Monday, October 14, 2019

Free Sight

I am, to the best of my knowledge, the only atheist in my general extended family. While I haven't had a working faith in a deity for as long as I can remember, and have never been particularly coy about that fact, I've also never been particularly vocal about it, either. Once I was out of high school, there was no real expectation that I'd attend church services with my parents and sibling, and so, over time, people would simply lapse back into the assumption that I was a believer.

But every so often, the topic will come up in conversation, and I'll wind up telling, or reminding, someone that I don't believe in deities. Which in an extended family that is quite strongly Baptist/Evangelical, tends to wind up being the primary topic of conversation for some time afterwards. What tends to take whomever I'm talking to off-guard, though, is the fact that I'm reasonably conversant in the Bible, mainly as a result of having taken four years of Theology when I was still in school.

One of the things that I've come to understand from many of these conversations is that while a number of family members have read this or another part of the Bible, they don't appear to have formed their own interpretations of it. This may be due to the use of the Bible as an explanatory document; in this sense, many of the stories are formally myths. But there are passages that, when you read them from a more neutral standpoint, are easily open to other interpretations than the standard.

Adam and Eve's fall is one of these. Commonly, when discussion this story with a family member, they'll inform me that it's basically the answer to the Question of Evil; Eve, and then Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, and humanity was punished for this willfulness by having to lead lives that are well removed from an idyllic stay in paradise. The question that I sometimes ask of a relative is: "If the fruit of the tree represents the knowledge of good and evil, how could Adam and Eve know that they shouldn't have eaten from the tree without having first eaten from the tree?"

The question occurred to me some time ago, and it eventually lead me to this question: "Is the root of such topics as morality and ethics really perception, rather than will?" Now, I'm not a philosopher, so I'm not prepared to make an attempt at proving out that theory, but it does occur to me that even in a lot of secular philosophy what's being argued is the way things are, with the presumption that the moral/ethical action to take in a given situation stems from the facts of the case, and therefore, many, if not all, bad actions can really be linked to issues of how a person sees the world around them as much, if not more, than their choices of how to interact with it. (I understand that many Christians attempt to get around this with the idea that divine law is effectively hardwired into the human intellect, but there are a lot of stories in the Bible that don't support that view very well.)

In any event, it makes what would otherwise be a tiresome discussion of why I don't believe into a much more interesting examination of the links between people's perceptions of the world, and their motivations. And for me, it provides a basis for speculating about why other people do (or have done) the things they do. Unfortunately, it can only be speculation, since I don't have the ability to perceive the world as others do, and perhaps that's why it doesn't seem to have caught on.

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