August 4, 2007

Maha: The Wisdom of Doubt

Filed under: Philosophy — Bob Gifford @ 7:05 pm

Maha has been writing a series on The Wisdom of Doubt, which she has now wrapped. Given the name of this blog, I have been reading it with great interest. Maha is a former Christian, current Zen Buddhist, and as you can imagine, has a lot of interesting things to say about Christianity as well as religion in general. I highly recommend the whole thing, but there are a few of my favorite quotes:

Doubt in the Zen sense is not knowing. A Christian might use the word humility instead of doubt to mean about the same thing. Doubt means you don’t know with any certainty who or what God is, or what’s going to happen next, or how your plans for yourself will turn out, or even what happens when you die. But though you doubt, yet you trust. This is faith.

Doubt also means you are open to all possibilities, all understanding, because you haven’t filled up your head with certainty. Zennies sometimes use the phrases “beginner’s mind” or “don’t know mind” to mean the same thing. That’s why this kind of doubt is about being open. The other kind of doubt, the one that causes people to fold their arms and say religion is just superstitious crap, is closed.

This captures so well why I, a believing Christian, yet embrace doubt as an essential part of my personal philosophy.

Maha also includes a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, the 20th century Christian theologian:

When we look into the future we see through a glass darkly. The important issue is whether we will be tempted by the incompleteness and frustration of life to despair, or whether we can, by faith, lay hold on the divine power and wisdom which completes what remains otherwise incomplete. A faith which resolves mystery too much denies the finiteness of all human knowledge, including the knowledge of faith. A faith which is overwhelmed by mystery denies the clues of divine meaning which shine through the perplexities of life. The proper combination of humility and trust is precisely defined when we affirm that we see, but admit that we see through a glass darkly.

June 16, 2007

Welcome to the New Digs

Filed under: Blog Housekeeping,Philosophy — Bob Gifford @ 2:36 pm

After blogging at Digital Business Strategy for awhile, I’ve decided to start up this, a more personal, blog. So the first question, of course, was picking a name.

The best blog names are clever without being pretentious. I couldn’t come up with anything clever, so I went for pretentious instead.

Latin is always good for pretentiousness, although not as good as Greek. Sanskrit is beyond pretentious, but a lot harder to come by. I settled for Latin.

Rene Descartes famously said “Dubito ergo cogito; cogito ergo sum”, meaning “I doubt therefore I think; I think therefore I am.” And I guess that’s fine as far as it goes, but it has always seemed a bit backwards to me. For me, the thinking comes first, and if I think long enough, doubt inevitably follows. By this I don’t mean an existential doubt like Descartes, or self-doubt or insecurity, but an appreciation of the ambiguity inherent in the world. If we are honest, we must admit that all of our opinions and conclusions in life must be provisional, awaiting another bit of data, experience or enlightenment to turn them upside down.

One reaction to this doubt is a kind of jaundiced cynicism, a belief that since nothing is certain, any sincerely held belief is merely naive. Well, I have many sincerely held religious and political beliefs, and I don’t intend to abandon any of them to cynicism.

Another reaction to doubt is to attempt to eliminate it. Since “cogito ergo dubito”, the elimination of doubt requires a refusal to think, or at least to think too hard about our cherished beliefs. But this kind of certainty is an illusion, and eventually the dikes will break and the water of doubt will come crashing in.

Instead, I embrace doubt and ambiguity, I surrender to it. Not that I won’t argue for my viewpoints as though they are irrefutable and certain, but it’s a good thing for the name of the blog to remind both blogger and reader that the opinions expressed here should be greeted with, first, critical thought, and second, doubt.

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