Friday, March 16, 2012

Therapeutic functions of religious beliefs

Shortly after the incident of 27 February, 2012 (the so-called scuffle between Dr Datta and those who protested against the Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram), the members of the Working Committee of Auroville stopped Sraddhalu Ranade’s lectures at the Savitri Bhavan. The WC members were too eager to listen to the grossly exaggerated account of Arindam & Co, who presented it as a physical assault on Dr Dilip Datta by a violent group of fundamentalists. This is certainly not a sober reaction from people who claim to represent an attempt at world unity. It looks more like a bunch of virulent supporters of Peter Heehs who would speak of freedom of speech when a fellow American is affected and collective responsibility when they want to crack down on the freedom of speech of their enemies! What hypocrisy! Besides, have the WC members thought of the political consequences of such an immature decision apart from the Western chauvinism that is so starkly exhibited? Have they also not been caught in this Westerners vs Indians conflict unleashed by Peter Heehs?
You would say, “The WC has cracked down on Sraddhalu’s rights because he was responsible for the “assault” on Dr Dilip Datta and the other Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, who are all Indians.” But is it not true that the WC gives its unthinking support to the Trustees because the Trustees support Peter Heehs, who is a Westerner? Would they have supported the Trustees if the latter had been against Peter Heehs? Certainly not! So after all, the WC members (who are mostly Westerners) are basically supporting another Westerner! And so any Indian who goes against their feelings and dares to speak the truth has to face their ire and be debarred of his freedom of speech! Has history rolled back and are we back to pre-independence days!
I would like to remind these Westerners not to take such chauvinistic positions, for one day or the other, the tide will turn and the docile Indians will rise up en masse, and then it will be too late to lisp beautiful quotations of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on world unity. Of course, there would always be Indians who are sycophants of Westerners in the name of “cultural exchange” or who are married to Westerners making it difficult for them to break relations with them. Or who are overly tolerant of the whims and fancies of Westerners who have still not got over their colonial hangover. But luckily there are also Westerners in Auroville who can rise above their national sense and act according to higher principles rather than give in to this natural chauvinism which they are often not even aware of until somebody shouts, “Hey, you are stepping on my toes!”

The problems with ineffable ethics by Amod Lele on Mar.04, 2012, 28 Comments for this entry Thill - March 4th, 2012 on 11:54 pm
At first, I would like to offer some examples of Wittgenstein’s exquisite moral sensitivity and austere moral judgment. Later, I will attempt an interpretation of his stance on the ethical. Thill - March 5th, 2012 on 6:38 pm
Wittgenstein had no religious faith. He is on record stating that he couldn’t possibly bring himself to believe in the things his Catholic friends and students believed in. He is also on record stating that he did not understand some central claims of theism. I think that what W. admired most in a person or way of life were the moral qualities exhibited by that person or nurtured by that way of life. He seems to have put courage and kindness on top of the list here.
It’s easy to misunderstand W’s respect for some religious beliefs and practices. He is expressing respect for the moral qualities nurtured by or exhibited in those practices and is not affirming the (non-moral) content of those beliefs and practices independently of the moral qualities they help cultivate. Thill - March 7th, 2012 on 1:48 am
I strongly suspect that Wittgenstein believed that authentic religiousness always takes the forms of authentic moral attitudes and conduct. Hence, his suggestion that immorality in the context of religion must really spring from irreligiousness. This raises the important question: What is the relation between religiousness and moral attitudes and conduct? Of course, we need to first clearly understand the terms “religious” and “moral” in order to answer this question.
How do we account for fanaticism, intolerance, group bigotry, religious hatred or the odium theologicum, etc., in terms of W.’s (uncritical) belief concerning the relation between the religious and the moral life? W.’s position would lead him to maintain (implausibly?) that the Inquisition and other forms of religious violence and persecution are the products of irreligiousness. Or is W. actually identifying what is significant in religion with the moral or ethical attitudes and conduct? If so, since an identity relation goes both ways, he would be required to view any moral or ethical attitude or conduct as a significantly religious attitude or conduct.
An atheist could be a moral person. But it would not make sense to say that he or she is a religious person on this ground. Or, are we to construe W. as holding that the test of the meaning, value, and power of a religious belief consists in its ability to morally transform, for the better, the character, attitudes, and conduct of the person holding that belief? Perhaps, this is the best interpretation of W.’s view of the relation between the religious and the ethical. Thill - March 8th, 2012 on 10:52 pm
I think it is important to distinguish between theological doctrines or justifications of religious beliefs and those religious beliefs in the context of everyday practice. W. didn’t think much of theology (he was dismissive of Newman, Barth, etc, and wrote in Culture and Value that “If Christianity is the truth then all the philosophy that is written about it is false”!) but had great respect for sincerely held religious beliefs. Again, a perusal of his remarks on religious beliefs shows very clearly his emphasis on and admiration for the moral attitudes, dispositions, evaluations, conduct they help foster. In fact, he frequently translates religious utterances into “moralese” or moral terms.
Now, my question here is: Does religious belief only foster morally praiseworthy attitudes, dispositions, evaluations, conduct, etc? How would W. respond to examples of religious beliefs which foster morally reprehensible attitudes, dispositions, evaluations, conduct, etc? And is W. assuming that religious beliefs have, in some mysterious way, a causal power to foster morally praiseworthy attitudes than morally reprehensible ones? How does this causal power actually work?
Any form of functionalism entails an account of the causal processes which enable the fulfillment of the function (e.g., the structure of the heart helps it to be the locus of causal processes resulting in the pumping of blood to the body). So, who how do religious beliefs fulfill their function of fostering morally praiseworthy attitudes, conduct, etc? Thill - March 8th, 2012 on 11:00 pm
W. also relates religious beliefs to certain aspects of the human condition or states of the human “soul” or heart: loneliness, despair, the feeling of being safe no matter what happens, etc. Perhaps, then, it would be correct to add that he also acknowledged the therapeutic functions of religious beliefs, e.g., prayer in the face of misery or despair. Reply 
Philosophical Therapeautics: Pierre Hadot and Ancient Philosophy as Way of Life.

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