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I wrote yesterday about a friend’s bad experience with a visiting evangelist at an American church. She highlighted two key areas that really bothered her about that evangelist. I am sharing it here because it reminds me of similar occurrences here. I think there is something we can learn and I want to address those two issues. First being the evangelist’s one sided preaching and secondly, the judgmental and insensitive way with which he preached his message. I reproduce my response to my friend here, with a little editing to fit the local context.
I hear you. As I was reading your response I thought of criticisms my own pastor had received for preaching the grace of God. I know it might come across as defending the other side but it is not the case at all and I hope you understand my heart. I have been on both sides in my own experience, so I feel I can offer some insight from both perspective. You see, when outsiders criticize my pastor’s preaching, although it is distressing to hear, I can understand where they are coming from and frankly, I don’t blame some of them for misunderstanding my pastor’s heart and intent. After all, they do not know my pastor like I do. I have heard him every Sunday for 12 years. Although I do not know him personally, I know much of his background, his stories, his struggles, his family and hear from people who know him personally and been on vacations, leadership retreats and teh tarik sessions with him share about their experience together. All these help me know him better and have a more complete picture of the content and intent of my pastor’s message than someone who has only heard him once while checking out the church or a few sessions during an overseas conference, for example. The reason why I highlighted this is because in order to understand the message of a person, we need to know his heart. Just like how God’s word is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us it is the power of God unto salvation. We can’t hope to understand the Bible without first knowing God. We also need to interpret it in the right context. So my point is, that evangelist may appear to not have preached the whole counsel of God because you have only heard him on one or two occasions. He may have preached about the resurrection, the Holy Spirit and other important aspects of Christian living and doctrine over the years to his own congregation where he is based but for that particular occasion, as he is a visiting evangelist, he felt led to focus on a particular area. One point of caution though, beware of ministers or ministries that do not have a home church. This is not to say that they are immediately suspicious. Just that usually little is known about the minister and there may be a lack of accountability since they do not have a regular congregation.
I personally believe God gives different gifts to different teachers. My pastor is good with preaching radical grace, Seth is good with discipleship and getting us out of our comfort zone. Likewise, other preachers are good with some other aspect of God’s complete counsel, etc etc. Together, we make one powerful body. If only we would stop tearing each other up and start recognizing our various gifting. We need not the baby out together with the bath water. There is always something we can learn even from people we don’t agree with most of the time. It is not unlikely that God may have called some to expose heresy in the church. It is a calling that will draw persecutions for sure. It is never easy to tell people they are wrong. Nobody likes that. But imagine if there really is heresy in the church and nobody exposes it, what will happen then? On whether someone is a self-proclaimed heresy hunter with the express intent to divide, damage, confuse and tear down the church or if indeed he is following God’s call to confront the brethren out of love and for the good of the kingdom, we can follow the Bible’s counsel to look for the fruits of the spirit in that person’s life. It says in Matthew 7:16, ” you will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”is there evidence of fruits? This leads us back to the first point above on knowing the person. Since your friend feels very positively about that evangelist and his message, why not have a talk with her and ask her what is it about the man or the message that grabs her spirit.
Among all that you’ve shared about your experience, what made me uncomfortable was not that he was putting too much focus on Jesus and the cross but that he was quick to call those who do not give the same emphasis, ignorant and unsaved, and his mocking of other ministries. I do not feel that was in line with the spirit of God. But then again, if I were to give him the benefit of doubt, he could be doing the right thing the wrong way.
Sorry, no clear answers here from me as I have not heard the man myself. Hope my sharing above helped at little.
Have a blessed weekend everyone!
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.
This is a continuation from Part 1.
- This is me recovering, following up on my previous comment.
April 30, 2010
“i am the person who wrote that depressing comment above. i just want to let you know i’ve recovered and i want to share this with everyone who has lost faith in the things of God. i had unknowingly allowed myself to become food for the devil. in recent years there has been a lot of outside criticism about my pastor and questioning of his gift of teaching. i was also very affected by a lot of believers attacking one another on the web (it is so depressing) and bad press in the local papers about certain churches and church figures here. it really stole my joy, confidence and hope in the things of God. 2 nights ago i heard one of the best sermons ever. God truly knows my heart and sent a word in season for me. i came out of the service feeling spotless, reborn and full of life and hope! i realize now that the body of Christ has been under attack and we must use our gift of exhortation to lift our brethren up. grace and peace to all of you, the united body of Christ!”
- This is me back in my element, writing in an email to my disciplers.
May 6, 2010
“….I noticed that as I start on this journey of seeking God and his leading, my original dilemma of not knowing my place in the world and in his kingdom just doesn’t seem so critical anymore. I have this feeling that hey, maybe this is what God wants from me right now, for this season, to just spend time seeking him and be immersed in him. It feels good, it feels right. In fact, dare I suggest that perhaps this is what our life’s purpose is – to seek Him and have communion with him. Plain and simple. Everything else… about knowing my calling and my dream etc, are but fruits of this main pursuit. They will ripen when the time comes. Just stay connected to Vine! I know you’ve probably heard it many times over (so have I) but I just can’t help getting excited all over again. I think it died off somewhere but now I am feeling that life again. Feeling like I am “back in my element” again, and with Kathy’s encouragement, I have started noticing people in a more personal way and ministering to them, just like old days. So I want to thank all of you for helping push me out of my “wallowing in the dust and self doubt” experience. May God send you his richest blessings, may his favor surrounds you and your ministry and may the light that you carry touch ever life that comes your way like it did mine.”
- Pray for your pastor and your church. When the enemy strikes the shepherd, he is not just targeting him, he is going after you and the rest of the flock.
- When you tear down another believer, you are making yourself the devil’s advocate. You are helping him accomplish his goal faster.
- Do not surround yourself with trash. Read enough to stay informed but do not feed yourself with trashy news, mindless gossips and camp around cynicism and negativity. If you do, you’ll feel dusty pretty soon.
- What to do when you find yourself dusty,
1st – stay away from trash
2nd – plunge yourself into God’s word. feed your spirit man with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy.
3rd – keep company with people who edifies you.
- Seek God. Stay connected to the Vine. Your path will become clearer in due time.
- Step out in faith.
- Recommended resource: The Key to Holiness It teaches you how to stay dust free.
I had the wonderful privilege of listening to Pastor Ray Bevan speak last night. He is the senior pastor of Kings Church in Newport, UK. Such a funny and lovable guy that one. It turns out that prior to his ministry, he was a member of a professional pop-rock band which was managed by the same people that managed the Beatles. He is a small man but my….he is BIG on humor, life and God. I was thrown off my feet when he opened his mouth and sang (to God) a modified version of Rod Stewart’s, Have I Told You Lately. Ahh…that voice and the sincerity that came through converted me all over again. I hope he will sing it for us again when we all get to Heaven one day.
As wonderful as the opening was, the meaty part of the night was his message about a God of second chances. It continues to bewilder me how the right messages come together at a time when I need to hear them most. Here are some notes I have taken last night.
Title: Building with Burnt Stones: There is no Plan B (God only has Plan A) Plan A here refers to our destiny. We are the burnt stones. God builds his purpose and his church with people who has been burnt by life, people who has messed-up.
- Do not disqualify yourself because of your failures.
- It is what happens inside you that matters not your failures.
- God recycles failures.
- Our failure is not an issue to God. Our pride is.
- God can handle your honesty.
- Never confuse consequence with judgment.
- Consequences can be a good teacher. Accept them, learn from them but don’t be condemned by them
- When God deals with you about your failures, he always deals with you confidentially. Just you and God alone. You don’t have to worry about other people’s opinion.
- The most essential thing to know if you want to be a recycled stone is to never underestimate the power of mercy.
- God re-routes you to get you back to Plan A.
- Christianity would be very easy if it’s not for our humanity
- God knows it is awfully slippery out there. He knows our humanity.
Recently, I’ve been examining my heart for others and I ask myself these simple questions – especially when I’ve experienced pain, tension, or envy in my relationship:
Do I truly want this person to prosper? Do I want the best for this person? Do I truly want this person to flourish? Do I truly want this person to be restored? Do I truly want God to bless this person?
Here’s the kicker. If I can’t positively answer the questions above, the problem isn’t the other person…it’s me. – Eugene Cho
Pain, tension and envy. Who amongst us is not guilty of them? Eugene accurately points out the problem. These are some of the same searching questions I ask myself whenever feel a disharmony in my spirit, pertaining to relationships. Over the years friends, colleagues and even family members have shared with me their fair share of complaints, gossips and criticisms about other people. To those who were just sharing to get it out of their system, I do not give much input. But to those who genuinely want to be better people and have better relationships, I try to divert their focus to get them to first look at the situation from a new perspective. That almost always involve taking a trip down to their own heart. It is usually not a very pleasant trip. But it is necessary that we first deal with our own heart and our inner motivations. Clear the cobwebs there first if we want to revolutionalize our relationships. Once that is dealt with, we will feel liberated. It frees us to respond in a way that reflects the part of our self that is beautiful and true.
I have gone a good distance when it comes to pain, tension and envy in relationships but there is still quite a lot of ground left to cover. I am still working on it every single time those feelings surface.
The quote above was taken from Eugene’s post on Tiger Woods. It is a good read for personal-reflection (click here for full post), especially if you struggle with the same issues and well, if you want to be a better person generally. Who doesn’t?
Let’s be honest. Every one of us has gossiped one time or another in our life. For some it has become a habit; part of their character and that is really sad for they will find themselves very lonely one day.
Most people however, try to distinguish between communication and gossip. They draw a line so that they do not cross over to the dark side but sometimes they are confused, or their emotion gets the better of them, or they didn’t want to feel left out. Sometimes silence makes them uneasy, or they simply wanted some attention. Some do not know how to steer the conversation away from the gossip. So they listened, trying all the while not to contribute anything to it yet knowing that by tolerating it, they have already contributed. They always regret it afterwards.
If like me, you are concerned about what this destructive activity does to your soul and your sense of worth and how to know the difference between communication and gossip so that you can eliminate it from your speech and improve your relationships, may I recommend that you read this.
Wait Till You Hear This….!
Have you seen the latest episode of Gossip Girl? Read National Enquirer lately? How about People Magazine? Decrying gossip may seem quaint today, but with over one hundred magazines, TV shows and websites selling gossip, maybe we ought to remind ourselves of its dark side.
The more we value something the more specific we are in discussing it. For instance, to me, flour is just flour. However, if I’m shopping for my wife I am forced to differentiate between unbleached, bread, whole wheat and various other types.
The Bible contains many different words for ways to communicate because it places such high value on human connection. These words are not interchangeable; each has a specific meaning.
Leviticus 19:16 is commonly translated as:
Do not go about spreading slander among your people…
The Hebrew literally reads as:
Do not peddle gossip among your people…
Everyone agrees that slander is destructive and Biblical laws prohibiting it spawned similar civil laws. But gossip isn’t slander, right? Gossip is neutral and harmless, isn’t it?
Unlike any other language, Hebrew words magically intertwine with one another in a mystical dance. Every word in the Bible sends the student on a search for words that share the same roots and letters. Thus we get a clue to gossip’s essence by noting that the Hebrew for gossip, R-CH-L also means peddler. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that both these words also relate to R-G-L, the root word for spying.
In other words, gossiping, peddling, and spying are closely related ideas.
This helps us understand the reference to “peddle” in Leviticus 19:16. Peddlers convey goods from one person to another just as spies carry information. Similarly, gossips transmit details about one person to another. Peddlers provide economic benefit while spies can be either heroes or villains depending on your loyalties. Think Nathan Hale vs. Benedict Arnold.
What about the gossip? The prohibition in Leviticus seems to suggest it is always evil. But how do we define gossip? After all, if we never talk about other people, we might never discover someone needing our help. We could become utterly alienated from our families and communities.
What turns positive communication into negative gossip?
The Hebrew reveals the answer. While earning his living, a peddler does benefit his customer by selling him a desired product at a fair price. The patriotic spy engages in dangerous clandestine surveillance in order to help his country, but we have contempt for the amoral spy who engages in his activity for self enrichment.
So here is the foolproof monitoring system you need to install somewhere between your brain and mouth. Before speaking about another person ask yourself, “Who am I trying to benefit?” If your answer is “me,” you can be sure you are about to gossip.
Perhaps you want to fill an awkward silence, or perhaps you want to draw attention to yourself and appear important. Either way, if you breach a confidence or invade someone’s privacy, you are crossing the line from communication into gossip.
The gossiper always finds an audience but all recognize that he is not someone in whom to confide.. Gossiping reduces you in the eyes of others.
Gossip shatters relationships. The victim often discovers who spoke about him and then shuns that person forever.
Third, listening to gossip not only coats you with a slimy, subconscious sense of reduced worth but it forever changes your opinion of the person under discussion.
Decrying gossip is far from outdated. It is one of the most important self-improvement steps you can undertake. Banning gossip at your family’s dinner table and making your workplace a gossip-free-zone, will improve productivity in both arenas.
This article is taken from Thought Tools by Daniel Lapin – Vol. II Issue #26
2008 was a significant year for many. We lived through the continuing threat of terrorism, major natural disasters, soaring oil prices, inflation, global financial meltdown, tainted food and deepening political unrest. Many nations elected their new government in 08 too. And of course, who can forget the event that lifted China up on the world map. No, this one is good news – the 2008 summer Olympics.
What was it like for me?
Let me start by saying that 2008 was not a smooth sailing one for me by a long shot. I started the year with a general sense of impending doom in my marriage and finances. These alone were enough to keep me on the edge the entire year. You can imagine what it was like for me to hear pastor proclaimed to us at the start of the New Year that it will be a year of manifested blessings for many. It could feel like a slap to my face. I used the word could because although I had no inkling how this will work out for me, I said amen to it anyway. I know my God. Apart from loosing faith in Him, nothing that could happen can truly be called tragic. Now, please don’t think, “Wow…I wish I had her kind of faith.” The honest truth is that I am only able to say this in retrospect. At every point of crisis, I had my doubts and anxieties, coupled with helpless attempts to cling on to God. Sometimes I look shipwrecked….but always on the shore of His grace.
I discovered during my time in AQ (adversity quotient) training that the way I view my misfortune is more important than the misfortune itself. There is a saying that tragedies are only tragedies if we allow them to be. (Mine could hardly be called a tragedy) I know it is so cliché but there is a ring of truth in it. It is difficult to see things in God’s perspective when our faith is hijacked by the reality staring at us. I remember pastor once taught that truth is not reality. Reality is subject to change just like all things earthly are but truth is eternal and unchanging. The challenge for us today is to have a firm grasp of the truth so that it can begin to change our reality. As believers, we do not deny reality but we bring God into it so that His truth changes it.
So I was broke, my husband was selfish and irresponsible, our home was at stake. These were the realities. Some still are. Yet here I am. Have those realities changed? I know I have changed. I am more prudent now in my financial stewardship, I have a better understanding of money matters, my priorities are more aligned with what they ought to be, I am better able to pray for my husband regardless of how I feel about him and I have a lighter grip on the material. God changes reality through us. I think if He were to do it the other way round, we may not be ready to live up to the changes He wants to make. “It is one thing for us to set up a ministry and ask someone to lead it but quite another when God raises a leader and get him to start that ministry,” pastor said. Which do you think will be more successful? Inner transformation is an agonizingly slow process and its fruit may not be immediately visible. Meanwhile, God’s reputation hangs on the precipice of our human frailty. Yet this is the way He chooses. I discovered an important lesson here. Those who are secure and confident in who they are do not clamor after men’s recognition. God is not afraid to put his reputation on the line because He is sure of Himself and what He is doing. If I were to be given a Bruce Almighty moment, I will zap everyone into obedience and go about setting things straight whether my human subjects like it or not. No one can accuse me of not living up to expectations.
Yet the question remains, have those circumstances changed? People of the 21st century are very realistic people. We don’t need feel good stories and have little patience for philosophy, much less, theology. Yes, they are nice and inspiring but….show me the money! I want to know that my debts are cleared, that the tumor is gone, that my home has doubled in value, that I have a new husband! We want results and want them fast. Otherwise, we move on to the next thing that promises a quick fix. It is a short-sighted view of life. We make judgments base on the material. If only we realize who we are directly affects how we experienc life, regardless of the conditions, we will be more willing to wait. I recently read the testimony of Jacelyn Tay, a Mediacorp artiste. She said that she no longer sees her misfortune as something necessarily bad. To put it another way, all of life’s experiences can have a redeeming value. She brought God into the situation and rose above them.
But to answer the pragmatic question – I moved from zero savings to having an emergency fund. It is still small but growing steadily. The wonderful thing is that I did not have to sacrifice my tithes for it. I will write a little more about this experience another time. My mother-in-law stepped in to help save the home. It is safe for now at least. These came about in the most natural way. Money did not appear from nowhere. I did not suddenly win the state lottery. Instead God brought certain people and resources to me. They helped put me back on my feet. My husband is still pretty much the same but he did get his job back before the year is over. In the past I had struggled to pray for his blessing because I felt he deserved what was due him. Now I am learning to look pass his failures and pray for him anyway even though I don’t feel like it. Along the way, I also witnessed relationships of people around me rose and fell and was surprised to find myself interpreting them with new eyes; less judgmental, more honest and certainly more objective. Things may not have change much in the materialistic sense but I feel I have grown much more this year compared to the last couple of years put together. When I look back, I discovered I am a different person now then I was years before. Yet it didn’t all happen in one episode. It is an on-going process. Years of being washed in God’s word while in the training field of life’s arbitrariness has shaped the way I responded to life. Together, they made me who I am today. Looking back, I could see why all the shaking was necessary. May we all grow from strength to strength. Remember, we can also slip backwards. The determining factor is the condition of our inner man.
I say all these to say that the power to make a difference lies within and nothing changes the inner man the way God does. Circumstances can either make or break us but with God, the latter is less likely because in Him we find an anchor. Without an anchor, we are easily tossed about by the waves of life’s uncertainties. So it follows that real and lasting change (for the better) begins with God at the center. The horizon is still a long way off. Never think that we have arrived. Instead, let us look for redemptive value in every set back.
I have rambled for too long and should proceed with my list. It has become a tradition for me at the end of every year to present a list of favorites in various categories. I have taken out Lesson of the Year because I have just written 1000 words on it.
Film of the Year
Last King of Scotland / Blood Diamond / Children of Men / Waitress / In The Valley of Elah / Batman: The Dark Night / Freedom Writers / Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian / Good Will Hunting / Schlindler’s List / Gandhi / Apollo 13 / United 93 / Hitler: The Rise of Evil / The Good Shepherd
Book of the Year
The Laws of Money, The Lessons of Life – Suze Orman
Nothing short of life-changing for me. She gives sound financial advice that does not just address the surface of a problem but digs deep to reveal an underlying spiritual condition. Money is more spiritual than we think. Read Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s work in Thou Shall Prosper and you will know what I mean. The 5 Laws of Money just makes it easier for everyday people like us to understand it. Lapin’s work might be a little heavy for some of us. Neither of them are Christians but their views of money will lead us to honor God with our money and change our life for the better.
Waiter Rant – Steve Dublanica
It was finally revealed that Steve Dublanica is the author behind the hugely popular blog, Waiter Rant. I have followed his blog for years and am so proud and delighted to know that his first book by the same name is so well received. I feel a certain connection with the book. It’s like seeing one of your own finally making it big.
People of the Year
I don’t care if she is lesbian. She is one of the most influential people God brought to my life this year. She is charismatic, sharp, witting and funny. It is evident in all the advice she gives, that she always lives by her values – people first, then money, then things.
Whenever I read about all the criticisms out there about Christians and our failures, I look at Seth Barnes and the work that he does and I don’t feel so depressed. Recently an atheist group in London launched a massive ad campaign in the city’s subway stations and double-decker busses. The ad carries the slogan, “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life” Funny, ever since God came into my life only the opposite is true. When you read about Seth’s life, his thoughts and the work that he and his team is doing, you will see why that is so.
Sermon of the Year
There were just too many to list. The bulk of it came from my very own pastor, Ps Joseph Prince. There is hardly a sermon by Pastor Prince where God did not speak to me. There were many excellent sermons this year but one that particularly stood out was, God’s Protection Plan Against The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse.
Another notable teacher I read and heard this year was Joe Stowel of RBC ministries. He taught on the transforming power of Christ from the book Philippians, His book Radical Reliance: Living 24/7 with god at the center and his sermon albums, Ruth: Love Unshaken, Firm Foundation: Faith and Truth in an Age of Uncertainty and Shattered: Making Sense of the Brokenness of Life were all excellent materials.
Blog of the Year
Radical Living in a Comfortable World by Seth Barnes
Beauty & Depravity by Eugene Cho
To read past year’s In Focus, please refer to the Site Index under the category: In Focus.
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.
A month ago, while channel surfing, I discovered The Suze Orman Show on CNBC. It’s a talk show where the personality, Suze Orman delivers practical, meaningful and informed, financial advice to people who calls into the show to seek advice on a range of financial issues. Suze tries her best to help by drawing from her wealth of knowledge and experience as a personal financial expert. It is a very informative, engaging and at the same time, entertaining show. I LOVE it. Suze’s reply is always meaningful, honest and very focused. She is not wishy-washy in her replies and always stood by her principles and values – People first, then money, then things. I find that very attractive about a person.
Anyway, one day I decided to check her out and visited her website at suzeorman.com. I was somewhat disappointed because I was expecting a web version of sort of the show but it was not to be. However, what I did find was worth far more than any financial tips or insight from the show. I discovered a human story of great beauty. Here is Suze’s story in a nutshell.
Suze grew up as a kid with speech impediment who, because of that, did not fair very well scholastically. Eventually, she got herself a job as a waitress at a local bakery, took night classes and finally got herself a college degree. She continued waitressing at the bakery, earning about $400 a month, until she was 29 years old! Finally she decided to start her own business but she knows she didn’t have the financial resources to get started. She asked to borrow $20,000 from her parents but felt awful almost immediately because she knew they do not have that kind of money. She felt powerless. One day, a man she had waited on for six years, noticed she wasn’t her cheerful self and asked what was wrong. She told her story. He listened, ate his breakfast and spoke to a few other regulars that morning. Before he left, he walked over to Suze and handed her a personal check for $2000, a bunch of other checks and commitments from other customers totalling $50,000!! and a note that read: THIS IS FOR PEOPLE LIKE YOU, SO THAT YOUR DREAMS CAN COME THROUGH. TO BE PAID BACK IN 10 YEARS, IF YOU CAN, WITH NO INTEREST.
Now, this is what I call a defining moment. Can you believe such generosity and trust? Suze is afterall an almost stranger to the man. How many of us would have done that for a waitress? His name is Fred Hasbrook. It is proper that we should honor such a person. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Suze is a successful women, all thanks to a stranger who believed and invested in her. Eventually, Fred passed away and this was Suze’s ending note on her story.
Fred passed away a few years ago. I will never forget the man who believed in me, who helped me put aside my shame and rewrite the story history had handed me.
Now isn’t that the most beautiful story you’ve ever heard in a long while? It sure is for me! Never under estimate the value of a seed planted into someone’s life. In due time, we’ll see the harvest and when that time comes, we’ll realize that no investment is ever as rewarding as an investment made in someone’s life. As I blinked away tears that had begun to well in my eyes, I remembered another story – my own. When I was a nobody, trapped in a cycle of purposeless existence and mundane responsibilities, God believed and invested in me. He helped me put aside my shame (and there were many) and rewrite the story history handed me. Now I am a new creation in Christ! Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new.
I will never forget the God who believed in me.
Is there someone who believed and invested in you when you thought your life was over? What difference did that person make in your life? Do share.
Here’s the full version of Suze’s Story in pdf.