Wednesday, March 1, 2017
My Philosophical Journey Across Brief Time
While lapping up long lengths of the swimming pool last night, another reflective project splashed (like the proverbial salmon or cod) into my consciousness.
Enclosed is the beginning of a philosophical timeline of my life--less than a quantum blink in cosmic time--which shows how I came to the place I am now, and the journeying and struggles and radiances. Hopefully, my own backwards reflection and chewing of life's cud will spark (to change metaphors midstream;-) your own musings and reflection of your lives.
One Philosophical Time Line:
1) From my earliest memories (maybe 4?), I recall that I badgered my folks (and later many other adults) with WHY questions. It appears that I was born with a 'why' caught in my throat and mind;-)
When I was still young, and about to meet a new person, my parent would remind me not to ask questions, or talk a lot.
2) At a small age, before first grade, my Aunt 'Barbrie' used to often child-sit me, because both of my parents worked late jobs. She was a wild (in an innocent sort of way) young woman who at bedtime told me incredibly creative science fiction stories she made up on the spur of the moment.
Great space ships left earth to other planets; the planets were strange and different. And she told me about a boy, just like myself, who built a space ship in his backyard. Maybe those early stories were a factor in my childhood--and life-long--love of science?
3) By the time I was 5 or 6, I began trying to figure out God, this mystery that everyone talked about, and my father, as a Baptist minister, preached about every Sunday morning. I did this, partially during the sermons, while I moved a little toy car about in my winter coat sleeves and on top of it; and remembering I mustn't say a word or ask questions until the end of the service.
Contrary to the caricature of what atheists claim all Christians and theists believe--that God is "Sky Father/Super Person,"
I never thought that.
Rather, in my little imagination and beginning of abstract reasoning, I thought God must be like gas:-), like the air, invisible but everywhere.
4) Then by 8 years of age, I became very aware of ethics and my own part in it. Consciousness and conscience met.
A dramatic conversion experience on the way home from Adams. I leaned forward and asked my dad to stop the Chevy. He pulled over on the shoulder of the gravel road in Southeast Nebraska on a Thursday night in 1955. Since I've told that life-changing story in past blogs, I won't repeat it here. (This is to be a short time line, not a tome;-)
5) In elementary school (3rd or 4th grade), a librarian used to lend me new books (beyond my years) and I learned about Neanderthals, the prehistoric, and more about dinosaurs, and science fiction.
My dad used to talk with me about prehistoric times, as well as space travel. He was a history teacher, Baptist preacher, carpenter, small town farmer, and handy-man.
As far as I know, no one in our family was ever "young creationist" in the sense that is meant by most conservative Christians and secularists now. While such labels may describe many or most fundamentalists and evangelicals, my own growing up years were very different.
I guess we would have fit in the "Old Earth" category, because we thought the world was very old as proven by dinosaur skeletons, and that prehistoric men had existed as evidenced by Neanderthals' remains found in excavations in Germany and elsewhere. We did believe in the Genesis Flood.
--Adapted religion with budding reason and science
--Moral Realism (or Moral Objectivism)and Moral Universalism
--Anabaptist Version of the Christian religion
--Infants innocent, no O.S.
6) But my devout naive faith and hope came crashing down at the fairly young age of 11 years. Our Sunday School teacher told us God sent bears to punish kids who were making fun of the prophet Elisha's bald head!
I immediately raised my hand, very upset. This chasm opened up severe doubt within me. How could the Bible and adult Christians believe such horrific things about God?
I refused to accept such stories. The God I hoped in wasn't at all like that.
7) About this time, or maybe a little later, I learned the Baptist view (at least of our church) that St. Augustine was a false teacher, that Original Sin and infant baptism were horrific wrong beliefs which Roman Catholics believed.
We Baptists didn't accept the Creeds of the Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, etc. We were non-creedal and humble of it;-).
8) Then as an early teen, I discovered the passages in Scripture which condoned, supported, and caused slavery!
If the Bible was God's Word, how could it be so wrong about this horrific evil?
This ethical contradiction bothered me deeply for years, as well as other horrific actions, stories, and demands in Scripture.
9) By the time I was 13 or 14, I quit thinking the Bible was inerrant. Too many wrong parts. It couldn't be, though, I continued to think that many key passages were inspired by God.
When I asked my dad and to other Christian leaders, and read books which explained problems in the Bible, their answers didn't satisfy, not in the least.
This controversial issue--and plenty of other wrongs and errors in the Bible--still troubles me.
And how is it possible that many bright, even brilliant, highly educated adults really think the Bible is "inerrant"?
Why do so many churches and denominations insist that Scripture is error-free, perfect?
Clearly, despite their irrational faith, the Bible is in error in many places. And, of course, later when I studied textural criticism, etc., I learned of the many thousands of other errors, of serious historical errors, of grievous scientific errors, copy errors, and so forth.
10) Summer camp! Ah, those exciting times. At 13 years old, I got to go. (Normally, my parents couldn't afford the cost.)
What a rousing time with campfires, games, Bible studies, exultant singing, and the fun of running through the night, knocking down the wood braces which kept the wood window covers open in the campers' cabins.
I don't remember if I actually ever did that, but rooted for those few who did; what fun:-)! Especially if it was one of the girls' cabins. By the time I had reached 12, I was completely girl-crazy.
There at that Baptist summer camp, philosophy showed up vividly and got personal, too.
I dedicated my life to God one inspirational night after a powerful sermon about how we need to choose to commit our lives totally to God and to change the world.
Strangely though when I got home and excitedly told my folks, they were dismissive of my experience. They told me I was already a Christian, and, basically, 'don't get carried away'!
I guess this shows how moderate--middle of the road-- my folks were in their fundamentalism, not extremists.
They had met those extreme "fundamentalists--the GARB ones in college, a very bad experience for them. Whenever I got "too religious," like the time I went around our small town putting evangelistic tracts on car windows, they cautioned me to be moderate.
My dad and mom were practical people, not given to dramatic religious experience. They also thought no miracles--like the ones in the Bible took place now. TV preachers, according to them, were con-artists, fakes.
Rather, what counted in life was being a strong Christian who lives right and good, succeeds, treats others equally, and helps those in need.
11) The older I got, the greater my questioning. I'm surprised I didn't turn into a question mark;-).
When I was 16 (15?) and asking and thinking deeply about philosophy and religion, and always involved in reading religious books, I came to view God as the "Ground of All Being."
And the more I studied and thought, I began to accept other such 'liberal' views. (This, of course, worried my parents, but they didn't normally speak of it.)
--Religion and Science together
--Moral Realism (or Moral Objectivism)and Moral Universalism
--Separation of Church and State
12) An added burst to my already questioning mind, came as a junior in high school, when I chose to sign up for an elective, Philosophy class. (Our high school was one of the few high schools in which philosophy was offered as a class.)
We read Plato's The Cave, and complex explanations of famous philosophers, and talked and talked, etc. My understanding of the world, life, existence, the universe kept expanding.
This exciting class was taught by my favorite teacher, who also taught history and debate.
He was an agnostic, had a dry sense of Mark Twainian humor, and made side comments against religion, politically correct ideas, and so forth. Later when I became an educator, I modeled my teaching on his methods and style.
And that year, we studied Transcendentalism in American literature. Emerson's and Thoreau's view of reality greatly influenced me, though I opposed some of their beliefs.
--Ideals, Essence, the Good
--Questioning about relationship of Nature and Science and God
13) But then, at 17, another life-changing crisis blasted forth--one struggle which has lasted for 53 years!
I encountered Christian Calvinism, Reformed theology.
The Christian leader was our teen Bible study teacher in Lincoln, Nebraska.
(How did a 'free-will' Baptist like me, end up in a Christian group led by a Calvinist?
The Vietnam War had ignited and was raging. And I was struggling with whether or not to go into the military--
probably the Navy, like my dad, after high school as planned--
and go to Vietnam.
When I asked (questions, again) this Christian leader, he declared that Christians ought to kill for God.
Shocked at his certainty and the way he stated it, I responded, "I don't think God would ever command us to kill others."
He proceeded to quote passages from the Old Testament. According to him, God would sometimes command Christians to do what is "immoral."
Quickly, it got terrible. I learned the worst--Calvinists, Augustinians, and Lutherans think most of the billions of us humans are foreordained to hell, to eternal damnation, condemned before the whole cosmos began!
Calvinists claim that God doesn't love everyone, but only loves a limited number of humans.
What!!!!!:-( I've never gotten over the shocked horror of that.
The bears, even slavery, now seemed minor issues; this new horror was like falling from a 10-thousand-foot cliff.
Other Christian leaders claimed that only the Creeds are true Christianity, not our Baptist beliefs--those are "heretical."
So for the first time, I checked out these infamous "Creeds." Got a large tome from the public library.
To say I was devastated and baffled is an understatement.
These creedal statements were NOTHING like our Baptist faith, nothing like the Christianity that I deeply trusted in.
The creedal theology was so contrary to everything we believed about life and existence.
And the Creeds made very bizarre statements such as that Jesus is totally God and totally human, etc. They seemed irrational, ridiculous, and absurd.
How could any thinking human possibly believe that Jesus was God?!
14) Then at 18/19 years of age, I went off to university, first to the University of Nebraska, then transferred to Long Beach State in California. At the latter, most of the professors were outspoken atheists.
Very brilliant men, I looked up to. Two great profs were agnostics, the second one a Jewish agnostic. It was the fall of 1966, a very volatile time. The best of times, the worst.
I learned so much. But fairly quickly I came to see that Christianity probably isn't true, at least not what I had believed, and certainly not denominational religion.
At one point while crossing the university quad, I came to a marrow-deep crisis point, probably the central one of my entire life:
I was at a 50% versus 50%
Stay with liberal Baptist religion
(our Baptist campus minister said he leaned toward Deism)
Change to Atheism
(like our profs and most of the students I knew).
The tipping point came in that dramatic crisis moment,
as I stood on the quad,
torn between 2 opposite directions,
2 opposite roads,
2 diametrically opposed lives.
While organized Christianity didn't seem to fit with some of the evidence we were learning in anthropology, geology, and philosophy,
on the opposite side
Atheism generally rejected the reality of objective ethics, and was in very serious error in claiming to know for sure about the ultimate nature of the cosmos, of Reality.
We often discussed philosophical, ethical, and political issues between classes, disagreeing, reflecting, and countering.
How could anyone know that the vast cosmos was "meaningless" and "purposeless"?!
True, as a liberal Baptist, I thought that existence was "meaningful," but I didn't "know" that; rather I had faith it did.
So though Christianity had deep problems, (and I strongly rejected the major Christian traditions of the Creeds), I knew that ethics are real, not "subjective" stuff humans make up. I could see that in the Civil Rights Movement, and other issues. My first protest march was against Apartheid in South Africa.
Another troubling factor was the unethical behavior of some of the professors and atheist students. When they defended unethical actions, and lived them, I realized, I didn't want to go down that river.
My two best friends were atheists. Worst of all, I saw how their nontheistic lifestance was harming them.
That was then...
But now--over 50 years later--I wish I could have a second chance at that drastic decision on the quad.
I wish I could live that crisis over again, now that I know there are far more than only those 2 extreme contrary options,
that Life isn't an
No, there are many different philosophical lifestances humans can consider, think about, and choose from.
There are at least 10 very different views of Reality. (See my other blog post for specifics.)
I do know I would reject Atheism again.
After over 50 more years of studying Atheism, reading lots of books by many famous atheists, talking with thousands of them, I am more intellectually convinced that Atheism is incorrect. Besides, I don't identify my central views by what I am not.
BUT what I would change, is that I would leave organized Christianity.
TO BE CONTINUED--
Would you like to share your own philosophical timeline?
In the LIGHT,
I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him.
Martin Luther King