Thursday, June 05, 2008

Comforting Falsehood vs Discomforting Belief

A Raccoon would much prefer to live and struggle in the light of Truth than in the realized darkness of a false illumination.
--Gagdad Bob

Gagdad Bob says (or implies) that he'd rather know a bleak truth than believe and embrace a bright falsehood, no matter how happy he might be with the latter and depressed with the former. I'd like to say I agree, and, in principle, I do. But when principle runs smack dab against hard reality, it doesn't always remain intact, and I'm not even sure it always should.

For suppose the truth, or what you take to be the truth if you let yourself, is so bleak that, if you believed it, you'd be a miserable wreck for the rest of your life. And suppose you could believe, instead, in a glorious falsehood that made you joyful to be alive each and every day. Which would really be better, and which would you prefer?

To take one extreme example, suppose the truth, or what you took to be the truth, were that the universe was made by a monstrously malevolent god and that when we die, each and every one of us will suffer unspeakable agony forever, and there's absolutely nothing we can do in this life to prevent it. Would it be better to accept this horrible and terrifying truth than to believe the comforting falsehood that a supremely good and loving god made this universe and wants us all to join him in his blissful abode for all eternity after we die? It's difficult to see how it would be, Gagdad's idealism notwithstanding.

And, when you come right down to it, how many of us would really choose discomforting truth over comforting falsehood or, at least, comforting unjustified belief? Take Gagdad, for instance. I'm not sure what he actually believes about god and our relation to god, but he does appear to believe in some kind of divine being or reality that is supremely intelligent and good, the existence of which we (or, at least, some of us) can know with absolute certainty. Does he believe this because he has ample grounds for doing so, or does he believe it because he finds it more comforting to believe it than not to?

I'm not suggesting that he consciously chooses comforting belief in something he knows to be false or dubious over discomforting acknowledgment that there truly is no god, or, at least, no solid justification for believing that there is. Yet, he claims to know with absolute certainty that there is a such a god, and I think maybe this is because he subconsciously chooses to value comfort more than truth.

I suspect that most of us, including yours truly, do the same, even though we don't know we're doing it. We want to think that we're pursuing truth and that the truth we've found or think we've found just happens to be more comforting than alternative falsehoods. But is this because reality is actually as comforting as we believe it to be, or is it because we won't allow ourselves to see it any other way, even if it is another way?

6 comments:

baba rum Raisin said...

"For suppose the truth, or what you take to be the truth if you let yourself, is so bleak that, if you believed it, you'd be a miserable wreck for the rest of your life. And suppose you could believe, instead, in a glorious falsehood that made you joyful to be alive each and every day. Which would really be better, and which would you prefer?"

So why don't you believe a "glorious falsehood?" After all, from your description, living inside your head sounds like a hell of clinical depression and alienation from God. Why live there?

Nagarjuna said...

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I inhabit a "hell" either inside or outside my head. In fact, I'd say that, compared to the overwhelming majority of human and nonhuman creatures who've inhabited this godly world of Gagdad Bob's, I live in heaven. But perhaps my circumstances would be less heavenly if I didn't continue to cling to the possible falsehood that a divine "which than which there is no whicher" is the source, ground, essence, and totality of all that was, is, and will ever be and that the ultimate purpose of life is to know this divine reality as concretely as possible and to live accordingly.

shirley said...

Admit it Steve, when you cut through all of the ego defenses, because you don't want to agree with him politically, Bob is a bit of a hero to you isn't he?

Nagarjuna said...

Shirley--

What do you mean by "hero"? More importantly, which would YOU prefer to embrace? A comforting falsehood or a misery-making truth?

shirley said...

Are you referring to a baby blankey as opposed to reality?

shirley said...

And regarding whether or not Bob is a hero to you and what that means, I guess that would depend upon what your definition of is, is, wouldn't it?