A Journey of Introspection: Morality, LODs, and Connecting with God

I've come to realize recently that I have a blockage in relating to Jesus/God. This has to do with some fundamental concepts of understanding, and I want to dig into them. I figured writing would be a good way of doing this, and further, that I'd like to share that writing. As this will be a record of introspection, expect this article to be very stream-of-consciousness in nature. I am planning to do some minor editing for things like grammar and clarity, but overall? I'm expecting this to be a lot like reading my thoughts—because that's what it will be!

The blockage has to do with feeling like a lot of the ways I was taught/shown for relating to God are Boros, while I'm Sultai.

These terms come from a game, Magic: The Gathering, and thus may not be known to a lot of you. Therefore, I'm going to write up a primer of what these terms mean. For those familiar with them, feel free to skip that primer (it'll be in the section immediately below with a title I haven't thought of just yet, but a nice big heading in orange, so it should hopefully be identifiable). If you want a refresher or to understand what I'm talking about when it comes to color-pie philosophy, then it would be a good idea to read it.

Before I get there, it's important to me to establish something. What I'm talking about (as I just said in the last paragraph) has to do with color-pie philosophy. This is a way of understanding the nature of things in a way—of how people/groups operate: what their goals are and how they go about achieving them, of how they perceive the world, and so forth. The color pie itself consists of five colors: White, Blue, Black, Red, and Green. I'll be referring to those colors throughout this article. Unfortunately, two of those colors are often associated with race, particularly so when used to describe abstract concepts. I will not be using White, Black, or any other color to describe race or race-related things in this article. I'm stating this up front because I want to be abundantly clear on this point.

Color Pie Philosophy (from Magic: The Gathering)

The color pie consists of five colors: White, Blue, Black, Red, and Green. These colors are often put into groups, which Wizards of the Coast (who make Magic) have given names to over the years. As these names are associated with fictional organizations within the game itself, they are rather fantasy-sounding and setting-specific in nature, but they are useful shorthand, so the playerbase has adopted them as general terms for various combinations. For the sake of completeness, here they are:

Two Color Pairs

  • Azorius: White + Blue
  • Dimir: Blue + Black
  • Rakdos: Black + Red
  • Gruul: Red + Green
  • Selesnya: Green + White
  • Orzhov: White + Black
  • Golgari: Black + Green
  • Simic: Green + Blue
  • Izzet: Blue + Red
  • Boros: Red + White

Three Color Trios

  • Bant: White + Blue + Green
  • Esper: White + Blue + Black
  • Naya: White + Green + Red
  • Grixis: Blue + Black + Red
  • Jund: Black + Red + Green
  • Jeskai: Red + White + Blue
  • Sultai: Black + Blue + Green
  • Mardu: Black + White + Red
  • Abzan: Black + White + Green
  • Temur: Red + Green + Blue

I've presented all of these names for reference and completeness's sake only. I don't expect to refer to all of them, as most of my focus will be on Sultai (Blue + Black + Green) and Boros (Red + White), as previously indicated.

Each color has a way of viewing the world, of goals to pursue, and methods of pursuing them. The combinations of colors then have to resolve the tension inherent in them that derive from conflicts in those worldviews, goals, and methodologies. Also, each color tends to get along more easily with two of the other colors and less easily with the other two. This is normally presented in a wheel, but if you line them up in the White, Blue, Black, Red, Green, White order, then the colors next them them are the ones they tend to get along better with or have natural affinity for, while the other colors they tend to have more inherent conflict with. For example, White tends to get along better with Blue and Green than it does with Black and Red, primarily owing to how their goals align.

I'll briefly go over each color below, but if you want a deep dive, you can clink on the link in each section to be taken to a lengthier article written by Mark Rosewater on each of them. Note that there are positives and negatives to each color. They also describe a way of viewing the world and interpreting reality; as such, I find them extremely useful for understanding motivations and courses of action—that is, why someone would do something or behave in a certain way.

White

White wants peace, and the means it uses to accomplish this are civil and moral laws. White is associated with religion, morality, society, law and order, conformity, and tradition.

Blue

Blue seeks perfection. It sees the acquisition of information and knowledge as the way to attain that perfection. Blue is associated with knowledge, education, planning, manipulation, questioning, and cunning.

Black

Black wants power, and is willing to do whatever it takes to acquire that power. Black is associated with amorality (not to be confused with immorality), selfishness, ambition, manipulation, and a willingness to sacrifice anything to advance its goals (be it itself or others—note that sacrifices that don't advance its goals aren't considered worthwhile).

Red

Red wants freedom. It takes action to achieve this, and follows its heart (that is, is guided by its emotions). Red is associated with emotion (love, anger, hate, and so forth), impulse, and recklessness.

Green

Green wants acceptance and for people to accept what is. To try and achieve this, Green will often attempt to remove distractions from reality. Green is associated with nature, wisdom, and predestination.

So what does this mean for me and relating to God?

I said at the start of this piece that I'm Sultai (Blue, Black, and Green, for reference), while I feel like a lot of the ways I've been taught to relate to God are Boros (White and Red), the two colors I'm not. The Red part is pretty straightforward, in that it has to do with singing. At least, that's why I'm including it here.

The thing is, I don't generally like singing in church. I either find myself trying too much to be...let's go with "impressive"...to those around me, or something about the song takes me out of it. Perhaps I don't feel like a lyric is accurate to me, in which case singing it would be dishonest. Maybe something about the song feels like incorrect theology. I even find grammatical things will take me out of songs (How Great Is Our God, I'm looking at you and your chorus).

The thing is, I have a poor understanding of my emotions. It's something I'm trying to get better at (that Blue seeking of knowledge thing), for whatever that's worth, but nevertheless, it is rare that I feel anything when it comes to a Christian song. (As an aside, I hate calling the singing portion of a service "worship" because worship is supposed to be a way of life. Many of the songs are for the purpose of praise, though, so I'm OK with calling them praise songs. Not all of them are for this purpose, though—some are for instruction, as an example.) There are some Christian songs I like, but going into it further feels like a tangent, so to pull us back to the main point, I don't generally feel like I relate to God much through songs and singing. Some, to be sure, but not much, and typically not in church.

This brings us to the more major component: White.

I have a very hard time with a lot of White's stuff, for many reasons that I want to get into. I'll try to think up some topics and an order so I can approximate some sort of formal essay structure here to hopefully organize my thoughts and make them more followable, and so that I don't end up with the essay equivalent of spaghetti code [Editor's Note: It turns out, I just ended up with spaghetti code]. Ahem. It seems to me, the major areas of trouble are around morality, the concept of society...actually, as I think about it, maybe it's just morality? Like, the concept of society bit is totally a thing, but I'm not sure it's a thing for the purposes of this article. Maybe in a follow-up one, though?

Let's assume it just has to do with morality, and perhaps God will reveal more to me as I go. That seems reasonable.

OK, going with that, if you recall back to when I gave the brief overview of colors, that morality is the purview of White, particularly as it gets expressed in the sense of laws. As I've introspected, I've realized that I do have a sense of morality, but it isn't law-based. It's reason-based.

That's going to need a lot of unpacking. Basically, to me, right and wrong aren't concepts I intrinsically understand. Rather, my sense of morality is more aligned to the concept of benefit. This feels a bit hard to explain, because there are a lot of prerequisites. Also, my Blue side views the sharing of information as valuable and useful, so I tend to overexplain and be verbose as a result, so please bear with me.

I perceive the perfect state of existence to be one where the community works to maximize the individual, by which I mean everyone is trying to maximize the individuality of everyone else. This is sort of hard to figure out how to express, because it's very counterintuitive. So, on an individual level, each person isn't trying to maximize their own individuality (self-expression being a key part of this). Rather, they are trying to create space for others to most be themselves. However, because literally everyone is doing this to and for everyone else, any given individual's individuality is being maximized by the group. This is an inherently fragile structure, of course, because it's inherently selfless, and it easily breaks if selfishness is introduced. I sincerely hope I've been able to express this in a way that makes sense. Like, it makes sense to me, I just feel like the words I've typed here are likely to be confusing. [Editor's Note: I think they're maybe less confusing than I felt they were after I first wrote them, but what I'm discussing here is very contrary to how things work, as most people find themselves having to fight to be themselves, rather than having others intentionally creating space for it.]

Anyway, because that's what I view as perfection (and what I envision Heaven—or more technically, the society in the New Jerusalem after everything has been made new following the final condemnation of Satan and death—to be like), then I make moral judgments based upon whether or not it feels like whatever I'm judging moves life (in a broad, general sense) closer to or further away from that state.

This feels to me like it has little to do with traditional, White-style moral framings. I'm glad to have written all of this down, by the way, as it has helped clarify my thoughts a good deal. Anyway, this means that when I'm evaluating something in a moral sense, what I'm really asking myself is how it affects individuals in a collective way and how it impacts individual expression. At least, I think, that's what I'm doing?

Look, my point is that I don't take moral laws (or any laws, really) as a thing, in-and-of-themselves. I need to understand their purpose, the benefit they are supposed to convey. I have a hard time with anything that feels arbitrary or like it is no longer applicable. For example, I understand why speed limits exist: to keep people safe. They do this in various ways. One is that by lowering speeds, the consequences of a collision are also reduced. Another is that lower speeds give more time to react, which is why drivers are advised to drive more slowly at night or in the rain. The exact number given for a speed limit is arbitrary, but the purpose is clear and makes sense to me.

On the other hand, many indecent exposure laws feel like nonsense to me, existing out of tradition and precedent (a fancy way of saying, "because that's how it's always been done"), not logical sense. They feel like they cut off individual expression to no or minimal benefit. (To be clear, I'm not talking about all indecent exposure laws here, but being more thorough would require doing research I'm not interested in doing at this time.)

It turns out, morality plays a big role when it comes to relating to both my fellow Christians and to God, so this extremely different way I view morality has caused me a lot of internal conflict with trying to figure out how to do that relating. To be clear, when I read the Old Testament, I see God's commands as generally having a lot of sense behind them. Some I don't get as much (things like the two-cloths bit, for example) that I attribute to cultural or technological differences.

But overall, this different way of perceiving morality is one that makes it hard to discuss things that have to do with morality with others, which I think in turn impacts my ability to connect with God.

I'm confident that this is also why I've long struggled to understand holiness. It wasn't until more recently that I realized that holiness is a concept similar to beauty, in that it is an attribute we assign to something that changes how we behave towards it. We treat things we view as holy with a special reverence and care.

Anyway, now that I've organized and made explicit these thoughts, I'm not yet quite sure what to do with them.

A Bit Later...

I've come back to writing this after taking a break, which gave me some time to think more and process what this introspection has already uncovered. As I've done so, I've realized that this different way of understanding morality means that I feel like I kind of have to guess what White morality is and how people will apply it, since I don't intuitively understand it. Due to my inherent people-pleaser personality (which I wrote about recently and suspect is rooted in the Black part of my personality), I then find myself reacting to this uncertainty about morality with fear and anxiety.

Because people talk about God in a White moral way, I think this anxiety then transfers to God. I suspect this is why I struggle so much with picturing God in a sort of djinn or monkey's-paw way—where He can grant you what you wish, but is always trying to screw you over somehow. To be clear, I don't intellectually believe this to be true, but I've struggled with my heart fearing it might be. As I process this, I suspect this morality disconnect is at the heart of it—I intrinsically feel like I can't navigate what I've been taught God's morality is like because that isn't how morality works for me conceptually. I suspect there's a lot here that is related to how people with some forms of autism may feel regarding social interactions.

Anyway, I can see this moral issue being a key component of this feeling of disconnect. If White-style morality is such an important part of God (as I've been taught it is), how can I relate to Him when I don't understand White-style morality? I suppose I've now found myself with a new conundrum to think through, but this is decidedly progress, and for that I'm thankful.

As I pray and think about this, God informs me that He is so much more than just White-style morality. That morality is a component, but I think I have a tendency to forget just how big God is. Our minds are constantly doing the equivalent of level-of-detail reductions (look, I'm a game designer and video game nerd, so this is immediately what I think of; level-of-detail is a concept that has to do with having lower detailed assets that you use when things are far away to save on system resources and improve performance). Like a computer or game console, our brains can only handle so much detail at once, so we create good-enough abstractions for things all the time. This allows us to handle more things, but with some inherent inaccuracy and imprecision as a result of using simplified models. This is often quite serviceable, but can run into problems, such as when creating art, as the simplified models of things—like, say, a tree—lack the detail necessary to draw them realistically. That's why references are so important when creating art, and why learning to actually see the reference (rather than the abstract model) is so critical.

Anyway, I think I have a tendency to do a level-of-detail reduction on God. This makes sense as a thing my brain would do. The problem I suspect I have is that the lower-detailed God-model in my brain is badly inaccurate and in need of updating. Not that God can really be reduced, but nothing truly can without losing something. But my brain will do that naturally, so the question then becomes how do I update this lower detailed mental model of God? It's one that was most likely created during childhood (which is when many of our mental models are created). So, how do I update something that ingrained? I pray God helps, because I'm gonna need it!

After time to reflect further...

As I've continued thinking about this morality thing, and the disconnect I feel with White-style morality, I've come to realize that I think one of the biggest areas of contrast I experience has to do with sex and sexuality. This is because a lot of moral concepts surrounding these things feel rather arbitrary to me. Often, it feels like they run counter to what I mentioned above of how I orient my morality: does this thing (typically an action—more on this in a moment) promote the maximization of individuality in a community setting?

Some rules regarding these things make sense to me. For example, I can perceive the commonly-held wrong in incest being derived from genetic harm to potential offspring. Adultery being the violation of a commitment is also clearly wrong to me. Further, violation of consent or other coercive behavior also runs extremely counter to the maximization of an individual, whether in a sexual context or any other, such as with labor exploitation.

However, other things I don't get, such as the squeamishness people have over age differences. If consent isn't violated, then what's the issue? (This gets kind of messy, but individuals are messy because we're all different.)

I think some of this ties into both the Green and Blue in me. In particular, the fascination I have with sex from a design standpoint. God created a really cool system! The way things can develop differently from the same origin points leading to parallels in the structures of the reproductive organs, the mechanics of sex, and how the organs themselves work. I also think they're aesthetically beautiful. However, these views make me feel like I'd be judged by the White morality of Christian culture. Thanks to the bad level-of-detail model of God, that judgment sense transfers, even though I believe that God is pleased by my appreciation of His design prowess and artistry.

This in turn leads into an effect where I assume condemnation and judgment regarding sexuality and sexual things, even if it isn't there. As I feel like a very sexual being (neverminding the fact that I've never been in a sexual relationship), I do feel that pall hanging over me.

What I'm realizing from all of this is that my perception of Christians does have a strong impact on my understanding of God. At the very least, it has shaped my level-of-detail model of God, and likely instilled a certain amount of suspicion.

Some Additional Thoughts About Sex & Sexuality...

I think it's worth exploring the sex and sexuality stuff a bit further. Because I don't intuitively understand White-style morality, I have to find my cues and clues for how it works from how society and culture present it. And, at least in the United States of America where I live, they do not present sex and sexuality in a positive way.

In US culture, sexual things are associated with sin and are considered inherently guilty. We can see this with slang: sexy things are "naughty" and depictions of sex or sexy things are "dirty." This language use matters, because it creates associations in the mind, linking sex, sexiness, and sexuality to naughtiness and moral "dirtiness"—that is, immorality.

I think this linkage is a key part of why I feel like society at large, and American Christian culture in particular, view sex and being a sexual person as immoral. So how can I, someone who is fascinated by sexuality, admires the design of sex, and thinks the naked body is beautiful, be pure? But then I have to remember that God made all of those things. Did He not call them good in the garden of Eden, in the time before sin?

Some Concluding Thoughts

The process of writing this article has been an extremely valuable exercise for me. It's helped me understand several important things better, with the way morality works for me being the most significant—it explains a lot of things about me.

My final conclusion is that the disconnect I've been feeling when it comes to relating to God has to do with this disconnect in morality between how I process it and how the Christian church presents it, combined with the level-of-detail model my brain has inevitably built for God. This is particularly centered around sexuality because I find a lot of the White-style morality around sexuality unintuitive and therefore intimidating and fear inducing. In short, I feel too sexual for the church, and that translates into feeling too sexual for God.

I'm not quite sure what to do with these revelations just yet, but I'm thankful to God for them, because I know they'll prove useful to me. I hope the journey has been of benefit to you, too, in some way!

Thank you for reading.

Comments

  1. I had some struggles with reading this article because I don't fully understand the color associations that you know well from Magic.
    I believe that God made love making to be very important in people's lives-both physically and emotionally. He gave us the ability to touch and feel being touched which is pleasurable. Tight hugs which can feel reassuring. Eyes that can see attractive elements of our bodies and see the sparkle in each other's eyes. I love seeing nice muscles. He created love making so that our bodies are united as one flesh. He uses that idea to symbolize the church and God relationship. He gave us the ability to orgasm- a feeling not found anywhere else in the body. I do think His plan was 1 man and women. Therefore, pornography or our society's encouraging premarital sex is not ideal as the memories of those encounters will stay with one and taint a future commitment. I don't see anything wrong with your thoughts

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