The Young Prophets
Is it only me? Am I going senile in my old age? I normally wouldn’t expect to be so confused about something that I have observed many times before in my life.
You see, I thought that the young people of today were getting smarter (than the previous generation). My daughter’s intelligence for example is simply off the charts, no thanks to me. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in life, it’s that raw intelligence is not nearly enough. There’s a critical element called life wisdom. You typically can’t find it in books and you can’t get it from your guru du jour either. I remember reading an interview of a well-known author who had spent a number of years studying in Nepal with some maharishi. At some point, the author/student became disenchanted with the lack of progress and asked the maharishi about it. He recited an old Buddhist saying “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” which means that the answers you seek do not come from any holy person, but rather from yourself.
So here’s the confusing part. I’ve had a number of conversations with young people about their faith, or lack thereof. These people have typically fallen into two groups, Christians or atheists/agnostics. Now I consider most of these people that I have talked to as being very intelligent. They can recite quotations from the Bible and/or can easily converse about theology. Certainly, they do not seem to be lacking in self-confidence, particularly with respect to this topic.
But when I ask them one simple question, the conversation quickly deteriorates. The question is “why do believe in what you believe in”. Now there are only two possible ways that a person can develop a belief system. They could have an experience, through which they obtained some life wisdom, or they could have accepted someone else’s opinion.
Most young people are not old enough to have had the necessary experiences to have a truly informed, reasoned opinion on religion. For example, I asked them if they had had life experiences, such as being married – mostly no, but limited in any event; kids – no; a real job – they’re still in school or perhaps recently graduated; lived in a foreign country – no; been exposed to another culture – no; been to religious services in a faith not their own – rarely; well-read on other faiths, say Buddhism or Judaism – a couple of yesses. Therefore, my conclusion is that most of them had simply adopted someone else’s opinion/belief/faith.
Now, what really got me was that not one of those people were able to intelligently discuss the origins of their faith. Actually, atheists tended to make the most sense but that’s because they simply said there’s no proof that God exists and therefore he doesn’t exist. The criteria of proof for them, by the way, appears to be that they themselves would needed to have had a personal experience re. God. The group also couldn’t verbalize why they chose their faith over all of the other faiths. For example, some Christians responded by saying because the Bible is the Word of God. When I asked them why it was the Word of God, they responded by saying because the Bible says so. That kind of thinking, called circular reasoning, is the by-product of having accepted someone else’s opinion as opposed to having made a reasoned decision based upon one’s own personal knowledge and experience.
So I’m still trying to distill down my confusion and hoping that the next time I ask these questions, I might get different answers. Of course, there’s still the senility possibility; or maybe I haven’t had enough of the right experiences in my own life. But explain something to me: Is this the coming of the young prophets, or what? How else can you explain that these young people are so absolutely sure about something which is so far beyond human comprehension? Fortunately, the great philosopher Voltaire may have actually answered that question already. He simply said that if God didn’t exist, man would have had to invent him anyway. How’s that for life wisdom?
“I only know that I know nothing”