Disembodied Knowledge

What follows is a first draft section of my upcoming book: “Truth & Knowledge: A New Biblical Paradigm for Christian Education.” This header will be removed as the draft is finalized. Feedback is welcome – leave a comment!

The problem of Being described in the previous section only emerged as philosophy turned inward upon itself seeking to discover its own truth rather than to discover something outside of itself. In doing this, it lost its power to point the individual toward a better way of being, and confused the individual with endless questions about whether there was even such a question. This emphasis took at least one intermediary step between the Greek philosophers, who sought out how to live lives of virtue and those enlightenment philosophers who gave up on the quest altogether. This intermediary step was probably the end result that Socrates feared would happen if ideas were captured in books instead of people. Truth became a disembodied concept that could be poured from the mouth using words that belonged to another into the listening ear of anyone who could be attracted to its sound. Similar to the sophists who began to use rhetoric for the sake of rhetoric and fame, the philosophers (known for their love of wisdom), began to use philosophy for the sake of philosophy rather than for the sake of truth. It was possible to demonstrate a way of life that completely contradicted the creed one claimed to hold sacred.

The Medieval Church bears much blame for the walking contradiction that it became in the dark ages of history, but this is due less to an inaccurate collection of truth, than to an acceptance of its disembodiment. To chop off the head of someone who disagrees with your opinion about the nature of God is to prove knowledge of something other than the nature of God. Words and religious practice are meaningless if they do not spring from the proper source. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of Rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). It is the double-minded man who is unstable in all his ways that should not expect to receive wisdom from God even when he asks for it (James 1:6). “How long,” asked Elijah “will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:22). Holiness requires a full commitment to one way of being. A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).

If it is possible to think of knowledge as a collection of information rather than as an intimate acquaintance, then it is possible to claim knowledge without putting forth a single shred of effort. Think of all the college graduates who have certified knowledge in everything under the sun except what they really know. As any student can tell you, the true knowledge of college is the art of getting by or getting laid. Those who truly attempt to seek a state of knowledge in anything other subject are too often stifled by a process that provokes more frustration than learning. (This is, of course, too much of a generalization, but its reality is far too apparent to ignore). My objective in such a harsh critique is not to blame the faculty, among whom I count myself, but to ask how we found ourselves in such a dire situation where those who want to learn and those who want to teach face such an impossible challenge.

In the first place, a majority of people are not even aware of the possibility of knowledge, and if they have heard of the concept and desire to find it, they begin with the wrong approach: collecting the data that is so readily accessible. Drowning in facts is perhaps the commonest way to stifle the flame of a young seeker. Too much information too fast is impossible to relate to. Instruction that focuses on this end of the process will tend toward one of two directions: pride in the person’s ability to remember and pretend to embody, or shame in the apparent inability to measure up. Thus, churches and schools are filled with those who pretend knowledge and fear lest the light of wisdom and truth should shine upon their broken and empty hearts. These have looked to the fig leaves of the surrounding world to cover their nakedness as they hide from that which could bring them life (Genesis 3:7-8). Unfortunately, the easier option is pretending there is no problem at all and making the claim that knowledge cannot be found, does not exist, or is of a different nature than a relationship between the knower and the known.

Thus, the separation of humanity from its source of Being leaves two options: to claim that Being doesn’t matter/doesn’t exist, or to seek to rediscover the connection between ourselves and that which is. For the ancient Hebrews, this looked like a pursuit of wise living in accordance with the commandments of God.

Leviticus 18:4-5

You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statues and my rules; if a person does them he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

For the Greek philosophers, this looked like the practice of a virtuous life. The pursuit of virtue could guide the person seeking to live in the way of wisdom. The pursuit of virtue is a predefined pathway of restoring that connection. In this way, religion offered the same solution as philosophy. The love of wisdom is not a pretense of knowledge, but rather an attempt to find life. For virtue is only apparent in its demonstration. One does not consider a person generous until something is given. The beginning of the process of transformation is the humble recognition that one is not virtuous – as long as I think myself to be a wise person, I will have no incentive to acquire wisdom. Aristotle supposes that one must be trained in virtue because it is not a natural practice for the human person. By nature, we seek to conform the world we encounter to ourselves rather to respond to what the sages have discovered is true. We would rather settle for what is easy than to work for what is worthwhile, and the transition from one choice to the other is what requires education.

In part, this reflects the Biblical view in which humanity was given the commission to have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). This does not appear to have changed throughout the biblical narrative. Rather, Paul says that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). The blessing given to Noah repeated the blessing given to Adam, except it added a note that the fear and dread of mankind would be on all of the creatures (Genesis 9:2). If by nature of his identity as one bearing the image of God, Adam was supposed to rule, the men who stepped off the ark were so far removed from this image (in spite of being saved) that all the creatures lived in dread. Even today, it is only with careful attention and great amount of time that humans and the creatures we consider tame can form the bond of relationship that it seems they must desire. Thus, it is by nature that we seek to rule, but unless we learn to find our identity in the image of God rather than in our own image, the result of our rule will not be a restoration of peace. I believe it was to address this problem that Aristotle proposed that training in virtue was necessary.

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