Archive for religion

A Good Philosophy to Live By

Posted in Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by Konstantin

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Over the course of my short-life, I’ve made it a habit being skeptical to the point of cynicism. Often times, people define themselves not by what they believe in, but what they have rejected.

Morality, whether we choose to believe it or not, is relative.  Some need a higher power to solidify their moral compass, others tend to rely on societal and post-conventional cues.  Regardless of affiliation, we all have a guiding principle that helps us differentiate between right and wrong.  My personal strategy for distinguishing between the two lies in one simple rule of thumb:

Any belief that implicitly produces inequity between a group of people [whether by lifestyle choice, faith, or physical composition] is inherently flawed.

Is what I believe the absolute truth?  Certainly not.  But it sets a standard whereby equality is judging two separate individuals by the same standard and it has never failed me.

-Konstantin Ravvin

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Doubt as a Complement to Faith

Posted in Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by Konstantin

Lesson: 

Faith without Doubt is unreasonable. Doubt without Faith is unsustainable. 

faith and doubt

In many respects, ‘faith’ and ‘doubt’ are antonymous; diametrically opposed concepts that are mutually exclusive and polar opposites on the spectrum of human sentience.

Faith is defined as ‘knowledge without evidence’.  Doubt is defined as ‘skepticism towards knowledge as a result of lacking or unconvincing evidence’.

Conclusively, based on their aforementioned definition, the two terms would negate one another.

The abstraction of ‘faith’, in many cultures, is perceived as virtuous; a spec of hope and resilience in the face of almost inevitable calamity.  After all, it is faith that so humbly reserves a space for the word ‘almost’ prior to ‘inevitable’, allowing for that minuscule ray of hope to flourish from improbability to certainty.

In a global society that constructs cultural frameworks under the pretense of self- preservation, faith has found a resounding place in the human psyche; a place whose pertinence is unmatched in ensuring the survival of the human race.

Faith is the sentiment by which we project our hopes and dreams into the future.

In many ways, faith constitutes an integral part of human adaptability and survival.  But there are drawbacks, the implications of which can be disastrous.  Faith is often confused with certainty as it is often used to alleviate uncertainty.  It can balloon to such proportions that it no longer has the ability to control itself; it becomes blind, self-reinforcing and belligerent towards anything that invokes doubt.

I often encounter this sort of faith in religious zealots that are incapable of compromising their faith.  So set are they on eliminating all remnants of doubt that they alienate themselves to the reality of life.

So is ‘doubt’ the antithesis of  ‘faith’?

Before the age of reason, doubt had always reserved a dreaded corner of the human mind.  It was the culmination of all the obstacles in the human mind that impeded catharsis.  Oftentimes we say ‘my heart is filled with doubt’ when we are overcome with grief and uncertainty, and unmoderated doubt is bound to produce such results.  But logically, doubt has its perks; it constantly serves to refine the standard of what is ‘acceptable evidence’ required to deem something truthful.  Doubt is the process by which we produce inquiry and thusly progress.

In many ways, faith and doubt are complementary.  Where faith serves as a hedge, albeit an unproven hedge, against uncertainty, doubt serves as a hedge against blind faith.

Doubt is the failsafe that mediates faith, ensuring it does not grow beyond its intended purpose.

As an ardent skeptic, it was difficult for me to reach this conclusion.  Doubt had always been a weapon best deployed in the event of idiocy; often encountered idiocy.  I was hasty in my generalizations: I had come to recognize faith as unbridled devotion to mad ramblings in the holy scriptures of Abrahamic religion.  I had broken my own rule.

Rule infinity: Moderation is key

Faith, in small doses, is an elixir of analgesic properties, both spiritually, mentally, emotionally and even physically.  It has the potential to alleviate burdens which are otherwise perpetuated by doubt, acting alone.  In excess, faith is counterbalanced by doubt; opposing forces that convolve to create balance, neither favoring hopeless doubt nor blind faith.

How the Tragedies of Others Put Life into Perspective

Posted in February 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2012 by Konstantin

Date: Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Time: About 3pm

Lesson:

It is through the eyes of others that you find your strength and gauge your weaknesses

There’s no sense in getting excited about the weekend if your time will be spent preparing for the next week.  If you’re a [good] college student, you tend to look at weekends more like week-extensions, considering all of the additional clutter you have to organize in an effort to study enough to make it through the next week.

On weekends, particularly Saturdays, the library is somewhat laid back: most students would be preoccupied with reading a book or perhaps getting some busy work out of the way as opposed to the rampant myopia of finals week.  Exiting the elevator on the third floor, I stopped to observe which side of the floor was best suited for my psuedo-studying habits which include a 60/40 mix of reviewing notes/facebook-ing [ok, I’ll be honest, it’s more around the vicinity of 10/90].  As I made my way to the desk area, a gentle, feminine voice called out to me.

“….Konstantin”

I had become accustomed to individuals requesting me with a hint of excitement and solace in their voice as if to say “here comes the entertainment”.  I turned towards the voice to find a female friend of mine smiling back at me, gesturing towards an empty seat across the table.  Knowing my proclivity for “communicating”, a part of me was reluctant to sit down, as any 2-second run in could turn instantly into a 3 hour conversation about some of the most random topics.  But having interacted with this young lady before, I knew that our conversations would be casual, not forced and relaxed as she had always seemed like the sort of unassuming, amiable individual one would care to be around.

As usual, our conversation began casually.  Your plans yesterday, your plans tomorrow, ect.  It was not until my friend had inquired about the necklace that I had worn around my neck and what it had represented that things intensified.  I clutched the golden medallion and smiled.  The necklace had engraved upon it, the symbol “chai”, consisting of the Hebrew letter “chet” and “yod”.  Although my parents were secular atheists, I had grown accustomed to the Jewish label as my father’s lineage played an important role in our immigration to the United States as refugees.

The symbol itself was a representation of life that derived from the Hebrew word “k’hai” (commonly heard in the popularized phrase “L’heim) which meant “life”; the emblem is generally synonymous with the People of Israel.  Although the symbol itself is rather esoteric in nature, I gave a half-assed explanation about its origins and proceeded to transition to the topic of faith.  My female counterpart was brave enough to mention that she was raised Mormon…

“Wow, I am so sorry”

I replied sarcastically.  I had always been critical of any faith established under the pretenses of exclusion or discrimination, which in my view, left little to work with.  My friend smiled dismissively, I pressed on, simply because by her words, she used to be Mormon.  I inquired about the illogical mythology of the Book of Mormon, particularly

1) God living on the planet Kolob

2) The Garden of Eden having been cultivated in Jackson County, Missouri

3) Jesus was a Mid-Western Massiah who had been crucified by the Native Americans, on whom God had unleashed his red by “turning their skin red”.

After a few moments of bickering, we settled our differences and I drove on.

“Do you know who Brigham Young was…?”

I inquired.

“He was a prophet”

She replied.

There’s much to be said about what had gone off in my mind at that particular moment; but for the sake of brevity we can label it a “mental myocardial infraction”.  Brigham Young was, in the context of recorded modern history, a wealthy “pioneer” who had happened to belong to the Latter Day Saints movement.  He blazed a trail to Utah, where Mormonism has, in my view, reeked its havoc on secular society.  Oh, I forgot to mention that in the process, he was an unscrupulous misogynist, having been married to 55 women simultaneously (much of whom had other husbands) and fathering 55 children.

I did not digress, in fact, I pressed on, my voice bellowing louder and louder with each long-winded sentence.  A couple of individuals around me had gotten wind of our conversation and began to turn their heads.  My ego obliged, and my onslaught became more humorous until I stopped to take a break…

“So what religion are your parents now?”

She described her father as a non-practicing Christian and when I asked about her mother, she hesitated for a bit and answered solemnly.

“My mother passed away”

All the fervor I had accumulated from our unilateral religious “discussion” had dissipated at that very instant.  I felt subdued and an eerie silence permeated the medium of our conversation.  I was vehemently apologetic: losing someone at such a young age is indeed a tragedy; a tragedy I had assessed myself incapable of dealing with had it ever happened to me.  Imprudence had grasped the best of me and I continued to ask what had happened.

“there’s no easy way to say this…she was murdered”

Awestruck did not begin to describe my internal state.  I tried to remain calm on the outside and simultaneously look for ways in which to steer the conversation towards a less morose direction but the damage had been done.  I received some more intimate detail on her mothers passing, followed by an admission that she had not spoken to her father in over 7 years, since she was 13.  She had managed, alone, without the guiding hand of a parent, nor the warm touch of a welcoming home.  But knowing her, you would have never guessed it.

Here I was, berating the inconsistencies of people’s beliefs without having truly understood what had led them to believe them in the first place.  It is through the eyes of others that you find your strength and gauge your weaknesses had I been in her place, perhaps I would not have been able to contain the sorrow and proceed to live a normal, fulfilling, enlightened life as she had.

Captives of our Bias

Posted in February 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2012 by Konstantin

Date: Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Time: About 4 pm

Lesson:

We are all captives of our bias, living in a world divorced from the physical laws of nature.  In our minds, we seek to satiate our desire to be accepted and belong by leading our hearts in the direction we were raised to follow.

Like a bird caught in power lines, there is nothing that mangles the philosopher within all of us than concrete science, in this case Chemistry.  Following a mind-wrecking examination, profusely exhausted mentally and physically from having to overcome subatomic computations, abstract thought was the least of my intentions.

After half-assedly gauging the consensus of my classmates on their performance, I stumbled towards my car in an effort to finally rid myself of  zombie-like fatigue.  As I made my way past the numerous academic halls, a friend approached and we went about our way discussing life as usual.  The Friday atmosphere was all too apparent and we decided to reward ourselves with a few smoothies in the Student Union.  We sat, discussing mildly stimulating topics that our brains had managed to retain after a grueling week.

The campus was sparse and the few individuals that had been roaming its confines were either faculty, PhD students or plant workers.  Among the remaining crowd, an interesting sight caught my eye.  It wasn’t so much the familiarity of the man himself, but rather his attire and overall appearance: disheveled, his posture somewhat skewed.  A vacant yet preoccupied expression behind his shoddy, unkempt beard, which meandered northward towards his untamed hair, topped with a Yarmulke.

A fellow Jew’, I thought mischievously.  I had made a rather sinister hobby out of confronting, what I perceived as, “pious” individuals about their beliefs, particularly in order to reassure myself that my secularist mentality still held merit above all else, my insecurity notwithstanding.

“Shabbot Shalom”, I motioned towards the man humorously and my friend followed suit.  The man observed us curiously and slowly approached, the vacant, preoccupied expression remaining.  He adjusted his glasses and stared.  After a few awkward, yet humorous moments, I began to question the man on his intentions: after all, it was Friday and perhaps there was a sermon that I could have been missing somewhere.

Briefly, we introduced one another by name and “Jewishness”.  The socially maladroit man gave us the gist of his pursuits:  He had been given the task, by God we assume, to seek out Jews on our campus and engage them into active prayer.  Because of our [my friend included] close proximity to the Hebrew ethnicity, we allowed the man to humor us further:  this particular sect of Judaism conclude that the Hebrew Messiah has indeed come in the form of a revered Rabbi.  The details were at best muddied, but we expected no more out of faith-based beliefs.

We allowed the rabbi to humor us further.  He insisted that we adorn the Hebrew faith and join him in prayer; we obliged.  My friend was given a set of Teffilin [cuboidal compartments filled with Torah passages to be wrapped around the left arm and head to serve as a sign of remembrance to God’s glory for leading the Jews to the Promised Land] and a Kippah to compliment his already puzzled expression.  The whole scene was something out of a extemporaneously constructed prank: I stood, in my hoody and skinny jeans, watching the devout man read aloud Torah passages as my friend mumbled back in subordination, once in a while having to excuse himself for asking the Rabbi to repeat the proper Hebrew pronunciation.

As the prayer concluded, I knew I could let this moment go to waste and make it as “Facebook Worthy” as possible.  I asked the man to take a few photographs with us; myself, with the Kippah, grinning from ear to ear at having witnessed what had just ensued, and my friend, still visibly shaken, unsure of how to pose for the camera.

For the next hour we discussed a variety of topics: geopolitics, the environment, globalization, Russia’s role in the Holocaust.  All topics in which my friend and I indulged in frequently.   The Rabbi’s despair was apparent; he was oblivious to our views and understandings, more so, he was completely out of touch with the modern world.  We presumed this was on account of his religious affiliation, as even witnessed by his archetypal, ecstatic rocking back and forth while he read his prayer allowed.  The man was submerged in his belief, so we decided to navigate the conversation in a different, more familiar direction.

I began with a slow summarization of the Jewish faith, in reference to all other faiths humanity has ever possessed.  The Rabbi aroused our interests when he inquired [somewhat condescendingly]

(1) Whether we “actually” believe the Earth is more than 6,000 years old
(2) Whether we believed the moon landing was indeed  a valid endeavor
(3) How we are sure that the world “is” actually round

The shock wore off rather quickly.  Although a few remnants of disbelief remained, I gathered my patience and lectured the Rabbi with forced equanimity: relaying, among other scientific evidence, the existence of DNA base pairing, ocean currents as a result of the rotation of our Earth and even, at one point, the existence of flying cars.

Upon hearing this, the Rabbi’s eyes lit up with dismissive curiosity, yet we responded with tantamount evidence to satiate his questions.  It took nothing more than a YouTube video of a flying car (with a propeller) to convince him otherwise.

“The poor guy is so out of touch.  I feel sorry for him”, said my friend, following our interaction.  He was right, what we had perceived as arrogant certitude was simply the naivety of a man who had dedicated his life to live in a world removed from our own.

We credulously sought to give the man a taste of his own inquiries.  I had heard the “Chosen People” and “Israel” lecture far too often to allow it to somehow deter my talking points.  My universalist approach was pronounced, but all too typical of my secularist bravado.  I sought to devalue the idea that God favors one group of people and prefers you to follow his trivial and sometimes illogical laws, none of which, in my view, would be able to serve pillar of world peace and cooperation.

The Rabbi became increasingly detached from our inquiries, almost as if the onslaught of the scientific community had proved too heavy for something he had accumulated over his entire life.  My final grievance was on the basis of discrimination between faiths and how the process undermined global unity while allowing any given religious community to prosper, keeping in accordance with a tribalist mentality.

This time the Rabbi issued a personal anecdote in compromise.  He woefully regaled us with a story about his trip to Israel 15 years ago, when he was 19 years old.  Upon visiting his newlywed brother with his parents, he had fallen in love with a Jewish state.  Seeing as to how the country is a virtual safe-haven and utopia for world Jewry, it was not difficult for us to understand why this man possessed such a passion for the land.  He told us, that despite his deep longing, his mother’s pleas had led him back to the states.  He claimed to have been married once, sighing as he hinted past tense, and what touched me most deeply was what he said next:

“…and all this time, I feel like I have wasted 15 years of my life for nothing.  Living here.” 

The Rabbi’s intentions were not to somehow enforce or assert his way of life, as it was now apparent that he had neither possessed the will nor the prerogative to debate any of our assertions about the world.  But rather to find unity and cohesiveness through likeminded individuals.  He wanted to belong to a community that followed the traditions he had been engendered with as a child, so that any place outside his home could still feel like a homestead with values and beliefs familiar to him.  My misplaced aggression was followed by a humbleness I had not felt in many months.

We are all captives of our bias, living in a world divorced from the physical laws of nature.  In our minds, we seek to satiate our desire to be accepted and belong by leading our hearts in the direction we were raised to follow.

-Konstantin Ravvin