Has there ever been a time in your life where you’ve thought deeply about ultimate questions? Whether you call it religion, philosophy, metaphysics, or just important life questions, many (not all) people wonder about these things. For some it even gets to the point of worry or fear when they begin to realize that they are human and may be wrong about what they believe. Perhaps it is worry about the afterlife. Or maybe just general worry about not having the correct answers to ultimate life questions. For example, Robert Kuhn, host of Closer to Truth, has said in some of his interviews that the question of whether or not God exists has even tormented him.
There were several times in my life that these questions tormented me, but I no longer see any benefit from allowing them to control me. I still have what I like to call a healthy interest in ultimate questions but I don’t let them get to me in the way that they did years ago. Two periods in my life stand out very clearly to me – the first was right before I converted to Christianity, and the other was around the time that I left Christianity. The second period especially was a very dark time for me, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to a noise fearing that God was about to punish me.
Fear is a natural thing and it saves us many times from getting badly hurt or killed, but it can be distorted and used in the wrong ways if it is applied toward “the unknowable” region of ultimate questions.
While I am not a Buddhist, many times what people of eastern religions say seems much more healthy to me than the more traditional mono-theistic religions. What Ananda Guruge says in this particular video really resonated with a lot of what I have been thinking for several years now (especially the last part about the man shot with an arrow):
The “parable of the poisoned arrow” has a lot of wisdom in it that I believe we can all learn from. This link explains it even clearer than the video and it’s worth the read.
My point is not that we should entirely give up on thinking about and exploring uncertain questions – obviously trying to understand the truth about reality is an important part of life and has the obvious benefits of improving our lives the closer we get to the truth about that reality. That is what scientific, philosophical, and all other fields of investigations are all about. By all means that should continue, but a healthy balance and understanding of uncertainty is also an important part of that process.
There isn’t too much I can say to people who don’t believe ultimate questions are elusive, that’s just something that some people begin to realize at some point in their lives, and some people never get there. I’ve shared some of these ideas in the first few posts of my blog – much of it has to do with the realization of our humanity and ability to be wrong, especially as knowledge claims become more and more removed from our sphere of experience and more nebulous (or inscrutable) as far as probability claims might go. But if you have gotten to that point then it should be very clear that worrying about these elusive questions cannot end up being healthy for your life in any way. All that it does is physically stress your mind and your body with no productive purpose or conclusion to help it reach to. In fact in some cases stress can negatively impact our rational decision making process – so in effect allowing these questions to torment you can possibly cause you to form the wrong conclusions about the very questions that you want properly answered. If you want to learn more about the mind, fear, stress, and ways to overcome fear this post by Victoria N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ is a great place to start. Victoria has a lot of information related to the mind and has studied a great deal on the subject.
During that dark period of my life I described before, I searched several different religious traditions, spent a lot of time with several different religious groups, and met weekly with my former pastor to discuss and read many different books related to religious questions. There came a point where I realized that the torment was hurting me more than helping me so I decided after a year or so to take a break. I ended up spending several years very rarely reading or thinking about religion. What is interesting is that instead of that being a dark time in my life, It ended up being filled with light – filled with life, love, friends, family, falling in love, getting married, having children… It was after that long period that I was able to return to a more balanced, healthy, and much more enjoyable exploration of ultimate questions.