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Blog-o-Brisbane » Reflections
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Blog-o-Brisbane

July 1, 2007

The Heart of Reason

Filed under: Scott's blogging, Reflections — Scott @ 12:20 pm

It continues to amaze me the ignorance of philosophers, ironically despite the coverage of philosophers, to the heart of the philosopher. Yet, where many philosophers may be ignorant, those who pride themselves on being scientific are entirely oblivious to their heart.

The philosopher, so the story goes, is able to distinguish possibilities from impossibilities using logic and reason, and as such deduce what must be true given accepted facts of reality. Science, so this story goes, is able to observe the world around us, and through rationality, deduce explanations and facts about the way our world works. But, to use a pun, at the heart of every explanation is the heart of the explainer.

With the rise of Modernity, the heart was relegated as a hindrance to any sort of rational enquiry. It was to be left aside for the heart is considered to be emotional, and as such a distortion to truth. Many philosophers and scientists believe they can strip their bias and emotions from their rational enquiry, but if this were so, then we would expect “anyone” who follows their reasoning to see the truth. “Ah-huh”, replies the rational one, “you do not understand my logic, for if you did, you would see what I say is true.” It is to such people who place themselves with their thought processes on a pedestal above that of everyone else, who completely miss their own heart. With such a person, one must not even enter into a discussion on any rational topic, for to do so one must be prepared to play their game - only their conclusions are right!

On the other hand, if we are to believe they are right then as William Wainwright asks, “explain why two equally intelligent and informed inquirers can arrive at such different assessments of the same evidence?” (Wainwright, Reason and the Heart, 3) Who are we to choose as right? Obviously there is an extra factor at play. And certainly when it comes to questions of God’s existence, all sides have a passion and invested interest in such questions which attempt to tackle the deepest questions of life and our purpose. Yet, there is no agreement amongst lay people, just as there is no agreement amongst philosophers who dedicate their lives to reasoning about such questions, just as there is no agreement amongst scientists who use logic to deduce how something observed is so and draw conclusions.

Thus, we come to an end. Reason appears to be no better at discovering truth than the heart which guides it. Whoever thinks otherwise has to believe that there is no one else who opposes their thinking who is their equal in knowledge and rational enquiry. With such a person, I believe the title of ignorance is merited. Yet, to those who realise the heart as being a deciding factor in why equally knowledgeable and intelligent people disagree, whether it be on matters of God’s existence or less controversial philosophical beliefs and scientific theories, then how are we to proceed? I see that there are two solution.

  1. The first is one that is adopted by many post-moderns, and that is, no one can be certain of truth.  And thus, all claims to truth should be disregarded. So to the small child who responds to their teacher that 2+2 is 5, the response comes back, “that is a valid response, but not the one I was looking for.” This response is the one I see pushed by education. As we can not be sure of truth, it is politically incorrect to ever claim we have truth. All truth claims should therefore be considered equal, as anything else is just ignorant to the beliefs of others. I see that this “post-modern” influence underpins much of education, and in my opinion, it makes a mockery out of the very foundations of education and what it means. If we are being educated with the opinions of others, regardless of their bearing on reality or truth, then I really do not much care to pay expensive institution fees to hear the mere opinions of others.
  2. Our heart is a beneficial component (whether purposefully designed, or evolved) which assists us in deciphering truth. The heart is not the be-all and end-all, yet when working correctly together, the heart and reason make excellent truth detectors.

Option 2 accounts for the wide divergence of opinions, while not giving into the absurdities of truths meaningless in option 1. What remains is deciphering what “the heart” consists of. Many attribute the heart to desires, emotions, passions yet I here encompass it to mean anything not necessarily based on observations and rational deduction. So the heart for me would include a mother’s intuition who feels unsettles in her stomach when a particular person nears her child. It would this include an illative sense, the act our drawing a conclusion on a particular matter based on experience rather than any real stateable reasoning. For example, the better qualified person to judge whether someone is lying (without any real facts or reasons) would be a person who by experience and long acquaintance with their subject have a right to judge. Is this not how hunches work with investigators? Such hunches then lead the investigator to the pain-staking task of gathering evidence. Yet, I would trust the hunch of an experienced investigator over that of a rookie. For his hunches have been more tried and developed. What this means is that when the heart is used to distinguish what is true, it can be more greatly aligned in one person than in that of another. And so, as John Henry Newman writes: “if we wish ourselves to share in their convictions and the grounds of them, we must follow their convictions and the grounds of them, we must follow their history, and learn as they have learned. We must take up their particular subject… give ourselves to it, depend on practice and experience more than on [formal or explicit] reasoning.”

June 18, 2007

Multiple ways to Spirituality…?

Filed under: Reflections, General — Scott @ 3:03 pm

It is often said by people often considered wise in the eyes of society that there are multiple ways to God. Pluralism (acceptance of all beliefs as equal) is seen as the only stance to be tolerated, and all else is considered religious fundamentalism and ought to be shunned. I see such beliefs often set and encouraged in magazines, the media, and even talk shows. “It is fine to believe in your version of God, but just don’t go saying that yours is the only true belief,” says our pluralistic culture (ignoring the illogical self-reflexive nature of their own comments when applied to their own beliefs).

Yet, I do not wish to dwell on the gripes Pluralists often have against those who dare to believe their religion is actually true. Rather I want to focus upon the belief of Pluralists that all sorts of spirituality leads to “God”, whether you accept the universe is “God”, that we are all “God”, or one of the portrayals of “God” as portrayed in mainstream religions such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam. For example, Oprah appears to support such beliefs, especially if the people she promotes on her show are an indication. Consider “The Secret” she promoted which taps into a universal positive energy, or Russell Simmonn’s “Do You!” (book titled by Oprah herself) who explicitly states all religions lead to “god.” With a platform as big and influential as Oprah to launch from, such beliefs are no doubt going to find root with many people of our day.

Now am I, a Christian, daring or “bigoted” enough (depending on who you talk to) to say the wisdom of such people is wrong and that Christ is the only way? Well, my response may both please and annoy both Pluralists and Christians. For I agree with Christ who taught that he was the only way to God (as recorded in the New Testament), yet I also agree with Pluralists that there are actually multiple ways to “god”. Please be careful not to equivocate what I mean in each case. When Christ says he is the only way, He is meaning it is only through Him that we can come to the Father, God who is a personal being. If you listen to Pluralists who teach there being multiple ways to “god,” they are often using “god” to mean a spiritual force which we can become one with, a force with underlies and unites everything. This is my reason for using a lower-case ‘g’ for they are not really referring to the name of an individual person.

To expound further, I interpreted Simmonn on The Oprah Show as believing this heightened spiritual state is a universal energy that unites us all. He explicitly stated his success is because of his ability to tap into this universal higher spiritual which some call “god”. For Simmonn, yoga provides him with the ability to tap into “god,” yet for others tapping into this spirituality (Rudolf Otto’s “numinous” perhaps) might be accomplished through their own way whether it be through Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, or something else. Thus, what Jesus means by being the only way to God, and what Pluralists such as Simmonn (and I am confident Oprah) believe as being multiple ways to “god” are two entirely different things. To be clear, Jesus is saying He is the only way to God the Father, a personal being and entity; while Pluralists are saying there are multiple ways to reach a higher spirituality where one becomes aware of their oneness with everything.

Yet, more can be said. I have learnt through my theological education, where I was inundated with many differing beliefs and left to swim my way through them, that it is wise not to forego having a knee-jerk reaction to them. Influential beliefs are usually influential because they ring true, and I have found that many beliefs I was initially repulsed by have had elements I would consider to be true upon closer investigation. There is a saying that a lie is best buried between two truths (for a person is more likely to swallow it whole), and so would be the case with an untruth being buried between two truths. I think it is therefore often better to try dissect where truth in a set of beliefs actually lies. This has certainly been a more enriching experience for me personally, and if entering into discussions with others who differ in belief to you, it would no doubt create some common friendly ground with which to work.

Now while Christianity can offer a heightened spiritual experience (which I believe can be similarly attained in other religions as Pluralists would believe), it also offers something more than this. If offers hope in an opportunity to actually be acquainted with the One in whom rationality and spirituality both spring forth; a personal being who is both good and loving, and who is our ultimate Father. This is something quite different to obtaining some spiritual state, and for this, I defer to the wisdom of Jesus who clearly stated that he was the only way to this personal God.

Hell of a time…

Filed under: Reflections, General — Scott @ 2:28 pm

I have been reflecting upon the theological concept of hell. What is the hell? Why does hell exist? If you don’t believe in God, then hell is probably an extremely absurd concept to you. I am not going to try to convince anyone here that a hell does in fact exist, rather I want to simply reason about whether hell is a reasonable concept, what it is, and why it would exist given a Theistic conception of God and the afterlife. I simply desire to provide a logical understanding of “hell” void of Scripture, albeit I believe such an understanding to be consistent with Scripture. So lets first set the stage:

Conceive for a moment that an all-powering being, such as the God conceived of in Christianity and major Theistic religions like Judaism and Islam, created the world that we live in. All the physical laws which govern and structure the universe, the values we see and agree are good and bad, all the galaxies, stars and planets, all of life and everything else within is derived from God.

Now God, rather than wanting the be the focus of the universe, decides to back away a bit. My reasoning being that God does not want the world and everyone within to revolve around Himself (male gender used due to language limitations). For if God is loving and he loves us, love is not self-centred but rather giving. So in his selflessness, he removes Himself from centre stage and instead designs us to be dependant upon relationship with one another, with a desire for us to love and look after each other. Thus, God builds humanity for relationship, creating male and female counterparts where two need to come together in order to procreate and raise a family.

What does this have to do with hell you ask? Well, let us accept for the moment all that I have said in the previous two paragraphs are true. With God in the background, and each of us allowed to live a life in relationship to each other, God can easily be ignored and left in the background if we so desire. This leaves us with two groups of people:

1) Those who acknowledge God’s existence as our Creator, who want to know God, who He is and what He is like, and so seek after Him; and

2) Those who want to leave God in the background while living out their lives, raising a family, making money, owning a nice house, and experience life without ever really caring or being concerned about God even though He created the structure to allow them to live life with the freedom to be who they want to be.

Here we can see two distinct groups. One group acknowledge and care to know God, while the other just want to live their own lives without being bothered by God. Now lets for the moment also accept a common conception of the afterlife, that is, when our physical bodies die we still live on with a spiritual body. When we die and come into contact with God, given that some want to know God while others don’t, God needs to make a decision about what to do with each. What is God to do with the person who is eager and wants to know Him (group 1), or the person who does not care to know or have Him infringe upon their life (group 2)? The decision seems quite straight-forward when put on these terms. With the first group, it makes sense a loving God would take such persons under His wing to participate in a loving relationship with Himself. As for the second, it makes sense God would not impose Himself upon such persons, but rather let them continue living as they desire in a world where He intervenes as little as is possible.

As such, God sets up an alternate world where He needs to impose upon as little as possible to keep it going. This means the structures like the physical laws and matter we find in our own world (which presumably work on God’s sustaining providence) do not exist. The moral fabric built which comes from God’s character which we feel obliged to uphold does not matter. Any restrictions placed on evil in a world such as our physical one to reduce evil are no longer sustained. For example, one positive element to physical death is that it ironically places restrictions upon the evil in our world which can be committed. For an evil dictator’s reign must come to an end at their death, or a person who is being tortured can no longer be physically harmed by evil people once dead. As grim as death can be, peace can be found in death. Yet, without God placing any restrictions upon evil, a way to escape evil, evil can go on and on unrestricted in a world set up where God does not intervene.

It could be said that God gives people of group 2 over to their own desires, by setting them up in such a world where He imposes as little as possible. Hell may not be a place of fire and brimstone with corpses everywhere, but certainly with evil left unchecked and no structures enforced by God, such pictures symbolise what such a place might be like.

The final question is, do we want God in our lives, or don’t we. If God exists, then there is no middle ground. If we don’t, then while God may want to lovingly take us under His wing, he will allow us to have our own way by withdrawing as much as possible from us, and allowing us to live in a world without Him (as much as is possible). I think God will allow people to choose their cake in this life without infringing upon their decision, and will make them eat it in the next.

June 6, 2007

Everything… meaningless?

Filed under: Reflections, General — Scott @ 12:01 am

Meaningless. Everything is meaningless! So we may as well eat, drink and be happy reflects the author of Ecclesiastes. Everything comes, and everything goes. Our days are like a mere breath and fleeting shadow. Anyone who thinks should have considered the question of life, although some choose to ignore it. The practical question to ask is how we each should live in response to it?

I believe there are two general responses, but before getting to them, I want to set the stage better. Why would the fact that we die in the end render our lives meaningless? Certainly it is not clear our lives are meaningless just because they come to an end, and many argue that we can find true meaning in our lives here and now. Yet, this still concedes the point that meaning is attached to our lives, and so when we are no longer alive any meaning there was is also lost.

Hang on. What of our offspring, and the lives we impacted upon for good or bad while alive? Well if we could fast-forward into the future, here is what we can expect: humanity, life, earth, our universe = all dead. The universe is expanding, and as the laws of entropy work, heat and energy become evenly spread out. Stars will continue to collapse, black holes will continue forming and sucking everything in, and tears in the universe will happen more and more. Earth’s own sun can only survive for so long, that is, if Earth even survives that long. In other words, our physical universe is winding down along with everything in it. Now, if the meaningfulness becomes attached to our offspring and those we impacted upon, then when they are no longer around, there is no longer any meaning. In other words, while finite meaning may be found, meaningless will ultimately reign since the end result turns up nothing.

Given this conclusion of ultimate meaninglessness, should we live in despair? I believe many avoid this despair by ignoring the question and trying to bury themselves in the toils of life. The author of Ecclesiastes even acknowledges this as a solution to the absurdity of living, and this person also obviously enjoyed eating, drinking and being happy. However, I believe this inevitably leads to a quite selfish and dog-eat-dog mentality. For if we live our lives to be happy, then our lives are naturally going to become about our own satisfaction and what makes us happy. So practical response #1 is:

1) Live life as we want to. Enjoy it as much as possible. Throw off and tear down everything which attempts to impinge upon our happiness. For example, social, moral, and legal laws are often a hindrance to enjoying life. Good or bad is not as important as satisfying our self and pursuing our own happiness. We should aim to be happy since it is the only life we have. Take advantage of any opportunity that comes our way. Of course, if we can’t obtain happiness, or we just get tired of playing game of life, we might want to invest in a piece of rope, or maybe go out with a bang by taking out our anger and resentment on society which has kept us down and trodden all over us. I have no doubt that the random killing sprees happening in schools and the like, are no doubt caused by an increase in despair at life’s meaningless for those who have not been able to enjoy it.

If all truly will ultimately turn out to be meaningless, then this option is most practical. Yet, will our life story and all of history end in nothing? What if beliefs regarding an afterlife are true? What if the resurrection of humanity that Christ promised is true? What if we are made to be everlasting beings, rather than simply the finite, purely physical beings Modernity believes us to be? Let me provide a second practical response which I am sure will strike many as being the better approach:

2) If we are everlasting creatures, then our actions which impact upon others have lasting meaning. Yes, that person who betrayed us, or who took advantage of us in life to get ahead - their actions have lasting meaning in our lives. And as we are not entirely guiltless either, that person whom we may have betrayed or taken advantage of to get ahead - our actions have lasting meaning in their lives. Our actions are cemented in the past, and such actions shape who we all are and become. They can be, and most likely will be, remembered forever! One might be lucky enough to receive forgiveness for hurt caused to others, and maybe reconciliation will even happen. That is the best that could be hoped for if a negative action has been sown into the life of someone else. Yet, think of the good we can do which can also have a lasting impact if carried out. Those who commit their lives to helping the poor will gain the most positive meaning in life.

To conclude, if we are made to be everlasting, then our impact in the lives of others, and their impact in our own lives, has everlasting meaning. To add a further reflect, we do appear to be designed to be in relationships. Starting from the foundations of family, to friends and others outside, to starting our own family. In answering what is the meaning of life, perhaps it is best answered by looking at each other?

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