Tuesday 10 July 2012

Orange Dreams

I submitted this to the Guardian perhaps over optimistically

Reading Andrew Browns recent piece on Creationism at the Giants Causeway on the weekend before the big Orange Order 12th of July parades brings about an interesting juxtaposition of ideas. Andrew writes of the Young Earth Creationists-

 the world will not take much notice of my preferences, or yours. If we are to change it, we need reasons and explanations, not just wants. And we can't get the reasons and explanations that we need without reaching outside science, and outside the market. To the extent that creationists, too, are trying to do that, we should sympathise.

Which reminded me of these words of Patrick Pearse The Orangeman is ridiculous in so far as he believes incredible things; he is estimable in so far as he is willing and able to fight in defence of what he believes. It is foolish of an Orangeman to believe that his personal liberty is threatened by Home Rule; but, granting that he believes that, it is not only in the highest degree common sense but it is his clear duty to arm in defence of his threatened liberty. 

Whilst Brown and Pearse are an unlikely pairing, one a dewy eyed romantic with mystical leanings the other an Irish Republican, they both point to an almost universal reality. People have a need to explain the world to themselves and to explain themselves to themselves. Many of the religious, philosophical or political belief systems which we have do not consist of people making things up, the "imaginary friend syndrome", they consist of people encountering facts which contain for them some kind of emotional content. The facts may be true facts but the importance they have for the one who attaches themselves to them in a partisan fashion is that they convey a personal emotional "hit". They are facts which make us feel that we understand more than we did before we encountered them.

I think that it is more or less inevitable that most of us seek out such emotional truths or at any rate encounter them. And our immediate and passionate attachment to them is also practically inevitable. What follows on from that, however, is much more dependant upon personalities or the contingent circumstances in which we dwell. The Young Earth Creationist and the Orangeman stick doggedly to their facts and will forever combatively assert them against all other facts for which they feel no positive emotion. The parade they make of their attachment through the public streets, and especially the "enemy" streets, is a statement that the explanation that they have found is the end of the search for meaning, take it or leave it.

More commonly I think is the experience of finding fulfilling facts but not thereafter entering into a solemn pact and covenant to ignore all subsequently encountered unfulfilling facts. Not least because all our fulfilment is only ever partial at best. We still hunger and thirst for more and better explanations and this need fuels our continuing search. We resist the notion that there are no such universal explanations, and those who believe such a notion are themselves simply attached to an emotionally satisfying truth. Another unlikely pairing, Marx and Augustine, perhaps have between them described this as well as anyone ever has.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.

 You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.

The important question each of us needs to answer is not so much "are the facts that I believe true?" but "are the facts that I ignore unimportant?" No universal explanation can ultimately satisfy us if, deep down, we know we are suppressing inconvenient truths in order to attach ourselves to pleasing ones.

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  1. An interesting article. It got me wondering to what extent the faith journey is about the search for facts and explanations. The theologian Marcus Borg talks about the journey from pre critical naïveté, through critical thinking to post critical naïveté. In the third stage we realise that the deep truths we find in our religious stories and ideas do not depend on them being about facts. For example, in thinking about the creation stories of Genesis, embracing evolutionary science can lead to a deeper appreciation of the wonder and connectedness of creation expressed in those stories.

    Are the facts we ignore unimportant? Is a good question as it takes us into critical thinking. Other questions we might ask ourselves. What are the deeper truths that matter more than facts? And what does this say about how I should live my life?
    The dinosaur deniers feel safe in their supposed certainties, but they are missing the point. Besides, everyone knows the Giants causeway was build by Finn Mccool

    1. The beginning and end of the Christian faith journey is not thought but relationship, loving relationship. The foundational reality for the Christian is not that they believe in God but that they know Him personally. The search from facts proceeds from this basis which is what makes theology categorically different from philosophy. The facts which the theologian, or more generally the believer, searches for are descriptive not analytic. As an aside I might offer the idea that the less deep a persons actual relationship with God is, the less it has emotional resonance, then the more attached they are likely to become to emotionally satisfying facts because they provide a more or less satisfactory substitute and a solid assurance of being absolutely right.