Are We Certain of Our Certainties?

The following has been so exercising me, I’ve been thinking about this so much, that I need to get it off my chest somehow.  A Second Life blog isn’t necessarily the best location for such an article, except that we Residents of Second Life are also Residents of the First Life, Real Life; and those of us here in the United States are affected by the events of recent days in Kentucky and Oregon and without a doubt (ironic twist to lips) several other locations.  I offer them up here for you, if you’re interested; and I hope you will be, because we all need to be jostled out of our comfort zone periodically.  So no fashion or pretty landscapes today.  My sorrow if you’re not interested, or (quite possible) you’ve heard so much already that you can’t stand to hear or see any more about such things.

 

Lord have mercy on me

I’ve been going over the news on Facebook – wonderfully informative thing, Facebook; all the news and discussion you could want about almost any subject there is, and all of it absolutely reliable! – and one of the hot topics right now is, of course, the Kim Davis situation. In case you have somehow managed to miss it, Ms. Davis is the Kentucky county clerk who stopped issuing marriage licenses to any couple because the new right of LGBT couples to marry violates her religious beliefs. She has continued to refuse to do so, despite being served with court orders to resume doing so. As of this morning, she has been jailed for contempt of court.

Facebook – you remember that delightful, reliable service – has its partisans on both sides, of course, and the æther is full of pronunciations, exhortations, condemnations and fulminations, not to mention heartfelt sermons on both sides of the question from various pastors, ministers, priests, and the laity in general. Everyone is certain of their positions, which are frequently heartfelt; they can often cite Scripture to back themselves up, or simple logic and humanity if they are atheistic.

And I ask, who knows who is right here? Especially the people who are claiming they speak for God, for God’s purpose and intent in the world, His message and His law for us to live by. They cite the Ten Commandments, the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, and doctrine and dogma on and on. But do any of these people, on either side of the debate, can they really speak for God???

It’s a question that’s valid, and something rather like a brief scene in an episode of Star Trek from the Original Series, “The Cloud Minders.” The people of the “cloud-city” of Stratos are willing to use torture to get answers and cooperation from the rebels on the surface of their planet, even when an alternate answer to their problem is presented to them by the crew of the Enterprise. The daughter of the city administrator questions this in one scene, supporting Mr. Spock’s position, and the administrator orders her to “go to [her] music” and leave him be. But, before she leaves the room, she turns and asks him, “Father, are we so sure of our methods that we never question what we do?”

Are we so sure of our beliefs that the chance of doubt never enters our mind?  Many will find this difficult to wrestle with; without that belief, their entire world-foundation crumbles beneath their feet, and that is a terrifying thing until they can reassemble one.  I know this; I may not be Irish and plagued at times with the dubhachas, the dark Gloom of the soul, but I can start questioning myself viciously into a state where I might as well be.  Uncertainty can be a horrible thing to grapple with.  But sometimes it can be powerful and enlightening as well.

Some of the older of you may remember seeing (probably on your local Late Late Show back when the local stations showed more movies) a black-and-white film from 1950 called The Next Voice You Hear…. It starred James Whitmore as Joe, an airplane-plant worker in Los Angeles, who goes into his living room on a Monday night, around 8:30, to listen to the radio. The camera switches out to the dining room; in a minute or so, Whitmore comes slowly back out, looking thoughtful, if not stunned, and tells his wife that a voice broke into the broadcast he was listening to, saying, “This is God. I’ll be with you for the next few days.”

And the voice does. Every night square at 8:30, on every radio around the world, in every language there is, the same voice (which we never hear as the film audience) comes on for a minute or so, delivering words that seep into the hearts of Whitmore’s character as well as his wife, son and sister-in-law – to essentially everyone around the world who has ears to hear. We go through the entire week with Joe’s family, down to Sunday, when they are sitting in the pews in a crowded church, with a radio on the altar near the pulpit. As 8:30 strikes, the sanctuary falls silent…but all that anyone hears this time is silence. The pastor, realizing that this is the Seventh Day, explains it to the congregation and says, “Let us believe that God is resting,” as he turns off the radio.

We in the Real World do not have that kind of certainty, that guaranteed “this is as it is” word of honor created by a short-story writer and a Hollywood scripter. We have only the writing of the authors of the Bible and other religious texts, and the tradition based on those writings handed down from the beginning and interpreted and reinterpreted by each faith’s fathers and mothers – in Christianity, this is the so called “Deposit of Faith.” The problem with such is that its authority rests on that faith that these words were inspired by God, that they are the inerrant Word of God, when they actually passed through some very human filters in the process, each with his or her own level of understanding, of expression, and with their own baggage of preconceived notions and agendas. Everyone knows about the contradictions between the Gospels; we should be thankful that there is as much concurrence as there is, to give us a reasonable basis on which to rest our faith!

But none of this, in the final throw, is the actual word of God; it’s not His mind and thought. You say, no matter which side of an argument you’re on, that you know what God means here? That makes you God. Please understand this: we cannot understand all of God and His plans and intentions. God is, by definition, beyond mortal understanding; He’s above it; we cannot fit God into our brains like that and say of a certainty, “This is what He means and wants!” for our heads would explode in the process. That would get kind of messy, as well as actually discouraging people from any kind of belief.  This is my belief, strongly influenced by my Episcopal background; we constantly try to understand God through examination of those texts, but also through the discernment of our minds and hearts.  We accept that, as men and women, limited humans, it is impossible to understand all of God’s intent for the world.

If we cannot understand completely God’s intentions and desires, then we should not commit a sin – that of trying to shoehorn God into our own preconceived notions. We’ll almost certainly be wrong in the end. God may be incapable of error, but we as humans are not. When we stop remembering that, things get confused, muddy, even dangerous.

What can we, as people living today and believers in whatever faith or creed we hold, do in the arguments today — do something that would be seemly to God? Probably two things, as I perceive it in my considerations. First, to remember what Christ said were the two greatest commandments, which are probably the true core and distillation of his mission on Earth for the Father before the Crucifixion:

[Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” — Matthew 22:37-40

And the other is, when we start getting oversure of ourselves and our beliefs and conclusions, when we start regarding our beliefs as facts and theology as Revealed Truth, to remember the tax collector in one of Jesus’ parables:

“…[T]he tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’…” — Luke 18:13

Amen.

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Posted September 6, 2015 by Harper Ganesvoort in Real Life, Religion

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