Yesterday I put up a bit of a script from a BBC drama which has provoked some heart-felt comments both here on the blog and on my Facebook page. These got me thinking. Watching the drama on TV with Stephanie we both found the exchange between the two women extremely moving. One woman comforts another woman after a stillbirth by saying that souls want to get to heaven and just need the ‘stepping stone’ of a mum for a brief while. It’s important to know the context. It’s the 18th century – the vicar’s wife has lost her baby. She’s worried that the baby’s soul will not get to heaven because it hasn’t been baptised. The words she hears offer her a completely different way of understanding what has happened. It is a relief and a comfort to her to think her loss might be meaningful – even helpful – rather than meaningless and possibly dangerous for her child’s soul – condemning it to purgatory. Steph and I don’t happen to ‘believe’ either theory – the conventional Christian one or this new take on the soul’s journey. We also – of course – don’t ‘know’ whether either view might actually be correct. Nevertheless it got us thinking and feeling.
One of the things I have realized from posting this excerpt, is how much I prefer to think rather than try to believe or feel I know something. The following example may resonate with you: when you start to research a particular subject, you first of all have that wonderful sense of starting to know more about the topic. But then, if you keep going, you can often seem to start going into reverse – the more you learn, the more you discover competing explanations, new research that contradicts earlier assumptions, and so on. The gift is wonder, and hopefully humility, the risk is confusion or despair! Of course there are ‘facts’ you can discover and hold on to, like rafts floating in the ocean, but even these can be overturned years later by new findings.
The Jain theory of knowledge, Anekant, which states that we cannot absolutely know anything, and instead must be open to ‘multiple viewpoints’, seems sensible to me. Some people say they ‘know’ when what they really mean is that they think or feel, or have an intuition – but by saying they ‘know’ with utter conviction, they confer the status of absolutism on an event in their awareness which is subject to change. It closes the door on the Mystery, the possibility of other options and interpretations. So much for knowing!
And believing? Is belief really necessary? I tried to write about this briefly on my website and annoyingly it is on a page which doesn’t have a URL – but if you go here and click the little arrow on the right, hey presto it will slide sideways and ‘Opening to the Mystery’ will appear!