Monday, March 09, 2009

In the Mind of God...

At any given moment, there are 1-2 thread on Shocklines, listing bad laws from the Old Testament and why it's absurd to follow them. (It's a board supposedly about SpecFic, not religion, BTW.) Well, obviously it is. But there is sometimes the further implication that any system of belief or practice based on that book is therefore also absurd. I'll try to respond as briefly as possible, and as generally, rather than quibbling over the specific texts.

GIVEN: I believe that somewhere in the Mind of God, or among the Platonic Ideal Forms, or in the Pure Land that some Buddhists believe in, there resides the Perfect Good for Humans. This Good is unachievable by real, physical humans; even if they lived only as disembodied souls, they still could not hold on to and pursue this Good w/o interruption or diminution.

Q1: Then why believe in it at all?
A1: Because even the most depraved of people seem to retain some sense of decency and some ability to distinguish right from wrong. No one is devoid of all Good, so it seems to exist, if only as an Ideal.

Q2: All right, suppose it does exist, so what?
A2: This Perfect Good has been expressed in many pieces of human literature, philosophy, and religious texts, with varying degrees of imperfection.

Q3: Okay, again, so what? How would we detect it?
A3: Well, if even the most depraved retain some sense of The Perfect Good, then "normal" people should be able to detect even more of this Perfect Good, through discussion and debate with one another, often using the human texts that contain It as a touchstone.

Q4: Well, if you're just going to reach a consensus on The Good through dialectic, why even use these old texts at all?
A4: Because I find when I or other people reason completely in the abstract, w/o any text or tradition to anchor us, we usually don't get too far. Also, it is a way of showing continuity with our past and respect for who and what's gone before, even as we build on it or change it. We are not giants - we are pygmies standing on each other's shoulders. It is text + tradition + ongoing interpretation that imperfectly intuits and presents The Perfect Good to each new generation.

Pretty tame stuff, I know. So much more bland than saying "Every word of the Bible is TRUE DAMMIT!" or "The Bible is just WRONG DAMMIT!"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This, my dear Kim, is excellent stuff. Reminds me of C.S. Lewis in THE ABOLITION OF MAN as cross-fertilized by something along the lines of Huston Smith's focus on the "perennial philosophy." Very nicely stated. And also something whose general outlines correspond to the very same understanding that I myself have arrived at over a long and winding road of thought, introspection, meditation, and hard-edged encounters with other people and physical reality.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Fox Lee said...

According to Monty Python, the meaning of life is to try and be good to each other, and not eat too many fatty foods.

Something that beautifully simple has to have merit : )

3:29 PM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

I thought you'd like it, MattC! But, of course, it's a fairly intellectualized version of religion (as are your parallels!), so I don't expect it to catch on.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Matthew Baugh said...

Very well done, and I agree completely about the grounding that texts/traditions can give us. In my experience, people who pick and choose from different traditions, or create their own end out making themselves the arbiters of all truth. That's not to say there aren't dangers (big ones) involved in religious traditions, but it's invaluable to have some accountability to something other than yourself.

My dad told me about something he read about called the "law of the excluded middle". It's the human habit of raising up the two extreme viewpoints and pretending that no other point of view can be valid. It sounds like this is working in the SHOCKLINES discussions you mention.

It's an easy way to argue, at least if you're more concerned about winning a point than about learning anything about the other point of view.

6:48 PM  

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