Epistemology in Faith [ironic, isn’t it?]

So, why do we believe things? I mean spiritual things–and not in a secular sense of questioning why there is religion. I mean, what is it that we base our faith on? Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity [dictionary.com]. Yes, it is ironic to apply a philosophy of examining knowledge to a construct that, on its face, denies knowledge. In Hebrews, it says faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
But we often use rhetoric to describe spiritual testimonies that imputes knowledge. "I 'know' God lives," or "I 'know' the Bible is the Word of God." These are common statements one might hear in a Christian setting. Though 'know' is often the verb of choice, I don't think this is what they are meaning. It seems counter to the concept of something hoped for. At the same time, it doesn't seem like it is a belief that is blind. There is 'evidence' of things not seen. It seems that many of us base our spiritual 'knowledge' on 'evidence'. What kind of evidence?

Why is it that JudeoChristian world has no problem with a man going up into a mountain [by himself], and returning some 40 days later claiming to have spoken with God [face to face]. Further, this person says that God wrote 10 commandments into stone with his finger. As a Mormon, I believe in this account. I believe the Bible to be 'true'. But I also believe that the same God appeared to Joseph Smith in a grove of trees in 1820, and that he was later commanded to translate an ancient record engraved on golden plates. Why is it that the former is so awe-inspiring and accepted, while the latter is cooky-talk? What is the evidence? Both men purported to see God, face to face. Both have produced some tangible thing to be reviewed. Both had miraculous successes and some stumbles. Why is one a prophet and the other someone people dismiss as the founder of a cult? What is the evidence?

The argument that the fact that Moses' account is true because it is in the Bible is problematic on some pretty obvious levels. Imagine you are in the wilderness with Moses, you have no Bible and you have to determine whether this guy really talked to God or is loony. I would argue that relying on the assertion that something is true if it is in the Bible only gets you to the point where you have to ask "How do I know if the Bible is true?" You're at the same point. You have to make a decision on the veracity of an assertion, but that assertion lies in a spiritual realm–not the traditional epistemological arena we're accustomed to. There is no scientific way to determine whether a spiritual assertion is true. Main stream Christians often point to archaeology. Whoopdy do. That only establishes the historicity of an account, not the divinity of an assertion.

My own personal opinion is that this 'evidence' talked about in Hebrews transcends, but doevetails with, our epistemological methods we're familiar with as residents of planet earth. It transcends them in that they are insufficient to assess a spiritual assertion [this is precisely why the things of God are foolishness to 'learned' men….always learning and never understanding]. It dovetails with them in the sense that we use more remedial types of learning to arrive at a point where spiritual learning can take place.

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Published in: on April 29, 2006 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Idolatry in 2006

If memory serves, it's the second commandment–thou shalt have no graven images.  I've been intrigued by how this applies to modern living.  All the other commandments have made sense to me.  Don't kill, don't steal, don't covet, don't commit adultery–these seem extremely applicable to society at large today.  Idolatry, however, had me stumped….but I've got some thoughts.

I asked myself, wherein lies the sin of idolatry?  I think I can explain it better in legal terms.  In criminal law, in order to be culpable of a crime a perpetrator must fulfill two requirements: (1) the actus reus; and (2) the mens rea.

The actus reus means the actual act.  That is, they physically did the thing, and it was volitional.  In idolatry terms, it would mean actually fashioning an idol, and worshipping it.  But the criminal law requires something more–the mens rea, or the guilty mind.

The mens rea is the accompanying mental state.  In most cases, without an adequate mens rea, someone would get off.  We are aware of this when we get pulled over for speeding and we plead, "I didn't know the speed limit was 45."  We're trying to plead our case that we do not satisfy the mens rea requirement of the offense.  (But for the record, speeding is one of the cases where it's not required).

So, getting back to idolatry, where is the offense?  What is the actus reus and mens rea?  As I stated, in Old Testament times, the actus reus would consist of fashioning an idol and worshipping and the mens rea would be that this is done with the intent that the idol is God. 

If God really is God, (which I believe) and we really are His children (which I believe) it would make sense that He command us to communicate with Him, and not some idea we conjured up.  Herein lies the relevance of idolatry today.  I think the actus reus has become more deceptive in that it has become mental.  I would suggest that we create idols in our minds.  We conjure up gods according to our expectations, desires, and fears. 

Where is the difference between an Egyptian praying to Osiris and someone in 2006 praying to a concept of god they conjured up somewhere between fact and assumption.  I believe in prayer with all my heart, but I am recognizing that it is most effective when I simply rely on the very basic description I have of Him–that He so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son.  It seems like attributing other characteristics to God are rather presumptuous.  I think this is at the heart of the offense of idolatry.  It is placing what one believes to be God, above God, with the intent that it will be your god.  This is the actus reus and mens rea of idolatry in my opinion.  This can happen in the form of a golden calf.  But in 2006 I think it all too often takes an amorphous essence of philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.

Published in: on April 22, 2006 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hearing the Shepherd’s Voice and the KJV

Times and Seasons, a Mormon group blog, has an interesting post on the difficulty in reading the King James version of the Holy Bible.  You can read it here.  It got me thinking about a scripture:

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."  John 10:27. 

When the Lord uses the word 'hear' I think it implies two things.  First, a message has to be received.  It has to be 'heard'.  Second, once the message is heard it is somehow distinguished from other messages as being distinct.  The analogy paints a picture of sheep hearing many sounds and potentially many shepherds and yet they are able to distinguish the one voice that is their shepherd.  Continuing with the analogy, what if there were sheep that would distinguish the Shepherd's voice, but had auditory defects preventing them from hearing any sound? 

Perhaps there are some that don't, in effect, 'hear' the Shepherd's voice because of some barrier akin to spiritual ear plugs.  It's not that they don't 'hear' the principle.  The message has not yet been received–a prerequisite to determining if that message is important.  The KJV is a stark example of this occurrence since its language is so arcane.  But does this same idea extend to the very concepts themselves? 

Any construct is hard to define.  Constructs like charity and faith are, perhaps, more difficult because of competing interests of varying parties that have attempted to define them.  If the true principle were perfectly communicated, would more people be able to 'hear' it in the sense of distinguishing it from the myriad of other voices?  How many have rejected the Sheperd's voice because, due to something beyond their control, the voice sounded like something else and they didn't actually receive the message before they had an opportunity to distinguish it? 

Published in: on April 21, 2006 at 5:42 pm  Comments (1)