Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Our Human Complexity (Intro)

Life is hard. Scott Peck, the well known psychiatrist and thinker of human spirituality opened his seminal book, The Road Less Travelled, with this piece of granite composed of only three words. He went on to argue from there, that our failing to understand the impact of this idea leads us into personal suffering of all sorts; so coming to terms with it then, begins our way out of suffering.

I read his book over twenty years ago and have appreciated Peck's thinking of our human experience ever since. But twenty plus years later, I’m disagreeing with his idea; not the whole idea though, just part of it; life can indeed be hard: just not all the time. Some times the livin’s easy- when it’s summertime for instance. It can be meaningful or meaningless, full or empty, exciting or dull. And yes, it’s often hard in more ways than we can count. But even though life isn’t always hard, I would point out, it is always complex. Always.

Instead: Life is complex. Our failure to appreciate the complexity inherent in the simplest of living is leading us into troubles of all sorts. For instance, leaders of big nations that don’t appreciate complexity have been known to rush into little ones, thinking that democratizing them would be a cinch; by that, meaning there would be few casualties incurred; that their pictures in History's "high school yearbook" would look cool.

And a Citizenry who equally lacks appreciation of, or out of fear ignores the fact, that Life is ultimately Complex, will live at the hands of leaders who readily woo people into false simplicity in order to domesticate them for their own causes: causes which boil down to their getting the prized adolescent status of bmoc (big man on campus).

Complexity and its off-spring, swirling uncertainty, are difficult to live with. Indeed we often feel them as threats to our very lives. Our human ability to comprehend any complexity though- and we all do have this ability somewhere in us- fends off this threat. In fact, our unique ability to comprehend, that is, our ability to make sense of things new to us, is itself, an act of simplifying and a skill that we can hone. Over simplification on the other hand, is a delusion to avoid.

As a species, we Humans have used the auspices of both religion and science to oversimplify life; by this I mean that we have a tendency to shrink the scale of life from something beyond our grasp to a scale that can't escape our grasp. We've done this through religion by positing a simple power in the sky that we seek to manage through our behavior, such as disallowing gay marriage. And we've done it through science by reducing the complexity of life to the logic of Newton- that is, the logic of a pool table: a thing at rest can't move on its own accord; it's stuck in place until another thing bumps it along a vector not of its own choosing. Here, our closest cousin really isn't a chimp it's a billiard ball….

So what is the cost of our fearing complexity? How do we enter into complexity with confidence? What are the implications of re-conceiving our lives in terms of complexity rather than simplistic mechanics or simplistic theism?

These are my questions that I want to explore through this blog. These are the questions that I want to pose to you who undoubtedly are complex and therefore have something valuable to add to this exploration.

Finally, I would add, Human Being is made for complex life. Therefore, if we are to truly live in the fullness of life, we have to be willing to enter into its complexity: this means, we have to be willing to enter more deeply into our humanness.


  1. Right now I would say that I disagree with the position that religion/God is a sheild from complexity. Rather I suggest that religion is like a pair of tongs used to hold a piece of red-hot steel, or better yet a complex tool for viewing a difficult and ungraspable system in single small a scanning microscope. It is capable of viewing thin cross-sections of the human body in such a fashion that we can clearly see that thin cross-section, if we were to try to just look at a person all we would see is the surface, and even that we cannot grasp very clearly....religion is a tool for getting clear, narrow insights into a much larger system.....

    As for using religion as a shield, problems of that sort when we accept only one "cross-section" as the whole, and hence any one view is not inherently wrong, instead it merely does not capture the whole...

  2. Adam, I like what you say here. For me, God has been the very means for me to be open to the complex without first understanding it.

    Your idea here of considering a mere "cross-section" as the actual whole is an apt one, and is what I'm trying to express above. I'm also a bit taken by your sense of how pertinent religion/God can be to our wellness; I struggle with the language to talk about the way we misuse religion. For instance, I'm comfortable in considering myself as an aspiring follower of Christ but I've become uncomfortable calling myself a Christian at this time; today it seems that "Christian" is an institution that one has to fit into; this goes against my sense and experience with God.

    So for instance, I could put my struggle into words like, Christ removed from a religious context is different than Christ within a religious context. But as you point out, the problem isn't about the religion per-se, but about the way we make cross-sections into the whole of it all.

    Before I go into an idea that just transpired here, let me ask you- what do you think of utilizing the idea of "reductionist thinking" to carry your idea of making cross-sections into wholes?