Monday, January 24, 2011

Giving Nietzsche Eyes

In my previous post, commentator Nietzsche made the following comment:

"I'll provide another scenario. A secluded island of peoples that have no contact with Christian missionaries or the bible. Are they born Christian? Do they believe in Jesus or Jehovah? No, again goes to prove that without teachers or missionaries, Christianity like other pagan religions will die out. The only people who perpetuate the "faith" is its followers." 
Consider a community of blind men who are strict empiricists. From their perspective, lacking the sense of sight, they would be unable to verify the existence of colours, and any statements with regard to colour, shape or pattern would be,from their point of view, unempiric and hence unscientific.  Statements concerning visual phenomenon would be unable to be verified and hence would be articles of faith; a body of knowledge belonging to the category of superstition.

Now suppose a sighted man, literally a visionary, told them about the phenomenon of colour, how could they discern if they were telling him the truth or not? They can't, because they lack the sensory capacity to confirm the subject in question.

The core idea behind empiricism is that perception is the window to reality, and that any understanding of reality must be perceptually confirmed. 

People say that seeing is believing. But seeing is not believing; thinking is believing. Seeing is knowing; everything else is emotive hope, probabilistic guess or reasoned theory.

Commentators Brockmann and Neitzsche have put forward the argument that without sensory input of any kind, a man would fail to be Christian, and that religious belief is conditional upon personal circumstances. Their view is partially correct. Men inherit their faith from their ancestors and certainly, for the unreflective man, faith is a circumstantial habituated practice.

The reflective man however has a problem. He questions and challenges his faith, and if logically consistent, finds that there is nothing in the Universe which supports his view. Thieves prosper, the good are murdered,  and the completely innocent suffer tremendously.  Empirically, there is no way he can confirm that Gay Marriage and Adultery are objectively wrong.  Statistically he may be able to find data that supports a respective religious vision, but he cannot find any data the confirms a creed. As commentators Brockmann and Neitzsche imply, ought cannot be derived from is and hence the implication that transcendent truths are unknowable, and therefore arbitrary fairy stories; cognitive products of the imagination for whatever reason.

They are, of course, logically correct.

And yet they are wrong.

Because their understanding of the human perceptual capacity is in error.

I wish to illustrate what I mean by starting off with a passage of biblical text. Not because I want them to believe in the veracity of the Bible, but because the text succinctly explains the difference between believers and non-believers and problem of Modernity.
As it is written: God hath given them the spirit of insensibility; eyes that they should not see; and ears that they should not hear, until this present day

(Romans 11:8 Douay-Rheims)
Note the term insensibility, the inability to sense or perceive. This is not a play on words, as different translations of text refer to same phenomenon. The Christian fathers did not think of faith as a cognitive process but a sensory modality. In their view,  unbelief was not the product of faulty thinking, it was the product of insensibility; a perceptual failure.

To them, faith was a sixth sense; an eye or ear-like faculty which allowed us to perceive non-physical realities. When the Christian fathers asserted that men should not commit adultery, they were not plucking something out of thin air or making a rational calculation based up their value preferences; they were being empirical.

Where the strict empiricists(and quite a few Christians) go wrong, is in assuming that the phenomenon of faith is a cognitive process, the end point of some form of emotive or faulty rationalisation, instead of a sensory phenomenon.

A great example of this "perception"sense in operation, as opposed to cognitive effect, was the motive force behind C.S. Lewis' own conversion to Christianity:
"You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England" (Surprised By Joy, ch. 14, p. 266). (My italics)

Lewis was no gullible idiot. Here, what we see in this passage, is  Lewis wanting to rationalise away a perception or experience that he was having. Like someone suffering  a sore tooth, which forces itself to their attention,  Lewis was being nagged by some form of unwilled sensory stimulus.  His conversion was not the product willed rationalisation but of an unwanted experience: The intruding sense of "Him" was felt/percieved rather than willed. Lewis had no choice in the matter, in the same way he had no choice in choosing the colour of the sky.

When a man of faith says murder is wrong, it's akin to him saying an apple is red or the sky is blue. It's a statement of fact rather than opinion. Of course to the "blind" man who believes that all men are blind, there is no such objective thing as redness, saying that the apple is red or the sky is blue is purely arbitrary.

The Church fathers recognised that the "faith-sense" was the weakest of all senses, through which we saw "through a glass darkly", much like looking through a cataract affected eye; broad shapes can be detected but the detail eludes us. I imagine that a very undeveloped form of this faith sense is what explains humanity's default morality.  All people have a crude understanding that murder and theft are wrong, and they understand that they are wrong at a deeper level than cognitive explanation, they percieve them to be wrong.

It's this lack of sensory acuity which probably explains the profusion of religions, men have felt the pull of transcendence or mistaken an experience as transcendent, and interpreted the sensation incorrectly, in the same way that a group of nearly blind man can discern human forms but disagree with regard to the identity of them.

The atheist mistake is in assuming that the divisions amongst the religious are due to differing rationalisations instead of differing interpretations. To use our nearly blind group of men analogy, the atheist or rationalist blind man thinks that the man affected with the severe cataracts is making things up, whilst the man with the cataract is trying to understand what is going on. If you were to take a group of men with cataracts and present them with a the image of a person at a distance, one will say its Fred, some will say its Bill and the others will say its Judy, they will all know that they have percieved something even if they are not sure what it is, but the blind men, being unable to perceive, will assume that the cataract affected, are making things up.

What separates the  Moderns from the rest of humanity is in this perception of "something else" beyond the five-sense barrier. And Christians ,in particular, should understand that from the atheist perspective (those who lack the faith sense), religion is logically ridiculous. And it is this fact that poses a huge practical problem for conservatives and it also gives an inkling of what we are up against.

When Christopher Hitchins or his ilk argue that faith is just superstition and "fairy stories", they are absolutely correct from their objective point of view.  You see, Hitchins et al, live their life assuming with certitude, that there is no such thing as "faith-sight" and any statements with regard to "faith-colours or forms" are arbitrary. The honest ones amongst them are like blind men, who truly and honestly believe that there is no such thing as sight, and any statements regarding such are rubbish. Trying to convince these men, by rational argument, of the existence of transcendent moralities is by logical necessity, going to fail. In order to get the get the militant atheists on side you've got to get them to "see". They literally can't think their way towards religion because good thinking without faith is irreligious.   Or to put it another way, arguing with them is like arguing with a blind man about the nature of colour, there is no way you can get him to "see" red.

This "faith-sense", not being a renationalisation process, cannot therefore be experienced by acts of rationalisation. Blind people cannot experience colours by study or by rational argument; they have to sense them.

The only way past this impasse is by some way granting them the ability to "see". The Church fathers also recognised that this faith sense was not "intrinsic" to our being but was rather a bestowed gift of God.* That means petitionary prayer; asking God to give our enemies "sight". This is why there will be no HBD or atheistic conservative revival (they may be able to give the appearance of conservative revival but it will eventually degenerate into leftist decay, it's a movement trying to empty a bathtub with a seive). They are operating within the same sensory frame of reference as do the atheists.
The West is doomed unless men start praying to God for revival and conversion of their enemies.  When the monasteries start reappearing, that's when you know it'll all be right.

*(Personally I'm not so sure of this,  I sometimes wonder if we all have this sense but that it becomes dulled either by Divine will or by evil human habit or will, i.e the sense is intrinsic to our being.)