Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Evidence of Things Not Seen

Yesterday, while I was fighting for "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," holding up my end of a stimulating and intelligent debate on health care reform with a couple of my really smart friends (one who agrees with me, one who doesn't), my husband was engaged in his own life-and-death struggle to defend everyone's right to be really, really ridiculously silly. In short: my husband likes to yank people's chain. I think I might be the only one (besides him) who really knows which way the hamster is running in that twisting, turning Habitrail between his ears. Others who think they know may assume that he's going down the tube that has the cheese at the end of it, but I know differently--he just loves a good, rip-roaring argument, so he never takes the same tube twice.

The "debate" he was conducting was about faith v. evidence as a "proof" for the existence of God. We have a lot of very right-wing, fundamental, evangelical Christian friends, some of whom are prone to never update their facebook status with anything except a scriptural quote from the Bible. This offends my husband's sense of originality and fun, so he invented his own "holy book" to quote from just to get their goat: The Book of Le Roy. Daily, he updates his facebook status with little snippets of "wisdom" from the Book of Le Roy, and daily these friends of ours take the bait. I have been amazed at how seriously they take him, and annoyed at how much of my husband's time is stolen from any creative or valuable pursuit (like, say, unplugging the toilet, or feeding the dog) and diverted toward these really silly arguments to win back his soul.

So I jumped into one of these discussions and said, "Don't take the bait....he'll toy with you for hours...." No one heeded my warning, because the struggle for Jonathan's soul is apparently of intergalactic and interdimensional importance. The really silly debate raged on....

I want to make it clear that I do not think my very right-wing, fundamental, evangelical Christian friends' beliefs are silly. I do think some of them have entirely lost their sense of humor and may need to undergo "A Clockwork Orange"-style total immersion re-education in comedy, so they can recognize it when they see it. For the record: I value and respect my friends' points of view, and their right to believe what they believe the way they believe it. (If only they respected mine....)

But it is getting hard to respect the way they ignore their own Biblical directive to "shake the dust from [their] feet" when their message is not well-received. These same folks are particularly intolerant of our more liberal application of the same spiritual beliefs they hold, as well as our "live and let live" attitude of respect for those who don't think the same way we do. Despite the obvious and utter nonsense my husband continued to tirelessly throw at them in response to their desperate attempts to get him to answer their alter call, they just dug in ever deeper.

Finally, after watching this for half a day, and realizing that missing NOVA because my husband couldn't pull himself away from the computer was a very real possibility, I couldn't take it anymore. Jonathan was trying really hard (finally) to make a point about the difference between faith and facts, but either because he couldn't find the words to neatly tie up the argument, or because that Habitrail routine is hardwired into his system, everything he said to try to end the "debate" just fired it up again. Out of sheer desperation, I did it for him. Here is (as far as I'm concerned) the end of that discussion:

"The point Jonathan is trying to make is that quoting the Bible is not the way to get people to believe. Though archaeological evidence has verified many of the settings and locales of the Bible (Old Testament and New), it has never verified the existence of Jesus, nor the events of his life. This is all recorded in the Bible and in many extra-biblical texts, but not one shred of evidence exists to prove that he rose from the dead outside of that. So quoting the Bible does not provide evidence to support what faith inspires us to believe.

So why believe? Faith, that's why. And what is faith? Well, though it is poor form to use the Bible to prove the Bible (in academic research we call this a circular reference--it would be somewhat akin to asking President Obama why the health care reform bill will work and having him reply, "Because I said so"), I will quote the Bible to provide the reason that quoting the Bible is not evidence:

Hebrews 11:1--"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a paradox: there can be no evidence for that which is unseen, because it is unseen; there can be no substance for things hoped for, because they do not exist yet.

The answer to this really, really silly debate is this: Continuously quoting the Bible to people who think you're full of crap is NEVER going to get them to believe in Jesus; only faith will do that, and that comes from supernatural experience. Furthermore, Jonathan--quit yanking these people's chains--they may take you seriously and you will be held accountable for the dismantling of their faith.

Pax. Peace. Shalom."

I wish I could say that did end the debate, but one hanger-on got all defensive about her faith-dismantling-resistance superpowers and kept it going. Of course, my husband couldn't resist that--it was one more Habitrail tube down which he could lead someone, at the end of which there may or may not be cheese. Gotta love his energy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Most Memorable Learning Experience

Just recently I was creating a profile for myself in Montana State University's D2L online course interface for a class I'm teaching for MSU. One of the questions in the profile was, "What was your most memorable learning experience." Hmmm. I had never really thought about that, weirdly enough. But I found the question intriguing, so I drafted a response.Then I got an error message telling me that my answer could not exceed 256 characters. How in the world can you communicate an answer to an important question in 256 characters or less?

I found the question interesting enough and my own response informative for me, so I didn't want to truncate it. I've posted it here in its entirety.

My Most Memorable Learning Experience:

This is too personal to share in specifics or detail, but I'll give you a story that illustrates the nature of the lesson. Several years ago I watched a documentary on the current Dalai Lama. At some point in the program, an interviewer asked him, "Who was your greatest teacher," apparently expecting the Dalai Lama to name another Lama who instructed him in Tibetan Buddhism. To the interviewer's surprise (and to mine), the Dalai Lama answered almost before the interviewer finished asking the question, "Mao Tse-Tung!" Shocked, the interviewer asked why, and the Dalai Lama explained that all of life is suffering, fear and desire are the causes of all suffering, and Nirvana is the absence of fear or desire (my paraphrased summary), which is all in the mind, and not dependent upon our actual circumstances. According to the Dalai Lama, no one in his life or experience had ever inflicted more suffering on him than Mao Tse-Tung, which gave him the opportunity to conquer fear and desire.

I recently had an experience not so nearly as dramatic as the Dalai Lama's and the Tibetan people's suffering under Chairman Mao. But it was extreme in its impact on my life, and every bit as instructive and important. What I learned was that we don't necessarily learn the most (if anything) when we are happy and everything is going well. Suffering and those who inflict it can be great teachers, if we are masters of ourselves and our responses to them. The greatest lessons are lessons that cause suffering, and the greatest rewards are available to those who can emerge from the experience better for having had the experience, and without asking, "Why did this happen to me?"

Why did this happen to me? Because all of life is suffering, and everyone suffers. One of my favorite movies is "The Princess Bride." In that movie Westley says to Princess Buttercup, "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." I agree with the Dalai Lama, and I agree with Westley--we learn through our suffering, mostly about ourselves. Socrates directed us to "know thyself." If we emerge from our suffering having learned something about ourselves, and apply what we learned in future, we will suffer less, because we understand the causes are not external (no matter how dreadful the circumstances or perpetrators of our pain may be), but rather internal; all is revealed in our reactions to the situation or person(s) causing the suffering. If we are able to learn from that and move forward with new understanding, less fear and less desire, the lesson was worth learning. It was in my case.

Thus endeth the lesson. ;-)