A second simplicity
Beyond rational and critical thinking, we need a ‘second naiveté’ – we need to return to the joy of our first naïveté, but now with totally new, inclusive, and mature thinking. Paul Recoeur
Richard Rohr believes that a kind of second simplicity, a ‘second naiveté’, is the goal of mature adulthood and mature religion:
“The first naïveté may be the best way to begin the journey, but a ‘second naïveté’ is the easiest way to continue that journey without becoming angry or alienated…”
During our ‘first naiveté’ we all think we are the very center of the universe. The very meaning of the word universe is to “turn around one thing”. But none of us is at the center of this universe; we are all a part of the Big Picture.
Mature religions, and now some scientists, say that we are hardwired for the Big Picture, for transcendence, for ongoing growth, for union with ourselves and everything else. But many of us get stopped and fixated in our ‘first naiveté’, which gives us a comfortable (but false) certainty about the universe and our place in it.
Anxiety and doubt
Creative doubt keeps us with a perpetual ‘beginner’s mind’, which is a wonderful way to stay humble and keep growing. Yet this uncertainty, this quiet inner unfolding of things, seems to create the most doubt and anxiety for many believers.
The only price we pay for living in the Big Picture is to hold a bit of doubt and anxiety about the exact how, if, when, where and who of it all. Unfortunately, most Christians are not well trained in holding opposites for very long; they haven’t learned to live with what could be very creative tension.
But basic religious belief is a trust in some coherence, purpose, benevolence, and direction in the universe. Faith in any religion is always somehow saying that God is One and God is good, and if so, then all of reality must be that simple and beautiful too.
But in the face of our daily reality, holding onto this belief requires us to stretch our minds. So the the Jewish people made it their creed, wrote it on their hearts, and inscribed it on their doorways (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5), so that they could not and would not forget it.
Some ‘true believers’ cannot carry any doubt or anxiety at all. It is probably necessary to eliminate most doubt when we are young – it’s a good survival technique. But such worldviews are not true – and they are not wisdom. The wise learn to live happily with mystery, doubt, and ‘unknowing,’ and living in this way helps them live with the mystery.
Finding a deeper happiness
In the second half of life, we are no longer demanding our American constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness; rather, simple meaning now suffices, and that becomes in itself a much deeper happiness.
This new coherence, our ability to hold the paradoxes together, is precisely what a second-half-of-life person develops over time. This new coherence can even feel like a return to simplicity, after we have learned from the complexities of our lives.
The great irony is that we must go through a necessary complexity (perhaps another word for necessary suffering) to return to any second simplicity. There is no nonstop flight from first to ‘second naïveté’. (see Falling Upward, p. 114)