Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Critical religion: can't we all just get along?

The following was written 22 March 2007:

Rudolf J. Siebert, "Critical Religion in Antagonistic Civil Society: Towards Discourse and Cooperation among Civilizations (II)," paper prepared for Association for the Sociology of Religion, Montreal, Canada, August 2006.

This article shows up what obscurantist bullshit this whole enterprise is. I note that it is heavily indebted to Habermas, which doesn't say much for him. But more importantly, liberal religionists are trapped within their own irreconcilable contradictions, trying to have their cake and eat it too.
If the citizens learn to know, how to handle in the consciousness of their own fallibility and non-violently, i.e. without tearing apart the social bond of their political community, this factum of cultural pluralism, then they shall recognize, what the secular decision-foundations, which have been firmly written into the constitution of their state, mean in a post-secular society. This is so, because in the dispute between the claims of religious faith and scientific knowledge the culturally, i.e., aesthetically, religiously and philosophically, neutral liberal constitutional state does in no way prejudice necessarily political decisions in favor of the religious or the secular side. The pluralized communicative and anamnestic rationality of the public sphere of the citizens follows the dynamic of the secularization as it compels and forces in the result the even and equal distance between strong religious and secular traditions and cultural contents. However, the communicative and anamnestic as well as proleptic rationality of the public sphere of the citizens remains ready to learn, and thus osmotic ally open toward the religious and the secular side without losing its independence and autonomy. In this context, the scientific enlightenment of the commonsense, which is often full of prejudices, illusions and delusions, has to be accomplished. In this context, the cooperative translation of religious material and potentials from the depth of the mythos and religion into the secular discourse of the expert cultures and beyond that into the communicative action of the everyday life world and even into the economic and political subsystems of civil society, has to be performed. In this context, the long inherited dispute between religious faith and secular knowledge has to be carried out. . . .
As I said, liberal religionists have to do some fancy dancing to have it both ways.

There are recommendations for dialogue and reasoned discourse. But note:
We must admit, that in the present world - historical situation no real reconciliation between the religious and the secular, revelation and autonomous reason is possible. Precisely therefore, we suggest, that the discourse between the religious and the secular should at least not be closed up fundamentalistically, or scientistically and positivistically. To the contrary, we suggest an open dialectic between faith and knowledge, revelation and enlightenment, in order from there to derive guidance also for the relationship between church and state, religious and secular education. Such openness does not hope for the return of mysticism to religious orthodoxy, or from secular enlightenment to mysticism. The secular may concretely supersede the religious: the secular may not only critique the religious, but it may also preserve, elevate and fulfill it in alternative Future III – the reconciled society.
The recommendation is self-contradictory.
However, already in the present transition period from modernity to post-modernity such open dialectic between the religious and the secular, revelation and autonomous reason, faith and knowledge can, nevertheless, make possible the cooperation between religious and secular people, believers and enlighteners toward a project world ethos. It could be centered in the Golden Rule, which the Chinese Religion, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism. Christianity and Islam and other world religions have in common.
This is bullshit. Liberal religionists can find whatever pretexts they wish within their religions, but the fact is that rational dialogue can only occur on a rational, atheological basis, or not at all..
The Golden Rule in all its different forms can conquer the jus talionis. The practice of the Golden rule would be the end of the lex talionis. The analysis should not stop with the realistic assertion that the Golden Rule can not be practiced and thus the lex talionis can not be broken, Men like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Romero practiced the Golden Rule even in its extreme form by following the fourth and fifth commandment of the Sermon on the Mount. It is rather so that the psychoanalytical and critical sociological and critical theological analysis must begin precisely with the question: why is it not possible for some people to practice the Golden Rule and why must they remain under the spell of the mythological jus talionis? When others can liberate themselves from this ban and do to others, as they want to be treated.
This is a fantasy typical of the self-deluded liberal religionist. First, they want to reduce everything to metaphysics and individual psychology. Then they call for a sociological analysis of individual psychology? Which is it going to be, and which takes priority?

Vonnegut: Music is the proof

KURT: I just wanted to add that virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.

KURT: Because music gives pleasure as we never can. Music is the most pleasurable and magical thing we can experience.

I'm Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, but I simultaneously say that music is the proof of the existence of God.

SOURCE: Vonnegut, Kurt. Like Shaking Hands with God: A Conversation about Writing, by Kurt Vonnegut & Lee Stringer; moderated by Ross Klavan; foreword by Daniel Simon; photos by Art Shay (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999), p. 47

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It must be Shelley

. . . 'cause Blake don't shake like that.

For many a decade, I've been aware of Percy Bysshe Shelley's essay on atheism that got him kicked out of university—The Necessity of Atheism. Oddly, I don't remember reading the essay itself. Nor was I aware of Shelley's other essays on religious topics. (His essays are collected in separate volumes from his poetry, at least the ones I have.) His key essays reflecting his heterodoxy are available online:

Selected Prose Works of Shelley,
including, inter alia:
The Necessity of Atheism
A Refutation of Deism
On Life
On a Future State
Essay on Christianity

I discovered this in my search for "A Refutation of Deism" (1814).

Prometheus Books has collected these five essays in a book:

The Necessity of Atheism, and Other Essays (1993).

This collection of essays is available via Project Gutenberg:

A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays

On Love
On Life in a Future State
On the Punishment of Death
Speculations on Metaphysics
Speculations on Morals
On the Literature, the Arts and the Manners of the Athenians
On the Symposium, Or Preface to the Banquet of Plato
A Defence of Poetry

Only the essay "On Life" is one of the key anti-religious tracts listed previously.

Offline the most comprehensive compilation of Shelley's prose is:

Shelley's Prose, edited by David Lee Clark (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1954).

The Growth of Shelley's Mind 3
The Necessity of Atheism 37
An Address to the Irish People 39
Proposals for an Association of Philanthropists 60
A Declaration of Rights 70
A Letter to Lord Ellenborough 72
A Vindication of Natural Diet 81
Essay on the Vegetable System of Diet 91
"There Is No God" 97
" I Will Beget a Son" 103
"Necessity! Thou Mother of the World!" 109
"And Statesmen Boast of Wealth" 113
"Even Love Is Sold" 115
A Refutation of Deism 118
A Fragment of "A Refutation of Deism" 138
Refutation of the Christian Religion 141
A Fragment on Miracles 143
The Assassins 144
Essay on the Punishment of Death 154
A Proposal for Putting Reform to the Vote Throughout the Kingdom 158
An Address to the People on the Death of the Princess Charlotte 162
Essay on Love 169
Essay on Life 171
Essay on a Future State 175
Essay on the Revival of Literature 179
A Treatise on Morals 181
The Elysian Fields: A Lucianic Fragment 194
Essay on Christianity 196
Essay on Marriage 215
A Discourse on the Manners of the Ancient Greeks Relative to the Subject of Love 216
The Colosseum 224
A Philosophical View of Reform 229
Two Fragments on Reform 261
A System of Government by Juries 262
Essay on the Devil and Devils 264
A Defence of Poetry 275
Una Favola 298
A. Literary Criticism 303
B. Prefaces to Poems 314
C. Fragments and Minor Pieces 337
D. Translations of Longer Foreign Language Passages 354
Selected Bibliography 365
Index 371

This book contains some relevant items I've not found online. I put this fragment on my web site and perhaps will add some more material:

On Polytheism (1819?)

Of course, Shelley's poetry is not to be neglected, and all of it can be found online:

The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Other online texts by Shelley can be also be referenced via Project Gutenberg:

Shelley, Percy Bysshe - Project Gutenberg

Scholarly materials abound. These are the best web sites on English Romanticism:

Romantic Circles
Romanticism On the Net

Monday, June 11, 2007

Is God a white racist?

Jones, William R. Is God a White Racist?: A Preamble to Black Theology. New York: Doubleday, 1973.

Whatever else you might say, anyone who could come up with a book title like Is God a White Racist? deserves a medal. Jones contains all the contradictions of a religious humanism: he dwells ideologically within the parameters of religious mythology while attempting to clean it up at the same time and make it answer to more enlightened needs. Except for the fact that it forces theologians to face up to certain questionable features of their superstitions, the reinterpretation of said superstition does not topple its cognitive authority, but perpetuates the imprisonment of intellectual energy within ideology.

The demythologization and higher criticism of religion has a history with a certain nobility in its earlier stages. Spinoza already did this to Judaism, taking considerable risk in an era before this was permissible. Left Hegelianism made a decisive historical contribution, following from the ambiguities of Hegel's position to David Strauss (also passing through Heinrich Heine), to the revolutionization of philosophy itself as well as religious criticism via the Young Hegelians from Bruno Bauer to Ludwig Feuerbach to Max Stirner and Karl Marx. However, not recognizing Marx's rupture of the closed circle of ideology, subsequent liberalizing or modernizing of religions tends to lapse into equivocating make-believe, the philosophy of "as if", and the exploitation of the malleability of symbolism. Religious liberalism and liberation theology have been pulling a sleight-of-hand for some time, but now religious fascism resurfaces to topple the liberal/radical facade.

In addition to the great title, Jones pushes the envelope on theodicy as the deciding issue in theology: whose side is God on? If you're interested in theology, you will find his pushing has made an impact and holds some interest. At the end of the day, if you have any sense you will find that secular humanism beats out the humanocentric theism Jones poses as the only other viable alternative. So maybe you can escape after all.

In his writings Jones has performed one other service: he coined a term that is absolutely hilarious— Whitianity!

To be thorough, he should have called its theological tradition Honkeology.

Jones was influenced most notably by existentialism and post-Holocaust Jewish theology. Albert Camus' The Rebel suggests that Golgotha can also be interpreted as divine misanthropy. Hence occasions of suffering—events in the world— lend themselves equally to opposing interpretations, referred to by Jones as multievidentiality. (8) Jones reviews skepticism about God's benevolence in black American literature. Especially notable is a passage in Nella Larsen's Passing. (38-9) Part I, then, sets up the issue of divine racism.

Part II is an internal critique of black theology, particularly of Joseph Washington, James Cone, Albert Cleage, Major Jones, J. Deotis Roberts. The non-religious reader will probably be least interested in this section.

Part III—Toward a Black Theodicy for Today—is the punchline, the most important section for those not sympathetic to the subject matter. In this section, Chapter XI—Toward a Prolegomenon to Black Theology (169-184)—is the chapter you most want to read. Jones argues that only two models for black liberation theology are viable—secular humanism and humanocentric theism. (172) Secular humanism is a viable option, but Jones prefers to explore the possibilities of humanocentric theism as the last hope for theism.

Jones was influenced by the parallel experience of Jewish suffering, the Holocaust being the last straw. He undertakes an analysis of the work of Richard Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, in the balance of this chapter. (175-184) Rubinstein rejects the standard conception of God and God's role in history. God is really the cannibal goddess Earth! The only Messiah is death. Jones takes up the challenge to show that this alternate theodicy is not the only alternative. Rubinstein rejects secular humanism. Jones refutes this rejection, citing Sartre's Anti-Semite and Jew. Jones cannot accept Rubinstein's pessimistic conclusions.

The final chapter—XII: Humanocentric Theism: A Theistic Framework for Ethnic Suffering— is Jones' alternative. The logic of his position is more interesting to me than the position itself. It removes the charge of white racism by stripping God of his sovereignty over human history. It also removes any excuses for the white oppressor. It also removes the option of quietism for the oppressed. (195)

Further references:

Professor Emeritus, Dr. William R. Jones

Toward an Interim Assessment of Black Theology by William R. Jones

Theism and Religious Humanism: The Chasm Narrows by William R. Jones, The Christian Century, May 21, 1975, pp. 520-525.

Is God a White Racist?: A Preamble to Black Theology by William R. Jones reviewed by William Muehl

“Is God a White Racist?”, sermon by Rev. Dan Harper

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Black Theology with a Process

Two worthless subjects meet and compare notes—black theology and process theology. To be fair, William R. Jones is arguably the most important black religious humanist thinker of our time, having raised the fundamental question of theodicy as it relates to black suffering and liberation, most notably in his seminal book Is God a White Racist?: A Preamble to Black Theology (Doubleday, 1973). Process Theology is a branch of the Process Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. These two streams of thought meet in this article:

Process Theology: Guardian of the Oppressor or Goad to the Oppressed by William R. Jones, in Process Studies, pp. 268-281, Vol.18, Number 4, Winter, 1989.

The issue is whose side is the God of process theology on—on the side of the oppressed, the oppressor, or everyone (meaning the oppressor in practice)? Jones has a number of questions for process theology as he does for all others:

Given the factor of ethnic suffering, can one assume that God is good? Are not the interpretations that Miller cites — God is benevolent, indifferent demonic/evil — equally probable? Though the position of humanocentric theism accommodates the divine freedom in a manner that prevents making God responsible for the crimes of human history, it does so at the cost of making a demonic deity equally probable. As the divine joker in Bertrand Russell’s eschatological scenario illustrates (FMW), each and every instance of divine benevolence can, with equal validity, be interpreted as a divine misanthropy and malevolence.

I must confess that the manner in which process theology affirms the benevolence of God over against the option of God as demonic or indifferent, is, for me, blatantly question-begging. Howard Burkle, for instance, purports to show that these options are not equally valid. However, the superiority he assigns to the option of benevolence rests on the question-begging foundation of a stipulative definition. The very idea that God may be demonic, he contends, is "inherently inconsistent and therefore not a possibility at all. God cannot be demonic because ‘God’ means ‘absolute perfection.’ If the dominant universal power is not perfectly good, there is no God" (GSB 77).

It would also appear that the logical and theological maneuvers that avoid God’s responsibility for the crimes of human history have several undesirable consequences: any appeal to the future becoming of the divine as preeminent events of liberation is ruled out; even more important, we are left in the dark about God’s character as demonic, indifferent or benevolent. Granting freedom to humans for example, is logically and theologically multievidential. Ultimately, this divine "grace" tells us nothing about whose side God is on or about the divine intent for the future of the human species and its oppressed communities. In what sense can we speak of a divine intent or telos in human history beyond the granting of freedom to humanity, a freedom that is acknowledged to be multivalent, an equal ground of being for good or evil?

Given the insights of humanocentric theism, we are also pushed to ask what it means to advance God, the transcendent, as the ground for the just society? Does it mean more than the claim that the transcendent is both the ground for human freedom/autonomy to operate as moral creator and foundation of the world in which this freedom is exercised? Or does it mean that ultimate reality sponsors, and thus guarantees, the ultimate triumph of specific activities in human history? That is, once humanity is given the status of moral creator, does ontological priority -- i.e., the transcendent -- still establish moral priority? It seems clear that the species of human freedom endorsed by humanocentric theism precludes, at the very least, any immediate movement from ontology to ethics, from the "is" to the "ought," without the intermediate operation of human evaluation. Is this an area where process theology ultimately grounds itself on a question-begging norm?
While I enjoy philosophical puzzles, if I am going to spend my time in a mythical universe, I might be better off going to a Star Trek convention, playing Dungeons & Dragons, or viewing The Lord of the Rings. While cults of any kind invite excess, the difference is to recognize without equivocation that a man-made fictional landscape is involved. Even if you're a cultist, at least you know the object of veneration is naught but a literary artifact. The discipline for analyzing such cultural artifacts is literary criticism or art criticism. Left/liberal theology is another matter. Liberal theologians are pushed towards the recognition that their sacred texts are fiction but can't just accept them as fiction; instead they play the game of "as if" in order to preserve an authoritative status for outmoded superstitions. So instead of good literary criticism we get bad metaphysics--liberation theology, process theology, death-of-god theology, post-Holocaust theology, feminist theology, black theology. A few of these fictional constructs may be of interest, but the whole enterprise is a sad waste of intellectual energy.

If there is some good that can come out of this bad medicine, it is that radicalizers of these traditions may on occasion push the envelope from within the mythical structures that religionists inhabit. Jones, by pushing theodicy as the question for oppressed peoples and following through on its internal logic, forces an alteration of the mythic structure of Christianity without abolishing it, and he pushes these questions with every theological system he encounters.

Process philosophy has attracted liberals and even some Marxists. It has linkages to the reactionary obscurantism of contemporary proponents of Daoism and Confucianism. It has linkages to biosemiotics and creationism. It's a slippery devil. Its linkages to liberation theology and particularly black theology enable more mischief. The best thing one can say is that Jones challenges the political implications of its metaphysics.

But sadly, there's more:

Hartshorne's Neoclassical Theism and Black Theology by Theodore Walker, Jr., in Process Studies, pp.240-258, Vol. 18, Number 4, Winter, 1989.

Alien Gods in Black Experience by Archie Smith, Jr., in Process Studies, pp. 294-305, Vol. 18, Number 4, Winter, 1989.

Walker defends process theology against Jones's doubts by adumbrating the differences between Hartshorne's theology and orthodox theism and showing its consonance with statements about God in connection with black liberation from the abolitionist movement on. No doubt such arguments were once useful in appealing to a religious populace, but to have to waste one's time on this nonsense to convince fools of something on the cusp of the millennium is just backward.

But Smith is much worse. Reviewing the literature on the subject, he concludes that there is a need for a holistic view of "relational reality" integrating material and spiritual forces and incorporating the concept of "principalities and powers". Unrecognized social forces are "alien gods" that "represent the visible and invisible principalities and powers that circumscribe human existence." An example of the trial of an Australian aborigine who killed his female companion is analyzed. I can't go on about this superstitious garbage.

The intellectual vampires of liberation theology are perfectly capable of perpetrating their obscurantist mischief without the help of process philosophy, but here we have yet another terrain in which it works its baleful influence. We can thank the liberal and radical mind-manipulators once again for muddying the waters of the human intellect.

My remarks on Whitehead & his influence:
Whitehead & Marxism: Selected Bibliography
Does anyone give good Whitehead?
Whitehead or Marx? Or, How to Process Philosophy
Chinese Philosophy in the West: Globalization Gone Bad (1)
January 2007 reading review (1)
Emergence: Theology or Materialism?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

James Baldwin: Beyond Jails & Churches

“You think that's all that's in the world is jails and churches?”
—Roy Grimes to his mother, in Go Tell It On the Mountain

“Christianity has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty—necessarily, since a religion ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating the infidels.”
— James Baldwin, "Letter from a Region in My Mind" (New Yorker, 17 Nov. 1962; reprinted in The Fire Next Time, 1963).

In this essay I explain my long-standing impulse to read Baldwin's first novel Go Tell It On the Mountain (1953):

James Baldwin Revisited (1): Prolegomena

And here is my review:

James Baldwin Revisited (2): Go Tell It on the Mountain