Health for Your Mind

It is, I would contend, nearly impossible to be ignorant of the implications of one’s diet. Everyone knows what food is unhealthy and what food is not and it could be said that the modern sin is not sexual licentiousness as it was for yonder days, but simply being fat. The so-called “green” revolution is a similar, though externalized, project aimed at the health of the environment. While I’m not against either of these agenda’s, I am surprised that little is being done for the health of the mind. That’s only for crazy people. I can spend all day engorging myself with delicacies of the nonsense and drivel that is constantly imposing itself upon me through various media (internet, television, radio, advertisements, etc…), and be considered relatively sane and normal. But if I pig out on greasy and unhealthy food, I get the scarlet “G” stitched upon me. Parents who are strict as to what television, movies, and music their children consume are oppressive. Just say the word, “homeschooler” and visions of no make-up, no movies, and no fun readily appear.

There is something inconsistent about all of this.

When will the revolution for the health of the mind begin? When will I be able to say that I have no need for internet nor television in my house and not enjoy the harassment of my compatriots? Or, even better, that I don’t have a facebook account! GASP! SHOCK! “But––but––but,” they stutter, “how do you, like, you know, survive?!” An eloquent question. What could I possibly do when I’m not reading a hundred different blogs, twittering, facebooking, ordering my coffee, watching my twenty favorite television show, and hanging out with all my friends whilst we commit an unrelenting genocide of the English language. It’s not like I have a job or other responsibilities such as trying to be a good husband, citizen, friend (for the few that I have), and, most importantly, Christian.

You’re right! How much time and effort could it take to maintain a clean home, clean finances, and clean (i.e., faithful) marriage? (warning: watch out for falling sarcasm!). Not to mention all of the extra work I have to do if I do want to get into a good Ph.D. program (study for the GRE and become a proficient reader in French, Latin, Greek, and someday German).

So, I’ve been pondering a list for organize my life by priorities for my overall health, mind and body:

  1. Healthy Spirit (i.e., prayer)
  2. Healthy Marriage
  3. Healthy Mind (i.e., selective consumption and mental exercises through learning)
  4. Healthy Friendships
  5. Healthy Body (i.e., physical exercise)

Such strict categories are seldom attainable and they all are interconnected in some way, but they are something at which I wish to aim.

Personal Reflections

  • I still waste time online, most recently by a comment debate. This takes time away from doing my paper and studying for the GRE. It almost makes me want to close my blog so that I can 1) use my time more wisely, and 2) cease making an ass of myself.
  • While studying for the GRE, I’m reminded how ignorant I am and how much I want to give my children a large vocabulary (whether they like it or not). I was raised to be in touch with my inward emotional status, but never given the tools to express it. Thus, I rely on hijacked phraseology and suffer from a  recurring misuse of terms and phrases. English is a beautiful language and do not take advantage of its potential.
  • While the internet gives us a plethora of resources at our fingertips, its ability to distract and our inability to exercise self-control makes us not only ignorant, but stupid. It’s all right there, but we (I) don’t use it.
  • I will never accomplish anything great in my field of study, but I hope that above all else I will be a good Christian, husband, father, and son.
  • Most of the reading I do is for vainglory – to say that I have read “it” – instead of knowledge.
  • I am impatient.
  • After every interaction (in person or online) with others, I often feel guilty for saying too much or too little (or something just plain stupid).
  • I care more about finding solidarity than the truth.
  • When I do talk, I talk too much.

Shocking Disappointment

The more I read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, the more I realize how much his thinking has already influenced me by way of American culture. It’s shocking to be reading someone with whom you know you shouldn’t agree (i.e., Utilitarianism), only to find yourself giving the occasional “Amen!” (that’s the disappointment).

It also made me realize that Christians today need to read Mill’s essay if for no other reason than to be confronted with the fact that the ideas and philosophies which they take for granted aren’t necessarily “from the Bible” as they have been deceived into believing.

Selective Consumption

I hate consumerism. I hate other people telling me what I should buy in order to define myself. I hate the accumulation of “stuff.” Most of all, I hate that I see these very things within myself. Sometimes, I get so worked up that I want to throw almost everything away (except my books, of course, because I need them for my “job”). Yet, thanks to my perceptive wife who does not put up with nonsense, I am seeing that my principle error lay in my inability to make an important distinction.

First, one must see humans as being by nature, consumers (if one doesn’t see this as axiomatic, then not much else can be said on the subject). This is not the principle definition of personhood, but it is an unavoidable fact. Thus, my first error was to attempt to negate all forms of consumption. This is untenable. What is tenable is to distinguish between selective and un-selective consumption (okay, I’m not that creative at coming up with terms). Once this distinction is made, I can perceive clearly that my “beef” is not with consumption as a whole, but with un-selective consumption. That is, the thought that one must consume x because it is consumable.

I see this most often in American culture in relations to humor or fun. The first question someone asks a child returning from school is most often, “Did you have fun today?” instead of, “What did you learn?”. Or, if one is being persuaded to take part in an activity, the strongest argument is that “It will be fun!” The assumption behind all of this is Epicurean; it is the pleasure principle. Now, Epicurus was not as shallow to think that all pleasure should be consumed the way his American heirs do. He at least tried to achieve the greatest pleasure, which would include foregoing immediate pleasures. However, modern American consumers often skip this important aspect and focus solely upon the immediate pleasure. Indeed, American culture has inverted the proverb that something, “is funny because it is true,” to something being “true because it is funny.”

In opposition to this, I propose (with all of the great Christian thinkers before me, and some Pagan ones too) that one must selectively consume. Do I need to know everything that is happening in the world today? Do I need to fill my brain with various facts and figures only to impress my friends at diner parties? Do I need to remember various lines from movies and television shows? Do I need to have or experience every great piece of Classical music? Do I need to read a bunch of blogs on the interwebs and then link them on my own? I must note that all of these things are issues of consumption with which I struggle.

What must be done instead is to be picky about that which I put into my mind and my body, and I hope to start doing that. I have tried before, but failed. Maybe by focusing on the principle of selectivity, with a large does of prayer, things will go better.

EDIT

I should add that the desire to consume information derives from the fear of being wrong or being bested by someone else in matters of theology, philosophy, or any other subject of life that I have invested myself into. I’m not afraid to be ignorant about cars, nursing, or cooking, etc. I have limited experience in all of these things. But about the things which I spend the most of my time studying, I want to always be right, to win every argument, and in general be the best. I would say that it is not wrong to want to excel in something, but it should never be at the expense of someone else. In essence, I seek to build myself up at the expense of others (i.e., as I push them down). This, it should be noted, is the real definition of pride (superbia) in the ancient world.

N. T. Wright – Can We Get There from Here?

The interwebs is a-buzz with talk and analysis of N. T. Wright at the annual ETS meeting. Unfortunately I did not attend because 1) I had class and homework (if teachers can have subs to go to these things, why can’t students?!) and 2) I’m not a member of ETS and really don’t care to be one (that’s a different story). However, I am/have been interested in N. T. Wright and the New Perspectives on Paul. I must report, sadly, that my former excitement is beginning to wane. This is not to say that I have learned nothing from it all. Indeed, I have greatly appreciated the realization that a major part of Paul’s letters is devoted to reconciling Jewish and Gentile Christians. Lately, upon the prompting of a good friend, I have had to ask myself the historical question–I am half-historian after all.

The Historical Question
What is the historical question? Well, the name I just made up, but the principle is not new. It is determining how a given theory fits within it’s historical context–before and after. This is not (and I emphasize the not) a method of determining the truth of a statement based upon the historical reality. For example: “the Early Church didn’t baptize infants (except in emergency cases); therefore infant baptism is wrong.” The historical fact is irrelevant if the question is whether or not infant baptism is true (i.e., a right expression of baptism). That must be determined primarily upon the nature of baptism (i.e., if it is a sign of the covenant which correlates to circumcision). For other examples, see my post on Bulverism.

What the historical question is, is seeing whether a given theory explains what comes before and after it historically. This principle is one that is often used in linguistics, but not so much in theology (unfortunately). I will not attempt to explain it anymore because it would be a better use of your time if you just listened to Everett Ferguson’s lecture “Why Study Early Christian History and Literature.”

Can We Get There from Here?
So, what has this principle to do with N. T. Wright? Simply this: can his theory (or the NPP as a whole) explain the understanding of justification that came after it? Wright has worked hard in studying the background of Second Temple Judaism and to show how Paul and Jesus fit in that milieu, but I have seen very little work done on what comes after. It is not so simple as to say “well, it got messed up right away.” One has to be able to show how what Paul originally meant by justification changed into what arose in the Post-Apostolic Church (if it is different). So, please, will someone who is studying the New Testament do this? I would love to do it, but my studies are elsewhere and I am no Renaissance man. Until then, I’m sorry NPP, but it’s just not working out between us and I think we need some time apart. It’s not me, it’s you.

Great Minds Think Alike–and Argue A Lot

I’m feeling extra opinionated at the moment. Maybe it’s because I can’t focus my energy into writing a paper on Johann Arndt which should be sub-titled “Why I Hate Pietism.” Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but I grew up in it and I’m irrationally reacting against it, which (if we are honest), is how most of theology is done. This, of course, is not even close to my point.

I find that there is much fear today over seeking like minded friends. The (post) modern man must stretch him/herself thin with contacts and relations. This was never possible before the advent of the interwebs, so social networking sites are a major impetus for this mindset. The goal, it appears, is to be more inclusive and tolerant of other people. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not of the ilk who wish to be intolerant just because the culture wants you to be tolerant (you know who you are). Nor do I think that tolerance is an end in itself. Tolerance simply means that you’re not going to kill someone over some difference. But, I am getting sidetracked. My critique is more about the idea of purposefully seeking the company of those who think differently than you. On this issue I fundamentally and whole-heartedly disagree. Now, such endeavors have their place, but I do not think it should be one’s primary aim. Instead, if one wants to grow into a better human being, he/she must seek the friendship of like-minded people. Why, you may ask? Well, don’t interrupt me, I’m getting to that. I have found in my experience, which should then be synthesized and commercialized and imposed upon everyone else (see your local Family Christian Bookstore soon!), that I have become a better person primarily through deep relationships with like-minded people. Now, I am not forgetting about God in all of this for that is not my point. I am arguing against those who believe that surrounding oneself with like-minded people makes one a worse human being. Anyways, the key is depth. You see, when you surround yourself with those who think differently, the relationship can only go so deep. To paraphrase a quote of George McDonald: it’s the froth of life, and inch deep and then mud. With similar minded friends, however, one must delve deep before he/she discovers the differences. That one must delve deep means that one must invest him/herself in the life of the other. It also means that when the differences arise, there is a common foundation upon which the relationship can stand. It is not some ideal or movement, but the concrete experiences of true friendship. This, slight differences can never shake.

Therefore I propose that one seek out like minded friends. Tolerating people of different views can never be imposed (except for the killing part), it must be worked through. I do not tolerate the people who disagree with me, I (here I’m being honest) just ignore them. It is my closest friends whom I tolerate, but only because the relationship is deep. Indeed, I dare say, I tolerate them because I love them.

For a more enjoyable defense of what I propose, read chapter three “On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small” in Heretics by G. K. Chesterton and chapter three “Friendship” in The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis. Though, I have not read these in a while so it is quite plausible that they disagree with me completely, but I do not think that is the case.

I shall end with a quote form the aforementioned chapter by Chesterton.

The globe-trotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. he is always breathing an air of locality. London is a place, to be compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuktu. But Timbuktu is not a place, since there, at least, live men who regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the winds of the world. The man in the saloon steamer has seen all the races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men–diet, dress, decorum, rings in the nose as in Africa, or in the ears as in Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern Britons. The man in the cabbage field has seen nothing at all; but he is thinking of the things that unite men–hunger and babies, and the beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky. Mr. Kipling, with all his merits, is a globe-trotter; he has not the patience to become part of anything.

G. K. Chesterton, “On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small,” in Heretics (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2007), 22-23.