Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Glory to God in the Highest Thought, part 1

William Golding is best known for his novels "The Lord of the Flies," “Free Fall” and the sea trilogy "Rites of Passage," “Close Quarters” and “Fire Down Below.” Golding should have received greater recognition for his essay, "Thinking as a Hobby." Here Golding helps the reader understand how he came to the conclusion that there are three grades, or categories of thinking.

Grade three thinking is "feeling, rather than thought," much like animal instinct and as equally reactionary. This is the thinking grade of addictive behavior, hedonists and Jedi Knights. Grade two thinking "destroys without having the power to create;" that is, while grade two thinking may enjoy discovering and pointing out contradiction, it provides no answers, solutions or security. This is the thinking grade of humanistic science, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and psychology. The danger of grade two thinking can be compared with the undertow, which drags the swimmer away from shore and strands him. Grade one thinking is the most simple and the most profound, for grade one thinking apprehends truth.

Thought is easy to take for granted and a majority would rather die that begin to think (which is odd when you think about it, for it takes more energy to sit up in bed than to think a deep thought). Character and intellect (understanding) are not cultivated by merely exposing the mind to the libraries of the world; rather, one must first learn how to think. The greatest contribution of Golding’s essay is what the reader learns about himself and the way he or she thinks. The one would read Golding's essay and come away saying, "I enjoyed that" (like a Sunday morning sermon, or movie) simply remains on grade three; however, the grade one thinker will mature from grade two and will now ask questions that matter: now that I have read (or heard or seen), then on what shall I think?

Now one learns there is an upward progression to think great thoughts and before long finds he is on the cusp of contemplating the greatest subject: God. Anything less than God is just that, anything less. Free thinking may claim to begin with God (or gods) but will quickly find reason to dismiss theology of any kind in order to become autodidact. Rejecting God as the highest object of thought is to make nails out of feeling, will, suspicion and rebellion in order to crucify Him, do away with Him and move on to something else. J.I. Packer asks, “Why should I occupy my mind with the things of God?” The answer becomes evident when one considers the failed systems of grade two (“marooned”) thinking, which is limited to how man understands, or tries to understand, himself.

You know the story of the man who went out to hunt and as he came around the bush he looked down and saw large footprints in the sand. He could not tell what kind of footprints they were because the sand was so loose and the details ran together, but they were footprints for certain! He was excited about the hunt! The man followed the footsteps wherever they went and soon found another set of footprints! There were two things to hunt now! How exciting! With his head down, keeping his eye on every mark on the ground he walked, following the footprints. It was not long until he found yet other set of footprints that had joined the first set and second set. There were three! How his excitement began to turn to fear-what if there was a whole herd? Many of the sciences are like this hunter, finding prints, only to discover they were his own and he was walking in circles. He was hunting nothing but himself.

Anthropology attempts to understand man through ancient and modern cultures, through the role of language in human life and through the origin of people groups; however, anthropology cannot explain who man is, who man is to be like, what will become of man, nor can it answer how man is to think about himself. Anthropology only repeats back what we already know in less scientific categories: we live as people in communities, we have ancestors, we communicate and we had a beginning (congratulations, you now have a degree in Anthropology)! Anthropology can tell us many things-but we already know them and in so knowing, we are not smarter than before we started. We have walked in a circle, bringing us right back to where we started. How can we, who don’t know how to think about ourselves, provide an answer as to how we should think about ourselves?

Sociology can be defined as “the scientific study of social life, including how groups are organized, how they change and how they influence individuals”(1, see below). Someone once said that Sociology is the present-day of equivalent of reading the entrails of chickens (2). Sounds much like Anthropology, doesn’t it? Some sciences give man control over his surroundings by modifying what exists in the world around him, but Sociology supposedly frees man from “ill-regulated experimentation” allowing man control over himself (3). Man is to overcome all he is taught (4): overthrow all standards; break the moral compass; stop “fitting in” and “stand out” [“You can go your own way” with Fleetwood Mac]. Stop being what others what you to be and be yourself! William Randolph Hearst has been held as a great hero of this worldview, amassing around himself such great power and wealth, but he was anxious underneath this appearance of strength, particularly with regard to dying--he would never allow anyone to use the word “death” in his presence. Is it possible for anyone to to be “disciplined” or to become the “master of self” by merely casting off standards? When the bad in a man is not under control he is called “undisciplined” or, “enslaved to self,” so which is it? Is he master, or slave? There is no replacement for a broken compass.

Philosophy, (“the love of wisdom") has been defined as “an activity undertaken by human beings who are deeply concerned about who they are and what everything means.” (5) This means that a philosopher is one who measures patterns of experiences in search of meaning--like chasing footprints around a bush. Philosophy says the reasons to study are: to sharpen the mind; to help is clarify issues so we can make better decisions; to enhance our lives by enlarging our world beyond our private interests (shares with Anthropology here); to challenge presuppositions and establish convictions.

Philosophy is a good thing, but someone once said “logic is the art of going wrong with confidence” and it becomes easy to think or “philosophize” oneself into a corner. Philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that man is made up of memories, what he knows, what he loves and hates-and that man is a fragment, not a total sum of reality; that man is in no place to evaluate, judge or prove anything real. (6) Acquaintance with things does not mean we know everything about things. Mortimer Adler shows us where we are marooned by Philosophy in his book, "Ten Philosophical Mistakes" (Adler actually preferred the title Ten Subjects About Which Philosophical Mistakes Have Been Made, which is more telling) (7):

  1. We are unaware of the contents of our minds and how ideas work;
  2. We confuse perception with reality: assumptions;
  3. We misunderstand “meaning” and how to get it;
  4. We can’t often distinguish between opinion and knowledge;
  5. We can’t consistently judge what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil;
  6. We are not content and cannot distinguish what we want from what we need;
  7. We don’t know if “freedom” means--to do as you want, or to do as you should?
  8. We cannot agree on the identity of human nature;
  9. We don’t know how to relate to one another;
  10. We don’t know where to live: in the physical or spiritual realm.

Psychology is perhaps the most controversial field of our consideration. The word literally means, "the study of the soul." One textbook in the field of study contains this as a definition: “Although it is sometimes useful to have clear and simple definitions of the subject one is studying, these definitions are frequently misleading. Such is the case with psychology. The most widely accepted definition of psychology is simply that it is the science of behavior and experience.” (8)

First, observe this is no definition at all. It’s a science, but the ones who use it can’t say what it is. Second, throughout the rest of the textbook, starting with the paragraph that immediately follows the one above, the margins are filled with definitions--how can definitions be useful if the book that contains them says that definitions are misleading? Third, if this is the acceptable definition of psychology, why does it sound more like an integration of Sociology (behavior) and Philosophy (experience)? Finally, psychology (as it stands) makes no claim that it is helpful to any of man’s behaviors or “conditions.”

Another textbook is less vague, defining psychology as “the discipline that attempts to describe, explain, and predict the behavior of organisms.” (9) First, notice this is a disciplined attempt--nothing is certain. Second, there is no claim that psychology is helpful to any behavior or “condition.”

If the word literally means "study of the soul," then where in these definitions is the soul even mentioned? Also, if psychologists are interested in man’s behavior and experience, how is the soul of man helped by psychology? Right away, with a little "grade one thinking" we begin to understand that psychology is a self-contradictory pseudo-science. (10)

Given the benefit of the doubt, what have psychologists of the past said about man, his problems, and what solutions have they offered? (11) Sigmund Freud said that man's problem is that he cannot accept the sexual side of life, so he should have sex. Otto Rank said that people simply feel inferior, inadequate and guilty, so he must keep talking until the feelings change. Karen Horney held that man cannot get over the competitive feelings of who gets ahead of whom, and like Rank, needs to talk it out. Rollo May postulated that man simply feels empty and all is futile (is there an answer?)

“True psychology (i.e. 'the study of the soul') can be done only by Christians, since only Christians have access to the resources for understanding and transforming the soul.” (12) These resources are none other than those that begin with God. What answer does grade two, humanistic psychology give to man? What hope is offered?

“The feeling of emptiness . . . which we have observed sociologically and individually should not be taken to mean that people are empty, or without emotional potentiality. . . the experience (emph. mine) of emptiness, rather, generally comes from people’s feelings that they are powerless to do anything effective about their lives or the world they live in . . . . he cannot act as an entity in directing his own life, or cange other people’s attitudes toward him, or effectually influence the world around him.” (13)

[End, Part 1]

(1) De Fleur, M., DeFleur, L. and D’Antonio, W. Sociology: The Human Society. 4th ed. New York: Newberry, 1984.
(2) Brown, Steve. “Impacting Lives in an Alien Culture: 1 Peter 1:1-12”. Key Life Tape/CD
(3) Burgess, E. and Park, R. E. Introduction to the Science of Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1921.
(4) May, Rollo. Man’s Search for Himself. New York: Signet, 1953. pp. 17-18.
(5) Honer, S., Hunt, T. and Okholm, D. Invitation to Philosophy. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1982.
(6) Russell, Bertrand. Problems of Philosophy, The. London: Oxford, 1959. p. 143.
(7) Adler, Mortimer. Ten Philosophical Mistakes. New York: MacMillan, 1985.
(8) Lefrancois, G. Psychology, 2nd Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1983.
(9) Dworetzky, J. Psychology., 3rd Edition. St. Paul: West, 1988.
(10) MacArthur, J. and Mack, W. Introduction to Biblical Counseling. Dallas: Word, 1994.
(11) May, Rollo. Man’s Search for Himself. New York: Signet, 1953. pp. 13-14.
(12) MacArthur, J. “The Psychology Epidemic and its Cure.” Our Sufficiency in Christ. Waco: Word, 1991.
(13) MacArthur, J. “The Psychology Epidemic and its Cure.” Our Sufficiency in Christ. Waco: Word, 1991.

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