Monday, April 17, 2006

Outside of Logic and Reason

Some Holy Weeks and Easters have been a romp for me, others have been more like marathons -- this one has fitted into the latter category. So here I am on Easter Monday, exhausted and shell-shocked, sitting at my computer mulling over the last few days. Two things have kept coming back. The one is what I would consider to be the interrelated furor of the Gospel of Judas and the renewed interest in The Da Vinci Code sparked by the outcome of the High Court trial in London. The other was a conversation I had at our Easter Egg hunt with a young father whose family are on the fringes of our congregation.

While mothers and kids were scampering around the yard of the home where the Easter egg hunt was taking place, this young dad and I got talking about video games and gaming. That morning, as I had "chaplained" the YMCA Soccer Field opposite the church, and had noticed a geeky looking guy sitting apart from other parents. I had approached him with the eagerness of a Golden Retriever puppy, only to be held at bay by an icy glare.

It was then that I caught sight of the magazine he was reading while supposedly watching his seven-year-old daughter play soccer: an online games publication. It didn't take a split second to deduce that this parent was a loner whose life to some degree revolved around the fantasy world of an online game (or two). I backed off, but raised the subject in the afternoon when talking to this dad about his first grader's interests and how they are attempting to steer him away from getting lost in games.

The afternoon dad is in the retail business, and began talking about how big the games industry already is, and how big it is going to become. I was already aware of some of this from television, radio, and other news outlets, but Adam quickly gave a seminar in its growth curve, and how deeply it had dug into the lives of so many of their contempories and their children. I confess that my computer game experience has been limited to an occasional round of Freecell and variations on Tetris, but I have been amazed when browsing through places like Circuit City to see how realistic so many games now are. I can fully recognize how easy it would be for an impressionable or compulsive person to get caught up in this fake world to the exclusion of reality.

I have written before about my concern over our increasing inability to relate cause and effect, or action and consequence. Now here I was being given the alarming picture of just how big is another component of our culture that is facilitating this separation of reality from fantasy or imagination. It would seem that it is a sign of inner health to be able to allow an interplay of your inner being with the world around you so that each is appropriately interpreting the one to the other. All of us have mental boltholes into which we escape, but the majority know the difference between a pleasing fantasy and the reality around us.

However, I found myself wondering whether this indulgence in online entertainment is yet another erosive factor attempting to give the fantasy world a far higher profile than is appropriate for mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It may be harmless for two small boys to slip into the character of their favorite figure in Star Wars and then to spend several happy hours acting their imaginary world out, but is there a point in a person's development where such an ability is first counter-productive and then even dangerous?

I don't have any answers to such questions, but it seems that in the world of entertainment and illusion in which we live today, there are increasing numbers of individuals for whom this is a relevant question -- and will it go further? Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was made bearable for its inhabitants by large doses of illusion and consequence-less sex: how far have we proceded down this road?

This all then ties into what I perceive to be the fraying of the edges as we look at the wider world and irrational or a non-logical disconnect between actions and consequences. It may be good that postmodernity takes intuition more seriously (something I rejoice in as an off-the-Myers-Briggs-chart intuitive), but we cannot allow intuition and the warm fuzzies to take over in such a way that we abandon reason and logic.

Not only do we seem to be doing so, but this in turn is doing damage to the fabric of our culture and society. For example, falling in love (clearly a non-logical experience informed by Hollywood romances) has in the minds of millions become more important than remaining married -- with the most awful consequences. Or individuals are eager to buy themselves out of melancholy with ther credit cards, all the time ignoring the fact that eventually the bills need to be paid. In politics, business, world affairs, the life of the churches, we see equally abherent behaviors.

Which brings me to The Da Vinci Code and the Gospel of Judas. I love the comment of Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary following a conversation with A. J. Levine of Vanderbilt Divinity School, recorded in his blog about the Gospel of Judas before it was aired on National Geographic, that "we need to all have our baloney detection meters set to 'heightened alert' as we watch the special on the Gospel of Judas tonight."

In the following days Dr. Witherington in his blog (, unpacks this 2nd or even 3rd Century Coptic Gnostic piece using all the tools of modern biblical and historical research to demonstrate the baloney factor. He then goes on through Holy Week in his blog to take on James Tabor's book about Jesus founding his own dynasty -- with the same acute baloney meter in play. Here is a scholar using reason and intelligence to debunk something that is rather interesting but has very limited foundation in facts.

Yet, alas, our culture does not listen to the Ben Witherington's of this world, but the Dan Brown's who then take this half-baked scholarship and make a ripping yarn from it, and there is no doubt that The Da Vinci Code is a fabulous story. However, here again we see the inability of people to separate truth from fiction because having enjoyed the tale, there are many who have swallowed the Mary Magdalene mother of Jesus's children thesis. A few years ago it was "The Celestine Prophecy" that filled this kind of role.

There is much that was lost in the modern Enlightenment Age which we have in recent years begun to recover, and to our enrichment, but we do ourselves untold harm if we do so at the expense of rational and logical thinking. If I ruled the world, as the old song goes, I would insist that every high schooler take at least two or three semesters of good old elementary logic as a requirement for graduation. I would also provide remedial courses in logic in colleges, universities, and workplace in-service training.

The value of learning to think logically is that it helps you ask the right questions and to root out the fallacies upon which more and more of our postmodern life is founded. It feeds our internal baloney meter. It is like a correctional lens that helps us to see reality with a clarity that we might otherwise be missing. It is when we see reality clearly that we are able to recognize the place of Christ within this brew that is human life, and to minister Christ appropriately.

1 comment:

James the Thickheaded said...

I absolutely love your conclusion! I took a number of philosophy courses but didn't get Logic until Junior year. Probably the very best and most important course in college. A good intro to the sciences, but also to understanding the art of argument. I have always encouraged every college-bound kid I can find to take a course in Logic but most don't seem to get it. Most probably can't even find the Philosophy department!! But this is the material that allows you to dissect virtually any material and write an excellent argument - what a prof wants in a paper - for all the million and one essays. Second best courses of practical value: Business statistics (get me to the useful stuff from the math department)...then get me some basic culture: Humanities. And then...Hey, we're re-inventing the long dead notion of the Renaissance person.