Splashing around in theology.

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I read lots. I have a cat. I drink coffee. Therefore, I am.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Theory of Displacement©

Displacement: “The difference between the initial position of a body and any later position.”
[Penguin Reference English Dictionary].

In the comments thread of the blog entitled The Fundamentals [below] someone made what I think to be a very good request.
It was this crazy crazy social-butterfly/cartoonist/artist/writer dame named Patricia, [a la BookLust].
Nosey as hell, she is.
She said: "Nosey person that I am, I'd love to know the catalyst which started you on the path to where you are now. Those are some pretty strong-held beliefs, and to have them change so dramatically in two years....well, it would be interesting if you could actually site specific moments in your life in the past two years as to how and when you began to see things differently."
To answer this question adequately, I must go back to a time when my mother read Bible stories to me when I was yet in the womb…..
No, just kidding.
But seriously, I addressed a few of these “specific moments” in my blog entitled The Three Pillars [also below]. So I won’t rehash that here.
But Patricia’s use of the word “catalyst” really got me to thinking….
Hence, the blog you are now reading.

See, I have always believed in something I call The Theory of Displacement.©
I’ve believed in it, and practised it, in as much as I was aware of it, but had never named it, till now.
The Theory of Displacement is quite simple.
It simply posits that when better information makes itself available, one ought to avail oneself of the opportunity to acknowledge, apprehend, and assimilate it.
All of those steps are very important, but the last one, especially so.
To assimilate is to “take in and understand fully (information and ideas.)” Also to “absorb and integrate.” [Oxford]. I like how the Penguin Dictionary puts it, a) “To take in or absorb (a substance) esp as nourishment. b) To absorb facts or information with complete comprehension.”
I like that.
When plants utilize photosynthesis in the conversion of light to energy, they are assimilating!
When I concern myself with adopting a faith that makes sense, I am trying to “absorb and integrate.”
OK, English lesson is over.

If we are going to know something, assimilation is very important.
At this point, pretty much everyone will still be riding by, merrily pedaling, and waving and nodding in agreement….
However, let me throw seventeen wrenches directly into the spokes of that bicycle by asking…. “What if the assimilation process involves a radical re-adjustment, revision, or even abandonment of previously held ideas?”
[People careening into the ditch in every direction....]
What if the learning process now involves the displacement of former beliefs?
Many people would answer by saying, “If that’s the case, then I would rather not have been made aware of the better idea!”
There is nothing inherently wrong with that answer, really.
If that is the way a person wants to be, and to remain, that is entirely their business, and I have ZERO desire to change them.

It's just that I myself can’t BE any of those people [anymore].
Many people would want to keep riding that busted-up bike, denying even the existence of the causative wrenches and resultant bent rims.
But not me.
For the sake of intellectual integrity, I would sooner walk forevermore, than get back on that thing and pretend it’s as good as ever it was.
It’s busted.

[He pauses to go and get another coffee....]

As regards “faith” some would say the entire argument [mine] falls flat.
They would point to all of the points in The Fundamentals, and argue, “All of these things here are believed upon IN FAITH, brother!”
They would argue that religious idea [religion] is not now, nor has it ever been, an intellectual enterprise.
They may even be correct on that score.
But it is just that inadequate terms are being used.
Because [in my opinion] spirituality, which ought to be the very bedrock of religion, is an intellectual enterprise, or ought to be. What I mean by that is that I am convinced (and increasingly convinced) that what we believe about spirituality does not necessarily have to be absurd!
It should make sense.
It can make sense!

This brings me, Patricia, to your use of the word “catalyst.”
What a perfect word.
The Penguin again [don’t you just love penguins?] says of the word, “Somebody or something whose action inspires further and usually more important events.”
Ahhh, you’ve gotta love a dictionary!
“I’d love to know the catalyst,” she says.
You do!
You do, my dear.
The catalyst is something we all posess in various measure, and it is something without which the entire world would right now, right this minute, be plunged into the most cavernous abyss of ignorance.
The catalyst is…….. DOUBT!
I doubted!
No knowledge has ever been born, but from the womb of doubt.

I asked questions.

And here [now, finally, he gets to it] is the real interesting thing.
Asking questions, questioning things, is what brought me into the Christian fold in the first place.
And at that time [mid-1984, again, I refer all true archaeologists out there to read the Introduction and The Three Pillars, below, in previous blogs. Both of these, by the way, are classics in a sort of Kahlil Gibran-y sort of way....] Where was I? Oh yeah.... at that time, Christianity, and what I had been told about Christianity, wonderfully answered every question I then had about spirituality.
Every question I had, about God.
My spirit rejoiced, and my intellect truly “overflowed-eth”…. it really did!
I embraced those answers as fully as anyone could have, I suppose.
But the important thing to realize is that I embraced this newfound enterprise rationally (intellectually) as well as embracing it irrationally, ie., by faith alone.
What one might call IN faith. But also with my mind.
And the important thing to realize, is that the Gospel, the Good News of Christianity “saved” me, back then. I had the salvation experience described by all dedicated believers in Jesus Christ.
I still cherish that experience, in retrospect.
I do not belittle its revolutionary importance in my life, at that time.
It did not merely SEEM to answer all of my questions…. it DID answer all of my questions.
So….. [Patricia, and all those listening in...] what is it that has really changed over these past two years?

The questions have profoundly changed.

When we are young, I mean real young, we may ask our mother what to us [at the time] is the most important-ish question in all the world… we may look at her and say, “Mom, why is my pee-thing different than Jennifer’s?”
[It really helps for verisimilitude if we imagine that the interrogator here is a boy OK? Just follow me for a moment.....]
And then my… I mean OUR mother may say something like, “Well dear. It’s just that God decided to…. umm…. leave the stem on your apple!”
Hey, that’s good enough for me.
AT THE TIME it is totally good enough.
[No, I am not going to now go into the reasons why it wasn’t till way after high school that I found out the real answer to the question….]
But the point is, hopefully when I am now 42 years old, I am not still asking questions, and believing answers, of a similar caliber!
Are we on the same page here, or have you drifted off to sleep, dear reader?

My rational mind (my intellect) which was once satisfied with Christianity’s traditionally accepted answers to certain questions… that mind is no longer satisfied.

When I think of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I ask myself stuff about the thousands of people that perished there, in an instant, as the buildings collapsed.
Am I to imagine (as a Christian) that there was some sort of immediate celestial partitioning of extremely freshly dead people into eternal abodes of bliss or torment?
Was someone, invisible, [yet dressed like Gandalf], floating there, hoisting fortunate souls upward while kicking other ones back down, muttering to these latter unfortunates…. “Nope! Not you, buddy! Your wife told you to watch Billy Graham last night but you didn’t did you! You had to turn it to 20/20, and NOW LOOK!”
I am saying this stuff in jest, but to me, it is not thought of in jest whatsoever, I assure you.
But this exact nonsense is what a thoroughgoing adherence to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures must conclude. Is, indeed, FORCED to conclude! [see Acts 4:12].
On that morning, all kinds of people floated upward, but a great majority did not, and are even now, in hell.
And all because someone else decided it would be a great thing to try and park a passenger jet on top of the guy’s desk that morning!
It is many things, including sad and ignorant, but mostly… it is ABSURD to believe in such idiocy.
It is one reason for the existence of my Pillar #2.
My questions have changed.
And as for answers, more and more, I want to say, “I don’t know” where I once said, “I know!”

If I read in National Geographic that even a great blue whale has a hard time swallowing anything larger than a grapefruit, I’m going to have a tough time believing that a fish swallowed an entire man and then belched him up on the beach three days later.
Similarly, if I discover that the books of the Old Testament [the first five] which attribute their authorship to Moses were penned hundreds of years after the man’s own death…. what am I to make of that?
Am I to continue to cherish a sort of Hallmark card depiction of Jesus’s birth, when there is such incongruent biblical disparity as to the specifics surrounding the event, not to mention his subsequent upbringing?

I could go on for three days and nights.
Displacement means that the better thing pushes the less-good thing out of the way.
And the new thing does not set up shop.
The new thing is also subject to movement, to future displacement.
To truly live The Theory of Displacement, one has to embrace an intentional attitude of disinterestedness.
I’m not finished.
The scary thing is that the above [this current blog] is just a very preliminary approach to dealing with Patricia’s question. Actually, her request was not even a question, and I like that.

I will never be finished walking… after all, the old bike in the ditch is way behind me.
I will never complain about, or be angry with.... the walk.
I will never sit down, and play the part of guru.
I am not on pilgrimage, because pilgrimage implies a destination.
I am on a journey.
On a journey, you keep moving.
Hopefully we can all stick around, and be nice, and continue to ask each other the post-pee-thing type of questions that are commensurate with the maturity we [hopefully] apply to every other aspect of our adult lives.


Anonymous patricia said...

Thank you!

What a wonderful journey it was to read your thoughts! I really do appreciate you taking the time to express them.

'Catalyst' is a great word, but in my books, an even better word is 'Doubt'.

3/20/2006 11:43 PM  
Anonymous Cleo said...

All valid points Cip and I agree and have pondered many of those points as well as those pesky questions like, am I REALLY to believe that humans simply sprang up on the earth in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary? Am I really to believe that we are somehow the only things "made in His image" on planets that number more than every grain of sand on every beach in the world? How is it possible that a deity created just ONE planet with things in His image? Did he get really tired or bored and quit after us? And not just the thing but, a flood that covered & killed everything on the entire planet except the ONLY righteous man on the face of the earth, his family and two of each animal? The specs don't add up to enough space even! I have this conversation with my mother, a woman of great faith, on occasion and receive the "faith is the belief in things not seen" line. I have faith in unseen things. I believe in love, quarks, nanoparticles, string theory and black holes (although I'm a doubting Thomas on a unified theory of everything). You're quite right-the questions change, doubt is introduced and the answers no longer suffice but the path continues on over the mountain. (I must say, you were a rather late bloomer weren't you?)

3/21/2006 12:41 AM  
Blogger Isabella said...

1. Penguins are awesome!
2. So where does doubt come from? Is it the acquisition of knowledge that serves as a catalyst for doubt (which serves as a catalyst to acuiring further knowledge)? Or can it have a non-intellectual basis?

3/21/2006 7:11 PM  
Blogger RantandRoar said...


No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.
-- Charles Steinmetz

Cip my friend, obviously we can yet call you a fool. Your Theory of Displacement is a very interesting one. Being raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, I wanted to believe everything that was taught me and for many, many years I did go along with the flow. However, sence I was about 17 or so, I also had many questions about my faith which was passed down to me by my parents. Things just didn't add up, but as I married into a family with the same beliefs, I put many of those questions to the back of my mind for many years until I came to the point of going through the motions of my faith. I became the opposite of your Theory of Displacement. I was being displaced for a very long time.

Then a friend of mine mentioned a few things to me and I read a book on the errancy of Christianity, and while I didn't like alot of what I read, it made me realize that I must bring the questions to the front of my mind about my faith, that I had moved to the back of my mind for all those years.

Now, 2 years later, I am happy to say that I have totally abandoned my faith (brothers and sisters don't be sad for me) and I too am on a Journey.

What you may ask, do I believe now? I believe that I know as much as anyone, but yet know nothing. I believe I will always have questions (if nothing else, just so this Steinmetz guy can't call me a fool!).

My question to you, as it would be to Bishop Spong if I ever meet him is: How can you still believe in Christianity if you are suspect of who wrote the Bible, who put it together, whether it is inspired, it's multitude of contradictions and inaccurate historical facts, the intolerance of other faiths or beliefs, etc. cause it makes no sense to me. You may say, "don't through the baby out with the bath water", but I say, how can you believe in part of something that does not fit? Why Cip why?

3/21/2006 7:41 PM  
Blogger cipriano said...

These are all such good comments and great questions, I really love to read such insightful, thoughtful stuff from ye all.
Isabella and rantandroar have asked some specific things that I do not even pretend to know any sort of answers to, if they exist at all... but at the same time, I have a suspicion that ALL of them, all of these specific questions will be addressed and discussed one way or another in future blogs.

Ranty, I just read a chapter tonight [in Spong], actually for the second time now, called "Jesus Beyond Incarnation" and it discusses the question "Who is Jesus, if he is not the Son of God?"
Very interesting stuff...

Jesus [to me] is still an extremely important figure [yes, in actual history, and again, that is sort of a matter of opinion, I know].
To me, he is not someone to be thrown out with the bathwater, [per se] but at the same time, neither could he have walked on it!

Later, alligators!

3/21/2006 8:02 PM  
Blogger RantandRoar said...

"Religion is primarily a search for security and not a search for truth. Religion is what we so often use to bank the fires of our anxiety. That is why religion tends toward becoming excessive, neurotic, controlling and even evil. That is why a religious government is always a cruel government. People need to understand that questioning and doubting are healthy, human activities to be encouraged not to be feared. Certainly is a vice not a virtue. Insecurity is something to be grasped and treasured. A true and healthy religious system will encourage each of these activities. A sick and fearful religious system will seek to remove them. "

John Shelby Spong

3/21/2006 8:19 PM  
Anonymous patricia said...

Oh, and...

"crazy crazy social-butterfly/cartoonist/artist/writer dame"?

I like it! I'm gonna put that on my business card.

3/21/2006 10:54 PM  
Blogger IchBin said...

Questions... the soft stroke of oars in the waters whose currents we can only guess at.

Questions move us forward.

Questions are like breakfast, lunch and dinner for the Hungry. For the intellectual hunger like no other.

I am a few years your junior, and asked a very similar question in my twenties.

I asked, "If you are out there, Jesus, how can I access your teachings today?"

Implicit in the question was my intellectually understandable doubt in the translation, edition and accurate replication of events passed down to us through very human hands.

The response was immediate and forceful.I will not describe the answers here, but I invite every one of you to sincerely put your questions forth directly and see what happens in the immediate days that follow.

Let me say that, though I do not subscribe to any doctrine, dogma or pre-packaged theology, I *know* that the Master of Galilee is as real as real could be.

More importantly, His teachings are knowable and plain. His teachings demonstrate to us (it is for us to assimilate) that All is Spirit... and we shall all attain to what Jesus understood AND MORE.

In other words, the Christ is in us and in all things. Yes, the Christ is in you! Turn your attention to the Power that makes your heart beat, your cells divide and your questions arise and you will know the Christ within you.

Read the Bible again holding what is said above in mind and all the mysterious scriptures and parables--replete with mis-translations and human meddling--make perfect sense. Amazingly the Truth still resides within those pages, 'for those with eyes to see and ears to hear'!

Displacement... exactly *what* is displaced? What is the difference between disillusionment and Illumination?

All journeys become a Pilgrimage once the destination has been reached!

Do you have any questions for me?


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