Monday, February 27, 2012


On one of the listservs I follow, there was a brief flurry of discussion about paradigm shift. In the course of it I said something about religion, maybe referencing my education. Immediately several people reacted -- religion is a hot button issue, as they say. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is absolutely convinced that they know all about it and that it is POSSIBLE to know all about it. No one is allowed to argue or reason, either one. To put it in a fancy way, none of them were in the same religious paradigm as myself. Most of them were working with 1950 at the most recent.

To these people religion is about God and a physical local church. That’s it. Nothing about theodicy (the problem of how God can be good and all-powerful given the world as it is), nothing about Biblical translations (none were right wing people), nothing about world religions. I think to these people Islam is not a religion, not even a cult, just a delusion. Only Christian denominations count as anything. And these are folks who are pretty well-educated. But they don’t realize how much they assume. (Paradigms ride deep in the subconscious.)

If they had been of a slightly more recent era, they would have referenced what they fancied to be Native American or Buddhist ideas and completely discounted anything having to do with Christianity as corrupt, misleading, and old-fashioned. Just myths and curiosities. I think that most of the people born since 1990 or so simply don’t think about religion at all. It’s just “out there,” someone else’s problem. THEIR problem is finding a job.

I have a Blackfeet friend who is a ceremonial traditionalist and a Christian evangelist. Pretty much Pentecostal Christian. Ecstatic. Charity-based. Rule-driven. Assuming pervasive evil in the world. Dramatic.

I have a lot of Unitarian friends left over from when I was serving congregations of the UU kind. Their idea of “religion” is pretty much liberal culture, a way of eating (Thai), a certain kind of literature (edgy) and a strong overlap with Democrat political ideas. They are outraged by anything oppressive and make rhetoric about it, but no particular effort to read in depth or do anything. Local unchurched people here in small town Montana think in the same terms, but flipped -- to them it is Obama who is the devil impoverishing us all.

These are outrageous stereotypes, easily refuted, just making a point. They are paradigms, I guess, but maybe something else. I cannot explain my own assumptions very easily because they are ever-changing in the first place and in the second place assume acceptance of a lot of arcane science: cosmic, molecular, evolutionary, brain-exploring -- which is also changing fast these days and in my case is juxtaposed with the results of formal comparative religious study. I begin to leave the notion of “mind” as conscious thought and go to “mind” as simply physical brain function, much of it unconscious. And identity as well. My understanding of possibility is vast -- a little too vast. Sometimes I remember the schizophrenic lady I used to visit as an animal control officer in order to take away her excess cats. She’d come to the door and tell me, “I’m not myself today! I’m just not myself.”

People sometimes seem to think that I know something that they don’t and that if they found it out, that would somehow empower them. I guess it’s shaman stuff, the wish for a formula, a magic substance. If I tell them they wouldn’t understand something I’m working on, that enrages them. My mother used to get VERY angry. She thought that religious subjects were in a certain category (blind faith) and that I was implying that she didn’t know her Bible. But at the very end she changed her paradigm: “I hope the next planet is as much fun as this one was,” she said, as though it were a tour. Maybe she was right. But right or wrong is not the point.

So many things can’t be stated in a hundred words or less but must be more or less “lived” into, step-by-step. It’s not so much that the subject changes as that the way one looks at it changes. To see things differently is to become a different person and then you see even more. If their “paradigm” tells them that there is something hidden and powerful, that they are being excluded as though they were children and “too young to know,” no wonder they get angry. But there are many unknowable things and what I already know is plenty to digest. There is nothing to tell anyone else unless they think the way I do. I mean, I’m not holding anything back. It’s all in plain sight if a person has eyes to see.

So what hope is there for publishing or even conversation? Will my stuff be read and understood after I’m dead? What difference would it make, since the paradigms will just go on shifting and shifting, like sand dunes, the same but different.

There are a few people in my life whom I would like to save, to comfort, to go on loving if they would allow it. This is outside my powers. One or two have built their lives on opposition, secrecy, elusiveness, unknowability. Bob Scriver did. The only thing I can do for them is to go on not-knowing, persisting in opposition, continuing the same strategy that has been there in the past. Being no different. No conversions. No sudden revelations. No handing over the key to the cabinet with all the secret papers. Persisting -- acceptance of what has been.

To some degree this is strategy meant to continue after death, but that event can’t help but change everything. Whether it would be big enough to constitute a paradigm change, I don’t know. For all I know I myself might crash on the way to my routine eye checkup today. But there’s not enough time to go deeper, swear allegiance, break through to another paradigm. All lives are unfinished. We go forward on blind faith.


artemesia said...

We do go forward in blind faith!

And sometimes with amazing revelations and epiphanies en route.

Thanks Mary!

Art Durkee said...

I think faith has to be, by definition, an unknowing. One of the great spiritual writers of the past century, PL Travers thought as much, and wrote more than one essay on it for Parabola Magazine. But unknowing doesn't have to be stupid or ignorant. It's kenosis, an emptying. In Zen they talk about it as removing the dust from the mirror.

But I object to "blind faith" because most people assume that that means stupid faith, rather than thoughtful faith. It means following the rule-book absolutely, with no variance, no slack for diversity given. In other words, when you are converted you get the lobotomy free; certainly "blind faith" means never having to think for yourself anymore, since you've now been given all the answers.

That just doesn't work for me. But then, I'm a mystic, and I know the dark night well. I know Mystery, and unkowing. In fact, I don't really "believe in" anything at all; because experience has been my teacher for both Knowing and Unknowing.

prairie mary said...

It seems there are as many interpretations of blind faith as there are of kenosis, so I guess we have to take care to define as we go. One of my minister friends used to have a nice little quote. The idea is that when we come to the total blackout and can't see where we are going, we must step out ahead believing that either there will be ground beneath our feet or we will be given wings.

Prairie Mary