Friday, July 22, 2016

The Habits of Faith and Problem Solving

The book I’ve written about faith, reason and problem solving will be available at all major online book outlets, hopefully by the end of the summer. It’s called Faith with Good Reason: Finding Truth Through an Analytical Lens and the foreword is written by Stacy Trasancos, PhD.

The book is a practical look at faith, reason and problem solving for dealing with the common realities we all face—for all things visible and invisible. When I was chosen to become the program leader and instructor for a specific kind of problem solving and decision making process for my job, I began to see commonalities between the rational processes I was learning and some of the reasoning of the various Catholic thinkers I was reading. If you think about analytical problem solving, it's about finding "truth" objectively, regardless of feelings, strong opinions, past experiences or intuition; finding truth even when empirical evidence is lacking or impossible to obtain.

Although the book is already written, I continue to come across aspects of problem solving that can relate to the spiritual life, such as this article about three habits of creative problem solvers.


HABIT #1: THEY'RE COMFORTABLE WITH UNCERTAINTY

You may think a method of analytical problem solving is only about observable evidence. It is not. Most often it is physically impossible for us to obtain all the data we need or want to answer all the questions we have. In fact, I don’t remember a single instance at work when we had all the evidence we wanted at our disposal, therefore we need to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.

Uncertainty can help us see things from a new perspective, but without some comfort level with uncertainly, we can become fearful and revert to a “fight-or-flight” mentality, which is detrimental to any critical thinking process. For problem solving, the “fight” instinct might lead to irrational thinking, jumping to conclusions and being overwhelmed by the scope of the mess. The “flight” instinct might cause you to give up, pass the buck or waste mental energy blaming others.

It can be similar with the spiritual life. Uncertainty about the future, all the evil in the world, all the conflicting opinions, what we should do, or who to believe, can result in a “fight-or-flight” spirituality. Fighting for your faith, or just fighting to keep your faith, without a clear understanding of it can lead to irrational thinking, jumping to conclusions and being overwhelmed by the scope of the mess. Flight from faith can be just that…giving up with a bunch of poor excuses. If you take the time to seriously study your faith, you will become more comfortable with uncertainty.

Here’s a helpful tip from the article; create certainty in the rest of your life. The more habit and ritual you create in your day to day life, the more stamina you'll have when uncertainty shows up. Have a regular prayer time each day, receive the Sacraments often (weekday Masses/confession), read spiritual books grounded in Truth, and perform corporal/spiritual works of mercy regularly. These spiritual habits will give you strength when faced with uncertainty.

HABIT #2 THEY KNOW HOW AND WHEN TO RE-FRAME SETBACKS

Failure results in negative emotions like shame, fear and frustration. As a result many of us hide it. Hiding a problem, or a failed attempt to solve it, can delay the solution and potentially make things worse.

A good problem solver will not internalize setbacks; they will learn from them and perhaps use any new data from the failed attempt for the next attempt. He or she is also humble enough to get others involved. Instead of thinking, “I failed; better make sure nobody knows” they will think, "That attempt failed; let’s learn from it."—Big difference.

Catholicism and Christianity in general is a lot about forgiveness and second chances. We are to strive for holiness, but oftentimes we are more interested in what we want than what is right or what is true, living more for ourselves than for God. Sin is essentially a refusal to let God have His way in our life, so we have setbacks. Re-frame your spiritual setbacks and learn from them. Don’t think “I failed; better make sure nobody knows.” Re-frame it; only your attempt has failed. Ask for help. Involve others. Go to confession.

HABIT #3: THEY BELIEVE THEY CAN KEEP IMPROVING

The article refers to having a "growth mind-set" rather than a “fixed mind-set”. A growth mind-set basically believes that things can get better with effort, learning and help from others. A fixed mind-set sees no way to continue. Don’t think to yourself, “I’m not smart enough to solve this problem.” Instead think, “It is not solved yet, but it can be, perhaps with new skills, knowledge or help.” Add the word "yet" to your thinking. "There is no answer, yet." or "I’m not sure what to do, yet."

The virtue of hope is needed in the spiritual life to keep us moving. "I’m not as faithful as I should be, yet." or "I’m not sure how to grow spiritually, yet." We need a growth mind-set, but what effort are we putting forth for growth? What new knowledge or skills do we require to improve? How will we seek the help we need?

The Catechism says in paragraph 1821, “In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere to the end.” We should take comfort knowing that it is always possible to grow spiritually if we understand the mystery of God as an invitation. The negative view of the term “mystery” is that we can never hope to fully understand it or prove it and we will never be perfect (fixed mind-set). The positive view says there is an inexhaustible well of truth and love from which the soul can drink with the assurance that the well will never run dry (growth mind-set).


"We first make our habits, and then our habits make us."
John Dryden

Monday, July 18, 2016

Adopt a Terrorist Today

The recent atrocity in Nice France and the ambush killings of police officers here in the U.S. reminded me of this blog post by Fr. Burke Masters, Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Joliet, IL. It’s about a challenge to love as God loves and a call to holiness by praying for our enemies and those who persecute us. The post goes so far as to suggest that we spiritually adopt a terrorist. Perhaps it could be a terrorist currently planning another attack in the very near future? Perhaps we can even make it personal by giving him (or her) a name? During my morning prayer discipline, I pray the Lord somehow reach them with the Way and the Truth and the Life; to help them see how they are living out the precise opposite—being lost, with lies and death.


We may say this is all too hard. It’s not possible for a human to love exactly as God loves or be perfect as God is perfect. There is truth to that, but if we live by this negative attitude we forget that all things are possible with God and blow off the whole idea. We then reject the challenge. We also forget that being perfect as God is perfect is written as a command, not a suggestion (see Matthew 5:48).

Challenges are good; they help us to focus and grow. Athletes need to push themselves to improve and it’s painful and uncomfortable. Students need to be challenged by their schools and instructors in order to reach higher levels of learning. We are currently writing our goals for fiscal year 2016 where I work, and the challenges presented to us by our superiors are a bit intimidating. If we are not pushed and willing to accept at least some stress, we will not advance.


It’s the same in the spiritual life. We tend to pray for the things we want and the people we like because it’s easy and comfortable. While this is not objectivity wrong, we should challenge ourselves to remain vigilant in asking God’s will and consider who needs our prayers the most, regardless of our feelings. In this way we can ensure our prayer life is not linked to our own selfishness.

Consider it like “fasting” from our favorite and most comfortable prayers to try a narrower path. I’ve heard it said that it is impossible to truly hate someone if you pray regularly for that person. Try it sometime as an act of the will. Of course, we should pray for all the victims of terrorism also, but this is not very challenging to do. Prayer for the killers is uncomfortable, but being comfortable is not what Jesus promised us and is not the purpose of our life.

“Our salvation will come in the measure that we love our worst enemy.”
—unknown spiritual writer


Saturday, June 25, 2016

I Agree with Pope Francis

Pope Francis recently said the following, “a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” (or “some of our sacramental marriages are null” according to later Vatican editing of the text) 1, and I agreein a certain sense.


Technically, for a marriage to be both valid and sacramental all the following criteria must be satisfied:

  • Both parties are baptized
  • The spouses are free to marry
  • They have the intention to marry for life
  • They have the intention to be faithful to one another
  • They are open to having biological children together
  • Consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.
But is it possible to have a valid marriage without a valid understanding of marriage? I think it is.

In the U.S. we become legal adults at age eighteen and are treated as such under the law (with some exceptions like purchasing alcohol). This is good since we need clear definitions to avoid endless debates about what being an adult really means. But do all “valid” eighteen year olds act in an adult manner? Does something instantly change about our mind, body or soul on our eighteenth birthday? Could we not find some seventeen year olds that understand what it means to be an adult more than any number of people over the age of eighteen?

Whether defining marriage or adulthood, I think it’s very common to meet a quantitative definition without a qualitative understanding, and I think this gap in understanding for marriage can be best expressed in terms of covenant vs. contract.

The story of God and man can be spoken of in terms of covenants. This is what many of the stories in the Bible are all about. In the Catholic view, the Bible is not a science book or a history book; it’s more of a story about a relationship between God and man. Simply put, covenants are about God reaching out to bond with man over and over again. For example, Moses was a covenant mediator for the nation of Israel that didn’t turn out as planned; King David was a covenant mediator for the Kingdom of Israel that also had its difficulties. In fact, every covenant of the Old Testament ended up less than stellar, but the convents were valid nonetheless.

For clarity, it should be emphasized that a covenant and a contract are two different things that are worlds apart. A contract is a promise you make binding your name, often via a signature. It involves the exchange of goods or services, like building a house for example. A covenant is swearing an oath invoking God’s name, and it involves an exchange of persons, like marriage. So a covenant carries much more weight in terms of blessings and curses. Hence the reason why people use terms like, “I swear to God”, or “I’ll be damned”, when they are very serious about something. 2

How many understand the bullet points above, and at the same time think of marriage as something that can be brought to an end and forgotten with some time, money and lawyers? So one could be in a valid marriage, but hold an invalid view of marriage as a social contract, and regrettably, I think this wrongheaded approach is indeed the case for “a great majority of our sacramental marriages”.

Look!
We are validly married!


  1. Benedict Nguyen, National Catholic Register [Website], “Are Many Marriages Today Invalid?” (20 June 2016), Site address:http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/are-many-marriages-today-invalid/#ixzz4CJfI6j9J
  2. Scott Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises (Beacon Publishing, 1998) p. 24.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Same Sex Anniversary Cards Now Available!

I’m actually not sure this is new, but it’s new to me. I was looking for a wedding anniversary card at a popular card shop and I saw this:


I was surprised, but then again, not so surprised. Once passed my not-so-surprised-ness, I thought, “Why have a special section dedicated just for this?” There is no special “opposite sex” card section. Many of the anniversary cards are not specific about any kind of sexual preference. They say things like, “To the one I love”, “For my husband/wife” or “For my spouse”. The one I purchased in the “non-same sex” section said, “You’re the one for me!”

Why did I see this for the first time this June? Is it because of the SCOTUS ruling last June? Maybe so, but suppose it suddenly became legal in all 50 states for people over age 18 to marry people under age 18 without parental consent. Would we need a special under 18 anniversary card section with cards that say things like, “For the special minor in my life…”?

A same sex anniversary card section is not needed for someone to find an appropriate card, but it is certainly helpful in the ongoing effort to normalize homosexual behavior. It’s the same with marriage rights. A legally recognized civil union that grants the exact same rights as marriage laws is not good enough. It must be called marriage just like heterosexual marriage. The same word must be used, even though it is not the same thing. Using the term civil union in place of marriage is seen as “back of the bus” stuff. Don’t forget about our public schools in the normalization process. They need to teach our young and impressionable children about what is normal and what is not, right?


Is homosexual behavior really normal? Is heterosexual behavior really normal? What would make it normal? What’s the trigger or the mechanism that says it’s normal? What can we use to judge fairly and accurately? Consider “design”. If we observe the physical design of the human body in terms of sexuality and then we note the facts about certain sexual acts (without going into too much detail), we can say that some physical acts are deviant to the design. It really does not matter if one believes we were designed by almighty God or by almighty evolution. The same goes for things like infertility or impotency. They too can be called abnormalities without any discussion about morality or the intrinsic value of the person involved. To call these kinds of things normal is not only unreasonable, but also irresponsible. Remember that the first step in dealing with any problem is to admit there actually is a problem.

So what will be next—a same sex section in the family planning aisle of your local drug store? Probably not.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Book Update II: The Contract!

And so…I now have a contract in hand from a Christian publisher for the book based on the blog. There is still work to be done in terms of revisions, formatting, cover design, title debates, etc., but I’ll keep you posted (literally). I'm an "outsider" as a book author, so maybe I’ll be the Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders of Catholic book writing.  ;-)

The book is about Catholic faith and reason with a unique twist. The twist I speak of relates to the rational process we use where I work for problem solving and decision making. I'm also certified to teach the method to our technicians and engineers. This kind of reasoning has helped to see the clear thinking found in Catholicism and I wrote a book about it with this in mind.

Over the weekend I ran across the meme below, which reminded me of the impetus for this project. What’s wrong with this picture?


Do you see it?  ALL people have a belief system or a “philosophy”, a set of values, or a world view. ALL people believe things that they can’t necessarily prove, at least not empirically or via a scientific method. Where do they get these belief systems from? They come from other people. It doesn’t need to be from their parents necessarily. It could be from their friends or teachers or community or others. It’s part of the human condition, yet we can and should explore how reasonable the base premises are for particular ways of thinking and how well they stand up when pressed under deliberate questioning.

That’s what the book is about, and you will see how Catholicism stands up rather well.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Splendid...

It seems to me that just about any science documentary will express a kind of "Alice in Wonderland" amazement about nature. This often goes hand in hand with a kind of unconscious dogma of meaninglessness, which holds that all things in the end come from nothing intelligent and with no intended purpose, regardless of how brilliantly it is put together. The unspoken premise is that the finely-tuned universe, our planet, and the first life forms just magically appear by themselves given enough time for matter and energy to jostle around. Once life creates itself, it evolves thoughtlessly into many things including us. It seems mindlessness can create things better than the human mind can.

For once, I’d like to see a science or nature documentary on main stream television with a different and more rational premise; one that presupposes “intelligence”. If you know of one, let me know. In the meantime, below is a link to a new and splendid article in the Catholic Herald by John Beaumont about science, faith, reason and Fr. Stanley Jaki.
My favorite part…
A fellow philosopher announced that he didn’t believe in free will. Fr Jaki responded, “Did you say that freely?”

Friday, April 15, 2016

Of Restrooms and Reason

Recently, the topics of gender and restrooms came up where I work during some required “diversity training” sponsored by our Human Resources department and the companies’ legal team—I was inclined to call some parts of it the “comply or be punished training”.

There are currently no transgender employees in the building I work in (that I know of), but as a policy our company will allow any such individuals to use whatever restroom they best identify with. One of the presenters said something to the effect of “Just deal with it. You’ll have your own private stall anyway”. I thought, “Why can't the transgender individual just deal with it (“it” being the restroom that best matches their body)? They’ll have their own private stall anyway.”

The situation reminded me of a book called Ten Universal Principals; A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues by Fr. Robert Spitzer and how the first three principals can be used on just about any topic. Regardless of the situation, some things can be universal to any thinking process and can proceed without invoking any specific belief system. The first three principals are the “Principles of Reason,” and they underscore the universality of rational thought.

The Principle of Non-Contradiction (Plato & Aristotle)
Valid opinions or theories have no internal contradictions.1

If I said I was a married bachelor and we were clear on the meaning of “married” and “bachelor”, then a married bachelor is an internal contradiction. There would be no need for you to investigate my life to see if my claim was true or false. It would be the same situation if I said I could draw a square-shaped circle. If we are clear on the definition of these shapes, then we know that drawing a square-shaped circle is not possible. No further probing required.
So if I’m a man, saying I’m a woman and using the ladies room would enter into the realm of contradiction, right? Not really; if we simply change the definition of gender to exclude (or make subordinate) any physical aspect of the human body, we can avoid this embarrassing conundrum. But don’t definitions need to make sense to be accepted as true? No; consider pro-choice thinking. If we can accept that a person in his or her first stage of life ought to be lawfully referred to as a “non-person”, we’ll accept any incoherency about the human condition.

The Principle of Objective Evidence (Plato & Aristotle)
Non-arbitrary opinions or theories are based upon publicly verifiable evidence.2

Data accessible only to you is subjective. Data accessible to everyone is objective. If I say I’m a man, what objective and publicly verifiable evidence can I show to support my theory? There is genetic data, hormone data, size/shape and also physical body parts that can be publicly verified…hopefully in a way that will not violate public nudity laws. But here again, it comes down to “definitions”. Words are important! Revenant data cannot be sorted from irrelevant data without first defining categories clearly. If gender is defined as primarily existing “between the ears”, then a note from my psychologist saying that I truly believe I’m a woman may suffice to comply with this second principle of reason.

The Principle of Complete Explanation (Socrates, Plato & Aristotle)
The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data.3

Are all opinions equally valid? No, some are more valid than others. If my explanation is better than your explanation, it is more valid. Simply put, “better” means being able to explain the most facts using the fewest and simplest assumptions. I would argue that a restroom is a physical place in which we do physical acts, ergo the restroom we choose should best match our physical bodies. If this is coherent, then there should be a certain universality about it. If I go to the gym (physical place) for a workout (physical acts) the equipment I choose should match, or be adjusted to match, my physical body.
Of course, if not for the urinals all the restrooms would be physically the same, but such is not the case where I work and in most places. Even if they were the same or if a person had a full sex-change operation, reflect upon explaining who we are based on whatever we self-identify with in terms of public policy.

The philosophy that says “I think, therefore I am” makes the reality of our being dependent upon our mind. If my mind determines my being, then the old saying follows that “perception is reality”. If this is true, then there should be a certain universality about it. If I think I am a cat, then I am a cat. But who thinks that? Let’s be practical; if a Caucasian man was raised by African Americans in an African American community and he also self-identifies as an African America, then this is the reality. He is an African American and should have access to any and all affirmative action benefits. Agreed?
 
Always remember that perception is not reality; it only informs our response to reality.

In God we trust…all others bring “data”.


1. Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), p. 11.
2. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles, p. 14.
3. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles, p. 9.