Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Relativism and Truth

Quests are meaningless without goals, a distinct “somewhere” which must be reached. This is true even if that goal is ultimately unattainable, because even if ultimately impossible the goal still drives the energy of the knight-errant and gives his work direction. Without such a goal, human activities are reduced entirely to mere work, in the pejorative sense of sheer business. While countless such goals have come and gone throughout the course of human culture, one goal that seems to be nearly universal in its appeal is the goal of truthfulness - that is, of attaining some sort of harmony between oneself and reality. Truth at its simplest is nothing other than the correspondence between our beliefs (and, one might include, our subsequent actions) and reality.
Humans do not have an unmediated access to reality, however - except, perhaps, one’s access to one’s own inner “space,” the private sanctum of the self which is truly not shared by anyone else and which it is impossible to escape short of true madness or death. Even here, though, we must accept the possibility of self-deception, delusion, and ignorance which can distort or obscure our self-knowledge. Additionally, our inner dialogue is a dialogue mediated by symbols. As for the rest of reality, our experience is mitigated through a variety of representations or symbols that are both physiologically and socially determined. A representation is not unreal - that is, it is not that representations lack some sort of existence - but what distinguishes a representation from other objects in reality is that a representation conveys information about an object other than itself - as, for example, the phenomena of the color green might carry the information that there is a large bush only a few meters from where I am standing whose pigments reflect light of about 550 nm wavelength. Since I have spoken about representations in another note, I will simply sum up the fact that all of our perceptions - that is, the entirety of the world we encounter - is a collection of representations produced by the interaction between our physiology and the rest of reality. Furthermore, our forms of both representing and communicating about that reality with others all takes place in the form of symbols whose meaning is entirely dependent upon socio-cultural contexts and which are all ultimately human products.

These facts combined introduces an inescapable type of relativism: the relativism of representation. Insofar as we do not have a direct apprehension of objects as an object but rather only have an apprehension of objects through the representations provided by our senses, and further because our claims, apprehension, and communication about that object takes place only through the means of socio-culturally contingent symbols, no statement can simply stand as an uncontestable absolute - that is, as a statement which stands above our beyond the possibility of future revision or correction. Even a statement of seemingly necessary truth, such as the law of non-contradiction, is subject to this possibility. First, because the reality which it seeks to describe is fundamentally “larger” than the representations of it to which we have access, we are always in the position of possibly being in the dark about an important aspect of that reality. Second, because the combination of symbols we use to represent reality imposes upon its meaning the requirements of its own peculiar grammar and syntax, we cannot be certain that the symbols themselves introduce novelty or distortion into the aspect of reality which we seek to describe. Third, because these symbols are themselves not static and indeed introduce a variety of hermeneutic difficulties, the perceived (and, indeed, intended) meaning of an identical set of symbol can vary quite immensely even amongst similarly socialized peers. In short, the very nature of representations renders statements of absolute truth (including this one, it might be wryly noted) implausible.

What then? As I remarked, the end of the preceding paragraph may have evoked the obvious objection, “What about your own statements? If you do not believe that statement to be an absolute statement, it means it is open or subject to correction - which means, you must accept that that statement is potentially false.” I believe this objection, although quite popular, is misguided in a number of ways. In the first place, the recognition that a statement is possibly false is quite different that the belief that it is false. Nothing I have said necessarily points to an attitude of constant self-doubt that feels it necessary to mumble sadly at the end of every statement, “but I might be wrong.” Indeed, I have noted that despite the unavoidable shortcomings of the representations which constitute the world of our experiences, those representations do indeed represent reality. We are not cut off from reality - rather, these representations form the bridge and link with reality. We are not simply receiving the sensory impression that we are touching a flower - we are really touching it, and even if that touch is a representation of the flower rather than the flower itself it is still indeed representing information about that flower. From a strictly evolutionary standpoint, we developed the senses we did because the information those senses provide about reality give us an actual advantage over creatures that lack such senses. This advantage is simply that through these senses we are able to understand more about our reality and act in advantageous ways upon that information.

The access to this information about reality is what allows the evaluation of statements as true or false. Since truth is the harmonization of our beliefs with reality, we are able to use whatever information we have access to, and the best symbols and cultural representations we have access to, in order to fashion beliefs that harmonize with the given information as best we understand it. The flipside of saying that we might not have all the information is to say that the evaluation of our beliefs should proceed solely on the basis of the information we do have. Tomorrow, we may sprout organs that let us see things about reality which challenge beliefs currently assumed to be true, and in this case the representative relativism of our beliefs will be unveiled, but without such an event we must continue to assess the truth of things by comparing our beliefs with the reality as we know it through our currently available representations of it.

Indeed, the relationship between reality, our sensory representations of reality, and our cultural and social symbols for that reality is dialectic and dynamic and not reducible to a mere one way causal mechanism. Insofar as our senses portray information and subsequently allow us to craft symbols to represent that reality, those same crafted symbols allow reflection upon the entire process - reality’s relationship to our senses, our senses upon our symbols, and vice versa. The set of symbols is open to self-critique in the face of the information about reality which we gain through our senses and which we gain a better understanding of precisely through the manipulation of that information made possible through our cultural symbols. The symbols allow us to see relations between the pieces of information we garner through our sensory representations, relations which themselves can be represented and then used as a tool to revise or correct a growing body of knowledge. This is the dialectic of the human quest for knowledge.

In summary, then, it must be noted that the human quest does have a goal: truth. Reality is only partially subject to human manipulation, and even that manipulation assumedly must follow the “rules” of reality. But to say that reality is not relativistic - and that, therefore, the “standard” for truth is not relative, but is an external absolute - is very different from saying that our statements and beliefs about reality - and our subsequent truth evaluations of those claims - are not relative. We encounter reality through limited means and can express it only through limited means: in short, our claims and beliefs are always by their very nature tentative even if we express them to ourselves as absolute (indeed, the question of why we tend to think of our claims in absolute, rather than relativistic, terms is interesting in itself). This relativism is not a call to wholesale methodological doubt nor a reduction of all our knowledge to sense experience - after all, we gain insight not only through sense experience, but also through the construction and manipulation of symbols representing the reality we experience and providing the possibility of non-empirical or rational insights. It is, however, a call to what I would call fallibilism: the constant awareness of beliefs as possibly subject to revision or correction. Such fallibilism recognizes all human epistemological claims - whatever the methodological or ideological source and justification for those claims - as ultimately conditioned by human biology and artifice even if it is representative and derived in some way from a reality.

As a final note, I am again well aware that this theory is self-critiquing - that is, it presents in itself a reason to suspect that it might be subject to revision and correction. I would simply note that I would not wish it to be any other way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Departure from Dogmatism Need Not Mean Irreligion

In "A World of Representations," I noted that the terms of our interaction with both social and non-social realities are dependent upon and consist of the manipulation of various physiological and socio-cultural symbols and representations. While the physiological symbols are results of our peculiar anatomies, and thus lay farther from though not entirely beyond the reach of direct or intentional manipulation, the socio-cultural symbols - language, our social institutions, the expressions of our creeds and so forth - are entirely human products. Their existence is entirely dependent on the ongoing participation of their members and their form and contents are also the result of historical processes. Religions tend to externalize themselves as eternal or cosmic structures, and so tend to deny that their content, rites, and symbols are indeed human products: the typical Catholic experiences the Mass not as a rite developed by humanity but rather as a dark mystery instituted by God and thus fundamentally beyond the invention of humanity, even if he acknowledges that certain particularities of its form are indeed historical products. A dogmatic religion believes that its symbolic representations of reality (its creeds, doctrines, rites, structures, and other symbols) are incontestable and perfect representations of the divine and which thus denies the possibility of genuine revision of those symbols (although elaboration or "development" of these symbols, as long as they do not constitute a repudiation or denial of a previous prototype, are cautiously permitted). This is generally achieved by a denial of the human origin of those symbols: that is, either a complete denial of their history or an interpretation of their origins within history as having been a moment of divine intervention or providence. As a divine, rather than human symbol, the religious dogma attains an unimpeachable status and is experienced and felt to be nothing other than the "hard truth" of reality, the questioning of which is a moral failing.For many, this is what religion is - regardless of whether they admire or reject the idea. The new atheist has as his primary adversary nothing other than dogmatic religion (and indeed he is a participant within a form of non-religious dogmatism which replaces a divine facticity with a natural or scientific facticity - that is, an interpretation of the symbolic representations used by secular science and philosophy as dogmatically the "hard truth or facts" of reality). Interestingly, new atheists share their rejection of the institutions of religion with fundamentalists who also recognize the "produced" status of religious institutions and thus reject them as not divine in origin. These latter individuals, who typically are responsible for the rather superficial assertions that they are spiritual but not religious and who speak much of relationships with Jesus and the dangers of "man's religions," although still fundamentally self-deceived in that even their "bare bones Bible-based" Christianity is still a socio-cultural human product, have come to the conclusion that a religion produced by human effort and upheld only by human participation cannot be divine in origin. Their own dogmatism, usually based on an unrecognized and parasitic dependence upon the very institutions and symbols which they decry, is typically believed to be upheld by more direct divine links, such as the near-divinization of the Bible, a belief in themselves as priest, and so forth.

In any case, dogmatism seems to be such a persistent feature of modern religion, and especially conservative Christianity, that it seems that rejection of such dogmatism must necessarily mean a rejection of religion. The focus of Christianity in combating heresy - that is, in suppressing and rejecting voiced from within its own fold which question the given meanings or otherwise reject or modify the dogma - reveals the centrality of dogma to historical Christianity and lends credence to this identification of Christianity with dogmatism. Christianity, it seems, does not merely propose a particular set of symbols which must be believed, it also demands a very specific sort of belief in order for the member to be considered in a right relationship with the institution and the divine reality which it represents and which is assumed to be its originator. The Christian must not simply believe the Resurrection, but must believe it dogmatically - that is, he must believe it to a degree in which the falsehood of that belief cannot be entertained as possible and in a way in which he would rather suffer pain, torment, and death rather than question or deny. This quality is present in the entirety of what might be called the dogmatic content of the Church's belief, down to, as it has become apparent, such a matter as whether a married couple may morally use a condom.

It is precisely this dogmatism that has made Christianity a target in a secularizing world (that the secularizing world might not have its own dogmas is a very important point that is worth an entire note in itself). Christianity no longer has enough control over the major institutions of society that its claims are perceived as an obvious, objective and external reality - that is, the cosmos in no longer in general perceived in a fundamentally Christian context that legitimates the Church's claims as to its own nature. Insofar as Christianity presents itself as a divine institution, and inasmuch as it is now perceived as a product - that is, an institution human in origin - there is the possibility of rejecting the religion simply on the grounds of its dogmatism. The dogma, no longer upheld by the simple "facts" of social reality, is subjected to the questioning and doubt of human persons no longer comfortable with the dogma as such but who demand a broader, more human justification for the beliefs. This questioning and doubt can lead to apostacy insofar as the individual is unsatisfied with the religion's proposed justification for its dogma.However, I would like to note the possibility that this situation is not the only possible outcome of recognizing the fully human socio-historic origins and development of religious symbols. In other words, rejecting the dogmatic quality of the institutions claims does not necessitate rejecting the religious structure as such - it does not necessitate the choice of irreligion. To say that a symbol is human in origin does not mean that it is without merit, and although this is obvious in nearly every other field of human endeavor it seems to be forgotten by both the defenders and detractors of our great religious structures. Science is, after all, nothing more than a secular, human, socio-culturally contingent system of symbols meant to represent reality - one that by its own methodology cannot be treated dogmatically, and yet is often portrayed as such. Its conclusions are fundamentally open to revision even while maintaining credibility as statements representative of some reality. Even though classical mechanics, for example, has been shown to be incomplete and flawed in various ways, it nevertheless maintains its usefulness and a contextualized degree of "truth" that are not rendered null by the recognition of their incomplete status or their status as human products.

What is needed, then, is a coherent account of religious development - that is, an account of the fully human history of religious structures - that validates the religious institution as a representation of reality without succumbing to dogmatism. That is, it is possible to admit fully that religious institutions are human products and that their beliefs and statements are potentially open to revision, chance, and development without concluding that religious institutions cannot also simultaneously really be representing - albeit, incompletely - a feature of reality, even a divine feature. Of course, such a justification would look quite different from current religious formulas, and the development and acceptance of such a justification from within the institution itself seems rather unlikely, as it would require an admission of error, if not necessarily in content then at least in form. Yet such a project opens itself as a possibility for the individual who cannot accept the dogmatism of religion and yet is still fascinated by the representative content of religion.

As I have done before, I would point to a work like Rodney Stark's Discovering God as a starting point for such an account of religious development. Discovering God produces an account of all of human religious development as a single history. The awareness of the universality of religion suggests that religion does indeed represent a reality, and not necessarily simply its own reality - which is to say that religion might not represent merely its own existence as a part of reality but may genuinely represent man's understanding of his own relationship with the foundations of reality. As such, its validity can be re-established not in the denial of its status as a human product but rather because it is a human product - although this would mean the repudiation of dogmatism and the embracing of a fallibility that recognizes one's religious symbols as part of an ongoing process whose perfection is uncertain.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Brief Reflection on Julian the Apostate

Once upon a time there was a man born in the relatively auspicious position of being the future emperor of a decaying but still glorious Roman empire. His name was Julian, and he was raised a Catholic. The Church had just been recently accepted in the empire, with the whims of Constantine having swept away the ancient privileges of the Roman deities and replaced them with a vacillating commitment first to one and then to another of the divided sects of Christianity. Julian was not really meant to take throne; jealousy had spirited him away to Athens, where he grew up in the academy among the ancient halls of the philosophers. While there, the young Christian had a conversion experience: he discovered the heritage of the empire, the old myths and rites of the ancient gods, and even while a lector in the new religion he began his initiation into the ranks of the old. When he was at last raised to the purple and granted the title Augustus, he had shed the Christian religion and became, variously, Emperor Julian the Defender of the Roman Religion or Emperor Julian the Apostate.

Julian would also be the last of the Roman emperors to worship the old gods, to wake each morning and sacrifice bulls to the sun or cast the incense zealously before the altar of Mars. His reign was short and memorable: he was an energetic young prince, very learned, relatively moderate even towards his enemies, productive, spartan, and bespoke the best virtues of the ancient pagan. He led the legions himself, would run with charges, and in the end he was killed in combat attempting to lead to safety his beleaguered army, which he had run too far into Persia with a series of impressive but profitless victories. Yet all this is obscured in the epithet he has earned within the place of a specifically Christian history: the Apostate. The most important thing about him, it seems, was his refusal to accept the new religion and his enduring devotion to the old.

Moments of religious and social transition - whether it be the conversion of an empire, the enforced cultures of a conqueror over the vanquished, or even the growth of doubt or conversion of an individual - all offer moments in which the apparent "objectivity" of a society or religion is temporarily broken. The Christians had won an impressive series of social victories after Constantine, to the point that they would soon be able to persecute the pagans in vengeance for the injuries to which they had submitted the Christians. The old religion - once considered the heart of the Roman state and household - was suddenly shaken. Jupiter ceased to be the acknowledged king of the gods; the wrath and potency of Mars was called into question. While it would be incorrect to say that the pagans were not already uncritical of their own religion (at least, the philosophers were), it is clear that the religion was considered as an objective quality of the world: the blessings of the gods were seen as really and objectively demonstrated by the success of the legions and the might, wealth, and success of the empire. The transition to Christianity shook this conviction, and it is noteworthy that while Christianity had suffered social opposition and persecution with growing resolve, the majority of pagans seemed to have fallen in line with the new religion. But in the case of Julian the Apostate, we have a counterexample: a man who had everything to lose and really nothing to gain from his advocacy of a dying, disfavored, philosophically untenable religion nevertheless directed his short imperial reign to the rekindling of its ancient flame.

His project was cut short in Persia by his death, and he had barely begun to revitalize the old religion. Soon, whatever small headway he had made was undone, and within decades the shrines which Julian had worshiped at had been locked, stripped, and razed. But what if they had not? What if he had survived Persia? What if the brief efforts of his youth had been dilated into the work of a lifetime? This is where the currents of history and society begin to unveil religion's social and historical character, where the sheer objectivity of religious belief - that is, the easy-going and dogmatic assumption that religion is unmediated, transcendent, and universal truth - faces its most difficult counterpoint: it is made by and contingent upon temporal events. Christianity's hard-won triumph never faced the difficulty of a pagan revival spurred by a learned and eloquent pagan emperor, and while the old religion lingered in the backwoods of the provinces for centuries the urban capitals became unquestionably (and perhaps only nominally, in some cases) Christian.

Christianity's eventual triumph secured its doctrine as an objective experience within reality: within the empire, or at least within its cities, one was born, lived, and died in a cosmos that grew successively more explicitly and more unquestionably Christian. The moment of crisis - that age of transition in which the future of Christianity was uncertain and it which the shrines of the pagans stood alongside the Christian altars like a social sign of a clash of deities in the heaven - passed, leaving in its wake only the certainty and self-referential dogmatism of the prevailing religion. Christianity had become true, in the political sense, by becoming the most powerful social force - by externalizing its beliefs into the social structures of reality. This is not to say that it might not also be true in that other, more obscure sense of harmonizing with reality. But it is certainly the case that the securing of its political triumph allowed it to control society in such a way that members would grow up without facing those socially dangerous moments of crisis in which doubt and conversion are possible - in which another Julian might arise with the zealousy of an opposed dogma.

It is true that Christianity still retains a powerful degree of social control, but that control is yearly waning in the secularized west and elsewhere. As its social control wanes, the breach of social crisis is once again reopened, and apostasy once again becomes a distinct possibility: people no longer grow up, in general, in a world in which the truth of Catholicism is externalized in a dogmatic social structure designed explicitly to prevent doubt. The new, secular social structures do not serve to reaffirm Christianity. Christians are painfully aware of this situation, which is explicitly framed in terms of crisis, decay, or imminent disaster (one has only to note that there exists an online magazine called "Crisis Magazine" that is quite popular among the conservative Catholics). Yet the roles have switched from the ancient crisis, and now Christianity is on the defensive: it is now the old social order, the old religion, trying desperately and with all the zeal of Julian the Apostate to reaffirm its relevance.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A World of Representations

The world you inhabit is first and foremost a collection of representations. The phenomena which both inhabit and constitute the space in which you consciously live, think, and act are physiologically derived symbols of the objects we assume populate the cosmos. Your biology provides both the grounds and the limitations of these phenomena, and it is fair to say that with a different physiology you very well could experience the world as a vastly different place.

Consider for a moment that the phenomena you encounter - that green, swaying, woody tree over there; the fluttering colors of the flag; the electric touch of another human being - are all derived primarily from the action of five senses. Each of these senses is anatomical in origin: you see because you possess eyes of a certain structure which reacts to photons, you smell because of the interaction of particles with your olfactory nerves, so forth and so on. Your brain is able to process the information from these senses and edit them into something coherent and unified. But these structures only serve to gather specific types of information; they do not give you the full picture. Even though it is quite easy without reflection to assume that this world of phenomena is identical with the reality outside yourself, you need only consider the very different phenomenal worlds which animals with different anatomies possess. Bees, for example, are capable of sensing ultraviolet wavelengths which are absent in your phenomenal world: the representations which they experience differ in terms of the information to which they have access. If you suddenly sprouted an organ that could detect X-rays, your world would appear radically different. The same reality which you naturally assume lies beyond yourself would give rise to a different set of representations given.

There is nothing wrong with this circumstance, of course - you are the product of evolution, a process which is in one sense quite blind of the possibilities open to it: you have developed these particular senses, and thus this particular set of representations, because of a long series of incremental developments each of which had to justify itself in terms of survival, no necessarily in terms of increased information. Another way of saying this is that you have senses which have developed to take advantage of information (but not necessarily all of the information) most relevant to your survival and reproduction. But evolution is not an optimizing process - that is, evolution will not always come up with an optimal structure. Your eye, for example, has the curious property of having a blind spot, because your optical nerve starts from the inside and most make its way out. This is clearly not an optimal design, and it can be contrasted with cephalapods who have developed an eye where the optical nerve is positioned in such a way that it does not have a blind spot. So, too, your anatomy as a whole gives you access to some information and not other information, so that, from the very start, every phenomena you encounter is already a highly specific representation of the reality beyond. In a word, your world has already been interpreted for you from the instant you perceive it.

With this in mind, it is clearly a mistake to idolize your perceptions - that is, to assume that your perceptions are actually the objects in reality rather than merely the representations of those objects. The scientific revolution has likely served to enhance your awareness that the objects in reality have a mind-independent existence, have intrinsic properties which are discoverable through observation, and so forth; but it is also possible that it has made you somewhat forgetful that all of your observations are already interpreted and biased by your anatomy. Scientists themselves are generally keenly aware of this fact and are especially aware of the limitations of our sensory inputs, and must use devices that transform the information that is not available to us through their anatomy into information that they can sense: they make devices that sense X-rays, for example, and then represent those X-rays in terms of visible light. Of course, in these circumstances there have already been two acts of interpretation the moment the scientist experiences the phenomena: one, the mechanical interpretation or representation, and secondly the representation of that representation by means of human physiology.

Nevertheless, this situation is only the most basic foundation or grounds for the world of phenomena you experience; it does not, in itself, constitute a full world. The representations which fill your world are not merely neutral or indifferent representations of sensory information: they are interpreted according to the social constructs in which you were raised and which you have appropriated through a variable blend of acceptance and rejection. You analyze and evaluate the representations by means of a dazzlingly complex set of social symbols - the most obvious of which is language. By means of language, you categorize the phenomena by names, and through the symbolism of names you are able to give meaning to the representations, understand their relationships, and even learn how to manipulate the reality they represent. You experience this process as a process of discovery - that is, when you are educated and socialized, you experience your particular society's social symbols and structures as a given indistinguishable from non-social reality. Here is a boulder: you cannot move it, it was there before you were born, it is part of reality. So too you experience grammar as something beyond your control, something out there, something fundamentally part of reality. You will discover, of course, if you are clever, that the two are not quite the same: your language is a product of society and culture. It does have reality, for sure: you cannot simply use whatever words or syntax you wish and expect to be understood. But its reality is the product of a very specific series of events within human society, and the language exists only so long as it is used - that is, it is dependent on human action for its reality. As such, it is also shaped by its use: they symbols you use to represent reality are themselves subject to flux.

This is not to say that you are "trapped" in a negative way within your culture - that would be like complaining that you are trapped in your body. Your body is the means by which you experience reality - its limitations are the flip-side of its abilities. So too the social symbols you use are the means by which you know reality. Your beliefs about reality - all of which are made in terms of these changing symbols - are not "false" simply because they are composed of symbols whose relevance and validity are historically and socially contingent any more than your visual experience of a tree is "false" simply because it is contingent on your specific physiology. Your visual representation of a tree is a representation, sure: but it is a representation of something, some object, and even if it is flawed in some way (as it is even when you are at your most healthy) it still is reporting information about reality, information that can be used to check and either confirm, refine, or discard the social symbols. It is true that there is no known way to escape the representations - that is, to experience reality in a way unfiltered by these physiological and social structures (not even, contrary to some who have read Huxley's Doors of Perceptions, mind-altering drugs: this only serves to distort and alter the representations into something unfamiliar that might be taken to be the "underlying truth of things," but which is really no more enlightening that viewing yourself in a fun-house mirror). But because the representations are based in reality, there is the possibility of correction - that is, the possibility that through the careful manipulation, comparison, study, and reflection upon your social and phenomenological symbols, you can refine those social symbols in a way that better represents the reality.

This has been the human quest. At its best, it is like a function approaching an asymptote: you get closer and closer to reality with each refinement, but the symbol will never be identical to reality. Practically speaking, things are far more bumpy - and this is not even taking into account the fact that reality is itself in flux along with society and yourself. But it is a good reason to be both optimistic that truth - understood as the conformity of your symbols with reality - is possible, even if the absolute remains out of reach. It is also a reason to be skeptical and reflective of the claim that a particular set of symbols is perfect: that is, that it identical with reality. This is dogmatism, and it is a form of conceptual idolatry that fails to recognize that the symbols it uses are contextualized both by human physiology and society - and that, for that reason, all systems of symbols necessarily fall short of describing reality perfectly. This imperfection suggests strongly that you should be a fallibilist: that is, you should view all your representations as potentially flawed in some way. "Flawed" does not necessarily mean "false." Geocentrism is clearly flawed, but it is not altogether "false," because it does model the phenomena of reality: the sun rising each morning, the procession and recession of planets, and so forth. There is much in it that is, indeed, true, and it is arguable that without that series of representations modern science might not have ever come about. But the fallibilist is willing to modify or even set aside such venerable symbols because he recognizes that they are, in the end, constructs: mental tools, whose usefulness may very well be contingent on a very specific set of circumstances.

I have only described phenomena, symbols, and representations in a very superficial way, and I must accept my own conclusion that my account is quite possibly flawed, but I hope that you will accept that there is much about it that is true. The implications for religion are most interesting to me right now, and I leave most of them for a later note. But I would like to simply say that these insights do not make religion invalid. Atheism can be as dogmatic as religion, and there is just as much conceptual idolization and self-deceit going on in the atheist who shouts that a wafer cannot become the body of Christ as there is in the soothsayer who interprets the movements of birds to be a sign of fate. In all these matters, the key insight is not a matter so much of truth or falsity, but a matter of context and absolutes, because even what counts as true and false is dependent upon the structure of our social symbols. The Incarnation in Christianity presents this for my closing meditation: let us say that God becomes a man and wishes to reveal something of Himself to us. He must use our symbols to communicate to our minds, and thus whatever He reveals will take on the limitations of the symbols He says it in. Even if somehow He were able to undo the limitations of human physiology and culture - if through some miraculous process He destroyed all the structures that we use for thought as we know it and replaced it with an unmediated experience of His reality - the moment we attempted to communicate it or act on it within a social, human context, we would be again forced to use symbols, and once again would be in the position of the human: the thinking, growing, changing, limited, mortal thing called man.