Unnecessary assumptions can go very wrong, especially when we have relied on them for too long

Inerrantists (i.e. the kind of people who thrive on religious dogma) have built up an entire religious / epistemological system on the assumption that there is a flawless set of sacred texts from which they can derive immutable truths. It gives them an artificial sense of certainty / security, and is set up so that if that assumption gives way, their entire world view (i.e. belief system) is destroyed.

They also enjoy singing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so.”

An entire life of ignorant bliss gained by such forms of “trusting and obeying” Jesus is virtually impossible to argue against, largely thanks to our dear friend “cognitive dissonance”.

Universal freedom requires common understanding

Freedom is not some inexhaustible resource that can be simply granted to everyone, without bias. If people are at cross purposes, their “freedoms” will always intrude on each other’s territory, so that only one can be allowed to exist at any given moment. Those who preach freedom but in reality merely want to assert their own freedom at the expense of others’, are just as bigoted as the people who are presently depriving them of their freedom.

If we want freedom for all, we need everyone to share a common purpose, so that nobody’s “freedom” will intrude on another’s freedom. For everyone to share a common purpose, there needs to be a common understanding. In order to arrive at a common understanding, people need to have an open mind to allow their views to change and evolve.

Sure, we can always “agree to disagree”, but when push comes to shove, and a decision needs to be made that can only satisfy the purposes of one party, “tolerance” becomes utterly meaningless when neither party is willing to allow their views/purposes on the relevant issue to converge.

Certainty and (religious) fundamentalism

(This post comprises fragments from a discussion I’ve recently had with some friends, so pardon any apparent disjointedness.)

Certainty is a subjective assessment of truthfulness ascribed to truth-statements, which varies from statement to statement, and differs from person to person. For example, if you have personally seen something happen, then told your friend about what has happened, you should have greater certainty about what has happened, than your friend who has heard it from you, because first-hand information is generally thought to be more reliable than second-hand information.

Of course, how you assess the certainty of a truth statement also depends on what kind of epistemological framework you are using.

It is easy to use emotions and happiness/grief derived from a truth-statement as a measure of the statement’s truthfulness, because the process happens subconsciously, and we only need to passively acknowledge what our emotions tell us. If pleasure is your ultimate goal, then that would be your “truth”. As long as you derive pleasure out of believing in those truth statements, nobody can argue against the “truth” of those statements, because you are personally deriving pleasure from believing them.

But experience/evidence tells us that the above-mentioned epistemological approach is unreliable, because lies are more than capable of granting people happiness. Often, the opposite is true, so that knowledge/truth gives more grief, which is why there’s the saying that “ignorance is bliss”. In fact, there is a very well-researched psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance, which explains how people have a tendency to lie to themselves to feel better, because it is far more comfortable for everything to “make perfect sense”, than to acknowledge our own ignorance and grapple with that reality.

In Mathematics, 100% certainty is possible, because everything is fully defined, and things that are undefined are completely avoided. This is a good example of the fundamentalist mindset that prefers to exist in their small, well-defined little world of 100% certainty, than to venture beyond the confines of their narrow world-view and address all the things that their limited framework is incapable of addressing.

Also, the “problem of regress” demonstrates that logically, everything becomes circular when you go down all the way to the fundamental assumptions. Take for example the belief in biblical inerrancy. “Why is the bible inerrant? Because the bible says so of itself.”

Since everyone has to have fundamental assumptions somewhere, what’s wrong with fundamentalism? The problem is that, fundamentalists worship their own assumptions more than they worship the true God who is far greater than their own narrow conceptions of what God should be like. Fundamentalists make a big deal out of their own intellectual arrogance of refusing to be open to the fact that their previous assumptions may be far from the ideal way to make sense of the world that God has created. Realise that assumptions serve only to limit the possible knowledge that we have, because when we assume a particular truth-statement — let’s call it ‘A’ — to be true, we are simultaneously assuming that all other truth-statements that are contradictory to ‘A’ are false.

Every additional assumption we adopt necessarily imposes further limitations on our world view, and robs us of the freedom to discover what God has to reveal to us. It prevents God from teaching us truths that are far greater than what we have previously imagined. With every additional assumption, we close our eyes and ears to the vast reality that we live in.

Fundamentalist ideology goes against the very spirit of humility that Christians are supposed to have. Fundamentalists pretend that their own narrow world view is somehow the God-ordained world view, and refuse to question their pre-existing assumptions. They would rather place their faith in the small, “easy-to-understand”, narrowly-defined “God” of their own imaginations, than open their eyes and ears to the one true God whose vastness and greatness should never be limited by the doctrines that proud men have made up and declared as sacred truth.

Instead of having unwarranted certainty in our existing assumptions, which is no different from intellectual arrogance, we should adopt an attitude of intellectual humility that is open to the possibility that assumptions different and contradictory to our existing ones could make better sense of the world we live in, and be better representations of the truth that God wants to reveal to us.

Miraculous Signs

The following passage in Luke (mirrored in Matthew and Mark) explains that signs are only sought by “evil” people. Good people, instead, seek wisdom.

Luke 11:27-36
Common English Bible (CEB)
On seeking signs

27 While Jesus was saying these things, a certain woman in the crowd spoke up: “Happy is the mother who gave birth to you and who nursed you.”

28 But he said, “Happy rather are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

29 When the crowds grew, Jesus said, “This generation is an evil generation. It looks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except Jonah’s sign. 30 Just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Human One[a] will be a sign to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from a distant land to hear Solomon’s wisdom. And look, someone greater than Solomon is here. 32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they changed their hearts and lives in response to Jonah’s preaching—and one greater than Jonah is here.

33 “People don’t light a lamp and then put it in a closet or under a basket. Rather, they place the lamp on a lampstand so that those who enter the house can see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore, see to it that the light in you isn’t darkness. 36 If your whole body is full of light—with no part darkened—then it will be as full of light as when a lamp shines brightly on you.”

Or maybe you prefer the passage in John that describes Jesus as happily providing miraculous signs to help people believe:

John 4:46-48
Common English Bible (CEB)
Jesus’ second miraculous sign in Galilee

46 He returned to Cana in Galilee where he had turned the water into wine. In Capernaum there was a certain royal official whose son was sick. 47 When he heard that Jesus was coming from Judea to Galilee, he went out to meet him and asked Jesus if he would come and heal his son, for his son was about to die. 48 Jesus said to him, “Unless you see miraculous signs and wonders, you won’t believe.”

Though, I would question why Jesus was happy to grant that guy a miraculous sign, and yet unbelievers and believers alike continue to live their whole lives without being given any such legitimately miraculous sign.

Some may say, that miraculous signs are everywhere, and that you just need faith to see them. But if you already have faith in the first place, you won’t need miraculous signs to believe in Jesus. Besides, miraculous signs have never been the sole right of God’s prophets. In the bible, even false prophets are said to perform miraculous signs.

If evidence (and logic) matters at all, I’d prefer the version in Matthew / Mark / Luke, over the one in John.