Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Right Tool

This first appeared in OutWords magazine, March, 2011.

A parable:
Once there was a man who wanted to build a house. Being a novice, he
decided to inquire with his friends what sort of tools he would need
for the job. The first friend he asked said to him, “Surely you will
need a hammer.” This seemed reasonable, and so the man bought a hammer
and set out to build his house.

But he quickly discovered that the hammer was useless for many of the
required tasks. Tossing it aside and muttering and cursing under his
breathe that his friend was no-good liar, he proceeded to the home of
a second friend. Again he asked what sort of tools he needed to build
a house. The second friend replied, “Surely you will need a saw.” The
man thought that sounded reasonable and so he purchased a saw and set
out once more to build his house.

The saw seemed a better idea, as the man could now cut his logs to
size with ease, a task that had proved impossible with the hammer.
Soon, however, the man was once again muttering and cursing as he
tried in vain to drive home a nail with the handle of the saw.
It was once widely accepted that the Church held a monopoly on
legitimate knowledge. The pursuers of science felt the constraints and
pushed against them, finally bursting them asunder. The Church was
overthrown as the possessor and distributor of knowledge, its place
taken by the Academy. But the Academy tossed out more than it could
replace. Gone was the faulty astronomy, gone the inscrutable god of
Abraham, but gone too was the wisdom, gone was the comfort.

Now we feel the constraints of the Academy, of the modern outlook. We
push up against them. We consume ever more and newer products, yet
remain unsatisfied. We accept the big-bang theory and evolution, yet
fail to find comfort in them. We find that the material sciences,
which were so useful in freeing us from the bonds of the Church, have
now fashioned for us a materialist cage. There is food and water
aplenty in the cage, but of meaning we find none. And so the human
soul revolts, it looks for an exit from this prison of cold, dead,
uncaring matter.

Having rejected the Church of our forebears along with its wisdom and
comfort, we seek these things in other churches, far away; churches we
did not grow up in, churches that never shamed us or forced us to
conform or to do violence to our intellect. We find what we look for.
We look at Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Taoism, and take from them the
wisdom and comfort that we need. We don't look to the rest, to their
faulty astronomy, their inscrutable deities. For some reason, for some
of us, it seems easier to distinguish the baby from the bath-water at
a distance.

Some in the Church will still cry "heresy!" and some in the Academy
will cry "superstition!" but the soul of humanity will go on building
itself a home. It must and it will, using whatever tools it can find.

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