Monday, April 16, 2007

Spiritual Matters

A slightly off-centre view of the title of this post is that it verges on oxymoron. Most traditions would have it that spirit and matter are not the same, either in abstract or in nature. But this particular topic was brought up by a certain young lady who asked me why my spiritual beliefs (or beliefs in spiritual matters) were the way they were. My first instinct on telling myself this was to think of Barbra Streisand, which perhaps dates me somewhat (and also leads on to worse jokes).

My considered response was that I would think about it. And so I have.

I won't state my beliefs in detail, but what I will try to do here is attribute them to various influences in a kind of Rabelaisian catalogue, minus the scatological references. I assure you that this does not leave nothing behind, as more cynical readers of that great French author might say.

I come from a family of mavericks, in some senses. The great-grandfather who donated my Y-chromosome was a stern and demanding scholar who translated his religious text into the local dialect of the Kra peninsula. His wife, the eldest of a string of young ladies, came from a family line which had been disinherited for their religious beliefs. She was one of the first local teachers of the Methodist variety; the local school was first set up in her house. Of my eight ancestors of that generation, five were of that ethnic group known as 'Asian gypsies'.

Their son, my grandfather, has been described elsewhere in this blog. He was a very talented person, and knew it; his struggle with pride and wrath occupied him often, and he generally triumphed over them. He found the time to be a doctor, a scholar, a person who was always learning from others. His wife was a great one for managing his finances; I remember going on shopping expeditions with her and learning many things about saving and spending. She ruled in domestic matters: diet, the household, the privy purse - traditional elements of oikonomia.

My maternal grandparents were both teachers, of English and Geography and much else beside. I remember my maternal grandfather feeling rather elated ('chuffed' is probably the best equivalent) on determining to his satisfaction that all his grandchildren were intellectually 'gifted' - the debates as to what this meant, and whether this was true, notwithstanding. He was a dedicated teacher who did his teaching diploma in London, a rarity at the time; he became principal of his school. His wife, my rather exciting and excitable grandmother, claimed to have been a biker chick in her youth (which I took to be some sort of anachronism – perhaps I was wrong).

My parents teach as well; my father's an historian, mum taught English and Literature. They aren't the only practitioners in my family - my brother and sister have followed those lines as well. Medicine, business, engineering, real estate and economics are some of the other disciplines embraced by family members; some don't really have an easily classifiable job, and at least one is a journalist. We're an eclectic bunch. This set the stage for my childhood and my upbringing.

Dad and mum essentially homeschooled me while I was attending the local school. This gave me two kinds of education – the kind that you learn to endure in a classroom, and the kind you learn to seize for yourself given an opportunity or two. Which brings me to spiritual matters. I was exposed to Hinduism and various forms of Chinese religion at an early age. Islam followed, and I also remember my father teaching me to count in Punjabi. (This affinity for Indian languages extends to my sister, who learnt Malayalam in university). I grew up speaking three Chinese dialects very badly, along with English (which by any test is my mother tongue).

It was my father who introduced me to science through the medium of aged stacks of Understanding Science magazines. This would have a profound and painful influence on my life. I was never very good as a theoretical scientist, having picked up 'bad' mathematical habits (chiefly the use of intuitive shortcuts) from the talented numerati in my mother's family. I have been a far better practical scientist, but that isn't really saying much.

In the end, my experiences with death decided me. There had to be some kinds of beliefs that survived death, although information doesn't survive singularity, as Stephen Hawking (my erstwhile neighbour from Cambridge days) once said. If there were such, it would of course be good to find out what they could reasonably be. I picked monotheism in the end – if there is a God, then Occam's razor almost mandates there should be only one.

That's a terrible account of how I came to faith. I am not very sure how else I could put it. Applying a scientific method to religious documents? Interrogating those around me in some sort of qualititative research exercise? I don't know. Perhaps God was humouring me. I wouldn't be the first.

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Blogger JeNn said...

Then why not other monotheistic religions? Why Christianity, specifically? Despite all the 'scientific' counter-arguments.. What is it about Christianity that made you believe in it?

How about the ideas that the Jesus story was just an imitation of older ancient Egyptian myths?

Do you believe in macroevolution? Why should there be beliefs that carry on after death?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not challenging you or anything.. Just really curious to find out how exactly you became a Christian. You come across as someone who must reason things out before you accept them.. and even if that's not completely the case for you and Christianity, it certainly isn't blind faith..

Thursday, April 19, 2007 5:12:00 am  

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