Archive for May, 2010

Pride

Posted in The Narrow Path on May 30, 2010 by RWZero

A Difficult Thing to Learn

So much time is spent confessing sins of pride. What does it all mean?

You were born into the world with nothing. Your body was chosen for you, your traits were bestowed upon you by your circumstances, and everything you have ever done was done with the things that you were given. How can we be proud of anything in the way that we call sinful? How can anything be said to have originated with us?

Pride is defined as an inordinately high opinion, or excessive love, of oneself. Moreover, I believe that it involves feeling that one is the sole creator of one’s own worth—that we can “take credit” for it. It can plainly be seen that this is not true, so why do we behave as if it is? It’s almost a difficult thing to do, if you’re thinking straight. Perhaps we do it because it lends justification to the remaining balance of our actions, which might otherwise be judged as immoral, if we were not entitled to commit them. It may be nothing more than a disguised form of greed.

Cases have been made for each of the other Cardinal Sins. Greed is the way to prosperity, lust is just a bit of fun that need not be denied, envy is what you feel because you deserved it, wrath is what they get because they deserved it, gluttony is the fulfillment of basic desires, and sloth is just no big deal. Pride is the only sin on the list that, in its full-fledged state, involves a delusion—a denial of verifiable fact.

You may have a hard time mounting a logical argument against the bulk of your temptations, but it need not be so with pride. You may indeed be more valuable, practically speaking, than some other people. You may have talents and good looks that they don’t have. But it should not be so difficult to suppress that glowing feeling that you created yourself, because you didn’t.

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Defining Enough

Posted in The Narrow Path on May 30, 2010 by RWZero

Knowing When to Stop

Unless you want to live your life blindly accepting everything that you were taught as a child, deciding what to believe requires some research. How much research does it take? Should you investigate to the point of absolute surety? You cannot, because that doesn’t exist. Should you investigate to the point of reasonable surety? Perhaps not, because Pascal’s wager may skew the weighted value of the result.

At first, I think that one ought to investigate until he or she unearths enough subjective evidence to comfortably, solidly believe what one wishes to believe. I am of the opinion that there is some choice involved in these matters, and beyond a certain amount of evidence, there is nothing strong enough to urge a person out of his or her chosen conclusion.

However, I am of the opinion that atheists should never entirely close this book. You are going to die; the small disadvantage of remaining open to the possibilities is insignificant compared to the implications if these possibilities are—in even the most unlikely shape or form—actualities.

To the Christian, I say that there may be value in anticipating whether some catastrophic revelation will cause you to renounce your beliefs. However, there is nothing to lose that will not be ultimately be lost. I believe it is sensible for a Christian to close the book at some point, because a Christian life involves commitment and, inevitably, faith. In this case, you will have done enough when you know just how much faith is required of you.

Consenting Adults

Posted in The Narrow Path on May 16, 2010 by RWZero

Exploding the Philosophy of Leaving Everyone Else Alone

There is an idea floating around to the effect that nothing that takes place between two consenting adults can be morally wrong. If confronted with the example of extramarital affairs or collective cheating on tests, proponents of this idea would likely revise the definition: “Nothing can be morally wrong that all parties involved have consented to, because nobody is being harmed.” Now, let us forget for a moment that each of us is connected to many more people than we can possibility imagine (much less involve in our decision-making process)—even if we assume that we can neglect all the effects that our actions have on our families, friends, and so forth, most of us really do betray a belief in moral standards that transcend this statement.

A salient case is that of Armin Meiwes, the German cannibal who advertised on the Internet for a young man who was willing to be eaten. He did end up eating one such young man, and he was convicted by the courts. The emotion that may have ensured his conviction is irrelevant, as one could argue that our feelings about morality are primarily emotional in nature. The point is that most of us are still willing to legally interfere with an event that took place between consenting adults.

Firstly, I must suggest that “harm” extends beyond what is perceived by any of the individuals involved at the time of an event. Harm is something that can be done to a naïve person, and this person may never even realize that harm has been done. We chastise people for this. “Don’t take advantage of her!” we say. Inasmuch as one believes in morality or ethics, one must apply them to these situations. May I be so bold as to say that one must err on the side of caution? If not, I will be so bold as to do so myself.

Secondly, I must suggest that each of us is connected to an indeterminate number of people in the past, present and future, and we are not able to predict who else may be impacted by these actions in the future. They will not be there to consent. We carry around all the baggage from of our past actions inside of us, and we do not necessarily have control over the way that it plays out. Things that affect you necessarily affect the people you are close to. Obviously, we cannot imagine every outcome in our lives, but we ought to be sensitive to those outcomes that are incredibly likely, and certainly to those that we intend to bring about!

Finally, if there is a God, it follows that we are responsible for what we do with ourselves. If the atheist wishes to mock the theist for this belief, the atheist must mock theism directly. It will not do to slander the theist for his behaviour, as if he is being inconsistent or irrational, because he is not. From the theist’s perspective, we do not belong to ourselves. We could have just as easily not existed. Everything that we have is given to us, and every action must be considered in light of what we perceive God’s purposes to be.

Logical Polarity

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on May 9, 2010 by RWZero

The Limitations of Symmetry

I remember only a handful of the chess games that I have played throughout my life, and few of them in their entirety. Those ones that I remember in their entirety were (as one might expect) short and peculiar. Among these, a certain subset stands out.

My opponent would meet my king pawn advance with the sporting identical response (I did not allow anyone else to play white, if I could help it, because I had no idea how to properly play black). I would respond by threatening black’s king pawn with my king-side knight, and my opponent would do the same. At this point, I would pause, asking myself whether this was an intentional use of Petroff’s defense. On the third move, I was sure. He was copying my moves.

At some point during childhood, we attempt to wield symmetry as a weapon. Everything that a boy says is mimicked, until he resorts to violence. An insult is parried with “I know you are, but what am I?” A girl’s every movement is imitated, reducing her to tears. The tactic is safe, because any response can be thrown back at the adversary. However, there is a reason why there are few equivalents of this behaviour beyond grade school. It is that eventually, there is a Eureka moment, and the chess player realizes that his tactic will fail, because white moves first.

With this in mind, I set out to support very simple point that often goes unappreciated: ideas and their opposites are rarely symmetrical. An idea and its opposite must be entirely identical—the only discernable difference being that they are, indeed, opposites—before both can be treated the same. Love does not cancel out hate, as if nothing is left behind when the two collide. Death by heat is not the same as death by cold. “Why?” is not equivalent to “why not?”; “Why should something exist?” is not equivalent to “Why should nothing exist?”, and “Who made the universe?” is not equivalent to “Who made God?

It is absurd to think that the questions about God’s existence can be stalemated by such trite responses. We ask who made the universe because it appears that it was not always here. We ask who made us for the same reason. Even if a thing has “always been,” it is an entirely different thing to explain (rather, to accept—I cannot imagine how it might be explained) when this thing is the universe, as opposed to when it is God. Furthermore, it is entirely different to explain existence than to explain nonexistence. There are a great many things that do not exist. There are only some that do.

I wish that people, when addressing higher questions, would not close the matter off with stalemate tactics. These tactics do not cause stalemates, because the symmetry is not there—and they certainly cannot win the game.

Conveyance

Posted in Faith Experience on May 2, 2010 by RWZero

The Kinematics of Going Through the Motions

Sitting in the basement of Wycliffe College one evening, I heard music from a small speaker behind my head. It was a modern praise song, and the words were not unlike any others that I had heard in church throughout my life. I had long since stopped feeling compelled by these songs in the way that I once was, but at that moment the words struck me with the full force of their intended meaning. I recognized them as the thing they spoke of, and not as a familiar phrase—because they were in German.

It amazes me that the meaning of a thing can be renewed so completely by setting it to unspoilt words. The phrases that are familiar to me in English have become associated not with what they literally mean, but what they most often mean when I hear them.

If there is any meaning in life that we hope to keep indefinitely renewed within our minds, we must not pretend that it is impervious to the scourge of banality. One can get used to anything. To cherish these ideas is to exercise care in their expression, and to tether them to such expression with a greater portion of our actions.