I like his interpretation of the healing story of Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5 (and Luke 8) where Jesus said to her “Little girl, I say to you, arise”, which means grow up in the developmental sense, in the context of the father and mother leaving the room, who represent the law, or the overarching structure that once defined the identity of the person. So this symbolically means that the girl is free from the law to develop as a person, and discover her true identity, which is her salvation. Healing, then, is the ability to look at the same space but from a different angle or perspective of self. Yes, to be free from the law or ethical system is to become spiritually mature as we grow and develop to be our authentic self and discover our own identity.
I also like this quote by Marcel Proust which may relate to the above video message as well.
Yes, the real voyage of discovery is when we see ourselves with new eyes, that we are no longer defined by the law nor by our parents nor by the ethical system of the world, hence we do not need to rely on the law to experience life. Our freedom from the law marks the beginning of our journey of self-discovery, whereby we find healing from the past and continue to grow and develop as the person God intended us to be, as George Elerick mentioned.
I have checked out the website about the book “The body never lies” by Alice Miller, and I learnt that it is noted by a number of reviewers to be very helpful for those who have suffered abuse from parents at a young age to experience self-healing and freedom from repression of guilt, shame and self-hatred. One reviewer, Stephen Khamsi, wrote that one way of healing is to allow ourselves to feel our pain and our powerlessness so that we can, paradoxically, become less pained and more powerful.
“Sadly, many of us were unloved, neglected and abused. The remedy? While there are no simple answers, we do know that the body is healed when one admits to personal truths and to real feelings. But how do we admit to such truths and to such feelings? We need to feel our pain and our powerlessness so that we can, paradoxically, become less pained and more powerful. We need to admit to our “negative” emotions and change them into meaningful feelings. And we need to see through poisonous pedagogy in order to embrace and to embody integrity, awareness, responsibility, and loyalty to oneself. Our greatest personal task is to learn the difference between love and attachment…to extend our love when it’s right, but to break off attachments when they are destructive. Our greatest therapeutic task is to locate an enlightened witness—a mature and helpful individual, who can be fully present without judging, is indispensable in this process of psychological integration and personal liberation.”
It reminds me of what Peter Rollins also said in his video “Crucified Identities” that we need to embrace our pains and brokenness, not so that we can be destroyed by these emotions, but rather so that the sting is no longer there.
I also like what this reviewer, Norm Lee, wrote about how Alice Miller challenged the mistaken notion about the religious and societal expectations on people to obey the so-called fourth commandment, which has put much guilt and pressure on people who grew up under abusive parenthood.
Dr. Miller wants the reader to understand and accept that parents who abused us do not deserve our love and honor, regardless of a Moses-imposed commandment to do so. As we all must know, love is one thing that cannot be enforced. Like Sgt. Joe Friday, the body, in its wisdom, rejects illusions. It accepts only the facts, as higher morality is inherent not in the mind, but in our bodies. She takes to task all those friends and relatives and preachers and therapists who say, “Forgive your mother, forgive your father; they did the best they knew how. She changed your diapers, he sacrificed for you, and above all they loved you.” Miller will not hear it: forgiveness is a crock and a trap, laid to continue the dependency, and preserve the hope, that somehow, sometime, we will finally bask in the love that was so long ago denied us. Reading Alice is like hearing someone whisper, “I know the secret you are hiding in your past, the feelings of hurt and fright and shame and humiliation at the abusive treatment you suffered at the hands of your parents. And I’m asking you – urging you, challenging you – to come out of that dark closet and face up to it.”
As noted by another reviewer, Lucien Lombardo, the role of a parent is actually:
“Parents should honor and empower their children, so that they, their children and their children’s children will live their own truths over long and authentic lives! ”
I think it would also help people to know that the ten commandments may have originated not from “God” but from ancient Egyptian myths. According to Wikipedia, many historians have concluded that the ten commandments were based on an earlier document called the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
“The Book of the Dead was written circa 1800 BCE. 2 The Schofield Reference Bible estimates that the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt and the provision of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai occurred in 1491 BCE., some three centuries later. Many religious liberals, historians, and secularists have concluded that the Hebrew Scripture’s Ten Commandments were based on this earlier document, rather than vice-versa.”
(From “A possible origin of the Ten Commandments“)
Jesus also challenged the conventional idea of biological father and mother, when he said to the Jews “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother”. From Matthew 12:46–5
So in the kingdom of God, biological relations do not identify us. Rather we are identified simply as members of the same human family, for in Christ we are all one; neither male nor female, and so on.
I think this book is helpful also to enable us to understand that how our parents treat us do not define who we are, but rather their abusive behaviour is a reflection of their own wounded psyche, which they need to work on in their own lives. As this saying also noted:
“The way people treat you is a statement about who they are as a human being. It is not a statement about you.”
Here’s sharing this perceptive video about status anxiety. It presents very well the case of status anxiety that is prevalent in today’s democratic societies such as in America (and I would add countries in Asia that have been westernised or americanised) that are supposedly meritocratic due to the mindset that anyone can become successful, compared to the colonial European feudal or aristocratic societies based on hierarchal class system. As Alain de Botton noted, the idea of success is relative and flimsy as it is dependent on an ever changing perception of material wealth and level of expectation. Even though generally people have more riches than their ancestors or those in aristocratic societies, they tend to compare their lot with their neighbours and friends, in terms of whose house is bigger and whose jobs are better paid, and so on, and the constant propaganda from advertisements, motivational speakers, performance-based religion and government fuels and perpetuates status anxiety and general dissatisfaction with their own lives. He also noted that the system is not as meritocratic as it seems because not everyone rises to the top by hard work and talent alone as there are discrimination and favouritism involved in the system. Besides, the system fails to be compassionate enough to those whose lives have been met with unfortunate incidents, such as those who lost their family members who are breadwinners.
I agree with his views what truly matters in life is spiritual values such as loving one’s neighbours, as demonstrated by Mother Teresa. As one book reviewer also noted:
“Finally, envy can be cured by realizing that anyone’s achievements seem insignificant in the context of the millennia and the expansive wonders of nature. Also, we should always keep in mind that at the end of one’s days, the value of love, true friends, and charity will outweigh the quest for power, wealth, status and glory.”
Recently, I also reflected that status anxiety in a performance-based society (and religion) can result in self-loathing in people who are conditioned by the competitive and materialistic mindset.
This mindset tends to result in self-loathing because those who subscribe to this competitive mindset inevitably judge their own self-worth based on their performance and accomplishments, and they tend to blame or hate themselves for not being good enough, or not being successful enough, especially when they compare themselves to their competitors, and are always grappling with insecurity as they are thinking how to out-do others in order to prove that they are worthy or successful in the eyes of the society. This mindset may also result in the competition-oriented people becoming cold, callous, inhumane and cruel towards others who are seen as less successful than themselves. This is especially so when they have been trying to suppress their own feelings of weakness and brokenness in themselves, and end up being insensitive towards others who happen to display the very same feelings of weakness and brokenness that they hate in themselves. It is like what Peter Rollins said about people who have not learnt to accept and embrace the otherness in themselves will not be able to accept and embrace the otherness they see in other people.
I think status anxiety pervades human societies throughout history. Perhaps one reason Jesus came then is to renew people’s minds – to change their minds regarding what truly matters in life – to listen to the voice within our true self that affirms our innate intrinsic worth and value instead of listening to external voices of the performance-based societies that threaten to devalue and dehumanise us. Like what this quote by Alain says:
“Our minds are susceptible to the influence of external voices telling us what we require to be satisfied, voices that may drown out the faint sounds emitted by our souls and distract us from the careful, arduous task of accurately naming our priorities.”
― Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety
I learnt from Wikipedia that identity politics deals with various socio-political movements that are based on group identities, which can be found in the feminist movements, gay and lesbian movements and so on.
“Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the self-interest and perspectives of self-identified social interest groups and ways in which people’s politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through race, class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ideology, nation, sexual orientation, culture, currency, information preference, history, musical and/or literary genre, medical conditions, profession, hobby, or any other loosely correlated yet simple to intuit social organizations. … It can most notably be found in class movements, feminist movements, gay and lesbian movements, disability movements, ethnic movements and post colonial movements. But wherever it is found it is also open to wide debate and critique.”
While these movements have their place in enabling the voices of the minorities and the marginalised to be heard and their issues of discrimination to be addressed in the society, I learnt that there are also limitations to identity politics, because it does not necessarily bring about equality. In this blog, the writer noted that Peter Rollins had explained how the scapegoat mechanism continues to function even when the mainstream tries to include minority groups into their circles as part of identity politics.
“This is why the liberal strategy of opening up communities to previously scapegoated others is not, in itself, sufficient. In religious terms we can note how some conservative churches are beginning to open up to the possibility that gays and lesbians can be equal members of their community. Just as they eventually learned to reject explicit racism and sexism now they are gradually learning to overcome heterosexism. But the problem is that the fundamental structure of scapegoating is not broken in the acceptance of the latest “other,” and if the underlying scapegoat mechanism is not decommissioned then new “others” will always arise to protect the group from its own internal conflicts.
There will always be an other as long as we refuse to face ourselves. For example in some of these groups gays and lesbians are now being accepted as long as they embrace the idea of lifelong monogamous marriage. This means that those, gay and straight, who don’t accept that lifestyle for themselves can be excluded as immoral, corrupt and a threat to the institution of marriage.”
So from my understanding, the more people focus on identifying minority groups and then trying to include them into the mainstream, without first accepting the otherness in themselves, the more they continue to discriminate the minorities based on their perceived differences. Another problem is that everyone assumes that all the individuals within a particular minority group must subscribe to the same kind of lifestyle or ideology, and so the people within that group lose their individuality. I came across this article in which the writer shares how marxism (or socialism that denounces classism) helps minority groups move beyond the limits of identity politics.
Similarly, in this article, the writer explains why identity politics does not liberate the oppressed whereas Marxism provides the theoretical tools for ending oppression.
The bulk of this article is a critique of the theory behind what is known in academic and left circles as “identity politics”—the idea that only those experiencing a particular form of oppression can either define it or fight against it—counterposing to it a Marxist analysis. My central premise is that Marxism provides the theoretical tools for ending oppression, while identity politics does not.”
From my understanding of the article, the theory of identity politics ignores the entire element of social class, which is a problem because class inequality causes oppression. So it is thought that Marxism or socialism that seeks to remove class inequality would serve to end oppression of the minorities and the marginalised.
I have checked out the above video and I think Peter Rollins summed up very well the significance of the cross as symbolising our crucifixion of various identities, which transcends our perceived differences and moves beyond the limits of identity politics. As long as people identify themselves based on social interests or political affiliations or belief systems or ethnic groups and so on, there will always be some forms of discrimination and conflicts and tribalism, in which one group tends to think they have all the right answers and others don’t. I like the scenario he gave about a minister who would supposedly confess publicly that his own uncertainty and unknowing and that he doesn’t have all the right answers, and in some cases, the church would fire him not because they did not know he does not have all the right answers but rather they do not want to face their own uncertainties and unknowing and would rather hire someone who appears to have all the right answers to preach to them. I also agree that unity and equality can be made possible that people come together and have deep conversations by laying aside their various identities, and learn from one another, and being conscious that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, gay nor straight, republican nor democrat, high class nor low class, feminist nor misogynist, black nor white, and so on, for we are all one.
As Peter Rollins also shared in the video, it is important that people hold on to their beliefs with a loose hand. If they hold on to their beliefs too tightly, they will not be open to learn from others. The same goes with group identities. I think that is why Peter Rollins does not want to subscribe fully to identity politics because the various group identities have their limitations and ultimately do not bring about equality that they desire because it can become another “us” versus “them” mentality. I think some feminists have probably misunderstood him in the past as saying he does not care about diversity or about equality of women or minorities when he did not want to subscribe to identity politics. But he was actually going beyond the limits of identity politics, beyond feminism, and so on, as much as these movements have their place, because he sees that true equality and unity can only be made possible when people lay aside their various identities and embrace the other. He also clarified in the video that it doesn’t mean people stop being men or women and so on, but rather people can choose to look beyond these outward differences and commune at a deeper level. So his message on crucified identities resonates with me as well because I too believe the gospel of our true identity shared among humanity is one way for greater peace and equality.
I have read the article on seeing the world through Buddha’s eyes, and it reminds me of some of the things I learnt in Buddhist Studies I took in secondary school, though I have forgotten some of them as well. As the article noted, “Prince Siddhartha left home and became a spiritual seeker for one compelling reason: to understand the needless suffering human beings cause themselves and others and to find a way to assuage it.” From what I remember reading the textbook, Siddhartha grew up in a palace and indeed he had everything he desired for comfort and luxury. He had not known any kind of suffering yet because his father, the king, did not want the sage’s prophecy that his son would become a Buddha to come true, and wanted to keep his son in the palace to succeed the throne. However, one day, as a young man, Siddhartha went out of the palace for a walk in a nearby village, and witnessed reality for himself, such as people suffering from sickness, old age and death. He was deeply saddened by the reality of human sufferings, and decided to renounce his princely life, and decided to seek the truth for himself. In a sense, his situation reminded me of King Solomon who also had everything he desired, yet could not find any meaning in life.
Eventually, after learning from a few ascetic teachers, Siddhartha still could not find satisfactory answers to the question of sufferings in life. He tried extreme asceticism himself, by fasting for days and living on bare minimum, but one day he nearly fainted and drowned in a river while bathing due to prolonged hunger. He then decided to find a middle path – one that avoids the extremes of luxury and pleasure on one hand, and the extreme of hardship and pain on the other hand, in order to find a balance in life. So, as the story goes, he accepted some food offered by a kind woman, and ate, and sat under a Bodhi and began to meditate on the nature of sufferings and life.
As the article noted:
“He came to three core conclusions about the way the world works, called the “three marks of conditioned existence.” These three are radical impermanence (anicca), pervasive suffering (dukkha) and no fixed or permanent personal identity (anatta).”
At this point, I decided to refer to Wikipedia to refresh my memory on the life of Siddhartha and how he became a Buddha when he sat under a Bodhi tree and meditate for many days on the nature of sufferings.
“According to Buddhism, at the time of his awakening he realized complete insight into the cause of suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the “Four Noble Truths”, which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching. Through mastery of these truths, a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any being. The Buddha described Nirvana as the perfect peace of a mind that’s free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states, or “defilements” (kilesas). Nirvana is also regarded as the “end of the world”, in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain.”
The first two marks of conditioned existence – “nothing is permanent” and “life is suffering” – as mentioned in the article, are also observed by Peter Rollins in his video message on pyrotheology, when he shared that nothing can give us certainty and satisfaction or make us whole and complete, and that life is difficult and there are no easy answers.
When I first learnt about the impermanence of all things in school, I thought it sounded depressing, even though it is based on a true observation that everything is temporary and will die or disappear one day, whether plants, animals or humans. I haven’t learnt about metaphysics then, though today I would say that impermanence is true in a material sense, but in a non-material sense, there is energy that cannot be created nor destroyed, and can only be transformed from one form to another.
Nevertheless, there is a certain inner peace when one accepts that nothing in the material world is permanent, whether it is health, longevity of life, material possessions, status, power, influence, and so on, and so does not hold tightly onto these things. By accepting the reality of impermanence, one can embrace and overcome the sufferings that arise when these things are no longer in existence. This takes a certain mindset to meditate on regularly.
I think it is remarkable that Buddha received the knowledge and understanding about the nature of sufferings not by formal education but rather through his own personal observations and experiences in life. As the article noted: “In fifth century B.C. India, there were numerous philosophical and metaphysical schools teaching various theories about matter, spirit, soul, causation and the appropriate way to live. Siddhartha studied these theories, but rejected them in favor of a more experiential approach. He was, like the pre-Socratic Greeks, among history’s first empiricists, relying on his own experience and observation to understand the world.”
I think it testifies to the usefulness of meditation and contemplation because oftentimes living in a modern, fast-paced society, many people tend to be caught up with running the rat race, maintaining status quo and indulging in entertainment and so on, to the extent that they forget to take time to slow down and get in touch with themselves and ponder the nature of sufferings in life. This is a reminder for me to slow down and meditate as well, because I am a product of the modern society and formal education that has moulded me to fit into the socio-economic system. I think in this sense, the teachings of Buddha are timeless because his realisation of the three marks of conditional existence – impermanence, sufferings and egolessness – remain unchanged, and they are just as relevant and applicable today as it was thousands of years ago.
Like what the article concluded: “Seeing the world through Buddha’s eyes is the work of a lifetime, one that constantly needs to be renewed at every life stage and in every societal circumstance.” Yes, it is an ongoing process to see the world through Buddha’s eyes, so in this sense, my understanding of “awakening” is not a one-time event but rather a continual and conscious act of practising awareness of the reality that nothing is permanent (at least in the material world), life is suffering and the ego is an illusion.
I was also reflecting recently that whenever I need guidance in life, I would instinctively or intuitively look to Jesus, or sometimes Buddha, for inspiration and guidance, as they have set admirable examples for me to live, as they have inspired me by the way they show compassion, bear sufferings with patience, wanting the best for others, and so on. I am open to the possibility that Jesus might have travelled to India to learn buddhism before returning to Israel because their teachings of love and compassion share a number of similarities, except that they used different terminologies to reach out to difference audiences – Jesus might have used “Father in heaven” to speak the Jewish lingo, for example. Both Jesus and Buddha have tasted various kinds of sufferings in life, such as rejection, hunger, and so on, although Jesus died a painful death as a scapegoat whereas Buddha passed away peacefully at the age of 80. So in this sense, I have a higher regard for Jesus, in view of his self-sacrificial love, than Buddha, comparatively speaking.
Meanwhile, here’s sharing this article below I find interesting about the gospel of Thomas that reveals the influence of Buddhism on Jesus’ teachings.
“Exploring the Gospel of Thomas, we discover that Jesus believed the self and the divine to be identical and one. Furthermore, the Kingdom of Heaven is not in the future but is “right here.” and one only needs to be awakened to this perfection. Jesus, in this gospel, speaks of enlightenment, the same type that is taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, Shin teachers and Zen Masters. In addition, Thomas does not have a narrative story line but just 114 sayings attributed to Jesus, many of which are akin to Zen koans. Here, Jesus is never presented as Lord or Savior, but rather as a spiritual guide who is equal to his students. In addition, the Gospel of Thomas does not contain a supernatural virgin birth or the doctrine of the Virgin Mary. It does not teach of original sin. It does not mention Jesus’ crucifixion or resurrection. It does not teach Jesus’ death as a payment of debt to “atone” for humanity’s sins. It does not include any supernatural healings or miracles. It does not mention the so-called end-times or the wrath of God. It does not mention salvation through faith in Christ. It does not exclude women.
The Exclusion of Thomas
Why was the Gospel of Thomas disqualified from the Christian Bible and eventually outlawed? During the reign of Emperor Constantine around the 4th century C.E., the Roman Empire was looking to reconstitute and solidify its power. The Emperor and the existing power structure chose the Pauline sect of Christianity as the “official” religion, which include the epistles of Paul and the Gospels and books from his disciples that form the present-day New Testament. Teachings from the Gospel of Thomas and other Nag Hammadi texts were seen as a danger to the developing ecclesiastical and political structure because they rejected the authority of the bishops, priests and deacons. Roman Church father Ignatius warned the Christians to “honor and obey the bishop as you would God.” It is quite easy to see why the church councils did not choose the Gospel of Thomas and other similar texts for their Bible. As a result, for political reasons these texts were banned and later destroyed for the good of Empire and Church. After all, bishops and priests would lose their power and influence with the common people, if the common people learned that Jesus taught they did not need such religious authority/intermediaries of the Church, bishops and priests, and that the Kingdom is within all and is directly accessible to everyone without them; we all are sons/daughters of God.
Why Study the Gospel of Thomas?
You might be wondering why Shin Buddhists should even bother to study the early teachings of Jesus? Our interest in learning about the early teachings of Jesus is not to discredit Christianity but because this Gospel shares similar mystical content with the Shin and Zen Buddhist traditions, we 21st century Buddhists can learn a lot from this ancient mystic, called Jesus of Nazareth. So, by studying the teachings of the Gospel of Thomas through the lenses of Buddhist thought and religious experience, we can further deepen our spiritual path and awaken to our True Nature, our universal Buddha-nature, which ultimately has no name but is experienced as faith, compassion and wisdom.”
In the above video, I noted that the speaker was sharing his reflections on Slavoj Zizek’s “The fragile absolute, or why the Christian legacy is worth fighting for”. I applaud him for being an open-minded atheist who is willing to look beyond differences and have an open dialogue with Christians on how they can work together to form an alternative community that opposes the societal ways of oppression, discrimination and consumerism. As a non-believer, he has a surprisingly good grasp of the gospel about the mission that Jesus and Paul were preaching and promoting, such as the universal truth that we are all one, for there is neither slave nor free, rich or poor, and so on, for all are one in Christ.
I also like his interpretation of Jesus’ words about hating one’s father, mother, brothers and so on, which is about unplugging from the old system of discrimination and injustice and hating this system, and actively challenging instead of passively accepting it. Indeed, we can pursue the mission of Christ by the way we live, such as creating an alternative community that is based on equality and universal brotherhood, regardless of our differences in ethnicities, backgrounds and belief systems.
In this, the 19th talk in his ‘Desire’ series, Irish spiritual author asks whether we are helpers or healers. Helping can he suggests be simply a power play in the world of culture, whilst healing is a flow of Divine Life through one wounded individual to another. Background music by New York singer-songwriter, Cyndi McCoy.
I have listened to the video by Dylan Morrison, in which he suggested that helping is not the same as healing. According to him, helping is generally accepted as a good thing, and yet it can be a way of maintaining power over others. He added that the more professional our helping becomes, the more sinister our missional mercy (?) become, hence the professional helping industry destroys the faith of the needy ones. He then offered a self-diagnosis of a healer/helper: that a healer is never busy as he/she occupies an almost timeless space, that we as a healer is filled with mutual respect when we see ourselves in the space of the others, that a healer doesn’t give the other person a superior “I know better” attitude, and that cultural differences are irrelevant in the healing space, where we in a mysterious psychic way become one. He said that there is no rivalry involved in healing, and when the way of desire flows freely between two hearts, a channel of divine love is established, and healing can also occur in a group that lives and moves in mimetic freedom. Such groups are usually outside of strong cultural influence such as organised religions, often comprising the walking wounded.
His message mainly resonates with me, as I was also reflecting in the similar vein. I have recorded my own reflections in my iphone diary dated 17 Jan 2013, in which I wrote some thoughts on helping:
Help is not really about the strong helping the weak. This attitude tends to lack empathy and may even breed an air of superiority. Help is actually about co-identifying and co-suffering with the other person. It involves empathy, understanding, compassion, grace and gentleness in the way we help others. It is also a way to acknowledge our own humanity and recognise we need help ourselves and we are helping ourselves while helping others at the same time. It is all about inter-being (to borrow a term by Thich Nhat Hanh).
Yes, this is especially true in volunteerism whereby many volunteers testify to the fact that whenever they do volunteer work in children’s homes, senior citizen centres, and so on, they often feel as if they are helping themselves to be liberated from their own problems or challenges in life. It is a demonstration of how we are all connected and one with one another, and each of us is an extension of the other, and vice versa.
Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live in someone else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you too.
I have listened to the video, and I paused the video a few times, and googled to find out more about Hegelian dialectics, before continuing to listen to the video so as to have a more complete understanding with some background knowledge in mind.
For example, I learnt from this website that Hegel “developed his concept of dialectic, in which the contradiction between a proposition (thesis) and its antithesis is resolved at a higher level of truth (synthesis)”.
I noted that the video is about the question “In which ways did Hegel’s dialectic influence the way we look at history?” and “Hegel thought that history is dialectic, a constant change along a path towards a definite end.” The narrator said that it deals with such questions like “Why do empires rise and fall? Why do certain things change through history, eg ideas? How and why do certain people influence history?” He added that some of Hegel’s writings are very difficult to understand, such as his philosophy of history. It challenges people to fully grasp what he was saying.
The narrator said that Hegel is interested in the search for truth. He also said that one way of finding truth is through debate. But the problem with debate is that people keep their own beliefs. They want to win over the other side. They would use arguments with logic but not emotions. But to Hegel, he believed we have to go through 3 stages until we come to the point where we can say with clarity how things have become or how things have changed.
For Hegel, the first stage is known as the abstract or an idea or opinion or thesis. We then look for the opposite to it, the negative idea, or the antithesis. Moving from the original idea (thesis) to the other (antithesis), we then come to the conclusion of a new, concrete understanding called synthesis.
This is different from other kinds of ideas or reasonings, such as inductive and deductive methods of reasonings. Deductive is when there is a generalisation – many kinds of opinions, and through them we come to a conclusion; and inductive is when we have an example, and we make a proposition.
The narrator said that to come up with any concrete or definite statement about the state of affairs, or how things are happening in Europe, we must go through the abstract and the negative – we must have the thesis and the antithesis – to come to a concrete conclusion about how things have changed.
So, for Hegel, history is dialectic. It is the stages that are continually changing because a status quo – the way things are, like feudalism in Europe – will then be faced with a new way of thinking… such as the Renaissance…. and from that, there is this conflict which ends up with a new synthesis, a new way in which people see themselves and the world.
Eg if we lived in the 16th century, we would begin to get a lot of freedom, breaking away from church dogma, and we are being allowed to become more humanistic, and we will see the world not through the power of God but through the power of reasoning. That is a complete change away from the previous status quo. So we move through Reformation and Renaissance with a new understanding of where we come from.
The narrator added that history is always moving forward. It is never static. It is deterministic – it is determined to go in a particular way. It is changing because it is “geist”. We have developed through stages, where one synthesis is challenged by a new thesis, and the cycle of thesis-antithesis-synthesis goes on.
Humans are evolving in a constant change. With new technologies, we have to adapt new ways of working and communicating. In future, as technologies keep changing, we have to also keep adopt new ways of working and communicating again and again.
However, as the narrator noted, there is a flaw in this mode of thinking. There are subjective and objective ways of seeing things, which result in differences in opinions. What is change to one person may not be so for another person.
Nevertheless, Hegel’s writings certainly influence German nationalism. His ideas led to a march forward towards a higher realm in German idealism. The narrator then talked about Zeitgeist – the spirit within a certain period. He said that the prevailing feeling in the Victorian era is different from that in the 1960s due to a change in the way people see the world because of technological evolution, wars, etc.
The narrator then ended the video by saying that Hegel’s dialectic can be used in our own research and understanding of history. We can ask ourselves: Do things occur because of the status quo being challenged by new ways of thinking through whatever crisis, through whatever stages of development of technology and people’s understanding, etc, and from that, do we then reach a synthesis? What was the Zeitgeist at that time? How about today?
I remember reading recently that someone in this forum also noted that Hegel’s dialectic describes a seemingly neverending cycle of changes in history, whereby the synthesis that has emerged becomes a new thesis, which will one day be challenged by a new antithesis in future, which will in turn lead to a new synthesis, and the cycle goes on. The forum member wrote:
“It’s a theory of the evolution of knowledge or culture. Earlier posters have explained it pretty well, but the one point that’s only been touched on is that the dialectic cycle continues. So first you have your thesis. This leads to rebel thinkers or a different political viewpoint in opposition, the antithesis. Eventually these to combine (often violently) into a new paradigm which takes the best parts of both into the synthesis. Now, the synthesis is the dominant paradigm, so it’s the new thesis, meaning there will be an opposition theory, a new antithesis, which will lead to a new synthesis, which itself becomes the third thesis, leading to a third antithesis, etc.”
All in all, I see Hegel’s dialectic as a useful tool or model in helping us understand the changes in history. I would summarise it in my own words like this: What used to work in a society in the past may not work as well in the future because of changes in the way people see the world, which are influenced by cultural, technological, political changes and so on. So the prevailing system in which we function will have to evolve as well. But after a new system has been put into place, it will sooner or later become obsolete, and the status quo will again be challenged once more by a new antithesis, and then a new synthesis will be necessary to restore the balance. And this cycle continues to flow and change alongside with the evolution of humanity and the rest of the world.
One example I could think of is the Pisces age that was said to be dominant from the first century AD till around 2012, to borrow a new age theory. It was based on “approval of authority gives people a sense of self-worth.” But from 2012 onwards, a new antithesis is necessary to challenge the status quo of the Pisces Age. It is called the Aquarian Age. In the Aquarian Age, people will gain their sense of self-worth through self-approval. Each will be aware of his own divinity. But there is a conflict between the old adherents of Pisces Age who wanted to hold on to authority, power and influence and the new followers of Aquarian Age who want to promote freedom, justice and equality for everyone. Maybe a new synthesis will emerge based on new ways of understanding, that manages to combine these two apparently incompatible theories in a unique and unpredictable way. I am not sure what to call this synthesis – a new Age of consciousness? I suppose that is where subjectivity comes in because different people will have different opinions on what to call it, and whether it is really considered a change, as mentioned in the video.
As mentioned earlier, I was reading up more about Hegelian dialectics while watching the video. For example, I learnt from this website that Hegel’s logic differs from Aristotle’s logic – Hegel chose to see everything as a whole, whereas Aristotle chose to see separate, discrete entities in a deductive pattern.
“For Hegel, only the whole is true. Every stage or phase or moment is partial, and therefore partially untrue. Hegel’s grand idea is “totality” which preserves within it each of the ideas or stages that it has overcome or subsumed. Overcoming or subsuming is a developmental process made up of “moments” (stages or phases). The totality is the product of that process which preserves all of its “moments” as elements in a structure, rather than as stages or phases.”
Similarly, pages 89-90 of this book “Philosophy for Kids: Questions that help you wonder… about everything” noted that Hegel thought about all individual things, not just a particular human being. No one thing can be understood by itself. Rather, anything and everything must be seen in the light of relations to everything else.
Yes, I agree that all things are interconnected. We exist in relation to others, as we are not discrete, isolated entities.
Earlier while watching the video and grappling with difficult and new concepts and ideas, I was reflecting that generally speaking, while academics has its place, it needs to be relevant and easy to understand, as shared with you before. Otherwise, it can only create a distance itself from the rest of the world. While sometimes using highly specialised terms is necessary, the development of ideas needs to be clear and concise. Dense, complex writings are not always helpful if they confuse the readers just to give the impression that they are deep. Some of the most profound ideas are simple and yet deep, such as Jesus’ parables, and can be understood by kids. One gauge I would use to evaluate a writing, whether an academic or philosophical or any kind of writing, is by asking myself this question: “Can kids understand? If an average kid cannot understand, how can this writing really be useful? How does this writing contribute in making the world a better, more cohesive and peaceful place in a practical sense?”
I remember Jesus said “I thank You Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes” (Matt 11:25), as a rebuke to the religious leaders who did not appreciate his miracles of healing people.
Later as I continued to meditate on this, I realised that then again, sometimes certain ideas are meant to be complex. There is more than meets the eye beyond the surface of things, as quantum physics would reveal. For instance, someone from the evangelical christian background sent a mass text message on the handphone earlier on to share this verse, which I supposed was meant to encourage others – “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”. (from Psalms) Yet my interpretation of this verse has changed from understanding it literally to understanding it metaphorically. To evangelicals, “the Lord” probably meant some literal judicial figure in the sky. But to me, “the Lord” is probably referring to our highest self who is Love. So, sometimes, mystical realities cannot be easily translated or described in words.
Similarly, when it comes to the philosophy of history, maybe it is not that easy to describe using words alone. Hegel’s writing comes across as difficult to understand to many people maybe because the original German language itself in which he wrote is complex. He was probably also trying to articulate his ideas in a way that made sense to him, and was not deliberately trying to obsfucate his thoughts to confuse his readers. It is probably the result of the complex subject nature he was dealing with that requires a certain way of thinking in order to go deeper beyond the surface, so the apparent complexity is somewhat inevitable.
Maybe one good thing about deep and complex philosophical ideas is that it challenges people to “decode” the mystery – it becomes like a treasure hunt where people look for clues to unlock the mystery, and will experience the thrill of uncovering the meaning behind the codes, bit by bit. It will bring a new and interesting dimension to an otherwise bland, mundane and overly simplistic way of thinking that much of the society operates on – one that is deep, mysterious and rewarding as we delve beyond the surface of reality, and feed on our own personal revelations and perceptions of life.
I have checked out the above message by George Elerick, and I agree ethics is not something we do but rather is who we are. The performance-based concept of ethics is self-centred, which is about looking good in front of others. Yes, in this sense, ethics is tied up with capitalism because capitalism is based on self-centredness instead of other-centredness.
As he pointed out, Paul wrote that we are all one in Christ, and our identity is based on who we are in Christ and not based on how we perform. It reminds me of a blog I posted on grace and ethics, based on a blog by Peter Rollins.