Belief and Critical Thought

Dear Eleanor and Wesley,

We humans have an uncanny ability to hold simultaneously conflicting ideas about the world around us. The mental tension that creates is called cognitive dissonance. The real magic of our remarkable brainwork is the psychological gymnastics we engage in order to avoid facing it. In our family, left to our defaults, we will ignore the crap out of an issue if it means that we don’t have to deal with it. Now, that right there is worth writing a letter about, but it’s not today’s letter. I am seeing woven in to the fabric of society, this particular approach when it comes to the main things in life, the big questions. It is extremely popular to see “through” organized systems of thought. Nothing is more fun than seeing a smart cynic go off on the simple or naive. Just ask Jon Stewart what makes The Daily Show tick. However, it has become quite rare to hear a well reasoned approach that is more than surface level cliches. It seems that people simply want to ignore the question.

Now I’ve thought this for a while, but a comment from one of the foremost atheist intellectuals made me attempt to cram it all into a letter. He said something to this effect: “I would not encourage parents to teach their children to be atheists or anything else, I would encourage parents to teach children to think critically.” (paraphrase of Richard Dawkins radio interview). Strike up that cognitive dissonance I was talking about. On the one hand, I couldn’t agree more with the guy. Of course I want you two to think critically. On the other hand, how on earth could I avoid teaching you anything formative about what is important in world around you? Is that even possible?

I don’t think so. So here’s the deal, I’ll just come clean with you. There are a lot of stories out there about how and why this world spins and how to find your place in it. Cynicism and Atheism are not on the list. One being a mindset and the other being a reaction, neither have content that would suffice for answers of how and why life is worth living. Let me note some that do have real content. These are not real summaries. These perspectives are, not surprisingly, more complex than one sentence. There is materialism, rooted in the notion that what you see is what you get so do with it whatever you want. There is humanism, which suggests there is something uniquely significant about being human, such that we can find transcendence if we all do it together. A cousin to humanism is existentialism, which suggests that the special meaning of being human can only be found inside of yourself. The incredibly popular twin of Existentialism is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which basically lets you make your own rules but then project them onto an undefined deity or spiritual force that you claim to believe in. Of course, you have all of the world religions to learn about and choose from. For me, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Bible has been set apart as the definitive narrative, comprehensive system, and experiential truth about the world.

Your Mom and I have chosen to pass this along to you. In large part, I am doing it because it is who I am. There is no way to not pass it down to you. Really in life there are three people who will most accurately understand my true nature and the character of my convictions: you two and your Mom. You see how I live everyday. I am teaching you about what I believe but in the end you will be forced to recon with, pushed to reject, or enabled to embrace how I lived. There is no intention of wholesale sheltering you from the world outside or forcing you into coordinated system of abusive brain washing. I am simply going to teach you what I believe and work to demonstrate it to you, albeit imperfectly, in the way that I live. Along with that, I will encourage to ask questions, to engage doubt, and most of all think through the implications of your understandings. As you mature, should you fail to find truth in our faith, it will not make you any less my child and it likely will not change who I am. It would be absolutely crushing, and I will never stop hoping that you would know Jesus the way that I do. Whatever happens, family is permanent.


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