My Testimony of Life and Mind

By: Guest
January 19, 2011

NASA/Cosmos Studios

Today’s Guest post is by Childe Jake, a rather newly hatched blogger with an uncanny ability to convey his thoughts in a clear and enlightening way. His blog can be found at: http://thejakefoyer.blogspot.com/

I’d like to bear you my testimony, but I do not presume to know for certain that it is true. My post is in the format of a Mormon testimony, though I no longer practice any version of that faith system. I do not use this format to mock it. I use it because it is familiar and hopefully will resonate meaningfully with readers of Wheat and Tares. In any case, I am grateful to have the chance to speak to this community of thinkers.

By way of background, I am a big fan of the late science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Over my three-plus decades on Earth, I’ve read many of Clarke’s writings, both his fiction and non-fiction. And I’ve read some of his greatest works multiple times, underlining and pondering the themes and implications for the real world.

If you haven’t read any of Clarke’s stories, here is what you need to know for now. He depicts humanity confronting the vast and often unforgiving universe. In so doing, his characters–and readers–become keenly aware of the preciousness of Life. You should also be aware that Clarke tended not to hold organized religion in high regard. He supposed it an inevitable, but ultimately unhealthy, byproduct of our species’ childhood. Still, his novels are filled with divine flavorings.

For example, near the end of Clarke’s novel Imperial Earth, the protagonist has this realization:

He had experienced that indescribable shock a man may know only once in a lifetime, when he is in the presence of the transcendental and feels the sure foundations of his world and his philosophy trembling beneath his feet.

The above excerpt, along with a general understanding of Clarke’s worldview, leads me to believe he had a testimony of some kind. Perhaps he even experienced an epiphany, though he would not have ascribed it to supernatural origin. In a universe that is overwhelmingly violent and not conducive to Life, Clarke supposed that Mind is the most prized resource. This belief filled Clarke with a passionate desire to see humankind advance in worthy ways, both physically and intellectually.

You could say that Arthur C. Clarke functioned as a kind of John the Baptist for me. Through the theatricality of space opera, Clarke prepared my mind for the message that came next. And this subsequent message was from Dr. Carl Sagan, literally arriving via a pillar of light. Though, Sagan’s pillar of light did not come from above. Instead it came from behind, via a film projector.

I feel awkward admitting this. But when I gained my testimony over a decade ago, I was likely drinking a jumbo cherry cola and eating buttered popcorn. As I often did in college, one night I treated myself to a movie. I saw the film adaptation of Dr. Sagan’s novel, Contact. If you have not seen or read Contact, you only need to know this for now:  it depicts humanity confronting the vast and often unforgiving universe. In so doing, we become keenly aware of the preciousness of Life. I was not prepared for how intensely the film moved me.

I left the theatre with a palpable energy running through my torso. I would describe it as a stirring sensation. Perhaps others would use the term “burning.” I drove around for awhile, letting the feeling linger. Contact had shaken me. I had received dramatic lessons before about Life and the universe, but that night for some reason my heart and mind were particularly susceptible. Here is what I learned.

Whatever the ultimate truth of the universe is, we are precious. Thus we ought to nurture and care for one another without prejudice. In all likelihood, the greatest challenges humanity faces, and may yet face, will require the best from everyone: the god-fearing and atheistic; the liberal and conservative; the masculine and feminine; the old and young. If a voice ever does come from the sky, we will need to face its message together, or risk perishing even if the message is benevolent. And if no voice comes, the above mandate is even more crucial.

For many years, I searched for something that could bring me purpose and fulfillment. And I found it. Inspired by Clarke and Sagan, I confronted the reality of a vast and often unforgiving universe. Doing so provided me a keen awareness of humankind’s preciousness. God or no God, Heaven or only heavens–the more I understand the universe, the more I want to be a beneficial constituent of it. This is my testimony, and I leave it with you in the name of Life and Mind. Amen.

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15 Responses to My Testimony of Life and Mind

  1. Stephen Marsh on January 19, 2011 at 5:53 AM

    I remember Contact quite a bit differently. Guess everyone has their influences, the things that move them, the things they find puerile. This essay is a good reminder that people find what they are looking for, when they allow themselves to find it.

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  2. Mike S on January 19, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Thank you for this post. I think it is a common misconception within the LDS faith (and other faiths as well) that if someone doesn’t believe in God/Deity then life has “less” meaning or is more pointless.

    In reading and talking with many people, however, I think the opposite is true. For someone who believes in the afterlife, there isn’t quite the sense of “urgency” in this life as God will “make things right” in the next life. For someone who expresses amazement at the rarity of life in the universe as evidenced above, however, there is a profound sense of wonderment at what we have.

    I see the same thing in systems like Buddhism, for example. While there is not necessarily a definition for God, there is a profound respect for the scarcity of life as a human. It seems that because of this, many more Buddhists are involved in things that are humanitarian and truly for the good of serving others than we perhaps are.

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  3. Course Correction on January 19, 2011 at 8:46 AM

    Thank you for your sincere testimony in the name of Life and Mind.

    Sources of religious experience are so varied–novels and films probably have more power to move moderns people than ancient scriptures–written for people of a far different time.

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  4. Jared on January 19, 2011 at 9:55 AM

    Your post is moving, possibly, even some what exhilarating. I say this because in my youth I was inclined to the sciences, particularly astronomy.

    Contact was an awesome movie. It moved me to some of the same thoughts and feelings you expressed.

    You mentioned the word epiphany. It is word that conveys layers of meaning. The online dictionary defines it with two meanings I’ll touch on:

    1. an appearance or manifestation, esp. of a deity.

    2. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

    You’ve written about the second definition. These kinds of experiences makes life worth living for those who are able grasp them. I hope everyone can drink deeply from its nectar. The wonders of the universe and the wonders of mankind are indeed beautiful, they capture our minds and heart when we embrace the beauty therein.

    The other epiphany, the one where we experience God, is even rarer and more deeply moving–exponentially so.

    The writer and poet can adequately use words to help increase understanding of an epiphany of the universe, however, words fail when one who has experienced, in any degree, an epiphany of God.

    I am one of those who can testify of this greater epiphany. For me it came in a life crisis. I hope that all who read my words will leave open the possibility that they too can reach out to God in their crisis and experience a Godly epiphany.

    This is my LDS testimony.

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  5. allquieton on January 19, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    I would suppose that humankind’s preciousness implies there is a God. Otherwise, to whom are we precious?

    And what do you mean by leaving a testimony with us in the name of Life and Mind? I really can’t tell what you mean by it.

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  6. jmb275 on January 19, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    I loved the post. Heartfelt, pure, simple, and sincere. I also appreciate Jared’s mentioning of his own sacred experience. Though they lead to entirely different conclusions and outcomes, I am satisfied that they share something deeply spiritual in common. Such experiences are the best humanity has to offer.

    I have some questions for Jake.
    1. Have you found this to be a replacement for Mormonism, or just a single piece of a larger puzzle?
    2. How has your experience influenced your belief structure? Do you seek other forms of enlightenment that enable you to form opinions on matters usually influenced by religion? Or do your Mormon roots still largely shape your moral values?
    3. Do you feel this experience is a culminating one? Or is it merely one step on a journey for finding other truths?

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  7. Jake Christensen on January 19, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Reply to allquieton: You asked, “…to whom are we precious?” I believe we can and should be precious to each other.

    To be frank, I don’t accept the premise that humanity can only be precious if a deity exists and regards us that way. I offered the above testimony to say just the opposite. Admitting the possibility that God does not exist invigorates my sense of how precious Life is.

    You also asked what I meant by ending my testimony “in the name of Life and Mind.” As I said at the beginning of my post, I chose to write it in the format of a Mormon testimony. As such, I used the traditional ending format: “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” Obviously this was not a testimony about Jesus Christ. Rather, it is my testimony of how I’ve come to deeply value the existence of Life and the presence of Mind—“Mind” being intelligence.

    Reply to jmb275’s questions:
    1. I wouldn’t characterize my above testimony as wholly replacing Mormonism. Though related, my choice to stop practicing Mormonism and the experience of gaining the above testimony were separate events. I like your “piece of a larger puzzle” metaphor. The above testimony relates a couple of really important pieces falling into place. Mormonism provided other pieces.

    2. Mormonism was at the center of my upbringing. So it will always be part of my identity. The key change is I no longer feel an obligation to reconcile new knowledge with a pre-formed theology imposed on me as a child. I’m not saying religion is all wrong. Rather, I believe I always need to be learning, developing my mind and valuing Life to the fullest. And I have a conviction that I am best served by learning from multiple sources.

    3. I believe gaining the above testimony was both a culmination and a step in an ongoing journey. With the above beliefs in my heart, I am as passionate as I’ve ever been about learning more and seeing humanity progress.

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  8. FireTag on January 20, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    I have written often about the “unforgiving” aspect of ultimate reality — enough that it’s even encoded in my avatar. But it’s not the ONLY aspect of reality. There is alpha (creation) as well as omega (destruction). We are precious not, IMO, because we are rare but, to the contrary, because life and mind are akin to the deepest nature of reality itself. The universe has both personal and impersonal aspects, but the more we see of the wonders of reality, the more we see that the personal aspects are more important than we know.

    Perhaps thar’s where Jake’s and Jared’s testimonies will converge.

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  9. Jake Christensen on January 20, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    Thank you for commenting, FireTag.

    I suppose there are benefits to finding a point of convergence for Jared’s testimony and my own. One benefit might be identifying causes we can mutually support. There is also a tangible sense of goodwill to be enjoyed when people discover common ground.

    We seem to value our testimonies in the same way and to the same degree. Clearly, we both had experiences that were profoundly moving and fulfilling. But at the risk of starting round 2 of Dueling Testimonies, I’d like to make a distinction between Jared’s statement of belief and my own. First, let me say by way of respect that I believe Jared was sincere.

    I know very little about Jared’s testimony. He apparently received it during a crisis. And it motivated him to believe in a specific church and theology. But with such little information, I have no way of appraising his testimony’s value with specificity. Yet, after one brief exposure to my experience, Jared made the categorical assertion that his testimony is of ‘exponentially’ greater merit. I remain unconvinced of his claim. Here is why:

    Jared’s testimony came with scant detail, little evidence and no proof. My testimony had the same limitations, but I admitted that upfront. Lacking absolute certainty, I stopped short of selling my convictions as preeminent over all other sources of truth.

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  10. FireTag on January 20, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    Jake:

    Jared has given his testimony in greater detail elsewhere. I hope he’ll drop back and leave a link.

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  11. Mike S on January 20, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    Jake/FireTag:

    Just click on Jared’s name for the link.

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  12. jmb275 on January 25, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    Jared’s testimony came with scant detail, little evidence and no proof. My testimony had the same limitations, but I admitted that upfront. Lacking absolute certainty, I stopped short of selling my convictions as preeminent over all other sources of truth.

    Very well said. I have read Jared’s testimony, and found it inspiring and compelling. I wrote him and told him so quite a while ago. However, I do agree with Jake and find it quite refreshing to hear the humility come through in posts like this.

    Frankly, this is probably the primary agitation for neo-atheists who continue to unabashedly thrash organized religion. To the religious individual testimony becomes an absolute certainty, is shared as such, and this form of thinking is even encouraged in the religious dogma. And then, when the world pushes back, religious organizations cry persecution, secularism, and something about “going to hell in a handbasket.”

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  13. [...] Guest post is by Childe Jake. His first post can be found here, and his personal blog is [...]

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