Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Kind of Miss That Sore Throat ...

Earlier this month I had a most wretched sore throat which lasted about a week. It made my voice sound all "scratchy" and hoarse. I realized toward the end of my illness what a pleasant surprise it had been when I opened my mouth and out came, not my regular voice, which I dislike, but the distorted version, which I did like(!).

Most people don't like hearing themselves on tape recorder--and I don't either--it makes me want to run, screaming, from the room. But I also don't like the sound of my voice in my own head. This is at least part of why I speak so softly, and so seldom.

Do other people actually, as the saying goes, enjoy the sound of their own voice? How fortunate that must be!

If only I could somehow make myself sound hoarse all the time ... hmmmm ...


I've been meaning to write this since the last post but have been very busy. It's some more thoughts inspired by the debate on the existence of Satan previously mentioned.

In the Q&A session after the debate, one woman who questioned Mark Driscoll was particularly angry. Her question was something like, "Why don't you recognize that your claim to possess ultimate truth is inherently arrogant?(!!!?!!!)" I'm not sure what kind of response she was expecting. I suppose she wasn't really hoping for an answer so much as a way to express her outrage.

Driscoll's rational response was something like, "It's not arrogant if you actually do possess ultimate truth. It's only arrogant if you don't really possess ultimate truth."

I found this response dissatisfying. There is a deeper problem with the woman's question: it is almost impossible for humans to avoid the claim that they have ultimate truth. The only way to avoid such a claim is not to engage in discourse about ultimate truth in any way. It seemed clear that the woman herself clung fast to her own claim to ultimate truth, namely, "all points of view are equally valid," with the implicit qualifier, "except for points of view which explictly state that certain other points of view are not valid."

This is a very popular truth claim, and people who make it are often under the mistaken impression that they have opted for a way of thinking which does away with notions of absolute truth.

Now, that's all been said before. I've heard it many times. The real question is, why do people resort to such a self-contradictory way of thinking? There is a reason, just as Christians didn't invent the seemingly nonsensical doctrine of the trinity in order to confuse people. People resort to paradox when two or more indispensable truths seem irreconcilable.

A modernist like Driscoll sees the challenge in such a situation as "How can we reconcile the two truths and restore the seamless rationality of our thought system?" A (maybe/sort of) post-modernist like me sees the challenge as, "What paradoxical understanding will best protect and honor the two truths, and not deny either of them in an essential way?"

To my way of thinking, the paradoxical understanding represented by the questioner mentioned above is not a good way of doing paradox because it pretends there is no paradox. It tries to keep secret the value it places on absolute truth claims. It pretends there is only one value: open-mindedness. But in reality, it is implicitly balancing "open-mindedness" with the need for certainty.

Personally, I think the best way to balance the need for open-mindedness and the unavoidable fact of making absolute truth claims is to:

1) Clearly define one's own beliefs while
2) remaining open to changing one's mind and
3) being humbly respectful of people who disagree.

And I think that Driscoll kind of got at this with his further response to the woman's persistent questioning when he said that he does "consider other people's opinions" by "reading broadly" and engaging in dialogue with people he disagrees with, such as in the debate on Satan's existence.

I suppose the real difference between my own and an out and out modernist's position is that I want to say there's a tension and a paradox where the modernist sees everything as fitting into a visibly rational system ...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Deepak Chopra

Brandon's friend Joshua sent us a video recording of a four-way debate on the reality of Satan. The participants were Deepak Chopra, Mark Driscoll (pastor of an ultra-conservative mega-church in Seattle), and two other people I never heard of, Bishop Carlton Pearson (a former fundamentalist, now a liberal Christian) and Annie Lobert (founder of Hookers For Jesus). This was on ABC's Nightline.

The debate was mildly interesting, but, as with most debates, there was very little (if any) true dialogue--mostly just people talking past each other.

One of the most frustrating elements for me was Chopra's schtick about "there is no good and evil" and "God is higher than good and evil." Of course I've heard it before, and it's not a self consistent idea. Implicit in the use of the terms "higher" or "beyond" is a notion of good vs. bad or at least good vs. less good. If there is such a thing as enlightenment, and if enlightenment is to be sought after, then it must be better than ignorance. Thus enlightenment is good, ignorance is bad.

But I think I may have figured out what Chopra really meant. I think he just wants to take the shame and guilt out of our notion of bad. For him, evil is a reality, but it is not something that anyone can be blamed for. People do bad things, but they shouldn't feel bad about it.

Chopra clearly does want to continue making value judgements (as do all people who say they don't), but he just wants to subtract any feelings of remorse or anger from the equation. We should admit that we do evil things, have evil impulses, etc., and we should change, but we should not have any negative emotions toward evil.

And that's a position I can respect, even though I disagree with it. I just wish he would express himself more clearly.

As for why I disagree: I don't think feelings of remorse and anger are inherently bad or unhealthy. They are unhealthy when they are disproportionate to their cause, or if a person has no way of moving through and past them. But when they are proportional to the actual, intentional evil acts committed, and when they are accepted and worked through, they are a normal, healthy, and appropriate response to the reality of evil. Anyway, that's what I think.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Trees Are Like People

One of the first things that has struck me as I've begun learning about trees is that they're an alien lifeform with many bizarre characteristics. But they're also like people.

The first way in which I noticed trees are like people is that they are difficult to classify. The leaves of oak trees look a certain way--but not always. Most have lobes, but a few do not. Most birch trees have peeling bark. But some are smooth. There are some trees on campus here (I suspect they're Coast Live Oak, though I may be completely wrong) which are clearly the same type of tree--except for one, on which the leaves are a bit different. Is that just because of its age? Is it a different sub-species? Or does it have just a small genetic difference within the realm of expected variation for its species?

Which brings me to the second observation about how trees are like people. It takes a long time to really get to know them. You may have to observe a tree over a long period of time even just to be able to identify it. For example, I'm not sure whether those trees on campus really are live oak because I don't know what kind of seed/fruit they produce. If they're truly oak, it will be an acorn. If they produce some other kind of thing, I'll have to make another guess.

It's odd--the fact that trees are difficult to classify, and that they take a long time to get to know makes them seem more worthy of respect and admiration. They aren't just a "thing," they shouldn't be treated like mere objects. I guess they're not really a "thou" but they're more than an "it"--wondrous, strange living beings.

And to think I've gone so long without really noticing them very much!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Randy "The Ram" Robinson

We watched The Wrestler last weekend. I keep thinking about it, remembering various scenes, and wanting to cry; the film is so very, very sad. I can't seem to convince myself that Randy "The Ram" Robinson is only a fictional character. Mickey Rourke made him seem so real--so pathetic and dear--the heart can't not believe in him.