I start by offering a simple idea: The perspective of the Divine Source of All Life has greater validity and value than the human perspective of any one individual or group of human beings. As a corollary to that idea I suggest that the more a person or group of people investigates the truth about life through the eyes of multiple perspectives, the closer to God’s vision of life that individual or group may come. Life is God’s domain of expertise. How God looks at Life matters most. Human experts have been investigating life with the aid of multiple disciplines or fields of expertise for centuries. Each of these fields may serve as a lens through which to focus on the whole of life with increasing clarity, peripheral vision and depth of field as if coming to see Life as God sees It. Multiple human perspectives sharing the common unifying goal of discovering the whole truth about Life approach seeing Life from God’s point of view. All we need to do is learn to integrate all of our investigative perspectives into a unified vision.
As we have been investigating Life perhaps, over time, we have gained ever expanding insights and understandings concerning the Divine Expertise, which we might call a realm of “Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom.” If this is so, we must also acknowledge that we continue to investigate a Mystery of the Invisible Not Yet Come Fully into View. As Ralph W. Sockman said, “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” As we humans explore an expanding island of Divine Knowing, our exploration exposes us to an expanding shoreline of wonder about the not-yet-known Ocean that is God. The shoreline of wonder is the paradoxical meeting place of God and humanity along which we may walk alongside God in contemplation to know all we need to know but still not be equal to God. In fact, it may be kind of God to reveal knowledge gradually instead of all at once. Instant revelation of All might be mind-blowing.
A common saying is that “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” That saying typically comes into play when a person who has grasped a bit of knowledge assumes that his or her tidbit is all there is to know or the main thing to know about the subject matter and then runs ahead to claim expertise and takes action based on that claim. It is like a child’s discovering a sea shell and instantly claiming to know all that oceanographers might know about the ocean. Problems thereafter tend to arise from that person’s lack of understanding about the broader context of his or her bit of knowledge and a shortcoming in wisdom as to what to do with his or her discovery of it. First discoveries may be exciting but they do not tell the full story. Sometimes problems arise from a lack of humility and a fear-based need to assert certainty because the presence of an unanswered question causes too much anxiety and insecurity. Such is the effect of the unknown Mystery of Life upon people who are afraid and allow their fears to dominate their thinking. Yet fears need not run roughshod over reason for those who have faith in God’s power to lead us into all truth step by step if we are willing to follow courageously and compassionately with open hearts and minds.
To illustrate the value of looking at any topic from more than one perspective or field of expertise, let me address the controversy over what use humans might best make of passages of Scripture from any Sacred Text in addressing social issues. Let me bring this illustration into sharper focus by making it more concrete: What use might humans best make of the passages of Scripture from any Sacred Text that address how to relate to fellow humans who are not (or may be suspected to be not) purely heterosexual? Please note that I’m not phrasing this issue as “The Gay Issue.” Why not? Because studies of human sexuality reveal that human sexuality is diversely arrayed along a continuum of sexual orientations from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual and that even the idea of identifying a permanent place along the continuum may be misleading because human sexuality may be fluid and not fixed. This point itself illustrates the value of incorporating multiple disciplines or fields of expertise into the mix so that one does not inadvertently adopt a mistaken assumption into how one phrases an issue under consideration. There’s more to the story than a simplistic dualism between two opposite polarized sexual orientations. That is, it’s not “Gay vs. Straight.”
I will assume for the moment that most people believe that the majority of human beings are purely heterosexual and that a small minority have some lesser or greater degree of homosexual interests, desire or tendencies. Does that possibility automatically translate into permission for the majority to impose itself on a minority and demand conformity? In a democracy in which those with the most votes win, there’s a temptation to arrive at such a conclusion. But that tendency again illustrates the value of a multidisciplinary approach to an issue. The expertise called “political science” suggests that it may be desirable and helpful to weigh the votes of informed voters differently from uninformed ones and give greater value to the votes of those who have gained some measure of expertise about a topic. Of course, that’s not how US politics works currently, but the possibility does exist that uninformed opinions/votes might be mistakenly allowed to cancel out informed opinions/votes to arrive at an outcome that is based more on unrepented ignorance than on comprehensively integrated knowledge acquired from a variety of fields of knowledge after diligent study, consultation with higher authorities and practice in the fields. (It is far more likely that ignorance is instantaneous than that knowledge is.) So far, to some extent under some circumstances, we have allowed politics to weigh the voices of people who feel strongly about an issue over the voices of those who do not feel as strongly. For example, vocal protestors and special interest advocates influence US politics beyond the one-person, one-vote level by expressing their emotionally charged opinions and gaining the attention of the public through mass media. How much the measure of expertise matters remains to be seen.
A field of expertise called “Law” offers several vantage points from which to view the issue of how passages of Sacred Text might best be used to address issues related to non-heterosexuality. Let me cite three points of law in this context. First, there is the point of law that controls introduction of testimony in a trial in regard to opinions in contrast to facts. Witnesses who observe and recall facts are typically allowed to testify to what they recall observing, with the accuracy of their observations, recollections and reports tested by probing questions from different parties who have an interest in the outcome of the trial. What the law calls “lay witnesses” may testify about their opportunity to observe, recall and report facts (with whatever degree of bias they may have) but not necessarily about their opinions concerning the meaning of such facts. Opinions that interpret facts are, in the Law’s way of looking at the process, the exclusive domain of witnesses with expertise relevant to fields of knowledge and understanding that will assist the “Trier of Fact” (the judge in bench trials or the jury in jury trials) in weighing, interpreting and understanding the basic facts laid out by lay witnesses. A purported expert witness’ expertise must be established or conceded before he or she may express an opinion weighted as an “expert opinion.” On rare occasions, a lay witness may testify to an opinion but generally only about matters of common knowledge, not about matters related to fields of expertise.
After evidence is introduced by all legally authorized parties, it is the responsibility of the “Trier of Fact” to sort out any conflicting testimony and decide what really happened and what to conclude about it. As a second legal principle, the law imposes upon the “Trier of Fact” the duty to apply one of a range of standards for weighing the evidence, running from “more probably true than not true” in most civil cases to “true beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases in which a person is subject to penalties for failing to conform to society’s rules. These standards are called “standards or burdens of proof.” The judge or jury is not permitted to simply run off in the direction of his, her or their biases and preferences to arrive willy-nilly at whatever result most suits them or corresponds with their mood at the moment. The law makes them responsible for adhering to objective principles and a process of reasoning to arrive at an objective outcome or “verdict” after weighing the evidence according to the burden of proof required by the Law.
A third legal principle relevant to the topic of what might best be done with passages of Sacred Text that seem to speak to the issue of nonheterosexual orientations and activities is the principle of “Standing.” Before a person or entity of any kind is lawfully authorized to participate in a legal hearing and influence its outcome, in the eyes of the Law that person or entity must have “standing” to be in court in the first place. What does “standing” mean? It means essentially that the person or entity must have enough of a personal stake in the issues in question and the possible outcomes that the person or entity will vigorously represent that person’s or entity’s position as if it matters crucially to that person or entity’s welfare. For example, in a child custody case, the Law confers standing upon the parents and occasionally upon other close relatives such as grandparents and siblings. For the most part, the Law wants to hear from those who parented the children as to how the parents believe that the case should be decided and why. If the Law considers a child to be mature enough, the Law is also interested in knowing what the child believes is best. Framing the issue as the “best interests” of the child or children, the Law takes the position that neighbors, distant relatives and certainly strangers – no matter how strongly opinionated they may be – have no standing to intervene and muddy the waters. Government authorities charged by the Law with the welfare of children may also have standing on behalf of society in general. Those without standing may often be permitted to observe the legal process but not to have opportunities to voice or advocate for their positions.
Let’s apply those three legal principles of 1) lay vs expert opinion, 2) standard or burden of proof and 3) standing to the issue of how a person may best use passages of Sacred Text in sorting out how to treat those who are not strictly heterosexual. But before we do, let’s consider one piece of input from another field of expertise called “psychology.” That input is called the “Dunning-Kruger” effect. To more completely understanding this input, the reader may want to visit http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolved-primate/201006/when-ignorance-begets-confidence-the-classic-dunning-kruger-effect or otherwise Google this topic and study it. At bottom line, this input summarizes the observation of expert researchers in the field of psychology concerning why “a little knowledge may be a dangerous thing.” The upshot is that people who do not investigate a topic thoroughly, in depth and breadth of context, often wind up forming positions that are unsound, even based largely on untested and unexposed ignorance, and yet those people feel extremely confident about the validity of their positions. The title of the cited article summarizes this phenomenon as “When ignorance begets confidence.”
The point of my article about how best to use Sacred Texts is to provide reasons to step back from the brink of ignorance about how to best use passages of a Sacred Text that may address how to relate to nonheterosexual folks and double check first whether it’s even appropriate to apply those passages at all or under what standard of proof to apply them. A rush to apply these passages indiscriminately may be a form of “rush to judgment” motivated more by personal prejudices and fears than by reasoned consideration of facts and applicable expertise. The Law would question whether a person with strong prejudices and an inclination to rush to judgment is eligible to sit as a judge or member of a jury in deciding the case at hand. It is possible that, due to predispositions, preconceived ideas or prejudices, a person might need to recuse himself or herself from participating in rendering a verdict.
When one recognizes that the application of passages of Sacred Text purported to address homosexuality may have a severe impact upon a person’s life, the burden of proof needs to be high before a verdict is reached. I suggest that before a person can be judged unfit to participate in God’s kingdom or even within society at large, it is necessary to prove that outcome beyond a reasonable doubt because the penalty sought is equivalent to the death penalty. To condemn a person to social exile or, worse yet, to eternal damnation in hell, is a severe penalty requiring the highest standard of proof. In addition, as our societal laws require, the evidence permitted to be introduced and weighed must be strictly scrutinized to avoid allowing non-experts to voice opinions in fields of study or disciplines in which they are unqualified. It is not merely by a vote of an ill-informed majority that such things would be decided justly. To do so would be to believe that God has delegated the responsibility for doing justice in such matters to poorly qualified jurists.
In regard to the issue of standing in this debate over how to apply passages of Sacred Text to issues relating to lack of pure heterosexuality, I wonder who has standing to sue and participate in the suit. If the debate where a child custody battle, then the parents and child would have the greatest claim to standing or a vested interest in the outcome entitling him, her or them to participate. Under the principle of “standing,” I suggest that it may be wise to step back to ask the fundamental question “Who is the parent of each of us?” If we believe in a Divine Creator of All Life by any name, then we must proceed with caution in addressing the issue of standing. At the least, we must concede that The Supreme Parent has standing in regard to this issue. Who else has standing besides the child? Are not the rest of us mere bystanders in the battle over who has the divine right of custody of each of us? Or might our proper sacred role be to encourage everyone to believe that The Supreme Parent is parent of each and every one of us without exception and that we might all best trust that Parent to decide who belongs in heaven and who belongs in hell, whether we mean hell on earth or hell in the hereafter?
As a follower of Jesus, I must concede that Jesus has standing to intervene in every case and to serve as Judge as well. I must concede that Jesus lives now as much as in any other time or he was not raised from the dead to live forever. If that is true, then Jesus is present even now to intervene in this debate and decide it for us. During his tenure on earth in a body, when did Jesus use passages of Sacred Text to ban socially weak people from heaven? Did he not reserve his harsh use of sacred passages to upbraid authority figures whom he accused of oppressing, exploiting and neglecting the weak? Did he not use passages of Scripture to comfort and heal those – weak or strong – who placed their faith in his authority? Would not his use of passages of Sacred Text remain the same today? Would not he expect, even require, that his followers make no different use of the Scriptures than he did?
In conclusion, I’ll go so far as to assert the possibility that this controversy has been decided long ago by Jesus’ declaration of the ultimate standard of judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46 concerning our treatment of “the least of these.” For myself, I prefer to submit to Jesus’ authority as judge without a jury and to trust in his judgment at a trial before the bench – at the Throne of Grace upon which his followers assert that he sits at the right hand of the Divine Parent of us all. Which passages of Holy Scripture authorize any follower of Jesus to disclaim his authority to be Lord and his provision of the Holy Spirit to speak for him without need of human intervention? If a little knowledge is in fact a dangerous thing, then surely it would be even more dangerous if — in our unrepented ignorance — we were to join the mob who called out for Jesus’ crucifixion because we knew not what we did. Today we have every reason and opportunity to know what we are doing. We cannot so readily be excused for burying our heads in the sands of ignorance as we walk along the shore with God. It is our responsibility to learn what our experts already know and stop isolating ourselves from one another in ignorance and fear. Jesus’ call for us to join in oneness with each other and with the Father as he did and does is ever before us. Let us dare to walk along the shoreline of wonder as we wander out under the Bethlehem star that leads us always to the Christ child within each of us. When we see one set of footprints in the sand, let us know then that Jesus carried us into the ocean beyond our ignorance and fears to baptize us anew in the fount of knowledge and wisdom that is the ocean’s realm. Let us discover over and over again that we – humanity together all in one and one for all – are both the Island and the Ocean.
© Art Nicol 2014