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Monday, January 23, 2017

The Nasty Part of Ethics

I once had a law professor state that if you are not sure of the statutes pertaining to a given situation, then follow the Golden Rule.  That will protect you most of the time.

The nasty part of ethics is that what would appear as simple (the Golden Rule) is complicated by the scope of application.  To demonstrate by an extreme example, the most despotic and merciless of drug lords may well have a tight cadre of loyalist around him with whom he assiduously practices the Golden Rule. Outside that cadre, anything goes and no extreme of depravity is beyond the pale. In other words, it makes little sense to judge the effective power of this ethic so long as scope of application is ignored.  In fact, fast loyalty to a group often materializes for the very purpose of mustering disrespect for those beyond the inner-circle.

It is obvious in a way that charity begins at home.  Say I have a wife, two children, and a dog and a cat.  Very few indeed would consider me a responsible and loving father if I monthly contributed $1,000 to the humane society while at the same time totally neglecting the needs of my children subjecting them to chronic malnutrition and inadequate clothing.

Despite this, we find that for the Golden Rule to have ethical meaning relevant beyond our own doorstep, we must see with the heart of the Good Samaritan entailing the broadest of human sympathies.  In the United States the Bill of Rights covers everyone (the inalienable right of respect and dignity)--but not really.  Those holding opposing views can swiftly find themselves outside the inner-circle of respect.  The very mustering of disrespect itself can then become the reflexive obsession of the Assured Self-Righteous.      

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Dumbing Down of a Nation (Turning from God)

Matthew 7:12 (NIV)

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

An abiding theme in the study of the Old Testament is the cyclic pattern of Israeli history that was typified by (phase 1) returning to God; (phase 2) initial widespread improvement; (phase 3) and then upon growing wealthy and self-sufficient in their own eyes forgetting God; (phase 4) followed by once again skidding headlong into disintegration.  At some low point Israel once again returns to God and the cycle repeats.

I would like to speculate upon the impact of the exercise of the Golden Rule on society by way of its impact on human intelligence. Let us take a simple example. Two boys each have a dog. One boy is characterized by living the Golden Rule; the other is totally self-centered. The boy living the Golden Rule understands that relationship is the whole point of having a dog. He wants to spend time with his dog and treat him as the boy himself would want to be treated.  From a distance perhaps, the visual of their companionship looks idyllic and devoid of passion. In fact the opposite is actually the case. The boy strongly empathizes with his dog and would risk his own life in an instant should he happen upon the dog flailing in torrents of water following a storm. The boy thinks of his dog often and imagines places he would like to take his dog exploring the countryside. In short, for the boy having a dog connotes not property ownership or playing the role of an absentee landlord, but instead passionate commitment to the nurture and well-being of the dog together with cultivating in concert a rich dynamic relationship. Let us suppose the operation of the brain during proactive empathetic nurturing is quantifiable on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high).  I would contend that the operation of an empathetic-nurtuing brain is many times vital, emotionally intelligent, and creatively alert than the self-contented one. To sustain life through nurturing requires meeting a multitude of daily challenges and profound, widespread intellectual exertion.  Nurturing always entails on a practical level taking up the ownership of problems not wholly egocentric.  Helping others grow always yields the companion dividend of growing oneself.

In contrast let us quickly sketch the self-centered boy. To him the dog is primarily property that he stakes in place with a steel spike in the yard. He belittles relationship as unmanly. The dog languishes in all weather and flinches during rain and lighting storms.  The boy bullies and domineers his dog and has little or no interest in his well being.  No one is surprised that the little sandy patch of yard where the dog must eat, sleep, and defecate is littered with trash. The boy could not be bothered.  No one need ask if the dog is happy. The only question is how long will he live?

My contention is that a society which smirks at the Golden Rule is dumber than dumb.  That society will lose mental alacrity and eviscerate the civil passion to nurture. No one need ask if such a society is genuinely happy. The only question is how long will it survive?  

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For My Honest Friend

From the beginning it is likely humanity has perceived measures of intuitive insight that have or seem to have an external source lying beyond native thought processes or generation. For example, I may be completely baffled by a problem and have no idea as how to solve it. Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, the answer comes. The "external feeling" of this phenomena is such that out of integrity I decline to take full ownership of the idea myself but attribute it in significant measure to a power which is beyond me. Because of the episode's striking positive characteristics, I perceive it as loving gift in harmony with an abundance of good things outside my creation or control. This sense of abiding loving benevolence can apply to multiple decisions prompting me to travel down specific paths in more elaborate intuitive-driven undertakings.

Many have described such felt benevolence as the nurture of a Heavenly Father or God. Others insist that such attributions are meaningless and unjustified being completely idiosyncratic and subjective. A father may be associated with kindness by some and cruelty by others. They affirm that conclusions based upon subjective analogy get us nowhere and provide no objective and verifiable data whatever necessary for accurate and helpful analysis. In my view, we are dealing at base with the nature and sources of creativity. May the Force illumine our paths to understanding.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

The Persistent Themes of Gratitude and Goodwill in Christian Prayer

Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)

Love for Enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

It is occasionally posited that Christian prayer is effectively an instance of ritual meditation that focuses, for example, on rhythmic breathing.  If Christians seem particularly joyous in the face of depressing events like sickness and death, this can be attributed in part to their insufferable escapism epitomized by delusional mirages of blissful lives cambering specter-like upon jeweled streets of gold.

An alternative viewpoint is possible. With continuing studies of the brain and the importance of attitude and mood, it is becoming increasingly clear that the exercise of gratitude and goodwill are key elements in happiness and health. Christians regularly begin their prayers by counting their blessings (even in the face of scarcity) and then turn to their Heavenly Father with earnest petitions (most often of of a social nature) replete with heartfelt expression and yearning for the practical implementation of love and goodwill.  To the extent that Christianity may be exceptional, we need look to its prayerful prioritizing of tenor and tone congruent with the faithful execution of Golden Rule accountability.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Religion as a Facet of Carnal Knowledge

In a way, science might be described as paranoid thinking applied to Nature: we are looking for natural conspiracies, for connections among apparently disparate data. Our objective is to abstract patterns from Nature (right-hemisphere thinking), but many proposed patterns do not in fact correspond to the data. Thus all proposed patterns must be subjected to the sieve of critical analysis (left-hemisphere thinking). The search for patterns without critical analysis, and rigid skepticism without a search for patterns are the antipodes of incomplete science. The effective pursuit
of knowledge requires both functions.

(Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence
By Carl Sagan)

After a period of mental illness my faith in God and His Son (the Bridge) were greatly enhanced – decisively so. In my view this was the result of brain processes and structure (and consequent perception) undergoing permanent alteration.

Both religion and science can fuel great intensity of observation. Both endeavors when fruitful find patterns of truth exploding through insight -- in a sense, truth ultimately finds us, we do not find it. And such insight and illumination when they come are far from merely intellectual, but also highly emotional.  In science and religion there is a charge of eternity – of reliable long term natural processes identified and fundamental cognitive meaning perceived.

For the time being we must attest that faith involves the complexity of human perception expressed within and through the symbolic world. Thus, faith is often a good paranoia that observes even fatal phenomenon are at base redemptive and can lead to new life and renewal. In this way we say that trials are instrumental in making us more useful.  Thus, what nonbelievers often eschew as beneath them, believers embrace as ennobling.


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Monday, January 2, 2017

Hold That Thought

Mark 8:27-30 (NIV)
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Hold that Thought

Children with their simple questions (and wonder) can make purported know-it-all adults downright defensive.  For example, a child asks “Why is grass green?” The adult so asked, somewhat flattered that the child expects him to be a knowledge resource, stutters out something to the effect that plants are often green, grass is a plant, so grass is green. The first thing we might observe from this exchange is that while there may be no stupid questions, it does not follow that there are no vacuous answers. In fact the answer given is a typical stupid answer, depending as it does on pinning labels rather than identifying the reality of process fundamental to understanding. I would ask that we join hands at the start of this new year and hold fast to the phenomenon of wonder that precedes our sometimes delusional and assuredly reflexive recourse to labels.  

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