Thursday, June 24, 2010

What it Means to be Irrational

First of all, I have a confession to make:  I've been going to church. But it's okay.  It's just the Unitarian Universalists. It's not a real church.  And by that I mean, that they don't require you to subscribe to their beliefs (whatever those may be.)  Essentially you can bring your own beliefs.

Last Sunday, a member of the congregation shared with us his thoughts on Father's Day, and related issues.  Father's Day is, to put it mildly, not my favorite holiday.  But nonetheless I enjoyed this guy's sermon.  One of the things it made me think about is different types of irrationality.

Here are two of the anecdotes he shared with us:

One day he was visiting  . . . Colorado I think? . . . and, sitting on top of a mesa at sunset, he had a mystical experience.  You know the drill, surrounded by nature, huge expanses of sky and desert, one human being seems so small out there.  And yet he felt there was a presence there with him; he was alone and not alone.

People find these sorts of experiences very memorable. And in his case, it became extra memorable when he found out that, at approximately the same time he was having this beautiful experience, his father was dying of the heart disease that had troubled him for many years.  He could not help but feel that there was a connection.

He then went on to tell us that his father's father died prematurely, and to share a story about that.  His father was then twelve years old, and he said to God, "I will give you my new bicycle if you keep my father alive."

These are examples of two different types of irrationality.  Mystical experiences are irrational because they cannot be explained to anyone.  They cannot be reproduced at will, especially not in a laboratory.  They have no objective reality.

The idea that God (if god exists) would be at all interested in possessing a bicycle, or a sheep, or one's firstborn child, that God ever would, or ever has, make bargains with people, is irrational because it's simply not true. If it happened on a regular basis, we would know about it. Where do people get this idea from, anyway?

Some people say that mystical experiences are imaginary.  Some even say they're a form of mental illness.  Personally, of those two types of irrationality, I prefer the subjective, internal experience to the flat-out lie.  There's a difference between things that cannot be proved to be true, and things that can easily be proved false.

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