Did you ever play "Used To Thinks"? It's great fun at parties as a kind of ice-breaker. Everyone is asked to share something that they used to think was so (as a child or an adult) but no longer do. It's fun. Try it. You'll have a few laughs and get to know one another a little better. I used to believe that it wasn't true that you could not see land on the other side of the ocean. I had heard that was the case, but I just did not believe it was possible. I guess I was a flat earthier at heart. I was sure that when I saw the ocean for the first time that I would be able to see Europe on the other side of the water. One day we went to Misquamacut beach in Connecticut. It was to be my first view of the Atlantic ocean. There it was just as they said it would be, water as far as the eye could see, and yet as I looked out across the water I tried to convince myself that just over the horizon there was land, only the horizon would not hold still. I finally had to admit that what I saw was water, water everywhere, and not a drop of land. My view of the world had been expanded.
I also used to think that Springfield, Mass. where I grew up would be at least as big as the State of Texas if properly portrayed on a map of the world. I remember being shown a globe of the world and I asked where Springfield was located. My father pointed to a small dot in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I thought the whole state was Springfield and I remarked, "Is that all?", as I pointed at the whole of Massachusetts. No, my father said, it's only that little dot inside that small space. That small space represents all of Massachusetts. Well, that was just too much for my child mind to comprehend. I knew Springfield was big. It took 20 min. to a half hour for the bus to get from the corner of my street to the center of downtown Springfield. It couldn't possibly be that small on a globe of the world. But it was. And so my view of the world had been expanded just a little bit more.
You've heard the expression that the map is not the territory. I was beginning to learn that fact. Have any of you ever seen a map of North and South America with South America placed at the top of the map and North America at the bottom? It looks strange because we've been taught to always see it the other way around. But if you were looking at the globe from outer space there would be no up or down, and south could just as easily be at the top as north, depending on your angle or perspective. Seeing it portrayed that way on a map kind of jolts your sensibilities because it literally turns your world upside down.
You might say my weltanschauung was wrong, or my paradigm was out of line. It was time to flick my blik. Weltanschauung is a German word meaning "world-view" or picture of the world. A "paradigm" is pretty much the same thing. "Blik" is a word coined by the philosopher, R.M. Hare. Bliks represent attitudes or opinions about the world that are unconscious and logically prior to facts. A blik can be psychological, social, religious and cultural. It both colors and filters your perception of people, nature and events. Everybody has bliks. Some are narrow and confining and distort reality. Some are open and flexible and help to illuminate reality. But narrow or open everyone has bliks. When your weltanschauung goes wrong it's time to flick your blik, get a different view on things, enlarge your vision, learn a few more facts, revise your prejudices, change your mind. If your paradigm is out of line flick your blik, reorient your mental framework, alter your presuppositions, expand your cosmology. If your myths and beliefs no longer mesh with your reality modem, flick your blik, give your metaphysics a good physic, trade in your model of reality for a new mode of being.
Your blik is like a psychic grid or mental filter. It lets in some portions of reality for focus or comprehension, but keeps out other aspects of reality too difficult or confusing to comprehend. Kind of like the tuner in a radio set, it lets in only one station at a time. If they all came in at once utter confusion and mumbo jumbo would result. It's kind of like watching the old 3-D movies without your special Polaroid spectacles. Everything's a blur. But put on your Polaroid bliks and the flick clarifies.
Bliks seek other bliks that see the world in the same way. These gatherings are like conviction communities or blik blocks. When an alien blik comes into the conviction community the tendency is for all the other bliks to subtly or overtly try to make that bloc of a blik conform to the beliefs and behavior of that conviction community. Sometimes you get whole teams of bliks competing against teams of other bliks, a veritable psychic grid iron competition is the result. Some bliks are blocked, some bliks get broken, some have their paradigms thrown out of line, some get welts on their weltanschauungs. Some have a complete cosmological meta-physic and switch teams. That's the way it is in this psychic grid iron of a world.
You all know what I'm talking about. You read about it in the papers everyday. Palestinian Islamic bliks compete with Jewish Israeli bliks over who can control and own the real estate in that small corner of our globe, each one backing up its claims with religious zeal and historic precedent. It remains to be seen whether the three western monotheistic faiths, which have common origins in ancient Palestine, can learn to live together and at least tolerate one another's competing religious bliks. That's what the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland are trying to do and are apparently farther along the path of political and religious tolerance than the contestants in the Middle East. For years capitalist free world bliks competed with socialist communist bliks for economic and political control of the globe, each side backing up its blik with nuclear bliks and anti-blik-tic missiles, when suddenly the communist bliks gave in and switched sides, and now the new uncontrolled Russian economy nearly undermined confidence in our own, and may yet do so.
History is more or less an account of broken bliks and shattered paradigms and the discovery of new world-views. Copernicus and Galileo removed the earth from the center of the solar system and opened the doors to an infinite cosmos of stars and galaxies beyond number. Darwin expanded the time frame of the creation story from a few thousand years to millions of years of evolution over eons of time and changed the way we view the development of life and ideas. We now see things and ourselves in process and change rather than in fixed categories of being. Freud unveiled a deep unconscious dimension to the human mind and dethroned the ego from the center of consciousness. We now know that there are hidden depths and complexes, drives and motives, within all of us. There is more to us than meets the eye.
I used to think that the economic and political motives of the USA were always and without exception as morally pure as the driven snow, that untainted idealism informed the actions and decisions of our national leaders. However, I heard my family complain about City Hall and the State House, so I knew that lower echelons of government were not perfect. But I knew that was only because they were Democrats and that if the Republicans got in all would be well. How anyone could not have voted for Thomas Dewey over Roosevelt and Truman was beyond my comprehension, utterly above my blik. But then four years later Ike won and the good guys in white hats were in at last.
Decades passed and I grew up. My weltanschaung was not so much wrong as narrow and naive. It was time to flick my blik. Like all of you I lived through the civil rights movement, the debacle in Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-gate and Monica-gate. I saw Democrats and Republicans with equal aplumb mucking things up, wasting the nation's honor, influence, integrity and power. I came to see that motives of pride, self-interest, power, greed and fear colored the actions and decisions of even the best and most decent of men and women. My blik of presuppositions about human nature and my beloved country had to be altered to take these facts into account.
I used to believe that crime did not pay, that justice always triumphed, that right always won out in the end over wrong. My favorite radio programs were "The Lone Ranger", "Gang Busters", "The Green Hornet", and "The Shadow", and they all told me that what I believed was true beyond a shadow of a doubt. As I grew up I discovered that an awful lot of crime does pay, that right does not always triumph, that many good and decent folk suffer unjustly. It was time to flick my blik and to take these unfortunate facts into account. My revised and expanded blik came to realize that virtue was in many respects its own reward, that if crime did indeed pay many of its perpetrators in cold cash, it was at a terrible price, the price of one's integrity and honor. "What does it profit one to gain the whole world and lose one's soul?"
I came to realize that long-suffering Job in the Bible was an honest man of God, that he symbolized and represented the unmerited and tragic suffering that comes to human beings. Sin cannot entirely explain it. Karma cannot justify it. But human beings have the capacity to transform it by bearing it with courage and compassion, even to forgive it. Know that the universe is not out to get you though die someday you must, and all your friends and loved ones as well. Know also that life is still the greatest gift of all which we should revere and rejoice and celebrate as we are able. May your blik and mine take as much of this into account as it can.
As many of you know I grew up in the Christian Science Sunday School. I used to think that Christian Science was a true and complete revelation from God to Mary Baker Eddy about the spiritual nature of reality and the infinite power of healing within the human mind, although every time I got a cold I had some doubts about it and a twinge of guilt as well. But as I grew older I came to realize that the Catholic Church, the Muslims, the Mormons, and other sects and religions thought they had the last and best and most complete revelation of God's truth. This puzzled me because I knew they could not all be right. I came to suspect that none of them of were. Some of you may have heard the joke about God calling the Pope on the telephone. He tells the Pope that he has some good news and some bad news. The good news is that God has finally decided He is going to do away with all the diverse religions on the face of the earth and establish once and for all the one and only true faith. The Pope is elated until he hears the bad news. God is calling him from Salt Lake City.
Over the years as I took courses in philosophy and comparative religions my religious blik became radically relativised. I came to see that no religion or metaphysical belief system had a corner on the truth market. It was a painful process of paradigms lost and regained, of bliks broken and renewed. I came to realize that truths about God and things spiritual were difficult to come by, that a measure of doubt and humility along with faith, hope and charity was a necessary corrective for a balanced and healthy spiritual outlook.
Theologian John Wren Lewis describes a similar process of the relativising of his religious world-view:
I have come to see that my position in those days was in a real sense less than fully honest, since it was based on a wish to believe that there was an infallible body of Truth somewhere, even thought I knew it was not to be found in commonly accepted Christian theology. I now know that this wish for a body of infallible Truth is itself a neurotic device for avoiding the full open challenge of experimental living.
The human longing for a sense of absolute certainty and security is very strong. The pain and distress of living with ambiguity and uncertainty is sometimes too much for some to endure and so they flick their blik back to a world-view more simplistic and uncomplicated. Abortion is always wrong, no exceptions under any circumstances. Political correctness must be adhered to at all times, no variant views allowed. The Bible (or the Koran or some other Scripture) is the inerrant Word of God. The Pope is infallible on matters of faith and doctrine. The blik of my community of faith and conviction is true and right altogether. Your blik is wrong. I won't sleep easy until I have won you and everyone else over to my world-view or destroy you in the process. My paradigm is divine. Sorry about yours.
Human beings with few exceptions are social animals. We need communities of faith and conviction--scientific, religious, cultural, political, familial, social--to confirm us in our humanness, uphold the truths we believe, give us the tools to find new truths, and help, hold, heal, guide, protect and love us. Our bliks and weltanschauungs are an admixture of all these things. We now live, however, in a world of interpenetrating cultures, religions and ideologies, of competing bliks and shifting paradigms. We cannot afford any longer to pretend that our finite and limited bliks and partial paradigms are the final and absolute truth about anything.
As Unitarian Universalists we covenant, in the words of our principles and purposes, "to affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning." And so I would say to you: hold to the truth you know and the faith you believe with honor and integrity. But know also that what you know and believe is partial, limited, finite, and mixed with error and illusion. Let your faith be open to the views and beliefs of others, perhaps even to the point of changing your view of things in small ways or large. Like a kid with an old fashioned stereoscopic view finder, find your favorite 3-D view of the world, but for variety and challenge, flick your blik from time to time to see how others view the world, and compare it to your own. If you don't change, at least you will know why and will appreciate your blik all the more, even though you know it is not infallible. In all that you do and know, seek and believe, hope and suffer, may you find comfort and guidance in the words of the ancient apostle: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be you transformed, by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God."