An insightful exploration.
Three Kinds of Discernment
This post identifies and discusses three types of discernment, Spiritual Discernment, Cognitive Discernment, and Social/Emotional Discernment. To make the discussion easier, I’ll adopt a nomenclature of SD, CD, and ED, respectively.
“…when we talk about discernment, are you talking about the spiritual gift of discernment (which is “discerning spirits”; the gift of special and deep understanding what is of God and what is not, “rightly dividing the word of Truth”)? [SD]
Or are you talking about natural, cognitive discernment (the ability to look past what appears to be so and getting to what actually is; critical thinking; inductive and deductive reasoning)?” [CD]
Novaseeker describes a third variety of discernment — being able to sense the socio-sexual interest and intent of others, and being able to detect and read IOI’s. Novaseeker describes this as such.
“I was using [the word discernment] in terms of discerning women’s behaviors and IOIs and so on — not in a spiritual sense at all. Many men struggle in “reading” women, because they lack social discernment in general, and in particular when it comes to women — like discerning when a woman is showing interest in you or not. That’s what I was talking about, not spiritual discernment a la the NT.” [ED]
I think this last kind of discernment also includes (1) an ability to connect with others on an emotional, heart-felt level, and (2) Theory of Mind, something which Autistic individuals are incapable of experiencing.
In the post containing these comments, I was referring to SD and ED, believing these to be the same. But upon further consideration, I find that they are not. They only appear to be the same to me personally.
I want to go into further detail regarding CD because it is much more than simply the ability to identify logical truth from error. It also affects one’s decision making (i.e. “free will”) and moral agency.
Over at the Orthosphere, Richard Cocks writes about the role of Agency and the Criminal Justice System (2020 September 17). Here, he philosophically describes agency.
“An agent is the locus of decision-making. If [causal] determinism is true, and there is no free will, then no person is “deciding” anything. Agency would be an illusion.”
I’ll interrupt Richard to offer some definitions to the reader.
Determinism: The theory that everything that happens must happen as it does and could not have happened any other way.
If a person believes that determinism is true, then this person could be described as fatalistic.
Fatalism: The belief that people cannot change the way events will happen and that events, especially bad ones, cannot be avoided.
“Without agency, we are in no position to assess truth or falsity. You are forced by mechanical means [viz. causal determinism] to whatever you think, not by reasons. If he happens to think [any proposition to be] true, that is of no significance whatsoever. If determinism is true, which it could logically be, then further discussion is otiose. There is no person/agent discussing anything; just a stalk of grass blowing in the wind.”
Richard Cocks goes on to say that having agency is (at least) one trait that makes one truly human. I’ll add that this particular trait is also the one that opens the door to (1) true authentic obedience to the Holy Spirit, (2) the potential pursuance of sin, and/or (3) repentance.
With these things in mind, it is evident that having cognitive discernment is mutually codependent on having a sense of agency. This means that one is able to recognize that there exist at least two different paradigms of consciousness that delineate a single state of being, and that one is able to change one’s own cognitive process from one paradigm to the other, based on one’s convictions, principle, or purpose. As a consequence, one is able to discern a moral choice, make decisions accordingly, and therefore exercise agency. This idea is the backbone of the argument for free will. Conversely, an agent is one who is aware of the choices, makes an informed decision, and takes a responsible action. This logical proof merely rephrases what Richard described, but I will add that agency is a mark of maturity. For example, children and solipsistic individuals lack agency. Of note, in a previous post, The Evils of Solipsism (2019 November 19), we identified that solipsism equals sin.
Going further, if one chooses to embrace any cognitive paradigm that is at odds with God’s covenant order, then this is sin by definition. Clinging to such a paradigm, even without being aware that it is sin, is being/living under a curse by definition (e.g. a generational curse). Some curses can be elusive to the conscious mind’s understanding, which makes them difficult to sift out and purge.
One primary way that this perdition happens is when one becomes obsessed with the things of a fleshly nature (e.g. money, power, social status, desires, sensual passions, fears, et al.), and these cognitive preoccupations preclude (or exclude) any awareness of one’s agency and any perception of spiritual truths.
Of note, the mental framework that supports sexual sin is one such curse which is difficult to uproot, partly because it is reinforced by one’s culture, lifestyle, social group, and anatomical physiology.
In 1st John 5:16-18, St. John makes a distinction between “sin which does not lead to death”, and “sin which leads to death”. [Sidenote: Bible Gateway has an interesting discussion of this.] Within the present discussion of CD, it is conceivable that that “sin which leads to death” is an unholy cognitive paradigm that causes one to become deprived of both CD and agency (as described above), and therefore become “locked into” this mode. This is what it means to be “in bondage to sin” — a state from which one can only escape through repentance and exercising a heart-led faith in Jesus Christ. The miraculous restoration of agency and CD is an integral part of redemption, and is commonly called “freedom in Christ” or “spiritual liberty” within Christian doctrine. This freedom may also bring about the enhancement of one’s SD and ED.
My Own Experiences with Discernment
With respect to CD, if I put some time and effort into studying a matter and praying about it, then I can eventually figure out how things work. This includes the physical world, including difficult engineering problems, and also things of a spiritual nature, such as philosophy of belief. This approach does nothing for my social life, however, but my SD and ED take up most of the slack. With people, there’s always an element of unpredictability and a bit of the unknown. In my opinion, God is much more “predictable” than people are. (Perhaps “reliable” is a more reverent word to describe God.)
I think the Cognitive brand of discernment depends on one’s IQ and cognitive ability in general. This may also explain why intelligent individuals often have greater difficulty in sorting out their spiritual needs and the substance of their faith, while less intellectually gifted people have been known to “find God” while sitting at a bar in a state of inebriation.
In my personal experience, SD and ED seem to be concomitant. That is, as my ability to discern between what is of God and that which is evil grows, so too does my ability to connect with others at an emotional level, to sense “vibes” from others (especially women), and to detect IOI’s. This is why I naively fused the two in previous posts. But I am getting the impression that for many others, “getting closer to God” does not permeate one’s social and intersexual relations.
For me, CD seems to be unrelated to either SD or ED. I have a couple theories about this.
- They are somehow related, but not directly, at least not enough for me to notice any kind of cause-and-effect interaction.
- They are not related, but are influenced by the Holy Spirit.
I really need more real world data based on others’ experiences with discernment to refine these theories any further.
I hope that this examination of discernment has been enjoyable and insightful to the reader, and not just an exercise in navel-gazing sophistry. Most of what I’ve described here is my attempt to condense deep mystical concepts into words, which might appear speculative to some, or prophetic, if you will, to others, so I’m open to feedback and reproof.
I’m wondering if other men might have a different experience with discernment, and whether my own experience might be a peculiar case. I would like to get some feedback on this phenomenon, either qualitative or quantitative, so if you would, please leave a comment to describe your own experiences with different kinds of discernment. I am sure other readers would be interested in exploring these personal differences as well.
- Σ Frame: On the discernment and wisdom of true morality (2019 February 2)