Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Belief, Reality, the State and Law--Pathos and Bathos

Belief creates its own reality.  For many, over the course of the last several  thousand years, this sub-textual understanding has helped frame approaches to the construction of religious institutions.  There is something subliminally mystical about collective belief, especially in its ability to move the individual. Belief also produces text--Logos made concrete, the consequences of which  are memorialized in culture, religion, and law.  Belief-Faith-Law forms that solid triangle that frames the limits of the reality within which human organization is conceived and elaborated. 

Belief-Faith-Law in the West revolves around the triple embodiment (only partially incarnated) of the Divine. Calvin put it one way:
We have also seen, that since the knowledge of the divine goodness cannot be of much importance unless it leads us to confide in it, we must exclude a knowledge mingled with doubt,—a knowledge which, so far from being firm, is continually wavering. But the human mind, when blinded and darkened, is very far from being able to rise to a proper knowledge of the divine will; nor can the heart, fluctuating with perpetual doubt, rest secure in such knowledge. Hence, in order that the word of God may gain full credit, the mind must be enlightened, and the heart confirmed, from some other quarter. We shall now have a full definition of faith if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.  
Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.2.vii. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it differently:
Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pat. I, The Profession of Faith, Section I ("I believe"-"We Believe") Chp. 3 (Man's Response to God), Par. 150
 What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe "because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived". So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit."
Id., at Para. 156

It's power is also recognized by those critical of the reality forming triangle of belief-faith-law.
The figure of the Saviour, his teaching, his way of life, his death, the meaning of his death, even the consequences of his death--nothing remained untouched, nothing remained in even remote contact with reality. Paul simply shifted the centre of gravity of that whole life to a place behind this existence--in the lie of the "risen" Jesus. At bottom, he had no use for the life of the Saviour--what he needed was the death on the cross, and something more. To see anything honest in such a man as Paul, whose home was at the centre of the Stoical enlightenment, when he converts an hallucination into a proof of the resurrection of the Saviour, or even to believe his tale that he suffered from this hallucination himself--this would be a genuine niaiserie in a psychologist. Paul willed the end; therefore he also willed the means. --What he himself didn't believe was swallowed readily enough by the idiots among whom he spread his teaching.--What he wanted was power; in Paul the priest once more reached out for power--he had use only for such concepts, teachings and symbols as served the purpose of tyrannizing over the masses and organizing mobs. What was the only part of Christianity that Mohammed borrowed later on? Paul's invention, his device for establishing priestly tyranny and organizing the mob: the belief in the immortality of the soul--that is to say, the doctrine of "judgment".
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (1885) (H.L. Mencken trans.), at Para 42.

Whatever one thinks of the truths thus revealed, the connection between belief-faith and law continues to assert a curious power.  That power now appears in subtle and sometimes ironic ways in communities ostensibly secular yet grounded in aggregations of communities organized on the basis of faith of some kind.  Those interactions were nicely illustrated recently in Catalunya, where it waqs reported:
The government in Spain's Catalonia region said Tuesday it was investigating a clinic in Barcelona that is allegedly offering treatments to "cure" homosexuality.
The Policlinica Tibidabo in the Catalan capital is offering pills and psychiatric treatment to "convert" homosexuals, Spain's leading daily El Pais reported.
Many of those coming for treatment are followers of a particular religion who believe homosexuality is incompatible with their beliefs, it said.
Spanish clinic probed for offering to 'cure' gays, The Sydney Morning Herald, June 16, 2010.Here, nicely framed is a modern manifestation of the belief-faith-law triangle in which belief, elaborated through faith produces a certainty of meaning that is then manifested in the organization of human understanding and the organization of social responses, organized through law.  and thus the vagaries of faith, its incarnation in "the way things must be", and its expression in law.

"An investigation has been opened into this clinic," a spokeswoman for the regional government's health department told AFP.
"We do not consider homosexuality as an illness, far from it."
She said the clinic could face fines if the month-long probe concludes that such treatments are being carried out.
A gays and lesbian rights association in Catalonia, the CGL, hailed the decision of the regional authorities.
"It is totally unacceptable, in the 21st century, that health professional are trying to treat homosexuality," CGL secretary general Antonio Guirado said in a statement.
"You cannot treat something that is not an illness."
Id.  And yet for those who see reality through different eyes, that is precisely what is true.  Where the basic fabric of reality is so incompatible, it is neither clear that language can bridge the gap, or that the democratic state can find a common basis for legitimately imposing its will. Writ larger, of course, this suggests the difficulties of attempting, except on a functional basis, to suggest a formal commonality between fundamentally distinct ways of approaching reality.

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