Ideas have consequences

Ideas have consequences

Before we get into what to do with ideas and viewpoints, we have to establish a foundation of what those are and how they affect the world around us.

First of all, let’s define worldview. If I were to ask one of you “What is a worldview?” chances are I’d get at least one smart-aleck who would answer, “It’s a view of the world.” And of course, they would be right. (Don’t you just hate when smart-alecks actually have the right answer?) But let’s get a little more specific.

According to John Stonestreet, a leader in apologetics and worldview, a worldview is “the framework of basic beliefs we have (whether we know it or not) that shapes our view of and for the world.”

The important thing to notice here is that worldview is twofold. It shapes two different aspects of our life: Our view of the world and our view for the world.

First, our worldview is descriptive of reality. It’s a mental image of what is real. It’s our perspective. When a small boy looks at his parent, the parent seems like a giant. From the child’s frame of reference–he had to tilt his head back really far to see the parent’s face–the parent is huge. However, the parent doesn’t feel like a giant. From the parent’s perspective, there are several other adults his size or even taller. Is the child wrong? Is the parent wrong? Well, there’s a dilemma called relativism. We’ll come back to that in an upcoming post, so keep an eye out!

Second, our worldview is our view for the world–it is prescriptive for how we live. If we perceive someone as easily angered, we will adjust our behavior to avoid setting them off. If we view people as out to get us, we will be suspicious of every action they take towards us, even if it seems good. If we consider people to be nothing more than the product of evolution, having come about by random processes, we have no reason to treat them well. See where this leads?

G.K. Chesterton once said, “A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.” As the sun and moon affect the lives of every creature on the planet, religion–or, worldview–affects every aspect of a person’s life and others’ lives as well. It’s absolutely crucial to realize that people’s ideas about the world aren’t just harmless opinions. Ideas have consequences.

The 20th century was a huge example of just how big the consequences of ideas can be. At the beginning of the century, optimism was high. Humankind had been “enlightened” by science, and science was going to fix everything. It was clear that God had no place in either the beginning of the world or the sustenance of it. Evolution was king, and the best way to fix all the world’s problems was to help natural selection out by getting rid of the weak and others unfit for survival.

We all know how the rest of the story goes. The rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s communist Russia caused the fall of millions upon millions of human beings. At the end of both regimes, an estimated 120 million people had lost their lives as a direct result of the ideas of Hitler and Karl Marx (the creator of communism). Far from utopia, the 20th century was a bloodbath of devastating proportions. Clearly, it matters which ideas and which worldview you possess. It’s not a question of sincerity. Hitler was plenty sincere. He was an incredibly dedicated man. But he was whole-heartedly dedicated to the wrong thing.

Here’s a thought: You can tell a lot about what someone thinks is the problem by what they offer as the solution. Marx thought the problem with the world was the separation of classes in society, so he thought that eliminating the economic differences between people would solve all the conflict. Instead, it resulted in the great oppression and poverty of the masses, while the ruling elite lived like pigs. However, if the problem with the world is each individual’s sin, it makes sense that the problem can only be solved by the taking away of the sin of the world and changed lives.

A person’s worldview is made up of answers to five big questions about reality:

  1. Origin–Where did we all come from?
  2. Identity–What is a human being? What makes them who they are?
  3. Meaning–What is the purpose in our existence? What’s the point?
  4. Morality–What is right and wrong, and how do we know that? Or, what’s wrong with the world?
  5. Destiny–Where is history headed?

How you answer one question affects how you answer another. If, for instance, you answer the origin question by saying we all evolved from bacteria, our identity then lies in our random genetic makeup, our existence is meaningless, and there is no standard for right and wrong. Do you see how these follow each other? Ideas don’t exist by themselves. That’s why they have consequences. Ideas interlock and change how we view and explain the world and how we react to it. Everyone has a worldview, whether they realize it or not.

Society wants to say that each person is entitled to believe what he or she wants, but that those beliefs are private and have nothing to do with the “real world.” Religion has no place in the political sphere, they say. And yet, everyone has a worldview, and that worldview affects their decisions within the public realm. That is why it’s so important to analyze both your own worldview and others’–because ideas, manifesting themselves in actions, change the world.

 

What are some ideas you hold about the world? What are your answers to the five “big questions,” and can you see how they tie in with each other and influence actions in your life?

If all we give them is a ‘heart’ religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a ‘brain’ religion–training in worldview and apologetics–to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home.” — Nancy Pearcey 

Belief is not the death of intelligence

 

Belief is not the death of intelligence.png

This is an essay I wrote during timed practice for the College Composition CLEP exam. I wrote many such essays, but this one was the one I had the most fun with because I got to take apart a claim and defend my own position quite neatly. Following the essay is my expansion of this topic and application, so hang in there with me!

***

“Belief is the death of intelligence,” Robert Anton Wilson claims. Since he is making this statement, Wilson presumably considers himself to be an intelligent person. In fact, the audience would quite likely agree that he seems to believe what he is saying. Although this quote sounds witty and clever to the casual ear, intelligent people quickly point out that Wilson himself has neatly contradicted his own statement. Beliefs are inescapable, but belief and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. Together, belief and intelligence provide the foundation of any argument. Using intelligent reasoning, a prepared person can defend his beliefs excellently. Belief is not the death of intelligence; rather, they benefit each other.

Beliefs surround us at every moment, but so does intelligence. From “personal” beliefs and opinions, such as which flavor of ice cream is best, to beliefs upon which we build our lives, beliefs are part of life. To escape belief would be to cease breathing. However, intelligent people also exist. Numerous scientists, mathematicians, and inventors fascinate the general population. Ask any person from the street if the world contains anyone more intelligent than him, and he will either quickly affirm the statement or proclaim himself to be the most intelligent of all humans. Either way, he has demonstrated belief in intelligence. Obviously, both belief and intelligence exist, and it is possible to possess intelligent, informed belief.

Since belief and intelligence are both present in the world, they can work hand in hand to allow a person to make a decision. Using his intelligence, one may seek out reasons to either believe or disbelieve something presented to him. During a politician’s speech, any listener may take note of claims the speaker makes and research them later on. Rather than taking the speaker at his word, this intelligent listener chooses to seek out the facts. When he has done this, the listener is better equipped to make an intelligent decision about what he will believe. Instead of intelligence and belief being opposites, when used properly, they compliment each other.

Actively using intelligence, a well-informed person can defend her beliefs. Belief cannot be defended with more belief, but logical reason provides excellent support for one’s belief. If someone claims that ereaders like the Kindle are forcing hard copy books into extinction, she must be able to defend her statement. If she merely states this belief without any intelligent argument to back it up, no one would have any reason to change their beliefs to align with hers. If, however, she cites scientific studies which provide graphs of sales figures from the ebook and physical book markets, she competently defends her belief and provides a reason for others to believe the same. Armed with intelligence, people are equipped to defend their beliefs.

Certainly, belief is not the death of intelligence. Instead, intelligence benefits belief. The world is full of fine examples of intelligent people who themselves hold myriad beliefs. Because belief and intelligence are both in existence, they can cooperate to form solid arguments. Putting intelligence into practice, well-prepared people can carefully defend and proclaim their beliefs. Without belief, the world would have no subjectivity. Without intelligence, there would be no reason to believe any one person over another. Indeed, belief and intelligence interlock in everyday life.

***

When you first read the quote I opened this essay with (the quote I was told to either support or defend), what did you think? If you’re like me, your first reaction was to think “Well, that’s a low-down thing to say” and get a little riled up, because you believe things and you consider yourself to be at least a semi-intelligent person. You probably didn’t actually see the self-defeating statement for what it was, though. I didn’t at first, either. However, within thirty seconds of my first thought, I saw the flaw in reasoning contained in this short sentence. Probably by the time you got a few sentences into reading my essay, you saw it too, and were smiling ruefully. How did I not see this before?

Don’t beat yourself up too hard. At the beginning of this year, I wouldn’t have seen it either.

So much of apologetics is learning how to think. It’s not just learning all the right arguments or being able to cite the most scientific sources. In fact, you could have every Answers in Genesis magazine memorized in its entirety, and you still wouldn’t be able to have a very good discussion of what you believe. Why? Because knowing a boatload of facts won’t teach you how to have a discussion with someone. Being able to point out the holes and assumptions that radiometric dating relies on won’t do you any good if you can’t see through to the core of what someone is saying and where they’re coming from.

How did I quickly spot the underlying error in the quote? The answer is simple: Practice. Throughout my entire course on worldviews/apologetics, I was given example after example of something someone might say that would sound good, but actually turned on itself. Ever heard the one about absolute truth? It goes something like this:

Person A: There’s no such thing as absolute truth. What’s true for me isn’t necessarily true for you.

Person B: Are you absolutely sure? I believe in absolute truth.

Did you see how that statement contradicted itself? If there was no such thing as absolute truth, how could Person A say with certainty that there was no such thing as absolute truth? It just doesn’t work.

In upcoming posts, I’m going to be working through with y’all more of how to do this sort of thinking. But as I close this introduction, let me drive this point home: Belief is not the death of intelligence. Don’t let anyone tell you that by believing the Bible, you’re “against science” or believing “a bunch of fairytales.” You are perfectly capable of having intelligent belief–of having intelligent faith.

Your faith is reasonable. Know it, believe it, defend it.

Ruthless with ideas, gentle with people

Ruthless with ideas quote

Over the past month, I’ve been going through a course on worldviews and religions, and I’ve been learning a lot. But not just about religions themselves and the descriptions of different worldviews. No, I’ve been learning about people.

What is a worldview? Simply put, it’s the framework through which a person views the world. It is the set of ideas that guides their actions, attitudes, and opinions. Everyone has a worldview that shapes those things in their life, and so through studying worldviews, I’ve learned what’s behind people’s actions and beliefs. It’s helped me to better understand why the world is the way it is, and to understand the hearts of those around me.

Another thing this course has brought to my attention is how important it is that we can understand not only others’ worldviews, but also our own, and that we can defend our positions. As I touched on in my post on discussion, I believe one of the major reasons so many are leaving the church is because they do not truly know what they believe or how to defend it. This is why striving to understand worldviews is so important.

I’m not going to reteach Comparative Worldviews to y’all…at least not right now. For now, I’m going to focus on the quote at the beginning of the post, from Robert Sirico.

We must be ruthless with ideas, but gentle with people.

This simple quote has two parts instructing us on how to relate to two things prevalent in our lives. The first deals with ideas.

“We must be ruthless with ideas” is Sirico’s instruction. What does it mean to be ruthless with ideas? I believe it means to examine them critically. Pick them apart, find what they’re made of. Test them to see if they work logically and in the real world. Don’t just blindly accept things you hear! Be ruthless in scrutinizing an idea before you accept it.

The second part of this instruction is “[Be] gentle with people.” Wow. Completely the opposite of “ruthless,” right? Why so great a contrast? Simple. Ideas don’t have feelings. Humans do.

Oftentimes, we can get so caught up in the ruthlessly refuting part, brandishing our verbal swords, that we end up injuring a human being made in the image of God just as we ourselves were. We forget that it’s the ideas we’re to fight, not the people. It may seem difficult to ruthlessly attack an idea that someone holds to be true without attacking the person himself, and indeed, it may well be difficult. But you can firmly refute an idea without hurting a human being.

First, listen to them. Ask them what they believe, either in general or about the topic that has already been brought up, then really listen to what they have to say. And listen carefully, not waiting impatiently for your turn to jump in and argue. This helps in two ways: Primarily, it shows them you respect what they have to say, and secondly, it helps so you know what you’re up against. It won’t do you any good to fervently defend your belief in the existence of God if the person already believes in a God. Instead, it would be more helpful to know what they believe about God, and go from there.

Second, as you’re listening, get an idea of where they’re coming from. What is part of their life story that affected their beliefs? Listen with an open, compassionate heart. This will help you enormously when you finally open your mouth and begin to speak–it will help you keep in mind their humanity and tread carefully.

Finally, ask gentle but pointed questions to reveal fallacies and other problems with their beliefs. Calmly explain what you believe about the topic and why. Be willing to listen to questions or concerns they have with your position. Keep an attitude of humility and respect, and be willing to admit when you don’t have the answers–then go find them! It’s not a bad day when you are unable to answer a question, because now you know you have something to learn, and you’ll be better prepared next time.

It is possible to be ruthless with ideas while being gentle with people. It all comes down to your heart attitude and your willingness to listen. Don’t be afraid to contradict someone’s statements, but do so carefully and with meekness (1 Peter 3:15-16). Above all, remember to treat each person with honor, dignity, and respect, remembering you are both made in the image of God and imperfect creations.

What’s one way you try to have a “gentle, uplifting conflict” with others?

The power of discussion

The power of discussion

One problem with society today is that for all the clamor of talking people do, they fail to have discussions.

What do I mean by a discussion? Simply put, a discussion is communication between two or more people. But I would venture to qualify that some more. Discussion requires a topic. Discussion involves giving everyone a chance to speak. Discussion requires thought, and forming a verbal explanation of those thoughts. Discussion is a team activity–you build off each other’s ideas. Discussion demands truly listening and actively thinking. It is more than just conversation–it is conversation with a purpose. A good discussion leaves participants with a new perspective or insight.

In my own observation, these discussions are a rarity today. Why? A variety of reasons could be behind this social trend. I would suggest that our culture is increasingly fast-paced; jam-packed schedules are the norm. Discussions take time and intention. They also require careful, critical thought, which is becoming quite unpopular today. Lastly, I think people are afraid of stepping on toes by expressing disagreement of any kind.

But this is unfortunate! The lost tool of discussion has numerous benefits and effects.

First, discussion provides the opportunity to develop an opinion on a topic. Sometimes a topic may come up for discussion that you hadn’t thought about before, but because it has come up, you have reason to think it through and formulate a position on the topic. You might even be prompted to research it and learn more about it, so you can understand it more. This is a good thing! It expands your horizons.

While you are forming your opinion on a topic, you will have the opportunity to employ logic and reasoning. You can check your own argument for holes and other problems, and the people you are talking with will do so as well. Which brings me to another benefit: You gain experience communicating your position. This is an incredibly important skill to possess. Having convictions and opinions doesn’t do you much good if you are unable to clearly explain them.

Discussions are also useful for brainstorming or working through an issue as a group. Oftentimes, when someone starts a discussion about a certain issue, it’s because they want to have the benefit of others’ viewpoints in the situation. Discussion is a great way to gain input in tricky situations or advice for a decision. It’s also useful for brainstorming ideas.

Now, this all sounds very corporate-office-job to you, doesn’t it? But let’s go back to my statement at the beginning of this post. I said that the lack of discussion in our society is detrimental. What if you don’t have an office job? Are discussions still applicable to you?

Let’s switch gears here and describe a different situation: The modern church. Many of us who have grown up in church have been told the same things over and over since we were toddlers about Bible stories, God, and what’s right and wrong. Most of us haven’t seriously questioned most of what we’ve been told. We just accepted it. Am I saying that’s wrong? No, of course not. But do you know why we have those statistics saying up to 80% of high school graduates leave the church? It’s because teenagers are encountering opposition in the world to the ideas they’ve been taught as children. They’re facing tough questions about what they believe and why. And they don’t know how to answer those questions. Why? Because there’s been a lack of discussion.

I think as teenagers especially, we’re often scared to ask critical questions about things we hear in church. Maybe we don’t want to be seen as doubters. Maybe we want to look like we have it all together. Maybe we just don’t know how to ask. But I think we as the church have failed to create a culture that promotes discussion. And it goes further than just opinions on political events or even doctrinal questions. It goes deeper. I think we’ve failed to create an open community where all members feel like they can ask tough questions about struggles in their lives and be lovingly received and supported. And as a result, people are struggling alone, never feeling like they can open up and get real help.

This is beyond serious. This is critical.

But what can we do about it?

I don’t have all the answers. (And in fact, that’s definitely the attitude we need to have going into discussions of any kind!) But here’s what I can tell you: It starts with us. It has to start with us. Waiting for someone else to change things isn’t going to help anything. And I think change starts with a simple step: Starting discussions. Be the one to ask a question that requires thought, then listen to the answers people give. Encourage interaction between members of the conversation. Build off what other people are saying. And then the next time you are around those people, or a different group of people, do it again. Eventually, people will start to expect those questions, and they will begin to bring questions of their own. And then hopefully, someday soon, discussion will be normal enough that they will feel comfortably bringing their life’s struggles and questions.

It’s a dream, yes, and it may be a while before I am able to see this brought to reality. But it starts with discussion. And I am committing to being the one to start discussion around me.

It’s time to speak.

In the interest of this topic, let’s have a discussion! Here’s the question, taken from my history curriculum: What do you believe is the proper relationship between a leader’s public role and his personal life? How much should a leader’s personal choices affect how we view their public role?

Post your thoughts on this topic below, and respond to someone else’s comment if you can!