Saturday, July 25, 2015

Unanswered Questions

I haven't experienced everything that there is in life. I don't want to, not all of them. I've never drowned, fallen off a cliff except in nightmares, met everyone, traveled everywhere, read every book. It's not that they all sound bad. Some sound like they might be worth the attempt, given time and resources. But my life is finite, my experiences even more so.

I'm pretty OK with that, for the most part.

Given my narrow range of experiences, I still have managed to come up with what I think is a reasonable explanation of how the world works. Some is based on education in areas like geography, biology, physics, math. Some is based on teachings in religion. Some is based on neither and/or both. I take the various inputs, think about them, add other, often conflicting inputs, weigh those as well, and muddle through to a belief system.

Take science, for example. Gravity makes sense. A 14 billion years old universe makes sense, though it is difficult to grasp in its enormity. I accept that matter and energy have to do with atoms and components of them and how they behave. String theory, however, makes no sense. Nor do parallel universes, though I've read enough science fiction that you'd think that they might. I understand the components of DNA and binary number systems, but cannot intuit how those grow into the control systems for our selves or our computers.

I see how those puzzles push people to try to find more answers than what can be understood by what can be seen or held. So I can understand how that drives them to develop religions. Religions give answers.

I was raised in the teachings of the Methodist church. As a teenager I dove headfirst into learning all there was about the true faith. I'm sure I was a self-righteous ass about it.


But then little things started to erode my unquestioning faith. The first was being corrected in what I had always believed the church taught, that after death we all went to either heaven or hell. (No purgatory for Methodists.) Whichever it was, it happened straightaway. But no, somewhere in junior high I was strictly informed that it didn't happen until the end of time, that somehow we were dead, were nowhere, until after the end of time. It was called resurrection.

Wait! What? If it's after the end of time, then there's nothing left of time for somebody to exist in either heaven or hell. How was that possible? And who the heck wants that?

Ecumenism came along around that time as well, along with expanding awareness of other religious teachings. Religions came, they went, they changed, they were different but fervidly believed, they were similar.  In fact, as patterns emerged, they became so similar that it grew difficult to tell which was the One True Belief. If any.

What did they have in common? Each had its own story about how the world was ordered, its creation, its end, its purpose, its rewards and punishments. While those stories were different, the framework was the same. And none of them were scientific. Each had two kinds of rules about how one should exist within its framework. One set of rules was how to believe in and worship its deities, or as I like to reframe it, how to keep the priests in power. The other set of rules was about how to treat other people. This was where they were most similar, prohibiting things like stealing and killing, the kinds of rules that kept the society running smoothly.

Whether one had faith in the "truth" of any particular religion, one can argue that they helped civilize people. One can argue even easier that defending against the differences in neighboring religions did just as much to destroy any civilizing influences. The most minor of differences could spark - and have - generations of wars.

But religions didn't answer all the questions either. They tried, but how can one really explain how bad things happen to good people in a theology that rewards good behavior and punishes bad when the deity is omnipotent and omniscient? With all the different explanations, how can we tell what really happens after death?

In the absence of proof and explanation, we develop world views that credit magic and the supernatural. Ghost stories get told around campfires to terrify and delight us. People credit tales of UFOs as proof of extraterrestrial life visiting, give forms to monsters like vampires, sasquatch, and zombies, develop superstitions about managing luck.

Others go the opposite direction and declare nothing exists that cannot or hasn't been proven. There is no deity, no afterlife, a belief system so fervent that it becomes a new religion called atheism.

I personally find both extremes arrogant. One either has found the one true religion, or the one true absence of religion. Considering how little we still know absolutely of the universe and how it works, it seems impossible to be able to declare on either end and be sure one has it right, that Truth is single-faceted, and that what one believes and understands now is in fact That Truth.

I consider myself an agnostic. I'm waiting to find out. For example, I don't believe in ghosts, but I know 3 different people who insist they have experienced one or more and I'm not willing to call them liars. I'm willing to go along with the idea if I ever have an experience that I can find no other explanation for, but for now I'm suspending belief. I never have had an out-of-body experience, but not only have I read of them, I know somebody who's had one. Maybe someday, maybe not for me.

For me, there are still a lot of unanswered questions out there.

I'm OK with that.

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