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Begging the question


When I leave the University of Mississippi this month I will be taking a few things with me: a diploma, an aggregation of friends I hold close, and the experiences through which I learned to better understand and appreciate life.

We all have stories. It doesn’t matter that most are familiarly constructed — what matters is that you are telling the story and that no one has ever existed exactly as you exist at this moment.  Every storytelling is its own event.

Once I took a course that philosophically examined the relationship between religion and science. The professor hid his beliefs, instead offering the antithesis to our sentiments, which led to interesting discussion and digressions. 

Occasionally we held class outside. I couldn’t help but see the intriguing looks that often lined the faces of those walking by that heard a class discussion out of proper context. “What was that professor talking to those students about?” a passing jogger asks another. “He was critiquing the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God,” the jogger replies.


Moving on, I know of two pretty girls who work at the same restaurant in Oxford; one is a very hard worker, the other gets by. One night they are understaffed and the manager asks the two girls to roll silverware. The girl who gets by protests that she doesn’t know how and that she is unable. The girl who typically works hard has never rolled silverware either, but after fifteen seconds of trying she has the hang of it. Both are such pretty girls - which sounds more attractive?

Another story involves a friend who is a hard determinist and compares our existence to that of machines — he believes we have no free will. This allows him better understand the motives of others and helps him to be a friend.

We had a class together. One day he was to give a presentation but arrived as soon as class had been let out. Only the professor and I remained in the classroom. He arrived in a hurry and quickly plopped down in a seat, exasperated.

As I was walking out I cheerfully explained to the professor that my friend had no choice but to have shown up at this exact moment — he has no free will! Later he told me that he had laid down that morning without setting an alarm and overslept. This was also the story he gave to the professor, who, I’m happy to report, elected to give him another chance. 

Soon after we talked about free will. He reiterated his machine illustration, but said he “felt responsible” for missing the class. I found this interesting but not as interesting as the extent to which I agree with him about our free will.

It’s amazing what we might end up saying to ourselves. I know a man who has been around so long that the first time we met he gave me a reason as to why he is still alive. “My children say I am not allowed to die,” he said, grinning. He reminds me what our minds are capable of. He wants to write his memoirs; perhaps that is what we have most in common.

Speaking of memoirs, I recently read Brother to a Dragonfly by Will Campbell, former Ole Miss chaplain. Campbell reminded me of something I had shamefully forgotten: “Words are symbols and nothing more - ever.”

The lines of demarcation that separate one from another -— race, religion — politics  are constructs. 

I also realized via Campbell’s honesty that I had been supporting some of my favorite causes for most of the wrong reasons. I was in favor of ending marijuana prohibition and in favor of LGBT Civil Rights mainly because of a generic contrarian ideology: “Someone told us that we couldn’t do something, so let’s get out there and do that something big.”

I ended that thought process. Now I argue that these things should be permissible because I truly believe that they promote happiness, joy and love. And if you believe in love, you tend to promote it. There is nothing wrong with love.

Lastly, I’ve thought about my childhood a lot recently. When I was young I was very close to my mother, always paying attention to what she was thinking. She is a woman of science and very good at explaining things, but there were some things she couldn’t explain and did not even want to try and explain, especially when it came to her religious beliefs.

At some point we get comfortable with what we believe and we stop asking questions, but I remember being raised to ask the right questions. I remember asking questions that my mother had long ago given up the desire to ask. I remember thinking of myself as a necessary evil, asking what she would be asking had she not given up asking this sort of question.

Now, my time as a student and DM writer is at an end, but I have a final question to pose — to beg, really. With a world of knowledge at the fingertips here at Ole Miss — in the books, the professors, and your peers — what is it that keeps one from fulfilling his or her potential — from becoming a great teacher, social worker, immunologist, or whatever they desire?

I am begging you to ask the questions. Demand to experience the phenomena for yourself - hearsay is heresy. 

See you on the path.


Andrew Dickson is a senior religious studies major from Terry.