Rationalism, Adolescent Rebellion, and the Translogical Wisdom of the Fathers
In fact, reader FFH thought we might have crossed a certain line into the realm of inside-beanball, or "extremely judgmental righteousness." FFH says "I know a little anger against what one considers evil is justified, but it seems to me there is a tone of Old Testament overreaction here aimed at one man we hardly know. He said some incendiary things, obviously, and in this extraordinary blog of yours we have a place to state our case, but to flay him so mercilessly seems a little ungodly to me. Do we really think God cares what we think of Him at every moment on our journey toward understanding? Can we not cut each other a little slack from time to time as we all stumble toward enlightenment, as God does for each of us?"
Yes and no. Although there is certainly no desire to hurt anyone's feelings, I personally don't believe in mincing words. Sometimes clarity can come off as arrogance or sadism, when it is simply clarity. Perhaps it is a matter of taste. I remember when going through my clinical training, I had to undergo a certain number of hours of personal analysis. Now, not only is psychoanalysis a diverse and far flung science, but its individual practitioners are quite varied as well. I was specifically interested in finding someone who was both brilliant but also on the more blunt end of the spectrum, someone who could "see through" me and not try to make me feel better in the short term. Assuming that the person is accurate in their perceptions, I always regarded this as a more elevated form of empathy. It is the difference between a friend who holds your hand and tells you that everything is going to be okay--even if it isn't--vs. someone who gives it to you straight and says, "it's your fault, and here's where you're messing up."
Ideas Have Consequences. If you haven't read that slim little volume (linked below), you really ought to, because it is one of the keystones of modern conservative thought. It is so pithy and so pregnant with implications, that I have probably read it a dozen times. It is just the kind of book I like--very unsaturated, leaving lots of space to engage your own imagination. Although I don't agree with every word of it, it's just so provocative in nailing the essential philosophical divide in our time, that I go back to it time and again for inspiration and clarity.
After all, if ideas didn't have consequences, there would be no need to get all excited about them. If leftists want to believe that men and women are identical, what's the big deal? If secular fundamentalists want to teach kooky materialist metaphysics dressed up as neo-Darwinism, why object? If the sophisticates at the New York Times believe that poverty and not bad values or absence of fathers causes crime, so what? If neo-Spinozean environmentalists want to say that the environment is God, who gives a hoot?
Now, I have no objection to Spinoza the person (or Benedict the person, for that matter). What I object to is his dangerous ideas. Even then, I should hasten to point out that, in his day, Spinoza undoubtedly represented an advance over what had come before. Remember a few days ago, I made the point that one of the key developments of modernity was the separation of the realms of religion, science, politics, and aesthetics. Prior to the enlightenment, those realms were thoroughly conflated--just like the Muslim Middle East today--so that the church wielded all kinds of inappropriate power over who was in charge or what people were free to discover with their intellect.
In fact, Spinoza was actually excommunicated from his orthodox Jewish community, presumably because of his heretical ideas, although no one knows for sure. I don't know much about 17th century Judaism, but it may have been quite intellectually stifling, much like the Catholicism of the day. So for someone to rebel against it may well have been a courageous thing to do. Looking at it from a world-psychohistorical standpoint, I see the Enlightenment as mankind's adolescence, as we rebel against mother and father God and move out on our own for the first time. This is obviously a vital and unavoidable stage in psychological development.
But all of us--well, some of us, anyway--know that adolescence is just a stage, not an endpoint. While the Islamic world awaits the day that it can leave its cognitive infancy behind and enter adolescence, the task of the West is a different one. We must leave the cognitive adolescence of secular rationalism behind and claim our full manhood, which involves a translogical synthesis of reason and revelation, science and spirit, vertical and horizontal, Adam and Evolution.
Thus, our dispute with pure rationalism as an overarching explanation is not just over the content of its ideas, but with the personal and psychohistorical stage from which those ideas arise. In this regard, it is critical to bear in mind that the great religious sages and saints of history are not illogical but translogical. It is not that they have abandoned worldly reason. Rather, they have transcended it. Reason is still entirely appropriate to the limited realm it addresses, but an entirely different form of reason applies to the supersensible world. Religions are metaphysical systems that use language in a very special way to disclose the hyperdimensional domain of Spirit and and to make it "present" to us.
But again, that will only happen if you raise your intellect up to religion, not drag religion down to ego-level pseudo-rationalism. This vulgar form of religion is undoubtedly what Spinoza and his ilk were objecting to. In fact, Spinoza is considered one of the first, if not the first, to introduce "higher criticism" to the study of the Bible, and to regard it simply as a historical document rather than a revealed one. Again, this undoubtedly had its place in the adolescent scheme of things, but it takes a grown man to get over one's adolescent rebellion and to realize that our parents weren't complete idiots--or how much uncannily luminous wisdom there is in scripture.
The Apostle Paul was fully aware of the translogical nature of his agenda, mentioning it time and again: "This is the wisdom we preach among the perfect, yet not the wisdom of this age nor of the leaders of this age, which will come to nothing. We preach the wisdom of God, mysterious and hidden, which was foreordained by God before all ages for our glory, a wisdom that none of the leaders of this age have ever known." At the time, that was a completely crazy thing to say, yet who could argue with it? Has not what passed for the wisdom of the first century sunk into oblivion, while Paul's divine folly continues to be proclaimed in every corner of the world? Who would have thought such a thing possible at the time? Only a madman, a fool for God. It is useless to try to understand the things of which Paul speaks with the lower consciousness of pure rationalism.
Thankfully, America's founders were in the mold of Paul rather than Spinoza. These were post-enlightenment men, and yet, they were men, nothing at all like the intoxicated and intemperate adolescents of the French Revolution--and most every other revolution since then. In holding firm to Judeo-Christian principles, they believed that they were obeying both reason and common sense. Who could have the audacity to call such men backwards or regressive, when these world-historical political avatars--and I use that term advisedly--still know more about us than we will ever know about them? They are still our primary defense against the adolescents of the ACLU and the secular Left. They saw them coming.
True philosophy (not academic philosophy, which is just an adolescent parlor game) depends on two variables: the depth of one's intelligence, and the source and value of one's information. Neither of these conditions may be reduced to rationalism, for "depth of intelligence" is not something subject to rational measurement, any more than depth of aesthetic vision is. And reason can only prove what follows from its premises, which may or may not be true. Moreover, some true premises are not necessarily arrived at rationally--certainly not in the case of supersensible knowledge or revealed wisdom. The rationalist is someone who reasons adequately in the world of phenomena, but who is closed off to the supralogical and transrational interior of the cosmos. Therefore, rationalism is by definition a false and partial metaphysic which will simply stamp the world in its own restricted form. This represents not a discovery of integral reality, but its foreclosure. At best, as the greatest rationalist, Kant, concluded, it can map the phenomena but cannot speak of the noumenon except to say that it exists (or "in-sists").
There is a story about Sri Aurobindo contained The Adventure of Consciousness, which is the best general summary of his philosophy (linked in the sidebar). I bring it up because Sri Aurobindo is widely considered to have been the greatest Hindu sage of modern times, in large measure because he had a thoroughly Western education and developed a translogical system that unified the vertical and horizontal:
"The day came when Sri Aurobindo had had enough of these intellectual gymnastics. Probably he had seen that one can continue indefinitely to amass knowledge and to read and read and to learn new languages, even all the languages in the world and all the books in the world, and yet not advance [spiritually] an inch.
"For the mind does not seek to know truly, though it seems to--it seeks to grind. Its need of knowledge is primarily a need of something to grind. And if perchance the machine were to come to a stop because the knowledge was found, it would quickly rise in revolt and find something new to grind, to have the pleasure of grinding and grinding: This is its function. That within us which seeks to know and to progress is not the mind but something behind it which makes use of it:
" 'The capital period of my intellectual development,' confided Sri Aurobindo to a disciple, 'was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone!'"
Of course, that was just the beginning of the Adventure, not the end.