Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Lure of Fundamentalist Certitude

On August 14, I had a monumental event happen in my life: my first grandchild was born. Let me tell you about him. His name is Isaac. He is beautiful. Little hands, small feet, soft skin-- all 7 lbs. 6 oz. and 20 inches of pure wonder and perfection. His parents, my son and his wife, are doing well. I am confident they will make great parents, each providing what is lacking in the other. It's me I wonder about.

I think this grandfather deal is going to be a big job. I take it seriously. Research has shown that, as we age, we fall off in many cognitive abilities, such as perceptual speed and procedural intelligence. Now, I'm a college professor, and I don't like the notion of "falling off" in anything cognitive (I don't like my aching joints either!). I make a living from my cognitive abilities. It's troubling news to think about. But, there is good news as well.

I am 51. I can tell you that I am not as "quick on the draw" as my two sons. They've got me there. But, research into the middle years and old age shows that middlers and older folks continue to improve in judgment and wisdom. They also increase in "crystallized intelligence," that intelligence born of declarative knowledge (knowing "that," while younger folks often excel in knowing "how"), and superior judgment abilities.

Isaac has parents that are plenty smart. I'm sure he will follow in their path. So what can I give him? I held him in my arms all weekend and wondered.

Then it hit me. I can give him some of that wisdom that is the product of half a century of living. So... just in case I wasn't here when he turned 18, I wrote him a letter and offered a little wisdom. I reflected on the growing diversity in society and in the world. I knew that he would face more diversity than I ever faced. In short, he had to learn to get along with others and share the planet with those of many different beliefs, cultures, and religions.

That means that he has to learn, as the title of a recent book declares, others don't have to be wrong for him to be right. It's tempting to pass on the notion of certitude-- that we are always right in our beliefs and spirituality. But, in our modern world, it is only going to work if we can listen to each other and learn. Recent research has called much of the literal accuracy of the Bible into question. Other religions are also "flat earth" endeavors, as Michael Dowd describes them (see Dowd, Thank God for Evolution, 2007). We are all going to have to learn and adapt-- especially if we want to build sustainable, just, and peaceful societies.

Certitude is comforting-- in some respects. But it will be found increasingly wanting, both factually and morally. The hope for the world is in valuing diversity; valuing the other, valuing them and learning from them. That will be my advice to my new grandson. After all, he's already beautiful. Why not teach him to be tolerant and responsibility as well?

No comments:

Post a Comment