I Can Read Your Mind . . . I Think: Hegel on Cognition and Community

I thought it fitting to title this post as such due to the fact that I am dealing with cognition and community. So it is fitting to include both you and me, as well as words like “mind” and “think.” However, I cannot actually read your mind (spoilers!). But philosophically, this does not mean that we are not interrelated and part of a distinct community. Let me explain.

G.W.F Hegel states in his Phenomenology of the Spirit that,

If cognition is like an instrument or medium, then it does not leave the item to which it is applied, or the thing it filters, unaffected. If so, then anything we know is known in virtue of its being modified by this instrument or medium. (p. 46)

In short (if that is even possible with Hegel), the way we gain truth or gain consciousness, whether about ourselves or things in the world, cannot be separated from how we experience those things. Our very act of observing, talking, or interacting with things affects what (or who) they are. Therefore, seeing something in itself is not possible without taking in how you came to see that object in the first place, or why you see object in that manner. For example, the experience of seeing a tree is intrinsic to what the nature of the tree is. What the tree is in itself is made up what it actually is and how I interact with it. Hegel, at least in my reading, conveys that interconnectedness of things, attempting to refine and redefine the way we come to know truth.

What does this mean for humanity and the attempt to build a community of people? Hegel suggests that the human can “experience itself as living, and can experience the world that situates it as a dimension of its own life and as comprised of [other] living things (De Nys, Hegel and Theology, 19).” That is to say that you and I are interrelated, and that I can, in some way, know who I am through my experience and interaction with you – my consciousness is know through our experience with one another and vice versa or my consciousness is that experience. I am conscious of my identity only through you.

This all goes to say that it may be very important to be a part of a community of people who are continually experiencing one another and (re)forming their identities. Whether this takes place in a church, a home, or at a weekly Sabbath meal (my favorite), relationships with others are vital to knowing one’s self.

Although there are several layers to Hegel’s claims on consciousness, it seems that, in some weird way, I can read your mind, or at least what your mind is is formed by me in some way.

What is the Task of Systematic Theology?

What is the task of Systematic Theology?

What a wonderful and complex question; one that I am struggling with at this present moment. As I read in preparation for my first Christian Theology Class, I am struck (and instructed to review) by this question.

One of my sources thinks that the task of systematic theology is to “figure out what Christianity stands for in the world” (Emery, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity, xiii). But are we not skipping a very systematic and important question when we agree with the above quote. Why does our discussion start with taking Christianity at face value, leaving the Christian faith uninterrogated and to be foundational for our conclusions? Should we not question the authority that we are attempting to posit as our foundational lenses through which we will see our task and make our decisions?

So, maybe we should back up and frame our question from a different perspective: not “how does Christianity help me make and inform my decisions?,” but rather “why is Christianity worthy of giving authority to the decision-making process in the first place?”

What do you think the task of Systematic Theology is, or the task of theology in general? Please comment!

On the Beaten Path: Living in a City where being “like everyone else” is a Good Thing.

I come from a town where it hurts to be different. Most high schoolers dress the same, food tastes the same no matter where you go, and every road is indistinguishable from the other unless you have lived there your entire life. Even if you have often traveled those boring roads, your still not getting anywhere. I guess it is a cool place to live; for me, it is a love hate relationship.

Since moving to Durham, a place where you can be anyone you want (not so much because there is more freedom, but because most people don’t notice or care who you are), I have noticed that, in certain places, it is cool to be like everyone else.

As I was taking an afternoon jog a few days ago, I noticed that there are several paths made in the grass from runners and bikers. Most of the time I try to stick to the sidewalk, but there is a about a 1/2 a mile distance where the sidewalk ends and the beaten path begins. So, as a smart person, I follow these paths made by the thousands of feet who have run before me to adventure and avoid death by moving vehicle. That is when I started to think that following and being like others in this city may not be so bad.

First of all, this would never happen where I grew up. Literally speaking, these type of beaten paths do not exist. Next to no one runs in my hometown, and if you are seen running, there is a chance that you are either being chased by something and/or everyone in the neighborhood will think you are in some type of trouble (based on a true story). Secondly, Durham is situated within the health capital of the world. It’s always a good idea to follow the lead of those healthier than you, whether it is dealing with their faith or bodily health. Also, Durham portrays a place where opinions are valued, fundamentalism is challenged, and ideologies are at least called into question by most. These are good things to imitate and apply to one’s own life, no matter who you are or where you live.

Therefore, my goal has become to always follow those beaten paths made by the runners of Durham. Maybe one day, when I am better fit, I will make some of those paths myself. No matter where your sidewalk ends, have the courage to step off it and follow the beaten path. Just make sure that path has been made by able feet.

“The Recovering Redneck”

After reading Shane Claiborne‘s Irresistible Revolution in which Claiborne calls himself a “recovering redneck,” I am very dear to the fact that I, myself am mending my own redneck ways. I used to drive a big, loud truck, wore the occasional camouflage, and could hang with the best in the category of “best southern accent.” Although these things are part of my geography and heritage of which I am semi-proud, I have tried my hardest to be myself in a culture where “branching out” means trimming the limbs off a tree so you can have a better view from the deer stand. The last few year I have been standing on tetter-totter between redneck and normal; between v-necks and wranglers; boots and Toms; ain’t and is not. Do not get me wrong: I have lots of friends who are rednecks and I love them the same, but usually the title redneck portrays a cookie-cutter identity that is more a cover than an actual expression of who the person is; a way to fit in when often the Wranglers are just too tight (subtle redneck joke #1).

Although I have made leaps and bounds on my journey to recovery, this last week has made me rethink how much I have actually progressed. I moved to Durham last Wednesday, thinking I was prepared to move to the big city from a very small town, my home, Newton Grove, NC. I was very wrong. After putting my shopping cart in the wrong lane at Harris Tetter, I felt a sudden anxiety that I was in over my head. Then it got worse. My wife, Camille, and I have done quite a bit of adventuring since we arrived in Durham. Along the way I have noticed how hard it is to get used to stop lights when you grow up in a town that has none, and you do your undergrad at a place that really only has one. Yeah, I have almost ran six or seven stop lights because I simply do not notice them. I can haul heavy machinery, navigate large trucks, and back long trailers into narrow spaces, but I obviously cannot tell the difference between the two basic colors of red and green.

This may be the first time in my life I have felt like the outsider. Whether it is my naïve ways, my “innocence”, as Camille calls it, or simply my redneck self looking for attention, Durham still feels like some foreign place in a dream from which I havent yet awoken.

Maybe the answer is to embrace my Redneckness. Maybe time will heal all shotgun wounds (subtle redneck joke #2). Who knows? Either way, I am here for the next two years. So Durham, watch out, this redneck is here to stay.