Ecclesiastical Universalism and What Makes a Theoretical Structure Faulty
Are streams of thought which emphasize biblical masculinity looking to turn the tide of a previous heavy-handed intellectualism?
If it is, I find one thing between the two that might not change: the under-emphasis of gentleness and curiosity. Which is to say, so many ditches. Is there a solution to paralytic analysis of all the possible ditches? If there is, I think it must keep relationship (both with God and his other creatures milling about) acutely in focus. The basis of all knowledge is relationship.
I would love to propose a theory on what I might call ecclesiastical universalism. I have actually thought about it quite a bit, have taken it far with my reason, but I feel like I don’t have the credibility to “propose a theory” on the church and culture. If my opinion, formed by experience and reason, changes, that structure will become useless. Any theory I make would be founded on my limited experience and my reason.
Experience highlights certain problems or blessings embedded in the landscape. Reason builds the structures by which I respond to what I’ve gotten a sense of.
I don’t think my reason is rickety–I trust it. It is my experience that lacks. I might even have a right sense of the landscape, but am only gradually lifting my head from my own feet to look around at the real issues. I can cogitate all day long on possible issues out there–where the ground under my feet might lead–but in order to actually propose a theory that is helpful, structured by reason, I must entirely forget about my feet for a second and have the experience of being so overwhelmed with the issues, contours, and the subtle tones of the different pockets in the landscape, that I am then able to look back down at where I stand and ask myself, dizzy, “How am I still standing?”
Between the two, experience and reason (i.e. my response to experience), it is experience that is most in motion. The more we reason about different experiences, we form certain ways of thinking about things that follow the rough and dark paths of our character. Reason is not objective, but it is in some way unchanging and reliable according to our growing natures. If we know ourselves, we can also know where we are most likely to go astray or succeed in our ability to make structures using reason. Reason, from a higher perspective, is in some sense subjective then. It is dependent on our character.
Experience is less dependent on our character. Experience, although our assumptions set boundaries on what we might perceive, is something that happens to us, not something we do. It is something we have to deal with. It is also something that is illuminated if we ourselves are illuminated, but only insofar as we could then see where we have trouble seeing; where our blind spots are, vision obscured by assumptions.
Experience, because it is something that is unchanging in is perpetuity, doesn’t change in its bizarre character, but it does grow. We cannot un-experience something, but we can experience something that might fall into contradiction with previous experiences according to our assumptions (again, illumination is helpful here). We experience more and more, until we are forced to either refine the structures we made with reason as our old selves or create new structures using reason that can house our ever-growing treasury of experience.
So, before I go ahead and waste my time making some structure about ecclesiastical universalism through my reason, which is what it is because of my current character, I need to look up and look up and look up and look up and still look up and see this landscape and try my best to keep my mouth shut, but it is so tempting to settle down somewhere (in a glade, if our metaphor is in focus) and start building a structure that we think might help, that might protect us from the elements; but I don’t know what I’m facing yet, I don’t know if it rains here, if there are bears, if there are others–or what sorts of structures those who have been here longer, who have had the confidence to keep their heads up in their hikes on the rocky paths here, have made. What dangers do they know about that I don’t? Are they wrong about certain dangers? I would prefer to find out from them, not from falling into intellectual danger myself.
So here, the safest way of proceeding seems to be adventuring out to find these other structures that people, who I have no other option but to trust, have made. Whether they build roofs or walls or use guns or run around naked will give me a sense about what kind of structure might be appropriate to build.
I learn what theoretical structures are beneficial by studying what other people think is true and comparing their attempts to what they experience and what I experience and seeing which structures provide the most protection from anxiety and a lack of unity in relationships. If a theoretical structure mars our ability to be in relationship with God and other people, then it is faulty. The danger all along has not been to us (we can delude ourselves and, thereby, pretend that certain pains are mere illusions), but rather to the people already sitting in their structures here in this landscape and to the God that made this landscape with his own hands, an act inspiring every person to make their own structures, including me. I am tempted to make some theoretical structure using my reason to explain and contain my experience; why? Was God the first to have experienced something, something too great to contain, some experience so overwhelming, that his only option was to make a structure that might house it? Was that structure this world and these creatures, who similarly experience the magnitude and inevitability of creation and existence like God once did? Was God’s house one that had built in it the continuation of the very pattern of his joy? God’s house is the creation of houses by people like God. God experienced, like we do, looking out at this landscape, the joy of relationship with himself. What we see in this landscape that puts that urge in us to create a house are the relationships that have strung it together. This landscape is not one of ideas, it’s one of people. What we see, what we have to learn how to deal with, are other people who experience one another like we experience them. Here we have the difficulty of relationship–and here we have the source of anxiety and disunity being the key faults to avoid. Here we have proof that a theoretical structure is faulty if it makes one overly anxious, and unable to be united in a relationship.
Ultimately, therefore, we find the key fault of any theoretical structure to be isolation and individual dependence, one that keeps someone from recognizing his dependence on the God and the people outside himself, one that fails to recognize that even God is dependent on himself. A home that fails to protect one against the elements of anxiety, fear, and humorlessness is a shack in the middle of a dark forest, with a solitary chimney and a solitary bed, home to a man or woman lost inside their head, unable to explain themselves to the wanderers who knock on their door, asking if they know of the dangers around. Of course, the solitary man or woman does not know, because they in their attempt at protecting themselves, have given into the very dangers that this landscape contains. There are some wanderers who knock on the door of some solitary thinker’s theoretical structure and find his isolation so attractive in its self-reflection and self-dependence, that they try to do the same, to be that thinker’s follower. And most isolated thinkers find that to be very flattering, because even in their isolation they are still dependent on others and we, as creators, are dependent on others.
Ultimately, therefore, I find the dangers of the many ditches to ultimately be the same ditch: self-dependence. And if there is any self-dependence that incarnates itself in someone’s theoretical structure, that structure is again faulty.
Meanwhile, as I continue to make my way, I get the sense that some structure including an ecclesiastical universalism could be of great benefit, if at the core of ecclesiastical universalism is the relationship of people with theoretical structures (everyone). This universalism extends to everyone who has their relationship with God and with his creators shape them, their experience and, ultimately, their reason.
Now, you might ask, what if your experience that relationship is at the center of all this proves to come into contradiction with a future experience? What if your experience gets in the way of this theory you so sneakily inserted into this discussion? To that I would say that the mystery and complexity of united relationships are the contradictions that flows so naturally from them. Since, like I said, we experience relationships, we surely will experience contradictions. And so, part of my theory actually expects there would be contradictions in our experience. But, with this perspective, the nature of contradictions change; instead of the contradiction being one aligned by our assumptions, it is one aligned by our expectations of others and their expectations of us. Contradictions in experience, in an economy of relationship, is less about what happens to us (which we said is experience) and is more about what other people do to us. They bring contradictions forward. The beauty of relationship is that contradictions are no longer unbreakable, but rather must now be broken, so that we do not have to abandon our previous theoretical structures, but instead realign them to God and others. We no longer have to jump from structure to structure, ultimately a binary view.
We are now free to have relationships change how we think, not what we think. So, I think I can safely say that it is no more experience that shapes reason, but rather relationship that shapes reason. We are no more in control of our relationships as we once were over our experience; the difference is that we are now dependent on others in both our relationships and our reason, reason now being the tool we use to houses and take care of and benefit harmonious relationships. Reason, therefore, is now no longer the tool of sculpting structures that grow obsolete, but is rather a tool that shapes relationships which will grow and become more illuminated throughout eternity.
And this, going back to our old model of experience-reason, is more in line with what we have observed about experience: it is unchanging in its perpetuity. And this, going back to our old model of of experience-reason, is more in line with what we have observed about reason: it is dependent on our character.
As to what I mean by ecclesiastical universalism, I’ll save that for thoughts before bed or maybe conversations with you in the future.