The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Truth and Fact

I wrote to Andrew Sullivan, and he used what I wrote in a blog post. This was in my original email:
As my friend, Dr. James Tresner says, there is a difference between truth and fact, and fundamentalism and fanaticism stems from a confusion between the two. Evolution is a fact. The story of the Fall is true. Interestingly, the Fall is treated very differently by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, who each have their own truth about the Fall. Religious truths can differ from poetical truths, but both truths resonate in the person who contemplates the truth in question. The legends of Hamlet, Luke Skywalker, and Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker are true, even though none of them are factual (although the existence of Amleth of Denmark was most likely a fact, if Saxo Grammaticus is to be believed). Forcing the Fall to be factual is crazy, and makes for craziness. When believers try to force fact to succumb to truth, or force truth to succumb to fact, they can leave a trail of blood in their wake.
The sign of a civilized person is to allow others to have different truths than themselves, and to respect the truths of others, even when they differ from their own, especially when that respect is reciprocated.
Ignorance is ignorance of fact. A Pashtun soldier who does not know how to count to ten is ignorant. Superstition is ignorance of truth. People who think their Creator created their daughters with flawed genitalia that require clitorectomies or worse in order to be presentable are superstitious. Fanaticism is confusing the two and insisting that others do as well. David Barton is a fanatic, as was Lenin. Notice that the fundamentalist and the militant Atheist both confuse truth with fact, the fundamentalist by insisting that truth overwhelm fact, and the militant Atheist by insisting that fact overwhelm truth. Neither, usually, have solid epistemological grasp of truth or fact.
On another blog, this quote, selectively edited, has sparked a new discussion.
On that blog, I wrote:
I am the writer of the quote listed as “Sullivan’s reader.” Jerry quotes me partially, cherry-picking that portion of my comment that supports the argument that Sullivan is an idiot, and removing the rest. This is intellectually disingenuous. A defense that the mental contortions of religious believers is equally mentally disingenuous does not mean that selectively editing what someone wrote in order to win an argument is not disingenuous.
I am not a Christian. I blog a lot about belief and atheism. While personally a theist, I feel at home among atheists and agnostics as long as they are not antitheist, and therefore hostile to my personal practice. I regard the story of existence from the Big Bang, through the formation of the sun and the earth, through the evolution of life on earth and the emergence of humanity to be a Creation Story more profound than that in the Bible. I have a math and science education, and my work is in medical software. I have never read this blog previous to someone notifying me that I got quoted here.
I place value in spiritual progression, which is hard to define. I would regard our consciousnesses as evolving over time, and just as vertebrates would be unimaginable in a world of blue-green algae, the further scope of higher consciousness is unimaginable to those who dwell in the righteous indignation of bivalent value systems (us vs. them). If you asked a paleolithic hunter-gatherer ten millennia ago to describe a skyscraper, they would have trouble doing so. Similarly, humans have always had trouble describing the future evolution of consciousness. That narrative is deeply flawed, and has often led to brutal ideological wars. At my current level of understanding, it makes subjective sense for me to work with the God metaphor in analyzing the trajectory of consciousness, both personal and global. I do not insist that anyone else does, except insofar as to show how it has been useful to me. The Christian metaphor does not make sense to me, and I don’t use it. I often find in conversations with antitheists that they argue with my religious beliefs as if they were Christian, projecting Christian belief onto my belief as if Christianity were the only possible theism. I think that is sloppy.
Jerry’s omissions in quoting me are striking.
Most of the posters vehemently object to any distinction between fact and truth. I call this a flat epistemology. It flattens truth until it is congruent with fact. My understanding is that truth and fact overlap, but are not congruent. As a theist, my understanding is theocentric. As annoying as that might be for an atheist who wants to argue with me, I cannot come up with a definition of truth that excludes Deity, just as I cannot adhere to an ontology that excludes Deity. Truth to me is a bridge between ontology and epistemology, whereas fact is entirely epistemological (and mostly phenomenological). When William Preston writes about Masonic ritual "imprint[ing] upon the memory wise and serious truths," he does not mean that it adds to the phenomenological data gathered in the mind of the candidate. Freemasonry depends upon the distinction between fact and truth, since Masonic legend contains many factually untrue propositions (which has often driven Masonic historians to despair), none of which falsify Freemasonry.

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