Consoling Fictions

I never expected to become a blogger, but these ideas have been swilling around in my head for a long time, and this is a good platform for sharing views and eliciting reactions.  Like most people, I’ve wrestled with the big questions:  “Why are we here?  Is there a God?  Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?”  Of course, I don’t have any answers, but I’ve come up with my own logic line for some not-so-orthodox conclusions.  In this blog I’d like to share my thoughts and, hopefully, kindle a stimulating discussion.

The essential question, the one that trumps all others, is the question of God.  If there is a God, he has made himself inscrutable.  And so, in order to try to understand him, we have created a plethora of religious dogmas, most of which diametrically contradict each other.  There are some 43 different belief systems currently worldwide, each claiming to have a monopoly on Truth.  How preposterous is that?  How can we look at each other with straight faces and each believe that ours is the one, the only true religion, while all others are in error?  Surely rational minds would see a contradiction in this.  Unfortunately, many otherwise rational minds have a blind spot when it comes to religion.  Having either grown up with or bought into a faith, and being a practitioner of that faith, they feel compelled to defend it.  It’s not that people don’t question their faith.  They do.  But it takes a lot to shake a fundamental religious conviction.  And so, for all of recorded history religious Hatfields and McCoys have gone at it, each side waving the banner of divine Truth, which remains to this day one of the most relative and polarizing of concepts.

What is divine Truth, and how do we know it?  There are as many answers as there are believers.  The word of God has come to humankind in a bewildering array of visions and visitations that are recorded in the holy books and sacred texts that form the bases of the various religions.  Discerning divine Truth from these texts is a staggeringly difficult process.  It has taken legions of religious scholars and centuries of time to study and digest the meanings and hidden meanings in the writings, and still there is remarkably little consensus, even within a single denomination.  The devil is in the interpretation, it seems.  Add to that the problem of contamination (it is impossible that these records could have retained their “authenticity” through centuries of oral recitation, written transcription, and translation), and you have a mishmash of staggering proportions.  How, then, is it possible that so many adhere so vehemently to so much that is essentially unknowable?

Aside from the practical problems of knowability, it is disconcerting that God should have chosen to reveal himself in such a haphazard and chaotic manner.  The true believer will wave this away.  “God moves in mysterious ways,” he will say.  But why the mystery?  Why the enigma?  Why the mixed messages?  Why did God choose to reveal himself in so many different ways to different people all over the earth?  What parent could raise well adjusted, productive children without setting clear, comprehensible rules?  God’s rules have come down to us in so many variations that it’s impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff, and comparative study of the various religions only adds to the confusion.  Are all religions equally pleasing to God?  Does he have a favorite?  Is there such a thing as The True Religion?  That’s a question no one can answer, yet people of many faiths fervently believe that theirs is The One.  It’s somewhat like the parable of the blind men, each touching a different part of an elephant, and each believing that he understands what an elephant is.  Just so, many religious followers are convinced that what they apprehend is The Truth.

Intrinsically, we humans know right from wrong – all of us who are sane and rational, at any rate.  I think that morality and ethics speak to most reasonable people, even without religious overtones.  This is not to say that we all do what we think is morally right or ethical.  And so we feel compelled to impose moral and ethical imperatives upon ourselves – to save ourselves from ourselves.  At the same time, most of us yearn for a sense of order and purpose in the universe.  And, lastly, most of us want desperately to believe that something of us will survive after death. Hence, we’ve combined our need for self-regulation with our desire for purpose, and our hope of an afterlife, and we’ve come up with a story, or many different stories, that can potentially satisfy all three.  We have, to paraphrase the poet Wallace Stevens, created for ourselves consoling fictions that we know to be fictions, yet we believe willingly.

I am going to stop here to let the dust settle.  In a few days I’ll offer more thoughts in the realm of metaphysics and, eventually, astrophysics.  In the meantime, I’m hoping for some lively responses to what I’ve written so far.

 

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