I’ve had a few jumbled thoughts knocking around in my mind for the past few days. Bear with me as I get them out and into writing; they may not all make sense, and they are only marginally connected, but hopefully by writing this I can perhaps make some sense of it.
1. I feel like I’m on the verge of something big. Ever since I left Christianity, I have been searching for who I am. My faith was so intertwined with my life that there was a great deal of damage done when it was ripped out. I thought I had essentially figured out who and what I was back in high school, but now I find myself having to go through the process all over again, trying to define what I am and what I am not.
I went to a party last night at the house of one of the girls I work with. It was certainly an interesting night. Things started off pretty normal, and other than the fact that I didn’t really know anyone there, it was decent. Then, as people got more progressively drunk, it got crazier. They had water guns that they were spraying each other with. That got the floor really wet and slippery, so then they started throwing water onto the floor to slide around on. Of course, the next logical step was to put some dish soap on it, and then put a tomato in the microwave to watch it explode. Wait, what? Yeah, it was interesting. I felt sort of removed from the whole situation that was playing out around me; I mostly just stood there and watched the descent into chaos. It was mostly perpetuated by the girl that was hosting it and her brother, so it was “okay” (it wasn’t a bunch of people trashing someone else’s house, in other words…it was the people that lived there trashing their own house). At one point in the night, someone took off the door to the oven – it was done to provide a shield to block water gun fire, but still – and I was sort of alarmed when some of them went out onto the deck and started spraying WD-40 onto a tiki torch to create a flamethrower. Alcohol + fire = not good. All in all, though, nothing terrible happened, which was good.
But anyway, I say all this not to pass judgment on the party, or on the people there. I really don’t care about that. I can’t and don’t want to control their actions – I can only control my own. But I think I realized something last night. I’m no longer “that guy.” It’s taken me a very long time to actually realize it. But I used to be the guy that would do the stupid things that people told him to do. If someone said to go do something crazy, I’d usually do it. I mean, I wasn’t a total idiot about it, but in the interest of having a fun time, I’d often do it. But I realized that I’ve completely mellowed out now. Instead of luging on a skateboard down a street, I curl up and read philosophy books. That’s kind of a big difference. But for a long time, I thought it was just a problem of not hanging around exciting people anymore. Now I realize that it’s just my own personality that has completely changed. I watched people slide around on the floor having a fun time (which of course, is not a bad thing), and I did nothing. I stood and watched it. And I talked to the other people watching it as well. I just realized that I now value a deep conversation more than I value going and doing something crazy. And while I think that tends to be a good thing – it often leaves you with fewer scrapes and bruises – that’s not my point. My point is that now I realize that I am no longer who I was back in high school. And that is a strange thing to think about.
2. Recently I bought myself an iPod Touch. It actually was a very tough decision for me to make. And it wasn’t because of the cost – I had the money, I had the desire, and I would get the use out of it that would justify spending the money. No, the reason that this decision was so tough was because I realized that it was a moral decision as well as a financial one. I realized that for the price of a $300 iPod, I could feed, clothe, and educate ten children for a month, or one child for almost a year. I realized that the convenience I received to listen to music anywhere was bought at the expense of a child or children somewhere else. And when you view the decisions you make in this manner, it makes it very, very difficult to be a consumer.
I am still not entirely comfortable with my decision to actually purchase it. I am fully happy with how it works and functions, and it certainly is handy. I suppose I essentially justified it in my own mind because I haven’t really figured out what sort of moral obligations I have to children in Africa. I haven’t really settled on a system of ethics that I think makes the most sense, and without that, I can’t really evaluate the morality of my actions. If it is immoral to buy an item at the expense of giving the money to the poor, then we should all be selling the majority of what we own. Do we need more than one set of clothing? Do we need a computer, a phone, an education, a car, a DVD collection? Can we be justified in buying these things before everyone else in the world also has the opportunity to do the same? I don’t know. I really don’t know the answer to this question. Part of me says no, we can’t – but part of me senses this as too extreme. I need to figure out what system of ethics I will subscribe to before I even can hope to answer this question to my own satisfaction.
But I do have one further observation on this. I have begun to realize that morality is more than just “Don’t murder, don’t steal, be nice to people.” That is essentially what most people think of morality, and it is what many forms of Christian doctrine would tell us as well. We don’t normally think about kids in Africa when we go to the grocery store and contemplate whether to buy individual ingredients or a packaged, ready-made product that is more expensive but more convenient. I have realized that almost every decision we make, and almost every action we take, has moral implications somewhere – especially in the light of poverty. And that is something that the limited confines of rule-based Christian ethics lacks. I’m not saying that all Christian traditions ignore this – many, especially the more humanistic ones, do take it into account, and that’s great. I’m just saying that it is something we must all wrestle through, regardless of whether it appears in the Ten Commandments or not.
3. The reading for my class on Evil this week was a passage from a book written by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk. Much of what he wrote centred around realizing the connection we have to everything else in this world – other people, animals, and nature – and putting aside ideology in favour of living peaceably. This latter concern got me thinking about the rhetoric that flies back and forth between theists and atheists. What if this is the wrong approach? I mean, I value truth, and I recognize the importance of truth, but this seems to be more of a Western mindset. We have embraced the methods of science, but other cultures, especially in the East, have tended to embrace a mindset that leans more toward right living rather than knowledge. Perhaps they got it right, and we got it wrong. I don’t know. But I ended up with this question – which is more important: understanding the nature of reality, or living peaceably with each other? I know these two are not mutually exclusive by any means, and I would say that we need both – but in the case of conflict, which one should win out over the other? I am not sure I know what the answer to that question is.
On the one hand, our emphasis on truth has brought us many wonderful things. When we evaluate the world with a scientific mindset, we end up with amazing descriptions of how it works. We’ve come up with things as a result that humans even 100 years ago could never dream of. But on the other hand, an emphasis on truth brings inevitable conflict. When none of us have perfect knowledge, disagreements arise over who is “right” and who is “wrong.” However, when the emphasis is on right living, and being in harmony with those around us, truth takes a backseat. Harmony brings us less knowledge, but more happiness. So in the case where these two goals collide, which one should take precedence? Should our aims be toward truth, or harmony? Traditional Western religions tend to say that truth should be primary – that we are right and you are wrong. Wars have broken out over such things. But Eastern religions tend to say that harmony should be primary – that it does not matter who is right or wrong, but rather who is living at peace with themselves and others. In some ways, I find that more satisfying. In other ways, I find it intellectually dull.
So there you have it. Plenty of questions, with few answers. I did take a walk tonight (in between points 2 and 3) to mull over some of the thoughts in my head. I went to the park near my house, and then to the creek. I watched some ducks with their little ducklings swimming down the creek. I saw a dragonfly flitting about. Whether I felt at one with these things, I can’t really say. But somehow it reassured me that the world will keep on existing while I figure these things out. And for now, that’s good enough for me.