Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Is Our Independence Killing Us?

"And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man should be alone
I will make him a helper comparable to him."
Genesis 2:18

Lately, there have been a lot of high profile suicides. The most recent were Anthony Bourdaine and Kate Spade, back in 2014 it was Robin Williams and there are many others. It seems that suicide is on the increase but these high profile suicides are simply bringing attention to an epidemic that goes deeper in our society than we care to realize. 

The natural question in the midst of unexplained tragedy is, "Why?"

So we as a society are left to question "Why?" One myth that has immediately been debunked b these high profile suicides is that depression only happens when someone fails. Just looking at these three that I named you can see that they are some of the most successful people in their fields. They were people that others in their field looked up to and attempted to emulate so clearly it was not failure that caused them to give up on life. 

Our goal-oriented, capitalistic, independent society has fed us with the lie that success is the most important thing in life.

We are all taught to strive for success. Even when we are taught that failure isn't so bad it is because we can learn from failure and better succeed but what happens when we finally do succeed? Where do we go from there? 

A one-track mind after success may make us successful but it ultimately leaves us alone.

When God created the heavens and the earth he then created Adam and gave it all to Adam. It's an interesting story when you think about it because Adam never had to strive for success, he had it from the beginning. He never had to strive for a relationship with God and was closer than any other human (other than Jesus) has ever been to God. Yet there was still something missing. God, Himself, declared that it was not good for Adam to be alone. 

The idea that, "All I need is Jesus" is not Biblical.

It sounds very holy to say, "All I need is Jesus!" but it's not Biblical. Think about it. Adam had more of God than any of us could possibly have, sin had not yet entered the world and created a barrier between him and God, and yet God said he was alone and that it wasn't good. We were made to be social creatures. We were made to be dependent on each other. 

American society is built on independence, on doing it ourselves. Even our national day is called Independence Day. We shame people who live with their parents too long and we have given a negative connotation to the word 'dependent'. But here's the thing, we are all dependent on others whether we like it or not. We need each other. We need relationship. 

So what can we do to help prevent depression and suicide?

I'm not saying it is the end all solution but we can start by building relationship with those around us. Make sure that you don't distract yourself so much on your pursuit towards success that you alienate yourself, and if you see someone doing that, make it a point to reach out to them. Ultimately, don't go at it alone and don't let those around you be alone either.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Defense of the Biblical View of Self

"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
1 Thessalonians 5:23

Most of you, if you read my blog, either already know or have figured out that I have been going back to school. This is why my posts have been a lot more sporadic the last few years because my time has been spent on my assignments. There have been a couple of posts that I have done based off of assignments in school such as this discussion post and this post presenting some general thoughts about the intersection of science, religion, and belief. Even my last post was inspired by a video I had to watch for school last term.

This term I have been taking a course on Consciousness. I didn't really know what to expect and honestly signed up for the course simply to satisfy my last psychology requirement for my major but it has been interesting. One of the main topics has been the concept of self. Many philosophers and scientists have argued against the existence of a unified self beyond our physical brain. They have stated that consciousness in itself is an illusion. Of course, as a Christian who believes the Bible I can not agree with that. Right at the beginning in Genesis we see that we were made in the image of God and throughout the Bible God shows us that he made each of us special and unique. In fact the Bible describes us as three part beings in the spirit, soul, and body. Of course one of the challenges of having these discussions in a secular university is that you can't really use the Bible as a reputable source. 

If someone doesn't believe the Bible then how do you defend a Biblical idea?

Well, my professor challenged me to do just that and I took the challenge. Below I thought I would share with all of you my midterm essay which was an attempt to present an academic defense of the Biblical view of self. I would love to hear from you what you think. Do you have any ideas of how I could have improved it? 

An Academic Defense of the Biblical Self

One idea addressed, that is important to me, is the idea of self. Who am I? Do I even exist or am I just an illusion created by the bundle of working neurons in my brain? I addressed this question a bit already in my last assignment but you challenged me to think about how I would defend my position and I felt like this is as good a place to attempt that as any. Admittedly this will be challenging because I can say right off the bat that my belief in self is rooted deeply in my belief in God and in the Bible. This means that some of the same challenges that come with attempting to defend God's existence will be present in my attempt to defend my position on the existence of self.

As a Christian, my theory already is lumped together in the category of ego theories because, as the book states, Christianity believes in the soul as central to the self (Blackmore, 2012). Ego theory in it's core addresses the feeling that we are a continuous entity as truth. Why do we feel like we are a unified self? Because we are! (Blackmore, 2012) Ultimately this echoes my own belief. I believe that our feeling of self, of uniqueness, is because we truly are unique and our self truly does exist. This has been the prevailing belief for most of the existence of humanity and my feeling is that until we have proof that it is not true we have no need to go against what seems like common sense.

One thing that I have noticed about science is that scientists have a tendency to attempt to explain away anything that does not have scientific proof, any mystery. For example, I feel that the "Big Bang Theory" is an attempt to explain away the mystery of the start of our universe without recognizing that there is no way to truly understand how the universe started unless we traveled back in time and observed it directly ourselves. When I took my astronomy course over and over again it was shown how science would attempt to explain the mystery of a faraway planet or moon before we were able to observe it. Then we would observe it and it would be entirely different then we thought. Then, of course, through observation, science was able to explain why it was how it was. To me the bundle theory of self is one of these attempts to explain away a mystery. Because no one can see the self, and there is no scientific proof of an unified self, then some philosophers and scientists have taken it on themselves to explain away this self. Bundle theory, in it's simplest form, says that the unified self is an illusion and that we are simply a bundle of neurons that create this illusion and causes us to feel like we are a unified self (Blackmore, 2012).

So in other words, my premise in the idea of self is similar to William James. James said that our feeling of a unified self is central to the concept of who we are and who we identify as (Blackmore, 2012). Though I understand that our feelings can betray us as humans, my starting question is, Why deny that the self exists if every human being in the history of the world seems to agree that it feels as though it does? In fact it is so ingrained in our beliefs that it is built into our languages and how we describe things. The book even points out that scientists who are attempting to describe a theory in which the self is an illusion will often fall into pitfalls in which they describe things as if the self does exist (Blackmore, 2012). To me, this in itself is evidence of the existence of a unified self.

As stated before, my personal theory of self is based on my understanding of the Bible. First and foremost I believe the Bible when it states that we were created by God in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God is presented in the Bible as a triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19) If we were made in His image then it would only make sense that we were also made as triune beings. The Bible presents our three parts as body, soul, and spirit (Hebrews 4:12; Galatians 5:16). Our spirit is our consciousness, the little voice inside telling us what we should do, what is right, what is moral. Our body, also referred to as our flesh, is our natural desires, our desires that are not bad in themselves but if allowed to rule us lead us down a path we shouldn't go, and our soul is our mind, our rationality. All three make up ourselves but ultimately the body is the least important part because our body is not eternal.

This theory explains the problem of the feeling of a central, unified self in the same way all ego theories do, by saying it exists. There is an explanation in regards to the idea of multiple selves as I believe that the body is ultimately a "house" for the central self of the spirit and soul. In the same way it can be used as a house for other spirits if we allow it to be. This is the concept of demonic possession and oppression. I also believe that it solves the problem presented by one of my classmates of "voices in our head" or the "devil and angel" phenomenon, because the spirit is our central morality, our "angel", and the flesh is our natural, carnal desires, often our "devil". Our soul is then caught in between listening to both sides and rationalizing between the two sides.

I know that I still have not presented any hard evidence of the existence of a soul or a spirit other than the evidence we have already discussed, that we feel that they exist. But I guess my question is, Is that truly a problem? Right at the beginning of the textbook it was presented that there were three ideas in regard to the mind-body problem; that it exists and we need to understand it, that it exists but we will never understand it, and that it doesn't exist at all (Blackmore, 2012). I guess when it comes to the problem of the existence of self I am of the second mindset. I believe the self exists but that we will never be able to prove it. At least not until we are in the after life and our central self has gone on to another place.

Blackmore; Susan. (2012). Consciousness, Second Edition An Introduction. Abingdon, Oxon: Taylor & Francis

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Be a part of the change!

"There are opportunities to change and we are part of that change."
Dr Lori Cramer - OSU Professor and Sociologist

This quote was taken from a video interview presented to my Social Problems class last term. The week was on environmental problems and Dr. Lori Cramer is an environmental and natural resource sociologist who also teaches at Oregon State University. Here is the interview if you are interested in watching it.

Despite this quote being taken from an interview addressing environmental problems, it can be applied to many different areas of life and society. Ghandi actually had a similar quote that has almost become cliche in our society:

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world."

Both of these things are basically saying the same thing, take responsibility for change. It is up to each one of us to do something to make a difference in the world. It is up to each one of us to take a step towards improvement in our society. 

There are a lot of things that are going wrong in today's society from gun violence to poverty to racism and inequality. If you're on social media you have surely heard people complaining about each one of these things. In the midst of that complaining you have people complaining about one group's way of responding, then that group is complaining about the other side. There is a lot of complaining but how much action is there?

In Mark 6 we find the story of the feeding of the 5000. Jesus is teaching the multitudes out in the wilderness and his disciples come to him to let him know that it's getting late and the crowd is getting hungry. They tell Jesus that he needed to send them away to get some food. Jesus's response I believe was not only a challenge to them but also to us:

"You give them something to eat."
Mark 6:37

The disciples were bringing attention to a problem but were dictating the answer of the problem on someone else. Jesus is basically saying, "since you see the problem, do something to fix it." Of course, their eyes were limited and were not able to see how to bring a solution to the problem but the principle is an important one. 

What problems are sticking out to you in society? 

What are you passionate about? 

It is probably the Holy Spirit pointing those things out to you and saying, "You give them something to eat!", "You do something about it!"