All posts by Dr. Charlie Self

There are Answers: If We have Courage

This is the beginning of a series entitled, “There are Answers: If We Have Courage.” We will examine what many regard as intractable and unsolvable issues. We will fearlessly look at economic justice and the future of work, tax reform, immigration, Middle East policy, human identity, including gender, sexuality and transhumanism, racial tensions, religious freedom, academic and intellectual liberty, political polarization and principled compromise and global/local culture and life.

As always, we will distill insights from as many perspectives as possible – within the bounds of axiomatic principles and critical thinking. Conservatives may balk as the complexities of institutional transformation are evaluated. Liberals will worry that emphases on personal responsibility and certain enduring values will reverse gains in liberty. Good! We need deliverance from narrow ideological agitation propaganda.

In this essay, two issues foundational to all the rest will be examined: 1) the crisis of human identity/nature (anthropology); and 2) the crisis of objective knowledge and truth (epistemology). Without clarity on who we are and what we can know, all dialogue devolves into subjective opinion, with any critical comments deemed intolerant or a microaggression. Without such clarity, human freedom is confined to certain private experiences and life is increasingly controlled by a totalitarian state, since people “need help and cannot care for themselves.”

What does being human mean? Diverse philosophical and religious traditions answer this question in a variety of ways, from accidental evolutionary materialism to bearing the image of God. Are we merely highly evolved animals or divinely-crafted beings called to steward the rest of creation? Is human nature defined by physical processes alone or in there a unique interaction of body and spirit, brain and mind? In addition to our basic identity, are humans (like most of nature) either male or female or is there an almost infinite spectrum of identities?

Regardless of worldview, most people through most of history have not questioned the unique nature of human beings and the basic binary realities of male and female identity, albeit with a variety of opinions of erotic affections and actions.

Going forward, our American and global experiments in ordered liberty rooted in truth and virtue rest on humankind being uniquely endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights and responsibilities. Anything less than this and we devolve into arguments over blood and soil, raw scientism or fantastical speculations on human/machine singularity.

What about our foundations for knowledge? Until a half-century ago in the West, a basic correspondence theory of truth allowed for both cohesiveness and spirited debate, unity of essential facts and diversity of interpretations. No one argued whether certain events actually happened, though their impact and interpretation made for lively discussion. Today, we are told that there is no objective “there” – all we can do is interpret stories and hopefully find some convergence with shared narratives and opinions. Former President Obama’s two (!) pre-presidential autobiographies are perfect examples of ideological fabrication. Why do we need his “composite” portraits of friends and mentors? Why can we not have access to his records and writings? Why? Because history no longer stands on its own – it must serve the purposes of political advocacy. Beyond historical narrative, our epistemic crisis has fueled the same subjectivism for private and public morality, gender confusion and even allowed some to question full freedom of conscience and speech!

The uniqueness of being human and the knowability of the world are essential for grounding all arguments over justice and truth, love and human flourishing. Instead of marginalizing philosophical traditions, we should rediscover the wisdom of ancient texts and the goodness of contemporary research and synthesize these insights, so we can have a basis for social cohesion.

Our future as a nation – indeed as a human race – rests on this.

Common Sense…Not so “Common”

Almost daily I hear or read friends saying, “Can’t people have common sense? Doesn’t everybody know that [fill in ‘fact’ here]?” The problem is that “common” is under question in every category. From family structure to journalistic objectivity, from core values to affirming simple facts about the world, there is little agreement on reality and truth, even on simple events or observations!

There are three crises underneath the loss of common sense: 1) Abandonment of reverence for God…and therefore absolute truth beyond ourselves; 2) Chaotic anthropology, with gender and identity constantly changing; and 3) Subjective epistemology that ends us with insipid assertions such as, “Well, my opinion is just as valid as yours.”

Here are some commonsense observations as one contribution to restored sanity:

Emotional reactions are easy. Wise responses to our world require reflection. Let’s all pause before speaking or writing.

A decade of empirical global research has concluded that if basic food, shelter and water are present…happiness is a choice.

Life is much more delightful when we think of serving others, not ourselves.

Let’s restore common sense, one thoughtful word, one kind act and one moment of clear thinking at a time.

A Pause for Beauty

Throughout history, thoughtful men and women have agreed that cultures rise and fall on their inner moral virtues as well as their military and political prowess. “The Good, the True and the Beautiful” are categories that shape our worldview and civil society.

We live is a world deeply marred by injustice, oppression and ugliness. We also have astonishing moments of sacrificial virtue, justice and beauty. Contrary to the cliché, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” we can assert the universality of both the idea of beauty (with its cultural preferences) and certain human experiences that awaken awe and take our breath away.

Year ago, singer Sarah Groves presented the song, “Add to the Beauty.” Part of redeeming our world – however imperfectly – is each of us adding to the beauty. Such labors of love go beyond artistic expressions. Beauty is expansive and each of us can contribute, from doing daily work well with a great attitude to fostering new relationships.

As we lament over sin and violence, we also need a Sabbath of Beauty. There is so much beauty in our Father’s world. For example, a first glimpse of the Grand Canyon and hearing Bach on the cello. A baby’s unfeigned smile. Athletic ability honed by years of practice. Mountain peaks and ocean waves.

Let’s add to the beauty.