Monday, February 2, 2009

And More


"...Well, first, what I'd said was that science and religion were different approaches to reality, meaning, purpose, etc. Saying that the great religions of the world are indistinguishable from astrology may sound bold to some, but to me it just sounds crude, simplistic, and kind of antique -- I think a self-respecting atheist can and should still be quite capable of finding rich structures of meaning in these long-standing and complex collective creations, structures that are orthogonal to scientific structures of meaning. Of course, good culture warriors will have none of that, and will instead choose to dumb down their own understanding of religion to the level of the fundamentalists, who also, interestingly, see science and religion as mutually hostile. Given such views, it seems clear to me at any rate that each of these sides views the control of school curricula as a primary battle ground in the struggle to vanquish the other -- hence my "odd comment". But in this, really, both sides just come across as simply different species of fundamentalist, and my hope is that increasing numbers of people will see the real task as one of keeping the belligerents and their respective banners separated...."

"... don't mean to be quite as contentious as I may have sounded -- I take your and Roger's point regarding ID and the like, and completely agree that these things are just sad attempts at mimicking science as a means of smuggling in religion. I also agree, therefore, that they should be kept out of any science curriculum -- my point is simply that this can be better and more accurately done just by showing that science and religion are distinct than by trying to insist on the tired old theme of their antagonism...."


"...'...can and should still be quite capable of finding rich structures of meaning in these long-standing and complex collective creations, structures that are orthogonal to scientific structures of meaning....'

That's why I advisedly used the phrase "at its core". You'd have to be an unlettered dolt not to appreciate all the "complex creations..." etc. etc. And that's why religious studies make sense. But at its core, it is hocus pocus with people and Gods doing things, which, if true, make science impossible. At it's core it's sending Abraham to slice up Isaac and getting Kierkegaard all hot and bothered and ready to mount a "complex structure" on the premise of that sadistic, terrible fable, all about fear and trembling and faith. (More horseshit if you ask me.)

So one can be a sophisticated understander, thinker, student, scholar, of religion in the religious studies sense yet still paradoxically see its intellectual core as nonsense. I utterly reject your characterization of the pro activist atheist side of the argument. And where the proactivists are a little looney in their unrelenting ferocity at striking religion’s incursion wherever they see it, youare making a fundamental error in equating them as fundamentalists. The religious, on one side of the equation, are intellectually totalitarian, or should be if they take their premises and faith seriously. The go for broke atheists may be obsessive, and in that particular sense may be fanatical. But they are fanatical, if they are, rather than fundamentalist. Being atheists their world of the world is presumably open ended, willing to be guided by evidence and undogmatic.

So your equation is wrong. And among the procativists there is an argument from context for their diligence. They are righting the world, seeking to mitigate our public blanketing by an astrological-like mysticism that cannot shut up about it itself. For the armed atheists amongst us—I am not one, I don’t have the will or energy—it’s a *little* like what Netanyahu said about Israeli self-defence: “If the Arabs put down their weapons we will put down ours; if we put down ourweapons, the Arabs will destroy us.” I understand the differences, but vigilance is the price, here, of keeping church out of state and out of our public and governed lives...."


"...But what exactly is it that religion is? That is clear in the case of science, or at least pretty clear. What is it that I would teach my children about each of the world's religions other than the content of the beliefs? which seems pretty pale and doesn't capture what makes religion, despite its evident falsity to those outside (either other believers or atheists). We just don't know the answer to that, and there is probably not one (and thus I would hazard, none, i..e, it is just too complex). I have been teaching Paradise Lost and often sound like a preacher as I try to get the students to see and feel the world from Puritan perspective, and trying to ignore the various ways in which it raises hackles.

If that is what Larry means I am all for it, but in the end it can generate as much antagonism as appreciation, and that is roughly back where we already are. What I find valuable in the poem is that it is psychologically sound about a certain area of life (apology and forgiveness after wrong-doing in intimate situations), and dramatizes wonderfully many of the ways that we deceive ourselves in order to maintain our self-respect and avoid knowing ourselves. But the lesson is useless, since this is not an area where reason has much sway and science is useless.

Insofar as Christianity teaches about acknowledgement of sin as central it may foster this important mechanism in people, but I have no way of knowing 1) whether this is peculiar to Christian culture 2) a good thing finally, 3) confines the mechanism to person and god so that life can go on as usual, and no doubt much more, but it makes for wonderfully rich poetry. ..."


"..."But what exactly is it that religion is?"Good question, Roger, particularly, as you say, in the context of teaching Paradise Lost. At the moment, alas, life is intervening, but possibly, as Itzik say, m.l. (more later) -- for now, though, I'd hint at one route toward an answer by asking another question: what exactly is it that art is? It clearly isn't science, and, despite Keats, it clearly isn't "true" in the way that science is true -- can we dispense with it then, as we apparently can dispense with religion?

And I'm puzzled by your statement that the poem's "lesson is useless since this is not an area where reason has much sway..." -- is everything non-rational useless? Might it be that religion in general is another and greater area in which reason has little sway, science is useless, but which still has significant value? But perhaps I'm missing your point....

Anyway, I appreciate the interesting, certainly non-useless, and hopefully rational discussion...."


"...For myself, I have been trying to draw a distinction between religion as theology and religion as a human phenomenon rich and complex as Larry says, of virtually mind boggling profundity, heritage and legacy in all aspects of human endeavor, to be studied, learned, understood, and respected as such. And I’d point further to the trite but telling distinction between religions, received totalitarian systems of thought and belief, and spirituality, with the former constituting an overwhelmingly massive of example of the yearning and manifestation and product of the latter...."


"...p.p.s.s. I too would like to climb down some from the more excitable parts of whatever I have written..."

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