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

Friday, December 29, 2006

My picture of God Part 1

I thought it would be helpful to the general discourse we have going here if I wrote up a little positioning statement regarding what I'm actually advocating here. So far I've gone to great lengths to illuminate why I cannot accept the Atheist option, but I have done very little to show what I actually propose in place of it. As I continue this conversation with the thoughtful few who regularly contribute I think it would be best if they actually understood where I'm coming from. There are many pictures of Christianity floating around in this world. I would like to start by giving a somewhat stereotypical representation that I feel (at least in the U.S.) haunts me.

Scenario 1

God is Omnipotent and Omniscient. Therefore all our fates are directed and sealed with no hope of alteration. Some people were created to be objects of God's love, others were created to be objects of his wrath. He has the right to do this because He created everything so who are we to question his judgment?

What we get form this is that God is petty, spiteful and a total control freak. Nice.

In order to be Christians we are to believe that the field of Science is run by a pack of arrogant Godless elitists who's sole goal is to prove there is no God by forcing their supposed "theory" of evolution down the throats of the general populace.

What happens here is that once you realize that science has shown very real evidences of this process you are forced to concede that either God makes no sense (his mysterious ways, you know) or that he wasn't there in the first place, or all scientists are liars.

The Republican party is the Christian party. The greatest threat to our nation is Gays getting to claim marriage. We as Christians must mobilize to defeat the liberal Democrats and stop this from happening at all costs. Unitarians, Liberals, Gays, Smokers, Hippies, Catholics, Calvinists, Muslims, Pro-Choicers, Porn Addicts, Bar Hoppers, New Agers, Atheists, Agnostics, Evolutionists, Fornicators, Anti-War Activists, French People and ELCA'ers are our enemies. We must defeat them.

That sounds crazy I know, but whether verbalized or not, many American Christians hold these views.

As we look around that the world and see the injustice, hate, and death so widely spread, then reflect on God's Omnipotence we must conclude that he is rather sadistic to be working out his 'good' plan by the use or allowance of these barbaric conditions.

I don't know about you but I'm not feeling inclined to bow down in worship to this sort of god. My next post will attempt to explain a picture of God that I believe is worthy of worship. It is also a picture that I believe to be more solidly rooted in His revelation. Stay tuned...

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Relativity and Literature 1.1

So here’s what’s shaking these days. I have WAY to many things going on that require far more brain power than I can muster. Oddly enough I’m loving every minute of it! Tom and Matt continue to contribute some great thoughts. The problem is Matt has gone ahead and written one super comment (third comment down) that rolls many big questions into one neat little package. I guess I can’t blame him. I was asking for it.

I’ve been trying to think of the best way to respond to that, but I’m running into a problem. My thoughts on the first half of his comment really were not all that well sorted out. When that happens I tend to write way more than is necessary. So I’ve decided to respond to Matt’s comment in three parts and post them each as new posts. For this to make any sense you will need to read Matts initial comment here. So having said that...

I see what you are getting at with your literary example. As I sit here and ponder the parallel here what keeps coming to my mind is the difference in severity between the moral example and the literary example. In short, most people realize that literary criticism is subjective and act accordingly. No one is going to be thrown in jail over their opinion of shakespeare. Wars will not be started because of a disagreement with the collegiate cannon. On the other hand disagreements on morality often result in blood shed. Our reactions to moral disagreements, on the whole, show we believe that our arguments must be firmly rooted in reality for us to be moved to such extreme actions. No one is so absurd as to claim that the man who kills your wife in her sleep should be let off the hook because "He just doesn't see things like I do". However with literary disagreements it must often come to that.

I must admit I am totally out of my element when it comes to discussions of literature. In that case I should probably stay off it all together, but a few things come to mind that I'd like to explore a little. This will probably be one of my weaker arguments since I am not well versed in this field, so if this does not seem helpful just disregard it.

I would say the very fact that there is a field of literary criticism supports the position that there is a reality to existence that is above and beyond our individual experiences. There are two aspects of both morality and literature that I believe need to be considered. One aspect is a truly subjective quality. It is rooted in cultural upbringing, instinct and social climate. The other is the conviction that aside from our personal fancies regarding moral or literary issues there is a foundational, let's say 'eternal', truth that all moral questions and literary expressions rest on.

To some degree man can understand his existence purely by his own creative thoughts. Literary critics in turn can then evaluate how worthy these expressive thoughts are to be propagated. In the end that's pretty subjective stuff. However, I would argue that the longings of man for truth and meaning found throughout literature does in fact do have an answer. I believe the reason we have these longings is because we were made to seek our maker. He is the ultimate and foundational Fact that all creativity, reason, logic, love, meaning, hope, truth, beauty rest upon. He gives eternal meaning and worth to all the deepest longings of our hearts. On that level, the questions and expressions of human existence found in literature have a center and that center is by no means subjective.

Without God, literature, like existence, is just meaningless noise created by a meaningless fluke that began without meaning and will end without meaning. All of the passion, love and drama expressed in our finest works will be so completely forgotten as to render them next to having never existed at all. If there is no God I would argue that no, there is no point in studying the classics. Unless of course you happen to enjoy that sort of thing. If there is no God all you have is your raw meaningless feelings. Obey them for it's all you have. It's all you will ever have.

Now getting back to our parallel topic of morality I would also argue that to some degree man, on his own, can know the mind of God by studying himself. We are told that we are made in His image, therefore we should be able to ascertain a level of understanding of him by inward reflection. One field that has resulted from this inward reflection is the field of ethics. Though He need not be appealed to in it's practice, I would say that He it's ultimate source. Without acknowledging Him we can look inwards and ponder the rightness or wrongness of various actions and situations based solely off our feelings. We feel very strongly about right and wrong. It behooves us to act upon those feelings. Similar, though we may be, we all are left with varying opinions regarding who's 'right' is right and who's 'wrong' is wrong. Once again we are back to a very subjective situation. Without God you may argue about morality, but you may as well be arguing about who's favorite color is the best.

One last note on literature. Generally speaking you will not find a whole lot of literature waxing eloquent about the utter meaninglessness of our existence. I know you refuse to accept this as well. It shows through in your last post on Dr. Who. Most all literature is hung on the assumption that our experiences and reactions to them really do matter. There is a concreteness to our feelings regarding Beauty, justice, honor, betrayal etc... I would say that is because there really IS a meaning to our life. The general conviction of humanity testifies to it. The fact that the vast majority of humanity feels that there really is more to our experience than simply being a fluke in a mindless uncreated creation shows evidence of our higher calling. In that way God is intuitive. The reason he's not as intuitive as we'd like him to be is a conversation in it's self.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Morality sans God?

In the interest of trying to keep this blog somewhat accessible I will from time to time break out of the 'deep thoughts' we have going in the comments section with a new post highlighting the various points being presented.

At the moment Alex, Matt and Tom are kicking around the idea of morality and it's roots. Matt is taking the position that morality is born of empathy which is rooted in biology. Tom is noodling with the idea that morality could possibly be so completely foundational that even God Himself would be subject to it. Alex disagrees with everyone. I think he's just being difficult.

Now since this blog has thus far been an ongoing conversation rather than a series of independent thoughts you would need to start at the very beginning to know all of where we've been to get to this point. Even so I think the nature of our discussion is still very accessible no matter where you jump in. I will be starting the comments of this post by responding to a comment from Matt from our Death of Beauty conversation below. Again Tom will have to take a back seat until I can get the time to respond to him. Sorry bud.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

This place

I just have to feel sorry for the poor sucker who stumbles across this blog looking for some light reading! It has really morphed into an long and complicated uberlinked conversation that might be kind of tough to just jump into, but don't be scared. If you have the time for it, it's been a fascinating debate. I should also mention that if you want to get the most out of this blog you NEED to read the comments. Most of the meat happens in there. My posts are simply the starting points. Enjoy!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

My Boy

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The death of beauty

It would appear I am going to have to do a slight shift in my earlier thoughts on the nature of beauty. I was attempting to make the case that beauty was objective. However, after further study I have come to the conclusion that this just can not be. Now before you write me off as a lousy flip flopper, hear me out.

Let's use a mountain for example. Some philosophers will tell you that this mountain will have primary and secondary attributes. The primary attributes are the ones that are objective. They are true of the mountain whether or not a mind is there to perceive them. These qualities would be it's shape, size, etc... The secondary attributes are subjective qualities that require a mind perceive them. Qualities of this nature are color, smell, taste, etc...

The interesting thing is that some people will have pleasant feelings towards these subjective attributes and others not so pleasant. For instance some people like the color blue, others prefer red. We are not all the same.

So where then does beauty fit in? Is it a quality that is independent of the mind that is perceiving it? At this point I am forced to say no. It does not look that way. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

If I were to leave it at that it would seem to take a good bite out of my rants about inherent qualities of people, objects, and situations, but of course I cannot let it stop there! I am realizing something that is in my mind quite profound and should hopefully tie a lot of things together. So watch where this goes...

I have been saying over an over how I believe certain things actually warrant the titles we give them. I believe some things truly are beautiful. I believe people actually do have unsurpassable worth. I believe that love is real and is larger that simple feelings.

I will continue to use the beauty example here but what I am about to say could apply to any of the topics I just mentioned.

Beauty is a subjective feeling towards an object by a perceiving mind. Without a perceiving mind beauty does not exist. If the creator of all things was an all perceiving mind that actually felt certain things were beautiful, then would we as part of creation not be bringing our minds in congruity with our creator when we perceived an object as beautiful that also happened to be what our creator felt was beautiful?

In other words all these topics I keep railing on: beauty, love, inherent personal worth, objective right and wrong, are all totally dependent upon the existence of a personal God who actually feels certain ways about these topics. Without God there can be no perceiving mind for us to bring ourselves into congruity with and ultimately no higher truth behind any of these topics.

This was a rather complicated one and I'm not sure how clear I was. Let me know if that makes any sense.

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On uncertainty

Another response to Matt, drawn from his comments here.

In my opinion, the defining feature of life is its uncertainty.

I empathize with this idea of uncertainty. I believe we all need a good dose of it to have a healthy outlook on life, but let me play devils advocate if I may. Where do we draw the line with our uncertainty? It is one thing to be uncertain about the creation of the universe, but it is quite another to be uncertain about the our perception of reality as revealed by our senses. Where does one draw the line? One could easily make the argument that since our perceptions are really nothing more than electrical charges bouncing around in the tissue between our ears, then how can we trust the reality they reveal to us? You are left with a strictly uncertain view of life. But for most of us that is nonsense. We come to trust our senses and accept that what they reveal to us really is true. How far then can we we take a more trusting outlook? How much of reality can we really discover? What have we discovered in 5,000 years of somewhat recorded human history? Of that, what can be trusted when held up against the light of recent human findings?

What we need to be careful of is that in this search for truth, we don't simply find what we are looking for. That is one of the main reasons I keep seeking opinions different than my own.

When we were children we believed what we were told to believe. As we grow into adults we gradually realize that we are not all playing from the same sheet of music. We were all told many different stories. Some of us react with anger to this realization, others with denial, but in the end we all seem to think it's important to try and make sense of it. Should we be certain of our findings? I'm not so sure. Am I certain of my position? I don't know that I can say yes to that. At the same time though, I'm staking my life on the assumption that it's truth. Is that certainty?

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beating up old men

The following is a response to Matt and Tom, but mostly Matt. To read up on the previous train of thought that has lead to this point go here for the background info.

I have to start by saying I really feel I have wondered into deep water. It would seem I need to read an entire library of philosophy to get up to speed on the topics we are discussing, so if I come off sounding totally ignorant, please forgive me. I am really basing my arguments off of life experience, feelings, and what little reading I find time to do. Having said that, you both have made some very good points that are more than worthy of some honest reflection.

Let me start by addressing Matt's comment:

"I don't regard "right and wrong" as inherent qualities of an object or situation... For example: let's say I see an old man being beaten up - it's an act I truly consider to be wrong. That's not because of the act itself, someone with a different biological and social set-up could probably walk past and see nothing bad about it (though given the general similarity of human nature across the world they'd be a pretty extreme kind of person.) For me the wrongness of it is all in my reaction to it"

That's EXACTLY the position you must take from the atheist perspective. There is no objective standard of right or wrong. There's only how I feel and react to given situations. At a glance this perspective may seem to bundle this problem up into a nice little package, but upon further inspection our life experiences betray it's adequacy.

Matt, you are telling me that you "know" that your old man example is not actually an example of something that is inherently wrong, you just "feel" that is given your biological / sociological situation. By means of logical extension you must now continue this train of thought. What then of beauty? Is there anything in this world that is then worthy of the title, or is there simply matter that your chemistry causes you to feel a certain way about? What of love? Is anything worthy of a love beyond reason?

Perhaps you are right. On logical grounds I don't think you can state it much clearer than you did. Perhaps humanity is truly on it's own. Perhaps we are the product of blind processes that take no notice of us. Could it be that all our strivings for honor, justice, love, and peace are nothing more profound than a species being ruled by a mindless, chemically induced, desire for survival? I don't know about you brother, but there's something deep inside me that rebels against the idea that there is no such thing as objective right or wrong. I cannot accept the notion that gazing into the heavens on a moonless night, far from our city lights, does not ACTUALLY warrant the feelings of awe it inspires. It rebels against the idea that my love for my wife an son is nothing more than breeding instinct and the instinct to preserve my genetic line. It's not rational. I readily admit that, but I would not go so far as to say it's illogical. The problem for us is that for me to use my logic, you would need to admit the "possibility" of something outside of what we call nature. Many people reject the supernatural because they reject religion and superstition. I, however, do not believe that one follows the other. There is much to reject about religion and superstition, but the idea of a personal God who who is the foundation of all reason, love, ethics and beauty is not one of them.

Okay, I'm sure I've lost you there, but that's where I'm at. I still plan on responding to Tom. It's just that he obviously has SO much time on his hands! ; ) I suppose I shouldn't talk. I'm usually in bed by nine, but this has kept me up til 12:15!!! All we need now is a campfire...

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Monday, December 11, 2006

From nothing, by nothing, for nothing, to nothing...

This is the situation that lead me to start this blog in the first place. A short while ago I posted a response to a blog entry by Scott Adams at his Dilbert Blog. Scott has been known to throw around a lot of smack about how we as humans do not operate by free will. He seems to go along with a generally atheistic world view, but it’s hard to say exactly. He’s a slippery little bugger.

At any rate his entry was a musing on the smaller pleasures in life and how they gave him a certain amount of joy. As I read that I couldn’t help but wonder why someone who speaks so strongly for the absence of free will, and by extension, the absence of God, would put any stock at all in their “feelings”. If there is no God then the higher sense of “joy” is utterly meaningless. I believe it was his appeal to a standard of goodness, or the sublime, that struck me as out of character with an atheistic world view. I then pressed forward for an explanation. This is the bit that got the most attention:

”If we are from nothing, for nothing, to nothing, then nothing matters. The job you have, the hobbies you enjoy, the family you have, the way you treat people. It doesn’t matter at all. Sure, you can say that it does matter because you want to leave a good mark on the world etc... But what does THAT mean? Good? What’s that? It’s nothing! It’s an illusion. Your children will die. Your children’s children will die and they will all forget you. You don’t matter. You mean nothing. You count for nothing. You are an accident. An amazing accident beyond all odds. You think you are self actualized, but you are not. You are complicated chemistry. You are a moist robot responding to complicated stimuli and you will only be here for a little while then you will return to the nothingness that you came from.”

That roused two very thoughtful bloggers in the U.K. to dedicate a bit of time to the topic.

Matt posted this entry at his blog An Insomniac
However the bulk of this conversation has been playing out here at Tom Freeman’s blog Freemania

I’ve decided to pick up the themes we are kicking around over on Tom’s blog and beat them to death over here. I have a feeling this is more my issue than his, so I may as well give it a proper home. My next post will be a continuation of poking at this issue of objective morality and where it comes from. Some say it’s strictly biology and social climate. I’d say it’s bigger than that. Stay tuned...

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Ready... Set...

Well folks I've decided to fire up this here blog as a somewhat therapeutic outlet for me to vent and hone my thoughts. Here's the breakdown: My dad passed away on Oct 1 2006. My wife and I had our first child in May of 2006. The people I respect the most in my life are either very thoughtful Atheists, or very thoughtful Christians. This world is filled with "truths" that all contradict each other in very fundamental ways. Either we are all wrong... or there is an objective truth that to some degree can be discovered. If there is a god. I believe you will find him there. Those who do not hold a certain amount of uncertainty (humility) in their world view freak me out. You can find these folks all over the place. They are rather difficult for me to talk to. A good friend of mine has come down on the atheist side of the fence. Our conversations are an endless source of questions and thought provoking topics.

So basically is comes down to this, I'm in a place in my life where the big questions are being pressed up against my face. I am filled with questions and am hungry to learn more about myself and this world I live in. I look forward to consolidating my internal debates in one spot and the conversations that will hopefully follow. Having said that... Let's get started, shall we?

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Glacier 07

Well, we made it back from Glacier on Saturday. A few brief observations about the trip:

Compared to train travel, flying is like magic.

Never forget your Leatherman tool in your carry on diaper bag, or you will soon find yourself Leathermanless.

Just because it hasn't rained since June does not mean it wont rain and snow for a week straight upon your arrival.

Mountain Goats are tame.

Just because Adrian hasn't been sick for about four months does not mean that he wont come down with a hacking cough that severely reduces the amount of sleep anyone gets during the vacation.

Just because you want to hike up to Grinnell Glacier does not mean you will get to.

Just because you have never sprained your big toe in your whole life does not mean that you are immune from said injury as you are getting ready to fly to the mountains.

Just because you think your wife ought to be able to hike 5 miles up the side of the mountain along with your infant son does not mean she wants to.

Just because she doesn't want to doesn't mean she hates the mountains.

There is a lot of life that I have absolutely no control over. It really doesn't matter how much I may want something to be such and such a way. I also noticed I have a strong propensity to let my dreams of high adventure conveniently eclipse the realities of how far 8.5 miles is, (when hiking up the side of a mountain) or of what having a 16mo old son and loving wife who may not share my dream to sit on a glacier might contribute to such a journey. It's time to grow up Alex. Not everything in life can be all about you anymore. As much as I know this, it is still quite hard to live it.

That said, we did get a few brief windows of sun that we made good use of...

The happy family near Hidden Lake.

This is the section of the High Line trail near Logan Pass. I have always wanted to at least do this bit that goes along a sheer cliff. Alex liked.

Remember when I said mountain goats are tame?

Bowman Lake

Adrian, shortly after he got his neck caught in the zipper of his little jacket, then proceeded to roll a little ways down the hill when I set him on the ground. He bounces back pretty quick though.

We had spent the day up at Siyeh Bend sitting in the car watching it rain, so we eventually decided we needed to do something. Thus, we hiked in a short trail to St. Mary's Falls.

Towards Two Medicine

Near St. Mary's

Megan said that she wanted a picture with just her and Adrian in it. So I passed off little man to her and got ready to take their picture, but Adrian kept looking over her shoulder and panting like a puppy. (which he does when he sees a puppy) I heard Megan saying softly, "Adrian there's no puppy over there". Which was true. I looked past them and didn't see anything. I continued to try to get Adrian to look at me, but he went right on panting over mommy's shoulder. Just then I heard a sound like someone hitting two logs together. As I looked past Megan and Adrian again I noticed a herd of about 7 big horn sheep who had come up out of Siyeh Creek and were butting heads right on the road! Shortly after taking this picture they all turned and started running towards us, before jumping over the guard wall and racing up the trail we had just came down. I guess my boy has better eyes than his old man!

I must say that Adrian tolerated the whole thing surprisingly well. The poor kid was either strapped into a car seat or a baby backpack the whole time. I can't wait to take him on trips with me when we can do more together than simply have daddy haul him around.

Moral of the story:
Expectations needn't ruin what reality actually presents us. Relationships are more important than personal ambitions. You are not dead yet and the mountains aren't going anywhere. (wish I could say the same for the glaciers) Though this trip was a bit of a mixed bag, we did get to see some awesome sights. Still, I think I'm taking away more relating to personal growth than anything else. I've always known the mountains to be unparalleled teachers. Those cold hard peaks have a way of bringing into focus the dichotomy between awesome splendor and unforgiving severity. To really appreciate the one, we must learn to navigate the other...

...and when it comes to having a young family, perhaps "navigating the other" should be reduced as much as possible.

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