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Nov 29 2011

Gospel Disproof #16: Mt. Sinai and the Burning Bush

One of the differences between fantasy and reality shows up when you have lots of people involved. To demonstrate this, I like to use the illustration of Mt. Sinai and the Burning Bush, from the story of Moses.

Suppose you are looking for the summit of Mt. Sinai, high up in the clouds. And let’s say there are several of you, all starting from different places around the base of the mountain. As each of you gets closer to the summit, what happens? You all draw closer to each other as well. Because the summit actually exists in the real world, you all have a common point of reference, and as each one gets closer to the truth, the group as a whole gets closer to each other, until you all finally arrive at the same point. Mt. Sinai illustrates the way scientists gradually converge on the same truth about the real world, by studying a common reality.

The pursuit of fantasy, by contrast, produces quite a different effect. Because the goal you are pursuing does not exist in the real world, there is no common goal towards which all seekers can progress. Fantasy tends to flow along lines drawn by personal bias, cultural influences, political agendas, and other psychological phenomena that push different people in different directions at different times. The result is that pursuing fantasies tends to lead people away from each other, even if they all start from the same point. To the degree that we all share common psychological traits, we may find common branches in our fantasies, with certain types preferring one form, and other types preferring others. But the overall pattern is that of a bush, that branches and re-branches over time as each new seeker adds his or her own unique and subjective perspective.

Thus, the pursuit of truth, when it is really truth, produces a pattern of discovery like Mt. Sinai, where you can start at different places, and draw closer together over time until you all arrive at the same summit. The pursuit of fantasy, as though it were the truth, produces instead the pattern of the Burning Bush, where believers form branches and diverge from one another, even when starting from a common root.

So what is theology? Is it Mt. Sinai, or is it he Burning Bush? The answer will tell us a lot about the truth of the goal being pursued—if we have ears to hear.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    lambert

    i thought there wasnt even an historical mt.sinai,just the one apologists picked and named mt.sinai for their own purposes.your explanation is very wordy and doesnt disprove anything,even though i know mt.sinai really never existed.your gospel disprove is misleading.

  2. 2
    davidct

    Thank you for a nice analogy.

  3. 3
    kraut

    “So what is theology”

    literary analysis gone rogue?

  4. 4
    gc

    I liked your metaphor.

    Except, well, to stretch the metaphor until it breaks, scholars differ as to the actual location of Mount Sinai.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Mount_Sinai

    Perhaps climbing Mount Improbable is the best path to truth.

  5. 5
    Owlmirror

    While I like the point that the study of reality leads over time to consensus about reality, I disagree with the “bush” model of theology. I don’t think it can be modeled as something so straightforward as that.

    Theology is so incoherent that it argues that God is mysterious and unknowable while at the same time being absolutely certain that he cares deeply about your sex life, and many other internal inconsistencies and contradictions.

    If the claims of theology were to be modeled as some shape, it would have to be constructed by MC Escher, would look different depending on what you wanted to see (like the rabbit-duck illusion, or the young-old woman illusion, or similar), and anyone who studied it carefully would get a severe headache, and in the worse case, go stark staring mad.

    1. 5.1
      Deacon Duncan

      Perhaps theology isn’t the best word. I’m referring to the phenomenon of Christians dividing into “Paulists” and “Peterists,” Orthodox and Roman Catholic, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Lutheran and Episcopal and Anabaptist and etc and etc… Maybe we should call it the history of religious flavors or something.

      1. Owlmirror

        Ah, I see.

        Well, in that case, I offer The Origin of Specious.

      2. John Morales

        Well, in that case, I offer The Origin of Specious.

        Ooh — nice.

        (Veerrrrry nice!)

  6. 6
    NeverTheTwain

    I like this metaphor immensely, and will use it in the future. I wonder if you’ve noticed the ironic corollary it has within the Christian tradition itself. Prior to the Reformation, the Catholic Church decreed what the Bible said and meant, and therefore established “reality” (Mt. Sinai) for all. But the moment believers began to interpret the Bible for themselves, well, it was burning bushes everywhere.

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