Still on the subject of personal ideology, and following from yesterday’s post, I wanted to say something about what I believe, and how I got there. I think the connection to reflection is more apparent than any connection to the PhD, unless I start to see my chosen subject as just another facet of a much more core idea of looking for completeness in life.
I suppose we all have our own stories to tell when it comes to faith, belief, religion and so on. I was taken to Catholic church when I was young, attended a Catholic Primary School, and had a strong but inculcated belief in a very traditional version of God until about age 11. I recollect walking home from that school one afternoon and, having earlier realised that one could make up one’s own mind about these things and, that being the case, I could see no reason for believing that there was a God. End of. Hardly a road to Damascus, but just as decisive, for me at least (not sure how God took it).
I don’t recall how that idea of being in charge of one’s own decisions in these matters came about, but I suspect that a teacher in the Primary School may have mentioned the fact that as you get older you become responsible for your making your own mind up about stuff. They probably were thinking in terms of the temptations of post-Primary education. A strange doctrine for them to produce, considering how up until that point there had been no hint of this in the way that religion and belief had been presented. I mean none. I think this is what Christopher Hitchens, who is a delight to watch in full flow against the lies told to children in the name of religion, had in mind).
Since then I have never wavered, and never felt the need to. I have enjoyed the beauty of churches, cathedrals, mosques, holy places, and I know that you must understand that in the past many things we see one way now had meanings in their original context that made sense – then. What’s more, I have always understood that some people who are religious have great wisdom and compassion. But equally I have found compassion, wisdom and wit in others for whom the world is here and now. As I have got older, I have become more and curious about the way that societies have constructed their beliefs around metaphor over the millenia but feel no compunction to restrict my time in the world by adopting a belief that our universe requires a maker.
You don’t have to go far in our society to find values. They’re all over the place. People have them, organisations have them. McDonald’s, for example, has seven, some more edible than others, I’d say, but all speaking more to the “how” of what that organisation does rather than the “why”, and surely values are the why.
As for me, I find my values are hard to express. I prefer to think that values are really messy things, they’re pre-linguistic, ancient, and evolved and communicated over a long period of time across countless populations and social acts. It is evident that we like to seek patterns in things, and then extrapolate explanation from those patterns, and also that we have a give for categorisation. More than a gift, a need. We end up, through language, with labels, but sometimes we like confuse our labels with the thing they are labelling. If I were pushed, I would include “balance”, “care”, “love”, “empathy” and “hope” as values, but with the caveat that they are just labels, not the thing itself. Nevertheless, these are the sorts of things that give me pause for thought, reasons to be cheerful, and an inner happiness when they are attainable. In other words, I think they are important. But the problem comes when you want to project these fuzzy concepts onto things, events or, worse, people. Values should be expressed and measured indirectly; as metaphor, as poetry, as art, as humour, as “something understood.” But then we’d have to know how to read the labels differently.
Felt good writing this. Tomorrow I get to tackle politics. Not sure I’ll have too much to say on that, though.