Two Presently Competing but (In Reality) Complementary Epistemologies: Binary and Unitary
Statement: “Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts and uncertainties, but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage. Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.” (Francis: November 10, 2015)
The nub of the contradiction that is going on in the Church at the moment is the discrepancy between two competing epistemologies. They are not in competition, but because they are not mutually understood, they exist in the mind as competitors.
The first I take from Richard Rohr. He calls this binary knowing: “The way we think and the way intelligent prose works in Western languages is founded on three simple principles of logic that can be found already in Greek philosophy. They are sequential and linear:
1) The Law of Identity: A = A. A thing is the same as itself (and no tow things are exactly the same).
2) The Law of Contradiction: If A = A, then A cannot be B (that which is not A).
3) The Law of the Excluded Middle or Third: A cannot be both A and B at the same time
These principles are at work in all educated Western people, consciously or not; you don’t have to know them consciously to follow them. They served us well in terms of the scientific and industrial revolutions, in terms of measurements and math, and most day-to-day life, but their severe limitations in other areas, such as science, philosophy, theology, and astrophysics – are now becoming apparent. We need a way through and a way beyond this closed system. Of itself, Greek logic cannot lead us to the kind of wisdom we are seeking, as Paul himself warned us in 1 Cor. 1, 19-31.
In fact, these Greek principles of logic are reductionistic and not always true at all. They lead to what Ken Wilber calls ‘flatland.’ Let’s consider two examples of the shortcomings of such logic. One came from fourth century Christian theology and the other from recent developments in quantum physics and astrophysics. They all undercut and overcome Greek logic and place us inside a new from different from what most of us took as self-evident. They are opening up an entirely different mind, and if religion does not wake up, it will, in the centuries to come, find itself even less able to talk to the world.
Trinitarian theology was almost made to order to humiliate the logical Greek mind: it said, in effect: the Father is the Father, but the Father is also the Son, and in fact, he is the Father and the Son at the same time, which relationship is, in fact, the Holy Spirit. If actually encountered and meditated on, the doctrine of God as Trinity breaks down the binary system of the mind. For a Christian who lives in a Trinitarian spirituality, it makes either –or thinking totally useless. Perhaps, in addition to everything else, the Trinity is a blessing, to make us patient before Mystery and to humble our dualistic minds. …
Unfortunately, for the majority of Trinitarian Christians, we believed the doctrine of Trinity as some kind of strange riddle, a mathematical conundrum, but never let it call our addiction to Greek logic into question. The sweet Irish nuns who taught me wisely said, ‘don’t think about it!’ and held up the shamrock as a rather lovely natural symbol of the three-in-one. Even though the doctrine of the Trinity was at the very center of Christian faith, we did ot allow it to change our consciousness. WE just believed it to be true, and then shelved it, as we did most doctrines. Only the mystics tended to relate to God in a Trinitarian way, and often passionately so (such as Augustine, Bonaventure, Julian of Norwich, and the Cappadocian Fathers). I am certain that the future of Christian mysticism will be strongly Trinitarian, which, perhaps surprisingly, also creates a huge opening for interreligious dialogue. Unfortunately, faith became a matter of believing impossible or strange things (which was supposed to please God, somehow), instead of an entranceway into a very different way of knowing altogether.
We Catholics frequently signed our bodies with the Trinitarian sign of the cross and fully accepted the mental doctrine, but we set it aside as of no practical or real consequence. We did not let the principle of three undo our dualistic principle of two. AS Karl Rahner taught, we could drop the doctrine of the Trinity tomorrow, and it would have little or no practical effect on the lives of most Christians. This was a real loss and mistake, especially considering that Jesus himself knew no Greek, and clearly did not thin with this kind of logic when it came to matter divine.
Physics and Astrophysics
Our modern and postmodern would has given our minds any number of recent humiliations, available to all, whether scientists or laypeople, who dare to study atoms, galaxies, and the nature of space and time. One that comes to mind – or better, one that is unable to come to mind - is the discovery that an electron is an impossible mixture of “here” (A) and “there” (B). And at the same time! Any intelligent person would think he is showing his intelligence by saying ‘Impossible!” It looks like it must be some magic show or an illusionist’s trick, but in fact, the ‘principle of the excluded middle’ shows itself not to be true here either. There is a third something, although we have no idea how to understand it. We only know it indirectly, by its effects. Something like Spirit!
Quantum physics and astrophysics are filled with similar ‘logical’ impossibilities. Much of the universe seems to feed on paradox and the mysterious – everything from black holes to dark matter to neutrinos, which are invisible and weightless and yet necessary to keep matter and anti-matter from canceling out one another. They have to be three – things don’t make sense otherwise – but no one can prove it, because the scientific method cannot measure it or know it, except by its effects.
We have all heard how igt is both a wave and a particle, and scientists long ago gave up trying to prove it was just one or the other. It is clearly both – and at the same time! Now how do you deal with facts of that nature, if you are intelligent? This signals that you need a very different kind of intelligence. In both the worlds of religion and science a certain kind of reductionistic Western mind is being forced to reframe itself.
The irony is that, today, religious p[people are often much more invested in either-or thinking than most scientists, who now know better. Many in academia have the humility to work with various theories and hypotheses, and move ahead ‘as if’ an idea were true, until more of the mystery can be understood…
As Sir Arthur Eddington said in a new-famous quote, ‘The universe is not only stranger than we imagined, but stranger than we can imagine’
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The crisis we are in – and it has much to do with the conservative/traditionalist reaction to Pope Francis - is due to the fact that pope thinks and speaks with both epistemologies. And he speaks in such a down to earth winning way that the contradiction of the epistemologies appears. The most egregious example is Gaudium et Spes #24: “man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself (not Himself), finds himself by the sincere gift of himself.
This is Christian anthropology derived from the Trinity and the anthropology of Christ and is the foundation of the entire Christian morality and social doctrine of the Church. But, until Vatican II and Gaudium et spes, the Church was speaking in Greek philosophy to communicate its deepest truths of Trinity, Christology, etc. It was not false, but inadequate. And now, the chips are down…