Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Conventional Wisdom: Or the Road Most Traveled

How to see Jesus...? Depending on who you ask, you're likely to get various answers. But whether a person sees themself as a Christian, a Buddhist, an agnostic, or one who eschews labels, the one thing most would likely hold in common is the view of Jesus as a teacher of wisdom.

So, what's wisdom? Loosely defined, it's "how to live." It defines the nature of reality, and how to live life within that reality. In many traditions, wisdom is likened to a path ... or the choice between two paths: the wise path and the foolish path. One way is encouraged, and the other comes with warnings of consequences.

There are two types of wisdom that have been taught: conventional wisdom and alternative (or subversive) wisdom. Conventional wisdom is "common sense" ... "what everyone knows" ... it's a culture's/religion's/society's notions of what's real, and how to live. It's what's taken for granted, even unquestioned. Another term is "enculturated consciousness" ... group-think ... the consciousness that's formed by a culture or tradition. Status quo.

(you can already tell that I'm not a fan of conventional wisdom, can't you...?)

Conventional wisdom is based upon the concept of reward and punishment. One reaps what one sows. Do this, and things will go well for you. Do that, and you'll get what you deserve. The righteous will prosper, and the sinners will suffer. In the West, this is embodied by the notion of a last judgement of either reward or damnation (according to either behavior and/or belief -- both a work). In the East this is demonstrated by the concept of karma. We also find it in the non-religious sense: work hard, and you'll be successful. Of course, there's a flipside: if you are not successful, if you are not blessed, if you are not prospering, then it's clear that YOU have followed the wrong path! Life under conventional wisdom thus becomes a matter of requirement/reward, failure/punishment. The measure-up trap.

As a result, conventional wisdom creates a world system of hierarchies and divisions, largely based on performance, though some are based on the more nebulous concept of "status." It's just understood: some folks measure up to the standards of conventional wisdom more than others.

At the heart of this measure-up system of conventional wisdom, is the Internal Judge. What has been referred to as the "Super Ego" ... that which "stands over me", telling me how I must measure up. It speaks in the language of "shoulds" and "oughts" and "musts". It's highly critical and judgmental ... It's the internal police... the Internal Judge and Jury.

Life in conventional wisdom is grim and dismal. It's heavy bondage to whatever happens to be the dominant culture. In this culture, we largely become automatons ... responding as we've been well-trained to do ... and punished when we stray outside the boundaries that have been set ... threatened even when we would dare to question "who set this up and why?" It's limited by blinders -- we're told how to see what we see, and what to pay attention to ... what's/who's "in" and what's/who's "out". It's a world of comparisons and competition, based on the belief that there is a severe shortage, a lack of what is needed ... and we must take what we need, and yet we must earn what we need -- we must prove that we deserve what we need. It's a world of have's and have-not's ... and the have's very much require a large group of have-not's, in order to have.

It's a life of anxious striving ... scraping, a roller-coaster of feeling "ok" or "not ok" depending on what we've done, and upon the perspective of others *about* what we've done ... we're always wondering, "was it good enough? am *I* good enough? how can I become good enough? Oh dear ... what if there's just something so very wrong with me that I never *can* become good enough? shall I try harder? shall I pretend? shall I become who I'm not to fool others into thinking I'm ok? Or should I just give up...?"

Life under conventional wisdom becomes very self-preoccupied. My "standing", my identity, and my security are always in flux ... in my anxiety, my agony, I become profoundly selfish.

Along with this self-perception, the world of conventional wisdom also has a specific view of God: He is seen primarily as law-giver, law-enforcer, and Judge. God is even the legitimizer of the too-high requirements. He is seen as stern, angry, wrathful ... ready to dole out consequences to the requirement-failures.

In conventional wisdom, even the concept of grace is turned into a requirement. While many have claimed to have turned from "salvation by works", and now have "justification by grace through faith," the emphasis is put on the *faith* (understood as "the right belief"). The message is: God requires that you have enough faith in the right belief, in order to escape endless punishment. Do you have enough faith? Is it real enough, sincere enough, strong enough? This is a continuation of salvation-by-works ... only the specifics of the requirement had been altered -- from "good works" to "right faith." Rather than a gift from God, salvation in conventional wisdom is based upon our accomplishment.

Conventional wisdom also sets up a world of divisions ... everyone is divided into those who have the right faith/belief, and those who do not. Clearly, it is believed, God favors the former, and punishes/destroys the latter. It leads to an unavoidable smugness, a self-congratulatory attitude that *I* have made the right choice, while *they* have not, and deserve to pay for it. Oh sure, I may feel obligated to go out and try to convince them that they should believe like I do ... (after all, this will score me more points with God, and may force Jesus to return sooner and rescue me out of this mess), but if they reject my sacrificial arguments, then I shall wash my hands of them, shouting a dire warning to them over my shoulder ... muttering about how they'll get what's coming to them...!

(& yes, I'm all too familiar with that, having done so for many years ... so that I can recognize it when I run into it ... and I *do* frequently run into it ... )

In conventional wisdom, the "gospel" sounds like a heavy list of requirements ... "you must have the right behavior, or beliefs, or both, or ELSE!" The good news for all mankind thus gets warped into the "good news for a very few, and the horrendous news for the vast majority."

Next ... I'll contrast this conventional wisdom with the radical subversive/alternative wisdom of Jesus ...!


Chris Ledgerwood said...

(& yes, I'm all too familiar with that, having done so for many years ... so that I can recognize it when I run into it ... and I *do* frequently run into it ... )

Me too! If my former legalistic self met the person I am today, he would certainly pass severe judgement. On the other hand, I hate being around those who rely on "conventional" wisdom just as much as they probably hate being around me. Wonderful post! Looking forward to next installment.

Jessica Thomas said...

Hi Dena. You might be surprised to hear me say I agree with much of what you say. It's when you start using the "oneness" word that I begin to get skeptical. We are not so very different. We came to Christ from different angles, so we had different baggage, I think. I do think God's word is inerrant, tho, in that it's precisely what God wanted to say to us. It's not all the truth, but enough truth to bring us into relationship with God.

It sounds like you come from a much more legalistic background. I come from a much more liberal background, so coming to Jesus for me meant scaling back. Also realizing where delusion comes from...it's not from God. Sometimes He lets satan in to muddy the waters in our brain, but if we hold onto the truth that the victory has already been won, we will come out stronger...He allows the struggle so we will grow.

cwtpmom said...

Thislink explains everyone's place in a way I have never heard before. Yes. Everyone does have a place in God's scheme. The picture is still being drawn. We are all in God's care and He is watching over each one of us. There is a role to play for LDS, and a role to play for Simple Church. There is a role to play for all Christians, Muslims, Jews, and most of it is a preparatory role. I wish we could see where we all fit in God's scheme of things, and relax just a little bit. But wishes are fishes aren't they:) We all fit.

Dena said...

Thanks for that link, Connie. I managed to get in about 20 minutes of listening before my computer shut down. Sigh ... it was interesting. I found the men to be quite gracious towards others outside the LDS church - very refreshing (compared to the LDS discussion board, where contention reigns as all religious discussions are wont to do).

I must say that I just don't see eye to eye with them that the point of a restoration is to restore a religion. I see that the point is to restore an awareness of our connection to/with/in God. I DO like that they're seeing that "all are saved" -- it seems that more and more are seeing the heart of our Father in that way ... it's just that everyone tends to cling to part, or all, of their subculture ... that part which is manmade, rather than seeing that this is a spiritual reality, not an organizational one. So ... some good there for me, some confirmations. But, in general, I'm just not drawn to the structures of man.

Again, thanks, Connie ... I learned a good thing today.

Dena said...

Jessica -

How fun to find you here! I'm so sorry that I didn't respond sooner -- my email inbox has turned into a swamp lately, and I missed the notice that you'd commented.

I'm always delighted to find "overlaps" with others - but I'm not surprised. I sensed something in common with you, on the other blog. And I "get" your skepticism re. "oneness". If I'd met myself just 5 years ago, I'd have to do some serious disfellowshipping! ;)

I love how God meets each of us where we are, with whatever we need at the time (like a good parent). No factory-approach ... each of us has unique things to overcome, and varying "callings". I guess I see that His truth is vast enough to contain even the paradoxes (at least from our current perspective).

Your comments remind me of a story I once heard ... back in the 70's, a worldwide convocation of the Church met -- East and West gathered together, and they shared what God was showing them. Those from the West said, "God is telling us to stop being so individualistic -- we need to think more in terms of community." Those from the East said, "God is showing us to stop relying so much on group-think - that we have to start seeing ourselves as individuals."

Which was right? Which was wrong? Right/wrong are terms that the ego uses ... not the Spirit. The Spirit was meeting each one where they were, and drawing them into more balance and fulness.

You and I might see the meaning of "satan" differently, but the results (delusion/division/discord) would be the same. And yes -- it's a tool for our growth!

Thanks so much for coming over -- you're quite welcome to read and comment. No need to agree. Be free to do as you're led.