Sunday, June 25, 2017


A college student who stutters and experiences intense self-hate, now fearfully avoids social situations. The stoic blogger, Massimo Pigliucci, advised:

·       Seems to me the thing you need to focus now is your self-hatred. Stoicism is a philosophy of acceptance of imperfection, both in others and in ourselves. Here is Epictetus:

·       “An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.” (Enchiridion 5)

However, how can we accept ourselves when we fail ourselves so painfully? Pigliucci provides some positive reinforcement:

·       So, no, you are not a coward. Far from it. You have had the courage to take on your condition and trying to do something about it. You made valiant efforts, and a lot of progress. But you have not achieved all your goals. That is okay. The next question is how to move forward.

Pigliucci realizes that positive reinforcement is not enough. The college student needs some tangible reinforcements to prove to himself that he is not contemptible, along with therapy and support groups.

Well, what if the problem continues or others appear? The stoic answer is to focus on the effort and not the outcome. Pigliucci therefore concludes:

·       But even if none of the above works, you are not a coward. You are just a human being with a condition that he did not ask for nor cause, and who is trying to do his best to overcome that condition, or at least live the best life he can, given the situation. That takes courage.

In other words, “You are not as bad as you think or feel. Therefore, accept yourself.” In essence, Pigliucci and stoicism have the ultimate standard by which to judge, and the student should see himself in terms of this standard, rather than his own inclinations.

However, this raises several questions. For one thing, why do we even need a standard? Why not just believe that there are no objective standards of judgment? Postmodernism tells us that there are absolutely no objective standards. Instead, our standards or values are all humanly created and, therefore, arbitrary and evolving. So just forget about them or create your own.

However, this just doesn’t seem to work. Seemingly, we are not free to create our own standards. Instead, we continue to live by standards that cause us pain. Guilt, self-hatred, and shame are universal, and we spend our lives in an unending struggle to pacify these painful realities.

Where does our embedded web of judgments come from? While some have been inculcated through our socialization, the universality of others, like the capacity to even experience guilt and shame, tends to argue for a universal cause – DNA.

If so, who wired us to have moral standards and our painful, life-controlling feelings? Many argue that evolution did it. These feelings insured necessary group cohesion, but they are no longer necessary. We have grown beyond our need for them. Therefore, they should be eliminated or reduced through therapy.

In contrast, the Bible would argue that they are still needful, lest we become amoral sociopaths. Instead, we have been wired by God for morality and even for the knowledge of God.

Our troublesome moral evaluations and feelings are so deep and integral to our being that they have resisted medication, re-education, and therapy.  Rather than relics which had only once conferred upon the human race a survival advantage, they continue to play a vital role.

We are moral creatures, and moral standards are part of what it means to be human. To nullify them is to make ourselves less than human. Despite our postmodern denials, our embedded moral circuitry insures some semblance of morality. More importantly, they lead us to their ultimate Author and cure, the forgiveness of God, that is able to counter all the feelings that result from the absolute and unavoidable standards He has planted within us.

I know that this is an extreme and annoying claim. However, I am certain that Christ is the missing piece that completes the puzzle of humanity – the piece that holds all the other parts together in harmony. This is something that can only be seen from within, but let me try to illustrate.

Not only does Christ forgive and cleanse me from all my moral failures, He also has made following His implanted moral code – and we find it spelled out in His Scriptures –a thing of joy, as the Prophet Isaiah had portrayed the Messiah:

·       And his delight shall be in [serving] the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:3-4)

When we embrace the moral law, which we find written on our conscience, as truth, we also embrace ourselves, who we truly are. Therefore, I find great delight and liberation in living in harmony with this embedded code. This gives me a powerful rationale for resisting my destructive impulses and the satisfaction in knowing the truth that exceeds all other claimants. It is like completing a 1000 piece puzzle and seeing how all the shapes and patterns fit together. It is also like standing on a mountaintop and seeing how all the towns are connected together by their roads. There is joy in truth as well as in morality.

There is also freedom. Before, I had been obsessed with trying to prove my value as a person. Now this has been fulfilled in Jesus, as Paul had commented:

·       …I count everything [I had trusted in for my self-esteem] as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)

Guilt and shame are unforgiving taskmasters. They can never be satisfied, no matter how much we sacrifice. They will always demand more accomplishments and recognition. However, in Christ, we have all the validation we will ever need.

Admittedly, I am over-simplifying. There are also potholes in the roads and even obstacles. Sometimes, the puzzle comes with missing pieces. However, we can trust that the pieces will soon become apparent.

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