Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Top One Reason

But I'm realizing that I don't have ten arguments for why religion is harmful. I don't even have 57,842 arguments.

I have one.

I'm realizing that everything I've ever written about religion's harm boils down to one thing.

It's this: Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.

It therefore has no reality check.

And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self- correction. It is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality ... and extreme, grotesque immorality.

It's an interesting read. Christina goes on to discuss the consequences of her objection, including political oppression, justification for war, vulnerability to fraud and quashing science and education. She draws from her own experience and observations to identify religion as one cause for these evils and more.

It must be said right here that her criticism is not targeted at organised fundamentalist religion with approval of personal spirituality. There is no way to construe her argument to apply it that way. Her criticism is that the foundation of religion is the religious experience and not a rationalist deduction. There is no rationally verifiable evidence of the "invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die" and therefore religion has no firm foundation.

She argues from a rationalist position that religion is not rational and is therefore invalid. With respect to Christianity[1] I agree with her proposition, but not entirely with her conclusion. The proposition is that religion has no rational foundation. Her conclusion is that it is invalid, and this needs some qualification before I'll come to the party.

For Christianity, the good news is that she's right about the foundation of faith. It's not rational. Rational knowledge is based on empirical, systematic deduction and conclusion. It's thoroughly integrated into the system of life that we've constructed and which we permit. What it doesn't permit is the introduction of anything non-rational, any kind of intervention from outside human knowledge.

In his analysis of Christianity as a formal example of a truth, Badiou indicates that a truth "punches a hole in knowledge." That is, it can't be integrated into the existing set of knowledge. In fact, a truth destabilises existing knowledge because of its resistance to integration. Rationalism, therefore, has a problem with an interruptive truth. It must do one of two things: reject the truth or shift entirely away from its old foundation. That's the nature of truth: it's foundational to the subject. When a truth intervenes, the foundation shifts. From this point of view, I agree with Christina. Christianity doesn't have a rational foundation.

But does this make it invalid? Yes, but only to the situation it interrupts. The situation of humanity (again, to draw from Badiou) is one of genetic survival. Most natural human behaviour can be accounted for by naturalistic explanations, typically those things which are beneficial for the perpetuation of an individual's genes. Christianity interrupts this pursuit by insisting upon love as the driving force. Love, the self sacrificing act, does not encourage the evolutionary process for the individual - it interrupts it. It interrupts the relentless pursuit of self indulgence and capital. It interrupts the natural impulses of the human endeavour and the consequent impulses of human civilisation. To that end, Christianity is invalid. The human system cannot account for it and rejects it.

Although that's the most significant part of my response to her article, there are some specifics I wanted to briefly remark on.
There's no reality check saying that their actions are having a terrible effect in the world around them. The world around them is, quite literally, irrelevant. The next world is what matters.
This is a good critique of an end-time mentality (and metaphysics). It's predicated on a Big Other who will punish the wicked and reward the faithful, and who will only do it when all is said and done. It's also in total opposition to the strain of Christian thought that says that the Church should be the embodiment of the kingdom of God in the here and now. The gospel message is not about the afterlife, it's about the way to live now. To miss this is to miss the point of Jesus' preaching. Christina makes the same case for suffering and war. I make the same response.

It makes religious leaders and organizations uniquely powerful in the political arena -- because their followers are typically taught from a young age to implicitly believe whatever their religious leaders say.
This reminds me of Kierkegaard's critique of the Danish state church. He lamented that it mediated God through the state, that God was not accessible to the individual except through church officials, all of whom were appointed by the monarch's hierarchy. Conversely, the Christian approach is one that is universally addressed. Everyone has the same access to the same truth and is challenged to decide for themselves if they will be seized by it. The same applies to her claims of vulnerability to fraud.

And so on and so on. My principle conclusion is that her position is from within the situation, that it cannot account for the foundation of Christian faith and thereby brands it as illegal[2] or invalid. Her criticisms of religion that revolve around a final judgement and the hierarchical mediation of God are worth reading. They're my criticisms as well. Ultimately, however, her inability to account for Christian love as an interruption into the present human existence is the weak point of her article. Christianity is an interruption, intended to be manifest in this life as the practical act of love which was taught by Jesus and which defines Christianity.

1. I can't really argue on behalf of others. They can do that for themselves if they wish.
2. She doesn't use this word, but I take it to mean illegal in the sense that it can't be accounted for in the system.

1 comment:

djfoobarmatt said...

I'm way behind on my blogs lately but really enjoyed this post thanks. It ties in with my own recent thoughts and constant struggle to reconcile my faith with just about every other aspect of life.