A followup conversation on “Goddess of Knowledge” with my brother Jerry, starting with a post of his own, and continuing in the comments to his post.1 Reproducing it here to make sure it doesn’t get lost later.
In a sense
(a few thoughts and questions after contemplating Kyle’s blog post)
What instruments are we born with to obtain knowledge? What physiological capacities do we have at our disposal to observe and interpret data? Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Taste. Is that it? Or is it possible there are other senses that we are not so easily attuned to because they are not necessary for individual physical survival or the perpetuation of our species?
If a man is born blind, he will rely more on his sense of hearing to determine truth. If a man is born deaf, he will likewise see things we never see. Or more correctly, he will observe and interpret things that our eyes see yet our minds ignore and fail to process. So is it possible that if we hear but don’t understand and we see but do not perceive that there may be other senses that we can feel but do not learn from?
Is the truth learned from any single one of these five senses any more true than another? Does seeing the sun give you truth that is any truer than feeling its heat on your skin? Or the stars—they are too far away to observe through touch. They must be learned only through one sense, sight. Perhaps there are other truths in the universe that can only be learned through one sense. If that is a spiritual sense, would it not be important to attune that sense to attain increased knowledge?
Furthermore, is it possible that even a finely attuned sense can lose its potency if not maintained? If muscles atrophy without use, it is not because the potential power of the muscles doesn’t exist. The spiritual sense it requires faith, but faith is not enough. It takes a lot of work. One could be defiant toward the power of the sense of sight by closing his eyes, but to be defiant toward the spiritual sense only requires apathy.
Kyle Alan Hale
Really good assessment. I’m sure it must look like I’ve shown some apathy toward spirituality, and I agree that if it is a divinely endowed sense that it could atrophy, or could be ignored by the mind. (For an interesting look at that latter phenomenon relating to sight, listen to this.) So, I wholly agree with what you’ve said here.
Unfortunately, my work at building my spiritual senses, driven by faith, has not yielded any knowledge. I wish it had; the promises of religion are very attractive. However, I have finally come to admit the possibility I have harbored in the back of my mind since I was a child: God might not exist; this might be all there is; my spiritual experiences might all be self-affirmations and positive emotions. That doesn’t lessen the good things that have come out of my worship in terms of self-improvement, it just means that I have exhausted religion’s usefulness. However, that says nothing about its usefulness to others, and I begrudge no one their beliefs.
The question, then, is this: If that spiritual sense does exist, how long does it take to develop it to the level of obtaining real knowledge of spiritual truths? If it is to really provide a framework for living an honest and a happy life, it cannot take an entire life to develop; it must be able to be developed with some certainly at least in the first quarter or third of one’s life. If it does take an entire lifetime, well, that’s too great of a risk for me, especially when I do have five extremely rewarding senses, as well as others that could be called spiritual: emotional reactions to the arts, the natural world, and human relationships. Just because I don’t accept a divine source for spirituality doesn’t mean I dismiss spiritual emotions. I also, though, don’t use them as a definitive compass.
Apathy works. Denial works. Rejection works even faster.
I enjoyed this blog post, Jer. Good questions, good ideas to think about. But I wonder what you think about what Kyle is suggesting: What do you think about people who seem to be spiritually “blind” from birth? Those who claim they simply are not endowed with that particular sense, as some babies are born without sight, and cannot accept or value, or sometimes even fathom the witness of those who do “see”? Do you think that everyone has that sense in some degree or other, and that they are just apathetic, in denial, or have rejected the sense, or do you think that there are just some people born without that sense at all? I have talked to people who cannot ever remember having felt any spiritual sense, any “love of God”, or any connection to religion whatsoever. What do you think about that?
I believe everyone is given the light of Christ and the ability to know right from wrong. But people can lose it at an early age or over the course of time (sometimes a very short period of time) if not exercised.
If I had not experienced, or did not remember experiencing this spiritual sense, I would work my whole life to seek this knowledge if that’s what it took. I can’t think of any healthy use of the other senses that I would have to give up to seek a spiritual source of knowledge. It would seem much more risky to me to give up seeking it, considering the eternal happiness I would be giving up for fleeting pleasure.
And I don’t think it is necessary to use the spiritual sense as your only definitive compass. I think we are expected to learn spiritual things with our minds and our hearts. But if you rely only on one you are not on stable ground.
Kyle Alan Hale
On risk, and giving up eternal happiness: Think about your perception of God. If it is the same god in which I have believed, then that being is loving, is a father, and knows our hearts; that sort of god would know that my path has been honest, if not perfect. If that is who God is, then when I die I will be welcomed with open arms, and I will be happy. If, on the other extreme, I die and am met with eternal, fiery, vindictive damnation, that probably means that I don’t care much for that sort of god, anyway. Either way, if I have any sort of consciousness after I die, I’ll be overjoyed, no matter the state of that existence.
So… I’m not disagreeing with your perspective and how it has worked for you. I’m not a preacher against religion or spirituality. I just know that it doesn’t make sense to me or for me, in any sense of the word.
My perception of God doesn’t fit with either of these two you have described: either God is vengeful and damns all imperfection or he is loving and welcomes even the unrepentant into his arms.
If God were vengeful he would at least be just, but if God must have “open arms” in the way you suggest to be a loving father, then He is even more cruel. To send us to Earth and make us go through the trials we have to face as a mortal beings, without consequence or purpose, is a sick and fickle idea. If there is a God, he surely has a specific purpose for us.
Kyle Alan Hale
Reading back what I wrote, it does sound like I was splitting God into two extremes; I didn’t mean to do that. My former perception of God wasn’t on that wishy-washy end of the spectrum, either. It was, however, a loving, benevolent god. In fact, my break-down with religion comes as a result of my requirement for God to be benevolent. It seems cruel to me that a god would create a life knowing that we are rational creatures, and then introduce as the core means of determining saving truths an irrational concept like faith, and its requisite spiritual sense.
What I meant, though, is that if your god is God, and if he would punish me for living life as honestly and as human-serving as I can, then I don’t want anything to do with that god. Still, if the god in LDS theology is the supreme being then he has structured an afterlife that will exactly fit the personalities that went through life, right? If that god exists, and the way I am living now is sincere, then I will be happy in the kingdoms of heaven.
I am not arguing with your perspective; obviously I know exactly where you are coming from, and I know that it makes sense to you. I know the internal logic inside and out. I have lived that life. My goal is not to convince anyone that I am right, just to describe the way I see life; to understand, and to be understood.
So, in the realm of understanding one another, two more thoughts, in the next comment, because I’m perhaps overly thorough:
Kyle Alan Hale
In an earlier comment you mentioned pleasure vs. eternal happiness. There is a huge misconception among religious people that giving up religion has something to do with pleasure, or justifying immorality. I assure you that for most intellectual non-believers, it is nothing like that. It is actually a quest for a real human morality, and human ethics. It is recognizing that humans aren’t inherently bad, and trying to figure out how to lift humanity to a place where we don’t see ourselves or others that way. It is, in many ways, more ennobling than a religion that would make men gods. But it is a lot of work. Religion has been working on the issues for millennia; secular ethics is still fairly new. And personally, individually, it is a lot of work; where I once had a religious framework to answer all the questions without me having to think about it, I now have to completely rebuild the way I look at existence. It probably sounds like a waste of time to a thoroughly satisfied religious person, but it is actually extremely rewarding, in spite of its weight. So, although I don’t know how long my eternity will end up being, my goal is happiness for as long as I exist; fleeting pleasure is just as useless to me now as it was when I chose to believe.
You said you would work your whole life for spiritual knowledge, if you had no memory of experiencing it. Why? I recognize that the promises of LDS theology are substantial, and that they answer many of mankind’s questions, at least for our particular culture and subculture. So is it just that promise itself that would make you seek spiritual knowledge? Or is there something else more fundamental that you think would cause you to look to an invisible god for knowledge? I also recognize that many people do feel that desire, and it fascinates me, but I don’t totally understand it. I have always had a thirst for knowledge, and because of the compelling narrative relating to knowledge in our religion growing up, I thought that that spirituality would be a source of that knowledge. In other words, I don’t think I have ever really thirsted for pure spiritual knowledge, if such a thing exists. I always looked at scriptures like Jacob, which spoke of the spirit teaching “things as they really are.” That was what I wanted. A better understanding of reality. Unfortunately, that promise was never even remotely fulfilled. So what is this spiritual knowledge that you would yearn for, even if you had never before tasted it? I’m really asking; I don’t have any concept of a knowledge that is greater than an understanding of reality. If those are the same thing, then I guess I do understand, but I have never gained that sort of knowledge through religion. Maybe the thirst for knowledge I’ve always had wasn’t a pure one in the eyes of God, and so I never asked for the right thing. But that seems like an awfully finicky god, and goes back to the first paragraph of this extremely long comment.
Originally published 8 June 2012 at https://jeremiahthomashale.blogspot.com/2012/06/in-sense.html ↩︎