On absolute truth and those disrespectful accommodationists February 29, 2012Posted by Ginny in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: accommodationism, atheism, belief, liberal Christianity, new atheists, religion, respect, truth
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I could not have looked for a better way to sum up the difference between Gnu Atheists and fundamentalist theists on the one hand, and liberal ideologues of all stripes on the other, than this quote from Alain de Botton:
Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true.”
De Botton is an atheist, but he thinks there’s a lot of useful and interesting stuff in religion, which he goes on to discuss. All well and good, and I agree with him that there is much about religion that’s “useful, interesting, and consoling,” — in fact I myself am still looking for ways to fill some of the holes that leaving religion has left in my life (no, none of them are god-shaped.) But through all the changes I’ve been through, there’s never been a point where I wouldn’t have been deeply offended by the claim that the question of religion’s truth or falsehood is “boring.”
De Botton’s position is very familiar to me. A lot of people, both religious and non-religious, have moved into a space of being fairly indifferent to the actual nature of the universe, and instead seeing religion as purely a social institution or personal mythology. Whatever works for you… all paths lead to God… I believe this, but you don’t have to… they’re all ways of saying the same thing: it doesn’t matter what’s actually true. This is compatible with a lot of religions, as well as with atheism or agnosticism, but it is absolutely incompatible with the monotheistic Abrahamic religions (and perhaps others that I’m less well familiar with.)
In a lot of ways the “I don’t care what’s true” stance is a big improvement, particularly in its social effects. But a key tenet of people who embrace it is not offending anybody, and what they fail to see is that that statement is profoundly offensive to those who do think truth matters. It’s worse than dissent, worse than disagreement: it’s invalidation. It’s saying “I reject the entire foundational concept of your belief. I think the things that are most important to you about your religion are irrelevant.”
A few days ago the story about Mormons baptizing deceased Jews got around, and my take on it was somewhat unusual. If I truly believed that a posthumous baptism was going to gain somebody an (optional) admittance to the eternal kingdom of God, I’d probably do it too! Being the compassionate literalist I am, I’d probably devote a major portion of my life to doing it — if I truly believed. That’s the gift of eternal life, people! Am I going to refrain from giving it just because somebody gets offended? To the extent that these baptisms are being done out of a sincere belief in their efficacy, and not for one of a host of other reasons religious rituals are practiced (I know nothing about the church politics around posthumous baptisms), I can’t fault them for doing these; from their viewpoint, it’s the absolute right and loving thing to do.
I pointed this out on facebook, and somebody responded, “But the people being baptized didn’t believe in the Mormon afterlife!” Which is colossally missing the point. The Mormons doing the baptisms do believe it (I assume, giving them all possible credit.) And under that belief, it doesn’t matter whether what afterlife the other person believed in: your belief is true, and you are helping them to eternal life despite their erroneous beliefs.
The happy, harmonious, multicultural view of religion whereby it’s all just social institution and personal mythology and nobody’s beliefs have a real impact on their life, death, and afterlife is completely ineffective in dealing with people who sincerely belief in the objective truth of their religion. I know; I used to be one. People who stood in that viewpoint appeared hopelessly naive and logically impaired to me. The statement “My religion is objectively true and has real-life consequences” cannot be effectively countered with “To each their own, whatever works for you.” The literalist believer will, at best, dismiss the religious pluralist with an annoyed shrug, and go on literally believing. As long as there are people who say “My religion is objectively true,” there will and should be non-believers who say, “No, it is objectively false,” and I think — have always thought — that those non-believers are giving the believers a hell of a lot more respect than any accommodationist.
Gnosis February 26, 2012Posted by Ginny in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: agnosticism, atheism, belief, Christianity, god, religion, truth
In the last week or so, I’ve begun a project of going through the emails, blog posts, and private journal entries I wrote throughout my deconversion from Christianity. There are a lot of them, and I may pull them together into a book project in the near future, but for now I want to comment on some thoughts they’ve provoked.
One advantage to having detailed personal records like this is that they guard against hindsight bias and retroactive interpretation. I haven’t looked at most of these writings for years, and I find, looking back, that the story I tell now about the trajectory of my deconversion isn’t entirely accurate. When I want to give the short version of my history with religion, it goes something like this: I was raised in a conservative branch of Christianity and accepted it pretty much without question for the first 25 years of my life. Around the time I was 25, I began seriously questioning my faith, and actually stopped believing in God, although I wasn’t happy about that. I was basically an atheist, though I didn’t use that word, for about a year and a half, then I found a definition of “faith” that allowed me to go back to calling myself a Christian, although never with the same kind of faith as before. Then, around my 29th birthday, the last reasons I had for clinging to Christianity fell away, and I became a full-fledged atheist.
That’s the short version, and it’s broadly accurate, but in retrospect I missed a lot of the complicated nature of that in-between time, between “Yes I am definitely a Christian” and “Yes I am definitely an atheist.” For those who have never had God-belief as an element of their psyche, it might be difficult to understand exactly what was going on there, and it certainly muddies the definitions of “belief” and “knowing” that I’ve been using in the last couple of years. So let me try to explain it.
During part 1, the Christian part of my life, I absolutely believed in God. I would have found it impossible not to. Even if someone had rationally convinced me that there was no good reason to believe in God, I’d have been nodding along and saying, “You’re right, there isn’t a good reason to believe,” and wondering the whole time what God thought of this conversation. It was not something I was consciously maintaining or defending: it was just there, in my brain, a part of the way I thought about the world. To say “I don’t believe in God” would have been a lie, even if I had wanted to disbelieve and had every rational cause for disbelief.
At this time in my life, nearly the opposite is true. If evidence for a god’s existence started springing up all over the place, that internal state of belief still wouldn’t appear in my brain, at least not immediately. I could acknowledge, “Yes, given a Bayesian probability analysis it seems overwhelmingly likely that a deity is the cause of these things we are witnessing,” but in the back of my head I’d still be thinking, “But there can’t really be a deity… let’s keep looking for other explanations!”
It’s important to note before I go further that neither of these belief-states are unchangeable: as evidenced by the fact that my first one did eventually change. I’m no neuroscientist, but my guess is that these belief-states are simply strong neural patterns, habits of thinking that can’t be changed instantly, but only worn away over time as new patterns are developed and rehearsed.
The middle state, that transitional period of 3-4 years, is where things are weird. The things that were going on in my brain at that time don’t fit into a simple category of belief and knowing. The moment that really kicked off that whole transitional phase of my life was a moment where my rock-solid, undeniable belief in God was removed: and my emotional response was anger at God for removing it.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense. I stopped believing in God, and I was angry at God for making me stop believing in him. Clearly, then, on some level I still believed in God, and interpreted even my unbelief through a theistic worldview. But something very significant had changed in my brain, and the best way I could put it to myself was that I had lost my belief.
This state continued, by the way, even after I reclaimed a “Christian” identity. My state of belief didn’t change very much during this time; instead I changed my definition of “faith” to give myself a way back in. My reasons for doing that belong in another post, but from the point of view of mental states of belief and knowing, I didn’t change very much during those 3-4 years.
In atheist circles there’s been a lot of buzz recently about the difference between knowledge, belief, and certainty (prompted mostly by Richard Dawkins’ “shocking” revelation that he wasn’t 100% certain that no god existed, which anyone who’s actually read The God Delusion already knew (actually, anyone who’s read the subtitle of The God Delusion should have known: the word almost is there for a reason, people)). The relevant ground has been pretty thoroughly covered (and is being added to by Shaun even as I write… we’ll see which of us posts first! (I have a parenthetical addiction, by the way; I try not to use at all, because when I start it gets hard to stop)), so all I want to add is my own experience, and how it fits or doesn’t fit into the tidy “atheist/theist” “gnostic/agnostic” categories.
At no point in my life have I been 100% certain that my beliefs about God or gods were accurate. Even aside from evil genius / brain in a jar / Matrix scenarios, I recognize that my foundational assumptions about what constitutes a good basis for knowledge are just that: assumptions, that could be incorrect. I do the best I can with what I have.
I don’t use the word “know” a lot with reference to theism, just because its meaning is too ambiguous. Some people use “knowledge” synonymously with “certainty” (in which case I am an agnostic atheist), some people use it in less absolute terms (in which case I might be a gnostic atheist, depending on how severely you draw the line), and some people equivocate (in which case I’m not playing.)
Belief, now, is a harder question. I don’t think belief is a simple idea, based on my own experience. If all I’d ever experienced were those two states of initial full belief and present full unbelief, I probably would think it was simple. But my transitional phase leads me to think that there are several different strains or mechanisms of belief, which in most people (perhaps) are concordant, but which can also be conflicting. With part of my brain I believed in God, and with part of it I did not, and that was a very different mental state from the ones that came before and after.
Next up: digging a little deeper into the anatomy of that in-between time.
Truth and honesty as indicators of respectibility November 5, 2011Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: honesty, respect, truth
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It has been asked of me, more than several times over the years, why I care so much about what people believe. Why can’t I just live and let live. Well, I do. It’s just that I don’t think that living and letting live necessarily involves not asking why people live the ways they do. I’m not stopping anyone from living by wondering why they live the way they do.
I have said it many times, but the truth is important to me. This is not to say I assume that all my beliefs are true, only that I try to believe things for good reasons. I try to have evidence, or at least good reason, for accepting ideas as true. So, if I do believe something I do think it’s true, but realize that I might be wrong and so I maintain an open mind about that possibility. This necessitates listening to criticism, going out of my way to challenge ideas (both mine and others’) in the face of dissenting opinions.
This skepticism of mine is part of my life project to be honest, open, and direct with the people around me. It is a value of mine to live authentically, which for me means that I don’t hide who I am to people, try not to allow self-delusion to survive within myself, and be open about my strengths and my faults. I challenge others because I challenge myself.
One implication of this is that I don’t want cognitive dissonance to exist within my mind, and don’t happily tolerate it in others. I don’t want to have ideas which are in methodological or philosophical opposition to one another, and I am sensitive to it in others. Cognitive coherence is a goal at which I will inevitably fail, but I strive for it nonetheless because to do otherwise is to capitulate to intellectual and emotional weakness.
Another implication is that I do not respect the idea that an opinion or view “works for me” as being sufficient to accept it as true. I actually care what is really true, not merely what coheres with my desires. This attitude is essential for a healthy skepticism. The desire to apply skeptical methodology to all facets of reality (sometimes referred to as “scientism”) is a value of mine, and I think it should be a value for everyone.
And this is why meeting someone who has little inclination towards this skepticism, who believes things which are not supported by evidence and do not care to challenge them, raises flags for me. It is, in fact, reason for me not to trust them.
Now, wait (you may be saying). How does being non-skeptical about things make a person untrustworthy?
Well, it does not make them completely untrustworthy. It would not necessarily mean that I could not trust them to watch my bag while I run into the bathroom or have them feed my cats while I’m out of town. No, it merely means that I will have trouble accepting some claims they make. It makes me trust them less intellectually.
They have already demonstrated that they are capable of being comfortable with cognitive dissonance, or at least in holding beliefs uncritically. They have demonstrated that they have less interest in holding true beliefs than holding comfortable ones. So if they were to claim some knowledge, opinion, etc I would be in my skeptical rights in having some issue with their trustworthiness.
This, of course, does not mean they are wrong. People with all sorts of strange ideas can be right about other things. It means that I would be more willing to demand argument or evidence for their claims, since they have already compromised their credibility in my eyes.
It also makes it harder to actually respect them, as people. It makes it less likely I will want to become closer to them personally. In potential romantic partners, unskeptical attitudes and beliefs are a turn off, for example. Beliefs in astrology, psychic powers, homeopathy, wicca, or even some aspects of yoga are indicators that a person may not be a new best friend or romantic partner.
Such beliefs are indicators that while we may get along well enough socially or in light conversation, our goals in life are incompatible. As a result, there is only so close I am willing to get because the attitude they take to the truth makes them vulnerable to deception. They have not exercised critical thinking to themselves or the world, and it seems likely that they may not know themselves well enough emotionally and/or intellectually and therefore are more likely to subject themselves, and thus people they are involved with, to undesirable situations.
This is not to say that people who believe these things cannot be educated or better informed, only that until they are willing to critically challenge such things they will occupy a place in my head of lesser reverence.
So, call be judgmental, elitist, and arrogant if you like. But I will judge unsupported ideas as flawed, consider demanding higher intellectual standards as preferable, and do not think that pride in these standards to be unwarranted. I am judgmental (so are you, so is everyone. I am just honest about it). I am elitist, and I don’t care if it offends your sensibilities. But arrogant? Well, I don’t think my ideas of self-importance, based upon my standards, are unwarranted. I think they help to make me a better person.
I’m honest, I care about what is true, and I hold myself up to high standards. If you don’t care about these things, then I likely don’t respect you. Live with it.
Honestly…what is with your truth? October 24, 2010Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: deception, honesty, Kierkegaard, truth
I have been spending some time recently thinking about truth.
No, that’s not quite right. I haven’t necessarily been thinking about truth, but I have been thinking about the subject of truth.
That’s not quite right either. I guess I’ve been thinking about thinking about truth. Meta-truth, if you will. And as I did so, I started to get that semi-relativistic head-throbbing that comes when trying to work out the paradoxes of epistemology. So I took a step back, took a deep breath, and eventually I realized something. It’s nothing hugely profound, or even novel. But I think it’s important, nonetheless.
Perhaps we are putting too much emphasis on ‘truth.’ Perhaps this is the wrong primary approach. This word ‘truth’ is, after all, deceptive. Because we are not often very certain of it’s parameters or its contents, we are often left with jumbles pieces and we know not how to assemble them. We end up being circus clowns of truthiness, juggling and dancing to keep up while endeavoring to keep a straight, serious, face. Truth is serious stuff, after all, and not for clowns.
This reminded me of something that good old Soren Kierkegaard said:
One must not let oneself be deceived by the word ‘deception.’ One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed, it is only by this means, i.e. by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in error.
Yeah! Take that all you people in error. I’m gonna kick the truth into you…or something…. You’re gonna wish you ain’t done been wrong in all that error-having you have had…. Sorry, lost it there for a second. Kierkegaard has that kind of affect on me, it seems.
I will not comment on the quote itself, but will prefer to allow it to speak for itself. I have always liked it though, and am glad to pass it on.
What is the truth? Is there (or is there not) a god? I don’t know. How to evaluate something that is often so nebulous and slippery as the concept ‘god’ which makes belief in often impossible for the mere fact that we don’t know what the term is supposed to indicate. How can I say it does not exist when I don’t know what it is? How can I believe in it for the same reason?
(And how do so many people keep claiming that atheism is the claim that there is no god in light of this impossibility?)
But at least we can ask people to be truthful, to tell the truth as best they can, in order to have an honest discussion. But something is not quite right about that phrase. For some time I could not quite put my finger on what it was, but then it occurred to me; I’m not so much advocating truth as I am advocating honesty.
The simple, brute, fact is that we can’t always know that we have the “truth” in order to give it to others. If someone asks me to give them the truth, I often have little choice but to cock my head and follow-up with some question. I need clarification. And even if I receive the ideal level of clarification, I won’t necessarily be able to give the TruthTM.
But I can be honest. I can even give good reasons that support the opinion I am being honest about. But do I dare call it truth?
It seems that such a step is often considered arrogant. How do I know it’s true? What if I’m wrong?
What I think is going on here is that the term ‘honesty’ has a flavor to it which is often soft and bland. It has no zing to merely be honest. People want the truth, right? Being honest is merely stating an opinion. But giving the truth…well that’s just sexy!
There is a responsibility behind claiming to give the truth which may not seem as naturally wedded to being honest; and perhaps for good reason. But I feel that in presenting our beliefs, we have a responsibility to make sure that those belief have gone through some thought, fact-checking, and other considerations. They, perhaps, have not gone through peer-review, but that is what saying them is for.
And to think those ideas to be true? Well, at some point the ideas we hold, especially if they survive our vetting and the conversational battle-field, we will believe with the force of ‘truth’ (whatever that is) whether it is objectively true (whatever THAT is…) or not.
But recently I’m preferring the concept of honesty, responsible honesty, to truth.
And honesty, in light of politics (both governmental and interpersonal), is an idea perhaps more fundamental and important. The simple fact is that I don’t often believe that many people are truly…honestly…being honest with themselves or with other people.
I think that would be a good place to start for many people I’ve known in my life.
But they might not even know I’m talking about them. While they may see the truth in what I say, they may not see the dishonesty in which they live.
Truthiness of religion December 9, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: art, creativity, criticism, Karen Armstrong, new atheists, religious iinstinct, scientific method, theology, truth
Many people are not used to hearing about atheism, challenges to faith, etc. It is new to them. They may know atheists, and likely do not know that those people are atheists, but they may know that they don’t attend a church or participate in any faith. Many people, atheists included (but don’t call them that!) prefer a reverential approach to their believing neighbors. They don’t bring it up because they don’t really care or they find it distasteful.
And so when they see us, the “new atheists,”TM they view our criticism and challenges as overly aggressive in our tone and approach. They view these aggressive tactics as hurting our cause in society by pushing people away rather than trying to be their friends. I don’t see evidence for this harm. I see theists becoming defensive because they are not used to the criticism. I see their coddled status being taken away, and they don’t like it.
Why shouldn’t we be critical? Religion does cause harm. Faith, belief without or in spite of evidence to the contrary, is largely responsible for the anti-intellectual and anti-scientific fervor that exists in various cultures, particularly our own American culture.
But those faitheists and accomodationists will continue to claim that religion is good in many ways and that we are being too harsh in denouncing religion wholesale. I agree. I think that there are aspects of religion and religious culture that are good. Religion can be good; it helps people in need, supplies hope, and it provides a basis for teaching morality. Or at least one kind of morality or another.
Yes, religion can do these things, but I see no reason why only religion of faith can do these things. A religion of faith? Why add that qualifier, you may ask. Well, first of all not all religious people necessarily have faith, depending on your definition of faith. Further, not all people that have faith necessarily have a religion. Religion is…well, religion is complicated. I will not try to define this term here, but I want to address it in a tangential way.
The Religious Instinct
There are sets of emotions, behaviors, and dispositions that tend towards ‘religious’ behavior. It can include rituals, music, states of mind, etc. But this is an expression of a more general psychological disposition that we all, or at least the vast majority of us, share. It is expressed through music, poetry, the fine arts, and perhaps even philosophy. It is an expression of those experiences internal to each of us that feels like it is coming from somewhere…else.
It is sublime, beautiful, and it has its own subtle rules and constraints that we can apprehend in rarer states of mind. When one is enthralled in an ecstatic moment, there is a kind of flowing of emotion, meaning, and beauty that seems to transcend us. It doesn’t actually transcend us, but it gives the sensation of transcendence.
As a writer, I know this well. There are time when, in writing, I find myself almost transported and feel as if the words are coming through me, as if I were but a conduit for some ideas. I understand the concept of inspiration. I know why people think that God works through them because I feel that experience myself.
So, why am I an atheist then?
Well, because when I’m in that state of mind, I’m being creative. I’m using natural tools of my brain to create, understand, and communicate. I am not being methodical, careful, nor remotely scientific. That is, I am not concerned with what is true in these moments, even if at some of these moments I may get the delusional idea that there is more truth there than in cold, rational, analysis.
Beauty is truth, and truth beauty?
There is a sense where the moments of beauty and poetry that overcome me seem to reveal a kind of truth. It feels as if the universe has opened up to me and given me a slice of something that my rational mind was unable to find. And sometimes, upon further reflection, I find that it may have found a bit of truth before unseen. But that is the important part of that; upon further reflection.
Because how many times have ideas or thoughts from inspiration turned out to be duds? Most of the time, some if the time? Always? I suppose it depends. But it is upon sober, rational reflection that we will find whether or not the moment of inspiration has given us gold. The reason is that there is a difference in approach. The moments of beauty, sublimity, and transcendence are the result of our brain doing what it does, not as it can be trained to do.
And I’m glad that this part of our minds exist because it is from these ecstasies and sublimities that we create. Not discover, elucidate, or comprehend, but create.
The aspects of our minds that find revelation, communicate with the spirits, or attain a slice of heaven are the same parts that write novels, create sculpture, and write poetry. In this mode of thought there is a freedom of form, expression, and a lack of criticism. Yes, that’s it; a lack of criticism!
Not that we can’t look at two creations and judge one or the other more or less beautiful (or at least argue about why we think one is more beautiful), but that one looked on its own not criticized in relation to the world, generally. It is not pointed at and said that the thing does not appear to be like anything else that is real. A sculpture of a dragon is not looked at and scolded for not representing a real animal. A poet is not criticized for not representing a real conversation or speech. A theologian is not criticized for not representing the universe as it really is. That’s not the point, right?
Well, if you talk to Karen Armstrong, you may get such a response. But the fact is that theologians, most of them anyway, do claim that they are describing reality. They are not merely creating, they claim. They are talking about not only truth, but Truth.
But where do these truths come from? Revelation, communion with a deity, book (which ultimately go back to revelation or some claimed historical event), etc. They come from the mind, and many of them from ancient minds not trained in the meticulous rational skills which would be necessary to analyze these experiences.
When theologians tackle these issues, whether today or the ancient theologians that dealt with these religious beliefs, they only apply rational thinking to keep the stories internally consistent while forgetting that the person who first experienced the idea was as fallible as you or I in determining truth from these internal experiences of ecstacy and transcendence.
If we want to discover what is real, we need to be meticulous. We need to check assumptions, use empirical methods, and try to devise a way to prove our idea wrong. And so long as we cannot prove it wrong and the evidence supports the idea, then we provisionally hold our hypothesis as true. The longer it withstands scrutiny, the more it becomes a theory. Not just some guess or inspiration, but an idea that stands up against attempts to knock it down. In other words, we need to use the scientific method.
Does this sound like what poets do? How about novelists? How about theologians? ‘Well, of course not,’ they will say. ‘These things are not subject to empirical study.’ Really? Why not? ‘Well, it takes away from the beauty; science cannot explain beauty.’
Perhaps not. Or perhaps it can. That is not what is at issue. What is at issue is that our minds are capable of different kinds of thought. Some of our mental capabilities provide for us this ‘religious instinct’ that we are all familiar with to some extent. But this instinct is part of our creativity, and is only tangentially helpful in a pursuit of truth. Our creative powers may, occasionally, provide us with insights into a new way of thinking about a problem, but once we have the idea we must switch to using our learned critical skills on to test the idea. We cannot just dream and create answers to real world problems, we have to criticize them.
Our creative powers which provide us with the transcendent experiences, sublime emotions, and inspiring ideas are a great tool for the creative process, but not for attaining truth. If we want to know what is real, we need to be critical, meticulous. and scientific.
Religion claims to have truth; it claims it knows something about what is real. By being critical of those claims and the methods by which those claims are attained, atheists (‘new’ or not) are not being disrespectful. Anyone who claims to have the truth and who subsequently calls criticism of their methods or conclusions disrespectful is either insecure about their position or does not understand how to think critically.
In many cases, it is both.
So yes, the parts of our mind that religion uses; the creative, transcendent, and sublime aspects of us that supply us with beauty, love, and all of those wonderful things are great. So, if that is all that religion is, then there is not much of an argument. That is, if the vague and meaningless God of theologians like Karen Armstrong is all that religion provides–a thing that need not even exist to be important–then religion is simply a nice story with which I can have little quarrel.
But if religion also deals with what is true, at least in the same use of ‘true’ as we mean when we say something is real, then criticism is warranted. I may find many aspects of religious practices to be beautiful, but I don’t think they are true. And that is what is at issue. If those artistic expressions that come from creative people–mythology, morality stories, and the like–are not intended to be literally true, then they are just stories we can enjoy on their own merit. But this is not the case. Christianity, Islam, etc are believed to be actually true and real, not just stories.
Anything that is proposed as the truth in society of culture is open for criticism. To actually step forward and do so is the responsibility of a citizen who cares about the truth, reality, etc. To postulate a story about the universe as true and then remove it from the realm of critical analysis, or to not at least try to validate it oneself while having faith in it is not strength nor reverent behavior, but weakness.
Allowing ourselves to be swallowed up by stories birthed in the ecstatic moments of artistic creativity and then to claim it to be true is not clear thinking. We need to train ourselves to be better thinkers and to accept criticism or to get used to feeling disrespected.
Respect is not warranted when art is presented as truth. The truth, as the Vorlons say, points to itself. It does not need us to create it.
The pseudo-depth of religion October 17, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: illusion, meaning, Nietzsche, purpose, religion, truth
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We, unfortunately, live in a largely anti-intellectual and unsophisticated culture. There is not ample interest in things philosophical or subtle. I will not lament this here for its own sake, but I will mention this as a pretext to address another issue.
We are pattern seeking beings that desire meaning and purpose in life, but we are rarely exposed to the various approaches to finding these things. The depth of that search is often too terrifying to traverse, and so we try to find other ways to fulfill this need. And, lucky for us, culture and its complex structure has supplied our history with just such a function. The vast majority of people are usually exposed to one source of meaning and purpose; am ancient cultural tradition that still holds sway for many people.
I want to call it religion, but that is too simplistic in the end. It is my view that religion is a natural expression of our desire to explore the world for meaning. It is a way to look inward and in many cases to project outward what we desire to find there, and to latch onto narratives, myths, and the illusion of ‘something more’ in order to add color, depth, and importance to a world that seems meaningless.
It is a kind of metaphysical or ‘spiritual’ impulse to explain the universe in terms of intent, intelligence, and often in love. And the result of this impulse that we share are the many religions an spiritual pursuits of the world. These are the vehicles of providing meaning, purpose, and intent into an otherwise meaningless existence. And because we sense this meaninglessness often enough, we seek shelter from those cold winds of loneliness and purposelessness.
That is, people seek the part of our psychology that is responsible for the religious cultural impulse to find meaning. The easiest way to do this is to take an atavistic glance back to the introduction to such feelings; the religion of our childhood. And if not our childhood, the religion of our early attempts to look for meaning in the world. For many, groups such as Campus Crusade for Christ (or some similar group) seek to fill the insecure holes that creep into our lives in a time of emotional upheaval and change of the early tastes of freedom that college provides.
In general, whenever the insecurities and fears of life emerge, the desire to see meaning and purpose weaved into the fabric of life and reality act as a sort of blanket against the coldness of the world.
But before I continue I must hark to the whisper of a ghost which has come my way. A strange and somewhat lively sprite—lively for a dead man, anyway! A moving of thoughts tussles its way to my mind’s ear and words resolve into a thought:
Mystical explanations are considered deep. The truth is that they are not even superficial
And with such a deep strike into the heart the thought evaporates and the spirit haunts another. Or perhaps it has sunk so deep into me that I can no longer distinguish between it and myself. The difference—it is indifferent! But the whisper of the name of “Nietzsche” reverberates throughout and my mind returns to the task at hand.
But this spiritual visit has had a purpose, I fathom. Because in a largely unsophisticated world, the early reaching for meaning and purpose are mitigated by religion; they are softened for us by a pseudo-depth of assertions of truths that are always bolstered by nothing but faith—in other words by sheer preferential desire for them to be true.
It is common for people to scuttle through there youth while largely unconcerned with the ramblings of religious ideologies. Yes, if pressed they parrot the memories of their early exposure, but they live secularly and leave to Sundays (or some other bequeathed holy day) the quandaries of any depth. It is only to these holy days that purpose and the insecurities of meaning emerge into the sunlight of our thoughts.
We have not yet allowed the scab to form over such insecurities in order to have our fears heal. And so we protect our raw minds from the exposure to the dangerous world and we often miss the sophistication and depth which lives there while distracted by this protective preoccupation. Because we spend so much energy nursing our fears in public, we miss the true depth of the world.
And so what of true depth and subtlety? What of philosophy? Why, upon the hardship of emotional turmoil, of loss, or of dissatisfaction do people turn to their lord, to the false depth of dogma and myth rather than to do the real, hard, and growth-inspiring work of looking deep within without the lenses of faith and childhood brainwashing?
We avoid the difficult in life and revert to looking at it through Christianity or some other absurd softening of our mortality and ultimate meaninglessness. And in doing so we miss that it is our responsibility to lend meaning to our lives. We must take responsibility for how we face death, loneliness, and dissatisfaction.
So often churches will remind us that in the pursuit of money, power, or otherwise transient things, happiness can only be temporary. They cannot supply real meaning for us, which we crave. But then they assert that a real happiness, a real and eternal answer may be found. But this is only an assertion. It is a promise that cannot be kept. It is another distraction from the truth that mature and aware adults have to face. It is a fantasy to cover a scary world.
The thing is that the churches who remind us of the ultimate meaninglessness of our earthly desires are correct. They just fail to acknowledge that they are not offering anything different. Their mystical explanations are only deep in an illusory way. Their façade is not even willing to dip its little toe into the waters of the universe out of fear that the water is too cold. And it is cold.
Warmth can only be found with one-another. And so churches, in gathering communities, are creating a mirage; it is not the message of eternal life that provides meaning and purpose, it is the company that sits upon this superficial message that supplies the meaning. It is the illusion of having eternal companions, covered by real but temporary ones, that perpetuates the illusion.
When we find meaning and purpose in shallow promises of eternity, we find not even a shallow pool in which to swim. The universe is deeper than we can comprehend. Its true beauty lies beyond the fear that is manipulated by religion which only thinks itself deep. Come and join the universe and dive into fathoms unfathomable. Rather than transcend this world, transcend your fears of it and come swim with us in oceans of reality. And when you do, you will find true warmth in the company of the disillusioned and the free.