Monday, July 19, 2010
Above Us Only Sky
I had mixed feelings reading this Slate article on heaven.
When the piece began by debunking several conceptions of heaven, I was rooting for the author. I despise the Patrick Swayze, Precious Moments, All Dogs Go to Heaven version of the afterlife myth. Speaking in terms of theology, I believe that conception is an odd aberration that crept in when Scriptural watchdogs weren't looking. The Bible simply does not teach that belief. If I could speak to a gathering of evangelical leaders, I would tell them that correcting our beliefs in heaven by removing this strange and alien belief from our common practice should be a much higher priority than either gay marriage or prayer in schools.
But then the article sunk into the septic tank. The enjoyment evaporated like an ice cube in an oil spill. The writing became a tirade, another battlefield where nasty, backwards, primitive, blue-collar, fat American belief-ism dukes it out with progressive!, enlightened!, rational!, urban!, urbane! SCIENCE!
I'm not going to waste my time with such nonsense. I'm so bored with that discussion and life's too short for me to be bored. I'm done with arrogant epistemologists of either persuasion. I turn my nose at both the close-minded scientist and the ignorant Christian, both of whom are convinced that the scientific evidence shows whatever or that THE DEVIL (cue cellos) has blinded their eyes, closed their hearts and just waves away tough questions with screeching, nonsensical, counter questions.
I'm so tired of this debate. It gets nasty. It gets nowhere. And it just leaves people angry. And there's no communication. None whatsoever. This is the gravest issue and the one people tend to work on the least. To properly visualize what this type of debate inevitably becomes, imagine two 5 year-olds. Picture them screaming, caterwauling and making the most God-awful noise in the world. Now watch as they plug their own ears with their fists and try to headbutt each other to death. Now place this snarling juvenile mess in a locked latrine. Any debate touted as reason vs. faith can only rise this high.
But conversations are beautiful. They're beautiful because there's communication, connection and humanity. I love having conversations with anyone who believes anything. We can talk about baseball or manga or God. Whatever. When we do talk about God, I'm OK with them believing whatever they believe and their reasons for doing so. Often it's psychological. Sometimes it's rational. And other times, it's a complete non-sequitur. I believe in God because I'm Irish. Um, OK? I like people. I want to learn more about them. Maybe they want to learn more about me. I don't ask for it up front. If they want to know more, they'll ask. I don't like to be in the business of telling. I'm not sure I should hold the assumption that strangers are just so curious about me.
Conversations are beautiful because one human heart touching another human heart is beautiful. That's where alithea-truth exists. I'm thankful for having read Heidegger because he gave me a better word than heart-truth, which people just interpret as "feelings." Alithea-truth is not your goddamn emotion. It'll affect you emotionally, but it's not your emotion. When you take your medicine, it affects your body. But the medicine is not your body.
Alithea-truth is not fact truth. "This computer I'm using is running Internet Explorer 6 and I hate it." That sentence is an example of fact-truth, veritas-truth. Alithea-truth is Eureka, the I-Have-Found-It experience of life. An example of alithea-truth would be the pitcher on the mound realizing "I have to throw a fastball." "I have to throw a fastball." is not a fact. It's almost something of an anti-fact. Facts describe what is. "I have to throw a fastball." is a judgment concerning the future, concerning the what-is-not(-yet). For those who don't care for sports but know something of love, another example of alithea-truth is the realization "Just be yourself." It's a truth you can't check. A command, like a question, is immune to fact-checking. How do you find out if "Sit down!" or "Who's Billy Mays?" are true statements? Alithea is truth beyond truth, truth beyond fact.
The alithea-truth of God is simply "God". Although you may phrase it in a way that looks like veritas-truth - "God exists.", "God is real.", "Jesus Christ is the Son of God.", "God loves me." - the most vital part of the statement lies in the realization. Verity gives it substance. Oh, pardon me. Did you think that these were exclusive categories? They're not. "Once you hit the liver, you can hit anything." is Bas Ruten's alithea-truth of fighting. It's also the veritas-truth taught to all Mexican boxers as part of the curriculum.
Alithea-truth can't be taught. Veritas-truth can. To use John Piper's (I like him again.) famous illustration, you can't reason a person into realizing ice cream is delicious. They taste it. They like it or they don't like it. Teaching you the biology behind mint leaves and chocolate chips won't help you enjoy the taste more if you don't already like the flavor.
Without this understanding of alithea-truth, all discussions about God are absolute dung. Don't take the easy way out and psychologize the issue saying "People believe because they're scared of dying." or "People don't believe because they want to keep sinning." Both are insulting and absurd. Cite some specious statistic and assume that the entire population sit uniformly on an issue offends common sense. Each person is an individual. Respect them as such. Treat them as such. Investigate, discover, explore the alithea-truth of their life. Ask them for it. Maybe they'll share it. C'mon reach out and touch somebody. People aren't that scary. Grown-ups only bite when you ask them to.