Re: MD Philosophy and Theology

From: Elizaphanian (
Date: Fri Apr 04 2003 - 12:30:58 BST

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    Hi David,

    Good quotes. Some small comments follow, but I'd be interested to know how
    you interpret the quotes yourself.

    > It seems quite incongruous to use the name 'God' to signify THAT which we
    > experience immediately, before thought has sundered it into a world of
    > things. This may be what Hindus mean by 'Brahmin' and Buddhists by
    > (that-ness), but it is certainly not what the majority of thoughtful
    > Christians have understood as God the Father. The problem arises, however,
    > because the theologians really want to say that God is a fact, a thing -
    > albeit the first fact and the first thing, the Being before all beings.

    That is only true for (some) Western theologians after Duns Scotus. So
    Watts' assertion about the 'majority of thoughtful Christians' is incorrect.
    Classical Christianity emphatically DENIES that God is a fact or a thing -
    it was Duns Scotus who changed that emphasis.

    > Had
    > it been clear that theology was not speaking of facts, the conflict
    > theology and natural science could never have arisen.


    > But when, during the
    > era of the Renaissance, this conflict first arose neither the theologians
    > nor the scientists realized that there might have been profound difference
    > between the languages they were speaking. Theologians and scientists alike
    > understood themselves to be talking about 'objective realities', which is
    > say - things and events. Yet - to add to the confusion - the language of
    > St. Thomas, St. Albert the Great, and St. Bonaventure was ALSO
    > But it is very clear that with some few possible exceptions, such as
    > and Erigena, the scholastics were still trying to talk about a thing - a
    > very great thing, beyond and including all other things.

    Watts is reading the early scholastics through late scholastic lenses.

    > Christian dogma combines a mythological story which is for the most part
    > Hebrew, and a group of metaphysical 'concepts' which are Greek, and then
    > proceeds to treat both as statements of fact - as information about
    > objective realities inhabiting (a) the world of history, and (b) the
    > 'supernatural' world existing parallel to the historical, but on a higher
    > plane. In other words, it talks about mythology and metaphysic in the
    > language of science. The resulting confusion has been so vast, and has so
    > muddled Western thought, that all our current terms, our very language, so
    > partake of the confusion that they can hardly straighten it out.

    This is reasonable. In particular, the understanding of 'supernatural' now
    prevalent derives from late scholasticism, and is ultimately unChristian.
    I've written about that before.

    > There is no more telling symptom of the confusion of 'modern thought' than
    > the very suggestion that poetry or mythology can be 'mere'. This arises
    > the notion that poetry and myth belong to the realm of fancy as distinct
    > from fact, and that since fact equal Truth, myth and poetry have no
    > content. Yet this is a mistake for which no one is more responsible than
    > theeologians, who, as we have seen, resolutely confounded scientific fact
    > with truth and reality. Having degraded God to a mere 'thing', they should
    > not be surprized when scientists doubt the veracity of this 'thing' - for
    > the significant reason thatit seems an unnecessary and meaningless
    > hypothesis. Certainly the poets and myth-makers have little to tell us
    > facts, for they make no hypotheses. Yet for this very reason they alone
    > something really important to say; they alone have news of the living
    > of reality. By contrast, the historians, the chroniclers, and the analysts
    > of fact record only the news of death.

    With (predictable) qualifications to the word 'theologian' in the middle of
    that quote, I have much sympathy with this.

    > DMB quotes from Campbell's MYTHS TO LIVE BY
    > Now the first and most important effect of a living mythological symbol is
    > to waken and give guidence to the energies of life. It is an
    > energy-releasing and energy-directing sign, which not only 'turns you on',
    > as they say, but turns you on in a certain direction, making you function
    > certain way - which will be one conducive to your participation in the
    > and purposes of a functioning social group. However, when the symbols
    > provided by the social group no longer work, and the sybols that do work
    > no longer of the froup, the individual cracks away, becomes dissociated
    > disoriented, and we are confronted with what can only be named a pathology
    > of the symbol.

    This is good. In fact, this would make me go out and buy this book.

    > A distinguished professor in psychiatry at the University of California,
    > John W. Perry, has characterized the living mythological symbol as an
    > 'affect image'. It is an image that hits one where it counts. It is not
    > addressed first to the brain, to be there interpreted and appreciated. On
    > the contrary, if that is where it has to be read, the symbol is already
    > dead. An 'affect image' talks directly to the feeling system and
    > elicits a response, after which the brain may come along with its
    > interesting comments. There is some kind of throb of resonance within,
    > responding to the image shown without, like the answer of a musical string
    > to another equally tuned. And so it is that when the vital symbols of any
    > given social group evoke in all its member respones of this kind, a sort
    > magical accord unites them as one spiritual organism, functioning through
    > member who, though spearate in space, are yet one in being and belief.

    This is also good. I would want to get a bit more sophisticated with the
    'brain/feeling' language, but the underlying framework I like.

    > Now let us ask; What about the symbolism of the Bible? Based on the old
    > Sumerian astronomical observations of five to six thousand years ago and
    > anthropology no longer credible, it is hardly fit today to turn anybody
    > In fact, the famous conflict of science and religion has actually nothing
    > do with religion, but is simply of two sciences: that of 4000 B.C. and
    > of A.D. 2000. And is it not ironic that our great Western civilization,
    > which has opened to the minds of all mankind the infinite wonders of a
    > universe of untold billions of galaxies and untold billions of years,
    > have been saddled in its infancy with a religion squeezed into the
    > little cosmological image known to any people on earth?

    I think the astronomical stuff is background to the Christian mythology, not
    foreground. So I agree that it needs to change, but I would deny that
    Christianity cannot exist without it. (Babies and bathwater come to mind)

    > DMB gets real fancy and quotes Campbell from the Watts book.
    > All, mythology, whether of the folk or of the literati, preserves the
    > iconography of a spiritual adventure that men have been accomplishing
    > repeatedly for millennia, and which, whenever it occurs, reveals such
    > constant features that the innumerable mythologies of the world resemble
    > each other as dialects of a single language.

    I much prefer 'dialects of a single language' to some of your other
    metaphors. Dialects don't have to have a single common essence, they can
    share a family resemblance.

    > DMB quotes nobody:
    > I'll let these quotes speak for themselves, for the moment. More later.
    > Thanks for your time.

    And for yours (typing stuff out takes ages, doesn't it?)


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