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.