Sunday, December 2, 2012

Can you love those you do not know?

Last week in Sunday School the teacher asked why people doubted the church.  One of the audience members appeared set on taking a hardline position on the subject in his comments, giving reasons as examples which called into question the person doubting instead of the situation in which the doubt arose.  For example, he remarked that people doubted the church to provide justification for their pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle.  I had to chuckle at that, as my own periods of doubt have been characterized by gut wrenching soul searching, not so much hedonism.

It was another of those moments that I try to ignore because the teacher really has more power than I do to provide a welcoming or unwelcoming atmosphere for such comments and the question didn't seem worth investing in enough to try to come up with a bunch of alternate view comments.  What are my views?  Though this area is complicated and bigger than you can capture in just a few sentences, I think people doubt the church because the grey area between where the divine revelation stops and the imperfect culturally influenced crazy normal people begins is so fuzzy.  Where exactly the line is is not an area for black and white thinking, and reasonable people can disagree on whether there is any divine element at all.  We are, after all, human.  When we only provide lip service to the concept of the church being made up of imperfect people who are still people, then when their occasional lack of godliness becomes too obvious to ignore it can generate doubts.  When it comes down to it, some things deserve to be doubted.

I remember listening to these comments in Sunday School about how people doubt because of their personal failings and thinking that the man must never have had a heart to heart conversation with someone who was actually doubting or had given up faith.  Or if he had, his need to judge people whose views threatened his own overshadowed his ability to listen.  Perhaps its a form of "Confirmation Bias," where maybe he just tended to only associate with people or remember things about them that reinforce his own views because he is human, and as a result just doesn't know people who have serious doubts or perhaps ignores those doubts and as a result doesn't know the people as complete human beings.  When you allow yourself not to know someone, you remove the possibility of loving them in a concrete way that would actually matter as much to the person on the receiving end.  You could easily love them as abstractions whom you wish to have plenty of calories and shelter, but not the kind of love where the person feels you know who they are, what matters to them, and can sympathize with the personal goals and ideals they have that separate them as an individual from all of humanity.

Even though I tend to be somewhat terrified of establishing real human connections to the people around me on a daily basis, I value the small ways that I can find to give myself a human connection to people whose lives are hurt by the way the word exists.  So I can read a biography about a civil rights lawyer and start to imagine the inner mind set and priorities of people to whom the events of the civil rights movement weren't simply a mildly interesting past.  I can learn to identify how my own mind has been poisoned by a subconscious racism and start to question how that makes me relate to the class Teaching Assistant or to the man sitting next to me at the airport.  I've listened to how homosexuals can describe a quest for self actualization and acceptance using arguments that are exact mirrors of what I might use to describe a need for self actualization and acceptance for autistics and start to let go of fear and question just how concrete the barriers that supposedly divide us are.  Then, when coworkers start berating a bisexual employee who just came out of the closet at work, I can realize that that employee is doing a kind of reaching into darkness that I might do when I take a chance on letting someone know that I am on the autistic spectrum.  There are many kinds of closets to come out of, and people who have shared a sense of isolation and darkness can help each other out.

I can read accounts of women whose quests for self fulfillment have been hampered on so many sides by a society that historically has made a lot of choices for them to benefit someone else.  Then, when I hear someone say that perhaps the world needs to be changed to loosen things up a bit I can see and hear the idea with eyes and ears not just my own, but also of the people who have been hurt.  I can talk to friends and family members who have doubts or who have abandoned faith and cherish having a chance to know a little bit more of who they are, not just who the talks given by church leaders and members say they should be.

That isn't to say that I am particularly skilled at listening and loving.  I'm fully capable of being an ignorant oaf and am poor at regulating the perceptions I broadcast to other people.  I can count plenty of occasions when I've been trying to connect to people and what came out was more or less horrible.  But I feel if I don't try I won't simply be stumbling into the occasional serious social error, I actually will be horrible.

If we cut ourselves off from listening to those who we don't understand or don't lack overt differences with we fail to know them and instead know only the false images of them we create in our mind to provide for our own mental security.  We can never fully know another person just as we can never fully know ourselves.  But, to the extent that we are willfully ignorant of other people, we cannot love them.

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