Friday, April 30, 2010

On "Calling a Spade a Spade," or another perspective on "Embracing Labels"

My friend Carson recently wrote a blog post on Embracing Labels. This is not exactly a response, but more of my take on the issue of labels themselves. I think Carson and I have some pretty fundamental thought differences that these views may highlight. I encourage you to read his blog post here for another perspective:

A label is a construct, at its' very best, of a concept for the purpose of communication. With this in mind, labels are indeed helpful in furthering understanding, but my question is whether they are more harmful than beneficial. I say that they are, though tragically, language and what it does are inescapable parts of the human condition.

For example, one may label me as a Postmodern thinker, for a couple of reasons. I am skeptical and suspicious of structures of power, I feel that one must construct their own meaning that stands apart from the predominant culture around them, and I believe that scientific and logical objectivity is about as possibly as emotional and spiritual objectivity. In other words, I am a radical affirmer of human subjectivity, and my stance toward absolute truth claims is always suspicion. This encompasses postmodernism decently well, enough to where that label could apply to me.

However, in even applying that label to myself as tentatively as I just did, I do not fit it. Additionally, I am educated in the science of Psychology, and am continuing my education in that field. I think extremely logically and systematically. I see numbers everywhere. Perhaps most importantly however, I believe that a person can come to perfect (but not exhaustive) truth regarding the world, God, and humanity. I am very not like the label of Postmodernism in these ways.

So what then is the purpose of labeling me a Postmodern thinker? Is it to communicate some of my beliefs in an efficient manner, or is it for the purpose of pigeon-holing? What if I have other beliefs that contradict my postmodern beliefs, but when someone hears that I am Postmodern, they assume that I deny the existence of absolute truth altogether, like some radical postmodern thinkers do? Is that label still a helpful and functional representation of who I am?

Some may say I merely need another label. Perhaps psychologist fits better because of my scientific orientation toward research and systematic understanding of the human mind. But then one must take into account how little faith I place in the science of psychology as a stand alone discipline, and how I believe it should be looked at as more of an art than a science. I hold this type of skepticism even toward the most physical sciences, with massive amounts of empirical proof employed in the carrying out of.

So, how about multiple labels then? Perhaps I am a psychological, intellectual, postmodern, scientific, artistic, Christian. At one point does this become a complete defeating of the purpose of labels?

I believe the inherent complexity of any person is a cause for the rejection of labels. "Calling a Spade a Spade" is only helpful if that is the spade's identity. So, in order for labels to continue to be helpful, we must cease to use them in the manner we do. That is, I can tell you I'm a Christian because I align with God as expressed in Christ, and I believe things a lot of Christians do. But for that to be my identity simply ignores a good deal of my skepticism toward the religion itself, toward the metanarrative that many Christians present, and any other leanings I may have that are contradictory to Christianity as it is presented in our culture. In other words, I must self-define what a Christian is for it to be helpful, which defeats the purpose of the label, which is communication.

Finally, we come to the point. Labels are constructs, and they're helpful in specific cultures in which they are constructed, so long as a person isn't merely a "Postmodern" or an "Evangelical" or a "Muslim." To define people this way is to depersonalize them and control them, a goal inherent in the way in which this type of language is used. Hence, I believe labels should not be embraced, but they should be hesitantly tolerated.

Now, I understand that I've already used hundreds of labels in writing this. Every word is a signifier, and though language comprehension builds our understanding of the world, it is still a construct. However, it can only be constructed because there are some things that make us human. There is an essence to the universe that flows through every person, and binds us together, giving us the ability to communicate, to encode for the purpose of transmission of our thoughts from one person to another.

I call it God, and I think He is far, far more complex than we give Him credit for, to the point that systematic theology, if not taken with a grain of salt, creates merely an idol for us to worship. The same goes for man, and for the nature of the universe. Labels are helpful in encoding information for transmission, but that is it. To use them for anything else, to believe we have a person figured out because they fit a label in our mind, and indeed to separate people into groups is, whether the person believes it or not, a power play, an attempt at controlling the world and the people around them.

Surely, some of this we do naturally and is perhaps not a bad thing in light of the broken nature of reality. But is it the ideal? Certainly not. I think utilizing labels intelligently and with restraint is a necessary evil because of our disconnected state.

But keep in mind, with the using of these labels is the danger that we will fall into the very thing the Postmodern Philosopher would warn us against, that we would use this control, these power plays to marginalize based upon arbitrary systematic inclusions and exclusions that do more harm than good to all involved.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Senior Testimony: Video and Summary

Some of you know that TFC let me speak in chapel earlier this week, to give my senior testimony. I've had the video asked for, so here it is, and I'll also post the outline I took up with me for anyone to read that wants to interact.

I came to TFC looking for a fight, and I found one. I've never been a person lacking in passion, but if there's one thing I've learned from my experience at TFC, it's that passion is not its' own reason, and being tempered by self-control, critical thinking, and compassion is not only desirable, it is essential if one wishes to be of any good to those around them and to themselves.

I came to Toccoa Falls College at the same time as my best friend at the time, Matt, whom very few of you know. We both held non-traditional views and were struggling to understand basic Christian doctrines that we'd been taught all of our lives. At least for me, this experience occurred because I had been on a journey for some time to make my views my own. I was greeted by some that engaged me in conversation, some that responded with hostility, and some that informed me of my endpoint, where my beliefs would end up. The ironic thing is that in my pursuit of truth, this last group of people was very rarely correct. It is through this experience that I have learned that when a standard is applied to a person, it very rarely seems to fit that person unless they choose for it to.

My best friend renounced his faith and left TFC to pursue other things. In light of how liberal I seemed to be at TFC, he began to talk to me as though I held to extremely conservative Christianity. Through a great deal of pressure, I began to realize that I could never settle for another person's conception of truth, I needed to seek it myself, no matter how sharply I am disapproved of. This has led to a great deal of personal difficulty, but I've always found it to be a worthwhile endeavor, as it's been the guiding force in drawing me closer to God.

I came to TFC intending to be a Counseling Psychology major, and my major and my friends are the two overriding reasons I am about to graduate from this institution.

The Counseling major is simply excellent at this college, and I've been fortunate enough to interact with professors who both know their field very well and truly desire for the students in my department to succeed. I haven't even wanted to be a Counseling Major through about half of my time here, but I could not bring myself to change that path, because every time I tried, including on the graduate level, I have failed to follow through. I've known it's my path ever since I left Georgia Tech and a promising path in life in computers, which I know very well, to work with people. I've learned through my education and through my personal interaction that I not only have needed my time at TFC to develop social skills (something I strongly lacked upon coming here), but that my calling is to help people think, and to bring them into a stronger congruence with who they are. This is not a calling I take lightly, though I must say, I've very often termed myself the “Worst Counseling Major Ever” when things socially or emotionally began to crash for me in recent years.

I have made many friends at TFC, an experience that was a first for me. I have about 3 consistent friends from the 19 years before attending this college, and I am proud to say that I've met some of the best friends I could've ever asked for at this place, including the woman I will marry.

Initially, there was a lot of social drama, something that seems to be a constant in high school and in environments like TFC. I, being a passionate and extreme sort of personality, reacted very strongly to this drama, usually making things worse. This lead to many situations that were quite unfortunate, but as I've come to recognize, the darkness sometimes helps one see the light.

I've been in three different relationships during my time at TFC, and as aforementioned, I am in the third one now, a relationship I intend to see through to marriage and beyond. The interesting thing about these was that they were all very different experiences. I've been in a codependent relationship, something that I had to recognize as idolatry and come to value myself and look out for myself in the context of relationships as a result. I know that you hear a lot of cliches and advice about relationships about TFC, but if there is one thing I have found, it's that relationships, overemphasized as they are, are a beautiful thing and can be a growing experience. The trick for me was to learn that I can not find my reason to live in another person, I must find it in the Truth of existence, or in God. What this looks like is something I can not explain up here in the time allotted, and I believe is something that each person must find out for themselves. However, as a man that has found the one he intends to marry, I will say that when people are truly their own and in submission to God, and when there is a level of absolute freedom in a relationship for each person to be themselves, it becomes a beautiful portrayal of what I think God had in mind when he created the woman to be with the man, so he was no longer alone.

My $.02. Take it or leave it.

Throughout high school, I focused so much on romantic relationships that I neglected friendships. In my time at TFC I've made many friends, and I've lost contact with some that I thought I never would. As fleeting as relationships of any kind are, it makes me thankful for the ones that will last. This has become especially apparent in recent years with the death of several people close to me. In particular, I've lost all of my grandparents in my time at TFC, a friend from another college, and my former best friend Matt, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. Truly, life is a fleeting thing, and now is the time that we must live in, making every action count, every relationship reconciled, and doing as much good as we can. I believe this is what God wants us all to do, in our own way, with our own gifts and talents.

Some of you know me from Philosophy classes or the Philosophy club, or perhaps even from the formal debate I participated in at the beginning of my Freshman year. If you remember that, then graduate already! But honestly, I still had to answer questions regarding beliefs I held as long as 4 years ago within the past year. It has astounded me how few people will even consider the notion that beliefs are not static, and that the person you knew years ago is no longer the same person today.

Philosophy is not merely a hobby for me, it is a thing I participate in because I feel driven to. It is part of who I am to ask questions when people claim things, and to critically evaluate the information I am given before I will accept anything as true. Furthermore, this has become part of my regular conversation and lifestyle, and with anyone I am close to, I challenge their assumptions not because I wish for their beliefs to be torn down, but because I desire for them to have the same thing I have received from those that would challenge me. Philosophy, to me, is the “love of Wisdom,” and I'd encourage you all to critically think in whatever field you participate. Re-evaluating one's own beliefs is a recognition that we are human, don't have all the answers, and are still pursuing Truth.

I now stand to graduate from this institution, having learned many things both about myself, about the world around me, and about life. And in the future, when I move on to other things, I believe I will realize just how limited that knowledge is and come to a greater understanding about a variety of things. I encourage you, if you are as frightened by the change coming in graduating as I am, know that it is another step in the adventure of life, and look at it as an opportunity to grow rather than “going out into the real world” with necessities like “defending your faith.”

I once nearly renounced my faith because of the poor experiences I've had in seeking Truth in Christian community, and mainly because of my own bitterness and limitations. I can't say that I've fully overcome those personal obstacles, but I feel that it would only be appropriate to leave you with a quote from a man that wrote a book called Velvet Elvis, a book that God used to draw me to Himself, out of my own bitterness, and ultimately away from the path that lead me to a place far from a faith I've found to be essential to my life:

“Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know. Questions bring freedom. Freedom that I don't have to be God and I don't have to pretend to have it all figured out. I can let God be God.” -Rob Bell

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Death of Philosophy

The notion of Postmodernism being dead amuses me. This is probably because of my perspective on the issue, which is ironically what I'm about to write about. Pardon for not meaning.

Nietzsche spoke of the death of God, and began a redefinition of morality, values, metaphysics and truly, of Philosophy itself. He spoke of the Will to Power within each person, and how each person must construct their meaning in life intentionally, for it is the nature of man to do this. Nietzsche emphasized subjectivity in light of the death of traditional systems of meaning, saying that our meaning comes not from a metanarrative, but from ourselves.

Sartre, nauseated by the very nature of reality, spoke of nothingness. He parodied/succeeded Heidegger's "Being and Time" by writing his own piece, "Being and Nothingness." Truly, Sartre was part of the Postmodern tradition begun by Nietzsche, speaking of the void in place of an absolute meaning for reality, and talking extensively about freedom. Indeed, Sartre spoke of our freedom defining and condemning us, that we will be part of the nothingness of reality if we do not exercise it. Again, the emphasis on subjectivity continues.

Derrida, the great deconstructionist, spoke of the constructed nature of literature and of philosophy itself. He continued the tradition of Nietzsche, emphasizing that man makes their own meaning, but promoted awareness in this process to a level Nietzsche never reached, speaking of knowledge as a construct, and encouraging the awareness of the multivalent pieces of it. Again, one is encouraged to enter into themselves for knowledge, and to have their own meaning.

Foucault took Derrida's deconstruction, Nietzsche's death of God, and Sartre's freedom to an entirely new level. Deconstruction was applied to not only philosophy and literature, but to history and to culture, leading to a profound skepticism not only in truth claims, but in the structure of constructed systems themselves. The death of God lead to the death of Man, with not only the notion of God being meaningless and dead, but the nature of Man being a construct, neither good nor evil, and on a downward spiral to destruction, finally starkly opposing the Enlightenment's humanism. And finally, Foucault, like all in the Postmodern tradition, emphasized entirely man's freedom and autonomy, encouraging people to create their own meaning to their existence.

It is in light of this that I come to what exactly Postmodernism, pioneered by the Philosophers of our era and inundating our culture, exactly is. But first, an addendum.

Philosophy, as a contemporary discipline, is dying. For it to survive, it must cease to be an ivory tower of theoretical knowledge, and it must expand to what it originally was: critical thought and the pursuit of wisdom in all areas of life. Ancient Philosophers spoke of all areas of life, not merely metaphysical or cognitive or epistemological dilemmas. For Philosophy to survive, it must expand back to its' original purpose. Otherwise, its' death will come from its' profound irrelevance, a side-effect of the death of God. In other words, Philosophy is stagnant because it has detached itself from the sciences, from spirituality, from practicality, and from the moment.

Postmodernism is a symptom of this detachment. The Enlightenment saw the beginning of this death, creating a separation between disciplines and extolling the natural sciences, empirical knowledge and the mind of man, rationality itself, to being the salvation of the world from the darkness of medieval religion. When religious institution failed, man looked to itself, its' own rationality. Religion hence fell in line with modern times or rejected it, meaning that it also fell in line, but a little slower.

Make no mistake, the modern Church is as much a product of the Enlightenment as it is of the Scriptures it claims as foundation. The very way that Scripture is read and regarded is a product of man's change in thought and nature. Foucault recognized this as an episteme, or a dominant framework that characterizes how man thinks in a particular period of history.

Postmodernism is, quite simply, a subjective focus on one's own perspective, or a profound self-centered nature. This both is and is likely not what the Philosophers of our era intended when they became skeptical of absolute truths. Though there can be no doubt about the focus on freedom and self-determination, the Postmodern Philosopher becomes dark or, at best, cynical regarding humanity, whereas the lay-person influenced by this culture often becomes pretentious, fashionable, jaded, and ineptly selfish.

Just as the Modern Philosopher had the best intentions, as did the Ancient Philosopher, the lay-person that does not engage in critical thought misses the point. This would not be a problem if it was not so detrimental. However, the inevitable conclusion to this is that Philosophy should die and we should live in the darkness and void it formerly inhabited happily ignorant, or every person should engage in Philosophy. One is the way of Philosophy's death, the other is the way of its' rebirth.

Rebirth can only happen with a redefinition, and indeed with a monumental shift with regards to how we approach the world. In other words, Postmodernism was an inevitable byproduct of the Enlightenment, and whatever Postmodernism becomes is also a natural byproduct in the evolution of thought.

Postmodernism, however, is far from dead. To prove this, I need only cite the everyday person, centered into their own concerns, their own selfishness and their own needs at all times. In other words, I could cite myself. When I am not considered in a situation or conversation, I become angry, and feel that I have been unfairly treated. When I am ignored or generalized into a category, I am hurt, and that hurt consumes me, to the point of emotional turmoil. This is my brand of being subjective, and there are others.

Some manipulate conversation to center around themselves constantly, seeking affirmation while simultaneously loathing their own existence, looking for some kind of purpose to salve their wounds.

Some judge anyone they can against their own exacting standards, being quick of tongue enough to uphold these judgments due to exhausting or aggravating those they judge, or because they have become so detached from the reality of anyone but themselves that they actually begin to construct an ideal of who they are in their own mind, molding it how they see fit.

Some hide behind humility, stating how much they fail and how badly they do, and direct attention to themselves that way.

Some are merely pretentious, utilizing whatever social constructs around them to gain as much affirmation as possible, for the world is about them.

Some can healthily express their views, because they have enough self-awareness to know their own limitations, and their self-centered nature has brought them to conclusions about themselves. Fortunately for people on this particular path, this often leads away from being self-centered, as they have already judged others, they have already been pretentious and sought attention, and they begin to recognize something very important: meaning is not merely a construct of oneself, it extends beyond them to others, to the rest of reality. In other words, the Postmodern, if they journey through their own movement, becomes something else entirely. Some might call this getting over themselves.

What Postmodernism would idolize I would say should be recognized and dealt with accordingly. Subjectivity and self-centeredness are not negative traits if they are kept balanced. Unfortunately, reactionary movements are seldom, if ever balanced. They react against abuses and create additional abuses, types of arrogance or oppression or ignorance that flow out of the incomplete nature of a reaction.

Postmodernism is poor as an overriding Philosophy, but as a movement, as something to be considered as part of the world around us and a recognition of some very important things, it is invaluable. It cannot be dead, though it will transform, and will hopefully transform into a positive movement by destroying the structuralist trap, Foundationalist methodology, the notion that a system must stand alone, and cannot be a snapshot of a much larger picture. If it does not, then not only will Philosophy die, but there will be a much higher price to pay, as nothing we do: intellectual, spiritual, physical, emotional, is merely an isolated act. To cease to critically think, we will merely ride the currents that those that do create.

We are not creators of our own meaning, we need others, we require relationships, and we form them whether we want to or not. Furthermore, our own perspective does not even come close to representing reality, and never will unless we acknowledge that there are others, that there is truth in the person so unlike you.

Do not let Philosophy die. Think, as best you can, and never stop engaging others in that thinking.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Deconstruction, Spirituality, and Religion

I've had the privilege of studying the writings of the recently deceased Philosopher Jacque Derrida. Specifically, we read a piece on forgiveness, literature, and the old testament story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering by God, in which Derrida critiques Soren Kierkegaard's interpretation of the events. However, what makes Derrida interesting is that he does not offer a structured argument in return, he offers a multitude of facts, a barrage of information that he refuses to structurally tie together, except as they may fit together to the reader. In his own terms, he writes not in structure, but merely in play, wandering through the data and offering a wide variety of intellectual exercises for the reader. Because he's in the Postmodern tradition of Philosophy, he shares the common thread of never ascribing universal meaning, and in fact pointing out the meaninglessness, in his case in literature, and encouraging by his very writing style a type of individual interpretation, which is, to the Postmodern Philosopher, the way of being consistent with the disconnected and nonsensical nature of reality.

Do I agree with Derrida? Not entirely. However, I admire his consistency. He starts his piece with the phrase "Pardon for not meaning," and then he writes consistently with the most honest rendition of literature, in his view, which is a disconnected and fragmented cacophony of data, finally concluding with his conclusion that literature, by its' very nature, inclusive of Scripture, is meaningless because its' disconnection from the events, its' inability to communicate perspective, and its' inability to be detached from the reader's perspective, makes it singularly meaningless as a metanarrative. In other words, there is no grand story that explains absolute truth, there are fragments of perspectives that float around, but ultimately we must decide for ourselves.

Before proceeding any further, I must invite the reader to recall that I wrote a piece recently entitled "A Hiatus from Christianity." In it, I bemoaned the nature of the Christian religion, and indeed, religion in general, and I renounced my connection to the label "Christian," in so many words. I believe that it is necessary to, at this point, clarify that piece.

To begin with, I still consider myself a follower of the teachings of Christ. I have since I was met with the power of God that changed me, and I have even through the bitterness and frustration that the past 10 years of my life have brought me since that day. Though I am unsure of whether I can point to that specific day as to the point where I "got saved," I can point to it as a revolutionary interaction with God, where He met me precisely where I am. It was not merely an emotional experience, nor was it a realization of intellectual truths that I chose to affirm and then became a "Christian." I already had the intellectual knowledge, and I very much felt deeply regarding my religious choices, and regarding my religious alignment. I had the knowledge and conviction that I had been and have since been inundated with the message of the necessity of; I was a zealous Christian, but something was deeply wrong in me. God addressed it. He took me out of my comfort, out of my lazy acceptance of the status queue, and He made me something else: an anomaly in my subculture. I became interested in things that truly caught my interest, and I grew to enjoy art and literature and philosophy and psychology. I am still the same person in essence, but I have changed because of God, and He is the reason I am where I am today. I can no more deny that than deny my identity as a human, which I believe is intertwined with my relation to God.

Derrida, a Jew, once spoke of the anti-semitism he endured. He felt very strongly about whenever someone was discriminated against based on race, specifically if they were Jewish. However, at the point in which there was a community established where he would gain acceptance as a Jew, he felt distanced from it, in a way wrong about being a part of it. He simultaneously felt vindicated and alienated, accepted and, as an outsider would feel, misplaced. This is my feeling regarding Christianity, and here is why.

I believe Derrida was correct regarding deconstruction, and I've done it naturally all of my life. To see a belief, to see a practice, and even to psychologically see a person, and to pull the influences out of the object, to separate the belief "strains" out of the whole and analyze them one by one. To be this analytical, this critical, is simultaneously a gift and a curse. For example, when someone asks me if I believe in the Inerrancy of Scripture, I can honestly say that yes, I do. If I am asked for a yes or no position, I will say yes. However, it is likely that no one means the same thing as I do regarding inerrancy. I do not believe the Bible to be a historical or scientific textbook in the 21st century scientific sense of the word. I do not take it literally in those senses, and I do not believe that Scripture must be demonstrated to be superior to all other texts in order to believe in it. The reason for that is because I believe it is the inspired Word of God. Word, meaning a thing similar to Christ, as demonstrated in the Gospel of John, chapter 1, a fusion of the human and the divine, and of God, meaning a message from God to humanity about who He is. In the sense that Scripture communicates things regarding God, I believe it is without error, but in the sense that God is transcendent, He has met us on the plain of literature, in the area of written words, to communicate who He is, and He uses example after example from the world and from culture, because who He is runs through all of it.

Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father are strikingly similar to the story of Mithra, a story of redemption written centuries prior to the account of Christ. Does that mean that Christ's apostles lied and wrote down a story similar to a traditional one, and hence to follow Christ is to follow lies? I think not. I think God met us where we are, and used elements from religion and mythology to demonstrate who He is. For ultimately, Christ said that when you've seen me, you've seen the Father. Truly, the Trinity makes little sense to us analytically, but in the sense of a God who is beyond anything we could ever imagine wanting to speak our language, to come into what it has come to mean to us to be human, Christ is a success beyond anything ever hoped for. He confronted violence non-violently, became counter-cultural, and his followers have done the same since, saying that there is more than the power driven systems that run the world, even in the Modern, Postmodern, and "Altermodern" eras.

Derrida was correct that we see the world only through our own perceptions, and he was correct to advocate deconstruction and reality as more complex than the modern scientific world would have us believe. However, where he, Sartre, and even Nietzsche fail, in my opinion, is that they do not believe in an overall meaning. They isolate individual perspectives and do not believe in the grand unity that their own writing proves exists by its' sheer popularity and identification in the Philosophical community.

Truly, Postmodernism is a self-contradictory Philosophy, but not merely because it is not structural, by the fact that it is an overemphasis on autonomy, on the individual human meaning, while failing to recognize that humanity as a whole can only relate because we share some things in common. Though culture may be constructed, it takes more than a single person to construct it, and we are all aware of some things regarding reality, though we may be interminably separated at times by our own perspectives, stubbornness, and arrogance.

Of arrogance, I am guilty as charged, to the extreme definition of the word. I have at times bordered on both Narcissism and on a complete lack of confidence in myself due to crashing from said overconfidence. To be frank, it's because I take myself too seriously. For the damage I have done in acting this way, I must apologize. For the division I have caused, I must also apologize. I am not the absolute measure of truth, and I am not so different from you. For I am not merely an individual, I am human, created the same way by the same God as any of you reading this, but in a unique fashion that makes my perspective both valuable and fallible.

Subjectivity is not a curse, nor is it a license to construct our own individual perspective without regard for anyone else. It is a valued trait of what it means to be human: a perspective no one else can duplicate. To demand uniformity in light of this uniqueness is both insulting and unhelpful. However, to demand disconnection is equally destructive, for a perspective in a vacuum truly becomes meaningless, for it will interact with the void around it, eventually leading to destruction.

It is because of this that I am content to once again hesitantly call myself a Christian. Not because I approve of the actions taken by those in the Christian religion, but because my perspective is needed desperately not only by those in the religion, but by humanity. To call myself a Christian is to immerse myself in the culture around me, to functionally utilize a label for the purpose of conversation, of cordiality. However, should the label offend or get in the way of discourse, I hold no attachment to it whatsoever, not like I hold attachment to God and His desire to reach out to humanity.

I have often been labeled a heretic. If I must be again, then I can only say that that hurts me, but I have come to expect it. I can no more change who I am and how I think than I can deny the God that made me this way. I have an overriding purpose that I can not outrun nor distance myself from, and I'm not even sure what it is.

Ultimately though, I must live for more than just myself. If religion can be understood to be a collection of people attempting to understand, attempting to live together and respect each other, and open to alternatives, and if it can ever possibly be detached from a structure of power and control, I believe it can thrive. It is perhaps this that Martin Luther sought to do with the Reformation, which merely lead to fighting, judgment and division. Luther was by no means perfect (I don't even like him), but I think he was onto something by promoting freedom of religious and spiritual expression. However, Protestantism fails next to the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, due to their unity. Not perfect, but enough to where they do not bicker over adiaphora and express hatred and practice exclusion due to differing perspectives.

The Church is not perfect, but if God Loves His Bride, and if God Loves this thing called unity while Loving us individually, who am I to argue?

My hiatus is ended, for I've found my love once again for the community that drives me insane. That community is humanity, that God seeks to renew. May I be a tool to heal the brokenness, through expressing my own.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Personality Gifts

Rarely do I have such an intensely interesting Abnormal Psychology class, though I must admit, studying personality disorders and what one means by "abnormal" is an intriguing feat indeed.

Tonight we talked about a Roman Catholic Mystical notion called "Personality Gifts." This is a reframing of many prevalent personality disorders into gifts that a person may use for the good of themselves and others. To begin with, this methodology takes a popular disorder, such as Histrionic Personality Disorder, and boils it down to a belief that someone may have, such as "you can't have everything you see." Then, interestingly enough, the healing path is a very cognitive-behavioral reframing of a person's seemingly overriding belief into something more positive. Acknowledging the truth of it and moving it in the direction of a positive behavioral solution.

"Take the knowledge that “ you can’t have everything you see” and show others, through your own faith, that all social life is just empty show and that no emotional fulfillment can be had except in Christ."

I'm quite skeptical of the underlying theological claims, and I'm not certain that boiling a person down to someone who always makes a choice is fair, especially in light of biological causes of certain disordered behavior. There have been genetic and chemistry-related issues found correlated, at the very least, to many disorders. A schizophrenic, for example, usually has very real medical issues that require medical treatment.

But a personality disorder, unlike a clinical disorder, develops throughout a person's life. Someone who is histrionic has been developing or has had that problem since birth or at the very least, a very young age. And still, medication is utilized in treating them, and often it works.

How much of how we try to deal with life is traceable to biology, and how much is traceable to our spirituality, our volition, and our freedom as human beings?

Is it really helpful to be fatalistic or to push one mystical solution or medical science as the thing that fixes all? If medicine could fix all cases of psychological disorder, then why is disordered behavior getting more drastic as medical science increases, and some merely need to think through their issues (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy)? If it is all a matter of choice, then why do some afflicted with personality disorders literally have no way out of them aside from medical assistance?

Is it possible that, as Jacque Lacan says, we really are not as simple as any reductionistic viewpoint tells us?

"THE French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, taught that all desire is the “desire of the Other.” [1] In plain language, this means that most of our unconscious life is a product of a variety of external social influences. The concept of personality, therefore, although a common term in psychology, really doesn’t mean much because any person is really composed of many diverse, fragmentary—and generally illusory—images of “self.” "
1. Jacques Lacan, “The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian unconscious.” In Écrits: A selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977).

A person is not merely a set of biological predispositions, nor are they a set of spiritual presuppositions. A person is not a single personality, they're a mess of all sorts of influences, predispositions, and choices.

In light of this, is it possible that not only must we consider that sometimes medication is an adequate and necessary step in helping those in psychological distress, but that biology is never the only cause of a thing, even if it is a necessary treatable part? Furthermore, must we not also recognize that to simply label personality disorders as sin is an equal reduction of a person to their will, without any recognition of factors in their life that may be causing them distress that we can not measure with our theology?

My bias is to address a person philosophically, to bring them to a greater understanding of themselves and to help them function on as high of a level of awareness as possible. I must admit that I am biased against the medical practice toward psychological disorders. I must guard against reducing my thought to this, or I will do more harm than good toward the people I wish to help in my professional and personal life.

Because people are messy, and no two are alike.

Reference to "Personality Disorders: Christian recommendations for treatment" -

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance

I recently learned that I have more viewers than I initially thought, through an interesting series of circumstances that I found to be very stressful and simultaneously very interesting. I am glad that this has served as a platform to get to know others better even in its' infancy, and hence I plan to continue writing to further dialogue. To the readers that have recently made themselves known to me: I hope you continue to read, and please feel free to comment or contact me directly with additional questions, concerns, or comments, if you desire.

However, posting clarifications to the things I say would not be necessary if I was communicating what I meant clearly in the first place. To this end, I believe two things are necessary.

Firstly, you the reader must understand the purpose of this blog. I do not write in this format to reiterate my views on everything in life. I possess neither the drive nor the time to proofread everything I post to verify that I am portraying my own views accurately. The reason for this is that I believe in the constant formation of views, hence the title of this blog, "Cognitive Dissonance," meaning a revelation that makes one rethink their own views, their own way of doing things. To that end, I do not tend to write structured arguments for why certain things must be true, I tend to write deconstructions of viewpoints, and questions I have about generally accepted norms. In other words, my writing tends to be controversial because I believe that that is a way of seeking truth. Despite this, I do try to offer a more positive alternative whenever I discuss something, even if it's a mere guess. Someone who is constantly critical and never hopeful is not very helpful indeed.

In other words, if you desire to know my views or who I am, you will not find it here, for the most part. You will find it in discussing things with me personally. I do, however, write from the heart. I write with passion because it is the only way I know how. I write honestly because I am unable to pretend I am someone other than who I am. To that extent, you will find me here, but only a small part of the picture. Keep that in mind if you do not know me extremely well.

Secondly, I will try to be more clear when I address sensitive topics like sexuality or widely and zealously held beliefs. The reason for this is so people that read do not come to any conclusions that can only be described as poorly thought out through reading and blindly accepting what I write. I never desire for this to happen, and hence I will be as clear as I can and attempt to avoid portraying views that could damage others on a personal level by their agreement. Simply put, I did not come to the place I am without considerable effort, pain, thought, loss, and trial. For another person to read what I write and believe how I do because I make a convincing argument is simply not wise. I desire disagreement, because when people disagree I know they're thinking. I have stronger faith and hope than I ever have precisely because of my disagreements with others, and I write to give that gift that has literally saved me from turning my back on some very precious things in my life, including God, in a way.

Anyway. I hope this clarification on what my blog's purpose is helps resolve any confusion and can lead to a pleasant experience in continuing to interact using online media. Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Clarification On Virginity

I do not believe that abstinence from sex is worthless. If I did, I would not have abstained from sexual activity for 24 years of my life.

I do not affirm that we must freely have meaningless sex all of the time. If I did, I would have done it, and I have not.

I believe that sex is a sacred gift from God, and it must be taken very seriously, and never thrown around.

That is all.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


It is interesting to me that there is a highly spiritual "glamorizing" of the concept of virginity.

"True love waits" is the constant cry of many, with the opposite extreme being the complete meaninglessness of sex (often a strawman portrayal, as very few would actually have sex if it was really so pointless).

I recently argued with a professor I highly respect in class that being male does not equate with wanting sex in every interaction with a female. It highly bothers me that this is how men are portrayed, despite my cynicism regarding my own gender. The reason for this is that no one merely wants sex.

And yet, everyone wants it. If it is only guys that are after sex constantly, then why is it easy for them to get it? Do women just bear it so they can have "the relationship" (like those are two separate things), or do women get something from sex too?

Furthermore, premarital sex has been spoken of in the same breath as alcohol abuse and drugs. Why? Are they really the same thing, the same level of "sin," or has sex become an easy target, something that has been so demonized that we've broken something about ourselves?

If it really is true that the Christian does not have sex before they are legally married, then why do most people I know, once they're not in a setting where they must give the "correct answer," admit freely to their practices?

My generation simply does not believe that "true love waits" anymore, even if they pay lip service to it. The reason for this, I think, is twofold.

Firstly, some people just don't buy it. Like any reactionary sentiment, it is hard to continue to believe something once there is nothing to react to, and when the reaction is to something that humans are created to enjoy, the reaction itself should be re-evaluated.

Secondly, even affirming that true love waits is to bring one's focus more closely onto not doing a thing. Virginity in itself is a negative term, stating that one will "save oneself" by "not doing something."

I know it is possible to redefine the term "virginity" and to make an argument against this particular point. However, to do so, one must go against the predominant etymology of the word, an action that I don't think is particularly helpful.

The solution I would offer is to be honest with ourselves and others about wanting sex, and to cease making it a source of shame with the concept of virginity. It is silly to speak constantly about what one will not do, and not beneficial, psychologically, once one does get married.

Some say that they are still "soul virgins" during marriage, because of the concept of being wholly for another person. In my opinion, because of the negative context of the word virginity, that though this concept is helpful, the word should be distanced from the concept itself.

To concisely state my point, then, I believe that we should stop lying to ourselves and to everyone around us about sex. Whether it is by not speaking about it except in the context of virginity and portraying oneself as "pure," (ironically so someone will eventually have sex with us and we will gain that acceptance) or if it is really believing that men are the only ones that want the act of sex, or that the act should possibly stand apart from the context of commitment, love, and respect, it is simply silly to deny that humanity stands apart from the concept of virginity.

Our actions, our reactions, and our conversations about it have killed our appreciation for our own sexuality, and then we wonder why sex is an idol for almost everyone. The only helpful alternative to the status queue is to rethink our orientation toward sexuality and virginity, lest we continue the same cycle, begetting a lack of understanding or caring about any perspective but our own, concisely termed as dogma.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I've lived in a community for the past five years that holds an inherent hostility toward the concept of happiness.

These statements are common:

"God has not called us to be happy, He's called us to be obedient."

"The world tells us to do whatever it takes to be happy, and that leads to nothing but destruction!"

and my personal favorite:

"Anyone can be happy, but only Christians have joy!"

By favorite, I mean it makes me want to throw furniture.

I genuinely don't understand why people don't simply do what they want and choose to be happy. There is this spiritualization of unfortunate circumstances, of suffering, and of being in distress and being broken that simply doesn't make sense. If God is truly the creator of humanity, then why must we be miserable to live how he created us to?

And again, to the forefront of the conversation comes depravity. The constant fallback of the religious person that brings forth excessive amounts of guilt in the name of spirituality. Think about it: if everything wrong in the world, if everything we do wrong is because of our depravity, and if we are terminally broken, then there is always something for us to feel guilty about. Because we're depraved, and can do nothing right.

It is at this point that the redeeming power of Christ is brought into the conversation, but if that is so, then why speak of depravity at all? If Christ has truly made us holy and able to do right, then why are we talking about how we're unhappy because of our depravity?

There is no question, at least in my mind, that humanity is broken in some way. In fact, ironically enough, religion is the first thing I think of when I think of how broken humanity is. We sense that there is a God, and then destroy ourselves trying to reach out to Him. And then we complain about being broken. What insanity!

The question, then, is must we remain broken? Is the solution to all of this fervent prayer about everything we don't really know the answer to, or should we move forward and do what we want to do, and truly "Love God, and do what we will?"

Furthermore, why is it that Christians claim to be so entirely special, and then do nothing but demonstrate how confused and messed up their "special knowledge" makes them? It seems to me that over-spiritualizing things and being so against "the world" does nothing but allow us to live functionally with some degree of calm, most of the time, while masking over the real problem: we're not thinking about anything we do.

What if happiness is something God wants us to have? What if, if we live how we're made to, that will make us happy?

What if the problem isn't happiness, it's how everyone thinks of it? The religious person abuses himself, the religious rebel indulges in simple pleasures mindlessly, and both are mastered by something unworthy. We've ceased to be self-aware critical thinkers and have become dependent on organizations, people, or substances to dictate who we are. How sadly pathetic. And then I'm asked why I oppose structuralism.

I propose that it's silly to be anything but a unique individual, and in being a unique individual we will find happiness, because that is what we are made to be. In doing this, we will not align completely with any organization or become entirely devoted to or mastered by any one thing, except for one: the Truth. In Truth, there is happiness.

But I'm just an idealist. Welcome to my blog. Enjoy Cognitive Dissonance.