Defending Fideism

As far as I can remember, I’ve never done research for a project, only to be surprised at the position I came to hold and defend. That seems to be happening with my thesis. I’ve always been a fan of Kierkegaard, but I am finally getting the chance to dive into some of his work through my research. The more I read his work and the scholarly work addressing Søren Kierkegaard, the more I find that my position on the tension between faith and knowledge, between religious belief and rationality, are very similar to (what we think are) his. The problem is, his view is essentially a version of fideism.

Fideism, as such, is not necessarily a problem. The real problem is the term’s use as a pejorative over the last century and a half or so. It’s often hurled as an epithet towards people who unthinkingly or irrationally accept religious faith despite — or sometimes even because of! — the apparent absurdity of the belief itself.

Kierkegaard, however, in his earlier philosophical work address some of the issues inherent in human conceptions of “knowing” and the different ways in which humans can “know” anything at all. For him, absolute knowledge of something can only happen in the abstract realms of mathematics and logic — e.g., the law of non-contradiction, or mathematical tautologies. Otherwise (especially in the realm of ‘objective’ knowledge about the world), knowledge is always an approximation to reality. We know that sense experience is flawed can often give us contradictory information about how reality “really is”; therefore, we know that we can never hold pure, certain knowledge about reality (or actuality) as it really is. And here, we’re only talking about the phenomenal (natural) realm.

The category of objective knowledge, for Kierkegaard, necessarily excludes the noumenal realm — the sphere of life that includes religious belief, ethics, etc. The limits of our rationality not only includes doubt about how certain we can be about knowledge of the natural world, but it can’t even touch this other realm. Kierkegaard therefore posits that we have a different kind of knowledge about this realm, and it is the inner realm of subjectivity. Further, due to the nature of the realms we’re discussing (religious belief and ethics as primary examples), subjective knowledge, by nature, cannot only include cognitive awareness or affirmation of such norms. True ethical/religious, subjective knowledge requires a confluence of action along with cognitive affirmation.

Basically, for religious “knowledge” to be “true,” you are required to change your actual life accordingly. Actions must line up with beliefs.

The problem here is that many people treat ethical/religious knowledge as if it is essentially the same as the kind of knowledge we can obtain about the natural world. They might function similarly (we gain “approximate” knowledge about the world and call it knowledge, though we may not be purely certain about that knowledge; we also “approximate” ourselves toward ethical/religious truths), but objectivity requires us, in some sense, to abstract ourselves away from the object which we are attempting to “know” about. Subjectivity, on the other hand, by its very nature, does not allow us to abstract ourselves away from the object we are attempting to know. Subjective knowledge means, on some level, a sense of an immediate relation to the object in question.  This further means that we have no way of rationally objectifying religious beliefs to determine their objective truth. Ergo, objective knowledge of religious beliefs is impossible. Further, this requires us to take a “leap of faith” regarding our religious beliefs. Human rationality (especially objectivity) only takes us so far, and the jump to subjective knowledge means that any such move is outside of the realm of rational inquiry or investigation.

Ergo: I’m defending fideism. Rational fideism, but fideism nonetheless.

Bottom-Up or Top-Down Knowledge

(Some thoughts while reading James K.A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Relativism?)

Modern frameworks regarding knowledge often begin with attempting to drill down to core, fundamental concepts about reality. The thinking goes like this: if humans can prove that there is an objective reality, then individuals can be convinced of that objective reality via logical means. Further, this will produce an objective, universal set of knowledge which is not only logical, but the only appropriate understanding of reality. From this point, it is assumed, humans ought to be able to build a community, a society, a civilization that has shared values — all because of these core, fundamental concepts of reality that are shared across the entire human race.

This is a bottom-up understanding of reality, one which requires that all humans share the same understanding of reality as-it-is in order for a society to logically share and build a fair and just world.

What if knowledge can be thought of in a “know-how,” and not a “know-that” sense? In other words, perhaps, we ought to think of our conception of how knowledge is built upside-down from the modern framework. Language describes our understanding of reality, but language is inherently a social, shifting phenomenon. Therefore our perception of reality itself is inherently social and shifting. This doesn’t mean that reality itself is contingent, simply that our knowledge of reality is contingent upon the communities in which we participate. As long as the language we use to describe reality (and the systems we build upon that language-reality conception) functions, then it is theoretically an appropriate view of reality.

One might argue that there are better and worse conceptions of reality as-it-is, and that’s fair. But the more meaningful work might not be attempting to drill down into the fundamental, core concepts of reality to build a universal understanding of particulars to ensure that everyone believes the same thing about reality as it is. Perhaps the better work is building communities which not only share a vision of the common good, but one that shares a common project among its participants that does not require uniformity in belief about reality. This common participation and vision may in fact end up producing an unexpected unified vision of reality among the participants that a bottom-up framework cannot produce.

Make Goals, Not Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions kind of suck, and I think we all know that. Probably most of us have the experience of making a resolution to “lose weight” or “eat healthier” or “exercise more” or “read more” or “watch less TV” or… (the list could quite literally be infinite). The implication of this repetition every year, however, implies that we find some inherent goodness in the notion of resolving to be better. I find myself around every new year in a pensive mood, dreaming of the person I’d like to be, the things I’d like to do. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I think it can be meaningful for us to decide there is something we’d like to accomplish within a given amount of time.

All of that said, this year, I decided to make some goals for myself for the year 2018 (not resolutions!). These were tangible things that I wanted to be able to look back on in December of this year and say “that’s something that I did.” Resolutions are typically vague or ambiguous, which makes them either difficult to recount or difficult to stick with. My goals for this year are as follows:

  1. Finish my M.A. and ace my thesis (I’ll admit – the finishing the degree is a bit of a “gimme,” but it’ll still be quite the accomplishment).
  2. Complete a 365-picture per day project with Elaine (blog/Instagram and details to follow shortly!).
  3. Keep a daily log.
  4. Build a backyard fence and do a landscaping renovation for the backyard (and the front yard if time/money allow).
  5. Eventually work up by the end of the year to the following weekly exercise routine (with exceptions on tough weeks):
    • Run four times per week
    • Yoga twice per week
    • Bodyweight fitness routine twice per week

While these are all things to “do,” my hope is that each of the goals reflects an aspect of my personhood that I want to either change or grow. I want to do better at remembering, I want to do deep research in topics that interest me, I want to be the kind of person that cares about the things given to me, including my home and my body.

Let’s go, 2018.


In the In-Between

how do we become

who we want to be?

is it by doing,

by thinking,

by feeling,

by believing?

perhaps somewhere in the middle

where all of those forces collide

we do not become a person except

in the in-between

A Government of the People

From Ted Chiang’s recent piece on AI and Silicon Valley, “Silicon Valley Is Turning into Its Own Worst Fear”:

What I’m far more concerned about is the concentration of power in Google, Facebook, and Amazon. They’ve achieved a level of market dominance that is profoundly anticompetitive, but because they operate in a way that doesn’t raise prices for consumers, they don’t meet the traditional criteria for monopolies and so they avoid antitrust scrutiny from the government. We don’t need to worry about Google’s DeepMind research division, we need to worry about the fact that it’s almost impossible to run a business online without using Google’s services.

This is perhaps my biggest concern with unfettered capitalism in the 21st century. I do not trust corporations to protect the common good, nor do I trust the three biggest corporations ever created to not exploit the marginalized/oppressed in society. Further, individual action is difficult to consolidate into meaningful action against such large entities. In situations such as this, when the dignity of humanity across the spectrum is threatened by faceless corporations or entities with limitless appetite for profit, we require a united front – a governing system controlled by the people to ensure the safety of its citizens – that limits the power of these corporations significantly.

The Act of Remembering

I wonder if the act of remembering, or attempting to remember, one’s life — actively — is a form of meditation. It seems to me that remembrance is a way to slow down, think on the wonder of life and the gift that it is to exist.

One of the things I have learned about prayer over the last year or so is that prayer is (to be cliché) more about myself — changing my internal reality — than it is about asking God to do things for me. The words that I use now are centered around gratefulness, repentance, and intentional reflection on my perception of reality.

In order to continue to practice this act of changing my internal reality (or at least being intentional about reflecting upon the way I perceive it), one of my goals for 2018 is to keep a daily log. Nothing intense, nothing majorly time-consuming. Just a quick look back upon my day, what I did, what I felt. I’m hoping to record something every single day, and be able to look back at a year’s worth of days. And my hope is also that, in remembrance of my days, I am able to grow in gratefulness, graciousness, and slow living.

The Holidays

At their best, the holidays are a reminder that we are loved and known.

At their worst, they contribute to emotional and mental anxiety more extreme than the kind we experience in our day to day lives.

Sometimes, the extreme ends of this emotional spectrum are experienced within the same day, the same hour, the same minute. And yet still we have some inclination that this time spent with family is not only necessary, but good. These emotionally intense times have the potential for providing us with a context of meaning, a web of significance, in which we can embed our regular, daily life. They help us to experience the mundane as meaningful and the normal as extraordinary.

Choosing Our Reality

At Life in Deep Ellum, we’re in the middle of the season of Advent. This year, the season seems to revolve around the notions of waiting, making space, and patience as we learn to live in the midst of unfulfilled expectations about life and death, health and sickness, grief and joy.

On Sunday, Rachel spoke on “peace.” She proposed the idea that, despite the fact that we often think the opposite, peacefulness, not anxiety, is meant to be the norm. Most of the time, we act as if life is supposed to be chaotic, busy, and full of things that make us anxious. Instead, Scripture seems to indicate that, as Rachel said, “Peace is the norm for a well-ordered life.”

How does one order one’s life towards peace? Scripture also gives us an indication here, though subtly. Rather than giving a direct answer to this, it seems to indicate that there is a spectrum of being on which we all fall when we view and exist the world. On one end, we can view the world as hostile — a place for which its purpose is simply to harm us and keep us from feeling secure. On the other, we can view simply choose to live at peace: peace with ourselves, peace with others, and peace with God.

When we choose to live at peace (and obviously, this takes work through spiritual and concrete practices), that choosing begins to shape our reality. Our choice of living in a state of peace begins to shape not only our interaction with the world and with others, but we begin to experience reality and the world as inherently peaceful, un-hostile.

This coheres with the work I plan to do on my thesis, at least tangentially. If language-use, along with subjective experience within our given communities, directly affects our experience of the world, then we have choices to make about reality (most of the time, without the ability to have any amount of objective certainty that our choices are correct). By choosing a mode of being over the course of time, it is not reality itself that we are changing, but our experience of it. And eventually, perhaps, this does change reality itself.

Saying “I Was Wrong” is a Pride-Killer

I’ve been married for over seven years now. Within the next few years, I will have known Elaine for more than half my life (and we basically knew that we were “together” almost the moment we met). We met when I was 15 years old, about to turn 16. As a young teenaged boy, I was often foolish and arrogant. I refused to take the blame for things that were obviously “not my fault.” I was easily angered, and very immature. I’m really lucky that Elaine stayed with me through all of that — she somehow could always see the man that I could become (the man I am still not now, but slowly growing into each day).

Through some of that arrogance and anger, I quickly learned in my relationship with Elaine one key thing that I think has held us together all these years. This thing has made us not only remain connected and close, but has also helped us through difficult personal hardship. It is simply this: I’m willing to tell Elaine “I’m sorry,” and “I was wrong.”

Apologizing is easy enough (though maybe not for some people). I frequently make dumb, selfish mistakes, or simply do not think at all. Saying “I’m sorry,” is one of those practices I attempted to develop long ago, knowing that it was simply important for me to recognize and own up to my own faults.

The second one, I tend to think, is more difficult for most people for a few reasons. First, saying “I was wrong,” is a pride-killer. Apologizing can theoretically happen without the admittance of wrongdoing (or wrong-thinking). Admitting you are wrong is an immediate way to both humble yourself and show your spouse that you are more interested in reconciliation and connection than in maintaining your “rightness.” And even more — I think this is true even when you think you’re right.

Attempting to force your spouse to see that you are “right” in an argument or in some situation where the both of you are on opposing sides will rarely — if ever! — result in reconciliation. There have been many times in my own life with Elaine when I can see that she is visibly upset about something I have said or done, and in the moment, I thought my actions were not only acceptable, but correct. However, I also have learned that my own sense of “rightness” in that situation (i.e., my pride in being objectively correct within the argument or action taken) was far less important than letting her know that emotional connection and reconciliation with her were more important. I value connection with her at the expense of my own pride. I value reconciliation with her at the expense of some false sense of “rightness.” Even if, in that moment, I am completely convinced that I am right and she is not.

Top Music of 2017

Top Albums

  1. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar – One of my favorite things I discovered about this album was that Kendrick meant for it to be played both forward and backward(further proven by the release today of DAMN. COLLECTORS EDITION., which is simply the album in reverse order — hint: it’s better backward). The story it tells each way is different, and he is a master storyteller through hip-hop. My favorites on this album constantly changed, but it was always based on my intense listening to a song I hadn’t previously, and hearing the intricacy of the narrative Kendrick is weaving. Top three right now: “DUCKWORTH.,” “GOD.,” and “ELEMENT.”C9H8-PWUIAAzbQ2-jpg-large-e
  2. Play Dead by Mutemath – Unfortunately, this album is a little marred for me by the loss of both Roy Mitchell-Cardenas and Darren King. The current Mutemath band only includes one original member (Paul Meany). While I love Paul Meany and Todd Gummerman, I’m not sure that any future Mutemath albums will hold the same significance for me as their five albums they produced with at least three original band members. Anyway, Play Dead showcases some of Mutemath’s best soundscapes. My favorite tracks included “Break the Fever,” “Everything’s New,” and “Achilles Heel,” all for different reasons. I love the shift they made since Vitals to heavy synthesizers, and I love the Darren King’s percussion was out in the open. mutemath
  3. The Search for Everything by John Mayer – This album had to grow on me a little bit. I was worried when I heard the songs released in “waves” that the music was a little too sweet and poppy. First, he had some great blues-inspired tracks like “Helpless,” but even his actual pop songs (“Still Feel Like Your Man” and “Moving On and Getting Over”) were winners. His place as a blues-guitar master was also solidified for me, as I finally got to see him live with Elaine back in August. Mutemath still holds as my favorite concert (five times over), but John Mayer’s show was an amazing production. (And this dude can seriously shred up a guitar.) a64eea0c361b6b02f4b7423adf80bb6e.1000x992x1
  4. Melodrama by Lorde – I’ve been waiting for this album since 2012 when Pure Heroine came out. She kind of came out of nowhere back then, but the minimalist pop of that album was incredible and unique. The direction of Melodrama‘s pop took a different direction – its sounds were fuller and more developed, but she maintained some of her minimalism in interesting ways (“Hard Feelings/Loveless”). I listened to the top half of the album far more than the bottom. “Homemade Dynamite” and “The Louvre” were big favorites. 17077435_215844885557762_2076647443876806656_n

Top Miscellaneous

  1. This was the year I discovered Lofi Hip-Hop. Honestly, it’s kind of a weird subgenre that I discovered on YouTube while trying to find music I could listen to while researching and writing that wouldn’t distract me. This was a big win for me. There is a ton out there, but this was a common channel I used: 
  2. “If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Good Lord. Don’t listen intently to this song unless you are ready to cry. What an amazing way to capture the ephemeral nature of life and love.
  3. “Your Water” by Parker Millsap & Sarah Jarosz in the Luck Mansion Sessions: 
  4. “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” by Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau – I love the combination of jazz piano to Thile’s mandolin genius. Also, apparently this is a Bob Dylan cover?
  5. Chance the Rapper, in two different performances. Need I say more?:  

Here’s a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs this year: