Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Process Theology & Prayer
These are selections from my unpublished book on the Holy Spirit. I need to make it clear that just because I don't think God controls everything, doesn't mean that I don't think God has power, even the power to affect the world. I rather do. I think that the love of God is powerful enough to spawn all of physical reality. I think God is mighty, but I think that to create a world other than himself, required the creation of a world that was free. That freedom necessitates a limit on what God can do (without violating the universe's very existence):
Process Theology & The Holy Spirit
Another vital theological movement of the 20th century, one I reflected on in a limited way in my last book, that will play a significant role in my own thinking, is process theology. Process theology began as a philosophical movement started by Alfred North Whitehead, a mathematician and philosopher. Alfred North Whitehead was an agnostic before he began his quest to develop a comprehensive worldview that could make sense of the scientific revolutions taking place at the turn of the century. Whitehead thought that the mechanistic model of reality, seeing the world as a giant clock whose workings could be perfectly described through math and science, had about run its course. It no longer served to push the cause of science and humanity forward, and some new thinking was going to be required if we were to engage in the big paradigm shifts that the future looked like it would be forcing on us. Whitehead thought the line between life and non-life, as well as the line between the world of the mind (the human condition) and the world of the unminded was blurry, at best. Rather, the world and the things that make it up are lifelike and mindlike, and all of reality could be modelled this way. The world by Whitehead's lights was a realm of freedom, and the laws of physics were descriptions of the regularities in the behavior in the use of this freedom. What's more, all things are themselves only societies of other things, all things are organic and societal, this is one reason why his philosophy is often called "The Philosophy of Organism". Strange as this may sound, not long after Whitehead's theorizing about metaphysics, physics itself started to turn in this direction. Quantum mechanics changed our view of the world as something hard, fast, material and determined. Later, influenced by Whitehead and others, a new field of science called systems theory started to permeate all branches of science, from biology and chemistry to physics and even social science. Systems theory very much treats reality and the things that make it up as lifelike and often even mindlike. I personally believe that in time, Whitehead's influence in science will be as great or greater than even Albert Einstein.
Whitehead was taken aback when he realized that the implications of his theories, which are laid out in his writings in ways far more complex and yet precise than what I've said here, pointed the way to the existence of something very much like the God spoken of in the world's great religions. What shocked him was the way free beings, over and over again, on an unimaginable scale, constantly added up to not just aggregates but real wholes, wholes that often expressed an increasing aesthetic value. Whitehead wanted to undersand how it was that value is produced, and how a progression of value in the universe took place. It seemed obvious to Whitehead that things moved in the direction of being more complex, and more beautiful. Why should this be so? From his point of view, increasing physical zeal, and zest, were a reflection of a mental pull towards increasing depth of being. Things were trying to be the 'most' of themselves they could be, to impress deeper upon the world. This action was ultimately self-centered. But from this self-centered action of free beings, a whole, coherent, ordered, and beautiful world resulted. Things, trying to be fully themselves, did so by trying to produce a better, ordered and more beautiful whole. This tendency in things to 'choose' to live for others, in order to fully live for themselves, indicated to Whitehead that Something was impressing upon them something like the human experience of meaning and value.
This led him to take a close look at the broadest range of religious experience throughout human cultures. What he found was something similar going on in religious life. A common religious thread, the one that he thought had the strongest evidentiary force, was the view that I only really find self-fulfillment in my fulfillment of the widest possible human community and moreover, in reality as a whole. I try to be the 'most me' I can be. But I find that I can only truly do this if I live for the whole of things, for all of reality. We live most of the time with an atomized vision of self, where we think we are this singular experiencing center, and we find fulfillment by satisfying that center. But such a life is ultimately self-defeating, unless it includes in it a wider center that we also try to fulfill: familial, cultural, societal and so on. I only find my own real good by fulfilling these larger wholes. Who I am, is only discovered in my relationship with others. Religion at its best, thinks Whitehead, opens us up to an even larger sense of self, one that is only found when we completely lose that sense of an atomized 'me'. If I find my life I lose it, and if I lose my life I find it (Matthew 10:39). This paradoxical insight is yet the foundation of all that truly seems to be 'the good life'. Whitehead thought that this human insight was something that applied to all reality. Whitehead's philosophy is ultimately an attempt to take the reality of individual things seriously. Individuality, novelty, and freedom are REAL, for Whitehead, and yet they are only fully expressed in and through community. Individuality in community, and community through indivdiuality, is the very nature of the universe, for Whitehead. He says this explicitly in RELIGION IN THE MAKING, I apologize for the technical language, but if you do the work to understand Whitehead, the profundity of the message is real:
"The actual world, the world of experiencing, and of thinking, and of physical activity, is a community of many diverse entities; and these entities contribute to, or derogate from, the common value of the total community. At the same time, these actual entities are, for themselves, their own value, individual and separable. They add to the common stock and yet they suffer alone. The world is a scene of solitariness in community.
The individuality of entities is just as important as their community. The topic of religion is individuality in community."
Whiteheadian philosophy posits a dual natured God as the source of the physical world. The primordial nature of God is a non-physical reality, a "best possible" image of the whole world. The consequent nature of God is the world, which expresses that "completed" image to some degree. Each individual 'thing' is imaged in God's primordial nature as the best it can be, adding up to the best possible world given the facts of the world as they are now. The objects of the world, possessed of some kind of mental capacity, have a basic ability to respond to this image, and it uses its freedom to 'lurch' towards it, actualizing it less or more. God then re-orders His primordial nature, to produce a new ideal image, which is respondent to the actions of the objects that make up the world. Think about how it like this: a friend of mine needs a kidney, and I happen to be a match. God presents to me the ideal of me donating my kidney to my friend, within His primordial nature. Through religious and moral experience, and moreso through true self-awareness (awareness of myself in and through the whole of things, an awareness Whitehead called 'prehension'), I apprehend this 'ideal possibility', this best possible image of myself within a best possibe image of the world. But because of fear or distrust I procrastinate and my friend passes away. This ideal image is now gone, a new one replaces it. God may, say, call me to tell others my story to encourage others to have the courage I did not. This is the new ideal image, the new consequent nature of God, for me. What is true for me is true for every thing in the universe, and the universe as a whole. All things, from the cells in my body which are called in each moment to behave according to biological rules and yet still have the freedom to go cancerous to weather systems which are called to continue the dance of life and beauty but can become destructive, have some imaged reality in the primordial nature of God. To the degree the individual things express the primordial nature in the physical world, God exists along side us. Whitehead says in that same book 'all acts leave the world with a greater or fainter impress of God'.
It didn't take long for Whitehead's philosophy to get appropriated by Christian theologians who thought it presented a new and exciting way for us to reconcile science and Biblical religion. Charles Hartshorne was the first to really get the ball rolling. He started by simplifying Whitehead's system into a Divine Personalism, whereby the universe is treated as the Body of God and God as the mind of the universe. The Divine Mind could set the goals and imagine the ideals to which the things that make up the body respond. This was a simpler, and more personal way to express the same truths. A flurry of thinkers developed an important school of thought known as process theology, and it has had a wide influence in Christianity. There are many process theologians, and even more traditional theologians who have been influenced by process thought. It is an exciting and important field. Process pneumatology has been sorely lacking, unfortunately. Process theologians have tended to identify the Holy Spirit with the primordial nature of God, guiding the universe forward through inspiration, and Christ with the consequent nature, the good things in the world expressing the Spirit. Jesus is usually seen as a paradigmic example of this kind of intersect. As Clark Pinnock points out in his wonderful work of Pneumatology "Flame of Love", this is not concomitant with the experience and worship of the Christian community as a whole, and will not do as it stands. For this reduces the Spirit and the Son to parts of God, aspects of God, and not God Himself. This aspectism is not personalism and it is Three Persons of God that we need, we need the sense of the Spirit as a Person, not an idea, not an abstract part of the whole. That said, these ideas will play important roles in my own Trinitarian vision and Pneumatology. I think that the material here can be brought into conversation with tradition and we can reach a whole new height in Pneumatological and Trinitarian reflection. And that is a big part of what I will be doing in this book: giving tradition a much stronger voice alongside process theology than it does for almost any other process thinker. I have explained before why I think honoring tradition and the church experience is important, and it is important for me, just as process theology, too, is important. That is why these ideas will play a role, but the role they will play is to give form and function to a Pneumatological project.
One last thing needs to be said about process theology and Pneumatology. I said before that Greek philosophy tended to weaken the Church's ability to talk about the Spirit and the Trinity. One of the things Whitehead did for theologians was give them a philosophical framework that freed them of the substance vision that so limited their ability to talk about God relationally. This God, the God of Whitehead, is essentially relational, as all things are. Objects are their relationships, and so is God. As such, we have a language which will make it possible to talk about God in and through the relationships of three distinct persons. Whitehead's greatest gift to us was to give us a way to talk about God AS love. For that reason, if for no other, all Christians owe him a great debt of gratitude.
The Charismatic church & The Born Again Experience
Few passages are as influential in modern Christianity, especially of the evangelical bent, than John 3:1-21. In this almost undoubtedly mythological reconstruction of a meeting between Jesus and the Jewish leader Nicodemus, Jesus talks mysteriously of the so-called 'born again' doctrine. Jesus expounds the need for all people to be 'born again' of the Spirit, and wonders how Nicodemus could possibly misunderstand what He is saying, all the while implying that only those chosen by God could understand. The passage culminates in one of the most beautiful and well-known passages in all of the Bible, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, to the end that those who believe on Him will not perish but have life everlasting." Could there be a more powerful exposition of the image of God given to us in Christ Jesus? This is God as completely self-giving, self-emptying, Suffering Love.
The rest of the passage is not so easy to interpret. Jesus' anger at Nicodemus seems completely unfair, He claims that the Spirit is a mystery, and that no one can understand Her except at Her own behest. Yet, He also says that understanding the born again experience is very concrete, obvious and 'everyday'. What does it mean to say that one must be 'born of the Spirit'? How can we reconcile the capriciousness of the Spirit in the passage with the love expressed in John 3:16? How could a God that chooses to elect some to be 'baptized' into the Holy Spirit and not others yet condemn those it does not choose as somehow deserving of their fate?
The Book of Acts embraces the idea of a 'baptism of the Spirit' fully, indicating that the Apostles themselves did not receive full salvation until The Holy Spirit came upon them. For the Book of Acts, Baptism of the Spirit is the completion of the process of salvation which begins with repentance, faith, and commitment to Jesus Christ, and without it you are not fully saved (Acts 8:16). To be 'Baptized in the Spirit' is to have the Spirit poured out upon you (Acts 2:14-21), to be empowered with authority and the Word of God (Acts 4:8, chapters 6-7, 13:9), to enter ecstatic states (Acts 2, 10:44-48, 19:6), to gain miraculous powers, and so on.
Nowadays there is a lot of argument over when one receives the Holy Spirit, and what it means to receive the Holy Spirit. Most Mainline Protestant faiths see the Baptism of the Spirit as taking place simultaneously with water baptism, and the rest of our lives we learn to live more and more Spirit-centered existences. The sign of the Spirit's chosenness is in our response to the work of Christ. Through service to others and our actions during worship, we are embodying a response, God is moving within us, and that response is the Holy Spirit. Think how it happens: through prayer, scripture and homily, God is made present to us, God is revealed, and we experience Christ. Then we respond to that presence. That response is the Spirit. Sacramental faiths, including some protestant movements and the Catholic faiths (Roman, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, etc), also see the Spirit in the sacraments themselves. God, through the Spirit, transforms physical objects and events into encounters with God. This can range from the view that God moves 'in, through, and under' the objects to the belief they are physically transformed. Either way, the Spirit changes the objects. This is functionally very similar to the other attitude. For what the Spirit transforms them into, is Christ. And then it is our response to the objects that becomes the locus for the Spirit during worship itself, in any way that really matters.
In contrast to this, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have claimed that the modern churches' embodiment of the Spirit is far removed from the image that we get in the Bible. When we look there, what we see is a mystical and prophetic ecstatic community filled with glossolalia (which we talked about earlier) and supernatural gifts. It was a high-energy, transformative experience that demanded a total commitment from the person. Rather than seeing the Holy Spirit as something one 'grows into' over time after receiving it during water baptism, the Charismatic movement claims that the Holy Spirit is encountered at some later date, in an all-at-once direct encounter with the Divine. Both water baptism and the Baptism of the Spirit are part of the salvific process, but it is the dramatic Holy Spirit baptism that counts most. This has caused a massive apologetic (explaining one's theological beliefs and actions to those who don't hold them) program within the mainline churches. Mainline churches claim that part of what people were born into in Acts is a new community, and that without that community's broad judgments on what is going on, there is no way to know if one's behavior and gifts are really from the Holy Spirit. The Charismatic Movements' tendencies towards sectarianism is, for the mainline churches, a sign that we cannot put too much stock in their claims.
For me, I'd like to begin by pointing out the varied ways the Spirit is received and expressed in the New Testament. Sometimes there is indeed an all-at-once experience of the Holy Spirit. But at other times, the Spirit seems to come on more slowly. For instance Paul is often talking to people who seem to be going through a slow process of Christian maturation, and Paul claims at times that these people, though obviously gifted by the Spirit, are not showing all the signs of said giftedness (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Certainly, there is no Biblical consensus as to when we receive the Spirit in relation to water baptism. While many do receive the Spirit after baptism by water, Jesus received both baptisms simultaneously in the Baptism Narrative, and in Acts 10:44-48, Peter encounters a community that receives the Spirit before baptism.
The Spirit as I've described Her is 'New Life’; a jump into the Spirit is a jump into a new world, where you live in connection with the whole of thing as never before. The 'outpouring of the Spirit' must not only take place for the church community, but for every person within it. Salvation as I understand it: a new relationship with God where the Divine intimacy of childhood is rediscovered, truly cannot take place without it. However, what shape that will take, or how it happens, should not be boxed in too tightly. Any attempt to limit the Spirit to a particular type of expression can only be based on a selective reading of scripture, where one or another passage is taken in isolation, and the conversational approach I'm working from is all about taking the whole of scripture as our Biblical context. It is probably true that at certain times, with certain people, extreme and all-at-once transformations take place. The opportunity is opened by the 'facts on the ground' and the Spirit has chosen people to respond to God in that way. That said there are far more people who, either because of the Father's Will or because of circumstance, must grow in the Spirit slowly, over a long period of time. For some the Spirit may descend at Baptism, for others it may descend afterwards, or perhaps even before they even know Jesus Christ at all. Either way, a relationship with the Spirit is the completion of the Christian life.
Talk of our response in worship and through service is absolutely appropriate when it comes to the Spirit. It is our mental and spiritual appropriation of the image of the Spirit that constitutes the Spirit's place in Creation. The Spirit is indeed God within us, and our response embodies that Spirit, the Spirit is the response. Any time an experience of Christ brings us to be moved, every time it inspires us, every time it motivates us, that is the Spirit. Further, there can be no doubt that part of what we are born into in the "Born Again Experience" is a new community, a new family, and that we have responsibilities to that family. A healthy relationship is one where criticism is encouraged, and each side is open to correction from the other. The one who claims the Spirit's power should allow that power to be 'tested' by the community. However, the Pentecostal community is right that often this 'testing' takes the form of the very 'boxing in' I spoke against earlier. Too often we define what we think is 'normal' and what we think it would mean to encounter God as The Spirit, we forget that the values of The Kingdom often turn the values of this world upside down, and what that encounter might look like may include the strange and unusual. The World of the Spirit is a world related to this world, but it is more than this world. It is a world where many of the limitations we face now, are transcended. And in the final court of one's own conscience, if after all deliberation one feels one called to a certain expression of the Spirit that their community rejects, they have every right, though this is a sad loss for the rest of us, to leave and find a place where they are more accepted. The Spirit is a Spirit of Power, challenging the world to change its ways and empowering its agents sometimes in amazing ways to bring about that change.
The only absolute rule a church should impose on what an acceptable expression of the Holy Spirit is, has to do with the health and safety of its other members. If someone is claiming that the Spirit is calling them to actions that are antithetical to the goodness and love of Christ, then there is every reason to suspect the involvement of a false spirit, and to reject the behavior totally. But up to this point, we need to tread lightly. We must never forget that the Spirit 'blows where it may', that She is Holy Mystery, that She loves variety, and that She is responding to the plans of the Father, whose vision is far removed from, and far broader than, our own. This entire dispute over what a valid expression of the Holy Spirit looks like needs to end: people in traditional churches call Charismatics crazy and unenlightened, Charismatics call traditionalists heartless and uninitiated. Maybe we should all stop being so judgmental and realize that the Spirit is big enough to accommodate a wide range of experiences, and yet is bigger than any one form of expression can hope to contain. There are valid concerns in both Pentecostal and traditional communities, and dialogue needs to take place to address those concerns, but if we truly are trying to live out the Spirit, unity has to be our ultimate goal.
One form of expression I've not yet addressed is the sacramental system. I think the sacramental system is a particularly important form of Spirit expression. It embodies a universal truth about the Spirit and about Christ. That isn't to say it is more valid than the other approaches, but rather that the sacramental is a broader category than the other two. In other words, it seems to me that charismatic and 'responsive' Spirit worship are really expressions of a sacramental principle that is present in all of Christianity whether it is realized or not.
God is not 'discovered' outside of human experience. In one way or another, we have to encounter God through our encounter with reality, taken in the broadest sense. People find God in the beauty of a natural scene or in the laughter of a child. They find it in their own moral struggle or in the wonder of play. Either way, it is through moments in the world that God is found, and to say a 'moment' is made into the presence of God is sacramental. The Spirit calls moments to 'look like' Christ, and those moments have to respond to embody the Spirit. To see a particular 'response' as the Spirit is to see it as an expression of Christ, it is to see a moment transmuted into Christ. To see Charismatic behavior as Spirit made manifest is to say that it embodies the 'upside down' world that Christ is. Sacramentalism is the recognition that the world can be transformed by the power of the Spirit. Whether the sacrament is in human behavior only or includes the behavior of physical objects doesn't matter. In both cases we are talking about God being in some sense made present in the world. We are talking about Christ as God with us, and how the Spirit makes that happen. For me, as I've said before, I believe that to some degree all of reality shares in something like personhood and mind. When the Spirit invites a moment to 'look like' Christ, and in the church specifically like Jesus Christ, it is inviting the non-human world as much as the human world. Its empowering includes what we normally call non-living non-conscious objects. The sacramental approach is not supernaturalism or superstition; it is a recognition that the mental is not a strange fluke in an otherwise physical universe. The spiritual penetrates the whole of things, and so God can and must exert an influence on the whole of things for His presence to be come apparent.
This naturally brings up the issue of miracles. If God can in some sense influence and empower physical objects to do His Will, it seems we’ve entered the realm of ‘supernaturalism’, a position I’ve long distanced myself from. To begin, nothing I’ve said here necessitates ‘supernaturalism’, which indicates that there is a ‘natural’ realm and a ‘supernatural realm’, the latter being able to control the former. Everything I’m talking about here has some analogue in philosophy and science; it fits in with a scientific picture. No, the realm of the Spirit is not ‘supernatural’ but the very source of the natural order. God and the physical world are parts of the same whole, there is just more to nature than meets the eye. And that is the point I’d like to emphasize here. The only reason why this may sound like supernaturalism to some people is that they are still influenced by a mechanistic model of nature, whereby the world is like a big clock that runs according to unchanging and unchangeable laws. We have been indoctrinated to think that the laws of nature are necessary and impose themselves on things, and that science can in principle come to a complete understanding of those laws and so of the universe as a whole.
It is just this picture of reality, of science, that Whiteheadian thought has challenged. The laws of nature are descriptions of the regularity of behavior. They are not ‘forces’ that control things. There are branches of science that look at the world mechanistically, and those branches and methods are useful. But they are not the whole story: they are only part of the story. The other part of the story is a model of the world as a place of freedom and life and mind. There are descriptions that are better given using the first paradigm, and descriptions better given in the second. Giving an explanation for something is not the same as explaining it. Science gives pictures and provides models that make us able to better predict natural behaviors. And not all models are equally good for all situations. Some people may call something ‘supernatural’ or call some idea they find absurd ‘supernaturalistic’ because it doesn’t fit their model of ‘nature’, but maybe that’s just because they have too narrow a vision of what nature is. Whitehead once said: “philosophy may not neglect the multifariousnes of the world…the fairies dance, and Christ is crucified on the cross.”
The broader question is then can God influence the universe in ways that don’t fit those mechanistic models. And I think the answer is, yes. While I am possessed of a generally skeptical attitude, and am wary of reports of miracles, I do think that sometimes The Father accomplishes some amazing things through the Spirit, things that a mechanistic model of the universe would not predict.
Think about it like this. All the time, every day, all the cells in your body are given a ‘call’ by the Spirit to behave as a part of your body. That is their function, their role. Another role they may be given is to mutate in ways that advance our physical evolution, that make us better suited to our roles in the world. To accomplish that role, they have to have some level of freedom, as all things do. Your cells possess freedom to a higher degree than, say, a rock, though nowhere near the degree of freedom we have. Every once in a while, because of outside influences or just by random chance, that freedom is misused, and cells go cancerous. Those cells start to act as if they are something other than a part of your body; in other words, they disobey the Spirit of God’s call. The Spirit then continues to call them to return back to normal, or it calls and empowers the immune system to fight them. Sometimes the Spirit wins and the cancer goes into remission. Sometimes it doesn’t.
If a person’s body has been ravaged by cancer and all of a sudden the cancer remisses, a person may call that a miracle. It may surprise their doctor, because their scientific models may not have predicted it. That is because there is something more than the bringing together of past events going on. The Spirit introduces new possibilities, empowers the system to return to normal, all the time. The same force that allowed the person to ever exist at all also brought them back to health. So the truth is the Spirit was always acting in this way, but we don’t call its regular, ‘normal’ action ‘a miracle’, though maybe we should. In every moment the Spirit is calling the world to the best of what it can be, that may include empowering natural events in ways that are unusual and unfamiliar. But everything that realty does that is good, or beautiful, or inspiring, it does by the Power of the Spirit. It is us, with our mechanistic model of reality that labels some things ‘normal’ and some ‘abnormal’. But the truth is all that is good, and right, and beautiful in the world is ‘miraculous’ in the sense that it comes from the activity of God. By grounding all good events in the Person of the Spirit, we can make sense of the Christian encounter with the miraculous.
My model could also explain why miracles don’t always come. For the Spirit is still limited by the facts on the ground. There may be times when empowering a certain object to do something amazing is impossible, or it may be so empowered but ‘choose’ to not respond correctly. Things are not all in the Spirit’s hands, they are also in the Father’s hands and in Christ’s hands, and in our hands. In this sense, when prayers for miracles are not answered we can’t be to assume God doesn’t want the suffering we seek to be rid of, to end. God’s vision in the Spirit is of a world where Christ no longer has to suffer, surely. No, we must instead do our best to help the Spirit bring about the most sublime vision possible. It may be that alleviation of suffering isn't an option. In that case we have to help people deal with their suffering internally, leading them to a life where they respond to a bad situation in a meaningful and positive way. Or it may mean helping the medical profession in its work of healing. Think about it: on this model part of what doctors do is help bring about the conditions whereby the Holy Spirit can guide the person to the health She wants them to have. Doctors are truly Holy Warriors in the world.
Of course healings aren’t the only miracles that Christians believe in. The more unusual the reported miracle, the less likely I am to believe in it at all. I think that bringing a physical non-biotic object to express beauty, wonder, order, regularity or holiness is probably relatively easy for the Spirit. Getting it to work for human, moral ends is much harder. I think of beauty, awe, and natural order as less intense, more diffuse forms of goodness in the world. There is a lot of it, and it is something to be thankful for. On large enough scales, it is something that equals and perhaps surpasses the intensity of a pure moral good. Most non-believers don’t ask why a sky is beautiful, they ask why humans think it is beautiful. But I think of beauty as something that inheres in the object. I think the cloud expresses beauty because the Spirit asks it to and empowers it to, and because on that level The Spirit’s influence is vast. However the Spirit stopping a cloud from producing a lightning bolt that will kill a child is a much harder task and a taller order. That said I would not be surprised if many a life has been saved without anyone ever knowing it by that kind of Spirit-activity.
I have little trouble with thinking of the Spirit moving bread and wine to express a certain holiness or to give it the power to inspire us with awe in Christ, but I do have some trouble with believing that it made a donkey talk or helped someone teleport out of jail. I think that ‘calling’ physical objects to express beauty and holiness is a small leap for the Spirit, because She does it all the time, everywhere, in various ways. But calling objects to act in ways that are counter to their physical regularities is something that happens very rarely, and only in a limited way. In the end miracles as most Christians understand them play little role in my theology, though I am happy I can fit them into the framework I’ve put forth, since they do mean a lot to others. For me, all of life, all of existence, and all consciousness are miracles. I am surrounded and captivated by the goodness, the beauty, and the variety of existence. Ultimately, I don’t think religion should be about what we want or need form God, but what God, what Christ, needs from us. And that brings me to an important issue: human responsibility.