The Beauty of Seeking Knowledge
Wisdom as Social Purity
By John Taylor; 2010 April 30, Jamal 02, 167 BE
You can talk about most divine virtues without having to drag God into it, but that is impossible for wisdom. At least, that is my experience. Maybe that is why I am having such a hard time writing about wisdom, when I, fool that I am, thought it would be easy at first. For one thing, you have to tread through some very thorny, politically not-so-correct ground right at the start.
The Bible throws down the gauntlet early on, saying not only that those who do not believe in God are fools, but that all folly can be traced to one's relationship to the Godhead in the first place. Both the 14th and the 53rd Psalms are nothing less than declarations of war against atheists. Did I say atheists? Is that right? Consider what the first passage says,
"The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have done abominable works. There is none who does good. Yahweh looked down from heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any who did understand, who did seek after God. (Psalm 14:1-2, WEB)
This does not actually mention atheists, it equates folly with corruption and doing wrong, which is not controversial, right? We can all agree that every injustice and atrocity that takes place ultimately boils down to somebody's foolishness and lack of wisdom. That is what Socrates taught, that all wrongdoing is an expression of ignorance. Here it says that all corruption is an expression of folly. Folly, then, is an aesthetic value judgment about what goes on in the heart. Conversely, wisdom is the beauty of what happens in the invisible realm of the heart. Alexandrian philosopher Plotinus put this well,
"One Soul is wise and lovely, another foolish and ugly. Soul-beauty is constituted by wisdom." (Plotinus, qi Wisdom, Mortimer Adler, the Great Ideas, p. 939)
If wisdom is a sort of beauty of the soul and folly is its ugliness then, like physical poise and bodily frumpiness, they are difficult to perceive, and futile to point out. As effective as the nerd's lame pickup line, "Hnuk, Hnuk, you are beautiful!" This, I can tell you, does not generally glean good results, unless you yourself are very, very attractive. The ugliness of folly and the beauty of wisdom, then, are probably best discerned in collective behaviour.
The Psalm then turns its condemnation not to any individual's private belief, believer or atheist, but to the nature of the society that comes out many individuals agreeing to a single social contract.
"They have all gone aside; they have together become corrupt. There is none who does good, no, not one. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call on Yahweh? There were they in great fear, for God is in the generation of the righteous." (14:3-5)
The 53rd Psalm is identical to the 14th, except that it adds here, "They have become filthy together." In other words, lack of belief is a kind of group impurity. It is a condition where a group fails to question -- recall the 2nd verse, which describes God looking down at the heart from above and asking one crucial question: does anybody seek after Him? Those who do so thereby show, if not wisdom, then at least understanding. Wisdom, then, is defined as search for God. This investigation of the divine may or may not result in social conformity, depending on the cleanliness or purity of the covenant that holds the group together.
A fool, then, says in his heart that there is no God, and thereby gives up the search before it starts. This abrupt abortion of the soul begins an inner rot, "They are corrupt...," for we were created by nature to know and love God. Something inside has died, and started to putrefy. The result is a "filthy" group consent.
Even with the best of wills, we are pretty helpless in this search. We are by nature incapable to conduct our search for Truth on our own -- which is why God is looking down from above, searching those who seek Him. We need God in order to find God. As Heraclitus put it,
"Human character has not the means of knowing, but the divine one has." (fr. 78).
Worldly wisdom is by nature oppressive. It gives birth to cruelty and violence. Divine wisdom is peaceful. It has the ability to forge a pure social agreement. It starts a just society and a compassionate civilization going.
"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, [and] easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." (James 3:17)
God loves a loving group, and He sees to it that they succeed. That is why the major religions have lived on, while so many philosophies and faiths have gone by the wayside. As the Qur'an and Abdu'l-Baha both advised, take a trip across Asia and you will see very frequently the ruins of cities that once were prosperous, but which did not last. Their folly sunk them into oblivion, and only ruins remain standing -- or, now, archaeological digs.
God and His divine wisdom are at the heart of evolution. God works His creative energy through natural selection in nature, but among groups of intelligent beings He guides through what might be called "divine selection." In the words of the Psalm, He looks down from heaven at the hearts, seeking out the seekers and loving the lovers. Only corrupt science and corrupt religion imagine that there is a contradiction between evolutionary theory and progressive revelation. I leave the last word to the One Who opened the ancient scriptures with the key of a Revelation that openly explains progress in faith.
"O ye wise men of the City and philosophers of the world! Beware lest human learning and wisdom cause you to wax proud before God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Know ye that true wisdom is to fear God, to know Him, and to recognize His Manifestations. This wisdom, however, can be attained only by those who detach themselves from the world, and who walk in the ways of the good pleasure of their Lord." (Summons, 5.113, p. 233)