What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know.
It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.
– Mark Twain
(disclaimer – in all of the scenarios and examples I create and illustrate in this post, please know they do not represent my own views or the views of anybody else in particular. They are merely examples that have been plucked out from scenarios I have seen from people throughout all of my history with the church.)
Ok, where were we? We were talking about the bifurcation (or fragmentation) that we do in our lives (i.e. sacred vs secular, private vs public, etc) to help us avoid the fear of the other or the unknown. I don’t want to focus on the fear of the unknown too much; it definitely fuels the bifurcation, but it’s not the sole reason behind why we bifurcate. But I do think the fear of the unknown is still worth exploring a little bit.
Fear of the unknown
Please hear me out on this next illustration. When some of you read the name of who proffered this analogy, which was Rob Bell, you will turn your brain off because sadly many people have ignorantly thrown the baby out with the bathwater (post coming on that topic soon) in valuable take-aways because of his most recent book, “Love Wins”. But I think this is an excellent illustration of why the fear of the unknown is so powerful. Rob Bell explains it like this: imagine all your beliefs are individual bricks in a wall and this wall is your faith – the trinity is a brick, the virgin birth is a brick, abortion is a brick, alcohol is evil, Jesus was a republican is a brick, homosexuality is a sin is a brick, strict creationism is a brick, the earth was created in 6 literal 24 hour days is a brick, the Bible being read literally is a brick, Jonah being swallowed by a fish is a brick, Jesus’s miracles are all bricks, the rapture is a brick, etc, etc.
Imagine that below is that brick wall I was talking about. The bricks are a rusty red and they are all stacked on top of each other.
|the trinity||the virgin birth||abortion|
|jesus was a republican||homosexuality is a sin||young earth|
|the world and culture is evil||alcohol is evil||literal translation of the bible|
|the rapture||hell is real & eternal torment||jesus is the only way|
|the bible is inerrant||god will destroy the earth||evolution is wrong|
|God is a man||original sin||the resurrection|
|us vs them||obama is the antichrist||don’t question the church|
You take all of these bricks, stack them on top of each other and build a strong, sturdy wall. But each of these bricks are interdependent of one another. What happens if you start to discuss one of your core truths which in effect is wiggling a brick? Or what if one of your truths is disproven somehow and you have to completely remove a brick? The structural integrity of the wall will be compromised and it is very possible it will crumble. If you build and construct your faith this way your faith might start to crumble. What’s on the other side of a deconstructed belief-system? The unknown. Can I trust God? Can I even still believe in God? Can I survive without a religion?
Hope is next. If we acknowledge we are not God.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55: 8, 9
It will mean that my understanding of the truth must be constantly open to revision and correction, but – and this is the crucial point – only and always within the irreversible commitment to Jesus Christ. – Lesslie Newbigin
Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted. – Herbert Butterfield
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! – Lamentations 3: 40
We have to be careful about what we do with our assumptions about God that we are constructing as core immovable truths. So the fear in this instance is the effect that if one truth is disproven your faith will crumble and fall apart, and you don’t know what will happen if your belief-system falls apart or what needs to be done to rebuild it. Maybe we put too much faith in our beliefs and derivations about God, and not enough faith in allowing God to be bigger than what we think we know.
If you know what God knows, or have God all figured out your God is not big enough.
Sacred vs Secular and Filling the Void
So, how does all of this tie back into my original problem with what the pastor said? The problem is that he is teaching from the pulpit that it is ok to view things as sacred and secular which is what propagates the us vs them mentality and puts Christians at odds against the culture. If two issues, which seem in conflict, actually meet we won’t know how we’ll deal with it or if we’ll be able to process it. We don’t know what’s on the other side of our rationally-based faith. We have this basic need where things have to make sense to us. So in order to do this we compartmentalize the conflicting things – we keep them in their place. We conjure up belief (read: coping) mechanisms to make it seem to ourself that our made-up belief is in fact believable and copacetic.
It’s easy to convince us to believe because we want certainty.
We have a deep-seated longing to confirm our desire
for an ordered universe: a universe that makes sense,
a universe in which we are special, valued, and eternal.
And on top of it all, like the child who rationalizes her behavior,
we have a deep desire to convince ourselves
that we believe for reasons other than mere psychological need.
Hence we will often seek out evidence
to support the already existing belief
and then pretend that our belief
arose from the evidence.”
– Peter Rollins
Sometimes we become conflicted with our own rationale; we feel that we have to recognize science because it truly helps society move forward…but we are not going to recognize all of it, or at least not the evolution part of it – that conflicts with my faith. We have to have a government because otherwise we’ll have anarchy, but we can’t let our faith or morals play into making laws because we don’t want to impinge un-commonly held beliefs if your party is not in power. And damnit, Petrino is a coach, not a pope, he’s not a role model, it doesn’t matter if he’s a man of integrity – just let him coach.
What’s on the other side?
Is holding a fragmented worldview the right thing to do in every circumstance? I would say definitely not in regards to what the pastor said regarding “fellowship” being solely a Christian word. The tendency to fragment or compartmentalize different things in our lives so they don’t cross over to certain other areas will cause confusion when there are true signs of God interwoven in our culture. How can we recognize truth found in our culture, if we can’t discern what truth actually is and compute that the two can peaceably coexist within each other?
There is more than just the bifurcation of words that Christians can only say vs words the world can say that cuts to the root of the problem. I think alot of times when we fragment things we tend to place a sense of value on these things and when value is involved then hierarchy and exclusiveness can occur. When hierarchy and exclusiveness occur then we place a high value on what we know, and that I know I’m right, and if you’re different then you’re wrong. Fear of the unknown can cause inert distrust and a sense of self-righteousness.
“To lose that which grounds us and provides us with meaning
involves nothing less than losing the God of religion
in whatever form it manifests itself in our life.”
– Peter Rollins
What can be on the other side? For me, I found freedom. Freedom from the notion that my beliefs had to be bundled up and make sense with a pretty bow on top. With things that might not sit well with me I can hear the cognitive dissonance and on top of that hear the beautifully layered harmony.
note – language in the video
In my next post I’ll be continuing this series and touch on the reason behind why we have this fragmented worldview and how we can reshape our lenses.