This morning I was catching up on my RSS feeds, and it led me to a thread on TheologyWeb about whether Catholicism or Orthodoxy was the way to go. I skimmed the first page or so, partly because the responses weren’t very serious, partly because I was just trying to get through everything, and partly because I was only vaguely interested in the topic, but it got me thinking about epistemology. I asked myself what I would need to assume in order to believe that Catholicism or Orthodoxy was the truth. I have no idea, of course, but the important thing is that it defined a research question for me. I do this constantly. It also led me to think about how I go about thinking in general. It’s something I want to write about at some point—introspection, defining research questions, backing up from one question to ask others that lie behind it, et cetera.
Later in my feed reading I ran across some discussion of the upcoming ESV Study Bible. Often when I read about the ESV, I like to look for its critics, because I find the breathless gushing of its fans to be silly. This time I found something from Iyov, a blog I hadn’t seen before. And whenever I read debates about the ESV, I usually see comments by Suzanne McCarthy, who posts at the Better Bibles blog. And she is usually talking about inclusive language and gender roles. She sometimes seems rather passionate about it. Today I learned that the reason this is such an important issue to her is that she grew up in a complementarian church that took the idea of submission to extremes.
The question of gender roles in the Bible is one of those issues on my long list that I plan to study one day when I have time, but I’m not emotionally invested in it because it hasn’t touched my life in a personal way. Today as usual I only glanced at Suzanne’s posts and the responses to her because they usually deal with technical details that I won’t feel like deciphering until I seriously study the topic.
Instead I thought about the fact that people devote so much time to such specific issues. Given the fact that I had just been pondering how to decide between two of the major Christian traditions, asking whether women should be allowed to speak in church seems like getting ahead of ourselves. Now, specialization is important. Research in any field involves gathering information from many different sources on many different issues, so we need scholars to follow their interests and ask all the obscure little questions that no one else cares about … until those questions happen to relate to their own. So Suzanne should continue to investigate the questions that drive her.
But there are soooo many of these issues, and everything requires a debate. Nothing worth knowing is cut and dried. And everything takes so much time to learn and deliberate about. If this is true for fundamental topics like God’s existence that are needed for deciding on other issues, like (in my opinion) whether personhood begins at conception, how can anyone hope to get anywhere? I concluded that everyone has to choose their battles and make a lot of big assumptions to cover the rest.
The battles I prefer mostly have to do with those fundamental questions, which leaves me less time to deal with the everyday life questions that those answers are meant to make possible, but maybe my answers, if I find any, can help other people with those other questions. Of course, no one has universally settled any of those fundamental questions so far, so I don’t expect to, but maybe I can at least hope to gather better information and arguments for grounding the conclusions that I and those who agree with me decide to adopt.
What this tells me is that I have a lot of work to do, and I am wasting time in many ways, most immediately by reading all these RSS feeds, which give me interesting things to think about but which spread out my attention and take it away from my own core questions, when I should be spending time sharpening those questions and carrying out specific and diligent investigations of them.
I don’t know how I will do it, with my scattered and work-intolerant mind, but I must find a way.