29 April 2009

Articles of Faith

The Nostalgia of the Infinite, Giorgio de Chirico.

This is the first in a new series here on WoW.

Long-time readers will have noted a thread, motif, or even theme related to the topic of 'theology'. This has been a lifelong interest of mine. I've thought a lot about it, reflected on it, even meditated, and at times prayed—all this on top of post-grad studies. It is sure to annoy and even alienate some readers, just as my political and economic posts most likely annoy my literary readers. I apologize in advance; however, I will not be doing apologetics for any sort of doctrine. If you want to avoid reading these particular types of post, I will label them (as I've done by heading my review/critical essays "Ur-story...") "Articles of Faith."

You will not get religious ideas in any form you've probably ever encountered them. From my earliest posts, I have staked out my stance as agnostic. That's from the Greek for 'not knowing'. My position, though, might better be called 'questioning' or even 'questing'. That is to say, these posts will be exploratory in nature. You are welcome to come along for the ride.

First of all, however, don't look to me for answers. I don't have all the answers, and I will not claim to. This may be the one and only bit of dogma you get from me. I long ago rejected dogma and dogmatics and their necessary entailment: dogmatism. And that includes, as I've argued here and elsewhere, the dogmatisms of BOTH the religionists AND the atheists.

As a corollary: I am not trying to preach or evangelize anyone. I'm really not concerned whether anyone else agrees with me. Or not. On the other hand, open-minded dialogue is always welcome.

Here's a premise: Myth and religion serve a basic function in human society—or at least they have throughout the long history of civilization. Traditionally, they have helped explain the cosmos and humanity's (both corporate and individual) place in it in terms coincident with the contemporary state of corporate human knowledge. Thus, they have served a consolatory function as well. In a sense, they are a sort of pre-scientific science. That is why, I believe, there is always going to be a conflict between true religion and true science; when scientific knowledge progresses, it threatens, supplants, and often destroys religious beliefs. For example, in the Bible there are several accounts of humans physically ascending to heaven: Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) and Jesus (Luke 14:36-43, 50, 51), e.g. (And possibly Enoch, Gen. 5:24) The Roman catholic church, likewise, teaches that Mary, the mother of Jesus, physically ascended as well, i.e., the Assumption (Pope Pius XII Munificentissimus Deus of November 1st, 1950). Of course, science teaches us that the velocity of light is the cosmic speed limit for physical matter, and even then mass is necessarily transformed into energy. Thus, at something less than the speed of light (to preserve their bodily integrity), Jesus's and Mary's bodies are traveling somewhere in space less than 2000 light years from earth. Most likely, they haven't gotten out of the Milky Way. Of course, if, like Elijah and Jesus, they are supposed to return physically to earth someday, then they must've turned around at some point and to head back. Either way, they haven't ascended to any kind of heaven outside the physical plane of the material universe as we now understand it.

Of course, this is reductio ad absurdum. But it dramatizes the point. These religious and mythic beliefs (and there are many, many more) are grounded in abject scientific ignorance (as we moderns understand things). Religion is a habit that dies hard, and holding to these beliefs today is atavistic. Yet, adherents derive some benefit, some consolation, from them, and they become prickly and even hostile when confronted with reasoned views contrary or contradictory to their own. I hope to explore both these consolations and these insecurities as part of this series. But I hope to do more.

Now that we live in a high-tech, scientifically sophisticated era in which we have fairly precise, verifiable views of the cosmos and an emerging sense of our place in it (how small we really are), what role do the superstitions and myths (or their contemporary substitutes) that religions traditionally provided humanity play today? Are we on the way to becoming post-religious? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Is that necessarily a good thing? Taking into account the current state of knowledge, what sort of thing is human spirituality? Is it necessarily a quarrelsome thing?

I ventured a few early posts relative to this topic. If you're interested, you can find them by clicking on some of the self-refererential links above.

1 comment:

Frances Madeson said...

Golly, Jim,
I see you're really busy. These are amazing posts and I am a grateful reader. Have a happy May Day.