Levels of Knowledge

Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square, Rome ...
Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square, Rome (2007) via Wikipedia

In spirituality, the idea of ‘levels of knowledge’ suggests that an individual or group may better understand the essential dynamics, without fully knowing all the specific details, of another individual or group.

By way of analogy, parents usually have a pretty good idea how their child will behave in most circumstances. And they can use this knowledge to help guide the child and also to protect it from harm.

In Hinduism, it’s often presupposed that the wise teacher (guru) enjoys a superior, higher, knowledge than the disciple, especially with regard to spiritual matters.

Some theorists suggest that this kind of alleged higher knowledge could be applied to social and religious life. In ancient Greece, for instance, Plato advocated the rather undemocratic ideal of the Philosopher King.

Similarly, the Catholic attitude toward other religions implies that Catholicism is the purest and highest form of worship (this outlook being especially transparent with Pope Benedict XVI). According to Catholicism, non-Catholic faith groups at best only possess aspects or, worse, shadows of God’s truth and light.

Again, this kind of view implies that ‘group A’ knows about ‘group B’ better than group ‘B’ knows itself. Meanwhile, a Hindu, Muslim or Jewish believer likely believes they have a privileged perspective that the Catholic does not.

As for who’s ‘right’ or ‘most right,’ this is a topic of debate and sadly, often a contributing factor to local, regional and international strife.

It seems reasonable to say that each religious group contains incomplete beliefs and teachings in need of development. And each religious group could, and probably should, try to learn from one another.

Whether or not each group is equally incomplete is, of course, a different question. It is conceivable that some religious teachings are closer to the truth than others.

Quite apart from this type of reasoning, some say that whatever one believes about God and the universe ultimately becomes true—i.e. our belief structures essentially create our reality. Along these lines, some believe there’s no absolute hell and everything – even senseless, cruel acts – are ultimately acceptable. Taken to its logical extreme, it seems that this kind of thinking eventually places Adolf Hitler in heaven beside St. Francis of Assisi.

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