Saturday, April 18, 2009

Some weapons in the battle against confusion

Before I begin publicly wrestling my accumulated bad ideas, I want to share with you some resources I've encountered recently that are proving to be weapons in the battle against confusion.  These have helped me cut through what I've discovered to be flimsy conviction and have evolved my certainty towards healthy skepticism.  I recommend them to you.  If you are familiar with any of these I'd love to hear your comments.  

Also, please recommend to me what you're getting into.  I'd love to check out what excites you.  This list includes a ton of theological sources.  My faith is the most recent source of confusion so, if you are interested in themes of god and/or apostasy then you might dig this list.  Enjoy.

The writer's almanac podcast. This is a good five-minute bolt of literary history and daily poetry which will put any thinker's personal frustrations regarding the futility of their own life within the context of the futility of the lives of great writers.  When I come to realize that history's great thinkers were not exempt from self-loathing, confusion, and anxiety I understand
that my own existential angst is not evidence of my stupidity.  It is also great to listen to Garrison Keillor read poetry just before I run to catch the bus.  I selfishly entertain his sign off as a personal encouragement, "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."
The planet money blog and podcast.  For all of us wondering how the hell we got to where we are, this is a great non-partisan resource that is committed to communicating our shared financial pain in human terms.  If you are like me and sick of your leftist friends cheering on a new age of the proletariat while your right-wing friends blame our current circumstances on things like the CRA then you will enjoy this show and blog.  If you are a loud-mouth who likes to hold tight to an ideological point of view because you enjoy feeling the comfort of presuming you are morally superior then you will probably hate the information these guys share.  I suggest starting with the podcast on bad banks and then subscribing to the show through i-Tunes.  Or, if you want to remain blissfully ignorant you can retreat to the rationale that our current economic circumstances are, "All Bush's fault," and/or "Obama is a fascist socialist; look at my tea-bag."

The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe.  If you identify with either of the caricatures I describe above then you will hate this book but, if you enjoy having your certainty challenged then you will find this read exciting and scary.  Strauss and Howe provide a system of understanding history that uses clinical-historical comparison and evidence-based analysis to posit the notion that time is non-linear. Rather it is a circular pattern that follows a seasonal cycle driven by the relationship living generations have with one another.  We move through social seasons which add up to a societal year.  Each season mirrors the natural seasons in possibility and mood and lasts every 20 years with a full societal year adding up to a "long-life" or approximately 80 years.  What season are we entering?  Well do the math for yourself but about 80 years ago we were facing a financial crisis due to over-exuberance and the misuse of leverage.  We entered a social winter that led to America moving from an isolated republic to an international super-power.  The only thing I hope that defeats the prophecies in this theory is that social winter turns to social spring with the advent of total war.  The last two fourth turnings didn't avoid it (WWII, The American Civil War) but I hope for all of our sakes our current one does.

Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman will help all my Evangelical Christian friends realize that claims to inerrant scripture can reasonably be considered attestations to oxymoronic thinking.  Mr. Ehrman is a former evangelical who attended Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and Princeton Theologically seminary and now claims "happy agnosticism" due to the realities found in a clincial-historical reading of scripture.  His thesis came along right about the time I have wrestled doubts with my own faith due to the certainty true believers claim that a loving God allows horrible suffering as a means to proclaim His glory.  

Another one by Mr. Ehrman and a read that helped me understand that my anger towards suffering need not be dismissed as shameful sin or evidence of my disobedience towards God.  A seminarian friend recently posited the reason for current and past martyrdom can be explained in a salient quote by Tertulian, one of the early church fathers, which reads, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."  If you feel like me, that this idea is one full of moral pretense to rationalize human suffering for the sake of mystical status then, "God's Problem" will arm you with biblical fact to call "BS" on similar apologetics.  A good read.

The Reasonable Faith site of Dr. William Lane Craig.  This is an ironic citation because it was recommended as a source to quiet the doubts I have had recently but became one to enflame them.  Dr. Craig is a noted Christian Apologist and I recommend you read his debates.  If you are like me and love words you will enjoy his vocabulary and might even discover interesting thinkers debating him (how I came to know Dr. Erhman in fact).  But, if you are like me, and also fear too much ideological certainty driven by subjective experience, then you will find Dr. Craig's postulations that historical methodology as unnecessary in assessing the historicity of the resurrection to be quite frightening.  If you are a true believer then I challenge you to put Dr. Craig's arguments to the test of Occam's Razor and ask yourself if his perspective purports truth or is assumptive rhetoric.

I held the opinion that atheists were morally inferior to Christians.  After reading Mr. Harris' book I no longer hold that belief.  This is a quick and cogent read to recognize that claims to moral superiority as evidenced by the "Jesus Prayer" are morally and intellectually pretentious.  True Believers should read this and answer the arguments within.  It will probably strengthen your faith or, if you are like me, help you drop preconceived opinions as harmful superstition.  If the culture wars are to end then all Americans will need to embrace the liberty ensured by our common secular protections where non-establishment of religion is the only way religious freedom and personal liberty can coexist.

The Language of God by Francis Collins is a stimulating read.  It provides a look at the latest scientific frontiers from the perspective of a bible-believing Christian who also happens to have been a leader on the Human Genome Project.  His description of the scientific method and why it makes things like "Intelligent Design" nothing more than a fear-based polemic are galvanizing.  It is nice to read a man of faith embrace reason and science.  His Christian view does not offer a definitive argument for a Judeo-Christian God and at most can only ask for ecumenical civility but, that perspective is helpful to recognize our desire for belief can be respected as part of what makes us human.  His appendix on bioethics is a great primer to what will surely be the central issue in healthcare and human services as genomics leads to personalized medicine.

That's all for now.  My new posts will probably reference these sources as well as many others.  I wish you peace and as Garrison Keillor says, "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."

Why I write this blog

I've been told by a friend that if you have a blog it should be committed to two things.  The first is a specific and easy to understand mission and the second would be short entries in support of that mission.

I have failed on both accounts.

My mission has been unclear and my entries rather long.

So consider this post a re-set and an attempt to gain interest from you in my writing with a clear perspective within a short post.

Why am I writing this blog?  I was a distracted and bad student in high school which has led me in adulthood to feel confused while believing I am stupid.  I've often accepted bad advice as truth because it was dressed up within powerful rhetoric.  I thought, What the hell, if someone said something loud enough it was probably true because who am I to question that.  I found my unexamined life has allowed me to live within the safety of a mediocre mind.  But in the context of our current crazy times I've come to realize that being a perpetual C student may not ask much but it can cost a whole hell of a lot.  

I have come to realize that I don't really believe what I think I know so I've felt a need to examine and re-examine many different ideas now because my confusion can't be calmed with a retreat to stupidity.

This blog is an attempt for me to get to know my own mind so I can resolve confusion. 

There is a Buddhist saying, "If you want enlightenment, don't seek the truth, just drop all of your opinions." 

This therefore is a blog that will describe the new possibilities one can find by honestly admitting confusion and dropping ideas that empower mediocre thinking.  

It will not be comfortable for me and I hope it will be less so for you.  If I do this well then I expect many of you to be pissed off.