When I was a child, I expected the world to make sense. Because I believed that, I saw reason. I saw patterns. I saw order.
The longer I live, the more those patterns look like chaos and randomness to me. Over the course of my adult life, I’ve had to throw away so many things I was taught as objective truth. The more of my certainty I’ve had to give up, the more fragile and scary life feels.
The uncertainty makes me feel disoriented. The feeling makes me long for the solidity of my previous certainty — but I can’t close my eyes to the chaos, because it appears to be the truth.
Why do people believe absurd things? Why do some people believe the world is flat? Why do others believe in strange conspiracies? I think it’s because the things people believe make it easier for them to feel certain about something.
If someone believes that the Earth is the center of everything — and that it somehow rests on a firm foundation instead of being a rock hurtling through the vastness of space — that can allow him to feel more secure somehow. He doesn’t reason that out, of course, but something in his gut feels better if he believes that. The world feels more orderly to him. So he ignores evidence to the contrary. He believes what he needs to believe.
If someone believes there is a conspiracy of evil people — whether he thinks it’s evil bankers or big businessman or whoever — this allows himself to feel better about his life. He doesn’t have to take responsibility for what’s wrong with the life he lives. He doesn’t even have to feel as though the world (or his country) is out of control. He can choose to believe there is a lot of control — and he feels more comfortable thinking there is evil control than no control at all.
I was taught that we live in an age of reason. I was taught that our political leaders cared about us and that they made decisions about what would be best for everyone. I was taught that we were entering an era when poverty would be banished and humans would live in peaceful brotherhood.
The reality I face is far different.
I know from experience how crooked the political world is. I know how little connection there is between politicians’ rhetoric and their true motivations. (I used to write their words, remember.) I know that there is brutal poverty all around me. Even though the world is slowly getting richer — and the worst of the poor are better off than they once were — I know that almost none of the people I see every day even acknowledge that poverty exists. I know that people around the world continue to kill each other for the flimsiest of reasons.
I was taught certainty about all sorts of things, including theology. This has caused me serious anguish over the years as I’ve struggled to find the truth between what I had been taught and what I can experience of a Creator I know as God.
When it comes to metaphysical truth, it’s easiest to go one direction or the other — to either claim absolute faith in whatever some man preached from a pulpit or else reject everything but what science can prove. I can’t do either one of those.
I am terrified at the uncertainty I face. As I say “I don’t know” to more and more things in this world — in order to be honest with myself and others — I’m left disoriented. I don’t have many of the foundational “truths” which seemed so firm and so obvious when I was young.
Instead, what I’m left with is a huge gap between what I believe I know and what I know that I don’t know. The easy choice is to live in one of those extremes — what I believe I know or in the conviction that we know nothing except what we can see or touch or measure.
Instead, I live in the gap between those two kind of certainty. It’s a very scary place.
I want certainty to believe in. I still have faith that there is certainty. I have faith that there will be patterns in the randomness. I have faith that objective truth is still out there to be found beyond this life.
In the meantime, I find less and less about this world makes sense. Man’s ability to reason is vastly overestimated — and his tendency toward self-deception is vastly underestimated. I see a world of chaos and it makes me feel very disoriented.
I hate looking at the chaos, because I long for order. I hate admitting my uncertainty, because I desperately need certainty. I hate seeing all the ugliness, because I long for beauty.
But truth is more important than my discomfort. The world is full of chaos. It’s uncertain and seems random. It seems ugly and hateful.
I cling to my spirit’s faith that in the truth I will find patterns and certainty and beauty and love. It’s the only way I can deal with a world which disappoints and disorients me every single day.
My hope is that my faith in my Creator will lead me to truth in the end.