The setup – issue – so-called problem
One of the most valuable insights that repeatedly arises for us in the fields of psychology, philosophy, sociology, meta-position studies of theology, and communications theory that we find being explained through recent developments in neuroscience, is that we, humans, do not see things as they are, as we all so fondly like to pretend, but as we are. It is the most hateful who are easiest to hate. The most dedicated to love who are easiest to love. The most afraid of theft who are tempted to steal, the most jealous who are most liable to turn faithless. We are stuck in front of our mirrors. Thus our many traditions, cultures, political opinions, or other strongly held commitments that we can’t understand why someone would see in any other way.
This situation can lead to estrangement, conflict, and war. The implications for religion, theological reflection, and for Christians, in particular, are gargantuan. To put the issue baldly, what we find when we each read and ponder passages in our Bible is a stirring together of our own previous personal scholarship, and what the complexity in the neuro-networks of our individual brains allows us to see.
This is universally true, not just for us moderns – who look at those two thousand years (or more) old passages in English translations, which have twenty to fifty centuries of years separation from their cultural context – but for each translator or translation committee that rendered Latin into English, and those who previously wrote down Latin from Classical Greek, and those who had rendered Hebrew into Greek, and for us, the still earlier editors who transferred memories spoken in Aramaic, the vernacular tongue of Jesus’ place and time, into Temple Hebrew, a related language, but emphatically not the same.
Moreover, and most important of all, we must remember that the traditions and habits that we all follow, most of us without much personal thought, have been laid down by the many, many thousands of preachers and teachers of previous generations who influenced our traditions, who lived in their own times and cultures, and faced their own problems, worries, and psychological misfires through the lens of their own cultural biases.
What then are we to do? Give up? Many tens of millions in both Europe and North America who have confronted aspects of this problem, or run up against emotional sour points, have done just that. Not to blame these folks, every human knows her or his own needs best, but I sorrow for these unfortunates. They are missing out. When approached with exuberance and trust, the Gospels are an endless source of inspiration, personal and emotional support, and credible, down-to-earth information about how we (the human species) are hard-wired. And they provide information about what we can do with the downsides of those existing neurological apparent impediments to spiritual growth. Every wonderful, valuable thing that we need is there, in those stories, just buried under encrustations of historical misuse and sadly ignorant misrepresentation.
Again there is no possible use to be gained in blaming our predecessors: they, one and all, were simply doing their best with what they had – just as we in the twenty-first century still must do what our descendants are sure to recognize as our own best, however inadequate. But let it be said that many, many threads of slow, painstaking evolutionary development have at last come together to give us, in this and following generations, a delightful chance to do better. That is, if our species’ previous mistakes are not allowed to eradicate our breed entirely in the next few decades. For details of how the hopeful, bright, and ebullient side of this observation can be realized by connecting with Christ the Healer UCC, keep your eyes on this space. It will not be long in appearing. And if you cannot wait, you are always invited to join in on the fun just by asking to become enthusiastically involved today.