The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Understanding Never Alike ... No Reason for Disbelief

With so many people believing and acting differently from me, I could no longer believe in my faith of 40+ years. So read an article passed around on Facebook. A man's long-term belief system was shattered because texts he had studied all his life were comprehended and acted upon in ways that made no sense to him. Therefore discarding that belief system for a belief system of nonbelief made sense. That was a sad assessment that could have used a little historical perspective.

Back in my archaeology days, I discovered that while one might be able to predict the actions of a large group of people with some sense of security, things became much trickier on the individual scale. You see, given people's varied experiences in life, the ways they were raised, the differences in natural environment, culture, personality, temperament, and much more, no two people will ever understand things quite the same way. Oh, they'll come close enough that culture is possible (although the way we are acting today it doesn't seem like it will last ... but it will, that's how we are built), civil society can function with precautions, and we will generally keep from killing each other over our differences ... generally. However, there will always be enough differences in how we understand things ... and how we accept things ... to create vast differences between us. It is just the way humans are wired and no reason to have our faiths shaken.

An example is in order. At one site where I was excavating, we found a cellar hole beneath a post in the ground wooden first home of the plantation owner. This was rare in itself. The walls of the cellar were lined and in one corner we found something most unusual. It was a tunnel that ran out of that corner of the basement for 27 feet and then surfaced with a stairway pointed right toward the main brick manor house of the now successful plantation owner. We found a lot of rifle parts, unused, in that tunnel. We found records that this owner was the first Colonel of the county militia back when the plantation was on the wild frontier of the U.S. East Coast. The tunnel started making sense. Our Colonel had tried to create a bombproof out of his cellar in which to store militia parts and gunpowder. Living within a mile of a major river, he wanted to be sure that if he was bombarded by a foreign power or pirates from the river, there would be a reasonable chance the gunpowder would not kill many people if ignited by a cannon ball. It took us a while to come to this conclusion. You see, a bombproof tunnel comes out of the corner of the buried chamber and then has a dogleg turn this tunnel was missing. The dogleg allowed explosive gasses and flames from ignited gunpowder to hurl down the tunnel corridor, impact the dogleg wall, and not jet to the surface, incinerating people. Our man misunderstood how the tunnel was to be built. He had it in the corner, yes, but he was missing the dogleg. His tunnel would have had flames erupting straight at his manor house. His understanding was incomplete and therefore his execution was different from what it should have been. Hence the extra time required to figure out what he was up to.

This challenge of comprehension, this variance of understanding, applies to us all, in all fields, in all belief systems, in all endeavors. It is a great challenge for us all. In faith matters, conservative individuals will respect great authority and need sternly worded rules to follow to feel comfortable and anyone who cannot provide those will not be trusted at all. Liberal individuals will need to hear about social outreach and protecting others above all else and will not respect heavily rule driven messages. Both can accomplish much. Both can turn to very impressive bodies of research supporting their positions. Both will consider (when at their worst) the other side completely wrongheaded for not seeing things their way. Both will be wrong as neither is considering how the other understands things. Moderates will appreciate the arguments of both sides without heading toward the extremes either side offers up, in fact they will be suspicious of strongly worded arguments from either camp. Atheists have the same problem as they too have the same range of preferences and will trend from the fundamentalist to the liberal in their beliefs and statements. Moderates in all camps are likely to say, "Can't you all just shut up and work together on something constructive!"

There are many other illustrations possible showing how we all understand our world differently. It is wrong to jump to the conclusion that if we do not all think the same way about something, that something is not valid, has nothing to offer, and must be dismissed. If we do so, we will be driven right back into caves and small tribal groups suspicious of all outsiders as anyone who is different is the enemy. Instead we need to work to cope with those differences in understanding, research, talk to each other, listen to each other, and refuse to dismiss each other out of hand. We need to think. None of that is very popular today when we take our examples from opinion shows where everyone screams at each other and calls each other idiots for not thinking exactly like them.

Keep your faith, grapple with the faith of others, learn from each other, appreciate the differences, and accept the fact that none of us sees things in exactly the same light. Find the things you and others hold in common and appreciate those. Use those common understandings as the foundations for future peaceful exploration of each others' positions. Something beautiful may come forth. Good luck!

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