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Surprises

This week I've had a number of surprises.

- I find that I'm teaching one of my courses in War Memorial Hall, one of the really classy and beautiful buildings on the U of G campus.

- The driver of the shuttle-bus that took me from the U of G to Humber College this week was someone I knew in high school. He was the chair of the local community theatre that I used to be involved in as a teenager.

- I visited an optometrist, and the bill for the visit and for new glasses with a new prescription came to more than $500.

- I watched "When the Moors Ruled in Europe", a BBC4 documentary with Bettany Hughes, and suddenly found myself curious to visit an Islamic country.

- And, most surprising of all, more than 50 comments appeared in response to my thoughts on the passing of Deo's Shadow. I'm feeling quite overwhelmed by that.

To those who read the piece, and commented to it, or to each other: thank you. All of you.

Let me draw attention to two of the comments in particular. First, this one by darakat_ewr, who said: "I became a pagan because I believe that there is either no god or many and out of the many polytheistic choices I had available paganism held the most interest for me and to some extent the right people. One of those persons was a bloke by the name of Brendan Cathbad Myers and he talked about things relating to paganism and philosophy (and the Celts) which made a hell of a lot of sense to me.".

Well, that really amazed me. I had no idea that some of the things I've written over the years have changed people's lives. As I mentioned to skiegazer, I usually get very few positive comments from readers and I still don't really know how much impact, if at all, my books are having. So when I read Darakat's comment, I was suddenly reminded me of the film "It's a Wonderful Life". This motivates me to remain in the community, and keep on writing the best books that I can.

The other comment that I wish to draw attention to was left late last night by "Anonymous", with the headline "Sorry I'm Not Good Enough For You". It reads, in part: "Sorry that I don't need all your big fancy words and ideas. I know the Gods exists and I know that magick works, in my guts. To be told "that's not good enough" angers me.".

I got no sleep last night because of that comment. It is exactly the kind of anti-intellectual statement that makes me feel as if I have no place in the pagan movement, and motivates me to leave.


If I could speak to this person directly, (which I cannot do because he or she hid behind the shield of anonymity), I would say: You missed my point, and thus your anger is completely misplaced. This isn't about you personally. There is no reason to feel threatened by someone, somewhere (in this case, me) who finds "gut instinct" an unreliable source of knowledge, and wants to encourage people to trust their intelligence instead.

I must resist the urge to write a long diatribe about the problems of instinct and the benefits of reason. But I would like to observe that the benefits of reason include electricity, flush toilets, metallurgy, glass, plastics, everything that went into the construction of the house you are sitting in, and this very internet we are using to have this conversation right now, and every other technological discovery that was made possible by people who solved their problems with scientific method, an intellectual and rational and non-"gut instinct" means of gaining knowledge.

I'd also like to observe that warmongering religious fanatics 'reason' with their gut and sweat and bones too. For example, Jerry Falwell used the same faculty of intuition to claim that gays, lesbians, abortionists, the ALCU, and so on, caused 9/11. How can we know that we are justified in our use of intuition, and the man who bombs an abortion clinic is not? The answer is, no one can know that. It's his feeling, his intuition, his instinct, his personal vision of what God wants him to do. It is therefore right for him, according to intuitionism, and there is nothing in the world anyone can say against it - unless you give up intuitionism, to some extent, and appeal to reason. You could say that your instinct is that he is wrong, but then he could say that his instinct is that you are wrong, and then the difference would remain an impasse forever. Or, it might be resolved via the argument ad baculum. And that is a situation I'm sure no one wants.

Indeed I wonder what certain pagans of the "gut intuition" school find so threatening about the use of reason. Do they think that logic is dispassionate and unemotional, and that logical people end up cold-hearted and emotionless, like Spock, or The Borg? Do they find their intuitive beliefs so gratifying that they cannot allow anything to interfere with them? Do they worry that they may have to re-evaluate their beliefs and their lives, and perhaps change their lives as a result of that re-evaluation, as Deo did?

Let me say to everyone that when your beliefs are grounded in reason, the quality of your inner life will be far, far better. Let me add that the use of reason doesn't shut out one's feelings, or the benefit of the arts or of human relationships, or any of the things that make life go well. Indeed in classical philosophy Reason was the very presence of God within the human soul. It is by means of reason that a human being could get inside the mind of God, and obtain an experience of eternity. Reason is a spiritual thing.

But perhaps Anonymous isn't interested in finding that out, and would rather preserve his or her gut intuitions, and continue to be uselessly angry at me. There's nothing I can do about that, I suppose.

Let me give the last word to Deganawidah, the aboriginal mystic who created the Great Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy:

"Reason is a power that works among all minds alike. When once Reason is established, all the minds of all mankind will be in a state of Health and Peace. "*

That is my hope for the world too.

* cited in Wallace, "The White Roots of Peace" U of Penn. Press, 1946, pg. 41.

Comments

(Anonymous)
Jan. 11th, 2009 04:20 am (UTC)
I'd say the answer to your rhetorical question above is 'yes' - John Q. Pagan's impression of logic does owe a lot (too much) to Mr. Spock. When you say 'logic' and 'reason', the average non-philosopher imagines you mean the sort of materialistic positivism that would completely negate and dismiss questions of spirituality, rather than help answer them.

(Why am I envisioning Brendan by the revel fire at some festival, trying to persuade a skeptical fire-keeper that the clear liquid he's carrying is lighter fluid to keep the fire going, not water to put it out ...)

It's a job hazard of academia, having to correct laypeople's caricatured impressions of what we study. But being able to point to the existence of your book - over two hundred pages of logical arguments for, not against, spiritual ideals - should greatly help your case.

I don't disagree with what you say about the value of reason, but neither do I get the impression that you have anything fundamentally against intuition (when you're not busy being frustrated with fools, that is). Aristotle would have said that virtue is the middle ground between excess and deficiency. Your complaint seems to me to be about a deficiency of reason, or the substitution of intuition where this is not appropriate. Likewise, I think the anti-intellectuals are not fundamentally against reason, so much as they are defensive of the value of intuition. The ideal case would be intuition tempered by reason, I would think; but if you disagree, I would be eager to hear your point of view.

Meg