Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, GVSU
Logic and Doctrine divide, wisdom and love unite
“You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
So wrote Anne Lamott, author of over 20 books including novels and popular books on faith. Why do we humans think we know so much about who God is and who God loves and hates? It is especially puzzling when what we think we know about God is so often a reflection of our own biases and feelings, rather than what is so often very clear in the scriptures and sayings of those whom we believe to be the source of religious wisdom.
In my own faith tradition as a Christian it is instructive to note that the major creeds defining Christian doctrine, like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, never use the word “love.” And yet when Jesus was asked about what was the greatest commandment, his response was love God and love your neighbor. When one looks at other faith traditions, we see differences in beliefs, doctrines, liturgy, and various practices. And yet, most religions and their founders taught love and principles like compassion and how to treat others.
Again, considering the divisions in Christian history, as well as in most other religions, these divisions have been about beliefs not about ethics.
Much of our problem comes from Aristotle and Greek logic. If we see life in terms of propositions, facts, and the binary choice of true or false, then logic is a valuable tool. If I am primarily interested in the truth or falsity of certain facts -- like 2+2=4; Lansing is the capital of Michigan; viruses cause colds -- then the laws of logic are important.
In logic it is called the law of the excluded middle: A proposition is either true or false. It is important to know many facts and it is important to know if they are true or false.
But when we approach important issues of love, beauty and morality, the logic of specific facts will often not serve us well. In matters of meaning and how to live, perhaps the category we need is wisdom rather than propositional or creedal truth. If as religious people we can affirm that God’s truth is beyond mere mortals’ full comprehension, then why do we think we can know with certainty what God knows or how God will interact with God’s creatures?
Wisdom is not a binary concept. We cannot say with simple logic what is the best way to resolve a dispute, counsel a distraught friend, or make a difficult moral choice. These issues will not stand up to a T/ F test. They call for wisdom.
Is it not time in our relating to a diversity of religious traditions and communities to ask the wisdom question? Not so much which proposition, creed or belief is true and which is false, but what can we learn from each other to grow in wisdom about how to live and treat each other? Are we facing a crisis of truth, or a crisis of wisdom?
Science has given us many truths about the physical world and we proudly talk of “modern science” and its accomplishments. But where is “modern wisdom”?
Jonas Salk, the scientist and creator of the polio vaccine, asked: “At one time we had wisdom, but little knowledge. Now we have a great deal of knowledge, but do we have enough wisdom to deal with that knowledge?”
It is a tragic observation that today science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
While the binary approach of logic seeks to resolve difference as either True or False, wisdom grows when we see both sides of an issue, when we learn from difference. Wisdom grows with experience and knows that a final resolution may not be possible.
The desire for uniformity of belief throughout history has led to divisions in religious communities. Imagine what would happen if we looked instead for unity in our commitment to love for God and love of our neighbor, as well as love for the stranger.