Monday, June 9, 2014

How do we know what we know?

In Chapter 2 of God Revised entitled "How We Know: The Quest For Certainty", Rev. Guengerich traces a brief history of epistemology when it comes to religion. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are known as "the people of the book" because they base their beliefs on the claimed authority of divine revelation of their scriptures.  Guengerich writes, "What comes first, belief or understanding?" p.33 What I think he means is, do our beliefs come from our understanding, or does our understanding come from our beliefs. If we get our beliefs from what we are told is the revealed word of God in a holy scripture, this is a powerful influencer of our understanding of our experience which we interpret through that lens of belief. On the other hand, if we pay attention to our empirical experience and then draw conclusions we are developing our beliefs from our understanding.

Unitarian Universalists are not people of the book. They tend to be more practical and rely on their experience as a test of what to put their faith in. The problem with this approach is that we can be easily fooled by our own bias. Rev. Guengerich retells David Foster Wallace's story: "There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them, and says, 'Morning, boys. How's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'" p.28 Unitarian Universalists have been accused to being "too intellectual" and "smug". Perhaps we assume more than we should and think, in our not knowing, that we know that we don't know and so are better than those who think they know.

Rev. Guengerich writes, "The idea of a God who ensures that everything will ultimately be all right is enormously appealing. The Bible says (Romans 8:28) that 'All things work together for good for those who love God' - a lovely sentiment. It just happens to be wrong. Sometimes things work out for ill, and sometimes things don't work out at all. Without an authoritative revelation from a supernatural God, life can sometimes be lonely, and even bewildering." p.42 The psychologists and philosophers call it "existential anxiety". The belief in a supernatural God who is in charge of us and our lives quells our anxieties and comforts us, but this is a childish belief similar to our dependence on our parents when we were children. At some point our parents are not there any more and we must learn how to care for ourselves and others. One of my favorite models of human development goes like this: You believe in Santa. You don't believe in Santa. You become Santa. We come to a point in our maturity when we take responsibility for ourselves, for others, and for the world we live in. The question remains, "How do we know the right way to live?" As Socrates said over two millenia ago, "The unexamined life is not worth living." and a healthy religion is one that helps us examine our lives and supports our efforts to achieve a greater quality of health and happiness. Can Unitarian Universalism do that? If so, how?

My Kind Of Church Music - I know what I know, Paul Simon


  1. Millie: "How often do planes crash?"

    Sally: "Just once I imagine."

  2. How about this one?

    A lawyer was coaching his client, a gangster, on his upcoming court appearance.
    "You'll tell the truth," the attorney said, "plain and simple. Okay?

    "Okay," said the gangster, "I'll try anything once."

  3. The ego would like you to think that you are in control. Some people have such a need to be right that they would rather die than admit they are wrong. It is written in ACIM, "Would you rather be right or be happy?"