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Friday, September 7, 2012

How do we change how someone else thinks?

Some people, when they hear you say something they do not agree with, will insist that you document all your assertions and come up with a compelling proof in a point by point compelling argument. If you fail to do this to their satisfaction they feel fully justified in dismissing you and your ideas. This is so true when discussing theology, politics or getting down to the bottom of a dispute or settling a personal grievance.

I have found that when anyone attempts to do this (document and explain detail by detail), it always gets bogged down in details, gets to where no one can ever see the forest for the trees unless they already see them, and only results in more robust spin leaving both people and their opinions even more divided.

Speaking in summary is therefore, strange as it may seem, the only way to get to the point. And the point sits their unproven and uncompelling. Discussing details at that point helps us to merely somewhat appreciate how the point was reached. I have come to the opinion that the strategy of a detailed point by point discussion not only fails but the failure of it then also degenerates into a dishonest habit for avoiding responsible thinking. We enable ourselves and others to use the failure of such a strategy as the detailed sequential argument, that we can take advantage of failure and justify digging in our cognitive stubbornness.

A solid well expressed sequential argument is a useful tool, but only for those interested in understanding how another thinks without necessarily having any interest in being convinced, without having any concern with defending a contrary point of view. It is also useful to those who are already convinced of an opinion but wish to sharpen their understanding of how it can coherently be grasped.

But here is the truth about how opinions are formed in the real world. All of us have gotten to our perspective as the result of a lengthy history in developing it in a process of confusion and various possible explanations that eventually gel into some form of coherence and then we settle into an opinion. It is RARE that it is by looking at the details in a sequential argument for something we do not agree with and then arriving at the proper change in thinking through what we see as a compelling conclusion. Anyone who claims they come to an opinion that way on a regular basis is either naive, not self-aware, or they are simply not being honest with themselves.

So in spite of how wonderful the idea seems on the surface, that approach is actually synthetic and contrary to our nature and regular routine as developing humans. This is why my approach when expressing my unconventional views has been to speak in generalities, and then to also offer a few details. I can give even more details when asked in a friendly and respectful manner. But I then refuse to be the one whose responsibility it is to convince someone of my perspective.

How another person thinks is THEIR responsibility and how they dismiss or reconsider what I have to say is THEIR responsibility. There is a sense in which it is not my problem and I only injure a person's ability to truly think things through for themselves by trying to do their thinking for them. Only you can go through the process that could possibly result in changing how you think. The generalities that I or others speak in can alert you to the fact that there are others who think differently than you do and the few details they give you can give you a few pieces of information that actually feel as if they are out of context from within your own point of view.

This might create in you some dissonance and that is sufficient for now. It then becomes your responsibility to decide if this is an issue worth your time to reconsider ON YOUR OWN. And if you decide to reconsider things you might inquire about ongoing details and eventually in time arrive at a new way of seeing things. You might after an honest and thorough consideration change your views some but still disagree with what you had considered. Or you might decide the issue is unworthy of your genuine consideration and move along. Hopefully if you do that, you will also be honest about the fact that you did not really sufficiently explore the idea so as to be able to definitively dismiss it.

Our confusion about how we and other people actually arrive at conclusions is part of why we end up talking in circles and resorting to mere spin. The other reason is that since people do not take responsibility for their own thinking and try to think for you, this means that talking in circles is as far as we can take it. When this happens it represents a breakdown in honest conversation.

Give honesty a chance, be prepared to enter every phase of your life with various paradigm shifts. Don't get stuck in defending various fixed beliefs that were embraced by a younger less experienced you.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Are Intellectuals dangerous; is all philosophy vain?


If a person has an IQ of, say, 180, they will be comfortable wrestling with the logic of concepts well suited to their capacity. On the other hand if a person has an IQ of, say 100, then they will only be able to comfortably handle ideas and concepts in a basically average way.

It is a completely responsible thing for the person with the 180 IQ to entertain and consider the ideas and concepts well within their grasp. It would actually be irresponsible for them not to. But the person with the 100 IQ cannot deal with those exact same ideas responsibly. As a population, we vary considerably in our capacity.

The problem of intellectualism does not arise until you get the highly intelligent person demanding that the average person agree with them. "Intellectualism" is for intellectuals only; they can deal with these things and they indeed MUST do so without silencing their peers of opposing opinions. But intellectuals of every and any opinion, persuasion or philosophy are violating others when they demand of them conformity and loyalty to their ideas.

How can a preacher demand of you that you forsake the philosophy of Jacques Derrida or Karl Marx, for example. If their philosophies are notions you cannot make heads or tails of? In honesty you should be allowed to decide for yourself what you will do with those notions. The intellectual must be free to express what it is they can and cannot accept but they can only offer it for your consideration. The intellectual must save the arguing and stronger language in discussions with their peers. It is not a fair fight if one shows up with an assault rifle and the other shows up with a pea shooter; and this is true without regard to which side of the argument might be "correct."

If there is an idea you cannot understand, then the only honest position you can take is, "I don't know what to think about that idea." You really have no choice but to move on and ponder possibilities until you can take personal responsibility for how it settles in you. And if some intellectual comes along warning you that you will be taken astray into doctrines of demons, you have no way of knowing if I that intellectual is the one actually manipulating you.

As I understand it, not all philosophy is vain, but philosophy becomes vain when it is forced upon others by an intellectual who knows full well that they are forcing these ideas on people incapable of appreciating the implications and the strengths and weaknesses of the ideas. This is also true when the person forcing the ideas is merely repeating the party line they have already bought into. When someone shares an idea inside their area of expertise but outside your area of expertise -- that is fully acceptable. But if they demand from you compliance and agreement to notions beyond your own area of expertise, then they are trying to make you fear the consequences while also presenting themselves to you in a vain manner where what they really want you to do is think to yourself, "WOW, that guy is one smart dude." This is  the essence of "vain philosophy."

We all need to be a bit more honest about what we do and do not grasp. We cannot save the world by using only those ideas intellectuals understand because we cannot in honesty all get on board. Nor can we save the world by telling the intellectual to shut up and leave us alone. Let us not in pour pursuit of a spiritual foundation get in a battle against the intellectual.

Love IS the answer for everyone, respect is the default mode for those who are different in capacity and opinion. We can leave the wonderful questions to those well able to ask and answer them. But we have nothing to fear from the intellectual until they actually arrive with demands.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Grasping for a theology I can trust

I have no desire to be a stick in the mud but I do not think any compelling argument can be made from what the early church believed about anything.

It is certainly interesting and certainly worthy of consideration, but it seems to me that Jesus no sooner disappears and power struggles, legalism and Gnosticism are already worming their way into the message as we see in the book of Acts and the letters of Paul. After 70 AD, Semitic perspective is eschewed and the church begins a tailspin deep into Greek philosophy. Once the original Apostles are dead there are no brakes to that trend and the church body as a whole redefines every New Testament word in terms of its Greek back story while adding an overstated drama inventing ecclesiastical meaning instead of seeing the biblical text in its actual historical context. I am not saying they did this out of deliberate intent to distort but simply out of an uneducated assumption that these words precipitated from a Jewish sect must obviously mean what they mean "to me." And thus was invented the tradition of unscholarly study of Greek where it is studied with rigid grammar and no research into linguistic significance except when confused. This trend continues to this very day. It will be hard to change it because it would require a great number of esteemed leaders to admit they were wrong.

We did not suddenly find ourselves victims of the heresies of Augustine of Hippo. He merely sealed the deal once and for all and the church has ever since been a cult of hidden anti-Semitic attitudes married to Greek Philosophy involved in horrific power struggles to reestablish absurd concepts or substitutes for apostolic authority. It is Augustine's false teachings that forever plunged the church into a required organizational structure as that remained the only way to sustain his paradigm. And yet it violates every principle Jesus and Paul taught about the nature of the relationship Christ has with the individual.

The Roman Catholic monolith could not establish its power grip until after Augustine. The so called Protestant reformers were themselves grasping for power. I can empathize as they required some sort of power to counter the Roman church. So as they saw it, they had no choice but to go no farther back than Augustine. In a sense Protestantism simply went back to the same poisoned root and became a different kind of Catholicism.

Back to my opening statement - I think the only arguments we can make are those that consider the possibilities and rely upon the potential for coherence when as many factors as possible are wrestled with.