|Questioning Everything 7|
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
There are no facts, only interpretations, and this too is an interpretation.
-The Sacredness of Questioning Everything,by David Dark, p. 147
This 7th chapter of David Dark's book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, is my favorite. I've covered every page with my yellow-highlighter. I could respond on this blog to every section. I love it.
And I am grateful for it.
I have some bad memories of speaking about something and having someone say, "Well, that's just your opinion," and I'm betting I'm not the only one who has had that humiliating moment.
It's a great way to take the floor back, isn't it? It's a great way to wield power control and manipulation. It's a proven way to put others down and lift yourself up, but.....is it really?
"That's just your interpretation," someone said to me in response to a statement I'd made recently. Instantly, I shut my mouth, shut him out, shut down. Sometimes, when I've met with that response, I've even shut the door to my heart.
No, wait. That's not quite accurate.
When someone says that to me, it feels as if it is the speaker who is slamming the door in my face and shutting me out of the conversation and, sadly, his/her life. I feel embarrassed and stupid and sorry that I ever got into the conversation in the first place. When someone says, "That's your opinion," I feel devalued, diminished, discounted.
And I need to remember this: I may not insult someone with those words, but I have my own ways of closing my mind and heart to others, and when I do that to someone else, I slam the door to that person's heart. Insults do that.
I'm not proud of that. In fact, I'm sorry for every time I've treated another human being in that manner.
In Chapter 7,"Survival of the Freshest: Questioning Interpretation", author David Dark says that the next time someone says such a thing around him, "I hope I'll have the nerve to say, "True enough. But what else is there?"
"Technically speak," Dark writes, "this isn't a response at all. Unlike a question or an observation concerning the content of what was proffered, it only devalues and expresses disapproval of someone else's word, shutting down the possibility of a good conversation involving people good-naturedly sharing their interpretations with one another." (p. 146)
Back to Dark's question: What else is there?
Isn't it true that we all speak from our own interpretations and opinions?
In basic communication training, I learned the importance of differentiating between facts and opinions or interpretations. I learned that the less self-awareness I had, the more I would project my own intuitive hunches, my feelings and my reality onto someone else.
In a lifetime of living within the religious world, I have learned that the bigger the subject - like God, for example - the more loose some of us are with pronouncements, edicts and what I call "God-almighty declarations" about that which we know the least!
I've also learned that the more insecure or fearful we humans are, the louder we proclaim that we are the ones who know the truth.
How odd it is that the weaker one's convictions, the more forcefully he/she attempts to force those convictions on others, drawing big lines in the sand or building big boulders to keep "them" out and "us" in.
It shocked me out of my chair, almost, the first time I heard someone say that all we can talk about when we talk about God is our idea about God or our God-concept.
I'd lived a whole lifetime thinking that when the name God is spoken, especially in church, we all had the same idea about what that meant.
The shocker for me has been to realize - wake up to the fact of - understand - reckon with - the very idea that each of us brings to any given moment a God-concept that is based on our earliest experience of a care-giver or authority figure, what we were taught and what we caught. To add to the enormity of that reality is the idea that our God-concepts are formed when we are children, and those concepts are formed at a non-rational, unconscious and emotional level.
It's no wonder that we within the religious world are in conflict with each other now, for our ideas and interpretations of who God is are in conflict with each other. Mostly, and sadly, we speak about God in ways that separate us instead of unite us, and from what I know and understand about the nature of the Holy One, that is tragic and profoundly sad.
(And meanwhile, the numinous and mysterious ways and means of that which we so flippantly call God continues to move among us, unfettered by our ignorance and arrogance.)
To assume that I know the truth or that I have the final word on what matters most, to live in the arrogance of unbending certainty is to pretend that I am God. That certainty, while it feels good to my ego and makes me feel safe and secure, ultimately sets me up for disillusionment and separation and conflict with others.
On the other hand, to bow in deference to the One who is Mystery, to allow God to remain Other-than-I, and to admit and remember that whatever I think about God in this moment may be exploded in the next is to keep my mind and heart open to discovery, expansion and....well, Love.
Dark writes on p. 147: ""What the purveyors of what's real (be they priests, presidents or news producers) decree as facts are essentially interpretations by fellow humans. They are attempts at making sense. And it's what I'm doing right now....: I'm a mere interpreter too. Aren't you? Will you join me in this confession: This is where we live, all of us- in a place of not knowing, but believing and hoping and suspecting and interpreting. Might we admit for one mad, liberating moment that this is where we are? Its is a confession we feel we can afford? Can we renounce our pretensions to Godlike knowingness and speak again as humans? Doing justice to what's true, doing justice to justice."
Take a minute and take that in. Read it over and over. Let it settle like a fresh wind of freedom over your mind - releasing your normal, everyday, human need to be right, infallible, secure.
Ernst Becker calls it our "imagined infallibility".
And don't you love that term?
I challenge you to read this section on "imagined infallibility" on pp. 148-9 and see if you come out on the other side with your same ability to clench your fists around your favorite prejudices and biases. Read it and see if you can stay puffed up with your own certainty about ultimate things, especially the mysterious, numinous, ever-expanding reality of that which we so flippantly call God.
Dark punctures not my faith, but my delusions and illusions, not only about my religious world, but about my own understandings of God. Oddly, instead of feeling threatened by that deflation, I feel liberated. It is almost as if when I can let go of my certainty about how the world is, I am then able to relax into the grace of God's mystery. What is that about?
How is it that letting go of my certain makes me feel more at ease in the world?
Why is it that having to have the right answer and the right believe and be in the right religious group makes me feel anxious and afraid?
"Imagine letting go of the psychic burden of certainty," Dark says on p. 149. "Imagine backing down from our imagined infallibility and assuming the mantle of mere human."
What? What does he mean - mere human?
And yet, and yet - Remember, that in our mere humanness, we are still created in the very image of God, according to Genesis 1:27, and it is in Psalm 8 that the psalmist declares that we are created just a little lower than the angels.
Wouldn't it be interesting if we discovered, after all, that it is our certainty and our fixations on being right and our rigid interpretations of God, ourselves and the universe that keep us in a state of being less than fully human?
What if releasing all of that need to be infallible might make room for us to rise to the level of our intended being?
What if releasing ourselves from the concrete of being right, we were able to soar in the freedom of trusting and obeying, loving and being loved?
Dark completes that paragraph on p. 149 like this: "Imagine the poetic/prophetic way of relating that would be possible. We might become capable of questioning ourselves out loud. We might let a little air in. In the most life-giving sense, we might get a little religion."
What about you?
Which of your interpretations do you take as fact?
Can you catch yourself clenching your fists around something that you have always believed was a fact, but now you see as your interpretation of a fact?
How often do you get into a power struggle or an outright quarrel with someone over a difference of opinion? When that happens, which one of you believes he/she is right?
How scary is it for you to make a mistake?
How hard is it for you to admit a mistake?
Are you quick to say "I'm sorry; I was wrong", or do would you rather die than admit that?
What is it that is so scary to you about Dark's idea that everything is interpretation?
If Dark is right, what foundation do we have? Does he mean that everything is just a wisp, a phantom, a mush of relativism?
Would you rather be curious or certain?
Would you rather be courageous or cautious?
Would you rather know the God-of-your-own-making or the Unnamable One, the Holy One, the Mystery?
Wherever you are - grace to you -