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Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Map is not the Territory

Years ago, I remember being in a number of conversations and discussions with Bryn Jones (many of my readers will know who I mean) where he would say something that would really stop you in your tracks and make you re-think things. He had a knack for doing that. On one such occasion I remember him saying something like, 'always remember that the Truth and what you believe are not the same thing!' That made me pause!

It seems obvious of course. But we were people who were strong on believing the truth, proclaiming the truth, standing for the truth, defending the truth. I guess some of us just assumed that what we believed was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - so help those who didn't see the truth like we did, God!
Bryn, who could be a formidable defender of truth himself, was reminding us it was nevertheless necessary to realise that we might be wrong. That our beliefs were not infallible and we should not assume that we had a corner on the Truth. Stay open. As I got to know him a little better, I realised that although he would fight for 'ground taken' in terms of revelation, he was also a great explorer of truth, willing to re-examine his beliefs and re-think things. He was a genuine theological pilgrim.

I was reminded of this when reading in Boyd's book about the importance of realising that 'the map is not the territory'. That is, our belief (interpretation, understanding etc) is the map and not the actual territory, i.e. the Truth about God, life, the Bible, the world etc.. If we equate our map with the territory, then we miss out on the opportunity and necessary process of learning from other people's maps. If our map is the territory, then other people are just plain wrong. That vitally important process - the conversation of pilgrims - is essentially fellow travellers comparing maps. That way, together we get a better understanding of the actual territory we are trying to negotiate. Even then, there'll still be many surprises on the journey!

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