Strength to Love

In Strength to Love, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. concentrates his word skills and expertise in philosophy and theology on a variety of social justice initiatives. Strength to Love received its copyright in 1963 which was the same year as Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a year before the 1964 Civil Right’s Act. The book is a collection of some of Dr. King’s sermons that demonstrate his passion for a more loving and peaceful world. Common themes of Dr. King’s life, such as non-violent protest, addressing racism and race prejudice, and opposition to war, are brought to the reader’s attention.

“…life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” – Strength to Love (King, 1963, p. 9)

The book opens with a verse from the Gospel of Matthew that emphasizes a need for balance between toughness and gentleness. Dr. King states, “…life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” Dr. King encourages is readers to strike a balance between toughness and softness, and the old common sense cliche “Everything in moderation” may also be applicable here. Dr. King goes on to suggest a relationship between “soft-mindedness” and lazy thinking.

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” – Strength to Love (King, 1963, p. 10)

Dr. King was not shy about sharing his conception of truth, but it’s clear that he deliberately prepared and reflected upon the social justice issues he addressed. Dr. King was not a lazy thinker, and in Strength to Love he calls upon the reader/listener to boldly align his or her convictions with his or her actions (King, 1963, p.17-25). Dr. King talks/writes about the need for higher standards of love and human behavior (King, 1963, p.33-34), and he asserts that truth can be pursued by all, not only those in academia or positions of authority (King, 1963, p.45).

In chapter 5, Dr. King encourages the reader to respond to aggression and offenses with peace and forgiveness, and in chapter 6 he continues his admonishment and encouragement of the church. In chapters 7-8, Dr. King opposes materialistic and superficial world views through emphasizing the importance of relationship and faith, and in chapter 9 Dr. King continues his previous themes of faith and hope during times of trial. In chapter 10, Dr. King, no doubt speaking to Cold War tensions, provides cautions on his listeners/readers’ interpretations of communism, and in chapter 11 he notes the sufferings and trials of his work in the Civil Rights Movement. In chapter 12 Dr. King speaks to what may be a common underlying reason for hate and racism – fear, and in chapter 13 Dr. King briefly critiques naturalistic humanism and reasserts Christian themes of redemption.

“I have discovered that the highest good is love” – Strength to Love (King, 1963, p.145)

In chapter 13 Dr. King makes another petition to a divided and segregated American church. He encourages unity action concerning the Civil Rights Movement, and he uses the doctrines of the Christian faith to bolster his argument. In the same chapter, Dr. King makes what could be his thesis statement for the book, “I have discovered that the highest good is love” (King, 1963, p.145). In Chapter 15, Dr. King ends the book with some background on his beliefs concerning non-violence.

Strength to Love is an easy read that can be taken up and set down at a whim. The book can be consumed chapter by chapter, in 20-30 minute reading portions, or fairly quickly over the span of a few days or weeks. Because the book is fashioned from some of Dr. King’s sermons, the language is clear and concise. If you are curious about Dr. King, his beliefs, and his life work, Strength to Love, written in the midst of the Civil Rights Era and sandwiched between the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, may be a great place to start.

 

References

King, M. L. (1963). Strength to Love(1st ed.). Glasgow, GB: William Collins.

 

An Update on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

If you’ve visited the “about” page on this website/blog you may have noticed the ambitious vision statement that is somewhat similar to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The vision statement reads, “Worldwide access to quality healthcare, life-long education, and clean energy by 2030”. Like this vision statement, the United Nations’ (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are very ambitious. Why?

Well, an old cliche from Norman Vincent Peale might tell the story most succinctly – “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Now, for the analytical perfectionist, there’s a lot wrong with this quote, but the point is that when one is endeavoring to achieve big goals, it’s often better to err on the side of too much rather than too little ambition. The future will tell us if the UN’s STG’s will support or undermine this quote.

With a desire to be a part of such an overwhelming set of goals, it’s easy to avoid action. So, if you haven’t already learned about the goals, you can check them out through the link above. If you want to have someone tell you about them and give you some ideas of how you can get involved, Michael Green (Author of Philanthrocapitalism) seems to have a great deal of expertise on the subject. His first TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk on the STG’s can be found here.

If you already know about the STG’s, but haven’t heard Michael Green’s recent update on the subject, check it out here.

“He who would rise in the world should veil his ambitions with the forms of humanity.” – Chinese Proverb

The Laws of Medicine

In The Laws of Medicine Siddhartha Mukherjee uses his words and storytelling to elaborate on medical realities learned from invaluable education and experience.  Mukherjee is sets out to describe principles of medical practice, pointing out that practicing medicine is about knowing the strengths and weaknesses of knowledge gleaned from patients, tests, experiments, and one’s self, then making the best decision with that information. Mukherjee much more eloquently elaborates on that point, emphasizing his three “laws” or principles of medicine.

  • Before Mukherjee describes the three principles of his book, he sets them up in a forward. He wonders if medical jargon is partly subconsciously employed to escape unknowns. He briefly discusses the history of medicine from the cure-all treatments of the 1800’s to careful observance of the Hippocratic oath, using William Osler as an example. He mentions Lewis Thomas’s The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine Watcher. He is careful to differentiate the “laws” he is about to expose from more pure scientific laws such as those in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology.
  • Mukherjee explains that assessing a patient involves raising or lowering the probability of a diagnosis through interpreting test results in context. Mukherjee uses Thomas Bayes, an 18th century Philosopher and Clergyman, to illuminate the imperfect nature of tests.
  • Mukherjee continues his excellence use of relevant storytelling to explain how the unexplained abnormal results of tests or experiments are keys to better understanding of the whole. Hearkening back to history once more, Mukherjee uses Karl Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery to point out that medical knowledge is scientific only when it carries a stipulation that can disprove it by new information or discovery.
  • Mukherjee adapts Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle to medicine to question how generalizable experiments are. He mentions that Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters may have been apt in the early 20th century, but here in the 21st century bias is the prey of physicians. Mukherjee reflects on the role of physicians to hunt bias, including their own, while using imperfect information to help patients make the best decisions about their health.

In The Laws of Medicine, Mukherjee impresses a sense of understanding upon the reader through taking complex issues and breaking them down into manageable pieces of information. He doesn’t need to explain the science behind his examples to give the reader a little understanding of the big picture. Furthermore, bleeding through the pages are rich examples of medical history that incite an appreciation for great minds that have come before Mukherjee’s imparting knowledge for him to build upon.

Another theme of Mukherjee’s book is the uncertainties of the medical field. His comments on medical jargon and the imperfections of tests are humbling. Still a relatively young science, medicine continues to experience a boom in information and technology. These advancements may clarify some things while opening up new areas vast with questions.

Studies, companies, and patients all have opinions on medicine, and it seems correlations are often unexplained while being sold as causation to the public. Statistics, anatomy, physiology, epidemiology, pathology, advanced mathematics, history, etc. are subjects each worthy of in-depth study, but combine all of those subjects while adding many others and you will begin to understand the challenges of medicine. It’s edifying to see an author acknowledging the difficulties of his field while simplifying the principles within it.

With all the avenues with which information and opinion is accessed in today’s world, it is difficult to focus on what matters most. Focus is what Mukherjee encourages with his three laws of medicine. Sifting through a myriad of information to find relevance seems an ever-increasing challenge among today’s youth, whether or not they are interested in practicing medicine. With the precision of a great writer, Mukherjee illuminates invaluable principles learned through a wealth of experience. These principles help thin the overwhelming fog of information to be processed, and if put to use are likely to improve the work of those practicing medicine.

Mukherjee’s The Laws of Medicine is a short and worthy read for anyone interested in the practice of medicine. At less than 100 pages, The Laws of Medicine seems Mukherjee’s most concise and easy read as his other books, The Gene and The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, are both over 500 pages. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2011, and Mukherjee has also written for NEJM, Cell, Nature, and The New York Times.

 

On Statues

Statue4

 

There are certainly some persons who deserve to be remembered more than others, but does anyone deserve a statue molded in their likeness? Should any man or woman be memorialized by a larger than life image?

First hearing by word of mouth of the controversy in Charlottesville, Virginia last Sunday, it was hard to be surprised. There have been many acts of terrorism in the news lately, and one more senseless act added to the numbness. Terrible, egregious, disgusting, inhuman, evil… these words may be accurate descriptors, but they often fall short of empathy and feeling. It’s one thing to describe an incident, and it’s another to live it.

Later that night after having some time to reflect on the incident, a discussion with a friend commenced over a game of pool. What motivated the event? Why now? Is our society in regression or experiencing growing pains?

Then came the discussions of this week. Should memorials to rebels and slave owners be maintained? Historical figures were compared, and the differing perspectives on their memorials were illuminated. Oppressive or defensive? Worthless or worthy? Hate or heritage?

During another brief personal discussion I told colleagues I could “…understand both sides…” and didn’t want to condone “…censoring history…”. “Understand” was inaccurate, and “both sides” was a poor choice of words. Some emotion brewed in a friend’s face as he asked if a memorial to Hitler would be appropriate? The question was rhetorical, but thoughts comparing Confederate leaders to Nazi leaders immediately came to mind… Do these men deserve to be memorialized?

Is there enough goodness in those Southern soldiers that is worth remembering? Or, does the obvious evil that these soldiers died defending rule out a position of honor for their statues? Is felling a Confederate leader’s memorial ignoring history, or would destroying theses statues be an acknowledgment of past crimes? It’s clear that history often, if not always, remains up for interpretation.

Another reality is that honorable intentions do not right injustices. Every human seems more dynamic than people are willing to admit, and stereotypes or generalizations often cloud the complexity of a life. However, are there things that must not be condoned, even if done by a generally good man?

The most accurate interpretations of the integrity of the men who’s statues are being debated should be left up to those honest individuals willing to search historical records and primary sources for the facts. That is not the subject here. The more relevant issue seems to be one of putting the present into historical context.

The men memorialized by these statues lived through events that changed the course of history. The nation that was split in two reunited, but were wrongs righted? Were all hurts healed?

Roughly 8 years after the inauguration of President Obama…

  • nearly 50 years after the death of Dr. King…
  • approximately 70 years after Robinson first swung a major league bat…
  • around 114 years after W. E. B. Du Bois published The Souls of Black Folk and 116 years after Booker T. Washington published Up From Slavery
  • something like 154 years after the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry…
  • 160 years since the Supreme Court’s decision on Dred Scott v. Sanford…
  • 184 years after the death of William Wilberforce and the subsequent abolition of slavery in the British Empire…
  • nearly 200 years since the birth of Frederick Douglass…
  • thereabouts 243 years after General George Washington halted the recruitment of black soldiers for service in the Continental Army…
  • 228 years after the publication of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography…
  • around 398 years since the first Africans were enslaved on American soil in Jamestown…
  • more or less than 516 years after Saint-Domingue (Santo Domingo) became an international slave port…
  • and circa 525 years since Columbus planted the seeds of European colonialism in the Caribbean – what would prove to be a tragic event for millions of indigenous people in Africa and the West…

…these American lands are still reeling over past sins – sins that cannot be made right.

While there is no way to right the wrongs of the past, there is hope in the present.

  • First, those who have ancestors that were responsible for the injustices of genocide, slavery, or other acts of racist oppression and/or those who have benefited from systemic social hierarchies reinforced by a history of white-European colonialism, would do well to seek recognition of how evils of the past have influenced their current circumstances. Besides an awareness of the history of these injustices and their direct or indirect effects on the present, regret for the racially motivated decisions of the past would benefit current societal relationships. A sense of “white guilt” is not something people need to be ashamed of. Feelings of remorse for generational transgressions do not necessitate self-hatred or despise for one’s own skin color. Descendants of slavers and people who benefited from slavery have the right to feel guilty for the sins their ancestors committed, condoned, and/or tolerated.  This guilt is not something to fear or be ashamed of but something to act on. Shame can often feel like self-loathing, but guilt can feel more like catalyst for positive change. “White guilt” can simply be a lesson from history and a motivation for creating or maintaining more just societies. In that context, “white guilt” is not holding oneself individually responsible for the crimes of another individual. Rather, it is an individual confession of past crimes that are relevant due to their direct or indirect effects on the present. One could argue that as living creatures, mammals, or in the very least as human beings, we are all one human family, and any society interested in social justice, human rights, and general civility will take on a communal responsibility to never repeat the sin of slavery.

Furthermore, there is no shame in discouraging voluntary segregation or prejudice, even if one’s blood-line may have systematically oppressed the ancestors of another ethnicity or people-group, and vice-versa.

  • Feeling fear of unknowns at the site of a dinner party crowd of different cultures or skin tones can actually incite an urge to join their company rather than remain in the comfortable circle of more predictable commonplace.
  • Discussions of injustice driven by petty things such as skin color, wealth, or greed need not be constantly avoided but rather should be addressed with humility, authenticity, and caution – especially regarding an experience a person could not understand unless she or he took on the appearance, heritage, environment, and event of the one who lived it.
  • Having affections for an individual of a skin color quite different from one’s own may feel odd to some (especially if one grew up learning that such a feeling should feel odd), but it should not feel wrong simply for sake of appearance or for avoidance of surface-level judgments. If such feelings and affections spark a romantic relationship, people can find solace in the long history of many joyful couples who have ignored skin color as a deal-breaker for their romantic relationships.

On statues, carved or modeled – molded or assembled, they are lifeless things meant to represent or honor something greater. What benefit do these motionless creations have to offer besides reminders of higher ideals and heroic deeds? At best, statues are but a caricature of the people they are meant to emulate. Far from the beating hearts and original minds of the persons they represent, these monuments are cold giants that use size and art to vainly seek to make up for whatever piece of humanity that was lost.

This humanity is not flawlessly set as sinner against saint or hero versus villain. As much as people aspire to glorious perfection, it has yet to be reached by any of the finite creatures that populate this planet. Rather, each memorial should be purposed to bring out the best of this human condition while acknowledging the truth of the times which the figure represents.

An effective memorial should not encourage people to wallow in its presence or rage against its existence but carry on with their lives, taking with them a memory that will spark to light part of what it means to be truly human. There has been far to much tragedy in this world already. While history must be remembered for what it was, humanity needs not to abide memorials that recall and breed division in the present.

Statues should be constructed to promote a sense of righteous resolve, connectedness, and/or hope.  History has afforded us many examples of individuals and events, flawed, but resulting in courageously righteous action. Uplift that which will uplift. If statues fail to meet this criteria, history can continue to be honestly maintained while the figure is respectfully and democratically removed from a place of honor or, disrespectfully, torn down.

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is known for movies like Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, and Interstellar, but while Dunkirk holds true to Nolan’s bold style unlike the aforementioned films it is based on actual historical events. The Battle of Dunkirk was a retreat for the Allied forces (the majority of which were British and French troops) who were being driven towards the English Channel by the German forces. The Allied forces were failing to defend France against Nazi Germany, and the only alternative to surrender was to die fighting or escape to the British mainland.

Nolan’s Dunkirk focuses on snapshots of the evacuation, making the evacuation Dunkirk feel more like one day rather than ten days. While Nolan delivers his typical high octane action through dogfights and bombings he also highlights the humanity of soldiers and citizens through displaying a range of heroism and cowardice, sometimes presenting itself in the same character. This contrast of courage and fear is fitting considering the heritage of Dunkirk remains one of victory and defeat.

Another thing to note about the film is that Nolan focuses almost entirely on the British. There is recognition of the French and at least one Belgian makes an appearance, but besides their war machines, the Germans are silent. Nolan is telling a story about the resilience of the British and Allied forces in what would be a loss crucial to eventual victory for the allied forces. The movie avoids dehumanizing German soldiers while remaining entirely uninterested in the antagonist that is Nazi Germany.

The film displays star actors like Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance, but also sports breakout performances from Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles. The actors fit their roles well, and the quality costume design and cinematography creates a believable cinematic experience. The stubborn pride of the British shines through the film.

Dunkirk rightly highlights fear alongside courage, but the sweetness of this film is displayed in its summation. The audience is left with the words of Winston Churchill as the fate of the film’s characters is left hanging in the balance. That’s exactly where Britain and the whole of Europe was left in 1940. With the United States remaining uncommitted to the War and the Soviet Union maintaining its Non-aggression Pact, Britain, France, and the rebel forces of other European nations were abandoned, caged with the monstrosity of Nazi Germany.

The righteous rebellion of the Allied forces in the face of failure and defeat lights a fire of emotion and ignites endurance and hope within the human spirit. Though no war is black and white in its justifications and no person is entirely pure, World War II may be the best example of a just war. The struggles of the Allied forces at Dunkirk are amazing not only for the overwhelming obstacles faced, collective heroism displayed, and divine grace received but also for the moral argument fueling the British zeitgeist to “never surrender”.

Mud

Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Ray Mckinnon, and Sarah Paulson take up most of the screen time in Mud. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols who also wrote and directed Loving, Mud is a well-paced and well-acted film that steadily builds to its climax. Mud‘s characters are so well-developed that supporting actors feel more intimately understood, and the film seems to use its characters full potential.

McConaughey’s performance is raw and authentic. His slow, rumbling voice and southern accent match his character’s unkempt appearance, and McConaughey appears to play a difficult role with ease. In 2012 McConaughey was no newcomer to Hollywood as he has had been headlining blockbuster films since the 1990’s. But, blockbuster films are typically bypassed by the Academy Awards.

Mud was overlooked at the 2013 Academy Awards, but McConaughey would not be overlooked in 2014 when he won Best Actor in a Leading Role for Dallas Buyer’s Club. Mud seemed to set off a new chapter in McConaughey’s career as the actor seemed to gravitate towards more complicated character roles like Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Mark Hanna in Wolf of Wall Street, and Rust Cohle in the True Detective series. In addition, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland give convincing performances in Mud, and the film uses its dialogue efficiently.

Besides its main theme of love, Mud explores life in rural Arkansas and vigilante justice. The movie captures beautiful shots of river life while subtlety questioning the righteousness of its characters. The crime of murder is juxtaposed with a case domestic violence. The audience is treated to visuals of Arkansas country and rural river culture while grappling with their attitudes toward the films protagonists.

Mud seems to do its best work exploring romantic love across a spectrum of ages and situations. Young teenagers, married parents, adult singles, and an old widower all share their stories of love. Wisdom and foolishness mingle as the lines between right and wrong decisions seem to blur. Love itself is called into question.

Humans are social animals with the ability to shower or shatter one another with love. Reopening the wounds of a broken heart may develop deep scars that suppress the pulse of romantic feelings, but acts of kindness and words of encouragement can heal the naive hopes and vulnerable boldness of persistent affection. Mud gives the audience a good glimpse of the complexities of life and love.

True concern for another’s well-being more than one’s own often means being willing to stay or leave – to hold tight or to let go. That means that true endearment frequently involves sacrificing one’s own desires. It also means that long-term romantic relationships can be often untidy and downright difficult. In a selfish world it may be futile to struggle for lasting love, but Mud advocates for endurance in the effort.

On Inequality

On Inequality is another short read from Philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt. Frankfurt immediately sets out to critique economic egalitarianism. He points out that the haves are not as much of a concern as the have-not’s (i.e. addressing the problems of society’s poorest is more of a concern than taking away from society’s richest), but he points out that the excesses of society’s richest are distasteful. Frankfurt points out that the inequality of political power that sometimes accompanies extravagant wealth is more of a concern than the wealth itself. Frankfurt advocates for the “doctrine of sufficiency”, emphasizing that although more economic and political equality may have a positive impact in many ways, the notion of societal equality as a fundamentally right moral principle is incorrect.

Frankfurt illuminates the dangers of comparison when he deals a deadly blow to the idea that it is right and fair for everyone to possess equal amounts of materials and goods. As an individual with differing ambitions, obligations, and requirements, it is silly think that one person’s fulfillment comes through having the same amount of wealth as the next person. All of this Frankfurt establishes within the first 12 pages.

Frankfurt then goes on to elaborate on some of the defenses of equality as a fundamentally right moral principle. He makes an argument about distribution of goods and utility thresholds when resources are scarce. His argument compellingly emphasizes that there are situations in which inequality is necessary for survival (i.e. the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people may not always result from equal distribution of goods if there are not enough goods for everyone to subsist on).

Resources are often not globally scarce, even for the large population that this planet supports, but resources are often scarce locally. In these situations populations must make decisions about the distribution of resources, and prioritizing the distribution of resources towards that which will provide the most efficient output seems to be common sense. With the technology and communication that modern society possesses, it is the hope that such local catastrophes may be adverted more and more, but Frankfurt’s point holds true – prioritizing equality in situations of scarcity is unlikely to produce the most utilitarian beneficence.

Besides the practical utility of goods, Frankfurt emphasizes that equality is not a fundamentally right moral principle in part because inequality does not prevent a person from being contented with his or her life (i.e. contentment is not dependent on having as much as the next person). This point again acknowledges the individuality of the person. Individuals do not want or desire the same things, but for some reason people often advocate for attainment of similar or equal resources thinking that will lead to fulfillment in life. It’s refreshing to realize that one person does not need the same things as the next person, and that one person may be significantly more contented having less than a discontented but wealthy neighbor.

Frankfurt does not appear to be defending price gauging, lobbying, or other advantageous uses of resource or wealth distribution. Frankfurt states that rights, respect, consideration, and concern should be afforded to every person. On Inequality may be disturbing to some who misinterpret what Frankfurt is saying, but the book is ultimately a rational examination of the idea that economic equality is intrinsically the moral high ground.

On Inequality, like other small books that Frankfurt has written, provides a critical outlook on a subject that deserves more examination. Frankfurt provides an encouragingly detailed reflection on the concept of equal distribution of resources. His words are not idly written, chosen out of a reflexive feeling of defensiveness, or issued based on an immediate emotional response. Rather, Frankfurt provides a non-polarized assessment of a subject that receives far too many sound-bite responses. That is essentially what make Frankfurt’s books enjoyable to read.

 

Silence

Directed by Martin Scorsese and staring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson, Silence is a film about 17th century Jesuit Priests seeking to spread their faith in Japan. The film depicts their persecution and struggles as the Japanese hierarchy sought to uproot Christianity in Japan.

Japan’s resistance to foreign influence was strong, and Christianity was no exception. The story of Silence centers around two Priests who set out to find one of their mentors after his letters from Japan cease and rumor is heard of his denial of Christianity. The Priests seek to spread their faith and find their lost mentor while hiding from Japanese authorities. A story of loyalty and betrayal, belief and unbelief, and faithfulness and unfaithfulness follows.

Silence is a deep and heavy film to watch. It explores cultural conflict, compares and contrasts faiths, poses deep theological and philosophical questions, and challenges the definition of truth. Is truth universal, international, national, cultural, or personal? Is truth dependent upon the circumstances that surround the truth seeker? Is it permissible for a person to repeatedly publicly deny his or her faith while privately believing that faith to be right and true?

Silence is a great precursor to the philosophical question – Is it right or permissible to lie in defense of self or others? Lying for protection from injustice and oppression is often considered an okay if not right thing to do. Modern Biblical theologians might argue the forgivable nature of denying one’s faith, but modern theologians did not have to be faced with the challenges of these 17th century Jesuit Priests.

Silence also has a lot to say about belief in a higher power in general. As the title suggests, God does not rise to the defense of the people being oppressed by the Japanese rulers. There are rare suggestions of God’s presence, but the Priests mostly pray and suffer in silence. This leads to questioning the existence of God along with the reasoning behind unwavering profession of faith.

Though much can be said about the disturbing behavior and reasoning of the persecutors, Silence is about the persecuted. Did the people these priests were ministering to even understand what the priests were endeavoring to teach them? Were the priests accurately communicating and the people adequately interpreting the priests’ conception of God? Were the people dying for God or for paradise? If the priests beliefs were true but the peoples’ faith was flawed, were the priests simply hastening these peoples’ path to hell?

Silence is about the thin line between faithfulness and apostasy, and what it takes to reach and cross that line. Why should these Priests have died for a silent God? What is the promise of a paradise never physically experienced when compared to the tangible stuff of life and the relief of pain? If God exists, Who is God, and is God worth our lives? If a person decides God is not worth her or his life, is God merciful enough to accept that person back?

Those may be some of the questions that Silence leaves with its audience, and especially for people of faith, those may be some important questions to consider.

On Truth

OnTruth

On Truth, written by Harry G. Frankfurt who was a professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, is a book defending and elaborating on the concept of truth. The first thing Frankfurt does is dispose of the fallacy that truth does not exist as disproving  itself (i.e. saying truth does not exist would be an absolute truth). The second thing Frankfurt does is emphasize that he is not writing about what is true and what is not true, but about the vital concept of truth itself.

Frankfurt then examines the importance of truth within modern society and some of the ideologies surrounding the idea of truth. Frankfurt indirectly invites the reader to consider if a person’s idea of truth is determined by her or his experiences and environment. The author emphasizes the importance of truth in regards to being honest about one’s self and in regards to a healthily functioning society. He discusses Baruch Spinoza’s idea that people who love themselves and their lives tend to love truth because of the role truth plays in life.

In the second half of “On Truth”, Frankfurt seems to continue his consequentialist approach to truth as he describes the importance of a person accepting reality for what it is regardless of whether or not she or he agrees with it. Though he continues to elaborate on the necessity of truth in living a fulfilled life, Frankfurt’s dialogue illuminates some fundamental questions. Is it better to utilize truth for one’s own gain, for the gain of a group, or for the gain of society as a whole? Is it better to exercise delayed gratification or immediate gratification?

For example:

The issue of the growing national debt of the United States government is discussed with every election cycle, and this topic must influence decision making on the part of U.S. citizens. Is it better to allow the debt to continue increasing to bolster the U.S. economy now or should the U.S. government make severe budget cuts now to avoid long-term consequences? One could argue that both approaches can be motivated by a consequentialist perspective (i.e. one seeks to benefit people in the present and the other seeks to benefit people in the future), but which approach provides the most benefit for the greatest number of people?

When considering a consequentialist approach an important distinction must be made between what benefits the individual (or the individual’s group) and between what benefits the greatest number of people in society. Though these discussions will likely make decisions much more complicated, they can serve to make decisions more intentional in regards to the beneficence of results. We tend to live in a world that is not black and white in nature but is instead a reality of many shades of gray. Conflicting information and opinion calls for deliberate reasoning based on evidence-based principles and truth. But, humanity often succumbs to impulsive, black and white decision-making based on preset preferences and pre-selected sources of information.

Frankfurt’s realization of the innate variation and grayness of life is refreshing. At one point Frankfurt implies that a lie may have consequential utility in one situation while being a burden to society in another situation.

For example:

Comedians lie frequently about their experiences to create a more humorous punch line. This is one example of how manipulating the reality of a situation may be of benefit to a great number of people. Often jokes are dependent upon realizing the untrue nature of a statement, and such sarcasm may serve to mock a falsity and admire a truth.

If the example of comedians seems like a weak defense of the utility of a lie, the genocidal examples of a German lying to the Gestapo about the location of Jews or of a Rwandan lying about her or his ethnicity to avoid being a victim of mass slaughter should serve as a more potent example. Frankfurt makes his points effectively without use of such examples, and he goes on to illuminate why lies can be so uncomfortable, even when they have some consequential utility.

Lies keep the hearer from some reality. The full truth of a situation is shrouded. That aspect of a lie is always negative, regardless of the lie’s consequential utility. The nature of a lie is entertaining a thought or an idea that is false, and this serves to explain why lies should be naturally less popular than truths (i.e. the nature of reality causes lies to be self-defeating).

“On Truth” is a short, reflective read that provides a good defense of the overall utility and vital nature of absolute truth while acknowledging the existence of various situations in which complete, raw honesty about truth is unknown, undesirable, or not of the most immediate beneficence. Truth has a self-evident nature which always makes falsity somewhat undesirable even if an untruth is useful. Frankfurt’s approach entertains the complex nature of truth while upholding truth’s integrity, and when discussing and deliberating what is likely the most important concept in life, such a balanced and rational approach is a good thing.