This phrase was on my mind this morning because I awoken and fallen back to sleep several times, and each time I had tried to remember the first thought I had. (so that I could write about it) As with most messes, this one turned out to be a wonderful one. Since “its a mess” is the only of the first thoughts I could remember, I’ll write about “messiness”, which is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about anyway. In fact, its almost as if God has been working throughout the past week because the experiences that I have had have resulted in a theodic and epistemic “perfect storm”.
Messiness always reminds of cognitive dissonance. Its the first word that comes to mind when things refused to be worked out neatly in my brain. In some sense, it is connected to the absurd or the foolishness that I was talking about a couple days ago. Of course, it is also connected to faith, which is the first thought that occupied the first post of this blog.
A part of me always finishes the statement “Its a mess” with a qualifier “BUT its a wonderful mess”. A part of me recognizes that there is something salvivic about the struggle. There is a blessing at the end of wrestling with Yahweh. Another part of me thinks that this is ridiculous. This other part of me looks at the pain and imperfection of the world and says, “Whatever elaborate intellectual explanation that’s concocted, it cannot reasonably capture the imperfection of this world.” It is absurd.
However, a recent confluence of events is making me more comfortable with the absurdity of a particular explanation of the mess that we find ourselves in: Its not a mess at all. This idea started in a place that is not typically known for its spiritual insight: a movie theater.
Earlier this week, I went to see Tron: Legacy in the theaters. There’s a lot of connections one could make between the themes of the movie and walking with God, but those can wait for another post. For now, there’s one in particular that really got me thinking about the world we live in not being as messy as it appears. The film features a “creator” (Kevin Flynn) who makes the realization at the end of the movie that “perfection is unknowable” but “its right in front of our eyes”. He addresses these comments to a program that was “created in his own image” (CLUE), and because this program was designed to seek a perfect world, he became a tyrant that destroyed freedom and “imperfection”. All of this dialogue impressed upon my mind one idea: in the freedom to find imperfection, lies perfection and beauty, which are themselves ineffable. Through these statements the script invokes a distinction between appearance and reality.
The distinction between appearance and reality has been around in philosophy since before Plato. Often times pre-Socratics (like Parmenides) would come up with theories so far-fetched and disconnected from our experience (e.g. change doesn’t exist). They claimed that common experience was appearance, and that reality was accessible through their particular theory. Absurd. Certain aspects of theism (e.g. positing a personal deity, claiming that this is the “best of all possible worlds” as a theodicy) also seem to make this similar distinction between appearance and reality. They seemed equally absurd…
…until I stumbled upon some scientific strictures on NPR. They mentioned, in passing, quantum mechanics (here comes another example of the lack of difference that I was discussing in a previous post). At that point I realized that quantum mechanics is very similar to an absurd postulation of a separate realm of reality that is vastly difference from appearance. Essentially, quantum mechanics claims that on some deeper level the laws of classical physics do not apply. On one interpretation, this could mean that, on the level of the building blocks of reality, something vastly different is occurring. These building blocks may, on this interpretation, may be “more real”, which means that our experience of classical physics would be an appearance while the quantum realm describes “the real”. I’m not sure that it matters for the following question that the quantum realm be understood to be more real. The important question that arose immediately after thinking this, however, was this: If I am willing to accept the existence of some deeper reality that makes claims that are vastly in contrast with my experience when I accept the claims of quantum mechanics, then why am I so uncomfortable with accepting Flynn’s claim? Or the other absurd aspects of theism?
This is a wonderful question, and I’m thankful that I’ve had this fortunate conjunction of events that has allowed to stumble upon such a question. Something I just realized though: this doesn’t settle the absurdity. I’m not sure that this can make me completely epistemological comfortable with Flynn and theism, for embracing the absurd always leaves the question, “How do I adjudicate amongst absurdities?”. In other words, “Why not embrace the absurdity of Parmenides?” The mess builds back up again. Its a mess…BUT its a wonderful mess.