What kind of mind do you have?

I was surprised recently when my friend parroted back to me something I had told him about the mind.  This concept helped him understand how his own mind worked better.  It’s an idea from one of my favorite philosophers, Blaise Pascal. He says that some people are intuitive reasoners and others are mathematical reasoners. Intuitive reasoners often know things by sheer insight.  Mathematical reasoners reason from principles. Intuitors are more poetic. Mathematicians are more linear. It’s essentially the difference between poets and scientists.

What’s interesting is that intuitors often cannot understand mathematicians and vice-versa. The intuitors leap to ethical conclusions, for example, without thinking through many of their conclusions. Mathematicians need to see the steps of how we got there.  The refusal to see things from the other point of view often causes us to miss common ground. Perhaps an intuitor has gotten to the same place that the reasoner did only by different means. For example, perhaps one person believes abortion is wrong by intuitive means and another has gotten there by reasoning from the full humanity and independent DNA of those in utero.

One way for us to overcome this divide is for the mathematical people to read literature and poetry and the poetic people to read up on philosophy, logic, and science. But barring that, let’s at least remember that conclusions can be reached by different means. Then we begin to learn to appreciate the gifts of those who are wired differently than us. It occurs to me that some of the greatest minds in history, such as Plato, Aristotle, Einstein, and C.S. Lewis have been gifted with both ways of seeing the world. Appreciating both can open the way to astounding new discoveries, overcoming life-challenges, and even defeating some of humanity’s most difficult problems.

 

What would I want to tell those I care about?

I just finished Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life.  I found it extremely insightful, provoking, even inspirational.  He ended the book by writing his thoughts on various problems and people in his life.  One of the overarching principles of the book is to tell the truth or at least don’t lie.  I began thinking about what I wanted to say to many people whom I care deeply about (including myself).  A lot of times we don’t tell people what we need to because perhaps we are afraid it will offend them.  So without further ado, I present to you a little truth-telling, things that I think it’s important for those I care about to know.

Truth

Truth is utterly important; you need to investigate truth in every area of life. Truth cannot just be felt but must be investigated.  This is because 90% truth can be mixed with 10% lie which will lead to building your house on sand.  Many people, instead of seeking truth, seek acceptance from peers.  This is a major trap.

Forgive your Parents

Forgive your father and mother for their faults.  That forgiveness will bring healing to your soul just as it will towards their souls.  Your parents are always your parents, no matter how much they fail.  Not forgiving them will scar your own life more than pay them back for whatever they may have done to you.  Forgiveness does not mean letting someone hurt you repeatedly, having no boundaries, or being naive.  It means not paying that person back for their sins, letting go of your need for that.  Don’t let anyone or anything poison your relationship with your family.

Uncomfortable Relationships

Move towards uncomfortable relationships, even with people that you might not normally befriend. So many of us live in relational enclaves, echo chambers, surrounding ourselves with only those people who never challenge us to think or live differently.  Granted, we can’t be very deep friends with people we have nothing in common with, but there are people who hold different viewpoints than us who still have a lot in common with us.

Friendships

Know who your real friends are. Many people who you think are your friends are really not.  The moment your attractiveness fades and trouble rears its head in your life, many of these people will abandon ship. Figure out who the real friends are and spend time with them.

Anxiety of Others

Don’t let other people’s anxiety and controlling tendencies get to you.  You don’t have to take that on or try to fix them.  Don’t let others’ anxiety smother you.  Make sure to make room for some self-care, solitude, and other disciplines that bring you nearer to God and yourself when around them.  

Marriage

Continue to strive to work on yourself and your marriage.  Don’t give into the lie that marriage can be easy as pie.  It’s a sacrificial endeavor where we have to die to ourselves, but that brings new life.  Marriage is for others, not just yourself.  Hold your spouse accountable while still finding your true life and value in God.  Communicate clearly and apologize when you blow it.

Investigate Jesus

Investigate Jesus more.  He’s more than a spiritual teacher.  He’s more than one guide among many.  He is THE guide whom all the other guides, when they were speaking rightly, were ultimately pointing to.  He is the the TRUE life, the way, the truth, the resurrection, the living water.  He doesn’t exclude you or others but always lovingly invites you to come to him.  And don’t you think it’s peculiar that there is so much evidence for his life, death, and even resurrection?  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then it’s time to investigate.

Find your Life

Seek to find your life in God.  Many of us say we believe in God, Christianity and so on, but we don’t have much of an actual relationship with God.  When you begin to truly experience his love, that will begin to transform you into an increasingly loving person, the person you know you were made to be.

Life in God isn’t formulaic

Don’t get too hung up on some kind of formula in your relationship with God.  Prayer, and Scripture reading are key, but there is also meditation on Scripture, listening for his voice, solitude, silence and being out in nature.  Eric Liddell, the Scottish Olympian and missionary, used to feel God’s pleasure when he was running.  I feel it when I do jiu-jitsu, when I get to speak, or when I write.  Maybe you feel it when you are engaging in something you were called to do.

Work on yourself before society

Work on yourself before you work on society.  I haven’t always been the best example of this.  But how are we going to change others if we ourselves are not a good example?  We can’t go out there on a crusade to change everything in society unless we are living out a better version of what it is we critique.

Narrow your focus

Narrow your focus.  If you are interested in lots of stuff, being excellent demands that you hone in and focus on a few of those areas.  Personally, I’ve struggled with this.  It takes self-knowledge to figure out what we should focus on.  Every choice to cultivate one thing means not doing other things.  Be willing to make a choice and go for it, even when that closes you off to other possibilities.  Further, God will be with you and use you in any number of areas, not just “religious” vocations.

Trust, don’t freak out

Remember to trust the Lord, especially if you are an anxious person.  God is probably putting you in places that show you clearly that you have less control than you thought.  That’s ok.  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge him and he will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Now to practice what I preach.  Shalom.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

 

 

Blaise Pascal’s three ways to know truth from bullshit

Tradition, reason, and experience.  Whether we know it or not, these three ways lead us to our creeds.  Some believe out of tradition, simply following what their ancestors taught.  Others believe because of reason, investigating arguments that lead them to rational conclusions.  Others believe out of existential experience, finding more poetic and inspirational ways to knowledge.  Whether one’s position is secular or religious, these three ways guide our footsteps.

Many of us are skeptical of tradition.  We recognize that tradition is not always a safe method of finding the truth.  But we ought not be overconfident about that.  G.K. Chesterton once called tradition the “democracy of the dead.”  It ought to have some staying power because it represents the votes of our forebears.  For this reason, I’m unwilling to throw out all tradition.  In fact, we need tradition, and if we don’t follow our family’s tradition we will simply look for some other tradition to link up with.  Many traditions in our modern milieu can look utterly non-religious.  They may take the form of a club, a sport, a philosophy, let alone a religion. Traditions usually have some form of repetitive rituals that give meaning to a community.  Traditions also may include Scripture, the notion that a higher order of intelligence, such as God or the gods, has revealed certain things to be true. Scripture has advantages if true because it allows humans to access something beyond the normal realm of human investigation.  At the same time, it seems to me that any claim of Scripture should be open to verification or falsification. In our secular culture, we often experience the cross-pressures of many different traditions. There may be political, religious, and social traditions, pulling us in different directions.  Tradition provides a pattern of life we can conform to that may have more wisdom than anything we can come up with on our own.

Reason has been trumpeted by the new atheists as the ultimate arbiter of truth.  I actually, though not an atheist, partially agree with them on this statement. Without reason, belief claims appear vapid and void of all substance. Just like in Orwell’s novel 1984, 2+2 could then equal five.  Yet there is still a problem with a naive faith in reason; if our character is distorted, that will influence how we interpret the facts and evidence.  Since people are so easily swayed by emotions, traditions, pop-culture, moral practices, and personal psychology, these will affect our reasoning processes.  In other words, reason will always be limited by the character of the reasoner.  At the same time, the tradition and existential experience have no basis without reason.  We must be have strong evidence to support our beliefs.

Existential experience is a powerful pull for people today. Many, if not most in Western culture, are what sociologists have termed “expressive individualists.” Philosopher James Smith defines this as the tendency to see life as something that we each individually need to realize for ourselves. We believe that we are called to express that way of life rather than conform it to models given to us or imposed by others. The goal of life is therefore authenticity rather than living out a tradition or a reasonable point of view. A quick glance at our fascination with actors and musicians will verify our commitment to the expressive way of life. Many also look to the pragmatic to determine truth, to what works versus what doesn’t work.  The expressive individualists have a point in all this. We ought to seek know ourselves, and this is an intensely personal and individual quest. But at what cost do we express ourselves when the facts and external reality are at odds with us? This is where tradition and reason can help sort out our true-selves from our muddled false-selves. Harry Frankfurt points out in his masterful book, On Bullshit, that it is impossible to be authentic unless there is a truth about ourselves that we can be authentic about. And generally speaking, reason and tradition help experience find that truth.

The philosopher and inventor Blaise Pascal once pointed out that every religion has tradition and experience. But no religion but Christianity has reason. That’s a very strong claim. And Pascal’s statement applies not just to religions but also non-religious views of the world. Now, I can’t begin to defend this claim as a whole in this article.  That would take an entire book.  But let’s look at the claim briefly. Did you realize that we have very little historical access to most religious claims? Most religions are set so far into the past that historians cannot access them, and most do not depend on historical facts being true anyways. The great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do have much overlap with history, however. This adds a huge evidential component. The claims can be investigated.  Along with history, we also have to ask whether a religion or a philosophy is coherent or not. Without naming names, I’ll just put out there that many religions and philosophies, while containing beauty and even promoting goodness, are incoherent. They make claims that are self-refuting or logic denying.  Pascal claims that only Christianity can truly pass the test of reason. The only way to find out if that’s true would be to investigate it for yourself.  Maybe you’ll come up with different conclusions.

In the pursuit of truth, tradition, reason, and experience each play a crucial role.  Might it be that some have only used one or two of these means of discovery when all three can shed light on the truth? Truth ultimately is the most beautiful thing we can find, even when it may bring pain and loss.  Discovering truth is much like what St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians.  “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).  If that or something much like that is true, who wouldn’t want to know it?

 

Mexico elects Marxist President, what does it mean for America? — WINTERY KNIGHT

Wintery Knight is always savvy; he is quite right in this case.  Socialism, far from being progressive, is a regressive and illiberal course of action which will only lead to more problems for our neighbors.  Rather than casting stones, let’s get our own house in order.

Mexico has held an election, and they decided to elect someone with the policies of Hugo Chavez (Venezuela). His name is Andrés Manuel López Obrador. What does it mean for America? It means we need to build a wall on our Southern border, and quickly, too. There were a couple of great articles about the […]

via Mexico elects Marxist President, what does it mean for America? — WINTERY KNIGHT

These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for: Social Justice Warrior Robots in Solo and Bladerunner

After watching the recent movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story, one thing struck me above the rest: the social justice warrior robot.  After reflection, I realized that there is a long history of the justice warrior robot/android in films and books.

Early on in the movie, we see L3-37, Lando’s robot, attempting to free other robots from some kind of cage fighting situation while humans look on.  Just like our modern day SJW’s, this robot is in-your-face, combative, and has little room for any argument or nuance.

Just like our modern day SJW’s, this robot is in-your-face, combative, and has little room for any argument or nuance.

This character brings us back to Star Wars episode IV where the bartender in Mos Eisley says of Droids, “We don’t serve their kind here.”  This is a clear reference to the discrimination that happened under Jim Crow laws in the south.  Throughout the rest of the franchise, droids are depicted as servants, even slaves; 3PO and R2D2 even refer to their human owners as “master.”

L3-37 has a strong reaction against the notion of droids as slaves.  She also entertains the idea that that droids could somehow have a human mate despite her construction which lacked any semblance of flesh and blood.  At the end of the movie, L3 tragically dies in an attempt to free all kinds of creatures from a slave-colony.

Another notable set of social justice warrior robots appear in the world of Bladerunner, a franchise loosely based on the sci-fi novels of Philip K. Dick, peace be upon him.  Dick was a prophet of sorts in the sci-fi world, seldom to be surpassed by any contemporary sci-fi writers.  We see androids rebelling against social degradation in the novels and movies, attempting to strike back and seek their own freedom.  But there is subtle twist in Dick’s world. The question arises about whether androids really are human-like enough to be considered people with equal rights (this is more true of the book than the movies).  Since they cannot feel as humans feel, they are actually far more dangerous, able to kill others at the drop of a hat. Androids are then a kind of pseudo-human in Dick’s world, a tragic, Frankensteinian mix of human qualities and robot.

Androids are then a kind of pseudo-human in Dick’s world, a tragic, Frankensteinian mix of human qualities and robot.

The issue lurking in the background to much of this social justice the issue of human rights.  How exactly is a human being constituted.  Our liberal democracies today recognize racial minorities, women, and sexual minorities as in need of the same protection under law as anyone else. Back when Star Wars made the comparison between robots and race in the 70’s, it made a lot of sense.  George Lucas’s robots appear to be able to feel emotions and act as if they had free will, unlike Philip Dick’s deranged and tragic bots.  Dick, I think, was writing not about race and gender etc…but about the ethical status of artificial intelligence in the future. For Dick, it’s a literal question of robotic rights. But Star Wars is fond of using robots as a metaphor for the status of minorities, pointing to the way of equality. With that said, Dick’s stories have an application; we ought to consider the facts of every claim about the need for equality, weighing that on the scale of reason. Otherwise our policy actions will be haphazard, reactionary, and haywire.

With out social justice warrior movement today, there are some troubling aspects, such as calling people Nazis who are clearly not Nazis, picketing and shouting down any speakers who challenge their worldview, and outright advocating of things like socialism or communism as the way forward.  What is it that drives the social justice warrior mindset today?  Philosopher Harry Frankfurt puts his finger on it in his fascinating book, On Inequality; he says people often fear “the unbearably deep suffering and dread that may be caused when people are treated unjustly.” Further, he suggests they feel that “their personal reality is threatened by a denial of the importance that is required by respect.” To understand these feelings, one need only watch a movie like Imitation Game, about the scientist Alan Turing.  The brilliant man is forced to take drugs by the government to reverse his homosexual orientation, to a soul-deadening effect. This kind of dread drives many people to action, striving for equality. But, as I said, pursuits of justice ought also to be based on facts as Solo illustrates.

In the movie, E3 quips that she could have a romantic relationship with Lando, her counterpart.  Yet one wonders if the curious lack of flesh and blood on the robot might get in the way a bit. The strange thing is that the makers of Solo apparently failed to see the stark absurdity of this statement. This recalls the movie Her where Joaquin Phoenix plays a man in the future who has a romantic relationship with a sentient artificially intelligent program.  In one scene, the AI program brings a woman to make love to the protagonist as a proxy, so that she can see through her eyes and experience something like that reality. The absurdity of this scene is part of the comedy of the movie. I’m not sure if the movie makers at Disney would get the joke about the robot copulating with a human. So at what point does a pursuit of equality get qualified by the facts? If a robot literally has no humanlike parts to its body, and it wants romance with a human, how exactly is that going to work? I’m imagining android body implants right now.

One can draw some parallels to a few minority groups today who seem to want to throw out all reason in pursuit of their existential dreams. One group I’m thinking of are the transgendered, people who identify as the opposite of their inherited biological gender. Now, first of all, I’m for protecting the rights of anyone, regardless of how they identify.  But I wonder about the wisdom of trying to compel others to truly think that the transgendered are the gender that they identify as. I understand using the pronoun that they ask us to use to be polite, but I only think of that as a kind of fiction. I listen to biology on this one, not ideology. Yet many want to compel others by law to use the pronoun of their choice. It’s already law in Canada. Another related point regards child rearing from gay and lesbian couples. What I’m about to say has nothing to do with your official stance on gay marriage. Sociological research and biological realities demonstrate that a father and a mother are the optimal setup for raising children. A gay or lesbian couple attempting to raise children is going to have a tough go of it and, at minimum, might consider bringing in the biological, opposite-gendered parent to be part of the child’s life. That’s the way biology suggests that things are set up.  Another popular pursuit for justice warriors today is economic equality.  Yet if you think about that for five seconds, it’s obvious that we can’t make everyone really equal in talents, intellect, ability, or economic status. If we did, the world would be hellishly dull and unproductive.  Now, by saying all this, I’m not suggesting from this that we should all go back to the 1950’s.  That ship has sailed.

So every quest for justice and equality ought to be limited by reason, science, and biological facts. In other worlds, nature does provide a limit to nurture that no amount of social engineering, re-education camps, gulags, or lovable movie characters can change. At what point can an “equality at all costs” ideology bend to incorporate facts?  That’s the question. Power to the robots!

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash.com

Are You a Grace or a Truth Person?

Most people are either geared towards grace or truth. Either we believe in unconditional love and forgiveness or we tend to put a higher focus on what is true and right. Sometimes we are grace oriented in one sphere of life and truth in another. There is a way, however, to bring both grace and truth into every area of our lives, and if we think about it, we desperately need both. Let me explain what I mean.

Grace oriented people often see how deeply weak and wounded most people are, including themselves. Their creed is a “all we need is love,” always looking for redemption. They often point out that the truth people are hypocritical. Truth people tend to emphasize what is right and true and sometimes exclude anyone who does not conform to their standards. This can be seen perhaps most starkly in religious people who appear to have little love or compassion for the sins of others. If you are a grace person, you are probably nodding your head here. Does not attachment theory in psychology tell us that the love we received or failed to receive as a child powerfully impacts us? Only healthy, loving attachments can heal those wounds, and who is more loving that almighty God, who, according to Christianity “is love”? Therefore, the grace person mostly concerns herself with loving others, giving them uncritical freedom. She thinks we should rarely correct or judge behavior to be wrong even if we see how destructive it is.

Grace people, however, have to realize that there is a limit to their perspective. Truth actually does matter. Truth leads to wisdom and boundaries. It highlights the stark realities of human nature. Though we sometimes look like we are born from angel dust, more often than not we appear born from sin. How many of us have been left trembling by the callous, selfish, and outrageous actions of people we thought were incapable of such things? And how much worse when we realize how selfish we ourselves can be. Anyone who has studied history will know how brutal the past was; the present is not that much better. In our own century, we had the Nazi (National socialist) and Communist regimes, both of which together inflicted over 100 million casualties in their pursuit of utopia (Utopia is ironically a very grace-oriented idea). And we all know that even forgiveness does not mean letting other people hurt you again and again. Forgiveness means letting go of need to inflict justice over a wrong, not making the person pay anymore. It does not mean forgetting what happened or stupidly leaving ourselves open to more abuse. Grace has limits, at least in the sense that people often refuse it and go their own way.

Truth people will be nodding their head to all that I’ve said in the last paragraph. They care about facts, right and wrong, and reality. They see the outcome of flakey philosophies which state that there is no truth or that everyone should be equal in every way. These notions are not grounded in any facts. Truth people understand simple biological facts about gender differences. They are astounded at the mob mentality of social media. They can see when people are doing something self-destructive or irrational and usually are the first ones to point it out. They also note that the grace people have a pattern of being hypocritically intolerant of anyone they think does not belong to the grace-tribe.
But truth people need to see that even they fall short of their own standards. How good is really good enough? This is especially true as it relates to relationship with the Almighty. Nobody is capable of being perfect, says Paul. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus told parables about self-righteous people like the pharisee who “thanked God he was not like everyone else” and the elder brother who refused to go into the party the Father had laid out for the wasteful younger brother (Luke 18, Luke 15). Truth without grace ultimately crushes the truth person under the weight of the law that they themselves have failed to keep. It often leads to callouse self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and mere outward conformity to the rules. All the while the truth person is desperately trying to cover up his own need for grace and forgiveness.

For all these reasons grace without truth and truth without grace are incomplete. Only in Jesus Christ can we really put the two together. How so? Jesus Christ is the one who embodied these two realities perfectly, so in him we have a perfect example of what it looks like. He could speak a word of truth with absolute love. Just read the gospels to see for yourself. But more than that, Jesus loved us to death, literally, showing us how we can reconcile grace with truth. At the cross, “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). Jesus bore our sins and the weight of God’s justice on the cross to reveal God’s great unconditional love. The cross turns our grace into real grace that recognizes falsehood and sin, rather than just overlooking it or explaining it away. The person who zealously strives to balance grace and truth without Jesus has to ask herself a question. What philosophy or religion has ever united grace and truth in a more coherent, beautiful, and historically accessible way than that of Jesus Christ? Often I suspect that the rejection of Jesus Christ, either outright or in practice, is for one of two reasons. Either the truth person does not want to accept that radical message of forgiveness available to the worst offenders who embrace Jesus, or the grace person does not want to accept that God would speak clearly in a way that seems to exclude those who don’t accept it. But Jesus can offer forgiveness in a way that bears the weight of truth while telling the truth in a way that beckons in grace to the loneliest outcast. “In him we have all received grace in the place of grace” but also the fullest expression of “grace and truth.” (John 1:16-17).

Isms and Facts

Can facts correct your isms?  Or do isms correct your facts?  We all have particular beliefs.  Some of them we hold onto without even noticing them.  The philosopher Charles Taylor called these our “unthoughts.”  These are what we think without reflection, often without confirmation.  J. Warner Wallace, a famous cold case detective, says we ought to seek facts, not evidence.  Evidence so often helps us rationalize our unthoughts.  But most of us want evidence, not pesky facts that could challenge us.  Few people, in fact, step outside of what society generally allows them to believe.

So, for example, society tells us that religion is alright if we find our own personal meaning in it.  Most people only think of meaning as a property of their minds. Meaning is just in our heads, not out there in the real world.  But it’s not generally understood today that a religion could actually be true, even historically verifiable.  Since religion is something we simply make meaning of, it cannot have the ability to change our lifestyles much.  We don’t need to take up our crosses and follow a real Jesus very much.  Thus we can go to church on Sundays and live mostly for ourselves the rest of the week.  It goes without saying, though perhaps I need to say it, that this depiction is at odds with historical and orthodox Christianity.  I also think the idea of making your own meaning is incoherent, but that’s another story.

Another example of “unthought” is our preoccupation with race, class, and gender.  Many of our assumptions about this modern trinity go completely unchallenged.  We are told there is systemic racism and instead of researching what that means and looking for facts to support it or deny it, we simply accept it.  For white people it is good virtue-signalling to accept it because if you don’t, you are considered racist.  Sure there is still individual racism, which is very unfortunate, but systemic racism?  How do we define that? We have so much “white guilt” (as the much ridiculed black conservative author Shelby Steele points out) that we’re afraid to look into it. But when we boil it down, it is very hard to substantiate systemic racism as existent today. As far as class goes, we are told that when the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, as if economics were a zero sum game.  One reading of Thomas Sowell’s Economic Facts and Fallacy would blow this view to smithereens, but that takes away from watching our favorite TV shows. With gender, we are told that it is simply a social construct with no biological meaning.  If you examine these concepts, you will find out very quickly that all this is based on extremely muddled thinking rather than facts, research, stats and so on.  But again, most of us feel our way through life, keeping ourselves busy with constant amusement, unaware that “a-muse” means to not think.  We don’t think while we slowly walk onward towards our mortal end with nothing substantial to truly follow, leaving life half-lived and truth half-sought.

And we wonder why people are so sensitive today.  Well, if your worldview is completely subjective, not based on facts at all, and I challenge it, how are you going to react?  You’re going to react like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “Jingle All the Way,” with total panic. “Put that cookie [fact] down! Now!”  Or perhaps you’ll be more like one of Jim Jones or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s cult followers.  You’ll just smile, knowing that you know the truth because…well…you just feel it.