What does “knowing” mean?

In Pew Forum survey released Tuesday (9.28.10) (http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/2010/09/is_religious_knowledge_importa/all.html) atheists and agnostic surpass all other groups in their knowledge of religion. … Continued

In Pew Forum survey released Tuesday (9.28.10)
(http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/2010/09/is_religious_knowledge_importa/all.html) atheists and agnostic surpass all other groups in their knowledge of religion. How do you explain this?
Is knowledge of religion important? Why?

“Jesus Christ died for my sins.” That was President Obama’s reply – within hours of the Pew survey’s religious-knowledge-in-America report – to an audience question, What is your religion?

Now we “know” the President’s religion. Or do we? Since his reply is New Testament Christian, it cannot put him in any narrower category (for Pew surveying) than Christian: it’s not Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Liberal-Progressive, Evangelical, or Pentecostal.
Obama was not asked the comparatively trivial question, What do you know about religion? Not that the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion was trivial: so pervasive is religion in human life that ignorance of religion is ignorance of humanity. But the “religious knowledge” Obama’s questioner wanted him to acknowledge turned out to be his “knowledge” that Jesus Christ is his Savior and Lord. In comparison with the religious person’s inner knowing, the outer knowing of survey-categorizable and -processable data is trivial. And the generalizations popping out at the end of the production line are more laughable than enlightening, but sound significant when the survey’s manager eagerly speaks the most shocking of them on television (as he did on the Lehrer Show the evening of the survey’s release).

Thus far, I have addressed the two kinds of “religious knowledge,” (1) inner-personal experience, and (2) outer-objective data. Persons swimming upstream against a culture’s first kind will be better informed in the second kind. In a godless culture, believers in God will “know” more about religion: in a godly culture, unbelievers in God will “know” more about religion.

Finally, I must put this week’s On Faith questioning in the correlation of the human ways of knowing and the human ways of thinking. I’ll call the later “minds,” though they are aspects of the one human mind.

1 The EMOTIONAL mind. This is the oldest and still the most powerful aspect of human awareness. It’s an academic prejudice that emotions, feelings, are not aspects of but to be contrasted with “mind.” But the street meaning of “mind” is consciousness. The two are so semantically close that often one hears “I feel” and “I think” as synonymous ways of introducing the expression of one’s conviction or opinion. With this mind, we don’t just feel, we know (for example, when we have “fallen” in love).

2 The ESTHETIC mind. While cultures differ in detailing what is beautiful, always and everywhere the beautiful is honored and celebrated over against the anti-beautiful, the ugly. We know beauty when we see-hear it – when our senses pick it out and raise it up.

3 The RELIGIOUS mind. We have experiences which refuse to be captive to dailiness, to our powers of control and comprehension – “transcendent” experiences of the beyond, the more than – experiences of being addressed, confronted, called. instructed, guided. How we express these experiences differs from culture to culture, and can no more be merged into one understanding than the different languages of the different cultures can be merged into one. This unmergeability in religion is no more irrational than is unmergeability in language. We come to know a language, to know that we’ve fallen in love, and to know (in Obama’s case) that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.

4 The MORAL mind. While there are cultural differences in the definition of “the good,” the sense of good/evil is irreducible in human beings, and in its absence we call persons psychopaths/sociopaths. We know right from wrong, good from evil. (In the Bible’s first chapter, goodness – the Creator’s goodness in the creation of the world – is mentioned seven times.)

5 The RATIONAL mind. This, the latest to evolve, is unique among our minds
(again, aspects of our consciousness) in providing objective data by verifiable/falsifiable intellectual processes. This way of knowing has greatly increased our ability to do evil (as well as good) to one another and to the natural world. The prejudice that this way should have exclusive right to the use of “knowledge” – the scientistic prejudice – continues to have a depersonalizing and culturally impoverishing influence on human life.

The Pew survey, while not worthless, is easy to overvalue in that it is a product of the rational mind, which in the West is, among the ways of knowing, overvalued.

Willis E. Elliott
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  • lepidopteryx

    Joe, I’m curious. Why is it that when a person “speaks in tongues,” why is it always some obscure language that no one understands? Why not French, Italian, or Spanish?

  • Sajanas

    I think the author would benefit a lot from reading about modern neuroscience. Trying to divide the mind up into portions that match your definitions of emotional, moral, religious, rational, etc does not necessarily match the *actual* brain, and our sense of ‘mind’. Our mind favors certain things, like human faces, and human voices, and so we are predisposed to see them in places they are not (like Mother Teresa toast), and hear them in random noise. We carry a sensory model of our body and our visual, auditory and tasty environment around with us, along with a host of processes that communicate with it, any of which can be damaged and removed. Its all much more splendid and complex than some odd chain of enlightenment in the brain, and I think when people enshrine these transcendental religious feelings above all others might take note that it is probably controlled by the same part of the brain that makes us love other stuff. You certainly can love God, but you still use the same ‘love’ as the rest of us, and that feeling doesn’t mean that the people who don’t believe in god cannot understand that sensation.

  • woodstock-41

    And There at/in Will be built The Biggest University on S.S. Earth, called

  • woodstock-41

    ooopps meant;

  • woodstock-41

    O Jealous ‘GEORGE TOWN’ University & CO.!

  • elliottwl


  • APaganplace

    What does ‘knowing’ mean, my dear friend? I think it *means* your sophistry about your religious reich to rule a ‘Christian nation’ ain’t good enough to vote on, is what I think it means. Call me a ‘party-pooper.’ This land and this nation is for all of us, and you can’t argue that away, not even claiming you represent the ‘will of the people’ (When ‘the people’ don’t even know what you’re talking about) is what that means.

  • elliottwl

    TO FRHARRYI saw the CNN program with Deepak Chopra on the Pew survey, & have two comments:

  • FarnazMansouri2

    Reverend Elliott,Well, you know both Judaism, and certain Christian denominations value the rational very highly.

  • joe_allen_doty

    So, then, does your anti-Jewish racism derive from your Evangelical or Pentecostal affiliations? I’ve known folks of both denominations, and at least, at the moment, it seems that the Ps are more racist than the Es, some of whom are actually not bigots, at all.Posted by: FarnazMansouri2 | September 30, 2010 7:17 PM I have never belonged to a church which had “Evangelical” or “Pentecostal” as a part of its name. I am Evangelical because I tell people about Jesus’ free gift of salvation. I am Pentecostal by experience and not by denomination.

  • woodstock-41

    Hello Teacher:Before I Begin: “GUEST” (moderator & BLOCKER/Sensorist of me Posts) via MS. She/They FREUDiANLY slipped and said, AMAZING, NO GRACE! O’ Wannbe EKLAH-t-iON’s!”IT” [NOt a “HE” nor a “SHE”] Knows Everything. Soo ABE-XRSTiAN’s {+ Ishlami/Esau-ites, Mormons, Eviljealousicals.. VEDICS, BUDDHISTS et al, aka PRE-APOCALYPTic-OFFs} Can’t Have their cake and eat too!? [i.e., continue in the Pukat-rist, Eucharist retuals] Or Can They? iMportanto:When i[WE] say//mention something like “IT” (‘Lord’, if Ye no mind) of Because only [Jealous] and Pre-Apocalyptic “HUMAN”(s), aka Apocalyptic-OFF’s, can call a piece or SECTtion of Land their ‘rock’ (ISRAEL here, or MECCA there…) and have nerve to call this un-Holyi place or JU-SECTtion of their demarcation as if be genuinely “HOLY”??. ButBut, Wow! Such Inferior Nations! aka Humans! Shhaame on HUMAN race: Exalt and Bless Us HUUMATE-Race! WE[i] Eklahtion’s art come, ALL AT ONCE, Justly fo a time (clock, sundial wise) HERE via Holyi TiME (TEMPerature) to save some, but Not all on S.S. Blue-Dot! YES! “IT” too comes and goes in “Mysterious Way”s and fo Holyi Purpose! Believe, or PERiSH before Ye Yo SECTtions and CULTtures via MEMETiC’s be destroyed way before their time! Hint: Even “OUR” Sun//Solar will DIE! Soo, this Proves that NO Israel nor Mecca, nor Vatican, Nor Tibet nor DewDelhi et al, so-called, Human labeled Holy place will PERiSH w/out a Trace nor of MIND aka HEURiSTICa/o (Soul).! IF THERE IS such a Place/Spot/Center of “BLUE-DOT” here, then the EKLAH-t-iON Headquarters is in Sweet Sweet NEW-YORK, U.S. of A’s! NOt Israel, Not Mecca, Not Vatican et al! All are PRE-APOCALYPTIC IMPORTED Religions/Faith/Belief; NOt made In the New-Amerik, having a “NEW-SONG” (born’th from Old).!My My, What a Difference 3 Years & 7 Month of Bloging ‘onfaith’ Made or Makes! O’ EKLAH-t {aka EC{AT) O’ “IT”! Praise thy HOLYi NO MON/WOM!

  • DarylAtamanyk

    To paraphrase Stephanie Voldeng: “You know… when what you believe is what I believe. Otherwise you know nothing!” Hmmm…

  • joe_allen_doty

    I am both Evangelical (not the Bible-Thumping/proof-texting type) and Pentecostal. One is NOT really a Pentecostal unless one has been baptized by the Dynamic power of the Holy Spirit and has spoken in an unlearned language by the power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in 30 AD.Belonging to or attending an Assembly of God regularly won’t make you a Pentecostal. Sarah Palin attended Wasilla Assembly of God during her growing up years and left when she decided to get into politics. But…, she has NEVER been a Pentecostal.

  • woodstock-41

    correction:IF THERE IS such a Place/Spot/Center on “BLUE-DOT” here, then the EKLAH-t-iON Headquarters is truly (opposite MYTH) in Sweet Sweet NEW-YORK, On/at top of NOt Israel, Never Mecca, Never Vatican, never Delhi et al! All of them are PRE-APOCALYPTIC IMPORTED oldtime Religions/Faith/Belief; NOt made In America, Nor even fit for the WE[i] art also known as “Automatic Born [in blessings, zero Sin] Citizenz/Denizens” of S.S. Earth or S.S. Blue-Dot. Not Fo Pre-Apocalyptarian Nationals; Sorry!

  • woodstock-41

    oopps. Last post.IF THERE IS such a Place/Spot/Center on

  • woodstock-41

    oooppps: via their ‘GEETA’s”… And Note: i’m not gonna get into the Quran nor the Kanguys! I’ll let Ye Students of the Universities figure the rest out. It is time for them to do some real studying & Research; instead of capitalizing off our Necks here; like Jealous Cathaholic GEORGE TOWN UNIVERSITY & Co! Eeeeeeee Claaaaaaaaat-i!