My friend, Jon, one of the few people from my Chi Alpha days with whom I am still in contact, wrote a response to Harding’s essay I referenced in a post, yesterday. Even though he accidently posted the comment to my weblog and I am glad he did, it is still a good and interesting response. So, I am posting it here. Thanks, Jon. I will say this, however, that we need to remember that Harding is attempting to apply Polanyi’s ideas to the troubles within The Episcopal Church…
The essay was interesting, but ultimately disappointing; I think that Polanyi’s thought is caught in the same loops that he critiques. In short, (pardon my rudeness) philosophizing like this seems like just more mental masturbation about mental masturbation.
Polanyi’s thoughts are understandable given that he saw World War II close up… but could he have written about the “self-destruction of all the major European institutions” if he had lived to the present day and seen European prosperity, and powerful trends for increasing unity and peace, flower so beautifully?
Postmodernism is only “hyper-modernism” in the realms where the mind believes that the “right” knowledge equals truth or salvation. And that’s as much the core of the allure of Fundamentalism, as it is of atheism. The former, by the way, is continuing to grow and become ever more controlling and political in the US, despite the increasing diversity of religion, culture, and lifestyle in the country.
Yes, campuses definitely are environments, where wishy-washy “skepticism” is used to dismiss whatever the mind finds unattractive. But few inquire whole-heartedly with a sincere skepticism… Beliefs are what almost everyone settles into… Intellectual and pseudo-intellectual arguments buttress our belief systems which in turn buttress our egos. And that’s true for me as well as Rush Limbaugh, Madeleine Murray O’Hair, and Kim Jung Il.
I think Polanyi’s choice of the word “skepticism” to describe the force that perverts moral passion, is 90 degrees away from the truth: the Nazis weren’t skeptical of Hitler, the Supreme Soviet wasn’t skeptical of Lenin-Marxism, and al-Qaeda isn’t skeptical of bin Ladin. I could only wish for more skepticism sometimes!
But of course, ordinary skepticism is not a path and leads to nothing by itself. A truly radical skepticism (or deep inquiry), however, is a path and does lead to truth. Like familiar skepticism, it doesn’t accept ideas just because they’re argued, nor follow a tradition because it is has a broad appeal… But similarities end there. The deep inquirer is a mystic, walking the narrow path.
Skepticism is a mental stance that bolsters the ego in the same way that all stances, mental and emotional do: One can define oneself by disbeliefs and rejection as well as by beliefs and attachment. In general, skepticism s a halfway move… a skeptic is skeptical of what he or she perceives is outside: groups, ideas, other persons, but is not skeptical of his or her own mind.
A mystic on the other hand, has experienced that the mind is the trickster. Christian mystics endeavor to get their egoic minds out of the way so they can simply “let this same mind, which was in Christ Jesus,” just be in them, as Paul wrote.
Seen through a philosophical lens, a mystic’s rejection is so total, that all is rejected, even rejection itself. Seen from the heart, all is accepted, even the ego, though for what it is, the locus of experience, not for its pretense at being the true self.
The ego bristles at the contradictions and paradoxes, but it is only the egoic mind that believes that somehow intelligently manipulating its own mental superstructures will arrive at a reality called “the Truth.”
It doesn’t. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Right now. It doesn’t need to be thought about, or pledged allegiance to, or “credo-ed” in doctrines or argued in dissertations. It doesn’t NEED anything, but it’s there to be lived in. Truth is simple. It is what really Is. One of Meister Eckhart’s favorite names for God was Isness. Blessed Hildegard of Bingen called God Thisness.
It is so simple even a child can see it. It is so simple that no one who doesn’t “come as a child” can. Where you are a child, is where you know God, and God is not what you think.