Friday, July 1, 2011

Journey of One: Purpose

[ This is part two of an ongoing series I call "Journey of One," which is meant to contain articles about me, my story, my journey, and the lessons learned from the life experiences. Here is part one: Journey of One: Brotherhood. ]

Journey of One: Purpose

My friends call me the intellectual of the group - the philosopher - the guy who reads Nietzsche, Kant, and Heidegger for fun. Concordantly, I consider myself to be a man who counts logic and reason among the highest virtues. We think of intellectuals as emotionless, Vulcan-like stoics who rely on logic alone. But if philosophy is the "love of wisdom," then there must be an emotional aspect to the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

I'm not talking about a "heart knowledge" that we should try to acquire; Truth isn't determined by how we feel, nor can we trust our feelings to guide us to truth. In fact, one's emotional bias often hinders a person from searching for the truth and observing data objectively.

What I'm talking about is passion: a love for knowledge and wisdom so strong that it manifests as a relentless search for truth and understanding. It's the spark that ignites the ghost in the shell of skeptical inquiry. Modern science is the descendant of philosophy, which was born from a desire to understand both ourselves and the world around us. What is reality? Who am I? What am I doing here? What should I do?

I may be an intellectual, but I'm certainly not emotionless. In fact, the reason so many people look at philosophy with disdain is due to so many lifeless, boring eggheads who call themselves philosophers. Who wants to live the examined life of which Socrates spoke when this is what they see such a life produce?

Who wants to discuss a little Sartre?

I posted Four Columns - one of my most popular and well-received articles - on my dad's birthday. That article was written during a very emotional time for me, and I think its retrospective nature reflects this. My dad passed away in 2006. I never knew my biological father. Ron Uzoras - my dad, or should I say the only man I ever knew as dad - married my mom and adopted me. I never saw him as a "stepdad." To me, I was as much his own flesh and blood and anyone could be. And that's how my dad saw me. My dad did his best to raise his son right, and as the old hip hop anthem says, my dad "took me from a boy to a man so I always had a father, when my biological didn't bother."

The conventional bullshit that attempts to define a "real man" says a man shouldn't show any emotions, except for maybe laughing at jokes and ogling girls. Real men don't cry. Real men don't share emotionally. Real men never show weakness or vulnerability. Don't show feelings. Matter of fact, just don't feel. I think whoever came up with that idea was just as insecure in his masculinity as all the wanna-be macho "real men" today who keep advocating such a view of manhood.

Emotions are an intrinsic part of the human experience. In what seems paradoxical to the uneducated, the scientific community is not devoid of emotions or passion, in spite of it's intellectual demand for reason and evidence. I have been moved by the discoveries of science, the wonders of the universe, and the words of such great minds as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan, who have convinced me that good science is a close cousin to great poetry. Passion and emotional drive keep good scientists (and philosophers) searching for truth. Passion fuels the thinker, pushing her toward a relentless application of logic, not sated by anything less than knowledge and wisdom, and the implementation of both for the benefit of humankind.

I've been writing on this blog for almost two years now. In that time I have been trying to find my niche. Even though I knew I would be one more voice in a seemingly endless sea of websites and blogs, I believed that I have something positive to contribute to the discussion. I still believe that, and I see now that what I have to offer isn't merely one more brain, but one more heart. Much of my blog reads like an autobiography, as I recall experiences from my life and the lessons learned. Hell, the first blog entry I decided to make public was my 20 page Learning Autobiography that I had to write for grad school. Little did I know then that this homework assignment I decided to share with the world would serve as a precursor for the next two years (and beyond) of my writing.

I value the strength of my will even more than the strength of my mind. I am defined by my passion, resolve and determination. I say this with the pedigree that comes from a life filled with pain, obstacles and hardships that have knocked me down time and again but never kept me down, and the wisdom and example of great men in my life who helped make me the man I am today: my dad, my grandpa, my brother.

One of my first online friends (i.e., someone I became friends with but have never seen "IRL") was a philosophy professor who went by the screen name Jon1667. We met on the now defunct question and answer board called Jon1667 was a confirmed atheist, and extremely knowledgeable. I was a young Christian minister. We had many discussions about all sorts of topics, but what stands out in my mind is his observation that I treated the search for truth like a religion. I had the kind of zeal one would expect from, well, a zealot: a religious zealot in particular. In contrast, philosophy for Jon1667 was an interest that he had opportunity to turn into a career. I could be wrong about my friend, but I never got the impression that he was fulfilled by his work. His work as a philosopher interested him, but he seemed to lack passion. Perhaps that's why he noticed my zeal, though I don't know whether he meant it as a criticism or not.

Either way, his observation was correct: for me, the search for truth was a righteous crusade, a pilgrimage to Mecca, a path to the Buddha Mind. The gods atop my personal Mt. Olympus were Alethia, Gnosis and Sophia. And, like any god, I found them to be quite elusive; nevertheless, I did my best to serve them and speak of their greatness.

My zeal - my passion - fueled my need for purpose. My Christian faith gave me a warped view of my place in this world. Bible college nearly ruined me, though the problem wasn’t limited to my experience as a student at a Christian college. I was a boy with a head full of dreams, who viewed the world through a very idealistic lens. I believed I was special. I was chosen – ordained – by god, set apart for the most important mission of all, partaking in a quest that has both cosmic and eternal implications.

I was on a Mission from God.

I saw the importance of doctors, police and fire fighters. I even understood how indispensable a good mechanic is – especially when my car stopped running. But none of these professions dealt with the soul, which of course is much more important than anything else because of its eternal implications. After all, "what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:37)

Christian apologetics made things even worse. I loved the teleological argument: the argument from design, not only because I thought it validated my precious worldview, but because "teleological" comes from the Greek word telos, which means more than just "design": it means purpose. By faith I accepted that I was not just designed, but designed for a purpose. My life had meaning as defined by my creator. If I didn't know why I was designed, how could I know my purpose? I would illustrate this point in sermons by showing the congregation some obscure tool and asking whether anyone knew what it was. When they would say no, I would remind them that, unless we know this tool's function and purpose - i.e., "why it was designed" - then this tool is going to either be useless to us, misused or abused, and the same applies to humans.

Of course, during those sermons I didn't think to consider the implications of being wrong about our alleged design. What if we thought the function of motor oil was to serve as a cancer-curing elixir, or the design of humans included getting "recharged" by standing outside during thunderstorms holding long metal rods?

What if we believed we were chosen by god, and commissioned with the task of cleansing the world of infidels?

Christopher Hitchens, in his address to American Atheists, wrote the following:

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

We wrestle against ideas, beliefs, prejudices and attitudes that both cramp and distort human lives. I have felt such a distortion in my own life. When I walked away from Christian ministry, I felt empty. Naturally, Christians will jump on my confession, proclaiming with pathetic predictability that "everyone has a god-shaped hole in his heart." The truth is much more sobering. The reality is that I was told I was the center of the universe. I believed I was special, that the grand architect of the universe knew me intimately, that "even the hairs on my head were numbered." My exodus from faith and religion hit me in much the same way as Buzz Lightyear's sudden realization that he's "just a toy."

Good news is, like Buzz, I eventually realized that what I am is good enough, even if I never make it "to infinity and beyond."

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