Wednesday, March 21, 2018

laudable epistemological humility

And lead me child-like by the hand
If still in darkness not in fear.

It is highly demoralizing to learn that there's no certainty to ground yourself on other than an ineffable and inscrutable Other who can reveal himself or herself—even gender fails us here—at will, withdrawing a sense of presence when deemed appropriate for our benefit, assuring us all the while that this deity’s fullest expression is in Emmanuel. What sort of certainty can be based upon such a God? Doubt seems to be the order of the day most days, faith being the worn-out motor which propels you through the storms, trusting that there exists a sun, even if it seems irrational and risible to imagine we will see it, or ever experience its warmth. This storm will never abate, but still we must navigate it. There is no reason to, other than we were born mariners, so it's either shoreward towards an empty horizon or sink. We may never live to say land ho! but still we drive forward.

Our launching point is from a port which we can no longer return to. Ignorance was a safe haven, but now we know more and pat answers will no longer do. Knowledge is power, and power corrupts our joyful, innocent ignorance. Our minds, once leashed onto the world, question everything. Imagine the voracious hunger of the Enlightenment: brilliant men realizing they could and should question everything. Realizing no authority could limit the peregrinations of the human mind. Such a force, harnessed, could topple empires or houses built on rock.

The world factually changes, and those sort of transformations cannot simply be ignored. How does one make ahistorical meaning—meaning universally, eternally true—out of a deeply historical religion. How can we trust the deeply human and flawed disciples of a homeless carpentry-defector from Nazareth to transmit an accurate meaning of the Incarnate God they never quite understood?

What authority do we have to re-interpret their words? What of their message speaks only to their cultural context? Does their assumption of the social category of slavery endorse the practice of slavery? To be a Christian is to believe in the transformation of the world through Resurrection. So how much is transformed?

How do we make sense of this faith which is deeply embedded, in fact orginate to, a different time and place—a culture and geography not our own and utterly stranger to us—yet is supposed to speak to us here and now and for all people?

If we have rejected all the pastoral injunctions for virtuous behavior of slaves, do we reject a code of sexual ethics formulated in a time before twenty-year-old women had careers? God is painted as a just judge, which is not an image of fear but of comfort, in a world where there is no justice for those without privilege. There is no surety of justice for the poor and the merchants of the Roman world. If they have no recourse to a patron they will never win their suit.

In a world of legal rigidity, where we trust the laws to operate (in general) like machines, rendering the appropriate punishments and rewards, we do not want God associated with law, but with mercy. Are we allowed to reimagine God? And by how much?

Sometimes I'm not sure if anything is true. And then you hear
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed.
Something about the beauty of those words, some comfort like the famous balm in Gilead instills certainty. Not in any creed in particular. Just the experience of certainty. Certainty that this strange God I meet in the tumult of my own heart, in the face of my least-liked neighbor, and in the words read at mass can make sense out of my tangle of lies and mistakes and missteps and falsehood and misgivings.

I may know nothing, but I am certain of that beauty.

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