Christian folks often have a blessed ignorance when it comes to heaven. O.k., the Book says not much ’bout it, but we missed to make us some warmer thoughts on that topic. Most folks did not even realize the full extent of what is going wrong on earth, so they expect too much stuff from earth to be also in heaven, and then start to wonder if God is love if there is steady toil in heaven? Or even worse, if God will prohibit us in heaven from knowing each other, or from loving our mate from earth in a special way?

But now, for the alternative. Do we dare to think heaven is a place that is a permanent blessing for the senses? And without toil in the work? Like Schlaraffenland but with love instead of laziness? If yes, we think that Gods wants a permanent (eternal) sensual blessing for us. Then, we cannot at the same time think that anything “less than heaven” in this world corresponds to God’s character, or even, in the full sense of the word, is a gift of God. If it’s “worldly good”, it is what God can give us while we live here (constrained by the state of the world as it is), but so much less than what he wants to give us. If it’s “worldly bad” (natural catastrophies etc.), it has nothing to do with God’s character at all.

To express this kind of insight, I want a 30min movie clip that expresses this “heaven” feeling when viewed in a comfortable position on a big screen and with good audio equipment. The mood when starting to view this clip is of no relevance, as such a clip has the power to communicate the desired feeling into any personal situation. The clip should use instrumental music in the background, sounds of nature, and probably no spoken words. It should be about people’s daily lives, filled with love and adoration, without any pain, toil, illness and death.

Such a movie clip, and others of that kind, could be the best kind of stuff to make people think about life, love and God.

One of the most difficult tasks on earth is, how to communicate emotions between human beings as exactly as possible. So that the receiver gets the message (the emotion) as close as possible to the one intended by the sender.

People say, music is a means for communicating emotions. This is partially true, but music can just communicate an emotion without its semantic context; which is a vague, undifferentiated emotion, and one without meaning.

Good poems are another means, but you have to concentrate on it to get the intended emotion. Which makes them useless if you are in a mood unable or unwilling to concentrate. Also, poems create just an “image of an emotion”, by far weaker than what the sender felt.

However, if one adds more media to these options, this adds much more possibilities for communicating emotions. The full possibilities are at hand when adding motion pictures (our richest medium) to music, that is, when creating movie clips.

Movie clips have the added advantage that they can communicate emotions nearly independent of the receiver’s emotional situation … the medium is strong enough to get through all your current emotions, and you may just stay passive. Of course, one has to take great care not to get used to movies that much that they lose this force; which they did already for probably > 90% of the population in modern societies.

Another caveat: the sender must not employ kitsch; which is everything where he presents an emotion that the receiver should also feel. This strategy has lost its force for nearly everybody now, and also produces only “kitschy” (undifferentiated) emotions. An emotion is more than its expression! Therefore, instead of the emotion, the situation should be depicted that triggers it. And of course, depicting emotions includes every blunt, flat means to trigger emotions, which may be also some sorts of colors, symbols (heart, …), images and music; it’s not just about the depiction of human emotion.

Now, how ’bout some examples. I searched YouTube for over two hours now and, sad enough, I found not one example for what I mean here. All this a highly symbolic, kitschy, graphic depiction of what they mean … I’m unable to feel with them.

However, here are the clips that get at least to 10% of what I mean … perhaps you get a clue. In descending order of “emotional communication quality”, some music clips:

  1. Söhne Mannheims – Vielleicht (probably the only video blogged twice in this blog)
  2. Glashaus – Haltet die Welt an (on somebody dying)
  3. Silbermond – Ich bereue nichts (also on somebody dying)
  4. Söhne Mannheims – Kraft unseres Amtes
  5. Eisblume – Leben ist schön
  6. Söhne Mannheims – IZ ON
  7. Silbermond – Krieger des Lichts

There is a disagreement in Christianity if the world can be helped at system level, and if yes, if a Christian is allowed to do so.

First position: it’s forbidden

Some people hold the opinion that the world cannot be really helped at the system level. Because man is, in essence, really bad. And even if it would be possible to implement a just social system that stays stable in spite of man’s sin nature, this would just confirm mankind to live out this nature, that is, drive him more away from God.

Helping, in this view, is nothing more than acting out of love and compassion towards individual people. Without the motivation (or allowance) to see the causes of the problem at the system level and to help there. Because helping the individual that was wrecked by the system offers the possibility to explain the Gospel as ones motivation to an attentive individual. Whereas this is not possible when helping at system level, and if succeeding there, the system would not even create attentive individuals by wrecking them.

People with this view offer the Gospel as the solution to the sad state of the world, and understand it to be this message: man is totally depraved, but God is prepared to forgive anybody who seeks forgiveness in Christ Jesus. This message offers no hope of improvement at system level for the remaining time on earth (there will never be so much Christians that they influence the system). This message also offers no hope of improvement by immediate, miraculous help by God (this might happen, but is an exception meant to show God’s presence). This message offers hope of improvement for the time after death.

Second position: it’s demanded

Other Christians are motivated by Christian compassion and benevolence to help people in misery. Then they think about how to help best with the few resources they have, and they see some kind of help at the system as the best solution for this. Because, it might be so much more effective to prevent calamities (like AIDS infections) than to cure them. These Christians see their service at system level as a part of their service for God, and as an adequate expression of being “light of the world”, and even as a way to make people think about God and the Gospel.

Third position: help by bottom-up replacement

The above two positions are, in my current view, expressions of different concepts of God. In the first position, God’s love is no real, benevolent love, but a hard, uncompassionate attitude that just wants people to “get saved” (though pure theory until heaven) and is not interested in their suffering from unnecessary calamities. The conception of God in the second position is close to mine, but I must admit that some logic on how to help the world is better in the first position.

Because, this is true through history: any system-level help for the world has been prone to decay and won’t help in the long term. From the Christian perspective, this is because it deals with symptoms but does not change persons. The only way to change persons would be if these persons start to believe; so the only system-level help is transforming the world into a church of believers. According to Jesus’ last words on earth. We will probably not succeed fully, but partially.

So, here is my attempt of a third position:

I think that the church is the help at system level, by being the new system to replace the old. It is intended to implement God’s idea of living, which is true help on system level. People can profit from the new system by being in its proximity, but to really get helped, they need to take part by believing in Christ. The church is the visible part of God’s kingdom, the area where government has to be done in reversed pyramid scheme, the area where changing people meet and which therefore enables a social system that would not work with still “totally depraved” people.

So if you want to contribute at system level: build God’s kingdom, in all areas of life. The essential part is no never conceal the necessity to change in heart – else the new system will fail in eternity, but also in this world, as it currently does in Western societies based on Christian values but lacking Christians. To let church properly take its role as “the new social system”, church would include more of its members’ lifes than is current practice in highly civilized societies: living together, helping each other, working together, even being an autarchic cell.

The interesting, and non-convential thing about church is: it is a bottom-up change, a grassroots movement. While all other help on system level wants to achieve that through a top-down change, controlled by a central instance, but forced upon unchanged and rejective people. (So, never try to make church a centrally organized system. Church is a local and autonomous group, joined by faith to other groups in the worldwide church, not by organizational links.)

It is hard to see why people always think that the help at system level has to be to down, and by force. The effects are not only short-lived (as can be seen in history), it is also very hard to invent a working top-down system, and to manage it. I lately read an highly interesting discussion about economic systems (“Utopien des Weltinnenraums und seiner Umwelt“; German). If you read it, read also through all the comments. Though cool to read, the discussion also shows that there is a great cluelessness about how to create a just and stable economic system in a top-down approach. Compared to top-down methodology, large systems in nature use a “complex system approach”: entities only interact with their local environment in a meaningful way, and globally meaningful behavior emerges from that. The human body, for example, seems to work in many aspects that way, including the brain. That’s far different from a top-down strictly hierarchical design like a computer or an army.

Another reason for the bottom-up approach is: even if anybody had any idea how to help top-down, it could not be implemented, as there would be mighty people opposed to it. So the only way is to start at the local level. And the only help possible there is a community of changed people, as autarchic as possible to be isolated from the surrounding system’s deterioration.

In the Christian view, a community of changed people is a church of people who accepted the Gospel. With un-changed people, these communities would quickly deteriorate into authoritarian structure that grow like cancer and if successful, replace the current system with another instance of the same, authoritarian system. Now the church will never include more than just a few percent of humankind, but the good news is that, as a local system, people in church are better off even if there’s only one local church in the world. This system does not need global scale to help; it scales from 2 persons to infinity.

Some ideas how to make one local church to the local system which provides help to the world at system level, and thus helps people before their earthly death:

  • The central idea is to use possessions (in the sense of resources one has but does not need for oneself) for the good of all. This is enacted by education in changed people. But it cannot be enacted in unchanged people, so that it results there in all the problems that the misuse of possession brings: being able to exploit others, being able to aggregate even more possessions to even better exploit others. Now in the sense of the idea presented here, richness would still be allowed, as it’s unjust to level out all differences that resul
    t from different productivity of persons, but effective education would guarantee voluntary levelling out. This value is even part of the German constitution: “Property is an obligation. Its use shall at the same time serve the benefit of all.” (GermanGrundgesetz art. 14 section 2; original in German).
  • Have a system based on voluntary action, and education of all members towards that, rather than any formal system of wealth distribution.
  • Have a system of giving and generosity rather than a system of taking and getting ones legal right. This is after the example of the donations to the first church in Jerusalem, which we can read about in Acts.
  • As long as people work in their jobs (the church being no economically autarchic unit, and there is no strict need for it to be this): educate people to understand that money is a means to help others, not primarily meant for private luxury.
  • Create voluntary “pools” of money to distribute to members (and others) in need, by the example found in early Acts. To prevent lazyness, this must be combined with the permanent education of people that they must work for their own needs as good as possible. The secret of this system is that this education will work because people basically accepted the authority of God, whereas it does not work outside church for lazy people, and therefore dooms liberalism.
  • Spend really much time together, also working together etc.. Employ modern IT to coordinate, if necessary.
  • Have food autarchy (in cities, by guerilla gardening).
  • Have simple medical help within church, like physiotherapy.
  • Only if organizationally necessary, have a clear understanding who is inside the church (within the autarchic solidarity group) and who is without (receiving voluntary donations and benefits, but only if left over after distribution in church is done).
  • Prepare being mobile, i.e. for quickly leaving the current country to live in another, also in autarchy right from the start. This might be necessary if the surrounding system gets really bad (civil war, immiserization etc.).
  • If possible (and not being an utopia), have a subgroup develop into a “power community”, which will be the “special forces” service unit that serves both the community and the surrounding society in special needs.

Observation: adults (people above 20) do not change in character normally. Even worse, they also do not change in qualification. They finished their formal education, which set the direction, and until their death, they normally keep going in that direction. But without change, there is no hope.

What’s the reason for this alarming static condition of adults? First, they do not have relationships that are intensive enough to forge character. A child has this kind of “overwhelming” relationships in its family, and cannot escape. This also makes a child vulnerable to emotional abuse, but enables also imprinting positive, constructive values into the character. Adults however can and do leave their partners and children if it gets difficult, and can mentally block the imprinting-capability of situations. Second, many adults never learned to learn by themselves, and thus cannot change by self-education.

The effects are disastrous. Some people are even stuck in misery, where they lack and cannot acquire the social, technical and medical qualifications to take part in daily life. Nobody will teach them: in the stressful life of modern societies, people who could teach this don’t have the time for it (it takes years) or don’t deal at all with these people, and official institutions fail because only short “therapies” can be paid, but not the long-term teaching. And all the other people who were happy enough to acquire the qualifications for daily life: they also cannot change, which means they live way below their potential. They have to earn money to live, and this leaves no time to really learn from friends, or to teach friends. If we take the common term “individual fulfillment” to mean that everybody can live up to his full potential, including the full potential to serve others, then this is a good thing. But impossible in our loosely coupled, stressful societies. These societies chose to chase “material fulfillment” instead, and this causes much of this stress and de-socialization.

Can all this be any different? Why not? First, we need some (4-12) people with the insight that they need to and want to change in character and qualifications. These might be possible to find in a Christian church, as Christianity teaches just this need for personal change. Then, these people would set up a system of semi-formal mutual education. For a start, meeting on two afternoons a week, each time to learn about something different, both in theory and practice. But because 80% of actual learning happens when applying the learned theoretical concepts, it would be way better to form a kind of “educational community”. Where it is clear at all times what each one wants to learn, and people help each other to do so in the moment-by-moment flow of daily life. Also, building ones personal technical equipment would be a common task in such a setting, making it much more fun.

I’d love to live 3-5 years in such a community. It even could become a rewarding life task if this can be set up as a divide-and-multiply system in developing countries, dedicated to educating young native people towards serving their country. Of course, I’d also like to learn a lot of stuff myself: moral courage, martial arts, running, climbing and other sports, experiencing God, communicating about God, basic medical qualifications, survival techniques, dancing, truck mechanics, marketing etc..

Anybody likes to join? 😉

What is meaning?

Meaning is the role assigned to entities and events by their factual context. Example: an old man is lying on the street; in context New Delhi, zero meaning is assigned to him; in context Western Europe, normally at least enough to get him treated in a hospital.

The relevant factual context can be invisible. Example: The old man from above is treated differently in part because of the different cultural context. Which consists of habits, values etc., all of which are invisible per se.

The meaning assigned by the context can have a delayed effect. Example: A police system cannot prevent crimes, but it assigns meaning and importance to them, in many cases leading to sentences long after the crime was committed.

The meaning of something may affect the way we treat it, and our motivations what to do with it. Example: somebody hands you a hard disk with highly valuable data, of which no backup exists, to store it for a while. With that meaning in mind, you will treat it differently than a defective and empty hard disk, though they are physically the same. Note that our perception of meaning affects our actions and feelings, not the meaning itself: the message that the disk contains highly valuable data might be a lie, but this does not affect your behavior if you believe it to be true. Let’s say that our actions and feelings are “adequate”, if they follow a perception of meaning that is adequate to the actual facts.

If an entity’s or event’s context assigns no role to it, it is said to be “meaningless”. Something meaningless has no importance for anything in its context, so can be removed, or exchanged by any other meaningless thing, without any effect on the context. In analogy, something can be meaningless also for just a part of its context. Example: the exact position of one single grain of dust on the floor is meaningless; in contrast to the collective position of all of them: people would be happy if this position would be inside their dustbin always.

Meaning is leveled by context level. Each entity and event can be thought to belong to multiple contexts, leveled like an onion into narrower and broader levels of context. Each level can assign a different meaning to something. Example: a single person’s life might be meaningful on the individual level, because she might be a mother with children to care for. On the level of the universe, if evolution is true, mankind is meaningless, including her and all her children.

The meaning assigned to something by the broadest possible context is called here “substantial meaning”.

Meaning could be defined as a non-material, informational quantity that affects the future of things to which it is assigned. Example: if a cow lives on a farm, its final meaning is to be eaten by humans, which affects its future, because it will be slaughtered one day. From this follows: if the future of something is influenced by chance only, it has no meaning (at the context level currently treated).

If life has meaning

So if evolution is true, people can create meaning by themselves on the “local” context levels, but need to accept that all this is rendered meaningless on the level of the universe. Depending on a person’s current mindset (“philosopher or party animal”), the thought to have zero substantial meaning will cause depression, or the attempt to mute such thoughts by excessive fun, drugs and the like.

If however evolution is wrong, things look very different. I will not discuss the evolution hypothesis here, or the question whether there is a God. I am currently just discussing the effects of answers to that question (which should, of course, not affect your answer).

So, for the rest of the article, let’s assume one has answered the basic questions of life so that a fundamental belief in God emerged from that. This makes one also think that human existence on earth has meaning; namely: man is created in the image of and for eternal communion with God, and for stewardship over the rest of God’s creation; because of the moral failure of mankind, he needs reconciliation through Jesus Christ first to live up to this meaning / role. With respect to this, the meaning can be summarized as: There is a great God, who loves us that much that he goes to great lengths, even so that Jesus Christ died for us so that we can now be under his grace eternally. To exist is always worthwhile because of having a great God: it is the guarantee that life will never be too bad, and on long-term average, really good.

This kind of belief might be able or not to rely on visible experiences that support it. This may change from time to time, but say there is currently no such support. If one indeed beliefs this, the belief has nonetheless effects on the human mind, and if the belief is true, these effects are all justified.

These effects can amount to turning the mind upside down, to an extent that psychotropic drugs cannot reach, and without their adverse effects. They can, for example, eliminate depression. The effects of assuming this substantial meaning of human life can be: joy, patience, love, hope etc. – things named “the fruit of the spirit”.

In effect, we have a highly interesting situation. The mind (and by it, values, behavior and life) is totally changed just by having meaning, without any factual changes!!! And, even more interesting, this totally justified. The Christian belief in meaning is no  psychological crutch, but it is living in the light of a bright future, living adequately according to the believed (invisible) facts. Yes, the Christian belief has its effect on the mind by psychodynamic principles, but justifiably so, if the believed things are facts. And, also highly interesting, if one can derive a positive life feeling from the meaning inherent in the Christian faith, one practically ceases to need the immediate, supernatural help of God to survive in this world. Ones life has meaning (and therefore joy, hope etc.) with and without God’s immediate help, by the facts that are true about God.

It simply cannot be that bad

Now the assumed meaning is a quite general one, and even does not let one expect visible confirmation and visible improvements while living on earth. So it is an “art” to have ones mind adequately affected by this meaning, because the meaning itself is not an overwhelming force (its nonphysical after all). This art might be called the “art of believing”. Many Christians are not good at it, living without hope. Here are some hints that might help:

  • If someone believes that human life has meaning, and can justify that on fact level, he is justified to actively shape his emotions etc. in conformance with that. He may first train to shape his emotions by his will, by deciding what mood to exhibit in what situation. Then, he may train to have emotions that are adequate to his believed meaning of life.
  • Living “in the light of this meaning” is basically another view on the same life. Christian are, in their life on earth, quite as good or as bad off as all the other people (except for having the church, the visible part of God’s kingdom). But instead of assuming
    that most on earth is horrible and bad, the fact that Christians believe to have a great God makes them assume there are still many good things to find in his fallen creation. Also, they assume they will never be alone, and that God will come and help them immediately if it really gets too bad. It makes them assume life is basically manageable without stress. Which allows them to truly rest, and approach life from that position. There are also other helpful effects on the mind, like hope and fresh motivation; these effects remove stress, and help people to perform better in life. These improvements, then, can make life indeed as good as one views it. But this is no self-fulfilling prophecy, it is a hypothesis that was tested by building upon it. Assuming
    life to be horrible and bad is a self-fulfilling prophecy, however. Pessimism cannot fail because lack can be created by waiving everything and every chance.
  • Meaning not only affects the individual mind: the effect on many minds are an effect on society. In the case of the Christian faith, the effect on social level is the creation of the Christian brotherhood: the church, the Kingdom of God on earth. While this does not necessarily involve God’s supernatural activity, it is a visible effect of the meaning one believes in, and will make it easier for the individual to derive hope from that meaning, because there is already something visible good to enjoy.
  • One should better say “Christians should not live as if they had no meaning in life” than “as if they had no hope”, as today’s  word “hope” always implies to hope things will be better soon. While the Christian hope is, things are better in heaven. This Christian hope is an effect of the Christian’s believed meaning of human life, but as a hope for the far future it does not help much in daily life. Other effects of that meaning do, however, as detailed here. But: the Christian hope for heaven helps when experiencing calamities on earth. According to Paul (in Romans), such calamities are of no weight when views in the light of this bright heavenly future.
  • A good part of the secret is to see that the meaning in Christian faith assigns importance to everything we do. Which can grant motivation to decide and act the right way. For example, decisions have a moral importance because there is a moral God. Also, creative activity is meaningful and enjoyable because it is the image of God’s creativity.
  • Finally, if there is forgiveness through Jesus Christ, this makes it meaningful to thank God for this, and to live a basically joyful life because nothing can ever destroy ones bright future in heaven.

Beware of circular arguments

So after all, the only question necessary to answer is this: Is the Christian hope justified, is it true? You need to know for sure, as you will derive all  meaning in life from that, and base all your attitudes and behavior on that meaning, and will do so contrary to everything you see (in the sense that what you hope for is totally invisible). History and the Bible (embedded and confirmed by traditions) and the search for contemporary signs of God’s activity, and also personal experiences, may all be used to decide this, and people use different approaches.

One caveat: it is unjustified to believe that something is true “because it is then possible to derive hope (and joy, patience, …) from the meaning coming from that belief”. This circular argument cannot be employed here. The positive meaning for life resulting from the belief in a great God is a great psychological help, but this fact must not motivate us to believe in God. Also, meaning must be allowed to unfold itself (to have its natural effects); if forcing that by expecting psychological help from that meaning, we will quickly postulate effects of that meaning but later cannot sustain that. So instead of saying what effects the meaning should have, better let it have these effects in your life itself, by thinking of your great God in many situations, and letting that knowledge affect your behavior, values and emotions in all these situations.

Discussing the weaknesses of the Christian churches with a friend, it became apparent that the church is, and ever was through its history, way below its potential. Where potential of course does not mean what the church does with buildings, money and authority; but in what degree it’s good for the people, in the sense of educating them in the message about the savior Jesus Christ, helping them in practical needs, educating them how to live better and help others. The ultimate degree of the church’s potential is, probably, the Kingdom of God here on earth: a perfect parallel society, with everything from handling authority to finances totally different from what we know, that would be including every believer, and doing good also to all the others.

Now, the church might only be able to run on 1-10% of its potential, due to human weakness and the influence of sin nature. But compared to what the world has to offer, this is splendor. So it should not be frustrating that men is able to envision the ideal of 100% in thinking, while when investing in church in reality it is stuck to 1-10%. It might be better at times to not think of the ideal.

Some hints how to “perform best” in this area of 1-10%. First, it’s not about performance as effort, but as natural effect of what one has learned from and become by living with God. Second, focus on living the local church, avoid affiliations of them and other non-local Christian authorities; the local church, with each believer directly connected to God and having the Bible, is the last authority in all questions. Third, keep it simple, sweetie; focus on the pure Gospel as God’s message of the necessity of salvation and salvation itself, and on living it out by taking God and his standards and ideas seriously; any man-made extension of the faith (like self-made prophecies, elaborated theology, and the misuse of natural authority) can only hurt.

It might be that my idea of power community (see elsewhere in my blog) is well beyond the 10% of the achievable potential of the church, and that I should not cling to such an Utopia any longer.

I’m in the process of preparing an international journey to observe God’s immediate, supernatural activity. Which means that I think these things do not happen in our Western societies any more, and for long, I wondered why. Finally, here are two ideas why God might be silent in Western societies.

One could be derived from the OT story of Eli, who lived at a time where the Bible says the word of God was rare: people are doing as they please, and as a consequence, God hides, because the people do not seek him. This relates to the society as a whole, not to the Christians still in it, because signs and miracles are not foremost signs to the believers but to the unbelievers (see the notion of the sign of tongues in one of Paul’s epistles).

Another reason could be that God spares a society of more severe judgment by not performing miracles, as they are in a condition that they would not accept them if they would happen. This could be derived from Jesus saying that he could not do many miracles in a city because of their unbelief: if he had done, they would’ve to be judged more severely, but he wants to spare them. Also see Jesus words on Capernaum and Nazareth, saying that they will receive harder judgment that Sodom and Gomorrah because they saw great miracles and did not believe in spite of that.

Together this seems to explain the absence of God’s immediate actions, and the reason is God’s grace with non-believers and not God’s judgment of or being angry at his people!