Tuesday, May 21

The shortcomings of science, theology and rational thought

As some of you may know, I am presently working on my Doctorate of Ministries.  My present coursework has had a strong emphasis on theology (specifically 20th century theologians like Chardin, Kung, Lonergan and their ilk) and has been exceptionally thought provoking.  One of the most profound things which has come from this study and reflection is a simple observation as to the inadequacy of it all.

Theology is "the systematic and rational study of concepts of God and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary." ( Wordnetweb.princeton.edu, SN: Theology)  The key words here are 'rational'  and 'learned'.  It is a study of the mind.  While this is all well and good (and I mean that...it is good and fruitful), it has a fundamental flaw, which is in dealing with the primary source - God.

Encounters with the Divine, which are the core of faith, are essentially experiential and a-rational.  It is not that they (and their fruits, Faith) are unfounded or  lack reason, but rather they are entirely beyond the capacity for systematic, logical examination.  At base, they are matters of the heart, not of the mind.  This shortcoming is not a new phenomenon or startling revelation.  It is what the Angelic Doctor was referring to when he wrote "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible."

A systematic, rational and learned approach to an inquiry of study has great value, to be sure, but to describe love as a set of biochemical receptor changes or compassion in statistical trend analysis misses the entire point.  Such things defy reason, analysis or explanation.  As Balzac said more succinctly, "We love because we love."

Wednesday, May 8

Fear on tap

I was listening to the radio on the way home from work and there was an interesting story about a research study that used descriptive word syntax to analyze print media in a time period to track the collective conscience of the society of the time.  For instance, during the 1920's, on the heels of winning the 'War to End All Wars' and in a time of economic prosperity, words which describe happiness or joy were at their peak.  Twenty years later, on the eve of WW2 and over a decade into the Great Depression, descriptors of sadness were at their highest point.

  I find this sort of big data mining fascinating as it permits us to unwind both observer and analyst bias and tap into a broader and, theoretically, more accurate picture of the sensus populi.  I mention this here because the study shows that five of the six descriptors (anger, disgust. fear, joy, sadness and surprize) have been steadily declining since the 1980's with  fear being on the rise.  I believe that most folks know this in their lizard-brain, intuitively understanding that 'the world today' is awash in anxiety, filled with fear and  ridden with restlessness,.  Indeed, each mass we pray to be protected from "all needless anxiety", yet 'modern culture' is saturated with it.  There is fear on tap and we are drenched in dread and dripping with distress.  Why?

Is there uncertainty in the world?  Of course....but there has always been.  Crops failure has been replaced by climate change, random acts of violence supplants attacks by wild animals, AIDS, SARS and bird flu stand in the stead for plague and terrorism is the appelation of the day for Vikings.  Still, fear of tyranny, of war, of loss, the unknown and the future are no less with us today than they were two millenia ago.  What has changed, then?

One factor is our news sources.  In short, The Media is a corporate entity which lives or dies by quarterly profit and trepidation upticks the take. Another factor is the use of fear to herd the sheeple into thinking, speaking and acting 'your' way (for what ever constitutes 'your'). Compound that with instant communication, 'social media' and fear flies on fleeting wings whilst reason plods as tired oxen.

Given these things, what can be done to stem this tide of terror and abate the avalanche of anxiety?  The first is to ratchet down the rhetoric that is the firehose of media-based foreboding.  In short and brief, disconnect from the media which motivates.  That isn't easy, but it is important.  Also, it means that you need to do more than just that.  To remove only will not be enough.  One must also fill the void, but with what?

Love.  For love drives out fear and perfect love (which, of course, is the Divine) will perfectly drive out fear.

Just sayin.