Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What Is and What Ought to Be: Speaking Freely About the Big Questions

Sometimes I think all serious questions in life are just variations of two basic Big Questions. Big Question One is "What is true?" and Big Question Two is, "What is good or right?" Put another way, the Big Questions are: 1. What is? 2. What ought to be? For years, I was more interested in Big Question One. I wanted to figure out the basic facts about what reality was like, so I read all about science, history, and other fact-oriented fields. I even tried to write a humongous book attempting to tie the most important facts together in a coherent narrative. Nobody wanted to read it, of course, but I put it online just in case.

After all that time pondering Big Question One, it ocurred to me that I had mostly forgotten to consider a whole other dimension of life; Big Question Two. So, in the last couple of years I've gotten fascinated by the second Big Question, and thought a lot about the foundations of morality and ethics. I want to know what determines what's good and bad, and what's right or wrong. On what basis can we decide how to behave, and how to treat others? This blog has mostly turned into an exploration of those questions.

With both Big Questions, however, if you want to think and write about them, and discuss them with other people (and that is essential) then before long you'll run smack into religion, and then things get touchy. In this country, a majority of people try to answer one or both questions by turning to their Christian faith. Of course, Christianity is diverse, and the Bible is big, complex, and subject to a wide range of interpretations, so different Christians answer those questions in a different ways. Some think we were literally created in God's image sometime in the last few thousand years, while others think scientists are basically right about evolution and the age of the universe, but still think God's ultimately in charge. Some Christians think homosexuality--to take a currently contentious example--is wrong because of things the Bible says, while others think the negative passages about homosexuality should be dismissed as belonging to an ancient, pre-scientific, and rather cruel culture.

Since I live in a country with a large Christian majority, if I want to write openly and honestly about the Big Questions that interest me, I can't avoid discussing the traditional Christian answers to those questions. That's why I end up talking about religion a lot in this blog. I'm interested in morality, which is bound up with religion in most people's minds, and in science, which is often at odds with religion, at least when it comes to more literalist branches of Christianity. In both cases, I usually disagree with the conservative Christian interpretations of these things, and sometimes even the liberal Christian interpretations.

And these aren't trivial disagreements, like disagreeing about whether licorice tastes good or not (it doesn't--it's gross). These are disagreements about things that matter. It matters that people think gay people shouldn't be able to marry, or that global warming can't happen, because of their interpretation of the Bible. Those beliefs determine their actions, and their actions affect others. So I find myself at odds with conservative Christianity a lot of the time, even though I respect some conservative Christians a great deal (I'm planning to blog about the respect issue soon). 

Another reason I talk about religion a lot is that I think it's important for people in a country with freedom of speech to actually speak freely, so I've been much more open lately about being non-religious. These are Big Questions, after all. The answers are important; important enough that if I think some of the dominant religious answers are wrong, and even harmful, then I can't just keep my mouth shut about it for fear of offending the religious. To do so, I think, would be immoral. Which brings me to my next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment