Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Culture quote of the day: Maimonides on holding to our accustomed opinions (part II)

"[People] like the opinions to which they have become accustomed from their youth; they defend them and shun contrary views: and this is one of the things that prevent [them] from finding the truth, for they cling to the opinions of habit." --Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed

I find it interesting, to return to this quote by Maimonides, that he correlates clinging to our accustomed opinions with missing the truth, and advocates that to pursue truth, we need to move beyond our accustomed opinions and ways of understanding reality.

I find this interesting because most of us, I think, tend to cling to our accustomed ways of understanding reality in the name of “holding to the truth” (being firm in what we know or believe, etc.). Coming to see things more broadly, to many of us, feels like losing hold on “the truth.”

Maimonides suggests that becoming free from our habits and accustomed ways of looking at the world, actually frees us up to discover the truth (I would say, in more complex, multidimensional ways).

As an example from my personal experience, consider my understanding of baptism. Growing up in a (Swedish background) Baptist church in Minnesota, I understood that the Bible clear taught that believers in Jesus Christ should be baptized as an indication of their personal faith and intention of following him. It was clear that this act needed to be performed when one was of an age to understand what they believed and were committing to, accompanied by a profession of faith and intent. This was the simple Biblical Truth, as I understood it.

Then, one day (when I was in college) I ran into a Presbyterian, who advocated a different view of baptism (baptizing infants). I was astonished that anyone could have such a crazy view, clearly not in accord with what the Bible teaches. I did what Maimonides advocates not doing – clung to the opinions to which I had become accustomed from my youth (but realize – I didn’t see this as opinion, but rather as the clear Biblical truth), defending these opinions and shunning contrary views. (In those days, due both to ethnocentrism and perhaps to tendencies of my One Enneatype, I was fixated on knowing “the Truth,” the “right” view of everything, etc.)

It would not have been satisfying for my Presbyterian acquaintance to say, “well, you have your truth and I have mine.” I clearly wanted to know God’s perspective, what the Bible teaches – after all, faith is about Truth, reality, not about people just “making it up” and having whatever opinions they feel like having (right?). I didn’t fall into that relativistic “trap,” but rather, went on my way confident that I understood the Truth and that Presbyterians were just clearly wrong.

Fast forward a few years, through being in church community in North Africa with a variety of expat and local Christians who had different views and practices than I had grown up with, and my having been challenged over time to consider that perhaps I didn’t see everything clearly and know everything perfectly…

I crossed paths with a couple of other Presbyterians some time later, both of whom I cared for and respected deeply. I finally asked them to explain the Presbyterian view of baptism, and how it squared with the Bible. As I listened carefully, trying to understand their perspective (a key, by the way, for moving from an ethnocentric perspective on others, into Acceptance and Adaptation), it occurred to me that Presbyterians and Baptists were essentially doing the same thing, but in a different order (Baptists “dedicate” their children, and then seek to raise them in the faith, hoping and praying that as they grow to maturity, they will embrace Jesus and will choose to be baptized as a sign of their faith; Presbyterians baptize their babies into the family of faith, and then seek to raise them in the faith, hoping and praying that as they grow to maturity, they will embrace Jesus and will choose to walk in the faith they have been baptized into). And I thought, “perhaps God is ok with both ways of baptizing.” (And I thought, too, about the fact that 90+ % of all Christians in the world through history have baptized their babies, and it occurred to me that it might be a tad bit arrogant to be part of the tiny baptistic minority claiming that we had figured out the “true, biblical way to baptize.”)

I would say that in listening to others (in the cause of seeking to understand the Truth), and letting go of some of the “opinions to which I had been accustomed from my youth,” I have come to a deeper, more clear understanding of the “Truth” of baptism. At least, that is what it “feels like” to me. And to me, this experience, this journey of having what feels like a broader, more multidimensional understanding of baptism, feels enriching and positive. I still have my preferences on baptism, and my practices; but I hold them more lightly, and less dogmatically. In fact, over the recent Christmas holidays, I participated in the baptism of my first grandson in an Episcopal church. And I believe that God is pleased with that. J

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