Friday, July 14, 2006

In search or in denial?

"The new rebel is a skeptic and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyality, therefore he can never be a true revolutionist, and the fact that he doubts everything gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind, and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. "

"Thus he writes one book, complaining that imperial oppression insults superiority of women, then he writes another book, a novel, in which he insults it himself. He curses the system because Christian girls loose their virginity, then curses Mrs. Grudy because they keep it. As a politician he cries out that war is a waste of life, then as a philosopher that life itself is a waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, then proves by the highest philosphical principals that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, then denounces the aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls the flag a bubble, then blames the oppressors of Poland orIreland because they take away that bubble. The man goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they where beasts, then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting where he proves that they pratically are beasts. In short the modern revolutionist being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mind. In his book on politics, heattacks man for trampling on morality, in his book on ethics, he attacksmorality for trampling on man. "

"Therefore the modern man in his revolt, has become useless for all practical purposes of revolt; by rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything."

G.H. Chesterton

What does it mean to be skeptical? I think the concept of skepticism is often confused with that of sincere seeking for the truth.

When you are looking for something, there are two principals that are assummed in the search

1. There is something to find
2. You have not found it yet, or you found it and lost it.

The skeptic (and GK Chesterton "revolutionist" is to whom I am referring) does not follow this logical pattern, but pretends to be following it. He or she actually does this:

1. Decides what is he or she wants to find
2. Spends life pretending to find that which he/she already "found"

The following is a defense of skepticism, and my response is after that:

Defense of Skepticism of the Third Kind

Alright, to begin, skepticism as I am thinking about it in the context of our discussion, is something more than "ordinary" skepticism. It has been referred to as "philosophical skepticism" which may not allow it to be any clearer. Your comment about the vagaries of some academic pursuits is understood and appreciated. But there is another way of understanding skepticism: it can be ontological; i.e. regarding the existence of some being or absolute, e.g. God; I think this is at the crux of your objections and may be more associated with a ordinary skeptics presumptions about the existence of God, absolutes, etc.Here, I agree with you, there is no use in questioning the existence of God.

The brand of skepticism that I think is worth defending is epistomological skepticism; i.e., we can be skeptical, that is to say, inquisitive about a certain type of knowledge. How do we know we know anything? Here is where I have subscribed to Michael Polanyi's way of thinking about it. He maintained that faith is really a form of a priori knowledge; a type of "knowing" that comes before one's actual experience. I have for some time thought that his perspective was supported by scripture in several places; I Corth 1:18 thru 3:2 to cite one reference, but the other one that comes to mind is Eph 3:7-10 (emphasis on v. 10) that records Paul's understanding of his calling to "impart or administer this mystery..." I think it is alright for Christians to "work out their salvation" in terms of recognizing that what we are given by God this mystery; so much of our faith-filled, or, if you'd like, "faith-based" endeavors are rooted in the mysterium tremens; tremendous mystery of God's movement and acts of grace. This means that we are at times prone to doubts or perhaps more queries as we go about the stuff of life. There are times when in fact it may be wise to be skeptical. But this is indeed quite a different thing than doubting or being skeptical that God is who he claims he is.

But then, the Fideism issue comes into focus. We can become so dogmatic with the presumption of a faith that is somehow independent of all reasonable speculation, if not opposed to engaging in the speculative, that we conclude that all there is is faith. One of the renown church fathers, Tertillian (160-300 CE it's been a while since I've talked about this stuff to anyone so I looked it up to be sure) subscribed to this kind of thinking. He might say that there is no room for skepticism meaning that there is no place for epistimological queries and ultimately no grounds for debate because there ultimately is nothing rational about faith. Faith is faith and that is that. The dangers of this position need not be taken for granted.

My Initial Response:

Essentially, as previously stated, epistomological skepticism appears to be a self-defeating concept; questioning layers of thought until we are eventually questioning thought itself. The more appropriate questioning lies in an agnostic claim, “What is meaningful?” To be clear, this question is entirely different from “Is anything meaningful?” That is a another self-undermining concept, because if nothing of meaning existed, the question would never be raised. The path of this question leads to “Is there anything meaningful in asking if there is anything meaningful?” So, “what is meaningful?” is an honest question that would never be seriously posed by the skeptic.

The question makes several self-evident assumptions, that any honest thinker would take to be evident: 1. Something does exist that is meaningful, enabling this question to have value. 2. Finding what is meaningful establishes a hierarchy, or Something by which all else must be measured. 3. Purpose is implied in meaning, therefore thereis an inherent motivation for life.

This said, I think the ultimate argument you are making, is something like “A Defense of Prejudice” (forget the author), where this writer recognized that there is a time for prejudice; not everything should be so readily accepted. I would like to be careful here, because I completely agree with his argument, and that which I think you are suggesting. Christians should question thought, and be given to thinking critically about ideas. (I recommend you listen to Zacharias “Lessons from War in a Battle of Ideas.”) However, at face-value your argument is that of defending the skeptic, who always has ulterior motives. I do not agree with this aspect.

So, to continue, the skeptic has ulterior motives, by definition. I heard a definition of
mystery once, I forget who wrote this, but it is something like this (forgive the paraphrase): A mystery is something in which the questioner becomes very much the object of his or her own question. I believe the skeptic follows this pattern, continually questioning, but not questioning to gain knowledge...questioning solely to to affirm his or her own knowledge... questioning to justify their self-proposed answer.

So, having established the skeptic, not as an honest questioner, but, rather as one who is questioning in desire to establish reason for what it is he or she wants to be true. The person who poses the question "what is meaningful?" cannot be a skeptic. He does not doubt the existance of meaningfulness; he is only searching for that which embodies what he already believes to exist.

Sorry this post is so long (I will continue with the next post)

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