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BibleSeeing God

Lorin Friesen April 2014

Seeing God by Gerald R. McDermott is a modern update of Jonathan Edwards’ classic book Concerning Religious Affections. Jonathan Edwards describes personal character in terms of affections and he lays out twelve tests of true Christian conversion as well as twelve characteristics of false conversion. McDermott describes these affections using modern language and bases his book on the same twelve tests and twelve characteristics.

Quoting from the appendix of Seeing God, what McDermott calls the twelve ‘unreliable signs of grace’ are:

  1. Intense religious affections

  2. Many religious affections at the same time

  3. A certain sequence in the affections

  4. Affections not produced by the self

  5. Scripture is coming miraculously to mind

  6. Physical manifestations of the affections

  7. Much or eloquent talk about God and religion

  8. Frequent and passionate praise for God

  9. The appearance of love

  10. Zealous or time-consuming devotion to religious activities

  11. Being convinced that one is saved

  12. Others being convinced that one is saved

In contrast, the twelve ‘reliable signs of grace’ are:

  1. A divine and supernatural source

  2. Attraction to God and his ways for their own sake

  3. Seeing the beauty of holiness

  4. A new knowing

  5. Deep-seated conviction

  6. Humility

  7. A change of nature

  8. A Christlike spirit

  9. Fear of God

  10. Balance

  11. Hunger for God

  12. Christian practice

This essay will examine Edwards’ concept of affections from the perspective of mental symmetry and then look at the twelve unreliable and reliable signs. Summarizing the content of this essay, Edwards’ points make a lot of sense and I think that McDermott does a good job of translating these concepts into modern language. In terms of meaningful content, this is a well-written religious book. The problem is that it is a religious book--religious language is being used rather than universal language. McDermott partially overcomes this limitation, but it still feels like a book that a Christian would read and a non-Christian would ignore.

I suggest that this religious focus results in two shortcomings, which are especially apparent when discussing the twelve unreliable signs. First, what is missing is a general thread that ties everything together. If one examines the ‘inadequate signs of grace’ from a cognitive perspective, then one notices that they are all expressions of a single flaw in thinking. Therefore, instead of warning the individual to avoid these inadequate signs, it is possible to naturally avoid these problems by fixing the underlying flaw in thinking.

Second, even though Edwards warns against the ‘inadequate signs of grace’, if one looks below the surface, one sees that he was living and writing within a society that was pervaded by the thinking flaw that lies behind these inadequate signs of grace. It is as if someone who lives in English-speaking society is using English to warn against the dangers of speaking English. McDermott partially escapes this but not totally.

This same flaw in thinking also limits the effectiveness of the twelve ‘adequate signs of grace’ by twisting their nature and restricting their application. If one removes this thinking flaw, then I suggest that it is possible to extend the generally excellent and thought-provoking advice of Edwards and McDermott.

We will begin this essay by examining this underlying flaw in thinking and its presence within Edwards’ society.

Edwards’ Society

Jonathan Edwards lived during the first half of the 18th century in pre-revolutionary America. Christian books written during this period use a vocabulary that sounds strange to the modern ear. For instance, consider the following passage, picked randomly, from the original text:

“When there are many probable appearances of piety in others, it is the duty of the saints to receive them cordially into their charity, and to love them and rejoice in them as their brothers in Christ Jesus. Yet the best of men, when their appearances seem exceedingly fair and bright to the godly, may only be trying to gain their charity and conquer their hearts. It has been a common thing in the church of God, for such bright professors who are received as eminent saints among the saints, to fall away and come to nothing.” (Chapter 12, Part II).

For the 18th-century mind, this type of speech was considered normal. Today, is difficult to get past the emotional connotations of words such as ‘piety’, ‘charity’, and ‘saints’ in order to analyze the actual content. By analyzing a modern rewrite of Jonathan Edwards’ classic book, it is possible to minimize this cultural mismatch and focus more upon the content of what Edwards is attempting to communicate.

Looking beyond the words to the mindset of 18th century British America, George Marsden writes in Jonathan Edwards: A Life that

“Edwards was an aristocrat by New England standards. Clergymen in New England wielded more authority and could expect more deference to their opinions than in most other parts of the British World. Further, Edwards belonged to an elite extended family that was part of the ruling class of clergy, magistrates, judges, military leaders, village squires, and merchants. The Stoddards and Williamses, along with a few other families with whom they intermarried, ruled the Connecticut River Valley, or western Massachusetts (Hampshire County) and parts of Connecticut.

“Eighteenth century Britons viewed their world as monarchical and controlled by hierarchies of relationships. On both these counts, their assumptions were almost opposite of those of most Westerners today, who tend to think of society as in principle egalitarian and in fact controlled by impersonal forces. Eighteenth-century British-American society depended on patriarchy. One’s most significant relationships were likely to be vertical rather than horizontal. Fathers had authority over families and households, the cornerstones of good order. Women, children, hired servants, indentures and African slaves were all dependent on persons directly above them. Society was conceived of as an extended household. In this arrangement paternalism was a virtue, not a term of opprobrium. Although British people spoke much of ‘liberty,’ few had personal freedom in a modern sense. Gentlemen ruled largely through a hierarchical system of patronage extending from the king down. Good order, especially for the lower ranks of society, was enforced by strict surveillance and stern punishments.” (p.3)

We have here two related aspects. First, Edwards’ society was based in personal status enforced by political power, Second, Edwards was a member of the upper class. He was born into privilege in a society that was based upon privilege. As this article describes, Jonathan Edwards had progressive ideas with respect to the equality of men under God, but he had a black slave and though he spoke out against many of the aspects of slavery, he accepted the institution of slavery itself. Obviously, a person who is born into status in a society based upon status will tend to be blind when it comes to matters such as slavery. However, mental symmetry suggests that a mindset based in personal status will affect religious belief in deeper ways. This cognitive relationship is discussed in many of the other essays and will be mentioned briefly here.

Perceiver thought is the part of the mind that works with facts and determines truth. Mercy thought works with experiences, attaches emotional labels to experiences, and uses mental networks to represent people. Mental networks are described elsewhere for those who are not familiar with the concept. If Mercy emotions are sufficiently strong, then these emotions will overwhelm Perceiver thought, leading to an attitude of blind faith or rote learning in which a person accepts a fact as true because it comes from a person with emotional status. One can see from Marsden’s quote that 18th century Britain was strongly driven by the emotional status of people and that the general consensus was that Perceiver truth is based in emotional status. In simple terms, it was not what is right but rather who is right. If you were a ‘who’ then you had the right to define truth and the government would back up your right to define truth with physical force.

Notice that clergy occupied an exalted position in this emotional pecking order, which tells us that the same mindset was used to determine religious truth. This means that the average religious believer believed the words of the Bible because they viewed the Author of the Bible as a very important person with ultimate emotional status. This attitude of reverence for the Bible would be reinforced by the emotional status ascribed to the clergy who preached messages from the Bible. In Edwards’ day, one could not simply choose to preach. Instead, only the official clergy had the right to preach.

Marsden describes the attitude that Edwards had toward God. “The central principle in Edwards’ thought, true to his Calvinistic heritage, was the sovereignty of God. The triune eternally loving God, as revealed in Scripture, created and rules everything in the universe. Most simply put, the sovereignty of God meant that if there was a question as to whether God or human should be given credit for anything good, particularly in matters of salvation, the benefit of the doubt should always go to God.” (p.4)

Notice that emotional status is relative. One person has more emotional status than another. Mental networks that represent people form an emotional hierarchy, with greater mental networks imposing their structure upon lesser mental networks. This means that a person who believes that God is totally sovereign will also believe that personal identity is nothing compared to God. This leads to a general attitude of religious self-denial.

It is possible for individuals of unequal emotional status to interact in a way that does not lead to domination and submission, but this will only occur if Perceiver thought has sufficient confidence to build facts that are independent of emotional status. This is known as the rule of law, in which people are governed by rules that apply to all individuals, regardless of social status. One can see from Marsden that this it does not describe 18th century British America. Instead of social status being subject to the rule of law, social status determined law. The religious implication is that doctrines such as humility before God will become dominant, regardless of their emphasis within Scripture itself.

The attitude of the average person today is quite different. People today no longer automatically submit to authority. This is another reason why I prefer to analyze a modern rewrite of Edwards. One would expect from the general flavor of Edwards’ society that religious self-denial would play an undue role. A modern rewrite will presumably contain less of this underlying assumed attitude. Even so, when dealing with topics such as religious humility and self-denial, we will try to be aware of Edwards’ culture and attempt to distinguish between 18th century culture and Christian doctrine.

Perceiver thought builds connections between Mercy experiences and mental networks by looking for common patterns. When Perceiver thought is being overwhelmed by Mercy emotions, then Perceiver truth will tend to be determined by the local context. Saying this another way, there will tend to be a cognitive disconnect between what a person proclaims as truth in one context of what a person practices as truth within another context. For instance, many Christians from Edwards’ era saw no contradiction between God’s command to love everyone and the practice of slavery because these two activities belong to different contexts. Saying this yet another way, when emotional status determines truth, then truth will be proclaimed as absolute but it will be applied within restricted contexts. In contrast, when Perceiver thought is able to function in the midst of emotional pressure, then the focus will be upon discovering universal truth and not just proclaiming absolute truth. Again, I am not saying that Edwards was a hypocrite. Instead, I am pointing out that Edwards lived in a society in which it was difficult not to be a hypocrite.

Summarizing, throughout this essay we will be talking about two different ways of determining truth. Absolute truth believes that truth is revealed by some absolute source with great emotional status, whereas universal truth believes that truth describes connections that occur universally in many different contexts. We will see that the twelve inadequate signs of grace are all connected in some way with the mindset of absolute truth.


Edwards says that human behavior is guided by affections. Edwards’ description of affection is quite similar to the concept of mental networks used by mental symmetry. McDermott says that for Edwards, “the affections of the strongest motivations of the human self, ultimately determine everything the person is and does... Edwards’s ‘affections’ motivate not just feelings but thoughts and actions as well. I find the affections as Edwards has described them as the strong inclinations of the soul that are manifested in thinking, feeling and acting... By inclination I mean an attraction toward an object or dis-taste that leads one away from an object... For example, I have a strong attraction to the ocean. I love the smell of salt air, watching the tide come in and go out, body surfing on the waves and walking along the beach early in the morning... On the other hand, I dislike shopping malls. Sometimes I wonder if hell is a giant shopping mall with no exit. Wandering through a mall invariably gives me a headache and leaves me exhausted.... So the affections are of two kinds – those by which the soul is drawn to an object and those which cause the soul to oppose and draw away from an object.” (p.32).

Comparing this with the concept of mental networks, when a mental network is triggered, then it creates an emotional drive to experience input that is consistent with its structure. When McDermott is at the ocean side, then he is experiencing sensory input that is consistent with the structure of core mental networks within his mind. In contrast, the experience of being at the mall is inconsistent with McDermott’s mental network of social interaction. It rings false; it gives him a headache; it feels deeply wrong. That is how core mental networks behave.

Going further, a mental network is a cognitive structure that can be filled with either good or bad content. In the words of McDermott, “affections can be either good or bad. In religion, some affections lead us toward God, and others lead us away from God. The first we call holy affections; the second are unholy affections.” (p.32).

Mental symmetry suggests that mental networks vary in strength and that it is possible to have emotional memories that have not formed into mental networks. Similarly, McDermott clarifies that “not all inclinations are affections. Inclinations that are only mild preferences, that just barely move the sole beyond the point of indifference, are not affections. Affections are strong and vigorous inclinations of the soul. Because they are strong, they will affect not just the person’s thinking but her feeling and acting as well.” (p.32). McDermott adds that “The affections are not simply emotions... They are strong inclinations that may at times conflict with the more fleeting and superficial emotions” (p.33).

McDermott adds that “The affections, therefore, are strong enough to motivate to action” and that “affections involve a coordinated interplay of mind, will and feeling. Because they are the strongest inclinations of the human soul, the affections are manifested in every part of the person: thoughts, feelings and behavior.” (p.33) Mental symmetry suggests that a mental network uses emotional pressure to impose its content upon thought and behavior. Because a mental network uses emotional pressure, it is related to feelings. Because it imposes its content, it is related to the mind. And because it creates emotional pressure, this affects the will. It is possible to use the will choose to suppress weak mental networks, but if a mental network is sufficiently powerful, then it will only be possible to temporarily suppress it and it will eventually express itself.

McDermott concludes that “Affections lie at the heart of true spirituality. That is, true religion is not a casual preference that one can put on and off like a hat. Neither is it simply an emotional experience it happens once or twice in life without noticeably changing one’s lifestyle. Nor is it a matter of simply accepting certain beliefs, such as the doctrine that Jesus died for our sins. Rather, it is a passionate affair of the soul – one’s innermost being – that is reflected in every part of one’s life. As Edwards put it, true religion does not consistent with desires that barely move us beyond the point of indifference, but fervency of spirit that vigorously engages the very center of our being” (p.34).

Saying this in the language of mental symmetry, human thought and behavior is guided by mental networks. If one wishes to become personally transformed, then core mental networks have to be reconstructed. The purpose of following the path of Christianity is to transform core mental networks. At this general level, McDermott, Edwards, and mental symmetry are all in agreement.

Looking at this more closely, mental symmetry suggests that the goal is mental wholeness; a person should be driven by core mental networks to think and act in a way that uses all seven parts of his mind in an integrated manner. McDermott says that “the most characteristic affection of saints is love. Edwards asserted that true spirituality consists most essentially of this – when all is said and done, the single most distinctive characteristic of the truly spiritual person is love for God and neighbor. Not only is it the chief of all the affections, but it is also the fountain of all the others. From a ‘vigorous, affectionate, and fervent love to God, will necessarily arise other religious affections.’ From love to God will come hatred for sin, fear of sin, gratitude to God for his goodness, joy in God when he is manifestly present, grief when he is manifestly absent, joyful hope when contemplating a future glory and fervent zeal for the glory of God” (p.36).

Is pursuing mental wholeness equivalent to ‘love for God and neighbor’? If not, what is the relationship between these two? Let us begin by examining this within the context of another field.

I have recently been examining the TESOL field in collaboration with Angelina Van Dyke (in March 2014, we presented a paper at the CELT conference using mental symmetry to analyze core aspects of TESOL and Christianity). One of the current controversies in TESOL is between cognition and social interaction. What drives communication? Is it happening primarily within the mind or is it driven mainly by interaction between people? This question is actually fairly easy to answer. Is it possible to have people together in a room without social interaction? Yes. Maybe everyone is reading a book or immersed in thought. Is it possible to have social interaction in a room without people? No. If people are not present, then there can be no social interaction. And yet, we all know that ‘no man is an island’. Social interaction does play a major role.

As the page on mental networks states, mental symmetry suggests that the mind uses mental networks to represents people as mental networks and that most social interaction is occurring within people’s minds between the mental networks that represent people. For instance, emotional experiences with family members will cause mental networks to form within my mind. When I think of a family member, then the mental network that was formed by interacting with that person will be triggered, and this mental network will emotionally impose its pattern upon my mind, allowing me to predict how that family member will respond. For instance, maybe my younger sister really loves tulips. Whenever I see something that is related to tulips, this will trigger a mental network in my mind that will remind me of my sister and her tulip-related behavior.

Notice the relationship between cognition and social interaction. People ‘live’ in my mind in the form of mental networks, but these mental networks were initially acquired by interacting emotionally with these people. When I interact with some person that I love (or hate), then the emotional richness of the social interaction comes from all the memories that I have of past interactions. Going further, in order to really love a person, I have to have a mental concept of what that person needs and desires.

We can now return to the relationship between pursuing mental wholeness and loving God and neighbors. In order to love my neighbor adequately, I need an accurate mental concept of what my neighbor needs and desires. This problem is even more acute when talking about ‘loving God’. How does one love an invisible being who might not even exist? We can answer that question by asking a similar question. How can a young child love a favorite teddy bear and interact socially with that teddy bear when it is not alive? The teddy bear may be only an inanimate object, but it is mentally represented within the mind of the child as a mental network that responds as if it is alive. Similarly, if one wishes to love God, then one must first construct a mental concept of God based upon mental networks. Even if God does not exist, it is still possible to have a meaningful relationship with a mental concept of God. (I am not saying that God does not exist. Rather I am suggesting that it is possible to examine the topic of loving God meaningfully from a cognitive perspective while postponing dealing with the question of the existence of God.)

All social interaction is a matter of guesswork. I cannot enter into the mind of my neighbor to know exactly what he wants. Instead, I have to use my knowledge of my neighbor (based in by mental networks) to guess what he wants. In psychological language, this is known as theory of mind.

I suggest that mental symmetry can be used to increase the accuracy of theory of mind. Mental symmetry suggests that people fall into seven different cognitive styles. If I know that someone is a Facilitator person, for instance, then I can use my knowledge of Facilitator persons to predict what the other person wants and needs. Suppose that I meet Jane and realized that she is a Facilitator person. Instead of starting my relationship with Jane from scratch, I can begin with my knowledge of Facilitator persons and then modify this mental concept to match the specific knowledge, skills, and experiences of Jane. I can then test the accuracy of my mental concept of Jane by interacting with her and seeing how she responds.

Going further, mental symmetry suggests that every person’s mind contains all seven cognitive modules and that each cognitive style is conscious in one of the seven modules. For instance, I am a Perceiver person who is conscious in Perceiver thought, but my mind also contains a Server module, a Mercy module, and so on. These other six cognitive modules function subconsciously. Obviously, if I am suppressing Server thought within my own mind, then I will tend to treat Server persons in a similar manner. In contrast, if I am pursuing a goal of mental wholeness, then my goal will be to develop and give freedom to all seven cognitive modules within my own mind, and I will naturally treat other cognitive styles in a positive and freeing manner.

Similarly, mental symmetry suggests that when a person pursues the path of mental wholeness, then the mental concept of God that emerges is one of a Christian Trinity. Mental symmetry suggests that a concept of God the Father emerges when a general theory and Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. This is explored in much greater detail in another essay. This provides a starting point for forming a mental concept of God.

Applying this to affections and mental networks, mental symmetry suggests that there are two kinds of mental networks. Mercy mental networks are composed of emotional experiences and are used to represent people. However, a general theory in Teacher thought is also emotional and can turn into a Teacher mental network. When a universal theory turns into a Teacher mental network and is viewed in personal terms, then this leads to the mental concept of a universal being. (See this video for more detail.) This suggests that loving God is cognitively similar to loving one’s neighbor. Loving a neighbor means interacting emotionally with the Mercy mental network that represents that neighbor, whereas loving God means interacting emotionally with the Teacher mental network that represents God

But is not the Bible the ultimate authority for describing the nature of the Christian God? This is where I suggest that a distinction needs to be made between an explicit and implicit concept of God. A person may explicitly state that his concept of God is based in the Bible, but a person’s implicit concept of God is demonstrated by the universal theory that integrates his thinking and drives his existence. In my experience, these are usually not the same. The mental concept of God that a person really worships and obeys is often quite different than the theological statement of God to which a person verbally assents.

McDermott, echoing Edwards, says that “the most characteristic affection of saints is love. Edwards asserted that true spirituality consists most essentially of this – when all is said and done, the single most distinctive characteristic of the truly spiritual person is love for God and neighbor.” (p.36). Mental symmetry agrees that the core issue is affection, expressed as love for God and neighbor. But if one ignores the cognitive aspect, then there will be a tendency to say that one is loving God and neighbor while actually loving an in adequate mental concept of God and neighbor.

McDermott suggests that “Affections involve a coordinated interplay of mind, will and feeling. Because they are the strongest inclinations of the human soul, the affections are manifested in every part of the person: thoughts, feelings and behavior” (p.33). Mental symmetry agrees with this statement but suggests that it can be interpreted in one of two very different ways. Do affections come before the rest of thinking and determine mind, will, and feelings, or are affections guided by mind, will, and feelings. We saw earlier that it is possible for mental networks to overwhelm Perceiver thought. (Server thought can also be emotionally overwhelmed, but this does not happen as often because Server confidence can be gained by using practicing to repeat a certain sequence.) If one examines Piaget’s stages of child development from the viewpoint of mental networks, one concludes that the mind of the young child is controlled by Mercy mental networks. In other words, affections rule, and ‘mind, will and feeling’ follows. A major aspect of reaching mental wholeness involves replacing these childish Mercy mental networks with adult mental networks that are compatible with ‘mind, will and feeling’.

I should mention in passing that Edwards’ concept of affections is quite similar to Swedenborg’s concept of ruling loves. Swedenborg’s theology is rather strange, but he explores in some detail what it means to live as disembodied minds within an environment that is governed by ruling loves. Edwards’ also explores briefly what it would be like to live as a disembodied soul governed by one’s affections. Quoting from Edwards’ original text,

“It is unreasonable to suppose that the love and joy of the saints in heaven, not only differ in their degree and circumstances from the holy love and joy of the saints on earth, but they are so entirely different in nature that they are not affections. Nor is it reasonable to suppose they are not affections, merely because they have no blood and animal spirits to be set in motion by them. The motion of the blood and animal spirits is not the essence of these affections in men on earth; rather, it is the effect of them – although by their reaction, they may make some circumstantial difference in the sensation of the mind. There is a sensation of the mind which loves and rejoices, and which is antecedent to any effects on the fluids of the body. This sensation of the mind, therefore, does not depend on these motions in the body; and so it may be in the soul without the body. Wherever there are exercises of love and joy, there is a sensation of the mind, whether in the body or out; and that inward sensation, or kind of spiritual sense or feeling, and motion of the soul, is what is called affection. The soul, when it feels this way (if I may say so), and is thus moved, is said to be affected, especially when this inward sensation and motion are to a very high degree, as they are in the saints in heaven. If we can learn anything of the state of heaven from the Scripture, the love and joy that the saints have there is exceedingly great and vigorous, impressing the heart with the strongest and most lively sensation of inexpressible sweetness. They mightily move, animate, and engage them, making them like a flame of fire. If such love and joy are not affections, then the word affection is of no use in our language.”

Edwards is saying that affection is generated internally by the soul and is expressed externally through the physical body. This makes it possible to conceive of living as a disembodied soul driven by affections, which corresponds with the suggestion of Swedenborg. The starting point for mental symmetry is also a cognitive theory that describes the function of the mind. Because the mind is embodied, the mind acquires its initial content from the physical body, but it is possible to reprogram the mind so that it is held together internally by mental structure, which makes it possible to conceive of human existence as a disembodied soul, similar to the suggestions of Edwards and Swedenborg. Mental symmetry suggests that this goal of pursuing mental wholeness leads to a set of beliefs and steps that are consistent with Christian doctrine. This changes the nature of the question of life-after-death. Instead of asking whether heaven exists, the primary question should be whether it exists for me. As far as I as a person am concerned, what really matters is my mental ability to exist as an integrated being apart from physical reality. If I lack this ability, then it does not matter whether heaven exists or not, because it does not exist for me, for I am not capable of remaining mentally whole apart from my physical body.

Now let us return to the society in which Edwards lived, a society governed by social hierarchy. For the average individual in that time, loving one’s neighbor occurred within the context of a hierarchy of Mercy mental networks based upon social status. Similarly, loving God occurred within the context of a set of Mercy mental networks based upon the emotional status of clergy and the emotional status given to the revealed text of the Bible. Looking back at 18th century British society, it is easy to detect this inherent cultural bias. 21st century society is also governed by cultural assumptions, but it is very difficult to uncover or question the assumptions of the society in which one lives. That is why it is imperative to go beyond merely saying that one should ‘love one’s neighbor’ to asking how one’s neighbor thinks and what he needs and wants. Similarly, it is also imperative to go beyond merely saying that one should ‘love God’ to asking what is the essential nature of God and what God wants and needs. If one does not ask these questions, then one will default to loving one’s neighbor and God as interpreted by the Mercy mental networks of current culture.

If one wishes to ask this question in an adequate manner, then I suggest that one must become free of an attitude of religious self-denial. I suggest that blind faith in in a holy book will be automatically accompanied by an attitude of religious self-denial. If the author of the Bible has ultimate status, then this implies that I have no status. The tendency will then be to define love for my neighbor not by how much I am helping my neighbor but rather by how much I am denying myself. For instance, for many years my parents had a retired German lady as a neighbor. She claimed to be a Christian but she was also very demanding of others and very willing to accept assistance from others. As a result, she was the recipient of substantial ‘love’ from others, as others denied their personal desires in order to meet her personal needs. However, none of this ‘love’ helped her to grow in personal maturity. This illustrates what can happen when love is defined in terms of denying self rather than helping others.

Applying this to love for God, if religious self-denial is the starting point for faith in God, then this leads ultimately to the conclusion that finite humans are too sinful and God is too holy for man to know anything about the character of God. This is known in theological terms as negative or apophatic theology. It sounds very spiritual to suggest that God is too holy and too infinite to be described by human terms, but how can one love an unknown quantity? If I know nothing about another person, then my love for that person will be very inadequate, because I have no idea what that person wants or needs. Similarly, if one cannot make any definitive statements about the character of God, then how can one know if one is actually loving God? All humans have physical needs and physical desires. Therefore, if one gives another person something that meets his physical needs, then this will probably be a loving act. But how can one know how to love a being who has no physical body and has no physical needs? For all we know, that being may abhor what we think is loving adoration.

And this is not just a theoretical problem. Consider the following passage from the book of Amos: “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24 NASB) We have here a case of badly misfiring theory of mind, similar to giving Belgian chocolate to someone who abhors the taste of chocolate. Notice that the people are being motivated primarily by religious self-denial. They are sacrificing burnt offerings and grain offerings and having solemn assemblies. But what God wants is the content of justice and righteousness, justice being Perceiver rules that apply to everyone independent of their Mercy status, and righteousness being Server actions that are guided by a Teacher understanding of the character of God. But how can one practice justice if the primary mindset of state society is one of social status, and how can one pray that ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ if one insists that God and heaven are incomprehensible to the human mind?

Let us summarize before we continue. We saw that the human mind is ultimately guided by mental networks and we noted that this corresponds with Edwards’ concept of affections. We suggested that the goal should be to reprogram the mind with mental networks that are consistent with mental wholeness, and we noted that Edwards suggests that the ultimate goal is to be driven by affections of love for God and neighbors. We then asked about the relationship between these two goals, and we suggested that if one is to love God and neighbors in an adequate manner, then one must have an accurate mental concept of God and neighbors. We then suggested that mental symmetry provides a starting point for constructing an accurate mental concept of God and neighbors. If I pursue a path of mental wholeness, then the mental concept of God that emerges will be that of a Christian Trinitarian God. Similarly, if I pursue a path of mental wholeness, then I will naturally love neighbors who have different cognitive styles. Thus, I suggest that pursuing mental wholeness will naturally lead to the byproduct of loving God and neighbor. In contrast, if one lives in environment of social hierarchy, then the natural tendency will be to impose conscious thought upon other ways of thinking, the focus will be upon denying self rather than helping others, and the emphasis will be upon the inadequacy of man rather than the character of God.

Was Edwards able to transcend the mindset of his culture? That is the question that we will now address by looking at Edwards’ twelve unreliable signs of grace and his twelve reliable signs of grace as interpreted by McDermott. Examining McDermott’s modern reinterpretation of Edwards will make it easier for us to look past Edwards’ culture in order to examine the content of his words.

We will begin with the six unreliable signs involving religious experience.

Intense Religious Affections

This is the first ‘unreliable sign of grace’. In the words of McDermott, “intense religious affections do not guarantee that the person possessing them is truly saved” (p.46). He adds that “they cannot be used to determine with certainty that a person is a citizen of the kingdom of God; the same crowd that shouted praises and hosannas to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem only days later cried for his crucifixion... My point is that intense affections, in and of themselves, are not reliable indicators either way” (p.47).

Translating this into mental symmetry, I suggest that we are dealing with two related cognitive mechanisms. I suggested that Perceiver thought can be overwhelmed by Mercy emotions. Suppose that I have some sort of ecstatic religious experience. This will cause a Mercy mental network to form within my mind. However, if the emotions disable Perceiver thought, then this Mercy mental network will be isolated from the rest of the mind. In simple terms, there will be no relationship between my ecstatic religious experience and the rest of my existence. When Perceiver thought is functioning, then it builds connections between Mercy mental networks. When Perceiver thought is overwhelmed, then the specific facts of that experience determine Perceiver truth.

This will lead to an intense religious affection. It will be intensely emotional because it is based in a potent mental network. It will provide excitement for Exhorter thought because it is rooted in a new mental network. It will be disconnected from normal existence because it is based in an isolated mental network. It will lead to a set of strong beliefs, usually based in the words of some religious ‘guru’, because Perceiver thought is being overwhelmed by the mental network. And this truth will be unrelated to other facts because Perceiver thought is not functioning.

The second cognitive mechanism builds upon the first. Three cognitive styles have a natural ability to concentrate: Teacher, Contributor, and Mercy. Concentration is the ability to focus upon some items while ignoring other items. Mercy concentration can lead to infatuations, in which an individual fixates upon some experience or person. Contributor concentration can cause a person to dedicate himself to some new plan while ignoring other activities. Teacher thought comes up with general theories, therefore Teacher concentration can cause a person to interpret all of existence in the light of the current ‘universal’ theory. As a result, the Mercy, Contributor, and Teacher persons may use their natural ability to concentrate to add to the intensity of a religious affection.

Summarizing, a childish Mercy mental network is an isolated structure, whereas an adult Mercy mental network occurs within the context of a grid of understanding. This isolation leads to an unbalanced intensity of affection.

Many Religious Affections at the Same Time

McDermott says that “false affections usually run together. One false affection almost always exists in a cluster of others... Edwards portrayed a counterfeit conversion as a constellation of false affections. First, he wrote, a man is in terror and despair because he had heard a message promising damnation to those who are not converted... Then the devil, Edwards suggested, sends a vision or voice promising salvation... Immediately the man is filled with joy and gratitude... The new convert desires to spend time with those who acknowledges conversion and feels what he takes to be righteous indignation towards those who do not. He denies himself in order to promote his new cause and those who support him” (p.49)

I have mentioned that a childish Mercy mental network emerges when an intense set of emotional experiences overwhelms Perceiver thought and creates a mental network. This is mentally unstable, because if a new set of emotional experiences comes along, then it will re-overwhelm Perceiver thought and create a new mental network with its own version of ‘absolute truth’. Similarly, when Perceiver thought does not bridge Mercy mental networks, then each Mercy mental network will contain its own private version of ‘absolute truth’.

One could compare this to the pretense of the small child. The child may zoom around the room for a period of time pretending to be an airplane. Then he will forget about the airplane and pretend for a while that he is a dinosaur. Finally, he may see an ad on television for a new toy and forget all about airplanes and dinosaurs. The point is that each Mercy mental network creates its own isolated context of infatuation, the mental network that is currently active is determined by the environment, and existing mental networks are continually being overwritten by new emotional infatuations.

A Certain Sequence in the Affections

McDermott explains that “many Christians believe that if a person’s religious affections follow a certain sequence, they must be true. The pattern typically thought to be the sign of genuine conversion is the one that leads from conviction to comfort, fear to peace” (p.49). McDermott adds that “this sequence of affection seems to describe not only conversion but post conversion spiritual experience as well” (p.50).

Mental symmetry agrees that the pattern of rebirth—death followed by resurrection—appears to be ubiquitous, because one finds it occurring in many different contexts. For instance, a seed is placed in the ground and then several months later many seeds are harvested from the resulting plant. Looking at a different context, when a child enters school then he is exposed to so many new faces that his mental ability to recognize faces temporarily becomes worse before eventually becoming much better. In a similar manner, in order to construct adult mental networks, one must go through the personal pain of allowing childish mental networks to fragment. Saying this in Christian language, the name of Jesus is above other names. Jesus means ‘salvation’. Jesus went through the sequence of death and rebirth. Viewed from the Teacher perspective of names, this sequence of death-and-rebirth is a general sequence that is ‘above other names’. This connection is brought out clearly in the famous passage in Philippians 2.

McDermott says that “one problem with this sequence of affections is that some people follow the sequence but do not experience true affections” (p.50). I suggest that we can gain an understanding of why this occurs by looking at two examples mentioned by Edwards (and quoted by McDermott).

He first talks about people who experienced this sequence in a way that did not touch personal identity. “Edwards knew people in the Great Awakening who openly proclaimed their ‘terrible sinfulness’ but could not identify even one of their particular sins. Others announced that they had seen a vision of their sin standing a circle around them. But interestingly enough, none of those sins included their most glaring faults” (p.50). Mental symmetry suggests that the goal of personal salvation is to transform the Mercy mental networks of personal identity. This means that the existing childish Mercy mental networks of personal identity must fall apart and be replaced by new Mercy mental networks, which means going through a cognitive process of death-and-rebirth.

It is easy for the childish mind to confuse an ecstatic experience of death-and-rebirth for the process of death-and-rebirth. This describes the Edwards’ examples. They experienced death-and-rebirth as a clutch of emotional experiences that overwhelmed Perceiver thought and created a Mercy mental network. The result was an intense emotional experience that was disconnected from personal identity. That is why these individuals spoke of conversion in emotional terms but could not connect this religious experience with any of the habits of personal identity.

Looking now at the second example, “Edwards said the sensitive (human) spirit can also produce these false affections. The imagination and the affections can reinforce each other so that the affections become extremely intense, and the person loses all awareness of the self” (p.51). Edwards is essentially saying the same thing as mental symmetry, because he is talking about intense emotional experiences creating isolated Mercy mental networks that have nothing to do with existing personal identity.

Finally, McDermott says that “there are other orders of affections in both Scripture and Christian experience” (p.51). For instance, “Mel was a friend of mine from the hippie generation came to Christ by gazing at a sunrise on the Gulf of Mexico. Mel was drawn by the beauty of God’s creation, not by the terror of the law” (p.51). Mental symmetry suggests that we are looking here at the difference between a carrot and a stick. It is not possible for a person to choose to change core Mercy mental networks because they are to potent to be challenged by free will. However, it is possible to allow the Mercy mental networks of childish identity to fragment if this Mercy pain is balanced by the Teacher pleasure of gaining a general understanding. Gazing at a beautiful sunrise is an effective way of triggering Teacher emotions of cosmic order-within-complexity. We will look more at the role played by Teacher thought in the second half of this essay.

The point is that the general sequence of death followed by rebirth is a universal process. Childish identity must fall apart and be put back together. But this process can be driven by the stick of experiencing Mercy fragmentation or it can be drawn by the carrot of gaining Teacher understanding. The first describes the path of suffering; the second the path of patience.

Affections Not Produced by the Self

McDermott says that “in Edwards’s day, affections thought to have been produced by an external agent were automatically regarded by most of the social and religious elite as fanatical. That is, a person who said, ‘My conversion clearly did not come from my own thoughts or feelings; I was feeling hopeless and empty when suddenly God zapped me,’ was suspect” (p.52).

McDermott then asks “is this a reasonable – or for that matter, biblical – position? Why would God always want to hide his power when it is his intention to teach us – that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us’?... In biblical times God seems to delight in showing that deliverance came from him alone” (p.52).

It is interesting that McDermott is using religious self-denial to question Edwards’ statement. As we saw earlier, we would expect Edwards to appeal to religious self-denial because of the prevailing attitude of his culture, but not McDermott. (There is a place for humility in personal salvation and this will be discussed later when looking at the genuine signs.) In this case, I suggest that Edwards’ original conclusion is more accurate.

In psychological terms, one is looking at the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is imposed upon identity by outside sources, whereas intrinsic motivation is an inherent expression of personal identity. Translating into the language of mental symmetry, remember that the mind uses Mercy mental networks to represent people and that mental networks form an emotional hierarchy, with stronger mental networks imposing their structure upon weaker ones. With extrinsic motivation, a Mercy mental network representing another person or coming from some ecstatic emotional experience is imposing its structure upon the Mercy mental networks of personal identity. This type of personal change will only last as long as that person or experience continues to activate the mental network that is suppressing personal identity. Intrinsic motivation emerges when the mental networks of personal identity are not just suppressed but rather transformed.

Personal transformation may begin with some sort of defining religious experience. However, I suggest that if this is to lead to lasting change then the motivation has to change from extrinsic to intrinsic, which involves two primary requirements. First, a person must become physically removed from the external source of the original religious experience. Re-visiting the ecstatic experience through some sort of ‘revival meeting’ may reinforce the extrinsic motivation but it will not change it into intrinsic motivation. Second, a person must think through the original religious experience along with all the Perceiver ‘truths’ that accompanied this experience. This is like a teacher asking the student to ‘say it in your own words and do not just repeat what I told you’. Those who have experienced this transition often describe it as a time of spiritual dryness in which one goes through a sort of emotional desert. It is a desert because one is no longer within an external environment of emotional intensity, and it is a time of spiritual dryness because one is questioning the Perceiver truths that were initially acquired blindly.

Scriptures come Miraculously to Mind

McDermott says that “even having Scriptures arise remarkably in one’s mind is no sure sign of saving grace” (p.53). He adds that church history is full of false prophets with remarkable knowledge of Scripture. Mormon church founder Joseph Smith, for example, was able to attract disciples in part because of his knowledge of the Bible” (p.54).

This relates to the distinction between absolute truth and universal truth made earlier on. I suggested previously that when Mercy emotions overwhelm Perceiver thought, then the specific facts associated with the defining experience will be accepted by Perceiver thought as absolute truth. Applying this principle to belief in the Bible, If a person gives great emotional status to a holy book, such as the Bible, then the specific words of that book will be accepted as absolute truth. This will lead to the assumption that someone who can quote the specific words of the Bible knows truth.

We can sort through this confusion by looking at the example of a science textbook. As far as a primary school student is concerned, a textbook is a source of absolute truth written by an exalted author and revealed by the teacher. Saying this another way, it is natural for education to begin with rote learning or blind faith. Adopting an attitude of blind faith does not mean that the textbook is wrong. Similarly, if many people place blind faith in the Bible, this does not mean that it is wrong. It does mean that those who believe in the Bible—or the textbook—have no way of evaluating it to determine whether it is right or wrong. How does one evaluate a science textbook? By seeing if it accurately describes the nature of the physical world. Similarly, I suggest that the accuracy of the Bible can be evaluated by seeing if it accurately describes cognitive mechanisms.

Following this logic further, if one uses mental symmetry to work out the steps that must be taken to reach mental wholeness, then this corresponds with Biblical Christian doctrine, which leads one to the conclusion that whoever wrote the Bible had an in-depth understanding of how the mind functions. In contrast, if one examines Orthodox Christianity, the form of Christianity that began immediately after the writing of the Bible, from a cognitive perspective, then one concludes that it reflects the mindset of a group of people who did not understand the Bible but rather were approaching God, Jesus, and the Bible primarily from an attitude of blind faith. In fact, one of the basic tenets of Orthodox Christianity is negative theology, which is the assertion that is impossible for finite sinful man to understand the nature of God. Putting these two facts together, one concludes that the Bible is too clever to have been written by the people of its age.

Returning to the illustration of the science textbook, every school instructor knows that the one who can parrot the words of the textbook in an exam is not necessarily the one who understands the material the best. Instead, the one who really understands the material is the one who can relate the words of the textbook to situations outside of the classroom. But we saw in previous points that when emotional status overwhelms Perceiver thought, then each context defines its own version of absolute truth.

Summarizing, blind faith will focus on the specific words of a holy book or textbook, will be able to parrot these words, but will have a limited understanding of these words and will have problems applying these words outside of the religious or classroom context. In contrast, when Perceiver thought is functioning, then the focus will be upon the accuracy of the holy book or textbook, and a good holy book or textbook will be regarded as an accurate description of universal truth, rather than an esteemed revelation of absolute truth.

Physical Manifestations of the Affections

McDermott says that since the affections comprise both mind and emotion, it should not surprise us that the affections, which are strong inclinations of the soul, affect the body... But we also recognize that bodily effects are no sure sign that the Holy Spirit is at work... Students of Scripture also know that physical responses to spiritual experience are no sure sign of true conversion… On the other hand, students of Scripture know that true spiritual affections often affect the body” (p.54).

Blind faith, by its very nature, is usually rooted in some external source. It may be based in emotional respect for some physical book, such as the Bible. It may be rooted in the social status of physical people, as was the case in 18th century America. It may have its source in some emotional experience, of which there were many in the Great Awakening. We have seen that it is possible to make the transition from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation through some sort of desert experience, but the starting point is still some emotional external source and achieving lasting growth means moving beyond this external source.

How can one know which individuals will take this further step of internalizing change that began with some external emotional source? To some extent, one can know by observing the individual, but in the end only time will tell. As a result, Edwards has to put a question mark beside physical manifestation.

One sees this inherent contradiction in Edwards’ classic sermon entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Wikipedia says that “This is a typical sermon of the Great Awakening, emphasizing the belief that Hell is a real place. Edwards hoped that the imagery and message of his sermon would awaken his audience to the horrific reality that awaited them should they continue without Christ.”

And yet, we are told that “Edwards’s preaching style was ‘dispassionate and calm,’ reflecting his refined character. Although he memorized his sermons, rather than reading from the text, Edwards would hold the manuscript in front of him while preaching and follow along with his finger. Church members at Northampton noted his tendency to stare fixedly at the church's bell rope throughout the delivery of a sermon, never looking down at his congregation. In short, there was, in his style, ‘no display, no inflection, no consideration for the audience.’”

This same essay elaborates on the emotional dilemma faced by Edwards when delivering this famous sermon. “Coming at the height of revivalistic fervor, the sermon Edwards later published as Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God--first delivered in June of 1741 at Northampton and repeated, more famously, on July 8, 1741 at Enfield--is a perfect representation of the tensions between reason and emotion, authoritarianism and populism that marked Edwards’s thinking and concerns in response to the revival. At Northampton, Edwards preached the sermon ‘without interruption’ and ended with a pastoral call for his people to recognize their need and seek after Christ. A month later, at Enfield, Edwards’s itinerant preaching reduced the congregation to loud wailing and crying that very likely drowned out the quiet voice of the preacher before he could even arrive at his hopeful conclusion. At one point, Edwards, always concerned with excessive or immoderate emotion, paused and asked the congregation to ‘restrain their groans and weeping so that he could continue.’”

How did Edwards try to reconcile this conflict between rational thought and emotion? We are told in this same essay that Edwards “valued the laity and human emotion, but he refused to accept emotion divorced from educated and authoritative ministers, remaining throughout his life both a revivalist and a child of the Puritans. He ‘deplored the hysteria’ of the revivals and worried about the results of widespread challenges to ministerial authority even while supporting revivalism as the work of God. Throughout the time Whitefield was in and around Northampton, Edwards counseled him to concentrate on the Scriptures and not to rely on the leadings of God’s spirit and mystical ‘impulses from above.’ Edwards was undoubtedly afraid that such emotionalism would result in waves of false conversions that would further fracture the relationship between ministers and laity. Having witnessed the tragic effects of uncontrolled emotion during his own revival, Edwards became increasingly determined to maintain the divinely appointed, hierarchically oriented authority of ministers within their churches.”

Notice the precise nature of Edwards’ solution. Edwards recognized the danger of emotionalism. In the language of mental symmetry, he recognized that strong Mercy emotions can be used to create mental networks that overwhelm Perceiver thought, disable critical thinking, and have no lasting internal impact. But Edwards’ solution was constructed out of the same cognitive material. Edwards responded by being ‘increasingly determined to maintain the divinely appointed, hierarchically oriented authority of ministers within their churches’. How did Edwards try to defend himself from being mentally overwhelmed by Mercy mental networks. By using Mercy mental networks to overwhelm people mentally. Saying this another way, Edwards tried to protect people from emotional dictatorship by imposing emotional dictatorship. Edwards is not to blame for this contradiction. As we saw earlier, Edwards was a member of the privileged class in a society that was based upon social status. Edwards was merely applying the dominant thinking of his time. This essay goes on to relate that “Edwards himself, after Sinners, would remain nearly ten more years at Northampton, but his departure from that congregation was not a happy one. More and more concerned with his diminishing authority as a minister in his congregation and community, Edwards imposed increasingly stricter rules and restrictions. Eventually, the people rebelled and, in 1750, voted Edwards out of office.”

Before continuing, let us summarize. We have looked at six symptoms of false religious experience. When examined from a cognitive perspective, these symptoms make sense. Edwards is giving good advice. But when we step back and look at the bigger picture, we see that Edwards’ advice is being given within the context of a larger society that naturally breeds false religious experience. Edwards recognized the problem of basing thinking in emotional status and defining experience but he did not see that he himself and his society were part of the problem. Edwards stretched beyond the thinking of the society, but he was still stretching from the thinking of his society

Mental symmetry suggests that the solution lies in changing the question. Instead of asking the negative question of ‘What is a valid religious experience?’, one should ask the positive question of ‘How can one construct an adequate concept of God?’ Mental symmetry suggests that a concept of God emerges when a general theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. Constructing a general theory will lead eventually to the formation of a Teacher mental network which will alter a person’s affections in fundamental ways. Instead of being driven by inconsistent personal appetite and emotional status, one will be emotionally driven by universal understanding. Because a mental concept of God comes from a general theory that includes personal identity, the structure of childish Mercy mental networks will be threatened, and this will trigger strong Mercy emotions. It hurts to be personally honest. Finally, when the goal is to use understanding to build a concept of God, then one will search for universal principles, which means using Perceiver thought (and Server thought) to look for common patterns and connections that are present in many contexts and that bridge many Mercy mental networks.

Let us move on now to the four unreliable signs involving religious behavior. The first one is:

Much or Eloquent Talk about God and Religion

McDermott says that many people, particularly the more sophisticated, are suspicious of those who speak openly about their faith. To discuss religion in public is thought to be awkward at best, fanatical at worst... Then there are those who try to shove their religion down everyone else’s throat” (p.58). As McDermott observes that, “Jonathan Edwards commented acidly that people with false religion are more eager to talk than true saints” (p.58).

Suppose that I believe that the truth of God has been revealed to me through the words of some holy book. This means that I am mentally assigning great emotional status to some specific collection of words. Since emotions provide the basis for Exhorter motivation, I will feel driven to talk about God and religion. Going further, since I believe that God has revealed his words to me, I will feel that it is my duty to reveal these words to others as well.

We saw earlier that when emotions overwhelm Perceiver thought, then each source of truth creates its own private version of absolute truth that does not extend to other contexts. For instance, the one who talks about God and religion will tend to use a specialized form of religious vocabulary that is not used in normal speech and may speak with a special tone of voice. I remember one pastor of a large church in Korea who spoke with a double vibrato when praying in public. He would adopt a singsong voice and then add a high-frequency trembling. It is this disconnectedness that makes others feel that the speaker is trying to ‘shove religion down their throats’, because the religious person is changing the context and using emotional pressure to introduce with feels like a strange set of words.

I suggest that the solution is to realize that even if the Bible is the word of God, it only contains an accurate description of truth. This brings us back to the distinction between absolute truth and universal truth. If truth is viewed as absolute, then a person will think that is being revealed by some ultimate being who imposes this truth upon the rest of existence. This describes the attitude of blind faith in the Bible. But if truth is viewed as universal, then a person will think that a holy book is an accurate description of truth, and he will believe that this truth describes connections that exist everywhere and can be discovered everywhere. The individual who believes in universal truth will also talk about truth, but instead of attempting to impose his truth upon others, his goal will be to point out truth to others. Instead of trying to change the context to religion in order to proclaim truth, He will find that he can naturally find an illustration of truth within the current context.

I have been realizing that a similar principle applies to the theory of mental symmetry. Because I have been studying this theory for so long, it has formed a Teacher mental network in my mind and has led to a specialized vocabulary. Therefore, people have sometimes felt that I am trying to ‘push it down the throats’. My recent focus has been upon connecting my research with the findings of others. This has made possible for me to discuss the theory within other contexts using the language of other individuals, and others do not get the impression that I am trying to stuff my theory down their throat. And even when others find my cognitive approach unfamiliar or uncomfortable and change the subject, I typically find that when I allow others to control the conversation, the need for a cognitive approach keeps reappearing. When this happens, one only has to point out this connection while allowing others to continue to guide the conversation. I should add that learning this lesson is not easy. It is hard to keep one’s mouth shut when the conclusions seem so obvious. What keeps me going is the realization that words are not truth but only describe truth. My ultimate goal is not to get others to accept my words but rather for me to reach mental wholeness. And talking about truth is not always good because this canthat act as a mental safety valve that relieves the emotional pressure that is required to force the mind to go beyond words to application.

Frequent and Passionate Praise for God

McDermott says that “It is one thing to talk a lot about God, or to discuss theology. But it seems far better to praise God. Praise might seem to indicate that the heart is humble itself before God or the submitted itself to God. But in enough itself, the presence of praise is not a reliable sign of true grace. We cannot conclude that a person praising God is truly submitted to God. The crowds that followed Jesus, and later called for his execution, showered him with praises” (p.61).

For several years I taught math and physics and was the IT specialist at a Christian international school in Korea. Even though this was a Christian school, teachers did not go around quoting Bible verses at each other but rather focued upon giving a quality, in-depth education. However, there was one teacher who would often say ‘Praise God!’ when a group of students walked by her classroom. Of all the teachers, she was probably the hardest to get along with. I managed to offend her so badly that she did not speak a single word to me for an entire semester.

Why this discrepancy? Another incident involving this same teacher provides a possible answer. She raised a considerable amount of money from the home church in order to give Bibles to the students. But our students were not poor. Their parents were paying almost $20,000 a year for them to be educated in our school. It did make sense to give the students an opportunity to purchase Bibles, because finding an English Bible in Korea is somewhat inconvenient. But this teacher was quite incensed at the suggestion and was convinced that the word of God needed to be spread and that Bibles should be donated to students.

Notice the focus upon verbal revelation. Christianity was being restricted to the realm of words, hence the desire to give out Bibles. The resulting emotional response was also occurring verbally, as illustrated by the repeated ‘praise Jesus!’ and ‘praise God!’ But because the Christian belief was limited primarily to the realm of the verbal, the personal behavior of the teacher did not match her religious words. Notice also the insistence upon religious self-denial, especially when connected with religious words, even when this was inappropriate. The students did not need to be given Bibles, but the individual who pointed this out was condemned as being ‘against the Bible’.

I suggest that this sort of attitude is a natural byproduct of blind faith. If emotional status is used to impose the words of some holy book, then the assumption will be that religious words should be accompanied by strong emotions. But because Perceiver thought is being emotionally overwhelmed, The religious words will not be connected with other mental concepts.

One final point. It appears that when faced with one of two choices, the mind will naturally take the easier path. This is especially true when attempting to program subconscious cognitive modules. If the easier path is not available, then the mind will be forced to take the more difficult path. Applying this to our current topic, talk, as they say, is cheap. It is much easier to talk about something than do something. Therefore talking about religious topics will tend to remove the drive to do something about religious topics. That is why the person who is attempting to develop his mind will sometimes choose not to talk about God and religion. He wants the emotional intensity that he feels inside to motivate personal change and not just be dissipated in speech.

Saying this in the language of mental symmetry, when a mental network is triggered it wants to experience consistent input. Suppose that my knowledge about God and religion leads to the formation of a new mental network. The structure of this new mental network will be inconsistent with existing mental networks of childish identity, leading to an internal tension. If I talk about God and religion, then this will provide the new mental network with consistent input. This will remove the internal tension but it will also stop the new mental network from altering the mental networks of childish identity.1

The Appearance of Love

McDermott begins by saying that “Love is the most important and most distinctive characteristic of the Christian. Jonathan Edwards called love the life, essence and sum of all true religion. He said it is that which best prepares us for heaven and makes us worst suited for hell. Yet love is often counterfeited... Love and humility, Edwards wrote, are imitated more than any other Christian virtues because they are the two most distinctive attributes of the Christian” (p.61).

I have suggested that the mind represents people as mental networks within Mercy thought. Love can be defined as emotionally beneficial interaction between Mercy mental networks. This means allowing mental networks to exist, permitting them to function, and providing them with pleasant input. However, we have seen that Mercy mental networks do not naturally interact in a loving manner. Instead, when two mental networks are triggered at the same time, then each will attempt to impose its structure upon the other, leading to mental war and not love.

McDermott mentions four attributes of counterfeit love. It is affected by moods and whims, it seeks attention for itself, it selects only those who are easy to love, and it seeks to control and rule over others” (p.63). Interpreting this in terms of Mercy mental networks, when the structure of a mental network is threatened, then the focus will be upon protecting that mental network and the tendency will be to ignore other mental networks. The drug addict provides an extreme example, because getting a fix will take precedence over all other mental networks, including mental networks that represent close family members. This explains why counterfeit love is affected by moods and whims. Counterfeit love seeks attention for itself because the bottom line is to allow the mental networks of personal identity to function. As a result, counterfeit love will naturally love people with compatible mental networks, while staying away from those who have incompatible mental networks. Finally, interaction will be characterized by control because that is how Mercy mental networks naturally interact.

I suggest that the solution involves placing Mercy mental networks within a grid of mental structure. In order to do this, one must first construct mental content that is held together by a mental concept of God and then one must place personal identity within this grid, which means going through the process of personal salvation. This process will be described in more detail later and is briefly summarized in this video.

The point is that everyone wants love, but the nature of childish mental networks means that love tends to turn into to counterfeit love. Mental symmetry suggests that pursuing the path of mental wholeness makes it possible to go beyond counterfeit love.

Edwards’ comment that love is best suited for heaven brings us back to comments made earlier about Swedenborg’s concept of heaven. Looking at this from the viewpoint of mental symmetry, an embodied mind can be held together by physical structure, therefore it does not matter if mental networks are fragmented. In contrast, a disembodied mind would require integrated mental networks to function in a whole manner. The ‘glue’ that ties mental networks together is the glue of love. Defining this glue more precisely, each mental network permits the other to function and each provides something that the other mental network needs.

Saying this more precisely, counterfeit love looks for those who are similar and then interacts on the basis of dominance and submission, while real love looks for those with complementary skills and abilities and then interacts on the basis of mutual respect and interdependence.

Zealous or Time-Consuming Devotion to Religious Activities

McDermott says that “Fundamentalists are sometimes criticized by liberal Christians because they spend much time reading the Bible, praying, evangelizing and going to church. So much time spent in religious activity, particularly when not balanced by participation in secular culture, is thought to be fanatical and neurotic. Yet the Scriptures show that saving grace causes a person to delight in such activities… But the Bible also indicates that love for religious activity is no sure sign of grace” (p.63).

We saw earlier that when Mercy mental networks are formed in a way that overwhelms Perceiver thought, then the resulting behavior is limited to a specific context and does not extend beyond this context. This is precisely what McDermott is describing here. For a fundamentalist, the ultimate basis for belief is blind faith. This leads to what could be described as a religious ghetto, in which the fundamentalist limits social interaction to his religious subculture.

I am currently doing both research that would be considered secular and research that would be considered religious. In my experience, secular research usually contains more facts and details than religious research. That is because it is easier for Perceiver thought to function in an environment that approaches emotional topics in an objective manner. However, secular research generally suffers from two primary flaws. First, it tends to focus upon the external expression of cognition rather than cognition itself. For instance, a heavy emphasis is placed upon social interaction, which is the external manifestation of interacting mental networks. In a similar manner, the current emphasis is upon embodiment rather than upon the cognitive structure that is being programmed by the physical body. Second, it tends to study peripheral issues while ignoring or assuming fundamental desires. In contrast, religious research does include the subjective and does focus upon underlying motives. Thus, if one wishes to put the various pieces together, then it is necessary to examine religious thought.

For example, it is interesting to compare Edwards’ treatment of mental networks with that of Norman Fairclough, a researcher who helped to develop the school of critical discourse analysis, because both discuss mental networks. Edwards’ concept of affections focuses heavily upon the emotional aspect of mental networks and how they drive thought and behavior. Fairclough’s concept of Member Resources also describes how mental networks drive thought and behavior, but Fairclough focuses entirely upon the content of mental networks, he ignores their relationship with emotions, and he assumes that there is no need to transform childish mental networks. In addition, the later Fairclough abandons the concept of Member Resources and talks instead about social interaction.

Saying this in religious language, I suggest that the solution lies in constructing a concept of God that is both universal and personal—a general theory that applies to personal identity. Religious research focuses upon the personal nature of God because it starts from a Mercy perspective, whereas secular research emphasizes the universal nature of God because it begins from a Teacher perspective.

Before we continue, let us summarize the previous four points. Notice that all of these false behaviors naturally emerge when Mercy thought overwhelms Perceiver thought. However, the attitude of fundamentalism itself uses Mercy thought to overwhelm Perceiver thought in order to impose absolute truth upon the mind. Similarly, the society in which Edwards lived also used Mercy thought related to social status to overwhelm Perceiver thought in order to impose societal truth upon peoples’ minds.

Edwards’ points are both accurate and significant. However, again we see that Edwards is reaching forward from an approach that itself mirrors the fundamental problem. As I have suggested before, it is as if Edwards is telling us that we should not speak English, but he is doing so in English.

Now let us turn to the last two unreliable signs, which McDermott refers to as unreliable signs involving assurance of salvation.

Being Convinced That One is Saved

McDermott says that “Many Christians believe that assurance of salvation is a sign of false spirituality. They think that a true Christian will never be sure of salvation. Lack of assurance, they say, is a sign of humility. To be convinced of one salvation, on the other hand, is arrogant and boastful, certainly not befitting a true Christian” (p.67). I suggest that we are seeing here a doctrine that is being determined by an attitude of religious self-denial. In simple terms, the doubting believer feels that the Mercy mental networks of personal identity have no right to exist in the presence of the awesome Mercy mental networks representing God with their overwhelming emotional status.

McDermott does not subscribe to this attitude. Instead, he says that “The biblical authors were convinced otherwise. Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that his descendents would be multiplied as described by Paul is full assurance... I therefore conclude that it is wrong to use assurance of salvation as a sign of deception. Assurance of salvation is not an arrogant presumption but the wonderful gift God wants to give his children while they are still on Earth. It is not a sign of pride but the joyful realization that God has saved me – an unworthy sinner – for eternity. When understood rightly, it brings humility rather than pride” (p.68). Thus, we see that McDermott believes that it is possible to form a new identity that can function in the presence of God without being suppressed, but notice that McDermott is not questioning the underlying assumption of religious self-denial.

In contrast, the modern focus tends to be on giving people a positive self-image, implying that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with childish mental networks. Mental symmetry agrees with Christianity that childish mental networks of personal identity are fatally flawed. This does not mean that everything a person that does is wrong, but rather that a person will naturally function in a manner that is inconsistent with mental wholeness and that will be viewed as lawless by a mental concept of God. This is explored further in this video section. But mental symmetry also suggests that it is possible to go through a process of personal transformation that results in a mind that is whole, a mental concept of God that is adequate, and mental networks of personal identity that express mental wholeness which are consistent with a mental concept of God. The individual who has gone through the death and rebirth that is required to reach this level of operation knows that he has been transformed. Such a person still makes mistakes and is subject to finite limitations, but the overall direction of thought and behavior has changed. Such an individual knows that he has been saved. (It is also possible at earlier stages to know that one is a genuine student of the school of salvation.)

McDermott notes that “two kinds of people seem to be particularly susceptible to false assurance. The first kind are noted for outward morality or religiosity. These people are often well regarded in the community because of their charitable activities or church work... Then there are those who have had visions, heard voices or had other kinds of remarkable spiritual experiences” (p.69).

Notice that the goal of the first individual is to be ‘well regarded in the community’ and that he is ‘noted for outward morality or religiosity’. Remember that the mind uses Mercy mental networks to represent people. People can only see what I do; they cannot read my mind. The person who seeks the approval of society will act in a manner that is consistent with the mental networks within his mind that represent other people. Using Higgins’ scheme of possible selves, he is submitting to the ought self. In religious language, he is following the praise of men. Using the language of mental symmetry, mental networks within his mind that represent other people are driving his behavior, he is making sure those people see his behavior, and they are responding in a manner that causes the mental networks of personal identity to be treated in a polite manner.

There are two problems with this type of functioning. First, it is a relative standard. Every culture will naturally give approval to others who act in a way that is consistent with the norms of that culture. But cultural norms can be quite destructive. Second, it is extrinsic rather than intrinsic, because a person is not developing mental wholeness or being guided by internal standards of mental wholeness.

Moving on, McDermott adds that Edwards says that individuals with false assurance “Lack four restraints on presumption; that is, four things are missing from their lives which true saints possess to prevent them from falling to deception about salvation” (p.69). The first is “no fear of deception. Those with false assurance do not realize that self-deception ‘is common and easy to fall into’” (p.69). Perceiver thought is the part of the mind that evaluates facts. When Perceiver thought is being overwhelmed, then there will be no internal error-checking. Facts will not be evaluated but rather accepted blindly. In educational terms, this is the difference between rote learning and critical thinking.

Second, “they do not question their own spiritual judgments because they do not know that their hearts are often blind and deceitful” (p.70). As Piaget’s stages of development indicate, the childish mind is integrated around Mercy mental networks, which impose structure upon the rest of the mind. A person will only recognize that his ‘heart is often blind and deceitful’ if his mind contains mental networks that are capable of functioning independently of childish Mercy mental networks. Saying this another way, a dictator will only realize that he is a dictator if he encounters an independent voice which he cannot control who will point out that he is a dictator. As long as the dictator is surrounded by toadying yes-men, he will not realize that he is a dictator. This type of independent voice will naturally emerge when a person starts to construct a concept of God that is based upon rational thinking.

Third, “The devil does not attack the assurance of the unregenerate. Since their assurance hinders them from entering God’s kingdom, Satan is happy to keep them complacent, rejoicing in a salvation that does not exist” (p.70). I have suggested that a mental concept of God emerges when a general theory applies to personal identity. How does one interpret Satan in cognitive terms? The name Satan comes from a Hebrew word that means adversary. We have seen that colliding Mercy mental networks naturally interact in an adversarial manner, and I have suggested that the goal is to replace these mental networks with transformed mental networks that are capable of interacting in a genuinely loving manner. Thus, we can conclude that people who are driven by childish Mercy networks will tend to interact in a ‘Satanic’ manner—whether a real Satan exists or not.

We have also seen that a culture naturally emerges when people with similar mental networks get together, because they will all naturally behave in a way that emotionally reinforces their common mental networks. Therefore, if the childish mind naturally functions in a ‘Satanic’ or adversarial manner, then there will be many individuals who function this way, they will form a culture, and those who act in a way that is consistent with this culture will receive approval.

Fourth, “sinners deceived about their salvation do not comprehend their own sinfulness. They think they are virtuous and even better than most...True saints are dismayed by their sin. They are sometimes overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of their sinfulness and wonder how they could possibly be saved” (p.70).

McDermott describes this in religious terms, but I suggest that this is merely one aspect of a general cognitive bias known as illusory superiority. Looking specifically at IQ, Wikipedia explains that “One of the main effects of illusory superiority in IQ is the Downing effect. This describes the tendency of people with a below average IQ to overestimate their IQ, and of people with an above average IQ to underestimate their IQ. The propensity to predictably misjudge one’s own IQ was first noted by C. L. Downing who conducted the first cross-cultural studies on perceived ‘intelligence’. His studies also evidenced that the ability to accurately estimate others’ IQ was proportional to one’s own IQ. This means that the lower the IQ of an individual, the less capable they are of appreciating and accurately appraising others’ IQ. Therefore individuals with a lower IQ are more likely to rate themselves as having a higher IQ than those around them. Conversely, people with a higher IQ, while better at appraising others’ IQ overall, are still likely to rate people of similar IQ as themselves as having higher IQs.”

Looking at this cognitively, Perceiver thought builds connections between Mercy mental networks that make it possible to compare one mental network with another. When Perceiver thought is being overwhelmed, then a person will lack the ability to compare his personal identity with the personal identities of others. Instead, the childish mind will instinctively judge itself by the mental networks of culture. As was just mentioned, people with similar mental networks give instinct of approval to each other because they naturally act in ways that are consistent with each other’s mental network. Of course, everyone violates the norms of their society to some extent, therefore nobody feels that they are perfect.

Putting this all together, there is the underlying assumption that ‘we’ define what is normal and accepted, combined with the realization that I fall short of our corporate standard, which leads to the general feeling that I am probably above-average. Accompanying this is an inability to accurately judge either personal behavior or the standards of one’s society.

Finally, McDermott adds that those with false assurance “have turned God’s ‘costly grace’ into ‘cheap grace’” and McDermott discusses Bonhoeffer’s distinction between costly grace and cheap grace (p.71).

Using a building as an analogy, it is a lot easier to blow up a building than it is to construct one (though destroying a building in a controlled manner does take skill). Blowing up a building can be done with the push of the button and a few pounds of explosives, while a building must be constructed one block and beam at a time. An emotional experience that overwhelms Perceiver thought is like a mental explosion, because Perceiver thought is being ‘blasted’ into acknowledging some set of facts as true. Cheap grace regards personal transformation as a form of mental explosion, and seeks the emotional thrill and sense of absolute knowing that comes from being spiritually blasted. A search for mental wholeness, in contrast, tests Perceiver facts and Server sequences in order to construct an adequate concept of God as well as a grid within which personal identity can exist and flourish.

McDermott adds that “many have convinced themselves that because Jesus’ death on the cross has won for them a berth in heaven, there is no need for life discipleship... They have no love for following in Christ’s footsteps. Yet they reassure themselves that they are children of the light” (p.72).

I suggest that we are dealing with two aspects here. First, when a person compares himself with the norms of the society, then he will feel that maturity can be reached merely by removing some shortcomings from personal identity. In other words, he will think that the path to perfection is an evolutionary one. He does not realize that his whole method of thinking is flawed and needs to be transformed through the revolutionary process of death-and-rebirth. Revolutionary transformation is far more costly than evolutionary improvement. For instance, Edwards rightly pointed out many of the ways in which people falsely assume that they have experienced personal transformation. But Edwards’ solution was to tell people to submit to church leadership. This was an evolutionary answer because it did not question the underlying structure of his society, which needed to undergo a revolutionary change.2

The second aspect is to view the Christian prayer of salvation as an isolated transformative experience, rather than as a cognitive doorway that enables the process of reaching mental wholeness. The prayer of salvation is discussed further in this video segment. We have seen how the childish mind uses the emotional status of Mercy mental networks to impose truth upon Perceiver thought. This mindset will view ‘asking Jesus into my heart’ from the same perspective: I have an emotional experience with Jesus, a person with great emotional status, and this leads to an instant transformation in the facts that describe my personal identity. (The religious leader preaching the sermon often uses various means to add to the emotional pressure. We have seen that Edwards tried not to do this when preaching, but he still used his emotional status as a respected clergy in the larger context.)

In contrast, mental symmetry suggests that the prayer of salvation could be viewed as becoming enrolled in the school of personal salvation. Saying this prayer meaningfully does lead to the feeling of ‘being forgiven by God’, but I suggest that this makes it possible to begin practicing personal honesty. In religious language, it leads to justification which makes it possible to follow the path that leads to righteousness. A mind that is guided by the approval of people will think that the goal is to receive approval from God, the ultimate person. Instead, the goal is to function in a mentally whole manner.

For instance, many years ago I played in a benefit concert for a lady who experienced brain damage in a car accident. During her recovery, she had listened many times to the soundtrack from ‘The Sound of Music’. The highlight of the benefit concert was when a personal telegraph from Julie Andrews was read publicly. From an approval viewpoint, she had received personal validation from a famous movie star. However, from a functional viewpoint, her brain was still damaged and did not function properly. The childish viewpoint thinks that the goal is to receive a ‘personal telegram’ of approval from Jesus, while the adult viewpoint realizes that the goal is to be transformed from the ‘brain damage’ of childish thinking.

Others Being Convinced that Someone is Saved

McDermott says, “Let us shift our attention to the assurance that others may have about a person. Here too there can be no certainty...Even those with true spirituality cannot have certain knowledge of who is in the kingdom of God – at least not by any special inner revelation. True saints cannot get inside the mind or heart of another. They can see the outward appearance only.” p.73).

McDermott mentions one reason why it is not possible to tell for certain whether another person is a Christian or not. We cannot read each other’s minds. Using psychological language, we must use theory of mind to guess what another person is thinking. Using the language of mental symmetry, my mind uses mental networks to represent other people and these mental networks predict how others will respond. Obviously, a mind that uses emotional experiences and personal status to determine Perceiver truth will think that emotional experiences and personal status can be used to determine Perceiver truth about other individuals. So, a person may be judged to be a Christian if he has had a certain ‘religious experience’ or if he is a member of a certain church. However, we have seen that this type of mindset is unstable, because it is possible for truth to become redefined by having a different religious experience or by submitting to the truth of a new guru.

McDermott adds that “many believe that someone is saved if that person’s testimony touches their heart. They are particularly convinced if the testimony is similar to their own, uses some of the same words they use, recounts an order of experience similar to theirs, or is expressed with great assurance and deep feeling” (p.74). Using the language of mental symmetry, if my Perceiver beliefs are based in Mercy mental networks, then I will use these Mercy mental networks to evaluate the Perceiver beliefs of others. Therefore, if the religious experiences of others are similar to my religious experiences, then I will conclude that their beliefs are valid. Saying this another way, I will judge other Christians by how well they fit into the Mercy mental networks of my religious culture.

These are important points, but I suggest that there is a deeper issue which McDermott does not discuss. Why do I need to know for certain if other individuals are Christians or not? When Perceiver truth is based in emotional sources, then information that comes from a ‘good’ emotional source will be regarded as right whereas information that comes from a ‘bad’ emotional source will be regarded as wrong. This division into right and wrong will be extended to people as well. Therefore, the very fact that one is insisting upon dividing people categorically into Christians and non-Christians implies that one is approaching religious truth from the Mercy perspective of emotional status. (Similarly, the fundamentalist Perceiver person tends to be a judgemental black-and-white thinker.)

In contrast, when the goal is mental wholeness, then I suggest that one will look for mental wholeness, as expressed by knowledge, skill, understanding, and integrity. Because humans are finite creatures, no one can possess these qualities in all areas. Instead, one will search for a person who has these qualities in the area in which one has a need. I suggest that Christianity describes the path that makes it possible for a person to acquire mental wholeness in the core of his being, but this still does not mean that such an individual possesses mental wholeness in every aspect of existence. I strongly suspect that all of us would rather be treated by a non-Christian medical doctor who is an expert in his field than by a Christian who knows nothing about medicine. That is because the trained medical doctor has mental wholeness in the area of medicine. But this does not mean that a trained medical doctor has mental wholeness when it comes to the core of his personal identity.

This distinction can be seen in current society. Objective science with its understanding of the natural world has provided substantial salvation to the physical world as well as for physical bodies. Physical existence is (potentially) far better today than it was several hundred years ago. But when it comes to personal identity, then one is forced to conclude that the average person has not experienced personal salvation.

Concluding, it appears that all twelve of Edwards’ unreliable signs can be explained as natural byproducts of using the emotional status of Mercy mental networks to overwhelm Perceiver thought. Thus, I suggest that it is possible to summarize these signs in a positive manner by stating that the goal is to learn how to use Perceiver thought in the presence of emotional pressure.

This is consistent with what Jeremiah 31 calls the new covenant. “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” (Jer. 31:31-33 NASB).

Notice how the old covenant is associated with the intense emotional experience of being taken out of slavery in Egypt. Notice also the instability of the old covenant. In contrast, the new covenant involves taking the law of God and writing it upon peoples’ hearts, leading to an ongoing relationship between God and people. Saying this the language of mental symmetry, I suggest that the first stage of personal salvation is to acquire Perceiver facts that apply to personal identity in order to construct a concept of God within Teacher thought. I suggest that this is followed by a second stage in which one uses Server thought to do actions that are consistent with Teacher understanding. In biblical language, faith is followed by works, but these works are works of righteousness and not the result of human effort. In simple terms, Perceiver builds Teacher and then Teacher guides Server.

I probably need to mention one more point. The very fact that I am discussing this subject from a rational cognitive perspective will give some people the impression that I do not really believe in Christianity. However, I suggest that this conclusion results from an inadequate concept of what it means to have law in the heart. I am not talking about using emotional pressure to impose truth upon Perceiver thought. I am also not referring to using Perceiver thought in an objective manner that downplays Mercy emotions. Rather, I am talking about the ability to simultaneously evaluate Perceiver facts and feel Mercy emotions. Perceiver thought works out the connections between experiences, whereas Mercy thought attaches emotional labels to experiences. For instance, 2+2 = 4 is a Perceiver fact that is independent of Mercy emotions. But if this fact describes the number of times that I have bumped my toe while stumbling in the dark, then these Mercy experiences hurt and that Mercy pain is independent of the Perceiver fact. This may sound obvious, but it is only obvious when one is observing the experiences of another person. It is not obvious when one is personally in the midst of an emotional situation and attempting to evaluate the facts.

Reliable Signs of True Spirituality

We have looked at twelve unreliable signs of spirituality. Let us turn our attention now to the twelve reliable signs of spirituality, again as originally mentioned by Edwards and reinterpreted by McDermott.

A Divine & Supernatural Source

McDermott says that “The first reliable sign of true spirituality is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. True saints have the Holy Spirit living inside them on a permanent basis. From within, the Spirit imparts his holiness and spiritual sense to the saint...This is why I say that the first reliable sign is a divine and supernatural source of spirituality” (p.88).

What exactly is ‘a divine and supernatural source of spirituality’? We often think of the ‘divine’ as something inexplicable to human thought and the ‘supernatural’ as something that violates natural law. But we have just seen that this sort of externally imposed change is an unreliable sign of grace. Therefore, I suggest that what we are going to come up with a better definition.

A few pages later, McDermott says that “the indwelling Spirit gives the saint a new perception that makes all of life and experience look different” (p.92). “Because of this enormous difference in perception, an unregenerate person can never really get close to comprehending this new spiritual sense. It would be like a woman going into a flower garden at night to try to distinguish the different colors” (p.93). “I should add this new sensory perception is not a new power of understanding. It is the same reasoning faculty as before, but now it is inspired and empowered by a new principal. One’s reason and vision operate on a new basis, from a new and different foundation” (p.94).

This is quite different than the idea of a magically induced personality change imposed from outside. Let us list exactly what McDermott is saying. First, experiences look different than before. The experiences have not changed, but a person’s perception of these experiences has. Thus, we are dealing with a cognitive change. However this change in perception is so deep that it causes a person to notice things that he literally did not see before. Second, reason and vision still continue to operate unchanged, which tells us that we are not looking at a new physical or mental ability, but rather a different way of using the same mind and the same body. Finally, we are told that thought is now being inspired and empowered from a new principal, based upon a new foundation.

It is interesting to compare this with Thomas Kuhn’s description of a paradigm shift. Kuhn says that “since new paradigms are born from old ones, they ordinarily incorporate much of the vocabulary and apparatus, both conceptual and manipulative, that the traditional paradigm had previously employed. But they seldom employ these borrowed elements in quite the traditional way. Within the new paradigm, old terms, concepts, and experiments fall into new relationships one with the other. The inevitable result is what we must call, though the term is not quite right, a misunderstanding between the two competing schools” (p.149).

Kuhn adds that this incommensurability, as he terms it, causes the scientist with a new paradigm to literally view his world in a different manner. “In a sense that I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds... Practicing in different worlds, the two group of scientists see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction. Again, that is not to say that they can see anything they please. Both are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some areas they see different things and they see them in different relations one to the other. That is why a law that cannot even be demonstrated to one group of scientists may occasionally seem intuitively obvious to another” (p.150). (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1969).

Notice the deep parallel between McDermott’s description of the ‘indwelling spirit’ and Kuhn’s description of a paradigm shift. In both cases the structure of facts and sequences remains unchanged. The transformed believer and the scientist with a new paradigm are both dealing with the same mental content and the same physical reality. However, in both cases there is a shift in viewing the world that is so great that it literally causes one person to be mentally blind to what is intuitively obvious to the other. And in both cases the underlying cause is a new principal, a new foundation, a new paradigm.

I have suggested that a mental concept of God emerges when a general Teacher theory applies to personal identity. Kuhn’s description of embracing a new paradigm is remarkably similar to McDermott’s description of encountering God. This implies that one is dealing with the same underlying cognitive mechanism.

Let us turn our attention now to the Holy Spirit. In order to understand how the mind forms a concept of the Holy Spirit, I suggest that we have to look at how the mind constructs Platonic forms. Stated briefly, a Platonic form is an imaginary image in Mercy thought that emerges as Teacher understanding idealizes Perceiver categories of real experiences. For instance, the Platonic form of a circle is an idealized, imaginary picture that represents the essence of all real circles. Taking this further, I suggest that a mental concept of the Holy Spirit emerges as a general theory in Teacher thought adjusts the Perceiver facts that organize Mercy experiences, which leads to the imaginary image in Mercy thought of many experiences, objects, attributes, and people interacting in an idealized, harmonious manner. This mental process is described in greater detail in this video segment.

One finds these three elements contained within Kuhn’s quote. First, a person embraces a new paradigm. Second, this new theory will ‘incorporate much of the vocabulary and apparatus’ of the previous paradigm, but it will not ‘employ these borrowed elements in quite the traditional way’. Third, the result is that individuals with different paradigms ‘practice their trades in different worlds’.

Earlier on, I suggested that Mercy mental networks that impose facts upon Perceiver thought are incapable of interacting in a harmonious manner. Instead, they will cause individuals to struggle for social status, and they will motivate people to form cultural groups that struggle for domination. Here we are seeing an opposing force that motivates people to interact in a more idealistic, harmonious manner.

Similarly, McDermott says that “the first point of difference is that the indwelling Spirit produces a new principle of life, or a new nature, in the saint. It only stands to reason that people who have received the very spirit of God within themselves will have a new principle or nature animating their being” (p.89).

Going further, McDermott says that “True spirituality imparts a new perception of the world and particularly of God. The soul sees the beauty and holiness of God, and some of that holiness begins to be shared with the soul. It is especially manifested in a new love for God and others” (p.96). Similarly, Kuhn talks about being attracted by the beauty of a new paradigm. “There is also another sort of consideration that can lead scientists to reject an old paradigm in favor of a new. These are the arguments, rarely made entirely explicit, that appeal to the individual’s sense of the appropriate or the aesthetic – the new theory is said to be ‘neater,’ ‘more suitable,’ or ‘simpler’ than the old” (p.155).

What is the cognitive basis for beauty? The wikipedia article on beauty says that harmony, symmetry, and correct proportions have historically been considered essential elements of universal beauty. Using the language of mental symmetry, beauty contains order-within-complexity, which causes a person to sense positive Teacher emotion. Beauty is also related to Platonic forms, which are an indirect expression of Teacher thought. Wikipedia adds that “A strong indicator of physical beauty is ‘averageness’, or ‘koinophilia’. When images of human faces are averaged together to form a composite image, they become progressively closer to the ‘ideal’ image and are perceived as more attractive.”

McDermott continues that “A second distinction that Edwards points out between the saving and common works of the Spirit has to do with holiness. Because the peculiar characteristic of the spirit is holiness (hence Holy Spirit), the person inhabited by the spirit will gradually become holy” (p.90).

Similarly, Platonic forms provide by a goal for people to follow. For instance, even though no real circle is perfect, the mental image of a perfect circle motivates us to make real circles that are more perfect, that are closer to the ideal Platonic form of a circle.

Notice that Teacher thought can motivate personal perfection in one of two ways. I have mentioned that Teacher thought feels good when items fit together in a harmonious manner. Similarly, Teacher thought feels bad when there is an exception to the rule. This leads to the first concept of personal perfection which is a lack of errors. The person who makes no mistakes is viewed as perfect. This is a very demanding way to view perfection, because one is continually trying not to make a mistake. The second way to view personal perfection is being more like Platonic forms, more like the Holy Spirit. In the words of McDermott, ‘because the peculiar characteristic of the spirit is holiness, the person inhabited by the spirit will gradually become holy’.

Becoming a Christian is generally described as ‘conversion’. It is interesting to note that Kuhn uses precisely this term when referring to a paradigm shift. “Though a generation is sometimes required to effect the change, scientific communities have again and again been converted to new paradigms... Conversions will occur a few at a time until, after the last holdouts have died, the whole profession will again be practicing under a single, but now different, paradigm” (p.152). Kuhn adds that “the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and neutral experience. Like the gestalt switch, it must occur all at once or not at all” (p.150).

We have seen that there are deep similarities between adopting a new paradigm and being converted by the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, then where is the supernatural element? Is every scientist automatically a Christian? I suggest not. The scientist who adopts a new paradigm is gaining a new understanding of how the natural world functions. But he is not gaining a new understanding of personal identity, and he is not attempting to use understanding to challenge the structure of childish identity. It is much easier to adopt a new understanding when one is not dealing with the Mercy mental networks of childish identity, and science has traditionally attempted to avoid these Mercy mental networks by remaining objective.

Even then, it is difficult for an older scientist who has become emotionally attached to a theory to let go of it and adopt a new one. Kuhn quotes Max Planck as saying that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it” (p.151). This is rather depressing, because Kuhn is suggesting that the average scientist is incapable of conversion, even when dealing with paradigms that do not touch personal identity.

Moving on, it is cognitively unnatural for a person to abandon the Mercy-driven thinking of childish identity in order to embrace the Teacher-driven thinking of scientific thought. This applies to Christian thought. Justin Barrett, a researcher in the cognitive science of religion, has discovered that Christians may explicitly describe God in theologically correct terms, but when asked to recall stories about God, they will mistakenly recall them in a way that treats God as a sort of a Mercy-based superhuman who can only be in one place at a time and can only listen to one person at a time, rather than as a Teacher-based universal being who is omniscient and omnipresent.

It also applies to scientific thought. McCauley, another researcher in the cognitive science of religion, has written a book suggesting that science is not cognitively normal, while folk religion is. (Folk religion is the experiential side of religion, which can be explained in terms of Mercy mental networks.)

Putting this all together, it is natural for a person to be mentally driven by childish Mercy mental networks. As we have seen, this results in a sin nature. In contrast, it is not natural for the mind to be driven by Teacher mental networks. Practicing folk religion is natural, because it is an extension of childish Mercy mental networks. Theology and scientific theory are unnatural, because they are based in Teacher understanding. Forming a concept of God in my own image is natural, because the Mercy mental networks of childish identity are imposing their structure upon Teacher ‘understanding’. In contrast, it is not natural to form the concept of a universal God that functions independently of the Mercy mental networks of identity and that has the power to change the Mercy mental networks of childish identity.

This brings us back to McDermott’s reference to ‘a divine and supernatural source of spirituality’. From a cognitive perspective, one can define ‘supernatural’ as something that is not natural for the childish mind, and we can define ‘divine’ as something that is based in Teacher thought. It is possible for the human mind to function in a manner that is guided by Teacher thought, subject to a concept of God that is based in Teacher understanding. But in order to reach this state, it appears that outside help is required. Mental symmetry suggests that the spiritual realm interacts with the mind by giving power to mental networks. This suggests that there is both a cognitive and a spiritual dimension to the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, in order to make the cognitive transition from being ruled by Mercy mental networks to being subject to Teacher mental networks, a person must cognitively acknowledge that ‘God is holy and I am a sinner’, and it appears that the prayer of salvation plays an essential role in setting this up. On the other hand, it appears that some spiritual dimension is adding power to this mental content and helping to energize it. Where does the cognitive stop and the spiritual start? I am not sure. Speaking personally, I have occasionally felt a sense of electricity that appeared to go beyond normal emotion as well as a sense of personal presence that seemed to transcend the operation of mental networks. However, this extra sensation appears to function within the general context of cognitive mechanisms, which is why I suggest that it is legitimate to discuss spiritual transformation from a cognitive perspective. Even if there is another dimension, it appears to be consistent with this cognitive dimension.

Attraction to God & His Ways for Their Own Sake

Let us move on now to the second reliable sign. McDermott says that “Love based on self-interest does not qualify as true spiritual affection. Love based on self-interest is very common in the world, something that even the most notorious sinners are capable of. Edwards suggested that corrupt judges who return favors for a bribe and pet dogs that show love for their kind masters display the same sort of love. This is a ‘natural’ love, or love of this world, which requires nothing supernatural to inspire it” (p.99).

Mental networks respond with positive emotion when they experience input that is consistent with their structure. Therefore, if another person acts in a way that is consistent with my mental networks, then I will feel an emotional attraction to that person. This describes what McDermott calls ‘love based on self-interest’. As Edwards observes, even dogs are capable of this kind of love.

McDermott explains that “the love of saints is different. Their love for God is grounded not primarily in self-interest but in the beauty and excellence of God and his glories. That is, the primary reason they love God is the shining magnificence, beauty and glories of God, not how God will benefit them” (p.100). I suggested at the beginning of this essay that basing Perceiver truth in emotional status will naturally lead to an attitude of religious self-denial. What McDermott is saying here sounds a lot like religious self-denial. I suggest that there is a place for self-denial in the path of personal growth, however it needs to be placed within a larger context.

So far, the primary focus of this essay has been upon the relationship between Perceiver thought and Mercy mental networks, possibly leaving the impression that developing Perceiver thought is the primary goal of personal salvation. I suggest that learning to use Perceiver thought in the presence of Mercy emotions is the primary battle during the first stage of personal salvation. The goal of this first stage is to construct a concept of God based upon universal truth. A Perceiver fact is simply a set of connections, therefore a universal truth is a set of connections that occurs in all contexts wherever one looks. For instance, it is an obvious universal truth that every human needs food. It is also obvious that every human needs love. Similarly, the law of gravity is a universal truth of nature because it applies everywhere. The theory of mental symmetry claims to describe universal truth about the human mind, and when one analyzes Christianity from a cognitive perspective, it appears to describe universal truth about mental transformation.

As I mentioned before, the first stage of salvation is followed by a second stage which focuses upon doing Server actions that are consistent with Teacher understanding. The first stage constructed a mental concept of God, the second stage obeys this mental concept of God. It is during the second stage that love for self needs to be replaced by love for God. I suggest that this is because of the nature of mental networks. I suggested that mental networks attempt to impose their structure whenever they are triggered. The flip side of this is that any situation that triggers a mental network will become owned by that mental network and become added to that mental network. For instance, suppose that I hear a barking sound in the middle of the night. What may come to mind is the mental network of the neighbor’s dog, barking at some unseen intruder. This describes the operation of what the cognitive science of religion calls the agency detector. Mental networks are causing the mind to assume that some agent, in this case the neighbor’s dog, is responsible for creating the noise. The flip side of this is that this experience of hearing a dog bark in the middle of the night becomes added to the mental network that represents this dog. In other words, that mental network has taken ownership of the experience, and the next time that this mental network is triggered, the memory of that experience will come to mind as well.

Now suppose that an experience triggers two different mental networks. For instance, maybe the noise sounded both like the barking of a dog and like the sound of a passing car. One of these two mental networks will take ownership of the experience. “Oh, I thought it was a dog, but maybe I was mistaken. It could have been a car.”

I suggest that this same principle explains the need for self-denial during the second stage of personal salvation. Remember that the first stage constructs a mental concept of God that functions independently of personal identity. This makes it possible for action to be guided either by the Mercy mental networks of childish identity or by the Teacher mental network of a concept of God. Until now, Mercy mental networks have claimed ownership of personal action. But, if an action is done because it is consistent with the Teacher mental network of God and not because it is guided by any Mercy mental network, then that action will become connected with the concept of God. Saying this another way, if I do something only because I know that it is consistent with the character of God even when there is no prospect of personal reward, then I am performing a righteous action. This kind of altruism is required to make a person righteous.

So, is such action being guided by self-interest? I suggest that depends upon how one initially constructed a mental concept of God in the first stage. Suppose that one bases Perceiver truth in the revelation of some holy book. In other words, truth is true because God says it, and God is the most important person. Altruism will then be viewed as obeying God rather than man; instead of being motivated by the Mercy mental networks of personal identity, one is motivated by the Mercy mental network of the source of truth. These two Mercy mental networks struggle for domination and one obeys either one or the other.

However, suppose that one constructs a mental concept of God upon universal truth rather than absolute, revealed truth. Instead of viewing God as the most important person based in Mercy thought, this will lead to a concept of God as a universal being based in Teacher thought. Universal law, whether physical or cognitive, will then be seen as a reflection of the character of the universal God. Now when I ‘obey God rather than men’ I am not just submitting to a person but I am also behaving in a certain manner because of the inherent nature of the mind and reality. For instance, suppose that I have the opportunity to steal some money and I know that nobody is around to see me. Because I am alone, there are no Mercy mental networks being triggered to guide my behavior. But I know that one of the requirements for mental wholeness is personal integrity. Mercy mental networks of personal identity need to submit to Perceiver facts of ownership. A mind that is based in revealed truth will feel that “I should not take the money because ‘thou shalt not steal’ is one of the ten Commandments and the ten Commandments were written by God.” In contrast, a mind that is guided by universal truth will feel that “I should not take the money because that will attack my personal integrity and I have to live with myself. I know how the mind is constructed and I choose to respect the structure of my mind. In addition, I do not want to live in a society in which everyone steals. Therefore, I will not be part of that society.” Notice how one is both obeying God and pursuing self-interest. What makes the action altruistic is that one is following universal principles in the absence of approval from people.

This second interpretation is consistent with what one finds described in Matthew 6. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:1-6 NASB).

One finds here both altruism and self-interest. On the one hand, a person is practicing righteousness, giving to the poor, and praying to God. On the other hand, there is self-interest because all of these actions are receiving a reward. However, what is being contrasted is the source of this reward. If a person behaves in a religious manner in order to be seen by men, then he is ‘receiving his reward in full’. Using the language of mental symmetry, the action is being connected with some Mercy mental network. An action will only become connected with the Teacher mental network of God if the mind cannot connect it with some Mercy mental network representing a person.

McDermott says that “True saints are caught up in the beauty, glory and goodness of God. They are drawn to God by the radiance of his magnificence as he is in himself and his works for humanity, completely apart from how God will serve their interests. They have lost track of themselves” (p.100).

We saw in the previous section that a Teacher-based concept of God leads to feelings of beauty. When a person is motivated solely by a Teacher mental network of God, then this does produce positive feelings of divine beauty. However, McDermott still appears to be approaching this from an attitude of religious self-denial, in which following God implies a denial of self.

McDermott adds that lovers are drawn to each other in a similar fashion. They are attracted to each other not because of the benefits that they expect from a relationship but because of something they see in the beloved. Benefits then follow, but they are not the primary reason the relationship was formed in the first place. So too for true spirituality. Self-interest is not excluded” (p.101).

We see here that McDermott goes beyond pure self-denial and emphasizes that following God results in personal benefits. Again, I suggest that there are two ways to approach this, depending on whether one follows a concept of God rooted in absolute truth or one based in universal truth. Looking first at the option of obeying a God of absolute truth, mental symmetry suggests that the mind is guided by certain inescapable cognitive principles, and that Christianity is consistent with these principles. Therefore, obeying a Christian God will have cognitive benefits, whether these benefits are understood or not. However, if Perceiver truth about God and morality is based in Mercy status, then this belief will only remain fixed as long as God is regarded as much more important in Mercy thought than me. In other words, obeying the God of the Bible will lead to personal benefits, but a person will only be able to continue obeying a God of the Bible if he pretends that he is not receiving personal benefits. Hence, the doubletalk of simultaneously saying that following God means denying self while also saying that following God saves self.

The situation is quite different when one obeys a God of universal truth. Instead of submitting to the edicts of some cosmic dictator, one is recognizing the existence of universal structure and choosing to function within it. A similar relationship between ruler and ruled can be seen in a properly functioning democracy. The government does not tell people what to do, rather it provides a system within which people function. People honor the government by pursuing self-interest in a way that submits to the structure of government. Of course, government can only regulate external behavior, it cannot—and should not—tell people what to think. In contrast, a concept of God can regulate both thought and behavior.

McDermott says that true love for God means a willingness to suffer for God’s glory. “This willingness in particular shows that love is not rooted primarily in self-interest. Jonathan Edwards said of Sarah [his wife] that ‘she was willing to suffer the hidings of God’s face, and to live and die in darkness and horror if God’s honor should require it, and to have no other reward for it but that God’s name should be glorified, although so much of the sweetness of the light of God’s countenance had been experienced” (p.102).

As before, I suggest that a legitimate cognitive principle is being confused with the attitude of religious self-denial. We have seen that reaching mental maturity means being converted from being motivated by childish Mercy mental networks to functioning within the framework of the Teacher mental network of a concept of God. Making this transition is not easy, and a person often has to be forced to let go of childish Mercy mental networks. Since the main source of childish Mercy mental networks is experiences with people that have emotional status and experiences from the physical body, then a person will typically let go of these mental networks only if he experiences shame and suffering. But being willing to go through shame and suffering in order to reach mental wholeness is quite different than being willing to ‘live and die in darkness and horror if God’s honor should require it’. The first lets go of Mercy mental networks in order to follow a Teacher mental network; the second exalts the Mercy goal of personal suffering. Many of the Catholic saints adopted this second attitude and pursued the goal of shame and suffering.

One can see the first attitude being described in Hebrews 12. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2 NASB).

Notice that the goal of Jesus is personal joy and that he is willing to go through suffering in order to reach this personal benefit. Notice also that a universal pattern is being followed, as evidenced by the cloud of witnesses, some of whom were described in the preceding chapter of Hebrews.

Finally, McDermott says that “The saints’ focus is primarily on God, but merely religious people focus primarily on themselves and their spiritual experiences” (p.102). He adds that “In one of his marvelous insights, John Calvin said that the human mind is a factory of idols. That is, the human mind is forever imagining new ideas about God in order to serve its own interests” (p.103).

I have suggested that the first stage of personal salvation uses personal honesty to construct a mental concept of God, while the second stage allows actions to be guided by this concept of God. It is also possible to construct a mental concept of God that is based in personal imagination. Notice the precise difference. Personal honesty uses rational thought to build a Teacher theory upon universal Perceiver facts about human identity and personal behavior. Here, Perceiver thought is functioning independently of Mercy mental networks. Personal imagination, in contrast, builds a Teacher theory upon Perceiver facts about my identity and my behavior. Here, Perceiver thought is being controlled by the Mercy mental networks of personal identity. I suggest that Calvin’s statement describes the second option, in which a person constructs a concept of God in his own image. Obeying such a concept of God reinforces childish identity rather than transforming it. As McDermott observes, this may result in spiritual experiences, but the focus of these spiritual experiences will be upon self, because personal identity is the source of understanding. Instead of thinking rationally, such a person is rationalizing.

I should finish by saying that most Christians believe in a combination of absolute truth and universal truth. In peripheral areas, common sense, rational thought, and scientific thinking lead the Christian to conclude that truth is universal. However, in my experience there is invariably some point at which the Christian changes his approach and insists that core truth about God and Christianity must be based in blind faith.

Seeing the Beauty of Holiness

I have suggested that a feeling of beauty is generated primarily by Teacher thought and that constructing a mental concept of God will lead to Teacher feelings of beauty that will motivate a person to follow God. What McDermott says in this chapter about beauty will allow us to add some detail to this explanation.

McDermott says that “holy affections come from a vision of the moral beauty of God and his ways. They come from loving God for the beauty and sweetness of his moral greatness” (p.109). He gives the example of Sojourner Truth’s encounter with the beauty of God. “Until this time, Sojourner explained, she had thought of Jesus as simply an eminent man like Washington or Lafayette. But now it was different. He appeared to be ‘so mild, so good, and so every way lovely.’ She was overjoyed that God was not avenging judge and that her friend was Jesus, who was ‘altogether lovely.’ Now that she could see the beauty of Jesus’ holiness, all the world looked different. ‘The world was clad in beauty, the very air sparkled as with diamonds, and was redolent of heaven’” (p.111).

Notice how this quote relates to the concept of Platonic forms mentioned earlier. Initially, Sojourner viewed Jesus merely as an important person represented by some Mercy mental network. But then her perspective of God and Jesus changed to include Teacher thought. Instead of just seeing Jesus as important, she also saw him as beautiful and ‘so every way lovely’. This Teacher perspective changed the way that she viewed experiences in Mercy thought. ‘Now that she could see the beauty of Jesus’ holiness, all the world looked different’.

McDermott also points out this connection between seeing God from a perspective of beauty and viewing the world in a new way, explaining that “in chapter seven [the first reliable sign] we saw that the saints have a new sense and taste. They perceive divine things that the unregenerate miss because they do not have a special sense and taste. What the saints perceive with their new sense is the beauty of holiness. This is the sweetness that their new taste enjoys” (p.117).

McDermott says that “true Christians find that the love of God in Christ is so attractive, so beautiful, that they cannot help wanting to serve him. There is a splendor, a beauty, about God and his ways that lures human beings to him” (p.114).

According to McDermott, this sense of divine beauty is a core aspect of true spirituality. “If I had to summarize in one statement what distinguishes true from false spirituality, it would be this: the unregenerate never see the beauty of holiness. They may see and have some understanding of God’s holiness, but they never see that it is beautiful. They do not, indeed they cannot, love it. In theological terms, they never appreciate the aesthetic dimension of divine holiness” (p.118).

Now that we have seen the connection between a sense of divine beauty, Platonic forms, and incommensurability, let us look at this in more detail.

I have suggested that positive Teacher emotion comes from order-within-complexity. But there are many kinds of complexity and many ways to bring order to this complexity. Beauty is one form of order-within-complexity, but is it the primary facet of God? What happens if one makes beauty the ultimate standard of spirituality, as McDermott appears to be doing? McDermott actually provides us with information that is required to address these questions, and one simply has to translate this information into the language of mental symmetry.

McDermott explains that “theologians distinguish between the moral and natural perfections of God. God’s natural perfections are attributes that when considered by themselves, have no moral significance: omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence and eternity...Until they are used in specific ways, they have no moral significance. God’s moral perfections, on the other hand, are moral in and of themselves. By their very definition they involve moral considerations. I refer here to God’s righteousness, truthfulness, goodness, kindness, mercy, long-suffering, compassion, justice and faithfulness... I have distinguished natural from moral goodness because God’s holiness has to do with the latter, not the former. In short, holiness is moral goodness” (p.113).

What McDermott calls the natural perfections of God are obviously aspects of universality that relate to Teacher thought and general understanding: omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence and eternity. When discussing these attributes one has no choice but to view God from a Teacher perspective. Consistent with this, these are the traits of God which the cognitive science of religion, with its Mercy perspective, has especial problems explaining. In contrast, one can see that what McDermott calls God’s moral perfections relate to Mercy thought and personal identity. Saying this another way, it is impossible for finite humans to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and eternal. But humans can be righteous, truthful, good, kind, merciful, long-suffering, compassionate, just, and faithful. Notice that humanity is being used as the starting point for analyzing God, because the biblical attributes of God are being divided into two groups based upon human capabilities. Thus, it appears that both theologians and the cognitive science of religion are making the similar cognitive error of attempting to analyze God from the human perspective of Mercy mental networks.

When a Teacher mental network encounters a Mercy mental network then one will impose its structure upon the other. What is the interaction between these two in McDermott’s concept of God? McDermott says that “to fully understand the beauty of holiness, which is God’s moral goodness, we must see the difference between moral and natural goodness. Moral goodness encompasses character traits that have moral significance, such as telling the truth and remaining faithful to your spouse. Natural goodness, on the other hand, is not related to morality. Pleasure, strength and knowledge, for example, are all natural goods...just as natural goodness is distinguished from moral goodness in human beings, theologians distinguish between the moral and natural perfections of God” (p.112).

In other words, according to McDermott, God’s morality is not an expression of Teacher thought. Instead, McDermott sees no relationship between the Mercy-like morality of God and his Teacher-like attributes. ‘Theologians distinguish between the moral and natural perfections of God.’ ‘Natural goodness is not related to morality.’

In contrast, I suggest that God’s moral attributes are actually based in Teacher thought and are byproducts of his universal, natural attributes. In other words, instead of trying to organize divine attributes into the two categories of humanlike and not-humanlike, I suggest that it is possible to understand divine attributes by starting from the Teacher viewpoint of universality and order-within-complexity. I have attempted to do this with the divine traits of righteousness, truthfulness, mercy, justice, and faithfulness in another essay. Looking at this briefly, imagine what would happen if some person was an absolute monarch and every statement that he made would automatically be turned into a universal law. I suggest that this describes what it would be like to be a universal being.

More specifically, if truth is universal, then a universal being will naturally express himself in universal terms, and a universal being will also apply justice in a universal manner that is not dependent upon personal status. Similarly, if holiness means applying a rule everywhere without exception, then a universal being will naturally be holy. A universal being will naturally be faithful, because faithfulness means sticking with something over the long term. And Kant’s categorical imperative suggests that a universal being must also ultimately be good. Even divine mercy takes on a different slant when viewed from a Teacher perspective. Suppose that one views divine mercy from a human Mercy perspective. Mercy thought places emotional labels on experiences. Therefore a Mercy viewpoint will think that God shows mercy by giving gifts to people that make them feel better. But that is not what one finds described in the Bible. Instead, God generally shows mercy by giving systems and setting up structures. For instance, how did God respond when the Israelites in slavery in Egypt asked for God’s mercy? He sent a baby and set up a structure in which that baby grew up in the household of pharoah. Similarly, God does not show mercy to sinners by instantly saving them but rather by making available a plan of salvation, a divine school in which individual humans can choose to enroll.

When one views God from a universal Teacher perspective, then it becomes readily apparent that divine moral attributes are fundamentally different than human moral attributes. In contrast, McDermott distinguishes between these two by appealing to religious self-denial. “God’s moral goodness, then, is infinitely superior to any moral goodness we can imagine. It is an infinite purity that is absolutely distinct from all creaturely purity, infinitely exalted about human goodness. Drawing on biblical metaphors, Calvin said that our goodness is so pathetic in comparison to God’s that we are rottenness itself” (p.113).

Notice how McDermott is comparing the infinite superior emotional status of God with the pathetic rottenness of humans. This sounds spiritual, but the reference point is still human moral attributes; divine moral attributes are still being defined in comparison with human moral attributes.

That brings us back to McDermott’s suggestion that beauty is the distinguishing factor of true spirituality. One speaks of an object, person, or experience being beautiful, but one does not generally talk about a beautiful theory, a beautiful understanding, or a beautiful action. In other words, beauty is usually ascribed to Mercy items that have acquired Teacher overtones. And that is precisely what I suggest that McDermott is doing. Instead of viewing God and spirituality from a universal Teacher perspective, he is viewing them from a personal Mercy perspective and then adding Teacher attributes. This is consistent with my earlier suggestion that Christians tend to use universal truth to analyze peripheral issues while using absolute truth to define core doctrines.

My goal is not to belittle McDermott. In contrast, I think that McDermott has a deep understanding of Christian doctrine and personal transformation. Instead, I am attempting to point out that just as Edwards was stretching forward by trying to go beyond social status while still embedded firmly within the social status of his society, so I suggest that McDermott is stretching forward by trying to go beyond blind faith while still embedded firmly within the blind faith of Christian fundamentalism. Again, I am not suggesting that McDermott is a typical fundamentalist or that Edwards was a typical slave owner. But the fact still remains that Edwards was a slave owner and it still appears that the core thinking of McDermott is consistent with the attitude of fundamentalism. Both are stretching forward from the mindset of their society. Both are stating significant truth guided by an inadequate paradigm.

What is wrong with an inadequate foundation? In general terms, I suggest that the extent of personal salvation that one experiences depends upon the universality of one’s concept of God. McDermott tells us that focusing upon divine beauty does not work very well. “Do not be intimidated by the experiences of God’s holiness described in this chapter. Do not think that the typical saint experiences them frequently. Even the great saints like Edwards had these passionate encounters only sporadically during their lives” (p.118). One would think that genuine Christianity could do more than deliver the occasional ecstatic experience.

I suggest that the reason for this limited emotional payoff is simple. A finite mental structure can only deliver finite benefits. If one wishes to experience universal benefits then one must construct a universal mental structure. Let us apply this to the second stage of righteousness described earlier, in which I suggest that a person acts in a way that is guided by his concept of God. I have often felt personally as if I could not continue without divine grace. In fact, for several years during the earlier part of my research, I would wake up each morning and feel that I had no reason to continue living. That is because no one was giving me either approval or money for my research into cognitive principles, while I was continuing to observe the personal and social problems that result from violating these cognitive principles. However, after re-thinking what I knew, I would conclude afresh that it was better to follow a path that might lead to personal wholeness than to follow paths that I knew led to mental fragmentation. And whenever I made this choice, I would feel as if something inside me was giving me the strength to continue on. Instead of experiencing flashes of divine beauty, I was experiencing a lasting presence of divine grace. And as my Teacher understanding has developed, this has indirectly led to a growing mental concept of the Holy Spirit which does generate feelings of divine beauty. Not just flashes of beauty, but rather a general sense of beauty this is usually present in the background and occasionally comes to the foreground.

A New Knowing

McDermott says that “true grace brings a new knowing. The mind is enlightened with new thoughts, or new light is shed on old thoughts. Holy affections are not heat without light. They always arise from new information – spiritual instruction that was previously unknown or is now seen in a new light” (p.121). We saw in previous sections that a paradigm shift—a new general Teacher theory—will produce this sort of mental effect.

McDermott clarifies that he is referring to intellectual thought. “So there is a cognitive or intellectual dimension in a work of grace. Regeneration by the Holy Spirit involves the mind. The mind is given new thoughts that enable the heart to change. This only stands to reason: if regeneration is the radical change that previous chapters have described, every part of the person must be affected” (p.122). Notice the direction. The mind is being given new thoughts and these are enabling the heart to change.

McDermott explains how this new knowledge affects the heart. “It is a new vision or knowing of God and his ways that opens the heart to change. This new knowing can be compared to sunlight that shines on ice and causes it to melt” (p.122). Similarly, the Bible talks about a heart of stone being changed into a heart of flesh. When Mercy mental networks are the source of Perceiver truth, then this leads to an emotional rigidity, because truth will only remain intact as long as the Mercy mental networks that define truth are preserved and coddled. For instance, think of the way in which an idol or icon is kept behind walls in order to prevent it from getting into contact with common items. Similarly, when a person builds a concept of God in his own image, then there will be certain Mercy mental networks that must not be questioned or analyzed. I suggest that it is these Mercy mental networks that ‘dare not be touched’ which make the heart hard. In contrast, when personal identity functions within a grid that is held together by the Teacher mental network of understanding, then a person can allow his heart to become soft, because something else is holding his mind together. Using a simple analogy, a beam that holds up a building must be hard because if it is not hard then the building will collapse. However, if something else holds up the building, then the beam can be allowed to soften.

With this in mind, let us look more closely at the nature of this new knowing. McDermott first defines what this knowing is not, and then he says what it is. We will examine these points in the light of mental symmetry.

McDermott says that “it is true that visions and voices often communicate new knowledge, but this is not the kind of knowing I am referring to” (p.123). So, he is not talking about something imposed externally upon the mind in the form of Teacher words or Mercy images. In the language of mental symmetry, an emotionally imposed mental network does not lead to trustworthy Perceiver knowing. Anyone who has spent time in charismatic circles will know that it is rather difficult to distinguish between the voice of God and subconscious thought or between a vision and imagination.

He adds that “a more common misunderstanding is to think that Christian knowing is simply a matter of acquiring intellectual information or doctrine, like the knowledge of a circle is different from a square, or even that Jesus died for our sins” (p.124). This tells us that McDermott is not just referring to isolated Perceiver facts or pieces of information.

“Neither is this knowing and understanding of the mystical meaning of Scripture. Beginning with Origin, the first great theologian, there developed in the church an elaborate science that assumed that much of Scripture is allegorical... I do not mean to disparage all this tradition, for it seems incontestable that some of the meaning of Scripture lies beneath the surface meaning of its language. Yet the knowledge that comes with true grace is not knowledge of hidden meaning of a passage in Scripture, but a knowledge of God and his ways that opens up a new way of seeing the world” (p.124).

I would agree heartily with this statement. Ignoring the obvious meaning of a text while looking for a hidden meaning can be an effective method to avoid personal honesty. As McDermott suggests, there is nothing wrong with thinking in metaphorical terms. The mind does it all the time, driven by mental networks. Some situation comes along, it triggers a mental network, and that mental network uses its structure to fill in the blanks. Voila, a metaphor—this is like that. But most of these metaphors are merely surface resemblances in which a few elements in one situation bring another situation to mind. This permits us to respond to situations in an efficient manner that generally works.

But how does one test a potential connection to see if it is a valid analogy? One way is the method of hidden meaning. Some person with emotional status, such as Origen, tells me the correct analogy, and once I have this knowledge then I feel like I am part of a group that possesses emotional status. Another way is the method of universal meaning. Hidden meaning is guided by Mercy mental networks of status; I cannot figure out the meaning by myself but have to be guided by some expert; that makes the meaning hidden. Universal meaning is guided by Teacher mental networks of understanding. Perceiver and Server thought are used to look for similarities between the facts and sequences of one situation and the facts and sequences of another, making it possible for Teacher thought to come up with a simple theory that summarizes the essence of these universal connections. An analogy that is based in universal meaning can be discovered in many situations by many people, because it describes a universal pattern. It is only hidden to those who do not know how to think clearly.

McDermott concludes by saying, “Finally, this knowing is not a revelation of the Bible verse for one’s personal situation. Some Christians open up the Bible at random assuming that whatever verse their finger rests on speaks directly to their situation, regardless of the verse’s literary and historical context” (p.125).

I must confess that I am one of those Christians. I do occasionally open the Bible at random and stab with my finger at a verse. I do not do this to build doctrine or to find guidance, but rather to communicate. At times it gets lonely trying to answer questions that most people are not asking, especially when one is asking deep questions about God, identity, and the relationship between these two. In my experience, if I really need something, then I usually land on some verse that is relevant (sometimes remarkably relevant) to the situation, either reaffirming my path or else pointing out where my attitude needs to change. (Note in 2015: When I feel like opening the Bible at random, I now sense a little voice inside telling me to grow up.)

McDermott suggests that a verse needs to be considered within its literary and historical context. I suggest that this is important but these characteristics describe merely the external context of a passage. Deeper than this is the internal context of the passage. How does this verse fit within the context of the chapter? How does this verse fit within the framework of a general Teacher understanding? McDermott alludes to this when he says that “I do not want to say that God does not use Bible verses to speak to our hearts. He has done this in the past, and he continues to do so today. But if this is to be helpful and truly from the Lord, it does not ignore the context of the biblical passage” (p.125).

When Mercy mental networks are used to determine Perceiver truth, then it becomes difficult to distinguish Mercy feelings from Perceiver facts. I have suggested that personal honesty is required for the first stage of salvation, which means learning how to use Perceiver thought in the presence of Mercy emotions, and learning how to distinguish Perceiver facts from Mercy emotions. As McDermott states, the finger-stab method is not appropriate for determining Perceiver truth; it is not an adequate basis for knowing. But knowing is different than feeling. In my experience, the finger-stab method does sometimes meet an emotional need, but if my experience is any guide, it only seems to work when I have a legitimate emotional need.

McDermott describes the nature of spiritual knowing in the following quote. “The knowing that true grace brings is a spiritual and supernatural understanding of divine things. Because it is spiritual, those who do not have the spirit cannot participate in this knowing... It may be helpful to compare this knowing of divine things to knowing artistic beauty... Beauty can be known only by those who enjoy it... Knowledge of the beauty of divine things is remarkably similar. People without the spirit do not see the glory of God in Christ because they are not able to. Their eyes not been opened to divine beauty, so they cannot enjoy it, much less see it. The beauty of divine things can be seen only by those who enjoy it, just as the beauty of art can be seen only by those with the capacity to enjoy it” (p.126).

We saw earlier that a feeling of beauty is generated primarily by Teacher thought, and we also saw that acquiring a new paradigm allows a person to see things that he did not see before. Thus I suggest that McDermott is making a perceptive statement. Using an analogy, in order to appreciate a beautiful passage in English, one must first learn how to understand English. While McDermott is ‘speaking English’, I suggest that it is possible to ‘speak English’ more fluently.

As I mentioned before, beauty is an expression of Teacher thought, but so are traits such as elegance, universality, understanding, simplicity, holiness, and righteousness. And we saw earlier that McDermott does not realize that God’s moral perfections can be traced back to His natural perfections. When a person focuses primarily upon the divine attribute of beauty, then this suggests that he is thinking primarily of God as a perfect, static object—a Mercy mental network that is the source of all other Mercy mental networks. I am not suggesting that McDermott subscribes to Aristotle’s concept of the perfect, immutable, immovable mover. Rather, I am suggesting that he is stretching forward from this belief but has not completely moved beyond it.

One can tell from the following quote that McDermott is stretching beyond a Mercy view of God. “Because saints have seen the beauty of God, they see a certain beauty or attractiveness in the ways and acts of God. The word of God becomes sweet and at times even beautiful; the way of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Christ appears incomparably wondrous; the evil of sin seems deeper and darker than ever imagined before conversion. The world of nature takes on a new beauty” (p.130). Notice that McDermott is using the term beauty to describe words and sequences as well as actions.

However, the inherent Mercy bias comes through when McDermott describes spiritual knowing in more detail. He begins by saying that spiritual knowing relates to sensory perception. “If supernatural knowledge of the things of God is the seeking, it is also an experience. The Scriptures represent it as a knowing that one can relish, taste and feel” (p.127).

He then adds more detail. “I have been talking throughout this chapter about the new knowing a saint has, which is a kind of seeing and tasting. We have not yet focused on the object of this knowledge and vision. What does the saint see? What does the same know that is new?...the answer is the glory or beauty of divine things. This is what sets the saint apart from all others. Others may also see divine things, but they do not see their beauty or glory... This is the light that makes the person of Jesus so ravishingly beautiful, that has drawn the hearts of millions to him for two millennia” (p.129).

I suggest that McDermott is confusing knowing with the results of spiritual knowing. Ultimately, knowing is based in repetition, consistency, and universality. In other words, is a fact repeated in many situations and is it consistent with related facts? This is how Perceiver thought evaluates information. However, we know that it is difficult for Perceiver thought to hold on to information in the presence of emotional pressure. Therefore, it is much easier for Perceiver thought to hold on to a fact when this fact is part of the overall package of a general Teacher theory. Using scientific language, if I know that a fact is consistent with universal laws of nature, that I will find it easier to believe this fact. Saying this in religious language, if I know that a fact is consistent with the general character of God, then I will find it easier to believe this fact and know that it is true.

Going further, every child acquires an initial identity from the experiences of living in a physical body, which form the childish Mercy mental networks that we have been discussing in this essay. If personal transformation uses a Teacher understanding of God to transform these childish Mercy mental networks, then one sign that these Mercy mental networks really are being changed is that one will begin to ‘sense’ and ‘see’ the presence of God. In the same way that adopting a new paradigm changes the manner that one views the world in subtle ways, so adopting a new paradigm about Mercy mental networks that are based in physical input (i.e. the Mercy mental networks of childish identity) will cause a person to view physical input in a subtly different manner.

Saying this more briefly, when knowing begins to affect the senses, then this is a sign that knowing about self has really hit home and that one is truly practicing personal honesty. But I suggest that this is an indirect result of knowing and does not define knowing itself.

Deep-Seated Conviction

McDermott says that “This is the fifth reliable sign of true spirituality: a deep-seated conviction that the divine truths claim by the Christian faith are true. Both mind and heart are convinced the divine things are real...There is an inner knowing that goes beyond mere hoping. It is a conviction grounded not just in new thoughts but also in the experience of the heart” (p.133). In the original text, Edwards talks about spiritual conviction.

What does it mean to have ‘spiritual conviction’? Before addressing this question, let us look first at how modern philosophy and McDermott’s students view conviction.

McDermott begins by saying that “It never ceases to amaze me how many of my students think it is impossible to have strong convictions about things that really count...They are certain that they can never be certain about the big questions of life... Matters of religion and philosophy, they think, can never be known with deep conviction or students are convinced, however, that the hard sciences provide certainty. We may not know if there is a God, or what kind of moral life we should live. We can know without a doubt that F=MA” (p.134).

In other words, modern thinking demands empirical evidence. In simple terms, seeing is believing. If I cannot see it or measure it in some sort of scientific manner, then I cannot be certain. Religion and philosophy are not empirical sciences, therefore they cannot lead to certainty. That describes the thinking of modern society, and I can attest that this is an accurate description. The cognitive reason for emphasizing empirical data is simple. Perceiver thought looks for repeated connections, and repeated connections are easy to find when dealing with physical objects and physical events. Suppose that I want to test F=MA. I can take some known mass, apply a force to it, and then measure the resulting acceleration. Every time I do this, I will get the same answer. By the 152nd time, the repetition will convince Perceiver thought that F really does equal MA. But how does one measure God, or perform a repeatable experiment upon metaphysical objects that cannot be seen or measured?

But physical evidence can also be suspect. How do I know that F will still equal MA the 153rd time? I do not. Instead, I am making an extrapolation based upon limited data. As MacDermott states, students “are surprised when I tell them that philosophers of science are not so sure that the hard sciences can give us certainty... If we cannot have certainty about the laws of physics, neither can we know with absolute certainty something upon which nearly all science rests—the notion that the workings of nature are uniform, that nature possesses regularity. Recent philosophers have concluded that the uniformity of nature is unproved dogma, not the result of empirical inquiry” (p.134).

In addition, the senses can be fooled. Seeing is not always believing. “My more astute students will then point to sensory experience. Surely this, they argue, provides certainty. But then I ask if the sensory experience can be proved... Philosophers have long recognized that it is impossible to prove the certain reliability of sensory experience” (p.135).

Going further, I suspect that very few people have actually done 152 tests to see if F=MA. Instead, the average physics student has probably solved at least 152 problems guided by his teacher’s claim that F=MA and has possibly done one or two experiments that actually measure to see if F=MA. A similar limitation exists with history. Historical evidence is often touted as definitive, but it is also based upon hearsay. “What about history?... We also know that nearly all of our historical knowledge is based on testimony, which could have resulted from confusion, misunderstanding or even deception” (p.135).

Systems of cognitive development agree that learning starts with blind faith, has a crisis of knowing, and then rebuilds upon a less certain foundation. Using the language of mental symmetry, when Perceiver thought is overwhelmed by Mercy emotions, then a person does not just feel that he knows truth, he knows with absolute certainty that he knows truth. When Perceiver thought begins to function, then a person realizes that his knowing has been based upon an inadequate foundation. This describes the transition that is experienced by the typical teenager. The young child assumes that adults know everything. The teenager realizes that adults have limited knowledge and goes through a crisis of knowing. How then does one regain a sense of knowing?

McDermott tells us what the adult usually does. “Do the scientist and historian therefore despair of ever knowing anything because they cannot have certainty? Do they abandon the enterprise of truth seeking because they have discovered that we can never know anything for sure? Of course not. Like all who try to make sense of human experience, they use the principles of probability. They come to what they think is the most probable explanation of experience and continue to work with that explanation until proven wrong” (p.135). Using the language of mental symmetry, Perceiver thought decides what is true based upon reasonable repetition. (In practice, it does not always work that way. Thomas Kuhn and recent neurological research both make it clear that a person will naturally reject facts that violate his current paradigm.)

The scientist and historian can gain reasonable confidence by looking for empirical evidence. What is the Christian supposed to do? McDermott addresses this by discussing some of the historical evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But this implies that religion, like history and science, can only rely upon empirical evidence. Historical evidence for the validity of Christianity can help. “The point of all this has been to show that the deep-seated conviction that this chapter addresses is a reasonable conviction. It is not a mystical sense divorced from the mind. It may not have sophisticated answers like the ones just advanced. But it will have reasons for its confidence” (p.138).

But is there more? McDermott claims that there is. “True faith will have heartfelt conviction that the teachings of the gospel are true. The vision of God’s glory and beauty will make these truths vividly real. There will be a waxing and waning of confidence, especially during times of trauma, but eventually the old assurance will return. For it was based not simply on reasoning of the mind but a supernatural revealing of the beauty of divine things” (p.140). But returning to the question posed at the beginning of this section, what exactly is heartfelt conviction? What is spiritual certainty? McDermott claims that it exists but he has not really defined it.

Mental symmetry suggests a possible way out of this quandary. In the same way that the physical world is governed by inescapable, repeatable natural law, so mental symmetry suggests that the mind is governed by inescapable, repeatable cognitive mechanisms. Mental symmetry also suggests that biblical doctrine is consistent with these cognitive mechanisms.

If a person believes facts that are consistent with the wiring of his mind, and if he follows a path that causes more of his mind to function, then this type of content will ‘ring true’. It will make sense, because it is consistent with the myriad facts that are acquired almost subliminally from living within the mind. This is like the sense of knowing that one gains when using a machine the way it was designed to be used. One is no longer fighting the machine. Instead, there is an inherent harmony. I suggest that this provides a cognitive basis for ‘spiritual certainty’.


McDermott tells us that “According to the greatest saints of the church, it is absolutely essential to true spirituality. Without it there is no genuine spiritual life, regardless of the intensity of religious feeling... ‘There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge of the world’” (p.142). “The great saints of the church often said that without humility no other Christian virtue is possible” (p.155).

Going further, “If God prizes humility and considers it indispensable to the spiritual life, he hates its opposite, pride. The church’s greatest saints and theologians have usually regarded pride as the greatest of all sins. For Augustine it was ‘the beginning of all sin’. Thomas Aquinas and Dante characterized it as the ultimate sin; John Milton and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe dramatized it as the essence of sin” (p.144).

I suggested at the beginning of this essay that basing Perceiver faith in emotional status leads inevitably to an attitude of self-denial. We also saw that Jonathan Edwards’ society was driven by social status. Similarly, when one examines the thinking of many of these ‘great saints and theologians’, one sees a lot of thinking that is based either in the exaltation or suppression of personal and social status. How does one separate between legitimate humility and religious self-denial?

When truth is based in emotional status, then even talking about humility in an authoritative manner becomes suspect, because self-denial assumes that personal identity has no significance, whereas making a definitive statement implies that personal identity has sufficient significance to act as a source of truth. One can see why McDermott would say that “it is difficult for me to write about humility, the sixth reliable sign of true spirituality. I feel as if I am describing a beautiful foreign country that I have never visited.… As I prepared this chapter, it has become painfully clear how far I am from ever seeing this wonderful country. I am reminded how natural it is for me to promote myself. There is something inside me that wants others to know of the books I have written or something else I have accomplished” (p.142).

I should begin by agreeing that pride is a major problem. The childish mind naturally bases truth in emotional status, and it is pride to think that any person can act as a source of absolute truth. The problem is that a society such as Edwards’ that is driven by social status has its very foundation in pride. Thus, Edwards, and most of the earlier ‘saints’ were warning against pride while living in a society whose very structure was determined by pride. Similarly, I suggest that blind faith in the Bible also creates an atmosphere of pride, because it teaches that God uses his status to impose truth upon mankind, and that is the duty of believers to proclaim truth to those who do not recognize the preeminence of God. Thus, as long as social status and blind faith rule, I suggest that any attempt to suppress pride will be like a game of whack-a-mole. As soon as pride is stomped out in one area, it will pop up in another. Saying this more simply, I suggest that pride is a natural expression of childish thought with its basis in Mercy mental networks, and that the only effective way to go beyond pride is by going beyond childish thought.

How does one go beyond pride? I suggest that Edwards gives a partial answer, McDermott takes this answer further, and mental symmetry allows us to build on this.

McDermott says that “The truly humble, on the other hand, feel conviction of sin not simply as a work of the natural conscience but as a result of seeing the beauty of God’s love. They mourn their sins not because they fear punishment but because they know they have dishonored the one whose love is so great and beautiful. They prostrate themselves before God in worship and submission, not because they have to but because this is their delight” (p.146).

Notice that McDermott is going beyond a Mercy-based attitude of self-denial which assumes that exalting the emotional status of God means denigrating the emotional status of self. Instead, we are back at the concept of the beauty of God. In the language of mental symmetry, McDermott suggests being drawn by the Teacher emotions of beauty that are associated with the person of God rather than the Mercy feeling of importance. I suggest that this transition from Mercy emotion to Teacher emotion is critical. However, notice also that Mercy elements are still present in McDermott’s description. When a person ‘prostrates himself before God in worship and submission’, then this gives the impression that God is a finite being with great beauty rather than a universal being. Teacher emotion is being added to a Mercy view of God rather than being seen as an inherent quality of God.

This is the view of God that one sees portrayed at the beginning of the book of Revelation. “The four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.’ And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev. 4:8-11 NASB).

However, what one finds portrayed at the end of the book of Revelation is totally different. Here it describes “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper...And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements...I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Rev. 21 NASB).

Notice that people are no longer bowing down in endless religious self-denial before God but rather they are living normal life in the presence of God. Before, the focus was upon God’s splendor. Here it is the city of Jerusalem that has the splendor. Before, the attention was directed to a person sitting on a throne. Here, there is no temple. Before, everyone was emotionally blinded by the awesomeness of God. Here, those who live outside of the city are guided by the example of the holy city.

McDermott’s description of humility lies somewhere in between these two extremes. He says that “Humility is seeing things for what they really are. It sees God for who he is, and all the glory and beauty of his holy love. When we see that – God – we cannot help but see ourselves for who we really are: sinful worms by comparison. Once we get a glimpse of God’s pure, self-giving love for us, we will be overwhelmed by our own uncleanness and self-obsession...confessing our sinfulness and dependence on God is different from self-deprecation. It is not pleasing to God when we deny our gifts and talents” (p.146). First, McDermott says that humility is ‘seeing things for what they really are’. Second, McDermott says that humility is not self-deprecation, and that one should not deny one’s gifts. And yet, McDermott still emphasizes ‘self-giving love’ and talks about being ‘overwhelmed by our own uncleanness and self-obsession’.

I should begin by saying that when childish identity encounters a universal God, then this will lead—and should lead—to overwhelming feelings of personal uncleanness. A Teacher-based being follows universal principles without exception, while the Mercy mental networks of childish identity ignore general rules and demand personal exceptions. Religious self-denial addresses this problem by suppressing childish identity, however the underlying attitude of approaching God from a Mercy perspective has not been addressed.

We looked earlier at the difference between using absolute truth to construct the concept of God and using universal truth, and we examined the type of altruism that occurs when one follows a concept of God that is based in universal truth. In simple terms, one obeys God rather than man not because God has greater Mercy status than man but rather because the character of God corresponds with universal principles of how the mind and the world function. For instance, I do not jump off a cliff because some person tells me not to or because some person will punish me if I go over the cliff. Instead, I do not jump off a cliff because of the universality of the law of gravity. If I jump, then I will fall. That is how things work, and I do not want to deceive myself by being emotionally blinded by the opinions of people. In religious language, I follow a universal, holy God rather than finite man because I do not want to experience the judgment of God in the form of the implacable and universal law of gravity.

I suggest that this explains McDermott’s comment that humility is ‘seeing things for what they really are’. The first stage of salvation uses universal truth to build a concept of God. The second stage allows actions to be guided by Teacher understanding because ‘that is how things really are’. I suggest that the third stage creates new Mercy mental networks of personal identity that live within the structure that was formed during the first two stages. Notice that I cannot live in a structure that does not apply to me. That is why the first stage does not just gather truth but rather gathers truth that applies to me. Notice also that one cannot live in a structure that has no room for movement. That is why the second stage adds personal action to the understanding of God that was acquired in the first stage.

When personal identity lives within the structure of a universal concept of God, then it becomes possible to live within a city of God, as described at the end of Revelation. Such as city will not contain temples, because God is no longer being viewed from a finite Mercy perspective. The presence of a grid within which one lives is implied by the strange description of the city being measured ‘according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements’. Notice how both human and angelic realms are now using the same measurements. This is what happens when finite identity in Mercy thought resides within the same grid that describes the universal nature of God in Teacher thought.

McDermott says that “According to Edwards, the first mark of genuine humility is that it isn’t noisy. It tends not to talk about itself... Humble saints are quiet for two reasons. First they are listening for God’s voice... The second reason the humble tend to be quiet is that they listen to others. They realize that God often speaks to people... One of the benefits of silently listening for God is that we get to see God act as our defender” (p.153).

When truth is based in personal status, then truth must be imposed and it has to be proclaimed. This leads to ‘noisy’ truth that talks about itself. In contrast, if truth describes ‘how things really are’, there is no need to be noisy. Instead, one only has to point out connections that already exist, and being too noisy about this would divert people’s attention away from this inherent structure.

The transformed self learns from others not because self is being denied, but rather because of the finite nature of self. No one can know everything; no one can be an expert at everything. McDermott describes this recognition of human finiteness. “Humble saints know they do not know it all. They do not think they have the answer to everyone else’s problems. And because they are so aware of their own limitations, they are slow to criticize others” (p.155).

Therefore, the transformed self learns from others in order to learn more about ‘how things really are’, and it listens to God in order to discover in more general terms ‘how things really are’. Similarly, if the character of God summarizes the essence of ‘how things really are’, the best way to get ahead is to work within this structure rather than attempting to fight it. That is why the transformed self looks to God as a defender. This is related to the concept of using a machine the way it was designed that was discussed earlier.

Human finiteness has its obvious limitations, but it also has some strengths. One can see this by comparing a large country such as the United States with a tiny country such as Singapore. Singapore is only a city state which completely lacks the magnificence of a superpower such as the United States. But because Singapore is basically a single city, it is capable of exhibiting traits more intensely or in purer form than a large empire. Quoting from the Wikipedia article, Singapore is one of the world’s major commercial hubs, with the fourth biggest financial center and one of the five busiest ports... It places highly in international rankings with regard to education, healthcare, government transparency, and economic competitiveness.” If a country such as Singapore attempted to act like a superpower, the results would be laughable. Similarly, it is laughable for a finite individual to attempt to appear grand. But being small can also be an advantage, however one can only enjoy this advantage if one fully accepts that one is small. That is why the transformed self ‘glories in humility’, not to practice self abasement, but rather to take advantage of what it means to be small, because that is ‘how things really are’.

Like McDermott, “There is something inside me that wants others to know of the books I have written or something else I have accomplished.” This feeling can be rather strong when one develops a theory that really does seem to work, when it appears that people really do need this understanding, and when so many people ignore it as worthless or incomprehensible. Over the years, I have discovered that the best way to deal with this feeling is to realize that it is far more important for me to discover how things really are and to live within this knowledge than it is to merely talk about this understanding or attempt to impose it upon others. This provides a positive motivation for humility, makes it possible to talk about humility, and provides a target to aim at. Instead of trying to suppress the prideful behavior of childish identity, one tries to place identity within the grid of understanding. Instead of mumbling bashfully whenever the topic of humility comes up, one can analyze humility and attempt to understand what it means to be humble. And instead of trying to head away from pride, one can head towards humility.

This does not mean that it is no longer a struggle to be humble. One must still construct a concept of God, act in accordance with the concept of God, and then die to childish identity. This takes time and is a painful process. However, I find that when I choose to follow the positive path of submitting personal identity to understanding, then I become increasingly able to respond naturally in a humble manner without having feelings of personal injustice gnaw at my guts. Notice that this goes one step beyond righteousness. During the second stage of righteousness, one acts in a manner that is consistent with Teacher understanding. Humility is more an expression of the third stage of dying to self, in which one chooses to exist within the grid of Teacher understanding, believing that this is the best way to achieve lasting, personal benefits.

C.S. Lewis description of Aslan’s resurrection in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe illustrates this mindset of humility. Quoting from sparknotes, “Although the old magic, or traditional religion, of Narnia is Deep Magic, deeper still is the magic that Aslan uses when he sacrifices himself. Aslan does not defy the Emperor’s magic. Instead, Aslan follows the tradition and submits himself to the Witch. Aslan’s resurrection does not occur because he helps redeem Edmund or Narnia, but because he obeys the Emperor's rules. Aslan follows the old tradition, and is therefore able to then reform the traditions and save Narnia.”

McDermott says that “Humility denies its worldly inclinations because it realizes that they lead away from true happiness. That is, it wants to ignore or redirect its undisciplined urges for money, sex and power when it sees that fulfilling those urges will bring conflict and unhappiness in the long run... Another kind of self-denial is far more difficult: the denial of our natural tendency to exalt ourselves. This is impossible to practice unless the soul seen the beauty of God’s love and lives in response to that love...The unregenerate...can deny themselves the obvious sins of the flesh because they know that those sins will hurt them and ruin their reputations. But they do not have the foggiest notion of why anyone would reject self-promotion. Or, if they see that this is desirable, they cannot do it. Edwards observed that church history is full of such people” (p.147).

Using the language of mental symmetry, a person who thinks in terms of Mercy mental networks can use mental networks as a mental ‘warning system’ that makes it possible to predict which actions will lead to painful results and which ones will lead to pleasant results. This is far better than being driven mindlessly by triggered mental networks. It is a form of natural conscience. For instance, if I am tempted to eat too much food, then this may trigger Mercy mental networks of fat people which can motivate me to avoid the tasty morsel and go out and exercise instead. However, trusting my personal existence to a universal system is much more difficult. Using an analogy, natural conscience is like heeding road signs when driving, while going beyond self-promotion is like getting in an airplane and flying. Nothing visible holds up an airplane; one has to trust one’s very existence to the invisible laws of nature.

McDermott finishes the chapter by looking at several false forms of humility. “One form of false humility is perhaps the most insidious. This is the spiritual pride that is proud of its humility... Spiritual pride tends to admire its own spiritual experiences and consider itself spiritually superior to others” (p.148). I suggest that McDermott is describing the inherent contradiction present in self-denial. Suppose that one attempts to suppress the Mercy mental networks of childish identity. The act of suppressing personal identity will itself create a set of related emotional experiences that will form a Mercy mental network, and like all Mercy mental networks, it will attempt to impose itself when it is triggered. Thus the practice of self-denial can itself lead to prideful behavior.

“Spiritual pride is unhappy unless it can teach others. It is convinced that it is ‘a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children’... True humility does not demand to teach” (p.149). We see here the assumption that truth is revealed by emotional sources. This becomes particularly insidious when emotional status is used to proclaim the truth that truth should not be based in emotional status. This leads to the contradiction of a teacher that tells people that they should not be teachers.

“A third characteristic of spiritual pride is that it does not see its own sin. True saints, on the other hand, see their sin especially when experiencing grace. In the midst of greatest spiritual delight, Teresa referred to herself as ‘the weakest and wickedest’” (p.151). (We will look at Teresa of Aliva later in this essay.) As was mentioned before, I suggest that a person can only see himself as he is if he can adopt a perspective that is different than personal identity. I suggest that Teacher understanding makes this possible. Saying this another way, in order to understand my own culture, I have to travel to another culture in order to gain perspective; I have to be acquire mental networks that are different than the mental networks of personal identity.

If the only mental networks I possess are those of my culture, then I will be able to see the shortcomings of others but not the shortcomings of myself. “A fourth mark of spiritual pride is thinking highly of our humility... Those who never been touched by true spirituality, on the other hand, are usually not aware of their pride. They are quick to see the speck of dust in their neighbor’s eye but oblivious to the logs in their own” (p.153).

In summary, basing truth in emotional status will naturally lead to feelings of self-denial. However, I suggest that any form of self-denial that is motivated by Mercy mental networks will be plagued by inconsistency and hypocrisy. Instead, I suggest that genuine humility can only exist if a person recognizes that he is a finite human being who lives within a structure of universal law and order that expresses the nature of a universal God.

A Change of Nature

McDermott explains that “There is a spiritual enlightening that transforms. It changes the nature of the soul, so that one’s life is different ever after. The change is not always outwardly visible, at least for a while, but what happens on the inside changes one’s very nature. Eventually the inner change will manifest itself in a different kind of life: a different pattern of thinking, feeling and acting” (p.159).

McDermott is describing here a fundamental change in core mental networks. “I am talking about a fundamental orientation of one’s life, not simply changing a hobby or way of parenting, or recommending that someone else make changes. I mean changing from hating or ignoring God to loving God. Or from seeing life as empty, as Jade did, to seeing it as charged with beauty and hope...” (p.159).

Remember that mental networks form an emotional hierarchy, with stronger mental networks imposing their structure upon weaker ones. If the nature of a person is to fundamentally change, then core mental networks must be altered. If they are transformed, then this change will naturally ripple out to affect the nature of lesser mental networks as well.

In contrast, if only peripheral mental networks are transformed, then this change will violate the nature of deeper mental networks, it will take effort to maintain this change, and the natural tendency will be for unaltered core mental networks to reimpose their structure upon lesser mental networks. “If the inner transformation is real, it is lasting. But if the change is only temporary, it is not the result of genuine conversion. Many people dabble with various spiritualities before they are converted by the grace of Jesus. While experimenting with the spiritualities, they make some changes in their lifestyles and habits. The changes are usually made with great effort area is like pushing a boulder uphill or cutting wood against the grain” (p.161).

It is interesting that Swedenborg uses the same language to describe how a person is judged after death. “After a short or longer period in the World of Spirits, a person’s ruling love begins to reveal itself, and he no longer cares whether it is seen or not. All the thoughts, affections and beliefs which he brought with him but which are not in harmony with his ruling love, begin to fall away; they are not really his own, and so he discards them, becoming completely integrated—‘himself.’ He can no longer play a role or ‘put on an act’ or pretend to be what he isn’t.”

Notice what is being described in these two quotes. McDermott says that transforming core mental networks will inevitably affect the nature of other mental networks as well, while Swedenborg says that core mental networks will inevitably affect the nature of other mental networks as well. The difference between these two is that McDermott is talking about a live person who lives in a physical body, whereas Swedenborg is talking about dead people who no longer have physical bodies. We have seen that input from the physical body defines the initial Mercy mental networks of personal identity. On the one hand, these childish mental networks are inadequate, leading to what Christianity calls the sin nature. On the other hand, I suggest that living in a physical body is also an opportunity, because this external source of mental networks makes it possible to reach deep inside in order to reprogram core mental networks.

Suppose that the disembodied mind survives physical death. Swedenborg is suggesting that a disembodied mind is incapable of the major transformation that embodiment makes possible. Using an analogy, it is not possible to replace the beams that hold up a building without having that building collapse. I suggested that describes what it would be like to attempt major transformation as a disembodied mind. However, if the building is held up by an external system of scaffolding, then it is possible to change the beams because the scaffolding is holding the weight of the building. This describes the opportunity for fundamental change that comes from living in a physical body. But if a person uses scaffolding as an excuse to avoid constructing any load-bearing beams, then once the scaffolding is taken away, then the building will collapse. I suggest that this describes death for the unregenerate mind that does not build internal content. While I would question many ideas of Swedenborg, his concept of judgment is elegant and appears to be consistent with both mental symmetry and Scripture.

I have suggested that the mind represents people, including self, as mental networks. When core mental networks fall apart, then I suggest that this really feels like dying to self, and when core mental networks are rebuilt, then it really feels as if identity has been reborn. McDermott agrees. “The transformation that comes in true spirituality is revolution from the inside out. The authors of Scripture make it clear that this inner revolution is the implantation of a new nature. They call it being born again, becoming a new creature, rising from the dead” (p.161).

I have suggested that the extent of personal salvation that one experiences depends upon the extent of one’s concept of God. I have also suggested that McDermott’s concept of God is still ultimately rooted in a core of blind faith. Finally, I have suggested that blind faith is always accompanied by an attitude of self-denial.

Putting these three points together, we conclude that while McDermott’s path can transform much of childish identity, but it will also suppress some of childish identity and not transform it, especially in areas of physical pleasure and personal expression. Saying this another way, because physical input plays such a major role in programming the mental networks of childish identity, self-denial will conclude that physical input is by its very nature evil and needs to be suppressed. However, I suggest that the real problem is not the presence of physical input or the enjoyment of physical pleasure, but rather the absence of internal content. The goal is not to suppress the body, but rather to stop taking shortcuts. The goal is not to avoid Mercy mental networks but rather to stop using Mercy mental networks based in external input to fragment the mind. For instance, I suggest that sexual promiscuity is wrong, not because physical pleasure is bad, but rather because each isolated sexual encounter fragments the mind with isolated Mercy mental networks at a deep emotional level. In terms of the building analogy, instead of using the scaffolding as an opportunity to build solid supporting beams, the scaffolding is being used as an excuse to tear down existing beams. In contrast, sexual fidelity based upon long-term commitment uses sensation from the physical body to help the mind to place Mercy mental networks within a solid internal structure.

Consistent with this, the transformation of which McDermott describes is substantial but not complete. “Do not feel condemned if you believe you have experienced genuine conversion but still struggle with demons of your own. True conversion does not usually change one’s temperament or personality. And it does not eliminate the old temptations. If we battled lust and anger before, we will probably continue to fight them. We will have a new power to resist and a new motivation for resistance, but temptations will still be there” (p.162).

Saying this more simply, I suggest that the goal should not be to suppress physical desire, but rather to discover how to satisfy physical desire in a legitimate manner that preserves mental and societal wholeness. Blind faith will think the ultimate problem is selfishness. In contrast, I suggest that the ultimate problem is stupidity and blindness. The transformed mind does not suppress self, but rather places self within a general understanding of ‘how things really are’. If one thinks that the root problem is selfishness, then I suggest that even when one constructs a new nature and manages to live in it substantially, one will continue to struggle with what is perceived to be the problem of selfishness. As McDermott concludes, “The new nature changes us, the change lasts. But the change usually does not occur overnight. For most of us old habits of selfishness are progressively weakened over years rather than weeks or months” (p.163).

Again, what McDermott is suggesting is far beyond what many Christian ‘saints’ have historically advocated. For instance, this website on religious vocation says that “in the writings of the saints, we find an entirely different reality; that it is precisely suffering that strengthens us, humbles us, and forges us into saints. But more than this, we discover that suffering is of such inestimable redemptive worth, that nothing equals it in heaven or on earth. As Our Lord told Saint Faustina; ‘ If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.’ (p.1805)” When personal suffering is viewed in such holy terms, then the attitude of religious denial has turned into a core Mercy mental network that is imposing its structure upon the rest of the mind. McDermott’s focus upon the Teacher emotions of divine beauty is much better than a fixation upon the Mercy feelings of personal suffering. However, I suggest that if one wishes to become totally free of this self-destructive mindset, then one must construct a mental concept of God that goes beyond divine beauty.

A Christlike Spirit

McDermott asks “What does it mean to have the spirit of Christ, or in Paul’s words, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ...I will describe briefly four qualities that the masters of spirituality have commonly associated with Christlikeness. The first is meekness... We think that meekness means letting people walk all over us or acting like the comic strip character Casper Milquetoast, who was nice but had no convictions. But Jesus meant something entirely different” (p.167).

Obviously, an attitude of religious self-denial will think that meekness does mean ‘allowing other people to walk all over us’. McDermott makes it clear that he does not accept this interpretation.

Instead, McDermott tries to explain meekness by looking at the attitude of child. “The best way to understand what Jesus meant is to realize that Jesus often taught his disciples to imitate the attitudes of children... First, children are willing to admit publicly that they are wrong... Second, children are teachable. They are willing to listen in silence to others... Third, children tend to realize they deserve discipline after they have done wrong. Similarly, meekness involves a willingness to suffer (although much, perhaps most, suffering is not disciplined for wrongdoing)” (p.168).

We have seen in this essay that mental wholeness can only be reached by transcending the childish method of using Mercy mental networks to impose content upon Perceiver thought. But I have also suggested in the previous section that embodiment can be viewed as an opportunity. McDermott describes here the opportunity they can be found in childish thought. When mental networks are driven by the external environment, then parents and authority figures can use this external vulnerability to correct, teach, and discipline the child. A child has no choice but to listen and learn from adults because they live ‘in his head’ in the form of all-powerful Mercy mental networks. Similarly, physical discipline will also affect the thinking of the child because the child’s physical body also ‘lives in his head’ in the form of all-powerful Mercy mental networks.

McDermott quotes the famous passage in which Jesus says that we should ‘become like little children’. This is often interpreted as suggesting that we should let people walk all over us. However, if one examines this passage, then a different picture emerges. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! ‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 18:1-10 NASB).

This passage starts with the disciples exhibiting the typical behavior of childish Mercy mental networks. They are struggling for social status. Jesus responds by saying that they need to become ‘converted’ from this Mercy-based attitude. We then come to the example of children to which McDermott refers and we have just discussed.

The attention of Jesus then turns to the vulnerability of children. Because they have no choice but to accept correction from adults, they can be abused by adults who take advantage of this childish trust. Jesus warns adults not to take advantage of vulnerable children. He then addresses the individual whose childish trust has been abused by others, whose minds have been filled with the ‘stumbling blocks’ of inappropriate Mercy mental networks. For such an individual, it is better to disown these painful memories in order to gain Teacher understanding in the rest of thought than it is to make these memories of abuse part of personal identity. Why can the developing mind do this? Because this abuse was imposed upon personal identity and should be mentally ‘owned’ by the mental networks that represent the abusive individuals and not by the mental networks that represent identity. Obviously, one is not looking here at an optimal situation, but rather at choosing the lesser of two evils.

Let us return now to our look at meekness. McDermott says that “True Christian courage has more to do with fighting the enemies within us than attacking other people. More often than not, Christian boldness means courageously maintaining an attitude of trust in God when all hell seems to be breaking loose around us. Refusing to retaliate against those who have wronged us” (p.169).

This quote mentions three important points. First, the primary goal is the internal one of reprogramming childish mental networks in order to achieve mental wholeness. Second, one must not view the struggle in terms of dueling Mercy mental networks. Finally, as was mentioned in the previous section on humility, what makes this attitude possible is submitting to an internal grid of ‘how things really are’ guided by a general Teacher understanding. Meekness does not mean denying self but rather placing self within a structure of understanding. People talk about ‘working within the system’ rather than ‘attacking the system’, but this usually means working within the system of some external organization or social structure. Here one is working within the internal system of an understanding that has formed a concept of God.

This focus upon following the Teacher mental network of a general understanding rather than the Mercy mental networks of people is brought out in the following quote. “True Christian zeal is not the willingness to publicly denounce our opponents, but the burning desire to melt their hearts with the love of Christ. If there is righteous anger, it is directed not against persons but against things and practices” (p.169). A mind that is driven by Mercy mental networks will think that people are the problem, because such a mind is controlled by mental networks that represent other people. Such a mind will also separate people into the two camps of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. But the goal is to ‘melt people’s hearts’—to transform the Mercy mental networks of childish identity rather than use them as the basic building blocks that motivate action and reaction.

“A second quality that is universally associated with Christlikeness is forgiveness” (p.170). Bitterness clings to hurt. As a result, hurtful experiences turn into Mercy mental networks around which the rest of the mind integrates. Forgiveness lets go. It allows understanding and growth to change these Mercy mental networks. The unforgiving person cannot move on. Moving on requires forgiveness.

I suggested earlier that love is the ‘glue’ that holds together Mercy mental networks. We saw that the childish mind wants to love and wants to experience love, but the natural tendency is for Mercy mental networks to struggle for power, resulting in social interaction that is driven by dominance and submission rather than love. When Mercy mental networks are placed within a structure guided by Teacher understanding, then this structure buffers one Mercy mental network from another, preventing them from colliding with one another directly. Instead of being annoyed by the fact that another person is different than me, I recognize where I am and where the other person is in the general ‘map’ of mental maturity. Instead of trying to impose myself upon the other person, the goal becomes taking the other person from where he is to some place better. This makes love intelligent and patient. It is intelligent because it gives the other person what is really needed rather than what I want, and it is patient because it recognizes that progress must occur one step at a time.

With this in mind let us examine what McDermott says about love. First of all, he says that it is fundamental to Christianity. “The third quality of Christlikeness is the most important of all: love. In a sense, it includes the other three. That is, all the qualities of Christlike spirit can be thought of as different aspects of love... Love alone is the proper test of the Christian and distinguishes false questions from true Christians, for where there is no love, there is no good thing, even if it is costly and seems to be great” (p.172).

Going further, McDermott says that “there is a problem with love. Everyone seems to mean something different by the word. What did Jesus and the authors of Scripture mean by it?...for the authors of Scripture, and for Jesus, love is not a feeling. It will sometimes involve feelings, but in its essence it transcends feeling. Love is a commitment to do what is good for another” (p.172).

McDermott says that ‘love is a commitment to do what is good for another’. In the language of mental symmetry, love can be defined as treating Mercy mental networks in a beneficial manner, because the mind uses Mercy mental networks to represent people. Saying this another way, love is a pleasant way of gluing Mercy thought together. This helps us to understand why people assign so many different meanings to the word love. We know that Mercy emotions can overwhelm Perceiver thought. We also know that Perceiver thought provides the meanings for words. This means that the childish mind will naturally define love as ‘treating the Mercy mental networks that are currently overwhelming Perceiver thought in a pleasant manner’. For instance, if I am obese, then love means being nice to fat people and not making them feel bad.

This explains why McDermott gives the somewhat confusing combination of saying that love is ‘not a feeling’, love ‘sometimes involves feelings’, and love ‘transcends feelings’. If one defines feeling merely as coddling my Mercy mental networks, then I suggest that it is correct to say that love is not a feeling. Stated more precisely, I suggest that love is an intelligent feeling. Love involves Mercy thought, it is driven by emotions, and it cares for Mercy mental networks. But it is the rest of the mind that defines love. If love is to be intelligent, then Mercy thought and Mercy mental networks must function in a grid of understanding that tells Mercy thought how to love. Hence the term ‘tough love’, which avoids sensory gratification and treats people and Mercy mental networks in a way that ensures their long-term health and welfare.

“Distinctively Christian love begins when we do what is unnatural and extraordinary by going the second mile or offering our left cheek for the enemy after he has slapped the right. According to Bonhoeffer, it is not only to refrain from treating [our enemy] as he treats us, but actively to engage in heartfelt love towards him...Bonhoeffer adds something that helps me deal with my enemies – the notion that my enemy needs my love. No one, he wrote, needs our love more than our enemy. The more bitter our enemy’s hatred, the greater his need for love’” (p.173).

Before we examine this quote, let us take a brief look at Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a major voice in what was called the Confessing Church, the group of German Christians who opposed the rise of Nazism before World War II. If the confessing Church had been more effective, it is possible that World War II would not have occurred. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis in 1945 because he took part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Did Hitler deserve to live? No, he was a very evil man. But by taking part in a plot to kill Hitler, Bonhoeffer showed that he did not really believe his own words. He did not really believe that ‘the more bitter our enemy’s hatred, the greater his need for love’. I am not trying to minimize the moral dilemma which Bonhoeffer faced. I am merely pointing out that when push came to shove, he did not practice what he preached.

I suggest that the problem lies in defining love in terms of self-denial. In order to understand this, we have to look at the nature of mental networks. Suppose that one is trying to break a habit. The more one suppresses the habit, the stronger will become the urge to carry out that habit. However, if one continues to suppress the habit, then eventually the mental network will fall apart and the habit will be broken. That describes how the process works with peripheral mental networks. However, suppose that one attempts to fragment a core mental network for which no alternate mental network exists. When this mental network starts to fall apart, then there will be nothing left, because nothing else exists that can hold the mind together. This leads to the nameless dread of angst. Applying this to self-denying love, if one attempts to deny self without having a positive alternative that can motivate self, then it will be virtually impossible to carry through with the self-denial. At some point, the angst will be so strong that the mind will instinctively recoil from the self-denial. One sees this backlash illustrated by the colonization of Africa. Africans allowed the mental networks of their culture to be altered by the ‘white man’ until it felt as if native culture was about to be extinguished. This is when there was a major backlash of nationalism. A similar cultural backlash has occurred in many cultures that have been threatened to be overcome by foreign influence.

Having said this, I suggest that there is a positive reason for what McDermott calls ‘distinctively Christian love’. Remember that mental networks ‘take ownership’ of experiences and situations. We have seen how altruism leads to righteousness by preventing Mercy mental networks from taking ownership of responses in order to allow a Teacher mental network to take ownership of that response. A similar mental effect occurs when ‘loving others’. Suppose that I love another person and there is no Mercy reason for this love. The person receiving this love will attempt to understand my motive and fail. “Why are you doing this for me? You have no reason to be nice to me.” If one explains to the other person that one is doing these actions because of a love for God, then this implants the concept of righteousness within the mind of the other person. As Bonhoeffer says, this is precisely what the hating individual needs. He is being mentally driven by Mercy mental networks composed of painful and hurtful experiences. Unreasonable love can teach him that it is possible to be motivated by Teacher understanding. Describing this principle is easy. Practicing it is not. Instead, I suggest that one will only be able to practice it to the extent that personal identity really does reside within a structure held together by Teacher understanding. Saying this in religious terms, I will only be capable of truly loving my enemy if I believe that there is a loving God behind everything who will eventually make everything right. Viewing God from a Mercy perspective will allow a person to follow this path to a substantial extent. However, I suggest that a Teacher understanding of God is required to follow this principle completely.

McDermott says that “A fourth quality of Christlikeness is concern for the poor and unfortunate. According to the Scriptures, this is an indispensable sign of Christian love. Not only does true spirituality love its enemies, but it also cares for the poor and unfortunate” (p.173). I suggest the principles that we have just discussed apply to this statement as well. It is good to help ‘the poor and unfortunate’. Because they cannot repay, this is an effective way for the person doing the helping to become righteous. A similar principle applies to volunteerism in general. Looking at the person being helped, it is much easier for a person to transform childish Mercy mental networks when he knows that they are inadequate. Using religious language, in order to accept grace from God or others, I must realize that I am a sinner. Finally, if my goal is to transform my childish Mercy mental networks, then an effective way to prime this process is by helping others who are trapped by painful Mercy mental networks. Thus, helping the poor and unfortunate can be cognitively beneficial for both the person doing the helping and the person being helped. But if ‘helping the down and out’ becomes the definition of Christian love, then one is building one’s mind around childish Mmental networks, rather than around a Teacher general understanding of God.

McDermott references the well known passage about Jesus dividing between the sheep and the goats. “‘On the last day,’ Johann Arndt reflects, ‘God will not ask how you learned you were in the arts, and languages and great knowledge, but how you practiced love by faith. I was hungry and you fed me, and so forth’” (p.174).

This passage is found in Matthew 25. “the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Notice how how mental networks are taking ownership of actions. ‘Those on his right’ are being called ‘the righteous’ because they performed actions for which there was no obvious Mercy benefit. Using the language of Kant, they followed the categorical imperative.

I have suggested that ‘distinctively Christian love’ that is driven by Mercy emotions will pull back when the price becomes too great. Similarly, McDermott concludes the chapter by implying that the standard of love that he is describing is more an unrealized ideal than actual practice. “I will close this chapter with two words of caution. First, do not be alarmed if you do not feel that you are meek, forgiving, loving or concerned about the poor. The mere fact that you are alarmed and want to grow into these is a sign that the spirit of Christ is working in you. Turn back to chapter 6. Recall from there that we all are sinners who, like Paul, often despair because of the power of sin that we see in our lives. None of us has arrived; we are all very imperfect sinners who see more and more of our sin as we draw closer to Jesus” (p.175).

Since we have been discussing love, I would like to finish this section by looking briefly at what is commonly known as the love chapter. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (I Cor.13:1-8).

The middle section describes what love does not do. Notice that it does not practice behavior which we have seen is driven by childish Mercy mental networks. It does not brag, is not arrogant, does not seek its own, and is not provoked, telling us that Mercy mental networks are no longer struggling for dominance. It does not take into account a wrong suffered, meaning that it lets go of painful Mercy mental networks. Turning to the positive traits, love is patient, kind, and not jealous, attributes that emerge when person identity lives within a grid of understanding. It rejoices with the truth and not with unrighteousness, telling us that it submits to Perceiver facts because it recognizes the emotional benefit of being guided by Teacher understanding. Because it functions within the grid of a Teacher understanding, it can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

Now let us look at the beginning of the passage. First, we are told that a verbal universal Teacher understanding is not love, because words are merely sounds in the air. Moving further, a universal Teacher understanding that describes reality is not love because it does not change personal identity. The implication is that one has moved beyond the realm of mere words. Next, Paul says that practicing righteousness and self-denial is not love because it leads to no personal reward. The implication here is that righteousness and self-denial do transform personal identity leading to a person who is something. Notice how Paul describes total self-denial—giving all my possessions to the poor and surrendering my body to be burned—and then says that this is not love. And the reason he gives is that no personal reward has been received—it profits me nothing.

Translating this into the language of mental symmetry, I suggest that one is dealing here with the third stage of personal salvation, in which personal identity lives within the grid of Teacher understanding that was formed during the first two stages. Why does ‘love never fail’? Because it lives within a structure of ‘how things really are’. It cannot fail mentally because it is driven by a deep understanding that there is no other way. It cannot fail cognitively because it is not possible for a person or group to continue functioning in a way that violates the wiring of the mind. And it cannot fail physically because the laws of nature are universal and cannot be violated.

That brings us finally to the matter of ‘killing the messenger’. All of this may be true and truth may eventually, inevitably prevail, but what is the point of holding on to truth if one dies before truth does prevail? That is where it becomes rather significant that a book that was finished 2000 years ago and that is believed in by a significant portion of the world’s population appears to accurately describe cognitive principles. Stated simply, the Bible is too clever to been written by people in the Roman or pre-Roman era. The writings of even the church fathers pale in comparison. This provides evidence there might be a real spiritual world that functions in a manner that is consistent with cognitive conclusions. Notice that this is not a Mercy-based faith in which one attempts to emotionally pump up conviction in some special person or special book. Rather it is a Teacher-based faith in which one suggests that it is possible to extend the domain of an existing structure.

Fear of God

Childrearing was a lot stricter in Edwards’ time than it is today. As this Master’s thesis relates, “Carl Degler says the idea of breaking the will of the child continued long into the 19th century. He bases his statement on a large quantity of child advice books that were written at the time. They all stressed the need to subdue the child early and at almost any cost. This concern to control the child at an early age also appeared in many letters of parents and was consistent with Lockean theory where the ideal was to instill in a child correct behavior at an early age so the correction would not be necessary later on in life...children were shamed, made to feel guilty, or deprived of company, food, or self-respect. If these methods did not work, then parents found it necessary to use physical coercion” (p.28).

McDermott, writing in the modern era, says that “Fear of God is a delicate subject. Several points need to be made for the sake of clarity. The first has to do with fear. In this day when we are discovering more about the nature and extent of child abuse, some have concluded that the Christian concept of fear of God reflects on healthy parent-child relationships in the premodern world. But as I have tried to show, proper fear of God is not the child’s servile fear of a capricious and domineering parent. Instead, it is the eagerness of the child who loves its daddy...and wants to please him” (p.181).

We have seen that Edwards’ era based Perceiver truth upon personal status. Given this attitude, one can see that parents with their dominant personal status would view it as natural for them to impose truth upon their children. Today, this is seen as politically incorrect. This new attitude may be well-meaning, but I also suggest that it is inaccurate. The childish mind will pick up truth based upon emotional status, because that is how the childish mind operates. As we saw when looking at Jesus’ statement about becoming like a little child, it is possible to abuse this position of trust. But I suggest that one can also abrogate this position of responsibility. If parents do not teach their children, then peers, television, movies, and the Internet will. Like an empty sponge, children will acquire content from somewhere.

As was mentioned earlier, Edwards is best known for his sermon ‘ Sinners in the hands of an angry God’. Wikipedia says that “Edwards hoped that the imagery and message of the sermon would awaken his audience to the horrific reality that awaited them should they continue without Christ.” This type of fire and brimstone sermon it is not preached very often today, and it is also seen as politically incorrect to preach on hell or suggest that anyone is going to hell. Therefore, let us see how McDermott addresses this subject and then examine the topic from the viewpoint of mental symmetry.

McDermott says that “Another misunderstanding is that the fear of God is rooted in fear of hell. But the Bible is clear that proper fear of God springs from assurance of salvation. Proper fear of God is always allied with assurance of salvation. It is a ‘trembling with joy’. In fact the more we are assured of salvation, the greater we will fear displeasing our Lord and the more tender our consciences will become. Why? Because as we grow in assurance, we will grow in love for the Assurer and thus grow more anxious not to hurt his heart. At the same time we will grow in holy boldness. We will be more confident to come before God because of Christ’s blood and righteousness, but less confident in ourselves” (p.181).

McDermott is trying to go beyond ‘hell and brimstone’ by suggesting that ‘fear of God’ should be driven by the positive emotion of ‘assurance of salvation’ rather than the negative emotion of ‘fear of hell’. However, there is still an underlying assumption that God is dispensing reward and punishment and that the goal is to seek approval from people. One is not supposed to ‘displease our Lord’, one is driven by ‘love for the Assurer’, one grows ‘confident to come before God’, as well as ‘less confident in ourselves’.

I suggest that this underlying assumption is a natural byproduct of blind faith. If truth is imposed by people, then so is reward and punishment. Thus, people will think that God punishes people by sending them to hell. In contrast, if an image of God is based in universal truth, then I suggest that a different type of thinking will emerge.

One can see how this differs by comparing the way that a king used to bestow favors and the way that a government administers programs. Under a kingship, the goal is to get on the good side of the king and one tries to avoid displeasing the monarch. If the king is happy with me then he may reward me, but if he is displeased with me then he may punish me. This describes a mindset—and the resulting society—that is driven by Mercy mental networks. In contrast, when a government administers programs, then the goal is to meet the requirements in order to enter the program. What rules is not people but rather facts. Certain qualifications are required to enter, the program teaches knowledge and skills, and one can graduate from the program when a certain level of proficiency has been attained.

One might object that I am describing a system of ‘works’ in which one attains personal salvation through self-effort rather than a system of ‘grace’ in which salvation comes from God. However, notice the various ways in which one is receiving outside ‘unmerited assistance’. Someone discovered the material being taught by the school, someone organized this material into a teaching program, someone set up the school, someone is paying the teachers, the teachers are sharing this information, the teachers are helping the students to grasp the material, and the teachers are providing feedback in order to ensure that the students truly know the material.

A Mercy-based mindset will look at this and think that it is not ‘grace’ because the student is not receiving any Mercy gifts. Mercy-based thinking feels that ‘grace’ occurs when a monarch bestows a favor upon some lowly subject. However, if one views a situation from a Teacher perspective, then one can see that many gifts are being given. The student is being given a school, a system of knowledge, and a program. When a monarch doles out favors, then the only person with free will is the monarch, because he chooses who will be rewarded or punished. In contrast government programs preserve individual free will, because a person must choose to enter program, he must choose to learn from the teacher, and he must choose to do his homework.

One can see this approach in Hebrews 4. “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience,

He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:1-12 NASB).

Notice that the goal is to ‘rest from works’. This tells us that we are dealing here with a way of going beyond ‘salvation by works’. Notice also that the passage begins by telling us to fear, therefore we are addressing the topic of this section. The author is comparing two situations. The first is the Israelites in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to ‘the promised land’ of Israel. The biblical story says that only two individuals completed this journey, while everyone else who came out of Egypt died in the wilderness. Looking at this in terms of a government program, everyone entered the program, but only two graduated. All of the others failed to learn or apply the material. ‘Those who formally had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience’. Because so many people failed this program, God shut it down.

The author then says that God set up another ‘government program’. ‘He again fixes a certain day, today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’. Notice the warning against ‘hardening your hearts’. In other words, clinging to Mercy mental networks will prevent a person from graduating. Notice also that diligence is being required of the students. ‘Let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience’. Finally, notice that the curriculum is an internal one that accurately characterizes the internal realm and applies truth to personal identity. It is ‘able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart’.

Now let us return to the question of hell and ‘being damned by God’. I suggest that human existence can itself be viewed as a sort of ‘government program’. The fear is not that some divine lightning bolt will zap me as an individual, but rather that I as an individual will fail to graduate from this school. I viewed from this perspective, divine judgment is not a matter of God deciding to judge me but rather God respecting my decision as to how I will respond as a student within the school of human existence. Saying this another way, life on earth today is miserable primarily because we choose to make it miserable. There is no need to blame God for ‘sending us to hell’ when we demonstrate again and again how proficient and willing we are to create hell-on-earth for one another. One might argue that this hell-on-earth is being created by an elite minority that is psychopathically imposing its will upon the rest of humanity. This is a true statement, but I suggest that the rest of us are allowing this domination to continue. The fall of communism, as well as the brief successes of the Arab Spring, make it clear that when enough people take a stand against tyrants, then tyranny will fall. Using the language of mental symmetry, dictators ultimately control a population by manipulating their mental networks, and if these mental networks are transformed then tyrants lose their grip.

I should emphasize that I am not talking about a divine judgment based in karma, in which every action is eventually repaid. Rather, I am talking about Edwards’ affections and Swedenborg’s ruling loves, in which one ends up in an environment that matches core mental networks. I suggest that this is not a question of works, but rather a matter of inheritance. Works rewards a person based upon what he does while leaving underlying Mercy mental networks of identity intact. Inheritance rewards a person based upon who he has become by transforming Mercy mental networks of identity. (Scripture talks about a judgment of works, but this appears to be occurring within the larger context of a judgment of inheritance.)

McDermott says that there is a “difference between proper and improper fear of God. Improper fear is servile, the abject terror of the doomed grasping at anything that will save them from their destruction. Proper fear of God is reverence – a loving eagerness to please one’s heavenly Father” (p.177).

Actually, I suggest that those who get ahead by dominating and destroying others should be ‘quaking in their boots’. Not because a Mercy-based God might ‘zap them for their sins’ but rather because a Teacher-based God might permit them to live in an environment that is compatible with the type of person that they have become.

But would not such individuals be able to continue deceiving, controlling, and restricting others as disembodied minds? If one examines what it would be like to live as disembodied spirits governed by ruling loves, then one concludes that this is not the case. Deception assumes that one can appear different externally than one is internally, whereas we are assuming that disembodied minds would look and behave like their core mental networks. Similarly, control assumes that people have physical needs and weaknesses that can be exploited in order to impose content on their minds. This would not be the case with disembodied minds. Finally, restriction assumes that one can use the physical barriers to limit the movement of a person. Physical limitations would not restrict the movement of a disembodied mind, but rather cultural dissimilarities. A disembodied mind would naturally return to an environment that matched internal content and would be unable to remain within an unfamiliar environment. Compare this with Kant’s concept ofradical evil, which suggests that a person is only able to get away with violating the rules if he lives in environment where most people keep the rules. For instance, in order to believe lies, most people must tell the truth and there must be a general assumption that people will tell the truth. However, this is precisely the sort of environment that would not exist in a realm guided by ruling loves. In simple terms, all the exploiters would have to exploit is each other.

Similarly, I suggest that those who are trying to become mentally whole should also fear, not because a Mercy-based God would choose not to reward them, but rather because they would fail to graduate from the system set up by a Teacher-based God. This is what Paul feared. “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (I Cor. 9:25-27 NASB).

Saying this more generally, I suggest that the most fearful thing in human existence is free will, because God seems to respect it. Personal decisions seem to make a difference. I am not talking about being scared about choosing the wrong kind of toothpaste. Rather, I am talking about being scared about becoming the wrong kind of person, because it appears that I have to continue living with myself and that I will be condemned (or privileged) to interact with others who are like me.

McDermott says that “We should approach God with the same awe and (proper) fear as the biblical scenes displayed. Elijah was intimate with God, yet when he talked with God in the mountain he dared not show his face but ‘wrapped his face in his mantle’” (p.179). A Mercy-based viewpoint will see this as a contradiction in terms. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. How can a person be intimate with someone else and yet scared of them? I suggest that we can find an answer in an analogy. I have an intimate knowledge of electricity because I have been trained as an electrical engineer. But I also have a deep fear of electricity, because I know what it can do. When I get close to electricity, I ‘wrap my body in a non-conductive mantle. Why do I become intimate with electricity? Because I know that understanding how electricity functions can lead to major benefits. Why am I scared of electricity? Because I know that electricity can harm me if I treat it improperly. Similarly, I suggest that building the concept of a universal God and submitting to this concept can lead to major benefits. However, this is a dangerous path to walk because one is dealing with matters of life and death. I have seen far too many researchers and theologians falling into self-deception and I do not want to become another casualty myself.

Here I suggest that a warning from Edwards is appropriate. “Jonathan Edwards says that the telltale mark of a proper fear of God is conviction of sin. True grace promotes it, making the heart more tender... False spirituality, on the other hand, does not admit to sin... The result is a hardened heart that resist the spiritual work within.” (p.180). Edwards says that it is very important to have emotional sensitivity and be willing to admit personal inadequacy. I suggest that this is because it is possible for a person to violate cognitive mechanisms for a while. The initial signs are often subtle and they grow in strength over time. The more sensitive one is, and the more willing one is to admit personal error, the quicker one can detect and remedy personal violations of cognitive mechanisms.


McDermott says that “True spirituality is a matter of balance. If there is profession of faith with lips, there is also walking the faith out with the feet. Believers who love God love their neighbors as well. They follow Christ in both good times and bad” (p.183).

The word ‘balance’ is interesting, because it gives the impression that one is attempting to bridge two conflicting viewpoints. In order to understand how the mind balances, we need to look at the relationship between Mercy thought, Perceiver thought, and Facilitator thought. I have mentioned that Mercy mental networks naturally struggle for domination. Facilitator thought can bring some peace to this conflict by balancing and averaging between differing viewpoints. When Mercy mental networks dominate, then there is mono-culturalism, because one mental network will dominate and impose its viewpoint upon competing mental networks. Facilitator balancing leads to multi-culturalism, in which the mind averages between different mental networks and/or gives each mental network some of the time and attention. The first problem with multi-culturalism is that nobody ends up totally happy, because everyone must give in a little and compromise. The second problem is that averaging two inadequate answers does not guarantee a better answer. Generally speaking, Facilitator driven multi-culturalism emerges when a number of different cultures have to coexist. For instance, Canada has been a combination of English-speaking and French-speaking culture since its founding in 1867, and Canada places a great emphasis upon multi-culturalism.

I suggest that the goal of mental symmetry is to achieve cross-cultural thinking. This is what emerges when Perceiver thought discovers universal principles that apply to all cultures. Each culture then becomes a different specific way of expressing these universal principles, and Facilitator thought will blend between these various cultures, guided by the universal Perceiver principles. Multi-culturalism balances between different viewpoints, while cross-culturalism places each viewpoint within a general structure.

McDermott mentions a number of examples of ‘Christian balance’ in this chapter. We will look at these various points briefly in the light of multi-cultural and cross-cultural thinking.

“Some people profess great love for God in Christ but are filled with grudges and envy and frequently fight with others... A true Christian maintains a balance between love for God and love for others, particularly those with whom we disagree” (p.185). McDermott is describing a mind that is ruled by warring Mercy mental networks. He suggests that the solution is to balance between these various mental networks. In contrast, mental symmetry suggests that the solution is to place the Mercy mental networks representing people within a mental structure held together by the Teacher mental network of a concept of God. Saying this another way, an understanding of the nature of God provides a general guide as to how one should think and behave, while interactions with people provide specific situations in which to apply these general principles.

Moving on, McDermott says that “Some people have great affection for their friends or family or like-minded neighbors but hate those were different. Many Americans before the Civil War, for instance, were active church members who preached love for neighbor but held their black neighbors in chains” (p.185). I suggest that McDermott is describing cultural behavior driven by Mercy mental networks. People with similar mental networks will naturally be regarded as good and be treated as friends, while those with different mental networks will be regarded as bad and be treated as enemies. Again, I suggest that the solution does not lie in balance but rather in universal understanding. All individuals, regardless of their culture, are human beings under God.

“Some people love their neighbors but are mean and unloving to their own family... Sometimes the toughest place to love is home. There we feel free to ‘be ourselves’, dropping the courtesies and discretions that we customarily show outside the home” (p.186). Here I suggest that we are dealing with the ought self, in which behavior is being guided by Mercy mental networks that represent important people. Outside of home, there is a feeling that ‘they’ might be watching, and so behavior is guided by the mental networks that represent ‘them’. Behavior at home is different because one no longer feels that ‘they’ are watching, therefore one is free to ‘be ourselves’. As before, I suggest that the solution is for personal interaction to be guided by universal Perceiver principles. Everyone is a human being, and should be treated as a human being.

“Some church people are greatly concerned to feed the poor and clothe the naked but consider evangelism unimportant...other church people today are so offended by this mentality that they think all Christian energies and monies ought to be directed to evangelism... Jesus did both” (p.187). Here we see a conflict between the two mindsets of proclaiming truth and religious self-denial. Mental symmetry suggests that both are inadequate viewpoints that result from blind faith. If Perceiver truth has been revealed to me by some important person, then I need to reveal this Perceiver truth to other individuals. And if an important source revealed Perceiver truth to me, then I acknowledge truth by showing that my personal status is nothing compared to the source of truth. The solution is to realize that universal truth can be pointed out and does not need to be proclaimed. And when there is a Teacher understanding of universal truth, then this will lead to Platonic forms that will motivate people to improve the world.

“Some of us are obsessed by the sins of others but do not see our own. Edwards said that false spirituality is easy to spot: it is outraged by the sins of others but oblivious to its own” (p.188). Here too I suggest that the solution is not balance but rather to stop using my Mercy mental networks to judge others and realize that there are Perceiver truths that apply equally to me and other individuals.

“Some church people say that they trust God completely but are not willing to give money to help the poor or spread the gospel. They say they trust God with their souls but do not trust Him to be lord over their bank accounts” (p.189). Again I suggest that we are looking at dueling Mercy mental networks. On the one hand, there is ‘Christianity’, epitomized by the Mercy mental networks of ‘helping the poor’ and ‘spreading the gospel’. On the other hand, there is physical existence, represented by money in the bank account. The underlying problem is that these two are being seen as unrelated. Mental symmetry, in contrast, suggests that the same cognitive principles guide both religious and secular existence and that one must integrate the mind around a Teacher understanding and not upon any Mercy mental networks that are based in the the external world, be they religious or secular.

One finds this attitude portrayed in the Sermon on the Mount. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?...Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt.6 NASB).

Jesus says that the underlying problem is dueling mental networks—attempting to serve two masters. Jesus does not minimize physical need but rather says that there are more fundamental issues. And Jesus says that if one focuses upon gaining a Teacher understanding of God and acting in a way that is consistent with this understanding, then physical needs will be met as a byproduct. Science and technology provide a partial illustration of this. By focusing upon gaining a Teacher understanding of the natural world and learning how to apply this understanding, we are now able to use technology to meet physical needs in a way that would have been regarded as impossible in the past.

Moving on, McDermott says that “Some people are spiritual only intermittently – when everyone else is or when a revival comes to town. They are like the rocky-soil hearers who rejoice in the gospel when they first hear it but fall away ‘when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word’” (p.189). The problem here is that religious truth is being imposed by Mercy mental networks that fade over time and need to be emotionally recharged to remain potent. In contrast, when Perceiver thought is functioning, then a person will realize that universal truth is independent of emotional experience.

“Others have strong religious affections in public or with other believers but little or nothing of true spirituality and private. Some of them are consumed with telling others about Jesus but know nothing of secret prayer” (p.191). This is related to the previous paragraph. Again, I suggest that what is needed is internal content and not balance.

Summarizing, I suggest that McDermott is addressing valid concerns and I would agree fully with his description of the problem. However, I suggest that his solution addresses the symptoms while leaving the underlying problem intact. In each example that he mentions, we have seen that the answer does not lie in the balance of multi-culturalism, but rather in the cross-culturalism of discovering universal Perceiver truth that transcends Mercy mental networks and is held together by a Teacher understanding. As in previous chapters, we see McDermott reaching forward from an inadequate foundation.

McDermott finishes the chapter by emphasizing the need for church. “At the same time that we need to be reminded of the urgency of private prayer, we also need to recall the indispensability of corporate worship. Too many Christians think Sunday worship is optional...we forget, however, that participation in regular corporate worship is one of the ten Commandments. The church has always understood keep the Sabbath holy to mean that we are obliged to join together with other believers at least weekly to worship, pray, listen to the word and, for most of the world’s Christians, receive the sacraments” (p.192).

McDermott is equating ‘attending Sunday worship’ with one of the Ten Commandments. Let us look at this commandment to see exactly what it says. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you” (Ex. 20:8-10 NASB). In other words, one should avoid work one day a week. In the language of mental symmetry, one should stop using concrete thought (using Server actions to reach Mercy goals) once a week. When concrete thought cannot be used, then the mind will have no choice but to use abstract thought. This is like telling a child to ‘Sit in the corner, face the wall, and think.’ If a concept of God is based in Teacher understanding, then this will be a ‘sabbath of the Lord your God’.

Is this the same as ‘attending Sunday worship’? Yes and no. To some extent, one does gain Teacher understanding and focus upon Teacher understanding in a church meeting. But what McDermott is describing appears rather Mercy-driven. ‘Participation in regular corporate worship’ describes the attitude that is portrayed at the beginning of the book of Revelation, and Revelation describes how people move beyond this attitude. Similarly, ‘receiving the sacraments’ performs Server rituals with religious Mercy objects, while I suggest that the goal should be to use Teacher thought to understand the general meaning behind these symbols. (John 6 and transubstantiation are discussed here.)

I am not suggesting that church is a bad thing. Because humans are finite, we need to help each other to gain a more general understanding. But I suggest that the concept of church needs to be defined more carefully. Let us finish this section by looking at the scriptural passage that is traditionally used to encourage people to attend church.

“‘THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM. AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,’ He then says, ‘AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:16-25).

The passage begins by quoting the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 discussed earlier in this essay. Again, notice that this new covenant uses the mind to apply Perceiver truth to personal identity. The author then states that this new covenant makes it possible to go beyond the old covenant with its taboos and holy Mercy mental networks, and that one is supposed to hold on to ‘the confession of hope’—the internal Mercy images (or Platonic forms) that result from a verbal understanding. The purpose of church (getting together with fellow Christians) is to help each other to apply this understanding in a group setting.

Notice the precise dilemma. Understanding needs to be applied. If one does not apply understanding but continues acting as before (sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth) then it will become very difficult to continue practicing personal honesty (there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins). It is not possible yet to apply understanding in the wider world (the day is drawing near), but it is possible to help and encourage each other to apply understanding within a smaller setting.

Summarizing, I suggest that church has two primary goals. The first is to temporarily stop being motivated by concrete thought in order to develop abstract thought, as described by the Ten Commandments. The second is to provide a limited environment in which it is possible to use concrete thought to apply Teacher understanding. In contrast, much of what is considered to be church these days attempts to use emotional experiences to create Mercy mental networks that can impose content upon abstract thought. For instance, applying this to music, I suggest that there are two ways to use music in church. The first is to use music as an emotional reinforcement for mesmerizing Perceiver thought. The second is to use music as an emotional way of expressing an understanding of God and Platonic forms. The first, I suggest, is a sign of false spirituality.

Hunger for God

McDermott says that “True spirituality hungers for more and more of God... False spirituality, in contrast, is content with what it has. It figures that it already knows enough of God and has no desire to go deeper” (p.196).

A similar mental transition occurs when a theory turns into a Teacher mental network. For instance, when I began doing research mental symmetry, I found it interesting to study the personality of different cognitive styles but I was not driven. In other words, studying the theory of mental symmetry produced positive Teacher emotion, but this theory had not yet turned into a Teacher mental network. However, there was a point in time when the theory appeared to ‘become alive’. Before then, I was choosing to do research. After that, the theory would attempt to impose its explanation upon a situation whenever it was triggered, and from then on it felt as if the theory was ‘eating up my mind’ as it continued to explain more and more of my thinking.

Was this good or bad? I often asked myself this question as I sensed the theory of mental symmetry take over more and more of my mind. I suggest that it depends upon the theory. If the Teacher theory is limited, then it will limit a person’s world to its domain, which is bad. However, if the Teacher theory is universal, then it will bring order to everything that a person does, which is good.

I suggest that we have returned to the distinction between absolute truth and universal truth. If absolute truth is used to construct a mental concept of God, then the resulting Teacher mental network will obviously limit thinking to some restricted ‘religious’ domain. In contrast, if a concept of God that is based in universal truth turns into a Teacher mental network, then this will bring order and structure to all of a person’s existence.

Looking at this from the viewpoint of theology, if God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent (McDermott’s so-called ‘natural perfections’), then a limited concept of God is by definition a contradiction in terms. I suggest that this type of theological contradiction will have major practical implications. On the one hand, the limited nature of the concept of God will emotionally imprison a person within a religious setting. On the other hand, the verbal statements about God’s universal ‘natural perfections’ will prevent Teacher thought from constructing a more general theory that might release the individual from this emotional prison.

With this in mind, let us look at what McDermott says about hunger for God. “Because the taste of God’s holiness and glory is sweet – and the holier the saint, the sweeter the taste – the saint always hungers for more” (p.197). We see here a description of positive emotional feedback. The more one has, the more one wants. I suggest that this is a natural trait of a Teacher mental network. It grows for the sake of growing. But so does a bureaucracy, which is also driven by a Teacher mental network of order and structure. As the famous quote goes, ‘the bureaucracy is expanding to meet the expanding needs of the bureaucracy’.

Looking at this in more detail, McDermott says that “Perhaps you are wondering how grace can be satisfying if the saint is never satisfied… First, those who have grace want no other kind of satisfaction. Having tasted the soul-satisfying delights of grace, they realize that nothing else comes close to providing the profound peace and joy that come by grace...second, only grace fulfills one’s expectations. The things of this world never quite live up to our hopes.… Third, the pleasure of grace is permanent. Worldly pleasures satisfy only for a time. Afterward one feels empty... Finally, spiritual pleasures are boundless. It is an infinite ocean. The only thing that keeps us from receiving more is our small capacity” (p.198).

Notice the exclusivity of the first point, because people want ‘no other kind’ of satisfaction. This strongly suggests that a person is choosing between one pleasure and another, which is what happens when one follows a limited theory. People are finite. Therefore a person may choose to love June rather than Jane. But a universal theory is not finite—by definition.

This leads us to Hume’s distinction between is and ought. How can a theory both explain all thought and behavior and at the same time recommend restricted thought and behavior? A theory based in absolute truth may be limited, but it will also motivate a person to focus upon God and the religious realm rather than the godless secular realm. The end result is a form of morality at the expense of universality, in which morality becomes viewed as ‘focusing upon God and religion’.

Mental symmetry suggests a different approach, which one can illustrate by the type of thinking used in this essay. On the one hand, it appears to be possible to use the theory of mental symmetry to explain all of McDermott’s statements. In this sense, the theory is universal. On the other hand, we have seen that some of McDermott’s (and Edwards’) statements are based in a form of thinking that does not reflect mental wholeness. As a person, one would want to avoid such thought and behavior because it is mentally destructive. Using another example, if I understand how a car functions, then from a Teacher viewpoint I can explain what the car is doing no matter where it is being driven. However, from a Mercy viewpoint, there are certain places where I do not want to drive the car.

McDermott’s second point makes a distinction between the deep fulfilment that comes from God and the inadequate fulfilment provided by ‘worldly pleasures’. Looking at this from a cognitive viewpoint, we have looked at the difference between Mercy mental networks that are based in emotional experiences and Mercy mental networks that are based in Platonic forms which are the indirect result of Teacher understanding. Focusing upon the first leads to idolatry and temporary satisfaction, as McDermott describes. Because a Platonic form is based upon unchanging Perceiver facts and Teacher emotions of elegance, simplicity, and beauty, focusing upon a Platonic form will lead to a more lasting form of pleasure than focusing upon physical objects and ‘worldly pleasures’. But if God created the world, as Christianity claims, then why is one aspect of God’s creation less connected with God than another? Making a distinction between ‘God’s grace’ and ‘worldly pleasure’ can lead to a form of Gnosticism, in which one regards the physical world as evil and ungodly.

Mental symmetry suggests that the solution is to integrate Platonic forms with physical goals. A Platonic form idealizes real experiences, therefore one’s ultimate goal should be a Platonic form and not a physical object or experience. However, physical objects and experiences realize Platonic forms, therefore one lives in reality and not Platonic forms. This relationship is described in this video segment. When Teacher understanding is based in absolute truth, then this type of relationship is not possible, because absolute Perceiver truth, which is revealed by some Mercy source, has no inherent relationship with Perceiver facts which are acquired from the physical world. Therefore, one has to choose between one or the other—between grace and physical pleasure. However, universal truth is universal because it can be found in many situations. This makes it possible to express the resulting Platonic forms in many situations, both religious and secular.

McDermott’s second point emphasized the imperfect nature of reality. His third point addresses the temporary nature of physical reality. Again, I suggest that the solution lies in integrating Platonic forms with physical goals. A Platonic form is perfect, because it is based in unchanging truth, but it is also invisible because it is a mental idealization. Real objects may be temporary, but Platonic forms do not exist at all. However, if one uses Platonic forms as a basis for reality, then when reality fades, it is possible to re-create reality from the internal foundation of Platonic forms.

For instance, a person who has physical wealth can lose it or have it stolen from him. But a person who has the skills and knowledge that are required to create wealth can re-create it when it is lost or stolen. Saying this more generally, I have suggested several times that the ultimate goal is not to destroy childish Mercy mental networks with their foundation in physical sensation, but rather to replace them with Mercy mental networks that exist within an internal structure held together by understanding. The reason for this is not to abandon the physical world in order to live in an internal world but rather to make it possible to enjoy the physical world in a lasting manner. Using religious language, I suggest that the goal is to replace idolatry with glory. Idolatry uses external objects and experiences to form Mercy mental networks and then builds the rest of the mind around these defining experiences. Glory creates external objects and experiences guided by internal understanding. Idolatry moves from external to internal, while glory moves from internal to external.

McDermott final point is that ‘spiritual pleasures are boundless’. However, I suggest that a distinction needs to be made between the feeling of boundlessness and the actuality of boundlessness. That brings us to the topic of mysticism, which we have not discussed in this essay. Stated simply, Teacher thought can be fooled. A theory will feel universal to Teacher thought if it explains everything—within the current context. This is like a tribal chief who feels that he is ‘absolute monarch over the entire world’ because he is the head honcho of his valley and has never travelled beyond this valley. Similarly, if a distinction is made between religious and secular, then the mental concept of a religious God will feel universal even if it only applies to religious experiences.

Let us look now at two of the examples of ‘hunger for God’ given by McDermott. The first is Mother Theresa. McDermott says that “The saint is more interested in holiness itself than in the benefits that accrue from it. For holiness is as much the saints’ food and drink – the object of their spiritual appetite – as it was Jesus’ food and drink... Mother Teresa tells the world that there is infinite joy in loving and surrendering everything to Jesus. In other words, holiness is its own reward” (p.200).

Recent scholarship on Mother Teresa has shown what it really means for the saint to be ‘more interested in holiness itself than the benefits that accrue from it’. Mother Teresa thought that “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.” And doctors who visited her homes for the dying “Observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers.” Saying this more bluntly, mother Theresa wanted her patients to suffer and die, because she was looking for the appearance of ‘holiness itself’ and not practical benefits. It is difficult to reconcile this sort of sadistic Gnosticism with Christian love and salvation.

The other example is Teresa of Avila. “Teresa of Avila’s autobiography is filled with descriptions of rapturous ecstasies in which she felt overwhelming joy in the presence of God. But instead of making her content to live with their memory, they inspired fresh hunger for more of God and his holiness” (p.197). If one examines Teresa in the context of her society, one concludes that she was stretching forward, just as Edwards and McDermott are stretching forward from the assumptions of their society. Having said this, let us look more closely at her instructions about encountering God. She mentions four stages of divine intimacy, which we will summarize by quoting from Wikipedia.

“The first, or ‘mental prayer’, is that of devout contemplation or concentration, the withdrawal of the soul from without and especially the devout observance of the passion of Christ and penitence. The second is the ‘prayer of quiet’, in which at least the human will is lost in that of God by virtue of a charismatic, supernatural state given by God, while the other faculties, such as memory, reason, and imagination, are not yet secure from worldly distraction. While a partial distraction is due to outer performances such as repetition of prayers and writing down spiritual things, yet the prevailing state is one of quietude. [Third,] The ‘devotion of union’ is not only a supernatural but an essentially ecstatic state. Here there is also an absorption of the reason in God, and only the memory and imagination are left to ramble. This state is characterized by a blissful peace, a sweet slumber of at least the higher soul faculties, or a conscious rapture in the love of God. The fourth is the ‘devotion of ecstasy or rapture,’ a passive state, in which the feeling of being in the body disappears. Sense activity ceases; memory and imagination are also absorbed in God or intoxicated. Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space. This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. The subject awakens from this in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, producing a trance.”

Notice that Teresa is withdrawing from the external world in the first stage in order to focus upon ‘the passion of Christ and penance’. Thus, the foundation is not universal truth based in observing the world, but rather absolute truth imposed by the emotional experience of contemplating ‘the passion of Christ’. In the second stage, rather than using memory, reason, and imagination to expand a mental concept of God, emotion is being used to focus upon a concept of God that is separate from memory, reason, and imagination. A concept of God that does not include memory, reason, imagination, and worldly distraction is, by definition, not a universal God. In the third stage, there is the feeling of being united with God, and this feeling overwhelms reason, telling us that Perceiver thought is being overwhelmed by emotions. Similarly, the passive nature of this experience tells us that Server thought is also not being included, because Server thought is responsible for physical action. I have suggested that the goal is to rebuild the childish Mercy mental networks that acquire their initial content from the physical body. In contrast, during Teresa’s fourth stage, a person becomes connected with God by becoming mentally disconnected from the physical body. ‘The feeling of being in the body disappears’ and ‘sense activity ceases’. After this transcendent experience is over, a person experiences an emotional letdown in which the mind has to reconnect with the physical body.

I suggest that Teresa’s description makes sense when viewed from the perspective of mental networks. It is possible to build a mental concept of God upon absolute truth and personal identity can reside temporarily within this mental concept of a religious God. But this concept of God has nothing to do with physical reality, and one can only become united with this concept of God by mentally abandoning physical reality. If this is the case, then what is the relationship between God and physical reality?

I am quite certain that McDermott would not ascribe to the implications of Teresa’s worship, just as Edwards condemned the abuses of the slavery of his day. But the fact still remains that Edwards had a slave and McDermott is lifting up Teresa as an example of hungering after God.

Again, I am not suggesting that it is wrong to ‘hunger after God’. In contrast, I think that this is an accurate sign of true spirituality. The problem, I suggest, lies in hungering after a limited concept of God that is based in absolute truth, rather than hungering after an adequate concept of God that is based in universal truth. Why is this a problem? Because it traps the human mind within incomplete salvation.

Compare this with the spiritual hunger which Paul talks about in Romans 8. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom. 8:18-25 NASB).

Notice first the description of intense longing. ‘The whole creation groans and suffers’, ‘we ourselves groan within ourselves’, there is an ‘anxious longing’. Notice also that there is physical suffering, but the focus is not upon the current suffering but upon the future glory. ‘The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed’. In addition, this transformation starts internally. We have the ‘first fruits of the spirit’. Thus, one finds the two elements of physical suffering combined with an internal encounter with God. However, the goal is not to become disconnected from the physical body but rather ‘the redemption of our body’. The goal is not to withdraw from physical reality but rather that ‘creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption’. Finally, there is a hope that the internal Platonic form of the spirit will be expressed externally.

McDermott closes the chapter by saying that “If the unregenerate keep on seeking, they do so for some benefit they think it brings them: because others then think of them as spiritual, or because they like feeling religious, or because it quiets their conscience when they suspect they have not been regenerated and may indeed have nothing of true spirituality. But for the saint, hungering and thirsting for God and holiness come naturally” (p.200).

I agree that spirituality should not be driven by the ought self of ‘others’ thinking that I am spiritual’, it should not be driven solely by the feeling of being connected with God, and it should not be used to silence the absence of regeneration. But if Teresa’s spirituality abandoned memory, reason, imagination, and physical sensation, then what is left except the feeling of being connected with God? And if Teresa’s ecstasies caused her to become mentally disconnected from all physical sensation, then was she not mentally silencing the fact that her physical body needed regeneration—precisely the type of regeneration after which Paul is hungering?

Christian Practice (Surrender & Perseverance)

McDermott says that “True saints are people whose lifestyles are distinctive. They practice the principles of the kingdom of God... God saves us because he has a job for us to do. He regenerates us in order to prepare us for a life of service...Martin Luther wrote that true faith will always result in good works because it is the nature of true faith to work” (p.202).

The relationship between faith and works was discussed earlier when looking at the stages of salvation. The first stage is ‘law in the heart’ in which Perceiver facts are used to build a concept of God based in Teacher understanding. During the second stage of ‘righteousness’, this Teacher understanding is used to guide Server actions. ‘Salvation by works’, in contrast, begins with Server actions that are motivated by Mercy goals. The problem is that such Server actions will be guided by inadequate childish Mercy mental networks. I suggest that this is why one should use faith first to build a concept of God and then use this to motivate Server actions.

McDermott adds that “Redemption is not simply a ticket to heaven. Its purpose is to enable us to live a transformed life here on earth” (p.202). We saw at the beginning of this essay that when Mercy mental networks impose truth upon Perceiver thought, then the tendency will be to view ‘redemption as a ticket to heaven’. One has a transcendent religious experience, and this leads instantly to new facts about personal identity.

Going further, McDermott says that “This twelfth sign, Christian practice, has three important implications. The first is that true saints will be committed to the Lordship of Christ over every part of their lives. Second they will make service to God their number one priority. And third, they will persevere in Christian practice until the end of their lives” (p.203).

Looking at the first point, “True Christians do not save one area of life as their secret sin. They do not protect one sin from the searing light of God’s holiness. They allow the Holy Spirit’s searchlight to expose and deal with all of their sins” (p.203).

Teacher thought hates exceptions to the general rule. Therefore, I suggest that following a concept of God that is based in Teacher thought will naturally motivate a person to make all of his behavior consistent with Teacher understanding. Going further, because a Platonic form summarizes the idealized and purified essence of many situations, the Platonic form of the Holy Spirit will naturally motivate a person to act in a way that is more pure and ideal.

We saw earlier that if a mental network is merely suppressed, then there will be a strong urge to prevent that mental network from falling apart completely, especially if it is a core mental network. If one wishes to replace this mental network, then I suggest that one must provide an alternative that satisfies the essence of that mental network in a legitimate manner. If one follows a general Teacher theory that describes how all parts of the mind can function together in a harmonious manner, then I suggest that such a theory will naturally drive a person to behave in a way that satisfies legitimate human needs and desires.

Expanding upon this idea of satisfying a need in a legitimate manner, the tendency today is to feel that one can do whatever one wishes as long as it is ‘done in private’ and ‘does not hurt others’. I suggest that this external definition is not good enough. That is because mental inadequacies naturally spill over to affect the external realm. Therefore, I suggest that even if a person says that he is doing something in private that will not hurt others, personal inadequacies will inevitably enter the public realm and hurt others. I suggest four reasons for this. First, if my mind is not working properly then I will probably need physical help from others. Think, for instance, of the drug addict. Second, if my mind is driven by Mercy mental networks, then I will be mentally drawn to the good experiences and objects of others. Think, for example, of the thief. Third, if I am suppressing a certain module in my mind, then I will mistreat people with that cognitive style in a similar manner. Fourth, if my mind is guided by the ought self, then I will demand approval from others in order to make up for my inadequacies. Thus, I suggest that mental wholeness is a prerequisite for acting in such a way that does not hurt others.

Henry VIII provides a good example of the fourth point. One would think that getting a divorce is a personal issue that does not affect the general public. But Henry wanted public approval for his behavior, and so he tried to get to get his marriage officially annulled by the Pope. 81 nobles attached their seals to the official document that Henry VIII sent in 1530 to the Pope demanding annulment. And when the Pope refused, then Henry declared himself to be head of the English church.

As this article states, “it is certain that it was the charms of the young and accomplished Anne Boleyn, that brought matters to a crisis. With her experience of the gay and corrupt court of France, she was not likely to be mistaken about the influence of her charms or the violence of the king's passion. She would be the king's wife if he wished; but she would not be, like her sister, the king's mistress. Overcome by the force of his desires, he determined to rid himself of a wife of whom he was tired, in favor of her young and more attractive rival. The fact that Catharine had been married to his brother Arthur was seized upon by him to furnish a decent pretext for the projected separation. His conscience, he averred, reproached him for such an incestuous alliance, and for his own peace of mind it was necessary, he maintained, to submit the validity of his marriage to the decision of the Church.” All of this occurred because Henry demanded public approval for his private lust.

This BBC article makes it clear that Henry VIII had a childish mind that was ruled by Mercy mental networks and that he was driven to gain approval. “One has the impression that his courtiers often felt that they were dealing with a huge child; and a lethally dangerous one. His craving for admiration and success led him to throw tantrums each time his policies were checked or failed, and to turn furiously against both who had advised them and those who had resisted them. His reign probably contained more political executions than any other of comparable length in English history - 330 in the years 1532-40 alone - and the king took a personal interest in increasing the physical suffering and humiliation of some of those condemned.” Using the language of mental symmetry, all of the mental networks in Henry’s mind had to agree with Henry’s personal desires, and in order to get all of these mental networks to agree, Henry had to coerce all of the people and institutions who were the sources of these mental networks. If any person or institution would not fall into line, then it was eliminated, ensuring that the offending mental network would no longer be triggered.

Today too there are individuals and groups being driven by private sexual desire to make sure that every institution and authority gives them public approval for their private behavior, and they also are attempting to silence every dissenting voice. I leave it to the reader to connect the dots.

Looking at this more generally, if one follows absolute truth rather than universal truth, then there will be two problems. First, there will be a tendency to suppress childish identity rather than transforming it. Instead of thinking that God wants me to have long-term, lasting pleasure, a person will think that God wants me to have no pleasure. Given this environment, there will be a strong urge to hold on to core aspects of childish identity. One can see this illustrated by the way in which many of the early church fathers and ‘saints’ dealt with sexuality . Spirituality was associated with celibacy, and some went to extreme measures to suppress sexual temptation. One sees this same attempt to suppress sexual temptation today, and one also sees that this method does not work. For instance, two weeks ago Bill Gothard, a prominent conservative Christian leader who strongly emphasized ‘Christian purity’, resigned because of a lack of Christian purity.3

McDermott says that “The problem is that sometimes we want to serve God and enjoy our lusts as well” (p.205). In the language of mental symmetry, lust is an expression of childish identity, because physical sensation is triggering some isolated Mercy mental network, which then wants to express itself. Therefore, giving into lust will reinforce the mental networks of childish identity, which oppose both understanding and wholeness. But I suggest that suppressing lust is also not the answer.

Paul talks rather strongly about this subject. “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (I Tim. 4:1-4 NASB).

Instead of advocating celibacy, Paul calls it a ‘doctrine of demons’ and a ‘conscience seared by the hypocrisy of liars’. In the language of mental symmetry, it is based in faulty Mercy mental networks, it twists Perceiver facts, and it imposes a faulty standard upon personal identity. Instead, Paul says that physical desires, such as food and sex, need to be placed within the framework of Teacher understanding, and need to be ‘received with gratitude’ as an expression of Teacher understanding.

Moving on, the second problem of following absolute truth is that spirituality will be limited to a religious context. If a person is following absolute truth, then he will feel that he is following God completely if he follows God without exception within the context of absolute truth, and he will not realize that he is following God only within a small subset of personal existence.

For instance, I have been examining the relationship between TESOL (language, identity, and culture) and Christianity, and I recently co-presented a paper at the international Christian TESOL conference. I have noticed that most people feel that combining Christianity with TESOL means adding some Christian elements to the TESOL field or practicing personal integrity and being a hard worker when teaching TESOL. Stated more generally, a ‘Christian professional’ adds Christian content to his profession and applies his profession with personal integrity. This is good, however I suggest that it reflects a limited concept of God. Looking specifically at the TESOL field, it appears that learning English as an international language is actually a partial illustration of the path of Christianity, because in both cases one is learning a universal way of thinking in order to become a member of a meta-culture that crosses cultures. Absolute truth views following God as an add-on to secular existence, whereas universal truth views secular existence as a partial expression of following God.

McDermott recognizes that Christianity should extend beyond the religious sphere. “The second implication of this twelfth sign – Christian practice – is that true Christians live their lives with all their hearts. God has first priority for them, which means that Jesus is Lord over their professional and private lives” (p.206).

But the example that McDermott gives is one of adding Christian activity and integrity to a secular profession. “When I want to understand how Christian can submit to Jesus at work, I think of my friend John Childress. John has a high stress management position for a national copy-machine Corporation. He’s not afraid to advertise and lead a company Bible study one morning each week before work. When others fudge the numbers to meet their quotas or twist the rules to get ahead, John is scrupulously honest” (p.206). Notice the underlying assumption that God has nothing to do with corporations or copy machines. Instead, there is an impression that God is being added as an extra to the corporation and the copy-machine. The problem is not with having personal integrity or leading company Bible studies. These are both good. The problem is with a limited concept of God in which one does not consider that there might be a connection between God and the larger context of corporations and modern technology. When Christianity is applied in such a fashion, then I suggest that religious belief will become marginalized. That is because corporations and modern technology are mentally backed up by a worldview that is based in a general Teacher understanding, and like all general Teacher theories, this worldview will try to remove exceptions from its domain. Therefore, the universal truth of science and technology will end up squeezing out the absolute truth of Christian belief.

This distinction becomes especially apparent when the underlying purpose of a profession contradicts mental wholeness. I would like to take a few paragraphs to look at one common profession that illustrates this principle, which is serving in the armed forces. If one compares the mental networks that form from being a soldier with the spiritual affections that McDermott describes, we conclude that there are irreconcilable differences. McDermott began this chapter by saying that “Christian practice has three important implications. The first is that true saints will be committed to the Lordship of Christ over every part of their lives. Second they will make service to God their number one priority. And third, they will persevere in Christian practice until the end of their lives” (p.203). In contrast, the true soldier will be committed to the Lordship of his commanding officer and will carry out all orders completely. Service to one’s country will be the number one priority, and a soldier is expected to persevere in being a soldier until death. Thus, we see that the Christian soldier is being asked to ‘serve two masters’ which are both demanding total obedience. When two core mental networks come into conflict like this, then one will have to bend to the other.

I suggest that these two masters are ultimately irreconcilable because we live as minds within vulnerable physical bodies. First, Christian spirituality focuses upon the mind and internal wholeness, whereas armed force focuses upon the body and physical wholeness. Christian spirituality attempts to change a person’s internal nature by transforming the core mental networks that drive the affections. Armed force, in contrast, attempts to control the person by threatening his physical body, using physical vulnerability to impose content upon the mind. Second, we saw at the beginning of this essay that false spirituality uses emotional experiences and important people to implant Mercy mental networks that will overwhelm Perceiver thought into defining truth. This defines how an army functions, because it uses physical force to create defining experiences that impose rules upon a population. Third, Christian spirituality views living in a physical body as an opportunity, because embodiment makes it possible to transform childish identity in a way that could not be performed by a disembodied mind. Armed force, in contrast, views living in a physical body as athreat, because as long as an enemy is still alive, he has the power to threaten me. Fourth, the goal of Christian spirituality is to apply total honesty to personal identity, to come up with Perceiver facts that bridge cultures, and to be guided by the light of universal Teacher understanding. In contrast, armed force spreads falsehood about personal identity in order to protect national security, it tries to stop others from learning facts about us, and it is guided by ‘need to know’, which is designed to prevent a person from gaining a universal Teacher understanding. Fifth, the goal of Christian spirituality is to become free of Mercy trauma and to transform my behavior so that I do not inflict trauma upon others. In contrast, serving as a soldier by its very nature creates trauma, both upon self and others, and the soldier is trained how to inflict maximal trauma upon others.

For example, Campus Crusade (CRU) has had a ministry to American soldiers since 1964. They say on their website that “A year ago CRU Military, a CRU ministry, asked a group of Army soldiers and their spouses, ‘What are the greatest challenges you face?’ The men and women had been randomly selected, but every single one of them spoke about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”

How does one reconcile these numerous differences? One option is to attempt to serve two masters by trying to be a Christian soldier. I suggest that this will tend to be the natural response for those who believe in absolute truth. Absolute truth is imposed upon Perceiver thought by some Mercy source, absolute truth submits to authority, absolute truth divides people into believers and non-believers, and absolute truth focuses upon self-denial. All of these are consistent with the approach taken by the military. In addition, we have seen that absolute truth tends to view Christianity as something that is added to another profession, and it will feel that one submits totally to the ‘Lordship of Christ’ by adhering to a set of religious rules. Thus, absolute truth would view a Christian soldier as someone who obeys orders with integrity and refrains from ‘forbidden behavior’ such as drunkenness, drugs, and sex, and it will not realize or acknowledge that there is a fundamental incompatibility between the mental networks driving Christianity and the mental networks driving the soldier.

As Jesus said, the problem with serving two masters is that one will ultimately love the one and hate the other. Using the language of mental symmetry, when two incompatible mental networks are simultaneously activated, then one will impose its structure upon the other. If national security is the ‘ruling love’, then eventually all other mental networks will be forced to become consistent with this ultimate standard. Today, in the United States, national security, backed up by deliberate Perceiver falsehood , is now being used as a rationalization for torture, targeted killing, and mass surveillance. Looking at this more generally, since the 1980s, American evangelicals have made a concerted effort to influence the rest of American society, however the primary result has not been the ‘salvation of secular society’ but rather the corruption of American Christianity. This is described in detail in this essay. I suggest that this is what happens when one attempts to overcome a strong societal mental network with a lesser mental network. Stated simply, observation tells us that the mental networks of absolute Christian belief have been inadequate to challenge the current mental networks driving American society.

Another option is to attempt to follow God completely and refuse to be a soldier. This is the path which my ancestors, the Mennonites, have been attempting to follow for almost 500 years (which happens to be twice as long as the United States has existed). This is not an easy path to take, and many Mennonites have ‘given the ultimate sacrifice’ for following the path of nonresistance. Let us look briefly at this option from a cognitive perspective.

How does one avoid getting involved in wars when one lives in a world ruled by nobles and their petty but deadly squabbles? One acquires needed skills, one finds some prince who needs these skills and offers them in exchange for exemption from military service, one tries to be good law-abiding citizens, and one is willing to pull up roots and move on when the local situation changes. At least, that is what my ancestors have done. They moved from Holland to Northern Poland in the 16th century in order to escape Dutch religious persecution where they applied Dutch farming techniques to the Vistula delta. They then moved to southern Ukraine because Catherine the Great was looking for German farmers to colonize her newly conquered land, whereas Prussia had gained control of northern Poland in 1772 and started to impose a heavy tax for military exemption in 1786. Finally, my great-grandparents immigrated to Canada in the 1870s because Canada wanted farmers for the prairies and they were given an exemption from Canadian military service, whereas the Russian tsar had started to place limitations on military exemptions.

Warfare is a natural expression of childish Mercy mental networks. If mental networks struggle internally for domination, and if mental networks represent people, then is easy for internal conflict between mental networks to turn into external conflict between people. As the apostle James says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2 NASB).

Refraining from physical warfare is good, but if childish Mercy mental networks are not transformed, then people will still struggle with one another. For instance, many Mennonites have historically practiced shunning, rejecting those who violate societal standards and do not submit to local authorities. In other words, Mennonites may have managed to avoid killing others in submission to the dictates of government authorities, but this did not prevent them from suppressing one another in submission to the dictates of village authorities.

In addition, whenever one is driven by Mercy mental networks, there will be a natural tendency to think that one’s mental networks are superior to the mental networks of others. This to has tended to be a Mennonite weakness. As Mennonite World Conference chief Larry Miller said, “At times, we have claimed the martyr tradition as a badge of Christian superiority. We sometimes nurtured an identity rooted in victimization that could foster a sense of self-righteousness and arrogance, blinding us to the frailties and failures that are also deeply woven into our tradition.” As McDermott warned, it is possible to become proud of being humble.

Let us return now to the question of warfare. If one wishes to pursue mental wholeness, then it makes sense that one should avoid killing and being killed. But we all live within vulnerable physical bodies. How does one avoid physical warfare while staying alive? This essay has described three stages of personal salvation: building an understanding upon personal honesty, applying this understanding in personal action, and then creating a new identity that lives within this understanding. Notice how these stages apply to Mennonite history. A person who gains an understanding of identity will be able to tell when the local society is becoming threatening. A person who performs Server actions that are guided by rational understanding will have marketable skills. And a person whose identity lives within an understanding will be able to pull up roots and move to a different and safer society. Therefore, I suggest that following the path of mental wholeness will develop a mindset that is required to practice precisely the type of country hopping that the Mennonites have done in order to stay alive. (I suggest that a similar principle applies to any diaspora, such as the Jews.)

Going further, if enough people pursue the path of mental wholeness, then they may be able to act as educators, examples, and conscience for the rest of society, leading to the prevention of war. For instance, we have already seen the role that the German confessing Church played in attempting to thwart the rise of Nazism. Here too following the path of mental wholeness makes a significant difference, because political groups such as the Nazis are adept at manipulating the mental networks of society. In order to resist this pressure, a person must free himself internally from the ought self with its domineering Mercy mental networks and must learn to be guided by rational thought. Anyone who attempts to be a pacifist in a warmongering society will face major pressure to conform, both from leaders and from neighbors.

Suppose that war does break out. A person with skill and understanding has a better chance of surviving than an uneducated conscript who is sent to the front. If a person does not have to go to the front lines, then he may be able to avoid directly experiencing and causing emotional trauma. Similarly, if one does have to join an army, then it is better to join a professional army that is guided by Teacher structure rather than a gang or Mafia under the Mercy domination of some warlord.

Notice that we have examined this topic from purely a rational, materialistic viewpoint. Going further, if the mind continues in disembodied form after death, then one concludes that it would be rather important to be driven by ruling loves of mental and physical wholeness rather than by mental networks of domination, destruction, and murder.

One final point before we return to McDermott. We saw with the example of Henry VIII that personal desire can spill over into the public arena. Those who suffer personal hurt or suffer personal consequences will often compensate by demanding public approval. War produces devastating hurt and destruction, therefore it is natural that those who are caught in war will seek public approval and comfort. When sons and daughters are killed, then parents want to believe that ‘They did not die in vain’. When war veterans return maimed and traumatized, they also want to believe that ‘they did not suffer in vain’. However, as this Veterans Today article says, “I know it is a hard truth, but they did die in vain. As in the past, churches across the country will keep praising the fallen troops for protecting “our way of life,” and few can demur, given the tragic circumstances...As hard as it might seem, I believe we can do no other than fault — and confront — them. However well meaning their intentions, their negligence and timidity in confronting basic war issues merely help to perpetuate unnecessary killing. It is high time to hold preachers accountable.” Simply put, religious self-denial is a terrible master and there is nothing inherently noble about suffering.

Let us return now to McDermott’s third point of perseverance. McDermott says that “A third implication of this twelfth sign is that Christians do not give up. They do not turn around after beginning the race. They persevere in following Jesus until the end of their lives. True Christians may well stumble and fall. They may lose their way for a while. They may have times of despair...but true saints never grow so weary of the life of faith that they habitually dislike it and neglect it. If they fall, they get back on their feet, ask for forgiveness and seek the grace to continue” (p.207).

Earlier on I mentioned the transition that occurs when a Teacher theory turns into a Teacher mental network. From that point on the primary problem a person faces is not sticking with a theory but rather being able to abandon an inadequate theory. We have already seen what Thomas Kuhn says about scientists holding on to theories ‘until the end of their lives’, and it is also interesting that Kuhn specifically compares this with theology. Kuhn says that science “is a narrow and rigid education, probably more so than any other except perhaps in Orthodox theology. But for normal-scientific work, for puzzle-solving within the tradition that the textbooks define, the scientist is almost perfectly equipped. Furthermore, he is well-equipped for another task as well – the generation through normal science of significant crises. When they arise, the scientist is not, of course, equally well-prepared. Even though prolonged crises are probably reflected in less rigid educational practice, scientific training is not well designed to produce the man who will easily discover a fresh approach. But so long as somebody appears with the new candidate for paradigm – usually a young man or one new to the field – the loss due to rigidity accrues only to the individual. Given a generation in which to effect that change, individual rigidity is compatible with the community that can switch from paradigm to paradigm when the occasion demands” (p.166).

In simple English, the typical scientist will naturally cling to his theory for the rest of his life, even in the midst of major problems. In other words, the very fact that McDermott is worrying about people not holding on to Christianity suggests that their concept of God is not ultimately based in a general Teacher theory. A mental concept of God that is based in universal understanding will naturally drive a person to cling to it through thick and thin.

McDermott says that applying Christianity is of primary importance. “Now we need to see the importance of this last reliable sign. It is the last because it is the most important of all. In Edwards’s words, it is the ‘chief of all the marks of grace, the sign of signs, and evidence of evidences, that which seals and crowns all other signs.’ Practice is the most important of all the signs of grace. Practice is where the rubber meets the road.” (p.209).

He adds that “Words are cheap. They are easier to produce if you want to counterfeit true spirituality. Deeds are more difficult because they cost something. They usually demand some kind of self-denial. Therefore it is far easier for counterfeit Christians to talk a good game than to walk like a disciple of Jesus” (p.211).

Using the language of mental symmetry, words (the basic building blocks of Teacher thought) can be used to build a general understanding. The goal of the first stage of salvation is to use Perceiver truth to construct a mental concept of God—and this mental concept will be primarily a verbal concept that is restricted to the realm of words. But as McDermott says, words are cheap. That is why the second stage of salvation adds actions to words. When there is a fundamental change in actions, then this shows that understanding is being applied.

In order to apply understanding, I suggest that Perceiver thought is required to bridge words with actions. For instance, there is no inherent reason why ‘e-a-t’ should be associated with the action of placing food within my mouth. This Teacher sequence of sounds is connected with this Server sequence of actions because they have the same Perceiver meaning. If Perceiver thought is not functioning, then these bridges of meaning that connect words with actions will not be formed. Instead, there will be a cognitive disconnect between one context and another, and between what a person says and what a person does. Again, we see the need for universal Perceiver truth rather than absolute Perceiver truth.

McDermott says that “If someone says she is not a Christian and does not believe in Christ as Messiah and God incarnate, her good life does not oblige us to call her a sincere Christian. We can admire her morality and even be stimulated by her to a better Christian life, but we do not need to call her a Christian” (p.212).

Mental symmetry suggests that we can examine this dilemma from the viewpoint of ‘ruling loves’. If a person is to flourish as a disembodied mind, then Mercy mental networks of personal identity must reside within a general framework held together by the Teacher mental network of a universal understanding. Using religious language, I must ‘love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength’. When someone appears to be ‘an upright citizen’, then I suggest that one can ask two questions. First, is this ‘upright behavior’ being motivated by the general Teacher theory of a concept of God or by the Mercy mental networks of society? Saying this another way, is motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? Second, if personal behavior is being guided by Teacher understanding, then does this obedience extend to all aspects of personal identity? The goal of Christianity, I suggest, is to use a concept of God based in Teacher understanding to totally transform the Mercy mental networks of personal identity.

Christian Practice (Suffering & Obedience)

Turning now to the final chapter, McDermott says that “This chapter will show us that practice is also the best way to tell if we are fooling ourselves when we say that we follow Jesus” (p.214). This relates to the comment that was just made about ruling loves. If core mental networks—ruling loves—are really being transformed, then this will impact the rest of thought and behavior.

McDermott adds that “Christians are to look at themselves not in search of visions or voices or spiritual feelings but to see if they are practicing the Christian virtues. If inner experiences do not result in action or even the attempt to act, they are unreliable signs of grace” (p.215). I suggest that McDermott is making an important statement here. However, if this is true, then it seems somewhat incongruous for McDermott to present Teresa of Avila as an example, because we have seen that Teresa is best known for her visions and spiritual feelings.

As for ‘practicing the Christian virtues’, Teresa’s primary goal was not to use her relationship with God to transform physical practice but rather to suppress physical involvement. Quoting from the Wikipedia article, “In March 1563, when Teresa moved to the new cloister, she received the papal sanction to her prime principle of absolute poverty and renunciation of property, which she proceeded to formulate into a ‘Constitution’. Her plan was the revival of the earlier, stricter rules, supplemented by new regulations such as the three disciplines of ceremonial flagellation prescribed for the divine service every week, and the discalceation of the nun. For the first five years, Teresa remained in pious seclusion, engaged in writing.” This describes not practice but masochism. I am not suggesting that McDermott thinks that we should give away all our possessions, beat ourselves, stop wearing shoes, and live in seclusion so that we can have holy experiences with God. But that is what Teresa recommended, and McDermott is using Teresa as an example.4 I suggest that this relates to McDermott’s advice that we focus upon the beauty of God. If this is seen as the primary Teacher attribute of God, then I suggest that this will lead in the direction of passive contemplation rather than practice.

Moving on, McDermott says that “The practice that is the chief evidence of grace to others is different from the practice that is the best evidence of grace to ourselves. Others can see what we do, but only we know what is in our hearts. While external acts are the best evidence of grace to others, the inner exercises of the heart are the best evidence to ourselves about the state of our souls” (p.217). This is a significant statement. Others have to use theory of mind to guess which mental networks are motivating me, while I can know what is motivating me.

But I suggest that simply looking inside is not enough. That is one reason why I have repeatedly suggested that personal identity should reside within an internal grid of understanding. In order to know ‘the state of my soul’, I must be able to place my soul within some internal map that tells me where I am. This is one area where mysticism differs from personal transformation. Mysticism judges personal progress using schemes such as Teresa’s four stages, and the goal of mysticism is to separate personal existence from physical reality in order to concentrate upon God.

In contrast, mental symmetry judges personal progress by comparing the functioning of my mind with a mind that is mentally whole. For instance, I am a Perceiver person. Studying and observing Perceiver persons is taught me most of the weaknesses, strengths, and struggles of the Perceiver person. Whenever I meet a Perceiver person, I can use this knowledge to place that person within a grid of understanding. ‘The immature Perceiver person thinks in terms of black-and-white and is naturally judgmental. How does this individual think? The Perceiver finds it easy to escape to alternate realms where truth is applied. Is this individual practicing escapism?’ I can ask the same questions of myself. On the one hand, self-examination is easier because I can observe myself directly instead of having to practice theory of mind. On the other hand, it is harder because the emotional content of my mental networks can lead to self-deception.

That leads us to the matter of testing. How do I know for certain where I am in the map of personal growth? How do I know my core mental networks?

I suggest that the McDermott provides the answer. “There is an interesting connection between practice and suffering that can help us better endure our suffering. Scripture indicates that God uses suffering as a trial to prove our practice... He allows difficulties to come into our lives that force us to make a clear choice between God and other things” (p.218).

McDermott adds, “Perhaps you are wondering why God has to test us? Does not he already know what is in our hearts? Of course he does. He tests us not so much for his sake as for ours. We need to know what makes us tick. Often we are not aware of our deepest affections. Only the crucible of suffering is able to show us who we really are” (p.219). Using the language of mental symmetry, testing allows a person to recognize his core mental networks.

I would like to examine this matter of testing more closely. First, there is the matter of recognizing mental networks. A mental network forms whenever there are related emotional memories. The formation of a mental network usually happens rather silently, and as long as this mental network receives consistent input, I may not even know that it is there. The presence of a mental network generally becomes apparent when it starts receiving inconsistent input, because then it start complaining emotionally. For instance, people do not usually realize that they are ruled by social convention until some outsider comes in who does not follow social convention. This is when the implicit rules become explicit. Similarly, the best way to recognize my mental networks is to travel to a different culture where people follow different mental networks.

Next, there is the testing of free will. While free will is limited, I suggest that it is also real. Free will becomes most apparent when one is faced with two incompatible mental networks and must choose which mental network to follow. I have suggested that mental networks form a hierarchy, with stronger mental networks imposing their structure upon weaker ones. When a person is forced to choose between incompatible mental networks, then I suggest that free will will have the greatest impact upon the hierarchy of mental networks. The mental network that is chosen will grow stronger while the mental network that is avoided will grow weaker and be forced to adapt to the stronger one. Most decisions only affect the power of mental networks incrementally. But there are also ‘testing decisions’ which can impact the relative status of mental networks in major ways. For instance, when I chose as a teenage violinist not to join the musician’s union, this altered the entire course of my life.

Finally, there is the matter of knowing my internal character. I have suggested that a disembodied mind would naturally organize itself into a hierarchy of mental networks held together by its ruling loves. This does not happen in normal life. That is because physical structure can be used to hold the mind together, physical location can be used to separate one set of mental networks from another, and physical vulnerability and physical need can be used to impose and reinforce mental networks. For instance, if I can get to work by stepping on a subway car in one location and getting off at another location, then I do not need an internal map that tells me how these two locations are related. Looking at the second point, if religious practice is performed by special people wearing special clothes in special locations containing special objects, then this will lead to a mental split between secular and religious existence. Illustrating the third point, the ultimate reason that I obey a policeman is because he has the power to make my life miserable.

McDermott suggest that ‘only the crucible of suffering is able to show us who we really are’. I suggest that this is primarily because suffering removes physical support. Suffering forces a person to look internally for integrity. Thus, I suggest that what really matters is not suffering but rather a lack of physical and societal structure and affirmation. We looked earlier at the ‘desert experience’, and I suggest that there is some value in temporarily withdrawing from society either physically or emotionally. The goal of this temporary withdrawal is not to deny physical existence but rather to discover internal integrity, not to deny self, but rather to learn the true nature of self.

Every schoolteacher knows the testing is not the same as learning. Testing lets me know where I am, learning takes me from where I am to some place better. Testing tells me what I have and have not learned.

That brings us to the ‘testing of God.’ Let us first look at this cognitively. I have suggested that a concept of God emerges as a general Teacher understanding applies to personal identity. Thus, being tested by God cognitively means placing identity within a grid of Teacher understanding. Personal honesty is difficult; it is hard for me to determine precisely where I am because the Mercy mental networks of identity tend to cloud my thinking. It is much easier for me to evaluate myself accurately when this evaluation is backed up by the Teacher mental network of a general understanding.

Now let us look at this theologically. McDermott asks rhetorically, “Does not [God] already know what is in our hearts? Of course he does.” I know that most theologians would agree with McDermott’s instinctive response. I have thought of this extensively from a number of different viewpoints and have come to the conclusion that the most coherent explanation is that God does not already know what is in our hearts, and that when God is testing us he really is testing us and not just pretending. This is discussed in greater detail inthese three essays.

In essence, we are dealing with the relationship between human free will and divine sovereignty. Cognitively speaking, being tested by God means placing identity within a grid of understanding held together by a Teacher mental network. Let us suppose that a real God exists who is doing something similar. How much control would such a God have to exert over humanity in order to ensure with 100% certainty that society would eventually achieve mental wholeness? First, we know that human free will is limited. Once the behavior of a person is motivated by sufficiently strong mental networks, then it is no longer possible for that person to use free will to overturn these mental networks. This does not mean that such an individual no longer has free will. It simply means that whatever he chooses, these choices will all be made within the general context of a personality that is inexorably driven by ruling loves.

Second, we have seen in this essay that a person’s choices occur within the context of his society. A person can stretch forward from the mental networks of his culture but it is very unusual for a person to break free of the mental networks of his culture.

Third, we know that God is a universal being (McDermott’s natural perfections) whereas humans are finite individuals. Therefore, it makes sense that a universal being would be more concerned about the general path of society than the specific choices of individuals.

Finally, mental symmetry suggests that the human mind is governed by inescapable cognitive mechanisms and that it is possible to analyze human thought and behavior in substantial detail.

Now let us put these pieces together. If a finite human being can construct a Teacher understanding that makes it possible to predict with substantial accuracy how humans will behave, then it is reasonable to assume that a universal being who lived in Teacher understanding would be able to do this far better, especially if this universal being originally designed and built the human mind. Going further, in order to implement an infallible plan of human salvation, God would not have to control every person. Instead, it would be sufficient for God to control a few people and groups, and these would form the mental networks that would guide the rest of society through the mechanisms of culture, example, and physical force. Similarly, God would not have to control all the choices of these key individuals and groups, but instead would only require them to have appropriate ruling loves. Finally, God would not have to predetermine the ruling loves of these people and groups, because the nature of society would ensure that individuals with certain ruling loves would emerge at certain stages.

This is where the testing of God comes in. At each stage in a society, there would be certain individuals and/or groups who could potentially act as the ‘movers and shakers’. By testing the ruling loves of these potential entities, God could then choose which ones were best suited for the desired role.

For instance, suppose that somebody was required to ‘betray Jesus’. God would not have to predestine a specific person to carry out this preordained role. Instead, given the Roman focus upon personal status and the Jewish desire for a political Messiah, it would be easy to find a person to fit the role. This is what one finds portrayed in the Gospels. Jesus says at the Last Supper, “‘Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.’ Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ And He answered, ‘He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.’ And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself.’” (Matt. 26:21-25 NASB). Notice that the general path is foreordained but not the specific individual who will fill the role.

Notice also that Jesus knew beforehand that the ruling love of Judas was different than the core mental networks that guided the other disciples. After a difficult episode in which many leave Jesus because of their inadequate mental networks, “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.’” (John 6:67-71) (NASB).

The fundamental character of Judas is described in an episode that occurred a week before the betrayal. “Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?’ Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it” (John 12:3-6 NASB). Notice the false spirituality in Judas’ words. He is using the appearance of spirituality to judge others. And his primary focus is upon the appearance of religious self-denial. Notice also that Jesus gave Judas a repeated opportunity to act in a way that was consistent with his inadequate ruling loves by putting him in charge of the money.

Let us finish by looking at one of the passages that is traditionally used to teach what is known as the doctrine of predestination. This is a fairly lengthy quote, extending from Romans 8:19 to 9:16. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body...And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Continuing now in chapter 9, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘through Isaac your descendants will be named.’ That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.”

This passage begins by saying that one should focus upon future reward rather than present suffering, and it suggests that personal human salvation plays a critical role in the general plan of bringing salvation to the rest of nature. In other words, humans are playing a role in some cosmic plan of God, consistent with the idea of divine sovereignty mentioned a few paragraphs back. Paul is saying that what begins as internal personal transformation will extend eventually to the physical body and the physical realm, suggesting that it is important to focus in the present upon cognitive development. As was mentioned before, this leads to a hunger, not to avoid the physical body and be united with God, but rather to cooperate with God in order to extend cognitive rebirth to the physical body and the external realm.

It is within this context that the concept of predestination is described. Circumstances are being structured for those who ‘love God’ who are ‘called according to His purpose’. On the one hand, personal identity in these individuals is emotionally attracted to the Teacher mental network of God. On the other hand, Teacher understanding is creating a structured environment that benefits personal identity.

Paul then adds details to this general description. God’s intervention starts with foreknowledge, which is followed by ‘predestination to become conformed to the image of his Son’.5 Using an analogy, I suggest that this is like examining a group of children to look for gifted students and then placing these gifted students in a special school that will develop their potential. Paul says that the purpose of this ‘elite school’ is to replicate the path of personal salvation that was initiated by incarnation. Notice how the description of what God is doing makes sense when viewed in terms of a school for gifted students. They are ‘predestined’ to enter the school, they are ‘called’ to attend the school, they are ‘justified’ (declared righteous) as students of the school, and they are ‘glorified’ as graduates of the school. Notice that nothing is said about what classes the students take or how well they do in school. The only guarantee is that they will graduate.

Paul then describes what it takes to ensure that a student will graduate. “Just as it is written, ‘For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” I am reminded of the words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” In other words, God will take whatever is required to get a ‘predestined’ person to graduate, even if it means forcing that individual to take an endless number of remedial classes. This is brought out clearly by Paul. People and circumstances are against them. They are experiencing tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. It is within this context that ‘God’s elect’ are being justified, that individuals ‘overwhelmingly conquer’, and that ‘nothing separates us from the love of God’. This is not a love that gives a person some special Mercy status or Mercy gift. Rather, it is a love that drives an individual through some special Teacher system.

Paul then turns to the example of Israel as a ‘chosen group’ of people. Paul is despondent because, despite having had the advantage of a special schooling, God’s chosen people are managing to thwart God’s predestination. He then explains that God’s predestination of his chosen people involves the group and not every individual within that group. In other words, being chosen as a group by God does not guarantee the salvation of every individual within that group. This apparent failure of God’s predestination is so extensive that Paul has to remind his readers that ‘it is not as though the word of God has failed’. He then concludes that the actual group of chosen individuals is a subset of the physically chosen group.

I suggest that one can learn more about the nature of divine predestination by looking at the story of the Jews, both in the Bible and modern history. First, Jews have an unusual background and training that forces them to excel, which implies that they are enrolled in some sort of elite school. Second, Jews are ‘movers and shakers’ who have left a mark upon society that far exceeds the size of their group. Third, this mark is not always good, for many Jews have used their ‘elite training’ to inflict deep harm upon society. Fourth, being part of this elite school has meant immense suffering for many Jewish individuals. Fifth, Jews are not the only ones attending school; they are not the only ones being saved.

Applying this more generally to the concept of predestination, I suggest that this passage describes what is happening to a small group of people that God ‘foreknows’. But this does not mean that these are the only people that are being saved. It just means that people outside of this ‘chosen path’ are being given a free will to accept or reject God and that the circumstances of life are happening randomly for them because they are not ‘called according to his purpose’.

Jumping ahead a few verses, it says, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” (Romans 9:22-23 NASB). This quote may seem to support the idea of ‘double predestination’, which says that God chooses chooses who goes to heaven and also chooses who goes to hell. It is clear from this passage that some people are being chosen for good while others are being chosen for evil. However, if one looks at the original Greek, one finds different verbs being used for these two types of individuals. The ‘vessels of wrath’ are being perfected or fitted (katartizo), which suggests that an existing state is being amplified, and the vessel of wrath is being ‘endured with patience’, suggesting that God is allowing natural cognitive mechanisms to function. Think, for instance, of Judas. Jesus had to put up with him for several years, all the while knowing what he was like inside. And putting him in charge of the money allowed his existing dishonesty to be perfected. In contrast, the ‘vessels of mercy’ are being prepared beforehand (proetoimazo), which suggests a more active divine involvement.

Paul refers in this passage to Pharaoh as an example of a ‘vessel of wrath’. If one examines the story of Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, one observes that he was not a normal individual. First, he was worshipped as a god by the Egyptian people. Second, he enslaved an entire group of people in order to maintain social dominance. Third, he ordered all the male children of this group of people to be killed. Thus, we see that Pharaoh is already being motivated by extreme Mercy mental networks of social status before he has a showdown with Moses. For this reason, God can say with foreknowledge that ‘I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion” (Exodus 3:19). (Similarly, God could have foreknown that Henry VIII would establish the Anglican church.)

However, the story also suggests that there is some ambiguity in the strength of subsidiary mental networks. After giving Moses two signs to show to Pharaoh, God says that “If they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign. But if they will not believe even these two signs or heed what you say, then you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water which you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exodus 4:8-9). Notice it says that if they do not believe the first sign, they may believe the second sign. The story also says that God gets angry with Moses when Moses responds to God’s instructions in an unexpected manner. “Then Moses said to the LORD, ‘Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? ‘Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.’ But he said, ‘Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will.’ Then the anger of the LORD burned against Moses, and He said, ‘Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently’” (Exodus 4:10-14). This suggests that human free will can introduce unpredictability in the details of divine sovereignty but cannot thwart the general purpose. It is at this point that we find God amplifying the existing state of Pharaoh. “The Lord said to Moses, when you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21).

Now let us look at the concept of divine sovereignty in more general terms. Many Christians verbally state that they believe that God controls all human decisions, but every Christian that I have encountered so far acts as if free will exists in normal life. I suggest that this combination is dangerous because it allows a person to practice free will while pretending that free will has no long-term significance. If God tests individuals before choosing them, and if individual choices are not preordained, then this means that choice is significant. It really makes a difference what I choose, not because it matters to God what toothpaste I use, what school I attend, what job I take, or what person I marry. Rather, I suggest that choice makes a difference because it determines my core mental networks—my ruling loves.

Summarizing, I suggest that the relationship between divine sovereignty and human free will is like radioactivity in physics. For a large number of atoms, it is possible to state with great certainty how many atoms will decay in a certain period of time. However, it is not possible to know which specific atoms will decay. Similarly, I suggest that it would be possible for a universal being to calculate with great certainty the behavior of a group of people while still maintaining free will when it comes to individual choice.


We have looked at Edwards’ unreliable and reliable signs of grace as interpreted by McDermott. If one examines them from a cognitive perspective, one finds that they all are significant, not just as Christian principles, but rather as universal principles to follow if one wishes to reach mental wholeness.

I have suggested that the mind can acquire truth in one of two primary ways. The method of absolute truth believes that truth is revealed to Perceiver thought by some important source in Mercy thought, while the method of universal truth uses Perceiver thought to look for common patterns in many different contexts, leading to a general Teacher understanding.

It appears that all of Edwards’ unreliable signs of grace are the indirect result of using Mercy mental networks to overwhelm Perceiver thought—the method of knowing used by absolute truth. In addition, this mindset leads to an attitude of religious self-denial that brings inconsistencies and inadequacies to Edwards’ portrayal of the reliable signs of grace.

In contrast, it appears that the reliable signs of grace will all emerge naturally if one uses Perceiver thought to search for universal truth, uses these facts to build a Teacher understanding of the nature of God, applies this understanding with Server actions, and then places personal identity within this grid of understanding.

In short, the only good feature that we have found about absolute truth in this essay is that it provides an opportunity for children and beginners to learn from experts. In other words, it makes education possible. However, even here this opportunity makes the child vulnerable to abuse. If one wishes to become a mature adult, then one needs to go beyond absolute truth to universal truth—beyond rote learning to critical thinking. And if one examines what the Bible says about being a mature Christian, it appears to be consistent with the adult mind set of universal truth and not the childish thinking of absolute truth.

In brief, Edwards provides good advice, but he gives this advice within a social context and a mindset that contradicts his advice. McDermott partially escapes the mindset of Edwards but I suggest that he is still providing good advice from an inadequate framework. Because of this juxtaposition, I have attempted in this essay to separate the good advice from the inadequate framework.

Finally, looking at this from a personal perspective, it is clear that both Edwards and McDermott are speaking from personal experience and not just describing abstract theory. I deeply appreciate that they have attempted to place spiritual experience within the framework of theological understanding. The last theologian I analyzed did precisely the opposite, attempting to build a system of theology upon his personal spiritual experience. If childish identity needs to be transformed, then I suggest that it is essential to use theology to transform personal identity and not use ecstatic experience to shape theology.


1 The same principle can be used in counseling. When a person is really hurting then the first step is simply to allow him to speak. This uses words to relieve the emotional pressure being produced by hurting mental networks. Once the person has ‘gotten things off his chest’, it then becomes possible to address issues. Saying this another way, you cannot teach a starving man how to fish. First you feed the man, then he will be capable of listening to your instructions about fishing.

2 The Revolutionary war substantially freed America from the British system based in social status, but it introduced new cognitive biases, such as the assumption that cognitive problems can be solved through the application of physical force.

3 Is everything that Bill Gothard teaches wrong? I hope not, because cognitive styles, which he refers to as motivational insights, are a major aspect of his advanced seminar. However, like Edwards’ society, he places a great emphasis upon submitting to authority, and while he has some meaningful insights, his thinking is not rigorous, either scientifically or theologically. This is a dangerous combination.

4 Teresa lived during the time of Henry VIII. If I lived in such a childish, pre-scientific, status-driven society, I too might conclude that the answer lies in withdrawing from the physical world.

5 How exactly would divine foreknowledge work? My best guess is that it is like quantum probability. God, as a universal being, would see all the possible paths that a person could take together with the probability of taking each path. In quantum mechanics, the actual path emerges where all the possible nearby paths are in phase with one another. Similarly, a universal God would be able to foreknow certain choices for certain individuals because all of the various factors would come together in a way that would guarantee certainty.