I am cursed with having been born with a logical and analytical mind. As such it is a cross that I bear. This may sound pompous and even arrogant but unfortunately it is true. I am confronted every day with people, some of who that I love and adore who use principles and attributes badly and make themselves look foolish. Sometimes even bordering on being stupid. Often this involves personal hurts where because of something that was said or done a person makes a quantum leap intol illogical absurdity. For example, “My boss yelled at me thus my career is over.” That may or may not be true but it is not a foregone conclusion. Likewise something like this: “My friend did not call me back, they must hate me.” What is worse for hurt people is when they find a quote taken out of context and use it in an illogical manner. I had a dear friend do this the other day. I cannot break any confidence but I basically told my friend that if someone was wrong in something they said about my friend that my friend should tell them to go to hell. I also told my friend that if what the other person was true then that he needed to deal with it and make whatever corrections necessary.
I find that the use of principles and attributes as a lazy way for people to try to look intelligent. A person who uses them in such manner as a way to prove a point neither understand the principles or attributes of what they think that they understand. If physicians or scientists approached life in that manner we would be in big trouble. Yet we see it all the time in religion, popular philosophy, pop-psychology, popular leadership and management programs.
My friend made a comment on a social networking website regarding assumptions. It was a bad use of a bad quote, probably taken out of context, unless the person quoted was an idiot, which after reading stuff about him I believe that he is. The quote was by Don Miguel Ruiz and said: “The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth” There is a big problem with this. Good Old Don Mike is an idiot. Assumptions are how logical people begin the process of discovery through inductive and deductive reasoning. The problem with Don Mike is that he assumes that people who assume use assumptions in ignorance. You see Don Miguel is a “spiritual” teacher, and as a spiritual man of course he operates above logic. He lives in the world of unreality and illogic, however it looks like he makes good money doing it. Guys like this are actually dangerous because they say things that sound neat, but are absolutely idiotic. Now can we make bad assumptions about ourselves or others? Definitely. Crap I do it all the time, however that does not lessen the value of making and acting on assumptions. If the assumption is wrong, you re-assess and move forward. If someone makes an assumption about you which is wrong you don’t throw out the value of making informed decisions based on evidence and from that evidence making assumptions about how to proceed in the future. This can be in personal, financial, career, spiritual or any other dimension of life. We all make assumptions about ourselves and others and based on those assumptions live our lives.
Let’s take this quote about assumptions. Every month that we work we assume that we will get paid. It is part of the deal. We sign a contract or have a set pay scale and pay days. In the military we get paid on the 1st and the 15th of the month. I assume that when I read my pay advisement that that money will be in my bank account on the date the advisement says that it will. I operate on the assumption that I will be paid. If I am unemployed and have run out of unemployment benefits this may not be so. I should make the assumption that unless I get a job that I will not be able to buy my dog Milk Bones. True, Molly would not be happy about this but I would be a fool to assume that I will have money. This may happen. I may get a job or someone may help me out but I do not assume this to be the case.
One of the worst ways I see this is with religious people. Some of my fellow Christians for whatever reason believe that somehow God owes them. This of course comes from the “name it claim it, grab it stab it, God owes me because” heresy of the prosperity preachers. Unfortunately this crass, insipid and idiotic “theology” is not based on the assumption that God cares about them. It is however the presumption that because I did something that God is contractually bound to do it. It assumes wrongly that the Bible, believe a particular doctrine, give my money to the church or a ministry, or pray a certain way that God is obligated to do things the way that I want. This is an error of presumption as well as a theological heresy. It “cherry picks” scripture, something called “proof texting.” This is simply lifting the part of scripture that we like from its historical, cultural and theological context and arbitrarily determine that it means what we want it to mean. God loves us and cares for us but does not owe anyone anything. The Deity Herself assures me of this. The way I see it is that God is no respecter of persons, even me. Thus, I cannot presume on God.
Moving back to the topic of the misuse of principles and attributes by those who presume to be intelligent or spiritual: Principles and attributes have to be understood in context in order to be used correctly. Context includes the meaning of the writer or the person quoted. The context matters if we are to correctly interpret principles of life made by any individual. The Enlightenment Philosophers and Theologians called is the “situation in life, or Sitz im Leben. Things do not occur in a vacuum and how people arrive at their conclusions is as much a part of their environment and experience as the end product.
We see this in a number of ways. I love reading amateur historians, political or military pundits do this with the great military thinkers. I particularly get a kick out of people who quote Sun Tzu or Clausewitz out of context to make some point. I see this often. You can go to any bookstore and pick up a book of quotes or principles derived from some philosopher, theologian, military, business or political leader. They are usually entitled something like this: The Leadership Principles of __________. On occasion you might find a book of quotes, again usually out of context called ____________ Rules for Success in Life. Abe Lincoln and Winston Churchill are two of the most quoted in this manner. People love to do this with quotes of Jesus taken from the Gospels, of course who would argue with God incarnate. The problem is that the quotes are usually taken out of context and not congruent with the basics of the Christian faith. Even Scripture is abused in this manner. This is not assumption, it is presumption.
I remember a book entitled The Attributes of God which I read back in college. The problem with the book, from a Christian perspective, and the author was a Christian; was not that it’s assumptions about certain characteristics or attributes of God was wrong, it was the fact that God was approached through attributes rather than from the Cross. One does not know God simply through studying his attributes. If you are a Christian you know God through Christ who you know through the Cross, not just sayings of Jesus taken out of context. A person is not the sum of their attributes.
The same is true with those who quote various philosophers, theologians, political or military leaders out of context. People love to do this with Sun Tzu and Clausewitz. I have lost count of the books I have seen published in recent years that do this. To understand Clausewitz one has to understand the Enlightenment, Classic German Liberalism including the Philosophy of Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard as well as the theology of theologians such as Scheilermacher. Clausewitz properly understood is more than a political-military philosopher but a man who understands the human condition. To reduce his work to cool quotes is to miss the point. Since most people can’t spell or correctly pronounce “Scheilermacher” I am sure that they have not read him. Same is true with Kant, Hegel and Kiekegaard. Without understanding this or Prussia’s defeat and and occupation by Napoleon’s Army and the subsequent recovery, one does not understand Clausewitz. Clausewitz deals with the human condition as amuch as he deals with political and military philosophy.
Now of course I chose the historical, military and religious examples because that is my academic background. However, to do this one uses all the facts that one has, analyzes them, evaluates them and uses deductive reasoning to determine the “truth” based on the facts on hand. However we have to understand that we never have all the facts, and that even “facts” that we have might not withstand the test of time or further examination. This is true in history and the sciences. It also has some basis in faith, which is why I prefer the historic Anglican-Catholic triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason versus a Scripture alone or Scripture and Tradition basis for faith. Will I always be right? No, but I will use my errors to discover truth and not be content to remain in them. To plan we make assumptions about the future. Those assumptions must be tested as the situation develops. In Medicine physicians when diagnosing a condition make a differential diagnosis. It is a manner of testing our assumptions based on the facts on hand. The military uses a planning process in which assumptions are tested. Assumptions based on the evidence that we have are essential to planning for the future. Again this goes for personal matters as well. To quote MCDP-5 Planning, the Marine Corps Planning Process:
“the defining features of the planning challenge are uncertainty and time. More than anything else, considerations of time and uncertainty dictate our approach to planning. All planning is based on imperfect knowledge and involves assumptions about the future. All planning by definition is future-oriented, and the future by nature is uncertain. No matter how determined we are to be fully prepared for a situation, there are finite limits to our ability to plan for the future. The more certain the future is, the easier it is to plan.”
This is not easy, but making assumptions and planning for an uncertain future is far better than quoting people out of context to make it look like we have things figured out when we have never seriously studied them. As Sergeant Striker (John Wayne) said in the Sands of Iwo Jima: “Life’s tough, it’s tougher when you’re stupid.” Living life based on unstudied principles and attempting to determine the nature of someone by their attributes is not logical or rational. We have to be careful. This may not seem to be too spiritual but as Jesus said “Be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” Or as a Trekkie might say: Be as crafty as a Romulan but peaceful as a Vulcan.