What Do We Believe?

What Do We Believe?

05.30.2019

Easter 2019

 

Advent 2014 this blog discussed over twenty-five various religions and spiritualties.  Of recent years there has been much debate regarding religion and spiritual beliefs.  Usually it is in the form of an opposing debate: religion versus spirituality.  I always find this such a debate a bit confusing because the religious explanation(s) of the universe are derived from the philosophies of various spiritualties.  Can one really separate religion from spirituality?

 

The country of India was the beginning of many religious traditions.  The early civilizations of India all contributed their own versions interwoven with their specific cultures but most shared similar basic concepts.  Today we know these as forms of Hinduism which believes in reincarnation.  The samsara spoke of the cycles of life – birth, life, death, and rebirth.  A person’s rebirth was based upon their living a good life and introduced moral philosophy as a basic part of religion.

 

Siddhartha Gautama was born in India during the sixth century BCE.  Better known by most of us as Buddha, he introduced the Four Noble Truths.  They included suffering, the origin of suffering, the end of suffering and the Eightfold Path to the end of suffering.  This Eightfold Path told one how to live a life of fulfillment and centered on the eight principles of right, mindfulness, right action, right intention, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, right speech, and right understanding.

 

Then a man known as Jesus of Nazareth was born and after living approximately thirty years began to spread his own version of philosophy around.  He claimed no great title or crown but neither did he seemed to be confused about life – its origins, its purposes, its ending.  He spoke of many of the same things Greek philosophers had wondered about and eastern spiritualties referenced.  Thus it is no surprise that the teachings of Christianity dominated the philosophical world in Europe through the first ten or more decades ACE.

 

Questioning was not forgotten, though.  The first noted Christian philosopher is considered to be Augustine of Hippo.  Augustine’s mother was a proud Christian but he himself at first followed Manichaeism, a Persian religion.  Intense and careful study of classical philosophy led him to his Christian beliefs, however.  He saw no divisiveness between his faith and philosophy and wrote “The City of God”.  In this book Augustine explained how one could live on an earthly place and also live in the heavenly world of what he called the kingdom of God, an idea he adapted from Plato.

 

While Augustine encouraged open thinking, he also warned against ego in one’s thinking.  “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”  All too often, we believe until it makes us uncomfortable or we believe only what we want to believe.

 

It is easy to believe in something that benefits us.  The true test comes when we believe in something that might not give us everything we think we want or should have.  “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.”  Augustine encouraged learning but lamented that many people saw this as an outward exercise, desiring only to learn about things and others, not themselves.  “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”

 

Taking time to study one’s self or one’s life is tough.  It truly puts the test of learning through its paces.  After all, it is always much easier to see the dirt on another than on ourselves.  I remember hearing a friend remark on her recent weight gain.  Having been ill, she stayed inside recuperating.  She knew rationally that her medications could result in weight gain but really had not given it much thought, that is until she needed to dress for an outing with friends.  “I stood in front of the mirror every day, brushing my hair and teeth, putting on a robe, etc.  Yet, I never noticed I had gained weight until my “going-out” clothes did not fit when I put them on!”  From her perspective, the added weight was invisible until she had her eyes opened by a zipper that would not close.

 

Most of us know right from wrong.  We know it is wrong to drive faster than the posted speed limit but sometimes feel our reasons warrant the infraction.  Many people feel they can tell when they are inebriated.  Sadly, the statistics on deaths from drunk driving prove most people cannot tell accurately.  “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”

Life is about growing and growth comes from knowledge.  Augustine himself explained life as a journey of hope. “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” We cannot allow anger in all its many forms such as grief and discomfort or fear keep us from taking courage to have hope and grow, learning with each day. After all, to quote Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”  We cannot allow anger in all its many forms such as grief and discomfort or fear keep us from taking courage to have hope and grow, learning with each day.  After all, to quote Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”

 

So we are now at the debate mentioned in our opening paragraph.  Can there truly be a contest of “Religion versus Spirituality”?  Perhaps the true contest is in whether we choose to believe in anything other than ourselves.  What is our true motivation in life…To do that which is good and just or that which gains us the most profit here on earth?  What and why do we believe?

 

Success, Superstition, Supposition, Sparkle

Success, Superstition, Supposition, Sparkle

05.29.2019

Easter 2019

 

Philosophy has been studied, debated, argued, and discounted then believed for over two and a half thousand years.  The twentieth century saw not only world wars but also great advances in science.  For years, science had depended upon the discoveries and truths of Isaac Newton.  The twentieth century had barely been born when a German Jewish physicist introduced scientific theories that were incompatible with the accepted knowledge based upon Newton’s ideas.  Hume and Locke had introduced thinking that mankind had just accepted certain scientific principles as truth without being able to prove them.  Einstein challenged scholars in mathematics and the sciences as well as the field of philosophy.

 

Einstein challenged both the knowledge and how it had been learned.  “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”  Accepting Newton’s science as certainty had led the world into the Industrial Revolution.  For Einstein to suggest and then prove much of it incorrect asked not only what knowledge had been gained but just exactly what knowledge itself was.  Einstein, the genius who had never excelled at school seemed to discount all earlier ways of acquiring knowledge:  “Only daring speculation can lead us further, and not accumulation of facts.”

 

Karl Popper was another Austrian and he spent a great deal of his life as a professor of logic and scientific method in England.  Popper realized that, although some theories seemed to work, they were still simply products of the human mind and as such, were subject to being incorrect.  “Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and, in time, corrected.”  Popper encouraged advancements; they might not could prove everything but some things could be disproven.  “All we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory.”

 

Benjamin Franklin once said:  “I didn’t fail the test; I just found one hundred ways to do it wrong.”  The history of philosophy has been a series of advances and failures but it should never be discounted because of those failures.  Mahatma Gandhi often spoke of the wisdom found in failure:  “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

 

Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Americans made to twentieth century philosophy was their attitude about failure.  After immigrating to the USA, Einstein was quoted as saying “Failure is success in progress.”  Other Americans have agreed.   American automobile maker and magnate Henry Ford defined failure as “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

 

Ancient philosophers believed that in answering their questions, they would discover the secrets to success.  What we have learned since then is that there is much more that we do not know than was ever imagined.  We have also come to the realization that not everything will ever be fully known since much will never be scientifically proven. 

 

The real quest now is not only the continuation of gaining knowledge but is acquiring patience and respect for all as well.  We need to continue to strive for success without experiencing a fear of failure that binds our living.  We need to realize that true success comes from living in kindness and effort, not in trying to make everything the same.  As Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

 

Philosophy has propelled man forward and, at times, been the basis for governments and nations.  Its value, though, remains not in what we know but in what is left to learn.  The French Voltaire one said:  “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.”   The real value of philosophy, though, remains not in the supposition or superstition but it what it teaches us, the doors that open and lead us to greater understanding of ourselves, each other, our world.  That is when the real sparkle of life becomes evident – when we recognize the value of each and every being within the creation that is our world.

 

 

 

Love in Action

Love Philosophy in Action

Easter 36

 

Mothers Day in countries like US, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Turkey, New Zealand celebrated yesterday, May 12th, 2019.  Saudi Arabia, Oman, South America, Bahrain, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar,  and the United Arab Emirates celebrated on the 10th of May, 2019.  In Ireland and the United Kingdom, it was celebrated on the fourth Sunday during the Lenten season.  Despite their history of animosity, Ireland and the United Kingdom today are one in celebrating that which we all have in common – being born from the body of a female.

 

I fervently hope that you had a loving and involved mother.  I hope that she taught you that you have value and that the world is a better place because you were born.  I hope that you felt brave enough to live and worthy enough to defeat your challenges in life.  Sadly, though, many do not grow up with their birth mother.  Countries have policies that deny a mother the right to raise all of her children.  Factions exist that see children as tools which denies both the mother and child basic human rights.  Children are seen as threats for the future and as pawns for someone’s personal delights and perversions.   Infant mortality is very much a problem in all countries, not just those with limited health care.

 

We should truly honor our mothers and their necessary part in the continuance of mankind when we honor the love and life that they represent.  We cannot live in a divisive society and honor our mothers.  We cannot tolerate terrorism and honor life.  We cannot hate our neighbor without hating their mother and that definitely is dishonoring all mothers.  I hope that yesterday you honored your own mother and the life she gave to you.  Whether you live in a nation that is celebrating today or whether you ever even knew your mother, please take time to give thanks and show respect. The question is not how good a mother we had.  The fact remains that without a mother, we would not exist.  A mother is philosophy in action.  To be a mother is love in action.  

 

We often forget, however, that we are all mothers – even those considered male.  You see, we all give birth to our thoughts and our actions.  We are, in short, the mother of our own lives.  Those lives are love in action – love for ourselves, our world, our neighbors.  Ask yourself these three questions.  How do I know what it is I think I know?  How do I live that knowledge and how is it evident in my every action?  Am I open to new knowledge?

 

“Philosophy begins in wonder.”  Plato’s words may not seem like a very good definition of philosophy but they actually are the core of what philosophy is.  The science of philosophy began the first time someone asked “Why?”  By asking such a question they were giving birth to the possibility of a better future.  In 1628 Rembrandt painted “The Two Philosophers”.  It is a rather simple painting with two men sitting and conversing.  One is holding a book while the other is pointing to something on a page of the book.  It is a visual definition of philosophy.  Discourse, questioning, and debating are the core of philosophy.  Unlike other sciences which need a consensus to arrive at an answer, philosophy thrives on the difference of opinion. 

 

When someone asks “What is justice?” or “What is freedom?” they are not just wanting someone to read words in a dictionary.  They are seeking an in-depth understanding.  The most important aspects of our lives need not only definition but context.  How do these concepts function in our being and living?  How can they be used?  Are there any dangers associated with them?  What other concepts are they related to and what are the implications of those connections?

 

The sculptor Auguste Rodin carved a man without clothing in 1880.  The man is seated on a rock and appears to be thinking.  Rodin’s sculpture, known as “The Thinker” is also a visual definition of philosophy.  IN the search to know what we know and to be able to verify what we know, we must first strip away all preconceived thoughts.  We must start our search for knowledge bare.  Philosophy demands that we have good reason for believing.

 

The artist uses basic facts and then intuition to present his/her vision in a new and novel presentation.  The theologian also uses known facts but then combines them with faith which cannot be proven; hence, the name.  The philosopher seeks perhaps through intuition and certainly using faith to not only discover and believe but to know why we believe.  “The business of philosophy is not to give rules but to analyze the private judgements of common reason,” stated philosopher Immanuel Kant. 

 

Aristotle believed “All men by nature desire to know.”  In our hurried, busy world, that may not still be the case.  It would seem that many are content to follow and to do so without knowing, without thinking.  Once thought to be a hallmark of adolescence, peer pressure has now extended to the masses of adults as well.  Anything trending is considered to be good.  This is why young people join terrorist groups.  They are seeking community but also acceptance.  It is also why people shy away from their own personal preferences and instead “go with the flow” in fashion trends, popular car models, etc.

 

What if the world of advertising suddenly took on a new client?  What if every advertisement had to include something humanitarian, something of benefit to all mankind?  Nepal was the victim of another earthquake within the past twenty-four hours.  What if all advertisements for fast food restaurants today included ways to help these victims?  What if every magazine advertisement for make-up included a self-affirmation to be happy in one’s unique image?

 

 

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes might very well have been the man to whom we can place the blame on materialism.  “The value or worth of a man is, as of all things, his price.”  Hobbes believed that physical matter is all there is and explained everything using matter in motion.  “Words are wise men’s counters, but they are the money of fools.”  Hobbes mechanistic philosophy was not completely accurate but it served great purpose in future developments.  He saw mental processes as movements of matter inside a person’s skull.  Though incorrect, this set the stage for new ways of thinking.  Hobbes introduced the theory of a physical basis for mental thought which is accurate.  Thinking is not just an abstract; physical connections occur.

 

Considered a genius, the writer, art critic, and editor Denis Diderot once said: “The first step towards philosophy is incredulity.”  I would add the first step towards living a full life is incredulity as well.   When we allow ourselves to consider new thoughts, we give birth to new opportunities.  We become the mother of our own future.   Philosophy on paper is interesting but, as Hobbes said, they count for little until they become action. 

 

Today, as you go through your busy life, take a moment to recognize the incredulity in your steps.  Just as you honored the physicality of your birth and the woman who made it possible yesterday, honor your own future today.  Enjoy the philosophy of being alive, of living, of knowing you are present in the moment.  Even a small pebble can hold a world of mysteries if we but look and wonder.

 

May Day – A time to Bloom

Bloom Where and When You can

05.01.2019

Easter 2019

 

Today is May Day, a day historically set aside to celebrate spring and flowers as well as being a day to recognize Labor Unions and the common worker.  It is also less than twenty-four hours after yet another school shooting, this time at the University of North Carolina, United States.

 

The following is an excerpt from an article in the Fort Worth (Texas, USA) newspaper “Star Telegram”, written by Deanna Boyd.  Names have been omitted due to the age of the individual at the center of this article.

On Oct. 4, 2012, [X] called 911, telling a dispatcher, “Uh, I just killed my mom and my sister….”I felt like they were just suffocating me, in a way,” he told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the 911 call. “Obviously, you know, I’m pretty, I guess, evil.”

Responding Parker County deputies found [a woman] and her daughter dead of multiple gunshot wounds inside the house on [XX] Lane in [subdivision and town].  The young man was arrested at the scene.  In a written statement, he told investigators that he had devised a plan to kill several family members after watching [a] remake of the movie “Halloween,” in which a boy murders relatives.

“While watching it I was amazed at how at ease the boy was during the murders and how little remorse he had afterward,” [X] wrote in his statement. “I was thinking to myself, it would be the same for me when I kill someone.”

Sheriff’s officials have said [X]  used a gun stolen from his grandfather, a retired Fort Worth officer, to commit the slayings.  [X]  told investigators that he had intended to later kill his grandparents and two other sisters.   But after the slayings of his mom and sister, [X]  — in a state he described as “very shocked and scared” — instead placed the gun on the kitchen counter and called 911.

“I know now though that I’m done with killing. It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

We think we know so much and especially as young adults and teenagers, we can be intensely certain that we think we know something.  Philosophy is about the “knowing” but how do we know?  Sadly, many cult leaders never give their followers the chance to reflect upon their actions.  These misguided young people searching for knowledge and truth are sacrificed for the greed and egos of others.  At a time when so many are resorting to violence as an answer, we need to stop asking when will then killing stop and start asking what are these young people thinking.  Philosophy is about the search for knowledge and it is a search conducted without a great deal of physical action, just mental.  For that reason, many disdain it and consider it, to borrow from Shakespeare, “much ado about nothing”.  Some say that about spiritual sects and religious denominations and faiths.  We study to prevent knowledge from passing us by, from slipping through the hours of our living.  The ancient philosophers saw the world moving on and asked why.  We need to question our daily actions in the same way.  Did what I do yesterday have value?  Did I connect with another, friend or stranger?  Was there a purpose for my being?

 

There is no one hard and fast rule that will be sufficient as an answer.  The religions of the world usually claim love to be the answer but how do we live a healthy love for all?  We will each have our own answers and paths of both learning and exploration.  The future is, after all, ours to construct and write.  Hopefully, we will connect with others and thrive.  Hopefully, others will look back upon their connections with us and be thankful for them.  Mostly, though I hope you never feel what this young man has felt.  “It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

A common meme that has been around for decades is the admonishment to “Bloom where you are planted.”   Mary Engelbreit, a children’s author and renowned illustrator and artist, is often credited with this saying but it predates her.  Some claim the phrase is Biblical and cite Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14 but it never actually says we should bloom where we are.  Others claim that was the intention of Paul in his writing to the church in Corinth, the text of which is found in 1 Corinthians 7:17.

 

The advice is good but is comes more from common sense than from spiritual or religious teachings.  What about the saying thrive to survive.  Often people ask if they are merely surviving or if it possible for them to thrive.  In writing for the website The Chopra Center, Tamara Lechner suggests that “There is a fundamental difference between thriving and surviving. Surviving means, “to continue to live or exist,” while thrive can be defined as “to grow or develop well, to prosper or to flourish.”

 

In many countries surviving is a difficult task.  Is it possible to break out of the mindset of survival mode to thrive?  Lechner offers this advice:  “Thriving happens when you have a life of purpose, vitality, connection, and celebration. This isn’t tied to a specific salary, job title, type of car, or relationship. Material possessions are not part of the recipe to thrive. Follow these four steps to stop surviving, and start thriving.”

 

Life is not about being haunted.  Life is for living and living for the best outcomes for all of mankind.  Enjoy today.  It is the first day of the month of May and, in many areas, the true first day of spring.   Live your faith.  Exist, believe ,rejoice.  Mostly, I hope you smile – at another but also at yourself.  When we seek to thrive and help others do the same, then we have a much brighter future, one in which everyone has a chance to bloom, grow, and flourish.

 

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

04.29-30.2019

Easter 2019

 

Is the state of gaining knowledge a synonym for being live?  A comment I hear from time to time is “You talk quite a bit about “living” and “everyday living”.  Isn’t philosophy or the study of philosophy just … living?”  Another comment asks how I can discuss religion as if one size fits all.  Both are great questions.

 

Aristotle considered philosophy not a study of the parts of reality but a study of reality itself.  For example, the parts of reality might be the study of math or music, politics or history.  Reality is the existence and properties of things, their changes, causalities, and possibilities; reality is about the time and space of the here and now.  He called this “first philosophy” metaphysics as previously discussed based upon the Greek words “meta” meaning beyond and “physica” meaning physical.

 

The question implies that we gain knowledge just by being alive, by … being.  Those struggling to find food and shelter in the aftermath of earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. often find themselves in a struggling state of being.  We learn a great deal from such survivors and marvel at their tenacity and resiliency.  Certainly they are giving life their every bit of effort.  By doing so, are they also gaining knowledge?  Those participating in riots or who create mass shootings are also putting energy and effort into their behavior but do we really think they are “learning” just by their doing?  Perhaps a better question is what are we learning in the aftermath of such events?  We must gain knowledge if we are to prevent them from becoming as commonplace as they currently are.

 

Aristotle maintained that there are five “predictables”, five common ways that we discuss a subject or object.  We can define the object very specifically [Aristotle referred to this as the species]  or we can discuss it in general terms [the genus].  We can notate what distinguishes it from other objects [the differentia], what makes it unique or special [propia], or we can discuss it by discussing things that are not like it [accidentals].  Philosophy instructor Dr. Maxwell Taylor illustrates Aristotle’s Predictables with one of my most favorite musical instruments and shapes – the lowly triangle.   For instance, a triangle is specifically a three-sided figure or in general terms, a shape.  It is different from other shapes by its number of sides and its properties are varied in that the sides can be of differing lengths.  Perhaps the easiest way to describe a triangle is by comparing it to shapes it is not like, starting with the fact that it is not a rectangle, square, diamond, or rhombus.

 

The definition of something is that which makes it what it is.  Aristotle called this “horos” which means definition.  Porphyry called it “eidos” which means forms and Boethius called it “species” to imply an object’s specific essence.  Both the survivors in Nepal and the protestors in Baltimore are living but their manner of form of living is very different.  Still, both groups are living and that fact would be classified under the “genus”, that part of the two groups that, although very different, they share in common. 

 

The genus is the general things found in common with other things that are otherwise different.  Perhaps an easier illustration or analogy is that flowers would be the genus and roses, daffodils, tulips, and lilies would be the species.  Not all species are the same, however.  Some roses are climbing vines while others are bushes.  Some flowers have specific number of petals while others have fewer or greater number of petals.  This would be the differentia.   

 

Things can become a bit involved, however, when we start discussing the “propia” or properties of an object.  The general population in Nepal is not accustomed to great wealth or lavish luxuries but the current conditions in which they are living are very different from those of some of the protestors in Baltimore, residents of the area who also live in abject poverty and sometimes deplorable conditions.  The destruction of businesses in Baltimore will leave some of the area’s residents homeless, although not homeless like the survivors in Nepal.

 

It is easier to use our analogy of the triangle; the properties are easier to explain.  We’ve already mentioned that a triangle’s form or definition is a three-sided object.  The genus would be that it is a shape.  The differentia or differences between triangles is determined by the angles within the three-sided shape.  Where the three lines of a triangle meet, angles are formed.  Those angles differentiate one triangle from another.  The specific angles are the properties of the triangle and there are six different types of triangles but do not make the object any more or less a triangle.

 

As I have noted before, triangles are one of my most favorite shapes and also musical instruments.  The tone of the instrument can be affected by the type of metal used which affects the number of vibrations, the number of overtones and the sound that reaches your ears.  The type of beater or mallet used also affects the tone as does the manner in which the triangle is hung or held.  Most musical triangles are equilateral triangles, having three equal sides, although they come in varying shapes.  Almost all musical triangles have the same basic pitch and skill in playing is determined by physical dexterity in handled in the beater as well as knowledge of acoustics.  None of those things change the type of triangle being played or its general properties or its basic definition.

 

In addition to the equilateral triangle with three equal sides, there are five other types of triangles.  An acute triangle is one with an angle less than ninety degrees.  A right triangle, fittingly enough, contains a right angle or an angle of exactly ninety degrees while an obtuse triangle has an angle greater than ninety degrees but less than one hundred and eighty degrees.  An isosceles triangle has two sides which are equal while a scalene triangle has no sides of equal length.  These are all properties of a triangle but there is still yet another way we might describe or refer to a triangle.

 

Imagine if you will a page of triangles.  The can be of varying types and sizes, some alike while others are different colors.  I might ask you how many are isosceles triangles or how many are acute triangles.  Either one of those questions would be answered by using something specific to the triangle or its classifications.  What if I asked how many were black triangles or red or yellow?  That response has nothing whatsoever to do with any specific aspect of the triangle but rather its color.  Other things have those same colors – a box of crayons, a row of pants or sweaters, or even the flag of the state of Maryland, a flag proudly displayed on the law enforcement vehicles burned and overturned by the protestors in Baltimore.  The fact that same of the triangles were red, black, or yellow has nothing to do with the definition of a triangle; it is simply another or accidental part of their description.

 

How can we apply these “Predictables” in our own philosophy of being, in our own living?  Certainly all of mankind shares some things in commons.  First of all, we are all mammals… but so are cows and dogs and cats.  Man is known as “homo sapiens” or “wise being”.  We have two genders present at birth, although that is being challenged in both life and the court systems around the world.  We also have different ethnicities and races, often noted with adjectives denoting one’s skin color.  Some use these latter descriptive types to denote value or worth or even potential.  In some countries, cows are more revered than women; people are discriminated against or profiles based upon their skin color or even eye shape.

 

The study of philosophy gives us an argument for being.  With it, hopefully, we can learn that existence is living and living means potential.  A triangle is no less a triangle simply because it has three equal sides or no equal sides.  A green triangle is just as much a triangle as a red triangle.  Lives matter – black, brown, red, or white.  You may consider someone damaged or different but it does not change the fact that they are alive, they have value, they matter.  Each and every human being, as with all life, deserves respect.  What may seem out of place to you fits perfectly for someone else.

 

The value of living is reason enough for us to give it our very best efforts, to give all of mankind our very best efforts.   Aristotle noted: “The value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” 

 

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

04.25.2019

Easter 2019

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Five years ago   the Nobel peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, Malala Yousafzai,  because she dared to follow her dream to learn.

 

In the Christian tradition the fortieth day after Easter is known as Ascension Day.  It is the day Christians celebrate as being the day of Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could they believe that a man could be crucified, buried, walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms and he lived five centuries before the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church in the form of the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion and their beliefs can be understood.  These invasions unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  Yet, do we live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”

 

I fear the real truth is much simpler and in its simplicity, much more complicated to live.  We cannot spend time on this earth without affecting it.  We occupy space and the air we inhale and exhale affects our environment.  We all have a carbon footprint and that also affects the future.  How we gain in knowledge is really up to us.  That is the simple part.  The complications arise when we live or fail to live our beliefs.  We do make a difference by being on this planet and we will either leave it a better place or worsen it.  The future is the fruit of the seed of our actions today.  What will you decide to do?  How will your curiosity lead to greater knowledge?

 

 

Are We Real?

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

American author and artist James Thurber once stated:  “Philosophy offers the rather cold consolation that perhaps we and our planet do not actually exist; religion presents the contradictory and scarcely more comforting thought that we exist but that we cannot hope to get anywhere until we cease to exist. Alcohol, in attempting to resolve the contradiction, produces vivid patterns of Truth which vanish like snow in the morning sun and cannot be recalled; the revelations of poetry are as wonderful as a comet in the skies, and as mysterious. Love, which was once believed to contain the Answer, we now know to be nothing more than an inherited behavior pattern.”

 

Thurber would probably not be pleased that I am considering him a philosopher.  Born in Ohio and raised in both Virginia and Ohio, Thurber had a rather typical early twentieth century American boy’s childhood.  Not so typical was an injury he suffered as a child when an arrow of his brother’s resulted in Thurber being blinded in one eye.  He worked as a journalist in Ohio after attending but not graduating Ohio State University and then moved to New York City where he obtained a position on the staff of ”The New Yorker” magazine.  Thurber become known for his cartoons of animals and his drawings of dogs soon had their own career on pages of periodicals, newspapers and books, often watching strong-willed women and seemingly weak men.

 

Thurber once remarked “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people–that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.”  Many enjoyed both his drawings and his books, of which there were more than just a few.  Often people saw themselves on the pages of Thurber’s drawings; always they saw their neighbors.  Few took offense, though, knowing that Thurber was pointing his pen not only at them but also himself.

 

“There but for the grace of God go I” is an idiom attributed to Anglican priest James Bradford.  It is also a paraphrase of the scripture found in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:10.  That the quote in English form is also attributed to a Roman Catholic priest is no surprise and quite fitting given Bradford’s life.  Ordained an Anglican priest shortly before the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne as reigning monarch of England, he was later imprisoned and hung for his beliefs.  Bradford preached of the connectivity of mankind and saw himself in the face of the lowest of it.  Mostly, Bradford saw each man has a reflection of another except for perhaps life’s circumstances.  He advocated spreading good will not judgment.

 

However you might define reality, we are real.  If you doubt that, get a hammer and bring it down intensely upon your finger.  I really doubt you will question the pain experienced.  Life is transitory but the travails we experience are very real to us.  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  Elie Wiesel was referring to events leading up to World War II specifically but his words ring true for everyday living.

 

We are not only real, we are connected one to another.  A couple of years ago after a natural disaster, Face Book began running a streamer at the top of personal pages giving ways people could contribute to charities helping the victims of the earthquakes in Nepal.  Some people have protested this, good people with no motive for malice.  “Wouldn’t it be better to help people in our own country?” was a common response people posted on their own pages.  “Why do we have to see this ticker about giving to Nepal?”  The unspoken meaning here is let the Nepalese help themselves while we help our neighbors.

 

That is a great thought except for one thing – Nepal was a country in dire straits even before the earthquake.  The victim of countless regimes whose only purpose was personal greed, these “live and let live” people were in abject poverty before nature took its revenge on them.  How can someone with nothing have their lives and homes literally upturned by seismic events then pull wealth out of their empty pockets to “help themselves”?

 

Every country has its poor, its disenfranchised societies.  For many, these populations are simply uneducated, sometimes on purpose based upon gender, and/or the wrong ethnicity, again the victims of deliberate discrimination.  Sometimes these populations suffer from illnesses that are not fully understood or greatly feared.   No one country has enough money given to completely render all needed assistance to these groups.

 

Tragedy is forever with us.  The tragedies in Sri Lanka this past weekend are evidence of that.  With the complexities of weather systems and the natural disasters we face, mankind has decided to up the ante and make staying alive even harder.  People are being led by fanatical zealots as well as greedy politicians to kill themselves and take with them, hundreds of innocent victims.

 

Reality may be a word that means different things to different people and sadly, many feel they are invisible and that their lives do not matter.  Another thing all countries share is that somewhere today someone will take their own life.  In spite of a number of terminal illnesses, accidents, and crimes that will result in death, people will feel their own personal situation has no meaning and is just a riddle too hard to contemplate resolution except by death.  TO not give others a chance to live must surely be among the most heinous of crimes.  People are dying simply because they were engaged in living.

 

Einstein might have been correct when he said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  I prefer to believe that human stupidity is reversible, though.  Another in common is countries where children and adults wear socks is that, at some point, one will end up with a mismatched sock.  Seeming to defeat the laws of physics, one sock will magically disappear.  Once during an epic spring cleaning, my spouse and children put all their mismatched socks into bags.  The final count was an even one hundred pairless socks.  Of course, once the socks were all laid out, pairs were found or someone remembered the puppy tearing a sock up, etc.

 

Just as our socks were real, the mystery of the disappearance of their matches had resolution.  For an hour, said spouse and kids enjoyed making up stories about the disappearances.  Their imaginations took flight and they did indeed come up with delightful tales.  In fact, I think at least still imagines at least two socks are orbiting the earth as I type today!  The reality was far less exciting and entertaining but resolution was found.  We did not find all the socks but those that remained single became adorable little snowman figures (comment here and I’ll send you the instructions for this craft!).

 

James Thurber felt that love was simply an inherited behavior pattern but I would differ with that sentiment.  Love for ourselves and one another might just be the answer the world needs to exist.  Surely it is the one way we can prove we are real, we are alive. 

 

Man is real.  We have solutions if we but have faith that we can find them.  It will not be easy but then, most things seldom are.  Pain cannot be seen or even quantified on a scale with weights and balances and yet, pain is all too real for those experiencing.  We should not share in another’s blame or guilt but we can and should offer to help.  Life is hard but it is not impossible.  All we need to do is believe in ourselves.  Perhaps that is the hardest problem philosophy has to solve.  Today I hope you smile more than you cry and, when you pass another, your eyes are opened to not only see that other person but also your own value.  We are real.