Wednesday, February 9, 2011

American Aquarium Drinkers

It is in human nature that we are created to learn. We learn from everything. In every event, observation, experience, sight, and sound, we are continuously learning. We learn like we breathe. In the song I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, by Wilco, Jeff Tweedy begins by singing, “I am an American aquarium drinker” (Tweedy, 2000). Though it seems pretty obvious that this is at the least an allusion to alcoholism, if we take the phrase out of context (yes I know, this is one of the 7 undeadly sins) there is plenty of truth that we can glean from it. Fish breathe water, which is the stuff they swim in. They take everything from around them and suck it in. Similarly, everything around us teaches us something. We are, essentially, “American aquarium drinkers” in that everything, from “truth, justice, and the American way,” to the music that we listen to and the people with which we converse, teaches us something. With this in mind, what if all the people we talk to are like us? What if they are all self absorbed asses? Food for thought.

Soaking up, integrating, synthesizing, and storing up knowledge for our present and future good is as natural to us as breathing in air to our lungs. We can't help but do it. It is both a conscious, (i.e. studying for a test), and an unconscious (i.e. reading a billboard while driving) action of our minds. It is also one of our deepest needs. According to Miles Stanford, in his book The Green Letters, “Now it so happens that God’s basic ingredient for growth is need. Without personal needs, we would get nowhere in our Christian life. The reason our Father creates and allows needs in our lives is to turn us from all that is outside of Christ, centering us in Him alone. ‘Not I but Christ’” (Stanford, 1975). We, as humans, are like sponges with a need for soaking in from all that we touch. It is through this that we create, explore, and search for ultimate meaning and ultimately look for knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. Like a sponge, when squeezed, when pressed to action, thought, or deed, what comes out but that which we have breathed in, absorbed, and learned. Learning is not an option. With this in mind, it becomes clear how important what we learn is. Proverbs 1:5 says, Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (NIV). Deuteronomy 4:10 says, “Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, "Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children" (NIV). Still again, Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (NIV). We may not be able to filter out everything that we would or should, but we can decide on the knowledge on which we focus our learning.

In her notes on Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand makes the statement, “Second, man is a being with free will; therefore, each man is potentially good or evil, and it’s up to him and only to him (through his reasoning mind) to decide which he wants to is not (and cannot be) the primary concern of any other human being” (Rand, 1957). I would disagree with this on a number of levels. First off, while we agree that man has free will, we can also see that he cannot be either good or evil. Man is fallen and sinful. The proof of this lies in passages such as Ephesians 2:3, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (NIV), and Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (NIV). W see here that man is sinful and fallen as explained in Scripture. Christians will, probably, also disagree with her assertion that man is responsible for decisions only to himself. Like Father Zossima says in The Brothers Karamazov, "We are all responsible to all, for all." There are other parts of this statement that we could disagree with as well, but we will agree with the central meaning that each person has a choice. A person must decide, as Joshua said in the book of Joshua, “whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15 KJV). It is the nature of learning that we must make a choice to see the truth and when we see the truth to act on it. "There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys: they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked the sum out for themselves." (Kierkegaard, 1992)