by the Rev. Robert H. Tucker
April 22, 2002
Temporize, not Trivialize
Although not a history major, I took a college course in historiography--the
study of the writing of history. I learned that history is not just facts
in story form. Historians always have a point of view: from the choosing
of a topic, to the selection of facts drawn from the myriad available, to
organizing, highlighting, minimizing or dismissing those selected facts,
to the final imposition of a story line. The resulting coherent story using
those facts is dependent on the individual historian and the time and place
in which he or she lives. Fortunately, my professor brought both knowledge
and wisdom to the subject, having taught, at one time or another at that
small college, courses not only in his major field of history but also in
political science, economics, and British literature. He could fill a class
hour with memorized poetry. An education could consist of Doc Savage 'on
one end of a log and with me on the other.'
I could not help but extend that insight to religion. Never have I been able
to accept the 'eternal' truth of the Bible (not believing the words dropped
out of heaven and the authors of the books were scribes taking dictation).
Never could I accept the Nicene Creed as the norm of Christian faith (the
contending factions, the politics, and the manipulation of people and ideas
that went into the Creed's formation in 325 A.D. is, to my mind, a sorry
Other areas of my life were affected as well. Living in Turkey was far easier
because I could not make American culture the norm of human behavior, over
against which all other cultural expressions are pale attempts to organize
life. Also, I found I quickly grasped the current emphasis in academia on
'postmodernism' because of my roots in the study of historiography.
There is, though, a danger that can accompany this view of knowledge: skepticism
and its ugly cousin, cynicism. If human knowledge is always 'conditioned'
by time and place and by the personality of scholar and authors, then we
can ask if there is anything solid enough to which we can commit our lives.
Can one say, "I believe" or "I am committed" when one is aware of the 'conditioned
temporariness' on which those commitments are based, and on the commitments
I believe so. I find I have been able to temporize without trivializing.
I have been married for almost a half century, and for a bit longer, I have
been a Christian. The ambiguities in those decisions, and in the resulting
relationships, do not undercut the commitments I made.
In addition, in the midst of life's 'conditioned temporariness,' I find I
have four simple core beliefs that have persisted over the decades. I feel
I belong (I do not feel alienated from life or people). I am grateful (I
find life to be a gift, and gratitude is a natural response). I am responsible
(I cannot shake off the conviction that I betray life by a singular focus
on myself). I have a tolerance for ambiguity (the diversity of this world
is enriching and endlessly fascinating, as well as at times, frustrating).
Living in the tension between the deep human yearning for certainty and the
easy slide into the skeptical relativizing of everything is not always easy.
Nevertheless, it is the way I have chosen to live my life.
--Robert H. Tucker
22 April 2002
© Robert H. Tucker, 2002.
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