MANN TALK: Is Truth Up Yonder Or Down Here?

by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann
In any argument the first undertaking should be to determine the premise of one’s opponent:   whence its  source and how valid. For if his premise is suspect, his whole argument is suspect.


 Most philosophical and theological arguments are premised upon either  God or nature.  Those who choose God as their premise more often than not cite the Bible as the source upon the ground that the Bible is God’s word. Those who choose nature as their premise cite some philosopher or   scientist   as the source  on  the ground  that  his  study of nature   is  productive of truth. The former believe the truth to be up yonder and imposed upon man and nature and the latter believe truth is down here and resides  in  man and nature.


Those who believe that all truth reposes in the Bible validate it for themselves by believing and proclaiming  that the men who wrote the Bible had personal access to God through Moses and Jesus Christ and other  God-inspired prophets. If just an ordinary man wrote the Bible, it wouldn’t have any more validity than any  other words man has written and  then men who  cite the Bible would only be citing other men, men who had a  vested interest in making man in the image of god and presenting man as semi-divine with all the perquisites pertaining thereto.  


Thus, the Bible as premise would become suspect, as it is to me. In  my  reading of the Bible, particularly a reading of the Old Testament,  I find it  so pervaded with the personality and character of man that I cannot detect therein   a difference between  him  and  God. So I believe truth  and morality   reside  down here in man and nature and not up yonder in some Superhuman who has sent a message  to certain favorite ones of his creation as to what he expects of them and  their fellow- men.


 The premise that God and nature are companions and that the latter is a manifestation of the former is to me cogently clear .  Morality doesn’t come from a God up yonder and evil from a Devil down under, they both come from nature, here.  And anyone who studies nature closely discovers that morality is here with evil and that both are the result of cause and effect and both are determined, evil being perhaps man’s egocentric judgment of events.             


One would have to admit that man is subject to illusions. One can cite, for instance, the illusion that the earth is flat or the illusion that the earth is the center of the universe, an illusion taken so seriously by the church that it burned at the stake those hearty souls who insisted on believing that it was not. Or the illusion that God created the earth and man and all else in it  working eight hours a day for six days.  An illusion that Darwin has so effectively dissolved that even the Catholic Church has had to admit to the probability of  his theory.  There are certainly other illusions that activate man. So it is not far fetched that he may be under the illusion that his will is free.


Language develops from what man believes. An example is that he says that the sun  sets, even though most men know that the sun doesn’t set  but that the earth moves from  west  to east giving the appearance that the sun rises and sets.  Thus man talks always about choosing  to do this and that, even though  some do not believe that he chooses at all but that what he does is determined by what has gone before.  The whole history of man since  life first stirred bears upon the will  of anyone at any given moment and determines what act that person does. He thinks he chooses but  the  choice has already  been made at the time he acts.  If one believes he is free, for all practical purposes he is free,  even though he is a  puppet of history,


 If a human mother were to exhibit the dedication to the rearing of her young that a mother bird does, she would be seen as as a paragon of motherhood, as a woman with high morals, a person of diligence, reliability, faithfulness. Where does the morality of a mother bird come from?  Does a bird  have free will to chose to be a paragon or not to be a paragon? The  answer is  obvious to man that a mother bird is programmed by nature to be dedicated to her young. The morality is built in and determines the actions of the bird. And so I believe morality is built into man.


Man is programmed by nature to be self-centered and to be altruistic, both of which characteristics are designed to perpetuate him. If a man is excessively self-centered and his actions are anti-social he is considered evil and under the influence of the Devil; but if a man is excessively altruistic and his actions are self-sacrificing, he is considered a saint and under the influence of God. Which kind of person he becomes is a matter of genes and environment, of nature and nurture, both of  which are beyond his control.


 A woman who acts to abort her  fetus is not choosing to do so, she is reacting to her genes and to the circumstances of her life and conditions at the time when she does the act, and all of her previous acts  have been determined in the same manner.


Once trials were conducted by  throwing a suspect into boiling water and if he survived he was innocent and if he didn’t he was guilty, or conducted  nearly as primitively.  The present system of trials one day may be considered just as barbaric. But change will  come  only when the illusion of free will is unmasked. And maybe not even then; for fortunate men have a penchant for and derive pleasure from judging the less fortunate  as flawed fellows whose misfortunes are the product of their poor choices, choices the fortunate had better sense than to  make.


 Morality  has the same source as intelligence: nature.  And it varies from person to person as does intelligence. An act is committed in conformance with their mandates. Freedom is relative. Absolute freedom is freedom from appetites, from pride, from fear, from need of hope.  Freedom from nature and nurture. Such freedom  for a member of  the human species is  improbable, if not impossible.


 But Christ apparently achieved such freedom; for he rose above appetites, pride,  property and fear and he accepted death  willingly rather than to resort in his defense  to the sword and  to violence, an example that is large in history and is the better part of the nurture impinging upon mankind and thus   a deterministic force in it. But Christ had  his predecessors who taught that life eternal was  a matter of  conquering the flesh and who died for principles. He is unique only in his fidelity to his words and  in the fullness and simplicity of  his teaching of the way to  the Kingdom,  the entering of  which  he taught is  within the grasp  of  every man.   

  
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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.
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