Category Archives: Think With Me About

Various topics inductively approached

School — No Place for a Child

 

Some days I need to yell, “The world has gone crazy!” This is one of those days. Let me tell you up front that my wife and I homeschooled our children, and we’d do it again. So, this essay is not a cool analysis. One more caveat: I come from a family of public school teachers. I think many teachers do the best they can given their situation, and they are all underpaid. This “yell” is about the system and the culture, not about the individuals trapped in it. Okay, ready?

Yes, I mean it. A school is no place for a child. As a child nears 5 or 6 years of age she or he is made to believe that starting school is a glorious coming-of-age transition. You’ll become a big boy, a big girl. You’ll learn to read and write and do all sorts of fun stuff! You’ll get to make decisions for yourself—which actually means that you will give in to pressure to do what your peers are doing. At six years old the baby bird must leave the warm nest and learn to fly. At six! Is that crazy or what? You’ll learn to deal with ubiquitous bullies and pick up the ways of the world from older kids. Why? Because the world is full of bullies and you’ve got to face the world sooner or later anyway! (Actually, the only place I have ever been bullied is at a school.) Away from the protection of mommy and daddy you will be taught and protected by an underpaid and over-stressed teacher, who has 30 children to look after. And teachers are all-knowing and all-seeing. They always know what goes on in the play yard, the hallways, the athletic fields, and the restrooms. You might get a teacher who views the world like your parents and your church does or you may end up with teacher who views God, morality, life, and love in radically different ways. You don’t know in advance.

And what will you learn in the education factory, the state-run orphanage for parented kids? You will learn the least common denominator of moral values. Government schools are supposed to be religiously and morally neutral, and that “neutrality” is the heart of their religion and morality. You’ll read the books, hear the stories, and engage in the sort of activities that are designed to make you exactly like everyone else, a compliant, tolerant, and uncreative citizen. Excellence, creativity, thoughtfulness, and individuality are discouraged because they are disruptive. Everyone is equal, everyone is special, everyone is gifted, and everyone is right. And no one thinks.

The parent-child bond must be broken (at six years old!), because parents teach their children all sorts of crazy stuff about religion, race, and gender. Useful skills like language, writing, and mathematics must be subordinated to the really important task of socialization for life in a “pluralist society,” that is, of teaching children not to judge anyone for anything…except of course for believing in the difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and good and bad. Or, for believing in the superiority of one’s own culture or religion. And the informal “socialization” you learn is how to survive in a school culture with 10 adults and 200 children near your own age. Such a social skills have nothing to do with those you’ll need in the real world.

Okay, I’ve had my “yell,” my rant if you like. I am not asking you to join my chorus. I just wanted your attention. My main goal is simply to plant a question in your mind: Does it have to be this way for me and my family? I want you to know that if you feel like there is something not right about giving up your parenthood when your child is five or six years old, that there is something crazy about that notion, you are right. And you don’t have to do that. You are not the crazy one.

On Fame and Friendship Or Why Do I Need the Crowd’s Approval?

This post is the second in a two-part series dealing with a struggle I feel between my ideal of living for truth, goodness and righteousness and my desire to be loved, admired, approved and accepted by other people. In the following essay I explore the relationship between fame and friendship and try to get at why we need the approval of others, hoping that by being thoughtful about our need for approval we can get free it to some extent:

When we think of fame and the desire to become famous, we tend to think of a little vice characteristic of a small group of people. Perhaps everyone has the potential to become obsessed with becoming famous and maintaining fame, but very few of are placed so that fame is a real possibility. So we don’t think we need to arm ourselves against it. What is the desire for fame? Or what does one desire in wanting fame? Fame is the condition of being known and admired by people whom you do not know. Fame can be measured quantitatively, but the exact line between obscurity and fame is difficult to mark. In desiring fame, then, one wants to be known and admired by many people, many more than one can engage with as friends, even more than one can ever meet.

Fame is related to friendship. Friends know us and think well of us. But friendship must be mutual and among equals. Fame is neither. But some of what we want in friendship we look for also in fame. Friends are insurance against want in times of need, and a band of friends is stronger that an individual. Fame also brings economic benefits and other types of power. Our friends’ acceptance enables us to think well of ourselves. Perhaps, then, the desire for fame is a variant (on a lower ethical level) of the desire that drives us to seek friends. Its lower ethical level is obvious. The lack of mutuality and equality is clearly less noble. But the desire for fame has another imperfection: fame is only loosely based on truth. Friendship is a bond between persons who relate in truth. The relationship between the fan and the celebrity is based on a fantasy in the fan’s mind that has been created or occasioned by the celebrity. (Or do fans create celebrities?) So fame possesses a certain superficial resemblance to friendship, but the substance is missing. The fans mistake their fantasy for a real person and famous people mistake the adulation of their fans for love and admiration. Fame floats on a cloud of fantasy while friendship walks on the rock of truth.

But desire for fame and friendship are instances of more basic impulses that are exemplified in other ways. Let’s speak first of the psychic level of being. We want to be heard, seen, and noticed by other human beings. We want to be objects of their consciousness, to be included in their psychic field. First of all, we must take into account that interaction with others can be negative as well as positive. Overwhelmingly, we want others to experience us positively, as admirable, worthy and attractive. We want them to smile, to speak to us, to touch us. When this field of psychic interaction is positive, we feel similarly about the other person; and we feel good about ourselves. When the other person frowns, growls, curses or acts aggressively we feel angry or ashamed or afraid; and we feel the urge to defend our dignity to ourselves. The other person says in effect, “You are rejected, not worthy of the friendship of others, an outcast.” We can tell ourselves this is not true; but we can be only partly successful in convincing ourselves. Why is this? Because the very definition of being an outcast is that one is cast out! And in this case one has been cast out. Our only defense is to remember the acceptance others have given us in the past or to get away from the enemy and find one’s friends to experience again their acceptance. Merely telling yourself that this person is wrong and thinking of your positive qualities can have only limited success in removing the impact of rejection. Doubt remains and this doubt disturbs our sense of well being.

Why are we so dependent on others’ opinions of us? The simple version may go something like this: I exist and my identity is constituted by my relationships to others. If those relationships are broken or threatened, my existence and identity are threatened. But I know that I evaluate things and make judgments about them in view of their effect on my health and joy. I want to experience good and beautiful things because I need them to maintain myself. We intuitively believe others think the same way. They too evaluate everything in their field of experience as good or bad, pleasing or unpleasant in relation to themselves and act accordingly. In my reflexive relationship to myself, I want myself to be pleasing to others because, if I am not pleasing to them, they will reject me. And if they reject me, my existence and ability to enjoy life will be greatly diminished; and this calls the value of my existence into question.

We tend then to base our judgments about ourselves on how we believe other people see us. We don’t have any other obvious vantage point from which to judge ourselves, for our judgment concerns whether or not we possess qualities that please others. If we don’t think we please others, then what other judgment can we make than that we don’t possess pleasing qualities! And if we believe we do not possess pleasing qualities, we cannot believe others will accept us. We then see ourselves as rejected and deprived of the possibility of a sense of well-being. But if life presents no possibilities for joy, why live?

But we are not merely passive. Since we are uncertain about whether or not we possess pleasing qualities, we become proactive and attempt to make ourselves pleasing to others by acquiring or pretending to possess qualities we think they would like. They of course are doing the same thing! In this way fashion and prejudice become incarnate in a crowd and no one has a basis in truth on which to live. Fame is a particular form of this phenomenon. In seeking fame I seek redundant confirmation that I possess pleasing qualities. Some people may simply fall into fame—though those who attain fame accidentally soon become addicted to it—but many seek it. And they seek it by becoming, acting and dressing in ways designed for no purpose other than to attain and maintain fame.

But none of these strategies work to give us real dignity or identity. Human judgments about the value and dignity of other people are usually superficial and prejudiced. Human beings cannot assess all the qualities of other human beings and all their relationships. Many qualities are hidden within and hence inaccessible to us. We can judge only the present, and knowing the place of a person in the total matrix of the world would require omniscience and eternity; only from such a vantage point could definitive judgments be made. And as I pointed out above, we cannot judge our own dignity or the status of our qualities from within. We need an external criterion.

Only God can judge our dignity, our usefulness and fitness for life. Our desire to be approvingly known, so that we can accept ourselves, will be frustrated unless we direct that desire toward God. God knows us as we truly are and as we shall be. But God’s knowledge of us is not based on mere observation. God knows us because in his love for us he takes account of us. God knows our sins and weaknesses—we don’t have to hide and pretend to be something we are not—but has other plans for us. God plans to make us beautiful, significant and worthy. If we seek to be known by God, to know God and to know ourselves as God knows us (not as the crowd knows us), our desire will be directed to the only place where it can be fulfilled. We can never be satisfied until we know we are known and loved by one who knows all things and cannot be mistaken. Not until we know who we are and why we exist will the restless desire for attention and admiration find its end.

Now we live in faith and hope. However, if we believe we are known and accepted by God, we can begin to experience freedom from slavery to the judgments of others. We can minimize the number and intensity and futility of the things we do for no reason other than to please others so we can think well of ourselves. If rather we love ourselves because we believe God loves us, we won’t seek fame, and even if it comes anyway we will be less likely to be deceived by it. Our energies can be directed toward real things, good and truly beautiful things; we can live for things that matter, things that last rather than the ephemeral fantasies of the crowd.

Asleep in a Sleepwalking Society

In the next two posts I want to address a struggle I have. I don’t think I ‘m alone in wanting to be known, liked, approved and even praised by others. I struggle with this because it seems to me that I ought to live for what is truly good and right regardless of what other people think. I ought to seek truth and never be satisfied by mere appearances. But the desire to be appreciated by others wants to dominate. I ought to want to please God more than I want to please other human beings. But how do I do this? I cannot guarantee that I am pleasing to God simply by becoming obnoxious and rude to human beings and acting as if I don’t care what others think. How can you associate with others and care about them without becoming addicted to their judgments about you? Perhaps, I ought to be overwhelming aware of God’s presence at every moment. That would certainly help. But how can you maintain awareness of God when other things are so close and so loud? In these posts I give you some thoughts I’ve had as I’ve tried to work this out:

On a recent hike I had the experience of realizing that I had been walking for some time completely absorbed in the movements of my body and the passing scenery. I had been totally unaware that it was I who had been having these experiences. What a strange feeling! It’s as if you had vacated your body and mind and become dispersed in the flow of things outside but now you’re back and you can’t remember what happened while you were gone. I’ve experienced this more than once, and I don’t think it’s rare in others. You suddenly realize that you exist here and now in relation to this particular environment and you have to take responsibility for what you are doing. You have a vague memory of having been absorbed in thought or in remembering the past or anticipating the future.

Have you ever caught yourself staring at an object that at first appeared to be something meaningful but soon became simply a meaningless focal point that holds you in a “blank stare”? After a while something will draw us out of our trance and force us to distinguish ourselves from the flow of sensation. Why is the feeling of coming back to oneself, of realizing that we are here now, so strange?

When we become so absorbed in an object or thought that we lose consciousness of ourselves, we lose a sense of time, of our relatedness to the object and of the relatedness of the object to other objects. We are so lost in the present moment that we have no sense of the present moment’s being present. The present moment feels present only because of its relationship to the past and future. Hence the experience of breaking the hold of the object over our minds is the experience of the present becoming really present in vivid distinction from the past and of becoming aware of our existence as our existence in clear distinction from the existence of other objects. I like to call this experience “waking up” because of its similarity to awaking from sleep, in which dreams seem real and time is distorted.

Perhaps the experience of waking up feels so strange because we are so seldom awake. In those strange moments of awakening we become aware of a reality that had escaped our minds previously. It is strange to discover that you had forgotten you exist! We now feel our finitude and temporality because we have disengaged with mere ideas and the flow of feeling, which have a feel of timelessness about them. In daydreams we can do anything and never die but in waking up we realize what sleep obscures. So waking up is a shock.

In observing others and myself, I’ve concluded that most people live much of their lives asleep. Our senses are taken over by what goes on around us and our consciousness is absorbed into the flow of events external to us. Our feelings and emotions are driven by events without. And waking up is a shock.

We live in a society of sleepwalkers. We play roles, live out narratives and read scripts others write for us. We desire what we are told to desire and we hate what we are told to hate. The need for approval and admiration from others is too strong. Hence, the desire to please others, to seek admiration, to be in other people’s minds approvingly can easily become the dominating force in our lives. Our consciousness becomes totally focused on the attempt to place the right thoughts of ourselves into the minds of others, and our thoughts of ourselves become totally determined by what we think other people think about us. A conscious life absorbed in striving to create an image of ourselves in other people’s minds and attempting to discern what other people think of us differs little from sleep. We live only in our imagination of the image we want others to see in us and in the dreadful doubt of what the crowd really thinks.

What would it mean to wake up from this dream? We would suddenly become aware of what we had been doing: wishing to be someone worthy of love and working so hard to discover what the crowd loves, to be what others like and to convince the crowd that we are that person. To wake up involves becoming aware that we were wishing so intently to be someone else that we forgot who we actually are and failed life’s simplest task, that is, to be ourselves, to take responsibility for our own existence. And the crowd consists of individuals doing exactly what we are doing, living to please others, so that by imagining that they really are pleasing to others they can think well of themselves. It is a house of cards, illusions supported by other illusions with no basis in truth.

But what can wake us from such a mutually interlocking set of illusions? An overwhelming experience of beauty? A brush with death? An unexpected kindness? We need something to make us aware of our God-relation—something outside the flow of sense, a word beyond the predictable script society hands us. Even a little word, such as “Wake up! You have been asleep too long!” might prepare us for that huge Word: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14).

Think With Me About “The Happy Life” (Part One)

In Augustine’s Confessions, book 10, the great theologian/bishop struggles to articulate his search for God in words understandable to his readers: “How then am I to seek for you? When I seek for you my God, my quest is for the happy life” (10.20; trans. Chadwick). Many people do not understand why we should seek God with all our heart, but everyone wants to be happy even if they have never been truly happy. Human beings feel their need for something they are missing, but they do not have a clear idea of what it is. Hence life is an endless quest for that thing.

Augustine describes the natural course of the quest in this way: first we seek the missing thing among the things around us. We explore the range of the five senses in hope that they will unite us with the good thing we seek. In effect, we ask natural objects, “Are you what I am seeking?” They reply, “No, we cannot give you the happy life you seek; for we too are finite and mortal.” The plants and animals, the rivers and mountains, the sun, moon, stars and planets say, “We are not your God. God made us. You must go further and higher.”

Augustine, then, turns inward to his mind, to his reasoning power, memory and imagination. There he finds a power much greater than nature displays. The mind can contain the universe with room to spare. It can conceive of infinite universes and imagine whole worlds that do not exist. It contains immaterial logical laws, numbers and principles, and it can judge all the data coming from the senses, naming each thing and judging its nature and qualities. It distinguishes between true and false, good and bad. The mind can think about itself, explore itself, remember itself and move itself. It can even think about itself thinking about itself! Augustine finds himself astounded: “Great is the power of memory, an awe-inspiring mystery my God, a power of profound and infinite multiplicity. And this is mind, this is myself. What then am I my God? What is my nature?” (10.17; trans. Chadwick).

In his wonder at the extent and power of the mind, he comes face to face with his inability to grasp himself. The mind can grasp any finite thing and surpass it; but it cannot grasp itself. The mind cannot get beyond itself to see clearly its origin and limit; yet it knows that it did not create itself or endow itself with its powers. Nor can the mind see clearly in the external world or within itself the thing it has been seeking all of its life. It does not find there the good thing that brings the search to an end and produces unsurpassable happiness.

Everyone seeks happiness but not everyone seeks it in the right place or understands that no finite thing or unending series of finite things can bring the search to a successful end. For the human mind can surround and surpass any finite thing. Whatever its beauty and power to entice and please, we can imagine something more, something better. Emptiness and dissatisfaction always accompany that infinite restlessness that is human nature. Hardly have we attained and possessed the good thing we sought until we are looking beyond, over and around it. “I am not what you were seeking,” it says even as we embrace it in the first delightful moment.

Let me say it again, happiness cannot be attained by coming to possess any finite thing, and seeking happiness in an unending series of finite things will eventually produce exhaustion and boredom. The emptiness we feel and the dissatisfaction that drives us onward can be filled and ended only by a Good that contains every possible good simultaneously. It must be infinitely good so that nothing better or more can be imagined or conceived; otherwise we will again be looking over, around and beyond it for something better or something more.  It must be present all at once lest our dissatisfaction and emptiness plague us forever.

What is this infinite and concentrated Good? Who is greater than the mind? “God” is the only fitting word to name this infinite good. Apart from God, I see no hope that human nature can be fulfilled, that we will find that for which we have been seeking all our lives. If there is no such Good, if happiness is just an ever-receding illusion, if there is nothing at all that can fill up the human heart, then human nature has been lying to us and the universe is guilty of false advertising; and human beings are misfits and anomalies and human existence is an absurdity.

But I do not believe that human existence is an absurdity; nor is human nature a liar. Hence I will not give up my search for “the happy life” or the only Good capable of bringing my search to a happy end.

More to come…

On Being Worldly in a Secular Age (Part Two)

As a young person, when I heard older people sermonize against worldliness I got the impression that worldliness consisted in the practice of certain vices. I won’t compile a list of those forbidden acts because your list might differ from mine. And vice lists differ from generation to generation. This variability is an indication that such lists do not get at the essence of worldliness. What, then, does the New Testament mean by worldliness? Let’s think about the classic text on the subject, 1 John 2:15-17:

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

First John speaks incessantly about love of God and others. Your true self is revealed and your life is ordered by what you love. God is the highest and best. God loved us first and best, and if we know this we will love God in return as our first and best. To love something is to value it and seek it above other things. Only if we love God best can we love other things rightly. The essence of worldliness is loving something else more than we love God. Let’s explore this thought.

John uses the standard Greek word for world. It means “the order”, the order we see with our eyes and perceive with our minds. But he puts a negative connotation on “the order”. He does not deny the beauty and goodness of creation; that’s not his point. By “the order” John means the distorted, fallen cosmic and social order that opposes God and God’s arriving kingdom. And how is the world ordered? By the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life! Lust is distorted love. It seeks gratification in physical stimulation without moderation or order. It refuses guidance from moral law, the law of love or leading of the Spirit.

What does John mean by the “lust of the eye”? Perhaps something like the following: The flesh can take in only so much. You can’t eat all the time or enjoy erotic pleasures continuously. There is a limit to how much you can stimulate your skin with finery or your nostrils with perfumes. But the eyes! The eyes can survey the whole universe and take in unlimited sights. They can look with envy, lust or morbid curiosity on an infinite number and variety of things. The lustful eye serves the insatiable imagination wherein the fleshly mind can enjoy what the fleshly body cannot embrace. Still, the lustful eye does not see what it ought to see. It cannot see the true order of things because it is blinded by the disordered mind that controls it.

And the pride of life? It is noteworthy that John uses a Greek term that means not so much life itself as the stuff that supports life. We want some things for their utility or for the pleasure they give. But we also enjoy having “stuff” (things and money) for what it says about us to other people. We can enjoy our bodies, natural talents and acquired skills for the good we can do with them; or we can credit them to ourselves as marks of worth and inflate our egos by imagining we are better than others. The pride of life is a kind of distorted love of ourselves in which we try to base our sense of dignity and worth on our qualities, powers and possessions.

To “love the world” is to be caught up in a disordered order that seeks from creation what only the Creator can provide. It is to treat the temporal as eternal, the corruptible as never dying and the creature as the Creator. Self-evidently, to love the world is to exclude “the love of the Father”; for the world is “the (disordered) order” precisely because it does not love the Father first and best.

It is unlikely that the worldly person John has in mind could be classified as “secular” in the modern sense, that is, someone who has “ceased to feel religious feelings and ask religious questions.” People can be worldly even though they are religious; they simply love the world more than they love God. They relate to God only when there is a worldly advantage in doing so. But one cannot be secular without being worldly. For someone who “feels no religious feelings and ask no religious questions,” the world with its lusts and pride is all there is. Since we are not God and do not possess within ourselves the means of life and happiness, we will seek, love and worship something outside of ourselves. Apart from its Creator, creation is just “the world”. Hence, when our love and worship are directed to “the world” apart from the Father, they degenerate into “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”

 

Thinking and Thoughtfulness: Thoughtlessness Part 5

Thoughtlessness

We can best grasp the concept of thoughtlessness by contrasting it to the idea of thoughtfulness developed in Part 4 of this series. We are thoughtless when we don’t think about our involvement with the object of experience. One falls into thoughtless by becoming absorbed in the process of observation, common sense, scientific thought or introspection…or in any other activity in which something displaces our self-awareness with itself. Thoughtlessness is the absence of awareness of the self and the character of its relations with other things.

Thoughtless people immerse themselves in work or objective thought or the search for pleasure or attention to the point that they do not question, do not become aware of themselves as distinct from their activities. They don’t ask ethical, existential or religious questions of themselves. They don’t ask about their identity, the meaning of their activities, and the morality of their actions. They don’t see the deeper dimensions of things or people and their relationships to them.

In chapter four of my recent book, God, Freedom & Dignity, I examine three images of thoughtlessness: the esthete, the conformist and the celebrity. The esthete seeks only pleasure while the conformist seeks only success as measured by what other people consider success; and the celebrity seeks only attention and lives only in the minds of others. They have no time for self-examination and no space for awareness of God.

It’s like they don’t really exist as selves, as self-aware subjects. They observe their lives but don’t live them as their own free action; they are whatever they are doing…without any awareness of the meaning of what they are doing! They may wake up one day and realize that they have not been consciously living their lives. They’ve been on automatic pilot, asleep at the wheel, while their lives pass before them like a dream. Other things determine what they feel, love and do. They move through life unaware of whole dimensions of what is happening around them and within them. They can’t see through the reflective surfaces into the real substance of things and the meaning of the relations among them.

Most disturbing of all, thoughtless people have no awareness of God as really present and active as their Creator, Lord, Judge and Savior. And in my view, lack of awareness of God and our relation to God is the root of all thoughtlessness. If people were aware of God they would also be aware of themselves as dependent, responsible, unworthy and yet loved. Awareness of God, who is the absolute ground of our existence, opens our minds to depths of ourselves we could not know otherwise.  And if we gain deeper self-awareness before God we will also become aware of the God-relatedness and interrelatedness of all things; that is, we will become thoughtful.

I conclude this series with Søren Kierkegaard’s observations about the lives of the thoughtless:

[The thoughtless person is] “a sort of marionette, very deceptively imitating everything human—even to the extent of having children by his wife. At the end of his life, one would have to say that one thing had escaped him: his consciousness had taken no note of God” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript).

“By seeing the multitude of men about it, by getting engaged in all sorts of worldly affairs, by becoming wise about how things go in this world, such a man forgets himself, forgets what his name is (in the divine understanding of it), does not dare to believe in himself, finds it too venturesome a thing to be himself, far easier to be like others, to become an imitation, a number, a cipher in the crowd… spiritually understood, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self before God—however selfish they may be for all that” (Sickness Unto Death).

 

Please share this five-part series with others.

 

Until next week…

Thinking and Thoughtfulness: Part 4 Thoughtfulness

 

At the beginning of this series I mentioned a distinction Bernard Lonergan made between common sense and scientific thought. As far as I remember, Lonergan did not address the idea of thoughtfulness. But this concept cries out for analysis as a matter of logical development and even more so for its cultural relevance; in my view thoughtlessness is a central feature of contemporary culture.

Now that we have before us the concepts of observation, common sense, scientific thought and introspection we may be able grasp the subtler concept of thoughtfulness and understand how it relates to theology and the religious life.

Unlike observation, thoughtfulness is not intense concentration on something. It’s not perception of the relationship of things to our needs and wants. This is common sense. Nor is it acute insight into the relationships among things considered apart from us. Here we are speaking of scientific thought. And thoughtfulness is not merely the inward gaze that distinguishes idea from idea, mood from mood and feeling from feeling. Introspection is at work here.

Consider how we use word “thoughtful” in everyday speech. Sometimes we designate an act as “thoughtful” and at other times we speak of a person as “thoughtful”. A thoughtful act manifests insight into the need and desires of another person coupled with forethought and goodwill. Thoughtful people are likely to perform thoughtful acts because they possess awareness, sensitivity, anticipation and empathy toward others. Thoughtfulness is heightened awareness of what is hidden from external observation joined with caring involvement with people. In the common use we see clearly the ethical dimension of thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness in the wider sense I want to explore includes this kind of awareness but is more comprehensive.

By thoughtfulness in this wider sense, I mean “thought-FULL-ness,” that is, comprehensive awareness. Observation, common sense, scientific thought and introspection are one-directional and focal. In observation and scientific thought you sometimes forget your entanglement with the object of focus, that is, how it affects you and you affect it. In common sense you can lose sight of the object’s existence in and for itself because you are concerned only with its effect on you. In none of these modes of thought are you aware of yourself in the act of relating to the object or of how your or the object’s relation to God affects the total situation.

Ideally, then, thoughtfulness is simultaneous awareness of every dimension of your environment and your relation to it; it is awareness of yourself, your relationship to other things and of the relationships of other things to each other at the same time. In thoughtfulness we do more than observe and think about something; we also become aware of our observations, thoughts, feelings and judgments. We do more than interrogate the objects we think about. We also question the relationship between us and the object of our attention, taking into account all aspects of our relationship to it—causal, ethical, religious and esthetic.

Thoughtfulness challenges every automatic and habitual way of relating to things, ideas, people, God and ourselves. Thoughtfulness insists that we bring our every act and relation into the light of rational deliberation, freedom, moral judgment and awareness of God. Thoughtfulness takes nothing for granted. It interrogates every act, feeling, thought and every appearance. It raises not only narrow scientific and common sense questions but reflexive questions, questions that question the questioner.  “What am I doing?” “Why am I doing this?” “Why do I want to do this?” “Should I do this?” “What does my action reveal about me?”

Most important of all, thoughtfulness is awareness of God in all these relationships and dimensions. For a Christian, our relationship with God must be the decisive factor in all relationships, feelings and acts. Everything possesses a relationship to God, a relation of dependence, meaning and direction; and a thing’s God-relation is the most fundamental relation it can possess. It is the central component in its identity. No one is truly thoughtful who is not mindful of the presence and relevance of God to all things.

For a Christian, every relationship and every activity is a matter of conscience. Conscientiousness is habitual thoughtfulness in relation to God. It is awareness of God as the third factor in every relationship, every activity and every decision. It is constant awareness of God as our Creator, Guide, Judge and Savior. A conscientious person does not forget God in the daily routines of life and views forgetfulness of God as a serious fault. Conscientiousness sanctifies every aspect of life. All of it is lived before God and directed to God.

I will omit examples of thoughtfulness because I hope that every post I make on this blog illustrates and embodies thoughtfulness. To be continued…

Coming soon: the nature, forms and consequences of thoughtlessness.