As an adult, did it ever occur to you how idiotic the human response to new information back then was? Do you really believe that the human response to new information is any better, today, than it was just a few hundred years ago? If so, what has been the key improvement in our response to new information today? If not, what is the present day “flat earth” nonsense argument that is cherry-picking the available information, while bypassing a huge amount of information in the process, only to arrive at a conclusion that is both nonsensical as well as predictable?
Every adult in the Middle Ages was conditioned to believe that certain facts went together a certain way and formed what we all like to call, “truth,” or what the educated hipsters among us like to refer to as our, “constructed reality.” That is to say, adults during the Middle Ages were taught to have a collective hunch about what makes things work the way that they do. That the adults of that time believed that the Sun rose and set on the Catholic Church has been well-documented; that the adults of the present moment believe that a supernatural cloud being is laying the groundwork for His eventual return to sentient life – and the end of our present world is close at hand – is shockingly apparent. Today my eight year old grandson came to me with the panic expressed to him by one of his “Christian” playmates that the was going to end soon and what did I have to say about that. Don’t religious fanatics have something better to do than scare their children and playmates to death with age-inappropriate information?
All of this as prelude to my key point: truth is beyond our belief in it or about it. In fact, truth could care less whether we believe in it, or not. Believe in truth and you might survive another day; disbelieve truth and you might also survive another day. What’s the difference whether or not truth or baloney is our operating “compass” if either one is likely to help us land that big promotion, save that shaky relationship from the abyss or keep our shirts from having ring around the collar? What is truth’s “value proposition,” from any practical perspective?
Try using anything but truth to explain your presence, or mine, on this Earth at this moment in time. G’head. You might be able to conjure up some aspect of a religious theater of the absurd out of a life that must eventually end in our personal extinction, but you will be wholly unable to propose that our presence here is completely without basis or substance. We may not know all that can be known about truth, but we do know that one of its properties is that it is always going to be true no matter what. While we cannot, and dare not, dictate to others how truth should be understood, we can say with certainty that it is because of some active and ongoing aspect of truth that any of us is here at all at any time. Truth is, and because of that, we are.
Now substitute the notion of scientific truth for the word, “god” in any religious sense and the sudden value proposition for truth and the issue of scientific fraud begin to look frighteningly similar. Doctor ThusnSuch might prove beyond the shadow of any doubt that his observations and calculations are completely accurate and his conclusions sound, while his scientific rival could claim that all of Dr. TandS’s data were faked and all of his conclusions were faulty. This is not a significant improvement over the arguments religious nutjobs have with one another as to whether the issue of abortion is about compassion or morality. The truth is that abortion is not an issue of right versus wrong or love versus murder; abortion was and is an issue regarding privacy. The Supreme Court went to great lengths to decide whether a fetus was a separate entity with rights, or a growing organ within a gestating female. After much debate and expert testimony, the Supreme Court ruled for the former interpretation especially when the rights all citizen’s should have under the Constitution would be placed at risk if they were denied women. Scientists are quite fond of decrying the nonsense arguments inherent in religious thought, not to mention the deleterious consequences that accrue decisions made based on these nonsense arguments. Yet in their rush to obtain grant monies from government and private industry, Science and its researchers often find themselves defending the body of their life’s work from the prying eyes of critics and advocates alike. Even in an exploration towards knowable truth, baloney and ballyhoo can turn science into its own kind of religion with its own set of peculiarly nonsensical arguments and conclusions.
What also follows from this notion of truth being beyond belief is the idea that belief can seem to be stronger than the truth of the matter. Again, truth is the ultimate big kahuna in the grand scheme of things, so while truth makes you and I possible, it is also clear that truth makes room for at least a temporary appearance of things unlike itself.
If we believe in any ultimate truth at all, we are forced to conclude, then, that time and temporal reality do not, in truth, exist. Time and temporal reality could only be artifacts of human perception, leaving the here and now, properly perceived, as the only possible link with the source of human experience. And, of course, the fact that no ultimate truth exists at all is still logically possible, although this would make the “isness” of life unviable, barren or otherwise unable to sustain itself indefinitely. While this might seem to explain and validate our regular observation of people dying after a period of existence, it does not explain, at all, the fact that they, and many others, were ever born in the first place. If, ultimately, death rules, then life could never be – shadows would be proof not of light but of dark sucking against itself. Far more reasonable would be the conclusion that shadows are proof that there is light and that behind all shadows, behind all things which die, there is light and life holding court in a domain of ultimate truth. In every real and reasonable sense, then, death is neither permanent nor ultimately real. That was, indeed, the “good news” brought to humanity over two thousand years ago and completely misunderstood even to this day. The bad news then, as now, is that nothing making its beginning and ending in temporal reality can be anything but a shadow of life, evidence of its presence – somewhere – but not conclusive proof of its existence in any one human being, human experience or any other sentient life forms. The difference in sensation between a human looking into the eye of a reptile versus another mammal comes with this subtle, yet profound, acknowledgement that one organism reflects the identifiable whole of experience better than the other. One organism seems to require a whole colony – as is the case with ants – to reflect the notion of an actual life experience beyond the biological automaton, while the organisms most like other humans – the mammals – seems to represent the notion of actual life experience on an individual, case by case, basis.
All of this mumbling is to suggest that human beings have always seemed to require a good story to believe in before they could feel whole enough to get off of their knees and to begin take back some dominion over their lives. For a time the Church filled this role providing human beings with some good reasons to avoid killing other human beings simply because they could. When the Church began to operate like any bureaucracy to exist solely in service to itself, Science and the Scientific Method was proposed as a solution designed to replace the Churches’ hegemony in the daily lives of human beings. But now it is time for all of us to realize that neither science, nor religion, can keep us from the wholesale slaughter of one another. The only solution to our daily dilemmas must lie in the honest acknowledgement of where we are, how we think we came to this place and how best to harness the collective energy of the species to propel ourselves out of harm’s way.
To end with a beginning, we must first acknowledge to ourselves and to each other that we are terrified. We came to this place because this is the place we have always been and have never left very far behind us. We simply must cease terrifying ourselves with stories that can never be proven true or false and start dealing with the raw material of reason within every human being alive. As I have tried to demonstrate in this essay, the issue is not whether or not there is a “god” operating in the lives of every human being, but whether or not that “god” is a relevant part of the survival of each individual and the entire species as a whole.
I know of not one single religion, nor of any scientific pursuit, that has ultimately operated in the best interests of species survival when pursued as an end in and of itself. Look, then, to your fellows and learn to count on the goodwill found there, in whatever supply, and realize that regardless of the constitution of ultimate truth, we have not been abandoned, comfortless, in a cruel and hostile world. We have both the promise to discover, and the responsibility to provide, hope for the future to one another. Anything less could not be considered “life.”