Monday, June 1, 2015

The Beauty Of Owning Our Own Post-Certain Religious Life

Brent Beal shared some profound insights about those of us who no longer claim to "know" truth with certainty and yet have rebuilt a life of faith. That transition from certainty to uncertainty is often accompanied from a transition of perceived orthodoxy to heterodoxy as one places higher priority on individual autonomy over simply following directions:
Many of us that have taken the heterodox fork in the road soon realize that we don’t really know anything. Our religious experiences aren’t any more valid or profound or “real” than anyone else’s. Our answers to life’s big questions are just that—they are “our” answers and however wondrous those answers may be to us (and however useful), the fact that we have answered life’s big questions in a certain way doesn’t mean that everyone else’s answers are inferior.  
We are not committed to secularism (or liberalism, or feminism, or progressivism) in the same way that orthodox Mormons are committed to “exact” obedience. We just realize that there is a lot we don’t know. If God speaks to humanity through spiritual experiences, then why does he communicate such radically different information to individuals based on their religious context? We don’t know. That’s it, really. We don’t know.  
Many of us have gotten to the point of “I don’t know,” stared into the abyss, searched our souls for some reflection of deity, and then seen the same thing: We’ve seen each other. We’ve come away from the experience with the profound realization that we–as in all of humanity—are in this together. We are truly one. Until further notice, therefore, it seems obvious that the one thing we can do—the low-hanging fruit, so to speak—is to be nice to each other. We should treat each other fairly, and with dignity and respect.  
Another common line of reasoning among those of us who don’t know much is this. If God created us with individual agency and the capacity for reason, then it makes sense that God expects us to use those capabilities...If forced into this false dichotomy [between “individual autonomy” and a “path of obedience to laws”], I suspect that what we do with our individual autonomy will matter more to God than how well we follow directions. For me it comes down to whether or not I believe God wants us to paint by the numbers or to paint our own pictures? As parents, what do we value more from our four-year-olds? A paint-by-the-numbers portrait identical to what’s on the box, or a free-spirited “Look, Mom, this is you and Dad in a rocket ship with a cow!” masterpiece? 
The path of “I don’t know” is difficult. Taking responsibility for one’s own spiritual life is difficult. Being nice to people is difficult. It’s not easy—not nearly as easy as the “exact obedience” path can be at times. But there’s a reason why most adults have abandoned paint-by-the-numbers projects.


Clean Cut said...

I also really appreciated Katie L's follow-up comments:

"As much as this has to do with orthodoxy/heterodoxy within Mormonism itself, I think this is symptomatic of a major shift in society at large from modernism to postmodernism. More than at any other point in human history, we’re being thrust into a global conversation of narratives, beliefs, perspectives, and cultures. We’re seeing that there isn’t one “correct” way to be human. This is huge, because for centuries (at least since the Enlightenment), it’s been assumed that there is. One way of looking at this, then, is to say that those who take the path of heterodoxy are adopting a postmodern worldview; while those who back away from the edge are deciding to hold on to their modern ideals. In a couple of generations, this moment of upheaval will settle, and postmodernism will win the day. It’s pretty much inevitable. But what do we do until then?

"My opinion is that, as those who make the shift, we have a responsibility to extend radical grace and acceptance to those who opt not to join us. There are lots of reasons why people stare into that abyss and walk away. Our worldview holds reconciliation, respect, and equality as critically important virtues. Theirs is more concerned with abstract Truth (which they believe is knowable, while we do not). Can we be generous toward them anyway? Can we uphold our strongest ideals, even when we’re reacting against a worldview we were raised in and may have even held ourselves at one point (that makes it personal, which makes it so much harder)?"

CheesyPotatoes said...

I loved this. You've laid out something that I have had trouble putting into words. I don't believe that anyone who has looked into and seen 'the abyss' for what it really is could ever truly go back. This can be a terrifying thought but I heard a quote that has really stuck with me by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. that says "I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity"
Does the other side of complexity finally offer a clear cut understanding of the universe? Or does the clarity come in being able to accept complexity for what it is and forfeiting the need to overcome it? I can't answer that for sure as I'm still staring into the abyss.
Thank you very much for your thoughts.