Category Archives: epistomology

“Ways of Seeing” by Peter Berger

Vision is subtle and frequently we “have eyes to see but see not” and, yes, ” ears to hear but hear not.”  And it is very challenging to realize that human nature subjects us to this limitation yet without meaning, necessarily, that we are a bad person.  But if we never let the wisdom of this quip from Jesus sink in it can lead to a lot of “bad” that will emanate from the resulting unexamined life.

Relevant to this subject, John Berger wrote a classic little book in 1972 entitled, “Ways of Seeing.”  When I discovered the book 25 years ago it grabbed me immediately even though it was written to artists by an art critic and I am far removed from either.  But at that time in my life I was very familiar with the ambiguity of life, including “ways of seeing” and readily grasped the wisdom from the eye of this art critic. Berger pointed out that seeing ultimately is not so much a deed as it is an experience as an evocation as we focus on an object and allow that object to evoke from the depths of our heart a meaningful experience.  Each of us have these interior depths though so often circumstances have confined us to the surface of life where we scurry about our three-score and ten without ever daring to venture into the deep places of the heart that hide the mystery of life.  Venturing there will force us to encounter the significance of the teaching the aforementioned teaching of Jesus about having vision and using it not.

Here are the opening words of Berger’s brilliant book:

Seeing comes before words.  The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.  But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words.  It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.  The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.  Each evening we see the sun set.  We know that the earth is turning away from it.  Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

 Berger realized the simple truth that object-relations theory teaches us in the field of psychology:  there is a gap between the subject and object, between the sense-perceiver and the perceived.  This is the “gap” that Deepak Chopra has made famous and therein lies the mystery of life.

 

The following is a list of my blogs.  Please check the others out!

 

Literarylew.wordpress.com

anrrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

Theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

The Irony of Speaking the Truth

This truth matter is really heavy on my heart recently primarily from the assault on “Truth” by the Trump administration.  In the past week I have explored truth’s subtlety, a subtlety that is so pronounced that I think it is something we can never grasp objectively but Some “thing” that peeks through our heart occasionally in spite of our deep-seated, unconscious effort to not let it happen.

But please note the irony I am demonstrating.  I will admit that at present moment I believe I am speaking…or writing…what is truthful otherwise I would not even bother to offer this verbal deed to the oblivion of the cyber world.  But what I say here, and in real time, is only a perspective of how I see the world and can never be thought of as “objective.”  Everything we do and say is only our “skewed” way of viewing the world but it is important that we put this “skewed view” on the table in daily exchange with other people, be it here in the cyber world and or in day-to-day life with people we encounter.  The dialogical engagement with other people is imperative so that we can avoid the temptation of speaking, thinking, and living in an echo chamber.

The echo chamber is lethal.  If we isolate ourselves within a safe cocoon of group-think we are signing our death certificate, so to speak, as the soul cannot thrive in the resulting abyss of “empty self-relatedness.”  This isolation, if not broken, will spell our doom individually and collectively without Divine intervention; for, in that self-imposed prison we “feed even on the pith of life” as Shakespeare not

“The Moon is Made Out of Cheese”

The following is a facetious reverie I utilize socially on occasion to illustrate the lunacy that we all wallow in occasionally.  Bear with me.  There is a point to it.

Wow, I woke up this morning and I suddenly realized that the moon is made out of cheese!  Furthermore, I knew that this insight was profound and relevant to the entire world so I immediately began to formulate a plan whereby I could spread this very important insight.

I started by canvassing my neighborhood and though many refused to open the door, some laughed at me, there were a handful of people who, knowing how special and gifted I was to begin with, immediately said, “Hey, you have a point there!  I’ve always had thoughts like that myself but didn’t have the courage to speak of them.”

So we began to meet regularly and started each meeting with an assessment of those in the neighborhood who had not “seen the light” and had so rudely refused the good news that we had brought.  We took great comfort in the realization that most people cannot handle the truth, stubbornly keep their minds and hearts in the darkness, and refuse to allow enlightenment to enter.  Often, as these meetings ended, we would be in tears as we lamented the fate of those who had stubbornly refused to acknowledge the truth that we offered.

I must make a long story short and summarize.  This initial group did grow and at some point our initial band of seven faithful souls expanded to twenty-three.  We formally organized and, of course, since I was the source of this inspiration I announced that I was the leader of the group…and also the treasurer…and that I was the final authority on some of the fine points about the moon being made out of cheese.

At this point, trouble started.  One gentleman brought up the question, “Well, what kind of cheese is it?”  I was a bit taken aback as I knew without a doubt that it was American cheese but another dared to suggest, “No, it is cheddar.”  Still another affirmed that it was American cheese but argued that it was Velveeta.  It took a lot of argument, and at times intense anger, but I managed to convince the second gentleman that the Velveeta notion was heresy and he agreed with me.  But the cheddar proponent was adamant about his viewpoint, and convinced three others he was right, and they separated from our group and focused on developing a belief system around the moon being made out of cheddar cheese.

My point here with this lunacy is, once again, “Don’t believe everything you think.”  Those who do, lacking the capacity to think critically, are subject to easily being influenced by a seductive and/or intimidating person.  Whatever our “pet” thoughts are, it does not hurt in the least to subject them to a bit of critical thinking.  I like T.S. Eliot’s observation on this note, encouraging us to, “live in the breakage, in the collapse of what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”  “Pet” thoughts that have value can withstand this type of scrutiny and even flourish as a result.  This makes me think of something I read decades ago about how to make a poem, “Grab a word and pull on it.”  Grabbing a word or a thought and “pulling on it” with critical thinking can help ferret out the value…if any…if the thinking.  The less value in the vein of thought that grips one’s soul, the less likelihood that any critical thinking will be brought to bear upon it.

Each of us have passing thoughts.  That is good.  But we can be selective about which one’s we give any energy to and if it is something that tends to promote isolation, we might take pause.  We might ask, “Do I really believe this?”

The Peril of an Unexamined Life

This bumper sticker, actually the title of a book by Thubten Chodron, probably summarized what life had to teach me in 2016.  This wisdom has been percolating in my heart for several years and primarily with the Presidential election in my country I finally “got it” fully, seeing how much lunacy I’ve subscribed to over my lifetime merely because I subscribed to every idle thought that fluttered through my mind without giving any of them much scrutiny.

I can’t fully explain how my life ever took the course of getting out of the echo-chamber variety of thought that I was born into and indoctrinated with, destined to continue for my allotted “three score and ten” years.  I do remember in my teen years posing a question or two in Sunday school that challenged some of the premises of my belief system but I readily overlooked my realization that my questions were not being answered and continued dutifully along my charted course into my twenties.

But critical thinking flirted with me, gradually finding a home, and I discovered the wisdom of the Greeks who told us to avoid “the unexamined life.”  For if we never mature to the point of using the metacognitive skills that our neocortex blesses us with, we will live our life in a very narrow world of unexamined preconceptions.  This is what prompted the fear of Henry David Thoreau that he would come to the end of his life and realize that what he had lived was not really life at all.   And this is very much what Jesus had in mind when he warned us about “gaining the whole world and losing our own soul.”  Jesus knew that we are only a soul, a spiritual being having an earthly moment, and to never engage in the “working out of our own salvation with fear and trembling,” as the Apostle Paul would  put it, would mean never knowing that Inner Essence that seeks so desperately to find expression.

Thinking itself is never the problem.  The problem is our ego’s attachment to our thinking which too often blocks us from the realization that other people might have equally valid ways of thinking about the world.  This is only too apparent in my country now as the division between drastically different ways of viewing the world has been exposed by the arrival of Donald Trump and the phenomenon of Trumpism.  And there can be no resolution unless these contrasting belief systems employ some transcendent reference point and get beyond themselves long enough to focus on a common good. I sometimes facetiously suggest to friends that what we need to have is the threat from an alien life form that threatens our very existence!  Perhaps that would encourage us to overlook some of our petty differences.

Post-modernism and Consciousness

Hamlet lamented in a famous soliloquy, “Thus conscience (i.e. consciousness) doeth make cowards of us all.” Shakespeare demonstrated in his plays and sonnets a profound grasp of the human condition and beautifully illustrated our foibles in various characters such as the Prince of Denmark.  Hamlet, as well as many Shakespearean characters, portray for us a soul tortured by consciousness and Hamlet noted in this same soliloquy that such “awareness” can stymie one into inaction.  In clinical lore of recent decades, I have often run across the “Hamlet Syndrome,” the plague of many young men…usually not women…who are so conflicted they have trouble making decisions, thus their many dreams and fancies, “lose the name of action.”

Another theme of Shakespeare was madness and his understanding of this common human malady was not unrelated to his insights about consciousness.  For, there is a “common-sense” consciousness that one is given by his community and one’s lot is to be immersed in it fully; and to step outside of this comfort zone for even a moment and become aware of “consciousness” is not unrelated to madness. Asking one to take this meta-cognitive leap is like asking a fish to see water. For this leap into meta-cognition for someone who has never doubted his way of looking at the world, i.e. his conscious grasp of the world, will find the sudden dawn of a perspective on his perspective frightening.  As philosopher Paul Ricoeur noted, “To have a perspective on one’s perspective is to somehow escape it” and this escape, or even its temptation is terrifying.  The terror of this leap is so threatening that most people live their entire life comfortably ensconced in the narrow view of the world they were given by their tribe, usually deemed as decreed valid by the gods/God.

But, awareness of this issue does not relieve one from the onslaught of unconscious influences. Consciousness flows from the depths of the heart and to be conscious is to realize that the depths of the heart are endless so that one can never bask in the comfort of thinking he has arrived with a wholly “conscious” grasp of the world.  The best one hope of doing is to own a very skewed view of the world and hope that as he continues to age his “skewing” might be more amenable to other viewpoints, leaving one free of the hubris of “objectivity.”

But damn it, it was so much easier in my youth when I mindlessly and dutifully imbibed of what the Apostle Paul described as “the wisdom of this world.”  Yes, in my case doubt was always there nagging at me but I always returned to my script and just doubled-down on unexamined truth, not yet willing to acknowledge that I was merely demonstrating the “bad faith” noted by Jean Paul Sartre. But this post-modern view of the world is, and will continue to be, totally incomprehensible to those who are still comfortably ensconced in a linear view of the world.  I grew up in that linear world and remember viewing askance what was then labeled as “relativism”, often affirming brazenly, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

But most of the people who still live in that mind-set are not bad people nor is their view of the world.  I’m sure an equal number of “bad people” see the world as I do.  “Badness” is not a function of our world view but of how much we are under its tyranny.  The more rigidly certain that our way is the “right way” the more liberty will we feel that to impose our will upon other people, even under the name of God!

A Believing Cynic Looks at Faith

 

CONFESSIONS OF A BELIEVING CYNIC

The election last month, and the conservative support of Donald Trump, really rattled my cage spiritually and helped me to understand more fully the origins of my faith.  These origins were very childish, but then how can “origins” be anything but childish.  We started out as children and most of us were introduced to faith in our very early childhood.

But, “ When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  The Apostle Paul realized that maturity in every dimension of life brings a changing perspective.  Without the ability to change, one will inevitably spend his/her life trapped in what Ronald Laing described as a “post-hypnotic trance of early childhood.”  In this trance, we will bask in unexamined assumptions with a naivety that is dangerous to the whole of our life.

But here I want to address naivety in faith, an exploration which required delving very deeply into spiritual/religious cynicism, an exploration warranted by the recent Presidential election.  Cynicism will jeopardize one’s faith but I have found that by venturing into this jeopardy one’s faith can be deepened and broadened, though it has cost me the certainty which I had when as a child; for in my youth I had so readily imbibed dogma, the “letter of the law.”  This loss of certainty, which I see as a perquisite of meaningful faith, did cost me my religion/faith in a certain sense as I had to learn to approach the Bible, faith itself and even my own identity with a critical perspective.  I could not do this until the middle ages of my life because my identity was too tenuous to subject itself to criticism, a “criticism” which from the perspective of the the Apostle Paul can be seen as an ability to let “the Spirit of God” penetrate into one’s depths and there be “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  This process taught me the wisdom of, I think, Richard Rohr, “God is the best way of avoiding God, Jesus is the best way of avoiding Jesus, the Bible is the best way of avoiding the Bible.”  For when we bask in early childhood certainties, God, Jesus, and the Bible will only be seen conceptually and therefore devoid of any “spiritual” dimension.  The “letter of the law will predominate.”

Cynicism taught me to recognize the dilemma of “believing in one’s own belief” which is basically trusting in reason which, upon closer scrutiny, is merely trusting in one’s own ego-ridden self.  And the ego does not want to relinquish its grasp in any part of our life, certainly in the area of faith.  No less a conservative Christian luminary than Oswald Chambers in his Collected Works warned against the fallacy of “believing in one’s belief or having faith in one’s faith.”

“Believing in one’s belief” is the subtle procedure of keeping faith confined to reason and, in the safety of the resulting imprisonment, one can have his head/heart filled with gospel jargon which will then be abutted by even more jargon.  For, one’s cognitive life will be the rattle of sterile jargon careening around inside one’s head.  Cynicism has given me the ability to follow the admonishment of a bumper sticker I often quote, “Don’t believe everything you think.”  I now realize that when I was believing everything I was thinking I was merely an echo chamber, living in a context of other echo chambers which protected me from any critical view of my faith, of my “self.”  And the “self”, when imprisoned by the ego, does not tolerate any criticism as our President-elect illustrates on an almost daily basis.  When the ego-ridden collective echo-chamber grows large enough it can even gain political and social power, necessitating that someone or some groups will inevitably be left out.  The ego only knows exclusion, “us vs. them.”

Semiotics, Language, Meaning, & Politics

Words do have meaning.  They have value.  I do not think it is trivial that in the Judaeo-Christian tradition we have been presented with the notion of Jesus being “the Word made flesh” though this notion is much deeper and more meaningful than I understood as a child.  I have been immersed in linguistics, semiotics and philosophy for the past 20 years or so and now understand that language is much more than meets the “eye.”  Language, i.e. “the Word”, is a gut-level dimension of our experience and its value extends deeply into this “gut”, or heart, what some label the unconscious.  Words not only extend into this subterranean dimension of our lives but they arise from those depths and are essentially what makes us human.  (See Sandburg poem at conclusion)

Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst who was one of the earliest figures in my venture into this heart-realm argued that our very identity, on some level, is basically a verbal structure which I think provides further understanding of the admonishment of Jesus, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”  Our words reveal who we are, or as someone said, “Our words become us” and as the Bible teaches us, “As a man thinketh, so is he.”

But the value of words is multi-dimensional.  There is the very superficial dimension which allows us to perfunctorily live in our culture and offer a “convincing performance” each day of our life.  Without this level of verbal experience, any culture would collapse because the hidden dimension of language, that of “meaning”, would be too intense for most people.  In the words of T. S. Eliot, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”  Yet in this superficial level of experience, “common sense reality”, language even then must be offered respect.  Words do matter including the context in which they are used.  The example the contextual issue is often put on the table with is the observation that though one might have free speech, he does not have the right to cry “fire” in a crowded theater.  Words do convey “fact” in some respect even though some of us pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals admittedly like to question things like “fact!”  But the “factual” world must be respected if a social body is to cohere in a meaningful fashion.  If our political leaders start to play fast and easy with facts, i.e. with truth, then the very fabric of society is threatened.

And, you might have guessed, this brings me to Trumpism.  I will offer a link to a story in the Washington Post which addresses this verbal disintegration that threatens us.  Trump has ushered in what is being called a “fact free” world in which people can say anything without anything to back it up and will get by with it.  People will not be held accountable for their words, which was so pointedly demonstrated with Mr. Trump during the campaign when he said the most outrageous things and his followers completely overlooked them.  Even now as he is preparing for inauguration he and his transition team and continuing to demonstrate “fast and easy” use of language and now even trying to justify it.  Words do not matter to them.

This is relevant to an earlier point that words emerge from the depths of our heart.  In Trump’s heart there is grave “porosity of boundaries” so that he speaks and lives with disdain for common sensibilities and decorum, paralleling his life-style.  He was right when he declared months ago in the campaign the campaign that “I could shoot someone in the streets of Manhattan” and not suffer at the polls.  He was exactly right.  He early in life discovered that no one would set limits for him and could steam-roll over any obstacle before him.  The American electorate has been steam-rolled and he is still being propped up by his supporters, many of whom continue to claim that God “has raised him up” to Make America Great Again.  And I can’t help but wonder if Trump is the mouth-piece for some heavily repressed dimension of his supporter’s heart

For perspective on this emerging fact-free zone, read the following (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-post-truth-world-of-the-trump-administration-is-scarier-than-you-think/2016/12/02/ebda952a-b897-11e6-b994-f45a208f7a73_story.html?utm_term=.cffac584016f)

A great poem by Carl Sandburg about our words rising out of our hidden depths.  (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/jabberers/ http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/jabberers/)