See, that's what makes sense to me. I'm just afraid of being called a damned theosophist.
Religion is a kind of inquiry into and practice of the constitution of our pre-reflexive engagement with the world. As such, it can be a bit misleading to start off wondering what religion is saying. Propositions, to which the question of belief is applied, are part of a world produced by a certain sort of human activity. And when we talk about what we know or what we believe or what we are saying is the case, we're dealing within the frame of that world. For these sorts of inquiries, science and philosophy trump religion.
Religion is a bit more like art, or if it is like a science, it is like psychoanalysis. Superstition is what happens when this distinction is lost and religion is treated as if it were a propositional inquiry.
For example, the shamanist-panpsychist impulse which most feel represents the earliest form of religiousity is understood as the premise that the natural world is filled with, or perhaps constituted by spirits or souls; for example, that this rock and that tree have a soul. But what does this mean? From the naturalist-propositional framework, we can pursue the semantic development of these terms and suppose such a religiousity maintains that rocks and trees are a sort of subject; that they have a sort of mind. Naturally, geology and psychology would share a challenge to such a claim. But from what I take to be the more principally religious perspective, the panpsychist attitude is saying something else; not something about the propositional world at all, but rather something about the constitution of our pre-reflexive engagment with the world. It is saying that the natural world -- the materiality of which is represented in rocks and trees and so forth -- are not mere things, whose existence is thus fully constituted in sheer propositionality; but rather they address us in the field of intersubjectivity -- they possess a normative character, a phenomenological character, and represent an other (ie. an other subject; whose demand upon is remains to some extent undisclosed, yet determinant of our own ethic). This is quite a different notion than the idea that we can credibly engage in a psychological science of stones.
And it's a kind of notion with dramatic implications for the nature of your immediate experience of and engagement with the world.
This panpsychist impulse is also, then, the very occasion of the insistence that the propositional world is not exhaustive of reality; that this other space exists. Again, this other space is not a superstition -- not some other plane of existence, like heaven in the clouds, or souls which enter into congress with bodies; such notions confusedly treat the other place as if it were not other at all, but rather propositional in its own right.
If we consider religious "claims" in this light, we can maintain that different religions are "saying" different things in the sense that their frameworks represent and produce a qualitatively different engagement of the world at this pre-reflexive level. In other words, one's theology is determinative of one's experience at a more radical level than simply one of cognitive belief. Naturally, this question of one's theology cannot be limited to those who explicitly espouse a religion.
Doesn't this radical otherness (which I do find appealing) of religion seem to preclude a voluntary changing of one's cognitive beliefs?
It seems to jive well with a certain deterministic bent in that you have to wait for God's grace (whatever that means) before you can really believe. Am I so deeply ensconced in the naturalistic worldview that I can't grok your explanation adequately to believe?
It's just so tempting to try and see this Other in the way that I am accustomed to seeing: through science and reason. Should I just try and pray to let this Other remain totally Other?
I think if you consider the human subject as having, on one hand, this pre-reflexive or maybe noumenal aspect, and, on the other hand, the phenomenal, narrative, reflexive aspect, it's nonetheless important to resist thereby diving the subject into two beings.
In one sense, the idea of a "voluntary changing of one's [..] beliefs" refers to a dynamic proper only to the latter aspect of the subject; in this sense, the will involved is the will of the ego, in the Lacanian sense of the term. On the other hand, if the human subject is a willing thing at essence, the will as whole cannot be limited in this fashion, but is proper to the noumenal aspect as well. In other words -- retreating from our theoretical divisions -- the subject is one thing which, at least to some extent, wills and is self-determining, and we see some representation of this will in our conscious decisions and self-image, but it is only a representation and not the will as such.
So if by "voluntary changing of one's [..] beliefs" you mean to appeal to the idea of a transcendent ego, where the subject as a whole is fully transparent and fully determined by the deliberate will of the consciousness, then I am definitely calling this possibility into question, although 'preclude' may be a little strong.
On the other hand, my objection does not diminish the efficacy of the will in it's entire (ie. including noumenal) character. In other words, we are paradoxically self-determining in a way which we (as ego) do not understand and experience.
We might suppose that the elaboration of a cognitive or conscious belief through "living it out", radically considering it, and so forth serves to integrate it with these deeper strata and make it more directly representative of them (rather than representing defensive elaborations against the same). In any case, such beliefs are not epiphenomenal, but represent something meaningful about the subject as a whole.
In other words, our cognitive and conscious decisions are definitely efficacious, though we may not understand how.
Very interesting - in the selfsame speech in which I quoted Zizek, he denied "free will" being conscious decisions made by the Lacanian ego; he compares free will to love in that it's free to the extent that no one can make you love someone or something, and yet, you yourself not not in control of it to the extent that the Lacanian ego is concerned.
Right. People's idea of free will is needlessly and implicitly burdened with the idea of a transcendent ego; as if, if there is no transcendent ego there is no free will, but that's not the case.
Let me try and make the dilemma more concrete.
You point out that, at the very least, there is a sense in which there is a radical disjuncture between naturalistic propositions and religious ones, which I agree with - but what sort of implications would this have for propositions make in the Bible?
In other words, with regards to claims made in the Bible whose historical accuracy is disputed, does it actually matter whether or not these things actually happened the way they did?
I know that some of the more fantastic accounts of battles in the Old Testament have been dismissed as folklore by historians (i.e., some battles give accounts of numbers of soldiers or accomplishments which are clearly exaggerated). What kind of consequences would this have for the validity of the doctrine if Moses never actually parted the Reed Sea, or if Jesus wasn't actually crucified, or at least it didn't happen quite the way it was explained in the New Testament?
It is at this moment that I am lured into a more fanciful, Gnostic interpretation in which the truths of religion are metaphors used to point to higher realities whose naturalistic accuracy is irrelevant. I'm just finding it extremely difficult to grasp what it means to conceive of religion the same way I'd conceive of, to use Zizek's example, human rights: Of course I believe torture is wrong; I don't need to expound on some abstruse philosophical dogma to convince myself of the fact. I just believe it to be wrong on a, as you say, pre-reflexive way. How does one do that with religion?
Treating this question of scriptural hermeneutics as an analogy to an existential hermeneutics, we can understand the Gnostic impulse as one which divides rather than identifies the noumenal and phenomenal aspects of the human subject, and priveleges the former.
On the other hand, the principle of orthodox Christianity is always the union of antimonies. Jesus is fully man and God; as paradoxical as it seems. Similarly, we are both our noumenal and phenomenal aspects, which indeed have a certain identity, and to demean the meaningfulness of one is to miss the mark on what we are.
From the orthodox perspective, we should resist the idea of instituting a "disjuncture between naturalistic propositions and religious ones" while paradoxically recognizing their difference. In other words, they are different in a hermeneutic sense: there is reality, and we pull it apart one way to tell a naturalistic story, and another way to tell a religious story; but it is the same reality. The disjunction arises in our active engagement with it, in the way we try to turn it into understandings and experiences.
In Catholicism and Orthodoxy, it has always been that you cannot simply read scripture, have faith, and thereby believe; rather, your faith comes our of the sacraments, doing good works, and so forth. In other words, it comes out of your entire engagement with the world. This gets back to everything I have said here, and is how you "believe [..] on a, as you say, pre-reflexive way."
As to scriptural historicity, I am not much interested in the question of the Old Testament. But in the New Testament narrative, I think it's important for the Christian to take a realist/historical approach, at least in one important sense. If you believe in a personal God -- now that's a whole other question, but I'm saying if you do -- then the principle espoused above says that this God isn't in some other place strictly divorced from reality, but that the transcendental or noumenal aspect of reality represented in the divine is actually right here in our experience. This is what the Incarnation is saying: that the divine is right here, it walked around, and it ate and shat and pissed and did everything else; it even died. And this is what saves us; this is what brings us together with the divine which, after this (logical) moment is no longer somewhere else, but it right here with us. Now, in the big picture, it's not that important when or where this happened, but if it happened, it had to be somewhere and sometime, so it may as well have been in Bethlehem two thousand or so years ago; it's as likely as any other option.
2007-09-08 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Psychoanalysis is not a science. I think so.
I utilize psychoanalysis more as a hermeneutics than as a "science." A non-scientific theoretical framework is used "pseudo-scientifically" if the practitioner claims for it a scientific status akin to that of the natural sciences. I see psychoanalysis as a proto-science at best, though I don't see it as a field that should pursue scientific status. I leave that to the cognitive scientists (though I also study cognitive science).