Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture: Who decides?

Scientist, psychologist and sociologist alike would agree--we are all a product of nurture vs. nature.  In a course I am currently taking, Violence and Human Nature, this concept has been heavily reinforced.  Scientists can predict with 99% accuracy, the 8-year olds that will be displaying violent behaviors by age 18.  Cynical?  Perhaps.  But with odds such as these, the profile is difficult to ignore.  The terms for such identification are based on race, family structure (nurture) and specific genetic profiles (nature), composed of variations on about 27 genes.  The age-long debate surrounding such profiling revolves around the fear attached with such arbitrary profiling.  The argument is that humans are not robots.  Although influenced by, we are neither controlled by fate nor circumstance, even if science seems to prove otherwise.  The hope is that humans are still the deciders of their own fate.  And the fear is that perhaps we are not.  

Yet, in the midst of both lofty and depressing presentations of the human, I cling to hope.  For, the gorilla may not be able to change his fate.   His environment coupled with his genome will determine the kind of life he will live.  And his influences are as inextricable as ours.  Yet, the human brain has undergone such extreme evolution that has developed our frontal lobe to be able to think about abstract concepts, analyze sensory input, and assess value decisions.  This ability sets us apart from the gorilla in a way that our DNA composition may never reflect.  Suggestively, this development has offered humans an out.  

Consider the 2002 movie, Minority Report.  A new technology has been developed that is able to offer evidence of a murder before it happens.  Precogs, humans exposed to certain chemicals at birth, have violent "previsions" of murder.  These images are extracted and saved under case files.  In decoding the evidence of the murder, the Pre-Crime unit investigates the case, hoping to be able to identify the location and identity of the murder.  Before he murder.  Using this technology, the Pre-Crime unit convicts citizens before they are able to commit their crime.  For a year, the city survives without a single murder.  However, a turn of the events predicts that the lead investigator, John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise), will commit murder.  Notably, the Precogs do not "predict" murder, they actually see events yet to occur.  Yet a circularity develops as Anderton discovers his pending crime.  He steals one of the Precogs, to eliminate evidence and assist his investigation to track his victim with the hopes of proving his innocence.  As the plot leads Anderton on a renegade search, Anderton finds himself at the apartment of his victim.  No one appears to be there, so he breaks in to find it empty, except for a bed and a briefcase with hundreds of pictures of children.  The eerie mood, mixed with Anderton's frantic rummaging through the photos leads the audience to realize that the murderer of Anderton's son and wife several years prior must live here.   And then, Cruise sees a picture of his son.  He mourns over the picture, as he bares the emptiness that his son's death has left him.  But his cries quickly turn to hate.  A wild and powerful rage.  At this point, murder is within him.  And the very quest which leads Anderton to prove his innocence, fabricates perhaps the only circumstance under which Anderton would commit murder.  He waits for the owner of the apartment.  And as the keys jingle at the door, Anderton is imminently a victim of his predetermined fate.  The man enters, shocked to see Anderton.  And as Anderton begins to pull the trigger, the Precog offers him hope.  She tells Anderton that he is not bound by fate, for he has the knowledge that others did not have.  He can choose another outcome.

In light of the earlier discussion, this sentence rings such hope in my heart.  The very capabilities humans have developed or been given that allow us to decide, offer the power to overcome our influences.  For we may never separate from our genes and environment, but I do believe that there is hope to overcome them.  Perhaps, by giving the predetermined "assailants" knowledge of their tendencies and offering them hope and a path to another future, we will not be face with same fate of the Pre-Crime Unit.  Those accused never had the opportunity to change their fortune or misfortune.  True, some would still commit murder and violent acts, but could we really condemn an entire class of people based on statistics without offering the opportunity to supersede?  I certainly could not.  

And hope offered with knowledge does not end with violence.  We are all crippled by our genetic make-up, our upbringing, or the opportunity life has brought us, but just as Anderton was able to choose his fate, we too can overcome ours.  Admittedly, the road to victory may be more difficult for some, there is a road and there is a way.  We are not victims.  Yet so many are unaware of their choice.  They have been deceived and believe themselves to be outcomes of their environment or heredity.  For them, this is probably true.  But in the moment they realize the power of the decision before them, victory is within their reach.  By God, we have been offered free will and at every single moment, life is ours to be chosen.  We can choose Good or we can choose the lesser.  But whichever we decide, we must realize that we have written our own fate.  We create ourselves.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Of Ape and Man: How much can our primitive ancestors inform the origins of human behavior?

While reading Demonic Males by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson, I was convinced by the lead author and researcher’s anecdotal approach to the scientific study of natural aggression in male apes.  Wrangham’s connection between chimpanzee and primitive human behavior construct a riveting plot journeying through time, culture, and species.  In a quest to discover the origins of human violence, a turn towards our kin-species seems to abstract the nature of violence from many of the complications surrounding current human aggression and elucidate the base motivations for such behavior.  Additionally, the accessibility of the scientific and genetic evidence make Wrangham’s suggestions appear completely plausible.  With his experience among the demonic male chimpanzees and his observations of the peaceful bonobos, Wrangham offers his solution to human violence--a universal, psychological renaissance that would establish a  monarchial, homogeneous (yet, peaceful) one-world order.  Yet, not until the conclusion of my reading, in considering this grave outlook, did certain problematic assumptions that led to this suggestion cause me to question their validity.  
Firstly, the genetic evidence that man and ape are distant evolutionary relatives is not a point of contention for most, yet much of Wrangham’s attention focuses on this intent.  By offering superfluous and redundant scientific evidence of this connection, the reader makes that same as sumptuous jump as the author has made.  Although genetics, anatomy, social characterization and mating habits all link apes to man, no substantial scientific documentation records at what point in history certain evolutionary differentiation took place.  For example, specific chimpanzees communities have recently been discovered to exhibit intra-communal and inter-relational aggression.  Based on common ancestry, Wrangham projects that this phenomenon, also found in human behavior, links humans more closely to the chimpanzee species.  However, evidence of species differentiation producing common evolutionary occurrences would debunk this theory.  Not only does the author fail to mention the possibility that violence in apes and males originated as a distinct responses, but Wrangham enthusiastically concludes that the peaceful variations within the bonobo species result from a preferable evolutionary cycle--a cycle he separates from man’s evolution.  Basically, I cannot make the hypothetical leap from a modern species of apes to our primitive evolutionary primates and back to contemporary behavioral aggression without the connections that show homo sapiens’ specific divergence from either the violent chimpanzee, or the peaceful hominid.  
Another point that is only briefly addressed in Wrangham’s theodicy, remains that human intervention or interruption that may, or may not, have contributed to primate violence.  Bananas were used in some cases to form a bond that would allow for observation of primate behavior, yet the affects of this can really never be known.  For only up until recently, the reality of our primate relatives was believed to be a peaceful, utopian, primitive existence.  Perhaps more credit should be payed to the law of unintended consequences.  Although human interference may not have influenced the behavioral patterns of chimpanzees in any way, there is absolutely no way to be sure.  Therefore, if this behavior was, in fact, an isolated reaction to human intrusion, the observations of violent behaviors would prove much less reliable.  For, an observation noted in both primate and primitive human communities, confirms that clan or tribe size is most closely tied to food abundance.  Where there is more food, there are larger clans.  As the clans grow larger, food becomes more scarce.  The clan must divide in order to provide for all its members.  For a while, a peaceful existence ensues.  Yet eventually, territorial, progenitive, and/or food supply competition erases all memory of the past camaraderie and rivalry establishes a new rift between the clans.  Thus, in supplying the observed apes with a surplus, or spike in bananas, researchers may have artificially instigated this cycle of violence.
Perhaps the most alarming point overlooked by Wrangham is the abundant evidence of a genetic profile with the propensity towards violence.  In humans, this profile has been vaguely identified, but Wrangham provides no evidence of such research among his observed apes.  Such comparisons could reinforce or explain many of the observations detailed in Demonic Males.  Yet, with the plethora of evidence giving rise to genetic dominance, one must consider that some humans posses this profile, while others do not.  If so, does the human link to chimpanzees hold quite as true, or is the peaceful profile in humans somehow a mutation, as presumed with the bonobos.  Interestingly, the demonic male profile would seem to be preferable among chimpanzees, yet the author would suggest that humanity may prefer the profile more akin to the bonobos.  However, insufficient data in the way of genetics leaves the human roots of violence only loosely tied to chimpanzee aggression.
And finally, the disparity between primate and human violence cannot be ignored.  The violence displayed by the chimpanzee species certainly matches certain aspects of human aggression--gang violence, war and raids, female aggression and dominance, etc.--yet, the cognitive processes of humans make our violence an entirely more complex and confused phenomenon.  The very ability to consider the concept of violence separates us inconceivably from our primitive kin.  Although Wrangham addresses some level of cognition (possibly tied to the consumption of roots) that crosses the threshold of primitive aggression, too little emphasis is placed on the significance of such disparity.  Violence in the animal kingdom has always been a result of primitive survival instincts.  Presumably, humans were the only species that chose aggression for what seemed to be an accessory, rather than necessity, to survival.  Yet, arguably, with the introduction of cognitive recognition among humans, perhaps the rules of survival changed.  Perhaps physical survival in humans remained a base motivation for violence, but the emotional survival develops need for aggression as elusive and complex as human emotion.  
To conclude, Demonic Males certainly offers an intriguing perspective on the origins of aggression, but in a series of haphazard assertions, many of Wrangham’s suggestions prove sterile.  However, I would not advocate the absolute dismissal of any avenue of study that could lead to the eradication of human violence.  Thus, I certainly see the benefits of such consideration.  Wrangham points out that removing violence from society will call for a universal overhaul of thought and structure.  I, too, come to a similar conclusion; however, my reasoning does not point directly to the pro-generative success of the “bad boy” gene.  With much to consider, from demonic male chimpanzees to the Utopia experienced by the bonobos, human cognition opens a world of possibility that we may discover, which is unavailable to all other species.  With this gentic “upper-hand,” perhaps such observations offered by Wrangham and his team will point humanity to a more peaceful future.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Violence and Human Nature: Contingency of Opposites

Per Newton's Law, "For every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction;" suggesting forces of nature, bound by opposition, hold the universe in balance through the tension between opposites. To illustrate, if one pushes a stack of books in any direction, the converse action is that the books are pushed in a new direction. Essentially, one cannot move books without affecting the space outside of the action (or the original space of the books). This relationship of action to reaction seemingly governs all energy in the physical universe. Interestingly, since the beginning of recordable history, the contingency of opposites has intrigued the thinking man. However, man's consideration does not end with physics; but such explorations lead to the discovery of opposites within all realms of experience--psychology, sociology, economics, and so on. Through identifying related ideas, man builds conceptualization packages. These packages are often connected by two extremities or opposites, normally of equal impact. For example, the opposite of famished could be satisfied, but perhaps a more appropriate selection would be stuffed. A state of satisfaction would fall on the continuum between famished and stuffed, yet does not effectively communicate the polarization of famine. However, through understanding a feeling of hunger and fullness, one can understand his precise state of hunger in relation to the two opposites. Intriguingly, many basic understandings of everyday ideas most clearly translate through their relation to this supposed continuum—darkness is the absence of light; freedom, the absence of fear, and suggestively—evil, the absence of good. Although modestly dogmatic, such symbiotic definitions help conceptualize otherwise elusive ideas.

In addition, as any good debater would agree, to understand the “other side” of an argument enhances understanding of the defense. Similarly, if man never experienced pain, would he be aware that he had been "painless" his entire life? Certainly not. For, if the entire world were filled with light, no concept of darkness could exist. Seemingly, the spectrums created by the opposites of physical laws also exist within functions of the physiological nature. To entertain this theory, evil and violence—met by good and benevolence—may construct the pendulum which holds humanity in balance. Admittedly, this suggestion projects a depraved outlook for a hopeless world eternally bound to both good and evil, yet such a proposition also offers unmatched grace to those with a “propensity” towards violence. However, before exploring the affects of violence and benevolence, a return to the qualifications of such concepts may prove beneficial.

To return to a definition of violence, specific classification or an action set of what violence is may actually restrict understanding of this force. Therefore, an investigation of violence in connection with benevolence may offer aid. Throughout cultures and across time, man has somehow come to an agreement of the appropriate ways in which humans should interact—i.e., morality or benevolence. Simply, violence could be stated as any action outside of these moral codes. For example, both a native hut-village of interior Uganda and a suburban settlement in Iowa both possess similar concepts of ownership. Considering this idea, both groups would more than likely agree that when a person owns an object, no other person should take this object from him without consent. The justification for this synchronism perhaps that thievery could leave a rightful owner without a possession that necessary for survival. At base, this incident could harm the rightful owner at the expense of the coveter's desire. Such action would go against the universal moral code. Similar codes govern the physical interaction between people. In athletics, one may use aggressive force towards her opponent, so long as the force complies with the rules of the game. However, after the whistle blows in a football down, aggression renders a penalty and would be considered "violent" or "aggressive." Seemingly, violence acts against the moral code that humanity has established.

Yet, if this is the case, then what of those not informed of this moral code? In some homes across America, parents see no problem disciplining their children with spankings or belt lashings, yet the school system no longer tolerates corporal punishment. Within the national borders, only a different setting, varying standards define the concept of violence. However, violence seems to speak to a greater degree of action than discipline alone, or any abstracted event, could portray objectively.

Moving forward, a definition of violence may be tied to the emotion or state of mind of the aggressor, making an already elusive concept that much more difficult to explicate. Yet the irony remains that given a set of events, both violent and non-violent, the vast majority of civilization could agree upon a similar division. Even serial killers acknowledge the violence of their crimes, so although the conceptualization of violence appears evident, to investigate the true nature of violence requires definitive qualities (or non-qualities) of violence. Thus, in examining the emotive connection to violence, such feelings of anger, disappointment, fear, and jealousy (among others) become primal motivators. Yet, as any psychologist would concur, these emotions are subsidiary to a deeper issue, symptoms of a greater disease. In tracing the roots of these emotions, one often finds disappointment masquerading as anger, or jealousy a result of disappointment, or anger really pointing directly to a fear. In the misidentification of such emotions, the connectivity emerges, alluding to the similar origins of the different motivators. Suggestively, the greatest upsets within the individual arise from unmet expectations. Perhaps each act of violence, motivated by a symptom of emotion (the catalyst), finds its roots deeper within some disappointment experienced by the aggressor. Perhaps a man that works five days a week feels entitled to a new house. If his salary does not support this expectation, perhaps he decides to rob a bank. When he enters the bank and demands money at gunpoint, he looks around and sees all of the people around him, unaware of his predicament. He may feel isolated, undermined, or short-changed. In his resolution, he deserves a new home, and his own disappointment leads him to be angry with the people at the bank making transactions and living their own lives. The people around him may become symbols of his disappointment. And an act that began as a personal means to a goal, transforms into a violent vindication, punishing all those that may possess what he believes he deserves. Although only one imagined scenario out of an innumerable number of recorded armed robberies that occur annually around the world, by tracing the roots of the aggressor's violence in this scenario, one finds that the motivation neither ends with his violence nor a propensity towards violence, but the aggressor's act eventually amounts to an unmet expectation. Thus, violence could now be defined as the possible result of unmet expectations. Yet, the search cannot end at this point. For, just as humanity has decided upon a moral code, so it seems individual cultures create standards of life, coined humanity.

Unfortunately, expectations within a society do not flawlessly translate from the collective mind of society to the individual; otherwise, humanity may experience something like Utopia. However, in this miscommunication, misapplication, misunderstanding or misgiving, conflict arises within the individual through the disunity of her belief of entitlement and the realization of her status. Yet, many resolve to reassess their situation and redefine their expectations, leading to positive growth. Investigation must turn to those whom the disappointment overcomes. Defeat in the face of disappointment open the discussion to an incalculable number of possibilities. At this point, culture, biological, socioeconomic, and genetic factors contribute to how the individual reconciles this emotion. Not being a psychologist, scientist, sociologist, economist, nor genealogist, further hypothesizing would be in vain. Yet, in the recognition of such divergence, the observer finds that all avenues of study reconnect with the human--for man can only know what man can experience. Thus, the point of consideration available to each man remains within man. The practice of philosophy would lead the observer to return to the purpose or causation of expectations.

Interestingly, etymology would link expectation to experience, for man cannot expect what he has not experienced in some measure. At base, man survives. Survival suggests a need. Each compulsion of man drives propulsion, whether action or inaction. And each compulsion represents an attempt to resolve a need. Need, in this sense, does not suggest common understandings of physical necessity, but physiological internalizations of significance within the human psyche. With this understanding, expectations reflect some need. To contemplate need, one may ask, what need does a person have to purchase a BMW? Would not a Ford Focus meet the same assumed need for transportation? Perhaps this person seeks personal validation, social validation, or even self-fulfillment. In any case, these needs point to a universal need of significance or purpose, goals uniquely tied to giving and receiving love. The person may not rob a bank to meet this need, but would he put his financial stability or responsibility at risk? Such an outcome has similar undesired results as violence. And when he is unable to afford his purchase, suppose the man seeks other options to support his purchase. Perhaps he begins only selling drugs. Eventually, a client may become dissatisfied with their purchase. When they demand their money back, what option does this leave the man with the car, assuming he has already allocated this money for himself? Perhaps now violence becomes an option for him. Without spending too much time on the philosophic discourse of these needs, another example may elucidate this phenomenon, beginning with the need. A woman finds herself questioning her self-worth. She has never been in love and does not feel lovable, nor does she see any purpose for her life. She meets a boy that she believes likes her. She offers him herself as his lover. Nine months later she has a newborn, but she is excited because now her life is for her baby. But, the boy she loved is not ready to have a family or settle down. She is heartbroken, but she loves her child and decides to make a life for herself. She works two jobs and comes home to be with her baby. The baby's father is not keeping up with child support, so finances are becoming a stress. She takes on more hours and picks up other peoples' shifts. She comes home tired to her baby. Her baby won't stop crying. Working two part time jobs--neither which offer insurance--and a baby that needs to see a doctor, her plight is becoming overwhelming. One evening, she arrives home exhausted. More tired than she could ever imagine her body being. She sits in her chair and begins to cry. She no longer feels the same fulfillment she once remembered. The baby beings to cry. The baby is screaming. She cannot do anything. She doesn't know what to do. She picks the baby up from the crib as her cries and whaling begin to match the babies. She holds the baby in the air and all she can see is the man that left her and her insufficient paychecks. All she can feel is heartbreak, loneliness and exhaustion. Well, one can imagine the various tragedies that could result from such a state of destitution. Yet, even with such unlikely origins, imagination can nonetheless render a picture of the potential violence.

Ultimately, humanity may not be at a point to universally address violence at the very core, and such an a attempt may not even be possible, in the practical sense. However, there are many areas of education, evaluation, and evolution that help address and understand the nature of violence. Yet, such a cosmic force as violence will not be absolved until applied in this same macro-context. To sincerely reach the core of violence, humanity must be willing to investigate the core of the individual and realize the eternal needs of purpose and love.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Deficiency in Western Christendom : A perspective on Augustine's Confessions

In the beginning was Homer, and the words were with Homer, and Homer’s words were gods.

Perhaps a sacrilegious perversion of the Biblical introduction to the Testament of John, such a statement may be a far more honest adaptation illustrating the lineage of western thought than common perception would assert. Specifically, the works of St. Augustine of Hippo—himself, a true child of Greek thought and the father of modern Christian doctrine—epitomize a revolution of spiritual thought in the West and affront as the vanguard for modern Christianity. Notably, rarely would philosophers or theologians dispute such doctrinal origins; yet interestingly, the implications of this connection appear heedlessly neglected. Undeniably, Augustine approaches knowledge and truth under the influence of his Greek forbearers of wisdom. With fervent affinity in his younger years to Virgil—specifically the myth of Dido, Augustine pursues a separation from his former affection, hoping to usher in the opportunity to engage the God of the Orient. Yet, unbeknownst to Augustine and overlooked by his patronage, the intended separation results unsuccessfully—a divorce between man and his experience has yet to succeed. As a result, Augustine explores God and His narrative Text with a latent deficiency that ultimately accrues renowned acceptance and approval because of its brilliance and appeal. Ironically, the heritage Augustine swears off in his conversion to Christianity continues to guide him in his exploration; and on account of his denial, Augustine derives a faulty theology that fronts as truth, creating a chronic rift between intention and interpretation.

Though such a separation remains largely unexplored, modern spiritual thought could be traced to the first western work attempting to illustrate the transient nature of humanity’s relationship to the cosmos. In Homer’s Iliad—the fount from which subsequent philosophy springs forth—immortality, heroism and conquest embody the struggle of man to discover the eternal. Virtues prevalent in Greek mythology impose a system of values and a construct framework for society in the Greco world. Drawn from Homer’s classic orations, a powerful identity and lineage of thought develop among the ancient western world. From the development of Plato’s just city to the voyages imagined by Virgil in the Aeneid, the Greco-worldview emerges from the inexorable influence of the Homeric tradition—a focus that breeds Hellenism, academia, and Neo-Platonism. Fast-forward to the close of the first-century. Homer’s offspring, infatuated with knowledge and individualism, encounter the mystic Judeo-Christianity of the East; and in this confrontation, the God of Israel undergoes a renaissance. His new audience asks different questions, requires modified answers and seeks a distinct relationship. As a prodigy of the Western quest to meet the Hebrew God, Augustine redirects the trajectory of subsequent religious belief—a projection, of which, pilots the course of modern theology.

Admittedly, a clear detour may not exist in considering the precise divergence of the Hebrew religion; however, manifest departures significantly illustrate several dogmatic misconceptions accepted by modern theology. As perhaps the most influential philosopher to engage the adopted Eastern religion, Augustine’s logical Greek discourse in his Confessions establishes destructive conceptualizations of Man in relation to Creator. Because Augustine naively assumes the illusion of a renascent lens through which he can approach the Bible, his opinions lack discernment, yet retain authority. Furthermore, such a ruse disallows detection of the potential misinterpretation resulting from his alternative perspective. Because of Augustine’s brilliance, as well as his honest and revolutionary approach to spiritual thought, his works appeal to the Greek mind and become fundamental references as the church institutionalizes. Undeniably, essential tenets of modern Christian doctrine point directly to Augustine’s work. As a result, the source of much Christian doctrine circumvents the ancestry of Judaic faith; and instead, links to a worldview founded in the myths of Homer and the framework of Greek thought. Thus, neglecting the latent deficiency in Augustine’s analysis eventually results in the widespread adoption of doctrinal misconceptions of the Biblical narrative.

Admittedly, innumerable historical, geographical, and political factors contribute to the undeniable separation from the context of the Hebrew Scriptures; however, Augustine’s profound impact pervades the revision of Eastern thought by Western reason. Perhaps motive for Augustine’s disconnect lies in his assessment of the Greek Septuagint to be of equal divine inspiration as the Judaic oral tradition or earlier manuscripts in Aramaic or Hebrew. Such valuation immediately separates Augustine from the culture of the document, and leaves him without necessity to learn Hebrew. Without judgment of his conclusion, minimally—Augustine’s disregard for the source of the Eastern text, the constitution of his approach to truth, compromises his capacity to access the intended truths of the Bible. However, key to such an argument is the recognition of the Bible as a Hebraic text—written by Easterners, about Easterners and for Easterners—all whom embraced a realm of thought and language of expression in stark contrast to that of the West. With this presupposition, a two-fold fallacy presumes Augustine’s work. Firstly, a misevaluation of his own cultural persuasion distorts Augustine’s capacity for understanding; and secondly, the disregard for the Eastern culture’s inextricable presence within the Hebrew Text handicaps his access to the text.

However, criticism of Augustine’s reasoning yields little benefit if only resulting in his indictment. To profit from such discourse requires shrewd consideration to the progeny of Augustine’s interpretations and the potential injury of such beliefs in the adoption of opinion as eternal truth. Yet, investigating such error exposes two possible points of departure from the intended purposes of the sacred text—the original fallacies in Augustine’s conclusions and the later misapplication of his work in the canonizing of Orthodox Christianity. However, casualty in either divergence originates in the neglected disparity between the fundamental ideologies of the East and West.

Thus, comparative assessment of Oriental and Occidental goals of philosophy precedes the detection of such theological misapplication. Beginning with the more familiar of the two, the Western world could be generalized by a quest for truth, logical certainty, and the eternal good. Such valuation follows the order of its Greek predecessors from Plato to present. In search of truth, westerners stress observation, inference and analysis of experience. Notably, the second desire of the western thinker seems to undermine the first when rational certainty and truth possesses equal appeal. For in a world of uncertainty and endless unknowns, the assertion of logical correctness satisfies the appetite of desired truth. Yet, necessary certainty, subject to relational presuppositions, potentially assumes fallacy. And although an undesirable result—the greatest detriment of such conflict of interest arises when logical certainty masquerades as reality or truth, the fatal compromise of western ideology. Furthermore, as evidenced in the classic works of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and the lineage of Greek thought, the most intense desire of the west remains with the constitution of the good—immutable permanence and perfection. Resulting from this fixation, a personal ascension towards ascertained knowledge of the eternal reality—the ultimate sanctification and salvation of the westerner—becomes the internal drive of Occidental thought, but a motivation perhaps fundamentally compromised by conflicting interests.

Conversely, Oriental goals of philosophy maintain an entirely different focus from the West, and such desire produces a distinguished framework for exploration. Above all, the supreme impulse of the East hopes for an experience of truth—not a rational understanding of truth as in the West, but a perceptive experience of liberation. Consequently, the ordinary physical experience reduces to a differentiated variety of occasion, subordinate to the transcendent experience—a method of realization presupposing a divine being. Therefore, the arbitrary truths of the physical world are contingent upon the realizations of spiritual awakening. Where westerners apply observations of the physical world to inform of the ultimate reality, the easterner accepts the realizations of the divine experience and engages the physical realm with these predetermined convictions. And although both East and West consider absolute truth to be of ultimate desire, the western approach renders this goal unattainable, inversely contrasted by eastern ideology assuming western “impossibility.”

Moving from the foundational analysis of eastern and western thought returns the investigation to the problematic circumstances of Augustine’s theology. As an Occidental and a child of classic Greek thought, Augustine’s application of his inbred point of exploration defaults to an investigation of spiritual truths realized through his experience in the physical world. Fundamentally, Augustine approaches the text, formulated in an alternate frame of existence, and imposes contradictory logic to instruct his analysis. Notably, complete dismissal of the empirical method by no means characterizes the intentions of such an observation; yet, attentive notation proves imperative in discerning possible misassumptions within Augustinian theology—and moreover, modern misunderstandings within the inherited error of his doctrine.

Perhaps the most familiar adoption of Augustinian principles, subsists in concept of Original Sin. Of all doctrine in the modern church, this concept may represent the most detrimental misapplication of Augustine’s work. Briefly summarized, the doctrine of Original Sin holds that man is depraved and sinful, even from birth (a current point of contention within the church), and redeemed on through the atonement of a perfect savior. For Augustine, this ideas originated in his observation of his actions—in his own natural tendency towards evil, but also in the selfish nature of babies. Notably, such conclusion comes from the analysis of sensory perception and moves towards a reality of truth. He finds his support for such consideration in the Book of Genesis, which outlines the Fall of Man. Undeniably, the biblical narrative acknowledges the consequences on mankind resulting from the moral decision of Adam, yet these consequences do not explicitly support Original Sin in the context embraced by modern church. Conversely, traditional rabbinic Judaic thought finds this doctrine perverse and a result of necessary rationalization. Of note, the Hebrew Bible ends in awaited expectation of a messiah, whereas the Christian Bible concludes its narrative with the awaited return of Messiah Jesus Christ. Yet, the unsettling events of the Christian redemptive account engender conflicting responses, thus imploring believers to justify the necessity of the Christ’s subjection to depravity. Such rationalization, combined with the Augustinian wretchedness of man, results in a creation of such depravation that only a savior as perfect as Jesus Christ and a sacrifice as horrific as the cross could redeem humanity. Unfortunately, this degenerate outlook of mankind has eliminated the hope and partnership in redemption held by Judaic thought, a mystic religion embedded with Eastern ideology.

A central point of contention in Christian belief, most vigorously expressed in secular consideration, struggles with the concept of an immutable, benevolent God. A belief in a good God brings rise to the problem of evil and human suffering—unifying dilemma throughout time and across cultures. Augustine’s development of this conviction emerges from his conflict with the Manichees and their perception of God, as well as his discovery of Platonism in Milan [Conf. 7.1]. In Augustine’s citation of John 1.1, “the Word of God is One, by whom all things were made;” his interpretation confines God to a synchronism that would eliminate the possibly of the simultaneous existence of good and evil in light of eternal significance. Significantly, this understanding conflicts with the realm of experience of human perception, as well as the God presented in the biblical narrative, specifically in the Torah. Eastern Judaic thought, however, confronts such conflict from a more cosmic perspective. Instead of first considering sensory experiences and then identifying ideas with the reality of God, the easterner experiences the reality of God first, and views the cosmos in relation to divine realization. Therefore, the resemblance of the cosmic process to the eternal being becomes a process of salvation. Such allowance, embedded in the tradition of the Jewish faith, liberates apparent irreconcilable contradictions—detrimentally misapplied, rationalized, or ignored—deficient in the context of a western interpretation.

Despite the fundamental deficiency and unfortunate use of Augustine’s Confessions, the direction and depth of his spiritual considerations remain nothing short of brilliant and revolutionary. In his attempt to apply the methodology of Greek thought as an approach to understanding the Christian Bible, Augustine instituted an entirely new possibility for interacting with the Eastern text. And notably, the culpability of such deficiency does not exclusively fall upon the shoulders of Augustine; although perhaps mislead or misinformed, his conclusions were only the ideas of man. The greater fault ends with the generations of believer and their indiscriminant acceptance of doctrine. For just as in any piece of literature, understanding the context, author, and audience of the text enhances the experience and accesses greater understanding within the work.

Admittedly, the proposed method of doctrinal re-assessment will not absolve each controversy presented by the Bible, nor will such exercise necessarily convince or uphold. However, a self-awareness of susceptibility to cultural and experiential influences in any discovery should be goals of the philosopher—evermore when the investigation is of eternal significance. Maintaining this position, the western approach should, by no means, be rendered useless—Greek ideas and methods of interpretation have historically produced profound connections with both the Bible and avenues of spirituality.

Yet as a chute of the Judaic vine, modern Christianity has experienced a severance from the branch of its nourishment. Resulting from early anti-Semitism, the church’s separation from its Judaic roots led to the adoption of Greek thought in place of—and without mind to—the role of an eastern identity within its Holy Book. An ignorance of such significance has set the modern church in a world of contradiction without any vision or explanation for its deficiency. Although the perception of modern religious doctrine seems to possess little hope for recovery, in reassessing the source of belief and traditions of truth, divergences—like the trajectory of Augustine’s work—may be discovered. And in re-investigating the true benefit of Augustine’s work, an opportunity for renewed appreciation may surface. Perhaps the greater profit of Augustinian theology does not exist in his conclusions, but in observing his model of thought. If this end had been the perceived gift of Augustine’s work initially, such misconception and misapplication could have been avoided at the forefront.

Ironically, postmodern theism embodies a culture with an insatiable desire for experiential truth and understanding. As accepted by previous religious generations, the inconsistencies written-off, rationalized or ignored will no longer suffice. Thus, when the modern theist’s journey leads them to the Bible, the ancient text often falls powerless in their hands. Without asserting the absolute truth or historical accuracy of the Bible, following a narrative of creation and a people’s struggle to find identity, illuminates the universal and timeless goal within every philosopher. For, the painful contractions between the reality of physical existence and the compulsion for inner goodness requires an act of faith, regardless the conclusion. In the clash of an ancient eastern text with a western devotion to truth, an honest awareness of such circumstance offers a renewed hope for humanity, a possibility to reconcile what we cannot know.