It is well said, in every sense, that a man’s religion is the chief fact with regard to him. A man’s, or a nation of men’s. By religion I do not mean here the church-creed which he professes, the articles of faith which he will sign and, in words or otherwise, assert; not this wholly, in many cases not this at all. We see men of all kinds of professed creeds attain to almost all degrees of worth or worthlessness under each or any of them. This is not what I call religion, this profession and assertion; which is often only a profession and assertion from the outworks of the man, from the mere argumentative region of him, if even so deep as that. But the thing a man does practically believe (and this is often enough without asserting it even to himself, much less to others); the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest. That is his religion; or, it may be, his mere scepticism and no-religion: the manner it is in which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-World; and I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the kind of things he will do is. Of a man or of a nation we inquire, therefore, first of all, What religion they had? Was it Heathenism,—plurality of gods, mere sensuous representation of this Mystery of Life, and for chief recognized element therein Physical Force? Was it Christianism; faith in an Invisible, not as real only, but as the only reality; Time, through every meanest moment of it, resting on Eternity; Pagan empire of Force displaced by a nobler supremacy, that of Holiness? Was it Scepticism, uncertainty and inquiry whether there was an Unseen World, any Mystery of Life except a mad one;—doubt as to all this, or perhaps unbelief and flat denial? Answering of this question is giving us the soul of the history of the man or nation. The thoughts they had were the parents of the actions they did; their feelings were parents of their thoughts: it was the unseen and spiritual in them that determined the outward and actual;—their religion, as I say, was the great fact about them.
Wittgenstein’s ladder is Frege’s grain of salt.
(H/T to Chad Kidd)
I consider my students and I consider myself–and I think: our problem is that we know heaps and heaps of things but we believe nothing, or almost nothing.
A friend of mine asked me the other day about Christian religious belief and being a good person, about whether you can be a good person and disbelieve. That sort of question I cannot answer formulaically, and would not, I hope, even if a formula came to mind. What I found myself saying was something like this:
We most of us have no real knowledge of what we believe or disbelieve, in the existentially indexed form of belief I take ultimately to be at issue in Christianity. What we believe or disbelieve is something that isn’t captured by putting a ‘T’ or an ‘F’ in the blank before, say, “There is a God”, on a True/False test. Perhaps living a good life–a genuinely good life, not a conventionally good one–is itself to believe. And perhaps living a bad life–a genuinely bad life, not a conventionally bad one–is to disbelieve.
What I said was something like that. At any rate, I reckon that someone who has a false understanding of Christ could disbelieve in that Christ without disbelieving in Christ. So too someone with a false understanding of Christ could believe in that Christ without believing in Christ. Kierkegaard somewhere attempts to elucidate Christian belief by talking about it as ultimately a matter of the imitation of Christ: imitation is the sincerest form of belief, we might say. Does imitation–in the sense at issue, whatever exactly that is–require that one know that one is imitating, who one is imitating?
“No one can come to the Father except through me”, “I am the door of the sheep”: couldn’t ‘going through’, ‘entering the door’, be a matter of what we are ontologically (salvation as theosis) and not, or not so much, a matter of what we are epistemologically, of what we believe in a non-existentially indexed sense? ”Not everyone who saith unto me Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven…” Will non-existentially indexed denial prevent entrance?
What significance would all this have for the Church? Well, that is a huge topic. But Orthodoxy has taught me to believe that although we know where the Holy Spirit is (in the Church) we do not know where it isn’t. –What the Church does is to help us to live a good life, a genuinely good life, to live in imitation of Christ, deliberate imitation, and imitation of Christ truly understood.
Living a genuinely good life is far harder than we reckon it to be, I think, far harder; a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Both inside the Church and outside it, people underestimate how hard it is. Mea maxima culpa. And it is not just hard to live a genuinely good life, it is just as hard to figure out what one would be, what it would look like. Especially on your own, especially in situ. ”Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” Travelling the way is hard, yes; but finding it is just as hard.
I know there is much to complain about here–but I am just thinking aloud, quasserting, not asserting.
(for Catlin Lowe, with a smile)
Browning starts his “Transcendentalism”
with the command: “Stop playing, poet!”
and here he (not Browning) stands, with his stark-naked thoughts,
embarrassingly enjambed, undraped in sights or sounds,
and Browning speaks to him.
Shouldn’t he just speak prose?
Stop making meaninglessly metered thoughts?
He would, if he could, yield to the breaking in
of the sudden rose—
live pliant fleshy
fragrant slow-motion boom!
But he cannot do it, let the sudden rose break in
over him, under, round him on every side.
He can only speak dry words.
He should stop playing poet.
From The Visible and the Invisible:
We need only take language…in the living or nascent state, with all its references, those behind it, which connect it to the mute things it interpellates, and those it sends before itself and which make up the world of things said–with its movement, its subtleties, its reversals, its life, which expresses and multiplies tenfold the life of the bare things. Language is a life, is our life and the life of the bare things. Not that language takes possession of life and reserves it for itself: what would there be to say if there existed nothing but things said? it is the error of the semantic philosophies to close up language as if it spoke only of itself: language lives only from silence; everything we cast to the others has germinated in this great mute land which we never leave. But because he has experienced within himself the need to speak, the birth of speech as the bubbling up at the bottom of his mute experience, the philosopher knows better than anyone that what is lived is lived-spoken, that, born at this depth, language is not a mask over Being, but–if one knows how to grasp it with all its roots and foliation–the most valuable witness to Being, that it does not interrupt an immediation that would be perfect without it, that the vision itself, the thought itself, are, as has been said, “structured as language,” are articulation before the letter, apparition of something where there was nothing or something else…Philosophy itself is language, rests on language; but this does not disqualify it from speaking of language, nor from speaking of the pre-language and of the mute world which doubles them: on the contrary, philosophy is an operative language, that language that can be known only from within, through its exercise, is open upon the things, called forth by the voices of silence, and continues an effort of articulation which is the Being of every being.
Grant and Hepburn, “Bringing Up Baby”