I picked up the book. Thumbed through the pages and located the right chapter. Scanned a few paragraphs. Then found the lines I was looking for:
Mysticism has little quarrel with the theory of evolution -- as long as it is recognized that life evolves not randomly, but under the guidance of an intelligence which is far beyond our ability to fathom. All that is evident are the results of a divine will reflected most imperfectly in the fossil record and the current diversity of species.
Oh no!, I thought. The author is an intelligent design advocate. He believes in bullshit!
I threw the book down on my office floor in disgust.
I'd been looking for a quote to use in a blog post about evolution. But I wasn't about to use anything written by a guy who obviously didn't understand the difference between real science and mystical mumbo jumbo.
Here's the funny thing: I was that guy. I was disgusted at myself. The book whose content I disagreed with was "Life is Fair" (now back in print over at the Science of the Soul Research Centre).
Now, I still believe in much, if not most, of what I wrote in Life is Fair. After all, life is. Fair.
But as I blogged about a few years ago, for different reasons that I argued in that book. That's how I see things presently, at least. Back in the late 90's I thought differently. In the future, who knows?
The only thing I can be certain about is that from this moment until the day I die, I'm not going to be absolutely certain about anything. Probably, I should add, to be consistent.
So after a few days of pondering my emotional reaction to re-reading what I wrote a dozen or so years ago, I've concluded that I was too hard on myself.
Yes, I was disturbed that my beliefs back then fell into a "religiously mentally ill" diagnosis. And when I read how the Brian of that time looked upon evolution, it bothered me that I was less scientific than I'd remembered myself being.
But here's the thing: I changed. And I'm still changing. As are we all. Thankfully.
Because change only stops when we're dead. Until then, living leads us in largely unpredictable ways. Our relationships with other people change; our bodies change; our lifestyles change; our physical activities change; our personalities change; our philosophical and religious beliefs change.
Which is unavoidable. And largely to the good, even though many of life's changes are objectionable to us.
Here in the United States, as likely is true elsewhere in the world, people like to play a "gotcha" game. Politicians and other public officials come in for special gotcha treatment.
Opponents will drag up a quote from a speech someone made a decade ago, showing how that person believed in such-and-such back then and now holds a different view.
Oh, really? Is there something wrong with a person changing his or her mind, arriving at a different conclusion, evolving into a more nuanced conception of reality?
No, there isn't. That's what I believe.
But still, if I really believed this, I wouldn't have had the throw-the-book-on-the-floor reaction that occurred when I was presented with evidence of how my notions about evolution have changed.
Which seems to point to some sort of lingering attraction toward a self that is more constant than I really am. Cognitive dissonance probably is at play here -- me wanting to resolve the conflicts between what I believe now and what I believed then by forgetting how different "now" and "then" were.
At any rate, this experience has reminded me not to judge other people's seemingly deluded beliefs overly harshly. One of my favorite blog post titles is "I've become the person I warned myself about."
Or reversing the arrow of time, "I used to be the person I now warn myself about."
I've got no clue who I really am, assuming there is an "I" at all. But the fact that I can be aware of how much I've changed shows that some aspect of me stands apart from being and becoming.
What we believe -- religiously or otherwise -- is important. However, re-reading "Life is Fair" reminded me that who I was deeper down, beneath my beliefs, when I wrote the book is pretty much the same person I am now.
If that's the case, doesn't it follow that we're all much more similar than alike? That what separates us all too often is our focus on beliefs. Political, religious, philosophical, moral, and so on.
We forget how easy it is to trade one belief system for another. How interchangeable ideas can be, while the person doing the mental changing is someone quite different from his or her thoughts.