I believe in mystery, whether it’s about the essence of God or the essence of being human.
In junior high I had a summer reading list. One of the books I picked was The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis; it was short and we already had it in our house. The book was unusual, and I started to read more of C.S. Lewis. One of his ideas appeared over and over, and it appealed to me a lot. When it comes to being good, he said, you never know how hard a person is trying. There is no way to know another’s potential. A near saint may be somewhat of a slacker, while a seeming blackguard might be doing his absolute best. You just can’t know the raw material that person was given. I loved that idea.
I loved the idea of degrees, of nuance, of not knowing things for sure. As I grew up this way of thinking fit in with what my Catholic schooling stressed: Love one another. Judge not, lest ye be judged. In my own words, Cut other people a break. That was the beginning of my spectrum theory about human beings.
For instance, mental health can be represented by a spectrum with many points along the way between totally crazy and totally sane. I’m somewhere on the spectrum—I don’t know just where—and every other individual is somewhere on there. We’re all somewhat different from each other.
Human intelligence spans a wide spectrum. As does musical talent, physical strength, the will to change, and so much more. I have a friend who is an alcoholic. Do I have any idea how hard he struggles with his illness? Would I do any better? Shouldn’t I assume he’s trying as hard as he possibly can?
What about sexuality? Isn’t sexuality a spectrum with many points along the way between female and male? It seems to me since we all have both female and male hormones, people probably have differing ratios, just as they have varying amounts of other hormones. It seems logical that they will be masculine or feminine to different degrees. It doesn’t make sense to condemn someone for being different. They are different only to a degree. We are who we are; we are how we were created.
This thinking of other people as being mysterious, lovable, and different seems to be a real help in matters of conscience. That’s another big thing I learned as a Catholic—the importance of developing an informed conscience, of keeping it alive and growing. Many years out of junior high, my conscience still speaks to me, and it simplifies many complex issues. Today I sometimes feel unconnected with what many religious leaders say, teach, and do. My conscience reminds me of what all the major religions (in their pure form) teach: compassion. Approaching others in reverence and respect. Caring for others. It’s often a struggle, but I believe an appreciation for mystery can help a lot.
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