Tag Archives: faith

A Community of Believers

Today’s reading:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. […] There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. (Acts 4:32, 34, 35)

Conservatives descry “redistribution of wealth,” but on the surface, this certainly appears to be an apt description what’s going on here. Many commentators have noted the sharing involved in the early church, and this sounds positively communistic.

What’s the difference? On the face of it, the voluntary nature is the most obvious. There’s no indication that anyone commanded these believers to surrender their relative wealth. Further, there’s no indication that the Apostles used guilt as a motivator. This is in clear contrast with what many televangelists have done throughout the years.

The Gospel

Knowing and knowledge appear twice in the same week. Perhaps that’s intentional?

The Gospel reading for today was the story of Nicodemus. In the midst of this story I’d heard so many times growing up, something new: “[W]e speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.” It’s interesting that Jesus presents a dichotomy: “what we know” is not necessarily “what we have seen.” Reliance only on the latter to inform the former is the materialism I’ve embraced for so many years. They’re not necessarily the same, and to insist that they are identical is limiting.

It all calls to mind, once again, the division William James makes about those who seek truth versus those who avoid error. In being a strict materialist, I felt I was avoiding all error because I was relying on my senses or others’ senses. Yet in relying on others, I’m essentially relying on their testimony. Granted, with many matters (particularly science), I can verify what others testify by observing things in question for myself. But in reality that only represents a small fraction of knowledge available.

This is essentially what I’m wrestling with: can I trust the testimony of the authors of scripture? I don’t yet have an answer for that

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Got Soul, Part II

Regarding my recent post on the soul, Isabella commented,

What loaded questions. That nobody can answer. I don’t know if you’re a reader of fiction (heck, I barely know you at all), but your entire post reminds me of an SF novel — Terminal Experiment, by Robert J Sawyer. I don’t think he’s a very good writer, but he grapples with some very interesting ideas, starting with the 21 grams that leave the body when you die.

Twenty-one grams that leave the body when you die? I’d never heard of this. Being a skeptic, I immediately thought, “Urban legend,” but I thought I’d poke around on the internet a while and see what turned up.

In an article entitled “Soul Man“, I found that the the 21-gram idea can be traced back to an early-twentieth century physician, Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill, Massachusetts. He did a relatively crude experiment in which the beds of six terminally ill patients were put on scales to check for weight loss at the moment of death. He claimed to have accounted for evaporation of any sweat that might be on the patients skin, and reasoned that the effect of bowel movement or urine elimination would be negligable because it would remain on the bed. His results were far from uniform, but they indicated some weight loss at death. (The full text of the 1907 AMA paper is here.)

From this, it’s safe to say:

Urban Legend.

But were the questions I asked really “unanswerable?” That depends on what we mean by “unanswerable.” Science is not usually about “definitely” answered questions, and after all, it is science than can answers this question for us while we’re still alive.

All bets are off once we’re dead, though.

The saddest part about not believing in a soul, though, is that we’re right, we’ll never know.

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