I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine -Ayn Rand
One of the most natural beliefs I’ve had over time is that of man’s natural selfishness. Man has this tendency to seek his own happiness and pleasure over that of the others as a primary goal at almost all times of his life. Both Plato, Aristotle, and many other philosophers have seen this as a central need.
But how does one fulfill it? One of the most prominent ways of bringing one’s self joy is through gift-giving. Birthdays and Christmas are two of the largest opportunities for this expression of gifts.
But how natural is it? Much of modern consumerism makes it seem as though humans only want to receive. After all, it’s common sense that all men wish to get more, correct? According to PopAnth writer Erin Taylor the giving process is even more natural for people to love:
Gift-giving has always been a central activity of human life. Human beings in all times and places have given each other gifts to celebrate the relationships they have with each other. In fact, it’s been argued – and generally agreed……that gift-giving is the ‘social glue’ that holds us all together. Whether we’re talking about religious festivals, birthdays, buying a round of drinks at a bar, or inviting friends over for dinner, gift-giving is inextricable from all of our meaningful relationships. Through the process of choosing, wrapping and presenting gifts, we show that we care.
What’s funny about this behavior is that despite it’s anthropological foundations, gift-giving is an “irrational” act. (IE It’s a behavior that doesn’t make 100% logical sense) In fact, it’s not even an economical idea. Here’s why:
Rational economists fixate on a situation in which, say, your Aunt Bertha spends $50 on a shirt for you, and you end up wearing it just once (when she visits). Her hard-earned cash has evaporated, and you don’t even like the present! One much-cited study estimated that as much as a third of the money spent on Christmas is wasted, because recipients assign a value lower than the retail price to the gifts they receive.
Rational economists thus make a simple suggestion: Give cash or give nothing.
But then again, I was taught that cash is one of the worst ideas for gift-giving. So, how can this be?
As Dan Ariely explains it, the issue becomes one of an economy of relationship over an economy of finance. Matt Patton explained it simply as “the impact of the gift comes from the nature of our relationship and the reason behind it”.
It’s this simple dichotomy that confirms the truth of the issue; that gifts play to our anthropological desires for relationships over a simple numerical system.
There’s a lot more going on in the process of gift-giving than we ever think. As we come to a stronger understanding, we can appreciate the true joy of this simple joy.
Any more questions? Do you find any joy out of the process of gift-giving? Do the reasons here match your experience?
Merry Christmas to my readers. I thank you for over a year of reading us. It’s been a fantastic year of writing for me. We’ve been changing, shifting, and growing. But I’m happy to say that I’ve enjoyed it all, and I hope you did as well.
I can’t say much about 2013, except I’m graduating from Rivendell in June, and going who-knows-where. But I do have a writing project I’m working on ALONGSIDE both writing here and in magazines.
Anyway, Merry Christmas, and may you remember the reason(s) for the season.
Question: Why do we blame others when we’re the victim, but the victim when it’s another person?
Answer: It’s because of what psychologists have defined as “Actor-Observer Bias”:
The actor-observer bias is a term in social psychology that refers to a tendency to attribute one’s own actions to external causes, while attributing other people’s behaviors to internal causes. Essentially, people tend to make different attributions depending upon whether they are the actor or the observer in a situation.
When does it happen more often?
The actor-observer bias tends to be more pronounced in situations where the outcomes are negative. For example, in a situation where a person experiences something negative, the individual will often blame the situation or circumstances. When something negative happens to another person, people will often blame the individual for their personal choices, behaviors and actions.
What’s a good example of Actor-Observer Bias? The Motorist/Cyclist Relationship.
It’s quite common to read stereotypes of cyclist as law breakers — and that’s an excuse for cyclists not to have safe facilities…..
The hypocrisy of motorists stereotyping cyclists as law breakers is clear. Which road user is causing the majority of road fatalities, personal injuries, and crashes? Aggressive driving, distracting driving, drunk driving — notice the common word?
In other words, a motorist can justify their speeding because the speed limit is too low, or 5 MPH over is socially acceptable, or because they’re in a hurry.
However, when a cyclist on rolls through a stop sign, it’s because they are lawbreakers. This latter judgement is also called a Fundamental attribution error.
In our last post, we asked a fascinating question of whether Rational and Religious thought can co-exist (short answer: they can and do). But one of the smaller sub-texts below this is the specific practice of prayer.
For the sake of maintaining a legitimate debate here , we’re going to define prayer as the act of communicating with God in order to either A) create a physical result (such as receiving needed money in times of trouble) or B) change the nature of an issue (such as asking God to save the life of another, who is beyond medical help)
For Christians, this activity makes 100% sense. After all, if God is willing to help us, shouldn’t we ask him to do so? This does require the presupposition of God’s existence and of God being Gracious AND a listener, but it’s no different for the Atheist view, where one must presuppose that a God cannot exist. Both have underlying assumptions which are unavoidable and necessary to prove. So, we will leave that argument alone for another day.
Should one pray if they don’t know if they if they’ll get the results? (based on actual physical results)
Many would say no. Albert Einstein, in an answer to a little girl’s question about who scientists pray to, states that:
Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.Some would say yes.
On the other hand, many others would say yes for belief-based reasons. Prayer expert Keith Roberts (of the College of Prayer) states that:
One will never prove the authenticity of prayer by empirical evidence. The five senses aren’t capable of testing the reality of prayer….
Just as you can’t receive TV broadcasts on a chain saw, or hear a radio station on a crescent wrench, true spiritual reality can’t be experienced with the five senses.
To experience the spiritual reality of prayer, one must switch frequencies… from empirical thinking to faith. Faith is the other frequency by which humans know things.
Keith has an interesting points when he states that prayer isn’t a totally empirical system. Results exist in the material world alongside the immaterial world. Thus, it would be extremely difficult to account for every single answer and create a quantifiable system for tracking it. But to say one cannot be scientific about it is to under-extend the nature of prayer.
Some studies are being done on the impact of prayer towards individuals, in particular to the Medical field (led up by the John Templeton Foundation). Early social science studies on the topic have been found to be statistically and philosophically flawed. However, a few professors (like Candy Gunther Brown) have found more than enough evidence that prayer has had a historical effect on individuals in both the long and short-term healing process, thus showing some legitimacy of prayer in everyday life.
But anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove the legitimacy what if we only focused on the logical implications of prayer? Is it logical to pray? Here are two logreasons that prayer has legitimate benefits and effects for those who choose to use it.
- The Effort’s worth it: Prayer is a simple action of trying (albeit one that’s less direct). If one is trying something, then they are in a better position than those who do nothing. This is more noticeable in times where no action of man can change the outcome (like a cancer quickly spreading through a human body, causing a quick death).
- Neurology: As we mentioned earlier, there are neurological studies that show humans have a necessity to engage in religious belief. Prayer would be included in this. This implies that we’re naturally built for this kind of behavior, and should encourage it.
- Emotional benefit: There are dozens of anecdotes that tell the positive tales of people offering to pray for another person, no matter their belief, and leaving a positive impression. There are dozens of anecdotal cases where both the praying person and the praying receiver find personal benefit in this act of praying (Which can be seen as a spiritual form of showing care of the other)
With all of this evidence, it becomes fairly apparent that prayer does provide some form of benefit. physical/emotional benefit to society. Hence, prayer is a rational and logical choice and not as easily dismissible as some might want it to be.
What’s your experience with prayer?
Can a man be a religious soul while maintaining some form of his rational thought? Doris Egan, the creator of House, MD. doesn’t believe this to be so. He stated in an interview that “Rational arguments don’t usually work on religious people. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be religious people“. And there’s a surprising amount of people on both the religious and secular sides of the debates who find this statement to be true.
But is this true? Are religious and rational thoughts opposite to one another, as though they could never interact?
In order to engage this question, we’re going to look at it in depth for a proper understanding of the problem (or lack of a problem, if I’m correct)
For the sake of not having to worry about doctrinal issues, we’ll be primarily working with the most prominent form of religion in Western Civilization, Christianity, though other faiths will play a part as we go along.
Rationalism and Religion = Same thing?
One of the best questions to ask before going further in this conversation is:What do most people define religion and rational thought as?
If one asks around, there’s a dozen answers for this question.
The consistent answer I find is that rational thought is that of logic, of using evidence and data and the empirical/logical to support one’s own belief.
In opposition, Religion is one based primarily on a belief expressed by a certain source that isn’t 100% supported by rational thought, as in it requires some form of non-rational belief.
What are the consequences of such definitions? Well, I found that most critics of religious thought believe religion use this definition to implicate that all religious thoughts are either be based on no rational thought or incorrect rational thought.
This claim is only partly true. Many cultic religions have come about because of bad/no rational thought, though these are often extremely radical and extreme ends (Classic examples of this include Scientology and the beliefs of the Manson Family) But not all religions have the irrational characteristics of cultic behavior. If one applies the label mentioned earlier to all religions, then they are misconceiving the nature and existence of a belief.
It’s an obvious concept that religion requires a form of belief. Historically, the major religions have made efforts to rationally explain their beliefs, and why they were true. Most notably, Christian scholars have done an excellent job of relying on the empirical and logical tools of the day to prove many of their views, including historical affirmation, logical necessities, and empirical study of the reality around them. Of course, like all scientists, these proofs are tinted (not tainted) by the presuppositions of the investigator.
This doesn’t disprove the investigator’s arguments. Instead, it offers opportunity for investigating the claims of both the accuser and the accusee. After all, If the biases of a pro-theism investigator affects his results, wouldn’t an anti-theist investigator’s bias affect his results just as much?
This is why there are many who are arguing that Atheism, as a system of beliefs, is just as much a religion as Christianity or the Ba’hai faith. Reason.com writer Lisa Kennedy Montgomery wrote that she saw plenty of cultural evidence for atheism existing as a religion.
Kennedy found evidence that both Atheists and theists share the same emotional and neurological necessity for some form of belief, whether it be in man or in a deity. This explains the odd emotional similarities between the two divided groups:
When atheists rail against theists (as many did on my Facebook page), they are using the same fervor the religious use when making their claims against a secular society. By calling atheism a religion, I am not trying to craft terms or apply them out of convenience. I just see theists and atheists behaving in the same manner, approaching from opposite ends of the runway.
If this idea is true, than the ones who are so “rational” are actually just as religious as the ones they accuse! This means that either both groups are rational or both groups are religious and there is no actual physical difference between the apparently polar opposite groups in that regard.
Rational thought and Religion can Co-exist:
So if the case is that both the so-called rationalists and the so-called religious think in the same way (religious/rational, then which is it? If Professor Robert Wuthnow is correct, then both are.
Wuthnow recently released a study of the American populace to see whether the “reasonable” people of America could also “Hope of Heaven”, (to use the words of Peter Berger’s review)
What Wuthnow found was that people are not naturally “just” religious or “just” rational. In fact, they’re dualistic, switching back and forth between the two premises. Peter Berger explains it in his review as thus:
Faith in America (and by implication in any modern society) occurs in a context of culturally instituted “norms of reasonableness.” These norms are expressed in a discourse which does not presuppose supernatural interventions. Religious people do assume such interventions—indeed, they regularly pray for them—but they try to speak about them in terms compatible with the naturalist norms.
While many people say that, in principle, they believe that God can perform miracles, they do not usually assume that he does so apart from natural processes. For example, religious people often pray for healing, and they believe that God may answer such prayers—but not usually by a miracle, but rather through natural processes of remission, or by the skill of a surgeon, or the efficacy of medication. Thus there occurs a “mingling of languages.”
If this is true, than the debate of religion vs. rational thought is moot. Instead of rational minds and religious minds in a constant conflict, they are actually in a “Creative tension”, to use the terminology of Woutnow.
This is a mind-boggling concept. Faith and fact can co-exist in the human mind without surrender or submission.
What do you think? Do you believe that rational thought is still non-religious, or could the two co-exist in the words and deeds of Americans everywhere?
Here’s a recent cartoon from Zenpencils.com that I found to ring true with the entirety of the human condition. (Here’s my actual favorite, courtesy of Neil Gaiman) I hope it’ll fill in for my recent lack of writing. I hope to get you guys thinking again this upcoming weekend with a little bit of science and philosophy, as always.
A Quick Note: I’m not in America (or Wi-Fi range). I’m in Rome and Assisi for the next 3 days, and will be in Florence for the next 3 1/2 weeks Will have Wi-fi then, but I’m trying to stay off the internet for the most part outside of writing. So, I may not be able to blog much for the next few weeks (all the way up to Christmas, actually). so, I’ll make sure to provide interesting resources and whatnot for all of time, but I’m not sure what will happen.
Anyway, enjoy your holidays and I hope to provide some insights this year. If not, I’ll see you post-Christmas!
I was recently reading a book called Generation Me by Jean Twenge, PhD. In there, Twenge covers the topic of how the last 30 years have produced the most individualistic America in history.
How so? Well, ever since the revolution of the 60s, People have been taught that they had the capability to act and choose their own lifestyle, their own fashion, and so forth. This is a huge step forward from what seemed to be a populistic sense of culture in the 50s, where fashion and choice were far more limited by culture than by individual choice.
In a way, this is important, for Americans are now able to move against the grain and potentially work for the greatest good.
However, there’s always unexpected consequences to these developments. For example:
“Generation Me has grown up believing it’s more important to ‘do your own thing’ than conform to the group. Unfortunately that also means people of this generation are more likely to be inconsiderate of other people.”
This individualistic mindset has also affected things like:
- A Decline in manners
- Higher Empowerment of the individual
- Higher Depression of the individual
- Higher cheating results
- Distrust of authority
- Higher rise in Inter-racial Marriage
- Higher Average marriage age
- Higher Optimism
- Higher Cynicism