When it comes to difficulties and tragedy in life, a question has always been on my mind: why does God not reveal apparently important things to us, especially things regarding terrible experiences that have the potential to emotionally ruin us? Why does God remain silent as to its meaning or ultimate purpose in our lives—people whom he has a loving relationship with? Didn’t he himself suffer on Earth with clear purpose? Shouldn’t we likewise be knowledgeable of the reasons behind our portion?
The study or art of logically finding and applying spiritual truth. Not to be confused with religion, which is a combination of rituals and unquestioned dogma for the appeasement of deities.
I was just doing my daily reading this morning, and I came across some interesting quotes that really got me thinking:
“Get truth and don’t ever sell it.” ~ Proverbs 23:23
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: …the feeling that everyone is wrong except for those in your own little group…” ~ Galatians 5:19-21.
These are two passages point out dangers that the person who is searching for truth will inevitably encounter. Since truth is what this website is all about, and the people who come here to read stuff care about it, I thought it would be a good idea to write about these dangers.
Years ago, I worked with a charismatic and very gifted co-worker named Craig.
Craig was an amazing man. I only knew him a couple of years before he retired, but I wish I could have known him better. He and most of the other men his age that I worked with were an inspiration to me. Either they came from a better generation than I, or they were just more mature, but they had a depth my generation seem to lack. I didn’t stand above the flaws either: my most pressing concerns back then was my lacking romantic life, a stupid and self-centered angst.
But back to Craig. In many of my interactions with him and the legends that my other co-workers would tell, Craig’s life was a striking series of missed opportunities. In an interview with another company before he came to Xerox, he was asked to design a solution to an engineering problem on the spot. He did so, but never got the job. However his idea was so good that his interviewees took it and patented it, and it has been integrated into successful products ever since. Craig at times would find any reason to pull out his wallet for others to see and flip through the bills. He would watch closely for your reaction when he flipped past the thousand dollar bill among the twenties. It was all in good fun, but I couldn’t help but notice that there was a tinge of sadness – as if he and everyone else were wondering: why didn’t this guy make it big?
Note to atheists: this post may look like I’m pointing a critical finger exclusively at you, but I’m not! This isn’t a happy or easy topic for me. After reading this (if you choose to) please believe me that I, like all humanity suffer from the same problems that free will makes us susceptible to. If I end up offending you, please forgive me! I’m not perfect and I don’t have the ability to write about this sensitive subject very well. Please know I have a great respect for you and that I do not know the whole story for why you believe the way you do. I borrowed the cute warning sticker off of alistapart.com, and will use it when the posts I write have potential to annoy or offend people. BTW, this is NOT reverse psychology trick. It means to get ready to be offended (possibly).
I have talked in earlier posts about the concept of man’s free will in a worldview of an all-powerful God. It’s a nice thing – it makes us different than robots and all that. We have the freedom to choose what to do with the time we have – to live a spiritual life or to live a selfish one. What has haunted me for the last 5 weeks has been this – that free will, as rosy as it seems on the surface, has a terrible side-effect.
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Johnny had a great post over at TheFireSermon regarding how we should approach the big philosophical questions. In a book he sites, there are two general kinds of approaches, both relating to a person’s temperament: tender minded and tough minded.
Those who are tender minded are, Intellectualistic, Idealistic, Optimistic, Religious, Free-Willist, Monistic, Dogmatical. The tough minded are, Sensationalistic, Materialistic, Pessimistic, Irreligious, Fatalistic, Pluralistic, Skeptical.
To me this is a great direction, and my interest would be to further break down the sources of a person’s temperament. Where does it come from? How is it formed? Read the rest of this entry »
To paraphrase Bill Cosby in “Bill Cosby as Himself”:
“Intellectuals are people who study and read books about what other people do naturally”
How funny. I notice that my wife never thinks about religious/philosophical things very deeply, and definitely doesn’t loose sleep over them, but I usually loose 2-3 hours a night (after I hit the sack at midnight) thinking deeply about something. Regardless, she has influenced many people in positive ways in her workplace, in our community, and at church much, much more than I have. I’m not saying that my wife is a dumb person by any means – she’s incredibly intelligent, but she just doesn’t contemplate theology and philosophy to all hours of the night like I do.
I finally got around to doing some diagrams about how I see my inner self (the spiritual person) and its different parts. I have written extensively about this in previous posts, but since I am a designer more than I am a philosopher or psychologist (I studied all three in college), I wanted to draw it out in a diagram. So the inner self, in its most basic form, seems to be composed of 3 elements – my heart (the real me) and my two influences, my self-destructive nature (selfish nature) and my conscience (my self-preserving nature). Below shows a diagram of each.This is a study that is very important to me, and is one of the main reasons why I started the weblog (among others). For my working theory is if I can understand the inner self (starting with me as the primary subject), its components and their makeup and interactions, I will better understand the reality of further circles of influences (personal relationships -> community -> society -> time period -> existence) But it all starts with how a single person works, on the inside. Below is the diagram that represents basically the entirety of all the philosophy, psychology, and spiritual reading and thinking I’ve done on the spiritual human being in the past 20 years.
At first glance, you might see this and immediately think of the iconic demon and angel sitting on a person’s shoulder whispering in their ear, but bear with me! There’s a lot more to this diagram and the thinking that goes behind it.
Note: I originally posted this on John Remy’s website as a comment on a post with a similar subject at mindonfire.com by another great author – Miko, but decided to post it here as well because I’ve been too sick lately to write much. So I’m being lazy (or just practical since I’m recovering from surgery) and consolidating. When it comes to my priorities, it’s more important to me to post comments on other people’s sites then it is for me to write posts on this one. If you’ve read my comment there, don’t bother to read it here. The text is exactly the same with no extra goodies
Anyway, the about the hero…
This has always been a phenomena that has fascinated and inspired me. Within literature, motion picture, gaming, and song, there has always existed the hero – the person who fights for the cause of good in the titanic and ever-present battle between good and evil. It seems to me that within each man or woman, their exists a dark, broken nature which powerfully influences them. If given too much free reign, its influence can become so great that even a person’s conscience and the warnings of friends can be ignored and cut off. This same struggle is found in the macrocosm of the mind – human society (hat tip to Socrates.) And so the hero fights on two fronts – against his own broken nature, and against the people and movements in their society that have come under the near complete control of the same brokenness and have become twisted at a spiritual level into something inhuman.
Asara asked me a good question about science fiction and spiritual phenomena in a previous post, and it actually made me think about another topic – In all of my readings, the world views presented in SF rarely allow for the existence of the spiritual, with the exception of Stephen Lawhead and C.S. Lewis (neither are well known for their SF work). In my experience, mixing in a spiritual world with the prevalent SF atheist world view makes for a strange and interesting story, which is in some ways uncomfortable but in other ways is exciting and mind-bending. Mind bending is a good way to describe it because reading them caused me to have to corrode that “invisible divide” in my brain between science and spirituality that Sam Harris talks about in The End of Faith. Has anyone read any good science fiction that crosses these boundaries? What has been your experience reading them? Is anyone else very sensitive, like I am, to world views in fantasy and science fiction, especially when it conflicts with your world view?
Once new knowledge and spiritual truth get into our heads, however it is that it happens, reason is now available to do its work. Even though reason works well within both the spiritual and physical dimensions in the confines of the same wordview and knowledge set, I believe it cannot work well across different knowledge sets and worldviews. Reason is inexplicably tied to it’s bearer’s presuppositions and set of knowledge – removed from them it has no context and therefore no effectiveness, like a hammer without a person.
It seems that for people of differing worldviews to criticize each others beliefs using reason, they are jumping the gun. They must instead start by examining each other’s worldviews that reasonably lead to their beliefs before progressing to the beliefs themselves. Both parties are to a lesser or greater degree reasonable according to their presuppositional framework, so the frameworks are the only things that people of opposing worldview can argue about. For reason to work across frameworks, the parts of the frameworks that are agreed upon must be the knowledge that it works off of. In the case of the deist and the atheist, the common denominator would be a belief that the existence of empirical evidence is required for something to be true.
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How do I find empirical evidence for spiritual truth? I believe we can take our lead from the philosophy of science – the formulation and testing of a hypothesis through repeated, environmently controlled, evidence. Whatever worldview you might have, either you believe in God, no God, or aliens from a higher dimension, you need empirical, and at best repeatable, evidence that something is true and real. Take an example from daily life: it doesn’t matter what your worldview is, if someone runs in to tell you your car has been stolen, you’ll check it out for yourself (empirical evidence) before you believe it. Sometimes you have to do a double or triple take at your empty parking spot, stand in the empty space and let it sink in slowly, but the whole time, you are trying to get all the evidence you can before jumping to a conclusion.
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He [John] turned to Reason and spoke.
“Tell me, good lady. Is there such a place as the Island in the West, or is it only a feeling in my own mind?”
“I cannot tell you,” said she, “because you do not know.”
“But you know.”
“But I can tell you only what you know. I can bring things out of the dark part of your mind into the light part of it. But now you ask me what is not even in the dark part of your mind.”
“Even if it were only a feeling in my mind, would it be a bad feeling?”
“I have nothing to tell you of good or bad.”
Most people with a background in western spirituality will have read, or at least have heard, of the book by John Bunyan called The Pilgrim’s Progress. But in the 20th century, a similar but no less great book came out called The Pilgrim’s Regress. It is an allegorical story of a man named John whose spiritual journey that started with him having faith as child soon turns to doubt and then to rejection of his faith. Most of the story is about what he encountered on his journey to understand life afterwards.
There is a good chance that most of us will grow up in a household where one or both of our parents are religious to some degree, or at least the sub-culture we find ourselves in is religious, and we just kind of adopt it as best we can and believe it to be true. However, those of us who are prone to thinking sooner or later must come to grips with the reality of this thing called religion. We must either adopt it as true with our new independent minds or throw it out and start on our own spiritual journey to find the truth. The author, C.S. Lewis, took the latter road, and so did the protagonist. This book is an autobiography of his spiritual journey – a journey from childhood religion to atheism to the real spiritual life.
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I was just reading a though-provoking post over at my favorite spiritual blog mindonfire.com. It was about being moved spiritually, out of nowhere, by a familiar song. John talked about this experience and then asked the readers what they would do with it. Having a similar experience, I tried to explain what I thought was going on and gave an example of this happening in my life, but forgot to answer the question. The gist of what my guess was going on is that music is a vehicle for spiritual truth combined with myth gleaned from both the melody and the lyrics, and we are sometimes moved spiritually by the messages in it. (You can read my comment for more details)
What I began to think about was the benefits of this mode of communication. I believe that this is the divine speaking to us, not unlike Jesus did when speaking in parables. The one obvious benefit is complex spiritual truth understood instantly. This is a great benefit, but I believe there is a second and no less important benefit.
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I was reading the Symposium (Plato) and I came across the speech by Socrates which has come to be known as “The Ascent.” I was absolutely astounded by his insight. I read a similar description of this concept long ago by another author I greatly admire — C.S. Lewis, who was talking about the same subject – love. The idea is that all objects of our affection, whether they are people, places, things, causes, etc. are all pointers to greater objects. Once experienced, they appear to be not as wonderful as you thought them to be — their reality comes crashing down upon you and it is no longer so beautiful a thing as you once imagined before you had it. Read the rest of this entry »
As I mentioned earlier in my previous post, the active study of the spritual life in a philosophic manner has many traps and dangers. So what am I to do?
Many of my friends who I admire greatly see this failing in people like myself and simply veer towards anti-intellectualism in spiritual matters. They don’t respect the scholarly community, and mainly get their input of spiritual truth from pastors. Adopt a simple faith they say. Just believe what the pastor says to believe. I understand their reasoning – people who doubt, question things, or think deeply about spiritual issues can often have less then perfect motivations that will lead them into spiritual danger, but I’ve been given a brain to think with, so I’m going to use it. I’m keenly aware of the dangers (see my last post). Willful ignorance does nothing to improve my life. Why turn the direction of my spiritual life over to others to control? Of all things in life, should this not be entirely my responsibility?
The answer may reside in my understanding of the purpose of philosophy. Here are some thoughts on that subject, some from Epictetus, some from James, and some from myself. Note: beware of that last group… Read the rest of this entry »
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.