Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Between Thought and Reality

It is as though true ideas took their revenge on on anyone who limits himself to thinking about them. --F. Schuon

Gumshoe alerted us to this piece by the great Theodore Dalrymple at City Journal, in which he takes aim at the popular middle-to-lowbrow atheistic tracts flooding the marketplace. While some are more crude than others, the loathsome Sam Harris is definitely pulling up the bottom. I use the word "loathsome" advisedly, but if Dalrymple has reported his words accurately, then Harris has a mind as coarse and barbaric as any genocidal imam that he criticizes. Which makes sense, in that "extremes meet."

Dalrymple writes that "it is not easy to do justice to the book’s nastiness," and about the most charitable thing he can say about Harris is that he combines "sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple" with "adolescent shrillness and intolerance" -- which he can always use as a letter of recommendation to the New York Times editorial board.

Dalrymple cites a passage that is "quite possibly the most disgraceful that I have read in a book by a man posing as a rationalist." In that passage, Harris expresses the opinion that “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.”

Yes, ho hum, just an ordinary fact: it's ethical to murder people for their religious beliefs.

As I've said before, nothing as ugly as atheism could possibly be true (and I'm not suggesting that all atheists are as deranged as Harris; many are fine people). Even though he's not a believer, Dalrymple says what amounts to the same thing about the relationship between beauty and truth:

"I recently had occasion to compare the writings of the neo-atheists with those of Anglican divines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.... In my own neo-atheist days, I would have scorned these works as pertaining to a nonexistent entity and containing nothing of value. I would have considered the authors deluded men, who probably sought to delude others for reasons that Marx might have enumerated." But in looking into these religious writings, "I found myself moved: much more moved, it goes without saying, than by any of the books of the new atheists."

Too bad for Dalrymple, as he is probably a case of someone being so intelligent, that his intelligence nearly ruined him. Indeed, his hyper-developed rational intelligence -- like the cherubim who guard the way back to Eden -- is probably what keeps him from taking the next leap of faith into actual belief. As much as I respect him, one doubts that he will undertake the task of discovering "what moved" in him while reading those words, nor the source of the Mover. But you never know.

As Hoarhey said in a comment yesterday regarding Mrs. G's experience of being moved in church,

"Not that Christianity isn't also geared to adults, but there is an innocent part which is easy to grasp for kids at an early age. I've also seen teenagers who have been raised in Christian homes who seem innoculated to the pop culture of this society which brings at least a portion of many people's lives to ruin. They just decline the temptations with an easy 'no thanks' and move on.

"Oh to not have to dig out of the wreckage and shed the baggage!" (emphasis mine).

It took me years to dig out of the wreckage of the finest education the secular world has to offer. I don't mean to brag, but for those of you who don't know this, Cal State Northridge, where I obtained my BA in film, is considered the Harvard of the north San Fernando Valley.

Just as the Jesuits said something to the effect of "give me the child and I shall give you the man," the same is equally true of a secular brainwashing -- except that if you give them a man, they'll give you back a boy. And the more intelligent you are, the more likely it is that you will receive this brainwashing at a very high level, and then have to undo it in order to escape that closed circle and once again know reality.

Once internalized, the brainwashing often becomes part of the superego, so that to go against it feels like a betrayal. Even I sometimes say "spiritual" instead of "religious" or "Creator" instead of "God," because I know how the latter saturated words sound to the intelligent non-believers I would like to reach. For similar reasons, I prefer "liberal vs. leftist" rather than "Republican/Democrat" to describe our political space. For example, many nominal Jews are just loyal Democrats, just as many blacks are inexplicably loyal to their contemptuous white leftist masters.

Among other reasons, I am a believer because it is so much more deeply intellectually satisfying (on the psychic level) than any version of materialism, which, in the end, is the only other option, whatever you choose to call it. I mean, the intellect of a Frithjof Schuon so far surpasses that of these atheistic scribblers, that they might as well be a different species. As Dalrymple writes, the neo-atheists essentially "advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14." They are essentially stuck in Piaget's stage of formal operations thought, which is definitely an accomplishment. But it is hardly the end point of man's potential development.

Schuon observed that "One can most certainly prove every truth; but not every proof is accessible to every mind." How true. In fact, the materialist's demand for proof "increases in proportion to ignorance, not in proportion to knowledge," which results in dragging truth down to the depths to which they themselves have fallen. In other words, the more you venture into materialism (which, ontologically speaking, takes you directly away from the Source of Truth, like "the ascending curve of a circle changes imperceptibly to a descending curve"), the less you will be capable of knowing spirit, for there won't be any space left for it to inhabit. There is a kind of bovine concreteness to atheism that is just impenetrable. Faith and prayer are largely about clearing that space.

This reminds me of a playful comment Alan Watts once made about so-called "American materialism." He pointed out that most people we think of as materialistic aren't actually materialistic at all. Rather, they spend their life chasing after abstractions, like the professional athlete who uproots his life in in order to earn 8.3 million dollars in three years instead of 8.0. Personally, I just love matter -- books, records, mountain biking, meditation, playing with my son, etc., etc., very concrete things and activities that I would have much less time for if I were to chase after some abstract dollar figure.

Similarly, as Schuon notes, "Men of a rationalizing disposition are obsessed with 'thoughts'; they see concepts, not 'things,' hence their criticisms of inspired and traditional doctrines." These slaves to mere reason are presumably under the illusion that religious doctrines are of the same order as their cherished thoughts and concepts, but in fact, they "perceive neither the realities to which these doctrines refer nor the unexpressed things that are there taken for granted." This is because "a metaphysical doctrine is the mental incarnation of a universal truth" (emphasis mine). It is not abstract, but obviously quite concrete -- not because it is primitive, but because it is the instantiation of a Real transcendent idea in the material world. It is a God-given support for intellection, not the product of thinking.

Dilys left a a relevant comment yesterday, again in response to Mrs. G's adventures in Catholicism: "Never saw it said better, the end run around the saturation of memes, language, and ideas: 'What I thought I knew about Christianity was a child's view and that there is a vast richness there unknown to me before.'"

She also refers to the cooncreteness of it all: "For those hovering around these questions, I can mention that many Catholic Churches have opened to the public an Adoration Chapel, usually tiny and quiet premises where the Blessed Sacrament -- according to the doctrine, the Real Presence of Christ -- is exposed to view in a jeweled monstrance. I have found that to be a highly-charged atmosphere rewarding attentiveness, patient waiting, praying for guidance, and asking, face-to-Face as it were, What's the deal here on this stuff? Is it true? Why or why not? The answer, and the palpable authenticity of an answer, may be surprising."

It's all there: "the mental incarnation of a universal truth," "the realities to which these doctrines refer," and "the unexpressed things that are there not taken for granted."

In order to reach the truth it is necessary to awaken in oneself if possible the intellectual faculty, not to strive to "explain" realities one does not "see" with the reason. --F. Schuon.

*Schuon quotes taken from Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts

26 Comments:

Anonymous TalkinKamel said...

Bob, the coarseness, vulgarity and downright cruelty of athiests such as Harris, should come as no surprise to anybody. Study the old Christian histories of the persecution of the martyrs, under such righteous and orderly Roman emperors such as Diocletan; consider the persecution of Christians throughout the 20th and (so far) the 21st Centuries, in places like Communist Russia, China, the Middle-East, etc.

And consider how Jews have been treated throughout the course of their entire history.

We hear a lot about the horrors of the inquisition and witch burning, but nothing about the horrors organized atheists (or orderly statesmen, such as Diocletan) have inflicted on believers. There is real hatred here, and a real need for athiests to somehow justify themselves, and punish those they disagree with.

10/30/2007 08:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't mean to brag, but for those of you who don't know this, Cal State Northridge, where I obtained my BA in film, is considered the Harvard of the north San Fernando Valley"

Oh how I laughed. Of course I laughed rather than weep...as I have a BFA in Music composition from State University at New York at Purchase. The veritible Julliard of Southern Westchester County.

10/30/2007 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Leslie Godwin said...

LOLOL!

Anonymous, I saw more than a few musicals at the SUNY Purchase with my grandparents, so I always thought of it as the Broadway of Southern Westchester County ;)

Mrs. G

10/30/2007 09:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mrs. G:

Truth be told they did actually have a lot of great stuff roll through the Purchase PAC.

Add to that the dazzling all-brown crumbling brick boxy modernist architecture and one had a heady brew ripe for teenage angst and depression.

Good times! A great place to pretend one was a "deep" artist!

I know I did. :)

10/30/2007 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

You were referring to Dalrymple as,
"...a case of someone being so intelligent, that his intelligence nearly ruined him."

At first glance, I thought "Not a problem I will ever have!" But there is a saying, that the ego will feed happily from the garbage can OR the pulpit -- and in that sense, the "sly devil" within us leads us to near-ruin all the time!

And speaking of yourself, you wrote:
"Among other reasons, I am a believer because it is so much more deeply intellectually satisfying ... than any version of materialism".

I would say satisfying over all, in heart and body as well. You know the depth of satisfaction in a good round of yoga; Mrs. G reported the tears on her cheeks; we are deeply moved internally in all directions simultaneously by Real Beauty. Just following that "deep satisfaction" can be a compass.

10/30/2007 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

I had to go S.F. area last week and as I was returning home I got behind a Volvo with some examples of “adolescent shrillness and intolerance” in the form of bumper stickers. They were all anti God and anti Christian, I could think of no logical reason for the cars owner to display them other than to shock believers. I was not shocked as much as saddened by the driver’s denial of Truth and the obvious clues scattered all around us. Or perhaps he was just looking to pick a fight, I don’t know but I did pray for him. I do fear that some day soon the fighting will come but no need to hasten that day, especially since we know who will prevail. Although Volvos are well made I don’t think it will be enough to save his sorry ass.

10/30/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger gumshoe said...

Bob -

i noted when reading the Dalrymple piece that very same
'passage that is "quite possibly the most disgraceful that I have read in a book by a man posing as a rationalist."

but that segment of Darymple's essay gave me pause.

Harris' offending passage here:

“Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.”


i would question whether Harris might not claim being misunderstood,and relish the opportunity for attack(counter-attack?)
for the two-edged nature of
his quote.

i have no doubt Harris would claim that it is _religions_
(or metaphysics,if one prefers) that justify the killing of other groups based on ideology,and that,of course,atheists are
by (self)definition,
above such base activities and errors of judgement.

10/30/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"These slaves to mere reason are presumably under the illusion that religious doctrines are of the same order as their cherished thoughts and concepts, but in fact, they "perceive neither the realities to which these doctrines refer nor the unexpressed things that are there taken for granted." "

And not only in religious matters, read any leftist flinging about economic terms lately? A term like private property is plucked from the pinacle of a contextual hierarchy, and swung about like a club.

Schuon observed that "One can most certainly prove every truth; but not every proof is accessible to every mind." How true. In fact, the materialist's demand for proof "increases in proportion to ignorance, not in proportion to knowledge," which results in dragging truth down to the depths to which they themselves have fallen.

That is so true, they'll pack together concepts they don't understand, equivocating their meaning into the ground, in order to hide what they don't want to see, '...who darkened council by words without knowledge'. (shameless self-horn-tooting alert)As I put it in my latest:

"There is in ignoring this hierarchical structure, an inherent danger, a seductive danger (a favorite of professors and politicians), that of grasping 50 cent words and concepts around the waist only; the lure of this is that it lets you mix and match terms by vague associations that may or may not have any basis in reality… though they might… and few are going to be able to say otherwise. They are also comforted by the thought that having no root (acknowledged) in Reality, this gives them the Plausible Deniability which the various Deconstructionists, Linguistic Analyst’s and Educationists so adore."

10/30/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

The other quote Dalrypmle made that struck me last night, was from the preacher in reflection “Upon the Flies Gathering to a Galled Horse”:

"How these flies swarm to the galled part of this poor beast; and there sit, feeding upon that worst piece of his flesh, not meddling with the other sound parts of his skin! Even thus do malicious tongues of detractors: if a man have any infirmity in his person or actions, that they will be sure to gather unto, and dwell upon; whereas, his commendable parts and well-deservings are passed by, without mention, without regard. It is an envious self-love and base cruelty, that causeth this ill disposition in men: in the mean time, this only they have gained; it must needs be a filthy creature, that feeds upon nothing but corruption."

MSM anybody? bzz... bzz... KOSzzzz?

10/30/2007 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob, do you work with couples as a psychologist?

AT in LA

10/30/2007 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Most people don't live in the real world. They live in a reflection of it made of words. They honestly believe that by changing words, they can change reality. (Magic.) This is seen because they try to convince people. This need to make others see it my way is proof of craziness: The craziness that "if enough people believe something, it becomes true".

We who perceive the real world, even in part, are immune to peer pressure. How could the world possibly be changed by a majority vote? Was the world flat when people believed so? To quote the late Elias Aslaksen: "The worst part is not that it isn't true, but that it wasn't even meant to be true." People don't really mind as long as they can convince enough of the people around them. That's all that counts to them.

Jesus said: "How can you believe, you who take glory from one another?" They honestly thought that reality - in this case about their own worth - was up for majority vote! Insane. Utterly and dangerously crazy.

This is also why I keep reading OC religiously, because it points, it does not paint. If you don't see what Bob is talking about, that is your loss, not his. There is no need to make people agree, just to make them see. I disagree with Bob routinely, but I can't help but notice that he points out things that are really there - they often look different from where I stand, but they are definitely real.

10/30/2007 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Trickster Sighting
visible women
coffee stalking the senses
rabbits out of time

10/30/2007 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so, you don't think that muslims who believe it is their duty to kill in the name of allah should themselves be killed?

as genocidal and idiotic as that dude harris would have to be to believe you can ethically kill people for their beliefs, it is only a slightly different shift of perspective from your "western christianity must war against islamic barbarity" to his "western material ideality must war against islamic barbarity."

10/30/2007 04:33:00 PM  
Anonymous cousin dupree said...

Woof!

10/30/2007 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harris and his ilk will learn soon enough that the next world is for the believers. For we have been called by Him. It will be a glorious conflagration that turns American soil over like freshly plowed earth. And those who believe will ascend into righteousness. And the atheists, buddhists, hindus will spend eternity under the heel of Satan.

10/30/2007 07:27:00 PM  
Anonymous cousin dupree said...

Woof!

10/30/2007 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

And of course that old favorit "Pffffttt!" "Pffffttt!" "Pffffttt!"

10/30/2007 08:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you're giving anonymous a bad name.

10/30/2007 11:33:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

I am Spartacus?

Seriously, though. Harris is then so deluded to think that ordinary workaday religion is an actual threat - a physical, tangible threat to the lives of people - or he's a vicious, hateful being. I can understand in the case of Islam - they are expressing intent, and executing actions based on that intent - which is to cause physical harm and damage, and enact tyranny.

As for the Christians? I haven't seen it. Zoroastrians? Buddhists? Shinto? Hindi? and so forth? It's a really stupid, stupid equivalence. I mean, even for a materialist. If he's so rational why can't he see the flaws in his own reasoning? Right, because he's more of a vitalist than a rationalist. It's all about the feeling of 'being right', if I recall. Fighting injustice feels great!

Nevermind the truth...

10/31/2007 07:27:00 AM  
Anonymous TalkinKamel said...

Anonymous, you're burbling.

10/31/2007 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

For what it's worth, here's Harris giving a bit more of a justification. Note that he did not actually make the equivalence of all religions -- far from it.

"Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.""

He doesn't claim all religions hold these "certain beliefs". Actually, it suggests he views the religions quite differently from each other, even though he does not agree with any of them.

I don't think Harris is rooting his "self-defense" quite tightly enough to actions, as River suggested, though that seems to be his intent. If pure beliefs alone justified killing someone, atheists could go out and murder any Muslim who claimed to believe the Koran (it's a little more ambiguous for believers, since Islam has the concept of dhimmitude for "People of the Book"). What Harris hasn't stated is that people will often profess beliefs they don't act on. Maybe he'd question whether these people truly believed what they claim, but since we can't directly observe beliefs we're back to responding to actions in that case.

Of course, Harris is working on his neuroscience Ph.D. Maybe he wants to directly observe beliefs.

10/31/2007 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone on this thread really even know what atheist mean??? I bet you all think it means "someone who does not believe in a diety". Well it really means "someone who does not believe in a diety, with the evidence at hand" I don't know of any athiest who wouldn't change their mind with a shred of real evidence.

10/31/2007 01:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Coondog said...

Woof!

10/31/2007 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

anonymous, I am an atheist, and yes, I know quite well what it means

11/01/2007 03:21:00 AM  
Anonymous TalkinKamel said...

It still doesn't sound as if Harris is making much of a case.

11/01/2007 07:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never written before, but feel prompted. A few years ago, in church during worship I "heard" the phrase "there is no room here for rational thought." Yes.

11/01/2007 08:50:00 AM  

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