The world’s a pretty big place, that’s for sure. There’s so much we don’t know. I believe that. However, I do think you have to make a choice at some pretty important junctures because the ways of thinking and living diverge. Some ways of living and thinking sharpen one’s grasp on reality and lead to well-being, and other ways of living and thinking lead to confusion and a decrease in well-being (if not for ourselves, than at least for those around us).
For me, one important juncture is whether reality is out there to be discovered, or whether it’s all just our own interpretation. If it’s really there, if meaning and purpose are really there, then we can adjust ourselves to be more receptive to it. If it’s all just an interpretation, then there’s no standard outside of myself to which anything I can do can be judged. I’ve experienced the world as a profoundly moral and purposeful place, and this is by far the most common human experience. Is it more likely that these experiences are tracking with the true nature of the world, or is it just a figment of our imagination that arises from an evolutionary process? Which of those options leads to a more solid grasp on reality and increased well-being?
As far as I can tell, the presupposition that my experiences of meaning, purpose, and moral accountability are tracking with reality seems to lead to better ways of living, and are therefore more likely to be true. This is one of the paths that led me to Christianity. In Christianity we see that there is a real reality that is personal (God) and this reality explains these experiences of meaning and moral accountability that the overwhelming number of people have. Not only that, but this personal reality is good and just and loving, and holds all of these characteristics together by sending his Son to uphold both his justice and mercy by dying in our place on the cross.
I know that adopting Christianity means that at some points I depart from things that our culture says we know for sure, such as the view that all living things evolved from one common ancestor, or that what we call “real” is just an interpretation and not really real. However, as much as I can appreciate elements of truth in some of these ideas, and why people find them compelling, I can’t embrace these ideas because the consequence is that I would have to reject experiences of meaning, purpose, and moral accountability as being real in any ultimate sense. I know this seems like a big leap, but I believe it is true. This, to me, does not seem like it is likely to increase our grasp on reality or to result in increased well-being. When people to try to live while embracing life as meaningless and absurd, it causes major problems. People need meaning in their lives more than they need food and water. Furthermore, the view that life only has the meaning that I ascribe to it leads people to live against the moral grain of the universe. All of these results are negative for human life.
I know that a lot of people try to compromise by embracing the idea that we can’t really know the truth, yet we can still try to live meaningful lives. I can appreciate why people do this, but I find this troubling because people I know who live like this still try to make moral judgments that they think apply to others. At best, it is a contradiction. At worst, it leads to viewing human interactions as simply attempts to exert power over one another (since no group’s “reasons” are “real” in any ultimate sense).
So, while there is so much I don’t know about life the universe and everything, I think starting off with the assumption that life is meaningful, purposeful, and that moral accountability is real, is more likely to be true, and leads to much better ways of living.
I’ll close with one of my favorite C. S. Lewis quotes. In The Silver Chair, the main characters are traveling under Narnia to find a missing prince. When they find him, the witch tries to convince them that the world above (Narnia and the “Overland,” which symbolize heavenly realities) is an illusion and all that exists is the world below (the Underworld, which symbolizes concrete, earthly realities). The climax is the following response by Puddleglum:
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
I don’t think he is saying that even if Christianity were not true, we ought to pretend that it is. (After all, in the book, Narnia is real.) I think his point is that Christianity is a better, richer view of life, and when our senses are clouded and we feel trapped by our inability to prove it to be real, we should trust that its goodness is a mark of its truth. I think that is part of what it means to live by faith–to live by evidences of what is real that go beyond empirical confirmation.