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Known Unknowns

April 4, 2021

Reuters now says that, for the first time, more than 50% of Americans do not belong to an organized religion of any kind. But a majority of us still believe that we are more than happy accidents, that there are things supernatural, not observed and not proven, that have made us.

These are known unknowns.

Twenty years ago, Donald Rumsfeld clarified things: there are things we know, things that are not known, and there are things that we know that we do not know: known unknowns. Some say that we have unknown knowns, but that beggars what understanding is.

No, there are known unknowns. Not just the future of an election, or what we might have for dinner, but full ignorance despite access to all data. We now know – after screaming effort – that 98% of what the universe is is unknown, we simply do not know what it is, even if we know it is something. About twenty years ago, science knew, completely, that 95% of our DNA was “junk”, leftovers from millions of years of evolution. Until we came to know, in the last five years, that we just did not know what was true and that pretty all our DNA has a purpose (as does our tonsils and maybe our appendix)

People die. They do not reanimate, despite “The Walking Dead”. Some are fully devoted to seeing the signs of life after death, because faith overcomes ignorance unless fear does. Known unknowns are the soul of faith and fear.

Today, this day, Easter, Christians fully rejoice in an anomaly. Resurrection. Never seen again, fully unfilmed, no evidence beyond the words of those there, transcribed a couple of generations after it happened. Atheists simply say that Christ is the projection of our fear of death. An easy out, a mulligan for our failure, a myth made justification for our lives.

The magazine Christianity Today notes that 30% of churches are ambiguous, if not in denial, as to whether the Resurrection ever happened. Easter can be seen as fraudulent as Jesus’ birthday being December 25 (it is probably in April). Some cannot see any possibility beyond what they can see. I get that.

But the Resurrection as an event is not a known known. There was no videotape, there are only words, of those who were there, then. The Greek and Roman Gods, and for me the Old Testament, are from a time so ancient that understanding them is more about where those words are in me.

But not Jesus. He was just us. Despite deniers, there is ample evidence that Jesus was a man, then. He was killed after saying things that people followed, or feared. But Resurrection as a fact is simply a fact because thousands, then millions, then billions have known the unknown of Christ, despite his absence.

Humans try beyond all understanding to understand, to project, to justify, to prove. Parents want their children to prove that they love them – and vice versa. Politics is the social reality of proving what is right before it can be known. There are known unknowns.

The reality of faith, of living the painful truth that you cannot make yourself, but that God made you (and everything else) is the essential known unknown. But something happened 2,000 years ago. If there was fraud, who did that fraud profit? If there was error, why do so many feel it, know faith, right now, despite the failures of religion? I think it is because the Resurrection is a known unknown.

Of course we are terrified of death, but it happens anyway, clearer this past year than any since World War 2. And it could well just be the flicking of a switch to room temperature for each of us. Sure. We have no choice in death. Jesus did not either.

But we can fully acknowledge our unknowns. The alternative is to invent why we are here, in a complexity that, now, has a growing list of known unknowns, where once we were in the verge of understanding why those guys made up the Resurrection. 98% of everything is, now, factually, not known.

I know that a bunch of know nothings, with no power, assets, or even numbers saw something 2,000 years ago. I know this happened because the last 2,000 years happened. Pretending that billions of us are simply stupid, deluded or duped, is completely self-serving. The reality of faith has an unknowable provenance beyond the distant facts that religion tries to reconcile with our lives. Faith is a known unknown.

Christianity has spent these 2,000 years trying to make the known unknown knowable. It is like trying to translate your language into a language you have never heard, but somehow you understand. That unknown language has just enough history to make the study, organization, intellectual constructions of it part of billions of lives.

God has made exquisite beauty because the known unknown of faith is exquisitely beautiful. It is Easter. It is the Resurrection. It is truth, a known known in my life. But where it comes from, why that beauty is beautiful is a known unknown. It just is. I know that, I believe.

Happy Easter. He Is Risen.

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