In Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose a monk who has devoted his life to tending the greatest library in Christendom murders other monks who learn the existence of a certain ancient book that disagrees with his attitude about God.
The old monk is blind from decades as a scribe, but he fears this book might lead thinking Christians to question or examine what they always have been taught. Ironically, it is a book about laughter, and this pious old man thinks the only salvation for our souls is fear. (He might have been an American politician in the era since 9/11.)
In an attempt to protect that which the church always has taught from another way of thinking, the old monk is willing to burn his life’s work and even himself. Paradoxically, as the library burns, outside, only a few yards away, the Inquisitor is burning three innocent people, not to purge the world of sinners, but to preserve a system that cannot tolerate close examination.
Too often, those of us who grew up in the church still believe the same things about God that we were taught as kids in Sunday school. We have forgotten that we follow One who is always calling us to launch out into the deep.
The scientific revolution eliminated much of the mystery of life. Today we like to think there is an explanation for everything because that gives us a sense of control. When bad things that defy explanation happen we are willing to blame God rather than live with ambiguity and not knowing. We seem to prefer a god who sends cancer and other disasters on unsuspecting people to living without an explanation. We say, “Everything happens for a reason,” as if saying it makes it true. That is really just magical thinking that helps us cope with life’s sometimes arbitrary cruelty.
Believing that God is not a heavenly puppet master controlling all circumstances is a call to live with mystery and the possibility that some things in life simply happen with no explanation of metaphysical meaning.
We seem to prefer the arrogance of fundamentalist certainty to the truth of a God who is beyond our language, comprehension, or control. We know how to fish, and, even though it has left us empty and exhausted, it is what we know so we defend it with all our might.
I’m amazed at how fiercely people cling to beliefs that, in their heart of hearts, they know don’t work. In fact, the only thing more amazing to me is how often I find that kind of unexamined belief still wandering the halls of my own soul. Exhausted and unproductive, I try to explain to Jesus that I’ve been fishing a long time and know what I’m doing. Occasionally, Jesus will persuade me to try something new, or maybe something old in a deeper way.
Suddenly, there beyond my control or explanation, something happens that sends me to my knees in awe and honesty.
by Michael Piazza
The Center for Progressive Renewal