A quote from a wise woman…



Barbara Brown Taylor, from her incredible memoir Leaving Church;

I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place.  We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are, but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities as well.  Like campers who have bonded over cook fires far from home, we remain grateful for the provisions that we have brought with us from those cupboards, but we also find them more delicious when we share them with one another under the stars. (224)

I could take issue with a little of what Barbara says here, but as one of my teachers says, “Why do we always feel the need to poke holes in someone else who’s out there on the edge doing something important?” There’s something deeply truthful about what she’s saying here, I think.  Just the idea that we piddly, limited, sheltered, twisted human beings could walk around thinking we can absolutely and fully know the character and purposes and massive reality of our Creator has become laughable to me, and becoming much more so.  That should humble us in our “truth” pronouncements; not silence us, mind you, but certainly humble us.  We have to stand for something, but there’s a big canyon that exists between standing for what we believe in in gracious, rooted ways or in insensitive, self-righteous ways.


5 thoughts on “A quote from a wise woman…

  1. You don’t see the inconsistency of her statements? I love when people say that we can’t know truth (which is a truth claim) and they are somehow better than people who claim truth.

    Its like the person who says Christians are intolerant. But as soon as you make that claim you have committed a self refuting argument. You have become intolerant of Christians. What a viscous cycle.

    We should celebrate holy ignorance than to be bereans of scripture? If I take the logical conclusions of ideas like this then how the heck do we know anything about scripture?

  2. Wes,

    Of course her statements are inconsistent on the surface level, but you have to read carefully to see what she’s saying. If she had said “I have learned to prize holy ignorance in place of (of instead of) religious certainty,” then you’d have a solid Biblical point in calling out the inconsistency. But she didn’t say that. She said;

    “I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place.”

    That’s a huge difference, Wes. Barbara’s not saying we can’t know truth (that’s an absolute statement that you rightly reject as self-refuting); she’s saying that there is much of life and reality and the God who created it all that is not “knowable” in any complete sense. There are many things that we can know and hold onto and fight for that are truthful, and like the Bereans, we should carefully look into what one is teaching; but there are many things that we will not be able to fully grasp. This should lead us to a posture of humility, generosity in conversation, patience, and a commitment to learning from others.

    It is this commitment that Barbara lives into. Are there things I quibble with in her approach? Certainly. But is she wise in the ways of God? Certainly, and therefore I should submit to listening to and gleaning things from her that challenge the way I think and live and cause me to think and live differently.

  3. I get what you are saying but why in heavens name would anyone prize ignorance over truths. I don’t know maybe I am just too stupid to understand this stuff.

  4. I know it’s late, Wes, but I think that I may be able to offer some insight. Of course, this is my own opinion, not necessarily what Ms. Taylor believes or thinks.

    When she contrasts holy ignorance with religious certainty, she’s not talking about actual certainty of the *truth*. She’s talking about certainty that may very well be wholly incorrect, thoroughly misguided. Certainty isn’t the same as correctness; I know I’ve been absolutely certain of many things in my life, that turned out to be wrong.

    Religion often insists on its tenets with a claim of certitude that is not justified. To the degree that religion does this, it is apart from Spirit – it is lacking on the holiness.

    The “holy ignorance”, Ms. Taylor refers to, I believe, refers to the humble realization that the truth is far beyond our capacity to know. When we let go of our certainty and humbly admit that we really don’t – that we *cannot* – know, we take a step closer to Spirit.

    Ms. Taylor observes that those who take such a step often are moving in a direction that takes them away from the center of their religion, to a place where they may meet others from different faiths who have also taken such a step.

    Just my two cents’ worth. I hope you find this useful.

  5. Chiron,

    “Certainty isn’t the same as correctness.”

    Very wise.

    I would add, just to give some creative tension, that when we let go of our certainty and humbly admit that we really don’t *fully* know, we find ourselves following more closely in the footsteps of Jesus and seeking the heart of the law. And certainly, that heart of the law is the “Spirit.”


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