Secular Fundamentalists and Other Simple People of Faith (3.7.08)
Even for most so-called intellectuals, most of what they know is not necessarily knowledge. Rather, it is plainly "belief." Belief is knowledge once removed, for it means that we are placing our trust in the knowledge of another, or participating in the knowledge of another knower. We don't know, but somebody does, and we trust them.
So much of what people think they know--but which they really don't know at all--comes down to whom they trust. For example, I generally read a few economics books per year, but I could hardly claim to be any kind of expert. And yet, I do have my opinions regarding economics--even strong opinions. But when it comes right down to it, I have to admit that my opinions rest upon which experts I trust. In my case, I trust a Thomas Sowell but deeply distrust a Paul Krugman. I expect the former to tell me the truth and the latter to lie and distort.
The typical leftist will be a mirror image of me. He will place his trust in Paul Krugman or Robert Reich, and will regard Thomas Sowell as an agenda-driven hack. It will serve no purpose for me to debate such a person on the merits of the competing economic theories, for again, if we are honest, we have to admit that one of us is simply suffering from the problem of misplaced trust.
Belief cannot establish its own legitimacy, but derives its legitimacy from someone who either knows, thinks he knows, or pretends to know. In this sense, it is superficially similar to faith. However, belief is generally a static thing. It takes the unknown and superimposes the known upon it, thus foreclosing the unknown. Once one believes something, the issue becomes settled.
Faith, on the other hand, is a dynamic engagement with the unknown. Faith, properly understood, is not a cognitive structure or grid to be superimposed upon reality. Rather, it is a psychospiritual probe with which to explore reality--somewhat like the way a blind person might use a cane to to construct an internal image of the dark space around him.
Furthermore, unlike belief, faith should be convertible to knowledge. It is actually a subtle and sophisticated way to gain knowledge that transcends the senses, not a means to provide false but comforting answers and to vanquish curiosity.
Thus, many people faith are actually "people of knowledge," whereas many so called intellectuals are actually no more than simple "people of faith." You can really see what little genuine knowledge people have when the discussion revolves around something you do happen to know about, whether it is quantum physics or plumbing repair.
For example, in my case, I happen to possess a lot of theoretical and first hand knowledge of psychology. Most intellectuals who claim to know about psychology don't actually have this kind of first hand knowledge. Rather, they have simply placed their trust in an expert whom they choose to believe.
I remember having a number of discussions with a world-renowned leftist historian who shall go unnamed. His historical thinking presumed a great deal of psychological knowledge, for how can you claim to study human history without some kind of implicit or explicit theory of human development and motivation? And yet, his psychological ideas were so outdated and unsophisticated as to be laughable. Yes, he had his own psychological "experts" whom he relied upon--probably some ideas he picked up here and there from leftist psychologists in the faculty lounge--but I knew that his faith in these experts was entirely misplaced. Incidentally, this man also happens to be an atheist who is extremely hostile to religion. But in matters of the human psyche, this callous sophisticate remains a "simple man of faith."
Ironically, it is just so in any debate between an obligatory atheist, or secular fundamentalist, and a man of genuine faith or gnosis. True, many people of faith simply place their trust in someone who knows--or claims to know--and leave it at that--their priest, their guru, Jesus, the Torah, L. Ron Hubbard, whatever.
But others do know. They know directly, as we discussed yesterday. How then to discuss this knowledge with the obligatory atheist--that simple and unsophisticated secular man of faith--who has placed his faith in those who not only do not know but obnoxiously insist that there is nothing to know?
Imagine a medical expert in, say, the mid 19th century. He has all of the latest knowledge on disease. He knows all about the four humors, about the proper placement of leeches, about how germs are spontaneously generated by bad air, etc. Someone comes along and tells this arrogant fellow that germs aren't spontaneously generated. Rather, there are invisible microorganisms covering his hands, living things that he is actually unwittingly transmitting to his patients. Would this doctor not be far closer to the truth if he did not place faith in his own experts or trust his own personal experience?
As expressed by Josef Pieper, "belief has the extraordinary property of endowing the believer with knowledge which would not be available to him by the exercise of his own powers." Furthermore, "being wise with the head of someone else is undoubtedly a smaller thing than possessing knowledge oneself, but it is far to be preferred to the sterile arrogance of one who does not achieve the independence of the knower and simultaneously despises the dependence of the believer."
Since we begin the spiritual path without explicit knowledge, we must inevitably place our faith in the testimony of someone who does (or did) know. Ah, but how do we know that this person isn't a mere believer himself? How do we assess their credibility and trustworthiness? By what signs do we judge the false from the true prophet?
Human beings are equipped to apprehend reality. But we are also curiously equipped to apprehend the interior reality persons. It is said that a sophisticated scientist, strictly speaking, does not judge the merits of a scientific theory on the basis of whether it is "true" or "false." Rather, he does so on the basis of its generativity, that is, by how much it explains, how well it ties together various other facts and observations, and the extent to which it gives rise to new, "interesting" problems.
Have you ever known a generative person in whose presence you experience the bracing flow of "life" along your keel? Have you ever been in the presence of a stagnant and lifeless person in whose presence you feel your soul being sucked out of your body?
The spiritually generative lumin being does not merely report reality. Rather, such an individual imparts reality. You might say that they are a door. Or you might say that they are a way. Or perhaps they are even the life.
They know. And we know that they know. And soon enough, we know too. Call it recognosis and ruahcollection.