Things That Cannot Be Shaken
- Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The problem posed in reconciling biblical truth with apparent contradictions in experience, of course, is the problem of authority. This problem is not a new one. And the questions that come today have their central focus in the question of truth and authority. The focus of the question may change in different periods of history, but the basic question is always the same: To whom or what should I ultimately submit? How can I know what is true and what is not?
It may come as no surprise to students of history, especially the history of thought, that in today's confused climate two primary views on the source of truth or authority emerge. People seem either to believe that truth is what makes them feel good and works best with their experience (which is sometimes labeled "empiricism") or that truth is what makes sense to them objectively and intellectually (which is sometimes labeled "rationalism"). Are either of these approaches acceptable in developing and nurturing a system of truth and a notion of authority?
If It Feels Good . . .
Empiricism is, by definition, the obtaining of knowledge through the senses, or through experience. Right experiences will bring an understanding of truth—or so we think. These experiences, both emotional and physical, are often defined by the popular media that inundate today's generation, including music, television, film, and poetry. Media of this kind can create an ambience of authority because they tell stories in ways that are appealing. In music, the stories are told with a particular mood or beat, making them easy to remember and repeat. In television or film, they are told with images, visual art and effects, and musical score, all of which combine to capture imaginations and promote ideas and worldviews. In most cases, however, the stories told, the images produced, and the effects desired have their sources in just another human emotion, experience, or desire. It can be tempting to commit oneself to a particular song's or movie's "message." But these messages themselves only go as deep as the individual(s) who produced them.
If history teaches us anything, it is that human beings are not particularly good at defining their own happiness. We are not adept at articulating clearly what it is we really want. Some of what we think we want may be good; we may think what we want is simply the absence of conflict with other humans or the absence of conflict within ourselves. But even if these goals are good ones, the solutions offered may not be. Remedies offered for getting rid of these conflicts—things like more money, more time, fewer responsibilities, more autonomy, or maybe just the ability to have the ultimate makeover (of home, hair, teeth, or brain)—are all supposed to provide what we need. If they provide for our needs producing less conflicted lives, they must give us truth.
In keeping with the empirical, some may base their lives on what they "feel" like doing at any given time. They may not feel like going to class, or studying, or going to work. In seeking to orchestrate the right feelings, we may seek to change the atmosphere (music, entertainment, activity), the location (new city, new apartment, new bed), the vocation or the surrounding family (spouse, parents, siblings), and friends (new significant other, new group, or new church). Change may create a sense of busyness and thus a distraction from reality, an escape from the everyday grind, and an illusion of self-created happiness.
But isn't distraction really just a means of escape? We turn up the music and get lost in the melody and the words, hoping that the pain and negative feelings pass. Movies, concerts, and sporting events provide the opportunity to be caught up in the excitement of the crowd and carried along by our feelings for a little while. Enjoying music and attending sporting events certainly are not wrong. What is troublesome is when we expect these things to deliver the right feelings and thus to be a source of truth or authority.
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