Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Suffocating on the altar of logos

(The) rationalized interpretation of religion has resulted in two distinctively modern phenomena: fundamentalism and atheism. The two are related. The defensive piety popularly known as fundamentalism erupted in almost every major faith during the twentieth century. In their desire to produce a wholly rational, scientific faith that abolished mythos in favour of logos, Christian fundamentalists have interpreted scripture with a literalism that is unparalleled in the history of religion. In the United States, Protestant fundamentalists have evolved an ideology known as “creation science” that regards the mythoi of the Bible as scientifically accurate. They have, therefore, campaigned against the teaching of evolution in the public schools, because it contradicts the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis.

Historically, atheism has rarely been a blanket denial of the sacred per se but has nearly always rejected a particular conception of the divine. At an early stage of their history, Christians and Muslims were both called “atheists” by their pagan contemporaries, not because they denied the reality of God but because4 their ind conception of divinity was so different that it seemed blasphemous. Atheism is therefore parasitically dependent on the form of theism it seeks to eliminate and becomes its reverse mirror image. (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God, p. xv-xvi)

In most premodern cultures, there were two recognized ways of thinking, speaking and acquiring knowledge. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were essential and neither was considered superior to the other; they were not in conflict but complementary. Each has its own sphere of competence, and it was considered unwise to mix the two. Logos (“reason”) was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled people to functions effectively in the world. It had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external reality. People have always needed logos to make an efficient weapon, organize their societies, or plan an expedition. Logos was forward looking, continually on the lookout for new ways of controlling their environment, improving old insights, or inventing something fresh. Logos was essential to the survival of our species. But it has its limitations; it could not assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life’s struggles. For that people turned to mythos or myth…..

Myths may have told stories about the gods, but they were focused on the more elusive, puzzling and tragic aspects of the human predicament that lay outside the remit of logos. Myth has been called a primitive form of psychology. When a myth described heroes threading their way through labyrinths, descending into the underworld, or fighting monsters, these were not understood as primarily factual stories. They were designed to help people negotiate the obscure regions of the psyche, which are difficult to access but which profoundly influence our thought and behaviour….A myth was never intended as an accurate account of a historical event; it was something that had in some sense happened once but that also happens all the time…..
Today we live in a society of scientific logos, and myth has fallen into disrepute. (Ibid, p. xi)

Of course, digital drives vacuum mountains of “data” overwhelming our more balanced perspective of the universe. Dollars, bank accounts, bills, scores, test scores, bond ratings, blood pressure numbers, heart rates, chemical/blood scores for various illnesses, temperature declines, GDP, jobs numbers….these are all sought, measured, compared and deployed as bases for a plethora of decisions of a personal, organizational, political, psychological and even “definitions of success/failure.

Today, emerging from the scandal around the illicit admission of college students based on the manipulation of SAT scores, and the payment of millions to scam artists to manipulate applications, many American colleges are dropping the SAT score as a litmus test for admission. Not incidentally, we also learned today that many university bond ratings are dependent on SAT scores. Just the last hour, we received a letter from our insurer that credit rating scores will now be accessed (in what they call a “soft” inquiry that will not impact the credit rating) to better provide data for the companies to determine policy premiums. Refusal to grant permission will not deny coverage but could preclude “best price” options.

Many of the scurrilous headlines about “touching, kissing,” are founded on the notion that such behaviour is either “a violation” or evidence of being a dunderhead, out of touch with the current mores surrounding male-female relations. Two options, either-or, is the base from which we make many decisions without paying attention to the multiple positions that invariably exist between the two options, especially with respect to human thoughts, motivations, attitudes and beliefs. So, we have not only become dependent on the collection and evaluation and interpretation of objective, empirical verifiable pieces of information; we have also reduced things like meaning, purpose, belief and relationship to the universals to the binary template that defies the clarity we obsessively demand. God, gods, Allah, Dao…all faces of divinity, however, categorically refuse to be contained in our micro-data-points.

In fact, they all elude such imprisonment, whether we like their defiance or not. And when we reduce our faith expectations to a belief/denial of a dogmatic epigram, we defame the very notion of faith, as well as the notion of divinity, as well as our potential relationship to the mysteries of the divine.

And if this fracture or erosion of the human-divine relationship results from our binary exclusivity, so too then does it become even more likely and prevalent for us to reduce our potential relationships with other humans to a digit of political advocacy:

·        for or opposed to a woman’s choice,
·        for or opposed to the protection of the climate,
·        for or against the construction of pipelines for crude,
·        for or against the imposition of carbon taxes,
·        for or against the building of a phoney wall
·        for or against the extension of public health care
·        for or against the establishment of pharmacare
·        for or against Brexit, NATO, UN, WHO,
·        for or against open borders to refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers

Talking, reporting, reflecting only in terms of black/white, either/or, right/wrong, ethical/immoral, fundamentalism/atheism…and then accepting public policy based on the most elemental, bones of an argument, (lacking the political, philosophical, ethical, archetypal, cultural “meat”) is a rapid and sabotaging race to the bottom of all arguments.

It is not only the demise of the nuances of myth, (mythos) and the elimination of the multiple positions between and among all extremes that is leaving us all exhausted. We are exhausted not only by the volume and the sheer ratings-based repetition of the coverage; we are also exhausted by the failure of the political culture to achieve compromise simply because to compromise would be, in fact, an acknowledgement that the other side has some significant value to their position. And since such a position is counter-intuitive to “winning” and sustaining public support and esteem, (both of which are among the most fickle and ephemeral of human expressions), we refuse to risk even the slightest modicum of failure in the public eye, ironically an eye blinded by the very obsession with the extremes, which themselves deny the scientific reality they purport to express.

It used to be said that the public had endowed the medical profession with an inordinate  degree of power and influence, based on their “scientific diagnosis” that either was or was not amenable to treatment, surgery, prescriptions, therapies or some combination. Not only was that a failure to accept our individual responsibility for the preservation and protection of our own personal health; it was also a failure by imposing inordinate pressure to perform and to deliver super-human outcomes.

Ironically, that model of inordinate power and influence being attributed to a profession has been extended to various forms of publicly expressed opinion especially by those serving as elected officials. And with that wave of co-dependence on the model among the political class has come its extension to offices like Supreme Court Justices, with recent and projected appointees expressing extreme ideological positions, thereby sacrificing their intellectual independence, and modelling their serf status to the person/ideology in power.

While correcting all of the gerrymandering, voter-repression, voter-manipulation through social media campaigns and the buying of both advertising space and on  their personal acolytes are all noble and worthwhile political goals, as a way to preserving (or rescuing democracy) for the future, the very application of the lines from Paul Simon’s lyric, My Little Town, to the epic issues facing the people of the planet, as well as the issues and public discourse that frames each of the issues, including especially the paralysis that encases each of them in concrete, the cement of blind hubris and denial:

My Little Town     (Simon and Garfunkel, © Universal Music Publishing Group)
In my little town
I grew up believing
God keeps his eye on us all
And he used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall
Lord, I recall my little town
Coming home after school
Flying my bike past the gates of the factories
My mom doing the laundry
Hanging out shirts in the dirty breeze
And after it rains there’s a rainbow
And all of the colours are black
It’s not that the colours aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack
Everything’s the same back in my little town
My little town, my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
In my little town
I never meant nothing, I was just my father’s son
Saving my money
Dreamin’ of glory
Twitching like a finger on a trigger of a gun
Really nothing by the dead and dying back in my little town…

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