In August 2020, James Lindsay sarcastically tweeted: “2+2=4: A perspective in white, Western mathematics that marginalizes other possible values.” Woke activists responded by saying that, actually, 2+2=5, citing all sorts of flawed examples. (Lindsay has gone on to explain that 2+2 never equals 5.)
Such numerical absurdities have a long history. They may even have theological roots. Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. Legend has it that, one day, St Augustine was walking on a beach when he found a child digging a hole in the sand and trying to scoop all the water of the ocean into the hole. Augustine told him that this was impossible, and the child replied that it was less difficult than understanding the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The child had a point.
You could try to explain the Trinity as three gods who form a triad. This is how Hinduism understands the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Mathematically, it makes sense: the Trimurti is made up of three gods, so 1+1+1=3. But Christianity aspires to be a monotheistic religion, so the Church Fathers could never accept that there were three gods.
So perhaps each member of the Trinity is a fraction and, together, they form one god. You could try to explain the Trinity as St Patrick allegedly did, by using the Irish shamrock: God is like a flower and each petal is a constituent part: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Mathematically, St Patrick’s solution also makes sense: 1/3+1/3+1/3=1. The Father is one third of a god, as are the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But this is heresy. Strangely, St Patrick was never declared a heretic, but other authors who even dared to consider any of the three persons as not fully God, were anathematized by church councils. Arius believed that the Son was somehow inferior to the Father, as there was a time when the Son did not exist. The implication was that the Son was not fully a god (less than 1, in numerical terms). Arius was excommunicated by the Council of Nicaea in 325.
Another possible solution might be that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just modes that God assumes at different times. According to this, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all identical to God, and, by implication, identical to each other, like an actor switching between different masks. Mathematically, this also makes sense. Suppose God is A, the Father is B and the Son is C: if the Father is God, and the Son is God, then the Father and the Son are also identical, as the law of transitivity dictates: if A=B and B=C, then A=C. But again, this is heretical. Sabellius defended such a doctrine and was excommunicated as a heretic in 220. His doctrine was labeled the modalist heresy.
So what is the official Christian doctrine? One common definition has been provided by theologian Wayne Grudem: “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” This is a mathematical absurdity. Each person is fully God, yet the total of those three persons is also one god, thus 1+1+1=1.
Furthermore, as the Trinity shield (Scutum Fidei) depicts, the Father is identical to God and the Son is identical to God, but the Father is not identical to the Son. Again, this is mathematically absurd: A=B; B=C; but A≠C, thus violating the law of transitivity.
The Church was embroiled in controversies over the Trinity in the fourth century, until they were settled by the absurd conclusion that 1+1+1=1. But the fifth century witnessed a new round of controversies that, once again, led the Church to embrace numerical absurdities.
Nestorius believed that Mary should not be called Theotokos (the bearer of God), because the Christ that walked the Earth was not divine. Nestorius’ opponents accused him of teaching that Christ was an entity made up of two persons: one divine, the other human. If this had been Nestorius’ position (we now know that it was not), it would have made mathematical sense. If Christ is both human and divine, then he is 50% human and 50% divine—but if Christ is 100% human and 100% divine, then Christ cannot be one person, but two. Thus, the doctrine attributed to Nestorius can be expressed as 1+1=2.
Again, these mathematically sound doctrines were declared heretical, and at the council of Ephesus in 431, Nestorius was excommunicated, and Christ was affirmed to be one person, both human and divine. The dispute did not end there. Some years later, an archimandrite by the name of Eutyches taught that Christ’s divine and human natures were fused into one single nature. By fusing both natures, Christ becomes a combination of the two, thus ceasing to be either completely human or completely divine. Mathematically, this doctrine could be expressed as 0.5+0.5=1, a perfectly reasonable formula.
Eutyches’ doctrine was declared orthodox at the second council of Ephesus in 449. But that council was eventually declared latrocinium (a robber council), and a new council was summoned in Chalcedon in 451. Eutyches’ doctrine was anathematized, and the (now orthodox) Chalcedonian creed was defined as follows: “[Christ is] acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis.” This confusing and contradictory definition basically amounts to saying that Christ is 100% divine and 100% human at the same time, yet remains one. 1+1=1.
Contemporary theologians embrace similar absurdities. In The Gospel According to Heretics, for example, David E. Wilhite enthuses about the Chalcedonian definition: “Terrible math? Maybe, but it is terrific theology! How can we understand God becoming human? We cannot.” This is regrettable. Any discourse that uses “terrible math” cannot be described as “terrific.” It is simply absurd.
James Lindsay, among others, has noted the religious aspects of woke ideology, from its liturgy to its metaphysical assumptions. The irrational embrace of numerical absurdities is another point of convergence between religion and woke ideology. Ultimately, both theologians and social justice warriors hate the Enlightenment, because Enlightenment philosophy relies on universal values and common sense. 2+2=4 holds true at all times, everywhere. The Church Fathers wanted their flock to believe that somehow 1+1+1≠3, and threatened with hellfire those who dared state the obvious. Today, new versions of the obscurantist councils of Nicaea, Ephesus and Chalcedon are reenacted on Twitter, where the woke mob threatens to excommunicate from holy leftist approval anyone who states the obvious, even something as elemental as 2+2=4.