Saturday, January 30, 2016

The right kind of authenticity...(follow up to yesterday's post)

Free-for-all, I get to be who I want to be, authenticity is dangerous and should be discouraged.

That being said, authenticity is necessary for the appropriate development of character and personhood.

For example, an alcoholic will never leave their alcoholism until they become aware and authentic before God and others. They aren't "just a guy who takes a few too many drinks now and again." They are an addict. They need a place and people where this struggle can be confessed without condemnation, and then those places and people will walk with them gracefully to find healing and hope.

If the alcoholic says, "Shove it, you have to love me as I am," no caring person would say, "Ok." Real love usually involves caring for and "willing the good of another" (a philosophical definition of love) despite who they are or for what they do. I can love Jihadists and hope they experience goodness, without approving or accepting them for who they are.

I'd go as far to say that authenticity without humility is always dangerous. Authenticity without the assumption that who we are is not who we are supposed to be is also dangerous.

If I'm genuine about who I am, I'll recognize that unlike pure gold, I'm a mixed bag. Sure, I want to find a place and people who love me and accept me in this imperfect condition, but these are not good places nor good people if they let me stay imperfect. My parents always loved me; I never doubted it. I felt fairly safe in my own skin. But I never questioned their love when they told me certain behaviors or attitudes were unacceptable. In fact, their gracious commitment to my moral development actually led me to be more authentic as time went on.

All that to say, creating safe places for authenticity is not easy. Some will be too accepting. Some will be too motivated to see change. The balance will never be right. As such, I realize it's more on me, the individual, to choose to be authentic and genuine. I can't wait until there is a perfect person or a perfect environment (though God would fit that bill if you are really looking). In the rough and tumble of real life, I'll need to be real among real people (imperfect ones). Maybe my first step is what it takes for a whole bunch of other people to become who they were meant to be.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Please do not be authentic

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1041) was an Anglo-Catholic writer of spirituality.

Toward the end of her short book The Spiritual Life, she brings up an idea that bears repeating in the 21st century. She writes,

...the complete expression of everything of which we are capable--the whole psychological zoo living within us, as well as the embryonic beginnings of artist, statesman, or saints--means chaos, not character.

Underhill recognizes that people are complex. We have different longings, so different she describes them as a "psychological zoo living within us." We may long to be famous. We may long to sleep with an attractive coworker. We may desire to be the opposite gender than which biology has equipped us. We may want to quit our job, start smoking, or slap that annoying person in class.

The concern Underhill has is for any culture (or therapist) who gives free reign to our impulses in the name of "complete self-expression." This sort of I-can-and-I-should-act-as-I-desire mentality is deadly. This is why Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, and most any other religious teacher has argued that discipline is required for the development of character. Choices must be made to restrict our psychological and biological impulses.

Such impulses should not be trusted or given free reign in the spirit of authenticity. Rather, we must train our bodies and minds to accommodate what is virtuous. (By the way, it is antithetical to believe morality can be individual in nature; morality stands outside and over an individual person.)

If authentic means, you can do and act as you please, chaos is looming. Soon our culture will be a cageless zoo where weaker prey are subject to the stronger predators. Only a culture governed by discipline, character, and restraint holds any hope.

(By the way, there is a good version of authenticity...a blog for another time.)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dallas Willard on Gambling...

The noted USC philosopher and Christian thinker, Dallas Willard (1935-2013), presents this sort of evidence in his book Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge on why gambling should be avoided:

     "...we sometimes do not believe what we know. For example, most people who enter the lottery know they will not win. They will not win, and they have good evidence that they will not. They may refuse to consider the evidence or to hold it before their mind. Yet they are prepared to act as if they might win. In wagering they are irrational and irresponsible. Human life is full of such self-delusions."

    "And that explains why gambling is morally wrong. It is not a morally admirable practice, but just the opposite. Rational and responsible persons will not do it. (We have a duty to be rational. It is a virtue.) And it also explains why the gambling industry presents itself as 'entertainment.' It wants to disguise what it really is. When you gamble, according to it, you are just 'enjoying yourself' or having a fling. But rational and responsible people are those who strive to base their beliefs and actions upon their knowledge."

This CNN writer probably agrees with Dallas Willard:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Book review - C.S. Lewis' Miracles

I just finished my second full reading of C.S. Lewis' Miracles. Like all of Lewis' books, the more you read, the more you discover the brilliance of this Brit's pen. The question lurking throughout the book is, "Are Miracles Possible?" Can and does an outside Agent invade the normal natural ordering of the universe to convey information or turn events and hearts according to His design and purposes?

One of the compelling arguments I picked up on in this second reading is found in chapter 3. Basically, Lewis argues that if Naturalism is true, then (1) human reasoning itself is doubtful or (2) if reasoning appears to exist, it should be doubted. (Alvin Plantinga brings these ideas home in his "evolutionary argument against naturalism.")

(1) Human reasoning itself is doubtful. If Naturalism is true, then the universe's beginning is one cosmic heap of nothingness or possibly some sort of pre-temporal power, awaiting the right combination to bring forth a Big Bang. But how could rational thought arise from non-rational nothingness? The mere ability to reason is doubtful.

(2) Thus, if reason appears to exist, it should be doubted. More likely, the events going on in our brains are hapless synapses firing nonsensical information. In our under-evolved state, we might think we're thinking, but something the result of non-rational causes should be extremely doubted. We might think we are bright scientists, philosophers, and physicists, but surely it's possible, we're more like caged lab rats upon our wheel with a more evolved species looking in going, "Tsk, tsk, tsk, they think they are going somewhere."

Isn't it more likely, the highest form of life is a highly intelligent, uber-powerful, personal being, capable of creating lesser things and persons with similar abilities for reason? Likewise, if such a being exists, and brings forth creation, He would have power to invade His creation when He thought it appropriate to steer history and his free-willing (and sometimes free-wheeling) creatures along his providential purposes.

Another dilemma for the pure Naturalist is the expression "ought" has no place. Oughtness suggests moral rightness, but how is that possible in a world that is, and is necessarily so because of blind chance? You cannot turn this indicative world into a world of imperatives. Now if behind the natural stage, there is a great theater of supernatural and moral Personhood, then moral directives (similar to the directions from a script or director's chair) are quite possible.

Moving ahead in the book, Lewis addresses the claims of Christianity. Particularly, the incarnation (God the 2nd member of the Trinity, entering the world as the human Jesus Christ) and the resurrection (Jesus dying physically and resurrecting in a new and better body). The belief of an incarnation within the religion of Judaism is quite fascinating. First century Judaism (in a similar vein to modern day Islam) would find it repugnant to depict God in human form, to bow before any graven image, or to give allegiance to anything or anyone but the One true God. What had to occur for first century Jews to begin worshipping the human Jesus as the God of the universe (see John 20: 24-29; Colossians 1:15-20; and Philippians 2:5-11)?

So too, Lewis writes, "Why should the only religion of a 'dying God' which has actually survived and risen to unexampled heights occur precisely among those people to whom, and to whom almost alone, the whole circle of ideas that belong to the 'dying God' was foreign?"

These beliefs seem possible only if the miraculous events exist in real space-time history--if Jesus is who Christianity has always claimed him to be. How else could the 1st century Nazarene's words be considered some of the richest teachings on morality ever uttered? How else could Jesus speak so shrewdly and effectively in every and all situation? Either Jesus is the Son of God or a very crazy (or worse evil) person with uncanny luck to dupe hundreds and thousands in his lifetime (and billions to follow).

What's more miraculous? The truth claims of Christianity or the blind chance, spontaneous, irrevocable, unplanned forces that culminated in the writing of this book review? And how would we know if we're just caged rats running along on our wheel?

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Authenticity and Holiness - Are they compatible?

I've been chewing on the insights from a bishop in the Free Methodist church. Click the link and read Bishop Matt Thomas' January 2nd posting:

Even if you don't agree with every sentence in his post, I find his final paragraph to be a compelling vision for any local church:

I would be very encouraged by a church filled with folks (humble, with visible scars from the past, living in authenticity, transparency and vulnerability) who have found answers, solutions and help from Jesus Christ in their most deep and troubling areas of life.  I would be encouraged by a church that has been saturated not only with stories of damage, but deliverance.  I am thrilled to see churches where folks can come and find salvation from the horrible stuff.  I am sure that it will require authentic experiences, transparent testimonies and unpretentious vulnerability.  But, it will lead to Jesus and the demonstration of Jesus in us.  That is a church for the ages and especially for today.

How would you respond to Bishop Thomas?