The tyranny of round numbers has me in its grip. A decade birthday or a centennial seems to insist on comment, whether we are ready for it or not. Usually not.
Today my ‘dashboard’ informs me that this is the one-hundredth post since I began The Accidental Theologist nine months ago (note how I even avoid typing in the number 100, with its two imposing ovals). And I’m resisting the impulse to obey the round-number imperative and say something ultra ‘meaningful.’ Like a mission statement.
I am not into the missionary position. ‘Mission statement’ is a term dreamed up by PR hacks trying to give corporations some sort of moral standing, as though they had a sacred mission in life – to make things better, to help you, to serve you – other than profit. I find missionaries hard enough to take when they’re spreading old-fashioned religion; when they’re spreading the religion of consumerism, I find them even harder to take.
The first thing I wrote here, Who is the AT?, might be the closest I’ll ever come to such a statement, so I went back and looked at it this morning, and found to my delight that it said exactly what I’d say today. “None of the comfort of received opinion, no claim to truth, let alone Truth… None of that astounding confidence (aka hubris) that cloaks ignorance and prejudice.” That’s the aim, anyway, and many of you have done your best to hold me to it.
And if some are frustrated by my refusal to take a single, clearly defined ‘position’ – let alone the missionary one – I’m delighted. It means (at least I hope it means) that so far, I’ve avoided the traps of smugness or righteousness or self-satisfaction – all signs that a mind has stopped working – let alone the illusion that I have a stranglehold on that impossible ideal known as ‘truth’ (as though it were something that could be wrestled to the ground, pinned down, and held in an armlock).
I do realize that most people like to know exactly where they and others stand, and that I might be considered peculiar in that I like to explore and – the inevitable companion of exploration — get lost (which is why some people dread hiking with me, and why one of my favorite books is Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost). I find it exciting to not know exactly where I am. The things that stay with me – an experience, a conversation, a scene, a small epiphany – often happen when I least expect them, when I’m not where I thought I was going. And when I write, I often find out where I’m going only once I’ve gotten there, and sometimes I never get to any “there” at all.
So thanks to those who appreciate that we don’t all have to be on the same page (the same chapter is far more interesting, or just the same book). To people with the patience and curiosity and openness of mind to explore instead of rushing to well-defined ‘positions.’ To those who think with their heads instead of their knees (the infamous kneejerk reaction). Those who look, reflect, enthuse, even despair — who approach this whole, complex, often crazed subject of religion and politics and the larger one of our existence on this earth not as something to be ‘solved,’ but as an ongoing question.
Accidental theologists unite! — we have nothing to lose but the false consolation of consensus.
I would like to thank you Leslie, for Schooling this 50year old on the art of thinking. I think you have made me a better…person…Muslim, maybe even a better employee, husband…reading your posts and commenting on them have helped me to define or get to the root of my beliefs, certainly not the same as yours, but I’m learning to separate that which I truly believe from that which I have been told to believe
In my religion we are taught not to gush praises on someone lest it cause them problems with their ego and I do believe in the wisdom of that practice so let me say I will do my best to help keep you grounded, inshallah ;-).
My sentiments exactly, Leslie. When I feel my sentiments on an issue contradicting a stance previously taken, I refer myself back to Edward Said’s belief that truth is the only measure for responsibility of thought. Leave it to politicians and PR hacks to stay on message.
Great sentiments, Lesley — in solidarity, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes: “changing your mind is proof that you’re thinking.” I wish that maturity, growth & philosophical development were appreciated in politics as a strength, not a weakness… ah, but at least we have this blog for that. Keep it up. -Nancy
I just discovered your blog today — and how apropos that you are not in the missionary position. Also read After the Prophet over the break … as always, brilliant. You might be amused to know that my current partner, a lapsed Catholic and former Baptist minister, is studying to become a Wiccan priest. xo, Gigi
Darling! This is the very reason we all love you. Stay strong, as we all know you can never do otherwise.
I am a sunni muslim and live in Bangladesh. While looking through amazon.com I came to notice your book. It took me quite some time to bring the book from the US to my country and possibly this is the only copy now available in my country. It is a fascinating book to read. You are a very good prose writer and while reading the book i felt I was personally witnessing history as the events unfolded step by step. Most of us have a hazy knowledge of what happened after the death of the prophet. Much information is fabricated and colored by own perception of those who had either written and told them. For example Sherry Jones has unnecessarily vilified Ali in her two books (although story) on Aisha. But I have a hunch that your narration is most close to the truth. It is apparent from your book that most of those early leaders who professed the faith actually did not believe in it. To accept Islam was a tactical retreat for the Ummayads. When their time came, they manipulated the religion to suit their needs. I still dont understand how could a muslim kill the people of the cloak when the prophet had specifically asked the Umma to protect them? in fact those who rule the muslim world now are no different from those early rulers. They misuse the religion to secure their own status and earthly pleasures. All the violence that are taking place in the muslim world are perhaps their creation, even Al Quida and the Taliban.
Congratulations to you once again for writing such a good book. Please write more on Islamic history.
Thank you, and yes, am working on more. — L.