Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Lonely World

"We do not just live in the world. We live in a picture or vision of it: of how it hangs together and what it means" --King's College Chapel, Cambridge

The above quote is on a bulletin board on the floor that houses the Philosophy, Religion, and Bible departments of my college. The problem is, "we" might not be, by itself, right, but maybe "we each." You see, given our various lives, we each see a different world. I'm not necessarily saying that what is, for you, a tree may be viewed as a chair by me, nor am I advocating any kind of relativism. What I do want to say, however, is that you do not know what world others are living in, and, yes, they do not know what world you are living in, and each of these worlds is very different, some more than others. The more different one's world is from most people's worlds, the more alone they are likely to feel. This is the lonely world. The term is usually used in reference to solipsism. Here is why the problem of other minds even comes up: you are foreign. You are not merely odd, or strange, you are living in another world which I have never been to, and I do not know. Now, your actions may turn out to be relatively predictable, but you, yourself, as a person: you are often opaque.

That this bothers us makes me think that there is something wrong with it. That there is something wrong with it makes me expect that there is something to be done about it. What?

Given that the problem is with a lack of understanding of others' worlds, the solution would seem to be to learn how others view the world. Only another can tell you how they view the world, and it will be a garbled communication, since they are speaking their language, and you are hearing it through your ears. But, slowly, you may begin to see how they use words in their context. You may begin to understand their language and, in doing so, or in order to do so--the tasks are the same--begin to understand their context, their view of the world. And then, well, there will be similarities when you get right down to the basics. And when you believe that there is another who sees the world in a way somewhat like yours, at least enough that their world doesn't feel like it is out to destroy you, or at least enough to say that it is a human world, then you are no longer alone. Maybe their world is foreign, but maybe you will find that they are people too, valuing, caring, and getting frustrated. You are not alone in this world, you are not the only one who crashes hard into walls.

But they are different worlds, different views on the world. What you see makes you act the way you do. Do not say to another "that was bad" but rather "what makes that good?" Let them say for themselves, or find for themselves, if there is some reason they cannot say "it was good" if they must say "I guess I can't reasonably say that what I did was right." Maybe they say it was good, but that doesn't mean it was. I am not a moral relativist. If something is wrong, then there is some inconsistency somewhere. But everything is based on something. What do you see, that you did that? What does the world look like, what inconsistency have you missed, that you think that was an appropriate measure to take? How can I show you that the world is not the way you think it is?

There is more to be said, I suppose, about the love of God, and how we are not alone because Christ has promised to be with us always. About the power of the Holy Spirit which enables us to love others. About how great God is, and how he will protect us from mere harm, and how this means we do not need to worry about what others will think when we say "I see the world like this," and we think they will think less of us because of it. To love another is to care about what they do because you care about them, and that means that your care of them will not be changed by the fact that they do something stupid, or brilliant. Funny, I can talk about that without reference to God, but really, you have to care about something beyond yourself if you're going to care about anything for reasons beyond what it does for you.
And if you don't believe these things, maybe it makes sense not to let anyone know what your world is like: they might hurt you, they might hate you, they might just not care, and then you will know that at least his person doesn't care about you, just, maybe, what you do.

Here is the culture of the world--at least the western world now--your value is based on what you do. Is it surprising, then, that depression is as common as it is? There are other reasons, yes, but this is tied into our culture at a deep level. It creeps everywhere, even into churches: "having to be "on" at church exhausted me." (from this article). I can understand a certain amount of wanting to hide while being around a large group of people, and it is not necessarily a condemnation of the church to say that we aren't quite ready to share ourselves with everyone, but the church itself ought to be as willing as God is to let people be broken. If the exhaustion from having to be "on" at church is because the church isn't willing to let one relax, then there is a problem. We say that we are one body, that we are siblings. We say that we have fellowship with each other, but if it is really fellowship, then being "on," putting up a bit of a mask as it were, gets in the way. If you want to have fellowship, then let people speak their pain to each other so that each one can bear each others' burdens. Not just the little pains, the acceptable pains. I mean, not just the ones that our culture is okay with, like being busy, but also the ones that our culture is afraid of, that our church culture is afraid of. If I walk into your church and express doubts that what you are saying is true, are you going to dismiss me with easy, and unhelpful, answers? Or will you accept that there are hard questions which need to be wrestled with? There are things you cannot just say, but must show. Yes, show with words, but not just say. Express! Draw a picture. Show me, first, that you understand my questions, that you see what I see, then lead me from my world into a better, a more real world. Point to what I have not yet seen, do not just drop a Bible verse on my head. Do not just give me an answer, rather, lead me to it. And let me challenge everything you say and still be loved, not because of what I do, but just because I exist as one who, like you, values. Because God loved enough to send his son to save rebels, the church must love enough to let rebels come as they are, and let God change them.

The more you want your church to just "be good," the less it will be church. The more you want your church to know they are loved even when they sin in the worst ways, the better it will be. I cannot love if I have no notion of what it is to love, as you show love, others will see and imitate--show the love of God, and they will join you. Yes, you too will mess up, you will fail to love, but isn't that to be expected? Do you think you understand what it is to love? I know that I don't. I am irritated when others think they get this concept. Why are we bothered by constraining God who is love into a box, but we are fine with constraining what it is to love into a box? Go, in the love of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, under the sovereign protection of the Father, and love in the grace in which you are forgiven for your failures to love, and for you inadequate love. He loves you, and it does not depend on whether you love anyone at all... but you will.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Wittgenstein's Birthday

"I am certain that we will not understand [him] unless we feel some sympathy and comprehension for [his] persistent intention to change his whole manner of life" --Maurice Drury about Wittgenstein

"We tend to take the speech of a Chinese for inarticulate gurgling. Someone who understands Chinese will recognize language in what he hears. Similarly I often cannot discern the humanity in a man." --Wittgenstein
 "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." --the last line of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
"What can be shown cannot be said." --and an earlier one.
"to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life." --from his Philosophical Investigations

So often misunderstood, it seems reasonable to think that his native language has never been common.

What is the use of translating a text which speaks in a completely unknown language? This is more than simply to translate from one language to another, but also to make the context clear. There are some who live in a certain context which is so alien from how others live that, though the language is, at surface, the same, the language is itself quite different. The more different our contexts--our ways of life--the more different our languages. There is enough similarity to be frustrating, and some are lucky enough to have others who speak a relatively similar language, but then there are those who stand in the world and live in a way that is so different from others that the gestures others make about themselves look more akin to the kind which a dog makes by scratching at the door. Sure, the dog gestures toward what seems to be a desire to go out, but surely I ought to expect people who are like me to make more important gestures than that? You want to go here, do that, but so few even bother to scratch at anything of real value. This is what it is to be alone in the world: to find yourself among fools--"persons" who don't care about anything worthwhile. Or perhaps they do... but so often the gestures do not gesture right. They do not treat people as valuable, really. It is as if I were to say "I love cake" but never eat any, even refuse it when offered. People speak, but they do not show, and thus their speech is wasted. And these inconsistencies: at least dogs are consistent! People say one thing, but they lie. Do they care that they say one thing and show another? This at least would show that I am not alone, since I admit I fail to be consistent. But I hate that I am inconsistent, whereas so many laugh it off. Do you think it's funny? Do you think you are here for fun and games? Is that enough? You mock yourselves! Surely there is something that you value like nothing else, with awe and reverence? And yet these words fall flat in front of you, I could write them in Latin or Greek! Fear? You hate fear, but not because you understand it. Don't you think there is anything bigger than you? Something that could destroy you? Haven't you seen the pictures from disasters? If that is the only way to make you stop being chipper, happy without cause, then you are pathetic and shallow. Oh, be joyful, but have a reason! What can inspire joy in the face of such hideous evil but something on your side which may put even death in the position of having this hanging there over its head, able to destroy it. And if you can have joy, if such a thing exists, well, surely it could annihilate you several times over! Does it matter that it is on your side? That gives you joy, but the fear is still proper. If you never really fear, then you have no basis for joy. The exhilarating awe, that is fear and joy. Imagine holding a magnificent, sharp sword in your hands. Fear the blade! It cuts. It doesn't matter that you hold it, and how much more if all you know that the power is on your side. Maybe you don't like it. Maybe it will hurt you to keep you from getting killed. Don't you fear this power? Do you think it is on a leash? Do you think it is predictable? You can fear something even when you are certain that it is for your good. But you don't even know what a "solemn assembly" is well enough to even fake one!

This is the struggle, the frustration of one who looks out on featherless bipeds and hears about video games and movies and drama with no sounds of weeping or awe. No one is unsettled. No one is surprised in their cozy little happy worlds. And then it breaks. Because, if nothing else, we are all squishy mammals, and the world is certainly able to break in, and eventually does, and then you are crushed. Or are your worlds not cozy and happy? Well, then, don't lie to us. Weep, fear, show awe. Gesticulate madly and without thinking, show that you care about something beyond stuff and emotions in themselves! There must be something beyond those that underlie why you care about them. What is it?

So, why do you translate this book? Look: the Bible is utter gibberish if you don't understand the language. And they didn't have an easy time understanding it in its time: look at the disciples' reactions to Jesus. To understand the Bible requires one to see another way of life. One where people are valuable and God is awesome and sin is ugly and God is love. Well! "God is love"! That's easy enough, right? Hah! One might think it is simple because most people have given up trying to figure it out. "Love" Do you have any context for that concept? In the context of an awesome and magnificent and powerful God? Really? Explain! Show this context! Explain this way of life! Or is it rather like this: we cannot speak about this, but only show it? Well, then, how are we to start? To show a concept which no one can explain, we mimic the ones who have seen it. Ah, but has anyone really shown it? Who am I to follow? Jesus? What the Bible says he does is certainly expressing it, but this amounts to circularity: I do not understand this way of life. Is it not, rather, the case that I cannot do what must be done? We can show, sort of, what this love is, but in the end it takes another understanding the language and living in this way of life for us if we are to really get it at all.

Rough Sketch of Solution

I take it that a person is one who values. I am a person (I cannot help but be one who values). Because I have values, I must order these values: I must be consistent.

You gesture towards your mind. I must take that as either a gesture toward a mind or a lie. If a lie, I should stop using those gestures to indicate my own mind, thus, I take the gesture to be honest. Therefore I believe you have a mind.

There is more to it than this (what I have here given has certain gaps left in it), but I have little interest in writing it all out at the moment. What I have given seems sufficient to allow one at least to be able to take breaks from the problem, and this is all I feel the duty to do.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Love Your Neighbor

"Love your neighbor as yourself." What? How? I do not mean "what actions does that imply that I should do?" but "how is it even possible to love another as myself?" I know myself, or, at least, I feel like it. I have first-hand experience of things, and those experiences of my feeling such-and-such a way, of experiencing things in certain ways, those things are what I mean when I say that I am conscious. For simplicity's sake, allow the assumption that I love myself as a conscious being, when I love myself. Well then! How am I to love another as a conscious being? How can I even be aware that they are conscious? Am I going to experience what they experience? That would make no difference anyway, it would still just be my experience--my being conscious. If I experience their consciousness, that is just me experiencing consciousness, perhaps differently. What would it even mean to experience their being conscious--to experience their experiencing something?

The problem of other minds is a problem for Christians. If we cannot solve it, then this command is absurd, as is "Love God." If I cannot solve the problem of other minds, then what do I even mean by "God"? If I cannot show how it is that I am justified in believing that other humans have their own minds, how can I possibly show that I am justified in believing in such a mind that is so different than I am?

What is a mind? What do I love when I love myself as a conscious being? Even if I knew, what kind of evidence could I possibly bring to bear on the question whether other humans also have consciousness?

I am a valuing being, with values about those values (metavalues), and, perhaps, a way of thinking about things and values (one might add beliefs in here as well, but I actually think all one needs are the values with their metavalues). I do not come at the world with a fixed point of view, nor with an objective point of view. I value. Suppose all this constitutes a mind. Suppose that my consciousness consists in my metavalues, and values about the way I think about things and values. Very well, but what can I know about the existence (or not) of other minds? How do I know that you value? Is it merely self-reporting? You could be lying, although I might not want to use that word if you are not conscious. What then? Is the command "love your neighbor as yourself" absurd?

I present this as a problem greater than the problem of evil, and applicable to more worldviews. Shall we say that belief in other minds is a "properly basic belief"? Bravo! Why not call anything I can't prove one way or another a "properly basic belief"? My chair is conscious! What? Can you show me that such a belief is unjustified without showing how my belief that you are conscious is also unjustified? Shall we preach to furniture now, too? Ah, but they don't have ears. Our computers, then--the microphones should work well enough.

I could say that they act like me, and I have a mind, so they probably do. It is an argument from analogy, but really, how much like you do other people act? And if this is how you solve the problem, then you really ought to regard anything that acts like you to a similar extent as other people as having a mind (thus, if some robot were to pass the Turing test, you would have to consider it as having a mind). And what about people who don't act much at all like you? Really, is this not simply "they look like me, they act like me, so I like them"? What a selfish, easily prejudiced way of determining whether someone has a mind--if they are enough like me, I'll say they have a mind, if they are not much like me, I'll say they don't have a mind, and then, well, they aren't really people, so I don't have to love them. Monstrous! Or is there some way of showing that there is some particular thing to look for? Well, then, that isn't the same argument anymore, but good luck.

To love another as a valuer, and as a metavaluer, I must value, not necessarily their values per se, but that they value, or, perhaps more correctly, them as one who values. Well then, how do I know that anyone besides me values at all? And if I say that it is because of how they act, well: rocks fall, does that mean that they value obeying the law of gravity? Again: what allows us to distinguish between people, on the one hand, and computers with microphones, on the other, when we preach? There must be something, right? What? Metavalue? But computers could be said to have metavalues: a value implies some "act like this" a metavalue implies some "value like this" well, why do computers act like they do? That can be translated into a metavalue, whatever it is.

Certainly, love, or care about, the other person's facts. That is simple and easy to understand. What it is to love the person themselves, as a person: that is the trouble. Sure, I want them to act in a way that is more consistent with what they say they want. Do I want their good? I want their facts to fit each other and the world, but is that because inconsistency irritates me, or because I love them? It is simply that I want what you do and say to fit how I think the world is, given how I look at the world. I want you to fit into my world, but is that love? It may look the same. Am I doing it because I want to have a consistent world, or because I want you to have a consistent world? But the problem: for the second to be the case, I have to believe that you actually have a world such that its consistency is even able to be improved or doubted.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

An Existentialist Pro-Life Argument

To learn about the value of something, you must, in a sense, see the value of it. You cannot simply be told that it is valuable. Currently, the value of life is debated. Now, it is possible that someone may learn that life is valuable because of these debates, but they will not come to know life as valuable through reason alone. To know life as valuable, life must be seen as valuable--life's value must be seen. There is no place for arguing about the value of life, anymore than there is a place for arguing about the value of a car. Show me that the car runs, then I may see its value. If we disagree about values, then we disagree about where to look for values. Now, show me why an unborn life has little to no value? Where are you looking for their value?

If life has no purpose apart from the purpose that person gives it, then we cannot argue that any life has value before the one living it gives it value. Since Sartre, at least, people have claimed that our lives only have purpose insofar as we give our own lives purpose. But there is more, even in Sartre, than that. Sartre said that we, by our actions, choose a purpose for all lives. In Sartre's view, if I do something, I am claiming that what I did was a good action for anyone. By my living, then, I claim that everyone ought to live. Is it situational? Maybe, but what situation are you pointing to? Is life so worthless that you do not fight for it? I do not care what one thinks about whether people have souls, what I care about is whether they will be like you in any way. Do you think that because they will never be able to understand what you can, that they are less human? Or is it because they cannot do what you can? Well, then, may the PhD.s and marines, etc., live, and all others--incompetent as they are--be put to death. Do you think this is a strawman? It is not, it is simply shifting perspectives and shrinking the gap. You can argue that ordinary people can do things that PhD.s and soldiers can't, but then, are you sure I can't use that against the original argument?

Besides, are people valuable because of what they do, or because of what they show? The most incompetent person can show the worth of living, simply by their valuing their own life. If life is valuable because of what people do or understand, then people have most value in the prime of life, but we don't act like it. In December we showed that we do not value people by what they do or understand. We mourned when children died. Do you find value in possibility, in potential? But if we do not have value except as we make it, then we do not have value except as we make it, and we cannot make potential. You cannot know what a person might have achieved. You cannot assess a single person's value by their potential, only by what they have achieved. Maybe you use statistics? "only 0.1% of people born like this ever achieved anything." What an absurd statistic! How do measure whether someone achieved anything? What must they do? Invent something? Go to the moon? Become president? But children and idiots can change people's lives. If they are capable of life at all, then they can love people, and that can change people.

Where do you look for value? If value is found in fulfilling a purpose, then who are you to decide another's purpose cannot be fulfilled? If they do not fulfill a purpose, it is their own fault, according to Sartre. Either, at birth, a person's purpose is nonexistent, in which case why should any of us live? We all have the same claim to life at that point. Or, again at birth, a person's purpose is indeterminate, in which case how do you know their purpose won't be as simple as "to live"? There is a third option, that there purpose is determined, "to glorify God," but, in a materialist world, that cannot be allowed, and besides, it still doesn't give any reason to stop a life from existing.

When one is counted as alive does not matter. That one will be counted alive, if nothing gets in the way, is enough to count one as alive.

This all was triggered by this: but I should note that my tiredness of certain arguments against abortion (that the soul originates at conception, that it is murder, that it is an offense to the image of God in them, etc.), which ignore where the actual differences are, contributed to my actually writing it. The problem is that we don't agree about where to look for a person's value. From this arises disagreements about the value of fetuses, confusion about the value of various different kinds of people, confusion about what I am saying about your value when I say you did, or are doing, something wrong.

The love of God: independent of what we do or understand, but only dependent on his mercy in Christ Jesus our Lord, granting us to know his love and to depend on his grace to enable us to live in him. Our value is Christ, and if we cannot claim independent worth, then why should we look for some in others? Rather we look on them as justified--either, as we would rather, in Christ or by themselves suffering the justice of eternal punishment for sins in hell, thus having their guilt removed from them (once the eternal punishment is done)--this is to live in light of eternity: to accept that their sins will be removed by God, not by us, even if it is never completed, as is the case if they suffer the eternal punishment by themselves. Therefore, because it is God who justifies, we can love all others with his love. They are not now just, and will never be finally just apart from Christ, but one day they will receive what they deserve--either due to their own sins or Christ's perfection--and we therefore have no right to condemn them now. So, this is how we view value, and that makes a huge difference in where we look for the value of people, and that is why we care about the people who are, really like us, incompetent, deformed, idiots, poor, and helpless.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Some Solipsisms

Individualism is solipsistic. It assumes that I can act independently of others, i.e., that I can behave as if I am the only intelligent being and the world has all been made for me. Even christian individualism leads to the upside-down notion that God is all about me. Now, certainly, the statements that "Christ died for me," "God has a wonderful plan for my life," and so on are true, but to treat these statements as an individualist, i.e., as a practical solipsist, results in the false statements that "Christ died for my good," or "God has a plan for my life which I would like if I knew what it was." Which arise from denying that there are other people who God loves, and there are some things which God values, such as the good of others, which entail that a wonderful life will likely involve, humanly speaking, inconvenience to me. There is another sort of christian individualism, where God exists for me alone, and has no necessary bearing on how others live. This is equally solipsistic in that, in this view, I think of myself as the only religiously conscious being.

Collectivism is pantheistic (which is a sort of solipsism where the person being a solipsist is different from the one who believes the view). Where individualism assumes that I am a world unto myself, collectivism assumes that the world I live in is simply the world we live in. Not only must I act dependently on others, but I, and therefore my actions, are simply an extension of the larger whole. What I do is not so much what I do, but what the community does through me. I no longer really exist, except as given existence by the collective will. Because my existence is simply a matter of the collective's existence, I do not matter except insofar as the will of the collective is performed. Thus, my own happiness, success, values, etc., do not matter except insofar as they aid the collective.

Thus the question that arises is "Which one should we take?" But this seems likely to be a false dilemma: why not some kind of middle, or at any rate alternate, route? Thus the question is what that alternate route may be. I will not present my view in this post (largely because it is quite undeveloped), but I would point to the direction I want to look to begin. The church is called to be the ideal community (though until Christ returns she will do so imperfectly, just as we shall be imperfectly fulfilling our call to be holy until we reach heaven). Thus, whatever the church is called to be is what the ideal community will be. The church is one body with many members, and we are united in Christ, and thus we are to be one just as the Father and the Son are one. Thus, individualism is corrected by this oneness, but collectivism by this "just as the Father and the Son": just as God is three-in-one (God is not a solipsist), so the Church is to be many-in-one, and in this "many" I expect to find the corrective to collectivism.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Our Faith is not (yet) Sight

"for we walk by faith, not by sight." 2 Corinthians 5:7

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1

If we walked by sight, we would claim that what was seen was all there was to the world. I do not mean this merely in the naturalistic sense, but also in the sense that we can see the wrongness of the world. If we walked by sight alone, we would think that all the evil was unalterable--that it was irredeemable.

Faith does not say "All is right with the world," but rather "All will be right with the world." And it will, when our faith becomes sight; when what we now hope for--the redemption of all things--finally arrives, and becomes present for all to see. Until that day we have the assurance that the world has not yet ended--there is more to it than this--and what is to come is the reconciling all things to God, through Christ, the making all things right, to the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and therefore, for our good.

Faith implies joy, but it does not imply not mourning, rather, it implies eager longing for that day when every tear will be wiped away. In the present time, if the world were to simply end, then it would lie in contradiction, but we have a foretaste of the resolution to the contradiction in Jesus Christ our lord, who reconciled us to the Father in his body. Yet we await the fulfillment of this, when all will be made right, and until then we mourn the present state of things, pointing to the fact that something must be done to make the world right again, just as God says when he does in fact make the world right again. Thus our mourning is agreement with what God has promised to do. To mourn is to say "God ought to do something about this" just as he has promised to do, though perhaps no in our measly small way we think we would like.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Criminal's Wager

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43
Of all the people to ask for help... the guy dying next to you? And of all kingdoms to refer to... the one belonging to the guy who is dying next to you? And how did this criminal know that Jesus was the Christ? It looks like the stupidest request. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." 1 Corinthians 1:25. But in hindsight it was the wisest request, because, against all human odds, he was right: Jesus is the Christ, and was placed under the same sentence of condemnation that we justly deserve--it would be the due reward of our deeds--but he has done nothing wrong, he hangs in our place. This criminal did not see the proof, the resurrection, while he lived, yet he still trusted that Jesus was Christ.

Maybe it was because he had nothing to lose, but we are all in his position. What he said to the first criminal could be said to any who die apart from Christ "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." I don't know how much significance lies in that change from "you" to "we," but it is true that, by the end of this passage we know that, while the first criminal seems to remain under the sentence of condemnation for sin (though he may have been convinced by the second to repent, though I doubt it), the second has been saved from it. He would have been under it justly, except that Christ took it from him and bore it for him. The first said, "Save yourself and us!" It seems like a humanly wise statement--he will either sound like he is mocking him, or get out of dying! Very clever, but it is truly foolish in hindsight. Indeed, if Jesus had saved himself, he would not have saved us, but he bore our afflictions, saving us by his blood. The second criminal may not have realized all of that, but he did know that Jesus was who he said he was, and that Jesus was his only hope--even if he had no idea for what the hope was.

Here is one who lived a perfect life, which no one else could do, and who was punished like us, even though he did nothing wrong. Who else would you ask for help?