The Certainty of Uncertainty

The Certainty of Uncertainty August 5, 2014

So, hello all. Cead mile failte and all that.

I’m Ben. Catholic, Irishman, writer. Eldest son of an eldest son of an eldest son of an eldest son in the great Conroy clan, poets and historians to the kings of Connacht and loudmouths extraordinaire.

I love stories, especially true ones (usually those are the fantasy books), and I keep attempting to write my own (nothing published yet). I’m something of a political junkie, which is pretty frustrating because as an economically-left, socially-right communitarian, trying to find someone to vote for can be… challenging.

My Catholic faith is bog-standard (insofar as the most marvellous, epic thing in the world can be): that is to say, I really do believe it, and I’m really pretty rubbish at living it (take note: during this blog post I was consciously trying to avoid being a hubristic idiot. Wait until you get to the paragraph that starts “my parents”).

I think that modern art is mostly rubbish, that the world needs feminism now as much as it ever has, that unborn children have the same inherent dignity as the rest of us, that the workers should control the means of production (at least a lot more than they do now), that The Lord of the Rings is the greatest work of literature of the 20th century, that our species’ treatment of animals is a vast and horrible scandal, and that in the very, very long run, love conquers all.

And I’m not sure I’m right about anything. Anything at all.

I realise that this may take some explaining.

Being open to changing one’s mind isn’t in itself a particularly controversial stance. Modern liberalism valorises the open-minded, and rightly so: the only way that never, ever changing your mind would be a good idea is if you just happened to start out with all the right opinions about everything. Given that there are rather a lot of opinions, this is, statistically speaking, totally impossible.

‘But’ cries the imaginary reader ‘everything? Isn’t there anything you’re certain about? Where, young man, is the rock on which you rest? Didn’t you say something about being a Catholic?’ Well, yes, I did. As it happens, my faith is the rock on which I rest, the most important thing in my life. This isn’t “whatever works for me, whatever works for you”: I think God is the ground of being, the source of meaning, the Truth that makes all other truths matter.

The problem with relativists is that they aren’t uncertain enough. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, after acknowledging that it is sometimes the cranks and zealots in politics who change the world:

I am robbed even of the certainty of uncertainty – for sometimes absolute truths may well be absolute.

I’ve always thought those were wise words, even as I’ve come to doubt the wisdom of their author. Uncertainty should never be an excuse to shrug. It should never allow you get complacent. If truth, morality, and value are relative, there’s no reason to be uncertain at all. But what about God? What about commitment? Isn’t there wisdom in Chesterton’s words on the matter?

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

I think the Great Gilbert is half-right. To share a metaphor that I told my girlfriend I’d never use again: you should chew with your mouth open. You should never close your mind to the possibility that everything you ever believed is wrong.

I really think, by the way, that that’s the most faithful thing you can do. It expresses the ultimate confidence in the creator. That’s the heart of the paradox. If God exists, and is Truth, then he will stand up to all doubts, all questions. You’ll never need to ease off the curiosity, to accept a logical contradiction, to turn your brain off. In fact, to do so would be to trust God less, not more.

That’s not just true of God: if the truth is out there, then to keep looking for it is always the right thing to do. If you resist fashions and fads, Inner Rings and idols, the ever-present urge to rationalise the absurd, and the siren call of your own ego, you will gradually get closer to it. If the truth isn’t out there, if it’s all relative after all, then no harm done, because nothing matters anyway.

It’s worth walking the road, though shadows fall across it. No, more than that – it’s because of the shadows that you have to walk the road.

My parents used to tell me that I always had to be right in every argument. This is still absolutely true – I just don’t have a problem with changing my mind to get there!

This, by the way, is why I’m here. The thing I’ve always loved about Patheos as a reader is right there in the subtitle: “Hosting the Conversation on Faith”, that notion of a conversation. It’s one of the best places on the internet at facilitating discussions, debates, and arguments that actually go somewhere, actually take the reader on a journey to someplace other than an endless loop of frustration and outrage.

And I don't mean Ireland's  M50 Motorway.
And I don’t mean Ireland’s M50 Motorway.

I have changed my mind because of things I’ve read on this website, and my two greatest ambitions for what I hope to achieve as a blogger for it are as follows:

  1. That through some comment, email or tweet, some interaction with a fellow blogger or writer on or off Patheos, I might change my mind again, and so grow closer to the truth.
  2. That through my writing I might help someone else to do the same.

If I achieve either of those things even once, my time here will not have been wasted.

I hope you’ll join me in stepping out this door with me on this particular, small part of the Great Quest for Truth. We’ll let the road carry us, hopefully get swept off our feet a few times, and – who knows – we might even have a bit of fun doing it. So let’s get started.

Still getting used to this, everyone, so sorry if the blog’s still a bit ropey in places. This really is a journey, and I’m learning as I go!

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