On Seeking Perfection

In many of my posts, I try to examine social problems and suggest aspects of their solutions.  It’s possible that some of my posts may give the impression that if we can just find the right solution, we can solve all of the problems plaguing our current world in the world of what-comes-next.  If we can learn from the wisdom of non-Western Christians, American Christianity in what-comes-next will be better.  If we can find that key uniting factor, then the United Methodist Church and indeed Christianity as a whole can be more united and cohesive.  If we can figure out what the social system is that is analogous to playing Legos, then we can have a world in which all are able to play together nicely.

I hope these posts have not indicated that I believe it is possible with enough smarts, hardwork, and gumption to build a perfect world.  I don’t think it is.  I do believe in the importance of trying to make our world better.  I do not believe in the possibility of making our world perfect.  Perfection is an elusive quality.  We often assume that there is some well-defined, clearly recognizable, and possibly attainable state of being called perfection toward which we should be striving.  I doubt whether perfection is well-defined, clearly recognizable, or attainable (at least in all its senses in this life).

First, I don’t think perfection is a well-defined concept.  To start with, who gets to define perfection?  This is one of the main points of postmodernity – no one’s definition of perfection is inherently better than anyone else’s, and everybody has a different definition.  I might not agree fully with the first part of that statement (I think that some definitions of perfection are better [or more perfect?] than others), but I definitely concede the second.  How can you pursue perfection as a society when different members of society define perfection differently?

Even if there was some commonly agreed-upon definition of perfection, would we be able to attain this perfection?  Most people’s conceptions of perfection are heavily influenced by the Greeks, who argued that perfection was a static, changeless state.  But our world is always changing.  Indeed, that’s one of the reasons the Greeks thought the material world was imperfect.  So, if we continue to hold a Greek view of perfection as static, it is impossible to attain perfection in this world, because the changing nature of the world would make any perfect state a fleeting and ephemeral experience.

Now, before anyone accuses me of abandoning my Wesleyan roots, let me be clear than I don’t give up on all talk of perfect.  I believe that God is more powerful than humans, and I believe perfection is easier to achieve in localized rather than systematic instances.  So do I believe God can make an individual perfect in love, such that they could not love others any more than they do?  Sure; I’ve never been one to put limits on God.

But do I expect to live in a perfect world in the future?  Absolutely not.  As my girlfriend Allie once pointed out, such a world would literally be utopia – that is, no place.  It doesn’t exist.  But you know what?  My dedication to making this world better doesn’t depend upon the belief that I can make it perfect.   I can still try to suggest solutions to our problems without expecting them all to be solved or with the expectation that, if we do solve our current problems, new ones might pop up.  Some might see this attitude as pessimistic.  I see it as hopeful.  I believe in real change for the better, and I believe I can contribute to such change, even when the possibility of perfection lies beyond me or humanity in general.

One Comment

Mandy Marksteiner posted on November 9, 2011 at 9:40 am

Just when I think things are going perfect, I get toothpaste on my shirt.

Post a Comment

Your email address is never shared. Required fields are marked *