"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Life trajectory

Well folks here's the deal. Over the past three years I have witnessed a steady shift in myself. My desire to continue in the world of advertising (at least in the corporate sense) has continued to wane, while a new fire has been kindled within me. I have become increasingly passionate about existential/metaphysical/theological questions and ponderings. My mind has been turned on and I can't seem to find the off button. A fair amount of this can be attributed to the bright people I talk with on this very blog. I think it will be a couple years yet before I'm able to decide whether to thank you or curse your name for this influence. ;-)

That said, I've made two drastic shifts in direction these last two weeks. Firstly, I applied and was accepted into a Masters program at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. (No, I'm not looking to become a pastor. This is a different sort of degree.) Starting this month I will begin working towards my M.A. in "Christian Thought". In their own words:

"Those looking for a systemic understanding of the Christian worldview may choose the Master of Arts in Christian Thought. The heart of this degree program is significant work in philosophy of religion. The program integrates this with related study in theology and Bible to enhance the study of philosophy. The class work in this program addresses worldview issues from a distinctively Christian point of view. It will include opportunities to study both with resident faculty and with outstanding visiting scholars."


From what I've heard of people who are in this program, it's basically a rigorous version of this blog with a fancy degree awarded upon completion. (an obvious understatement) I'm really fired up!

The second major life change came yesterday when I realized that I simply cannot, with any integrity, continue to my profession in an agency setting. The mental demands placed upon me here, combined with the equally rigorous thought life I am about to embark on simply do not add up to a good professional setting. It is not fair to my employers to be so mentally divided when they are counting on me to deliver. As of yesterday, I have submitted my resignation. I agreed to stay on until they have found a replacement, then I'm outta here.

So the question hangs... What now?

At the moment I'm fluid. Ideally, I'm hoping to find a part time job for stability purposes, then ramp up my seat business. This move would give me the flexibility I need for my studies/family life as well as the stability of a steady income. I have a couple options on the table already for part-time work. One of which would involve torching apart train wrecks at a local scrap yard! Honestly, that sounds quite appealing when taken in context of where I'm at. At the moment, though, I don't know what I'm going to do. I have a couple weeks yet to figure it out.

For you praying types out there, please feel free to bring my situation before our Father. For the non-believing folk, any words of encouragement would be appreciated. This is scary, crazy and wonderfully exciting all at once. I can hardly wait to see what lies ahead.

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34 Comments:

Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Good luck, man. That take a lot of courage, but I don't think you'll ever regret it.

I hold a masters degree from the prestigious seminary of the Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic. Probably not quite as intense as the course you are about to embark on.

; )

1:00 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I thought you had your Phd. from there? ;-)

Thanks man.

1:01 PM

 
Blogger CalumCarr said...

Huge decisions but ones with which you seem at ease despite your last 2 sentences.

You have very reason to be excited: you have made life-changing decisions but I guess decisions which you will never regret.

Well done!

5:30 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Alex,

Congrats on your acceptance to the master's program. I suspect you will find it stimulating and exciting.

It takes courage to break away from the status quo and step onto unfamiliar terrain. Bravo!

Cheers,

Timmo

10:15 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Calumcarr,
"but I guess decisions which you will never regret."

Heh, we'll see about that! I guess the way I see it, why try and force yourself to be someone you are not when you have the opportunity to follow your passion? Some would say it's financially crazy, but then again, how much worse would it be to wait until someday when someone other than myself decides I'm not cut out for this job?

Timmo,
Thanks! I've been looking over the classes I'll be taking and I can honestly say there is not one class in the entire 3 year program that I am not really excited about!

At the moment, I already have several options for part-time-ish work. Sounds like good stuff that will give me a lot more flexibility. It's a really freeing experience.

7:34 AM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Go Alex!

I think a lot of us at one point or another have found that we really can't go on in our current jobs any more. Jumping ship's always a bit worrying, but then there's usually something you can find to earn a living (even if it's not a full-blown Shiny New Career Path).

And congrats on the course. You know my deal, but even I'm dimly there's a really rich tradition of philosophical thought within Christianity stretching over centuries. I think you're in for a real treat.

8:34 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Tom,
Thanks for the encouragement! This really is just one more step in my ongoing quest for truth. My atheist friend at work here sees this as simply a step towards willful self-delusion, as if I'm entering some kind of brainwashing institution.

I have to admit I've been a bit worried at how this move would be received amongst the skeptic crowd. I'd hate to have people think. "Well OF COURSE he's going to say that! He went to seminary for Pete's sake!" (Lewis did some fine writing on this very topic.) So in light of that, your encouragement means a lot.

I'm really looking for a deeper understanding of everything. Personally I find Christianity to be very compelling as a comprehensive worldview. But who knows, maybe I'll end up going to school and find out it's really not as cogent as I first thought. Time will tell.

11:15 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

maybe I'll end up going to school and find out it's really not as cogent as I first thought.

It could happen. In fact, there are more than a few atheists / agnostics / deist-types around the Interweb that had exactly that experience. For most of them - sadly I can't come up with a single link at the moment, so you'll just have to take this on faith - it didn't so much erode their belief in God so much as show how badly the rational arguments have fared over the years.

Still, with any luck you're going to be looking at the work of some pretty impressive minds. Even though I don't agree with the likes of Aquinas, etc. they were incredibly smart people. That's always good.

Once again: Best of luck too you. Though, from the evidence of our conversations, I doubt you'll need it.

11:32 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Thanks Matt,
I have read quite a few of the works by the sorts of atheist / agnostic folk you speak of. In fact quite a few of them hang out over at Vic's . I know John Loftus and Exapologist are shining examples of the type of people you speak of.

"it didn't so much erode their belief in God so much as show how badly the rational arguments have fared over the years."

I would see it much less as the rational arguments faring badly, than the arguments not being compulsory in their force. For a demonstration of some quality (though somewhat testy) debating action check out the Hitchens / Wilson debate. Daniel also has a quality review up over on his blog.

The approach Wilson took obviously resonated quite strongly with me as it was basically a more focused and well articulated version of what I've been attempting to say for quite some time. Basically it's this: There are certain things I know to be true experientially.

• Love (there are a million qualifiers I could put in here, but we'll just leave it as the general sense for now.) is the ultimate virtue that transcends us all.

• I have freedom to choose between my impulses. As Spiderman says: "We always have a choice."

• There really is an actual continuum of morality. Everything is not relative.

• Moments of sublime beauty create a depth of experience that "ought" to be savored.

• Our lives have value whether we think they do or not.

Now the question that hangs is this: Are these things achievable in a reality that does not include God? If our entire constitution is mindless matter responding in a strict cause and effect reaction, can any of the things I mentioned above stand?

I would argue, no. If we are ruled by pure deterministic forces, our lives are an illusion. Problem is, we know our lives are not an illusion. Therefore, a Godless material universe is not contain the explanatory power to deal with these things. So either you deny all of the deepest qualities that make us human, or you are forced to look for another worldview that can do these qualities justice.

It just so happens that Christianity (so far as I have seen) is the only system out there that can give an internally consistent answer to these base beliefs that we all seem to naturally hold.

I'm sure we'll go on and on like this for some time to come. I owe you a debt of gratitude sir. These debates of ours have been very enriching and something that I always look forward to. Let's keep exploring, testing, and talking. It's been great man. Thanks for the encouragement.

12:49 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

There are certain things I know to be true experientially.

As far as I can see however, you've never established that these things are true. To me they just look like what you want to be.

Nor do I see why it has to be a zero-sum situation: God or nothing. What about the great unknown? Even if you could prove that moral laws existed above and beyond human preference that'd still bring you no closer logically to a specific being. Why does objectivity imply God and absolutely nothing else?

Love (there are a million qualifiers I could put in here, but we'll just leave it as the general sense for now.) is the ultimate virtue that transcends us all.

Why?

As Spiderman says: "We always have a choice."

I'm still waiting for somebody to explain how the libertarian concept of free will works.

Everything is not relative.

Why?

Moments of sublime beauty create a depth of experience that "ought" to be savored.

Again: Why?

Our lives have value whether we think they do or not.

Once again: Why?

I'm sure we'll go on and on like this for some time to come.

I truly hope so. Even if it does nothing more than further entrench us in our respective positions. :-)

1:45 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

My Ph.D. is from Bristol. That was much more challenging. The masters I earned just by writing my name on the dotted line. For the Ph.D I had to write my own name AND hang around a lab for three years.

5:44 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,

To me they just look like what you want to be... Why?, Why?, Why?

My friend, are you telling me you don't wish to believe these things?

What about the great unknown?

what about it?

Why does objectivity imply God and absolutely nothing else?

Morality is personal. Therefore it's foundations must be personal. If it is indeed objective you have an eternally unchanging personal being. Sounds a lot like God to me.

I'm still waiting for somebody to explain how the libertarian concept of free will works.

I don't have a clue how it works. I just know it it more true to my experience than the notion that I am simply matter reacting. Every thought I ponder and choice I make refutes a deterministic worldview.

Aren't you supposed to be in Spain or something?

9:31 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Alex,

Have you considered compatibilism, the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism?

10:16 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Timmo,
I have read some on that topic, but I would hesitate to call what the compatiblists are kicking around "free will". I still have more reading to do on that topic.

Sorry I haven't responded to you longer post from awhile ago. I still intend to as you raise some good points, but life has been a bit crazy as of late!

10:30 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

My friend, are you telling me you don't wish to believe these things?

If they were true, I wouldn't have to wish to believe them. But, for the record: I don't believe that love transcends us, I can't see a way around determinism of some sort (which is why I'm a compatibilist on the subject), most things - if not everything - are probably relative, moments of sublime beauty make no demands on us and our lives only have value if someone values them.

That's just how the world looks to me.

what about it?

You can't point to something we don't completely understand and say: aha, therefore God!. You need positive evidence of somethings existence.

Sounds a lot like God to me.

But if you've yet to establish God's existence then it's an empty hypothesis. You can't prove that it's not mysterious factor X behind any apparent objectivity - the only logically valid position to take is: we don't know.

Every thought I ponder and choice I make refutes a deterministic worldview.

Only if you're right that you're actually making a choice in the libertarian sense - which hasn't been established. Just because you think you're free doesn't guarantee anything.

Aren't you supposed to be in Spain or something?

Soon.

10:41 AM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

I only wish I was as brave.

4:53 PM

 
Blogger Ruthie said...

Good for you! Bethel is a great school, I know a lot of students there.

I know you'll do well, because you're one of those people who is always hungry to learn. I wish you luck.

9:11 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
If they were true, I wouldn't have to wish to believe them.

Not so. For instance, I wish to believe that our ongoing interactions are out of good faith in a quest for truth. That may or may not be true. I can't 'prove it' one way or the other. However, I choose to believe that it really is the case. For one, it allows me to keep our jabs in perspective, secondly there's good experiential evidence that we really are trying to get to the bottom of this.

when wishing (or choosing to believe) something, it does not follow that the object being wished for does not exist. That's really all I'm getting at here.

But, for the record:... That's just how the world looks to me.

Everything you say here seems to be more a resigned acceptance of where your starting point has lead you, rather than an honest assessment of what it actually feels like to be 'you'. Matt, if you believed... if you TRULY believed that everything you did was on par with "Newton's cradle", I'd have to believe you'd simply go mad. How could one possibly operate believing that every thought you have (even your thoughts about your thoughts) are completely beyond your control and are nothing more than a random effect of mindless matter?

I would think that truly absorbing what it is to 'be' 'you' would be enough to shatter this silly notion that you are not a free agent. One would have to be really committed to the idea "there must be no God to come to the place you have. I get the feeling we must still be dancing around the core reason you choose disbelief. What is that anyway?

You can't point to something we don't completely understand and say: aha, therefore God!. You need positive evidence of somethings existence.

The assumption here is that by pointing at something and going "I don't know!" one is simply being a more reasonable observer than the theist. I'm not so sure this is actually the case. Here's how I see this actually playing out. We'll use "the big bang" as an example.

I look at this event and notice how they tell us everything we know of began at this point, even time itself. Out of this inexplicably precise event I sit here today as a conscious being freely composing this response to you. Though I cannot know what caused the big bang, the results and the conditions surrounding it's coming into being seem to bear the finger prints of a marvelously intelligent, personal, creative being who transcends, or at least is master of, time itself.

Now it seems that when Matt looks upon this event he must be resigned to saying "I don't know!" The problem I see is that you don't seem to want to just leave it at "I don't know". You seem to very much wish to add on "but surly it was not God". I don't quite get this. The evidence point quite clearly to a personal creator. What else could "something out of nothing that ends up producing free conscious beings in a creation filled with beauty and complexity" point to?

There must be something else that is strongly weighting your position on this. What is it?

the only logically valid position to take is: we don't know.

So have you moved to agnosticism?

I think you need to take a closer look at what level of "proof" you require in order to consider something a reasonable faith. I would think all the things I just mentioned above would be enough to give you pause in your (at least former) proclamation that "there is not God".

Only if you're right that you're actually making a choice in the libertarian sense - which hasn't been established. Just because you think you're free doesn't guarantee anything.

Wow. That's a mouthful. So how shall we choose to operate then? Oh wait... maybe we can't... What a cruel illusion this must be!... but wait!... even that thought was determined!... and that one too!... and that one!... and that one!.... and that one!... and that one!... etc...

6:37 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Jon,
Only timew will tell whether I am brave or stupid. Thanks for the encouragement!

6:38 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Ruthie,
Thanks for the encouragement! I can't wait to get started. Classes start in about a week! Student loans here I come! ;-)

6:40 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

Everything you say here seems to be more a resigned acceptance of where your starting point has lead you, rather than an honest assessment of what it actually feels like to be 'you'.

Except atheism wasn't the starting point for my worldview, it's just one of the many outcomes of how the world appears to me.

How could one possibly operate believing that every thought you have (even your thoughts about your thoughts) are completely beyond your control and are nothing more than a random effect of mindless matter?

Like most people, there's a certain amount of cognitive dissonance going on there. But should I reach the point where I don't like it = it's not true, then I might as well hang up my keyboard, because everything I'd argue on that basis would be pretty meaningless.

My problem with the libertarian concept of free will has nothing to do with theism/atheism - there are plenty of religious determinists after all. My problem with it is that no-one can ever seem to explain it.

I believe our choices are determined by our character - formed through the interaction of our genetics and environment. The possession of a soul doesn't really change that, it would simply mean that our God-given characteristics would dominate.

How does the libertarian concept work? What causes us to choose one thing over another? On what basis do we make decisions?

The evidence point quite clearly to a personal creator.

Okay, then people have been hiding this evidence from me my entire life, because I can't see one thing that points to the certainty, or even the likelihood of an intelligent creator.

what else could "something out of nothing that ends up producing free conscious beings in a creation filled with beauty and complexity" point to?

Sort of begging the question there, aren't you?

Why not timeless blind forces? What's logically invalid about that? Why does it have to be intelligent?

The theist hypothesis collapses under its own logic - nothing complex can arise from simplicity, except God, nothing can be eternal, except God.

You're simply adding another layer of complexity onto the whole thing.

So have you moved to agnosticism?

In the ultimate sense that none of us have absolute and certain knowledge of reality.

My position is, and has always been, that the evidence for theism is sorely lacking.

So how shall we choose to operate then? Oh wait... maybe we can't..

Pretty much.

7:36 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Alex,

Though I cannot know what caused the big bang...

It is not clear to me that it makes sense to ask of the the whole natural world in space and time if it has some cause. That is, whenever we apply the concept of causation, we presuppose a spatiotemoral framework: causation holds between events in time. If time really begins with the Big Bang, then it can make no sense to ask what caused the Big Bang because there were no events prior in time which could be causally connected to the Big Bang.

11:43 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Matt M,

So how shall we choose to operate then? Oh wait... maybe we can't..

Pretty much.


Are you really a compatibilist? A compatibilist would hold that we do make free choices and are able to act on those free choices. The fact we are part and parcel of a natural, causal order does not detract from this.

10:56 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Timmo,

That is, whenever we apply the concept of causation, we presuppose a spatiotemoral framework: causation holds between events in time. If time really begins with the Big Bang, then it can make no sense to ask what caused the Big Bang because there were no events prior in time which could be causally connected to the Big Bang.

Funny you should say that. As I was grilling some tasty shrimp on the patio and watching a huge thunderstorm roll in last night, I was pondering the very same thing. I really don't even know how to talk about that. It goes deeper than I am able to get my head around.

11:02 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Timmo,

Are you really a compatibilist?

I was being a little glib in my reply to Alex. Compatibilism seems the closest theory to my own musings on the subject: I regard an act as "free" as long as it's not forced by an external agent (though I think that "forced" is a fairly amorphous term). I think that my decisions are still determined by the content of my character, which has formed through genetics and upbringing.

11:25 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Alex,
You should read some of Paul Davies' books. Particularly, "About Time - Einstein's Unfinished Revolution"

12:57 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Incitatus,
LOL! Thanks for the recommendation man. I really do apreciate it. It's just that every time I get another book recommendation my thought process goes about like this:

"Sweet! That sounds like a great read! Maybe if I just buy it I'll get around to reading it some day... Awww who am I kidding."

I'll add it to my running list though. Maybe if I was a single fellow I'd be able to pull off a bit more reading, but then again, I think being married with a little boy has taught me more about life than any old book ever could.

I highly recommend it. Are you single?

1:12 PM

 
Blogger Liz said...

Wow! That's fantastic. What huge life-changing decisions. How brilliant to have the courage to make such drastic changes rather than live to an age when you look back with regret for not doing it. I'll pray for you right now! For great adventures; for protection; for wisdom; for courage; for security; for assurance; for fun on the way; for the peace that passes understanding.

2:51 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Thanks Liz!
I'll be needing a healthy dose of everything you just mentioned!

Thank you.

3:07 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"I highly recommend it. Are you single?"

Married, but I get my book time in exchange for a couple of hours of serfdom in the garden on the weekend.

"I think being married with a little boy has taught me more about life than any old book ever could."

Even... The Book?

; )

4:01 PM

 
Blogger Ian Appleby said...

Alex, I'm way late into this thread, but still I want to add a few words of encouragement and, yes, admiration. That's a big step you're taking, but your reasons seem well-founded, and I'm really excited for you. From what you say, it sounds as though it was the only thing you could do to be true to yourself. Would that more of us could be so clear-sighted and determined.

2:29 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Thanks Ian,
It's never to late for a little encouragement! I'll take all the help I can get in silencing those nagging doubts.

Today is day two of being out on my own. So far, so good. I have plenty of work to do and loads more free time to spend studying and writing. Wouldn't that be slick if I discovered that I didn't need a day job?

Thanks again Ian.

6:02 AM

 
Blogger mutleythedog said...

Shit man...theres nothing to get to the bottom of...we're just clever monkeys. The we die...

4:00 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

"Shit man...theres nothing to get to the bottom of...we're just clever monkeys. The we die..."

Then I guess this clever monkey is off to school to become a little more clever. ;-)

4:39 PM

 

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