Motherhood, Intellectual Chauvanism, and Reductionism

My Spiritual journey took an enormous turn as I first entered Motherhood. As I cradled that first infant in my arms–so perfectly  human in every way– I had to revisit what I believed about humanity. Could this little bundle of pure potential truly be “totally depraved”, as my Calvinistic theology assured me he was?

I’ve cradled, nursed and nurtured four human beings since then. During this time I’ve learned, first hand, that the complexity of the individual human experience cannot lend itself to a reductionist approach. We are as unique as we are similar. My four kiddos have progressed in their physical human development in varied ways — some went straight from rolling over to walking. One was walking at 8 months, another didn’t master that skill until they were well over a year. As their mother, I had a unique insight and understanding of all the factors at play– their size, weight, body structure. Even temperament played a role in how and when they hit their developmental milestones. 

As I interacted and observed my growing children, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between the physical development of my children  and our spiritual development as adult human beings. This path to increased physical development and growth is as unique as the individual. Could it be that the path of our spiritual growth is unique as well?

Enter my exploration of the influence of Intellectual Chauvanism (excessive or prejudiced loyalty or support for one’s own perspective or ideas) on theological thought. And the temptation to take a reductionist approach to spirituality. 

I first saw evidence of the toxic effects of intellectual chauvinism and a reductionist view of reality in natural childbirth circles. Here, I first recognized the arrogance of individuals in their reduction of the entire nature of birth to one where if you experience pain in childbirth, you are doing it wrong. Complications in childbirth were espoused as the result of a mother clinging to fear or anxiety. As ridiculous as this sounds, many mothers believed it. And the result was a complete lack of compassion for women experiencing difficult labor and delivery. “MY labor was painless, so yours should be too!”

The problem with this perspective is that throughout the course of human history, childbirth has been wrought with pain, infant and maternal death. To make such a chauvinistic statement minimizes several millennia of human experience. 

Then I started to see this same chauvinistic spirit in Christian and Philosophical ideologies. There being only one “right” approach to life, suffering, even marriage. And if one could not succeed on that particular path, one was a failure. Not that the ideology in question was flawed– but the individuals unable to find evidence of its truthfulness in their own lives were clearly to blame. 

Why do we do this? Why do we value our own ideologies at the cost of denigrating those finding they cannot relate to it? 

Ego inflation is a large part of it. We so identify with our ideas that we lose sight of their limits to explain the entirety of human experience. 

Another part, is our fear of critical thought. We so fear our rational minds that we refuse to tap into them. 

If our Spiritual path is one we traverse in search of wholeness, then it becomes necessary to at least attempt the integration of ALL of our human selves. Not just the results we experience as being positive along the way, but the ones we perceive as negative too. 

True wholeness is not one-sided. It is not found in our striving to banish all that we perceive as negative. Wholeness is found in our entering into our pain, suffering, or illness in a way that further connects us with God. In the Christian tradition, suffering is not seen as punishment for ignorance or wrong doing, but as an opportunity to experience a speeding up of our spiritual growth. To look at human suffering as evidence of an individual’s spiritual lack, is reductionist in a very harmful way. Because this perspective minimizes the great insights into truth and reality contributed to our religious tradition by those that have throughly entered into their own experience of suffering. 

Suffering is not wrong or bad. It just IS. How we approach our own has the potential to increase our spiritual growth through the flexing of our spiritual muscles. But if we continually look at psychic human suffering as something to be avoided at all costs, I fear humanity will lose their ability to courageously empathize with those experiencing other types of suffering. How can we bring comfort to those in pain, if we have an internal abhorance of our own experience of pain? 

We can’t. 

If a connectedness in relationship with others, God and ourselves is one of the highest goods, then we have to let go of any and all ideologies — spiritual or otherwise– that would prevent us from connecting in relationship. Any ideology that minimizes aspects of the human experience, is one such ideology. It cannot stem from an enlightened perspective if it does not effect an increase in empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings. Our Egoistic attempts at reducing the Truth of reality into a reflection of our own (and sometimes others’) limited experience, belies a love of Ego. Not love of God, nor of humanity. 

We are complex creatures, human beings… It’s ok to admit that there are limits to our ability to grasp Truth. It’s what makes us wholly human–to never be content that what we think we know is all there is to know.

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