“The Rockridge Institute is committed to the democratization of knowledge about politics. Our mission is to deepen and broaden the public’s understanding of the political world. Rockridge studies the worldviews, values and ideas behind conservative and progressive policies, issues and political discourse.” So begins the About Us page of The Rockridge Institute’s web site. Now however, as of April ’08, is also the notice that Rockridge has closed its doors. George Lakoff and collegues there have done much to further our understanding of the power of our worldviews to shape our perceptions… and in understanding how it is we come to our worldviews as well.
Take for example this simple and potent statement from their The Rockridge Era Ends notice, listed as one of the reasons for their demise:
The Enlightenment Reason Problem: Progressives commonly believe in some version of Enlightenment Reason, which says that reason is conscious, dispassionate, logical, universal, literal (it directly fits the world), and interest-based. The cognitive and brain sciences have shown this is false in every respect…
Say What!? What can they mean that reason is not… well, reasonable? Well there is a load of resource material on this issue in their online archives… and the discussion reminds me of a conversation (argument, really) I had with my father. For those not familiar with this blog, you need to know he was a fundamentalist Christian preacher; and we happened to be the only Christian group going to Heaven.
I began struggling with doubts as a student in high school, and by the time I was a senior, I engaged in a serious search for Truth (note the capital ‘T’). Of course I had to study other religious traditions if I was to be confident we possessed this elite elixir of salvation. And so began the conversation one Sunday when I wanted to borrow the family car to attend an Islamic worship service, excerpted below from my memoir in progress:
The folks had not minded too much when, out of curiosity, I attended Baptist and Methodist… churches. But my desire to attend the Mosque resulted in a fight; I might as well have wanted to attend a Catholic Mass. Dad and I often engage in such religious arguments now. Dad asks why I want to go…”to a what?”
“A Mosque. It’s like an Islamic church. And I want to go because I’m searching for Truth. If we have it, then what are you afraid of?”
“I’m not afraid. I have my faith in God, and in Christ. I believe the Bible is from God and I hope to hear on the Judgment Day, ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant…”
I now often aggressively cut Dad off in such arguments before he can finish his sentences; I already know his answers. He has become a parrot to me-repeating the same formula answers with never even an original twist of wording. I want to throw a rock through the window he looks out upon the world through….
“Are you afraid I might find out the Muslims have the Truth?”
“Have you ever studied Islam? Or Buddhism, or Hinduism?”
“No. I… why would I…”
“Then how can you say you have the Truth?”
“Because Christ rose from the dead. That’s proof he was God’s Son. I choose to have faith in him. Mohammad and Buddha, neither one of them rose from the dead. Did they?”
“No, but Buddha was born out of his mother’s side, and he came out talking like an adult. That ought to account for something. Investigation at least.”
Dad mocked the silliness of taking seriously a talking baby being born out of his mother’s side. Who could ever compare such a primitive pagan myth to the virgin born Christ dying on the cross for our sins and then…rising from the dead?
“And Mohammad didn’t have to return from the dead,” I continued. “He left his proof that he was God’s prophet right here, on earth. It’s like this everlasting miracle that people can still touch today if they want. You say Christ rose from the dead but you have to believe it on faith…”
“Well, there is no other reasonable explanation for why his disciples would be willing to risk their lives…”
Now we cut each other off and our voices rise in competition for a listener.
“Do you even know what Mohammad’s miracle, his proof, is?”
“It’s the Koran. Mohammad was an uneducated camel driver who spent his time hanging out in this mountain cave talking to God. Then people started writing down what God was telling him, and…that’s how we have the Koran. He was a completely uneducated man. Yet he authored what the Muslims claim is the most beautiful piece of Arabic literature ever to be written. That’s his everlasting miracle.”
“That’s what they claim, anyway. And that’s why I want to go check them out.”
Mother is present the whole time, but stands off to one side, safely out of the line of fire. She never likes us raising our voices this way and is now clearly agitated. She paces a bit and begins to wring her hands together and then finally, to use a phrase she herself often used, she can no longer “bite her tongue.”
Speaking of her faith in God and Christ, she says: “I don’t care if it’s true or not. I’m going to believe it anyway! That’s what faith is! Life is not worth living without it.”
Mom’s simple honesty emptied my lungs of air and ended the argument. There was no fighting against such a faith of abandonment and clarity. She said what Dad could not, or would not… and in doing so she gave me a gift that day that took years to unwrap, even as I now took a “life not worth living,” as the cloak of a mother’s curse upon my own life.
So here I offer a personal “Thank You” to all the folks of The Rockridge community. Your work helps me with understanding, and with the humility to be a learner… in the midst of those with whom I differ. Your offering helps us have higher levels of thinking and of conversation… when we have the courage to lean into the power of our worldviews… to reciprocally shape our perceptions of self and the world.