Franciscan author Richard Rohr writes of people of various religious beliefs as frequently being in conceptual “boxes” that prevent them from seeing other’s points of view. George Bernard Shaw once described the situation as, “One religion, a thousand variations.”
It isn’t just religious people who suffer from the blindness of belief. In various ways we all do. We all live in conceptual “boxes” (called paradigms) that limit our ability to see other perspectives.
Paradigms are conceptual frameworks – mental shorthand – that help us to ”understand” the world without having to process every bit of information in it. Using paradigms we can predict that dogs will do this and cats will do that, that people will act in predictable ways, that the sun will come up and that summer will be warm.
But sometimes the truth hides in the details. Blacks or Hispanics may have certain cultural tendencies, but you’re on shaky ground when you apply those values across the board to everyone in the group. Einstein described paradigms as “The prisons of our ideas.” Our “prisons” prevent us from not only seeing other’s views, but from being compassionate towards them as well.
We can hide in our paradigms when we are threatened by a different viewpoint. New ideas, whether the abolition of slavery, abortion, women’s rights, the legalization of marijuana or equality for gays upsets the given order of things (the established paradigm). Black people, gays and liberated women all bring a somewhat different perspective and different values to the table and we are sometimes uncomfortable with that. It forces us to look into our own values – something we are not always willing to do.
The truth doesn’t have a paradigm. It just is. Truth has a way of obliterating established thinking. George III dissed the idea of American independence and we know how that turned out. Louis XIV ignored the discontent of the French people and it cost him his life and his crown. Lyndon Johnson misread the anti-Vietnam war sentiment and lost the Presidency. All three leaders clung to the established paradigm in the face of the forces of change, and lost.
If you don’t hold Universal Truth about something, what beliefs will you substitute? What beliefs are you hanging on to about gays, blacks or maybe Muslims? What about the roles of males or females? What beliefs do you hold about relationships, raising children, sex, intimacy? And the biggest one of all, what beliefs do you hold about yourself?
Any belief not firmly lodged in Universal Truth cannot be true. Blacks and Hispanics may hold cultural differences, but they are still people. Men and women may be different, but they are still God’s children.
Our personal paradigms are based in our beliefs about ourselves. Each belief that, “I’m this” or, “I’m not that,” expresses an unwillingness to hold The Truth. So what are your paradigms? Not just the surface ones, but the deeper beliefs that keep you from being happy?
Notice that the box that defines the “false self” is determined by external matters. What others may think, the possibility of embarrassment, that sort of thing. Because of our “inadequacies” we must build walls between us. These exclusionary walls (paradigms or beliefs) isolate us from each other and from life. And living inside the “box” hurts! You keep running into the walls!
Hell isn’t someplace we go when we die, it is the life we create for ourselves when trapped inside our paradigmatic walls. This is our self-created prison.
As Richard Rohr said, “The good, the true, and the beautiful are always their own best argument for themselves – by themselves – and in themselves. Such beauty, or inner coherence, is a deep inner knowing that both evokes the soul and pulls the soul into its oneness. Incarnation is beauty, and beauty always needs to be incarnate. Anything downright ‘good,’ anything that shakes you with its ‘trueness,’ and anything that sucks you into its beauty does not just educate you; it transforms you.”
Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self.
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