Monday, August 08, 2011

Thoughts from Beck: Religion as Biography

Richard Beck again with great insight captures a profound reality (in my experience, anyway) of the challenge of living an authentic life in community with others of varying experiences. Our insecure, possessive instincts to grasp, control and dominate the truths of others - of disregarding their unique conflation of personality, biology, culture, sociology and experience - so often create unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding. As opposed to this reality is the truth Jesus brought us of our rightful dominions; of the ultimate respect for the individual and her choices.

I'm a big Walden and Thoreau fan to begin with so that's a good start, but Beck's application here of the radical inseparability of our individual biographical narrative from our own epistemological make-up is crucial to my own understanding of human volition, prevenient grace, universal reconciliation, atonement and communal life.

Excerpts of the full article below.

"Immediately, Thoreau goes on to offer an apology for the first-person, autobiographical nature of the book {CJR: Walden):
'...Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.'

"I've heard it said, "There is no theology; only biography." This idea, it seems, is a variant of something Ralph Waldo Emerson, friend of Thoreau, had said: "There is properly no history; only biography"

"Some people, it seems, have no experience of God. At least no experience they trust. Thus, they feel no need to "make sense" of an experience they lack. These persons are agnostics and atheists. And to be clear, I don't fault my skeptical friends for "making sense" of their experience in this particular way. Their experience is their experience. I can't argue them out of what they feel to be true in their bones."

"In a related way, there are those of us who have (and continue to have) experiences that we can only "make sense" of by labeling them as holy, sacred, transcendent, divine, or spiritual. William James called these experiences "ontological emotions," a feeling of thereness. And in light of these experiences people often "make sense" of their lives in ways that we might label "religious.""

"I think this is why Jesus often said, "Those who have ears, let them hear." You can either hear me, or you can't. And if you can't, I'm not sure what we can say to each other. At some deep level we are ships passing in the night. I think this is the same idea behind the Parable of the Sower. You are either good soil, or not. And the same goes for how we live with each other. You are either open to me, and I to you, or we're not."

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