on questioning everything-

August 7, 2013

lots of things in the head; half-seeded thoughts and semi-conscious ideas and slow-surfacing realisations. here’s one, mulchy and muddy; scatter with care.

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my favourite lecturer talked this evening about teaching kids rules ‘because I said so’, as in ‘do this because I said so; don’t ask why’, and then only later answering questions. He wasn’t very clear on when ‘later’ was, but he was touching on it in the middle of explaining the position of deontological (rule-based) and virtue (what you do comes from who you are) ethics in a Christian ethics diagram he was drawing, so it wasn’t really the major focus of the topic at hand. Nonetheless, it made me throubleful.* It was to do with the issue of authority and questioning, at heart; the point he made in passing was that if you taught kids to question every authority, they’d eventually question God.

I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to be unpacked from that, and that it’s probably more complex than just what I’m reading from it. More elaboration is certainly necessary, and while I certainly don’t think my lecturer is infallible, I trust his wisdom and knowledge, and what he says carries weight with me so I’m going to at least consider what he says with some seriousness (hence the troubled thought). But if you’ve read this blog at all, you can probably hazard a guess that my knee-jerk reaction to the they’ll question God business wasn’t “Horrors! Questioning God? That’s an unthinkable idea and certainly a good thing to prevent!”

Because, y’know. I question God. A lot. And I’m not sure that there’s anything necessarily wrong with it. Now I’m assuming, based on previous comments he’s made on similar issues, that he meant questioning God from a position of total skepticism rather than from a position of Trust-Nonetheless, like Job or Habakkuk, who questioned but still believed (which is, actually, proved by the fact of their questioning; why would you question God if you didn’t believe he existed or cared about anything you said?). But I still don’t really see how that’s a Quelle Horreur situation. Maybe you wouldn’t want your kid to go there, necessarily, because it’s really not the most fun place and you really can get lost, but- I’ve been and probably still am somewhere in that region, and I think it’s a necessary part of my process of belief. Not a fun part, and I suppose there might be an element of risk as to whether one chooses to leave the faith entirely (which is entirely a situation of there, but for the grace of God, go I). But I think, maybe, when someday I climb out of wherever-I-am into a belief that’s less fragile, less tenuous and cautious, I might understand more about doubt and trust and God’s authority than someone who’s never had a religious crisis in their life. (And then again, maybe not- who knows? God works differently with different people.)

 

I’m well aware that I’m a product of the postmodern enlightenment question everything impulse, and I also have entrenched authority issues from long experience with the abuse of it, so saying anything like teaching kids to question authority could be problematic automatically pushes all my reaction buttons. Honestly, I think teaching kids to ask questions early is a very good thing, largely because I think people don’t ask enough questions as adults and so often stay placid and unthinking and cocooned in their comfort and safety, uncaring about anything outside their small bubble of self, which has all sorts of negative implications.

But then I thought of a way the question authority concept could be problematic- not so much in the area of the authority of God, but in the area of your own authority and ability to decide what truth is (yes, I’m still deeply anthrocentric). Because I guess you have to come down to that, when you’ve finally questioned every other authority; what about your own? What makes you the authority on decisions about everyone else’s level of authority? Why are you the arbitrator of truth and the decider of what is right and good?  What makes you any more able or capable, or in any way better at deciding what is right for you, or even in looking after yourself? Because, if you’re anything like me, you’re really not the best at doing the best for yourself, if you’re even capable of knowing what ‘the best for yourself’ really is. I know I’m a cobbled-together mess of reactions and defense mechanisms and survival instincts and oddly-contained self-loathing, and my ability to hurt myself, my ability to be bad to and for myself is boundless. And we haven’t even covered my ability to be bad to and for other people.

I wrote in November last year, when I was questioning everything, “And what made me a fit adjudicator for these things? I don’t have a giant TRUTH gauge in my head, I make stupid decisions all the time. How will I even know what the meaning of existence is if it comes and hits me in the face?”

I mean, eventually, if you question everything, you’re going to have to get down to questioning your own ability and authority to decide what is true, and then you end up in a giant puddle of mental bewilderment. Or at least I did. Maybe you, hypothetical questioner, are a much healthier or a much smarter person, or maybe you’re just better at being arbitrary and saying you know what, this is truth or this is trustworthy because I say it is and screw you. Or maybe you’re all everyone’s truths are relative and non-normative; everyone has their own truths!, which- is a normative, rather absolute statement in itself. I don’t know. Or maybe you’re just more okay with not really knowing.

That’s the problem with questioning everything. Although my lecturer introduced us to a book examining how we know what truth is tonight, so I might go read that.

 

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I don’t think I ever really came to any conclusive point on the questions I asked last November, largely because questioning everything ever, including the whole process and reason for my questioning, made me so bewildered and depressed I finally hit some kind of weird desperate smashing point and decided to run outwards instead of folding inwards to sleep and the long, slow forgetting of conscious death, which involves choosing to never be mentally present despite being physically alive, and is quite possibly how hell feels. I chose instead to study theology and examine the sun I was born orbiting, subjective and entirely biased and flawed as my perceptions and desires are, to see if its claims were true.

I don’t often mention that my options at that point were theology or death, but that’s pretty much what it was, if I’m honest, and what it still is. I had a fairly clear understanding throughout the first few, cautious months of last semester that if I didn’t find anything, if this wasn’t true, if nothing changed and God wasn’t real, there really wasn’t much point living. I’m not, for a change, being even slightly melodramatic here. I am almost entirely existentially nihilistic when I’m not Christian. If nothing had changed, my options would have been or death. (No chicken.) There was a reason last semester was full of occasional despair.

Of course, I’m aware that this kind of or death desperation is a fatal bias, which is why I was, and still am, so cautious about accepting the work and love of God in my life. I don’t want to want something so desperately I’m willing to believe it’s true no matter what, which is deeply problematic because it makes me less willing to accept any truth that I might possibly want to be true, whether or not it is in fact true. I’m in a bit of a bind, really, but- in that mindblindingly Schrödingerish way of belief I seem to have down- I’m trusting God will untangle me eventually.

 

You know, I was really hoping this was going to be a short post tonight.

 

 

 

* Spontaneologism meaning thoughtful and conceptually/ideologically troubled, often provoking more thought due to hesitation on a possibly problematic concept.
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