Had an interesting conversation this morning with a neighbour (15th April). She is a Christian, and believes in the experience of a personal god – it is a real experience for her. I get that. I get she has that experience.
As she described it to me, in 1970 she was an atheist, and she knew some Christians, and she could see the peace they had, and she wanted that peace, so she asked God and God spoke to her, and she has that peace.
I heard that.
I don’t have that peace. I don’t want peace like that.
I would rather have Bertrand Russell’s 10 timeless commandments on life:
1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence; evidence is sure to come to light.
3. Never try to discourage thinking.
4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your family, endeavor to overcome it by argument & not by authority. Victory dependent upon authority is unreal.
5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement.
9. Be truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that’s happiness.
And yet, I could see that there is no way that I could offer her the peace and certainty she had.
It may be a false certainty in “real terms”, yet in experiential terms it is real enough.
I could see the very real sense, in which her beliefs, and the feeling of wellbeing they generated, meant more to her than the uncertainties that seem to be the logical requirement of the path of questioning, exploration and discovery that I have chosen.
I see that her path cannot lead to new technology, to new discoveries, and her path will accept them when they happen to her, it will be God’s will – as all things are.
I didn’t discourage thinking, I gently encouraged it, and I accepted that forcing uncertainty into such a world view would not be kind in the short term.
That does leave a profound set of questions around the nature of democracy, and the nature of freedom.