Spiritual truth vs. Literal truth
Our minds often work in, and we typically talk and explain things by way of, analogies. “The 9-11 attack was like the attack on Pearl Harbor.” Some points of both attacks may correspond, some don’t, probably most don’t. It may take the recognition of only a couple of points in common in our minds to declare an analogy valid. All the more likely if it is we who suggest the analogy and less likely if it is someone else. The philosophical quicksand that analogies are built on await, ever ready to disappoint pro- and opponent alike.
In some instances our understanding of the world, and therefore our explanations, are also limited by our senses—we can’t see the infra-red part of the spectrum, if we did, there are a lot of hot things we wouldn’t touch.
And for simplicity, it’s things of an apparent nature. ‘You take a potato, stick it in a hot fire for 20 minutes and it’s done.’ We didn’t need to describe what took place chemically on the molecular scale in the creation of the fire or the cooking of the potato. We can’t see the microscopic and that also brings in the matter of scale. We interact with things at a certain size–on our scale of magnitude. We might agree that that is the factually descriptive level at which the events took place. On our scale, we cooked a potato in a fire.
What if we have poetic license and we choose to express the cooking of the potato in the hyperbolic purple prose of a metaphor, ‘We offered up an apple of the earth to the firegod and in exchange he nourished our souls.’
If we talk in metaphors, they are just high blow analogies. And sometimes the metaphor can capture a feeling, a mood, that mundane speech cannot. If little Suzy’s cat, Felix gets run over by a beer truck, a person might console her by saying he’s gone to a ‘better place.’ Suzy’s thinking, Shoebox buried in the back yard? But we say ‘No, that great cat paradise in the sky.’ He’s gone to his reward, in other words, for being a great cat. Now he’s beyond pain. No one’s carelessness or lack of respect can hurt him now. We reach for appropriate closure. One that ends Felix’s story well. A philosophically satisfying end. A spiritually right end. As we live long enough, you, me, and humanity, we build up a body of these ideas, these consoling old saws. The more spiritual metaphors take on more meaning as they elevate the various passages of life above the mundane. These high concept metaphors that seem to pique something bordering on the spiritual within us take on a significance that we might think of as ‘spiritual truths.’
You can probably see where I’m going with this. ‘Spiritual truths,’ among other things, might be how reality would be structured in a perfect world, or perhaps in a just world. Or one that would be in alignment with the human spirit (real, secular human spirit, reality-side, not supernatural). Or they might be what’s know about this world when revealed by our knowledge of the transcendent, or what was revealed to us via our knowledge of other spiritual truths. (What I’m building here is a case for how humans built or may continue to build a body of sacred thought, writings, eventually beliefs, and even a religion.)
Differing faith traditions may have different truths (if they didn’t, they’d be the same religion, right?) but there will almost certainly be similarities as well. I think (and here goes an analogy built of metaphors) that the differences(hundreds of religions) might truly have been the tower of Babel that God chose to confuse the religions of man with, a religion for every tribe. And that confusion is never more pronounced than when the ‘fundamentals’ are adhered to. Notice how the revealed truths are at odds between the Christian, the Jew, and the Muslim and as we say, those deities were all the one god of Abraham. Then if you want to delve into esoteric minutiae, one Christian denomination disputes the beliefs of the next.
I think this is the source of much of the problem we have with religious folk. Don’t you do a mental guffaw when you hear them say they’ve got the truth? And, don’t they seem to indicate it is a truth of a higher order. Then it’s easy to get exasperated when those guardians of the TRUTH support those sacred truths by attacking time tested facts of geology, history, and science and re-writing them to conform to their interpretation of scripture.
It’s kind of pathetic. Maybe we can sympathize. We know what it’s like to be thought to have kooky ideas. I think we can argue that we know more about being denigrated for those ideas. They say our nonbelief is our religion. For some of us it may be. Our thoughts are more along the lines of thinking that if our presidents tell us we’re a Christian nation, we have to bow to God to pledge our allegience to our nation (although I say, “with religious freedom” at that point), and to win over the minds of the youth they are re-writing the history and biology books to conform to their beliefs.
So, though we may have compassion for the individual, in the aggregate they trap us in a bizzaro world of religious zombies. If it’s the 78% of the U.S. population that the Pew Forum cites as Christian and the 4% atheist/agnostic, they are not the put upon faith they’d like to portray themsleves as. I think that comes from the 26% of the U.S. population that are evangelicals finding resistance to their exuberant proselytizing of their beliefs.
I think the evangelicals feel a little outcastish that there’s not public support for public proselytizing. Maybe the other ~73% feel that belief should be something private? There but for the grace of God go I. In other words, why do atheists speak out? For the same reasons that the GLBT community did (there’s an analogy again). Likewise with blacks. If you’re the recipient of prejudice, denigration and other injustices raising the awareness of society’s collective consciousness is the necessary first step. Protest? Well, even our 1.4% atheist population doesn’t agree on that.
More on this in another post, but it appears more and more likely that religion got a boost somewhere in our last 200,000 years of human evolution. When we get all spiritual we get a little dopamine to juice our brain similar to when we fall in love. I think we take that mini-spiritual event as confirmation of our religious thought. In otherwords, in the (relatively) normal operation of the human brain, religious behaviour gets an internal reward. A reward that makes people follow the ‘line of bread crumbs’ to find ever greater rewards (evidently even most believers turn away at this point–the evangelicals go on alone?). Some can follow this to a fullblown ecstatic religious experience. Get there by fasting in the desert and maybe you too can become a prophet.
What’s all this got to do with spiritual truth? A lot. The same neurochemical rewards (dopamine and others), give us that feeling of internal validation for those spiritual thoughts, statements, beliefs. Doesn’t sound like much? Consider every religious epiphany that anyone ever had–there’s probably dopamine, serotonin, and maybe others behind them all. These are the chemicals that help us produce those peak experiences in life. They are definitely there for Eureka moments of the religious kind.
That, then, is one of the reasons that spiritual truth, sacred truth is revered as a special kind of knowledge. Add to that the social reinforcements–I call it rant, chant, dance, and trance–and you have powerful forces at work seemingly from every quarter. What’s the individual to do? Well, it’s a lot easier to conform than it is to sray from the fold, is it not?
Entry filed under: freethought. Tags: analogies in understanding, better place, christian jew muslim, confusion in religion, construction of religion, dopamine boosts religious experience, evangelical proselytizing christians, freedom of religion, fundamentals of religion, god of Abraham, ignoring invisible, interacting with what we see, raise awareness, religions claim a truth, religious beliefs constructed, senses limit explanations, spiritual metaphors, spiritual truths, tower of babble.