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‘But the fighter still remains’

 

 

The Boxer

“I am just a poor boy
Though my story seldom told
I squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises

 

Then I’m laying down my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone going home
Where the New York City winters
Are bleeding me, bleeding me going home

 

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminder of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving I am leaving but the fighter sill remains”

This is a gem of a bonus track on Mumford & Son’s new album, Babel.  A throwback tribute to Simon and Garfunkel’s haunting ballad of a man just trying to find his way, but not giving up.  Somehow, some way, the fighter still remains.

This song goes out to all of you who know what it feels like to be cut down, to be set aside, to not get chosen, to find yourself on the ground.  It’s a lonely and dark place, the cold tiles of the floor bring no comfort.  They pale in comparison to the longings of warmth and companionship around the fire of joy and celebration.  But when you are knocked to the mat, those memories seem distant and joy is a difficult value to summons.  But yet, the fighter still remains.

Many of you have lived chapters of life.  You may have a chapter that about brought you to extinction.  A chapter that about snuffed the light out of you but for some dying embers to keep you awake, both in soul and life.  And yet you remain, you are here.  You have not gone down to the depths, you have yet risen to the surface of new hopes and perhaps a craving for a resurrection of sorts.  There is something of life yet breathing within and the figher still remains.

So today, what is the fighter in you saying?  What is that inner voice fighting for?  What do you long to see yet changed?  What anthem is within you that you want to offer as proclamation to a new generation?  What hope will not be dismayed?  What injustice wreaks havoc on your heart and won’t let you go?  What darkness must you stand up to?  What lie must you confront?  Why do you keep getting up?  These are the haunting questions of our heart and soul, it is part of being human.

The fighter in you still remains, come out swinging today.

peace, Chris

Why I don’t take myself too seriously as a leader

‘There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale’, by Bilbo Baggins

I have begun re-reading the ‘Hobbit’ by Tolkien in preparation for the first installment of the movie trilogy coming out this year and to be honest, it (LOTR) is the only fiction I have ever enjoyed.  I never read fiction, not sure why, but it’s not a genre that connects with me though I really like ‘story’ and ‘narrative’.  Perhaps I’m more of storyteller than a reader.  But I do find the themes in the LOTR epic to be full of meaning and lessons for our real-life adventures.  Themes of courage, perseverance, community, friendship, wonder, questions, lusts, greed and the personifications of evil.  This is the stuff of real life.  The simple hobbits from the idealic shire have much to reveal to us as to how to adapt and take on the challenges in life we choose, and more importantly, how to take on the challenges in life we have not chosen but seemed to have chosen us.

Most notably in the Hobbit, it is a theme of life being incredibly ‘cyclical’. 

There’s a cycle to life in that if we live long enough, we start in diapers and we end in diapers.  But that’s not the adventure I’m speaking of.  Bilbo is coerced to leave his simple life and in the end, he returns back to his simple life, though notably changed.  When we look at the cylcles of societies, governments and nations in history, we see similar cycles.  Nations are born out of revolutions of the people, typically the grassroots.  Once the grassroots gain power, they organize as is neccesary for governing.  William Penn experimented with the ideal of less governance so that the people would choose rightly, they rarely did and metaphorically ate each other in early Pennsylvania days.  Penn practiced leadership differently in his later governing period than he did in his early and perhaps naive Quaker roots.  Given enough time, organizations/societies/governments naturally evolve away from grassroots to the development of systems that exist to perpetuate the norms and the survival of those systems.  In worst case scenarios, this leads to a kind of institutionalism that is a far cry from its revolutionary cry.  Literally the revolution became what it was against, co-opted by time, differing agendas and the complexity of organizational leadership.  In time, new grassroots rise up and revolutions are spurred on only to repeat the cycle again.  It is a world history tale of ‘there and back again’. 

While in Korea the past couple weeks, I listened to the history and evolution of the Christian Church in Korea.  It has for decades been seen as the hotbed for evangelicalism around the world.  Of the 100 largest churches in the world, Korea has 50 of them while sending missionaries around the entire globe.  The narrative of coming out of poverty after Japanese occupation and the Korean War, the explosive growth of the church in South Korea paralelled the equal growth of economy, technology and modern development.  A driven and faithful people rising early several mornings a week for concentrated prayer, they ‘awakened the dawn’ asking their God for deliverance and direction.  Growing nationalism was directly tied to growing Christianity.  What resulted was a miraculous crescendo of the Modern ‘Era’ like never seen before.  However, like the rest of the world, with the dawn of postmodernism and the seductive power of consumerism, the church in Korea is on similar decline like the West.  Out of poverty, they don’t have a yearning for deliverance as they did in their ‘grassroots’ days.  This is so similar to the American story yet in such a dramatically shorter timeframe.  It is showing a ‘cycle’ that no one is immune to, it’s another story of ‘there and back again’

So why don’t I take myself that seriously as a leader?  I’m not a fatalist, but I deeply understand by looking at history that I’m a part of a larger story that is in and of itself, a part of a larger story.  I live on a globe that is one planet in a galaxy of what we now understand is interconneted with millions of other galaxies.  Quite simply, it’s not up to me.  But also quite remarkably, I’m an individual story in community with trillions of other stories called life in this Creation.  And I do get to play a part.  I get to choose some adventures, and I also get to respond to some adventures that seemingly have chosen me.  It’s not up to me, but I do get to live my story and let it rip so that others can read of and learn of my tales.  Leadership isn’t a science, it’s not done in a clean and sterile lab.  Leadership is a response to the needs in front of you and a thirst to get on the adventure of doing something about it.  People don’t follow statistics, they follow those with dirty feet who have been to the dark places and can act as the guide for a way out.  None of us know ultimately how our story will be used in the greater story, but we do get to choose to show up, have some courage and even fight a few dragons along the way. 

My encouragement to leaders is not to take yourself too seriously, it’s not about you.  It’s about the wonder of a larger story.  Cheers to the tales of your courageous journey of ‘there and back again’.

“For 100 Won (10 cents), My Daughter I Sell”

Starve

A poem by Jang Jin-sung, former court poet for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il

Exhausted, in the midst of the market she stood
“For 100 won, my daughter I sell”
Heavy medallion of sorrow
A cardboard around her neck she had hung
Next to her young daughter
Exhausted, in the midst of the market she stood

A deaf-mute the mother
She gazed down at the ground, just ignoring
The curses the people all threw
As they glared
At the mother who sold
Her motherhood, her own flesh and blood

Her tears dried up
Though her daughter, upon learning
Her mother would perish of a deadly disease
Had buried her face in the mother’s long skirt
And bellowed, and cried
But the mother stood still
And her lips only quivered

Unable she was to give thanks to the soldier
Who slipped a hundred won into her hand
As he uttered
“It is your motherhood,
And not the daughter I’m buying
She took the money, and ran

A mother she was,
And the 100 won she had taken
She spent on a loaf of wheat bread
Toward her daughter she ran
As fast as she could
And pressed the bread on the child’s lips
“Forgive me, my child”
In the midst of the market she stood
And she wailed.

On Being Faithful

“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless,” (Psalm 18:25)

It doesn’t take long to be around the Korean people to learn that they are a faithful people.  They work very hard, they work long hours, they strive for an excellence in all things that can even at times put strain on family reltionships when expectations aren’t met.  But they are a resilient people, they keep at it.  Being in an active warzone the sirens at times go off for military exercises, the jets may fly overhead, the attack helicopters may hover, but they remain faithful to the life before them.

I am surrounded here with doctorate students and doctorate/advisor staff.  Each has taken up a task to pursue a research question that lives and breathes in their hearts.  It is a quandry on how to finish and write a dissertation, it is not for the faint of heart.  As our doctorate mentor, Dr. Jason Clark, often says, “if it was easy, everyone would have one”.  It is a task and a pursuit that tries you, it tests your character, it will reveal if your faith is ‘just the wrapper’ or if it is all the way through you.  These are the kinds of disciplines in life that I think one should embrace.  Attempt something bigger than who you are.  Try something you can’t do easily and see what faithfulness is required.

When you aren’t getting results, will you keep going just because?  When you are faced with a wall, will you figure a way to scale it?  When your quandry is expansive, will you have the humility to ask for help?  When you feel vulnerable, will you allow yourself to feel vulnerable and reach just a bit deeper than you thought possible?

Faithfulness isn’t easy, but it is noble.  Our Western culture generally is horrid at it, you won’t find guidance there.  Our culture teaches the quick way, the easy purchase, the microwaved meal, we know very little of the kind of hardships that require a forbearing faithfulness.  (Certainly there are individual stories, I’m speaking of American culture as a whole)

The best of education is in the journey, not the results.  It isn’t about a degree or a grade, call me a purist, but it’s about the pursuit of the betterment of who you are.  It’s about doing something really, really hard because in it you acquire skills and character that serve the real callings on your life.  For me that involves the kind of spiritual communities that announce hope and offer freedom to ALL those who find themselves in need and brokenness and want to pursue the God who brought them into being within the context of a safe and caring community.  (that’s all 😉 )  I think about it when I wake in the morning, and I wonder about it when I go to bed at night.  I’m not done yet.

I, with my cohortmates, are being tested in our faithfulness.  That’s not a bad thing, in fact, it’s quite good.  Time will tell, but I pray in the end, we find ourselves faithful.

Back on Adventure

Well, I’m back on adventure. My last doctorate cohort advance trip to Seoul, Korea after last years trip to Africa and 2 years ago in Europe. Time has flown by and I fully recognize that when I get home I have a pressure filled Fall to finish my dissertation.
I chose this doctorate program because it wasn’t like the others. Traditional DMins tend to be about looking back and rehashing what has already been done.
GFU DMin in leadership and global perspectives has thrusted me into a reflection of future praxis utilizing social media and international contextualized learning experiences.
I am most looking forward to this final experience with my cohort mates. We have journeyed far together and I’ve learned so much from and through them. I don’t know what this time in Korea will hold for us or me, but I do know that I’m back on adventure. I’m a big believer that experience is the best educator.
Peace!

Are you not entertained?

Are you not entertained? . . . Are you not entertained? . . . Is this not why you are here?” (– the character ‘Maximus’ in the movie ‘Gladiator‘)

Is this what contextualization in the American church has come to?  Our culture is built upon the entitlements of being constantly entertained and the enemy of the consumer appetite is to be ‘bored’.  Do we design our programs, our services, our sacraments, our traditions, the activities of our ministries under the flag of making sure the people are entertained and keeping their interest.  Is the youth pastor emotionally mature or do we prefer funny?  Is the worship leader a discipler of others, or do we prefer someone who is only exciting and attractive?  Are we interested in going against culture in terms of values counter to the Kingdom of God, or in our search for relevance and the ‘cool’ factor, do we end up with something more indicative of Corporate America than the spiritual community of the Scriptures? 

This scene from “Gladiator” immediately came to mind when I was reading Simon Chan’s chapter in Christian Movements in Southeast Asia: A Theological Exploration entitled “Folk Christianity and Primal Spirituality: Prospects for Theological Development”.  He is raising the issue in the context of the growth of Asian Christianity as to what is a proper contextualization of the Gospel in a given culture and what ends up becoming syncretized to the point it is no longer the Christian Gospel.  This is such an urgent and crucial question for the Church around the world as globalization has brought all of the world’s cultures into contact with one another.  Chan calls Folk Christianity as the “contextualisation of the gospel in primal religious contexts.” (1)  He looks specifically at the relationship between Pentecostalism and the native spiritualities in Asia.  Is the Christian Pentecostalism more Asian than it is Christian?  This is a deep anthropological question. 

Chan defines proper ‘contextualisation’ as “the attempt to bring the gospel message to a context in a manner that is relevant to that context“. (5)  And further, “It may happen that in the process of contextualising the gospel, the contextualiser finds the need to borrow terms and ideas from the context but these terms are always reinterpreted in accordance with gospel norms.” (5)  The Gospel can take on the clothing and vocabulary of the host culture but yet there is still something primal to the truth of Christianity that remains universal and is not to be co-opted within the narratives of the host culture.  This is an issue that missiologists have been wrestling with for ages.

On the other hand, Chan states that when the work of contextualisation goes so far as to be co-opted by it’s host culture, then it leads to syncretism which is not Chrstianity at all.  “Syncretisim, in contrast, involves appropriating substantial material contents from the context in order to bridge the gap between gospel and context.  The result of syncretism is that instead of the gospel challenging culture, it becomes a part of culture.” (5)   Therefore, as a matter for discernment, our job is to locate the irreducible elements in the gospel that do not change in any culture or in any time in history.  Fundamentally, what are the marks of a Church?

Chan’s irreducible point is to a high Christology, an unapologetic focus on the person of Jesus Christ and his exclusive claims to himself.  Chan says that the person of Christ is “‘transcendentally determinate’ and cannot be reduced to abstract principles.” (6)   Within Asian Christianity that is unique from the American context is the treatment of ancestors in terms of worshipping, paying homage and/or teachings of reincarnation that are antithetical to the Christian Scriptures and the narratives within. 

Chan does well to locate the movement of the ‘prosperity’ gospel within the captialist story of Euro-Amercian Christianity that has taken such a stronghold in the Asian cultures.  Chan doesn’t find this form of Pentecostalism to be a part of the ‘irreducible elements’ of Christianity but rather a sympton of Western consumer culture where it’s all about the pleasure of the indidividual.  “Can we trust their reconstruction and deconstruction of the Christian faith, especially the kind seen in feminism, egalitarianism, individualism, anti-patriarchy and anti-supernaturalism?” (14)  He is arguing for Asian theologians to start with the universals of Scripture and Christian tradition and then contextualise to their context, not borrow the contextualisations from other cultures. 

So, to the American context these are the questions I’m asking:  As in the day of Rome, are we just offering bread and circuses, a morality within the mythology of the American Dream?  Are we more about entertainment than spiritual transformation?  Are we asking the big questions of how change happens?  Are we detaching ourselves from credal beliefs and detraditioning the American church in hopes for being relevant? 

Frankly, are we more American than we are Christian? 

On Vocation and Contentment

This is something I wrote/blogged on July 1, 2003.  Just came upon it and realized I still wrestle with all the same issues as do many of the leaders around me in my networks.  I’m trying to learn a lesson apparently I haven’t learned over the past 10 years.  But I’m listening . . . I guess to myself.

“Had lunch today with another missional community leader, Dave and we talked together of our frustration with having seminary degrees that don’t help us get jobs in the real world and in being mediators between the emerging church expression and the one we were trained in, get finances from and have some accountability towards. We wondered out loud about the politics of it all, personal compromises and the desperate need to be the pastors we long to be but also provide for our families, cuz no one else will. Through all of that we came to a different conclusion than the one we were planning on. It is simply, “quit whining!” The Kingdom is now. Yes, we don’t know our future completely and we don’t know what tommorrow will be, but in the now the Kingdom is happening and we are missing it. We are at times despairing, wrapped in fear, lost in the transition and all during that, God is providing for all our needs. And we complain cuz we want security.

It struck us that Jesus maintained his joy because he lived in the “now”. As we strategize after goals and expectations that will never be met, the Kingdom goes unnoticed around us. Each opportunity to connect with my wife, each opportunity to enjoy my kids, each opportunity to dwell richly in my community of friends gets sucked dry cuz I’m worried about tommorrow. The Kingdom is here and we are still looking for the consumation of all things. We rob ourselves of joy, peace and contentment cuz we are focused on the future and God is now!

Oh, that I would stop my striving and running and achieving and building and rescuing the urgent. That I would learn to have joy on the ride. Love the ride. Live for the ride. Some ride the ups and downs of the roller coaster (life) only being in fear of the next turn, or wondering when it will end, or hanging on for dear life with their eyes closed. I need to learn how to enjoy the thrill of right now! Lick it up, dwell richly in now.

I have a book on my desk that I’ve only skimmed written by a Budhist called “The Power of Now”. Why are the Budhists kicking our arses in this area of peace, joy and contentment? We evangelicals run the machine known as church. A ferocious appetite for more consumer goods. When leaders burn out, replace them. But keep striving, keep turning the crank, keep doing the same inhuman activity over and over again and believing that this time its really different, this time we will find the magic pill that solves all our problems.

The Kingdom is now, don’t miss it. Its the secret to joy, peace and contentment. I’m leaving now, to go sit and be with my wife, right now. Thank you Abba for the joy of now. “

Finding this today, I am quite literally preaching to myself . . . again. 

At the end of life, will we thirst to love?

For my elective reading this summer, I delved into “Brothers Karamazov” by the great Russian author,  Fyodor Dostoevsky.  I’ve have always heard from friends what an epic reading this work was so I thought I would give it a try. it is largely considered one of the greatest novels in all of history.  My challenge is that I hardly ever read fiction, it’s just a genre I typically don’g ‘get’ or enjoy.  I admitt, this was a challenging read for me given that fact but I did find the character of Alyosha Karamazov to be tremendously compelling.

Alyosha was the sanity around the chaos of his 2 brothers and eccentric father.  He saught a life in the monastery to serve the God he held fast belief in the midst of tumultuous affairs all around him.  He was a redemptive character that was the best of humanity, and he called that out in those around him.  He truly was a light amidst the darkness of the period Russian landscape.  He somehow kept true to the monastic cell that was his life serving others even after he left the monastery in order to pursue his calling and work in the real world. 

The day his great mentor and Abbot of the monastery died, as a part of his final breath, he gave these words:  “At the end of life, will we thirst to love?”   What a captive statement for the purpose of our spiritual direction this side of the veil.  When it comes down to it, are our lives about a death to all things that are not of love within us?   The theme of great love and it’s antithetical cousin of lust is a constant contrast throughout the epic tale of this tortured and aristocratic family.  The pursuit of this grand quality of pure love is what Alyosha was about, from his unconditional love to his swindling brothers and father, to his service to the children of town and the least of these.  Dostoevsky said it well:  “What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”  Love is the chief end of our Created intent.  We have the daily choices of our spiritual direction, do we choose love or do we choose the lusts of our flesh.  “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”  Within the narrative, there are many examples of love and not love, of betrayal and of undying loyalty.  That is the battle, that is our choice, what do we choose? 

“Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.” (Dostoevsky)  This is the tone of what I walked away from the book with, a desire to love more, more completely.  To seek the love that is inherent with this Creation even in the midst of darkness and to embody it. To find the monastic cell of my service in the world of chaos and brokenness and yet choose to love. 

At the end of life, might I be like Alyosha Karamazov, will I thirst to love?

 

 

The Secondary Evil of the Sandusky Trial

Sexual-abuse_quiet1-297x300

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  Winston Churchill

So the Penn State scandal with Jerry Sandusky story is raining out headlines with vivid and graphic details given in the prosecution’s testimonies from the victim’s memories of their interactions with the former coach.  They are shocking accounts, gross, inhuman and a description of personified evil.  It is difficult to imagine a world in which children are not safe, let alone a world where they are preyed upon by those entrusted to care and shape their development into adulthood.  The stories make your stomach turn, they are difficult to read or listen to.  If the accounts are true, Jerry Sandusky mis-used his God-given free will to enact evil on children.  In addition, driven by motivations of fear and pride, the administration did nothing to protect these children; they colluded to enact systemic evil in their free-will.  The victims will have a lifetime of recovery and rehabilitiation emotionally and psychologically.  The story is overwhelmingly sad. 

But that is not where the story ends.  The stories are not just public record, they are broadcasted in vivid detail on radio, television and print news.  There is a secondary evil in the Sandusky trial.  Every person, particularly children, who have been abused in their past re-live their abusers mis-use of power over them through the power of memory.  Some victims have never come public with their stories of abuse and it is particularly painful for them.  The power of the secret typically manifests itself in obsessive behavior and keeps them trapped in a destructive pattern of silence.  Other victims, even after having experienced years of emotional and psychological healing, now living productive lives of freedom, can still experience moments of re-lived trauma just in the listening to the story of abuse from another. 

As the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape reports  :

“For survivors of sexual assault, the details of the alleged child sexual abuse and the continuous buzz about the story have the potential to prompt a different kind of fallout — triggering or reliving the trauma of their own assault.”

I’m just an individual, but I wanted to just express my human sorrow for victims out there who are re-living their trauma through the re-telling of the Sandusky story.  I just wanted to say that it’s not your fault, you are not alone and there is real hope and freedom for your future.  I stand in solidarity with you, you are not a victim, you are free. 

 “When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope” – Henri Nouwen  

This is the prayer I pray for those formerly victim friends of mine who are experiencing a re-traumatization.  Go through it fully, on the other end is the freedom you seek, that is our shared hope.  You are not alone.

Faith, Doubt and Delusion pt. 1

Doubt

Doing some reading and listening these next couple weeks around the ideas of “Faith, Doubt and Delusion“.  There are so many angles and nuances wrapped up in these topics that I can’t hardly keep to a blog, so I will attempt a series of blogs to help make sense with the thoughts that are banging around in my noggin’. 

How do we know what we know?  That is the work of Epistemology.  Being an educator and a teacher, I’m deeply empassioned about this topic.  Are beliefs the same as knowledge?  Can beliefs be informed by knowledge?  Or perhaps a more dangerous question, do our beliefs contribute to our knowledge?  Is knowledge only rational thinking, or are there other parts of our self that come into play? 

I will agree with every philosopher who has come before me, the answers to these questions matter.  They largely dictate and influence behavior, the things you actually do.  There is what we say we believe, then there are the things we actually believe.  Core beliefs, or perceived knowledge, inform our behavior.  Don’t tell me what you believe, just let me watch you for a week and then I can tell you what you actually believe.  What we ‘want’ to believe but are still growing in?  That’s a whole other matter; we are all moving from one place to another cognitively.  It’s either deeper in the same direction, or we are diverging paths altogether.  (Those complete changes in direction can be expensive by the way, but that’s another topic)

It is a search for truth, for what we can actually know that makes sense of our existence.  These are deep questions.  Our behaviors reveal what we perceive to be meaningful, typically what gets the majority of our attention.  These are the things we organize our lives around: family, sport, recreation, reading, disciplines, entertainment, adventures, escapes, medications, worship, groups, games, pseudo-communities, travel, vacations etc.  We are largely a consumer culture and we organize our lives around leisure, ‘the good life’ that we are striving for and feel entitled to with enough hard work. 

We want to make life meaningful and experience it as such.  We want our beliefs to match up with what we want.  But what if our ‘beliefs’ don’t work?  (That is the pragmatic question)  What if our beliefs are not based on good evidence?  (That is the reasonability question)  What if our beliefs are in fact not objectively true?  (That is the epistemological question)  These are dangerous questions, they may upset the apple cart.  As Morpheus says in the Matrix, waking up to these realities may lead you like Alice in Wonderland  to “see how deep the rabbit hole really goes“. 

The first step in response to asking some of these questions may be to venture to the other side of some fences to see what the grass feels like there and how the world looks from another’s perspective.  It can be unsettling to listen to the opposite claims of your own.  That raises a deeper question in me, if listening to another’s views that is opposite of my truth claims is not possible, what does that say about my claims?  It says that they are not on sure ground, that I have a hidden insecurity, that I’m not willing to be wrong.  I want to be sure about my beliefs, particularly if they are informing my behavior choices, this is how I live.  I want to know if there are blind spots that I’m not seeing, I want to use the reason I was born with and have grown in for deeper understanding.  I want things to make sense as much as anyone else, so why not at least listen and consider the voice of another?  In the world of Philosophy, that is called “confirmation bias”, that we only listen to or expose ourselves to those who share our conclusions.  If you claim truth, you ought to climb other fences to guard against only confirmation bias. 

This week, that contrasting voice is Dr. Peter Boghossian, Philosophy professor at Portland State University.  Peter is a passionate voice out of the world of reasoning and free thinking.  He considers Faith to be a “Cognitive Sickness“; an utterly unreliable process to bring us to the truth.  The result of faith beliefs without reliable processes of rationality, Bhoghossian would say are results that are based in delusion, not truth.  Here is a taste of his passionate assertions:

If you want to go deeper into Peter’s epistemology and general candor, I suggest searching out his lecture on “Jesus, the Easter Bunny and other Delusions” from January 27, 2012.   Peter is marvelously consistent, he is not against Christianity solely, he can’t make sense of any faith claims that are not grounded in reliable processes of the rules of rationality.  He seeks to debunk Judaism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism, New Age, relativists, postmodernists etc.  Any conclusions that are not based on the reliable processes of clear evidence is to be discounted as delusional.  He is equally hostile to all faiths and I actually find that kind of intellectual honesty to be refreshing, it is somewhat rare in my experience. 

What I appreciate about the thoughts that Dr. Boghossian puts out there:

  • He is not a postmodernist, he does not believe that all truth is relative to the individual.  His assertion is consistent, truth is the result of reliable epistemic processes based on evidence.  He is a staunch claimer of absolute truth that can be known and finds fallacy that opposing truths can both be evident in reality. 
  • He is a learner, he is ‘open’ to being wrong and challenges all his hearers to be willing to have the humility to do the same.  (Those of us in the Faith category don’t have a strong history in this kind of openness)  He is genuinely interested in what he calls the Twin Goals:  “maximizing” true beliefs and “minimizing” false beliefs.  This requires an honest committment to ongoing learning
  • His central thesis is clear, truth is the result of reliable processes.  If a claim is not based on actual evidence or perceived evidence, it is bad belief and unreliable; thus delusional.  Faith cannot be pointing to truth because is a claim without rational evidence.
  • Just because someone feels strongly about a certain truth claim or position, doesn’t make it true.  They may even have the kind of conviction that they would die for it, but that doesn’t make it true.  He states that conviction is only evidence of the presence of conviction; I found that to be a reasonable argument. 
  • He seeks to align his rational beliefs with reality.  He works within his local prison community trying to empower prisoners and their faulty rational choices through the training of the Socratic method of reasoning for better choices.  I truly admire someone who puts their strong beliefs or truth claims into action, we need more practitioners out there.  His beliefs inform his behavior, that is  epistemologically consistent.
  • He avoids labels.  Doesnt’ find it helpful to claim to be an atheist or some other pre-determined category to have to explain or argue out of with attached baggage. He simply just wants to be perceived as a rational thinker who is honest about the inquiry and processes towards truth. 

What I would push back on with Dr. Boghossian:

  • The hard rationalist approach to me paints Dr. Boghossian into a corner.  It starts with the assumption that the only thing that can be trusted or reliable to lead towards truth, is the result of a rational process only with displayed evidence.  This would discount much of what is being pursued in the Social sciences, the Neurological sciences and Mathematical sciences.  There are research pursuits of learning that are aimed at the micro and macro level of the univers that in fact cause and effect relationships are being quantified but on completely different plains.  The evidence of effect is showing up far from the cause and we know little about why or how this is happening.  It’s interesting, but leaves many of the facts in the world to mystery so we certainly can’t make truth claims off of it except that it reveals how much we still really don’t know about this world and how it works.  So if you narrow down the only things you can know and base life on to the limitations of human rationality, it appears to be a very narrow path for living.  (I suppose Peter would say that narrow path is preferable to wide road of possible delusion)
  • Dr. Boghossian doesn’t need me to care, but I fear this hard-rationalist project will get slaughtered as the global community seeps deeper and deeper into both cultural and epistemological postmodernism.  The hope of the Modernism project that rational thinking, reason and progress will win the day to help with the world’s problems didn’t work for WWI, WWII or any other atrocity we’ve seen over the past 100 years or more.  My hunch is that postmodernism isn’t going anywhere, rather it will define our future projects.  It will be a harsh deconstruction of reason-only explanations for reality, it will be open to mystery, it will be skeptical of truth-claims and it will be unrelenting in its chaos of embracing relative truth.  I don’t embrace postmodernism, I think it’s only evidential end is a kind of chaos, but I do believe that hard-line rationalism will get creamed in the ongoing transition.  I can’t prove that, it’s just a hunch.  😉
  • There is a growing number of people of faith who love science, love math and think it is time to be reasonable about our rhetoric with people of oppostive views.  We don’t believe in a young earth, we are willing to learn and change our minds on some nuances, we are willing to admitt that there are other apects of self that influence our behavior than simply reason and aren’t unglued about the fact that we may not make sense to the entire populace, particularly hard rationalists.  That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss, share coffee/meal over topics, listen to one another, challenge each other, tell each other they are wrong.  This is all reasonable discussion without the rhetoric that ought to be banished to the popular political culture only; it’s a poison to truth-seeking.  As Peter doesn’t want to be labeled, he may be surprised that there is a growing population of people of faith that don’t want to be tied to labels either. This may be a futile goal, but it seems to me that it’s required if we are going to have real conversation about our claims.
  • Based on the conditions of delusion: 1) Certainty 2) Incorrgibility and 3) Implausibility.  This 3rd category appears to be completely subjective.  By looking at the behavior or truth claim of another, if it appears “implausible”, isn’t that only based on the knowledge and experience of the individual posting judgment?  This appears to be a kind of cultural or educational nepotism, if it’s seemingly ‘weird’ or outside your experience, does that make it truly ‘implausible’?  Do we expect 4.3 billion people on earth to share a common view of all experiences so that there is an agreed upon plausibility?  If we close ourselves off of possible learnings, could we be keeping ourselves from new discoveries of evidential truths based on new evidence?  I’m sure I’m being too simplistic here, he didn’t have a chance to unpack this but it’s one of the concepts that didn’t connect with me.
  • Peter admitted to not being able to fully explain the origins of the universe and it possibly being something you can’t know or would never know.  I would suspect behind closed doors he would have at least a semi-formed opinion on it but it wasn’t anything that could fit the narrow processes of reasoned reliability based on evidence.  One cannot re-invent the universe to measure how or why it happened.  To build our only construct of knowing anything or making truth claims based on the limited chapters of the larger story is hard for me to swallow.  It’s like trying to expalin a story while completely leaving out chapters 1-3 and expecting the middle chapters to be enough to fill in the blind spots. 

Mathematically, the universe is infinite.  Humans are not, our minds, our portions of reason are severely limited.  I’m comfortable, would even say it’s reasonable to look outside of only our faculties of rational thinking in search for truth.  But I would strongly consider all truth claims base on good reason and processes of reliable evidences.  Dr. Boghossian’s teaching is a helpful trip across the fence for me to continue to challenge my own truth seeking.