Thursday, December 26, 2013

Beliefs and Tolerance

Happy Holidays, everyone! I've been musing over topics like this for a while, but I finally have a moment to put this down on 'paper'. Also, I should say up front that while talking about faith and beliefs, what I'm about to say must be understood as such (as a belief/opinion). I invite discussion with differing opinions and alternative viewpoints. Also, when I make references to religion, I will generally refer to Christianity (especially Mormonism, with which I am most familiar).

As many know, Utah is currently undergoing its state fight for same-sex marriage. Following the supreme-court case on DOMA and California's laws, it seems the media has exploded over the issue. So, as this is an issue that touches many people's personal maxims on freedom of self or religious beliefs on responsibility and morality many friends and acquaintances have been posting their thoughts and opinions on the matter. While I generally consider this is a positive thing, I'm disheartened by those who post claiming that their viewpoints are "factual" or "reality" and discredit the opinions and beliefs of other people. This isn't a one-sided problem with the religious fanatics or the homosexual rights activists taking most of the blame, but I feel from strong believers and moderates on both sides we all need to work on our tolerance of opposing views.

I call for more tolerance on the basis that the arguments that we all make are based on beliefs rather than capital T "Truth". Traditional Christianity places some of its foundations in faith. Faith necessarily indicates belief and not knowledge. Personal progression is based upon acting on trust that God exists despite not being completely sure. The current Pope says: "The great leaders of God's, like Moses, always left room for doubt. We must always leave room for the Lord and not for our own certainties. We must be humble. Every true discernment includes an element of uncertainty open to receiving spiritual consolation." Hebrews 11:1 -(KJV) "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for"; Alma 32:21 - (from the Book of Mormon) "faith is not to have a knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." While Alma still posits that there is truth and that faith must be based in true things, we do not have knowledge of the truth. Ultimately, we are choosing to believe in God and that Christ died for us, etc. I think like Pope Francis has said, we need to be humble in our understandings for it is a belief not an assurance of fact or Truth. I'll concede that there may be people who do have absolute truth (many ancient prophets "saw God" and I feel that could be interpreted as having a knowledge of Truth. However, the general populace must still believe in their claims to "know".).

Because of this uncertainty, many have left religion in search for something more concrete and verifiable. It seems modernity has turned to science as the means to develop Truth and upon which we can base our lives. Generally, people have begun to base their lives upon science claims feeling justified because science delivers facts. However, I have two qualms about this. First, science itself has a history of reorganizing itself revealing the problems of previous paradigms. Who is to say that this time science finally has it right? The methodologies by which science makes knowledge claims were developed by science itself. There is no way to test whether our scientific framework is the correct one - tomorrow we may see new developments that change science. Additionally, social science (where many sexuality truth claims are being made) hardly has roots to claim broad knowledge claims. The complexity of human life makes it extremely difficult to conclude much universal Truth about the world.

Second, our observations in the world, even if they are reflective of the reality of the world, still are subject to human interpretation on A) what the observation means and B) how we should act as a result. For example, with homosexuality, science is currently in the debate on whether sexuality is biologically triggered or socially constructed. So what does it mean if we are biologically determined (or have biological predispositions) in our attractions? Our reactions still take place in a moral sphere - science cannot tell us how to act on its evidence. Take feminism for example. Some sociologists argue that gender is 100% socially constructed. If we took that as fact, there are still many ways to react. Some would argue that we should break down all gender barriers and push for an a-gendered society. Others would argue that gender aids in social cohesion and dissolving it would create problems. So, while Truth of the world may give us understanding, it does not give answers on how to act.

If neither science nor religion can stake a stronger claim on Truth, maybe we all need to be a little more humble towards our approach of other people's viewpoints. I think that each side might gain more from speaking openly about their beliefs and should listen openly about others' beliefs -- especially if contradictory. We must acknowledge that even if other people are wrong, they don't believe they are wrong. We aren't a society of idiots who argue for positions that they believe are wrong. Yet, are their beliefs any less valid than our own? Are not our knowledge claims just as much beliefs as theirs?

 What if conservative religions such as the LDS church are legitimated in their resistance towards allowing gay marriage? What if...

What if the gay population is legitimated in pushing for greater rights and a recognized place in society. What if...

The philosophy of humans being "believing beings" is far from new, but I fear that it has been lost due to our society's insatiable desire for Truth, progress, control, and certainty. Maybe if we are all more humble in our claims to Truth, we can be more open to other people's beliefs--could some social strife be calmed if we were more understanding that our own beliefs are just that: beliefs and that they hold just as must weight as other people's? Unfortunately, I'm not able to perfectly express my views as I'm just quickly jotting this down and I hope everyone recognizes that this is just a statement of my beliefs. But, I do believe that this recognition could be beneficial to society.

Note: I'm not claiming there is no Truth, but that we do not know the truth because we are beings of belief. Whether by a happen-stance of nature or God's design I believe that we are creatures of belief.

Fun quotes on beliefs and truth:
There's a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth. -- Maya Angelou

I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now? -- John Lennon

Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love. -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

There are no facts, only interpretations. -- Friedrich Nietzsche

The forceps of our minds are clumsy forceps, and crush the truth a little in taking hold of it. -- H.G. Wells

And from one of my favorite books of all time:
"[The new feature in Pierre's relations...with all the people he met now] was his recognition of the impossibility of changing a man's convictions by words, and his acknowledgment of the possibility of every man thinking, feeling, and seeing things in his own way. This legitimate individuality of every man's views, which formerly troubled or irritated Pierre, now became the basis of the sympathy he felt for other people and the interest that he took in them. The difference, sometimes the complete contradiction, between men's opinions and their lives, and between one man and another, pleased him and drew from him a gentle, ironic smile." -- Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

I hope that we can learn from other people and come to understand their views as legitimate and be able to sympathize with their frameworks. Maybe we can work towards harmony rather than arguing over beliefs disguised as Truth.