Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Brave New Blog

So . . . I've finally made the move to a new blogging platform.

You can read the daily posts at: http://www.abandontext.com/

I'm still working on moving all the archived content over . . . so this abandontext.blogspot.com will remain available for the foreseeable future.

I'm not entirely at peace with the new software (Serendipity), either in the look-and-feel department or the usability . . . but in the spirit that inspired me to start blogging in the first place, I figured I'd make the jump and see what happens.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Truth in Action

So, if finding the truth is the most fundamental goal, then we should stop trying to do good in the world and give ourselves completely over to metaphysical reflection, yes? After all, why try to do good when you don't know what good is?

Um . . . no. Not hardly.

The paradoxical corollary to the the primacy of truth is:
The fastest and most reliable way to validate the truth is in the realm of action.

A lot of so-called "spiritual" people chafe at the notion that spiritual truths can and should be empirically validated. Our beliefs in God, grace, or the nature of mankind are a lot easier to live with if they remain safely ensconced in books and church services and are never really tested in the context of the real world. We're supposed to take these things on faith.

The problem with "faith" or other non-verifiable justifications for our beliefs, is that human beings have a demonstrably enormous capacity for deceiving themselves. Augie tells a classic story of this in his essay "Brother John":

[Father Christian] launched into a story about a Presbyterian minister having a crisis of faith and leaving the ministry. The man was a friend of his, and Christian took his crisis so seriously that he actually left the monastery and traveled to his house in order to do what he could. The two men spent countless hours in fruitless theological debate. Finally dropping his voice Christian looked the man steadily in the face and said, "Bob, is everything in your life alright?" The minister said everything was fine. But the minister's wife called Christian a few days later. She had overheard Christian's question and her husband's answer, and she told Father Christian that the minister was having an affair and was leaving her as well as his ministry.
Christian fairly spat with disgust, "I was wasting my time. Bob's problem was that he couldn't take the contradiction between his preaching and his living. So God gets the boot. Remember this, all philosophical problems are at heart moral problems. It all comes down to how you intend to live your life."

Rather than developing a personal philosophy and then living according to it, most people seem to do the opposite: live a haphazard life, and then concoct a philosophy that rationalizes and justifies their position. Or, as The Onion Sunday section once offered: "Finding a Religion that Doesn't Disrupt Your Current Lifestyle."

Our notion of what's right and true and good is strongly influenced by our own personal psychology. Such psychological knots cannot usually be unravelled by metaphysical speculation alone. You have to examine your actions, and examine their consistency with your beliefs. Do you really live as someone who actually believes these things? And do those beliefs actually justify themselves in your real-life experience? By combining reflection and action, you can to some extent overcome the limitations of both.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

True, true

I often hesitate to describe myself as a "spiritual" person, simply because of the monumental potential for being completely misunderstood. The label has lost almost all meaning at this point. Some people think it means not going to church on Sunday but still believing that you take God seriously. Some think it means collecting crystals, drinking funny-smelling tea, and believing in the direct intervention of angels. I can live with people not understanding what I'm about . . . but being mis-understood, and taken for one of the funny-smelling-tea crowd, is almost unbearable. So when I try to describe what I mean by spiritual work, I try to find the characteristics that are most distinctive, that most differentiate it from other notions people have.

One of the those key differentiators could be stated like this:
"The Truth is more important than anything else."

By "truth", I mean "correctly discerning the way things really are." Most people think knowing the truth is good, but they don't put it at the top of the list. I suspect that if you poll most people, knowing the truth isn't even in the top three. If you asked them what the most important thing is, they would probably give some variation of: "Being good is the most important thing." And I wouldn't argue with that, either . . . except that you have to know what's true, before you can know what's good.

For instance, some serious-minded, truly compassionate people are standing on the sidewalks, screaming at me that I am doomed to an eternity of hell-fire. I don't doubt their good intentions. I think they really mean the best for me, much more than the average stranger. They are risking all kinds of public attention and scorn, for the sake of trying to save me from an eternity of suffering. The only problem is: as near as I can tell, they're wrong. Wanting the best for people is worth exactly squat if their perception of what's true is totally off kilter.

You could expand on this in almost any direction. The world is full of well-intentioned idiots. No, let's not say "idiots," because that implies they're not smart. You can be plenty smart and still be totally, dead wrong.

This was the message that Augie Turak put out that first got my attention: there can be no good without the truth. So, before you go out to save the world, you'd better make sure you've got true discernment. It still boggles my mind that people can say, "What good is all this spiritual knowledge?" What good? Better to say, "What good could you possibly have without it?"