Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Question...

About three years ago, I was a Jehovah's Witness teetering on the edge of phenomenal change. I just didn't know it yet. My also-jw friend J (who went on to become my boyfriend and then went on to become who I affectionately now term "the ex") took me out for a drive one night. Both of our lives were in complete flux at the time, but I could never anticipate the flux that this conversation would usher into my life.

It was late. He stopped the car and parked it on a side road outside the busy city. It was dark. It was quiet. For some reason I remember staring at the telephone poles that lined the road and kept visually scanning the phone lines streaming over the car.

I don't remember the rest of the conversation, what came before or after the question. I only remember the question. A question I will never forget.

"Is there anything that you could learn that would make you think that what you have is not The Truth?" (By the way, Jehovah's Witnesses term their belief system "The Truth." Says a lot doesn't it?)

The question stung. It sent me reeling. It wasn't a statement that my beliefs were wrong. It was an inquiry into what made my beliefs right. It was the invitation to search my soul for the possibility that what I believed to be true, wasn't. And it changed my life. Forever.

Within minutes, I realized that there were things I could find out about my beloved religion that would make me question its validity. I wasn't even sure what those details would be, but the question forced me into a state of doubt that I still haven't recovered from.

That was the beginning of the end for me. Once I entertained the possibility that my religious beliefs were false, every other belief about myself, the universe and my place in it, came up for question. When it comes down to it, the only question there is and possibly ever was is: Who are we really?

In the past three years, my soul has found no resting place. I cannot hang my hat on anything my mind can conjure and say definitively that this is true. It's why I find debate so futile. Why argue something that you could find to be complete shite a year from now?

I wake some nights with a complete sense of dread in my gut. The dread of not knowing who I am, why I'm here, where I'm going, what the point is. I don't know how people function each day with these questions swirling around. It's why I sometimes have those Cypher Days where I long for the neat little bubble that gave my life concrete meaning, concrete answers, concrete illusion.

Life in the real is daunting. And I still feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Does anyone really?

tall penguin

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I sure as hell don't know what I am doing.

falterer said...

You remind me of:

http://xkcd.com/263/

I agree that we'll never possess absolute knowledge, and I certainly agree that we should be open minded about rational-seeming ideas, but I think we can still make useful assertions within that framework and call them "knowledge".

http://www.freeinquiry.com/intro-to-sci.html

This is an essay that had a lot of impact on me. It's intended to be an introduction to the Scientific Method for young students in university science courses. It stresses and explains three tenets of critical thinking: empiricism, rationalism, and skepticism. Of course, we can Think Critically to the best of our ability and still find that we're wrong about things, but that we're willing to accept such mistakes and correct our misunderstandings means we're thinking outside the danger zone of delusion. (Not sure if that makes sense, but Schafersman says it much better.)

To me, the demand for absolute knowledge is impractical. But that doesn't mean we can't know things to the best of our practical ability.

tall penguin said...

Thanks anon.

lol falterer. Great comic.

I appreciate that article you linked to.

"Often the use of logical reasoning requires a struggle with the will, because logic sometimes forces one to deny one's emotions and face reality, and this is often painful."

Been there and living that. My brain still leans toward the emotional (in case you didn't notice) and training it to do otherwise is challenging at best. Maybe a course in critical thinking is in order.

Cranky Ol' Lady said...

Three years isn't very long to get accustomed to independent navigation of reality after busting out of a granite cocoon. It's a courageous move -- congratulations!

Don't be afraid to give yourself time to learn to enjoy doubt. It's your ticket to a lifetime of exploration and wonder. Of course it's scary. Welcome to your brain! I'm 62 and still working on it.

Ged said...

I've been reading popular science books since I was a kid and I used to think that if scientist didn't already have everything figured it was only a matter of time.

Nowadays I suspect that a lot of stuff is just unknowable. The deeper you dig, the more complex it gets. Simple, ignorant dogma can shield you from the stresses of living in the real world with its ambiguities and fuzzy boundaries.

But in the end, I'm happier being knowingly ignorant than ignorantly knowing.

mike said...

"When it comes down to it, the only question there is and possibly ever was is: Who are we really?"

My question to you is, why do you need to be somebody? Why do people always have to look for deeper meaning, why do they need to have a "higher" purpose in life?

Don't confuse the need for purpose as proof of purpose. And just because something makes you uncomfortable, doesn't make less real. I have to bike home in the rain today. No matter how much I hate the feeling of wet underwear, it won't change the fact that when I get home I'll feel like I pissed myself.

tall penguin said...

"My question to you is, why do you need to be somebody? Why do people always have to look for deeper meaning, why do they need to have a "higher" purpose in life?"

The point is I don't want to be "somebody". I want to supersede the need to be anything at all.

As for "higher purpose", it's a quandary. Life can have any meaning we want to assign it. Or no meaning at all. I guess, for me, the journey is allowing it to unfold without having to force it into a mould either way. Saying yes to what is, creating what I want and letting go of the rest.

"And just because something makes you uncomfortable, doesn't make less real."

Agreed.

"I have to bike home in the rain today. No matter how much I hate the feeling of wet underwear, it won't change the fact that when I get home I'll feel like I pissed myself."

lol. Thanks!