Pentecost 115

Pentecost 115
My Psalm 115

A Theory for Believing

Why? It is a question we all ask. What? Where? When? Who? All are valid questions and while, occasionally overused by young children, they are valid tools for learning. In fact, until we ask such questions, one might rightfully posit that learning doesn’t occur. Socrates certainly believed in the power of a question. Socrates, however, had a question of his own. Famous for his own search for answers and definitions, Socrates posed what he felt to be the most important question of all. As he searched for definitions, he asked: “How do you know a definition is correct?”

Socrates felt that one must first understand the definition being given, understand all involved in the definition, and comprehend all the words used in the definition. At some point one must rely on what is propositional knowledge. Propositional knowledge is knowledge based on facts, on what is known, and held to be true. It works fine until one decides to give a linguistic account of understanding. Mathematically it would be written X = df ABC whereby “X” is the item attempting to be defined and the answer is the combined definition (df) of “A”, “B”, and “C”. That works great as long as one knows what “A”, “B”, and “C” are. But then one might ask, as Socrates did, how do we know that “X” really does equal the combined “A”, “B”, and “C” or “ABC”? That answer would be to explain the propositional knowledge of “ABC” which would then need justification or definition and … Well, you find yourself on a perpetual merry-go-round!

Plato resolved this with his Theory of Forms and stated that, at some point, one must rely on a knowledge of acquaintance. This means that instead of knowing what something is, instead of defining it in terms of something else, such as the “X” being “ABC”, we should just grasp what “X” is itself, often based upon our recollection of “X”.

For example, Socrates might define a bed as a rectangular object upon which one reclines to rest but that could lead to a need for defining a rectangle, and resting. Plato upheld that we define a bed more by remembering an image of a bed. Mental recollection would be the mechanism for the basis of the definition and the mental image of a rectangular form would be the object to which said mechanism would be applied.

How do we “know” about what we believe? Some propose that Plato was correct in rejecting Socrates’ idea that understanding should be explained in terms of what is known. Nevertheless, is there a type of knowledge by acquaintance as Plato suggested? Some believe the answer lies not in knowledge by description nor by acquaintance but in the differences between knowing what something is and in knowing how a thing is.

Take, for example, the circle. Euclid, in his Book I of “Elements”, described a circle: “A circle is a plane figure bounded by one line and such that all right lines drawn from a certain point within it to the bounding line are equal. The bounding line is called its circumference and the point its center.” While there is a World Freehand Circle Drawing competition, it is actually impossible to draw a perfect circle, even with the help of a computer. Yet, we all recognize a circle, imperfect though it may be. Plato explained this by arguing that we all have a mental image of a circle and so, when we see something that approximates it, we recognize it as a circle.

The field of Christian apologetics does not apologize for the Christian faith. The word apologetics, though similar to something said to defend and excuse one’s actions, really means to explain. Theologians in every belief field have their own apologeticists, theologians, historians, etc. Knowing the history na doctrine, though, does nothing for the world until we put that knowledge into action. It is simply not enough to know what the belief is. We must learn how that belief is and apply it to our lives.

Just as a circle will never actually be perfect, neither will our living. However, when we live in charity and with respect for all life, then it can be recognized as a good thing. I know what I believe the Great Spirit, the Greatest Spirit, to be but I do not fully understand how he/she works…or why. I also recognize a bit of that Spirit within my fellow man/woman although I do not think any of them are perfect or can ever attain perfection.

The problem is that all too often we use our beliefs to justify our human failings, our desire for power and wealth. Most spiritual beliefs have a period of fasting, a period of quiet discernment or introspective study. These periods of meditation remind us not only of what is important but that we can live better with our beliefs when they are at the top of our priorities rather than material things being most important.

I enjoy my “creature comforts” as well as the next person. It is when those creature comforts overtake my humanity that problems can arise. Perhaps we should remember that our beliefs are not defined by material things. Our beliefs are defined by their intent, their teachings, and our living of those.

When we take an exodus from the material world and societal pressures, then we will become that for which we were created. Then will our form be more pleasing and productive. Then people will not have to ask what we are but see the goodness both by the knowledge of our living and by the acquaintance of love within their own souls.

My Psalm 115

What is our true God?
How do we define our Maker?

Is it found in our wealth?
Do we wear our God in the latest fashion?

Is our vehicle our creator?
Does our image come from our possessions?

Glory is in the living of the teachings.
Power comes from connecting with our beliefs.

A life lived with faith evident
Is a rich life.

When we rightfully identify God and worship accordingly,
We will be blessed.

When we sing praises to the Great Spirit,
We will live life abundantly.

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