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One of the great joys of my life is watching speeches and interviews given by great intellectuals. It was in pursuing this pleasure that I happened upon an episode of the ABC’s panel discussion show, Question and Answers. Coming out of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, the four people on the panel – the traditional conservative, Peter Hitchens; the feminist writer, Germaine Greer; the American writer, Hanna Rosin; and the gay rights activist, Dan Savage – spent an hour discussing tops ranging from western civilisation to modern hook-up culture.
It became quickly apparent that the intellectual stature of the four panellists was not evenly matched. Hanna Rosin and Dan Savage were less rational, less mature, and more ignorant than Peter Hitchens and Germaine Greer. By comparison, Hitchens and Greer gave carefully considered answers to most of the questions asked. Hitchens, in particular, gave responses based on careful consideration, rational thought, fact, and wisdom. (This is not to say one is required to agree with him)
It was the behaviour of the audience that proved the most alarming, however. Like most Questions and Answers audiences, it was comprised mostly of idealistically left-wing youth. Their primary purpose for being there was to have their ideological presuppositions reinforced. With no apparent motivation to listen to the answers to their questions, these youngsters would clap and cheer like trained seals whenever someone makes an ideologically-correct statement.
How has our society become so stupid? Why do we no longer see being wise and knowledgeable as virtues in and of themselves? Part of the answer comes from a culture of self-hate and contempt promulgated by left-wing intellectuals. Accordingly, Christianity is regarded as archaic (unless, of course, it promotes left-wing beliefs), inequality is caused by capitalism, and the problems of women come as the result of the “patriarchy.” Even the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge are rather conveniently blamed on “trauma” emanating from the Vietnam War (rather than the actions of Pol Pot and his band of murderous, communist brutes).
This continuous, unrelenting assault on Western civilisation has led to a general estrangement from Western culture. The common people have been robbed of their inheritance because scholars and intellectuals have reduced their culture into a caricature to be dismantled at will. As a result, they are no longer exposed to the great works of art, architecture, literature, music, philosophy, poetry, sculpture, theology, and theatre that the Western world has produced.
The modern proclivity for ignorance and stupidity comes out of a very special kind of arrogance. It is the kind of arrogance that makes people believe that all those who came before them must be dumber than they are. It does not acknowledge that our modern “enlightenment” is built on the works of those who came before us. Our forebears would be dumbfounded to find a world where, despite having greater access to information than anyone else in history, people have closed their minds to learning.
What all this boils down to is a rejection of wisdom. If you believe that all those who came before you are dumber than yourself you are unlikely to believe they have anything worthwhile to contribute. As such, you are unlikely to believe in wisdom as a universal good. As Neel Burton over at Psychology Today pointed out: “in an age dominated by science and technology, by specialisation and compartmentalisation, it [wisdom] is too loose, too grand, and too mysterious a concept.”
We have made phenomenal advancements in all areas of human knowledge. Sadly, our successes have also made us arrogant and self-righteous. If we are to take full advantage of our potential, we need to reignite our cultural past and find the humility to learn from those who went before us.
This week for our theological article, King Alfred Press will be exploring the quest for self-mastery and its importance in living a pious life.
For years, “living in the moment” has been popular advice among self-help gurus. No need to learn from history, no need to think about the consequences of your behaviour, the only thing that matters is satisfying present desires.
However, there is a fundamental problem with living in the moment: it causes you to act impulsively. You become a slave to circumstance. You end up becoming the sort of person who engages in unhealthy, short-term relationships, you become the sort of person who spends without thought and rack up massive credit card debts. Compulsive eaters have been known to literally eat themselves to death, and there is little need to discuss the relationship between crime and the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
The rational antidote, then, to living in the moment is to orientate yourself towards self-mastery. By doing so, we can live pro-active, Godly lives. God expects us to be diligent with what we have and where we are before we move forward with our lives. As it is written in the Gospel according to Luke (chapter sixteen, verse ten):
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are
dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities”
Self-mastery helps you achieve mastery of your own emotions, affections, likes, and desires.
So, how do you go about achieving self-mastery? Well, I cannot pretend to have the answers. However, it is eminently obvious that changing your daily habits is a good place to start.
First, engage in daily prayer. It will help you quieten your mind and communicate with God. Read your Bible or Torah. Remind yourself every day of what God expects of you. Second, practice self-denial. Third, do things deliberately, with purpose – act as though everything you do matters. Fourth, don’t lie – especially to yourself. The only way to overcome your problems is by being honest about them. Fifth, take care of your mind, body, and your surroundings. As Professor Jordan B. Peterson famously advises: “clean your room!” Keep your workspace clean and tidy, put everything where it belongs, make yourself orderly.