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.