Saturday, January 18, 2014
Gimme Some Truth
Someone told me over dinner recently that, while he enjoyed my writing, he didn’t think I was being completely honest in it, that I was sharing only partial truth, revealing only shades of myself, what I wanted to express at the time. And I think that’s what we as writers do—we reveal ourselves, shades at a time, bits and pieces that reveal some small part of what makes us who we are, some small portion of truth, our truth, with the hope that it can affect someone who reads whatever we deem important enough to say.
On here, I’ve written about religion, politics, stereotyping, education, relationships—those various components of our lives, those ideas and ideals to which we devote so much of our waking hours—and I’ve expressed my views concerning them—in part. When I’m feeling close to God and more spiritual, my writing reflects that; when I’m pining over the loss of a love, or an infatuation, or a missed opportunity, my writing reflects that. When I’m feeling overly happy and content, well, I don’t write, because it’s in those times that I’m enjoying life. Only when those happy moments cede, giving way to moments of questioning and concern, of introspection and doubt, do I take to written words to make sense of my life. Sure, this reflecting and debating exists internally in my mind, but I’ve found it easier to sort out my thoughts and ideas in writing, for I’ve always been drawn to writing, to what it allows us to do, how it allows us to manipulate language, thoughts, and emotions, mixing them into something new. Something representative of that internal dialogue, that banter, between our head and our heart.
What is truth? Does Truth exist? Is it in the eye of the beholder, each of us forming and shaping the world around us and our version of truth as it pertains to us and how we interact with those around us? Two people, we know, can witness the same event and yet walk away with two different versions of what happened. Is one person’s experience, which differs from the other’s, truer than the other person’s? Does your experience negate what another experienced? Are personal experiences and credibility enough to form a strong argument, strong enough to persuade another of your beliefs, convictions, and ideas?
And that is part of my problem with God and religion. I once claimed that Christians should be slightly agnostic in their thinking, that they should be skeptical by nature, ever questioning. And I suppose that’s the academic in me—the critical thinker whose worldview is shaped by both church and secular learning, by pastors and professors—who believes in God but finds it difficult to articulate any argument for the absolute existence of God without relying on personal experiences, arguments based in ethos. Anyone who has taught rhetoric will tell you that a combination of the three—ethos, logos, and pathos—makes a good argument, and if you know your audience and their expectations of you, you can adjust the degree to which you rely on any one of them to meet the needs of your audience.
Yet I find that most who argue for the absolute existence of God and the arguments that follow—abortion, gay rights, evolution—rely most heavily on ethos and pathos. After working in English 101 and 102 for a few months, I found myself sitting church analyzing the homily and evaluating the rhetorical techniques the pastor used. Emotionally charged language married with personal anecdotes seemed to be the techniques chosen by most churches. And I think we see this in churches all over—just watch a televangelist sometime or attend your local church on a Sunday morning . Produce a warm fuzzy feeling, and you’re more apt to get people to follow you.
And I’m not saying this is wrong, merely making a point about what I’ve seen. But let’s be honest: when asked over dinner recently about my thoughts of God, I turned immediately to personal stories, stories of how I’ve traced what I believe must be God’s hand in my life. I may be a skeptic at times, questioning my thoughts and why I believe them, trying to determine if I truly believe them because I actually believe them or if I believe them just because they’ve become comfortable, accumulated over the course of a life spent in church, a welcome sort of feeling to which I’ve become accustomed. Yet I can’t deny the existence of God—as much as the intellectual in me wants to be a liberal humanist—for there are too many coincidences in my life, serendipitous moments that have shaped me and led me to here for there not to be someone at least guiding the way. I don’t believe in coincidences, and I believe that everything happens for a reason (a banal statement, I know) , so as I trace the moments of my life—my mother’s passing which led to my father remarrying, which in turn led me to my first wife and son, and to the church, where I happened to meet the person whose conversation inspired this post; my being too poor to attend Morehead and too “rich” to attend Berea (my number one school of choice) fresh out of high school, which led to my attending ACTC, which led to my first few teaching jobs and my meeting some of the people whom I consider my closest friends and confidants; my dad’s career of choice and encounters with people, connections that led to my nonteaching jobs—and as I play the Seven Degrees of Separation game with the events of my life, it affirms to me the existence of God.
Yet this requires me to rely on personal experience and credibility; the academic in me wants hard logical evidence to prove the existence of God, to silence the critic and skeptic in me, and it is that same academic with a liberal voice that can’t side totally with either the Creationist or Evolutionist argument. A friend asked me if I thought a Christian could believe in both God and Evolution, or if the belief in one negated the belief in the other. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, not truly picking a side, believing in microevolution, but not macro. I don’t believe in the Big Bang Theory or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, yet part of me wants to think that God allows nature to take over at some point. I like Old Earth theories far more than Bishop Usher’s chronology, and while I found the Creation Museum interesting, I don’t know that I bought everything they were selling. Is the entire Bible literal (outside of Revelation)? Or are some stories meant allegorically? If so, which ones? Six literal twenty-four hour days to create the earth? Or days spread over the course of millennia, for “a thousand years is as one day?” Was the Exodus conducted exactly as the Bible details, or was it carried out over the succession of years, as a professor I once had proposed? Is Daniel Quinn’s version of Cain and Able, as found in his brilliant Ishmael, or of Adam and Eve as found in Stories of Adam, more similar to what actually happened? What about Milton’s version of the Fall, a story I’ve always found more touching and human than the account in Genesis?
Can a person be a Christian and still hold liberal political views, views that are seemingly antithetical to Christianity, at least as it is so often portrayed in media? I'm unabashedly pro-gay rights, because I understand that we live in a democratic state, not a theocratic state, and I don't think religion should be used in a non-theocratic state to dictate whom someone can marry. My liberalism-- I consider myself both a social and fiscal liberal (progressives, I hear we're called now...)-- doesn't toe the typical party line. For instance, I'm pro-life (though I hate the terms associated with both stances, for I think they too narrowly define both camps), yet my stance has nothing to do with religion. In fact, after my political views began to shape in high school, it wasn't until I became a father that my views on abortion changed. Having said that, I understand and can appreciate the validity of both sides' arguments.
So how do I reconcile my worldly beliefs--evolution, acceptance of all religions (and not just for the sake of winning others over), gay rights-- with my religious beliefs? Most days I don't have an answer, at least not one that's the whole truth.
These are representative of the conversations I’ve had recently. We all search for Truth in our lives, and we look for it in religion, in those around us, in work, in morality; in the art we produce, and the choices we make. Do we all find it? I don’t think so. But we work toward self-actualization, a lifelong process in which we come to terms with morality, creativity, enlightenment, the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy, in the name of meaning and truth. And along the way we question what it means to be human, what it means to be alive, what it means to be a part of the world around us, to truly be. And we question truth with the same breath that calls out for it, looking with blinded eyes for answers that will allow us to construct a narrative that makes our lives make sense. So do we as writers swear to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God? Well, maybe with the help of God, we’ll give you some truth, something about which to think. And sometimes, we as writers will give you a glimpse into part of that journey; but we don’t allow you to see it all, just what we want you to see, for it’s our truth, colored by our experiences and our beliefs, shaped by who we are and what we do. And we’ll continue to reveal ourselves, one small glimpse at a time, word by word, until you gain a better understanding of who we are and, just maybe, of who you are too.