I love the idea of a “third way” or a “middle way” of approaching faith/spiritual questions although it certainly isn’t easy to get there, particularly when you feel jaded by a conventional religious framework and, as such, typically feel more prone to continual criticism of “what you came from” rather than any sense of how to move forward into something truly new and creative (too tempting to stay in the deconstruction phase, I suppose, particularly when you want to avoid about simply replacing old concepts or “answers” with new ones). Having said this, I also think this task of moving into something new becomes a million times easier when you have a safe community within which to “transition”…
On this note, I’m reminded of something I’m reading right now by Gordon Kaufman (yup…him again). In his book, In Face of Mystery: a Constructive Theology, he writes about distinct “moments” or dimensions of human consciousness or awareness of meaning. Now, he articulates this as three dimensions (others, as you’ve taught, have spoken about more), which I won’t describe in detail here but will point to the third dimension he maps out as, I think, this relates to what you were talking about in the “Painting by Numbers” post.
The first dimension is naive awareness in which meaning is somehow simply “there”—something directly given and to be accepted. The second dimension is critical consciousness in which symbols/concepts/categories become questionable, understood not as symbols of some objective reality but as purely human creations (the reaction to this recognition, he says, often becomes “take the symbols or leave them, but it’s probably wiser to leave them”).
But the third dimension is reflective awareness—which he likens to Paul Ricoeur’s idea of a “second naiveté”—in which symbolic meaning is recognized both as human construction and as indispensible to human life. He says, “The third or reflective moment of consciousness is connected with a kind of faith that is significantly aware of itself. For it involves a commitment both to the meaning of our most profound orienting symbols as well as to the meaningfulness of our activities of criticizing and reconstructing these same symbols in the face of the ultimate mystery of life: in a reflective consciousness of this sort we live out of a trust which enables us to continue acting creatively and constructively even though we do not know with finality who we are or where we are going. With such a faith—such a consciousness of the profound mystery of life combined with confidence in the possibility of living creatively within that mystery—life can go on, however problematic our particular conceptual frame may have become. Thus, it is possible to engage in criticism and reconstruction of our conceptual schemes, even while we are living and thinking within them.”
This, he says, is the space in which theology is done. Now, this little recap doesn’t do justice to his discussion, nor does this sound like anything new to what you have often discussed at Quest, but I thought I would add it anyway. For me, this third space (of paradox…of holding your convictions “lightly” etc) feels like the healthy, and more honest, place to be. It’s a place where many things can converge….where other worldviews, theologies, non-religious perspectives can create space for one another….where they don’t automatically serve as an affront to each other.
Of course, this needs a caveat: who am I to judge spiritual “health”? Am I defining health only by a hefty dose of cynicism and an agnostic posture? For me, that feels like the more honest place to be, but maybe that’s not fair. Perhaps this sounds too pragmatic or uninspiring, but maybe spiritual health is “whatever gets you through the day.” For some, it’s cathartic to be able to let go of all of the trappings of what you were brought up with – to move into new and innovative ways of thinking. For others, it is necessary to sincerely hold on to what you were given. Most people seem to be able to go through their entire lives by simply living out the “frames”/worldviews/theologies they’ve inherited. Does this need to change for everyone?