In October 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported an interview with Alan Greenspan about his book, The Map and the Territory. Greenspan commented on a human feature he had not factored in when he was chairman of the Federal Reserve. Referring to the meltdown of the markets in 2008, he noted that none of the recognized forecasters saw the economic crisis coming. He went on to say that he had not factored in ‘the spells of (human) euphoria and irrational fear.’
The article continued, ‘Studying the results of herd behavior provided him with some surprises. “I was actually flabbergasted,” he says. “It upended my view of how the world works… He concluded that fear has at least three times the effect of euphoria in producing market gyrations. “I wouldn’t have dared write anything like that before,” he says.’
It is not my purpose to speak about the state of the US economy or the financial world. Rather, I want to take up the theme of human nature. The Wall Street Journal article raises the subject of the deeper aspects of our human nature usually hidden from others. It opens up questions about the complex nature of being human. Where do we turn for answers?
Thomas Nagel, the American philosopher in The View from Nowhere (1986, p.4), commented on the perplexity of doing this. He wrote: Certain forms of perplexity – for example, about freedom, knowledge, and the meaning of life – seem to embody more insight than any of the supposed solutions to those problems.
It is certainly true that from our human inquiry – be it through medicine, biology, neuroscience, psychology, social anthropology or philosophy – a satisfying answer seems shrouded in mystery.
Summarizing the human dilemma, Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher asked: Is life simply a journey… a great mysterious search for the unknown and unknowable? We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty. We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring truth and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness.
In response, given the complexity of the existence of all things in the universe, not just humanity, it is not inconsistent to suggest that there is a greater being who stands at the heart of the center of all things – one who not only exists but who is able to reveal himself and thus give us meaning and understanding about life.
Indeed, Dr. John Lennox (Emeritus Professor Mathematics, Oxford University), writes in ‘God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?’: To the majority of those who have reflected deeply and written about the origin and nature of the universe, it has seemed that it points beyond itself to a source which is non-physical and of great intelligence and power.
And CS Lewis wrote: I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
To return to the WSJ article and Alan Greenspan’s comments about the way that fear can trump euphoria in our attitudes and actions: why is that all too often we allow fear to shape our feelings and actions? Instead of living out the New Testament injunction to rejoice, we fear. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say rejoice, exhorts Paul the Apostle (Philippians 4:4). We fear what others might think of us if they discovered what we believe and that we go to church. We fear that we might be bullied or made to look stupid. We fear we may be treated as intolerant if we try to talk to them about our faith. We fear we may be stuck for words. We make excuses and are silent.
St Matthew concludes his Gospel with Jesus’ commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18ff).
The commission Jesus gave to the apostles has been passed down through the ages, not in some form of mystical ‘apostolic succession’ through the literal laying on of hands, but in the passing on of what the apostles preached and taught. One way or another all of us are involved in this.
Over the coming weeks, I plan to explore ways we can be more effective in our relationships and conversations.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com