One Year of Applied Divinity Studies

When I first started writing, I had no intention of making any of it public. I read internet blogs, and sometimes penned emails in response. Scattered thoughts never meant to see light.

Eventually, this put me in contact with Alexey Guzey, who urged me to work in public. He personally reviewed every post for the first several weeks, leaving detailed comments, vetoing drafts, and helping to craft the style and format my writing has since matured into.

Those of you who have followed my blog for this last year know that I remain reluctant. I am often, in a melodramatic and self-pitying way, threatening to quit and leave it all behind.

In one of my first posts, I mourned the the coming death of the blogosphere I so deeply loved, “lamenting”, I wrote, “the last days of a community.” I have been overjoyed this last year to learn, time and again, just how wrong I was. There are more good blogs now, than perhaps there ever have been in the history of humankind. That is a poor proxy for some forms of progress, but it is a robust demonstration of the growing community of people who have chosen to think critically, express the thoughts important to them, and subject those thoughts to debate in the public forum.

Of course, once public, the comments are often found to be lacking in quality. It is often clear that respondents have not actually read the piece, but merely seen the title, skimmed a couple paragraphs and seen the opportunity to share a tangentially related opinion they already held.

On the other hand, the emails I now receive are the single greatest joy of having a public presence. I am blessed to read, on a regular basis, thoughtful correspondence from readers who not only read my blog, but often know far more than me on the topic at hand, and are eager to point me down new and exciting roads. Overwhelmingly, these emails are not merely polite, they are friendly and warm.

I sometimes imagine what a good life would look like if I were much wealthier. Though I share the now trendy distaste for formal academia, I like to imagine a future where I fund my own personal intellectual circle. I could have researchers on a variety of topics engaged to write on the latest developments in their respective fields, share their own insights, and occasionally answer whatever questions I might be able to formulate. This would be more than an aristocrat’s intellectual harem, it would be a genuine community of interlocking minds and co-evolving perspectives. A kind of utopia for strange and novel ideas to blossom, compete, and flourish.

The joke, of course, is that this already describes my life fairly well. And I don’t have to spend a cent. There is already a community, already researchers, writers, and analysts available to contact and eager to engage in discussion, and already I get to be a part of it. Not merely as a patron or external observer, but as a participant in my own right, active in the middle of it all.

It is difficult to imagine a more fulfilling or humbling existence.

That’s not to say I’m perennially content or in a state of bliss. To the contrary, I am often frustrated. But it is a frustration not with my helplessness or pain or loneliness, but merely with my inability to think and write as well as I feel I need to. Not for an external purpose, but for my own desire to express the half-formed impressions floating around in my mind. If that is the cost of striving continuously to improve without falling into complacency, then it is a price well worth paying.

When I am at my best, writing without hesitation or fear, writing as I am now at 3am unable to sleep and unwilling to try, the words simply spill out. It is as if there is an autocomplete so sophisticated as to predict not only the ends of words or sentences, but the progression of thought itself. It is simply a matter of considering what kind of idea could even be satisfying, and then evaluating post hoc if it is actually the correct one.

That might sound crazy, but it is far saner than the madness of pure deductive logic. A computer can trivially, given a set of axioms and rules for operating on them, generate any number of true but useless statements.

As best as I can self-reflect and then describe, my writing is largely the product of emulation at a high level of abstraction. Rather than mimic specific ideas, beliefs, or values, I am painting a pastiche of the entire shape of an argument. Drawing from my years spent as a reader, observing and learning from the people I admire, and in some instances, am now fortunate enough to consider my peers.

I am particularly indebted to Tyler Cowen and Agnes Callard who were among the first to recommend my blog, and most of all, Alexey Guzey for instigating this project to begin with.

Their writing is a part of mine now. I hope that one day yours will be too.