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# Sunday, April 20, 2008

I was just reading the sermon Pope Benedict gave today in the Bronx.  The following struck a cord:

The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. "In his will is our peace."

Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on "the mind of Christ" (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us!

I've thought about this seeming paradox on a few occasions--that real, radical freedom is found in truth and living in conformity to that truth. 

Loss of Freedom?
There's a common perception that morals, ethics, and religion in general limit our freedom--that we're sacrificing freedom for some greater good.  But we're not actually sacrificing freedom--we're still free to choose to think and act otherwise, however, we are using our freedom, choosing to live in accord with what we believe to be true.  It's a different way to think about it, one that puts it in the right perspective.  I think it is put in a negative perspective so often because we focus on the things we're not supposed to think or do instead of on what we are freely choosing--positively--to think and do.

The funny thing that I've found is that in choosing to align my beliefs and actions with Catholic doctrine, I feel far more at peace and far freer.  I think it is because if we're constantly struggling with the basic (but important!) questions of life, such as our origins, the existence of God and our relationship to the Divine, as well as our right relations with others, we never get off the ground, so to speak--we're always stuck in an infinite loop, wondering and (maybe) worrying, if we are conscientious. 

But if we settle all that, we're free to move on and explore new horizons.  Not only that, I think we are better equipped to explore those new horizons, because we are aligned with truth, with reality.

Mental & Conceptual Models
This reminds me of the idea in psychology of mental models and conceptual models.  My understanding, based on Donald Norman's The Design of Everyday Things (a.k.a., The Psychology of Everyday Things), is essentially that there is a conceptual model that designers create and use when they design and build things.  This is the actual and correct model.  Then there are mental models that users of the design form and use when perceiving and interacting with the design.

The trick in design is to sufficiently express the conceptual model (through a variety of design mechanisms like affordances, feedback, "knowledge in the world," etc.) so that users will form the correct mental model--one that closely aligns with the design's conceptual model.  The reason this is important is that it empowers the users to use the design effectively and not spend undue time and energy trying to figure it out, dealing with frustrations and inefficiencies that come from having a wrong mental model.  You could say that having the right mental model makes the users more peaceful and more free to explore other things because they don't have the frustrations and aren't wasting unnecessary time on it.

Applied Mental Models for Freedom and Happiness
Now map that to how we think and act as human beings.  Imagine that there is a correct conceptual model that specifies how best we human beings can think, act, and relate to others.  This model can be discovered through a variety of the Designer's mechanisms such as nature (e.g., affordances in biology), reason, experimentation (use & feedback both personal, scientific, and historical/anecdotal), and even revelation (documentation, as it were).  Now if we form the correct mental model, one that most closely aligns with the human conceptual model, it follows that we'll be more at peace (less frustrated), more efficient, more effective, and freer to explore other things.  In short, having the right mental model would give us the most radical freedom and happiness.

Wouldn't we be crazy not to use the human design in accordance with the right mental model, once we figure it out?  I think so.  For instance, once we figure out that our door key is inserted into the key slot in a particular way that gets us through the door in the least amount of time, we'd be silly--bordering on insane--to keep trying to use the key in ways that don't match that mental model.  We'd be wasting time, getting frustrated, and getting stuck outside!

No, once we discover the right mental model, the only sane thing to do is to keep using it unless someone comes along and demonstrates a model that seems to work better.  Doing this--adhering to this mental model--is not "blind faith," as many liken the faith of Christians (and others) to be.  On the contrary, adhering to a mental model that seems right  to you is pure sanity, absolute reason; doing anything else would be idiocy of the first degree.

Sharing Your Mental Model - The Right Thing to Do
It also follows that if you see someone standing outside a door, fumbling with a key, unable to figure out how to use it, that what else could you do but walk over, show, and explain the right mental model--the one that you've found is the most effective and least frustrating?  Would it be kind of you to just say "well, whatever that person believes is fine for them" and just leave them stuck and frustrated?  (I'd suggest not.)

So it is with those who share their faith, their mental model about life, the universe, and everything.  They think they've found the right mental model, the one that is most aligned with the ultimate human conceptual model, the one that if applied will provide the most peace, satisfaction, and happiness.  It is an act of kindness, an act of caring, indeed an act of love, to take the trouble to share such a mental model with others.  Correspondingly, it would be an act of meanness, selfishness, even perhaps of hatred, to not share it and try to help others to understand and use it.

So to those who think having faith is ignorant, blind adherence and loss of freedom, I'd suggest they reconsider.  Using the analogy illumined here, it seems clear that such faith is actually the opposite--it is wide-eyed, reasoned, experiential, and ultimately more radically free and more likely to provide lasting happiness (which is a goal I think any sane human being can agree upon, no?). 

Similarly, perhaps the most popular philosophical adage of our age--"what you believe is okay for you and what I believe is okay for me"--is not in actuality the most humane, reasoned, or livable approach.  On the contrary, it seems far more humane--even positively caring--to try to show each other why we think we have the right mental model.  It's something to consider, anyways.

Sunday, April 20, 2008 6:24:28 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
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