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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pluralism and Religiosity

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, my very pleasant ramble continues on with long-time Friend of Blog "JimF." For the earlier episodes, just scroll down a bit.

When last we chatted, I had written, among other things:
I don't agree that all forms of religious faith are incommensurable with the proper defense of consensus science... I'm an atheist myself but I'm also an aesthete and I have no trouble squaring the idea that true beliefs that yield prediction and control should emerge from testable hypotheses attracting a public consensus of conviction while true beliefs that yield beauty should make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up or enable me to empathize with a lifeway that had hitherto been too alien to me to connect to...

To which, "JimF" replied:
I understand what you're saying here, of course.

I guess it depends on which "magisterium's" (as S. J. Gould put it) "true beliefs" take precedence when they come into conflict. It probably doesn't matter much (except as as an unfortunate symptom) when ordinary people dismiss evolution as the only intellectually compelling framework for the origin and development of life. The advice of a cardiologist is a subject on which **most** (but not all) folks would accept "beliefs" deriving (somewhat loosely, as always in medicine) from the "true beliefs that yield prediction" of modern science.

But matters of, say, child rearing, is an area in which religious folks are all too likely to ignore the advice of experts, however well attested by the evidence. Also, of course, public policy as it impinges on matters of, say, sexual morality. I hardly need to give examples of that sphere! (But an unfortunate recent one was the overriding by the Secretary of Health and Human Services of a decision by the FDA to approve over-the-counter sales of a "morning after" pill. Whatever the excuse may have been, you **know** it was a political one driven by a perceived need to avoid a confrontation with the religious right.)

Certainly, one's view of the significance of future events on Earth must be substantially altered if one **really** believes that mortal existence is a "vale of tears" destined to end sooner rather than later with all the best people being reborn in indestructible bodies living for eternity in a transcendent reborn reality. (One wonders, though, how many people **really** believe this, whatever they may profess in public -- it does go against the grain of common sense, as well it might!).

And of course, as Bertrand Russell said in an interview, "I get letters constantly from people saying 'Oh, God will look after it.' But he never has in the past! I don't know why they should think he will in the future."

To which, I now reply:
It's strange, I think my pluralism may derive from the habits I acquired training in analytic philosophy (a vantage from which I tend to be excoriated as a menacing relativist now, amusingly enough), namely, coming upon a recalcitrant conflict, tension, paradox, either change your mind or propose a distinction to relieve the thing. It's not that I have no True Beliefs left, but that I have some measure of irony about them, knowing that their ownership always imposes costs (often well worth paying) along with their benefits and that there is little that is not finally susceptible of argument, interpretation, or therapy (which are all much the same thing) if only you live long enough.

Again, I get it that you are annoyed by so many Christian fundamentalists of the more aggressive and idiotic American variety. I mean, as an atheist, faggot, lefty, feminist, pacifist, vegetarian I have the ire of no small few of their ugliest and most hypocritical factions aimed at me fairly regularly and conspicuously. It's a hard thing not to notice.

I must say, though, I do think these people are a more marginal minority than the attention they receive merits, that they are more ambivalent and susceptible of sense in a diversifying, secularizing society than the attention they receive suggests, and definitely they are idiosyncratic enough in their sects neither to be treated as representative of "religiosity" in general nor monolithic in their own practice.

Most parenting seems to me very much in the worst possible taste but not all bad parenting and proselytizing is child abuse -- or, maybe it would be better to say, all heteronormative child rearing skirts the edge of child abuse in ways with which our society has yet to come to terms leaving us to reap endlessly the harvest of abuse in damaged humans. But to attribute that feast of violation uniquely to religion or Christianity would miss the mark.

I disagree with and, more to the point, disapprove the move of the HHS Secretary (and then Obama's weirdly sanctimonious patriarchal prickish support of this move) overruling of the FDA on the morning after pill, but I cannot agree with those who say this is simply the story of the derangement of a purely scientific verdict (tho' it's safe to say the pill's safe precisely as they say it is) when palpably there is more afoot here: Surely, just as we are wrong to pretend that science is the same thing as folk music as the "Creation-Scientists" would have us do, so too we are wrong to hope science can provide an effortless short cut circumventing unpleasant political reconciliation work we have not yet done, such as ridding America of its still thriving hysterical hostility to the very idea that women, even many quite young ones, can and do enjoy sex and make rational healthcare decisions in matters connected to sex.

Stepping back a bit, it is also painfully clear that the sane effort of the progressive education movement has been a yet another tragically unnecessary casualty of thirty years of Movement Republican market-ideological looting and white racist reaction, for both of which tendencies the tide has thankfully turned at last, leaving us to contemplate the work of a long generation that will bury us long before it's done.

I disagree with your declared certainty that a faith in heavenly resurrection renders those who hold it bad faith actors in such progressive work, since I have observed people of faith are a diverse lot, though I do agree with you broadly (as with the Nietzsche who railed against ressentiment) about the unpleasantnesses such faith tends to have in tow -- but, again, all beliefs do have their costs, you know.

I will admit that I became an atheist myself while still very young the moment I realized that the presumed existence of hell made me morally superior to the Christian God, and my subsequent researches into the varieties of religious experience seemed little different from my researches at the same time of varieties of, em, sensory experiences of the sexual pharmacological political and artistic kinds, if you will, and I came to the conclusion then that I still largely maintain that the whole theological business is better conceived as a matter of aesthetics and for ethnographers.

1 comment:

jollyspaniard said...

"I guess it depends on which "magisterium's" (as S. J. Gould put it) "true beliefs" take precedence when they come into conflict. "

When the SARs outbreak happened I don't recall any controversy about the implementation of strategies that assumed that species changed over time. And some of those strategies did involve a lot of curtailment of people's freedom of movement.

It's worth noting that the secural left has plenty of anti science whackos pissing on the inside of its tent. The anti-vax quackery comes to mind and a whole host of Big Pharama conspiracy theories about for-profit Autism.