Born in the late 1950’s, I am a child of the Enlightenment.
Unlike my children’s generation, my primary influences growing up were Enlightenment sensibilities. Consequently, a religion (like Reformation Christianity) that followed Jesus in rationalist ways was a good fit for me. I had a burning desire to connect to the Divine, and my religion fed that desire. It taught me to study the Bible, pray with my mind and my words, and do good deeds with my body. All very good for a devout Enlightenment boy.
I would probably have stayed with this version of Christianity but for two things that happened to me (and to our society as a whole).
First, reality changed when I wasn’t looking.
For 500 years, Newton’s precise, mechanical way of explaining our universe had been the unquestioned foundation of Western thought. But that reality began to erode as the new physics continued to discover how the world around us really works. Reality is much less certain, less mechanical, less precise, less predictable than we thought. Einstein’s and Heisenburg’s reality began to seep into culture and into me. The universe became a relative place, an uncertain place, and an illusory place. I learned that the table that had always been solid… was not. It looks solid. I put my computer on it so it acts solid. But I know it is not solid. Reality shifted. Perceptions I used to think were real, became in fact, only illusion.
And if the table is illusion, you and I must be illusion as well. And for goodness sake, what else is? Is my solid view of God and Jesus and the Bible illusory? And my sense of Truth and Beauty… Is it illusion too? Is it relative to where I’m standing at the moment I experience it?
When our reality changed, a religion of certitude stopped working. My religion; accessed primarily through my brain, through study, understanding, learning; stopped working. I had approached God through certain “biblical principles,” or “absolute truths.” I had approached my spiritual life with a sense of precision and certitude; the same way I worked a geometric proof. If I do this, God does that.
This religious mindset became out of step with my new reality. It happened to me. It happened to us.
And as we’ll explore in future posts, meditation works with this shift. Contemplative spirituality works in an illusory, uncertain, transcendent universe.
The second thing that happened to me (to us), was Vatican II.