Jejudo, South Korea
Reading the last two columns in the Critical States thread left me with a lot to say. My first thought was to go after Ron's scenario, the Angel or God or whatever, that you just know, somehow, is telling the truth. I was going to respond with the movie 'Frailty' which I just watched tonight and with the guy who refused his baby any other food other than breast feeding -- the baby died of malnutrition -- because God told him to do it.
Stephan and Denise, on the other hand, had already seemed to counter his point, and I liked many of the commitments they are willing to make to one way of thinking. This is the way it is so to speak. Denise, of course, rattled my cage a bit with her taking a victim's stance with regard to Christianity. Christianity is not the most reviled religion on the planet and it's silly to think that it is. Judaism can probably make a good case for it, but I'm not sure the question even has an answer. What would the warrior Buddhist Ikka groups in pre-Tokugawa Japan have to say about that? They were completely destroyed. There is much evidence to support that the Untouchable Caste in India are actually descendants of Buddhist supporters of Ashoka about fifteen hundred years ago (I'm doing this from memory so feel free to correct me). No, the call to victimization is a rhetorical ploy and she knows better than to use it here. So, yes, I'm slightly chastizing you here Denise.
Christians are a majority in the countries of the West, it isn't reviled more than any other religion, it is talked about more. When was the last time you heard an atheist have a chance at the presidency?
Unfortunately, they ultimately refer back to the Bible, a text, a group of words. While much has been talked about in terms of revelation and the word of God, it's still in words. But words are never transparent, they are as Derrida's deconstructive theory endlessly points out, a signature of absence. When you use the written word or the spoken word, you are signaling something that is not there -- even at the very least you are pointing out the significance of something that is happening 'now'. You use the words because something was missing without them. If you didn't feel an absence, you wouldn't need them.
But the certainty (even as a hypothetical) is also reflected in Opeth's posts (which I also like by the way) whose "reading" of the Bible is at odds with Stephan's and Denise's. How do we reconcile these three views and their certainty?
Well, all this brings us back to Ron's scenario. What I found interesting here was not God, not the statement, but the utter ease with which he can throw in, to my mind essential, modification: You know this is true, you know this is happening and, above all, you know the TRUTH.
Textual, revelational, empirical, or logical statements are subject to epistemological doubt. To think otherwise, in my opinion, would be not to see us as human beings, and ultimately, if it were true, we would have died off long ago. This doubt is a positive force in that it allows non-evolutionary adaptation (thought it may be precisely an evolutionary adaptation that created it. ) without the need for any kind of formal consistency. You can change your mind without realizing you changed your mind.
The opposing side to this is what Derrida calls the metaphysics of Presence: the idea of the absolutely known to be true, a full presence of the thing in itself. Deconstruction's point is to free us from this need for absolute certainty. Whether or not deconstruction has failed in this endeavour, that it has become just the newest, "Now we know we don't know, stupid" mentality is arguable, but I'll save that for another time.
And that brings us to agnosticism and atheism. Phaedrus and Hush make much of the distinction but isn't that distinction simply between, "I don't know if there's a God," and "I know there is no God."? There is a third definition, "I can't know" but that muddy's up the waters too much here for the moment and, I hope, I can show you how both Hush and Phaedrus have a point in different realms.
For if we return to Derrida's point about a lack of certainty, if we see language as a signature of absence, we find ourselves in a huge dilemma: what he sometimes calls the abyss or infinite responsibility takes over and we have no clue what to do. We have no clue how to act because, given this uncertainty, we have to decide what is right or wrong, what is the proper action, but it is ultimately only us who can do this deciding (Actually, it's a lot more complicated than that). What does that mean? We have to take responsibility for our actions because we have no other recourse but ourselves.
We still have to act.
So, I see no contradiction, logically or not, between the point Phaedrus was making and the one Hush is making. A person can say quite correctly, "I don't know if there's a God," and act as if there is or act as if there isn't. You don't need to presuppose a belief in order to fulfill your functions in a society. There is simply no need to collapse the positions into one. In fact, I don't think we should collapse the positions, we can agree on much if we simply start privileging the act over the thought: What is the right thing to do, not what is the right thing to think. This is, of course, backwards from most traditional ways of thinking.
[added note]: By this last statement, I don't mean 'going through the motions' exactly, but nor am I going to deny that that is important. It's a lot more complicated than that.
One final comment, I put beyond atheism in there for still a third group. Beyond atheism is simply the point where the questions being asked about God simply no longer seem all that important. They can be fun and interesting and informative, but ultimately they simply hold no revelance to my life.
That is until Bill Paxton knocks on my door.
[This message has been edited by Brad (11-16-2002 11:25 AM).]