Clarity in a Culture of Confusion
Posted by on July 12, 2018
Topic: UA Summit
My colleague Abdu Murray often says, “In our culture today, clarity has become a vice, and confusion a virtue.”
For many nowadays, to have “clarity” about something feels a bit narrow-minded. How can you be so mmitre of something, when there are so many other views out there? To have your mind made up smacks of arrogance, bigotry and bias.
But to be “confused” about something – to be open-minded and undecided – feels modern, tolerant and, we might even say more “Canadian.” It seems more inclusive. But to have “clarity” about something means to have a conviction that excludes other possibilities – where one view is elevated above others. It grates against our modern sensibilities, and perhaps even our national identity.
What then does it mean when we say we have “clarity” about matters of faith?
As I speak on university campuses across Canada, I find most students are open to spirituality in general, but the moment you claim to have “clarity” about what God is really like, that’s where the openness fades. For those of us who are Christians, what this can mean is that before we even open our mouths to say something “clear” about God, we’ve already lost a hearing – it just feels exclusive! What then does it look like for the Christian faith to speak of clarity in a culture of confusion?
To begin, we must realize that decided spiritual “confusion” is actually itself exclusive. Eastern religions speak of God’s presence in all things, Islam of God’s undivided “oneness,” and the Christian faith of God existing in three persons, but to say all these conceptions of God are all equally “true” not only breaches the bounds of logic, it also excludes each religion’s own claim to spiritual “clarity.” The only clarity permitted is clarity about confusion – all others are excluded.
What this means is that, when it comes to God, we all have exclusive beliefs. There is no moral high ground. There is no choice between an inclusive view of God and an exclusive view. The real question, in the words of best-selling author Tim Keller, is not whether our beliefs are exclusive, but rather “which set of exclusive beliefs can produce loving, inclusive, reconciling, peaceful behaviour.”
Is there a kind of exclusive “clarity” about God that can produce inclusive people?
In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of two men who go up to the temple to worship. One is a proud religious leader, confident in his good works before God, who derides those he sees as more “sinful” around him. The other man is a “tax collector” of known disrepute, who comes before God humbled, aware of his shortcomings in God’s eyes and asking for forgiveness. Jesus tells us, of the two men, it is only the humble one who goes away having been made right with God.
In the caricatures of these two men, Jesus offers a profound diagnosis as to where true inclusivity and exclusivity come from. The religious leader is confident in his own goodness, which makes him a proud person. That very pride drives him to exclude those around him whom he sees as inferior; he speaks down to them and raises himself to a higher level. The tax collector, however, has “clarity” about his true status before God, as one sinful and yet forgiven, and that’s what makes him humble. He has no pretence for superiority – he knows how far he falls short of God’s standards. But his awareness of his great shortcomings makes him into a different kind of person from the religious leader – one who doesn’t look at those around him as inferior, but rather as people just as in need of God’s forgiveness as he.
While in the pride of the religious leader we find the source of true exclusivity, in the humility of the tax collector – in his “clarity” about himself – we find the soil in which all true inclusivity must grow.
The challenge is that having “clarity” about oneself is no easy task. Where does the courage come from, to look hard at the true state of our hearts? For the tax collector in the story, the courage came from also having “clarity” about what God is really like – that God forgives those who humble themselves before Him. The central message of the Gospel is that God sent his Son to die and rise for us so that we might be forgiven when we come to Him with repentance and faith – so that we might have “clarity” about what God is truly like, and how we stand before Him.
Through this Gospel, “clarity” about God can free us to have “clarity” about ourselves and to help us become truly inclusive people.