How Am I Thinking?

Critical thinking is not merely a bag of tools for a person to use within an academic course.  Nor are critical thinking tools a way of arguing to silence an opponent. Critical thinking is thinking about our thinking in everyday life.  The Paul-Elder approach to critical thinking states it like this:

Whenever people reason, they reason for a purpose, in answering a question or given set of questions; they use information, in making inferences and coming to conclusions; they take certain beliefs for granted (make assumptions) in conceptualizing situations and experiences; they reason from some point of view; and there are implications of their thinking.

In problem solving I am given a problem and asked to solve it.  Critical thinking is problem solving, but it is more than problem solving.  Some issues are too ill-defined or ill-formed to be problems, but they do require critical thought, such as reading an editorial.

I have to ask: why is the editor writing this? What are the sources of his or her information and are they reliable? What are the inferences being made and what conclusions are reached?  What is the conceptual framework of his or her argument and the assumptions being made?   What is his or her point of view?  What are the implications of his point of view?

Now, I think through the editorial, not to build an opposing argument, but to understand what the editor is writing. To respond intelligently to the editor, I must be aware of the concepts, point of view, etc. that I hold.  If the editor has a conclusion better than mine about the issue, then I should be open to changing and/or revising my thinking.

On a personal level, I have studied, and continue to study, both science and the Bible. A question arises: how did the universe originate?  I might assume there are major conflicts between what I learn from science with what I learn from the Bible.  Or I could assume there are no conflicts, or only few conflicts. The point of view, concepts, and assumptions I hold color the conclusions I reach.

I understand the naturalist view of creation just happening by chance and respect it.  However, my thinking processes have led me to conclude that there is a God who, over a long period of time, has been creating, and continues to create, the universe, and that the Big Bang theory is currently the best explanation for how God began to create.  I have concluded, too, that the naturalist view of creation is basically a philosophical interpretation of scientific data, just as my conclusions are basically a theological interpretation.

In a polarized world, we must do more than simply throw stones at one another or that we must win the debate.  No one has complete knowledge and not all ideas are equal.  So, part of my critical thinking is to continually look for those answers that are better.

 

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Jesus Gives Rest

Jesus said,

28 Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30 For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.

– – – – –

Where do you rest best? In your own bed? In a hotel or a bunk bed or a sleeping bag? Think of times you have been unable to rest.  Maybe you have wanted a nap, but it was in the middle of your workday.  Maybe you had to stay late at the job to finish a project.  Maybe you were worried, or you did something wrong and a guilty feeling kept you awake.  What is the hardest work you have done that made your body tired?

 In the Scripture, Jesus is describing what many of us often experience: being tired and carrying heavy loads. In both the Old and New Testaments, the word for “tired” means to be exhausted.

Today we would call this stress.  Stress is a response to pressure or threat. Under stress we may feel tense, nervous, or on edge. The stress response is physical, too.  Stress triggers a surge of a hormone called adrenaline that temporarily affects the nervous system.

 How does our body react when we get stressed

 Our bodies may respond in a variety of ways: shoulders get tight, chest hurts, headaches, can’t focus, sometimes feel nausea, or may be grouchy.  When stressed, we are overloaded in our mind – in our spirit – in our emotions.

When a circuit breaker in our home becomes overloaded, it breaks, and we have no electric power.  We have to remove from the electrical circuit whatever was overloading it and reset the circuit breaker.

Our stress can become so great, that we begin to feel like a circuit breaker ready to blow.  Unfortunately, sometimes people do blow.  In order to recover, they must remove from their lives whatever is causing the emotional and physical overload and reset their lives.

How do we deal with stress?

The Mayo Clinic Staff recently published an article in which they said, “A less tangible — but no less useful — way to find stress relief is through spirituality.”  We need spiritual rest, as much as we need physical rest. We need release from worry, tension, stress, guilt, fear, bitterness, and anxiety.

When stresses and problems weigh us down, the most natural response for the Christian is to ask God for relief: “Lord, I can’t carry this anymore. I’m going to leave it here with You.” So we dump the burden on God like a bag of garbage, and walk away with nothing unchanged inside.  It is like resetting the circuit breaker without removing whatever is overloading the electrical circuit. We cannot be free from carrying heavy loads without letting some of those loads go.

Jesus said, “Come . . . take . . . learn. . . .”  It is an invitation to receive rest for the soul.  We come to Him, we take His yoke, and we learn of Him.

A yoke is a symbol of partnership 

Jesus doesn’t have a load to give you.  When you take Jesus’ yoke, there are two of you working on your stress, and not just one. Jesus says, “I will help you out with your problems. I will help carry your load.” He doesn’t add to your load. He doesn’t take all of our load.  He says, “I’ll share your load.”

Our load begins to lighten as we learn to know and understand the Lord. The burden may not be removed, but our thoughts and responses change as we begin to trust the

Christ, believe His promises, and rely on His power. Half, or more, of the weight of our stress then shifts from our shoulders to His, and we will discover relief, though the cause of our stress may not change.

A yoke is a symbol of control. 

We can use our human freedom to become yoked to a person or a thing that proves to be harmful to us.  People use drugs, alcohol, and sex, thinking they will have release from stress.  However, these activities can increase a person’s stress.

Where oxen are yoked together they are controlled by the master. When you are yoked with Jesus the load is lighter.  When yoked with Christ we move together in the same direction and at the same pace.  When you are yoked to Jesus you can’t go in a different direction than Jesus goes.  He sets both the direction and the pace. 

What is the rest that Jesus gives?

 The word in the original language of the New Testament means to refresh one’s self rest, to cease from any movement or labor in order to recover and collect one’s strength.

 By being Jesus’ disciples we are doing his work.  He is saying it is easy work, with a light burden.  This does not mean the work won’t make us tire.  But good rest will ease the good tiredness we feel.

Doing Jesus’ work means things such as being honest, putting other people first, being generous, forgiving people who ask us, sharing what we have, giving to God in worship, being loving and caring for others. Do you relax better after you know you did something badly or after you know it did a good job?

Questions to think about

  • What heavy loads are you carrying?
  • How would you describe the kind of rest you need?
  • What are some things that cause you to have stress?
  • What can you do to remove stress producing things from your life?
  • What do you need to learn from Jesus to become less stressful?
  • What are you willing to give up in order to have the rest you need?

 

 

We Are What We Think

In Mark 7, Jesus is confronted by religious leaders who asked: “Why is it that your disciples do not follow the teaching handed down by our ancestors, but instead eat with ritually unclean hands?” (Mark 7:5). This requirement is not in the original law given by Moses.  While quite detailed, Jewish law leaves room for interpretation in many situations.  Out of a desire to obey God, the Pharisees, established rules to clarify the law in those situations.  Over time, these rules became known as The Tradition of the Ancestors, and were thought to be equal to the law and scriptures.  A person would be ritually unclean if they disobeyed any one of these teachings.

Jesus uses this opportunity to show what really makes a person unclean.  It was not because a person failed to scour pots and pans before cooking or wash hands before eating that they became unclean. There is nothing that goes into you from the outside which can make you ritually unclean,” said Jesus. “Rather, it is what comes out of you that makes you unclean” (vv. 15-16).   The disciples did not understand, so Jesus clarified what he meant: Nothing that goes into you from the outside can really make you unclean, because it does not go into your heart but into your stomach and then goes on out of the body” (vv. 8b-9a).

In Jewish thinking of the day, the heart was thought to be the center of the human soul or mind.  The heart was where thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, and endeavors originated.  This is the idea behind Proverbs 23:7, where it tells us: As a man thinks within himself, so is he. If what we think makes us who we are, we need to examine very carefully what and how we think.

This biblical concept is what many cognitive psychologists would say today.  I like to describe this as Mind-Talk, your inner conversation as you think.  Mind-Talk is what you tell yourself about the people and events in your life. It’s how you interpret what happens to you and around you. Sometimes these thoughts are clear statements in your mind; sometimes they are fleeting images or impressions.  Some of us have even been known to talk out loud to ourselves. Whichever kind of thinking process you have, you’re not alone. Everyone talks to themselves inwardly.

It is important that we take a close look at our Mind-Talk, because it shapes our attitudes, our feelings, and our beliefs. Why do we feel like this or feel like that?  It is because we get our feelings by the process of Mind-Talk. We interpret what is happening around us and draw conclusions based on our interpretation, and those conclusions produce feelings or emotions. (I am not distinguishing between emotions and feelings here, though there are valid reasons for doing so.)

Most people believe that outside events, other people, or circumstances cause and shape the way we feel, our behavior, and our responses. But that’s not true! Our thoughts – our conclusions – are the source! When I first discovered this, I didn’t like it one bit. “Wait a minute,” my defense mechanisms wailed, “if this is true, I can’t blame anyone else for how I feel, what I say or even what I do! I am responsible!” You might not like this any better than I did, but hang with me. It gets worse . . . and then a whole lot better.

Here are some truths we don’t act like we believe. There is a very good reason we don’t want to believe these truths:  they force us to face our personal responsibility. These truths are:

  • Most of our emotions (our feelings) – anger, hurt, depression, guilt, worry, happiness, well-being, contentment, etc. – are homegrown in our Mind-Talk.
  • Whether the emotions we are feeling are good or bad, they start in our minds, and they grow in our minds. Our problems multiply when we act out these feelings in socially unacceptable ways.
  • The way we behave toward others is shaped by our own Mind-Talk and not by the behavior of others. We make assumptions and judgments about what’s going on and why, and then act on them. We cannot blame other people for the way we act toward them. (Yikes, this one is really painful, isn’t it?)
  • What we say and how we say it (our words and attitudes) are motivated and driven by our Mind-Talk. Think about this for a moment. Our feelings, our behavior, our attitudes, and even the way we talk with others (that just about sums us up, doesn’t it?) all come from our Mind-Talk. WOW! No wonder the Bible speaks about it so often. I can paraphrase Proverbs 23:7 like this: “As I think within myself, so am I.”

Here are some things to think about:

  • God does not control your mind; you are free to think and feel as you choose.
  • How do you think about God? Your world?  Yourself? What kinds of feelings do these thoughts produce?
  • How do you need to change your thinking about God, about your world, and about yourself, so you can see everything differently and can change your behavior?
  • You can change the way you think by choosing what you think about.
  • You can change the way you think by asking God to help you think in new and positive ways.
  • Remember these words of the Apostle Paul:

Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, . .  (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Living in a Post-Truth America

I have no idea who coined the phrase, “Post-Truth World.” An email invitation tosubscribe to Scientific American had this as a headline: “Reject a Post-Truth World,” and that is when I saw it for the first time.

This is the way Scientific American described this new world:

Advances in science elevate all humanity, but science and journalism are under siege. 

Special interests distort facts and evidence to serve narrow economic and political goals. 

Pseudoscience and falsehoods are widely disseminated through a pernicious amalgam of

Tweets, fake news, and bluster.

 

The last round of elections at every level gave ample evidence that we have arrived

full grown to a post-truth nation.  Perhaps we need to think about truth.  Pilate asked the Christ, “What is truth?” and that has perhaps been a basic question of humankind.

 

One distortion of truth in the election campaign was to make a personal attack of the opponent rather than attack the position he or she held.  An opponent was given a label that was negative or unsavory in the minds of the electorate, such as “liberal,” “oil baron,” ”shady bank executive,” etc.  This could lead people to vote for or against another candidate based upon personality or a label rather than the candidates principles and political position.

 

Another political distortion is the half truth.  I can define it by an example.  Several years ago the leader of a Protestant denominational agency was accused of being in favor of abortion.  This would be amoral and ethical position at odds with his denomination.  To prove the charge, his opponents quoted his words, “Free choice is a wonderful thing.”  That could mean only one thing: he favored abortion.

 

I researched the literature, and sure enough, the man had said, “Free choice is a wonderful thing.” But the article he had written had nothing to do with abortion. The word abortion did not appear even once.  He was writing about religious experience and the fact that God gives us free choice to acknowledge Him or not.  To the writer, the ability of humans to have God-given moral freedom of choice was a wonderful thing.

 

A popular notion today is that all ideas are equally valid.  In a free society you can believe what you want to believe and that belief is so personal that we do not question it.  In fact, I have had students who had no idea of how to question or evaluate an idea.

 

We live in a world of ideas, but there are some ideas that are better than other ideas.  We  need to know how to evaluate ideas and to recognize which ideas are the better ones.

 

 

I started out writing about truth.  In my next blog I will pursue “truth” in relation to the notion that all ideas are equal.

Living in a Post-Truth America: 2

Oxford Dictionaries announced  that “post-truth” was the word of the year for 2016.  The Dictionary defined “post-truth” as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Further, the editors noted that

Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix in post-truth has a meaning more like “belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant.”

An article in Nature (vol. 540, issue 7631, 28 November 2016) contained an excellent analysis of how post-truth has become an acceptable part of daily discourse:

  • The  tolerance of inaccurate and undefended allegations.
  • Non sequiturs in response to hard questions and outright denials of facts.
  • Repetition of talking points passing for political discussion.
  • Serious interest in issues and options treated as the idiosyncrasy of wonks
  • “Don’t bother me with facts” is no longer a punchline; it has become a political stance.

The biggest problem in a post-truth world is determining who and what is telling the truth, and even further, not knowing what truth is. Truth, as used by Oxford Dictionaries and Nature, is not an abstract philosophical idea.  The context implies that “truth is what conforms to reality.” Therein lies a problem: what is reality? Whose reality is it? Is it an objective or subjective reality?  Is it both an objective and subjective reality?  How can we know?

I think a few questions need to be asked when something is presented as true according to the facts:

  • What is the source of the facts and is the source reliable?
  • Are the facts the real facts, or have they been altered in some way for political or religious reasons?
  • Do we have all the facts, or have some facts been withheld that skew the truth for political or religious reasons?
  • Who is interpreting the facts and do they have the qualifications for making an interpretation?

However, the public has been conditioned to hearing sound bites and reading headlines, so real thinking rarely takes place.  This may be why “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

The media is often blamed for current state of affairs,  and this is partially true. The media has limited time and space to present information.  The public generally is not willing to read and/or listen to detailed presentations, and even less willing to think through the various consequences of information being accurate or inaccurate.  No one wants to watch, read, or listen to detailed reports.

The problem with condensing information into smaller, acceptable bits for the public can result in some misleading analyses of that information.  I do not believe this is because the media is “liberal” or “right wing” necessarily or that there is a media conspiracy of some kind.  Media personnel are limited in their training and ability to summarize adequately everything  that needs reporting.  We all have this limitation, for we do not know everything about everything. We are responsible for investigating what  is presented and coming to reasonable conclusions for ourselves. The post-truth world is not limited to secular society.  It is evident in the religious culture as well and the comments of the writer in Nature would be applicable to much of what is happening in Christian circles.

The public has been conditioned to believe that all ideas are equal, so there is no need to think about them. However, some ideas are better than others and we choose those ideas that are better.  This requires serious thinking and reflection, and there will always be differences of opinion about many ideas.  The public in general lacks that skill.  Living in a post-truth world informs me that I do not have complete truth, that I must consider some of my ideas may be temporary and subject to change as I come across new and better ideas. When new ideas come my way I need to be willing to make changes.

On the other hand, since I am involved in proclaiming some ideas I think are the better as a Christian minister, am I perpetuating a post-truth mentality in the process?  Do I articulate clearly my reasons for choosing these ideas and not withhold the limitations of those ideas? Am I encouraging my hearers to engage in thoughtful reflection on and discussion of what I am proclaiming?  Is my theology a series of non sequiturs?  Am I appealing primarily to emotion and personal belief?

I can’t answer these questions satisfactorily.  I believe positive change can be made in the lives of people and I can be a part of that change.  To aid in the process I can only do my best to be honest with the “facts” that I believe to be true, to present them fairly, to be open to new truth along the way, and to accept the struggle with truth as part of the journey.

Living in a Post-Truth America: I

I have no idea who coined the phrase, “Post-Truth World.” An email invitation to subscribe to Scientific American had this as a headline: “Reject a Post-Truth World,” and that is when I saw it for the first time.

This is the way Scientific American described this new world:

Advances in science elevate all humanity, but science and journalism are under siege. Special interests distort facts and evidence to serve narrow economic and political goals.  Pseudoscience and falsehoods are widely disseminated through a pernicious amalgam of Tweets, fake news, and bluster.

The last round of elections at every level gave ample evidence that perhaps we have arrived full grown to a post-truth nation.  Perhaps we need to think about truth.  Pilate asked the Christ, “What is truth?” and that has perhaps been a basic question of humankind.

One distortion of truth in the election campaign was to make a personal attack on the opponent rather than attack the position he or she held.  An opponent was given a label that was negative or unsavory in the minds of the electorate, such as “liberal,” “oil baron,” ”shady bank executive,” etc.  This could lead people to vote for or against another candidate based upon an aledged personality or label, rather than the candidates political principles.

Another political distortion is the half truth.  I can define it by an example.  Several years ago the leader of a Protestant denominational agency was accused of being in favor of abortion.  This would be a moral and ethical position at odds with his denomination.  To prove the charge, his opponents quoted his words: “Free choice is a wonderful thing.”  That could mean only one thing: he favored abortion.

I researched the literature, and sure enough, the man had said, “Free choice is a wonderful thing.” But the article he had written had nothing to do with abortion. The word abortion did not appear even once.  He was writing about religious experience and the fact that God gives us free choice to acknowledge Him or not.  To the writer, the ability of humans to have God-given moral freedom of choice was a wonderful thing.  Yes, it is true he said it, but his critics did not give the context and people were misled.  This was a half truth; the same as a lie.

A popular notion today is that all ideas are equally valid.  In a free society you can believe what you want to believe and that belief is so personal that we do not question it.  In fact, I have had students who had no idea how to question or evaluate an idea.

We live in a world of ideas, but there are some ideas that are better than others.  We  need to know how to evaluate ideas and to recognize which ideas are the better ones. The reason it is difficult to evaluate ideas is because we react positively to ideas that we already have, and ignore those with which we disagree.  Generally, we have not thought about the validity of our ideas.  They are ours, and they are OK since they are our ideas.   Professional speech writers know this about us, so they deliberately use verbal images that will draw us to agree with the speaker.

It would seem not only politicians, but other segments of society as well, believe the end justifies the means. The end determines what is true – and we buy into it – true or not. Our democracy is endangered if truth is no longer a value to be preserved.

To be continued.

 

 

Are We Really Known by the Company We Keep?

The idea that a person is known by the company he or she keeps is almost proverbial.  In some instances this might be true, but not always true.

I was in college during the Congressional witch hunts and especially the communist witch hunt led by  Senator Joseph McCarthy, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Government Operations Committee.  There was also the House Un-American Activities Committee that was searching for communists at all levels of government as well.  Of the 653 people called by the Committee during a 15-month period, 83 refused to answer questions about espionage and subversion  on constitutional grounds and their names were made public.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx was one text in a philosophy class I was enrolled in at the time.  We had to order our own copy and it was sent to our address in a brown, unmarked envelope.  Why? Because the professor was fearful both he and his students could be charged with being communists, merely because we were reading the Manifesto.

At another time, many years later, I wrote something in support of a position taken by a controversial group.  I received one email warning me about the group. Didn’t I know they believed thus and so and were bad?  I replied that, yes, I know they believe this and that and I do not believe all that they believe, but on this one issue I happen to agree with them.

Another story.  A man’s career was put in jeopardy because he  had made the comment, ”Free choice is a wonderful thing.”  To say “free choice” can only mean one thing:  the speaker favors abortion, right.  Well, not necessarily. An article was published accusing the person of favoring abortion.  The article listed several others, claiming they favored abortion. The writer published foot notes with the article to prove his accuracy. I knew some of the people mentioned in the article, and knew they did not favor abortion.  So, I made an independent study of the claims.  The man in question had made the comment that free choice was a wonderful thing, but he had written the statement in an article about personal salvation.  We are free to choose salvation, so “free choice is a wonderful thing!”

The experiences I have shared are examples of guilt by association.  It is uncritical thinking and not rational.  It is an attitude that polarizes our society.  Taken literally, it would mean there would never be a consensus on any issue and society would be in continual crisis.  Listen carefully, and this appeal to guilt by association has been and will be prominent in many a political advertisement.  Look for this especially when donors and endorsements are used to paint a candidate’s character.  So, “It ain’t necessarily so” that we are known by the company we keep.