Yesterday I wrote this post about a part of my intellectual journey. This morning I woke to proof that post. And it was gone. Gone.
Here is the outline of what I remember. I’ll turn this into a proper post in the next few days. Or, maybe this will suffice.
- I went to UCLA with the intention of being talked out of what I believed, especially about Christianity.
- I figured that if Jesus couldn’t stand up to secular philosophy, he must be pretty weak.
- Over the course of a few years, I started realizing that people I was hanging around were all about the same:
- Middle class or upper middle class.
- Conservative (I did live in Orange County, California, after all).
- All very similar in how they thought.
Conversation started feeling like an echo chamber.
And I started sitting there in church during the sermons wondering how the passionate 36-year-old who was often shouting could be so certain about the topic of the week (and it was always a he, which sometimes made uneasy).
My new realization wasn’t bad, per se. I loved my friends and colleagues. Life was so good. But I think growing up with an immigrant family, growing up Roman Catholic, having a father who was (is) a remarkably bright contrarian, and an influential celibate sageish old monk-like uncle who was just like Saint Francis and lived alone with piles of books in every room — it all caught up to me.
And I think I was getting older and started wondering if this was it.
I felt insecure that I didn’t know more about the great thinkers: Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Mill, Kant, Descartes, Hume. I assure you that I knew just about nothing about every single one of them.
I wanted to understand political philosophy better, too. Not what each side said during an election campaign — not what Rush Limbaugh told me what to think, and I certainly was getting my news from him — but about the original thinkers that our founders read: Burke, Mill, Locke, Machiavelli, Rousseau.
One day I was on a business trip to Zurich, Switzerland. Waiting for a client. In the lobby of some posh hotel, probably sipping some German beer. I had picked up Time Magazine during a layover in New York. Billy Graham on the cover. He turned 75. Was thinking I had the best job on the planet. In my late 20’s, traveling the world for a Christian music company. But this thing about education, no this thing about just how ignorant I was—it was on my mind daily.
I’m reading, and Billy Graham tells Time he has one great failure.
One. Great. Failure.
“I had one great failure, and that was intellectual. I should have gone on to school. But I would talk to people about that, and they’d say, Oh no, go on with what you’re doing, and let others do that. I do regret I didn’t do enough reading, enough study, both formal and informal.”
(Oh, I forgot to say that I had dropped out of college when I was 19. Bored the heck out of me, just like high school did. And this fact brings up a whole new subject: Parents, some of your kids are like me. They struggle in high school but bloom later. Keep them interested in learning even though they might not like education.)
I went to live in London for a few years. That also added to my discontent. There, so many of the evangelical Christians I knew were liberal. Huh?
Anyway, I soon found myself in Dodd Hall at UCLA reading Hume and Russell and Mill and all these atheists (along with many Islamic and Christian philosophers, too). And about the metaphysics of modality and moral luck and the mind/body problem. I soon found myself with a graduate degree.
And I soon found myself understanding that how people come to believe (whatever they believe) is so very complex. This helped me to no longer demonize people because they disagree with me.
Today, I still find myself shying away from echo chambers. I think the main problem in our country today is that few people are willing to take the risk of understanding, truly understanding, what other people have to say.
This great temptation we all have to surround ourselves with people who think just like us. Not good.
Then I came to this view that was popularized by Gandhi: “It far easier to hate you enemies than to disagree with them.”
Today, I don’t think everyone needs to follow in my footsteps. Lots of dang smart people out there without a college degree. But I think everyone, EVERONE, needs to notice if they’re living in an echo chamber. And if they are, they need to go find some new friends. Christians, find a Muslim friend. Atheists, hang out with some devout Jews. Catholics with Protestants, progressives with fundamentalists. Straight with LGBT.
Fortunately, younger people are good at this; older people are not.
Gotta end this post now. But glad to report that it’s all worked out so far, and Jesus stood up perfectly fine to all those horrifyingly brilliant atheists. 😉