Friday, 23 March 2007

Orthodox, open-minded, skeptical and happy

This comes out of this discussion (originally on proselytism) over at “I would knife fight a man”.

I said:

I'm (more-or-less) orthodox, open-minded, skeptical and happy - not necessarily all at once, but certainly in rapid alternation... you know that optical illusion where you can see either the vase or the two faces, but not both at once? But you can switch between them by a bit of a mental adjustment? Like that.

So what does that look like, then?

Well, when I'm saying my Trinitarian rosary in the mornings while commuting to work, I'm in an orthodox mindset. I am sincere in that orthodoxy; I approach God as Trinity, Creator, Redeemer and Holy Spirit of Wisdom.

And yet at the same time - and by a small mental shift I can engage this mode instead - I'm aware that this is a finger pointing at the moon, "that art thou, and yet that also is not thou", that the Trinity is a cultural construction quite possibly rooted in paganism (which, being of Celtic ancestry and very slightly Christopagan leanings, I'm perfectly comfortable with). I'm also happy to consider other people's religious formulations which differ from mine as being, in this sense, equally valid - that is, equally lenses through which they look for God. (Think of it this way: We all have imperfect vision, so we all need glasses, but perhaps your glasses don't help me and mine don't help you. Doesn't mean that mine don't help me and yours don't help you.)

Hence openmindedness. While affirming orthodoxy, I feel no need to assert it as an exclusive truth in the modernist sense (I've given up describing myself as "postmodern" even with disclaimers, now; I'm going for "transmodern").

It's very important to me that I affirm the Incarnation and Resurrection, for example, but I'm not going to try to "prove" them in some propositional sense, as I would have once as a modernist Evangelical. (Much less do I feel the need to "disprove" them, as modernist Liberals often do.) They are meaningful for me and in affirming them I gain more ability to make sense of the universe.

Skeptical? I'm definitely skeptical. I went to a hypnotherapy seminar recently at which the presenter spouted pure New Age hogwash for about 60% of the time. We got Atlantis, we got the Indigo Children, we got the 2012 prophecies, the lot. At lunchtime I had to hold myself back from saying loudly, "I'm not really hungry now, after all that FRUITCAKE."

Any time anyone tries marketingbabble, businessbabble or bureaucracybabble on me, skeptical is definitely what I am. Being openminded doesn't preclude skepticism for me. My openmindedness (at its best) takes the form of, "While I don't actively affirm what you are affirming there, I'm not going to set out to deny it either; that's not necessary for me in order to hold another viewpoint. Maybe you're right and I'm wrong. I don't think so, obviously, or we'd think the same." My skepticism takes the form of holding things which haven't been convincingly presented to me, or about which I have causes for suspicion, in suspicion. They're innocent until proven guilty, but they're definitely under suspicion. I'm not going to believe them to be polite.

And happy? I'm happy. That has a lot to do with having a positive self-image, good external life conditions, and personal flexibility (which is part of good mental health). Skepticism and open-mindedness don't render me unhappy because I'm happy to keep things in Schroedinger's catbox for extended periods. Orthodoxy doesn't render me unhappy because I use it, it doesn't abuse me.

I've rambled. I need to sharpen up my thinking on this. But, hey - this is a blog. This is why you don't pay me money for this stuff.

Oh, afterthought/edit: Back to the image of the faces and the vase. You can look at it and, by a small act of will, see faces. With another small act of will, you can see a vase. But with a third small act of will, you can see an abstract image that isn't actually a vase or faces, just some marks that suggest vaseness and faceness to your mind, which is primed to recognise patterns like that. That's important too.

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