In the beginning, God created humankind with a mind to perceive the truth of the world and a soul that yearned to transcend that world and achieve love and unity beyond the bounds of reason.
These two goals are opposite goals.
The mind, by nature, affirms the existence of the world. The mind’s career is supported by perceiving the nature of things; things that do not exist do not have a nature. The mind is obsessed with what is.
The soul, by nature, denies the existence of the world. The soul is not interested in the nature of things but can find its way home to itself, to God, and to all mankind the way a bird finds the North after a long and bitter winter. The soul is obsessed with what can be, and what can be is the enemy of what is.
Of course, if a human being has competing impulses and competing purposes — and these are only the highest and most noble of our purposes. Most of the time we’re distracted by far lower ones — then there must be a higher human system to regulate and balance them. And if that higher system was to dissolve, the human being would spin apart.
Dear reader, I submit to you that one of the purposes of religion is to regulate the nature of the mind and the desire of the soul, so that they do not pull a human being apart.
I further submit to you that religion is perceived to be in the dumps right now and no one likes it, anyway.
And so, we have the fight between Google Guy and the Forces of Social Justice. And in this fight, I wish both sides success.
Take the FoSJ. This is a group of people, nay, an ideology, becoming ever-more famous for only trusting the mind as far as they can bend it. The sharing or discussion of fact, scientific or otherwise, is discouraged in face of the truest and deepest: some people are more oppressed than others, and now they deserve control.
They seem to deny that a claim, such as “there are biological differences between the sexes,” is even theoretically open to understanding or debate by all healthy adult human beings. They are not at all interested in what is, in the shared reality in which we all participate. All such preoccupations are chaff sent up by the forces of oppression to unlock our focus from what could be, that is, a world in which there is true equity for all.
Of course, in order to measure that equity in a way agreeable to all, the FoSJ must revert to reason and the mind, since reason and the mind are precisely the only means we have of meeting in some sort of objective, you know, world. But this itself is my point — no functioning human being can deny the mind indefinitely. It’s much easier to compel her with selective focus and force of conviction than to get rid of her. This is how one arrives at individuals who can purge heretics from their ranks for not believing that one’s access to the truth is determined by one’s sex, gender, skin color, orientation, etc.
I must reemphasize that I think the FoSJ ultimately come from a good place, though they are lost. They are the latest in a long tradition that seeks to break free from the chains of the human intellect in search of a better life uncompelled by worldly limitation. In this sense, they are utopian (and use science and philosophy as a rationalization for their utopianism, a trick in vogue since Marx). And the utopian stirring of the human soul, the longing, in some sense, for a messiah or a messianic age, has historically been balanced in a religious context.
That is not to say that actual religious messianic yearnings are even-tempered. On the contrary, they have historically led to disaster, in Judaism as well as in other religions. However, inasmuch as every human being has a deep desire to live without rules, and in most human beings this manifests as a longing for a more perfect world, it is remarkably rare that this desire has, in the history of world religion, led to violent or destructive messianic cult. Indeed, it is quite possible that the ability to regulate this impulse has lent longevity to some of the oldest and largest of our faiths.
The way religion regulates the utopian or transcendent impulse within man is through redirecting it toward the world as it is, right in front of us. God (or the realm of spirit, or the higher reality, or whatever) does not keep the imperfect physical world around for no reason; it somehow fits into the plan. The world is not a lie in the sense of something abhorrent to be burned down or ignored or fled, but rather a lie in the sense of something incorrect to be confronted, loved, hated, understood, fixed.
This willingness to engage the imperfect is an earmark of a system of thought that values the truth beyond mere success. If the transcendent messianic impulses of the soul are forced to confront some form of tradition, some logical calculus, or even a mere creation narrative, those impulses cannot maintain their own satisfaction as their end. The utopian vision must explain itself in terms of the past, as an outgrowth of it; the perfect world must “fit” the imperfect one as the conclusion of the plot must fit the rest of the novel. The desire to “burn it all down” or “leave it all behind” must explain why, if it’s worth all burning down, it’s there in the first place, why its apparent qualities are purely evil, why its joys are lies. It must, in short, explain something. And that means the mind has tied it down.
Of course, if there is no agreed-upon tradition, logical calculus, or creation narrative, things become dicier. People reach for some means to constrain the transformative, power-seeking forces of utopia, some shared reality with which to bind them, and in 2017 they land on, of all things, biology and evolutionary psychology.
I feel for Google Guy. The FoSJ are quite powerful in mid-2017, and they have little mercy nor patience for dissenting opinion. I would not want the witch hunt to come after me, and since it was inevitable, I suppose it took some sort of courage to publish his memo.
On the other hand, Google Guy is at least as wrong as the FoSJ, though for opposite reasons. I don’t blame him personally; like them, he is a product of his times; like them, he is one half of an old dialectic, continuing to clash and hash itself out.
Google Guy, of course, represents the mind in the current contretemps, and the mind is just as central to the human reality as the transcendent yearnings of the soul. Whereas the latter seeks to escape reality and its governing principles to achieve perfection, the former is by nature attuned to reality and its governing principles. The mind’s entire purpose is to see what fits and what does not. When someone tells Google Guy that there are no non-social differences between men and women (because that’s what we deeply wish were so) he raises both eyebrows (because he has studied the matter, and no).
He then begins putting together charts and diagrams and weaves the words of science!
But science is not synonymous with the mind, not really. Just as the FoSJ express the deepest yearnings of the human spirit unmoored from any system or past to guide them, so does the Ev. Psych. expert adhere to the principles of logic and intellect undirected toward any higher or transcendent end.
I speak not only of performing science for the sake of science, not only of the continued insistence of scientists that teleology does not exist, but most pertinently of the absolute refusal to consider human beings as more than purely physical, the way a rock is physical.
In 2017, some scientists are barely willing to countenance that there is perhaps more to a man than there is to a mollusk. And when they do countenance it, the difference is explained in purely evolutionary, and therefore material, terms. This is the role of Evolutionary Psychology, the study of how to excuse the meaningful, purposive, mental, and spiritual in terms of the material. It is a realm of knowledge geared toward It is a field born of a fierce faith that putting stuff together can somehow create a private subjective mind and that this then-nonexistent subjective consciousness was selected for survival purposes.
Whether or not this faith is justified, evolutionary psychology now plays the role of marriage counselor, trying to reconcile our biological knowledge with the obviously spiritual nature of our experience, which has been estranged from modern science since modern science was invented. It purports to achieve this unity by explaining how the spiritual nature of our experience is purely biological. Of course, the real trick lies in explaining how explaining itself can be purely biological, and it is again an article of faith that one day neuroscience will do just that.
If this sounds vaguely messianic, that’s because it is. Just as, ironically, the FoSJ must at least superficially kowtow to the mind to argue for their anti-intellectual position, so must the scientists contradict themselves by using their inexplicable subjective private experience to argue that such things are mere “emergent phenomena” of neurons or the like. And just as the FoSJ wave away any actual reason that might slow down their quest for utopia, so do social scientists refuse to acknowledge that human beings exist and will always exist beyond the grasp of quantifiable theories.
Traditionally, religion regulates the tendencies of the human mind to categorize, quantify, and understand. Though approaches to God are usually characterized by rules, a defined path, or a limited way, ultimately the human being exists beyond any of these constraints (thereby allowing for repentance, further growth, and forgiveness in the pursuit of said way).
But when the mind is not regulated by an appreciation for the limitations of rules or analysis, the human being, as a unique creation with infinite individual worth, is ultimately lost in favor of making things fit. And the dystopian potential of ideologies that makes people fit need no further elaboration.
Though Google Guy himself may not call for anything of the sort, the social and scientific analysis of human beings without constraint inevitably leads to things like valuing people for their IQ or market value, tendencies already present in the hyper-quantified world of Silicon Valley and spreading to other areas of our society.
The FoSJ and Google Guy are not really so different from one another, in the end. They are half-responses to the deficiencies of each other’s position, deficiencies that developed with the death of an overarching and unifying understanding of the human condition. The FoSJ see what a world ruled purely by “reason” with no room for the transcendent human being looks like, and are horrified. Google Guy sees what world ruled without any reason looks like, and is horrified. And they respond to each other with the opposite extremes, with syntheses that do not truly acknowledge at a fundamental level the existence of the opposite point.
But it does not have to be this way.
Rather than trying to synthesize the broken pieces of the enlightenment project, we could tap into ancient springs and revive ourselves with the old wisdom. For if we turn to the old understanding of God and man and their relationship with one another, we will find that the mind necessitates the transcend human spirit, and that the spirit exists only for the purpose of the mind, and that these two things are really one thing, a complete human being, who exists for unifying purposes.
Or we could continue to argue politics.
It is becoming increasingly common that politics in the United States is split along new lines that leave no good choices to a conservative, traditionalist, or adherent to an Abrahamic religion. I am speaking not only (I say, as the excitement of the same old battle rises within us) of the 2016 election, with its famously bad candidates, but also of the underlying culture war of which that election was in many ways symptomatic.
The culture war is itself no longer a fight about which principles ought to limit the pursuit of political power, but rather simply a struggle for power between two sides that share no common reality. There barely remains in our discourse any philosophical framework in which to argue.
Ultimately, these sides have spun away from each other with the weakening of any overarching system that can find a balance between our analytical minds and our transcendent, dreaming souls.
If our only options are an abandonment of all reason or subjugating ourselves to the dictates of biology and evolutionary psychology, I choose neither. Until we can find something that splits the difference, a pox on both your houses.
Originally posted on Hevria.