Oedipus quote--"For the love of the gods,
Master, ask me no more questions!"
Eliade quote: “Western man has been ready to make any sacrifice for the
sake of knowledge--including that of religious faith."
have made the sacrifice Eliade talks about. It was difficult, but worth
it. I would others to make it. If your religion is not true, wouldn't it
be better to know it?
Because you are committed to the notion that your belief is true (you do
believe it, after all!), you argue that others are false. And so you
implicitly admit that truth is a higher thing--otherwise it could scarcely
arbitrate between your claim and another! But by this logic you have made
the truth more important than your belief, and so now you are committed to
accepting the truth whatever it should turn out to be.
When you say "A is true,"
you are either subordinating belief A by verifying it, comparing it with
something higher (the correspondence theory of truth); or you are seeking
to appropriate the sublime dignity and authority of the truth for your
belief, as Nietzsche said.
So you must be ready to
look at the truth unblinkingly, lest you immediately corrupt your own
faith. Believing in it with suspicion is not believing in it.
This is the case with
philosophy and theology. Now let me put the question to psychology and the
self-knowledge it offers us. Are we obliged to seek the truth about
ourselves? Think of Oedipus. Would he have been better off not knowing?
He knew the stakes well enough: enough people had warned him! But it
didn't matter! The truth was beyond price!
This is important: it was
not that Oedipus decided he'd better know the truth about a secret problem
before it was too late to do anything about it. As if he wanted a straight
answer from the doctor, so that he might try to treat his illness as
quickly as possible. If his doctor let him continue on oblivious to an
ailment he might have begun to treat, this would have been no favor!
But this was not the
case! Things would have gone along just fine if he had let well enough
alone. He was uprooting the plant to get a look at the roots! He was
killing the patient in order to perform an autopsy to find the problem!
It was as if a cop had a
bullet lodged inside him somewhere. But it's been years, and his body's
adjusted to it. It will only bother him if he reopens old wounds to get it
It's like asbestos in the
cellar. Its only dangerous if the environmental police come in and start
James T. Kirk: "I need my
pain!" If it has made you what you are, maybe it's best not to upset the
delicate balance of the house of cards!
We say that we ought not
bemoan the tragedies of the past, since we did learn something from them.
They have made us wiser. We wouldn't have certain good traits today if we
had not learned them the hard way through adversity in the past.
May the same thing be
true of buried traumas of which we are ignorant? Is it possible that just
as snake urine is part of certain Japanese delicacies, there may be a
loathsome ingredient in our psychic make-up that has nonetheless formed a
wholesome combination with other factors, other ingredients. If we
extracted it, who knows what would happen?
Of course if there are
neurotic symptoms arising from a buried trauma, that's another story. Like
disturbing physical symptoms, you'd better get to the bottom of the matter
as quick as you can. But, again, Oedipus didn't see any symptoms (unless
you count the ill fortune of Thebes sent by the gods because of their
laxity in hunting down the killer of Laios. But even here Oedipus has
simply accepted the blame. We do not know it is true. He may be a
scapegoat, as Girard says).
Should we discover the
truth for its own sake in a case like this? Or see the Babylon 5
episode about the brain-wiped murderer who becomes a monk and then his
I have another question:
an epistemological one, this time. Here is a quote from Karl Barth to set
the stage. We cannot ask the right question till we get the answer from
the gospel by faith. Only then can we know what the real question was in
the first place.
In other words, the
answer does not & cannot ring true, since it doesn't connect with the only
question you know. You must first accept the gospel answer by faith. Good
luck Jim Jones could say the same thing and probably did!
You know the old joke
about Freud: "How long have you hated your mother?" "Gee, Doc, I wasn't
aware that I did!" "You see how you've repressed it?" Really just like the
other joke about keeping the tigers away by snapping your fingers! Both
are examples of the self-sealing premise. Does it mean anything that the
cure is the same sort of thing as the illness?
If the analyst claims to
see you better than you can see yourself, something not at all improbable,
are you to take what he says about you by faith, like the kid does in
Miracle on 34th Street? That's the way Barth wanted you to
accept the gospel answer!
There is no problem if
what the therapist suggests about you rings true. In that case the
therapist has done a good job of being a Socratic midwife and helping you
recognize the truth already inside you. In this case, psychology and
philosophy are not so far apart. But suppose the diagnosis does not ring
true to you. And then the therapist says, "You're in denial! You're just
being defensive!" He might be right, but that's the self-sealing premise!
The shrink seems to be the defensive one! He is unwilling to admit his
diagnosis might be wrong. He cannot risk either his reputation or Freud's!
And you know what Popper
and Flew said about falsifiabilty! If you cannot think of a state of
affairs that would be so at variance with your claim, that would show it
not to be true, then your claim has become so broad, so all-consuming, so
compatible with any and every state of affairs that it is finally
meaningless! IF "you hate your mother" becomes compatible with evidence
that you have never exchanged so much as a harsh word with her and have
never failed to act in her best interests, Freud may say you are just
compensating for hating her, but why should you believe him? In fact, how
can you even understand what he means when he says you hate her? With
"hate" like that, who needs love?
If I just accept by faith
what the analyst says about me and act accordingly, (I may indeed be
helped, but how do I know I am not simply allowing the shrink to write a
script for me? To draw up
a new plan for my
personality, etc? If I do this, I will be inauthentic. I will be
abdicating responsibility and letting another decide about my life. And
this cannot be a psychologically healthy state of mind!
I don't know, but perhaps
the shrink might modestly set forth the diagnosis as a hypothesis. The
patient might then try it on for size and see if that assumption clarifies
anything in the coming weeks. Just as doctors will sometimes say, "Well,
we'll try you on so-and-so medicine for a couple of weeks and see if
there's any improvement. If not, we'll try something else."
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