Tag Archives: understanding

When You’re Certain You’re Right

Is it possible to know you’re right on a controversial subject and not be proud? Are certainty and pride just peas in the same pod?

Is it possible to believe in a position, stance, doctrine, law, worldview, etc., with certainty while also having real empathy and understanding for someone who does not see the same way? If you are certain about a stance on a controversial issue, do you really have the capacity for empathy and understanding of someone who differs?

Is it possible to write a blog post without a sense of certainty?

Are certainty and pride, or certainty and humility, always operating together? Is either pair ever operating together?

If I say I am submitting to the authority of a school of thought, or to the authority of a text, doesn’t my appropriation or my interpretation ultimately reflect back on me, the appropriator, the interpreter?

Does my decision to submit to an authority, of any kind, ultimately become self-referential? (I decided to submit, after all.)

Can I make my way in the world with contingent operating beliefs that are open to correction, clarification, modification, and addition?

If I make my way in the world with contingent operating beliefs, am I certain? Hopeful? Squishy? Humble? Indecisive? Uncommitted? Judicious? Poor in self-esteem?

Maybe just arrogant enough to get through the day?




A single interpretive tool can save you from the work of understanding.

Easily repeatable narratives often become absolute truths.

When an easily repeatable narrative becomes a socially accepted truth, beware and be wary.

— Question it.

If someone claims to know your motives, be suspicious of his motives.

— What might he gain from your agreement?

Knowing and not knowing stuff about God

Philosopher Charles Hartshorne apparently had a strong belief in divine love. However, he questioned the historically mainstream idea that we should think about God in terms of what He is not.

This excerpt is from an article entitled “Charles Hartshorne: Dipolar Theism,” from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Many theologians, eager to affirm the transcendence of God, emphasize what cannot be known of God and argue that, in view of this ignorance, the most appropriate theological language is by way of negation (via negativa): God is not finite (infinite), not changeable (immutable), not affected by anything external (impassible), not contingent (necessary), not in time (non-temporal), and so forth. Hartshorne also emphasized what is not known of God and he did not deny that negations play an important role in religious discourse. In A Natural Theology for Our Time, he comments that our knowledge of the concrete divine reality is ‘negligibly small.’ He argues, however, that as the sole or even primary approach to religious language, ‘the negative way’ is a case of false modesty. Negative theologians are supposedly being deferential to God by stressing what cannot be known or said of God, but this masks the fact that they consider themselves privy to enough knowledge about the divine reality to know what cannot be attributed to it.

(Boldface added.)

As far as that boldfaced section goes, I have a vague recollection of reading something similar in a Norman Geisler book. His characterization of knowledge, at least in one respect, went something like this: Does it make sense to say we know we can go up to a certain point and go no further? Is it possible to know exactly where our knowledge stops without knowing something of what’s just beyond? Figuratively speaking, am I standing at an opaque wall or am I standing in a fog in which some objects and items are easily identified and others are harder to recognize?

I like the fog analogy because of something I recently re-read in G.K. Chesterton, not that Chesterton had the academic credentials of a Hartshorne or a Geisler. Chesterton said, essentially, the logician tries to get heaven into his head (and his head splits), while the poet just wants to get his head into heaven (and he is filled with wonder). I’m trying to re-route my own mind along those lines: do I want to sort everything out and explain everything and nail it all down, or do I want to discover and enjoy and immerse myself? One mode tries to get everything into one’s head, and the other mode tries to get one’s head exposed to everything.

Granted, ignorance is the mode that allowed bad religion to influence so much of history, and so much of my own life. A guy at least needs tools to protect himself, just as a farmer needs a fence around his flock and a rifle for the larger predators. Knowledge can be real light when it has real meaning for our lives. But once reasonable defenses are built against arrogant ignorance and manipulative control, maybe a guy can settle down and get back to enjoying life, the cosmos, even God.

Imagination for understanding (with special reference to C.S. Lewis)

When Kendall Harmon spoke at Trinity this morning (Nov. 6), he said people need to cultivate imagination. I’ll attempt a paraphrase: Because most of what God knows remains beyond our grasp, he said, biblical language in many places relies upon imagery and pictures that capture our imagination. He seemed to suggest, in a passing comment, that the West is losing its ability to imagine, in both secular and religious quarters. I was heartened because I had posted a few thoughts about imagination earlier in the week.

Sometimes, I feel like Christian leaders either let their imaginations run wild and silly, or they prohibit imagination as a threat to easily chartable doctrine and systematic theology.

After Kendall’s talk, I returned to a book I read earlier this year, C.S. Lewis on Scripture by Michael J. Christensen. In an appendix entitled “Lewis: The Rational Romantic,” Christensen quotes the following excerpt from Lewis’s essay “Bluspels and Flalansferes”:

“I am a rationalist. For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”

Certainly there are rich ways to cultivate a healthy, productive, meaningful imagination.