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2.24.2006 

believing and belonging

Michael Polanyi, in Personal Knowledge, makes this claim:
Every mental process by which man surpasses the animals is rooted in the early apprenticeship by which the child acquires the idiom of its native community and eventually absorbs the whole cultural heritage to which it succeeds. Great pioneers may modify this idiom by their own efforts, but even their outlook will remain predominately determined by the time and place of their origin. Our believing is conditioned at its source by our belonging.
Rather than something to be avoided, Polanyi argues that this rootedness for our knowledge is a reality which we must embrace in order to come to any knowledge of the world. We are shaped by the community into which we are born, he says, and this is not a hindrance, but an essential aid to our understanding of reality.

The implications of all this for Deuteronomy are thus: Moses understands that the people of Israel will be shaped by the story of their community. He knows the believing of the new Israelite generation will be formed by their belonging to the community narrative to which they are a part. And so he places that narrative before them, not leaving that story to chance, but rather authoritatively crafting the story of Israel, the story that begins with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and continues into the house of slavery in Egypt and culminates in the mighty acts of Yahweh as he brings Israel out of the hands of their oppressors and into the intimate covenant relationship with himself. This is your story, Moses says to Israel. This is the belonging that must shape your believing. You did not leave Egypt because of your righteousness or your strength--but because you belonged to a larger story, one that stretches back to the beginning of the world, and it is this story that tells the true narrative of the world and your place within that larger frame. Your believing must be shaped always by your belonging--and this story is that to which you belong.

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