February 25, 2010

Socrates in the City

Yesterday I attended a lecture held by Socrates in the City. I want to tell you about it, but more, articulate what the whole experience made me think about. The speaker was... intriguing. And wrong. I was okay with that, because the whole point of Socrates in the City, and the way I see life, involves people being free to ask questions and dialogue with people who disagree. But listening to him, I was bewildered by thinking about how to approach this ... intellectual conversation, dialogue, exchange. How do you engage?

He began by talking about how the rapid extermination of the dinosaurs millions of years ago by some large meteor may be proof that God needs to "press the reset button" and correct his mistakes. He said that God is learning how to run the world. My mind protested with skepticism and disgust. Then he went on, questioning why God allows death and suffering. He talked about how people have been drawn away from belief in God because of that problem of pain. Then he claimed that he had the answer for this problem: God isn't intentionally malevolent, he just doesn't know how to run the world! We need to help God, and argue with him when he's making mistakes! *sigh* I don't think I can do justice to all the things he said. Just, it made me terribly sad that he does not have the sovereignty of God to rely on, that he has no certainty that all things will work out for good. He sees God as needed to explain the origin of matter and the origin of consciousness. But in his eyes, there is no all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God who works everything to His will.

So, how to respond: I would rather choose compassion and concern than repulsion. But frustratingly, he claimed that this whole interpretation was biblical. Tracing everything back to the Hebrew and relying heavily on certain interpreters and commentators, he argued that sins are only accidental stupid mistakes, that God encourages people to doubt him, and that, ultimately, God stands aside as evil prevails, content to simply recalibrate the system when things get too out-of-hand.

This is the part where knowing how I ought, or at least how I could respond was most unfamiliar. Is there hope to convince him that he's wrong? Perhaps a close friend could help change his mind... This made me think that I haven't ever changed anyone's mind. I've given them more knowledge, more perspective perhaps, but I could never take credit for altering someone's worldview. I highly doubt that anyone can do that... change of heart comes slow, and God can only change hearts. But, what can I do, HOW can I or anyone take part in this education or counter mis-education? I suppose, people can present the opposing view, so that those listening are more able to see the truth.

It's just... a foreign concept to me, of making truth known to a large group of people. My view of communication has been a very personal one, about talking to individual people, or about encouraging people though my speeches. Going to this Socrates in the City presentation reminded me that there is such a thing as right and wrong and of reasoned argument between the two. It makes me wonder at the impact such dialogue has on individuals. How many intellectuals are out there whose faith hangs upon discussions like these? What would it be like to take part in the exchange, to influence what people believe, not just how they live?


Michael said...

What would it be like to take part in the exchange, to influence what people believe, not just how they live?

That's interesting . . . I always saw influencing how people live to be much harder than influencing what they believe. (Though both are difficult).

There seems to be . . . grandeur, or prestige . . . or a lot of appeal to changing someone's mind. And . . . my kneejerk reaction to this is that that shouldn't be our focus, which I'm sure you already agree with. But . . . more than that, we shouldn't be concerned with that at all. This man's talk made you feel repulsed, or you could say "offended". Our focus ought to be on finding the truth, so any discussion ought to be a give-and-take, or a coming together to look for what is real. You have a differing opinion, yes, but don't try to "win people over" but simply . . . talk. I don't know how, that's just . . . a different perspective.

Art said...

It seems so strange, so hard, to bother to just talk when you know you won't be convinced. I don't want to be dogmatic, and I think some degree of uncertainty is good. I just feel like I can only justify joining that particular conversation if it's partly for their sake, to "win people over."

This is because simply listening will let me question my beliefs more, and talking isn't necessary for my own sake. Is it presumptuous of me to say that I am not going to change my mind on God's sovereignty?

Michael said...

Yes, it is.

. . . it seems me that you're (saying) you don't want to be dogmatic, but at the same time saying that nothing will ever change your mind. You can't have it both ways. How do you know you won't be convinced?

I see your point about winning people over, and that makes sense to me. If you really believe something to be true, you want other people to see it, too. However, I think that not joining a conversation because "they'll never prove me wrong" is way too self-assured, and joining a conversation only "to show them the truth" is . . . I guess having too much faith in your ability to know the truth.

I think you are wrong in saying that "talking" won't help you, or isn't for your own sake. When you give a speech, and you say something you believe, and the judge disagrees with it on the spot, don't you think it would be beneficial to both of you if you were able to hear the judges reason why they think you are wrong? Perhaps you could explain what you mean more, or dispell their refutation of what you said. It is presumptuous to say that all you need to fully reason out, and see why the other person is wrong is to listen and think within yourself. Other people have perspectives that you do not have, and can see flaws in your reasoning that you cannot.

What if the bible really supported the fact that God wasn't sovereign, wouldn't you want to know? And if it doesn't, than wouldn't the man you were listening to want to know?

Nothing good can come of a conversation in which both people have closed minds, convinced that they are right. Some people believe in Buddhism as adamantly as you believe in Christianity, but what if Buddhists never dialogued with Christians because they thought "it's pointless, no one will changed my mind" than they would never come to a knowledge of the truth (or what we think is the truth).

Daughter of the King said...

And yet
doesn't that mean
that we are just as likely
to be convinced as they?

If so
is this an inherently good thing-
for we are all seekers of truth,
yet if you know truth
should you risk the loss
of being deceived?

Magistra said...

Daughter of the King sums the crux of the issue...but yet if one has truth can untruth triumph over truth? Isn't the nature of truth to reign over untruth, ultimately?

Michael said...

The problem is, you don't know that you know the truth. If you are correct in your proposition that you know the truth, that like (I believe) Mr. Au said, then it makes sense that that truth is more logical, and reasonable than an untruth. If what we hold to be true is indeed true, than we have nothing to fear from open discussion.