Truth is a slippery thing these days.
Let’s take science for instance. Say you wanted to observe and reasonably understand with a level of predictability the collision of two air molecules. Air molecules are fairly simply, they’re relatively uncomplicated; the event of the collision will occur within a fourteen millionth of a second which means there’s shouldn’t be a mass of data spread out across time. It looks straightforward enough. The only problem is that in order to observe and predict this single collision taking place in a fourteen millionth of a second scientists tell us that we would need to take into account an electron (the smallest particle of matter) on the other side of the known universe (as far from HERE as you can go)! All of this to say that detailed behavior is absolutely unpredictable without absolutely universal understanding. To neglect even a single electron is to radically misinterpret the information.
The rather backwards admission that we don’t have universal understanding on any given subject confronts the assertion that we have a leg to stand on with even the smallest of claims. If I can’t know everything (which seems rather strange to say out loud but DOES form a basic assumption in Western science, philosophy, and certainly religion) then can I really know anything?
I can feel the fundamental hackles rising.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing the reality of Reality here…I’m just sniffing around on the subject of our ability to know it. Not long ago I might have agreed with that to a point but then countered something along the lines of God’s ability to overwhelm our natural inabilities. What is impossible with man (Absolute understanding) is possible with God. And because God wishes people to know him he is perfectly willing to break all the laws of quantum physics in order to serve up a detailed knowledge of Godself to us. Well, that’s how the logic goes–perhaps.
That argument is believable up to a point. But it starts to break when we think about our relationship with the toute autres–the wholly Other. If something is completely outside of the constructs of what we have known or understood it will quite simply pass over us. If something that was purely unknown to us entered our space we wouldn’t even recognize it. Our senses wouldn’t have categories for it. Our sight would fail us. The wholly Other would be lost on is, like the ships of the Spaniards on the early South American tribes–invisible.
This means that when a “new” idea bursts like a flash of lightening from heaven onto us–it’s rarely new. In some way, no matter how brilliantly or orginally conceived, revelation–especially the revelation of the wholly Other–is dependent on what we’ve already known or understood. Perhaps another way of saying all this more to the point is that even something like revelation is dependent on our existing categories and concepts. It’s still perilously linked into us, our dispositions, affinities and affirmations. That makes it, in my finite mind, still suspect. If everything that I process or that proceeds through me is stamped with my interpretations and since I do not have “universal understanding” I’m still in the same boat of not knowing anything about…anything…for certain at least…
So where does this leave us?
If I can’t gage anything with certainty or absolutism am I doomed to a purposeless Nihilistic existence? Isn’t it exactly as my friend Kevin said, “the trouble with stripping away one’s core belief structure is it can leave you spinning free into an abyss of endless possibility. no right or wrong, no up or down, and no real direction at all. you’re faced with the realization that there may actually be no greater purpose to this life“?
This is what the exestentialists called “the anguish of freedom”. Perplexity. Despondency. Hopelessness. All these are feelings that flow into this place where nothing seems absolute–where absolute reason has fled out the door and we’re left with no solid ground to stand on–save only sinking sand. Where is our Rock to build upon? Faced with a plurality of reality is there any Real to set up shop at?
Camping out is what True believers are always apt to do. Jesus, “the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life”, has to gently remind willful Peter to come down off the mountain, to not set up booths on the Mountain of Transfiguration, and to keep step as Truth moved on. Moses is allowed to see God but only his rear–where God has just previously been. The Name of God (YHWH) is less than a name and more of a Divine kiss off, roughly translated as “Never You Mind”…”I am that I am.” An earlier patriarch, Abraham, isn’t even given that much. The name he affirms God with is simply rendered as “Most High God”…or the god above the other ones. For Abraham, while there were certainly other god’s, this one–this Most High God–was the one for him. And there’s the jumping off point for me.
If I could take a bit of connected rabbit trail….
…let’s talk about love. I fell in love with my wife NOT out of fate…not because I thought that was my destiny… not because she was the ONLY woman in the world… In other words, I didn’t hedge my bets. With love you really can’t be certain. There aren’t absolutes. You could wish there were. You could wish that suffering or death or rejection or betrayal were not elements in love. And what one of us chooses love anticipating rejection or betrayal? In fact while we don’t have any Certain Assurance or Absolute Reason for choosing our loves we do probably have good reasons… We look at the beauty standing in front of us and say to ourselves, “This One may not be the only one, may not even be the eternal one, but they are the one for me in this moment here and now.” This is the choice of Love.
That’s how I see Abraham’s name for God, “Most High God” relating. It’s a statement of Love. He’s not discounting the reality of the other gods. He’s well aware that there are other games in town–but this One–this is the Most high…above all the others…towering over them…the others don’t hold a candle to Most high God.
In the end this is how we navigate the world.
Outwardly we approach the Loving Unknown with a degree of artistry. We encounter life with experiment, imagination and authenticity. We engage the relative future (the future that is related to the present decisions that we make) with the knowledge that we have choice and responsiblity. Who we are is detirmined (in this case) by the actions we have and will undertake. Make today count. Try. Dare. Risk.
There are also though encounters of the “Im/possible”. The unexplained and unprepared for, which then enters our reality and overturns our applecarts. We couldn’t have even conceived of such an event and it exceeds all of our natural reserves. It, by its very nature, subverts the paradigms we operated within. The tables get turned over and the money changers of our ordered way of doing things are reversed. How do we approach those events? With the inward resolve of what one ancient philosopher called “the things that remain: faith, hope and love (with the greatest being love)”. That is how we embrace the wild card future…faith, hope and love…
That’s how we then live…we live with certainty, certainly knowing our uncertain state.
If in the end our reasons, our certainties, and our absolutes are eroded to deconstructables floating on the refuse heap we are left with the need for far more FAITH than we ever imagined. If things, including science and philosophy and religion, are all interpretations that we can’t ever be completely sure of or imagine that we have the irrefutable answer to, then we have to take one step at a time walking down a darkened hall.
Filed under: confession | Tagged: absolute truth, absolutes, certainty, chaos theory, Christianity, complexity, Derrida, exestentialism, modernity, pete rollins, postmoderism, postmodern, reason, religion, truth | 1 Comment »