Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Endless Search for Questions to Our Answers

Reader Ted alerts us to this piece by Robert Barron on why the Catholic church continues to bleed souls: "for every one person who joins the Catholic Church today, six are leaving," many of whom are young, and often due to "intellectual objections."

Which is interesting in itself, because that cannot be literally true. Rather, it is simply exchanging one vapidity or superficiality for another; or fleeing the non-intellectual for the anti-intellectual. Really, it is leaving the surface of a bottomless ocean for the surface of a desert. But whatever it is, it isn't "intellectual" -- unless one is using that word ironically or as an epithet.

My wife tried to raise this issue with the parish priest (a very nice man), but he waved it aside, essentially saying that the heart is all that matters. Well, yes. Not the heart of sentiment, but the heart-intellect, two very different things. True, the heart of sentiment is sufficient for the bhakti, and there's nothing wrong with that form of practice.

But not everyone, to say the least, is a born bhakti. The intellect has its legitimate needs and rights, and it is wrongheaded and ultimately oppressive to reduce a full-service religion to just one of the items on its celestial menu. If the intellect cannot find satisfaction in religion, it will simply look elsewhere. It will continue searching for truth, but in all the wrong places.

But to say that "X (e.g., science, philosophy) is for truth, while religion is for Y (e.g., consolation, anxiety, meaning)," is to guarantee the development of Split Cosmos Syndrome. It creates an insurmountable bifurcation in the world and in the soul. One becomes an implicit or explicit cartesian, with no way to reunite body and soul, matter and psyche, subject and object.

This goes directly to what we've been saying about the imaginal realm. Corbin notes that "there has ceased to be an intermediate level between empirically verifiable reality and unreality pure and simple."

In other words, the three-storey cosmos of empirical-rational-imaginal has been reduced to a one-storey empirical shack surrounded by unreality. The latter is no longer a cosmos at all, or at least not the cosmos -- rather, just an impoverished declension from the real deal: "between the sense perceptions and the intuitions and categories of the intellect there has remained a void" (Corbin).

You could even say that sensory fullness equates to spiritual emptiness. Think of lower animals, for whom there is no space between perception and reality; or rather reality is perception.

This is never true of human beings, and Gödel forever liberated us from that nonsense (or puresense) in proving that we always transcend whatever empirical or rational box we try to enclose ourselves in. There is and can never be any manmade "theory of everything," for it can never account for the man who makes it. Rather, there is only one rational theory of everything, in the absence of Whom we plunge into un- or anti-reason.

This whole subject is fraught with paradox, but it is orthoparadox, which is really another way of saying that what appear to be irreconcilable opposites are really harmonious complementarities. If anyone is keeping track of the various Raccoon Principles I have annunciated over the years, Bohr's principle of complementarity, filtered through Hartshorne, would be one of them.

Actually, it goes back to my days in psychotherapy. My analyst was a brilliant but quirky punster with a deep appreciation of paradox, who helped me realize that the most important things tend not to be conflicts but complementarities. Indeed, if you try to resolve such a complementarity, you're setting yourself up for a life of conflict!

Transforming conflicts into complementarities. That's one of the tasks of cosmotherapy.

You can come at the problem via the path of science or of religion. Polanyi, for example, "thought a false idea of science has left us with a skepticism about the nature of man and his works. We must, therefore, revise one to restore the other." In short, man cannot be treated, or even diagnosed, with a false idea of science.

One complementarity that unites Polanyi and Corbin is that of invention and discovery, or of reality and imagination. For example, "there are no explicit rules for making a discovery and since no discoveries can be made 'without creative passion,' the individual scientist cannot be directed in his work by other authorities."

Discovery is obviously not merely a logical extension of what is already known, or we would already know everything. Rather, by dwelling in the known, we make leaps -- not into the dark, but into a twilit world of possibility. The scientist must start with a good problem, but there is no logical operation that can distinguish between good and bad (i.e., fruitful and unfruitful) problems.

Indeed, "there seems to be a *paradox* involved in the very notion of a 'good problem,'" first gnosissed by Plato. That is, "To search for the solution to a problem... would seem absurd, since, if you know what you are looking for, then there is no problem." And if you don't "know what you are looking for, then you cannot expect to find anything."

Paradoxically, to (explicitly) conceive a good problem is to already (implicitly) perceive its solution: "to see a problem is to see something that is hidden. It is to have an intimation of the coherence of hitherto not comprehended particulars." It is as if the right brain runs ahead of the left, the latter of which searches for confirmation of what the former has intuited.

It gets more paradoxical, for "if all knowledge is explicit, i.e., capable of being clearly stated, then we cannot know a problem or look for its solution." So again, to recognize a good problem is already a kind of deep (fore)knowledge of its solution. Ultimately -- and this is pretty weird -- "all knowledge is of the same kind as the knowledge of a problem." Thus, there are no "solutions," only better or worse questions!

Can this possibly be the case? Well, as Dávila said in yesterday's post, Christianity does not solve "problems"; it merely obliges us to live them at a higher level. Furthermore, Catholicism does not solve all problems, but it is the only doctrine that raises them all.

In any event, you will have no doubt noticed that most of our political problems are a consequence of good answers to bad questions and bad answers to good ones.

To be continued...

10 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

My wife tried to raise this issue with the parish priest (a very nice man), but he waved it aside, essentially saying that the heart is all that matters.

That is really unfortunate. I've been truly blessed in the parish we have; there's a priest newly assigned to us who not only encourages, but actively participates in the Bible study whenever he can. He's talked about starting a Saturday morning study as well. One of the observations we hear there, over and over, is how even (or especially) people who have been Catholic since birth really didn't understand their faith. Even before Vatican II; back then, they just mumbled along with the Latin while composing shopping lists in their heads. It's heartbreaking, in a way; there is so much intellectual depth to be found, but who finds it in their church?

8/31/2016 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Paradoxically, to (explicitly) conceive a good problem is to already (implicitly) perceive its solution:

Like a puzzle piece; the shape and color of its empty edge tells you what the missing complement ought to look like, at least partially.

8/31/2016 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Reminds me of a song called Joy by Harry Nilsson:

Now, if you haven't got an answer, you'd never have a question / And if you never had a question, then you'd never have a problem / But if you never had a problem, well everyone would be happy / But if everyone was happy, there'd never be a love song

8/31/2016 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Well said.

8/31/2016 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

It is as if the right brain runs ahead of the left, the latter of which searches for confirmation of what the former has intuited.

This is exactly what creativity feels like to me in my best moments. It's as if whatever I want to do is already conceived. I just need to fill the details in.

8/31/2016 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"But to say that "X (e.g., science, philosophy) is for truth, while religion is for Y (e.g., consolation, anxiety, meaning)," is to guarantee the development of Split Cosmos Syndrome. It creates an insurmountable bifurcation in the world and in the soul. One becomes an implicit or explicit cartesian, with no way to reunite body and soul, matter and psyche, subject and object."

Yep. And, being that is Cartesian, you can also be sure that it is arbitrary - how else do you redefine Religion's historic (going back to Aristotle and beyond) concern with ultimate truth, into... whichever? Only via arbitrary doubts, assumptions, and assertions.

8/31/2016 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Abdulmonem Othman said...

God is a problematic issue so is his creations and the human is charged with the task of understanding and find his way in this sea of complexity, In this sea he was not left without some guides. All prophets came as guides to remind the humans of the supreme unseen force that they needs to seek its help in fulfilling their tasks. Self-artistry as the product of the religious experience is the goal toward accomplishing the task. The paths to him are as many as there are humans, that is why we see all these different religions and in each religion there are so many sects and denominations. The decisive factor in all these inclinations resides in the honest and faithful yearning to accomplish His will and not the seeker personal will. One has to remember as there is faithful mysticism, there is commercial mysticism and the list of the various mysticism is too long to count. One of the basic component of his will is the trust in the lifeafter , a component that is omitted from our so-called religions that is why we see all this insatiable indulgence in the mundane life irrespective of the name we give it. Even the purpose of knowledge has been perverted from knowing god in his demand for truth and justice to the service of the humans in their greediness,exploitation and oppressive power. While we are writing or talking we should not forget the watching eye that will interfere when perversion reach its designated limit, both on personal level and collective and one should not think that god is not aware of what the oppressors are doing but the cycle has not reached its end.

8/31/2016 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Ted, that reminds me of a Confucian quote, "Everything has been thought of before. The difficulty is to think of it again."

8/31/2016 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Great quote!

8/31/2016 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie Godwin said...

Julie, I am so glad you have a priest who is involved in Bible study, etc. I often wonder who are the young men entering seminary that will eventually be the priests in our parishes. Vocations are not encouraged by any Catholic families I know. I also tried to put a focus on vocations in our school and parish, but I guess Malibu is Malibu ;)

Our priest is a beautiful person, completely devoted to God and managing the whole parish virtually on his own. He is in his late 60's or so, and does every funeral, wedding, baptism, almost every mass and all the other tasks a priest would normally do. It's really inspiring. And he never phones in the homily. I don't always agree with some of his comments, but he is always fully committed to our parish and each of us.

I would like to have apologetics at the Catholic school, but I know Fr. Bill truly believes that going to Mass every week is the best way to go. The community religious coordinator also agrees with this, so it's not just Fr. Bill.

I'm going to have a chance to be a religious educator in the formal sense now that I'll be homeschooling the varmint. I have a lot of ideas, and now I've got a guinea pig to try them out on. (I will continue the MA program in the winter, to actually become qualified.)
If you have a chance to email, I'd love to hear about your Bible study.
Leslie

9/02/2016 12:00:00 PM  

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