A spirited debate rages between liberals and conservatives today regarding what direction we should be moving in, both in terms of the world and the church. Both agree that we are far from happy. The disagreement is over what to do about it?
For conservatives, the itch is to return to the past, to move back to what once was, to what once worked, to what once held things together. The present moment is seen as a falling away, from a faith, from a set a values, from a stability, and from a happiness that we once had. What would fix things, in this view, is a certain retreat to old-time religion and to old-time values, especially family values. The liberals tend to have the complete opposite intuition. For them, irrespective of our present problems and unhappiness, we live in an enlightenment (social, religious, moral, and technological) that sets us over the past. We are simply awake in a way the past generations, whatever their goodness and sincerity, were not. Any move backwards would be a regression; a moral loss, a disaster. The correct path is forward and we must have the courage to travel forwards because, despite some present upheaval and disorientation, that road slowly but surely is taking us beyond the narrowness, bigotry, racism, sexism, and fundamentalism that lie at the base of so much injustice and violence in the world.
Who’s right? In what direction should we be moving? Where do we go? What will bring us peace, justice, stability, and happiness?
My own hunch is that we will get to where we should be going by following neither the itch of the liberal nor that of the conservative. Both ideologies have shown themselves inadequate to lead to much peace, justice, or happiness, though both contain valuable insights: The liberal is right in intuiting that moving back to the past is not the answer, just as the conservative is right in believing that simply becoming ever more sophisticated is no answer either. Both are right and both are wrong. Where should we be going? We must move forwards, though not in the way most liberals tend to conceive of this, that is, as always towards higher levels of sophistication. Rather we must move forwards, but in a way that leads not to more sophistication but to a new naivete, a second naivete. What is meant by this?
A short parable might be helpful in explaining it. If you ask a naive child: “Do you believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny?”, she answers: “Yes.” If you ask a bright child: “Do you believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny?”, she answers: “No.” But if you ask even a brighter child: “Do you believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny?” she answers: “Yes” … but for a different reason.
One sees in this little story a movement from naivete through sophistication to a certain post-sophistication, from childishness through enlightenment to child-like-ness. Notice that what is being affirmed though is neither the conservative belief that the right move is go back to something we once had, nor the liberal belief that we become ever more free and happy the more sophisticated we become. In fact, the reverse is generally true, namely, we become progressively more unhappy the less we believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. However a return to happiness does not lie in an adult trying again to be a child or in a contemporary man or woman trying to simplistically mimic how his or her grandparents lived and dealt with things. But, as is becoming more obvious each day, it just as true to say that it does not lie either in simply becoming ever more sophisticated, critical, and experienced. Enlightenment, as defined by liberal ideology, is not the same thing as happiness at all, as Adam and Eve discovered. To have one’s eyes opened is a very mixed blessing. After naivete, happiness does not come easily and it comes only under some very curious conditions.
Where does happiness lie? In moving to a place where we can again believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny; it lies in becoming post-sophisticated, in having open eyes but in seeing differently than did Adam and Eve after eating the apple. This can be expressed in a number of ways:
Naive – Sophisticated – Second naivete
First fervour – Disillusionment – Mature love
Pre-critical – Critical – Post-critical
Innocence – Loss of innocence – New innocence
Virgin – Experienced – Revirginized
Childish – Sophisticated – Childlike
Young fool – Old fool – Holy fool
Happy – Unhappy – happy
We once were young fools. Then our eyes were opened and we become old fools. The task now is to become holy fools.