Tuesday, February 3, 2009

And More


"...Okay, well, I think we've at least clarified some points of disagreement, which is all anyone can reasonably expect from a debate. My thoughts on your last:

I think you've reversed the core and peripheral elements of religion -- its core, and the reason it's found in every single variation of human culture ever known, are the complex structures of narrative, ritual, and art -- of meaning, in other words -- that have been essential to forming and holding together human societies; the stories it tells are simply structural elements of that creation, and their literal truth or falsity is decidedly peripheral to its real function.

Paradox can't be used to shield cognitive dissonance.

What makes the fervent atheists appear like fundamentalists, but just of a different stripe, to my mind, is precisely the relentlessness and single-mindedness of their attack -- it really does seem as though they feel they've seized upon the Truth, like True Believers of any kind, and are not about to let little things like complexity or (dare I say it) nuance get in their way.

I really don't think "the religious", as a group, are "intellectually totalitarian" -- I guess some may be, but I actually know a few of the religious and it doesn't seem like they're any more totalitarian, intellectually or otherwise, than you or I. There is in fact a modest irony in the fact that the term is accurately used to label political ideologies that are largely irreligious, though of course they try to turn that ideology itself into a quasi-religion.

And when you come to comparing the plight of the militant atheists with that of Israel I really think you've jumped the shark. Fwiw, I agree with you about Israel -- so much so that I find it offensive to liken it to the status of a bunch of over-praised neurotics, working out their struggles with inner phantoms through lucrative books deals and fawning reviews from a secular-liberal media.

I'd just say, finally, that I think you greatly exaggerate the threat posed by "the religious", even the benighted fundamentalists among them, and in doing that you're more likely to hurt than help your own cause.

And that's probably about all I have left to say. Thank god. Or Gaia..."


"...pppsss: Looking again, I also thought I should reiterate that I absolutely agree with you re: the attempts to slip ID, creationism, anti-Darwinism, etc. into school curricula -- teach religion if you want, but as religion, and teach science as science, but don't try to dress one up as the other. The fact that this is what some of "the religious" are doing, though, in some ways seems almost poignant to me, and just illustrates how they're less threatening than threatened...."


"...I strongly agree with Larry's first point below. But traditional faiths made their peace with the world as it is and made membership in the tribe the bulwark against all misery. The modern version of a faith is, I think, the idea of moral progress in terms of freedom, equality, representative government, etc. That has been tied to an improvement in the conditions of life, ie that which markets, science, and technology deliver. All of this is corrosive of traditional faiths and groups and puts enormous responsibility on the individual, even as the group strives to progress. That means that modern life must show perpetual improvement, or the faith is lost, whereas other faiths don't have that problem. That, I think, is why the environment is so important; it seems to say there is a limit, and our religion says no, we are perfectible, or at least infinitely improvable. The atheists I think have nothing as such to say about this. Nor does science, which I think is often what they claim to put faith in, but science just can't play that role. It is just one thing that in fact makes improvement possible, but hardly necessary..."


"...Very interesting comment -- especially this: "Nor does science, which I think is often what they claim to put faith in, but science just can't play that role." Trying to make a religion out of science (e.g., various forms of Gaia-worship) is just as perverse as trying to make a science out of religion (e.g., various forms of ID)..."


"...As usual, I come away from these intermittent flare ups with an expanded sense of the issues, fortified in some of my views, and qualifying them in others. I’d like to make a few further points.

As to Larry’s bulleted points I say:

1(1) I agree with your distinction between core and periphery in the role religion plays in binding societies. And I understand that. But the basis for that role is a magical set of beliefs not necessary for social coherence; and, I say, social coherence would be better served without them. If the fundamental myths, its core, are removed from any particular religion, then what are you left with? So what is periphery and what is core depend on what perspective you look from.

1(2) A further point, and where I tried to come in, is to argue against any public role for religion in a liberal democratic state, for the separation of church and state and for the strong meanings American courts have given to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Whether Coyne, is saying some fresh or old hat is one question. What he addresses in his review is obviously something else. And I’ll simply reiterate, and claim more than you do, that the attempt to have I.D. taught in schools as a competing theory to Evolution is an edge of a wedge. What I am missing is why someone has to be branded a "cultural warrior" to take on that fight, which is also a fight against the movement and the impulses behind it. And forgive my repetition, but I’ll say again that the atheist writers we have named are doing a helluva’ job trying to put religion in its place as a general matter. There is no argument for religion intellectually. It can have a place if it wants to in people’s lives as a matter of their faith, but it has no role in public life as any kind of adjunct to governing.

1(3) That’s why I think all the talk about narratives and complex structures and its traditional role as social glue is, here, in this discussion, a circular, question begging dodge that elides religion’s power in its public, government-adjunct roles, which, I add, is something to be resisted both when that power tries to spread itself and as a general proposition. The circularity and question begging are making the premise of your argument the conclusion. Religion’s legacy and heritage as pointed to in your first bulleted point are just that. And that that is no warrant for privileging it now.

1(4) It is obviously true that religious faith is a bulwark against misery, but I disagree with the observation that modern faith, replacing traditional religious faith, is faith in the ideas that constitute liberal democracy. Liberal democrats know the history of the twentieth century as well as anyone else, and the Enlightenment notion of progress has been rendered sentimental and quaint. Rather, the metaphor of science is quite telling here and disturbs Roger's observation. Liberal democracy is an experiment. The liberal part of it believes and doubts, holds and questions, answers and asks, is deliberate about weighing social evidence in its self- formulation. If modern faith is lost without decent social life, what kind of faith is it? Religious faith, after all, can accommodate the Holocaust. So the notion of liberal democracy as a new version of faith is both problematic and slightly manqué, with all due respect.

1(5) Finally, none of what I am saying, as I intend it, is any species of scientism. And the atheists under consideration here as I read them, even the scientist Dawkins, do not put their “faith”, as an analogue to religious faith, in science, and have no less sophistication than the three of us about addressing larger questions that science can’t answer. As well, it is fanciful to say the environment is so important because of questions of limits or perfectibility or what all. Those are not anywhere near the central issues, except in a coffee house. The environment is important because it is essential to life and may (or may not, I can’t judge) be threatened. If it is in bad shape, the best hope we have is determining that by scientific consensus, and then policies aimed as remedy arising out many perspectives, including, of course, and prominently, scientific ones.

2. I’m not sure what claim or argument gives rise to the bulleted point that paradox can’t shield cognitive dissonance, if I even understand it. Who is anxious here about what held beliefs as belied by what actions? I think that scientists who have religious faith might suffer from c.d., given that their faith dynamites their intellectual commitment to science and vice versa, but I’m not getting your point and don’t know how to respond to it without some elaboration.

3(1) What Truth is it that our atheists proclaim, insist upon, and are True Believers in? What nuance are they missing? Please advise? What is it about the virgin birth, God’s 7 days, including snoozing on the 7th,, Christ’s resurrection, Mohammed’s ascent to heaven on a horse, the Kwakiutl Gods, or whatever, they have wrong? Their social policy prescriptions range from Socialist to Liberal to Conservative to Libertarian. So what is the problem? Or is it the small number of them, quite a marginal group really, who never saw a Christmas scene they didn't litigate?

3(2) To equate someone say, like Hitchins, if that stripe of person is the object of your characterization, with religious fundamentalists seems, respectfully, off the wall . Or do you point to the litigious *fanatics* like Reverend Barry Lynn, who is unstinting in keeping a clear line between chuch and state? Truth to tell, I observe that it is you ginning up these saber rattling atheists, who are as nothing in comparison to established religion in a country of 300,000,000 of whom, I forget the number, is it, 70% believe in angels, or that a guy who redeemed our sins walked the earth, the son of God, and all the other crap they *literally* believe.

3(3) The issue is not the majesty of Paradise Lost or of the paintings of Goya. The issue, in one way of framing it, is about separating church from state and drumming into people’s heads insofar as public education can do it that perhaps they should think more than once about the ghosts and spirits amongst us who pay no taxes nor serve militarily.

4(1) Maybe I should walk back some from religion as totalitarian. Better, I think, I should distinguish among religions as such—to which my actual comment was addressed—devoted adherents and the majority of semi believing adherents. The latter are not totalitarian in their thinking admittedly. Those who have some watered down beliefs like friends of mine who go to church and synagogue and say they are sort of religious, do not concern me much save that they have not thought through the fundaments of their faith. And our atheists, particularly Sam Harris, dismiss them as the objects of their concern save to note, better than I, what I have just said. Though he and others do make the point, better than I, that it is off their intellectually mild mannered backs that religion gets a lot of its unthinking succor and support. In this, their unthinking, soft religion, insofar as religion is, and should not be, a public mode of power, is dangerous.

4(2) And, sidebar, picking up on your *irony*, I contend that as against religions as totalitarian systems of thought because they brook no opposition to their core, liberal democracy insofar as it questions and doubts, if you meant to include it, and atheism, which is not a political anything as such, as it is committed to evidence, and insofar as they are both deliberative as opposed to believing, are not ideologies.

5. Finally, I take your point, I took it even as I was saying what I said, that the religious amongst us here and now in North America are not comparable to Jihadists and the fight against the former is not comparable really to the fight against the latter. So I was inapposite. I am large. I contains multitudes.

6. But this on the other hand this I find rather bilious: “…of a bunch of over-praised neurotics, working out their struggles with inner phantoms through lucrative books deals and fawning reviews from a secular-liberal media...” So I guess we all have our sharks to jump.

I am, clearly, soulless and witless for want of brevity. Would that in my law or non-law life, I could get paid by the word..."

No comments:

Post a Comment