Truth is stranger than fiction.
Some of what I write in future posts will be fictionalised, because to describe it in the purely factual sense of truth would be to betray those whose little white lies and private matters have important purpose in supporting the necessary machineries of life. Also because sometimes fiction can convey more felt truth than fact.
That is not to deny that overly fabricating or making rumour corrupts events not beyond comprehension (rather, it can make them more sensical), but certainly beyond fair and sympathetic respect for fellow beings. Gossip should not take place at the expense of humanity: many truths remain partly obfuscated either because we understand them only partly, or because we are not ready to hear or share them.
The summative truths in this post are barely fictional, for nothing has been invented. I instead begin my fictional journey by employing economy of fact: many details are eliminated, but nothing is ‘made up’.
A by-product of this is a (relatively) concise argument rather than a detailed proof explained through examples. In future blog-posts I may experiment with ‘purer’ fiction. I will ensure that it is obvious when I do so, most likely from my writing style. For although I write for myself, I do not wish to knowingly mislead my loyal readership of about ten people.
Anyhow, I begin.
‘An African muslim, a French spiritualist, and a British agnostic, walk into a bar’.
It doesn’t really work, does it?
Firstly, the African muslim is unlikely to walk into the bar (unless they are especially left-wing-muslim, and indeed many are). Secondly, it is hardly punchy, and, thirdly and finally, I promise you no punch line. The experience of reading may, however, offer a deeper understanding of life, much as the experiencing of it has for me.
Whether this translates from happenstance to reader reflects on the quality of my writing, rather than on the quality of your subjectivity. I will leave it up to you whether deeper understanding of life can be the function of a serious joke: for that is a debate for another time.
At this point, I am grateful to anyone who is still reading. Essentially, my question is this: What do the African muslim, the French spiritualist, and the British agnostic have in common, other than their (in this case, fictive) presence in the bar?
They have spirituality.
Truth is stranger than fiction, in my opinion at least, not because fiction lacks truth.
In some ways, fiction conveys transformative truths that cannot be experienced as the recounting of facts: When it does not resonate, it is the story of another. Where it does resonate, it explains our own experience and makes us feel less alone: ‘All literature is consolation’ (I think I should cite A.E. Haussmann here, but I do not have an adequately strong internet connection to verify this).
Thus, borrowing and extending the hackneyed quotation that truth is stranger than fiction, I suggest that mysticism and spirituality are stranger than science and religion. I would be telling a lie were I not to disclose that my view here is shaped by Sam Harris’ Waking Up: Harris articulates truths I have long understood at a deep and subconscious level. His achievement is not originality but rather the communication of complex truth in accessible terms. I highly recommend his work.
Religion and science are not strange because they are doctrines. One either has faith or follows rational exposition of facts. In both cases, there must be times when things do not ‘make sense’ and simply have to be ‘accepted’, and also times when these perfectly resonate and articulate their followers’ human experience. In any case, being a follower of a school of thought or church perhaps means one takes the rough with the smooth. If my position is correct, then only part of these things can be spiritual and strange: the part that resonates with a given follower. Much of it is simply doctrine, or rational sense.
It thus follows (for me at least) that spirituality (substitute mysticism), is stranger than these because it a personal journey of felt resonance, or truth: it is the coming from lack of comprehension to felt understanding that every human being experiences (to quote my extremely clever sister) in ‘their own little battle’. I thus believe it possible to be mystic and spiritual without entirely either embracing religion or forgetting science (or, for that matter, vice-versa).
Perhaps such a standpoint is fundamentally anthropological: for anthropology is a discipline which seeks to elucidate connections and differences between culturally different places and people.
In any case, it’s time to end my ‘beautifully eloquent nonsense’ (to quote the self-same sister). This may seem an insult, but to me it is the highest accolade: we respect each other enough to deliver critical praise. Beautifully eloquent nonsense is one thing, but night is descending, and it is time to shower, eat dinner and sleep.
If you are among my loyal readership of ten or so people, please do comment or ‘like’ this post, ideally on WordPress rather than Facebook or Twitter. On the one hand, I write for myself, rather than for an audience. Having said that, where people do read my posts, I am interested to know who they are and what they think. Especially if someone wholeheartedly agrees or disagrees, I’d definitely be keen to meet for a coffee or a beer. And I endeavour to reply to each and every comment.