We have defined the Covenant recently, but what does that mean? How does following it affect us? How does it shape our choices and beliefs, in practice?
As we said, the Covenant is what divides all things into two worlds, the secular and the spiritual – the secular being the world of fact ruled by Reason alone, and the spiritual being the world of feeling, value, context, and meaning chosen by whatever so moves us to so choose.
To abide by the Covenant, we must take that seriously. When someone tell us that their belief is that the world is less than ten thousand years old, for example, we do not give them a pass. They have made a secular statement – a statement of fact about the age of the earth. The Covenant requires that all statements of fact be justified using the tools of Reason alone. Telling us that their belief (or their holy book) says so does not of course provide any reasons to believe in what is being said. Reason requires proof – that’s how the secular world operates. So we must reject their assertion as undemonstrated until they can do better. Secular statements require secular proof.
(It should be noted, for those who are not familiar, that shooting down a claim is not the same thing as demonstrating the opposite of the claim – see the post on the Skeptic’s Principle.)
So an assertion that the world is only ten thousand years old or less is a secular claim that has to be judged by Reason, what else?
Here’s another example, based on an experience of mine. I dreamed that I was with my father, who died many years ago. We were doing garden work in my dream, digging and planting. It was very pleasant to be able to be with him, very nice to be in his presence again. However, were I to claim that I was really conversing in my dream with the actual spirit of my dead father, the first thing we have to know to respect the Covenant would be “is this a secular claim of fact or a spiritual claim of value?”
The answer should be obvious. If I indeed did claim to have really spoken with my actual dead father in a dream, it is a claim of fact about the actual world. This is not a spiritual claim, as defined by the Covenant, but an assertion of factual truth. Therefore it must be evaluated as strictly as any factual claim – by Reason alone. And if the assertion can not be justified as necessarily true (not just possibly true, according to the Skeptic’s Principle which applies in all secular truth claims) than it is discarded as unfounded.
Let’s take the big elephant in the room: many people claim that a supremely powerful being called God exists. Without getting into exactly what the word “God” specifically means here – which would be required if we were to go forward – let’s move on as if we had well-defined that term.
Well, any statement of “X exists” must be a secular statement, again with respect to the Covenant. To claim that something exists is to make a fact based claim about the actual objective world. Saying that “God exists” is a statement that factually, in the objective world, the entity we have named “God” actually exists. Factually. For real.
The problem is, no matter how much we wish that was a spiritual statement, and up to our wishes and feelings, wanting it to be so doesn’t make it so. “God exists” is a secular statement, regardless of how much the truth of that statement means to us or how important it is to us for it to be true.
And as a secular statement, it can only be permitted according to the strictures of Reason alone. And like all secular statements, if if doesn’t meet the test of the Skeptic’s Principle, it must be discarded as unfounded.
So at this point you might be seeing the Covenant as little more than the final attack of Reason on spirituality. You may well be asking, if the Covenant exposes all this to the rigid demands of Reason, what’s left of spirituality in the first place? If God cannot even be said to exist, how can we even have a spirituality?
The answer is that the Covenant cuts both ways. It may cut us off from making factual claims we cannot prove, but it has another very interesting effect that I will be calling “immanence” which protects our truly spiritual beliefs from any trespass of Reason and the Skeptic’s Principle.
So read on to “The Covenant: Immanence“.