I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared a marvelous insight about the nature of the universe with other people and had it fall as flat as a baking powder-less pancake.
I’ll speak with astounding passion, clarity, and insight, laying out a metaphysical truth that is so evident to me I figure there’s no way I’ll fail to be showered with praise by an audience grateful beyond belief for being given the gift of my revelation.
Yet…actually there’s just a brief moment of silence, as if everyone is mentally praying, “Dear God, please let this conversation head off in a different direction.” Which it does when nobody deigns to comment on my pearls of wisdom.
I have a theory about why this happens that can be summed up as “Truth comes in two guises.” That’s Truth with a capital “T,” objective truth. Add in subjective truth and you get four guises.
This marvelous insight came to me while my wife and I were in a Victoria, B.C. hotel room about a dozen years ago. I was pondering how to organize a chapter in my first book, “God’s Whisper, Creation’s Thunder.” Suddenly everything became clear to me.
There are subjective and objective states of being. There also are symbolic and non-symbolic states of being. Two times two equals four, which results in this figure that explains everything in the universe:
OK, maybe you’re not convinced. That’s fine. My figure can encompass your skepticism. Your doubt is in the lower left-hand quadrant, the domain of thinking. Thinking is subjective, and also symbolic. So you can say or write to me, “Brian, this doesn’t make any sense.” I’ll understand you, because if you communicate in English I’ll understand your symbolically communicated thoughts.
But if you’re also emotionally irritated that I’ve tried to explain the majestic cosmos in a stupid simple diagram, that additional state of being is in the upper left quadrant, the domain of feeling. Feeling is subjective, like thinking. However, it is non-symbolic and thus private. You really can’t put into words how you feel. You can try, though, which is a big part of what poetry is all about.
However, when I’m trying to share my great above-mentioned insight, it’s with an eye to have people say “Yes, that’s so true!” not “Yes, I understand how you feel!” Which gets us into the right-hand side of the diagram, the objective domain of science.
When I hold forth on how I see the nature of God and the meaning of life, it isn’t the same as me saying, “Look out the window at that flock of robins.” Robins are observable. God and the meaning of life aren’t. Robins are part of a shared public reality. God and the meaning of life are part of a personal private reality. So I can’t expect that other people are going to exclaim “Yes, I see” when I talk about God. However, if they have normal vision, this is just what they should say when I point out the robin flock.
Now, the big metaphysical question is whether there’s a domain of objective yet non-symbolic reality, the upper right quadrant in the diagram. In my book I theorized that there is, and the state of being that corresponds to it is contemplation. Meaning, it’s possible to experience an objectively true metaphysical reality within our private consciousness.
The first line of the Tao Te Ching points to this hypothesized domain: The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. And later: Those who know do not talk. Those who talk do not know.
Which sums up my spiritual status, for I talk a lot—both in speech and in writing. And I sure don’t know.
Still, I try to know. I’m open to the possibility that there is both an objective truth that can be told and an objective truth that can’t. This is akin to the situation on the left side of the diagram, where there is both a subjective truth that can be told (thoughts) and a subjective truth that can’t (feelings).
Material science operates in the symbolic area of the objective realm; spiritual science in the non-symbolic area. What this means is that, as the Tao Te Ching points out, it’s impossible to establish a one-to-one correspondence between a spiritual reality and a related symbol such as a word, equation, image, or such.
I say, “Look at that robin in the tree” and people turn around to see what I’m seeing. I say, “God is realized by unknowing rather than knowing” and they have only the faintest idea what I’m talking about. And I have to confess that I’m in the same boat: having only the faintest idea what I’m talking about.
On this Church of the Churchless blog we play out some of these same dynamics. Regular readers of comments to my posts will have observed that people can get testy when their pronouncements about what is spiritually real aren’t accepted by other commenters. This is human nature, for we all have egos that like to be stroked with a ‘You’re so right.”
However, that’s an unrealistic expectation when metaphysics is being discussed. For no one can provide any proof that what they’re claiming to be true really is. A material scientist can publish the results of an experiment, or let a skeptic observe the experiment being conducted. Neither is possible with what I’m calling “spiritual science.”
This is why I don’t believe there ever will be consensus about the nature of God and the meaning of life. If there are metaphysical truths to be known, they will remain private to the knower. If anyone else wants to know these purported truths, they must experience the knowing directly and not second-hand.
I enjoy spirited discussions about the big questions of existence. I’m pleased when people take the time to express their views on these subjects to me. I enjoy reading emails and Church of the Churchless comments that basically say “Here is the truth; I know it to be so.”
If you say this, just don’t expect that I or anyone else will agree with you. In spiritual science your truth can’t be my truth, while in material science it can. If you know the atomic weight of uranium, that will be my knowledge also if I look at physical reality correctly. However, we get into problems, both personally and societally, when people expect that a particular religious viewpoint should be accepted by others.
For there are two kinds of truth: that which can be told, and that which must remain unexpressed. Why should someone believe that what you’re saying about what can’t be said is true?