Sunday, February 07, 2021

If your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light


“Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing.  Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned.” (John Hittinger, John Paul II and the Exorcism of Descartes’ Ghost, page 191).  This summary of the difference between “modern philosophy” and the “ancients” supplies a useful starting point for describing the “obstacle for understanding faith and theology”.  Indeed, this focus on limitation and conditioning provides the paradoxical frame of describing faith in terms of “superstition”: “The belief in supernatural phenomina[sic], concepts, or figures; the opposite of logic or knowledge or facts.” (Urban Dictionary, 2021).  Paradoxical because the method of Descartes is to exclude any and all information that a person cannot greet with certitude, especially the perjorative “supernatural”, rather than to use one's rationality to know the truth.

It is this modern belief that reducing reality to some system of logic (and, consequently mathematics) as a base of certainty that misleads modern philosophers: “is faith also not cast into oblivion in light of the other great criterion for the modern philosophy—mathematical certitude?” (Ibid., page 196).  True, describing a small section of the “real world” with logic has utility scientifically.  However, mathematics is simply a “language” for describing what is thought to be observed rather than an anchor of truth.  It is the reification of a mathematical description, the “saving of appearances”, that produces this illusion of certainty.  Any greatly extensive mathematic description quickly becomes a world view in which flaws in its assumptions are hidden beneath the complexity of its deductions, as any writer of software models can willingly testify.  A mathematical model of “reality” thus is inherently darkened by its complexity and the limitations of its assumptions, an impediment to the search for truth.

I think this superstition of describing reality with certitude that comes about through filtering reality with the “emphasis upon subjectivity” and “the method of separation and reduction” is the true obstacle to the exercise of faith.  Not because these methods are not useful but because of “the ambiguity about the end or purpose” (Ibid., page 197) for which the method is use: “John Paul II detects impatience with mystery” (Ibid., page 194).  Indeed, it is this superstition of certitude that blocks openness to wonder and mystery, that comes from not acknowledging the insufficiency of human knowing simply through analytical and reductive investigations.  In the end, faith requires the humility of accepting the true boundaries of one’s interiority, the reality of one’s person.  The good news is that this provides the foundation for knowing other persons, including God, through relationship rather than remaining in the ignorance and isolation of the immature prison of one’s own consciousness, a way of knowing that allows reception of redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ.

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