Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

What do you Know?

I've continued to listen to a tape lecture series on the philosophy of religion. The bulk of the course seems to focus on arguments about the existence of God, which is about as classical as you can get when it comes to philosophers contemplating religion.

At first I thought I was going to be bored with this sort of thing. I kinda figured out long ago that no argument was going to be sufficient when it comes to religious questions, and arguing the existence of God always seemed to betray a certain shallowness in thinking to me.

What I liked about the lecturer's approach, though, is that he didn't start with argument at all, but rather spent a few lectures talking about evidence, and how disbelieve turns into belief and possibly into knowledge. While it doesn't necessarily add to what we know in terms of content, it was quite reassuring to see such a thorough examination of knowledge itself, and what we mean by it, and what we want out of it. There is a certain existential comfort in being able to take stock, intellectually: "I might not know if there's a God, but at least I know what it would take to convince me."

I also appreciated the standard he forwarded for what differentiates knowledge from mere belief: you know something when the evidence places it "beyond reasonable doubt." I like this because it short-circuits radical skepticism while still being fairly rigorous. It also closely approximates our actual pragmatic appreciation of the truth. We don't need to be completely free of all competiting hypotheses to be convinced; "yes, my life might be a vast Truman-Show conspiracy and total fraud . . . but I kinda doubt it." Nor does it completely remove all Matrix arguments from the table, either . . . because there are some experiences that can introduce "reasonable doubt" about the nature of reality and experience.

This is all helpful in helping me recognize where my own personal theology now stands. My philosophy always held that no religious conviction could be solid and sound without experiential validatation (e.g. an "enlightenment" experience) . . . but that doesn't change the fact that I do have some pretty well-formulated opinions about what's going on in the universe, based on all the wisdom I've received from old and new spiritual traditions, and my own unspoken hunches. In a lot of ways I think my spiritual life has been one long attempt to take my own intuitive understanding, veiled in darkness, and pull it out into the light. I know that something is going on here . . . something "important, and great" as Thornton Wilder would say. I'm just waiting to know what that really means.


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