Bridging the Gap

The separation between secular and spiritual thought seems to be a central aspect of the problem of modernity. They need not contradict and it was a mistake to let them diverge. The task, then, is to reconcile the secular and the spiritual.

The proper way to bridge the gap is to build at both ends and meet in the middle. To that end, the destination must be seen from both sides – that is, secular knowledge must become theologically relevant, and religious belief must be justified on secular grounds. I think we can accomplish both.

I say this as a recent convert who was raised as an atheist. The world runs according to knowable physical law; nothing I know contradicts this. Christianity is true; nothing I know contradicts this either. The two appear to contradict when compared directly, but never within the realm of the knowable. This is an illusion brought about by incomplete understanding – the contradictions will vanish like mirages once we close in on them.

All truth is entangled; this holds between religious and secular belief, to the extent both are true. We used to know this, didn’t we? Then natural discoveries started contradicting our understanding of the Bible and that knowledge got lost in the shuffle. It’s time to bring it back.

I already presented a theological argument for the entanglement. The naturalistic argument is simpler: Religion evolved in the world, therefore it is entangled with the world. Either way, theological belief and temporal reality are related and that relationship can be observed and studied.

It should be studied.

I got interested in religion because I learned it works in the pragmatic sense. That took nontrivial intellectual effort and a number of assumptions that are not commonly shared. If the practical benefits – and the necessity of faith for reaping those benefits – can be established in a more accessible way, we have a compelling case from the secular point of view.

On the Christian side, establishing links between theology and observable fact should be of interest, at least for resolving disputes and clarifying open questions. This implies making falsifiable predictions based on religious belief. I think it’s important to test our faith in this way; I’ll expand on that later.

The main disagreement between the sides would be that of primacy. Did God create the world or did the world create him? I think this is a philosophical trick question: the answer, once understood, will be unarguable, inconclusive and obvious.

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By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know Them

[Update Jan 29, 2018: This gets uncomfortably close to theological speculation. I’m fumbling toward a point that I think can be made in a valid way, but this may be the wrong approach. Take it with a grain of salt.]

I promised something big. Let’s see if I can deliver.

God is perfect, so a perfect understanding of him should have perfect consequences. By the same token, improved understanding should always help and a correct understanding should have better results than an incorrect one. Therefore, provided we can identify what consequences a proper understanding of God should have, and how those consequences would come about, we may be able to reason about the relative merits of different understandings. Now, the fun step:

Beliefs held by temporal beings have material consequences in the temporal world.

Given God’s perfection, these material consequences should also be good – and they are observable. Furthermore, given that the Revelation is complete, these consequences should accrue with minimal divine intervention, according to the ordinary workings of the temporal world.

Therefore, to the extent we understand divine purpose, we should be able to reason about proper theological belief based on the ordinary consequences of holding it in the temporal world.

Now, we may never fully understand divine purpose, but we may be able to discern parts of it. To the extent we are, we may reason about the attributes of God that would serve the purpose. For example, knowing God should help us know the truth. I’ll be working on that next.

[My understanding of the problem keeps evolving as I make progress. I shifted my focus again.  That’s what I get for mentioning my plans.]

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New Year, New Plans

I expect to post some interesting work in the next days. If my approach pans out the way I hope, it could be big – big enough that it almost certainly won’t. It’s worth a try, though.

I think it’s possible to reason about theology based on the temporal consequences of theological belief. I plan to make a theological case for the approach and then use it to examine the relationship between theology and our judgement of truth. If it works, this could be a step toward reconciling the material and the spiritual.

It’s proper to be prepared for success so I looked through my old posts and retracted a few. Some stirred needless controversy, others were basically pointless. I added short explanations for the retractions, redacted the text of the worst offenders and hid them from view. Old links should still work.

It’s interesting how I seem to have been working on a single insight since the beginning. Let’s see how it works this time.

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God as the Perfect Sovereign

I’ve been listening to Jordan B. Peterson’s lectures on the psychological significance of biblical stories. Interesting stuff. In the first lecture he hypothesizes that the biblical stories may have been formed over time by distilling stories into myths, eventually condensing them to their core essence in the Bible we know today.

In particular, Dr. Peterson suggests that the concept of God may have been informed by the common attributes of leaders over many generations. This makes sense: Whether we inferred God from his creation or constructed him to make sense of the world, God is the perfect sovereign.

If divinity and sovereignty are so linked, we can make two predictions about theories of sovereignty such as those explored on GABlog and Imperial Energy. First, their findings should mesh with christian theology. Second, to the extent their findings are both novel and true, they should have theological implications.

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End of History as End of Law

I was reading this old article on Social Matter when a thought struck me. Isn’t the promise to end natural law a big part of the appeal of various end-of-history scenarios, both religious and secular?

This seems to be a common thread in most end-of-history predictions, be it technological progress, social progress or religious doomsday. The old constraints no longer apply and we will be liberated from our present struggles and hardships. The appeal of this promise seems like a good candidate for a human universal.

Note that these predictions tend toward the most plausible path given the time period and people’s understanding of their world. Prior to industrialization we had religious doomsday, the industrial revolution and associated economic upheavals brought us the communist utopia, and today various technological doomsday scenarios are popular. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate the object-level reasoning behind them, but it’s something to keep in mind when evaluating the arguments.

Imminent eschatology of any kind biases our thinking toward the short term. Combine this with the pre-existing human tendency to favor short-term benefit over natural law and it greatly accelerates social decay. If we believe in the end of history, we risk becoming history.

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The Elephant in the Room of the Blind

I will now cross the parable of blind men and an elephant with the metaphor of the elephant in the room. Hopefully this pachydermic patchwork helps clarify our thinking and our discussion of the present plight of the West.

Think of the western civilization as a very big room, with lots of furniture and household equipment set up such that it is a livable home for a community of blind people – us. There’s also an elephant in the room: the subtle and complicated web of causal factors that results in what many of us see as the decline of the West. We can’t see the elephant, but if we happen upon it we may touch it and describe what we feel. We can also hear its movement at times and observe the effects, such as broken furniture.

I’ll call the elephant of my analogy “the Elephant” to distinguish it from partial descriptions such as Moldbug’s Cathedral. I don’t think anyone has managed to describe the thing in its entirety; it may well be impossible.

The Elephant seems to have grown larger and more ill-tempered over time. As its tramplings grow more frequent and more damaging, more people notice – even if many prefer to not talk about it. If it was smaller and more docile in the past, perhaps it was even doing useful work. Can it be tamed again? Should it be?

Our blindness hinders our efforts to understand the Elephant. Some people grasp the wreckage it leaves and blame shoddy construction or vandals. Others bump into each other in the confusion and come to blows. Even those of us who realize we’re dealing with an elephant disagree on its nature as none of us have seen one. To complicate matters further, we have a cult that cheers the Elephant on and insists we will only be truly free once our room has been destroyed. Apparently they don’t believe in weather.

How to deal with the Elephant then? First, we must understand its nature. A tame animal that escaped its harness is best recaptured and put back to work; a feral one must be put down. Second, we must understand its anatomy. We must know which end the harness goes to if we want to capture it. If it is to be put down, we need to aim well: mistaking an extremity for a vital part will only serve to wound it and make things worse.

Pay attention to different descriptions of the Elephant. Some are mistaken but many capture different true aspects of it. We must piece them together to improve our understanding.

Here is another, odder, suggestion: develop your spiritual sight. Honed intuition lets you grasp more than reason alone. Follow the spiritual practice of your religion or take up meditation. For this at least, the specifics of your path matter less than that you walk it.

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The Pragmatic Case Against Pragmatism

You may have noticed that I started blogging from a pragmatic secular perspective, reached some conclusions and promptly converted to Christianity. My experience, though idiosyncratic, suggests a claim: On sufficient reflection, pragmatic moral analysis rejects itself.

In principle, a pragmatic approach to morality is optimal. Find your terminal values, determine the optimal instrumental actions and execute. In practice, none of this works. We don’t know our true values – possibly can’t know as they may be in constant flux. Even if we did, determining the right actions would require a deep understanding of the complex interactions and unintended consequences that inevitably crop up in the real world. It can take generations to see the full consequences of what seemed like a good idea at the time, and the much easier task of noticing the connection after the fact is still difficult.

A sufficiently informed thinker may be able to figure it out well enough, at least to the point where he knows to seek wisdom greater than his own. Unfortunately no one is born that wise and many never get that far. Some pursue their selfish short-term interest even when they know better. Guidance, firm if necessary, must be the default for those unable or unwilling to choose wisely for themselves.

As a guiding principle, pragmatism is terrible. “Do what works” only works if you know what you are doing and want to get it right. Too many people don’t.

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Compassion and the Afterlife

The secular West has lost its belief in the afterlife while retaining much of its Christian compassion. This is an unhealthy combination.

Belief in the afterlife fundamentally changes our understanding of death. Is the person just removed from this world and sent to the next, or is he permanently extinguished? One is tragic and regrettable, the other is a catastrophe of cosmic proportions. It’s no surprise if our debates on life and death get a bit unhinged.

In the temporal world, our resources are limited and we must balance our most sacred values against others. There is no room for infinite value on this side of Eternity – even life must have its price. You can’t have Christian compassion with secular metaphysics.

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I am Converting

[Update Jan 2018: While the Orthodox tradition seems the most correct to me, the assumption isn’t central to my work. Take my choice for what it’s worth.]

I seem to have been working toward a religious conversion with my blogging. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise given some of my recent posts.

I had a spiritual awakening and seeked for a while, realizing the importance of tradition. I converged on Christianity as appropriate for a westerner and started looking into why Western Christianity seems so much more corrupted by modernity than its Eastern counterpart. My investigation didn’t get further than Wikipedia’s explanation of the differences: I realized the Orthodox tradition is right.

Whether through bias, reason or revelation, I’ve become convinced that Orthodox Christianity is correct. I am converting; to do otherwise would be to declare myself deluded to the point of incompetence. I’d need guidance either way.

I don’t expect to be blogging much in the near future. I’m not comfortable opining on things until my views stabilize. My time is better spent learning the Christian tradition anyway.

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On Faith and Belief

It should be apparent by now that I am quite sympathetic to Christian tradition from a pragmatic perspective – it works. There’s a catch, though: it seems to fall apart without the metaphysics. Moreover, the tradition’s long-term stability may depend on the details of its metaphysics. For a lifelong secular materialist, this is quite the conundrum.

I’m starting to think it’s a false conundrum, though, built on misguided philosophy. Popperian falsificationism may work in physical sciences but dismissing the unfalsifiable has proven disastrous for our civilization. In other words, testability has been tested and found wanting. Christianity has a track record of working for us, secularism has a track record of failing us. Christianity requires faith to function. So be it.

Have Faith, even if you don’t believe.

Such a curious contradiction. By reason and evidence, it is proper to have faith without reason and evidence.

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