Kevin's Musings

Thoughts on religion, philosophy, music, art, and anything else that has grabbed my attention during the day.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Philosophical Counseling

Sources, "Plato, Not Prozac!" By Dr. Lou Marinoff, 1999;
"The Great Ideas from the Great Books of Western Civilization" by Mortimer Adler

Today psychology and psychiatry are the main means people have used to treat their problems when it comes to mental health since the advent of psychology with the founders being Sigmund Freud, and William James. Interestingly, both men were educated, not in psychology, since they were its founders, but in philosophy, that is, the love or pursuit of wisdom. And since there has been such a huge psychological movement in America since Freud, and many have found it helpful, but not always helpful in the long term. This is probably the cause for a return to philosophy as the primary means of guiding a person's life - that is, through thinking or rational thought. The main distinctive of philosophical counseling from psychological or psychiatric care, is that it goes three steps further - in other words, in the case of psychologic counseling, a client is asked to express and define his problem, and then state or describe the related emotions. But that's as far as it goes. Dr. Lou Marinoff, a Jewish philosophical practitioner, describes in his book, "Plato, Not Prozac!" a five-step process which begins in the same way as psychological counseling, stating the problem and describing the emotion, but then he goes three steps further. He uses the acronym PEACE to help the client remember the process - Problem, Emotion, Analysis, Contemplation and Equilibrium. So by the end of the process, his client should reach a state of equilibrium and hence peace, and have a clear notion about what action he should take and in what direction.

Another distinctive of philosophical counseling from psychological counseling is that it usually doesn't take more than 3-6 months, according to Marinoff. In fact, some of his clients only see him for one or two sessions.

We all have problems. It's the nature of our humanity to have problems. What many of us don't realize is that the main source or figure of guidance people used to turn to since Before Christ to the advent of Psychology and Psychiatry, were wise men or sages or philosophers. Today we have psychologists and psychiatrists who talk about problems, emotions and prescribe medication for so-called "brain illness."

An advent of people are discovering that these problems they are dealing with have been common to man since the beginning of time and have been faced head-on by thinkers and philosophers, politicians and scientists, theologians and logicians, whose thought has all been preserved for us in "Great Books of the Western World" as well as other books written by Eastern philosophers and other writers of the East.

But most people today do not devote themselves to the study of these acient writers and so returns the advent of guidance through philosophical counseling - practitioners who take the wisdom and insight of ancient writers, and translate their solutions to match the needs of their clients.

What many do not know today is that people over the centuries have called philosophy "medicine for the soul" and the pursuit of truth as "medicine with the power to cure." For myself, reading a single page or even a single paragraph from a great writer from ages ago has changed my life, and in some cases revolutionized my belief system and worldview.

Philosophical counseling is a modern movement that is in reaction to the psychological and psychiatric movements and has its roots in 2500 years of Western and Eastern classical thought.

Philosophy has a bad wrap today. When people think of philosophers, they think of men and women sitting around in deep thought, talking about how I know this chair I'm sitting on really exists, and things of such a nature. They picture people writing endless amounts of books about topics most people hardly ever consider to be worthwhile, in other words, philosophy is thought to be utterly useless.

Mortimer Adler, a 20th century philosophy and educator said, in distinguishing philosophy from science and religion, “What is the mark then, the distinguishing mark of the philosopher at work? I say it is nothing but the evidence of rational talk, of men thinking together.” In distinguishing philosophy from science, “If the use of science through technology is to give us power over nature, is to give us the means to our end or goal, then the use of philosophy consists in giving us not the means, but the direction to the end, pointing out the goal, the things we should see, the things we ought to do, giving us the standards by which we can control the use of the means.”
And in distinguishing philosophy from religion, “You may say quite properly at this point, this may distinguish the use of philosophy from science, but how does this still distinguish philosophy from religion, because does not religion direct us too to the goal of our life and tell us how to live? … Here is how religion differs from philosophy. Philosophy offers people some guidance and direction in the conduct of their lives by reason alone: whereas the church offers people God’s direction of their lives and God’s help in following that direction.”

The purpose of this speech is to inform you about the movement of philosophical counseling, utilizing great thinkers from both the Western and Eastern world and applying their wisdom to everyday problems. The three main points I will be going through include, one, the PEACE process, two, a story or scenario that utilizes the PEACE process, and finally, the role of virtue in philosophical counseling.

The PEACE process: “Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering.” (Plato, Not Prozac, Lou Marinoff Quoting Epicurus, 341-270 BC). The PEACE process is a five-step process that is simple and sets philosophical counseling apart from other types of counseling. PEACE stands for Problem, Emotion, Analysis, Contemplation and Equilibrium. Dr. Lou Marinoff claims these steps to be the “surest path to lasting peace of mind.” First, a client identifies their problem, second, they identify the emotion associated with the problem. Neither of these can come from anyone but the client and should not be too difficult a task. Third, analysis, the patient is asked to move beyond most psychiatry and psychology and number and examine the possibilities for a solution that will satisfy both the problem and emotion. Fourth, you contemplate your situation, by gaining perspective and looking at the whole picture, the problem as you face it, the emotive reaction and the examined possibilities inside it, all as one. Now, at this stage, you begin to look at philosophical insights, systems and methods to deal with your entire situation. You must develop a philosophical basis, through contemplation, a position that is in itself justifiable and compatible with your nature. Fifth and finally, you come to equilibrium. This is where you take action – you understand as best you can through the first 4 steps the nature of your situation, and are now ready to do something about it that is suitable and justifiable.

Next, I will give a situation which contains a problem and uses the PEACE process to arrive at equilibrium. “Life is not a sickness. You can’t change the past. Philosophical counseling starts from [the present] and goes forward to help people develop a productive way of looking at the world, and so a comprehensive plan for how to act in it day-to-day.” (Plato, Not Prozac!, Lou Marinoff, 1999) A woman named Janet was spiriling toward divorce. She lived comfortably with her husband Bob on the beach, and had no children, but she always compromised on her preferences whenever they had conflicts, and the more she caved, the more critical Bob would become. Janet tried counseling through psychiatry and therapy but found it unsatisfactory. In her sessions with a philosophical counselor she went through the PEACE process and discovered a worldview that clarified her situation.

In utilizing the PEACE process, Janet identified her problem, that she was giving and giving and being selfless to the point of her own detriment in her marriage, and more immediately, whether to go home that night in order to attempt to make things right, or to get a hotel and mull things over on her own. Her emotions included anger, frustration and despair at the prospect of facing her husband. But also fear and hopelessness at checking into a hotel. In the analysis stage she explained she was never highly valued by her parents and that this created a belief in her that she was undeserving of her father’s love because of some glaring defect in herself. This translated to her not believing she deserved her husband’s love and both her immediate options would reinforce her “pathologos,” or her transferred belief about her not deserving love.

In looking at Plato’s philosophy, Janet was able to utilize her counselor as someone who could bring her ingrained beliefs to the light of day to see whether they are ideas she had conceived or whether they were disguised as her belief but were really harmful imposters.

“But the greatest thing about my art is this, that it can test in every way whether the mind is bringing forth a mere image, an imposture, or a real and genuine offspring.” (Plato, 427-347 BC)

In the fourth step, contemplation, Janet needs to replace her pathologos, or false belief about herself with a true belief about herself. False beliefs are reinforced by experience and she needed to reinforce true beliefs one day, one hour, even one minute at a time by telling herself things such as, “I was deserving of my father’s love but he was unable to love me because of his own problems,” and “I am deserving of my husband’s love and I need to find a husband who can love me.”

Finally, in the equilibrium stage, Janet saw that checking into a hotel was not only self-protective, but also that she had a self worth protecting. Instead of spiraling unhappily toward divorce with her new philosophical outlook, she might even be spiraling happily toward it, after giving the matter more thought. A lasting marriage is usually best for all parties, but it may sometimes be better to get divorced for good reasons than stay married for wrong ones.”

Now, having looked at a specific situation and going through the PEACE process, there is one other aspect of philosophical counseling, though not the entirety of it, that is important to explore that differentiates it from other types of counseling.

The terms moral and ethical are often used redundantly, and are thrown around, to make a stronger case by many people. Many have an unclear idea of the difference between ethics and morality. Philosophical counseling deals with both ethics – the theoretical aspect of good and bad, virtue and vice, right and wrong, and the practical or moral aspect. To define what is “good” or “virtuous” in a person’s current situation, or what is meant by “good” or “virtuous” in general, is very difficult, but a person must get his feet wet trying, or else he won’t have any foundation or justification for his decision. G. E. Moore said, “Good, then, is incapable of any definition, in the most important sense of that word,” (Plato, Not Prozac, Lou Marinoff quoting Moore, 1873-1958) and Nietzsche complained of, “The ancient illusion called Good and Evil.” (Plato Not Prozac, Lou Marinoff quoting Nietzsche, 1844-1900)

The ancient philosophers, and Plato in particular, believed Goodness was not possible to define in words, but that there was an ideal, or Form of the Good, and that if a person possessed this essence, he could be considered good. He also believed that ethical education was indispensable to moral or right conduct, and that skills in critical thinking, which in his day was Euclidian geometry, were necessary prerequisites to moral reasoning. In Chinese philosophy and in more recent times with philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, there is a disagreement with Plato’s understanding of Goodness and believed that pure Good does not exist. Kant said if there were only one hand in the universe, how would you know if it was left or right? The Yin and Yang Chinese philosophy describe “two primal opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe.” (Wikipedia Internet Encyclopedia) So, to answer the question of, “What is Good?” is a difficult task, because there is no one answer.

So, in doing right, according to Marinoff, a person is either a deontologist or teleologist, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. A deontologist says actions are good and bad in and of themselves. A teleologist says it depends partly or completely on the goodness or badness of its outcome. Marinoff suggests for his clients meta-ethical relativism – that is, some ethics are more appropriate in some circumstances than in others. “If you can imagine one ethical system works better than another at different times then you are a meta-ethical relativist. Just pray no one asks you to define better.” (Plato, Not Prozac, Lou Marinoff, 1999). The key to understanding, defining and living ethically and virtuously, is consistency. Develop a system you’re able to stay in concordance with and a list of standards or rules you can explain to yourself and other people.

In conclusion, we’ve just talked about what philosophy is, the PEACE process, a situation or scenario in which a particular person in a particular circumstance went through the process, and we’ve talked about the role of virtue or ethics or goodness in counseling someone or receiving counseling ourselves philosophically – which is one of the key distinguishing marks from that of talk therapy or psychiatry. Philosophical counseling is the process of utilizing insights and worldviews and bringing them to bear on our present problems, and we’ve seen its significance in distinction from religion and science in broad terms, and from psychology and psychiatry in terms of counseling and one-on-one guidance.

Philosophical counseling may become more popular as the years go by and as more and more people become aware of its existence and success, however, any one can go to the great writers of the past themselves and develop worldviews through the eyes of ancient thinkers that are helpful or useful for them, without the aid of philosophic counselors. The ancient writers themselves are the best teachers, the best philosophic counselors.

C. S. Lewis said it masterfully, "The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism." – (On the Reading of Old Books, 1898-1963)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

"Reading maketh a full man, writing an exact man, and conference a ready man." -Francis Bacon

Well, that is something to shoot for! I don't know if one can be "full, exact, or ready" without any of the other things. One cannot have conference unless one has at least gained some knowledge through reading, has something to discuss about, one cannot write unless one has read, and one cannot read unless there is some knowledge of language which is gained through some sort of conference or teaching.

As I read and discuss Great Books, I find that it is important to choose words wisely both when speaking and when writing. The authors of these books chose their words extremely carefully in order to convey their thought most accurately. I have not always chosen my words well, both in speech or in letter. I am also realizing how small of a vocabulary I have. It is difficult to communicate well with a small, limited vocabulary.

I don't really have a whole lot more to say now.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Why be intellectual?

I think there is a feeling among many intellectuals that "normal" people should become more intellectual. I think there is a feeling among "normal" people that intellectuals are snobs and shouldn't think so much. I think the line from the classic black and white movie "12 Angry Men" sums it up well, "When you think too much you get all mixed up". Actually this movie was definitely pro-intellect. But one of the men who was not interested in thinking the matter at hand through actually thought if you think too hard or too much you will come only to confusion.

I think this is sad, because there is a trend in churches today that religion and faith should go against rationality and intellectual effort. "Faith is beyond reason" they say. This is true. Reason can only go so far. But does that mean God does not require us to exercise our reason to the best of our ability?

The problem for intellectuals is there can be pride for having this ability or love of the mind. But pride is an attitude toward oneself and others (And God), and is not the intellect at all. People often confuse this. John Mark Reynolds at Biola university in commenting on this problem said something like, "Some of us get so smart that we can't talk to the regular people in our churches. We condescend toward people who we actually feel superior to and are only helping to perpetuate the anti-intellectualism in our churches. We are often the problem. Do you see how ugly that is?" Susan Wise Bauer, in addressing parents who are concerned their classically educated students will become arrogant, says concerning knowledge and intellect, "Arrogance is an attitude learned in the home. Sure, intellegent, knowledgeable, well-educated children can become arrogant. But this is an attitude learned from their parents, and is not a direct result from the education itself. I know many un-learned, uneducated people who are very arrogant."

So, knowledge is not the problem. Attitude is.

But why have knowledge? Why develop the reason, the mind, the intellect? Why do our schools push so hard to develop critical thinking skills? I was sitting in class today, and the teacher had a real tough time getting more than 3 or 4 students (out of 30) to respond to what she was saying. Why aren't students responding, giving feedback, giving their opinion, asking questions? I know when I was in high school I was quiet. I did not like to speak up or give my opinion. Part of it was I felt inadequate. I didn't want to embarass myself in front of other people my age. So I understand why people do not speak up. But how badly to students want to learn?

The problem, I would propose, is that people don't enjoy learning. Or they feel inadequate. They don't enjoy stressing their minds out to get around new ideas, new concepts, challenging someone else's statements. There are lots of factors, including parents don't stress the life of the mind at home, too much TV, too much entertainment, lack of discipline, lack of friends who want to learn. Its a ripple effect. I often feel like if I challenge someone to think about what they said or explain what they mean, I feel like I'm being offensive. "Well, that's just my opinion." Right, and I want you to defend it. "But you're being devisive." Yes, I am because I don't think you know why you said what you said.

See? It goes on and on.

But, ultimately, I think getting to the point where we love to use our minds is key. Dr. Reynolds says, "How likely are you to be educable after age 30?" I've wondered about this. Is it really the norm that if you were not educated well by 30 that you will have no interest in learning? That is sad to me.

I'm attending a public school right now, a junior college, and I was, at first, afraid of being "brainwashed". But this is not at all the case. All of my teachers have lectures, yes, where they feed you information and facts. And we read textbooks that may not be the best, but that's always been the case. If all you can do is regurgitate for the test what teachers have fed you, you have not done your job in educating yourself. I really think teachers try really hard to get students to think, but we just don't think. Yes, a few people here and there do, but students don't know "how", or they think if they think too hard, they're making others feel uncomfortable. So what?

Let's all join in on rational discourse. Definition: "An attempt to change behavior based on premises leading to a conclusion." When we all start thinking linearly, rationally, logically, then things can start happening.

Any thoughts on how to do this for ourselves or help others to see the value in it?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Feb. 6th, 2005 04:46 pm C. S. Lewis speech

I'm gave this speech for my public speaking class a month or two ago. I thought it would be good to post here, since I haven't come up with much interesting thought lately. I've mostly been working on moving eastward.


THE LIFE, WORKS, AND INFLUENCE OF C. S. LEWIS

Have any of you stumbled upon a book that was so intriguing, fascinating and satisfying that you read it eight more times in the same year? When I was in high school this is what happened to me when I read my first non-fictional work of Clive Staples Lewis. I read one
book of his eight times in one year and each time I read it I gained some new insight that I hadn't seen before.

C. S. Lewis, as he came to be known, has become one of the most, if not the most, influential writers on religious thought in the late 20th century English-speaking world. However, he has not been admired only by religious people. He has been respected as an intellectual - a thoughtful and imaginative writer by many atheists, agnostics and other intellectuals of the twentieth century. There is something to be found in his writings for everyone, whether it be thoughtful arguments for ideologies, children's fantasy, science fiction or beautiful poetry.

I'd like to share with you a brief history of his early life, adult life, a brief discussion of a few of his writings, and some of his influence on America. I'll begin with an overview of his childhood through college years.

Lewis was born in 1898 in Belfast, Ireland. He was the younger of two sons. His mother died at age nine of cancer and he was left alone with his father and his brother. He began his education at a boarding school that same year, 1908, in Watfordshire, England. Two years later he attended Campbell College but had to leave because of respiratory difficulties. He then entered Malvern College where he was classically educated with a tutor and by the time he was fourteen he could read fluently German, Italian, French, Latin, Greek, a little Hebrew, and English. At age fifteen his father's schoolmaster became his tutor, William T. Kirkpatrick, also known as "The Great Knock." This education prepared him for his upcoming studies at Oxford but because he was so badly prepared for the exams, the equivalent of the SAT's, in mathematics, he failed them every time he took them. Only after being sent to war at age 18 was he able to become exempt from the exams because he was recognized as a veteran of the first World War.

After finishing his studies at Oxford and receiving three firsts on the final exams, which means literally perfection, as well as graduating with honors, he decided to devote the rest of his life to study and ideas.

Lewis began his adult life teaching as a professor at Magdalene College in 1925. It was during his time there that Lewis's father died and a big change in his beliefs came about. He previously was an atheist ever since his early adolescence but then became a
Theist - one who believes in God - although not the God of any
particular religion. After his conversion to Theism he became part of
a club called "The Inklings" in which professors from the area met
together and read and discussed their writings with each other. Other
members of the Inklings inlcuded J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of the
Lord of the Rings, Neville Coghill, Charles Williams and Dorothy
Sayers - the author of Lord Peter Wimsey (?) detective mystery
stories.

After some correspondence through mail with an American woman who admired his
work, the woman moved to England and became married to Lewis. Her
name was Helen Joy Gresham. In the movie "Shadowlands" Anthony
Hopkins plays the character of C. S. Lewis and tells the story of his
meeting and marrying Joy Gresham and then later of her dying of
cancer. The book that best explains Lewis's relationship to his wife
and his questioning of God's purposes is "A Grief Observed" which was
intended to be a diary of his struggles but later became a published
work that many found comforting in their own pain and suffering.
Lewis had incredibly developed intellectual abilities. For this
reason he was left feeling isolated from most of his peers. When he
met Joy Gresham he was almost instantly taken to her because there was
finally someone he could relate to who was on his intellectual level.
This is also why after she died he wrote in his journal, “Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” Although Lewis questioned God, he never lost his faith.

Lewis died on November, 22, 1963, the same day the world was shocked
in horror at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Throughout his life Lewis was a veracious reader and he wrote 42
books, 2 short stories, 68 poems, published 48 letters, reviewed 34
books and edited or prefaced 125 other works. He had an ability to
write that could capture the mind of anyone at any age. For example,
his children's fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, became
incredibly popular in America when they first arrived. These
novels described, some believe, his worldview through allegory, in a
language that all people, young and old, could understand and enjoy.
In all, there are seven books that have been described by many as
magnificent works. The stories tell of a fantastical world which
interacts with our world as the main characters are transported to and
from that other world. Currently, films about the stories of Narnia
are being made with the cooperation and supervision of Lewis's
stepson, Douglas Gresham.

Another of his more loved books is an autobiography that tells of his
early life and a first hand account of his conversion from Atheism to
Theism and finally to Christianity. It is a common-sensical account
of his youth and the ideas from books that shaped his life's path.
This book is colored with such imagination and touches people in a
very honest, down-to-earth manner.

One of the first books to enter America and become a smash hit in 1943
was The Screwtape Letters. This small account of a devil interacting
with a second devil became one of the most popular books at that time
in the English-speaking world.

His influence on American thought has been enormous. From 1943, when
The Screwtape Letters were first published, to his death in 1963, it
would be very difficult to find a single author who equalled the
influence of this man on classical and religious thought in the late
20th century. His works enabled writers to move into the realm of the
imagination. The Screwtape Letters are an
example of meeting people in their own experience and capturing their
imagination. When the book first arrived in America it was instantly
taken up by the public as a religious book written with
sophistication and elegance. It was recognized as a masterpiece in
American culture as incredible insight into man's psychology. It rang
true to man's actual experience. He also moved readers into worlds of fantasy and utopia as in his Space Trilogy. Chad Walsh once said of his Space Trilogy that it is "Science fiction as science fiction at its fullest development should be." He was able to capture
the imagination and combine it with reason and intellect in order to
persuade people to religious truth.

He not only appealed to people of high intellect but met people at all
levels intellectually. Many church goers saw priests, pastors and
theologians as being "up in the clouds", saying things out of touch
with human experience. Lewis met people were they were. Since he
didn't really appear to be interested in religion he spoke to every
person. He had a solid ground ina field most people respected, even
if they didn't fully understand it. He was recognized by the
high-brow because he wrote in a civilized, highly-educated manner, but
he appealed to middle-brow folk because he wrote often in an
uneducated manner. Lewis once said, "I have come to the conviction
that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language,
then your thoughts were confused."

One of his biggest fans was the crowd of young adults who had rejected
their youthful puritanic Christianity and were slowly making their way
to Christian orthodoxy, or historic Christianity. One man once
commented that if taken a survey of this type of people, you would
probably find a great number of them as having taken all of their
religious thinking directly from the pages of Lewis's writings. Roman
Catholics also found him appealingly fresh, though wishing he had gone
further on some points, they found that he had restated in a new way
doctrines they had learned in catechism classes that had been
taught in a somewhat dull and dry manner.

Lewis's influence on American thought was also great because of the
timing in which he was being popularized among Americans. During WWII
the atmosphere in America was gradually changing. Previously,
religion was seldom talked about, but war brings suffering and death
and opens up ancient, historic questions. At all levels, cultural,
social and educational, religion was beginning to become discussed
more than ever before. This period of time, interestingly, from the
beginning of WWII through the late 1950's was the time in which Lewis
was most popular in the United States.

With all of his popularity and success in America, though, he was not
without critics. T. V. Smith was such a critic who was impressed with
the ingenuity of his book, "Miracles," but then turned around and
called it a "modernistic apologetics for Christian fundamentalism."
Even some theologians found fault with him, and one professor from a
New York seminary labeled his writings as heretical (calling his
doctrines Docetic and even Gnostic). A third category of critics were
students who considered him too clever with serious things, a "smart
alek." Other religious people thought he was too moralistic and
didn't speak on the mystery of grace enough. But even with these
critics it didn't stop him from reaching people in the depths of their
imagination and personal experience.

Since the 60's and in more modern times, his influence has shifted
somewhat. He is less talked about today than he was 10 or 15 years
ago. Part of the reason for this is that students are less concerned
with whether religion is true or false and more concerned with its
relevance to things like social and political causes. If religion can
be taken into action for some good then religion is valid. Lewis, on
the other hand, is more concerned with issues of objective truth,
goodness and beauty, and that something is valid because it is true
rather than relevant.

One man's prediction for which of his books will survive the next
generation are "The Screwtape Letters", "The Great Divorce", and "The
Chronicles of Narnia", because of their eloquence, probing nature and
appeal to the imagination.

I hope that you all have been able to see at least a little of what a
remarkable man C. S. Lewis was and some of his influence on our
culture. His writings were stimulating, captivating and met people in
the depths of their pain and confusion. He gave people of all sorts
the permission to ask the most difficult questions of life and also
the permission to realize that not every question will be answered fully in this life.

Thank you very much.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Thoughts in Hometown Buffet

These thoughts are going to be a little jumbled but hopefully one can make sense of them. I asked a lot of questions without attempting to answer many of them. They are thoughts and questions to ponder. I have been persuaded that it is more important to develop good questions than to have a lot of factual knowledge, and to spend one's life wrestling with those questions.

For 2000 years the goal of a good education was to create a lady or a gentleman. The good education produced people who would think well, read well, and write well. The leaders of the Christian Church had these abilities. Today the goal of education seems to me to be 1) rote memorization of data, 2) socialization, 3) Job skills and job preparation.

The historical understanding of the good education was to become a good, beautiful and whole person. A person, as it was understood, can become a beautiful person by contemplating beautiful things. How is that possible? Why is that so? One possibility: contemplation, reflection, is an action of the soul, not just the body. "One becomes what one contemplates. One becomes what one worships." How can I justify these statements? What sorts of things are worthy of contemplation? The first thing that comes to mind is the list of St. Paul in Philipians - things that are pure, noble, of good reputation, lovely, true, worthy of praise. He tells us to think (dwell, contemplate, reflect) on these things.

The ancient Greeks believed the well-educated person was a person of justice, goodness, someone who was inquisitive and had a whole soul - Someone who thought hard, felt passionately about good things and then did good in their community (head, heart, and hand). Historically, whatever group has had an understanding of head, heart, and hand would triumph in the culture, would LEAD the culture.

More thoughts:
How has the attitude of efficiency to the modern man been detrimental to an attitude toward valuing contemplation of Godly qualities of character, eternal constants, i.e. the world of being in relation to the world of becoming? (Plato) I think it has helped to blind us to the world beyond the world of the sense. If one believes in the world beyond the senses, because of the attitude that efficiency is better, one is likely to find difficulty in believing the world of sense can have any direct contact with the world beyond. The metaphysical world.

This also has implications towards the claim that fictional stories realised in the imagination can become reality both in the mind of the creator and in the mind of the receiver of the stories. Is Frodo Baggins, for example, real in the imagination since there is an author and a receiver of the person or idea of Frodo? Does Frodo have any direct bearing on the life of the person contemplating his qualities, his actions, and his thoughts and passions?

What paradigm is true if naturalism is false? What is the opposite of naturalism and materialism? Metaphysics, supernaturalism? The world of contemplation vs. pragmatism? How can one discover this world beyond the sensate world? How can one become convinced of the world of spirit, mind (as opposed to brain), aesthetics, emotion, etc.? Is God Himself the Creator of goodness, truth, beauty, justice, love, nobility, kindness, etc.? Does God create these qualities that we must become or is God Himself these qualities and we must share in His life in order to become these qualities? When we become people of goodness, truth, honesty, beauty, love, etc. does this mean we become what God is, or are these qualities something God creates and thereby we remain something outside of God - without sharing in His nature? Maybe this is the difference between Eastern and Western Christianity.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Is there a standard of greatness?

I've been reading Don Quixote somewhat in my spare time. I don't really have any profound thoughts on it as of yet, though it is engaging and humorous. I'm going to wait until I've read most of it, if not all of it, before giving my opinion on it. When one grows up reading textbooks and coming to believe that this is how one learns, it is difficult, at first, to read classic books which contain a very different mode of communicating. Some would say the standard should be these Great Books and that when comparing textbooks with Great Books, textbooks fail to live up to the standard of those books. However, that doesn't mean one cannot learn from textbooks. It merely means if you hold to a standard of excellence, which I do, then to become aquainted with the greats is important before pounding hours and hours of textbook material into your head.

It is the same with music. I grew up listening to classical music, thanks to my parents. When I got into high school, most of my friends (who were not band geeks) did not like classical music. I came to realize they had not been exposed to it at first, as I had been, and so did not have the opportunity to grow to appreciate it. The popular music of my high school years was 90's rock - Everclear, Ben Folds, Cake, etc. and some hip hop/gangsta rap. This was the standard in most of the minds at my age level during high school.

What I'm proposing is the idea that things that stand the test of time are things that are Great. Classical music has stood the test of time. Who hasn't heard of at the least, or become intimately aquainted with at best, Mozart's Eine Kleine or Beethoven's 5th? Classic books, I would suggest, fall in the same category. The Bible is the oldest and most popular/well read that we know of in the history of mankind. Why is that? Has science proven it away? Part of the reason is it presents answers to every aspect of humanity. It assumes there is a Supernatural Power, a Theistic view of reality, without trying to prove it. Science tries to prove everything. Stories simply assume certain facts about reality. But stories are not always necessarily false. The Bible has stood the test of time. What else has? Most books that have stood the test of time, especially over the last 2000 years, are religious in nature. Many people have said throughout history that religion is a comfort for people and therefore it is a weakness. I would say (along with Dr. Reynolds) that that is a strength of religion. (www.johnmarkreynolds.com) I'm sure many books and much music has been written that were not good enough to last that long, just as most of the books and music we are familiar with today will not stand the test of time, since 99% of everything humankind creates is junk. That's not to say there is nothing of value in some of what man produces today, but we must evaluate it against a standard that is higher than "what I want" or "what I feel based on my own tiny little perspective is best".

So, hopefully, and I could be wrong, that as I begin to read Great Books I will be able to see what time has shown to be the best possible quality of literature produced by the mind of man.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

First blog

This is my first experience with a real blog site. How exciting!

My posting will be mostly on thoughts I'm having recently, books I'm reading, ideas on music and music composition, or other ideas I've gained through discussion or internet sites. If anyone has any advice on how to make this better, please help me out.

I only recently discovered the Orthodox Church and have found my way into discovering the Truth there. So much of my posting will be on my learnings from my readings and experiences in the Orthodox Church as well.