Shielding Ourselves from the Truth

Shielding Ourselves from the Truth December 17, 2018

Vance Morgan wrote a while back:

Those who are obsessed, as I am, with questions about what is greater than us often assume that the most important question is “Does God exist?” I submit that an even more problematic question is “What if God does exist, but has character traits entirely different from those we project heavenward?”

The post as a whole focuses on the measures that human beings take to avoid thinking about such possibilities. Our thinking in simplistic dichotomies is sometimes a convenient way of dismissing those who disagree with us. But sometimes at least, it may be that we exclude third, fourth, and fifth options without mention or consideration not merely for the sake of simplicity, but because we cannot bring ourselves to even contemplate the possibility that they might be worth taking seriously, never mind perhaps be true.

I am not persuaded that we need to shield ourselves from a reality about existence that is too horrifying to accept. But I am persuaded that we constantly embrace an overconfident stance about reality in order to shield ourselves from the discomfort of our ignorance and uncertainty.

Humble recognition of the human condition as described above ought to be part of the fabric of any form of Christianity, but especially one that claims to be progressive and open. Yet very often, those of us who self-identify as progressive or liberal may be just as dogmatic and overconfident as those we disagree with.

In my view, it is crucial to adopt a different approach to knowledge, faith, and truth, and not just an opposing stance on particular theological, economic, and/or political matters. The route of taking alternatives to our own viewpoint as fully seriously as they deserve is radically different from one that may indeed acknowledge the existence of multiple alternative viewpoints to their own, but dismiss them as quickly as they might have done with just one.

Of related interest, see Sheila Kennedy’s post about dangerous feedback loops.

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  • John MacDonald

    I came up with the following thought experiment a few years ago: What if God were a trickster God (as per 1 Kings 22:21-22) who valued Warrior values of Wealth and Power above all things, and this is want he wanted to see from his flock. So he sent Jesus as a ‘test’ to propose a message of agape. The test was, if you rejected Warrior values and accepted Jesus’ message of meekness, poverty, the golden rule and brotherly love, you have failed the Warrior test and are going to hell. But if, in the face of the supposed divine command to renounce power and wealth you rejected Jesus and showed your strength by maintaining your Warrior values, you have passed the test and gained eternal life!

    • No, it’s how it seems: almost nobody is entitled to live in a palace.

      Jesus is the King. The Pharaoh is the King. I am the King. Herod is definitely not the King, and, by extension, “Elizabeth” is not the Queen of England and “Salman” is not the King of Saudi Arabia.

      The legitimacy of the true King’s entitlement to the throne is the assurance of the legitimacy of the humility of those who are not the King. When the King is illegitimate, everything else falls apart.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdV5qZUsdzQ

  • Vance Morgan

    Thanks for the shout out, as well as a fine post!

  • Al Cruise

    Many of the Bible stories and concepts are rewrites of Sumerian works.

  • map

    I remember messaging you a while back, something like, “But what if God is really mean?” Not a comfortable thought experiment.

  • jekylldoc

    Well, I think this thought experiment helps us to understand how God-talk works. “Existence” is really a side issue symbolizing the legitimacy of literalist, legalistic religion. Given that we are no less clueless about what God “literally” is like than those who thought “He” lives above the firmament in the heavens, and sits on a throne when “He” is not riding a chariot on the wind, it might be smart to, in post-modern fashion, start thinking about how we use talk about God instead of examining evidence to see if this or that putative “referent” is accurate.

    • Nick G

      it might be smart to, in post-modern fashion, start thinking about how
      we use talk about God instead of examining evidence to see if this or
      that putative “referent” is accurate.

      Well it would at least be a good way to earn the just contempt of both theists and atheists.

      • jekylldoc

        good to hear from you again, Nick.

    • John MacDonald

      Interesting. Could you give some specific examples of lines of thought that you think would lead to more meaningful conversations regarding God?

      • jekylldoc

        The most important step is probably to give up claims of authority for our reports of encounter with God. “I believe God was speaking to me,” might be the ravings of a lunatic or the poetry of a new Isaiah or a confession of unverifiable faith. What it almost certainly is not, is a scientifically verifiable hypothesis about the explanation for some experience or phenomenon. If we start from that humility, the conversation “about” God is unlikely to represent any kind of attempt at manipulation, and so has a chance of being a conversation with God included.

        If we continue in that vein, statements like “I believe Paul was inspired by God when he encouraged us to overcome evil with good,” take on a very different tenor from the usual top-down mode of the clergy. From there we can proceed to dramatically interesting statements, like “I don’t believe God’s commands would ever oppress the marginalized” (i.e. “a bruised reed I will not break”).

        In my experience, I/Thou encounters generally make space for a freeing word of acceptance, and words of confrontation which are not from the vulnerable position of Nathan to King David are very likely to be I/It encounters, that is, encounters pursuing the temporal goals of the speaker rather than invitations to the mutual benefit of reconciliation.

        Almost needless to add, most “use” of scripture for authority is confrontational and manipulative.

        • John MacDonald

          jekylldoc said:

          From there we can proceed to dramatically interesting statements, like “I don’t believe God’s commands would ever oppress the marginalized” (i.e. “a bruised reed I will not break”).

          Would we also say “I don’t believe God’s commands would ever encourage dashing the children of enemies on the rocks”?

          • jekylldoc

            I would. Not everyone would.