This week I had an interesting conversation with my RS President on Black and White and shades of Grayness in Mormonism. She describes herself as a person who sees the world in terms of Black and White, Right and Wrong; with very few gray areas to navigate. I, with my blessing and cursing to see every paradigm, encounter gray just about everywhere I look.
I've been worrying over this concept a bit--especially in light of last week's SS Lesson on D&C 76 and the three degrees of glory. Those who inherit the Celestial Glory (the one as bright as the sun), are those who are valiant, who have received the ordinances, and who have kept the commandments. They have been purified, and they are as white as can be, and it seems that if there is any shadow of grayness left in anyone, that they drop right down to the next level, which is the Telestial.
Is it possible to navigate the grayness of a mortal world without sacrificing the sanctification that must take place within one who desires to one day dwell with Deity? A Catholic theologian, Father James V. Schall, regrets the tendency today's people have to divide the world into two extreme ways of looking at things. He says, for example, that our propensity to describe ourselves as liberal or conservative on every topic from politics to our taste in cuisine, clothes, or automobiles is one of the really restricting developments that has ever happened to us.
If we are not what is considered popularly a "liberal," then we must, by some convoluted logic, be a "conservative," or vice versa. No third or fourth option is available as is usually the case in the real world. It has to be, we are told, either this way or that.
Such a view makes things very simple, I suppose. But it also reduces our minds to utter fuzziness. We are required to define everything as either liberal or conservative even when the two allowable terms of definition are not adequate to explain the reality that they are intended to describe. (Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., On Being Neither Liberal nor Conservative)
Black and white thinking makes choices easier, and it tends to keep one on the "strait and narrow" path. But the danger is that it can reduce one to seeing the world only in terms of extremes. Black and white thinkers must be sure not to decide that if they aren't brilliant, they are stupid, if something isn't fascinating, it must be boring. In many everyday situations, it helps to see things in shades of gray.
In the recent murder of abortion provider George Tiller, we see some of these shades. If abortion is murder, is the bravest and most efficient thing to prevent such murders to kill George Tiller? Or is his murder a crime and a sin no matter what he has done? If abortion is acceptable in the case of rape or the endangered health of the mother, then just how late can such abortions be performed? Was Tiller a principled and brave doctor to provide late abortions in such cases when more squeamish doctors refused? Oh yes, there are many shades of gray in this case, no matter what side of the abortion debate you see.
I, for one, might attempt to access the Holy Ghost to help me see the truth of all things, to keep me from being blinded in the way that "honorable men of the earth" who inherit the terrestrial kingdom are. I might attempt to access the cleansing blood of Christ to cleanse me from sin. But so often I'm still not sure how successful I've been. I believe that pure Truth exists, but that it is multi-sided and that one person, with his or her earthly lens of nurture, life experience and baggage, cannot always see it clearly. Thinking persons of faith must attempt to have a richer, more thoughtful conversation on the political, moral, and religious issues that divide us.