Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let's Just Cut The Crap.....

Incentives, incentives, INCENTIVES! Will you please give me more incentives to do the very things I claim to value so highly? If this is how we think as a society, then we value nothing but reward and recognition.

This is a tacit admission that we do not value the very things we claim to value. Rather, we value predominantly, perhaps only, reward and recognition. Not that this is wrong or bad, nor particularly right or good either. Apparently it just is what it is.

With this in mind then, can we cut the crap about claiming to value things in themselves and realize that what we are ultimately after is reward and recognition? Examples follow:

- We need to offer children incentives for working hard in school!
- We need incentives to compel people to better care for themselves!
- We need tax write-offs for charitable donations (to our selfishly selected causes)!
- We need God (or at least belief in Him/Her/It) in order to compel us to be compassionate and merciful
- We need belief in reward and punishment rendered by God to compel us to seek virtue and avoid depravity
- We need others' approval to validate our beliefs and actions

Counterpoint: we shouldn't NEED any of these things if we value, or at least claim to value the underlying values themselves!

My own suspicion is we do not value the values, rather we value only what benefits can be had (if this isn't selfish, what is?) through the practice of said values.

In the end, if society takes an honest account of what it actually values, I'm afraid INCENTIVES are a necessity. For if there were no incentives to do the things we claim to value so highly, I can only imagine the result: a totally self-absorbed society devoid of feeling or sympathy for anything outside of selfishly chosen causes.

What's doubly alarming is that oftentimes the practicing of our selfishly chosen causes is ultimately at the mercy of incentives! Which implies we value very little other than reward and recognition via incentives.

For atheists, this comes as no surprise and is logically concluded. For theists, on the other hand, an account must be made of our ultimately selfish behavior.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

True Perfection Equates To Lifelessness

So much for the idea of of the fundamental reasons we exist at all is due to imperfection.

Imperfection in the way the early universe was able to coalesce non-uniform aka "imperfect" pockets of gases such that stars and planets and eventually LIFE could ensue. If perfection existed, the matter in the universe would have been "perfectly" uniform precluding any tendency for  matter to clump together at all. In this way, the universe would be lifeless. Hats off to imperfection! It is the unsung hero of reality!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How Do YOU Derive Meaning In Life?

Ultimately, existence could be seen as pointless regardless of what is believed or not.

If one who would otherwise be bad is good simply to meet the demands of God, it could be construed as meaningless. This is merely bribery or manipulation.

Alternatively, if one is terrible only because he believes God's grace will suffice, it could also be construed as meaningless. This is sheer arrogance!

Or if one is terrible only because he believes nothing, this could be viewed as meaningless too. If there is no God to appease, his only “hope” seems to be bettering himself at the apparent expense of everybody else. There is just something “cold” about this.

On the other hand, one who believes nothing but is nonetheless good could be viewed as meaningless as well. Why be good if it precludes him from maximizing his own desires and ambitions?

And last, one could be good independent of his belief but believe anyway. This could be seen as meaningless because why would he believe if he was already good? Possibly his only reason for believing is that he genuinely believes it to be true as opposed to believing only because he thinks great benefits will ensue and/or he will avoid eternal judgment.

Refer to my discussions on the nature of belief and it will reinforce my argument that belief's only worthwhile contribution is that it can, not necessarily will, make otherwise bad people good or at least relatively better. The reason I say it can as opposed to will make people good or better is because some people systematically become worse through the use of arrogant self-righteousness.

My point here is not to sow hopelessness. It is to demonstrate that because we are all different, there are numerous ways to find meaning in life.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Is Sacrifice?

Say a friend of mine, Jill, asks if I will help paint her house. Suppose, and this would not be far from actuality, that I do not like painting. But I agree to help her regardless all the while grumbling under my breath about this arduous task I have now obligated myself to.

On the other hand, Boris loves painting! So Boris helps too, and with a much more inspiring attitude. The question is, who is the “true” sacrificer? The one with the negative attitude or the positive one?

Well, certainly my attitude is not exactly appreciated but does this not make it perfectly clear that I am in fact sacrificing? On the other hand, Boris' attitude is decidedly more appreciated and commendable, but remember, he loves painting whereas I do not! If one gives Boris credit for being the “true” sacrificer, it seems misplaced.

The trouble I have with this is that the idea of sacrifice seems to necessitate a distaste for doing something, though doing it nonetheless in the name of sacrifice. Even if my grumbling is done surreptitiously, am I not still acting with somewhat of a rotten attitude? Which is genuine sacrifice?

It seems to me the trick in getting help with something is not to find people to “sacrifice”. It is to find people which love doing whatever task is at hand. Of course I need not have it pointed out that many of the tasks we need help with will be loved by none! I think we just need to accept the fact that sacrifice will seldom if ever be met with cheers and smiles. This, after all, seems to be what makes it sacrifice.

If one lauds those who conceal their contempt for the task at hand, might we suggest their lack of being forthright about this as being in some way dishonest? Might the best sacrificer be the one who makes it perfectly clear he would rather be on a beach frolicking about with beautiful babes than helping out with this miserable task? What is sacrifice?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Must Heaven Be Larger Than A Narrow Box?

Why are views regarding who will go to heaven and who will not seem to be getting less restrictive? Because as different cultures with different religious views come together as a result of globalization, it becomes more and more apparent that exclusive views are no longer tenable.

In the USA, for example, the European settlers (invaders might better describe it for the realist) came over here and decimated the native people and subsequently adopted a predominantly Christian landscape. Up until the USA started seeing substantial numbers of non-Christian peoples, there were largely Christians and atheists. Even now, though probably not as much, atheists are thought of as largely expendable and as such it is easy to believe they will not get into heaven and worse yet will suffer eternity in hell.

But what about a wonderful neighbor who happens to be a Muslim, Buddhist or member of some other belief system? Is one prepared to believe these people will not adopt a place in heaven solely because they did not adhere to or believe in the “right” system? Increasingly less so I would say.

So what is a believer in "some will go to heaven and some will go to hell" to do with this new reality? Most will simply conjure up their own arbitrary belief to circumvent this dilemma. “God will ultimately evaluate us based on intentions,” something or other. (see How Will We Be Judged? for further consideration)

But then how does belief have anything to do with this? If we are evaluated on the basis of belief, then one must believe. On the other hand, if it is based on the purity and intention of a person's heart, why does belief matter in the least?

Hatred Toward Liberals Is A Proxy For Hating YOURSELF!

Seen on Conservapedia: A liberal is someone who loves double standards -- for his own (temporary) advantage. Hmm.....I guess this includes me? If you must hate me, so be it. I'll get over it.

In relation to how arbitrary regulations seem to be concerning government attempting to control peoples' lives through encouraging and sometimes seemingly forcing certain behaviors, why does the manner in which we define liberalism and conservatism in our society so often seem to betray their true meanings?

Is environmental control (thought of as a liberal pursuit) really liberal? Or is it more conservative? Liberals should by definition be more about “live and let live” but instead they want to implement strict rules such as banning smoking everywhere. I really dislike smoking but deep down I believe any sort of no-smoking policy should be determined by the owner of any given establishment, in general. If there are enough people that “hate” smoke, this will be a business opportunity for those wishing to fill this void.

The arbitrariness of these kinds of things just reinforces my point that people generally let a collective mentality “think” for them. Of course just a small dose of scrutiny exposes the arbitrariness inherent in most “group” thought.

Liberalism seems to me a cross between conservatism and libertarianism. Libertarianism's mantra might be “live and let live”. Simply let the chips fall exactly as they will. Conservatism by definition should revolve around implementing regulations and laws in order to conserve tangible and intangible qualities of life as a means to uphold tradition. We might say it advocates or at least attempts to advocate the status quo through control. How about upholding the tradition of SLAVERY? I believe there was a war fought largely over "protecting" this status quo?

Since liberalism seems to arbitrarily pick and choose issues and ideas to control, it essentially violates any libertarian premise of “live and let live”. Conservapedia's claim follows suit then: liberalism IS predicated on double standards.

However, I don't believe anybody avoids double standards. Who out there does NOT form convictions, opinions and actions solely around those which are advantageous to HIMSELF/HERSELF/SELECTIVELY CHOSEN CAUSES?

If this is the case, perhaps we are all of us liberals, many of us masquerading under the auspices of conservatism and libertarianism.

I believe liberalism is essentially the spectrum that spans libertarianism on the left all the way through conservatism on the right. Is there anybody out there completely sold out to either end of the spectrum? Not likely. We all seem to be stuck somewhere in the middle. (see The Trouble With "The Middle" for clarification).

Liberalism's arbitrary issues and ideas are essentially the “zeitgeist” or “hot-button” issues of the day. 

On the other hand, I think conservatism has mix-ups and mismatches much like liberalism. Big business is associated predominantly with conservatism yet seems more akin to liberalism in that most conservatives tend to think in a libertarian way with a few arbitrary regulations implemented here and there to prevent cheating or despotism (which seems to be what capitalism “degenerates” into if left completely unregulated). Of course there is much disagreement over which regulations should be implemented because, once again, they are merely arbitrary. It seems the political parties of the day evolve to suit society's changing views based on the “zeitgeist”. Behold! Morality does evolve!

It seems then that conservatism in its strictest sense would be what liberalism appears to be in the USA, at least concerning capitalism and business. Whereas liberals seemingly attempt to control every aspect of businesses, is this not what conservatives should want to do? Strictly speaking, is not conservatism protecting and upholding tradition through control and regulation?

It seems to me that this “mismatch” if you will, is due to people not thinking for themselves. Instead, they let a collective think for them. The question is, who or what is the “brain trust” behind this collective thought which seems “mismatched”? Perhaps a person or group with a self serving agenda of some kind? In this way, people that let a collective think for them are essentially surrogates for some person's or group's self serving interests! And we call ourselves FREE?

Insofar as my definition of liberalism is concerned, it seems we are all liberal, of course many of us dressed in conservatives' and libertarians' garb. What could possibly make all of us liberal? The fact that we all arbitrarily believe some things should be regulated whereas other things should not no doubt motivated by personal preferences and life experiences, essentially for our own (temporary) advantages! We all seem to be “stuck” between conservatism and libertarianism. Not that there is the slightest thing wrong with this. It just is.

I think this once again reinforces the role that continuities play in this reality. Our only method of dealing with these continuities is to attempt to intertwine discontinuous solutions to issues that can only be resolved continuously. (see Drawing Lines for clarification) And how could we not? It is the only conceivable method of dealing with the nature of our reality. This of course creates many of the paradoxes and hence disagreements in life. Could one be libertarian or conservative yet simultaneously be liberal? It seems so, does it not?

Does God Prefer Paternalism Or Self-Reliance?

I shall preface this by supposing a paternalistic and socialistic society of God's would not seem oppressive or evil because it would be the choice (perhaps this "choice" could only ever be conceived through God's use of force and manipulation?) of every member to partake in “spreading wealth and resources evenly”.

In any case, I want to digress into a discussion concerning believers in God and their thoughts on how society should view paternalism and self-reliance from a purportedly “Godly” perspective.

First off, is it not painfully obvious that any view of this dichotomy is completely arbitrary? Some will espouse a God that inspires complete self-reliance whereas others will espouse a God that inspires complete paternalism. But of course far more will espouse a God that is some combination of the two. The overly confident will arrogantly assume God desires whatever combination of self-reliance and paternalism they deem ideal.

But I don't think “God”, whatever one sees as God, can be placed in one of these groups (or even in a combination of them) because they are merely interpreted by the limited perspective inherent in an individual. But God's perspective can not be individual. God's perspective must be collective. And I think God's interpretation of these ideals is that they are both good and bad, both true and false simultaneously. Neither is ideal in itself nor is any combination thereof because we humans are forever engrossed in a collective struggle, especially of ideals.

Ultimately, I believe God's view on this (again, whatever God might mean to you) is for humanity to be One such that it is the desire and choice of all humanity to share wealth and resources freely. In this sense, it is socialism through desire and choice not through force and manipulation. I am NOT by any means claiming this is what we should strive for, or am I?

In any case, this is my view as to how God sees it. Whether most, including myself, are willing to deliberately embrace a socialistic society seems very far-fetched. Is this perchance what makes it ideal? Perhaps this is why most envision heaven as a place beyond here?* For they very much wish to experience a totally socialistic society, perhaps unconsciously, but have it not in them to embrace this because it would entail redistributing their (my) coveted wealth and status.

I think Jesus advocated a socialistic society predicated on choice, not through government force or manipulation nor guilt for that matter. However, it seems governments must ultimately force or manipulate. Otherwise nobody wants to pay for and/or support necessities outside their interest(s). Everybody wants to party but nobody wants to clean up! In any case, Jesus talks about giving out of the heart, not doing so out of a sense of duty or obligation. Giving out of a sense of duty or obligation will likely lead to resentment, bitterness, guilt and perhaps above all feelings of self-righteous entitlement. This seems to be our Achilles' Heel if you happen to be one that envisions a world such as this. On the other hand, if you are one who sees the current world as ideal, maybe it is not an Achilles' Heel at all. Maybe it is exactly as it should be!

Many (especially the religious among us masquerading under the auspices of "working for God") will correctly but naively claim this type of society would undermine incentive and motivation to put forth maximum effort or any at all. The problem with this is that it implies they are motivated only for the sake of reward and compensation. But then what becomes of their claimed or at least IMPLIED pretext of "working for God"?

Furthermore, if everybody imagines a “heavenly” realm where we are all of us perfectly happy and harmonious, might this be a place where we are all equally endowed with resources yet feel not the least bit cheated because we are so happy and fulfilled being ourselves and hence doing that which we love? In this way, wealth would be of little importance. I am not by any means claiming this to be my reality nor am I necessarily suggesting society should follow this model. I am simply pointing out that peoples' conception(s) of what heaven is or should be, literally or figuratively, seems to mimic this. Which suggests people want this type of society. The question is, why must we wait?

Presumably because many (including moi) can not bear the thought of parting ways with our hard-earned wealth and status. This is why many leave it to God in the "Great Beyond" to change their attitude. As in, “God, I can not embrace a socialistic attitude here. It would require me to share everything I own with all others, many of which I do not care for in the least. I would like You to change my attitude when I get to heaven so I can willingly embrace sharing with all Your miscreants.” Of course most ideas of heaven are devoid of materiality rendering the idea of sharing irrelevant anyway! Such is the absurdity inherent in these kinds of ideas when scrutinized even in the least.

*Please see further corollary to heaven in the following blog posts:
A Heavenly Realm
A New Take On Heaven
The Collective Struggle Of Existence

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are Most Convictions Actually True Or Merely Practically So?

For the sake of argument, suppose the ultimate reason many people wholeheartedly believe their perspective on any given matter (not by any means limited to religious/political convictions) is absolutely true and right is because in the context of a social and civil society there is intrinsic benefit in measuring values and especially behavior with 1 standard, however arbitrary it may be. We could say this unconsciously encourages people to persuade others that they are in possession of "the absolute truth".

The proximate reason people wholeheartedly believe their perspective constitutes the unadulterated truth is that they believe it is actually true. So the belief that it is actually true solely as a means to get everybody to “join” the group as a means to adopt the same values such that behavior can be “fairly” evaluated can be said to be practically true. Practically true to the extent that adhering to this 1 absolute standard for conduct and behavior can be beneficial for society regardless of whether it is actually true.

Many will claim this idea is a total mockery of “God's truth”. But my response to those that think it egregious to suggest this is to question their own motivations. If they are particularly angry at the idea of belief being merely practically true and not actually true, could it be that they are (more than likely unconsciously) motivated solely by their belief that they will actually be rewarded by God for being good and/or avoid punishment for not being bad? If this is the case, then their motivations can surely be questioned.

On the other hand, those that do not react bitterly to this supposition probably “get it”. It does not matter whether beliefs are actually true. What matters is that they are merely practically true as a means to improve cooperation and promote positive social interaction within society.

The challenge is getting EVERYBODY behind 1 ultimately arbitrary standard!

What Kind Of Freedom?

Are we really a FREE society? If freedom must include “freedom of expression”, then what could be wrong with all the "filth" that Hollywood broadcasts? Is it not our choice as citizens to either watch or not watch this "filth"? What ultimately influences Hollywood anyway? Money, which stems from viewership. It seems we, as a society, have chosen to watch this "filth". Of course this leads to questioning whether we are really free.....from our own depravity. What kind of freedom do we seek? "Freedom of expression" or "freedom from our own depravity"?

What then is or perhaps more accurately SHOULD be the ultimate ideal concerning freedom? Do we create a society predicated on "freedom of expression" (so long as these acts do not hurt others, this itself seemingly dubious in many instances) or "freedom from our own depravity" (of course this itself dependent on a consensus as to what constitutes depravity)? One seems to preclude the other in many instances.

"Freedom of expression" should theoretically leave Hollywood unhindered to broadcast whatever it so desires. But what about the seeming fact that this "filth" easily permeates and corrupts the minds of the impressionable among us, especially children and adolescents? Will somebody please think of the children! This sentiment seems to suggest we must censor material as we are essentially too weak-minded to control ourselves from sinking into the depths of our own depravity. But I think it reasonable to say that nobody is forced to watch t.v.! It is a choice!

In this sense, if one is hurt by this "filth", it is "self-caused"! And if determining "allowable expressions of freedom" are to be based on whether these expressions might lead to "self-caused" hurt, then I am afraid just about everything any of us does can cause "self-caused" hurt and lead others into "self-caused" hurt as well! For all I know, my eating a jelly donut in a coffee shop may, apart from my own "self-caused" hurt, cause one who is stricken with obesity or severe gluten intolerance to imbibe in a batch of them and hence engage in "self-caused" hurt just the same! Is this my fault? I think not.

Then I think it no more credible to claim that Hollywood is anymore at fault for what we choose to view. We must take ownership of our own depravity and not blame others! In any case, where must we draw the line between what should be allowed and what should not given that anything allowed can potentially cause "self-caused" hurt?

How should we resolve this freedom "dilemma"? The ideal of freedom seems predicated on how one defines freedom. "Freedom to act as we wish" or "freedom to avoid our own depravity"? It seems to me that many societies "we" label oppressive are simply seeking freedom based on the notion of "avoiding their own depravity". For if many practices thought to be destructive to society are banned simply as a means to maintain a more moral society (of course banning immoral behavior does not make a society moral, it simply prohibits their immoral tendencies which would otherwise likely manifest), how can this be oppressive? It is simply "freeing" the society of its inherent depravity. This is seen as freedom to some, but oppression to others!

Of course few view this issue with a strict either/or perspective. Most arbitrarily determine what must be allowed for the sake of being "free to act as we may" versus what must not be allowed under any circumstances because of its ill-effects on the morality and well-being of society. This arbitrariness is apparent in our society as it pertains to how we view, for instance, illegal drugs and food.

Many believe controlled substances are prohibited for the sake of protecting society from its ill effects. This could be the case but my own suspicion is that the government is reluctant to legalize currently illegal substances unless or until it can figure a way to control and hence TAX them. If this is not the case, perhaps these substances are illegal for the aforementioned reason: they cause undue harm to society. If so, what about the food industry?

What with the health-care issue plaguing our society, can not a reasonable argument be made to control the way our society feeds itself? How much of our precious health care resources are utilized to mitigate the effects of poor health caused by poor diet? If we prohibit certain drugs because of their ill effects on society, why not use this same reasoning to ban all junk foods and perhaps even FORCE every citizen to eat a ration of raw spinach and kale at every meal? How much might health care expenditures decrease?

Once again, do we as a society seek "freedom of expression" (which commonly leads to enslavement to something else) or "freedom from our own depravity" (which keeps depravity at bay only through suppression or force)? It seems both options, as they pertain to freedom, leave something to be desired.

Is there even such a thing as freedom? Or is it one of the many seeming paradoxes we must cope with on this godforsaken mud-ball we call Earth?

Is Man Trustworthy?

It's funny how those with dogmatic views on "hot-button" issues so arbitrarily justify or deny the democratic process. For instance, concerning referendums to sanction gay marriage, if the majority votes in favor of not legalizing gay marriage, the vociferous "anti-gay marriage" advocates will claim that "man's" verdict is the infallible truth. What a great service democracy is for humanity! 

But how does one suppose these same "anti-gay marriage" advocates would respond if 75% of voters were in favor of legalizing it? "Well, ah, this verdict just, um, demonstrates how sinful and depraved we are, uh, as a society!" We must, therefore, seek God's counsel on this issue! Of course a truly open-minded interpretation of "God's Word" doesn't really have anything to say about gay marriage one way or the other.

Are you starting to see that behind this kind of reasoning is NOT God but competing EGOS all trying to have things their way? Perhaps many of us have taken Burger King's advice a bit too far?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Sexuality

He's nice but he's gay. Contrast that to he's nice and he's gay. Do you see the difference? The former response is held by somebody indoctrinated with the idea that homosexuality is “wrong”. The latter response is held by somebody accepting of the person as he truly is. In this case, homosexuality is neither right nor wrong. It just is.

Many are critical of homosexuality, it is often more or less implied, because they tend to be promiscuous. Well, if this is the case, it is not homosexuality that is the problem, rather it is promiscuity. But one need not be homosexual to be promiscuous. Just observe all the “illegitimate” children of society. Furthermore, with promiscuous gays at least there are not “unwanted” children.

On the other hand, as everything is a trade-off, one might point out that AIDS is much more prevalent in gays and as such puts a bigger burden on our health care system. Well, here are the choices: 1)”unwanted” kids which more often than not place a terrible strain on society and themselves or 2) increased cases of AIDS which likewise place a terrible strain on society. Which is the least terrible of these seemingly terrible choices?

For those who consider homosexuality to be wrong not because it leads to promiscuity but because it is immoral in itself, what about heterosexuals who are promiscuous? Why is the “spotlight of shame” not on them as well? Far be it from me to say promiscuous heterosexuals are glorified, but they certainly are not vilified to the extent homosexuals seem to be. Heterosexuals' promiscuous behavior, according to this line of argument, is no less sexually immoral than homosexuality itself. Now, to my point.

For those who do believe homosexuality is wrong, consciously or unconsciously, because they believe it causes promiscuity, could it actually be that those predisposed to promiscuity tend to be homosexual? In other words, could homosexuality be caused by a tendency to be promiscuous? In this way, one could actually see homosexuals as heroes! HUH? How so? Well, imagine if they were promiscuous and heterosexual? There would be even more unintended (unwanted, to be politically incorrect) children straining society.

Might homosexuality be an ingenious way for evolution to govern populations? So in this case, maybe there is a promiscuity gene that is highly correlated to a homosexuality gene? One would have to make a good case for homosexuals being statistically more likely to be promiscuous than others for this argument to have any validity. Suffice it to say, I do not know whether something like this is true but am injecting a different perspective into the discussion for the sake of leaving “no stones unturned”.

Does homosexuality tend to lead to promiscuity or does promiscuity tend to lead to homosexuality? Or might there be little or no correlation? Do not in any way take this to mean it is even true that homosexuals are statistically more promiscuous. I am merely investigating causality as this should have a profound impact concerning peoples' convictions on such matters.

Concerning those who fear accepting and tolerating homosexuality will lead to further declines in society, a couple of things. First off, homosexuals can not spread their genetic predisposition through blood, so to speak, as they can not procreate. In this way, not being condescending in the least, natural selection seems to take care of the “problem” of homosexuality for those who fear its proliferating beyond control. As for homosexual couples adopting, it is very unlikely their children will have any more tendency to be homosexual than those from “straight” homes.

But the wild card might be supposing that in the future, male couples as well as female couples will have the ability to propagate via surrogates. This I have nothing to say about other than it is what it is or shall I say it will be what it will be.

For those that might think homosexuality to be on the rise, maybe this is evolution's brake, as it were, on population. Is this necessarily a bad thing?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Playing God 2

My problem is not with God per se, rather it is with peoples' ideas of Him which cater to their seemingly arbitrary whims. For instance, many believe humanity should use its knowledge and expertise to intervene in debilitating DNA coding errors and other less threatening genetic imperfections. As such, much work is being done to control and hopefully even eliminate diseases, birth defects and numerous other undesirable attributes once and for all. What a great coup for humanity! But for God?

If one supposes DNA errors to be “oversights of God”, then our attempts to repair them seem to assume He does not want these “imperfections". So perhaps many things are NOT the way God would like them to be*? But does this not seem to imply He lacks omnipotence? Otherwise, why would DNA coding errors and other genetic imperfections ever happen?

On the other hand, to deny His being anything less than omnipotent would imply He does have complete authority. In which case, perhaps things are just as they are because He wants them just as they are? To lend further credence to this notion, why is it often said by the faithful that our gravest adversities “glorify God”? In this sense, might our intervention be taking due glory away from Him? How dare us!

Even if it is supposed God wants us to intervene in nature's “imperfections”, this is problematic. For how do we distinguish between that which is sufficiently imperfect enough to elicit our intervention and that which is not. In other words, what is 1)an imperfect enough circumstance such that God would bless our attempt to change it as opposed to 2)an insufficiently imperfect enough circumstance that we must therefore humbly accept?

For instance, I'm pretty much going bald but am probably one of the few that accept and, dare I say, like it. But what about others who are tormented by this same fate? Is this imperfection worthy enough to challenge God's authority or something we must humbly accept? I guess it depends on whom you ask.

What about those who suffer from gluten intolerance? It seems to overshadow hair loss as an imperfection but does this necessarily qualify it as being worthy enough an imperfection to usurp God's authority? Once again, it seems to depend on whom you ask. Maybe God doesn't care what we do? Or maybe He doesn't care so long as we have “good” justification for our intervention?

But how would we determine what “good” justification is? That seems pretty straightforward. Simply appeal to our own arbitrary whims. What then becomes of God's authority on the matter?

*Using the assumption that God does not necessarily want things just as they are, why is it so often assumed or at least implied that every fetus is God's desire and will**? If we assume God does NOT want babies being born with cystic fibrosis even though nature allows for it, why should we anymore assume God DOES want every fetus to be born just because nature allows for it? In other words, if one uses the argument that a fetus is God's will just because “it happened”, it should be no less argued that cystic fibrosis is God's will just because “it happened”. In this case, perhaps we should abandon our attempts to "repair" these types of tragic ailments? Might cystic fibrosis and other crippling maladies be God's unalterable will? My deepest condolences to those faced with these life-shortening diseases. In any case, this perfectly illustrates the apparent arbitrariness of how people “see” God in the way they approach difficult issues like this. But alas, I do not “see” God in circumstances such as these because the "answers" simply cater to the arbitrary whims of people. These issues are very troubling to me. The difficulties of these kinds of decisions seem much more manageable when one eliminates God. In this way, one can take refuge in his or her conscience in resolving issues like this as opposed to seeking God's seemingly nebulous counsel on such matters which ultimately degenerates into nothing but arbitrary whims! This of course implies my own suspicion that GOD, and perhaps more specifically the mere idea of God, is simply a proxy for each individual's EGO. In this way, seeking God is simply appealing to your own conscience. However, the danger in believing it is "God" as opposed to one's conscience that is behind these types of difficult decisions is it systematically inflates one's sense of right(eous)ness. For instance, if my conscience "tells" me something, I will be very forthright that it is merely MY CONSCIENCE/OPINION and as such I will AMIABLY disagree with dissenters! How will one spoon-fed the "truth" straight from the Horse's mouth likely respond? With absolute conviction, "I am hereby incontrovertibly right because my decision comes not from MY woeful, fallible conscience BUT FROM GOD HIMSELF! How then can one reasonably question this? 

**IF it is assumed ALL fetuses are God's "Supreme Plan", then it would seem perfectly fair, perhaps even OBLIGATORY, to implicate God in rapes whereby impregnation occurs. IF, on the other hand, this notion is rejected, why is it so many out there seem to be such staunch advocates of protecting EVERY fetus like they were all of them part of God's "Supreme Plan"?

I know this subject will likely incite anger and hostility but this is not my purpose. My purpose is to demonstrate how these kinds of issues are so seldom dealt with anything resembling that of rational thought because they all too often become hijacked by EMOTION. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but I only wish to expose the utterly absurd implications many of these "emotionally-based" conclusions lead to. Henceforth, I only ask that we think more before making audacious moral claims that oftentimes sow nothing but anger and resentment in those that do not see eye to eye with us.

Paradise Questioned?

The idea that man fell while in God's created Paradise seems asinine to me. As if one whispered to another, “you know, we could become Gods ourselves if we broke out of this shit hole!”

But if God's created Paradise was in fact “paradise”, why would anybody have wanted to leave? A seemingly more powerful argument is how in bloody hell could anybody have known or even conceived of anything better (like being his own God*) if everything was already perfectly paradisal?

How then are we to be assured that heaven in the afterlife will not simply revert back to the same supposed “hell” we find ourselves in now? 

*Though after watching the movie Bruce Almighty, why in God's name (pun intended) would ANYBODY want to be HIM?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

To Lie Or Not To Lie.....That Is The Question

Socrates exposes very well the conflicting moral issues with telling the truth or not. For the sake of argument, we will claim that lying is evil and therefore immoral.

At this point, suppose a sane man lends a gun to a friend. Over time, the sane man becomes mad, ever impulsive and violent. He then inquires his friend as to the whereabouts of his gun. The friend has a choice to make. He can produce the gun and give it back knowing full well the likelihood something terrible will happen as a result. Or he can simply lie to him and say the gun is lost.

We might say by giving the gun back, he promotes morality by not lying. On the other hand, if he lies, he promotes peace insofar as the mad man not being able to do anything violent with the gun. Which choice is “right”?

If he gives the gun back knowing full well the likelihood that harm will be done, how will he sleep at night? On the other hand, if he lies to avoid complicity in a future crime, then it is not imperative to tell the truth. In other words, immorality seems to be called for. But then how must we distinguish “right” lying from “wrong” lying?

How can it be anything but arbitrary based on a single perspective which can not in itself point to anything absolutely true? At this point, we have established that it is not wrong to lie. Or we could just as well say it is not imperative to promote peace if one feels compelled to avoid lying at any cost. What do you think? What might God think?

Must God always be honest or are there reasonable exceptions for Him? If one declares God to be free from these kinds of dilemmas more commonly associated with us mere mortals, how then does one discern God would want him to respond?

The following example clearly illustrates where right and wrong/good and bad seem to conflict with honesty:

Assume the following unattractive girl will not suspect being patronized in the least. Telling this ugly girl she is pretty when she clearly is not might seem to be wrong (because it is a lie) but good, as it will likely make her feel good or at least better about herself. Conversely, not telling this ugly girl she is pretty might seem to be right (because at least it is not a lie) but bad, as she will not be made to feel good or at least better about herself. Does not either response seem fraught with dilemma?

Why should she be made to feel good or better about her appearance if she really is ugly? On the other hand, perhaps we should inspire her with confidence by lying or at least exaggerating about her appearance? In any case, there is something unsettling about this to me.

Maybe we should not lie to her by telling her she is pretty when she is not but rather find a compliment that is true, perhaps her superlative loyalty, something or other? Which response is right? Once again, what would God do or at least what would God want you to do in this situation?

There does not seem to be an absolutely “right” answer! For that matter, neither does there appear to be an absolutely “wrong” answer! Might any answer be right? Or perhaps wrong? To lie or not to lie.....that is the question.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Musing Over La-La Land

God is a perfect judge with perfect grace! There is a blinding contradiction here. If God's grace is going to spare us from what we deserve, how can He ever give us what we deserve? Alternatively, how can He be a perfect judge if His grace precludes Him from judging us fully and hence perfectly?

Here seem to be the only possibilities to resolve this dilemma: 1) one is absolutely true and the other is false. This necessarily means we are either all saved or all screwed! 2) Neither is true. 3) They are both relatively true. But of course if their individual truth is relative they can just as well both be absolute! This contradiction is but circular nonsense! (see The Duality Of Relativism/Absolutism for clarification) Which seems to be the only reasonable conclusion? I would say 2) neither is true.

Ultimately, behind this warm and fuzzy idea that a perfect God is going to save good people and condemn bad people just does not overcome the simplest of scrutiny. Apart from opinions, how is it determined who is good enough to be spared and who is bad enough to be condemned?

“It has nothing to do with being good or bad, rather, it has everything to do with being saved through belief,” it is often asserted. The problem with this is extensively dealt with in my discussion on what belief is (Obfuscating The Christian Doctrine Of Salvation), and suffice it to say, seems to come up short as a tenable explanation.

Basically, the idea behind this view is believing Jesus Christ died for our sins and hence is an atonement for all of our egregious acts and thoughts, past, present and future. But what about the person who believes “everything” as it were but is nonetheless a complete prick? Conversely, what about the person with a heart of gold who believes seemingly “nothing”? 

One might naively claim the prick does not really believe. Why? Because he does not do what he believes or at least claims to believe? Be careful here! This is a very slippery slope! If this is the standard as to what constitutes belief, we all fail miserably. None of us can even in principle do everything we claim to believe, as only Jesus could supposedly.

So using this as a measurement of belief would require a purely subjective evaluation as to what is an acceptable amount of “failure” so as to still be considered belief. Thus, in order for one's beliefs to be “genuine”, he must ultimately demonstrate said beliefs through “action”. In other words, one must “do” what he claims to believe.

That the prick does not really believe is predicated on the notion that he must “prove” he believes by “doing”! And of course the dilemma with the idea of “doing” as being paramount to demonstrating that one “truly” believes is problematic because this can only be measured on purely subjective terms.

I think what needs to be pointed out is, at the end of the day, I could not care less what somebody believes. Ultimately, what does seem to matter to me is how I am treated. If people “believe” but are jerks, do I care one iota that they “believe” this or that?

Conversely, if people believe nothing but treat me with supreme kindness and respect, do I care that they do not believe this or that? What do you think? What might God think?

The Relativity Of "Absolute" Truth

It's funny how people interpret things in contradictory fashions. For instance, in this new age of greater tolerance, non-denominational churches typically gain members at the others' expense. The proponents of non-denominational churches then go on to claim that God is blessing churches that address the importance of being “relevant” to today's more tolerant and pluralistic society. 

What will the dwindling sects claim? That Jesus said the path of truth is very narrow and the general masses turning away from this “narrow path of truth” is incontrovertible evidence that theirs is the one and only “true” path.

Notice how each justifies whatever is in a very ad hoc manner. This is why I say “absolute” truth is simply a concoction of the ego. Alas, this nicely explains why there are so many opposing claims of “absolute” truth.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Futile Argument: Attempting To Make God Necessary For Moral Values To Be Meaningful

The more one tries to convince others that moral precepts have no value apart from God, the more he demeans the values themselves. This is problematic as it implies that values, such as compassion and forgiveness, are only meaningful if it is believed they originate with God. This is a complete MOCKERY of Him! 

How so? Well, it essentially implies that the only reason said moral precepts are followed is to avoid angering God or perhaps just to curry favor with Him, aka "bribery". But if I were God, which thankfully I am NOT, it would insult Me more that My children were following My "good" moral precepts only out of fear and perhaps in order to curry favor with Me as opposed to following them simply because they were deemed good in themselves!

Once again, it is as if one is saying, "OK God, I will be frank with you. I think your moral precepts are pretty lame but if they are the values you want me to live by, then I will do so (with at least a hint of reluctance). Now if one denies this, he is simply acknowledging that God is not necessary for moral precepts to have meaning.

The Ugly Side Of Caring

Could it be construed as meaningless to not care? I think so. But what if only by not caring can one be at peace, at least in some situations? This then seems to suggest peace itself can be meaningless. Which further suggests that if you care as an ideal, you will be precluded from upholding peace as an ideal.*

This seems to make sense looking around the world. It is only by caring so deeply that people routinely become slaves to madness. For instance, overly convicted people willing to commit unspeakable horrors only because they care so much about upholding their absolute view of truth. Peace in this case must fall by the wayside because it is in the way of their ultimate aim: to further their view of truth.

Many will say that without “caring” the world would systematically degenerate into a cold, cruel place only because there was no caring in the world. But alas, the world is already a cold, cruel place only because people care so much. There is both good and bad in caring and not caring. Lest we forget, everything is a trade-off!

An example of this "caring/peace" conflict follows:

Many might readily admit they are more inclined to care as an ideal thereby consigning peace to a subordinate position in cases where the 2 conflict. But at this point, what basis does anybody have to claim the things he cares about are the very things everybody else must or at least should care about? What happens when somebody else cares as an ideal but has different cares? Conflict will ensue, be it through thought or action. 

There will be judgment, fighting, arguing, name calling, feelings of arrogant self-righteousness, gnashing of teeth, etc. It need not be an “in-your-face” assault. A more subtle, seemingly peaceful response to this “conflict of cares” is passive aggressiveness. Pretending not to be bothered but being immensely so internally. Claiming to respect one's opinions but “secretly” thinking this person's opinions to be “dead wrong”, perhaps even evil. This has a very insidious effect on the state of things when all such feelings are taken into account. 

In contrast, if one's ultimate aim is peace, in situations where it requires not caring, conflict is thereby avoided. But alas, human beings have a seemingly unconscious, insatiable appetite for conflict masked only by their belief that they are upholding truth and righteousness, the most sacred of all virtues! It is only through conflict that the ego becomes fully empowered.

It seems those that embrace peace as an ideal appear weak because it limits or even “castrates” their ego as it were. Or perhaps those that do not embrace peace as an ideal simply overpower those that do making peace appear inherently impotent. Does this make it inferior?

I think of how Jesus might respond to this, with a question no doubt. Are you more interested in winning the argument or the person? Sometimes winning the person requires us to put aside our “cares”. Why do so few people seem to heed this wisdom? One word: EGO! 

*It is important to point out why I used the imperative will as opposed to might. Remember, an ideal is only so if always followed. Why is this? Without it being imperative, who is to say when it must or must not be followed? In this case, I am reasoning that there are at least some instances where not caring is the only path to peace. Therefore, one can not care as an ideal without contradicting peace as an ideal. So caring and peace must be mutually exclusive, at least sometimes. You can aim for one or the other but you can not uphold both ideals. So it is not the case that one might be precluded from upholding peace but rather one will be precluded from doing so if caring is embraced as an ideal. The converse is of course true as well. One will be precluded from caring as an ideal if peace is embraced as an ideal.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Dilution Of Heroism?

The pilot that successfully landed the A320 on the Hudson River, Chesley Sullenberger, and spared every life aboard the plane is not a hero as a result of this amazing feat. He is a pilot. And a damn good one at that!

If I was responsible for bringing that plane down safely on the water, it is all but certain I would have failed miserably. Not necessarily because I am no hero but because I am no pilot!

To me, a hero is simply one who resists instinct in order to save others. By resisting instinct, I mean willingly facing danger that violates one's instinct to avoid said danger. But in this case, the pilot did not choose the danger. It befell him. He was simply doing what he does best.*

If one is still unable to resist the temptation to label Sullenberger a hero, imagine a different scenario. What if he was a true hero but less skilled as a pilot, and as a result, everybody perished. Would he posthumously be labeled a hero? Not likely.

It seems successful outcomes such as this inspire feelings of heroism. But it is nothing short of certain outcomes like this stem more from professionalism and perhaps even luck, not heroism. 

*Many might claim the pilot's "real" heroism was demonstrated by him being the last one off the aircraft. But isn't this one of the pilot's fundamental duties, if able? For if he was not the last one off and there was loss of life, the pilot would live the rest of his life with this burden. Is this behavior (a pilot choosing to be the last one off the plane) indicative of heroism? No. It is a behavior motivated predominantly by a pilot's wish to avoid being charged with “dereliction of duty”. Even a coward would likely do the "right" thing to avoid being ostracized by society!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Should The People Decide?

Concerning an issue like gay marriage, should it be determined by a public referendum? If so, should a public referendum in favor of slavery be valid just the same (as I'm sure society would have at some point in the past favored)? If not, why should a public referendum against or even in favor of gay marriage be any more valid just because a majority of its citizens desire it? Just the same, what would a public referendum in Nazi Germany have yielded? Perhaps solidarity with Nazi propaganda?

Majority opinion on a given issue does not necessarily make it right or good, nor does it necessarily make it wrong or bad. How then are we to know what "progress" really is? It seems neither majority opinion nor supposedly benevolent politicians offer any clear answers to this. Perhaps we should seek God to shed light on such matters? If so, the question now becomes, whose God?

Even if majority opinion suggests we follow "God X" (of course as per my fundamental argument even this is dubious), there is still no consensus as to how we are to view "God X" anyway. Does "God X" want a society built upon self-reliance (strive for a more capitalistic approach) or does He prefer a society built upon reliance on Himself and by extrapolation others (strive for a more socialistic approach)? Does He want society to be conformed or tolerant? Does He want a society that places judgment on our failures and scandals or grace, mercy and forgiveness? Does He want a society that embraces ecological balance even at the expense of humanity or does He prefer a society that places utmost importance and care on humanity?

Of course the obvious response to these questions would be to say that God's "truth" lies somewhere in the "middle" of all these dichotomies. But this obfuscates the problem just the same because there is no consensus as to what the "middle" actually entails. Ultimately, people harbor conflicting views of the same God!

Who then can we necessarily trust? Not the masses, surely. Neither can we trust allegedly benevolent politicians. Nor apparently even GOD!* How about trusting ourselves as individuals? I must confess that this scares the living daylights out of me! Trust myself? In any case, how shall we address our intense disagreements? 

*I can't help but think peoples' supposed "trust in God" is simply a proxy for trusting themselves. In other words, it is a projection of EGO onto "all-knowing and infallible God". This in turn elevates peoples' mere opinions to stratospheric "holier than thou" heights because after all, they come not from self but from GOD. So in essence, we seem to arrive back at the idea of trusting ourselves as individuals. But once again, how shall we address our intense disagreements?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When And When Not Reason Is Acceptable

The bible cautions us not to (necessarily) lean on our own understanding. This sounds reasonable, perhaps even wise, but then a troubling question arises: when and when not are we to lean on our own understanding*?

The dilemma in this situation is that any assessment as to whether we can justify our own reasoning can only ever be based on things presupposed. For instance, if one's own understanding compels him to believe God is good, then he is of course justified in using his own understanding. However, if one's own understanding compels him to believe God is bad (at least sometimes), then he is unjustified in using his own understanding. Satan must be playing tricks on his mind! Or perhaps he has deluded himself?

The important thing to point out is that NO reasoning is used at all! In fact, IT CAN NEVER BE! That God is always and all good is supported by a presupposed belief, devoid of any reasoning. Of course the reasoning which clearly opposes the presupposed belief that God is always and all good (that God is bad, at least sometimes) is considered "faulty". As such, the inference is completely abandoned.

Therefore, the usage of reasoning was either used 1) to confirm something already believed or 2) to flatly reject something clearly in opposition to what was already believed!

It seems then that reason is forever prohibited in the context of a biblical interpretation. Perhaps this is just how God wants things?

*It would be a vicious lie if I ever claimed my own reasoning and understanding never let me down. However, I believe it serves me well more often than not.

What's Your Favorite Color?

There is a story based on ancient Greek thought concerning a professor who teaches a young boy law without charging tuition. It is only stipulated that fees be collected upon the boy's first successful case. However, after countless hours of being taught law, the boy decides to become a musician instead, much to the chagrin of his professor.

Wanting to collect fees from the boy, the professor figures he can sue the boy and win whether the court rules in his favor or not. His reasoning is thus: if he wins, the court rules the boy must pay tuition fees but even if he loses, the boy wins his first case, which, as per the agreement, would entitle the boy to pay up. The boy, who represents himself in the matter, sees things in a slightly different light. If he loses, obviously nothing is owed the professor because he fails to win his first case. But even if he wins his first case, the court rules in his favor meaning he owes nothing to the professor. So who is right?

Both are right. Each argument is logically sound. This paradox has puzzled many a philosopher for centuries without resolution. It is impossible to resolve this with any sort of “absolute” solution. Ultimately, whichever “right” answer is chosen is as subjective as one's favorite color. Neither answer is the moral imperative. This is how I see much of reality. I think this paradox illustrates why accepting alternative viewpoints is so beneficial for society. We need to stop claiming there is necessarily a good/bad or right/wrong dichotomy to everything just as a means to feel more right(eous). I used to discredit the idea that what is right for one is not necessarily right for another as liberal nonsense but in light of the aforementioned argument I now deem this mantra valid.

An example of this argument might concern God and fairness. What is fairness concerning financial matters? Many “conservative” people believe God's fairness concerning financial prosperity is based on the idea that one should reap what he sows. People that are smart and productive will thrive whereas those that are not will struggle. Where then is the grace (as in a man should not reap what he sows)?

On the other hand, the more “liberal” types tend to believe God's fairness concerning prosperity is based on the idea that one should not reap what he sows. Prosperity should in this case be distributed more evenly than will naturally occur thus necessitating higher income redistribution. Take wealth from productive people and give it to those, God bless 'em, that just don't want to produce or are very poor at it. There is of course grace here but where is the personal responsibility (as in a man should reap what he sows)?

Before progressing further, I want to say it is my belief that both of these viewpoints are valid or invalid if you like. In other words, neither is a moral imperative in itself. They are different ways of dealing with the fact that reality as we experience it is a trade-off.

Many staunch conservatives will claim liberals use income redistribution as a means to buy votes. And this certainly is true. But can not the liberal perspective claim the same thing concerning conservative dogma? “If you vote for me, I will create income tax sanctuaries for your hard earned dollars!” It is the same method of “buying” votes that liberals use so effectively.

It is so hard for one side to see the other as being in any way valid because each so badly wants to be “absolutely” right. The challenge in dealing with this conservative/liberal dichotomy is that we ultimately must reach a compromise because there is little chance either extreme would or could ever happen.

And herein lies the dilemma. What is the “proper” level of moderation concerning, for instance, taxes and income redistribution? It's just like picking a favorite color! We will be arguing about this for the rest of time to no avail! How about trading democracy for a dictatorship?

Though many will likely cringe at the thought of a dictatorship, who do people think rules heaven? The Supreme (perhaps benevolent) Dictator a.k.a. GOD. So what could possibly be wrong with a dictatorship? Maybe democracy isn't the optimal form of government after all? So what's your favorite color?

A Societal Problem?

Why do athletes dope? To be the best of the best which is ultimately what spectators seem to want. To substantiate my italicizing of seem, many will readily complain about athletes' tacky behavior, but this does not seem to deter them from attending sporting events. We can say it seems to be a rather symbiotic relationship.

The only reason I believe doping is wrong is because it is declared such. But this no-doping law is itself merely arbitrary, as are most laws. Might we question why doping is banned? Is it because of safety concerns? But there are so many other legal and unsafe practices that athletes routinely engage in so I hardly think this to be a rational reason to ban steroids. Is it because it is deemed unfair to those that do not cheat? Well, I guess this is true, but alas, life is not fair anyway. It is just as unfair for the 4 foot tall “shrimp” who only ever aspired to play in the NBA, but unfortunately uncooperative genes prevented his dream from being realized.

Perhaps one might argue that there is a qualitative difference between natural and artificial characteristics. Well then, what about an athlete who has corrective eye surgery resulting in 20/10 vision? This is an artificial characteristic just as much as the effects of steroids. Should this be banned as well?

Another typical argument is that we aspire to present our kids “positive” role models. Well, if this is the case, I would steer kids clear of idolizing athletes. Rather, I would steer kids toward those that exude first class character.

So if parents, and people in general, truly prioritized role models according to character and not ability, then ability would be less a focal point and hence the athlete might feel less compelled to “cheat” and more compelled to become a better person.

One of the central points of my philosophy is this: we need to become conscious of how we all individually and collectively contribute to the purported “problems” of society.

That Ugly Word, Discrimination!

Why do we discriminate? Because every decision we make is discriminatory. Each is simply a trade-off! Perhaps the more relevant question is where lies the “line of discrimination” whereby a choice becomes harmful?

Purchasing a red car versus a blue one seems pretty harmless unless we ascribe feelings to colors, right? But picking a job applicant only because one does not like people of a certain race or sex is obviously harmful, is it not?

What about picking between 2 candidates in which each appears equally competent though one is far prettier? Further assume the candidate's physical appearance will have a profoundly positive impact on potential customers. This choice will clearly necessitate discrimination, but is this the harmless or harmful type? Might one ask why this even matters since a decision must be made anyway?

If one thinks it to be the harmful type, he might be inclined to choose the less attractive candidate so as not to discriminate against those of more modest stock. But then he would be discriminating against pretty people!

Discrimination is unavoidable. It is what we might call a necessary evil. Be advised, much in life is akin to a zero sum game. As such somebody wins and somebody loses! The corollary to this is that we should probably just accept what is.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Exposing Pascal's Wager For What It Is

Blaise Pascal's Wager addresses unbelievers with something like this: since nobody knows whether or not God exists, it would be best to err on the side of caution such that one should believe "just in case". Otherwise, God will or at least might be angry with the unbeliever and thus have more reason to condemn him to a very undesirable place after death.

This is a total MOCKERY right in God's face! How, you ask? This kind of pleading attempts to intimidate and manipulate unbelievers to place "some" amount of faith in God. But I thought God wanted ALL OF US! What are those of us that justifiably CAN'T commit 100% of their faith and belief in God to do?

Would God honor more 1) an unbeliever who boldly faces Him with honest, heart-felt doubt or 2) one who tries to delude Him into believing his "partial faith" was anything more than a half-assed, cowardly attempt to avoid punishment and/or curry favor with Him?

Perhaps the converse of this would be the more appropriate of questions. As in, who would God dishonor more? 1) An unbeliever who boldly faces Him with honest, heart-felt doubt or, once again, 2) one who simply tries to delude Him into believing his "partial faith" was anything more than a half-assed, cowardly attempt to avoid punishment and/or curry favor with Him?

Then again, if God is all-knowing, there is no way anybody could ever fool Him.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Personal Scandal?

To me, the idea of somebody being “personal” to somebody else implies in some way a type of “bribe”. For one could say I am being “personal” to a friend of mine who happens to be competing for a contract by giving it to him simply for that reason. In other words, my choosing this friend has less to do with him being the best contractor and more to do with the fact that he is my friend. Hence, my “personal” response to him is essentially a “bribe”.

Now if it just so happens my friend is the best contractor for the job and as a result I choose him, it is not a “bribe” as it were nor is it “personal” in any way. It is simply on account of him being the best contractor for the job! With this insight then, the idea of a “personal” interaction between God and individual seems almost scandalous or at least highly suspect.

It is quite interesting to apply this same principal to the contempt society seems to harbor toward politicians that do this same thing. But if politicians are criticized for engaging in these kinds of personal favors (aka bribes), why is it us "average Joes" are not criticized for doing the same thing*?

For instance, many favor doing business only with those that represent groups they identify with and/or support. "I need a plumber! Does anyone know of a good Christian plumber?" If one is to avoid the implicit bribery and scandal inherent in this type of decision making, he should choose the best plumber regardless of his religious persuasion or lack thereof. Otherwise, this decision is but a personal favor (aka a bribe).

*Presumably many will claim that politicians are called to a higher standard than us "average Joes"! But then how would we determine the "threshold" at which this kind of "personal bribery" goes from something that is 1) simply expected and perhaps even respected to something that is 2) downright sleazy and scandalous?

The Power Of Metaphor

It is my opinion that those who take an overly literal interpretation of any given belief often and easily become distracted from any real meaning said belief might contain. Real meaning in the sense that it can provide practical insights with which to approach life and its associated problems which will arise sooner or later if they have not already.

For instance, taking the story of Adam and Eve literally, I get distracted by the talking snake. No amount of pleading has or ever will compel me to believe this literally. There is just no rational reason for me to believe there has ever been a snake that talked (except, of course, in the world of Harry Potter).

Literalists might figuratively (pardon the irony) feel compelled to argue such details as the type, size and venomousness of snake God or Satan might have appointed to the task of leading humanity astray. But this kind of information serves no practical purpose in dealing with life's matters. However, if this story is taken but metaphorically, it easily becomes meaningful.

I have dealt with this story specifically elsewhere, so I will summarize. Adam and Eve were “told” not to eat from the forbidden tree. It matters not whether God or an authority figure or perhaps even their individual consciences “told” them not to eat of the tree. What matters is that they rebelled against this “command” and it cost them dearly. As a result of this transgression, they became aware of their nakedness and were ashamed, whereas before they knew not even the concept of shame. They squandered away their “innocence”! Once this decision was made, it set into motion a host of negative repercussions precluding a return to “the good 'ole days”. Dealing with the painful consequences of this misdeed then became a prerequisite for any further progress. This is meaningful.

Imagine if people used this metaphor as a tool to avoid making rash or unwise decisions regarding any number of issues in life. One who is tempted to try cocaine, for instance, may want to ponder the meaning of this metaphor before he tries it. Cocaine is very addictive and as a result its use commonly leads to ruined or at least greatly hampered lives only because it was tried just once. The same can be said of young teen-age couples “creating” babies thus greatly limiting their potential options in life. Any number of different scenarios can be supposed making it personal to all of us.

Remember, when people lust for short-term gratification, there is likely despair and anguish in the long-term. Add to this the fact that everything is a trade-off and this metaphor becomes an encouragement to think twice before giving into temptation especially when it involves trading long-term benefit for short-term gain. This is but one of myriad ways a metaphor like this can be applied practically. I love metaphors because they beg us to ponder their meaning(s)!

Pondering The Origin Of Compassion

Where did the ideal of compassion originate? I presume many will feel this an opportune moment to tell me, "the idea of compassion comes from God and GOD ALONE!" Apart from pointing out that this would relegate compassion in itself to complete meaninglessness, why is it so arbitrary?

Arbitrary you ask? Arbitrary in the sense that it is not always followed. As I've made clear on numerous occasions, ideals seem ideal in the strictest sense only when always followed! Otherwise, one could claim to be compassionate toward abused babies and abandoned puppies but show little other than contempt and judgment for child molesters and rapists! This does not seem to make compassion ideal, rather it seems to make it little more than convenient.

So what could reasonably explain each individual's arbitrariness regarding whom to demonstrate compassion to and whom to not? I have an interesting idea as to how we might consciously or probably more commonly unconsciously "calculate" this. We simply accord compassion to those in circumstances we could see ourselves in or have already been in. In this way, we project a sort of "hope" that if the roles were reversed, these same people would bestow compassion on us. A tit for tat so to speak or perhaps a more evolutionary term, reciprocal altruism.

Why, one might ask, does it seem so few have compassion for child molesters and rapists? Because very few (we will desperately hope at least) could ever see themselves committing these kinds of egregious acts! Hence why few seem compelled to sympathize with them.

On the other hand, take those that have committed extra-marital affairs. As I have pointed out previously, if all those that judged others for having affairs did not have it in them to go on and do just the same, there would be far fewer affairs. Perhaps many who have compassion and forgiveness for those who are found out to have had affairs either consciously or unconsciously acknowledge the fact that they would or at least could go on to do just the same (or perhaps already have) and in this sense they are, once again, simply projecting "hope" that if the roles were reversed, these same people would bestow compassion and forgiveness on them!

I think this relegates compassion to being nothing but evolutionary group selection. In this sense, we engage in a sort of reciprocal altruism because it benefits US as individuals! This is decidedly selfish! Not that there is anything particularly wrong with this but then what becomes of the ideal of compassion as having originated from a God that commands or at least desires us to be selfless?

Perhaps the pinnacle of compassion would be forgiving child molesters and rapists? Hmm.....not sure I could do this especially if MY child and wife were their victims!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Internet: A Blessing Or A Curse?

Personalized internet filters are a great way to provide only the content each individual prefers. This seems very convenient and fairly innocuous concerning somebody's favorite types of movies and music. But what about tailoring an individual's news sources (most of which today is merely opinion and rhetoric) only to those that are preferred? What is bound to stem from this?

People become so identified with their chosen perspectives which only further reinforces the polarity of today's society. How then are we ever to settle life's most pressing issues?

In this regard, though we may exercise our freedom by listening only to those "news" sources that appeal to us, what does this systematically lead to? Enslavement to very narrow-minded perspectives. In this case, our freedom to listen to preferred news sources becomes a paradox in itself: ironically it leads to enslavement.

An interesting corollary to this is that one's perception of reality seems to become more “real” than reality itself, in turn exacerbating the already existing polarity causing more resentment, more hatred, more suspicion and other such destructive thoughts.

The Evolution Trap: Balancing Belief In The Biblical God With Intellectual Credibility

Many are reluctant to reject evolution outright fearing they will undermine their intellectual credibility. However, it becomes problematic to posit any sort of quasi evolution because at some point, difficult lines must be drawn necessitating choices that seem to preclude any sort of "middle ground".

For many claim they believe in evolution but NOT Darwin's strictly atheistic sort. At this point, it becomes a different flavor of evolution entirely. As such, why not just fabricate another name for this distinct ideology? For instance, if one is led to believe in evolution just enough so as to avoid jeopardizing his intellectual credibility but not enough to challenge his deep-seated religious convictions, he might believe any given species can evolve but outright reject inter-species evolution. And also likely believe "man" was lovingly crafted by God Himself.

In this way, God, whatever that might mean to somebody, got the ball rolling such that evolution (of lower level organisms at least) became necessary and "man" itself was specially created "as is, ready to go right out of the box!" Strictly speaking though, this is simply "creationism" all over again. For it is "God" Who simply paved the way for lower level evolution and custom engineered "man". In essence, He created. So why not just call this "Creationism 2.0"?

Carefully reflecting upon the beliefs of Francis Collins, the current Director of the National Institutes of Health, a seemingly insurmountable obstruction to believing in both evolution and the idea of a "God breathed soul" must be accounted for. In his book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief", there is something crucial he fails to explain: if we evolved from primates, at what discrete point did "WE" attain our coveted souls?

As such, if I were to investigate my family's lineage, it seems going back far enough would produce forebears something less than human. Oh how I grieve there being no chance to meet them in the afterlife only because they lacked souls! Did God think about this?

Now if one supposes primates have souls like "US", why would it stop here? What other species might be endowed with souls as well? Might mosquitoes have them too? As such, from where do we derive our moral justification for putting OURSELVES above all other species if many of them have souls just like us?

On the other hand, one can simply appeal to the unfalsifiable stand of, "well, that's just how God wants things!" The problem with this is it explains NOTHING. This type of view prohibits any sort of critical thinking. Perhaps that's just how God wants things? My own suspicion is "God" is simply a proxy for individual egos. In which case, how does "God" want things? However YOU say.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Just Set Of Laws

What is justice? A modern philosopher, John Rawls, created a thought experiment concerning just this. How could lawmakers discern what would be the perfectly “just” set of laws for society? His experiment was thus: have the lawmakers create a set of laws knowing full well they will die upon implementing these “just” laws. Here's the rub.....they are told they will then be reincarnated with no knowledge of what position they will hold in this forthcoming society they alone have shaped.

Will they be part of the ruling class? Will they constitute the elite and hence own the means of production? Or will they perhaps be merely a “mediocre” member of the proletariat? This forces the committee to create laws which are fair for all classes, hence perfectly “just” laws. Without this “arrangement”, any potential lawmaker will tend to advocate laws which sweeten his position above that of others. Now, now! No need to judge him.....after all, this is largely unconscious. Furthermore, if you were in this position, you would almost certainly do the same as well. As would I.

Remember, much in life is a zero-sum-game and as such, somebody wins and somebody loses. How many of those in a position to make laws are going to do so predicated on that which is not advantageous to them? Few or none in my opinion.

The trouble with this thought experiment is it “forces” anybody in this position to disassociate from evolutionary group selection. Which is no doubt what most of us unconsciously gravitate toward. And why would we not? This is likely obvious to those that believe in evolution.

On the other hand, for those that do not believe in evolution as a means to explain our inherent selfishness, why might this be so? Satan? Who or what is Satan? Perhaps a metaphor for our penchant to be selfish? But what might this be? Evolutionary group selection?

A Wise Insight From An Unexpected Source

A ball is randomly thrown in the path of a dog and you. What is the typical response of each? How will the dog respond? Most likely, it will “doggedly” pursue it. How will you respond? You will not likely chase the offending object because it is not in your nature to do so. Most likely you will pursue the cause of the object's presence.

This is due to the fact that you are much more aware than the dog. It could also be due to the fact that you (and likely other more aware creatures) have a must more distinct sense of the flow of time. What do I mean by this? Well, if a dog has little or no concept of the passage of time, might this explain why it does not investigate causality? Being, something happened only because something else must have happened previously.

It could be supposed that the dog will not look for a cause because it is only ever in the Present moment. I capitalized Present because I believe the Present moment is sacred. Why? Because there is much wisdom in embracing only the Present moment. Why? Because there only ever is the Present moment.

To a dog then, perhaps there is little or no sense of past and future. Therefore, what could causality ever mean to a dog? Hence the reason it finds little or no interest in the cause of an event. You can learn a lot from a dog.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How Do You Identify Yourself?

Identifying self with forms is how many in our society live their entire lives. It essentially means taking stuff from the outside to make us who we are. Examples include material objects like money, things, cars, expensive clothes, good looks, etc. The intangibles include things like popularity, accomplishments, strength, intelligence and many other things.

The problem this identity in form subjects us to is that all these things are fleeting. What happens when the essence of who you are (assuming in this case your identity is in things outside yourself) comes to an end but you still have yourself? Who is yourself at this point, with nothing to define you? The only thing that will not fade is the “I am” within you. And this is the you detached from all the stuff in the world that might currently define you.

Now there exists another type of identity with form which is especially insidious because it is unconscious to most. This is identification with ideology. Ideology is nothing but “thoughts”. What you believe and whether you are “right” or “wrong” for that matter is inconsequential to who you are. But many identify themselves with political beliefs, religious doctrine, world views and sports teams nonetheless.

Be forewarned: identification with ideology can be and often is dangerous. Imagine your identity, the essence of who you are, enshrined in your political and religious beliefs and ideas. If one disagrees with your beliefs, he is not just saying your beliefs are rubbish, he is saying you are rubbish. Them's fightin' words! It is a personal attack. And this is commonplace in our society today. People so often become their beliefs (religious, political, etc.) so much so that it leaves no room for constructive criticism not of people but of beliefs and ideas.

I like beliefs and ideas being criticized. It helps all of us grow and learn, or at least should. And maybe, just maybe, we will be better able to see other viewpoints and not be so blinded by our own “correct” viewpoints. Beliefs and ideals are fine. But they are not you!

A Challenging Thought Experiment For The Believer

For those who buy “hook, line and sinker” C.S. Lewis' argument about Jesus being either Lord, lunatic or liar (of course implied as the “evil” type), what is your appraisal of Christ's teachings in themselves?

As I have said before, if people are led to believe his teachings are only meaningful if he literally is the son of God and literally rose from the dead, this is problematic. For it is essentially a tacit admission that everything he taught lacks meaning in itself. Hence the reason many fervently add the caveat that we must literally believe in his claim of being God and literally believe in his resurrection for our respect toward him to be “valid” in any way.

The problem with Lewis' implication of Jesus being a lunatic if he is not literally God is that upon scrutinizing his teachings (the vast majority of them at least), it is difficult to argue they have come from the mouth of a crazed lunatic. Now if one rejects this argument, is he not making a scathing indictment of Christ's teachings by insinuating they have come from the mouth of a crazed lunatic?

I have thought up a valid reason Jesus, as merely a highly enlightened human being, may have felt led to equate himself to God without being so. I do not really “believe” this. I simply offer it as a “thought experiment” to expose a truth of profound importance. Imagine Jesus going about his days with an incredibly enlightened mind which he very much wanted to share with the world. As he goes about introducing his ideas, many people display keen interest and attraction to him. The more curious people become of his eccentric and “other worldly” ideas, the more inclined they are to ask him whether he is God. Initially, he is honest. “No, I am not.” This seems to dissuade people from listening to him anymore. But upon further questioning, he eventually responds, “yes, behold, I am God!”

Why might he do this? Because he is an “evil” liar? No, because he badly wants to share his enlightenment with others and it just so happens the most “efficient” way, perhaps only way, to get people to want to hear what he has to say is by propagating the idea that he is in fact God. Would this be “bad” lying? I hardly think so (though I fully sympathize with one that posits all lying to be bad in itself*).

In this case, he is neither Lord nor lunatic nor “evil” liar. Perhaps he is a liar of the “good” sort? “Good” not only as in cunning but morally as well. What “good”, of the moral type, would lying do in this case? Bring hope and meaning to people, including myself!

This “thought experiment”, as I alluded to previously, exposes a truth of profound importance. What truth might this be? That it does not matter whether Jesus was literally who he claimed to be! If one finds meaning in what he taught, then it is meaningful in itself rendering insignificant whether Jesus was literally who he said he was. On the other hand, to deny this is to denigrate all that he taught, implying any faith in God's “divine” precepts to be nothing but a complete mockery!

*Though if one posits all lying to be bad in itself, he must uphold this moral imperative absolutely. As such, if you are a parent or future one, do you hereby promise not to indoctrinate your kids with the "lies" of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny among many other innocuous lies? Husbands with overly large pregnant wives, if she asks you whether she resembles that of a beached whale, will you be honest? Are we probably better off being lied to by our government as to how it protects us from enemies? Perhaps you might like to recant your conviction that all lying is bad in itself?