Monday, February 1, 2021

Let's Try Religion Without God, How About

I am a lazy student. I read too broadly, and none of it quite registers. That means that I am the approximate equivalent of a consumer of mass media. My expressed opinions are based on nothing better than hearsay, since I can't seem to form any solid ideology based on my ingestion of copious words. 

But considering that I've been free of remunerative work (meaning free of The Man) for quite some time now, I guess I'm doing alright. Or maybe I'm just reaping the dividends of white privilege. But still, one can't and doesn't succeed in any economy without either believing in it or being cynical and just gaming it. 

I mean, if I did believe that being a sociologist was my best and highest calling, I think I'd be one by now. (Sociology, roughly speaking, is the arena where I've spent the most academic time, I think). But it never seems worth my life. Or maybe I never feel that I can become good enough at it to make a difference. Maybe the life of a scholar just feels like another form of prison. Apparently also the way I feel about women I love after a while, if it's not the way that they feel about me. Fine distinction.

Anyhow, when I do read a well-researched and well-written book I am always chastised inwardly about any certainties I've ever muttered. Just now I'm reading Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone fame) on The Upswing. It promises to be an optimistic look at megatrends across the past century or so. Those trends might indicate that we are due for another progressive era.

At the outset of my reading - he focuses on income inequality toward the beginning of the book - I was annoyed that he ignored the massive changes in the structure of our economy. I mean the move from farm to city and from a mostly barter economy to a mostly money-transactional economy. But he means to swamp the details with the Big Picture. 

Putnam puts a longish sweep of American history into such perspective that I do feel abashed for having thought I knew what was right and what was wrong with this or that about how we are these days.

But there are a few things that I feel I do know and do understand. One is that the believers in Jesus these days are just about as nutty as the followers of Trump. By nutty, I mean removed from reality. In a sense then, no wonder that they are on the same team, no matter how bizarre the alignment is from the standpoint of moral beliefs and behaviors. 

The trouble for me is that however nutty religion has become, I don't wish to be so presumptuous as to cancel the originating impulse for religious belief. Of course, to me, all of the Western "sky god" religions are quite simply structures for patriarchy to define and defend itself in power. There is nothing of God there, not to mention any godhead. It's all man. That's the only thing I can come up with to unite the religionists with the Trumpists.

Once you personify God - once you make God personal - there's nothing left of that originating impulse for religion. God can't be a being that you can talk to, even while seeming to talk with God might have demonstrable benefit. And God sure doesn't talk to us in any intelligible way. You have to resort to fantasy, like Trump is an honest man, and the Bible is the literal Word of God.

I just think that there must have been something gratifying for a lot of people to hear Trump say "you're fired" over and over on TV. It channeled something that they wanted to say about all the non-bottom-line stuff going on in the urban centers. Keeping people on because they're black or woman or whatever you think is an excuse for slacking. You're fired is what the personal God says when He consigns you to hell.

It's easy to suggest that religionists are all, by definition, reactionary and are just refusing to accept the revelations of the scientific method. This is clear in the case of refusing to "believe" evolutionary theory. One might as well believe that the earth is flat, which many people apparently still do. I would find that very very difficult.

But I also find it difficult to believe that without us to comprehend it, the cosmos is void and without meaning. Sure we can make ourselves its meaning by raising up cognition to the level of the godhead, but that's not what I mean either. We aren't eternal, either individually or as a species, and still the cosmos is meaningful, even without any other comprehender anywhere or anytime.

In part - maybe even in large part - I say this because I think that the scientific method has long since destroyed the validity of any subject-object distinction. We simply cannot know the world beyond ourselves. We cannot know the world without ourselves.

I don't think that's any more radical than the sociologists' bedrock; that we cannot be people without other people. Without the social, we can't even have cognition.

The reason we cling so hard to what I would call the primitive scientific method is simply that we don't want the responsibility as co-creators of our own cosmos. We're hoping for an answer, in precisely the same way that we once did wish for direction from God.

I don't buy any mind/body distinction, for the very same reasons.

Yes, of course I am too lazy to go into detail now. There's plenty of detail in the writing I've put out there, I mean in here, though I have to apologize in advance that I'm asking you to be far less lazy than I have proven to be. Sorry. See my posts regarding Riccardo Manzotti and his "spread mind" theory. Look at how spiders weave webs with the minds in their legs.

The sort of religion that would do us a world of good right now would be one without dogma, without preachers, without any Bible of any sort. It would rather resemble science, meaning simply that, in my view, science can indeed expand to encompass religion. Largely for economic reasons, 'science' as a whole simply doesn't want to expand that way.

It bothers me that true believers in something like what I want to talk about have, quite literally, no choice when called upon to comfort the bereaved, say, than to mouth the platitudes of their received traditions, even while I know for a certainty that many such preachers are as far as any of us can get from the kind of literal belief structure that they are called upon to mouth. 

Some of them write and speak beautifully as they dodge the literal Word. I was moved to tears at my father's religious eulogy. Well, sure it was the occasion that moved me to tears, but the words were important. The placing of my father's life into some context of eternity. 

To my understanding, Chinese 'religions' don't include anything like the Western concept of God. We excuse them, perhaps, for being more philosophy than religion. But still, I would insist, there is more than philosophy there in the Dao, the Buddha, and even the proto-bureaucrat Confucius. 

It would be good to move away from God, who has become parochial, to something much more eternal and therefore much more real. Now back to reading Putnam, to see if there is hope. Hope on the level where he writes - sociology - could indeed lead to hope in my far more extravagant sense. I'm hoping, simply for a scientific expansion beyond slavish objectivity. 

And for a footnote, we're obviously and really in trouble if we can't even get together about how to deal with the current pandemic. How in hell could we manage to politicize that?  I guess we think that God is telling us to mistrust any and all earthly expertise. Talk about separation between mind and body! That's not even what Christianity is all about. Triune godhead includes God as man, right? 

Well, for sure I don't have any more patience for theology than I do for sociology or counting angels among pinheads. I'm glad other people have the patience. Christianity can be quite beautiful. As far as I can tell, Jesus is the quintessential androgyne, and, well, even God has become a beard for homophobes on earth. 

While it isn't exactly fate throwing pandemics and global warming in our way, there is but a fine distinction between pretending a hurricane doesn't exist and spending your time trying to figure out who to blame for it. Right, Job? You have to deal with it is all.

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