Discernment is the ability to perceive the animating spirit of a thing, which motivates either belief or behavior or both, and distinguish this spirit from minor influences which are merely associated with the thing or exacerbating it. This means the ability to notice the common elements in the details and use this to draw a conclusion about their common cause. It’s a spiritually endowed raw talent, but the user must become very worldly wise in order to use it in discerning worldly spirits, i.e. if I have no understanding of the female sex drive I will be unable to recognize its effects, and thus will be unable to recognize it as the motivating force in a woman’s belief or behavior. Similarly, distinguishing between heavenly and evil spirits requires spiritual wisdom, development, maturity, etc. A person with high-level discernment can take a cursory look at a complex subject filled with disinformation, confusion, and many little details, like the recent Florida shooting, spot the most important little detail instantly, and draw unusually accurate conclusions from the implications of that detail. Here is an example where I did this with no prior knowledge of the situation other than the original post and the type of gun reportedly used:
AR-15 suggests sketchy gun grabbers at work. There is fake news afoot.
Comment on Florida school shooting
Although I’m an untrained, feral user of this spiritual talent, I’d ballpark my ability at about one in a million, which is to say among the top 10,000 in a world of seven billion.
The most important prerequisite for discernment (which can be trained) is a pre-existing intuition built up from years mastering the art of noticing. To get better at it, you need to start keeping a notebook or some kind of journal which records some of the disconnected, fleeting insights that pop into your head. Things like “This girl reminds me of that other girl, something to do with her gait” or “Why do TTs all wear very nondescript clothing?” or “Boss at work is probably an objectivist – maybe ask him later – but why do I think this? I think it’s because he had a contemptuous look when he said ‘wage slaves’ yesterday, and it felt like that represented his character very well.” It will become something of an addiction after a while. I do about four pages of notes per day before I get tired, but you’ll probably start out just doing half a page per day with only three or four observations. Start carrying a little notepad in your back pocket or use a note-taking app on your phone to write down one or two-word “anchors” which you can expand in your proper journal later. As with all arts and skills, it’s best to get in a habit of writing down your observations at the same time every day.
This should not be a journal of philosophical abstractions, but rather more of a stream of consciousness exercise which opens up your eyes to the most pedestrian sort of pattern recognition about this strange world we inhabit.
I addressed the prayer teams, “In the spiritual areas of life, we immediately assume if we can’t do a spiritual activity correctly the first time, what we’re doing must not be of God. Hebrews 5:14 says practice is necessary. We’re to practice the use of our senses.” The goal of this practice is to train our five physical senses to distinguish between good and evil.
Evangelicals commonly teach discernment as an intellectual process of analysis and application of biblical principles leading to logical conclusions. The writer of Hebrews, it seems, flies directly in the face of that understanding. Discernment is described as a sensory rather than an intellectual process. How can this be?
Although some translations, including the NIV, render Hebrews 5:14 as train themselves, the Greek is most accurately translated as train (or exercise) their senses. The text refers specifically to the five physical senses of touch, hearing, smell, sight, and taste.
The writer of Hebrews is saying discernment operates through the physical senses. Discernment is tested with the mind by rightly applying Scripture. This insight completed the jigsaw puzzle of understanding for the prayer teams and me.
I catalogued their experiences, “Team members have had physical reactions to the presence of demons, angels, witchcraft, spiritual powers and authorities….They’ve smelled sulfur and rotting garbage…I have heard the Lord speak my name. I have worked with people who have heard the Lord speak audibly, angels sing, demons talk and laugh, and the sound of horses’ hooves thundering by.”
Training Your Senses: The Gift of Discernment
There are a couple of reasons this will train your latent talent for noticing into a proper skill, but the main one is that it will remind you to both practice *and reflect upon* the activity of consciously seeing reality for what it is, by attending to all of the little, everyday surprises that usually pass through your sensory processing without comment. The key is not to reduce the complexity of reality by explaining anything within a system, but just to put little pushpins in the corkboard of your memory where you went “huh”. As you practice, you will get better at aiming these pushpins more and more precisely at the little details that are surprising your brain when it tries to process objects and their behavior into existing categories. You will know you’re doing it right if you’re continually running a low level of surprise, always finding little things that make you go “huh”.
Mastery of noticing is in meta-patterns: noticing patterns in the patterns you’ve been collecting (write these down too). This will begin to happen on its own but I think it’s good to look forward to it.
There are a couple of tricks you can use in exercising the ability itself which will help. The most important is to recognize that beliefs can also be behaviors (in the sense of responding to a stimulus), and behaviors can also be expressions of belief. As an example of the former, I have noted in Generation Z a “free love” ideology inherited from public schooling which has absolutely no bearing on their real behavior. Asked if they like boys or girls, a Gen Z person will typically respond “I’m attracted to both boys and girls – and everything in between” while pursuing a relentlessly heterosexual dating life. This “belief” is nothing more than a trained response, like Pavlov’s dogs responding to the sound of a bell. As an example of a behavior which is also an expression of belief, consider the phenomenon of Silicon Valley CEOs dressing in conspicuously casual clothing. This behavior is the expression of iconoclasm, i.e. the belief that appearances are unimportant and distracting at best and deceitful at worst. Because the discerning man is a ruthless empiricist, he ought to inquire into this attitude to determine whether the belief is conscious or held at a deeper level, being merely a manifestation of an iconoclasm-inclined personality,
The second trick is more of a technique, which comes from Jordan Peterson’s 11th rule for life: Don’t bother children while they are skateboarding.
…In [the] book’s second half, however, Orwell turned his gaze to a different problem: the comparative unpopularity of socialism in the UK at the time, despite the clear and painful inequity observable everywhere. He concluded that the tweed-wearing, armchair-philosophizing, victim identifying, pity-and-contempt-dispensing social-reformer types frequently did not like the poor, as they claimed. Instead, they just hated the rich. They disguised their resentment and jealousy with piety, sanctimony and self-righteousness. Things in the unconscious—or on the social justice–dispensing leftist front—haven’t changed much, today. It is because of of Freud, Jung, Nietzsche—and Orwell—that I always wonder, “What, then, do you stand against?” whenever I hear someone say, too loudly, “I stand for this!” The question seems particularly relevant if the same someone is complaining, criticizing, or trying to change someone else’s behaviour.
I believe it was Jung who developed the most surgically wicked of psychoanalytic dicta: if you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences—and infer the motivation. This is a psychological scalpel. It’s not always a suitable instrument. It can cut too deeply, or in the wrong places. It is, perhaps, a last-resort option. Nonetheless, there are times when its application proves enlightening.
If the consequences of placing skatestoppers on plant-boxes and sculpture bases, for example, is unhappy adolescent males and brutalist aesthetic disregard of beauty then, perhaps, that was the aim. When someone claims to be acting from the highest principles, for the good of others, there is no reason to assume that the person’s motives are genuine. People motivated to make things better usually aren’t concerned with changing other people—or, if they are, they take responsibility for making the same changes to themselves (and first). Beneath the production of rules stopping the skateboarders from doing highly skilled, courageous and dangerous things I see the operation of an insidious and profoundly anti-human spirit.
12 Rules for Life
If it helps to motivate you, girls find this ability very attractive when it’s used for cold reading ;-).