Mind Matters

by the Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 425
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 record).

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 themselves?

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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