Friday, March 09, 2012

Religious Knowledge and Secular Belief

Yesterday we took a peek from behind the veil that separates us from five years ago. Today -- since I am once again pressed for timelessness -- we shall dial the time machine back four years, to March 2008, in order to examine the state of the cosmos at that particular moment.

Since this blog is an exercise in vertical downloading -- or verticalisthenics -- time should be of no consequence anyway.

I'm not saying they always succeed, but even stale bobservations are supposed to retain a degree of freshness, since things that are temporally distant in the horizontal are co-present in the vertical -- just as in our hyperdimensional dreamspace, where past and present blend into the eternal yesternow.

Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that the previous 1,899 posts -- like them or hate them -- have been "the work of a moment," that moment being the now. As such, in addition to revealing whatever they do about this and that, they should also reveal something about the contours of the now, i.e., the form and not just the content.

So, what is the form of the now? Well, for one thing, it is not reducible to efficient causation, since that specifically runs past-to-present, and is the domain of science. Rather, this is a vertical causation that runs from the top down. You might say that, of the four forms of causation, material and efficient are in the horizontal, while formal and final are in the vertical.

Anyway, on to the post, which now includes a bit of horizontal editing:

[R]eligion translates metaphysical or universal truths into dogmatic language. Now, though dogma is not accessible to all men in its intrinsic truth, which can only be directly attained by the Intellect, it is none the less accessible through faith....

[I]ntellectual knowledge... proceeds neither from belief nor from a process of reasoning, [but] goes beyond dogma in the sense that, without ever contradicting the latter, penetrates its "internal dimension," that is, the infinite Truth which dominates all forms
. --F. Schuon

As we have discussed in the past, what makes man unique is not just his capacity for knowledge, but his capacity to know so many things that are manifestly false. To call this latter thing "knowledge" is a perversion of the term, for knowledge that isn't true isn't proper knowledge at all. Then what is it? Why are human beings so prone to believe nonsense?

Even for most so-called intellectuals, most of what they know is not necessarily knowledge. Rather, it is plainly "belief." Belief is knowledge once or twice removed, for it means that we are placing our trust in the experience of another, or participating in the knowledge of another knower. We don't really know, but somebody does, and we trust them.

For example, no one asks if you "know" about global warming; rather, they appropriately ask if you "believe" in it. And whether you believe in it depends upon whom you trust. In my case, I have enough common sense not to trust those who claim to know what the weather will be like in 100 years.

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, with regard to economics, I trust, say, Thomas Sowell, but judge Paul Krugman to be not only untrustworthy, but desperately in need of mental health services.

But it's much deeper than that, because one's understanding of economics is always shaped by one's values. For example, I value individualism, low taxes, the rule of law, and a limited government regardless of the economic implications, because I believe these values create better human beings.

On the other hand, the leftist values collectivism, dependency, big government, high taxes, and an extremely elastic law interpreted by elites, depending upon the needs of the state. I derive my values from religious metaphysics and natural law, whereas the leftist derives his from... from what? From his feelings, I suppose.

For example, if an economist came along and "proved" that slavery created more wealth and affluence, I would still reject that economic theory on deeper grounds. Likewise leftists who reject the principle of non-discrimination, and insist that the law should discriminate on the basis of race. I am against discrimination for the same reason I am against genocide or child abuse. Even a little of it is not a good thing.

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, even if in reality it isn't.

Again, for those who believe in global warming, the science is settled. But it's actually the reverse -- that is, the science is only "settled" because they believe in the theory. Nothing is truly settled until we have arrived at a first principle, or axiomatic truth. Anything short of that is just arbitrary.

Secular fundamentalism has certain superficial similarities to religious belief -- for example, our faith that the universe was created. For me, this is indeed a "settled" matter, and no amount of sophistry could change my opinion. But that is not to say that my opinion is "static."

To the contrary, with the exercise of faith -- which is to be distinguished from mere belief -- one's understanding will deepen and deepen, in a kind of endless spiral. Looked at in this manner, faith is merely a placeholder for the accumulation of meaning.

This is again because profane belief is foreclosure of the known, whereas living faith is a dynamic engagement with the greater 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 transcendent reality -- somewhat like the way a blind person might use a cane to to construct an internal image of the dark space around him (to borrow an analogy from Polanyi).

Furthermore, unlike mere belief, faith should be convertible to real, i.e., "eternal" 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.

Scientific knowledge, by definition, is always relative, whereas religious knowledge is the closest human beings can come to knowledge that is "absolute." In fact, religious knowledge partakes of the Absolute; or, to be exact, it is "infused" with the Absolute, so that any part of revelation mirrors the whole, so to speak, as in a fractal. (Or, in the words of Joyce, a part so ptee does duty for the holos.)

Thus, many people of faith are actually "people of (implicit) 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. Thus, they have placed their will higher than their intellect; or, at the very last, their intellect is in service of the will to believe.

This is not a bad thing, so long as the will is in the service of Truth. But most of the really serious problems of mankind -- the real wholesale evil -- are a result of the will in service to falsehood, e.g., communism and national socialism.

I remember having a number of discussions with a world-renowned leftist historian who shall go unread. His historical thinking presumed a great deal of psychological knowledge, for how can one 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 fashionable ideas he picked up here and there from fellow leftists in the faculty lounge -- but I knew that his faith in these experts was entirely misplaced.

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.

But others do know. They know directly, in the manner of vision or hearing. How then to discuss this knowledge with the obligatory atheist -- that simple and unsophisticated secular man of faith -- who has placed his childlike trust in those who not only do not know but obnoxiously insist that there is nothing to know and no way to know it anyway?

Imagine, say, an 18th century medical expert, the kind that killed George Washington. 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 ceased believing his experts and stopped trusting his self-confirming 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 (or who is perhaps knowledge itself). 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 with means to apprehend exterior reality. But we are also curiously equipped to apprehend the interior reality of persons. It is said that a sophisticated scientist, strictly speaking, does not only judge the merits of a scientific theory on the basis of whether it is "true" or "false." Rather, he does so (at least partly) 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 and "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 psychic 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 recollection and recognosis.

An esotericism is addressed precisely to those "that have ears to hear" and for that reason have no need of the explanations and "proofs" which may be desired by those for whom esotericism is not intended.... Christ necessarily spoke from an absolute standpoint, by reason of a certain "subjectivization" of the Absolute.... --F. Schuon

7 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

For example, if an economist came along and "proved" that slavery created more wealth and affluence, I would still reject that economic theory on deeper grounds.

They have proven it -- Thomas Friedman and Obama both think we ought to be more like China where they can get thing done without these pesky rules and laws.

3/09/2012 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

To the contrary, with the exercise of faith -- which is to be distinguished from mere belief -- one's understanding will deepen and deepen, in a kind of endless spiral. Looked at in this manner, faith is merely a placeholder for the accumulation of meaning.

Exactly. Faith is like an axiom that allows a person to integrate knowledge in a meaningful way.

Belief is more like a jig that allows you to cut everything to fit with uniformity.

Belief is useful; a good belief knows its limitations.

3/09/2012 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Thanks Mush and Bob for the mind expansion.

3/09/2012 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

" Looked at in this manner, faith is merely a placeholder for the accumulation of meaning."

Thats a goodun.

3/09/2012 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

'Peter Bergman, best known for being a part of the comedy quartet called the Firesign Theater, died last night of complications from Leukemia. He was 72.'

Nuts! :(

3/09/2012 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

"But others do know. They know directly, in the manner of vision or hearing. How then to discuss this knowledge with the obligatory atheist -- that simple and unsophisticated secular man of faith -- who has placed his childlike trust in those who not only do not know but obnoxiously insist that there is nothing to know and no way to know it anyway? "

Perhaps this goes back to their childhood. Maybe they were not loved enough by their parent(s) and so they continue to look for the Truth within _someone_ else (thus making them a follower of man and not G-d)? You Know... a parent figure.

The Truth is not altogether in any of us (or should I say that none of us is Jesus Christ). The Truth is out there ... and within us. You Know _you_ better than anyone else on earth. In the World, infact. After a certain amount of time on this earth, why would you follow... anyone? How could anyone Know you and your needs better than you do (except G-d) and so why would you follow that person? Thus the parenting issue and the problem of not being loved enough (the 'parenting' is projected onto someone else)

The rebellious years of a teenager are a critical part of the maturation process - it is the seperation of the child from the parent because the child intuitively Knows that their spiritual/emotional/physical needs are greater than what their parents can supply. The trouble is that though the intuition is correct, there may be fundamental flaws within the character of the said child so that they continue looking for a 'parent' elsewhere - albeit a professor, politician, or secular humanist cult leader (after a certain age, you follow no one man - only Truth - thus G-d).

The intellectual truth of a followers' problem is that they are letting someone else do their thinking for them.

The emotional truth is that they crave the love of a parent. Something they did not get as a child (Thus the leftists WANT to be dependent)

Interlocking and reinforcing issues (with the emotional truth being the dominant of the two mentioned) that make them useful idiots of someone elses racket.

3/10/2012 07:26:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

"The spiritually generative lumin being does not merely report reality. Rather, such an individual imparts reality."

I think maybe thats why us (using the Medieval term) 'Familiar-Spirits' hang out here at your lodge, B0b.

Just don't feed us after midnight.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnBEKAWKqOM#t=20s

3/10/2012 07:26:00 AM  

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