Monday, March 21, 2016

Doubts and Competing Interests

I am at something of a crossroads. I've spent most of my life arguing against Christianity online and off and wanting to write engaging books and articles sharing my counterapologetical efforts with the world. I used to think I could or, at least, might be able to do this by simply collecting all my best arguments and then presenting them as systematically and clearly as I could while finding some way to do it with a novel enough combination of comprehensiveness, clarity, eloquence, and idiosyncratic intimacy and charm that some nebulous albeit sizable segment of the public would go for it.

I say "nebulous" because I can't imagine that most fervent Christians would want to read anything I've written that argues against their beliefs, and I'm not sure that enough non-believers aren't already so saturated with counterapologetical arguments from existing sources or are interested enough in the subject to pursue it that there would be an appreciable market for my efforts no matter how good they might be.

But then there's also the question of how good my efforts could ever be for any audience. I am the veritable personification of the maxim that the more one learns, the more he realizes how ignorant he is. For not only have my fairly recent encounters with erudite and brilliant counterapologists such as William Lane Craig, J.P Moreland, and Peter Kreeft convinced me that I have so much more to learn and understand on a deeper level about Christian theology and apologetics than I've learned or understood so far or probably have enough time left in my life to learn and deeply understand, but I admit that I don't think I'm smart enough to learn it no matter how much time I might have left and no matter how hard I might try.

And then there's the even bigger and seemingly more insurmountable challenge of mastering counterarguments sufficiently powerful to rebut the most sophisticated apologetics. And let's face it. I don't want to bother arguing against the lowest common denominator of Christian beliefs and defenses of those beliefs, such as the biblical literalism of Noah's Ark or Jonah and the Whale. I want to be able to offer powerful arguments against the best apologetics of the leading figures I've already mentioned and more, and their apologetics go way beyond defending Noah's Ark. And these are just the evangelical theologians and apologists. What about the more liberal ones? How could I ever come to grips with and refute their apologetics? And really, when I come right down to it, why would I want to? If I think it's all nonsense to begin with, why spend time and energy trying like mad to refute it?

Not only this, but I'm interested in so many other things. I'm fascinated with the free will vs determinism issue. I'm increasingly interested in political philosophy and in developing a coherent view of the ideal society and type of government. I continue to be interested in spirituality, especially as viewed by Ken Wilber's integral model. I have an abiding fascination with the intersection of modernized stoicism and psychotherapy. I'm experiencing a revival of my interest in psychology and a growing one in neuroscience and cognitive science. I still want to learn more about the physical sciences, especially physics and cosmology. The list of my interests are proliferating like the weeds in my front and back lawns. And I feel myself pulled toward all of them, while, at the same time, I feel crushingly inadequate to even remotely satisfy any of them.

Part of me wants to drop counterapologetics and move on to my other interests which, despite the challenges they too pose, might be more accessible and fulfilling to me than further pursuit of evangelical Christian counterapologetics could ever be. Yet, I've acquired, at no small expense, so many books and other materials on Christianity, apologetics, and counterapologetics over the years, and have spent so much time and effort thinking about this stuff and discussing it that I feel like I can't just throw it all away.

I don't know what to do. But I need to figure something out. And, more importantly, I need to follow through with whatever decision I make, which is hard to do when you feel convinced that you can't succeed no matter what you decide.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Reaching Out to a Fellow Blogger

I've been reading an outstanding blog by a very smart young man for several years. He majors in physics at a Midwestern university and is wrapping up his coursework there while hoping to be admitted for postgraduate work to a top tier school such as MIT to complete his PhD in theoretical physics with a specialization in cosmology.

But, over the years, he's blogged brilliantly not only about his intense interest in theoretical physics and cosmology but also about areas and issues in philosophy, politics, religion, economics, international news, society and culture, and so on in addition to addressing very personal issues concerning his recurring bouts of depression and enduring alienation from mainstream society.

In his most recent blogpost, he expresses extreme displeasure over having to take humanities courses he despises--because they focus on rote memorization of trivial names, places, dates, and research paper style formats--and needing to earn A's in them so that he can maintain his perfect 4.0 GPA in order to have any chance of being accepted by a school like MIT, and he worries that if he isn't admitted to one of these preeminent universities, his hopes and dreams of contributing something of scientific substance to the world will be all but dashed, and, as soon as he can earn enough money from a second-rate teaching job at a second-rate college, he'll just want to melt away into the wilderness and be a hermit for the rest of his miserable life.

I feel saddened by this bright young man's reclusiveness and depressive outlook and wish that there were something I could do to help him. But then I'm in no position to help anyone grappling with challenges not so dissimilar in some respects to ones that have plagued and seemingly gotten the best of me for most of my life. However, I couldn't read his blogpost without trying to do something, and so I wrote the following comment on his blog. I hope it helps at least in some small measure.

I am very concerned about your proneness to depression, your disdain for ordinary human interaction, and your belief that if you can’t make it into MIT or its lofty equivalent, you essentially have nothing left to live for except being a disillusioned drone eking out a living until you can retire as a hermit living aimlessly in the wilderness.
And I say this as someone who, although he lacks your obvious brilliance in math and science, has always felt at odds with society and uncomfortable with much of what passes for socialization.
But, in my case, I’ve long been interested in many disciplines and issues, aided and abetted by my increasing appreciation of the interconnectedness of all phenomena and of all disciplines that study these phenomena, so that I’ve come to regard almost no academic subject as boring or worthless, and almost all learning, whether curricular or extracurricular, as potentially illuminating and enriching.
I won’t deny that I share your aversion to grinding, rote memorization of dates and places, but I’m guessing that there are other aspects of your humanities courses that are or at least could be fascinating to an open and curious mind, and that gifted and accomplished theoretical physicists from Einstein and Oppenheimer in the past to Ed Witten today have opened their minds and interest to disciplines and subjects far outside their own discipline and have probably been the happier for it.
Moreover, while I too prefer to discuss subjects and issues that most people would probably prefer to pass up in favor of “small” talk about their jobs, their families, their favorite sports team, or the latest insult from some politician or gossip about some celebrity, I have learned to take more pleasure in the company of others by looking for and appreciating the beauty that lies in almost everyone whether they’re talking about the sacred or the profane, the profound or the mundane.
I hope you make it into MIT and get to do the kind of work there that you heart longs to do, but I also hope that, whether you do or don’t, you’ll find life to be richer and more fulfilling than you seem to now, and that other people from all walks of life and levels of intelligence will come to occupy a more vital and pleasurable part of your life than they seem to now.In the meantime, I hope you keep on blogging about yourself and your experiences inside and outside academia, because your blog has been one of my longtime favorites, and it’s been a real pleasure to get to know you as well as I’d like to think I’ve come to know you and your beautiful search for truth.

What would you say to this young man if you could?

Saturday, March 05, 2016

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Lose

A dear friend of mine is sliding rapidly down the cognitive hill with diagnosed dementia. He used to fly airplanes, climb mountains, and study martial arts under a master who grew up with Bruce Lee and learned from Yip Man. Now he can't find his own way from the bathroom to the living room or make his way there without wobbling precariously. He used to speak intelligently and articulately about everything. Now his utterances are more like word salad. And he can scarcely dress himself or use the bathroom without help.

He's totally dependent on his dutiful wife to whom he clings like a drowning child to a lifeguard. About the only respite she gets from his near stranglehold is when I bring him here to the house to sit and talk and watch TV with me, when he's not napping, while she hangs out at the local Thai Buddhist temple with my wife and the other "temple ladies," as they call themselves.

Yet, he's not reached the point of being oblivious to his accelerating decline and dependency. In fact, he's acutely aware of them and magnifies this awful awareness with his predilection to ruminate interminably on his deterioration. His mind works like a needle on a beat up old phonograph record. The needle hops and skips all over the place producing scratchy, cacophonous noise or gets stuck in a deep groove repeating the same passage again and again until someone moves it. And there seems to be nothing anybody can do to reverse or even stall his precipitous descent into mental oblivion.

So what he tells me with increasing frequency that he wants to do about all this is to end his own life so that he won't continue to burden his wife or anyone else with his growing dependency and to wallow in a disintegrating, purposeless existence that brings him no pleasure much less joy. And I find myself unable to sincerely tell him anything that might reassure him or lift his spirits, because I can't think of anything reassuring and inspiring to say to him. And when I try to do it anyway, it comes out sounding pathetically awkward, hollow, and perfunctory and probably doesn't fool him, despite his compromised condition, any more than it does me.

The truth is, if I were in my friend's shoes, and someday I might very well be, I wouldn't want to go on either. So I can hardly blame him for feeling the way he does. Fortunately or unfortunately, I don't think he has the means to do anything about it except inexorably sink to his natural demise.

In the meantime, all I can do is hang in there with him and be the best friend to him I can be as his tragic dissolution continues unabated.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Savage Justice for Jared Fogle?

I just read that Jared Fogle, the former Subway pitchman recently sentenced to 16+ years in prison for possession of child pornography and paid sex with minors, has been having a difficult time behind bars. I posted about his sentencing immediately after it was imposed.

Well, to no one's surprise or, at least, not to mine, social media is aflame with posts from people who are thrilled over Mr. Fogle's prison tribulations and who are fervently hoping that he's being subjected to far worse than has been reported. You can well imagine what those fervent hopes entail.

So, in response to some of those comments, this is what I posted yesterday:

Maybe those of you who are so gleeful over the prospect of someone being relentlessly sexually abused might be a little less so if you were the victim or even the observer of such abuse. Of course, you'll reflexively counter that Fogle's getting back what he gave out. But even if that's true, and I'm not aware that we know that any of the children in the confiscated pornography or in his documented sexual encounters were endlessly, forcibly, and viciously sodomized, it doesn't legitimize the infliction of such grievous punitive abuse. What Fogle did was very wrong. And what you all are getting your jollies publicly fantasizing about is also very wrong. And just as a certain kind of sickness or defect undoubtedly causes people like Fogle to do what most of us never would because, thank goodness, we don't share that sickness or defect, so a certain kind of darkness lies at the heart of human nature that craves the kind of awful retribution we see condoned and celebrated here. We humans really are a sorry lot!

And in response to one particular person's comments urging that the same old same old be done to Mr. Fogle, I posted this:

no one deserves to be treated as a subhuman even if you, in your savage advocacy to the contrary, believe otherwise. Moreover, it could be argued that people such as yourself, in publicly urging that a fellow human being be essentially tortured to death, is guilty of worse than the person on whom he wants to see this torture inflicted. Yes, I would argue that all the people here, including yourself, who champion the "justice" of Mr. Fogle being raped and tortured for the rest of his days are more reprehensible in your conduct than Mr. Fogle was. And if I'm right, what do you advocates of savage justice suppose should be done to YOU?

Having written this, I realize that posting such comments won't change anyone's mind. If anything, it'll inflame those who disagree with them and further entrench them in their disagreement. So, I guess it's fair to say that I'm mostly just venting my frustration and disgust over human savagery, and it could be argued that this is, in its own right, a kind of savagery or, at least, verbal violence.

But I would also like to think that I'm publishing the truth, regardless of what effect the public conveyance of it has on those who read it. That is, wanting and publicly advocating that sick people be relentlessly sexually tortured and worse for their sick acts is horrendous and, arguably, worse than those sick acts themselves, and that such widespread embrace of this kind of "justice" speaks countless volumes for the essential and, perhaps, irremediable depravity of the human condition.