Mark 9:24

Everywhere, at least a little truth

In Pursue Truth on July 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Even as atheist blogger PZ Myers desecrated the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, there are specific points of wisdom in which Myers might as well be Aquinas, though we must take care to rope off his modern chauvinism.

You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity’s knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality.

The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas, by Diego Velazquez. St. Thomas here shows us his virtue, but it is not his intelligence. Intelligence, though good, is not a virtue.

His call to thinking and learning parallels the affirmation by Thomas Aquinas that we should use, we should exercise our God-given faculties. While he cites glory of God and gratitude for His blessings, the effect is certainly to advance humanity’s knowledge, and this is a solemn duty for those capable. If we are free to dismiss this as him being a distant heir of Aquinas through his association with a university — Scholasticism being the immediate progenitor of the universities — we at least then see the incredible debt any sort of intelligentsia has to Christendom.

Moreover, atheists do winnow out the errors of the temporal Church Militant, the excesses and absurdities of unsophisticated fundamentalism as much as the greatest wickedness and sins of Catholics. For this service we owe them gratitude. No man can have too much humility.

He spoils it all with a final falsehood.

You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.

I will mention only in passing that to desecrate the Eucharist is in fact a kind of ritual — especially repeatedly, as he mentioned later that he received a number of consecrated hosts to desecrate — and it did build self-satisfied ignorance in a great many of his disciples. If a ritual is “a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value,” then this is certainly something. If the act did not mean something he would not have done it. Nonetheless, even if he is not interested in approaching the Eucharist “with fresh eyes and a questioning mind,” and even if his purpose was solely to rile believers, his argument must be considered for its own merit or lack thereof.

Truth exists, as do facts. Physical and metaphysical overlap, but not entirely — not even close. Any DnD geek knows the difference between wisdom and intelligence, and anyone who needed to turn undead knows one is not a substitute for another. There is wisdom in the ritual of a Mass about our relationship to God, certainly, and if atheists would rhetorically assume God exists as we say he does then they could easily see how this ritual expresses better than any book what our relationship is. Ritual necessarily is an expression of the relationship between a person and something or someone else. It, unlike blogs and textbooks and drainingly dense philosophy, not only unchangingly expresses to everyone a basic message — as even honeybees dance to convey a reality — but does so in a way which is immediately if unconsciously intelligible to everyone. Ritual transmits an accepted attitude to every man: towards ourselves, others, things within our comprehension and things beyond. It is the stamped impression of intuitions which have proven reliable and true.

To say there is no wisdom in ritual is to say that there exist things without truth. This necessarily contradicts his claim: You can find truth by looking at your world — as if we did not share a world which objectively exists — if you look with fresh eyes and a questioning mind. What if you look at things which exist but bear no truth? What if you are unable to discern truth due to mental infirmity? What if, by no fault of your own, you look exclusively at such things? Are you condemned to live in falsehood, gaping at the shadows on the wall?

I quote the professor: “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at those schools!”

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  1. I find it hard to believe you can find any wisdom in a ritual dedicated to an unverifiable source. Maybe comfort for our little pea brains, but wisdom, I doubt. Why would we “rhetorically assume God exists”. Should we also rhetorically assume unicorns and elfs exist as well? Why should anyone give validity to something that no one can prove? Unless you are simply being a puppet to those who claim something they can produce no evidence for. I have sat in many a catholic mass and “immediately if unconsciously intelligible to everyone” would not be my first description. In fact bewilderingly confusing would be a closer description. Most especially if you have read the bible and know the versus where we are told not to make graven images and worship no other god before me.
    But I do understand your need to look past these inconsistencies, we all crave comfort. Some of us prefer the comfort of reality, while others prefer the comfort of empty rituals.

    You claim wisdom in these rituals, maybe you could expound to us what some of this wisdom is? I can find no examples of it in your post and wonder if your just making this up?

    • Thank you for your insights.

      In “rhetorically assume” I ask that you not make a change permanently but to attempt the other point-of-view, the other outlook, in order to understand it. I wish to posit the fullness of truth I see in the Church to anyone with, as Meyers says, fresh eyes and a questioning mind. You are right, too, to say that “immediately if unconsciously intelligible to everyone,” is a poor turn of phrase and I lacked sufficient context. Rather than change the post — this would be dishonest, as if I needed to hide my follies — an addendum. [link to come]

      Water always seems cold when you dip your toe; the all-encompassing initial shock when you jump into a swimming pool is hugely uncomfortable; but only in the pool can you say what it’s like to swim. As for what truths exist in ritual, I have a few off the top of my head: the transcendence of God is expressed in the elevated place — or place set apart — for the priest and altar boys; His reaching out to the people in the Eucharist, otherwise called his immanence, is recalled in the passing of his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity over the altar rail from the priest to a layperson; that the office of priesthood mediates of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ parallels and is contingent on the priest acting in persona Christi, a distinction that adds further impact to the previous observation; we see the maleness of God in His entering into us through the Eucharist; we see the radical cosmic humility of the Incarnation when we see the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in what appears to be a small, unleavened cracker, the whole “If you believe God became man, do you believe God became dust?” On the cosmic level, compared to the inconceivable vastness of the universe, we are less than even dust. I could go on.

      All ritual is about forming the person to accept the relationship between those said to be present. The sharp rap of a gavel reminds the courtroom of the primacy of the law over immediate squabbles and the finality of judgement, at least for the time being. Juridical garb is peculiar, and we see in the wearing of this robe not only the peculiarity of such robes — this man has a peculiar role to play that I, on the other side of the bench, don’t — that, despite the person on the inside, the judge exudes real authority. These rituals, as in perhaps all rituals, express that not by the nature of the person but by the nature of the office does this man wield authority.

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