Knowing Yourself

by P.R.Banks

Recently, well more sort of recently-ish, the student BBS I frequent has been graced by the presence of a stridently fundamentalist christian. This bold soul has been assserting alot of wild things like the proveable existance of God, the inerrancy of the bible (which is offered as evidential proof of God.) and a general campaign of preaching adherence to the laws of the bible.

Needless to say we do not really get along well.

What made it more interesting was that over the course of the arguing both sides have said either wrong or rash things. Thus far I have corrected myself publicly as I went along to compensate for this, standard debating protocol. But this person hasn't, indeed they even refuse to admit that they have made any errors.

When I confonted them with this in email the reply was a somewhat curious one of "Well of course, *I* haven't made any mistakes yet.". Even more interestingly was that in the course of conversing I pointed out that sometimes we say things rashly, in the heat of the moment, that are wrong. The reply was that they had never, ever, done that.

Now, I like to think of myself as a reasonable person. Someone who remains level headed under most conditions and doesn't make rash remarks. But I will admit to being in situations where my enthusiasm got the better of me and I said things that were simply wrong or taken horrribly out of context. Until convinced otherwise by rigorous scientific study I have absolutely no trust in claims that anyone hasn't done this at one time or another.

I bring all this up because it occured to me that there is a simple rule that comes out of all this. "If you don't know enough to be your own worst enemy, then you don't know yourself well enough." The corallary, I would add, of this is that if you can only think of yourself in the worst terms then you don't know yourself well either.

But what really gets me with this person is the high level of intollerance and inflexibility in his view. Only their way of thinking is right and everyone else is wrong. He won't even admit to a possibility of being wrong. Unsurprisingly this come packaged in with a great deal of arrogance on their part which makes them particularly aggrivating.

No doubt this is the intention. I have suspected, and other people have pointed it out to me, that they are this annoying primarily because it attracts attention for their faith. Of course this kind of attention does precisely the reverse of what they want, it drives people away from it rather than towards it.

Contrast this with a Hari Krishna out collecting that I bumped into. He was quiet, not at all dogmatic and courteous. Observing him for a while I saw that if he was asked to back off, he would. He wasn't even trying to convert you, per se. He only asked if you cared to donate first, offered you some literature about the Hari Krishna and left it at that. If you had questions he would answer them but he didn't push you into asking them.

Now he was, of course, being a salesman and he obviously had the technique down as he was very smooth. But he had the confidence to be quiet. He was tolerant enough to let you come to what he considered the right path at your own speed. That is the kind of faith I have respect for and it was obvious this man knew himself. He knew what he believed in and why and he was sure of it.

I know which of the two I find more persausive.

Curiously enough the guy had an interesting voice. It was soft and almost melodic and just listening to it was pleasant. The feeling is one that I don't get often but one not so much of inner peace but of inner satisfaction. That for a moment I felt relaxed, happy and in no major need of anything. Just being there for a moment was all that was needed.

Now this is not to say I attribute this to anything religious. The voice simply hit the right chords with me to make me relaxed. Various things can trigger this, a friend in the US saying 'Hush', brushing my grandmother's hair, patting the dogs, contemplating the rain whilst in front of the fire and warm, having a bath with the house silent and time seemingly standing still. All these events, and others, bring about a moment of inner satisfaction.

Just that joy of being alive, well and not needing anything - for however short a time. For me I have no need of Gods when I can feel this and be happy by myself. It is one, small, reason why I feel actively trying to convert people to atheism is not really a viable thing. How can I explain this and convey it accurately? This attempt at articulating what it is like falls far short of the experience.

And besides, I see no need to hurry people towards the truth as I know it.

Philip R. Banks
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