Wednesday, August 02, 2006
What makes me uneasy **
Today I am following on from my previous post and the comments made by Darius and Rama. They felt that it did not really matter what someone believes. Perhaps they take the view that there is some inner Truth ready to be found which will put an end to all divisive dogmas.
Perhaps. But we cannot come at this directly, solving all the dilemmas in one go. This will be a disappointment to those of us whose attention span on philosophical or theological matters is short. We are enthusiastic at first, but after fifteen minutes at the most, our head begins to swim, we feel the need for tea or coffee or something stronger, or fresh air or a cigarette, or just the simple relief of changing the subject. For me, these questions are an ongoing concern, a lifetime puzzle, and though only the head-mind can enunciate them---the intellect having sole command of grammar and vocabulary---the whole being must be engaged throughout, so as not to forget the body and its autonomous functions and wisdom, nor to forget our evolutionary origins and animal nature.
And when I speak, I hold in my mind---perhaps in my species-memory---a kind of shamanic vision of the whole of creation. I like to think that formerly all wisdom had this holistic breadth, but that it was the Greeks who sacrificed it for the sake of intellectual intensity, when they learned to split body from soul through wordifying and the creation of -ologies. This kind of intellect, divorced from humanity, was such a potent drug that the Western tradition has never been able to control the addiction.
But this is by way of a preamble. There are things to say.
Let’s make a start with some axioms, by means of which we can look at this venerable topic of religions and beliefs, and the state of the world.
1. Nothing is true unless it is experienced, and nothing experienced is untrue.
This sentence is not so much a statement as a definition of “truth”. With its aid, we can expose the paradox of education. How do we learn? It's often been said that education should not be just the transmission of facts, but personal experience. If we could only proceed as fast as the student could verify the truth of what is taught, then I am not sure if education would be possible, for it requires that things are accepted on trust, to be questioned later, when the student has learned almost as much as the teacher.
And what of that personal experience which is denied and squeezed out of us by the education process? Will we ever be able to recapture it?
2. Every interpretation of experience is a kind of fiction.
Somebody asks you, “What was such and such like?” referring to your new experience. The only truthful answer might be, “It was like nothing else, so I cannot describe it.” But according to the unwritten rules of conversation, we know we are to describe the new in terms of the known. So we will come up with some simile: “The wine was like blackberries stewed in turpentine,” though we have never tried such a concoction. How then can we express our deeper, more “spiritual” experience? Do we ever know for certain how to use the word “spiritual”?
3. Every idea that is not experienced is a trick of the intellect, by which we assign provisional truth to it. We are forced to imagine, as someone blind from birth imagines colours.
We find it difficult at first. When we are first introduced to algebra, the sentence, “Let x be an integer,” is baffling. Without such a capability, however, progress in reading and writing and mathematics and understanding the world beyond our own village will not be possible.
Western education at its core is algebra, abstracting concepts from the whole. The price we pay for such education is diminishment of the raw and magical power of direct experience, outer and inner, sensual and spiritual.
4. The baby learns about an absent experience, or the experience of absence, in the game of “Peep-bo” (“Peek-a-boo” in America). This is the beginning of intellect. We start with this game. Later we learn that dead people are gone and won’t come back. Then we learn a childish concept of God as an invisible person.
When I say “we” I am thinking of a certain form of society, the kind that I was brought up in and probably you too. Education was so sophisticated and yet it was narrow and restricted. Living in isolated boxes away from community experience, we don’t learn about death. Unless we have seen a corpse, not just for a few seconds, but long enough to see what death is, the discovery that people are buried in the ground to be devoured by worms will be one of horror.
5. When we grow up in the Western world, we are confronted with choices between reason and belief, without having developed the discrimination that we’d need to make those choices.
The champions of “evidence-based” reason are the scientists, themselves a high-priesthood whose sacred rituals we must accept on trust. The champions of customs and beliefs take us gladly beyond evidence and reason, but there is little basis for their doing so. We need something to help us understand our own experience but they take us away from that. We need to understand our own brotherhood and mutual dependence, but they do not teach us that.
I’ve got to finish. This is a blog, not an academic dissertation. Blogging is an upstart form of literature for which few have more than a 2-minute attention span.
Let me put today's post in a context. The Peaceful Extremist is one of many who fulminates, justifiably, against Bush’s America. But it’s really the whole of Western civilisation---white people’s culture, based on the Greeks and Romans---that makes me uneasy.
Posted by Vincent at 9:51 am