We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Fool’s Journey

Written By: Charles - Nov• 08•18

Samain                                                                      Thanksgiving Moon

skepticism 6Skepticism is a tool, not an end in itself. This is the big idea of the moment for me, gleaned from Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas, recommended  by friend Tom Crane.

Tom recommended this book as an introduction to astrology and since I’m meeting Elisa Robyn next Friday to see my full chart, I thought I’d read a couple of books in preparation. The second, The Night Speaks: How Astrology Works by Stephen Forrest, I’ve not started.

That skepticism is an intellectual tool is obvious in one sense. Waiting for evidence. Doubtful of evidence provided. Suspicious of the purveyors of an idea. Suspicious of the bias of even respected presenters of an idea. Doubt is the essence of critical thinking, the need to weigh support for an idea, to not say yes too soon, perhaps not at all.

skepticism 5But. It also can serve as a crutch, a way to push aside acceptance of a new idea, one that challenges existing paradigms. In an argument borrowed, I think, from Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Tarnas points to the troubled acceptance of the heliocentric theory of the solar system. In this case skepticism engendered by adherence to the Ptolemaic universe held back reception of the Copernican model for decades, even centuries. Skepticism, in other words, has its biases, too, its basis not always as objective as a skeptic believes. As Rabbi Jamie quotes often, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

I haven’t gotten far enough into Cosmos and Psyche to see how Tarnas uses this idea, but I, and I imagine you, too, can easily guess. The usual intellectual bias against astrology is just that, a bias. We’ll see about that, I say, skeptically.

I wonder how often my skepticism it has robbed me of  comfort, of new ways of understanding. As a tool, skepticism offers critical distance. As a way of life, as it has often been for me, it reinforces avoidance.

When I was in college, studying philosophy/religion and anthropology, I recognized that those disciplines were corrosive to faith, in particular a Christian faith I had already abandoned. Knowing that, I decided to wait until  college was over to once again take up the consideration of faith. That was how, in a small house on Washington Street in Appleton, Wisconsin that I picked up Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. In it the story of Abraham and Isaac is told and retold, searching for an explanation, a reason this noble patriarch of three world religions could have given himself for offering his first born son as a sacrifice.

skepticismOut of this sensitive examination Kierkegaard offers a way into faith, acting as if. Abraham acted as if God’s request was God’s request, a desire by the ruler of the universe that he, Abraham, do this otherwise unthinkable thing. Abraham acted as if God’s request was legitimate and therefore beyond question, a matter of faith. He chose to act as if faith was the necessary response. I went with Kierkegaard and set aside my philosophically informed skepticism for acting as if faith in the Christian God was my faith.

It worked for awhile. Until Joseph. Until I had to reexamine my faith in monotheism based on raising a boy who would have been Hindu. I loved him. Why couldn’t the Christian god love him if he were raised at home, in the Hindu tradition? My old skepticism came back full force, never fully vanquished I know now.

skepticism 3Since then I’ve pared back my acceptance of things outside reason’s ambit. Yes to quantum mechanics. Yes to the red shift. Yes to the hard problem of consciousness. Yes to the cyclic spirals of seasons and orbits and galactic movement at speeds unimaginable. Yes to the infrared. No to the supernatural. No to bending the knee toward old and contradictory texts. No to the authority of religious institutions. No to astrology. No to the tarot. No to the I Ching. No to the runes.

Someone asked me recently how I described myself and I said, “Pagan. But, really I say that to signal what I’m not, rather than what I am.” I do not define myself in terms of a God in whom I no longer believe. I’m not an atheist nor an agnostic nor a believer. I’m a guy thrown into a particular time and place, gifted with consciousness and doomed thereby to awareness of his own end.

pagans-baseball-softball-t-shirtExistentialism. This life, as lived, with no metaphysical frills. Taoism. Live with the world as it is, flow with it, stop trying to bend things to your will. The Great Wheel. Know the seasons. Of the garden, of the state, of the continent. Of earth’s position in its orbit. Celebrate their gifts. Appreciate first the cyclical nature of time. Only after that consider chronos.

Now though, I’m pressed to consider my own skepticism skeptically. It’s a tool after all. A hammer, not the house built with the hammer. Sometimes we put away our tools, declare a work finished, acceptable. A work that, until we used our tools, had never existed. Perhaps astrology will be one of those works for me. Perhaps not. But I’m holding the door open, not closed. Trying to acknowledge the limitations of skepticism even though it is, perhaps, my favorite tool of all.

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