Someone on social media posted that they received a message saying something similar to:
What happened to George Floyd is a metaphor for how the system holds black folks down; people don’t care.
It is horrible, appaling, tragic, and frustrating to learn how Floyd lost his life. However, I don’t understand the quoted response that sees the incident as a metaphor for a greater, more heinous, yet more vague and nebulous evil. What specifically is the “system”, how specifically is it keeping you down, and how specifically can it be fixed?
As with the notion of privelege, people tend to point to statistical disparities as evidence of racism. But statistics in and of themselves never explain causes; one can always interpret the numbers to imply victimhood. Nor do they determine probability; each point of data is the sum of a vast number of unique variables. That is, your chances of being murdered by police, for example, cannot be calculated with statistics. It makes no sense as a foundation of fear.
Nor will the “system” ever be perfect. Another incident is bound to happen. We humans are stupid, sinful, and imperfect. That doesn’t justify the next incident or morally excuse those involved. But the quoted mindset preconditions one’s response to be that much more torment, as the incident will once again provide metaphorical evidence for the evil of the “system”. (Should supposed evidence to the contrary, such as police brutality against non-black folks or the success of other black folks, be ignored?)
That is, if what you require to be unafraid is a world without incident, you will be afraid forever.
(On a side note, there was once this guy who told his followers that they’d be unjustly hated and persecuted, and yet he encouraged them to not worry and to be at peace. Wow, that’s a tall order! Who was that?)
So what’s a person to do? Well, there are a few ways to help. You can post a black square or something on social media to show you care. You can donate some money to some organization that will hopefully do something. You can vote for the socially approved candidates. If you’re white, you can be racist against yourself to help equalize things. And of course there’s always protesting. If you feel that none of these seem to help much because the problem is too vague… (answer to be inserted here)
Well, that really depends on what probability you’re asking about. Perhaps it is more clear to say: The statistics of past events do not determine the probability of future events.
(At least not in and of themselves.)
An obvious example: Suppose you flip a coin three times. Your statistics, especially with the sample set being so low (and odd for that matter), naturally won’t reflect the intuitive 50/50 probability of flipping heads the fourth time.
What if you flip a coin 10 times and get heads each time? Does flipping 10 heads in a row imply anything at all about probability of flipping heads on your eleventh flip? (The answer is no.)
I bring this up because it’s annoyingly astounding how many times people will bring up statistics as evidence of societal privilege, oppression, or institutional racism / sexism.
For example, one may find that at a certain company, only 5% of the employees are black, and 95% are white. Does this mean a black person picked from the general population at random is far less likely than a white person to get a job there? Of course not. Firstly, that statistics of who’s already been hired doesn’t tell us anything about applicants who weren’t hired (are less black people applying in the first place?), and secondly, we’re ignoring quite a lot of other variables, such as interest in what the company does and necessary qualifications.
To make the fallacy a little more obvious: Suppose the company has 100 employees, 5 of which are black (thus 5%). Then a white person retires and they hire a black person in his place. Does this mean the probability of any random black person getting a job there just rose by 1%? That is, does hiring a black person increase the probability of any random black person being hired? Obviously not. (At least, I hope it’s obvious.)
And yet this fallacious way of interpreting statistics is brought up again and again in discussions of race and sex and privilege, as though the statistics of past events alone somehow determine the likelihood of your future. (“You have so many opportunities! Just look at the stats!”)
What’s even sadder is that this way of thinking seems persuade amiable people to believe that they have some kind of moral obligation to put themselves down based on their race or sex for the greater good, as in: “I shouldn’t apply for that job because I have white male privilege; that job should really go to a minority who doesn’t share my privilege!” or “I shouldn’t seek financial aid for my white children because they already have so many opportunities already just by virtue of being white!”
You don’t make the world better with that sort of thinking. You make it worse.
Another interesting video featuring Jordan Peterson on the subject of empathy. Also featured is psychologist Paul Bloom.
Just thought it was interesting because my positions on a lot of issues aren’t about empathy, and can therefore be accused of seeming cruel. It’s not that I’m not empathetic. The example I use a lot is the kid who cries because he wants ice-cream for dinner. The parents who deny him that don’t do it out of lack of empathy. You might as well never discipline a child because it will make him cry. What’s best for a human is not based entirely on what he feels or really wants or suffers with.
So then you look at controversial social issues like immigration or abortion or affirmative action or same-sex marriage. To me, my positions on these issues are based on principles. If you base your conclusions too greatly on feelings, too greatly on empathizing with certain groups, you threaten making things worse, leading to worse suffering. Because it’s not about getting what you think you want right now, it’s about wanting the right thing that will do you the most good in the first place. Does that distinction make sense?
If you want to own the moon, you’ll never be happy. And me refusing to pretend that you own the moon isn’t about my lack of empathy. Ultimately you’re going to have to make peace with the fact that you can’t own the moon.
The suffering endured by someone by the enforcement of my position is not the issue of my position. I’m perfectly capable of being sorry about that suffering. I honestly believe killing the child in your womb is bad for us, regardless of feelings. Engaging in sexual acts while purposefully denying its natural procreative potential is bad for us, regardless of feelings. Giving preferential treatment to certain individuals based on group identity is bad for us, regardless of feelings. Mismanaging our immigration policies are bad for us, regardless of feelings.
Doing the right thing can and many times does lead to suffering, but I hold my positions despite that, not because of it. And, like I said, I believe my positions (at least the ones I have stronger opinions about) ultimately lead to less suffering, if one’s desires are oriented properly. “Oriented properly” might sound like an escape clause, because the proper orientation of desires is part of the argument itself, but it’s necessary to mention; like I said, if you desire something that just can never be, you’ll always be suffering.
Discerning between right and wrong isn’t about eliminating suffering. We can’t use only our emotions or our empathy as a moral compass, because they’ll only serve us inasmuch as they’re oriented correctly in the first place.
Firstly, my mini film reviews for April 2017 are here.
Wisdom from Jordan Peterson
I first saw Canadian professor Jordan Peterson after the video of him conversing with some very disrespectful students went viral. Quite a few people I follow were posting it on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t know how he had the patience.
Anyway, I only recently starting looking at some of his actual videos and lectures, and he talks about a lot of stuff I’m very interested in, such as Jungian psychology, mythology, and anxiety and depression. And he has thoughts and viewpoints I’ve never encountered before, or at least have not heard explained in such a succinct manner. He’s got a lot of fascinating material.
So what follows are just some highlights of some of his talks that I thought were interesting…
On interpreting dreams:
On having goals:
On fixing small problems first:
On Free Will vs determinism:
On a side note, I believe Free Will and determinism are compatible. They’re simply different viewpoints of a decision-making process. Free Will is the experience of determining. You have Free Will because you are the part of the universe that is making that decision. The laws of physics are not determining instead of you, rather you are part of those very laws. Your very being is part of the clockwork universe. A computer can run a program to calculate the answer to a problem in a completely deterministic fashion, let’s say, but it still needs the program to do that. The program is part of that-which-determines.
That said, I don’t know whether or not the universe is deterministic. I just don’t see how the concept is necessarily incompatible with Free Will, or all the spiritual implications of theism for that matter.
Speaking of theism, here’s the problem with atheism:
On depression: “That bad grade is like a portal through which snakes can crawl.” I’ve certainly been guilty of that at times…
Onto more social issues, we have the Gini coefficient, which I had never heard about before:
From my perspective, if I have a strong opinion or belief about something, there are reasons for it. There are lots of things I don’t have strong beliefs about, such as the stock market and the economy, which usually just baffle me. But for things I have strong opinions about, I have reasons.
So when I disagree with someone about something, I’m usually interested to know why. I want to know why they think the way they do; I want to know what led them to that conclusion. Obviously, that doesn’t mean I’m going to instantly agree with them or those reasons. I may disagree with those reasons just as strongly as the viewpoint they seem to lead to. But that’s the point: I like to try to find out where the crux of the disagreement really lies. If I’m wrong about something, I want to know why, and I’m more than willing to change my mind.
I’m willing to argue or discuss stuff I have strong opinions about because I don’t feel a personal attachment to them, at least not in the sense that I’ll feel really bad about being shown to be wrong. After all, a wrong viewpoint can be a perfectly valid logical conclusion from faulty premises, so it’s still a valid viewpoint from my own experiences. A belief can be a valid conclusion and wrong. As long as I know I’m being honest with myself, I can’t really lose face or be ashamed by being shown to be wrong, because the premises themselves were honest.
If one of those premises is wrong, I want to know! I’ll be happy because I’ll have learned something, and my opinion will then be that much stronger. Obviously that doesn’t mean I’ll blindly accept any opposing argument, it just means I’m ready and willing and often even excited to explore the underlying premises that lead different people to such widely different conclusions. I hate to just “agree to disagree” or just avoid disagreements; I want to explore the multiple facets of the differing viewpoints, at least for topics I’m interested in. Of course I’m still going to argue my case, and I’ll think I’m right at the end of the day. After all, if I ever think I’m wrong, I change my mind. Who argues about something they think they’re wrong about?
I say all that because sometimes, more in person than on this blog or in social media, I begin defending my viewpoint about something (sometimes perhaps too passionately), and others may think I’m simply trying to pick a fight or shut someone else up, because I’m just a big meanie. But really I want to know why we disagree on something. Often the root cause is some philosophical viewpoint. Sometimes its as basic as whether or not someone believes in God.
This is also why I quite like Dave Rubin’s The Rubin Report on YouTube. It really depends on who his guest is, but he actually has respectful conversations with people who have a wide variety of viewpoints and they don’t descend into ad hominem attacks or trying to “win” arguments. Granted, the show is more about a conversation than a debate, but you just don’t see this sort of thing on TV these days, not that are idea oriented at least.
A particularly interesting part comes at 40:42 to about 46:17. Peterson is talking about whether or not someone can change his personality, and it sort of segues into beliefs and perspectives. It’s quite an interesting point to make in relation to what I just wrote above. In fact, here’s a little transcription:
… We tend to think, and this would be part of the Enlightenment rationality, is that you look dispassionately at the set of facts, you abstract out a rational conclusion from that, and you believe it. And the thing is that isn’t how it works. Now it’s kind of how it works, but we’ll get to that. What happens instead is you look at a field of facts that’s so broad you can’t see the edges. And then you filter that a priori with your temperament so some things… It’s like, imagine there’s a bright light, and then there’s a black curtain in front of it, and there’s holes in the curtain and light shines through. Well, depending on who you are, those holes are going to be in a different place. So the thing is that the facts that present themselves to you will look different than the facts that present themselves to someone else.
Now, you can overcome that to some degree. That’s why free speech is so important, as far as I’m concerned. Because you’re going to look at the world your way, honestly, and it can be different from mine, even if I look at it honestly. So… But then we can talk. And I can listen to you, and I can alter my preconceptions to some degree by that exchange of ideas.
It’s hard because you unfold the idea and you blast it to me, and then I have to unfold it into action, and into the restructuring of my perceptions. It’s very very complicated. I have to… If we have a profound conversation, I’m allowing little parts of me to die and new parts to grow on a constant basis. So it’s effortful. But it’s one of the mechanisms we’ve evolved to overcome the limitations of the individual human being. We filter information, we’re lazy in our habits, we’re not good at thinking, which is an internal argument, let’s say. Very few people can do that. They don’t think… What they do is, ideas appear to them and they believe them. That’s what happens.
Thinking is different. Thinking is saying, OK, well here’s a set of ideas, and here’s another set of ideas. All right, so let’s put them in combat and see what emerges. Often you have to do that by writing.
Isn’t that… interesting?!
Not long after, Peterson makes an interesting point about AI vision, which I somehow never heard before, even after taking a course in “computer vision” in college:
What you’re doing really when you’re seeing is mapping the world onto your action. In fact, there are connections from your eyes that go directly to your motor cortex. They bypass your conscious vision. So, for example, when you look at that cup, your eyes make your hands prepare to do this. [Makes cup-holding gesture.] Because, well you say that’s an empirical object, it’s a cup. But that isn’t what your brain thinks. Your brain thinks, no, that’s a thing to drink from.
… Why are a beanbag and a stump both chairs? They share no objective features in common, except size. Well, the answer is because you can sit on them. And so a lot of our categories are of that sort. They’re not empirical categories, they’re functional categories.
I never thought of it quite like that! You see? Interesting!
Lord of the Flies
Lastly, one of my friends from high school recently recorded a PowerPoint presentation we did in high school about Lord of the Flies, in which we parodied a teacher giving a presentation. There are a lot of inside jokes (such as the teacher offering a bookmark as a prize for the completion of a puzzle), but it’s very educational and earned us an A++++.
Seems like the Trump victory has brought out all these fears that Trump is Hitler and that there’ll be some kind of terrible purge or something. I don’t understand what sort of powers some imagine the POTUS has.
One thing that’s popping up quite a bit in my Facebook and Twitter feeds is this notion of “privilege.” I usually see it in the context of ad hominem attacks. (e.g. “You have white privilege, so you cannot understand why this or that policy is racist, and are not allowed to have an opinion on it.”) I think we can all agree that that sort of ad hominem attack gets us nowhere.
But now I’m seeing it come up in otherwise heartfelt comments seeking understanding.
So, for the sake of understanding, can someone please explain what exactly this “privilege” is?
My current understanding is that “privilege” is the idea that a person of a certain sex, race, religion, whatever, naturally experiences more societal privileges, the idea being that these are unfair and must be counteracted.
If they’re not unfair and don’t need counteracting, I’m not sure what the point of the term is. Men can pee with more convenience, for instance, and are on average naturally physically stronger and thus more capable of being construction workers or joining the army. These are “inequalities”, but they don’t make one sex superior to another.
Are these sort of inequalities considered “privilege”? Are we supposed to do something about them?
Wikipedia makes it sound like a conspiracy theory:
According to Peggy McIntosh, whites in Western societies enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience, as “an invisible package of unearned assets”. White privilege denotes both obvious and less obvious passive advantages that white people may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice.
If it’s “invisible” and “less obvious” and distinguished from “overt bias or prejudice”, then how can we ever know it exists? It’s like Freudian analysis, defined in such a way that it can never be disproven and everything can be analyzed through its lens.
Am I supposed to believe that I have some sort of natural privilege by virtue of being a white male? What “privilege” do you think I have? Are you assuming that I have suffered less and therefore owe you something that you don’t owe me also?
Because of course all humans suffer, and suffer differently depending on their circumstances, but so what? Is suffering supposed to be equally distributed? If you feel others are suffering less than you, shouldn’t you consider that a good thing?
If you are being treated unjustly, whether or not it’s because of your sex, skin color, religion, etc. isn’t that the real issue? Such behaviors are unjust precisely because all men and women are equal in terms of natural worth. But I’m not sure I understand how sexist or racist behaviors are the results of “privilege.” They’re the result of people being sexist or racist, aren’t they?
(Or am I to assume everyone is naturally sexist and racist even if it can’t be shown, because they just are?)
If you can’t point out specific behaviors because the effects of “privilege” are more shady and invisible, then how can you blame anyone for not quite buying into the notion?
I honestly fear people are making themselves more miserable by imagining society is just naturally against them by virtue of their sex or race or whatever, and then whenever they suffer something, they blame, even if only in part, the nefarious shady “privilege” of others. But if we can’t point to specifics, even if everyone understood and agreed with the notion of “privilege”, how would anything get better?
Regardless, isn’t the “remedy” for “privilege” to just do what you should be doing anyway, which is what Christ taught? :
Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
If one asks why the heart pumps blood, one could answer in two ways:
A. The heart pumps blood because because the brain sends electrical signals to it that make its muscles contract. Or,
B. The heart pumps blood to deliver nutrients and oxygen to cells and to whisk away their waste.
In philosophy, Aristotle would say that an answer like A is the efficient explanation, a sort of cause-and-effect answer. These are the events that happened before that which we are seeking an explanation for, which we identify as its causes. (It tends to come naturally to us humans, and it seems easy enough to understand, but there’s something I find rather mysterious about it. After all, how could we program an AI robot to form such explanations? Can they only be formulated by observation and experience?)
An answer like B Aristotle would call the final explanation, the end toward which the action is directed.
Now suppose I want a cold soda. I must use my understanding of efficient explanations to create (or at least recall) a set of ordered actions I would take to get that soda. I get up, go to where we keep cups, put ice in it, etc., everything done for the desired end of drinking a cold soda. If something does not as planned, I must edit my set of ordered actions. Perhaps we are out of cups in the cupboard, and I must get one from the dishwasher. Or perhaps we are out of ice and I have to leave a can of soda in the fridge for a while, or drink it warm, or drink something else instead.
Of course, there are all sorts of fun theological discussions to be had concerning the relationship between efficient and final explanations. Final explanations do not exist physically, after all; they are, by their nature, abstract, like thought itself. Perhaps one could say that they can only exist in a conscious being. Still, I could program an artificial neural network to teach itself to do some task, like read numbers. Upon studying the results, I may discover that some section of the network achieves some end needed for the final result. For instance, perhaps a part of the network recognizes the presence of a horizontal line. Now I could say that this portion of the network has the recognition of a horizontal line as its final cause, yet this portion of the network was not created by a coder, but is instead the byproduct of the efficient causes (the training of the network) put in place for the sake of some other final cause. In other words, though we as intelligent beings may recognize that something, like a portion of a neural network or a beating heart, appears to have a final cause, it does not imply that that system was necessarily created by an intelligent consciousness. It may be an emergent property. (Which isn’t to say that it isn’t part of another grander final cause (evolution can be part of a God plan), only that the recognition of a final cause is a conscious abstract act. Does that make sense?)
Anyway, I’ve recently been thinking about this stuff in terms of writing fiction, because an author naturally thinks about these things when plotting a story. Maybe not in a philosophical sense, but we give our characters goals, and we ourselves may have a certain climax or ending or theme in mind (final causes), and then we must order things together naturally so that one event leads to another (efficient causes) and the plot moves toward the ends we desire.
But when I plot out a story and work from an outline, there’s always a bit of joy lost in the writing process, and it can sometimes feel a chore; I know to what end everything is leading, and keeping it in mind so often can lead to boredom, and I find myself wanting to plot a new story rather than finish writing one.
On the other hand, whenever I try writing without an outline, I quickly write myself into corners, or I keep adding new plot lines and characters and the work becomes an unfocused mess.
So I’m searching for a happy medium. Is it possible to write without an outline and without knowing the final cause, yet being sure that the story will indeed come to a satisfying conclusion, as though I had been planning the climax all along? If so, how?
I think it is possible, but I’m not quite sure how to do it yet… (I suppose one could write backwards, but I think that comes with more problems than its worth.)
Over Christmas I got into a discussion about the modern ideas of “privilege” and “diversity”. If I’m talking to people I know, I can get a bit too enthusiastic in such discussions, so I’m not sure I explained my my understanding / viewpoint very well. So I’m going to sum them up here to get it off my chest.
My basic premise is that it is unjust discrimination to make decisions about who to hire or admit to a school or club or whatever based on race, religion, sex, background, etc., when such traits do not matter to the decision being made. (Sometimes they do matter. For example, if you’re hiring someone to do construction work, it is not unjust discrimination to hire a physically fit young man rather than a man with no arms. It is discrimination, but it is not unjust to hire a person who can do a job better than someone else in regards to the qualifications the job entails (assuming those qualifications are themselves just and not designed to justify unjust discrimination). Another example: it is not unjust discrimination to hire actors of various races to portray historic figures of the same race for a film or a play. It is not unjust discrimination to not hire a non-Christian to teach at a Christian school. It is not unjust discrimination to have a boys and girls locker room and bathroom, or boarding school, or scouts, or whatever. Etc, etc.)
As far as I can tell, the promotion of seeking “diversity” on campus or in a workplace leads to (whether intentionally or unintentionally) unjust discrimination. That is, it leads to hiring or admitting (or not) people based on traits that have nothing to do with how well they can perform the job.
Of course, one must first ask the question, “What is diversity?” Given a group of people, how exactly do you measure its diversity? I never really got a straight answer on this. In my view, every group is already diverse by virtue of being made up of different people. Every person has different life experiences and different points of view with which they can contribute to a group. To claim that swapping one person for another (based on some irrelevant trait) makes a given group “better” (by virtue of now being more “diverse”) seems rather judgmental to say the least. On what grounds can such a claim ever be made?
The next question is then, of course, “Of what value is diversity?” Granted, it’s hard to answer this question without answering the the question above. I don’t think I got a straight answer on this either, but it usually has something to do with different points of view offering considerations you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. What exactly these considerations might be, and how they might be measurably “better”, I have yet to understand.
One argument may go like this: A school has a chess club, and all the club members are nerdy white males. Because of the club’s lack of racial diversity, a non-white and/or non-male student will not be inspired to join the club. I must interrupt the argument here, for I must naturally question whether the interest in the club should at all include anything other than an interest in chess itself. That is, of what importance is it that the club is made up of white males? Is it not racist and/or sexist to assume that one cannot join the club because one’s skin color or sex differs? Is it not unjustly prejudiced to assume the club members will not appreciate such a new member despite such differences? The argument then concludes that the club should actively seek to be “diverse” so that potential new members will not feel discouraged from joining. But, again, I fail to see the need for this, as my interruption explains: a potential new member should not be judging whether or not to join the club based on anything but his interest in chess. And, by extension, the chess club is not obligated to present itself in whatever manner that would make potential members feel welcome other than their devotion to chess itself (especially when this manner is ultimately measured in traits like skin color or sex).
In the real world, one may readily observe that there are clear correlations between one’s interests and traits like skin color, religious backgrounds, sex, age, geographic location, etc. Someone arguing for diversity may see these correlations as evidence of rampant unjust discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious.
On the contrary, it is completely natural and need not be counter-acted. (In fact, trying to counteract it is futile.) Your interests do not form in a vacuum. Of course your interests will be influenced by the people you grow up with and the culture you are exposed to. Why is this a bad thing? It does not imply that you can only be interested in certain things, assuming you are not judging the “diversity” of your interest area before pursuing it (that is, being prejudiced). And, again, it does not obligate anyone to switch interests or encourage interests in others for the sake of “diverse” representations among areas of interest.
As for “privilege”, the discussion never really got anywhere. I often find the term used as an ad hominem attack to end discussions without having to actually argue one’s case (as in, “Check your privilege!” = Your ideas need not be considered because your race, sex, religion, or whatever implies that you haven’t had to suffer like I have, therefore I don’t have to listen to you), or as a way of trying to justify unjust discrimination (as in, “I have suffered in some way you have not, therefore I’m entitled to something special and you are not”).
Of course it is true that there is unfairness in life. Some people are born with diseases and hardships, some people are born to wealth and influence. Different people with different backgrounds will have different life experiences. Some will have to struggle for decades so that their children may live a better life, while others will grow up in mansions. While we are obligated (by love, not law) to treat everyone equally (that is, without unjust discrimination, not without any discrimination at all, as explained earlier), we are not obligated to make everyone’s circumstances themselves equal. Circumstances, in and of themselves, are irrelevant, as I’ve blogged about before.
So fighting for special treatment (after comparing circumstances, real or imagined) makes no sense, and in fact only perpetuates any unjust discrimination one may seek to end. After all, if you’re not fighting for equality for everyone, then you’re not really fighting for equality at all.
Finally, there may of course be arguments about the distinctions to be made between “special” treatment and “equal” treatment, just as there may be arguments about the distinctions between “just” and “unjust” discrimination. But one has to be ready for such arguments; merely trying to sweep them under a rug with claims of “privilege” is hardly going to convince anyone not already considering themselves somehow “unprivileged”. (That is, when you make these discussions about “privilege”, you’re really just encouraging everyone to A) compare themselves to others and to B) think of themselves as somehow not “privileged”. After all, you get nothin’ extra for being “privileged”. And everyone can find something, so we just end up with the Suffering Olympics and all the prejudice, racism, sexism, etc. that come with them.)
So that’s my understanding of these issues; I hope you appreciate the privilege of reading them.
I had a dream in which I was reading a book (and I very rarely read books in dreams). It was some guy’s autobiography. He wrote that he had met a spirit on his front lawn and that it “convinced me there was a God in Heaven who flicked all life into existence.” And then something I can’t remember. And then, “Every human soul is wise enough to remember that flick.”
One of the classic arguments for atheism. “If God exists, he must be evil to allow such suffering.”
Firstly, as I’ve blogged about before, the argument depends on a misunderstanding of the concept of God, separating God into two parts: some conscious entity who supposedly has magic powers to create the world and allow or disallow suffering as he sees fit, and an objective “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “evil”, that transcends God and which is then applied to God. And if God is judged to be “evil” by our standards, he can therefore not exist. Can you see the logical problem? The problem with negating God’s existence with an objective understanding of evil is that an objective understanding of evil can therefore not exist either. And if that doesn’t exist, you’ve lost your means by which to negate God’s existence.
In other words, your sense of “good” and “evil” is your sense God Himself. So judging God to be evil for allowing suffering does not negate his existence; rather, it reveals a paradox in your understanding of his will. The problem lies in our understanding. Why does God allow suffering, especially suffering that is not our fault? It seems so unjust! It is true enough that turning to atheism may seem to relieve the problem, but it hardly justifies it on a logical level.
And does atheism really relieve the problem? Does “banishing God” really make the suffering of the world any better? Now the suffering is OK because there is no grand entity to blame for it? If an atheist still holds that there exists, even if only in the mind, an ideal world in which there is no suffering, a sense of justice and a division between a moral right and wrong, an understanding that there is an objective difference between suffering and non-suffering, is he really an atheist? Or is he a theist who has lost hope and is angry at the God he blames for his suffering, and tries to relieve his guilt for that by calling himself an atheist?
But what about the suffering?
I’m afraid I don’t know why God allows all the suffering he does. I suspect we cannot know the reasons in this lifetime at all; it is something we may only be able to understand when we are able to see God face to face in Heaven. But it takes no more faith than a young child can conjure to believe that there is a reason, a good and perfect reason, and that it all works out for the good in the end. And even if I had no faith, this is the only logical conclusion there is, lest I abandon all sense of “good” and “evil” with God Himself.
I also suspect the reason has something to do with Free Will. The recognition that God allows suffering is at the very heart of faith; what faith would one need if there were no suffering? What faith would one need if we were all just born into Heaven? The entire point of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is that mankind is estranged from God; every son and daughter is estranged because their parents were estranged; that we are born estranged from God and that the life we live now was never what God ultimately intended for us; that there exists perfection (God) and that we don’t have it yet. The entire point of the story is a recognition that, hey, guess what? There’s suffering here, and we’re gonna feel it. And when you feel it, you can do two things: Turn to God, praying and hoping and striving and working to get back to his perfection. Or give up.
One thing you cannot logically do, however, is blame God for making you give up. That’s all on you.
Why does a child suffering from bone cancer stir the human heart? Why feel something for that child? As cheesy as it might sound, if you are having trouble believing in God, start there, with the feelings in your own heart. The easiest place to find God is in your natural desire to love. I do not mean your desire to love is evidence of God, I mean it is God Himself. The purity, perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, and forgiveness of God can all be found there, in your heart, in what you know as love. It is the portal to Heaven.
And it’s not just a one-way portal.
Build the kingdom
Maybe think about it this way: There is a kingdom in which there is no suffering. Some people left the kingdom in order to expand it, to build it in places it wasn’t before. Of course, outside of the kingdom there is suffering; it is painful to be outside of the kingdom. In this exile, the builders have children. The children, by nature of being born outside the kingdom, also experience suffering. But they were all also born with pieces of the kingdom, portals to bring the kingdom to where they are, and an assurance that they would never be disconnected from the kingdom (lest they knowingly cut that connection themselves).
Does it make any sense to blame the kingdom for the conditions experienced by the exiled children? “How dare the kingdom not already be here!”?
Self-alienation in favour of the collective corresponds to a social-ideal; it even passes for social duty and virtue, although it can be misused for egotistical purposes. Egoists are called “selfish,” but this, naturally, has nothing to do with the concept of “self” as I am using it here. On the other hand, self-realization seems to stand in opposition to self-alienation. This misunderstanding is quite general, because we do not sufficiently distinguish between individualism and individuation. Individualism means deliberately stressing and giving prominence to some supposed peculiarity rather than to collective considerations and obligations. But individuation means precisely the better and more complete fulfilment of the collective qualities of the human being, since adequate consideration of the peculiarity of the individual is more conducive to a better social performance than when the peculiarity is neglected or suppressed. The idiosyncrasy of an individual is not to be understood as any strangeness in his unique combination, or gradual differentiation, of functions and faculties which in themselves are universal. Every human face has a nose, two eyes, etc., but these universal factors are variable, and it is this variability which makes individual peculiarities possible. Individuation, therefore, can only mean a process of psychological development that fulfils the individual qualities given; in other words, it is a process by which a man becomes the definite, unique being he in fact is. In so doing he does not become “selfish” in the ordinary sense of the word, but is merely fulfilling the peculiarity of his nature, and this, as we have said, is vastly different from egotism or individualism.
Now in so far as the human individual, as a living unit, is composed of purely universal factors, he is wholly collective and therefore in no sense opposed to collectivity. Hence the individualistic emphasis on one’s own peculiarity is a contradiction of this basic fact of the living being. Individuation, on the other hand, aims at a living co-operation of all factors. But since the universal factors always appear only in individual form, a full consideration of them will also produce an individual effect, and one which cannot be surpassed by anything else, least of all by individualism.
The aim of individuation is nothing less than to divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona on the one hand, and of the suggestive power of primordial images on the other.
That mythological motif of the atonement with the father, which has come down through the Christian tradition and has been read chiefly in historical terms, is given the sense of an actual experience that anyone of us may have and must have if we are to break past ourselves. It comes, however, in and through a personal relationship, for only in relationship to another can this experience, with its human costs, occur.
It is in human relationships that the operation takes place—the relationship of me to you, of you to another, of you to your job, of you to Earth—relationship is the field where the individual is in process. In marriage, for example, when one sacrifices, one is not sacrificing to the other, one sacrifices rather to the relationship. In the relationship both participate, so you are sacrificing an aspect of yourself in relation to another, and there is no psychological development outside the relationship. That is what we have in the center. It is the form of a cross. Relationship and yielding. Dark and light together.
Your hero starts the film as an Orphan. A crisis arises, throwing your hero’s world out of whack, and he or she leaves or is forced out of Orphan status and begins to wander in order to learn what is needed to answer the central question [of the story]. Around the midpoint of the story, your hero becomes a Warrior and fights with all of his or her might and cunning in order to answer the central question, even to the point of his or her near-death or the near-death of someone close. And still it isn’t enough. The central question remains unanswered. What action is missing for your hero to take? What more could he or she possibly do?
Sacrifice his or her own life, that’s what!
Your hero must be willing to die and not be reborn in order to answer the central question. He or she must be willing to be a Martyr, to give up everything for a greater good. Only by willingness to lose it all can your hero win it all. Only by giving up what your hero thought he or she wanted can your hero be rewarded with what he or she needs. Remember in Chapter 3 where we discussed what your hero is wrong about at the start of the story? It is at this point where your hero must confront and overcome that wrongheadedness.
And that Dig-Deep-Down point, that “Use the Force, Luke!” beat, is what we’re all looking for whether we are writers of the story or the audience for it. Yes, this way of looking at the ending of any story also works when the hero or heroes are “Defending the Castle” as seen in the finales of Saving Private Ryan, Shaun of the Dead, and Blazing Saddles—or in “Escaping the Castle” as seen in Alien, Free Willy, and Defiance. Whether your team is on the offense or defense, the lessons of friendship, teamwork, selflessness, and nobility are the same, and the Dig-Deep-Down moment is key. No matter what the permutation of your tale, it’s the dynamic we seek, for the need of any story boils down to being touched by powers unseen.
Special effects are fine, great set pieces are wonderful, funny jokes and unique characters are vital. But if you take me to the divine in your story, I will tell all my friends about it.
That’s what storytelling is really about.
Finally, maybe even a Bible verse, eh? Jesus speaking, from Matthew 10:39 (New American Bible):
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
I thought it was funny to see the Pope in the news for talking about science. (Google it and read a few articles if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
The notion of God-creation has always transcended any explanation of how it physically happened. That is, how it physically happened doesn’t matter. Looking to physical explanations misses the point of the belief; after all, without a conscious entity that intends for certain things to happen, nothing ever happens for a “reason to be fulfilled.” Creation is an inherently metaphysical thing.
This is an imperfect comparison, but let us say that there is a child playing with LEGOs. He builds a small house with the LEGO bricks. Where did the house come from? Did it come from the child’s mind, or from the LEGO bricks?
To answer that the house came from the child’s mind is not to deny that the house is made of LEGO bricks.
Of course, what’s really ridiculous is how the media likes to portray the Pope’s words as being anything special in the first place, as if there is some gap to fill between science and Catholicism in the first place, or as if the ideas of the big bang and evolution ever conflicted with anything in Catholic teaching at all, or as if previous popes haven’t said similar things.
I may have blogged about this before, but I think some of it stems from a misunderstanding of science especially. Science is often used as an excuse to reject anything religious (because them Christians is weird and them organized religins is the devil!) with the assumption that if something is “science”, it can be “proven” with some sort of materialistic evidence, which could be found in some science journal somewhere. Of course, this really isn’t “science” in the traditional sense; this is the Science! of the modern man, the Science! that saves us from being obligated to defend or argue for any sort of morality. Disagree with a religious person about anything, and never fear, because Science! is on your side!
But the physical sciences never actually prove anything to be completely correct, nor do they somehow auto-generate any explanations for anything. Rather, we humans come up with explanations based on observations and predictions, and science gives us a means by which to disprove the explanation, so that we can form a more accurate explanation. That’s what science mainly is: a method by which to disprove explanations.
So firstly, science depends on the metaphysical; it makes no sense trying use it to reject the metaphysical. And secondly, there’s no “gap” between science and theology. Theology doesn’t make “scientific” claims in the first place, anymore than someone saying “I love you” to someone else is ever meant as a scientific hypothesis.