Words from a Father

Husband of One, Father of Four

Tag: philosophy

461. Essay: Justice’s Framework

Justice is always couched in the language of measuring something against a perfect standard. If the thing falls short of what is right and good, we call it unjust; if it upholds what is right and good, we call it just.

But unless a theistic framework is used (and, I believe, specifically a Judeo-Christian one), no individual can level accusations of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, and of what we ought or ought not do.

The two options then become:

  1. Approach justice from within a theistic framework: This means the anti-theist has not only ceded the high ground, but all ground upon which to stand.
  2. Reject the theistic framework: This makes the anti-theist unable to offer any guidance as to what justice could possibly mean, because temporary justice is simply no justice at all — it will either be utilitarian (“Let’s do this because it seems to work and make people happy.”) or humanistic (“We humans make our own rules so we should try to be nicer, I guess.”) or fatalistic (“This is the best we’ve got; we’ve never done better as a species and we probably never will.”).

When Marcus Aurelius wrote that injustice is impiety, I believe he was being perfectly rational and I think he was right. Injustice is an affront to a perfect being. But be certain of this: that thought came from the seedbed of theism. It could not have come from anywhere else and it cannot find its ultimate expression apart from an eternality imbued with perfect justice.

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448. Philosophy Wasted

Do not bring philosophy to a broken heart or it will leak right through the cracks. Instead, bring love, a willingness to listen, and the time it takes to comfort.

420. Essay: The Paradox of Patience: Virtue or Figment

If an anti-theist tells you patience is a virtue, ask, “Why is patience virtuous? Humans are selfish by nature, so why is it a good thing to squelch one of the primary things that makes us human?”

Is it so we’re nicer to each other? No. At most, patience may only affect how quickly we start yelling at the moron who won’t drive when the light turns green. Patience barely registers as nice. We still yell.

Does exhibiting patience show that a person is internally good? No. Niceness is utterly distinct from goodness. Niceness is external; it’s about interacting with others. Goodness is about the essence of a thing; it is internal. Niceness will be exuded from the good, but goodness is not a byproduct of platitudes.

Is patience about acting in a more socially acceptable manner?

People tell others to be patient because selfishness is one of the brute facts of being human — evidenced by the sheer quantity of its existence. They are calling them to something higher, something above ourselves, something unattainable within the basic frame of being human. Patience is a charge: a delicate mixing of command and invitation, an entrustment of responsibility. But that is not all. The charge to be patient is the charge to look at true goodness and become like it so that you may practice the qualities of the good, of which patience is one. “Be patient,” is meaningless without an example of perfection because it is then only utilitarian. And if it is utilitarian it will be only a matter of time until patience is no longer useful; then it will not even be utilitarian, but begin to stumble under the terms that other undesirable qualities receive: antiquated, puritanical, old hat, not helpful in my situation, doesn’t apply to this circumstance.

You see, virtue is a religious term stemming from the understanding of the moral perfection of mankind. Anti-theism is not the least bit concerned with religion (obviously) or virtuousness. Virtue can only exist if there is a perfect standard, but perfection is not scientific, not evolutionary, not materialistic. Good and bad, right and wrong, ought and ought not are outside of the domain of science, evolution, and materialism. These things only exist where moral law is necessary and religion (the canonization of moral law aligned with the character of God) flourishes — in other words, virtues only exist where divinity exists.

My conclusion, then, is that patience may only be charged if virtues are necessary. Virtues are necessary if goodness exists. Goodness exists if a perfect standard exists. And a perfect standard exists only if God — perfect goodness in Himself — exists. However, if God does not exist, neither does a perfect standard. If there is no perfect standard, then goodness does not exist. If not goodness, then not virtues, of which patience is one — and it is not a human virtue, but one issuing from the essence of God and imparted within the requesting human.

If these are so, then patience may be considered a virtue; not because any society says so, but because God is patient in His essence. And if patience is a virtue, we can rightfully ask and expect ourselves and others to look to God’s example of patience in Jesus Christ. If none of these things are true, then requiring patience of yourself or others is worthless because patience flies in the face of everything human, but is sourced in the nature of God.

Patience is either virtue vérité or futile figment.

419. Knowledge Fails

The old joke goes like this. A communist says he can put a new suit on that man. Christianity says it can put a new man in that suit.

We have access to more knowledge, experience, history, culture, research, philosophy, political stances, art, and plain old information than ever before in time. Yet we are no better for it. It is past time to admit that information and access have failed to produce better people, as was hoped by the likes of Marcus Aurelius and others. Neither external forces nor accessibility can ever change a person within. Permanent and positive change begins only inside the human being, and that is precisely what Christianity — and no other religion or philosophy or political stance — promises.

407. Quotes: Your Dad on Wisdom

“Somewhere famous there is a good quote about being as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves. As a whole, contemporary Christianity seems to have the impotent thing down to a science; it’s about time we get wisdom.”

—Your Dad

353. Essay: Technology’s Gray Area

It used to be that someone was either dead or alive, no middle ground. Think of ethical problems encountered in the medical field. You’ll quickly notice positive and negative sides to the dilemmas. More importantly you’ll notice that these dilemmas came not from assuming that the natural progression of life and death has its place, but from how technology has created these gray areas in the first place. In its altruistic quest to help, technology has stepped in to bring back from the brink those who have a chance of survival. It has also created entire categories of significant ethical problems.

Neither the benefits nor the dilemmas would exist without technological intervention, but one of my true concerns is that for all the progress made, we are becoming less human.

Short-term Intervention or Long-term Lifestyle?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a great thing. It is a short-term intervention that gives the injured a fighting chance. Surgeries also are short-term interventions aimed at getting the person back to working order. But what about the body that isn’t fighting, that must stay on a machine that breathes for them?

I have seen a machine that lays down layered cells like bricks to build a 3-D organ, such as a heart. And then the heart contracts, functioning all on its own as it should, so it seems sensible to think we can keep a physical body functioning long after the person is already gone. And this is where most of the ethical issues are encountered. Now that we’ve placed the body on a machine that perpetuates its normal functions, is it right or wrong to take that away? The materialist, meaning the one who does not believe there is a spiritual or metaphysical realm, hangs all hope on sustaining the body. If they are right and there is nothing more than what we see around us, there is no other logical choice but to sacralize the physical universe.

The problem is, there’s only one way to find out whether or not the person is already gone. And it’s irreversible.

Function Versus Life

To me, the presence of the spirit within the person determines whether they are still alive or not; the spirit is the essence of a person. If the spirit is gone, the body still can carry on its functions, but function is not an indicator of life. Function only indicates that the physical body has the ability to continue carrying out the processes it is suited for and has been doing all along. Of course the answer is, “Yes, the body can function as it has been,” because that is precisely the intransitive definition of function: To work or operate in a particular way.

A computer functions, but does not have life. A storm functions, but does not have life. A bypass machine functions, but does not have life. A liver is an organ with a function, but it does not have life. Transplanting an organ does not transplant life; it only grants function to another who is already living. If being alive is not solely due to an organ, it must be due to something else or to several other things. Life is obviously connected to the material world without being inherently bound by function. It seems this distinction between function and life opens the door to deeper questions of the metaphysical.

Material Versus Spiritual

For the materialist, the body becomes sacred because it is all we have. But if the body is incapacitated, what good is it to perpetuate its functions? Like one dealing with numbers rather than human lives, the materialist is left to draw precise lines delineating value from worthlessness in the body’s varying states of function. Historically, governments have stepped in with responses aimed at appeasing the two demi-gods of religious inscrutability and science’s claims, only to produce more ethical dilemmas. Materialism gives no clear answer to what makes us human and what makes us alive.

My Current Thoughts

This is where I presently stand on this issue. The natural progression is from life to death. There may be several short-term interventions — which include surgeries — to give a person a second chance without increasing ethical dilemmas. However, long-term interventions almost always step into the gray. All life is precious, sacred, and valuable. But, believing that there is a spiritual realm as I do, I do not think that this life is all there is or that the body is all we have.

For those believing in a spirit realm, the spiritual life given by God makes the body sacred; all things flow from the primacy of the spirit, which is where the idea of human dignity comes from. Spirit and body together is what makes an individual that person rather than another person, and the presence of a person’s spirit is what I believe makes them alive. It doesn’t make ethical decisions any easier, but you may gain a sense of clarity if they are made with this in mind.

340. Essay: Jesus’ Birth, The Ultimate Minimalism

Minimal Me

The move toward minimalism that has arrested the design world over the last decade or so owes the Internet a debt of gratitude. Where else can you call out dreadful design, redesign it yourself, and publish it in a matter of moments — all with an unlimited audience? We champions of web minimalism can have an accidental air of arrogance: I’m better because I’m cultured, refined, and can easily see what should be obvious to you and your blind grandma. Some are professionals now, some have schooled themselves, and others just know exquisiteness when they see it. We are well-meaning perfectionists usually lacking in some restraint when it comes to offering our help, unsolicited. Classic Asperger’s autism, what with all that social ineptness and such. But we truly do care.

Trend-ginnings

It seems a trend began by decrying bad design: hating Myspace because it was the Vegas of online sites with too much blinking and hollering to be of any benefit to the sober; Microsoft and their lack of caring . . . about anything, like font rendering, bloatware, user experience, and quality and polish; excessive buttons or steps to complete a process; Adobe’s frustrating and unclear software installation process; poor instructions for assembling a new piece of furniture.

But shouting about what’s wrong doesn’t show others what’s right, so the second wave of minimalism was rooted in pointing toward the archetypes that were right, those who merged the necessary and the beautiful, the function with the form. Dieter Rams, Apple Inc., Swiss and Bauhaus design, Occam’s philosophical razor, writers Samuel Beckett and Ernest Hemingway, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the asian zen harmony, and glimpses in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture.

From recognizing the masters came the ability to balance the equation: Less is not necessarily better, but there should only be what is necessary — and what is there should be exquisite.

Divine Restraint

Minimalists should, at the very least, recognize the genius within the birth of Jesus. It has all the hallmarks of a coulda-gone-over-the-edge event, but was the epitome of restraint.

The Christmas story says that a baby was born in Israel about 2000 years ago. So what. Babies are born all the time. Well, I guess baby is a bit of an understatement. It was God who was born. God. The only uncreated being created the world with His own power and then came to be sequestered within it; not only that, but sequestered within fragile flesh as well. That’s like covering a volcano with plastic wrap or trying to shroud the sun with tracing paper.

Divine Surroundings

Biblical descriptions of heaven are nothing less than stunning, the physical as well as the intangible. We now turn to the backdrop of heavenly extravagance to set the scene in great detail.

There are layers of substance and activity long before reaching God. It starts out looking like a windstorm with lightning flashes and diffused, emanating light. This fog-like cloud is the most exterior layer and its center glows like fire. In the center are strange and captivating creatures that look like charcoal after it’s been set on fire. Flame bursts shoot between the creatures as they move around on bejeweled wheels, accompanied with flashes of lightning. Over their heads is a hovering platform that sparkles like blue crystal; imagine looking up at the blazing sun from underneath crystal blue ocean waves. Over the platform is a throne, and this is where God is, surrounded by a radiance that looks like a green rainbow on a misty day. He is categorically supreme, unparalleled in essence. Were it not for Jesus Christ, God would not even be approachable.

Turning around away from the throne will fill your view with majestic hills, rushing rivers — simultaneously crisp, refreshing, and afire — that have the power to sustain and heal, cities that house the holy, and gold-encrusted streets. Like an ocean wave when it pushes the body, color itself has weight and substance to it. It communicates on another emotional level to fill in context and connotation.

Color and sound are basically the same thing, just at different points of the spectrum, so color has a sound when it strikes the listener. This means music is always heard in heaven. There are no vocal celebrities, but an ever-rising crescendo of worship given to the only being who is worthy of adoration. Harmonies dance in unison with the pulsating instrumentation and anyone can join in at any moment, but the human voice, fortified with its free will and bursting with thankfulness, is the preeminent instrument.

And this is only the beginning of the emotional aspects of this environment. God is perfect, and because His qualities emanate from within His being, His qualities are also perfect. His love, goodness, and joy have no comparison. The brute substance and amount of the qualities rushing forth from Him would make the imperfect wizened in His presence. Power, even emotional power, must be under control or it will overwhelm, domineer, and possibly destroy, which is why His mercy and self-control are so pivotal. These emotional aspects make it seem as if heaven will be level upon level of personal connections — of true family.

Earthly Restraint

Had Jesus been born into the extravagant luxury of a palace, it would have been justified. Had it been announced far and wide with fireworks and a week-long celebration, it would not have been too much. Regardless the heights, the pomp, or the superfluous expense, it would not have been enough to mark the most important birth on that day: God Himself was born.

But, no. We have none of the rightful self-promotion we would expect from someone of such status. There is no hype in Jesus’ birth.

The most we get is a group of angels who make the announcement, but even that is minimalized. Notice the angels only appeared to some unimportant shepherds; that it was done at night; that at first there was only one angel until a group of angels appears at the very end of the announcement; that the angels were preoccupied only with giving a message and nothing more; as such, the angels only appeared for a short period of time; that the angels did not even sing. The Bible says the angels praised God, saying, “Glory,” or that they shouted with a loud voice, but there’s no singing. When the shepherds arrive where Jesus was born, there is no king in sight, only exhausted parents — themselves outcasts several times over — in the most meager of settings with a newborn son.

Minimalism in any category makes room for drama. If the story began at the crescendo, the narrative would have nowhere to go. But by starting at the lowest, the story is an ever-increasing crescendo. In a palace birth, the shepherds never would have been able to intrude in celebration, but this was a child given to the world rather than only to the wealthy. God intruded upon the world, the angels intruded upon the shepherds, the shepherds intruded upon Joseph and Mary, and the Messiah intruded upon our deepest and eternal needs — all this accomplished in the most non-intrusive, minimal way possible.

Comparing what Jesus came from in heaven with how He was presented at His birth highlights the minimalist qualities of merging the necessary and the beautiful, the function and the form, and the wisdom of restraint.

298. Technology’s Irony

The irony of technology is that we have extended our time in a world unfit to live in.

274. Quotes: Gabriel Marcel on Mystery

“A mystery is a problem that encroaches upon itself because the questioner becomes the object of the question. Getting to Mars is a problem. Falling in love is a mystery.”

—Gabriel Marcel (December 1889–October 1973), French existentialist philosopher

250. Quotes: Marcus Aurelius on Injustice Being Impiety

“Injustice is impiety. [. . .] And whereas [mankind] had previously been endowed by nature with the means of distinguishing false from true, by neglecting the use of them, he has lost the power. [. . .] And he who pursues pleasure will not abstain from injustice, and this is plainly impiety.”

—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IX, #1

That first three-word phrase above is, to me, one of the greatest, truest phrases ever penned. Sadly, it is so fraught with assumptions as to be logical swiss cheese.

It is far from axiomatic. But it is really, really good.

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