Defining Spiritualism Essay
Rev. Baudouin B.
I must first of all say that this course was one of the most learned in the Seminary, and that it would be interesting for any reader, even non-ministers. The discussion on the history of Western thought, although obviously shortened and simplified, was very accurate, and the analysis of how modern physics and how it questions ‘standard’ scientific beliefs was very right. The parallel between science and religion was very well explained.
Every scientific theory of the past has been proven at least partially wrong. The gravitation equations of Newton are correct as long as speed remains far smaller than the speed of light, but Einstein demonstrated that they were simplified versions of other equations in which time and space are no constants as speed comes close to the speed of light. One day will come (if it did not already) when someone will prove that the equations of Einstein were only correct under certain conditions, and so on. Science, like religion, is based on belief.
As a continuous learner, I particularly liked the idea that the fundamental obstacle to learning is to believe that one already knows. That form of pride is very common at all levels of society, but people fail to realize that by wanting to be right, they often waste an opportunity to grow. Every dedicated researcher, learner or student will realize that the more he or she studies, the more he or she realizes that he or she knows nothing. Even in one particular area, there is always more to learn. In that sense, I disagree with one of the last conclusions of the course, which is that there is nothing to know. On the contrary, I believe that there is an infinite amount of knowledge, and that we should not shy away from this knowledge, but that we have to be sufficiently humble to realize that we cannot know all, even in one particular area. We will actually end-up knowing only an infinitesimally small part of the infinite knowledge, which is and will remain the domain of God. This is particularly true of the social sciences, working with humans and groups of humans who are all different, but also of the hard sciences as well, as I showed above. In that sense, instead of saying that ‘there is nothing to know’, I would say that ‘what any man can ever know amounts to nothing’, which is not far from the well-known saying of Socrates.
Another major conclusion of the course with which I agreed wholeheartedly is the fact that there is no actual objectivity, and its corollary that there is no absolute understanding. Eisenberg discovered his Uncertainty Principle (and not ‘principal’) by realizing that it was impossible to measure at the same time the position and speed of an electron: the act of measuring one would modify the other. In more mundane terms, this means that the simple fact of observing something changes it. To give an even more mundane example, do we not often act differently when we notice a beautiful person from the opposite sex looking at us?
Likewise, understanding is not absolute, only relative. As someone said before: ‘understanding is a three-edged sword: my side, your side, and the truth’. However, this truth can never be fully grasped. In that sense, there is not so much difference between Socrates and the Sophists, because the ontological truth cannot be known, and therefore, in a way, it does not exist. Only one’s relative truth can. What people think as an absolute truth is actually an epistemological truth shared by a majority. David Hume was right when he said that there is no absolute truth – but this is only my personal epistemological truth.
Good and evil similarly are relative concepts. An act can be evil or good depending on the specific circumstances, on the point of view of the participants, or on the society among which it is performed. In the mind of most people, killing in the defense of others is good, but killing for personal gratification is evil. Killing in itself is therefore neither good nor evil. Killing Jews under the Nazi regime was good (by the Nazis), but would be considered evil in most societies today. Executing criminals is seen as good in some countries, and evil in others. Absolute principles of good or evil do not exist. Good and evil are actually one, and no act or person is fundamentally good or evil. This is another evidence of the fact that objectivity does not exist.
Likewise, life and death are just events in a continuous cycle of death and rebirth. I believe that death is not the end of the life of the soul, although some would say that death is the end of all. Therefore, death is also a subjective concept. In any case, life feeds on death as death feeds on life. In my view, being afraid of death, or feeling sad for it, is meaningless or egoistic, as in every death there is a purpose, and after every death there is a rebirth. Life and death are one.
And all of this is not an absolute truth. It is my own truth. The truth of someone who, as anyone else, knows nothing.
Yes, this course was one of the best of the Seminary. The only part I did not really found fitting was the self-flagellation story of the author during the last lesson. I failed to see what it added to the overall course content and its message. Despite what happened in his past, the author should be proud of the course he put together. Even though he would probably agree that it is only an infinitesimal part of the overall knowledge, it can be an important guiding light for others.
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