RE: MD On Faith

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sat Oct 23 2004 - 21:54:19 BST

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    Howdy Scott and all the faithful:

    Scott said:
    First. Christianity wouldn't have come about if it wasn't based on
    religious and mystical experience. St. Paul had his experiences, and so did
    many others in the early years and down through the ages. For a
    contemporary Christian mystic, I recommend the books of Bernadette Roberts.
    I'm not sure why you think, if you do, that mysticism within a theistic
    tradition should be discounted.

    dmb says:
    As I understand it, all the world's great religions began with a mystical
    experience and their esoteric core remains mystical to this day. As a matter
    of fact I consider myself a Christian mystic, but Theism is another thing
    altogether. I think the MOQ is compatible with this non-theistic form of
    mysticism, with a philosophical mysticism. Despite the vaguely distributed
    insults on this thread, I have my own bookshelf on the topic, thank you very
    much. Campbell, Wilber, Pirsig and many others warn of the same danger...
    "Phaedrus saw nothing wrong with this ritualistic religion as long as the
    rituals are seen as merely a static portrayal of DQ, a sign-post which
    allows socially pattern-dominated people to see DQ. The problem has always
    been that the rituals, the static patterns, are mistaken for what they
    merely represent and are allowed to destroy the DQ they were originally
    intended to preserve."

    dmb adds:
    You may recall Pirsig's comments on Idealism, where merely describing God as
    a "him" was enough to produce the scent of a rat. Theism, when it doesn't
    anthropomorpize the ground of being entirely, still manages to concieve of
    it as something transcendent and other, something over and above us.
    Philosponical mysticism asserts that this is precisely the illusion to be
    overcome and instead insists that THOU ART THAT. In theistic christianity
    the unity, the at-one-ment, is reduced to following moral prescriptions and
    union with god is imagined as something that happens in the future, when
    we're dead, and has the emotional quality of being good for daddy. Its a
    total corruption of the original intent that, as Jung pointed out, has a
    long history of hiding the divine rather that revealing it. Pirsig concedes
    that ritualistic religions can work for social level people, but surely that
    is NOT what we're up to here in this forum? If anything, we should be
    sorting out the meaning from the myths and rituals, rather than simply
    accepting them or rejecting them. As Wilber points out, if religion wants to
    go forward into the future it will simply have to "jettison" many of its
    assertions, most especially the ones based on faith rather than empirical

    Scott said:
    Now around all that experience, traditions and superstitions developed,
    some of which hardened into dogma. Included are things that are downright
    nonsense. But that is true of all religions, including Buddhism. However, a
    modern Christian assumes that within all that tradition are the original
    experiences. In the 19th century, the process began of trimming out the
    nonsense and superfluous stuff. The first Biblical critics were Protestant
    believers. They learned to set aside the idea that the Bible was God's
    dictation, to recognize that some books weren't by who they said they were,
    that various political agendas got mixed in, and so forth. In the 20th
    century Bultmann called for full-scale "demythologization". And so on. So
    what is left, for modern, thinking Christians, is the religious and
    mystical experience that is assumed to have started it all, and which
    continues. So the faith of the modern, thinking Christian is not all that
    different from the faith of the seeker who joins a Zen monastery, except
    that the latter is more intensely focused. The former has just decided to
    stick with the social group and tradition that he or she is familiar with.
    And, to be sure, he or she may not be after Enlightenment, while the seeker
    is, but there are hard-core Christian seekers as well.

    dmb says:
    Sam, who is an Anglican priest, an educated and intelligent christian, has
    rejected the mystical interpretation and basically dismissed the mystical
    experience as unnecessary. It seems to me that christian mystics are a very
    rare breed and while I do not doubt their existence, the question of "faith"
    remains to the extent that our comtemporary religious instituions and the
    bulk of church goers have not yet jettsioned those beliefs for which there
    is no empirical evidence. I think its pretty clear to anyone who reads a
    newspaper that fundamentalists are tearing things up pretty badly here in
    the United States and throughout the world. We don't need to re-visit the
    crusades or the inquisition to find examples of deadly faith or murderous
    believers. And as Pirsig explains, this is part of a larger battle between
    the social and intellectual levels.

    Scott said:
    Second. If you add to the meaning of "epistemological pluralism" the
    requirement that everything one says be based "on experience and evidence"
    (empiricism), then you would have to reject the MOQ. There is evidence, in
    Pirsig's expanded empiricism, for saying value is real, but there is none,
    as far as I can see, to say that value is not subjective, that value is not
    something that only occurs in humans and some animals. I see no experience
    or evidence that can tell me that Quality can be meaningfully applied to
    the inorganic. I do think it is reasonable to assume these things (to avoid
    dualism), but I haven't a clue how one could support it empirically. One
    should recall that when Pirsig shows SOM to be unreasonable, he is
    attacking the materialist version of SOM, which denies the reality of
    value. But just showing the reality of value does not in itself imply that
    a dualist or idealist version of SOM couldn't account for our experience.

    dmb says:
    I'm not really following you here. Evidence that value is not subjective?
    That's set up so that one has to prove a negative. All Pirsig does is
    "prove" that value is a basic part of experience. What could be more
    empirical than that? And in describing causaton in terms of value, Pirsig
    quite readily points out that the experience, the settings on the dials and
    the data extracted from the experiment, does not change. Both descriptions
    are consistent with experience, but Pirsig insists that the latter is better
    as an explanation. And to the last point, I'd simply say that Pirsing does
    NOT say "SOM couldn't account for our experience". He puts SOM into a larger
    framework so that the limitations of SOM are overcome without throwing away
    its usefulness. Why? Because it works to a certain extent, but fails to
    account for mystical experience, insanity and such.

    Scott said:
    Third. I agree that they shouldn't be walled off from each other, but I
    don't think they are. What conflict there is (always excluding the fundies)
    comes from the scientific materialists (another kind of fundie), who assume
    all Christians still live in the middle ages, and from you and Pirsig who
    demand anti-theism, which I believe to be based on an outdated idea of
    theism. Tillich calls God "ultimate concern". For Christians, faith is
    experiential: prayer is for them a high quality experience. Looking at the
    night sky may make them feel God's presence, and so on. In short, faith
    has, for those who have it, pragmatic value. If there is any walling off
    going on, it is by people like you, Jim, and Pirsig, who apparently think
    that faith in God is the same sort of thing as belief in UFO's. Now there
    remains a lot of dispute within Christianity, such as belief in the
    physical resurrection, or the virgin birth (the kind of thing that Bultmann
    wanted to jettison), but I think over time, this sort of thing will become
    unimportant, as it already has for many thinking Christians.

    dmb says:
    Pragmatic value because it feels good to believe? Still a dispute about
    belief in resurrection and the virgin birth? Yikes. This line of thinking
    reveals so much. I think its emotional and irrational and only serves to
    undermine your case. Its seems that the faithful among us, such as yourself,
    have not yet been able to see the most important distinctions in this
    debate. I mean, how could any reasonable person even entertain the
    possibility of coming back from the dead or virgin mothers? Its not just
    that belief in such is contradicted by all our experiences with virgins and
    the dead. Its not just that such a belief is utterly freakin' ridiculous,
    although that's true too. No, the real crime is that such interpretations of
    myth destroy the meaning of the myth. The myth is a sign-post which is
    supposed to point toward DQ. To the extent that this interpretation is still
    in dispute within christianity, christianity is lost and is entirely missing
    the point. The resurrection is one's own. The new kind of life in the world,
    not born in the usual, animal way is your own, not some historic figure who
    defied the laws of nature like some comic book superhero. This is the
    problem with theism in the world today. It holds Christ up like some
    impossiblly perfect and wholly unatainable role model, when the message of
    the mystical core, of the perennial philosophy, of philosophical mysticism
    is to realize the Christ, the Buddha in one's self, and in fact to realize
    that ultimately you and DQ are One. That is the true seat of freedom and
    creativity. That's when we're following DQ, acting from the center of one's
    being the way those indians did, that's when one becomes "as the wind".

    Scott said:
    Nor are there different worlds. By "separate venues" I just meant separate
    methodologies and activities, not separate worlds. I meant no more than the
    difference between, say, doing art and doing science. Some things about
    this world can be answered by science, and other things cannot. There are
    Christians who are scientists, after all, and they are not bonkers on
    account of that. They do not have to suppress their faith when entering the
    lab, nor suppress their scientific knowledge when entering a church. While
    I'm not going to claim that the words 'God' and 'Quality' are
    interchangeable, there is an overlap. One reason that people have faith in
    God is that traditionally, God is considered to be that which provides
    meaning to life. Theism is moving in the direction for limiting itself to
    such meanings, though I don't think it will ever dispense with the idea
    that one can have an I-Thou relation with God and still be called theism.
    But that's what people with theistic faith have. That is their experience.
    To say they are deluded dupes is one way of reacting to them, a way that
    walls them off.

    dmb says:
    If a working scientist also believes in the resurrection and/or the virgin
    birth of God's only begotten son, then his religious views have to be kept
    in a separate drawer, and he suffers from a kind of intellectual dishonesty,
    a lack of integrity in his views and I believe he has plenty of company in
    that. For that reason we can't really call it bonkers, but I honestly belive
    such a disjointed worldview is the problem, the conflict to be resoleved. I
    have to say that your repearted resistence to this point leds me to conclude
    that you also suffer from this same kind of cognitive dissonance. It seems
    that the faithful are willing to believe things that they know CAN'T be so.
    And yet there seems to be this indignant attitude about the level of
    hostility that such assertions engender. I don't get why you don't get that.
    Can't you imagine how frustrating is it to discuss philosophy and
    metaphysics with someone how is so ambivilent about the demands of evidence
    and logical consistancy? Brother, I'm telling you this sort of intellectual
    dishonesty is some knock-down, pull-yer-hair-out, crazy-making, contemptable
    shit. That's why people react badly. Pirsig talks about this in no uncertain
    terms. Faith is low quality stuff. Its morally wrong to subvert intellect to
    the icons of religion. Ritualistic religions and dogmas tend to block DQ,
    rather than portray it. When we indentify DQ with religious mysticism "it
    produces an avalanche of information as to what DQ is". There is a lot of
    low-grade yelping about God, but if we listen carefully and see through the
    non-sense. Etc., etc.. Pirsig is virtually unmistakable on the issues of
    faith and theism. He's against it. He's against it for damn good reasons.
    And the attempt to insert such a thing where it is so plainly unwelcome,
    where it has already been defeated and replaced, is a bit hard to swallow.
    But the faithful just don't seem to get that. "Why should we rule out faith
    and theism just because Pirsig rules out faith and theism?" How does one
    talk to a person who would ask that kind of question?

    By the way, I am not claiming that faith is necessary, or even desirable on
    the intellectual level. I don't have faith, unless it is faith in Reason,
    but I've read enough of those who do to see that one can have faith and not
    be anti-intellectual.

    You've already asserted that science and relgiion are really just two rival
    forms of fundamentalism and now you're saying that one can have faith in
    reason. Over and over again, you use the word in a very confusing way. I
    mean is the question about the empirical basis for our views or not? Science
    and reason are NOT based on faith, whereas belief in miracles is not only
    based on faith, but actually DEFIES our empirically based views. And again,
    I find the constant attempt to undermine such distinctions to be
    intellecually dishonest and self-serving. Please understand that the anger
    provoked by such tactics is NOT predicated on your unwillingness to jettison
    your dogma for mine or anything like that. The anger is more like a sense of
    moral outrage. Its not about me or my beliefs so much as a disrespect for
    logical integrity in general. And if that's not anti-intellectual, then
    nothing is. No, I'm sorry. Psycholgical needs, emotional desires and
    personal satisfaction are decidedly NOT good tests for the truth, validity
    or moral status of a propsition. (I suppose we'd have to call that
    narcissistic pragmatism.)
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