I’m from Northern, Northern New York. In the mountains, by a forest, by a lake. Wearing flannel, chopping wood, listening to grunge music in the 90s. I’m a stereotype. I still now try to make sure I’m as close to nature as I can be within a city.
The most important belief that I hold is that our ability as humans to know things is extremely limited, that our propensity for hubris is large, and that a lot of our trouble starts right there. That of course led me, over time, to having a strong affinity for Christian interpretations of Genesis.
When I first encountered, as a serious philosophical claim, the idea of The Fall, I was like “yeah! That’s what it’s all about.” So a lot of my attitudes come from a place of extreme scepticism and an epistemic humility.
And it wasn’t until I fully leaned into that that I was able to be really “religious” as normally defined.
When it comes to punishment for wrongdoing, I always felt pretty sure that’s God’s job. Not sure why we’re doing it [laughing].
My Mum was a very passionate Methodist until she was 19 or so, and she had a falling out with the church over Vietnam. Then she had a crisis of faith. But she chose to raise me as a “secular Methodist” in terms of ethics and values. She told me this like 5 years ago.
I got really interested in religion in high school. I was a radical communist, but also had a strong religious studies hobby. So it’s not common to be reading the communist manifesto and the Koran in high school as fun reading, but I was.
But I always had a stumbling block over the scientific epistemology and so I could never really believe. So I dabbled. Spent a lot of time in Reformed Judaism…a couple of my girlfriends were Reformed Jews. Spent a lot of time going to Bah mitzvahs [laughing]. But I wasa standard atheist in terms of commitments.
Tried out the Quakers in college. Went to some Unitarian churches. Sort of seeking community…wanted to learn more while being embedded in a community but at the same time apart from it. I was living with a lot of contradictions. But again I was a sceptic.
But then partly as a result of my graduate training, I got to reading American pragmatism. That was form e very much a kind of release in that I was able to recognise that my scepticism could be paired with an active commitment towards a belief system as an instrumental thing. I wasn’t convinced by scientific truths, nor with religious realism. But I was very struck by the idea that humans are these messy creatures that don’t really have access to the Real. And all you can really know is how ideas respond for us as individuals and communities. And that’s how we feel our way through life. And I came to see everything we do including science as tools for feeling our way through life.
And then at some point when I was having psychological issues from excessively living the utilitarian, “I’m-gunna-project-my-life-course-by-gaming-the-system“ was a) leading to emptiness, b) built on a false premise of being able to control events.
And this actually gave me a sense of release to become what looks on the outside like a theist. Theists wouldn’t call me that…
And what for me became real is that whether you actually believe in the sense most people mean becomes far less important once you’re able to reject all the other commitments. So for example, I’m no more dismissive of the idea of Christ’s resurrection than I am of many scientific claims. They’re all equally practice-oriented, commitment-based. If you get rid of the idea of the need to believe in a capital “R” Real that has objective reality that you’re willing to assert and enforce on others; if you’re willing to say that you don’t know, then you’re free to make decisions for yourself.
This has led to a lot of freedom. But in order to avoid nihilistic relativism, the pragmatism of people like Pierce and James and Dewey and Rorty are important. Because we have to live together. And we have to realise that certain practices work better than others. And some are catastrophically bad. And it’s not the case that all practices are equally valid in terms of outcome and human purpose. And if we really want to live in a world where we’re all comfortable, satisfied, have agency, we have the grounds of fighting nihilistic relativism whilst still rejecting objective knowledge. I no longer need that security.