Sunday, January 26, 2014

“Uncertainty Principle”

I was thinking a bit more about the comment that I made in my last post about being uncertain.  This idea is often misconstrued as a position of weakness.  I’m not writing to defend myself as much as to defend the position of uncertainty, so that others can find comfort there without a feeling of guilt.

If you take Christianity seriously, then you will have to live consistently with its basic tenets.  One of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian narrative is that God created the universe and all within as perfect.  Then, through the fall, sin entered and corrupted, but didn't destroy or render it glory-less.  If we are in this imperfect state then all of our facilities are also inferior, including our ability to know or use logic perfectly.

The Catholic Scholastics, from my understanding, diverged from other branches of Christianity at this point. Based on the teachings of Aristotle they considered the reason of the mind as still in its perfect, God-given state.  Therefore, they reasoned (pun intended) that it was not only possible to think your way to absolute knowledge of God and the Christian doctrines, but it was required.  Many of the arguments of the proof of God came out of this movement.

I remember an elder at my old church saying several times that once he became a Christian, he never doubted for one second--over the subsequent 50 years--that not only God was there, not only the Bible true but the doctrines of his particular denomination were correct.  I remember this man’s “faith” being held up as the ideal.  I too sought that kind of faith, but if I speak candidly, never realized it.  Sure, there were times that I claimed to have this unwavering faith . . . but at the very same time I would be awakening in the middle of the night and wonder if God was really there after all, especially after a bad day.

However, I came to realize that it is totally consistent with good Christian ideals if we never have total resolution of doubt.  Doubt is not the arrows of Satan as some would envision it.  But doubt is the Siamese twin to logic, God-given logic.  You can’t search for truth unless you have some doubt about the position you are standing in.  You can never find truth if you don’t search for it and the searching is prodded along by doubt.

So, the problem with the evangelical type of faith is that, like the forementioned elder, if they were born in Marrakesh, they would be 100% sure that the Islamic narrative was true, and if they had been born in Salt Lake City, they would be 100% sure the Mormon concept of history was the true one.

So, uncertainty isn't that wishy-washy place that many see as John Bunyon’s “Doubter’s Castle.”  When we have intellectual integrity we eventually arrive at this place of uncertainty and there is no place else to really stand with integrity.

But this uncertainty isn't a mutual place resting in the center of a circle with equal distance to theism, atheism, pantheism and animism, all which rest on the rim. You can have relative certainty, where one position dominates.  I am a Christian and I have great confidence in that.  Can my mind consider the remote possibility of a universe that sprang out of nothing and produced the reality that we know?  I find it absurd, but not unthinkable. The moment I consider it as impossible even to consider, then at that juncture I cease to become a man and I become a machine.

I will close this thought with one last comment and that is I consider the atheists as the worst at this.  They, dogmatically, cannot allow themselves to even consider the possibility of a personal origins to the universe. It becomes philosophical and sociological for them and it is not a function of higher intelligence or better logic. It is the same force that makes a middle school girl use the term “amazing” so much or a boy playing sports.  It has to do with social acceptance and in many “free thinking” intellectual circles it is (unwritten) forbidden to consider that God may be there, and if he is there, he must be a name for the mysteries in the universe like Carly Sagan alluded to.

So the problem with habitual doubters is that they are searching for a position of certainty, thinking that anything less than that is not just inferior but evil. When no human can honestly reach the point of certainty they resort to one of two options. They either throw up their hands in despair, in a Descartian way saying it is impossible to know anything . . . or they do what most evangelicals do.  Most evangelicals believe that faith (vs doubt) is a spiritual exercise (which really means emotional).  So they just close their eyes at this point, lift their hands into the air and just “believe.”  They say things like, “I know that God is in my heart and that settles it!”  They feel very proud about this exercise in mental laziness. What they are really doing is giving up the intellectual part of their being that God has given and meant to be our guide.  Any belief system on the earth is capable of doing the same, closing your eyes and closing your mind and just believing that particular belief system is true (even it is alien abductions) because you know it is true in your heart.

But God smiles on the doubter because the doubter is the thinker, the one who wrestles with God, rather than he who slumbers in the haystack.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The "Personal Journey"

Most of us, over the age of 30 at least, have some type of personal journey.  I do admit, that Face Book has shown me that many people don't travel from point A to Z like I did, (okay, lets say to point "M") but from point A to point A or maybe just from big A to little a.

This was the first weekend I've had off in months.  I had chores to do, but could do them at a leisure, rather than having to cram some marathon work project in over the week end like has been typical for awhile. Last weekend it was a mad rush to rewrite a state law about medical practice.  I'm part of a team who is working on that.

We just had new wooden floors installed in our upstairs and they finished Friday night.  They did do a good job, although it took them six months (great artisans, horrible communicators).  So our house has been in some level of disarray during this entire time. One thing that had been dismantled was our very large book case.  It holds over 300 books.  This morning my wife and I were able to move it back in place, and I screwed it back to the wall.

Then, for the rest of the day I slowly carried loads of books back up the stairs and went through a process of cleaning them and organizing them.  I've set my mind on throwing away at least 50 because the overflow books were stacked on top.

I'm not a book "keeper" (different than a "bookkeeper").  It use to drive my sons crazy but I'm hard on books.  Rarely do they last my reading.  I carry them in backpacks, on bikes and under seats.  I spill coffee on them, I drop them in the hot tub, I leave them out in the rain.  But if one does survive, I usually don't keep it but they go to Goodwill. The exception to this habit are the books that line my spiritual journey like a exits on cross country highway.  I decided to line in up in my bookcase in the order I had experienced them.  I think there are at least 50.

I must explain that, despite how I come across here at times, I'm very secure where I am in my thinking right now.  No, I don't have certainty but I am certain that the pretense of certainty is highly over-rated.

I began my journey with Larry Crabb's Inside Out. I can't remember much about it, but I read it while still living in Egypt and when I was at the beginnings of a plunge into the darkness of total confusion. The book didn't cause the confusion but planted a seed of seeking honesty.  I was living in a make-believe world of evangelicalism at the time, not much different than a trip to Disney World.

I think my next major book was Sham Pearls before Real Swine written by Franky Schaeffer.  It had a special place in my journey because at the time I was back in the states and plugging into LAbri to seek help.  The book was given to my by Franky's mother because it wasn't available anywhere else and honestly, I don't think she really understood what her son was trying to say . . . but I did.  It was a deeply honest appraisal of American Evangelicalism.

Next was the book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. It had a profound influence on me . . . helping me to know that I wasn't alone in my concerns about the choice of ignorance that Evangelicalism was addicted to.

Then I turned onto the Compete Works of Francis Schaeffer. I had read each one in College just to be pious . . . not understanding a single word.  But this time I reread them twice, each one. First I read them straight through. Then I stopped and spent a year studying philosophy including the history of philosophy. I also listened to about 200 lectures by the late Dr. Schaeffer. By that time I came back to the complete works and read them again I was profoundly changed in my understanding of western civilization.

Next I spent two years studying the Bible from cover to cover and studying the history of the Church.  Remember, I wasn't doing this for any pious reason. I was desperate. During the first two years of my study, I was damned depressed . . . so much so, that I was often contemplating either picking up another book, or hanging myself . . . literally.  But I have about seven books about the early church from the first century through the present (the present of the early 90s).

Next on the list were more books of philosophy and some softer spiritual books like Yancey's What's so Amazing about Grace and Blue Like Jazz. Then I read a bunch of books about modern church structure, there were about seven or eight.

Hmm . . . trying to remember what was next. I think there were a couple of science books that was helping me to sort out this whole creation question.  During my early days of searching, I was quite involved with Creation Research Society, even helping with a conference they was putting on.  Then it clicked in my mind during one lecture that they were not scientists but promoting dogma with a support of pseudoscience.  At this juncture I wanted to hear from real scientists, those who humbly want to know the truth at all cost, not with an agenda to promote a dogma . . . and make a little money.

Finally are a long line of fiction.  I had arrived at a safe place, where I could sit back and enjoy the creative forces of the fantastic word-smiths of the past few hundred years. My searching was over . . . but I will continue learning forever . . . so I hope.

(I had time for one quick proof read so I'm sorry for any glaring mistakes.)

Monday, January 20, 2014

In Times of Stress

Not to whine, but I've been under a lot of stress as of late . . . say the last three years.  I mean it has been incredible.  I won't even attempt to go into details. But I keep telling myself things will get better . . . but they don't seem to.

I finally figured that I, borrowing a line from a John Meyer, I can't wait for the world to change.  Change must come from within.

After a horrible week last week were I was once again blind sided but a major crisis that I never saw coming (I'm involved in rewriting a state law and it suddenly became much more complicated), I determined in my heart that this week was going to be a week of calm.

This morning started out well and I kept repeating my mantra (not a real mantra) that I will stay calm and it will be a good day.  Then at 4 PM, too complicated to go into, I was verbally attacked by a family for something I didn't do.  It was a brutal tongue lashing.  I have certainly done bad things in the past, but this time I was totally innocent.  It was awful, so awful that I began to feel a panic attack coming on in the middle of it.  It was the worst tongue lashing I've had since my ex-pastor chewed my ass out for leaving his church three years ago.

Now my point isn't about the fact I'm under stress. It isn't about unfairness.  It is a bit about the fact that I have always dealt with anxiety and I've always tried to imagine the scene of Jesus in the boat asleep during the storm.

The first time I created this mental image was in the early eighties.  I had been hitch hiking in NW Pakistan and had gotten terribly lost. Then I had Typhoid and ended up in a hospital.  Then I got lost again, getting a ride into Islamabad in a truck where no one spoke English.  Once on the outskirts of the city, we discovered that a military coup had occurred. I was dumped beside the road in front of a road block and began to push my way through soldiers to the airport.  I was scared. I finally made it the airport and no one spoke English and I was totally confused.  I just wanted a flight out and all flights had been cancelled.  I didn't know what was going to happen to me.

As my anxiety was becoming uncontrollable I began praying like crazy.  I felt like I was about to loose my mind.  I kept trying to picture the storm around me and me sleeping in the bottom of the boat.  Jesus slept because he knew the future.  He knew God who controlled our destiny. While the battles here are rough at times, in the end it is won.

So today as I as being punched (figuratively) in the face over and over by this family, I tried to vision myself in the bottom of this boat and the storms around me crashing the sides and searching for that peace.  By the way, don"t let your kids aspire to be medical providers. It is hell to do so today.  The regulations are unbearable and many patients love you and many more hate you for simply breathing.  On top of this, I've worked myself almost to death and am near bankruptcy all the time.

Now I'm not saying I'm good at this, like the TV Evangelist that always uses himself as the example of greatness.  I'm terrible at it.  After all, during my entire life I've never learned to deal with anxiety.

This painting by the French artist Jules Joseph Meynier catches the spirit of this thought.  It is solved.  We are significant no matter what others may day or do.  Now if only I could believe that.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


  • The fundamental force of all human behavior is the insatiable desire to be significant.

  •  One half of all wars are a function of the frustrated attempts of one individual (king) or group to find personal significance by dominating other people.

  • The other half of all wars are a function of the anger of people who have been dominated by others.

  • All anger is rooted in the perception that our significance is being challenged by other people or objects.

  • All anxiety disorders are based on the fear that we will loose our significance.  

  • All depression (realizing too that brain structure from genetics can play a role in depression and anxiety as well) is based on a belief that we have lost our significance.

  • All crime is based on feeble attempts to find significance or from the anger fueled by the perception that our significance has been challenged.

  • We all build facades around our persona that portray us as better than we really are, in attempts to find significance.  Those of us who believe our own facades are narcissistic. 

  • Most of us mistakenly fear that we, on the inside, are worse than we really are. That fear is based on thought that the "badness"within makes us less significant, especially if others ever see the real us.

  • All religions are human attempts to build complex systems, when followed closely, will make us  more significant.

  • We generally don't like people who are different from ourselves, because their difference challenges our sense of significance. If we are really significant, goes the thinking, then everyone should be exactly like us.

  • Most ambitions are our feeble attempts to make us significant.

  • Most heroic acts are frail attempts to achieve significance.

  • Most of the draw of heroes is that we believe that being associated with them, some of their significance will fall on us.

  • All draw to fame and fortune is the mistaken belief that when achieved, it will give us significance.  

  • The suicidal rate is higher among those who have achieved fame and fortune because they realize that it did not accomplish significance after all.  

  • Most of us, in our deep and hidden places, find pleasure when others preform worse than us, in talents, in skills, in spirituality or any other aspect of life, because when we compare ourselves to others and come out ahead, we mistakenly believe that it enhances our significance.

  • Solomon was believed to be the smartest person who has every lived, yet it took his entire life to figure out the above.  He was also smart enough to know that you can still enjoy the simple pleasures of life when you have divorce them from the pursuit of significance. 

  • The problem of significance has been solved forever, metaphysically, by the created act of God, who embedded significance within us through his creative act . . . so we are passively significant. It is also been solved, morally, by the work of Christ.  However, none of us really believe this . . . so we continue the pointless quest that is perpetually dissatisfying.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Quagmire of Evil--A Philosophical Observation

I am a film connoisseur . . . I would say a "good film" connoisseur.  I do have a  movie club that meets at my house under the umbrella of my Presbyterian church.  I typically pick the best films in the world, a merit I attribute to them for winning major film festivals.

One day I was listening to NPR and they had a movie critic talking about the best TV shows of all time.  TV to film for me is like McDonalds compared to a Five Star French Restaurant.  Now that most homes have 500 channels, 99% of it is filler junk and reality shows that are cheap to make.

But this critic was very serious.  He listed the top five shows of all time based on the same attributes that great films must share.  I can't remember the exact order but he did list The Sopranos as number one and Breaking Bad as number two.

Believe it or now I had never seen either.  We have a very basic cable that has the major networks and a con-artist-row of cheesy TV evangelists and infomercials.

So, I decided to watch 5 years of Breaking Bad in about a month.  This is possible through Netflixs streaming video.  I have to say that I would rank the writing, acting filmography up there with the best of films.  I think you could create a whole college class on the series, and I bet someone has.

One facet of life, which the writing portrays so well, is the quagmire of evil. This is hard to explain, but it is one of those messages that you feel in your soul but can barely organize enough to express in words.

The starting point for most of us when are introduced to evil is the child-like notion of bad guys and good guys or black hats Vs. white hats.  Good guys always do good, bad guys always do bad.  In the end, bad things, the overspray of the actions of the bad guys only falls on bad people and while good people will be reconciled in the end.  It is the theme of every TV show in the 50s and 60s (as well as Hallmark movies of today) and was woven deeply in the brand of evangelicalism that I was involved with.

Breaking Bad is like taking the lines of demarcation between good and evil . . . and putting them in a blender.Can good people, sometimes make some horrible mistakes?  Can really bad people do some extremely altruistic behaviors?  I think yes to both.

It was so much more comforting, at least on the surface, when I thought a wall divided the good guys and the bad guys.  I hoped I was a good guy.  People around me thought I was a good guy although I would catch glimpses of the bad guy within me at times and it would scare the hell out of me. The thoughts of fudging on my tax return were real, but never realized.  Certainly they were times that I was sitting in a Bible study in college and while on the surface we were sharing about Jesus, my mind would fantasize about the "godly gal" in front of me.  I knew I had to be the only one with such evil lurking inside.But was I?

But evil is a quagmire and is goodness. I'm not saying that they are relative. I certainly believe in absolute evil and good, but the carriers of those attributes are not pure in either.  Real goodness is often done in secret where, out of compassion, and no other reason someone does something incredibly unselfish and deeply empathetic.  The web of goodness is woven and entangles both good people and evil.

So what does this mean to practical living?  One fault of my previous Christian world was to assume that good-guys, what we called "godly," were pure in all their motives.  I know this sounds absurd but we were so messed up that when a "godly" staff man dumped his wife and married a non-christian (but beautiful) girl 30 years younger than himself, we assumed that God had to be in it. Surely this godly man would not have done something like that out of evil motives . . . would he?  It is so much easier to label people so we don't have to consider each action of its own merits.  Bad people only do bad things is lazy thinking.

But the moral to the lesson, besides being great entertainment and challenges in good TV, is that we should expect real good coming from some really messed up people and not be surprised (or caught off guard) when real evil comes from the decent people we know. The Fall was intrusive. It not only set up evil, it caused so much chaos that the wheat and the chaff are so intertwined that only God knows the lines of demarcation. So Walter White can do some horrible, vicious and manipulative things . . . and at the same time love his wife and son in a way that the best of us should attempt to emulate.