01 April 2016

Descartes, Ada the Ayrshire, and Easter

Growing up, we had a copy of “Ada the Ayrshire,” Ada being something like the dairy cow combination of Dagwood Bumstead of "Blondie" and Calvin in “Calvin and Hobbes.” In one sequence, she has her head through a fence to get at some grass and then reaches back through the fence...wrapping her neck around a fence post.

So naturally I wondered which side she was on. Does her essence reside in her head or her heart?

My respect for Descartes notwithstanding, “I think; therefore, I am,” is a very odd statement.

None of us thought about existing...or chose to exist...before it happened to us.

You might realize you are because you can think. But rocks don't think as far as we know. Yet anyone who has had a rock in a shoe knows rocks exist, even though rocks don't think.

And you get rid of a rock in your shoe not by thinking but by dumping it out...unless you're dreaming...in which case you might be able to fly.

"Portrait of René Descartes," By Jan Baptist
Weenix. Public Domain.
Descartes, if I understand, began his search for truth by rejecting the things he found occasion to doubt. The thing he could not doubt was his mind.

He observed the senses might be deceived, and the body is mostly perceived by the senses. So he eventually concluded that the mind was more real or more true than the body.

But it seems the human mind ordinarily depends on the body for existence, even though the body depends on the mind for consciousness.

So meaning, as I imagine it, comprehends the whole of existence and thus the whole experience...not just the intellect but the body and the passions. It connects the person together and connects the person to something...beyond the person himself or herself. In that sense, maybe, meaning is some expression of relationship to a bigger idea of being. Meaning is the way we experience beauty. 

Beauty, like truth, is universal, but not a single ideal. All people have beauty, but some are beautiful in this way and others in that way.

There are different ways of discussing reality, in fiction and art for example. There are some things more true or more to the essence of things, but there are only real things. Unreal things are theories or constructions or jokes that depend on some reference to what's real in order to have meaning. You can know a Muslim or a scientist for example, but you cannot really know Islam or science in the same way. 

There's another sense in which we speak of meaning.

Whether you're learning a language or talking to someone, it doesn't matter what you intend...except where you can clarify...as I've had to do...that I didn't intend to say this or that. And this exception proves the rule because, in saying what you meant not to say, you make what you did mean to say more clear to the hearer or reader. That is what matters: what the other person hears.

In all these senses of meaning...we bump into relationship.

Even God, we experience through relationship. That's one reason why it sometimes appears there is no God. We attribute things to anthropology, which is partly true, like attributing being to thinking. 

But if God is as big as we imagine he would be in order to be God...then we would not expect to trip over him in the living room or to see him peeking 'round the moon. We would expect him to be the ground reality of all being in the first place, which might feel to us as though he didn't exist, because we'd not be able to imagine without first being in order to imagine.

We might even expect God's activity to look like natural processes or human activity. We would experience them in relationship to one another...like we experience rivers and valleys or chickens and eggs...but they are all subject to the essence of being itself.

So God might be seen through the chicken and the egg and the river and the valley. But he is not those things, and he does not relate to us the same way we relate to him any more than we relate to pottery the same ways pottery relates to us.

This is not to say that we only relate to part of God. If God is a being at all, we relate to all of him. We just have to expect he's a different kind of being than we are. We have our reason for existence in Him. He has his reason for existence in himself, as I think Ravi Zacharias once put it.

So maybe the days of creation in the Bible really are billions of years or even phases of varying length. It wouldn't change whether the Bible is true because the length of the days is not the point. God is.

It also makes sense that if God is the creator...by whatever means...that we'd find in him, as in the world, community, which would make the trinity plausible.

And that brings us to a manger, to water made wine, to a cross, to a tomb, to a God with us...who suffers with us...to a promised new creation. It brings us to eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses who weren't expecting the resurrection, but who staked their lives on the truth of their story.

We come to a story that makes more meaning of more of the human experience than anything else I've encountered.

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