The tyranny of certainty

As I write this France is bombing Syria in response to the terror attacks on Friday night. It feels very much like a repeat of the knee-jerk response of 9/11. I have no better solution, but I know that violence begets violence.

In the last couple of days there have been numerous posts about what the Islamic State is really up to and and equal number reminding everyone that not all Muslims are terrorists. Words piled upon more useless words.

It is hard to escape the fact that most of the atrocities in our world has been carried out by people who attend religious services. It is hard to argue against the likes of Richard Dawkins on the evils of religion.

I feel profoundly conflicted by that, because every single encounter I have had with a person who truly resonates with peace have all been practitioners of religion. And I know my faith has been transformative for me. In the absence of systematic religion, I am not sure I how I would have made the journey that I have. So I am not prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

To me the toxicity lies in certainty. Fundamentalism of any stripe cannot tolerate questions. There is no room for the uncertainty that is the nature of humanity. That existential uncertainty makes us feel insecure and far too many of us try to shore ourselves up against being overwhelmed. We build dykes of certainty to keep back the flood.

We viciously attack those who threaten the flawed system we have created.

Pema Chodron speaks about the importance of learning to live in positive groundlessness. Likewise it is this essence which appears in the mystical traditions of all major religions – detachment. And every single one of us has plenty of work in that respect.

I need to ask myself – when I cling to elements of certainty in my own life, am I brutalising anyone else and claiming immunity because I serve a higher power?

Certainty that I am right is perhaps the most toxic attitude we can have.

9 thoughts on “The tyranny of certainty

  1. Excellent points about the possibility of brutalizing ourselves and/ or others with the absolute need for absolute certainty ( which pretty much doesn’t exist in human lives, by the way).

  2. I saw a comment on Twitter from a journalist at Charlie Hebdo. He thanked people to Pray for Paris, while feeling that we don’t need more religion. Our faith goes to music, life, kisses…
    I also read a comment which said that the terror in Paris was in response to bombings of children and women in Syria.
    Finally, a journalist who follows Daesh quoted one of their leaders saying, We will win because our love of death is greater than your love of life…
    It’s a very complex situation. I feel that injustice anywhere is a threat to peace everywhere. The only answer is love.

  3. Beautifully said Mags. I find myself experiencing moments of intense sadness. The wisdom traditions are clear that violent choices can never be resolved by choosing the same violent response, in fact, it compounds the original anger. And I know the personal feeling of defence and wanting to retaliate in moments of being unexpectedly hurt. St Francis offered the idea “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” The act of detachment enables us to remain open hearted and access the wisdom that love holds. We used to sing a hymn at school that said “show me how to begin, and hold me by the hand as I go on..” This is the moment we are called to live what we believe, it is not simple, it is not easy and until we find Peace within us it can never be outside of us.

  4. Thank you Mag and the comments that have followed. We need a grounding of some kind like Meister Eckhart because we are of this world; we need to be detached because we belong to heaven.

  5. I very much liked Chödron’s ‘positive groundlessness’ as the middle path between the tyranny of certainty and the oppressiveness of uncertainty. So hard to actually occupy but there come, it seems, more opportunities to imagine and practice it. And to practice it with feet firmly planted on God’s good earth. For, this positive groundlessness not a metaphor for escape but for flexibility and flow, for a radical, open hospitality.

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