Four Points of Contact

2009.05.22
By

“IT IS THE NATURE OF religious belief knowledge to be compelling only to the believer knower.” So said Rabbi Micha Berger some years ago on Usenet’s soc.culture.jewish.moderated, and I have yet to see a better argument for pluralism and against proselytizing. (After all, how can you sell your vision of God when you know It only looks that way to you?)

Seen through the consciousness-shackling lens of Western culture, a popular understanding of religious/spiritual experience generally falls into one of two categories: “faith” and “reason.” The first may be defined as “belief in things unprovable,” with the second “belief arrived at after ordered contemplation.” But I don’t think this two-valued system fully or accurately describes an individual’s experience of what-they-may-or-may-not-choose-to-identify-with-the-divine. Careful and close observation of my own relevant experiences (i.e., what they “feel like”) suggests that a four-valued system might be more useful. And because you wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t interested in this sort of thing, I hope you find it useful too:

1) Knowing
2) Believing
3) Suspension of disbelief
4) Reason

“Knowing” — wordless self-evidence (e.g., how I experience sitting here typing this, without having to be told that’s what I’m doing). “.”

“Believing” — the “leap of faith.” Consciously self-generated understanding. “God is ______.”

“Suspension of disbelief” — a willingness to accept the possibility of a non-intuitive truth/proposition in order to understand it from the author’s POV. “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, God is _____.”

“Reason” — deduction, logic, rationalization. “I think, therefore God is _____.”

Again, this is solely derived from close observation of my own internal states as they relate to apprehending what-I-sometimes-choose-to-call-God. I expect that as I grow older and pay closer attention, the model will change. But that’s a statement of belief — not of knowledge.

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One Response to Four Points of Contact

  1. micha on 2010.04.27 at 1005

    In your language, though, I would have said:
    It is the nature of religious knowledge to be compelling only to the knower.

    There are religious experiences that are as sure to the one experiencing them as your knowledge that you were typing this blog entry. However, they are inherently internal, and thus can’t be compelling to anyone else.

    The personal nature of religion that I was asserting does not inhere in the distinction you’re making with the words “belief” vs. “knowledge”. Even at the level of knowledge, the “evidence” isn’t one that can be shared. If it could, we would be in the empirical domain, and thus be discussing science, not religion.

    IMHO, this was the point of our ancestors’ words at Mt Horeb, “we will do and we will listen” (Exodus 24:7). The thing Judaism is based on is “listening” to our own doing.

    -micha

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