Witness Against Society

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology /

Witness for Jesus Turns to Witness Against Society!

Raised as a Christian American, Protestant of course, genetically three part German to one of English, but English speaking in culture, I was sent to Sunday School. There, once we were twelve or thirteen, Bar Mitvah age had we been Jewish, the Sunday School teacher, a down-home Calvinist, though walking through doors fronted by a sign that said Presbyterian (a sign that no one, not even the minister, took seriously), gave us a lesson in Witness. Christianity was the true religion because there were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. A few days after his execution, Jesus appeared before a few of his disciples, talked with them, had dinner with them. Just as in many a play since, the supporting cast did not recognize the protagonist at first: but, just as in the plays, he bore the requisite signs. No, not a strawberry birthmark, not a ring from the king, but holes in his hands. Doubting Thomas stuck his finger in a hole and believed.

Doubting Thomas
thanx artbible

Then Thomas told Tom, Dick, and Harry. Jesus himself, in a vision, told Saul, er, Paul. Thomas and Paul and Peter, you know, the one who swore he didn’t know Jesus, and Tom, Dick, and Harry told Judy and Louise and Barbara … who told my Sunday School teacher’s grandfather, who told my Sunday School teacher’s father, who told my Sunday School teacher, who told me. See? An unbroken line of witnesses.

Of course no one actually witnessed any resurrection. A crowd saw Jesus die. Some saw Jesus put in a cave behind a stone. Sometime later the stone was moved: all according to the Gospels. Sometime later some disciples saw a man they didn’t recognize. Some women saw a man they didn’t recognize. The man had holes in his hands: and seemed to know them!

Of course lots of people got crucified in those days: men, women, children: thieves, blasphemers … innocents. We know from incident after incident of coffins being opened and scratches being found all over the inner surface that lots of people were buried before anybody with a stethoscope and blessed by the AMA had pronounced them dead. Burial was quick, often precipitous. The dead stink. People are afraid of corpses. People are afraid of lots of things. Indeed, an explanation for Jesus getting stabbed with a spear on top of being crucified goes that Jewish law forbade anyone being crucified past sundown. So, disregarding whoever might have wanted to see the suffering prolong for days, the sufferers were dispatched at last light. But, for those stabbed, and even for those who didn’t seem to make it to sundown, who knows how many people were walking around two thousand years ago with holes in their hands, taken down off crosses with the heart still murmuring? I don’t remember any part of the story telling how the disciples got together a line-up to see who could re-identify the stranger on another day. But then the Gospels don’t tell stories about disciplined skepticism. For all their famous mistrust of reason, they tell stories of eye witness (the New Testament more than the Old).

My Sunday School teacher taught the lesson and retaught the lesson. He concluded with a conclusion of the Gospels: Go forth, and bear witness. And I did. I was nothing but suggestible, nothing but obedient. My Sunday School teacher says that his father was told by his father who was told by his father … who was told by Paul who was told by Jesus … that Jesus was resurrected. And therefore I will be resurrected.

And of course I wasn’t even dead yet. Hell, I hadn’t even gone through puberty yet! hardly yet alive. Hell, I’m still not dead yet: though I am falling apart. Well, I started bearing that witness, eliding most of the “and he tolds.” Even so, the recitation became increasingly embarrassing. The epistemology sucked. Even at thirteen I could see that. No, please. Don’t misunderstand: it wasn’t that I didn’t believe that Jesus was resurrected (and that I would be too). My belief didn’t wait for the Sunday School teacher’s lesson to form. I like many another had taken the belief in as through osmosis, from the cradle. No, it was the chain of witness that sucked: as an argument. I preferred to repeat certain things that Jesus is said to have said:

Love one another
Turn the other cheek.

In the army my friend Phil and I were the great geniuses at Whitehall Street Recruiting Station. I was the great believer in Jesus. Therefore, I was the great idiot: because Phil was the great Marxist. Well, a decade later, Phil had found a guru, was smoking less pot and meditating instead. Now Phil was talking about the Gospels: not as much as he was talking about Lord Krishna, but still: he talked about Jesus too. I remember Phil saying neat things about Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ back when. He said something as a meditator that I liked a lot, and that I related to how he’d read the Kazantzakis. Phil, still condescending to me, but now condescending to me spiritually (Phil never tired of reminding me that he was a day older) observed that “Jesus’ disciples never understood a word that he said!”

Yes. Yes. That’s it exactly. So true. The people we get the church from never understood a word that Jesus said: at least not the way I think I understand it. And if anyone understood a word I repeated, or a word I expatiated on, it would be news to me. Hell, I’m not sure Phil ever understood a word I said (and of course I can’t be certain I ever really understood him!)

Almost everyone these days is in the knowledge business;
but I’m in the wisdom business:
and business is lousy.

In the part of Christian theology that I absorbed, it doesn’t matter. Some day God would tell us what’s what. And whatever God says would be right and true. (I expanded: the Jews didn’t understand anything God (or the prophets) said; the Temple misunderstood what Jesus said with malice aforethought; the disciples didn’t understand either, but somehow — don’t question miracles — we’ll all understand what God says at Judgment. Or: we’ll have to accept it whether we understand it or not!)

Now: the idea that we’ll someday understand doesn’t go at all with my present sense of life, society, or the universe. Neither does the idea that communications will improve: communications in terms of understanding that is. (But a good deal of Knatz.com is pk talking about what he once believed (contrasts implied, sometimes specified, but never trusted of reception).) Still, I’m now talking about what I once believed, setting up, for a minute from now, what I now believe. And I’m talking about how I early on disrespected the epistemology of testimony by witnesses: especially of witnesses who didn’t really witness any resurrection.

When Eddington wanted to test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, he didn’t suggest that we all go witness an eclipse of the sun. He carefully assembled a team of expert measurers. They took measurements of the timing of their observations of the eclipse and compared the observations to the timing predicted by the theory: to see whether or not they could judge whether a star’s light, the star reappearing before the sunlight reappeared, was bending around the sun. Eddington assumed that no one was interfering with the sun, with the light, with the telescopes, with the clock … See? Some of the measurements were greater than the prediction, some less, one close. So the scientists said that the theory was proved. Now it’s taught as fact. That epistemology too has holes in it (like the concept of facts); but the holes are less horrendous than the holes in epitemologies of testimony by witness.

Robert Anton Wilson brags that he doesn’t believe anything! I don’t quite take him at his word, but it’s a neat thing to say: something we could all learn from.

I’ll tell you: I believe in my experience. I believe in my interpretation of my experience (no experience being unqualifiedly objective). (But then, Shaw said, Who am I to be objective? !)

I’m still a witness for the good advice of “Turn the other cheek”; but I’m a more enthusiastic witness against the shabby kleptocratic behavior of my society: especially against the shabbiness of its epistemology.

2006 01 16 I promised more development, but somehow haven’t been back to this file. The theme though continues in Why Does pk Write?

Social Epistemology

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in social epistemology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s