Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Getting things packed up...

Well, only a couple more days... the car is sold, the packing is - well - slowly coming along. My dad flies in tonight (he and I will be driving the truck back to OKC). I am saying goodbye to people and making plans for the future (which may include a certain woman, but more on that later... :-D). And, of course, in the midst of all this, I catch a cold. Not the end of the world, but it does seem like sometimes God (or the devil, or whatever) just likes to throw a little extra at me to see how I'll handle it. haha! Anyway, still a lot to do, but unless there's some major event I will be leaving Seattle on Friday! When will I return? Only God knows... but I'm hopeful! I've loved living in the NW and hope to again someday.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

less than one week left in Seattle...

Lots of loose ends to tie up - probably most of them I haven't thought of yet. :-) In six days, I will begin my drive from Seattle to OKC. I have to finalize the sale of my car, get rid of all the unnecessary junk in my apartment, pack up everything, etc etc etc. I have started working on my Danish - got some tips and lessons from a tutor and now I have to start working on memorization of vocab and grammatical rules. Fun! (sort of) Anyone want to Skype? I'm getting a webcam soon and I hope to keep in touch with people that way. Let me know. Not sure if I'll get a cell phone in the UK or not, still need to figure out how that's gonna work. Anyway, that's my random ramble for the day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The times, they are a changin'...

Well, it's down to less than two weeks until I leave Seattle: first, off to Oklahoma City for a few weeks, and then it's off to Oxford! Wow... I'm starting to realize that this is actually going to happen. It's weird how something can seem so distant, like a dream, and then reality sets in. I'm feeling a mixture of emotions - excitement, nervousness, sadness, hope... I have the feeling this blog is going to turn into a slightly different outlet for a while... I will try to provide a fairly constant running update of what is taking place as my adventure unfolds. Here it comes!

Friday, July 16, 2010

On the differences between humans and other animal species...

So, I was having a fun discussion with a couple friends last night, and we got onto the topic of human/animal cognition. Yes, that's fun! :-) Anyway, I brought up the concept of "reflexive thinking" in humans, and I thought I'd post a bit about that here and see what sort of discussion it inspires (if any).

A quick online search finds a couple of definitions of "reflexive" or "self-reflexive" thought:

In sociology, reflexivity describes "an act of self-reference where examination or action 'bends back on', refers to, and affects the entity instigating the action or examination."

In literary theory, the term self‐reflexive applies to "literary works that openly reflect upon their own processes of artful composition. Such self‐referentiality is frequently found in modern works of fiction that repeatedly refer to their own fictional status."

The basic idea, philosophically, is one where thinking is reflecting upon itself; in other words, thinking about what we are thinking. My basic assertion is that, as far as we know from all available evidence, human beings are the only species that exhibits this sort of reflexive thinking.

Nearly everyone agrees that there is a big difference between the way humans think and the way animals think. But often this is described merely as a quantitative difference (humans have larger brain capacity, and so we have evolved more complex thought processes) rather than a qualitative one. I want to suggest that human beings actually possess a reflexive quality to our thought that is unique to humans. Whether it is an evolutionary development or divinely created is presently beside the point, though an important question (maybe it's both! ;-D). The main thing is that, for whatever reason, only humans have developed this quality.

Another way to say this is that only human beings ask of themselves, "Why did I do such-and-such?" Only humans apparently have the cognitive means at their disposal to question their own motivations, and reflect upon the concepts/ideas that guide their actions. For example, though an ape or elephant may paint (after being guided by a human, of course), only humans give expression to what may be called the concepts of "art" or "beauty." Why is this? Can it really just be shrugged off by the explanation that our brains are a bit larger and more developed? Or is there something more taking place?

Notice that I am NOT saying humans are necessarily superior to animals. There are, it would seem, still many humans who spend most of their time thinking and acting in ways that are no different from other animals. Humans do have all the animal traits consistent with higher mammals, but it would seem that humans also have something else, the potential for reflexive thought which, I would suggest, may provide a key to understanding ethics and other philosophical systems.

Of course, perhaps I am biased in this whole discussion, due to my belief in God. But, even without a belief in God, it seems reasonable that the view I've outlined might be a valid explanation of the cognitive faculties in human beings versus cognitive faculties in other animals, specifically the apes and other intelligent species.

Clearly, this is just the tip of the iceberg and I am a neophyte in this area with lots of research still to examine. But, these are some initial speculations on my part. For a rather developed article on several facets of this topic, check out this entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More of my favorite song lyrics...

This is really apropos for me, with my impending move to the UK and all the transition accompanying that! Plus, it's a beautiful song. :-)

King's X - The Difference

I walked through a garden in the morning
I walked right into a change
No words were spoken, just a feeling
And I cannot explain

But I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

Wind it comes and it blows
Where it comes from, I don't know
To look for a reason might just kill it
And I cannot explain

But I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

And I cannot explain...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

re-post: guilt and conviction

[I'm re-posting this because the original was corrupted by spammers]

I've been thinking lately about the difference between guilt and conviction, and the importance of distinguishing between them for Christianity. A quick dictionary search comes up with the following definitions:

Guilt (n): a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc.
Convict (v): To make aware of one's sinfulness or guilt.

Now, at first there doesn't seem to be much difference between these two terms. Guilt is the feeling that you've done something wrong, and conviction is what causes that feeling. But, for Christians, it is important to make a further distinction, one that will prove vital, I think, for a proper understanding of God's love and our response to God.

That difference is directly related to who does the convicting. Here's what I mean. There are multiple sources that can convict: a judge, society, your parents, your self, God... But in Christianity, the divine source of conviction, God the Holy Spirit, operates differently from any other source we face.

How so? The Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8). Moreover, the Spirit is what enables us to live as Christ has called us to live (Rom. 8:11, Galatians 5). But, even more important for the issue at hand, the Spirit assures us of our salvation (Rom. 8:11-16, 1 Cor. 12:3, 2 Cor. 5:5, Gal. 5:5, Eph. 1:13).

So, we have a source of conviction who also assures us of our salvation: The Holy Spirit. This is a great source of hope! And it shows us the important distinction between guilt and conviction in Christianity.

Guilt fills us with a sense of dread, fear, or despair. We feel guilty because we have done something wrong, and we are either afraid of punishment, or of rejection, or embarrassment, or loss. Guilt is a powerful motivator because it reminds us of the horrible results our actions may bring about, and drives us to avoid those actions, or at least to cover them up.

But guilt is also extremely difficult to get rid of, once it's taken root in our lives. Guilt follows us and haunts us and torments us. And, unfortunately, many Christians have been initiated into a life of guilt, due to the sort of "merit-based" Christianity that has erroneously been handed down for centuries.

Conviction from the Spirit is different. This is not because there is no guilt in conviction; of course, we have all done things that are wrong, things that we should do or should not do. We have all failed. But, if the one that points out our guilt is also the one who reminds us of our treasured status as beloved children of God, the outcome should be quite different.

Instead of feelings of fear or dread, a more proper response would be remorse. There is no condemnation, as Paul says, but there is a reminder of the fact that we haven't lived up to our calling. This reminder should cause us to say, "Yes, I'm sorry, I know I should have acted differently" -- at which point the Spirit assures us that we are still loved, and are blessed with God's gifts of grace, mercy, and forgiveness... and the strength to try again!

Even more, because of the grace of God that reminds us of our salvation, there is no need for guilt to remain: it has nothing to cling to, nowhere to hide. Often we forget this and let guilt hang around in our lives, because we find it difficult to believe that God really loves us that much - enough to forgive and forget in a way that seems foreign to us. But when we believe it, we find that our guilt is no longer necessary.

And so, guilt becomes a mere trifle for the Christian, a minor bump in the road, as the Spirit gently uses our stumbling to remind us of our need to repent, and then helps us back to our feet and leads us on our way, so that we can forget about that obstacle and look forward, rather than backward.

If we, as Christians, can learn how to separate guilt and conviction, and recognize that guilt is the piece we can safely eliminate, while recognizing the value of allowing the Spirit's conviction to direct our lives, I believe that the overall health of the Church would vastly improve.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Colin Gunton on knowing God's attributes...

from Act and Being (I assume the title is a nod to Bonhoeffer? ;-D):

"It is too easy to assume that we know what is 'our idea of God', so that the essentially problematic nature of what the tradition has bequeathed us is concealed. Most of the detailed problems derive from that, and the tangled web of interrelations between the Hellenic and Hebrew traditions consequent upon it...

We have already seen that, as with much of our theology, there are in this case especially two sources for what has been developed in the history of Christian thought, classical philosophy on the one hand and the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments on the other... the former tradition - for good reasons - tends to stress the impersonal and metaphysical attributes, the latter the personal...

But it cannot be the use of philosophical terminology in itself that is at fault. Christianity is a philosophical faith, at least in the respect that in its main streams it has never renounced the conceptual task: the task of making clear in what manner the gospel is true, and true in the same sense that other things are true... That is to say, it must seek to give an account of the way things really are...

[T]hat involves answering enquires about what it means for our understanding of the being of our God that he is described as a rock and a fortress and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For that matter, the meanings of such words as love, freedom, and spirit are not self-evident. Love takes many forms and some freedoms are not what they claim to be, while many conceptions of spirit, especially some of those fashionable today, are not necessarily those of scripture."