Posted by: Harold Knight | 02/21/2011

This (Is) (Is Not) (your choice) a Blog about Religion

Tromso

Tromso

Above in the “masthead” (or whatever we call those things these days) for this blog, you see a link to a page, “This is not a blog about religion.”

That page says, in part

It seems that I am more and more trapped into writing about religion. That is not really my purpose. However, the older I get. . . the more I have to work this part of my life out. I am an AGNOSTIC. Perhaps even an ATHEIST. But I’m trapped in religious thought. . . my body is mortal, decaying, dying, and part of the natural world while my mind is full of sixty-six years of religious teaching that it will take something much more than surgery to change. .

Religion is a weird idea/reality/misconception/truth/falsehood/deception/fraud/actuality.Put your own word here. Everybody does. Most people I know will make a nod to religion, say they believe in something akin to it, aver they are not really an atheist (perhaps an agnostic), attest to some vague belief in some “power greater than themselves,” and then say something (as I have written about recently) about being “spiritual but not religious.” Whatever most people I know (outside the few friends I have left who are still dedicated church people) believe about God, transcendence, the Creator, the moral universe, the First Cause is pretty amorphous (I’ve begun to use “squishy” to describe it).

Most of those people are as dogmatic in their squishiness as my church friends are about their theology. Often more dogmatic. I was taken to task soundly by a good friend the other evening (as I thought I’d written about here, but I can’t find it; oh well) for saying in a group that “spirituality” is a meaningless word because—well, because—no one can define it. Everyone who uses it thinks he or she knows exactly what it means, but no one can tell me exactly what it means. So either I am really dumb, which is possible, or the word means nothing. My friend’s first purpose the minute we were alone was to set me straight about what “spiritual” means. He mixed up three or four of the thirteen definitions Christopher Cook has culled from the academic literature (see, again, my posting for February 4), and he pronounced “spirituality” defined. His squishiness was matched only by his dogmatism.

Last Saturday I wrote about my difficulty keeping prescriptions ordered by mail—the medications I need to help me remember to order prescriptions—and the intervention of Absolute Goodness in my life that I discovered I was out of medications on a Friday when I could do something about it rather than on Saturday when I couldn’t.

I raised the question whether or not my Friday-rather-than-Saturday discovery was evidence that some Power Greater than Myself or some well-defined Christian God or some Squishiness was actively guiding my poor befuddled life, apparently most obviously to avert disaster. It was a serious question, and my raising it again is serious—although it’s pretty hard even for me to tell when I’m being sarcastic. I’m not now, just for the record. In some ways, it seems to me, it is a microcosmic question indicative of the macrocosmic question of whether or not “there is a God.”

I’m stuck on that question for honest reasons. I grew up in a household where God was present moment by moment by moment, day by day. My father is a Baptist pastor, a Baptist pastor who, even back in the ‘50s remained agnostic about such ideas as evolution and Social Security as creeping Marxism. We had lively discussions about all manner of ideas, and his library was varied and enormous (I have many of my favorite books from it).

Turku

Turku

Awhile back I changed my Facebook profile to read that I lived in Tromsø, Finland, a city above the Arctic circle. I wanted to put on my profile that I lived in the most unlikely place I could find in order to avoid certain invasions of my privacy (Hah! Privacy once you’ve signed up on Facebook?). At least Dallas businesses would leave me alone. They did. Within a day all of the ads that appeared on my home page were in Finnish. A month later when I decided I’d had enough of the game, it took two weeks to get the Finnish ads to stop. So much for the power of Facebook.

Yesterday I was searching an academic database for articles about agnosticism or something. Whatever search terms I used, the first “hit” was an article by Juha Räikkä, who teaches philosophy at the University of Turku, Finland. He defended his doctoral dissertation at the University of Turku in 1992 after studying at the University of Miami, Florida. Räikkä was a post-doctoral researcher in Austin, Texas, during the spring term in 1994.

Professor Räikkä and I obviously have a connection that is more than coincidental. He’s worked as a post-doc in Texas, I’ve been interested in Finland, and we both write—OK, what I do can hardly be called writing compared to his. I’m pretty squishy, comparatively.

Professor Räikkä would support me in my belief that we have a connection that is more than coincidental because

. . . the fact that a person may sincerely believe something that she wants to believe does not indicate that the belief in question is necessarily self-deceptive and false. Not all beliefs that happen to serve our social and strategic purposes are false; we have many true beliefs that are socially beneficial as well (1).

Professor Räikkä and I will never meet. He will never know I know of his work. But we do have a connection. I read his article just after I read an article that begins

The philosophical debate between idealism and materialism has recently burst upon the ontological terrain of critical realist discourse. . . Roy Bhaskar . . .offers among other things a realist theory of God. God is grasped as the “ultimate categorial structure” of the cosmos, and “the absolute ground of pure dispositionality or causal power.” This Absolute Being is understood as spirit or consciousness, which is sedimented throughout the material world, and the various strata of reality are emergent forms of His/Her/Its Becoming (2).

Geewhiz! All I wanted was some help thinking about whether or not I’m an agnostic. Simple ideas like my friend Juha Räikkä writes.

 

Friend?

Friend?

. . .  a person who has doubts about her beliefs need not be a self-deceiver. It is perfectly normal and reasonable to doubt one’s beliefs. When people doubt their beliefs they may feel pain, but when selfdeceivers doubt their self-deceptive beliefs, their situation is probably more painful than that of others. This is because they desperately want those self-deceptive beliefs to be true (3).

Do I want my beliefs to be true? I don’t even know what they are.
____________________________
(1) Räikkä, Juha. “Self-Deception and Religious Beliefs.” Heythrop Journal 48.4 (July 2007): 513-526. (2) Creaven, Sean. “Materialism, Agnosticism and God.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 31.4 (2001): 419. (3) Räikkä, Ibid

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Responses

  1. “…’spirituality’ is a meaningless word because—well, because—no one can define it. Everyone who uses it thinks he or she knows exactly what it means, but no one can tell me exactly what it means.”
    Isn’t that the same with any word/idea? Everybody has different ideas of what they think are the same things but they never are the same things because everybody has different definitions.

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  2. Well, not really. Most of the words we use have meanings that are clear to the majority of the speakers of that language. If that were not so, we could not communicate at all. “Spirituality” is a special case in this regard. It means so many things to so many people that it means nothing, as I said. “I’m spiritual.” What does that mean? You do yoga? You talk to animals? You are a “walk-in?” You get goosebumps over a Bach fugue? I’ve heard all of those definitions. Apparently it means any ole thing you want it to mean that you can’t touch, see, taste, or smell, but that gives you some sense of warm fuzzies.

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  3. Yea, I understand that “spirituality” is an extreme case. I suppose I’m just arguing semantics, but even smells, sights, and tastes are subject to an interpretation colored by the overlay of personal experience. I come from an extremely conservative Christian upbringing….Even though the idea/aspects of the Christian God are pretty well-described in the Bible, everyone has a completely different thought on how that God actually exists. Maybe we each create and nurture a different god, or everyone contributes to a central one with their different ideas…Hah! I only meant to comment “interesting post” and here I am rambling away in your comments section!

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  4. Ramble away! Comments and conversation are fine–especially when they are interesting!

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