Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where I'm At #2

My article, Where I'm At, met with some interesting comments and questions. Most notably, one respondant, Nick, has expressed curiosity about my religio-spiritual developments. Nick makes note that,

"I'm mostly interested in where you are at, what you believe about religio-spiritual matters that are important to you, what ideas you are newly exploring, that sort of stuff."

I think that's a fair expectation for conversation, so what follows is some of the stuff I've been trying to work through in the past while.

First, I've been trying to figure out just what criteria legitimize the scholars. It's one thing to suggest that so-and-so is the foremost scholar in a certain field. It's another thing to realize that unless you are experiencing the physical data of the empirical sciences, all scholars are simply telling a story. And they're telling that story through a certain lense. Does that invalidate, or illegitimize their narratives? Certainly not. But it does bring into question the relational capacity of truth-telling.

That is, how does one determine the truth of another's claim? We could formally parse logic for a while. That sounds like fun. Kind of. But in the end, structuring another's claims along our own limited understanding and experience, and then charging bravely along the line of linear rationality commits a grievous fallacy: it assumes an objectivity that doesn't actually exist. What we think we know, we only know on our own. Other people may agree, but none of us actually have another's experience with the information being presented. Truth claims have no co-inherence from one person to the next; that is, there is no kindred connection, no 'fellowship' of knowing, if you will.

I'd be happy to be wrong about this, but I see no way around it without actually parsing the formal logic of the problem, and thereby dedicating one's self to the same problem while trying to solve it. And that's the problem with circles: if they're not broken, they just keeping going round and round, round and round.

Second, if truth-claims are non-relational, it would seem a person has to terminate on radical skepticism, or faith. But from where I sit right now, radical skepticism seems rather juvenile: there's no way to support such a view since it calls itself into question, and is thus self-defeating. Faith seems both noble and novel: noble because it means that a person is willing to trust even though they might not 'know' with any measure of certainty; novel because it provides a convenient excuse to abdicate one's responsibility to pursue knowledge, all the while looking pious and moral in the process.

Given these two things -- that truth seems non-relational, and skepticism and faith don't offer helpful answers -- how is a person to trust that anything they are exposed to in scholarship is actual, and/or beneficial? We can go the pragmatic route and suggest that 'whatever answers the most questions with the least amount of problems left over' seems trustworthy, but that fails to recognize itself as a useful tool. In a sense, it's like utilitarianism: how does one determine what is morally good for the most amount of people? And what is 'good' in a pragmatic scheme? In the same way, how does one determine what removes the most amount of problems while answering the most amount of questions? If we're all coming at a situation or issue (say, like, theodicy) with individual minds and experiences, it would make sense to suggest that all answers are questions marked by a period.

The Principle of Parsimony seems to fail, too: it doesn't take itself into account.

So, given that truth-claims aren't relational -- that is, they don't straddle the divide between your personhood and mine -- they can't be believed by virtue of another's authority on a subject, they don't terminate on skepticism, are not made relational by 'faith', can't be experienced mutually via pragmatism, and seem to transcend Occam's razor, what is left?

Nihilism is plain stupid. Existentialism is short-sighted.

So, where am I at, Nick? I don't know.

14 comments:

Nick said...

Chris,
I always find your thinking so complex, and your writing equally complex. There is so much there that I don't think I can reply and support conversation regarding all of it in one sitting. But I have read it all, stopping to lookup some words and terms before I continued to the end. So if I have left out something in conversation that is important to you, please bring it back in.

"That is, how does one determine the truth of another's claim?"

My experience has been that determining the truth of another's claim is problematic when I treat the claim as the "whole truth" of the matter; when I treat it as the only experience that is possible for anyone including myself. Also it is problematic where the claim is accepted as all there can be known about something or some idea. My experience has been that there is so much detail to an experience, that no experience can be exactly the same twice for anyone. So I think it is wise to keep in mind that observations/generalization can be made, but that neither can fully explain what happened, or what will happen in the future. If the truth claim can be accepted as part truth, or relative truth, that leaves it open for further exploration and reconsideration of its complexity. So in regards to kindred connection or fellowship of knowing, I think it is possible where the truth claim is considered relative to each own's unique experience. Also "knowing" then is a concept that relates rather than defines.

"I'd be happy to be wrong about this, but I see no way around it without actually parsing the formal logic of the problem, and thereby dedicating one's self to the same problem while trying to solve it. And that's the problem with circles: if they're not broken, they just keeping going round and round, round and round."

Ahh, cicles. This is partly why I suspect that our views are aligning to some degree. Maybe you even noticed a similar kind of circle in my statement above: "My experience has been that there is so much detail to an experience that no experience can be exactly the same twice for anyone." The statement claims that nothing is ever the same twice for anyone including oneself. However the statement may suggest claims that this is how it is for everyone all the time. I think circular, for sure. And how can I find peace having said it that way and intending to discover or share truth? Well, it was MY experience at the time I said it. :) So if you wish, you may throw out everything I have said. :) Or you can take it relative to the moment and at least laugh with me as I re-discover the problem of sharing precived truth. All I can say is that, taking a step back from this cicular thinking, I find a peace/enjoyment and a beauty in not understanding it completely. Where I am at more often lately is that I accept these kinds of circular problems not as problems. It's kind of like asking what the purpose of life is, when LIFE may just be the purpose. Maybe the question is the answer.

"So, given that truth-claims aren't relational -- that is, they don't straddle the divide between your personhood and mine -- they can't be believed by virtue of another's authority on a subject, they don't terminate on skepticism, are not made relational by 'faith', can't be experienced mutually via pragmatism, and seem to transcend Occam's razor, what is left?

Nihilism is plain stupid. Existentialism is short-sighted.

So, where am I at, Nick? I don't know. "


... well this is a fairly big map I have to work with, Chris. But I do know you're within about 50km of Whitehorse. ;)

I hope you don't find my reply too irritating or cryptic. I really do mean well. The truth (whole truth) as plainly as I can state it is that I don't know either. When the bigger picture is too much for me, I try a smaller one.

Christopher said...

Nick,

I agree that given our private experiences with reality, the existential backdraft of our individual selves means that we have in common the simple fact that we can all 'know' something. So I can agree with you, as you so eloquently put it, that "'knowing' then is a concept that relates rather than defines."

Yes, we can all relate to the fact that each one of us 'knows' what we individually experience. And I agree with you that whatever that knowledge is that we experience individually is not definitional in the whole. Having said that, however, I am adrift of my own criticism: what we both perceive to be true about your statement we both relate to.

So then, am I wrong that truth is non-relational?

Anonymous said...

I don't want to hijack this line of thought, but it seems to be dormant now. I would be interested in hearing where your journey has taken you of late and what you are reading now. Also, what book you are thinking of writing and how you are going to go about that.
J

Nick said...

Chris,

"So then, am I wrong that truth is non-relational?"

I can not answer that you are wrong that truth is non-relational, and here is why:
Since any answer given can only hold part truth of the whole without being the whole, I think that truth being non-relational can only be partly true or partly false. This to me suggests that there must be some truth to "truth is non-relational", however, again only part truth. This seems to run into that model of a loop that just goes round, and round, and round; and that model I think describes the nature of existence as a whole quite well; it just keeps going and going and going.

The workings of what is true and what is false in contrast to each other, to me suggests that existence as a whole is a team effort between things that are and things that are not.

Biblically relating the idea that existence is a relationship between what is true and what is false sure does seem to clash at various points along the way. But think about this: If God is only good or the truth, then he could not have created something evil or false (I am using good/truth=evil/false as interchangeable parallels). And if he did not create that which is evil, then he did not create everything that is. A mind blowing idea though, is that everything false is not; it doesn't exist, which in turn means that everything that exists is good/true; yet we can identify what is false. :/ (more loops)
These things in mind, the only model that makes sense to me is that, God is like Zero; [neither (+) nor (-)] or [both], and it describes that model of the loop again. This is at the root of my pantheism.

Here is why I think "truth is non-relational" is partly false: Because any part truth is not precieved as truth until it comes along side a related truth, and a related falseness to contrast with. Until this happens it is only an idea or a question. This describes what I think was meant in the story of Jesus where he says "where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst". Having pre-defined his own name and what he stands for as "the truth", his quoted statement says that where two or more are gather in the name of truth, there is found truth between them. And so in this way I think truth is relational.

Chris, it would be nice to be able to give you the whole truth, but all I have is a bunch of part truths and a model of the whole at best.

Anonymous said...

Nick,
I'll probably step out on a limb and it will snap off and I'll land on my face with the wind knocked out of me ... which is not a bad thing from time to time ...
But, here goes. Some of your thoughts are definitely new to me. I don't think you can propose that if God did not make things that are evil, that he did not make everything that is.
Well, you can, but I don't think that one necessarily proves the other.
God created us knowing that we would not be perfect. He did not create gods; he created people with free will -- with the ability to do evil as well as good.
And I believe that people become evil through their choices and how those choices change them. I have no doubt that that has a lot to do with the brain.
I don't think I understand what you mean when you say that "God is like Zero". Perhaps you can explain that to me in simpler terms or give examples of what you mean by that.
God is like what we see in Jesus.
The Old Testament God may be the same, but I do not believe we see who He is clearly in the Old Testament. It's not complete. It's misunderstood ...
And, for you both, I do not see how truth can be non-relational. Everything that is, is about something else. It's relational. Truth does not live in a vacuum.
What is truth? Jesus says, "I am the truth, the way and the life." What does that statement mean? I believe as we relate to Him that we will find all of those things, but in this life will only ever see "as in a glass darkly".
I'm probably out of my league here, but I believe the statement "Where two or more are gathered ..." simply is a reminder that He is with us. He is with one of us, or two of us, or three or more ... always.
J

Nick said...

J,
Sorry for taking so long to reply. Been busy. And I will need to replay in two parts because it is so long and the # of characters are limited. Here goes Part I:

I don't think you can propose that if God did not make things that are evil, that he did not make everything that is.
Well, you can, but I don't think that one necessarily proves the other.


Ask yourself these questions. If God did not create person(s) such as Satan that are evil, where did they come from? Were such person(s) there with God in the "beginning", always having existed just as God? If so then he did not create those person(s). If not so then he did create those person(s). To me it seems that one does prove the other. However, this is not my view anyway. My view is that God is everything. The reason for this is that everything I have learned about my universe leads to show that it is balanced in contrasting forces. And so while some may think this means life/existence is hopeless, I think this means life/existence is beautiful and hopeful; the individual choice is still there. It is a similar difference to the view that life difficulties server to bring on death, while I view that life difficulties server to quicken oneself toward a greater life experience.

God created us knowing that we would not be perfect. He did not create gods; he created people with free will -- with the ability to do evil as well as good.

This statement you give here is confusing in more than one way. Do you mean to say that God created us with flaws (not perfect)?
Also confusing is the phrase "free will"; it misleads because will was never not free. The very nature of a will has to be free. It is self deception to think that we do not have the freedom to exercise a will. Likewise it is self deception that leads us to refuse ownership of our choices and their consequences. But Jesus paid for our mistakes(sins) you might say. I would say that mistakes are share, and choices are owned upon making them. Here's a scenario to consider: Someone who has stolen (taken without permission) your VCR and has been caught. Steeling being a crime, this person has committed a criminal offense. However, if you choose to give this VCR to them, no offense has been committed. This is what Jesus teaches. This kind of option has always been there from the beginning. What I think is new with Jesus from most others before him who sacrificed themselves is the fullness of his passion that he taught this with.

I don't think I understand what you mean when you say that "God is like Zero". Perhaps you can explain that to me in simpler terms or give examples of what you mean by that.

What I mean by this is that God is like Zero being neither good nor evil. He is not one side or the other, or else he his both or all. When we say God is good, it is only that we take pleasure in the "goodness" we experience. It is in relation to our own life purpose that we precieve events good or evil. I could say that my family recently was struck by an evil flue, but really the flue was not evil. In fact, since we survived it, it has likely made us stronger in a way, and I am thankful; so then it could also be good. Things just happen, it is partly our choice to precieve as we do.

Nick said...

J,
Here goes Part II:

God is like what we see in Jesus.
The Old Testament God may be the same, but I do not believe we see who He is clearly in the Old Testament. It's not complete. It's misunderstood ...


I agree that the New Testament brings to light, differently, the nature of God and who he is. But precieving my God as being infinite, I cannot agree that the New Testament is any more complete than the Old in describing the full nature of who/what God is, nore do I think that the full nature of who/what God is, is better understood in general because of it. The New Testament is just another set of books that each describe a story of experiencing a personal God among other things. There will be many more such stories to come. Yes maybe they will not be included in The Holy Bible, but they will be just as valid.

And, for you both, I do not see how truth can be non-relational. Everything that is, is about something else. It's relational. Truth does not live in a vacuum.

Actually everything does live in a vacuum. Space is. Space is the presence of nothing between things or the lack of presence between things; where there is recognition of contrasting differences, there is the recognition of existence. So in this way sometimes something relates to nothing.

What is truth? Jesus says, "I am the truth, the way and the life." What does that statement mean? I believe as we relate to Him that we will find all of those things, but in this life will only ever see "as in a glass darkly".

I know what you mean about "as in a glass darkly". However, my life experiences and reading the Bible in sequence from beginning to end suggests to me that the statement is part of a sort of... multiple riddle. What you quoted here is only part of what he was talking about. Afterwards he says "none come to the Father except through me". He is saying no one will find or come to the Father except that they find the Father by following the way of the truth, and the way of life. Another version of the riddle answered would be that "I am = the truth = the life" and incorporating "I am" as the basic name of God as he reveals to Moses, this answer links with the other, also telling us the nature of the spirit living in the flesh body of Jesus. This also then suggests that everyone who can say "I am" has the "breath" of God in them which gives their bodies life. Without "I" working on some level of contiousness, the body drops dead. But to verify all this as what Jesus meant, I would need to speak to Jesus in person.

I'm probably out of my league here, but I believe the statement "Where two or more are gathered ..." simply is a reminder that He is with us. He is with one of us, or two of us, or three or more ... always.

First I would like to make something clear relating to a more personal question to you (hope you don't take this as out of bounds); has someone who has authoritarian views different than yours often told you or suggested that "you are out of your leage"? Or has someone told you that you are like that person who often says such things? I think it would be spiritually healthy to explore the answers to those questions to the end or the roots because I think believing such an idea can only inhibit the persute of truth.
Personally, I do not believe anyone is out of anyone's leage in pursuing truth or discussing it. So I hope that you don't take my views/idea as authoritative; perhaps just different. If what I say rings true to you, it is simply a truth; but truth is not a given because I hold a precieved rank in relation to you.

Now I will reply to the meat of what you were saying:
I would disagree that "where two or more are gathered..." is simply a reminder that he is with us because he does not say "where one or more is gathered...." I think "two or more" is significant in some way to the statement, and likely significant in more than one way.

Anonymous said...

That's Okay, Nick, I know "busy".
Part I:
I do believe that God created satan, but when he created him, he was an angel -- not an evil being. Amazing, even angels have free will.
I really appreciate your views on life's difficulties; they remind me of the view in James. I do believe there is an unwritten clause in their, though, something provisional, and that depends partly on the free will of other human beings.
I have caught myself and reined myself in when saying, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if ..." -- as if would be a fairy tale "if only" ...
Darn those evil people (made in God's image). Another reminder when I think of "them" as evil and "us" as good.
Second question: I don't believe that not being perfect means we are flawed. We are perfectly created in that God saw us as "good -- very good", but we also have the ability to do as much evil as we have to do good.
You're right; we either have "free will" or we don't have a will. I like that.
Jesus is our example of grace. Hard for us to imagine that even in discipline and consequences, there is grace -- that you can have both. I prefer not to use the term "punishment" when I talk about God. That probably opens up a whole other debate: punishment vs. justice vs. discipline ...
I just know what I would get if I got justice ... and it's not pretty.
When I say God is good, I mean that in Him their is no darkness -- all that He does is because He is love.
J

Anonymous said...

Nick: Part II:
I agree with you, Nick. I believe it is easier to see what someone is like when you see them "fleshed out" ... when you see how they act and how they relate to people.
I may not understand the OT as well, but I see Him more clearly in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, himself, says, "He who has seen me has seen the Father."
You totally lost me in your point about space (laughing ... at myself, not you).
Thank you for your question, Nick, and of course it's not "out of bounds". I appreciate your honesty and don't mind those kinds of questions at all.
Honestly, I often feel out of my league here because I consider others to be scholars. I love the discussion and believe, wholeheartedly, that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (also how we can be deceived).
It's not uncommon for me to have difficulty understanding some of these things -- like the concept of a "vacuum". I would love to continue that thought in person when we visit.
I've actually been told more than "you're out of your league", but I think I've gotten beyond worrying about those kinds of things.
Your last thought on truth is one that is interesting. Is truth just what perceive it to be? Are there absolutes? (I believe so.)
I don't believe that my realization of feeling "out of my league" here, at times, prevents me or hinders me from pursuing truth (Jesus), but thank you for giving me something to think about.
Your final thought: one or more cannot "gather". You can only gather if there is "two or more".
I have heard people proclaim "two or more" as if it were some kind of promise that what they asked for would be granted. I believe the promise is that He is always with us and that he hears us. And I believe that there is always so much more happening than what we see or are aware of.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They provoke more thoughts ...
J

Nick said...

J,

I do believe that God created satan, but when he created him, he was an angel -- not an evil being. Amazing, even angels have free will.

... So then God did not create Satan evil.... who made him evil? ... He made himself evil by his own choices? Alright then, lets go with that. Don't look now but Satan being evil, he is presently something that God did not create. So then with this it can be said that Satan has a hand in creation which God did not intend? This gets really confusing... Do you supose that God forgives Satan for he knows not what he does? Do you supose that having recieved such forgiveness from God via Jesus that man could forgive Satan in the same way?
On a side but related note, have you ever read the part in the story of Moses where God repents for thinking to do evil unto the children of Israel?
So often while I have read the Bible through I couldn't help but think that there are two different "God"'s described in it. One version being an infinite, all powerful, all present spirit. The other being a celectial being that fathered our species and has supernatural powers, and gets angry at us when we are not what he wanted us to be.
When I accept that the scriptures are written through the lense of a human perception of what God is, I am better able to relate to the limitations of those writings, and the limitations of my own relationship with my God.

Second question: I don't believe that not being perfect means we are flawed. We are perfectly created in that God saw us as "good -- very good", but we also have the ability to do as much evil as we have to do good.

Us being flawed doesn't really have to do with our ability to do good or evil. It would have to do with us not turning out as God intended. Jesus often made note of how some evil things or evil choices must come to past and that it is all part of the plan. But this shows a duality in donflict with the idea that God wants everyone to choose to do good.
We could say; everything still going according to God's plan makes us perfect, right? It is going according to his plan is it not? God might say, I meant to do that. :) Again, I don't think all this can be so absolutely verified through our eyes or through the eyes of those who wrote the books of the Bible.

When I say God is good, I mean that in Him their is no darkness -- all that He does is because He is love.

I am with you in choosing to see God as love. But it is a choice of perception just as choosing to see life as a good thing is a choice. Not everyone makes this choice and so the truth about this seems relative to how we choose to see it. For example, to those that choose to see life as a big mistake, life is not a good thing.

Honestly, I often feel out of my league here because I consider others to be scholars.

That's what I mean can hinder the persuit of truth. Truth does not care about ranks or titles. So then I think in persuing truth, neither should one care about them.

Anonymous said...

Nick,
I will try to answer your questions as honestly and as clearly as I can.
1. God created beings with the ability to do good or evil. If a person does evil things, as Hitler did, that does not mean that God did not create him; nor does it mean that God created evil because he created Hitler.
I believe that God created us for relationship, and that means the ability to choose or reject relationship -- and, along with that, the ability to do good or evil.
I don't see the confusion with this. No, I don't believe God forgives unrepentant evil beings, even though he died for us "while we were yet sinners". I do not know enough about angels and God's relationship to them to be able to tell you how that is different for angelic beings.
I know it is different, but I would just be spouting off what I believe it to be, or what I think, and I don't want to say anything misleading.
I believe that we were exactly what He wanted us to be when he created us and that we have not "taken God by storm".
I do believe that God understood that we could choose differently than what He longed for. Obviously, we were still worth creating. We are a byproduct of his love -- just as children are born because of love, even though they may cause us pain in relationship afterwards.
I do believe God is angered, that he is grieved -- but I don't believe it is just as we are angered and grieved. There's a lot I don't understand about God, but I continue to seek to understand.
2. I believe there was no other way to create us out of love than the way God created. I am thankful for that, despite the evil that I see in this world. I know that there cannot be one without the other. Again, these are my thoughts, my interpretations.
I believe that God is God and all else is our interpretation.
The Bible tells us that God is love and in Him there is not darkness -- so it's not strictly what I think. Some of it is a trust in what I hear Him saying.
Such an interesting thought about truth being relative. I don't believe that truth depends on our interpretation of it. I am thankful that it doesn't. I know there is always a thought to chase and that these statements have branches that divide and divide again. So much to explore.
Thanks for your last thought. I am not speaking, though, about ranks and titles -- just recognizing that there are those who are scholarly. I am a seeker, but don't consider myself to be a scholar. It is more of a recognition and that does not diminish my worth or lessen my ability to seek truth/to know Jesus.
I have an appreciation for people with different skils; I see them as having something different from what I have -- but not that they have more worth or more of an ability to pursue God. It is true, they may understand some things that I don't; I may see some of those things, but it's actually all right if I don't understand everything.
What is really wonderful is that I understand that I am fully known by God and that He understands my journey in getting to know Him.
That is joy for me.
And passion.
And, I hope, as Wade said today, that some might see my life and want to know Jesus because they see Him in me ... in my actions, and hear Him in my voice.
Thanks for sharing these thoughts with me.
J

Nick said...

J,
1. God created beings with the ability to do good or evil. If a person does evil things, as Hitler did, that does not mean that God did not create him; nor does it mean that God created evil because he created Hitler.

Maybe how I presented the idea did not describe it well. I will use your example of Hitler to work from. Do you think it was part of God's plan that Hitler did evil things?
My thoughts on such a question is; If it was God's plan then evil does have a place in creation and he did make it in part that way. If it was not God's plan then God has lost control of his creation.

I wonder about these things and often I can't help but feel blessed that Adam and Eve did eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. If they hadn't, we would have remained ignorant of God's goodness, having no contrast to evil and we would not have the oportunity to appreciate this about God. In a way the fall seems to have given us the option to grow more intimate with God.

Anonymous said...

Nick,
Sometimes it is good to have a concrete example to work from, indeed.
No, it was not God's plan that Hitler do the evil things he did.
At the same time, it was not God's plan to control human will. And because of that, we have the opportunity to do other than what God would have us do.
Does evil have a place in creation? Only because it is possible to do evil as well as to do good -- not because it is part of God's plan other than that He knew that was possible.
God has not lost control of his creation. He never intended to control what we decide to do -- love him or reject him, do evil or do good.
Although, I know that a day of reckoning is coming and that salvation came at a great price. I hope it is love and thankfulness that motivates us, and not fear.
That's an interesting last thought. God's original plan included instructions not to experience that. With it came a whole gamut of consequences.
But in God's great mercy and love, there is not a "Plan A" and "Plan B".
From the very beginning, God knew that salvation would be needed. But because he wanted relationship with us, that could only come by creating beings who could choose to relate, choose to worship, choose to love.
J

Nick said...

From the very beginning, God knew that salvation would be needed.

J,
So do you then mean that it was part of his plan?
It seems to me that if salvation would be needed, his plan did include the fall.
J, I think it's plain enough to me by now the difference in who I believe my God to be and who you believe your God to be. And if nothing else it likely describes each our own developing relationship with him. I am willing to leave it at that for now, because I presently see no way to reconsile some aspects of my views with some aspects of your views. What I can appreciate though is where our views are commonly rooted. In love, not in fear. And though we both seem to be at a different place in searching for the turth, I do think that we both are.