Or, Creationists, Flat Earthers, and Unknowers…
Not long ago, a religious debate engulfed the center of western civilization. Science seemed more and more insistent as time went along on a “theory” that had developed about the very foundations of the way that life on earth – and the universe itself – was put together. Seems innocent enough, right?
The problem is that this “theory” was in direct conflict with Orthodox translations and interpretations of the Bible.
I should insert here a definition of “Orthodoxy”. It means, in essence, “right thinking”, or “the right way to think”. Conversely, “heresy” is simply thinking that is not orthodox. Any non-orthodox way of thinking is, in essence, heresy. It all has a very fascist feel to it, doesn’t it?
Regarding the debate in question, Orthodox Christianity insisted that you must interpret our best translations of early teachings (ie The Bible) in a particular way, and that this ruled out this new theory. Debate raged both ways, with the fundamentalists feeling threatened that the very “Word of G-d” was being challenged by science.
At this point, a reader might think that I’m referring to a debate that’s going on right now in the halls of Orthodoxy – the debate over the notion of evolution. And in fact, the debate I’m referring to is still going on in some circles, but it’s not the debate over evolution.
The debate I’m referring to was rampant a few hundred years ago. In the 15th century, Fundamentalist Christian Orthodoxy was torturing and killing people for the heresy of believing the earth was round. Many who were considered great scientific minds of the day were willing to line up on the side of Christian Orthodoxy, and find evidence to support the notion of a flat earth.
Today, the Flat Earth Society is alive and well, evidence of the extreme power that Orthodoxy has in keeping our minds locked tight against learning and growing. It’s probably hard for a reasonable person today to imagine how a person could actually think that the earth is flat, but to the folks who believe it today, they’re absolutely convinced that there is ample evidence to support their notion that the earth is, indeed, flat.
There are lots of folks today who are absolutely convinced that the notion of natural selection and the adaptation of a species – which is the essence of the theory of evolution – conflicts with what Orthodoxy has taught them. In my opinion, these folks have mistaken the “teachings of Orthodoxy” with the “Truth of G-d” – two very different things.
Orthodoxy changes throughout history. As it changes, it adapts history – and adapts what Orthodoxy itself has taught in the past – to try and make it appear as though it is unchanging. “Unchangeability” is something that orthodoxies are addicted to. An orthodoxy must cling to the notion that it knows the answer, and that the answer never changes. As our minds understand more and more about this wonderful Creation, the answers orthodoxies cling to begin to crumble, and orthodoxy fights back.
Enter the beauty of unknowing. Again.
If I can simply accept that Creation is, then I’m open to understanding more about it. That was G-d’s answer to Moses, wasn’t it? When Moses asked G-d to explain Himself, and who He was, G-d simply answered that Moses didn’t have the ability to understand. He said simply, “I Am”.
That’s just no enough for us, and we insist on creating orthodoxy. We have a tough time accepting that “G-d” is something beyond our ability to understand well.
Back to our Flat Earth debate. While we like to trumpet the greatness of Western Civilization, and our advancements, and the “great thinking” that’s come from us, we forget that when we “discovered” the fact that the earth was round back in the 15th century, we were pretty late in the game. Many civilizations already had that understanding firmly institutionalized.
We were, in fact, great thinkers coming from a great Greek tradition, yet we’d been held back by an ancient mythology about a flat earth. How? The power of orthodoxy to insist that it “knows”. 500 years later, in our world today, the Flat Earth Society is alive and well. Orthodoxy and the addiction to knowing are amazingly powerful, aren’t they?
The first step is always the hardest – that first step of being OK with “unknowing”. Accepting an inability to deeply “know the essence of G-d” opens us to the ability to understand ourselves, the world around us, and the framework of the universe. Accepting “unknowing” is exactly what’s required to be able to “know the knowable”.
Paradoxically, according to great teachers and sages from Moses to Jesus to Mohammed to Lau Tzu – even to many of the Saints of Orthodoxy from St Theresa to Rumi – it is in the humility of “unknowing” that we’ll find ourselves able to find closeness with The Divine.
Unknowing seems to be the key to many sides of the coin, doesn’t it?