Tuesday 1 December 2015

The maladaptiveness of modern Man - what led-up-to my becoming a Christian

Yesterday's post, which provided a possible contributory evolutionary explanation for modern Man's extraordinarily maladaptive behaviours, reminded me of what it was that led-up-to my becoming a Christian:

I found that there were several cultural phenomena which led me to recognize the necessity for religion - and in some instances Christianity. In sum, I recognized that Religion was necessary to Man - which took me to the doorstep of Christianity as the best religion.

This did not, of course, make me a Christian - but it led me to recognize that some kind of religion was necessary for even a minimally sustainable society - and Christian society seemed to be better than any other alternative when it came to some of the things I most valued. 

1. Dishonesty in science (and in public discourse). Anything less than complete honesty about everything seemed obviously wrong, dishonesty was obviously increasing - yet the only acceptable secular criticisms were remote, abstract and ineffective.

2. Subfertility. The fact that all modern societies in the world were sub-fertile and en route to chosen extinction had a big impact on me. That religion was the only effective antidote for suicide-by-sterility I found to be a very impressive fact. I still do.

3. Children. Related to subfertility, I sometimes found myself talking about the question of having children in a way that was - on later reflection, or even at the time - shocking, repulsive and utterly false to my own deepest feelings; I would sometimes discuss matters as if children were simply a part of 'lifestyle' - to be evaluated as (merely) a means to the end of whether they enhanced or detracted-from one's own sense of happiness and fulfilment; or in terms of potential risks and benefits...

4. Human Accomplishment. This book by Charles Murray suggested that without a strong belief in transcendental values (Truth, Beauty, Virtue) sustained by religion - most of the greatest achievements in human history never would have happened.

5. Tough decisions. I noticed that people could seldom make tough decisions - decisions where a good long term outcome required short term suffering or risk, or when overall advantage entailed significant problems and disadvantages that would attract criticism - even when they seemed to know that these decisions were right and necessary.

6. Saying no. This is perhaps related to 'tough decisions' - but I can recall a number of situations in which I found I could not find any reason for saying no to something, or disapproving something, despite that I knew in my heart it was wrong. I realized that without religion, there was, no basis for principled action - and I saw very little indeed in the way of principled action among my secular acquaintances.

7. Transhumanism. I was for a while generally very positive about transhumanism - and excited by the possibilities of abolishing human suffering, abolishing ageing, extending life and so forth. Then it dawned on me that the logical conclusion of this agenda included changing humans to something different-from humans; and a perspective that it was better to be dead (or never to have lived) than to suffer - yet suffering was, in real life, universal and inevitable - so transhumanism was close to being a kind of death cult. And, related to children, I found transhumanism encouraged me to discuss families as if they were purely a technological mechanism for reproduction that could (probably should) be replaced by some reproductive technique that was more efficient, less risky; more controlled and controllable - scientific and rational.

Such considerations took me, as I said, to the threshold of religion where I swiftly recognized Christianity as the best religion for me. So I got to the point where I regarded Christianity as 'a good thing' and acknowledged that I wanted to be a Christian; then it was a matter of waiting to see whether I believed it.

What got me over the edge? I think it was a combination of negative and positive factors - the negative factors included that I realized there was no reason why I should not become a Christian - that there was enough positive evidence of the truth of Christianity that it was rational to be a Christian.

The positive factors included daily prayer, and then a couple of personal (and private) miracles amounting to answered prayers.

So then I was a Christian. It took me absolutely ages to get to that point (a zig-zagging route across the decades); but almost as soon as I was there I realized it was merely a single step over the line, the easy bit; and all the difficult stuff was just beginning.


Unknown said...

For me, it was different. I have always been able to go straight to the core of myself, and to stand naked with myself, and before God, if that makes any sense.

I was an atheist for a period, because I chose not to go into myself in this way. But, in my core, I always knew God existed, I always knew Christianity was true; my exit from atheism came the day that I agreed to stop ignoring this knowledge in favour of the aura of smug credibility that the atheist demeanor provides. I believe that everyone knows the truth in the core of his being, but I don't know if everyone has the same ability to be honest with himself, to go to that part of himself where no lies exist. Sometimes I suspect others are just keeping up the charade, that they know the Truth as well as I do, at least on the level of intuition, but refuse to put down their weaponized artifice of the false self.

I agree with everything you say; but for me, making a lot of those connections came later, after the choice to convert. For me it's not surprising to find that the Truth is so true, and that its truthfulness operates in the ways you describe. I see that many people start out and work in; I wonder how many people start in and work out - i.e., I wonder how many people have to reason themselves into the faith, rather than spectate whilst reason vindicates faith?

David said...

The reasons you cite are exceptionally compelling Bruce and in many ways I have you to thank for 'getting me over the line.' To become a Christian. Point 4 strikes me as particularly powerful. I had been privately speculating about what 'Truth, Beauty or Virtue' are for many years and could 'sense' that if these things were objectively real and not just socially constructed arbitrary ideas then they demanded an explanation. Modern physicists have been able to create a world view based on a 'self-boot-strapping' Universe, randomness and chance. They would have it you can drink from a cup with no bottom to contain the liquid. The intellectual arrogance/ignorance of the thing is staggering. I used to be beguiled by it and would regard religious people as feeble - minded or backward in some important way. Most 'serious' modern scientific thinkers do this and so I thought I was in good company. Most intellectual types argue as though this world view has been toppled by reason, accumulation of evidence, some mysterious scientific research papers somewhere, etc. Of course this is all bunk and is worth investigating again to check where the mistake has been made.

For example, and again this backs up point 4, I listened to a radio program about the genius of James Clark Maxwell who created (or perhaps more accurately discovered) the mathematics to describe Electromagnetism. Highly Religious (Catholic) and deeply dedicated to the elucidation of truth, Maxwell set the foundation of knowledge on which this very mobile phone I am writing from and telecommunication technology is based. In the program on BBC4, Will Self, aptly asked a current academic physicist at Cambridge University Physics Laboratory about whether he felt Maxwell's metaphysical beliefs and assumptions were instrumental to his greatness as a Scientist. If you have ever seem a worm wriggle at the end of a metaphorical hook then you can imagine the 'experts' apparent discomfort and ineptitude to tackle this question!

Metaphysical assumptions are 'choices' not scientifically derived truths but as you describe here, inductive reasoning can infer that our metaphysical assumptions are incorrect when one looks at the 'evidence' in the manner you described in this post ie observations accumulated over countless situations. Or to put it another way GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) so the 'system' needs review to fix it at source. And lo and behold if you chose some new metaphysics it all works splendidly. And yet they (the scientists) all still ignore this kind of 'evidence' and heap scorn on the Religious converts. It all seems so obvious to me now I am a Christian but it really didn't for about 30 years so it's hard to impart these insights convincingly to others and the insights can always be explained away as a 'God delusion' or other intellectual frailty even it it was a great historic scientific Genius. The modern can always say 'well, they all believed in that kind of rubbish in those days didn't they!' and go back to the comfort of believing what they want to believe again, unmolested by having to give up or sacrifice anything they don't like or want to be true (Aetheism has many benefits after all...you can do what you like and it isn't really wrong at all!).

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - thanks.

I should make clear, however, that these particular reasons I describe were what impacted on me - but I don't suppose that they would be compelling to many or most other people - and I don't suggest taht they ought to be. For example, this business of honesty in science was very important to me as an insider under pressure to be dishonest.

Rev. Dr. Grindlebone said...

"I found that there were several cultural phenomena which led me to recognize the necessity for religion "

Isn't this just an "appeal to consequences"?

Bruce Charlton said...

@rdg - Yes of course it is - but why the 'just'? This is a description of psychological history.

Rev. Dr. Grindlebone said...

"but why the 'just'?"

Because the "appeal to consequences" is classified as a logical fallacy; it appeared as though intended this post to list several things that persuaded you of the truth of theism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@edg - But that is irrelevant. Logic is tautologous (according to Wittgenstein) - like mathematics. As I said, I am describing psychological history.

Malcolm Pollack said...

Thank you for this, Bruce. I have been grappling with this myself lately, and a reader suggested I read this post. I'm glad I did.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Malcolm - Glad it was useful.

In my forties; I actually went from atheism through an imprecise deism (no God but there was an abstract divine order, that truth was real etc), into theism (belief in a personal creator God) to Christianity. Then I tried to find a church, starting with my baptismal denomination (Church of England).

After a few years 'searching', I eventually decided to stay spiritually outside of churches: an unaffiliated Christian. I continue thinking about Christianity deeply and almost daily - and would now regard it as having a much simpler 'essence' than I used to: this essence can best be attained by reading the Fourth Gospel (called 'John').

It is that Jesus was what he said he was (fully divine, Son of God, our brother) and that by believing (trusting, having faith in, loving) him, we can follow him through death to resurrected everlasting life in Heaven. That's the core of it - and the effect that such a belief has on everything else.

Anyone can get confirmation of this any time (so long as the question is 'framed' properly), from direct communion with the Holy Ghost - which is essentially Jesus himself, in that he 'sent' it after he ascended to Heaven.

I support and sometimes attend a large and actively converting conservative evangelical church, and we have significant family involvement - but my own theology is extremely different from theirs.