The incomprehensibility of Trinity

Allan Bevere has recently written a number of posts in the lead up to Trinity Sunday, one of which I feel the need to focus on. Allan has often been a valued colleague on Global Christian Perspectives (currently undergoing a hiatus while we rethink the format), and I generally find myself agreeing with much of what he says, which always has a strong devotional and scriptural basis. Not all, however!

Here, based on his longer appraisal of a work by Nicholas Lash he talks about Christian Theism, and distinguishes it from Trinitarianism. The first thing I note is that he is talking about Theism as a synonym for what we commonly call Deism these days (with authority from Voltaire who, it seems, coined the usage he talks about). However, I find that it was rather earlier used by Ralph Cudworth, whose definition was “strictly and properly called Theists, who affirm, that a perfectly conscious understanding being, or mind, existing of itself from eternity, was the cause of all other things” (from Wikipedia). Cudworth’s usage is, I think, somewhat closer to the way the term is used these days, which includes Monotheism, Polytheism, Pantheism, Panentheism and Deism (among others) as specific instances of the broader term “Theism”, though modern usage does not include the requirement that God be “first cause”.

His first point is this:- “Theism starts with the assumption that there is a “central core” of beliefs about God that makes Christians, Jews and Muslims all theists. The differing beliefs about God are further additions to one’s theistic faith. These further beliefs are where Christians, Jews and Muslims no longer agree. Lash maintains, however, that any belief about God cannot be divided into any kind of “central core” without perverting fundamental Christian, Jewish and Muslim belief about God. Thus a theistic account of God is unacceptable.”

I immediately disagree with this statement. Leaving aside Muslims (who believe in a revelation subsequent to the New Testament), it cannot be that the God of Christianity is different from the God of Judaism; that would be to say that the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures (without which the New Testament is arguably unintelligible and definitely shorn of most of its content) are irrelevant and, indeed, to suggest that they refer to a God different from the Christian God. That is the position of Marcion and of the Gnostics, both of whom were anathematised as heretics.

Indeed, the Apostles’ creed which Lash makes the subject of his book starts “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth” (the common alternative, the Nicene creed, starts similarly but states “I believe in one God…”). Everything after that is quite clearly “a further addition to ones theistic faith”. Jews and Muslims both would, I think, find no problem in either formulation up to that point. Thus, I would suggest, the most one could say is that the theistic account of God is inadequate.

He continues “The God of theism is abstract. Without the doctrine of the Trinity (“as it is employed in defining, determining or shaping Christian life, prayer, action and suffering”) “spirit” is an “empty word.” It becomes an abstraction situated in the’ ‘broad framework of Cartesian contractions.” “. In the longer response, he comments that Theism is the “God of the philosophers” – and indeed, I am inclined to agree that Deism (not Theism – neither Judaism nor Islam would consider themselves Deist religions) is very much the God of the philosophers. He also, however, states “Yet Lash maintains that the doctrine of God’s incomprehensibility requires us to confess God as mystery at the outset. “

The suggestion that without a doctrine, “spirit is an empty word” is just ridiculous to me; spirit is experienced, so it cannot be an empty word; it designates a real phenomenon. We might well not fully understand it, but that would be entirely consistent with the incomprehensibility of God. In fact, Trinitarianism is itself a doctrine of the philosophers, or at least of the product of Greek philosophy with the experiential truths that God is to Jesus (and to the ancient Hebrews, and to us) Father, and that Jesus incarnated the Word of God (which was God) and that God acts in the world through the Holy Spirit from the beginning and the necessity to continue to pronounce monotheism in the words of the Shema. “God is one”. Two of those three are common ground between Christianity, Judaism and, in fact, Islam. The sticking point between Christianity and either of the others is that neither sees Jesus as incarnating God.

And, indeed, there is no statement of Trinitarianism in our scripture, merely some passages where an ardent trinitarian can discern all three elements (most notably Matt. 28:19, which does not say that all three are God, let alone prescribe any particular relationships between them). Trinitarianism took some significant time to arrive, and it arrived through early theologians steeped in Greek philosophy trying to make sense of the fact that God was one and yet all three statements in the preceding paragraph were correct. If you adopt the philosophical positions of Platonism or Aristotelianism, you may well want to try to jump through the same hoops as did Theophilus of Antioch (the first to use the term in the late second century), Augustine (who developed the concept considerably) or Acquinas (whose “Summa Theologica” is the basis for subsequent Trinitarianism in Catholicism and Anglicanism). Personally I do not, as I do not adopt either Plato’s nor Aristotle’s concepts of how the world works, and neither Augustine nor Acquinas makes sense to me philosophically.

There are many instances of scripture where what are regarded as “Trinitarian heresies” such as subordinationism (an example from John) are made clear and because the doctrine has ended up being impossible to expound to normal people, principally due to modalism being declared a heresy. If I am asked to subscribe to a doctrine, I really do not want it to contradict scripture, nor do I want it to be functionally useless.

There is, however, one really good thing in Lash’s account, which I have already mentioned – the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. The end point of Trinitarian discussion in the Orthodox Church was the Cappadocian fathers, one of whom suggested that in the end the Trinity was not comprehensible, was a “holy mystery”.

I gently suggest that it would have been perfectly adequate to say “it’s a holy mystery” after stating that the Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and without all the philosophical paraphernalia which has tried to clarify the situation and has ended up back in bafflement. We’d still be Trinitarian, but without all the fuss…

And, in passing, I really do not like the suggestion that the other great religions are idolatrous. If we accept that God is incomprehensible to us, we are in no position to say that any of the others is wrong – and that way lies a total failure to love our neighbours as ourselves – yes, and even our enemies.


Liberty, Law and Paul

Henry Neufeld (aka The Boss when I’m doing editing) has mused recently on the Law and it’s significance for Christians in the course of looking at Luke 17.  I want to go in two directions from there…

The first might well be encapsulated by this graphic. It suggests that because there are a number of constraints on our behaviour (or at least our expected behaviour) we cannot possibly be “free”.

I think this is more or less completely wrong. It’s wrong from a Christian perspective, as faith in Christ (and one might say “freedom in Christ” involves following Jesus to the extent that, as Paul puts it “I no longer live, but Christ in me lives” (Gal. 2:20). We become members of the Church, and Christ is the head of that church, i.e. the maker of decisions. The earliest Christians, before any of our developed doctrines, confessed that “Jesus is Lord” – and in that time, this meant complete submission to the Lord’s will.

It’s wrong from the point of view of al-Islam (the way of submission to the will of God); philosophical Hindus and Buddhists aim at freedom from attachment (i.e. desire) through rules of self-denial, as did Stoics; every religious tradition which comes to mind has or has had a tradition of austere discipline, adding more rules to the conduct of one’s life.

I also think that it is wrong on general experiential principles. Regular readers of my blog will have noticed that some of them include abstract paintings out of a series I produced some years ago. Each of them is based on a very limited palette (selection of colours) and constraints as to the subject matter – and I found more originality and inspiration working within these tight constraints than I did when faced with a blank piece of paper and no constraints on what I drew or what colours I used. Similarly, when I am conducting a scientific experiment, there are huge constraints (in the laws of physics and chemistry) on what the result will be – the delight is in finding out how these laws can be used to produce novel results.

Then again, I spend some of my time doing research chemistry. This involves working out what rules are applying in a certain situation, how they work together and how those rules might be used to produce a result. None of this would work without the presence of a set of rules. I also enjoy board games, and sometimes trying to develop variants of existing games or new games – and those again focus round sets of rules. Without the rules, there is no game, there is no enjoyment (as witness the violent antipathy most game players feel towards cheats…).

The value of sets of rules was brought home to me in a massive way by my experience of many years of severe depression. Eventually, the depression robbed me of any ability to choose an outcome on the basis of an emotion – because all emotions had become foreign territory. The negative ones were, of course, the last to go, and a pervading sense that “everything is wrong” never actually left. I was in theory less constrained in what I did than I would once have been, because all outcomes were emotionally equivalent; yes, one course of action might result in me being injured or dying, or being rightly locked up for damaging other people – but those were just all equal outcomes; I had no way of preferring one. I recall an occasion standing in a Chinese takeaway gazing at the menu and trying without success to envisage what I might like to eat – to the annoyance of the serving staff, because even the most indecisive person usually managed to make a decision inside five minutes, and I must have been there for half an hour. I eventually did a kind of internal coin flipping, and settled on something. Did I actually like it when I got it home? I have no idea.

It’s worth mentioning that I have never been so objective as I was during that period – there were just no emotional biases to affect any decision. I have never been so dispassionate either – though empathy still worked to a small extent (in that I could feel sad for others), mostly the emotions of others, and so their needs and wishes, were equally a closed book. As a result, I treat philosophical advice that I should strive for objectivity, dispassion or freedom from attachment with huge suspicion – I really do not want these things, having seen what it is like to attain them! Patrick Henry said “give me liberty or give me death”, and frankly, death was preferable to that kind of liberty. I avoided it one day at a time…

The thing which kept me from damaging others during that period (and mostly from damaging myself) was that I had sets of rules. There were a broad set derived from the Sermon on the Mount, of course, and some more specific ones incorporated in a Twelve Step programme. I was only too aware that my own thought processes were not normal, and that in particular decisions as to what to do were well-nigh impossible; accepting the authority of a set of rules for conduct was, quite literally, a life-saver (otherwise the “it’s all wrong” would eventually have led to me deciding that nothingness was preferable to constant low level psychological pain). Working out what, according to those rules, was the next right thing to do was manageable.

All in all, therefore, I think that too much focus on rules being a bad thing is in itself a very bad idea indeed. And that brings me to Judaism (which you’ll notice I didn’t mention at the beginning) and the vexed Christian attitude towards the Jewish Law, based on the writings of Paul (largely Romans and Galatians). I wrote a bit about this recently. Judaism absolutely does not consider that the Law, including the massive set of additional rules put together over many centuries by rabbis attempting to clarify possible misunderstandings (and yes, extending the scope of these, but with the objective of “putting a fence around the law” so that you don’t even get uncomfortably close to breaching one of the Laws) is a bad thing – it’s their pride and joy, and their means of displaying their commitment to God.

Kurt Willems has recently launched The Paulcast, which sets out to look at Paul from all sorts of angles; he has recently finished a series on views of Paul (from traditional to New Perspective to Paul Within Judaism). It’s reasonably clear, I think, that my own writing (link in last paragraph) displays that I am squarely in the camp of “Paul within Judaism”, otherwise known as “Radical New Perspective”. But I go slightly further; the Law, to me, was (and perhaps is) a good thing not because it saves (though a set of rules in fact saved me from an earlier death than my family and friends, at least, preferred) but because it establishes a framework in which to live.

Paul may well be right in saying I would not have known sin except through the law”though in conscience I doubt that, unless he too was suffering from severe depression or one of the other mental illnesses which affects emotions (affect), but to suggest that that was the purpose of the Law is to suggest that God was in fact placing a permanent stumbling block before many generations of his chosen people, and that in the guise of something beneficial. I do not think that Paul intended to characterise God as a liar! I will grant that the passage Paul was quoting in the link places God himself in the situation of being a stumbling block, but not the law. Isaiah, however, also says that the Lord is “sanctuary and stone of offense”, so not an unmitigated obstacle for the unwary faithful. Paul also uses the word “stumbling block” in “a stumbling block to the Jews”, but there is is the fact that Christ was crucified which is the stumbling block. Not God, and not the Law.

In fact, as a disposessed nation, always strangers in the lands of other nations for most of their history, it is exactly the Law which has preserved Israel as a nation; the steadfast adherence to a set of rules which not only gave a focus of identity for Jews but also set them apart from those around them is probably the thing which above all else prevented them from being totally assimilated over 2000 years. This is almost an unique history (the only other group I can think of which has similarly preserved identity as permanent aliens is the Roma). Israel is not however by any means the only nation which has held its system of laws to be primary; the Romans did this for some time, although the law became secondary to the emperor cult; England (and subsequently Great Britain) has prided itself on being a nation of law for a very long time, and was very early in determining that even monarchs were subject to law; for a time the concept of Christendom in Europe allowed some latitude to the idea that all the nations were subject to God’s law (although the institution of the papacy rather detracted from that…); in more recent times the USA has given an example of a nation built on a set of laws (the Constitution) which is supreme over any other power, at least in theory.

Laws, in other words, form and enable communities, peoples and nations. Many of them (and sometimes the ones which most obviously produce the character of a nation) are unwritten – there is no law in Britain or Canada requiring politeness, for instance, but it is possibly one of the less broken laws in both countries. Some of them make absolutely no sense, but are still formative – this is how we do things. Judaism might, arguably, have rather a lot of those, but our driving on the left similarly makes no sense in a world where almost every other country drives on the right; suggest that we change, however, and there will be a massive popular outcry! Flanders and Swann used to sing “The Song of Patriotic Prejudice”, in which were the lines “And all the world over, each nation’s the same, they’ve simply no notion of playing the game. They argue with umpires, they cheer when they’ve won. And they practice beforehand, which ruins the fun!” This was a notion of Englishness with which I grew up – and yes, it’s daft from most standpoints, but it was a part of national identity (which, I think, Thatcher killed off). You played by the rules, you were ideally good at things without having to try too hard (or at least showing that you were trying hard), and you were self-deprecating. There are probably many, many more things which are rules in my society whether written or merely understood which are similarly illogical and unnecessary, but I am too deeply immersed in my society to see which they are…

I am not, of course, saying that liberty is not a valid cry – in many situations, there is not enough liberty. Similarly, however, in many situations there is not enough law. In the beginning, the earth was formless and void (chaotic), and God gave order; without that order, there would have been only chaos. Later in scripture, Jesus said “my yoke is easy and my burden light”, referring to the rules of behaviour he expected – and those probably included most of the Law.

Except for those who consider that “everything was accomplished” by his death and resurrection, of course, a view which I do not consider warranted – few of those who argue this would, for instance, say that the Ten Commandments had been superseded, and very many argue for a strict interpretation of, say, Leviticus 18:22, which I consider inapplicable for the world as it now is. But there’s the thing – I argue for the liberty to disregard a strict interpretation of this passage (not that it’s a liberty I need myself) not on the basis that it was a bad law at the time, but on the basis that Jesus’ rules of behaviour, which supplement those of the Law, demand that I not judge my neighbour, and that takes precedence for me.

That brings me to my other point. I am saying, in effect, that where there is a possible conflict between Jesus and Paul, I choose Jesus. With the utmost respect to more conservative Christian friends, I think you are inclined to base your theologies on Paul rather than on Jesus. You also base them on the Fourth Gospel rather than on the synoptic gospels, but that is not my immediate point. As Christians, we consider that Jesus was the son of God, the messiah, and God incarnate – we do not say any of these things of Paul. Paul was many things, including a massively successful evangelist, a pastor, preacher and probably the first Christian theologian, and he deserves to be taken extremely seriously by Christians as a result – let’s face it, the probability is that without Paul, the followers of Jesus would have remained a Jewish sect.

But he was not God, and we should not treat his words as having divine authority without significant scepticism.

They toil not, neither do they spin…

I see that FiveThirtyEight has caught on to the fact that manufacturing jobs will never return. Sadly, they seem to think that the solution is to create jobs in service industries, and that’s a problem.

The thing is, manufacturing jobs are the easiest to automate; as the article notes, manufacturing is actually returning to the USA, but it’s largely automated and doesn’t provide the number of jobs it used to. Low level clerical jobs are the next easiest; very many of those have similarly disappeared with the advent of computerised workplaces. Customer service is in the process of going the same way; my bank (for instance) has successfully persuaded customers to do most of their banking online, where computer systems handle the work which a load of clerks and counter staff would once have done, and I hear that even burger flipping is in danger, as automated short-order cooks are being trialed at the moment. In the office, vending machines have largely replaced the tea lady.

When I retired from the law, the need for secretaries had diminished somewhat, but also I noted that expert systems were starting to take over some of the work which qualified lawyers had previously done. There are now surgical robots – admittedly these are currently remotely operated by real surgeons, but it is only a matter of time… Professional jobs are by no means safe either.

How about the entertainment industry? There is still going to be a huge demand for people singing, acting, doing variety turns, surely? Well, to an extent that’s true, though the popularity a few years ago of Max Headroom and the ubiquity of CGI makes me wonder how long it is going to be before we have the first completely computer-generated “live action” film or television. However, whereas 100 years ago, there were performers in every town (and often every pub or bar) churning out music and drama, now the use of TV and film means that only relatively few performers actually get to make a decent living. Everyone wants to listen, say, to David Bowie or Prince, not to their local Joe Bloggs or Fred Smith. The market for actual performers is much more limited than it once was, and is likely to shrink further, and even the very popular are now having difficulty with the internet getting round copyright so that significant parts of their output ends up free.

Of course, these last two categories require substantial natural ability as well as training, and even if they were boom areas, most of the population would be unlikely to be able to do the jobs as one would wish them done. I pause for a moment for a sideswipe at government policy for some time – it is pointless expanding education willy-nilly in the apparent belief that you can train anyone to be a brain surgeon if you take enough time and they are dedicated enough, and that is just not true. At the moment we are merely piling on courses for the sake of courses to “qualify” people for jobs which they could learn by doing them in a couple of weeks.

We are progressively making the majority of humanity redundant.

Or, at least, we are making them redundant as workers. Our capitalist system is predicated on there being a vast class of consumers, as otherwise there is no market for all the goods and services. The redundant, of course, do no work and therefore do not get paid – and therefore can’t consume. Eventually, the whole system will break down – and I think there are significant signs that it is doing that already.

It has to be time for us to break the linkage between money and work. Efficiency and automation mean that we can produce enough to supply even the vast population we now have, but not to keep them in work. Time, I think, to look very closely at the concept of a national guaranteed income, or an “universal income”.

There will be a few collateral effects of this. One is that, provided with enough income for the basic necessities of life, no-one need take a job who does not want it. Without the need for labour unions, suddenly workers will have a negotiating strength which they have always historically lacked. The conditions (including pay) of work will have to be sufficient to entice people to do the work. Granted, there need be no minimum  wage – people may find out that a job well done is satisfaction in and of itself, or that even a very small additional discretionary income is worth the effort. Those who wish to turn their minds to art or literature will no longer need to starve in a garret; the inventor or innovator will be free to put in the long hours working out their idea into something practical without the fear of destitution.

Another is that companies will be forced to consider that having people able to buy their products is a good in and of itself; this might just persuade them that in order to gain access to a market, they would need to pay tax. Governments, on the other hand, would no longer need to beg, plead, cajole and bribe companies into employing workers in their countries. Instead, they need only point out that “we have a market of 60 million people” (or whatever is the current figure for your population) to induce a company to come and trade – and pay taxes. They may well, of course, also want to site their manufacturing in the country where they trade; after all, there will be no minimum wage, and lower transport costs!

I will continue looking with huge interest at Switzerland and Holland, which seem to the the countries most likely to be the first to implement such a scheme.

Satan, yeast and seeds

Professor Kathryn Tanner has, at the point I write this, just finished her series of Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh University. They are well worth a listen; I don’t think I have heard a better skewering of market capitalism as it functions in the 21st century, under the neo-liberal philosophy which seems to have captured the thinking of politicians throughout the West (and a fair proportion of the East).

She does, of course, come to the conclusion that market capitalism (particularly finance-led market capitalism) is profoundly contrary to Christian principles. It encourages greed where Jesus commands care for the disadvantaged. It encourages competition where Jesus commands care for community. It grinds down workers where Paul counsels that labourers are worthy of their hire and should not be short-changed. It considers people as units of production and units of consumption where Jesus sees each as being unique creations of our Heavenly Father, with supreme worth (more valuable than a sparrow or a lily, indeed).

It also focuses on short term financial gain to the exclusion of building a lasting community, and there there might be a temptation to remember Jesus counselling that we give no thought for tomorrow and think that he approved a short term viewpoint. However, he also placed this in terms of dependence on God for our basic sustenance (daily bread) and, in looking forward to the Kingdom of God on earth, assumes, in my view, that that Kingdom will be structured to give everyone their basic sustenance, not to look for a “fast buck”. A fast buck is, of course, an idol, and we cannot serve God and Mammon, as I expanded upon recently (see link below).

Prof. Tanner does not, it seems to me, take quite the same view I do of the requirements of the Christian life; she works within the paradigm of the “salvation history” which I do not really subscribe to. However, I have recently finished Richard Beck’s new book “Reviving Old Scratch; Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted” which among other things works from the framework set up by William Stringfellow and Walter Wink which has made the real existence of forces of evil make sense to me again.

This has enabled me to identify the finance-led market capitalism of today as “the System of Satan”. Merely calling it idolatry is not sufficient for me, given the all-encompassing and subtle power of this system and the fact that most of us see no real alternative, in particular our politicians.

I think Prof. Tanner could do with an element of this more powerful way of condemning the system; while at the point of writing I have not yet heard her final (and summing up) lecture, so far she has merely set out in a factual and resigned way the undesirable features of the system, and commented that there is no longer any competing structure available for us to prefer, communism being widely considered to have failed (and inasmuch as it requires a command economy directed by a few people in power, this is true). Marx, it seems, was a brilliant diagnostician of the weaknesses of capitalism, but his prescription was a failure…

She has not so far considered any of the anarchist thinking which might (as long as it is not anarcho-capitalism) provide another way; her solution seems to be to work within the system but not to subscribe to it’s encompassing ethos, not to be drawn into belief in it, accepting that we live in a fallen world.

I do not think this is enough, though it is a start. We should certainly adopt small measures of protest against the way the system works, but we should also at least hope for a future in which the Kingdom, and it’s non-capitalist economics, grows out of that – as Jesus suggested, like a leaven or a mustard seed. Anything we can do to hasten the leavening or the growth of the seed should be tried.

And maybe, just maybe, we will see the start of the Kingdom coming in glory…

Breaking with perfection

Some while ago, Tripp Fuller hosted a clash between Jack Caputo and Peter Rollins; I’ve just read a response to that from Mark Karris. Briefly, the issue is that Rollins makes much of there being an “original lack” in the human psyche (which he says is a pervading sense of lack without actually ever having lost anything), working from the ideas of Jacques Lacan.

Caputo, on the other hand, favours a theology of possibility, and considers talk of a “lack” to be crypto-Calvinism and BS. I think that’s the first time I’ve heard a philosophical theologian use language like that!

I too tend to balk at Rollins’ language of lack, and also “brokenness”, which is common to Rollins and a lot of other Christian voices. I had not encountered the concept of OSEP (the Ontology of Spatial and Energetic Potentiality) before reading Karris’ article, which I find much more satisfactory. Granted, I’m not entirely confident I want to construct a theology around it, but that was obviously not his intent; Karris is a therapist and speaks mainly from that position.

I do wonder whether Rollins has fallen into the trap of assuming that his own pathologies are universal; a comparable example is found in Robert Sapolsky’s lecture on Religion, where he identifies Luther as obsessive-compulsive, which makes Reformed theology (to which I do not subscribe) make sense – as a theology for Luther, if not for me. I don’t identify any sense of ontological lack in myself, though that might be the product of a peak unitive experience in my teens (I don’t really remember prior to that well enough to comment further). That unitive experience gave me an absolute belief in my essential oneness with a panentheistic God, a God who is radically omnipresent, permeating everything which is at every level and “in whom we live and move and have our being” with an accent on “in”. Strenuous practice of what I settled on after much experimentation as a way in which to encourage repeated mystical experience gave me a near-continuous consciousness of that oneness, so that it was not merely a belief but an ever-present reality, but over time and with the mundane world placing increasing requirements on me, that practice declined and eventually fell by the wayside. Having once experienced that oneness, I cannot thereafter assent to there being a lack which is constitutive of who I am – merely of a reduction in my ability to sense that. My eyesight isn’t as good as it once was either, but that doesn’t mean that reality beyond about three metres becomes fuzzy and then is absent!

These days, although by some standards I might count as “broken”, due to PTSD and associated depression and anxiety now dating back some 20 years, I merely regard myself as working within a new set of restrictions; I’ve always had restrictions on what I could do, due to nature and nurture, but that’s just part of the human condition and readily correctable (in the short term) by a spot of meditation. (I grant that that remedy was not so until about three years ago; it turns out that something in the pathology of depression -or at least my own depression – makes mystical experience impossible. That, however.  could merely be a side effect of the fact that I couldn’t feel any positive emotions during that period, and there is a definite and very positive emotional effect of unitive experience. Indeed, I found it almost impossible to recall occasions which had been emotionally positive during that time.)

Three years ago I woke up to the fact that another 17 years of time and a not particularly healthy lifestyle had resulted in physical illnesses which are not curable and which make some activities I would previously have found easy impossible; likewise the residue of the PTSD leaves restrictions on what I can do mentally and emotionally. But I don’t consider myself broken; I have just had to adjust to a new realism about what it is practicable for me to do. “Broken” implies that I should be resenting the position, kicking against the pricks, but I don’t. “Lack” has the same connotation. I’ve always lacked the ability to levitate myself, for instance, but I never really considered it a lack (though I would hugely like to be able to do that!), it’s just something which humans can’t do, except in fiction. Well, this human, at any rate. I have a sneaking vision of meeting a real superhero sometime!

I feel a real sense of identity with, for instance, the deaf who regard sign language as an entirely adequate language to use, and do not think of themselves as “lacking” because of their use of that instead of a sonic language, or those who have been partially paralysed and resent suggestions that they are somehow less than wholly human. I hate the term “differently able” which often replaces the old “disabled”, but it is probably a far better concept.

What I don’t accept is that this inevitably means that by, as the Serenity Prayer says “accepting the things I cannot change” I am therefore automatically lacking the “courage to change the things I can”. The fact that with my current restrictions, I can say that life is good, and in one way of thinking is “exactly as God intends it to be”, does not mean that I am going to stop pushing the boundaries of what I can do. Indeed, in a sense, life is perfect as it is; tomorrow I may be able to do more or less than I can today, depending on whether practice or age wins, but it will still be perfect. Aquinas would have us believe that the perfect is an absolute, and that it has to be unchanging, immutable, impassible; I reject that. The perfect is what is, and what is is God in the unitive consciousness. What is inevitably moves and changes; that which is static, immutable, incapable of feeling or responding to others, is not perfect. The impassible, immutable, “perfect” God of the philosophers is a pale reflection of the living, feeling, changing (and perfect) God of mystical experience.

It is the God of the Philosophers who is lacking and broken, not me.