Sunday, August 2, 2015

"No Donny, these men are nihilists. There's nothing to be afraid of."

This morning at work I entered the break room with an empty stomach, scanning the counters to see what crumbs might be left of the morning fixins. I happened upon the last half of an Everything Bagel, Cha-Ching!!! (Remember when that was so popular people even had crew-neck sweatshirts with it on them?) The sweetest little coworker anyone could ever have meekly said she left that half "just for me." After making a joke about destiny or serendipity or something of the like, I said, "Well bless your heart for leaving it!" To which another person in the room replied: "Isn't that kinda mean?" Now I've heard my father say bless your heart my whole life, and he hasn't a mean bone in his body. So, naturally, I say it because he's said it, and he's said it with sweetness. How could the words mean anything else? Evidently there's a whole separate understanding of this phrase that uses it to call someone an idiot in a southern, kindly sort of way. We had to get to the bottom of it, so naturally we turned to for answers. Sure enough, the first definition is this:
This is a term used by the people of the southern United States particularly near the Gulf of Mexico to express to someone that they are an idiot without saying such harsh words. 
It goes on to give examples that lean heavily on the redeeming end of it. Kind of an "it's not their fault" sort of tag for someone who's deficient in this or that. I asked my dad if he'd ever heard of this usage, he'd not. Perhaps as an Atlantonian (I just made that up) he was a tad too far north to be taught such a particularly insidious angle on this particular colloquialism.

As a spry and naive eighteen year old I was introduced to a whole new version of the Christian faith at Calvin College. With Dutch ancestry and flowery acronyms, I walked into an intellectual and dogmatic system that seemed so much heavier and rigid than everything I grew up with. The most controversial tenet of Calvinism is "Predestination," or the U in its TULIP acronym, which stands for Unconditional Election. Simply and harshly put, Unconditional Election says that every human who has lived or will ever live on Earth has been "elected" by God to either receive or not receive the ability to have faith in God. This election is the foundation for Predestination. Predestination is the overarching idea that if God has chosen some to have faith and thus salvation, God must also have chosen others to not have faith, and thus condemnation.

The other day a customer came to shop at the store with their obviously cancer-ailing child in tow. A faithful friend of mine mentioned to a non-faithful friend of mine that hardships like this make it seem impossible not to believe in God. He said, "I'm just throwin' it out there." To which my non-faithful friend replied, "And I'm throwin' it in the trash." To one, thinking as a parent, such trials are proof that God exists, to the other, scathing proof of the exact opposite.

Back in June an article made its way into my Facebook feed entitled "Don't believe in Evolution? Try thinking harder." It highlights a new paper written by Will Gervais that asserts belief in Evolution may be primarily linked to one's cognitive style of thinking. But the human need for certainty and purpose declares war on the uncertainty and purposelessness of Evolution, and gives faith and Creationism strength because of their seemingly clear answers. Gervais' findings assess that all people intuitively reject Evolution, but that some cognitively analyze in such a way as to override this intuition. The grey area lies in how to assess the co-mingling of the intuitiveness, cognitive analysis, and social-cultural impressions which produce either typically God-fearing-Creationists or typically faithless-Evolutionists. As if we didn't have enough to think about in discussing belief-system differences already!

What is truth? What is absolutely true?

Well, depending on where you are, where you've come from, when you've come from, what you've experienced, what your ancestors experienced, and now according to Will Gervais what sort of cognitive inclinations you have, your truth might be absolutely different from everyone else's. And there-in lies the rub. To my friend who threw it in the trash, I tried to convey that the only reason either of them declared what they did is because of their time and their space. There it is again, time and space. I don't want to venture too far into Nihilism or Relativism here, but how is it that so many people can live and die with their versions of absolute truth? And worse, how is it that we can take these ideas of truth so far as to declare we know that a god has chosen some to be privy to belief systems that secure eternal paradise for their souls and some be pre-determined to eternal condemnation? Even worse, how can so many witch-hunt and holy-war for their versions of absolute truth? How can we not see that our understanding of truth is the cumulative result of so many factors?

If I grew up anywhere else in the world, to any other family, or in any other time period, I would likely be absolutely different than I am. That's about the extent of what I can pretty confidently declare absolutely true. That's not much to shape a life after, but I'm trying none the less. Bless your heart if you live comfortably amidst life's uncertainties, but if you're simply incapable of that and have to make it known you've discovered the truth, well bless your heart.