Faith and Reason

I’ve been reading that some of the best minds of the 19th century spent a good deal of time trying to reconcile religion and science. Science, based on sensory experience as it was and religion being of an extra-sensory nature created contradictory explanations of the nature of reality. And, I guess, the problem was exacerbated by new ideas of biological evolution conflicting as it did with widely held belief in the biblical account of creation.

There were those who determined no conflict existed, recognizing the existence of an Absolute, an indivisible unity, from which natural laws emerged that could be clearly observed in nature. What science uncovers is nothing more than the workings of the Intelligent Designer.

But, others were convinced of the dualistic nature of reality. They found no correlation between that which can be empirically observed and metaphysical abstractions. These thinkers saw no connection between the realm of the sacred and the chaotic, random natural world.

Of course it can, and has, been argued that scientific investigation requires a bit of faith in the forming of hypotheses and that religion involves a good bit of practical reason in the acceptance of dogmatic beliefs.

I guess neither faith nor reason can stand completely alone, one isolated from the other.

 

Sacred Assissi

Having spent some time recently visiting a Christian pilgrimage site of some considerable significance to believers (and history buffs as well), it became apparent to me the penitents amongst the crowds stood out. It was pretty clear there is a deep emotional engagement, a heart-felt belief in the Christian dogma, many of the pilgrims feel and adhere to.

It got me thinking about the sort of commitment other spiritual engagements require of their followers if their followers can be expected to remain followers. Other than Reformed Judaism which appears to be based pretty much on cultural tradition most other religious endeavors expect, if not an emotional commitment, an intellectual discipline whereby the metaphysical can be approached, the value of which for the honest participant is cultivation of a groundedness that is helpful in seeing through and beyond the petty and not so petty distractions life presents with considerable constancy.

Problems tend to arise when differences in doctrinal beliefs lead followers to deny the legitimacy of other traditions. It would be good, I think, if more adherents would focus on the common rather than the different and set aside the arrogance of an assumed superiority.

Mesmerized

I’ve been reading that there was a point in time, mid-nineteenth century, when the best minds, those of a scientific bent anyway, took great credence in the likely existence of an extra-sensory realm. Psychologists used hypnotism to probe peoples’ minds in search of the extra-personal consciousness through which all individuals were connected. A number of important thinkers were contemplating such ideas: Arthur Schopenhauer thought that if indeed an after-life existed it would be as an impersonal consciousness and Karl Jung, a bit later, wrote of a ‘collective unconscious’. I guess most everyone was pretty interested in these ideas because it suggested immortality might be available. An Austrian physician named Franz Mesmer had everyone’s attention engaged as he was in psychic healing and related spiritual phenomena.

Modern science, full of questions though it is, has come to discount the ideas of an extra –sensory realm, despite the fact sub-atomic entities, which are of great concern to contemporary physicists, are beyond anyone’s ability to see, taste, hear or smell. In fact, it can’t even be determined whether these quantum entities are particles, waves or both: the idea of one thing being two would seem to have some sort of super-natural aspects.

Anyway, whether quantum theory leads us back to the extra-sensory conceptions of the 19th century or not we must be, I guess, content to continue to live with uncertainties.

Born to Angst

Studying, as I have been, the genetic bases for human behavior have me thinking about my own countenance and foibles. The probability I was, at least in part, born to be who I am is worth contemplating even as I recognize familial and cultural nurturing might have something to do with it. I think about my parents and grandparents, assess their personalities and find that some of us have anxious natures: even (or perhaps especially) when things are going smoothly there is a tendency to worry, to think of worst case scenarios, to dread what might happen next, even though, historically, the family has lived in amazingly good fortune.

So, if I assume, as I must, that I’ve inherited the Angst Gene there appears to be little I can do about it. And, since I haven’t suffered any health issues to this point like ulcers or need for psychological counseling, I guess I’ll just sit back, minimize my worrying as best I can in the realization this is simply who I am.

Evolutionary Aesthetics

I’ve been wondering how we’ve come to associate aesthetic values the way we do. I’ve been reading that our human nature, our genetic inheritance, has, over the millennia, found beauty in those things that reflect or resemble qualities necessary for basic survival like verdant planes, water sources, food animals in visual representations, the social bonding realized in sharing structured, repetitive rhythms musically and sculptural representations of fecundity and animal nobility.

I get this, you know, but now I’m reading that the impulse to create art was, and still is I guess, a mating tactic, a way to impress prospective sexual partners with the superior quality of one’s genetic make-up and intelligence. The idea does seem to explain, to some extent the artistic temperament, the volatile and delicate ego that seems characteristic of those engaged in art-making.

Being of a reserved nature myself, I’m good with leaving the romantic intrigues to the more flamboyant among us..

Violence

I’ve been reading that, by nature of our very existence at this point in time, most everyone has been endowed with the genetic propensity to behave violently. Given the necessary provocation, or not, our ancestral drive for survival has instilled the will and desire toward physical aggression in the interests of protecting kith and kin on the positive side and for some of us who may be leaning toward the psychopathic, rape and kill for personal gain. Violence may be the prevailing characteristic of humankind given our histories of Wild West lawlessness, clannish feuds and nearly constant warring.

Passivity is, I guess, a logical reaction against having to deal with any sort of revenge perpetrated upon us by survivors of aggressive behavior on our part, who, then, would have to be back-watching for retributive response from us, which would likely create a stand-off and perhaps perpetual distrust, which would place everyone in a fairly constant state of tension.

So, I’m sticking with passivity; I’m anxious enough as it is.

Samadhi

I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of Samadhi: the realization of oneness, that through focused attention, subject and object merge, which, I guess, means ‘me’, as subject, losing myself in identification with the object of attention, whatever that may be.

The idea seems appropriate to consider these days with my mind soaring a million miles an hour between thoughts of what just happened as well as those of the more distant past and thoughts of what will soon happen and what I should anticipate occurring in the more distant future, most of which being of a personal nature causing anguish to ‘me’.

So, I think what I need to do is take some time regularly, multiple times a day, to focus my attention on a singularity, breathe deep, let the proliferation of thoughts, which will arrive, pass through until I achieve a sense of a much desired peace. I’m pretty sure I can do this. I just need to find an appropriate object on which to focus.

The Limitations of Language and Memory

I’ve been thinking lately that language is a limiting and essentially inadequate means of describing experience. (As I think about this it occurs to me I’ve probably thought this very thing before; in fact, I doubt I’ve had a truly original thought anytime recently).

Anyway, language may be the only way of describing experience, but the descriptions rendered no matter the mastery one may have of the written word will fall well short of sufficiently describing the color and complexities of sensual experience.

Roland Barthes, The late French literary theorist, apparently said that man does not exist prior to language. If I might be so bold as to contradict such a noted scholar, my experience suggests to me such an idea is nonsense. Such a statement would have to mean my colorful and complex sensual experiences can only occur to my conscious self in the form of language; that until language supervenes upon my colorful and complex sensual experiences that my most wonderful remembrances don’t exist.

But, then, maybe my memory is going, I am aging after all; brain cells are being lost. Still, the visual imagery is there and doesn’t seem to require captions. I’m thinking language is over-rated. It simply is unable to account for the ineffable.

Nature/Nurture

I’ve been reading lately, about the on-going controversy regarding the development of the human persona. There seems to be, among psychologists, a never-ending debate as to whether we inherit, genetically, the intellectual tools to decipher, through our senses, the world around us or whether we arrive on this earth without a clue.

Those on the ‘nurture’ side of the argument tend to view the human intellect as being formed for the most part by the culture in which we grow up. The values we hold dear, our sense of place in the world, our spiritual nature are written on the blank slate of our being by our unifying culture.

The ‘nature’ folks, on the other hand, site the cross-cultural similarities humankind shares. Western cultures, primitive tribal groups and most all cultures between are amazingly similar in how social relationships function, the significance of spirituality, development of art expression and the use of moral taboos. The cultural commonalities would suggest the pre-natal slate was anything but blank.

On the ‘nature’ side I suspect all of human kind views itself as special beings of superior intelligence within our respective worlds which would seem to suggest a potential unifier; something to bring us all together; to encourage cooperation. I guess it must be the ‘nurture’ aspect of our being that creates divisiveness, religious conflicts, ideological differences, a misplaced sense of superiority over those unlike us.

I guess who we are is a bit of both nature and nurture; it would seem to me a push toward the nature side would be beneficial to all.

The Dangers of Religious Fundamentalism

I’ve been reading that one of the primary drivers of religious fundamentalism is the sense of feeling under siege: the opposition, anyone holding a perspective contrary to the orthodox view, is identified not simply as apostate but as the enemy: immoral and evil.

With the firm belief God is on their side, fundamentalists embrace a world view that may include cosmic battle against the forces of evil.  Fundamentalists convince themselves they are the chosen ones of God which sometimes leads to nationalistic fervor and an aggressive political stance and may even include the idea of replacing secular government and constitution with the tenets of their religious beliefs. They evangelize, convinced anyone not a believer is doomed to eternal Hell, which I suppose might be considered somewhat altruistic ( the evangelizing that is), if the rigidity of their demanded beliefs weren’t quite so outrageous and their methods of conversion less oppressive. These folks take their sacred writings literally, a gift from God, inerrant, any metaphorical allusions lost on their determined black/white perspective. So, the fundamentalists flex their muscles in tense confrontation, waiting for the sign from God signaling Armageddon.

Whew! This all might make exciting TV drama if it weren’t so real.