Yesterday I wrote that I was "done with skeptics"; and I know I can't get through to them (where skepticism is used in its modern meaning); and yet, an essay keeps coming to mind. Entitled "Scepticism," it was published in July of 1842, or a little over a year after Abby's death in March of 1841. For anyone new here, Mathew Franklin Whittier was myself in the 19th century; and Abby was his first wife and soul-mate, to whom he was privileged to be married for five years.
Although this was used by a young minister as a sermon, being extensively edited by him, I'm not going to try to argue that point, now. In my book, I give my reasons why I think he's unlikely to have been the original author, despite the fact that it appears under the first initial of his last name, in the newspaper where I claim it for Abby. I have other evidence indicating that Mathew had used that same initial, "P.," for his own work; and that after Abby died in 1841, he used it for work that they had collaborated on. Here, however, I think this is primarily Abby's thoughts; perhaps even her own essay; which Mathew has presented posthumously. How that young minister got hold of it, I don't know. He died in 1845, and it was included in his Memoir. He could have used it by permission, or he could have stolen it.
The reason I keep thinking of it, lately, is that I have recently had two encounters; one with a prominent expert in my chosen area of interest; and another, right on its heels, with a friend I hadn't heard from in some years. All of this is in my recent entries (accessed through the Archives link at the bottom of the page). What they had in common is that both were being skeptical to the point of irrationality, while they both subjectively experienced themselves as being fair and rational. The first imagined he was being rigorous and "picky"; the second imagined he was being open-minded and magnanimous. They were both fooling themselves.
Let me, here, present the first two paragraphs of this essay. Again, if this isn't Abby's verbatim writing--which I tend to think it is--then it is Mathew's best effort to reproduce her thoughts on the matter; or, it could be a joint effort, completed while she was still alive, but never published. Again, this piece is titled, simply, "Sceptism":
Truth gains access to the mind in various ways and different forms; but it always presents itself as being the reality of things. It is that conviction which takes hold upon the mind that things are really what they appear to be. The sources of this conviction are the senses, intuition, consciousness, reason, and testimony. These are the constitutional grounds of all certainty and reality. Aside from them there is no possibility of knowledge. The state of mind attendant upon the exercise of the senses and the various faculties of the mind, is belief. Belief, though always the same in nature, may vary according to the amount of evidence offered, from slight presumption to absolute or moral certainty. In some minds these grounds of belief do not afford conviction--the evidence does not satisfy them. Hence doubts arise--doubts as to the reality of matter, the existence of mind and a Supreme Being--doubts in relation to the authenticity of the Bible and the great truths of Religion.--Such minds breathe an atmosphere of Scepticism. They violate the primary laws of our nature. They break away from the great balancing principles of truth--and their thoughts, under the influence of passion, are driven about, like dust in the whirlwind, until reason is bereft of its power and lies prostrate. Upon such minds argument is lost--evidence vain--truth, though written with sun-beams, thick darkness.
Scepticism does not usually come from the Intellect--it does not originate in the Understanding; it emanates from the Heart--from depraved affections and vicious habits. It is the mist and vapor, that rise up from the stagnant region of the disordered affections, and gather in thick clouds and settle down upon the Understanding. And it pervades not only the low vale of inferior minds, but shrouds with impenetrable darkness the loftiest summits of Intellect.
Note in particular the second paragraph; and note that this is not exclusively Christian, though it is written in, and to, a primarily Christian culture. It is written in the early Victorian era, when not only religion, but spirituality itself is under siege by philosophical Materialism. And it predicts our current social state.
Here, the author does not question the integrity of the Bible as a single document, as I would do, today; but she does defend the "great truths of Religion" (i.e., the kernel of it, the inspired portions); and note she does not say, "the great truths of Christianity." I have evidence elsewhere that she did not draw exclusively from that religion. Again, this is written to a Christian audience, knowing that to bring in any other source means instant rejection by an editor, unless it is done in the most circumspect way. So here, the "great truths of Religion" stands for all the other sources.
But the most significant point, the one I keep coming back to, is the opening thought of the second paragraph. Skepticism, as it is meant now, derives from a condition of the heart, which in turn feeds, and is fed by, "depraved affections and vicious habits." There is a direct connection between skepticism, at its root, and what you see of society's heart, reflected today in what is offered on television, for example. I flip through channels looking for anything suitable to have on for my 98-year-old mother. I find violence, or cruelty--all of it gratuitous, though some of it is thinly disguised as supposed morality tales. One night last week, the evening's line-up was announced on North Carolina Public Television. There were four programs listed, and every single one of them featured a murder.
The essay is not expressing Victorian prudishness, or Christian judgmentalism. Where one sees judgmentalism, that is a knock-off, a distortion. This is spiritual discernment. People imitate discernment with judgmentalism, and then the baby is thrown out with the bathwater--all discernment is blithely and derisively dismissed as judgmentalism. But it is not so.
Real skepticism is driven by caring so deeply, that you want to make sure you get the real thing. If you start dating someone, you want to get to know them before you give your heart to them. That's healthy skepticism. Cynicism is when you shut the person out, not believing that anyone can be trusted. And the cynic can invoke "skepticism" all he wants to, but it doesn't make it so.
Where religion is concerned, the baby has been thrown out with the bath water; but it was depravity of heart which was behind it. (Were it not so, the baby would have been retained, when the reaction took hold, i.e., when the bathwater was tossed out. It was depravity of heart which used the bathwater as an excuse to throw out the baby.)
Now, this expert secretly thinks he is very advanced in his understanding. He is looking down on me, but this dynamic is not in his self-image at all. He thinks he is being very patient and fair with me. But really, there is this lurking arrogance, this subtle patronizing in his evaluation of my work. He doesn't have time for it in his busy and important schedule; and yet, he's such a nice person, that he deigns to take a little time out to pat me on the head two or three times more. This hidden arrogance is a condition of the heart.
Likewise, my friend believes he is being quite fair and magnanimous; it is only when I dared suggest that I am the reincarnation of a literary genius, and that I, myself, am still a genius (at least in some sense), that he had had enough. But before that, I could sense his hidden arrogance (which perchance he projects onto me); and I could see it mostly clearly in his statement that, after all, perhaps the work I was doing was valuable to me, personally. You know, like when someone devotes years to a genealogical history of their own family, and it was a good experience for them.
That did it for me, just as my exasperated "genius" comment did it, for him.
Now, the way these things are normally sorted out, in our modern society, is to prove it. One carefully unearths and presents the data. I have done that; but a scientist, and a scientific-minded friend, both went into denial when I made my case with it. Or, really-speaking, when I made my case with a fraction of my data, because both declined to actually look at it.
That doesn't mean I was wrong. It means, there is something wrong with the heart, which is distorting their respective intellects--just as Abby has suggested in this essay.
I can keep on hammering away at my audience with the logic of my study and my results; but apparently, they simply don't believe me. My friend claimed two contradictory things: he said he became concerned for my rationality; and then he said that he had concluded I couldn't be psychotic, because he knows what schizophrenics act like, and I wasn't showing those signs and symptoms. Well, which is it? He wasn't concerned that I was psychotic; he was concerned that I was right.
So thus it goes. But here's the thing--until your heart is healed, you won't be able to listen to a thing I say. Why? Because what I'm writing, and reporting, is faith-based; where "faith" is the early stages of direct intuitive perception of spiritual truths, with head and heart blended. (Confusing "faith-based" with belief in any particular religious doctrine, is a distortion.) Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists come to my door; one of them is spiritually alive, typically, and one of them isn't. The one whose heart is alive, recognizes my heart. I never threaten their mind with my different beliefs. Heart knows heart. One who loves God, recognizes the other who loves God. I honor that person's love for God, and they honor mine, and not a word is said about it. What is needed for my work is not more proof, in order to try to force skeptics to believe me; it is recognition on the reader's part.
The heart has its own wisdom, and it works by recognition. Why? because you already know. What is needed is to clean the heart, which blocks intuitive knowing. The tree is already outside your window--you can't see it because the glass is dirty.
The people who read Abby's journal, on this website, recognize her heart. The entire premise seems outlandish--a man of the 21st century is attempting to channel a young Victorian woman who died in 1841. Even I wonder, sometimes, if I'm really doing it, when I sit down to write in-character, stream-of-consciousness, whatever I feel Abby prompting me to say. But people recognize her unique heart, with their heart. They would know if I was faking it. They respond to her as a person, because they can feel that she is a person.
We, as a culture, are in the last days of the Roman empire. Our television is the virtual equivalent of the Colloseum. Christ, where Christ is taken in the universal sense, is being continually crucified, where crucifixion is also taken in the broader sense. There are truth-tellers, who are mostly drowned out in the din. Abby and I are truth-tellers, just as we were in the 19th century, in the days of slavery. Only now, Materialism is the most pressing social disease. The answer is not doctrinal beliefs and formal religion--that is the crust--what is needed is a revivification of the kernel. That only requires the cleansing of the heart. For those who refuse to listen, that cleansing--on the individual level, and on the social level--comes with terrible suffering. For those who can cleanse their heart and listen without the need for that suffering, it can come now.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," performed by Ted Yoder