Struggling with Certainty

Whenever I encounter an article, photo album, site, or video I don’t have time or ability to view at the moment, I email the link to myself and shove them into a folder called “internet for later.” I always intend to go to the folder as soon as I can to see what I saved that day or week…but somehow it simply became a dumping ground.  Yesterday, I found myself with some time, so I decided to clean out the folder. And I found nearly 200 emails to myself. Some of them had articles that I had actually read, some had items I still need to hang on to, some had links that for the life of me I can’t figure out why I saved.

One of the links – found very recently – is to a site called Stuff Christian Culture Likes. The blogger, a former evangelical preacher’s kid, outlines in some great detail parts of this particular flavor of Christian culture. Some of it’s kinda fun, from the outside, to laugh at (like The Ungame). But much of what Stephanie Drury says points to the very thing Unitarian Universalists can’t abide: the need for certainty.

It hit me while reading Stephanie’s post on “Things that Edify“:

Edification is mentioned several times in the New Testament, basically saying we should do stuff that edifies ourselves and each other. It’s a lovely concept and Christians want to take it seriously. But the Bible doesn’t give a whole lot of specifics as to what is edifying and what isn’t. Christian culture wants to know exactly what that means, so they have filled in the blanks.

Over and over again, whether talking about social issues, church organizations, or family, she points to the need for certainty. They fill in the blanks so there is no unsurety, and all subsequent issues get measured against that created doctrine. Whether it’s blasphemy, homosexuality, money, or movies, there is such a need for certainty that certainty often overtakes reason.

And that is why we as UUs often have such a hard time. We value reason – some suggest it is our deity – but at the very least, we cherish our doubt, honor our ability to see many points of view, celebrate our plurality and variety, both in matters spiritual and cultural (although we’re more dogmatic than we’d like to admit in regards to our culture – but that’s a topic for another day). The point is, we are so strongly attuned to questioning, reasoning, debating, that we don’t know how to handle certainty – particularly when it goes against all reason.

I bring this up, because it is a failing on our part to not understand this mindset.

We know, as Kevin Smith wrote in his film Dogma, “you can change an idea; changing a belief is trickier” but we have a hard time recognizing that what we think are ideas are beliefs for others. We are so tied into following ideas to a logical conclusion, we can’t understand how people simply take things on faith. We dwell so easily in a sea of uncertainty, we can’t understand how some people drown in it.

In her presentation at General Assembly a few weeks ago, Ellen Cooper-Davis encouraged us to learn more about the cultures we find ourselves in, and learn how to speak to others about our own faith in the context of their faith. In a keynote at a St. Lawrence District Assembly a number of years ago, Fred Helio Garcia reminded us that we must be literate in both ideas and language – “words matter,” he said, because “those who control the words control the world.”

We must get better at approaching those who are swimming in the pool of certainty, not by chastising their lack of logic, but by showing them love beyond the pool – showing them the beautiful shores, glistening with hope and openness, showing them the gentle waves of compassion, showing them the rich waters of love and faith. We can’t do it by shoving them off the pier. We have to do it by meeting them where they are.

We can combat the sin of certainty and open minds and hearts to the awesome, expansive, inclusive, healing love that some call God, when we know what we’re saying and how it is perceived. Let us be loving and gentle to those whose certainties we are shaking.

One Comment

  1. Carl Jung and others have talked about the need for certainty in most people and that only some of us are able to live with ambiguity. And that’s why there are so few UUs relative to the general population. We are able to live with uncertainty and ambiguity.

    A woman once told a well-known evangelical Christian leader that she wish she could be as certain about a few things as he is certain about everything. He took it as a compliment.

Leave a Reply