Monday, November 30, 2009

The Rational Case For Christianity - Intro

Wisely has it been said that man is not a rational being--he is a rationalizing being. A person can convince himself that anything is truth simply through enough rationalizing. Whether he is right or wrong about his rationalizations depends on objective truth. As I have written about previously, all people believe in objective truth both regarding material reality and conceptual reality, regardless of purported belief in relativism. And, even if people didn't believe in objective truth, the objective nature of truth is not dependent on the belief or non-belief of people in it.

The rational case for Christianity, then, is based on objective truth. Christianity is not merely a moral code, or a belief in a certain Jewish revolutionary, though it is no less than those things. Christianity is a comprehensive worldview that explains everything. As such, though the case for Christianity is most certainly rational, it is definitely not simple, for reality itself is not simple. Additionally, let us set the bar extremely high. If Christianity is true, it must validly explain everything, it must be practically applicable, and it must not contradict any piece of evidence in our world. If Christianity contradicts even one piece of evidence in our world, then it cannot be completely true.

Allow me to borrow analogies from a couple of brilliant men to illustrate what I mean. Norman Geisler, Christian apologist and philosopher, likens the quest of philosophy to the assembling of a jigsaw puzzle. Imagine that you have a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, but that you have lost the box the puzzle came in. Anyone who has put together a jigsaw puzzle knows how critical it is to use the box top as a guide to assembling the puzzle. If you come across a piece of the puzzle and do not know where to put it, you simply examine the box top and use that information to help you put it in its correct place. Given that the box top for life has been lost, mankind scrambles around looking for various box tops in hopes of finding the one that provides the solution to the puzzle. Every worldview is a sort of box top. Either it matches the pieces of the puzzle or it doesn't. Some of the wrong box tops might possibly help to put some pieces in the right place, but they always either create odd conflicts or provide very little help at all. Only the right box top will serve to reassemble the jigsaw puzzle. If Christianity is correct, then it is the box top that provides a flawless guide for all the mysterious pieces we have to the puzzle of existence and human life.

Similarly, G.K. Chesterton illustrates the challenge of the quest for a fitting philosophy by pointing out that our world is quite complicated and in many aspects, quite unexpected. The simpler something is, the more likely a mere conincidence can satisfy it. The more complicated a thing is, the more irregular a thing is, the less likely a mere coincidence can match it perfectly. For example, noticing that a human being has two eyes, two ears, two legs, two arms and two hands, which are all arranged in near symmetry might lead one to decide that the human body is symmetrical. When we discover that a person has a heart on the left side of their body, it would be perfectly rational to assume that they would also have a heart on the right side of their body. But, of course, this would also be wrong. The simple explanation doesn't fit the evidence. Likewise, if Christianity is correct, it must be right not in some simple or obvious way, but it must correctly account for the irregularites and complexities of the universe. In Chesteron's own words, "A stick might fit a hole, or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key."

And so it is with the case of Christianity. The real question about whether Christianity is rational is not simply whether it works for some people, or if it explains some things. If Christianity is true, then it must be true about everything. The key must fit the lock. The box top must be the correct box top if we are to solve the puzzle. Either every facet of Christianity will be correct and properly explain the universe, or Christianity is wrong. That a key almost fits the lock is no consolation at all, for the door cannot be opened. To be almost right is even worse that being very clearly wrong, for the answer which is almost right seems the most convincing. Either Christianity is true, or it isn't. If it is true, then it must make sense of every single fact of the universe. If even a single piece is actually out of place, then Christianity fails.

Before I continue to point out some compelling facts that only Christianity can explain, I would like to clarify a few things which demand my attention. First of all, I would like to mention the obvious fact that an apparent contradiction and an actual contradiction are two completely different things. If you ask me where I was on Saturday and I tell you that I was at home reading, and I also tell you that I had coffee at Starbucks, you might perceive it as an apparent contradiction. Obviously, I can't be in two places at once. If I was at Starbucks, then I can't have been at home. If I was at home, then I can't have been at Starbucks. These statements are all quite logical and valid; after all, no person can truly be in two places simultaneously. However, the apparent contradiction immediately fades upon the realization that I never claimed to be at home and at Starbucks simultaneously. Once time is accounted for, it is apparent that I was at home during one part of the day, and at Starbucks during another part of the day. I simply use this playful illustration to show that not everything that appears to be a contradiction actually is.

Secondly, I would like to return to the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle to point out that if there are any missing pieces of the puzzle, it is no fault of the box top. Though Christianity may explain everything, our lack of some critical pieces do not invalidate it's truthfulness. For example, though Christianity may explain why the world exists, why man is fundamentally different than beast and why all men have a conception of morals, it is no argument against Christianity to say that it does not explain everything fully. If one is wondering why Christianity provides no clear and conprehensive explanation for why giraffes have long necks, why people enjoy butter on their bread, and why I enjoy grape-flavored lollipops more than orange-flavored ones, that Christianity does not explain these things in comprehensive detail does not invalidate Christianity. We are simply missing a few pieces of the puzzle. However, if Christianity says that no person enjoys butter on his bread, then Christianity does not fit with our universe, for quite clearly there are a large number of people who do enjoy buttered bread.

Lastly, it may be that some people will be confused as to how I define Christianity. The Protestant reformation definitely opened the door for many various groups to present similar yet different versions of Christianity. Therefore, in order to preempt any possible confusion about what I mean when I refer to Christianity, I would like to point both to my previous post on Basic Christian Orthodoxy and to the Apostles' Creed. My case for Christianity is primarily a rational case for that short list of pivotal Christian doctrines. God exists, and is the Creator of all. Man willfully chose and continues to choose to reject God's clear command, and therefore all men are sinners both by nature and by choice. Jesus, who is God incarnate, was born of a virgin, and lived a sinless life. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and to make salvation and redemption available to all who place their faith in Him. His bodily ressurrection, three days after His death, secured his victory over sin and death, and gives new life to all who are spiritually united with Him.

In following essays, I will briefly state the rational case for Christianity by looking at questions of metaphysics, morality, and epistemology, and then offer a short essay on why philosophical materialism, the prevalent philosophy of our day, does not properly fit the facts of our universe.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The End of Philosophy

Recently I had an intriguing conversation with a friend of mine. He is currently studying to earn his master's degree in philosophy, which is a topic that he took an interest in when he was halfway done with his undergrad degree, which was going to be in art. I've had an interest in philosophy for several years now and have quite enjoyed studying and discussing philosophy, so I was quite happy to have someone else to have lots of philosophical discussions with. We've had numerous conversations about everything from the various modern strains of existentialism, to the major worldview changes that were brought about by post-cartesian philosophy, to the expansiveness of sin as a social concept, to any one of our other deep and complicated debates. But, our latest conversation really struck me with a profound insight.

We were discussing how Wittgenstein's philosophies changed dramatically over the course of his lifetime. His early philosophical works focused on semantics and the importance of defining concepts clearly. But, his later works headed in a very different direction as he began to consider the ultimate goal of philosophy. One of the major ideas he presented is the concept that the goal of philosophy is simply to live life. More expansively, philosophy is a tool to be used to resolve challenging mental and conceptual conflicts and to find a worldview with practical implications that puts the mind to rest. Philosophy is only needed to resolve philosophical problems. In that sense, philosophy is not a goal unto itself but instead is merely a means to an end.

Interestingly enough, that sort of a conclusion about philosophy finds itself nearly unified with my own thoughts and ideas concerning philosophy. My ultimate test of any philosophy or worldview includes only two criteria. First, a philosophy must be consistent with the evidence of reality. Second, a philosophy must be practically applicable. As you can see, half of my criteria centers on the concept of practical applicability. It is for that reason that I call myself a practical philosopher. I only use philosophy to solve apparent problems, so that I can live confidently and consistently, and so I can show others the philosophical answers I have found so that they can do the same. In that regard, my purpose in utilizing philosophy is nearly identical to what Wittgenstein eventually decided it was for: to live life.

To that end, the study of philosophy isn't what it seems to be. Knowing philosophy doesn't make you smarter; it just fills your mind with a few more facts. Knowing a lot of philosophy is of no use unless you live well. Knowing little philosophy is no hindrance if you live well. What this means is that philosophy doesn't matter in the end. The entire goal of studying philosophy is the cessation of studying philosophy. One only studies philosophy so that one won't have to study it anymore. If philosophy is used for anything beyond this, then it ceases to become useful and simply becomes tedious, tiresome head-wrangling.

For too many modern people, philosophy has exceeded its rightful bounds and become exactly the sort of tedious, twisted, convoluted mind-wrangling that it was never meant to be. Last year I had an ethics professor who had exactly this sort of approach to philosophy. He was one of the kind of philosophers who values the process of inquiry and the endless discussions, but has an unhealthy disdain for answers. Never wanting to commit to any final answers, he also led his students in the endless circular quest for more answers and more answers, with a precommitment to ultimately ignore all of them. The books we read and movie clips we watched weren't being used to teach us how to live. They were being used to teach us that there are numerous points of view, which are all valuable and useful in their own right. But, to say that everything is an answer is to say that there are no answers. If 2+2=4 is correct, and 2+2=5 is correct, and 2+2=8 is correct, then there is no right answer to the math problem 2+2. If everything is right then nothing is right. By transgressing the natural bounds of philosophy, his form of philosophy became mind-twisting exercises in futility rather than equipping students to better ponder life and live well. This is a perversion of philosophy. Needless to say, I promptly dropped the class.

If the goal of philosophy is to live well, then in the end we are looking for a series of answers to practical dilemmas. In that regard, a systematic theology is the best possible set of answers to life. While it is certainly possible to seek answers to life's plethora of dilemmas one by one, having an entire set of answers to all of life's metaphysical complexities, moral problems and epistemic challenges is, if not correct, at least expedient. In that regard, Confucius' teachings are more valuable that all that Kierkegaard ever wrote. The teachings of Jesus Christ are far superior to all of Plato. Ghandi's life is more useful for showing us how to live than the entire works of Karl Marx. Knowing if taxes ought to be paid is a far more practical consideration than deciding whether there exists the perfect idea of bed, which is imperfectly conceptualized by a bed-maker and then imperfectly created by him; for we care nothing for perfect beds, but simply for sleep, whereas the question of paying taxes is a vital and practical one. Similarly, seeing a life that demonstrates the power of non-violent resistence is much more practically potent than being told that all of modern life is fundamentally a class struggle, between the haves and the have-nots. Information, unless actionable, is merely useless trivia for cocktail party conversations and crossword puzzles. For that reason, all good philosophy transcends itself and properly points a person towards living rightly.

And if a systematic theology presents answers to all the practical issues a person faces, and gives answers that are consistent with reality, then adherents of such a theology have no need for philosophy. It may be a fun diversion or a useful exercise in logic and rationality, but it is thoroughly optional. The secular humanist may need to spend his whole life seeking more answers, since he must seek them one at time with each new dilemma that arises. For the Christian, all of the answers to life are contained in the pages of Scripture. "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so", is both the foundation and the final conclusion of philosophy for a Christian. Upon that foundation rests answers to all the other multi-faceted perplexities of philosophy.

Returning to the main point of this blog, philosophy, utilized correctly, is simply the means to an end. The goal of philosophy is right living. Any other goal of philosophy leads to needless exercises in mental frustration. One only does philosophy so that he doesn't have to do philosophy anymore. The only reason a person becomes a philosopher is so that eventually he won't need to be a philosopher anymore. The end of philosophy is its own obliteration, because philosophy kills philosophy. For those who lack the answers, this happens slowly, perhaps taking more than a lifetime. For those who have found the answers, the death of philosophy is swift and sure. As the blood of philosophy is spilled, real life is no longer hindered by needless ponderation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Preposterous Shaming Words: Narrow-minded

While there are certain times and situations where shaming may be appropriate, most attempts to verbally or socially shame another person are completely uncalled for. Today, during a discussion, someone referred to certain ideas as "narrow-minded." Strictly speaking, all that means is the the person in question didn't like the ideas. But, the word "narrow-minded" has very specific connotations attached to it, which turns such an expression from being one of simple personal distaste to verbal shaming based on the implications of a fixed standard. While the literal meaning of the term doesn't imply any shame, in today's world calling someone "narrow-minded" is a major insult, akin to calling someone a "racist," a "bigot," a "sexist" or a "homophobe." Why do we allow such a generic, yet connotation-laden word to be used? I don't know, but I certainly oppose it.

My reason for opposing it is that the word "narrow-minded" really doesn't mean anything at all. Allow me to explain. Strictly speaking, something that is narrow is limited or constricted. Therefore, narrow-minded simply means that an idea or belief is limited or constricted. Alternately, in colloquial usage, narrow-minded means that some idea or belief is inflexible, intolerant or prejudiced. As a culture, we have been conditioned to view such thinking as unreasonable and petty. We have been brainwashed into thinking of narrow-mindedness as a character flaw of the highest sort. However, simply a moment's consideration is required to dismantle this ridiculous perception. I must ask, which idea or opinion isn't narrow? Supposing that I believe the sky looks blue in the daytime, by definition my belief is exceedingly narrow. That I think the sky looks blue necessarily means that I do not think it is red, yellow, purpose, green, black, turquiose or maroon. Nor do I think that it is invisible. Similarly, my belief must be inflexible or it isn't a belief at all. If I am certain that the sky appears blue, then it would take a lot of arguing and persuading for me ever to consider changing such a belief. If I am so uncertain that I can be easily swayed, then I don't really believe the sky is blue at all. Therefore, so long as I think that the sky is blue, such a thought must intrinsically be both narrow and inflexible.

Allow me to utilize another example. Let us suppose that grape popsicles are my favorite dessert. If grape popsicles are my favorite, then it is necessarily true that no other dessert is my favorite. Key lime pie, chocolate chip cookies, rainbow sherbet and candy canes may be perfectly delicious, but none of them is my favorite. Only grape popsicles are. My taste is intrinsically narrow. Additionally, if my taste in desserts is too flexible, then the concept of favorite means almost nothing. If my favorite dessert changes ever day or two, then saying that grape popsicles are my favorite means nothing at all. Only if my preference for grape popsicles is fairly static does my preference carry weight at all. Therefore, favorites are intrinsically narrow and inflexible. Moving on to a more serious example, let us suppose that I believe murderers should be put to death. If I believe that murderers should be subjected to the death penalty, then it logically follows that I do not believe murderers should be paid to kill more people, go on vacations to Hawaii, or shop for clothes at my local Target. My belief that they should die necessarily excludes those things. Similarly, my belief must be relatively static or else it doesn't mean anything at all. My belief in the death penalty is by definition narrow and inflexible. Likewise, if you oppose the death penalty, then you believe that murderers should not be drowned, shot in the head, stabbed in heart, injected with lethal poison, nor electrified. Your opinion also is narrow, since it necessarily exlcudes a great many things, and it is inflexible, else you don't really oppose the death penalty. I could list a thousand more examples, but my simple point is this: all serious ideas, opinions, tastes and beliefs are necessarily narrow and inflexible.

Granted that all serious ideas, opinions, tastes and beliefs are necessarily narrow and inflexible, it logically follows that all is strictly meant by calling something "narrow-minded" is that it is actually a thought. Since all ideas are ideas, all opinions are opinions and all beliefs are beliefs, calling something "narrow-minded" means nothing at all. The fact that it is a word laden with connotations means that when you call something "narrow-minded" you are trying to shame the other person for holding an idea, simply on the grounds that it is an idea.

Although, there is one other way such a statement could be meant. Perhaps one is not complaining that an idea is narrow (since all ideas are), but that the given idea is narrower than it should be. For an idea to be narrower than it should be, there must exist a standard for acceptable and unacceptable amounts of narrowness. Unless this standard is fully stated and supported, then it is simply an unfounded accusation. But, it is an unfounded accusation that is usually used by people who have embraced modern political correctness and are attempting to use political correctness as the standard for any idea. In that sense, saying that someone is narrow-minded simply means that their beliefs do not conform to acceptable social norms. But why should an idea conform? Political correctness is tyrannical demagogic excrement. Political correctness is used as a shield for the fearful to live in denial of reality and socially shame others into doing the same.

Therefore, any reasonable and courageous person would do well to completely reject the idea that narrow-mindedness should be opposed or frowned upon. In its literal usage, narrow-mindedness is intrinsically unavoidance. In its colloquial usage by those who support the modern system, narrow-mindedness is generally something that should be supported and applauded, since "narrow-minded" individuals are the only ones courageous enough to step outside of the box, think for themselves, say what's on their minds and question popular consensus. As a non-conformist, I take pride in being called narrow-minded or having people object to certain ideas I have. Holding "narrow-minded" ideas is the only way to move towards reform, oppose democratic tyranny, and fight for liberty and justice. When I do dicuss ideas with people I disagree with, I use logic and rationality to oppose their ideas, and don't stoop to using cowardly tactics like simple name-calling and shaming. No reasonable, courageous, logical person should ever refer to another person or idea as "narrow-minded."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Do It Again!

A couple weeks ago I re-read G.K. Chesterton's literary masterpiece, Orthodoxy. It's a book that I read once a year, and its pages are so full of wit and verbal brilliance that I am always struck with new thoughts and ideas. The book itself is fairly short, but thoroughly enjoyable from cover to cover. Rather than using dull and dry arguments for why Christianity must be true, he recounts his own personal religious journey using a plethora of vivid word pictures and imaginative metaphors. As a scholar, he possesses a remarkable grasp of knowledge concerning a vast array of subjects, and yet, as a wordsmith, every single illustration, citation and explanation in the book is presented using words that are both a pleasurae to ponder and a joy to quote. But, I digress. The point of this blog is to express one train of thought that Chesterton adeptly conveys, which I felt to be quite stirring. In fact, the immense pleasure I derive from reading and re-reading Orthodoxy is a prime example of the supreme enjoyment that Chesterton suggests is the deepest meaning of a childlike delight in repetition. Chesterton writes:

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought about, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises reguarly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.
There are several ideas and themes touched on in this little paragraph, yet that one idea really jumped out at me. The idea that a rejoicing in monotony could be such a positive thing almost seems an oxymoron. After all, the very word monotony has many negative connotations attached to it. Monotony seems to lead inevitably to boredom. A teacher or speaker who speaks in a monotone is the most dull and unexciting sort to listen to. Monochrome movies aren't nearly as rich and sensually appealing as films in color. My first thoughts were that monotony couldn't possibly be a good thing. After all, it is commonly said that variety is the spice of life. It would seem that the key to an excess of life and joy would be an abundance of variety and not an excess of repetition. Yet, as I got beyond my initial thoughts and began to ponder Chesterton's little idea, the more true it seemed--beyond true, it seemed incontrovertible! Many of the highest pleasures in life are things that we do again and again. While you might watch a movie you enjoy once or twice, any movie that you love you will inevitably watch many times and perhaps memorize all the key lines. While I have fairly broad tastes in music and listen to all sorts of tunes, the albums I listen to most frequently are the ones from my favorite band; I listen to them again and again because they are thoroughly delightful to me. Your closest friends are the people that you want to see again and again, while the friends you're not as attached to you only see occasionally. Indeed, while there are many enjoyable things that one does only once, all of the most enjoyable activities are the things one does repeatedly. Chesterton builds his idea even more:

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absense, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance.
It is fascinating to realize that children are more simply entertained and amused than adults. The young are more easily delighted with simpler things, and willing to do them longer and more often because of the joy they take in such things. Adults are quickly bored, and have such high expectations towards people and experiences that few can satisfy. Especially in affluent modern America, we are so used to having the best that anything ordinary seems almost too plain to enjoy. It does take a certain strength and a certain mindset to exult in monotony. Yet, the reward for such inner strength is continually joy. Looking it from that perspective, boredom clearly reveals a failure of perspective, a lack of desire or expectations that are too high. Chasing after pleasure by trying new things constantly and seeking entertainment frantically is utterly the wrong way to go about finding joy and delight. While there is a measure of happiness found in enjoying new things, the most enjoyable things are those that we do again. Trying a new frozen yogurt shop may result in a measure of pleasure. But, revisiting your favorite frozen yogurt shop will be a much more enjoyable experience. Listening to new music will be fun, but listening to music that you already love won't disappoint. Making new friends is fun, but spending time with people you already love will inevitably be a joyous celebration of kinship. While dating many women brings a certain amount of pleasure, there is greater joy to be found in marrying one amazing woman than the eternal philanderer will ever find. Trying many different kinds of art is pleasurable, but mastering your favorite form of art is even more wonderful. The same can be said about nearly all other realms of human experience.

Our experience of life will be much richer when we adopt a childlike attitude of delight in doing the same wonderful things again and again. "Do it again" is the ultimate cry of delight in a person, thing or experience! How much happier we would be if we chose to exult in monotony and if every single day were lived as an encore to the previous one! And that is why I read Orthodoxy every year. It is one of those supreme delights in my life. Not once have I been disappointed by reading it; instead, every time I read it I am mesmerized again and filled with a greater appreciation of the whole of life!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Art of Painting Miniatures

Just a few weeks ago I picked up a new hobby. As I wrote about last week, passion is the key to joyous living, which is why I always like to try new things and broaden my horizons. As a long-time gamer, I have always quite enjoyed playing board games and cards games of all sorts. Warhammer 40K is something that I've known about for a few years, but it always seemed like such an involved hobby game to get into. Not only is building an army a bit expensive, especially initially, but there is also a fairly large time committed required simply to assemble and paint your army. For some reason, I decided that I wanted to broaden my skills artistically, mechanically and creatively, so I have begun to select, assemble and paint my own Space Wolves army. Assembling the models is fairly simple and straightforward, but thoroughly enjoyable. However, one thing that I found surprising is how much I enjoy painting my soliders. It feels very rewarding to take something that looks so plain and colorless and bring it life little by little, as I paint each layer and color each detail. In this blog I will briefly share my process of assembling and painting the soldiers.

Before I ever begin to mix colors or pull out my paint brushes, I have to assemble the model in question. I have to decide what sort of solider I want to create, how he should look, which weapons he should carry, and what sort of pose to give him. Here are the different pieces that I have chosen to assemble a new Bloodclaw Recruit. He'll be armed with a chainsword and a bolt pistol, both basic weapons.

Here's what he looks like, fully assembled.

Once I finish assembling a model, then I spray paint it with black primer. Here's an example of one that has been primed.

Once all the models I plan to paint are fully assembled and primed, then I set up my painting station.

Right now I'm still a bit slow and I'm still working on my technique, so it takes me about 2 hours to paint a figure. I could have gone with the default paint scheme for the Space Wolves, but I decided that if I lived in a frigid region I certainly wouldn't want to be wearing armor that hints at frost and snow. To me it makes more sense that warm and earthy tone clothing and armor would be worn, which would give one the feeling of being warmer even in sub-zero temperatures. With that sort of aesthetic in mind, I wanted to primarily use green and brown as the dominant colors for my models. Over at the Games Workshop in Union City, Greg gave me some pointers on how to best paint faces on my soldiers. With a basic concept of the overall look I wanted to achieve and a few practical tips on how to approach painting a model, here are my first two attempts at painting soldiers.

Overall, I was happy with the color scheme and the basic concept, but none of the colors seemed quite as vivid or saturated as I desired. The red wasn't red enough, the brown wasn't dark enough, the green wasn't an especially pleasant shade and the white wasn't bright enough. The idea was right, but I wanted more contrast. With my next soldier, I used a darker foundation, and I double-layered the reds and whites to make them stand out more.

The reds, whites and browns turned out much better, but this time the green was way too dark. Since neither of my green foundations seemed to be the color I wanted, I decided to create my own custom shade by mixing the two to reach a more balanced color of green that wasn't as dark as the second one, and wasn't as harsh as the first. The next one figure I painted using my a temporary new green color.

This one I was quite pleased with! All of the colors complement each other well, and all of them are sufficiently saturated. The red is a rich, bloody red. The weapons look shiny, though reasonably worn. His face and hair look absolutely stunning. For the next four, which I painted simultaneously, I mixed up a whole batch of the new green color and used the same color scheme. Also, I my made first attempts at doing armor highlighting.

The highlighting is more challenging than I thought it would be, so I'll definitely work on practicing that a bit more. Also, with these guys I learned not to apply wash too liberally to the face, because the eyes aren't as clear when there's too much wash. But, apart from those two little details, I am quite happy with the overall look of the soldiers. I'm especially pleased with how the squad leader with the power fist turned out. All of the little details, and the richness of the bear pelts he wears look quite exquisite.

Here's a picture of all my painted figures so far. The squad looks a bit rag-tag because of all my color experiementation, but now that I have settled on my final color scheme, all future squads will look very uniform.

So begins my foray into painting miniatures.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Modern Civilization Suffocates Masculinity

While watching Defiance a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by the manliness of the two main characters. The Bielski brothers were both amazing men who exuded courage, confidence, resolve, assertiveness and unequivocal psychosocial dominance. They were both alpha males in every sense of the word. Both were leaders of men, resourceful, appropriately violent, and skilled with women. As I was contemplating the many things I admired about them, one aspect of the whole thing really struck me. Adversity. These were both men whose masculinity was best developed in adversity and best revealed by adversity. While facing constant danger of death from the German soldiers, the natural elements of the wilderness and even from dissent within their group of Jewish refugees, they were strengthened, and their strength was clearly manifested for all to see.

As a man who strives to further develop my own masculinity, and embrace everything it means to be a man, my thoughts turned to the sorts of adversity that we face, living in modern civilization. While considering this, I realized that ironically, modern civilization stands opposed to nearly everything masculine. While masculinity thrives in situations of danger, is stengthened by using one's strength, and needs a healthy amount of true challenge, modern civilization seeks to minimize all three of those. While basic civilzation increases people's survival, tames the land, provides sufficient food and makes life managable, modern civilization has gone far beyond the basic requirements, such that we have gone far beyond the point of diminishing returns. Modern civilization seeks to provide perfect protection from the elements, reduce the amount of manual labor needed to almost none, decrease physical danger of all sorts, and provide maximum comfort.

Think for example, about all the changes our world has undergone in the past few centuries. Just a hundred years ago, horses and carriages were still widely used. The automobile had only just started to become a popular consumer item. Owning a car lessens the need for walking, biking, horse riding or even keeping animals. Less physical effort is required to go anywhere. Similarly, while hunting was a staple of American living for years, now modern grocery stores provide us with foods from all over the world, and requires minimal effort--you simply have to put your items in a basket and carry them to the checkout counter. Not only is hunting no longer necessary for food, but there are presently numerous restrictions and laws governing when, where, and what you can hunt--and that's not even considering the weapon licensure laws! Even cooking is no longer a necessity, since we have microwaves and fast food restaurants. While having a yard requires a certain amount of labor just to maintain one's property, urban living almost completely dispense with yards, trees, gardens and lawns. Living in apartment means that you only have to vacuum occasionally, and perhaps clean your bathtub every so often. No serious yardwork is needed. With mass-produced, lightweight furniture, even the heavy lifting that we do requires less effort than a short workout at the gym. Our air-tight windows and doors, along with air conditioners and heaters allow us to nearly completely avoid the elements both when we travel and in our homes. Not only is our life devoid of natural danger and the need for strength in ordinary everyday life, but there is very little of the synthetic sort of danger.

While in times past, a man needed to be ready and able to fight for his country, or protect his home from bestial or human violence, in modern civilization the place for violence is highly segregated and optional. Unless you go and join the armed forces or become a police officer, nearly all violence is either unnecessary or positively forbidden. Just about the most violent things a man can legally do are play tackle football, take a martial arts class, or take up boxing, wrestling or MMA fighting. Though those are all forms of struggle, none of them offer any serious danger. While you might get injured, the odds of losing life or limb are quite remote. It's safe danger. Living in one of the most powerful countries in the world (though that is quickly changing exactly because America is increasingly filled with feminized weaklings) means that there is very little real threat of war breaking out in the continental US. In the ordinary course of events in modern civilization, we really couldn't be much safer. Any real danger that city dwellers face is incidental and exceptional.

Because of this, there is very little room for the masculine soul to grow and find satisfaction. Life for a man is much more enjoyable and challenging when his strength is needed, when life itself requires a certain amount of struggle, and where there is true danger. Since modern civilization seeks to decreases all of these things, as much as possible, by ensuring safety, making tasks easier and more effortless, and freeing us up to sit on plush couches watching our big-screen TVs while sipping beer, it deprives a man of what he really wants and needs. Modern civilization effectively suffocates masculinity. In Defiance, the two lead characters became the strong men that they did because they lived in the midst of adversity and allowed the adversity to strengthen them. Masculinity needs a healthy amount of adversity to develop and thrive. Modern civilization offers no true adversity of any sort. Only where there is dysfunction does any true adversity rise to the surface. I think that such a lack of adversity is actively harmful to men all over our country. These are the times that try men's souls, precisely because these are times that do not try men's souls.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Practical Rejection of Conceptual Relativism

In a previous essay, A Practical Rejection of Material Relativism, I demonstrated that nobody actually believes in material relativism. Using simple logic and common, everyday examples, I illustrated that everyone firmly believes that their sensory experience of the world is reliable, and that each person believes that others' sensory experience of the world is identical or largely similar to their own. These premises are simply a matter of common sense and for all functional purposes nobody questions them. However, material relativism is not an especially commonly held form of modern relativism. Conceptual relativism is much more common and, in many ways, far more intellectually and practically dangerous. Generally, when people try to invoke relativism in support of their beliefs or as a tool to dismiss opposing beliefs, it is used in the realms of morality and spirituality. As such, relativism is a set of metaphysical beliefs that has a profound impact on one's worldview, one's everyday actions and one's relationship with God, human beings and the physical universe.

For the purposes of this essay, conceptual relativism is a belief that since you see things one way and I see things another way, perhaps the truth is that both views are equally correct and we are just looking at the universe in different ways. If this is true in the conceptual realm, then perhaps my view that adultery is wrong is true for me, and your view that all consensual sex is perfectly moral and acceptable is true for you. Perhaps Jesus is my Savior and the only way to heaven, but maybe for you, submission to Allah is the way to salvation. Maybe in my world, God created the entire universe 6,000 years ago, but in your world the universe evolved over billions and billions of years. If we actually live in a truly relative universe, then it is entirely possible that your beliefs, my beliefs, and the beliefs of each person are all completely true, because we would indeed be living in quite divergent worlds.

Obviously, there is a vast divergence of beliefs about everything in this world; there are wildly varying economic theories, philosophical models, religious beliefs, social norms, cultural forces, academic values, ethical judgments and so many other things! As such, how does one decide what to believe? Does it matter? If we live in a relative world, then you simply can't be wrong about anything. Since all beliefs are equally true, then it doesn't matter what you believe or don't believe. Obviously, we don't believe that beliefs don't matter. In fact no-one does. Though conceptual relativism has many philosophical flaws and utterly contradicts the evidence of the real world, I need not expound these multitudinous flaws for the same simple reason I advocated in my last essay:

No one actually believes in relativism!

Again, I'm not saying that a person couldn't believe in relativism, I'm just saying that no-one does. On what basis can I make such a claim? The way people act and the things they claim to believe are quite incompatible with relativism. This is especially true in the realms of morality and spirituality. If a person ever disagrees about anything, they have just illustrated that they do not believe in relativism. If a person ever seeks to use logic to prove a point, they cannot possibly be a relativist. If a person ever judges the actions of another, then they clearly believe that what is true for them is true for everyone else as well. Shortly, I will explain why logic and moral judgments refute a belief in relativism, but before that I must briefly touch on semantics to show that people fundamentally agree that concepts are communicable and intelligible.

All people perceive the world in concepts. We also communicate concepts using conceptual labels called "words." Now, sometimes what we mean by certain words is different than what others mean by the same words. For example, you may assume that car means "any moving vehicle", while I might suppose that car means "a four-wheeled vehicle seating no more than 5 people." Given our different understandings of the word "car" we could reach a misunderstanding or even have a disagreement. This is why semantics matter. In order to communicate a concept you have to ensure that your language is understood by the person you are communicating with. Once both people understand what the other person means by the word "car," all misunderstandings and conflicts are easily averted, because both parties understand the detailed concepts being expressed. The very fact that people are capable of meaningful conceptual communication suggests that people don't live in unique and conceptually different worlds. Even though you and I might mean something somewhat different by "car" or "justice" or "faith," once suitably defined we at least would understand the concept expressed by the other. This illustrates the intelligibility and communicability of concepts, as well as the conceptual continuity that exists from one person to another.

Morality is another conceptual area that quickly reveals the practical impossibilities of conceptual relativism. If morality is completely relative, then for each individual there exists a different moral code. If you believe that murder is okay, and I believe that murder is always wrong, then in a truly relative universe both of our views are equally correct and true. However, in every civilized nation in the world there is a form of law; these laws (at least technically) apply equally to all citizens. When a drug dealer is convicted for trafficking illegal substances, nobody asks him whether dealing drugs is wrong for him. Likewise, when a murderer is convicted for his crime, the justice system does not concern itself with the murderer's moral stance on murder. In a relativistic world, it is only reasonable to punish people for actions which are wrong. And, actions are only wrong if the transgressors believe them to be wrong. Therefore, proper justice would mean that only those murderers who violate their own moral code be subject to the conditions of law, and those murderers who did nothing wrong (since murder is not wrong in their world) should not be punished. Quite obviously, no-one actually believes in complete moral relativity. In fact, when any person accuses another of wrongdoing, they are implicitly stating, "The action that you just committed is intrinsically wrong, and it is equally wrong for all people."

Additionally, we also don't believe in partially relative morality. Many modern moral theorists suggest that morality is just a social construction. Namely, that whatever a society as a whole considers to be right and wrong is treated as right or wrong. However, nobody actually acts in accordance with such a theory. If the social construct theory of morality were followed, then one could only be held accountable for crimes if his own society had determined such actions were wrong. However, if stealing is a morally-acceptable behavior in Tanzania, and a Tanzanian thief steals from America, we would have no legitimate basis for imprisoning him, since he committed no wrong. Therefore, whenever a country tries a foreigner for a violation of local laws that differ from the foreigner's laws, such a country is declaring morality to be universal, at least in some sense. Likewise, if morality is a partially relative manner, then no person has any basis to morally object to the World War II Holocaust. Even though genocide may be wrong in our societies, in Germany, society had agreed that exterminating Jews was a good and necessary thing. Since we don't believe that their actions were morally right, we also don't accept the claim that each society has their own separate, but equally true, moral code.

Additionally, logic itself is incompatible with conceptual relativism. One of the most fundamental laws of logic is the Law of Non-Contradiction. Simply stated, if something is true, then its opposite cannot also be true. For example, if God exists, then it is not logically possible that God also does not exist. Likewise, if my car is red, it is logically impossible for it to be non-red. For this reason, logic clearly reveals that we do not live in a relativistic world. For the sake of the argument, let us suppose that you believe that coffee is the world's only beverage, but you are a relativist, so you only believe that fact concerning your own world (World A). Now, suppose that another person believes that tea is the only beverage, and that it exists as the only drink in his own world (World B) and all other worlds. If relativity is true, then both beliefs must be true, which leaves us with the following conundrum. In World B, tea is the only drink. No problem so far. However, in World A coffee is the only drink and tea is the only drink. This is logically impossible. If coffee is the only drink in World A, then it is necessarily true that no other drinks exist in World A. However, tea exists. Additionally, if tea is the only drink in World A, then it is necessarily true that no other drinks exist in World A. But, coffee exists. The Law of Non-Contradiction means only one of those premises can be true. Therefore, conceptually relativism is logically impossible. This also means that anyone who accepts or uses logic does not really believe in relativism.

Therefore, by common everyday use of words, moral judgments and the use of logic, we have clearly shown several things. First, from semantics we learn it is clear that all people believe that concepts are understandable, communicable and contiguous from one person's world to the next. Secondly, based on moral judgments, we see that people believe that at least some concepts are equally true for all people. Third, concurrence over the laws of logic illustrates that all people believe that some concepts are correct and many are incorrect. All of these practical beliefs are quite incompatible with relativism. Therefore, we can summarize these three points in the common belief that all people live in the same conceptual world, where every concept that is true is true for all people, and every concept that is false, is false for all people.

Though we have only established that people believe some concepts are equally true for all people, I believe that it can reasonably shown that is true for all categories of concepts. To establish that fully would require a very comprehensive paper, which exhaustively examines every possible category of concepts. Obviously, that is beyond the scope of this essay, but I will give a short example to illustrate what I mean. Most Christians believe that Jesus is only way to heaven, and most Muslims believe that submission to Allah is the only path to salvation. Obviously, these are exclusive claims, and followers of each religion are convinced that their conception is correct and that everyone else is either wrong, deceived or confused. Therefore, even though there is disagreement over which concept is correct, every honest person will admit that he believes that his conception is correct and that everyone who holds an opposing conception is wrong. This illustrates that (in the field of religion) every person believes that concepts are universally true or false, and that they are not different from person to person. In a similar manner, I am certain that in whatever conceptual field you examine you will find a similar mindset. Those who are convinced of a concept are also convinced that it is true for all people.

Returning to some earlier questions this essay posed: Does it matter what one believes? How does one decide what to believe? How can one determine which beliefs are accurate and which are not? Is it possible to determine which religions are correct and which are not? What is truth? These questions are quite complex and sufficiently deep enough to warrant another essay. As such, a future essay will explore various issues related to how we know what we know, and how we can determine if it is accurate.

What then has been established? From the previous essay, A Practical Rejection of Material Relativism, we established that all people trust their sensory experience of the world and that all people believe that others experience the same real world. In this essay, it is clear that all people also believe that not only do we live in the same physical world, but we also live in the same conceptual world. The fact that we live in the same conceptual world means that whatever is true for me is also true for you, since conceptual truth is absolute and constant. Where beliefs conflict or contradict one another, at least one of the of the beliefs is flawed and erroneous. This means that we all believe that, "What's true about the world for me is also true about the world for you because we live in the same real world, even if we disagree over certain concepts."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Passion - The Key To Joyous Living

Life is quite a multi-faceted experience. One thing that I have been reflecting on lately is the necessity of living with passion and drive. Simply put, life is the most rewarding and enjoyable when you are doing things that you are passionate about, and when you are passionate about the things that you are doing. During the past couple of weeks, there have been several days when I've felt like I'm in a bit of an emotional slump. That might be related to my having a bit of a cold, which saps my energy significantly, or it might be because I'm not as passionate about some aspects of my life as I want to be. The more aspects of life that one is really excited about, the happier one will be.

So, what should a person do when they aren't feeling as motivated and passionate as they want to be? As that question has been percolating in my mind, I have settled on two different answers, which work best when used in conjunction. First of all, do things you are passionate about. Secondly, be passionate about the things that you do. While those two answers sound very similar, they are actually quite distinct and require very different mindsets and attitudes.

Doing things that you are passionate about requires you to know what you are passionate about. If you do know what you are passionate about, doing those things more leads to more joy and natural energy. One thing I really love is playing, writing and arranging music. Whenever I'm playing lots of music, time goes by quickly, I feel very fulfilled and am proud of my accomplishments. Whenever I'm not playing enough music, it always feels like something is missing and absent from my life. Even though I'm passionate about music, sometimes I get so wrapped up in doing other things that I neglect to play as much as my soul desires. Part of doing the things you are passionate about means carving out specific times to do the things you love, which often means reducing the quantity of less-exciting things you are doing.

Another part of doing things you are passionate about requires living with an adventurous spirit by trying new activities and experiences. Broadening your experiential world expands your understanding of life, improves your ability to connect with other people and helps you to find more things that you are passionate about--which you never knew you are passionate about because you hadn't tried them before. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone, or push the boundaries of what is familiar and normal, and other times it just means that you have to be creative and train yourself to think in new ways. Recently, sensing that I wasn't as passionate about life as I wanted to be, I started exploring my world and looking for something new to do. As someone who loves playing games (primarily board games, card games and pen & paper role-playing games), I stopped by a local Games Workshop and started to learn about hobby gaming, which combines aspects of wargaming (more in-depth and involved than board games) with artistic creativity (assembling and painting your army). While I do have a decent collection of miniature figures, I have never before assembled or painted my own, and I've been quite enjoying the new challenges that comes from exercising my creativity in new ways. Though I'm not very good at it yet, since I just began last week, I really enjoy conceptualizing and painting my little soldiers. Similarly, my best friend was looking for something new to do, and just over a month ago he borrowed my acoustic guitar and starting teaching himself to play. Since then, he's been playing non-stop and even put on a little show at his grandmother's birthday party last Saturday. Yesterday, we drove down to Guitar Center and he bought his own electro-acoustic guitar. After buying it, he looked as thrilled as if he had won the lottery. Trying new things is a great way to discover more things that you are passionate about and to discover talents you didn't know you had.

The second part of living a joyous and passionate life is to be passionate about the things you are doing. This sort of attitude is quite similar to contentment and akin to gratitude, which both do not come naturally, but must be continually cultivated. Often there are things in your life that you used to enjoy, but now you feel very apathetic towards and half-hearted about doing. Thankfully, the downward trend of enjoyment is something that typically is reversible. My attitude towards going to church has been consistently waning for a few months. Because of that, I wasn't going as often, and when I did go, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did six months ago. Realizing this caused me to stop and reflect on why my heart wasn't in it as much. As I pondered this, I realized that one reason I felt less excited and engaged was that I had begun to take it for granted, rather than regarding going to church, worshipping God and fellowshipping with my church friends as a privilege. Another reason that my enthusiasm diminished was that I lost sight of the big picture, and consequently, forgot the value of the church community and communal worship. After those realizations, I make a conscious effort to remind myself of the reasons that I go to church, and consciously chose to engage my heart fully when I went. This last Sunday, as a result of my refreshed perspective, I felt more thankful and glad to be there, and God spoke to my heart through the sermon. Whenever there's something you used to love but are losing your enjoyment of, it's time to stop and reflect on what makes a certain activity or experience so great. Gratitude and contentment are attitudes that must be continually cultivated, and they always lead to more passionate and joyous living.

Sometimes there are things that you have to do, which you've never particularly liked. Personally, I think that if there's something you have to do, you might as well enjoy doing it. Jobs often fall into this category. While some people are truly enamored with their job, typically that is the exception, rather than the rule. Most people go to work because they have to, and aren't especially excited about it. While it might not be possible to be utterly delighted with your job, you can certainly brighten your outlook and increase your joy by focusing on the positive aspects and actively taking note of the things you enjoy about it. Downward comparison also will increase your satisfaction with things that feel like unpleasant necessities. For example, even though sometimes my job involves a lot of boring, mindless programming, the very fact that I have a job in this economy is something to be thankful for. It pays well, the hours are flexible, my coworkers are great and we have the most amazing foosball matches during breaks every afternoon. While going to work might not be my favorite thing to do, when I look at from the right perspective it actually seems quite wonderful. You can apply this positive attitude to nearly anything in your life. Household chores, paying rent, necessary social functions and studying for tests can become things that you are passionate about if you simply remind yourself of all the blessings and benefits that accompany such necessities.

So, if your life is presently full of lots of things that you are excited and passionate about, rejoice in all of it and maintain an attitude of contentment and gratitude. If you're feeling that life is a bit lackluster, then make more time for the thing you love, be adventurous and try new things, and cultivate a positive attitude towards the things you are doing. Living passionately is the best way to have a joyous, invigorating and fulfilling life!