re: Hypothetical Questions in Religion and Politics
Great observation! I was scratching my head about this the other day. I was trying
to figure out why political coalitions sometimes form between groups of people
who may otherwise be quite antagonistic, for example, fundamentalistic
evangelical protestants and traditionalistic roman catholics, the so-called
theocons and social conservatives who have coalesced behind Rick Santorum.
Beyond the more obvious shared political goals or moral agenda, there seems to
be something else going on.
What brings them together may well be – not so much WHAT they think, but –
HOW they think, or what one might call their epistemology. The extreme
conservatives seem to share – not necessarily their conclusions, but – ways of
processing reality in that they are typically naive realists, who, as infallibilists,
don’t find access to the truth to be at all problematical. This dynamic seems to
play out among liberal extremists, too, who also share an epistemology. In their
case, what they share is a radical skepticism, rejecting our classical
understanding of truth itself, indeed embracing moral relativism and denying our
ability to reason from “an IS to an OUGHT.”
Political and religious extremists are all epistemologically bankrupt in their own
way. On the far right, their theory of knowledge is flawed. On the far left, their
theory of truth is incoherent.
A few years ago, Fr Richard wrote a book during Lent while staying in Merton’s
hermitage at the Abbey of Gethsemani. He taught us about Third Eye Seeing or
seeing as the mystics see. This nondual approach does not gift us with
conclusions but with practices and a way of approaching reality. It critiques
radical skepticism because it embraces our common sense understanding of the
realities of truth, beauty and goodness. It critiques the naive realism of radical
fundamentalism because its theory of knowledge goes beyond (but not without)
the empirical, logical, practical and even moral to embrace the robustly
relational, where neither God nor love nor other people are syllogisms (or
hypotheticals) to be solved but gifts to be accepted.
This “nondual critique” is thus a form of critical realism that sees relationship
values as our proper ends and relegates all else to mere means and this includes
such as institutions, denominations, laws, dogmas, theologies, morals, politics
and such. Hypotheticals, in and of themselves, are okay; the way to spot one that
is not okay is to look for those where the answer is already embedded in its
premise, where such an answer places means before ends, subjugates
relationship values to other values (which may very well be important just not as
important), such as when dogma deteriorates into dogmatism, law into legalism,
morality into moralism, liturgy into ritualism, institutions into institutionalism,
hierarchy into hierarchicalism, reasoning into rationalism, fundamentals into
fundamentalism and so on.
I am really looking forward to Fr Richard’s next book as it emerges from yet
another fruitful lenten journey. I join all in prayer for his grand success in going
with the (most often, not always) gentle force of the Spirit!