Evolutionary Politics: Conserving the Radical Spiritual Revolution of the Founders (updated 9.07.07)
I have noticed that many people reject religion on the basis of a fundamental misunderstanding of it, which is easy to do, given the way religion is depicted by its enemies in the liberal media and by our profane culture at large. If that were my only exposure to religion, I too would surely reject it.
A case in point is this editorial by Heather Mac Donald, a secular conservative woman who is very uncomfortable with what she perceives as the dominance of the modern conservative intellectual movement by the Christian right:
“Upon leaving office in November 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft thanked his staff for keeping the country safe since 9/11. But the real credit, he added, belonged to God. Ultimately, it was God’s solicitude for America that had prevented another attack on the homeland.
“Many conservatives hear such statements with a soothing sense of approbation. But others—count me among them—feel bewilderment, among much else. If God deserves thanks for fending off assaults on the United States after 9/11, why is he not also responsible for allowing the 2001 hijackings to happen in the first place?
“Skeptical conservatives—one of the Right’s less celebrated subcultures—are conservatives because of their skepticism, not in spite of it. They ground their ideas in rational thinking and (nonreligious) moral argument. And the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies.”
MacDonald provides a worthy and thoughtful critique, not at all like the angry and unsophisticated atheists of the secular left. Still, it seems that her only exposure to religion has been to the kooky and/or superficial kind, but it should go without saying that kookiness and superficiality are most certainly the norm in virtually all human endeavors. One might just as well reject music on the basis of the aural garbage one hears on the radio these days.
MacDonald seems to have the greatest difficulty in reconciling an omnipotent God with the existence of evil. For example,
“The father of Elizabeth Smart, the Salt Lake City girl abducted from her home in 2002, thanked God for answering the public’s prayers for her safe return.... But why did the prayers for five-year-old Samantha Runnion go unheeded when she was taken from her Southern California home in 2002 and later sexually assaulted and asphyxiated?”
But this simply highlights the incoherence of a particular religious view that reduces God to an omnipotent anthropomorphism. This is closer to the unsophisticated manner in which Muslims view Allah, as “vertically” causing everything to happen on a moment by moment basis. I have heard many Christians of this temperament say words to the effect of “everything happens for a reason”--i.e., God caused it--which makes no sense whatsoever to me. Mac Donald is correct to reject such a simplistic view.
Personally, I am drawn to religion because it is a much deeper and more sophisticated metaphysic, and explains much more than any secular philosophy. It also illuminates dimensions of reality that will tend to go undetected or undeveloped in the absence of religion--the holy, the sacred, the existence of grace, etc. But the idea of an omnipotent personal God that answers to one’s beck and call seems to me fundamentally unchristian (and certainly un-vedantic). After all--one is tempted to add, “hello?!”--in Christianity, God himself is crucified in history. What do you think that means, that God himself fully submits to history, to the relative, to the temporal?
As I have emphasized before, a merely mental understanding of God is entirely insufficient in my view. Anyone who reduces religion to a mere literalism has given the game away to the rationalism of the ego.
In the past, I have attempted to discuss this dilemma in terms of the bi-modal logic of the mind. Our little surface ego moves and has its being in the bright and well-lit world of classical or Aristotelian logic. I will be the first to acknowledge that the world accessed by the ego represents a world. But by no means does it represent the world. Rather, the ego gives access to one plane of being. I won’t say that it’s a “low” flying plane, because, as a psychologist, I am fully aware of how many people fail to get off the ground and reliably enter it due to various developmental issues and fixations. But it is an intermediate world, with degrees of being both above and below.
In the esoterist view, the planes above the ego are developmentally later but ontologically prior, and therefore more real. Every below in the cosmos is “contained” within an above, while, at the same time, the above is uncontainable and is necessarily present “within” the below. To animals, the ego is clearly both “higher” and more inward.
But we must never forget that the epic story of cosmic evolution does not end with the ego’s exteriorization of its limited understanding--its colonization of a small portion of consciousness. Think of the ego as analogous to a bright flood light in the dark. Wherever the light turns, there is an area of bright illumination. But we must not be fooled into believing that the foreground of illumination--the little spot lit up by the ego--is all there is to reality.
As Kant properly noted, the ego creates a world in the form of its own sensibility (the phenomenal world) and then takes it for the real world. Therefore, it is as if we dream a dream and then inhabit the dream as if it were real. The ego becomes thoroughly entangled in its own exteriorized and reified fantasies. This is what it means to be a fallen ego in a fallen world. The fall is both literal (i.e., vertical) and metaphorical.
With the scientific revolution in full force, Kant saw what was coming and was actually trying to rescue the realm of religion from the predations of a cognitively greedy scientific rationalism. Since the ego ultimately has access only to its own phenomena, this left the infinitely greater reality of the noumenon untouched, unknown and unknowable. This is precisely where Kant erred, because in saying that the noumenon was unknowable, he essentially reduced religion to a mere sentimental fideism. It would simply be a matter of time before it became wholly irrelevant to “sophisticated” moderns.
Again, either religion embodies real knowledge that surpasses our egoic understanding, or it is simply an absurdity that is defiantly embraced in the teeth of reason and logic. But if it does embody real knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it? Is it mere information, occupying the same horizontal plane as factual scientific information, like saying “water freezes at 32 degrees and Jesus walked on it,” or “the ribs enclose the chest cavity and women are made of one”? In my way of looking at things, this is a gross confusion that simply invites people not to take religion seriously.
Let us imagine that the totality of reality constitutes a vast field of consciousness. In navigating its dimensions and coordinates, there are two principle dangers. One involves being shipwrecked on the rocks of a rational but fixed and “frozen” mental conception that ultimately forecloses spiritual evolution. The ego stakes out its little piece of territory. It knows what it knows, and that’s all it wants to know. The vast majority of cultural and religious beliefs are of this variety. Some belief systems stake out a slightly wider area, but each, to one degree or another, places an arbitrary boundary around reality.
The other danger is to become lost at sea with no fixed coordinates at all. This is to be engulfed in the symmetrical unconscious with no bearings to guide one’s journey.
Religions are indeed fixed, and must be so. But they are not fixed in order to reduce reality, but in order to navigate through it and ultimately to colonize more of it. They are not the destination, but the means of arriving there--at one’s deustination.
Therefore, the question is not, strictly speaking, whether or not this or that dogma is true or false, in a narrow, purely egoic way. I believe dogma is critical. Critical for the same reason that a ship is--not merely for the purpose of floating statically on the water, but moving through it.
So all you cosmic castaways,
we're here such a brief, short time.
We have to make the best of things,
thanks to Adam's crime.
But Petey and old Gagdad Bob,
will do their very best,
to make your journey vertical,
in this horizontal mess.
No angry trolls, no leftist loons,
no doctrinaire moonbats,
Like Dailykos and Huffington,
and other gynocrats.
So join us here each day my friends,
we'll sail right through the fog.
here on Gag-a-dad's blog.