Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Truth in Action

So, if finding the truth is the most fundamental goal, then we should stop trying to do good in the world and give ourselves completely over to metaphysical reflection, yes? After all, why try to do good when you don't know what good is?

Um . . . no. Not hardly.

The paradoxical corollary to the the primacy of truth is:
The fastest and most reliable way to validate the truth is in the realm of action.

A lot of so-called "spiritual" people chafe at the notion that spiritual truths can and should be empirically validated. Our beliefs in God, grace, or the nature of mankind are a lot easier to live with if they remain safely ensconced in books and church services and are never really tested in the context of the real world. We're supposed to take these things on faith.

The problem with "faith" or other non-verifiable justifications for our beliefs, is that human beings have a demonstrably enormous capacity for deceiving themselves. Augie tells a classic story of this in his essay "Brother John":

[Father Christian] launched into a story about a Presbyterian minister having a crisis of faith and leaving the ministry. The man was a friend of his, and Christian took his crisis so seriously that he actually left the monastery and traveled to his house in order to do what he could. The two men spent countless hours in fruitless theological debate. Finally dropping his voice Christian looked the man steadily in the face and said, "Bob, is everything in your life alright?" The minister said everything was fine. But the minister's wife called Christian a few days later. She had overheard Christian's question and her husband's answer, and she told Father Christian that the minister was having an affair and was leaving her as well as his ministry.
Christian fairly spat with disgust, "I was wasting my time. Bob's problem was that he couldn't take the contradiction between his preaching and his living. So God gets the boot. Remember this, all philosophical problems are at heart moral problems. It all comes down to how you intend to live your life."

Rather than developing a personal philosophy and then living according to it, most people seem to do the opposite: live a haphazard life, and then concoct a philosophy that rationalizes and justifies their position. Or, as The Onion Sunday section once offered: "Finding a Religion that Doesn't Disrupt Your Current Lifestyle."

Our notion of what's right and true and good is strongly influenced by our own personal psychology. Such psychological knots cannot usually be unravelled by metaphysical speculation alone. You have to examine your actions, and examine their consistency with your beliefs. Do you really live as someone who actually believes these things? And do those beliefs actually justify themselves in your real-life experience? By combining reflection and action, you can to some extent overcome the limitations of both.


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