Friday, 28 May 2010

Is the rational all there is?

be rational Pictures, Images and Photos
Since I blogged on rationality the other day the web seems to have been full of others doing the same.

Apparently Terry Sanderson had held Rowan Williams up to ridicule but Andrew Brown supported him, my Bishop chipped in comparing the spirit and dogma and the Naked Pastor critiqued faith from within.  Then Richard Rohr sent round a daily thought with the following:
So we have these words describing mystical moments: enlargement, connection or union, and emancipation. You may not use these same words, but on a practical level it is experienced as a new capacity and a new desire to love. And you wonder where it comes from. Why do I have this new desire, this new capacity to love some new people, to love the old people better, maybe to enter into some kind of new love for the world? I even find my thoughts are more immediately loving.
Clearly, you are participating in a love that’s being given to you. You are not creating this. You are not generating this. It is being generated through you and in you and for you. You are participating in something larger than yourself, and you are just allowing it and trusting it for the pure gift that it is.
The question that I will keep posing is what about the things that can't be proven: are they worthless and to be ignored, or can we admit that there is something of worth which cannot be proven?  My vote is for the latter.


  1. I like to err on the side of mysticism. Given the huge, perplexing, unanswerable connundrum of human existence and consciousness, mysticism (feel free to call it bullshit if you wish) makes more sense to me.

  2. And if Ron finds this one and comments on it he probably will, though more politely :)

  3. Hi Alan,

    If I might start with Andrew Brown...

    "Theology, says Rowan, is not the study of God, who can't be pinned down for study" - We've been telling you that all along. But I don't think many theologians actually believe that, do they? Really? Isn't this just a ploy to avoid explaining God, because you can't? I know you often say you can't - he's beyond human comprehension, for example - but then you go right ahead and do anyway. You tell us what he wants from us, what he does for us, how he loves us.

    "It's not even the study of what God has done." - So, ditching the OT and any stuff that tells us what God did?

    "Instead theology is language to make us aware what a huge task that study would be, because the awareness of that immensity is the beginning of the work and study of some small details is as far as we can ever get into it." - This sounds promising. Doesn't it make you want to jump on board with cosmologists? They seem to have found out more 'pragmatic' detail about our universe than any theologian. If it were left solely to theologians God would still be a sky God.

    "But the purpose of Christian theology is to change the theologians." - So, nothing to do with God then? Jesus is just a side show? Since when?

    "The knowledge it results in would then be inward, personable, and as incommunicable as any other aspect of experience." - If only. What's evangelicalism for then?

    "The interesting question is whether it can then be classed as knowledge at all." - In that case I wonder what is meant when theologians talk about 'truths'.

    "Lots of people here would claim that it could not, and that personal experience is worthless compared to measurable fact. But if you take that argument seriously – and I can see that it has charms for anyone who finds aspects of personal experience unbearable –it would lead to shutting down a lot more of universities than their theology departments." - This is utter tripe. The fact that theology is worthless doesn't mean all personal experience is worthless. All our experience IS personal. But it is susceptible to gross error, and third party rational science allows us to compensate for that.

    "There would be no reason to teach ethics – where's the verifiable truth there?" - There are verifiable truths about how we derive our ethics, even if we don't know all the details yet. It's reasonable to study ethics, it just seems perverse to look outside the human state for any clues.

    ... ctd...

  4. ... ctd...

    "Narrative history would have to go." - This is really stretching the story. What was at issue was theology. Brown has mistakenly moved it on to the personal subjective realm, even though that doesn't follow. Then on to narrative history? How the heck does he link all these together. It's quite possible to think theology is nonsense, but to value some aspects of subjectivity, and to maintain explanations of history.

    "Economics would have all the people taken out of it in favour of hard safe numbers. That last experiment has of course been tried with the results we see all around us." - More tripe. This is a bandwagon ploy. Theology (remember, that's what this was about) has nothing to do with how recent economics was run. The fault there has been that of greedy banks and other institutions who haven't the foggiest idea how to deal with statistics, who speculate on the non-existent, ... Hold on, that is theology isn't it. My mistake.

    "But I think that we can't live without personal and incommunicable knowledge." - Let's clear up a couple of things here. By 'incommunicable knowledge' he clearly means about God, theology. But that's quite different than saying we can't live without the personal subjective life, because that's how we perceive everything, so clearly we can't. And part of dealing with our personal knowledge is to communicate it, to share it - and to do that we have to look for common ground, to iron out our differences, to use methods, like reason and science, to figure out what there is about the real external world that we can agree on.

  5. So you allow a personal subjective life - but not for theology? What is the rationalisation for that? You have decided that some personal subjective is good and other bad?

    You also seem to equate theology and faith with personal experience rather than measurable fact. The article suggests that rather a lot of university subjects are also about personal experience and not measurable fact and that to reject theology on those grounds would logically require the jettisoning of the others.

    I couldn't list all the theologians and their views - but I think that among the well recognised ones the statement made would be well supported.

    I tell you how I experience God, and I find it a beneficial enough experience that I want others to gain the same benefit. I do not agree with those who want to tell you what you must believe or do - but I do think it would be good for you - much as I suspect you think that it would be good for me to hold your rationalist faith - what are you doing here other than evangelising for atheism?



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