On Pluto, Atoms, and Other Things (such as Heaven) that Just Keep Getting More Complex

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto last week. And wow! What a bonanza!

Before this flyby, all we had were very fuzzy images of Pluto only a few pixels wide. Because Pluto is so far away, so small, and so faint, that’s the best we could do. We had very little idea what it looked like. We didn’t even know exactly how big it was. Most scientists figured that Pluto would be a gray, heavily cratered planet, battered by several billion years of impacts by asteroids and comets.

When the first close-up pictures came back, what we found instead was a young, reddish, geologically active surface with mountain ranges and plains, and hardly any craters at all.

Pluto in true color - NASA New Horizons global mosaic

Pluto in true color

This has sent scientists back to the drawing board. They had assumed that such a cold, small, and distant planetary body would be nothing but an inert, geologically inactive rock. But what we discovered when we finally got close enough to take a good look was far different, and far more complex, than anything anyone had expected.

This seems to be a pattern in science. We think we’ve got a handle on things. We think we have a pretty good idea how things work and how they will turn out.

And then we look closer and dig deeper, and find that the reality is far beyond our wildest speculations. We discover that this universe is far more complex and interesting than we had ever imagined.

For more on Pluto, atoms, and other highly complex things, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Science, Philosophy, and History, The Afterlife

Spirit: The Final Frontier

Space: The Final Frontier? - Star Trek: The Next Generation

Space: The Final Frontier?

It’s about time I ’fessed up: I am a big fan of science fiction in general, and of Star Trek in particular. Whenever I watch an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” I thrill to the grand voice of Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, intoning those inspiring words in the show’s opener:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Yet as much as I enjoy venturing with Picard and his crew on an exciting voyage into the frontiers of space (as the human mind imagines it), there is always a little voice in the back of my head saying “Yes . . . but space isn’t the final frontier.” So I offer you this modified version of that famous call to exploration:

Spirit: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds of spirit, to seek out new ways of living and new levels of civilization, to boldly go where we have never gone before.

For more on the final frontier, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Popular Culture, Spiritual Growth

Is there Really a Devil? Why??

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Kayla Lynn:

Dear Lee,

I’ve been having a hard time discerning the rationality of the Devil.

  1. I do not fancy the idea of a fallen angel, particularly since there is no direct story of this rebellious angel found anywhere, to my understanding, in the Bible.
  2. I do not see any need for the Devil in reality (in other words, the big picture), as humans can be quite awful on their own.
  3. However, I think, based on my understanding of human governments, if angels have a leader, then demons must also have a leader. However, that leader could possibly be God in both cases, right?
  4. Furthermore, why, even if God can create such evil (in us or in another being) in the first place, would evil be needed in the world at all? Is it to teach us a lesson or guide us?

These are my doubts at the moment, but I have had personal experiences which tell me otherwise… I could really use some direction on this subject.

Confused and seeking truth,

Thank you,

Kayla Lynn

Thanks for the great conundrum, Kayla Lynn!

I would say that you have already sensed much of the truth about the Devil.

As you say, there is little or nothing in the Bible about the Devil being a fallen angel. That idea comes mostly from books that aren’t in the Bible, and from the myths of various cultures.

In the Bible itself, the word traditionally translated “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12 is actually a reference to the King of Babylon. He is compared to the “light-bearer” (Latin: lucifer), or “morning star”—meaning the planet Venus, which appears from earth as the brightest “star” in the morning (or evening) sky. You can read the full prophecy in Isaiah 14:3–23. It predicts the downfall of the evil and oppressive king of Babylon by comparing him to the morning star falling out of heaven. The Biblical prophecy is about the fall of an earthly power, not about some supposed powerful angel who fell away from God and became Satan.

Satan, or the Devil

Satan

In the Bible, the idea of the Devil, or Satan, developed only gradually over time. In fact, the word “satan” was originally used for human enemies. Later Satan, or the Devil, became a metaphor for evil and falsity, and a personification of the spiritual forces of evil and falsity that fight against God.

Does this mean that the Devil isn’t real?

No, the Devil is very real.

It’s just that the Devil and Satan are synonyms for the whole complex of human evil and falsity. You see, we humans, and not God, were the ones who originated evil. And human evil and falsity seen as a whole is the Devil and Satan.

Wherever we see evil and falsity in the world around us, and in our own minds and hearts, that is the presence of the Devil and Satan. And anyone who has ever been the victim of human selfishness, greed, and grasping for power knows that evil and falsity are very real, and very destructive.

Let’s take a closer look.

In Part One below, we’ll look at the real, original meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words referring to the Devil, Satan, and demons. This will lead to a different view of the Devil than the one prevailing in traditional Christianity.

In Part Two, we’ll take up the question of why there is a Devil at all.

For more on the Devil and Satan, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Afterlife, The Bible Re-Viewed

What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?

(Note: This post is an edited version of an answer I wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

The theological basis for this response

This answer is based on the Bible interpretations and Christian theology put forth by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).

  • This theology is not unitarian as that is usually defined, because Swedenborg stated that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all fully divine, and are God.
  • This theology is not trinitarian as that is usually defined, because although Swedenborg stated that there is a Trinity in God, he denied that the Trinity consists of three persons, but stated that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a single person of God.
  • It is also not modalist, as explained in this article.

Though Swedenborg’s theology has been identified with many earlier theologians and heresies rejected by Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christianity, a closer examination shows that his theology fundamentally disagrees with every such theology or heresy that has been attributed to him. To the best of my knowledge as a lifelong scholar and teacher of Swedenborg’s theology, his solution to the problem of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit presented in the Bible as being one God is unique in the history of Christian thought. It skips over all the creeds, and relies on the Bible’s own statements.

Though it is beyond the scope of the question and this answer to present a full explanation of Swedenborg’s doctrine of a Trinity in one person of God, it will be necessary to provide a brief sketch of it at the end in order to properly answer the question.

For more on the Bible and the Trinity, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God

Pixar’s Movie “Inside Out”: Spiritual Takeouts

No, I don’t mean “outtakes.” Those are scenes that never made into the movie.

I’m going to serve up some tasty spiritual takeouts from the movie: scenes and themes to take with you into your day.

But first, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, do it!

It’s a computer animated kids’ movie. But don’t let that stop you. Inside Out serves up plenty of thought-provoking and heart-tugging material for adults, too. And it looks set to go down as one of the best and most original movies from one of the best and most original animation studios in the movie business. If you haven’t yet seen a Pixar movie, this would be good place to start.

What’s Inside Out all about?

The plot involves 11 year old Riley, who is going through a major life transition. She must leave behind her happy childhood home in Minnesota when her father takes a new job in San Francisco.

But the real action takes place inside Riley’s head. And the main cast of characters are her five basic emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. These five are personified and brought to life inside the spacious world of Riley’s mind, where they vie with one another to run the control panel inside her mental “headquarters.” As Riley’s outer life unfolds, we watch the story of her emotions driving all the action behind the scenes.

To get the full effect, you’ll just have to watch the movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, this trailer gives you a taste:

Now here are five spiritual takeouts based on key themes in the movie.

Warning: plot spoilers below!

For spiritual takeouts from Inside Out, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Popular Culture, Spiritual Growth

What is the difference between the Swedenborgian and Oneness Pentecostal doctrines of God?

(Note: This post is an edited version of an answer I wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

Most Christian churches today, encompassing the vast majority of Christians, teach that God consists of a Trinity of three Persons called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine emerged with the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and was stated more explicitly in the Athanasian Creed a century or two later. From there it became dominant in Christianity as a whole.

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) rejected the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God, saying instead that there is a Trinity of essential components in a single Person of God.

Followers of Swedenborg’s theology have historically been in a lonely position among Christians due to their rejection of the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity. However, in the early 1900s another movement, called Oneness Pentecostalism, arose that also rejected that doctrine.

The question naturally arises, then, whether Oneness Pentecostals agree with Swedenborg’s theology about the nature of God and the Trinity.

Here is the short answer, stated from the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology:

Swedenborg does agree with modalists, including Oneness Pentecostals, in affirming the full divinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while denying that they are three persons.

This has led to the common error of labeling Swedenborg and Swedenborgians “modalist.”

However, Swedenborg rejects the essential, defining modalist doctrine: that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three different modes or manifestations of God to human beings.

Swedenborg, and Swedenborgians, are therefore not modalist in their doctrines and beliefs.

Now for a fuller answer.

First, we need to define God from the modalist, Oneness Pentecostal, and Swedenborgian perspectives.

For more on Swedenborg vs. the Oneness Pentecostal view of God, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God

According to Emanuel Swedenborg, will a good person who rejects Jesus go to Heaven?

(Note: This post is an edited version of an answer I wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

From the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology, this is a trick question.

Technically, according to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), anyone who rejects Jesus (“the Lord,” as Swedenborg refers to him) cannot go to heaven.

However, Swedenborg’s definition of “rejecting the Lord” is quite different from the usual Christian definitions.

By the usual Christian definitions of “rejecting Jesus,” yes, according to Swedenborg someone who has rejected and even mocked Jesus can go to heaven.

That’s why it’s a trick question (but a good one!): because it all depends on your definition of “rejecting Jesus.”

Let me explain.

For more on heaven for people who reject Jesus, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God, The Afterlife

If you Don’t Believe in the Inerrancy of Scripture, on What Basis can you Interpret Scripture?

(Note: This post is an edited version of an answer I wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

The doctrine of biblical inerrancy is very recent in Christian history

First, let’s put biblical inerrancy into perspective.

Two centuries or so ago, and for all of Christian history before that, not a single Christian church, denomination, or preacher held that the Bible is inerrant. The very idea of biblical inerrancy had never even occurred to anyone.

It was only after the Age of Enlightenment (from the 1650s to the 1780s) that any need was seen by Christians for any such doctrine. This need was perceived only when the rapid development of science in the wake of the Age of Enlightenment began to call into question in many people’s minds the scientific accuracy of many stories and statements in the Bible, such as the creation of the world in six days and the Flood of Noah.

So for roughly 1,800 years of its history, all of Christianity looked to the Bible as the Word of God without the need for any doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

For more on an alternative to inerrancy, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed

The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus

I want to talk to you about a subject that is near and dear to my heart. It is also at the heart Christian belief.

Though it is delivered in the form of an article, you can think of it as my personal testimony.

Why am I a Christian? Given that I think of myself as a reasonably scientific and rational person, how can I possibly believe that a historical, flesh-and-blood human being named Jesus actually was God with us (Matthew 1:23)? How can any logical, rational, and scientific person believe such an illogical, unscientific, and preposterous thing?

The answer lies in a higher logic: the logic of love. In a previous article, I said that “God is Love . . . And That Makes All the Difference in the World.” Believing that God became Jesus, who is God with us, flows logically from the simple statement, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).

But before we flesh that out, let’s look at things from the perspective of the skeptics.

For more on the logic of love, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God

Spiritual Tornadoes

Tornado with Lightning

Tornado with Lightning

The month of May is peak tornado season across the U.S. plains and southern states. Already this year five separate tornadoes have caused fatalities, in Cisco, TX, Van, TX, Nashville, AR, Fairdale, IL, and Sand Springs, OK. Just over the weekend several tornadoes touched down in southwestern Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, damaging buildings and causing power outages.

Every region of the country, and of the world, has its dangers and its natural disasters. For those living in Tornado Alley, it’s twisters.

In my younger childhood years, when my family lived in the states of Michigan, Illinois, and Missouri, we got used to the sound of tornado sirens piercing the air from time to time. Fortunately, our town was never hit. Others have not been so lucky. Even when the tornado warnings give local residents time to take shelter, tornadoes are a devastating experience for those who live through them.

Then comes the monumental task of rebuilding shattered buildings, shattered towns, and shattered lives.

A tornado causes more than physical destruction. The terror of the experience itself, and the heartbreak of destruction and loss in its aftermath, also create huge emotional, even spiritual devastation. The physical destruction is often mirrored by a sense of wreckage and desolation in the soul. This requires a painful process of psychological rebuilding.

And even people who have not experienced a tornado or other natural disaster sometimes experience spiritual tornadoes and hurricanes.

For more on storms of the soul, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Current Events, Spiritual Growth
Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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Earlier Posts
Lee Woofenden speaking at Fryeburg New Church Assembly, Fryeburg, Maine, August 2012

Lee Woofenden speaking at Fryeburg New Church Assembly

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