Truth, the Universe, and You

By Douglas Groothuis and Elizabeth Johnston

Intellectual sobriety is rare. When pressed to think at all, many act like drunken sailors forced to take a philosophy quiz. Philosopher Harry Frankfurt called this, well, bullshit in his miniature best-selling book, On Bullshit. Page one says:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.”

He understands the bovine excrement metaphor to mean communication that does not care about truth. Liars have a greater concern to get reality right—and then to claim the opposite. To lie, as Mortimer Adler puts it in Six Great Ideas, is to “willfully misplace one’s ontological predicates.” That is, I know that X is P and I say that X is not-P. I deny what I should affirm. This is the work of the liar. Exponents of BS, however care not whether his ontological predicates match reality. He speaks and writes for other reasons. Impressing people, persuading people, deceiving people, and hearing himself talk are among them.

Truth seekers and truth tellers are neither deceivers nor BS artists.

One should never get over a concern for truth, since lies lurk everywhere. Believing the truth with wisdom allows us to navigate reality far better than heeding the counsel of lies and BS. A man who is true to the truth need seek no lies. He is disarmed and rearmed by reality and will not try to falsify it. Truth makes its demands, if we have ears to hear. Consider its inescapable demands.

  1. A statement is true if it corresponds with the reality it describes.

Example: God exists.

  1. A statement is false if it fails to correspond with the reality it describes.

Example: God does not exist.

  1. For a statement to be true, it must cohere with every other true statement in the universe. That is, no true statement can cohere with a false statement, since they contradict each other.

Consider an example.

S1: It is objectively wrong to murder.

Since it corresponds to reality, this assertion is true. Subjective preference and derivation from a sociological sample do not influence its veracity. Its truthfulness is inherent. Thus, consistency with every other accurate pronouncement is a must.

Meet Goober; he is a materialist. Actually, Goober is a muddled materialist. He correctly holds S1 to be true, but he also believes:

S2: Materialism is true.

Materialism is an all-encompassing worldview. Denying not only God’s existence—but also everything abstract or spiritual—it insists that only matter exists. Thus, materialism cannot supply a moral authority beyond the mere facts of chemistry, biology, and physics. Normative claims have no logical place within that paradigm—befuddled believers in a materialistic worldview notwithstanding. Therefore, S2 does not cohere with S1. What else must be true if S1 is true? Consider:

G1: God is the source of moral authority.

G1 is true because God is the personal and immaterial evaluator of all things. He defines the meaning of good and evil based upon the moral perfections of his character. Human beings possess intrinsic dignity and the right to life because they are created in God’s image. Murder transgresses this intrinsic dignity and the right to life. As a consequent, murder is morally wrong. Therefore, the following two assertions do not cohere:

S1: It is morally wrong to murder.

S2: Materialism is true.

This is because the following affirmation is true:

G1: God is the source of moral authority.

Therefore, the following two statements cohere:

S1: It is morally wrong to murder.

G1: God is the source of moral authority.

Lest one take this analysis to be laborious and obvious, the point is a sharp one: A proper mindset accepts only affirmations that cohere with one another. Anything one believes to be true must be in accord with any other true statement in the universe. Let us remember:

  1. God is one.
  2. Truth is one.
  3. All truth is God’s truth.
  4. Errors are many.

Therefore, the wise will eschew BS, endeavor to find the truth, and will not contradict it by lying. God is watching. All truth is his, although he shares it with all who pursue it. Jesus, Truth Incarnate, declares:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

 

 

A Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo (2014)

Marie Kondo  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Ten Speed Press, 2014.

Animism for Cluttered Materialists would have been a better title for this small and unlikely New York Times #1 best-seller. That, however, would be too obvious. The young and unbearably cute author is an expert in helping her clients throw things out. There is an art to it, you know. The author knows, and she will tell you as she puts into the writing the philosophy she developed in Japan as a professional clean-up consultant with a three-month waiting list.

As a life-long order-challenged and clutter-producing slob, I bought this book hoping against hope that it might help. I got some help, but not much. She is right that we should not surround ourselves with things that weigh us down and do not good. Our environment should give us a sense of joy. That gave me the courage to give away many clothes and to exchange my boring socks with happy socks. My deeper response was that of spiritual concern, since the book tacitly advocates an animistic worldview, which strangely mixed with materialism.

At no point does Miss Kondo warn of the moral dangers of acquisitiveness. Greed and waste are left alone as if they were strangers to the problem. Peter Singer is not quoted. Nor is, more significantly, Jesus, who preached:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

For Kondo, treasure is having enough rightly-organized possessions to be happy. She repeatedly tells stories of her clients who threw out large amounts of clothes and other items. Having taken bags and bags of assorted things to Goodwill in recent months, I wondered why she never mentioned the practice of giving things away to those who need them more. But that is not the point. The point that matters is your feeling about your dwelling.

In portions nearly unbearable to read, Kondo advises that we weed out our books also, even after we have read them, putting books in the same category as old clothes, dishes, pillows, and more. This is not a literary person. The idea of rereading a book or having a library of books does cross her hyper-tidy mind. C.S. Lewis is a tonic for this toxin:

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.

The author’s carefree and unconscious materialism is bad enough; but what is worse is her animism. She is not a philosophical materialist—one who claims that the material universe is all there is. Her materialism is cultural, related to the acquisition and arrangement of objects of desire. But these things are really alive. Near the beginning of the book, we learn that socks want to “breath.” So, we should not ball them up, but lay them flat. This was no rhetorical trope. She meant it literally. We should speak our possessions, because they are giving themselves to us. We should be grateful and let them know.

Kondo is influenced by Shintoism, a largely regional religion of Japan. Shintoism is marked by respect for holy sites and their spirits (or kami). (Amazon, however, lists it at #1 seller in “Zen Spirituality.”) It is unlikely that a Shinto priest would endorse this book—and even if so, it would not increase book sales—but she is a savvy evangelist for this religion, since her advocacy is tacit rather than explicit. It is a book about cleaning up, not about greeting spirits. C.S. Lewis noted this strategy in his classic essay, “Christian Apologetics” (1945) from God in the Dock. I doubt Kondo has read this essay, but she is applying the strategy that Lewis advocates for Christian apologetics:

I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by an directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s lines of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent… You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if wherever we read an elementary book on Geology, botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defense of materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books.

It is sad that a Christian did not write a clever, short, and best-selling book on the organization of possessions in which the Christian worldview was assumed, but not defended. Such a book—which, of course, I could not write—would reflect on the meaning of possessions, our loving use of them, our obligations to those in need, the value of possessions in relation to life’s ultimate meaning, how to become less mastered by possessions, the joys of hospitality, and much more. These ideas would form the foundation for any practical advice on sorting, storing, and enjoying possessions.

Kondo’s little treatise promises us not just a tidy home, but a better life. When we make friends with the spirits of our belongings, we can enjoy them, feel free, and be troubled about small matters such as greed, waste, and the one true God who towers over all false gods, Shinto or otherwise.


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