As a lover of learning and a seeker of knowledge, I value very much the three strands that has defined Anglicanism; scripture, tradition, and reason. I genuinely believe that our pursuit of God involves a quest to know, yet it also seems that knowledge is in some ways antithetical to faith. For it is by faith, that we recognize that our knowledge is imperfect and that we are dependent on a higher power; a power that we cannot prove, yet of whose understanding we use as a guide for our life. The tension between the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, while acknowledging that the human condition prevents us from being omniscient, is bridged by faith. And in spite of my quest for knowledge, faith will always be necessary.
Human beings have an intrinsic desire to know things that will help them make sense of their environment and that seems to give them understanding of why things occur. It is often simply a matter of self-preservation to understand that which causes both good and bad things to occur. Yet also from a sense of self-preservation comes a compulsion to be skeptical, if not fearful, of the unknown. Things that we do not understand, we are inclined to view suspiciously.
One area of the unknown that very often leads to a fearful or skeptical position relates to the otherness that occurs when confronted by people from different cultures, religions, or ideological perspectives. A very natural and human characteristic of self-preservation is to view skeptically that which we don’t know or understand. In times past, communities built walled cities to keep the others out and they would defend these cities by virtually any means against those perceived as a threat.
Today, we no longer think of the walls of our cities as a delineation from the others, yet we still find ways to build barriers. In a world where theses are commonly restrained to 140 characters, there is a tendency to defend our cities from the others with sharp rhetoric and extreme statements. Little room is left for meaningful and safe dialogue that will arrive at a shared understanding; an understanding that coincidentally is almost always found somewhere between the ideological poles.
Even within the framework of a moral ideology, where a person is genuinely committed to being the most moral person possible, ideological poles exist that creates a sense of otherness, and thus a compulsion to defend against this otherness. There are too few places where safe conversation can occur that allows for expression of personal feelings or beliefs, regardless of how uniformed they might seem, without being labeled, judged, or viewed as one of those others.
Ideology influences the construction of a person’s reality, and many are willing to die for their most firmly entrenched ideologies. The most ardent supporters of most moral ideologies genuinely believe that those who hold opposing views on the issue are ignorant, close minded, or evil in their intent. Nonetheless, the tendency by both the right and left leaning ideological and political positions is to discount as unreasonable the positions of the other side and hold steadfastly to their personal position as being morally superior and better informed.
Yet in virtually all debates that divide us, if the real truth could be understood, it would lie somewhere in between the ideological poles. Truth, and therefore resolution, is most often found in the grey; a place which many find uncomfortable or even unlivable. The desire to make sense of our world tends to compel us to understand things as absolute, and hold to positions in which we can drive a stake in the ground and not vary. Changing ones’ position is often chided by others as being weak rather than as ones’ growth in understanding. Ignorance (a lack of knowledge) exists in all of us in that no one person has all knowledge. Therefore, ignorance is not shameful yet merely a condition that gives us room for growth. Yet dare I suggest that ignorance crystallized is stupidity and one could argue that stupidity, or hardened ignorance, should bring on a sense of shame.
The challenge that I wrestle with daily is to avoid the notion that I can be the judge of stupid. For it is when I judge another’s motives or character that I assume the role of God. To maintain the ability to vigorously proclaim the message in which I believe is the path to a better tomorrow, while not resorting to rhetoric and arguments that arrogantly elevate myself to a level of making judgments about others’ motives and moral character. This is my daily challenge.
And it is a humbling understanding that causes me to regularly pray,
God, help me not hate those who hate. Help me not judge those who judge. Help me not build walls resisting others, but rather attempt to know them so that my community of fellowship might be expanded.
God help me to proclaim the truth as I now understand it, while aspiring to enlighten my ignorance, recognizing that as a man I only see through a tinted glass. Help me to oppose evil and not just those individuals who succumb to its ugly grip. Help me to remember that evil will only be overcome with love and that love requires of me, faith; a faith that leaves the judgment of another person’s heart to the only one who truly knows their heart.
God, please help me to be a part of a solution and not a part of the problem. May my pursuit of your kingdom always be undertaken with a keen awareness of my imperfect knowledge and my imperfect perfect love, so that my understanding of the world does not merely rely on my log-obscured vision but rather on my faith in you who knows the hearts and motives of all.