Tag Archives: Thoughtfulness

Announcing…A New Book Containing Year One of Ifaqtheology’s Essays!

I want to insert into the current series (“Is Christianity True”) an announcement about the publication of my new book, The Thoughtful Christian Life. For those who have read the blog intermittently or those who would like to have the essays in a book form, this book contains the 55 essays posted in the first year of ifaqtheology. I revised and corrected them, collected them into four categories, and wrote discussion questions for every chapter.

I hope that having these thoughts in book form will make them more accessible to small groups and book clubs for reading and discussion. My goal is the wider dissemination of these ideas in hope that they might inspire greater thoughtfulness among Christian people.

Take a look at the Amazon page and, if you wish, spread the word.

http://www.amazon.com/Thoughtful-Christian-Life-Ron-Highfield/dp/1500979457/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1412114416&sr=8-2-fkmr1&keywords=Ron+Highfield%2C+Thoughtfulness

On Friday I will post the next essay in the series on the question of Christianity’s truth. If you have not read the previous post entitled “The Miracle of Atheism: Turning Matter into Mind,” I hope you will do that.

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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.

Thinking and Thoughtfulness: Part 3 Introspection

Introspection

Introspection is also an important operation of reason and a necessary prelude to thoughtfulness. It attempts to look within our inner consciousness to see it apart from our relationship to external objects. Introspection works to isolate, observe and relate distinct feelings, moods, memories, ideas and values in the mind or soul. Perhaps Augustine’s Confessions does not conform exactly to my definition of introspection–which I admit is rather radical and “pure”–but it does provide an excellent example of the inward-turned eye that sorts and sifts motive from motive and feeling from feeling seeking deeper self-knowledge. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Reveries of a Solitary Walker, though narcissistic and dripping with self-pity, also displays an astounding inward awareness that is quite instructive about what we can learn from introspection.

Without introspection our consciousness would be engulfed by wave after wave of sensation or lost in abstractions of thought. Socrates’ observation that “the unexamined life is not worth living” comes to mind here. Apart from some introspection there is no self-knowledge and without self-knowledge we could not distinguish between the life we freely enact and events that merely happen in, to or through us.

Notice how introspection relates to common sense and scientific thought.  In distinction from common sense, introspection isolates the self from external relations by ignoring the external causes of internal experience. In analogy to science, it treats relations within the self like science treats relations among things external to the self. It wants to see its feelings and moods, beliefs and ideas and their interrelationships undistorted by their external relations. Whereas science wants to escape the distorting influence of internal subjectivity on our knowledge of external things, introspection wants to escape the clouding influence of external things on awareness of our internal condition. If science risks self-deception by ignoring the influence of the subjective on our knowledge of the external world, introspection risks self-deception by thinking it can isolate our internal subjectivity from the external world.

Introspection alone cannot lead to complete self-understanding because the self exists only in relation to the not-self, to the external world of people, nature and things. Nonetheless, introspection is valuable because we cannot think everything at once. We cannot think about the self in itself and its relation to external objects and the characteristics of the objects in themselves in one thought at one time. To achieve greater understanding we must move back and forth between part and whole, inside and outside, self and other to grasp all dimensions of something…even if that something is us.

To be continued…

Next time we will think about thoughtfulness itself…I promise.

Thinking and Thoughtfulness: Part 2 Scientific or Critical Thought

Scientific or Critical Thought

In Part 1 of this series we considered observation and common sense as activities of reason. Now we will examine critical or scientific thought. Critical thought takes up where observation and common sense end. Whereas common sense keeps the focus on things in relation to us, scientific thought aims to understand things in relation to other things. Critical thinkers stand outside the relations they are considering and look at the world objectively, as if they did not exist as bodies or subjects but as pure thought. The goal of scientific thinking is to see things as they really are in themselves, undistorted by our perspectives, needs and desires. (This way of viewing things has been examined critically by Thomas Nagel in his book The View from Nowhere.)

Critical reason grasps logical, causal, mathematical, temporal, spatial and other relationships among things. Logic is the study of the different types of relationships possible among concepts or propositions. Natural science studies causal relationships among existing things in nature whereby one thing provides a partial explanation for the coming into being or functioning of another. Hermeneutics studies the internal relationships among the meaning units in texts to discover their meaning. And, of course, there are many other sciences and critical studies.

In performing its task scientific or critical reason engages in three types of operation: analysis, synthesis and criticism. In analysis we break apart a complex thing (a plant, an atom, a written text) into lesser and lesser systems until we are satisfied or until it is impractical to go further. By grasping how these systems are constructed from smaller systems and finally how each contributes to the existence, qualities and functioning of the object of study, we gain insight into the complex whole.

We also engage in synthesis. As reasoning beings, we are not limited to analyzing what is given in nature or history. We can imagine other systems of relationships that do not exist at present. By taking the principles of how things relate to other things in nature we can reconfigure them into things useful to us: houses, cars, spaceships, lasers, and many more.

Criticism does not apply to natural objects. We bring criticism to bear on human artifacts—texts, theories, machines, art. Effective criticism presupposes observation, analysis and understanding. It evaluates a product in light of normative principles, such as logical consistency, communally accepted beliefs, esthetic or ethical norms or practical values such as efficiency and cost effectiveness. It is important to differentiate rational criticism from objections based on distaste, bias, self-interest or unacknowledged theories or ideologies. Rational criticism is disciplined, honest and clear about the norms by which it judges; it adheres to the rules of logic, causality and fairness.

Most people believe that the world continues to exist even when we are not observing or using it. A human being in thinking scientifically or critically attempts to understand the interrelationships among things in the world as they would be even if no human beings existed. You can see why some writers (e.g. Kierkegaard and Nagel) accuse scientific thinkers—especially those who contend that scientific thought is the only avenue to knowledge—of self-deception and self-contradiction. On the one hand, scientific/critical thinkers recognize that inserting the human relationship to our account of things, as common sense does, distorts our knowledge of the object of study. On the other hand, they think they can devise methods of observation and structures of thought that bypass or compensate for the human factor. But such a project is completely impossible; we cannot escape from our existence into pure thought or from our relatedness to the things into absolute knowledge. To be continued…

Part 3 will consider introspection.

Creation–Can You Hear it Sing?

Lately, I have been thinking about the idea of divine creation. For centuries Christians—and most Jews and Muslims too—have asserted “creation from nothing” (creatio ex nihilo). The central point of this idea is that God required no building material out of which to make the universe. For, if God had needed anything other than God’s own power and will to create, we could not think of God as the absolute Lord of creation—a really scary thought! To accomplish this task God would require help from something else. The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle understood that beings in the world are ever changing, coming into existence and going out of existence. But they also knew that something had to be eternal or nothing would exist, which would be inconceivable…because if nothing existed there would be no mind to conceive and no concepts to think. For them it was axiomatic that the eternal and unchanging world of intelligible forms and ideas exists necessarily. It deserves to be called divine precisely because it is self-sufficient and necessary. Aristotle was so clear that true being is eternal and unchanging that he declared that “from nothing, nothing comes into existence” (ex nihilio, nihil fit). Hence even matter is eternal and does not come into existence or go out of existence. It is always there to be shaped like the potter’s clay into different beings.

The Christian teaching of “creation from nothing” does not directly contradict Aristotle because it does not say that creation sprang into existence from nothing; existing things come from God and God is eternal. So Christian teaching agrees with Aristotle that “from nothing, nothing comes into existence.” Since God is eternal, there never was a time when there was absolutely nothing. But matter is not divine or eternal or necessary. Christianity asserts only one eternal being, God.

The idea of “creation from nothing” has profound implications in many areas of thought and life. I will mention only one. Everything, everyone, and every event that was, is and will be depends totally on God, and God alone, for its fundamental existence. Taking this truth seriously could change your life. Learn this skill: when you feel yourself relying on, serving, worshiping, working for, overvaluing, fearing or desiring anything in creation let it immediately trigger the realization that that creature also depends absolutely on God. Now let that thing direct you to its God and yours. God is the source of every good thing and the answer to every threat found in creatures, no matter how beautiful, powerful or good. If you learn this practice you might find yourself becoming a more thoughtful person, more aware of God than before. And in a world as beautiful and dangerous as ours that’s got to be a good thing.

I have found the works David Burrell, Robert Sokolowski, Michael Dodds, and Thomas Weinandy very helpful on the topic of creation.

rch

An Invitation to Thoughtfulness in Religion

In these pages I will address…

Infrequently asked questions, Frequently asked Questions, God and the Self, Human Freedom, Human Dignity, Moral, Creation, Providence, Human Existence, The Human Condition, Humanism, Atheism, Liberal Theology, Agnosticism, Theology and Empirical Science, The Problem of Evil, Jesus Christ, Church and other topics as needed.

I really don’t like...

Dishonesty, hypocrisy, double-speak, self-deception, narcissism, cynicism, misrepresentation, confusion, ignorance, humbug, obfuscation, deception and other intellectual and moral vices.

I really like…

Clarity in thinking, precision in speaking, honesty, truth, common sense, intellectual humility, thoughtfulness and fairness.

Where I Stand…

I see the world through Christian eyes. My understanding of God, nature, human existence, and moral and religious life is conditioned by my faith that in Jesus Christ the identity of God and the nature and destiny of humanity have been revealed. I hold to what many would call conservative or traditional or orthodox Christianity; but for me it is just the original, simple and authentic faith. Paraphrasing one of my favorite authors, Søren Kierkegaard, I do not believe I have the right to judge the hidden relationship any human being may have with God—that judgment is for God alone—but I think I know what Christianity is and what it teaches. That is what I believe and want to become. And that is the position from which I write.

rch