Hulk theology



I'm way too removed from the pop culture scene that I only heard yesterday about Nick Hogan's car crash over a year ago and the Hulk family shenanigans surrounding it. In the leaked phone call between the Hulk and Nick while he was in prison, the Hulk says, "Well, I don't know what kind of person John was or what he did to get himself into this situation. I know he was pretty aggressive. He used to yell at people and he used to do stuff. But for some reason, man, God laid some heavy sh*t on that kid, man, I don't know what he was into...."

The Hulk says on Larry King Live that he told his son this to reach out to his son and give him solace -- blaming the victim, instead of having his son take on the guilt of having done something perhaps even worse than actually kill his best friend. Obviously, the worst sh*t that John Graziano was into was hanging with the Hogans.

But let's say regardless of the pressure or motives behind this statement that it exemplifies part of Hulk's theology. Assuming a God, is there any way to prove Hulk wrong? Many Christians would say, "That is not my God." But when theology involves a personal God, and encourages subjective interpretations that can not be discredited or disproved, what happens to absolute truth, which is supposed to come with religion?

As an atheist, I am asked by Christians "on what basis" can I substantiate my morality, ideology, and my will to live. The implication is that we all need God's grace to get it right. The golden rule is obviously too far fetched for me to exhibit on my own without Jesus tugging on my heart or to remember the words of my parents in how to share, or to modify my behavior when a kid said, "Ouch! You're not playing nice!" My basis is my interpretation of how the world operates and how I ought and want to behave given that interpretation. It's an ongoing thing. I study nature and work together with others using language and behavior to devise collective norms and laws. So, yes, it's relative, just like the basis of one's Christianity.

I find the premise that religion offers absolute/universal truth alarming because it never actually delivers it. See here for a fun read. Toward the end of the article, when it addresses evidence of absolute truth, it makes the following claims:

The first evidence for the existence of absolute truth is seen in our conscience. Our conscience tells us that the world should be a “certain way,” that some things are “right” and some are “wrong.”

The second evidence for the existence of absolute truth is seen in science. Science is simply the pursuit of knowledge. It is the study of what we know and the quest to know more. Therefore, all scientific study must by necessity be founded upon the belief that there are objective realities that exist in the world. Without absolutes, what would there be to scientifically study?

The third evidence for the existence of absolute truth / universal truth is the existence of religion. All the religions of the world are an attempt to give meaning and definition to life. They are born out of the fact that mankind desires something more than simply existing.



Points one is an example of relativism.

The first problem with point two is that objective realities may themselves be part of dynamic, random processes. Furthermore, much of science is not proven, but built on theory, which might eventually be shown to be incorrect. The second problem with employing #2, from a theological perspective, is that this does not differ from some forms of deism and materialism.

Point three shows, as with Hulk's theology, that the strivings for finding meaning in various life events is a natural human condition, but because everyone has their own theology, the splinters of various belief indicate that the only absolute is subjectivity.

11 comments:

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

Great post. Thought-provoking questions. But one very critical mistaken assumption ...

"I find the premise that religion offers absolute/universal truth alarming."

Me too! I do not believe that premise, and I don't think you would find many deep thinking Christians who do.

I do believe in absolute truth. But I do not believe anyone here on earth has ahold upon it. We are all seekers! We never stop being seekers.

The view that "absolute truth comes with religion" is indeed dangerous. This is the view that leads to various strands of extreme fundamentalism. It is the kind of so-called faith that banishes all doubts, prohibits all questions, and gives rise to all kinds of evil. I reject the notion that anyone has, or can have, ultimate truth.

But that does not slow me down from reading, thinking, looking under the rocks, and searching for Truth that is reasonable, consistent, all encompassing, etc. And my search keeps returning me to Jesus, the one who audaciously calls himself "Truth", and who is (I believe) our best hope for discovering truth.

Tom said...

Hi Cliff.

The view that "absolute truth comes with religion" is indeed dangerous. This is the view that leads to various strands of extreme fundamentalism. It is the kind of so-called faith that banishes all doubts, prohibits all questions, and gives rise to all kinds of evil. I reject the notion that anyone has, or can have, ultimate truth.

Your perception is right -- that this characterization is in line with churches that claim to be the Remnant, or The One True Church, and it does lead to terribly ugly things.

You are also right that Jesus was audacious in his claim that he was the truth (John 14:5-7). You seem to say that Jesus/God is ultimate truth, we just don't know it completely. (Perhaps that's what eternity is about?) But that being said, it seems as a Christian on this path is to believe that non-Christianity, then, is devoid of attaining ultimate truth. Furthermore, it seems like a slippery slope from believing Jesus is Truth (capital T) to one's Jesus is Truth -- the latter case being that someone believes he has pieces of absolute Truth and others are at best "misguided", or more subjectively, that others subscribe to falsities, because if it ain't 100% true, then it must be false.

Let's say the last statement is too extreme. Nevertheless, it seems accepting that Jesus is the unique path to ultimate truth is to believe that others are on a path that will not lead to ultimate truths and we will be incapable of establishing values, rules of law, decent societies, and fulfilling lives.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

Again, I think you are leaping to unwarranted conclusions. There are many sources of common grace. God gives to all mankind such tools as rational thought and conscience (whether or not these are evolutionarily developed). Some of the finest societal leaders in history have not been followers of Jesus. Nonbelievers can (and do) make wise choices in life, and believers can (and do) make unwise choices.

In my opinion, the highest potentials for any individual are only achievable in a relationship with the Creator. And Jesus presents himself as our link to God. But in terms of human experience, I do not see anything approaching the black and white world you describe.

AMW said...

I also believe in objective, absolute truth. Unfortunately, we are only able to approach it asymptotically. That's true with regard to science and religion.

Even accepting Jesus as the Truth, one should do so open to the possibility that one is wrong and willing to look at competing arguments. It's sealing oneself off from being able to mentally accept the possibility of error that makes *any* belief (religious, political, scientific*, philosophical, whatever) dangerous.

*By scientific, I mean a claim about the material universe. Obviously any belief that one holds to not be open to challenge is ipso facto not scientific.

Tom said...

The peculiar thing about faith is the feeling that one has obtained or is on a path toward absolute truth. Jesus (and religions in general) call us to faith. However, faith is a belief in the unknown or unknowable, certainly what I would not define as an absolute or objective truth. Regarding my statement, "I find the premise that religion offers absolute/universal truth alarming." I find it rather ironic that such absolute/objective Truth can only be found through a 100% subjective mechanism.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

What of the possibility (I consider this a certainty!) that absolute truth cannot possibly be grasped by finite minds restricted to four dimensions? And so we must work with the bits and fragments we are able to discover, by whatever means are available to us. What of the possibility that God has reasons for intentionally restricting his created beings in this way, and expects us to trust our conscience, to trust our instincts, and ultimately, little by little, to trust him?

I find it rather ironic that such absolute/objective Truth can only be found through a 100% subjective mechanism.

Indeed; unless God has reasons for structuring it in this way. But I do find your assertion here to be overreaching: Do you consider my faith to be a "100% subjective mechanism"?

Tom said...

Cliff said, What of the possibility (I consider this a certainty!) that absolute truth cannot possibly be grasped by finite minds restricted to four dimensions? And so we must work with the bits and fragments we are able to discover, by whatever means are available to us. What of the possibility that God has reasons for intentionally restricting his created beings in this way, and expects us to trust our conscience, to trust our instincts, and ultimately, little by little, to trust him?

Cliff, I like the phrasing in this definition of what it is to be supernatural -- beyond any natural (or accessible?) dimension.

Because there is no way to access these other dimensions, there is no way to determine the intents of God or even if there are several supernatural powers at play. You can look back at history and our biology and say that there is a trajectory, but that does not mean that the intent of the supernatural is to continue on that trajectory as we interpret it. What if we were being lead to slaughter? Evolution shows that most species die out. Is there a desire on the deities to watch species compete such that they kill each other and themselves in the process?

Faith is what says, "No, the path looks like this, and there's no reason to expect it to deviate." Depending on who you ask, one could find evidence for their claim based on their interpretations of the immeasurable dimensions interacting with the available dimensions.

Let me further delineate "faith". As a 100% subjective mechanism, this would be any belief of the operations of these immeasurable dimensions and how these dimensions correlate or interact with the measurable dimensions. I contrast this with "assumptions", which would be one's interpretations of our (currently four) dimensions' operations. Assumptions may be, and certainly are, highly subjective, but they are also open to scientific exploration, criticism, and collective consensus given what we can measure.

In this respect, I suppose a theist can share the same set of assumptions about our measurable dimensions as a materialist. However, I would expect them to differ because the theist would view our natural dimensions as being dependent on these immeasurable dimensions whereas a materialist would either disregard these other dimensions entirely, or at least assume no particular anthropomorphic intent to their operations.

So anyway, to say that these higher dimensions contain an absolute truth that reveals itself somewhat through our four dimensions, and especially when we believe in it, is pure conjecture. So yes, that part of your belief system is 100% subjective. It does not differ from the X-files "The Truth is out there" mantra, and opens the door to any suspicion. Conversely, you may point out that my conjecture that the higher dimensions have no intention for me is also 100% subjective -- what you've called the "atheist-of-the-gaps". I cannot prove that the higher dimensions exist or don't, and if they do, that they do not contain absolute truth and meaning for my life.

7K said...

Aren't we encountering here the Post-modern predicament? Essentially, our language defines our reality. Absolutes implode and all we are left with is an almost Yogic subjectivity.

Those who believe in God are not making the transition from the Modern Age smoothly (they never do seem to make transitions well). Atheists may well have the upper hand in this atmosphere.

When absolutes crumble in science, does it follow with "religion?" The evidence of Christ as absolute truth is founded upon belief. Scientifically, that is no more reliable than belief in UFOs or Yeti.

Yet, supposing Christ is the full expression of "truth," it doesn't matter who believes - our subjective realities won't change the fact. Hogan's reality is what he works with.

When Jesus says, "I am the truth", he is basically opening a door to this counter-reality that is only realized subjectively, resistant to objective investigation. For the believer, it is perceived as an advantage and is, in varying ways, life-transforming. Where believers betray their own message is when they take that "advantage" as a kind of hubris. The good news is not about arm-twisting. It just is; and people either buy into it or they don't. No human can control such outcomes.

Again, if it is true, all the arguments in the world won't make it untrue. The battleground is in the problem of belief itself.

Isaac Gouy said...

tom > As an atheist, I am asked by Christians "on what basis" can I substantiate my morality, ideology, and my will to live.

You might find this interesting:

"The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World" Owen Flanagan

Tom said...

Too funny. I just ordered this from Amazon a couple of days ago and it is to be delivered today! Did you read it?

Isaac Gouy said...

Yes I read it - I borrowed a copy from the local library's network of libraries.