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States of Mind
By Richard Gunther
A friend of mine passed some printed sheets to me and asked my opinion. The following is a summary of my thoughts. Throughout these sheets are called “the sheets”.
The sheets were headed 'Taking hold of your mind' and the subheading 'States of Mind' was followed by a diagram of three circles. The first circle was labeled “reasonable mind”, the third was “emotional mind” and where the circles overlapped were the words “wise mind”. My reaction was that someone was trying to condense some broad, difficult concepts down to an extreme of simplicity which trivialized the subject.
Page two of the sheets told me to OBSERVE, DESCRIBE and PARTICIPATE in the thinking process. I was urged to observe my thoughts, and reject none of them, to “step inside” myself, and then to also sit outside and observe the world outside my mind. I was told to observe how other people were feeling and reacting, using I suppose, body language and facial expressions as my guides..
The 'describing' part was even more difficult. I had to acknowledge a feeling or thought when it appeared and describe what that thought or feeling was about.
The 'participating' part had to do with leaving observation and moving on to participation. Apparently all this observing and acknowledging and participating was supposed to leave me with a “wise mind”.
(I see no harm at looking within one's self, and I'm sure everybody does it at times, in moments of reflection, or when one considers one's life in hindsight. I also would not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, because there are shreds and scraps of truth everywhere we look. Inward reflection can be useful at times, but not when it is applied as a search for ultimate truth. It is the admixture of truth with error that makes religions and philosophies attractive – the seasoning of truth appeals to seekers of wisdom, but unfortunately religions offer only a taste of truth, and deliver a load of rubbish with it. Far better to go to the Source of Truth, the Bible, than eat the mingled and often poisonous meals served by frauds and impostors.)
As far as I can understand it, the entire process of achieving a “wise mind” is based on SUBJECTIVISM, or, as a New Ager might put it, “finding the god within you”. This method of digging into one's self to find wisdom is not the way God counsels us to find wisdom, so I will spend some time explaining the two approaches to finding wisdom and leave the reader to decide which he or she thinks is best.
The Biblical point of view of Man is quite gloomy. While there is a strong theme running through God's Word which says that Man is made in the “image of God”, there is another parallel theme which balances this by saying Man is a sinner, a fallen creature, and not the sort of being he once was. This creates a conflict of course, and from it have sprung many lopsided views and philosophies, because people have tended to emphasize only one aspect of Man to the neglect of the other.
On the one hand there are people who think Man is basically good, and through education can be purged of his imperfections and made perfect (or close to perfect). Political reforms, changes in the environment, nurturing from childhood, belief systems and optimism are all methods of blocking out the suggestion that Man is inherently a sinner.
On the other hand, there are some who think Man is ONLY inherently evil and without much hope for reform, in this life anyway. These black-minded people cannot see much good in anything Man says or does. Both extreme views are dangerous, because they lead us away from the Biblical point of view. The middle road is best, where God's image and Man's inherent sinfulness meet and the conflict is seen as a battle between good and evil, fallenness and redemption.
The Biblical point of view.
In Genesis we read how God created the first humans perfect. This does not mean they were robots. They had free will and plenty of intelligence, and they were able to freely choose to do what God wanted. One thing they were not allowed to do, but Eve was deceived, and Adam knowingly chose to disobey God, it was therefore Adam who bore the blame. Up to that moment Man was in harmony with God, with Nature and with Self. The integration of these three realms was perfect and there was no confusion.
But when Man sinned, disharmony entered creation. Man became estranged from God, from Nature and from Self. This is easy to see, as we follow the Bible story. Man lost harmony with Nature, and soon began to eat meat, and to struggle with hostile plants, animals, insects and microorganisms. Man entered disharmony with the weather too, and his health declined, along with his intelligence. The perfect fellowship Man had enjoyed with God was broken, and descendants of the first humans soon invented their own religions, worshipped the stars, and made gods out of the materials of creation. Disharmony also entered within Man, (socially) and the human race lost touch with its own body and mind. Humans fought with other humans. Emotions overcame reason. Greed, lust, anger, malice, spite dishonesty and so on spread through the human race, and minds became a residence for evil and foolishness. As a result all sorts of strange and erroneous ideas entered Man's thinking.
Because many have banned God or His Word from having authority in their thinking, other 'authorities', by default, have been allowed in as replacements. In physics, the moment one empties a container, something else will fill the vacuum as soon as it can. When people push the true God out, they create a vacuum into which some other belief system will flow. One of these self-appointed authorities, very prevalent today (sometimes known as post-modernism) is called subjectivism, and its poisonous and self-contradictory influence is easy to spot, if one looks in the right places.
Subjectivism is a companion of greed and pride, because it works from within a person, and shuts out all opposition to whatever that greedy or proud person wants for themselves. It begins when a person says within themselves, “I am the only reliable judge of morals, ethics, culture and behaviour.” The greedy person says “I want this, and I will take it at any cost.” The proud person says, “Who are you to stand in my way. You have no authority over me.” It is found in its seed form when a child stamps its foot and says, “You're not the boss of me!” and in its mature form when a teenager says, “Do your own thing!” Its simple shape is found in the lifestyle of the purely self-centered, the person who spends his or her every waking moment following whatever pleasures and pursuits which appeal most to them, without a thought for anyone else. If it feels good, do it.
Subjectivism extends into the intellectual world, where people think about themselves in terms of biology and physics, but without including God. To these biologists and scientists the entire universe is but a complex array of atoms, flung together by accident, with no rhyme or reason. Man's thinking therefore is also the result of random events, and so, if one follows this trail down to its beginning, one discovers that even the act of reasoning is but the result of random events. The human brain has no morals, (they say)because morals are the result of random collections of nerve impulses, and of cultural pressures, and of nurturing. Unfortunately, if this is all we really are, we cannot trust any standard. One man's reasoning must be as good or bad as any other man's reasoning. The evolutionists, if they are truly honest with themselves, cannot be dogmatic about anything – even science is robbed of such words as “truth” and “reality”. Subjectivism kills everything in its path and then, when everything is dead, it turns on itself.
Today subjectivism has appeared in several different areas.
In the abortion debate the pro-abortionists claim that a woman has the right to deny a child its life, if she so chooses, because it is “her body”. By banishing God, the woman has become the centre of the universe, and she has invented her own morals to support her self centeredness.
In the civil union debate those for civil unions believe all unions between consenting adults should be recognized by the State, making them equivalent to marriage. By banishing God, men and women have made themselves the arbitrators of moral law.
In stem cell research, many scientists see no difference between animals and humans. Many biologists are calling for unrestrained use of all human fetuses. They see the death of a fetus as inconsequential. By banishing God they have become murderers without a conscience.
In politics there are rulers who see political power as the only thing worth attaining, and many thousands have died because of this. By banishing God they have put their own self-elevation as the main objective in life.
Through history many cultural values have come and gone – for example the hunting of witches, drunkenness as a mark of maturity, drug-taking as part of acceptance, ritual human sacrifice, sexual liberalism, slavery, revenge, demotion of woman to near slaves, and so on . . . but the common denominator of all these excesses is the absence of God's Word the Bible. Where the Bible is applied, “traditional morality” has emerged (or been reinstated), and what was accepted as part of the culture has faded away. It is the same today. As more and more people are denying God and His Word a place of authority, the excesses of other cultures have taken over.
There are many other areas in which subjectivist thinking has poisoned the social waters, but one area stands out today, and that is the rejection of “traditional moral values”. Morals are seen, by some, as the invention of societies, as survival mechanisms inherited from the distant past. Evolutionists see morals as temporal and learned behaviors, and completely disposable. But once morals are thrown out, the results are quite predictable: a coarsening of the language (as we hear frequently in radio and TV and movies), a crudeness of behaviour (as seen in many music video clips, and in public, etc), a disrespect for authority, the spread and increase in STD's as people throw off moral restraints for selfish pleasures, disintegration of ethics in business (as witness the collapse of many enormous businesses, such as ENRON due to dishonesty, lying, cheating and fraud), and increasing social disorder.
During the civil union debate, one of the oft repeated points made by those who want to liberalize all kinds of unions was the fact that in many other cultures and different times in history, unions between different ages and sexes has been acceptable to those societies, therefore why not accept those things now as well? This call, which uses relativity, sounds quite powerful, but on examination it is very weak. The idea that because other cultures found SOME values acceptable, therefore we should adopt them today falls on the rock of which values should we adopt. For example, the Nazis thought racial purity was something to be valued, but most people today have seen the horrible consequences of such a belief. On what basis do people decide which value to adopt and which to reject? Civil unions are not marriages, and never can be, as long as there is a God in heaven, but if God can be banished, then civil unions might stand a chance. And so might any and all other kinds of union. Again, there is a problem, because once civil unions are agreed on, what other unions could we adopt? And how far can the extremes in age and numbers be stretched? Once the rules are flung away, there really is no limit to where such a path can go. A man might arrange a union between himself, his dog, six woman and a letterbox. Who is to say he is wrong to do this, if there is no God?
All the above is not a digression from the topic of this essay. It is related very strongly to the false idea that if a person looks within themselves, and focuses on their own thoughts, some kind of lasting truth can be found. This is an illusion, because subjectivism does not lead to truth. It is like shutting someone inside a labyrinth. They might wander about in there for days, but they will never find a door out, and all they will find is endless tunnels and corners.
Returning to the problem of deciding morals by looking inwards I would like to quote from C.S.Lewis. “Are the ethical standards of different cultures so different that there is no common tradition at all? The answer is that this is a lie – a good, solid, resounding lie. If a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the 'Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics' he will soon discover the massive unanimity of the practical reason in man. From the Babylonian 'Hymn to Samos', from the Laws of Manu, the 'Book of the Dead', the Analects, the Stoics, the Platonists, from Australian aborigines and Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood, the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak, of alms-giving and impartiality and honesty . . . . . . the pretense that we are presented with a mere chaos – that no outline of universally accepted values shows through – is simply false and should be contradicted in season and out of season wherever it is met.”
Returning to Genesis, we see that Adam and Eve began as morally pure humans, but when they disobeyed God they became aware of sin. To make things worse, God cursed the ground as part of their punishment – thorns and thistles, pain and suffering, diseases and storms and earthquakes and old age, and debilitation, and death. God quickly killed and skinned animals to make clothes for the first humans, and it was quickly understood that the animals had lost their lives for the sake of the sinners who wore their blood-stained skins.
Adam was made, originally, in the image of God. This means he was a sort of miniature version of his Maker. He was made without fault and was the most intelligent man who ever lived. He looked outwards to God for understanding, and up to the moment when he sinned, his thoughts were pure and perfect. His ability to think logically, his memory, his reasoning powers, his aesthetic sense, his creativity – all his mental faculties were perfect, but when he sinned these abilities began to decline. Gradually he forgot things, or failed to understand, or reasoned faultily. More and more he and his descendants needed to rely on what God had said for their survival. Those who abandoned God joined the thousands and millions of people given over to astrology and other pursuits. Eventually all but a handful of people remained who kept listening to God, and Noah was born. 120 years after warning Mankind about a coming judgement, the waters fell from the sky, and the earth that then was was swept away and buried, producing the vast fossil beds, coal and oil and gas reserves of today.
After the flood God made numerous appearances to various people, for example Moses, and later on the prophets, and gradually the Old Testament writings developed, until a complete set of 39 scrolls was available to Mankind, containing the pure and perfect thoughts of God. To this was added the 27 books of the New Testament, at which point the Bible was finished. The world was given this priceless treasure, and God's Word has changed the world for the better wherever it has been rightly understood and applied.
Returning again to the sheets on “Mindfulness' we find the complete absence of any reference to God or His Word, and this alone should alert us to an inbuilt fatal flaw. If we follow the subjectivist approach and look inwards for truth, we will not find much. We will find thoughts, feelings, and ideas. We will discover an inward labyrinth which may be quite pleasant to wander around in for quite a while, but it will have no door out It will be a world inside our mind, but there will be nobody in there saying, “This is true” because truth does not come from within us. We will only find relativity inside our head, and no rock on which to base anything, and no standard by which to measure..
The God who made Man anticipated Man's inability to discover absolutes inside his head. Since the Fall, man's intellect has collapsed a long way, and many people have become depraved, living their lives on much the same level as animals. Their intellects have disintegrated so far they are now driven by the appetites of their flesh, as the Bible says, “Now the works of the flesh are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, (or drug abuse), hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, enyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like . . .” Galatians 5:19
Out of all the people I have spoken to about this, they have all said when they look inside themselves and consider their thoughts, instead of a nicely arranged, regular flow of words and pictures, they find a turbulent river, a torrent of fragments, thoughts good and bad, tumbling and rushing about. The mind is quite often the place where fears and phobias and nightmarish creatures live, a home for anxieties and ungrounded fears, and figments of the imagination. The human mind is not a a serene lake, but a bubbling spring, and from it we can get both good and evil.
The sheets spoke about a “reasonable mind” but human reasoning is not reliable. It may put together some semblance of truth, but without external guidance from some Absolute truth, all one finds within becomes relative. The same can be said of the “emotional mind” and the “wise mind”. One might as well ask a two-year old to describe how democracy works. Human reasoning is too feeble unaided to make much progress towards the sort of truth it seeks.
The Bible is the only really useful source of truth, and with its help Man can make a lot of progress towards gaining the “wise mind” he seeks, but there is a cost involved, and this cost is probably what motivates many self-help gurus, and New Agers. These are people who try to lift themselves by pulling on their shirt collars. They will urge us to follow any path to enlightenment EXCEPT the one which forces us to bow our knees to the true God and confess our dire need of His help.
As Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way”, and as a hopeful fellow in Pilgrim's Progress discovered to his utter horror, there is only one way to the Celestial City, and no amount of optimism will forge another way in. The Bible says “God is not mocked” (Gal.6:7)
The remedy to all these things is the application of the Word of God, that is the infusion of what God says into our mind, so that, gradually, our thoughts are conformed to His thoughts. This is a process which takes time, and it is an outward-looking method of finding truth, not an inward-looking one. Some selected verses follow, which by no means exhaust the counsel of God on the matter.
The first description in the Bible of fallen Man's mind is given in Genesis 6, and interestingly it was the reason for the great Flood. Thoughts, as we know, lead to actions and words, just as branches lead to fruit, but God sees our thoughts, so it was the thoughts which God judged. A man who wants to stop a diseased tree from producing diseased fruit will not destroy the fruit only. The wisest thing to do is destroy the branches and trunk, from which the disease comes.
“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his (Mankind's) heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5 Notice that the outpouring of evil was “only evil continually”, so there is very little room for the belief that ancient man was anything but depraved – and hardly the source of wisdom.
God Himself quite truthfully and without misplaced pride is quite frank with us. He knows how different His own mind is from ours. God thinks one way, and we think another. This ought to alert us to where we should turn for a source of right thinking. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8
When God the Son appeared, His best counsel to Man was to focus on God. This meant that Man was to turn his attention away from himself. Unreliable Man was to turn all his attention on reliable God, and notice the four aspects of this attention:
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” Mark 12:30 Obviously there is no room for inward reflection here – all our heart (emotions), all our soul (the total person), all our mind (intellect), all our strength (physical).
God also has something to say about people who deliberately exclude God from their thinking. He warns that when this happens a process of degeneration begins which ends in death:
“And even as they did not like to (the will involved) retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient . . .” Romans 1:28 In simpler language this means that when people persist in rejecting what God says, their minds become reprobate, like weedy gardens, full of rubbish and error, and this sets in motion a moral decline which adds to their depravity, until finally, when they are mentally and morally bankrupt, they collapse and die under the weight of their own sin.
God also warns us about trusting the “carnal” mind. The word “carnal” means “unregenerate, bodily, temporal, animal. Anyone who is not sprititually “born again” is carnal, and as such is incapable of thinking the way God requires. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7
One final verse, which shows the extreme devotion which God requires of His children. We are not expected to spend a little time contemplating God's Word, as if it was a helpful addition to our lives, nor are we to spend time 'appreciating' what God says. God asks far more than this. He wants us to dive into His Word, as one might dive into a deep pool, and swim about, and drink, and soak, until the water is more our natural habitat than the land we once walked on.
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:5
Just consider the powerful layering of ideas in this verse. Casting down imaginations (kathaireo ) means to consciously wage war, pull down and demolish all ideas which are contrary to what God says. Every high thing (hupsoma) means all elevated things which might rival what God says. Every thought (noema) means every perception, or purpose, or (by implication) every intellectual, disposition which might interfere with what God says. This covers all the bases mentioned in the sheets – the reason, the emotions and the mind we are to gain – the wise mind.
There were many other things raised by the sheets, but the overall thrust was much the same throughout the whole set of lessons, and everything that needs to be said has been said already. Apparently the sheets contained advice which was originally penned in some other language, many hundreds or thousands of years ago, which fact actually adds strength to the case for resorting to the Bible. In all that time so little has changed. Away back then people were much the same – still digging into their own heads for answers, while God has always made available His counsel, and at all times Man has been able, if he so chose, to seek out the reasons for, and the remedy for his inner turmoil. From Adam to Noah, and from Noah to Abraham to king David, and through the history of Israel and the captivity, and then to Jesus, and from Jesus to today, there has always been available a supply of Truth to Mankind, if Mankind would only seek it. God has preserved His Word as a faithful witness through all the history of the world, but Man has consistently chosen to ignore it.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!” Matthew 23:37
“To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith you may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.” Isaiah 28:12
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