Faith vs knowledge


Whether you’re consciously religious or emotionally dependent on parents who are, deep down inside you the question lurks: do systematic beliefs have anything to do with reality?

Some may protest the question, saying that the Bible wouldn’t have lasted so long or be so popular if it weren’t true. Yet in certain times Gnosticism has been quite popular, and The Da Vinci Code and The Matrix are just the latest examples of how that popularity isn’t going anywhere.

Here are several reasons why it seems like systematic beliefs don’t have much to do with reality. They are as follows:

  1. If by reality you mean “physical reality”, faith usually deals primarily with non-physical reality.
  2. Particularly recently there is a false belief that the Constitution of the United States of America says something about a “separation of church and state”. Trickling down from this belief, and equally false, is the notion of a “separation of mind and senses”. Obviously a mind that mistrusts its senses (or rather dislikes what she thinks they’re telling her) seeks faith.
  3. Worship is essentially submission and self-sacrifice. Most religious and biblical people would say that the endpoint of the faith they teach is worship. Faith is to the mind what worship is to the body, namely an at least symbolic dying. (Even if you don’t bow or kneel, baptism itself clearly symbolizes drowning.)

Concerning the first point, Martin Luther pointed out that there is no justice in the world we see. Too often Christians get so lost in the idea of God as creator (Genesis) that we forget about God as helper of the oppressed (Exodus). But to Luther’s point, the idea of a higher form of justice (of which our black-robed rituals are mere shadows) is deeply intertwined with the idea of a spirit-world. This may be why Jesus refuses to deal with only one group of people: those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.

Concerning the second point, one of the philosophical foundations of monotheism is perception-reality dualism, which became more explicit in the double truth theory that started in Islam and spread to Christianity. This alone seems to have made it possible for both Galileo and the Vatican to exist and have relevance in the same society, namely because it had become psychologically fragmented. (Psyche is Greek for “mind” or “soul”.) Incidentally, whereas dualism is expressed in monotheism, non-dualism is expressed in monism, which is a trademark of Gnostic and Hindu thought.

Concerning the last point, it is worth noting that while “blind faith” may be seen as a mental self-immolation, it is also considered (particularly within Gnostic and esoteric circles) as a way to access power. Now you may question the sincerity of a belief that is held, as in chaos magick, for strategic ends. How can you have your eyes, so to speak, both opened and closed at once? (Does this image underlie the winking or third eye?) But by the same logic we can certainly question the sincerity of a belief that is held, in systematic faith, for heavenly aims.

Is there a creator of material things? Sure, but they are a very contingent and temporary expression of a deeper reality. Gnostics say this creator of matter, whom the Bible calls the Mighty One, was a child of Wisdom, conceived not in love but in loneliness. They seek reunion with Wisdom through the pursuit of ideals and the rejection of the faux-reality of flesh and matter.

I liken the major (empire-friendly) faiths to a billion people living one person’s dream. Call me a Gnostic, but I say find your dream, your song, your story. If nothing else, it’ll make you more fun at parties.

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