Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Different Kind of Christianity

(I am indebted to my friend, Ashley Burgy, for providing a thought provoking dialogue that led me to finally write about this topic.)

It could be said that one of the highest virtues of Christianity is faith. The word is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, and is the main topic of numerous Sunday morning sermons. Many different passages throughout the book deal with the necessity of faith. So ubiquitous is the theme that it seems unnecessary to provide examples.
Although, one example seems relevant for my task. The story of Abraham and Issac is a popular narrative that is used to discuss the relevance of faith within the Christian way of life. Kierkegaard held this episode with great importance. This is something that I wish to explain momentarily.

Before I address Kierkegaard conception of faith, it is useful to examine the use of faith within Christian teachings today. Churches teach that faith is something on par with truth, and that it is just as legitimate. Moreover, faith is not seen as something that is invoked when logical answers flee human reasoning. Christians start from the premise that faith is good and it is beneficial. Most of their minds are already "made up."

In contrast with today's modern view of faith, Kierkegaard viewed it in another light. Interestingly, and in starch difference from our current complacency, he did not have reasons for supporting his faith. Many times, he admits the absurdity of faith. Referring to the Abraham example, he writes in Fear and Trembling: "But Abraham had faith and did not doubt. He believed the absurd. If Abraham had doubted - then he would have done something else, something great and glorious; for how could Abraham have done other than what is great and glorious" (54)? What an optimistic view of humanity!

Perhaps this passage provides a better illustration of Kierkegaard's commentary of Abraham: "He mounted the ass, he rode slowly down the path. All along he had faith, he believed that God would not demand Isaac of him; while still he was willing to offer him if that was indeed what was demanded. He believed on the strength of the absurd, for there could be no question of human calculation, and it was indeed absurd that God who demanded this of him should in the next instant withdraw the demand. He climbed the mountain, even in that moment when the knife gleamed he believed - that God would not demand Isaac" (Ibid. 65). What an interesting elaboration. I must admit that it sounds as if Kierkegaard was one step away from abandoning his faith altogether.

So, it looks as if there is more than two ways of seeing faith in its context. One can look at it as either divine or erroneously mundane. However, Kierkegaard holds a third position: he sees it as absurd and mundane, yet chooses to go along with it. This position, as opposed to the position that faith is some God-given capacity, has its merits. It is brutally honest, and that is what Christianity lacks today. Christians could learn a lot from Kierkegaard.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Red "C"

There is a certain word, a certain ideology that displays a distinct countenance in this country. That countenance, however great or mere, is one of fear and closed-mindedness of the taboo "c" word - communism. It is well documented: the communistic ideology of Marx and Engels has not displayed moral progress with the tyrannical leaders (and groups) that find themselves fortunate to rise to power. Lenin (and more severely, Stalin) abused the socialistic framework to work for their own pitiful self interests.

Communism itself, however, is a promising prospect. We should not incur pessimism to a system abused by nefarious dictators and militants. Closing the gap between the rich and the poor and securing complete equality for all people are main goals of communism. Any criticism that rises against these goals is a complete bastardization of its purpose. It does not seem accurate (in fact, it seems ad hoc) to judge a book by its cover: to judge communism by those in control.

A problem that seems to propagate the uneasiness that comes along with the "c" word is the history of the red scare in the united states. People were so afraid; most injustices to the self are done in fear. Children were taught to condemn the word like people condemned "witches" in Salem. In reality, we should have enlightened them as to the stupidity and callousness of the dominant. If the children are more mature and of age, then perhaps it is necessary to invoke stories of the histories of cases such as the infamous Khmer Rouge of Cambodia - show how people abused the communist system. We can show them, instead of indoctrinating them, that groups and individuals that practiced communism are historically at fault for its moral depravity. The ideology itself is free from reproach.

Secondly, another problem arises. This problem, unlike the first, manifests in the later history of communism's existence - later in the twentieth century. Toxic fumes emanate profusely from from social conservatives. These people (and surely not all) dwell on the past; they are afraid (fear!) to consider new ideas. Ignorantly, they seek to maintain the edicts of old, finding illusory superiority in obsolete thinking.

Perhaps there is validity in the communistic way of politics. It serves no use to chastise something that has not been considered. Maybe it is time for a change.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Against Certainty of the Heart

This particular post is in response to something that I see/hear often. Every now and then, I will hear someone make the claim "I know, in my heart, that it is true," or "We all know in our heart the truth." Usually, it is in a religious/emotional context. Someone will receive a peculiar emotional experience and become "high" off of the episode. They then feel the need to say that they know the truth because their heart acts in such a way! What tomfoolery!

The inaccuracy of such proclamations comes from the fact that the heart does no thinking; there is such a thing as modern psychology, as much as someone wishes to deny or ignore it. Our heart serves for purely physiological needs and does no more.

On the other hand, the brain does the thinking (or at least an engaging one does). Here, one might say that they know such a thing. To say "I know something in my heart" could be an alternative way of saying "I know something based off my feelings." Feelings are not a prerequisite of truth.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Specified Reductionism and the Nature of Memories

It seems that any reflective event that has occurred in time (e.g. a groundbreaking historic event, a more theoretically objective description of a new naturalistic phenomena, the discovery of substance x, or the witnessing of a film), viewed on a massive and comprehensive scale, can be explained using general terms. Of course, if we greatly magnify our focus of the inquiry of the past, details begin to specify themselves, emerging with magnificence. Such a reflective event occurs through one's memory; this is the medium of use.

I will illustrate further. Let's take an example of attending the symphony. The initial state of the memory begins: that very short interval where we define the event with general terms. This stage consists mainly of the mere definition of the word symphony, which is a very general and comprehensive definition, for it will consist, of course, of the comprehensive history of the symphony as well as the notable figures and musicians. Stage one probably lasts a few milliseconds, perhaps shorter. It must be noted, crucially, that a person's ability to recollect the general and comprehensive definition of symphony depends entirely on a person's knowledge of the word being defined. The second stage of the memory involves a more specific acknowledgment of minute details about the event:

The weather was mild and balmy last week when we decided to go the symphony; such conditions are rarities. I was excited to finally see Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. I was so glad the tickets had a student discount! They ended up being only $10! My girlfriend loved the wine selection. I can't stand them! They had Guinness, so I had a few of those. The concert was so enchanting and the concert hall was gorgeous. I even think I recall a musician accidentally dropping his instrument during a period of prolonged rests! It was so embarrassing! The pianist played the work so passionately and I was enthralled by her talent.

In a way, my example fails to discern all possible minute details of the events at a symphony performance (gunmen could have been planning to take the audience hostage, but decided against it due to last minute jitters). It fails in another way: my personal knowledge about the symphony concert is more ignorant than others.  People who know more about the symphony will recollect other details that would remain absent within my memories.

Moreover, the specified recollection of events has a reductionistic nature. Starting from large overarching generalities and refining them to more minute recollections seems to occur when we address the contents of our memories. There seems to be a pragmatic function for this magnifying.