Here’s a fact: there’s a plurality of opinion about what the Bible says.
It wasn’t so long ago that you could reasonably ignore (or at least downplay) this fact. It’s a lot easier when there’s two churches in your town: the one you go to, and the apostate one.
You don’t have that luxury anymore. You are a simple search engine away from every conceivable reading of the Bible, from the comfortingly familiar to the bracingly bizarre.
So which one is the right one? It’s a good question. Or at least, it was a good question. Good enough that actuals wars were fought over it. People died over their reading of the same book.
Again, easy to have wars when there’s two sides. Our blessed protestant homeland vs their superstitious catholic wastes.
We (okay, maybe it’s just me) tend to approach our approach like lovestruck teenagers. They’re the one for me. This person, who just so happens to live in my city, and go to my church, and participate in my youth group, completes me. (And if you know me, you know I’m speaking from some real experience, right?)
Importantly, this is a real feeling. It’s even an important feeling. And since feelings are thought, let’s not try to pretend that we shouldn’t feel this way. At least for a time. But when you grow up, if you want to start thinking about these sorts of things, you realise there are a few billion potential mates for you in this world, and the chances that yours just happens to live on the next block are astronomically small. So either you believe in some sort of providential whatever, or you sort of abandon this idea of “the one”. (And so what if providence smells a lot like proximity; that’s not the point.)
If you abandon your teenage brain when it comes to romance, why not doctrine? What’s the difference? So yeah, it’s a bit more of a shocking question, or at least it feels that way, but why not?
If you’ve stuck around the church past adolescence you probably attend some variation on the same church you went to then. What are the chances? And if you’ve changed your mind a bit (let’s say you went from a Reformed church to a Baptist church), what’s to say you shouldn’t change your mind even more?
I don’t have a great answer to this question. But maybe that’s the point. This entire post is perhaps a reflection on something I like to call epistemic humility.
It hasn’t been long (geologically, at least) since I was very, very firmly in the a camp called epistemic realism, or objectivism (and please for love of all things holy, don’t confuse this with whatever garbage Ayn Rand shat out and gave the same name).
I’m not some epistemic idealist now, but I will say this: For folks of a certain temperament, and I count myself among them, it’s really tempting to chuck as much stuff as possible into the “stuff we can all know 100% for sure” bucket and call it a day. This is the easy route. For those seeking to hew as close as possible to what they call realism (and I sure hope there aren’t that many folks who really, passionately care about that sort of thing), the impulse is to use your Big Brain and Know Things.
And to be fair, I think there’s a lot of stuff that can go in that bucket. This is a whole other post, but most ideologies and systems of belief are having a really hard time right now dealing with actual facts. So when science says this, but I believe that, what do I do?
Still, there’s lots of other stuff that we either can’t know or can’t know precisely. Maybe most stuff. Acknowledging this is epistemic humility. My willingness to admit that what I think I know might not be as knowable as I thought.
This humility is a sort of freedom. It allows a graceful interaction with a plurality of viewpoints without abandoning my own. It allows others to inform where I might be wrong, or might be approaching from a place of unknown privilege.
It at the very least allows me to find the points of commonality I have with my fellow humans, whether that be at the Table or on streetcorners.
It’s also super uncomfortable. I don’t like being wrong. I don’t like having my biases and for-granteds and privileges exposed. I want to have it all together.
But hey, you wash my feet, I’ll wash yours, we both got toes, maybe it doesn’t matter what shoes you’re wearing.