A Failed Thesis Defense

Shortly after my thesis committee members congratulated me on a “successful” thesis defense, I realized that my thesis defense was not successful at all. In a previous post entitled “Dedication,” I realized that writing a thesis is a dangerous business for someone who is interested in seeking the Divine. It is dangerous precisely because there is so much opportunity for distraction from that central existential goal.

If seeking the Divine is what matters in life (and I think this entire blog attests to the fact that I think that is important), then I really did fail at defending my thesis. I failed to defend my thesis from be changed from a project that was dedicated to the least of these to an exercise in satisfying my philosophical insecurities about my work. I failed to seek the Divine at all during the day of the defense: for the past several days, I have been an atheist. I have not been asking, “where is God?” Instead, I have allowed myself to be consumed by the content of my concepts, which, in actuality, aren’t my concepts at all.

Who invented the concept? Who invented the brain that can contain the concept? Who is the One who makes rational discourse possible? How is it that my body came to exist in a way that would support my rational processes? Where did the very ground that I stand on come from? What was that primal force that led to the nascent of the universe? None of this was from me. Can I really claim authorship of my thesis? To use economic language, do really own the “means of production” that allowed me to produce my work. Nay, I am merely worker in a vineyard that does not belong to me. My very existence and ability is precarious. I am borrowing resources and land that are not mine.

Repentance is about “turning around.” I need to learn from this mistake, and I need to learn soon. I will be presenting another paper at an upcoming conference. I must be sure not to turn this presentation into a practice of pandering to the philosophical insecurities inside of me. This conference is an opportunity to see the divine in another way. It is an opportunity to experience and spread love to a different place.

Fortunately, this was not the first and last thesis I will defend. Hopefully, in graduate school (and at this upcoming conference) I can “bear fruit in keeping with [my] repentance.”

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