Oh, Grow Up!

children's blocks in stackA mature relationship with reality. For me, that is the goal in my search for purpose, meaning, and justice. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:11, I want to “put away childish things.” 

So far so good, but what am I calling “childish”? Ah! There’s the rub. 

I’m not sure what Paul considered “childish,” but experience quickly teaches that one person’s childish is another person’s profound. 

For me, “childish” is my own subjective measuring stick: things I once believed that were socially conditioned. Provincial, as the old term had it. But “provincial” meaning everywhere is a province, because I embrace that old Stoic goal of having the universe as my city—“cosmopolitain.” 

One aspect of a mature relationship with reality is understanding that there is no view from nowhere. No unbiased way of seeing. When we think we are thinking in a completely neutral way, that’s exactly when we have been mastered by assumptions. It’s exactly when we are puppets on a string. 

Psychologist Gordon Allport—one of the founders of “personality psychology—argued that there are two types of religious experience, the extrinsic and the intrinsic. Extrinsic religious orientation has little to do with religion and lots to do with social norms, rules, and regulations. Allport said that extrinsic orientation functions “to provide security and solace, sociability and distraction, status and self-justification.” A means to an end.

Intrinsic religious orientation, on the other hand, is the end in itself. For those oriented toward intrinsic religious experience, their religion becomes their meaning and purpose in life. The means is the end. 

This is as far as Dr. Allport took the idea, but Daniel Batson, who holds doctorates in both psychology and theology, posited a third religious orientation, what he called “quest.” Batson says, 

An individual who approaches religion in this way recognizes that he or she does not know, and probably never will know, the final truth about such matters. Still the questions are deemed important, and however tentative and subject to changes, answers are sought.

To me, that sounds like an awfully adult way to look at religious experience and practice. When we realizing that the answers—all the answers—are time bound; socially bound; class bound; and tentative, I’m thinking we’ve gone some distance away from childish and toward wise. It’s a wise way of looking at the old answers to the old problems and the new answers to those old problems. Wisdom.

As I see it, wisdom, when it comes to religious and philosophical questions, is about being two things—realistic and humble. This wisdom centers around an old Daoist and Stoic insight: we must accept the nature of reality itself—and the reality of nature—or we can’t be content and have our eyes open at the same time. 

That’s the essence, isn’t it: the goal is to have both our eyes open and to be as comfortable as we can living in the world we experience. 

Religious maturity is about realism, and realism requires humility in the face of life’s challenges. 

Furthermore, as Dr. Batson points out, it’s about accepting the fact that the search is all we have—that the search itself is the challenge and the answer. 

Arriving at “truth” merely means you’ve given up the search. Science is open-ended; philosophy is open-ended; all the fine arts are open-ended—every new thing is new. As in art and science and philosophy, stopping the search in religious thinking means you’ve given up any hope of renewal, or creativity. 

Non-childish religious thinking—thinking about such things as the ultimate meaning and purpose of our lives on this planet—involves both room to continuously evolve with time and some hope for the human condition—our condition—itself. 

Striving toward enhanced human flourishing with equanimity, compassion, and wisdom. Nothing childish about that.

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