Re: MD Philosophy and Theology

From: Scott R (
Date: Mon Apr 21 2003 - 05:41:59 BST

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    There are two separate issues here. One is whether or not theologians, in
    general, are engaged in reason, and the other is whether or not you and/or I
    agree with what theologians say.

    On the second point, the range of theology is far too vast to say "I agree
    with theology". It is like saying "I agree with politicians". Nevertheless,
    I agree with you that I like the theologians who promote mysticism, and
    disagree with those who say it is too dangerous, or whatever. For a couple
    of Catholic writers who did promote mysticisism, and who were in orders,
    (i.e., had taken vows of obedience) but were never reprimanded (as far as I
    know): Thomas Merton and Bede Griffiths.

    On the first point, see below.

    > dmb says:
    > Many theologians treat it mythologically? I'd like to think so, but am
    > waiting for some evidence of this often made assertion. The ones I'm aware
    > of have had to leave the church, are not accepted in official circles and
    > seem quite outside the mainstream. Please, convince me otherwise. Dish it
    > up.

    They tend to speak more of symbols than of myths (except of course Bultmann
    who explicitly said "Let's demythologize all this"), but it's the same idea.
    Here's Bernard Lonergan (a Jesuit).

    "Symbols obey the laws not of logic but of image and feeling.For the logical
    class the symbol uses a representative figure. For univocity it substitutes
    a wealth of multiple meanings. It does not prove but overwhelms with a
    manifold of images that converge in meaning. It does not bow to the
    principle of excluded middle, but admits the *coincidentia oppositorum*, of
    love and hate, of courage and fear, and so on. It does not negate but
    overcomes what it rejects by heaping up all that is opposite to it. It does
    not move on some single track or on some single level, but condenses to a
    bizarre unity all its present concerns.

    "The symbol, then, has the power of recognizing and expressing what logical
    discourse abhors: the existence of internal tensions, incompatibilities,
    conflicts, struggles, destructions. A dialectical or methodical viewpoint
    can embrace, of course, what is concrete, contradictory, or dynamic. But the
    symbol did this before logic or dialectic were conceived. It does this for
    those unfamiliar with logic or dialectic. Finally, it does it in a way that
    complements and fills out logic and dialectic, for it meets a need that
    those refinements cannot meet." [Method in Theology, p. 66]

    > dmb continues:
    > And by confusing the two you have misread my meaning. What I'm calling
    > pre-rational and post-rational modes of consciousness is perhaps better
    > understood in terms of Barfield's "original participation" and "final
    > participation". They both suggest a kind of wholeness or unity, but occur
    > different levels. Mythic unity is like original participation, whereas the
    > MOQ is a higher, intellectual expression of that can describe that same
    > mystic union. The mystical experience itself is neither social nor
    > intellectual because it is not about static quality. The mystical
    > is, in the MOQ, a direct, unmediated experience of Dynamic Quality. Pirsig
    > says that when we sort out the low grade yelping about god, we can see
    > the mystical experience is what its all about. That's what he realized as
    > result of his own mystical experience and that's how I see it too.

    By and large I agree, but how does the Church deal with

    a) those who are intellectual but haven't moved on to final participation,

    b) those who still aren't (much) "intellectual"?

    Theologians like Lonergan are in the (a) class (or, if they have had some
    mystical experience, they tend to keep quiet about it) and are addressing
    (a). Priests need to address (a) and (b). It can't be easy. But things are
    changing. Lonergan wrote in modernist times (50's and 60's). Today you'll
    find a lot more acceptance of mysticism. One certainly does in the churches
    themselves, with spiritual retreats and contemplative prayer groups all over
    the place. As always, excluding the fundies.

    > Scott replied:
    > I rely on the assumption that the Buddha, and Franklin Merrell-Wolff are
    > sincere, authentic reporters of their experience. I see no way to prove
    > assumption other than to draw rational consequences from it and find that
    > makes more sense of the world. But no matter how encompassing that "more
    > sense of the world" is, I cannot avoid that it is based on something other
    > than reason. How do you avoid it?
    > dmb says:
    > I have no problem going beyond reason, but I just can't accept the
    > irrational or the unreasonable. Post-rationality is altogether different.
    > trust experience, not only the reports like Pirsig's, but my own mystical
    > experience and I can tell you that faith and theology had nothing to do
    > it and none of it contradicts reason, even if it does fly in the face of
    > assumptions of scientific materialism. (The belief that our non-rational
    > experiences meaningful is not unreasonable or irrational.) As I see it,
    > religion is supposed to guide us toward, and open us up to, the mystical
    > experience. I think the value of the churhes and theologies ought to be
    > measured in terms of their effectiveness toward this goal. In other words,
    > realization of one's true identity, the realizaton that "Thou art That",
    > the main thing and the static forms like myths, religions and theologies
    > only serve that goal.

    Agree (see the preamble). And the goal of theologians is to see that the
    myths and symbols are reinterpreted so as to agree with reason. If they
    don't, they are superstitions and are cast out. (I speak ideally. The Church
    is not so free, since it has the (b) class to deal with, and so finds
    spurious "reasons" to keep some silly things around -- some of which the
    guys at the top want to keep around. By the way, if you want to read a harsh
    critique of the Vatican, see Garry Wills' "Papal Sins". He's Catholic, and
    after getting reaction from fellow Catholics, followed it up with "Why I am
    a Catholic" -- with even more harsh criticism.)

    > DMB quoted Campbell:
    > "I don't need faith. I have experience."
    > Scott responded by asking:
    > So if you don't have mystical experience you should be an agnostic? I
    > disagree.
    > dmb says:
    > Something tells me your question is rhetorical and sarcastic, but I'll
    > a wack at it anyway. IF one is intellectually oriented and IF one has
    > had a mystical experience, I think the only reasonable position is the
    > agnostic stance.

    I would say the only logical deduction is the agnostic stance, but not the
    only reasonable position (see below).

     I should be careful here and point out that the agnositic
    > postition, as I understand it, is that we CAN"T know. It doesn't exactly
    > confirm or deny the claims of religion. It just says that its not possible
    > to know such things. This is opposed to theism and atheism, which actually
    > claims to know something.

    Actually, I include as agnostics those who say they DON'T know, but don't do
    anything to find out. I consider them de facto atheists.

    > I know. You're asking yourself if the mystic doesn't also claim to know
    > something. Its true. They don't call it enlightenment or expansion of
    > consciousness for nothing.

    Well, no, I'm asking if, without mystical insight, whether it is reasonable
    or not to have faith in the possibility and authenticity of mystical
    insight, and I maintain that it is, since,

    a) there is a ton of evidence of mystical insight, albeit anecdotal,
    b) it does not contradict anything empirical (once one has rooted out
    prejudices of scientism), though one may need to work at interpreting what
    the mystics say (to allow for poetic license, mythical imagery, different
    times and cultures, etc.)
    c) it makes more sense of life, the universe, and everything (ditto).

    Working out the details of (b) and (c) is the task of reason applied to
    faith. One can further ask whether faith in the Christian revelation can
    also be reasonable. Answering this with "yes" -- and doing the (b) and (c)
    work to back it up, is what Christian theologians do. Whether they are
    successful at it is another question. It is faith seeking understanding.

    - Scott

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