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Posts from the ‘Truth’ Category

The Egg

earth_egg

I just read a very short story by a guy named Andy Weir. You should read it too. It’ll just take a sec.

http://www.galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html

I have trouble really getting on board these days with any explanation of reality that comes in a story type of package like this one, but a physical/biological translation of it I can definitely relate to.

We give rise to ourselves. Along with physical traits, build, etc, we inherit emotional tendencies and patterns of thought from our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, and the first living beings that ever were. We are all just different combinations of the same genes, the same chemicals. And different types of atoms are, again, just different combos of even smaller particles. And they all just keep getting shuffled around to change the manifestation of things. But nothing is really changed at the bottom of it all. Nothing is created or destroyed (at least as far as we can tell right now). We ARE all one big Thing, really.

Which is just weird.

And it’s even more weird that all this changing and shuffling matters at all.

But it does. For some reason it matters so much to us. For some reason this stuff that everything is made of has developed self-awareneess. And feels things about itself, and has wants and hopes and fears and questions.

Weird, weird, weird.

I love thinking about this. It kinda freaks me out, but also gives me this shot of adrenaline or something. Like a good-scary movie.

The thought that we are all one, and that every change in my life that I perceive as good or bad is really just a million little shufflings of the universe, makes life more handle-able. It doesn’t make those perceptions less real or emotional, but it makes them all okay. And it makes people more lovable to me, and my own shortcomings more forgivable. It makes fashion and money and love and lust and adventure and accomplishment more of a fun game to be enjoyed, and less of a do-or-die. It makes life more real but somehow less serious.

And as my dear friend (who found this story and thought to share it with me) has somehow known innately since he was probably about six and a half, life should never be taken too seriously.

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Don’t Be A Fundie, Be A Kid

I used to be a Christian fundamentalist. I used to believe that The Bible was the inerrant word of God; that it was the clear, explicit, absolute, ultimate Truth, never to be questioned; that those who believed otherwise were either ignorant or intentionally turning a blind eye.

At least, I thought that’s what I believed.

When I had my “quarter-life crisis” and started really desperately searching for Meaning and Purpose and Answers, and started really studying the Bible in depth for the first time, I realized that I had been basing my life on one interpretation of the Bible that existed among thousands, one that was selected for me by the chances of birth and education.

That realization was partly what forced me to open my mind and consider that I could have it wrong; that somewhere out there among the billions of other people who believed billions of other things, there could be someone who had it more right.

I consider that dawning to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I was home for Easter a couple of weekends ago. I spent time with my parents and brother, sharing meals and goodnight hugs, talking in depth on topics that are too touchy for over-the-phone conversations, attending Sunday service with them at my old church.

And I had a horrible wake-up call: I realized I was in danger of becoming a fundamentalist all over again. Not as a Christian, this time, but as an atheist.

When I was young, the certainty with which I held my Christian beliefs was perpetuated by the homogeneity of my social circle. I was never forced into close contact with anyone who thought much differently than I. Everyone I knew and trusted supported me in my perspective. We all believed the same thing. We all talked in the same terms. Our beliefs were affirmed and reinforced daily as we continued to talk mostly with each other.

My world now is much less homogeneous. I live in the middle of a large and ethnically diverse city. I come in contact daily with people from many different backgrounds and persuasions. I have friends who are gay, friends who are Evangelical, Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist; friends who are older, younger, single, married.

You’d think this would keep me pretty open-minded.

But here is the problem. Deep down, I want to be affirmed. I want to be right. And so I gravitate toward those friends who make me feel that I am. They are the ones I am most honest with, most vulnerable with. They are the ones I spend the most time with, the ones I really let into my heart and mind.

And that is not good.

Because it isn’t until you really let someone in, really learn to love them, that you can really understand them. And without understanding, it is far too easy to let our tribal nature take over and turn the Different into Evil. We need understanding. We may not always agree with a person, but we do need to try to see where he/she is coming from.

Being at home with my family and old friends, I remembered again how the world looks from their perspective. And I remembered that, just as my beliefs are the product of the chance encounters and experiences life has brought my way completely apart from my own volition, so are theirs.

I have a good Christian friend who went away to grad school and fell in love with a “flaming liberal.” It totally took her by surprise. And it was really a shock for him too, to find himself in a relationship with her. We he left his hometown for the school (which happened to be in the South), his friends teased him about falling for a “fundie,” which is pretty much what she was at the time.

Oh Life, you are so ironic.

Though the relationship didn’t last, and involved the hurts and complications that many relationships do, I think it was good for both of them – to come face to face with “The Enemy” and realize that underneath the unfamiliar style and mannerisms and terminology, they really both wanted the same things: to be happy and healthy, for the world to be happy and healthy, to be forgiven for their shortcomings and loved unconditionally.

I wish every person could learn to love someone different; someone they might once have thought unlovable. I think it would make the world a much better place.

In closing this post, I need to say two things:

First, to Christians or theists reading this blog, I apologize if I have ever made you feel belittled or stereotyped. I may not agree with you about some things, but I understand why you hold the convictions you do, and that just like me you think what you think and you do what you because you believe earnestly that it the most best/right thing to think and do.

Second, to Christians and atheists and people of all creeds and colors, let’s not be “fundies.” Let’s not pridefully and unbendingly assume that we have it all figured out and the rest of the world are idiots. Let’s honestly and humbly engage in conversation and try to understand each other.

Let’s try to remember that we are all on the same team. We are all part of one tribe. If there is an enemy to be fought, it is the tragic need we have to protect our own egos and cling stubbornly to absolutes that bring us a false sense of security.

We’ve got to let go of that. We’ve got to be free.

In Matthew 18, Jesus urges his audience to “become as little children.” No matter what you believe about the Bible and it’s origins or the identity of Jesus Christ, that is good advice.

Because the thing about children is that they are free; free of shame, of fear of judgement, of the need to judge others; free of assumptions and certainties. They recognize the incompleteness of their own knowledge. They live with humility.

In their unassumingness, kids build bridges. Fundies build walls.

Let’s be kids.

The Homage Of Reason

Thomas Jefferson, who was not a Christian as some think, but rather a Deist, once made the following statement: “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

Religion is a funny thing. It requires us to believe the incredible; to accept on faith a whole panoply of assumptions that are often seemingly arbitrary and sometimes even contradictory. And then it asks us to turn around and reject all other religious claims as bogus, usually on the basis of reason. We are encouraged to observe and think critically when it comes to other religions, but when the light is shone on our own, a point inevitably comes at which we must swallow our doubts and “just believe.”

It is a very good thing that, throughout human history, there have been numerous individuals unwilling to do that. For in the arena of ideas about the nature of reality, observable, verifiable fact and reason are the only standards we have by which to measure whether or not an idea is (or could be) true. Reason is what has allowed us to better understand our world and harness its resources and functionality to solve problems and improve our lives. Reason is the universal language by which we can have conversations across cultures and religions and differing personal experiences. Reason is the only place we can begin the search for what is true.

If you are here, reading this, you have likely taken the step of “boldness” that Jefferson advocates, and that takes courage and humility. To hold your deepest convictions with open hands and honestly consider another point of view or new piece of information, and to ask yourself, “What makes the most sense? What is the most reasonable explanation for these facts? What is the most good and right?” and to be willing to accept ANY answer, to change your position, if necessary, even if it will hurt, even if you will lose face, for the sake of truth…that is no small feat.

If it is one you have undertaken, I commend you, and celebrate the victory of reason over fear in your life.

More On Truth: Pontius Pilate’s Age-Old Question

Every heard of Pontius Pilate?

If you’re a history buff, you likely have. If you were raised in any sect of Christianity or studied the religion even briefly, you DEFINITELY have.

For those of you who are neither, poor old P-dawg was the unlucky guy reportedly responsible for the authorization of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The book of John in the New Testament relates the conversation that took place between Jesus and Pilate, in which Jesus explains that he “came into the world to testify to truth,” and claims that “everyone on the side of truth listens to [him].”

These assertions prompt Pilate to shake his head resignedly (as I imagine it) and ask his famous question: “What is truth?”

As I suggested in my previous post, while I do think ultimate, objective truth exists, I do not think human beings are completely capable of detecting it. But it is a question we have been driven to ask since the beginning of recorded history. And a really weird question, when you really think about it.

Anyway, I wish Pilate would have had the chance to read Professor Eric Steinhart on this topic. I referenced his article at the end of my last post, before I’d had the chance to read it, and now that I have, I must recommend it again. He talks about Truth, and what it is, expertly and thoroughly, but in a way that is understandable even for a layperson like me.

Is there a greater food for thought than the question of truth!?!?

I get goose-bumps just thinking about it…

Truth Is Not My God

I just read a great interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke, Doctor of Philosophy at Fordham University in New York State, over at the blog Anything But Theist. Both interviewer and interviewee consider themselves atheist, but, as is always the case with any two individuals, each holds his own unique combination of perspectives when it comes to the details.

The question they were addressing in the interview was the value of truth. As Dr. Fincke asked it, “Just how much should we prioritize truth over other goods?”

I have to admit this question stopped me in my tracks.

Even as a Christian I valued truth above all else. As a child and young adult I equated God and my particular perspective on him with Truth. My God was the most valuable thing. My God WAS truth. Truth was by far above and beyond the most valuable.

When I came to the realization that my religion did not have a corner on truth, in fact diametrically opposed so much of what was objectively and verifiably true about reality, I stripped Truth of its Christian paraphernalia and kept it alone – naked, purer, bigger, grander than any religion – as my God.

It wasn’t until reading the interview just now that I questioned that unconscious choice of value (though in reality, I haven’t practiced it).

While much of the atheist/agnostic literature I have read over the past couple of years has urged free-thinkers to proclaim objective truth to the masses of believers, I have never felt comfortable with that. Ironically, I have experienced the same sort of guilt over my failure as an atheist “evangelist” that I did over my failure as a Christian one.

In my experience, the people of faith that I know and love are living very good, productive, happy lives…in certain ways more so than my agnostic friends. And while I don’t believe that they are living from the most accurate understanding of reality, I have rarely felt the need to challenge their perspectives (except on certain topics related to sexual ethics).

And I guess that is because I am a pragmatist at heart. I ask myself, “What works?” and then I go with that. What actually, in practice, helps create the best possible world? It takes some trial and error, but I think this is the most functional M.O.

Theories about the way things should be and how they should work are great, but if, when you apply them, they don’t, then what is the point?

My friends and family are intelligent people. They have thought about what they believe. And they still believe those things. Just as I can only believe what my life experience has lead me to believe, so it is with them. And their lives have not yet led them to a place in which they can look objectively at Christianity. And there is nothing I can do about it.

And if I am going to promote peace and love between us (which I believe promotes peace and love and health and happiness on a global scale, ultimately), it is not going to be by trying to shove my rationalism down their throats.

So yeah. I guess I’m going to have to remove truth from slot number one on my list of values, and slide it into second place underneath human health and happiness (which is really the way it has been in practice all along).

I’m also going to be done feeling guilty about it.

And I’m also going to thank Dr. Fincke for freeing me up to not feel guilty.

It is very rare and very refreshing to hear an atheist acknowledge that atheism can become a dogmatic system of thought just as much as any religion. As he and Nietzsche, whom he frequently references, point out, no human being, regardless of philosophy or commitment to objectivity, can be completely objective. We are subjective, feeling creatures. We are swayed by our emotions and personal experiences.

As my very wise dad often reminded us kids growing up, “The mind justifies what the heart chooses,” and that works both ways, in every direction.

None of us are free from bias. Ever.

And if that is the case, maybe there IS no such thing as ultimate, objective truth, since we – the only conscious beings in existence able to consider the concept – will never be able, completely, to detect it.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try. But maybe we just shouldn’t get too hung up on it either.

And I think that’s what Dr. Fincke, a man infinitely more educated in these matters than I, was saying also. (My apologies if I’m wrong about that, Dr.)

Just FYI – Dr. Fincke blogs regularly over at Cammels With Hammers. I highly recommend you check it out. He has some really great things to say.

In fact, I’m planning on next reading a short guest post there by Eric Steiner entitled, “Do Atheists Worship Truth?”  and I think you should too. From my quick perusal earlier, it promises to be  meaty.