Discerning divine through through imperfect lenses

Mystics are human like the rest of us, and none of us are perfect. We are inconsistent creatures with blind spots and cultural limitations. Outside of flashes of insight and unitive experience, mystics are products of their place in time. For example, they may have sexist, anti-Semitic, or other biases common for that period, as we see even in the much-idealized Desert Fathers. In spite of momentary glimpses of universal and unconditional grace, they may still be rooted in a retributive understanding of God. It takes more than a lifetime for us to grasp the Mystery that we experience during moments of deep presence and surrender.

Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, July 17, 2019

I love this insight from Richard Rohr.

Many religious traditions have cultures and theologies that attribute a halo of near-perfection onto their community’s leaders or sacred texts. Because the leaders or texts are “inspired,” the logic goes, whatever they say and do must be true and good in every particular. To suggest that the leaders or texts are fallible or wrong in some aspect is seen as putting oneself in opposition to both God and the community.

In my view, this type of religious culture or theological belief is socially unhealthy and epistemologically untenable.

If we take as an assumption that God works through humans to communicate to humans, and accept as true the vast store of scientific knowledge of psychology and neuroscience that shows that human perception is flawed and limited, then we may logically conclude that the “inspired” communications that God makes with us through ourselves and other humans (or human-written texts), must themselves also be flawed and limited. As we receive the communication, whether directly to ourselves or through other humans (or their writings), it is muddled once more through our own psychological flaws and limitations.

It seems to me that a reasonable hypothesis would be that if God’s communications to us through human community leaders or sacred texts were received and interpreted in a pure and undiluted fashion, that everything said and written under divine influence would be in perfect and complete harmony. A cursory examination of human religious history quickly disproves that hypothesis, leading us to conclude instead that the individuals or texts that convey God’s truths to us are to one degree or another imperfect, distorted, and flawed due to the natural physical realities of our neurophysiology.

Instead, my (imperfect) approach to attempting to (imperfectly) discern divine truths is to gather as much “inspiration” as possible from as many spiritual communities, individuals, and sacred texts, as well as as many sources of secular/scientific truth as possible, combined with my own intellect and spiritual intuitions, and try to construct the most approximate “model” of divine truth possible that best matches the “data points” from the comprehensive universe of each of these sources of truth as I can, knowing full well that this will be imperfect, limited, and flawed.

This will of course very likely not lead me to the Absolute Truth on any particular question, but I’m persuaded that it is more likely to lead me closer to the Truth than will accepting the version proffered me by any one authoritative source of truth individually.

See also: Baysian thinking

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