Context: Two Kinds of Wisdom Teachers

Wisdom concerns a way of life, a path, a way of seeing reality.

Wisdom is a way of seeing ourselves and our lives in relation to reality.

~ Marcus Borg

Wisdom comes in two forms: conventional and alternative.

Wisdom teacher as a cross-cultural religious personality

Wisdom teachers are known in every culture throughout history as either:

  • Teachers of conventional wisdom
  • Teachers of subversive or alternative wisdom, such as the Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus
Jesus, wisdom teacher

Wisdom teachers speak of two ways or two paths:

  • A wise way and a foolish way
  • A narrow way and a broad way
  • A righteous way and a wicked way

They encourage their hearers to follow one and avoid the other.

Wisdom teachers make observations about life and speak out of experience.

  • Contrast this with a divine law-giver who says: “Thus says the Lord, you shall...” or “you shall not...
  • Contrast this with the inspired prophet who says: “Hear the word of the Lord...

lillies of the fieldConventional wisdom teachers say things like: “You reap what you sow...

Alternative wisdom teachers say things like: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow...

Understanding conventional wisdom

Conventional wisdom is cultural consensus.

Conventional wisdom tells us how to live: it is what we are socialized into as we grow up in any given culture.

Conventional wisdom is based on rewards and punishments: “you reap what you sow” is standard in every culture.

  • Secular version: “work hard and you’ll succeed
  • Religious version: “God will reward or condemn you depending on what you’ve done

Conventional wisdom has social and psychological consequences.

  • Social: creates social boundaries by giving greater value to some roles than to others
  • Psychological: self-worth, identity, and self-esteem becomes based on how one measures up to social norms

Conventional wisdom is a culture’s domestication or map of reality built of language, words, systems of ordering.

  • Imposing words on reality means we categorize and label reality or place a grid over reality and relate to categories instead of what is.

We cannot live without conventional wisdom, although it has some negative aspects:

  • Creates a sense of self-preoccupation about measuring up to the standards of culture
  • Is a world of bondage to the messages of culture
  • Is a world of alienation and exile, separation and estrangement from meaning
  • Generates blindness that flows from thinking reality is as we have labeled it; we miss out on the depth and wonder of reality if we limit it to the words we use to describe it

It is important not to confuse conventional wisdom with reality itself.

Questions to ponder...

What are some of the conventional wisdom ideas you know?

How do they affect your image of God?

NextJesus as an Alternative Wisdom Teacher

Jesus invites his hearers to leave conventional wisdom behind in order to live by an alternative wisdom.