December 24, 2007

(Christmas) Bread to feed our hunger…

Posted in Christianity, Religion at 3:21 pm by a11en

This will be one of the few religious based posts that I have here. But, it is Christmas eve, and I feel a need to post a bit about it. I am both a scientist and Christian. These two may seem diametrically opposed, unless you have tried this as well personally. They are not opposites, unless you believe in the religion which is also called Science. I will choose not to attempt to convince you, as likely no one can do so. What I will say, is that this opinion also is a rebellion against the majority of my peers (I often find I am in this position)… as Dyson suggests, a scientist as Rebel.

As a scientist, and part-time philosophy student (mostly self-taught, being that life itself necessitates man to find his philosophy, and doubly so for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) student…), the works of C. S. “Jack” Lewis are dear to my heart. Lewis paves a path forward through logical deduction and discussion that upgirds the logical in a religion that often asks us to believe the illogical. In Miracles, Lewis records a philosophical treatise about the existence of Miracles. Miracles by nature of their definition are “not of nature”… and are not to be “natural”… except they play out their role in nature (that is our known existence), and so the after-effects are natural. As a scientist do you find you have a problem with the concept of Miracles because they are “not natural”? Well, my friend, that makes complete sense because a priori they are not natural. If that is your only problem with them, you had better do some more thinking, because that’s their definition…

One of C.S. Lewis’ most well known works, Mere Christianity (Simple Christianity), is a wonderful place to start. The simple notion (which I believe Lewis shares also with G.K. Chesterton, although Lewis explained this simple thought much more clearly than Chesterton), is the concept that no craving in Man exists without a way to quench that craving. For lust, there is sex. For ants in your pants, there is running. For need to love, there is woman. For thirst, water. For hunger, there is bread. Yet, we find that Man has another craving. A craving for God. There is a desire in Man that reaches out beyond our earthly existence. Why then should we believe there is no food for this hunger? Isn’t all other hunger in existence capable of being quenched in some manner?

I of course cannot do justice to the amazing discussions of Lewis. Surely Lewis is this century’s greatest apologetic, if not one of our greatest philosophers. If you are a Christian, or are wondering about Christianity from a logical discussion, I strongly suggest you read Lewis’ work(s). I warn you, however, that some of Lewis’ discussions are meant for the older Christians, and he often pushes our thought to the edge with his discussions. The most infuriating thing about Lewis is he’s often right, even when we don’t want him to be. 🙂 This I find grows my faith and my understanding. (I found the first half of Mere Christianity to be the best for me at the time, and the last half did some pushing… I have to revisit the work now that I have read much more of his life’s works.)

I’m certainly not the best Christian in the world. In fact, I often ask my Christian friends to forgive me- I tell them honestly: “I may be the worst Christian you’ll ever meet.” And this is the truth.

I have a post here somewhere that I may revise over this break entitled: “On the importance of vices…” In which I discuss why vices are important. 🙂 So, you see, I am quite bad. I somewhat revel in this badness, to some degree, but at the same time, it often brings heartache. As Lewis discusses in Mere Christianity, we find that when we look inside ourselves, we find that man has a consciousness, and that Man is in the unique position of recognizing his faults and realizing that he falls far from his own mark. Every time I miss a meeting, or a task, or don’t do this or that… or slack off, or procrastinate, or fall short of my mark, I am reminded of Man’s state. Man’s striving for perfection, and Man’s failure to attain it. No other religion in the world describes this state of Man. Thankfully, there is Mercy and Grace to be had.

And, so, I bring this post to a close. I am thankful this season for this Grace, this Mercy, this Love. For, I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living*.

I leave with you a few words of Jack’s which describe my position (from “Is Theology Poetry” published in the collected lectures entitled “The Weight of Glory“):

The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

I wish you a Very Merry Christmas!! Hosanna!

ps- I will talk here and there of other religions or philosophical thought on this blog.  However, I felt this season a need to share Lewis’ works, and Christmas with you in some way.

November 13, 2007

The Happiest Man In The World?

Posted in Christianity, EasternPhilosophy, Productivity, Rants, Religion, Work at 1:57 am by a11en

A very quick blog-post regarding a recent TED lecture I listened to (posted recently from 2004) on the training of our minds to focus on happiness… I’m supposed to be working on a journal article review, so I must make this short…

Matthieu_Ricard‘s TED lecture regarding happiness touched on something I have come across before (just found his Google lecture– will have to watch that also). During his talk, Ricard discussed how Anger and these types of emotions can be destroyed, by focusing on the actual emotion of anger, rather than the event of the anger which frustrates you. Surprisingly, a light-bulb went off above my head (I have it on my desk now- well, ok, maybe I’m joking… ). You see, this sounded very very much like the talk of a great man I truly admire- C.S.Lewis in his discussion of his search for Joy in Surprised By Joy. [note- this is not the complete focus of Lewis’ book, but it does play a role in his discussion about happiness and his pursuit of it.] You see, Lewis realized (as the great philosopher he was), that every time he was truly happy and went to observe what happiness meant, he all of a sudden was no longer happy. The conclusion that Lewis came to, was that Happiness itself cannot be studied, aside from the event of happiness which could be experienced. In otherwords, observing his emotions technically, meant that his motions ceased to be. And this very much ties in with Ricard’s discussion of Mind-Training (say through meditation). Basically, observation of the state of being Angry, turns your focus from Anger’s object, and upon the object of You and how you are experiencing anger in its pure form- your emotional response only… say the physical response of your body to your emotions, etc. A very interesting twist on a concept I had heard of before.

Frustration reared its ugly head for me in my work these past few weeks, and the action(s) of a supposed friend/mentor has me quite fuming. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to complain, and so I must move forward, not to let my emotions dictate my actions or my ability to act. In fact, a negative response to this likely won’t do any good at all. And so, this week, I think I’ll take a page out of Ricard’s book, and observe my physical and mental response technically in regards to my emotions of Anger, and see if I can’t make them more fleeting, as Ricard says… as birds flying across the sky, leaving no trace on my mind.

There are many things that Christians can learn from the mystics and philosophers of the east- just as Chesterton saw them, I also see them- they are philosophers and scientists, not solely religious focused practitioners. Buddhism and the like is a religion, and then again, it isn’t. Very much like a koan itself… it has no specific god, but sees all as god at the same time. What is much more interesting, is to look at how Buddhists (and Toaists) see Man’s position in the world, and how one copes with one’s existence, and the mystical explanaitions of such existence. Very interesting.

Oh, and as much as you can believe f-MRI (and I have my doubts sometimes), Ricard and his fellow Monks were completely off the charts in the studies [2] they participated in. So, meditation does change the brain…

Not only do we have to learn good habits in our work, etc, we must also learn good habits in our mind. Ricard’s closing statements about how much we focus on our exterior, good health, exercise, etc., and contrastingly, how little we spend on our interior, mental processes, health, and internal happiness, was very poignant.

Update- Wednesday; November 14, 2007- Reading more has been interesting. I wanted to add a few points.

• It’s clear that some of the Catholic Astheticists have a link of common experiences with monks of the East. Merton recognized this, and it led to a long discourse (which still exists to this day) between Tibetan Buddhism and Catholicism (here the Trappists). It’s also clear that there is a wariness occurring in the Catholic church about the amount of Buddhist practices which are entering into many churches and retreat centers etc. In fact before he became Pope, the new guy also was discussing this. It appears that the “grass is always greener” syndrome is happening here for many western Christians.

• I think there is a delineation that should be made between a mental practice of a methodology know to alter the mental state, bringing about this “mental training” that Ricard discusses and practicing religious aspects of a methodology that should likely raise some warning flags for Christians in the process. For example- the concept that all is the same and all is nothing… this is somewhat Nihilist and should raise some flags… while we may not know for sure, a Christian believes this is not correct. I.e., that there is a truth and a wrong in the world, and that there is a divine truth and a divine good. And that man is separate from this divine good etc. Much of this discussion will not jive with many aspects of Buddhism. But, this does not mean that a philosophy separate from a religious practice cannot have portions of truth in it for the Christian believer. As C.S. Lewis would say in regards to the earlier religions that had aspects similar to the death of Christ, etc.- it is not these earlier religions that show the fault in Christianity, in fact, it is the very fact that they harken to a truth that is Christian that upgirds Christianity. They share partial truths, namely because there is such a thing as the full truth. It shouldn’t surprise us if man every once in a while stumbles across a truth which we find also in our Christian teachings.

• I focus on the philosophy of the eastern thoughts, not on the religious aspects (unless I’m doing comparative religious readings), and find the majority of this all quite interesting. Those who are familiar with Sin should immediately recognize reflections of it in Tao “The Way”. C.S. Lewis did, and commented on it in his “The Abolition Of Man.” I.e., to live a sinless life, one needs to flow around obstacles in one’s path like a river around rocks… (that east-west image I just created should give you a sense of the richness of this type of discourse)

• So, I step forward here, deeply interested in meditation again since reading of the fMRI results. Anxiously awaiting the future publications of this work. And, I am now reading what I can about practices etc., to determine if I can mix meditation “mind-training” into my current spiritual life. BTW, I see some practices in the Eastern Christian sects that have this meditation history (Jesus prayer etc.), and so it is likely that there is a synergy here. Merton and the Dalai Llama certainly noticed it… it should be an interesting experience…

• ps- “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome actually works both ways… in my experience, a good portion of the Chinese students who arrive in this country are just itching to talk about Christianity with anyone who seems open to it. They have a real curiosity. So, it goes both ways. 🙂 They also will chat about ConfuTse and ChuangTse etc., if asked… which can be quite interesting as well. [ps- I love ChuangTse more than both ConfuTse and LaoTse. While LaoTse may have been the first, ChuangTse was the one who expressed it the best.]