One of the things, perhaps the only thing, I find difficult about being in school is the requirement to write in analytical terms. To be brutally honest, I don’t personally gain much of anything by doing so. I don’t mind reading analytical work that other people put on paper and certainly I learn a great deal from doing so, but for myself it all seems like a lot of work for something that is not much of an accomplishment. I write that way sometimes (including in this blog), and I think it is necessary sometimes, but it always leave me flat. I know as I begin to write it, I know while I’m writing it, and I know after I’ve written it that many other counter arguments exist and are at least as convincing as my own, so, what’s the point?
I suppose this is why I like the contemplative writings of Merton, the work of Khalil Gibran, and the personal essays of Loren Eiseley. I see great truths in these works, but the works aren’t intended to convince the reader of anything he or she can’t intuit; of something he or she has to construct from if-then and therefore. They don’t stand or fall by the impeccable use of logic. They say what they say. The words resonate with the reader, or they don’t. I guess I’m saying, I like reading and writing from the “heart” more than the head. [At this point, I should note that when I say heart, I’m not being terribly explicit about what I mean by it. In general, I mean the part of your chest that gets heavy, the part of your gut that turns inside out, the very deep part of your reasoning that beyond words—almost beyond intellect itself—cannot deny you’ve read something that to you, is absolutely true.]
I mention this because in recent years I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit in terms of faith vis-à-vis religious doctrine. There is a strong parallel present wherein faith is a matter of the heart and religious doctrine is more like intellectual argument. [This is not to say that faith is not, in large part, a function of human reason. I would not claim faith is independent of reason, and indeed I would say that faith relies upon reason to a large extent. However, I would say that the reasoning that faith relies upon is, itself, based upon a framework determined by the heart.] I’m thinking of a pretty random example at the moment:
Take Aquinas when he’s talking about the interpretation of scripture:
The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) “the New Law itself is a figure of future glory.” Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. — Summa Theologica 1.1.10
For one thing, I don’t think a person needs an article like this to feel and to therefore reason that, say, the word “battle” signifies a conflict, and that the conflict signifies things moral and/or allegorical and/or anagogical. Furthermore, establishing an article such as this (although Aquinas didn’t originate it) causes two main problems: (a) that people feel the need to stick to it, as if it is now a requirement as well as the only way to interpret scripture “correctly” and (b) other people will analyze the article and explain why it’s a load of garbage, thereby making their own articles, which strictly prohibit any interpretation that smacks of Aquinas’ article. It seems to me much more straightforward to intuit that sometimes scripture means something quite literally, sometimes it doesn’t, and well, sometimes it’s anybody’s guess as to which is which. This seems to be a much more honest, reasoned, heart-felt view and, to me, results in a deeper, stronger faith.
There are probably thousands of examples of this in faith vis-à-vis religion, from the sublime to the ridiculous, and at times like this I wonder why I ever, ever venture into the world of talking beyond what seems right to me, daring to trod into the land of if-then-therefore; as if such things can convince somebody of something. And now I’m getting closer to the intended points of this whole post…
First, I’ve posted two Merton quotes dealing with seeing Christ in others. I may be speaking a bit from ignorance here, but it seems to me that there is a rift in thought between the evangelical ideal of being Christ to the stranger, and the Catholic ideal of seeing Christ in the stranger. Growing up in an evangelical framework (well, at least officially), I am no stranger to the ideal of being Christ to other people. This should be a natural result of following Christ; if you follow him, you become like him. I have no intellectual problem accepting this. Additionally, there is an ideal based upon corollary, so to speak, that we see Christ in the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters. I have no intellectual problem with this, either. But there is very little talk, in the traditional evangelical circles I’ve trod, about seeing Christ in every stranger you meet. So I have found myself over the years captivated by what I consider to be a Catholic ideal of welcoming the stranger as if he or she is Christ himself. One of the surface-level intrigues about this idea is that to me it is not explicitly biblical as far as our biblical texts go, yet I find it impossible to deny with my reason that within my heart this idea is profoundly and lucidly Christian in character. And I think, in general, it is essentially the pure spiritual lucidity of some of Catholicism’s contemplative tradition that I find to be so compelling about Catholicism in principle. It has nothing to do with theological, doctrinal or dogmatic debate in my own mind. It is simply that in the core of my being, it seems absolutely “right” to view others in this way.
Second, a great deal of evangelical Christianity has traditionally been about convincing other people of the correctness of particular “facts,” about the indubitable nature of certain doctrines, and the absolute nature of certain moral adherences. I find this far too much like the if-then-therefore approach and far too fragile. It is little—if anything—more than one set of arguments amongst many. And if Christianity is to be real, if it is to be anything at all that it claims, it cannot afford to rely on anything so imperfect. It must exist at a level far deeper than the intellect. It must be at the very center of the human heart; the part of the heart that was birthed by God and within which the light of God still shines—even if hidden from the outside.
My point is that I’m moving farther and farther away from doctrinal systems in my life. I’m finding them more and more the root of problems all the way around. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I’m growing quite sick and tired of them. I have said this many times, but I will say it again: My role as a Christian is to love people. To love them deeply, to love them profoundly, and to love them no matter what. My role has nothing to do with anything else, except the working out within my heart of what I must become, why, when, where and by what mysterious mechanisms, in order to love like this Naturally, as the Spirit of God assumes more and more control over my being.
Finally and quite honestly, if you know me and you feel you really must argue doctrinal specifics with me, well, then come on; roll up your sleeves and show me what ya got. But I must say beforehand that I seriously doubt God cares much about our intellectual opinions, though I am rather certain God cares a great deal whether or not we are willing to lay down our egos and simply Love one another. And we should think about this before we open our mouths and try to pretend how smart we are.