Tuesday 8 January 2019

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

(This continues with the theme of my previous post here).

If ever the truth of the title of this essay was proved, it is in our own time. Over the course of the last few centuries humanity has moved from an understanding of the world founded on divine authority to one based on its own theorising. The fact that this was probably meant to happen, because we had to move forward into a more adult way of being which included being more self-reliant, does not take away from the disastrous outcome. Perhaps if we had shown greater humility and common sense, and not been so unimaginative and arrogant, we could have balanced faith with reason better. But that has not, unfortunately, been the case, and it's only getting worse. Year by year, it's getting worse with ideas that would have been accepted by only a few extremists not so long ago now entering the mainstream and becoming accepted wisdom.

In the past, instinct told us certain basic truths which are now denied because we subject everything to the analysis of reason or what we think of as reason. I define it like that because our reason is calamitously incomplete as it is based on very limited information. It derives from what is immediately accessible to the senses or what can be proved mathematically, and, as a result, it is woefully unable to include in its processing facts that are inaccessible to its limited sphere of operation. It is restricted to the phenomenal or material world, quite failing to see that this is just the tip of the iceberg and derives all its being from what is beneath or, in the case of spiritual reality, better conceived of as above it.

Reason now appears to confirm that human beings evolved from animals, that men and women are fundamentally no different from one another, that all we perceive came into being by chance, that there is no real higher or lower and so on and so forth. In the light of materialistic reason, first principles are all questioned. Actually, it's worse than that. They are undermined and then denied. If something cannot be confirmed by reason in the very truncated form we know it, then it is just rejected.

Until recently most people knew that reason could go so far but no further. There were certain basic facts that existed on a plane beyond reason, and that was not because of their tenuous connection to truth but because they were profoundly truthful. Reason could not approach them because they existed before it did. They belonged to the class of things that are just known. But we cannot accept such a class now and have chiselled away at the concept for so long that it has been shattered and lies in pieces at our feet. However, we could easily regain that primal knowledge of things if we recognised that reason was not the highest way of knowing and that, while it should never be denied and always be taken into account, it should equally never be allowed exclusive rights.

As a matter of fact, a rightly ordered reason would recognise its own limits. It is only disordered reason that usurps the position of intuitive knowledge. What lies behind this gross error? It is what it has always been ever since the Fall. Egotism and the rejection of God. There is an element of the human soul that wants complete autonomy for itself. It wants this not because it would make it happier or wiser or better in any respect but because there is something in the self that wants to be God. Now, this is actually a true and proper desire because we are sons and daughters of God and his intention is that we become like him, but it can be corrupted. Instead of becoming like God within God we want to become like God independently of God because we wish to usurp his throne and sit on it ourselves. The corrupted self resents its dependence on a Creator instead of rejoicing in it and seeing it as the source of love.

The funny thing is that God does actually want us to be free and independent. That's why he created individual souls. But this freedom exists within the context of participation in the whole of life not a separating out of one part (ourself) and exalting that over the rest. This is not even possible really though the illusion of it is and we can pursue that illusion for as long as we like. However, there will be consequences of that decision and these will be an increased breakdown of first spiritual and then material order. The first has already happened and the second is beginning to. This is just an inevitable result of our wrong decisions.

I say our and we are all involved in this simply by virtue of the fact that we are alive now. But we can always try to put ourselves right with our Maker by returning to the ways of truth and goodness, spiritually considered. This is a matter of knowledge but, more, it is a matter of love. It is an irony that we 21st century humans think we are compassionate because we wish to treat everyone equally and banish suffering for all, but we have become completely divorced from the real source of love. We are not compassionate so much as sentimental which means we identify with our personal feelings and make them the focus of our being. Real love is attuned to reality and seeks the advancement of the soul. It acknowledges the ground from which it takes its rise which is God. Of course, it is directed to fellow men and women but it sees them as spiritual before material beings and responds according to that point of view. To respond to ourselves and others as material before spiritual does not come from love but ignorance and, at best, sentimentality or surface emotion with a large component of self-indulgence.

Proper love is essential but we do need more knowledge too, the knowledge that leads to wider vision and the ability to see the whole picture. At the moment, our little knowledge just allows us to make more mistakes. A little knowledge surely is a dangerous thing.

1 comment:

William Wildblood said...

As an addendum to this, it's been pointed out to me that many of the more intelligent people in the modern world are likely to be atheists or politically liberal or sympathetic to behaviour that contradicts traditional standards, sexual or otherwise. This is because they are growing out of natural, instinctual responses to life but have not moved into spiritual, intuitive ones. They are thinking enough to reject convention for the sake of convention but have not developed the insight to see the wisdom that lies behind many conventions. Again, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.