Well, I have spent quite some time over the last week pondering the issue of ambiguity and with particular reference to religious dogma. I use the word religious dogma advisedly, as although my treatise will focus primarily on Christianity, the insistence that most beliefs are black and white seems to be common across the religious landscape. So where am I going with this? For a long time, I would describe my own position on what I believed as somewhere between right and arrogant! Despite the overwhelming number of different views on so many aspects of my belief system, I somehow persuaded myself at an early age that my views were the correct ones. For example, back in my days in the Anglican church, when I took issue with the whole premise of infant baptism, I was unable to compromise my views for the sake of remaining in communion with friends I had made there, and subsequently ended up starting a new splinter group or as we called it, ‘church’.
Since the reformation, and the advent of the overarching ‘authority’ of the ‘word of God’, the number of splinter groups and denominational groupings has swelled to almost infinite proportions. As I journey down the streets of the US, the plethora of church names sported gives testimony to the strength of division arising from diverse interpretations of this ‘word of God’. Perhaps one of the most divisive and fundamental of these divisions revolves around two competing ideologies known as Calvanism and Arminianism. The first posits a lack of individual freedom to choose but puts the onus on God himself to be the arbiter of our salvation, the latter affirms the opposite and claims the individual is in full control of their eternal destiny. Rather than attempting an impossible reconciliation of these two tenets of faith, the Christian world is largely divided between the adherents of one or the other. I once attempted to explain this dichotomy with a picture portraying the journey of the seeker responding to these words ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved’ on one side of a bridge. As this same individual walks under the bridge, they turn round only to see written on the back side, ‘You were chosen before the foundation of the earth’.
Yes, you are right, this does not adequately explain a logical co-existence of the two, but attempts a clever visual to accommodate and unite them. But what if they are both true, its just our human logic is unable to incorporate them into our black and white logic. Frankly, I struggle to understand how entities can exist in more than one place at the same time, a fairly recent phenomenon belonging to the expanding physics of quantum theory. What gives us the idea that we can somehow define the being/concept we call ‘God’ in our own terms and especially through the oh so limited words of the bible. How do we accommodate the expanding knowledge of scientific discovery with the seeming contradiction of what we read in the scriptures?
What if, instead of an attitude of black and white insistence that we ‘know the truth’, we adopted an acceptance of ambiguity that acknowledged our inability to define everything in black and white terms and gave credence to those with whom we might have a difference of opinion? Would this not give way to a much greater humility towards others, and a broader more encompassing acceptance of those we don’t understand. Just as Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ was never intended to deny the existence of God, but open our eyes to just how our world might have been ‘created’, embracing ambiguity allows us to expand our horizons and incorporate so many fascinating new discoveries about the world we live in. It would also open the way for greater unity and acceptance in our relationships with others, surely one of the greatest positives deriving from the teachings of Jesus himself.
I see nothing wrong with having opinions, even strong ones, as long as we recognize they are just that, opinions. Much of what is touted as ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ in the mouths of those who speak for so many branches of religion has no basis in scientific or even logical thought, but relies on an inerrant and fool-proof reading of words, though inspired, which contradict themselves at so many turns. I for one have a growing ease with not understanding everything, but enjoying that which edifies and uplifts, even when it comes from sources with which I would not naturally ally myself. I continue to have strong opinions about what I believe, but have slowly come to realize that, in the words of my one time Anglican Rector, if you are truly open to ambiguity and have a desire to learn, you may discover ‘All kinds of good things’ along the way.