Foregoing Reason For Enlightenment

by Philosophy

To keep an open mind is the standard adage of, a society, with a desperate need to appear as if at the cutting-edge of ideological development but scared of standing for anything. In my search for a spiritual community and enlightenment, I have plumbed the depths of Christian fundamentalism, delved shortly into studies of Catholicism, raged for a while in adolescent-like ranting within the auspices of atheism, along the way stumbled into Unitarian Universalism, and most recently visited Science of Mind or New Thought. The latter two movements eschew the dogmatic idealism of their religious counterparts, focusing instead on a profound love of humanity and a willingness to pursue truth whatever it may lead.

The truth here is for the growing awareness of a conscious grasp of the universe, abundant in its demonstrable creative possibilities and brimming with sources for further inquiry and study. Like any movement created by people, there are elements that can be problematic in the thinking as ideas are hashed out and numbers grow, creating a soup of variegated elements that by and large is truly delicious though at times may become a tad bitter. There is a tendency here as there is in any religious or spiritual movement, particularly those unfortunately labeled “new age,” to be so open to new ideas that, as one humorist declared: “an open mind is great but be careful that your brain doesn’t fall out.”

When facing a world that gives religion a carte blanche in avoiding criticism and shielding it from all manner of ethical judgment, some find taking the polar opposite position that all religion is inherently evil to be the only recourse. Whatever the truth of such a position, the core of it possesses a valid point concerning epistemic validity and truth claims. The shield from inquiry often attached to religions, taken on with what should be self-mockery by the scandal-plagued Catholic Church and with rueful smiles by many in the new age movement, is that of being beholden only to their own form of internal self-check, removed from a social dialogue despite their fervent desire to still then be a part of and often an influential part of that very society.

Whenever a person or movement declares an internal-only source for truth there should be an immediate query as to where the surprise is or even perhaps what flavor of kool-aid is being asked to drink. This is not to gainsay the legitimacy of intuition as there are truth-claims wholly of a private nature, one’s tastes or preferences for instance, and even a privately held opinion on a personal experience which, not open to criticism, is held as a cherished emotional position. People can believe all manner of things privately and there be little in the way of consequences. It is when such beliefs affect the behavior of a person towards others in any causal sense and/or when such beliefs are promoted as being legitimate for others besides that individual, there it is that we have gone beyond intuitive sense and into the realm of science in general.

There is a difference between what I refer to as science-proper, e.g. the method of science or experimental science, and science-general which is more of a philosophical position concerning humanity’s epistemic relation to the cosmos. Science-general concerns itself with the analysis of experience and operates by the principle that all experience is capable of being understood, though the particular procedure for certain knowledge may need to be created (i.e. microscopes created to see cells or the theory of gravity required to grasp that central force in the universe) and all is ultimately shareable within the nest of humanity’s shared biological ontology. In other words, knowledge is infinitely expanding and by being knowable it must be capable of being shared with others. Knowledge is a public domain.

This stance of science effectively negates both the proposition that there are elements of the universe forever outside of human understanding and that truth is only a private enterprise, essentially denying both a supernatural aspect of reality and moral subjectivism. Here we return to where we began, with the difficulties of the so-called new age movement and at times that which is found in New Thought or Unitarianism circles. In the search for enlightenment, it is fairly easy to rush head-long into the farcical simply because of the emotional weight given to an increase in profundity being synonymous with a greater truth. Deepak Chopra is quite rightly famous for this, for however good some of his points are, there is a tendency to display greater degrees of confusing language in an attempt at sounding wise with the result being anything but.

While certainly there is a level of truth that is identified with the acceptance of it by each person, this is at the level of acknowledgment, the opposite of which does not remove its continued accuracy. Science-general reminds us that as we share our existence with each other and determine who we are individually through the necessity of creating relationships so the truth is not wholly residing within an individual. Claims regarding any of the near-infinite facets of existence must all be brought into the light of discourse and critique.

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