Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The 9000 guesses

About a week ago I was having lunch with some people and I mentioned that there are roughly 9000 Protestant denominations in the US alone.

“So many?” one woman said, shaking her head in dismay. “That’s just not right, for there to be so much division.”

S, my 7-year-old son, chirped in at this point. “Well, there are 7 billion people in the world, so 9000 guesses seems alright.”

BOING! Hammer, meet the head of the nail. S may not have understood all the intricacies of this statistic being from one portion of one religion in one country, and that there are SO many other versions/denominations/religions/other ideas out there, but he zeroed in on the most salient point: that all of these versions/denominations/religions/other ideas are simply our guesses about the order in the universe and our place within it. Some of these guesses are educated, some are not; some are simple and profound, others are complex and poetic; some may be based in science and some may even be downright silly (Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, anyone?). But they are all guesses, or perhaps better stated, they are our attempts in our limited, human, culturally conditioned way to grasp that which is limitless and unconditioned. And if there are lots and lots of different attempts, or guesses, well what’s so wrong with that? It seems to me that the problem isn’t the number of guesses but the importance we ascribe to them. Rather than recognizing them as guesses, we hold them up as cosmic truth. As though the entirety of cosmic truth is condensable to the size of the human brain.

So here is my guess about the 9000 (and all the other) guesses: that they are all right – each one holds up something about our experience of creation, cosmos or even chaos that is important, at least to us. And that they are all wrong – even the ones that ring most profoundly true are still limited and cannot be all encompassing. They are our guesses, and they are beautiful, and they matter, but the limitless and unconditioned is going to stay limitless and unconditioned no matter how much we try to fit it into some neat little box. And deep down, we know it. Just ask my 7-year-old.