Sunday, December 13, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The Irony of Rational Thought as a Means to FaithPierre Bayle was by far the most widely read thinker of his time. He was controversial in his own time and by the 18th century was claimed by groups as diverse as the Free Thinkers who claimed him as a closet atheist on one hand and the most conservative Calvinists who saw him as the clearest defender of traditional Calvinist thought on the other. After that Bayle's writings were, by and large, forgotten until scholars revisited his work in the 20th century.
Bayle's ideas are of particular interest in light of the line of thinking that is also pervasive throughout equally diverse fields today. Everyone from devout atheists to conservative evangelicals stake out a belief based on what they believe to be sound rational erudition.
Bayle's most well read work was the Historical and Critical Dictionary. One of his most controversial articles was on the biblical account of David. In it, without defense, Bayle simply tells David's story. While many are familiar with the story of Bathsheba, Bayle goes much deeper. He presents David as a liar, thief, adulterer and murderer. He also presents him as beloved by God.
Bayle was a Huguenot. The Huguenots, as Protestant Calvinists, were considered heretics in Catholic France. Bayle, who had converted to Catholicism and then back to Calvinism, was a considered a heretic of the very worst kind. Bayle's own brother would die in the dungeons of Louis XIV because of his Protestant faith.
Not surprisingly, many Huguenots were bent on over throwing Louis XIV. There was some theological concern for such a belief since authorities are ordained by God but, it was argued, this could be justified. While leaders were ordained by God, the king of France was a liar, thief, adulterer and murderer.
Bayle's David was not well received by those bent on an overthrow.
There was a deeper concern being addressed in Bayle's raw representation of David. Catholic apologists had been quite successful in arguing that pure Calvinism suggested that the worst sinner might be chosen and the devoutest server of Christ might be left behind based on the arbitrary election of God. Many Calvinists backed off from this pure belief and suggested that, while the elect were chosen of God, if they were chosen they would reflect that selection outwardly.
Bayle makes clear that his position is that Calvin and even Augustine before him were right. Salvation was a great and divine mystery and who were we to say who was elect and who was not based on some outward performance. David's life was indefensible and yet he was chosen.
In his Dictionary Bayle also showed that even the most primitive stances regarding the metaphysical could not be disproved employing any form of rational thought. He posited that rational thought could take you so far. We should take rational thought as far as it could go and then recognize that regardless of where it takes us, it cannot prove or disprove what we base on faith.
Bayle found it despicable that Christians of his time were still treating comet sitings and the like as omens from God. He pointed to how much of Christianity had been diluted with pagan beliefs. It is not hard to see how the atheist and the strict Calvinist would see fit to claim Bayle as their own.
So how does this relate to the present day?
The atheist stands solidly behind reason to justify their position. But at the point their position could lead to a complete lack of purpose, the atheist takes up faith to fill in the blanks and make out some reason for existence. Having no sympathy for such a viewpoint it does not seem fruitful to explore it further.
Both the atheist and the Christian are guilty of employing the argument by ignorance to "prove" the opposite point of view is wrong. The athiest asks how can such and such issue regarding the metaphysical be true while the Christian asks how such and such view of nature be true. Both arguments only suggest points that deserve further exploration and never disprove anything.
Atheism is a dying belief spauned by only to be devoured by Christian thought. As a postion devoid of human purpose, atheists have little motivation to build families and, as such, even if they were accurate in their arguments, are destined to extinction. The God Gene, whether it is a product of evolution or a part of our creation, will ultimately prove too powerful to leave room for a view without hope. The atheist deserves sympathy rather than ire from its opponents.
In western culture, the Christian stands at the other end of the spectrum. One wonders what Bayle would think of the rabbit trails we run down to try and prove that all science that appears to weaken Christianity must be proven wrong. Christians pat themselves on the back by regurgitating the same old arguments and wonder that any rational person couldn't see the fact and abandon all other points of view. It is only after satisfying themselves that they are intellectually solid that they acknowledge that the problem must be a spiritual issue.
It would be a sad thing if Christians were really able to so easily use the rational, a tool best left to the consideration of nature, to demonstrate the supernatural. Observations in nature that contradict our understanding of God may cloud our understanding of God and His involvement with creation but they prove nothing about God Himself or anything outside nature.
Christians, it seems, are to quick to defend against scientific positions that contradict their understanding of how nature should be if Christian doctrine is to remain defensible. This has lead to a long list of embarrassing positions beginning as far back as Capernicus.
In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard said, "...the one who expected the impossible was the greatest of them all." It is to faith that, living with contradictions to that faith, power is given. The greater the divide between rational thought and one's faith, the greater reliance on one's faith one must have.
What of the one who claims that they came to faith after determining that some well argued point had been settled? Given the ability for some to be unconvinced and some to be convinced by such and such argument, it would seem that conversion based on the merits of a rational argument are a tribute to one's weakness rather than a strength in discerning rational thoughts. Bayle was so convinced of this that he demonstrated again and again in his work that even the weakest world views could not be disproved through rational thought.
To consider a faith where we are not in control of our salvation nor able to defend such a view would, it seems, leave the Christian with a great appreciation when called to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling."
Sunday, May 31, 2009
When I sat down, the ice bucket full of ice was sitting next to me on the edge of the tub. It hardly contained enough ice for a proper ice bath but it would have to do.
I looked at my feet once again. No blisters. Just a few callouses and a few slightly tender spots that would be gone by the following day.
I turned on the cold water to a trickle. When water splattered from the empty tub onto my legs I quickly turned the water up to allow it to fill in to stop the splashing. Somehow, while the splatter was exceedingly uncomfortable to endure, the rising water on my heels and calves was quite pleasant.
Normally, I would wait until the water was at a suitable level and then dump the ice over my legs. Today I picked a couple of ice cubes out of the bucket.
Plink. Plunk. I tossed one to the outside of my right foot and one to the outside of the left foot.
I thought about the pre-race. Parking, getting a number, waiting to use the one stall in the bathroom, pulling out gear, meeting new people, connecting with friends.
The SweetH2O 50k was underway.
I headed out at a pace 2 minutes faster than I anticipated. Must be the taper.
I counted 14 people in front of me when the road straightened out before plunging into the woods. "Keep an even, easy level of effort and you'll start picking them off as they get tired."
Plink, plunk. The cold water was rising too slowly. Now it was deep enough that I didn't feel like moving. Just let it ride.
As we completed the first loop, we ran onto a brief portion of road. I was so proud that I knew to cut the tangents around the curves. I wondered if anyone was impressed.
The ice cubes continued to join the water as I smiled at my expectations. I wasn’t beholden to the goals I had set. I had no idea what they should be. Among my unrealistic expectations there were a few about the trail.
When the race route meandered down to the river and sent us out toward the difficult portions of the course I expected the trail to be more reasonable. It must be level since it ran along the river.
It took us over rocks, hopping across logs, crossing natural drainages and tip toeing through tree roots. Somewhere on this portion I twisted my ankle. I ran on.
Plink. I decided to make a game of sliding the ice cubes down my thighs to see if I could get them to glide over my knees to where my shin was slowly being covered by water.
A branch knocked my sunglasses off of their perch on my hat. They rolled down my back and into my hand. I kept running.
I glanced back to see if my deft reflexes had been noted by a now intimidated runner behind me.
There was no one behind me.
My pace was slowing. “When the trail opens up I’ll be fresh,” I said. “I’m strong on the hills,” I said. “I’ll really reel them in then,” I said.
I heard a shout behind me. "Hey, I think it's this way!"
Plunk. I was sliding the ice cubes, one after another, down my leg into the water now. I couldn’t get them to slide over my kneecap.
About the time I reached the Top of the World, a new pattern developed on a trail that seemed to defy patterns. People began to pass me at regular intervals. The pattern remained until the end of the race.
“This is your first 50k. Finishing will be good.”
The Top of the World could be more appropriately named the Top-Bottom-Top-Bottom... ...of the World as it propelled runners on a roller coaster of breath taking inclines and declines. While the course is beautiful, 'breath taking' is not intended to mean anything other than 'breath taking'.The tub water rose slowly to engulf my heels and the midpoint of my calves
I had passed the Top of the World aid station and was making my way back to the river. Two runners had recently passed me and were heading out of view.
I came out on a power line clear cut at the top of a hill that dropped precipitously on both sides. This was the case all along the power line cuts but there were no runners in sight.
There were no trail markers into the trees on the other side.
I stood alone hoping another runner would come along.
In a few seconds one came into the clear from the direction I had come. After a few seconds of standing together, bewildered as to what to do, a few runners came out of the trees from the other side.
They were coming back, confirming that it was the wrong way.
We headed back the way we had all come. 50 feet back into the trees we saw a line of runners going along the actual route.
Plink. The tub water still had not covered the top half of my legs. I looked into the tub of ice. I had only used up half the ice cubes. Plunk.
Heather May passed me. I passed her.
The first visit to the Top of the World was over. People were still passing me. I stubbed my toe.
Heather caught up with Joe McNab and I and we ran together. She told us she’d already fallen once.
I was a couple hundred feet behind. Joe stood by to make sure she was OK. We ran together again. I left them at the aid station just before crossing the bridge. They both finished the race well ahead of me. Heather would be the female race winner.
Plink. I was still sliding ice cubes down my legs only to be stopped by my knees. The earliest ice cubes had already melted into the cool water.
Heather had already passed and Joe was running with me when we were passed by Sally Brookings. We exchanged a few pleasantries.
As she sped on I shouted, “If you’re going to get chicked, you might as well get chicked by a legend!”
I thought I was pretty cool with my ultra-lingo knowledge. I wondered later if I had been rude.
“Legend!” she shouted, “I don’t see any legends out here!”
Ploink. Finally, an ice cube rocked gracefully over my kneecap and down the ramp of my leg into the water.
I would be passed by six more female athletes.
On the steep descent down to the water crossing I reached out to push aside a slender branch. It turned out to be strongly connected both above and below. It was spiked with nasty thorns.
It stopped me dead in my tracks in spite of the downhill momentum. The thorns gripped my body from my right shoulder and continued down across my torso. The lower end of the branch slid across my left thigh leaving its mark on my leg. My left hand pressed hard on a thorn that left the middle of my palm bleeding.
“Are you all right?” It was Joe again.
“Nothing that the water won’t clean off.”
Sally was climbing out when we reached the water.
A little politeness on my part would have led me to offer the first trip across to Joe. He help Heather up and waited for me to untangle myself from my self wrought ribbon of thorns. He wouldn't have accepted, but...
The water crossing was a non-event. Today going out to fast had its advantages. Later runners waited over 40 minutes to make the crossing.
The water did wash away the blood and I didn’t give it another thought until I was safely home.
I was down to the last of my ice. The water was finally beginning to cover my legs. Any movement that caused the water to splash up on the dry portions of my body reminded me that the water was still quite cold.
I looked down at the lacerations on my thigh. I smiled. War wounds.
I started getting pains in my stomach. Was I over-hydrating? Were these cramps people spoke of? I chose not to include my pre-mix of protien powder, maltodextrin and Succeed! Caps into my next drink. At the next aid station I would just get water to slosh in my mouth and spit out. I had read to do that somewhere.
I got hungry and broke open a gel pack.
The water in the tub had engulfed my legs. I wondered if I should turn off the water. No. What I had misdiagnosed as cramps during the run was actually core muscles tightening up. I might as well let them freeze too.
The second trip to the Top of the World was actually less eventful than the first. I did not get lost. People were getting punchy and saying things that were only funny under the circumstances.
At the Top of the World aid station they told us we only had 4 miles to go. The aid station before and after the trip to the Top of the World had said that on the next visit we would be at mile 27. I remained quiet. No need to disillusion anyone.
The rest of the race was a series of runners politely making their way by me. At some point I stubbed my other toe.
Mile 28 still makes me laugh out loud when I think about it. You'd have had to have been there.
As I cleared a point that brought me around to the north side of the lake I looked up toward a field that represented one more hill. At the top of the hill stood two small figures. I began the climb toward them.
“Come on, honey! You can do it!”
Of all the things. It was my wife. It was my daughter.
“Dad, you’re almost done!”
“You can do it! You’re almost done!”
I later told my wife it felt like a “Sound of Music” moment.
As we ran around the last curve of road together my daughter pushed into me as she tried to move out of traffic to the side of the road.
“Don’t push me!” I snapped at her.
The emotions were a little raw.
I thought of George MacDonald who described how people sometimes think they have become better when in reality they only feel better. When I'm in a good mood it is easy to be good. It is when I am spent that I am most aware of opportunities to improve.
I finished my first 50k with a time of 5:56:07. 46th over all. I had been passed by 32 people. I was deeply satisfied.
I gingerly pulled myself forward and turned the tap water off. I laid back into the water.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
I will be forgotten. Nothing I have done gives me any expectation that I should be remembered. I find it hard to get close to those around me. A comfortable distance allows me to hold myself above them. When I interact, their justifiable lack of deference to me reminds me that I am not exceptional.
This sad realization does not send me into depression. When I was younger, I considered how I would rectify the matter. I have not done any of these things. I am resigned to the very likely possibility that I will not do any of these things. I understand that the annals of history will not bare my name. I will be forgotten.
However, I am not sad. This does not depress me. I am in good company. I know my parents well but few else do. I know less of my grandparents and still less of their parents. After that all is dark for some time. Further back there is a Supreme Court Justice who only historians remember. After that all is dark forever.
Those who do know of their ancestors often only know a name. If they know more it is often a justification to continue with their own life. And when they are gone what they know will go as well.
I will be forgotten. I am not sad.
Those who have abandoned the possibility of God should be sad. They will be forgotten and their lives will have served no purpose. Even if their names are written in the annals of history such annals are temporary as well. All that they build or paint or write or invent will be crushed in the infinite march of Nature.
Through the infinite march of Nature a person and even the whole human race cannot even take satisfaction in being an anomaly. While the odds of Nature producing such as we are be practically zero, in the infinite space of undivine nature, an infinite variety of such as we are will be produced and destroyed. When we are gone we will not be forgotten. There will be none left to have even had a memory of us.
Nature does not remember or forget. It just is.
Runners often claim that when they run they feel more connected with nature. Why this would be I do not know. I run and run and am shocked to find that little of what I consider me is not already connected to nature. Something in me says "run" and I run. Something in me says "run faster" and I run faster. Something in me says "run farther" and I run farther. But my body will only run so fast and no faster, so far and no farther. The something in me is that thing, that essence that is me. The something that is me knows no bounds. The body is confined to the limits of nature.
It is when I am confronted with the reality that almost all that I consider me is a temporary manifestation of a miniscule bit of nature that I realize that within it there is only a small intangible something that is me.
I do not run because I connect with nature. I run because, at certain brief moments, I connect with that which is me but does not appear to be in nature. I run because, when I single out that portion of me that does not seem to be a part of nature, I find that portion that is outside of nature.
I consider if there is that that is outside of nature, it may be possible to believe that it is inside something else.
I am compelled to believe that that which is me is not natural in nature. That which is me is intended to be "in" something else. Where is that something else? Who will I find there?
And so I keep running.
The body aligns itself with nature and, indeed, is fused to nature inextricably. The more it breaks down, the more I separate from it and become aware of the me that is me. The more that I become aware of the me that is me, the more hopeful I become in that which I've been taught all my life. The me that is me is intend for something else. Nature cannot intend. Only God can intend.
I run to be connected to God.
While it is hard to imagine an eternity with a perfect God that would not make me superfluous, in eternity there is hope. In a forgotten mortality there is no hope.
In nature I will be forgotten, but now there is hope that in something else I will not.
I run to find what is me, where me is naturally designed to be, who the Designer is and what I was designed for.