Friday, January 06, 2006

Position Statement: Religion

The world has always seemed a wonderful and strange place to me. Its sheer existence is a one-off miracle that evokes a sense of numinous awe, a miracle that some philosophers probe with language stretching questions like “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Strangest of all is my own sense of conscious being. Everything takes place within the theatre of one’s conscious cognition: sensations, feelings, understandings, concepts, and explanations etc. Even physical theories that attempt to explain conscious cognition are effectively a subcategory of the very thing they purport to explain in as much as they use conceptual artifacts, such as neurons and atoms, which are themselves constructed and hosted by the mind. It is impossible, therefore, to carry out an absolute reduction of mind stuff to a purely physical ontology (say to “just atoms”, for example) because all such ontological reductions, in the final analysis, are reductions to logically structured cognita. All attempts to get at the nature of the “thing-in-itself” only has the effect of generating more cognita.

The first person perspective, for me, has therefore always seemed an irreducible aspect of reality. The peculiarity of the central role of consciousness in ontology has made the existence of a primary Divine Personality at least an intelligible notion to me. However, intelligibility doesn’t entail existence, and so uncertainty always dogged any attempt of mine to relate to this Personality. It is an irony, however, that this very skepticism lead to my own faith, for a consistent skepticism is unable rule out that which it cannot rule out with certainty and therefore invites further investigation and testing. Moreover, the primary and irreducible place of conscious cognition in the greater scheme of things meant that the logical status of the conjectured Divine Persona is not on a par with Bertrand Russell’s teapot in solar orbit.

For a skeptic such as myself Pascal’s wager always seemed worth playing and in time this lead to my acceptance of the New Testament Jesus as the revelation of the Grace of God. I have studied other religions and in comparison I have to say, whatever revelations may be therein, they are in my opinion far surpassed in quality and gravitas by the unspeakable riches we find in the New Testament story of Divine sacrifice. Like my grandmother who used to bet on horses, a study of form lead me to lay Pascal’s wager on the best in field. Nevertheless, in spite of the exclusiveness of Christian revelation in terms of its perfect synergy of quality and historical influence, there is, I believe great variation and leeway in how God reveals His grace from individual to individual, and I would be anxious to operate an inclusiveness on this level.

It is clear that Christains are no longer stewards or authors of the authoritative texts of society. A consequence of this, perhaps, is that many Christains are diffident toward the text as a form of revelation. Quite common in contemporary Christian circles is a notion of revelation bound up with naked abreactions and “Touches of God”, neither of which is easily articulated without using quasi-sensual imagery. There is, I feel, nothing wrong with this per se provided it is not exclusive, uncontrolled, or is in fact a subliminal strategy to either avoid polemical engagement with texts challenging Christianity, or to excuse a suspension of the mind in order that the crass illustrations and fideist philosophy of some cliché surfing preacher can be ingested without difficulty.

For myself the joy of the faith is in knowing that one really can ‘investigate’ one self into the presence of God. For as I have said “Revelation is what we cannot discover unless God chooses that we discover it.” The act of seeking only brings fruit unless God chooses that it does so, whether through the seekings of reason or mystical experience (Jeremiah 29:13-14 , 33:3).

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