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December 27, 2009

Knights find mysticism dangerous—intellectually and spiritually. Knights seek “laws of God”—timeless, unchanging facts about God to prove God’s existence, order society, and that lay out a reliable path to heaven. Knights often work to codify and arrange those “laws of God” into systematic theologies—canons of absolute truths, correctly understood and interlocked—and defend those systems using a form of argumentation called “apologetics.” Put another way, religious Knights design their theological arguments like engineers and architects design buildings.

Imagine this process as like the construction of the naked superstructure of a skyscraper reaching up to heaven. Knights lay a strong concrete foundation based on the fundamentals of their form of faith, and then select steel girders based on their most sound theological arguments to build the superstructure. As the superstructure reinforces itself and reaches higher toward heaven, Knights feel safer and more confident they have discerned absolute truth correctly. However, if a new factor appears on the scene that points out flaws in the arguments that give those foundations and girders strength, Knights panic because they conclude their understanding of God must be flawed—and they fear that means that they cannot reach heaven. Like a flawed building, if a Knight doubts his or her faith superstructure, his or her faith in God can utterly collapse.

This phenomenon is not limited to religious Knights—Knights within the scientific community do it as well. However, since science is a process of inquiry it has flexibility—“absolute truth” about how the universe works changes every few years as new evidence comes to light and new theories are developed. The superstructures of science are designed to be replaced and repaired; superstructures based on religious fundamentals are not. Because of this, superstructures built by religious Knights can be fragile.

Further, religious Knights are prone to a particular form of self-deception called reification. Reification is the human tendency to invent a notion about God—then forget that they invented it—and conclude it is an absolute truth about God. A small example is the Sunday morning worship service in many Christian churches. These churches sometimes say that worship services should take place at 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings, as if that were God’s holy intent. This practice is a human creation designed to make churches more available to people. Years ago American churches began holding worship services at that time because it was between the times farmers milked their cows. Today, many churches mistake an old practice based on convenience for an actual intent of God. All people are vulnerable to this phenomenon. Knights’ superstructures often consist of many foundational beliefs and theological arguments that are reified items rather than actual absolute truths.

Knights will go to extremes to defend their faith superstructure from other faith-based or secular challenges. If possible, Knights may simply ignore the challenges, new information, or changing world, or say these new aspects are not relevant. However, when Knights cannot ignore the new challenge they will attempt to counter the threat with superior argumentation. This is the goal of the practice of apologetics.

When Knights encounter an onslaught of threats to their faith superstructure, they may withdraw from society, retreat inside their superstructure, and fortify themselves against the world. In conservative American Christianity in recent decades this has resulted in, for example, the establishment of Christian schools and contemporary Christian music market as an alternative to their “sinful” counterparts. It is also the reason why many Knights fear their children will learn to challenge their faith superstructure in public, secular schools and thus become victims of “too much schooling” or “bad education.”

If Knights can’t fit an aspect of the world into their faith superstructure, they find it threatening or “wrong.” Since Knights perceive the world as a battlefield between divine good and demonic evil, they associate anything outside their faith superstructure as part of that demonic evil. Some Knights simply fear the world.

Many Knights can become anxious and exhausted as they try to believe the entire contents of their faith superstructure—hundreds of rules and dozens of arguments—and believe it perfectly, without a shadow of a doubt. They fear that if they fail, even a little, God will not allow them into heaven. Similarly, they fear that if society does not perfectly conform to God’s requirements, it will collapse into selfishness, lawlessness, and Satanic rule. For some Knights, holding the correct beliefs in your heart, and defending one’s heart from evil thoughts requires constant vigilance.

  • Some Knights’ faiths do not survive challenges to their faith superstructure. Dr. Bart Ehrman, a scholar of early Christianity and author of Misquoting Jesus, was raised a fundamentalist Christian, and graduated from Moody Bible Institute—a prominent fundamentalist college. Taught to revere the Bible, Ehrman continued his education into how the Bible was written, recorded, and passed down through the ages. As his education and research progressed, Ehrman was exposed to evidence that overwhelmed and destroyed his belief that the biblical text was factually inerrant. Without that foundational belief—the most critical aspect of the faith superstructure he was raised to believe—Ehrman’s faith collapsed. In true Knight “either/or” fashion, Ehrman concluded that if Christianity was not completely true, then it was completely false. Though Ehrman lost his faith, he remained a Knight in worldview and perspective. He now considers himself an agnostic. Ehrman’s early faith superstructure was inadequate to cope with the challenges of the world around him.
  • Al-Qaeda found challenges to its faith superstructure so threatening, it decided to go to war with the world—meaning the West, Israel, and any other form of Islam. They see so many threats around them that they claim there is a “world war against Islam.” Most al-Qaeda senior and operational leaders were trained not in madrassas (Islamic religious schools) but in the sciences. Again, religious Knights design their theological arguments like engineers design buildings, and al-Qaeda senior leaders reflect that pattern. Osama Bin Ladin was an executive in his family’s engineering company. Ayman al-Zawahiri was a medical doctor. Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 cell, was a civil engineer. Atta’s faith superstructure was so rigid (and the man so unlikable) that Atta’s roommate in Hamburg, Germany put up a poster of the Muppet “Miss Piggy” in their kitchen. The roommate knew Atta would find the image of a woman—and an assertive one made of pork—deeply objectionable. Al-Qaeda is engaged in a war with the world because they believe an Islamic world rooted in a faith superstructure other than their own is incorrect and will be doomed to subservience to the West and Israel. (It’s worth noting here that al-Qaeda’s version of Islam is nothing like the Islam practiced almost everywhere in the world. Most al-Qaeda members have a very rudimentary understanding of their own faith. Even al-Qaeda’s most publicly prominent “religious scholar,” Abu Yahya al-Libi—first trained as a chemist—possesses Islamic theological training perhaps only equal to a bachelor’s degree.)
  • By contrast, psychiatrist Walker Percy’s faith in science collapsed when his own superstructure based on empirical science failed. During the 1950s, as Percy finished medical school at Columbia University, he contracted tuberculosis from a cadaver. During those days, the treatment for the disease included complete bed rest in a sanitarium retreat setting. During one of his sanitarium stays, Percy and the Catholic patient in the next hospital bed engaged in long debates over the adequacies of empirical science, including psychological theory, to understand the human creature—or God. Percy, unable to defend his secular superstructure, became a Catholic philosopher and novelist. One of the main themes in his writing was the limits of human understanding—in either faith or science—to apprehend the mystery and scale of the divine or the ordinary human existence. His first novel, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award in 1962. Percy’s life as a Knight broke down, and he became a Gardener. But no matter how many accolades Percy received, and how many Christians found Percy’s writing helpful spiritually, he was dogged his entire life by complaints from religious Knights who said that if he were a true Christian he would write comforting, uplifting, superstructure-confirming novels like the Left Behind series.

Knights find mysticism—and anything that might lead to it—spiritually threatening. Gardeners do not. For Knights, iconoclasm (or postmodern deconstruction, which is similar) leads to nihilism—it destroys faith. For Gardeners, iconoclasm and postmodern deconstruction leads to mysticism because it breaks through the human creations of the Theology layer—it simplifies faith.

Knights fear the loss of their superstructure; they worry they will lose their faith as a result. Gardeners do not. Gardeners understand that superstructures are human creations just as light bulbs are.



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