Learn to Discern
Perhaps our greatest challenge in knowing God is in discerning fact from fiction. There is no subject even comparable; we are inundated with garbage when it comes to knowing God. Throughout our lives we are force fed myths, superstitions, and appealing speculations by those we trust. And we live in a world where there are deeply entrenched systematic bureaucracies working diligently to maintain their particular dogmas about God. Since our major religions proffer divergent and often opposing beliefs, approaches, and structures, our effort to discern the truth is difficult.
Our task would be easier if the major religions were either more obviously off the mark or more frequently on target. But, because each of the major religions mixes fact and fiction, our task becomes one of discerning. Even if we take the more direct approach and seek God independently, we must still overcome our prejudices and presumptions. It is often difficult to distinguish what we want God to be from what we learn God is.
We must learn to discern. In the scientific community we apply objective tests to knowledge and thereby judge its merit. In essence, these tests determine the power of any “truth” to predict and control in the largest circumstance. “Facts” which have less predictive power or that offer no ability to change things in a predictable manner are given little weight. Unfortunately, these tests work poorly on subjective knowledge and in areas where objective measurements are difficult and knowledge about God is both.
Our subjective learning is best tested by how well it fits a schema (being consistent with a larger picture) and leads to more useful knowledge. When it comes to God, our schemas are poorly developed and our criteria for usefulness are often skewed by prejudices. Our expectations tend to distort our perceptions, and our logical methodologies for testing this knowledge tend to not work. We are encouraged to give up on this difficult approach by those advocating “belief”. But beliefs, being things we accept without evidence or reason, are dangerous. Not only are beliefs easy, they tend to reflect more desire than truth. Even worse, beliefs tend to be strongly influenced by others and there is a long history of manipulation by belief. Even worse, beliefs are meaningless. Even if they happen to contain truth, they are easily corrupted and fail to empower beyond whatever truth they contain. It is not “belief” that is powerful, it is the truth behind a belief that matters.
The truth about God is the most powerful thing we might know. The truth is not changed or enhanced by our beliefs. We must seek to know, not merely believe.
The truth is out there; it is up to us to discern it. We may find the truth of God through scientific study, through religious study, and through “revelation”. Logically, we should seek the truth by every means that works and we should prioritize those means by the mix which yields the best results for us individually. Almost universally we will find that the mix varies from time to time but that ultimately truth will stand equally strong scientifically, religiously, and intuitively. The primary challenge is learning to discern between conflicting information.
Our skill of discernment is directly related to the breadth of our knowledge and our ability to test that knowledge completely. Knowledge may be judged through systematic analysis, rational assessment, or intuitive weighing. Because we have developed a very successful approach to testing knowledge about physical things, such is best tested scientifically. Conversely, we have no such methodology for the non-physical realm and therefore that knowledge is tested logically and intuitively. Human logic is highly variable and our intuitive skills are generally undeveloped. Thus, we have the greatest difficulty discerning truth about non-physical things – like God.
However, although God is a non-physical entity we have extensive physical evidence relating to God’s Creation. One of our problems has been our failure to adjust our schema about God based upon what we may know from Creation. What we may discern about God from science provides the keys to knowing the subjective aspects of God. In other words, we have the ability to develop and test our schema in relation to objective criteria and to ascertain purposes and priorities from physical systems. This approach is founded upon the simple premise that Creation is the work of God and that God created the Universe purposefully and intelligently.
The process of developing a schema for God and grasping the Universe is lifelong and obviously extensive. By learning to discern, we undertake that process intelligently and with much greater likelihood of success.
We must begin by discerning fact from fiction and truth from belief. We must be more careful in assessing what we take as fact and how we integrate assumptions into our factual base. While problematic in all religions, this is most obviously a problem with “Christians”. As a group, Christians carry a conflicting set of facts and assumptions with inappropriate integrations. They commonly treat beliefs as truths and readily ignore logic, experience, and intuition. Thus, Christians are heavily handicapped when it comes to knowing God.
Equally handicapping are the processes learned by Christians for learning about God. Within Christianity there is strong emphasis upon dogmatism and de-emphasis on scientific approaches. And, while some academic efforts are treated favorably within the Christian community, there has been a long history of systematic destruction of both persons and works that reach conclusions unfavorable to church doctrines. The total effect of such is broad and often subtle – Christians don’t question.
Inquiry is central to discernment. Inquisitions oppose inquiry. A fundamental inquiry we must make is why would any religion oppose any form of inquiry? The more one’s beliefs are founded upon fact and truth, the more they welcome inquiry.
After centuries of open inquisition, Christian churches have taken more obscure approaches to opposing inquiry and on the whole, these approaches have been more successful than open inquisitions. Combining indoctrination and social pressure, Christian churches flood their cultures with myths treated as facts, beliefs treated as truths, and dogma treated as divine. They treat their doctrines as certainties and teach the impressionable not to question. Christians generally learn not to discern.
Discernment is the practice of detecting and differentiating based upon sensory or mental perception. It means that we must both search out and then distinguish. Therefore, learning to discern requires that we seek, sense, and assess.
We must seek God using all the sources available to us. Those who limit their seeking to the words in a book will miss God. Likewise, those who limit their seeking to the objective study of physical things will also fall short. Our seeking should focus upon using all of our tools to gather complete information about the Universe and its Creator. Those tools are both personal and cultural: we have intelligence and intuition to utilize existing methods and knowledge or to develop them.
Life is about choosing; which path, which actions and which priorities. The power to choose and to do so with “intelligence” and purpose are what makes us special. We are endowed with special abilities and tools which make choosing both easier and difficult.
Choosing can be as easy as flipping a coin or the most difficult thing we do. Many of our choices are so complex that we give up on them; we choose not to choose.
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