Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ironic Observations on Dawkinism

Rather ironically, literalism, in religion (taking religious stories literally) is a fallout from an emphasis on empirical evidence (tangible, observable) and likely a newish phenomenon. At the same time, when non literalist people believe a religious text to be true, what do they believe is true? Do they find only metaphors that explain an aspect of personal psychology? I don't think so. 

When I look at what religions do, they don't so much answer metaphysical questions or address individual psychological phenomena as they sort out the social order, governing social and economic institutions. A very simple example: The hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful, includes the lines, "The rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate, God ranks them high and lowly and measures their estate." Religions sanction the "divine right of kings", my general metaphor for the myths that sustain various forms of social organization.

So I'd like to say to Richard Dawkins, "look, we're primates and primates are hierarchical, clannish and tribal, but as humans we don't have a great sense of smell so we need other vehicles to transmit instinctive forms of organization ;) and your reduction of myth to childish stories actually closes off a whole area of possible investigation." Of course, Freud and others reduced conscious experience to include only what can be articulated more or less prosaically, while I'm sure plenty of our conscious experience is filled with things we can't quite clarify as easily as the author of "All Things Bright and Beautiful".  

Our fuzzier, less prosaic, numinous experiences don't seem to live anywhere but on the fringe - and even there, people are trying to explain these experiences with references to complexity theory or quantum physics (either to reduce numinous experience to science or to give scientific weight to the "spiritual realm").

The reason Dawkins is keenly writing books that debunk religion probably ties in with the fact that we're at a critical juncture in terms of our economic relationship with the planet and each other. A new governing narrative will probably emerge, but I certainly hope it's not something that channels us to a cyborg singularity.

(Inspired by http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jul/18/chasing-rainbows-why-myths-matter )

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