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Mere Subjectivity

Posted by on January 30, 2020

I was raised Catholic, dallied with hip, evangelicalism-for-teens in high school, and gradually slipped from believer, to agnostic, to atheist in my young adulthood.

Nearly all my friends are non-believers of various stripes. I think that one’s social circle matters a LOT more than study, deliberation, and ratiocination in terms of where one lands on a wide array of categories of belief and behavior.

I believe that rationalization is a much more powerful force in human minds than reason.

That all said, I have a lot of thoughts about what I think Christianity is, what it’s for, what good it does, and why it and people who believe it are wrong. At the moment, the most important idea I’m wrestling with is the subjectivity of belief.

It goes like this: There’s an episode of Community where the characters play a game of D&D. Abed is DMing and Troy asks “shouldn’t there be a board, or some pieces, or something to … Jenga?” Abed explains, “No no, this is a role-playing game. It takes place entirely in our collective imagination.” (video here as of publish date.)

I’ve played a fair bit of D&D, but for some reason the shared subjective reality of the game was something that had never occurred to me before hearing that exchange. I sit down to play the game with five friends, one of whom is the DM. We all share descriptions of what we see and what actions we perform. Only the DM has final authority on the reality of the game, but even though they are responsible for the world in a significant sense in terms of setup and gameplay, the way they describe a room or an object will certainly lead different players to picture the thing differently in their mind’s eye.

This subjective experience inside of an assumed shared reality is how I think of Christianity, except there is no DM (no human with final authority on what’s true). There is no one true faith, because no two Christians will agree on every tenet of belief or history. Every religion is ultimately personal, though it may share a LOT with the next fellow’s faith. Descriptions of reality in terms of spiritual law or divine order assume away this sticky element of subjectivity. If something is universal and we can check it, it’s not an aspect of religion, it’s part of scientific description. If we can’t check it, we have no way of confirming universality.

But my father in law really wants me to be a Christian. He tells me that he sees much of himself in me from a time in his life when he had similar doubts or worldviews to my own. He wants me to read Mere Christianity and I promised him over a year ago that I would. So here we go. I’ll be reading it and posting my thoughts here on the ol’ blogarino. I’ve tried reading it before and found Lewis’ self-assurance misplaced and his sanctimony off-putting. But I must keep my word. Here we go.

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