knowledge of self – knowledge of the other

Feuerbach wasn’t entirely wrong.  Projection is a real thing.  Anthropomorphism is well known: that we can project human characteristics onto animals.  When it comes to Feuerbach and God, I think he just throws out the baby (that humans can know anything of God) with the bathwater (humans are prone to projection). For him, projection is a reason to doubt any/all knowledge of, and hence the existence of (for who can be bothered believing in something you can’t know!?) God.  For me, projection is the temptation to make God into a mere idol.

But the salient insight here is the importance of knowing self (and your tendency to project – or indeed your tendency to dismiss the possibility for any knowledge simply because full/perfect knowledge seems impossible) in the quest to know any ‘other’.  Both the knowing subject and the known object must be a part of any thoroughgoing epistemology.

against the flow

another ‘free will’ post came to mind.

Whether or not you believe that ‘free will’ is illusory or not, there seems to be an agreed spectrum from, say, rock to Raymond, when it comes to apparent capacity for self-determination: to determine one’s own action.  Rocks are utterly a slave to physical forces or agents other than themselves; being forced into rock walls or river beds.  Raymond however, though his father’s vocation may affect his choice, determines for himself whether he will be a rock wall builder or a fresh water biologist.

Somewhere in the middle would be plants and animals.  Plants ‘choose’ to grow toward the sunlight, apparently.  And animals can ‘choose’ a mate, etc.  I believe I’ve correctly applied the quote-marks around ‘choose’, because as far as we know, the plant and animals are ‘going with the flow’ of the biological and cultural pressure that presses upon them.

Humans at least appear to be able to swim at or hold their heads above, the surface and breathe the air of self-determination.  Rather than being entirely determined by others, we can choose to reject a religion, a meal, a person, an idea, or life itself ((I don’t think suicide occurs in the animal or plant worlds?)) .  A few observations:

  • As a rock cannot choose to be this or that colour, we cannot choose to, for example, fly or levitate.  So we’re talking about possible choices, not impossible ones.
  • Whilst our heads are above the water, our bodies are under water.  We don’t consciously choose to distribute blood throughout the circulatory system, or say to our toenails, ‘Grow!’
  • We easily (and regularly) slip beneath the surface.  Sleep, for example, takes us under.  By contrast, whilst sleep is a refreshing, re-fuelling, humane subconscious state, getting drunk or taking meth-amphetamines pulls you under in a most dehumanising way.  I’ve been drunk many times in my life (particularly if not entirely between ages 18-20!).  There were periods that I don’t remember at all.  These points I was blurring the line between human and non-human.  My ability for self-determination was decreased to the point of nearly vanishing.
  • In light of the above, some macro-choices seem to set up subsequent micro-choices.  The macro-choice to get drunk (itself preceded by choosing to drink ‘one more’… and ‘just one more’…) will lead to all manner of other, progressively less self-determined (!!) micro-choices – including choosing to drive home sleepy and drunk (as I did at least once!!).
  • Because individual self-determining humans do not exist in a vacuum, there will be all kinds of influence from others (and circumstances) upon this self-determination.  Though a) the mere presence of influence does not determine how the influence will be responded to (the flow of influence may be yielded to or opposed), and b) the mere presence of influence on the chooser does not mean that the choice made is unreal; even an experiment where a subject must ‘choose’ the mathematical equation that is balanced is still a choice, though entirely prescribed.
  • In the same way, I see no reason that the ability to predict a choice means that it is not an actual, real choice.

love of self & others

More and more, I’m convinced that love of self and neighbour/others are meant to go together.  Love of self without love of others is – literally – selfish, and love of others without love of self is not only unsustainable but false.  Leaving aside the question of justification for love of self (when we all know too well of the things we do which we don’t love – or do we grow too skilled at dismissing these things from our minds?), I found a relevant statement yesterday in Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy.  As a part his argument that ‘hunger for significance’ is not egotistical, he defines egotism in a helpful way:

Egotism is pathological self-obsession, a reaction to anxiety about whether one really does count.  It is a form of acute self-consciousness and can be prevented and healed only by the experience of being adequately loved.  It is, indeed, a desperate response to frustration of the need we all have to count for something and be held to be irreplaceable, without price.

 

beings that have – or havers that are had

(The excellent documentary that got my brain going down this – excellent or not so excellent – train of thought is ‘Consumed: Inside the Belly of the Beast‘) ((And no, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t notice the parallel language to John the Seer in chapters 17-18 of his Apocalypse!))

Erich Fromm is known in large part for his contrast between the ‘being’ and ‘having’ modes of existence, as expressed in his 1976 book (partial preview here), To Have or To Be?  The basic idea is that humans, having estranged ourselves from our environment or the other(s), try to restore this relationship either by way of some kind of dominating possession (‘having’) of the other, or by way of relating to or existing (‘being’) with the other.

The speculative thought I wanted to explore via blogging (one of blogging’s best uses) is thus: Only ‘beings’ can actually ‘have’; and ‘havers’ are actually ‘had’ by the things they think they ‘have’.

The haver is defined by the act of possession of the other, and is thus enslaved to his desire to have this other.  The being, however, is defined by, not possession, but relationship to other (and self), and is thus free of needing to have the other.

It is worth pausing and considering the many things we can desire to possess – the many things which can thus begin to possess us.  Status.  Wealth.  Comfort.  Knowledge.  Satisfaction.  Power.  Relationships.  Affection.  I reckon all of these things are good things which are nonetheless distorted when we seek to found our being upon having them.  i.e. “I am one who has knowledge, friends, wealth, etc.”

I believe the ultimate Being is the Creator, whose ontological (Gk. ontos = being/existence) status is wholly distinct from, and transcendent of, our world.  The Creator did not need to have a creation ((which would make the Creator contingent upon the creation!!)), but rather simply is a creative Being, and thus a) relates to creation as being the Creator, and b) therefore truly has it.

Thus, we most reflect this ultimate Being when our being is grounded by relationship to the other, rather than established by possession of the other.

the (w)hole in our confession

Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind & strength
Love your neighbour as you…
Love your self.

Love of God, neighbour and self are all interwoven.  I’ve been thinking lately about confession, which – like love – occurs in relationship.  Protestants often are quick to give reasons why they don’t confess to a priest like Catholics.  “Through Christ, we can confess [but do we!?] directly to God…”  Fair enough.  But one thing about confession to a priest is that at least they are confessing horizontally as well as vertically.

I may be wrong, but I suspect that Protestants are not that great at horizontal confession.  When we do it, we often only confess the really easy-to-confess stuff.  “Oh, I just have to be honest with you… I’ve allowed myself to get too busy this week.”  In the ModWest, being busy is a virtue, for crying out loud – that’s hardly confession…  Rarely do we [OK… I!!] have a) the courage, and b) the quality of relationship to confess the darkest, deepest, hardest-to-confess stuff.

My theory is that our vertical confession is at least complimented (and, at most, completed!?) by our horizontal confession.  I reckon it can be all too easy to create a ‘god’ that suits our (vertical) confessional needs; that responds to our confession with just the perfect amount and flavour of gentleness, assurance, anger, frustration or whatever makes us feel better – which is too often the reason for doing it anyway…

Confession, like love, is meant to be so holistically real that it touches all of our person – our emotions (heart), our identity (soul), our thoughts (mind) and our actions (strength).  May we be truly honest, real and vulnerable in our confession – vertically to God, horizontally to our close, trusted friends, and even internally to ourselves!!

Confess to the Lord, with all your heart, soul, mind & strength
Confess to your neighbour as you…
Confess to yourself.

sex & identity

The ‘proper’ basis for the personal identity of any given human is a hard thing to derive… if you’re limited to the tools of, say, science.  Science wonderfully (and tragically in the case of murder, hate, discrimination, etc.) describes what humans ‘do’ (human doings), but not what/who humans ‘are’ (human beings).

I’d want to affirm that ‘doing’ (as well as ‘knowing’ and ‘feeling’) is a necessary component of what a human ‘being’ is, but not the whole composition.  Any identity based on only feelings, actions and intelligence alone is incomplete and leaves out something. Continue reading “sex & identity”