Thursday, January 31, 2008
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Worship of glory arising from power is not only dangerous; it arises from a barbaric conception of God
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
But in trying to make clear the distinctively religious senses of transcendence, I think Taylor narrows the notion a bit. I think this actually obscures important aspects of religious experience as well as the possibilities for transcendence outside religion. Moreover, I think Taylor himself offers us tools for thinking about transcendence in this more multidimensional way. In A Secular Age, and in much of his other work of recent decades, Taylor runs in effect three parallel and mutually informing arguments. One is about the narrowing of the self to a being of mere self-interest – or rather a narrowing of thinking about the self, since Taylor is at pains to point out that even while utilitarian theories have grown so have richer ideas of the person and human potential. A second is about the flattening of the notion of good, so that instead of having a strong idea of “the good” that gives order to our moral lives and aspirations – what Taylor calls a moral horizon or a higher good – we often think in terms simply of many goods, all in principle quantitatively comparable. And the third is about the importance of transcendence vs. immanence, of the difference between seeing “this world” as all there is, and of having a sense of something more.
By setting the three arguments alongside each other, and trying to integrate them more, we can enrich the idea of transcendence. Specifically, we can see that each evokes an idea of transcendence: transcending mere self-interest and more limited notions of the self is among other things an occasion for self-transformation. In other words, this is not simply thinking differently about a self that remains unchanged. We are actually able to change who we are – albeit not often radically – to make more of ourselves than what we find on initial self-examination. Similarly, commitment to a higher good necessarily includes a transcendence of mere goods.
Taylor himself articulates three senses of transcendence, three dimensions in which we go “beyond”: a good higher than human flourishing (such as love in the sense of agape), a higher power (such as God), and extension of life (or even “our lives”) beyond the “natural” scope between birth and death (summarized on p. 20). He is clearly concerned to bring out what is distinctive to a religious rather than a secular orientation. But let me suggest the value of seeing the transcendent as including what Taylor lists but not limiting our notion of “going beyond” to these senses.
The easiest to grasp, partly because Taylor has so wonderfully articulated it, is the notion of transcendence built into the idea of self-transformation. We can, as he put it in Sources of the Self, want to have better wants. In this phrase he captures both remaking the self and the importance of a notion of higher good. The higher good may or may not be backed by a higher power (and as discussions of Durkheim by Taylor and Bellah in this blog suggest, the higher power may or may not be Divine). It may not even transcend our selves in all senses – as the Aristotelian pursuit of excellence calls for transcending an initial state of the self in pursuit of a better one. The higher good may transcend human flourishing without transcending all senses of “nature” (as Taylor’s references to Gaia suggest). But – and this is crucial – many kinds of commitment to human flourishing already transcend the narrower sense of self which Taylor thinks has become more common in a secular age. To really order our lives by an ideal of improving the human condition is already to be oriented to transcending that condition as we found it. This approaches a second sense of transcendence, the transcendence of the self embodied in commitment and connection to others. This may be love (which is already more than simply valuing fairness or most other notions of a merely ethical universalism). The Christian notion of agape situates this as participation in God’s love for humanity, but we need not understand love this way for it to be transcendent. Moreover, the transcendent aspect of social relations is not grasped simply by altruism. It is not necessarily an orientation to others rather than self, but includes the transformation of self that comes through opening ourselves to noninstrumental social relationships. We transcend the sense of ourselves as individually complete and necessarily who we already are not only in personal relationships but in larger groups, including movements which work for larger social transformation. To say that there is transcendence of self in relationships with and commitment to others, thus, may point to a more differentiated notion of society than the Durkheimian whole.
And this points us to the third sense of still-earthly transcendence, active participation in history. “The world as it is” is an ahistorical phrase. The world as we find it is inevitably subject to change, and we may shape that change in various smaller or larger ways. The sense of possibility this can open up invites a certain “fullness,” an orientation to a higher good, a sense of participation in something that will live beyond our natural lives. The history in which we participate is potentially, as Hannah Arendt stressed, world-making. It may involve revolutionary transformations and enduring institutions. But this orientation to history need not be either revolutionary or utopian to be transcendent. What is crucial is the capacity to envision history as more than mere change, as transformation in which we may participate.
So, there is transcendence in self-transformation, in relationships with others, and in the effort to make history. None of this negates the religious senses of transcendence Taylor describes – nor the extension of a “spiritual”, quasi-religious attitude in understanding nature itself as sacred. Indeed, these may coincide and reinforce each other. Faith in God may make faith in other people easier, may make the struggle for a better future more sustainable. Conversely, though, the transcendence of self in relationships with others may also help to sustain faith in God.
More generally, it seems important to be attentive to several dimensions in which it is possible to transcend resignation to ourselves and to the world as we find them. This entry was posted on Monday, January 28th, 2008 at 6:00 am and is filed under A Secular Age.
Religious citizens who participate in political advocacy in the informal public sphere can offer exclusively religious reasons
- the liberal emphasis on the obligation to provide nonreligious reasons in support of coercive policies with which all citizens must comply, on one side, and
- the critic’s insistence on the right of religious citizens to adopt their religious stance in public deliberation about such policies, on the other.
Habermas agrees with the liberal position in defending the separation of church and state, and thus the institutional priority of nonreligious reasons in politics. Consequently, he accepts the Rawlsian view that nonreligious reasons must be offered to justify coercive policies in political deliberation at the institutional level of parliaments, courts, ministries and administrations, that is, in the formal public sphere. But he proposes to eliminate this requirement in the informal public sphere. Religious citizens who participate in political advocacy in the informal public sphere can offer exclusively religious reasons in support of the policies they favor in the hope that they may be translated into nonreligious reasons. But the obligation of translation should not fall exclusively on the shoulders of religious citizens, as the Rawlsian approach suggests. According to Habermas, secular citizens must share the burden of translating religious into nonreligious reasons. In order to do so, they have to take religious reasons seriously and should not deny their possible truth from the outset.
At first sight, this proposal may seem less restrictive than the Rawlsian and thus better equipped to enable the political inclusion of religious citizens. However, unlike Rawls, Habermas imposes additional constraints on the epistemic attitudes appropriate to democratic citizenship. According to him, the normative expectations of democratic citizenship can only be met after some crucial “learning processes” have taken place among both religious and secular citizens. On the one hand, religious citizens must develop a self-reflective attitude towards Modernity. This involves accepting the possible truth of other religions, the authority of science, and the institutional priority of nonreligious reasons in politics. On the other hand, secular citizens must develop a self-reflective attitude towards the post-secular society in which they live. This involves transcending a secularist understanding of Modernity, according to which religions have no cognitive substance. As a consequence, severe restrictions are imposed on the types of reasons that may legitimately be used in political discussions in the public sphere. For example, religious citizens cannot appeal to religious reasons that deny the authority of science or the possible truth of other religions, and secular citizens cannot appeal to secularist reasons that deny the possible truth of religious beliefs.
Now, for all that, Habermas could still be right in claiming that the political inclusion of all democratic citizens will only be possible if their respective cognitive stances undergo these transformations. Certainly, if citizen’s cognitive stances were to become similar enough the problem of political integration would eventually disappear. But it seems to me that if an ethics of democratic citizenship is needed at all, it is needed precisely to answer the question of what citizens should do in cases of conflict before such an ideal endpoint is reached. Under conditions of pluralism, a solution to the problem of political integration can hardly consist in the hope that the problem will evaporate if and when some views at both extremes of the spectrum disappear (e.g. the views of religious citizens who believe in creationism and secularist citizens who believe that religions are irrational). What is at issue here is whether democratic citizens can be politically integrated as they actually are, i.e., given their actual religious or secularist cognitive stances.
But is it possible to organize public deliberation in such a way that the right of democratic citizens to adopt their own cognitive stances is recognized without giving up on the democratic obligation to secure that only public reasons count in support of coercive policies with which all citizens must comply?
Sunday, January 27, 2008
There really are aspects of Buddhism which are mythical, irrational, metaphysical, and just plain weird
"Four years ago, I joined a Buddhist meditation class and began talking to (and reading books by) intellectuals sympathetic to Buddhism. Eventually, and regretfully, I concluded that Buddhism is not much more rational than the Catholicism I lapsed from in my youth; Buddhism's moral and metaphysical worldview cannot easily be reconciled with science—or, more generally, with modern humanistic values."
This makes me wonder what kind of meditation class Horgan went to. How long did he practice Buddhism? What school of Buddhism did he get his experience from? In any case, I could relate with Horgan. One of the reasons I chose not to convert to Buddhism or label my faith as exclusively Buddhist (although agnostic Buddhist comes close) is that there really are aspects of Buddhism which are mythical, irrational, metaphysical, and just plain weird. From that perspective, Buddhism is no different than Catholicism (or any mythic religion and their metaphysics).
"Buddhism espouses reincarnation, which holds that after death our souls are re-instantiated in new bodies, and karma, the law of moral cause and effect. Together, these tenets imply the existence of some cosmic judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with rebirth as a cockroach or as a saintly lama."
I admit. Reincarnation is a touchy subject with lots of metaphysical baggage. Though some adherents of Buddhism appear to worship and pray to countless buddhas, there is no "cosmic judge" in Buddhism. The notion of karma (the law of cause and effect) dispatches the need for a "cosmic judge", or even God. There is no cosmic judge in Buddhism the same way as there is no cosmic judge when it comes to natural selection in evolution. I find Horgan's view of reincarnation and karma as hogwash. Horgan's view of reincarnation and karma sounds New Agey to me.
"Much more dubious is Buddhism's clam that perceiving yourself as in some sense unreal will make you happier and more compassionate. Ideally, as the British psychologist and Zen practitioner Susan Blackmore writes in The Meme Machine, when you embrace your essential selflessness, "guilt, shame, embarrassment, self-doubt, and fear of failure ebb away and you become, contrary to expectation, a better neighbor." But most people are distressed by sensations of unreality, which are quite common and can be induced by drugs, fatigue, trauma, and mental illness as well as by meditation."
I'm no Buddhist scholar, but I think Horgan misses the point of Buddhism's nuanced views of reality. There are different schools of Buddhism and Horgan didn't make a distinction which school of Buddhism he is critiquing. Since he mentioned Zen, Robert Thurman and Chogyam Trungpa, I'll assume that Horgan is thinking about Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. However, in Tibetan Buddhism alone, there are four major schools each with its own interpretation of Buddhist teachings and sets of practices. Granted, Horgan was generalizing to make a point. But equating the Buddhist teaching of illusion (or maya) with mental delusion (i.e. sensations of unreality, trauma, mental illness) seems very irresponsible to me. The underlying assumption of Horgan is that, our waking state is what is acceptable as a normal experience.
"What's worse, Buddhism holds that enlightenment makes you morally infallible—like the pope, but more so. Even the otherwise sensible James Austin perpetuates this insidious notion. " 'Wrong' actions won't arise," he writes, "when a brain continues truly to express the self-nature intrinsic to its [transcendent] experiences." Buddhists infected with this belief can easily excuse their teachers' abusive acts as hallmarks of a "crazy wisdom" that the unenlightened cannot fathom."
There is some element of truth to this for some gurus who are deluded with their spiritual accomplishments. But this issue holds true for all religious traditions. But I didn't get the idea that "enlightenment makes you morally infallible" from the Dalai Lama or from some of the Buddhist teachers I know. I wonder what kind of Buddhist teachers Horgan hung out with.
"But what troubles me most about Buddhism is its implication that detachment from ordinary life is the surest route to salvation. Buddha's first step toward enlightenment was his abandonment of his wife and child, and Buddhism (like Catholicism) still exalts male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. It seems legitimate to ask whether a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexuality and parenthood is truly spiritual. From this perspective, the very concept of enlightenment begins to look anti-spiritual: It suggests that life is a problem that can be solved, a cul-de-sac that can be, and should be, escaped."
While it is true (based on the folklore about the Buddha) that the path the Buddha took towards his own "enlightenment" was radical, upon "awakening" the Buddha preached about The Four Noble Truths and with it, The Eightfold Path. Buddhism is also known for its Middle Way approach.
"All religions, including Buddhism, stem from our narcissistic wish to believe that the universe was created for our benefit, as a stage for our spiritual quests. In contrast, science tells us that we are incidental, accidental. Far from being the raison d'être of the universe, we appeared through sheer happenstance, and we could vanish in the same way. This is not a comforting viewpoint, but science, unlike religion, seeks truth regardless of how it makes us feel. Buddhism raises radical questions about our inner and outer reality, but it is finally not radical enough to accommodate science's disturbing perspective. The remaining question is whether any form of spirituality can."
I think Horgan is correct when Buddhism is viewed from its popular and mythical perspective (e.g. concepts of karma and reincarnation). However, what I think Horgan misses is that, from a developmental point of view, religion has its levels. This has been eloquently articulated by Wilber in his Beliefnet essay, Which Level of God Do You Believe In? So there is a magic Buddhism, mythic Buddhism, a mental Buddhism, etc. Same as with other religions. A mental Buddhism (or Catholicism) has no problem being reconciled with science -- science of well-being to be exact. It looks like Horgan got caught up with magic and mythic Buddhism. I'm not sure if he's even familiar with the Buddhist school of thought known as Madhyamaka, as popularized by Nagarjuna. Here's the description of Madhyamaka:
"The immediate implication of the essenceless of self is one of universal interdependence -- for even causes and conditions are empty of inherent existence or essence, as stated by Nagarjuna in the very first chapter of the Mulmadhyamakakarika. This means there is no first or ultimate cause for anything that occurs, essentially, all things are causally indeterminate, dependent on innumerable causes and conditions which are themselves dependent on innumerable causes and conditions."
Now which is more radical, science's view (as per Horgan) that "we are incidental, accidental" or the Buddhist notion of interdependence?
But Horgan is the author of the book Rational Mysticism so I give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he does know what he's talking about. Horgan's critique of Buddhism apply to all other religions at the magic and mythical level. But I think Horgan is coming from a very partial point of view.
On the other hand, like I said, I'm no Buddhist scholar so my views on Buddhism is very partial. So to all my Buddhist readers out there, I'd like to hear your response to Horgan's interpretation of Buddhism. What are the things he got right? What are the things he got wrong?
Finally, here's a Buddhist response to Horgan's critique. See the ABC WEB LOG: A Critique of Buddhism.
May all sentient beings experience peace, love, happiness, serendipity, serenity, and Divine discontent. January 23, 2008 at 09:26 AM in Religion Permalink Comments (5) TrackBack (0)
The Next Buddha is 'WE'
The next Buddha will not be a He, nor will be a She, but We. That is according to this fascinating essay by Michel Bauwens. Next Buddha Will be a Collective
"Religious and spiritual expression is always embedded in societal structures. If social structures are moving towards the form of distributed networks, what kind of evolution of spiritual expression can we expect? In this essay, we will first describe the general societal changes that we see emerging, and expect to become more prevalent in the future, then examine to what degree these changes will have an impact on individual and collective spiritual expression."Read more.
Very, very, very fluffy. January 25, 2008 at 05:15 AM in Spirituality, Web/Tech Permalink Comments (0) TrackBack (0)
Thursday, January 24, 2008
This is a fascinating story, and well worth the telling, particularly as Lilla weaves together both a Christian and a Jewish variant, which grew symbiotically in Germany. Of course, one might cavil at some of the interpretations; I feel that Lilla pulls his major figures perhaps a bit too far in the anthropocentric direction. In particular I feel that his Hegel interpretation is a bit too human-centred, but there is much room for disagreement here and no writer can please everyone. This is a fascinating account, from which one can’t but learn, whether in agreement or not.
But then this monograph is woven into a much broader narrative of modernity, about the coming, and then later the threatened undoing of what he calls the Great Separation. Otherwise expressed, this involved a determined sidelining of “political theology.” This meant that people were ready to understand political society in purely human terms. This, for Lilla is something achieved in the early modern West, and now perhaps under threat even here. It is foreign, even unthinkable, in other cultures. The motive for the Great Separation was the religiously inspired violence of the confessional wars of the early modern period. Its great architect for Lilla was Hobbes. The threatened return of political theology today may also weaken our defenses against the eruption of violence, hence the importance of our understanding what is at stake.
So the form of the narration is, first an important gain, and then later a threatened back-sliding. This latter threatens as a result of the tradition of liberal theology and the self-declared return to revelation that its discrediting provoked. This is a narrative rather like the secularization one, which often ends in today’s variants with a threatened “return of religion” – except that Lilla sets his face against an idea of secularization as an inevitable historical force.
Now this narrative seems to me wide of the mark. The strong metaphors, like Great Separation, and the image of our having crossed a river, distort and exaggerate the differences. On one bank, political theology supposedly reigns supreme; on the other, it has vanished.
What is political theology? Perhaps that in answering basic political-normative questions (justice, legitimate authority, war and peace, rights and obligations) one appeals to divine authority. Or perhaps that one appeals to revelation. But this is not a category for many religions, so Lilla adds “cosmological speculation.” In any case, for the modern West, “We no longer recognize revelation as politically authoritative.” But, if you look at what shaped the West “for over a millennium,” you get a much more complex picture. These issues of justice, war and peace, and so on: these were not settled by revelation according to what was long a dominant view. Take Aquinas. The sources here were natural law theory, Aristotle, sometimes Plato (admittedly, Plato comes close to leaning on “cosmological speculation,” if you think of his Idea of the Good). When it comes to legitimate rule, one important source was traditional law. Who was the legitimate successor to the previous King lately deceased?
True, there were demands on the political system made by revealed religion. The King should defend the true faith for example; this was a key notion of post-Constantinian Christendom. And there was indeed a crisis generated by different interpretations of this demand in the early modern period: the Wars of Religion, which we modern Westerners are dimly aware of as the crucible out of which certain features of modern liberal society emerged painfully and over time, most notably the principles of toleration, separation of church and state, and eventually pluralism. This was a tough and sometimes long transition. But we didn’t make it by shifting utterly our modes of political thinking, from one based on divine revelation to one based on purely human considerations.
Take the French Wars of Religion. The normative background in which these were fought out included French Law, including the Salic law of succession; the generally accepted considerations of Natural Law, and the above-mentioned demand that rulers should defend the true church against heresy. In fact the vicissitudes of the 16th Century were partly determined by the ways in which different kings weighted the different demands on them. And the crucial drama turned on the way within each side, and particularly the Catholic side, these demands were differently weighted. In the end the crucial struggle was between the Ligue under the duc de Guise, on one side, Catholic extremists who were willing to over-ride all other considerations in order to defend the Catholic faith, going even to the lengths of assassination of Kings they considered not sufficiently hostile to heresy (but to be fair, the royal party also resorted to assassination, of which Guise was a victim); and on the other side, les Politiques, the party that weighed peace, order, and legality over doctrinal purity. They won, and the compromise was the accession of Henri IV, legal according to Salic rules, along with his conversion and an Edict of toleration (l’Édit de Nantes). Paris vaut bien une messe.
Europe emerged from its wars of religion by moves of this kind. The analogues of the Politiques cobbled together various kinds of deals in which the demands for doctrinal purity were tempered by legality and the requirement of peace and order. The Holy Roman Empire became a patchwork quilt of confessional states in which each local ruler enforced his orthodoxy, while co-existing with neighbours who embraced different confessions. In other states, “heretical” faiths were tolerated within limits.
The great political philosophy which emerges out of this transition is that of modern Natural Law, whose major figures in the 17th Century were Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, Pufendorf. This was the school which invented modern human rights; that is, they made central individual “subjective” rights, rights as the property of individual agents. And they all developed powerful reasons why legitimate order should trump any theological claims about the evils of heresy (that is, not render these null and void, but trump them whenever they conflicted with the demands of order). Where in all this do we find something like a “crossing” to another shore? This seems altogether too dramatic an image. The more so, in that many of these thinkers continued to invoke the will of God as the basis of Natural Law. This is clearly the case with Pufendorf and Locke. For Locke, the kernel of Natural Law is the right to life. And the basic justification of this right is as follows: “For Men being all the Workmanship of one Omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker; All the Servants of one Sovereign Master, sent into the World by his order and about his business, they are his Property, whose Workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one anothers Pleasure.” True, this is arguably not derived from Revelation, but the product of Natural theology. Nevertheless, God remains very much part of the picture. It would not be possible to describe Locke as “thinking and talking about politics exclusively in human terms.”
So what is political theology, and when did we abandon it? One answer is to define this mode of thinking as one deriving basic premises from Revelation, and then note that it was first neutralized, subordinated to the other kinds of consideration which were always in the field, and then later, dropped altogether, in the sense that most political thinkers today do not feel the necessity of evoking revelation. Which of these steps corresponds to “crossing the river”? Hardly the first, because the notion of Nature and particularly human nature as providentially designed persists for a long time. Indeed, it is not even fully clear when the second move occurred, because since the reigning notion of the Age of Enlightenment was that a Supreme and Benevolent Being had designed the world, appeals to God and appeals to Nature were in this domain extensionally equivalent. It wasn’t really until the post-Darwin era that the notion of a normative design in nature, whether based on a theistic account or not, comes under challenge.
Later the discussion in the book seems to introduce a third conception of political theology. In the above discussion we gleaned two senses: (1) political theology exists where our normative political theory depends directly on premises from Revelation, (2) this theory depends on premises which are theological, even though not drawn (only) from Revelation (e.g. Locke and Pufendorf). To these, the discussion of Chapter 2 seems to add a third. Our whole thought about politics can be enframed by a view of God and his purposes, and their relation to human action in history, even though our normative thought doesn’t derive directly from any theological premises, revealed or rationally arrived at. Otherwise put, if we reconstruct political deliberations in the form of practical syllogisms, we are not forced to articulate any specifically theological premises.
Lilla elaborates three such enframings in pre-modern Christianity: one a hyper-Augustinian view which saw the political scene as dominated by what were in effect super-robbers, who can at least quell the petty criminals and keep them in order; a second which did try to draw some conclusions for political order in Church and State from God’s ambiguous relation to human history; and a third, that of millennial rebels, which called on people to reject all established orders in favour of the new eschatological age. “Withdrawal into monasticism, ruling the earthly city with the two swords of church and state, building the messianic New Jerusalem – which is the true model of Christian politics?” He wants to claim that the tension between these three frames helped to bring an end to political theology in Christendom.
This third sense of “political theology,” the enframing of our thought about politics and human affairs in some doctrines about God and the world, Lilla speaks of as maintaining a “divine nexus”. This sense (3) is clearly different from (1) and (2), since it is possible to practice political theory in this sense without engaging in (1) or (2). In our age, Reinhold Niebuhr provided an example. Plainly his Augustinian faith combined with his observations helped him develop a philosophical anthropology of humans as fallen creatures, which made him very skeptical of claims that human life could be radically improved by political engineering, whether communist or liberal.
So what would it mean to end political theology? Perhaps to drop it in all three forms, and to think out the great questions in entirely intra-worldly terms. This seems to be what Lilla is suggesting in Chapter 2, the “great separation.” And this impression is strengthened by his choice of Hobbes as the paradigm figure. He reads Hobbes’ “Epicureanism” i.e., mechanistic atomism, as leveling “nothing less than the Christian conception of man.” Of course, this is highly controversial, if one means that Hobbes meant to level the Christian conception. This would render the whole second half of Leviathan with its elaborate interpretation a tongue in cheek exercise meant to fool his contemporaries. Another interpretation is not ruled out. There were Christian Epicureans in the 17th Century (Gassendi, for instance). But we can by-pass this and simply say that we consider mechanistic materialism incompatible with Christian faith and that therefore Hobbes was in fact refuting it, even if he didn’t grasp this. But this reading of the Great Separation raises questions for the issue when it was supposed to occur. Hobbes was much less influential in his time than he is in ours, and this was largely because of his reductive theory. Lots of contemporaries judged of him what Lilla seems to have judged, that he was a covert atheist. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. So is the great separation consummated when we’ve all been converted to mechanistic materialism? In which case, it would have to be a moment of liberation yet to come. Or is it just when we stop talking altogether about God? But that doesn’t seem to have happened either, except in some reaches of the academy, and even there you wonder how many crypto-Niebuhrs are hiding.
So how are we to conceive the Great Separation, the abandonment of political theology? In senses (1) and (2), it was never the only game in town, except perhaps for millenarist sectarians. But it was part of the range of essential considerations for most people. There were those who in virtue of their theology in sense (3) wanted to retreat from the political world, like Anabaptists. Whatever theology they had in sense (1) could be called “negative”; have nothing to do with the powers of this world. Obey the Prince when he doesn’t demand something directly contrary to the Gospel (like joining the army), and even when he does issue such commands your disobedience should be utterly passive. Somehow we’ve got to an age in the West where there is very little direct intrusion of normative premises from theology into our political lives; but this can arise for many believers because their enframing sense of the relation to God is much more complex, and doesn’t admit of such direct transfers, or because lots of people are now atheists or agnostics, or more realistically for both reasons: because we are split about the issue of potential theological enframings, the only way we can discuss together about political issues is in terms which remain common.
I think Lilla exaggerates the importance of Hobbes, but he is right to see him as one thinker in the chain of those who developed what I have called the modern moral conception of social order. A more apt founding figure for this outlook is Grotius. It sees human beings as both each pursuing their own goals, of life and prosperity, in potential conflict with others, while at the same time they are sociable, meant to live with others. Our social morality can be derived from this predicament. Those social rules are correct which can enable humans to live together; which can in other terms harmonize their projects, so that they become mutually strengthening, instead of causes of conflict and hence destruction. This is if you like a derivation of social rules from purely human considerations, and Grotius even makes the (in)famous claim that these rules would be valid, even if God didn’t exist. But in the way these ideas were worked out, in say, Locke, or Pufendorf, or the framers of the American Declaration of Independence, they were not disconnected from theology. The assumption was that God had made human beings so that they could achieve harmony by these rules, whether this was established by reason, often in a Deistic mode, or shown by Revelation (and for many people, of course, the fact that these truths were doubly guaranteed made them all the more credible). “We hold these truths to be self-evident….” Where I agree with Lilla is that this new ethic of order could be detached from a theistic anchoring. It could be seen as inscribed in Nature (Jacobins), and then later as what our instincts and intuitions as they have developed in civilization suggest to us. What I cannot see is a moment of Great Separation, as it were, a crossing of a stream. Even today, our sense of this liberal order of equality, rights and democracy is sustained by what Rawls called an “overlapping consensus,” in which people support the same principles for a host of different reasons, Kantian, utilitarian, but also theological. Now in fact, it is hard to think across these gaps; for a believer to understand an atheist, and vice versa. So people always fall into imagining that their grounds for upholding the consensus are the only valid ones. Certain people on the US right think that Christianity is the only possible basis; certain members of the liberal academy think that if you aren’t some kind of Kantian you have no good reason to believe in Liberalism. These beliefs help to generate the kind of Kulturkampf from which the US suffers. But the fact is that our civilization is anchored in widely incompatible “comprehensive views,” to use Rawls’ term. Only if you forget this can you believe that “we” have crossed a deep divide, and that we are now threatened with regression. It seems to me that the reality is more mixed and less dramatic than that.
So on “our” (modern liberal) side of the river, “political theology” has never been wholly absent, and has often been very prominent. Unless we choose to forget abolitionists in Britain and America, the Civil Right movement, all the Second World War rhetoric about “defending Christian civilization,” etc. It is more or less prominent at different times and in different milieu, but it is always there.
And symmetrically, the kinds of philosophical considerations which we rely on today were very present on the “other” shore. One has the impression at times that Lilla sees the pre-modern age as dominated by the Guises and the Münzers. There were far too many then, but then we’ve seen quite a few in our day, not just those with a “theological” outlook, but also Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. Lilla never undertakes to describe the “other shore”, but the odd hints he does offer make me wonder. He speaks of contemporary recurrences to political theology as being unlike those of earlier days; they don’t “appeal to miracles, or biblical inerrancy, or divine providence, or sacred tradition.” Later he mentions “fanciful cosmologies.” But Biblical inerrancy is an invention of modern evangelical Protestantism; miracles were not standardly appealed to in political theory, even with a “divine nexus” (it’s true that they became very important in apologetics in the 18th Century, hence the punch in Hume’s deflationary arguments on this score); providence played a big role for thinkers of “British and American Liberalism,” of which Lilla says that for two centuries they “stayed well within the philosophical orbit that Hobbes had circumscribed.” This would certainly have surprised many of them.
One is led to wonder whether for Lilla pre-modern normative thinking was simply dictated out of Revelation. Speaking of our present enlightened age, Lilla says: “No one in modern Britain or the United States argued for a bicameral legislature on the basis of divine revelation.” But did the Norman Kings of England when they summoned the first Parliaments which provided the template for today’s British and American institutions consult the Bible or the doctrine of the Catholic Church?
Of course, one finds the tendency to derive goals directly from Revelation among sectarians and millenarists. These groups are often violent, which is one reason why many secular moderns link religion and violence. The last century has shown that this kind of murderous sectarianism is not confined to religious believers. It’s not clear to me what Lilla’s views are on this question.
In sum, the monograph on German thought is immensely stimulating and suggestive, but the broader narrative is hard to grasp, and seems to verge at times on the fantastic. This entry was posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2008 at 6:00 am and is filed under The Stillborn God.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Refinement of manners, or self-restraint, courtesy, psychological boundaries, and recognition of the other as a separate being
from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Evil as Good January 14, 2008 by bubbler
In my brief encounter with San Pedro in Cuzco 2 years ago, one of the insights I gained from that little glimpse into the hallucinogenic beyond was that there is nothing to fear in all of the vast, seemingly demonic forces arrayed beyond our understanding in the cosmos. That all is of the light, a part of the entire.
It may not be that evil is like good. They are both two side of the same coin, but most people seem to disregard the coin for the ons side or the other, when in the end their only the coin, that’s what is real.
I think good and evil has more to do with our personal choices and intentions. In some parts of samurai culture, when it was heavily influenced by Zen, some believed that killing should not be done in anger or with hatred because it tainted the work of the samurai. And part of the work of the samurai was killing.
Is killing evil or wrong? It happens in nature all of the time. Except in nature, we do not see murder or killing with bad intentions. We mostly see killing for defense and for survival.
This post will make me think a lot. I’ll have to read it again.
I agree with what you’re saying, that evil and good are two sides of what are essentially just one and the same whole coin, and that is in fact exactly the point that I wished to make, but I don’t think I did it very clearly.That’s an interesting point about the Zen approach to warfare. I think that perspective is also echoed in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna gives a lengthy poetic, philosophical-metaphysical treatise on why Arjuna should go to war and kill people that he harbors no ill-will towards.Thanks for your comment, and keep commenting!
Monday, January 14, 2008
Charles Taylor, Eli Sagan, Weston LaBarre, Lawrence Stone, Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, and Norbert Elias
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Sri Aurobindo can give you a whole new box of tools - and different people will use them in different ways
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
If a man has only the barest necessities; is his life less valuable than the rich man’s? What part of the body can be weighed on the scale to prove our value within society? The stomach? The brain? The heart? The hand?
Are the things in life really more important than the people?
Is Man the measure of all things? And if so; do we find the measure of Men by comparing how many things they have?
What is the value of a child? A tree? A stream of clean water?
Is war a means of freedom or the promise of more gain? What is the value of war?
Do you measure the sky in gulps of air per hour of your life?
How useful is the color green; or blue; or black?
Have we always believed as the post-modernists do? What mottos and bon mots have they written? Do their writings “justify” the poor?
Should we continue to rifle through the pantry of nature? Are we fulfilled? Are we “justified”?
Which of our human drives have been overturned by knowledge? By technology? By science?
Must we weigh the starry sky? What purpose must it fulfill to justify its existence? It seems a little large for our human scale. How can we diminish the night lights and make the universe more equitable? — Posted by Ted Kmiecik
As for myself, I like the argument Basil Gildersleeve, the famous professor of Classics at Johns Hopkins made in Hellas and Hesperia. Why should there be students and professors of Classics in the modern university? For the same reason there should be schools of business or departments of physics: because, in this democratic land, anything anyone wants is just dandy, and just as there are people who want to study management, or physics, there are people who want to study languages or music.
A free market system in education might mean far fewer philosophers and literati, and, I believe, far fewer good men and women, but those few would be much better. The certainly wouldn’t be caught dead enlarging “disciplinary knowledge”!
I wonder if the current university system’s affirmative action program for the humanities has afforded Mr. Fish the leisure to read Plato’s Philebus? Might it do so? — Posted by Don
On a more substantive note: Any chance you’ve seen Camille Paglia’s “Religion and the Arts in America” in _Arion_ 15.1, 2007? She is taking up questions similar to those you frame here about the tendency to discount the humanities.
Paglia seems persuasive to me as she traces Cultural Wars and, particularly, when she writes in her conclusion:
“For the fine arts to revive, they must recover their spiritual center. Profaning the iconography of other people’s faith is boring and adolescent.”She goes on to identify a Culture Wars source for assumptions and foundations which I believe continue to be relevant to the plight of the humanities (not simply the fine arts) today: polarized camps of those who espouse a “parched and narrow view of culture” on the one hand
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Today January 3 2008 a two year U.S. Senator wins the first vote for the job of the presidency of the United States defeating a hard working charasmatic southerner and the one and only "Clinton Machine" who had all they needed except one thing, an INTEGRAL VISION. Mark my word whether Obama wins or loses today Integral has shown it's face.
Edwards had everything a great story good looks great speaker humble beginnings and amazing talent. At a time when Democrats should go with the safe bet he amongst other very experienced senators and governors could not catch an unknown former state senator and two year US Senator with a controversial muslim sounding name in what the Republicans call the "age of terrorism".
That name is Barack Hussein Obama and it could not stop the effectiveness of the Integral Worldview in getting the job done. When I figured Obama to actually be Integral (which i was cautious about ) I told my friend that he would be around 10xs more efficient than the typical seeker of the presidency and I have been right.
Rocco Multiplex » Integral Naked Forums
Friday, January 4, 2008
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Economics is seen as the realm of the natural, not the social, whereas politics is the sphere of intentional social choice
Religions and the postnational constellation posted by Robert Bellah
Granted that there is a global economy, global culture, global law, global civil society, even global festivals, why are global institutions both so promising and so weak? I want to turn to Jürgen Habermas, Europe’s leading social philosopher, for help, looking particularly at his remarkable essay of 1998, “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy.”
The most fundamental question that Habermas is raising is whether a global civil society and some forms of global governance are possible, a civil society and governance that would not replace nation states but would place some limits on their autonomy, as the global economy already does. And here there is a question of what kind of people we are. Could we as Americans accept the notion of common global membership such that we would be willing to give up something of ours for the sake of Somalians or Vietnamese? It is at this point that I think we have to ask what are the cultural resources for thinking of global citizenship that would go along with global economics and moderate its excesses? Is abstract constitutional patriotism enough? It is here that we have to consider philosophical and religious resources for thinking about membership in global civil society, membership that would entail at least short-term sacrifice, though as we look at global warming and the growing numbers of failed states, the Tocquevillian idea of self-interest rightly understood is not to be ignored.
Since we actually have since the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its subsequent elaborations something that can be called a global ethic, sometimes referred to as a human rights regime, we can ask how much help we can derive from this consensus, one that is not simply an ideal but that has significant legal weight, though by far not enforceable everywhere, not even in the original home of legal human rights, the USA. And we can ask whether the questions raised by non-Western and non-Christian thinkers about the adequacy of an exclusive emphasis on human rights can be answered, as well as the question whether an exclusive focus on human rights may not be part of our problem, however much in the end it must surely be part of a solution. To the extent that human rights as we understand them have significant Christian historical roots (something many supporters of human rights may not be aware of or care to be aware of), it is also worth remembering that Christianity is now a global phenomenon. Webb Keane in his powerful book Christian Moderns has pointed out that at the beginning of the twenty-first century one-third of the world is now Christian and that one-third of those Christians live in former colonies. He further points out that many of the leaders of non-Western countries (often formerly leaders of independence movements) were educated in missionary schools even though they were not converts. One could add that reform movements in Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam have been to more than a small degree a response to Christian, especially Protestant, examples. So if there is a relation between Christianity, modernity, and human rights, it has for some time been global and can no longer be dismissed as Western...