A LOVE SUPREME

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"Recognizing" Truth

Sometimes when we hear intellectual truth we recognize it at on a non-intellectual level. The truth "impacts" us with a certain force. This is particularly true with spiritual truths. For example, when someone tells us about certain aspects of the Creator God (his power and knowledge, his sovereignty or his love, and the Savior who came to die) we have the capacity to "feel" these truths. So, we may intellectually understand them and put our rational stamp of approval on them, but underneath the surface there is a sort-of spiritual frenzy going on. Not only are we understanding these truths, intellectually, but we are also absorbing them into our lives.


A simple example of this comes from the sermon I heard last Sunday. If a man is in love with a woman, he believes certain truths about his lover. Her eyes are blue, she has certain interesting characteristics, and she has a certain sense of humor. These are all "true" on a propositional level. However, for a man in love these truths have become absorbed into the deepest fabric of his being such that he does not have the ability to speak of such truths in a purely intellectual way. In fact, it is very likely that he may never have been able to intellectually and objectively analyize these truths about his lover. In the (very strange) case of love, truths are recognized on a non-intellectual level. So it is with spiritual truths.

On the other hand, of course, it is possible to merely give an intellectual nod to truth without absorbing truth in the way described above. The man who is not in love with the woman can intellectually describe certain truths about her in a detached, objective manner. Similarly, those who have never truly encountered God or never opened themselves up to the sense of divinity in the world may intellectually describe God and rationally believe in him. The degree to which we absorb truth may not be the same.

I point all this out to simply say that truth can be recognized on a non-intellectual level. We can experience truth. I believe that this implies that truth is greater than simply a correspondence between proposition and reality. In short, truth is more than intellectual/rational/objective. It is certainly all of these things, but I think it is more.


In speaking to Pilate Jesus said that "everyone of the truth hears me." (John 18:37) What does it mean to be "of" the truth?

I take this passage back to John chapter eight where Jesus accuses the religious leaders of being children of the devil, and it is the devil who "has no truth in him." (vs. 44) Now, it seems absurd to say that the devil has no knowledge of intellectual truth. It is the mark of the best liars that they know propositional truths so well that they can bend them and twist them any number of ways to suite them. Rather, it seems as though the devil has "no truth in him" because he stands in direct opposition to "the way, the truth, and the life," (John 14:6) which is Jesus, himself.

Hence, I think we recognize truth on a non-intellectual level because "truth" has much to do with our spiritual situation in relation to Christ and the Creator. It is as much a matter of our spiritual situation to Christ as it is our possession of propositional truth. I think the fact that we can recognize truth on a non-intellectual level is one clue that points this out.

[See my Aletheia Project for more essays and thoughts on truth.]
Illustration: Jesus before Pilate by Tintoretto

8 comments:

ktismatics said...

This will be the third time I've tried to write this comment -- the first two times it mysteriously disappeared.

The god you have a "personal relationship" with quickly gets loaded up with propositional truths: he is the Judeo-Christian god, he is one, he is trinity, he made the material world, he sent his son as atonement, he gives moral guidance, etc. These propositions aren't independently verifiable: you acquire them from the culture you live in and the religious crowd you hang around with. How could you ever know that these propositions are true? Does it matter? Perhaps the god you know is completely different from the propositions you've assembled about him/her/them/it.

Jonathan Erdman said...

The god you have a "personal relationship" with quickly gets loaded up with propositional truths: he is the Judeo-Christian god, he is one, he is trinity, he made the material world, he sent his son as atonement, he gives moral guidance, etc.

First, I wouldn't characterize my point as "personal relationship." To talk of a "personal relationship" with God these days can be far more casual than what I am driving at here. I am driving more at a spiritual situatedness that may or may not always involve a "relationship" in the human-to-human sense. It has to do with more of a oneness with God.
Human-to-human relationship analogies are good in describing the human-to-God relationship, but I'm trying to get at something more than just "relating." I am going more for something more in line with being "filled with the spirit," perhaps. (Gal. 6)

Secondly, it is true that God gets loaded up with propositions. However, as I say below, I don't know that this is such a bad thing.

These propositions aren't independently verifiable: you acquire them from the culture you live in and the religious crowd you hang around with. How could you ever know that these propositions are true? Does it matter? Perhaps the god you know is completely different from the propositions you've assembled about him/her/them/it.

We have to make propositional claims about God, at least, as far as I can see: "God is good," "The LORD your God, the LORD is one," "God is sovereign," are a few of the traditional propositions defined by the community.

Why is this necessarily a negative thing? Or a drawback?

Admitedly, these propositions become vague and mysterious when we talk about God. They are imperfect descriptors. For example, the traditional Trinitarian formula ("God is one in essence, three in personhood") either results in creating a distinction between "essence" and "persons" resulting in plurality, or else there is no distinction in the terms and we have simply stated a tautology.

Only God knows how he is oneness and plurality.

Yet I don't think that this precludes us from "loading up" God with propositions. This is, I think, one way someone like Derrida and others are helpful in noting the instability of language. Also helpful are the discussions by John Sanders and Fretheim (Open Theism crowd) on metaphors, and asking to what extent our language is descriptive of God. (They, I think wind up making language more descriptive of God than I would...but they open up a good discusson.)

Finally, what exactly do you mean by "independently verified"???

ktismatics said...

You speak of feeling truths that people tell you about the Creator-God: his power, sovereignty, love. Here are the possibilities I envision.

One, God has revealed himself subjectively to you. You are disposed positively, perhaps worshipfully, toward him already. Others tell you more about him whom you already love, adding to the composite picture you have of this God.

Two, you learn characteristics of God prior to any sort of subjective experiencing of him. Through meditation on these characteristics you gradually develop a sense of awe, admiration, fellowship, love.

Under the first scenario you cannot independently verify that the God who has made himself known to you subjectively is the creator of the universe, rewards good and punishes evil, etc. These are characteristics usually attributed to this God, but you have no direct way of knowing that the God whom you know possesses these characteristics. You're well-disposed toward God and are prepared to ascribe all wonderful properties to him, but he might not be like that at all. He might just be some really nice spirit-being whose sole power is to reveal himself subjectively to you.

The other scenario, in which you build up a subjective identification with God based on abstract properties ascribed to him, is I suppose in the realm of possibility. I don't recall ever knowing anyone who went this direction. If it happens, it seems like psychological projection, imagining someone who would possess these characteristics and becoming attached to that projection.

Presuppositions abound. If they were done away with, could you tell the difference between who God is and who you might imagine him to be? Presumably the external validation is intersubjective: others who know this God claim to experience the same set of characteristics about him. But it's hard to see how anyone would be able to experience subjectively God's creatorliness or omniscience or perfection or Jesus's atoning sacrificeness without hearing or reading about it first.

Phenomenologically, might it go something like this? You have spiritual communion with God; you read about God creating the universe; you commune with God to see if he verifies the truth of this written testimony about him; if you get some kind of subjective sense of confirmation then you've received the external verification directly from God.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Either scenario, as far as I'm concerned is possible - and a myriad of spin-off possibilities!

"These are characteristics usually attributed to this God, but you have no direct way of knowing that the God whom you know possesses these characteristics."

I'm surprised you go this direction! This is an epistemological turn, no? The fact that I do not have "independent verification" (a human concept that, for all intents and purposes seems to end in cirularity) about the God I experience and the characteristics I attribute to him is nothing at all against faith, is it? It is an epistemological dilema, but only a second order dilema, as far as I'm concerned.

In response to this second-order epistemological dilema I would bring into the discussion the Internal Investigation of the Holy Spirit (IIHS) to confirm in the individual mind and in the community the attributes of the Being whom we worship. But even this is not a fail safe for two reason:
1-It is still possible to be mistaken about said attributes
2-One can easily create another epistemological dilema by asking "how can you independently verify that it is the Spirit of God and not some imposter or a really nice spirit-being?"

Of course, we can always look to rational or empirical evidence as a means of "independent verification," but this discussion takes us in a whole different direction, and I think that it is primarily a discussion about rational or empirical probability - for better or worse!

On the one hand.....I do not dismiss the second scenario (you presented) as purely psychological. If such a being as God exists then it would seem reasonable that contemplation upon his divine attributes would produce a sense of him. This is what I have always understood to be an important part of the sensus divinitatis.

On the other hand......I suppose that it is also possible that this is simply psychological projection. If you were an atheist and a Freudian, for example, then you would dismiss the God-connection out of hand and presume it to be a psychological projection of desire. And being a Freudian you might just see that this projection had something to do with sex!

You make a good point about presuppositions.

All of our awarenesses of God are bound up with each other: Scripture/Revelation, community communication (creeds, etc.), personal experience, the testimony of others with similar experience....all are what I believe Alvin Plantinga might term "properly basic" to our belief stucture. The sense of God is what we might call a "properly basic belief," which would be similar to our belief in memories or in the existence of other persons. This does not exclude rational reflection, it merely means that we accept the belief as basic prior to argument.

ktismatics said...

All of our awarenesses of God are bound up with each other: Scripture/Revelation, community communication (creeds, etc.), personal experience, the testimony of others with similar experience... This is what Freud and later neo-Marxists called "overdetermination." There's no unraveling cause and effect; there are multiple forces all pointing in the same direction, all reinforcing each other. It makes it difficult for the psychoanalyst to disrupt the root cause of pathology, for the revolutionary to disrupt the root cause of economic inequality, for the devil to disrupt the root cause of Christian belief...

Jonathan Erdman said...

....and for us to determine the root causes of our own actions! I think this goes back to the "deceitfulness" of the human hearts spoken of in the OT as well as the "deceptiveness of sin" spoken of in Hebrews.

ktismatics said...

What is one to call the unexpressed and unacknowledged thoughts, feelings, etc.? Are they the sources of deception, or its victims? I think historically we, individually and collectively, have tried to superimpose a right way of thinking and feeling and believing. We then try to ignore the other voices arising within, among and outside of us. If these other voices make themselves heard, then they're acknowledged only as sources of deceit. Whereas the deceit is that we always speak with a single voice.

I'm not speaking only about the tyranny of creedal faith here. It's also about democracy, capitalism, choice, the pursuit of happiness, self-expression and any number of other unifying forces in our culture. The issue is to let all the voices be heard, not to achieve some new suppression in the name of consensus or synthesis.

Is there paradox in a value system that supports differance over unity/consensus? I'd say that's fear of success talking, but even fear of success has a right to be heard and listened to.

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