Why do I believe what I believe? For starters, why do I believe in God? I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself those questions and trying to answer them. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I believe in God because … well, really, because He wanted me to and because I chose to. But He orchestrated some factors to help me in that choosing. I’ll do my best to explore those factors in this post.
Last post, I stated that we all believe what we believe largely because of authority. There are many different sources of authority, and we use many of them in turn for choosing our unique and individual belief sets. I also mentioned last post that, in order to access absolute truth, we must take some source as an infallible one. (Otherwise, we have nothing but a whole bunch of conflicting opinions on every subject imaginable. Essentially, there would be no absolute truth. And that is an inherently self-contradictory and unlivable position.) The three authorities we tend to take as infallible that I talked about last post were parental authority, religious authority, and scientific authority.
The pathway of belief that I chose brought me out to the spot where I’ve rejected parental authority and scientific authority as infallible but have embraced a particular religious authority as infallible. That pathway, however, started for me with parental authority and led me through scientific authority.
Those factors God orchestrated? I can’t speak to what it looks like from His perspective, but from my perspective, I think I believe in a God today because my parents told me there is a God and then science came along to confirm it for me.
As with most kids, I started off believing whatever my parents told me was true, but as with most kids, I soon began to question if everything my parents taught me could possibly be true. Especially in the culture I live in, we’re all given a lot of help in learning to question the reality of a God. We can’t get too far along in our education or just in living life without doubts regarding this belief being flung at us.
It’s interesting that the people doing the doubt-flinging will often tell us that their reasons for doing so are scientific ones. I say “interesting” because when I’m tempted over and over to doubt this belief I hold, one reason I always, in the end, come back around to clinging to it is science.
I’ve stated that I don’t believe science to be an infallible authority, but I do see it to be a valuable authority. I recognize that “science” really means “scientists,” and scientists are only human. Scientists make new discoveries and leave old ones behind. Scientists change their minds. Scientists contradict each other. Scientists are prone to biases; to the push and pull of various desires in their interpretations of their discoveries (aka: their beliefs) that the rest of us are prone to.
I’ll always hold some false beliefs. I can’t know anything with absolute certainty. I can only try to get through life as best I can by deciding what I believe based on the best evidence available to me. That means I must weigh the evidence, even the scientific evidence, for myself as much as I can. But I also recognize that scientists have a lot to teach me once I carefully sift through the evidence I have at hand.
And here’s the reason I say that because of science I always come back to clinging to my belief in God in spite of my doubts: I see the scientific evidence leaving me with no truly viable alternative other than a belief in a Creator God of some sort.
I like to think of myself as an honest person, but I have the same push/pull of desire (or bias) in my belief set that everyone is susceptible to one way or the other. I admit that I want to believe in God. Sure, I was raised to believe in God. I don’t want to disappoint my family and closest friends by deciding not to. I don’t want to give up the meaning it brings to my life, without which I’m afraid I wouldn’t see any meaning. But regardless, I’m an honest person, and I value truth above my desires. I believe quite a lot of things I don’t want to believe but have been convinced of. So I think I’ve tried to examine the evidence for and against God just as honestly as my bias will allow me to. There have certainly been those moments (a lot of them) when it equally seems that a belief in God is impossible for me to go on clinging to. In those moments, I’m always brought back to the question, “Well, then, what are my alternatives?”
My alternatives really come down to a) Nothing is what it seems, anyway, b) Everything is an accident, or c) There is a Creator.
I’ll tell you up front that the only alternative I could accept over c) is a). Perhaps what we think of as reality isn’t really real. Maybe mind is the only true reality. We’re living in a sort of a dream world or the matrix (if there is a “we” at all. Maybe I’m all on my own. Maybe mine is the only mind in existence. Who knows?) However, what I can know is that I have existence—my mind has existence. If nothing else is real, consciousness is real. I think, therefore I am. Who or whatever “I” am, “I” exist because “I” am conscious. I can’t find any way around this truism.
But if “I” exist (and I do), then this fact matters. “I” matter to me. My experience of consciousness matters to me. There may be no way to prove or disprove whether or not anything else exists, but I know I do, and to me, I matter.
The quest, then, is to try to do the best I can do with my experience of consciousness.
I’ve heard of those who’ve decided to embrace the belief that mind is the only reality, but they certainly find themselves unable to live consistently with such a belief. They live as though there is such a thing as a physical world and it’s all real. In that case, why bother believing it’s not? There’s no way to logically argue for or against such a belief. There’s no way to arrive at this position from any sort of evidence-based examination of it, and there’s absolutely no practical help in getting through one’s experience of consciousness to be had from it. For those reasons, I’ve set it aside.
It’s true that sometimes a belief in God looks impossible to me, but then nothing would make any sense at all. So, this “mind is the only reality” idea looks to me like my only viable alternative. (Who expects dreams to make sense, after all? If nothing is real, it doesn’t have to make sense. If my mind is the only thing in existence and I can’t really know or learn anything about a real reality, I don’t have to try to figure out where my mind came from. It just is. Maybe it’s always been.) But if this idea happens to be true, then so what? Where does it lead me? How does it help me? What good does such a belief do me? Absolutely none. It’s good for nothing, and so I disregard it as nothing. I can’t possibly know one way or the other if it’s true, so I set it aside as untrue or at least entirely irrelevant to my life and get on with the business of believing in a real reality. And believing that the real reality is (at least somewhat) what we think it is.
And then I consider b). Even on my own, I think I would find b) to be, quite literally, unbelievable. Nonsensical. Fairy-taleish. A much greater leap of blind faith than the clean, quiet prose of the creation account in Genesis 1 that some see as fairy tale. I’ve had a look at the evidence of those who proclaim that it’s not only possible but probable, even inevitable, that everything just … sort of … happened, and I find their “evidence” to consist of nothing more than the rankest bias. They just don’t want there to be a God. That those who believe so are desperate to believe it is the main impression I come away with. I find the so-called “scientific” explanations for how everything could have come to be without some kind of designing intelligence back of it utterly lacking in evidence. The evidence put forward for these explanations is evidence for pieces of the theory, but those pieces do not support the whole all on their own. There is no explanation—none—for the whole.
Consider the origin of the universe: Now that there is consensus among scientists that our universe is not eternal, they are left with zero scientific explanations as to how it could have come into being without some help. And when we get to the origin of life, we’re faced with the same problem. Similarities between the DNA of one species and another do absolutely nothing to explain how the DNA could have organized itself into its information-rich, trademark double helix all by itself. Out of dead matter. That vital piece of the theory is left entirely untouched. Of necessity.
So that brings us to a). The scientific arguments presented by theistic scientists (while admittedly biased) are sound and (as far as I’ve seen) unconquerable. (It doesn’t have to matter that these arguments are biased. Bias does not determine truth. If I happen to believe the truth because I want to believe it, just because my bias is involved doesn’t make the truth untrue. Bias must give way to evidence if we’re to be honest seekers after truth, but none of us can start without some bias or other. Bias is possible to overcome through evidence, but the evidence for “no God” or for accidental origins I’ve seen to be so weak, I feel no need to overcome my bias of a desire to believe in God.)
I’m no scientist, so I’ll direct you to a couple of talks by a couple of scientists who make the case in a way that’s accessible to the layperson. Here’s one on the origin of everything, and here’s another on the origin of life. They’re long, but well-worth the watch when you have time.
It’s this kind of scientific authority and the weakness of the other side that keeps me convinced in a belief in God.
“But,” someone will tell me, “All this isn’t evidence for God. There is no direct evidence for God. Negative evidence isn’t evidence. The evidence for God is really an argument from ignorance. It’s God-in-the-gaps kind of thinking. Ignorance of how the universe and life came to be and came to be what it is today doesn’t have to mean that there’s a God-figure back of it all. Primitive people have always assigned God’s mysterious ways the role of explaining what wasn’t previously understood. The more we learn, the more we understand, and this process will eventually leave no room for God. The gaps are closing.”
But this is really future-scientific-discoveries-in-the-gaps kind of thinking. Why is this superior to “God-in-the-gaps” thinking? True lovers of knowledge have always wanted explanations for things and have always looked for the best options at hand to explain things. Plugging the holes in our scientific knowledge with the God-explanation is the best option we have at present. It’s using our observational skills to arrive at what looks like our most likely alternative of the moment.
When we see design and order and pattern, especially information-bearing design, order, and pattern, without knowing the cause, we conclude that an intelligence caused it. For example, if I’m out hiking, and I run across a design that looks like, “A + B” carved into a tree or written on a rock, I immediately recognize that here is an intelligible pattern. It’s an information-bearing design. I know what it means if not who put it there. So without having to see the source in action, I jump to the obvious (and true) conclusion that this information was the product of mind.
This is the intuition that causes us to plug God into the gaps in our knowledge as the best explanation. The universe is full of intelligible information. It’s made up of intelligible information. The more we learn about it, the more obvious that becomes. The truth is, the gaps are not shrinking; they’re widening. The more we learn, the more vastly unlikely it starts to look that everything could have come about by pure chance.
The belief that the supernatural is the proper bridge for our gaps is not strictly a scientific one, but that’s okay. There are other ways of learning and knowing besides the strictly scientific ones. And now let’s talk for a moment about a phenomenon called “scientism.” Scientism is basically the religion of science. It’s the deification, in a sense, of scientific discovery. Some people think that scientific knowledge—knowledge which relates only to the purely physical—is the end-all, be-all of all knowledge possible. This is why those who are devout believers in scientism plug the gaps in their knowledge with “future-scientific-discoveries-in-the-gaps.” They believe science is the only acceptable method of arriving at a true belief-set. But this mindset is not science. It’s faith. It starts with the unproven assumption that the physical is all there is. But the physical is not all there is. Many everyday realities are outside the realm of science and the purely physical.
Science has limits. Science can determine the time of death of a murdered body. It can’t speak to the motive behind the murder. That must be discovered by other means. Science can have some say on the “who” of the murder with DNA evidence. It can’t begin to address the “why.” Science is the study of the purely physical, and most of our lives and what makes them worth living is beyond the grasp of science.
And so I believe in God. Not as a scientific fact but largely because of the scientific evidence. As far as science has advanced, and the more it advances, the more it moves us in this direction. God is presently the most reasonable explanation for the scientific evidence. Science can never prove the existence of a God outside the realm of the physical, but it can push us in that direction. It can push us to the brink of a belief in the supernatural. Only faith can step off.
Ever since I saw the movie about a hundred years ago, I’ve thought that one scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the most perfect illustration for why I believe in God. (It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, so please bear with any of my inaccuracies and take the illustration for what it’s worth.) Indiana Jones has followed the clues in his quest to the spot where an invisible bridge must certainly be. The evidence is too strong. He must be at the right spot. But the bridge is hidden. It doesn’t reveal itself until he takes that first step of faith into what looks like thin air with a long, long fall to the bottom. But because of the evidence that brought him there, he takes that step into seeming-thin air, and he finds something solid-yet-invisible under his foot.
I would never recommend to anyone that they dive off the cliff in a blind leap of faith into any belief system (including mine). I would recommend following the evidence where it leads. And then taking an evidence-based step of faith off into the unknown. And that starts with a belief in God.
But which God? That will be the next topic I want to talk about. Next post.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m always interested in why we believe what we believe. If the subject interests you as well, let’s explore together. As much as I can in this and the next two posts, I’ll give you that little glimpse into my inner workings and analyze for you why I believe what I believe. But a lot of why I believe what I believe will apply generally, so let’s start with the generalities that apply across the board. Why do we believe what we believe?
First off, let’s define the word “believe.” Can we agree on, “To think to be true”? It’s a nice, simple definition, but it covers all our bases. We don’t need to complicate it further. If we believe a thing, we think it’s true.
Now, the first generality I want to tackle regarding why we believe what we believe is the subject of belief vs. knowledge. Could we also agree that none of us can truly know anything beyond all unreasonable doubt? All we really have is belief. We make decisions about what we think is true. I don’t imagine we could find one single belief regarding which every person on earth would agree. (Flat earthers ruined our perfect consensus.) If there’s room for disagreement, there’s room for doubt. I may think the doubt unreasonable (as in the case of flat earthers), but if the doubt looks reasonable to someone else, who am I to say that my way of looking at things must be the one right way? We’re all human, after all. Very high IQ individuals may be right about more things than the rest of us, but they’ll be wrong about some things. They may be wrong about some things that a lower IQ individual happens to be right about.
Even if we could have perfect consensus on any particular, we could all be wrong. There was a time when perfect consensus could see that the earth was flat. Most of us would now say that consensus was wrong back then. So there’s no way to really know what we know. We use the word “know” but what we mean by “know” is really “believe without doubt.” And what I “know” (or believe without doubt) someone else will disbelieve or doubt. Being fallible, non-omniscient beings, we can’t know anything absolutely. But we will all believe some things and disbelieve others.
So why do we believe what we believe? And here’s the second generality I want to discuss: Authority. All sane people bow to it somewhere, sometime. All of us (if we’re sane) believe most of what we believe because of authority. We all decide what authorities we’ll deem reliable and where and when we deem them reliable. Those beliefs are the foundation for the rest of our beliefs.
I’ve made a few decisions about what I think is true based on my own personal experiences, but my experience is very limited. So is yours. Even if you are some kind of authority on something, you’re no kind of authority on everything. You may be a specialist in something and “know” (I know I just said none of us can know anything, but, well, I mean that we think we know things) more than anyone else on earth about your special subject, but you won’t know as much as someone else on some other subject. Our brains are limited. And even if you are that specialist authority, you’re standing on the shoulders of those who came before. You still must build on the knowledge of others and interpret your own research through it. Otherwise, you’d be reinventing the wheel time after time after time, and that wouldn’t make you the most knowledgeable person about anything. So we take most things on authority. That’s just how it is.
The third generality in our choice of beliefs is evidence. True, we believe most of what we believe based on what some authority or other tells us, but we choose which authorities we’ll believe based on the evidence of their reliability (at least we should. And to some degree, we all do. Another generality we all share is bias in our beliefs. We all have various desires that push and pull at our beliefs, but all of us have some kind of reasoning, evidence-evaluating capacity if we’re not severely mentally deficient. Of course that capacity varies from person to person. And some place more importance on it than others. But it’s there for all of us.)
It’s interesting to me to note that, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we all seem to cling to one authority or another (and sometimes first one and then another) as largely infallible. Our first authorities are inevitably our parents or the adults who raised us, and we start off with the unconscious assumption that those authorities are infallible. Kids believe whatever they’re told. But this is sensible at that level of understanding. When you don’t have the experience to know that those who’ve lived longer than you can be wrong about quite a lot of things (or that they might be lying to you), you’re basing your beliefs on the best evidence available to you. Not having a great deal of evidence at hand yet, you’re doing the best you can.You’re believing what you’re told by those who’ve lived longer and have more experience and knowledge. Generally, when you’re a kid, you don’t have much acquired knowledge and very little first-hand experience, so your best option for starting off that life-long process of choosing your beliefs is to believe what adults tell you.
However, most kids begin to question what they’re told when they begin to notice that they may be hearing quite contradictory things from the adults in their lives or after they’ve caught out those adults in an untruth or two (either an intentional untruth—a lie—or an unintentional untruth—a mistake). This is also sensible. Kids, at some age when critical thinking starts to develop, begin the process of deciding which authorities they think are reliable and which they don’t. Still very sensible.
Back in a day, religion was the next infallible authority. There are still those of us who do, in fact, believe that there are infallible authorities in this realm. And though I’ll touch on it in this post, I want to save explaining my rationale for the particular authority I hold to be infallible until I get to my last post in this series. For now let’s just say that this is no longer the majority position, at least not in the culture from where I’m writing.
Instead, my culture has replaced that infallible authority with a different infallible authority: Science. Now, again, the assumption of infallibility is largely unconscious, and that’s because if it’s admitted and examined, it shows itself as a false assumption within seconds. We talk about “science” as though it’s an impersonal entity, but what we usually mean when we talk about “science” is scientists. And once we call things by their right names, we realize that we’d be very foolish to elevate any scientist to the pedestal of infallibility. Scientists are humans, after all. And we opened this discussion by agreeing (at least, I hope we did) that no human is infallible and omniscient.
But the dogma that “science” may not be questioned once it’s settled as “science” by the majority is pervasive. No one may tell us so, but it’s in our cultural atmosphere that we’re constantly inhaling and exhaling. “Science” has become that parent that tells us, “Because I said so! That’s why!” And those of us who are non-scientists generally accept the dictum without challenging it. After all, I can’t even understand what these people are talking about half the time. Who am I to disagree?
But then, as in our early days, we may begin to notice that our infallible authorities contradict each other. Scientists don’t all agree. How should I know which one to listen to? And what they apparently all proclaimed ten years ago on some piece of settled science or other they may call a science myth today.
We look at the amazing advances “science” has made in today’s world with a smart phone in every pocket and DNA testing solving crimes left, right, and centre, and we accept this as evidence that “Science knows best.” But we should be adults who can see that “science” can’t possibly be infallible. (If it were, those smart phones in our pockets would be infallible instead of constantly glitching out.) We can begin growing up and recognizing that “science” is no more infallible (okay, maybe sometimes a little more infallible, depending on the parent) than our parents were.
But what are we to do, then? How are we to decide what we believe? If our parents and scientists aren’t to be trusted implicitly, how can we know anything at all? The simple answer is, of course, that we can’t know anything at all. We can only decide what we believe.
But (and here’s my fourth generality) there are different degrees of importance when it comes to truth. Sometimes it doesn’t much matter what we believe. To be fair, how much practical difference does it make to our everyday lives to believe that the earth is round or to believe that it’s flat? But the truth about which side of the road to drive on in the UK is going to be an important truth to believe if you ever plan to drive in the UK. Some truths and some beliefs about those truths may not make much difference to our experiences. Some truths and some beliefs about those truths may make a life and death difference to our experiences. And some truths and some beliefs about those truths may make an eternity of difference to our experiences.
And here’s my fifth generality to close with: While we may not know absolutely what’s true and what isn’t, none of us can get by without the reality of a truth somewhere out there for us to believe. Belief may be our only access to absolute truth, but there must be absolute truth to believe, all the same.
There’s a reason we unconsciously make some authority or other infallible. Without some infallible authority or other that we can turn to, for us there is really no such thing as absolute truth. We know that none of us (parents or scientists) are infallible and omniscient. Yet without some infallible and omniscient Mind out there to know all truth and to tell us some of it, then all we would have available to us would be our own different sets of questionable beliefs. All we’d have would be all our different perspectives and varying perceptions. The folks who tell us, “There is no such thing as absolute truth,” would be 100% correct. At least, if absolute truth exists in some form, for us it would have no existence. If we have no access to it.
But that is a premise that is essentially unlivable. We’ve tried it embracing it as true (seeing the problem?) for a number of decades since we decided that religious sources were nonsense. We’ve unconsciously elevated “science” to those vacancies, but that just doesn’t work, either. Without accepting some sort of authority as infallible, we are adrift on a sea of speculation and ignorance. And some truths are important. Some truths must be believed in order not to smash ourselves up on the motorways. And some truths may be more important still.
All this leads me to embrace the option that there is an infallible authority available for us to believe. No, we can’t know the truth of it beyond all unreasonable doubt. But a solid belief based on good evidence for what authority we’ll choose to believe is enough to get us through life. And with that, I’ll leave it there. Until my next post and my reasons for believing in a God.
As the first instalment in my series on why I believe what I believe but before I dig into the meat of why I believe what I believe, I want to talk about why I titled my blog what I titled my blog. If you’ve read the “about” page (but you haven’t because, well, no one has), I state (and I quote)…
“[…] the Bible tells us that there are really only two kingdoms battling it out on this globe of ours since its earliest days. It also tells us that humanity elected the wrong guy for our ruler way back in Genesis 3, and we’ve suffered under his oppressive regime ever since. But we still haven’t wised up. Most of us are still hellbent on voting for this dictator-of-the-worst-possible-stripe to enslave us. […] And that brings me to the name of this blog. I realized that everything I wanted to write about really comes down to the clash between these two kingdoms (but that name was already in use). In fact, all the good names with “kingdom” in them had been taken already. So instead of, “A Clash of Kingdoms,” I ripped off that superior title and went with “Crowns Colliding” (which essentially means the same thing). And that’s it. The battle between these two kingdoms that plays out in politics and our culture war is what this blog is about.”
All that sounds kind of crazy if you don’t happen to believe the way I believe, and I don’t like sounding any crazier than I absolutely have to which is why I’m starting this series to explain and defend the reasons behind why I believe what I believe. I thought I’d start by addressing the mental barriers you may have erected in your mind as soon as you read my quote from my “about” page.
The fact that Christianity and the Bible teach the reality of an unseen spiritual world may put the worldview out of the running of potential acceptance by those who hold the preconception that the material world is all there is (all there was, and all there ever will be, to loosely quote the bold and unexamined assertion made by Carl Sagan in “Cosmos”). If this is your belief, then the Christian claim (referenced in the title of this blog) that a spiritual being called “Satan” is “the ruler of this world” (according to Jesus—John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11) sounds like conspiracy theory on steroids. So let me start by challenging the assertion and assumption that a belief in the invisible is not a viable option for an adult with a normal, functioning brain.
It’s the contention of the Bible that there’s more to reality than the merely material. The world is made up of more than just the physical, and we are bigger than our bodies. If you happen to be an atheistic materialist, of course, you won’t accept this description of reality just on my say-so or the Bible’s, but let’s talk about it.
For starters, once we really stop to think about it, we all know that there is more to reality than the merely material. Do you believe in the reality of abstractions? Do you believe in love, beauty, truth, justice? If you’re a hard-core materialist, you’ll have to say “no.” To stay consistent, you’ll have to deny the objective reality of these abstract concepts and say that all abstract concepts are just products of the human mind (or rather, the human brain because your worldview will not allow you to accept the concept of the human mind as somehow differentiated from the brain.)
But now let’s talk about an abstract concept which you won’t be able to deny the reality of because its product is the human brain. And all other organs. And all other organisms. This is an abstract concept which bears very tangible fruit in the material world. It is the very foundation of life. I’m talking about the abstract concept of information.
You may not have thought of it this way before, but information is really nothing more than an abstract concept. If a person speaks no English or is completely illiterate but somehow stumbles onto this blog post, to such a person these words that I’m typing are nothing more than unintelligible shapes and designs just like Thai or Arabic writing is to me. The information I’m passing on has no material value. It is apprehended as meaning only in the mind of the sender and of the receiver. As a physical reality, words are nothing more than vibrations in the atmosphere or ink on a page or a series of electronic ones and zeros. Meaning and communication are abstracts that exist only in a mind (or a brain, if you must!).
Now, here’s the crazy part. We are entirely made up of this abstract concept called information. Information (in the sense in which I’m using it here) must be functional. It cannot be mere recognized order or pattern that means nothing like the Thai alphabet is to me. I can recognize that there is pattern and order to it, but I can’t decipher it. In order for information to be information in any real way, it must do something. It must produce results. It must communicate. And functional information is exactly what our DNA code is. It turns into something. In nature, it does not have the (to me) unintelligible quality of Thai writing. Life know what to do with it. Living bodies know how to read and interpret the DNA code correctly to create the proteins that are needed to turn into cells, just as the computer I’m typing on correctly takes the words I’m typing and turns them into ones and zeros that again turn into words for you to read.
Our bodies are made up of the material, just as the words I’m communicating use a physical medium. But our bodies are also made up of the abstract concept of information just as you’re understanding the meaning of the words I’m typing (or so I hope).
In fact, information is the most basic example I can give of a word I finally want to introduce into the conversation now that I’ve given it a build-up. That word is “spiritual.” In its most basic understanding, “spiritual” is referring to realities that are invisible (not just because they’re too small to be seen like the atom) but, in fact, intangible. Immaterial. Non-physical. Incapable of being apprehended by the senses.
With the illustration of information, you may be surprised to learn that you probably already to some degree believe in the spiritual, even if you (as the materialist I’m addressing in this post) would never use the word as something you embrace.
But there you are! Now that you’ve realized that you must acknowledge one intangible reality because of the undeniable nature of information, maybe you’ll open your mind (yes, mind! Not just your brain!) to the possibility of other spiritual realities. Like the mind.
And there are certainly good reasons for believing that the mind is more than just the brain. Believing that there is no such thing as mind, that all is matter, has given rise to the necessity of determinism. If we are nothing more than our atoms, then we are all just dancing to our DNA (according to Richard Dawkins). We have no free will. We make no choices in any kind of real way. Matter has no will of its own. It perfectly obeys natural law.
But anyone with an ounce of sense can see that we simply cannot live consistently with this philosophy. We hold people accountable for their actions. We expect people to understand the difference between right and wrong and feel justifiably angry (at least, the anger feels justifiable to us) when we see the wrong in action. Out of one side of the mouth, we may spout the idea that love, beauty, truth, justice are nothing more than chemical tricks the brain plays on us, but no one can live as though this is fact. We all feel these abstractions to be much bigger and more powerful realities than the tangibles.
And if our thinking is entirely predetermined by the shapes our brains take on thanks to the information in our DNA, then what’s the sense in trusting any human thought, anyway? We couldn’t discover truth by the random actions of our brain circuits. What is truth? Just a chemical illusion. A trick of matter.
So we’ve seen that information is a real thing. It produces real results. It is verifiably objective. But this is the interesting thing: in all observation, information has ever only been the product of Mind. My computer can generate information, but only because some mind programmed it to do so. We have never, in the history of anything, witnessed information come about through something other than thinking. Intelligence. Mind.
Now, all this has obvious implications into the origin of life question, but I’ll save that for another post. I’m just trying to open your mind here to the possibility of the reality of a spiritual world.
If you can wrap your head around the idea that believing in a spiritual world is not akin to believing in fairies but is a sensible, adult position to take, you can begin to understand that maybe all Christians aren’t quite as crazy as they may seem at first glance. Yes, because it’s out of our visible, tangible experience, the reality of unseen worlds and unseen beings proclaimed by the Bible is hard for us to swallow. But understand that “spiritual” just means “intangible” and that our minds (as distinct from our brains) are intangible, and you’ll be on the right track, I believe.
The Bible does teach that there are spirit-beings who aren’t restricted to the limitations of a physical body as we humans are. God is one such. He is a person, but not a body (in His eternal nature). He is spirit. Or if you prefer, He is mind. Not brain, but mind. Then, the Bible tells us, He created lesser but very powerful spirit-beings (or minds) who were also not restricted to a body in the same way we are. The Bible calls them angels (or messengers). And God also created other spirit-beings who are also bodies–restricted to the boundaries of matter and time and space. We call them humans.
Reading between the lines of some hints the Bible gives us, some angels rebelled against their Creator (because the God of freedom had to create free minds capable of free choice to freely serve Him or not. He is not the God of determinism. At least, that’s how I read the Bible.). These fallen angels became absolutely evil and are the spirit-beings the Bible calls “demons.” (Satan, or “adversary” or “enemy”, being chief among them.)
Although they can never be considered science proper, speculations now abound about multiple universes. It’s a fascinating idea. And try this one on for size: In a sense, that’s really what the spiritual realm is. It’s a spiritual universe that intersects with our physical universe. It’s an entirely different mode of existence that we can’t quite grasp in physical terms, but we have ourselves and our minds and the information they carry to show us an illustration of that spiritual universe and its intersection with the physical. If you like, the spiritual is the fifth dimension.
So, that brings me to defending the name I’ve chosen for this blog. If the Bible is a true story (and at some point in this series about, “Why I Believe What I Believe” I hope to explain to you why I believe it is), then this utterly debased and fallen, completely evil spirit-being called Satan is the ruler of a spiritual kingdom of evil that intersects with our visible, tangible world and is at constant war with God’s kingdom of right and light.
I know I’ve said the spiritual world is invisible, but as we’ve seen with the invisible concept of information, it can have very visible effects on our visible world. And when I look around at the world as it is, the only thing that makes sense of it for me is this doctrine that the spiritual world is real and there is an evil side to it–that there are powers and intelligences that are intent on our destruction. Once you open your mind to the idea of a real spiritual reality, that’s all you’ll be able to see in our world, and you won’t be able to unsee it.
There’s no other explanation I can think of. Why is our world so infiltrated by evil (another invisible abstract concept but so real! And with effects that are very visible!)? Yes, survival of the fittest can be brutal. Yes, nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Yes, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. But the animal kingdom acts on instinct and does what it does to ensure survival in some form. No animal kills or injures for “fun.” Animals fight and kill to eat or to mate. Humans are the only animals (because we’re more than animals and are the intersection between the physical and spiritual in a single entity) that are capable of pure evil. Only humanity produces serial killers and Holocausts and torture chambers for no reason other than because we can.
Looking around at our world, I sometimes feel that I can’t go on believing in a God. I’m never tempted to stop believing in a devil.
I know humans. I am one. And I don’t think we could get this bad all on our own without a little help from the dark side. But once I recognize Satan’s reality, I am brought back to the reality of God. Without good, there can be no true evil.
From now on, when I reference the two kingdoms that are at war on our planet, I hope you’ll have a little better idea what I mean. And I hope you’ll be a little less tempted to call me crazy for believing in them. I think it’s crazier to deny their reality.
Against my better judgement and almost against my will, I’m keeping up on the recent Michael Jackson developments. If you’re not, I’ll briefly get you up to speed: If you were around and paying attention in the ’90s and then again in the early 2000s, Michael Jackson was first alleged to have molested a child (the allegations were settled out of court) and then tried in a criminal case (where he was acquitted). It’s all blown up again since his death with the release of an HBO documentary, “Leaving Neverland.” In the doc, two men tell their stories of their (alleged) abuse at Michael Jackson’s hands when they were children.
By “keeping up,” I don’t mean that I’ve watched the documentary. I don’t know that I will. The men’s stories, I’m told, are graphic and horrific, and I’m not sure I want to subject myself to anything more horrific than what I’ve already been subjected to via YouTube.
And the documentary isn’t what I’m feeling driven to write about, anyway. Since the story has blown up everywhere, it’s the reaction I’m seeing all over the place that has me alternating between scratching my head and spitting fire. One way or the other, it’s given me lots of food for thought.
I’m a bit of a true-crime drama addict. The subject of due process and the courtroom standard for evidence beyond reasonable doubt is a subject that always interests me. How we know things and how we decide what we believe is a topic I’m always fascinated by, so that’s probably one reason why there’s something about the courtroom that has a draw for me.
And I see the brilliance of the basis of our judicial system: the presumption of innocence. The principle is that it’s always more important to protect the innocent than to punish the guilty. Both are important, but it’s far worse to think of the innocent suffering than to think of the guilty getting off scot-free. Both travesties, but the first seems far worse
Now, the real dilemma comes in when we ask ourselves, “But if the guilty walks free, will more innocent suffering result?” This shouldn’t be a consideration for the pure reasoner on the jury who has to weigh the evidence and decide if it’s beyond reasonable doubt, but I’m sure it would be a very human reaction of any one of the humans on the jury. Yes, I want to be absolutely sure not to punish the innocent. But what if the accused does happen to be guilty though the evidence is too weak to be conclusive? In the event that I free a guilty person, what is the likelihood of their re-offending?
If I had been on the jury in Michael Jackson’s criminal trial in the 2000s, this is the question that would have kept me up at night after his acquittal. Because if I’d been on that jury, I think I would have had to vote to acquit. Against every instinct in my brain and every fibre in my gut screaming out that he was guilty.
A jury member cannot listen to instinct. A jury member cannot give in to the cry of, “But I just feel like…” A jury member must consider the evidence and nothing else. And although the circumstances surrounding the charges against Michael Jackson were highly suspicious, the direct evidence — the eyewitness testimony — was weak and compromised.
The circumstances surrounding the charges are well-known and undisputed. I’ll just sum them up to say that Michael Jackson had series of little boys sleeping alone with him in his bed at his Neverland ranch for nights upon nights in a row. Some of these boys came forward later as accusers. Some did not. Some first defended Michael and said he never touched them and then later spoke out in an HBO documentary, claiming the opposite. (Stockholm Syndrome and fear of their own exposure, if these accusations are true, was apparently the cause of the boys lying to defend Michael. At the time of his trial, they claim, they felt as though they were “in love” with Michael and didn’t want to do anything to hurt him or themselves.)
And at the time of the trial, the case for the prosecution was shaky after the defence team was finished with it. The trial revolved around the accusations of one boy, but his testimony was weakened by the testimony of his mother who (from the documentary I watched on the case) was a non-credible witness. Her story kept changing, some of her statements were outrageous and plainly false, and she seemed to be a chronic liar. If I’d been on the jury, I would have had to admit that I strongly suspected MJ of wrongdoing but that I had reasonable doubt of his guilt. It was entirely reasonable that a greedy mother had put her son up to making up stories about the abuse for some kind of financial benefit or for attention or for one or more of any other of the vast number of reasons why people lie.
It would still be extremely strange that a grown man held sleepovers, many sleepovers, one-on-one sleepovers, with young boys who were no relation to him.There was no natural basis for these relationships which began as fans courting a celebrity and then turned into the celebrity courting the fans. But it’s a strange world, and people do strange things. Michael and his defenders used (and use) the line that he never had a childhood and was really just a big kid, hanging out with other kids. Nothing weird about one kid having a sleepover and even sleeping in the same bed as another kid.
And if no accusers had ever come forward, I would have raised my eyebrows at the situation, thought the parents were naive in the extreme to allow it, but given MJ the benefit of the doubt.
But the accusers have come forward.
If there was ever only the one who was at the centre of the trial, I would have had misgivings being on a jury that acquitted, but I would probably have admitted the doubt to be reasonable. (The jury had been instructed not to consider in their verdict the earlier allegations which never went to court.)
But now more accusations have come forward.
Now, I’ve told you that I believe in the presumption of innocence as a legal principle. In cases of sexual assault, this gets very tricky. These cases are often nothing more than he said/she said cases. Or in Michael’s case, he said/he said. The balance Lady Justice is holding is supposed to be weighted in cases like these on the side of the accused, not the accuser. Slightly weighted. So that if both stories and both story-tellers are equally credible, the jury must acquit. The presumption must be towards innocence.
Often, it will come down to a decision by the jury that one of the stories and story-tellers is more believable than the other. And this may be influenced by all kinds of biases and experiences and instincts that the jury carry with them. This is one of the many imperfections of a system that is very good in its design but is still imperfect. There is always the human factor.
For instance, last year I watched outraged as the left demanded that we “believe all women” when Christine Blasey Ford came forward to publicly accuse then-Supreme-Court-Justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual assault. Leaving the political motivation aside, there were likely victims of sexual assault who were equally outraged when Christine Blasey Ford was not universally believed and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court of the US. Once you’ve been the victim of a sexual assault, you may not be the best evaluator of evidence in another sexual assault case.
As a matter of fact, I didn’t believe Christine Blasey Ford. And considering the human element, I don’t know positively if this was because she was a less credible witness whose corroborating evidence didn’t stand up under investigation or if my political motivation is showing. Of course I give myself the benefit of the doubt, but, well, I’m human, too.
At that time, we were told that, yes, innocent until proven guilty was the courtroom standard, but this wasn’t a criminal case being tried in a courtroom. This was a case where those deciding the case needed to look at the evidence available to them and make up their minds. They weren’t under the necessity of deciding if the guilt was beyond reasonable doubt. Here it was only the preponderance of evidence that needed to be considered.
And I agree that the courtroom standard, which is vital for the courtroom, is not a realistic standard for the court of public opinion. At the time of Michael Jackson’s trial, if I’d been unlucky enough to be on the jury, I would likely have privately believed the charges, even if I felt compelled to return a “not guilty” verdict on the basis of reasonable doubt. The suspicious circumstances would have already predisposed me to think he was guilty. If Brett Kavanaugh had admittedly been sleeping in the same bed with Christine Blasey Ford for a month but denied ever touching her in a sexual way, I would have been a lot more inclined to believe Christine Blasey Ford when she claimed that Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her. In the comment section under something I was watching on YouTube about “Leaving Neverland,” one Michael Jackson apologist wrote something to the effect of, “I slept in the same bed as my grandma lots of times. She never assaulted me.” And I’m willing to lay money on the conjecture that no one ever came forward at any time to accuse the commenter’s grandma of sexual assault. It’s really when you put the suspicious circumstances together with the accusations that we have what I see as an almost ironclad case against the king of pop. If, at the time of his trial, the other accusers had come forward to testify against him, I, as a jury member, would have had no reasonable doubt. I would have returned a verdict of guilty. The sole somewhat-discredited accuser left room for reasonable doubt. I don’t see any of that room now.
But I still maintain that, while there may have been room for reasonable doubt at the time of the trial, I would have believed in my heart of hearts that MJ was guilty as sin. And that’s legitimate. The court of public opinion operates on a lesser standard than the criminal courts, and rightly so. We still need to make up our minds based on the best evidence we have. It’s still a good idea to lean towards thinking the best of people as far as possible and not immediately rush to the guilty verdict on the slightest of evidence or no real evidence at all.
And, no, we don’t want to “Believe all women.” Or all men. Or all children. Or all anybodies. Some women lie. Some men lie. Some children lie. It’s good to maintain a healthy scepticism. We’d do well to reserve judgement until after weighing all the evidence and hearing all the stories. But what we call “common sense” (I’m starting to think it’s rather uncommon) must be allowed to prevail in the court of public opinion.
I can promise you this: If my adult next-door neighbour was having series of little boys who were not related to him over for sleepovers at his house, grooming one after the other to sleep alone in the same bed with him, if I were the parent of a young boy, do you think there’s any way on God’s green earth I would be allowing my little boy to go for sleepovers with the man? Until accusations came out, there may be no grounds for charging the neighbour, but there would be 110% grounds for the parents saying, “Over my dead body!”
And that brings me to the second part of the MJ situation that I want to talk about, and this is the part that has me spitting fire: the cult of celebrity-ism. Why didn’t the parents involved in the MJ situation say to Michael Jackson, “Over my dead body!”? Why is my homepage on YouTube flooded with videos in defence of Michael Jackson’s innocence? Why are the comment sections under the other videos I watched, declaring Michael Jackson guilty, flooded with attacks on the ones making these videos? Why did I see the same reaction from Bill Cosby fans to the multiple accusations against him? Why did OJ get off? Why (in a recent development) is the Jussie Smollett case not going to court (as of this writing. Maybe that will change if the prosecutor is investigated. If you’re not tracking with this one, no time to explain here!)? Why aren’t these valiant warriors in the cause of “presumption of innocence” (or so they would claim) taking up their cudgels on behalf of the Pennsylvania priests? All we have in the cases of the Pennsylvania priests are multiple accusations. Probably some of those accusations are false. (Fame-seekers will jump on bandwagons once they’re rolling.) Perhaps one of the Pennsylvania priests was falsely accused by one of these fame-seekers. Why aren’t we sifting and dissecting and tearing apart every bit of evidence against the Pennsylvania priests the way the MJ apologists are doing on behalf of their idol? If the Pennsylvania priests’ cases could have been brought to court, then their defence lawyers would have been obliged to treat the evidence against them the way this worldwide team of MJ advocates have treated the evidence against him. They attempt to discredit all the witnesses against him and explain away or reframe all the circumstantial evidence. That’s how the courtroom system works, and it’s a necessary step in a fair trial. The evidence must be given a good, hard shake. That’s the job of the legal team on both sides. But these Michael Jackson defenders are self-appointed and unpaid. Why are they devoting their time and energy volunteering to his cause? What’s their motivation?
My only surmise is the cult of celebrity-ism. Unreasoning worship. The blind faith and wish-fulfillment often perceived to be the basis of all religion. Believing without evidence. Or even against the evidence.
Am I, as a Christian, guilty of the kind of thinking and behaviour I see exemplified by the Michael Jacksonians? Do I pass off and justify to myself bias or gullibility as logic and reason? I try to take a step back from time to time to see if what I believe really is based on my honest appraisal of the evidence. I think it is, but I acknowledge I might not be the best judge of my own reasoning. Then again, you might not be the best judge of my reasoning. You’re also human. You’re also prone to biases. Your bias might lean in a different direction than mine, and you might be just as convinced as I am that your reasons for what you believe are just as reasonable and logical as I believe mine to be. And as the Michael Jackson disciples believe theirs to be.
Nevertheless, I think the time has come for me to start explaining my thinking, and you can judge for your biased self what you think about my thinking. I’d like to do a series on why I believe what I believe as a Christian. If you’re more interested in the political side of this blog, you may not be interested in the Christian issues I want to write about, but because the two are hopelessly entangled in my mind, they will end up being hopelessly entangled in this blog, as well. And I don’t want to keep inserting my Christian viewpoints as assumptions into these posts. I’d like to give my best shot at having you understand where I’m coming from and maybe, just maybe, opening your mind to the possibility that Christians are not quite as crazy as you presently think they are.
So, that’s what I’ll be attempting in the next few blog posts: defending my beliefs as a Christian. I hope, if you’ll follow along, that, unlikely as it may look to you right now, you’ll go away thinking that there are better reasons to believe the Bible than there are reasons for letting your kids go for sleepovers at Neverland.
C’mon, people! Fight the urge towards the unthinking worship of celebrities. Exercise some common sense. Parents, protect your kids as much as you reasonably can. Never let Neverland ever happen again.
And all of us, let’s try to see around our biases. Let’s have good reasons for what we believe based on the best evidence at our disposal. Let’s acknowledge our feelings but act on our reasoning. Let’s make common sense common again. Let’s be thinking adults, not gullible children. Let’s stay grounded in reality. Let’s get the heck out of NeverNeverland!
I was going to call this post something boring like, “The Value of Freedom of Speech,” but I decided to go with the present, more click-baity title. It’s not entirely click bait. What I really want to talk about this post is not just the value of freedom of speech and expression, but the value I see in some of that speech and expression being wrong or muddle-headed. I had to title the post carefully because I don’t see value in the wrong or muddle-headed ideas themselves. The value they hold, as far as I can see, is strictly in their expression.
For a long time now, I’ve been feeling pretty Pilate-ish. “What is truth?” I imagine him sneering cynically with a shrug. I hope I don’t get to where I imagine he got: throwing in the towel of the pursuit of truth, deciding that the pursuit is hopeless, believing that it doesn’t matter what you believe, anyway. So maybe I’m not really very Pilate-ish. I still scream the question at the sky (metaphorically, not literally). But it’s really been bugging me lately.
“What is truth?” Sometimes, the truth seems so clear and obvious to me. And then life knocks the certainty out of me. Or I meet someone to whom the opposite of what seems so clear and obvious to me seems to clear and obvious to him or her. How is this possible?
I’ve found myself getting angry about it lately (or maybe I always have). I don’t want us, as a society, to have a bunch of diverse opinions all over the map on every single issue, running around, wreaking havoc. Maybe it’s because I’m rapidly turning into an irascible old lady (but then I remember that I was an irascible young lady, and before there was the Internet to shout back at, I would shout back at the TV or radio when someone was saying something I considered plainly stupid. The difference is, when you shout back at the Internet through the comment section, someone might end up hearing you.). Anyway, I find myself wanting to shut out dissenting voices. I find myself wanting to surround myself with others who think exactly like me. On every matter. Every single one. So, in other words, I find myself wanting to move to the top of mountain somewhere with only myself for company. That’s the only way I’ll avoid the discomfort of people who disagree with me. And with whom I disagree. That’s the only way I’ll avoid stupid ideas. (Except for the ones I take with me.)
And that’s bugging me, too. How do I know which of my own ideas are stupid ones? Other plainly stupid ideas look clear and obvious to their thinkers. Odds are, some of my ideas that look clear and obvious to me look plainly stupid to someone else. And some of them, no doubt, are. But I can’t know which ones. It’s quite the quagmire, this being-human stuff.
Why can’t we just be like perfectly-programmed robot-thinkers who all know the truth about everything we need to know? The only answer is, “Because we’re not perfectly-programmed robot-thinkers who know all the truth about everything we need to know.” We’re free, fallen, imperfect, unprogrammed non-robots. That’s why. So we don’t all know the truth about everything we need to know. And I acknowledge that the way things are is superior to the dystopian AI world I described. There would be no real worth in knowing truth through perfect programming. Perfection without freedom would be of no value in any kind of real way. I don’t know how to explain what I mean in five hundred words or less by that statement, so just examine your own gut to tell me if you don’t know I’m right (or is that one of those ideas that look clear and obvious to me, and … not so much to everyone else?).
So, perhaps the possibility for error had to be part and parcel of freedom, and the possibility is very much an actuality in our world. So where do we go from there?
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about truth and why it matters and how we know things and how we can trust what we know. And I haven’t come to many solid conclusions.
I mean, I sometimes know what I think is true. I have my little, central core of firm beliefs and my outer fringes of my negotiables orbiting those, and beyond those planets is a whole, vast, floating universe of all the stuff I don’t think it’s important for me to know or that I don’t think I can know. I’m always willing to capture a few of those bits of cosmic flotsam and jetsam and pull them into my knowledge orbit if I can be convinced of them, but I don’t worry too much about all the stuff I don’t think it’s important for me to know.
But how did I arrive at my core set that I do believe to be very important? How did I set about choosing the sun for my solar system?
Probably the way anyone does. I listened to what other people told me. Past the age of young childhood, I didn’t accept everything everyone told me. But I grabbed hold of my core beliefs by first hearing them somewhere. I may have some negotiable beliefs that I invented right out of my own fertile, little imagination, but by and large, the stuff I think is important is stuff someone else communicated to me.
But how did I pick and choose between what I accepted as true and what I rejected as false? Hopefully, the way anyone does. I reasoned about it. (I say “hopefully,” but that might be a forlorn hope. I’m not sure that’s where we are as a culture anymore.) I either listened to the reasons the communicator of the idea was telling me for it, or I formulated some on my own.
But this brings me back to the old frustration that my reason isn’t perfect, nor is anyone else’s. Why should I trust my reason? Why should I throw my weight down on one idea over another?
And we all must. There’s no other way to get through life. We all must hold some kind of core beliefs that we use for guiding our behaviours and decisions. It’s impossible to make any decision without referring to a belief of some kind or other back of it, even if it’s a simple belief like, “So-and-so will be mad at me if I don’t do such-and-such, so I’ll decide to do such-and-such.” The decision was made based on the belief about So-and-so’s reaction to one’s decision. Just one silly example. But if you’ll think about it, you’ll find a belief back of every decision.
So, I guess I’ve done what we all do. I listened to other people’s ideas. I reasoned about them. And then I just held my nose and jumped. I took the plunge and decided to believe one idea and reject another. It’s called faith, and we all exercise it. We must, seeing we all hold beliefs of some kind and none of us are perfectly-programmed robot-thinkers. Reason can take us to the edge of cliff, and then faith must push us over. All of us believe what we believe without 100% certainty. We may reach conclusions we believe to beyond reasonable doubt, but no beliefs can be entirely beyond the reach of unreasonable doubts.
So… that’s my conclusion on why I believe what I believe and why someone else believes the diametric opposite belief. We heard differently, or we reasoned differently, or we just, plain decided differently. In the end, that’s what it comes down to. We decided differently.
And this preamble is slowly but surely bringing me around to the value of expressing stupid ideas. Again, I don’t see any value in the stupid idea itself. In fact, I wish we were all perfect thinkers, though I’ve come around to seeing the wisdom of us not having been made as perfectly-programmed robot-thinkers. But I think the goal is one of perfect unanimity of thought where everyone knows all the truth we need to know and error is a thing of the past. (As a Christian, I’m not describing some sort of mind-control dystopia. I just mean that I believe in a life after this one where what we chose to believe in this one can land us in a perfect one as perfect beings where we’ll all think about things perfectly. And because that sounds kind of crazy to the general public, I will, one of these days, have to write a post about why I decided that the reasons for believing the Bible is true and for becoming a Christian were better than the reasons against. But not today.)
Here’s the value I see in the expression of stupid ideas: aka, free speech. Their expression moves us in the direction (just slightly) toward that state where we’re all perfect thinkers. I think the free expression of all ideas, even (maybe especially) the stupid ones, makes us all better thinkers, moving closer to truth. And unlike Pilate, I still see the pursuit of truth as a worthy goal and a necessary one.
And when I reference “stupid ideas” here, please don’t hear me saying, “Ideas I have magisterially deemed to be stupid.” I mean, ideas (and I don’t know which ones they are) that if I were that all-knowing, perfect thinker, I would deem to be stupid. Objectively stupid ideas. Even though I don’t know which ideas are objectively stupid, if there is such a thing as a real right and wrong–an absolute truth–then some ideas are objectively stupid. At least, wrong. Muddle-headed. Erroneous. There must be actual error if there is actual truth. That’s just the cold, hard nature of logic and truth.
But why do I think that the expression of stupid ideas makes us better thinkers and moves us closer to believing truth? For one thing, for the sake of the one holding the stupid idea; the one who can’t see where the idea is wrong.
Free speech — the rough and tumble give-and-take of discussion and disagreement — can occasionally help knock the stupid out of its owner’s head. Ideas of any kind are hard to shake loose from a person’s head, I’ve noticed. But if it ever happens, it only happens because the person holding one idea heard a different idea. And maybe heard some of the reasons behind the different idea.
Then, I think hearing different ideas, even the stupid ones, sharpens the good ideas. An exposure to other ways of thinking strengthens our grip on the truth. I may be holding a right and true belief in some area without knowing why I believe what I believe. If I’ve latched onto the idea simply because it was what I was told, I may toss it aside for the first stupid idea that comes along to contradict it, if I happen to be the type of person who believes whatever she’s told without questioning. But the more I’m exposed to opposing stupid ideas, the more it will occur to me, “Now, wait a minute. They can’t all be right. They contradict each other. I’m going to have to think about what I believe. I’m going to have to examine the reasons for holding any of these ideas.” The desired result would be that I explore all the ideas and their reasons and come away closer to the truth for having thought through all the conflicting ideas I’ve been exposed to.
Now, let me describe what I’m seeing in our collective cultural mindset at present which is moving in the direction of us trying to insulate ourselves against ideas we’ve deemed stupid. We put up barriers against opposing ideas like we’re trying to keep out the cold, Canadian winter. And I think there is a danger in this behaviour. I’ve seen the results, and they’re not pretty. Yes, stupid ideas (truly stupid ideas) are dangerous and damaging like those cold, Canadian winter winds. But we still need exposure to them.
For those of us on “the right,” we’ve watched in horror as “the left” launches one air strike after another against free speech. We’ve seen legislations in Canada like Bill C-16 (the infamous anti-discrimination-against-“gender-expression” bill — the “pronoun bill”) and M-103 (the anti-Islamophobia motion). We as Canadians have seen not only an erosion of our Charter-guaranteed freedom of speech and expression but the outright contravention of it. Its assassination. “The Charter is dead. Long live the police state.”
And yes, we needed exposure to the stupid idea that we should decimate our constitutional rights to freedom of speech. And then we needed to see the stupid idea for what it was and reject it. Not pass it into law.
We’ve seen UK citizens prosecuted for mean tweets or fined and threatened with jailtime for edgy YouTube jokes involving Nazi pugs. We’ve seen Tommy Robinson actually serving jailtime for exercising freedom of speech.
We’ve seen any prominent conservative speaker invited to any university campus shouted down or drowned out by fire alarms and cow bells.
We’ve seen conservative protests attacked with physical violence in the streets.
We’ve seen every social media giant demonetize, deplatform, ban, and just generally silence speech it doesn’t like (always conservative speech somehow).
It’s become a theme for the “progressive” left. It’s become a goal. A modus operandum. Ideas it deems stupid must not be heard. They must not only not be heard; they must not be expressed. They are “hate speech.” And hate speech must be made illegal. Or at least, censored in every other way possible. People must not have their feelings hurt by being exposed to someone’s stupid idea. (And that’s certainly one problem with trying to keep stupid ideas from seeing the light of day: Who gets to say which ideas are the stupid ones?)
The right is staunchly united in our agreement that silencing speech is the stupid idea. We’re clear on the necessity for freedom of speech. But I’m noticing problems in our camp, too. I’m seeings our online communities on the right devolve into echo chambers of tribalism. We may stand by a person’s right to express their stupid opinion, but we’ll exercise our own right to freedom of speech by piling all over them for it. And we might not take the time to listen or reason to see if the opinion really is a stupid one. We just know that it’s not the party line. It’s a hill we’ve already decided to die on, and so we don’t have to listen to the dissenting viewpoint. We may not know why it’s a hill we’ve decided to die on, but it just is! We want generals to fight our battles for us that we can get behind, and these are the people we’ve made our heroes, the more militant the better. We’ve stopped admiring those who are amenable to reason, to discussion, to giving the other side a hearing. We’re just out for blood. We’ve stopped valuing the reasonable person and started valuing the pugnacious person.
(This is not true of everyone on the left or the right, of course. I’m speaking in generalities.)
I do blame it on the left (of course. I’m a conservative, so of course it’s the left’s fault.) We need them and their stupid ideas. We need them for balance, for the natural push and pull of discussion and debate, for the honing of our good ideas against the iron of their stupid ones. But they’ve left us. They won’t talk to us anymore. They won’t listen to us, and they won’t talk to us, either.
Don’t you think we’re all worse off for the polarization? Don’t you think it was a superior world when we could all express our stupid ideas freely? I do. And that’s why I’m making this appeal to bring back the expression of stupid ideas. Including hate speech. Actual hate speech, not just the conservative ideas that the left labels as hate speech (because it stopped listening to us a long time ago and has no idea what our ideas are anymore. Therefore, they’re all hate speech.). But actual hate speech should be free to be expressed by those who hold hateful ideas. If we want actual hate speech, actual far-right, alt-right, ethnonationalist, racist ideas to grow, the best way we can grow them is to censor them. Bad ideas are like mushrooms, I’ve noticed. They grow best in the dark. If we want stupid ideas (and hateful ones) to fade and fall out of fashion, they have to be let out into the light. Only through exposure will they wither and die.
Since I’ve rejected my mountainttop-solo-hermitage idea as one of my stupider ideas, I’ve decided instead that I just want us to keep talking to each other. Stupid ideas or not, we have to hear each other out. It’s the only way to learn and grow and move toward greater truth.
The title of this post was the Apostle Peter’s instruction to his reading audience nearly a couple of millennia ago in 1 Peter 2:17. And his reading audience is still scratching its collective head over it.
It’s never been easy. If I think my “king” (or the leadership of my country) is hard to honour, Peter was likely writing those puzzling words during the reign of “king” Nero who was responsible, tradition tells us, for Peter’s crucifixion wrong-side-up. Yeah, the Nero of Christians-used-for-garden-torches fame. That’s the guy Peter told Christians to honour.
So the obvious question arises: How?
Well, first and most obviously, I think the command is primarily for the sake of the honourer, not the honouree. It’s about the kind of people we, as Christians, want to be, not the kind of person our “king” is (whoever he or she may happen to be). We primarily honour the position and secondarily the person.
The Bible also gives the command that parents are supposed to be honoured, and we’ve all seen parents that are just, plain dishonourable as people and as parents.
I’ve struggled with both of these commands. How does one honour one’s parent that may not have been a thoroughly honourable person, and how does one honour one’s “king” who may also not be a thoroughly honourable person? I’m still working through it, and there might not be a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer.
I honoured my mum differently than I honoured my dad. I saw my dad seldom after the age of thirteen, and we never had a close relationship. I wrestled through how I could obey God’s command to honour him (which command at times I certainly didn’t obey. Not gonna pretend I did that one perfectly), and I still ponder it, even though he’s dead now. I’ve seen one or two ways forward in that honouring, though I haven’t mastered it. I’ve recognized that it will never quite look identical to the honour I gave my mum. And I think that’s okay. We have different relationships with different individuals. Honour might look different from individual to individual and from relationship to relationship.
I’m now grappling with what it means to honour my “king,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Prime Minister I will freely admit has won my vote for the worst Prime Minister Canada has ever seen.
Was that statement honouring to my Prime Minister? Here’s my defence for why it may be: Honour and honest share an obvious root word. I don’t think we honour anyone by saying what’s not true or by hiding facts or our true opinions.
I’m blessed to live in a time and place where we can not only honour our “king;” we can also vote for him. Or vote against him. And I make no secret of the fact that I sincerely hope Canadians vote in a different direction in our upcoming October election than the direction in which they voted four years ago. I don’t think it’s dishonouring to the position of leader of the country of Canada to hope that we get the best man or woman for that position or to admit the truth when we didn’t.
But besides being honest about his shortcomings and bad decisions, how can I honour Justin Trudeau, not just the Prime Minister but the man? In 1 Peter 2:17, we’re not only told to honour the king; we’re taught to “honour all men.” Again the obvious question: How?
How do we honour all men when not all men are honourable? And again, the obvious answer that we start by honouring the position. Personal respect must be earned, but positional respect can be given. I can respect any other human by virtue of their position as a human. I can see them as valuable and worthwhile just because of that image of God the Bible tells us we all wear imprinted into our souls.
I can start there, and then I can try to see things from the other person’s perspective. I can believe the best of the other as far as it’s compatible with reality. I can treat the other in the same way I’d want to be treated.
And this honouring will take on a different shape for each individual I’m attempting to honour.
What sort of shape has this taken on for me when it comes to Justin Trudeau? Again, I won’t pretend that I’ve nailed it and I’ve always and ever only acted in an honourable and honouring manner. But I’ve tried to catch myself in my online activity by not sinking to name-calling, at least. While I think pointing out the flaws in his governance can be consistent with honour (and sometimes I think even a little sarcasm, humour, or a little gentle mockery — I tell people that mockery is my love language — can be consistent with honour.), I try not to cross certain lines. Tempting as it is and fitting and funny as some of them are, I try to avoid using the nicknames Justin Trudeau has accumulated in online conservative circles. (If you spend any time hanging out online in conservative circles, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) I try to always remember our common humanity (seeing pictures of him with his kids opens up a little soft spot in my heart that I try to massage and encourage). I hope and pray for the best for him. And for our country. This means praying for a change of heart where I think heart-change needs to happen. If it doesn’t, then I pray for a change of leadership for our country as being the best thing for it. But I still hope and pray for all the best for its present leadership, starting with a heart-change.
And then I slide into bad behaviour and do and say some dishonouring things. Yup! I know I do. But I can at least attempt to follow Peter’s teaching and example in this matter of honouring the king. I must at least start with the “want-to.”
I don’t often agree with much that flows from the mouth of the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, (present) Prime Minister of Canada (okay, I might be using the title “Right Honourable” not completely unironically), but with one or two caveats, I might almost have to give him, “Diversity is our strength.”
In Canada, we don’t seek perfect assimilation from our immigrants. We’ve never aspired to the melting pot of our neighbours to the south. Rather than a melting pot, I’ve heard Canada compared to a salad bowl. And to tell you the truth, I prefer my salad looking like a salad, rather than blended into a salad smoothy.
I love the fact that Canadian culture is a mix of many distinct cultures. I love being able to travel around the world, in a sense, without leaving Canada. I love trying different nationalities of foods in local restaurants, hearing languages other than English spoken on the street, experiencing the burst of sight and sound of watching dances typical to other ethnicities.
The Apostle Paul on more than one occasion said something similar to, “Diversity is our strength.” He compared the church to the human body. The human body is made up of many different parts, all working together. None quite like the other. Each bringing its own unique gift to the table to create a functioning human body.
But the Apostle Paul would add the caveat, “Unity through diversity is our strength.” That’s the first caveat I’d add to Trudeau’s favourite catch phrase. Unity through diversity is our strength.
Division through diversity is not our strength. To carry the above analogy a little farther, it’s more like a cancer. In a healthy body, diversity is its strength, but the division that diversity can tend to turn into is the cell division run amok that is a cancer. Not all diversity is good diversity. Diversity that promotes unity is our strength.
I had to agree with another statement I heard accidentally issuing from the mouth of our Right Honourable Prime Minister. “Diversity is entropy.”
I say “accidentally” because given everything else he’s said about diversity, I’m pretty sure he just doesn’t know what the word “entropy” means. But he was accidentally right. There is that entropic principle that affects diversity as it affects everything else in the universe. The tendency is for all things to spiral into chaos, to move from order to disorder.
That’s why we can celebrate diversity, but it must not come at the cost of the things that unify us. Uncorralled diversity is entropy. Diversity, like every other good thing, needs some checks and balances in place.
Conservatives (in our constant fight against entropy) are often accused of being “anti-immigrant” or “anti-immigration.” There may be conservatives who are against immigration of any kind. There may be some who want closed borders. But I’ve never run across any. We are usually anti-mass-migration. We want the process to happen legally, for one thing, and reasonably. At a pace the system can handle. We want some vetting procedures in place. We don’t want to let in ISIS sympathizers or any more Ibrahim Alis (a Syrian refugee and the alleged murderer of thirteen-year-old Marrisa Shen in the Greater Vancouver area). We want immigrants who want to be here and who want to be Canadian with all that entails while still hanging onto the parts of their own culture that are not at odds with all that being Canadian entails. We want to stay a salad bowl, not the powder keg Europe has become through unrestrained mass migration. We want unity, not just diversity.
Some conservatives have suggested an agreement to some kind of values statement as part of the screening process; at least an agreement to abide by Canadian law. And I think it’s a good idea. True, a lot of people can say a lot of things they don’t mean to get what they want, but it would be a start towards making immigrants aware that there are some common Canadian values and they’ll need to embrace them. At least live under them.
For some reason, this position of a slowed immigration policy (which seems entirely rational to me) is branded “anti-immigrant” by the left and then inflated to “racist.” If that seems like a reasonable accusation to you, I probably have nothing else I can possibly say that you’d hear.
The other caveat I’d add to, “Diversity is our strength,” is that shaming “cultural appropriation” creates division, not diversity.
I was mystified (and a little horrified) by a Rebel Media story I saw on YouTube a few weeks ago. The story was about some Metis hockey players who were caught on video, dancing in their locker room. After this video was made public, a controversy erupted. The controversy arose because the dancing (though informal) was similar in style to traditional native North American dancing.
The online outrage mob got a hold of the footage and turned it viral by insisting these boys were racist and disrespectful of native culture and, you know, all the usual stuff the online outrage mob says. The boys’ remaining hockey season had to be cancelled due to threats they received. The head honchos of the team issued public apologies. All the results that usually follow the online terror strikes by the online outrage terrorists followed. You know the routine!
The Reb defended the boys on the ground that they were Metis. This was their culture they were appropriating. So they weren’t actually appropriating anything. They had the right to it.
I was almost as horrified by this defence as I was by the original reaction of the outrage mob. The Reb should know better. Who cares if these boys were part native? No one should. Who cares if white kids want to dance around in their locker room like they’re at a powwow? No one should!
I’ve been to a powwow. Granted, I didn’t dance in it. But I enjoyed it. The traditional clothing and the intricacy of the steps in the dancing and the food and the rest of the cultural experience; it was all great fun. I would have liked to learn some of the dances. And what’s wrong with that?
Besides the fact that he’s rhythmless, graceless embarrassment on the dance floor, the much-touted footage of Justin Trudeau attempting an Indian dance in traditional Indian clothing is probably when I’ve most liked my present Prime Minister. Sure, it’s good for a laugh, but compared to everything else he’s done in office, does anyone seriously dispute me on this being his finest moment? Should we be appalled by his cultural appropriation?
Even the constant flap we’ve seen lately about this or that public figure who appeared in some old photo in a blackface costume–I don’t get the fuss. And I don’t really want to. Maybe some of these missteps were intended as offence or mockery. Maybe some of these blackface-wearers are racists. Most of them are more likely not. Most of these culprits probably thought they were having fun or even offering tribute to some black celebrity they were imitating.
Is that the world we want to live in? Where we can’t enjoy and appreciate and participate in all that makes life colourful and flavourful in our Canadian salad bowl?
That’s not the world I want to live in. I want to live in a world where I can work on my powwow steps in the locker room or mimic the moves I’ve just seen on a Bollywood movie without any kind of reaction from anyone other than laughter. I want to live in a world where we value differences and can poke fun at ourselves and even (gasp!) sometimes poke fun at each other! Kindly, I mean. Not meanspiritedly. I want to live in a world that re-learns how to laugh. I want a sense of humour to come back in fashion.
The next time an outrage mob wants to shame us for “disrespecting” someone else’s culture by cultural appropriation, do not, I repeat, do not cave! Do not retreat! Do not apologize! Just shout back at them, “Diversity is our strength!”