INFALLIBILITY? A dilema for the ages.

500 years ago, Martin Luther got into a spitting contest with Pope Leo X. Martin declared that the Bible was the one and only infallible basis for faith and that the Popes and Councils could err.  And Martin thought that he was right and the pope was wrong. And that is just one of the many issues around the idea of infallibility. Like most of us, these two characters were stubborn and did not accept criticism lightly.

We all like to think of ourselves as infallible. We know what we know and if you disagree, you are wrong! – and stupid! and Ignorant! and Stubborn! I know what the facts are and you choose to wallow in your ignorance. This is somewhat of a human reality to believe that God cannot speak for us, but that we can speak for God – as if God and I had a direct e-mail connection and God speaks to me alone informing me of what God is thinking.   How can the pope be infallible, when I am and I don’t agree with something he states?

I know what the cultural realities, including politics, religion, economics, education, athletics, family issues, mental illness, racial and sexual issues – etc., etc.  Come and sit down and I will explain the truth to you and if you are smart, you will listen and agree.

But wait!  You tell me that you have the truth on all of these issues and that I am wrong?  Wait just a minute – you ignoramus!  I need to pound the table and shout – I am getting angry because you disagree with me. How dare you?  Off with your head; you heretic. You will be burned at the stake tomorrow – because you have dared to insult me and all of the people who agree with me.

It seems that we human beings have some major problems with belief. We look for something to believe in – something that corresponds with my own vision or personal history. We love to argue and to spar with one another. We are afraid of doubt – of the possibility that we might be wrong. Recognizing that we grew up in a family, a neighborhood or community with generally shared beliefs and convictions and that others grew up in different families, neighborhoods and communities does not always help us to understand. Human psychology on both the individual and group level has some influence in the way that we view OUR WORLD.  We at times fail to recognize that we all grew up and live in a world that is wounded and dysfunctional; that we are all a bit blind and deaf.

Like both Pope Leo X and Martin Luther, we are all a little bit correct on some things and a little bit wrong on the same things. We see the surface and presume that we are looking at the depth – we see the skin and presume that we are looking at substance. Human history demonstrates that life has always been in transition; in transformation; in becoming. We keep learning more about life and the cosmos that we are part of. A “truth” of one time, becomes a stepping stone to a deeper truth at another.

The journey of life is filled with trial and error steps. Evolution teaches us that this has been the way of life for billions of years. Consciousness itself is the result of trial and error within the ongoing creation that we are part of. One of the most difficult lessons that we continue to struggle with is the possibility that we (I) might be wrong and that I don’t have to pound you over the head to accept my beliefs.

Disagreements are required and necessary. We learn when we open our ears to hear and our eyes to see; when we open our hearts and minds to the possibility that the world is much larger – much more mysterious than I can fathom with my limited vision. We don’t really need to go to war to convince others to accept our (my) faith or convictions. We are learning to move away from an either/or world vision to a both/and world vision. This transformation is difficult and challenging to our own ego.

We have to admit that maybe we can still learn something new as adults. When we are children, we are enthralled with the world around us. We want to explore; to touch and taste everything around us. I remember taking some of my nephews and nieces for walks when they were very young. They would pick up new treasures off of the ground to show me – as we wound our way to the local Dairy Queen. They were in love with their world. Every stone, every leaf, every bit and butterfly was filled with magic.

Life itself is a great teacher when we keep looking and listening. We are surrounded by mysteries and miracles – and we ourselves are indeed mystery and miracle. We are not God, and yet that Divine Spirit resides within all that is, including us. That Creator God, made us in His/Her own image and walks with us in the ongoing journey of creation – so we can get down off of our high horse and walk with creation coming to be. We are called just to love one another, not to dominate and control one another.

When we are filled with ourselves and demand that others bow to our version of reality and condemn all other versions, we put ourselves apart as judge and jury and then pass sentence. It takes practice to learn what we seemed to know automatically when we were children. We are called to be like children, full of curiosity and wonder. We are called to learn once again how to see and how to listen – carefully to life all around us. This is what it means to be a life-long learner – always in transformation and growth to new possibilities; to be alive.


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