Sunday, July 25, 2010

A religious whack job?

A friend from junior high school found my blog recently, and was rather dismayed to find so much God stuff on it. I was so "scientific" (his word) back in those days, he was shocked at what's happened to me. I have a narrative account of my experience meeting Jesus, written when we lived in Japan; a somewhat philosophically-oriented addendum follows.

You may remember the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where a guardian challenges all comers with three questions:

  1. What is your name?
  2. What is your quest?
  3. What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?
Provided that we know what kind of swallow we're talking about (European or African?), science can answer question [C]. But for [A] (identity: who am I, really?) or [B] (mission: what am I to do with my life?) it's of no help at all. In other words, math and science -- which I still like a lot -- can make for a more comfortable or convenient life, or a safer life; but science can't answer anything in life that really matters:
  1. What is the good life?
  2. Who is a good person, and how can I become one?
  3. Does she love me?
  4. Have I done well?
  5. Will my kids turn out all right?
  6. What should I give my life to?
Questions like this -- philosophical/spiritual/religious questions -- require, well, philosophy, spirituality, or religion! Psychology and literature might help a little, but they provide no ultimate, definitive answers, and again science (physics, chemistry, biology, math) isn't useful at all.

Please note that none of this means I've discarded any reasoning ability I may have had. I don't take phenomenological language ("The sun rises in the east...") literally just because it's in the Bible; I don't take parabolic ("A man had two sons") or polemical ("and there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day") discourse as historical; and I certainly don't take wisdom literature ("Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" - Proverbs 22:6) as providing any absolute guarantee or as confuting social science (as you can see from my postings mentioning The Nurture Assumption).

A few words about technology

Though I like technology, it doesn't grant control over anything that really matters. Indeed, nothing that really matters is in our control. I can choose something from a restaurant menu, but really, that's about it; I can't control the choices my loved ones make, I can't control my health or career -- heck, I can barely control myself! How many times have I done the same stupid things I did 20 or 30 years ago?

And I certainly can't control any of the ultimate issues mentioned above, with or without technology. Technology won't make me a good person or give me a meaningful life; it can't make love last.

So that's what happened to me: questions of identity and mission, purpose and goals, security and significance. Those questions happened to me and I needed something beyond math and science. And certainly by the time of the 阪神大震災 (the great Kobe earthquake of 1995) it hit me that nothing that ultimately matters is within my control.

I still like science and technology, but life requires more than that. And if that makes me a religious whack job, well, so be it.

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