Jake was having a hard time. Life had begun to force his foundational ideas into question. He had been raised in a “good Christian family” and had imbibed Bible-based teaching all his life. All this felt safe and secure to Jake until certain conversations, events, readings, and observations of others’ lives and beliefs raised questions and proposed new perspectives he had never considered. He found himself reconsidering his concept of “truth.”
While Jake’s experience was grounded in his Christian religious environment, Mary’s was not. She grew up in a secular, intellectual family whose interests and commitments precluded any kind of spiritual or transcendent reality. Mary’s sense of personal identity and meaning for life had been nurtured in an environment of ethical and philosophical relativism. Like Jake, however, Mary’s experiences in life were leading her to a place where she began to doubt some fundamental “truths” she had grown up with. She recognized that at a practical level of living she had never embraced and tried to live the full implications of the dogma of relativism. Mary realized that she actually believed that “big truths” might be found and that to live her life pursuing them was vital.
These two young lives existed in profoundly different environments and spiritual/philosophical circumstances. Yet Jake and Mary, one Christian and the other profoundly not, found themselves sharing a common “intellectual space” where the pursuit of what is true became an ethical and human necessity—in spite of the fact that each of their respective home worlds was indifferent, if not hostile, to their questions and pursuit of a wider horizon for truth. Jake and Mary had entered what I refer to as the “Critical Zone”—a mental, intellectual, and, ultimately, spiritual space. This conceptual space shared by both religious and non-religious people exists between the church and the world. The persons who inhabit this Critical Zone are those within whose souls and minds has arisen a set of intellectual, psychological, and spiritual conditions—conditions prompted by a lack of authentic intellectual freedom and permission to ask questions in either religious or secular cultures.
The Critical Zone I am conceiving is what I believe Kierkegaard had in mind when he described the inwardness of the person seeking the “Good in truth”:
For in a spiritual sense, place is not something external, to which a slave might come against his will when the overseer uses his scourge. And the path is not something that does not matter whether one rides forwards or backwards. But the place and the path are within a man and just as the place is the blessed state of the striving soul, so the path is the striving soul’s continual transformation. [Emphasis mine.] (Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, p. 84; Harper & Row Edition, 1956.)