Between Thought and Reality
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