Certainty, Knowingness and Blind Faith
Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a fan of Lost. And I did watch the finale. One of my favorite scenes is the one where Locke screams at Jack, “Why is it so hard for you to believe?” And Jack fires back, “Why is it so easy for you to believe?” Sounds like some of our discussions.
I’ve been thinking about the subjects of knowledge, certainty and belief. How do we know something? How can we be certain of something? Where does knowledge end and belief begin?
In an Ability Magazine article, LRH said, “as Scientologists, we are Gnostics, which is to say that we know that we know.” The Church website says that “Scientology is a Gnostic faith in that it knows it knows.” So what is Gnosticism?
Gnosticism was an ancient mystical religious movement. Aside from any trappings or mythology they may have accumulated, they sought what they called gnosis, which loosely translates as “knowledge.” But they were talking about a special type of knowledge: intuitive knowledge gained through spiritual insight, rather than knowledge gained from rational or reasoned thinking. Gnosis is obtained through mysticism, meditation, or contemplation.
The equivalent Scientology term would be “knowingness,” which LRH defines as “self-determined knowledge.”
We also have the word agnostic, which sounds like the opposite of Gnostic, but really isn’t. Agnosticism isn’t a creed, but a method of skeptical, evidence-based inquiry. Sometimes, agnostics are lumped in with atheists as “people who don’t believe,” but it would be more accurate to say that an agnostic is someone who differentiates between belief and knowledge. An agnostic theist, for instance, may believe in God, but doesn’t know that God exists.
I would say that since leaving Scientology, I’ve become more of an agnostic. I believe, for instance, that I am an immortal being who has lived before and will live again. I believe that. I don’t know that – that is, I have no hard evidence that it is true. I haven’t looked up old gravestones or talked to people from a past life. So it is really a belief that I hold.
But as a Scientologist, I would have said that I know these things. I had “certainty.” I had “knowingness.”
Well, what is certainty? Here’s an interesting synonym study from the Random House dictionary: “Belief, certainty, conviction refer to acceptance of, or confidence in, an alleged fact or body of facts as true or right without positive knowledge or proof. Belief is such acceptance in general: belief in astrology. Certainty indicates unquestioning belief and positiveness in one’s own mind that something is true: I know this for a certainty. Conviction is settled, profound, or earnest belief that something is right: a conviction that a decision is just.”
In The Factors, LRH says, “Certainty, not data, is knowledge.” Well, that’s certainly a Gnostic idea. Knowledge, not as data or information, but as spiritual certainty. And how do we gain that certainty? In Scientology, we were encouraged to evaluate the value of the tech through our own subjective personal experience. As LRH put it, “For a Scientologist, the final test of any knowledge he has gained is, ‘did the data and the use of it in life actually improve conditions or didn’t it?'”
Well, fair enough. But evaluating one’s own personal, subjective experience is always tricky. A lot of factors enter in – hopes, expectations, group pressure. I remember one of my first experiences in Scientology was a “Congress” in 1968 at the Masonic Temple on Wilshire, where John McMaster ran “Grand Tour” from Creation of Human Ability as a group process: “Be near Earth. Be near the Moon. Be near the Sun,” and so on. Well, did I actually exteriorize and leave my body? Who knows? I felt giddy, even exhilarated at the thought that it might be possible.
There is something known as confirmation bias, which describes our natural tendency to focus on information that confirms our preconceptions and neglect information that contradicts those preconceptions. Confirmation bias is most likely to appear for issues that are emotionally significant or for well-established personal beliefs. As a Scientologist, I tended to focus on my positive experiences in auditing, and to neglect or explain away my negative experiences. Thus I came to know (in the gnostic sense of subjective spiritual experience) that Scientology worked.
I had no actual objective knowledge that Scientology worked. I had not done an extensive study of cases or folders or results. I had not seen any scientific study validating Scientology. Yet I would have emphatically stated, if asked, “I know Scientology works.” In retrospect, it would have been more accurate to say “I believe Scientology works based on my own subjective experience.”
There’s nothing wrong, really, with gnostic knowledge or mysticism or “knowingness.” People have the right to think or believe what they want. The difficulty arises when one’s inner spiritual “knowingness,” one’s beliefs, is confused with actual real-world knowledge.
“How do you know David Miscavige is honest?” you ask a Scientologist. “I just know,” they reply, “I perceive that he is honest. That’s my reality. I have a knowingness that he is a good man.” And if you try to give them some facts or data about the man? They don’t want to hear it – after all “certainty, not data, is knowledge.” And they are already certain that Miscavige is OK.
Let’s call that kind of “knowingness” by its true name – faith. And blind faith at that.