Arguments for Reality and Its Desirable Counterpart

We know nothing. We hold beliefs. We harbor suspicions. We think we know. But we do not know. We simply convince ourselves of the certainty of certain facts. We do that because, otherwise, we would live in a state of constant confusion. We would be in danger of drowning in sea of perpetual doubt. When I use the pronoun, “we,” I refer not to all members of our species; only to those of us who are confident that our knowledge of the world in which we live is reliable. There are those among us who recognize our confidence is misplaced. They acknowledge that the rest of us have capitulated; abandoning the reality of mystery and replacing it with the fantasy of what we blindly accept as fact.

The very idea that even science is a fabrication woven from enigmatic threads whose sources can never be known with absolute certainty is anathema to us. But the fallacy of science as the answer is trumped by religion. Yet we—some of us; perhaps most of us—place our faith in various forms of that magic. Faith. At least we admit the inscrutability of faith…but do we? No, faith is simply another fabrication; knowledge masquerading as truth, but without even flimsy facts to support it.

Do I really believe this? Yes. Well, at least in part. Science and the scientific method are as close as we come to measuring facts. But the differences between science and belief are stark. Scientific understanding readily accepts being debunked by contrary evidence. Faith? Not so much.

Back to the original premise, though. In my view, we truly do not know anything. I admire those who swim in that sea of perpetual doubt. They are closer to the truth than any of the rest of us. Though they may drown, at least they succumb in the awareness of the universality of impenetrable mystery. Sometimes, I feel like I am swimming with them. But, then, I am dragged back to shore, covered with salt and sand…and persuaded to rinse off enough of the layers of doubt to be presentable in public.


Torment. As a noun, it is associated with a number of unpleasant synonyms: torture, affliction, agony, misery, suffering, and several more. As a verb, it is associated with an even longer list of ugly actions. No matter what a thesaurus says, I always associate torment with the experience of mental anguish. As a noun, those words define it. The verb form would be “to inflict mental anguish.” Both forms of the word call to mind psychological or mental pain. And the concept of torment always makes me think of something else; something related: being tormented by one’s demons. What, I often wonder, are those demons? I should know, because they are not infrequent visitors in my brain. They show up, unannounced, and make themselves at home. They take many forms, usually as painful memories or deep regrets that refuse to relinquish their grips on me. They seem to take pleasure in tormenting me. When I think of them, I envision small, translucent figures that take almost (but not quite) human form. They hold white-hot pitchforks in their vaporous hands, and they prod at me with the sharp points of those tools of torture. But I think of them in that form only in their absence. When they are prodding at me, opening old wounds and pouring salt and alcohol and acid in them, their physical representations in the form of beastly creatures disappear. What is left are the products of their work and, later, as the damage heals, the scars. I sometimes think I must be quite insane to conjure these images, knowing full well they are only products of my imagination. My “overactive imagination,” I should have said.


Today, I continue to fulfill my obligation and promise by facilitating the third session of “Articulating Your UU Faith.” Once that obligation is met (with additional sessions), I have another one, which is to facilitate a post-viewing discussion of Mission: Joy—Finding Happiness in Troubled Times, a film exploring the friendship between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The latter event, scheduled for March 9, promises to be quite interesting; at least the film makes that promise. The quality of the discussion afterward will depend far more on audience comments than on my skills at facilitating the conversation. Though I willingly enter into these commitments, I often wish I could put all of them on “pause” for a month or two—no church business, no doctors’ appointments, no social obligations…no intrusions on my desire for solitude. A month or so of peace and serenity to simply relax and enjoy the pleasures of very limited company. During that time, I would want frequent visits by a very few friends, punctuated by periods of absolute seclusion. Moments—lasting for days at a time—in which I could comfortably wear my very casual “leisure” attire from the instant I wake in the morning until I go to bed at night. I suppose what I am describing is a desire for the comfort of deep, guilt-free laziness. I enjoy people. I really do. But I need sufficient time to recharge in solitude. I do not know what “sufficient time” is, really. I would like to find out. And I would like to know how to predict just when I reach the point of needing it; not “desperately” needing it, just needing it enough to warrant withdrawing from “normal” life for a while in order to maintain my sanity.


It’s nearing 8, time to explore the options for breakfast and to have another cup of coffee. And time to prepare to deliver on my promises to fulfill my obligations. And off I go.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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