November 2015: Defend Your Certainty!

November 2015 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Defend Your Certainty!

Monday, November 16, 2015
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

It is said that only fools are positive. Many people are absolutely certain of this. But don’t religions offer something to count on and follow unconditionally? Will science provide an analysis applicable to life’s quandaries? The poet Keats tells us in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that truth is beauty and beauty truth which is all we and the pot need to know. Isn’t that enough? Does relativism work as our guide or is it a type of dogma? Is it possible to know the truth and where does certainty come from?

Religions offer creeds, commandments, noble truths, pillars, and doctrine. There may even be a common core of beliefs all share. But some say doubt is a prerequisite of faith. Does religion sometimes require suspension of common sense? Did a big fish really swallow Jonah? If geologists say no worldwide flood occurred, can we still have Noah? Was Mary really taken to heaven by angels? Could our mother be reincarnated as an earthworm? Did Muhammad really fly to heaven on the steed Buraq? If we say any of this is “symbolic” or “metaphorical”, is it mature faith or a cop out? Does belief require hard work rather than blind trust?

If the book of scripture causes reservations, what about the book of nature? Does science with its concept of falsifiability offer certainty? What about scientific doctrines which have fallen by the wayside? What about the ether? What happened to the steady state universe? Does the earth really revolve around the sun and not vice versa? Even Einstein admitted to serious mistakes. Does science offer more than the working hypothesis for right now? Is truth found only in what we can see, hear, smell, taste, touch, or register with devices? Or are there more things in heaven and earth than what is dreamt of in this philosophy?

But everyone agrees the Mona Lisa is true beauty, right? Nat King Cole even sang a song about her. But is one person’s great art another person’s kitsch? Isn’t Elvis on black velvet beautiful to some people? How do we know that they aren’t right? Consider Van Gogh, mostly ignored in his own lifetime, but breaking all auction sale records now? Is taste as ephemeral as anything else? Can there be a universal standard for what is beautiful, uplifting, entertaining, and worthwhile? Maybe it’s all relative? Is everything a matter of perspective, culture, life experience, and idiosyncrasy? Are we in the realm of “It depends”? But can life be lived that way? The father of skepticism, Pyrrho of Elis, allegedly had to be restrained from running into fire and raging rivers because he doubted he could be hurt or even if they were real. But when a cook served him a poor meal, even he knew something was certainly bad. Can we have right and wrong in a world of relativism? If a culture reveres human sacrifice, is it acceptable (except possibly for the guest of honor)?

On Monday, November 16, from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action for Greater St. Paul (until relatively recently St. Paul Area Council of Churches), 1671 Summit Avenue (corner of Summit & Pierce), St. Paul Inter-belief Conversation Café will defend and possibly challenge certainties. Will everyone have the same ones? The agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity (the timer does not lie), and confidentiality will be our fixed points. Truth will be sought; treats are certain!

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