Re: MD On Faith

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Sun Oct 31 2004 - 11:48:29 GMT

  • Next message: ml: "Re: MD On Faith"

    Hi DMB,

    It's the weekend, good to have you back.

    > dmb says:
    > I really don't get it. Isn't the one making the claim responsible for making
    > that claim clear and credible? Don't we all have to back up what we're
    > saying? Do I fail to back up and explain what I'm saying?
    > I'm sure it feels good to recommend a book, especially to a friend who will
    > thoroughly enjoy it. But your "advice" give me a distinctly different
    > impression, gents. You are positively dripping with condescension. The
    > suggestion that I'm hopelessly trapped in ignorance until I've read certain
    > books or mastered certain fields is ridiculously out of proportion.

    Pot? Kettle? Black? I've actually been feeling a bit guilty about some things I said last weekend.
    If nothing else, I think they lacked charity, which is a serious charge. So, apologies for
    condescension etc. I shall try and amend my ways. Are you prepared to do likewise?

    > I'm only
    > asking that your posts make sense. I'm only asking to do your best to
    > persuade me that your assertions have some validity. This ploy of telling me
    > to take up theology strikes me as an evasion of the task requited of you,
    > rather than a real criticism of me. I've taken a different appraoch to the
    > same topic and have a basis of my view, which I share. But apparently you
    > guys have nothing comparable. Apparently, there is no basis for faith but
    > faith itself so you guys are trying to get me to indoctrinate myself, to
    > hypnotize myself with theology. Tell me just one thing (cause I'm soooo
    > ignorant), doesn't theology BEGIN with assumptions I've already rejected?
    > Maybe Pirsig would drop the whole MOQ thing and go back to SOM if he'd only
    > read more Hume, eh? He's rejecting it becasue he's ignorant right? I jest,
    > but you see the point, no?

    Well, you're confusing an understanding of theology with the adoption of a faith stance. It is
    possible to be conversant with theological language and reject what it represents, which is exactly
    what Scott is arguing. I really don't know how to make that point any more clearly than I have
    already (or, more precisely, than he has already). Lots of other people seem to have understood the

    As for explaining theology, we've done an awful lot of that already. But we could go round the block
    again if you like.

    > dmb said:
    > Why should a person have to become familiar with an entire branch of human
    > knowledge just to understand the meaning of a word?
    > Sam replied:
    > Of course you need to become familiar with an area before you can understand
    > it.
    > dmb says:
    > ARRRG! As I understand, the claim is that Pirsig's idea of faith as a
    > willness to believe falsehoods, which is also the common meaning of the
    > word, is not the correct or christian meaning of the word.

    I dispute that this is the 'common meaning of the word'.

    >This naturally
    > raises the question, "well then, what does it mean"? And so far most of the
    > answers to this question have been a blur of nonsense and insults. And I
    > resent the suggenstion that the lack of any coherent response has been
    > construed so that its my fault. What do you mean by faith? Those are six
    > short words and they compose a simple question. I don't want to read a stack
    > of books to find support for a claim I did not make and am in fact in the
    > process of disputing.

    Well, I referenced my answer to Erin, and as you seem to have missed it, I'll reproduce it here:

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Sam Norton" <>
    To: <>
    Sent: Monday, October 25, 2004 10:35 AM
    Subject: Re: MD On Faith

    > Hi Erin,
    > Erin said:
    > > See breaking this apart would really help me understanding what "faith" means and what it applies
    > to. There are experiences that are observable and there are experiences that are not unobservable.
    > Mystic experience would be an unobservable experience and so I thought it might fall under faith
    > (even though for me personally it is an experience) but now I am told I am *allowed* to lump it
    > under experience rather than faith So how do you draw the line....e.g., if somebody claimed to
    > "experience" connection with a God. Since it wasn't observable to anybody but that person I
    > thought it was faith. But how can I claim MY mystic experience is experience not faith but their
    > experience is faith-based. I just don't get what criteria people are using to clearly
    > distinguish whether an unobservable experience is lumped as an experience or as faith.
    > Sam says:
    > I think the whole hang up with 'experience' is a SOMish neurosis - it's all about defending religion
    > as something 'objective' and therefore respectable (this is the William James link, it was the
    > motivating and organising factor in his 'varieties of religious experience' and it's had all sorts
    > of pernicious effects as the wider SOMish culture has accepted it).
    > Think of it like this. A friend tells you that she has fallen in love with a particular man, let's
    > call him 'Mr Handsome'. Yet after telling you this, she never refers to him again. She never tries
    > to communicate with Handsome, she doesn't try and be in the same room as Handsome, in fact she
    > carries on her life in exactly the same way as before, including talking about other men she likes,
    > other men she tries to be with, and she eventually meets Mr Right, settles down with him, raises a
    > family, lives happy ever after etc etc. Now, in the absence of other evidence (eg diaries left after
    > her death and so on) what meaning can be given to her expression that she has 'fallen in love' with
    > Mr Handsome? I would say none. (I follow Wittgenstein on this, this isn't a theological point, it's
    > to do with the nature of our language).
    > Faith relates to 'mystical experience' in the same way. The hang up about mystical experience
    > focusses on a particular event in a person's life, but it is the way that experience is embedded in
    > a change of behaviour that gives it it's meaning, ie it is the _embedding_ that makes it mystical,
    > not the experience itself (ie, that makes it a 'true' description of what has occurred). So, if your
    > friend, after telling you that she had fallen in love with Handsome spent all her time on the phone
    > to you talking about him, made sure she saw him a lot, went on dates, got married, lived happy ever
    > after etc etc then you could quite happily agree that she had had the 'experience' of falling in
    > love. It would be uncontentious.
    > What I am wanting to bring out is that the concentration on 'experience' is literally meaningless.
    > Faith is a way of life, a commitment to a framework of understanding and value, which is more or
    > less coherently expressed through the choices we make and the path we follow, and the language and
    > mythology and doctrine which religious people depend on are the tools and practices which enable
    > that way of life. So to describe someone as 'faithful' is necessarily linked into choices and
    > behaviour in exactly the same sort of way as describing someone as 'in love' has. Faith has a
    > concrete expression, it's not 'hidden' and mysterious and arcane. It's actually very simple.
    > Hope that's helpful.
    > Regards
    > Sam

    DMB said:
    > Nobody denied the "need to become familiar with an area before you can
    > understand it". Those are the rules of participation here and it only makes
    > sense. I'm just not concerned with what's on your bookshelf so much as on
    > your mind. Again, this tactic strikes me as both condescending and evasive.
    > It removes the responsiblity from the one making the claim, where it
    > properly belongs.

    Then why did you say:

    > dmb says (to Scott):
    > Ah ha! I knew I smelled a rat. You haven't studied christianity so much as
    > indoctrinated yourself, hypnotized yourself. Why should a person have to
    > become familiar with an entire branch of human knowledge just to understand
    > the meaning of a word? That is SUCH ridiculous posturing!


    This seems like a contradiction to me. You say last week "Why should a person have to become
    familiar with an entire branch of human knowledge just to understand the meaning of a word?" yet
    this week you say "Nobody denied the "need to become familiar with an area before you can understand
    it". Those are the rules of participation here and it only makes sense." Which is your actual view?
    Because it has a bearing on how we are going to proceed with our conversation.

    > dmb answers:
    > What's in it for me? The battle is its own reward. We actually have a lot in
    > common, father. We both care about these issues. We both think religion is
    > important. We've both read, thought, studied. In a way, its my life too. We
    > both think the other guy is wrong. And that's why I do it. I care and I
    > think you're wrong. Its not about me and you, of course.

    I was with you until this point:

    > Its about the clash
    > between philosophical mysticism and the church. Its about Pirsig's MOQ and
    > your offensive attempts to alter it to fit with your churchianity. Since you
    > very well know of Pirsig's explicit comments on faith and theism, such
    > alterations show a dishonesty of intellect, a willingness to distort ideas
    > for your own purposes. Going away to do your own thinking is one thing, but
    > importing Anglicanism into the MOQ is another. I wonder how you'd feel if I
    > did the reverse? How about if we change the church to accomodate the MOQ
    > instead?

    I think you are guilty of woolly thinking here David. I am explicit that I reject the 'standard'
    MOQ, and that the way I understand things is different. Moreover, those differences are rooted in
    the wider religious framework that I accept. In what way does this represent "a dishonesty of
    intellect"? What you say would make sense if I was arguing "this is the real MOQ", but I'm not, I'm
    saying "the MOQ has problems, but if we amend it in ways x, y and z then those problems are
    resolved". Changing the church to accommodate the MoQ is in fact a deeply intriguing idea for me.

    > Adding insult to injury, these objections are usually met with a distorted
    > response like one above. There my objection to being given a homework
    > assignment instead of a direct answer was construed as a manifesto against
    > knowledge. Since this is not even remotely close to what I was saying, and
    > since Sam is not a blithering idiot, I can only conclude that this too is
    > dishonest. I mean, you really can't believe I was making a case against
    > knowledge. Oddly perhaps, its the dishonesty and illogic that offends me and
    > not the insult. Sam, can you HONESTLY tell me that you HONESTly thought I
    > was claiming to be saint, for example? Dude, I mean father, that's just some
    > kind of lie. That's morally wrong, see? Its not honest or fair. To say that
    > its not rational or that its incorrect really doesn't cover it. I don't even
    > care about nice or polite, but philosophy, or any good conversation, is
    > impossible without this kind of honest and fair, see? No? Maybe you really
    > don't see that. Apparently not because whenever I raise such complaints they
    > are taken for dogmatism or a unneccesary desire for MOQ purity or some other
    > thing that has nothing to do with the actual objection.

    Well, the logical consequence of your argument was that you indeed *were* claiming to be a saint. As
    I thought even you would balk at such an ego-trip ;-) I thought I would point out the consequences
    of your claim. I just assumed you hadn't realised the logic of your own position. What is your
    position now? Are you still claiming to be a Christian mystic? Or do you wish to drop the claim? If
    you want to hang on to it, you might like to spell out in what ways that claim is true (for one) and
    specifically how you reconcile being a Christian mystic with the MoQ (for two) - because, as you so
    often say, it can't be done.

    > Yea, I'm rambling. I'm trying to explain why I think the battle is its own
    > reward, why I defend the MOQ against theist hijackers, why I defend
    > philosophical mysticism against the faithfull. I'm telling you why I find
    > Sam's position and approach deeply offensive and morally lacking as well as
    > incorrect.

    I'm with you that the standard MoQ is a) based in some form of philosophical mysticism and b) what
    the theists/faithful believe can't be reconciled with it. But why can't we take what we find of
    value from it, and build it into our own understandings? And why does this provoke you so much?
    (It's the approach recommended on that Buddhist website that was referenced earlier this week).

    > Oh, and there's cash. That's ALSO what's in it for me. I'm playing a role in
    > a reality show. I have until new year's day to hospitalize a priest with
    > nothing more than words. If Sam has a stroke or goes insane because of my
    > posts, I win a million dollars. How am I doing so far?

    You were doing fine until you made him laugh out loud ;-) That's good for my blood pressure, so it
    probably put off my day of reckoning for a bit longer.


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