Sunday, March 22, 2009

Comments to Ona, part 4

Is everyone bored with my bizarre musings with friend Ona yet? That's alright. Skim and move on.

Now, you all are going to have to give me some grace here. :) I'm going to shift gears and move from my own experiences into the realm of the hypothetical. I'm a simple woman. When I think about how it is that I know what I know, I come up with "four ways of knowing":

1) Through observation (I saw it myself, or it's a phenomenon I see on a regular basis -- this is essentially "scientific", or "empirical", because science can only deal with what is observable and repeatable).

2) Through reasoning (that is, it logically makes sense when I reason it out with my God-given ability to reason. My dog had babies -- only female dogs have babies -- so my old buddy Duke is actually a Duchess.)

3) Through feelings or intuition (not a reliable source to be sure, but not one to be discounted altogether. One to be used mainly when the others don't seem to give a conclusive answer.).

4) Through revelation (that is, someone told it to me. This is how most of us know most of the things we know in life. This is how I know that Australia exists, that my old boyfriend Shawn married Cherice from high school, that fish eat worms and that Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.)

Four ways of knowing. OK? Good. Now, let me apply them to a scenario here. I come home from the grocery store and see that there is an elephant standing on the roof of my house. Now, there would be a lot of aspects of this situation that would concern me, but the first would probably be . . HOW did an elephant get on the roof of my house????

My personal observations can't help me figure it out. I wasn't around to see how it got there. And I've never seen anything like this before, so past observations don't help me either.

My reasoning? I suppose I could dream up some possible scenarios to explain how that elephant got there, but none of them would seem very likely or reasonable.

My gut instincts don't help me here either. Other than to warn me to stay out of the building until the elephant is removed.

My best hope here is revelation -- that there is someone else who saw what happened and can tell me. So I see our neighbor Mike standing in his yard looking at my new pet and ask him if he knows how it got there. Oh, yes, he says -- a huge crane came slowly into the cul de sac carrying Dumbo here and hoisted him onto my house before it left. Agreed, that's a bizarre story. But since observation, reasoning and intuition aren't getting me anywhere, I'll buy it.

Let's suppose, however, that neighbor Mike tells me that the elephant wandered up the cul de sac on his own, grew a set of wings, and flew onto my roof. Wings with purple and yellow feathers. I will probably not accept this revelation from neighbor Mike. His story conflicts with my prior knowledge of and experience with elephants; it rankles with my sense of logic; and my gut tells me neighbor Mike belongs in a psych ward.

But if neighbor Pam told me the same story, I might only wonder if she'd been working too hard. If my husband told that story to me, I'd think he was just pulling my leg. If my husband and neighbor Pam and neighbor Mike and a couple hundred other innocent bystanders told me the same story about the elephant sprouting wings . . . well, frankly, I'd start looking for the hidden camera and Ashton Kutcher (or Peter Funt, for you older fogies).

But if they seemed to be really serious about this . . if their stories were relatively consistent . . if I looked seriously into any other possible explanations and found them improbable . . well, I'd probably have to start believing in the flight of the elephant. Lacking any reason for that many people to lie to me about such an event -- especially people who I know to be generally reasonable, sober and trustworthy -- I would reluctantly have to admit that the miraculous seems to be the best explanation for the situation.

As I said, most of what we know, we know by revelation -- somebody else told us it was true. Usually, they are just confirming or adding to knowledge we already have. But when what we hear from someone else provides a major challenge to our prior assumptions (existing knowledge, logic or gut feelings), we have two choices: question the messenger, or question the prior assumptions.

I propose that perhaps, in some situations, we are too reluctant to question the prior assumptions. Sometimes, we have an unhealthy attachment to those assumptions -- they are, in a sense, a part of us. And I'm not pointing fingers at anyone -- I'm as likely to do this as anyone. But it's a necessary step to grow in maturity and faith. To be continued . . .

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