Pedra, Papel e Tesoura

18 de setembro de 2020

Some advice from Augustine, part 3.

Filed under: Livros, Passatempos — Tags:, , — Yure @ 16:55

This time, I read the book The Trinity. As some of you know, I was once the only agnostic in a family of four, three of whom were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sometimes the pressure was overwhelming. In any case, when you live with Jehovah’s Witnesses, you end up learning some things by osmosis and one of the things I learned was that the Trinity is a doctrine that makes not much sense. I myself never believed in the idea that God is one in three, even when I was a Catholic (you should not be surprised about me having a Catholic past).

I will try to explain: in the holy gospel according to St. John, chapter 1, verse 1, it is written that the Word was God. So far, so good. Of course, God created the universe by speaking. The Word is the means by which the universe came to be. But then, “the Word was with God”, denoting separation. And then, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” in the person of Jesus. If so, the Word was not created (“creation”, according to Aquinas, is to form something out of nothing), but “generated” by God from himself. Hence the Word is called “Son”. Now, God is a metaphysically simple being. If so, the Son is shares his substance with God. In metaphysics, “substance = 1 essence + n accidents”. Since God is simple, there are no accidents in him. Therefore, in the case of God, its substance coincides with its essence. If the Son has the same essence as God, it follows that we can say, in a strictly metaphysical sense, that the Son is God. And God would be everything that proceeds from God or the Word (like the Holy Spirit) instead of having been created out of nothing (like the universe) or formed of previously created substance (like man). In order to harmonize this with the prohibition against polytheism, it must be said that the God adored by the Catholic man is the God-substance (unique) in three people: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In short, the Trinity is a God that is one in three, a motto also recited as “one essence, three people”.

And why don’t I adopt this idea? I don’t want to put Aquinas against Augustine, but I spent a lot of my adolescence reflecting on Aquinas’ five ways: movement, efficient cause, necessity, degrees of perfection and universal order. I used to do that while I wasn’t locked in the room doing … other things that may have involved Fur Affinity. So, for Aquinas, there needs to be a motor that is not being moved by anything else, an uncaused cause, a necessary being, which is also extremely perfect and that puts the universe in order. Thomas Aquinas concludes that all these things point to one being, who can be called God. Now, the first three ways are reduced to the third: God is a necessary being that must exist, because the nothing, being infertile, cannot generate anything. Something must have always existed, and that something is God. But Augustine admits that of the three persons of the Trinity, only the Father is not generated by anything. Putting the Father and the Son (or the Holy Spirit) in comparison, the Father would take precedence. Therefore, only the Father is necessary, because the Son was generated by him, but the opposite is impossible. By generation, I understand the change of the Son from a latent state in God (as a Word) to an individualized state (as a second person, the Word, or Son).

This explains why the Incarnate Word, Jesus, even though he shares substance with God, did not try to be equal to God. It makes perfect sense that Jesus constantly put himself below God the Father. So, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, I am of the opinion that “God” is a title that only fits to those who are not created, nor generated. Even if the Word has the same substance to the Father, this is not enough for the Word to be considered God in an absolute sense, although it can be in a strictly metaphysical sense. This is one of those situations where philosophy gets in the way of simplicity.

So why would I read a book called The Trinity? Why not? When you major in philosophy, you have to give everything a chance. Who knows? Maybe I’m wrong about something. Maybe the guy will convince me. I’ve changed my mind so much by reading books that I was reluctant to read. Perhaps Augustine knows something that I don’t. Right? Actually… that is not what happened. He tried very hard to convince me, but I’m afraid the book had the opposite effect. The Trinity showed me that the idea of ​​a three in one God makes even less sense than I thought. Sometimes Augustine repeats the same thing over and over, as if in exasperation, trying to convince himself that what he’s writing is real! I actually felt sorry for the guy… If I wanted to convince someone that the Trinity makes little or no sense, I would lend that book to the person. I’m serious.

Nevertheless, I managed to extract from this book some advice that still works today, although none of them concerns the heavy theology of the work.

The fact that someone has already written about a certain subject does not imply that you cannot write about that subject as well, especially if you can write more completely, correctly or simply. The text given to the unbeliever is different from the text given to the neophyte and the text given to the neophyte is not the text given to the long-time initiate.

I wrote a lot on this blog. If you agree with me on something I said, but feels that the layman may not be able to understand, rewrite what I said on your own blog, but using more accessible language. This must have happened because I write for people like me, regardless of their level of education, something that I am only fixing now. I’m trying to stay more in line now, writing in a clearer language, since most people who read my blog don’t even have philosophical training. Those who do have such training are neophytes. Those who are already trained probably don’t even know that I exist. So it’s almost useless to write as an academic here.

Besides, it could be that I got something wrong or missed something. It is also part of life. You can write on your blog about the mistakes I made. I usually don’t make a big deal about this kind of thing, since my blog is small and has not a lot of views a day (except when a scandal involving minor-attracted people erupts on Twitter, then everyone links here).

When someone proves you wrong, please be humble and accept the correction. Whoever loves the truth is not afraid of being criticized.

Socrates pointed out once, I do not remember in which dialogue, that it seems that there are people who are ashamed to learn. To learn, you have to admit that you don’t know something. As learning is a form of improvement, the person who closes himself off from valid criticism also ends up depriving himself of ways to improve his own life. This happens when a person loves the feeling of being “right” more than the truth. The problem is to discern when criticism is valid or not. At least for me, a criticism is valid when it helps me achieve my goals. In the case of Augustine, the criticism would be valid insofar as such criticism favors the understanding of Catholic dogmas, since the explanation of such dogmas is his goal. This, of course, implies that he would not accept any criticism that attacks the dogmas, instead of explaining them…

You don’t have to agree with everything that is written in a book.

Understanding that the topic is difficult, Augustine says right away that you don’t have to agree with what he says if you think he’s talking nonsense. He’s always been like that, which is admirable. He used to say “don’t treat my texts as canonical”. Augustine admits that he may be wrong, so his books should not be taken as a rule of faith under any circumstances, such is the extent of human intellectual weakness. It would be great if more writers had such humility. It is very difficult to find a book that is 100% nonsense, but you should be suspicious even of authors you tend to agree with when they say something that causes you doubt. Every book carries a percentage of truth and a percentage of error (unless it is sacred). Separate the two and get the best of every book you read.

Science is more useful the closer it is to us.

I think I already discussed this in the previous entry, but it never hurts to say it again: people value the science that concerns them immediately more than the science that is far from daily life. Did you know that they are going to prepare a new mission to Venus, now that signs of microbiological life have been found there? Well, that doesn’t solve the pandemic going on Earth. This does not mean that the mission should not happen, but that people do not see it as a priority at the moment. This is because people do not feel the use of sciences that study things that are far from daily life.

If you do what Jesus says, God will like you.

Augustine mentions that Jesus taught his disciples that the Creator’s favor is granted to those who listen to Christ. Jesus stands as the only way to reach God and disallows alternative paths. Although Augustine does not go so far as to say what I am about to say, does this not imply that the four gospels are all that the faithful need if being saved is their only concern? Jesus seems to condition salvation to the ability to love. Perhaps Christians would be more decent people if they paid more attention to the Gospels than to the rest of the Holy Bible.

When describing the supernatural, words falter.

Augustine says that describing supernatural things, such as the Trinity, is a task hampered by human language, which often fails to describe something unrelated to the known physical world. This is what happens with Ezekiel, in his prophecy: when describing the visions he had, he admittedly uses approximate terms (“I saw something like […]”). That is why biblical prophecies need to be understood as images, things in a figurative sense, because the prophet is seeing things that can’t easily be put into words. But don’t confuse prophecies with commandments, because the orders are clear (or it wouldn’t be fair to condemn those who don’t follow them).

Whoever loves wants the beloved to become a better person.

This advice is useful if you want to know when you are in an abusive relationship. So, pay attention, boys. Everyone wants happiness. Well, happiness is the state in which there is nothing to complain about. You complain because of your problems. If your loved one causes you more problems than they solve, that person probably does not love you. On the other hand, if your loved one is committed to solving your problems, that person really loves you, because he wants to see you in a better situation than your current situation. In the Phaedrus, Plato writes the dialogue between the titular character and Socrates, in which Socrates says that harmful love leads the lover to keep the beloved in a terrible condition, so that the beloved is dependent on the lover and, therefore, exploitable. Now, can you call this “love”? If a person “loves” you that way, you better get away.

If God is love, a person who does not love does not know God. Love ratifies faith.

John writes in his first letter that God is love. Whoever does not love does not know God, because the inability to love a brother (who is visible) is a sign of the inability to love God (who is invisible). This is true for humans, not angels or other spiritual beings who can know God through other ways. What, then, to say about Christians who use their faith to give free rein to their hatred, if not that they are not Christians? It is love that ratifies faith among men. If a man does not love, his faith in a loving God is impossible. “Ah, but just have to believe to be saved!” To this, we can only oppose what James says in his letter (which Luther considers worthless): the demons also believe, and tremble.

Retaining something in memory requires attention.

This observation reminds me of some things I read in Freud‘s theory of trauma: for a memory to be traumatic, there must be surprise (which directs your attention to the inciting object) and real or perceived risk of death (which uses the attention given to impress the trauma on the subject). If you did not pay attention, the memory would not be retained, let alone become a “traumatic” memory. I read in the Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexuality that dealing with illegal sexual experiences in childhood or adolescence requires that such occurrences be considered as any other, bad, but of little importance. If you make a huge fuss over what happened, you draw the kid’s attention to your negative reaction, making the event more difficult to forget, while also associating negative emotions to it. This is secondary victimization, something with Susan Clancy spoke about in her The Trauma Myth. This is how pleasurable sexual experiences at a young age become a source of trauma later, because you absorb stigma from your environment when the act is discovered. Not to say, of course, that forced or painful experiences that are traumatic in nature do not happen. They do happen. But the secondary victimization theory helps to explain why incidents that were not traumatic when they happened become a source of anxiety later in life. In short, it is the attention paid that makes such experiences printable in memory. If such experiences are traumatic, they will produce traumatic memories.

The search for the common good includes the individual good, but the search for the individual good does not include the common good.

And that is why I am so strongly attracted to socialism. If we seek good for all of us, each individual will also be positively affected. But, if each one seeks only their own good, there is a chance that you will end up stepping over the weakest ones, as if they were “failures”. So, when you are faced with a moral issue, take the course of action that would favor the greatest number of people or, at least, the course that would harm the fewest possible.

If you are not able to get what you want, at least try to want only what you can have, so as not to add despair to frustration.

The existence of ideas like these, says Augustine, shows how stoicism fails to bring happiness. Even if the person stops chasing what he cannot have, he can still feel bad for having an unsatisfied desire. Chasing something and failing because achieving it is impossible hurts less than wisely not trying what is impossible for you. But that’s it. You don’t stop hurting, but you surely hurt less by not attempting to achieve an impossible goal.

The child is so impressed by the senses that it seems that he only wants what gives him physical pleasure and only rejects what gives him physical pain. The study of something is conditioned by love and rejection. Not only the man, but also the boy has memory, intelligence and will.

This idea appears during the discussion about child self-awareness. Does the child know himself? If he has memory, intelligence and will, probably. And he must have, since these skills, even if they develop through exercise, must be existing in the mind, even if latent, because there is no force in the brain capable of creating them from nothing. But it is not possible to know with certainty whether the child is capable of self-awareness for two reasons: first because we do not remember when we were babies and second because babies do not speak, so we can’t ask them. Perhaps neurology has an answer for that already. Probably. Just never bothered to look it up…

It is difficult to say whether the child is self-aware or not, when it seems that all he thinks about is feeling good and not feeling bad. So much so that something that makes the child feel good will probably not be seen as something negative, even if it is aberrant for morally conscious adults. This is so true, that this is how we teach what children should learn: by positive or negative reinforcement, as pleasure and pain are the child’s driving forces. But even if this conditioning is applied perfectly, we still cannot make a child love to study if he does not enjoy studying (otherwise, he will just love the reward for studying, not studying itself). And that is what makes real scientists and philosophers different from ordinary people: they do what they do because they like it. If you enjoy something, you will be good at it. This is what makes us do well in certain school subjects: we like some more than others.

The more you know, the more you want to know. Faith seeks, but intelligence finds it.

We all have beliefs. And belief is the starting point for knowledge of the world. The belief is spontaneous. By using our intelligence to examine belief, we can know whether we were right or wrong in what we believed, totally or partially. This leads us to new knowledge, more rational than the previous one. This is the engine of progress. When you discover something new, you are led to know more, using your previous discovery as starting point. The big bang theory was a blast at the time it was conceived and accepted, but then someone said that the big bang is can’t be an effect without a cause. Now everybody’s wondering what was happened before the big bang and what could have caused such an event. There is still no dominant theory about this.

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