Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On the Divinity of Christ Part 2: The Rock Years into the Masters

The summer that I decided to transfer, I drove up to Slippery Rock, PA. It was 30 minutes from my house. I found Spotts World Culture Building, and trudged through the whole building. With Platonic irony, the philosophy department is in the basement with obviously no parapets or torches in the hallway. I came across the man that would be my advisor, Dr. Ted Kneupper. He wore a beard neatly trimmed and his glasses framed his whole face. As geek, he appeared like an elder elf, and he wore Tibetan prayer beads around his neck. I talked to him about God. I do not remember the conversation, but I do remember the substance of our conversation ending on a deeply troubling question. Do we need to personify God in order to understand Him/It? Or were we the source of that personification? I had been blown to the floor. He gave me John Hicks, an analytic philosopher of religion to read.

Ted taught me the religions of the world over the next few years. I took his Eastern religions class, and his Mysticism class. I read translations of the Vedic scriptures, scriptures from both the Theravadan or Mahayanist schools of Buddhist thought. I read excerpts from the Torah, Koran and the Bible. Because of Ted, I read too much Krishnamurti, and for a time, the only conclusion that I could reach is that if God truly existed, then God must be known in different ways throughout each of these traditions. Religions became, for me, sedimented possibilities of encountering the divine--a position sometimes described as religious pluralism. Mystical religious experience is filtered through all these traditions, and represented one possible overall object of analysis.

Meanwhile, I had been influenced in a number of fascinating directions. I had taken courses in political theory, studied lots of Arendt, and Heidegger. I had been schooled unbeknownst to me in Continental and history of philosophy. I had taken one course in analytic philosophy as an undergrad, and I absolutely thought it was silly. Part of me still resonates with this earliest attitude though I realize the contribution to 20th century analytic thought since I read for my Masters in it.

I had not really thought about God for a while. I did meet my wife, however, and decided that we should be married with all the appearances of Christianity. My officiant was an ex-Methodist minister. He had suffered a lot being raised in a very Conservative Christian household. Now in his 40s, he had completely left the Methodist church. I had gone to a unitarian church in Youngstown, Ohio, and my wife while inclined to spirituality thought it best to feign Christian appearances. She had already received some comments about being married outside the Catholic Church. We were to be married outside Stambaugh Theatre in Youngstown, Ohio in the garden. We met with him, discussed our troubles, and he proposed that we take out God in the Methodist doctrine of ceremony and replace it with something else. I forget what the substitution was, or just an elimination of those sentences. My wife and I had created our own vows, had friends read from Jane Austen and the Tao Te Ching. Later on, my bestman and best friend read a passage from the Bible prior to his speech. To this day, it is still the best speech I have ever heard.

I read for my Masters in Canada at Simon Fraser University. The department's faculty had gone to the best schools in analytic philosophy. I had been taught by people who went to Michigan, Cambridge, and UCSD. As one may know, philosophers can be a tad bit rebellious and within the halls of SFU, I had let others know that I thought moral properties were non-natural. I had a proclivity for ethical intuitionism and started to explore the religious epistemology of William Alston. I read some Alvin Plantinga and his name had been held in some reverence even despite his religious persuasion. The positions I had started to adopt and explore in dialectical relationship to others involved non-natural elements, and I had been prone to forms of rationalism in epistemology. Christopher Peacocke and Robert Audi's philosophies were heavily explored, and it is at this time, I discovered W. D. Ross with fascination. At this time, I discovered Husserl as a way out of the analytic bubble encircling all of Vancouver.

My wife and I continued along the "something hypothesis." For us, God was an ineffable reality, barely understood or put into words. We did not like the idiotic things done in the name of Christianity and when we grew irritated with Conservatives, often our irritation grew out of the ideology surrounding why such idiocy arose. We laughed during the time when we heard literalists build a Creationist amusement park and museum. We also attended very briefly the Unitarian Church. My wife felt it was "floosy" and we were invited to a Sociologist's house at a nearby college. He was part of the Social Justice Committee at the Unitarian Church. We felt a little out of sorts with that bunch.

Now, I cannot say enough good things about Simon Fraser. Several of my colleagues have gone on to Harvard, Brown and McGill. It is a good place to get one's MA from, and it made me a better philosopher. However, I had been reading a lot of Heidegger in secret. Many people did not know that I would put Heidegger down when they came into the office, and I read what I supposed to read for class rather quickly. Other than moral philosophy, I just wanted to read Husserl and Heidegger. I relished swimming in the sea of phenomenology. The attention to phenomenology subsumed my explorations of non-natural ethics and epistemology. Although within phenomenology, the same attraction to rationalism could be explained with the shared features between Husserlian phenomenology and the larger epistemological world, especially his LI and Idea of Phenomenology.

For me, phenomenology had been the ultimate way of putting us into relation with experiencing the world firsthand. In so doing, Husserl had created an architecture to map our firsthand direct experience through his concept of intentionality. To this day, you cannot have persons without intentionality, and I shutter every time I hear analytics talk about "aboutness" or "representational content" without considering the modes of givenness to which such ideas first emerge. They never really get that they assume a third-personal level of analysis to analyze first-personal elements of experience. Now, it may be appearing that this is a distraction, but most of my philosophical engagement with the world is phenomenological. It's a big part of the story.

After TAing an additional year, I came to Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Several professors are spiritually inclined and I met peers that were Catholic, Wesleyan and Methodist. Another professor had been raised Unitarian, and another professor specialized in Buddhist thought with reading knowledge of Chinese and Sanskrit. Once again, I started going to feel a little better; my weirdness could flourish a little more. I had internalized my naturalistic environment at Simon Fraser University and found it stifling. I pushed the boundaries of non-natural ethics as far as I could. I had always assumed William James' approach to freedom without realizing it. I had learned that my engagement with philosophy had been better suited to the study of phenomenology than ever thinking that I could reach any conclusions about the divine as if it were a problem to be solved in metaphysics or epistemology. However, one can already see that at this point, I had reached an agnostic wall. I had read the great texts of the world's religions. I had pursued God's existence as an analytic philosopher might in philosophy of religion. I had spent way too much time reading phenomenology and moral philosophy. Still, I felt that it needed addressed. I would finally address it during my PhD studies....

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