Monday, January 24, 2011

Pontius Pilate and Freud....continued

Thanks, John, for your intelligent comment.  I believe the fact that there are intelligent people amongst believers and non-believers supports my contention that religious belief has nothing to do with intelligence or rationality.  Most people in all cultures are not very reflective.  They simply absorb and follow the beliefs of their particular culture and family and assume such beliefs represent Truth.  That reality contributes to one of the most pernicious influences of religion: it's potential to generate division and conflict.  Religion as a factor of self-identity becoming an invitation to exclusion of the other, just as nationalism does. It represents one of the weights about which I wrote that accompanies religious belief.

More reflective believers, however, can attempt to understand and compare their particular religious beliefs to those of other peoples and cultures.  It is possible, indeed likely, that such a reflective stance will lead to the perception that there are many, equally valid ways of arriving at an understanding of the transcendent.  Part of the openness I admired about John XXXIII was his acknowledgment that there are other, valid ways to God than Catholicism.  Religion need not involve the assertion that only my faith is the Truth.

Which brings me to an important factor that I haven't mentioned previously: the appreciation and attraction toward a sense of the transcendent.  Religion speaks to and attempts to facilitate access to that sensibility much as architecture, painting, sculpture speak to and access an aesthetic sensibility.  Just as people vary in their experience of aesthetic sensibility and the importance it has in their lives, so people differ in regard to religious sensibility. It may be the case that those who might be called "rationalists",  such as Russell and Dawkins, feel little in the way of religious sensibility.  Experiences of transcendence, for example, might just have no attraction to them.  Did you ever go to a movie with a friend by a director such as Bunuel, Passolini or Bergman, and come out of the movie feeling profoundly moved, while your friend was bored and complains that "sheep don't act that way".  It's evident that they just didn't get it.  That the film spoke to them not at all.  Is it possible that rationalists in questioning (often more like attacking) the rationality and "truth" of believers are performing their own division of self from other.  Contending that their particular world view is the true one, while others are not.  A performance that has led the more unreflecting to their own acts of violence when it has prevailed in Marxist societies.

Which brings us back to Pontius Pilate and Freud and my contention that there is no such thing as truth apart from a particular conceptual framework or world view.  I'm glad the example of Freud gave you pause.  Yes,  the Freudian concepts of ego, superego and id may function as shorthand explanatory devices within analytic theory. Descriptions that have been reified into things.  If so, within the structure of Freudian theory belief in those entities facilitates explanation and the understanding of experience.  Isn't it possible that in a religious world view a belief in God or gods fulfills exactly the same function?  If so, then you have to go within those particular structures to understand what is meant by the existence of God and how that belief facilitates an understanding and facilitates access to an experience of transcendence.  Some philosophers of science have pointed out the role of metaphor, sometimes aesthetics, in the elaboration of scientific theory.  Perhaps the entities and forces postulated by physics have no more "reality" outside of their relevant theoretical structures than those postulated in religious belief or Freudian theory.

In fact, I would contend that even the objects of our everyday world are partially products of the deep grammar of our language and our perceptual limitations.  A visitor from another planet, for example, may not perceive what we perceive.  They, if "they" be the appropriate designation, might perceive, for example, interacting fields of energy where we see objects and might perceive parallel dimensions, which our physics postulates must exist in our universe, but we are not able to directly perceive.  Such a visitor may have no language with which to share or even experience the diverse perceptions of our world.  A contention that might be interesting to explore and discuss at some subsequent time.

Hope you have a happy vacation filled with much lighter reflections.


  1. I often wonder about how objects are perceived by other animals, insects, etc... not only are they often very different to us in dimension, but also in method of perception. Birds, snakes, horses, all have different degrees of visual accuity and abilities to perceive heat, motion and perhaps emotion (if you subscribe to the concept that emotions are also an expression of energy as I do). On a purely physical level, we are completely porous; at the level of our skin, or even our molecules we are simply vibrating fields of enegy and empty "space." A bacterium does not "see" our skin as a barrier at all. On the most basic level (as physicists understand the world today) everything is composed of fields of energy; it is only due to our limited visual perception (which has obvious evolutionarily functional advantages) that we perceive bodies as seperate entities at all.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Julian. Amusing that our musings coincide, eh?