Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Theses on Sanctification

Theological Theses

  1. Sanctification is a growing knowledge and conviction of my own failure to meet the demands of God’s holy and perfect Law that occurs throughout a person’s Christian life.
  2. Along with knowing my sin more intimately, Sanctification is a growing trust on the merits of Christ alone for my salvation, and a growing despair of my own righteousness.
  3. Sanctification is evident in a growing internal motivation to serve our neighbor boldly in the power of the Holy Spirit, who has prepared these truly good works for our benefit.
  4. Service to neighbor in sanctification is not limited to “spiritual” activities or witnessing. #3 ought not to be understood as only a growing desire to verbally share our faith with others (though this does indeed occur) but a growing compassion for our neighbor, expressed through our various vocations.
  5. Because of the above, sanctification is a decrease on focus on the self (in favor of focus on Christ and Neighbor).
  6. Number 5 absolutely cannot be manufactured by trying hard, self-help, psychotherapy or other attempts at becoming a better person. In fact, these are antithetical to growth in sanctification as they direct one’s energy and attention to the self rather than the neighbor.
  7. Focusing on reducing the number of sins one commits as evidence of sanctification is counterproductive (try not to think about pink elephants).
  8. Sanctification does, however, involve active training. The confessions speak of fasting as “fine outward training” and Paul uses sports metaphors to describe the Christian life as requiring human effort. Life is not static.
Psychological theses

  1. Much human behavior is automatic and not directly controlled by the conscious “will.” This can be seen most clearly in patients who have their behavior manipulated artificially (chemically or electrically) who then report post facto explanations for their behavior. The conscious mind often gives meaning to our behavior that is directed by the brain without conscious awareness. To use a computer metaphor, there are many processes going on behind the scenes when we operate a computer that are not accessible to the user. In the same way, the brain is processing information and directing behavior that is not in the conscious awareness.
  2. Many use the fact that behavior is largely not consciously controlled to argue that free will is an illusion. The underlying processes of our brains are indeed largely genetically programmed, however, they are also open to change through experience and practice. Many behaviors (driving, riding a bike, grammar, etc.) become a largely automatic through practice. The brain conserves resources by automatizing functions that previously required effort.
  3. Additionally, how we perceive the world is dependent upon our associations. This is not just the memory of events, but memory of how things work (procedural memory) which influence how we perceive events. When these differences vary systematically by culture, they are easier to see. For example, White and Black Americans have different cultural expectations about the physical distance between two people in a conversation. Violating these expectations (standing too close) will be reflexively attributed to the other person (this person is rude, aggressive, aloof, etc.) How we see the world is dependent upon our experience and upbringing.
  4. Similarly, our perception of events will be determined by how we have been trained to think.

Integrative theses

  1. Training the brains associations happens through repetition, not through force of will. Catechism, steeping the mind in scripture, liturgical prayer, hearing scripture read and expounded, all serve to train the brain well (Philippians 4:8).
  2. Christians can use secular material, movies, music, books, etc. and through discernment, discover what is good in them, this ought not be the pattern of new Christians, children or the spiritually immature. Even the mature should be careful not to fill the mind excessively with ‘dark’ things. C. S. Lewis talked about reading one old book between every new book you read, or at least one old book for every 3 new books. Similarly here, we ought to be in the habit of refreshing our minds with what is good frequently.
  3. Conversely, we can prepare ourselves to fall into sin through our consumption of media. Realistic video can be used to desensitize an individual from the natural revulsion to killing. Songs with explicit sexual content can normalize inappropriate sexual behavior and make lower one’s resistance to inappropriate behavior should a compromising situation present itself. We can train ourselves about what is “normal” and “appropriate.”
  4. No amount of training, without the Holy Spirit, will result in Sanctification. It will result in civil righteousness and self-righteousness. Thus, learning to trust in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf is equivalent to the process of being made holy, which, like Justification, is wholly God's work.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy Excommunication Day

On this day in 1521, Martin Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Big News (40 Tons)

A new 40 ton functional MRI machine has been unveiled at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Unlike previous fMRI machines that provide a picture of blood-flow to various brain regions, this fMRI can apparantly provide a picture of individual neurons firing. Other fMRI images also have a huge time-lag problem, not so this one. I'm excited about this technology, to be sure. It also appears not to require the injection of radioactive material, such as in a SPECT scan. Read the piece from the Chicago Tribune via PsycPORT. At the end of the article there is a short discussion about the ethical concerns, especially if the technology is misused. The thing to remeber is that, even if we can see individual neurons firing, we can't read the mind directly. For example, I show you a picture of a cow. Your occipital lobe would light up as the brain processes the image. Some part of the cortex would "recognize" the cow - but there are a number of ways that the cow can be recognized. If you are a farmer, you may recognize by breed or other characteristics that are different if you happen to be a meat processor (you would notice other things about the picture). There is a "spreading activation" from the picture of the cow that would be different for each person. For example, I noticed that my daughter was watching the movie "the Barnyard" the other day. If you showed me a picture of a cow right now, I would remember that and start thinking about my daughter and my mother-in-law (in whose house she was watching it) and what day it was, etc. If you were watching my brain, and I didn't tell you about this, you would be confused. By the way, spreading activation is uncontrolable and I might not even be able to tell you what "thoughts" (nodes) are activated when you show me a picture. I don't think that anyone will ever be able to "read you mind" with such a technology, unless you spent a huge amount of time in the machine having it "learn" your particular brain.