Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ultra-Darwinists and Infra-Religionists

Turns out that Darwin wasn't necessarily the vulgar Darwinian his disciples and detractors make him out to be. For example, Purcell quotes a letter from 1870 in which he wrote that "I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance."

To another author who had published a book in 1881 that "defended evolution and theism together," Darwin wrote that it "expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the universe is not the result of chance." Indeed, for Darwin, "the rationality and moral probity of God underlay the rationality and meaningfulness of science" (Gillespie, in Purcell).

Which only goes to show how fundamentalists and extremists in both camps -- ultra-Darwinists and infra-religionists -- get it wrong.

I attach the prefix "ultra" to the former because it conveys the idea that they over-interpret the theory, and push it beyond its rightful limits. And I apply the prefix "infra" to the latter, because in my opinion they fall short of the deeper meaning of religion by rigidly applying a manmade framework on God, just because God must speak in a certain way in order to make himself known to human beings.

I mean, I must speak in a certain way in order to make myself understood by my seven year-old. But it would be an elementary, if understandable, error on his part to assume that I have the mind of a seven year-old who's just bigger than he is. While I don't patronize him, neither do I gratuitously toss in words and concepts he can't possibly understand.

In fact, both types -- the ultra and the infra -- make the error referenced in yesterday's post, of imposing an ideological grid on reality in order to make the mystery go away. Of all people, you'd think that postmodern folks would be aware of the irony of engaging in this futile enterprise. But it seems that one of the properties of ideology is to blind the ideologue to its presence. Or just say that some people have a hard time recognizing their first principles -- especially people without any.

One of the dangers of ideology is that it doesn't just operate like a static map one uses to navigate the world. Rather, it is much more like a mind parasite, in that it actively hijacks the thinking process and thereby restricts the scope of reality.

In his Tyranny of Clichés, brother Goldberg quotes Orwell's famous essay on Politics and the English Language, in which the latter writes of "the special connection between politics and the debasement of language."

It is easy to see how parasitical clichés can "construct your sentences for you" and "even think your thoughts for you," while performing "the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself" (Orwell) A political cliché operates "like a pill with a pleasant protective coating" which "conceals a mind-altering substance within" (Goldberg).

Although that might sound like a cliché, it is critical to realize and understand that it is literally true. The human mind cannot function in the absence of an "operating system," of some way to organize reality and convert experience into ideas, the question being "which one?"

For example, I've mentioned in the past that when I first began studying psychoanalysis, it was liberating at first but eventually became restrictive and confining, because, once internalized, I couldn't help interpreting everything in terms of its principles. I lost my perspective, so that the tool started to become the man. Come to think of it, that's how you become a tool, isn't it?

This is what ideology does. You might say that it results in damage to, and sometimes annihilation of, the human person.

To the extent that the Raccoon has an "ideology," it would have to be called "Mysterian," in that it holds the human mystery to be the axis around which it revolves.

But this human mystery does not, and cannot, stand alone. Rather, for reasons articulated in yesterday's post (and many previous ones), the "human substance" is not just some featureless and isolated blob, but has certain distinct properties, the most important ones being relation and sanctity.

Those latter two properties are a consequence of our deiformity -- or microcosmology if you prefer. By which I mean that the source of our dignity, our wisdom, our freedom, our greatness cannot be from within ourselves. If we do locate the source there, it doesn't turn us into gods, but rather, monsters -- like domesticated animals that revert to ferality (which ought to be a word) in a generation or two. Again, see history for details.

de Lubac writes that "It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God."

Rather, "what is true is that, without God, he can ultimately only organize it against man." In other words, as we have discussed on many occasions, "exclusive humanism is inhuman humanism" (ibid.), because its very first principle rids the world of God in order to claim a greatness that only God can confer, and without whom we are hardly "everything," and not even nothing, really. At which point you can get away with anything.

As Schuon writes, "Respect for the human person must not open the door to a dictatorship of error and baseness, to the crushing of quality by quantity," or to over-valuation "of the crude fact at the expense of the truth."

We are immersed in a sea of change, so it is natural that we seek reliable landmarks and fixed lighthouses to navigate our journey. Ultimately these landmarks must concern origins (where we set off from); our present situation (where we are); and our course (where we are going). Thus there are elements of both space and time, the latter of which being especially relevant to "where we are going," which naturally takes time to get there. For in the words of Kerouac, walking on water wasn't built in a day.

But ideologies tend to spatialize time, for the same reason they immanentize the transcendent. Schuon characterizes certain deviant paganisms as "reactions of space against time." This can be seen in the reactionary leftism -- or cliché guevarism -- of Obama, for whom it is always 1933.

Having said all this, it is nonetheless true that, from a certain perspective -- and largely in reaction to the errors and superstitions of the infra-religious -- "it must be admitted that the progressives are not entirely wrong in thinking that there is something in religion which no longer works," and that its "individualistic and sentimental argumentation... has lost almost all its power to pierce consciences."

This is because the "usual religious arguments" simply don't probe "sufficiently to the depths of things," since past editions of man, unburdened by ultra-science, didn't really demand such explanations. The whole thing made sense intuitively, and there wasn't even really a framework in place to understand it in any other way.

Which leads back to our mission and blog-hobby, which is to deploy arguments of a higher order to illuminate the lower, and to make religion once again relevant to the ultras and more efficacious or integral for the infras.

9 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

I like the analogy of God speaking to us as children. It reminds me of the passage in Hebrews 6:1-2 where the writer cautions us against getting bogged down in the "elementary doctrine of Christ" at the expense of moving on to maturity.

Some evangelicals seem to (mis)understand "full, plenary, verbal inspiration" of Scripture to mean that it is the totality of all possible revelation. Clearly this is not the case. Christ Himself is the Revelation (Hebrews 1:1-3), and, if we tried to write it all down, as John pointed out, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).

5/31/2012 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

This post, too, throws a lot of light on the Berlinski exchange that Rick linked to yesterday. Berlinski has flatly stated that he is not a creationist, yet the critics could not help addressing creationism because it is part of their ideology. It is particularly obvious in the case of Dawkins -- who I think more and more is a very second-rate intellect.

If you question evolution -- not as a scientific theory but as an ideological trump card -- you are a creationist. If you think, maybe, the earth getting warmer and colder periodically might have something to do with that big, hot ball of fire in the sky, or even the earth's own internal core heat, you are a denier of science. And so forth.

Mystery makes people uncomfortable.

5/31/2012 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Beyond the ultra-Darwinists and infra-religionists, we also have the Spiritual, But Not Religious ilk. I just came across this book synopsis which looks amusing...

How Contemporary Spirituality Makes Us Stupid, Selfish, and Unhappy

5/31/2012 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

... "usual religious arguments" simply don't probe "sufficiently to the depths of things," since past editions of man, unburdened by ultra-science, didn't really demand such explanations. The whole thing made sense intuitively, and there wasn't even really a framework in place to understand it in any other way.

Perhaps the other side of this coin is that as western culture has stretched the tether of transcendent truth, our intuitive memory has become too shallow to map the deep thruths.

5/31/2012 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob said, "I must speak in a certain way in order to make myself understood..."

"And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food."
1 Cor 3

5/31/2012 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Kerouac's scriptural
greatness

6/01/2012 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

head size evolving

6/01/2012 12:44:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

" A political cliché operates "like a pill with a pleasant protective coating" which "conceals a mind-altering substance within" (Goldberg).

Although that might sound like a cliché, it is critical to realize and understand that it is literally true."

Sure is. And it is of course not limited to the left, though it is embraced as 'critical thinking' there, it thrives everywhere where people are comfortably going through the motions of thinking, confident that they've actually done such a thing all the way through.

I've got a libertarian friend that I continually knock heads with, in between backslaps, and he continually drags out his assumptions about me based upon which niche his assumptions about what he 'thinks' I beleive, must be.

Thank goodness for long lasting email. I was able to introduce him to several of his instances of ignoring that I'd already corrected his 'facts' and assumptions about me, and got him to grudgingly acknowledge it each time... only to state them flat out, without doubt, a couple months later.

He's currently dealing with cognitive dissonance. But I'm sure, very sure, it'll pass soon.

6/01/2012 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"By which I mean that the source of our dignity, our wisdom, our freedom, our greatness cannot be from within ourselves. If we do locate the source there, it doesn't turn us into gods, but rather, monsters..."

What I think is most surprising about this, is that people find it surprising.

6/01/2012 09:22:00 AM  

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