Monday, 11 April 2016

Ronald Knox (Broadcast Minds) on Religion without Revelation by Julian Huxley

"And there is, finally, the merely negative but still real difficulty of conceiving personality even remotely like our own, not in association with a material brain.”(quote from Religion without Revelation by Huxley pub.1927)

It is observable that this last “difficulty” is never discussed in the book at all. Once again our author fights shy of metaphysics. Or possibly he reflected that he was writing for ordinary people, and that for the ordinary person it is much more of a difficulty to understand how personality functions in association with a material brain than to understand how it could function without one. The fact that mind and brain are interconnected is a fact given in experience; but how they are interconnected is not merely difficult to understand; it is simply, to our human powers, unintelligible.
(from Broadcast Minds by Ronald Knox pub.1932)

What Huxley wishes to maintain are mere cerebral events are all aspects of consciousness including religious experience. Religion thus defanged can be welcomed as a suitable numinous backdrop to the earnest business of ensuring the improvement of the human stock by eugenic programs. Yes, Prof. Huxley like a lot of early 20th.C. progressives was for the widespread spaying and neutering of genetically undesireables. The irony is that he himself was subject to manic depressive psychosis and had to be hospitalised and undergo E.C.T. A brother similarly afflicted hung himself. Culling for thee but not for me.

This is not considered in the two chapters that Knox allots to ‘Religion’ apart from noting that the opposition to birth prevention of the Catholic Church draws the fire of progressives. However it must have been part of the reason that Knox applies his acute mind to a farrago of half baked anthropology and reductionist psychology which to this day continues to be the default position of most of the professeriat.

Professor Huxley sees us as individual souls, bowed down by the contemplation of our private griefs, slinking into Westminster Cathedral at the rush hour to shake off the world’s dust a little, and coming out feeling vaguely comforted by the silence and mystery of our surroundings.

Professor Mark English writing about Science and Disenchantment
disenchantment offers this aperçu:

So I’m certainly not blind to this dimension of life; but I don’t think we should extrapolate on or intellectualize these feelings in the way religions and religious philosophies (like Platonism or pantheism) tend to do. They take the feeling and tell a story about it (Plato’s anamnesis, for instance). I say all we’ve got is the feeling. And that’s enough. It’s got to be enough.

T.S. Eliot wrote “- the sudden illumination - we had the experience but missed the meaning.” (from The Dry Salvges) R.K. does not make an idol of these feelings and rejects the notion that they are central to a truly religious life, they may be delusive, the religious light may be dim and the illumination poor. He has sport mocking the ‘sacred milk of the Todas’ and what he calls ‘peeps into anthropology’ which indicate to Huxley a progress from numinism to polytheism to monotheism. Therefore the Prof. says we should return to fundamentals and take up Numinism again.

The Protestantism of the sixteenth century made its appeal to the primitive Church; Professor Huxley goes one better and appeals to primitive man.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
Our lecture this week is presented by the Boston University Institute for Philosophy and Religion. Our speaker is C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and the Humanities at Baylor University. Professor Evans’ lecture is titled “Kierkegaard on Doubt, Faith, and Uncertainty.”