Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Half Past Modernity

There are a number of people that I know who think that modernity is over. They have already welcomed in post-modernity and bid a fond farewell to its unfortunate forerunner. I have not joined the ranks of the post-moderns, partly because I've grown somewhat attached to the ideas of modernity, but mostly because I still see the philosophies of modernity almost everywhere I look. I concede that if you walk into nearly any university the discussions often have more than a tinge of post-modern thought. But outside of academia modernity is still doing quite well. How do I know this you ask? Well, I see the main misconception that modern thinking brought into everyday thought everywhere. So you ask, (wishing that I would be more straightforward) "What misconception are you talking about?" "Oversimplification," I respond (wondering why you didn't know that already).

That's right; oversimplification is the great mark of modernity. Think about those philosophies that came about during modernity. I don't have time or the expertise to talk about all of them, but I would like to touch on three of them to make my point. Let's begin with one of my friend's favorite philosophies: Socialism (a.k.a. communism, Marxism, etc.). The core of socialism can be summed up by one comment made by Marx and Engles near the beginning of The Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." Marx took a bit of the truth, that there are indeed class struggles, and swells it to the point of making it the whole picture. No doubt class struggles occur, but history tells much more than just the story of class struggles. Marx and Engles oversimplify the multivariate tapestry that is history into an endless, bland cycle of class struggles.

Next up is Sigmund Freud, not one of my favorite philosophers, who took the sex drive and made it everything. It is true that humans have sexual desires and that those desires influence how we think and act. But are we just sex crazed animals with nothing on the brain but reproduction? In general (unfortunately some exceptions do exist), all of our actions aren't driven solely by the desire to have sex. Freud oversimplified the complex inner works of the human mind into an unsophisticated and overpowering sex drive.

Finally, I would like to talk about the Darwinists (who are an evil, conniving group regardless, or at least says Dr. Dino). The father of evolutionary theory came upon a couple of fantastic truths: natural selection and the survival of the fittest. Indeed much of biological history has been shaped by these two truths, but the early evolutionists proceeded to apply those truths to everything that wondered by. In essence, they took the truth of natural selection and survival of the fittest and said that they explained everything from the number of lenses in the trilobite's eyes to economic theory to the emergence of human emotions. I concede the fact that evolutionary theory can help us to explain a great deal about our world, but it cannot by itself explain Reality. Darwinists oversimplified the multifaceted world around us into a violent world of "kill or be killed."

We've seen how modern philosophers instead of trying to understand the different parts of truth took a single truth and declared it the only truth. But do we still see this gross simplification in the world today? Socialism still lives. China and Cuba are still communist nations. Psychology students still underline entire library books about Freud. Many biologists still devote their entire lives to researching evolutionary biology. However, this is not what I mean when I say that I still see the folly of modernity everywhere. People in general have oversimplified everything. Thing are either black and white. You are either a Republican or a Democrat. No one wants to talk about compromise or moderation. Those things involve invoking other parts of truth, and our modern society wants none of that.

We aren't taught to question the world around us, instead we are told to take the "truth" that is spoon fed to us and swallow it without a second thought. For those of us who have started to philosophize about the things we have been taught, we become ostracized. We become the liberal thinkers in our church or school or workplace. Philosophy is too scary for most moderns. It shows us that the simple world that we thought we understood is in fact much more complicated than we were taught. And once you find that out there is no going back. Many people would argue with Plato that the unexamined life is worth living. Keep things simple; don't rock the boat; don't take off your chains and leave the cave; that is what we are taught. This is the world that modernity built. Post-modernity is on its way, and it will most likely arrive soon. But the world at large is still living the modern dream; a dream where thinking too deeply is a sin and where taking sides without the least bit of thought is the greatest possible good.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Informed Faith

This blog started as a comment to clarify a brief statement in A Brief Introduction to Mormonism. It quickly grew out of control and became its own entity. At the risk of a similar event occurring again I invite you to read, ponder, and comment on the content below. Enjoy.

Hebrews 11:1 states "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (NASB). For a long time this concise definition of faith sufficed when I thought about this very abstract idea. But is that all there is to faith? I think not. Jesus showed his great wisdom when he used the metaphor of house building in relation to our lives (Luke 6:47-9) and so I will borrow this metaphor to illustrate my idea of faith. Faith is much like a house. Like a house, faith must have a foundation. But not all foundations are equal. A faith that has a weak foundation is what I call an uninformed faith. Conversely, a faith which has a strong foundation is what I refer to as an informed faith.

The foundation of faith is most assuredly belief. Belief can be supported by a number of things such as experience, reason, and tradition. Often beliefs have more than one support. For instance, my belief that goats will eat shoelaces given the chance is based on tradition and experience. My mom told me to be wary around goats because of their affinities for shoelaces (tradition). But I have personally had to shoo goats away from me lest they consume my shoelaces (experience). Now when I see an unfamiliar goat I can form a new belief using my reason which says that this particular goat will attempt to eat my shoelaces. If tradition says that goats will eat the shoelaces of the unwatchful and if I have seen the hunger of the goat first hand it is a good bet that any given goat will try to eat anyone's shoelaces. Each way of knowing confirms the others. I could believe that goats like to eat shoelaces simply because my mom said so. The tradition she has passed down to me is strengthened by my own experiences with the shoelace-starved goats I have encountered. Now, if on my journey I meet a goat who is not intent on devouring my shoelaces I may need to rethink my belief about goats. To my knowledge no such goat has been found.

Belief needs some kind of support. The more support a belief has (from tradition, reason, etc.) the stronger and more credible it is. For example, I believe that Christ lived, died, and was resurrected because the support is there in the form of tradition, reason, and experience. Tradition, in the form of the Bible, tells us much about Jesus and his early church. Reason utilizes physical evidence that informs us that he did indeed live when and where tradition tells us. And personal experience has brought me to the knowledge that he still lives and interacts with mankind. This confluence of supports has created for me a strong belief that Jesus was who he said he was.

Earthly house foundations are often made with rebar and concrete. Instead of rebar, the walls of houses have wooden 2x4's to support them. In place of concrete, contractors use drywall and paint to complete the walls. In the same way, faith is not necessarily made from the same materials that make up the underlying beliefs. Faith does not necessarily have hard evidence to back it up. For example, I have faith that Jesus' death atoned for our sins. There is no tangible evidence for this claim, but I have faith that this doctrine is true because I believe that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament spoke the truth. Tradition, my reason, and experience have led me to be confident that my belief in the accuracy of the Bible is well placed. With a solid foundational belief in the Bible I can take on faith doctrines which have no physical evidence, like free will and predestination, laid forth in the good book.

Faith is like the walls of a house. Those walls need a foundation if they are to stand against the elements. The foundation that faith is built upon is belief. Beliefs are constructed from tradition, reason, and experience. When beliefs are constructed from incorrect facts, faulty logic, and emotion they are more prone to crumbling and taking down the faith that is built upon the belief

Getting back to the reason that I started writing this blog, my discussions with the Mormon missionaries (the Elders), I must state that there is no question that I privilege the informed faith above the uninformed faith. Who among us would argue for a faith that springs from falsehoods and forgeries? I think that I should further clarify what I mean by an informed faith. It is a faith supported by belief which has credible evidence to support the belief in question. Ancient manuscripts and carvings are, to me, more credible evidences than a feeling you get. My belief in the veracity of Christian theism is backed up by real evidence; many of the doctrines I believe are taken on faith but are based on the belief in Christian theism. When I speak to the Elders I can't help but think that their belief that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith is a prophet is based on the subjective feeling or vision they received when they prayed. Their faith is based on a belief supported by feelings. It makes me wonder if they are really building their houses on the Rock or shifting sands.