Virtue is Knowledge; Wickedness is Ignorance

Challenged
My tranquility was once again disturbed by a friend. One day she called me to help her out in her assignment. Being a close friend, I quickly answered yes. But when I started reading the seven different dicta of seven ancient philosophers, I also started to panic. I love the subject, yes…Philosophy for me contains the most exciting but also the most exhausting things to ponder about. How can I simply establish rational reaction to these philosophers’ words of wisdom without given enough time to ponder deeply? My ungenerous friend did not give me the luxury of time: she wanted me to deliver my quick reaction in two days. So I attempted.

Of those ‘Words of Wisdom” from different philosophers, one struck me like no other: According to Socrates,

“All vice is the result of ignorance, and that no person is willingly bad; correspondingly, virtue is knowledge, and those who know the right will act rightly.”

My quick reaction was to disagree, of course. I began my argument with the assumption that knowing is separate from acting. Meaning, our knowledge can be used for both good and bad. It is the choice of the person who possesses the knowledge where he’s going to use it.

Let’s look at the obvious. Many people who know too much use their knowledge in wickedness. Therefore, Socrates was wrong. Or was he?

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See you on the next pages. 🙂

Educated to Criticize?

I don’t get it!

In the past few days, I showered you with Droplets of excerpts from the book of Dale Carnegie. Most excerpt I chose bring with it a sense of universal, timeless, and very self-evident truths embedded in every note of its tone whenever you try to articulate it.

Universal means that those principles are supposed to be understood in every culture regardless of whether you come from the East or from the West, or from anywhere. Timeless means that whether you are from the stone age, agricultural age, from the industrial age, or from our present internet or information age, these truths remain truths. Self-evident in simpler term means “obvious”—you don’t need empirical researches, or extensive studies, you don’t need to be masters or doctors of certain discipline, you don’t need any title or position to at least observe that these principles are true to most of us; you only need to be open-minded and humble in order for you to recognize these truths.

However, given its powerful description of having universality, timelessness, and obviousness, still many people, including educated people don’t get it. And that is what I don’t get. That exactly is what I don’t understand!

Why is it that despite our society’s enormous knowledge of many things around and about us, these knowledge seem to be so enormously inadequate too, inadequate to at least recognize very obvious, universal truths that have been existing for maybe thousands of years?

Encounters

One night, I was having a conversation with a crying 17-year-young woman who has been severely criticized for something she didn’t do. The following morning, just fifteen hours later, I was listening to an adult lady having exactly the same predicament. At first, she tried hard not to appear weak or hurt, well at least in her face. But eventually the impact of pain kicked in. She burst into tears…into reasonable tears. These two ladies are not friends, they come from different worlds—one a teenager; the other, an adult—yet they are experiencing very similar painful situations. Both are emotionally hurt.

It’s so saddening that the people who hurt them are highly educated people. And they were supposed to be the people who would be considered as “friends” and “mentors.”  By default, their titles and professions suggest that they must be people who can be trusted. Yet they betrayed the trust of these two ladies in different occasions by being too judgmental and by delivering sharp, uncalled for, and very bitter criticisms.

Why?

Is that what our modern sophisticated, full-packed systems of education teach us? By learning too many advanced academic subjects and focusing too deeply on mastering them, we forget the obvious, the basic, the more powerful lessons! Of course, not all educated people are like that, but I guess most of us are. Yes, including me. I cannot deny that I also criticize too much. I criticize more than I praise. How about you in your daily life? Do you praise more than you criticize?

What is the use of education if all we can learn are academic matters instead of life matters? What is the use of education if it develops pride and prejudice to us…pride and prejudice that will make us criticize other people just because we don’t agree with them?

We have learned so much about the technical side of life—mathematics, literature, science, arts, and many other subjects in between—but have we learned not to throw sharp, bitter and useless criticisms? Have we learned yet not to become judgmental to others?

Does our modern education help us develop the knowledge, attitude and skill NOT to criticize others, but instead understand them? Where is the proof?

Limitless

Does grace ever has a limit? Is anybody ever beyond forgiveness …or acceptance? Is God the only one capable of showing grace …and not we humans? If I, being a Christian have to extend grace, to whom should I extend it, to good people? the talented? the kindhearted?  …those who “deserve?”

Can I show grace to murderers, liars, arrogant people, traitors, gossip, those who attack me? …to those who don’t “deserve?”

Honest Doubt or Stubborn Skepticism?

What’s the Difference?

I am also guilty of unfairly labeling Thomas as a doubter. Growing up in a church where pastors, speakers, Bible study leaders, and other Christian friends always associated the name Thomas with the word doubt, I was influenced.

Well, in a sense, that would be just technically natural. We remember Thomas by his famous words,

Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.

His statement is found in the famous story of Jesus’ appearance in the midst of his doubting disciples after his resurrection.

But why do we single out Thomas, as if he was the only one who doubted? Didn’t every one of the remaining eleven disciples doubted Jesus’ resurrection? How about Mary while standing near Jesus grave? Didn’t she ask the gardener about the location of Jesus’ body—not recognizing (perhaps because of doubt) that the gardener she was asking was actually the Jesus she was looking for?

Yes, Thomas doubted. But wasn’t it an honest doubt?

As far as I observe, the one difference I see between Thomas and the other disciples is that Thomas vocally expressed his doubt. Like the suffering Job of the Old Testament, Thomas expressed his feeling with full honesty—a healthy characteristic that is expected of a relationship—the same characteristic that made Job become vindicated by God instead of his friends.

Thomas’ words is an expression of an honest doubt. In contrast, those Pharisees who ask Jesus tricky questions are stubborn skeptics. They don’t really look for answers. They look for ways to prove that they are better than anyone else. They are driven by arrogance not by a searching soul.

An honest doubter is thirsty. An answer quenches her thirst. A stubborn Skeptic on the other hand, is an addict: no amount of intake will satisfy—any answer we provide seems to worsen his condition. An honest doubter is confused; a stubborn skeptic has already made up his mind.

Perhaps honest doubt is a sign of genuine perplexity while stubborn skepticism is a sign of an arrogant disbelief.

I think, one very obvious difference between honest doubt and stubborn skepticism is what happens after one receives an answer. The honest doubter is transformed into becoming a fearless proclaimer—My Lord and my God!”; while the stubborn skeptic looks for another loophole, for another way to challenge, for another trick.

By the way, wasn’t Thomas the only one in the four gospels who proclaimed that Jesus is God? Perhaps that’s what happens when we deal with our honest doubts carefully.

When I encounter honest doubters, I am compassionate enough to help. They honestly thirst for answers. But the moment I notice someone asking tricky questions like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, I just ignore them . . . for they will never be satisfied. They are not looking for answers, they are looking for arguments. I don’t want to waste my time explaining to a stubborn skeptic.

It’s okay to doubt. For it is impossible to grow faith without the element of doubt. Like the tiny mustard seed that grows into a six-feet tall plant, faith grows in the soil of doubt. There is one danger, though, when we are in time of doubt: we are prone to be attracted to the skeptics’ arguments.

I have observed people who when facing doubt, they immerse themselves deeply into more doubting questions, they entertain other doubters statements and they welcome skeptics’ arguments. No wonder they end up being skeptic as well. No wonder they never recover.

When a person is cold, he needs to cover himself with more clothes instead of removing his garments. My two younger sons are afraid of the dark. They are afraid because they remember the horror movies they watched. But the more afraid they become, the more they want to feed the cause of their fear: the more they watch horror movies. Like the person who is cold, the more they are freezing to death, the more they are removing one by one all their garments.

Some doubters are like my sons, the more they doubt, the more they entertain the already attractive skeptic’s faulty arguments. Instead of carefully looking for answers, they entertain themselves with more skeptical questions and proofs that support their doubt.

For many years in my Christian life, I always swing back and forth between strong faith and crippling doubts. Every time I experience doubts, I express it to my family and non-condemning friends, and then I immerse myself to other facts that will help me recover. At the same time, I avoid skeptics’ words, for they will not help.

After recovering from doubts, I always end up fearlessly proclaiming, My Lord and my God!”

Innocent Attack

How can I resist the power of grace?

While dad was polishing his new car, his 5-year-old son picked up a stone and scratched lines on the side of the car. In his fits of anger, dad took the child’s hand and hit it many times. He didn’t realize that he hit the child’s hand with a wrench. At the hospital, his child said, “Dad, when will my fingers grow back?” Dad was so hurt, he went back to the car and hit the car many times. Sitting back, he looked at the scratches the child made . . .

. . . It reads, “I ♡ u daddy!”

Years ago, I received this story as a text message from a friend. The story was so strong that it captured my imagination and instantly melted my heart—making me feel guilty about how often I find myself in parallel situations . . . playing as the careless father of an innocent child.

I have three sons. Whenever my temper collides with my sons’ innocence, I always lose. Like the father in the story, my sons’ naivety can powerfully bring me to my knees, helpless, ashamed . . . unable to reason out . . . unable to defend.

“Dad when will my fingers grow back?” the child simply asks, instead of blaming his dad, and accusing him for his temper. The child’s action depicts a strong innocent way of overcoming evil with good.

How can I defend myself with such innocent attack?

If someone attempted to punch or kick me, I would be quick to defend by using my arms or feet. I may even counterattack with another kick or punch. Likewise, if a person insulted me, I may quickly defend myself by arguing with bulletproof logic and then retaliate with more insulting comments.

But how can I defend myself from an innocent child, asking how will he recover from the damage I’ve done to him—accepting the pain and suffering without hate or plan of revenge in his heart . . . showing me love in response to my aggression?

How can I defend myself from the attacks of grace?

With this simple story, I see a snapshot of what Jesus meant when He said to Peter that even “the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Grace, no matter, how sweet and gentle, pierces our heart like a deadly arrow . . . reaching the innermost part, penetrating our deepest soul. Indeed, grace is even more powerful than violence. The innocent-like attack of grace can bring a strong man down to his knees, helpless and broken.

Because we are so used to living an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” standard of dealing with justice, it becomes easier for us to resist aggression, hatred and revenge than to face and accept grace squarely without being broke, ashamed . . . without being contrite.

Again, how can I resist the gentle invisible power of grace?

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The photo is from Musings, another WordPress blog.