I have been thinking about being naïve. I suppose all of us know something about being naïve. I know what the word means. Anyone who knows something about non-English languages probably can guess it is from a French word. And behind the French word is the Latin word, nativus, which means “native” or “in born.” Dictionaries will define it with words like “unaffected simplicity” or “deficient in worldly wisdom.”
As I thought about it, I realized that most of us are naïve when we are younger. Indeed, we are deficient in many things. It is not necessarily bad; it just turns out to be inadequate. As I think about it a little further, I realize that being naïve means that I view reality in a way that is too narrow or limited. An example that came to me has to do with my limited view of religious traditions. The fairly small town, rural county in which I grew up had only one fairly small Catholic church, a few spotty Methodist churches and, actually, many Quaker places of worship. Since I was a Quaker, that meant I was in the majority. Being naïve, I reckoned that was the way the entire world was! Quakers were a huge group!
Now I am no longer naïve on that matter. I know how tiny Quakers are in the world and what a huge group of Catholics there are…more than one billion in the world. There are as many Catholics as Chinese! My awareness of reality checked the earlier naivete and realistic I now tell folks how very small my Quaker group is. This does not make us something different than we were when I was a boy. I just did not fully know who we were. I was naïve.
Naivete probably plays a role in many different areas of our lives. There are many places people are naïve. But when we are naïve, we are not aware; we don’t know it. Being naïve does not mean we are wrong. It simply means we see things too simplistically. In fact, when I realize I have been naïve, I no longer am naïve. I think many religious folks are naïve. They just don’t know it yet.
As I ponder it, I conclude there are a couple ways we become aware of being naïve…and move beyond our naivete. These two ways area education and experience. Doubtlessly, going to school is a predictable way to move beyond being naïve. Contrary to appearances, we learn the world is not flat. And the list goes on with all the things we learn that make us less naïve. Storks do not bring babies was another one I was told when I was little. We did have a stork on our farm. “How odd,” I thought even at that point!
The other way we overcome naivete is through experience. Normally, experiences are different than “book-learning.” Experiences with particular people wind up being different than I was told they were. My life in the 1960s was an ongoing experience with black people that challenged and, then, changed the naïve things people had taught me. Experiences with Catholics, particularly post-Vatican II, changed me to. I was not naïve any longer.
Now I am also prepared to believe there still are ways I am naïve. If I am naïve, I would not yet know it. I suspect I am still naïve in my view of who God is. I suspect when I get a more realistic view of God, I will understand the “new God” will be even bigger, more mysterious, and probably, glorious than I think.
Given this, I want to educate myself more and be open to new experiences to take me beyond my naivete and more fully into the Divine Reality we call God. Coming along?