This is in response to On Science, Religion, and Nationalism II.
Now I confess that I wrote that last one in a sort of provoking manner…saying some seemingly outlandish things. But I think I can adequately at least show my rationale.
I will begin with a short introduction and then move on. My primary thesis is that worrying about the superstitious elements of religion misses the forest for the trees. Or I don’t see it as the most productive avenue – on some level I even see it as counterproductive. Now I recently saw Religulous and that also gave me quite a bit of food for thought.
On Jesus and wine and water: Of course I am not denying that Hiroshima happened. But I do debate the something called America did it. I think that a few people flying a plane did it. Now they were convinced that this thing called America existed and wanted them to murder hundreds of thousands of people. But it was just a few guys in a plane with a bomb inside.
This I think addresses what I mean when I say America does not exist. Of course it effects our way of thinking and geographical and spatial constructions but I could point to a church and conclude God exists for the same reason – it is a concept that guides the actions of others. But there is more to God than that if we really think it through – again I keep hammering the same point – and the problem may simply be that people don’t think things through enough.
I will elaborate on all of this shortly.
Now I agree that separating myth from historical event is extremely important as well. The most important thing is to have a clear definition of historical event.
I’m about to go off on a tangent…as a disclaimer I have always been ambivalent about Bill Maher. His humor is of the self-exploiting Jew stereotype variety that sold to the same simple-minded racist America in the 80’s and 90’s that he now goes out of his way to humiliate in this movie. His new shtick is that he adds a slightly daring leftist critique and he is now a comedian with a political bent. Or maybe the other way around.
My biggest issue with him was revealed during a show he did I think with Bill O’Reilly or some other republican. Maher was going on some rant about the poor or something and his guest turns to him and says, “the poor, Bill, you live in Beverly Hills.” Bill sort of smirks and laughs in agreement. It was obvious in that moment that A.) he is a complete charlatan. And B.) Bill Maher does not have the intellect of the kind of guy we need to carry the progressive movement in America.
So although there were many funny moments in Religulous there were a few things that bothered me about it:
1: It is cheap and easy! Duh stupid overly-religious people are easy to make fun of and get a laugh out of. Of course politicians are deceitful and lying. Naturally preachers are corrupt and venal. This isn’t anything Chaucer didn’t think of. There are many good laughs in the movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s entertaining. But it is a bit like picking on the retarded kid. Religion has been dealt a severe enough blow in the realm of logic I think it’s not like Bill Maher is going to turn the tide.
There are a couple times when Maher gets owned or at least encounters his match from someone who truly understands the rationale underneath religion…which I think is a universal understanding. The primary astronomer from the Vatican does not have a problem with the theory of evolution and the previous Pope made it the letter of the church. Another priest outside says, yeah, I do have a problem with this opulence and Jesus would too. He cracks a joke that Italians choose 5 other people to pray to before Jesus. These are real guys. Not much different than a journalist or physicist. Don’t you have a problem with this bureaucratic editorial board/corporate-endowed classroom? Of course. But I still do what I can do.
The other person that I think was kind of owning Bill (beyond a young Muslim woman in the street who seemed pretty intelligent that he didn’t let get a word in) was a Syrian Jew that causes Bill to actually ends the interview in awkward indignation, ostensibly because this guy went to a conference with the Iranian president (I hate when the left takes a symbol or accepted truth that the right conceived as a convenience). Now this diplomat or whatever nails Bill for jumping from one topic to the next to the holocaust constantly interrupting anybody else. Stop interrupting me, he tells him. Does Bill let him speak? No, he can’t get shown up on his own damn film. Instead when things begin to get actually interesting he walks out of the room, which is hilarious because in the beginning of the movie he seeks to reveal the idiocy of a southern baptist who walks out of the room indignant for having his God questioned – when it was obvious he was embarrassed to be rhetorically over his head. This leads me to my next point.
2. It is hypocritical! I will begin from the moral of the story or raison d’etre of Religulous. He roughly links and doesn’t even get much dialog to support this save his own editing but that because most religious folk think the end of days is upon us they have little reason to want to save this world. Now, that conceivably follows but without any thorough study one cannot conclusively say. But let’s accept it for the sake of enjoying the film. At the same time – he claims that the world is gonna end if we don’t stop the religious folks from irrationally believing that the world is gonna end! So the same sensationalist crap. But I’m guessing the moral wasn’t really the point at all…
3. It is disingenuous! Bill says he doesn’t know what he believes. That’s fine. But all of his actions suggets that he does have a belief. It’s that one can make movies or television attacking anyone in a halfhearted-wanna-be-John Stewart-minus-the-conviction fashion to provide profits to whatever major media conglomerate and live in Beverly Hills all by supposedly representing the “left wing” in America. But he is just a hack that doesn’t question capitalism hardly or even put his money where his mouth is…he never organizes active participation. In other words just another false preacher abusing a cause for $$$. Now I like Bill, don’t me wrong. Glad he’s on my side. But I know what he is.
4. It misses the point! One thing this movie revealed is that religious and non-religious people alike do not understand our condition on this earth very well.
Now if this were a formal essay I would have committed a major logical fallacy associating your ideas with Maher’s. I don’t mean to say that your ideas are his and vice-versa but just point out what happens when someone takes the idea of superstitious religion as a critical problem and runs with it.
On to individual clarifications. You say: On some level I think that you are somewhat missing the point of what I was trying to say by the post. In reality spirituality, seeking to maximize the essence of the human spirit, is absolutely essentially to optimizing the world we live in. However, I cannot not see how actually believing (using up your valuable faith) on things that have never happened, do not happen, and won’t happen (i.e. bullshit from scripture) is helpful.
We are very close! Just a mistaking of intent! Now I agree with you that it’s not helpful. But I don’t think going out of our way to counter religion matters much now. It’s an old battle and people who resisted it thought it through for a much longer time than we possibly could – it was an oppressive thing then and at times remains scary. But hell Obama even won…most of the first world is secular now.
If we can really get to an understanding of what we know we can then move on to where to proceed, i.e. the plot of the movie. I personally think that going out of our way to separate between what you say is a crucial distinction between what you called secular and religious faiths is actually damaging. Once it becomes crucial it forms the notion of the other, those that believe in this superstitious religion and those that don’t. We have so much more in common compared to this little difference I think it is rather arbitrary and perpetuates the same problematic distinctions and recognitions of self that Buddha determined to be the origin of suffering. How can we be convincing if we are threatening?
The main thing I didn’t like about the movie is that it was based on Fear of One Another (the “other”). As in, these guys are not us, we need to actively oppose them. We are right and they are wrong. But I say if we have precious active energy lets not really spend it fighting against other human beings but work against the stagnant and immobile concepts within all of us…let’s get deeper. We are our own saviors if we can just understand God (existence). It’s like BIG says…we can’t change the world unless we change ourselves
If religion is a problem, we need to define what makes it problematic. And it devalues human life and leads to suffering. But that is the secondary cause, not the primary. The devaluing works through identity, and this identity is formed through knowledge and faith. It is seen in our distinction between race, gender, country, age, species, alive, dead, pretty much anything and everything. So yeah I don’t like superstition either but I honestly believe it is less superstitious to believe in God (which physically exists if anything does, not Jesus, but even he might have existed) than a nation such as a America (definitely doesn’t physically exist). All these things need to be reevaluated and we can help both the religious and nonreligious alike come to a better understanding.
And this is where my question about missing absolutes becomes critical. Who are we to say that this is close enough? Because no right triangles truly exist we need to define parameter after parameter but how do we know that this is enough? That this scientific approximation is close enough to feel certain about. Because it is not the knowledge but the certainty. In the end we have faith…both active through rational thought but passive through developed standard, that this is more certain than that. But how many times do we need to check an equation to be sure it is right? One time? Two times? Fifty times? And why is it ok to stop checking and assume that it is right at a certain point? There is no philosophical standard except that eventually we “feel” we know something. I feel that this is a crucial issue and cannot be dismissed as “obvious” or “apparent.” Or essentially the same as “absolute knowledge” because it works. I fail to see how it is absolute in anyway just because it is slightly closer. This is the same as the paradox of dichotomy.
Now, if history is the most important subject for building a society, how can you be certain that anything has happened? Chomsky himself frequently defends the scientific method of gather facts and evidence as extremely important for uncovering injustice. He is supposedly according to some online research philosophically at odds with Wittgenstein who I am much enamored with – his book On Certainty challenged me more logically than any other work and I think that truly he and Spinoza are the only two that one really needs to “get it” philosophically on the enlightened level of the Eastern religions.
From whose perspective do we tell it? Do we assume a journalistic, neutral voice, invented by the greatest historian Herodotus. But is not this objectivity already feigned because it is written by a subjective being? This false perspective nominally of the publishing company already presents a problem to journalists. Second, given that America is not only not real except in our minds just like some old guy in the sky to people with an incomplete understanding of religion, do we tell it as though “America bought the Louisiana territories from France.” I mean who the fuck is America and where is he? In physical terms there is no such thing. We give our own tendencies a name to explain them better (and these symbols become propaganda). So yeah history is important lets tell like it is by taking out all the names of affiliation or tribe or nationality and see what it sounds like. I agree with Wittgenstein and Chomsky. Events are real and happened. A scientific method can hone our comprehension. But at the same time this comprehension must be recognized as limited and also dependent on our influence.
I like what you said here: In reality, a scientific superiority really means nothing and a progressive, active-philosophy (especially vs. religiously) based culture would readily acknowledge this. I think we both agree.
You say that science is based on what seems have happened in the past, what seems to be happening here and now, and what can happen in the future. This is largely different than something that may have happened once. I don’t dispute this at all. I merely ask what is enough to be satisfied? We know from all of our years of human experience this and that thing…wikipedia tells me this…there are records of this…we have performed experiments in xxx amount of conditions. But there are a million more variables to be determined that perhaps we don’t understand. Can’t I say well it is true in this theoretical world which may exist or even our own with the right conditions where a virgin could actually give birth. Why is this approximation worse than the approximation that says given everything we know about biology and anatomy we are very confident that virgins do not and never have given birth. Now, one may prove more useful. But there is no method for determining a proper approximation except one that feels right or will be more or less accepted by others or useful but this is not a scientifically sound application of correctness. Now, is science merely the study of the useful? If so then its justification and the definition of useful falls to other realms.
Of course it is a matter of our lives to try to be as accurate as possible. Edge towards what is useful/correct whenever possible. Play with as few mistakes as we can. But justifying this is a whole different matter, and has largely been accomplished. The next step is implementing it and encompassing not only religion but science itself and politics, history, critical theory and philosophy. So here Maher has legitimate beef. But convincing someone that the earth is not 6,000 years old is much less important than getting them to understand how their tax dollars kill others or instilling egalitarian principles.
Science has succeeded in creating a useful system that works for us now. And it has proven to be useful in the past. But that still does not satisfy why this particular faith in this particular method is more correct than this particular faith. In the end the math cannot prove itself. It needs words.
And the words are vulnerable. Wittgenstein I guess opposed Leibniz and classical philosophers because he seemed to think that knowledge was two things, a concept similar to a right triangle that doesn’t truly exist that we use as a rhetorical reference and a manner of denoting certainty in language.
And this is where the superiority of Zen arises. But Zen does not need to bully other religions, it would never even say it was correct. Zen is neither correct nor not correct. At the same time it is correct and it is not correct.
Now Zen needs little superstition, it falls into some nonsense, but that is the point. It cannot be a practical religion otherwise. There is sense and nonsense. There is being and nonbeing. These things exist and don’t exist. Yen and yang.
Zen is built upon the fundamental goodness and understanding of Buddhism. I compare Buddhism to Spinoza and Zen to Wittgenstein. One defines and one expounds by deconstruction. I think Zen is the religion for the West, it is completely compatible with modern physics in that all substance is mutable and we exist outside of ourselves. We have a self and we don’t have a self.
Re: reincarnation which when explained properly makes perfect sense. I was talking about for example Buddha who compares living to candles burning. We die but our essence lives on in others. The part I remember you particularly liked at the time was when he asked why we identify more with ourselves as babies then someone else our own age. Not Jesus dying and getting up five days later type resurrection. But it is a total disservice to make young people mash them together! I think it must serve some indoctrinating purpose.
You say that if everything is God, then God is the construct and not a piece or component of the construct.This reminds me of two things. The first comes from the movie as well. Bill Maher asks the costumed Jesus how the trinity could exist, God could be the Holy Spirit, Jesus and God all at the same time. Costumed Jesus explains that it is like water, which can be a liquid gas and solid all at once. Bill Maher says hmmm that was interesting for like two minutes and then I remembered it is all bullshit anyway – or something to that effect. Which tells me he really doesn’t get it either. Isn’t a single number part of infinity but also a single number at the same time? Isn’t a song a bunch of individual notes in sequence that our brain connects and pieces together into a single piece? That is the essence of being and nonbeing.
The second is Aristotle’s Paradox of Place: “… if everything that exists has a place, place too will have a place, and so on ad infinitum.”
Perhaps I can try a different route: where does consciousness begin? Faith offers as good an answer as science. Now, you say that faith is not a priori. As an aside I think a priori is like sort of a false term that gets abused frequently. I like how you put it in those terms though and I hope my explanation justifies that last sentence there…
Now, if we cannot comfortably say (like, what species) where consciousness begins, there are three possibilities. Consciousness does not exist – there is no soul – and it is merely a perception of space time, mere tropisms and stimuli. Consciousness does exist. We have a soul. And last, it exists and does not exist. We have a soul and don’t have a soul. We are a series of countless chemical reactions and we make our own decisions. We are responsible and not. If consciousness does exist and it all requires faith generated from response to this or that stimuli then maybe faith is a priori because it is a necessary material for building a foundation in experience. As in without experience nothing exists…chicken and the egg type question.
I might be pushing my luck but I think knowledge is the same way. All I know is that I don’t know nothing. In an absolute sense, we know nothing. (The absolute is God in Spinoza’s thinking). In a relative sense, we know everything.
Now, a few fixed points from which to proceed; Humans and nature are the same and obey the same motions; I would say first, concepts exist and don’t exist, just like America they exist in our mind but they have consequence in reality. So concepts are as powerful as we endow them to be; There is no absolute knowledge. Therefore knowledge of all people is equal in merit but not usefulness. This is an idea expressed in democracy; Everything we use as a concept has power that we endow it with, through use. Passive acquiescence to language and concepts can be overcome by active thought/action; Next, race does not exist in any definable sense. It is merely a concept that evolved due to evolutionary and historical pressures. There is no genetic proof of race; Therefore setting aside concepts such as race gender religious affiliation etc. has to be on the table. Not tossed out, as you said these things are useful to build understanding off of. The most important is age discrimination. We force young people to believe what we think and force them into schools and discredit their feelings and intuitions because they are born with a less superior knowledge than one that has been alive (false superiority of knowledge vs. experience and emotions). But given that no knowledge is absolute why should young people not get to decide what they want to be taught?
Lastly you say it’s better to go to school than church. We may disagree but in my experience they are pretty much the same thing.