Thursday, April 24, 2008

Query of a University Student - and a Response

I had a very lengthy conversation last week with one of my professors on, broadly, the impact of organized religion on society and, specifically, the Church's impact. A large part of that conversation was on individual moral awareness, arguing that the provision of moral codes by organized religions diminished the capacity of the individual to ethically and independently evaluate situations-- he often refers to humans as 'highly evolved monkeys' and is a moral consequentialist.

Meanwhile, I've also had a long conversation with a friend about the separation between truth/doctrine and institutional hierarchy (he seemed to argue that the Church should adapt to individuals and society, rather than the other way around, and specifically raised the issues of women priests and accepting homosexuals).

I'm not quite sure how (or possibly why) this issue keeps coming up, this week, as I've never sought out or brought up this topic, and while I'm fairly sure that I've managed to hold up 'my' side, I'm concerned that I may not be doing it full justice. I've been emphasizing self gift and human dignity, and the main responses seem to be either asking to prove that humans have inherent dignity that separates us from other creatures (which is a bit hard to do, I think, without the idea of free will and being made in God's image), or asking why it is that the Church uniquely upholds those things (particularly given the contradictory behavior displayed by some individuals). I have also been avoiding the idea of 'proving' the existence of God either way, as it's a matter of faith-- meaning, I'm inclined to believe, that atheists are in the position of applying rationalist constructs to something intrinsically separate from such constructs. I tend to think, for that reason, that atheists are rather worse off, in terms of intellectual integrity, than theists or than agnostics, given that those who believe in God necessarily acknowledge that rationalist constructs have limitations, and that agnostics at least acknowledge the possibility of the existence of God and the possibility that rationalism has limits.I think that the Church, more than any other religion I've seen, upholds human dignity and self gift, and does so consistently, and that the sacraments help individuals to overcome their human weaknesses. This is what I generally tell people who ask why I am Catholic-- that I believe that it allows me to be closer to truth than other religions-- but for some people, that raises issues of personal truth vs. universal truth, and for others, issues of whether individuals could overcome and be closer to truth without the institutional hierarchy of organized religion, and throughout all of this is a concern over what 'truth' is. The problem for me is that there is a limit, not as much to how it can be philosophically defended or discussed, but inasmuch as my faith is something of a powerful intuition toward something, and that it is at the least difficult (if not impossible?) to fully justify or explain that in rational terms. This means that it has been particularly difficult to discuss this with non-Catholics or with atheists. To some extent, it also seems that there are a lot of people who are either surprised that I am religious, or who are surprised that I am willing to discuss it on a philosophical basis. At any rate, I would very much appreciate any advice or suggestions you could give me-- I don't entirely know how clear this message is, so please don't hesitate to ask any questions it may raise.


I say the following: God is not a Being Whom we prove. He is the supreme reality that I must experience. There are 2 levels of experience. One is things taken through external perception-internal perception and elaboration and intellectual abstraction that gives me universal concepts which which I form propositions, syllogisms, deductions, inductions. This is the horizon in which I "prove" that God exists as First Mover, Cause, Necessary Being, Hightest among degrees of perfection and Final Cause. But that tells me about God. It does not give me experiential knowledge of God.

There is another level of experience which is my self in act in which I experience mastering myself to act in this way or that - and ultimately to give myself or not. That is, instead of experiencing beings out there, I experience my "I" as Being when I freely activate myself such as to give me the internal experience of the peculiar being that I am from within subjectivity (which is not subjectivism).

It's on this level that I become conscious of absolute values (good/bad) and intellectual absolutes in the singularity of existence (not just by abstraction from the singular as real). Such is the consciousness of the absolute value of the human person as a self-determining freedom and human rights. Notice how these are known in the strange ambiguity of consciousness but cannot be "proved."


Kevin said...

Thanks for re-formatting. We can not read your insights without Dramamine!

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by intellectual absolutes in the singularity of existence?