2/21/2011

relativism, absolutism, and beyond: Michael Krausz helps us with the logic of the holy.

Outside the academic circle it is hard for most religious or spiritual folk to concentrate for any length of time on matters philosophical. It is not that we really believe philosophy to be of no value to our working out just what and how we believe, with "fear and trembling," its that we don't have much tolerance for the density of the writing and the minuta of the subject matter. We are, in other words, bored.

Thinking back on it I always remember Plato's dialogues as a breath of fresh air in the already ponderous logically plodding work of the Greek philosophers. In these dialogues  philosophical argument was taken on by a staged group, the member of which at least had some personality. Granted Plato always seems to have Socrates as the winner of the arguments, but sometimes his competition put up good fights. It was, let us say, less boring, and sometimes a good read indeed.


Michael Krausz has written four dialogues on relativism, absolutism, and beyond. Set in India, four friends gather in Varanasi, overlooking the Ganges, and proceed to discuss matters of truth, goodness and beauty. Krausz's Dialogue is dense, but not boring. More, it is an important read for all of us who try to make sense of religious language in the post modern secular environment.  

The discussion in The Dialogues leads to the development of a matrix of ways in which these famous three (truth, goodness and beauty) are considered, vis a vis absolutism and relativism as regards truth determination, and foundational and relational sensibilities of experience. The matrix involves something like this (although there are several layers more in his complex reading of it):




Much of the dialogues is taken up with exploring the various combinations and permutation of these ideas. In doing so Krausz opens the road map for discussion of the true, the good and the beautiful as understood epistemologically (that is, as related to knowing). 

For readers of Preludium and others interested in matters religious, he also helps us tackle the the grammar of theology as it applies to what we can know.


That in itself would be sufficient. It is certainly true that we religious folk are given to sloppy thinking as regards what it is we know, believe,or other wise assert as the base line of our religious statements. Something as central, that trips off the believer's tongue, such as "I know that my redeemer lives" occasions all sorts of questions as to what exactly we mean by knowing in this instance, or what constitutes someone being a redeemer, or what living looks like when it applies to someone not empirically verifiable as present. 


The careful unfolding of what would count as an absolutist or relativist assertion, and the nuanced development of various permutations or combinations of the two, is gift enough and makes the book worth the reading. And the application of his analysis gives us a tool of great theological value.


But Michael Krausz has done more. If the first three of the personae of Dialogues give us spokespersons for absolutism, relativism and some combination of both, the fourth person, Nina, "seeks to go beyond absolutism and relativism. She is a meditator and a mystic.  She thinks that beyond (the other proponents) aim for truth is a deeper aim, which is self-realization."


It is this fourth dialogue and Nina's arguments that makes this short book a text of importance for students of theology. In this last dialogue the possibility is presented that beyond distinctions of absolute and relative, foundation and relation, there is the possibility of an apprehension of the One such that all distinctions find themselves coming to rest in realization (not of self but of Self - the One). 

The apprehension (or perhaps what C.S. Pierce called prehension) of the One involves transcendence, and in the process the various epistemological concerns begin to evaporate. Knowing ceases to be the way to engage the true, the good and the beautiful. The way becomes an indescribable experience in which even the one experiencing is lost.


Michael Krausz has opened a refreshingly new way in which to take the distinctions given in an epistemological framework and point beyond them to religious experience. 


For those (myself included) who take the grammar of epistemology to heart, who have tried to wend their way through issues of absolute and relative understandings of knowing what is true, this set of dialogues offers a way to engage a "beyond" in which absolutism and relativism take their place as stepping stones or rungs on a ladder.


One could imagine the same matrix as in our example above, but this time with a third dimension, one that like a ladder or spiral drew us up and away from the grid of either/or or both/and to a new place, one where the struggle for knowledge and the experience of suffering is replaced by the sense of Presence, by the realization of Self, or in a Christian context, the peace that passes all understanding.

The prayers of the open heart, of the compassionate heart, are filled with a knowing - a certainty that is experienced but not verifiable in this or that "frame." What is known is that the prayers are not mutterings to one's self, but to the Self for which our own search has its own end. We pray to know fully, to find justice, to live in beauty, even in the midst of folly, suffering, injustice and loneliness, and as we work our way deeper, our prayers find an answer, and our striving finds its end.

Michael Krausz offers us an important, readable, and engaging tool for the further discussion of the way in which philosophy, so long divorced from matters theological or spiritual, can be a tool for discovery. 






1 comment:

  1. Ooh, this looks like a post I'm going to have to chew, Very Carefully! ;-)

    [This is actually a subject that interests me greatly, since my seminary days...]

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