Archive for December, 2006
“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophy.”
– Al Einstein
I used to love this movie, The Secret of Nimh. In it there is this character, a crow (did I mention it’s a cartoon?). He’s really a kindhearted guy, but he’s got this one outstanding flaw – he’s totally obsessed with shiny things. He calls them “sparklies”. His good heart can be diverted from the most important task if his eye catches the glint of a sparkly. This is true to the point that his love for shimmery things almost costs people their lives. I think one place that movie wants you to go is to want to grab the feathered fool by the wings and explain to him just how worthless those pieces of plastic and foil are compared to his life, and the lives that surround him.
I am a lot like the crow. I imagine we all are. It’s easy to let our lives slip in and out of this world like flshpaper – consumed quickly and fruitlessly. A lot of people make that point, but I don’t hear a lot of solutions offered, and, when someone does propose one, I get the feeling that they’re more reciting a solution they heard somewhere, and aren’t really that convinced of, but that they simply swallowed because there wasn’t anything better on the (epistemic) table.
I’m a disciple of Christ’s, but I’m certainly not saying the answer is “quit sinning”. I think that’s a very shallow answer if it’s presented as a solution to our problem of intellectual-spiritual lostness. I think a better answer is to live genuinely – seeking to live in light of truth regardless of what the truth is. That’s where I’m trying to go. I think that God appreciates that far more than those who swallow thoughtlessly. people on both sides of the theistic fence are guilty here. There are people like the Mormons I studied with this summer who flat out told me that, even if it could be proved to them through sound reason and fact that their religion is a lie, they would never leave it. On the atheistic side there are people like Richard Dawkins, and most young people I know who claim to be atheists, not, it seems, because they genuinely believe no god exists, but because they desperately want no religion to be true. People of all persuasions are guilty here, and I’m inclined to think that God is more pleased, in one way, with the intellectually virtuous athesit than the intellectually vicious Christian.
In a sense, those who swallow whatever you put in front of them aren’t good when they’re right; they’re just lucky. I want us to be more than lucky, and that’s turning out to be a very hard mountain to climb for me. It’s costing me grades and friends and money and pleasure, but I’m pretty much convinced that it will be worth the cost.
It is occurring to me more and more often that you can achieve much here – that is, you can, under our paradigm of meaning, lead a great life – and ultimately have nothing to show for it. I can have a PhD., or a thousand lovers, and have nothing to show for it. That probably sounds funny to most people – to have nothing to show for a PhD. Degrees are thought to be, in the academic world, what you have to show for your effort. To ask most people what they have to show for the symbol of their accomplishment is a meaningless question, but that’s not because the question itself is odd; not even grammatically so.
The confusion in the question lies in the confusion between symbols and their meaning. The physical realm is the realm of symbols. As a matter of fact, the physical world could even be considered language. The language of here expresses the truth of meaning, which lies in the transcendental. So, if the physical is a sort of language that refers to the abstract, then we can call that one-way referential relationship meaning. To inquire of something’s meaning then is to ask what, in the realm of notions and values and forms, it speaks of.
This dualism is what maintains a definite line between what is meaningful, and what is meaning per se. The conclusion here is that no physical thing is meaningful in itself. That is, no physical thing or event can appeal to itself for justification – the circularity is obviously impotent to bestow meaning. No one for instance would say that money is, in itself valuable, or that beating women is wrong because beating women is wrong. More difficult to see, but even more important, is that no physical object or event can appeal to any other object or physical event for its justification. That is, just as a physical object or event isn’t self justifying, neither is a system of objects or events. This is probably a pretty uncontroversial statement written down here, but it is one that is disputed every day in our practical lives. We ask the meaning of a thing in this world, make an appeal to something else in the physical system, and stop there without returning to the original question – asking, “why is that meaningful?”.
We can see this by returning to the two examples above, money and abuse. Money, we agree is not valuable because it is valuable – that, we agree, is silly. But few people have a problem believing that money is valuable because money is backed by (that is, it refers to) gold, which is valuable. With wife-beating we see the same thing. Wife beating is not bad because wife beating is bad. Got it. Wife beating is bad though, because it hurts people, or because it has negative domestic consequences for the family unit, etc. Why don’t these answers solve the problem? Because they appeal to other events or objects which, we all agree, aren’t justified in themselves.
So, where do we go? What about the PhD? Why is money valuable, or wife-beating bad?
Well, we first have to appeal to something immaterial. The idea of something existing without being made of matter is strange or silly to some people, but few of them would deny that the following list of things exist: denials, numbers, concepts, properties, reasons, beliefs, ideas, goodness, principles, values, virtue, evil, justice, rules, or relationships between things. Some people (nominalists) would disagree that properties exist, and some would violate their intuitions and say that there’s no such thing as evil, but those who have a habit of denying intuition ad hoc to support a belief lack something out of the list – virtue.
So, immaterial things exist, and they are the first key to finding meaning in this world. But what to appeal to? This is a difficult question for me – not because it is a complex one though. This question is difficult like climbing a huge mountain is difficult, not like working your way through a labyrinth is difficult. Here intuitions play a role for me. I intuitively know that no physical thing is meaningful in itself, and that a collection of inherently meaningless things does not all of a sudden become meaningful when gathered and systematized. So, I know that meaning is found where it naturally lies, in the abstract immaterial since meaning/value itself is an abstract, immaterial thing.
This appeal to the immaterial by the material for justification makes sense, but what happens when we ask the question of abstract things? What makes kindness any more meaningful than money, or unkindness any more abhorrent than cancerous cells? How is it that kindness just is good, but things made of matter can’t ever be? I can understand how the skeptic asks here, if anything can be valuable in itself, why not material things? If kindness is, per se, valuable, why not money? My only answer so far is that it is somehow immediately obvious to me that a piece of cotton paper with a picture of a dead government official has no inherent worth, while it is not so obvious to me that an abstract thing like kindness cannot in itself possess value and meaning. Any thoughts? I haven’t taken a value theory class, so, if anyone has a book recommend, I’d definitely check it out.
Back to thinking about lust now…..
Faded into a thin grey on the back of my hand are the words “Lust, objects, and properties”. That probably doesn’t make a bit of sense to anyone in the world except for me…we’ll see, but, first, C.S. Lewis once said that “a man cannot always be defending the truth; he must also feast on it”, and that’s what I’m trying to do in this post. Here I presuppose much that will be outrightly rejected by many people. That’s fine. If I never did that, I would probably be restricted to arguing over whether or not massive, primordial, indeterministic quantum fluctuations can produce a universe, or if our senses are reliable. This is a post about sexuality primarily, so those who don’t share my presuppositions are welcome to read or to ignore it. My thought though is that godless sex is something like feasting on candy all the time – sweet, but devastatingly unfulfilling, and poisonous. That said…
Our society is very lust-driven. And I’m not speaking just in terms of sexual lust. You can lust over nearly anything – as long as you desire it. Now, lust is a tricky thing to define. I know. I’m driven to consider it often, and the best I can come up with is that lust has something to do with desiring something in a wrong way. To flesh that out a little bit, let’s take sexual lust as an example. What’s going on there? To stick with our initial, yet vague definition of lust, we would simply say that sexual lust is sexually desiring a person in a wrong way.
Notice that that definition leaves wide open the possibility of sexually desiring a person in a right way. I didn’t phrase it “sexual lust is desiring a person wrongly” – that would seem to say that sexual desire is naturally, and inherently wrong, but that’s far from the case. Actually, in its most natural setting, it is entirely good. We were created with specifically tailored bodies, that correspond to our natural understanding of beauty so that, when a man sees a woman, he finds her beautiful and desirable, – a place where his strength and capabilities are welcome and needed – and when a woman sees a man, she sees in him strength, support, and safety – a place where her softness is welcome, her needs are met, and the artistry of her body is appreciated. This is sexual desire in its natural state, and, in its natural state, it is a great thing, but it can be misused; it can be twisted, becoming worthless and base. What does that twisting perversion look like?
This mans that sexual desire, in its natural form, is more than a physical yearning. If I’m even close to right in my understanding of sexuality given above, then sex is something more than the firing of neurons elicited by the friction between lubricated muscles that culminates in a relatively weak release of electricity in the cerebral cortex which runs down the spinal column to the genitals releasing fluids. That certainly goes on, but sexuality is primarily about abstract notions – needs, values, beauty, love, strength, safety, comfort, etc, and explaining something as overwhelmingly beautiful as sex with those cold, material descriptions is tragic. You might as well tell a wonderstruck child, when he asks “what is the wind?” that it’s just the fluttering of the curtains. This is what many of us are left with today though – silly, flapping curtains. But anyone who’s ever stood on a cliff and felt the heroic blast of mountain air threaten to throw him down would laugh at, and pity anyone who thinks wind is all about flapping curtains – certainly, anyone who’s even heard of a tornado, or a rainstorm has known the wind better.
So, there’s more to sex than rubbing body parts – but what? Like the curtain, sex is the visible, physical side of what’s going on in the abstract, deeper realms. That is, the rubbing of bodies MEANS SOMETHING. Sex is like a word, and it has a real, concrete meaning. It can’t just mean anything, even though we treat it like it can. Just like a word, when we try to adorn it and exalt it to where it can mean anything, it actually loses all meaning, even the one it originally had, and becomes useless. And here is where the divide between the glory of sex, and the foulness of lust is found. We can locate it through an observation and a question. First, sex, like a word, was crafted to express something specific, and using it any other way is perversion. So, what do we mean when we’re having sex?
Sex takes place in two realms, the physical realm, and the transcendent realm. Our bodies collide and fumble around in the physical realm while our souls caress and quake in the transcendent. The meaning behind sex lies in the transcendent realm, the expression in the physical realm. The transcendental realm is where we believe and feel and know and love, the physical realm is where we say it. Our minds and hearts make their home in the transcendent, our lips and hands in the physical. Real, beautiful, fulfilling sex is had when, 1) in our transcendent, immaterial minds and hearts, we know the other, graciously and selflessly love the other, desire good for them, and are resolved to meet their needs in accordance with the truth and 2) our physical expressions match those beliefs and values. Lust is when something is corrupt or lacking in the transcendent realm, but we entertain, either in our minds or with our bodies, the desire to go ahead and say something we don’t mean. Lust, then, is sexual deception.
Aparrently, for me, somewhere around three a.m. is when I feel most comfortable being open and honest with god-knows-whoever happens to be reading this. I always find myself most motivated at the wee hours of the morning to write my thoughts. So this is my first blog, commencing at 3:43 a.m., and, since this is my first blog here, I thought I’d spout my fairly unorganized thoughts on blogging in general.
I think self disclosure is a wonderful thing. In fact, I’m convinced it’s necessary if you want to be a whole person, and necessary if society is to work. That is, we need to be open and honest about who we are so that we may be sane and whole and functional, and we need others to be open and vulnerable with us too if we are to learn to truly relate (because relating is a two-way street, no?) to others as if they are real people, not smiling, empty social robots. So, that is one of my ends here – to honestly relate my thoughts and feelings to others honestly so that I may be sane and so that you may see a person for who he is.
As a blogger, I have to confess with some shame that I don’t really read many other people’s blogs. They bore me most of the time because they mostly seem to be a lot of ranting that seems totally unproductive (if it’s an academic blog), or inane recitation of other people’s ideas and feelings, or misdirected emotions that would be more at home in a conversation between old friends or a parent, not on myspace. I promise you I will do my best to keep these blogs free of awkward emotionalism (not that emotions are bad, we all have them, and they have an appropriate place), and inane ranting. I could do both (if you know me, you know that), but, I have other thoughts and ideas that would be more usefull to others.
Another end I have in mind for this blog is to provoke rational, meaningful thought. I think a lot, and I often have thoughts that are at least original to me, have practical signifigance for everyday life, and are relatively intelligent (they come in degrees…). I’ll be posting them regularly I hope, and feedback, critiques, criticisms, etc. are things I would genuinely appreciate (in proportion to the genuineness of the comment, criticism, etc.).
As a disciple of Jesus, I believe every area of life and thought shares some common ground with his message and being, but this does not mean that I feel the obligation to obnoxiously mold every line of thought or topic of discussion into a sermon. Quite the opposite, I believe that, since God’s life and being permeate everything and that all truth is God’s truth, that enables us to embark on an unbridled, honest persuit of anything once we understand it as it. Once I understand love, art, sex, friendship, math, nature, politics, emotion, history, literature, etc. as it actually is, simply viewing and experiencing it in truth is the most genuine praise to God there is. The first step here though is to see that every event, object, or item gains its significance and meaning from its context, and to understand that God is the very context which endows all with signifigance. In this respect I hope I am successful in simply seeing things as they are.
So, 4:09 has come, and I’m off to rest. Thanks for reading.