Sunday, October 21, 2012

Personal knowledge

     "inference simply cannot substitute for experience [as I have defined it].  One will not long believe in a personal God with whom there is no personal communication, and the most compelling evidence of a personal God must itself be personal.  To attempt something else as foundation or substitute, as has been done so often in an effort to shore up the assertion of God, is to move into a process of internal contradictions of which the ultimate resolution must be atheism."

     Michael J. Buckley, S.J., Denying and disclosing God:  the ambiguous progress of modern atheism (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2004), 138 (the conclusion).
     Experience is "'an affair primarily of doing.  The organism does not stand about, Micawberlike, waiting for something to turn up.  It does not wait passive and inert for something to impress itself upon it from without.  The organism acts in accordance with its own structure, simple or complex, upon its surroundings.  As a consequence the changes produced in the environment react upon the organism and its activities. . . . This close connection between doing and suffering or undergoing forms what we call experience'" (quoting John Dewey, Reconstruction in philosophy, enlarged edition with a new introduction by the author (Boston:  Beacon Press, 1966), p. 86, italics mine, at Denying and disclosing God, p. 128).
     All of which reminds me so much of Austin Farrer and his emphasis on the activity system (as in Finite and infinite), as well as the sterility of any "thought about any reality about which we can do nothing but think":  "Nothing can give substance to our thought of God but an experience which employs our activity in relation to God, where that activity is something other than thought itself" (Faith and speculation, pp. 22 and 28 (in chap. 2 on "The empirical demand"), italics mine).  Or, more to the point, "to know real beings we must exercise our actual relation with them.  No physical science without physical interference, no personal knowledge without personal intercourse; no thought about any reality about which we can do nothing but think. . . . We can know nothing of God, unless we can do something about him.  So what, we must ask, can we do?" (22)  "God would not be recognized as worshipful, save in relation to our worshipping.  If he is so recognized, there is something we can do about God:  we can worship him" (26).
     Thus, "the interaction that constitutes experience . . . in the actual history of religious commitments and faith" has two dimensions:  1) the categorical or concrete (but most effectively of all an encounter with the saints), and 2) the transcendental, as encountered by those who love the truth (or any of the other transcendentals) above everything else, even God himself" (or, more accurately, God as wish-fulfillment).  For "'Christ likes us to prefer truth to him'", since "'If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms'" (Simone Weil, Waiting for God, trans. Emma Cranfurd (New York:  Harper and Row, 1951), 69, at Denying and disclosing God, p. 132).
     All of thisexcept, of course, the Farrerfrom chap. 6 of Denying and disclosing God, which is Buckley's own antidote to the misguided apologetics of modernity, an apologetics with a distressingly persistent tendency to treat the question of the existence of God in abstraction from the concrete practices of personal interaction so essential to the Christian faith ("those very events that in the actual history of religious commitments and faith have proved most cogent", it being only "in such an interaction that the manifestation of the holiness of God [in fact] occurs" (p. 128, italics mine)).