Monday, January 02, 2006

Metaphor, Authority, and the Moral

The way we know the thing is not the thing in itself but is a metaphoric experience of it. We can know by direct experience only our own minds. The question is what our own minds are, what content therein is of our own making and not the input of outside influence. How truly are we our own beings? We are flooded with information, saturated with it, bloated with it. Gagging on it. Choking. Gasping. Drowning in information.

What is true and what is mere nonsense? And of the true, what is really important? How can we tell the difference? We can't know most things directly. At best we can conjure up metaphors to make sense of reality as we experience it. Is it even close to true? Not likely. Is it useful in our physical existence? Sometimes. We don't often get run over by automobiles if we rely on our sense perceptions. But we don't know automobiles in any deep sense. Not that it matters. What we might know is the kind, the colour, the shape, the physical properties of an automobile, and we might know the social categories of such a thing. But we don't know any great truth from knowing automobiles nor from knowing metallurgy or mechanics. All the math and all the abstract labour that one requires to own a created auto never really makes a person a better person. It's just more information. It's facility with more metaphors. In that sense, the more we know the less we know.

There are those who believe that one can know God directly. Some argue that knowing anything depends on the will of God to maintain reality as it seems to be, and that all that we know is God's projection. The knowledge we have then would be as direct as one could hope for. For the rest of us there is only the metaphorical. Without the authority of God backing up our empirical gold standard of reality, wherefrom do we derive the authority to make any claims to the veracity of our claims to knowledge? What makes my claim that x is x any better than a counter claim that x is y? What authority do I have? I ain't no Muslim, and I don't give a damn for the Koran. So where does my opinion about anything gain any legitimacy? I'm possibly talking through my hat if I make any claims at all outside the confines of knowing of my own existence. Even then, I might only be a figment of God's reality thinking that I am. Maybe I'm not even sure of my own mind's existence. Where do I go to find authority, the final proof of authentic reality?

On what authority do I base my claim that my version of right and wrong is right? If I were a Christian, then my version of authority would be God. If I were a Catholic, my version of my relationship with God would be mediated by an ever ascending hierarchy of clerks. Each of those clerks would, in effect, be a metaphorical stand-in for my relationship with God. I would have the benefit of tradition and reified authority to give legitimacy to any claims I might have, and any doubts therefo I could pass on to a figure in the chain of command and await my orders.

What if I look at the edifice of the authority as it is and think for myself, concluding that I don't trust it's authority and legitimacy? What if the edifice is corrupt and disgusting? Who am I? I'm just one guy.

Below we can look at the very brief entries on some other guys who've preceded us, just ordinary guys who questioned or sometimes challenged the legitimacy of established authority. A couple of those below did so without realizing what they were doing. All of them brought us both closer to the Eden of our own intellectual independence and also brought us into the wilderness of our own intellectual independence. Now that we are free to choose, what do we choose, and how do we know that what we choose is right? What do we base our authority on? Is our morality a crap shoot?

Jan Hus (1369 Husinec, Southern BohemiaJuly 6, 1415 Constance) was a religious thinker and reformer. He initiated a religious movement based on the ideas of John Wyclif. His followers became known as Hussites. The Catholic Church did not condone such uprisings, and Hus was excommunicated in 1411, condemned by the Council of Constance, and burned at the stake.

Hus was a precursor to the Protestant movement. His extensive writings earn him a promiment place in Czech literary history. He is also responsible for introducing the use of accents (especially the hacek) into Czech spelling in order to represent each sound by a single symbol. Today, a statue of Jan Hus can be seen at the Prague old town square, the Staroměstsk� n�měst�.

John Wycliffe

Our chapter in the story of the Bible begins with the Vulgate, the version of the Scriptures that Jerome translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages into Latin in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. The Vulgate eventually came to dominate the Christian world, and interest in the ancient manuscripts began to fade, as Biblical studies no longer relied on them or the languages in which their authors wrote them. In time, the Latin text was the only version of scriptures in use throughout most of Europe.

John Wycliffe and his associates, the Lollards, translated Jerome's Latin text into English in direct defiance of Papal commands. This work, the first complete translation of the Bible into the English language, appeared in 1382. Complete manuscripts sold for up to five marks (about $600 in modern value), and people are said to have given a load of hay for a few pages of one of the epistles.

Wycliffe made many enemies in the church because of his work and ultimately was denounced as a heretic. The Pope banned his works, and many of the Lollards were either imprisoned or executed. Wycliffe died on New Year's Eve of 1384. After his death, he was condemned on 267 counts of heresy for his translation. In 1408, the Constitutions of Oxford prohibited making or reading a vernacular translation of Scripture on penalty of forfeit of life and goods.

In 1428, forty-four years after his death, Wycliffe's remains were disinterred, burnt, and scattered on the River Swift.

William Tyndale's statement, "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spare me, I will one day make the boy that drives the plough in England to know more of Scripture than the Pope himself!," is probably from the title page of the work of Erasmus Greek which states that the plowman and the carpenter should know the Bible because it is addressed to them.

Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg was a German goldsmith and inventor best known for the Gutenberg press, an innovative printing machine that used movable type. Gutenberg was born between 1394 and 1400 and died in 1468. In 1438, Gutenberg began a business arrangement with Andreas Dritzehn, who funded his experiments in printing. In 1450, Gutenberg began a second arrangement with German businessman Johannes Fust. Fust lent Gutenberg the money to start a printing business and build a large Gutenberg Press, their printing projects included the now famous Gutenberg Bible. On September 30, 1452, Johann Guttenberg's Bible was published becoming the first book to be published in volume.

John Wesley - Anglican clergyman, evangelist, and cofounder of Methodism. The 15th child of a former nonconformist minister, he graduated from Oxford University and became a priest in the Church of England in 1728. From 1729 he participated in a religious study group in Oxford organized by his brother Charles (1707-1788), its members being dubbed the "Methodists" for their emphasis on methodical study and devotion.

Each of the men above was deeply interested in spreading literacy to the masses. The point of the execise was to bring people nearer our God to us. Something went wrong, and we got a lot of information instead. We gained the store of available metaphors, but it seems we lost the moral of the story we once used to know fairly well. Our disiples of literacy have been overtaken by the corruption of our culture's intelligentsia. We'll look again at the state of our world next time. We think it's time to reform it. And yes, likely some of us will burn.


Mara said...

Each of the men you mentioned looked to only one source for their authority. I look to the same source as did those men and so do many people throughout the world. For it is in the God of the Bible that we live and move and have our being.

dag said...

The lesson most people today take form the lives of Tynedale and Hus and others is one of extreme negativity. Tynedale was hounded and hunted and captured and murdered by his co-religionists. The lesson one learns from that is that Christians are violent and obsessed murderers, that organized religion is for bigots, monsters, and killers. The history is clear, and it gets worse in the coming post.

Most people do not know of Boniface VIII, for example, but they do know that organised religion is a lunatic criminal activity. They know this not from the details of history but from the historical shudder that still comes over us from the collective cultural memory of the time when orgainised religion held sway over the world. It'd undeniable that orgainised religion is a crime in most eras and places. One cannot point at the Catholic alone and accuse only them: Who can excuse Coton Mather? Who can deny Dostoyevski's Grand Inquistitor? Only a blinded fanatic would deny the minds and hatreds of the religious fanatics and opportunists who comprise the history of religion. It is so evil that most people today refuse to look at it because it is so evil.

But, is Tynedale an evil man? I posted nothing on Luther, one of history's worst criminals. I did put up a short bio. on John Wesley but nothing on Calivn. I like to think there's a reason for that, and I hope too to come to it in the next post.

mara said...

People are indeed, evil, Dag, I agree.

"What do we base our authority on? Is our morality a crap shoot?"

If you don't mind my asking, what do you base your authority on?

Thank you.

dag said...

You and I assume that I am moral. What I base it on, what is the ground of my morality? I'll have to wait before I can try to answer that. The point of this inquiry isn't to define my moral ground but to examine that of our modern world, one that seems generally not to have a unified moral ground at all, and hence, the substitution of political correctness in language over morality, of orthopraxy, or correct behaviour, in Islam, of phantasy from our "New Age" hippie pot smokers who have a response, if not an answer, for everything. Morality isn't something I can pull out of my pocket and show you. It takes time to develop this argument, such as it is. Tonight we'll look further at our history of morality, at the Catholic Church, and see why, for many, organised religion, and therefore organised morality, is seen as a crime. I beg to differ, of course, but the notion is settled in the minds of many and it needs address. We can't ignore people who are against morality simply becaause they have opinions they don't understand the sources of. If I do m job proplerly here there will be some readers who question their opinions and who might come up with better thoughts on this than I have. That's a good hope for me.