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Passions in Poetry

Glassy "I"'s and the Rationalist

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Brad
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0 posted 11-28-2002 06:40 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20020805&s=blackburn080502

quote:
If we are told, moreover, that after death we go to another world that the same architect designed, our best bet--thinking scientifically, of course--will be that this other creation of the same designer will be much like this one. If the just suffer and the unjust flourish in this world, that is probably how it will always be. Suffering worlds are what this architect does, judging from the one sample of his work that lies in view. Naturally enough, Hume concludes that so "wild and unsettled" a system of theology is in no way preferable to none at all. Or as Wittgenstein was later to say, nothing will do as well as something about which nothing can be said.


I quoted the whole paragraph but it's that last sentence that grabs me:

quote:
Or as Wittgenstein was later to say, nothing will do as well as something about which nothing can be said.



[This message has been edited by Brad (11-28-2002 06:46 PM).]

Ron
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1 posted 11-29-2002 09:04 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

I suspect I would get along with Polkinghorne MUCH better than I would with Blackburn. Someone should at least explain to our distinguished Cambridge professor why self-referencing statements like "Self-deception, in short, is the human lot," and " People believe what they want to believe," necessarily reflect as much on his own arguments as they do on Polkinghorne's.  

If science and mathematics have taught us anything in the last few thousand years, it's probably that there is nothing "about which nothing can be said." The Greeks and Romans, for example, couldn't conceive of a number that represented nothing, and I'm sure many of them thought there was nothing that could be said about such a nothing number. (Excuse me, please, while I untie my tongue.) Of course, the Persians found zero to be eminently useful, and people like Cantor and Einstein and many others have had a great deal to say about it the past few hundred years. In short, if someone finds something "about which nothing can be said," it usually just means they don't know very much about it. Blackburn, at least, demonstrated ample proof of that.

You do not have to be an especially gifted observer of God's ways with men and women to notice that he doles out disease, famine, accident, parasites, pain, and death in spades.

Brad's quote above, this one I just referenced from the same article, as well as numerous comments made in other recent Philosophy threads, seem bent on proving a dichotomy that doesn't really exist. If God designed everything, then everything should be as perfect as God. If God is good, then the world should be good. If God created Man, then God is responsible for Man. What happened to self-responsibility?

Eleven-year-old Johnny's mother told him she wouldn't be able to be home on Thursday and asked if he could fix his own lunch. "Sure," Johnny replied. She told him the cans of soup were in the cupboard next to the stove and cautioned him not to microwave it too much. "Can I pick my own soup," he asked. She assured him he could, but when Thursday rolled around and Johnny opened the cupboard, his choices weren't exactly infinite. All he found were ten cans of chicken noodle.

One of the most important concepts to understanding the Bible is that of free will. Without choice, there can be no free will. As Stephen has said, good is defined as simply following God's advice to us, and evil is a refusal to do what we've been told. Disease, famine, accident, parasites, pain, and death are simply the worldly consequences of our choices. Those who argue that a good and caring God would never have created evil and would never tolerate the suffering of this world, are trying to abdicate their own responsibility. Yea, evil sucks. Suffering is deplorable. But, apparently, God believes that both are preferable to an absence of free will. Good parents don't crush the spirit and individuality of their children. They know their kids will make mistakes, they know they'll even hurt themselves, but those are more than just the cost of growing up, they often are the guiding force behind real maturity. A child left with no choices to make will remain a child their entire life.

We are responsible for our own lives. Religion doesn't negate that. It celebrates it.
Brad
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2 posted 11-29-2002 05:06 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I have no love for Blackburn either. His strategy is almost always a kind of 'now, of course, this is nonsense' approach that works wonders on many readers because it makes them feel intelligent. It's a common strategy for conservatives these days.

And, it works, it works.

But Polkinghorn doesn't do it for me either:

quote:
Are we to believe that some animals are self-conscious and some are not, and that's that? To take so dismissive and epiphenomenal a view of personhood seems to be tantamount to denying that there are any meaningful events in cosmic history at all. I cannot conceive of an occurrence in the universe's evolutionary development that is more astonishing and fraught with signs of fruitful significance than that it should have become aware of itself through the coming to be of humanity.


If we want to give it significance, there's no problem at all with doing so, but that means we give it significance, not because the significance is there to be found. To me, this is just a variation on Blackburn's rhetorical strategy, "Now, it is ridiculous to assume that this isn't important . . ."

In both cases, there is an appeal to a kind of 'common sense' (I mean this to be taken in multiple ways)and nothing else. What is interesting though is if Blackburn's God is reason and Polkinghorne's God is, well, God, why do they both presuppose a common sense in order to make their arguments?

Let me try to be clearer. Blackburn is using the rhetorical stategy, "You're stupid if you don't think like me." Polkinghorne is using, "It's unthinkable to imagine something other than I imagine."

In both cases, rebuttal is shut down.  

I can almost hear Ron giggle at this moment, "But, Brad, they are talking to other people, they have to appeal to some kind of common ground in order to be understood," and I would agree, but if either Blackburn or Polkinghorne are correct then they wouldn't need to appeal to common sense, they would appeal to that common ground.

I may be being unfair to Polkinghorne, I haven't read his book(s) and I doubt if I'm going to, but this is what I see in the above quote at any rate.  I accept that we should take responsibility for ourselves, but it seems to be that religion, or at least a certain kind of religion, and rationalism, or at least a certain kind of rationalism, defer this responsibility:

1. But those are the facts.

2. But that's what God says.

3. History dictates.

It seems to me that in each case, we appeal to an outside force (the usual suspects), but in each case we surrender our responsibility and thereby allow ourselves to do things that we wouldn't do otherwise. It's important to understand that by doing this we also surrender our responsibility to consequences regardless of whether those consequences are good or bad. I've touched on this elsewhere but humility is a tricky thing.

If I defer to God or to Reason (or to the Constitution), I free myself from taking responsibility for my actions whether they be good or bad, it allows me complete self-indulgence into whatever I believe without taking into account the presence of others.

The consequences of my actions need not be taken into consideration. Now, I've made much of the movie "Frailty", but if we don't take responsibility for the good things that happen in our lives, if we still chalk them up to following reason or God, we are, at the same time, blind to the consequences that may follow from good things happening. We party. And when we are attacked, we are unable to understand why they would attack 'us' since 'we' didn't do anything to 'them'.    

Okay, that's a bit of a jump, but let me put it another way, the deferral of responsibility in any form leads to the mistaken view that we are innocent (again, meant in multiple ways). It is this innocence that hinders us from growing up. But, there is no difference in saying, "It's not me, it's God," and "It's just the way it is," and "I have my rights."

The question that bothers me is, honestly, that at times such a deferral may be absolutely necessary for us to survive. When presented with the responsibility that I'm suggesting here, a responsibility of such a magnitude, that we simply can't bear it.

Gee, kind of like the responsibility of a parent to a child? I guess, in the end, we all just muddle through.

But I think it's time to see ourselves as parents, not as children.  
furlong
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3 posted 11-29-2002 05:40 PM       View Profile for furlong   Email furlong   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for furlong

“I accept that we should take responsibility for ourselves, but it seems to be that religion, or at least a certain kind of religion, and rationalism, or at least a certain kind of rationalism, defer this responsibility:

1. But those are the facts.

2. But that's what God says.

3. History dictates.”

Totally agree.


“The question that bothers me is, honestly, that at times such a deferral may be absolutely necessary for us to survive. When presented with the responsibility that I'm suggesting here, a responsibility of such a magnitude, that we simply can't bear it.”

I agree to the extent that the kind of paternalistic humanistic God that Ron portrays far from “freeing” mankind to make his own choices seems to me to have been a necessary historical construct to shield “believers” from the magnitude of a potentially unbearable responsibility.  In other words popular theology provides reassuring parameters and a relative comfort zone.


“But I think it's time to see ourselves as parents, not as children.”

Yes.
Ron
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4 posted 11-30-2002 12:37 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

quote:
I accept that we should take responsibility for ourselves, but it seems to be that religion, or at least a certain kind of religion, and rationalism, or at least a certain kind of rationalism, defer this responsibility:

Responsibility is the result of choice. I don't think it's religion, or rationalism, or history, or the Constitution that defer responsibility, Brad. Those are just the things, whether right or wrong, that we use to make our decisions. It's how we get from point A to point B. They're roads that have been mapped for our use, preformatted answers to often difficult questions. And, yes, we probably couldn't survive without them, not because we would be buried beneath the weight of responsibility, but because we face too many choices to readily abandon help from the past.

We decide which road to follow. We interpret the roadmap and the preformatted answers we find there. Those are all choices and each one we make creates responsibility.

The illusion of surrendering that responsibility comes only from a refusal to recognize our choices, invariably reflected by an appeal to our own version of absolute truth. We forget that everything is an interpretation. A choice. I think that phenomenon seems more prevalent with religion because we are often too quick to assume the mantle of infallibility that we worship. The man who stops questioning his choices is a danger to society, but in my opinion, he is equally dangerous to himself and his religion. Some believe that suicide is the ultimate sin because it's a refusal to accept God's gift of Life. How much worse is it to abdicate free will? God doesn't want puppets, and I don't think faith is the absence of doubt or choice. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The minute we stop asking questions because we've already found The Answer, the minute we stop doubting our own fallibility and understanding, in that moment we have failed the very God we worship. There are no reassuring parameters, save for those who won't look past them, and no comfort zone beyond the obvious one of simple ignorance.

"God said so" has to become a reason for our actions, not a justification for them. The difference between the two may seem subtle, but I think it's a chasm too few ever cross. It's the difference between accepting responsibility for what we believe and believing we have no responsibility for what is. It's the recognition that we might be wrong, but the realization that we still have to make a choice. It's the basis for free will, and just maybe, the definition of humanity.
furlong
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5 posted 11-30-2002 03:12 PM       View Profile for furlong   Email furlong   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for furlong

"The minute we stop asking questions because we've already found The Answer ..."

But Ron isn't that just EXACTLY (and very sadly imo) what so many confirmed Christians try to do - to stop asking questions?  Sure they might harbour great doubt - (in fact I'm sure they do), but a rigid and unquestioning faith seems to be the badge of honour of multitudes.  And certain mainstream established churches seem to use every weapon they can (including regrettably, fear) in the attempt to corral minds into a particular historic and theological mould.

What has that got to do with free choice?

If it was up to me no child would even hear the word religion or God until he/she was at least 20 years of age, and I still reckon such a stricture would be freer than what happens right now.

[This message has been edited by furlong (11-30-2002 03:13 PM).]

Brad
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6 posted 11-30-2002 04:07 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Ron,

You're certainly not that warm, fuzzy Christian, are you? I agree with pretty much everything you say here -- except for all that God stuff. Choices v. responsibility I'll chalk up to my reading Derrida too late the other night.

But this has got to be one of the least logocentric posts you've posted.

There are other differences that are interesting. I say that certain institutions defer responsibility, I should have said help us defer 'our' responsibility from 'us' to 'authority'. If you see these institutions as tools, or as forms of guidance, for us in order to make a decision, I agree, but how does one reconcile this with the Father/children metaphor?

You bring everything back to us, how can I disagree with that?  But it's precisely that which I think most are trying to escape, but you haven't addressed the other side, the Blackburn side. You see the rhetorical moves as well as I do, but do you agree that it seems motivated by this same escapist path? What I mean by that is if pushed Blackburn will return to his favorite magic words as much as any religious zealot will, they're just different words.

A deferral to truth or Nature or Science or logic or Reason. I'm not trying to be anti-science here but I do think that many scientists, many rationalists fall into the exact trap that you describe with your distinction between justification and 'reasons that'. I see the distinction, justification gives reasons for actions after the intent is established and 'reasons that' is inherent in the process of establishing intent, but it seems extremely difficult to establish any kind of method to tell the difference -- even internally. It may be a useful distinction but it's a hard one to pin down in everyday life.

Furlong,

I don't see how banning religion really solves the problem. The problem, if I can go psychological for a minute, stems from the inherent structure of the life of a child and the nostalgia that an adult feels for being a child.

It may be Nature, it may be nurture, I don't really care, but a child needs some time of hierarchical structure in order to grow. The question, to me, is at what point do we have to keep carrying the boat around with us after we cross the river, why do we still carry the ladder if we're already on the roof?

More later,
Brad      
Stephanos
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7 posted 11-30-2002 07:20 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,

    Well that is after part of the claim of Christianity Brad... that it's obvious we haven't reached that shore yet.  Look at the world.  Look at yourself.  The doctine of sin, and man's intrinsic need of God has some merit after all.  This kind of like mistaking a roadsign for the city itself which is still miles and miles away.  


Stephen.

  
Brad
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8 posted 11-30-2002 10:20 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

The first allusion is a Buddhist one, the second is Biblical, but I was thinking of Wittgenstein when I wrote it.

My father once remarked that in your teens you learn what you can do, in your 20's you learn what you can't. I'm not so concerned about the accuracy of the statement (add ten years for it to be accurate with me), but I suspect that if we keep the metaphor going, the nineteenth century is our teen-age years and the twentieth our 'wake up time'. Perhaps, the twenty-first will be our sober journey into young adult hood.

One can look at one's parents with respect and reverence, but one must eventually make one's own path, right or wrong.
  
furlong
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9 posted 12-01-2002 06:05 AM       View Profile for furlong   Email furlong   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for furlong

“I don't see how banning religion really solves the problem. The problem, if I can go psychological for a minute, stems from the inherent structure of the life of a child and the nostalgia that an adult feels for being a child.”

You’re right of course and my comment was slightly tongue-in-cheek aimed at an easy target.  Though, having said that, yesterday’s comments from Rowan Williams the new archbishop of Canterbury regarding the importance, (or more pertinently the lack of it) of the established church seem to me to suggest that there is now someone at the head of at least one of the major churches who has some clue about the danger to young open minds from such a powerful and influential “given”.  But I agree with you in the sense that if the “Church” vanished some other “weapon” (ok, that’s maybe unfair but you know what I mean) would come to hand, and of course there are many others already.  

Humanity seems to have a need to shape in its own image, whether it be Christians personalising their God, Americans blessing us all with McDonalds or parents reliving and recreating themselves in their children.  This tendency I think most likely springs from a fundamental insecurity about our own identity, which, to go back to some of the things I’ve been trying to say to Stephen, might be positively addressed by considering the potential fallacy of individualism in a frame which isn’t restricted to our material existence.

“The question, to me, is at what point do we have to keep carrying the boat around with us after we cross the river, why do we still carry the ladder if we're already on the roof?”

And more questions are: “Do we ever really get the chance to determine for ourselves when we reach the roof?  And who’s roof?”

You’ll have read Larkin’s “This be the Verse”, but for others,  here’s the link:

http://www.artofeurope.com/larkin/lar2.htm


Stephen

But that’s my whole point (and this isn’t a comment on you personally) so very many of my christian friends (especially, if I might stick my neck out, my catholic ones) KNOW that there’s only one shore by age 16, and certainly many of them act (in the way they vehemently rebut any challenge to their knowing) as if they have reached it.
Stephanos
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10 posted 12-02-2002 02:12 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Furlong,

I do submit that there is a difference between knowing for certain the shore exists (and perhaps even which direction it takes to get there), and claiming to have arrived.  The first would be humbly stating what has been revealed... the second would be pride, since Even Paul is recorded as saying "I don't count myself to have apprehended ...".


But on another note...  16 year olds can come across as over confident and prideful regardless of what creed they believe.  I was 16 once and thought I knew everything.  Not wanting to stereotype here, but there is something about minds that are transitioning from childhood to adulthood ... namely that they can possess some degree of knowledge of the latter, and handle it in the characteristic way of the former.  Any teenagers reading, don't get mad.  I don't mean this in the wrong way, nor is it universally descriptive, only generally so.       I'm trying now to dig myself out of this one, but alas it is impossible.  lol.


Stephen.  

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (12-02-2002 02:14 AM).]

 
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