At my yoga teacher training day recently, one of the teachers summed up what we were all thinking thus: “We’re not perfect. Perfect is boring.”
I agree. Yet what popped into my brain at that moment and demanded to be noted down was an idea from back when I was studying theology, literally last century: is a thing that exists more perfect than a thing that doesn’t exist?
That night, I may have been late for dinner because I was Googling my systematic theology lecturer from the ‘90s, who turns out to have done quite well for himself, if the fact that he has a Wikipedia entry is anything to go by. I remember that he used to have this clear and effective method of structuring his lectures: for the first half, he’d introduce the doctrine we were looking at and present the arguments for it. Then for the second half he’d invite us to find holes in the arguments and facilitate us through some critical thinking.
In one of these lectures we looked at St Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God – in very simplified terms, God is a perfect being, a thing that exists is better (more perfect!) than a thing that doesn’t exist, therefore God exists. I think the reason this stayed with me was Professor Davidson’s tactic of having the class brainstorm the elements of a perfect theology lecture, and the whimsical definition we came up with. I’m disappointed that I can’t find my original notes, but it was something along these lines:
The word perfect comes from the Latin perficere, which is per, in this case, something like “thoroughly”, plus facere, to make or do. So to perfect something is to do it really thoroughly, with the implication that it can’t be done any more thoroughly, it’s finished.
I get why perfection is a desirable quality in a deity, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want it for myself. The more I see of life, the more I consider it to be about becoming, rather than being. Progress, not perfection.