"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

Great Dorothy Sayers Quote

Posted in Good Quotes, Philosophical by matt on Tuesday, December 20, 2011

“In this world there is a view that’s called total tolerance, but in hell it’s called despair. It’s the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, enjoys nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, but remains alive. Why? Because there’s nothing for which it could die.”

Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957)

I heard this in a fantastic Tim Keller sermon the other day called “A Reason For Living.” Check it out here.

Passing Time

Posted in Day-To-Day, Philosophical, Theological by matt on Monday, May 31, 2010

There’s a story I love about a conversation between Alexander the Great and a man he called a “gymnosophist” (meaning wise, naked man). The conquerer arrives at the Indus river (now in Pakistan) with his army and finds the gymnosophist sitting buck-naked and staring up at the sky.

Alexander: “What are you doing?”

Gymnosophist: “I’m experiencing nothingness. What are you doing?”

Alexander: “I’m conquering the world.”

And they both laughed, thinking the other person foolish.

Gymnosophist: “Why is he conquering the world? It’s pointless.”

Alexander: “Why is he just sitting around doing nothing? It’s a waste of a life.”

These are the kinds of East-meets-West collision stories that have made me rethink the phrase, “time well-spent.” The two men had very different perspectives on life that were a direct result of the stories they told themselves, and that dictated how they spent their time.

So which is the right story? Which one was wasting his time?

In our transitions and travels between Thailand and America, I’ve found there’s a lot more to adapting in a new culture than just jet-lag (kind of a no-brainer, right?).

In Thailand it felt like we had all the time in the world. We were busy, for sure, but it didn’t feel that way. Everything was mai-pen-rai (the Thai equivalent of “hakuna matata”) and no worries.

It was frustrating because, to us, it looked like laziness, but we came around to it over time.

But now that we’re back in America it’s a totally different feel. You’d be lucky to score eye-contact with someone, much less spend unscheduled quality time with them. It makes me think of the Kenyan proverb, “All westerners have watches, no westerners have time.” We’re addicted to the busy feel. We are, in a sense, conquerers.

It’s been frustrating because it looks too hectic, but we’ll come around in time.

So, for me, this begs a lot of questions: how are the differing viewpoints on life and time reconciled? Are they? Is there a right or wrong here? Should we be “conquering the world” or “experiencing nothing?”

At what point am I staying too busy, pursuing efficiency and accomplishment at all costs? When am I slacking, wasting my own time and the time of others?

Or maybe it depends on the person. Maybe God just made some conquerers and others…naked ponderers? I’m not sure, but I do know that God made work and rest to be a part of our lives and that there’s a mandate on us to work and rest well (though the gymnosophist wasn’t exactly resting, you get my point).

The Bible has been helpful here – particularly passages in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes about work and the meaning of life, as well as the story about Martha in Luke 10. I’ll keep reading and processing all this! I thought I should post some profound resolution, but I’m just not there yet. It may be too much of a balancing act to ever ‘arrive’…

How about you? What are some things that have helped you with what you consider time well-spent? Any advice for me?

Perspectives on the Will

Posted in Philosophical, Theological by matt on Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton writes, Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.

If this is a correct understanding of the human will then a choice is actually more binding than freeing. The reason I’m taking up precious inter-web space (and your time, haha) to write this is that it goes directly against what I’ve always assumed to be true, i.e., that the humans ability to choose is the greatest expression of freedom.

But when a man chooses to marry one woman he automatically rejects all the others. Or for me, choosing to ride the van to work means not choosing to ride in a cab, to walk, or to meet a certain, flaming death on a motorcycle taxi. Choices are limiting.

So what?

This change in perspective matters. It proves that each individual decision is consequential. God has given people the freedom to make decisions about all kinds of things and those decisions – big or small – matter! What you decide to do will also dictate what you don’t do.

But is the inverse also true?

Consider 8 out of the 10 commandments that are phrased negatively (You shall not…). Here God allows only one choice. Obviously God doesn’t limit the option to a single choice and no other (we are able to choose to disobey), but He does allow for only one correct choice. So, rather than us limiting ourself, God is limiting us.

But what if God isn’t limiting us? What if this is another form of His grace and freedom?

Maybe God’s 8 “Though shalt not” statements are 8 of the most freeing statements in the whole Bible. God nixed the hazy process of decision-making and brought the right choice into focus, cut-and-dry.

God made the rules, and what if the one making the rules did it because He knew that limitation meant freedom and that reckless decision-making meant bondage?

For the Christ-follower I believe this is even more evidence of God’s grace, but I’d love to hear any of your thoughts.

Kierkegaard and the Nature of Faith…I Think

Posted in Philosophical, Stuff I'm Reading, Theological by matt on Saturday, April 26, 2008

I’ll admit, anytime I hear someone say “God told me” I get a little skeptical. I mean technically God has “told” people a lot of things – at least according to them. He told some people to fly airplanes into buildings, others to get this or that job in this or that city, a few to drink the kool-aid, some to marry a guy or break up with a girl, He told some which school they should go to or which classes they should take, and He told One to die on a cross.

Don’t get me wrong I believe God desires to communicate with us, but I refuse to believe everyone is hearing what they say they’re hearing. I don’t think God tells people to fly planes into buildings…but I also wouldn’t think God wants people to murder their children, and we all know the story of Abraham on Moriah…

Faith is a scary thing. It’s a scary thing because it can’t be completely proven or completely denied, it has to be worked out in fear and trembling.

Most of us have heard the story so many times we’re deadened to it, but try to be there: you’re following Abraham into Moriah, up the mountain, and – hidden from view – looking on in horror as he raises the knife to kill his kid. From a moral standpoint this is horrible right? Yet this is sung about at VBS and remembered by many as an act of incredible faith. My point is that faith isn’t as simple as intellectually assenting to a specific set of values or to some ethical framework. Faith is often irrational, maybe even always irrational.

Just to clear up that previous statement, I don’t believe the men who flew planes into buildings were faithless, but I also don’t believe their faith was from God or in God. But I do think God calls us to do weird things. Things that are in opposition to governing authorities, the Law of Moses, and, like Abraham, even in opposition to a promise He had previously made. Otherwise we’re just following the system, right? That’s no relationship! In part, Abraham’s faith was great because he had no system to follow, he only had God’s personal promises to trust. Abraham was great because he believed anything God told him – even the crazy stuff. Referring to Abraham in Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard says it much better:

“No! No one shall be forgotten who was great in this world; but everyone was great in his own way, and everyone in proportion to the greatness of what he loved. For he who loved himself became great in himself, and he who loved others became great through his devotion, but he who loved God became greater than all. They shall all be remembered, but everyone became great in proportion to his expectancy. One became great through expecting the possible, another by expecting the eternal; but he who expected the impossible became greater than all.”

These are just a few thoughts I’ve had while reading this book. Kierkegaard believed God calls His followers to a higher law than just the moral law (Teleological Suspension of the Ethical). Sometimes, in order to test, preserve, and strengthen our faith, God commands us to do something that seems contradictory.

So, if this is true and we can’t always determine faith by morality, how can we know ‘true faith’ from ‘false faith’? How do we know whether or not someone is right when they say “God told me”?

I obviously need to keep reading, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Pissed At Epistemology

Posted in Philosophical, Questions For You by matt on Saturday, March 22, 2008

Oversimplified epistemological premise (a): Knowledge is necessary.

Humor me and pretend like a person is capable of learning absolutely nothing. Doing away with bio-genetic predispositions, theories such as the Social Learning Theory, and the simple fact that humans learn even unintentionally, let’s imagine that people are able to come out of the womb likened to a catatonic vegetable and to voluntarily not learn anything – I know, but just go with me. If a person doesn’t learn, he or she will be at an extreme disadvantage. And by ‘extreme disadvantage’ I mean the only possible way to live is to have other (learned) people nearby to help. Learning makes it possible for a person to survive, live comfortably, experience relationships, etc. Truly, knowledge is power and learning is necessary, even if to only have enough power to continue ones own existence.

Oversimplified epistemological premise (b): An answered question (acquired knowledge), while perhaps helpful, will eventually provide more questions.

Here I recognize a number of objections: Aren’t there answers that everyone can satisfactorily agree on, i.e., aren’t some subjects closed and without more questions? And isn’t the satisfaction with the answer dependent upon the person? How can you, a single individual, claim to determine or are some people just unaware of the new group of questions? These, along with many other, objections will have to be momentarily set aside. I’m no philosopher and I haven’t ever formally studied epistemology. I’m just thinking and writing wile I’m bored at work (like now =)). So, once again, please imagine that, for the thinker, answers provide more questions and questions provide fewer answers. Even the person who is content to never question anything will surely admit to this – it’s a cycle.

So if both (a) and (b) are true then we have an apparent tension. Knowledge is necessary, but the acquisition of knowledge only makes us more fully aware of how little we know! The academic term for this is The Regress Problem, and it can be understood like this:

Belief (i) must be justified by belief (ii). These two are interconnected and dependent upon one another in order to be established as true. However, belief (ii)’s veracity is also dependent on belief (iii) and (iii) is dependent on (iv), and so on and so forth. And, like any chain, when one link is broken the chain’s usefulness lessens.

So to put it simply: the more you learn, the less you know. Julian of Norwich, in one of her alleged revelations from God, described it this way, “For I saw this truth in our Lord’s meaning: the busier we are about discovering his secrets in this matter or that, the farther we shall be from their discovery.”

The “so what” of this post can be summed up in this question: If this is true and learning does lead to an increased awareness of ignorance, then what is its purpose? More specifically – and I mention these two because they’re the two I’m most interested in – what is the purpose of theology and philosophy? The pursuit can’t be about getting all the answers because we know that will never happen, so why pursue it?

I’m going to think about it more and I’ll see if I can’t write out some other thoughts later. Any thoughts would be welcomed.