Wednesday, March 23, 2011

“I believe, because I want to live in that reality.”

In science-fiction novelist Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming saga, his character Nafai makes the case for belief in God against a skeptical interrogator.

“I believe the Oversoul, because I want to live in the reality that [I have seen.] In which lives have meaning and purpose. In which there’s a plan worth following. In which death and suffering are not in vain because some good will come of them.”

This is really personal to me. It describes my frame of mind as I was “investigating” – ie, going to church and deciding whether I believed and wanted to join.

To me, wanting to live in that reality did not make me believe, but it made me "investigate." To keep going to church, read the scriptures, keep praying.

Here's the full quote:
“If I wanted to doubt, then I could doubt endlessly,” said Nafai. “But at some point a person has to stop questioning and act, and at that point you have to trust something to be true. You have to act as if something is true, and so you choose the thing you have the most reason to believe in, you have to live in the world that you have the most hope in. I follow the Oversoul, I believe the Oversoul, because I want to live in the world that the Oversoul has shown me.”

“Yes, Earth,” said Moozh scornfully.

“I don’t mean a planet, I mean – I want to live in the reality that the Oversoul has shown me. In which lives have meaning and purpose. In which there’s a plan worth following. In which death and suffering are not in vain because some good will come of them.”

“All you’re saying is that you want to deceive yourself.”

“I’m saying that the story the Oversoul tells me fits all the facts that I see. Your story, in which I’m endlessly deceived, can also explain all those facts. I have no way of knowing that your story is not true – but you have no way of knowing that my story isn’t true.

"So I will choose the one that I love. I’ll choose the one that, if it’s true, makes this reality one worth living in. I’ll act as if the life I hope for is real life.”

Another story: after I had spiritual experiences persuading me to believe, I read a lot of convincing arguments calling my faith into question.

I then spent about 100 or 200 hours sorting through it all, finding counterarguments for some points, found additional points to bolster my faith, and accepted that I didn’t have any good counterarguments for some points.

I also did a lot of things I didn’t perfectly understand at the time. Most prominently, going on a mission. (I understood it was important, but had no idea of the full picture.)

What was the point? Why spend so much time and energy?

Because I wanted to live in the reality that I had seen.

This is not all of faith, choosing to believe based on the world one wants to live in. But they are the crucial, hopefully rare, moments, when you refuse to break and wait patiently for your strength to return.

There are indeed times when “a person has to stop questioning and act, and at that point you have to trust something to be true.”

(Is this a form of Pascal's Wager? Maybe, but this form seems tenable.)

Here’s the full quote with context.
“Don’t make me laugh, Nafai,” said General Moozh. “You’re far too bright to believe this. Doesn’t it occur to you that maybe the Oversoul is manipulating you?”

“The Oversoul doesn’t lie to me,” he said.

“Yet you say it has lied to me all along. So we can’t pretend that the Oversoul is rigidly committed to truthfulness, can we?”

“But it doesn’t lie to me.”

“How do you know?” asked Moozh.

“Because what it tells me…feels right.”

“If it can make me forget things – and it can, it’s happened so many times that…” His voice petered out as Moozh apparently decided not to delve into those memories. “If it can do that, why can’t it also make you, as you say, ‘feel right’?”

Nafai had no ready answer. He had not questioned his own certainly, and so he didn’t know why Moozh’s reasoning was false. “It’s not just me,” said Nafai, struggling to find a reason. “My wife also trusts the Oversoul. And her sister, too. They’ve had dreams and visions all their lives, and the Oversoul has never lied to them….”

Nafai wanted to be able to explain to him why he wanted to follow the Oversoul. Why he knew that he was freely following the Oversoul; why he knew that the Oversoul wasn’t lying to him or manipulating him or controlling him. But because he couldn’t find the words or even the reasons, he remained silent….

“The Oversoul has fooled you again, and this time you may well die for it,” said Moozh.

“The Oversoul has never fooled me,” said Nafai. “Those who follow the Oversoul willingly are never lied to.”

“You never catch the Oversoul in his lies, is what you mean,” said Moozh.

“No!” cried Nafai. “No. The Oversoul doesn’t lie to me because…because everything that it promised me has come true. All of it has been true.”

“Or it has made you forget the ones that didn’t come true.”

“If I wanted to doubt, then I could doubt endlessly,” said Nafai. “But at some point a person has to stop questioning and act, and at that point you have to trust something to be true. You have to act as if something is true, and so you choose the thing you have the most reason to believe in, you have to live in the world that you have the most hope in. I follow the Oversoul, I believe the Oversoul, because I want to live in the world that the Oversoul has shown me.”

“Yes, Earth,” said Moozh scornfully.

“I don’t mean a planet, I mean – I want to live in the reality that the Oversoul has shown me. In which lives have meaning and purpose. In which there’s a plan worth following. In which death and suffering are not in vain because some good will come of them.”

“All you’re saying is that you want to deceive yourself.”

“I’m saying that the story the Oversoul tells me fits all the facts that I see. Your story, in which I’m endlessly deceived, can also explain all those facts. I have no way of knowing that your story is not true – but you have no way of knowing that my story isn’t true.

So I will choose the one that I love. I’ll choose the one that, if it’s true, makes this reality one worth living in. I’ll act as if the life I hope for is real life.”

(Orson Scott Card, The Call of Earth, Chapter 6, Weddings, pp. 275-280)

4 comments:

The Mudras said...

Hi Sam,
But what if facts indicate that the reality you want to believe in is not, in fact, the whole of reality, but just a dream world?

super awesome kt said...

Really interesting post - I love the quotes you shared and your personal story. Thanks, Sam!

Margaret said...

So lovely and thought-provoking.

substack said...

There are lots of other ways to choose among competing hypotheses, namely Occam's Razor which I was a bit surprised to not see a mention of. Wanting or wishing for something to be the case doesn't get you closer to the truth, as emotionally fulfilling or comfortable as it might seem.