James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Good Intentions of an Ignoramus

Almost all of my knowledge is from hearsay, not direct experience. But most of it is reliable. I knew that Manhattan existed before I arrived there on a road trip, and even though I've never been to London I trust it exists on the same kind of reliable testimony that had told me Manhattan exists. The theories that the Earth is a spherical planet and is orbiting the sun, I accept on similar grounds. Everyone else tells me so, as do the books and tv shows. In the same way, I trust that persons I was told existed and events I was told happened did indeed exist and did indeed happen, and that the world today is the Effect of their Cause. I believe this is more reliable wherever there is clear continuity in the record-keeping. It is more believable that U.S. President Millard Fillmore actually lived, than that Moses or Jesus lived as described in the Bible - even though the latter two allegedly accomplished more important things. That's because the existence of Moses and Jesus depend on more remote hearsay evidence; there are definitive records of Fillmore's existence in our federal government's archives, and, presumably, in the archives of the Foreign Offices of foreign countries. In contrast, you have to accept Moses and Jesus on faith, not evidence.

But a lot of what I know amounts to associating names and categories to visual recognition: gold is an element, water is a compound. Chimps and humans are both primates. Housecats and tigers are felines. Wolves and poodles are canines.

And so I am also told that oil from the ground comes from fossils of preexisting life on earth. The Big Bang happened because it makes the most sense, I am told. "Darwinian" Evolution is true because it makes the most sense, I'm told.

Then I'm told that Evolution somehow proves there's no God, as if progression in four-dimensional space-time is the only Reality there is. But then physics tells us there are more dimensions than that, and one wonders if consciousness and creation can't exist in those dimensions, and that some sort of God or spiritual/supernatural force might exist after all.

And then I'm told that Global Warming is real, and then I'm told it's a myth. That it's impossible for the Twin Towers and Building 7 to have fallen as they did according to the official story on Sept 11, and then I'm told it is quite possible for them to fall.

Because I have a lot of Oscar and Super Bowl trivia in my head, I don't see how I'm expected to form an intelligent opinion on these matters. Heck, the only reasons I know it's foolish to microwave a metal plate or drop a radio in the bath is because I've been told about these dangers - I wouldn't know enough to figure them out for myself. On most matters relating to the physical universe, I am an idiot, and have no way of knowing when "respectable" science is corrupted by greed and power, or when "alternative" theories and therapies become too paranoid or cult-like. Is the homeopath selling snake oil? Is the hospital grossly overcharging? How am I supposed to know? And why should I trust the "mainstream" and the "respected" as opposed to the despised and rejected?

I don't know if I'll ever trust my own judgment. Every sound argument for an "established scientific fact" is countered by, to me, an equally persuasive counter-argument. I'm not smart enough to figure it all out, and even if I did have the time and intelligence to get it right on one subject, I wouldn't know enough about other subjects to form an educated opinion.

I do know that what has appealed to me about Christianity and other religions and philosophies is the degree to which they express genuine love and respect for every human being. The more theological and technical their dogma becomes, the more I'm turned off. And that's also why I'm attracted to Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment theories of Constitutionalism, Classical Liberalism, and Libertarianism. They also invoke similar love and respect for every human being, including giving them room to make choices I may disagree with, provided they don't harm anybody else. They don't reduce other people to pawns in ideological struggles, but treat individuals as ends in themselves.

That is why, as much as I would love to kill Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or the junta in Burma, it is simply not my decision to make. Bad as the inflation is in Zimbabwe, and the post-cyclone misery in Burma, an invasion or civil war in either country will probably bring even more suffering. I don't believe it's my call to make, nor is it the call of the U.S. President or Congress.

I'd kill Mugabe and the Burmese junta because I hate them, not because I believe killing them will actually accomplish anything good for the suffering in their countries. Should I act on my hatred, or should I do what I can on behalf of the innocent and helpless? Ideological justice says "Kill the tyrant!" but real justice is motivated by love for the innocent, not hatred for the guilty. In any catastrophe, the poor, the innocent, and the weakest will always suffer most of all. Taking the meek and humble path means that not every one of these will be rescued. But they won't be rescued in any case. Not by authoritarian means. And certainly not by an invasion or civil war.

What I'm saying is that I believe Love is the Ultimate Reality, and the only true God. Though I may err in situations, I hope I never abandon my best intentions.

1 comment:

  1. Jim - You are right. At its best, Christianity affirms that God is love, and that Love is the cause of the Big Bang and the creator of the universe - and Christianity is not alone in this belief. As you said, faith (or the lack thereof, for that matter) is not provable, but we may nevertheless have good grounds for our beliefs.