Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, don’t reject something in its entirety just because you’ve had a bad experience or disagree with some aspect of it. This is really the essence of what I call Wilber’s Law.
People do this all the time, and we frequently do it about the “big” things in life, things that are really important to keep an open mind about. Atheists reject all forms of religion. Poor people reject all wealth as evil. Liberals reject all forms of conservatism, while conservatives reject all forms of liberalism. Religious fundamentalists reject scientific evidence, while scientists scoff at the fundamentalists’ beliefs. Educated people reject folk lore, while less educated people distrust too much higher learning. People of different colors and cultural backgrounds fear and hate each other–and we’ve all seen the tragic results of such bigotry.
When we reject something because we’ve had a negative experience or disagree with some aspect of it, or because we’ve been conditioned, by our families or our cultures, to have prejudices against it, we deprive ourselves of many things: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, tolerance, and the opportunity to form opinions based on critical analysis rather than on unexamined or emotional biases.
One of the best examples I can think of is atheists who reject all forms of religion. Atheists tend to be rational people, people who’ve looked at the shortcomings of religion and decided that all religion is wrong, irrational, intolerant, narrow-minded, and harmful to the ideas of peace and harmony for all mankind. If you put all religions in the same camp, then this evidence is hard to refute. Religions, particularly Islam and Christianity, are responsible for torture, murder, war, and millions of deaths over the centuries. Also, many of their practices seem to demand blind faith and the suspension of critical thought. Some religions have also had much political power, which their officials have wielded ruthlessly and strategically to increase their own wealth and power. And every few years, with disturbing regularity, scandals erupt involving hypocritical and even criminal behavior among these officials. Yes, if you consider yourself a rational person, you can find many reasons to reject religion.
And yet, rejection of all religion belies great closed-mindedness. Many religions and even denominations of mainstream religions are not power-hungry, are not corrupt, and do not require suspension of the rational thought process to be satisfactorily practiced. (In fact, the rational thought process is essential to their practice!) Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, for example, have never started a war or sought political power. They are concerned primarily with helping people reach higher states of consciousness through peaceful means such as meditation and stripped-down, simplified life choices. There are also mystic–that is, concerned with higher states of consciousness–branches of Christianity (centering prayer), Islam (Sufism), Judaism (Kabbalah), and indeed, all of the world’s major religions.
It would be easy for an atheist to dismiss these mystic religious studies as just another facet of “organized” or “mainstream” religion, as pointless and harmful as any other aspect; I can certainly understand such a position (as I have taken it myself in the past). But doing so shows a lack of understanding about mysticism and about spirituality in general. On one level, it seems the obvious rational choice to dismiss all non-material pursuits as hopeful self-delusion. But if a rational-minded person took the time to really study mystic traditions, and did so with an open mind and a willingness to consider different truths, he would discover that there are, indeed, truths there that transcend rational thought; that is, they require rational thought to be understood, but then move beyond it.
I know that might sound silly, and yet it is true. And no one need look any further than their own inner impulse to be part of something greater than him- or herself to begin to believe this. Many religions have dumbed down the development of this innate human pull to scary sermons and simplistic battles of good and evil, and yet the core truth that we are all seeking union with…Something…remains. As Alan Watts put it, “Religion is not a department of life, it enters into the whole of it.” If we are still with ourselves long enough, we can’t help but understand this in a profound, deeply personal way.
Conversely, people who practice mainstream religion often miss the bigger picture. By literalizing Jesus’ “gift” to mankind, for example, the significance of the crucifixion metaphor to our personal struggles for Wholeness is lost (i.e., that we must figuratively die to ourselves over and over in order to be figuratively reborn at ever higher states of consciousness). And incidentally, atheists who make the mistake of interpreting biblical stories literally–and thus rejecting them–also miss out on these great mythologies that depict man’s struggles for virtue, decency, self-respect, and ever greater levels of completeness.
In other words, in order to gain true insight into religion, to understand it in a deeper, more all-inclusive, more rational way, you have to sidestep all literal interpretations altogether–and this is true whichever side of that argument you happen to be on. You must transcend the problem and see it in a new light, reassemble it in new ways, and come to understand both sides (or as is frequently the case, as many sides as you possibly can) and honestly see the validity of each. If you don’t, you remain stuck in an unsolvable, he said/she said paradigm of epic proportions–and one that invites being chucked out the back door, baby and all.
And don’t even get me started on politics, where people in all camps hold some of the most biased, ignorant, irrational, emotionally-based opinions humanly possible. A conservative admit a liberal might be right about something? A liberal concede that conservative policies have certain merits? And yet, both parties are like the night and the day, the masculine and the feminine, the up and the down, the static and the dynamic: the essential halves that comprise the whole, each incomplete without the other. Not only do both ideas have merit, they are necessary for the other to exist. To misunderstand this shows ignorance not only of politics, but of human nature itself.
The tendency to “globalize and reject” is far more common that most of us would care to admit. But we would do well to remember that, just as with religion and politics, nothing is all black or all white, all right or all wrong. All ideologies, theories, opinions, cultures, religions, political beliefs, and everything else borne of the human mind are based on some valid truths, and all contain some elements of inaccuracy. Fallibility is a defining feature of our humanity. The best we can do is strive to draw ever more accurate maps–and to always, always remember that they are only maps, and not mistake them for the territory itself.
This is not to say that you can’t reject something as untrue or unethical or just plain wrong. Of course you can, and you should. But such rejection–or acceptance, if this turns out to be the case–should be the result of a careful process, rooted in rationality and limited in scope to only the evidence you’ve studied.
You may think living this way is too hard, that making the effort to understand things deeply would drive you crazy. I think it is the opposite, though. Making the effort to think critically and be humble in our judgments are traits every bit as defining of our humanity as our fallibility; perhaps because of our fallibility (there’s that yin yang again). We should be more willing to say “I don’t know” than make judgments or pronouncements about things we do not yet understand very well. “I don’t know,” after all, is the beginning of wisdom, while thinking you’re right is the end of it.
So try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. When we reject whole ideologies based on the parts of them we have a problem with, we miss out. And so does everybody else, too, as Ken Wilber so eloquently states:
I have one major rule: everybody is right. More specifically, everybody—including me—has some important pieces of the truth, and all of those pieces need to be honored, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace.
Keeping an Open Mind: Wilber’s Law
True Believerism 101
Question Your Assumptions
Don’t Settle for Easy Answers