The Divine Holotype

19 06 2009

roseA rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.  The plant taxonomists could have a field day with that one.  Multiple names for the same flower are a relatively simple matter, though.  The scholar who adequately describes the plant in a published journal first is the one who gets to name it, officially.  This has lead to much splitting of hairs for people interested in officially naming plants, or otherwise obtaining a relevant subject for a doctoral thesis.  What most people would say is certainly the same species, the taxonomist often separates based on some trivial detail.  Some details require a dissection microscope to adequately discern.  Ultimately, there is only one precise flower design that is officially a rose.  Variation does exist within a species, though.  The question is, how much variation can a rose have before it is no longer a rose?

 More troublesome is the matter of other flowers being called by the same name.  They might even smell as sweet, yet not be a rose.  A daisy by any other name, even “rose,” does not smell as sweet as a rose.  Let’s say roses became scarce.  Terminology becomes regional.  One person’s rose is not nearly the same as another person’s rose.  Two people might get into an argument over the definition of the term, and they might turn to an authoritative book on the subject.  The problem with written descriptions of plants is that, no matter how descriptive they are, they still might accurately describe some other plant by accident.  Likewise, there is also a chance that certain variants that are actually the same species might be excluded from the group based on the description.  So you might have two different people holding two different flowers, reading the same text and equally convinced that it describes their respective flowers.

 For every known species of plant on this earth, there is probably a single pressed specimen in an herbarium somewhere in the world, officially acting as the representative of its species.  We call it the holotype.  There can only be one holotype of a given species, ever.  We might have other examples of it in other places, called isotypes.  If it gets lost or destroyed, then we might obtain a new one, but it would then be called a neotype.  There is only one official example, though.  There is only one holotype, because there is always the possibility that two seemingly identical specimens are actually distinct from each other due to a previously unnoticed detail.

 Comparing plants against a written description might leave room for doubt, but comparing them against an official specimen allows for an unlimited number of direct comparisons, not the least of which is an intuitive visual impression.  Two people holding differing “roses” might compare them against the official rose holotype specimen and determine very quickly which one of them was closer to the truth.

 Naming a rose is relatively easy, though.  It physically exists.  It can be observed directly, and it can be described precisely.  In the event of a dispute, the official specimen can always be dragged out of the space-saver shelves and compared against the imposter.  Naming God is not so easy.  We don’t have him pressed and dried somewhere.  The ideas about him are diverse, even to the point where there seems to be millions of different gods, all given the same title of God.  Originally, though, there was only one religion with a concept of God, and it was relatively unified.  The Israelites had it easy.  They were the first ones to describe God.  Their god was God, and that’s all there was to it.  These days, we’ve got three different major monotheistic religions, each claiming to have its own official definition of God, not counting the pantheistic religions that complicate the matter by calling their amorphous over-soul “God.”  Within each of these major divisions, we have different sects that differ so greatly over the identity of God, that even though they supposedly agree on who he is, they still disagree so greatly on what he’s like that they seem to be followers of different gods.  Within a single sect, even, every single person has a different view of God.  Even two people who describe him in the same way may actually hold different impressions of him.  They may use the same words but hold to different meanings.

 The Jewish world was relatively at ease with these differences of opinion for quite some time.  Time gave rise to much theological drift, despite the fact of their tireless fidelity to scripture.  For a time, they were the only monotheistic religion.  For a time, their differences of opinion could not be resolved, and the matter of his exact identity was moot point.  From one scripture came a variety of different outlooks, and there existed no authority to confirm one and dispute another.

 Then came the Divine Holotype and shattered this blissful ignorance.  He walked the earth as a person.  He said that if we saw him, then we saw God.  Some people looked at him and declared that he did not match their preconceived idea of God.  They unwittingly declared themselves the followers of some other god.  Some people looked at him and saw a close enough match to their own ideas that they declared that he was, in fact, the Son of God.  Both groups, for and against, originally conceived of their ideas from the same source.  They both came from the same culture and the same religion.  For whatever reason, different people within the same religion and even the same region worshipped very different gods, yet they all called their different gods by the same name.  Each believed that his god was the God, and each believed that when others mentioned God, that they were both talking about the same thing.  Christ was crushed and his memory was preserved for all time, like a definitive rose.  Some people hold their flower, their concept of God, up to him and they say that Christ is not the Son of God.  In truth, what they’re really saying is that their god is not God, though he may be called by the same name.  Some people hold their image of God up to Christ, and they see enough similarity between the two that they declare them to be the same thing.  In effect, they have confirmed that their god is, in fact, God.

 This is the crux of Christianity.  If a Moslem sees Christ and does not accept him as Lord, then he has identified his own god as something different from the holotype.  He worships a monotheistic god, but he does not worship God.  The Jews who accepted Christ came to be known as Christians.  So did the gentiles who accepted him.  Any one of us might be of Jewish ancestry.  Most of us could easily be descendents of Abraham, at the very least.  The Jew of today is the same as the Jew of Christ’s time, except that an additional qualifier has been thrown in.  Judaism has come to be defined as a religion that overtly does not accept Christ.  Israel, the Jewish nation, is definitively un-Christian.  I love Israel, and I’ve never met a Jew that I didn’t like, but I must force myself to admit that when I say “God,” I do not refer to the god of the Jews.  As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it must inherently be true.  We both say “God,” and they even gave us our current understanding of God, but through a strange and ironic twist of fate we have diverged in our paths.  We no longer mean the same thing when we use the term.  The two meanings are close enough to cause confusion, but when we bring out the holotype of Christ, ours matches and theirs does not.  When we say “God,” we can point to Jesus and say, “by ‘God,’ I mean him!”  The confusion clears, and we rectify our miscommunication.

 While it is true that no two Christians have the exact same ideas about God, it is also true that they can agree on the definitive example of God, which makes them close enough to be talking about the same thing.  We can be wrong in our way of thinking about him, and we all probably are to some extent, but we’re close enough to the truth that we’re not talking about two different things.  You may be speaking of a ten-petal domestic rose, and I might be talking about a five-petal wild rose, but we’re both talking about a rose.  We’re not like the person holding a daisy who looks at the pressed holotype rose and says, “That’s not a rose!”

 Oh, yes it is.





One response

21 06 2009

A very fascinating post. I am in complete agreement with you over the muslims for their god is not the God of the bible but of the koran. I had to mull what you said about the Jews. I am not sure I agree that they have a different God — their God is the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, the God of Israel. Always has been. Their eyes have been blinded during the time of the Gentiles and overtly reject Jesus as God in the flesh — but the God as He describes and reveals Himself in the Old Testament has not changed. He is the same and that is whom they worship.

Anyway, very good post and a very enjoyable read.

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