A Conversation With a Religious Skeptic About the Potential Usefulness of Multiple Paradigms for Discerning Truth
By Ken K. Gourdin
In a threat on Sic et non, the blog of Brigham Young University Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies Dan Peterson, the following exchange took place between your humble correspondent and a couple of religious skeptics. An unbelieving skeptic asked one of his devout interlocutors, “Do you believe in the religions of others? Do you find any or all of them misguided?” I responded:
Do I “believe” in the religions of others? If someone [who is an adherent to another faith] tells me that [adherence to the tenets of] Hinduism, or Confucianism, or Roman Catholicism (or some other stripe of Catholicism), or Orthodoxy, or some stripe of Protestantism, or Islam (whether Sufi or Shia) . . . fills his soul, bears good fruit in his life, and brings him joy, who am I to question that? Why not believe it? More power to him!
Another skeptic then chimed in, asking, “Then why send missionaries door-to-door?” I responded:
Should there be something in [a person’s] current belief system he finds wanting, perhaps missionaries can provide a viable alternative. If, however, he is content to remain as he is, I believe he should strive to be the best adherent he can be to whatever belief system he espouses, and I would wish him well in his efforts to do so.
When my original skeptical interlocutor wrote, “I’m sorry that so many people lack skepticism,” I responded:
Skepticism has its place, to be sure, but, if in fact, there is an afterlife; if, in fact, there is a God; and if, in fact, I will be called to stand (more probably to kneel) before Him to make an accounting to Him of my life, I doubt He will say, “Here’s the problem, Ken: You simply weren’t skeptical enough!” ;-D
“Even optimism which occasionally is betrayed still is better than cynicism and pessimism which are always rewarded.”
–Ken K. Gourdin ;-D
When this same poster essentially (and at least implicitly, if not explicitly) endorsed empiricism as the best (if not the only) way to determine truth, I responded:
Empiricism is a valuable tool, and it’s certainly useful in discovering many kinds of truths, but, to slightly alter Shakespeare (surely, even though he was not of a particularly empirical bent, he had some valuable insights into the human condition, no?) “There are more things in heaven and earth, [screen name redacted], than are dreamt of in your empiricism.”
When my original skeptical interlocutor chimed back in to ask me whether I would have the same live-and-let-live attitude toward adherents of other faiths (i.e., if I would say, “More power to him”) if an Islamic extremist were “about to experience the joy” of throwing me off of a roof, I responded, “I know this will come as a shock, [screen name redacted], but that scenario isn’t what I had in mind when I posited that one’s faith fills his soul, bears good fruit in his life, and brings him joy.”
He responded, “No, that’s never what one has in mind when one thinks about religion. But if one did, it might give one second thoughts.” I replied:
That’s never what the vast majority of religious adherents have in mind when they think of their religion, [screen name redacted], but what they actually do have in mind when they think of their religion isn’t nearly as fun to take a flamethrower to as the straw men you incinerate instead.
When my original skeptical interlocutor expressed frustration at the unwillingness of the devout to abandon their own paradigms forthwith and to join him in his single-paradigm world (in which, apparently, one paradigm for discerning truth is vastly superior to all others—and apparently, it’s especially superior to a faith-based paradigm), I responded:
If we’re reasonably intelligent, if we understand the English language reasonably well, and if we’re reasonably sane individuals, yet what you’ve tried to point out to us (ad infinitum and ad nauseam) hasn’t sunk in yet, perhaps you should ponder why that is. Theoretically, in an infinite number of potential universes, could at least one universe exist in which more than a single paradigm (however unlikely the prospect might seem) might actually be useful?
Nah! That’s just crazy talk! (Forget what I said about “reasonably sane”! Sorry; my bad.)