Midlife Crisis: Or First Draft of a Book Preface

It seems to me that my life, like surely many people’s lives, resembles the trajectory of modernism to postmodernism (to post-postmodernism?). That is, like many people, when I was a child everything was imbued with a robust intrinsic identity and meaning, both of which could be definitively and determinedly known. One of the most obvious examples of this was the faith in the near omniscience of my parents, and once in school and out of the house, in that of other adults. In the very beginning, there is truly nothing unknown; and though I did not have firsthand knowledge of it, I knew others must. When a child like this, the pronouncements and judgments of parents and adults are absolute, unquestionable, and though sometimes terrifying, an ultimate source of security. There is the recognition of one’s own limits and simultaneously the boundlessness of the abilities of adults, not the least of which was the ability of my parents to make me feel secure and loved.

I know others had very different childhood experiences—something my wife reminds me of regularly, for which I am grateful. Perhaps I was ridiculously naïve; I’m sure plenty of other children either figured it out or at least had premonitions of their parents’ limitations much earlier, but not me. It would not be until my late teens that I really began to question not only my parents’ abilities but the soundness of social institutions more generally. For along with confidence in parents and adults, comes confidence in institutions. I mean institutions such as the church, school, government, business, history, and the unsurpassed, and unsurpassable, greatness of the United States. When young, so many of these seem to work by an intrinsic magic, only to turn later to have been “nothing but” a placebo effect. Continue reading

Atlanta Protest 11.11.16

What happened last night in Atlanta with the protest that organized in the Historic Fourth Ward Park, next to the Masquerade club, and across from the recently developed Ponce City Market (cough, “gentrification”), and then proceeded to march through Atlanta, taking an indirect route past mlkjr-drive-protest-picGeorgia State University and the State Capital building? More importantly, why were people gathering and protesting? Why were they disrupting the traffic, tying up intersections? From a variety of sources, it’s quite clear that there is either confusion or outright misunderstanding and mischaracterization of what happened and why. Having been there from 6 pm to 9:30, this is my take. I know that I leave many issues out that the protest concerned (may I be forgiven for that).

Even though I went to bed later than usual last night (around 1:00 am), I was not able to sleep past 5:00 am. This is in part because I’m still struggling with the time change, and in part because the energy, the import, and the chants from last night’s protest and march echo in my mind. So, getting up I fed the animals and sat down listening to the National News broadcast on NPR. They reported on protests around the country. In Oregon, things were more chaotic than in Atlanta, as one person was shot and police used teargas and flash-bang grenades to try to break things up. Thankfully, that did not happen in Atlanta last night.

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Nihilism, Hell, and Self-Interest

Often when people fear hell, they fear it in the sense of an afterlife of eternal torment, or, perhaps more sophisticatedly, eternal separation from God. As others have noted, though, hell exists on earth in a variety of forms. For example, you can read Sartre’s “No Exit” as making the case that “hell is other people.” As an introvert, I find that line of thinking attractive, but I think a more pressing form of hell on earth is putting one’s effort, ones being, into a daily existence that faces some form of nihilism. Nihilism in the sense that nothing that exists and nothing that one may do has any meaning or significance. I take it that anyone who has been tempted by, or succumbed to, nihilism knows how this is hell, and how it can make all the other hells all the more hellish. Suffering, whether other people, a kidney stone, or a broken heart, can feel all the more hellish when the loss is simultaneously (paradoxically?) experienced as meaningful and yet for nothing.

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From Faith to a Pernicious Idolatry

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

2. You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

It might seem easy to avoid idolatry, to avoid worshiping false gods. All you need to do is avoid worshiping either an image of your own god or some other religion’s god(s). However, a more pernicious idolatry is easy to fall into. It comes as a result of a certain kind of belief process, namely, faith.

“Faith” has a variety of meanings, but my understanding of the Christian perspective on it is that “faith in God” means not only trusting in God, but believing in God’s existence without evidence and come what may. As such, belief in God on the basis of faith does not provide any epistemic (truth preserving) reasons for belief; moreover, such faith is taken to require that one maintain belief in the face of controverting evidence.

So the person of faith holds certain beliefs without evidence and maintains those beliefs despite counter evidence, often rationalizing the counterevidence away. An extreme example of this would be to say that all of the fossils that suggest a very, very ancient earth are put there by God to test our faith. To question God is unthinkable. From a psychological perspective this is understandable given the weighty nature of the issues involved, e.g., the inevitable eternal stay in heaven or hell, and the existential fear they produce.

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