Thursday, August 22, 2019
Still More On Religious Belief And Atheism
"... we atheists disclaim that kind of faith and that story and fiercely disclaim the truth of the big story of any religion"
I think that puts its finger on the problem, and indirectly points out the helpfulness of seeing religion as a kind of immersive aesthetic experience. Fiercely disclaiming the literal truth of any religion's "big story" seems to me akin to fiercely pointing out that War and Peace is historically inaccurate -- has a kind of tilting at windmills quality. And to say that you "save" such religious functions as being a communal glue, providing values to live by, is cosmological in ultimate significance, and providing a story about the world they take as at least metaphorically true, is to say that your "saving" everything about religion that makes its absence so significant, and maybe tragic. As I say, while I'm a great admirer of science, technology, reason, Enlightenment values, etc., I don't see that they can provide what religion once did, on the fumes of which I think we've been coasting for a while now. The great increase in material plenty means we can coast for quite a ways, but the signs of a slow cultural breakdown, despite the hopeless attempt to substitute politics for religion as a cultural capstone, have been with us since at least the Victorians, and nowhere can we see a modern culture that can so much as sustainably reproduce. That's why I'm interested in finding ways to understand a religious world that is entirely compatible with -- in fact, supports -- a rigorously this world, or immanent focus, and that's why it seems important to me to distinguish empirical beliefs from the sort of aestheticized beliefs that, on a smaller scale, you yourself say you experience in reading a story. But, as always, we'll see. Darwin's nature will have the last word, in any case, as usual.
Two main points.
First, I argue that protesting the truth of religious narrative is *not* akin to protesting the historical inaccuracy of War And Peace.Religious narratives for believers assert a truth claim over the entire arc of an origin myth to the eschatological myth, which then in some religions is the gateway to a life everlasting in one form or other.
There is no truth claim as to historical accuracy in War And Peace, which of course there would be if it presented itself as historical scholarship. No one with a scintilla of sophistication reading War And Peace Peace needs that kind of disabusing. People who believe literally in miracles don’t *need* disabusing but for atheists we’d think “it couldn’t hoit” and too “keep your belief in miracles out of schools” and too “stop bugging me about it or you’ll entice me into having a crack at some disabuse.”
So I don’t see in an atheism that wants to cabin religious belief to the private realm of the believers, that wants people educated in the way of miracle-denying science, and wants to tilt back against proselytization is tilting at windmills. Not at all: it’s rather in one way of understanding it a righteous effort to keep a bright line between church and state.
Now, if to protest the truth of religious narratives is tilting at wind mills because the truth of the stories isn’t the thing, that the thing is, empirical truth or non truth notwithstanding, the communal experience rooted in a shared belief likened to entering the world of a book but more, plus one, I’d say that that attenuates what religion is, turns it into a mode of art plus one. And what that one is elusive. So what I see we’re left with on your approach is neither fish nor fowl and would be an insult to believers, who start from the truth claims, are not very much without them. It’s to cut the heart out of their belief and replace it with efficacies.
Secondly, when you say that my “saving” those efficacies is in fact the basically the whole of the matter:
...And to say that you "save" such religious functions as being a communal glue, providing values to live by, is cosmological in ultimate significance, and providing a story about the world they take as at least metaphorically true, is to say that your "saving" everything about religion that makes its absence so significant, and maybe tragic...
you I think sort of make my argument. I don’t need to give religion the time of my day in the way of belief or immersing myself in its rituals to understand those benefits. But what I can’t do is formulate a rationale for wanting to privilege a truth claiming view of the world that is magical thinking, or more harshly, to cause and effect materialists, nonsense.
I have no quarrel with assimilating the Bible to literature, one of its greatest works, and in understanding how our values, moral principles are informed by it in the way life and art inform each other and in the way, too, that that informing evolves. But you’re saying literature plus one, and it’s the plus one, as is clear, I have trouble with.