Archive for the 'Worldview' Category

11
Jul
10

intellectual suicide

COEXIST the popular bumper sticker was first designed by Piotr Mlodozeniec, a graphic designer from Poland. He created the image for an art contest sponsored by the Museum on the Seam for Dialogue, Understanding, and Coexistence; an organization located in Jerusalem. The museum now sells products, including shirts and posters, which incorporate Mlodozeniec’s design.  The graphic, which cleverly uses symbols of 7 different ‘religions’  (Islam, Buddhism, science, Judaism, paganism, wiccan, Christianity) to spell out the word ‘coexist’   is now widely seen on bumpers as a enlightened expression of how to live in peace and harmony.

Or could it be more a sign of confusion and wishful thinking?

A few lines from British journalist Steve Turner’s poem ‘Creed’ gives us a starting point for illumination:

We believe in Marx Freud and Darwin

We believe everything is OK

as long as you don’t hurt anyone

to the best of your definition of hurt,

and to the best of your knowledge.

Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,

Mohammed, and ourselves.

He was a good moral teacher though we think

His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same-

at least the one that we read was.  

They all believe in love and goodness.

They only differ on matters of creation,

sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that man is essentially good.

It’s only his behavior that lets him down.

This is the fault of society.

Society is the fault of conditions.

Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that

is right for him.

Reality will adapt accordingly.

The universe will readjust.

History will alter.

We believe that there is no absolute truth

Excepting the truth

that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,

And the flowering of individual thought.

Turner’s take on the post-modern Western mind points right to the evasions, incoherencies, and irrationality of the current zeitgeist (the spirit of this time period).

How many of the owners of cars with this bumper sticker believe in the essential tenets of any of the seven worldviews?  And if he or she is a disciple of one of them (by definition to the exclusion of the others, as I’ll explain in a moment) how many of his/her social circle are serious adherents of one of the other systems?  Perhaps the sentiment best embodied in the bumper sticker is “we believe there is no truth excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.” Followed closely by:

“We believe that all religions are basically the same-

at least the one that we read was.

They all believe in love and goodness.

They only differ on matters of creation,

sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.”

Turner’s point is well taken: few people have actually read the Bible (Old or New Testament), the Koran, the writings of Gautama Buddha, or seriously studied the ideological origins of such cults as Wicca or more general worldviews as paganism. This is what makes it possible to ignore the contradicting claims each makes about ultimate things: creation, sin, heaven, hell, God and salvation. In other words, let us agree that there is no ultimate truth to be apprehended, and upon that foundation build a society based on each individual’s personal view of truth.  For make no mistake about it, we all assume truth exists even as we deny it in expressions like the COEXIST bumper sticker. This is true in both the material (physical) and non-material (moral, ethical) realms. We all submit ourselves to nature’s forces (e.g. gravity) out of respect for their ‘truth’ and generally recognize that to do otherwise would be foolish.  It is in the ethical realm where we have become confused and deceived. Since the seven worldviews all presuppose some basic ethical principles, it is in this realm that we regularly commit intellectual suicide.

We like that Buddhism ignores any distinction between good and evil (perhaps so we can do what is right in our own eyes) but we are offended when someone cuts us off in traffic and seek justice when someone breaks into our house. Yes, it turns out, there is an absolute standard of moral behavior, not of our own making, imprinted upon all people at all times and places, which all of us fail to keep.

Sensing that there is more to the universe than cold unfeeling matter, some of us like the concept of spirits inhabiting all of life, the oneness of all creation, a mystical experience of the life force that animates our world (paganism). In a rejection of scientific materialism which we believe in just long enough to fly from Denver to New York, we seek enlightenment in drug use, tantric sex, sweat lodges and spiritual retreats, only to be disappointed in the all too human failings of our gurus.   It turns out that worshipping the creation is not a sufficient substitute for knowing the Creator.

Since there is no objective truth about the universe, history or ethics, the contradictions between sacred scriptures such as the Bible and the Koran are not contradictions at all.  The Biblical truth proposition (God created the world- including man; man sinned, Jesus came into the world as the God-man, He will come again) is a myth on the level of other religious creation-fall-redemption stories. Islam is an alternative telling of the story, with a bit more direct solution for what ails us- the answer being Sharia Law.  It turns out that it matters greatly whether God is an impersonal and distant being whose solution for mankind is religious observance and Sharia law to control the unrighteous impulses of sinful man or a loving personal God who humbles himself as a man to identify with us and save us from our sin.  Truth matters once again.

Science as represented by e=mc2 (Einstein’s formula for relativity). It is the odd man out in this string, as it would surely say about itself that it represents objective knowledge whereas the others represent some form of subjective belief. It is rational, based on repeatable observations made in the laboratory through application of the scientific method.     Since it is the only objective way of knowing, it must stand ‘above’ other less valid forms of knowledge-such as religion or faith, in all matters of education, political life and public policy. This view of the world is entirely consistent with a thorough-going moral relativism, since a worldview based on mind evolving out of matter in a closed system of cause and effect over billions of years does not have a foundation for ethics or knowledge. How do I know that what I am perceiving is true, and on what basis do I call something ‘good’?  It turns out that something outside of us is necessary to explain what exists, and it came before us and is intelligent beyond our comprehension.  Philosophical naturalism (what is meant by ‘science’ here) is the weakest of the seven worldviews in explaining the totality of what we observe. ‘Science’ of course is a subsidiary concept to the ultimate truth of the One who made everything- the all-knowing knower of all things – who has created the universe in such a way that we can be sometimes knowers of some things.

Our minds have suffered the effects of many real acts of intellectual suicide. The results of living by contradictory ultimate propositions show up in everyday effects that threaten individual lives as well as society as a whole.  Don’t settle for a cliché bumper sticker.  Truth matters. Seek it.

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