What is knowledge? True knowledge? Those who know me or follow my articles know that I have a deep passion for knowledge and understanding. Some particularly difficult questions have been with me for many years. One of those questions is this: How can two individuals look at the same object or bit of evidence and come to very different, often contradictory, conclusions?
I first encountered this question many years ago as a person of both faith and science.
Scientist: How can anyone look at the complexity of this tree leaf and deny evolution?
Christian: How can anyone look at the complexity of this tree leaf and deny the existence of God?
I understood both sides of the argument, and to be perfectly honest, both sides are based upon reasonable thinking, despite each side continuing to insist the other is, well, anything but intelligent. I recognized that both sides were rational, and it intrigued me how two starkly opposing claims of rational knowledge could exist over the same tree leaf. All those years ago, I simply came to the conclusion that it was due to viewing the object from two very different positions, or world views, as if one were viewing a coin from one side and the other viewing it from the other, arguing about what the coin looked like.
In the many years since then, I’ve learned that this perspective-based knowledge is constructed knowledge rather than true knowledge. I’ve come to understand the powerful grip that a constructed sphere of knowledge has on its followers. And I’ve learned that this type of rational conflict in two spheres of constructed knowledge is not the exception. It is the rule, and such conflicts go far beyond the obvious clash between evolution and religion. I’ve seen it within science itself. Within religion as a whole itself. Even among denominations within a single religion. And that’s what has been troubling me lately…
I have a diverse network of friends and acquaintances, many who claim some sort of Christian faith. Tensions are currently high in my network, largely due to the recent political upheaval here in the States, and now that everyone seems to feel compelled to offer up their opinions on what has happened and what should be done next, I’m seeing a great deal of conflict among my Christian friends. Denominational differences, interpretational differences, legalistic differences… Everyone seems to be finding fault in everyone else’s ideas, while remaining convinced that they have the perfect solutions. And of course, many of these arguments have led back to the fundamental differences of the denominations, resulting in certain groups simply discounting the opinions of others, claiming that they aren’t truly born again Christians. And now it’s become so prevalent that some Christians are simply throwing up their hands and saying, ‘Look at yourselves, Christians!’
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because I, too, have been forced to reevaluate some of my friends and acquaintances. On one hand, some are making compromises that I’m not convinced can be made while maintaining the integrity of fundamental Christian Faith. On the other hand, some have become almost cult-like in how they isolate, manipulate, and even brainwash their followers and others into submission and compliance. And here I stand, seeking the truth of it, trying to make some sense of it all…
The past few weeks have taken me back to my childhood. I grew up near the Amish communities of eastern Kansas and western Missouri. I was never a part of them, but growing up in their presence influenced me in both good and bad ways. I grew to have a great deal of respect for their simplistic, hard working, salt-of-the-earth way of life. But how they looked at me – as an outsider – burned into my memory. They looked at me pitifully, as if I were among the damned, even though I was saved and had grown up in a Christian home and church. They were convinced with all of their hearts that they were the only ones enlightened, the only ones who had hope of redemption. They read the same Bible I read. They quoted the same Scripture I quoted. They sang the same hymns that I sang. But they were convinced I was hopelessly condemned, simply because I wasn’t among the Friendship. Then as a teenager, my family moved into the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas where there is a fairly large population of Mennonite Brethren. It was the same with them. They were loving and embracing to outsiders, but in a way that was clearly an effort to care for the dying soul.
Then when God showed me a different path, a different people, and commissioned me to reach them, I found myself being shunned and excluded from my own Christian brothers and sisters. Not because I changed my beliefs. Not because I departed from redemption through Christ’s blood. Not because I rejected the Word of God. It was because I went to a place where they feared. It was because they no longer saw me as one of their own. It was because they saw me as an outsider, just as the Amish and Mennonites saw me. I am just as certain of my salvation as any of them, and I have kept my faith and testimony through fires that most of my accusers have never seen. Yet many still insist I’m just a fallen, deceived soul.
Spheres of knowledge. People never question whether they’re right. They never consider whether they may be as the Amish, condemning a world of true believers. Instead, they seek out a sphere that is ‘in tune’ with their own beliefs and inclinations, one that tickles their ears. They seek out a place where others will pat them on the back and assuringly say, ‘You’re such a great person!’ And to them, this place becomes home. It becomes reality. It becomes universal law. All that is ‘outside’ is evil, dangerous, and corrupt.
And here I stand, seeking the truth of it, trying to make some sense of it all…