Reality Is and I Am

Descartes’ famous line, “I think; therefore I am,” can be interpreted at least two ways. Most probably Descartes meant, “Because I know I am able to think, this means I exist, since ‘obviously’ I had to exist before I could have the capacity to think.”

However, I think (here meaning that I am simply observing something about this statement <g>) in our times, we tend to interpret it an opposite way, something akin to “I think myself into existence,” or, closer to what is often said, “My thinking is what creates my reality.”

And it may be that we have a reality that we create by our thinking. But, again, “obviously,” there must be a Reality (I’m capitalizing it to distinguish it from the “reality” I can—if I can—create through my thinking it into existence) that has an existence outside me. Some simple examples might be the existence of Japan as a country or gravity as a principle of physics. I can deny either, but that does not deny the Reality—however, it WILL affect my interaction with that Reality. If I choose to disbelieve the Reality of Japan, I may not believe it possible to literally travel there; I may carry it further and refuse to recognize the existence of people I meet who claim to be from Japan, and cut off communication with them when they try to convince me. And I could even carry it further into absurdity in ways that might force others to have to act—if, say, I try to eliminate anyone who claims to be Japanese. Similarly, if I simply believe gravity doesn’t exist, it may not matter, but if I believe enough to act, I may fall off high places, resulting in injury or death.

You can see the point here, and apply it in countless ways. Belief determines action. What I believe does not determine Reality, but it does determine reality, how my “reality” interacts with other Realities. And to be honest, we cannot act without believing something—we believe that a light switch or car ignition will “work,” that a chair or a set of stairs will support my weight, etc. I’m not a philosopher, so I’m keeping this on a simply basis here.

Now, without going deeply into philosophical or theological issues, I want to apply this principle briefly to the concept of evolution and Christianity’s historical opposition to it on root-level concepts, in a simplistic way. At the root, the idea that evolution is espousing is that “things” ultimately get better. Christianity comes closer to what is called scientifically the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or in “Bubba-speak,” Murphy’s Law: Ultimately, things fall apart, break, break down, fail. [In a larger context, however, Christianity comes closer to evolution’s thinking, in asserting that ultimately God WILL redeem everything and make it better than it ever was. This is reflected in Romans 8:28, “ALL things work together for good,” and other places in the Bible.]

My point in all this is not to “diss” evolution, but rather to say, again, belief determines action. If we believe evolutionarily (if that is a word), we may miss important factors that can cause us to crash and burn. If we go too far on the negative end (“all is vanity”), we may become fatalistic and refuse to act (which is itself a form of action, but a downhill one).

I choose to believe that I have the God-given capacity to choose, and therein lies my responsibility. What do I do with the talent(s) I am given? That is what I will ultimately be judged on, by others, by God (the Ultimate Reality), and even by myself (I can, e.g., cause damage to my body by how I act on what I believe, and my psychological well-being will definitely prosper or suffer based on how I act on what I believe).

Christianity has a long-standing image, a word-picture, that captures this basic idea of Reality: a rock. In one place in Scripture, Jesus pictured Himself as “The Rock,” and Peter as “a rock.” In another, He said, “Whoever throws himself on this Rock will be broken, but whomever It falls on will be crushed.” We get the choice: Do we allow ourselves to be broken in small ways by the Reality we face? Or are we choosing to head toward being crushed by it? We choose, in the here-and-now, by multitudes of small choices we make.

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