Why Do We Change?
Off and on, a story in the news strikes me because it doesn’t strike us. We read that the deficit, in an era of recovery, will be a trillion dollars. This is unprecedented and unsustainable, and yet it causes few ripples. Maybe we once figured our leaders must know how to deal with it, but few believe that now. Mostly it just has too many zeroes - a trillion, added to the other 20. What can it mean? Similarly, I read there is a mass of rubbish the size of France floating in the Atlantic. France. Yikes. Why don’t we see demonstrations, demand action in the face of emergency? I think in this case it is just too far away, out of sight...
What makes us change, turn our head, wake us up? It is a question relevant to theology since conversion in the early Church was ‘metanoia,’ the 180 degree turn of mind. There are a number of different kinds of thinkers who have proposed a ‘straw that broke’ or ‘tipping point’ kind of theory. In science Kuhn talked of ‘paradigm shifts’ in which a system creaks under a myriad of small challenges, until it collapses finally. Newman in theology spoke of the ‘illative sense, the knack for adding a collection of intuitions - a guilty heart, a beautiful sunset, a suggestive bit of physics, a Bible passage that opened a way to see - together and get us to ‘yes.’ Not a proof exactly, but with its own logic, which intersects heart, mind and will.
This view combines first the incremental and then the sudden. Whether in most cases this requires personal crisis to shake us out of our inertia, is another good question.
What makes us change? The answers may be as diverse as we are. I do think that when global or cosmic crises touch us directly, when that combined effect of intuitions meets our own personal urgency, conversion may happen. We are then vulnerable, in both senses, to the Holy Spirit breaking down and building up our world. The great upsurges of Christian theology in the modern era happened after each world war. We should not be surprised. May that same Holy Spirit overcome our defenses and let more reality, which at the end of the day, more perception of God’s immediate work, in.