Posted by: gcarkner | January 25, 2016

Promote Dialogue on Life Trajectory


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  1. Worldview Discernment: mapping the pluralistic landscape of the various spiritual journeys we are likely to encounter in today’s society. Posture: refuse to be overwhelmed by difference and diversity of convictions. Mark Taylor (After God) at Columbia University defines religion as “an emergent, complex, adaptive system of symbols, myths and rituals with the function to give individuals and society a sense of meaning, purpose and direction, and to call into question every other system that gives life meaning, purpose and direction.” It both stabilizes and disturbs/disrupts, offers structure and order and paradoxically, calls into question every social construction, system or structure.
  1. Investigative Journalism: employing fruitful human questions to make deeper connections and find points of spiritual contact. Posture: that of a detective or reporter with a curious mind and a sensitive heart.
  1. Establish Common Ground, a Platform for Dialogue: finding the best in people as a point of non-defensive and non-offensive conversational entry. What are the assumptions we can make from our common aspirations, our creaturehood and our will to the common good, or key markers of human flourishing? Without a level playing field, you will not have a just discussion.
  1. Reckoning with Cultural Barriers to Faith: understanding and mobilizing idolatries, roadblocks, closed world systems, atheism, loss of transcendence as leverage in conversation. Every posture is vulnerable under critical scrutiny, whether the hegemony is scientific materialism, nihilistic skepticism, or a dogmatic fundamentalist religious perspective. This involves mapping the modern and postmodern perception worlds (social imaginaries) that people inhabit. There are also moral ideologies that prevent people from hearing what you are saying; one’s moral and intellectual bent are more interconnected than many people realize. Dialogue invites people to enter an open field or round table of discussion, rather than fighting like a trapped fox, who has been cornered. We can waste a lot of time if we are not in touch with these barriers.
  1. Communicative Potential of the Poetic/Prophetic Imagination: especially in the aesthetic oriented Postmodern/Late Modern Condition. Here we explore the language of epiphany, agape love and transcendence. Scientific rationality does not work here; Modernism has been called into question. Hermeneutics is more the game (Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic). C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein and the other Inklings were geniuses at this trade. Malcolm Guite is a fresh poet among others. Jens Zimmermann’s new book, Hermeneutics: a very short introduction, is very helpful. Certain literary forms can act subversively to get past a seeker’s defenses (Joseph Laconte, The Searchers). Poets like T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins,
  1. Biblical Narrative and the Jesus Story: always a fresh opportunity to commend Jesus in context of issues, aspirations and questions of one’s interlocutor. This pillar celebrates a robust Jesus story and kingdom teaching for today’s complex world. How indeed is Jesus the Yes and Amen to our fundamental human questions and our existential concerns? Be articulate, creative, intriguing, relevant, provocative, opening gates to insight and discovery. The video series Gospel of John has a fresh approach to depicting Jesus. We all must become creative storytellers; the Gospels give plenty of examples of various styles of capturing a person’s imagination. What kind of God does Jesus reveal to us?

Forum of Investigative Journalism
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  1. What do you perceive as the driving aspirations of people today?
  1. Do you think people are interested in the common good or are they only out for their own self-interest? What good are you passionate about?
  1. Where do you see yourself moving philosophically at the moment? New convictions? Deconstruction of past beliefs? Disillusioned? Hopeful? Passionate? Cynical?
  1. What gives your life hope, meaning, strength and direction at the moment? Where are you struggling?
  1. What figure or author has most profoundly influenced or inspired you?
  1. What do you think makes people cynical these days? Where does this current malaise come from? Where are things broken in our culture? How did we get to this level of greed and irresponsibility in the twenty-first century?
  1. Do you think human flourishing comes from pursuit of individual freedom and self-fulfilment or the pursuit of some empathic contribution to another human being?
  1. Are you more at home in the arts or the sciences?
  1. Are there questions that science cannot ask?
  1. Why do you think it is important to ask some of the Big Life Questions while you are young?

See David Brooks, The Road to Character.

Miraslov Volf, Flourishing: why we need religion in a globalized world. (Yale, 2015)


Questions to Probe a Friend’s Personal Worldview

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  • Could you identify and define for me the framework of your present philosophical stance? Your favorite thinker? Where do you position or locate yourself in the current pluralistic world of convictions? What resonates with you? What influences have shaped this conviction? Did you come by this view honestly?
  • Questions regarding the coherence, unity or consistency as a view of reality. Does not work for the those postmodern who celebrate contradictions, paradox, dissolution and difference (James Sire, The Universe Next Door).
  • Is your view open to the data of other people’s experience, further evidence or do you have your mind made up? Closed or open stance? Agnostics are generally more open than hard core atheists.
  • Use the three major worldview frames to probe more deeply into the details. Get all the facts and insights you can: Naturalism, Pantheism, Theism (James Sire). Naturalism believes that everything is matter; Pantheism believes the everything is spirit; Theism believes in both laws of nature and spiritual reality (science and theology).
  • Look for the person’s interpretive paradigm, controlling vision, the intellectual grid through which they sift ideas and issues (philosophical glasses). E.g. Marxism, feminism, scientific materialism, environmentalism, nihilism, New Age, Yoga, or some form of liberation. This reveals what Charles Taylor calls their hypergood or dominant value. It is vital for you to understand this core dominating and controlling good, in order to understand a person at a deeper level. (Jens Zimmermann, Hermeneutics: a very short introduction)
  • Livability and Relevance Questions: aka the Pragmatic Life Test. How does it improve human life or solve human problems, promote more justice or hope, feed the poor, heal racial relations, answer suffering, help with global warming? Does it have power to promote the common good or is it a selfish, greedy perspective? What virtues does it celebrate? How far can the assumptions be taken without promoting evil: destructive consequences or leading to absurd conclusions? Many views that can be thought cannot be lived.
  • Are you happy with your present views or are you shopping around for something better? People have emotions around their cherished beliefs, so tread carefully. They also get bored sometimes when their worldview no longer answers their questions, or the data of their experience does not fit: e.g. birth of a baby. A person who is disenchanted with their view is most open to dialogue.
  • Intrigue or redirect to get conversation unstuck: Could you define the God you do not believe in? Were you brought up an atheist, Buddhist, agnostic,  nihilist, or did you arrive at that logically over time? Did your professor or program make you do it? Are you convinced of the hope that your faith offers the world? Are you a reflective atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu.? Many people need to be encouraged to slow down and think about their life and its trajectory. The unexamined life is not healthy according to Plato. 

Our destiny is to be in Christ, with two natures, not Brahma with only one. Eastern mysticism sees our identity as merely divine and eternal. Western secularism sees it as merely human and temporal, and Christianity insists on the paradox of the two natures in one person. (Peter Kreeft, Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing, p. 84.)

~Gord Carkner, The Wisdom Project

See also Alister McGrath, Intellectuals Don’t Need God?

Apologetics Resources page in this blog.

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