3 thoughts on “A week’s assignment!

  1. Lex Crane defines a “demonic” impulse as one that usually is born from self-righteous feelings but introduces more evil to the world. (page 1) This is obvious in religious fundamentalism (page 5) but perhaps less obvious in science (page 6-7), where technological “progress” leads to pollution and weapons of mass destruction. This leads him to pronounce: “The conviction that science is the ultimate worldview is bigotry; and like all bigotry, it is immoral, inhumane, and a blight on human life. This form of certainty has crippled the cultural evolution of humanity.” (page 8)

    It is surely true that science has limitations. There are other ways of understanding; our “five senses,” emotions, aesthetic appreciation, unconscious, and dreams, for example, are subjective and aren’t scientific, but they do yield a kind of knowledge that helps us build our lives and navigate our worlds, and we sense that we would suffer irreparable loss to our humanity without them. I don’t see that religion, however, is an essential type of understanding. Some people object to theism and/or organized religion, and we do OK. It may be true that “reason, science, education, and knowledge – important as they are – are not enough to solve the problems of social and political life” (page 12), but it doesn’t follow that religion or faith is the missing piece.

    The word “demonic” is not one that I will adopt. Coincidentally, I encountered it in another of my morning readings today. Sohrab Ahmari, op-ed editor of the New York Post, recently tweeted that library events in which children hear drag queen storytellers are “demonic.” (I can’t find the tweet and it may have been removed.) Anyway, in response, Ramona V. Tausz wrote for the religious magazine First Things that describing drag queens as “demonic” is “certainly not all that is needed—but it is a good start.” Similarly, last October, sexologist Ray Blanchard endorsed applying the metaphor of demon possession/exorcism to those who abandon transgender identity. I am transgender, which explains why I am allergic to this discourse.

    I understand the reasoning behind saying that which is evil can be called ‘demonic,’ and the word “demonic” is surely colorful and memorable, but for me a major issue is how we determine in the first place exactly what is evil. Pointing to it and naming it doesn’t answer what led us to see it and to flag it as a concern. If we haven’t rooted out our biases (e.g. anti-transgender prejudice), we’ll end up calling out the wrong things as “evil,” and that’s dangerous and harmful to the people we’re unfairly targeting.

    And, while it uses fundamentalists’ own medicine against them to call them “demonic,” their medicine is poison to begin with, so it doesn’t feel good to me to use that specific weapon. It’s kind of like saying, “I know you are but what am I?”, a verbal fight that is designed so that the issue is never intellectually settled and will probably just lead to a power stalemate too.

    To put it another way: If I call someone “demonic,” it takes away my credibility to say later on, “But I’m not a demon, and, actually, demons don’t exist, so neither of us are demons. Can we have a rational, empathetic conversation now?”

    The Greek notion of a daimon as an unconscious impulse (be it good or bad) is agreeable to me, and I prefer it spelled that way for disambiguation.

    I did like what Lex Crane had to say about certainty/uncertainty. For example, here (page 4):

    “Social scientists have established that some individuals have a strong preference or need for certainty, while others find uncertainty not only bearable but also stimulating. As one scientist [Richard Sorrentino, The Uncertain Mind] put it in a recent work, systems of belief or disbelief ‘serve two powerful and conflicting sets of motives at the same time: the need for a cognitive framework to know and to understand, and the need to ward off threatening aspects of reality.’ Where the need to know is dominant, the individual is less likely to be threatened by uncertainty.”

    On that note, this morning I happened to see a new survey that finds that atheists and agnostics are less likely to adhere to other superstitions (astrology, destiny, karma, reincarnation, any kind of life after death) but that they are not immune from these superstitions. All of us—theist or not—have the occasional psychological need to mitigate, avoid, or explain away knowledge that distresses or confuses us.

    As for your response, Bob, I especially liked the idea that it may be critical thinking, not faith, that will help us distinguish between right and wrong. You wrote: “How is that we have come to believe that driving an SUV is GOOD for the environment??…Why do so many of us believe so much nonsense? Because, I think, we fail to engage our critical thinking unit.” I think that is on track. The value itself is probably already known and accepted (e.g. functioning ecosystems are indispensable to life, natural resources are valuable, and we should be careful not to destroy them, especially not gratuitously due merely to our own laziness, pride, or greed). Critical thinking may not be the origin of the value, but on an average day it doesn’t matter to us where the value came from because the value doesn’t change much over the course of our lives. Critical thinking as a practice that we cultivate daily allows us to see the obvious facts of the situation and it helps us to evaluate our next action step.

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  2. One of Lex’s insights:
    The pluralism that now prevails in the West, and that has begun to permeate the rest of the world, has begun to foster an awareness that no belief system is absolute and eternal, that all evolve over time. Human beings created all of them, and humans are invariably imperfect, as are all systems of belief. Each of us is free now to choose from the banquet of belief systems now available to us.
    And, of course, then there is reality!


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