Outliers

I spend most of my time alone. This gives me endless opportunity to think, especially late at night when the ideas come. It’s never a bad thing to listen to people you don’t agree with; iron sharpens iron, after all. So, I have found myself listening to and watching everything from Pope Francis, Bethel TV, and its detractors,  Nadia Bolz-Weber and hers, Derek Prince, Henri Nouwen, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Fr Séan O’Leaoire….it’s a long, long list. Each of the above is worth a look – it’s a smorgasbord worth sampling. One problem with that is that in so doing, I am intellectually forced to confront and wrestle with a multitude of different opinions, mentally incinerated in a firework display of my own ignorance. I think we’re quite binary, monochromatic little creatures at heart, we like the idea of coming down on one side of the line or the other. Chaos – in the sense of unpredictability – and uncertainty bother us, because we have to navigate a minefield of different notions, apparent certainties, gut instinct and other people’s views. Sometimes these views are expressed with great force; why do preachers feel the need to shout at their congregations, imams wave their arms and thunder at the worshippers, and so on?  It is because, at heart, they believe that they have an obligation to try to convince people that they are right, and thus, by definition, others are not and they have a responsibility to correct the errors of the ways of those less ‘woke’ than they are. Shouting just reinforces the message.

The Age of Reason, the Enlightenment was a quantum leap, but it had one fatal flaw, in that it supposed that Reason was man’s highest, most important and ultimately final achievement, to the extent that it trumped all other cards in the pack. The spiritual, the mystical quietly took a back seat and, with breathtaking hubris, the drivers of Reason floored the accelerator, taking us all with them into a brave, new, uncertain world. Reason brought scientific and mathematical advancement – in our day, growing exponentially. When I was at university, the Standard Model, the bedrock of modern physics was a speculative gleam in most researchers’ eyes. But, Reason has a ceiling, beyond which we seem unable to travel – it suggests that there is no such thing as the Unknowable and by dint of study, logical application and research, we will ultimately overcome any trivial obstacles that hinder. Our knowledge is such that we now know – but don’t understand – that eighty-five percent of the Universe as we perceive it is made up of dark matter and its younger sibling, dark energy. Such concepts are, at present, beyond reason. I asked myself the question – will we ever understand the ‘how’ of the universe, in all its totality? I think the answer is ‘perhaps’  – or better – ‘perhaps not’. The goal is unattainable as of now, the twilight in which we stumble around isn’t bright enough to distinguish between woods and trees. Furthermore, if we don’t understand the ‘how’, comprehension of the ‘why’ is light years away.

I’m not much of a belonger, whether it be to the golf club or to a congregation. In a statistical sense, I’m an outlier – the graph misses me out. I asked myself why. Perhaps it’s because if I join such a group, there are rules, some of which are irksome, some quite unnecessary. Some require special clothing, like priests, Hassidic Jews or the Amish, some require abstinence from certain foods, some require or at least encourage specific patterns of hehaviour (I used to call them ‘spiritual farmyard noises’). Being a Jew has 613 of them, being a ‘Christian’ has rather fewer. This isn’t to suggest that I’m an anarchist – for whom rules are irrelevant – of course not. Societal groups need rules, some written but most not, in order for people to live harmoniously together and act in such a way that benefits the majority. Another reason might be that I don’t really want to share; the concept of community both fascinates and appals me. I’m an only child – we don’t share – which applies to our opinions as well as our material goods. I was once asked by an evangelical friend “what was God doing in my life”, to which I would have loved to reply “none of your business”, but out of some misplaced sense of conformity, I mumbled something unintelligible and he went away, safe in the knowledge that he had done his Christian duty.

My copy of the Jewish Study Bible was left in France and a while ago, I replaced it. In reading, I discovered how little I really knew about the historical background of the faith that has sustained me for so many years and why pale Jewish scholars scurry about in Mea She’arim, eyes weak with endless hours of study. Hebrew words have different meanings and the layers, like onion skins, peel away so very gradually. Why bother? If you think that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, it’s time to choose an alternative destination and a better mode of transport.

 

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