Strange Loops and Theology, Part 5: "Do this in remembrance of me."

Recapping some of Hofstadter's points from I Am a Strange Loop:

1. Our self is a symbol, a pattern.
2. These patterns have causal potency.
3. Patterns are shared among many minds.
In my last post I hinted that in the shared memory of the Eucharist, the Strange Loop known as the Imago Christi is shared, spread, and passed along. Generation after generation. Century after century.

Christian theologians emphasize the narrative core of the faith, The Story sitting at the Center. Why? In Hofstadter's language it is because the pattern that was Jesus continues to causally affect the world. And the great medium of "activating" that causal chain is the Eucharist.

Think of what happens during the Eucharist while you read this quotation from I Am a Strange Loop:
Though the primary brain has been eclipsed, there is, in those who remain and who are gathered to remember and reactivate the spirit of the departed, a collective corona that still glows. This is what human love means...the more deeply rooted the symbol for someone inside you, the greater the love, the brighter the light that remains behind.
Hofstadter also quotes from the novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:
Or perhaps, when there is love, the widowed must stay for the resurrection of the beloved--so that the one who has gone is not really dead, but grows and is created for a second time in the soul of the living?
I am not here suggesting that this is all there is to the resurrection of Jesus. Nor am I trying to reduce the workings of the Spirit to symbol activation in the brain. But what I am suggesting is this:

If Jesus was God he represents a Causal Dead End. Jesus would be a new causal force in history that cannot be reduced to or traced back to anything prior. Jesus, then, is causally unique. But once "inserted" into human history, once that Strange Loop takes up its place in the causal whirlpool of history, it begins to affect things, causally speaking. Like a rock thrown in a pond which sends out ripples in all directions. And all those effects, those ripples of the Incarnation, are, in a strict sense, supernatural. Because when they are "reduced" they trace back to the Causal Dead End. In short, if Jesus is the cause, God's doing it. Think of it like a Time Machine. If I, today, give a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus, then, in a very miraculous way (and I mean that literally), Jesus is doing it. He is transported into the present. His Strange Loop, like the Chopin songs of the last post, is inhabiting my mind, causing things to happen in the world. He was Dead. But now he is Alive.

The point I'm arguing for is this interesting convergence between causality and the miraculous. They are, in this vision, the same thing. It suggests that causal events in the world, locally explainable via the scientific method, might actually be "supernatural," in a very real sense. God doesn't have to intervene time after time after time, always fiddling with the cosmos. God just has to intervene once, inserting His Pattern into the causal flux. This is why Christ and his Divinity is so important. Causally important. Christ is the route of the miraculous. Of all miracles. Or, phrased another way, Jesus is the Only Miracle.

But this miracle, if it plays out in the causal flux, needs a means of self-sustainment. A means to re-energize, propagate its influence, and avoid dissipation. Thus, the Incarnation, prior to death, ritualizes a means to accomplish those ends. A narrative, communal remembrance. In the words of Hofstadter that we read earlier: "in those who remain and who are gathered to remember and reactivate the spirit of the departed, a collective corona that still glows." Eucharist.

And if this is so, then maybe the Catholics and Protestants were BOTH right about the Eucharist. Maybe Jesus really is present, in a miraculous way, as the Catholics believed. And maybe Eucharist is just simply a corporate remembrance as the Protestants believed. But maybe, as I have been suggesting, these two positions--the Presence of Jesus and the remembrance of Jesus--really are, in the end, the exact same thing.

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7 thoughts on “Strange Loops and Theology, Part 5: "Do this in remembrance of me."

  1. Hi Richard. My name is David and I'm fairly new to your blog. (Actually, I'm new to blogging in general. So don't get pissed if I make some sort of blog faux paux.) I just wanted to give you kudos for the excellent stuff you have going on here. Traditional apologetics is kind of lame and it seems more like a way to keep the powers that be in power. I would call your stuff cutting edge apologetics that is Christ focused, like it should be. You should write a book! One question for you: why couldn't the resurrection have been in the mind of the disciples and still not have been "real"? During his earthly ministry, Jesus promotes the most amazing feelings of love within his disciples for them to have a remembrance of him. At the same time he (and the Judaic environment around him) has created expectation of resurrection as a hope for the future. He dies and then, bam, the remembrance and the expectation converges in the mind of the disciples. Does this make the resurrection not "real"?

  2. Richard,

    I've been inching up to your thinking here on my blog whose posts utilize Dante's Commedia. I haven't yet spoken in detail about the third portion we commonly call Paradiso. Its introductory line in Jean Hollander's new translation reads as follows:

    "The glory of Him who moves all things
    pervades the universe and shines
    in one part more than another."

    I was in that heaven which receives
    more of His light. He who comes down
    from there
    can neither know nor tell what he has seen,

    for, drawing near to its desire,
    so deeply is our intellect immersed
    that memory cannot follow after it."

    Regarding the Eucharist or Communion, we moderns (i.e. Protestants) might want to reverse the words intellect and memory. Dante, in poetically, symbolically expressing Thomas Aquinas and Scholasticism, anticipates strange loops. Sometimes intellect is too deep for memory. Sometimes memory transcends intellect. There are multiple subtexts (looping memories and thoughts) to "taste and see that the Lord is good."

    My deceased father once told me that on a dry, hot August day in the late 1940s (before Interstates, auto air conditioning, and bottled water) he drove from Odessa to Junction. He said he was so thirsty that he imagined drinking a cold beer for the last hundred 75 miles. He bought one when he got to Junction and drank it. He said it was the closest he had ever been to God except when he held me in his arms right after I was born. Not Dante, but close enough. Certainly a strange and wonderful loop.


    George C.


  3. Pretty.

    I think you could go a long way in this direction. I question your characterization of the Jesus Event, though. I would hesitate to describe it as the Only Miracle ... instead, I want to say something like, the Jesus pattern is a highly visible combination of the God pattern and the Person pattern.

    I guess that the Jesus combination might still be the Only Miracle, not in the sense that it happened once in time, but that every time a miracle happened before Jesus, it was the Jesus miracle, and every time that it happens after Jesus, it is the Jesus miracle all over again.

    That may actually be a significant biblical theme, now that I think about it.

  4. David,
    I've actually wanted to write a book, but I can't figure out where my stuff would fit. It's not exactly theology. And it's not exactly psychology. I don't know what a publisher would make of it. And then, just when I think about writing a book, I say, "What's the point? Just blog. Why charge people for your ideas?"

    But to your question. I think that, yes, the powerful affect of Jesus on the minds and lives of his followers is a real kind of resurrection. That is kind of what I'm arguing for in the post. So, I'd agree with you. But I think theologians would jump in to question if that is ALL the resurrection is about. And, obviously, others would want to say that "real" is different from "historical event." And in dealing with those questions I'd expect people shake out in lots of different ways. But I do think that we're safe to say that the continuing influence/impact of Jesus, even if mediated by natural channels (e.g., story telling), is a real part of what it means that Jesus is alive.

    I just love those stories of your father. I really do. Funny, but deep and full of love.

    I like: "the Jesus pattern is a highly visible combination of the God pattern and the Person pattern."

    What I find kind of funny is that if someone just randomly logged on and read that they would think we were loons. Hey, let's bet. First person to raise their hand in a bible class at church and says to the teacher with a straight face: "In my opinion, the Jesus pattern is a highly visible combination of the God pattern and the Person pattern." First one to do it gets the other person to take them to lunch.

  5. Richard,

    To David's "You should write a book." you replied (in part) "...I say, 'What's the point?' Just blog."

    Wouldn't the point be to meld multiple shards of ideas into a unified whole? And it would seem to me that the point at which a person has good reason to do so ocurs at the conjunction of a set of (1) highly significant (cognitively resonant) ideas, which (2) appear to be related, and (3) if successfully related would constitute an important contribution to human understanding. Of course there is the subjective question of whether one considers oneself up to the challenge.

    As to your additional point, "Why charge people for your ideas?" the answer is straightforward. Some of us would be delighted to hold a new and important contribution to human understanding in our hands for a mere $20 or so. I'll just note that your recent posts meet my criteria...

    Earlier David noted "...isn't any concept of 'self'...that doesn't include unified subjectivity...weak?" To that you concurred, replying that "Hofstadter speaks of soul shards."

    May I suggest some areas of cognitive resonance vibrating around David's question?

    John Main in Word into Silence begins his book with these words: "The beauty of the Christian vision of life is its vision of unity. It sees that all [human]kind has been unified in the One who is in union with the Father."

    Or how about this? The core analogy for the Trinity in Augustine's De Trinitate is God as love, which requires a lover, a beloved, and the love that unifies to all be present in the Godhead. On that view the relational nature of the Christian vision of God as love requires a union that brings discrete individuals into a unified life of the soul...

    Or how about the cross as a willingness to "empty" oneself for the sake of love--placing unity and love above ego and individuality? Might that demonstrate a willingness to meld one's individual soul shard into a unified whole, thus engaging the Christian vision of unity?

    Just some thoughts in support of the view that you might have some ideational shards worth melding into a conceptual unity that some of us might want to hold in our hands.


  6. Tracy,
    Thanks for the encouragement about writing a book. As I said, I go back and forth on it. I have asked around and it seems difficult to get a manuscript idea in front of a publisher. THEY have to spot YOU. I've made inquiries at ACU Press but they don't seem interested. But here is what I'll do. I'll make you two promises. First, if I ever do get approached by a publisher, I'll sit down and write a book. Second: I'll mail a free copy to all my regular readers. You won't pay $20 :-)

    But on to the important stuff...your ideas.

    Along with you, I've been intrigued with the interface of the Christian community and Hofstadter's ideas. That is, if I only have a piece of Christ's pattern (a "shard"), then I'd of necessity need others to completely know Christ. Thus, it is in the community--hinted at in the notion of Trinity (the Imago Dei is a gathering)--that the full pattern of Christ arises. Maybe Jesus' inner life is inaccessible to me, the individual. But maybe it is accessible to the community as a whole. I find that idea very interesting.

  7. Hi Richard, it's David again. I know you don't know me from Adam and I'm not a regular commenter here, but I want you to know that I am a regular reader of your stuff and I am a big cheapskate. Would that be enough to qualify me for one of those free books you are talking about when you decide to get yourself published?

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