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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Further Thoughts on Religion Without God

1. Faith and Belief Again.

Dworkin obviously distinguishes faith and belief since for him both an atheist and a theist can have faith.

Let's reexamine belief. A belief is a position, a formulation, a formula, an expression we use to deal with our world or act in our environment. It's a mean of communication, a way of passing on information that will affect behavior. A belief is part of and takes significance in a system of beliefs--a language, ritual, behavioral system that is dynamic and holistic. Each belief or expression holds up in relation to other beliefs and expressions in an evolving complex whole.

A belief is also held or uttered by a society (tribe, community) that is developing in an environment that is continually changing. Therefore a belief can never be wholly adequate, complete, or unconditioned.

Some use "faith" to denote a belief system as it is constructed and evolving. But faith as an act, an attitude, or a virtue is not a belief, but the transformation of beliefs. It is an act of critique. It is an attitude of openness to the new. It is the virtue of continual transcendence. In a sense, to have faith is to be an unbeliever, to nurture a doubt, to search for a new insight or revelation.  But it is also an act of believing--of expressing and dealing with doubt and of transforming one's belief system.

I keep coming back to this distinction because I think that it is the confusion of faith with belief that leads us to destructive judgments, fixed positions, and the suppression of faith thus retarding human progress. Beliefs separate while faith unites. I think it is very important distinction when we are talking about Religion with or without God or God with or without Religion. (Though, as you will see, I'm not sure I want to talk about either.) (And yet I keep doing so, don't I?)

2. Symbolic Insight.

Another source of perplexity I think is the lack of understanding of the human capacity to make symbols. And the distinction between the symbolic act and the symbol or the speaking and the spoken. I know that totally confused my brother-in-law Dick in my piece on the Pope leading Roman Catholicism back to the Universal Church. I know it confused my friend Pat in my last piece on Dworkin's Religion Without God.

In the middle of the 20th century, symbolic behavior (including the use of analogy and metaphor) was recognized as the human way of behavior. Language, fine art, mythology, religion, philosophy, mathematics, and science are all symbolic modes of getting along in the world. That doesn't mean that the symbol (including analogy and metaphor) is a form between humanity and reality, i.e. a medium which stands for or associates with real things. It is the form by which we approach, appreciate, know, and communicate reality.

Since the symbolic insight of the 20th century (what Suzanne Langer called a "philosophy in a new key"), neuroscientists have converged upon the elements of the brain that have evolved to make our capacity to symbolize possible. As far as we know, symbolic behavior (at least to the extent of creating a culture) is peculiar to homo sapiens, but that doesn't mean it originates in Krypton or has some supernatural origin--as in a divine infusion of a soul.

I think that the recognition of human behavior as symbolic and of the symbolic character of the world is terribly important for maintaining our ability to transcend the artifacts (including so-called revealed truths) that we create to deal with each other and our world. I also think that it is essential to faith and to humor which I have shown elsewhere go together like love and marriage.

Indeed the problem with Stalinists, Islamacists, fundamentalist Christians, America exceptionalists, and other true believers is that they do not appreciate the symbolic nature of the universe and ourselves within it. They take what they or others say and believe too seriously and so undermine human transcending existence.

3. The End of Theology

With symbolic insight, one can interpret from one belief system into another. That is the enterprise of political punditry, art criticism, philosophy of science, ethics, and theology. I once studied theology in a Jesuit School of Theology and then in the U of Chicago Divinity School. The job of theology is to make sense in contemporary terms and worldview the beliefs that arose in an earlier time and worldview. A theologian is at the service of his/her church or religion charged with interpreting traditional doctrine for contemporary believers and thus to maintain the relevancy of the religion and church.

I appreciated Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, Paul Tillich, Edward Schillebeeecks, Karl Barth and their reinterpretations of Christian teachings using modern historical criticism. They were trying to maintain the currency of Christian institutions.

As a theologian, I was able to defend the RC Church's teaching on infallibility, real presence in the Eucharist, priesthood, God the Creator, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, virgin birth, resurrection of the body, heaven and hell and everything else in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and the proclamations of Rome by showing how they could be understood using social psychology, symbolic act theory, and new science. I still can. I can translate and affirm all the dogmas of the Church.

But why? It no longer interests me to translate Christianity into contemporary language or to save Christian institutions. I no longer think that the theological project is important. It is the project of Kafka's Hunger Artist. The sooner we let go of the theological project, except as a historical curiosity, the better. I do value the work of Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell, the historians of religion and the Jesus scholars who are attempting to lift up the values of human transcendence in understanding mythology and religious symbols. But I do not care to support religions that preserve, rather than challenge, values, economic interests, and political hierarchies.

Theology was once considered the queen of science. I think biology is now queen but in process of passing the scepter to cybernetics--the science of information systems.

4. From symbolic interaction theory to universal information theory

I am in uncharted lands here--unsure of my paths ahead. After reading Douglas Hofstadter "Analogy as Core of Cognition,"James Gleick, The Information, Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity, Ray Kurzweil and all the other techno-visionaries, I realize I am still somewhat stuck in a 20th century philosophy. Symbolic Interaction Theory, while an advance in our understanding of cognition, humanity, and the world is being subsumed into universal information theory. I think this will have a tremendous influence on our culture, economy, politics, and ethics that will need to be explored.

Perceiving the universe as interconnected, flowing bits of information, humanity as transmitter of memes, society as information exchange, the world as information transmitted and exchanged provides new insight into the globalizing economy, into the unifying theory of science, into culture and religion, and for the ethics of integrity.

But that is for a future blog.


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