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. For David M. Kinchen's review of "Mann & Nature," a collection of Perry Mann essays, click:

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