150. Keeping still (IV)
“How can I believe in that?” they ask, secretly reaching the conclusion that they cannot; it is all too unlikely to think that the Madonna is weeping or Helios is driving the Sun across the sky. The problem lies in belief; if a person gives up belief they can begin to see the world in a religious way—belief is an intellectual position, but religion is an experience.
The notion of belief predominates in the West for various reasons, specifically because Christianity, when fused with Aristotle, sought to justify itself in terms of reason—Christianity was the truth, quite singular. We see the remnants of this stance in the figure of Jordan Peterson, a man who constantly struggles to believe in Christianity, but can never quite accept it—precisely because to believe Christianity intellectually would mean contradicting his scientific worldview.
The problem is that the will to truth eats itself; the person who is strictly loyal to “the Logos”, as understood as reason, works in the scientific method. He removes superstitions and he analyses the Bible, as Jefferson did, cutting out the incredible—literally “without credence, beyond belief”. He finds himself with nothing of religion; he is a nihilist. All that remains to him is a kind of moralism—or as with Peterson, the shreds of yesterday’s progressivism.
Religion is, however, “beyond belief”; it is an experience: people literally speak of having had a “religious experience”; and so it is the idea of rationally justified belief that kills the ability for people to be religious. This is why various drug-induced experiences are so popular in the West, and have been since the 1960s—whether LSD or DMT. The Western worldview is so uptight, so wound around reason, that it is only by blowing the top off their minds that people can allow themselves to consider other possibilities.
Can an experience be true? When I am thirsty I have an experience; it would be possible to interrogate this rationally, but nobody would apply reason to the immediate thirst or start to rationally doubt thirst. If I look at a tea cup design as I sip my drink and say, “I can see the Tree of Life,” it could be argued that I have mistaken a pattern; but I am thinking mythically, by analogy, and this is part of an experience. The rational mode of interrogation rejects analogies as misleading; it dislikes resemblances, and it prefers to identify what makes two things different rather than alike.
I can never show you my experience; but, from a base level, the way we interact with the world depends upon loyalty to experience. It would be pointless to rationally interrogate when I feel thirst or hunger; it is equally pointless to question a religious experience—since such experiences have been normal for all of recorded human history, as normal as thirst and hunger. Even from the rational perspective, these experiences are formed by thousands of years of evolution to help us survive; we cannot explain all the ways these function, and to actively question our survival system is self-destructive.
There is a danger that we can force such experiences; we apply reason to experience, but the real experience means absolute loyalty to what appears to us without any editorial control by reason; if a Muslim sees Jesus in his dreams, this is the real experience—it is no use if he invents, to impress others, a story about the leaves on a tree that resemble letters from the Koran.
There are no answers in theology or doctrine, but there are answers in our experiences, since our experiences are a form of continuity. It is this continuity that provides meaning—meaning which is destroyed by analysis, by breaking into parts. If a picture cries out to you to seek the Holy Grail or the Virgin Mary appears to you in a dream, forget to bracket the experience with reason: it is your experience, it is as real anything else, so obey it.