Tag Archives: choice

Augustine

Posted by Mike

Most of us know Augustine from his autobiography, Confessions; however, Augustine, published in 2005, by James O’Donnell, gives us a much broader picture of the man later called Saint Augustine, throughout his life and in his work. In addition, the book describes the doctrinal and theological conflicts that plagued the early church, of which most of us are completely unaware, and that prefigured the later sectarian conflicts between the Eastern and Western churches, as well as the disagreements between Catholicism and the Protestant movement and those within the Protestant church in the post-Renaissance years. Doctor O’Donnell is a professor of classics and currently Provost at Georgetown University. He also has a new book out, published in 2008, The Ruin of the Roman Empire, that can be read in conjunction with Augustine, and that provides a comprehensive description of the events that led to the collapse of the Western Roman empire in the period from about 300 to 500 AD. 

Augustine was a prolific writer throughout his life and especially after his ordination in his late thirties and during the many years when he was a bishop at Hippo, in North Africa.  He wrote many books and he sent copies of them to friends, colleagues and benefactors all over the Roman Empire of the time. We must remember that Augustine lived long before the invention of the printing press. Yet volumes of his writings were hand-copied, were preserved, and are available to classical, historical researchers today. O’Donnell reconstructs Augustine’s life from his formal published writings, but in addition and perhaps more importantly, from letters and sermons that are available, that provide a perspective on Augustine that is less formal than the picture of the man that is provided primarily from his more formal writings. 

Augustine of Hippo lived from 354 to 430 AD, at the tail edge of the ascendance of the Roman Empire and immediately prior to the time when the north African possessions were severed from the Empire by rebellion. O’Donnell gives us a picture of Augustine’s entire life, much of which would be missing by those who choose to read only The Confessions. The focus in the book is both biographical and theological, as much of Augustine’s later life was occupied with defending the religion that was supported by the Emperor in Rome and in sparring with other contenders, who had nearly equally powerful supporters throughout the Empire. At that time, of course, the protagonists and antagonists were all Christian; however, they had quite different notions of emphases in theological purity, such that many convicted believers were even willing to die for to support. 

The biography briefly reviews Augustine’s early life in North Africa, his training and teaching of rhetoric there, his move to Italy and involvement with Manichaeanism, his subsequent move to Milan and the influence of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and Augustine’s  subsequent conversion to Christianity. Prior to his conversion and despite his mother’s Christianity, Augustine was a Manichaean, a student of the Persian religion that had spread throughout the Roman Empire and that taught that knowledge was the key to salvation.  We learn of his return to North Africa and somewhat unexpected ordination and election as bishop in the rather unassuming town of Hippo, which lay several hundred miles to the west of Carthage, the governmental and economic center of the province. The majority of the book recounts Augustine’s theological concerns with a variety of what he considered heresies and which he fought against over the years. 

It should be noted that being a bishop in Augustine’s time was not quite the same as being a bishop today. Even most rather small cities had their own bishop. In addition, when Augustine returned to North Africa, his sect was the minority brand of Christianity in the area. Donatism, which flourished in North Africa at the time, was the ascendant variant of Christianity, a sect which strongly censured and refused to readmit to the church those who had fallen away during the Diocletian persecution (303-305 AD).  Theological battles between Augustine’s Caecilianists and the schismatic Donatists lasted for a generation; however, the minority party was supported by Emperor, and by the time of Augustine’s death, the party of Rome had won out, and the bishops of Rome had also nearly succeeded in their invention of themselves as the legitimate standard-bearers of Western Christianity. Augustine spent the final years of his life battling Pelagianism,  another heresy, which denied the validity of Original Sin. As a postscript to Augustine’s life, shortly after his death, North Africa was overtaken by Vandals, who had entered the area on invitation from the rebellious general Boniface, but who had decided to subdue not only the Roman citizens but also Boniface and his co-revolutionaries as well. The Vandals were Arians, and they, by force, stopped non-Arian Christian practices in North Africa after conquering the area. Arianism was a “heretical” sect to which the Germanic tribes subscribed, that had a different understanding of the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God the father than Roman Christianity. 

The frequent flashes of brilliance in the author’s writing and the insights that he offers are well worth the more tedious recounting of Augustine’s continual efforts at ridding the church of heresy and supporting conformity to the established Church of the Western Empire. Read in conjunction  with the author’s Ruin of the Roman Empire broadens further the reader’s understanding of the so-called barbarian invasions and of the sectarian conflicts within the Christianity of the time.

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Diffusing the K-Bomb (part 6)

Posted by: David

Practically-speaking, I’m not sure if the K-bomb can be diffused. Turret lathe operator machining parts for transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant, Fort Worth, Texas, USA.But when it explodes, you don’t need to be destroyed by it. We’ve all already been hurt by it. It’s been sputtering like a pot of rice left on high for quite sometime. Let’s define the K-bomb a bit better before we look into how to deal with it.

In Part 3, we saw that knowledge is a force and make no mistake it is a powerful one at that, more powerful than anything human hands have made. Knowledge parades itself around as truth, but it is not. Knowledge is our human projection of what is truth. We tangle our own perceptions of truth, our own choices of what we think truth is into our knowledge. And because of this, our knowledge becomes tainted. It is no longer truth. And since knowledge is paraded around as truth when it is not, it becomes a lie.

Lies are always self-detonating. My lies have come back and exploded in my face. That’s the way lies work. Remember the fire triangle: heat, oxygen and fuel. Lies work the same: heat, untruth and truth. Just add a spark.

In Part 5, I said that thoughts can be packed tightly in rationalizations or even social systems. I should be a bit clearer on a topic as important as this, because thoughts are what K-bomb is composed of.

The warrior must justify his actions. Every human is a natural warrior. We are warriors in defense of our egos. We must keep our ‘self’ alive and strong. It’s all about me, right? Some of us fight with actual physical means: fists, guns, swords, and bombs. But most of us fight with words, ideas and thoughts. In our local circles, we may cut emotional supplies that feed our friends and family to combat a hit taken from others. Toward outside circles, we develop cliquish techniques, social standard, religions and massive governmental and economic structures that are meant to protect our local and collective egos. And we have been doing this since day one when our consciousness first sprouted.

Clear as Mississippi mud, right? The point is that we justify the thoughts that disturb our consciousness by in various ways. I really don’t want to get into examples of how this happens. When you have a thought that disturbs you, see how you justify it or what you do with it. But when we justify these thoughts, we shove it places: maybe into an ideology, a political platform, a concept of what is socially normal, or the simple philosophy that says, “Well, I can’t do anything about it, so let it be.” Every philosophy, human social system and human government is a structure meant to contain and support the K-Bomb.

How do you diffuse the K-bomb if we can’t use psychoanalytical techniques, drugs, friends, society, philosophy, or even religion for that matter? It may seem like your hands are tied. This is the ultimate dilemma of mankind. It’s the Catch-22 of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And the dominoes have been unstoppable since the first flick.

As a Christian, I believe that the K-bomb is why Jesus came to the earth. He was the ultimate intervention for this problem. He came to transform us with God’s love, truth and mercy. Jesus lays some diffusion techniques out as clear as a bell in the Sermon on the Mount.

But since you may not be a Christian, it is essential that I explain the concept behind it. Basically, our internal lives are essentially no different than our external lives. The only difference is that our will is inside us, not external to us. Out of the will come our choices and our choices are manefested in our reality. What begins inside us manifests itself outside of us. The force we talked about in Part 2 is initiated by the will and the dominoes begin with the flick of our will and fall outward. Because our will is burdened with weight of consciousness (the knowledge of “good and evil”) we become slaves to that consciousness. How exactly we become slaves is not something I completely understand. I can only see the results in my life to know that it’s happening. It may be that since we understand that evil exists and we inherently fear being destroyed by it, we develop means to protect the self or the ego. Ironically, in doing so, we bind ourselves to that process indefinitely. We become slaves to production of the K-bomb.

So, how do we get free from banging on the ironworks of the K-bomb? The species of man had to be set free from this. We were all bound. No one had the key. It had to be an outside intervention. Of course, as a Christian, I point to Jesus.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

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The Tree of Consciousness Sprouts (part 3)

Posted by: David

Nurse Piggy: It’s too late, Dr. Bob. We’ve lost him.
Doctor Bob: Well, he couldn’t have gone so far. He was under the sheet just a second ago.

We all know that Miss Piggy and Doctor Bob (a.k.a. Rowlf the Dog) didn’t really have awareness or consciousness, but their puppeteers certainly made you laugh. What is laughter anyway and are there any other species capable of it? Laughter is most likely special to us because of our consciousness. In most cases, laughter is a spontaneous reaction when our morality or our sense understanding of the world is tested. I think the reason the Muppets’ joke above is so funny to me is because Doctor Bob and Nurse Piggy or so dismally aware of the concept of death and dying. They take death so lightly that they can make a bad joke about the death of a patient. Why does it make me laugh? You’re more than welcome to analyze my psyche if you’d like. I expect that it simply jars my subconscious understanding of right and wrong.

In bringing up the loaded word consciousness, I’ll begin by explaining my usage. I am not using it in a sense such as, “He lost consciousness.” I am using it in the sense that implies having some level of understanding of right and wrong such as, “It was his consciousness that made him a crusader for justice.” Consciousness in this usage implies that there is a complex awareness of the morality of an event or an action.

Previously in Re: Salvation, I implied that there is a curious co-dependence between freewill and justice. Without justice there is no need for freewill and without freewill there would be no need for justice. The same thing applies to consciousness. The existence of morality depends on the existence of  ‘someone’ who can make a choice in the matter. Without morality there would be no need for choices and vice versa. When we make choices, we are basing those choices on some sort of system of value judgments of what we think is right and wrong. Consciousness is simply an awareness of what is right and what is wrong. (Interestingly, In Genesis the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is sometimes translated as the Tree of Consciousness.) Without knowledge of what is right and wrong, humans would still be aware of our surroundings and relationships, but would we have consciousness? Interestingly, Eden was a place where man had choices, yet didn’t have the knowledge of what is right and wrong. It wasn’t that right and wrong didn’t exist, mankind just didn’t know about it.

Most of us would agree, except the deeply antisocial personality or philosophical word-smither, that there exists some sort of right and wrong in our world and that we make choices based both on a deeply-ingrained sense of morality or common sense as well as a socially-constructed criteria of social ethics. And not always do we make the right choices. Sometimes we clearly, stubbornly or brutally make the wrong choice. Anyone who can look at one’s actions even partially objectively will see that sometimes we do what we sense is wrong, usually for our own selfish desires. But let’s not go here yet, the point is that consciousness depends on knowledge of right and wrong.

I doubt that a dog has the form of consciousness outlined above. He knows that if he wags his tail and is cute, he’ll get a dog biscuit or that he’ll have a warm house to curl up in. He’ll probably even have specific affections toward certain people for complex reasons, but I doubt that he understands the ‘Golden Rule’ like we do.

It seems to me like a shot in the dark to guess whether planets or other grander scale systems have consciousness. Most would say that shot is easy and is an unequivocal, “No, don’t be absurd.” I will say that they do not seem to have much choice in their motions, and thus even if they have an awareness, applying consciousness to them is a bit far-fetched. They follow extremely precise patterns and have been so for a long, long time. Even larger-scale systems, such as galaxies, have such beautifully-defined and mathematical structures and they seem to follow very closely to a pattern. Following defined patterns, would seem to indicate a lack of consciousness since the pattern’s lack variation. A lack of variation in pattern may demonstrate the inability to choose. However, one could argue that they do have choice, but they always choose to follow the pattern defined for them. But again, let’s not get sidetracked.

For some reason, we are special organisms in the universe so far as I can see. We seem to have a grasp of right and wrong and have a choice in the matter. Most of us feel a sense of right and wrong. Some would argue that this sense of justice is just complex reactionary forces that are no different than that of a dog. I beg to differ. No pun intended. I believe that we do have consciousness and there was a particular point in our history in which we became enlightened for better or worse. And this particular point was actually the beginning of History.

This moment was also very important because it marked the point when we began building our own tree of knowledge. One intriguing part of consciousness is how it relates to knowledge. If we didn’t have knowledge in the first place, we wouldn’t be able to store up understanding of right and wrong. In Part 4, we’ll build on the first three parts in this series as we look at how knowledge relates to consciousness, memory and forces.

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“Doctor, He’s Regaining Consciousness” (part 2)

Posted by: David

In Part 1, we laid out a foundation of how someone initially sees something in our mountaintop scene example: various simple external (colors, shapes, temperatures) and internal (associated memories and emotions) inputs excite communities of neurons to create a vision. But how do we come to see it? This is a piece of the puzzle that will certainly be the most difficult to comprehend, even though right before our eyes we are seeing something right now.

If it is as simple as forces exciting an array or community of neurons that allows us to see, then what if you excite a community of molecules in a brick, are they going to see something? If this could be done, well, maybe. Let’s go down the food chain and see what the less complex organisms may ‘see’ from their senses. This is going to be very hypothetical, of course.

  • Dog: colors, shapes, motion, smells, sounds, etc. (not too much different than us)
  • Lizard: probably similar to the dog but with different emphases
  • Ant: light, shape, chemistry, sound
  • Ameboid: light(?), temperature, chemical shifts
  • Bacteria: temperature, chemical shifts
  • Virus: simple environmental characteristics
  • Water molecule: magnetic variations

I’ve added water molecule because I wanted you to notice something rather interesting. Each of the organisms or semi-organisms listed above reactto their environment and to some degree ‘see’ or have some degree of awareness of their surrounding environment, whether it is simple light or complex dimensional space. The reaction they have to the stimulus is generated because of what they experience (or what may be better described as a general awareness). Is it any different for a water molecule or any other molecule for that matter? If some sort of reaction is going on, even if it is done rotely, then there should be some sort of awareness going on. And since every last thing in our universe reacts to forces, it very well may be that every last thing and collection of things has some sort of ability to ‘see’ or be aware of its environment however primitive that awareness may be.

We can also go up the scale and do the same thing: earth, solar system, galaxy and universe. Now, I wouldn’t be so quick to say that a complex system such as the earth, solar system or the universe has awareness like we do. It is probably the case that awareness types shift depending on their complexity level and the forces that influence them. Since the planets hold their orbits very precisely, it is probably the case that gravity is the most simple force that affects them, so their ability to see might be more like that of a water molecule. However, it may be that even though the force that affects these greater systems is simple, the grand scale of the influence may affect how they see in some special way. There’s just no way to know, I suppose. However, the point is that it is possible that what we consider to be ‘seeing’, or even some attributes that we associate only with life, should be applied to inorganic organizations such as a galaxy.

Another issue not to be discussed in this entry is time. Each of the groups should have a different perception of time, because their snapshots of their environment hold differing sets of data. And time is also dependent on memory. I’d venture to say that modern humans may have one of the relatively broadest grasps of time because of our language and more particularly our writing.

I’ll also mention briefly the issue of deep sleep and passing out. If all organisms and matter have some sort of awareness, why do we go ‘dark’ when we go into deep sleep? Isn’t that a simple example of how we at some moments in time do not have any awareness? I expect that the reason we don’t see anything during deep sleep, is simply because we’re not remembering it. The experience we have in deep sleep or unconscousness is so foreign from our general awake awareness that it doesn’t fit into our memories. But we should return to our topic of seeing and awareness.

From here on out, I’ll closely associate the word awareness with what I am describing as ‘seeing’ above. I expect that most of you would not argue that a dog has awareness of his environment, but that you would argue that a rock would have nothing more than zero-level of awareness. I’m not saying that a rock has a strong awareness of its environment, but it does react to gravity and other forces ever so slightly, doesn’t it?

What if a water molecule is aware of magnetic forces? That still doesn’t explain how something sees. To look at this fairly, let’s go back to the human experience, because that’s what we all can relate to best. So, what is the mind’s eye? Honestly, I have no real good answer. But I will venture to say that it may be a type of force. Yes, that sounds sort of hocus-pocus or like I’m stealing some dialogue from OB1 Kenobi in Star Wars. But we haven’t even touched on forces yet. We’ve talked a lot about matter (life forms and other stuff) and force is the other side the equation, isn’t it? You know, E=MC2, energy (force) equals matter times the speed of light2. But how is seeing a force?

“Cooookies!”

For those of you who watched Sesame Street, you’ll know the Cookie Monster. When he saw cookies, he gobbled them up ravenously. So, let’s blindfold the Cookie Monster and lay a plate of delicious chocolate chip cookies in front of him. Initially, he won’t apply one ounce of directed force toward those cookies. However, once his nose gets a whiff, his mind will remember (consciously or unconsciously) the taste and pleasure of those cookies. He will rip off his blindfold and violently attack the plate of cookies until the last crumb is gone. He’ll probably even eat the plate. It was the smell that triggered his memory, but it was his awareness of the cookies that sent him into wild-cookie passion. His vision was the impetus, the force.

If you didn’t follow this flimsy, yet-possibly-true argument, I’ll lay it out in succinct words: All things in the universe have some degree of awareness and the awareness that these things have is what we call force. I’ll add that no forces are left out, whether it be the driving force to eat delicious chocolate chip cookies, or the gravity that holds a planet in its orbit. All forces may be derived from awareness. And it’s not magic. It may just be the way our wonderful universe works.

The awareness that humans have is probably very different than that of a planet or a hydrogen atom. The reason is choice. The earth can’t choose whether or not it goes clockwise or counterclockwise around the sun. But we can choose whether we go right or left when we hit the sidewalk. Some may argue that we don’t really have any choice—that we are preprogrammed—but I choose not to believe that line of thinking.

This takes us to our next topic where we differentiate between awareness and consciousness. Let’s leave that for Part 3.

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Re: Salvation

Posted by: David

To understand “Why Salvation” we need to first consider whether not we think we have actual choice or “freewill,” and secondly, we need to consider whether or not we think there is a natural justice within the universe. If we grapple with these two concepts (freewill and justice) and decide, “Yes, I do have choices, and yes, there is true justice in the universe,” then the need for salvation becomes more clear.

I do not think that we could answer “no” to either of the questions independently. They hinge on each other. One could answer “no” to both and that would certainly be a sad Nietzschesque world.

Let’s skip freewill for now, that’s a whole topic on its own and I currently don’t have any convincing argument either way. It’s my “choice” that I believe we have freewill. If I had any argument, it would be that if there’s no freewill then there’s no real need for justice, because all things will just follow their predetermined routes. But I do believe in a perfect justice.

Justice is either all or nothing. The universe is either ruled by perfectly just rules or there is no justice at all. Could we live in a partially just universe? It must be a perfect justice or else it wouldn’t be just, would it? If a judge was to rule properly only some of the time, then he wouldn’t be a very good or just judge, would he? On the other hand, the universe could be ruled by haphazard rulings. This is how many religions and belief systems work. In these systems of belief, there are various gods that decide things on their various whims. It’s our role to capitulate to those whims. This system of belief is not one that believes in a just universe.

Natural laws abound and are all around us in our every day lives. If you fight those natural laws, it is to your own demise. I see the effects of a just universe (a just God) all around our natural world. There are clearly natural laws that rule the forces and matter of our universe. Fighting the law of gravity by jumping off a cliff would show me quickly that there are natural laws, and there are consequences when one doesn’t follow the laws. It seems to me that our universe is ordered. And in my understanding of things, when there is order, there is a justice that sees to keeping that order. In our government we call that the justice of the peace. The same name could be applied to the Governor of the universe.

So, let’s now suppose that there is true justice in this universe and we do have freewill. Then if we knowingly make destructive choices, then the justice that we live under will convict us. Or if we are falsely accused, this justice will acquit us. And here is our fate: all of us knowingly make destructive choices and we live in a just universe. Thus, if the governor or the universe is just, we will be convicted.

And it’s not just Joe or Adolph who should be convicted of a penalty worth death. We are all in the same family. We are all connected and co-conspirators. All of our subconscious minds have similar horrific thoughts. Some of us stab others with words. Others stab with swords. Some of the most pernicious acts are done with the eyes or a long, drawn out sigh.

This curious relationship between freewill and justice is seen in the story of the Garden of Eden. The mysterious first few chapters of Genesis can shed some light on what justice is and how we relate to it. In this story, that most everyone is familiar with, God gave man and woman choice. He gave us one rule and that rule was specific to us and our freewill. None of the other animals had that one law. The one law was that we couldn’t eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Notice that the tree didn’t have some obscure ancient name. It was written out clearly so we would all know what the fruit represented: the knowledge of good and evil. It was essential that a species with freewill not understand the difference between good and evil. For some reason, which we discovered later, we were not designed so that we were capable of dealing with that knowledge. By having that knowledge our species was doomed. We couldn’t handle it. That is why there was a law against it.

And let’s not think it’s unique to our species to have a unique law established for it. Each species or organization in our universe has unique laws that apply to it and not to others. A seagull cannot lay eggs in the pounding surf, but smelt can.

What makes us unique to all the other species on Earth is that we have freewill, which is why we were given that all important law, one that was essential to our distinct nature. Basically, God was saying, “You are special, and to keep this extremely special trait of yours, you must not know the difference between good and evil.”

You know the rest of the story. Unfortunately, now that we have the knowledge of good and evil, this has posed the most difficult problem to us. By possessing both freewill and knowledge of good and evil, we became self-destructive. We knowingly choose things that hurt others and ourselves. And by knowing this, we also try to prevent others from hurting us. We become bent on saving ourselves from the destructive habits of others. It is at this point when History began. Agriculture emerged. Cities dotted the landscape. Resources began to be depleted. War arose. Pointing fingers began. And that’s an important point of the story: with the fall we became aware of evil within others. We became the judge of others. We made our own government. We convicted others and were convicted. We became our own god.

However, unlike the natural justice described earlier, our judgment is not perfect. It is always a selfish judgment. The self will bias its rulings based on its desire for survival, which skews the weights and balances. Collectively, if not individually, we become psychotic, bi-polar, and communally and subsequently personally self-destructive. This is why the story of Cain and Abel follows the expulsion from the garden. Self-destruction became our nature. This nature could not be changed on its own, from within. The knowledge was with us and would be with us until the end. We must be transformed through an intervention, from outside our species to the innermost inside of our species.

This is why there is a need for our salvation.

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