Meaning and truth, by Treeshrew

Tree of Life, by ArteKjara

Life is all about balancing these two: truth and meaning

I just came across this brilliant post from one of my favourite online druid writers, John Beckett, who writes at Under the Ancient Oaks. Check his blog out if you haven’t already!

I think it is so important that we, as druids, as naturalists or even just as people, live lives of both truth and meaning. John defines truth as ‘that which is’ and meaning as ‘that which makes life worth living’, which is one of the simplest and best definitions I have ever seen. In my experience, it is all too easy to lose the balance between the two and ignore one or the other. So many religious people seem to emphasise their particular faith’s form of meaning at the expense of truth, and end up believing in absurdities like creationism as a result. On the other side of the coin, some atheists emphasise pure, rational truth at the expense of inner meaning.

For me, life is all about balancing those two. I find truth in science, reason and evidence. The scientific method is the single best tool we have for finding out what is real and how things work. In my understanding of science, this rules out a lot of religious or magical ideas as impossible. Yet I find meaning in druidry, in spending time in nature, in doing ritual. This is not a contradiction, though there are those on both sides who would say that it is.

When we go beyond what we know with science, the only honest response is ‘I don’t know’. I am an atheist with regard to anthopomorphic gods in the sky who answer (some) prayers, perform (some) miracles and care about our sex lives, but agnostic with regard to a deistic first cause or a pantheistic world-soul. ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t sound too satisfying, but I think it’s better than making stuff up and declaring it absolute ‘Truth’. By the way, anyone who capitalises ‘Truth’ is probably lying.

As John Beckett says:

Does this mean we shouldn’t care about religious and theological truth? No. Truth is what is. Building our meaning on what is true is better than building on what is plausible, and building on what is plausible is better than building on what is false…We will get closer to truth by searching diligently for it than we will by unquestioningly accepting what we’ve always been taught or always assumed was true. Not only does the evidence we find give us a better (not perfect, but better) foundation for meaning, but the search itself becomes a source of meaning.

My druidry is not about believing in a pantheon of Celtic gods and goddesses, or spirits and fairies and magic. It isn’t about faith, and it certainly isn’t about accepting extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence.. It’s about building meaning on the foundation of truth. I think that’s not a bad place to start.

This article first appeared at Endless Erring.

The author

Treeshrew: I’m an aspiring naturalist druid. I don’t believe in gods, spirits or magic but I do love nature and think the universe is a pretty amazing place. My personal beliefs fluctuate a bit, but could generally be described as atheist, agnostic, animist, pantheist or any combination thereof. I believe that science is the best way to understand reality and our place in it, and I find that the practices of modern druidry are beneficial for creating a sense of meaningful relationship with the inter-connected natural world of which we humans are a small part.

In my professional guise, I work as a librarian at Cambridge University and my interests include comparative mythology, evolutionary biology and the psychology of religious belief and experience. I’m also a life-long Whovian and all round nerd.

Follow Treeshrew at Endless Erring.

Recent Work

Matter thinking over mind, by Thomas Schenk

Naturalism in prehistory?  by B. T. Newberg

Am I a Secular Pagan?  by Heather Van de Sande

Next Sunday

“Logically, I am an atheist.  Emotionally, I am a pantheist.”

Emotional Pantheism,  by Áine Órga

Appearing Sunday, July 21st, 2013


3 Comments on “Meaning and truth, by Treeshrew

  1. I think your and Becker’s point about this duality—science/truth and religion/meaning—is valuable. And the point about how often people give weight to one and minimize the other really captures a common dynamic. My own search over the years revolves around those two spheres: what can science, especially information about the history of life, tell us about our questions about meaning, death, and human nature? My blog is on that topic, and I’m working slowly but surely on a post about—well, I guess it will be basically about science and the humanities, science folks who are wedded to their empirical outlook and have little patience with not only religion but even the liberal arts, and seekers of meaning who insist that the world according to science is not all there is and not the most important part. (This tension is strong in higher education, where students in science/math or humanities may take only one very limited course in the other, never approaching any serious study of where they intersect.) Thank you for helping my own thinking about how to articulate all this.

  2. Well, my position has shifted slightly since writing this bit a while ago (mostly just an issue of labelling: I don’t necessarily consider myself a ‘druid’ now), but I stand by the main ideas. I would second the recommendation for ‘The Two Cultures’ and also add some Sam Harris, for his writings on science and meditation/transcendence.

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