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For full effect, it is important to start with the earliest entries and work your way through the exercises to the most recent.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Music

The last topic to be discussed in this blog is the subject of music, its power, limitations, and dangers.  The key to understanding the importance of music in the spiritual life is to understand the relation between emotion and reason as guides.

We begin with the assertion that music speaks to both the rational and the emotional mind but more to the emotional mind.  No long discussion is needed here, because it is self-evident.  For example, consider that music can be either cynical or naive.  It can be sentimental, nostalgic, wistful, bitter, joyful, peaceful, sorrowful.  And it can be beautiful.  Music creates mood.  Music also tells a story and can create ideas, but the primary focus is that music relate ideas to emotions.  For that reason alone it carries a great weight.

Music's mathematical nature should not be mistaken for reason and listening to it should not be mistaken as a rational exercise.  Enjoying patterns is not the same as rational activities like analyzing patterns, developing new patterns, elaborating on existing patterns, etc...  though it may help.  Music may even occupy a space in the mind, suppressing certain thought processes.  Listening to music is an activity that can suppress the inner dialog and captures the listener.  This is evident in the fact that the listener is not content merely to hear the music, but is impelled to sing or hum along.  I can not think of any other art form that engages the audience so naturally and universally.

Music can be both good and bad.  Music can be prayer, it can be meditation, it can serve as a backdrop for reflection.  It can lead us towards a proper mindset, increase our sensitivity to the needs of others.  Rationally chosen, music provides relief to Falzhaefengilt by greatly reducing the complexity of the spiritual life.   As such it soothes and dulls the pain of self introspection.  To this extent, music acts as a medicine.

The danger is music can also act as a drug.  Music can provide distraction, it can make us turn inward, it can cause despair, frustration, and mistrust.  Modern musicians sing with most meaning when they sing of their own emptiness, longing, and regret.  Music offers a kind of commiseration but it does not offer a cure.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Transforming Falzhaefengilt: From Hypercrisy to Reflection

Thus, it is apparent that Falzhaefengilt can, if understood, be made to work for us.  The emotions we feel: happiness, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, and so on are wordless indicators of our condition.  It is not completely accurate to say they are products of the subconscious because some, especially the higher ones, are products of our rational thought process.  They are not, therefore, bad. They do not need to be suppressed.  Instead, they often simply need to be unraveled.  Like a knot, it may be necessary to tighten them up a bit before they can be loosened.

The power of the rational mind over our emotions is something which seems to be absent from the noosphere these days.  Desires are there to be scratched, guilt to be ignored, anger directed, etc...  It seems to me that rather than letting emotions control our actions we should instead let our higher rational functions do the directing and our emotional state providing the intuitive information that alerts us to potential problems, potential solutions, and confirms us in our actions.

Before looking at the good-side of emotions, consider that the problem with our emotions is that they often lead us astray.  For example, when we are insulted we react by becoming angry.  This anger is satisfied by retaliation.  The retaliation is often worse than the original injury and escalates conflict, and upon reflection leads eventually back to guilt.  Feelings of guilt are mixed with embarrassment and shame that are held in check by becoming withdrawn.   Taking a cue from Yoda, we see that there is a sequence of progressing from negative emotion to negative emotion.  Being withdrawn leads to loneliness.  Loneliness to self-pity, self-pity to resentment, resentment to sarcasm, scorn, bitterness.  Someone ruled by emotional impulses is someone who lacks self-discipline and self-control, which is the surest means to happiness.  Surrendering to emotional responses clouds the judgment and leads to an unhappy life.

Yet, emotions are natural and they are useful.  Clearly the positive emotions, specifically feelings of compassion allow us to interact with charity and build relationships.  Feelings of awe and wonder provide transcendent moments that allow us to sense the presence of eternal things.  The negative emotions also serve to inspire us to take action against injustice, sometimes they soften us and make us more receptive to the feelings of others and to our own needs, especially needs for friendship, love, community.  They alert us to our own deficiencies which include our hunger for God.

The problem posed by Falzhaefengilt is that it is a kind of negative feedback on charitable actions, and that seems wrong.  Charity should make us feel better about ourselves and inspire joy, shouldn't they?

No.  Not necessarily.  A charitable act may be a means of grace, by which your heart is softened and you become more attuned to God and this may not be emotionally pleasing.  Reflection, which is primarily a rational activity, is the proper response to Falzhaefengilt and all other negative emotions.  By reflection, negative feelings are transformed into more complex positive emotions such as humility, peace, and genuine repentance.




Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Contrasting Examples 1 and 2

Having formulated a proper understanding of Falzhaefengilt we can now properly identify the spiritual underpinnings and determine if there are issues.  This is most quickly exhibited by contrasting examples 1 and 2.

As noted in example 1, the central motivation was compassion, which is good.  Compassion takes us out of ourselves and makes us consider the needs of the other.  Once understood, the answers to the questions posed become very simple.  To act compassionately towards someone in need is always good.  To recognize your own prejudice is also good provided you don't confuse an action of compassion with an attempt to relieve "bourgeoise guilt."  Recognizing your own fallen nature is good.  Asking someone to pray for you is good provided it is humble and not pretentious.  The opportunity is also a chance to deepen your charitable instincts.  But what is best is when the motivation is directed outward.

Example 2 is not so easily understood.  Certainly Falzhaefengilt is at play but there are more troubling spiritual issues.  Was there too much identification with the angry father?  Was this done out of contempt or compassion?  Was it actually an attempt to inflict shame on the angry father -- in other words an attempt to let him know you saw what he did and embarrass him in front of his children?  These questions need to be explored.  The attempt to flee in this case might have been done out of honest shame for an outwardly charitable action that was actually not done in charity.

The consequences of a charitable action are not always clear.  It is more likely that the end results are good though the motivation was flawed.  Reflection on our motivations is important so that we will to do good and not evil, but it is not the final step we need to take.  Ultimately we can only conform our will with our actions by directing both towards the good of the other.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Example 2: Revisited


(1) Would you have done this if it was a McDonald's instead of a Chick-Fil-A?
No.  You expect behavior like that at a McDonald's.  Chick-Fil-A patrons are supposed to represent the salt of the earth.

(2) Why did you pay for his food with cash?
Because cash is more personal, is anonymous, and feels more real.

(3) Why did you drive off so quickly as if you were running away from scratching someone's door?
To ensure that I could not see his face and that he would not have noticed my car when he was aware of what happened.

About the father and his family?
(1) What was the political persuasion of the man behind you?
Most likely a talk-radio republican.

(2) What do you think the reaction of his boys were when they heard this?  Did they think better of their father or worse?
Bemused.  Worse.

(3) What do you think the reaction of the father was?  Did he feel better about himself or worse?
Unsettled.  Worse.

(4) Did he "pay it forward too?"  If yes why?  If no, how do you think he felt the next time he went to Chick-Fil-A?
Probably not.  Worse.

(5) Did he tell his wife what happened when he got home?
Yes, he would not have been able to stop himself and he knows his kids would tell her.

About the cashier?
(1) What was her feeling when you paid it forward?  What does she think about Chick-Fil-A?
She thought it was an act of charity.  She thinks Chick-Fil-A attracts good customers.

Now read the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:3-13)

Questions:
How do you think the steward, clearly aware of his own dishonesty and corrupt motivations, would have reacted to the commendation of the master at the end of the parable?
(a) With self-adulation?  After all, he is pretty clever and it's good the master recognized it.
(b) With guilt.  He does not deserve the praise of the master.  He is dishonest.
(c) With incredulity.  The praise is meaningless.
(d) With repentance?
The answer is (c).  He is not a charitable person by his nature and cannot understand generosity except in terms of what is mutually beneficial and he can only be charitable with someone else's property.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Example 1 Revisited

Answers to Questions:
(a) Can you think of a reason why you should have taken the money?  Is that reason valid?  How does that make you feel?

The reason to take the money was to allow the mom to participate in her own redemption and reduce her feelings of obligation.  The reason is partially valid but not taking her money is not being selfish if you have considered this.  You are not showing off or putting her under any future obligation.


(b) Was it right to ask the woman to pray for you?  What were you thinking in making such a request?  How does that make you feel?

Yes it was right.  It was the most decent thing you could do under the circumstances.  You need prayers and we should pray for each other.  When you made this request you were thinking about your own sinfulness and that she may, in her poverty, be closer to God.  It is not selfish to ask someone to pray for you.  You should feel a sense of sadness which softens your heart.


(c) Did you consider your own child in this situation seeing as how they were waiting for you and relying on you to be a dependable parent.  What do you say to your child when you are twenty minutes late picking them up?  Will this affect your child's opinion of you in a positive or negative way.  How does that make you feel?

Yes you did.  But they were in a safe place and, because you are in a general a considerate person, you were going to be early to pick them up now you will be late.  When you explained the situation to your child you hope that they understand.  You feel bad for causing your child to worry and become distressed.  Your child will see your feelings will have positive feelings toward you if you have a good relationship and feel negative feelings if they are selfish.  But you should be an example to your child so that they know that the christian family includes other people too.



(d) Why did you stop for the mom with the kids in the car?  Would you have done the same for someone else?  Consider this question in depth and search for your own prejudices.  How does that make you feel?

Because she needed help.  There are some people you would not have stopped for; in fact it is least likely you would have stopped for your own self.  But this is not the first time you have stopped to help someone.  Prejudice enters into this as it must.  You have to make a judgment before you have all the information.  But the prejudice concerned the evaluation of the "state-of-life" issues (e.g. this person needs my help because she may not have the means to help herself).  This does not change the way you feel.


(e) The ethnicity of the mom and children was not mentioned.  What do you think it was?  Why do you think that?  Considering your answer, how does that make you feel?

What you assume in an instant is based on your own life experiences and is subconscious.  You can attempt to train yourself to think of people only in the abstract but that is not natural.  But it only really matters if you would not have stopped because of her race regardless of that race.  (i.e. it would have been wrong to not stop simply because she was black, and it would have been wrong to not stop simply because she was white).  Sexism (e.g. you only stopped because she was a woman) is not at play here.


(f) Based on this experience and your answer to question (d) next time you see a stranded motorist, under what circumstances would you stop?  If you decide to stop, how do you feel?  If you decide not to stop, how do you feel?

Depending on the circumstances I will make my best judgment but I can not guarantee that I will stop since my decision does not simply effect me but my family as well.


(g) How many times in the past have you stopped and how many times in the past have you not stopped for a stranded motorist?  How do you feel right now?

I have stopped at least three times for stranded motorists and probably passed several dozen stranded motorists.  I feel somewhat neutral


(h) Now read the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  Does this passage offer any clue to how the Samaritan felt while he administered aid to a Jew?  If you were a Jew listening to this story, knowing what you know about the antipathy between Jews and Samaritans how would you feel?

Yes.  The key word in the story is that the good Samaritan was moved with compassion.  That is to say his motivation was concern for the man and that compassion drove him to heroic action.

If I had been a Jewish listener I may have been disgusted with Jesus and thought he was showing a reverse prejudice.  Later I may have considered this a challenge.  Likely the story would not have been one to make me feel closer to Jesus.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Scales of Conscience (Hypercrisy)

We have discovered that whatever Falzhaefengilt is, it arises from the "Scales of the Conscience."  This is not a path that has never been discovered before.  Plenty of people have studied Cognition and the formation of conscience, morality, and so forth.  We have no plans here to erase one letter, refute one claim, or elaborate on one idea.  To the degree that we fall short of the work of others we accept that we likely will because we simply won't put much work into this activity and we don't have time to read what anybody else has written let alone comment on it except to say it exists and if you are really interested, read it yourself and leave a comment below.

But let us ask here, what is weighed on the scale of consicence?  Not an individual event but the collection of all past and future events which vastly outstrip the weight of the moment.  No matter how generous the charitable act, the individual is overwhelmed with the smallness of it in comparison to everything else.  The only thing that can encompass the totality of what is weighed on the scales of conscience is the totality of the individual.  This is an activity very far from hypocrisy which exaggerates small virtues and ignores large vices.  We could call this hypercrisy.  

Read now the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  

The sufferer of Falzhaefengilt is no doubt very familiar with this parable and the sufferer does not see himself at all reflected in the position of the Tax Collector.  Rather he sees himself in scales of conscience always as the Pharisee who is using his good act to justify himself (this despite the fact that the good act had nothing to do with an attempt to justify himself).  Therefore he attempts to turn to the position of the Tax Collector by forgetting the good acts and bringing to mind all his own sins and shortcomings.  In such a way he attempts to throw himself on the mercy of God.  He accuses himself to justify himself.  Unfortunately in so-doing he deprives himself again of self-justification because, again, the motivation for repentance is selfish and insincere therefore hypocritical.  No path to justification remains possible.

Dear reader, the hole has been dug as deeply as it can.  The trap has snapped shut.  We have ended our decent into Falzhaefengilt and we find it dark and frustrating, but we also find it finite.  Understanding now, as fully as possible, the cause and symptoms of Falzhaefengilt, the fact it is not a something-else but a thing in and of itself, we turn now to the other questions.  Is it good or bad?  Should it be cured?  Can it be cured?

We leave you now with the Ford Maddox Brown painting, Manfred on the Jungfrau.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Bourgeois Guilt" or Spiritual Self-Torment

If you have been following the discussion so far a careful review of examples 1 and 2 would show that even if the "Bourgeois Guilt" hypothesis played a role it only does so in a secondary sense.   Bourgeois guilt is simply an aspect of the fundamental problem of motivation.  It reduces the value of the "good act" but only in the most perverted views of justice does in make the "good act" into a "bad act" (see note below).

The issue isn't a sense of social guilt (whether by race, nationality, or class) it is a sense of personal guilt that arises as a result of weighing upon the scales of the conscience.  The self-accusation of hypocrisy is one that induces the opposite effect, hyper-self-criticism.  The good act is carried out because it is objectively good but self-torment arises because the act is at best subjectively neutral and exposes the individual to an increase in guilt.  To derive no benefit from the act, not even a benefit in feeling, is the only proper response the individual can take.  Therefore the individual always wishes to escape from attention.  In addition, the individual may come to view the beneficiary of the act as morally superior.  Self-deprecation, self-abasement: "I am the worst of sinners!" is certainly no escape from the trap.  To call oneself "the worst of sinners" is not really self-abasement but self-aggrandizement, another face of hypocrisy.  The individual does not look for a distorted self-image but a true self-image.

Ford Maddox Brown was a master of capturing complex emotions in his paintings.  St. Peter's expression in "Jesus Washing Peter's Feet" captures the anguish Peter must have felt at this crucial moment (John 13:1-17) leading up to the passion.  Now Peter's anguish is something quite different than falzhaefengilt, but they shares somethings in common.  Both are moral dilemmas, struggles with grace, and the grace is not to be denied.