Re: What authenticates what we believe?
Sep 12, 1995 08:13 PM
by Murray Stentiford, Scientific Software and Systems Ltd
(This is a long post, but I hope it's easy to read.)
>>>I wouldn't mind others joining the dialogue, not so much to refute
>>>Daniel, but, to take seriously the issues he brings up.
> Art: He does bring up the issue of what becomes "authoritative":
> Tradition, Reason, Revelation or Experience. ....
> I am genuinely interested in the perspectives theos-l people have ...
I see a lot of facets to this and will try to touch on the main ones as I
The basic thing about authority in the spiritual/religious arena is that
you need to give some kind of assent to it before it can have power in
your life, whatever the intrinsic value of the source. Then the circuit
is completed, so to speak; the connection is made. There has been an act
of will in choosing, even if unconsciously.
But on what is this assent based? Why and how do we come to feel "This is
it for me"? Well, as I see it, the pathway to assent and feeling "This
is it for me." involves a mixture of:-
It has to sit right and have the ring of truth. I seem to make a
reference to a kind of internal standard available within my
consciousness. (I won't analyse this further because it involves many of
the other factors below and this is not the place for a discussion of
intuition in its technical theosophical sense.)
Along with the intuitive feeling of rightness, there is often a
recognition experience. For example, when I first came across the idea of
reincarnation, aged about 10, I had a strong sense of "Yes, this is how
it is!" It was more than a nice idea; it was somehow familiar once it was
brought to my attention.
I'm thinking of how most people recognize the greatness of certain works
of art, music or literature. We seem to have enough of the seeds of that
kind of creativity in ourselves to repond to it when we meet it, even if
we're lightyears from being able to conceive it and procuce it on our
own. Similarly, we can be sparked to a creative response in building our
world view when we encounter a description of a revelation or a
Love, Faith and Trust
I see love as manifesting in several ways, like splitting white light
into colours of the spectrum. Some of those colours are understanding,
forgiveness, deep caring-for, compassion, admiration, tenderness, and
sheer outgoing light. I don't mean faith as intellectual belief, here; it
is a deeper thing that humans can have regardless of their belief system.
A once read a biblical scholar who said that the word meaning believe in
the New Testament meant basically trust.
I go for spirituality systems that embody these three qualities and draw
them out in me. I find that many different religions do that, in varying
ways, and theosophy in its many forms does it in a big way. This is an
experience that no-one can take away from me or gainsay.
Richness and Scope
Certain spirituality/thought/feeling systems seem much more rich and
comprehensive than others. Once you've seen a larger view, you become
wary of claims that the smaller is the truth. An example is the idea of
planes of nature. present in many religions even if only as one or more
heavens, or a many-faceted creation story such as that of the Hopi
Indians who portray several races of humanity, each destroyed because it
failed in some way. The biblical story is pretty clearly a subset of
this, allowing for differences of detail.
Affinity of Personal Outlook
I'm thinking here of the whole personal area of complexes, ingrained
beliefs and emotions, both positive and negative. Stuff that's picked up
from family and society often, eg beliefs and feelings that we are bad
and unworthy, for example, and that lead to the control dramas that we
habitually use with people. I think we tend to choose a religion or
belief system that carries similar qualities to our own in this area,
even if they are not openly recognized by the adherents themselves.
I find a pretty strong negative component in fundamentalist systems. On
the other hand, I recognize a lot of love, faith and trust in them too. I
don't know any human spirituality systems that are entirely free from the
negative, at least as embodied in their followers.
Though not by any means the only factor, it is an important one. The
caution is that we can build a logical picture based on assumptions that
themselves are not well grounded or are only partially true. When there's
a fundamental difference of interpretation, then the logical structures
built on them will differ widely. Another caution is that at deeper
levels, logic is left behind - it's no longer the right tool for the job.
Experience and direct perception at all levels is a powerful determiner
of our views. The catch is that what we experience can often be distorted
by our senses and our psychic makeup. This is one reason for the wide
differences in people's world views and choices of religion, and why I
place a lot of importance on development and purification processes like
those in yoga.
This is when the ideas of a worldview have power to explain things around
you and in the cosmos, independently of whether you can observe them
yourself or not. For example, Ian Stevenson wrote a paper in a medical
journal called "The Explanatory Value of the Idea of Reincarnation" where
he reviewed the evidence he had and showed how it could be used to
construct a reasonable and coherent picture.
It is exactly because the direct observation or experience of the
statements in religious scripture are often beyond us (at present, anyway)
that we have to use the more indirect tools listed here, to build a
consensus or best estimate.
Relating all this to original question of the authoritativeness of
Tradition, Reason, Revelation and Experience, I believe we all build a
world view as we go through life, a kind of pyramid of trust where we put
blocks in place according to whether they seem to fit. Some things are
well established, others are maybes or hypotheses, but we connect these
ones in tentatively when and where they seem to belong and hopefully move
them or throw them out if they're later shown to be untrue.
Tradition, Revelation and Experience are sources that we draw from in
building this pyramid of trust. Reason is one of the tools we use in
building and checking logical consistency. Tradition and Revelation
come to us via books, conversations and even discussion lists!
I feel that Tradition, Reason, Revelation and Experience influence most
people, the difference being in the relative proportions. I personally
employ all of them about equally, in building my structure of trust.
With Tradition, I usually subject it to a piercing scrutiny, trying to
get below any light-obscuring encrustations there might be. But then, I
do that to the Revelation and Experience as well; they all need scrutiny
and discernment, to the sharpest degree we're capable of.
In using Revelation and Tradition, I try to keep them in balance with what is
experienced within. In the end, the experience of DOING it and BEING it is
what counts, the difference between reading a map and travelling the road.
The words and images of a scripture or a theosophy are but symbols and
pointers, very like a map, albeit filled with living power. Many others have
said similar things on this list from time to time.
Recognition of Authority depends on all the above, plus an assessment of
the source itself, so I would try to weigh up the quality and depth of
the prophet or teacher or mystic as well as the experiences or
revelations they try to convey.
Finally, I have to attest to a sense of belonging to the all-embracing
life process, even if felt only dimly most of the time. A taste, even a
hint of a taste of this changes your sense of identification so that it's
no longer a clear cut question of a Source Out There and Me In Here. It's
no longer just Me Doing This On My Own. This changes the whole nature of
Authority to a more universal, less self-oriented concept. As if a common
Authority dwells within all of us, gradually emerging into view, to our
own individual timetables.
This leads inevitably to some picture I can only begin to conceive of, of
energy flows of inspiration from some to others, and on again, in a vast
network of the body of humanity.
So saying, I bid you adieu.
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