The Impetus for Theoconceptualism

Why propose a new structure for theological philosophy and religion? Well, I see some problems and I think there are better solutions than the ones being used.


I think the primary problem could be classified under the term fundamentalism. By this I mean a few things. 1 - It's usually a fully literal view of everything. Humans just don't work well that way. 2 - It's a system that doesn't update. 3 - It's intolerant. 4 - It's strict in a tyrannical way. 5 - These strict rules have to be issued from a source, that source means there is a lot of centralized power and authority. 6 - Power, such as wherever this authority rests, attracts the worst people and corrupts the best.

These are huge problems that all societies, civilizations, and cultures have to deal with. I think if you focus on one though, then it would mostly solve the other problems. If a system was designed so that it could update, peacefully and with limited conflict, then you would need to not have a centralized power, you couldn't be intolerant, there would be less of a position of power to corrupt, there couldn't be the tyrannical element, and thus there couldn't be an enforcement of a literal view.

Great, so we just need something that changes all of the time. No. That also doesn't work. This leads us to another problem, losing the important things and incorporating the unimportant things. Alright, so we need something that pulls forward from the past the best parts of the religion and leaves behind the worst, while also incorporating the best new material. Do we have any idea what this best material would be? Yes.

Knowledge occurs on three levels, and it emerges from the lowest level of abstraction (it first takes the most concrete form). Endel Tulving and Jerome Bruner both talk about this, as well as Jean Piaget. First there is procedural knowledge, meaning the actions that we take. There is lived knowledge, we know how to do things before we can represent them, talk about them, or think about them. This is where ethics emerges from, because that is what religion should be about, not metaphysics. Theology shouldn't be about metaphysics either, theology is about epistemology. Here's what we get when we look at the etymology (the history of a word) of religion.

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c. 1200, "state of life bound by monastic vows," also "conduct indicating a belief in a divine power," from Anglo-French religiun (11c.), Old French religion "piety, devotion; religious community," and directly from Latin religionem (nominative religio) "respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods; conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation; fear of the gods; divine service, religious observance; a religion, a faith, a mode of worship, cult; sanctity, holiness," in Late Latin "monastic life" (5c.).

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It's an attitude and perspective of what is good and sacred that leads to right conduct in a community.

The second level of knowledge is episodic. This is where we represent images, scenes, picture, drawings, and such of the procedures that we remember. By representing them, especially in the world, we can gain a new perspective on them and share them with people. This leads to discussion and dialogue about them, and then we are on the third level, semantic knowledge. This is where we can use symbols like written or spoken words to represent things in an abstract way to others and to our selves. These three levels of knowledge and how they are used in communication is important.

The best way to understand the process of communication is the Semantic Triangle. At one point we have the perception, through the senses, of something. This is the first point of the triangle. This is represented in our mind in some way, those are our concepts. This is the second point of the triangle. Finally, we represent this to someone else as a symbol, whether spoken or written. This is the third point of the triangle. Notice how communication can go awry at any of these three points and we haven't even gotten to the other person yet. This is essentially the encoding process for symbols.

The other person then decodes this message in reverse. They form their own triangle. We can put these triangles together, I call this squaring the triangle, and we end up with the Semantic Square of Communication. The first point of the other person's triangle is that they hear or read the symbol. The next point is the concept they have in their minds of this thing. The final point of their triangle is when and if they can compare this concept with the perception themselves. This is the amazing process of communication.

Armed with these two ideas, the structure of knowledge and the process of communication, we are in a position to determine what we need to pull forward into the future and what we need to leave behind. What do we have as humans that can use the higher levels of knowledge to communicate the lower levels of knowledge while keeping the integrity of the knowledge intact? Narratives. That's the answer. We want to use a high level of knowledge because we can communicate, and think about, more that way, and in a faster way. We want to reach into the lower levels of knowledge (and I mean more base, more foundational, when I say lower here) because that's what is actually useful, actions in the world. We want a hyperreality. A reality that is even more real than reality. Where the things we want to emphasize are emphasized and the other things are seen as the details that they are. We want something that can move from perception to conception to symbolism to transmission to conception to perception and still be what it was intended to be. This is all done by narratives. Narratives are the answer.

Take a look at a story in a book. This book uses words at the semantic level of knowledge to show scenes at the episodic level of knowledge which are connected together over time to form behavior patterns at the procedural level of knowledge. Someone can perceive this story and form their own ideas around it. They can put it into their own symbols, like telling someone the story. That person can receive this communication and form their idea of it, and then compare it back to the story. It's a beautiful thing.

We have to be able to pull narratives forward into the future while leaving non-narratives behind when necessary. We also have to be able to incorporate new narratives when appropriate. All of this is quite complex and it has to be worked out in practice. The lack of this ability was really shown with Harry Potter. A number of people tried to demonize and reject Harry Potter for unusual reasons, like they were regressing into the eras of witch burning. They should have been doing the opposite. They should have been looking at Harry Potter, studying it, drawing lessons and wisdom from it, incorporating it. I have been thinking about this problem ever since seeing this happen.

There is an inexhaustible supply of wisdom contained in Cain and Able. It is probably the most powerful story within so short a space ever written. It's inexhaustable because when we move from the narrative itself to the higher levels of knowledge something is lost. The commentaries on Cain and Able can be good, but they can never be as good as the story of Cain and Able. They can flesh out many of the ideas contained in the story of Cain and Able, but they can never flesh out all of the ideas contained within the story of Cain and Able and all of the implications and applications. These same things apply to Harry Potter. There is no good reason to reject the wisdom contained in either of these narratives. The story is sacred, the commentary is not.

In the religion, which is dealing with ethics and behavior patterns emanating from a certain perspective and attitude within and towards a community, we need the ability to update what needs to be updated and keep what needs to be kept. To do this in practice we need an organizational structure that allows this to be worked out. There needs to be a procedure for how new narratives are proposed to be part of the continually updating canon of ethical wisdom, and how they are approved and incorporated. This should be done on the local level of individualized groups. In addition to this, there needs to be symbology and ritualization incorporated from these locally determined canons of ethical wisdom. This is the way, this is the path forward.

(For information on why local knowledge is a superior organizing strategy see Frederick Hayak. See Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt for the advantages of individualized groups versus anonymous communities, and the universals of human bonding rituals.)

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