Two Kinds of Windows

Consider the criteria you would use in evaluating a window. In the case of a transparent window, you would value clarity. You would value being able to see what was on the other side without obstruction. You would almost want the window to be an invisible but protective barrier. In the case of a stained glass window, you would want the color to alter the sun’s light in such a way as to make the room beautiful, colorful, and less bright. You would likely be more interested in atmosphere.

Now consider what happens when a stained and transparent window occupy the same room. If the two different kinds of windows occupy the same room the transparent window inhibits the stained glass window from creating the kind of atmosphere it was designed to create. Each of the two windows works best in its own room. If one wants to enjoy the benefits of each, one needs to have more than one room.

The earliest forms of glass were colored. Colored glass was meant to be looked at. Later, transparent glass came along and transformed glass from something that inspired wonder into something that was extremely useful. Clear glass was meant to be looked through. The scientific enterprise comes in part from the development of transparent glass. Clear windows provide the kind of enlightenment that modernism values. Modernity regards stained glass windows as decorative or ornamental at best and as failed windows at worst because they do not allow you to see the world as it is.

I suggest that these two types of windows represent two different kinds of enlightenment. The transparent window represents scientific enlightenment. Science values clarity, understanding the world as it is, and seeing ourselves as rational minds. The stained glass window represents religious enlightenment. It is interested in beauty, contemplation, and seeing ourselves as souls. Each window is valuable but not for the same reasons.

I do not think the two windows should be in the same room. In other words, I do not think science and religion can be harmonized. In fact, when religious people seek harmonization they operate out of the clear glass paradigm and seek to translate their religious experiences into something that makes sense in the light of day. Fundamentalists and progressives do this, though with very different goals. ZeroTheology attempts to sort out these two different kinds of windows so that we can all occupy houses big enough to have rooms for each.

3 thoughts on “Two Kinds of Windows

  1. The window analogy is a good discription to explain the different perspectives on life experiences. Those who have never had a stain glass room experience can often not comprehend the subtlies understood beyond words. Yet those who have, desire to invite others to share in the wonder and joy of the experience. However with many different stain glass pictures in different rooms creating variations in the subtleties expirenced. Then the question becomes, how do you communicate the knowledge gained through the confusion between individual dialects of the language of symbolism?

    I think you suggested the experience of the clear windows become the common language between all parties. I appreciate your desire to build an inclusive community with space for diversity of ideas and experiences. If this is zero theology, How will we represent the origin of the sacred enobling light that shines through both kinds of windows?

    1. Thank you so much for thoughtfully engaging me. In the book that I have coming I spend a great deal more time on this analogy. My basic assertion is that clear glass represents the correspondence theory of truth and that when religion tries to play by those rules it results in fundamentalism, liberal intellectualism, or scientific atheism. The different light of stained glass suggests that what religious language does cannot be measured by the criteria used to evaluate correspondence presumptions of science and that when we try to translate religion into science we end up doing a disservice to both while unwittingly worshipping the idol of correspondence. The very second we think we are making religious language more scientifically credible we forfeit the power that religious language can give us. For this reason, I suggest that religious claims should always be expressed as Catch-22s because those paradoxes refuse to play by correspondence rules. They also prevent us from too quickly entering into belief or doubt.

      1. Ah, paradox. That powerful concept that holds space for such things as:
        — 2 becoming 1, and thus being of greater value than the sum of the parts.
        — The light in the dark and the dark in the light. (Depicted in “ying/yang” symbol)
        — Where black and white justice can be fulfilled by merciful grace.
        — where a linear 2 dimensional concept can be twisted into a 3+ dimensional möbius of understanding.

        Though at times a frustrating place to converse, paradox really is the best place for many things to be considered.

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