Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Good Stuff

The first job I ever wanted as a little boy was to be a Minister. I grew up in the Methodist Church, but which church I would work in kind of depended on the girl I liked at the time. Westville has lots of different churches. It was explained to me that being a 'Minister in the Catholic Church' would be a complicated way of getting the girl. My crush/stalker behaviour shifted to the Anglican church a little later. The first girl was kind enough to give the second 'helpful hints and tips on how to get rid of Trevor'. I later ended up at the Baptist Church, and had fortunately learnt to play nice. My love letters to the crush at the time were mostly in my journal.

Things were also getting a little more serious on the philosophical side of things. I was a very serious teenager. I wanted to become a member of the church. Membership of the Baptist Church entailed getting baptised. I had been baptised as a baby. In the Methodist Church, you have infant baptism and later get confirmed. In the Baptist Church, you need to be baptised as an adult. The belief being that you need to be fully conscious of the commitment you are making. From my perspective it was the same thing. From people I cared abouts perspective, it was a big deal. Confirmation wasn't the same a Baptism. Being 'rebaptised' would be me saying my first baptism was meaningless. My social circle and community revolved around the Baptist Church, but I didn't want to upset those close to me. So I went back to the Methodist Church I had grown up in for confirmation classes. It always bugged me that these 'semantic' differences caused division between what I saw as the Christian community. For others these differences were not semantic, they were an important part of their belief.

When I later read 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel, it resonated deeply. Before the true adventure of an ocean journey starts, Pi flips and flops between various churches, temples, mosques and synagogues. To be fair, his motivations were more wholesome than mine considering my stalkerish tendencies. But to be fair to me, as a little boy - having a crush basically just meant I thought the girls were awesome. And they were. Even their rebuffs were kind. Pi went from place to place taking the best bits. Looking for a story that resonated.

We are all very bad at changing our minds. We can change them, and do all the time, but the process is very slow. All of us are hypocrites. We have issues that we feel passionately about and release our righteous anger, and we have moral blind spots where we don't even notice the damage we do. What gives me optimism is that when two ideas conflict, we struggle with that conflict. Slowly we change what we think to accommodate the belief that is more important to us. I think we tend to shift toward the good stuff. Not all the time, but more often than not. Alain De Botton has done a wonderful TED talk where he talks about how people who don't believe in religion, can start to engage in the good stuff of religion.

We have a tendency to focus on areas of disagreement in debates. This ends up casting more heat than light on most arguments. When last were you in a discussion where someone had their argument broken down, and so changed their mind? Normally we just look for a new argument. If the ideal is a consistent, good philosophy that allows us, our family, our community and the rest of the world to live deeply fulfilling lives perhaps we would do better to focus on the good stuff? We can allow a bull quota for the stuff we disagree on, and politely change the subject but stay engaged.

Over time, I think people iron out their issues. I think people are good. I think the best bits win.

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