An article by Richard Rohr and a Facebook exchange with a wise and bright person from my past (links at end) got me to thinking…
Because being a good listener is a praiseworthy ideal, many of us think we are good listeners. Almost none of us is. Our culture is too hungry for answers, and too eager to give them. I’d hazard that less than 1/10 of 1% of people in our culture listen without thought of responding. That’s not a very good rate of good listening.
Most of us are driven crazy by religious fundamentalists because they have an answer for everything. Political fundamentalists aren’t far behind or much different. It’s the same with fundamentalist science and rationalism. Every ideologue is a fundamentalist, believing that they have heard the counter-arguments, but they are all incorrect.
I think, I’m afraid, that is not relating. That is relating to ideals, not relating to people.
We stopped listening. We are unable to hear a human being, instead reducing them to their incorrectness/correctness. We objectify people by treating them, their thoughts, and their feelings objectively, for the sake of answers that they seek, and that we pride ourselves on offering.
More than anything in this realm, a human being wants to be heard. A human being wants to be listened to. Much much more than they want answers. Even if they don’t know it. Especially about hard questions. Hard questions are hard because they are hard. When you reduce hard questions to an answer, you are rejecting the human being who finds them hard.
Answering is the opposite of listening, not the resolution to listening.
We should listen genuinely because it allows the mysterious to remain mysterious. When we don’t let the mysterious remain mysterious, we simplify and objectify the human being speaking. We also shrink ourselves to something much less enormous than we are.
I think our national religious conditioning has made us this way. Even if you are an atheist, you are living in a nation cultured by evangelical fundamentalism – from the founding fathers to the present day.
Our religious cultures have brainwashed us into simplicity. We are to believe that our relationship to the divine is not mysterious and has answers. Even the atheists, who think there can’t be a god that would allow the kinds of evil plain to see. But I believe much of atheism is driven by fundamentalists haughtily pronouncing answers to questions that have no answers. This is in stark opposition to the example of Yeshua, who listened without answers VERY often. And most of the time, when an answer was given, it was deeply mysterious.
The most explicit way our religious cultures have conditioned us to be very poor listeners is by the prescribed practices of prayer. Ask things of God. Discern the answers. Pursue God’s will. We think this involves listening. But it involves listening for objective, fundamentalist, simplified, reduced answers, not contentment with mystery and difficulty.
Some people say God did not promise to take our suffering away, but only to be present with us amidst it. And that non-answer is why philosophers call evil and suffering the great problems. Those big problem questions don’t have answers. They are mysterious.
But fundamentalists don’t want a mysterious God.
I do. Woody Allen says he would never want to belong to a country club that would accept him. I would never want a god who wasn’t sympathetic to my wrestling with the difficult questions. I think the real God is. And the people in whom the real Spirit dwell are good listeners when they let their divinity embrace mystery and console their fearful ego.
The people we identify as authentically good listeners are simply people who are present in fullness. When they don’t offer ridiculously simplified answers, we are nevertheless consoled. Why? The soul seeks to be heard, and the soul needs nothing more than full presence. Not answers.
Ask God for whatever you wish. Listen for answers if you wish. But be present. Fully present. For God is.
Neil D. 2021-09-04
- “Silence is God’s first language.” https://cac.org/simple-trust-in-gods-presence-2021-09-03/