Sunday, July 27, 2008

Meet the Human Mind... Part 1

Knowledge is a curious thing, for it assumes that in some sense the mind is united with the thing known – “in knowledge the known and knower are made one.” In Surprised by Joy Lewis, borrowing from Alexander, notes a distinction between the contemplated and the enjoyed, and this is a profound observation. In essence, the contemplated is the object known, and the enjoyed is the knowledge itself – the experience. If we are to turn our attention to the knowledge itself, the experience, then it, in fact, becomes the object known, and we are simultaneously immersed in a new experience.

I’ll steal once again from Lewis, and take his illustration of a beam of light in a dark shed: If we step into our shed, we can look AT the beam and see a ray of light streaming by us. However, we can also step into the ray and look ALONG the beam as we look AT blue sky, waving trees and green leaves outside the shed. Likewise, we can say the experience of knowing is a looking ALONG affections, perceptions and concepts AT given objects. This means, however, that – assuming we’re conscious -- every time we step out of a “beam” we are stepping into another, and that, by the mental equivalent of a sleight of hand we can forget, ignore or mistake the fact that we are knowing for the known; or, to square with our illustration, we can neglect the beam of light along which we see -- solely for the trees.

There’s a relevant application of this observation to atheism, and any type of naturalism; for I think the current atheism/naturalism which is gaining some minor popularity is the offspring of a rotten philosophical heritage which, by the same mental slight of hand, insists that because it cannot see it’s own eyes, then it simply won’t believe that eyes exist; consequently it’s focus neglects the inner reality of our conscious existence and, at best, only allows this reality in so far as it looks AT the world it wants to see. It’s a remarkable irony that atheist “humanists” are far less impressed by the nature of humans than certain religious theists, who hold that man is actually fallen from his original stature and is in dire need of God to save him: It seems that when man is not made in the image of God, he is not even perceived in the image of man; when man has not fallen from the image of God, he falls, instead, from the image of man.


Much recent science tells us what realist philosophers have long maintained: that the universe is not spatially infinite, nor infinite in time. The universe outside our minds, though vast and enormously beautiful and intriguing, does not possess the ultimate property that our minds which grasp, that is, encompass, the universe actually do. The universe is not infinite, yet our minds, which possess the idea, in some way exceed its finitude. Therefore, we can really speak of two universes; and though it’s proper to speak of a universe outside our minds, it is not precisely correct to speak of that second universe inside our minds; it’s accurate, rather, to call it the universe of our minds. The outside universe -- the object seen through the lens of, say, the science of astronomy, with it’s beautiful nebula, like colorful cobwebs scattered about the farthest corners of unnamed galaxies; and with it’s curious ability to capture the past and brand it into the heavens even for the naked eye to behold; that wonderful, awe inspiring universe is truly remarkable – yet that universe with all it’s glory and majesty remains incomparable, a non-rival, to the miracle of the human mind. Indeed, for, unlike the universe of the mind, that universe has yet to birth a single concept by which it can grasp itself. Further, the human mind, with it’s ability to conceive a universal idea within it’s mystical and immaterial womb thus reveals the additional capacity to furnish a higher point of reference for the grammar of “spiritual realities” over and above the limited vocabulary to which the materialist would confine us -- though we must be leery of a new occasion inviting us to the opposite error -- idealism.

We may have long ago abandoned Plato and his theory of Forms, which posits universals shining above the sense world in some immaterial realm, and which, he maintained, are the actual knowledge of each individual mind; but is it any less miraculous and threatening to the materialist for us to note that each individual mind is furnished with it’s own immaterial, universal forms, thus a vast multitude of minds -- that is, a vast multitude of immaterial realms, “shines” above the spatiotemporal sense world? Perhaps not, perhaps we’ll be granted so much; even so, it may be asked, isn’t it ultimately just an academic exercise to insist we keep within our purview experienced and verifiable facts like, for instance, the fact that our minds contain concepts which are infinite (universal), yet which we know vary from each other -- like a triangle and a square? Why do such observations, along with other such concepts as the permanent “I” of Kant, and even the discovery of an (immaterial) intellectual stratosphere as inescapably ablaze with the idea of God as the land of the never-setting sun with light; why does the beam of light I’m asking us to step out of and examine, which includes these and other vast implications, have any practical importance for us? Or, to phrase it conversely, why is the true academic exercise the one taken up by the view, be it atheist or not, which steps into (what I somewhat hesitate to call) the epistemological light and pretends to forget all of its properties, including its very existence?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Catholic Insights

My Catholic Study Bible (The New Catholic Answer Bible -- NAB) has a series of inserts which help explain the Catholic faith. One of these inserts is a response to whether or not Catholics preach the Gospel. The answer, of course, is that they do. Acts 2:22 and the verses following present St. Peter preaching what Catholics preach -- the Gospel. The Good News St. Peter preaches is Christ's "life, death, resurrection and ascension... [as well as] our response of repentance, baptism and obedience to God".

Now, there are some more things I've discovered that are good to know about the Catholic faith. The first is that Salvation is by grace-a free gift from God. That means God can give it to us under whatever conditions he sees fit. No matter what we do we cannot be good enough to deserve the death of His Son on our behalf, and the consequent life which flows from His actions; but God can infuse that grace in any way he sees fit. If He says you must normally be baptized in order to receive it, then so be it. Of course, then the charge naturally arises that babies do not assent to the gift (though neither did the circumcised babies of the Old Covenant). However, it's perfectly in keeping with the idea that we can lose our faith - a proposition with which even Protestants disagree amongst themselves -- to say we must maintain the gift given to us at birth (once we've hit the age of reason) by continually assenting in perseverance (starting with confirmation), and growing through devotion. In other words, we must choose to keep the gift of grace in perseverance. What does perseverance mean? It means staying out of mortal sin (grave sins like sexual sins, habitual pride, severe anger, greed, theft, denying God, among others), and sincerely repenting and being faithful to confess such sins to Jesus through a priest if and when we do commit them. It is all so very simple when we consider that that's all we have to do to stay out of hell!

In addition there are three more profound insights that I've gleaned about Catholic practice - by, incidentally, both Protestants and Catholics. The first is that our relationship with God has progressive stages and can culminate in mystical union even here and now. The second is that (and I'm borrowing heavily from N.T. Wright here) God's dimension interlocks with our world in various places and ways (Sacramental-ism), so that the primary focus of Christianity is to continue where early Judaism left off and bring Heaven's transformative energy to Earth in every dimension of our lives in order to begin the process of new creation "even here and now." The last is what I call a vital principle in defending Catholicism, which is an answer to all charges that the truth of Catholicism is nullified by the horrible sins of some of her children - it is a three-pronged principle: 1.) moral knowledge must progress from an "unchanging element", 2.) that unchanging element is the idea that man is a "rational animal" -- from which stems the logic that "all men are created equal with inalienable rights". 3.) The Catholic Church has this specific element at it's core and, by virtue of it's creeds, sacraments and saints, has fostered it's growth and unpacked it's implications -- though often slowly and in spite of it's members, even lending it to others outside it's fold -- up to the present. The Church's moral theology, from abortion to contraception to solidarity, delicately balances the vital conception of the dignity of man against the varied and continuous onslaught of man's disordered passions, especially as they materialize in the socio/political dimension.