How to use this blog

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

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.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The complexity of Falzhaefengilt made manifest and musical alleviation.

The phrase Catch-22 is overused but it serves the purpose here to capture one aspect of Falzhaefengilt.

If you have so called "Bourgeois Guilt" and are aware of it, you will realize, with proper reflection, that no act, no matter how seemingly selfless, will relieve you of that guilt.  The reason is simply you can not be sure that your motivation is not entirely or to a strong degree to relieve the guilt.  The fact that you do an act to relieve the guilt corrupts the intention.  No act based on a corrupt intention is a genuinely good act.  Then put in a situation to do a good act the act itself becomes evidence of your guilt and convicts you.  There is actually no way to relieve Bourgeois Guilt, (c.f. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens when Bourgeois Guilt was Aristocratic Guilt) only to own up to it and feel guilty. However, I largely reject the Bourgeois Guilt hypothesis and it is not necessary to resort to it to explain Falzhaefengilt.

Another cause, a more spiritual cause, is illustrated below.

In this instance a person has developed a reasonable view of his or herself as a deeply flawed creature who, on the whole is a sinner.  This is reflected by the first scale.  In the process of doing a charitable act he or she considers not only the act but the motivations for the act and the smallness of the act in comparison to an entirely pure selfless act.  This self inspection reveals both past and future shortcomings, let us call these the "sins of omission."  The missing good of all potential acts of charity vastly overwhelms the mere flakes of goodness inherent in the particular act of charity leaving him or her in a worse position than before.  The only solace is that these sins of omission were already present just unaccounted but the value of the good act is still reduced by the impurity of the intention.

It seems to me that "good people" perhaps including saints, may often suffer from this form of Falzhaefengilt, as Schindler is dramatized to have suffered.

Is this view valid?

Before we proceed much further along, it may be helpful to know that music can provide temporary relief from Falzhaefengilt.  The reason music provides relief will be explored at some point in this blog, but as an experiment put yourself back in the situations of examples 1 and 2 (whichever, meditation upon made you feel worse).  Then click and watch one or more of the following carefully selected videos*:

Shelter, by Lone Justice
Beautiful Things, by Gungor
Kyrie, by Mr Mister
Bad, by U2
Hold Us Together, by Matt Maher

Questions for Reflection:
(1) Immediately after watching the video walk yourself through the scenario in Example 1 or 2 again.  Do you feel the same way?
(2) What does that say about music's affect on the spiritual/interior life?

What is Falzhaefengilt?

Falzhaefengilt is a feeling of shame, guilt, frustration, or failure in a person arising from or associated with an act of charity the person performed.  Usually the feeling accompanies the act itself but occasionally it immediately proceeds during a period of reflection.

Falzhaefengilt manifests itself as a desire of the individual to downplay the act, or run from the scene of the act, take careful steps to ensure that the act is anonymous and untraceable, or follow up the act with self-deprecating statements.  The individual may sometimes wish to make excuses for the act.  In other words the behavior leading up to or following the act has all the appearance of a guilty conscience.

Schindler's List dramatized it.

It is uncertain how common Falzhaefengilt is but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is rather common.

Mother Teresa may also have experienced it.
I spoke [to others] as if my very heart was in love with God—tender, personal love. If you were [there], you would have said, "What hypocrisy."

Her spiritual agony was exploited by her critics who viewed her as a fraud.  They claimed that the phenomenon of Mother Teresa was driven by feelings of guilt called Middle Class or Bourgeois Guilt.  Mother Teresa supposedly took advantage of this.  (Though what this "advantage" got her is unclear).

However, Falzhafengilt is not a feeling that arises from ignorance of the "interior life" or without consideration for the lower emotions.  It is not the product of hypocrisy or unexpressed guilt.  The person who suffers from Falzhaefengilt is aware of the fact that his or her own motivations for the act are not genuine or pure.  That is part of the spiritual problem. The charitable act happens despite guilt not because of it and knowing that feelings of guilt (in terms of one's own fallen nature) will remain.

It can be anticipated that exploring Falzhaefengilt will lead us to other important questions.  I do not claim to have any of the answers to these questions.  But a respectful dialog may help to form a clearer picture of the interior struggles of sinners and saints, the nature of morality, and our relationship with other's as a community and as individuals.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Example 2: "Pay it forward"

To "pay it forward" means to pay for the food for the next person in line, usually at a drive through when it can be done anonymously.  You have heard about it and how it often happens at Chick-Fil-A's the favorite fast food of evangelical Protestants and evangelical Catholics alike.

It so happens that you are in line at a Chick-Fil-A when you look in your rear view mirror and you notice the man in the car behind you is having a difficult time with his two boys in the back seat. When he rolls down his window to order you can hear him yelling at his kids to shut up or he is taking them home.  When it is your turn to pay, you pay for your own food with a credit card and then take twenty dollars from your wallet and tell the cashier that you will pay for the man behind you too.  As soon as you have your food you drive off as quickly as you can, and get as far down the road as you can.

About yourself...
(1) Would you have done this if it was a McDonald's instead of a Chick-Fil-A?
(2) Why did you pay for his food with cash?
(3) Why did you drive off so quickly as if you were running away from scratching someone's door?

About the father and his family?
(1) What was the political persuasion of the man behind you?
(2) What do you think the reaction of his boys were when they heard this?  Did they think better of their father or worse?
(3) What do you think the reaction of the father was?  Did he feel better about himself or 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?
(5) Did he tell his wife what happened when he got home?

About the cashier?
(1) What was her feeling when you paid it forward?  What does she think about Chick-Fil-A?

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

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?