Learning to Pray

My wife and I were speaking with a psychologist friend, whose colleague is an atheist.

She’s never studied theology in depth and so she found herself frustrated with his argument that the archetypal underpinnings of Christianity and its similarity of aspects of previous myths show that it isn’t true. This led to a brief discussion about prayer which led me to some thoughts about the meaning and experience of prayer and how to help Christians learn to pray:

  1. We tend to talk to ourselves, so when we pray and it feels like we’re talking to ourselves, that’s not as awkward a state as we think it is.
  2. We frequently talk with imagined versions of people we know, rehearsing arguments we want to make, things we wish we said, bouncing ideas off of idealized versions of parents, fictional characters, and so-on.
  3. We also reason to ourselves about our ideals and our relationship to various rules: am I speeding? was that the right thing to do?
  4. We, if we’re really self-conscious, have conversations with ourselves about an ideal version of ourselves: “will this make me who I want to be…do I care?”
  5. This can lead us to moral and practical introspection of the sort that is very helpful.
  6. We frequently wish, in an impersonal way, for things. “I wish I had less debt.”
  7. Psychologically, when we wish for something or make a goal, our perceptions tend to filter the world in terms of that goal. If you want a motorcycle and set yourself to getting, you see more motorcycles, more open opportunities to buy one, and so-on. And so, there is a psychological explanation for why prayers seem to be coincidentally answered. For a brief look into how this happens with goal based behavior, here’s the gorilla study.
  8. So, if all prayer does is change your perceptions it’s worth it.
  9. Prayer, defined as making requests of what we perceive to be the greatest possible being (God), forces us to compare ourselves not just to the ideal people around us, but to the greatest possible ideal. And so prayer, in the way previously mentioned, reconfigures us to look for opportunities to seek the highest possible ideal we could imagine for ourselves.

And again these aren’t theological reasons to pray, per se. They’re natural experiences most of us have. And they may be conversation pieces to have with somebody who struggles with prayer. The theological realities of prayer, that God hears our weakest requests and honors them are not negated by recognizing some of the more natural elements of prayer. If you believe that we are what God made us, then all these natural results of prayer are God ordained anyway.

Another brief thought, Christian devotion times don’t have to be all prayer in the sense of “asking God for things.” Christian devotion includes soliloquy, prayer, meditation (mulling over a subject), contemplation (focusing the mind on aiming at God), letting your mind wander in silence, introspection, study, family discussion, and so-on.

Our devotion time doesn’t have to be “15 minutes of prayer…followed by listening for God to tell us something specific.”

Jordan Peterson’s Online University

Over at Captain Capitalism, Aaron Clarey made a point I don’t find fully convincing.

It’s a brief and hidden point in a post I otherwise agree with entirely. He mentions Jordan Peterson’s desire to offer a liberal arts education online and calls the degree Peterson would offer worthless. 

Now, in context, Clarey has affirmed that which I affirm: that the modern university’s liberal arts program is worthless. He describes it here:

Yes, liberal arts degrees, especially the social justice warrior slop Coursera is serving up, are worthless, pointless, even damaging to the students naive enough to take them.  Yes, these courses/degrees will ruin their lives, at minimum sending them down the career path of poverty and e-begging, at worst replacing family, love, freedom, and excellence with a fervent ideological addiction to socialism.  And yes, you can learn this slop for free, with the exact same employment prospects, as going to the library and reading ALL the liberal arts/Marxist books you want.

With this I absolutely agree and majoring in that crap not only leaves you nearly unemployable, but it also makes you resentful and teaches you to reject the past and every good thing you might learn from it or that it has given you.

But I think that the vision Peterson has for a liberal arts degree is of the sort that made those degrees worth having in the past. Clarey has a “Clarey test” for whether or not a person might have good advice. One of them is whether or not they have a worthless degree and he gives history and other humanities degrees a pass if they’re before the Marxist/Postmodern shift in the universities. If Peterson’s vision is like this, and people learn to think logically, creatively, precisely, and deeply through his program then I think it would teach people to be extremely happy in an economic and spiritual sense. 

Anyway, Clarey’s book are good. I recommend them.

Human Sex Differences

Last night at a Bible study the question of sex differences came up. Specifically, we discussed whether there were traits/virtues that were either feminine or masculine in the Bible.

The consensus was yes, but upon being asked to give specifics, only my wife and I named anything other than the special bond of motherhood.

I named courage in battle as a prototypical masculine trait. She named a quiet and gentle spirit as a feminine trait I don’t think anybody thought what we said was accurate. But for clarity, from a Biblical point of view, the virtues in Scripture are for every person and from a philosophical point of view, justice, courage, temperance, and prudence and for both sexes as well. But with that background, the question is this, does the Bible praise certain traits as particularly masculine/feminine (despite their being virtues for all)? And does the Bible condemn certain traits in one sex more than another? Those two questions, if the Bible does either or both of those things, might yield a picture of what traits/virtues/vices are masculine and feminine. With respect to having a quiet spirit, while 1 Peter 3:1-4 extols this traits with respect to a wife’s relationship to her husband, the Bible portrays it as a general virtue for all humanity in Psalm 131 and in 1 Peter 2, Peter attributes a quiet spirit to Jesus.

I started to wonder, how might one find traits that were, on average more feminine and on average more masculine. I think it would look something like this:

  1. Same Sex Admiration/Aversion
    1. Ask members of both sexes what they admire in same-sex friends, role models, co-workers, politicians, etc. You’ll have to define the traits to ensure, as much as possible, that the traits are seen the same way. It may also be possible to use questions using trait behavior from other valid constructs.
    2. Ask members of both sexes a similar question but with respect to aversion, mockery, avoidance, etc.
    3. Have members of each sex take personality inventories.
    4. Compare the results cross-culturally to determine which traits are most likely culturally conditioned and which are not.
  2. Opposite Sex Attraction/Aversion
    1. Ask members of both sexes what they find attractive in an opposite sex mate. Control for the difference between short term attraction and long term attraction.
    2. Ask members of both sexes what they find repulsive in the opposite sex.
    3. Also ask what is admirable in the opposite sex friends, co-workers, leaders, and politicians without reference to sexual attraction.
    4. Compare the results cross culturally to determine which traits are most likely culturally conditions and which are not.

In doing this I think you could get a feel for what traits, on average, are more likely to be instantiated in each sex (they cluster male or female) and which traits are considered admirable in each sex. But you may also get a feel for what is virtuous in a man or woman as well as what is blameworthy. At least with respect to social credit and attraction.

Any thoughts on this? I’m purely in the friendzone when it comes to psychometrics.