Pitfalls of philosophical thinking

When searching for truth, like any other endeavor, you need a good tool. I’ll use an analogy of removing a tree for this. Philosophy is my tool to discover spiritual truth like a chainsaw is my tool for cutting down a tree. Philosophy, like a chainsaw, can be quite dangerous to me if I don’t use it properly. It’s good to understand the dangerous of this tool before jumping up and using it. Why? Becuase if I don’t pay attention to its use, and understand its inherient dangers, I can seriously injure myself. This is not to say that philosophy itself is dangerous any more than a chainsaw sitting on the ground is. It has potential danger, but it requires kinetic energy (me) to interact with it for it to become dangerous.

Say a person who is mentally unstable picks up a chainsaw to cut down a tree. As they go about this task, they begin to mistake their own legs and arms for tree branches, and eventually become seriously injured and are unable to continue, or continue at a very slow pace. Now let’s say the diameter of this tree is the same as that of the earth’s, and the chainsaw constantly breaks down and needs to be resharpened every half hour. This picture precisely describes who I am and what I am trying to do. My mind is broken — I find within myself a nature that masquerades as self-centered and self-preserving, but in reality listening to it leads me down a path of self-destruction, and when given a tool like philosophy at its disposal, my spiritual injuries will range from little small cuts to amputations. There is a kind of kinetic energy inside me that makes the use of philosophy dangerious to my well being.

What are these “small cuts” and “amputations” look like? Let me illustrate. When I use philosophical principles to find and discover truth, what do I do with it? Store it in my head with all the other nice spiritual truths? To be honest, at times I treat spiritual truths like objects in a museum: I put them on display with glass between them and me to look at with awe and impress others with them. How hard they were to get! I had to be the intellectual Indiana Jones to find and retrieve them, and now here they sit, testaments to my towering intellect for me to look at with pride and to share with others. They provide no other value other than eye candy, or more accurately, mind candy. I look at them, think how neat they are, and then walk away unchanged, leaving them in their glass cases.

Something is profoundly wrong here.

To spend all my time searching for truths to use them in this fashion seems very wrong to me. My selfish nature has gotten the better of me and blinded me again. When I wasn’t watching, it took over my good motivations for finding truth, and replaced them with pride — finding truth for no other purpose than to impress people with my intelligence. I place other people’s opinions of me over my need to find and actually apply the truth to my spiritual life. In order to have spiritual worth, I need to impress people — I just cut myself with the chainsaw. This is not the only pitfall of philosophical thinking with my selfish nature unchecked. If I continue to allow it to influence me, here are some other examples of what can happen:

  • Stopping short

    My selfish nature will encourage me to stop when I have arrived at a belief that will selfishly benefit me. Instead of searching further, I will deliberately stop short and declare the belief to be true (even though it is a lie) and investigate no further.

  • You see what you want to see

    My motivation for searching for truth is a farce – I am simply trying to back up with good arguments my self-serving lies. I know they are lies, but I’m really good at deceiving myself.

  • Driven by pride

    My motivation for searching for truth is to make others think I am smart. I remember when I was teaching, I found that I would read the Bible for the purpose of finding really deep things to tell to other people so that they would think of me as an intelligent person. What I found was truth, and it did help people, but my motivations were bad. I am saddened by this memory. I also find that when I am driven by pride, I will veer away from investigations that call into question my character or throw light on my failings, such as studying about how to be a better husband. These don’t help my pride; they remind me that I am very much human and imperfect.

  • Jumping on the bandwagon

    Wrong motivations limit the scope of the truth I am looking for. Knowing my audience, I look deeply into things that will tickle their ears, or, as Socrates would call “pandering.” I’m amazed at the things I and other Christian “intellectuals” like me would love to talk about. If I discovered something new in these areas, they were all ears to me. These subjects usually revolved around Bible codes and eschatology, and I eventually came to call this side of faith “sensational” Christianity, as opposed to “practical” Christianity. It’s fodder for the masses, not at all interested in the boring principles for everyday life or trying to grow closer to God, but in sensational topics with absolutely no spiritual value whatsoever.

  • Limiting the scope of interest

    Wrong motivations cause me to seek out beliefs that are self-serving. I’ll be more inclined to find truth where it best suits me selfishly. I will gravitate towards beliefs that say I should be wealthy, healthy, non-charitable, look out for only myself, and believe that God either doesn’t exist, or is distant, uncaring, unknowable, ignorant, helpless, unconscious, or impersonal like a force, i.e. non-personal, so I can live a life caring about myself and living morally how I want to without regard to Him. I become very smart at rationalizing any selfish behavior I choose. In my opinion, this is the worst use of philosophy and I have a hard time respecting others who abuse it in this fashion. I want most urgently to rid myself of beliefs I have aquired in this way. A self-serving scope for finding truth may still result in finding real truth, but it will lead me away from other truths that are good to find, but are hard to hear because they are a blow to my pride. I will spend less time studying about how to love my wife and more time studying about God’s character because its more fun and less painful.

  • Not analyzing currently held beliefs

    All beliefs must fall under the scrunity of the philosophical process. Believing something just because you always have does not make it more sacred. All beliefs must be examined. Commonly held spiritual beliefs are wrong more often then they are right.

  • “Off Limits” beliefs

    Repeating the statement above, all beliefs must fall under the scrunity of the philosophical process. Believing something just because your pastor, close friends, relatives, denomination, or religious tradition believes it does not make it right and untouchable. Question everything.

  • Reactionary philosophy

    Leaning towards or actually believing (a.k.a self deception) in things that aren’t true, or at least aren’t fully thought out, but doing so because you have an emotionally charged agenda. Finding actual truth is not as important as reacting against something bad. I was told by my religion professor in college that a tool feminists use in the realm of philosophy is to use bad arguements and say outlandish things and upset people just to get attention and to get people thinking. When I became really disgusted with the church after my fallout, I tended to believe things like “All churchs are self-centered money-making clubs run by people motivited by pride and a desire to hold power over people’s spiritual lives…” My failing in this catagory can be summed up with “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” or “guilt by association” in terms of spiritual concepts and ideas. When I was younger, I would often believe and say extreme things just because I got a good reaction and it was an emotional issue for me. For example, I would tell people I would not go swimming in a pool if someone put an eye-drop size amount of an alcoholic beverage in because I was just that much against drinking.

Using philosophy for selfish or self-destructive ends to promote lies is obviously hurtful to your own spiritual life and the life of others, but what’s wrong with bad motivations as long as they lead to finding real truth? People aren’t stupid. When they see a pastor / teacher / writer exhibiting these signs, they know the true motivations behind everything they say — pride, power, influence, laziness, selfishness, hurt, or anger — not for a desire to find truth to help people or themselves. They will disregard what you say, even though it is true. For the truth seeker, if you are not motivated by finding truth to improve your own life, you have just wasted your time because those truths you found are useless — a mental exercise and nothing more. Just more people playing religion again or too entangled in their emotions. I spoke to a friend and passionate atheist who told me that these were the motivators behind all men and women in religious careers – and they disgusted him — it is why he quit his training as a pastor and dropped Christianity altogether. I told him I didn’t blame him, I would have too. I then told him that I wasn’t any better. I couldn’t even tell him what percentage of my motivations were good vs. bad, I just didn’t know. I woke up that day to a new truth about myself.

Lately I’m am a bit more careful in my study — Through the last 18 years of my life, I have failed in every catagory I have listed above hundreds of times or more. I have learned the hard way its pitfalls in my journey for truth with my selfish nature as a constant companion. I also am aware that others like me suffer from the same pitfalls, so I have become much more accepting of people who think differently than I. For they have the same companion as I do dogging them at every step. This is a journey where for every two steps forward you take, you take one step back.

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