Several readers have pointed out my ability to contradict myself a good few times. This happens because I get confused. Sometimes, I don’t realise I am in that state of mind and other times I do it deliberately.
When I do it on purpose it is to emphasis the less than obvious lack of order in our world. True, we create meaning from the ‘stuff’ in front of us but I assert that much of our ‘understanding’ is an illusion simply there to create order out of chaos.
It’s tricky to sort out the helpful and unhelpful creations we make. Small, safe experiments are intended to identify some unhelpful diversions. Small victories, by contrast, build on things that appear helpful, if only for now.
One particular belief
Those who know me well will know that, on a personal level, I include many religious structures and beliefs in the category of ‘unhelpful’. They take our beliefs and makes them into certainties; ‘real’ things that should be taken seriously, when that is not wise. So it is with some irony that I take a biblical text in which a theologian tells me about the presence of confusion in religious tracts!
Doug Ingram, a teacher of the Old Testament, wrote a pamphlet on Ecclesiastes in 2004. He focused on the ambiguities in that one biblical text. As I am no linguist, I am at added disadvantage as Doug highlights the confusions arising from translations from one language, into English. He gives the example of the word, hebel in Hebrew, showing different ways this word is understood – from ‘absurd’ to ‘transient’ or ‘enigmatic’.
He points out that these differences are such that the Book of Ecclesiastes can be understood in radically different ways. He says any attempt to structure the text is ultimately frustrated. He concludes that our own philosophies will always contain aspects “that defy explanation and refuse to fit into our scheme“. The text achieves this amplifying ambiguity. He hopes that the uncertainties generated may “allow the voices from the margin to speak“. I’ll vote for that. He suggests that the modern world is more “aware of the ambigous nature of the world” as it “is no longer satisfied with a previous generation’s ‘meta-narratives’ ” and seeks out a different wisdom.
I am less willing to vote with Doug over this last assertion. My own view is that the present realities broadcast by modern gurus simply offer a different ambiguity; one that replaces the certainties of people in authority – teachers, and the like – with the equally frail, personal view of the individual. Social media fosters the notion that the individual Twitterer, Facebook author or blogger is king or queen – so much so that many people now believe Donald Trump is a good guy, and not a little bit dangerous!
That’s why I wrote the page challenging to current pre-occupation with our ‘lived experience‘.
…. so, you see, I find it helpful not to make my mind up. Curiosity helps me to keep asking questions and highlighting uncertainties. It helps me to remain alive. I want safe experiments, like the book of Ecclesiastes, “to face the harsh realities of life head on, and refuse to provide nice neat answers”.
Here, Doug and I reach the same conclusion … but I will stay an atheist!
By the way, another person taking a similar line is B. Alan Wallace in his 2012 text Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic. In his case, he demonstrates how mis-translation and misunderstanding of eastern terms has led fast-paced Western practitioners to undermine the practice of Buddhism.
Further leads to consider