Dec. 20 at 9:55pm
In an as yet unpublished essay on William James (the centenary of whose death is this year), John Crosby reminds us of the fact that James “was a man with the mind of a scientist and the heart of a believer.” This gives him special relevance for today’s world in which the harmony between faith and science is once again challenged by the so called “new atheists”.
These new atheists are convinced that an objective and scientific approach to the world inevitably reveals all religion to be mere superstition. But Crosby points out that the very opposite was true for James:
…the empiricism of science is one main source of James’ openness to religion. He absorbed in his early scientific education this empiricism, this unconditional respect for the facts, wherever they lead, however unexpected they are; it then grew in him into a radical openness to all dimensions of experience. He was no doctrinaire empiricist, otherwise he would have been antagonistic to religion, but he was a radical empiricist, as he called himself, and so was open to all experience, including religious experience. James as religious thinker, then, is far more entitled to wear the mantle of empiricism than are those scientists who would discredit any kind of experience that is not amenable to the methods of natural science.
Crosby quotes a few lines from The Varieties of Religious Experience in which James makes the point himself:
I can, of course, put myself into the sectarian scientist’s attitude, and imagine vividly that the world of sensations and of scientific laws and objects may be all. But whenever I do this, I hear [an] inward monitor… whispering the word ‘bosh!’ Humbug is humbug, even though it bear the scientific name, and the total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly urges me beyond the narrow ‘scientific’ bounds.
Nicely put, no?
Thanks also for your last comment, Katie! I find it truly exceptional to find someone in whom I can confide – not just about others, but also about my own dark side – without judgment, while finding true understanding (I have one such friend). With her I find not only a lack of “boxing”, but a reading which is so open to the truth and therefore to be corrected, that I can get through her to the bottom of a complicated situation which would otherwise have escaped my understanding. It takes great charity and openness to the truth –and also great humility. For I often find that one wants to bring something down to one’s own experience, to be able to “nail” it, and to pride oneself in having been of help to the other. Empathy, in contrast, allows one to enter the other’s experience, even if it is completely other than my own; and humility permits me to say that for some reason I have a hard time understanding something though I do grasp and empathize with the other’s great pain.
Feb. 28 at 5:25am | See in context
By the way, Simone Weil spoke about “non-lecture” (non-reading) as a goal, where the person focuses with full attention on the object of perception, leaving all prejudices behind, and lets herself be stripped of all expectations and quick judgments, while waiting patiently on a fuller discloser of the other (or of the mystery, problem, paradox etc. looked at). My guess is that her concept of “reading” is a mix of the way you understand reading and boxing. Interestingly she makes the point that tyrants try to make others read the world, each other and themselves like they do, while slaves are forced to take on their master’s perspective. Only somebody who lets go of power or “force”, as she termed it, allows the other the space to take the world in on his own terms. Non-reading includes a suffering, a letting go, for patience comes from “pati”, to bear – and this means going through a dark night, of not being able to find the quick meaning I’d like to have to control the situation. The Cross, it seems, is always at the center of love this side of eternity.
Feb. 28 at 5:23am | See in context
Thanks for your comment, Jules! Yes, I think it’s a very good idea to distinguish between “reading” and “boxing”. It can still be painful for me to notice that another is reading me wrongly (through his reactions, comments, even if they are charitable). But I don’t feel pinned down, boxed or frozen by this; it doesn’t impinge potentially on my freedom in the same way and it is not at all as painful. It doesn’t contain any sin as such (it is simply due to the human condition to have a limited vision of the other) as boxing does, though it too can be shaped by our attitudes. When the other reads me more positively than I think is true, this can give me wings to grow and conform more to what I am called to become.
Your distinction, as you rightly say, also makes the difference between confiding and gossip clearer: in the one case, it’s a testing of one’s reading (as well as finding some support to bear the inflicted pain better), while in the latter case the purpose is to spread my negative thoughts and to box the other further through another’s judgment.
Feb. 28 at 5:22am | See in context
The distinction between "reading" and "boxing" also sheds light on the discussion between you and Katie about the legitimacy of confiding in others. Part of the reason for confiding is to test and adjust one's own read of persons and situations. But this confiding turns into mere gossip or venting as soon as it becomes a mere matter of spreading my negative read to others and infecting the larger community with it.
Feb. 28 at 2:28am | See in context
Thanks for this insightful post, Marie. Katie has been telling me to read it ever since it went up, but, knowing it required my full attention, I didn't get to it until yesterday. Very challenging stuff indeed! More a matter for self-examination than for further discussion. (Like some of Kierkegaard's writings.) I especially appreciate the way you bring out the motives of pain-avoidance and control, and also your explanation of how boxing others impinges on their inner freedom. I have never heard that point mentioned in connection with this issue.
I also think the word "boxing" well chosen. It is much more descriptive and less ambiguous than "judging". Perhaps it would also help to distinguish more clearly between "having a read" and "boxing". The former is both natural and helpful. It is only when a "read" turns into a "box" that it becomes a problem. That's when it becomes incorrigible, i.e. stops being responsive to the ever-unfolding truth and reality of the other. That's also when it freezes the other in time and goes against hope and charity.
Feb. 28 at 2:25am | See in context
In an era where women have to support men to provide for the household, headship should be as co-equals and co-partners. Man as the provider cannot cover all of the bills and she is forced by circumstances to help, then power should be equal. Also, my husband likes me to perform sex with him on live camera with other’s online---which I disobeyed. He likes porn. I also disobeyed. My husband doesn't like it when I go to church, or read the Bible or any other spiritual pursuit. I have not obeyed. He also wants open sexual relationships with other women. I still don't obey. Yet, I have to go out and help him provide for our household? Shouldn't I stay home and take care of the house while obeying all of his demands? Now what? The women are subject to obeying these unholy desires of her spouse? "Wives, be subject to and obey your husband in EVERYTHING?" But every male or spouse doesn't live up to, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church." Christ died for the Church and gave Himself for it. Not one utter of a word mention from men here.
Feb. 24 at 11:35pm | See in context
I have a few friends who have this beautiful gift of being able to listen to my pain, fully sympathize and enter into the wrong of the injury done, and at the same time constantly encourage me to a deeper level of conversion and faith.
They make me want to learn to be like that. The more I live life, the more I learn the importance of listening and receptivity in friendship, and the more I discover how few people—even very devout Christians—are able to achieve it.
It's all about that deep personalist insight articulated by Newman: Each person is "an abyss of individual existence."
The temptation to ego-centrism is almost overwhelming. And yet, in truth, we cannot thrive as selves unless we learn to genuinely open ourselves to the mysterious reality of others.
Feb. 20 at 5:12am | See in context
Empathizing genuinely with his pain, saying that it was wrong what the other did (if this is the case) are truly helpful to the hurt person; this doesn’t mean we need to agree with his condemnation of the other, if any. But getting this right is not easy.
Therefore when Mother Teresa said she’d never been guilty of judging another, this showed her level of sanctity. It takes great self-knowledge, humility and willingness to embrace the sufferings inflicted by others to be able to do so.
Feb. 18 at 2:13pm | See in context
I think it’s already a very good step to discern whom we can trust with our “venting” (trust not just that the other won’t betray our confidence, but that he is a person with wisdom, who can truly listen, distinguish the pain from the judgment, and will still love us warts and all) , limit it to very few people, and know that together with our pain a good deal of nastiness and vindictiveness will also show themselves, which could become the path to greater humility.
The role of confidant is a difficult one as well. The two main temptations are to either judge the one venting, not allowing him to unburden himself by a “holier than thou” attitude, and thereby not letting the truth come to light as to what has been done to him (thereby creating greater hurt); the other is to chime into the condemnation of the “guilty” party, thereby hardening the heart of the one venting, and confirming his judgment about the other.
Feb. 18 at 2:12pm | See in context
"But I feel constantly the difficulty of discerning when my "voicing the pain" is a genuine, valid and wholesome working-through the injury, and when it's an indulgence—one that makes it harder for both me and my confidant to stay focused on good.
I feel it, too, when I'm the confidant."
That’s a hard one, Katie. I’m with you on this.
But I think you’ve also hit the nail on the head, when you said:
“It's not enough not to break the law. What is wanted is an interior transformation.”
It’s not enough wanting to get it right. It takes a profound inner transformation. If we don’t realize that this is necessary, we are like the person who thinks that by jumping up continuously he will one day be able to fly (an analogy used by Simone Weil regarding the moral life). Until and as that transformation happens, all we can do is try, and as we try, get it wrong, sin, repent, and try again.
Feb. 18 at 2:11pm | See in context
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