Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goodness and Righteousness, Part 2

Goodness is something we work at. Goodness, in being a goal, means that we can get closer to that goal if we work at it. Goodness is something we gain greater strides toward if we have discipline in goodness. At the same time, the goal of goodness is vague, nefarious. We can be good in one circumstance if we are very strict (for instance faithfully keeping every promise we make) but in other contexts strictness is decidedly not good (like consistently punishing our children for disobeying us, even when we tell them to do something wrong). Thus, goodness is more like an art. Art, if we are to be good at it, requires the discipline of certain skills, yet the application of these skills differ greatly in different contexts. And given the particular art we are to accomplish, that will determine the skills we must perfect. But even if our skills are honed to perfection, we may still miss the goal of our art.

What kind of skills is one required to hone in order to accomplish goodness? One must have empathy and with it, compassion. One must understand the nature of law, but also the nature of grace. One must constantly be following the law and then granting grace to others. One must be accomplishing what is good for all, not only within oneself, but for the sake of others.

Righteousness is also an art. Yes, one can see righteousness as simply a switch, either you have it or you don’t, but righteousness is fundamentally a relationship. It is the ability to have a relationship with God, who alone is righteous. And either you have that ability or you do not. But the obtaining of this relationship isn’t a switch you either turn on or off. A lot of people talk about getting a relationship with God as an either/or proposition. “Either you have prayed to receive Jesus or you have not.” “Either you are born again or you are not.” “Either you have been baptized or you have not.” Yet, biblically, righteousness isn’t obtained so easily. Jesus proclaimed righteousness to people by two principles: believing in the message of the kingdom and repenting. Believing in the kingdom the apostles defined simply—having Jesus as one’s Lord. Surrendering ourselves to Jesus’ reign isn’t an easy proposition, nor is it a simple act that can be accomplished in moments. To have Jesus as our Lord is a decision we make on a regular basis, even daily or hourly. We decide who is in charge of us, who is the one to make the final decision over who we are, what we have and how we relate to others.

Repentance isn’t exactly cut and dried, either. It is the realization that one isn’t good, at least not all the time. And it is the art of responding to the evil that creeps up from our soul, in order to accomplish the most good from the midst of the wrong we accomplished.
Also, if righteousness has to do with a relationship with God, like any relationship it takes time and effort and, like any relationship, there is a certain amount of creativity involved. Each relationship is different because each person is different. And if a single person has a relationship with many other people, each relationship will be completely unique, because the unit is always different from an individual. Thus, righteousness is an art.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Righteous Dude

Goodness v. Righteousness, Part 1

What is the good?

This question is really, “What is the good life? Or what does it mean to BE good?” It doesn’t mean just “what is good”, which can be answered with pecan pie or the movie Spirited Away. They are “good”, which means aesthetically good, but when we ask “what is the good” we are wondering what it means to be a good human. This is the foundational question of ethics.
Kreeft says that Aristotle states in his first sentence that goodness is a goal. It isn’t just something that happens to us, nor is it something that comes naturally. It is something that we aim toward. No one hits the goal perfectly, but certainly some get closer to that goal than others.

But what kind of goal is it? Is goodness simply a black and white, either you have it or you don’t? Some think of “righteousness” this way. Either you are “righteous” or you are not; either you have a relationship with God or you don’t; either you are a saint or you are unregenerated. But the idea of goodness isn’t necessarily the same as being righteous. Certainly the biblical idea of righteousness has to do with one’s standing before God. But one’s closeness to the mark of goodness may not have anything to do with it. Certainly righteousness isn’t something we work at.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


About the lack of posts the last couple weeks. I've been crazy busy and not been feeling too well. I hope to get back on track sometime this week.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why Jesus Came: In His Own Words

John 6:38-39
"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

Matthew 5:17
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill”

Mark 1:38-39
He said to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for." And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons

Mark 2:15-17
And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?" And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Luke 19:1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house." And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

Luke 9:51-56
When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

John 12:46-47
"I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”

Luke 12:49-53
"I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Mark 10:42-45
Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

John 12:23-27
And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour '? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”

John 17:1
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.”

John 18:37
Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mirror Neurons, Morality and God

Now that I’ve laid all this out, have I just written God out of morality? No. I believe that God created human beings with these mirror neurons so that “do unto others” would make sense to us all. Humans didn’t obtain strong mirror neurons by accident. Rather they were placed in us so that we could experience empathy and so love each other and do the work of making the world a safe and just place for us all. And then God gave us Jesus to teach us—and more importantly, to show us—what a life without other-making looks like.

I don’t think that morality can be used to prove God, but I think that mirror neurons can assist us in creating a Jesus-like morality that could be a basic morality for all people, even those who do not believe in Jesus. It will not be the same as Jesus’ morality. For a good portion of Jesus’ morality is based on the idea of a God of mercy judging those who act on principles of hatred. However, a communication of the morality of mirror neurons can help us achieve an agreement on morality that can never be achieved in the multi-faceted, confusing world of religion.

The connection between morality and God is less intuitive, I think. God placed mirror neurons within us in order to experience and create community. And we have shared morality with those we are in community with—whether we like it or not. If we cannot share values with someone in community, then the community is broken. So what does this have to do with God? God is a part of our community.

God isn’t a peer, mind you. God is the creator and sustainer of all things. We should be grateful to Him and hear Him as He tells us how to live. Nevertheless, He created us in such a way that we might be in community with Him. Mirror neurons were given to us so that we might associate with God.

This makes me think that atheism and agnosticism, although intellectually quite different, are emotionally similar. Secularists cannot connect with God through their mirror neurons. Religionists might connect with God or not. Some actually sense God and recognize Him and have God as a part of their community. For some, the religious community is enough.

But the purpose of the religious community is not to create a moral atmosphere, although it helps. The point of religious community is to help one see God as a part of our broad community. If God is a part of our community, then what He says is moral or immoral is very significant. Not just as a member of the community, but as creator of it. Thus, if God is the creator of mirror neurons, then mirror neurons is a very important guide to help us understand God’s desire for our morality.

And thus, the main questions of morality are: How do we live in community with each other? How do we live in community with God? And how do we live in community with the rest of nature? Each question has a different answer. But the significant thing is that we answer these questions. The question of morality is not a matter of rule or laws. Nor is it a matter of creating the most happiness. It is simply a matter of relationship.

Thursday, December 2, 2010



This is a pic of a redwood, put through some effects.
Posted by Picasa

Mirror Neurons and Morality, Part 3

So if everyone has empathy or compassion, why do so many people suffer or starve at human hands? Why is there genocide? There is a process that explains this.

Our mirror neurons give us the experience of others, even if we don’t want it. For instance, most men are biologically repulsed by the idea of partaking in a homosexual act. This makes sense, just for the genetic continuation of the species. But to see a man, or to even consider a man involved in a homosexual act is, in the mind, to participate in it. This is the source of what one might call “homophobia”—the repulsion of actually participating in a homosexual act oneself. The homosexual might say, “It’s my body, and they don’t have a right to tell me what to do with it.” This is true, on the first rule of ethics. However, the person who is repulsed by homosexuality inadvertently experiences that which others in his community experiences. However, he is sickened by this. This can be applied to any act. Watching an obnoxious drunk person. Observing a severely mentally ill person. Seeing a criminal hurt another. Watching a murder. In observing such actions, we can participate in these acts.

How do we not experience these repulsive acts, if our mirror neurons are so strong? Typically, we play a mental trick on ourselves. Suppose we see a gruesome murder in a movie. We tell ourselves, “It’s not real, it’s just fake. Look at the fake blood, the camera trick—see, it’s not real.” Thus, we separate what we see from something that we are personally experiencing. And this seems to work. We can easily kill ants and other insects because they are not a part of our collective experience. They are something different, something Other, and so our mirror neurons don’t count for them. On the other hand, if we had to personally shoot our dog—even for her own good—we find the act to be reprehensible and intolerable. Because we would be killing one of our own community, a part of ourselves. To kill our dog is akin to killing ourselves. To kill a spider is to kill the other—that which is outside our experience.

So what about other humans? If another human does something repugnant—like, suppose, a child rapist—then that human being is no longer a part of the communal experience. In fact, the communal experience needs to be protected from such a one—for the children are a part of our communal experience. And other adults must not participate in the raping of the weak. Thus, the child rapist, in our minds, becomes one of the other—an outsider, no longer human, no longer a part of ourselves. Because the other is outside of our experience, our mirror neurons are shut off from what the other does or happens to them. Thus the child rapist can be raped, maimed, tortured or killed with no effect on oneself. They are completely of the other and because of the damage that person had done to the communal experience—to the children who is a part of the self—then they deserve whatever punishment they get.

Now, suppose there is a person who is labeled a “child rapist”, but it is not true. There are witnesses called and declare the man to be a child rapist, but they were mistaken, or simply lying. The person then is called a child rapist, and the better the story is told, the more we believe it. Why? Because our mirror neurons are experiencing the story, even if the story is not true. And we experience this story just as much as if the story were true. Our mirror neurons are not truth receptors, they are just there to help experience other’s experiences, not to tell us what is true. And the more graphic the presentation, the more our mirror neurons experience it. Thus, we would make this man a part of the other just as much as if he had not done the raping as if he had. He becomes a part of the non-human community simply because of a story.

And this is what happened to Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler was a powerful storyteller. And his story included the dehumanization of the Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. His story was told so well that most who listened to him were able to experience the acts that these groups did in their minds, even though such deeds never occurred. Because of this, the Jews became a part of the other, and worthy of whatever treatment they were given—the communal experience of Nazis didn’t experience their pain. They were the same as a spider that one kills because it is inconveniently placed.

And the Jews experienced the same other-making with the Palestinians. The Sixteenth Century Europeans other-made the Native Americans. The police other-make the criminal or the one who looks like a criminal. The Christians and Muslims other-make each other. And when a person or group is other-made, then anything can happen to them without compassion. There is no empathy, no feeling because our mirror neurons are shut off.

It is interesting that both Christianity and Buddhism agree on this one moral truth—that we must never other-make. Yes, we have the ability to do this, to dehumanize others, but we must not. We must always see a human as a human, no matter what evil thing they have done, or we suppose they have done. We must always experience the evil we do to others as if it were done to ourselves. We must see the evil done, but never use that as an excuse to make another person as less than human. Yes, this is painful and stressful. This may give us experiences we do not want. But the other alternative is clear to see: torture, murder, genocide. By othermaking, we become that which we despise.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mirror Neurons and Morality, Part 2

Because of mirror neurons human community is more successful as well. A human community only needs to be able to communicate to each other for there to be community. We don’t have to be physically present. Certainly there is more influence on a community if there is a physical presence, but such presence is not necessary for experiences to be passed on. Not only do we have books, but audio, video, and the most effective experiencing sharing communication—the combination of audio and video. Through television and film, we can take the experience of others and share it, participate in it. Because of the first half hour of Saving Private Ryan, we can all have some knowledge of war, even if we never had been on a battlefield ourselves. Because of United 93, millions of us have had the experience of a terrorist taking our plane and the experience of us knowing that we were about to die. Perhaps these are experiences we did not want to have, but they are “real” in our minds, we can remember them, and we can call up the emotions we felt when we saw our fellow passengers call their loved ones to say goodbye. We were never there, but it has become a part of the stored consciousness of the human community, even as the travels of Odysseus have.

And this shared experience is where we get our morality from as well. The basic foundation of morality is threefold: a. We make our own decisions. We decide for ourselves what we do, we are individuals and we have free will. b. We are responsible for our actions. If we do something, we are responsible for it. If we do something wrong, we are responsible to fix it, as best we can. But the third foundation has to do with community—“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This final principle, which is the foundation for the philosophy of ethics is arguably the most important. It is a communal responsibility. A recognition that other humans exist on the same level as oneself, and experiences the same kinds of emotions and strengths and weaknesses as oneself does. It assumes a connection between oneself and every single other person that exists on the planet, even a complete stranger. It says that even if you have met a person for the first time, there is still a shared communal experience that you both can agree on.

This is an amazing statement in a world before knowledge of mirror neurons. It is a mystical unity, a shared origin, but one way or the other, no one denies the common experience we all have. If we have a common experience, this means that we know what another needs just as much as we know ourselves. Once again, we may miss on the specifics. As hungry as I might be, if a Korean man tried to feed me kim shi, I would have to refuse. But if I was starving, he would be right to try to give me food—we have that common experience. And if I was starving, that knowledge of my need gives the Korean man a responsibility to try to feed me something. He may do it misguidedly, but do it he must.

Why? Because of compassion. Com-passion means to “feel with”. It is a basic description of what mirror neurons do. Thus, compassion isn’t just something that “nice” people do. It is something we all do. It is built into us. It is part of our success as human beings—as individuals. Without this empathy, we could succeed at nothing.