Self-Evident Truths


It has become a hard habit of mine, recently, to question my assumptions and those of others around me: not because anyone is wrong or immoral, but rather because I find it amusing to compare the a priori assumptions in a conversation. As an hypothetical example take a conversation that may be imagined at a Grocery Store between a vegetable stock boy and a series of hypothetical customers.

Customer 1: who has decided that government labels lie.
Customer 2: who has never had a bad experience in the store.
Customer 3: who has decided that the stock boy is making a pass at him.
Customer 4: who refuses to trust any corporation whose only assumed goal is to part him from his money.

Imagine the conversation yourself. I’m sure you can imagine something that might sound innocent and enjoyable to Customer 2 would sound like a cover-up to Customers 1 and 4 and like a “queer” come-on to Customer 3. “Those organic carrots are very crunchy in the mouth.”

Likewise when we enter into any conversation, it’s going to go in different directions based on the assumptions of the parties involved. Mind you this has nothing to do, at all, with the truth of any part of the conversation. The carrots may be crunchy, organic may be a lie and the stock boy may be flirting with the customer. But it is the assumptions of the parties that I find amusing.

The Founding Fathers of the USA, striking a philosophical pose (following, I think, Locke, but there are other theories) in their justification of the overthrow of their God-appointed ruler, decide to appeal to a higher power: the Deity himself. Being Deists, they were a little vague about who or what the creator was, but they were certain of the presence of one, one way or t’other. (Side note: by the time of the Constitution, they adopted the pious style, even then passing out of fashion outside the church, “year of our Lord” which may be the only Christian content in any founding document.) So they assumed that their “Creator” had given man these “unalienable rights” – rights which could not be trammelled by others and the protection of which was the sole duty of Government.

Almost all of our assumptions about “rights”, in the USA, are based on our readings of our foundation documents – even though the documents, themselves, imply that the rights come from God rather than from the state. Even our readings are different. The conservative and the progressive both imagine themselves to be reading the “sacred scriptures” of Jefferson and Adams in the proper way. So we petition courts to decide between different assumptions.

My own assumptions about rights have been changing a lot lately. I don’t believe in a lot of things I used to: for example, I’m not as smart as I thought. I don’t have the power or the right to do anything I want. I am not “as good” as everyone else. All persons are not equal. In fact, if there’s anything I’ve learned in my nearly 50 years, it’s that some humans are better at being humans than others and the idea that we are all equally good at anything is downright offensive. With age one begins to say “I know and can do some things very well, others not so much. I am better at these than some other folks, but other folks are better at other things than I am.” The people who are most inept at being human beings require far greater care than the people who are very good at it, but the more I realize my own failures at being human the more I prefer to treat all folks as if they got there before me.

Most importantly: I don’t know a damn thing about being human. I feel this way more and more as I ask question about my experience on the autism spectrum. I used to assume that the coping skills I had developed were the same sort of skills others developed by trial and error. More and more as I asked questions I realized that neuro-typical folks have instincts and that did not require the skills sets to be developed: you don’t practice a lot of things, you just know how. You don’t consciously pick one social game or role over another: they just are. You know how to read each other: I’m faking it; very nicely, yes, but faking it nonetheless. More and more I realize that I know less and less about being human, but I’d want to be human, as fully as possible.

My ideas of “fully human” are based on my own assumptions – that God created humans and that he knows what we are evolved to be: in his own image and likeness. I believe these assumptions to be true, of course: we all do and my assumptions are just as good as anyone else. Or, as I said once in college, “That’s your truth, not mine. Yours may be a relative progression of grey areas, but my truth is as good and it comes in black and white.” We think we know what humanity means – but we make such declarations without reference to either the manual or the maker.

When I was in Panama, my boss and our colleagues were discussing a current diet fad. I pointed out that, at least according to the theory of evolution, our bodies had evolved to do X Y and Z in a rather slow manner – because of the type of food we are supposed to eat. If we “predigest”, preprocess or even over-cook the food in any way we are short circuiting what the body is designed to do. Our evolutionary theory was shooting down their diet fad, so they suddenly went all gnostic: denying the truth of their body’s purpose so that they could stick to the fad diet. It tastes better this way, gives me a better energy “high” and is fun.

Sitting in the van that day I thought about my sexuality in that pattern: What I want to do – what even my body seems to say it wants to do – may not be the best choice. A lot of times we come to the Church with our own assumptions. It’s not only that we are “notorious evil livers” but also that “there is no health in us”. I’m not just wrong, but even the parts of me I don’t think wrong are suspect.

But it runs against my assumptions.

Here’s “the Gay Argument” from the Gay Christian P.O.V. expressed in my own words:

The stereotyped and rampant sexuality of “the gay community” is wrong – in fact, worthy of denial and repudiation by anyone who claims to be Christian – but I am not going to be like that. I will find a morally acceptable way to be gay and in the Church. The way to live a moral, yet sexually active life as a gay person is in a monogamous relationship that mirrors heterosexual marriage. Because this way of life is not yet recognized by the Church as moral, I must seek other Christians who accept this assumption and avoid those who do not accept it and will support me in my own choices and help me to live an ethical life as a gay Christian.

The assumptions here may or may be be evident: but, despite any content in the Christian Tradition, the person who says things like the above is assuming that God made me gay or at least I am this way as part of the divine plan and since I am made this way I must act upon it. Further, there are the assumptions that to act on it in a Christian way is good and to not act on it is a rejection of God’s gifts, and finally I know what acting in a Christian way means. Please notice that, like my friends in the Van, this person has gone all gnostic: all the things the body has evolved to do – at the most mechanistic and materialistic, to pass on DNA – are all ignored.

Again, this is not a post about debating the assumptions, but rather point out the assumptions, themselves. We all have our own “Self-Evident” truths that no one else can see.

Huw Richardson wroted this on January 13th, 2013

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Category: metanoia

2 Responses to “Self-Evident Truths”

January 14th, 2013 at 12:55 pm

For what it’s worth, I’d never picked up on anything which made me think, “Hmmm, I wonder where he is on the autism spectrum.” Your coping skills are pretty good!

On the matter of assumptions: it was part way through my second semester at seminary when in the course of a week I had several “Ah-ha!” moments when I realized that some of my basic assumptions about society were at odds with those of my American classmates. I no longer remember what any of the triggers were, but in one case the person I was speaking with looked at me strangely and made a comment to the effect that I was pretty out there.

Huw Raphael
January 15th, 2013 at 8:00 am

I know what you mean about cultural assumptions – especially after moving back and forth between our two countries so much! There were times when I knew I had said something… direct. And all I got was blank looks. It was confusing, to say the least! Not to be too flip about it but the love, care and politeness I received from your fellow countrymen was the most confusing. I kept thinking “Wow, they treat each other like this all the time?” I know the answer is no, but there was a cultural assumption there (in Canada) – of Hospitality? – that is simply not present in the USA outside of the South although there it is limited often by race or other issues.

And: thanks for the compliment :)

In all honesty I don’t think I even get the gay stuff right: or as I’ve said often enough, “My gaydar is broken.” I get by.