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Marcus Borg died yesterday.
The first time I heard of Marcus Borg was in seminary. I went to the very evangelical seminary Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. So to say that Borg wasn’t highly favored would be an understatement.
At the time the Jesus Seminar was at the height of its influence. They used small colored balls to vote on the historicity of the deeds and sayings of Jesus. If I remember correctly, the black ball was a vote indicating that the deed or saying was not historical. We would scoff the seminar as “blackballing Jesus”.
I’d never even read Borg.
Until I entered the severest period of deconstruction. I read his collaboration with N. T. Wright in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (Plus). I appreciated Borg’s arguments. Then I read The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, and I realized I appreciated the way he articulated my journey.
One of the things I admired about him most was his willingness to say “I don’t know!” Here’s a quote:
“So, is there an afterlife, and if so, what will it be like? I don’t have a clue. But I am confident that the one who has buoyed us up in life will also buoy us up through death. We die into God. What more that means, I do not know. But that is all I need to know.”
So when I say “willful ignorance”, I mean his willingness to admit he didn’t know. His willingness to embrace mystery. What I’ve learned is that this is not a cop out. In fact, I claim that insisting it is so or it is not so may actually be the cop out, the unwillingness to enter darkness, to not know, to embrace mystery.
In any profession, it takes courage to say I don’t know. But especially in today’s theological climate of certainty, it’s very risky to do so.
Hm. If I’ve got this right, when the Buddha was asked if there was a soul, he taught the middle path where one embraces that there is a soul and there is not a soul. We don’t insist one way or the other. We paradoxically walk between them.
This middle path is not a passive path, but a very active, insightful and wise path that provokes significant change in our minds and transformation in our lives.
I think Borg understood this, and I appreciate him for that.