The phrase ‘Intellectual agnostic, experiential Christian’ I used to describe my position of faith some months ago and I again find myself caught in that position of mediocre belief. My agnosticism comes from the psychological fields explaining away the necessity for belief, a criticism that traces itself back to Freud, but now with the march of the ‘Four horsemen of New Atheism’ (Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens), this criticism gains new ferocity and fervour.
I see it subjectively that my faith could indeed be some manifestation of psychological necessity that was birthed in me by my God filled up bringing, now to be ever fought by the arrogance of my own intellect. Despite the many sharp pincers of this reasonable persuasion of secularism, arrogance it has to be, as nothing I could read or experience could concoct disproofs of God’s existence. I cannot confidently stand on what little knowledge I have accrued in only 22 years, making it a righteous podium. Only by being utterly egoistic and blind to the reason I haughtily claim to perch on can I really believe I am perfectly correct. Yet such is the power of my self-belief that even the clearest holy existential revelation that is set before my eyes can be explained away by nuances of the scientific mind, all in the name of rationality. This is why I quiz this crutch like claim that I have grown into.
We have created many such things from the materials of this world to bring about comfort, survivability, pleasure and greater well being for our race. The creation of the computer is one such an example, a physical manifestation of practical servitude, a purpose built entity, created in order to excel at the things we cannot. Would it be a legitimate claim that the philosophical God that Nietzsche announced as dead, is indeed just another one of those magnificent human creations to aid our well being? I think it is a legitimate claim, as much a necessity as the creation of stone axes or fire. Our imaginations magnify the infinity of the unknown world that surrounds us into a personality that we master by naming, describing and shaping so that she becomes relevant to us and not a fearful abyss beyond our control. Just the use of the word ‘she’ espouses how much we shape the image of this god to how we see her.
But I also think that this Freudian like criticism is aimed at a philosophical god of human reasoning, not the God of epic history, our life span and our future. This God is one that is not going to settle into some intellectual pocket that we can possibly label true or false. The very fact that this God surpasses reasoning and cannot be argued for or against to a final conclusion, shows the uncontrollable existence we talk about when we use the word God. This is why the many faiths and philosophical beliefs have so many names for such a being (I call her that because I can use no other word to describe her undeniable presence in our own narratives). No single word, phrase, sentence, essay or book can disclose the nature of whatever this personality is. We have sacred texts that dedicate themselves to disclosing this, yet only one tries to comprehensively include all aspects of this divinity in a holistic narrative and that is by no means infallible due to the humanity that is writ large in all 66 books.
So here is the beauty of it for me, and what is more useful and true to human experience than the discovery of something beautiful. If I can live in such a way that doesn’t seek to pervert or destroy, selflessness positioned at my center, a life of discovering love and hope, without a relation to Jesus, without the narrative that he encompasses, without the trinity, then this faith system is false and I need not spend my days puzzling over it. Yet, if there is another way that aligns my understanding of human history so well with my current life and the positive volition I have for my future, then I have not seen him.Jul212011
What contribution does the counselling profession make in the twenty first century?
Counselling is a profession that addresses the welfare of the human mind as it engages problems brought up throughout a life time. It aims to engage an individual in a voluntary, professional setting so that a greater understanding of self and others may be achieved and difficulties can be effectively overcome. Such difficulties are as various as they are numerous in Twenty First Century western society. The positive progressions that were birthed in the time of the enlightenment period, like any other epoch, invoke their own conflicts upon the human psyche. Copious wealth has lead to an expected independence, separating the individual from the accountability of community. The disillusionment of what ‘freedom’ entails manifests as an obsession of choice, creating forms of paralysis and boredom. This excess of will, bent on the satisfaction of unreachable desires, leads to the abuse of substance, the creation of the ’non-place’ and an addictive generation.
Mental health has always been and continues to be a focal concern in British politics, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently announced £400m of government funding would go into talking therapies, his reasoning being that “everyone knows someone who has had to deal with anxiety, depression, eating disorders or other problems. They are so often overlooked and ignored because there is a stigma attached to them compared to physical health problems. What I would like is that stigma removed”. Indeed, the comparison may not be addressed at all as it is common to tackle mental health issues as deficiencies of physicality. Even if Aristotelian thoughts on the distinguishable realities of ‘Body’, ‘Mind’ and ‘Soul’ have been replaced by a pragmatic materialism, we know so little of what we once called the ’Mind’, it is hardly useful to treat all physicality as we have done the ‘Body‘.
The professional counsellor has it as her mandate to patch up the severed links that can be found in all aspects of post-modern life. Through the engagement of one human to another, issues such as depression, effective parenting, relationship welfare and career or education choice can be managed efficiently by a method integrated into the very definition of being a human being; community. The ever advancing ingenuity of bio-chemistry and neuroscience means that our generation can view mental health from a vantage point never before conceived, yet the counsellor addresses the everyday, every person incessant troubles that have been proven to degenerate health, drastically so in the case of depression to suicide. It is a long time yet before a computer could detect that a person is suicidal and ascribe the correct remedial action whilst honouring the individual’s humanity.
Twenty first century western culture retains a plethora of these challenges to the attainment of a healthy human mind. Whether in the name of efficiency or humanity, it is the counsellors place to address professionally the mysterious miseries that flap about the lives of those ill-equipped to deal with them.Jul062011
One by one I wave good bye, to those ideas that birth a sigh,
Ideas that are not mine to hold, just brief stories that go untold,
All they are is breaths of time, that scrape and pull at my mind,
Lovely moments I’ll never know, disclosing my depths for public show.
So here I am again old friend, begging for this long game’s end,
You see, oh saviour, it burns my sleeve, to watch these beauty’s always leave,
Grow my patience for kindling fire, but until then raise my arms higher,
Then breathless I’ll be on Corinthians day, before witness and God, oh God… Soon!… I prayMay082011
I’m going to call this a ‘beginner’s guide’, not because it’s for beginners, but because it’s by a beginner.
Throwing thesis, propositions and other esoteric fancy things back and forth with a friend is something I absolutely love to do. I believe it deepens relationship whilst sharing the experiences and education we’ve accumulated in our lives. I’m sure those who know me, know that settling on an idea, without first thrashing it out for a while, is something I try not to do. This of course often leads to some fabulously intricate arguments that often get me into trouble and fray relationships, inevitably making them tie together again more tightly, but an uncomfortable experience none-the-less. So, I thought I’d flesh out some points on how arguments could be better thought through, more constructive, more enjoyable and ultimately productive to the individuals concerned and the future interactions they may share. This article is not about how to make your argument better, it’s about making the arguments you have flow and resolve in a way that doesn’t do any harm, allows both members to learn things from each other and deepen their relationship.
What I mean by an argument is best summed up by Monty Python; “An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition”. Whether we are arguing about who should do the washing up, or is Capitalism the most appropriate system for our society, or should marijuana be made legal, or is Scrubs series 7 better than series 8, or is Chelsea better than Manchester Utd, or whether we are innocent of a particular immoral practice, or whether a definite proposition is attainable, we are always seeking a definite proposition. Some arguments will have weightier emotional attachments while others are menial, all have the capability to get out of hand, destroying it’s relational progressiveness in favour of self gratification.
Pick Your Moments… Arguments at 1am are going to be bloody affairs. I think avoiding intense discussion when the participants are in a time of peaking emotion throw in more complications than can be productively managed, and so should be avoided where possible. The Bible does suggest that you do not sleep on unresolved arguments, but I think sleep is often better than an entire night of insults.
Clarity in Division… Take things one at a time. It’s no use overloading someone with multiple different problems, it’s confusing, unproductive and bloats your ego with the feeling that your argument is so vast it is impossible to conquer. If you can occasionally outline exactly what you are going to discuss and in what order, it makes the argument more coherent and easier to follow. This sounds a bit silly and forced, but it makes things flow easier. For example, when talking about the issue of feminism in the Bible, rather than trying to wrack up a tally of how many outrageous propositions the Bible purports, take one at a time. Break it down into The Fall of Man in Genesis, The Cultural Contexts of Old Testament Israel, Esther, Ruth, Jesus’ attitude towards women, Paul’s Epistle’s and the contexts they were all written in. Bite-size is best.
Avoid Tangents… One of the most dangerous and unhelpful things in an argument is what I call the ‘Judicial Tangent’. This is done in order to try and morally override a person and so nullifying the legitimacy of any of the claims, whether their claims are or are not legitimate. For example; “You are not in a place where you can tell me anything, you have committed X and said Y”. This placement of guilt instantly puts the other person in a position of fight or flight, both of which are deconstructive. Paul once took issue with Peter about what he was teaching in the times of the early church, correcting him. Peter could have easily responded “You haven’t even seen Jesus in the flesh, you killed people like me and now you are telling me I’m wrong?”, this would have disarmed Paul and allowed Peter to satisfy his own conscience enough to continue in his incorrect state.
Frustration… Anger is a defensive reaction. There are a few reasons people will get angry in an argument, but the main two are the following. Either they realise that they are incorrect and so need a new plan of attack in order to see their point heard or the person desperately wants to see the other person change their mind, causing an emotive overflow. I think the first is always simply bad but unfortunately most common. The second often arises out of genuine concern for the other, yet can often be really unhelpful. The first often tries to disguise itself as the second, but most of the time frustration in an argument is born out of competitiveness as apposed to altruism. If you find yourself boiling up, ask yourself “is it because I’m loosing? or is it because I want this person to have a more productive/true/contented outlook on life?”. Arguments are for BOTH individuals to learn and progress and experience, not competitions. If you are sure your argument is the more productive/true, then relax… if it is, the truth will set you, and the individual free eventually.
Listen… Listen and you will learn. Simple as that.
Interpretation… This is a made up statistic, but I recon 80% of arguments are discrepancies around a single word or a single phrase. I have found that so many of lengthy discussions I have had simply come down to language. I believe X means one thing, they believe it means another, the moment we allocate a new word or sentence to replace X we are both contented. Choose your words carefully because so many arguments are just us getting lost in the joy of communication whilst we actually agree.
Be On The Same Team… The people you are most likely to discourse with are people who live in the same culture as you, have access to the roughly the same information as you and have pretty much the same moral codes that you have. You will often have so much in common with the other individual, it’s none-sense to suppose that minor differences mean that they are complete ignoramuses. I do a lot of apologetics discussion with none Christians and find that they have fashioned up all the differences we have before even attempting to acknowledge the similarities. If you do this, you risk debasing other human beings to dogmatic fundamentalists of every kind, not allowing yourself to see that they will have more detailed questions about their belief system/political viewpoint/emotional standing/situation than you ever could. No human being is certain, SO PROGRESS TOGETHER.
Stubbornness… There is nothing… NOTHING more destructive to the productivity of an argument than stubbornness. Stubbornness is a self-focused and inconsiderate attitude that is to the benefit of no-one. Personally if I think someone is stoically refusing to listen so that they may retain their opinion, I simply will walk away. The only way to retaliate against such arrogance is to sink to a level of degradation and emotional manipulation. This will succeed in starting the argument up again, but will put a lot of strain on the relationship.
Ask Questions… Asking questions allows you to take interest and uncover what the worldview of the other person is and also shows that you are interested.
I hope this is helpful.Apr152011
Just a quick one on what I think about the phrase ‘knowing God’. First we can admit that the words ‘knowing’ and ‘God’ can be deconstructed to open up all manner of nuances, and I believe exposing those subtleties can aid us a little in our relationship with the being we are made to worship… or it may hinder us… depends on your appreciation of simplicity I suppose.
We must understand that the word ‘God’ is not univocal (with a single meaning) in it’s character, and so cannot be mastered by intellect. Empirical science, the human mind and our experiential selves do not have the scope to know the ineffability of God’s being. To submit that we may ‘know God’ is to grossly under estimate the deity of which the scriptures speak of. We cannot completely ‘know God’ because if that were possible, it would simply mean that we are committing the ancient ecclesiastical mistake of placing God in a philosophical box, trying to master him with intellect. God is unearth-able, precisely because he is un-earthly.
But neither is ‘God’ totally equivocal (open to interpretation), lest he be some dust like nothing that is unreachable, intangible and irrational. Even though our experiences, our intellect and our best techniques of discovery seem to dissipate into more uncertainties, they still profess, at every level, an ontic, paradoxical personality that is impossible to know, but is yet familiar. A.W Tozer says it brilliantly; ‘to have found God and still to pursue him is the soul’s paradox of love’. This we see in our relationships with one another; I will never be in a position where I know the intricacies of your being, nor will I even get close.
Within this divine romantic paradox we find ourselves at a third way of ‘knowing God’, the analogical (comparing one thing to another). We say God is light but a light above and beyond any that we know. We say God is love, but a love far and beyond any that we know. We say God is good, but a good that we will not know in this life. We say he is infinite, but we -in our half dimension of time- find ourselves desperately short of reason. He has put himself in the wonder of his creation so that we may glimpse at his ineffability, but ‘know him’? Let’s not throw that phrase around without humility.
And so to end with a posh quote from the theological towers of Yale; ‘Gods irreducible ineffability renders even our best predictions profoundly inadequate.’Apr072011
'How old are you?'
We’ve become accustomed to the reminder that no other human being on earth shares our fingerprint. Let’s for a moment wrestle with the romance of that. No two humans are alike, a cliched but very true phrase, both conceptually and scientifically. Yet it is the understanding of our uniqueness that really opens up the doorway to the understanding of another cliched phrase; the power of love. By being an intricate and incomprehensibly complex amalgamation of a personality, within time and space, you can express and receive the action and notion of love. Because of your individuality, you can utilize your will to manipulate your surroundings in order to show adoration, care, charity, grace, mercy, affection or creativity. Because we are separate entities, the environment we live in is a platform for these acts of kindness. The collocation of cells, beliefs, ideas, memories, desires or dislikes that form you make it a possibility to be a something that is other than everything else. It is this otherness, the transcendent natures of one personality from another, that allows them to communicate through the medium of existence. Even though communication is often so damagingly imperfect, within this imperfection lies the real gut wobbling feelings that make human beings personalities. It’s this gift of separation that allows us to distinguish between “I don’t care” and “I love you”.
So, in the relationships you begin to form and continue to sustain, acknowledge the difference between you and the next person and cherish it! He’s black, she’s gay, he’s a man, she’s a liberal, he’s a goth, she’s a Muslim. These are not things to politely ignore, these are the canvas’ that allow love to rear it’s delightful form. Otherness is an opportunity to interact. Our society is currently living in a time where ‘Tribalizing’ has become fashionable again. There is so much diversity in our lives that it becomes to easy to fear the strange and so we find safety in clicks. People are afraid of disagreement, inequality and unfamiliarity. Liberalism, at it’s extreme, is a damaging attitude as it doesn’t accommodate for the acknowledgment of difference and so prunes personality in the process. Once good and righteous statements like ‘we are all equal’ threaten to rob us of personal meaning and so change for the good becomes an uphill struggle. Each time love has an opportunity to grow, the fearful iron of political correctness smolders it back to some pre-defined norm.
We are one race and one body, but let’s revel in the strangeness of our race, opening ourselves up to the unity by diversity of personality.Jan272011
Recently, I was musing over what I can actually call mine, as one does. It was initiated by a pretty miserable day where the constraints of my economic and social mediocrity were disturbing me. I call it mediocrity because no boy of middle-class milieu can rightfully moan about his finance. Except this time, moan I must because the social sphere I inhabit beckons me into deeper debt and lulls my hope down a very dark road, daring it to continue shining out in front of me. So, what do I really possess?
I have nothing. This is an absolute must for every single person to understand. What I seek to give me stability, clothing, religion, love, warmth, pleasure, happiness or home really are just fallible nothings. They came from nothing and are going to nothing, so what they are to me now, is illusory. Truly I lack everything. In fact, if we really go into it, what poignancy does the word ‘mine’ really have when I am to go back to a nothing by this time’s harsh weathering of my mortal being. Whether by atheist, Islamic, Buddhist or Christian creed, what I ‘have’ now is not worth having really. I am nothing, who owns nothing, living in a nothing…but still I hope for everything.
Why then do I hope? Once again those words come dripping back to me; ‘If I find in myself a desire for something that this world cannot satisfy, maybe I was not made for this world’. I suppose I can hope because I am here. I am here because what I do have is existence, even if it is just for three score and twenty. I have a healthy body, even if it’s health is fragile. I have a strong mind, even if it is limited. I have companionship, even if this belonging is finite. These are my real possessions, the last of which seems like a preface to some immortal thing, if not an immortal thing itself.
If I do ‘have’ these…I must owe them to something or someone. None of them were created by the works of my hands. If I do not owe them, then they cannot be mine, because if I possess nothing then ‘mine’ looses it’s meaning. If I do owe them, then they are either not mine or some gracious gift by a mighty and mysterious smith. To what or whom do I owe them then?Jan272011
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