Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What Would It Take

There has obviously been a bit of a hiatus in my discussion with Ernie, as Ernie has apparently taken a bit of time off. What I would like to cover today is not specifically directed to Ernie, but to anyone who "believes". In fact, there are applications to just about anybody, myself included.

The basic idea is to ask the question "What would it take for you to stop believing in Christianity?" What would have to happen? What would you need to learn, discover or observe? I think these are important questions to ask yourself, but they can be scary questions too, I suspect. To answer those questions with anything other than "Nothing" is to admit the possibility that what you believe is wrong, and that is not an easy thing.

I do not remember if I have written about this before, but there is a phrase, an aphorism perhaps, that I developed several years ago now, based on my observations of people. (This was well before my deconversion, but you can perhaps see the seeds of it here.) The phrase was: people would rather be sure than right. Rather than face uncertainty (which may be the right answer when reason and evidence are insufficient), people latch on to explanations that seem to reduce that uncertainty. Now those answers may turn out to be right, or they may be wrong. To me it served as a warning to be skeptical, a warning that there might be things I was "sure" about that were wrong.

To break out of the prison of unjustified certainty, you have to allow yourself to be wrong, to be unsure, to face the possibility that something at or near the center of your life may be unreliable. And some of you reading this will be thinking something like "I will not open myself to that, because that might open me up to deception, and I might lose something that I should keep at all costs." And with that thought, some of you may justify to yourselves the refusal to allow that you might be wrong. You may, perhaps, give lip service to the idea of a critical investigation of your own beliefs, while reserving for yourself a private commitment that nothing will change your mind.

But perhaps some are braver than that.

This is one of those places where my experience in software development provided some interesting input. In "agile" or "lean" software development, one principle is to delay important decisions as long as possible (but no later!) so that at the time the decision is made you have the maximum possible information. Rather than committing to designs made "up-front" when you know very little, you wait until the "last responsible moment".

Why do we commit ourselves to beliefs adopted when we knew less than we know today or might know tomorrow? I am not suggesting that beliefs should be dropped the instant any difficulty appears, because we can misunderstand facts, reason illogically, be deceived, and so on. On the other hand, we must also admit that we may have already misunderstood facts, reasoned illogically, been deceived, and so on. Do you really think that you might be wrong today or tomorrow, but not yesterday?

So, my challenge to you is to identify what it would take to convince you that you are wrong. Are you willing to do that? Not to tell me, just to tell yourself?

And yes, I do still ask myself that question.

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