Monday, July 21, 2014

Marilynne Robinson on the Human Mind and Truth

* On the condescension of the modern thinker:

"Much of the power of an argument like Kugel's [that the Biblical flood narrative is diminished by modern confrontations with the Babylonion Gilgamesh flood story] comes from the notion that the information on which it is based is new, another one of those world-transforming thresholds, one of those bold strokes of intellect that burn the fleets of the past. This motif of a shocking newness that must startle us into a painful recognition is very much a signature of 'the modern,' and potent rhetorically, more so because we are conditioned to accept such claims as plausible. But it often achieves its effects by misrepresenting an earlier state of knowledge or simply failing to enquire into it."

And here she cites Hugo Grotius discourse confronting the Biblical and Babylonion flood narratives -- a discourse dating from 1622. In other words, the "modern" confrontation of the Biblical Flood narrative with the Gilgamesh epic is quite old news, and the implications of the Babylonian flood narrative on Biblical history have already been grappled with -- straightforwardly -- by long-dead thinkers. According to Robinson, Kugel condescends to critique older thinkers, yet seemingly hasn't actually read them.

Furthermore, "[Kugel's] low estimate of Babylonia becomes the basis for a lowered estimate of the Hebrew Bible--the modernist declension. Assuming one narrative is without meaning, we must or may assume the other is, too. [But] This conclusion in all its parts is perfectly arbitrary."

Makes me want to read Kugel (and more Robinson).

* Another quote, discussing the modern naturalist's view of the mind:

"The great breach that separates the modern Western world from its dominant traditions of religion and metaphysics is the prestige of opinion that throws into question the scale of reality in which the mind participates. Does it open on ultimate truth, at least potentially or in momentary glimpses, or is it an extravagance of nature, brilliantly complex yet created and radically constrained by its biology and by cultural influence?"

Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson

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