Our "Working Hypotheses"
My husband and I have long referred to the way we make our way through life as series of "working hypotheses" that are modified or completely replaced when the evidence leads us to believe they are flawed. I have realized that this is really how every single person operates, although some are more conscious of it than others. And "religions" are ways of systematizing one's current hypothesis and uniting with others working on the basis of those same assumptions in order to get the predicted results. Sects within a religion and subcultures within larger secular cultures serve the same role. They allow people to act on a particular hypothesis from within community, receiving the supports and rewards of participation in that community.
There are a few places I want to take this train of thought. The first is just a personal one: the thing that unites me with the people that I both love and continue with in mutual friendship is not necessarily a commitment to the same "working hypothesis", but rather the ability to see things through that set of glasses, and live life consciously seeking to pick the most rewarding "desired results" and to go after them with the methods that most effectively yield them. I find little in common -- and certainly experience no mutual admiration or connection -- with those not willing to engage in a continual analysis of what reality (that is, my perceived "results" and their perceived "results" from one's current "working hypothesis") tells us both about the "results" we should be pursuing and about the most effective methods of achieving those results. And, despite the fiery history between me and my husband, one of the strong connectors is exactly this single mutually-held way of approaching life, even in the context of "working hypotheses" that are directly contradictory at many points.
Similarly, the thing that holds me in my church is that there is a core to my own "working hypothesis" that has held true over time and that I believe is unlikely to change before my death, and my current church is a community based on that same core that allows some freedom in fine-tuning the "working hypothesis" for each member. The main places that I experience frustration in my community are not the places where the "working hypothesis" is in conflict, but rather the places where an analysis of the "working hypothesis" is punished socially.
The danger of being part of any community of faith or of culture is this: that one will be so in need of the resulting relationships that one will abdicate his or her ability to make responsible choices about anything more than a decision to do what it takes to stay in the good graces of the "community". To do so means that one's basic working hypothesis has become this: "I am not capable of seeing reality clearly, and I choose to be part of this community. The main result I am after in life is to maintain my place as an accepted part of this community. Therefore, I will accept as "my truth" what I am told about what we should be after in life and how we get those results, and I will live the way I am instructed to live by the community." (In some communities the "working hypothesis" will be handed to me out of a consensus of many and will be allowed some flexibility, and in others it will be handed down by a person or persons in authority and with less flexibility. We often judge communities by where they stand on that particular spectrum rather than by the strength of the community's "working hypothesis". That judgement itself shows much about the values and hypothesis of the one making the judgement.)
As my church goes through a process of preparing to call a new Senior Pastor, they are analyzing the needs of those within our church and the perceptions of those within our church. They have accumulated data from surveys and discussion groups, which is being analyzed by an outside consulting group. The analysis will be presented to the "Visioning Team" chosen to lead this effort, and they will proceed from there to determine the church's mission as it goes forward, and the ways it will employ its resources to accomplish that mission.
Based on the book of Acts and what we see there of how the Holy Spirit works to accomplish God's purposes in the world through Christ's body the CHURCH, I am in prayer that the consensus that develops out of this Visioning effort at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach is a reaffirmation of our mutual commitment to the orthodox truths of scripture and Church history and our joint quest to live them out in authentic relationship with the Triune God and with each other (by allowing each of us to keep telling the truth about our own individual perceptions of each other and of our churches and of what the Holy Spirit is saying in our midst). If that remains the over-all structure, and decisions about current mission and use of resources are subject to a process of continual re-evaluation under that structure, then I'm willing to live with vast conflict over the "details". But if the "details" become the "over-all structure", and the commitment to our God and to each other and to telling the truth each day about reality as we each experience it becomes secondary, then I will find a new community.
The second place I want to go with this train of thought is where I will end this post. I can pick up on the concepts in future posts as I have time to expand my thoughts. For here, let's just look at my own "faith statement":
The core to my own working hypothesis is basic orthodox theology: God created us for relationship with Him and with each other. Real relationship requires real free will. Humans exercise their free will in ways that produce pain to themselves and others, and in ways that destroy the relationship they have with God and with each other. God is sovereign, and is working within the context of having created us with real free will to restore us to the fullness of the relationships He created us to have. The fact that we each have real free will (as part of His sovereign plan and as a result of His continued choices to restrain His ability to override our authentic free will) means that we are each free to go after any agenda any of us chooses. We will not be forced by the Sovereign One or tricked by Him or manipulated by Him into choosing to go after the things He is after. However, the Sovereign One will accomplish His purposes despite those with free will who never freely submit to His will. And those who choose to go after a relationship with Him and to learn and to pursue His purposes will find true fulfillment and freedom -- not only into the future "eternity", but this day -- right here and right now. The church is to be the community of those who are purposefully aligning themselves with God's purposes and who are purposefully committing themselves to relationship with Him and to relationship with each other. Jesus is God Himself entering into our reality as we experience it, and in His life, death, and resurrection, and in His current life at the right hand of God the Father, He is working all the pieces of God's agenda of reconciliation and relationship. (This is a vast over-simplification of my own theology, but it is the core. Please react to it out of an understanding that I do give much more definition to the issues of God's purposes, His means of accomplishing His purposes, "sovereignty" and "free will", the nature of the Triune God, soteriology, and all the other bits and pieces that any of us must fill in about "How it all works.")
There are still many pieces of my "working hypothesis" that are not working (that is, the results are not what the means to the results should have been given the hypothesis), but the core piece of the satisfaction of a relationship with God Himself through Jesus Christ holds true. I don't know it all, by any means, and I do know that . . . despite my friend who recently told me somewhat angrily "You're not God!". But I am satisfied that I've got this core down: I was created to know God. I have found that through Jesus. "Knowing God through Jesus" satisfies my deepest desires even when nothing else does. And He is present with me in my search to live this minute more authentically and effectively than the last.
There is TRUTH and we can know Him! That is a huge statement of faith, isn't it? But it ceases to be a "statement of faith" to the one making it as, over time, it is woven into all the details of life as it has been experienced. If this is in reality "TRUTH" and not just my deluded use of a historical faith to meet my own need to make sense of it all, then it would be available to you, too, if you asked Him to show Himself to you, wouldn't it? And if it is just mass delusion, your prayer would have no power to lead you into the same delusion, would it?
Worth a try?