“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” –Aristotle
I’ll admit it right now. I’m a researcher. I collect knowledge like a junkie. A day without knowledge collection is a very sad and ineffective day for me. But I have to be honest. Most of what I’ve learned and am still learning about the human condition directly springs from human interaction. I can study neurology and psychology in a planned course over the stretch of many years and still not grasp human motivation in the same way I do when I actively participate in relationships. Are you having a “duh” moment? You should be. Sadly, when it comes to religious experience—an experience defined by relationships—only intellectualism will do. How dare you, asks your fellow religious believer, denounce our precepts based off your own experiences?
How else am I to qualify them? If I see a group of believers behaving in a similar manner over a period of twenty or more years, should I disregard their behavior based on its filtration through my five senses? If I must do that, I’m not sure that intellectualism will push me farther down the path to understanding. After all, anything read in a book—anything studied, for that matter—must filter through the physical senses. In a manner of speaking, anything that can be known or understood is experiential. As a child, when I poked a metal object in an electrical outlet, I felt shock and pain. I felt shock and pain on every succeeding experiment with shoving metal objects in the same outlet. I learned from those experiences, and then later learned from books that certain metals are highly conductive of electricity. Both of these learning situations were experiential. You could view one (the book learning) as more intellectual than the other, but that would be denying the mechanisms of other active parts of the brain.
When does a person become a scholar? Is it after studying one book? What about one dozen? What about several dozen? At one point do our human experiences qualify as valid decision-making tools? And, furthermore, do emotional memories qualify? If I’m emotionally wounded in a repetitive manner over the course of nearly forty years by a group of religious believers, am I qualified to pass judgements? Am I more qualified if I study the group’s texts? What if, for example, I read the Q’ran and find no references to female honor killings in the text, but see it occurring frequently among populations of Muslims? What if a friend of mine has been a victim of an honor killing? Are my experiences and observations valid? When do they become valid in order for me to reject a religion? Please notice that I’m not asking when I’m allowed to hate religious believers—only when I’m allowed to reject that religion for myself. So, intellectuals—do you have an answer for me? When am I allowed to use my experiences to make decisions?
I want to focus for a moment on emotional experiences. Some people are quick to learn from emotional pain. If they’re hurt emotionally from one church experience, and they decide never to return, are they wrong? How many times does a person have to experience emotional shock before saying enough is enough? Are you, as an intellectual, an arbiter of others’ emotional experiences? Well, are you?
Do you believe in an intellectual gospel? If you do, do you deny that God gave humans emotions to learn from and process on an intellectual level? Where do you believe emotions are processed, if they aren’t processed in the brain? I’m asking these questions because I’m tired, frankly, of being told I can’t/shouldn’t use my life experiences, which include quite a lot of study, to make decisions. And I’m at a loss to understand how to properly make decisions without them. Maybe I shouldn’t make decisions at all. Maybe I should simply do what I’m told. Perhaps that would satisfy the intellectual monster and its hunger to devour others’ experiences.