When I was younger, my dad and I used to get into these long interesting discussions about God, the Universe and Everything. It was one of those fun things we did together during those brief times when I could visit. It was part of our effort to catch up and get reacquainted. My parents got divorced when I was nine. My mom and I moved halfway across the country. Time with my father was brief, so we tried to fit in as much quality as we could.
Dad was a Deist. In his view, God created a perfectly balanced machine, and had no need to come back and futz with it. In practical terms, he was an atheist with a passing belief in God. I’ve often jokingly referred to his religion as “Sagan Worshiper.” At the time, I was sort of a budding Animist without any fancy names to put to the notions in my head. I just had this feeling that there was more to the world than what we could see or measure.
Funnily enough, I remember taking the position that the One True God did not possess an ego as we understand the term. It is an undifferentiated Everything. He told me that he could relate better to the idea of a God who had a personality. This went on for other subjects as well. He told me why he didn’t believe in anything psychic and why he thought reincarnation wasn’t happening because of the human population explosion. I told him of incidents where I had done psychic things, even gave a demonstration or two that made him pause. I also pointed out that human population wasn’t a valid argument against reincarnation because animals could also be included in the soul-pool.
I could say that we “argued” this or that point, but it wasn’t an argument, ever. We stated how we saw it and gave a few reasons for thinking that way. Not once did I ever believe that I would, could, or should, change his mind. Once, we were doing this while visiting family, and my grandmother, who was Christian, joined the discussion. She held her own quite well.
I really miss those days. True exploratory discussions seem hard to come by. The subject of discussion often gets lost while contestants try to score points. Debates are more often won by those who are good at debating, and not by the actual merits of the ideas being discussed. Sides become polarized. Discussions get heated and devolve into personal attacks and drama. No one actually learns from these exchanges. If anything, it just causes those mental doors to slam shut out of anger.
One thing we all need to remember when entering a discussion is that what we possess are OPINIONS. This is especially true when it comes to religion or spirituality. None of us have definitively proved the existence of anything beyond the Seen world. We have belief. We have stories. We have our own experiences. What we do with those things form our beliefs. (Claiming that the Unseen does not exist is also an opinion and a belief!) This means giving our own egos a swift kick in the pants and admitting that there is a chance that we may be wrong, about everything.
How do we get through the day knowing that our beliefs don’t actually have proof to back them up? Faith! Remember that word? Faith doesn’t mean “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It means, “I could be wrong, but I have the courage to live in accordance with my beliefs anyway.”
Is it really so terrible to be wrong? You’d think it was the worst thing in the world by the way people behave. Our laws do a fairly decent job of pointing out what actual wrongness is. I’m personally a huge fan of the separation of church and state. It gives me the freedom to be potentially wrong in a manner that doesn’t actually harm others in a serious life and property kind of way. It gives others that same freedom too. It makes it possible for varying viewpoints to exist, whether I agree with them or not.
Respect is another point we need to bring to the discussion table. I had a great deal of respect for my father and grandmother. That respect didn’t depend upon agreeing with everything they said. I respected their lives and experiences. I respected that they had seen things that I hadn’t. I went into those discussions wanting to learn. I was genuinely curious about what they thought, and how it might relate to what I thought. I might not adopt their beliefs as my own, but the act of bouncing ideas around does help to refine them. Seeing the same subject illuminated in a different light gives a sense of perspective. Though, it might not be the perspective that the speaker intended. Differing perspectives give depth to our world views, just as our two eyes give depth to our vision.