28 June 2011

THT: Oh Say, What is Truth? (Part I)

I wish someone could tell me the answer. Someone that could have no possible conflict of interest. It is pretty ridiculous. Tonight I typed in "does God exist" into a google search. Perhaps the answer lies in the question? Why is it a question that we cannot leave alone? I've mentioned before how I am kind of on a teeter-totter when it comes to belief in God. Some days I believe, other I don't. Sometimes I wake up believing, and I go to bed unbelieving. More often than not though, I believe in a God. The next question is what God?

Whose God do I believe? My own God with my own definitions? The mainstream Christian God? The Mormon God? Why does it matter? Does it matter? My mind is so tired of trying to make sense of God and religion while at the same time mixing my own life experience into the equation.

I'd like very much for there to be a God... but then that thinking makes me criticize my own thoughts. Can I trust a mind that is biased? I feel like I have already gone through this struggle. The God question. I came out of that a believer. So what happened?

I accepted that I was gay. That's what happened. And then I had to face the hate and ignorance perpetuated by religion. And since religion is connected to God, derived from the idea of God, I was again confused. If religion is the fruit of God, then I'm not sure I want to know him.

I tried to talk to my family about religion today. Asking questions, etc. Didn't work out so well. So I am left to my own devices I guess in figuring out the answers. I think my problems really lie in religion. Then I let those muddy the idea of God. The truth is, I don't know that I could be atheist at this point. Belief has been too instilled in my mind. I just want to know that what I believe is truth. Is that too much to ask?


Rob said...

I'm finding this is a very common path and pattern for those of us who come from very strict authoritarian religious traditions. Once we realize how wrong they are about homosexuality, we can't help questioning what else they may be wrong about, and we often tend not to trust any of them anymore about anything. You're actually at a place similar to mine and to other friends who are no longer inclined to believe anything their churches of origin say, or to replace one set of demanding religious authorities with another.

Boris said...

Rob expressed precisely what I have learned from bitter experience: "Once we realize how wrong they are about homosexuality, we can't help questioning what else they may be wrong about, and we often tend not to trust any of them anymore about anything."

After all, as I've said here many times before, the Mormon GA claim to be "prophets" with access (at least collectively) to Divine Guidance, especially when they gather and pray in the Temple, as happened in the case of the "revelation" that blacks were worthy--as of 1978 (finally)-- to receive the priesthood. At the time, I may have thought it a "marvelous work and a wonder," even though I had already embarked on a secretively gay lifestyle: after all, if the Church could at long last admit blacks to the priesthood, how much longer could it take the Mormon leadership to recognize the humanity of their tens of thousands of gay & lesbian members? Foolish me! That was over 30 years ago, and the anti-gay bigotry of the GA (especially the most outspoken ones) is little changed from that time.

In my opinion, Jonathan, you need to trust yourself to discern what is true, and stop relying so much on church authorities, scripture, so-called "testimonies," etc. Let them call you what they may (sinner, apostate, etc), and do to you as they will, but remember what Joseph Smith himself is reported to have said: "No man knows my history." I know for a certainty no Mormon GA could possibly know my history, or even begin to appreciate what I've had to live through because of the bigotry and intolerance of Elder Packer and others like him. How about you, Jonathan? Do any of THEM know YOUR history even half as well as the readers of this blog?

jimf said...

> Oh Say, What is Truth? I wish someone
> could tell me the answer.

You stick to the easy questions, I see. ;->

Well, the relevant field of study here is called "epistemology".

Traditional religions, such as the one you're emerging from, have an implicit epistemological framework that the professionals in the field call "foundationalism" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundationalism). "The Truth" is contained in, or deduced from, a set of unquestionable axioms, often embodied in a set of sacred texts (the Ten Commandments, the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, etc.).

Modern scientists, and most people in the real world (such as you when you're trying to integrate your prior religious beliefs, your acceptance of your homosexuality, your ongoing life experiences, books by Carol Lynn Pearson and other secular authors, YouTube videos, etc., etc.) gravitate toward an epistemological framework the philosophers call "coherentism" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coherentism) which involves weaving it all together into a web in which the various components of the set of total beliefs interact with each other and the conflict among them is minimized. It's not always easy. ;->

If you're in a Mr. Spockian mood, there are some good introductions to epistemology, such as the late Willard Van Orman Quine's little book _The Web of Belief_
or the more recent book by philosopher of science Susan Haack, _Defending Science -- Within Reason_

From a review of the latter: "From coherentism, she incorporates the insights that there are no indubitable truths and that beliefs are justified by the extent to which they fit with other beliefs. From empiricist foundationalism, she incorporates the insights that not all beliefs make an equal contribution to the justification of beliefs and that sense experience deserves a special, if not completely privileged, role. She summarizes her 'foundherentist' view with the following two principles:

-- A subject's experience is relevant to the justification of his empirical beliefs, but there need be no privileged class of empirical beliefs justified exclusively by the support of experience, independently of the support of other beliefs;

-- Justification is not exclusively one-directional, but involves pervasive relations of mutual support.

Haack's explication of 'pervasive relations of mutual support' relies largely on an analogy with how crossword puzzles are solved by fitting together clues and possible interlocking solutions."

jimf said...

> My mind is so tired of trying to make
> sense of God and religion while at the
> same time mixing my own life experience
> into the equation.

You might enjoy this monologue:

Julia Sweeney - Letting Go of God
(in 13 parts, the link is to Part 1)

(Another good, if unrelated, Julia Sweeney
monologue, on "the talk")

> I'd like very much for there to be a God...

You know, you really might enjoy reading the mellifluous hundred-year-old prose of the great psychologist William James (brother of novelist Henry James), in particular, _The Varieties of Religious Experience_.

"The fact that we can die, that we can be ill at all, is what perplexes us; the fact that we now for a moment live and are well is irrelevant to that perplexity. We need a life not correlated with death, a health not liable to illness, a kind of good that will not perish, a good in fact that flies beyond the Goods of nature...

This sadness lies at the heart of every merely positivistic, agnostic, or naturalistic scheme of philosophy. Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of, and the skull will grin in at the banquet. In the practical life of the individual, we know how his whole gloom or glee about any present fact depends on the remoter schemes and hopes with which it stands related. Its significance and framing give it the chief part of its value. Let it be known to lead nowhere, and however agreeable it may be in its immediacy, its glow and gilding vanish...

The lustre of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of possibilities it goes with. Let our common experiences be enveloped in an eternal moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance; let Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their visits; let faith and hope be the atmosphere which man breathes in; -- and his days pass by with zest; they stir with prospects, they thrill with remoter values. Place round them on the contrary the curdling cold and gloom and absence of all permanent meaning which for pure naturalism and the popular science evolutionism of our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill stops short, or turns rather to anxious trembling.

For naturalism, fed on recent cosmological speculations, mankind is in a position similar to that of a set of people living on a frozen lake, surrounded by cliffs over which there is no escape, yet knowing that little by little the ice is melting, and the inevitable day drawing near when the last film of it will disappear, and to be drowned ignominiously will be the human creature's portion. The merrier the skating, the warmer and more sparkling the sun by day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night, the more poignant the sadness with which one must take in the meaning of the total situation."

-- William James, _The Varieties of Religious Experience_,
Lectures VI and VII "The Sick Soul"

jimf said...

> I just want to know that what I
> believe is truth. Is that too much
> to ask?

“A great many people write to me saying they are now completely puzzled as to how they ought to conduct themselves, because they have ceased to accept the traditional signposts to right action and don’t know what others to adopt. I think that the sort of philosophy I believe in is useful in this way: that it enables people to act with vigor when they are not absolutely certain that that is the right action. I think nobody should be certain of anything. If you’re certain, you’re most certainly wrong, because nothing deserves certainty, and so one ought always to hold all one’s beliefs with a certain element of doubt and one ought to be able to act vigorously in spite of the doubt. After all, this is what a general does when he is planning a battle. He doesn’t quite know what the enemy will do, but if he’s a good general he guesses right. If he’s a bad general he guesses wrong. But in practical life one has to act upon probabilities, and what I should look to philosophy to do is to encourage people to act with vigor without complete certainty."

-- Bertrand Russell, _Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind_

"There is no absolutely certain starting point that can be the foundation for our philosophical edifice. Nor is there any point of view from where we can see it all from outside: we are thrown into a kind of existence that we must seek to understand without stepping out of it. 'There is no vantage point, no first philosophy,' Quine said. He therefore picked as his motto for his main work of _Word and Object_ the following quotation from Otto Neurath: 'We are like seafarers, who must rebuild their ship in open sea, without being able to take it apart in a dock and build it up of its best constituents from the bottom up.'"


More Bertrand Russell quotes, if you've got the fortitude for them:

Jonathan Adamson said...

thanks for the reading suggestions.

jimf said...

> thanks for the reading suggestions

I know, of course, that your cri de coeur "what is truth?" is more than a request for bibliographical references to William James, Bertrand Russell, or anybody else.

You are in the process of reorganizing your entire Weltanschauung (as the Germans, and pretentious English-speaking foreign phrase droppers, say ;-> ), and that's **got** to hurt like hell, particularly as it also inevitably means hurting and disappointing family members and former friends. And you're not going to get relief from that pain directly from academic philosophy, I'm afraid.

You may well get emotional sustenance from fellow-travelers encountered on the Web, of course (which is why you're blogging and YouTube'ing in the first place, duh!) -- hooray for modern technology. Though to play Devil's advocate, so to speak ;-> , naturally the faithful -- of any stripe -- will counter that computers and the internet are the Devil's tools allowing the Devil's companions, such as myself ;-> , to tempt the faithful in new and more insidious ways. From another perspective, this just means that authoritarian systems of belief no longer have the luxury of being easily able to isolate their, er, clients from all information that would tend to loosen the authoritarian control -- the Devil invented the printing press and universal literacy, too, don't you know.

Well, hang in there.

Have you ever heard, by the way, of Lyndon Lamborn? He's a Boeing engineer and an expert in analyzing the wreckage of crashed airplanes to find out what went wrong, who comes from a big Mormon family and who spent much of his adult life in blissful, unquestioning acceptance of his inherited belief system, until a chance question from a co-worker started him on a path of research that deconstructed his entire heretofore unexamined religious foundations. You might say -- he says -- that his background in science and math would likely have run afoul of blind belief and an "alternative" standard of truth sooner or later, but it certainly doesn't always happen that way. He's now a pretty devastating public critic of the church, in spite of the strain it puts on his relationships with erstwhile friends and family members (to say nothing of the formal excommunication that it resulted in for him personally).

Destructive Mind Control Part 1 of 7

(Edmonton Ex-Mormons Conference held May 28th, 2009.

Lyndon Lamborn presents on Destructive Mind Control within the Mormon Church. After a highly publicized and controversial exit from Mormonism, Lamborn intertwines the story of his awakening with psychological aspects of religious belief. In his book _Standing For Something More_ Lamborn alternates chapters detailing the psychology implications of church membership with his own personal story. Lyndon is very honest and not hiding anything that he did or that the church has done in presentation. The book lists some serious problems with Mormonism which he describes in a very intelligent manner that may make a believer rethink his beliefs.)

mohoguy said...

I suggest you not try to over complicate your questioning. If there is a God, and I think there is, he/she is most likely to support what satisfies your needs and desires. Trust your feelings and live! Love, Brad

jimf said...

I hope I'm not spamming your blog with these comments, but I seem to have a bit more to say. ;->

There is a video on YouTube's "iamanexmormon" channel, "This is how I discovered truth. My name is Chris. . ."

At the end. Chris says he is delighted to have realized that there is no supernatural "boogeyman" (i.e., Satan). That's all very well and good, and while "evil personified" amost certainly does not exist in the world in any supernatural form, there are nevertheless plenty of things and plenty of other people for rational people to be plenty afraid of.

In _Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind_ (the book of an interview which Woodrow Wyatt conducted with Russell in 1959) Russell explains:

Q: What is it that's made man, over the centuries, demand religion?

A: I think mainly fear. Man feels himself rather powerless. There are three things that cause him fear. One is what Nature can do to him. It can strike him by lightning or swallow him up in an earthquake. And one is what other men can do -- they can kill him in war. And the third, which has a great deal to do with religion, is what his own violent passions may lead him to do -- things which he knows in a calm moment he would regret having done. For that reason most people have a great deal of fear in their lives, and religion helps them to be not so frightened by these fears.

I would elaborate on Russell's answer in this way. First, there are human beings who have both more and less empathy for their fellow creatures than the average. The ones on the low end of the spectrum have the great advantage (from one point of view) of being much less sensitive either to social disapproval, or to direct evidence of the pain that they cause their fellow humans. These people often rise to positions of great power in hierarchical organizations (**including** church organizations -- they can profess, evangelize, and bear testimony better than anybody else). See, e.g., Martha Stout's _The Sociopath Next Door_
Simon Baron-Cohen's _Zero Degrees of Empathy_
or Robert D. Hare's _Without Conscience_

If there is anything in the world that approximates to "evil personified", it would have to be the "sociopath next door". Even so, the existence of these people is a perfectly natural phenomenon.

Secondly, while the vast majority of people get through their lives without having to deal with lightning strikes, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, or floods, far more people have their lives turned upside-down by automobile accidents, drunk drivers, fires and other household accidents, and what have you.

Thirdly, no one escapes in the end from the ills flesh is heir to. Whether it's a 20-something recent college graduate who thought she had the flu being diagnosed out of the blue with terminal leukemia, or a 90-year-old grandmother succumbing to Alzheimer's, sooner or later our own bodies betray us.

Someone who has left religion behind has to live, and snatch whatever meaning or joy life has to offer, without imagining that misfortunes happen according to any divine "plan", or that they will be compensated in an afterlife.

It might seem almost unbearably hard to face these things head on, but people manage it. And for some people (the people who simply **cannot** fit in any conventional religious categories of "goodness" -- such as homosexuals, for instance), the price exacted by religious belief outweighs the price of facing life head-on without any religious sugar-coating.

Best of luck.

BTW, another video you might find useful is Christian's story on the mormenlikeme channel:

Boris said...

Incidentally, Jonathan, I've tried (perhaps unsuccessfully) to keep my comments relatively simple and straightforward. (Once upon a time, I studied all that intellectual stuff about Russell and Kierkegaard and Sartre and Camus (and I still love Camus, because he took responsibility for his moral beliefs, and, at risk of his own life, opposed the Vichy French who tolerated the Nazis in their midst, even as those French Nazis murdered/executed so many of his own countrymen.) And, later in his life, he dared to risk the condemnation of his mentor, Sartre ( a totally dedicated Communist), when he (Camus) decried the atrocities committed in the name of Stalin--Camus was just a very honest and decent human being!

Forget all the bloody philosophy--it all comes down to this: do YOU believe you were born/created gay? And, given that, do you believe you have a meaningful choice in how you live your life? And, finally, if it were possible (which it probably is not) to CONVERT you from gay to straight (ala Exodus or Evergreen), would you REALLY want to take the risk of attempting it?

My admonition, for what little it's worth: keep faith with yourself, and let the Mormon bigots, including so many of the GA, rot in Hades!

With my best wishes,


Rippinsteo said...

I believe that WE are the most salient and most forceful evidence that a higher intelligence-- such as a god might possess--possibly exists.

I will argue that if this universe is capable of producing the billions of self-aware 'I ams' that we--the human race--represent, then, there can be no denying the possibility that there exists within the space-time continuum of all reality a greater intelligence--a great 'I AM.'

This is why I believe Agnosticism is a much more logically tenable position than Atheism.

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