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.

Law and Love

Romans 2:13
Common English Bible (CEB)
13 It isn’t the ones who hear the Law who are righteous in God’s eyes. It is the ones who do what the Law says who will be treated as righteous.

Romans 10:4
Common English Bible (CEB)
4 Christ is the goal of the Law, which leads to righteousness for all who have faith in God.

Romans 13:8
Common English Bible (CEB)
8 Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law.

Matthew 25:31-46
Common English Bible (CEB)
Judgment of the nations

31 “Now when the Human One[a] comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.

34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’

37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ 45 Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ 46 And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”

Proverbs 14:31
Common English Bible (CEB)
31 Those who exploit the powerless anger their maker,
while those who are kind to the poor honor God.

Proverbs 17:5
Common English Bible (CEB)
5 Those who mock the poor insult their maker;
those who rejoice in disaster won’t go unpunished.

Proverbs 19:17
Common English Bible (CEB)
17 Those who are gracious to the poor lend to the Lord,
and the Lord will fully repay them.

The futility of “truth” without epistemological understanding

Without any actual understanding of epistemology, people are left with logically fallacious cognitive biases and heuristics (which are predominantly subconscious) to “decide” what is true or false, and what is good or bad.

Worse still, such people often hypocritically pretend that their own view is the only correct one, and resort to force (whether social, political, economic, physical, etc.) to assert their own view to make themselves feel good, instead of honestly considering the views of others.

“The wise man questions the wisdom of others because he questions his own, the foolish man, because it is different from his own.” — Leo Stein

Instead of looking at widespread ideological conflict, and trying to figure out if there is a kind of “truth” and “good” that everyone can share, people would rather pretend that their own version of “truth” and “good” is the only valid one. Which to me is really pathetic.

People do not even realise how much they are being influenced by a shortcoming of the human mind, called cognitive dissonance.

Love is the best solution to the problem of conflict

http://www.johndcook.com/blog/2009/03/24/redbelt-problem-solving/

I just read the above blog post, which inspired some thoughts of my own, for which I have written a blog post of my own:

<quote>In the movie Redbelt, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mike Terry, a Jiu Jitsu instructor who will fight but will not compete. He will fight in a real fight if necessary, but he won’t fight in a ring because competitions have arbitrary rules. He is a skilled fighter because he is creative, and competitions take away that creativity. At one point in the movie, someone asks Terry if he teaches people to win. He says no, he teaches people to prevail. In his mind, you can’t “win” a fight. A fight is a problem to be solved. </quote>

Galatians 5:14-16
King James Version (KJV)
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

What Jesus Christ came to do, was to radically change the rules of the game. He introduced to us a better way to play this game of life that we all find ourselves in.

All we knew to do was to mindlessly compete against each other. Instead, what Jesus came to teach us is that cooperation is the far better way. That is the true essence of Love.

When we find ourselves having different, “competing” views, the way to solve this “problem” of disagreement is not to condemn each other of “heresy”. It is not about “winning” arguments. If we want Truth and Love to truly “prevail”, then we must look beyond our petty differences, and come together in the shared purpose of finding the Truth and Love that we all desperately need.

Disagreeing WITH each other does not necessarily mean that we should argue (or fight) AGAINST each other. The better way is to discuss WITH each other how we should solve the “problem” of disagreement.

As Paul (or at least, the NRSV translators) has so rightly expressed, “Love does not insist on its own way”.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

The Gift of Love

13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Conclusion: Cooperation is better than competition.

Further reading: https://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/cooperation-is-more-efficient-than-competition/