The Disinterested Mind

Blank Space Between the Lines

When I emerge from a dream, there is a moment where the waking world and its cares are suspended, as if by a thread, and weighed against those of the dream. All at once, the contest tips in reality’s favour, and the sense of urgency, which just then was palpable, has altogether vanished. I am left only with a trace of the paradigm that consumed me throughout the night; a paradigm in which the strangest things were important, and the strangest things were true.

To have faith, I must believe that the things of my waking paradigm are both important and true. I must believe that this paradigm is equally shared among us. Yet I fear that my waking world may be as a dream world to others, and vice versa. I question whether faith involves ideas so foreign to some people, that they could not be expected to care for them.

I have noticed that many find the implications of God, or any higher truth, simply unimportant—yet not in the way that one is indifferent to parental warnings, but in the way that one is indifferent to dreams. The human mind can generate the most obtuse and bizarre priorities. Some live only to study physical curiosities with little concern for human affairs. No concept of morality can be demonstrated to a mind that has no interest in receiving it, even if this mind is a minority of one. All this reminds me of the subjective nature of the human paradigm; that some ideas are so esoteric and far off from us, at different times, that we might be said to have a “disinterested mind” with respect to them. This one observation is foremost among the difficulties that plague me: that it is possible to remain oblivious to the very idea God. I never felt that, if such a thing were true, I should be capable of living a life so thoroughly ignorant of it.

The truths that I refer to are not scientific truths. Even if we go through life completely unaware of the mechanical workings of the universe, we are still subject to them. No one has ever subverted natural law by ignoring it. Religious faith and moral beliefs are uniquely human conditions of the mind, and they are contingent upon the interpretation of experiences that may vary wildly from person to person, and in some people, lack altogether.

Faith has implications for relationships, morality, ethics, love, and human nature. While it claims to provide some answers about the physical world, it has only implications for the aforementioned things—and what of the people who drift through life with only a vague awareness of them? Consider an eccentric man, who spends all his days in isolation studying the most obscure mathematical patterns. Orthodox religion might regard him as someone who has rejected God. But it is difficult to imagine how he has rejected God, when his mind has not dealt in the things of God.

God interrupts perfunctory tasks in a way that no person, and no event, can. I am required to step into a different paradigm when I think about God, re-casting every detail of my life in a new light. It requires no such energy to get through a normal business day. For this reason, simply staring blankly at an object on my desk—with my mind bereft of higher thoughts—makes me wonder how any greater truth can exist than the truth that has implications for me in that moment. Materialists may say that this I am right to think this way, since they have decided that all truth is, in fact, manifest there.

My belief in God requires me to believe that there is a human experience that we are intended to have, and that our response to God has implications for this experience. But in real life we are so surprisingly unrestrained, and everything is so silent. The states of mind that give meaning to faith, and that faith gives meaning to, occur only at certain times and places. Furthermore, they occur differently for others than they do for me, and I am unable to discern by how much. At the very least, I am convinced of how my own life ought to be lived, and my own thoughts resolved. Although I may hold that God requires a commensurate response from others, as I write this I am more diffident than ever in specifying what that entails.

Militant atheists do not frighten me, for they speak of faith with familiarity. Disinterested minds frighten me, for they do not speak of faith at all.

————————————————————————————————————————————

I once had a dream that involved Jesus (a very rare event). The dream made absolutely no sense, and when I woke up I remember thinking that if Christianity were true, it shouldn’t be the sort of thing that could be dreamt about in that way. At first glance, this could be dismissed as silly, since it’s possible to have absurd dreams about any other thing that is true. But in contrast to materialism, religious faith insists not on particular truths, but on an additional type of truth. It is a type of truth which I did not imagine should have that quality—that is, that the paradigm that validates it could be completely abandoned by such a simple shift in my state of consciousness. I strongly believe that much can be accomplished by thought experiments, and at that time, it felt as if I had performed one that invalidated what I believed.

Advertisements

17 Responses to “The Disinterested Mind”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    “I strongly believe that much can be accomplished by thought experiments, and at that time, it felt as if I had performed one that invalidated what I believed.”

    That happened to me–only it was a waking dream, and the experience destroyed my psychological stability for months afterward.

    Also, I disagree completely with this: “Religious faith and moral beliefs are uniquely human conditions of the mind, and they are contingent upon the interpretation of experiences that may vary wildly from person to person, and in some people, lack altogether.”

  2. You can’t disagree with that. At least, not completely.

    – Uniquely human in contrast to animals, of course, unless you thought I was getting anthropological there. Since I’m writing from a Christian perspective, you’d hardly have imagined that I’d be pulling that one.

    – It may be true that most of us share a similar experience, but even within the church at large we have people who become Christians in response to very different experiences.

    – If a child is raised by wolves, the necessary experiences will indeed lack altogether. Not that this happens very often.

  3. Stephanie Says:

    “You can’t disagree with that. At least, not completely.” <-I also disagree with that.

    I grew up believing, and still do believe, that animals have spirits, and are also made accountable to God in some way. I don't think animals have religion–that's a man-made phenomenon–but I'm convinced they have faith and morals dependent on an innate awareness of a higher power.

    I don't debate your second response, but it does not in fact support the statement that faith/morals are *contingent* upon the nature of differing experiences.

    And I simply disagree with your last statement.

  4. If you believe that, you have to ask: which animals have souls? I don’t see any reason to believe that animals are aware of anything of the sort.

    These experiences are directly causally linked to your faith/morals. That’s contingency.

    That these children don’t have religion is trivially true by inspection. That these children don’t have morals is almost as obvious. They have moral capacity, perhaps, but they have not been taught to use it. The burden of proof is on the one disagreeing with this statement, since there is no evidence that indicates otherwise.

  5. Stephanie Says:

    Um… all of them? Why be exclusive? Eccl. 3:21 at least mentions the spirits of animals, and then you have occurrences such as the one with Balaam’s donkey, where it says her *mouth* was opened, not her mind or spirit. She was fully aware of the spiritual nature of things around her, even when Balaam was not. Aside from that Biblical account, you have to take into consideration the numerous actions and reactions on the part of animals to things like loyalty to humans and other animals in the face of danger, sensitivity to the dying/grieving, etc. God also addresses and commands animals directly in the Bible, which would require that they are not oblivious to the existence of the divine. Nowhere, either in scripture or in real life, have I seen animals classified as organic robots–except maybe viruses, but as far as I know, we don’t consider them animals.

    “These experiences are directly causally linked to your faith/morals.” The *experiences* may be, but you originally said it was the *interpretation* or variance of these experiences that determines faith/morals. At least, that’s what I took you to mean. That is what I take issue with. You are right that we must personally experience and digest the divine/moral law in ourselves in order for it to take root. I do not think, however, that the existence of an object of faith or its accompanying moral code is dependent upon human perspectives of them. Furthermore, I believe that all humans, and perhaps all creatures, have experienced the divine in some way that presents them with the notion of sin, however basic, and leaves them without excuse before God. Cf. Romans 1:18-21:

    “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

    The rest of the chapter is also well worth reading for an elaboration of these thoughts.

    I wouldn’t say savage children have religion, though who knows, they might–our understanding of them is often limited by their lacking the ability to verbally communicate. I have never heard tell of a moral-less “wild child,” so I have to defer to the Romans passage’s pronouncement. If you know of documented evidence that effectively argues your point, please share it. I submit, in keeping with my first statement, that even animals have morals–that, I have seen, as much as anyone can “see” such a thing–and that, subsequently, even a child raised by wolves would have them, too.

  6. I think it’s safe to say that dust mites are soulless.

    >> I do not think, however, that the existence of an object of faith or its accompanying moral code is dependent upon human perspectives of them

    That sentence didn’t compute.

    I meant that the experiences may vary. I am inclined to agree with the standard sweeping accountability statement, but I also mean to question its limits. In the moment when you first wake up, you are without the moral law. You have only an understanding of space, colours, and objects. Faith, somehow, does not reduce into the basic elements. The signal stops coming in somewhere before you finish breaking things down.

    Morals involve the belief that certain things are inherently right or wrong. There’s no way to be certain about it, but none of the behaviour of animals or savage children suggests this belief–to be distinguished from sadness, loyalty, affection, etc.

  7. Stephanie Says:

    “I do not think, however, that the existence of an object of faith or its accompanying moral code is dependent upon human perspectives of them.” That is to say, God doesn’t need us to believe in Him in order to exist and make laws for us to live by.

    “In the moment when you first wake up, you are without the moral law.”

    I’m guessing your experience is different from mine, then. I can’t recall ever waking up without knowing that *something* represents right and *something* represents wrong–though I may have forgotten what, exactly, or have gotten the two confused.

    “…none of the behaviour of animals or savage children suggests this belief–to be distinguished from sadness, loyalty, affection, etc.”

    If the human race (barring me and you) were without language, and we judged it by its behavior alone, on the broad scale, you could say the same of it. But I think we are stuck when it comes to this disagreement: you say their behavior does not suggest a moral code, and I say it does, and that’s that.

  8. Stephanie Says:

    Also, your response suggests that you did not read the Romans passage, as I suggested, and it has a lot more to say about the innate sense of right and wrong, which I believe carries over to animals as well as humans–if anything, I think humans are more capable of corrupting moral law *because* we are not simply minded as the animals.

  9. >> If the human race… were without language…

    Maybe that’s why some people have doubts about morality. In any case, anything an animal does can be explained through instinct or training. Yes, the same might be said of us–and some people say that. But in my view, moral law requires understanding (or believing) that things can be absolutely right or wrong, over and above how I feel, or how I am instructed. There is no way to verify that animals can accommodate such ideas, and if I were to guess, I would guess that they cannot.

  10. Stephanie Says:

    “In any case, anything an animal does can be explained through instinct…. moral law requires understanding (or believing) that things can be absolutely right or wrong, over and above how I feel, or how I am instructed.”

    I submit, then, that basic moral law *is* instinctual, and that instinct is not the same as emotion/feeling or even temperament.

  11. Hmm… maybe. But we’re running the risk of getting semantic. Without any ideas–without any conditioning–it may be impossible to distinguish “I want to do this; I am compelled to do this” from “it is right for me to do this.”

    I wrote that our faith is based on “interpretations of experiences that vary between people.” I meant to refer to a particular thing, of which this discourse (among others) is a case in point.

  12. Hmm… maybe. But we’re running the risk of getting semantic. Without any ideas–without any conditioning–it may be impossible to distinguish “I want to do this; I am compelled to do this” from “it is right for me to do this.”

    I wrote that our faith is based on “interpretations of experiences that vary between people.” The thing I meant to refer to is the thing that is causing this discourse.

  13. Stephanie Says:

    But that doesn’t clarify whether you think faith is based on a variance of interpretation or a variance of experience. Interpretation implies that the burden of understanding is on the believer, while experience implies that such a responsibility lies with God.

    So you’re saying animals don’t have ideas, then? Why can’t they? Maybe there really is no practical difference between “I am compelled/want to do this” and “it is right for me to do this” anyway. Many humans think something is right to do exactly *because* they want to/have to. In fact, I am hard pressed to think of an example where these two reasons aren’t the foundation of Christian faith: either people *want* to please God to serve Him/gain blessing, or they feel like they *have* to please God to avoid punishment. There is no Christian definition of “right” that I can currently think of that does not involve these motivators. I would submit that any other sense of “right” in a human is arbitrary and nonsensical.

    And honestly, most disagreements are semantically based, so there’s no reason to shy away from that aspect of discussion.

  14. Without getting back into how freely-willed people are: I think it’s based on both, and that both vary. Do any of the variations in experience prevent someone from responding in a way that can be classified as “faith?” I mean to raise the question, but I am not definitively answering it.

  15. Stephanie Says:

    “Do any of the variations in experience prevent someone from responding in a way that can be classified as ‘faith?'” –I’m not exactly sure what that means. Rephrase, if you’d be so kind?

  16. Is anyone else’s experience so much different from mine that they cannot respond in a way… etc.

  17. Stephanie Says:

    I don’t believe so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: