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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thoughts on Barbara Ehrenreich's Spiritual Journey

A couple of weeks ago, I read a set of interview highlights for the promotion of Ehrenreich's newest work, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything, that caused me to consider her perspective at length. (You can read the first interview/set of highlights I read here.) 

First off, I want to say that no, I haven't changed my mind about Jesus. However, I did take the time to really ponder her statements beyond the surface. Many people, in their own way (and words), respond to a different set of beliefs by saying something like this: 'Oh, she/he doesn't believe what I believe? Well that's dumb and she/he's wrong and my belief is better!'

Rather than doing that, I've acknowledged her perspective, respected it, and responded to it by concluding that I disagree. So...why write a post about it?

Well, we all search for something at one point or another, whether that something is truth or love or freedom, etc. We can all relate to Ehrenreich's struggle to comprehend herself, the universe around her, and her place in it. I'm sharing this, in part, because we all search, and we should all search. (Yes, let me repeat that: I am shamelessly declaring that you should search out Truth.)

I'm also posting this because I want to offer my own adolescent journey and conclusions as a contrast to Ehrenreich's journey and conclusions up to this point in both of our lives...and I desire that what I have to say will also be considered deeply.

Three major points about my journey: 1) My family did not offer me spiritual guidance; 2) I had an urge in my heart that couldn't be squelched, and questions that demanded answers, so I searched for Truth with claimed openness and willingness to change; 3) I found Truth (or, better phrased, Truth revealed 'Itself' to me and I accepted it as Truth).

Ehrenreich's journey (forgive the simplification): 1) She was a part of a generational 'legacy' that denounced Christ, though perhaps saying the legacy denounced Christianity as a valid way to live is more accurate; 2) She mused about reality and had questions that demanded answers, so she searched for Truth with claimed openness and willingness to change; 3) She did not find Truth (or, better phrased, she perhaps encountered Truth and denied it as Truth).

When I read the interview(s), I was confused about a number of things, but what really confused and grieved me was the fact that she said she searched for  decades  for Truth. I searched for 6 years. Legitimately—with dedicated pursuit and openness—for maybe 2-3. Again, my family did not offer me spiritual guidance. Before I became a Christian, I was an Atheist, too. Then an Agnostic. Then a near-Wiccan (I became a Believer just before heading onto that path).

So what happened with Ehrenreich? Why didn't she find what she was looking for?

Ah. But maybe, in a way, she did find what she was looking for.

You see, I assumed that we were looking for the same thing. Truth. Truth is Truth, right? (Right.)

But maybe she wasn't actually looking for Truth, but her own version of truth/reality that she could stuff into preset boxes, paradigms, and compartmentalizations of her life so she wouldn't need to change.

You: Whoa, back up the hate train!

Me: I'm just saying it like it might be. Or is... *sideways glance* kon! But seriously, don't we all try to avoid change at one point or another? Maybe it's because we want that change to be on 'our terms'. Or maybe it's because we just like the way we are now. 

Regardless, we all have those closing points in which we shut out potential realities because we realize that knowledge requires change...and thus, we choose ignorance in an attempt to avoid that change. 

This is about to get sticky (arbitrary nature of language!), so stay with me.

In the Fresh Air interview, Ehrenreich speaks about the difference between belief and knowledge (taken out of the NPR highlights of said Fresh Air interview):

"Why believe when you can know? I don't believe in extraterrestrials; I am really curious. I want to find out. I'll say I don't believe in evolution; I'm more or less convinced by the evidence. I would like to put the whole idea of faith and belief away. Let's try to find out things. ...

The religions that fascinate me and could possibly tempt me are not the ones that involve faith or belief. They're the ones that offer you the opportunity to know the spirit or deity. ... I think most readily of West-African-derived religions which involve ecstatic rituals where people actually apprehend the spirit or the God or whatever that they are invoking and that they are trying to contact — I have respect for that. But don't ask me to believe anything."

What is knowing as opposed to believing, pragmatically speaking? Does knowledge not carry responsibility? For example, if you know that something is true--i.e, that God does, in fact, exist--shouldn't that change the way you react to the world?  What use is knowledge that can't be acted upon? Can such a type(?) of 'knowledge' genuinely be considered knowledge? 

I won't belabor the point any longer about the arbitrary nature of language because that isn't really what this post is about, but I hope that you see the gigantic closed gate: cognitive knowledge--knowledge that doesn't require affective or behavioral change--is the only kind of knowledge Ehrenreich is ready to accept. To her, there is no preset box including belief. 

I suppose you could say I'm simply making a biased assumption in claiming that I found Truth, and Ehrenreich did not. But the proof is in the LIFE and the fruit thereafter upon finding it because Truth demands action. Truth demands response. By it's very nature, Truth changes people.

It may take a while to sink in, to pierce your heart deep enough for you to admit you need to change...but real truth is a change agent.

I make mistakes. I still have loads to learn about love and life and tact. (Ugh, tact...!) But I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago, and it isn't just because I've gotten older and slightly more mature (ha). My entire life has changed. My perspective, my goals, how I treat people...everything is geared toward honoring God now.

Before, I wanted to know Truth. But before I wanted to truly  know  and accept Truth, I wanted truth to be on my terms. I wanted to fulfill my own ambitions, even if those ambitions involved changing the world for the better. I thought I could do everything on my own. I didn't much care about pursuing holiness; I wanted to do what was good and right, but I didn't have a logical reason as to  why  I wanted to do those things. It certainly wasn't because  I  was good. I did not know myself.

Now I want and accept Truth on the Arbiter of Truth's terms. My ambitions are filtered and refined into more genuine ambitions in Christ. I know I can't do anything worthwhile on my own, but that I am empowered by the Spirit, and He can do awesome things through me. I am constantly concerned about holiness. I know myself. I fail/fall, and I Get. Back. Up. Because I am forgiven and loved with an unparalleled ferocity.

And while I don't know Ehrenreich personally, when I ask “Has she changed, in all these decades?  Really  changed?” I can only conclude that if she has, it hasn't been radically. She's still an Atheist (her choice=ok), and she's still on that same meandering path (???=not stellar :/). She wants truth--but only as long as it's on her terms.

So while Ehrenreich claims that she desires truth, isn't she deceiving herself by refusing to accept a potential reality that's different than the one she's made? If it doesn't fit neatly into a box? If it goes beyond that gate?

Don't get me wrong. She's a fascinating thinker, for sure, and I commend her for the level of openness to exploration that she's allowed in her life thus far. 

I'm not trying to say that her journey is invalid, or that her choice to remain an Atheist is invalid (though I do disagree). I am, however, saying she seems to be going in circles just like the dwarves in the Hobbit did in Mirkwood: she's chasing visions that look so real they must be, but in fact, are not... 
LoTR Wikia, by LeGruff June 7, 2011
and I posit the reason why is simply because she doesn't want to accept a reality that's different than the one she's already made. Enamored by those false dreams and visions, she presses on, deeper and deeper into Mirkwood and farther and farther from the path. 


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