Sunday, January 30, 2022

Deism: Truth Is A Journey, Not A Destination

Previously I described myself as a words guy who has concluded that "God" or the eternal divine is inherently impossible to authoritatively define and describe. See Deism: The Limitation Of Language for more on that topic.

I am also an answers guy. I like to have answers to questions, even if I have to make up the answer myself. For me a question without an answer is like a nagging itch on your back that you can't quite reach. It drives me crazy. As a result I will always feel the need to answer a question even if I don't actually know the answer. My ability to do so on the fly and do so convincingly used to drive my wife nuts until she figured it out. 

Pretending to have the answer is pretty easy in organized religious circles and I think one of the things that appealed to me the most about the Protestant Reformed tradition was the intellectually vibrant atmosphere. It is believed that any question can be answered if you study the Bible and the great teachers of the faith long enough and hard enough. Disengaging myself from that mindset has been a tough road.

Along the way I have discovered that my expectations around The Truth need to change. 

It has taken me the better part of half a century, more than half of the average human life, to begin to get a handle on just the American cultural and political scene. If we are being honest, very few of my fellow Americans are even close to where I am. That isn't to say I am just smarter than them, it is more a matter of being a naturally skeptical guy who asks questions that maybe aren't supposed to be asked. 

How exactly is a normal human over the course of a human life supposed to come to an understanding of the Infinite Divine? 

Sure we have thousands of years of writings from brilliant minds to work from. Just in Christendom alone we have men like John Calvin and Francis of Assisi, C.S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards. The Bible itself is something men spend a lifetime studying. That isn't even to mention all of the Islamic scholars, Jewish rabbis, Hindus and Buddhists and smaller faiths without number. 

The problem is that what all of these learned men through the centuries taught is contradictory, with one another and often within their own religious traditions. In Christianity alone there are three main traditions and dozens of lesser groups. What they teach about things like communion, baptism, ecclesiology or the practice of the church and even how one is "saved" are very different from one another. You could spend a lifetime studying just Christianity and never come to a firm conclusion and if you engage in comparative religion? Forget about it.

What that means from a practical standpoint is a tough pill to swallow, at least for me: I will never discover The Truth this side of eternity. 

That is not to say that I won't discover many truths along the way, truths that point me toward other, greater truths to pursue. Simply put, the ultimate Truth is something I have to admit is unattainable in a human lifetime. We all just need to learn that the pursuit is worthwhile in and of itself even if we understand that the pursuit will never reach a conclusion while we draw breath. Truth is an unfolding part of the journey of discovery, not a destination we should expect to achieve.


Coming to this realization has increased my deep skepticism of anyone who claims to have a monopoly on the truth, whether an individual or an organization. Most of those making that claim are fools and often they are dangerous fools. When you claim to have comprehensive knowledge of what is by definition unknowable, it exposes a hubris that marks you as someone who knows very little indeed. 

Change your expectations. Embrace the journey. The path of understanding is a reward of it's own.

4 comments:

  1. I like this series, Arthur. While we may not discover the full Truth, we can see enough glimpses of it along our journey to begin to discern Good from Evil.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Making the most of those glimpses is a lot harder than having it all pre-packaged for me but I am learning to embrace the journey.

      Delete
  2. I wasn't going to comment, but these forays into philosophy need encouragement. My BA is in philosophy, though thanks to Uncle Sugar's Air Farce, my career was in hard science, medical technology in fact.
    In my own attempts to reconcile religion with the world as I experienced it, I reached a point I can only call intellectual bankruptcy. I concluded that our partially evolved chimpanzee brains cannot remotely begin to comprehend reality. I've ended up with a working hypothesis somewhere between Douglas Adams and Robert Anton Wilson's radical agnosticism. Not agnostic about "God", but about everything. I've gone far enough in mathematics to have glimpses of the incredible aesthetic beauty of the fine structure of the universe, relativity and quantum theory. I've studied molecular biology, and the more I get into it, the more absolutely improbable life becomes. I've come to a sort of conclusion that there is some form of consciousness behind the physical world, but I find the anthropomorphism of the worlds mainstream religions to be wholly insufficient to explain cosmology.
    So as your post, and previous ones come to it, "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That insufficiency is the thing. Not as a deterrent toward learning and seeking but as a reminder of the futility of trying to capture and categorize something eternal and unknowable.

      Delete