Thursday, July 23, 2009

Absolute Truth?

much of this comes from Socrates Cafe by Christopher Phillips

To understand absolute truth, one must start with what exactly is the world and our location in it. Thomas Hobbes inthe Leviathan states that the "world is the whole mass of all things that are" but is never very clear on what he means by "all things."

Immanuel Kant talks about 'two worlds' which are very Platonic in formation. He talks about thephenomenal world and the noumenal world. Phenom: knowable by senses and interpreted by the mind. Noum: that which lies beyond the world of space and time, cause and effect. Kant talks about this is where Absolute Truth exists.

Plato talked about the world we see, like shadows and reflections on the wall of a cave. the absolute truth is beyond the walls of the cave and very few ever make it out, and those who do, it hurts their eyes and no one believes them.

John Locke talks about how truth can best be known through science and religion, namely that Christianity is the most reasonable and natural choice (duh, cause you're a Christian Locke...). nature holds the absolute truth but reason is the only means in which to interpret it and gain it.

Ludwig Wittgenstein stated that the world is "the totality of facts" which contain a logical structure that shape and delimit our world. facts are inherently knowable but "we must be silent" about the so-called unknowable until it is revealed.

Aristotle stated that the world we speak of, the universe as a whole is always being talked about through our relation with it. there is no such thing as objectivity or a "view from no where" but all views are a "view from somewhere."

in his novel The Manticore, Robertson Davies talks about the "view from elsewhere" which states that the best we can do is seek to embrace views besides our own. this is echoed my Parker Palmer in the statement "The truth is between us." meaning that truth is relational and exists solely through interaction and relationships with others and the wider world (nature, animals, etc).

so which is it? where do you fall? i see the merit in many of these views but fall more with Aristotle, Davies, and Palmer than the others. any views you can think to add?

14 comments:

societyvs said...

I like Aristotle's view on this (we all view from some perspective) and also what Plato says - it's behind the wall - and to find it we must dig.

That being said - what is absolutely true and not subject to a viewpoint? I hold to some things being true but they may not be absolute because I am the one that is limited (being only able to see from within myself).

If we talk about ethics or morals - the conversation can get even muddier (or worse yet - interpretation of law). I hold viewpoints that are based in scripture and work from there outwards - so my viewpoint is not absolute - but workable.

I think things like idolatry are plain wrong for example. Yet the majority of the world practices it in some shape or form - creating a personage of God they can relate to removal of any mystery. Is this a good or bad thing I ask myself? For me it breaks a commandment (an ethic) while for many it's just not a big deal. But I make it a big deal for myself - so for me it is faithful (or true) not to become idolatrous about God...yet is that an absolute truth?

Then the same also goes for the rest of what I believe - because in the end I have to live with myself and not what others do anyways. Truth only matters to us - why? Because all we can know is really inside us.

mai said...

Parker Palmer in the statement "The truth is between us." meaning that truth is relational and exists solely through interaction and relationships with others and the wider world (nature, animals, etc).

I like this one! I've always "seen" God mostly through Bob and then through the rest of the family & our friends.

freestyleroadtrip said...

A mentor of mine once told me this: "There is such a thing as absolute, but none of us is quite sure what it is." I think I hold close to that line. I've been in some conversations at various locations including my own blog about bias. We all bring it to the table and it influences everything we do and say and observe and think and discover. And that makes it quite impossible to completely nail down absolute truth. We can come close but never quite get there. And there is always the possibility that we are living in The Matrix.

Anonymous said...

Hi societyvs,
what do you mean by your explanation of idolatry? "creating a personage of God they can relate to removal of any mystery." and that it is important not to "become idolatrous about God". Can you give me an example of what you mean?
I don't understand what you mean.
Thanks.
Julia

societyvs said...

"what do you mean by your explanation of idolatry? "creating a personage of God they can relate to removal of any mystery." and that it is important not to "become idolatrous about God". Can you give me an example of what you mean?" (Julia)

Well idolatry is really simple - it's basically the worship of an 'idol' (a physical thing) in the place of God. It is also the making of God in our image in some way - making a form for God that we can relate to so it can seem we have a closer connection to God (via some physical idol).

A good example would be the use of saints in some Orthodox strands of Christianity. They develop what they call 'icons' (mostly pictures) of saints and they place them in stores and homes for protection and blessings. They also in turn say these 'saints' protect them from certain problems in life and watch over them (or over cities and regions).

To me, this is a classic case of idolatry. The use of the saints takes away from the work of the One God that is supposed to take care of all those things...and the use of pictoral icons helps to prove that point (ie: they kiss those pics). Those saints (icons) take on some of the image of God and in some sense provide an added assurance to replace some of the mystery.

So to me - idolatry (which is quite rare in the West) is a problem and seeks to define God in greater human terms - terms we control and manipulate.

The slighter forms of idolatry are when we also try to define God as if we know most undoubtedly who God is - including name and how He will move upon humanity. God, in the bible, is really quite mysterious and unknown. For example, God does not have a name. God does not have a figure. God is not very audible. Movements in the direction to 'define' God as if one knows Him can also lead into a form of idolatry - propping a definition of God that one seems to be 'sure' about...thus the removal of the mystery of how he looks or thinks (which is also step #1 in the problems with cults - who think they know God all too well).

Does that make sense?

Luke said...

"To me, this is a classic case of idolatry. " -SVS

hmmm... i've been to Egypt and they have a huge tradition of iconography. to hear them explain what icons are used for seem less idolatrous than you make them out to be. they are windows to the beyond, reminders for the literate back in the day.

what would be your answer? an iconoclast movement? plain churches? all we have is metaphor and symbol when it comes to the mystery.

like my Roman Catholic gma. everyday she woke up and did her morning prayers in front of her little plastic statue of Jesus while reading her bible and holding her rosary. to the protestant-minded person, it may have looked like she was praying to that statue.. but for her, it was an aid to get her into the mindset of prayer. a tool to help calm and collect her thoughts so that she may go to God in prayer.

to connect it to the topic, that statue and those icons are reminders that "we're in the matrix" to honor Doug and these are tools to access the absolute. does that make any sense?

societyvs said...

"to connect it to the topic, that statue and those icons are reminders that "we're in the matrix" to honor Doug and these are tools to access the absolute. does that make any sense?" (Luke)

Now you got me going - what is idolatry Luke and would you know in this generation if you legitmately saw it?

What you say are windows to the next world - I also say may be misrepresentations of the next - yet with an idol we are given some solidarity...and that's all some people want - the mystery unveiled and removed.

The first commandment in the decalogue is quite simple - no idolatry:

"You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:4)"

What does this actually prove? Well, for starters God has no image and no image we can find will make that any clearer. So avoid it - lest we also find the image becomes a 'piece' of our God (our definition of God is part and partial with figurine/painting/icon/etc) and unremoveable.

You also play down the role of superstition in this whole thing - as to what icons can and possibly help build up. Superstition is directly related to iconagraphy in religion - and superstition is a sort of 'control' over God (if we do this around this icon we can make God do said thing).

I have seen a plethora of times in Greece and in general in the West. That type of thinking comes from iconagraphy and if you refuse to believe that - watch people when they do some of this superstitious stuff they do to religious icons - it's actually quite revealing. Sometimes they feel as if they don't do it - God might be 'mad' or they won't be 'blessed'. As if this crossing of the chest or certain amount of the same prayer will do that.

Top that of, here is God's name:

"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:14)

There is no name given. Moses, maybe thinking he could get the name, gets none. God just is.

Yet Christianity taps on the end of prayer's 'in Jesus' name' as if it were some magical formula for the rest of the prayer. Jesus doesn't even give God a name - but only a placement - Our Father.

So we have no name and no image. Then comes along human ingenuity to fill in both so as to make ourselves more comfortable and assured. We seek to remove the mystery, not for God's sake, but for our own.

But what can I say - this is the inevitable outcome when we place a human as God. Thus your gma's gane with the icon...you call it a reminder - I call it shaping and adding a form to God - complete with a name and everything. Now maybe she doesn't worship that statue (I agree) - but she needs that for some reason...you say as a reminder - of what exactly? That God cannot be seen or imaged or has no Name (just IS)? How the hell can a reminder be built from that is the real question? (Sorry if this seems harsh - your gma is likely a wonderful lady).

But we are dealing with something that is a non-issue to the majority of the Christian world - and they don't really take that 1st commandment serious anyways. I mean how can they - their God has a name, a place of birth, a death, and iconagraphy out the wazoo. So concern for the 1st commandment is a non-consideration in Christian circles...yet I think the slip into idolatry is quite present.

Now don't get me wrong - we want pictures (or art) about our spiritual experiences as things to think about it is just A OK - but I get skeptical when those become images for God that people cannot let go of for fear of losing their own spiritual connection. Then we cross paths with idolatry.

Luke said...

got you going?! you just called my gma an idoltor!!!! them's fight'n words jerk ;-). and you woulda liked my gma... she was a great lady. anywho...

"what is idolatry Luke and would you know in this generation if you legitmately saw it?"

funny how we don't allow prayer in school, we do our best not to talk about religion in public... so where is God? "In God We Trust." what's that printed on?

The bible is so often an idolatrous item in many circles. worshiping the words and not The Word. taking only the simple meaning and leaving it there.

but what you seem to be calling for.. as well as that commandment, is no art at all. so no re-presentation of anything on the earth? so is all art sinful? should we only allow abstract artists to continue or just take the muslim approach and just allow pretty letters and writing? or take an amish approach and just quilt and not allow our pictures to be taken? that seems a little extreme and VERY short-sighted.

for as much as you hate Luther, you sure are sounding like him. Luther once hailed that the ear was the divine receptacle. He stated, “The ear, not the eye, is the organ God has chosen for the reception of revelation.” We must remember that Luther loved words and spent his life making a vast library of hymns, commentaries and translating the Bible. But what Luther failed to realize is that art is already in the worship. Fashion, architecture, even the printed word and the book that binds it are works of art. It is to what extent that the pastor allows and utilizes art that is the debate here. With this in mind I would reject Luther’s bold statement in favor of all five (or possibly six or more) senses.

Visual, written and verbal communication have always existed side by side (Witvliet vii). When used correctly, all three work in harmony to deliver a powerful message. Taking a look at the Bible, many of the most popular stories powerfully use all three methods. As Luther pointed out, “God… sets before us no word or commandment without including with it something material and outward, and proffering it to us. To Abraham he gave the word including with it his son Isaac. To Saul he gave the word including with it the slaying of the Amalekites. To Noah he gave the word including with it the rainbow. And so on” (Stone 10). Luther also communicated something to the Catholic Church when he nailed a copy of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. That was a dramatic act ment to attract public attention showing that even Luther used the arts. If Luther nailed his 95 Theses we may have never heard of him! It was his performance art that touched off the Protestant Reformation.

Christ was very poetic in his imagery he evoked in his parables and sayings no?

Art is everywhere and in everything. People have figured out how to make art out of every conceivable substance known to man. Art cannot be stopped and will continue to move and evolve.

the problem is when ppl take it literal. when the symbol no longer becomes the re-presentation, but the THING ITSELF. the red thing that grows on trees is not an APPLE, apple is just the word, not the actual thing. don't confuse the two. the Eastern Churches (Greek Orthodox included in this) don't have this problem.. but to the outside observer, it looks like superstition. and there is a health dose of that in all cultures and religions, i won't deny that. but seek understanding. is there room for transcedence in your world? can you get past the image and into what it symbolizes? are you focused too much on the hand, or what it points too?

Tit for Tat said...

can you get past the image and into what it symbolizes? are you focused too much on the hand, or what it points too?(Luke)


It seems to me Luke that the christian finger thinks it knows exactly what its pointing at. And we both know its not an image symbolising something. Look there, there it is. Truth. You may be a mystic but your symbol leaves no mystery. In Jesus's name.

Luke said...

"It seems to me Luke that the christian finger thinks it knows exactly what its pointing at."

HEY JOHN! i'm a mystic?! that's pretty cool! you flatter me!

i'm going on the assumption, my good friend, that i'm not the only one. not all religious people are literalists. my ministry will be pointed for all ppl looking for something more... albeit it will be framed in a christian context. the Canon is proof that there are ppl out there who are get that things are mere representations. that the TRUTH is actually "truth in context."

but i could be wrong.... and i frequently get depressed when my fellow brothers and sisters in faith (in all faiths) worship the hand and not the where it's pointing too... they are sitting on the path. and as roy rogers (i think?) said... "even if you're on the right path, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

societyvs said...

"but what you seem to be calling for.. as well as that commandment, is no art at all. so no re-presentation of anything on the earth? so is all art sinful?" (Luke)

But that's not my point about that commandment nor is that what that commandment is saying. The commandment is attached to one single thing - idolatry concerning imaging of God. So no - art is not sinful one iota. If you want to draw a giraffe in the wilderness eating grass - that says nothing to me about the image of God.

"Christ was very poetic in his imagery he evoked in his parables and sayings no?" (Luke)

I agree - he painted great pictures with his words of lifr around him. But I have to ask - does he committ idolatry anywhere? Does he recognize some statue has this 'image' of God? Not that I can find.

"i won't deny that. but seek understanding. is there room for transcedence in your world? can you get past the image and into what it symbolizes? are you focused too much on the hand, or what it points too?" (Luke)

I am able to accept art as is - even when it tries to offer some spiritual insight (symbols) - again - that's A OK with me! Idolatry only happens when we offer a substitution for God of some 'image'.

However, what part of that commandment is not understandable? It's the very first one - and might I note - the most noted one in all of the prophets (as to Israel's walking away from God).

Do you understand how similar some of the Orthodox/Catholic imagery/iconagraphy and ancient religions in Hellenistic times with iconagraphy are very similar?

It is a known fact people used to purchase statues for the blessing of their home - of their god (ancient religions). In Greece, every single store (bar none) had to have an icon of Mary and baby Jesus in order to maintain that same superstition...odd or just some continuation?

The simple question is - how can one use an image to relate to the un-imageable? I mean - doesn't that defy logic? Or a name for that which is 'nameless'?

Unless - trick of the old human mind here - we want to make that unimageable and unnameable something we can 'relate' to. So we develop iconagraphy of this mysterious shaped God and makes names for the God with none. Humans are all about boundaries in case you havent noticed...and control.

So I think art in all of its concoctions is grand - but once we use that art to make God - then we are playing in an area we know nothing about and offering some assurance on something we cannot.

I am really quite amazed at how foreign this is an idea to Christianity...but in a religion with little mystery it makes sense.

Luke said...

Jason,

now there is something i can get behind! we are in a sense trying to capture God and put God in a box and make "him" relatable. pronoun used on purpose as to provide an example of "boxing."

you're right. it's something i hadn't thought about. there is loads of superstition as well as an attempt to blot out mystery concerning a "Hiding God" as Yael so recently posted about. this way of "doing" religion makes God easily accessible to the masses and gives them a false security that takes away all the fun and trouble and struggle of actually have to quest for God and find God yourself. hence my rant against the dogmatics and doctrinists up there in the other post.

i think you're onto something here.. but don't think that a giraffe on savannah can't be about God, or at least provide some insight or help in the search to find God. in my example of my gma, i only knew that she used it as a window through many talks with her. between her and my mom, they made me realize that everything is symbolic. metaphor is all we have and is the only way Jesus described God. "God is like... the Kingdom is like... I am the vine/bread/living water... etc" (sorry to use John, but i wanted to provide a full sweep of the Gospels).

excellent stuff!

Tit for Tat said...

Hey guys

Great stuff, I especially liked your last post Jason. Thanks for the brain food this morning.

Oh by the way Luke, I very much mean it as a compliment when considering you a "Mystic". :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Societyvs
Thanks heaps for taking the time to answer my question. I haven't had a good chunk of time to sit down and digest your answer and then the following comments, but I will. I just wanted to say thanks!
Julia