Thursday, September 15, 2011

Morbidity Rules

Morbidity Rules
by Scott Bradley


William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience) classifies religions in two types, "healthy-mindedness" and "morbid-mindedness". It should be easy enough, one would think, to guess which one he thinks most realistic and helpful. Morbid-mindedness! This surprising (to me, at least) conclusion rests on the problem of evil.

Healthy-mindedness, essentially mystical monism, to his thinking, requires the denial of the reality of evil and is thus an act of self deception. Morbid-mindedness, on the other hand, fully accepts the reality of evil and provides a means to be saved from our own evil and subsequent guilt.

Here, indeed, is a great parting of ways. Yet, because I have taken the monistic path, I don't really think it ultimately matters all that much which path one takes. All is well. If one can live one's life in that realization, all the better. And there is a sense in which, I suppose, that someone emerging from the confessional experiences something of that reality, just as does one who has experientially transcended the good and evil distinction and the guilt it instills.

I am reminded of Nietzsche's (Beyond Good and Evil) critique of how basically all the philosophical systems approach the question of ethics. Each one, he writes, attempts to find the surest foundations for morality. None are successful, of course, for morality is rooted in what lies beyond explanation. But that is not what concerns Nietzsche. He asks why these great inquiring minds never question the concept of morality itself. None dares do so, or perhaps, even imagines the possibility of doing so.

James does not do so. Evil was for him is a real and transcendent reality. It is a given.

I will abstain from trying to make the case for an alternative point of view. Only I will make the point that when we do philosophy, it seems to me that the first things we should question are our "givens". The Varieties of Religious Experience was intended as an exercise in "a science of religion". It was meant to describe and understand the many aspects of religious experience, not to judge between them or to determine the 'truth' of any. Yet, James brought his own presuppositions to his "science", as every scientist does, and thus necessarily failed to actually describe and understand them scientifically.

The problem, of course, is that the thing most essential in religious experience is just that, experience. And experience does not render itself to understanding without being experienced.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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