Truth-seeking versus emotional attachment

If you haven’t already noticed, I’ve been going through a sort of mental transformation lately. “Or maybe you’ve just gone mental,” says you. The best way I can summarise it is this: I stopped caring about being right and started caring about becoming right.

Okay, I wasn’t a stubborn bigot to begin with, but what I did was take a reasonably functional pencil and sharpen it to a point (all the better to stab you with). I took a step back from everything I held sacred, and I willingly allowed the whole construct of my beliefs to come under threat. And you know what? That seems to me like the most objective thing I could ever do.

My Christian faith is right now more in jeopardy than it has been in many years. Good! It’s a chance to look at the cracks properly instead of always trying to paper over them. If Christianity is the truth, well then, it will reveal itself to be so, when investigated. If it’s not, then it’s not. I refuse to care, either way. All I want to do is move closer to the truth, whatever the truth may be.

You know, if I’m honest, I’ve always believed in Christianity because it seemed “most likely to be true,” not because of some eureka experience where it blew the top of my head off. And this is what prompted the great war of my past between Christianty and athiesm. At various points in my life I wanted to escape Christianity, because it had become torturous, and I always had the emotional escape hatch that said, “You’ve never known for sure that this is all true.”

Emotions are such a problem when it comes to truth-seeking. We get emotionally attached to beliefs and it clouds our thinking, provokes us into knee-jerk reactions against opposing beliefs instead of careful consideration, where we attack a perceived threat, rarely asking ourselves if we could be the ones who are wrong.

Let information and evidence lead me wherever they want to lead me. I’m learning, as much as I’m able, to stop caring about where they lead or where I want them to lead.

Here’s an example of how difficult it is to be objective. Back in junior high school, I witnessed someone doing psychokinesis – moving an object with his mind. At the time, with the wonderful open-mindedness of youth (and I don’t mean that sarcastically; it’s a shame we often lose it), witnessing this thing blew me away. But years later I developed a more scientific mindset and I came to view the event as trickery. I even tried reproducing the “trick” and had partial success (I stress partial). So I took the view that true psychokinesis was very likely not real. It was the view that my scientific mindset wanted, to keep things neat and tidy.

More recently, I’ve been back in contact with this same guy and I learned to my amazement that his psychokinesis was the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say, he had been experimenting with far more esoteric knowledge and had ended up paying a price for it. Over twenty years later, the guy has no reason to feed me a load of BS, and I certainly didn’t prompt him to say the things he said. Now, with a more open mind, I have no doubt that I witnessed true psychokinesis back in junior high. If I wanted to cling to that strict scientific mindset right now, I would have to view my friend as a liar of staggering proportions.

You see, it’s not as simple as someone saying, “Here is the truth.” The “truth” meant one thing, when seen through the filter of a rigid belief system that insists on a certain view of the world. It meant something completely different, when interpreted through a mind open to possibility.

Here’s a better example (better because you’re a part of it; you heard it on the news, and now you can examine your own memories of how you reacted to it when it when it all came out): the whole paedophile priest scandal in the Catholic Church. If you were interested in defending Protestantism or athiesm, you might have thought, “Here’s the awful results of all the sexual repression of the Catholic Church.” On the other hand, if you are a Catholic, you may have seen it differently: “Jobs involving children attract sexual predators. This is true of schools, Protestant churches. And the Catholic Priesthood is no exception.” Which side has made the right deduction? Ultimately, you don’t know without further investigation, but you’ll get people on both sides who will cling to their own theories as fact. I think this illustrates our tendency to leap to conclusions based on what we want to believe, rather than what the actual truth might be.

There was an amusing moment on a recent episode of Doctor Who when the Doctor and several others were trapped aboard a passenger craft that was travelling over the surface of a planet where it was said that no life could exist. Except someone outside started tapping on the door, repeatedly – even going as far as mimicking the exact number of taps the Doctor did in reponse. The passengers got scared. The scientist on board kept saying things like, “There’s no one out there! It’s impossible!” Whereas the Doctor said, “I’m so glad you’ve obtained the absolute knowledge of everything, but would you mind moving? Because someone’s trying to get in.”

It’s lamentable when our personal views become so sacred that they are put beyond the realm of ever being re-examined. We can be so stubborn that we won’t consciously admit to being wrong in the face of contrary evidence. Or we can be afraid to to change a belief, because there is a cost involved.

I actually find it difficult to write this stuff, because I sense that there may be some Christians who know me wincing and thinking I’ve gone too far. But if you’re not permitted to step outside of your beliefs and look in at them from an open perspective, how can you expect someone else who’s starting off from outside to ever make his way in?

It’s unavoidable that we’ll individually build up a belief system of one kind or another. And it’s unavoidable that we’ll develop an emotional attachment to it. I intend to keep that attachment as flexible as I can.

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20 thoughts on “Truth-seeking versus emotional attachment

  1. Earl says:

    Darryl,

    “My Christian faith is right now more in jeopardy than it has been in many years. Good! It’s a chance to look at the cracks properly instead of always trying to paper over them. If Christianity is the truth, well then, it will reveal itself to be so, when investigated. If it’s not, then it’s not. I refuse to care, either way. All I want to do is move closer to the truth, whatever the truth may be.”

    If your not sure what to believe, then reread the Gospels and hear what Christ has to say. You can believe him.

  2. Chris says:

    Darryl,

    It’s unavoidable that we’ll individually build up a belief system of one kind or another. And it’s unavoidable that we’ll develop an emotional attachment to it. I intend to keep that attachment as flexible as I can.

    Learning to think critically, detached from emotions, is very difficult but essential if you ever want to get to the bottom of things.

    At work, I find that it’s easy to get emotionally attached to code that I have written. This becomes a problem when someone steps into my office and says, “Chris, your code doesn’t work properly.” My knee-jerk reaction can tend towards one of denying the very possibility that there could be any problems with my code since I took such enormous care to write it correctly and test it thoroughly.

    A similar problem occurs when I approach a bug report with a pre-conceived notion that a certain part of our software is at fault. It has happened often that I proceed under this notion and end up running around in circles because my assumption was wrong and the issue is actually with a different piece of code. I could have fixed the issue in a much shorter amount of time if I hadn’t allowed my mind to become clouded with presumption.

    Company deadlines being what they are, I really can’t afford to let myself be lead around by false assumptions. It’s important, therefore, that I always question assumptions — what are the possible causes of a particular problem? Are these the only possible causes? Can I find someone who might have more insight into the suspected areas? If so, is what they’ve told me plausible? If so, are there any other plausible explanations? And so on.

    When frustration strikes, and it seems like I’ve reached a dead end, it is really worth stepping back and asking myself, “Am I asking the wrong questions?”.

    I find it is also important not to race to conclusions on a matter. A thorough investigation necessarily demands going down many possible avenues, reaching dead ends, back tracking, trying something else, and looking at a problem from all the angles… or trying to, anyway.

  3. Gordy Crozier says:

    The act of believing or shaping something so that it fits with what we already believe is called the fundamtental addribution error. Its based on the idea that we observe behaviour we are less likely to attribute the reasoning behind it to internal and external factors than to a rule that agrees with what already think. In your example with the priesthood is spot on, people looking at the outside in find it easier to attribute the reasoning to a simple rule about that faith than a complex make-up of personal factors, environmental factors and mental issues. Its a factor behind depression, people with depression find it easier to fit negative things as directly attributal to them, than to other factors that exist outside of them i.e. “Its my fault it all goes wrong” than “There are a number of reasons behind why this went wrong”. We make a rule about life based on our own experiences and sometimes we need to examine them with a clearer head and a better understanding of where we are. As a sufferer of depression i have to examine how i view myself and the way i think about my actions.
    Having a religious journey can be important when its at a time when the thinking is clear and you feel that its not going to be affected by a turmoil of emotions as it can make your belief stronger or force you to think about the tangle of stuff that we build into a credable agruement around a shakey foundation. Sometimes we need to clear house and think again. Objectivity is heard to master, it requires a great deal of wisdom and discernment. I agree with Earl that in terms of our faith we look back at roots and the text that we base our faith on before moving on. I also agree with Chris in questioning assumptions and whether we’re asking the right questions. Sometimes its about building the simple truths again. For me this was as simple as “God loves me (who i am)” and “God is in control (it doesn’t mean its bad to make mistakes)”. Simple things but they were things i struggled with from where i stood in my head and sometimes its about getting all the simple things right and believing them before we move on. I don’t think you’ve gone too far, i think you’re trying to make your faith real to you which is important and what makes it more than than just empty words. Christians should examine what they believe and question. Jesus commended the faith of a child, and it was for good reason. While its uncomplicated and based on simple truths, they question and explore.

    My word i ramble sorry.

  4. Earl says:

    I think there really is something to be said for uncomplicated childlike faith. Moreover, since God is trustworthy, we can have complete confidence in Him.

  5. Score says:

    Darryl writes “the whole paedophile priest scandal in the Catholic Church. If you were interested in defending Protestantism or athiesm, you might have thought, “Here’s the awful results of all the sexual repression of the Catholic Church.” On the other hand, if you are a Catholic, you may have seen it differently: “Jobs involving children attract sexual predators. This is true of schools, Protestant churches. And the Catholic Priesthood is no exception.”

    It can be both. In fact, any one situation would of course involve both influences and access. Furthermore, some of the paedeophilia outside the Catholic Church can be due in part to sexual repression.

  6. Darryl Sloan says:

    Earl,

    “If your not sure what to believe, then reread the Gospels and hear what Christ has to say. You can believe him.”

    I’m afraid I just can’t accept a blanket statement like that. It presupposes that I believe the Bible is the Word of God. If I absolutely believed that, I wouldn’t even be having this debate with myself; I would accept Christianity by default.

    I can’t use faith in the Bible as my starting point. If I were born in a Muslim country, should I begin with absolute faith in the Qu’ran?

    Everything must be examined.

    That said, I have started re-reading the Gospel of Mark, in the interests of balance, when so much of what I have been reading recently is leading me away from Christianity.

  7. Earl says:

    Which religion has the most life transforming power for good?

    Of all the religions, which plan of salvation bears the signature of God’s wisdom? Substitution is the only just way for a man to be forgiven.

  8. Darryl Sloan says:

    Earl,

    I’m not even sure of the whole concept of the necessity for salvation, or that every sin is being catalogued against us by a diety. Christianity has quite a complex sin and salvation scenario that I’m currently re-evaluating, along with everything else.

  9. Earl says:

    Well, if you still hold the belief that God created the Universe, and that to do so He must be all wise and knowing, then you have to reason what He is likely to do with His creation.

    For today anyhow, I’ll have to withdraw from this debate since I’m in the middle of something – devising the plan for the first one.

  10. Chris says:

    Darryl,

    I’m not even sure of the whole concept of the necessity for salvation

    So, I’m guessing this means you’re also not sure about the notion of Original Sin:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11312a.htm

    What, then, is your current thinking on why mankind seems so messed up? Or do you even believe that mankind is messed up? If so, why does there seem to exist two paths that man can take: the path of virtue, or the path of vice? Why are some able to excel in virtue, but others are happy to descend into the depths of vice?

  11. Darryl Sloan says:

    Chris,

    Your question is forcing me to make conclusions about a matter that is still in debate in my mind.

    The concept of Original Sin was one of the things that always allowed me to make sense of myself and the world from a moral point of view. I’m undecided about it currently.

    One thing is clear. Christians don’t have a monopoly on good deeds. It’s also difficult for me personally to point to “conversion” as something that regenerates a person morally, because at age seventeen, when I became a Christian, there wasn’t a great deal to change. In fact, in the years since, I’ve done more evil than in my youth.

    Without the reference point of a religion to define good and evil, I would see them as positive and negative behaviour, or that which helps and that which harms. As to why a man chooses one or the other, possibly free will is the main answer. That, and our susceptibility to addictions, our ability to define ourselves in various ways leading to selfish or selfless behaviour.

    Think of it another way. If there’s a “sinful nature”, what happens when you take the sinful nature away, as in when we’re in heaven? Are we then unable to sin? Because to me that sounds like losing some part of our free will and becoming robots to some degree. For how else does God eradicate the future possibility of sin?

  12. Chris says:

    Darryl,

    Your question is forcing me to make conclusions about a matter that is still in debate in my mind.

    I understand. I just asked to see where you’re at, currently. I won’t hold you to any forced conclusions! 🙂

    It’s also difficult for me personally to point to “conversion” as something that regenerates a person morally

    Right! And I think you’d be wrong if you did believe that. Of course, the traditional Christian view here is that conversion and baptismal regeneration open you up to new possibilities of cooperating with Grace, having been freed from the state of Original Sin and separation from God. However, an inclination towards sin remains. Moral perfection is something that has to be worked towards, and achieved with God’s help.

    If there’s a “sinful nature”, what happens when you take the sinful nature away, as in when we’re in heaven? Are we then unable to sin? Because to me that sounds like losing some part of our free will and becoming robots to some degree. For how else does God eradicate the future possibility of sin?

    Well, assume that we are able to sin in heaven. What does that imply?

    Obviously, it implies that it is possible for us to be discontent with God whilst being in God’s presence. If it’s possible for us to be discontent with God whilst being in his presence to the extent that we would even entertain the notion of sinning, He therefore must not be our ultimate end, and our crown must be, after all, corruptible (1 Corinthians 9:25). Should our discontent with God actually cause us to sin while in His presence, the consequence is obviously that we would no longer be allowed to remain in his presence. Does that mean we are sent back to earth, fallen once again? Does it also mean that we can be redeemed, forgiven, judged, and admitted back into God’s presence? If so, is there any limit on the number of times that can happen? What, then, does this mean for Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, “once, and for all”? I could go on, but I think I’ve made it clear that when you admit the possibility that we can actually sin in heaven, major parts of the fabric of Christianity suddenly start to unravel.

    Getting back to your last question, “how else does God eradicate the future possibility of sin”, I don’t think the only possible answer is that our free will must be diminished. If the possibility to sin does still exist in our soul’s final state, our inability to sin could just as well be due to the overwhelming experience of love and perfection as a part of our new relationship with God such that any and all desire to sin vanishes.

  13. mike q says:

    Just a quick question about original sin, if Adam’s sin made it so that we could die, how were we ever going to get to heaven then?

    And a quick point I heard Christopher hitchens say, I can hear the groans at his name, regarding our morals.

    “Name me a moral action that has been comitted by someone religious, that could not have been done by a non believer.

    And now try to name a wicked action that only someone of faith would have done.

  14. Darryl Sloan says:

    Christianity (and its predeccesor Judaism) teach the “resurrection of the body” – an event which is due to happen to the human race on the Day of Judgement. The heaven and hell we talk about are merely temporary homes for the disembodied spirits of the dead. The Bible speaks of a future “new heavens (as in sky) and a new earth.” We are ultimately body creatures.

    This sounds a bit hokey, but it is actually pretty standard Christian teaching and is easily defended by the Bible. It’s just not often preached on in church. People are wrong to talk about heaven like it’s the ultimate destination of the human soul. It ain’t.

    If you’ve ever wondered how people go to heaven or hell immediately after death, and how there can still be a future Judgement Day for the human race, there’s your answer. And it answers your Adam question, too. He would never have got to heaven, because he was meant to stay in his body forever, had he not sinned.

  15. mike q says:

    Ah ha!

    But when you say that heaven and hell are temporary homes for the spirits of the dead, I thought that hell was a punishment… forever.

  16. Chris says:

    Mike,

    if Adam’s sin made it so that we could die, how were we ever going to get to heaven then?

    Darryl already had this covered when he said that Heaven is not the ultimate destination. Before Adam’s sin, there was no death for man, and therefore no separation of body and soul, whether it be temporary or not.

    …And now try to name a wicked action that only someone of faith would have done

    Yes, Hitchens likes to drag this dead horse around and pull it out as though it were a magic canon against some notion he has that religious people believe they are personally and collectively morally superior by virtue of their religion. I fail to see the validity of the point he is trying to prove — only religious people can commit wicked actions in the name of religion? Well, that’s like saying only black people can commit wicked actions in the name of dark skinnedness, or only pilots can commit wicked actions in the name of aviation. Right. So what? It would be a fallacy to conclude that dark skinnedness or aviation is of no use to humanity.

    And getting to what you said in another post:

    But when you say that heaven and hell are temporary homes for the spirits of the dead, I thought that hell was a punishment… forever.

    Not to answer on Darryl’s behalf, but the post-resurrection state for the damned is still “Hell”, the difference being that they will be in Hell with incorruptible bodies. In Christian tradition, the word “Hell” is used to designate the place or state of men (and angels) who, because of sin, are excluded forever from the Beatific Vision. Nothing is really taught above and beyond that such a state does exist.

    I think Darryl’s point is that, until the general resurrection and judgement, our souls are temporarily separated from our bodies. The souls of the just go to Heaven, the souls of the damned go to Hell. However, at the resurrection, every person’s soul, whether saved or damned, is joined with their resurrected immortal body, and, in that body, they will mete out their eternal destiny.

  17. Darryl Sloan says:

    Chris’s thinking on heaven and hell is in line with mine. The temporary hell (or Hades as some translations will refer to it) is quite distinct from the “lake of fire” talked about in regard to Judgement Day.

    There are a couple of alternative schools of thought (aren’t there always 🙂 ) that I know of. Some Christians believe that the Bible does not teach that hell is eternal, that it is a reference to a soul being snuffed out of existence. Christians are referred to as having “eternal life.” What’s the opposite of eternal life? Is it “eternal damnation” or “non-eternal life”?

    I think Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in “soul sleep” – that a soul loses its conciousness until Judgement Day.

    But the majority of Christian thinking is in line with the view Chris and I explained.

  18. mike q says:

    Thanks for the info guys, incidently, is there any mention of when this judgment day is going to happen?

    but Chris, when I mentioned the Hitchens comment your right about the wicked acts, but it also proves that we don’t need religion to be good or moral. Again, what moral act, or actions, have been done by someone religious, that hasn’t been done my someone without faith.

  19. Chris says:

    Mike,

    is there any mention of when this judgment day is going to happen?

    Christ said that not even he knew when it would happen. Only God the Father knows.

    it also proves that we don’t need religion to be good or moral. Again, what moral act, or actions, have been done by someone religious, that hasn’t been done my someone without faith.

    I think it only proves it up to a point. Yes, you don’t need religion to tell you that there’s something not quite right about locking your kids up in the basement, or that murdering someone for no reason isn’t perhaps the best way to a happy life. But morality is not the prime thing that religion concerns itself with.

    Speaking from the point of view of Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, the primary concern is the understanding that God exists, He created us, we screwed things up, but He wants to renew us so that we can spend eternity with Him. The secondary issue is how we participate in that renewal, which entails a certain way of living and acting.

    But saying that we don’t need religion to be good or moral is kind of like saying we don’t need the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England to be good with our money. Yes, those institutions are irrelevant to establishing a good household budget, but they are necessary because they bring stability to the economies of the countries they are a part of — they stop the entire country getting off balance.

    It’s the same thing with religions and morality. Yes, non-religious people can make good moral decisions, but religions bring stability to mankind’s moral reckoning by being a source of guidance and a voice of reason when things start going off the rails.

    So, you’re right, and Hitchens is right: individuals do not need religion in order to live morally good lives. But not everybody is inclined to want to live a morally good life. In fact, not everybody is capable of holding to their morals when it would cause them pain to do so. What then happens when you remove the morally stabilizing force of religion from society? Same thing that would happen in economic terms if we wiped out the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England — society would either collapse, or we would devolve to a more primitive and barbaric system.

    However, like I said before, morality is only of secondary concern to religion, and the effect religion has on society extends beyond the sphere of mere morality (well, for Christianity anyway).

  20. Darryl Sloan says:

    Mike,

    To amplify what Chris said, the exact time of the Second Coming is unknown, but Matthew 24 talks about signs of when it is near, such as famines and earthquakes. There is, however, two vastly different schools of thought on that passage, and I’m not sure which one is correct.

    Likewise there is more than one school of thought around the Book of Revelation. Some interpret it all as relating to the past Roman Empire (if memory serves me). Others seem to see Bible prophecies being fulfilled left, right and centre with recent world events. It’s all quite complex, and not something I have personally penetrated to my satisfaction.

    One school of thought talks about there being a “Rapture” for Christians, where they will vanish from the face of the earth, followed by a seven-year tribulation for those left behind.

    One thing I do remember is how, back in the 80s, somebody showed me how every barcode contains three longer lines that resemble the patterns for 6’s – 666.

    He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.

    That’s from Revelation 13. Back in the 80s, the idea of a cashless society seemed strange and far off. Now I can do all my shopping with my credit/debit card, never having to withdraw any actual cash. And back then the idea of having microchips embedded in your flesh was like science ficion. Now we’ve already done it to our pets and there’s plenty of talk about introducing it to human beings:

    I don’t know if the Revelation literalists have it right, but part of me can’t help looking at what I was reading in the 80s and saying, “Hey, what we were predicting is almost here.”

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