intellect

Compassion for Terrorists?

Hello friends,

There is a problem in all of us. For every in-group, there is an out-group. We are each rejected by many people in some way and we likely reject others whether or not we know it, just by the nature of the identities we adhere to. Neuroscience shows that each of us subconsciously values some groups of people more and others less in some ways. The problem is, when we don’t learn about this and take real and regular action to fight against that tendency, it can lead us to dehumanize others. Unchecked it very often leads many of us to devalue some groups of humans so much that the moral laws we normally follow regarding how we treat other humans no longer apply. One key weapon that exacerbates this is propaganda. In this time of terrorism and racial divide, we all need to be vigilant. We need to examine ourselves every day with every news article, Facebook post, Tweet, comment from a friend or family member, political debate and media report. Each bit of information that comes in has the ability to shift the needle of our heart away from the humanity of a group that isn’t our own. When this goes unchecked long enough, we believe the lie that “they” aren’t as valuable as “us.” Then… death.

I’m going to ask you do something. Please, watch this video. It starts slow, but it is so good and relevant to the recent events that I’m willing to beg you to engage with these ideas. If it helps even one person realize that we’re all capable of dehumanizing and withholding normal morality towards other groups, and you and I are not exempt to this – I’ll gladly beg. Please, watch it.

That was just a clip that wasn’t very explanatory of the video. Please see the full episode called “Why Do I Need You? from David Eagleman’s series on PBS called The Brain.

I’m not writing about this solely because of the deep sorrow we now feel about what happened in Paris. A friend recently posted these links along with the statement, “It is estimated that around 100 people, many being innocent men, women, and children, die in Syria EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. What happened in France is tragic. So is the murder of ANY human.” Here’s the death toll count and a wikipedia article about the casualties. This is about human nature. And I don’t mean to universalize it. It’s about my nature. It’s about your nature. We each need to understand how you and I work and how to combat the things about us humans that lead to suffering – in us and those around us. I’m working on it as well. It’s about raising the bell curve, and we can only do that collectively – as a collective of individuals.

Compassion fatigue. That’s a term my wife used last night and I love it on so many levels. But for some groups, the phrase falls short of the deep bias that we don’t see because so many of our neighbors share it. I’ve heard about the “blue eyes–brown eyes experiment” from the video several times before and found it extremely useful for helping people visualize the injustice and irrationality of prejudice. In today’s racially divided world full of terrorism, I think we all need to consider what it means and find a way to convey that meaning to others.

Identifying with terrorists

I just saw an article saying “Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents.”

I, like many of you, am now seen by some others as a terrorist. It doesn’t matter that, in my case, my “atheism” isn’t a belief that no God exists. I much prefer weak agnostic weak atheist possibilian, with a big focus on the possibilian part. Technically, I’m as much of a theist as an atheist since much of the time I think some causal prior intelligence is as likely as no prior intelligence. Some moments I think it’s even more likely. Just owning the atheist label has marked many of us, as most labels do, with a misrepresentation of our actual views.

The last thing I want to do is write about events of suffering and pain and death. When I experience activation of the pain matrix (see the video for what the means), I’m not drawn to writing about it. I usually suffer in silence. If it’s about the loss or pain of another that I cannot affect, I want to hug my children and my wife. I want to hit the pavement, the trail, or the gym. I want to spend time in quiet contemplation, identifying and grieving with the families, those suffering in the hospital, and the families of those who caused such devastation, and yes I even offer up prayers. Where I’m drawn though, is to the terrorists themselves. Always to them. I don’t know if this is normal and I understand that many will disagree. I did not lose my child to the actions of a terrorist, so I cannot possible imagine how I would feel or judge those who default to hatred. I only know that my heart gravitates to those who are committing or have committed the atrocities. Christians may find themselves unconsciously whispering, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I identify with the notion I’ve repeated many times on this blog.

  1. We should be both humble and allow some uncertainty in our ideas about the universe and God because statistically some of our ideas must be false, especially some closely held ones since those are, on average, the least objectively examined ones.
  2. We cannot know for certain that – if we were born in someone else’s environment with their DNA (neither of which any of us have any control over) and shared their exact experiences – that we would be any different from them.

These are both relevant to everything I write on this blog as they are central to my philosophy and why I respect those who disagree. Part of my goal is to illuminate the first point (1) so that all cultures can exercise some caution and expand their understanding of the flawed reasoning that plagues us all (cognitive biases and logical fallacies).

The second point (2) is an explanation for why I respect all people, even when I do not share their conclusions or opinions. They are me. I am you. I’m not saying that things are completely deterministic. Quantum uncertainty affects some percentage of our decisions in some ways, but we are still bound up in our DNA and experiences. Everyone’s beliefs are rational and justified to them at the time. There’s another level at we each judge another’s beliefs or actions, and we form groups and collectively judge them. That is necessary for societies to function and we all understand it. The point in this post is to explain that I, personally, may disagree with you but I don’t judge your beliefs too harshly, because I can see myself in your actions and in your beliefs. I did not choose to be me and not to be you when I was born. Can you offer me the same courtesy and recognize that you could have been me? Can you do the same for the victims? My father once said that there is a fine line between being willing to die for a belief and being willing to kill for one. Can you see yourself in the beliefs and actions of terrorists, were your birth in accordance with theirs? Can you love them? And not because you feel God commands it, but because you identify with them as a human. Not a sub-human. A person… just like you.

I am certainly not advocating that we justify their actions. Because I understand someone does not mean I lay down my objections to the consequences of the beliefs and actions they impose on others. Nor would I want you do allow me to trample another. But we all already know how to hate, and rage, and seek death, and prosecute, and yearn for revenge. I know of few who will benefit from a post encourage such a response to the perpetrators of violence. That’s built into being human. I do believe we need to fight against the ideology that leads to terrorism, but terrorism is just one example of those on the other side of the bell curve. The best way to do it may not be involve being completely devoid of understanding and compassion for those engaged in the extremist beliefs (potential terrorist are one example). This post isn’t about how to hate jihadists (if you aren’t one) because that’s natural. It’s about the part we don’t often see through the rage – the subtly shifting compass needle of compassion that eventually prevents us from caring about those whose views we see as extreme.

I’ll be picking up Radical: My Journey Out Of Islamist Extremism to help me understand the culture that creates beliefs that would lead to terrorism. I think if we’re serious about loving others who disagree with us then beginning to identify with the hardest-to-relate-to will move us a long way in that direction. Things like – certainty that God calls you to some beliefs and actions towards other groups, witnessing genocide of your people caused by these “other” groups, belief of a reward in the afterlife for certain faith and actions, continual “anti-other-group” propaganda poured into you from your in-group throughout life – these things and more continually reinforce that belief that the “other” group is sub-human. We could be them. I hope they can look at you and see the same of you. They may hate you, but if they only knew they could be you, and that you have reasons for you beliefs that make sense to you, if only they’d take the time to get to know you.

I disagree with terrorists, but I respect them as people just like I respect you. I don’t want them to dehumanize me, and I want to be careful not to dehumanize them. For the sake of our shared existence, and our shared humanity, I pray for them. If there’s a God listening, perhaps it may help on some level. But ultimately, I pray because it helps me synchronize my heart with theirs. Wars, and the fear of them, will rob us of our humanity as we blow past compassion fatigue and into red hatred. Our only hope is to actively and intellectually carve off the calluses that our nature secretly encases around our heart. Cling to the message of Jesus, or Buddha or the scientific rationality that our similarities outnumber or differences. Let us build on those similarities. Maybe, in time, as we try to understand one another, our similarities will diffuse the power of the ideologies that lead to human-human suffering and death.

Conclusion

As we dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves, but we also dehumanize a version of us that we could have easily been (and in some real sense, a version of you that is). We are all biased against other groups in our subconscious. We can only prevent that bias from growing and resulting in dehumanization by consciously fighting against it through attempting to understand those with whom with differ. That’s the point of 1 and 2 above and the recent posts on raising the bell curve. David Eagleman’s video is immensely useful in understanding the complexities we’re talking about.

As a final effort to let this resound, I want to share a story with you that, if it were believe to be true by a society, would lead to the most moral behavior of any society I can imagine. It’s like the Veil of Ignorance but with narrative and a compelling call that echoes for long after the end of the story. It was written by Andy Weir who wrote the very excellent book that just became a blockbuster movie, The Martian…

Please read The Egg and let me know if it moves you. I may put the full contents of that story in a future post.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

INFJ

INFJ

Dear Russell and Friends,

I was truly thankful for Russell’s last post on personality types and on the possible correlation with belief.  I had previously taken the brief version that Russell had recommended and remembered that my type was INFJ.  Yesterday, in an executive education seminar at work I took the longer form M with my classmates with results listed above.  I resonate with several of our readers who compared the experience to reading a horoscope with the understanding that it is indeed something different.  Although not perfect, this test has been administered to 40 million humans over the last 90 years.  Rather than being based on my birthday, it was based on honest answers to questions about my way of thinking, working, and perceiving the world.

I loved the comments of our friends and readers.  I loved how you offered each other understanding and empathy.  I promised more musings too.  So here they are.

Although I knew I was an introvert the holistic meaning of my personality didn’t come into relief without the impasses that Russell and I often meet.  We know that we care about each other.  We also know that we just don’t process things the same.  All models are wrong.  Some are useful.  That’s the way I feel about going through this exercise on the blog and in the long form yesterday.  This is useful.

Russell (INTP) and I are both introverted intuitives married to extroverts.  Mrs. Russell is ENFJ.  Mrs. Pascal is ESFP.  Mrs. Pascal and I had a great time reading our own and each other’s personality types.  I realize that confirmation bias is likely at play, but the profiles were surprisingly accurate.  For my wife and I the differences are dramatic.  There was a weekend when we were dating where we took a 48 hour time out to determine if we would get engaged or never speak to each other again.  Twenty one years later we find our differences to have stretched us both and to be a source of deep energy.  I didn’t have the language to describe it then and probably didn’t need it.  I realized that we were very different and that we liked each other very much.  The decision to love each other was the best we have ever made.

So Russell and I match in the introverted intuitive domains but contrast in the thinking/feeling and judging/perceiving dichotomies.  Is the whole greater than the parts?  With 16 personality permutations the answer is surely yes.  I do, however, feel that Russell and I most often disconnect when I feel and he thinks.  Does that mean he doesn’t feel and I do not think?  Of course not.  But it does explain the epistemology of science, and history, and love.  I feel that love can be an epistemology.  I know that my heart can deceive me, but it hasn’t in the long term.  Love made me marry.  Like is not a decision – – I liked my wife and always will – – it is the quirky spark of compatibility that drives my happiness every time I see her again.  Love was a decision — an epistemology that trumped the thinking that could have talked me out of it.  Love is why I believe that Jesus saved me.  Do I find science in conflict – – no, not really.  Do I find some things beyond my comprehension?  Yes.  Can my mind be changed by a call to justice and mercy.  Yes.

Perhaps Mrs. Pascal and I work so well because the yin and yang of I/E, and commonality of F balance any conflicts in the N/S and J/P domains.  Or not.  Maybe an intuitive needs a sensor and maybe a go along for the rider needs someone who loves to drive and plan the trip a year in advance.  And maybe that planner should plan a day with nothing.  Duly noted.

Russell, where does this leave you and me?  In a better place.  I’m so glad to understand you better and to be understood.  I’ve always respected you and always will.  I like that we have different ways to process and relate and now I get it better.  As part of our exercise in the class there were cues on how to better relate to those of different personality types — how to speak their language if you will.  I think that we’ve tried to do that for each other by reading or listening to things that the other likes.

P1 just took the test at our request.  After complaining about seeming redundant questions he came back ISFP.  We work well together.  He can put concrete steps to my big idea.  I also understand his messy room a bit better.  Thanks again for this Russell.

Question:

Has knowing (or guessing) the personality type of your loved one helped you to respect and communicate better?

Pascal – – 1:16

Arguing with Ayn

Ayn_Rand1

Dear Russell and Friends,

There she is.  Demure smile, confident pose, piercing eyes & cigarette in hand.  She created the best book title ever – – Atlas Shrugged – – a title that compelled me to read.  Her first name rhymes with wine.  She is worth arguing with.  We could not disagree more on so many fundamental things.  And yet.

Ayn Rand is one of the best, smartest, most incisive writers that I have read.  She has strong opinions well reasoned that are diametrically opposed to my worldview and philosophy.  Is reading her an exercise in frustration?  No.  Not at all.

Atlas

Reading her is pure pleasure and reminds me that my life is too short to pick lesser books.  I’ve just begun The Fountainhead in its 25th anniversary edition.  Rand wrote the introduction in 1968 – – five years before I was born and a full 25 years before I could digest her ideas.

Now I’ll wrestle with Howard Roark just like I wrestled with Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden.  From the grave their ideas and speeches echo.  And so it is with Ms. Rand.  I want to invite her to our table and listen. Then I’d share what enthralls yet disappoints me.  Her protagonists are my antagonists – – they are Übermensch, gleaming strong and clear.  I need these antagonists – – worthy opponents in the circus of ideas. Her antagonists are straw.  Caricatures of bias, bigotry and weakness.  If only she could revise.  Would she?  If only she had the courage to face the strong and not the weak.  Would she?  Oh well.  Her gift to me remains – – enemies that I can respect and answer with a clear conscience.  Enemies that best me in more areas than I usually admit.  Enemies of concrete, steel, arcs and planes of soaring thought.  Enemies that could become friends.

What of my antagonist to her protagonist?  I hope to return her gift and not to duplicate her greatest mistake.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credits:

Ayn Rand portrait by Phyllis Cerf (1916–2006) Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ayn_Rand1.jpg#/media/File:Ayn_Rand1.jpg

“Objectivist1” by Michael Greene – originally posted to Flickr as Atlas 2. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Objectivist1.jpg#/media/File:Objectivist1.jpg

Wealth and Power

640px-Biltmore_Estate_14-2

Dear Friend,

I begin most of my letters here with a derivative of that salutation.  Dear Russell and Friends . . .  But the letter on my table is not from Russell.  It is from Steve Forbes, or rather it appears, from his desk.  I don’t know Steve Forbes but he asks me to join him by buying a magazine.  It is three and a half pages long, but a quick read due to capacious spacing and outsized font.  The first words that receive the inflation denote the thesis of the letter.  Mr. Forbes offers me something that he thinks I want:  wealth and power.

Is he right?  Before I discount advertising, I must assess its success.  It often works.  Very often.  And those who can afford Forbes magazine and even its peddled luxury wares are not less vulnerable. Perhaps they are even more so.

Mr. Forbes thinks that I want to read about the lives of billionaires.  In his words the magazine that bears his name is not all about business.

It’s also about enjoying the rewards of success.  Exotic supercars. Yachts to die for.  Hideaways that you can’t get to from here.  The private plane circuit, where wealthy flyers never see the inside of a terminal.  Plus, you’ll get ForbesLife, our guide to living the good life.

Is he right?  Is wealth and power a worthy goal?  Mr. Forbes is no fool, but I’ve been one.  I’ve been sorely tempted to mistake my gifts for entitlement.  I’ve been sorely tempted to direct my capacity toward temporary things that will not survive even my brief life.  I’ve been sorely tempted to seek approval, influence, and regard.  In truth – – I find power more tempting than wealth and view the latter as only the currency of the former.  I have been tempted and I have fallen.

One reason I follow Christ is so that I can answer Mr. Forbes with honesty.  Yes – – you’re right sir.  I do want wealth and power.  But, deep within me I know it is not enough.  Deep within me I know that it will not survive me.  Vanderbilt barely lived in America’s largest home.  So what can replace wealth and power as my desire? Following Christ has given me that answer.

Mr. Forbes and his team are no fools.  I’m not in the top 0.1% of income, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 1%.  I’m not in the top 0.01% of intellect, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 0.1%.  Honesty is not what I need.  I need humility.  By following Christ I see someone so much greater than me that I have no metric of comparison.  Yet he came to serve and to suffer with us (compassion defined).  Mr. Forbes may not be a fool, but I want to be.  I want to foolishly reject the call to wealth and power although I know that I could realistically attain a measure of it.  I want to foolishly love those who are poor and powerless.

Oh Mr. Forbes, you knew I would be tempted.  I am constantly tempted by goals that honor myself and not my savior.  Oh God – – please let me be wise and pursue your compassion.  Let me live differently as a steward of the capabilities that are only a gift from you.

Dear readers – –

1)  Does Mr. Forbes’ offer tempt you?

2)  Atheist friends:  how have you mitigated this siren call?

3)  Christ followers and those of other faiths:  same question.

4)  Any:  am I wrong to recoil from this letter?  I welcome your criticism.

 

Pascal  1:16

photo credit:  “Biltmore Estate 14-2” by Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg: Doug Coldwellderivative work: Entheta (talk) – Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Apologies (accepted) & Napkins (used well)

Napkin

Greetings Russell and Friends,

Much of my reading and writing this week has been in the comments concerning my last post on God’s goodness or lack thereof.  That is a new and exciting way to interact with our new friends – – something that we’ve seen modeled on several of their blogs.  Much of the content in these blogs is in the comments.  So we’re slowly addressing your reasons for doubt and unfolding the map to your intellect and heart.  I find your mind to be fascinating, likely because it is very different from mine.  I also find it fascinating when you and your wife J (aka CC) write each other from the same room.  Fascinating, and completely valid.  She said the following after you apologized for the length of your comments.

Your napkin drawing (that happened on paper, but same idea) was far more effective. Even if you has said the same thing in many thousands of words, I think fatigue would have prevented me (and perhaps others) from getting it. Are there readers who skip your comments altogether because of the length (knowing that they don’t have time in the Subway line)? You have so much to offer that I don’t want it to be missed for that reason.

I need to accept your apology and resist my impulse to reassure you that apologies are never needed.  That impulse does not honor the reality of friendship.  When I apologize I would rather have that apology accepted than deferred.  Why do I accept your apology?  Because I recently found myself in a Subway line trying to engage the blog content and I couldn’t attend to your very good comment, primarily because of length.  I read and scrolled, scrolled and read, gave up, then ordered a six-inch wheat black forest ham toasted with pepper jack cheese, green peppers, red onions, black olives, banana peppers, spicy mustard and a little bit of sriracha sauce.  I woke at four this morning intending to read every single one of your comments.  I’m actually a slow, plodding reader – – speed reading is anathema to me.  And I did, but it took two hours to do so thoughtfully.  Smaller bites and clarifying questions is good advice from your bride.

What about napkins?  That is a favorite strategy of ours when we meet for breakfast.  Back of the envelope analogies fail because the only envelopes I seem to have contain junk mail and I rarely have them at breakfast.  Likewise, we have never eaten together at a restaurant with cloth napkins.  I’m not saying that we couldn’t write on those napkins, just that it could get a little strange or tense.  In the napkin above I’ve illustrated a general taxonomy which may or may not be correct.  The horizontal axis represents a way of thinking – – like you or me.  The vertical axis represents a skeptical or theistic belief.  I’ve taken the liberty of asserting that you think the most like you and I think the most like me.  We serve as paradigmatic members of the quadrants:  you the Russell-like skeptic, me the Pascal-like theist.  Then I’ve assigned several of our more active writers to the quadrants as I see them.  I chose Madalyn for my way of thinking, albeit with very different beliefs, primarily because I find her writing style very easy to read.  I chose Howie for your way of thinking because when he first came by I thought you had adopted another pseudonym.  And so forth – – it’s a bit like picking teams for dodgeball.  It would be better for people to assign themselves – – then I could redraw the napkin, although I did find the creative effort to be draining.

Why a tangential discussion about napkins?  Because I’ve taken so many tangents this week trying to see how we see things differently.  Did you know that Bertrand Russell was an opponent of coherentism as an epistemic strategy?  I did not.  Did you know that Soren Kierkegaard requires too many special characters in the correct spelling of his name to be my favorite philosopher?  That was a joke (although true).  He’s not my favorite philosopher because I don’t have one yet.  Kierkegaard valued the subjective in his understanding of truth.  I didn’t know that, but I’ve encountered him before in many readings and it is probably time to go to the source.  My tangential responses to your comments and your linearity help me to learn and also to respect that I many not ever be able to reply to you in kind.  I understand your objections, I just don’t process the world that way.  And that is okay.  I’ll do my best.  Let’s have breakfast this week.

For our friends — which napkin quadrant would you place yourself in?  Any takers for the lonely square?  If you are one of the 8-in-ink and consider yourself misdrawn I am prepared to revise.

Pascal

–1:16

photo credit:  the napkin on the table, Pascal, my own work Creative Commons share and share alike

Wrestling With Russell’s Reasons – – 1

512px-Rembrandt_-_Jacob_Wrestling_with_the_Angel_-_Google_Art_Project

 

Dear Russell & Friends,

Today begins an attempt to reply to Russell’s reasons for not following Christ.  The icon above is a Rembrandt circa 1659 entitled Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.  It depicts the biblical story from Genesis 32.  That story about Jacob’s life has always had meaning for me.  God allows us to, even encourages us to wrestle with him.  He did not create automatons and your intellect does matter.  I have wrestled with many things in faith.  Sometimes I win the match.  Sometimes I lose.  I always come out better for the struggle, and like Jacob, I still limp.  Russell and I talked yesterday and agreed on a general format for going forward.  I’ll try to reply to one reason each week.  As the reasons unfold you’ll see that we could spend a year on each one or even an academic career.  That is neither feasible nor desirable for our purposes.  There are, however, scholars on both sides of the argument who have spent substantial time and effort in producing works for the interested and the curious.  Whenever possible, lets lead each other to those works.  Without further ado:

Reason 1:  The Bible is neither inerrant nor infallible.

That was a great place to start.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have four cornerstones for belief that are also stumbling blocks for the skeptic:  supernatural, scripture, saints, and saviour.  Russell started with scripture and began with the specific language of the churches that he and I grew up in.

Inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible is without error or fault in all its teaching.

Infallibility is the belief that what the Bible says regarding matters of faith and Christian practice is wholly useful and true.

Some equate the two terms and some don’t  There are subtle differences that the equators find irrelevant.  One point of agreement, however, is that the belief in inerrancy and infallibility is not the same as the belief in biblical literalism.

What was Russell arguing and why was this a good place to start?  He responded to a common American fundamentalist evangelical teaching – – something that we both grew up with.  I wrestled with his first reason in several ways (and continue to do so):

  1. I studied inerrancy by reading a small book on my shelf then posted the reflections here.  This document would certainly be representative of the church to which I’m going this morning and in fact of all the churches that I’ve attended since childhood.
  2. Russell replied with a detailed analysis of my thoughts and of the statement.
  3. I started reading again, primarily Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright.  Both are accomplished New Testament scholars who come to completely different conclusions.  I’ve only read one Ehrman book, but I must read more.  It is difficult for me because his attempts to constrain sarcasm sometimes seem half-hearted.
  4. I began to realize that my reading had in fact been narrow.  What about the context of scripture in the landscape of sacred texts and world history?  That’s when Russell introduced me to Audible books and I turned off NPR during the commute.  The bookshelf page is an attempt to chronicle my reading with Russell and before him.
  5. I continued to run and think and sleep, realizing that so much happens in my subconscious before I have the thought accessible in the frontal lobe and available to write here.
  6. I realized that I might be fighting on the wrong hill.  What exactly does scripture mean to me?  Should I defend the terms inerrant or infallible?  That’s what Russell was trying to get at with his very patient reply to me.  I accepted the terms initially and was prepared to defend them.  I had grown up with them. As I studied more, it appears that American protestants for the last two hundred years had grown up with them.
  7. I reconsidered.  My experiment in defending the terms inerrant and infallible yielded a negative result.  It did not increase my love for Christ or my love for others.  It was not a sure and sufficient reason for my skeptical friend.  The scientific method cherishes negative experiments.  They teach you as much as the positive ones.  However, there is a publication bias that over-represents the experiments which validate the initial hypothesis.
  8. Where do I stand now?  Here is the best description of my regard for scripture:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete,equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

I was answering the wrong question, but it was the question posed by the fundamental American Christianity that Russell and I knew so well.  What are the consequences of taking my stand on a different hill?  I suppose that you could view this as a retreat.  But, if I’m arguing the wrong thing in the wrong spirit, then I should retreat.  This represents a healthier way of representing what scripture actually means in my life.  That is why I’m going slowly through Romans.  What is the consequence of arguing inerrancy or infallibility?  Romans 1 can be about debating genealogies instead of about how Christ followers should treat gay people.  I find the former approach less helpful and the latter more relevant and profitable.

So, what am I saying?  I’m not going to marry myself to the terms inerrant or infallible.  After a year of reflection I believe that I was wrong to do so.  For the interested I’ll present a link to an interview with N.T. Wright in which he addresses his beliefs on Biblical inerrancy.  I confess to being swayed by his scholarship and opinions.  I confess that my confirmation bias kicks in much stronger when I read him as opposed to Ehrman.  However, this is a change of mind for me and a difference in how I’ll approach the crucial subject of scripture.

The brief interview is here.  In the comments section below the interview we learn by negative example what tone to avoid in our own dialogue.  Your conversation is welcome here as Russell and I continue to wrestle with reasons.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Our Varied Experiences of the Same Universe

As Russell and I meet soon to plan our way forward with the blog, I wanted to pause and ask you to read something from someone I believe will become a friend to both of us. Friendship takes time. So far, time with Howie has been well spent.
Pascal – – 1:16

Truth Is Elusive

aweI’d like to share a comment made by Persto on a much commented post from Nate’s Finding Truth blog that struck a chord with me:

“I just want you to know that it is possible to think and to experience the universe, and ourselves as a part of it, in both religious and naturalistic ways. For those who sometimes experience life religiously, it can be entirely rational to form beliefs reflecting that mode of experience. At the same time it is equally rational for those who do not participate in the field of religious experience not to hold such beliefs, and to assume that these experiences are simply projections of our human desires and ideals. In other words, we are facing an issue of fact which is at present veiled in ambiguity, so that both belief and disbelief at present carry with them the risk of profound error. The believer…

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Love Letter – – conclusion

512px-Handwritten_letter_by_Descartes_December_1638

So down that I slept 20 of 24 hours and despaired of the other 4.  Despair.  What does Bertrand Russell know of despair?  What does the writer of Hank know of despair?  Unyielding despair so corrosive that it didn’t leave me desperate.

I hate you God – – just kill me and send me to hell.  Love Letter – – penultimate   from the beginning

I’m crying again.  It’s been a very long time since I confessed those words and everything behind them.  By now you understand why I will not, can not stand in judgment over you and Russell.  By now you understand why I can love you both courageously – – even if you think you’re walking away.  I can’t write anymore J.  It’s unusual for me to feel this way.  I’m exhausted but content.  I know that God is real.  I know that scripture is reliable.  I hope to be a saint that honestly presents himself as once wretched, now redeemed by amazing grace.  Thanks for being my friend.  I hope this didn’t shock you.  You realize that I needed to write it more than you needed to read it.

Always in Christ – – Pascal –1:16

P.S.  So there it is.  A two year old letter about foundational events in my life a quarter century ago.  Why did I write it?  To testify to where I came from and why I needed to turn.  I think that suffering is part of life.  Buddhism does not resonate with me because the avoidance of suffering is not a noble path.  To suffer with another in compassion is.  That’s who Jesus is to me.  He reached into my wreck of a life and loved me.  Then he told me through scripture to love others like he had loved me.  I was not easy to love.  Others are not easy to love. But it does make sense to me.  It is internally consistent and resonates with my experience, heart, soul, mind and strength.  Does personal experience give me an airtight reason to believe and complete immunization against doubt?  Of course not.  But to deny this influence would be false.  It is certainly part of my reason to follow Christ and to love.  I’m willing to let the other parts unfold over years.

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons