I recently posted on one of my other blogs about a favorite subject of mine, a closed-referential system also called epistemic closure or confirmation bias. I focus on this issue because it is personally relevant given my youth in a very close-minded community and religious culture. And my knowledge about this matter is so personal that without a doubt I am revealing that my “escape” from the close-mindedness is not complete and probably never will be. In fact, it is impossible to cease to think outside of a context and that context is always larger than one is aware of. We do not have an “objective” existence and if we ever accomplish that stance we will have become God and personally, I’ve already told friends that if I ever give evidence that I think I have accomplished that, “Just come and shoot me!” I often like to use the term “god-complex” for those who are so rigid in their belief system that the uncertainty necessary for faith is not permitted to visit them.
My focus for the moment is the way in which religious thought can become self-contained so that it is self-referential, leading always to group-think and the aforementioned epistemic closure. In a spiritual context like this “god-talk” is nothing but idle chatter even though the “chatting” might be done with great solemnity and fervor. The “god-talk” I have in mind can be thought of as social grooming, amounting to nothing more than “car-talk” or banter about the local sports team. Social grooming is very important and even has value in a religious setting though not when it is an end in itself. “God-talk” might be thought of in the spiritual context I come from as the exchange of common-place notions like, “Jesus Saves” or “Praise the Lord” or “Isn’t God wonderful” or “Hallelujah” and all of these terms have value. But their value has meaning only when they are used in a group dialogue in which they are explored in terms of personal experience and not as mere grist for a social mill. When reduced to this grist, they have the value only of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”
The core issue here is epistemological, the word is not the thing or as the Buddhists put it, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.” But our culture has misled us, teaching us that “the word is the thing,” that it is the “thing in itself” and not the pointer that the Buddhists would have us learn. This view of the world gives us the impression that the world is one dimensional, that there is no immaterial dimension to life, and that our everyone is empowered to claim objectivity. But the problem with this “objectivity” is that it encourages everyone to claim the right to this objectivity which puts on our table at this present moment two diametrically opposing views of how the world should be seen. One view is conservative and at its root is a firm belief that “the way things are” is valid and need to be maintained, that “walls” need to be built around it to keep out the ever-encroaching peril of the other view. This other view, the liberal view, does not see reality as static but as a dynamic flow that permits us to have only a viewpoint, not an objective grasp of “the way things are.”
The “immaterial” dimension of life, i.e. the “spiritual”, could humble each of these perspectives and permit the finding of common ground. The conservative and the liberal energy is necessary in any political body but when each side is dug in at the heels conflict cannot be resolved and catastrophe can take place. But by using the term “spiritual” I have just opened a can of worms as the word means something which is not spiritual in the least but a means of social control and even tyranny.
TO BE CONTINUED