Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Pack of Truth

Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn’t know which one was heavier. Which one took the most strength to carry around? It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier of not, the truth is yours now.

From The Secret Life of Bees

With The Mermaid Chair, Sue Monk Kidd has solidified her place as one of the great American Authors of the new century. Personally, what I love best about her writing – even beyond her great storytelling ability, unique characterizations and lovely writing - is her emotional acuity.

In the above quote, she writes about the experience of her main character finally learning the elusive truth about her mother – a truth which she has sought all of her life, while at the same time constructing a protective mythology around herself. The myths which she had fabricated protected her from knowing what was too painful to know, and filled in the blanks of a history which she had no way of deciphering.

All of us balance the urges to seek the truth while at the same time striving to dig our heads deeper into the sand. Learning that a comfortable assumption was wrong is always stressful, and there are some truths which we suspect that, as Jack Nicholson put it “we can’t handle.”

Truth-processing is a fascinating human mechanism. It is part of the human experience that we are all acculturated to certain beliefs which help enhance out lives. These beliefs are not necessarily ‘lies’. They are generally just assumptions which have far less factual basis than we attribute to them. Sometimes we do push through some of them, sometimes we don’t, and the degree to which we succeed is one of the central dramas in our lives.

In the skeptical blogging world, we often witness the painful drama of this struggle. And, even more poignantly, we view the struggle to do what Kidd’s heroin realizes that she cannot do – to set down the heavy suitcase of truth and grasp for the old suitcase of myths.


Blogger Chana said...

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January 10, 2007 1:09 AM  
Blogger Chana said...

While I sympathize with the idea of the strength and inner turmoil caused by reaching for the truth, even if it causes loss, I think it is unfair to ascribe "hero" motives to those who leave religion, and remove them from those who remain observant. Often, the one who loses faith is depicted as the hero- the one who has separated himself from friends, family, the truth he once knew, what he now recognizes to be myths. Cast in this dramatic act, he takes comfort in his hero status, the fact that he has undergone this pain in order to fulfill his life as he knows it must be, an examined life.

Now, what if one carefully examines one's life, and yet concludes that it is not necessary to set down the suitcase? Suppose one believes that one truly IS carrying a suitcase of truths, that the words and ideas one grew up with are also synonymous with truths. Is that person simply living with his/her illusions? Is it impossible to have been born into the "right" religion, or with the right truths? Must everyone leave in order to be heroes?

I think not. So while I relate to,and agree with, the struggle that various people undergo in leaving religion, and allow that it is comforting to think that one has undergone this for a reason, in pursuit of truths, heavier and uglier though they may be, I think it is unfair to depict this as the ideal, and suggest that those who do remain within their religion must necessarily be intellectually lazy, or unwilling to take the plunge/ pick up the suitcase of truths.

I don't really think you mean to imply this; I am simply extending the thought. The hero attribute of doing away with what one believes in order to pursue a different life of supposed truth appeals to me, but I know enough to realize that is only a sham, a play at being truthful. The heroic action in picking up or putting down the suitcase is not the ultimate goal.

One could even argue that truth is not the ultimate goal.

One could successfully argue that happiness is the goal.

January 10, 2007 1:11 AM  
Blogger jewish philosopher said...

"grasp for the old suitcase of myths"

Right, like the old Greek myth that there is no creator and we can do whatever we want to with no consequences?

January 10, 2007 10:48 AM  
Blogger dbs said...


Well I certainly didn’t think that I was depicting people who stick with their beliefs negatively. How can that be negative - to carry on the path which you feel is true? On the contrary, that is laudable. And I certainly don’t think that only change is difficult or heroic. Tenacity to stick to a situation is heroic. Patience and acceptance is heroic. Loyalty is heroic. Loving with an open heart is heroic.

One of the things which I liked about the quote from ‘Bees’ was that it was not about seeking truth and choosing to reject lies. It was simply an insight into the emotions which one feels when one – for whatever reason – end up with a different perspective. It isn’t heroic, it’s just a reality (and possibly a curse, as the quote says) – the genie is out of the bottle. And this is certainly not specific to religious beliefs.

Having said all of that, do I think that rejecting an ideology which you believe is false is a heroic act?

Yes, I think it often is. That is, after all, the biblical drama of Abraham – leaving behind the pagan beliefs of his birthright and seeking a new spiritual path. Not every change has to do with fundamental ideology, nor do they have to be nearly so dramatic, but those who can change help humanity move forward.

What is the goal? Happiness is the goal. And seeking happiness is what we all do, and should do. (Morality – which is not the subject here - is merely the law of respecting the right to happiness of others.) I would certainly argue that truth, to the extent that it can be objectively determined, enhances moral behavior. But it does not necessarily lead to happiness.

January 10, 2007 1:03 PM  

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