Truth interests me more than feelings. Perhaps that is why someone said my writing needs to be “more rich and human”. By “truth” I mean something that doesn’t depend on how I feel about it; something that really exists. But aren’t feelings also real, and therefore true? Aren’t my feelings part of who I really am? Yes they are, but the question is whether what I am is what I ought to be. And is what I feel what I ought to feel? For many, “ought” is at best a figment, at worst, pointing a finger. I once had a phone conversation with one of my nieces. She was having a bad time where everything seemed to be going wrong. I broached the topic of the Christian faith. She responded, “It’s not MY truth”. She was using “truth” to mean the way she feels. I didn’t pursue the matter because it’s very hard to convince someone – especially over the phone – that there is meaning outside the “I”, that, indeed, it is the meaning outside the “I” that gives the “I” meaning.
Doesn’t there exist, though, in every person a bundle of different feelings that clash, that brood, that quiver, that prickle, that harass, that swarm? Without feelings, there would be no poetry, no art, no music, and no love. But more important, who’d want to be near someone who felt nothing? Who would want to read a biography that was no more than a catalogue of colourful events? The event itself may be of interest, but if the writer does not describe feelings, the biography won’t be about bio “life” but merely a history textbook. Historical novels are more popular than history books because they attempt to describe feelings and thoughts where the event itself serves as the scaffold on which these thoughts and feelings hang – and be hanged if you don’t get it right; no one will read you.
In an autobiography, feelings have “I” as the centre; not only the “I” of the writer, but also the “I” of the reader. There’s good reason, therefore, for retaining the “I” in (auto)biography. Why then do I call my story a “bography”; why did I cut out “I” from my (auto)biography? In “Onedaringjew: a bography” – the very beginning of this autobiography – I wrote: “When i becomes the self-obsessed I, the biog turns to bog.” This is correct, but obsession with “I” in an autobiography is the exception rather than the rule. “So, if what I say is true – and not merely “my” truth – I should explain why I call my (auto)biography a “bography”? Is it just a language game?
I do enjoy playing with language. Play is crucial to learning and discovery, for when we play, we enjoy; and the more we enjoy, the more we learn. What is learning mainly about? It’s the creative act of discovery, of discovering the hidden connections between things.
For those who appreciate language – writers, poets, theologians, philosophers – language play is enmeshed in creativity. Playing with words may be foolery, at worst, wit, at best. But playing with language can also mean serious digging into the hidden sediments of language and thought. Language and thought are two sides of the same coin.
I have given several reasons why I changed “biography” to “bography”. There may be a deeper reason – related to feelings. I said that truth interests me more than feelings do. There’s the rub. Perhaps that is the main reason why I’m anxious – even obsessed – to rub out the “I”. The opposition between “truth” and “feelings” only holds if you reject objective Truth and accept only the subjective “my truth”. In such a view (of rejecting objective truth in favouR of subjective truth), Truth appears cold and remote, whereas “my truth” feels close and personal. If Truth, however, does exist, and the “I” is opened to receive it, it becomes a consuming fire.
“My truth”, in contrast to Truth, is a muddy thing. I suppose, though, if you believe you emerged out of the slime, then “my truth” would be the only way to go. If, however, Truth did not spontaneously generate from the mud, but rather generated the mud in the first place, then the Truth can indeed be found, unless you believe that though there may be such an entity as the Truth, no one can be sure when they have found it. Is this what André Gide meant by: “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it?” I don’t think so, because those who doubt that Truth can be found are also the ones that don’t believe it exists. So, I am saying that Gide’s words tell me that he doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as Truth. What Gide meant by “doubt”, therefore, is that he didn’t believe that objective truth exists at all. But this is really silly, for without any coherent reality, there can be no science, no discourse; Scientists seek to know what’s going on not only in their heads, but outside, and mostly outside, their heads – theologians too. But what if “inside” and “outside” do not really exist, as the pantheists say. According to J.C. Ryle it is not atheism but pantheism that is the great enemy of truth. He says:
I feel it a duty to bear my solemn testimony against the spirit of the day we live in, to warn men against its infection. It is not Atheism I fear so much, in the present times, as Pantheism. It is not the system which says nothing is true, so much as the system which says everything is true. It is not the system which says there is no Savior, so much as the system which says there are many saviors, and many ways to peace! It is the system which is so liberal, that it dares not say anything is false. It is the system which is so charitable, that it will allow everything to be true. It is the system which seems ready to honor others as well as our Lord Jesus Christ, to class them all together, and to think well of all.
It is the system which is so careful about the feelings of others, that we are never to say they are wrong. It is the system which is so liberal that it calls a man a bigot, if he dares to say, “I know my views are right.” This is the system, this is the tone of feeling which I fear in this day, and this is the system which I desire emphatically to testify against and denounce. From the liberality which says everybody is right, from the charity which forbids us to say anybody is wrong, from the peace which is bought at the expense of truth – may the good Lord deliver us!
~ J.C. Ryle
Knots Untied, “Only One Way of Salvation” [Cambridge, England: James Clarke & Co., 1977], pp. 30 -31.
Ryle wrote the above more than 100 years ago. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
The Bible says the Truth does exist. It also says that Truth is not an “it” but a Person – Jesus, the Person, called the Christ. Twenty or so years ago Alvin Plantinga, the philosopher spoke of “self-referential incoherence.” I like very much C. Baxter Kruger’s explanation of this concept:
“…‘self-referential incoherence’ is a profound insight into the problem of ‘the fall.’ For the most part we have been taught to think of sin as primarily a moral problem. I think sin is fundamentally a reference problem, followed, of course, by all manner of other rippling relational, social and moral issues. In the fall, Adam’s reference point moved from God to himself. He became self-referential, and thus developed a perception of himself, God and the world from a center in himself and his terrible fear. From that point the human race was trapped in its own way of seeing. If it does not ‘make sense to us’ it cannot be true. Our way of perceiving a person or a situation is the way it is. And that is the problem fraught with utter impossibility. Even the Lord’s presence and self-revelation, and indeed his way of thinking and saving, has to pass through Adam—and our—way of thinking, and thus the Lord himself and all his ways are subject to our judgment. He must make sense to us, or He is not correct, and thus dismissed. So we invent a god in the image of our own self-reference—which, of course, from the Lord’s perspective is utterly incoherent—and judge God’s presence and action by it.”
I mentioned that Alvin Plantinga used the term “self-referential incoherence.” The term, however, comes from Sextus Empiricus (circa 160-210 AD). The irony is clear. The empirical (experimental) method of modern science relies on observation, yet is largely ignorant of the epistemological underpinnings of “I,” the one who observes. And who do we have to thank for this original insight? Empiricus. He could, naturally, only go so far. The Christian looks further – to the revelation of Jesus the Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Raphy’s “I” is baptised into the eternal, invisible, infinite, unfathomable, rich Bog of Truth. (“Bog” in Russian is “God”).
(My user name is “bography”. How did this name come to be? Rapha-el in Hebrew means “doctor/healer of God.” But I am not literally a rapha (a medical doctor) not even a linguistic doctor of el; so I have opted for a more modest user name “bography” (Dr bog). What is the Russian for God? Bog. What is the Russian for doctor of God? Raphabog. In changing from Rapha-el to Rapha-bog, all I’ve done is change the Hebrew “El” to the Russian “Bog”.