Sitting on the fence may seem innocent… but on a long-term basis it is very painful, whether the “fence” is physical or metaphorical. Let me first lay the groundwork for this discussion of metaphorical fence sitting by backtracking a little to make sure we are on the same page regarding the subject of beliefs. In my previous post “What is Most Important”, among other things, I explored the deep meaning of the word “believe”. Regular readers might recall that the root meaning (etymology) of the word believe is, “to hold dear, to love.”
With this firmly in mind, if the essence of believing something is loving it, clearly true/deep belief must also involve the commitment of love. I think that most of us instinctively understand that a belief that is lacking conviction, is almost useless. Therefore, to truly believe, to have conviction, in two opposing ideas we would need to love and be committed to the two opposites. How could this ever be logical or possible? Beneath the outside appearance, of calmness in sitting on the fence between two beliefs, is the tension of being torn in opposing directions. Clearly, we cannot truly be committed to opposites.
Why is this important? Let’s look at a deep example. If an all knowing, all powerful and loving God created the universe, then His/Her creation must also be loving because it is an extension of Himself/Herself. Gottfried Leibniz coined the word “theodicy” to name the apparent problem of a good God allowing evil. Breaking this down, if God is all knowing, then He/She can fully grasp the consequences of creation. If God is all powerful, He/She has the capacity to create exactly what is intended. If God is loving, He/She intends to be close, even to be one with, His/Her creation. Therefore, following these premises we must conclude that, God’s creation cannot be other than loving.
Is this idea unsettling? Does the world seem “other than loving” sometimes? The conclusion of the last paragraph could be either an argument for the non-existence of God, or evidence of our misperception of the truth of what we think of as reality. Which interpretation is true could have a very serious effect upon how we see the world and how we live our lives, yet many people remain undecided, sitting on the fence trying to avoid the seeming conflict. Perhaps this is caused by the lack of a firm belief/conviction or perhaps by the desire to have it both ways, for both opposites to be true.
Obviously, I am not the first or only one to stress this importance. In the book of Matthew Jesus speaks about this necessity of commitment in belief, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (6:21) Also, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (6:24) Please read these in the context of the surrounding verses. In both of these scriptures, He is addressing our belief in, commitment toward, and love for: either God, on the one hand; or the things, circumstances and activities of the world, on the other. The apparent point is that we must decide, we must commit ourselves… we must get off the fence.
For most of us the belief in God implies a belief that there is more to life and the universe than meets the eye. This sense of More* has been revered under many names in the different religious or wisdom traditions of the world. In each tradition, the central point is the belief that there is more to reality than merely the physical and material. In each case, the something more is thus non-physical/non-material. In the philosophical traditions, truth, knowledge and understanding are examples of concepts that transcend the physical. In the mystical traditions, being, consciousness, awareness and creativity are examples of such transcendence. In religious traditions, God (by whatever name), gods, angels and other spiritual beings or forces (both positive, negative and ambivalent) are also examples of this “More”.
Discarding the belief in this transcendent More can thus also include the loss of the sense of purpose, meaning, hope and even “aliveness” that are dependent upon the truth of such transcendence. The implications are significant. However, trying to maintain conviction in such transcendent non-material reality and at the same time maintain conviction in the reality of the material world is a problem for many of us. If we have an either-or viewpoint then truth must be one or the other. Classical science for example presumes that the non-material is non-existent or otherwise completely irrelevant; their belief is that only the physical/material is real. Similarly, but on the opposite vector, many who conceive themselves to be spiritual find the world of matter and form to be nothing more than worthless illusion. For more on this, please see my blog post “Philosophy Part I – Seeing the Wind”.
So which is truth? All ideas are limitations, categories and boundaries; this is true even of ideas like “infinite” and “eternal”. While some ideas are about separation and limitation, we should not disdain them, for there is still a seed of revelation within them. Likewise, while some ideas are about the release from limitation, about expansion, understanding and transcendence, we should not confuse these ideas with the revelations that inspire them. At best, our ideas can only point toward the Truth. Yet even those ideas that point us away from the Truth have something valuable to offer to anyone who has the vision to see the purpose such ideas have been assigned by others and by ourselves.
Thus, all ideas, all feelings, all experiences, all activities, all forms and all illusions can be valuable to the extent that we raise our awareness to see the combination of revelation and concealment that ultimately inspire them. From this level, we are free from any automatic responses toward such ideas, experiences, etc. As we choose to see differently, Truth begins to reveal itself to us, and gaining the courage of conviction we can remove ourselves from the problem of the fence, where we sat motionless between opposing forces. Real Truth lies tantalizingly beyond all such things, opposites, forces, words, ideas and traditions.
* I came across this idea of More, in An Alter in the World, a book by Barbara Brown Taylor.