Sunday, December 11, 2011

Received versus Experienced Knowledge

Thinking more of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, I am coming to realize that not a lot of people have seen the "Tree" in any other light than "all knowledge". This probably indicates that I am just not thinking about this correctly (aka "orthodox" = "correct thinking"), but being hetrodox, I just see things differently.

That's the problem with received knowledge...I am supposed to use the myths and metaphors correctly, lest I confuse myeslf and others, and lead all of us astray. But I cannot help myself: I just don't accept received knowledge without first testing it. Not any more, at least.

The effect of orthodoxy is to have exactly what you are suppose to think and do. I just think that when I accept the predefined schema I tend to automatically reject that which is disruptive to the orthodox worldview. In so doing, I think I create a division between the real world and the ideal of orthodoxy. In creating this separation: there are things that are holy and sacred, and that which is profane.

I saw a reference to a study on received knowledge in religion versus a more natural approach:
"From [Durkheim's] study of the religions of Australian aborignal tribes he concluded that the one thing all religions have in common is a division between the sacred---the realm of the extraordinary, and/or the divine---and the profane---the realm of the everyday, the commonplace, the ordinary. Durkheim claimed that the distinction between the sacred and profane is one that is socially constructed and not one that inheres in the object so designated. Thus tribal people attribute sacred meaning to a bird or an animal, designate it as their totem, and build up rituals surrounding it, and the symbol in turn becomes a source of unity."
I think this quote is very revealing. The division between good: the sacred, and the not sacred can easily devolve into the sacred being good, and all else being evil. While this can be a bit of a strawman--no Christian will agree to this characterization--the fact is that once I have accepted a given version of fiction or speculation as received knowledge, then any thing that contradicts the received knowledge must be rejected.

But to see the world in a grain of sand, or heaven in a wild flower, is to recognize that the space between heaven and earth is the body of a single being. Unity is the antithesis of duality-- to be unified in mind and spirit ("yogastah") is to experience the connection between this and that, here and there, now and then...all become one.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More thoughts on redefining the god of my understanding

I received the following comment to my previous blog entry on this topic:
How do you reconcile the fact they convicted God, but then prayed to him immediately afterwards?  Was this simply an expression of the unhappiness they had with God, while recognizing ultimately he exists and is their master?
In my impression, the god of our religious upbringing must die in order to understand that god is beyond all understanding.

Does that make any sense?  Not to the rational mind, it doesn't.

But there is another mind, much more primal, inside of us, deeply linked to our emotions.  it is a mind much more in touch with the Way things work at a subconscious/unconscious level.  The mind within doesn't much care for logic, but it yearns to be connected to something.  we see that connection happening throughout nature, in the flock of birds or school of fish, the underlying need to be "part of" or "one with" is always there.

In my understanding, god is not 'out there', separate, some puppet master or ideal that orchestrates what is happening here, to whom we pray for favors.  God is "I am" - "in there":being itself as reflected inside of me: the Atman.  Not the logical mind, not the passion, neti, neti. 

Even a flock of rabbis needs to connect, spiritually, to that which is beyond logical understanding.
So i pray, not for favors, not even for understanding.  I pray to connect.  Or better said, I pray and connect.  And in so doing, I pray with more meaning, more passion, and more spirituality than ever.

Thoughts on redefining the god of my understanding

Thinking about how my understanding of god has radically changed through my life, I am left to wonder how to share this with people.  Most people live in a world that god helps them make sense of it all.  Given the things I've experienced and come to understand, this doesn't work fo rme, but it does for others -- those that conform to the comforting norms of religion and society.

Sometimes I wonder if it is good idea to pop the baloon of conformity.  Not everyone responds well to it; perhaps they are walking around in the matrix as happy as can be, without wondering what is behind it.
Others of us cannot help but wonder what is behind the matrix, and somedays that isn't always a happy place. 

When the god of our religious upbringing dies, there is a hole in the support network.  From the vast history of god, gods, and religion, it didn't seem to matter that none of that was real, people of faith thought it was, and that was good enough.  filling that hole is an immense challenge.

Confucius didn't speak of faith, but he did participate in the ritual faithfully.  Here is a snippet of the Lun Yu - the Analects:
Some one asked the meaning of the great sacrifice. The Master said, “I do not know. He who knew its meaning would find it as easy to govern the kingdom as to look on this;— pointing to his palm.
He sacrificed to the dead, as if they were present. He sacrificed to the spirits, as if the spirits were present.
The Master said, “I consider my not being present at the sacrifice, as if I did not sacrifice.”
Wang-sun Chia asked, saying, “What is the meaning of the saying, “It is better to pay court to the furnace than to the south-west corner?”“
The Master said, “Not so. He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.”
Some of this language is hard to understand. The bottom line is that he did not know the nature of god (the great sacrifice), did not think the spirits or ancestors were actually present -- yet he worshipped and prayed with sincerity.  Given a choice between the furnace (symbolic of the practical aspects of life) versus the south-west corner (the area of worship in the house), he chose the place of worship -- prayer has a purpose, and to reject god entirely leaves one without a god to pray to.  So, a rational man, Confucius prayed, went through the rituals with all respect to the spirits he knew were not present.  Yet in his mind, he did the actions, and prayed to god regardless, and found personal benefit thereby. 

Elie Wiesel lost his belief in the god of his religious upbringing in Auschwitz, forced to look upon the face of a child being hung slowly to death.  His 'god' died that day.  He relates a very interesting account about why he continued to pray:
There is a story that one day in Auschwitz, a group of Jews put God on trial. They charge him with cruelty and betrayal. Like Job they found no consolation in the usual answers to the problem of evil and suffering in the midst of this current obscenity. They could find no excuse for God, no extenuating circumstances, so they found him guilty and, presumably, worthy of death. The Rabbi pronounced the verdict. Then he looked up and said that the trial was over: it was time for the evening prayer.
I'm not sure it's a geat idea to kill the god in our understanding.  In walking through the Holocaust Memorial in DC, I felt nothing at all--blackness.  The 'shoe room' brought home the magnitude of the evil of the holocaust.  The sheer efficiency and productivity with which holocaust was conducted speaks to the idea that any god who would allow such evil to occur is not worthy of worship.  My naive god died there and many other places.

Yet I still have felt the spirit after this realization as strongly as I did when I was a naive believer in the magical god of my upbringing.  Defining what I believe is defintely part of that spirit, and many times it carries me to spiritual heights.

Not this morning though.  I feel pretty lonely and worthless.  I have no happy face to put on today, probably because of god knows what.  The monster I have come to know as depression is often alive and well in me.  I once thought that was because of sin.  Now I understand it's just part of being human, and that's ok. 

I think it's time to pray.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

Thinking of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as an allegory, the woman and the man partook of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and from that point, all hell broke loose.

I'm thinking, "Why would partaking of knowledge be a sin?"

I have heard that the Tree of Knowledge is an understanding that everything has its opposite: good and evil, virtue and vice, light and darkness -- essentially laying out that the Tree of Knowledge is knowledge of dualism.

Another view interprets the "Good and Evil" from its Hebrew roots as being more of an express of 'all knowledge', as terms like from stem to stern, 'high and low' things like that -- exhaustive range of knowledge.

But again, I'm thinking, "How can knowledge be harmful?"

I have come to understand from Jean Piaget that our minds have within them a schema of knowledge -- a structure of knowledge that is based upon one relationship of a thing to another thing or concept.  Although the mind is structured in a neural network schema, there is also a hierarchal understanding of knowledge, a 'tree of knowledge' in the mind, the form of schema that attempts to organize the neural network into a hierarchal structure where one thing is dependent epistemologically on another. 

If I take the term "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" in its full meaning, I get to the point that this tree is essentially a hierarchy of knowledge judgments of what constitutes 'good' and what constitutes 'evil'.  Such a hierarchal schema would regress to essential dependencies and eventually commence with certain key root concepts.

To be specific, since we're talking about the Bible here, the root concept of biblical belief is that there is a personal god who is interested in us to a point that if we render obeisance to him, we might gain enough favors to live forever in His presence.  Failing this, we will be tortured and suffer forever in a hell of burning flesh.  Perhaps this root is a bit of a straw man, so let's just start with "there is a personal god" at the very root of the hierarchy.

But that is not enough to define the full tree -- obviously a tree of knowledge of good and evil must also have a branching between 'good' and 'evil'.  As we move up the tree, we begin to need to establish judgments, like 'the bible is the word of god'.  'Prophets tell is what to do'.  'If we follow the savior we are saved'.  'The prophet or pope will never lead us astray'.  These trunk branches of the tree of knowledge of good and evil provide paradigms to the believer as to how to distinguish between 'good' and 'evil'. 

So, as a point of definition here, a 'paradigm' is a pattern rule whereby we determine where something fits into our mental schema.  If my schema is hierarchal and dualistic between good and evil, then my paradigm is whether I think an observation of fact is 'good' or 'evil'.  Things that are 'good' are consistent with my schema.  Things that are inconsistent with my schema are rejected as false or evil.  Thus, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil becomes my way of rapidly dispatching what I sense into either confirming my knowledge, or being rejected as inconsistent with 'truth' (my schema).  The certainty and confidence I have in my Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is comforting indeed.

The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is said to be delicious to the taste, and very desirable.  It is very compelling and comforting to have certainty.  In sports, in religion, in the business environment, and in politics, the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" is pervasive.  It makes clear my understanding of what is OK and NOT OK.  My team, religion, company, and party are "OK" and the other guys are "NOT OK".  I'm overly simplifying here, but dualistic schemas tend to operate this way.  Partaking of the fruit is sometimes called "Drinking the Kool-Aid", meaning a blind and absolute acceptance of the dualistic schema.

"True Believers" are those who accept a given Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as being absolute.  The schema of the mind created and trained by such true believing religious 'knowledge' does not allow for alteration of either the root, basic trunks, and paradigms of one's knowledge.  When a fact is in conflict with what a True Believer holds as 'truth', the fact either is rejected through denial (self deception), or causes cognitive dissonance.   To resolve cognitive dissonance, the True Believer must rationalize the fact in observation, by either categorizing it as a manifestation of evil, or by some sort of apologetics that somehow comfort the believer that the fact is still consistent with the schema.  There is a third path, and that is to re-evaluate one's own mental schema, but this is difficult, if not impossible for the True Believer.

I think it is very telling to think of partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as equivalent to the terms "Drinking the Kool-aid".  The latter phrase comes from the story of Jonestown, where the followers of Jim Jones knowingly drank cyanide-poisoned Kool-aid because Jim Jones told them to do so.  They blindly and absolutely accepted his hierarchal schema that he, alone, could and would provide them the pathway to God.  This factual story puts into sharp relief the statement "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die."  Eating or drinking, the partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the Way of death.

Why, then, would anyone partake of this fruit or drink knowing it is poison?  Ah-- that is the big question.  Time for me to get some work done around the house...