Reflexivity and the Gospel: A Conversation
A few weeks ago I received an email from Mike Todd (a friend made during my time at Regent College) who was wondering what I thought about an article by Hungarian financial speculator George Soros. Now those who know anything whatsoever about me will undoubtedly consider this a somewhat strange request. What on earth could I possibly have to say about an article on market theory? And you would not be alone in your curiosity—the request caught me off guard as well. To say that economic theory is not a body of knowledge with which I am well-acquainted or competent to discuss would be an exercise in spectacular understatement.
Nonetheless, I was intrigued. Mike is a thinker (and a person) that I have come to respect tremendously over the last few years. He asks unsettling questions and makes concrete decisions in his life which bear witness to his belief that the kingdom of God really does entail a new way of living, loving, believing, and acting in the world. He is a strong advocate for social justice and a harsh critic of institutional Christianity. Above all, Mike is convinced that following Jesus ought to be a force for revolutionary change in this world not just the world to come.
(Plus he’s just a flat-out interesting guy with an interesting story—see here for the synopsis, or get the whole story on the side-bar on the same page.)
And Mike knows enough about me not to send me an article like this without having some non-economic reason lurking in the background. In this case, he was explicit: he wanted to know if I saw any parallels between this Soros’s theory and the kingdom of God. This still seemed a rather formidable question, but one which I was, ostensibly, more qualified to tackle. So I began to get acquainted with George Soros…
Mike and I had been going back and forth a bit on what we saw in Soros’s article when he suggested that we try to turn this into a bit of a broader forum, in case others either wanted to just “listen in” or contribute directly to the discussion. For those who can’t (or don’t want to) read the Soros piece, here’s my grossly inadequate and cursory summary of what I see him saying in his theory of reflexivity (Mike can correct me if I’m wrong):
- The biases and preferences of human beings fundamentally shape the nature and behaviour of the market economy.
- The economy is not some fixed reality with its own logic to which we simply adapt; rather, our values, fears, biases, desires and hopes play a role in how the market behaves.
- This leads to what Soros calls a state of “dynamic disequilibrium” where the market is characterized by periods of volatility and unpredictability.
So, back to Mike’s question: how (if at all) does the theory of reflexivity reflect/relate to the gospel? As a way to kick off this conversation, I though I would post part of my first reply to Mike’s email. There are two other parts of this email which I will post in subsequent entries (unless we get to them sooner). Mike may also do a few “guest-posts” in response—we’ll see how the conversation unfolds.
I must begin by saying that the vast majority of the “financial-ese” in the article went right over my head. I’m a complete dunce when it comes to the markets—my eyes tend to glaze over and a fog of confusion sets in after about a paragraph of finance language. Nonetheless…
I think that Soros’ theory of reflexivity—to the extent that I understand it—has definite gospel parallels. The idea that human beings do not behave according to universal laws (in finance or in other domains—ethics, belief, for example) and that their biases and preferences tend to help shape the future rather than simply respond to various stimuli obviously fits with the reality the kingdom of God and its advance or retreat. Somehow, it seems that our ability/willingness to live out the kingdom (on earth as it is in heaven)—to allow our present behaviour to be shaped by what we believe will one day be real and permanent—has a real effect on the shape of that future.
I don’t think that this means that we necessarily force God’s hand or compel him to act (although I don’t rule this out) or change the character of what the new creation will look like, but I do think that God’s future will be profoundly impacted by what has preceded it. Certainly our actions as individuals, communities, nations, etc will have a lot to say about how the new creation is experienced. Will it arrive primarily as consummation or corrective? Of course there will be elements of both no matter what, but perhaps how we live in the present will affect which of the two is more prominent.
What do you think?
“Doctor!!…My Brain HURTS!!!”
Personally speaking, I hear “reflexivity” to mean be an unholy parrallel view of what should be rightly understood as mankind’s call to relationship with the Holy Spirit.
It(reflexivity) at least allows for the consideration of the religious impulse, however perversely understood. (Get the pen and pencils out gentleman, today we quantify God, prophecy and free will.)
Well we’ve done Marx/Lenin, Nietzsche/Hitler, Mao/Mao, why not Soros/Brave New World.
God help us all…
Is Soros advancing a paradox? Trying to quantify the transcendent as an observable fact.
“Lost my shape
trying to act casual…
there was a time
there was a formula
sharp as a knife
facts cut a whole in ya…
facts all come with points of view
facts can do what you want them to
facts can twist the truth around
facts are living turned
Paul, could you explain, in one or two sentences, what you find problematic here. I’m not trying to be rude, but I really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.
(Sometimes it’s a good thing when our brains hurt—it means we’re exercising them!)
Think of it as “wordscape” Ryan. Stare at it sagely while periodically saying things like….”hmmm, cryptic but clever….inventive use of colour(language).. shockingly bourgeois in it’s conforming nonconformity.
If enough people do this, the government will give me free money…..really…
Remember I’m an “A” then “Z” problem solver. I leave “B” through “Y” to the terminally bored and my biographers! 😉
To answer your question though, ( and it’s ok with me if you are blunt/rude from time to time. I know you are a good man and “bruntness” can be a powerful remedy to intellectual constipation…there is a confirming Scottish proverb somewhere, I’m sure…) if all “reflexivity” has to say is that what people think/believe, influences what they do; ergo changes what can then be described as an observable fact, with reagrds to their subsequent behavior, well then I say, “No shit, Einstein! Get your abacus out of your arse and say hello to the human condition.”
If it further says (thus re-inserting aforementioned abacus up aforementioned cavity) that such behaviors can be measured/understood as formula and re-applied back to the human condition, then I say, “hmmm, been there done that; thanks but no thanks; lets keep Lenin, Hitler, Mao and their ilk, (dead and buried)where they belong.
As for the “Talking Heads” reference(One of the few interesting musical groups from that musically wretched decade known as the 80’s) I borrowed, from memory, the lyric from a song called “Cross Eyed and Painless”.
In it the band offers a contrast between the world of art/music/…dare I say the religious impulse…. and what that implies to what truth feels like, and the world of “observable” facts and to what the “facts” crowd say truth is.
If “reflexivity” simply states that all our social science understandings are self defeating given the inherent contradiction of the scientific method as applied to human behavior….”I think therefore I can frig with it”, then I finally say, “Thank Goodness; it’s about time; get to Mass; go to Confession; receive Holy Communion; pray daily; fast regularly and put all that substantial brain power to the work that God has always intended you to do.
If not, then if I may reprise “Talking Heads”, I say….
You Lost your shape
trying to act casual…
You had your time
you had your formulas
sharp as a knife
God cuts a hole in ya.
Sorry about the one or two sentence, thing.
I was less interested in evaluating reflexivity as an all-encompassing theory than I was in exploring whatever gospel parallels it might contain—especially with respect to the role human beings play in shaping the future. Obviously what we believe shapes what we do. The question is: does what we believe and do shape what’s coming?
Nonetheless, I thank you for your (poetic) interpretation of what you see the theory as saying.
…The question is: does what we believe and do shape what’s coming?….
Ok, but I thought I answered that question also. The obvious answer again being, yes.
What people think and do now, impacts/shapes the future.
With regard to reflexivity, if somebody thinks they need a theory or formula to hope to measure and predict the scope of said impact, simply for the sake of knowing; how tragic. A life wasted in the pursuit of nothingness. While the “somethingness” of their existence passed them by.
If someone were to look at reflexivity from the perspective of it’s potential “somethingness”, I would assume that would almost certainly be people who were looking to manipulate future events to their personal and or ideological advantage.
Authority for them;tyranny for you and me.
As for “gospel parrallels”, my gut instinct is to say, “something wicked this way comes.” Avoid it!
Why should we look to something that is inherently evil and think it can inform goodness, beyond its avoidance.
A HUGE, problem within Christianity, as I see it, and I hold intellectuals of all sects primarily accountable, is our perverse fascination with humanistic theories that are divorced from God’s goodness.
Let us come to better understand God. Let us live for that relationship. Let us come to better understand ourselves, through God. Let us live for that relationship. Let us come to better understand one another, again through God. Let us live for those relationships.
If we do these things, we can hope for our salvation. If we do these things, we offer dicipleship to all mankind. If we do these things Christianity, as it is meant to be; the totality of God’s goodness as it can be expressed through His beloved creatures, takes shape; is given form.
Let Christianity inform mankind’s theories, not the other way around.
If our brothers and sisters, resist a true offer;if we’ve helped facilitate a true offer; then their fate is sealed, as is ours.
Reflexivity and it’s implications be damned!
We’ve covered this ground several times before, Paul, so I don’t see any fruit coming from pursuing this. Suffice to say that I think all truth is God’s truth, regardless of where it comes from. If this makes me “perversely fascinated with humanistic theories” in your eyes, so be it.
I don’t think your right or being fair, Ryan. Lately, I’ve been doing my best to cover your ground. I find you still mostly dismissive of mine. If it’s simply a matter of you being uncomfortable with how I present myself and you would prefer not to dialogue with me, then just say so.
No offense taken.
I don’t think you are perversely fascinated, Ryan. As a brother in Christ, I simply question your priorities.
Metaphysically speaking I am in agreement with your comment regarding the nature of God’s truth. As a Christian though, I question the value of our pursuit of so many lesser truths, when our core truths are in such need of attention.
I don’t think I’m being dismissive at all, Paul. It just seems to me that we’ve spent a considerable amount of time circling these wagons in a previous post on education. Your instinct, when you see some attempt to engage the broader culture or to see signs of the kingdom in less than obvious places, seems to be to criticize it, label it (reflexivity = “inherently evil?!”), and impugn the spirituality of the one making the attempt.
I simply do not agree that looking for signs of God’s work in all areas of the world around us is a “perverse fascination.” I think this is a profoundly unbiblical and sub-Christian approach to our non-Christian neighbours and the (whole) world God loves.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there have been plenty of cases throughout history where this has been the general attitude (and the results weren’t always very pretty). “Mankind’s theories” have, at times, been good and necessary spurs for Christian theology (where, for example, did the emphasis upon a renewed focus on caring for creation come from?). It’s not just a one-way street.
Which priorities, specifically, do you question?
I guess I can best exemplify my perceptions of “dismissiveness” by referring to the first two paragraphs in response #8. If you want to make the case that I am narrow minded with regards to my views on reflexivity and the broader post regarding education, and further still to the view that I may be “unbiblical” and “sub-Christian”, so be it. I’m open to the discussion.
But shouldn’t you first question the reasons I gave for my opinions or challenge me to substantiate my opinions with more clearly defined reasons?
Not on your terms but on mine?
With regards to reflexivity I don’t read you to be answering my concerns in their particular. When you suggest to me that my concerns are not pertinent to the purpose of the post, I try to address that also. If If I’m failing, please be particular about my shortcomings.
“Reflexivity=inherent evil” came with a context, feel free to refute it but please don’t dismiss it.
Don’t A to Z me ya son of a….lol…hmm maybe a good lesson in humility and fair play for me….
With regard to the broader post on education, the (un?)reasonableness of my argument rests on a firm belief that the “fall” was predicated by man’s pursuit of knowledge apart from God’s approval. Does this idea have any traction with you? Why? Why not?
If it does, what would God’s approval look like today?…..I digress…
For the record, Ryan I do not mean to impugn your spiritual motives per se, I am simply concerned that to engage regularly with those, and the ideas of those, whose spiritual motives I would question, is fraught with danger.
You know generally, why I think that and what I think the remedy is; no need to reiterate. I mention this though to suggest that perhaps it is our disagreement on these matters that fuels are lack of productive dialogue elsewhere.
I am sorry to suggest that your pursuit of a broader understanding of God’s truth is a “perverse fascination.” What I mean to say on that matter is that we must be careful when we step outside the security of our own tent. Discipleship cuts two ways. Are we leading our brothers and sisters closer to God or are they being used to lead us further away from Him…uh oh, I think I can see you “arching an eyebrow” over what that last point suggests….lol
Simply put we have to know what we believe, live like we believe it and in this way shape the “truth”….hmm a vote for reflexivity I think….another lesson in humility.
Still knowing God, knowing truth, (as I and others I believe in, hear God define it) is, as you’ve alluded in the past,counter-intuitive. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think the voices outside the tent, to the extent they “get it”, respect that very much.
With regard to Christian impropriety, let me say this; What has been the totality of Christianity’s contributions? For the common good and with regard to it’s failings.
Why are we not more confident and celebratory, through our dialogues, with regards to it’s successes? Why do we focus so defensively on it’s failures?
Why do we seem uncomfortable to suggest that, human impropriety/sin, which is to mean those decisions made apart from God, whether they be made in the “name” of God or not, are at the root of the problem? And not something that is inherently dysfunctional.
Seen in this context, it seems to me, we are better prepared to explain what we’ve done and better yet, reform what we plan to do. (Don’t forget the “armour” though…”eyebrows up”!!lol)
As for mankind’s theories and in particular your reference to environmentalism, let me say this. Those who seek to protect God’s creation, for the sake of love of God and by extension what has been created, I say good.
Those who seek to “protect” so as to resource manage in ways that provide them profit, however they would define it, apart from God’s will for their and our lives, I say bad.
Further, there seems to me to be many voices within that community, who advocate contempt for Christ and Christian principles; who seem to be motivated in part by a false ideology of some kind of pantheistic relationship with nature itself. To that I say, scandal and heresy…
I know dialogue with me can be exasperating. I know I sometimes miss the point and in so doing create the notion of disrespect. I also have a rather dramatic sense of rhetoric that sometimes gets in the way…duh! ya think!!
I guess at 51 years of age I sometimes get “pissy” over all the talking, when I think, perhaps very wrongly, that it is inhibiting right action. Maybe it is more necessary than I give it credit for being. Maybe more talking, “better informs” right action…I’m not always sure…
For what it means to you, I do believe, through prayer, that their is a “God intended” reciprocity going on here between me and you.
I sincerely hope, I’m not making that up.
I’m sorry, Ryan but I realize that I haven’t answered your question…another humbling irony. 🙂
…”Which priorities, specifically, do you question?”…
I think before I started my last reply on this thread I wanted to tell you to take care to hear God speaking through your heart, more than I thought you did. I don’t think I want to say that anymore.
After just reading your last response on the “prison” thread I can’t help but think that such a claim would be woefully inaccurate.
Final thoughts before work.
I do agree with your notion of us talking in circles and I’m open to being primarily responsible. It’s been about 35 years since I’ve been in any academic environment and I struggle with the processes.
Also you must be irritated with my persistent, “highjacking” of your intended subject matter.
Maybe it would be better if I withhold, (not bloody likely!!) comment until you post your “letting go and letting God” thread. It’s probably a safe bet that I might have something to say about that… and be on topic for a change.
I didn’t say that you were unbiblical or sub-Christian. I said that the view that “looking for signs of God’s work in all areas of the world around us is a ‘perverse fascination’ is a profoundly unbiblical and sub-Christian approach to our non-Christian neighbours and the (whole) world God loves.” If this is indeed the view that you hold, then you are, in my opinion, a sincere, Jesus-loving Christian who happens to have a sub-Christian view on this particular question.
I’ve been doing precisely this for some time now, on a variety of posts. I’m not sure how you see “your” terms and “mine” being so radically different. What would an answer on “your terms” look like? What specific concerns of yours am I not answering “in their particular?”
Yes, of course it does. I have never once advocated a pursuit of knowledge apart from God. I just think that what you and I mean by “apart from God” is very different. I think it is very possible—even imperative—to pursue a wide variety of knowledge as an expression of our commitment to God, human beings, and the world he loves.
So who should I be regularly engaging with? Those whose ideas and spiritual motives are squeaky clean and pure? Where would I find such a creature?
This seems like a kind of protectionist, isolationist, Christian ghettoism whose main goal is to remain uncontaminated by the dirty world around us. Again, I think this is much less than what God wants from his followers. I think that we are called by Christ—by love of God and neighbour—to confidently and frequently step outside of our “tents” for the sake of a hurting and sinful world.
I think this is a perfectly legitimate question. And I would say that, on the whole, Christianity has unquestionably been a force for much more good than evil throughout history. I brought the point up not to “focus defensively on its failures,” but in response to what I felt was a fairly stark claim that required heavy qualification (“Let Christianity inform mankind’s theories, not the other way around”). I think that Christians should be confident but they should also be humble and willing to learn from past mistakes.
Re: the environmentalism bit, my point was not that there are/are not environmentalists whose motives are/are not compatible with Christianity. Of course both sides are well represented. My point had to do with where the impetus within the church came from. Did it arise solely via Christianity’s own theological reflection and bible reading? Was it purely a case of “Christianity informing mankind’s theories? Or were Christians spurred by external factors to reconsider their own theology?
I don’t think you are hijacking anything. You’re asking questions, I’m responding, we’re going back and forth. Sounds like dialogue to me. I’m usually willing to go a little ways afield on any given subject I post on.
Thank you Paul.
Hey Ryan, Thanks for the response.
On a personal note, it occurs to me that we are working towards sharing our “graces” with one another…I really like that context.
We have such a loving and great God.
Ryan, can I take a “mulligan” on the term, “perverse fascination?”
The term’s impact is disproportionate to what I believe I’m meant to intend and more importantly, what I would hope you to discern.
Please know that I’m not inferring any personal superiority in our relationship with the above comment. But rather trying to relate a spiritual intuition.
Right or wrong, good or bad, the term to me has become a “stumbling block” and I think it would be better if at this point it were forgotten.
That being said, we can’t let me off the hook, so to speak. After all much of your concern with the validity of my position, revolves around the “sub Christian” implications of the term.
In the service of truth then, I think I should try to marry the notions of what I would call intellectualism (study and discovery) and a term I have used earlier, “God’s approval.”
Firstly, let me say that in no way do I stand in opposition to study and discovery. It is intrinsically human. As food and water nourish the body, so study and discovery nourish the mind. What does concern me though is the pursuit of study and discovery, and it’s by product knowledge; apart from God’s approval.
To make the case I again return to the Book of Genesis. In revisiting the “Fall”, I’ve often wondered what would have been the out come had Adam resisted Satan’s initial temptation and first spoken to God. Would the outcome have been different? Could Adam have helped shape a different truth had he made a different choice? If Adam had gone first to God and said “here I am”….I know you’ve forbidden me the fruit of this tree and I will remain obedient to your wish and I reject the one who offers it to me. But could you wish for me the experience of this fruit, under your care, under your guidance? Is such an experience, guided by Your Hand possible for me?”….
Moot points, with regard to Adam, I know. What was, was.
And I’m told something good came out of it…:)
But what of us? Is there a useful understanding, we might apply to the pursuit of knowledge? I think there is.
Maybe the thing we learn isn’t the main problem. Maybe it is in the ways we learn. The reasons we give for learning. The applications of our learning.
Is it wrong to your ear to hear me suggest that prayer and fast ought to be essential mediums through which we learn? The intercessory processes through which we understand what to learn, how to learn it and how to apply it. Can humanity ever learn and apply anything as truth, unless they are in truth; unless we aspire to the fullness of relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The totality of human knowledge is staggering. It is beyond my comprehension. It is a currency of zillions and zillions of dollars, but what does it buy? What human instincts does the application of our knowledge prioritize and inspire?
How much authority is enough? How much death is enough? How much greed is enough?
We enslave and starve whole continents of peoples. Where is our sense of shame? Where is our sense of scandal? How much appetite for depravity do we have?…
We have a new hero, a new savior, another man, another message. “Yes we can” we are told. We can do it. We will roll up our sleeves and do what we’ve always done. We will learn. We will “succeed”.
Shame on him. Shame on us.
After all we’ve done, after all we’ve learned, after all we’ve applied, it is a time for sackcloth and ash. A time for repentance and love. Not love as we define; Love as He defines.
Only then can we dare hope in a future of truth.
I agree, there are certainly better, more God-honouring ways of learning than others.
Depends what you mean by “essential.” Plenty of people obviously do manage to learn things—important things that contribute to making the earth a better place—without adopting this approach. So in that sense, this approach is not “essential” to learn stuff. Having said that, I certainly think that prayer and fasting are part of what a life lived in obedience to God ought to include, and this can’t help but affect how we learn, what we choose to learn, and how we apply it.
Re: your distaste for (I presume) Obama, I think I will simply say that I do not share your hostility for the man or for those who see in him signs of hope for better days.
hmmm….you’re still not hearing me, but you are trying…..maybe…hopefully…. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
With regard to your first observation what I’m saying in context is that nothing is worth learning if it is not “God inspired/God directed”.
“God honoring” is a vague and slippery slope ultimately determined by the one doing the honoring. Us speaking to us about Him. Not Him speaking to us about us.
Consequently, my position is far more radical than you are understanding. I’m saying only learn what God tells you to learn, in the way He tells you to learn it. Applying it if and when He tells you to.
What do you say? (Stay on point, please)
With regard to your second observation, it’s discussion can only be counter productive until we come to a better understanding of what we are both saying with regard to the first.
I will say this though, seeing the earth as being made a “better place” can mean one thing to those seeking “His Kingdom come” and quite another to those who are indifferent to that proposition.
As for Mr.Obama, you misunderstanding me, to the extent that I know him, I find him quite likable. He’s a charismatic fellow though my instincts tell me he is much less substantive than he appears at first glance. His “substance” such as it is, is a consequence of carefully scripted talking points repeated over a period of years, primarily because they are marketable. Not because they are in the first place, worthy. Time will tell.
What I have distaste for is corruption. Corrupt values lead to corrupt processes, leading to corrupt policy, leading to corrupt societies.
False hope is worse than no hope.
Hopelessness, rightly understood, by the heart that loves, leads to repentance.
Repentance leads to renewal and the rebirth of hope.
Fine. But I think God “inspires” and “directs” in more than one way.
Hmmm, I can’t help but think that there’s a certain irony in you telling me to stay on point… But I’ll try to do my best. Your point, to the extent I understand it, seems less radical than confusing. Are we talking about voices in heads here? We’ve been over this many times now but, once again, I believe God “tells” people various things in various ways. I think we know enough about what God wants for us and for his planet to come to some fairly safe provisional conclusions about the ends to which our learning ought to be directed and how this ought to be done (and please, do not hear my saying that this precludes the practices of fasting, praying, reading Scripture, openness to further insight, discovery, etc).
Does God speak to you. How do you speak to God? Are you certain of the dialogue? This is your path.
Do you converse with God before action? Do you, in all matters spiritual, as Pastor, advise others to do the same? Do you converse with them? Do you converse for them? This is your obligation.
You think we know enough…who tells you that?
I think it would be better if all we thought we knew, was the love of God, the love of self and the love of one another. Better we not think we know anything else until we know we know these things.
It is a time of emptying. It is a time of compunction and privation. It is a time of purification. It is a time to lay the sins of our lifetime’s at the foot of the cross.
It is there and only there we will find justice, mercy and forgiveness. It is there and only there, where we are made whole again. Where lives once scarlet are made white as snow.
It is there where the transition from crucifier to crucified begins.
God speaks to me in a similar way to how he speaks to many others—through prayer, Scripture, the counsel of others, the lessons (and errors) of Christian tradition, reason, and experience. Am I certain of this dialogue? Not always. I have seen too many people too confidently proclaim what “God said to them” when most others would have strongly disagreed to profess certainty too frequently or quickly. I think that dialogue between limited, fallen human beings and a holy God is of a radically different kind than dialogue with any human being—humility and openness to have one’s perceptions corrected is essential, in my view.
Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
First, I don’t think we know “enough” as in “we don’t need to learn more.” I’ve never said that. But I do think we know enough—love God and love your neighbour—to act. The combination of above resources tells me this. Jesus himself confirms this. You seem to agree in your fourth from last paragraph.
After reading these posts, as an outside observer, I do find this funny. Paul, you are right on regarding your insights. Sorry, Ryan, you do appear to be a typical wanna be intellectual trying to play the deep thinker role when much of it is very foolish and shallow, wrapped up in a vocabularized veneer.
I stumbled on this while researching Soros because I am heavuly burdened to pray for him. I think we can all agree he is warped by much evil and holds influence over much in our world, including current financial and political worlds. Just as the Father of Lies can occasionally speak a partial truth, let us not become enamored by any theory of a mad-man…for he is a man nontheless.
Peace to you and God bless you
Well, Christine, I actually don’t think we do “all agree he is warped by much evil and holds influence over much in our world, including current financial and political worlds” but I am happy to have provided you with a bit of humour and with a chance to demonstrate your obvious intellectual superiority to those of us who do not share your views.