Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Problem of Evil, Redux

"Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice: let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared." - Psalm 130:1-4
In order to love us God has to be extremely tolerant of evil. Thus the extent and degree of evil and suffering in the world is no surprise in light of a loving God.
Without goodness we would not be able to see evil. The very fact that we can see it indicates that we have the capacity to choose goodness. Therefore the evil that we see is also a choice. Our choice. It is not God's fault.
But what about the evil others experience: the suffering of the innocent?
How could goodness or evil exist if there were no possibility of doing good or harm to others? A universe without such choices, or rather, Being without the free choice of good, closes the door to the experience of goodness.
What if the suffering of the innocent could be accommodated? Then all that would be left would be the choice of good or evil and temporary pain. Imagine a way in which suffering could be experienced as growth, learning and rising upward.
This is what Jesus shows us. He demonstrates that when innocent and crucified we forgive, we love. We pray, we reach inward, we reach toward God and we are lifted. Sadness and pain do not damage our soul when we have this living water.
"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." - 2 Cor 12:9

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Against Politics

There is a bizarre phenomenon in which the vote in almost all US elections is very close to 50/50.  When there are two genuinely different choices in nature, they are never evenly balanced.  When two forces are evenly balanced this seems like a sure sign that they are part of a larger system.  For instance, the deer population and the mountain lion population are tightly coupled, and this system is geared to move back to that ratio whenever circumstances pull it away.  If there are too many deer, there's more food.  If there are too few deer, there's not enough food.

In a battle between two groups it is rare that the two sides are evenly matched and either give up or declare a tie.  It might take a long time to play out, but generally, one side or the other "wins".

Politics are a little different from predation, or from a war, in that everyone is in a broad sense on the same side but on opposing sides in a narrower sense.  Deer and mountain lions are part of the same system in a broad sense as well: the elimination of one party would be bad for the other.  They counterbalance one another and offer a check on each others' excesses.  But as humans, we are (ideally) conscious of our participation in the larger system, and therefore we consciously share some of the same broad goals.  Even if we cannot think of a single broad goal we share, we are still in the same bed, so to speak, with mutual responsibility to make it up, and with shared vulnerability to the way in which it is made.

What natural system always trends toward 50/50 results?  Well, a coin toss is a good example.  If there were something absolute and fundamental about the difference between the parties, a 50/50 balance would not be possible.

I think, rather, the parties represent slightly different approaches to the same problems, magnified many times by sensationalism, and then further magnified by desperation.  When one obtains just more than 50% it has its way and runs recklessly in one direction to the dismay and horror of the others, and sometimes to the horror of their constituency.  Then it reverses and so on.  But the clear implication is that both sides change constantly with time, and the 50/50 balance is a result of their being two sides.  If they were not in balance and could not change then a critical outlet for decision would not exist.  So, like deer and mountain lions power swings one way and then the other.

But another clear implication is that the content of each side is not fundamentally different but is rather two sides of the same coin.  Two approaches based on the same set of cultural assumptions.  Even when the cultures appear to be drastically different (as now), there are deeper sets of shared values that guide and shape the apparently different cultures of both sides.

There are very few social circumstances in which I can tell whether someone is "red" or "blue".  At work, for instance, I see people doing their jobs, and I might work with someone for a decade or longer and have no idea at all what their party affiliation is.  At church, even, my only way of knowing party affiliation is to sneakily watch which car a person gets into and observe their bumper stickers.  (I'm sure some churches make better predictors of political affiliation than others but even this is not always the case.)  It seems to me that party affiliation has very little bearing on whether one can be a good person, a good citizen, or a good friend.

Both parties have their own claims to the moral high ground.  And both parties have moral achilles heels which are are larger than the side of a barn, so to speak.  There is no complete guide to truth and goodness that can be harvested from the party lines of one party or another, or even both combined.  But political parties are worldly things.  They are amalgamations of human ideas, chaotically lumped together into giant seething masses.  It is a mob, constructed for better or worse, of people opposed generally to the mob on the other side.  People move back and forth constantly, and the party line shifts constantly in response to powerful undercurrents of belief, habit and lifestyle.

If only we could focus on these powerful undercurrents!

I don't want to suggest that we ignore our duty as citizens to participate in a democratic process.  I also don't want to suggest that we stop brushing our teeth.  These are things we need to do.  But the problems expressed through politics are symptoms of deeper issues, and it is those we must address.  Focusing on these will make us humbler in the political sphere, it will make us capable of contributing more realistically and less divisively.

Most of all, if we can see our own faults and shortcomings we will be more able to understand the other side, and gradually, hopefully, become able to steer the whole ship, rather than fighting to slam the wheel in one direction or another.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Jesus Changes Everything

I spend a lot of time philosophizing, and attempting to express what I've learned.  It tends to come out as if it were all my own idea.  And I often seem to be trying to arrive at Christianity's conclusions from first principles alone.

But had Christ not shown up in the middle of history, I would be alone with my speculation.

I feel like I'm wending my way toward Him, when He is the starting point.  But the starting point feels too essential, and therefore too large, for me to comprehend or express.  I yearn to exist in Him, in this revealed place, and I'm certainly sharing in it and benefiting from it.  But I feel like I wind around ideas, hoping to arrive at a proper attribution but never manage to land in the right place.  I can come around to my love for Him, but I feel I'm never arriving somewhere that properly points toward Him.

So I want to give credit to the One who loves mankind, to the triple radiance, to the creator of all, and particularly to his only begotten Son, our Lord and Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I want to, and I do personally, but I feel a little stuck when it comes to explaining this to others.  Perhaps this is because so many of the people in my life are outside, in that amorphous and often cold place, not having realized who Christ is.

There is an awkward contrast to explain: if I tell people how glorious it is to be in Christ, I have implied that they are in a damp, clammy place, outside Him.  It would be untrue to deny that conscious participation in Christ is mind-blowingly essential.  But there is something inaccurate in saying that people who are not inside are outside.  It seems more complicated than that.

I want to explain it like this: the Son of God was always there, and is therefore always here.  The Son of God, being God, is unchanged over time.  In that sense, we have always, and will always be, in the presence of God, who loves us.  Our distance in that ultimate sense is unchanged.  Or, put another way, the Incarnation did not have any impact on how much God loves us: He always did, and always will, love us.  So I can't say that Jesus changes anything about God.  All of the significance is on our side of the relationship.  Jesus does not change God, Jesus expresses something about God that was, is and will eternally be there, and He offers it to us. He makes visible the invisible.

Humanity has always yearned for communion with God, that has always been what we ultimately sought, whether we were conscious of it or not.  It has always been what would have satisfied our thirst, and to the extent we were wise, we understood God to be the answer to our deepest questions.  Our understanding of God was cloudy at the best of times but we certainly strove toward Him, and much goodness occurred as a result.

But this explanation, of human striving toward God, sounds, and is, very muddy without mentioning Christ.  He is the axis of our salvation.  He is the lever through which depth is attained in our relationship to God.  History changed, and humanity was given a solid benchmark for goodness.  Not just a cultural reference point, but a transcendent and immutable 'glowing coal' of access to the divine.  An ontological skylight has been opened up through which God's mercy shines.

His light shines on all of us, in the same way that the rain falls on both the sinful and the just.  We are all beneficiaries of His renovation of the human archetype.

Conscious participation in Christ is the most valuable aspect of my life, the most indispensable.  So I would certainly like to share it with others.  But I cannot honestly tell people they do not have what I have, that their life is a glum and depressing shadow compared to mine.  They do have everything I have, they have God's love and all that that implies.  But conscious participation makes an enormous difference, or rather, it changes everything.  How can someone already have everything, and then gain more?  What is it, exactly, that this sharing looks like?

People do have light already, there is just a profound lack of direction which makes it hard to move into that light and stay there.  I'm certainly no better than anyone else at moving into the light, but by embracing Christ I have been given access to a treasure trove of blessings, of little pushes toward the light.  Like a thousand little cherubic hands pushing me into the shaft of light that was already there.  They push quite softly against my coarse and self-intoxicated habits, which are much worse than most others'.  But all it takes is one micro-glimpse of their goodness, a few subtle hints about which way one ought to be pushed, a cursory review of 'the New Adam', and one suddenly finds oneself to be 'mysteriously advantaged'.

Is there a way I can concisely convey my experiences which have validated the fact that Jesus Christ is God's revelation to mankind of Himself?  The words themselves, as I recall from having been outside them, seem abstract or even platitudinous, or culturally specific.  One has to step inside them, into their history and context, to realize they convey tangible, mystical truth, and not just any truth, but an absolutely radiant, life giving spring of Truth with a very capital "T".

If all one gets is a sound bite, it is not likely that one will find a better set of words than those which have been used for millennia.  If the audience has become hostile to those words, no sound bite is going to get through their defenses.  If the hostility comes from having lost the basic tools of interiority, then those first need to be restored.  If it comes from having embraced a fundamentally hostile set of views any synonymous verbiage will only serve as a trigger.

Views which are hostile to Truth are ultimately false, of course.  But falsity is inherently complex and twisted, and special techniques may be required for its untangling.  I feel that God puts food out for us, even when we are all tangled up in our self-damaging vortexes of delusion, in the hope that we might smell it, untangle ourselves, and have a bite.  Likewise, there are simple morsels of truth that we can express which might serve as seeds for others.

For example...

While it is true that He was born of a virgin, it's an awkward place to begin the conversation.  But from the inside, this piece of information is nothing less than a potent explosion of remembrance, a living symbol of our own purity reborn, of the promise of liberation from our own passions.  It is a challenge to our corrupt adult selves who have settled for fallen nature as if it were all there was.  It is a trumpet in the distance, calling ourselves to be fully human.  Maybe it isn't obvious, but virginal birth is a paradox, like the 8th day of the week, or for the master to be the servant and vice versa.  If a person can put aside their habituation to naturalism and consider for a moment what it "would mean if it were true", the depth can begin to be conveyed.  This birth genuinely includes humanity, one could say 'through the mother', but it is a transcendent motherhood.  It is a seedless birth, and the closest way we have of understanding it from a father-like perspective is that we have to completely give up our attachments, our lusts, our expectations, and serve.  It involves a total sublimation of personal will.  But it is still a birth that includes our humanity.  Through our surrender to God's love, we are included.  He took flesh from us.  His existence as man was contingent on our participation.  On our loving surrender to love itself, to something higher than what our own God-seeking will could reach on its own.

All this is condensed for us into 4 little words, "born of a virgin".  As a sound bite they inspire believers but unfortunately seem to push away those outside, though their content is nothing less than a morsel from God, left out for us in case we should decide to heed the loving parental call to finally come to dinner.

The truth does not need to be modernized.  God does not need to change, we do.

Does this mean that in order to bring the manna of God's Word to people, one has to first re-educate them in basic mysticism?  Or to blast away at the fundamental errors in popular thinking?  Or does one simply present it, in very small pieces, and wrap it up in just enough of the right kind of explanatory language that help people to understand its depth and applicability?

Perhaps all three.  But the Word will bring Himself to people.  All I can do is sublimate my will, acknowledging that the only way for me to have any part in Christ is to say 'let it be to me according to thy word'.

Monday, March 25, 2019

In a poem

We live in a poem.

We will never be able to reduce our experience into words for this poem but we will certainly experience its rhythm and we have already been inundated by its inescapable content.  We will never fully reach its inner meaning, but to move even one step closer to this would be our greatest joy, and to move one step away our greatest sorrow.

I thought this article would be longer, but that's all I had to say.

But I'm as much driven to understand, appreciate and live the spirit of this poem as anyone else, I will continue to speak.

In case anyone has forgotten that metaphor is closer to truth than analysis, I will start there.

Metaphor

"from Ancient Greek μεταφορά (metaphorá), from μεταφέρω (metaphérō, “I transfer, apply”), from μετά (metá, “with, across, after”) + φέρω (phérō, “I bear, carry”)" - https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/metaphor

Truths are already close to us.  Things we do not yet know can be brought closer by connecting them to what is already close.  Metaphor does this, poetry does this.

When we look outward we see fragments.  Disconnected things which have not yet been put together into something we understand.  We are free to connect these things as we like but we do not have the ability to invent their right or true arrangement.  When we experience a good and harmonious explanation, it sinks into us to the degree we feel its goodness.  Most of our own stories fall apart and turn back into dust.  True stories come closer, they endure, they are held to our chest.

There is a false kind of truth which claims authority based solely on "fact".  Everything we see is a fact, so this is no special qualification, and the arbitrariness of such a basis should be obvious.  But taken in aggregate, connected convincingly, and verified from several angles, a story can sometimes be given an extra touch of glamor.  No elaborate assemblage of details, no matter how verifiable, can come close to us unless it resonates with an inward sense of value and goodness.  But this glamor can shine like gold to us, it can give the appearance of truth.

Especially if we have taken in something false, more false things can be attracted to it and find their home in us.

How is it possible to take in something false?

If only our inmost heart were absolutely pure from the start.  In a very important way it is, and was.  But in an even more important and more practical way it no longer is.

Let's look at it in terms of culpability (our fault) and responsibility (it doesn't matter if it's our fault).  It is theoretically (though not practically) possible to live without the first but it is not possible or even desirable to live without the second.  The potential for a clean heart is always present.  The reality of unclean hearts is inescapable.  Between these we live.

Was I not clear enough?  Goodness matters infinitely more than 'fact', yet goodness is inseparable from truth.  Facts are merely raw material.  Elaborate facts are no more true than elaborate fantasies.  It is a shallow and useless sort of truth that has no value, and facts cannot invent value.

Truth, divorced from goodness, forms a dangerous and confusing landscape in which monstrous beasts prowl.  Ferocious 'truths' formed only from facts but devoid of value, seek to devour humbler truths with real meaning.

Or, put another way, value and closeness to a (pure) heart are the same thing.
"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." - Matt 5:8


Truth
"What is truth?" - Pontius Pilate
The most fundamental aspects of our experience, the most indisputable, the least controversial, the most utterly obvious, are these: that something is happening, that the seeing of it is central to its happening and that it could be better or worse.

Being, consciousness and goodness.  We might be confused about who we are and what is good, but we hopefully can at least agree that we are here, seeking goodness.

Truth holds a central role in our quest to understand these things: ourselves, each other and goodness, as it is the answer to all three.

There is a repulsive and suicidal notion, that truth itself is relative.  It's rationale is obviously circular, and it is really just a feeble minded justification for retreating into an infantile and solipsist view of the universe.  I mention it only because it points toward its opposite.  To embrace this puerile and narcissistic view is to give up on something.  On what?

The existence of real truth, of the singular, definitive sort, of real answers to the deepest questions, is implied to be difficult but possible by how weak and escapist its antithesis is.  The denial that there is a real truth, one which is common to all divergent views, is the denial of goodness itself, of the possibility of unity.  If the only unity we can achieve is through denial of real, mutual goodness, then it is a false and temporary unity.

But is the middle really excluded?  Is truth such that it's negation is false?  In "pure" terms, of course it is.  If one person says that the ultimate nature of all things is good and ordered, and another person says it is neutral and chaotic, there is an irreconcilable gulf of logic between them.  But is truth as we understand it, that is, incompletely and through a glass darkly, is that limited, human view of truth such that we could even begin to negate it?  Yes, but only in a limited sense.  There were two men, one a kind and thoughtful electrician, and the other a brutal crime boss.  They had children of about the same age, who were friends and had both come to school dressed up as their respective father.  They began to argue about who's father was the better role model.  One child was more correct but neither, still being children, had yet become that toward which they were aspiring. 

Along the lines of children innocently imagining evil to be good, here's a view I heard recently.  That to be certain about truth means that one will be certain about the falseness of contradictory claims, and this in itself constitutes arrogance and oppression: an imperialism of ideas.  Somehow, the assertion of encompassing truth is seen to be divisive, while escapist bumbling is imagined to be the acceptable alternative.  In this fantasy, a golden age of tolerance is imagined in which, though, nothing is true, some kind of goodness reigns supreme.  But when it comes down to it people have little enthusiasm for goodness decoupled from truth.  This view starts off with that sad, denatured glow of a plucked flower, all idealistic and full of dreams, obliquely rendering beauty through its loss, then devolves into something which really does become an imperialism of ideas: that all pervading naturalism which, in asserting that only the objective properties of objects are knowable, actively denies all other views.

It is, admittedly, a wild, an outrageous claim, that truth exists; that there is something which holds everything together, which makes sense, which actually works.

In a logical sense it is not outrageous at all, how could something without an encompassing set of principles hold together in a sea of eternity?  People try to argue that any order we do see is just a tiny little bubble in the froth of a much larger sea of chaos.  But if you press this logic you find that everything we can see is almost infinitely improbable.  We do live on a relatively small island of improbable beauty, consciousness and life, but that small island is surrounded by an impossibly vast and equally improbable set of physical laws, impossibly balanced such that our little island is possible.  In other words, no one has ever seen a chaotic universe not suited for life.  So, logically, since on close examination all we can actually discern is life-sustaining order, there is no difficulty at all in deducing a unified truth which is larger than what we see.

Experientially, however, there is a shock we must experience when we reflect on this claim.  If reality is ordered, all the way from top to bottom, then we cannot pretend to be in a little eddy off to one side, in a private bubble, living independently of this order.

People have sometimes wondered how badness could exist in an ordered universe, and have even gone so far as to question the goodness of the ordering.  The feeble, human way of imagining order is to project our neurotic delusions of power onto it, and see a total dominion: a completely deterministic order, where the top is the direct cause of everything below it.  Fortunately, the order we live in is not like this, and each level below is governed from above in broad strokes.

We are free within this order to do quite a few things.  The freedom to redefine truth is not one of them.

So, we have the ability to engage in badness at our own expense up to, but not beyond, a certain level.  The more we paint the world in naturalistic tones, the less we are able to see those limits.  The more we look at it in terms of meaning, the limits become more clear.  A lie changes the outward circumstances, often in very uncomfortable ways.  But a lie has no impact on truth or meaning whatsoever.  We are, it should be noted, creatures of both worlds: of circumstance, and of truth.  Our suffering on the circumstantial side is often limited only by the degree to which we and our fellows have not encountered truth.  This certainly leads to many unfortunate and unpleasant circumstances.  But it is also possible to live a life increasingly more identified with truth than with circumstance.

Clearly, when truth is seen as something distant and objective, a shift into a life based in it sounds more like an exercise in escapist theorizing than in any kind of actual refuge.  This is one of the compelling reasons why we need to improve our understanding of what truth is.  Because truth is a refuge: when embraced it does in fact have the power to carry us through on not just the strength of our convictions, but on its own power.  The truth is its own reward.

It stands to reason, and also to experience, that the order in the universe, the truth of the universe, is the foundation of what we mean by meaning and goodness.  The order behind the laws of the universe is the same order that undergirds the laws of biological life, and is the same order which is the architect of our being and consciousness.  Goodness and meaning are simply the natural, that is the proper, goals of any being endued with awareness.  Being, in the context of this order, this truth, has a natural course, a course which serves the truth, and which therefore serves all.

Truth touches both our potentially purified heart, which recognizes goodness, and all of the truly good things which we might recognize and hold close.  The truth is alive, after all.  Properly conceived, the truth is closer to us than we ourselves are.

Literality

People sometimes talk about "literal interpretation" as if this were something within our ability.  But take any experience we've ever had, no matter how direct, and then tell me honestly that you understood it.  Good luck with that.

It becomes even harder, not easier to interpret things which are farther away from us.  And it is harder, not easier to interpret a whole situation than an aspect of a situation.  We have to limit ourselves in some way to have any chance of understanding anything, but if we do accept limits (which are usually quite extensive) then we do have some real opportunities to understand a thing or two, in this humbled way.

This quickly adds up to metaphor being better, that is, more likely to lead to a truthful understanding, than is an analytic approach that attempts to piece together objective details into something we delusionally fancy to be a literal interpretation of events.

It isn't that literal interpretation is impossible, it is just much harder, and often lies outside our abilities.  It is much easier, and more practical, to start with a more allegorical understanding of things, a more metaphorical, symbolic, sympathetic interpretation of experience.  If we wanted to understand Shakespeare's century, for instance, we would learn more from one or two of his stanzas than from a detailed history of that century's wars.  If we don't understand someone's motivations we won't understand his actions.

Synthesis

What are we to do from within this poem?  If we attempt to carve out a channel of 'plain fact' we will only have etched a morbid and dreary line onto the fabric of our awareness, one which rather than telling us a straight story, warps us uncomfortably in order to see things in a particular way.

Too often we forget that we are beings, or we forget what it means to have being.  We should never have expected to be able to relate with objects, symbols or anything which does not also have being.  Outside of being there are only symbols, and symbols draw their entire substance from the context they are given by those who arrange them.

If we do not understand truth to be more alive than we are we are treating it as a symbol.  Value could never come from a symbol itself, it can only come from how the symbol is used, from what or rather who, is behind that symbol.  Truth, therefore, in order to be genuinely experienced, must be elevated in our understanding from symbol to being.

A truth to which we can relate is worth the loss of many straight lines, of many literal or analytical interpretations of experience.  To live the spirit of the poem in which we find ourselves is no sacrifice at all, rather it is to embrace reality not just as we actually experience it but as it actually is.  However small the glimpse we may have of truth, what matters is that it is the true truth, not how big or bright it is.  There is light at the end of the tunnel of meaning, but we have to enter into the tunnel to get there.  We are already thirsty for truth, so there is no shortage of fuel for the journey.  What we have to give up is false hope.  We have to cast aside our idols of analytic perspicacity, our half baked imaginings of concrete fulfillment, our borrowed garments of questionable assumptions.  What is most close and most real requires no real sacrifice to embrace.  We are already in the tunnel.  Once we acknowledge that the darkened light we have taken to be light is, in fact, darkness, then we will discover, with delight, that the home-like light beckons us and races toward us, from the far end of the tunnel.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Recognition

In a dream, I saw next to me someone who I recognized.  That recognition was not the normal, matter of fact sort of recognition that one experiences where one simply connects the presence of a person to one's inward relation to them.  Well, it was that, but several times over.  In that moment of meta-recognition, I recalled with great intensity dozens of previous dreams in which that specific person had been present.

This person, who stood, personified, to my right, had specific, detailed features of course, but the recognition was very clearly not of the features but of the person, of that person's essence, being and personhood.  It was a rather potent form of recognition.

If I recognize someone while awake, then say who it is I'm talking about, no one would even think to doubt that person's existence.  If I have a dream "about" a particular person, the assumption will be that the person was not involved.  If I have a dream about someone who I cannot name, the assumption will be that I dreamed this person up, that this person does not exist.

If I look at my relationship to someone who I do know in waking life, say, one of my children, I can reflect on that relationship and know with certainty that there is another person to whom this relationship connects.  The relationship itself is something that does not require their presence to access.  I can reflect on it at will.  I can worry about the person, pray for them, wonder what they are doing, ponder something they said, or hash through the process of deciding on a birthday present.

The materialist perspective says that all of my experience of that relationship while the person is absent consists only of my reflection on, and interaction with, my own ideas.  In other words, the other person is not there at all, and there is nothing I might do that would have any impact on the other person.  Only when the person returns might the results of my reflection then be transmitted.

But the reality is that my end of the relationship is not at all constrained to when I am in someone's physical presence.  Ideally each person's deepest awareness of the other, and physical presence would occur at the same time, but such symphonious experiences are rare, and no relationship is ever limited to a single moment of time.  Real, actual, experienced relationships span time, thus they naturally transcend individual moments and therefore they transcend particular circumstances.  To dissect a relationship and attempt either to constrain it to moments of proximity, or to separate those moments from moments of interiority and contemplation, is to miss the relationship itself.

There is certainly something particularly important about proximity, about those moments in a relationship where there is an exchange.  But we have these exchanges, so to speak, "through earthen vessels".  Each meeting is an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the last.  In order to relate properly, each meeting must be separated from the next by reflection and prayer.  When we fail to do so we relate not to the person but to our own sinful misconceptions.

Often it is when I am praying for someone or remembering them that I am most tuned in to their nature, more cognizant of their being.  It is during deep reflection that I am most likely to truly recognize a person, whether they are physically present or not.

Some dream experiences, like shiny pebbles from a stream, lose their luster immediately after coming out of the water.  The grand idea seems half baked.  The brilliant solution seems infantile.  The urgent problem seems trivial.  And it is certainly often the case that I dream about a person and when I awake the dream seems not really to relate to them at all but is more a neurotic projection of something which only relates to them in a distant, symbolic way, if at all.

At a very primitive level, recognition involves the realization of which person one is seeing.  One simply connects, as a robot might, the name and the face with the experiences.  But recognition as we actually know it involves something much deeper than names and faces, and certainly deeper than vague impressions.  Whether we see deeply into a person or not we recognize them has having depths.  Loving our neighbor as ourself involves not just the recognition that we all have depths, but in the experience that we can only see deepness in others.  The vividness and immediacy of being which we feel inwardly, in others looks like depth, and we must experience both in order to reach love.  Recognition cannot be reduced to its particulars.

Given an intense experience of recognition, how can I deny the existence of a person I have recognized?  How can I deny that person's otherness?  It would be horrible to do so while awake: acknowledging another person's existence and otherness is fundamental to any kind of morality.  Why would anyone attempt to err on the side of evil while asleep?  To intentionally habituate oneself to treating people as one's own fantasy is equivalent to choosing to become a sociopath.

But it is just as bad to mistake one's fantasy of a person for who they really are.

What is one to do in a dream, then, sandwiched between these two moral chasms?  If I discount the personhood I recognize, I'm falling into solipsism.  If I imagine I know things I don't, I'm falling into delusion and prelest.

Lord help me.

If there is a person right in front of me, I can't deny they are there, I can't pretend to know anything about them that I do not actually know, but I also can't withdraw from the situation and fail to relate to them.  I have to interact, to relate, to engage, within whatever limits are before me.

At no time does the denial of otherness become the right thing to do.  Have I mixed my own sinful delusions into the dream?  That isn't their fault.  I have to behave as if the otherness and personhood are real, without requiring additional data.  I am morally obliged to treat the people in my dreams well, for the same reasons I must treat people well in waking life, whether I "know them" or not.

As I emerged from this dream I ran through a list of who I wished this person was.  An angel, a long lost friend or relative, a saint.  I was, after all, filled with a sense of deep love for this person.  But there was no concrete identity to which I could reliably associate with the very vivid feeling of personhood and presence that I felt.

What seemed the undeniable obligation on my part was to treat the person as Christ, as made in God's image, to love them as myself.  As someone Jesus died for, the sort of person one is obliged to give a cup of cold water to, to clothe, to feed and visit in prison.  The sort whom, if one leads astray, one would be better off with a millstone in deep water.  Identity should not matter.  Mathematically, so to speak, the equation simplifies down to only one knowable quantity: "person".

Friday, March 8, 2019

Personal Truth

No, not personalized, relative, subjective truth.  Truth as a person.  Truth measured in terms that have real, personal meaning, as opposed to truth measured in supposedly objective terms, which have no meaning or value.

It was a mistake to try to seek truth within this abstract, invisible, theoretical external ideal we had.  You know, the one in which the truth is completely outside all of us, the one in which truth is a completely objective, lifeless piece of information.  It's a binary kind of truth, either all one or all zero.  It was this self-destructive digital fantasy of ours that led to the fallacy of the excluded middle, and that misguided principle of non-contradiction.  I apologize on the part of all humanity for our last twenty-something centuries of delusion.

I'm a conscious being.  I am cognizant of this thing called "truth", mostly in small, abstract or incomplete terms, but at some intuitive level I powerfully understand what this word is aiming for.  It is not aiming to check a box on the quiz of life, to align bits of information in a way that is "correct" in the sense of getting a higher score.  For something to be true it also has to be "right".  If I hate someone for not being in alignment with something I deeply feel is true, then what I'm actually experiencing is not true, no matter how true the fact or information is to which I cling.  My hatred makes it not true, because hatred is outside the spirit of truth.  If I fanatically pursue my own well being based on very true information about my income, then my operative principle is completely wrong despite containing bits of information which on their own might otherwise be true.

Am I mixing morality with logic?  No.

Imagine a universe with no life, no consciousness.  There is an infinite amount of information in such a universe, and one could be infinitely true with respect to all of this information.  But it would not amount to a warm bucket of spit, as they say.  Or, put another way, with that whole universe and five dollars you could buy lunch.

If a piece of information has no relevance to anyone, anywhere, it has a lower status than information which matters.  In our invented fantasy world it is equal, but in the world we actually live it is not.

Just consider this poetic interpretation of quantum physics for a moment: the unmeasured remains an abstraction without time or place, unmanifested; whereas the observed has substance, it has full ontological citizenship.

Information, as we actually experience it, is not just any information, but experienced information.  Truth is inseparable from experience.

At a pretty deep level, I think, or rather hope, we all know that truth absolutely has to exist.  Whether we know it or not, an appropriate answer exists to every question.  What is the smallest prime number greater than a googleplex?  I have no idea but it doesn't even require faith for me to trust that such a number exists, just a very shallow understanding of mathematics.  What about whether God exists?  Given even a little clarity about what a person means by this question, an answer is implied to exist.  It is much harder to imagine an answer not existing than it is to imagine it existing.  The real answer to any of our imperfectly asked yes or no questions, of course, not yes or a no, it is yes or a no with explanation added to counterbalance the flaws in our question.  But a true answer certainly exists.

But what is the answer to a question?  It could be thought of as the response of "what really is" to what we have asked.  But the correct answer takes into consideration who we are.  Not who I am personally, but my personhood.  The correct answer to my question takes not just my question into consideration, as if the question could be separated from the querent, but the whole person and that element of incompleteness which led to the asking of the question.  Another way of looking at truth, is that it completes me.  My question represents a lack of some sort, there is a thirst for something, something which I do not have.  The answer, a good answer, slakes that thirst and remedies that lack.  And it does so honestly, durably.

If all questions come from people, the answers can't be objective bits of information, separated from our experience of personhood.  The answers must also be personal.  We can strain to turn our questions into objective bits of information in order to only see answers that are similarly diminished.  But we can't do that to our honest questions.  Our real questions, the ones we actually have as opposed to ones we merely invent, come from us, from our experience, and they can't be extricated from from what is intrinsic to us.

So we are left with this arrow pointing toward God.  Why do I say that?

1 - We cannot get away from the fact of truth, real truth, existing.  For any question worth answering, there is an answer.  The answer's existence is not made abstract because I don't know it.  It really exists.  It is disingenuous to say that something with a 100% chance of existing does not exist, just because we have not yet seen it.  The answer can be no less real than our question.

2 - The truth is personal in the same way that our questions are personal.  The answers to our questions are made of the same things we are.  Not skin and blood, but consciousness, being.  We will experience many answers and when we do we will, in truth, not in some abstract way, experience a slaking of a particular thirst.

To sum that up, there is something which is completely real (the answer exists) and perfect (the answer is correct), which is more "person" than I am (the answer is something I can experience).

Another angle on this is that there is something we might call a standard by which something is determined to be true.  This standard cannot be arbitrary or subjective, because no matter how arbitrary or subjective we are as persons, we are not creating this standard.  It already exists.  We know enough to understand that the standard determines whether something is taken to be true, and if you change the standard you change what is considered true.  But a standard which changes is obviously imperfect.  An ultimate truth exists, so a standard for that truth also exists.

A standard, though, is something obviously experiential.  A set of experiential ideals can be construed to be a standard for truth: I could take as true that which "rings true", or which in the totality of my experience over the full extent of time proves to mesh with my best understanding of truth.  I could adopt a very poor standard, and the result would be a shoddy standard for truth.

It turns out to be very hard to ascertain truth beyond these fuzzy ideals we call standards.  But our own imperfection only magnifies the certainty that there is indeed a standard out there worthy of the title "truth".  The more poorly we do "truth" the clearer it becomes that we could do better.  This "betterness" is so tangible, so palpably real, so compelling, that we cannot dismiss it as arbitrary or accidental.  Goodness, when truly good, is very convincing.

The claim that truth does not exist begins to look like not trying hard enough.

Let's withdraw from that doomed course of nihilism and accept that truth is real.  What could the standard of real truth be?  It would have to be a set of ideals that are truly good.  A set of principles that are truly worth following.  A set of laws which are deeply edifying.  And all of this is made out of the same stuff we are: being, light, that sort of thing.

The truth is a person, or rather a Person.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Problem of Good

We've all heard about the "problem of evil".  How can a good creator allow evil?  The answer to that is simple of course.  "Free will".  Being which is not capable of freely choosing good would not be being at all, nor would it be good.  The gift of His Image is inseparable from the freedom to either recognize and approach, or reject, His Likeness.  Blah, blah, blah.  We know this already.  What about the "problem of good?"

The straw man speaks:
How can we, as a secular, pluralistic, (relativist, hedonistic) culture, allow our members to believe that they have access to true goodness?  Real goodness?  Even absolute goodness.  If someone believes they have access to the truth the next thing you know they will be claiming to know what is false.  Allowing people to believe that goodness is real leads to a chain reaction in which they can no longer turn a blind eye to evil.  Our (unchecked) individual freedom is at stake here!  Our right to pursue self-will (to its final end, death) could be, no, invariably will be compromised if we allow certainty of the reality of goodness to develop toward it's natural conclusion.
Yes, once people start feeling certain about goodness, they will become certain about badness, and then there will be conflict.  There will be judgment.  There will be discord in the (black) heart of our (sleep-walking) journey to (temporal) fulfillment.  What is sweet will no longer taste sweet.  What seemed not to be our problem will begin to appear so.  What seemed to be full will be seen as empty.  We will be faced with a yawning chasm in the midst of our being crying out for requital more loudly and more plaintively than any appetite ever could.
We (blindly) hold this truth to be self-evident, (and also quite painful to let go of): that all contradictory claims cancel each other out, each proving the other false (we are paradox challenged).  Therefore, since real truth does not exist (said the gun to it's owner's foot), we ourselves are the highest authority for our personal (isolated, solipsist, lonely) microcosm of truth.  The only basis for shared truth (or rather, collusive denial) is voluntary and temporary agreement.  We must not waver in our certainty about our fundamental individual rightness, (even though at core we have no such certainty).  If we question the innate value of self-will there will be nothing left for us (but to seek something higher).
Worst of all, since we know (a priori) that all humans are doomed to be false (particularly those besides ourselves), anything short of absolute individual autonomy will lead to the imposition of falsehoods.  The denial of truth altogether is better than having to endure someone else's idea of truth.  In order to have autonomy we must accept isolation, and we must unflinchingly tolerate things we feel in the depths our heart to be outrageously bad.  We declare the only sin to be the judging of something as sin.  (Unless we're talking about ourselves, or if we happen to agree, or unless the party judged is sufficiently far away.)
My reasons for the above, though elusive and undefinable, I declare to be more solid that those others whose (unexamined) ideas I henceforth declare to be erroneous.  And through the encouragement of those who share my views (blindness) I apply my regal seal of certitude, and declare that my views are fit to impose on others for their own well being.
The problem of 'goodness taken seriously' leads us to a pair of conundrums: we are faced with differing and strongly held views of good and evil, and we are powerfully obliged to discern and follow goodness.

A real goodness means that any given understanding of goodness has real alignments, real omissions and real mistakes.

If our understanding of goodness includes a little humility we will begin to see the scope of the problem.  If we have managed to catch a glimpse of real goodness, if God has given us a little grace, then we need to share that.  We may even end up in positions where we have to exert authority over others, and we will have no choice to act on goodness as best we can.  But we are surrounded, so to speak, by the ways in which we are unlikely to do right by the goodness we absolutely know to be good and true, but personally lack the capacity to understand or implement.

The more we become aware of goodness the more we are obliged to act.  The more we realize the importance of humility the harder it becomes to act.
"Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist." - Luke 21:14-15
Indeed, if goodness is real (and it is), we have a very big problem.  Failing to find and adhere to it means we will, in a very real way, be subject to badness.