Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Religion needs yoga or practice—or spiritual technology—to help reveal and deepen it in one’s life

As noble a goal as immanental transcendentalism was (and still is), it expressed itself via two major flaws in the postmodern age. Those twin errors have reaped untold amounts of suffering as well as caused nearly irreparable confusion regarding how we approach the ultimate.
The first flaw was that postmodernity had no real mechanism for differentiating between and judging amongst the various forms of immanental expression.  In extreme cases, just about anything that could be expressed—anything within this world and particularly within one’s experience—was considered to be salvific.
A prosaic example is the notion, common since the 1960s, that the intellect is anti-spiritual and what you need to do to become more spiritual is “get into your feelings”—as if any old feeling were automatically more enlightened somehow than any thought.  Martin Luther King Jr. you may recall had a dream, not a feeling.  Dreams are visions that involve the mind.
This same virus has infected not only individual spiritual seeking but also social-political movements.  By the (il)logical rigor of the position that feelings expressed are the mode of liberation, the Tea Party protests in the United States this year were a great enlightening event—according to postmodern thought.  It was a collective form of immanence and hence therefore, according to this school of thought, salvific.
In terms of collective expression of will—if that alone is what is salvation—then there is no difference between the Civil Rights movement and the Tea Party protests.  None.  Not spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically.
At which point of course postmodernists—generally not fans of hard right-wing American views—would likely balk and say something to the effect of “well I didn’t mean that kind of expression.”
And the phrase “that kind of expression” shows the limits of postmodernity and traps itself in its own self-inconsistency.  In other words, that kind of expression understood to be somehow wrong or immoral shows that not all kinds of immanence are equally transcendent or salvific in nature.
Yet, generically speaking, postmodernity lacked any rationale as to why it held the opinions it held regarding which forms of immanence were valid and which forms were invalid.  It all became essentially a matter of emotional preference, leaving individuals increasingly alienated from one another (because of their feelings!!!).  As I will argue later in more detail, alienation (i.e. the avoidance of relationship) is the primary form of sin—or the breaking of the link to the transcendent.  If that is true, then we are lost in a collective practice of sin.

The second flaw of postmodernism with regard to religion was not having a sufficiently grounded yoga or practice—or spiritual technology—to help illuminate the transcendent in the immanent in a profound and really transformative way.
An example.  I mentioned earlier that Jacques Derrida towards the end of his life spent a significant amount of time studying and writing on negative theology (traditionally called apophatic theology). Though the term apophatic usually refers to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystical theology, there are Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoism versions of apophaticism (though they go by a different name)… Derrida—here representing the postmodern urge and mood—never undertook those practices (so far as I can tell by his writings on the subject)… 
As such, postmodernity became a “talking school” of spirituality and religion.  It was still all too identified with the eye of mind.  All of the postmodern writers above, though they write beautifully and at times transcendentally, have no real way of teaching how they got to the point of view that they did that offered them such a majestic vista on the life process. Without a mature intellectual understanding of the spiritual nor a practice to help reveal and deepen it in one’s life, postmodernism floundered. 6:20 PM   9:26 AM

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Denying differences is a recipe for disaster

From this perspective, popularized by "perennial philosophers" such as Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell and Huston Smith, all religions are beautiful and all are true. The prevailing metaphor portrays the world's religions as different paths up the same mountain. "It is possible to climb life's mountain from any side," writes Mr. Smith, "but when the top is reached the trails converge."
This is a seductive sentiment in a world in which religious violence can seem as present and potent as God. But it is dangerous, disrespectful and untrue. […] Of course, one purpose of the "all religions are one" meme is to stop this fighting and this killing. But this meme, however well intentioned, is neither accurate nor ethically responsible. God may be one according to the Abrahamic religions, but when it comes to the mathematics of divinity, one is not the only number. Many Buddhists believe in no god, and many Hindus believe in 330,000. Moreover, the characters of these divinities differ wildly. […]

You would think that champions of multiculturalism would warm to this fact, glorying in the diversity inside and across religious traditions. But even among multiculturalists, the tendency is to pretend that the differences between, say, Christianity and Islam are more apparent than real, and that the differences inside religious traditions just don't warrant the fuss practitioners make over them. […]

The Age of Enlightenment popularized the ideal of religious tolerance, and we are doubtless better for it. But the idea of religious unity is wishful thinking nonetheless, and it has not made the world a safer place. In fact, this naive theological groupthink—call it Godthink—has made the world more dangerous by blinding us to the clashes of religions that threaten us world-wide.
Faith in the unity of religions is just that—faith, and perhaps even a kind of fundamentalism. And it does not just infect the perennialists. While popular religion writers such as Mr. Smith see in all religions the same truth and the same virtue, new atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins see in all religions the same idiocy and the same poison. In both cases, Godthink is ideological rather than analytical. It gestates in the dense clouds of desire rather than with a clear-eyed vision of how things are in the ground. In the case of the new atheists, it springs from the understandable desire to denounce the evil in religion. In the case of the perennialists, it begins with the equally understandable desire to praise the good in religion. […]

Some people are convinced that the only foundation on which inter-religious civility can be constructed is the dogma that all religions are one. I am not one of them. In our most intimate human relationships, who is so naive as to imagine that partners or spouses must be essentially the same? What is required in any healthy relationship is knowing who the other person really is. Denying differences is a recipe for disaster. What works is understanding the differences and then coming to accept and, when appropriate, to respect them. After all, it is not possible to agree to disagree until you see just what the disagreements might be. And tolerance is an empty virtue until we actually understand whatever it is we are supposed to be tolerating. Stephen Prothero is a professor of religion at Boston University. This essay was adapted from his book "God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter," recently published by HarperOne. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Funeral of secular reason

 Does Reason Know What It Is Missing? New York Times (blog) - Stanley Fish
The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has long been recognized as the most persistent and influential defender of an Enlightenment ... In recent years, however, Habermas’s stance toward religion has changed. First, he now believes that religion is not going away and that it will continue to play a large and indispensable part in many societies and social movements. And second, he believes that in a post-secular age — an age that recognizes the inability of the secular to go it alone — some form of interaction with religion is necessary: “Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.”
The question of course is what does Habermas mean by “introduce”? How exactly is the cooperation between secular reason and faith to be managed? Habermas attempted to answer that question in the course of a dialogue with four Jesuit academics who met with him in
Munich in 2007. The proceedings have now been published in Ciaran Cronin’s English translation (they appeared in German in 2008) under the title “An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-secular Age.”  
Habermas begins his initial contribution to the conversation by recalling the funeral of a friend who in life “rejected any profession of faith,” and yet indicated before his death that he wanted his memorial service to take place at St. Peter’s Church in Zurich. Habermas decides that his friend “had sensed the awkwardness of non-religious burial practices and, by his choice of place, publicly declared that the enlightened modern age has failed to find a suitable replacement for a religious way of coping with the final rite de passage.” The point can be sharpened: in the context of full-bodied secularism, there would seem to be nothing to pass on to, and therefore no reason for anything like a funeral.
To be sure, one could regard funerals for faith-less persons as a vestige of values no longer vital or as a concession to the feelings and desires of family members, but Habermas chooses to take it seriously “as a paradoxical event which tells us something about secular reason.” What it tells us, he goes on to say, is that secular reason is missing something and without it threatens to “spin out of control.”
What secular reason is missing is self-awareness. It is “unenlightened about itself” in the sense that it has within itself no mechanism for questioning the products and conclusions of its formal, procedural entailments and experiments. “Postmetaphysical thinking,” Habermas contends, “cannot cope on its own with the defeatism concerning reason which we encounter today both in the postmodern radicalization of the ‘dialectic of the Enlightenment’ and in the naturalism founded on a naïve faith in science.”