Philip's Mind

To think and to share…

The Wisdom of Ridiculous Philosophy

Let’s be honest. By doing philosophy we mean sitting somewhere in an armchair, or going for a walk and talking about philosophy, or reading about philosophy. That’s not doing philosophy. Just like soldiers go through drills and practice, they are not actually in combat. They are preparing themselves for the actual thing. Doing things about philosophy is for philosophers like the drill is for the soldier. The very first question is “why do we do philosophy and things about philosophy?” In the end, this question and all philosophical questions lead to the most basic and fundamental one: “how should we live?” Doing philosophy is the ultimate integration of belief and practice — living out the things we talk about and read.

We talk highly of the academic philosophy. We glorify doing things about philosophy. We are often perfectly content with the Cartesian model of a philosopher sitting in an armchair and thinking. We imagine the philosopher wearing a  pretty blazer with elbow-patches and smoking a pipe, with his or her head almost invisible from the smoke, stroking his bushy beard, barely there in physical body and far away in abstract world of thought, idea, and form.

After all, it’s a pretty picture.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

But that’s not philosophy. Not real philosophy. It’s just doing things about philosophy. The picture is no longer pretty in those rare moments, when we see philosophy and life come together. It becomes ridiculous. When we stop talking and reading, but decide to live out our teachings – that’s when things turn nasty, grotesque, and wise. That is true philosophy. We call such moments stunts.

One of my favorite characters in philosophy is Diogenes. He was Socrates’ contemporary. He is mostly known for hist ridiculous philosophical stunts. One of them was aimed at showing how ridiculous doing things about philosophy can be. When Plato announced that he figured out that a human is a “featherless biped,” Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it to Plato’s school, saying “here is your human.” Plato is shown for what he is in that situation: a disembodied mind that has nothing to do with the reality of existence.

Diogenes taught contempt for material possessions. But he did not just say that. It’s easy to preach such thing on a tenure salary from a state university. Diogenes chose to live in a barrel. The word of the philosopher reached the emperor himself, who went to see the ridiculous man. Upon arriving at the barrel, the emperor asked Diogenes what favor would he wish to be granted. Diogenes simply told the ruler to not stand between him and his sun. He lived out his teachings and by example showed how insane are our institutions that depend so much on people, who don’t truly own anything and have nothing to do with the ordinary person.

Another good example of living an integrated life is Jean-Paul Sartre. His writings brought so much attention to them, that he was awarded a Nobel Prize in literature. The central claim to his philosophy was the value of freedom and choice in human experience. In his eyes, association with the Nobel Prize committee would infringe his freedom until the day he died. Thus he made a choice not to accept the prize and hid in his friend’s apartment until the press got over his outrageous stunt.

The praiseworthy philosophy is one that can be seen in a philosophers life. There is no point, reason, or value in doing philosophy for it’s own sake. If it’s not informing our daily lives and encounters, it is not worth pursuing. If we don’t practice it in real life it is is meaningless.

Besides Plato and Descartes, my least favorite character in philosophy is probably Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Yes, his work on politics and sociology was very influential. But he is a prime example, of how useless philosophy with no integration is. Rousseau wrote extensively on education and parenting. That did not stop him from placing five of his children in a Children’s Home despite his friends offers to adopt and take care of them in his place. He abandoned his children simply because he needed reasons for sexual boasts without the responsibility. In other words, his philosophy had nothing to do with real life.

Rousseau might be an extreme example, but we do the same thing all the time. We talk about philosophy, but it doesn’t radically change our lives and how we encounter the Other. We live just like we lived before. The only difference is that now we have something that makes us seem more interesting.We need to engage in ridiculous philosophy. We need to make those occasional stunts our lives. We need to ask the emperors to not block our sun, we need to live in barrels, reject the Nobel Prize, raise children, confront the powers, recognize the absolute universe of the Other. We need to live out our conclusions and be honest about them for the sake of making sense of the world that ultimately is quite absurd.

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Love Thy Neighbor… As a Philosopher: Kant, Socrates, the Solipsists, and the Wisdom of Christ

One aspect of growing up is the realization that things aren’t as easy or simple as we would like them to be. For me such realization started in late high school and lingered for a few years through college. The specific “things” that I’m addressing is our philosophical assumptions. Yes, we all have them and no, we don’t truly have grounds for holding them. There is one assumption that we hold that we really don’t want to let go. It’s the belief that things exist. Ok, ok, ok… I know what you’re thinking (especially if you know me personally): “He’s going on yet another half-joking-but-not-really solipsist rant about how everything is only a figment of imaginary construct.” I promise you that this is only a short prelude to our actual considerations for today. It’s a prelude, but an important one. I promise not to try and turn you into a solipsist (I’m not a true one myself, either), but they make a very fair point. The point is such: there is no way of proving reality. One cannot make an argument that anything I see, touch, smell or perceive otherwise is real. It could be all in my head and I would never know. Thus we arrive at a choice: we can either conclude that nothing exists (and here our dialogue could and probably would end), or we can assume things probably exist. Yet we are faced with another problem: we realize that we can’t validate our perceptions because those perceptions is all we have. I don’t have access to your mind. If you speak to me, that is not access to your mind for me. That is my perception of socially constructed language that appear to me in a spoken-like-manner. There is no way of verifying if our experiences are similar. But since for the sake of being constructive we concluded that things exist, I assume you also exist. I therefore assume other people in general exist. But that is only thing we can have on such a basic level: assumptions. And that’s ok, but we need to be honest about it.

Here we start to turn towards the main topic of consideration: ethics. How to live? What to do? How to treat other people? Here is where we need to implement the “growing up part.” There is no answer to those questions in a direct sense. There is no “10 steps to living ethically correct life.” Of course people tried, but they failed in one simple aspect. They failed to realize that we, as human beings, have nothing truly in common except for one thing. We have separate perceptions of phenomena, separate thought processes, separate philosophical assumptions, separate understanding of beauty, truth, justice, good. We are all separate islands floating on the ocean of existence. We have nothing that would bring us together in a literal sense of the word. We are alone. I can’t access your mind and you can’t access mine and we need to accept that. In words of Martin Buber from I and Thou: “The man who experiences has not part in the world. For it is ‘in him’ and not between him and the world that the experience arises.” But there is one thing we have somewhat in common: if other people exist, they also experience subjective phenomena.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself

The words “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” are found in Leviticus 19:8 and are repeated in three Gospels. Christ said that combined with love thy God… this is the greatest commandment.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself

I will leave the questions of love thy God… for some other time. Let’s focus on the second part. Perhaps the value in doing that lies in that one doesn’t have to believe in a God to love his or her neighbor. Perhaps my friends and anyone else reading this who might be secular, could benefit from it as well, given this approach. What did Jesus mean when he told us to love our neighbors? I think Jesus understood our existential solitude and said that there is no “10 steps to good living.” I think Jesus understood how different we are and how the only thing uniting us is the existence of perceived phenomena. Thus Jesus says: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. We experience. We want our experience to be “good.” We want to avoid experiences that cause us physical or emotional pain because experience is all we truly have.

I am very critical of Kantian ethics. I don’t believe that we can fix our moral lives by following a few principles of “in this situation, you do this…” There is however wisdom in Kant’s theory. The wisdom lies in the words found in chapter II of Foundation for the Metaphysics of Morals: “…a subject of ends, namely a rational being him [or her]self, must be made the ground for all maxims of action, never merely as means, but as supreme condition restricting the use of every means – that is, always also as an end.” In more simple words: don’t use people only for your own gain, but consider them as personal beings that experience as well. This is the heart of my still-in-development ethical system: realize that other people experience things and treat them accordingly. Love, which Christ spoke about, has nothing to do with warm fuzzy feelings. It has nothing to do with your favorite professor, or with feelings of friendship. Love, on Christ’s terms, has everything to do with taking other people’s experience seriously and taking responsibility for impacting that experience. In a strange  – maybe even mystical – way, our individual islands bump into each other.

In the end there is no answer to the question “What should I do with my life?” The reason is that we can never truly understand experiences of other people. The best we can do is share some form of compassion based on “I know that I feel bad when I eat a rotten sandwich, and since other people appear to me in a way that suggests disgust, I can assume that their experience isn’t good as well, although I can’t tell how they exactly perceive it themselves.” The only thing we can conclude is that we ought to make decisions in a way that will not harm the experience of phenomena of ourselves and other people to the best of our ability. We need to realize that there is nothing that makes our experience more important then the experience of others, nor that we have anything more than common sentiments. No, this view doesn’t plunge us into relativism. At least not hard relativism. There is still right and wrong. It’s just not an objective right and wrong. Perhaps better words to use would be “constructive” and “destructive.” What is the purpose and outcome of our actions? How does it impact other’s phenomenological lives? We can never give truly and fully accurate answers but that is also part of growing up. The best we can do is carefully examine ourselves.

Socrates is thought to be a great philosopher. He roamed the streets of Athens and through questioning people he showed their errors in thinking. Some consider Socrates to be the first Christian before Christ. Sure, Socrates was a smart guy. More than that, he was probably a genius for his time. But he fails as an ethical being. In the dialogue Phaedo we learn about his treatment of his wife, Xanthippe. Phaedo describes to Echecrates what happened during Socrates stay in prison (Socrates, accused of “corrupting the youth,” has been sentenced to death). Apart from Phaedo and some other people, Xanthippe was visiting the philosopher before his punishment was to be carried out. How would you feel if your spouse was awaiting death? Probably in a similar manner to Xanthippe – serious distress, nostalgia, crying. In response, Socrates looked at his friend Crito, and said: “Crito, let someone take her home.” It is said in the dialogue that “some of Crito’s people led her away lamenting and beating her breast.” In this moment Socrates loses all credibility as an ethical being. He fails to recognize the being that experiences. He fails to love his neighbor. He wants to do philosophy with his buddies, regardless of his wife’s experience. He allowed his spouse to remember him as someone who did not care about her and put abstract conversations above the living, breathing, feeling person. She lived her life bearing the scar of rejection and ridicule of the emotional self. Socrates reveals himself as a fraud. His philosophy, abstract thought, questioning, and proving others wrong ultimately falls short of reality. He wants to ask questions, argue with people, and search for truth, yet he cannot grasp that he effects other people. His sophisticated thought couldn’t bring him to a simple conclusion:

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself 

Don’t be like Socrates. Be like Jesus. Put people first. Because they experience. And you do as well. Love thy neighbour as thyself

The Goal of Philosophy

When someone starts to meddle with philosophy, he or she should start with answering the question “what is philosophy?” If you have ever went to a philosophy club, an intro or high school class, you most likely tried frantically to come up with a reasonable or “correct” answer to that question, as I have so many times now. But the thing is: this is not a question that only “armchair philosophers” or freshmen deal with. In fact, most philosophers have completely different answers to that question, all very different. After all that precise question (amongst others) is what metaphilosophy tries to deal with.

Most people associate philosophy with answers. Why the world works the way it does? What should our motivations in life be? Does God exist? Is there such thing as a soul? How do we know things? And most stereotypically: what is the meaning of life?

This is not necessarily wrong. After all, that is what philosophers do. They argue their opinions, beliefs, and search for answers to those questions. Even I, just two nights ago spent two hours in a room with another student of philosophy, grappling with some of those questions and trying to figure out answers. We should be doing that and we do. But this view of philosophy is very limiting and inaccurate. Philosophy is more than that. If that was the correct and complete view of philosophy, we are in danger. If we can’t even agree on what philosophy itself is, how can we come to a consensus on any of the issues we struggle with? And frankly, history is proving me right. There is no consensus. Most of the questions have been answered many times, but still, after 2.500 years of western tradition, there is no agreement to the correctness, of any of those answers. In other words: since nobody has so far arrived at the peak of truth and wisdom, how ignorant and arrogant can a philosopher be to just assume that he or she can rise above this 2.500 year old tradition of human thought? Perhaps there is a modern-day Plato, Aristotle, Kant, or Kierkegaard. But let’s be real: that is not most of us. Besides, there is not much new to do in philosophy. All the major theories have been developed and explored (Of course I have to be allowed some margin of mistake. There is nothing completely new to be developed as far as we know. That also does not include any applications or modifications of theories). At this point in history, our job as academicians is reconstruction and modern-day application, as far as “question answering” approach is concerned.

Amongst other views I have encountered, I also heard people say “I study philosophy because I want to destroy other people’s arguments and prove that I’m right.” I’m not going to spend too much time dealing with this view since I find it ridiculous and utterly misguided. Yet, it still needs to be approached and dealt with. Firstly, we need to realize that proving one’s point and “destroying” other people’s arguments is just plainly stupid. Philosophy, by the virtue of the word, deals with sophia in some way (by sophia I do not mean any particular person. “Sophia” is a greek word meaning wisdom). The ability to prove your own belief is nothing more than sophism and manipulative rhetoric. As far as my understanding goes, rhetoric should serve wisdom to make it accessible and in conversation with other thinkers. What is the point of winning every argument? Only puffing up of one’s own pride. One who always wins loses in the end, for he or she did not learn anything. If you are able to argue to a point of constant victory: good for you. Use it to question yourself, your beliefs, to be thorough in your philosophical work. The goal of philosophy is not arrogance, but humility. Not “winning” in false assumptions and pride, but “losing” in wisdom and humility. It’s simply counter-logical to study philosophy with a goal of prideful self-gratification. Even though it’s important not to “bend whichever way the wind blows” and not follow every lame theory presented, it is crucial to understand the true purpose and value of philosophy.

Since philosophy is neither answering things, nor is it the ability to defend already established views, what is it then? Another opinion I have encountered is that it is an history and organization of human thought. Philosophy is a table, on which we have laid out every single theory, ethical system etc. It’s a smorgasbord of knowledge. I think the answer to this opinions is such: yes and no. On one hand it’s imperative to have organized knowledge of those things. We should study history of human thought and it is a very important part of philosophy. But that approach is still missing the point. Knowledge is not enough. Wisdom is knowledge combined with critical thinking and application. Wisdom is not “pick and choose your thing.” I am not a pacifist because I chose such ethical approach and saw enough arguments to convince me. I am a pacifist because of the knowledge of pacifism, sufficient amount of arguments, and because in the end I felt like it was the right thing to do and followed my informed intuition.

Thus we reach the epicenter of our contemplation. What for crying out loud is philosophy? Is there really no answer? If there is no answer to such basic question, how can the more pressing issues be addressed? I think there is a solution, after all. However, it’s not as obvious and simple as the one’s I have mentioned. I think Bertrand Russell was onto something interesting in the very first paragraph of “The Problems of Philosophy:” “…[it] is merely the attempt to answer such ultimate questions, not carelessly and dogmatically, as we do in ordinary life and even in the sciences, but critically, after exploring all that makes such questions puzzling, and after realizing all the vagueness and confusion that underlie our ordinary ideas.” Russell makes a few fascinating observations. Firstly, he uses the word “attempt.” There is no guarantee of finding answers. Philosophy is not reaching the superficial goal, but it’s a journey towards it. True wisdom is found in that humbling experience which molds us into understanding. That understanding surprises us and always uncovers more of our further and deeper misunderstanding and lack of wisdom, veiled to us before. Next he uses the word “critically.” That is the point of philosophy. To not only derive some answers to questions, but understand the implications of those questions and beliefs. We ought to live consciously, with understanding of our own perceptions and beliefs. It’s not enough to prove the existence of God (Please relax. It’s an example. I know it’s not that simple to just prove the existence of God). We need to understand what it means to believe in a god of some kind and the influence of such belief on our ethical systems, metaphysics and many other vague and convoluted implications.

In the end, philosophy is searching for answers and making sense of the vagueness, confusion, and absurdity of our reality, even though the questions might not ever be fully answered. It’s an attempt to live life the best way we can, without ignoring the true problems, or avoiding the difficult questions. It’s a search for sense in a world that does not make much sense. It’s everyday choice-making without taking an easy way out, and hopefully, having a little bit of fun while doing it.

When Jesus is being literal…

In one of his books, “Hunger for Reality,” George Verwer points out a strange dichotomy that occurs in our religious groups, churches and our private lives as well:

No one could say in these days that we Christians are spiritually starved. Through the care and faithfulness of Gods servants, we are generously fed, taught, encouraged, pampered, stimulated, supported, nursed along. . .Yet we know very well, if we are honest, that these things have all too little effect on our lives. Why is this so?

If we give the matter a little thought, we will realize that most of us are living in “two worlds.” We have split our convictions, activities, and goals into two categories. In the first we place our religious experiences: what we believe; what we sing about; what we pray about; and what we defend in argument.

The second category contains our world of secular values and actions: our use of leisure time; our actions taken to impress people; our attitude towards associates. . .and how we get our money and use it.

We keep these two worlds strictly apart, and though we may vaguely feel that something is wrong, we don’t suspect we are suffering a major disorder — a sort of spiritual schizophrenia.

There are many people who claim to be Christians, but these supposed identities don’t change anything in their lives. They declare their commitment to God, but it doesn’t seem to be the most essential part of their lives once they step outside of the church after Sunday service. According to the Pew Research Center, over 70% of Americans declare themselves Christians (including all Christian denominations). Why, then, is our culture torn by inequality, a lack of civility, and other very serious issues that seem to arise from non-Christian attitudes?

It seems to me that becoming a Christian is, or should be, followed by truly experiencing God in one’s life. How can he or she, a new Christian, continue to live in this world without a complete radicalization of every part of his or her life? The answer lies in the fact that we deceive ourselves; we claim even to ourselves that “we are doing fine.” As Christians, we attempted to fulfill our duty to God. We prayed the sinner’s prayer, or we took communion, or we got baptized, or we did a lot of other things to become Christians and continued to follow the doctrines of a church to which we joined—and at that point we stopped, because we thought it was enough, that we fulfilled our duty and were finished. Yet God wants more. Being a Christian is not enough for God. God desires true followers. God desires radicals who will put God in the center of their lives.

With all that said I feel the need to emphasize the fact that I realize there are individuals who do not fit the description above. I have met and know many men and women who are great followers of Christ and I have great admiration for them and for God’s work in their lives. However, those individuals do not reflect what I have observed in the general population. When I look around me I see Christians who do not resemble the biblical description of a follower of Christ. I see hostility within the church and amongst Christians. Our political and (shock) theological debates are filled with accusations, blame and self-righteous infallibility (which is also assumed by the individuals). It seems that our language is made of exclamation points. We have mostly abandoned commas, periods and perhaps most importantly – question marks, for the sake of ridicule and blame.

It was a shocking moment when I first noticed this dichotomy in my environment. It felt uncomfortable and disappointing. How can God’s Church act in such way? How can he or she use that kind of language towards his or hers political opponent? It was an uncomfortable way of opening my eyes to the hypocrisy of Christians. Sadly, that was not the end of my unsettling. One more fact was brought to my attention, and this one was even more disturbing than the previous one. The discovery was that I am to blame for this as well. It is not the opposite political party to blame. It’s not all the other denominations that are guilty. It’s not the guy in my class arguing for all of those (in my opinion) heresies. It is me and my lack of civility, wrong use of politico-theological language, and attitude. Even more importantly: it is the lack of Christ’s radicalization of my character.

This is where, I believe, lies the heart of our dichotomy. We are blinded by our truth. We are so sure of our theological and political doctrines that we are willing to automatically cross out anything that doesn’t fit our perfect dogmas. We are so blinded by the truths we know (or we think we know) that we no longer see ourselves as a part of the problem. We unconsciously work for division instead of unity. We don’t even care about truth, if we truly examine ourselves. We care about winning! Outcomes of our discussions do not matter, as long as our ideas are the ones that prevail. As someone very intensely involved with philosophy I understand and experience that temptation. It is unescapable. It is such a powerful force that it easily blinds us to our own transgressions.

This brings us to a crucial question that needs to be addressed: “What do we do about this?” I don’t believe that there is a simple answer that would solve everything. I do not think there is some remedy that would make all of this ok. However, I believe there is a starting point on which we can base our approach. I see two things that can be done in order to start solving the problem:

1. We need to honestly challenge ourselves and examine whether we are a part of the problem. There are many questions that need to be asked. How do we treat our political and theological opponents? Do we ridicule and offend them, or do we treat them in a Christ-like manner? Do we honestly search for truth, or do we desire winning a debate? What are our motives for doing certain things? How do we make moral decisions and why do we choose to do “the right things? I don’t think it is enough to act in a moral way. I truly believe that the reasons behind our actions are of great importance. It is not enough to ask the questions and answer them. They need to be pondered on and we need to be closely engaged with our emotions and the deepest, hidden motives. If we truly believe that God sees our inner selves, we ought to concern ourselves with what God will discover.

2. As I mentioned before, being a Christian is not enough for God. In the Great Commission Christ didn’t command to make converts. God’s people were called to “make disciples.” Looking at all the things Christ said to different people in the Gospels, I believe that by “being a disciple” Jesus means complete radicalization of an individuals entire life – mostly radicalization and transformation of character. When people asked Christ about salvation and means of achieving it, he always gave seemingly ridiculous answers, like giving all one’s money and possessions to the poor (Matthew 19:21) or being born again – complete transformation of character (John 3:3), and other. I make three observations based on that. First is that Jesus is being serious. He makes those strange statements that seem unrealistic and quite ridiculous, but I truly believe that he is being literal. God expects God’s followers to be radicals. God is not satisfied with the right doctrines. God is not satisfied with “doing good or right things.” My second observation is that Christ always struck the most delicate chords. He expected his listeners to take an action that was most difficult for them to take. That means that God must become the most important thing in the eyes of a disciple. This can be achieved only through God’s work within him or her in changing the character of the individual. Even if we do “all the right things” and/or get our theology correct – it doesn’t mean a thing if deep down inside we are still the same person as we were before encountering God. Thirdly, Christ never really gave the same answer. God’s work within us looks different for everyone. There is no “recipe for a good disciple.” Jesus in his answers perhaps followed the general idea of radicalization, but his answer varied from person to person. Here lies the importance of faith and trust. We ought to believe that God is leading us the right way without knowing which way our path is taking us next.

Growing up, I had a privilege of observing one of the people I know that embodies this principle of radicalization. Reading through the list of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) I can’t help but think of my father, who exemplifies all nine character traits on the list. He is an example worthy of following. His character is of the most radical kind, astounding with dedication for the work of God on Earth. If anyone has placed Christ in the center of his or her life, it is my father. At the same time, we have our significant theological disagreements. For the sake of argument, lets for now assume that I hold the “correct” theories. Even though he is wrong, he “got it right.” Despite not holding the presumed truth he is closer to understanding the Truth, by being closer to God through allowing God to shape his character into the likeness of Christ. For God our character and willingness for God’s work within us is more important than secondary doctrines. As long as our fundamental creeds are in accordance to truth revealed in the Scripture, through reason and perhaps through questioned Divine revelation, God accepts our discipleship and allows us to follow God. 

At the same time we need to acknowledge the importance of “getting our facts right.” We have been given reason for a purpose – to use it. We have been created with a desire to know and understand. Solid theology is of great importance and we should think critically about the Scriptures and faith. We need theological and political debates. We should have them and we should argue in favor of our theories. But we will no longer treat our opponents in a way described above. Our motivations and methodology will shift. God’s way for us of discovering God’s truths is different than what we might expect. We ought to think about who we are supposed to become as followers of Christ firstly and allow him to work in radicalizing us as disciples.  The doctrines, dogmas, traditions are to be in the background. We ought not to focus on them, but on Christ and his example. We need to realize that we might be wrong in certain aspects of our theology. We need to follow Jesus, not our own theology. 

Need For Reason Within The Christian Argumentation

Myles was walking in the park when he met Jackson, who initiated a discussion about the dog accompanying Myles. The conversation escalated and they found some common interests which they were passionate about. They didn’t have much trouble connecting with each other. After a quarter of an hour has passed, Myles reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. Jackson stared at Myles with eyes wide-open.

“Oh I apologize” Said Myles, reaching into the pocket again “Would you like one as well?”

“Of course not! Why would you ask me such a thing?”

“Your surprised look suggested that my manners were flawed and I should’ve treated you to a cigarette.”

Jackson explained that his shock was due to the action of smoking a cigarette itself. After all, it was immoral, wrong and certainly not to be done in a public place. He obviously had strong feelings about this. Myles couldn’t understand why exactly it is such a crime to smoke a cigarette. Jackson let out a sigh and said:

“Because Mr.John said so”

“Who’s Mr.John?” Asked Myles

“What do you mean, ‘Who’s Mr.John?’; it’s obvious!”

“Not to me. I don’t know the person you speak of”

“Mr.John is the one who says that smoking cigarettes is wrong”

“I understand that Mr.John i someone very important to you. Why should I listen to him?”

Jackson got very annoyed with Myles’ question. It was painfully obvious, that he should listen to Mr.John. Everyone should listen to Mr.John! It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

“Because he says so! Mr.John told me that smoking cigarettes is evil and disgusting. Mr.John knows everything. If he says that something is bad – it is bad! If he says something is good – it is good! It’s just the way it is.”

Myles was still not convinced by Jackson’s attempt of persuasion.

“That doesn’t really answer my question. I don’t know if he knows everything. For example this cigarette. Can you tell me why Mr.John says it is wrong to smoke it?” He asked

“I don’t know that. But it’s obvious that it is wrong.”

“It’s not obvious to me.”

Jackson continued to talk about Mr.John and his admiration for the mysterious wise man. He explained how wonderful and good to everyone Mr.John is and how everyone should accept everything he says, because he can’t be wrong. Mr.John knows everything and is right about all things. Including the fact, that smoking cigarettes is evil. All this time Myles was growing tired of those claims and lit another cigarette. He couldn’t accept the fact that Jackson was pointing out his evildoing, but wasn’t able to present a single piece of evidence to support his claim.

“I’m growing tired of your words, Jackson. You claim I am doing evil by smoking, yet you fail to persuade me because you can’t show me any rational argument. You speak in a language I can’t understand. I don’t know Mr.John. I don’t know why you trust him so much. Why should I listen to you, since you don’t know me all that well and you refuse to give me any solid reason for the claims you make.”

“If you don’t listen to Mr.John it will end badly for you. If we stop listening to him, he will stop helping us.”

“Frankly, dear Jackson, I really doubt the existence of your dear Mr.John. He sounds too great for me. I think you made him up.”

Myles said his goodbyes and left. Jackson stood alone in the park for a while, calling out to his departed companion about the need for his repentance and trust in Mr.John but Myles was already gone. He left with a third cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.


Even though the story of Myles and Jackson seems to be exaggerated, I can’t help but notice that many Christian people act in a similar manner. Their religious beliefs are strong and unchallenged, so it becomes obvious to them that everyone ought to believe what they do. Consequently, they abandon any reasonable enquiry because all challenge to faith is (in their mind) equal to abandoning it. Before you accuse me of being unorthodox and unfaithful and close the tab on your browser, let me make two points: 1. I do not claim that having religious beliefs is wrong. I have those myself 2. I do not claim that those beliefs cannot influence your moral, ethical and political claims and attitudes. My own faith in Christ does influence what I think of the world in all of those areas.

Let’s look closer at Jackson. He has a strong belief that smoking cigarettes is wrong. The reason for this belief is that Mr.John told him so. For Jackson this is a legitimate reason, because he (apparently) knows Mr.John well enough to know that his judgement is good and his knowledge is sufficient. Jackson lives his life according to the teaching of Mr.John and he trusts his leadership; and apparently, it works out pretty well. The problem arose when Jackson met Myles. Myles had no knowledge of Mr.John (yet Jackson acted as if everyone knew Mr.John) and refused to take unsupported by reason advice based on an opinion of a stranger. And can anyone blame him? It would be wrong to do so. Cigarettes were calming and relaxing for Myles. He paid for them with the money he made and deserved them. Perhaps he was not aware of the health risks that come with smoking tobacco. He disregarded something that could’ve been a good peace of advice. He can’t be blamed for that.

This story sets a framework for current situation of religious people in a very diverse setting. With understanding that beliefs about God and spirituality are important, we need to realize that saying to somebody with a different set of beliefs “because God said so” as a final statement is wrong and quite insulting. There are two ways of escape from this problem. One of them is a devotion to massive evangelization. If ones beliefs are so strong that others ought to adopt them, he or she should make his or her life goal to convince everyone to Christianity. This is a legitimate course of action which I find very honorable, right and I fully support. However, I will not deal with this right now. I am not an evangelist nor a missionary. There is a second way.

The second way has a different approach. It comes from an assumption that we ought to do ethics as a community and our communities are very diverse. I don’t think I can personally convince everyone in my setting to Christianity. That’s why I abandon the first approach (notice that sharing faith is still important. Simply because evangelization is not my personal calling doesn’t mean I am not  willing to speak about and share my faith.) and take a different strategy: presenting reasonable arguments and engaging in constructive ethical enquiry with acceptance that not everybody believes what I believe. There is great importance in the fact that there is no in-between of those two approaches for all who want to take part in the public life and decision making while keeping their religious beliefs involved in those. One has to either evangelize or use reason when it comes to public matters (not to say that evangelization is unreasonable. It’s just a different approach that requires different methodology). If one believes that a maxim should be universalized and everyone ought to accept and adopt his or her opinion he or she has to present solid evidence for his or her claims and back them up with good argumentation.

The next question to ask is regarding argumentation. Argumentation is not ridicule, personal attacks, and limiting self to quoting the Bible (this one is quite tricky. It can be used as means of persuasion in some cases). If I believe that abortion should not be legal, I can’t just call everyone who had an abortion a murderer, post pictures with rhetorical questions, protest abortion clinics, and do all of this in the name of God. The reason why I can’t do that is very simple: I will look pretty ridiculous and nobody (except people who already believe the same things I do and don’t need to be convinced) will actually listen to me and give my words any credibility. I don’t think that’s a desired outcome. However, if I could come up with good arguments why it is wrong, what are the possible solutions and alternatives, my voice gains volume and can be heard. Perhaps if Jackson told Myles of the dangers of smoking, lung cancer, heart disease, Myles would realize the dangers and quit smoking. Sometimes that is not enough. If Myles was addicted and couldn’t quit even if he wanted to, Jackson could search for alternatives to smoking, other solutions and genuinely try to help his new friend. Instead, Jackson kept being shocked and treated Myles as an inferior, because he didn’t know Mr.John. As the story ends, we see how pointless their discussion was. It only made the matters worse.

With all of this said I will point out how does this approach defend Christianity. Unquestioned beliefs lead to fundamentalism, which leads to fanaticism, which leads to often horrible consequences (we can ask history to teach us of horrible atrocities committed by people of great faith, but lack of reason and questioning). If the believer is challenging his or her beliefs, chances of making great mistakes are significantly decreased. If for some reason he or she gets the belief that God gave him or her a revelation which (in his or her understanding) seemed to suggest that he or she should do something immoral, he or she will question such belief and eventually will come to his or her senses and understand the truth behind the revelation instead of accepting it uncritically. Reason and critical inquiry can in fact save souls.

When we want to present the public to our religious convictions, we can’t assume anyone will listen to us because we know Mr.John. We can either introduce them to him or argument our beliefs. However, this doesn’t mean we should leave our Bibles somewhere hidden in a dresser. Bring your Bible to the public. But bring also reason, respect, good thinking and self-criticism. This is especially important to Christians, who make resembling Jesus their priority. Key to this is humility and honesty. There is no humility and no honesty in fundamentalism. If anyone truly believes and wants to universalize his or her maxim, he or she will treat diversity seriously and try to overcome it by the use of respectful debate based on critical thinking.

Stopping the non-intentional, cultural suicide

So you go to college?” They ask me.

“Yes. I study at George Fox University

Ooh that’s cool. How do you like it?” I hear the second question.

I love my education. My professors are great and my classes are not only interesting, but very thought-provoking. I learn a lot of great stuff.

That’s lovely. So what do you major in?” That is the big question.

I study philosophy – the mother of all sciences!” I answer loudly with my head held up high with pride, for I study the greatest issues of humanity and the greatest thinkers in history.

The question makes me pause. I feel my heart beating a little bit stronger and I see their eyes awaiting my answer.

“Well… *philosophy*” I mutter in return, hoping that this will end the conversation about my education. But it never does.


They say philosophy is dead. Stephen Hawking says philosophy is dead. And yes – there are very few philosophers out there and there are not many people studying it. It seems as though natural science and computer science took place of philosophy in our times. Our civilization prospers in it’s technology, understanding of the natural world and it’s rules. We have more knowledge then ever before and all of it is available for the common man (via internet). We can predict weather. We can send people to jump from the stratosphere (Felix Baumgartner; Alan Eustace). We can heal medical conditions with use of lasers.  If you take a minute to ponder over that you will be amazed by how far we moved forward as species in a very short time.

Stephen Hawking looks at that development and makes a statement in his book, titled “The Grand Design”: “…philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” (2010) We are all entitled to our opinion, and so is Hawking. However, one look at the world we live in will leave no shadow of doubt that even with our advancement of technology, we have not grown at all socially and mentally as a culture. We have changed in some ways, obviously, but change is not equivalent to growth. The greatest things we created are also our greatest enemies. The technology we have is being misused. If I met my ancestors and told them about the internet I can bet that they would be in awe of all the information and knowledge available by a simple use of a few buttons. What we use the internet for instead, is watching video clips of silly cats, post the exact same pictures of ourselves (yes, all selfies are the same. I’m sorry it’s true. And yes – I have posted a selfie in my life.), argue with complete strangers about things that don’t even matter, and some of us use it for cyberbullying, human trafficking, illegal means of transactions etc. As human species, we posses great power to improve life on Earth not only for us, but for other species as well. Instead, we harm our planet and caused extinction of hundreds of animal species in the last 500 years, bringing instability to our ecosystem (Viegas, 2014).

It is true that philosophers are no longer the leading voices in our world. They are no longer respected. Nobody listens any more to their pointless and endless questioning of everything that is soooo obvious to everyone by now. It is also true that “scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.“The problem however, lies in the fact that they either did a horrible job of “bearing the torch” (less likely, for our knowledge is quite great) or one torch is simply not enough to light up the path of humanity. Philosophers are needed for ethical, moral, metaphysical and empirical guidance. Science searches for knowledge, whereas philosophy searches for wisdom. We have great knowledge, but we need to learn how to use it in a wise manner. It is not only necessary, but crucial for philosophy to be resurrected. There is great need not only for work of philosophers, but also for philosophical education in schools and at homes. Lack of action in this case is not only wrong, but immoral and irresponsible. To continue our advancement without philosophy in our schools, colleges, towns, countries, Earth would be a non-intentional, cultural suicide.


References:

Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam Books, 2010.

Viegas, Jennifer. “Humans Caused 322 Animal Extinctions in Past 500 Years.” DNews. July 24, 2014. Accessed August 27, 2015. http://news.discovery.com/animals/endangered-species/human-caused-322-animal-extinctions-in-past-500-years-140724.htm.

YOLO Generation, Problem of Ignorance, and Why We Need Philosophy in Schools

Many of my friends know my opinions about humanity and people born in the year 95′ and later. The era of technology, internet, computer games and leisure has depraved my generation from many learning experiences. My ancestors had experienced hardships because of World War 2. My parents suffered poverty of communism. Many people older than me built Poland anew, raising it up from the ashes of socialism. People in other countries also worked hard for their well-being. I am not saying those things, such as the war or communism, were good. But I can look at those people and see how it shaped them, taught them hard work, humility and thankfulness for what they have. My generation and especially people born after me (I still saw at least partly the struggles of post-communistic country) have not experienced anything even close to real difficulty. They never had to fight for their rights and everything was always handed to them. The largest accomplishment of an average middle school student is often how many people he can kill in a video game. The creation of false accomplishments brought terrible consequences. Of course that is not everybody. I know there are still repressed groups and people with many hardships. I am talking about the majority (especially in Poland, since I am most familiar with that setting). We raised and are a part of a generation, that lives by the rules of swag and YOLO (You Only Live Once: Twisted Carpe Diem for teens). Kids think life is a consequence-free space, which permits everything because for them so far it has. You feel like doing something? – YOLO! Is disrespecting authorities a good idea? – YOLO. YOLO is the answer to everything.

When I stumbled upon the dilemma of choosing which secondary school I should attend, I had no idea that my first choice was offering philosophy classes. It was a coincidence. When I learned about the offered course I was very glad and looked forward to it very much, and so at age of 16 I was introduced to philosophy, it’s main concepts and to some extent equipped with tools towards further study of the subject. The sad part is that only a small part of polish high school students have such a privilege (for studying philosophy is in fact a privelage). Most schools do not offer a whole course in philosophy and only integrate parts of it in a Polish language course. The very few schools that do include a philosophy class, offer a very brief curriculum that lasts for only one school year. Students are taught how to write properly, how to read literature, how to do mathematics and how to behave. What they are not taught is how to think. Do not mistake “what to think” with “how to think.” The difference between the two is simple. “What to think” sentence ends with a period. “How to think” sentence ends with a question mark.

People don’t think, because they don’t know how to. People tend to focus on what lies on the surface, rather than on the innermost essence of the subject in question. It’s like treating the effects of disease, but not the disease itself. You can’t get rid of a brain tumor with pepto-bismol. Nausea is only one of the things that lies on the surface of the real problem. The goal of “how to think” approach is to tear down everything that is on the surface that might distract from or stand in the way of the real issue. Similarly to medicine, philosophy seeks to deal with the things that really matter. Philosophy is called “mother of science” for a reason. It deals with the very core of humanity and our situation. Truthfully, study of philosophy is dying. In the name of progress it is forsaken and replaced by other things (mostly natural sciences). I am not saying everyone should suddenly forsake their college majors and switch from bio-engineering to philosophy. Instead, we need to teach young people philosophy in schools, while they are still an empty canvas, waiting to be painted on.

Unlike our ancestors, our young generations lack the basic knowledge and skills that philosophy offers. Since most of us couldn’t be taught those things through experience, those younger than us should be taught at least in theory. That is philosophy. Philosophy being derived from the greek word philosophia means “love of wisdom.” Truth be told, nobody cares about wisdom anymore. Even knowledge loses it’s value in the eyes of our young population. Since they are not taught how to think, they no longer think. They are no longer taught to appreciate the gift of knowledge, so they don’t pursue it. Some do. But they are a minority, usually practicing those skills in solitude. Truth is that most people do not question anything they were taught. Not seriously at least. They learn different things and live on, gaining some kind of knowledge and experience. From my observations, people do not pay much attention to thinking well and interpreting facts and the world around them critically. Those who in fact do that are seen as strange nitpickers, hung up on insignificant details and silly things.

Philosophy teaches other things as well. Most precious lessons philosophy has to offer are humility, awareness of the human situation, logic, nonconformity, love for truth and many others. We need philosophy in high schools because without it we are raising a shortsighted generation of selfish ignorants. Do we truly want such people to rule our cities and our countries? Do we want them to build the future of our world? Perhaps I am wrong and time will tell, but may God save us from ignorance of YOLO generation. Can people that couldn’t use the wonders of technology, freedom and education responsibly and creatively be trusted?

The greatest thing we have to offer to the world is the next generation. Let us teach them humility. Let us teach them hard, intellectual work. Let us teach them responsibility. Let us teach them that actions carry consequences. Let us teach them nonconformity. Let us teach them dealing with things the hard way. Let us teach them appreciation of arts. Let us teach them that there is a whole world out there that needs fixing. Let us teach them hunger for knowledge. Let us teach them love for wisdom. Let us teach them philosophy

Is the Flash as Bad as the Reverse Flash?

Interesting blog post I encountered. As I was thinking about that questionable morality of “protectors of the law” who are “above the law” I had similar conclusions. This article gives a very clear explanation with a good example. Definitely worth reading.

A Philosopher's Blog

Professor Zoom Professor Zoom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

-Spoiler Alert: Details of the Season 1 Finale of  The Flash are revealed in this post.

Philosophers often make use of fictional examples in order to discuss ethical issues. In some cases, this is because they are discussing hypotheticals and do not have real examples to discuss. For example, discussions of the ethics of utilizing artificial intelligences are currently purely hypothetical (as far as we know). In other cases, this is because a philosopher thinks that a fictional case is especially interesting or simply “cool.” For example, philosophers often enjoy writing about the moral problems in movies, books and TV shows.

The use of fictional examples can, of course, be criticized. One stock criticism is that there are a multitude of real moral examples (and problems) that should be addressed. Putting effort into fictional examples is a waste of time. To use an analogy, it would be…

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Christian Love and Other Difficult Things

As I was trying to decide what topic to write about next, I kept stumbling across a very important and difficult issue. As difficult as it is, it is also a very important one (especially for Christians). Lack of understanding of our place and status in our homes, towns and cultures is a big cause of misunderstanding in churches and problems in our spiritual lives. We, humans, are social beings. We need not only to live well in our communities, but to understand who are we in relation to other humans that surround us. This is not an easy task.

Being raised in a family that was always involved in some kind of leadership in church, I learned that one of the main problems of the church is often lack of honest, Christian love in congregations. The difficulty lies in the manyfold nature of the issue. Firstly, you need to learn  Christian love as a leader. Secondly, you need to preserve this love in your life. Thirdly, you need to spill that love on the people in your congregation (or whoever you meet for that matter), and infect them with it. Lastly, you need to learn to not only understand and love, but also to deal in a godly way with people in the church that do not take part in Christian love. This is probably the most difficult aspect of leadership. “Difficult people” are ever-present in churches. My father, a missionary of many years said: “If you are called for church planting, prepare to have your heart broken.” This is very true for leaders, for their families and for whole congregations. The key lies in preserving genuine and undisrupted Christian love for others.

Growing up, I met many different people. However, there was one very specific kind of people that I kept bumping into. They were usually bald, wore sweats, went to the gym and tended to have very negative feelings towards me (even though I have never done anything to harm or offend them). From the manner of their language and behavior it is probably safe to assume, they did not have any regard for education, curtesy and social conventions of polite behavior. For no reason whatsoever, they would threaten me (sometimes physically), swear at me and try to spit at me. I wish I could say that I took very Christ-like action and after some time there was a happy ending to the story and now we are great friends. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. I would react in different ways. Sometimes I just kept doing my own thing in silence and leave, if possible. Sometimes I would swear back in anger. I did not understand how dare they feel superior to me. “Who gave them the right to treat others like that?” After a while I started to believe that I am the superior one because I don’t treat other people the way they do. I care about my education. I have goals for my life. I know more then they do. Maybe this is true. Maybe I do have more knowledge then they do. Maybe I care more about education etc etc. However, this doesn’t change the fact, that we are both created by the same God in the image of that God. No matter what I might think about them, they are still created and designed by the same God that gave me my life and to whom I owe everything. This is a very challenging thought. How can I be equal to people that laughed at me, swore at me, tried to hit me and humiliate me?

I think we (or at least I) tend to be very egocentric. That includes our relations with the Divine. The modern gospel places great pressure on “you” being in the “center of God’s attention”. This is true, but we tend to forget that it is also true for others, including those bald, angry men in sweats. As Christians, we should strive for the ability to see others through a different and radical perspective. That requires a lot of humility and spiritual understanding. I believe that the moment we become Christians is the moment when we no longer live for ourselves. We need to understand that we live for people like those, who hate us. We are called to love those who curse us. This realization is a very sobering one. Christianity is not about “feeling good.” It’s not about having our problems taken care of by Divinity. The most radical and true realization of a serious Christian is that he or she no longer lives for himself or herself. They are no longer our lives to cling onto. We live for Someone greater than ourselves. Someone who calls us for a radical life of self-sacrifice. We tend to forget that. We tend to remember that we are in the center of God’s attention, but forget that this comes with a certain amount of responsibility. It comes with understanding that we are the voice of God in the world that needs it desperately. That world includes people that hate us for many reasons. We are not called to swear back at our enemies, like I did. We are called to bless those who curse us.

I don’t believe that Christian love is something that just happens. I think it’s something that needs to be strived for and prayed for. We are required to put effort into our growth. Love is a practice. Even more: love is a difficult practice. The greatest difficulty is that even when it is not returned or even rejected, we are still supposed to show Christian love to the extent of being irritating with it, but not to tolerate injustice and evil.


If you are a person who doesn’t have hair, wears sweats or in some other way resembles the stereotype I portrayed, please do not be offended and know that I have nothing against you. All I did was present a certain experience with specific people I had in the past. I have nothing against people that wear sweatpants. It was an example.

Direct and Indirect Knowledge of God

When thinking about the topic for my next blog post, many different ideas came to my mind and many pressing topics seemed to be of utmost importance. I decided on sharing one of the essays I wrote for my philosophy class. I believe that interaction with the Divine is a good place to start when thinking about theism, religion, religious experience and such. Pardon my ignorance, for I do not claim to be an expert, theologian, nor a great Christian. I simply plan to share some of my experiences and hope for some ideas in return.

The methodology is very simple. I took a look at some of the Church Fathers, noted their words, compared and contrasted them to each other and proceeded into my personal examination. I do not claim to have authority, but simple experience in the struggle.


Interaction with the Divine is a complex process, which isn’t easy both to find and to explain. I spent my teenage years in search for it, asking people of authority questions, but nobody gave me an answer. When my search failed and God became unknown and distant, my faith came tumbling down and shattered into tiny pieces, which I could not put together any more. That’s why knowing God and knowing His presence is so crucial. Faith without any confirmation is empty and will not survive the test of time.

One of the Church Fathers  that grappled with this issue is Clement of Alexandria. He said: “The knowledge of the Son and Father, which is according to the gnostic rule… is the attainment and comprehension of the truth by the truth.” According to him, God can be reached by our reason and intellect. By contemplation and reasoning, we interact with the Divine directly, for God is truth, which is revealed through Himself. The mind was given by God as a gift, so that we may reach to Him through our intellect. The Divine not only expects us to use reason, but answers to those, who search.

Bonaventure seems to agree with Clement and adds even more to what has already been said: “…the [universality] of things is the stairway to ascend into God… This also relates to the threefold substance of Christ, who is our Stairway, that is the corporal, the spiritual, and the Divine.” The universality of things, which is the created world, is a pathway to God, for His essence is within. Practice of philosophy and contemplation on the creation ultimately leads to the One, who is within. We indirectly reach to God by being with the universality of things, and directly through Christ, who is God Himself. Bonaventure continues with word of the Divine Assistance, which is a light to those, who honestly search God.

St. Catherine is probably most radical within all the mentioned thinkers regarding direct knowledge of God and His presence. Even her writings are in the form of dialogue with the Divine. The mystical experience is for her the primary force of interaction. Catharsis through tears brings us closer to God, who reveals the Truth to us. Her relationship with God is very intimate and direct. There is no need for any kind of medium. Her focus lies on repentance, faith, humility and gratitude.

According to Tertullian and Thomas Aquinas, the Divine is reached in an indirect way. For Thomas (little bit like Bonaventure) God is seen through nature, for His traces are found within. God Himself is not present there, but His energy is. Through this, we can come to conclusions about Him and His nature.

Indirect knowledge of Gods’ presence can be seen through His works, revelation and our senses, according to Tertullian. “This same God is invisible, though we discern His infinite majesty in all His works, and whom we cannot touch, though represented to us by divine revelation, and united to us by this Spirit; and incomprehensible, though we come to some imperfect ideas of Him, by the help of our senses.” Tertullian claims that God is unknown and will remain as such. We can search for Him, but our judgements will be distorted and revealed to us only by the will of God.

Reading the previously mentioned thinkers, I grew to believe that God is for us to discover both directly and indirectly. This can be achieved through five means of interaction: observation (of nature; created world), intellect, faith, sense of awe and mystical experiences. All people have different predispositions for use of those, but all are important and required in the search for knowledge of God and Gods presence. I could never reach God by focusing only on faith or only on reason. I have tried many times and failed miserably. It is only by the incorporation of the five factors, that the goal may be achieved.

Most of the five are indirect means of interaction. Through faith, intellect and mystical experiences we are being with the Divine. Indirect knowledge of God requires a medium, such as the nature, other people or events in our lives. All of those are essential.