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 Заголовок сообщения: Ethics, Culpability and the Human Brain
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Dear reader,

I would like you to pretend for a moment that you are with your family in a restaurant having a quiet dinner. For whatever reason, the cook decides to put a powerful, mind-altering drug such as PCP in your food. Within moments of ingesting the drug, you become extremely loud and disruptive in the restaurant. Before too long you become violent and the police are called. You are arrested and placed in jail after resisting arrest. In the meantime, the detectives discover what has taken place and arrest the cook. At your trial, your attorney puts up the following defense. You are normally a calm, law-abiding citizen. The cook, unbeknownst to you, put this drug in your food which caused you to act completely out of character and therefore you should be found not guilty of the crime of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.
Now, while the above scenario may seem a little outlandish, it is not out of the realm of possibility. We hear stories in the news about people putting drugs in other people's food and drink like the so-called "date rape" drug. The reason I put this to you is that I would like you to consider a couple of questions about how you think about this scenario. The questions are:

Do you feel like the verdict of "not guilty" was "just" or should you have been held responsible for your actions despite the presence of the drug in your food?
Suppose you had heard prior to going to dinner that this restaurant was a little sketchy but decided to go anyway. Would you still feel "not guilty" was the right verdict?
Suppose the same scenario happened, but instead of the cook putting a drug in your food, your own body unexpectedly started producing the same chemical in the drug and caused the same reaction. Would you be guilty then?
Finally, suppose instead of the cook putting the drug in your food, you willing ingested it knowing that it had dangerous side effects. Would you be guilty then?
Our subject is the human brain and morality. Advancements in understanding how the brain works are opening interesting and challenging questions for the believer. As we understand how the brain works electronically, chemically and mechanically, how does this affect the way we understand morality, culpability and free will? Theologians, legal professionals, legislators and ethicists are grappling with various versions of the above scenario daily in regard to how the human brain works.

For many years a similar scenario has played out in courtrooms with the insanity defense. The argument is that a person was insane at the time of the offence and instead of jail time, they should be committed. The idea is that a person is not guilty of a crime if they don't understand that they are committing a crime. John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981 to impress actress Jodi Foster, was acquitted after pleading insanity. We will talk more about the insanity defense and how fMRI technology is now being deployed by defense lawyers later, but suffice it to say for now; this is akin to the scenario we painted above. Can a person be morally culpable if their brain is not functioning properly?

Our intent in this series is to make the reader aware of the issues that are coming because of advances in technology and our understanding of the human brain in the context of morality and culpability. We truly live in an age of marvels. As you begin to see all of the very interesting things that are going on, perhaps you will be encouraged to follow them more closely in the media and ponder the implications to our faith.

Have a great week,

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 Заголовок сообщения: Re: Ethics, Culpability and the Human Brain
СообщениеДобавлено: Чт дек 29, 2011 10:26 pm 
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Dear reader,

On September 13, 1848, a worker by the name of Phineas Gage was working to build a railroad near Cavendish, Vermont. His job was to prepare the rock for a dynamite blast. While working with a three and a half foot long tamping iron in a bored hole, the charge ignited prematurely sending the metal tamping iron through his left cheek, into his brain and out of the top of his head. What makes this case particularly interesting is the fact that Mr. Gage survived this violent accident, but also that he had a marked personality change.
Here is the description of the incident by his physician, Dr. John Martyn Harlow:

The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was "no longer Gage."

Perhaps we haven't experienced anything quite as dramatic as this in our own lives, but I am sure many of us have seen something similar. Maybe we have seen a person's personality change after a stroke or the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Perhaps we know a soldier who has come back with a brain injury and has difficulty adjusting to civilian life as a result. As a rule, we do not hold people responsible for their behavior (at least to the same extent) if they have a severe head injury or a brain altering disease. For example, if someone is born with mental retardation, we tend to "grade on the curve" for them. It is the same difference between the Olympics and the Special Olympics. We have high expectations for Olympians but are thrilled that the Special Olympians simply try.

So here, in a nutshell, is our dilemma. We impugn no (or little) moral culpability to those who suffer horrific accidents or have brain diseases. We do not dismiss their actions and may do things to prevent them from causing harm to themselves or others, but we do not grade them on the same curve as someone without those disabilities. It is easy to make such a determination when we naively divide the world into the mentally healthy and the mentally unhealthy, but aren't we all at least a little bit mentally unhealthy. My friend Ken Roth told me once, "We are all mentally ill, it is just a matter of degree."

Let's use an example to illustrate this problem. My father is extremely claustrophobic. If you tried, as a joke, to stuff him into a box and close the lid, I don't doubt that he might very well hurt you. He wouldn't mean to. As a believer in Jesus and a confirmed conscientious objector, he is not a violent person. Yet, in his panic, I am sure he would do anything he could do not to be put in that box and that might include hitting, kicking or biting. At 81 years old, he would probably not only hurt you, but himself. His claustrophobia is a mild form of being mentally unhealthy. We all are scared of something to varying degrees - snakes, bugs, heights, etc. Those who are extremely fearful sometimes act irrationally when confronted with their fear.

Lest anyone start plotting my course in this series already, my point is not to say that we have no moral culpability nor is it to say that there is no right or wrong. My purpose here initially is to paint a picture of the issue and make us think about it. We are not finished with portraying the issue. After we have an idea of the issues involved, we hope to look at some Biblical principles to help us put a framework around this. None of what we will suggest will nullify the truth of Scripture. We might not answer all of our questions satisfactorily, but hopefully we will have a greater appreciation of these topics and will be able to discuss them intelligently from a Biblical perspective.

Have a great week,

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 Заголовок сообщения: Re: Ethics, Culpability and the Human Brain
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Dear reader,

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a procedure by which brain activity can be measured by changes in blood flow. When faced with different stimulus, doctors can now see normal brain activity compared to abnormal brain activity.
Attorneys, using fMRI results, are now starting to use a defense called the My Brain Made Me Do It defense. In a recent interview, Jeffrey Rosen, author of Constitution 3.0 Freedom and Technological Change, describes the defense thusly:

After someone's been convicted at the sentencing phase, they'll try to introduce fMRI evidence that the amygdala - which is the area of the brain responsible for emotion and impulse - is overactive, and the prefrontal cortex - which is supposed to be the restraint or the conscience on the amygdala - is not doing its job. And based on that evidence, they're trying to claim that they didn't have the ability to control themselves, and therefore should be, if not - if their guilt shouldn't be excused, it should at least be mitigated.

To date, no jury has bought this line of argument. Juries don't tend to care why we did what we did unless we were insane or under duress (forced to do something), but only need to see proof that we actually did it. This doesn't mean that they won't buy this line of argument at some point in time. The ramifications of such a change in thinking would be seismic. The end result would be the conclusion that you can't punish people for anything because everything is really just a function of our brain over which we really have no control. It also means a scenario could exist that if you have an overactive amygdale and underactive prefrontal cortex, you could potentially be incarcerated before you even do anything simply because you are pre-wired to do something bad. It conjures up images of the futuristic movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise locks people up before they commit a crime.

The underlying question is: is the brain just another piece of hardware in our body (like our heart or our kidney) that performs electric and chemical functions that produce thought or action? Or are we sentient beings that have a higher moral being greater than the sum total of our chemical and electrical parts? As you can imagine, religion plays a huge role in determining what answer you choose. If you believe in evolution, then it leads you down the path to concluding we are just a big bag of chemicals. If you believe in God, it leads you down the path to humans having a spark of the divine which gives us a higher calling and purpose than other animals with brains.

Let's look at another hotly debated and related topic. It is said that some people are born with the so-called "gay gene." Others argue that people choose to become gay or they have other factors (such as how they are raised) that turn them into gay people. This has been boiled down to the phrase "nature or nurture." The moral argument that the nature people suggest is that because they are born gay (i.e. God made them that way), they have no choice in the matter. Their opponents argue that God wouldn't make someone gay so therefore the answer has to be "nurture."

The implications of issues such as these are large. It frames how we see morality in the same way in which we see the above fMRI argument. The argument is assuming someone has a so-called "gay gene"; that is, they are born attracted to the same sex, are they morally culpable? It seems to me it is the same question as person with the misfiring amygdale and prefrontal cortex; are they still responsible for what they do? In my estimation, the answer is everyone is responsible for their actions unless they are under duress or insane. To me, the argument of whether there is a gay gene is irrelevant to the greater question of moral culpability with some caveats that we will start getting into in the coming weeks. We are all flawed in some way, shape or form. We are all imperfect. And, yes, God made us all that way.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10 NIV)

Have a great week,

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 Заголовок сообщения: Re: Ethics, Culpability and the Human Brain
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Dear reader,

When we think about how God makes each one of us, we all know and understand that God creates us with differing skills and abilities. For example, when we talk about one person being a faster runner than another person, we understand and accept this idea. There seems to be a great deal more reluctance, however, when we switch to the subject of how our different, God-created brains may change our behavior. Many people seem hesitant to accept these differences are from God in any way.
As we consider the human mind and morality, our thoughts are directed towards the oft-debated passage in Romans 9 which asks the question "Is God unjust?" (v. 14) when He makes people to carry out His will. Paul goes on to answer it the question by saying,

Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (vvs. 20-21)

This seems to have direct bearing on the topic at hand. God declares that, as a Creator, He is makes people" for special purposes and some for common use" and we have no right to question this. Our study of the brain seems to bear out this fact. Some people are just wired differently than others. Some people have high enough IQs to put them in the genius category while some others barely have enough brain power to sustain their vital organs. Some people have natural abilities in the arts such as music or painting while others may be gifted in things like math. More importantly for our discussion, some people may be wired for great acts of altruism while others seemed wired to be sociopaths.

Of Pharaoh in Romans 9, it says "For Scripture says to Pharaoh: 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'" Is this saying that God intervened in Pharaoh's free will and hardened his heart or is the passage telling us that God pre-wired Pharaoh to be a hard-hearted individual and arranged things such that he could be in the right place at the right time? The latter seems more in keeping with our understanding of free will.

The answer that is provided in Romans 9 itself is not an answer per se, but another question with implications. The "answer" is:

One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?" But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? (vvs. 19-20 NIV)

Isn't this the very argument that is coming up today? If God made us to be a certain way, how can He blame us for being that way? The answer is to not talk back to God. Who are we to question the Creator? This answer seems unsatisfactory for many - especially those who question God's justice. Yet for those of us who believe in a loving, active God who is willing that none should perish, it is intrinsic to our understanding that God is fair and working with a bigger picture of what is going on than we do.

Think about it this way, if science ever did discover a "gay gene" should it really impact our theology? The logic suggested by some is that if there is a gay gene, those who practice homosexuality aren't morally culpable. Yet, Paul argues in Romans 9 that God does make people a certain way which may lead to their destruction but it is fair nevertheless.

This begs the question of whether God making person a certain way negates free will. I would suggest to us that it does not. First of all, we have to understand that there is a huge difference between free will and free reign. Many people think that free will means that we can do anything we want to do. This is clearly not the case made by Scripture. James says,

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:13-15)

We all have limits placed on us by God whether by birth (country of origin, intelligence, predispositions, etc.) or our present circumstances (weather, health, finances, etc.) We are allowed certain choices within the confines of those limits. Mankind is responsible for the way we play the hand, not for the hand we are dealt. Each one of us must do the best we can do with the natural abilities or inabilities God has given us as well as the circumstances that surround us at any given moment in time. These God-limiting circumstances appear to include the way God has made our minds.

Have a great week,

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 Заголовок сообщения: Re: Ethics, Culpability and the Human Brain
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Dear reader,

Several years ago in Bible class, an elderly sister who is now deceased, said "People believe when you die you go to heaven. We don't believe that, do we?" Sadly, this once well-grounded sister could no longer remember the basic elements of our Hope. As you might suspect, there were no calls for her immediate withdrawal. There were no inquiries or allegations. The only response was sympathy for her plight.
How can we justify allowing this elderly sister to be so unsure of the simplest principles to remain in good standing while holding others to a higher standard? One verse we would use to support a sliding scale of responsibility would be found in Luke 12:48. It reads,

But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

We can also, by extension, assume that the reverse is equally true - for whomsoever little is given, of him little shall be required. As in the case of this elderly sister, what is required of us may change during the course of our life. When we are young, little is required of us. As we get older, more is required. As we age to the point of mental and physical infirmity, less and less is required of us. This is fair and intuitive but also disconcerting when we think too much upon it in certain circumstances. What should we require of people? How fair and just can we be when we hold differing standards for people?

If science uncovers genetic abnormalities that cause certain behavior, will our foundations be shaken? I would like to think that we would handle this in the same manner that we do similar matters today; that is to say, with an eye to be fair, just and compassionate based on the individual circumstances while not extending the same lenience to others more capable. The balance seems to be upholding God's Divine principles and teachings which include compassion for those to whom little is given.

The topic of differing standards based on specific circumstances is not broached too often in public because it makes us uncomfortable and raises questions which we prefer to leave unaddressed. Some may even pretend these issues don't exist. They do exist, however, and illustrate a Divine principle -- God has a sliding scale of accountability based on ability. The problem is not when God operates on the sliding scale, but when we do. God perfectly takes into account all factors and renders precise judgment while we struggle with what is the right thing to do given particular circumstances.

At times we have solved our dilemma by codifying the answer. In the Doctrines to be Rejected portion of many Statements of Faith, it says we reject "That heathens, idiots, pagans, and very young children will be saved." An "idiot" used to be a legitimate medical term synonymous with what we now call profound mental retardation and represented a patient having an IQ below 30. I still struggle with this Doctrine to be Rejected as usurping of God and Jesus' authority to judge salvation over any individual. It bothers me even more because it concerns someone who has been given so little. What is required of someone who has been given so little? Based on Luke 12:48, it would be very little. Frankly, I don't know what is required of them but am content to leave this matter in the hands of a loving Creator with all of the facts. This puts the onus of judgment back where it belongs - on God and Christ. Yet, it doesn't solve our dilemma of what to do until the time comes when God and Jesus' judgment is no longer subject of debate in the age to come.

God knows people's mental and psychological limitations. We know based on the principle of "to whom much is given much will be required" that God will hold varying standards for people. He will exercise "righteous judgment" with the perfect blend of mercy and justice. Until such a time as God reveals His righteous judgment, we are left to discern to the best of our abilities through prayer, study and meditation on God's word, how to exercise "righteous judgment" bringing to bear all of the factors that make us unique individuals. The better we get at finding "righteous judgment" this side of the Kingdom on earth to life's tricky problems, the more consolation we can find in the words of the Lord's prayer "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

Have a great week,

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 Заголовок сообщения: Re: Ethics, Culpability and the Human Brain
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Dear reader,

So far in this series we have mostly discussed the "hardware" of the brain and the ramifications upon us. The "software" of the brain, if we use a computer analogy, has even greater implications. The "software" is the "programs" or thoughts in our head that shape who we are and how we behave.

Who we are as people - our personality, character, belief system, our behavior - is for the most part the sum total of our thoughts and beliefs. We each form our unique set of beliefs from the highly significant (i.e. I believe in God) to insignificant (i.e. I prefer chocolate to vanilla). This unique collection of thoughts forms us as individuals and shapes our behavior. In fact, if one were able to plot all of our thoughts and beliefs in a chart, it would be easy to predict how we might react in any given situation. It would show why some people act one way and others act in an entirely different way.

We cannot overestimate the power of a single thought. It was a thought behind the invention of penicillin and the writing of the works of Shakespeare. It was also a thought behind the Holocaust. Again, if we continue in our computer analogy, we can think of our thoughts as helpful programs which do helpful things and viruses that cause hurtful things.

Let's take a very simple Bible example to illustrate. Adam and Eve had one law - don't eat of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is all they know until the serpent shares with them this new thought.

Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen. 3:4,5)

Eve now has another belief choice introduced to her. One thought is truth and another is a virus. Now, if we were able to get into Eve's head and see her belief system which now included the idea that the tree was "good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise" and that she believed what the serpent said, we could predict that Eve was going to eat the fruit. Her thoughts were an accurate predictor of her coming behavior.

The Bible expresses this idea in terms of faith bringing forth works. We tend to equate this idea with Bible faith (belief in God, etc.) compels us to act godly. This is true, but not at limited to the positive side of the equation. All people operate by their belief system whether good thoughts or viruses. I personally know a man who killed a woman for the simple reason that he thought he needed to kill someone in order to "be a man."

This insight into human behavior is extremely helpful. First, it can help us through careful self-examination to understand why we do what we do. We can peel back the onion on our own belief system and determine the root causes of our own behavior. What deep seated beliefs and thoughts cause us to act as we do? Once those underlying beliefs are comprehended, we can question their validity and try to correct them with God's word as our guide. In the same manner, it is also valuable in us helping others. When we see destructive behavior in others, what we are witnessing is a symptom of a collection of thoughts. Yet all too often, we simply try to address the symptom rather than the root cause. When we see someone steal, we need to ask, what underlying beliefs are causing this behavior? If we can help that person address the underlying behavior, we can truly help them on a more meaningful level. For example, we might convince someone not to steal because of the possible ramifications for stealing such as damage to their reputation or even going to prison. How much more helpful is it, however, if we can convince a person to actually believe that stealing is wrong and overcome the desire to do so?

Because thoughts are potentially so harmful both to our mental health, spiritual well-being and our behavior, we are encouraged to think on good things and reject things that are hurtful. Paul writes in his epistle to the Philippians,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. (4:8 NIV)

As we all know, this is not so easy. These "viruses" are in us and ready to work their mischief. Jesus said,

For out of the heart come evil thoughts-murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Mt. 15:19 NIV)

Notice the strange way Jesus phrases this. He doesn't say "hatred is in the heart which causes murder", he says murder - a physical action - is in our heart. Jesus knew that the virus was the root problem. Good thoughts equal good behavior and bad thoughts equal bad behavior.

Have a great week,

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 Заголовок сообщения: Re: Ethics, Culpability and the Human Brain
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Dear reader,

Is the pursuit of knowledge a good thing? Some people are going to respond with something along the lines of "pursuing the knowledge of good things is a good thing." How do we know what good things are unless we explore knowledge to a greater extent than what we would deem "good" and then back off to the boundaries of goodness? In Bible terms we are to seek for wisdom. How can one seek wisdom without also encountering through trial and error at least some foolishness? Do we only limit our knowledge to Biblical things? Can we even understand the Bible without having knowledge of other things as well? Is understanding mathematics good? Is pursuing knowledge of world history good? How about understanding other religions? How about understanding the ins and outs of modern day slave trafficking?

There is a natural tension between the danger of picking up viruses in the pursuit of knowledge and the danger of ignorance. In fact, there might not even be such a thing as "balance" in this regard. One cannot at the same time remain completely ignorant while educating oneself.

We tend to be critical of religious people in the world who don't question the basis of their faith and compare it closely to the Biblical and historical record. Yet, at the same time, we would also tend to be critical of people in our own faith who have the same degree of questioning and inquiry about our own tenets. We would applaud a church that welcomed in a speaker to present the idea of the Christian hope as resurrection, but aghast that an ecclesia welcomed in a speaker to present the concept of heaven-going. This is not, by the way, a criticism of our practices in so doing, it is simply pointing out the fact that this problem of ignorance versus the pursuit of knowledge is complex and nuanced for which there are no quick and easy answers.

Every parent who wants to raise a godly child has to deal with this issue. How many ideas do you introduce to them? Certainly, the Bible says "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Pr. 22:6) From this verse we would glean that it is a parental mandate from God to instruct our children in the Bible and proper moral conduct. Yet, it really doesn't address the issue at hand, does it? Does a child need to be exposed to the ideas of humanism, for example, so that they can recognize it when they see it? Does a child need to be exposed to those things we would consider false theology so that they can refute it? If so, doesn't that present an inherent danger?

You may recall the strange case of John Walker Lindh. This California boy was detained after being captured fighting for the Taliban. It all began with a single thought when he watched the movie Malcolm X when he was 12 years old. He saw in the movie Malcolm X's trip to Mecca and as a result became interested in Islam. When Lindh turned 16, he converted to Islam and regularly attended mosque. Lindh continued his studies in Yemen and eventually ended up in Pakistan where he attended an Islamic fundamentalist school. According to Lindh, "I was in [Pakistan's] Northwest Frontier Province. The people there in general have a great love for the Taliban. So I started to read some of the literature of the scholars and my heart became attached to it. I wanted to help them one way or another." (quote from CNN interview)

Maybe we don't have quite as dramatic stories where our children end up in the Taliban, but many brethren can tell heart-wrenching stories of how their children were exposed to ideas which resulted in them making bad choices to the point of losing their eternal and/or natural lives. Similarly, most of us can, if pressed, dissect our own bad decisions into the underlying viruses that caused us to make those bad decisions.

As a parent, what can we learn, if anything, from the case of John Walker Lindh. The lesson for many parents would be to control the access of thoughts and ideas to their children. At some level, we all agree on this. Children should have limited exposure to potentially harmful language, images, ideas and so forth. The key questions are how great the restrictions are and for how long do we exercise control.

Let's look at the home school versus public school debate. There are parents who will argue that they don't want their children exposed to certain ideas and behaviors so they teach their children at home. Other parents feel that in order to fight a virus, you have to be exposed to it - a sort of mental vaccination. Which idea is right? We have probably seen many kids shuffled off to public school who come home with very bad ideas or behaviors. On the other hand, if we home school our children are they going to be prepared when they eventually do meet up with these ideas in their adult lives. We've also probably all seen very odd parents home school their children to produce very odd kids. If the parents are strange with strange ideas, there is no moderating influence on the kids if they are not around others who might provide some balance. My point is not to evoke a debate on home school versus public school. I know many feel very strongly about this topic. My point is to use this issue as an example to get us thinking about the value of exposure to ideas versus isolation from ideas. What is the right approach for our kids, for our ecclesias, for our friends and for ourselves? What is the right amount of risk of both ignorance and information that we should consider acceptable?

Have a great week,

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 Заголовок сообщения: Re: Ethics, Culpability and the Human Brain
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Dear reader,

Last week we explored the conflicting danger of remaining ignorant with the danger of pursuing knowledge and exposing oneself to harmful ideas (which we, using a computer analogy, termed viruses).
Knowledge is, for the most part, benign. Most of the time, simply knowing something is neither good nor bad. You can be an expert in Nazism, for example, without being a Nazi or being tainted in any way from such a horrific set of ideas. You might benefit from such knowledge to become a professor of history at a college or a writer about the Holocaust. Knowing something is not the problem, it is what we do with it and we synthesize that understanding with other ideas. What we do with it is more than likely based on what we already believe. If we studied Nazism but already believed that Jews were "Christ-killers" and believed in Replacement Theology, then we would certainly be susceptible to falling prey to this virus. If, on the other hand, we already believed that the Jews were God's chosen people, we would be far less susceptible to the ideology.

Look at the people of Germany in the 1920s through 1940s as an example. Germany lost World War I and had oppressive reparations taxed on them from the Treaty of Versailles. The Nazi party was able to capitalize on the oppression the people felt by playing on their sense of pride (calling them Aryans) and giving them a scapegoat for all of their troubles. The Nazis also picked the perfect target for Germany's failures - the Jew. With centuries of European anti-Semitism to build upon, the Nazis were able to convince a nation to engage in their psychopathic attempt at world domination and the destruction of God's people. It wasn't just one thought or idea that made this possible, but the combination of many thoughts.

We, as a body, tend to emphasize knowledge, especially Bible knowledge. Again, I would suggest that Bible knowledge is benign. We can know the Bible cover to cover, but if we don't synthesize those ideas correctly and put them to use by faith, it is a fruitless effort. If you read your Bible, you know that one could justify virtually any behavior using (or abusing!) the text. For example, one can justify polygamy, infanticide, genocide and capital punishment using the Bible without too much heavy lifting. However, we would again suggest, it is not the random facts that the Bible presents that are important as much as how we put them together and use them. If these facts don't make us more like Jesus, the desired effect is not taking hold.

The Bible does not emphasize the pursuit of knowledge as much as we might think it does. The Bible has a one word answer for the dilemma we have presented of the danger of ignorance and the danger of the pursuit of knowledge-that word is wisdom. My definition of wisdom is "the skillful application of knowledge." Wisdom means that you assemble the facts you have at your disposal in a godly, healthy manner and are able to put those things to use in your life. Wisdom and the pursuit of wisdom is what the Bible promotes rather than knowledge by itself. Wisdom is, in the terminology we have been using, the ability to decipher the good ideas from the viruses and to put them to good use in our actions to the glory of God.

Our community has always had an emphasis of Bible reading and study. This is all fine and good. However, we have not always coupled that with an equal measure of emphasis in putting that knowledge to proper use. We have probably all witnessed the sad case of a brother or sister who always had their nose in the Bible but failed to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in their demeanor or seldom did anything for anyone. It may sound odd to say, but I would suggest that for some people, they will be much more pleasing to God if they read their Bibles less, not more. Some people have an abundance of knowledge and no wisdom. They need to spend much more time in service to others rather than loading their heads with more and more knowledge which they seldom put to good use.

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. (Pr. 4:7)

Have a great week,

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 Заголовок сообщения: Re: Ethics, Culpability and the Human Brain
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Dear reader,

Last week we spoke about wisdom as the "skilled application of knowledge." Wisdom is our metaphorical anti-virus software in our continuing computer analogy of the brain. It is the discernment to weed out bad thoughts from good thoughts and put them into action in our lives.
We offer this disclaimer though; all wisdom is not created equal. Did you ever notice the following phrase?

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. (Gen. 3:6 NIV)

If all wisdom is good, then The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil imparted both good and bad. The wisdom that the tree imparted was not godly wisdom, but worldly wisdom. The book of Ecclesiastes speaks about this wisdom "under the sun." "And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith." (Ecc. 1:13) This is why the saints are called "foolish" in the New Testament and the "wisdom" of this world is called foolishness. "God made foolish the wisdom of this world." (1 Cor. 1:20)

We might call this worldly wisdom "shrewdness." There is nothing wrong with understanding worldly wisdom. In fact, we are encouraged to know it, but discouraged to practice it to the harm of our integrity or of others. Jesus told his disciples "be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." (Matt. 10:16) As snakes are not known for being particularly sagacious, this saying of Jesus hearkens back to the "wisdom" of the serpent that put his wisdom to work to the detriment of Adam and Eve. This speaks directly to the tension between ignorance and knowledge of which we have been speaking. Knowledge is good if we know how to use it wisely. The serpent knew things, but didn't use that knowledge in a godly fashion.

Our goal then is to gain knowledge but determine what is good versus bad data and put it to use in our lives. This sounds easy, right? We just choose the correct answer and then live it.

To be frank, I don't know about you, but I find it hard. In fact, I find that it is not unusual for me to have one position a few years ago and then several years later reach the exact opposite conclusion based on a different set of facts. Needless to say, I am typically dogmatic at the time about both positions. As the saying goes, "sometimes wrong, but never in doubt." The danger in changing one's mind, reputation-wise, is to appear to be vacillating, insincere or hypocritical. Worst than that, though, is that it can be chaotic in your life as you try to reassemble all of what you know into a cohesive world-view.

One way around this dilemma of changing your mind is to not change your mind or to cede thinking to another person, organization or, worst of all, just to go along with popular opinion. One of my favorite quotes is by late Bertrand Russell who said "Many people would rather die than think; in fact, most do." Another great quote from Mr. Russell is

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.

I know I am not alone in this phenomena of being "perpetually right" despite my ever-changing views. Every few years, someone publishes on-line or in print a treatise on the history of schisms in the body. They take them one by one and pick the right choice for each schism. Not surprisingly, when they arrive at their conclusion, they have been fortunate enough to make all of the right choices. If we would only make choices as wisely as they have, we would be among the very few to have the truth in its purity as they do. We all feel like this to some extent. No one thinks what they believe is wrong or else they wouldn't believe it. The real difference seems to be the amount of conviction we have about certain ideas and the amount of discomfort we feel when one of those ideas are challenged. Some ideas are easily changed because we don't believe in them strongly and they aren't a big part of who we are as individuals. Other ideas are strongly believed and are core beliefs that define us to the extent that if this idea is discarded it changes fundamentally who we are and how we act.

It seems to me that when Jesus says "Seek and you shall find" (Matt. 7:7 NIV), he is encouraging us to constantly challenge what we think. You can't both seek truth and be unwilling to change your mind. This doesn't mean we aren't convicted in what we think; it simply means we will not instantly dismiss new information without thoughtful consideration. We need to look for those viruses and eliminate them. Simply regurgitating what we have been told is not a "seeking." Ceding our thoughts to others or going along with the flow is not an admirable trait either.

At the end of the day, I think we can sort out thoughts as good or bad on the basis of whether that thought or action makes us more or less like Jesus. This, again, sounds simple, but is most certainly is not. Jesus was a complex man. Anyone who reduces Jesus to a caricature dishonors him and does a disservice to themselves. It is only when we attempt to understand the man (and the wisdom embodied in the man) that we can move toward true mental and spiritual health. When we see love in Jesus' vociferous rebuke of the Pharisees, we are approaching wisdom. When we see justice in Jesus' forgiveness of the adulterous woman, we are nearing good judgment. Our thinking needs to make us more like Jesus. If our thinking does not make us more like Jesus, we need to change our thinking. If we don't understand Jesus, we need to seek to understand Jesus. That much is simple.

One of the interesting things about being a Bible student is the more I dig into the word, the more I find it has the answers to everyday common questions and dilemmas. It truly is a guidebook to successful living. Whenever I have found an exception to this rule and felt like the word of God led me to a place that was not loving or kind or peaceful, I was the problem. Every time, I did not understand properly or was leading with my deceitful heart or not putting what I knew into practice.

The fruit of the Spirit is a great litmus test for our thinking because Jesus embodied these attributes.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23 NIV)

I hope that consideration of the human brain and its moral implications helps us to be more like Jesus and embody the fruits of the spirit. It's at least worth thinking about.

Have a great week,

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