There’s this hilarious episode in the The Office, in which Dwight, Andy and Micheal are all of a sudden obsessed with parkour. So there they are, on the roof of a delivery truck (always a good sign) and planning their next set of moves. Off the truck, to the boxed refrigerators, to the dumpster, backflip gainer off the pallets and into the garbage can. Andy revs up his confidence and jumps, seamlessly disappearing into the refrigerator boxes, which turned out to be empty.
As funny as it is, this scene is actually a really great picture of the way that many people today approach questions of faith and meaning. We have no shortage of boldness or energy about the values we talk about today. We have no problem discussing how we think the world ought to be. And yet we are often utterly unaware of the lack foundation in the things that we claim.
In a pluralistic culture like ours, we make a big deal about valuing all different ideas and perspectives. As a result, our main measure of truth is that our values and ideas must make sense to us and the people around us. One key fact that we often overlook is that every truth claim, every idea that you build your life on, always stands on some foundational assumptions about how the world works. Its not enough to just have the box Andy. You gotta make sure theres actually a refrigerator in it.
This occurred to me this week as I spoke with someone about their negative experiences in religion. In a very kind and respectful manner, he said to me, “Religion is helpful to many people. But it’s just not for me.” This is a classic statement. It fits perfectly in the inclusive mindset of an “open minded” person today. In saying this, the person thinks he is being nice to others who hold a different perspective. But is he really?
Lets break it down a bit. To say that “religion is helpful” is to make a big statement about the nature of religion. Why? Because it rests on a deeper assumption – that the goal of religion is just to be helpful, not to be true. It makes the statement that religion is not actually about facts. Its not actually about the real external world. Religion is just about your inner world. It helps calm and rest your emotional and spiritual troubles. And for some it works, and for some it doesn’t.
Did this guy realize what he was telling me? When he said, “Religion works for some people”, he was actually telling me that I am one of those who prefers to believe in fancy and irrational things to calm my soul. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t actually his goal. He just said a statement that is thrown around constantly today. Something that makes sense to our current cultural climate.
And yet here’s the real issue: the true validity of our beliefs rests on those hidden assumptions. They are what make our statements either true or false. They are the real tests of our views and beleifs. The crazy thing I keep running in to when I talk to people around me about their beliefs, is that they don’t even realize that they have a certain perspective. They are unaware of that fact that everything that they say rests on a certain set of assumptions about how the world works. Assumptions that must actually be validated. And that’s where most people’s problem lies today.
It doesn’t matter how much Scott and Dwight jump around yelling, “Parkour! Parkour!!”. If there is no refrigerator in the box, then Andy’s parkour will soon be no more. And it doesn’t matter how much a certain idea makes sense to you or your friends at the moment. Do you realize that there are beliefs under your beliefs, and truths underneath your truths? Have you ever questioned those?