Falsely True

The Liar Paradox is a fun piece of logic to play with, as I recently found myself doing. It is fascinatingly resistant to resolution and can easily morph to defeat attempts at resolving the conundrum into a truth value. The wikipedia article is well written, and so I will be following it’s progression.

In it’s simplest form, the Liar paradox is as follows: This statement is false.

As you can see, if you believe the statement then it is true. But if it is true, then we believe it is false, and so on. There is no way to stop the vicious circularity while maintaining the principle of bivalence, and it is the abandonment of that principle that is the typical route taken for resolving the paradox. One of the first efforts at formulating a third category in addition to true and false is the proposal that the paradox represents something that is both true and false. But this falls victim to a simple rephrasing as seen below:

This statement is not true.

This statement, in addition to supporting contradictory truth values, also rejects the possibility that it could be both. No problem, why not propose a third value that is neither true or false? If it was neither, this would be in agreement with it not being true, and so resolve the matter. But the phrase easily evolves again to deny this possibility:

This statement is only false.

Now not only is the possibility of it being both true and false denied, but since it asserts the falseness of the statement, it prevents us from claiming it to be neither true or false. What are we to make of this? The wikipedia article discusses a number of philosophical positions that have been taken in regard to the paradox, but I think perhaps we might look at what we are evaluating and not just how to evaluate it.

The liar paradox is not a statement that can be evaluated for truth claims, even if that evaluation allows for the inclusion of a multivalent solution. It is instead an oxymoron, an honest lie and a dark light. The paradox is, quite literally, falsely true. And like with any oxymoron, it is not something we evaluate for truth claims because we understand that they make no such claim, but are contradictions to be corrected if done unwittingly, and laughed at if deliberate. They are not a source of information and thus the paradox does not constitute even a real statement as such.

As for why it seems intelligible, I suspect this is because we are evaluating it as a bivalent statement and so are considering the possible outcomes serially instead of together. Similarly, if considered separately, the two terms of an oxymoron are intelligible. It is only when reckoned as a whole that they become self-contradictory nonsense. Likewise, we can easily see the failure of the paradox once we see that its truth means its falsehood.

I’ve had an epiphany!

I realized today that the Bible is wrong.  I know, you’re wondering how I could have come to this conclusion only now, seeing as I’ve been out of Christianity for something like five years now.  But the truth is that I didn’t leave willingly, and I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get back in.  And it isn’t as though I haven’t had doubts or severe questions about the Bible before, trust me, I have.  But it was never at the point where I not only felt what I read in the Bible was wrong, but that I knew it was wrong.

All of that changed, however, when I was reflecting on my previous post.  It suddenly dawned on me that I was in a unique position to judge the claims made in this passage.  I am an atheist.  I can see the world around me.  I am intimately familiar with both my inner psychology and my external behavior both before and after I lost faith.  Given this, I should be able to evaluate the truth claims of Romans 1:18-31.

And what are these claims made in this letter to the Roman church?  Paul claims that God has made the essential truth about himself easily discernible within the created world around us for everyone to know.  In fact, these truths are so self-evident that it is impossible to claim ignorance of them.  It is, quite literally, impossible not to know God.  And this is what one would expect from an omnipotent, benevolent God, that he would make it impossible to be unaware of him and his character.  Second, that everyone who refuses to recognize God does so only by denying these self-evident truths in a willful fashion, even to the point of knowingly acting against God despite this disobedience being punishable by death, and even encourage others to do the same.  The final claim is the debauched nature of those who do this.  This debauchery serves not only as the motivation for their rejection of God, but is also the ultimate destination of their rebellion.

So, you might ask, how do these claims stack up against my experience?  Not so well.  In fact, all three claims fail in my situation.  To the first, I cannot see the invisible attributes of God plainly revealed in nature, neither his eternal power, divine nature, or righteous decrees.  In fact, I can say that even when I was still a Christian I was not particularly struck by nature this way.  I was always more convinced and motivated by the inner testimony and the beauty of Christian theology.  I see nature, but it does not speak to me in anything I would call plain or clearly knowable about God.

As for the second claim, I am not conscious of any suppression of these truths that I supposedly cannot fail to know.  I am unaware of any denial, any repression, or any hindrance of the truth.  In fact, if I am guilty of anything, it is for loving the truth too much and being willing to pursue it wherever it might take me without hesitation.  This can, of course, be excused in me since I held to the naive belief that all truth is God’s truth while I was a Christian, and so had no idea that it could lead me anywhere but further toward God.

And regarding the final claim, that my motivation was unrighteousness and my goal further licentiousness, this too is false.  As I just mentioned, my motivation was a love of the truth and a desire to be completely honest, both with myself and with others.  And how has it turned out for me in the aftermath?  Frankly, I am much the same person I was before losing my faith.  My failings remain the same, as do my virtues.  And remarkably, even my external behavior has remained largely untouched.  I still go to church, I have not left my wife or proved unfaithful to her in any other way.  I do not lie, steal, gossip, slander or hate.  I do not reject my parents nor do I rail against Christians or Christianity.  As far as I know, I am neither ruthless or heartless (if you think otherwise, please let me know, as I am amendable to changing undesirable behaviors and attitudes).  I ceased being Christian merely because I found I could no longer believe what I needed to in order to justify claims to being Christian.

So here is the recount, Paul says I must necessarily be aware of something I am certain I am not aware of.  He says I am willfully suppressing this knowledge when I am unaware of any such cognitive exercise.  And he claims that my motivation and goal was immorality, and I am positive that my motivation was no such thing and that the conclusion of my loss of faith resulted in no significant changes to my behavior or attitudes.  I am quite positive in all three of these counts that the claims have not been realized, and so it dawned on me that this was a case in which, at least for myself, I knew that the Bible was clearly wrong.

I’m not sure what I should do with this new found knowledge.  It does not change my circumstances.  But I guess, if anything, it might harden myself further against the claims of Christianity since I do not know how I could honestly evaluate my experience and accept the claims made by Paul in the first chapter of Romans.  This simply strengthens my doubts about many of the other elements in the Bible I found questionable.  Only time will tell if it was the last gasp in my once precious faith.

I know the future

I will be publicly denounced as a liar this coming Sunday. How you ask, have I gained this remarkable power? Simple, I’m an atheist and it was announced today that the below passage was going to be preached on:

http://bible.us/Rom1.18.ESV

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

But what to do about this is a much more difficult question. I have no doubts in my mind that I do not in fact see God in the world, never mind seeing it so clearly that it takes a wilful act of dissembling on my part to deny it. But I have no way of defending myself against the accusation. There is no proof, no piece of evidence, that I can supply that will demonstrate the truth of my assertion to the contrary. It is this which I find most galling, that I can be accused of lying in such a way that requires no poof while simultaneously denying me any opportunity to vindicate myself from the accusation.

Since it is impossible for Christians who believe in the literal truth of this passage to not accuse me of being a liar, my only request is that they simultaneously offer me some opportunity to prove otherwise. Anything less would be to condemn without giving the accused any recourse in his own defense. This could hardly be in the service of the truth, and isn’t this what the whole matter is really about, the truth and those who would seek to obscure it in order to perpetuate their wicked desires? If so, then the least these so called defenders of the truth can do is allow the accused some chance to adequately defend themselves so that the truth may be brought to the light and falsehood banished.

Truth and Tribulation

I’ve been feeling a little discombobulated of late. It is amazing how isolating it has been to be alone in one’s religious beliefs, surrounded by people whose religion informs them that I am anathema and destined for hell. I long to have a like minded person in my life to talk to and openly express myself. But more than that, I wish I could be open and honest with the people who are most important in my life, my family. I envy the freedom with which my Christian acquaintances express their beliefs, as though it would be unheard of to challenge them, whereas my thoughts are unwelcome and unwanted. I am sick of it all, the charade, the game, the half-lies and partial truths I am forced to use less I upset the religiously informed sentiments of those around me.

I want the truth, I want it just as badly as these Christians want the truth. No, in fact, I am certain I want the truth more than them, for they do not want to know the truth about me, as the lies are more palatable to their ears and present a more pleasant alternative, whereas I am comfortable accepting them whatever their particular beliefs be, so long as it constitutes no threat to myself or others. They proclaim their longing for truth, and indeed their savior is declared to be truth, and yet when presented with the opportunity to acknowledge the truth, they turn aside and embrace gentler falsehoods to ease their minds of the discomfort which truth too often bears.

Cease this senseless bigotry, and let me be who I will be, a truth seeker before gods and men.

Sunday

I don’t know what I’m doing here Sunday after Sunday.  It drags on and on with no apparent end or purpose other than to pacify the fears of Hyang.  Every week, I come into this building wishing I wasn’t here, hating the circumstances that trap me in this pattern of outward religiosity.

But the costs of breaking out of this trap is the loss of valued parts of myself.  My wife and marriage, perhaps even my children, could be lost.  And yet not acting continues to eat away at me and I feel that something is slowly being lost, my integrity.  I still don’t know how to find my way through this minefield so that I can preserve both. 

I’m going to find a way though, I can’t surrender either of these.  There is to much of who I am and who I want to be at stake here to not try.

Religion

Why is religion so important to us?  Why does itself so tightly to our essence, to the point where its excision leaves us bloodied and raw.  Because it tells us things we would not otherwise know.  It reveals the secrets of the deep, and sheds a light on the darkness that its truths may be known.  But religion is not a window out into the world.  No, that is the error of the religious, though not of religion.  No, religion does not tell us about the world around us, but about ourselves in the world.  It is not a window, but a mirror, a mirror into the soul.  It reflects back to us the many faces we each carry inside us, both known and unknown.  The darkness of our hearts is borne upon its reflection and is thereby made known to us, if only we can understand what it is we see.

Thus is the vital nature of religion, in the revelation of the self unto the self, a way to turn the eye inward and examine the person within.  The failure of the religious is not then that they do not see, but that they fail to comprehend what they see.   The turbulent darkness which fills there vision is thus transformed, no longer the chaotic eddies which stir within each of us, but a cadre of supernatural beings that fill the world with demons and gods, angels and jinn.  How much easier is it to direct our anger, our adoration, and our fears outward, where they can no longer harm us, no longer threaten us with knowledge we would rather not have, an understanding of ourselves.

It is not enough to reject this, to dispense with religion and the fantasies of the religious.  This only disposes of the lie, without ever seeking to address the truth.  And the truth is that religion has not failed us, but rather it is we who have failed religion, we who have shrunken away from its unwanted truths and harsh light exposing a darkness we would rather not confront.  It is not religion that must be rejected, but our own cowardice when it speaks to us and tells us of our hearts.  It is not enough to dispel the lie, we must embrace the truth, and the truth is that the darkness and the light which we religion shows us is within each of us.  We are each one saint and sinner, murderer and martyr, god and devil. 

It is up to us what we do with this material, to shake off the stupor of fate and seize the reins of our life and so put a hand at the till.  It also means recognizing our powerlessness before the tidal wave of human nature, the brute facts of our biology.  These two contradictions, of our total responsibility and complete powerlessness, are layed before us in the stark realities of religion.  It is only left to us to accept the reality for what it is, to embrace the truth and allow its jagged edges to stab deep within our flesh so that we can never again turn away from it.  Let the truth pierce me and so live in me, even as the lies I bound around myself die upon its bloody edge.  As it is said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Trapped

Trapped in this cage I constructed myself
I find myself without a way out.
Barred on every side with the cold steel
Of expectations, hopes and dreams.
Where is the key that will release me
From the bonds of a life turned wrong.
It grates against me, this deception I perpetrate
Careful words and judicious omissions.
This facade shakes precariously in the wind
Nothing else remains of me.
When can I allow myself to be real again
No longer a wooden boy on strings.
I dance because of these strings, they pull me
Every which way they choose.
But we are all trapped in this world of lies
Each of us incapable of being real.
All I can do is play my part well, and hope
That another will be free because of it.
Or so I wish to tell myself. Another lie
To keep the truth of my pain away.