In the course of writing an earlier blog, The Strange Loop of Consciousness, my attention was drawn to the blog site [http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.ca/2007/08/strange-loops-and-theology-part-5-do.html]. Interestingly, on this site, another blogger, Richard Beck, also responds to Hofstadter’s’ “I am a Strange Loop” and points to correspondence between Hofstadter’s ideas and the Eucharist.
It is beyond the scope of my blog to completely summarize Hofstadter’s or Beck’s ideas. I can certainly recommend reading the two books by Hofstadter that I mentioned, as well as Beck’s blog on this subject.
My main point is that I saw many of Hofstadter’s analogies and comments as bearing a striking resemblance in form and content to ideas attributed to Jesus in the New Testament.
To take the example of the Eucharist referred to by Beck, one of Hofstadter’s ideas with respect to how we deal with death is that for “those who remain and who are gathered to remember and reactivate the spirit of the departed, a collective corona …still glows”
Beck says , “Eucharist.” in his response to that statement.
Beck goes on to say:
“…maybe the Catholics and Protestants were BOTH right about the Eucharist…the Presence of Jesus and the remembrance of Jesus – really are, in the end, the exact same thing.”
I can agree with Beck on this, but what struck me was that Hofstadter could state these same ideas and draw the opposite conclusion – that there is no reason to believe in the reality of our own being let alone the possibility of our eternal being.
Beck talks about “Experimental Theology” which means trying out new ideas and finding new things out from old texts. To me such a concept connects with my own notions of how our improved knowledge base in science, and in Physics in particular, informs, but ultimately forces us to rethink our religious ideas. At the same time though, I find some of these supposedly “ancient” ideas are strengthened and given a new robustness and meaning. For me this is especially true of ideas and actions attributed to Jesus.
All theological ideas, including and especially, church doctrines need to be examined and reexamined as our knowledge base expands. Any idea is constrained by the language and cultural paradigms that exist at the time it is expressed and this includes, in my opinion, religious ideas.
However, some religious ideas have a robustness that transcends any conceivable cultural barriers. The Eucharist, to me,is just such a transcendent concept. Jesus never wrote anything, never left any monuments or other tangible remnants (leaving aside relics that are attributed by some people to be valid, such as the Shroud of Turin – but Jesus himself is never recorded as leaving or producing anything like this).
Nevertheless he did leave a profound and culturally independent way of remembering him and of inviting him into our presence – with a meal:
“Eat this bread…This is my body,
Drink this cup?…This is my blood, shed for you,
Do this in remembrance of me”
(Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22: 19-20)
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had told his followers – “Whenever 2 or 3 of you gather in my name, there I am with you” (Matthew 18:20). Obviously this applies during Holy Communion where we not only invite him in and remember him but also consume Him – integrating ourselves with him in a remarkable physical symbol.
There are many dimensions and facets to the Eucharist – far too many to adequately explore in this blog entry. However, I find it remarkable that 2000 years ago, well before the modern scientific era, a devout Jew was able to comprehend and enact a culturally transcendent method of perpetuation our memory of him and of including him in our everyday lives.
There is much that could be explored and discussed on this extraordinary idea alone. To return to Hofstadter though, it is ironically remarkable that such a noted scholar on the concept of human consciousness should latch onto essentially the same notion that Jesus established in the Eucharist – and yet Hofstadter is still not able to see how close an approximation his own ideas are to the foundational ideas of the Christian faith.