The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Categorize Yourself

I don’t know if others’ intellectual lives are like mine, but mine tends to run in themes. These themes are often summed up in single words, but those words represent fleshed out paragraphs or pages of meaning. I started consciously noticing these patterns during the middle of college, probably because of the advent of keeping a spiritual journal. In a chronological record, my intellectual map would look like this:

Spring 2002: Baptism (spiritual, physical, infant)
Biblical Interpretation – distinguishing spiritual meaning from literal meaning
Spring 2003: Suffering, Obedience, and Hope
Spring 2004: Surrender, Trust
Fall 2004: Suffering and Meaningful Existence
Summer 2005: Holistic Christianity
Fall 2005: Ecumenical Christianity
Spring 2006: Truth and Meaning, Technical and Evocative Language

There are, looking at it, also metathemes that influence specific patterns of thinking also. “Meaning” is certainly an obvious one. “Faith” and related ideas are another one. As well, I’m sure I could trace other themes in my blog. However, even those are different in content than these themes. In general these themes are a sort of filters for all content I absorb. In terms of my current theme, that means that I’ve been listening to podcasts recently and listening to their methods more than their content. In terms of the theme of “suffering,” this would mean analyzing the content in terms of how it influences my attitude toward suffering and my understanding of how what it means for the truths of the universe.

I think this propensity is less my own idiosyncrasy and more a human tendency (that is, I like to think I’m not weird). It is a natural inclination, in my opinion, for humans to constantly, continually categorize the content of their lives. This tendency accounts for things like stereotyping, musical and literary genres, or historical eras. Categories help us organize, interpret, and understand our lives. From birth we are constantly creating or adjusting classifications. We distinguish between round things and square things, big things and small things. And over time those things are more and more distinct and narrowly defined. Our categories have exceptions and nuances. And we each choose which categories are more nuanced; some of us choose sports, some politics, other philosophy or literature, others entertainment or dancing or gardening.

C.S. Lewis speaks of it this way:
“To the large well-meant statements of ‘religion’ [Christianity] finds itself
forced to reply again and again, ‘Well, not quite like that,’ or ‘I should
hardly put it that way.’…The real musician is similarly troublesome to a man who
wishes to indulge in untaught ‘musical appreciation’; the real historian is
similarly a nuisance when we want to romance about ‘the old days’ or ‘the
ancient Greeks and Romans’. The ascertained nature of any real thing is always
at first a nuisance to our natural fantasies…”

We want to believe in the beauty of “the old days” or the stereotypes that we’ve created with a little bit of information. But the expert dashes those stereotypes with exceptions and facts. To those who watch sports, I would frustrate them with poor, uneducated generalizations about NFL players or NHL rules. I simply don’t know much, so I have large, catch-all categories for them. But for matters of faith, I suggest nuances and clarify exceptions to the rules, frustrating those who prefer a simpler understanding.

Nuanced categories are much more difficult to communicate as well. This is one reason Kerry lost the last election: he attempted to communicate ideas with numerous caveats. His answers were “Well, not quite like that,” or “I should hardly put it that way.” He would say, “Yes, but on the other hand, there are these factors to consider.” Bush was more general, and this boded better for our sound-byte media and a culture uneducated in most details about governing a federal republic.

So, you can add this synopsis of categorization to your thoughts about humans and about ideas and beliefs and groups and foreign relations and satellite radio and interpersonal communication and physics and entropy and death and why the sky is blue and how to lose a guy in 10 days. It really solves all your problems and answers the burning questions of your life. Or maybe it doesn’t mean much at all. So I guess the first thing to decide is which category this post goes in: “Useful” or “Trash.” And then go from there.