Thursday, August 23, 2007

When Does Circular Reasoning Work?

When you are on the circle?

My Catholic roommate senior year in college was a little amused when I accepted an invitation from the Asian Christians who lived on our hall to attend an InterVarsity (IV) large group meeting. Our hallmates included a drawgroup of eight Asian Christian guys who made our hall very lively. There was a lot of running up and down the hall, mechanical engineering constructions regularly outside my door at 4am, and tea time in the hallway. There were also lively debates at dinnertime about Christianity, and the musically talented group also held weekly sessions next door with singing and guitar. A side benefit of all this activity was that we could leave our doors open at any hour of the day or in the middle of the night, fall asleep or leave the room, and not worry about safety or the unattended laptop in plain view. Though this is generally true all across Stanford.

Sometimes when eating with another drawmate, we would share a table with a bunch of the guys and end up being silenced by the lively debate about Christianity. We were unable to join in the discussion, and just didn't understand how they could be so passionate and discuss it in so much detail and all of the time.

Occasionally on Wednesday evenings, they would go down the hall inviting people to an IV meeting. The non-Christian Asians among us would refer to this as trying to "convert" people. I thought the Asian Christians in general had an awesome camaraderie, but I didn't understand what was the deal with Christianity, and why it seemed impossible for Christians and non-Christians to be friends. To me, it seemed like the non-Christians were willing to be friends with both Christians and non-Christians, but the Asian Christians could only be close friends with other Christians, so it ended up that non-Christians could only be friends with other non-Christians. (On a side note, I recently peeked at the Stanford IV Web site, and from the photo it looks like the group is much more racially diverse now.)

Anyway, I was interested in getting a glimpse of what it was like to believe in one God and a religion that says it is the only true religion. How do you know which of all the religions that claim to be the true religion is the real one? How do you know there is only one Truth? (And why is Truth capitalized?)

I don't remember what the speaker at the meeting said, nor the skit of a Bible story that was performed. I only remember walking behind the church back to the dorm from the Geo Corner with the Pui-Man and the guy who had recruited me, who was clearly eager to get me to see what he saw. In answer to my question on how does one know there is one Truth, his answer was something like, "because of the Bible," and "because of Jesus."

When you are not on the circle, this kind of answer just doesn't make sense. Because you have to believe in the Bible to believe in the Bible, and what it says about Jesus. Which is like saying Truth is Truth. Which sounds like circular reasoning. I was a bit confounded by this sort of answer.

The other circle of reasoning is the one which says that all religions are valid and all views could be true. Except that the one puzzling thing about this belief is that in order for all religions to be valid, you can't believe in religions that say that not all religions are valid. So you can only group with religious views that say that all religions are valid, and not the ones that say that not all religions are valid. Sort of a . Figuring out this puzzle was probably one of my initial motivations to attend the IV meeting and learn a little about Christianity.

It takes a lot to knock a person from one circle of reasoning to another, and once you are going around in a circle, it's pretty difficult to go off. The being in midair state is even weirder, where sort of both circles are true and not true, like maybe in a fourth dimension.

Actually, from a logical standpoint, the paradox of all religions being true is probably an indicator that that sort of viewpoint doesn't work so well. The belief that not all things are true actually holds up.

The "it's true because it's true" type of statement started to make sense after dealing with doctors who can't believe that some illnesses exist. Then I was in the position of not having a more convincing argument than just saying that what I say is true, and it is because it is.

Some other things started to make sense to me too, like why Christians could only marry Christians, and only be close friends with each other. It would be like, if you had an illness and someone just didn't believe that you had it, it would be pretty difficult to marry or be friends with the person.

The guy that invited me to the meeting seemed disappointed that I just didn't get what he was trying to tell me about, and I didn't end up going to any more meetings. I guess I'm glad that during my Stanford experience, I did go to one event. And perhaps he didn't realize that a little moment might be a seed planted and remembered almost ten years later.


Lady M said...

I attended one of these type of groups for a few weeks when I was in high school, partially because I had a crush on a guy in the group. Everyone was friendly and eager, but the concepts just didn't click with me.

Thanks for the music link that you sent - I'll have to check that out!

Ryan said...

hi dancing dragon, I just spent the last hour reading your blog. i was definitely touched. thanks, gah lei gai.

dancing dragon said...

Hi Ryan,

Thanks for visiting! I'm always surprised when people read my blog.