Friday, 1 March 2019

Life in Ruins: Constructing Truth

I had a fascinating discussion this evening with a detective inspector who trains people in suspect interrogation. The thing that most stood out to me was his comment that when a person constructs a lie they always create a linear narrative a then b then c then d, everything is causal. The interrogator's role is to try and question various parts of the story to try and make their story break down.

It got me thinking. Do we work to spot and create causal relationships between things when we are trying to defend our positions? Are these types of cognitive distortions that aren't easily noticeable? Is that what a person does to construct a meaning and bring themselves comfort? Do we lie to ourselves in order to convince ourselves we're ok because the confusion and pain we'll cause ourselves by waking from the delusion is too much to bear? On a macro level is that what a worldview is, a post-hoc construction of component parts assembled into an order that 'makes sense' to us, that is a coherent way of seeing things?

This needn't be done cynically (as in the case of a criminal; that I am trying to convince myself or others of something I know not to be true). It can just as well be the way in which we carry out our lives. We start from a position and work our way backwards to find the source of or cause of our position. If I am in Victoria Station and I don't know how or why I got there I will understandably be very distressed. If I can remember the steps I took to purchase the ticket and the seat I sat in on the train to get here, I will be comforted. I will be even better off, however, if I remember why I took those steps in the first place, that it was to attend a conference.

The steps to determine mental wellbeing: who am I? Where am I? What time is it? need to be answered to prevent us falling into a state of blind panic or confusion.

Being alert, honest and self-aware with every decision I make is perhaps one of the best ways of avoiding the danger of constructing a simplistic linear lie that can be shot at. Inauthenticity and superficiality are vulnerable to attacks 'from the side' in the same way a lie is shot through in an interrogation.

I know where I am now in life and what's more I know the conscious decisions I took to bring me here.

I know that the decision to live as a Christian and pursue the world as Christianity defines it was a conscious decision that I have made repeatedly. It may be, and undoubtedly people will say this, that I made those decisions each time out of cowardice to face the facts of a cold and purposeless reality.

That may be the case.

It may be the case that reality is cold and purposeless at a meta level, but I knew that the usefulness of Christianity became a backstop in my mind that kept me embracing it. The truth is that yes the gospel and the sensed internal ecstasy at its truthfulness was incredibly beautiful and desirable for my mind. But it is also the truth that I chose to walk toward it in spite of an awareness that it may not be true (out of an awareness that it is a belief that requires an obvious amount of trust in a number of different sources; history being the main one). I still chose to pursue it because I loved the enchantment it endowed the world with, but also because that enchantment was more plausible than not. It seems to me that wonder and awe, and gratitude and expectation is a much more appropriate response on a daily basis to this world than is familiarity and boredom. I agree with an opponent who says it is also more childish. Maybe I am more childish than adult, that wouldn't be the first time anyone said that to me. But if 'adult' is here used to mean disenchanted or familiar then I suggest it is a mistake to call that grown up at all. It is better to call it arrogant and pompous and the manifestation of bratishness.

The world hums with possibility and wonder and it is that that is more true on a natural and biological level than complacency. Enthusiasm and gratitude is a much more appropriate response to reality than mere acceptance. When I engaged with the gospel I saw that the gospel 'played' into that response of the world and that gave the gospel a degree of acceptance to my inner person than the plain reasonableness of the thing alone. Very few decisions are made at the level of reason alone and indeed reason is rarely alone at all. It is that I expected the world to be the sort of world where magic might exist that when I heard about a living, breathing magic in the form of Christ's people on the earth I was drawn to it. Now of course this may well all be and explanation 'post-hoc', an explanation only after I've decided on the conclusion I want the argument to take. Of course, but we all reason from where we are rather than from where we might have been. No, the fact of the matter is that I am here (a Christian) and not there (an open minded and spiritually minded non-Christian) and so I must try to show how, and why I arrived here.

The point I am driving toward is that for all the conviction I felt on an emotional level when I engaged with the claims of the gospel it was the felt and perceived usefulness of the gospel and not a knowledge of its iron-clad truthfulness that enabled me to embrace it wholeheartedly. I couldn't have been sure about whether it was 'iron-clad' in its claims at the time. I couldn't be sure, but then I didn't mind either. All I knew was the exhilaration I felt as its explanatory power opened up the world around me. It became like the theory of gravity. It became useful but not exhaustive. I still had to learn about the laws of thermo-dynamics, of thrust and lift and drag before I could fly. I had a scaffold that allowed the structure that is my life to go up. The gospel is my plumb line and standard, the tether I've tied myself to. Learning why and how fascinates me, but I never want to step outside it to explore it for too long. Like leaving the strength and hospitality of the shuttle to go on a space walk, I don't want to live in the space without atmosphere for long. I have found life and joy and direction in the gospel and, for all my fascination with how I got it, I wouldn't be anywhere else.

Does that close off objectivity to me? Yes, but then I think that's a thing closed off to everyone.

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