Sunday, March 19, 2006

Too Complicated

It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not.
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

And yes, this is "Mere" Christianity, Lewis's attempt at elucidating the mainstream-agreed-upon basics of Christian "faith." So, the next time someone trots out the old "it's too complicated..." refrain, put the kibosh on it with this little gem.


jp said...

You know, on consideration, I'm not sure that I agree. For some, I think it can be exceptionally simple.

I consider the difference between Zen, which has barely any "frills" whatsoever and Qabalah, which can be as incredibly complex as quantum physics. Or, the difference between a Society of Friends Meeting for Worship, which is very simple, and Vedic ritual-- incredibly complex.

I think it depends upon the person. What is incredibly complex for some is ridiculously simple for others. Some people find higher mathematics clear and easy, and some find it needlessly complex. It strikes me that one might encourage one to explore many different traditions until one has found the simplest path for one's self.

Rev. Troy said...

The key words are "looks simple." Zen looks simple. One could say "Zen" is simple. Living it is not. Living it is a life. You could say "life" is simple... etc.

Lewis uses a table as his example, a table is simply a table--until you look at all the incredible complexity going on inside it that make it a table.

I'd say that Gnosis looks very simple, but actually attaining it for one's self can be very complex.

The question is: are you going to say, "this view is real, that one isn't"? 'It can't be, because it's too complicated' is a false statement. Here's a widely respected apologist agreeing.

The 'simplest' path may just lead to simpleton. ;) After all, what's simpler than "obey"?

jp said...

Hm, I'd still say that living Zen, or living gnosis are incredibly simple. You just have to live Zen or live Gnosis. They're not always *easy*, but certainly can be *simple*. Nothing's simpler! It's completely natural! We've just been trained not to see it that way.

I'd say that Gnosis looks very simple, but actually attaining it for one's self can be very complex.
Really? I'd say the opposite. Gnosis/Gnostic myth can look *incredibly* complex. Ogdoads? Pleroma? Aeons, archons, 24th space before the limitless space? Yikes! Underneath it all, however, is simply gnosis.

As for Lewis and his complicated table, why focus on the complexity of the table's structure when one just needs a place to put one's cocktail?

The 'simplest' path may just lead to simpleton. ;) After all, what's simpler than "obey"?

Sure, if you're confusing "easy" for "simple." This entire subject is predicated on those who search for gnosis for themselves and pursue enlightenment.

jp said...

Look at it another way-- Christ's Way. How complex and complicated is Christ's Way?

Be nice to people. Forgive people if they offend you. Pray. Love God. Doesn't get much simpler than that.

Rev. Troy said...

Not that I think there's a basic dispute, but what the heck why not debate a bit? :) Are we talking psychology, physics, philosophy... ? I'm going to guess philosophy. The underlying question is “are real things complex?” It probably just comes down to whether you characterize ideas as being real on the same level as experienced things. Making it a definition issue. But let's pretend it isn't just for fun.

The idea can be simple. In an idea there might be no shades of gray, no competing issues, no competing needs, no competing requirements. Abstractions aren't complex because we need to be able to get our minds around them. And yes, difficulty and complexity are not the same thing. Sisyphus has a difficult task, but it isn't a complex one. By the same token, a complex task being easy, doesn't make is less complex. I can't imagine “obey” being easy, but as far as a system goes, it isn't complex. Input (directive), Output (action to carry out directive). I couldn't think of anything simpler as a system, which is why I used it. I also distinguish between Gnosis and Gnostic myth, which I don't think we disagree on, and the latter is complex, hence the reason for the quote in the first place. (A reminder as we get further afield, and sillier :)

The complexity comes in in the number of factors, the subsystems if you will, and in the number of perspectives, the meta-systems, to use similar terms. Reality, plain and simple, is what it is. Ideas are what they are. Like in the example of mathematics, ideas never map exactly onto reality. What could be simpler than measuring the length of a stick? A truly simple task, putting a number to a length. Try it many times, then have many people try it. The differences will be there in a lovely standard distribution. Yet, it is simply a stick, isn't it? And it is simply measuring it's length, isn't it?

Doing good, being kind, they can be simple. Yet, if you come across an accident and someone asks you to help them stand up, is it kind? It depends. The human body is complex, the person may want to get up, but that may be the thing that kills or cripples them. The being kind notion is simple, yet the situation is complex. If you knew all of the relevant facts of the complex systems involved, you could reduce it to something simple: you could bypass the messy complexity of the real situation, and have a simple answer. So, both can be said of the situation. Is one real and the other not real? Does the simplicity of a conclusion remove the reality of the complex situation? Of course not. Yet one is a characterization or abstraction, and the other is whatever the physical state of many complex systems happens to be. In a way a table is an abstraction (Plato, what a card), but I sit things on them all the time without a hitch.

In the realm of ideas, things can be very simple, no dispute. In the realm of abstractions things can be very simple. In the realm of reality, this messy crazy cosmos, it just isn't the case. They can look simple, but they are not. There is no system that covers the complexity. Reality is just wacky that way, it isn't up to me. When one thousand people measure a stick and get the same number every time, I'll know I'm in a virtual reality game and change my notions accordingly. ;)

The Sanity Inspector said...

The Lewis quote is good, but I prefer G. K. Chesterton's attitude towards things like gnosticism:

The modern habit of saying, "Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me" -- the habit of saying this is mere weak mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.
G.K. Chesterton: A foreword to an edition of the Book of Job, 1907