Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Prejudices vs Your Prejudices

The difference between my prejudices and your prejudices is that my prejudices (convictions and values so obvious they don’t need explaining) don’t really count as prejudices. They are just the way reasonable, intelligent, faithful [insert whatever self-congratulatory designation suits you] people know things to be. Thus, those who don’t see it that way must be operating out of sin, ignorance, or blind prejudice. And it is, therefore, not mean when we refer to you as ignorant, stupid, afraid, or nefarious. We are merely stating the truth.

This is how most contemporary political rhetoric sounds to me.

It is how a fair amount of Facebook status updates sound to me - whether the prejudices reflected are conservative or liberal/progressive.

Even more sadly, it is also how too much of the 'conversation' on church blogs and listserves sounds to me.

Turns out none of us is a smart as we think we are. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton has spent decades studying how the brain - and our reasoning with it - actually works. The results are unsettling. Some of those results were described in a recent article in the New Yorker, Why Smart People Are Stupid:
Perhaps our most dangerous bias is that we naturally assume that everyone else is more susceptible to thinking errors, a tendency known as the “bias blind spot.” This “meta-bias” is rooted in our ability to spot systematic mistakes in the decisions of others—we excel at noticing the flaws of friends—and inability to spot those same mistakes in ourselves. Although the bias blind spot itself isn’t a new concept, West’s latest paper demonstrates that it applies to every single bias under consideration, from anchoring to so-called “framing effects.” In each instance, we readily forgive our own minds but look harshly upon the minds of other people.

And here’s the upsetting punch line: intelligence seems to make things worse. The scientists gave the students four measures of “cognitive sophistication.” As they report in the paper, all four of the measures showed positive correlations, “indicating that more cognitively sophisticated participants showed larger bias blind spots.” This trend held for many of the specific biases, indicating that smarter people (at least as measured by S.A.T. scores) and those more likely to engage in deliberation were slightly more vulnerable to common mental mistakes. Education also isn’t a savior; as Kahneman and Shane Frederick first noted many years ago, more than fifty per cent of students at Harvard, Princeton, and M.I.T. gave the incorrect answer to the bat-and-ball question.

I am reminded of St. Paul's assertion, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)
Given that we are all fallible and sinful, we will probably never, this side of the kingdom of God, be free of blind spots in our reasoning. But, I think we can begin to take them into account and soften their effects.
Cultivating humility is one way. Again from St. Paul,
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-3)

It is good for us all to remember continually that each of us is blind, and thus we should be very slow to judge others. For judging others is a fearful thing. Jesus said,
Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." He also told them a parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. (Luke 6:37-42)

Related post: Reason and It's Discontents

Friday, June 15, 2012

Seven Roads to Hell

Evelyn Underhill on the seven deadly sins:

There are seven dispositions in us which specially block the action of God and are hostile to the Holy; which twists our souls out of shape. Theology calls them the seven deadly sins – deadly because once they get their claws into us they tend to spiritual extinction instead of spiritual life.
1.   Pride, uppishness, the great instinct of self-regard. No one can see straight in religion till they get rid of that.

2.   Envy – an inimical, snarky attitude to others, ill-wind in all, even its most subtle and refined forms.

3.   Anger, the combative instinct, turbulence, emotional uproar, self-centered vehemence, the negation of Peace.

4.   Sloth, the opposite number of wholesome zest, the deadly spirit of slackness, fed-up-ness, “is it worth while-ness.”

5.   Avarice, the possessive spirit, grab and hold-tight in all its manifestations.

6.   Gluttony, intemperate enjoyment for its own sake of what is in reason good and allowable.

7.   Lust – letting our instinct and emotional nature get the upper hand and leading us, instead of our leading it, being ruled by our longings.
Now we may feel prepared to repudiate some of these on sight, as having nothing to do with ordinary civilized life. We consider that we are not envious, avaricious, wrathful, greedy. It’s not done!  But it is not only our natural life that is concerned. Those tendencies are ingrained in human nature and infect the most subtle reaches of our personal and spiritual life too; they colour our prayer because genuine prayer reflects character. For they all mean at bottom three great disorders of our power of love – loving wrong things, loving too much, loving too little.

Pride and avarice mean the drive of energy set towards our selves and our possessions.  Lust and gluttony love too much. Sloth and envy love too little. They all turn up in our relations to the things God gives us to deal with – family, friends, work and the practice of religion. As we wake up more towards spiritual reality and our world grows, the form of our sinfulness probably changes. The great wrong instincts of self-importance, pugnacity, grab, self-indulgence, slackness, are still there, but gradually pass from cruder to more and more subtle forms – spiritual pride, spiritual envy, spiritual greed; these still lie in wait for souls who believe they want nothing but God.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Julian on the Trinity

“Suddenly the Trinity filled my heart full of the greatest joy, and I understood that it will be so in heaven without end to all who will come there. For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker, the Trinity is our protector, the Trinity is our everlasting lover, the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ and in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . for where Jesus appears the Trinity is understood.”
Julian of Norwich (1342-1423)