Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Greek Word for BS

I love my Homeschool Connections students, who are generally bright, creative and engaged with the material I'm teaching.

However, something disappointing occasionally happens when I ask for an essay from even the best of my students.  If I ask for a brief essay answer on a quiz, and ask for the student's reaction to what is most challenging or surprising or mysterious about the material we're reading, they frequently speak intelligently and from the heart.  But if I ask for an essay that's more formal, they gird up their loins, take a deep breath, and spew out BS.

Sometimes it's halfway decent BS.  Sometimes the essays are well structured and written without glaring errors in grammar or punctuation.  But the more formal the essay, the more I get the Party Line.  And the Party Line for Devout Catholic Homeschoolers goes something like this ...

What this course has taught me is the dangers of gay marriage and how we will all go astray unless we believe in God and how awful abortion is and what is this world coming to? and how people in the world are making huge mistakes and we will only be saved by being very careful and no wonder the world will end it's really awful.

Now, some of that is true.  But it's ... well, it's doxa.

What is doxa (δοχα)?  It's the Greek word for BS.

Gene Callahan writes ...

Plato made a very important distinction between philosophers and philodoxers. A philosopher is a lover of wisdom (σοφια). He tries to align his views with what is true. As such, the philosopher is always engaged in a search (ζετεσισ), since he realizes that he has views are never as true as they could be. We will see him continually updating and revising his views as he comes to see the truth more fully.
The philodoxer, on the hand, is a lover of appearances (δοχα). The philodoxer doesn't care about being good; the philodoxer cares about appearing good, in the opinion of others. The philodoxer doesn't care if his opinions are true; he cares about whether others will approve of his opinions.

And this is exactly what Harry G. Frankfurt says in his philosophical treatise "On Bullshit", describing, as carefully as possible, what "BS" is.  BS disregards truth and aims at impressing the hearer.  The BS-er is not concerned with what he says being true or not; he is only concerned with making the hearer think more highly of him.  A BS-ers claim is ...

... unconnected to a concern with the truth. Her statement is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality. ... She concocts it out of whole cloth; or, if she got it from someone else, she is repeating it quite mindlessly and without any regard for how things really are. 

I have a friend, a middle aged housewife, who overheard me talking about utopias.  "St. Thomas More's Utopia - that's on my reading list!  I can't wait to read it."

Now this is pure BS.  St. Thomas More's Utopia is not on anyone's reading list - unless they're taking a college course that requires them to read it.  And this person is the last person on earth who would actually desire to read that book.  But my friend wants to make a good impression on me and so she dumps some BS.

This friend of mine also nods in silent understanding if a baseball sportscaster makes a detailed analysis of a play on the radio.  If a sportscaster says, "His open stance compromises his ability to hit a breaking ball if the shift is on and if the pitcher has a good cut fastball to offer up."  She'll nod at this knowingly - as if she's in agreement - with something she doesn't even begin to comprehend.

Well, this is BS.  And so many people live their lives in BS mode.  There is no truth, there is only doxa, opinions about the surface of things.  Thus, many Catholics adopt the sub-culture because the sub-culture is the Faith, in their eyes.  What makes a good Catholic?  Devotions, novenas, daily Mass, Scott Hahn CDs, EWTN, prayer cards ... in short, the trappings, the mere indicia.  Now, there's nothing wrong with these things (especially daily Mass, which is a great blessing).  But they are all means to an end, not the end itself.

And yet philodoxers and BS-ers care about appearances and shibboleths more than the truth that they may (or may not) point to.  Thus I get the Party Line in formal essays.

But here's something that really is amazing, if you think about it.  We all BS, and we all trust in BS, as if BS could save us.  But, whether you're a Christian or an atheist, there's one thing you have to admit.

One man in history lived without any BS.  Even if you don't think He was the Word incarnate, you have to admit that.

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