February 23, 2006
This morning Becky accidently dropped her brush into the toilet. We laughed ourselves silly. It was one of those any day – everyday moments that had great comedic timing. I told Becky I was thinking of blogging it. She didn’t think it was my style. But who’s to say I can’t make it my style?
Here goes – What is an accident? If it’s an unintentional incident, then what makes our body do unintentional acts? Can our subconsciousness be intentional? Maybe an accident is just a result of a miscalculation. But then, why have we miscalculated? Did we choose (consciously or subconsciously) to be ignorant of somethings that can effect a miscalculation? Do “mistakes” exist?
Is a blunder a matter of fate and only perceived as an accident because we choose to be ignorant of the causes? If our choices are a result of prioritized desire, what are the origins of these desires? If life doesn’t have “freewill,” should we conclude it’s against our will? Do we always get to choose what to be ignorant about? Is everything a matter of fate, including “fate”? Is fate the end of philosophy?
February 17, 2006
Buddhists (both Theravada and Mahayana) understand that all life is suffering and try to solve the problem of suffering with a desire to be without the desires of attachment (see Buddhist Four Noble Truths), much like the Stoics. One of the main differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism is Mahayanans will not pursue Nirvana (a complete detachment, a dissolving of self) without everyone else.
In other words, the Buddhists’ form of salvation, the extinguishing of any attachments (including with people), is important for Mahayanans such as the Dalai Lama, to share with others.
I have to ask: “Why do Mahayanans care about people they don’t want to be attached to?”
To me, this Mahayanan motivation for compassion is also ironic because I understand the definition of death to be a detachment, a removal from relationship (mind to body, human to human, human to God). I’ve been told many times in Christian circles that the Christian faith is about relationship. So, from my prospective as a Christian philosopher, to receive compassion from a Buddhist for these reasons alone, would seem like some sort of invitation to death.
The Dalai Lama writes:
“…if we examine our own conception of selfhood, we will find that we tend to believe in the presence of an essential core to our being, which characterizes our individuality and identity as a discrete ego… The philosophy of emptiness reveals that this is not only a fundamental error but also the basis for attachment, clinging, and the development of our numerous prejudices.
“All things and events, whether material, mental, or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence. To possess such independent, intrinsic existence would imply that things and events are somehow complete unto themselves and are therefore entirely self-contained. This would mean that nothing has the capacity to interact with and exert influence on other phenomena. …I would not be able to write on paper, and you would not be able to read the words on this page. So since we interact and change each other, we must assume that we are not independent – although we may feel or intuit that we are.
“…causation implies contingency and dependence, while anything that possesses independent existence would be immutable.. Things and events are “empty” in that they do not possess any immutable essence, intrinsic reality, or absolute “being” that affords independence. This fundamental truth of “the way things really are” is described in the Buddhist writings as “emptiness,” or Shunyata in sanskrit.” p.46-47.
I’m conflicted about this last text I’m quoting from Dalai Lama’s book because of the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. I know the Dalai Lama was quite vague about reincarnation where he mentioned it in this book because of its current identity as unscientific. However, if reincarnation is a transmigration of souls, then there is something immutable about the soul through the many lives it lives, isn’t there?
Maybe the Dalai Lama would say, “Change can be so subtle that it could take many life times before we could recognize the mutability of the soul.”
But does change always have to mean an eventual annihilation?
There is a popular phrase used from Buddhist philosophy that is intentionally anti-dogmatic. The phrase is “Killing the Buddha.” It developed out of a story of a buddhist novice who finds his master after a moment of enlightenment and says he has found the Buddha (an ideal state of humanity). The master says, “Good, now kill the Buddha.”
Up until recently, I’ve taken the meaning of this parable to be in the proximity of Jesus’ teachings to “Take up our cross daily,” and “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose it for my sake will find it.” But I’ve never understood the Christian process of dying to one’s self as a path that eventually leads to annihilation of the spirit. (For more biblical content, read the end of Mark chapter 8, after Jesus rebukes Peter for making plans for God.)
February 15, 2006
“Today, it seems, most cosmologists are convinced that the background microwave noise conclusively demonstrates the validity of the big bang hypothesis.” p.76.
“From the Buddhist point of view, there is this further question. Even if we grant that there was only one big cosmic bang, we can still ask, Is this the origin of the entire universe or does this mark only the origin of our particular universe system? So a key question is whether the big bang – which, according to modern cosmology, is the beginning of everything.
“From the Buddhist perspective, the idea that there is a single definite beginning is highly problematic. If there were such an absolute beginning, logically speaking, this leaves only two options. One is theism, which proposes that the universe is created by an intelligence… The second option is that the universe came into being from no cause at all. Buddhism rejects both these options.” p.82.
I’ve thought for some time now that Buddhism was one of the most interesting versions of atheism (even more so when many of its followers present sacrifices to a statue of Buddha).
“…in Buddhism the universe is seen as infinite and beginningless, so I am quite happy to venture beyond the big bang and speculate about possible states of affairs before it.” p.93.
“Infinite!” This word. This word is a fascinating word. It’s scientific because every capable test for the “finite” proves false. But doesn’t this word seem like a metaphysical word? To say the universe has no beginning is one thing, but to say there is no end to its size?
(I’ve also wondered what kind of theology would develop if theologians believed God could be quantitatively measured.)
“..the theory that God created the world can never be a scientific one because it cannot contain an explanation of the conditions under which the theory could be proven false.” p.35.
So it comes down to a difference between knowledge and belief? Becky (grrrlmeetsworld.com) wrote a great post on this difference yesterday. Here’s another interesting comment from Dalai Lama…
“..the fact that science has not proven the existence of God does not mean that God does not exist for those who practice in a theistic tradition. Likewise, just because science has not proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that beings take rebirth doesn’t mean reincarnation isn’t possible. In science, the fact that we have not so far found life on any planet but our own does not prove that life does not exist elsewhere.” p.36.
February 13, 2006
This last Christmas, one of the gifts I received was a book written by Dalai Lama (thanks again, Tim & Suzy!). The book is called The Universe in a Single Atom – The Convergence of Science and Spirituality (2005).
Of course, there will be quotes & comments. And I will be focusing on particular topics from the text. As an introduction to the book, here’s my first pick of quotes:
“…as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” p.3.
“Although Buddhism has come to evolve as a religion with a characteristic body of scriptures and rituals, strictly speaking, in Buddhism scriptual authority cannot outweigh an understanding based on reason and experience. …the Buddha advises that people should test the truth of what he has said through reasoned examination and personal experiment. Therefore, when it comes to validating the truth of a claim, Buddhism accords greatest authority to experience, with reason second and scripture last.” p.24.
Lately, I’ve been wondering if personal experience is everyone’s ultimate authority whether they acknowledge it or not. I say this because every interpretation or reinterpretation of first – our experiences, second – others’ current experiences, and third – standard or traditional experiences from the past (scripture), are always sifted through our individual perceptions of reality. Even our personal experiences of the objective, absolute God are sifted through our subjectivity.
Is it possible that as much as some of us may want God to be our ultimate authority (through whatever means, including scripture), in actuality, our present ultimate authority is our personal experience?
February 11, 2006
How on Earth by Ron Sexsmith
Dreams come true in Heaven
All the time
Baby how on earth
She takes my hand
And I feel like I am home
She understands if I need to be alone
When I am down and can’t go on
She fills my heart with song
We see it in the movies all the time
Baby how on earth
Did we stumble upon this storyline
Baby how on earth
Did we pull it off
Baby how on earth
When she is sad
There is so much hope inside
When she is glad all the tears flow to her eyes
When I’m away I think of her
To a dream my mind wanders
Dreams come true in Heaven all the time
Baby how on earth
Did we happen upon this love divine
Baby how on earth
Did we find us
Down here where people get hurt
Baby how on earth
Yes how on earth did we ever find us
We thought tomorrow was behind us
So glad to be wrong
She fills my heart with song
February 9, 2006
Philosophy: Philos = love; Sophia = wisdom
I think I was born with a love for philosophy. It must of been around the age of eight that I started asking questions like “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Why was I born and not someone else?” “What is the meaning of my life?” I remember there was a time when I wrote these questions in a coloring book when I was bored with filling in the pictures.
It’s not uncommon for children to ask tough questions, but I never grew out of it. Though, I did grow out of asking others the tough questions, at least for awhile. When I was in my late teens, I asked my mother who she thought I was. She said, jokingly, “You’re the dreamer in this family!” When she saw that I was quite serious about my question, she followed in a contemplative tone, “You’re quiet on the outside, and loud on the inside.” I followed with a quick “Why?” that revealed her frustration with “I don’t know!” Then I thanked her and moved on.
For some reason, both of her answers did sooth my inquiry. But it only made me greedy for more. From a previous post, you’d read I got involved in martials arts in my mid teens. What I didn’t mention was that I was also fascinated with the eastern philosophy that came along with some of the movies. It seemed that I yearned for philosophical language.
Being immersed in a Christian community most of my life, you’d think there would have been a lot of material to explore philosophically. However, I was soon taught in church, bible studies, and bible school not to approach the faith philosophically. No one actually said, “Don’t approach it philosophically.” It was more like, “Jerry! You shouldn’t say that!”
But in martial art movies, the writers were not afraid of philosophical language. I think it was when I first leafed through martial art books in a store that I eventually stumbled upon written material on eastern philosophy. The common philosophy that goes along with martial arts is Taoism or a combination of Taosim and Buddhism called “Zen Buddhism”.
Here’s one of my favorite Zen parables (about enlightenment) Bruce Lee used in the movie Enter the Dragon:
It is like a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glory!
This parable helped me a lot when I was trying to discover personal philosophical value in the Christian bible. Soon, I discovered that the Taoist’s first and foremost text, Tao Te Ching, gave me the language I wanted to explore in Christian texts. And through this process I discovered great philosophical material in the bible I didn’t see before. I’m not about to create Jesus in my own image by claiming him to be a philosopher. I’m just saying I was able to find a language suited to my temperament like custom made tools for my explorations in scripture.
So, eventually I became aware that I had a “philosophical” nature and discovered Socrates, who was also led to “Know Thyself“. He said, “An unexamined life is no life worth living.” I don’t think this is true (if I had a cat I would consider it worthy to be alive), but I do think an examined life can often enrich our spiritual lives. Anyone who knows me has found out, or will find out, self-awareness is a strong passion of mine. After all, it is philosophical.
February 8, 2006
I saw the movie Dogville for the first time, last night. I’m still working out what is being communicated in it. However, this is what I have so far:
“Grace,” the main character, tries to prove her worth in a small town by being a positive influence in everyone’s lives. However, her belief in relative morality allows the town’s people to blackmail her with no judgement from her. Eventually, she realizes she would never take advantage of others as they have done to her, no matter what kind of situation she would have grown up in. Then, when given the power to correct “the problem,” the pendulum shifts, and she takes an extreme opposite approach to the town.
If you know anything about the director Lars von Trier, you’ll know that he deliberately makes you suffer with his work (notice that I didn’t say ‘suffer through his work’). Becky has been exposing me to his movies, and I have to say I have a Love/Dread relationship with Trier’s work so far. Dogville was the second movie I’ve seen of Trier’s. The first was Dancer in the Dark, of which I must explore again. Off hand, I can tell you that Dancer in the Dark gave me an appreciation for musicals — this is an amazing feat!
Trier’s creative work in Dogville is, to me, an invitation to find a proper judgement of justice between the two “arrogant” extremes of condescending relativity and vigilante legalism.
On another note, Grace’s name catapulted me into an abstract tangent and brought me here — How should a Christian respond if Joe Schmoe turned to her/him, and said:
Who has the power to be graceful? You? Me? God? Everyone? If you have this power, can I expect you to be more graceful? Oh, wait, how can I expect more grace if I don’t deserve more? But then again, what’s stopping you from being more graceful to me? Isn’t the nature of grace giving me favor I don’t deserve? Hey, if you’re holding out on giving me grace, then you’re not so graceful, are you?
In fact, when you invited me to be a part of your church, you said, “God lives within the hearts of everyone who belongs to the church not because of what they have done, but because of God’s grace. God loves us, and because He first loved us, we’re able to love others.” So where’s the love? You’ve been somewhat graceful to me, but if God is in you, you should be able to do much better than this, shouldn’t you? If this is the best you can do, don’t you think God wants you to do better? Shouldn’t you at least try to do better, for God?
Give me more of your time, money, encouragement, and labor! Hold me! You’re not afraid to love me, are you? Don’t be afraid. You said, “In perfect love there is no fear.” If “God truly is love,” then give me your love!
February 5, 2006
Transcendent Reason & Immanent Experience:
“Before the invention of automatic weapons, you normally had to see anyone you hoped to kill.” p.255.
“The German Jewish philosopher Gunther Anders… argued that crimes like those committed at Auschwitz are greater threats to the human soul, whereas what happened at Hiroshima poses the greater threat to humanity itself. For, he wrote, it takes more hardness of heart to lead a child to a gas chamber than to drop a bomb on her. We are far from what it takes to drive children into flames in which one knows one will oneself be consumed. Those who did the daily work of the death camps created an abyss between themselves and the rest of humanity. Some descriptions of them suggest an absence of soul that those who kill at greater distances from their victims need not share.” p.251-252.
“In contemporary evil, individuals’ intentions rarely correspond to the magnitude of evil individuals are able to cause.” p.273.
“Could it be proved that something about Auschwitz were essentially German, life would be easier for all of us.” (footnote – “..as Arendt remarked–collective guilt is a form of individual exoneration. Where everybody is guilty in general, nobody is guilty in particular”)… “If Auschwitz were only a national problem, the crimes of one nation would reflect nothing about the human race as a whole.” p.254.
“Nazis forced everyone from passive bystanders to victims to participate in the vast network of destruction. Their success in doing so revealed the impotence of intention on its own. To shut your eyes to Nazism, and even to profit from it, is not the same thing as to will the sequence of events that ended at Auschwitz.” p.274. (italics Neiman’s)
“Precisely the belief that evil actions require evil intentions allowed totalitarian regimes to convince people to override moral objections that might otherwise have functioned. Massive propaganda efforts undertook to convince people that the criminal actions in which they participated were guided by acceptable, even noble motives.” p.275.
“We are threatened more often by those with indifferent or misguided intentions than by those with malevolent ones… Brute sadists administered daily life in concentration camps everywhere, but they did not build them. Bad intentions and thoughtlessness were present enough in the architects.” p.280. (italics Neiman’s)
“Once we turn away from Nazi crimes to look at others, we will find murders carried out for motives that many of us share.” p.277.
After reading Evil in Modern Thought, I was overwhelmed by the significance of humanity’s inability to empathize with another person’s suffering. We may have related experiences (which gives our compassion far more authenticity), but our imagination is limited as to sharing the actual experience of suffering any other individual person bears.
This distance, whether it be physical, psychological, or both, makes it so much easier to not love others as well as we love ourselves. And if we don’t love ourselves either, that would add a whole other dimension too!
So I suppose for me, it makes sense for us to know ourselves subjectively/intimately, making it possible to become attached to ourselves. And if we become attached to ourselves and use all the power of our imaginations to try to know others subjectively/intimately, we may become attached to them, loving them, identifying ourselves with them. (Which makes me wonder about Jesus’ power to empathize.)
This is why I think Yann Martel’s next novel on Auschwitz is important (see previous post). I think he will be helping us to use our imaginations to bridge the gap between transcendent reasoning and immanent experience. The process of reading fiction (good fiction) offers us a chance to identify with characters (much like the use of parables I suppose). Then (using Brian McLaren’s terminology), the “Us-Them” becomes more of a “We”, individuals are in a communal process developing their compassion for individuals.
February 4, 2006
“We proceed on the assumption that the true and the good, and just possibly the beautiful, coincide. Where they do not, we demand an account. The urge to unite is and ought stands behind every creative endeavor. Those who seek to unite them by force usually do more harm than they set out to prevent. Those who never seek to unite them do nothing at all.” p.322.
“We experience wonder in the moments when we see the world is as it ought to be–an experience so deep that the ought melts away. The disappearance of the ought in such moments leads some thinkers to describe them as the experience of Being freed from human demands and categories. But it is equally the experience that all our demands have been fulfilled.” p.323.
Neiman quotes Schopenhauer from The World as Will and Representation:
“Philosophy, like the overture to Don Giovanni, starts with a minor chord…. The more specific character of the astonishment that urges us to philosophize obviously springs from the sight of the evil and wickedness in the world. If our life were without end and free from pain, it would possibly not occur to anyone to ask why the world exists.” p.203.
“You may call it reason’s narcissism–the wish to see itself reflected wherever it goes. Yet reason’s attempt to be at home in the world is also a refusal to abandon the world to its own devices. The demand that reason and reality stand together is tenacious because it is no more than a demand. Its basis is not real but rational.” p.323.
“Belief that there may be reason in the world is a condition of the possibility of our being able to go on in it.” p.324.
“Dostoevsky underlined the idea that the problem of evil is not just one more mystery. It is so central to our lives that if reason stumbles there, it must give way to faith. If you cannot understand why children are tortured, nothing else you understand really matters. But the very attempt to understand it requires at least accepting it as part of the world that must be investigated. Some hold even this much acceptance to be unacceptable. Thus the rejection of theodicy becomes the rejection of comprehension itself.
“Just this realization drove contemporary thinkers to take up the question again, in full awareness of all the reasons the twentieth century provided to abandon it forever. The moral impulse expressed in Dostoevsky’s refusal to understand is overridden by the impulse that sees no alternative. To abandon the attempt to comprehend evil is to abandon every basis for confronting it, in thought as in practice. The thinkers who returned to the problem of evil while knowing the limits of any discussion of it were driven by moral demands. For creatures endowed with reason, love of the world cannot be blind. The intellectual struggle is more important than any particular results that emerge from it.” p.325.
Stay tuned for “Theodicy – Part lll (b)”
February 3, 2006
“…a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest, hmm-mm-mm.” – The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel
Earlier today I went with Becky to the U. of S. to hear Yann Martel speak about the latest book he’s writing. I thought he said a lot of good things, revealing to us a context for making the decision to write a novel about Auschwitz.
He explained that there’s been little fiction written on Auschwitz and said more needs to be created, much like George Orwell’s Animal Farm still tells a story about Stalin’s regime. However, apparently, many have felt that the telling of Auschwitz should be left to mediums such as documentarys or “Representations” like Anne Frank’s work or Schindler’s List.
When the question period started, I asked him, “For those who don’t appreciate a novel being written on Auschwitz, do you think they are afraid of an agenda being written under a cloak of metaphor? And if so, what kind of agendas are they afraid of?”
I did not expect the response I was given. He really didn’t answer my question except for saying such things as, “I already explained this..,” and “Every work of art has an agenda..” And then moved on to another’s question. Normally I would think, “Oh well, he misunderstood my question.” But the tone and pace in Martel’s voice aggravated me. Ask my wife, and she will confirm that the novelist’s tone and pace in his response to me (and the girl before me) was defensive and dismissive, as if I was attacking him with my question.
I just wanted to know why people are giving him a hard time about writing a novel on Auschwitz. I wasn’t personally accusing him of using some underhanded agenda to mislead the masses by twisting the historic truths into something entirely… what? What was he so worried about? He didn’t have anything to prove to me. Wasn’t his Life of Pi success enough?
Nevertheless, I still have a high appreciation for what Yann Martel is trying to accomplish. And I’ll explain more of this in the third and last part of “Theodicy” (quotes & response to Evil in Modern Thought). And I hope all goes well with his next book. But I have to admit, this is the second time I’ve talked with him and have been disappointed with our dialogue.