I Just Can’t Give Up Without A Fight

So I missed the amazing Stigmund, who performed alongside his preternaturally gifted brother Liam in a famous Dublin city venue on Monday night. Their family have been redubbed the Osmonds by Neuro and I, on account of their musical tendencies, extremist religious belief and repeated references from Family Guy. I had a big-deal work meeting. Work is very inconvenient that way. I still have made time in my packed schedule to apply a liberal dose of guilt to YellowSnow for not updating her blog (guilt is the currency us Christians trade in, after all!) and to host Hot Anorak. He has started theological training and all of a sudden he is making jokes where the punchlines are, “So I guess he just wants to be Brethren after all!” It fills me with glee, but in an evil mastermind grooming his apprentice kind of way. In a “who knew sucking the sanity out of someone and replacing it with considerations on the hypostases and arguments in favour of a teleological historiagraphy could be such fun” way.

Neuro got a new job. And then yesterday she was offered another one. Then someone rang her up and asked her to go into business with them. Then her new boss told her she was a revelation. And then, live on national radio, after weighing into a discussion on the ethical implications on graciousness, she got the last word over the head of philosophy at UCD and Sean Moncrieff spontaneously declared, “Neuro! I think you rock!” Also, I am not making any of this up. So its about time that the rest of the country cottoned onto my pretty little secret- the overwhelming superiority of my wife. She is better than everyone and she knows it. Its just convenient you all know it now too.

You fill in the Foucault
It will come as a shock to you all that there are some people who don’t particularly feel an urge to discuss weighty things like philosophy and purpose and beauty and God and the fortunes of Manchester City with me. But these crazy people do exist. Most commonly, its nothing personal. They just don’t want to talk about these things at all, with anyone, neither a know-nothing know-it-all on the street or a humble professional with a listening ear and a handsome face like, for example, myself. You probably have come across these loons. They say things like, “I don’t mind what others believe. I live and let live”.

This sounds really tolerant but that sentiment kind of worries me. Not in a, “oh no there are polar bears on this desert island we’ve been stranded on” way but in a, “logic alert!” way. Please don’t mention the logical difficulties with believing God lived as a Jewish carpenter in Palestine once because that will ruin my train of thought. Its fragile like a little flower shooting at the start of spring or the spider’s poison-dispatching tentacle thing. Very fragile, very pretty and very painful.

Behind the “your view of truth has no impact on me” philosophy there are two issues that cause my annoyance. The first is the self-conceit involved in the position and the second is the intolerance that flows from it. They are some big ass claims that I am making so let me try to explain.

Ideas matter. What you believe is the biggest indicator of how you will act. Not, mind, what you say you believe but what you actually believe. If you don’t believe anything about God or meaning or purpose or Man City, you haven’t avoided belief. You just believe that no solution you are currently aware of is convincing. Agnosticism therefore, even atheism, is its own belief system and not the absence of belief. There is no possibility of absence of belief. Now inasmuch as you have beliefs, you believe these beliefs to be true. If we agree that when one declares that they don’t believe anything they are stating a belief, then it is small and neccessary to step to see that you believe your belief to be right.

Are we tracking here? Everyone believes something. Even people who claim they don’t believe anything. Everyone believes their beliefs are right.

In as much as you believe your belief to be right, you must believe those who disagree with you are wrong. Now only the very troubled in society believe the things they believe in stark black and white terms. Most of us, (and we should endeavour, I think to be this way) believe in a greyscale. But the place you position yourself on the grid of belief is inevitably in opposition to other points. A Buddhist can’t say with integrity that they believe what they believe and don’t mind if me, the Christian, disagrees. The Buddhist is likely an atheist. Supreme significance is found in the state of Nirvana. The Christian believes God is the source of all things. Supreme significance is found in relationship with Him. These are not complementary states. As strongly as the Buddhist believes Buddhism, he or she must to some degree wish to engage me on my wrong ideas. If ideas matter then they are compelled by love to engage with me charitably on the conflict between our worldviews.

The same holds for the agnostic and the scientologist and the materialist. In believing what they believe, they are compelled to some relative degree in accordance with their personal convictions to engage the Christian or the Muslim or the Jew or the Sikh on the points of non-congruence. When we advance the idea that our beliefs are private and not for sharing, we are deceiving ourselves and if we follow it logically, offending our neighbour. If you have the truth, even a slice half-glimpsed of it, people need to hear it. If you don’t have the truth, indeed if the truth is that there is no truth or not enough data on Truth to make a decision, then those who are wrong and think they have found what they are looking for need to be compassionately let in on their mistake.

Call all this a heartfelt, early morning plea for constant dialogue.

The second claim I made was that intolerance flows from the privatised belief system. That must seem crazy since most people begin holding the position because they are looking for some tolerance in an area of human discourse that is so often dominated by sociopathic fundamentalists. But if a large number of people say something like, “I don’t believe anything. I don’t mind if you do but I am not interested in it” then the outworking of this is that there will be a lot of people with beliefs unable to give them full expression. The public space for discourse about these Big Ideas is reduced and reduced until everyone’s belief system has been, like the non-interested people’s, privatised. This is actually what uncecked secularism will lead to. Privatised faith is not tolerated faith, but abandoned faith. Privatised faith is completely opposed to the 5 pillars of Islam or the 2 Commandments of Jesus. You can’t be a Muslim privately. The idea you can be a private Christian is a heresy. If we intend to be tolerant, we have to let people express their faith fully. You deceive yourself if you believe your agnosticism is not at the very fulcrum of every decision you make. It is not just a private belief but a belief that expresses itself publicly, indirectly, in every big move you make.

The Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed a perfect prison in 1791. The building would consist of a circular array of inward-pointing cells. Solid walls between the cells would stop any communication between prisoners. A small window at the back of the cell would let in a little light. At the centre of the ring of cells stood a huge observation tower called the panopticon. From this “all seeing place”, guards, hidden behind shutters that made them invisible to prisoners, could observe every moment of every life held captive in the prison. Its a brilliant illustration for what happens when we privatise faith out of a desire to be tolerant. “I have my truth but please don’t tell me yours” ends up with all the different worldviews kept from mixing with each other and under the thumb of the ever vigilant secular age which tells them that their belief systems cause division and prejudice. The self-appointed guards of tolerance end up being the greatest inflictors of intolerance.

Irony, you damned uninvited guest and enemy of humanity!

Hallelujah!
I am the luckiest. In my life, I had more great men mentor me than anyone could ever hope for. Starting with my dad, continuing on to a guy who now lives in Wexford, the two guys who I call boss now and a lad from Coleraine via Tokyo who you all should know as Jaybercrow. It is impossible to communicate to you how cool and great a guy Jaybercrow is but maybe when he comes back from nerding it up in Canadia we’ll throw a big Furiousthinkers welcome home shindig and invite you. Then you’ll see.

Oh yes. You will see.

But Jaybercorw wrote a post yesterday about the futility of theology, that most dangerous of extreme sports that everyone should read. Read it. Digest it. Absorb it. Live by it. It reassures me that my new working slogan is sensible, “We’re all heretics and Jesus is where its at”.

Your Correspondent, Doesn’t believe in wealth but you should see where he lives

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