Hello NIkolai and Arvind 13;
This is a very interesting thread, and I have enjoyed reading it and thinking about the ideas contained within. I do have some questions and thoughts that I would like to share, so I pulled various statements out of your posts to address them here.
Nikolai wrote:Indeed, but Christian theology was hugely influenced by the philosophical ideas that were already in currency in the western world and so already we see that that theology and philosophy can be very hard to distinguish. I’m sure we could write books about the important philosophical influences on Christianity. Already with Thales and his “Everything is really water” we have a duality between the apparent world as it appears to the senses, and things as they really in fact are. By the time we get to Plato and his eternal but mysterious realm. . .
I believe that you may be misquoting Thales here. I have heard, "Everything is water." and everything is "full of gods", but not "Everything is really water." When you add the word "really", you imply a duality that I have never seen associated with Thales thoughts. This implies a world beyond the senses, which is Plato's idea, not Thales. I know that his remarks about water have surprised people and that these remarks have been interpreted, but I see no reason to think that this is the correct interpretation. He was thought to be a rather "down to earth" kind of thinker, so I believe that he was speaking metaphorically--not about Plato's invisible world. If I am wrong, please direct me to the place where you found this quote.
Arvind 13 wrote:By contrast, among contemporary humanists, the Greek faith that truth makes us free has been fused with one of Christianity's most dubious legacies - the belief that the hope of freedom belongs to everyone."
Not sure that we can blame this entirely on the Greeks or the Christians, as the idea of individual freedom is also one held close by most, if not all, of the American Indian Nations. I think that the "hope of freedom" may be a lot more prevalent than your statement implies--at least in the Western West. And I think they embrace this idea "down under". Don't they like to go "walk about"?
Nikolai wrote:You seem to attribute an intellectual force and coherence to the Christian movement that never existed. The living example of Jesus was that of as healer and a prophet. It was down to others to formulate Christian theology and this was performed by thinkers who acquired extant philosophical notions, with creative amendations. In this they were no different to the pagans, the scientists or indeed any other thinkers.
These issues resolve if we learn to see that philosophy and theology are so dependent on each other as to be pretty much indistinguishable. They might have a slightly different flavour' to them that makes different people react to them in different ways, but in terms of their content they are impossible to separate. Thought is thought, ultimately. Divisions into disciplines like theology, philosophy etc is convenient for discussion's sake, but we mustn't take the concepts too seriously. It is just lines drawn in the sand. All thinkers work by assuming unproven premises and then proceeding logically to conclusions. If a premise is unproven its epistemological status is identical to the next unproven premise. A concept like God's love is therefore analogous to a concept like gravity.
Avind 13 wrote:The secularization of Christianity cannot be attributed to some conscious cognitive or psychological mechanism. It has little to do with the individual/group psychology or the intentions and motives of Christians. It certainly has nothing to do with the intellectual force or coherence of the Christian movement.
1) Augustine was able to absorb/transform/assimilate (distort?) pre-existing Greek ideas within a Christian framework.
2) the enlightenment thinkers thought they could shrug off Christianity but in fact couldn't.
These statements seem to exemplify the real misunderstanding in this discussion. Nikolai states that, "Thought is thought, ultimately". Avind 13 states, "cannot be attributed to some conscious cognitive or psychological mechanism." I don't believe that either of these statements are true. There is a distinct difference in thought, and Freud attributed this difference to a psychological mechanism. The difference is that we "know" some things, but we "believe" others.
What we know are ideas that we logically and reasonably decide, learn, or calculate; what we believe are ideas that are co-mingled with our emotion. No matter where an idea comes from, once emotion attaches itself to it, it becomes belief. This emotion does not have to be strong, and can simply be a feeling of comfort and safety that comes from a "feeling" that we are correct, which is probably why many people accuse scientists of having a "belief" theology of science. If we get to a point where what we know and what we believe does not match and causes conflict, then we rationalize what we know to make it conform with our belief--we do not rationalize what we believe to make it conform--unless absolutely necessary. Belief takes precedence.
The rational conscious mind is where we do most of our thinking and knowing, and it's job is to expedite whatever we decided to accomplish--we are in control. The subconscious mind is where we do our believing--it does not take direct orders and reacts more favorably to emotion. The subconscious is where our beliefs are stored, and they are tangled up with our emotions.
A lot of people may think that this is an inefficient way for the brain to work, especially in this day and age when emotion is considered unreliable. Well, emotion can be unreliable, but so can the rational mind. We can actually rationalize anything that we choose and make it seem plausible, whether or not it is true is irrelevant to logic--as any logic instructor can explain. We can think what we choose, and rationalize that thought, and lie. Whether we lie to ourselves or someone else is irrelevant. Can we do that with belief? No. Our subconscious mind works with emotion, and emotion can be good or bad, right or wrong, but it is always
honest. It is what we honestly feel and believe, so we know that we have at least one foot in reality. We intuitively understand that our irrational, emotional, subconscious mind is actually more reliable than our rational, logical, conscious mind, because it is honest, so we adapt our thoughts to rationalize what we believe. This is how a theological belief (emotional knowledge) can attach itself to a secular thought (rational knowledge) without our even being aware that it has happened.
Here is a fun example: I was watching a movie with my grandchildren, "Independence Day", which is about an invasion of aliens that want to wipe out humans. In one scene the officials are calling for anyone, who can fly a plane because there are lots of planes, but few pilots. One man steps up and says he can fly, and he wants to get back at the aliens for abducting him years ago. You see the officials roll their eyes and can almost hear what they are thinking, "Nut job. The man is crazy." They think he is crazy for believing that he was abducted by aliens, who don't exist, while they are getting ready to fight those same aliens. The absurdity of this scene is one of the more comical in this movie and reflects how we can believe things that fly in the face of everything that we know.
For an example that is closer to the issue here, consider this: I was in another philosophy forum and had the bad manners to bring up the topic of the paranormal. I was immediately shot down, and almost banned. I asked what the problem was, and was told that the paranormal was voo doo, mumbo-jumbo, nonsense, and not a topic for philosophy. I asked why not, and was told because it is not real. Science has proven that it is not real. Now this information really irritated me, so I explained: It is not called paranormal because it is not normal or average; if that were the case, then beauty queens and geniuses and Olympic athletes would all be paranormal as they are not average. It is called paranormal because it is unexplained. But God, souls, consciousness, the subjective self, and miracles are all unexplained by science--to be honest, life is unexplained by science--yet welcome as topics for philosophy. What is the difference?
The obvious difference is that these things are authorized by the church--not science--but because they are authorized by the church, they are acceptable to science and philosophy. Prophesies are fine, premonitions are not. Souls are fine, auras are not. Souls belong to God, so flitting in and out of bodies is not acceptable, as we are to stay where God puts us. (I suspect that reincarnation is not considered paranormal in the East.) Scientists and even atheists will disregard reams of data, collected carefully according to scientific methods, because it is about the paranormal. They believe that their refusal is about science, and don't even realize that they are following the dictates of the church. I suspect that this is at the root of Avind 13's argument. When it comes to belief, we will rationalize and warp our knowledge to fit with our belief.
Nikolai wrote:To know God, to discover the Tao, to discover for your self within yourself the world shattering truth that you are identical with the cosmos...this is religion. This is what the religious person recognises within themselves, and nothing less then the personal relation with the divine would satisfactorily account for their religion.
But if we think that their theological history undermines the western concepts and that we should therefore distrust them then I think that would be a mistake. Their intellectual foundations are as robust as they can be, and as robust as anything that comes from the east. But they are irreconcilably different and the only solution is the very paradoxical and mystical view which identifies unity and duality.
Is there a view which accepts both unity and duality?
If one is to accept that our theology in the West has influenced our secular law, does that mean that the theology in the East has also influenced their secular law?