Thursday, February 9, 2012


I was with a group, some  Church of Christ  friends and some family. I only recognized one person. He seems, in several dreams, to stand for former Church of Christ friends who were offended and concerned by the changes I made regarding religion  and ethics beginning thirty years ago. He and I were good friends at church and colleagues teaching high school in early 70's. I noticed as we visited that he was not giving me eye contact and was reacting to others in the friendly way he used to relate to me. He was ignoring and distancing me. We were discussing a program that he and I had taught at different places. I mentioned the kind of scores some of the students had. He reacted negatively insisting that the scores can't be the way I had stated. He said they have to be that an A is 5. I calmly disagreed saying that the directions said the scoring scale was relative and a choice the teacher was to make. I had chosen an A to be 4. He would not hear of this and insisted to others in the group how wrong I was. The others seem to agree with him. I was very alone with the truth I was attempting to explain. I even went back and read the instruction manual we were both given. He was insisting that something relative was absolute. Thus causing our sense of  estranged friendship.
Grading Papers and Relativism

REFLECTION: This is an unpleasant dream for me. My guess it is facing me with the reality that there are more people who have silently reacted to me like this than I let myself imagine. Early on there were several COC people who came to me to express their disappointment and 'concern' about my changes in belief. Since then I have had respectful communications with with a good number of  these past important friends. I have, if I know my heart, kind feelings toward all my former COC acquaintances and friends. I have made an effort to keep those bridges alive but I think time naturally  cuts us all off from some past friends. And the disappointment that some individuals from this group had toward me for what they heard or knew of my smoking, earthy language, changes in belief about the Bible and some Christian teachings and my divorce have not made it more likely that meaningful friendships have survived. However I have documented numerous very meaningful spontaneous conversations and visits I have had with some of these important people over the years.

I do not think this person would react as in the dream. He was not an arguer. He would likely walk away rather than argue. That may be what he has done regarding our relationship. He has never sought me out and has always known how to contact me. But I have not sought him out either. This may have been the same with or without my changes? But the dream's message is not altered by that.

The dream source offers a simple yet strong example to help explain what is involved when people reach impasses of not being able to stay in friendships where religious changes have been made by another. In one word it is the concept of 'relativism'. This is usually a bad word itself in religiously conservative environments. And it is genuinely frightening to most of us in one way or another. My friend believed, in the dream, that the grade scale could be one and only one way. In fact the grade scale was 'relative'. It was not an absolute.

It has been my experience that most things, especially values and beliefs, that we originally were  instructed as definitely 'right or wrong' , ' black or white' turn out to be 'relative' to a significant degree. Every person, even the most conservative, has experienced this in their lives. Some of what we once felt was definitely 'right or wrong' we can see that in our maturing children's lives are not viewed that way at all. Most of us can give examples of things we once viewed as absolutely wrong and now view as 'relative.' We still have some definite opinions and questions about such matters. We have not just grown lazy and given up the 'fight for right', but have actually 'learned' that these things are not simple rights or wrongs as we once believed. Some such things on my list are 'card playing' 'dancing' 'lying' 'sexual fantasies' , 'earthy language', 'drinking in moderation' , 'the right church' 'instrumental music' 'abortion' , 'sexual orientation', 'necessary divorces'. Many Bible believing people come to see to some degree how 'what the Bible says' is 'relative' due to 'what it first meant', 'customs of the day', 'the patriarchal context of the writings' and 'variants in translations'  etc.  In a COC environment also many of these things have commonly come to be seen as 'relative.'

But areas that life, learning and experience have continued to lead me to face as being relative to some very significant extent include 1. ' the nature of scripture.' It is not directly edited by God, not necessarily more 'inspired' than some other writings, not primarily intended to be anchored as historical fact. 2. That many stories and statements in sacred writings are not accurately taken literally.... such as 'creation story' ,, 'Eden story', 'virgin birth', literal 'atonement for sin by Christ's blood, 'literal bodily resurrection', and a literal 'second coming' to name a few.

To an extent that a person 'needs to have certain ideas be literally true' s/he is not able, is not free, to be rational about other possible meanings and interpretations. I do not know exactly what causes some people to be able to surrender such religious certainties more than others. But to do so leads one to a growing widened view of reality and to possibilities of interpretation he before never thought possible. Unfortunately it also often leads to a breach in practical friendships. This breach is caused by the failure to open up to more of the relativity of one's most needed and cherished beliefs.
Einstein's Theory Of Relativity @ 1920

The word 'relativity' became a scientific concept especially with Einstein's Theory of Relativity that declares that time , space and matter are not the absolutes that the science of Physics and street 'common sense' believed them to be. This shook up the world and basic views of science and has continued to do so. It is still not the common understanding on the street and its implications are not viewed seriously. This 'shake up' is the same in principle as the 'relativism' of religious ideas, beliefs and dogma. Religion is also called on now to 'give up' significant past notions and beliefs when such do not stand the test of closer scrutiny from history, psychology , other sciences, and the language of religion itself, myth. This is what this dream is declaring as a reality to be faced. It is sad when any individual or group makes progress in these areas that part of the fallout is their full or partial rejection by those with whom they once stood in agreement. Generally, the person coming to embrace a greater and more responsible relativism is able to still love and appreciate those with whom they now disagree. The problem is most often the barrier and discomfort that those 'left behind' in their static non-relative belief systems experience . The great and continuous spiritual danger that one accepting a wider relativism faces in this connection is to consider himself somehow superior to those he once agreed with.

The Bible, I think, is replete in its deeper and more profound statements, ones obviously not referring to historical moments, with support for all of the 'relative' truth areas I have come to embrace. Such Biblical statements undermine using the Bible as if it were the final and ultimate source of the truth it engages humans to seek. Such encouragements include to 'walk by faith not by sight' and to 'live by the Spirit not the flesh alone' and descriptions of life and truth being like 'limitless rushing up fountains of living water.' Also the powerful reminder that the greatest of all things are those of the heart...'faith, hope and love....and that the greatest of these three is love.' All of these and countless others point to truth that exists beyond the Bible's own words, truths far 'beyond the sacred page' an old hymn says. I have, in my judgment, never decided to leave the path that the Bible's timeless principles  has pointed for me to follow. Were it not for fears of the unknown and a nearly desperate need to have a 'final complete' written truth people would more naturally see  that much more of our 'truth' as relative. This is in harmony with the ideal of an individual following the 'Christ Spirit within' them. This, to me, is a most obvious calling to discover expanding truths and ways that are different from any that have yet been found and certainly are not discoverable directly in the pages of a sacred text.

Yes, there is danger in taking the spiritual road that is not already defined in the past by some 'eternal' code. But that is the nature of living in the Spirit. It cannot , as I see it, be any other way. It requires the utmost use of all human faculties including fullness of heart, mind and soul. It requires being responsible by accepting and examining the irrational aspects of human experience with the strongest rational and logical components of the human mind.

The human struggle of coming to a genuine attitude of increased relativism is also an accurate way to explain the turmoil and anger present right now in American politics. The ones who can most easily welcome, embrace and feel a great sense of a positive unfolding of history when: a woman is the first speaker of the house, a gay is head of the Financial Committee, a Jew is perhaps the most outspoken proponent of health care in congress, and the President is a black man, are ones who know they have moved to a much more 'relativistic' place than they have experienced in the past.

Even though we are  such a diverse  'melting pot' nation we are seeing increasingly intolerant attitudes which still harbor , often unconsciously, a belief that the nation is in better hands when they are white, straight and male. This is a very serious situation and can be a cause for wide spread emotional imbalance, not only in individuals but large groups. I have to trust that such momentous changes have come at the right time in our nation and not too soon for most people of good will to make the relativistic changes that the times insist on. Religion that is up to its true purpose is the strongest tool to help people make such transitions. Because healthy religion builds bridges not barriers in our appreciation of others. I believe there are some  growing sound and healthy religious attitudes outside and  within organized religious institutions. These may be essential for helping people to keep a spiritual/psychological balance during such times of change.

The dream is primarily reminding me that the nature of human development as spiritual and psychological beings involves moving in the direction of an ever increasing responsible relativism. I do not deny that when and if humans ever know all, that all will be seen as a part of One Single Whole which is what we may mean by the word 'God.' Then in some true sense it can be said , 'There is a final single absolute.' We can now, without harming our own psyche, believe there is such an 'All In All.' But to call anything 'God' or 'total truth' which is less than that is always a form of idolatry. It is born out of a part of us that is not godly or courageous. It is that distorted need we sometimes have to wrap our heads around God so that we can have a certainty about life and reality that, up till now, no human has ever honestly had. It seems we are called as humans to be content to live by faith that rests on the relativity of reality as best we can perceive it. This is to 'live by the Spirit.' Jim Hibbett

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