As a social scientist, I was trained to test models based on their internal and external validity. A good model would explain a significant portion of the variation within the sample data (i.e. have internal validity) AND have applicability beyond that sample (i.e. in the “real world” or on additional samples; this is external validity). Sound individual-level scientific processes (i.e. collecting unbiased samples etc.) are designed to do improve internal validity while the peer review system and norms of community replication are designed to test external validity. It is wonderful to clear the first hurdle by achieving meaningful results, but the real sense of accomplishment comes when the work is tested and accepted by the broader community, ideally through 1) publication in peer reviewed journals and 2) the publication of work by other scientists that confirm and expand the applicability of your model.
Now that I have lost most of you… the Life in Christ requires us to seek the same. As serious Orthodox Christians, we test whether our behavior and thoughts conform to the model we have developed (internal validity; “Hello Self, how am I doing in my walk along The Way?”) and then we seek the counsel of others for their evaluation (external validity; “Hello Fathers, how am I doing in my walk along The Way?”).
Unfortunately, our procedure of doing both is doomed by our own psychology.
We commit at least two sins in our individual method that would (or at least should… the scientific community has its own problems) ruin the career of any scientist: we AUTOMATICALLY AND INSTINCTIVELY “cherry pick” the data that shows how well we are tracking along “The Way” (unless we are part of that small minority that sins in the opposite way; the way of proving our absolute depravity) and we AUTOMATICALLY AND INSTINCTIVELY recode the data that is clearly away from the expected curve to move it back onto the curve (and this is only when we cannot simple dismiss these troublesome data as outliers). This is simply how our brains are wired by the The Fall; we work around it and even try to change it, but the real medicine can only come when we realize that it this temptation is real, that it is persistent, and that it is problematic. And it really is problematic because it means that our feelings, thoughts, and judgments about how well we are doing in our life in Christ (and in our service as priests) are flawed and unreliable. That doesn’t mean they are meaningless; introspection and self-evaluation are part of the Orthodox system for a good reason. But it does show the need for kenotic humility (to include a certain agnosticism or skepticism regarding our own motives etc.) and the need to seek regular external validation.
Unfortunately, we don’t do external validation well, either. As before, our fallen psychology leads us to seek confirmation of what and how we are doing rather than objectivity; we are wired to seek social status (and approval) rather than truth (another consequence of The Fall). This leads us to surround ourselves with people who will rubber stamp our justifications and to ignore and avoid those who do not (how often do we go to confessors who tell us things we do not want or expect to hear?). For many of us, this is complicated by personal histories that lead us to crave the approval of peers and father-figures.
Both of these problems (i.e. with regard to both internal and external validity) lead us into a state of prelest (spiritual delusion) that makes repentance and perfection all but impossible.
We all want to be true to Christ and serious in our commitment to service His Church. This requires that we take the processes of internal and external validation seriously, that we recognize our inherent flaws, and that we create systems that will protect us and our parishes from them.
Yours in Christ,