Friday, September 29, 2006

Normally I am Abnormal

What is normal? Do we poll the populace, and the most answers wins? If more people have brown hair as compared to red or black or gray or blond or white or none, did “Brown” just become normal? Or is the fact there is variety what should be considered “normal”?

Can we reach a number, where the vast majority of a group contains a characteristic, and must constitute “normal”? If a person is born with 11 fingers, is the fact that 99% of humanity has 10 fingers make the 1% abnormal?

Please understand that “abnormal” is not necessarily bad. If the engine on my car belches black smoke, or if I sneeze blood, my mind recognizes, “Hey that is different” and the deviation from the norm is an indicator that attention is needed. We are constantly on the search for what we think is normal, looking for something out of the normal to draw our attention.

If our child is not speaking as well as other children his age, we focus our attention in that regard. If, however, our child is doing fine, we accept normality as a sign of fitness. As long as our world is progressing in a manner of what we perceive as “normal” we passively allow it to continue in the thought that “normal” means “correct.”

How do I determine what is normal? If everyone else says it, do we have the objectivity to realize that perhaps we could be wrong?

What if you woke up one day, and everyone referred to the color “red” as “gork”? You know what red is. You have always called it “red.” Yet those around you are “As Gork as a Beet.” Or “Stop on a gork light.” Or “Roses are gork.” This would be scary. Do you wonder whether there is an elaborate joke being played on you? Or have you suffered some mental trauma that has effected how you think?

On occasion, I have interacted with people suffering from mental delusions. As I see them fervently believe that the government is monitoring people through teeth fillings, and the dentists are in a giant governmental conspiracy, I wonder—how do you explain that they are abnormal? They are convinced that we are blind fools, and they have woken up in a world where “red” is called “gork” and it is actually “red.” If only the other people could see!

Or on a more tragic note, in the bar fire on Rhode Island where 100 people were killed, many people died that did not have to. Because they followed the crowd that all headed to the front door. What they saw was “normal” was the mass exodus heading in one direction only. I remember reading how many entrances were virtually unused. Because people were following what they thought was “normal” and going in a different direction than the crowd was considered abnormal. And therefore incorrect.

How much of the practice of theism is people thinking, saying, doing and feeling what they perceive as “normal”?

One of the last services I attended, the pastor was talking about temptations, and how we need to commit to avoiding them. He had props for four temptations. I don’t remember what they were, but probably something along the lines of sex, wealth, power and pleasure. At the end of the service, he did a rare “call.” There was no pressure, of course. (And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell ya!)

He offered to go through the four temptations, and ask that if the person committed working with Christ to flee that temptation, they quietly stand up in their seat. No pressure. First he talked about sex. (Oh. We all have our eyes closed, but nobody does, of course.) Maybe 2% of the audience stands up. Then the pastor says wealth. Now maybe 25% of the audience stands up.

At this point I could script it. Power—40% of the people stand up. (Are there really that many that are tempted by power? Or was it the moment?) At the end, pleasure, the entire rest of the audience, ‘cept little ol’ me, stands up.

My daughter asked me later why I didn’t stand. I asked her, “Do you always do something just because everyone else does? Are you really going to commit, or do you think most people will have forgotten that commitment by the time they unlock their car in the parking lot?”

She admitted that most, including her, would never follow through. “So you just stood up because everyone else was?” She did what she thought was “normal.” To not stand up would be abnormal. Even though it was more likely the truth.

How many other occasions is something ascribed to God, just because the person considers that “normal”? Christians thank God for getting better, getting good parking spots, getting good weather, getting good jobs, getting a raise, getting a child and getting ahead. Is God really controlling the weather patterns over an entire hemisphere of a planet, just so the sun would come out promptly at 2 p.m. on Saturday in time for a football game?

Yet this is what is considered “normal.” In the discussion with theism, I am often told of people having “God Experiences.” Events, or emotions or thoughts that were overwhelming or unique and left the person with the firm conviction that God was involved.

Guess what? We all have those. Standing on beach, watching the sunset, with my children splashing in and out of the water, running back and forth to the campfire, I have a feeling of such peace, wonderment, and happiness, that I truly think that life could not possibly ever get better. That is normal. Before, I would have ascribed that to a “God Experience.” Again, within my circle, and within my beliefs, that would have been “normal.” Now, it would be odd to have the thought of God popping into my head.

In talking with theists, I keep to the forefront of my mind, that to them, the existence of God is “normal.” The idea that such a creature could not exist or that a person could not be convinced of its existence is so “abnormal” as to be unthinkable. I may as well be saying, “The way to safety is to swim to deeper water.” Every part of our being says swim to shallow water. It would be abnormal to swim to deeper water. It is the same with theism. When I say “There is no God” I may as well be saying, “Swim deeper to save yourself.” To a theist, it simply does not compute. It is not normal.

I get it. I really do. But can the theist return the favor? Can you actually believe that it is “normal” for me to not think about God? That I am not angry, I am not rejecting, I am not trumping, I am not “pre-disposed” or “pre-supposed” to there not being a God. That when things go well, or things go sour, in neither situation I am looking for a God?

And no, I do not find theism “abnormal.” Quite the contrary. I find it normal to have a variety of beliefs. It is very human to have differing opinions as to politics, reading material, movies and interests. It is very human to have differing learning skills, and differing teaching methods, and different ways to communicate. We have different levels of proof, different concepts that we find persuasive, and different means of obtaining that information.

When I started this off, I mentioned different hair colors. No one says that a certain hair color is “normal.” Variety is expected and embraced as “normal.” Can we do the same with theistic beliefs? Can we understand that each of us believes differently, and that difference is “normal”? Or must we all have the same God and the same hair color to be normal?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dagood...I was trying to find a way to contact you to ask you a question about trolls, and since I couldn't find a contact address, I went looking for a post to comment with no comments (so it wouldn't get emailed to everyone). I found this one...good post by the way. Funny story though - my daughter, especially when younger, got a couple comments here in the South about having brown hair since most of the kids had blond hair.