When it comes to promoting the highest good in the world is there ever too much of a compassion complex? Is it ever a deal breaker to go out of our way to help others? Is it wrong to bring peace where there would otherwise be war?

There are some things that definitely need a cap such as ignorance about the world and other cultures. Why? Well, it feeds distrust. How about hatred that stems from conflicts that never should have arisen in the first place? Conflicts over religion, lands, and a thirst for power. Let me just make something clear, IT HAS GOT TO GO!

It all starts with an inward resolve to no longer be a part of the problem. Yes, sometimes we do need to breath and not let our fight or flight response win over our ability to reason and recognize the bigger picture. Yes, sometimes we would do quite well to turn the other cheek.

Tolerance needs to be rightly executed in this modern age because what is no longer tolerable is irrational hatred and violence. Humanity is so much better than that! Why? Well, we’ve learned the hard way my friends! It is a rather inconvenient truth to realize that to be human is to recognize that we are both the problem and the solution. I’d rather embrace my better half any day of the week! What about you?

If I could sum it all up with just one word it would probably be: Empathy.

Yeah, I like the way that looks on paper. Empathy. Period!

Skepticism Is Good!

An intelligent skeptic is not hung up on whether a God is considered good or not. We don’t reject belief in God on those grounds. It is an arbitrary question because one can believe in a God and find reasons to say, “I think God is good.” Another can believe in God and still perceive this being as evil.

A skeptical Atheist is first concerned about whether it is appropriate to think a God is even there in the first place? Is this a question that any human being can answer with adequate certainty? If so, what actually justifies this belief? It would seem that if anyone wants to speak with a measure of good authority then they must first point us to a reliable bridge wherein any objective seeker can say, “this is who God is, not simply within my culture but within this universe.” Pure knowledge leads to consensus.

If this cannot be done then we have hit the first snag within this knowledge crisis. It becomes everyone’s issue to solve if and only if we care about what is true in life!

Religion has been tightly woven into the human identity, is it any wonder that people have a hard time questioning it? It’s akin to saying, “Who am I? I don’t know who I am anymore!” To ask ourselves who we are is quite often related to crisis. My contention is that this crisis is good! It helps us perceive the things that are true. A truth seeker is willing to admit that this crisis may not only be ongoing but quite possibly permanent in light of how little we actually know in life.

My Life’s Philosophy

Here is an intro to my Philosophy of Life:

Life is a struggle. This struggle enters our lives in varying degrees but it is constant. It is a factor that is continually shaping us and influencing our decisions.

Reality is absurd. In terms of fairness and evaluating signs of guidance from the heavens there appears to be only silent indifference. Please do not despair!

Existence is valuable. To whom you ask? To us! To anyone with a beating heart there is enough within the world to enjoy as long as we value one another and ourselves! I could not dare to offer you more than what you see! We are here, we exist, and it is valuable to actively seek understanding in light of struggle and absurdity.

Think about it this way, what if I were to offer you what I don’t know? What if I were to stretch beyond my sphere of objectivity so as to offer you comfort? Then what if you were to find out that I offered you something that I don’t know with any measure of certainty? Is that right? Is that respectable? I don’t think so, and I hope you don’t believe that either! I will give you what I know, I will love you with what I am, and I won’t stop searching for answers until I take my last breath! You deserve this, I deserve this and this is what makes life into something valuable.  

I’ll sum up my paragraph with this principle: I won’t dare to promise someone more than I can know, that would be dishonest! Nor will I offer someone less than what I know, that would be irresponsible! 

In light of these points I’ll soon introduce a fourfold approach to life. My own life philosophy if you will and hopefully some of my readers will find it refreshing! It will involve this list of character traits and kinds of questions that follow specifically within what I like to call a pursuit of pure knowledge. Enjoy!

Honesty: About knowledge. (Gnosis within Greek language). What do I know? What do others know?

Critical Thought: What is pure? What is objective? What is reliable? What is true?

Humility: What are my motivations? My desires? Where do I place myself within this vision or pursuit of pure knowledge?

Compassion: How do I value and treat other people? Do I operate from empathy or an ability to identify with others who struggle?

By the way I would probably critique this quote from Socrates to say that we know very little rather than nothing at all!

Where Is Your Allegiance?

“Good morning, Vietnam! Hey, this is not a test, this is my rockin blog!” The place where I’ve been plastering about a year’s worth of some pretty heavy thinking. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but it’s a place to be challenged, uplifted, and perhaps even a chance to reach out to a few others that have a similar story to tell. What is my story? My story involves a former commitment to Christianity that I was quite sure would never wane until it actually did!

It was a knowledge crisis that gradually blossomed into a clean break from my former faith commitment. What was the primary motivation of this choice? It was the rather heavy realization that skepticism is actually justified to use when evaluating what faith is defined to be within religion.

In the post before this one titled: Metaphysical Madness, I set out to address the first of five major flaws that I believe are a bit detrimental within a pursuit of pure knowledge. Pure knowledge in my mind simply boils down to discerning what is clear and not so clear within this world. To reflect pure knowledge is the exercise of leveling out one’s playing field so as to identify what is certain on a personal level as well as on a general human level. So it is that my second contention about having faith in the unseen is that most religions understand this as an unbreakable commitment to God.

Faith carries within it the idea of an unbreakable covenantal relationship. In other words, it is a call to complete allegiance in spite of any evidence that may be given to the contrary.

Is anyone else seeing some potential problems within this mentality? I find myself daily wondering whether I should come down so hard against the mindset of many of my Christian friends? After all, they know that I am just a tinge passionate about this subject. I was a former Evangelical Christian for Pete’s sake! The fact of the matter is that so are many of the people that I still care about.

My rather unorthodox strategy is to keep myself firmly involved in the debate about religion. It is to boldly stand my ground and challenge other serious thinkers with the same brutal questions that have arisen out of my own knowledge crisis. I try not to beat up my friends too much with these questions but I want to gauge how interested they are in putting their most cherished ideas into the furnace as well?

If they come out of it still filled with faith then I will respect them for at least illustrating that they too value critical thinking and skepticism. I will respectfully disagree, that is unless and until belief can shine as being justified in accordance with what I know. That is the kicker for myself as well as many others in this modern day!

If people are committing to a God that they have neither seen, heard, or reliably detected only on the basis of the authority from which Jesus and the Apostles are said to have had, then both my problem and theirs is that this kind of basis for belief is no different than the basis for belief in Islam, Hinduism, or Judaism minus a Jesus!

This is a problem, a real crisis if and only if we care about what is actually true within this life! In other words, to claim knowledge in this regard is not a game especially if these religions contain clear warnings against unbelief and apostasy, which they do! If we as human beings are born into a context that does not favor or reliably demonstrate clear intervention from a God or gods, then what justification is their to believe?

What reason have any of us to play favorites in this regard? Is it only on the basis that we find the good news of Jesus to be motivating and emotionally satisfying? Is that the payout here? If the payout is only comfort and an emotional connection then by all means I would probably be at church right now balling my eyes out! I reveled in the idea that an invisible being was leading me, guiding me, loving me, and empowering me to live differently. The ideology was pretty fascinating but that is all it ever proved to be in my life.

So when will humanity ever deserve the right to know something rather than to simply think it? Rather than to respond to authority only? This is what will determine our allegiances in life.

Good Morning Vietnam Best Scenes. Prod. BadfishKoo. YouTube. Web. 27 January 2014.

Metaphysical Madness!

Do you enjoy understanding what other people think and why they think it? Join the club my friends! I’m just a regular guy that likes to muse about the big questions. This particular post is me examining the problems that arise when starting one’s quest for knowledge from a position of faith rather than from a neutral stance that simply acknowledges what is either known or unknown to us in life. You might want to check out the post right before this one titled: Pure Knowledge vs. Faith. Within it I lay out five different problems that I see when people plug faith-based thinking into their equation of knowledge about the world and our very existence! Without further ado here is problem number one:

Faith is a reliance upon a metaphysical understanding of the world that fails to intersect with our present knowledge and experiences.

Now, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here! I think that striving for a metaphysical understanding has its place. In other words, we can strive to build a philosophy from principles that we find within the world. I’m all for having a philosophy for love, and for justice, and for keeping people accountable to one another.

Where I think it is important to draw a distinction here is in the area of origins. Religions undoubtedly make metaphysical claims about our origins and about the specific meaning and purpose of life as it is said to have been revealed by a God or gods. This is where the conversation gets a little dicey because most faith-based perspectives are content with accepting metaphysical religious claims simply on authoritative grounds rather than from investigative grounds. I’ll say more on that in a moment.

It is thought that the Bible is a divinely inspired set of ancient texts. So much so that many conservatives view the penned words of these documents as being guided and preserved by the Holy Spirit. It is as if God breathed these texts into existence through the use of human vessels. Though such an analogy is rather attractive, especially as a sermon illustration, one will be hard pressed to ever truly demonstrate that divine inspiration is an undeniable fact!

For one, we need to ask ourselves how it is even possible to narrow down divinely inspired texts in the present? Assuming that many of my believing friends admit to not having definitive knowledge that God exists I must implore them with this question: What present basis do you have to choose your specific holy book as the starting point for your own metaphysical understanding of the world? Is it simply because Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism got to you first?

Some people may be under a deep impression that they can favor their own religion because of various religious experiences that seem to confirm for them personally that Jesus, or Allah, or the ancient sages have gifted them with special revelation. The kind of special knowledge that I see many claim within conservative Christianity I think can be easily explained as a form of self-delusion. These people, and I am including my former self, are under the impression that certain feelings that arise during worship and prayer serve as some kind of guidance from the Holy Spirit. It gets more complicated when some claim to have been given dreams and various visions but I still have a hunch that within this crowd most would admit that they could be wrong. Especially due to the rather subtle nature of these experiences.

There seems to be a kind of hungry expectation among many to search subjectively for any kind of hints that the Holy Spirit is somehow trying to communicate with them. After many years of evaluating my faith culture I came to realize that this is a form of social conditioning! In fact, these are normative and acceptable behaviors within many contexts of worship and communal prayer. There is a silent rule within this crowd indicating that to not seek a charismatic experience or some kind of intimate connection with God is to have a lukewarm or apathetic approach to worship. The rather rigid folks that stand there awkwardly with their eyes open and hands unraised are often targeted as an illustration for a future sermon. They’ll say, “we need to seek God! We need to break, we need to cry, we need to get down on our hands and knees and repent because we are otherwise lost and given to a life of sin and apathy!” I could say more in that regard but I’ll save it for a later post.

As we bring ourselves to accept that special knowledge is illusory based upon the mass variety of these experiential claims that exist outside of our own religion then we will come to see rather quickly that there is no way to validate the inspiration of a holy book! I tend to describe this knowledge crisis as being one that lacks a bridge to bring us safely into certainty that our most cherished religious ideas are even true or accurate! What is happening here is that we as human beings find ourselves within a specific modern context that does not appear to provide any helpful compass that can point us to the right God or gods. It is a really big and challenging step to admit this, but at the end of the day it is honest! It is a brutally honest thing to admit that we simply do not know that God is at the other side of this knowledge chasm.

What this ultimately means is that religion is kind of like an sd card for the mind that can be switched out at any given time and used to view our origins in a certain way. It doesn’t narrow down on the truthfulness of these claims at all, it simply provides different lenses through which to interpret the world. Faith does not operate from knowledge, instead it operates from authority! We are simply told to trust and not to investigate too far away from the original premise. To investigate too much into other religions or even into various secular views of the world is to not remain loyal to one’s former faith commitment or covenantal relationship (the subject of my next post). I’m challenging the people that think they have fairly evaluated claims outside of their religion and still found them lacking. In my opinion, a truly open mind is one that is willing to put on other hats. It is a mind that is willing to be changed regardless of what kind of social stigmas and consequences that arise from thinking differently. Part of investigating is to step into different experiences and ways of understanding the world.

In closing the main point that I want to make here is that if a God or gods are not intervening into our modern context so as to provide a clear bridge into certainty, then one will be hard pressed to ever demonstrate that the metaphysical claims within their religion are necessary, true, or even accurate to believe in! This is a legitimate problem for anybody that views faith in the unseen as a reliable exercise when trying to acquire pure knowledge. Trusting in what is neither seen or validated in the present is nothing other than metaphysical madness!

I wonder, I just wonder if the pervasiveness of suffering is what drives good people into stupidity and despair? This one objective fact is put on display day after day, year after year. Our very existence derives from interacting with harsh climates and warding off predators that evolved to feed upon flesh! I sometimes don’t blame people for turning away from reality itself.

Pure Knowledge vs Faith

We live in a big world ladies and gents! The vast amount of thinking and perception that exists among people is a very curious reality to me. Across this spectrum of understanding fact from fiction some of us seem a little more geared than others to recognize the red flags within this conversation. Thus the value of critical thinking and having a questioning frame of mind.

When this conversation turns to religion you’re going to get my attention because I once invested a lot of energy into defending its claims. I was striving for an honorable path in which I intended to have a ministry that propagated the love and wisdom of God freely to all. In other words, I truly believed that I had some insights into the mind of an unseen deity. I passionately accepted that the Bible was inerrant and geniusly inspired!

I believed all of these things until the refining fires of this life shaped me a little differently than I had ever anticipated they would. It took much hardship to illustrate to my own self that I was deceived about many things when it came to having faith in the unseen. I’m going to spell out a list of some important examples that I think illustrate that faith in and of itself is a folly of the mind. What I mean is that it is an exercise that is entirely unhelpful within the pursuit of pure knowledge and here is why:

1) Faith is a reliance upon a metaphysical understanding of the world that fails to intersect with our present knowledge and experiences.

2) Faith carries within it the idea of an unbreakable covenantal relationship. In other words, it is a call to complete allegiance in spite of any evidence that may be given to the contrary.

3) Faith is first and foremost a response to authority rather than an in depth examination of knowledge.

4) Faith fails to acknowledge opposing claims of divine authority as being just as plausible due to the nature or design of these claims.

5) The difference between faith and knowledge is twofold. 1) Faith usurps a careful pursuit of the truth in which it may very well be more justified to suspend judgment based upon present conditions. 2.) Faith fails to utilize uncertainty as a tool to more closely come to terms with what is and is not actual knowledge.

In my future posts I plan to flesh out and defend each of these points. My goal here is to demonstrate legitimate problems that appear when someone of any religious background begins their pursuit of pure knowledge from a position of religious faith rather than from a careful consideration of the facts and particularly how knowledge can be gained in the world.

Stay with me guys, things are getting good!

Perhaps a most valuable insight into the human story is that we are the ones who tell it. We are the ones that express it. We are the ones that hate it. We are the ones that love it!

We are ultimately responsible for ourselves, and that is existence in a nutshell, my friends! What remains consistent for us all is this one life.