Archive for category Rationality
There are two logical extremes available in life. Leaving aside any sacred/secular motivations, the extremes come down simply to this; do I live for myself or do I live for others? It only takes a brief glance at any given day’s news to discover which one most people choose. Contrary to what most self-improvement folks think and say (PUAs, motivational speakers, self help authors, etc.), it is actually really easy to make yourself happy. Altruism does not come easily to humans. All you have to do is suppress that “I should” voice in your head, and listen to the “I want to” voice. Boom. I just saved you a thousand dollar self-help conference.
The “I should” voice is a lot harder. The “I should” voice asks us to do things that aren’t comfortable. It asks us to do things that go against the grain. And it has to be exercised, unlike the “I want to” voice. If you let yourself (granted, you have to do it in a thoughtful, logical manner) do what you want to do, rather than what you feel like you should, then you can be happy, after a fashion. Alternatively, you could take the much sweeter (but much harder) road of doing what you should. The problem there is that our notions of correct behavior are at odds with our nature, and so are corrupted almost immediately. Contemplative seeking out of the proper action is necessary to enable us to do what we actually should do.
What does this have to do with Horace’s quote, you ask? Everything. What we ‘should’ do is deeply tied in with denial of self to the glorification of others. Denial is self-sacrifice. Whether you are a religious person or not, it is easy to see that many people we admire deeply are admired because of their self-sacrifice. Ghandi. Buddha. St. Francis. Jesus. All of these people, whether you agree with their transcendent teaching or not, are admirable because of their devotion to others. Horace said that it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for your country, and I think he was right, but the daily death of putting others first is far sweeter and more fitting, if a thousand times harder. This is what we have lost. There simply aren’t many Nathan Hales alive today (and I’ll bet that most of them are in the military), so how many fewer Ghandis or St. Francises must there be? That is who I want to be.
Oh, and by the way; that last phrase contains the entire point of this post. After a certain amount of practice (more in some cases, like mine), the “I want to” voice starts sounding a lot like the “I should” voice. It doesn’t work the other way around. I’ve tried.
The question of God, religion, et. al. is ultimately a philosophical one. And, no, it is not some absurd philosophical question like “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” or even more interesting ones like “What is the nature of evil?” It is, ultimately, the only philosophical question that actually matters (although, depending on your answer, it might not matter). The question is this; am I prepared to base personal beliefs on subjective input, or only on things which are completely objective. It is REALLY not hard to justify either position, sadly. Those of us who have had religious experiences (even if the experience is something as ephemeral as just saying ‘I feel like it is true’) and accept them, feel the need to integrate them. As much as it galls me to admit this, though, without a religious experience of some sort (hereinafter shortened to theophany. Because I can. Look it up.) it is impossible to justify a belief in God. Materialists/naturalists refute these experiences as being irreproducible. Well, yeah, but so is a live musical performance. Your point? My belief in God (and for that matter, in Christ) in no way impinges on your rights to deny them. I am, of course, leaving aside those wingnuts who insist on teaching unverifiable pseudoscience, or legislating things that have no business being legislated, but those are rants for another day.
Claiming the mantles of both Christian and rationalist probably disturbs rationalists more than it does Christians. I’m okay with that. Rationalists believe that all questions can eventually be answered (although it will probably open up new questions in the process, of course), and that is, fundamentally, the core of their rejection of religion. I believe that the universe will always have some mysteries; specifically origins. That alone is sufficient evidence (leaving aside my personal experiences) in my mind to require a God. Again, leaving aside my own experience, Pascal’s wager and the nature of most world religions implies that there are very few religions that are appropriate to choose. The overwhelming majority of belief systems do not require salvation in itself, merely good behaviors. Only a very few demand some form of redemption for man. At that point, if there is some immortal part to me (and I don’t know that there is, necessarily, much as I like the idea) then it makes sense for me to choose a way that leads to maximal utility.
So, we start with three beliefs, and I think you will see how starting down this path leads to Christianity.
A) The universe has unanswerable questions.
B) God, by His nature, is unknowable in any complete sense. (A topic for a later, MUCH longer post)
C) Only a few religions demand some sort of penance for being human.
There are more aspects to my specific choice for Christ, of course, some of which are much more telling (for me) than these, but they are for another time.