{Wed 2 May 2007}   Fine energies and fine (if erroneous) thoughts
Well, I’ve just given in to an impulse to update the grammar in the essay on “The Priesthood of the Soul“, although I admit that it’s 99.999% likely that I’m the only one who would notice the difference (as it’s just about as likely that I’m the only one who’s actually read it). Anyway, it’s infinitesimally less poncey and slightly more readable due to some shortened sentences, use of the active rather than the passive voice, etc. I couldn’t do more without really settling in to rewrite the thing, but it was a good way of revisiting these thoughts.

Today, I was struck by this quote from Keats that I used in the essay:

Though a quarrel in the streets is a thing to be hated, the energies displayed in it are fine… (In the same way) our reasoning though erroneous…may be fine. This is the very thing in which consists poetry. (317)

I think this stood out to me because I’ve been re-engaging with theology and the Bible a bit in my new comments today on “The Nakedly Evil Origins of Ritual Oppression of Women“. It’s not a new thought that the Bible is poetic in nature and thus contains poetic rather than rational truth. The one is no less true than the other, but they are of a different order and arrived at via different processes. It is also not news that some very intelligent and highly trained thinkers believe that the Bible is rationally and empirically true. I think one reason for this may be that the “fine energies” in the Bible are so seductive that they attract thinkers capable of fine reasoning who sense its power but misinterpret its mode. Because these fine minds have a rational approach (and are not accustomed to seeing the poetry in everything), they insist on a form of biblical exegesis that requires reality to be modified in order to remain internally consistent.

This applies especially to the axioms on which the reasoning is built. Despite their intelligence, these thinkers simply cannot allow for any causes or conditions that do not support the extraordinarily finely structured house of cards that they have built upon their chosen foundations and on which they continue to labour lovingly day after day. Its very fineness, though erroneous, in its own way pays homage to the “fine energies” to which the thinkers are responding. Quite simply, it is too fine a thing to lose. And so mankind blunders on.

niku says:

Say, some people like it and thus decide it is true. Then they can go back and list all statements and try to find out the axioms. But what about the contradictions with *facts* from science? There is no question of proper interpretation there. Bible makes some assertions about age of earth, and it is plain wrong! The people who simply cannot allow for any causes don’t exercise fine reasoning! That would be called ‘faith’.

I obviously have nothing against Bible, faith, or religion!

Tia says:

Hi niku and thanks for stopping by to comment. I think we are in agreement, except that I think that many people do exercise fine reasoning when it comes to building theologies – some of them are beautifully internally consistent – but without questioning their axioms. I also am hesitant to directly oppose faith and reason, because I think they may also be functions of two different ways of thinking, like poetic and rational truth. I think faith may be what we need to use when reason and experience don’t supply enough information for us to choose based on what they reveal. I don’t think faith necessarily has to be completely blind, or stupid. People who live by faith also have a type of experience to draw on and I have met some whose past positive experience of faith-based choices gave them the confidence to choose a similar route in the future, which is not illogical. However, this is really faith-in-action, when it’s actually necessary to make a choice. I don’t see any point in “taking on faith” any absolute description of the universe or of God, because our actions can be just as effective without this. That kind of “faith” is just laziness, enabling people to avoid big questions, I think. Keats’s negative capability is much more difficult, but also much more rewarding because of the possibilities it recognizes.

niku says:

Hi again. The theologies may be beautiful, complex, and consistent, but I still dont get how they can be put at a level equal to that of science. Atleast you agree that interpreting the holy text literally would put it in contradiction with science, for they were written based on what was then known, just to silence the urge to know! They even seem beautiful to me, but how can a thinking person build a theory of life based on them?

And thanks for mentioning ‘Keats Negative Capability’. I learnt an interesting (though somewhat obvious!) term.

Tia says:

Hi niku. I haven’t anywhere said that the theologies are “equal” to science. I suggested that the “fine energies” (a mystic-poetical term) of the poetry in the Bible may attract people capable of “fine reasoning”. And I believe, like Keats, that erroneous reasoning may be “fine” in the energetic sense and does not necessarily imply lower intelligence. Every human being (including you and me) suffers from blind spots which are sometimes due to simple ignorance, sometimes to a worldview that affects how we interpret what we see and that we do not have the tools to challenge, and only sometimes due to pigheaded refusal to see the truth. Many brilliant people over the ages have quite sincerely led mankind up a jumble of garden paths. For this reason, I don’t agree that the holy texts were written “just to silence the urge to know”. Sometimes, they represented the pinnacle of the knowing that was possible at the time, and many thinking people have built a theory of life on them and lived life successfully as a result. Of course, the capacity to do this often depended on the consensus around them and so doesn’t prove that the scriptures are “right” or “true” in any absolute sense, but it does prove that what these people have done has not been illogical or unreasonable for their context.

niku says:

Right now I cant see your point of view, but I think we can live with that!

TiaTalk says:

[…] it should be no surprise, if one views the Bible as a poetic work (as argued in my previous posts Fine energies and fine (if erroneous) thoughts and Poetry and creativity in the press and in the Bible), that it has had the power to mould and […]

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