How can a painting be true?

March 14, 2012

I was having a chat with a friend on Facebook. I have plenty of chats with plenty of people, and certain I have had many chats with this one friend, but discussing with this friend is particularly interesting because even through several conversations, I haven’t quite been able to crack what is so enticing to him and some others (yet, so utterly ungraspable…at least to me) about his beliefs.

He has in the past labeled himself a “hopeful agnostic sympathetic Mormon,” and I believe his post at Faith-Promoting Rumor of the same title will capture some of the most intriguing beliefs I’ve heard of his:

First, I believe in the symbols and meaning of religion even if I am agnostic about the referent of those symbols. I sincerely believe in the power of belief in God, the power of belief in the priesthood, the usefulness of choosing to live within a world view with loving Heavenly Parents and eternal friendships and progression and individual worth and indomitable hope. I love the Mormon worldview and I “live as if it were true” even though when I press the limits of my intellectual belief I admit I don’t know if I can accept it literally—in fact, if most of it were true it would be a pleasant surprise. I find love the parallel of religion to language—I delight in the dance of effective language and wordsmithing. Does it make a bit of difference that there is no objective correspondence between the letters I am typing and objective reality? Not at all.

He has ultimately written quite a bit on things like this, and we’ve also discussed quite a bit as well, and I definitely have several reservations about his approach (which could doubtlessly fill volumes of posts others than this one). However, instead, I’ll talk to a relatively minor point that was only briefly alluded to in the previous passage, but which seemed to be more fully fleshed out in a more recent discussion.

Notice the line near the end of the paragraph: I find [I] love the parallel of religion to language — I delight in the dance of effective language and wordsmithing. Does it make a bit of difference that there is no objective correspondence between the letters I am typing and objective reality? Not at all.

My major concern with this was this idea that he is distinctly casting off the importance of truth and objective reality. And he himself mentions in several places that he “struggles” with “literal” belief (although he always caveats by saying he is “hopeful” or “willing to believe.” At best, you get that he is a hopeful agnostic sympathetic Mormon…although his statements are wrapped with precisely guarded hedges, you never hear him outright come and say that he doesn’t believe the church is true. There’s always a “But…” nearby. Or a refocusing on things like language.

I have to paraphrase, but in another conversation, we got to talking about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Bible…and at some point he said something to the effect (paraphrased):

If the historical claims of a particular religious tradition are not true, that is not a problem, because religions don’t claim their texts to be “the most true history book.”

Forgive me if I sound like a Philistine, but the question I’ve been pondering ever sense is this one: but in what other sense could a religion be true?

I don’t want to advocate for a purely empirical or positivist understanding of the universe…but I’m pretty hazy on a lot of other ideas and foundations of truth.

I know a lot of people who would rather compare religion to poetry or art than to things like science and history…but in what sense is a poem “true”? How can a painting be true?

Poetry may be beautiful.

Poetry may be profound.

Poetry may be inspiring.

Poetry may be effective.

Poetry may be meaningful.

…But do any of these things equate to “true”?

Poetic Truth

Maybe I should read a book like this?

What are your thoughts?

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41 Responses to How can a painting be true?

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 14, 2012 at 6:55 AM

    Ah, are ethics, esthetics and truth related? Is there an ethesis — an esthetic ethical blend — that we can seek or is that just a mirage.

    I think there is a confluence, or hope for one, that there is a beauty in esthetics and religion, and that art and truth can come together.

    But have you refuted me and what I hope for?

    Interesting question.

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  2. Andrew S on March 14, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    ah, so that’s where the name comes from, haha.

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  3. Enoch on March 14, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    Thanks for continuing the conversation my friend. I have been planning to write a guest post on this exact topic so I will get that done this week.

    Your question of media does complicate the issue a bit. Music and art can be powerful and inspiring but I agree that “true” applies only with difficulty.

    Stories and myths on the other hand *can* be true even if they are not historically accurate.

    Now you have me thinking about how a painting can be true though. :)

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  4. Enoch on March 14, 2012 at 8:11 AM

    We can scientifically explain the principles that make art moving, music especially comes to mind. Perhaps art is “true” to the degree that it corresponds to these principles and is therefore effective?

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  5. Matt on March 14, 2012 at 8:13 AM

    I’m sure I’ll be pegged as too positivist (or, at least, too analytic), but I think Bertrand Russell had it right. Objects simply *are*; they can neither be true or false. Only *statements* can be true or false.

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  6. Justin on March 14, 2012 at 8:25 AM

    But do any of these things equate to “true”?
    Certainly.

    The “mythos” were ancient humanity’s stories about gods – they were their experiences with the governing powers of human nature, the earth, and the universe.

    They weren’t true-or-false or factual-or-inaccurate – in the way that we currently use those words [academically speaking].

    The religious myths were just a different way for humans to speak about true things and about factual realities. They were a metaphorical or poetic way of expressing truth and fact.

    They simply would not persist as an integral piece of human culture if they failed to accord with reality and didn’t accurately describe the world [if they weren't "true"].

    Those who formulated the myths were not attempting to lay down historically-sound, verifiable, and literally-true presentations of what actually took place in a physical sense that would stand up to the rigors of academic review that human formulated centuries later.

    They were how people conveyed true facts about human nature and the natural world. Myths were how the community explained to its new members how the world in its present form came to be, how a human being ought to relate to the powers of the world, and what is expected of members of their community.

    They’re meant to convey the story of how this or that person experienced God – in a language that’s metaphorical, poetic, or image-based – to bring that experience back for the community at large — to be experienced by others.

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  7. Howard on March 14, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    Mormonism leaves us with a lot of uncertainly yet much of that uncertainly is irrelevant to the main point. The uncertainly allows a variety of beliefs and stages or levels of understanding to coexist. I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description Not two people, two Personages. Personage: 1 a person of rank, note, or distinction; especially : one distinguished for presence and personal power 2 a human individual : person 3 a dramatic, fictional, or historical character. Is this a description of a visitation or a vision or a dream or some other manifestation? Does it matter which? No, the main point is God communicated with Joseph.

    Truth requires parsing sometimes a lot of parsing. But when we read this story and believe we have been inspired by the Spirit that it is “true” we can skip the parsing and know that by accepting the story we are headed in the right direction.

    Follow the prophet? Okay this is where we encounter a lot of problems, we’re told prophets are also men so what’s the mix of man to God on a particular issue? I think blindly following the brethren can lead to problems like the ban on blacks did, we need to screen each issue with the Spirit just like we would the first vision or the BoM.

    I “live as if it were true” even though when I press the limits of my intellectual belief I admit I don’t know if I can accept it literally Isn’t this true of everyone in the church? If you intellectually study the historicity of BoM can anyone accept it literally? I don’t think so. The best apologists can do is argue a few possible explanations for which there is no convincing evidence. Belief helps us skip over those pesky little issues and insults us when creditable arguments interrupt our bliss with the facts. This daze is not lost on the church who make use of it to present Joseph as monogamous or conflate the brethren with the great Prophets by sustaining each of them as prophets, seers and revelators.

    How can a painting be true? The same way a story can be true, paintings communicate. I know a wonderful woman who is a PhD in psychology and specializes in art therapy. She asks her clients to tell a story by painting it. This eludes the normal defenses and editing we typically lay over the truth hidden in our subconscious. When the painting is finished she asks the artist to tell the story and explain what the various elements mean and the truth emerges.

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  8. Jeremiah Stoddard on March 14, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” I don’t know how much I buy into what Keats said, but beyond that the concept of truth indeed becomes problematic.

    For example, is F = m(dv/dt) true? Or are the Maxwell equations true? They do a pretty good job of describing our universe, and are useful. On the other hand, they’re just mathematics, abstractions. We think “physics” is true because it is science, it’s based on observable facts, but are we mistaking the mathematical abstractions for the reality they represent?

    If the abstraction can be true, then why not mythology?

    The painting, if it accurately portrays a historical event, isn’t it true? Then what if it accurately portrays a dream that the painter had? Even if the dream isn’t factual, the description of the dream is still true, right? Or is the describer lying, even though he never said that it was anything more than a dream?

    Truth is a more abstract concept than “fact,” but therein lies the problem: there’s no simple definition of truth. There can be truth that doesn’t directly correspond to any reality, such as mathematical truth. And even if we come up with a strict, clear definition, it won’t satisfy everybody. Much of it has to be left to “the eye of the beholder,” comparing it to beauty again…

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  9. LovelyLauren on March 14, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    I’m sure one of the apostles listened to the parables Jesus spoke about and one of them said, “Yeah, but did it really happen?”

    Something doesn’t have to be literal for it to be true. In fact, if it does, I think it’s a pretty weak faith. I recently had someone attacking me about this on my blog when I said that I was unsure about the literal truth of the Book of Mormon. Apparently, this is a hard concept for some people to grasp. Perhaps it’s easier because I’m a literature person?

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  10. Andrew S on March 14, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    re 3 and 4,

    Enoch,

    When I think of how myths or stories can be “true,” however, that just shifts things from history to science, IMO. In other words, if a story is true, that seems to me to be saying something like, “This story teaches factually accurate statements about human psychology or sociology.”

    Or, as you say in your second comment, we can explain scientifically what makes things moving, so is “true” music just that which demonstrates/shows/explains/reveals what things are moving?

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  11. Andrew S on March 14, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    re 5,

    Matt,

    Do objects like poems and artistic works make statements, however?

    re 6,

    Justin,

    So, let me try to parse a couple of things that you are saying:

    The “mythos” were ancient humanity’s stories about gods – they were their experiences with the governing powers of human nature, the earth, and the universe.

    and

    The religious myths were just a different way for humans to speak about true things and about factual realities. They were a metaphorical or poetic way of expressing truth and fact.

    So, which part is the myth and which part is the factual reality for which the myth speaks? Are the “gods” mythic, but “nature, the earth, and the universe” are factual reality? In such a case, what are cases when myth cannot be superseded by other vehicles for describing factual reality?

    re 7,

    Howard,

    Is this a description of a visitation or a vision or a dream or some other manifestation? Does it matter which? No, the main point is God communicated with Joseph.

    I think people want to distinguish things like “visitation,” “vision,” “dream,” etc., because they want to know if God is a real thing or if God is just part of that experience…created as part of that subjective reaction.

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  12. Andrew S on March 14, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    re 8,

    Jeremiah Stoddard,

    If the abstraction can be true, then why not mythology?

    But *can* the abstraction be true? Are people who believe (insert equation here) is true doing so because they believe abstractions can be true…or because they think it is a real thing?

    I mean, you say something can be “just” mathematics. But others would say mathematics is not “just” mathematics.

    Then what if it accurately portrays a dream that the painter had? Even if the dream isn’t factual, the description of the dream is still true, right? Or is the describer lying, even though he never said that it was anything more than a dream?

    I don’t think there’s any question of a painter describing a dream that he had as being a (potentially) good description of his own dream. But what we take away from a dream is different than what we take away from other things. We wouldn’t conflate the two together, and it’s important to know which is which. So if the painter does describe his dream as being something more, then that demands investigation.

    re 9,

    LovelyLauren,

    Let’s take your statement:

    one of the apostles listened to the parables Jesus spoke about and one of them said, “Yeah, but did it really happen?”

    Does it matter if “Jesus” and “the apostles” themselves are parables? If it does, then what is the importance difference between parable and historical fact?

    I recently had someone attacking me about this on my blog when I said that I was unsure about the literal truth of the Book of Mormon. Apparently, this is a hard concept for some people to grasp. Perhaps it’s easier because I’m a literature person?

    I think people can appreciate literature while realizing that it simply a whole different ball game, with different demands and expectations, than history. If the BoM is just literature, then it places a lot different (lower?) demands on us.

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  13. FireTag on March 14, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Jeremiah:

    There is another wrinkle to the physics-truth correspondence. In many aspects of modern physics, there is a concept called “duality”, in which there are two or more CONCEPTUALLY INCONSISTENT systems of physics that can be proven to be mathematically equivalent as descriptions of reality. Specific cases, for example, don’t even agree on whether our universe is an n-dimensional surface, or an (n+1)-dimensional volume surrounded by the surface.

    Since they can’t both be conceptually true, a perfect description of reality does not, apparently, guarantee truth.

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  14. Justin on March 14, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    Andrew:

    So, which part is the myth and which part is the factual reality for which the myth speaks?

    In short — I’d say that the “myth” is the story either spoken [with the audible or written word] or acted out [with rituals or silent gestures].

    The “factual reality” is the experience that the seer is trying to bring back to the community at large.

    The mythos are the pointer — and the reality is the pointed.

    Are the “gods” mythic, but “nature, the earth, and the universe” are factual reality?

    You cannot separate the ideas/powers [elohim] that are informing [giving form] our existence and our world from what they are informing/giving form to.

    When has there even been particles without an arrangement? Or an arrangement of no particles? When is there insides with no outsides — or ups with no downs? Or, in other words: “I’ve seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.

    The “factual” world and the “mythical” world are the same thing — just different ends of the spectrum. You can’t consider one outside the context of the other. And you shouldn’t confuse how I’m telling you about my experience with the actual experience itself.

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  15. Howard on March 14, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    Andrew S,
    Sure I want to know too but how are we to know? Ultimately the only way we can “know” is by witness of the Spirit or deduction.

    What else can we can rely on our indoctrination? Indoctrination isn’t knowing it isn’t even a testimony. Because the brethren say so, no this is borrowing a testimony and they have been known to be wrong.

    Aren’t there many truths depending on our level of understanding, isn’t this what a parable is about? If God is as powerful as we seem to believe I suspect he has a number of choices of how to manifest himself to humankind.

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  16. Aaron on March 14, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    This highlights a problem with the word ‘truth’ I’ve had for some time. It’s often very vague. I can look it up in the dictionary, but I often am unsure what people mean when they use it.

    For this reason, I’ve pretty much rejected using the term. I prefer to speak of facts, as it’s fairly clear what I mean.

    If someone says something is true, but not necessarily factual, then what do they mean by true? Mormons usually take ‘true’ to imply ‘factual’. When they say the Book of Mormon is true, they generally mean there was literally a group of Israelites that flourished in America, Jesus was a literal resurrected being that literally visited these Israelites, and so forth.

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  17. Howard on March 14, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    I think God’s lessons for humankind are truth even when presented as metaphor or allegory.

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  18. Jeremiah Stoddard on March 14, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    Andrew:

    The only problem is that I can’t agree that truth is a synonym for fact. Truth seems to be used as a more abstract concept in most cases, and so it becomes a problem of definition. Definitions involving “fact” or “factual” aren’t satisfactory for me, and much less useful when you move into, say, the realm of morality. Truth must include fact, but can’t be limited solely to the factual without destroying much of its common use. There are things, like moral concepts, that aren’t observable or measurable.

    Ultimately defining truth is as difficult as defining beauty; thus I liked the comparison Keats made, even though I don’t agree that they’re the same thing. You can also define it like the Justice Potter Stewart defined pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Ultimately in the eye of the beholder, perhaps — or if there’s objective truth, something that can only be discerned through God…

    Firetag:

    Kurt Gödel’s completeness theorems throw a wrench into the whole thing as well — proving that there’s no such thing as a complete system that’s also consistent. What a perverse universe, no? We have similar paradoxes in language, such as “This statement is false.” I always tossed them aside as word games, but maybe inconsistency is part of God’s plan somehow. A universe in which the false must sometimes be true…

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  19. Heber13 on March 14, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    Truth is a paradox.

    Paintings can be truth.
    Poetry can be truth.
    Religion can be truth.
    Science can be truth.

    Biggest truth is we will probably never really know the truth, we just get close to it.

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  20. Jake on March 14, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    I think to ask if a art, such as poetry, is true seems to be a question that can lead us down a dead end, or in semantic circles. I don’t think to ask if a poem is true, makes any more sense then to ask if a house is true.

    Take Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. Can it be true? Well, that question seems to be wrong headed, as it seems to ask if there is some essence of the poem that is true. It certainly exists, but existence is not truth. On the other hand can a poem be false? What would be the conditions under which we would be able to say ‘Sonnet 116 is false’ I suspect they would be rare, and non-sensical to even say that. Just as we would not say ‘Sonnet 116 is true’ or that ‘my house is false.’ Both sentences seem to be semantically empty. They don’t say anything meaningful.

    Poems, and any literature or art can, however, be vehicles of truth. In Sonnet 116 Shakespeare says ‘let me not to marriage of true minds admit impediments; love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.’ This seems to articulate for me a truth about love, that love involves accepting people for who they are and not wanting to change them. In this sense a poem contains truth, it is a portal in which we can perceive principles that are true. In that a true principle is one that is consistent and in harmony of a bigger system of principles.

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  21. hawkgrrrl on March 14, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    If art communicates (which, as an expression, it certainly purports to do), then its “truth” depends both on what the artist intends to communicate and what the viewer perceives. But it’s so subjective what art means. There is the description in one of E.M. Forster’s novels in which someone is listening to a lecture on Beethoven and disagreeing with everything the lecturer says about the piece.

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  22. Andrew S on March 14, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    re 14

    Justin,

    You cannot separate the ideas/powers [elohim] that are informing [giving form] our existence and our world from what they are informing/giving form to.

    When has there even been particles without an arrangement? Or an arrangement of no particles? When is there insides with no outsides — or ups with no downs? Or, in other words: “I’ve seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.”

    I don’t think your point really analogizes well. I think it’s the cat analogy: it’s very easy to see grins without cats, because things other than cats grin.

    re 15,

    Howard,

    Sure I want to know too but how are we to know? Ultimately the only way we can “know” is by witness of the Spirit or deduction.

    But is the Spirit a Fact or a Metaphor? let me put it in another way, given what you write in comment 17:

    I think God’s lessons for humankind are truth even when presented as metaphor or allegory.

    So, I notice you say that God’s *lessons* for humankind are truth even when presented as metaphor or allegory…so, does it matter whether God him/her/itself is a metaphor or allegory?

    If God is as powerful as we seem to believe I suspect he has a number of choices of how to manifest himself to humankind.

    It just doesn’t seem he is powerful enough to actually manifest himself in ways that people will get.

    re 16

    Aaron,

    Intriguing idea…to abandon the word “truth” and stick with “facts.” I never thought about how nebulous the word “truth” is until now. I wonder what would happen if I stopped using it for a month, and instead talked about “facts”…

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  23. Justin on March 14, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    But Andrew — there still must always be something that is grinning — that was the essence of the analogy for me.

    There aren’t verbs outside the context of nouns to do them — there aren’t nouns that aren’t doing one kinda verb or another.

    Does that explain:

    You cannot separate the ideas/powers [elohim] that are informing [giving form] our existence and our world from what they are informing/giving form to.

    better?

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  24. Howard on March 14, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    Andrew wrote: But is the Spirit a Fact or a Metaphor? Yes this is a great question. Mormons are a group think that accepts the Spirit as an entity, a personage of spirit separate from themselves so I assumed this in my earlier responses. Plus one needs to place their faith on a touch stone or they chase their tail with this. Also the feeling we call the spirit is pretty convincing. does it matter whether God him/her/itself is a metaphor or allegory? I think this is what your friend is getting at. It just doesn’t seem he is powerful enough to actually manifest himself in ways that people will get. Okay, well how hard have you tried? I have spent many years meditating prayerfully and after a lot of work I have become very aware of what we normally refer to as our subconscious. From that place ideas and answers seem to precipitate like a rain drop out of air that I don’t recognize as my own, they may be mine but they are so intuitive that I would be surprised if they were. Does it matter if they are coming from within or without? No. Does it matter if “God” is within us or without? Not to me but it might to him.

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  25. Andrew S on March 14, 2012 at 6:35 PM

    re 18,

    Jeremiah,

    Between your comment and Aaron’s, I’m now really thinking about doing my little experiment: going a certain amount of time without using terms like “truth,” “true,” “truthful,” and instead using terms like “fact,” and “factual.” I wonder how much *I* would miss?

    re 20,

    Jake,

    Poems, and any literature or art can, however, be vehicles of truth. In Sonnet 116 Shakespeare says ‘let me not to marriage of true minds admit impediments; love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.’ This seems to articulate for me a truth about love, that love involves accepting people for who they are and not wanting to change them. In this sense a poem contains truth, it is a portal in which we can perceive principles that are true. In that a true principle is one that is consistent and in harmony of a bigger system of principles.

    Let me try my experiment here…could you say that Sonnet 116 tells facts about love? Or would that be saying something different than saying it tells “truths” about love?

    re 21,

    Hawkgrrrl,

    I guess one thing is: normally religious folks don’t view their religions as something that is primarily subjective, where “your mileage may vary.” So, is it disingenuous to try to treat religion in that kind of sphere?

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  26. Andrew S on March 14, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    re 23,

    Justin,

    But Andrew — there still must always be something that is grinning — that was the essence of the analogy for me.

    There aren’t verbs outside the context of nouns to do them — there aren’t nouns that aren’t doing one kinda verb or another.

    OK, I guess there could be a point, but I don’t think it says anything as incredible as you want it to say. In your example, you are saying you can’t have a grin without a *cat*. So it matters if that is the case…if maybe you can have a grin from something other than a cat (or, even worse, cats don’t grin at all!) then your statement becomes considerably different.

    Same thing with ideas/powers and existence. Why should we use terms like “God”, “Elohim,” etc., to describe existence?

    re 24,

    Howard,

    Mormons are a group think that accepts the Spirit as an entity, a personage of spirit separate from themselves so I assumed this in my earlier responses.

    What about the Mormons who don’t accept the Spirit as an entity? Are they not Mormons?

    A good example of this is the passage I quoted from Enoch in the post. Take this line:

    I believe in the symbols and meaning of religion even if I am agnostic about the referent of those symbols.

    So, he’s saying he believes in the symbols or the meaning. But he’s not sure about the referent of those symbols…so he may not literally believe that the referent *is* an entity, a personage separate from himself.

    In the next line he continues to say that he believes in the power of belief in God. So it doesn’t matter whether God actually exists as an external being; he’s saying that one’s internal belief could be enough.

    In other words, to him it doesn’t matter if the spirit is a fact or a metaphor.

    It just doesn’t seem he is powerful enough to actually manifest himself in ways that people will get. Okay, well how hard have you tried? I have spent many years meditating prayerfully and after a lot of work I have become very aware of what we normally refer to as our subconscious.

    Isn’t that an interesting response. I’m talking about God manifesting himself in ways that people will get, and you ask, “How hard have you tried?” and mention things like the “subconscious” — which suggests something completely internal. In other words, that God is not something EXTERNAL or OUTSIDE ourselves that has to reveal make himself available, but rather that it is just a metaphor for something INTERNAL to ourselves that we have to work to finding within ourselves.

    Does it matter if they are coming from within or without? No. Does it matter if “God” is within us or without? Not to me but it might to him.

    I would say it does. If it comes from within, and everyone is saying it comes from without, then there is an extreme harm in teaching people something that is false that could be holding them back (because they are thinking to find something from outside of themselves.)

    On the other hand, if it comes from without, but we think its from within, this is also problematic.

    Let me use an example: it matters whether sin or hell is a real place or just a metaphor. Because in one instance, you have the possibility of going to a really unpleasant place (and trying to avoid that place could give you distorted and unhealthy approaches to this life), whereas you might not have those ideas otherwise.

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  27. hawkgrrrl on March 14, 2012 at 7:23 PM

    Andrew S – “religious folks don’t view their religions as something that is primarily subjective” People in general don’t consider any of their viewpoints to be subjective. They think their opinions and beliefs are empirically correct and others will eventually come around to see things their way. That doesn’t mean they are right.

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  28. Justin on March 14, 2012 at 7:45 PM

    OK, I guess there could be a point, but I don’t think it says anything as incredible as you want it to say. In your example, you are saying you can’t have a grin without a *cat*.

    Lol — don’t get hung-up on the cat. I threw that in at the end because what I was writing made me think of Lewis Carroll and the Cheshire Cat, which was an example of taking the abstract [the grin] too far — so it gets completely removed from the concrete [the cat].

    Why should we use terms like “God”, “Elohim,” etc., to describe existence?

    Obviously because for a large portion of the human population [both currently across culture and historically across time] — it works.

    As I wrote in #5:

    [This poetic story-form of myth/ritual] simply would not persist as an integral piece of human culture if [it] failed to accord with reality and didn’t accurately describe the world [if they weren't "true"].

    Non-spirituality [i.e. not wanting to use terms like "gods" or "powers" to relate to nature, the universe, and being a human] is a relatively recent human state-of-mind.

    The question should be the other way around — why would we not use them?

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  29. Justin on March 14, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    Oops — that first paragraph of my comment [#28} should be blockquoted from Andrew’s #26…

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  30. Jeremiah Stoddard on March 14, 2012 at 8:44 PM

    Andrew, maybe I’ll try the experiment too (let’s see if I have the discipline to do so!). It would be good to know if I actually have any practical necessity to use the term “truth” as opposed to “fact,” that is, if there are real-life situations in which the latter doesn’t convey what I want to express while the former does…

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  31. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 14, 2012 at 9:05 PM

    Have you considered defining things in terms of accuracy rather than truth? All cretians are inaccurate leads to a different place than all men from Crete are liars.

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  32. Vajra on March 14, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    Helen

    All Greece hates
    the still eyes in the white face,
    the lustre as of olives
    where she stands,
    and the white hands.

    All Greece reviles
    the wan face when she smiles,
    hating it deeper still
    when it grows wan and white,
    remembering past enchantments
    and past ills.

    Greece sees, unmoved,
    God’s daughter, born of love,
    the beauty of cool feet
    and slenderest knees,
    could love indeed the maid,
    only if she were laid,
    white ash amid funereal cypresses.
    ~HD

    This poem is “true” though Helen may have never lived, nor the god that sired her, nor her love as the reason for a war. A painting by Rothko or Cézanne or Goya is “true”. The “David” is true. Jesus’ parables were pithy, not sentimental. Sentimental drivel is rarely true. Sentimental, faith-promoting stories are never true, passing neither the factual basis nor the smell test.

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  33. Howard on March 14, 2012 at 11:53 PM

    Andrew wrote: What about the Mormons who don’t accept the Spirit as an entity? Are they not Mormons? I wasn’t attempting to define Mormons it’s fine with me if they are. …he believes in the power of belief in God…he’s saying that one’s internal belief could be enough. The power of belief is very powerful and useful it is the power of placebo.

    So if it’s difficult to receive God’s communication it means he isn’t very powerful? This is not the only possible explanation, for instance what would happen to agency if God did a regular broadcast from the heavens?

    I don’t think you read #24 very carefully, my comment regarding the subconscious does not suggest something completely internal, while it could be internal is also believed by many who meditate to be the route external inspiration enters our conscious thought. Are you asserting that it is completely internal?

    I would say it does. If it comes from within, and everyone is saying it comes from without, then there is an extreme harm in teaching people something that is false that could be holding them back (because they are thinking to find something from outside of themselves.) On the other hand, if it comes from without, but we think its from within, this is also problematic. There is also the possibility that it comes both from within and without. I’m unconvinced that extreme harm would result from believing one of these choices and it turned out to be wrong. Please explain how and why this would occur. There appears to be no way to sort out the correct answer. So what is the value of making this point or the other regarding the concept of hell?

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  34. Jake on March 15, 2012 at 4:58 AM

    Andrew, and Aaron, The distinction between truth and facts seems to make sense. Truth seems more nebulas and subjective, whereas facts seem to be more concise and objective in contrast.

    But, I think facts are just truth in a different name. Facts are just as sprawling and socially constructed as truth. We have an infinite amount of information but some of that we label as fact, which is simply us saying this is a significant bit of data from all the other information and data. Upon closer inspection most facts end up breaking up and being just as sprawling and relative as truth. Consider the fact that London is the capital of England. It seems fairly straightforward, except that is only a fact now, it hasn’t always been the capital and might not always be the capital; the fact is now time-bound and relative. Further, what actually constitutes London, London is made up of a collection of little cities, and sprawls out for miles in every direction, so what is actually London? Even, quantifiable facts such as my computer screen is 20cms long or I am 123 miles from London are tricky, as its not going to be exactly 20cms long, so maybe we get a ruler and find out that its 20.1cm, but with a microscope it will show that is still inaccurate and we say that it is 20.1245cm long, so we get a more powerful microscope and count how many molecules long it is, which will still be inaccurate. The initial fact then is simply an approximation. A relative statement that ultimately is not right, but we treat it as being a mystical statement that is indisputable, but most facts can and are disputable.

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  35. Andrew S on March 15, 2012 at 7:44 PM

    re 27,

    Hawkgrrrl,

    dang. That’s good. (I wanted to point that out verbally in addition to liking the comment.)

    re 28,

    Justin,

    OK, so moving away from cats…

    Obviously because for a large portion of the human population [both currently across culture and historically across time] — it works.

    I kinda doubt this. Human behavior isn’t that improved across culture and history over time because of god-language. In fact, god-language so easily gets corrupted to justify all sorts of ills.

    I mean, I think there are definitely theists around who make me go, “Yeah, that guy/girl has something going on.” But that is an extremely rare phenomenon for me.

    So, addressing what you had wrote in 5 but which I had apparently missed,

    [This poetic story-form of myth/ritual] simply would not persist as an integral piece of human culture if [it] failed to accord with reality and didn’t accurately describe the world [if they weren't "true"].

    Things can persist in human culture for plenty of other reasons than “according with reality” or “describing the world.” I mean, I guess this is a nebulous thing to say…the reality and the world isn’t just nature, but also the social constructs that we can create. So it’s very possible that humans constantly reify spirituality not because that actually relates to a thing that would exist without humans, but because it is a human construct. If it is a human construct, then that leads to what I will say with respect to your next part:

    Non-spirituality [i.e. not wanting to use terms like "gods" or "powers" to relate to nature, the universe, and being a human] is a relatively recent human state-of-mind.

    The question should be the other way around — why would we not use them?

    Because increasingly, God is dead and we are killing him? (In other words, we are changing the human constructed parts of reality through scientific advancement, secularism, etc., The world simply doesn’t look to be the same place it may have once looked like where God concepts seemed relevant.)

    (Also, re 29, I think I was able to edit your comment so that the blockquote correctly works)

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  36. Andrew S on March 15, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    re 30

    Anyone else want to join me and Jeremiah on this experiment? We can report every week to keep each other honest. (Is honest even a word I can use to mean “in accordance with facts”?)

    re 31,

    Stephen,

    This actually brings up a good point…”Misinformation” is definitely different than “lying.” (E.g., to say, “So n’ so lied to me” is a lot different than to say, “So n’ so misinformed me.”)

    re 32,

    Vajra,

    I don’t want to seem obtuse, since I guess many poems can tell facts about human nature even if they tell fictional events…but what is factual about that poem if Helen didn’t exist? What facts is it saying about Greece? Is it saying that if someone who existed who was *like* Helen and actually did the things that Helen did, then Greece wouldn’t like her?

    What facts are Rothko, Cezanne, and Goya paintings tell? What facts does the David portray? What’s the difference between “pith” and “sentiment”?

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  37. Andrew S on March 15, 2012 at 8:05 PM

    re 33,

    Howard,

    So if it’s difficult to receive God’s communication it means he isn’t very powerful? This is not the only possible explanation, for instance what would happen to agency if God did a regular broadcast from the heavens?

    I think another good explanation is that God doesn’t want to be heard/seen, or at least not by everyone. I think these parts of Calvinism make a whole lot of sense, for example.

    I don’t get where you’re going with the broadcast point…

    I don’t think you read #24 very carefully, my comment regarding the subconscious does not suggest something completely internal, while it could be internal is also believed by many who meditate to be the route external inspiration enters our conscious thought. Are you asserting that it is completely internal?

    In 24, you say “our” subconscious, implying some kind of ownership that would seem to suggest it’s internal. Similarly, you frame it in terms of a process that *you* took *internally* to become “more aware”…so it’s not something that externally happens to you. It’s something you (internally) do.

    In fact, I would say that your question, “How hard have you tried?” only makes sense if you think of it as internal. As in, if I put more time and energy to it, I could do it too.

    On the other hand, if it’s external, then there becomes a very real question: does said external thing want to be found? Has he reached out to me?

    I can get that many people may believe that it’s an internal location for receiving things externally, but the thing is…when you start throwing in “belief”…that gets it back to the internality. It’s more about their perception of the experience, which says a lot about that perception (which is internal), but not much about the actual source of the experience.

    I’m not asserting that it has to be completely internal, just that the idea that it’s external, but then that you have to “work hard for it,” or else there is something *you’re* doing wrong is kinda inconsistent.

    (But then again, even if it’s internal, then it may not be the case that you can just work hard for it either. That’s how the subconscious works — it’s not something you consciously control, obviously.)

    I’m unconvinced that extreme harm would result from believing one of these choices and it turned out to be wrong. Please explain how and why this would occur. There appears to be no way to sort out the correct answer. So what is the value of making this point or the other regarding the concept of hell?

    So, let’s take the hell concept because I think it’s a more extreme version of the harm that happens. With hell, you have people believing that if they don’t do x, y, and z, then they will go to Hell. So, you have people who avoid doing x, y, and z, possibly get all sorts of guilt and compulsions about it, and on top of that, it’s all for a bad reason. It’s not because they recognize x, y, and z are bad, but because they are trying to avoid going to Hell.

    And I mean, if Hell is a real place, then sure, why not try avoid it? But whether it is real or not, you shouldn’t be changing your behavior just because you’re afraid of Hell.

    I think this principle applies to many things in religion, though.

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  38. Andrew S on March 15, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    re 34,

    Jake,

    Even if facts are just as socially constructed as truth, they may be socially constructed to mean a different thing than truth…so what my guess is is that there is still a meaningful distinction between the two and the two are not just the same thing in a different name.

    I think that facts can have a context. I think that’s what you get at with your London capital example…for example, in a context of the year 2012, London is the capital of England. That will be a fact even if, in 2020, England moves its capital to Birmingham.

    It may be that with many facts, we make inaccurate approximations…but the point is that these approximations can be verified to at least be close to reality — and there *is* a reality for it to be verified with. It’s not like your screen *maybe* is 46cm instead.

    Even if we can update or clarify our understanding of reality periodically, we at least recognize that there is a reality for which we can update our understanding.

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  39. Howard on March 15, 2012 at 9:25 PM

    Andrew,
    Part of the problem we are having understanding each other is semantics. The problem is; what shall we call the subconscious once we access it with our conscious mind? It is often the goal of both psychotherapy and meditation to explore what is today your subconscious or part of it with the goal of making that part of your consciousness tomorrow. Psychotherapy can remove blocks allowing greater access to what was your subconscious and it can acquaint your consciousness with some of what is in what was your subconscious. Meditation is capable of lowering the dividing line between your conscious and subconscious. Our levels of consciousness are on a continuum ranging from very alert and high contrast fight or flight (black or white) because a lion is chasing us to a very low level with low contrast (nuanced grayscale) as we idle our minds. When we lower the conscious / subconscious line the new thoughts we gain access to are low level with low contrast and we must listen very carefully (meditate) to pick them up but due to low contrast they are highly nuanced and can be very concept dense. Our minds default to data processing, when we’re awake our mind tries to process even if it is just trivia. Meditation helps us idle the processor so that we lower the noise allowing us to hear. Be still and know that I am God. There is a signal down there. Is it coming from within or from without? This is the question, not; if God is so powerful when is he going to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to lunch? One does the same work to get to this point regardless of where the signal is transmitted from or believed to be transmitted from. People who have achieved this overwhelming identify the information they receive as coming from without they do not recognize the thoughts as having been formed by themselves and they typically humbly acknowledge they emanate from a higher source. Given this view point I don’t see harm coming from a mistaken belief of where the transmitter antenna happens to be located, from a practical stand point it may well be irrelevant.

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  40. [...] my latest Wheat & Tares post, How Can a Painting be True?, went up. Quite simply, I’m getting kinda disillusioned (not that I was ever illusioned, I [...]

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  41. Vajra on March 24, 2012 at 7:38 PM

    Andrew, I think the poem cannot be false because no part of it fails or can be disproved. A poem does not mean: it is. God, to take a shot at another construct fails all the time, and is inconsistent with a degree of regularity that should give those who believe in that construct pause. For example, although God is said to be good, the instances when he is not “good” are legion, requiring a squirmy magical thinking, i.e it will all work out in the “eternities”. H.D.’s poem makes no claim outside itself but deities are said to actually do lots of things outside themselves: weather, grace, blessings, war; you name it, a god or gods have been given credit (blame?) for it. H.D.’s poem has stability, whereas “God” has little to no stability, even within the limited sphere of Western Christianity. There is no aspect of “God” that is not subject to disagreement Doesn’t, the LDS church spends a lot of time mocking the concept of God held by traditional Christianity? I seem to recall reading the God concept of Catholic Christianity being described as being a blob, because RC believe God is a spirit? For a powerful being “God” definitely has weak PR…

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