{Thu 22 February 2007}   What do I believe?
Well, I was going to post another poem today, but I’m having trouble with the scansion so it’s not ready yet. In the mean time, I went to visit the blog of a very dear friend of mine, started to write a brief comment and looked up from a steaming keyboard several paragraphs later, realising that I’d begun for the first time to make a coherent statement of my (current) creed.

The post I responded to is on the subject of Universal Restoration (my friend gives a pretty good overview of this if you want to check it out at soundandsilence.wordpress.com), but that’s not strictly necessary in order to understand what follows. Our conversation there is a part of the much larger 25 years or so of shared and disparate experiences that have created our relationship, which is very precious to me. However, I realised that my response can largely stand on its own as a statement of my belief, given a couple of contextual nudges.

First, I responded to the suggestion that I am a “closet believer”.

“… re the closet – I have no reason to be in one. I’m not hiding anything (other than those things that are hidden from myself, in which case you can hardly expect me to admit to them!) As to a believer, well that depends on the supposed object of belief. I am not a believer in a masculine or a feminine God. I am not a believer in the doctrine of original sin. I am not a believer in a concept of The Elect. I am not a believer in any of the heavens or hells that were described to me during my time in the church. I am not a believer in the infallible authority of any (including Christian) scripture. I am not a believer in salvation through Jesus Christ, unless “salvation” is highly qualified (what exactly are we saved from?, what does the salvation consist of?) and “Jesus Christ” is used metaphorically to designate a general principle of being-action that we can seek to incarnate ourselves and that people may incarnate without knowing the name (ask me about that one another time!).

I am a believer in a universe in which the whole is usually greater than the sum of its parts, in which the beauty of the rose and the spirt of a person remain mysterious beyond any analysing of them, and in which any human statements only approach truth by degrees of approximation. I believe in the power of love and in the necessity of our taking responsibility to make meaning in our lives by loving and creating (which is an outflow of love). I also believe that any tiny expression of heaven-on-earth that we can make happen now is more important than any hope of restoration in the eschatological future.”

Secondly, I responded to this statement by another Commenter: ”…surely there can be no doubt of the psychological, spiritual and/or material “reality” that millions of people sense, of some kind of fall from perfection”.

“There may be no doubt that millions of people sense it, but millions of people also believe that HIV is a white man’s disease and that female genital mutilation is a good thing. Billions of people believe that women are inferior to men and many of them base this on scripture.

The number of adherents of a belief has never been an indicator of its truth. That it might be has been proven repeatedly to be in itself an erroneous belief. People are able to hold to not just iffy but demonstrably incorrect beliefs despite actual evidence to the contrary, when the implications of changing their minds are too much to cope with and particularly when the religious authorities in their lives oppose the change (witness how long it took for Copernicus’ ideas to gain acceptance).

It is hardly surprising that people can continue to hold to a metaphysical belief that lies beyond the realm of proof and is a determinant of the consequent logic of their entire faith and culture. The “fall from” really depends on one’s definition of perfection. If it is wholeness (a very possible option, scripturally), then this could just as well reflect a dialectical universe in which a deliverance from all evil would be a reduction to less than perfection. It also depends on one’s definition of evil. We normally define evil from an autocentric human perspective which proceeds from an extremely arrogant pre-Copernican view of the universe. Are earthquakes evil? That depends on one’s perspective as to what should and shouldn’t (be allowed to) happen in the universe graced with one’s presence.”

I realise that a lot of the above is about what I don’t believe, along with some critique of other beliefs. My questions and posits re definitions of evil and the value of a dialectical model of the universe are open-ended. I’m not sure about these and many other things, but to the extent that I can voice, and in this small way be congruent with, my own beliefs at this current point of understanding, I feel exhilarated. I wonder whether my poetry may begin to reflect some of this now?

nic paton says:

Tia, I applaud your confession. It takes a lot of courage to articulate it.

My favourite bit is

“I am a believer in a universe in which the whole is usually greater than the sum of its parts, in which the beauty of the rose and the spirt of a person remain mysterious beyond any analysing of them, and in which any human statements only approach truth by degrees of approximation.”

However I’m not sure I get the idea of “usually greater than the sum of its parts”? Does it sometimes get lesser and other times greater?

How does the tension between the analyser and the poet co-exist within you?

Also as you say, its weighted around what you don’t believe, it is more critical than celebratory. The great thing about the poetic is that it is able to cope with the sense of unknowing and mystery better than expositions.

One last point: most people (even Richard Dawkins with expected reservations) tend to acknowledge the historical reality of Jesus Christ. It seems that the balance of scholarship does not dispute his life or words. What do you base your seemingly absolute metaphoricising of “Jesus Christ” on?

Tia says:

Hi Nic and thanks for your engagement and questions.

When I use “usually” it is only to remind myself that my assertions are based on my experience and knowledge up to this point and that anything I believe is subject to the possibility of revision due to later discoveries or insights.

I don’t think of the relationship between analyser and poet as one of tension, but rather as one of mutual support. While poetic content must proceed from poetic sensibility, a poet must use language, and language is a left-brain function. The capacity to think logically, use grammar well (or break it meaningfully), follow an argument, etc. is a boon, not a curse, for a poet. However, without the capacity to intuit and respond to mystery, there would be nothing for the poet to say.

There is a difference between “unknowing and mystery” and ignorance. I believe the sense of “unknowing and mystery” can be preserved and suggested in the midst of exposition, when the purpose of the latter is to explore what is currently known and felt rather than to cut off the possibility of discovering anything else.

Re JC – I did not address the question of the historical reality of Jesus Christ, but rather of his metaphysical redemptive efficacy. If you check the text again, you’ll see that I said “I am not a believer in SALVATION THROUGH Jesus Christ unless… etc.”. For the record, I’m about as certain as a non-expert can be in regard to historical facts that he did exist. I’m also very glad he did, and that we have the benefit of much wisdom that is attributed to him.

nic paton says:

Whoa whoa whoa .. now you are capitalising gratuitously.

Tia, your statement of faith is beautiful but needs some simplifying work. If its confusing to ME, the author of confusion, (NOTE I did not say ‘All’, thus deftly avoid alignment with Satan herself), then surely your dear readership will have a bit of a hard time.

BTW are you getting out more yet?

I end with a quote from the cinema:

Sir Bedevere: There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
Peasant 1: Are there? Oh well, tell us.
Sir Bedevere: Tell me. What do you do with witches?
Peasant 1: Burn them.
Sir Bedevere: And what do you burn, apart from witches?
Peasant 1: More witches.
Peasant 2: Wood.
Sir Bedevere: Good. Now, why do witches burn?
Peasant 3: …because they’re made of… wood?
Sir Bedevere: Good. So how do you tell whether she is made of wood?
Peasant 1: Build a bridge out of her.
Sir Bedevere: But can you not also build bridges out of stone?
Peasant 1: Oh yeah.
Sir Bedevere: Does wood sink in water?
Peasant 1: No, no, it floats!… It floats! Throw her into the pond!
Sir Bedevere: No, no. What else floats in water?
Peasant 1: Bread.
Peasant 2: Apples.
Peasant 3: Very small rocks.
Peasant 1: Cider.
Peasant 2: Gravy.
Peasant 3: Cherries.
Peasant 1: Mud.
Peasant 2: Churches.
Peasant 3: Lead! Lead!
King Arthur: A Duck.
Sir Bedevere: …Exactly. So, logically…
Peasant 1: If she weighed the same as a duck… she’s made of wood.
Sir Bedevere: And therefore…
Peasant 2: …A witch!

Tia says:

Hi Nic

Well, as you know, it wasn’t conceived originally as a statement of faith, but rather as a statement of what I didn’t believe in, in response to your assertion on your site that I was a closet believer. I’m sorry if you were offended by the caps – I can’t use Italics in the comments field and I just wanted to point out that my sentence didn’t say what you’d said it did. It still doesn’t, with or without caps.

As to whether my readership will have a hard time with it… well, I don’t know who they are. I hope that at least some of them do not come from the same background as we do. They may not begin with the same assumptions or flashpoints, so it may be easier for at least some of them to read what is actually said without leaping to ungrammatical conclusions!

I do try to write shorter sentences, when I have time, but this takes a lot of editing. Long ones come more naturally to me to accommodate the qualifying statements that usually materialise alongside any concepts in my consciousness.

Lots of love, from the witch.

(Which movie is that, btw? I clearly haven’t got out enough to see that one yet.)

TiaTalk says:

[…] Love as yardstick of truth What do I believe? […]

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