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An American friend of mine and her husband had a distressing experience listening to a visiting evangelist at her friend’s church recently. What she heard really bothered her. She shared her experience with us and wondered how best to approach a situation like this. At that time, we were just coming to the end of our group study of the book of Acts and on the last chapter, we read about people who are “ever hearing but not understanding, ever seeing but not perceiving”. These were my thoughts for our study
“i think sometimes we choose to hear only what we want to hear and see what we want to see because knowing the truth would require some kind of action or change from us and we’d rather not. but it says here that this is a sign of a calloused heart. if we allow this to happen over a period of time, our heart will be so hardened and any change or turning back will be even more challenging. i interpret the phrase “understand with their heart” as “revelation”. knowledge and revelation are different. knowledge without revelation is powerless. revelation without knowledge can result in foolishness. but together, they make wisdom. i believe that is how god wants us to operate – out of wisdom. i think when we feel like we’re going round in circles, feeling stuck, maybe it’s time to ask god for a fresh revelation on that situation and then act on it.”
No believer wants to be in such a position, although many do fall into it, whether knowingly or not.
I’ve had similar experiences with hearing (or in my case, reading) things that threaten to tear down what I’ve been taught for years. It can be difficult and very confusing. After praying about my friend’s experience and asking God for wisdom, I still do not know how best to respond but gave her some principles which have helped me in my own experience.I find these principles essential to learning and especially so when faced with conflicting views and ideas.
(Not in any order of importance)
- acknowledge that my knowledge is neither perfect nor complete, therefore I could be in error about certain things. likewise for any other man of god, no matter how great they are.
- give the other person the benefit of doubt. try to look beyond my own prejudice, assumptions, even the way the argument was delivered and listen with an open mind.
- try to be as unbias as possible. consider the facts without dismissing the role faith plays
- be humble and ready to admit you were wrong
- hear with the intent to understand and not to poke holes. try to see the subject from another perspective.
- adopt a teachable spirit.
- agree to disagree.
- recognize what are foundational truths and what are not. essential doctrines are worth defending and should not be compromised. but do not fall into the trap of majoring on the minor.
- judge the idea, not the person.
- check against God’s word and God’s character.
- seek the counsel of other mature believers, pastor or mentor.
- watch for signs of dis-ease or heaviness in the spirit. there should be a sense of liberation, joy and peace in the spirit. this is a little tricky because emotions may not always be reliable and emotions are often confused with the spirit’s leading.
- if you can’t reach a conclusion about an issue, be ready to let it go without passing judgement. but don’t write it off. keep it somewhere in the corner of your mind. if you have prayed and ask god about it, he will bring it to light eventually. i have personally experienced this many times – god answering my questions months and even years later.
- pray and ask God.
Hope these help.
Since the beginning of this new year, I keep hearing of how people around me are moving on to greater things, or at least are making plans to do so. Some are taking risk and challenging themselves to try something different. Some want to retire in 10 years and are looking for ways to make that happen. Some have plans to upgrade themselves to maintain a competitive edge. Some are fired up by motivational-self-help books to get their life back on track. Suddenly I feel a certain panic. I am turning 38 in a few weeks and have accomplished nothing by society’s standards. “What about you, what are you going to do about it?” seems to scream at me just about now. I could feel a sense of rising panic and voices telling me to catch up when I heard another voice, “Guard your heart. Let not your heart be troubled”. That stopped me in my tracks. I do not want this to be a “reaction” motivated by the fear of loosing out. I certainly do not want to end up laddering on someone else’s dream. Whatever my calling is, it should not require me to compromise on what is uniquely me. The only way to make the most of this rude awakening was to invite God into the picture. And so I did, knowing that everything else that follows will be filtered through his wisdom and love.
At about the same time, Seth Barnes, whose blogs had spoken to me in the past came to mind. With his wealth of experience in discipling and his passion for helping people reach their destiny, there must be something he can offer to help me along in this journey. We got in touch and together with another lady, Patti, they got me started on my journey. I spent two days pouring through blogs Seth had written in the past about dreaming and destiny. I even found some gems in the comments others left in his blog. Noted down everything that stirred my spirit, not fully knowing what they mean for me or where they lead yet. Basically just thinking and asking questions along the way. These are what I’ve got so far. Seth are Patti are guiding me over email as we go along. If you are a friend and a believer, do pray that God will make the path clearer with each step that I make towards Him. Perhaps you find the following resonate with your spirit as well. If they do, why not start your own journey?
- God’s dreams – dreams that build God’s kingdom.
- Besides missions and ministry, what else builds God’s kingdom?
- Emily’s dream of being a Hollywood actress. How is that a kingdom dream? How do we who are already on a conventional career path make it a kingdom dream?
- Must we always give up the conventional path?
- We come alive doing what we’re created to do. What makes me alive?
- There must be God-room in every dream. If he doesn’t show up, the dream won’t happen.
- Get the dream right. HOW?
- A good idea is worth doing badly.
- Fear constricts our heart.
- What shapes our dream – world’s needs, our passion (heart), our plan (head), our skills (hand)
- Dreams become clearer as we pursuit different impulses.
- Is it ok if you don’t know what you’re called to do but feel like you’ve been called to so something? Because I am not sure, which makes me wonder if I’m answering the call.
- Do I feel like I am where I am supposed to be or do I feel like I’ve been called to do something else?
- What legacy would I leave behind? Who have I been influencing or ministering to? How have I touched lives?
- Impact and legacy starts with listening – to God, to people we serve, to people whom we are accountable.
- Greatness = dependence on God > takes risks > unpredictable
- Turn off the noise your my life and seek God whole heartedly.
- Greatness has little to do with your competence.
- Read Steven Covey’s 8th habit.
- What is Jesus asking you to do?
- To follow Jesus is to be available to do impossible things.
- He may take us to places that are deep but have some familiarity. Eg, a relationship that is familiar but feels impossible. Reaching out to them may feel like deep water to us.
- God may want to deal with your heart before he has you extend your heart to others.
- Examples of deep waters:
bad habits that eventually define who you are (eg. too critical, too negative, too withdrawn)
reaching out to people different from you
- God wants to eventually move us and trust us with greater challenges that build his kingdom.
- God gave you a heart and passion for a reason. He expects you to listen to your heart and do not dismiss your passions.
- What is the my heart’s cry? Can I trust my heart? How will I know if it’s truly free from self-interest, fear or my ego?
- We don’t just fall into our highest and best in life. We often have to meander a little at first, fight and take mad risk along the way.
- The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
- God knows the plans he has for us. When we truly open our hearts to Him, He has us covered no matter what his dream is for us.
- We need to surround ourselves with a community of people who trust in his work.
- Trust in God’s timing.
This is in addition to my post on self-refuting statements yesterday. No no…..I am not going to attempt another contradiction. My brain needs a break. I just wanted to share with you another study I discovered today. It is quite similar to self-refuting statements except that now we are learning about self-refuting arguments. They call it Arguments that Commit Suicide. Haha…I like that!
Here’s are some excerpts from the article and I will provide the link to the full article later.
- Moral Relativism Self-Destructs
Whenever someone says, “You shouldn’t force your morality on me,” always ask, “Why not?” Usually the response is going to be an example of her forcing her morality on you. To make sense out of the objection, she’ll have to state a moral rule while denying any moral rules exist. Such attempts reduce to, “You’re wrong for saying people are wrong,” or more bluntly, “You shouldn’t judge, you narrow-minded bigot.”
- The “Christian” version of postmodernism fares no better. Some Christian thinkers flirt with relativism, baptizing it with religious language. “There are two kinds of truth,” they say, “God’s Truth and man’s truth. God’s Truth is absolute and can only be known by Him. We can only know man’s truth, which is limited and relative to our personal perspectives.” My question is: Which kind of truth is reflected in that statement? If it’s God’s Truth, how did they come to know what only God can know? If it’s merely man’s fallible perspective, then why should I trust such a sweeping generalization about the issue of absolute truth?
- Hinduism as a religious view also seems compromised by contradictory notions. It claims that reality as we know it is an illusion. We’re each part of the illusion and have no true individual identity. Here’s my question. If I am part of the illusion, how could I know it? How could I possess true knowledge that I don’t exist, or have any knowledge at all if I’m not real? Do the individuals in a dream know they’re mere phantoms? Does Charlie Brown know he’s a cartoon character? The Hindu concept that the world is an illusion contradicts the idea that I can have the knowledge that I’m only an illusion, rendering Hinduism self-refuting.
And this is my personal favorite!
- You Are What You Eat?
I once saw a sign in a restaurant that read, “You are what you eat.” I pointed out to the waitress that if we are what we eat, then we couldn’t be something until we’ve eaten something. But we can’t eat something until we are something. So we must be something before we eat something. Therefore, it’s not true that we are what we eat. The waitress looked a me and said, “You’ll have to talk to the manager.”
Always be alert for arguments with suicidal tendencies. Ask the question, “Does that position carry with it the seeds of its own destruction?” Don’t feel like you have to do all the work refuting a bad argument. Keep you eyes open and stay alert. When you discover an opponent’s view is self-refuting, ask a question that exploits the problem. Then let him sink his own ship.
The full article by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason can be found here. It’s a pretty short read compared to Glenn Miller’s at ThinkTank, so it won’t take up much of your time. Go on….who knows, you might just win that argument with your spouse!
There is no such thing as truth.
Now, tell me if you think there is a problem with that statement. Or what about this one,
You can never know anything for sure.
I don’t know about you but I sure have heard such, if not similar, statements before. The problem with these statements is that they are self-refuting. So if someone tells me, there is no such thing as truth, and if I am using my brains at all, I’d say…….what, including this truth statement about truths? You see what I mean?
As you know from my earlier post, I just came back from visiting my parents. The night before I left, I browsed through my father’s modest library to see what I could find. There were stuff on politics and history but the majority were books on religion and spirituality. I spotted two intimidating volume, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha and Tibetan Book of The Living and Dying. Sorry… too deep for me. I mean, if you’ve ever read any Buddhist materials, you’d know how frustratingly confusing and difficult it is to comprehend the teachings. If you’re the Buddhism for Dummies sort, it might work for you but try going deeper and you’ll know what I mean. Or maybe I’m just not enlightened enough. In the end, I settled for an easier to digest but nevertheless concise volume written with the lay person in mind and two copies of my father’s personal spiritual notes. Well you know what, I’ve just finished that book and I tell you, I am not any less confused. The book I am referring to by the way is What Buddhist Believe by K. Sri Dhammananda.
There were a lot of hanging questions on many of the major doctrines. My intelligence must be sub-normal. Then I started learning about self-refuting statements and realize that there are other learned people out there who feel the same. Their critique is not necessarily on Buddhist thoughts but rather on systems of thought that are self-refuting. It so happens that I discovered quite a few of them in my reading of the book.
Here is a little lesson from Glenn Miller of A Christian Thinktank about self-refuting (stultifying) statements.
Let’s Start with Breakfast…
Imagine the following comical scenario.
A fellow Earthman runs up to you, with glazed and feverish eyes, and proceeds to explain how he has discovered a fundamental and absolute truth about himself. When you ask him to tell you this awesome truth, he blurts out this: “The fundamental truth is that I cannot pronounce or write the word ‘breakfast’!” You are not sure you heard him correctly, and so you ask him to write the truth down on a sheet of paper. He then writes legibly on the sheet: “I cannot pronounce or write the word ‘breakfast’.”
There is something obviously wrong here (other than the fact that the guy’s elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor!) and what the obvious wrong is is clear–the speaker contradicted himself in the process of speaking. He rendered his ‘truth’ ineffective–he stultified himself.
This is a special case of reductio ad absurdum — but the absurdity was that “what he said” (the words, pronunciation, the speech act itself) contradicted the “what he said” (the content, the intention, the meaning).
Now let’s generalize this type of argument.
The Nature of Self-Stultifying Statements
A self-stultifying statement is a statement that contradicts:
- the case it advances as proof (if any);
- the presuppositions inherent in the subject matter being discussed;
- the presuppositions inherent in the speech act.
Let’s illustrate these cases with a simple example.
- Case 1: Contradicting itself (“Even though a horse is black, it is not black.”)
- Case 2: Contradicting the proof (“This black horse is not black”)
- Case 3: Contradicting the subject matter (“This horse is black half of the time”–horses don’t change color often.)
- Case 4: Contradicting the speech act (“I am a black horse”–semantic acts, of the English variety at least, are not performed by horses.)
Cases 1 and 2 do not occur very often, and Case 3 often produces “standard” reductio ad absurdum refutations. Case 4, however, is not as obvious (except with the guy who couldn’t say ‘breakfast’). Case 4 requires ‘unpacking’ of the presuppositions in speaking or discourse or language or communication, to see if what is being said (explicitly in the statement) is contradicting what is being said (implicitly in the presuppositions).
One last example before we turn to history for a moment.
Try “All sentences are meaningless.” The obvious question to ask here is “including this one?” The statement (no meaning) contradicts the presupposition (sentences are adequate vehicles for meaning). The position is self-stultifying. It cannot be even stated without contradicting itself–it ‘pulls the rug out from under itself.’ This contradiction will necessarily arise from this statement, and the obvious thing learned is that it is impossible to deny that ‘some sentences are meaningful.’ This is the value of looking for self-stultifying arguments — we find undeniable truths or absolutes. We may not be able to produce an air-tight proof for the position, but the fact that they cannot be denied at all can be seen as such a proof.
This is a clear example of Type #4 (contradicting the presuppositions in the speech act). Speakers normally presuppose that their utterances convey meaning (we will explore this more when we get to Zen) before they ‘go around uttering them.’
Self-Stultification and Critical Thinking
The point of developing the ability to detect self-stultifying arguments is to be able to construct Aristotle’s ‘negative demonstrations’ of truth-claims. If an epistemological position (or political or semantic or whatever position) can be shown to be self-stultifying, then it cannot be even advanced for serious consideration. We can then proceed to draw the implications of this inability as a ‘negatively demonstrated’ absolute. This will not help us at all in verifying or falsifying any position which passes this test, of course, but as we shall see, it will narrow the field considerably, if we use it correctly.
What this amounts to is the ability to stop an argument before it launches and to draw conclusions (negative demonstrations) from that ‘stopping.’ What we end up with are absolutes–in the sense of undeniables, not ultimates–in human language!
Practice Test One (or “Fun with Sentences”) Let’s examine several examples to see this work out in various forms.
No Truth: “There is no such thing as truth.” Then, obviously, this sentence is not true, and therefore, there really might be something like truth. You should recognize this as a slight variation of the Liar’s Paradox, akin to “all sentences are false.” (This assumes that the statement is not about truth as having some type of ontological/physical/metaphysical existence; in which case our approach does not generally apply.) Implication: It is undeniable that some sentences are true.
No Certainty: “You can never know anything for sure.” Does the speaker know that for sure? If he does, then it is self-stultifying. If the speaker doesn’t know it for sure, then maybe some things can be known for sure. Implication: It is undeniable that some things can be known for sure–certainty is possible.
Sentences and Reality: “Sentences never describe reality, only the speaker’s mental states.” When we turn this back on itself, the question is obvious: does that sentence say anything at all about sentences or is it only about the speaker’s state of mind?! (You should be able to see the pattern emerging by now: any sentence saying something about all sentences is saying something about itself.) Implication: .It is undeniable that sentences can describe reality.
Generalizations: “All generalizations are false.” As a sentence of the “all X are…” form, this is itself clearly a generalization. And…we net out with a lair’s paradox.
So how is Buddhist thought guilty of this? That, I am afraid, will have to be for another time, if I do get around to it at all. It will be a time consuming endeavor to go through the book again to pick out and expose what I think are self-refuting reasoning and statements. Furthermore, I am in no way qualified, being neither an expert in Buddhism (though my whole family were brought up as Buddhist) nor Epistemology. If I do decide to take this on, it will only be from a lay person’s perspective, presented in small doses, as and when I feel the need to write about them. But since I have come this far, I feel I should at least attempt to expose one contradiction.
According to Dhamananda…
What exists is changeable and what is not changeable does not exists. [Note: He is not speaking of material things alone but thoughts, emotions, spirit, ideas, as well as words (which convey meaning and purpose) because they are all dependant on conditions which are always changing] Every written word [including that statement], every carved stone, every painted picture, the structure of civilization, every generation of man, vanishes away like the leaves and flowers of forgotten summers. All is changeable, continuous transformation, ceaseless mutation, and a moving stream. Everything exists from moment to moment. Nothing on earth partakes of the character of absolute reality. That there will be no death of what is born is impossible. Whatever is subject to origination is also subject to destruction. Matter and spirit are false abstraction that, in reality, are only changing factors which are connected and which arise in functional dependance on each other. ( extracted from pg 85-87, What Buddhist Believe)
The Buddha’s teaching is the Ultimate Truth of the world [this is also a sentence made up of words]. (pg 56, What Buddhist Believe)
Applying this logic, firstly all the above statements are changeable, therefore they are meaningless or unreliable at best. Secondly, since the Buddha exists, he together with his truth (a result of self-realization, not devine revelation) are changeable. Implication: Why should we give weight to anything or anyone who is changeable? Buddhist might argue that the Buddha is not considered being in the same realm as human beings since having achieved a permanent state of nibanna (even though they could not say what nibanna really is, they can only say what it is not). But surely they won’t deny that it was in the realm of earthly, and therefore, conditioned existence that the Buddha first began the journey towards enlightenment, therefore he is also subject to the conditions that supported his final conclusion about ultimate reality. Let’s go a little further, Imagine if Buddha had lived during Jesus’ time and they both happen to meet and Jesus shared with Buddha all those things about God and the prophets etc, or if Buddha was born a Jew in Moses’ time and therefore a witness of God’s intervention on earth, do you think Buddha might have come to a different conclusion? But the Buddhist might say, that was exactly why the Buddha withdraw himself from all conditioned experiences so that he will be unbiased in his judgement. But any judgement made from that position is already a biased one based on the condition of detachment. Suppose your neighbor withdraws into a cave to mediate on the reality of the universe and announced a few years later that he has discovered the truth about the universe. Now would you call it the great enlightenment or the great delusion? What I am trying to say is that a person living under the same limitations of space and time [which the Buddha was] cannot presume to know he/she knows the truth about the universe, especially so if they have removed themself from the daily realities of life. Even if God were to appear in front of him he’d say that it’s just an illusion because he is operating from a position of detachment, therefore it still is a biased judgement. Implication: It is possible that some things do exists which are not subject to change.
What I find most frustrating is a dismissive attitude towards people who can’t understand the teachings. They either say you’re just posing a question for the sake of splitting hairs or the questions themselves were wrongly put or you’re not in the position to understand the answer because of it’s profundity. (pg 34-35, What Buddhist Believe) Now, isn’t that a convenient way to get away with it? Well what if I say that the Buddha cannot grasp the concept of God because he is not in the position to understand it’s profundity, which implies that the Buddha was not as enlightened as claimed to be after all? Will the Buddhist accept that? No, but they’ll tell you that you do not have to accept their teachings. The Buddha expressly discouraged His followers from accepting anything they heard (even if it comes from Himself) without first testing it’s validity. ( pg 279, What Buddhist Believe) Which is what we are trying to do here. The Buddha’s teaching on kamma, non-self, salvation through self-effort and even Godlessness should be put to the test as well. But how do we test them for validity? I have included a little help below.
Now you see why this can be a time consuming endeavor. While I ponder over weather I should venture further into this, I would suggest that you read up on Glenn Miller’s very helpful essay on self-stultifying statements and another on how to decide between conflicting revelations (of truth). They help train and guide the mind to think critically in a multiple choice world.
Good luck! I need to take a much needed break now.
You may also read about my father’s spiritual journey here.
I think I’m going insane. And I can’t seem to be able to shake myself out of it. My emotions swing from one extreme to the other for reasons that are really stupid. There are a lot of voices in my head. Conflicting voices. One moment I find myself doing things I have no good reason to. It’s almost like I’m on auto pilot. And then voices will shout at me to stop and I’d go, why the heck did I do that for? And there’ll be the other voices trying to justify my actions and they’ll all be screaming at each other while I get lost in this civil war…..not knowing what to say or think. My emotions rises and falls depending on which party wins. Holding a normal conversation without all these conflicting voices springing up out of the blue is challenging. Every word that enters my consciousness is amplified 5 times, triggering either sadness, joy or paranoia. Every time I’ll tell myself I’ve got to snap out of it. But it keeps coming back. Sometimes the sight of certain things and people bring me to tears. Sometimes they trigger fear, loneliness, confusion.
The bright side to this is that I know what causes these symptoms. So I know how to avoid them to a certain extent. The bad news is that not only am I powerless to do so but instead, I keep running into them on purpose. It’s like I’m addicted to misery. I do certain things with the full knowledge that I’d hurt myself in return. It’s driving me crazy. Sucking the very life out of me. Sometimes I can’t help feeling like I’m going backwards.
I do not need to know how to stop myself, I need to have the strength to do so.