Relativity and Literature 1.1
So here’s what’s shaking these days. I have WAY to many things going on that require far more brain power than I can muster. Oddly enough I’m loving every minute of it! Tom and Matt continue to contribute some great thoughts. The problem is Matt has gone ahead and written one super comment (third comment down) that rolls many big questions into one neat little package. I guess I can’t blame him. I was asking for it.
I’ve been trying to think of the best way to respond to that, but I’m running into a problem. My thoughts on the first half of his comment really were not all that well sorted out. When that happens I tend to write way more than is necessary. So I’ve decided to respond to Matt’s comment in three parts and post them each as new posts. For this to make any sense you will need to read Matts initial comment here. So having said that...
I see what you are getting at with your literary example. As I sit here and ponder the parallel here what keeps coming to my mind is the difference in severity between the moral example and the literary example. In short, most people realize that literary criticism is subjective and act accordingly. No one is going to be thrown in jail over their opinion of shakespeare. Wars will not be started because of a disagreement with the collegiate cannon. On the other hand disagreements on morality often result in blood shed. Our reactions to moral disagreements, on the whole, show we believe that our arguments must be firmly rooted in reality for us to be moved to such extreme actions. No one is so absurd as to claim that the man who kills your wife in her sleep should be let off the hook because "He just doesn't see things like I do". However with literary disagreements it must often come to that.
I must admit I am totally out of my element when it comes to discussions of literature. In that case I should probably stay off it all together, but a few things come to mind that I'd like to explore a little. This will probably be one of my weaker arguments since I am not well versed in this field, so if this does not seem helpful just disregard it.
I would say the very fact that there is a field of literary criticism supports the position that there is a reality to existence that is above and beyond our individual experiences. There are two aspects of both morality and literature that I believe need to be considered. One aspect is a truly subjective quality. It is rooted in cultural upbringing, instinct and social climate. The other is the conviction that aside from our personal fancies regarding moral or literary issues there is a foundational, let's say 'eternal', truth that all moral questions and literary expressions rest on.
To some degree man can understand his existence purely by his own creative thoughts. Literary critics in turn can then evaluate how worthy these expressive thoughts are to be propagated. In the end that's pretty subjective stuff. However, I would argue that the longings of man for truth and meaning found throughout literature does in fact do have an answer. I believe the reason we have these longings is because we were made to seek our maker. He is the ultimate and foundational Fact that all creativity, reason, logic, love, meaning, hope, truth, beauty rest upon. He gives eternal meaning and worth to all the deepest longings of our hearts. On that level, the questions and expressions of human existence found in literature have a center and that center is by no means subjective.
Without God, literature, like existence, is just meaningless noise created by a meaningless fluke that began without meaning and will end without meaning. All of the passion, love and drama expressed in our finest works will be so completely forgotten as to render them next to having never existed at all. If there is no God I would argue that no, there is no point in studying the classics. Unless of course you happen to enjoy that sort of thing. If there is no God all you have is your raw meaningless feelings. Obey them for it's all you have. It's all you will ever have.
Now getting back to our parallel topic of morality I would also argue that to some degree man, on his own, can know the mind of God by studying himself. We are told that we are made in His image, therefore we should be able to ascertain a level of understanding of him by inward reflection. One field that has resulted from this inward reflection is the field of ethics. Though He need not be appealed to in it's practice, I would say that He it's ultimate source. Without acknowledging Him we can look inwards and ponder the rightness or wrongness of various actions and situations based solely off our feelings. We feel very strongly about right and wrong. It behooves us to act upon those feelings. Similar, though we may be, we all are left with varying opinions regarding who's 'right' is right and who's 'wrong' is wrong. Once again we are back to a very subjective situation. Without God you may argue about morality, but you may as well be arguing about who's favorite color is the best.
One last note on literature. Generally speaking you will not find a whole lot of literature waxing eloquent about the utter meaninglessness of our existence. I know you refuse to accept this as well. It shows through in your last post on Dr. Who. Most all literature is hung on the assumption that our experiences and reactions to them really do matter. There is a concreteness to our feelings regarding Beauty, justice, honor, betrayal etc... I would say that is because there really IS a meaning to our life. The general conviction of humanity testifies to it. The fact that the vast majority of humanity feels that there really is more to our experience than simply being a fluke in a mindless uncreated creation shows evidence of our higher calling. In that way God is intuitive. The reason he's not as intuitive as we'd like him to be is a conversation in it's self.