We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.
Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk
Saturday, July 16, 2011
The "Truthiness of Religion" (II)
Shaun McGonigal entitled his 2009 posting on the relationship of religion to the truth, "Truthiness of religion" with good reason. From his perspective, religion very much fits the definition of "truthiness," which is "a 'truth' that a person claims to know intuitively 'from the gut' without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts." (source). For that is exactly what the so-called "truths" of religion derive from: beliefs built out of "a general psychological disposition" toward the sensation of transcendence, which is nothing more than a personal experience. He identifies religion with a larger class of creative states of mind that includes a sense of beauty and such artistic endeavors as poetry.
McGonigal then distinguishes between two states of mind, the first this creative one and the second a critical or analytical state of mind. Only the second state leads to truth. He appreciates creativity but insists that it does not lead us to truth. Truth, what is real, can be discovered (not created) only by the employment of meticulous empirical methods that severely tests ideas in order to prove them wrong if possible. Creative powers can only tangentially contribute to this process, if at all, but "once we have the idea we must switch to using our learned critical skills to test the idea. We cannot just dream and create answers to real world problems, we have to criticize them."
This is helpful. It gets at what seems to be the fundamental difference between people of Christian faith and self-identified "new atheists" such as McGonigal. (I should be clear here that by "people of Christian faith" I mean those of us who are not biblical literalists. Literalists tend to think about faith in absolutist terms generally parallel to the new atheists). McGonigal believes that physical reality is reality. Anything pertaining to the emotions or the a-rational is not real, not true. Only physical realities can be true. As Christian theists, we believe, instead, that creativity, inspiration, and our feelings are important sources of truth. We worship God as one who is essentially (as best we can understand these things)—who is essentially creative, the Creator. We put our ultimate trust in the love of God we see in Christ. We believe that justice is a real thing. We learn important truths in our service of others. Prayer has the power to change us. Worship has the power to move us. Reality, that is, is not defined only by the cold, hard facts of science—which are proving to be not so cold and hard, but surprisingly pliable especially in the quantum world of the infinitely small.
Why would we choose to be theists? Why do we put our trust in things that seem so intangible and that we cannot prove by a critical empirical method? Let me save the answer to these questions for the next posting. For this one, it is sufficient for us to realize that we believe in a much more textured and, frankly, a richer reality than does our friend Shaun. While we understand the limitations of creativity, inspiration, the arts, and religious faith, we still put our ultimate trust in the God we are convinced is revealed to us in these things. Amen.