To the editor:
It is an indisputable fact that we are the products of our surroundings to a certain extent. It is often unclear why we make the decisions that we do. This fact is illustrated by “the accident of birth” phenomenon, the idea that the biggest predictor of religious affiliation is the geography which one is born into. Our decisions are largely the result of genetic, sociological, and psychological factors. While the task can seem overwhelming, trying to understand these factors and their influences can provide one with greater clarity into one’s life and enables them to have a level of agency that would be unattainable otherwise.
I knew a young man who was planning to serve a mission for his church to Europe. This mission, a two-year trip in the young man’s religion and culture served as a rite of passage, and some young women within his religious paradigm would not even consider the thought of dating a member of their church who did not serve one. One of this young man’s friends asserted that the motivation behind this young man’s decision to serve a mission was his desire to reproduce. The friend said that the mission was a reproductive strategy, and that this young man’s religious “beliefs” were only a means to that end. Regardless of what this young man’s motivations actually were, his friend brought up an interesting point. The psychologists Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schopenhauer believed strongly that the desire for self-propagation was the fundamental motivator of human behavior, often referred to as Schopenhauer’s Will. While not entirely applicable to every situation, to view one’s own behavior and the behavior of others through this or other lenses can be incredibly enlightening. If this young man was really serving a mission for the sake of reproduction, his cognitive mind would never realize it, unless he first questioned the validity of his own consciousness.
Paul Tillich, a Protestant theologian, once said that you could learn all you needed to know about a man by asking one question: What do they worship? In my own life, I’ve started to ponder what I “worship” and I have learned a lot. I realized very quickly that some of my motivations were not what I thought they were. Immanuel Kant defines enlightenment as the individual’s emergence from their self-imposed minority, meaning the inability for one to think for themselves. This form of transcendent thought can only be attained by understanding the processes that motivate our decisions and behavior. I'll end my article with a quote that my English high school teacher had plastered in his classroom, a reference to Plato’s allegory of the cave: Wake up, it's time to leave the cave!