [Book XIII, Chapter 31].
11. Ibid., 314 [Book XII, Chapter 32].

Friday, November 20, 2009

3rd Objection before Augustine's Lesson for Our Time

If there is an objection one can expect from philosophical naturalists to an argument for the existence1 of God, it would be very foolish to put that argument where those philosophically opposed to theism are going to read it--unless the reply to the objection makes the argument look stronger. That's the case with the argument from science for the existence of God that I posted in the comments on the Templeton Big Question site. But I am sorry to say that the site seems to no longer allow give and take among mere commenters. I don't blame them. The focus should be on the expert opinions. Nevertheless, it seems that I won't get to trot out this reply there, because, it seems the objection will not be forthcoming there. So I make the objection myself, so that I can trot out the reply here.

But first the rationale for focusing on Augustine's argument: It sets up a crucial lesson to be taken from his life, 1,600 years ago, for the life of the Church today. But that's for the next post. Here's the objection I so fervently want to reply to! (I'm calling it "Objection 3," since I already noted two others.)

Objection 3: No one needs to look outside what science tells us to find "being that has always been as the source of being for what is here now": it's called matter and energy, which are convertible.

Reply to Objection 3: "Matter" and "energy" are abstractions. That is, they are placeholders for a variety of forms and states. Hats and dogs and stars and cars and photons and singularities at the origin of a cosmos are all instances of matter and energy instantiated, together, in one form or another. Furthermore, the best current understanding is that these varying forms do not range over an absolute universe of possibilities. The fundamentals of the universe were forged in a singularity of near-superlative improbability. In Augustine's delightfully simple words: "See, there are the heaven and the earth. They cry aloud that they were created; for they change and vary. Whereas anything which...[has always been] cannot have anything in it that was not there before."2 But what is "always there before" does not enter into time, as it has no tense. Eternity is assumed in temporality, and a consideration of matter and energy simply drives the point home.

1. Peirce was clearly technically correct in holding that we should speak of God's "reality," rather than "existence"; it's just easier to fold to custom.
2. Confessions, Tr. Warner, Bk. 11, Ch. 4.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Augustine's Argument, Simplified

I decided to simplify the argument from the last post to post in the comments on the Templeton Big Question site, "Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?" Before offering the argument, however, I'd like to note two objections and my rejoinder to teach.

Objection 1: Metaphysics is the projection of human grammar into a realm beyond where it has any knowable object.

Reply to Objection 1: The following argument is an entailment of language used in science as it engages this world.

Objection 2: Arguments for Belief in God are attempts to know something inherently metaphysical. Ergo, go back to objection 1.

Reply to Objection 2: To say that something is entailed metaphysically is not to say that it is known. For instance, immense gravitational fields have led physicists to posit dark matter. One does not need to know what dark matter is to posit that there is something that creates the gravitational field. The same holds for the eternal being entailed in the argument to follow.

The Simplified Argument:

To explain something scientifically requires explaining how it came to be (or how it brings something else about). Consequently, something that has always been cannot be explained scientifically. But "has always been" has two relevant meanings here: 1. "has always been" temporally, and 2. "has always been" as the source of being for what is here now. For purposes of scientific explanation, however, "has always been temporally" depends for its coherence--literally--on "has always been as a source of being for what is here now" (otherwise temporal succession would comprise ontologically discrete elements with respect to being, and there could--literally--be no coherent explanation of how the discrete elements in the temporal sequence came to be). But as already noted, what has always been cannot be explained scientifically. Therefore, either there is no scientific explanation, or there is being that has always been as a source of being for what is here now, and such a being cannot be explained scientifically. But there is scientific explanation. Therefore, there is a scientifically mysterious eternal source of being for what there is here now, which we refer to as God.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Argument from Science for the Reality of God

In the Confessions Augustine makes the following argument to carve out room for his view that the relationship of humanity to God involves the inter-relationship of time and eternity:

"See, there are the heaven and earth. They cry out that they were created; for they change and vary. Whereas anything which exists but was not created cannot have anything in it which was not there before, and this is just what is meant by change and variation. They cry aloud also that they did not create themselves: 'We exist because we were created; therefore we did not exist before we were in existence, so as to be able to create ourselves.' And the voice of the speakers is in the very fact that they are there to be seen [observed]." (Confessions, tr. Warner (Mentor, New York, 1963) 260.)

I have updated Augustine's Argument as "An Argument from Science for the Reality of God."

1. To understand and explain something scientifically means to show the development of or cause of that object's present existence and state within the natural environment or framework of natural laws which are used to understand and explain it.

2. An entailment of what it means to understand and explain something scientifically, then, is that everything that is understood scientifically has come into being: otherwise its present existence and state would not have a development or cause.

3. But, in Augustine's words, "...anything which exists but was not created [did not come into being through development or cause] cannot have anything in it which was not there before...": otherwise something came into existence without cause or development, which is contrary to scientific understanding and explantation.

4. "There before," however, can have two relevant meanings: either "there before, temporally," or "there before, as the source of being for what is there now."

5. But for purposes of scientific understanding and explanation, "there before, temporally," depends for coherence on "there before, as the source of being for what is there now": otherwise temporal succession would be made up of descrete elements with respect to being, in which case it could not be true that one being or state in time is integral to another, as is required to show the development of or cause of an object's existence and state.

6. Therefore no temporal sequences, even if infinite in number and extent, explain the present existence and state of the world without assuming being that is "there before, as the sourse of being for what is there now."

7. But an assumed being that is logically distinct from time and is the source of being for the world's existence is Eternal Being serving as Creator, or God.

8. It is thus demonstrated that the same assumption that supports the reality of God underlies the work of science.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Modest Proposal with a Hopeful Challenge


I'll begin with a restatement of the purpose of the last few posts: to respond to the clear need for a better way to teach Christian faith to young people. The truth, purpose, and need for faith have all been called into question from voices and points of view too well known to need rehearsal. Specifically, I have claimed that "Conservative Christianity today is largely a reaction to the fact that liberal Christianity has fallen victim to the subtraction story." That sets up a classic catch 22 for someone who would like to frame their faith positively: either way, one's approach to faith is dominated by the subtraction story's negative influence.

In a post on Ben Myers' Faith and Theology blog a couple of months ago Kim Fabricious offered a spoof, warning of "two potentially fatal forms" of "divine flu." It's a fun read, and instructive. With apologies for spoiling a good laugh with analysis, I intend to note a few things that can be gleaned from the joke and more especially from the comments that followed. I think you'll find the insights worthwhile.

The subtraction story is clearly in evidence in Fabricious' "symptoms" of "neo-liberalsism": "...the omission of Old Testament readings...," "Tell us the Creeds are old-fashioned..." "Give Trinity Sunday...a miss," "Deny the divinity of Christ..." And the anti-intellectualism of Conservative Evangelicalism in response is characterized--and I think it right not to use "caricatured"--as: "Read the Bible only in the original version--the NIV...," "Hold tenaciously to the quite unbiblical...doctrine of biblical inerrancy," etc. Clearly the subtraction story and it's deforming influence on those who wish to avoid it is in play.

In the comments, however, it became clear that not everyone was amused, and I am sorry to say, not without good reason. To illustrate, I do a quick, informal categorization of the comments, and will note--what I take to be--the most significant of them.

Of the 71 comments, I counted 24 that unambiguously agreed with the gist of Fabricious' barbed spoof. Seven clearly did not agree. And in about 40 of the comments either the opinion was not clear or did not address agreement with the spirit of the spoof. Of the latter, 26 responded to a tangent in the direction of the comments: arguing that one "side" or another is better--including a "middle path" or "third way" introduced as an alternative in the comments--by arguing from history, or faithfulness to the Church, or to a tradition, or from adherents' willingness to die for the gospel, etc.

Since the spoof presented unfortunate alternatives--"potentially fatal forms" was the language--it is the "middle" or "third way" which ought to be of interest. But this comment paints the alternative as just as much under the pull of the subtraction story as the risible "flus": (anon.) "Middle ways are transition routes..." Filling in "anon's" implicit rationale, if the alternatives arise from the one being a reaction to the other, as when Conservative Christianity is to/from liberal Christianity, then it follows that a middle point between them is just what this commentator said: a "transition route" to one or the other "flu."

That said, one would expect Fabricious to write his spoof from a superior perspective outside the sicknesses he describes. Surprisingly, that is not the case, in fact, he explicitly concedes the critique: "Who said anything about a 'middle way', as in 'third way', let alone THE 'middle/third way'? fact, plenty of theologians...are out there in the BROKEN middle..." But if the broken middle is the alternative to the broken sides, there's no interesting alternative. The post portrays the very thing a Dawkins or Hitchens would expect to see!

In fact, it's not quite that bad. For instance, a commenter (anon.) noted the "Barthian" option as an "academic option," though it is clear that such is a clear step down a road to irrelevance, in the commenter's mind. Another commenter (yet again, anon.) "What precisely needs arguing, not [mere] asserting, is the possibility of a genuinely distinct tertium quid that is neither conservative nor liberal; conservatives and liberals both deny that there is such a thing, arguing attempts at it are simply inconsistent lapses into one or the other... Barthians and Co. always seem to assert this most fundamental and controversial point, rather than address the many sharp criticisms of it offered by the...[to-be-avoided]...'liberalism/conservatism' binary."

Much more hopefully, the following two comments suggest--without actually offering anything concrete--a far better way that is intrinsic to Christian faith: ("Sean") "...when I try to figure out the heart of all your critiques, it's essentially this: the Bible cuts through...everyone's...beliefs about God." And (Kim Fabricious), "Onto [my]...bulletin board...I recently pinned Jaroslav Pelikan's inspirational statement: 'If Christ is risen, then nothing else matters...'" I find these statement encouraging precisely because they imply [that possibly?] the gospel critiques us, not vice versa. More on this later.


Since (1) playing out the subtraction story, (2) playing out an anti-intellectual reaction to the subtraction story, and (3) entertaining a middle way still dominated by the subtraction story are all sure routes to the irrelevance of Christian faith, let's just admit that conservative, liberal, and neo-intellectual academic points of view that can't take on the subtraction story ARE ALL DEAD, AND DONE, AND IF NOT QUITE DONE, OUGHT TO BE.


First, an admission. I'm about to propose what I believe to be a very old way--as old as the first proclamation of the Christian gospel. But it will seem new to those who haven't realized it before. That is, it will be new to those who find themselves caught in the narrative stemming from the subtraction story.

The way out must be a way of transcending the negativity while remaining true to the gospel. Ideally, one would do this by showing that the gospel itself provides the means to transcend the negativity of the subtraction story. My recent posts try to articulate my convictions that that very ideal is true.

1. Kierkegaard got it right when he wrote, " cannot be distilled from even the nicest accuracy of [historical] detail. The historical [claim] that
God has existed in human form is the essence of the matter..."1 But I find his "explanation" for faith that "the eternal condition is given in time,"2 in the view that faith is a miracle, even if inspired by a passion for the Infinite, unhelpful. What I do find helpful is his comment--which I have noted a number of times in past posts--that "If the contemporary generation [with Jesus] had left nothing behind them but these words: 'We have believed that in such and such a year God appeared among us in the humble figure of a servant, that he lived and taught in our community, and finally died,' it would be more than enough [for faith]."3 My starting point, then, is that Kierkegaard offered a new way--a way out of today's theological catch 22--but that I find his particular offering unhelpful, while still agreeing with the crucial, core point: that in the gospel itself we find "more than" enough" for faith. Thus, though I do not think that Kierkegaard provides a helpful way out, I do think he suggests that the gospel itself holds "the way," which ought to be viewed as encouraging to a Christian who is troubled by the present dilemma, the very point I am making. And as a side benefit, Kierkegaard's view here goes far in the way of answering troubling aspects of biblical criticism: no informed critic would deny the quoted words above.

2. Taking Kierkegaard's lead as we move on, focus our inquiry into the gospel as "the way out" by means of asking how the paradox "that the eternal condition is given in time" is resolved in the gospel. The gospel, that is, must provide a substantive way to illustrate, in Augustine's phrase, "that all times past and future are swallowed up in your eternal stable permanence..."4 The point is that an eternal difference in a historically mediated understanding of truth would have to be by way of transforming the meaning of history itself. It's a big "difference," but nothing less is sufficient to the gospel, as the Church preaches it.

3. Thus, I have argued that to avoid contradiction, as the eternal transforms the meaning of history, it must break the immanent frame, not be an element in it. (Fabricious' bulletin-board quote seems to imply this.) And certainly the Christian gospel must "break" the salvation story out of which it arises to be seen as good news: a man hanging on a cross does not look like a messiah, or a Son of God, etc. We know then that it breaks "salvation history." That's a start. The important point for our purposes is that such a starting point cannot be taken to fold into a narrative that does not include it. I have noted this to be a fascile way to avoid the problem with which we are dealing, unless it facilitates a deep understanding in its wake. If so, it is a powerful fascility for today's Church to be able to say, "A true understanding of the gospel cannot be subject to the subtraction story."

4. So, though 3 gives us a negative criterion, its provision is a necessary starting point. The need in its wake, however, is for a positive criterion. To that end, I argued that agape requires a person to be committed to transcending their limited personal perspective, since agape implies reaching out to others and the world in love (love implies a desire to know--which when embedded in time means know better: hence, agape love is a positive transformative commitment intellectually as well as morally/spiritually).

5. But 4 would weem to be possible without religion generally, or Christian faith in particular: Can't one be good and loving without faith? A great many people are quick to make that assertion; in effect, out of the pan and into the fire. In reply, I have argued that claims to humanity's goodness are naive, unless one has asked some hard questions and given some good answers. With the help of Sartrian analysis to clarify (see last post), what looks very much like a Christian commitment is in order before any claim to being "good" or "loving" can be credible. In fact--and it is ironic in the extreme, given Sartre's overall project--it is by means of Sartre's analysis of "bad faith" that Christian faith can be clearly framed as a "good faith" answer to humanity's core existential question. In fact, Sartrian analysis not only squares with traditional notions of sin and human nature, it frames the view that Jesus is "truth" in an interesting light, both of which are important in making the connections between Sartrian analysis and the current need to frame theology in a new (old!) way.

To be sure that the point is not missed, it is because Christian faith offers a way to tranform human nature that it offers a way to read human history from a perspective which transforms it, and so cannot be folded into a narrative which explains it away (our subtraction story). Thus, the gospel is itself a way of answering how, in Kierkegaard's phrase quoted above, "that the eternal condition is given in time."

6. As I have noted, Tillich's analysis of faith resonates with and informs my approach here. His conceptual centerpiece is seeing faith as ultimate concern; seeing ultimate concern as an abstract presentation of the Great Commandment; and seeing the cross as the crucial symbol expressing the need to reject false ultimacies and to thereby serve as a guide to the true ultimate concern. It's a neat circle, and Tillich's analysis is indeed crucial in my view, but it does not answer the question posed in 6 (restated for present purposes): "Why not just take the moral from Tillich's analysis without reifying the solution, via faith?" The critique of human nature alluded to in 5 makes salvation necessary--that is, human nature needs a real answer, a real transformation, not just a symbol that understands human nature at the depth Christian thought (ought to) critique it.

7. As I have also noted, Augustine's approach to scripture can be used to reinforce the approach that I advocate. (Augustine's approach--in a coming post--is to make room for multiple ways and ongoing reinterpretations, not just a third way.)


I don't mean to suggest that the outline for my view should be followed, though I wouldn't have suggested it if I didn't think I can produce excellent arguments in its favor. What I do want to suggest is that the gospel does address the core question about what it means to be human, and answers it hopefully in the person of Jesus Christ: Behold the man.

Surely an amateur shouldn't be unpacking the theological implications of that point of view. I would apologize, if I knew of someone else doing just that. Now, I am delighted and amazed at the wonderful work Ben Myers shares on his blog, as a pertinant case in point. But if the analysis above is at all accurate, our theologians have not yet formed a vision for how to respond to the subtraction story. I hope that it is encouraging to see that the answer is simply: with a competent rendering of the gospel. I would be extremely pleased to hand this work off to those who are professionally qualified. And I should add, that if this work is being done, I would be ecstatic to be so informed.

A last point. I agree with the spirit of St. Thomas in his aproach to theology; the crucial thing is to get the starting point right, so that everything else can flow from it "...according to the order of the subject matter..."5 In other words, first things first. Accordingly, Christians should give the most attention to the most basic things, because they turn out to be the most important. It wouldn't do to take up this challenge and forget that.

1. Philosophical Fragments, tr. Swenson (Princeton University Press, 1936) 87.
2. Ibid., 53.
3. Ibid., 87.
4. Confessions, tr. Warner (Mentor, New York, 1963) 310.
5. Summa Theologica, Prologue.