Monday, November 2, 2009

Thinking about thinking

My last post ended with the sentence: “I think it's time we started searching and thinking for ourselves, and not just repeating the things we have heard others say.”
I have no well thought-out conclusions about thinking, but here's some of what I think so far.
We have a brain. It is capable of independent thought. In fact, I would say that is what it is intended for. Whether you believe God created humans in the exact form we now take, or that some form of evolution has occured, the fact remains that most people are capable of making decisions based on an internal process called thought. Basing all of your decisions on the thoughts of someone else is not maturity or independence. At best, this circumstance is necessary for people with incomplete brain development, at worst it is what happens to people who have been brain-washed.
If you are of the group who believes that you were put here on earth by God and designed by him, then you likely recognize the place 'free will' has in your life. You have made the choice to believe what your place and purpose in life is. If you are a part of the group that believes God either doesn't exist or doesn't have much involvement in what goes on around here, you also likely recognize the place of 'free will' in your choices.
I think all of us tend to put ourselves under the influence of people who we admire, who we think are good role models, who we will take advice from. And many of us have done so to the detriment of independent thought. Whether it is a system (religious, political, psychological), or a person (parent, minister, teacher, wise friend, musician), we let someone else translate life for us and tell us what is good for us.
Stop and think about how this has been good in your life—as a child, trusting your parents to feed you well, protect you from outside harm, help you understand weighty concepts. There is definitely a place for this. There is a place for that kind of influence throughout life.
Now think about how intentionally choosing to listen to others has stifled your ability to think for yourself. Learning that 2 + 2 = 4 limits your math skills (but in a good way). Learning that sticking your finger in a light socket adds spark to your life limits your ability to die early. Learning that capitalism provides food for your table limits your understanding of helping the less fortunate guy survive. Learning that your future existence is hiding just behind that approaching comet limits your ability to plan for your retirement. Learning that a certain passage in the Bible means this (and only this), limits your ability to see other nuances and ideas in that particular passage.
All of this is, of course, dependent on choosing to continue to believe what you learned, and not contemplate other possibilities.
I think that is the whole point I am making. There is a place for accepting what we are taught. There is a place for continuing to accept what we were taught long ago. But there is also a place for being open to re-thinking things. Probably more things than you might think.
Part of the criteria for re-thinking is recognizing who taught us, why they taught us what they did, and the benefits of accepting a new viewpoint.
The things we consider as 'truth' vary in their possibility of error or change. There are lots of things that we can consider as absolute. Certain math truths will never change ( 2 + 2 for example). Other truths develop as we mature and gain more knowledge (an electrician knows when he can put his finger in a light socket safely, for example). Other truths are principles that are best taken in conjuction with other principles (a blend of capitalism and socialism instead of either one alone, for example.) Still other truths are adequate for a certain time and place, but not necessarily for a future time or a different place. There were cultures where slavery was considered a normal part of society, and even the slaves didn't understand things differently. Today, of course, we have a more lofty view of human rights, the equality of all. (We still have a long ways to go to see this really put into practice, but that involves a personal willingness to 'adjust' our present concept of 'truth' to include a broader view of humankind.) Science continues to discover new and more complete explanations for things—the earth is no longer considered the center of the universe, and neither is the sun. And doctor's don't prescribe leeches any more.

My point in this monologue about truth is that we need to be open to consider new answers to old questions, to be willing to add new truth to old truth and reorganize our thinking accordingly. We need to recognize that even our understanding about God (gasp!!) has lots of room for growth.
You have a brain.
Use it.


shallowfrozenwater said...

having come out of a more literal understanding of life in general it hasn't always been easy to make the jump to accept truth that doesnt fit into a literal mindset. i've grown over the years though and i'm becoming more comfortable that truth is bigger than literal thought once told me that truth is. i'm still a student in the whole thing though and i suspect so are you.

Broken follower... said...

Amen... Ya know, it's way frustrating questioning everything, and not always just accepting what people say, or even things "the bible" says. HOWEVER, I would much rather use my own brain, and figure things out for myself, take accountability for what I believe than just go along with what people say (though listening to "them" is crucial in my development)... What an unsettling process yet still comforting?!! :)

Al said...

SFW, I like your thought: "truth is bigger than literal thought...". The fear might be that not taking things literally shrinks the value of what is said. In reality, it expands the possibilities. After all, God is guaranteed to be bigger than any of us can conceive him to be.
BF, I agree. It is frustrating--and even scary. It seems easier and safer to trust in the things we have been taught, but trusting in error isn't all that good! Saying not to trust 'what the Bible says' sounds like heresy or opening oneself to all kinds of weirdness. However, saying "What does the Bible mean when it says this?" (and this, and this) about something means that we are trying to truly understand what it says, and not just take someone's word for it.

Luke said...

yeah! what you said! ;-)


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