The Invisible Man. Image obtained from: http://deeblog.squarespace.com/journal/2014/1/17/the-invisible-man.html. 

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The Great Omniscient, Invisible, Dumb, Deaf Man: A Thought Experiment in Ethics

I am proposing that humans get rid of the noise that inundates all reality. Sometimes the one thing that a human being wants is silence and simplicity. Amidst the bustling crowds, overhead PSAs, screeching cars, and incessant gossip spread by the clique of women sitting near you, sometimes I think about silence—pure and absolute silence.

Assume, just for a second, that you were a deaf man. But you weren’t only deaf, you were also unaware of motives, thoughts, arguments, and anything rational. You were unable to understand human language. As if living in a world of absolute pristine silence.

What would you see? No, what would you really see? I doubt you’d see much, if anything, at all.

People live in the crowds. They feed on the noise. Noise is other people. But once you get rid of the noise, you’re left with scraps and newspaper clippings; this outer-shell we call “humanity.” In sum, you’re not left with anything meaningful at all.

For example, you enter a household. You’re this omniscient, invisible, dumb, deaf man incapable of perceiving words. What do you see upon arrival? You meet a couple arguing. They’re arguing about something. You don’t really know what. They appear angry. They don’t really do anything with their lives; they just sort of exist, if you know what I mean.

Had anyone bothered to “translate the noise,” they would have told you that the couple is fighting about something that happened earlier at a dinner party. The wife was adamant that X was acting selfishly while the husband argued that X was motivated by selflessness. Nobody had any access to X. In fact, the motives of X were known only to X. But the husband and wife, apparently, were wiser than the rest of us—so they argued.

And they argued their way through the kitchen.

Then they argued their way into the bathroom.

They argued their way into bed.

They argued about it during sex.

And then there was you. The invisible, omniscient, deaf man who couldn’t understand grammar nor language. Several hours spent doing precisely nothing. That’s how you saw the couple. It was strange living in this silent world where what you see is what you get.

A couple blocks away there was a religious family residing. Outward appearances convinced you—the omniscient deaf man—that they were well-to-do. You entered their house to see them moving their silent mouths rapidly. The mother was spewing out lots of spit as she managed to contort her face into every imaginable horror-scene expression. The father appeared just as energetic. Hands were waving like an excited dog’s tail; the father delivered the forecast of rain within several yards of his presence. The children appeared to be just as involved. Everybody was using a lot of their tongue muscles.

Had anyone bothered to translate the scene, you would have been astounded to know that they were arguing about God, the afterlife, and what God thinks of them. Of course, none had access to God, but somehow all had a lot to spew out.

In another room, there lived a group of people criticizing the rest of the world. Some kind of “politicians” they were. Outside of massive amounts of what looked like white stuff—and their obsession with it—nothing was revered here. Lots of black stuff was poured into this white stuff. Once they were done doing the pouring, the massive thing was taken away, never to be seen again. More white stuff brought it. The cycle continued. Everyone seemed intent on pouring some of his own black stuff onto the white.

Had anyone bothered to translate the scene, you would have been informed that the white stuff was “paper” and the black stuff was “ink.” The people were politicians trying to come up with “words” (that is, symbols that represent gibberish sound waves people make when removing carbon dioxide from their lungs) that should be written upon the paper. Immediately after a group of other politicians in fancy robes approved the content, the papers were taken away to a place nobody cared to remember. More papers would be brought. More gibberish would be written. More language produced.

And you—the deaf man—would be astounded. So much “stuff” going on, according to the translation, and yet…nothing, really. You, as the omniscient deaf man, could only see what was really being done. And you knew, intuitively, without the need of translation, that nothing was happening. In other words, people were trained in “language work”: all work is language, and all language is work. Outside of language, there is nothing.

Next time you argue about love, religion, politics, and whatnot, do me a favor: become the omniscient, invisible, dumb, deaf man.

And if you do, tell me what you see. No, what you really see.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

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Miracles and Falsification: The Myth of Miracles

I had heard about miracles ever since I had been a child. I have heard—and continue to hear—about people being healed of diseases, big, bad, ugly diseases. People pray on many continents asking for a miracle. A two-year-old struck with leukemia—that demon of the blood. A five-year-old run over by a car by his own mother. A twenty-one year old girl, fresh out of college, killed instantly in a head on collision by a drunk-driver. A boy diving during the hot summer season strikes a rock, losing control of his upper and lower body forever. A missionary bitten by a mosquito suffers for weeks on end, fevers paralyzing his shaken body. A terrorist enters a building someplace in the Middle East, blasting hundreds to smithereens; hundreds who either were killed or who would spend the rest of their lives in dark misery. Then there’s the little girl living in Iraq who happened to be in a particular time and place in which a particular foreign empire (read: The United States of America) decided to drop bombs on her place of residence. Her only question, while hospitalized, with her body torn to shreds—yet with breath in her lungs—“Why does America hate me so much?”[1]

I, too, have dreamed of miracles.

But miracles seldom come.

The little girl suffering from leukemia dies, being buried on a damp April night under torrential rain. Her parents huddle closely, aching for death to take them too. They mumble prayers to the sound of raindrops bulleting the last of their hopes. Their god leaves them to their sorrows, offering them not so much as an ounce, a flicker, of comfort; a god who only wears black. The parents listen to the monotonous sermon being preached to the monotonous thunderclaps under a banal sky. “What a eulogy!” they think to themselves. “This, this is what we get for bringing life into this world! An entire two years of manipulative baiting. God, yes God, he baits us with illusions of happiness, of family—then his claws take all that has life away!” But those thoughts, yes, those faint glimmers of truth, remain unspoken. Forever they are silent. The mother goes back to her mundane day job. She goes through the motions. She listens to the repetitive sermons…of hope. Some future kingdom where tears remain fossilized forever, relics of the god-forsaken, fuck-inducing life upon a pathetic planet we used to call earth. It’s only after the sermons end. After all the bullshit stops—the lies, the longing for miracles, the promise of something good—it is only then that she goes home, as Jesus so tactfully recommends doing, and prays behind closed doors. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6 NIV). And still. What is asked in the quiet of the home remains—unbeknownst to the world—in the quiet of the home. It is as if Jesus knew that what she would ask would be impossible. Incomprehensible. Why ask in public if it’ll never happen publicly? Keep your prayers to yourselves! Your hope for the Promised Land is just that: hope. It is wishful thinking. The mother spends her days reminiscing of what could have been. Maybe her two-year-old could have graduated college. Maybe she could have gotten married. Maybe the two of them could have spent time together, sipping coffee under a red-soaked sun.

Maybe.

How many more such maybes will there be? How many more such mothers? Fathers? The prayers never end, along with the problems. The disasters. One disease leaves you the moment two take over. Or maybe it was three? You walk restlessly between states of health and epochs of madness.

God never comes to you. You never hear anything anymore. Not from God, that is. You hear the piercing cries of mothers and fathers in your church, synagogue, mosque, temple—all gasping, as if for the first time, for some miracle.

Then you have the children. The thirteen-year-old girl whose father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She wants her daddy to be there at her wedding. So they throw her a make-believe wedding (almost as make-believe as the miracles, the gods, the hopes of a better world). She walks down the aisle drenched in tears. A day of rejoicing, they said, it would be. Her little hands holding—no, clenching fiercely—the strong arms of a soon-to-be-dead father. She is only thirteen. She doesn’t know what it all means. Not at all. All she knows is that daddy will never be there. There won’t be another Father’s Day for her. There won’t be another walk in the rain with him. There won’t be that excitement, those nights where she runs home to tell him about the boy she just met. There’ll be none of that.

Miracles.

That’s what religion promises.

Miracles.

But all you see, all you really feel and hear is nothing but the hum-drum preaching of the eulogist. But what were we all—really—expecting? Could it really be that God the Healer was a hoax? Is it possible that god wears black, day in and day out, preparing eulogies?

“It’s all too terrible,” they say. “Don’t make us think of it. Stay silent. What you are describing is heart-wrenchingly suicidal.” “Don’t make me sit here and put up with your rants,” someone thinks. “Is it really so?” a thought flashes through another’s mind.

The existential problem of miracles is, perhaps, the most persuasive. One could not but be moved by the stories. I, too, have dreamed of a miracle. However, there is also the philosophical problem with miracles. I turn to this particular issue now.

Religious people—be they Muslim, Hindu, or Christian—claim that their god is capable of miracles. But what is a miracle? By definition, a miracle is a supernatural event. By definition, a miracle is a supra-natural event; it is an event which is “above nature.” It is an event that does not go in accordance with the known (and unknown) rules of physics. It is something that happens which no physical law could explain. A miracle is not the disappearance of a headache. It happens to the rest of us all the time. A miracle is not the curing of cancer—it happens enough of the times. A miracle is not the healing of insanity. A miracle is not the healing of fractured bones. All of these things happen naturally. So what is a miracle?

A miracle would be a person who walks on water without the aid of any kind of special shoes, footwear, or underwater bridges (you get the point). A miracle would, most simply, be an amputee with their amputated limb appearing, rematerializing, spontaneously. (Notice that I did not say “re-growing.” It will probably be possible, in the future, for us to do that.) A miracle would be such an event which, again, by definition, would convince any person capable of seeing and thinking along physical lines that this is not normal; that the event is strange, unheard of, physically impossible—in other words, simply in violation of natural law. The resurrection of Jesus, for example, would, theoretically, constitute a miracle.

Given such a very loaded, strict, and robust definition of miracle (by “strict,” I mean that it excludes [possibly] every event that has ever occurred in history—excepting the origin of life and of the universe), how is it that people today still speak of miracles? You hear it all the time.[2] I have discovered one of the reasons. It comes from one of Christianity’s greatest liberal theologians, Friedrich Schleiermacher.

Schleiermacher defined miracles in an unfalsifiable way. When someone makes something, like miracles, unfalsifiable this means two things: (a) every event becomes a “miracle” and (b) there is no way to prove nor disprove the event. Schleiermacher writes:

“Miracle is simply the religious name for event. Every event, even the most natural and usual, becomes a miracle, as soon as the religious view of it can be the dominant. To me all is miracle. In your sense the inexplicable and strange alone is miracle, in mine it is no miracle. The more religious you are, the more miracle would you see everywhere.”[3]

I could not have said it better. Schleiermacher and I agree: religion makes everything a miracle. Because everything becomes a miracle, nothing is miraculous anymore. Because everything becomes a miracle, the term “miracle” becomes devoid of meaning.

People do experience miracles today. Believe me, they do. All of life may be seen as one continuous miracle. From the Big Bang to the evolution of human life, all of this, even by a skeptic, is seen as a miracle. But miracles are not really events that happen; they are not singular events occurring in history on a daily, interventionist basis. Miracles are probably things like the origin of DNA. They are isolated events that appear miraculous. For just a moment. And then the scientific mind—be it religious or secular—finds a way to unravel the miraculous and make it the mundane.

Such is the world we live in. It is full of mystery, of pain, of suffering, and of miracles. While the miracles we experience are probably non-existent, the one miracle we can claim is the miracle of today.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

FOOTNOTES:

[1] This is my own retelling of the story. For this, and other such stories, see Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), esp. 163-175.

[2] I have purposefully used the verb “hear” many times in this article. The reason being that miracles are, in my opinion, non-existent; they don’t happen. This means that nobody has documentation, empirical evidence, etc., of a miracle to date. All you have is hearsay. Hence my use of the word “hear.”

[3] Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, trans. John Oman (Louisville: John Knox, 1994), 88.