Consider the following from Richard Rorty’s “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” (pg. 88):
….the problem is that one side thinks there are too many meanings around and the other side too few. In this respect the closest analogy one can find is the conflict between inspired theists and uninspired atheists. An inspired theist, let us say, is one who “just knows” that there are supernatural beings which play certain explanatory roles in accounting for natural phenomenon. (They are not to be confused with natural theologians – who offer the supernatural as the best explanation of these phenomenon.) Inspired theists have inherited their picture of the universe as divided into two great ontological realms – the supernatural and the natural - along with their language. The way they talk about things is inextricably tied up with - or at least strikes them as inextricably tied up with – references to the divine. The notion of the supernatural does not strike then as a “theory” any more than the notion of the mental strikes us as a theory. When they encounter atheists they view then as people who don’t know what’s going on, although they admit that the atheists seem able to predict and control natural phenomena very nicely indeed. (“Thank heaven” they say, “that we are not as those natural theologians are, or we too might loose touch with the real.”) The atheists view these theists as having too many words in their language and too many meanings to bother about. Enthusiastic atheists explain to inspired theists that, “all there REALLY is is…,” and the theists reply that one should realize that there are more things in heaven and earth… And so it goes. The philosophers on both sides may analyze meanings until they are blue in the face, but al such analyses are either, “directional” and “reductive” (e.g., “noncognitive” analyses of religious discourse, which are the analogue of “expressive” theories of pain reports) or else simply describe alternative “forms of life”, culminating in nothing more helpful than the announcement: “This language-game is played.” The theists’ game is essential to their self image, just as the image of man’s Glassy Essence is essential to the Western intellectual’s, but neither has a larger context available in which to evaluate this image. Where, after all, would such a context come from?
Rorty brings up some interesting points here that I think need to be dealt with, at least from the perspective of my own thinking. When I read this I thought, “CRAP! He’s talking about theists like me, ones who reduce it to a ‘Language-game’.” The main point here (and I think Rorty supports it as he see’s no use for religious language) is that the inspired theists simply have too many words in their language.
In defense of myself then, I’m going to go after a couple things; first this statement:
“An inspired theist, let us say, is one who “just knows” that there are supernatural beings which play certain explanatory roles in accounting for natural phenomenon.”
This seems like a hasty generalization from Rorty, and somewhat reduces the nature of theistic belief to the belief in fairies; it reminds me of a typical Dawkins move. After all, what does he mean by supernatural beings, and what natural phenomenon would he suggest those beings account for – relative to what he believes the theist thinks of course? Sure it’s a handy explanation that on the outside seems to make perfect sense, but it’s obvious he assumes his own shallow meanings. Perhaps though, by supernatural he simply means “transcendental” and by beings he means something like, some undefined ontology (at least that seems somewhat honest), however the rest seems like talk about miracle work and renders my “perhaps though” as nothing more then wishful thinking. Next he describes the natural theologians as a comparison, but again he says “these phenomenon” which is packed full of all sorts of meanings and he never gets into what he means by it. Most of my suspicion centers around his saying “…certain explanatory roles…” From this I could infer that he’s reducing theistic belief to the “God of the Gaps” argument; in other words the natural phenomenon which he refers to is simply that which has no scientific explanation, yet.
I see this statement as saying something along the lines of the following: “An inspired theist, let us say, is one who “just knows” that there is a Pie in the Sky who created everything.” That would have been more to the point I think….
That being what it is, my attack of that statement from Rorty is fruitless and is really meant to overshadow my inability to currently deal with this statement:
“… but all such analyses are either, “directional” and “reductive” (e.g., “noncognitive” analyses of religious discourse, which are the analogue of “expressive” theories of pain reports) or else simply describe alternative “forms of life”, culminating in nothing more helpful than the announcement: “This language-game is played.”
My current mantra is most certainly that “A certain language-game is being played,” however, it’s not without validity or purpose. I think the key is here, what are those “alternative forms of life”, and do the too many words of religious language lead to an alternative form of life that would promote a better world for our great-great-great-great-grand children? One might suggest, “Why do we need the antiquated words of Christ and the belief in the divine in order to understand what those things are?” I would simply answer, “well, we don’t.” As someone who follows Buddhism, I may well agree that Christianity along with Buddhism has far too many words, however these languages do not stand as descriptions of an underlying reality per se’, but serve as a path to a particular state of mind which leads to the “alternative form of life”. Although, we can do without the word “alternative” in that statement and simply say something like, “Good”.
None of this rhetoric on my part will really do though, so I’d like to call attention to the post I put up earlier from Rorty and point out a few things.
Rorty said in this post:
“The idea that the aim of inquiry is correspondence to reality, or seeing the face of God, or substituting facts for interpretation is one that we just can’t make any use of.”
“The reaction against this Greek/Christian pursuit of blessedness through union with a natural order is to say, there isn’t any natural order, but there is a possibility of a better life for our great-great-great grandchildren. That’s enough to give you all the meaning and inspiration that you could use. "
This statement is true enough, but that assumes that the goal of theism (at least in modern society) is to “see the face of God”, or to “substitute facts for interpretation”. Theism, at least from my perspective, does not have within it the goal of escaping the world and seeing God, it does not substitute facts for interpretation in any way – unless of course we’re talking to a biblical literalist, but I’m defending myself here, not them. Again, the goal of theism is along the lines of a certain disposition to live, to behave, to interact, to come into contact with ones self thereby paving the way to come into contact with others. (Now don’t take me here as reducing theism to behaviorism, as I’m not talking necessarily about physical dispositions). No matter the medium you choose, the religion or governmental system, there is always a set of normative behaviors one should abide by; the question I would pose is, “is one going to follow blindly those normative laws, or is one going to come to an understanding of them?” What philosophy or system of law proliferates understanding? That’s a bit like asking what military spreads peace?
The bottom line is that it’s simply a mistake to assume that the theist is in the pursuit of the divine outside of life, or that he’s trying to get in touch with God, so on and so forth. I think it would be more accurate to suggest that one is trying to bring the divine into himself, whether that divine is the Buddha nature, or the Christ nature (I see no difference between the two). Religious language, where-as it is a form of creating understanding, is a personal journey that one takes; when he understands that journey, those too many words of religious language become no longer necessary. One must understand that (once again) religion is not a description of anything, any more then a road is a description of the ground, it is merely something we follow. Further more, (with regard to myself) these words are not something that I simply believe as they are, as there is nothing to believe in; when one has love, there is no belief in that love, you are merely consumed with it, and love is what we call it. Belief merely exists where an understanding isn’t self evident, so to follow Biblical words is to follow a belief in a dogma and this often takes on the appearance of one having too many words in his vocabulary. The key then, is to do exactly as the inspired atheist would suggest, “get rid of those too many words”, not by discarding them, but by following them to the end.
Let me try an example:
Let’s suppose that language, or rather a particular word in itself, represent a road somewhere. So the sentence, “I’m hungry”, represents two roads (“I’M” and “HUNGRY”), both of which a listener has to travel in order to gain an understanding of what you’re saying, or better put, in order to reach the destination of understanding. Every time one is reading from a page or listening to speech, one is taking a journey which is paved by all the individual roads made up by all the individual words. By itself, “I’m”, is a lone road that doesn’t necessarily lead to anywhere except perhaps the end of the block, which of course has many branching roads that lead to many other possible destinations; so you’re left stranded. Mate that word with hungry and suddenly you’ve arrived somewhere familiar.
To understand the roads of everyday speech, you must see them as traveling through yourself. In other words, when someone says “I’m hungry”, you immediately recognize these roads as existing in you, and it is through this understanding that you realize not just that this person has the same roads, but that he’s directing you towards a destination and realization of his disposition.
The issue at hand is that the uninspired atheist likes to maintain that the theist has too many roads. However this assumes one of two things, either that; A.) The roads lead to similar destinations and thus can be discarded with more direct roads / routes. Or B.) The roads simply don’t lead anywhere.
Now again, in Rorty’s case he’s simply saying (I’m going to put words in his mouth here) “Look, there is a possibility for a better life right here and right now, there is no need to talk about this relative to a belief in some divine power.” And of course this assumes “A”. Rorty’s language, or the path his language takes, is of course a pragmatic one and always refers to humanity and the expansion of the liberal bourgeoisie; in other words it’s always directed outwards, the road is always leaving you without any return.
Religious language, where-as it certainly takes into account the betterment of society, is not directed in such ways, it doesn’t say we’re going to better society by paving roads out to it and building fancy houses on it. It betters society by paving roads which all lead back to the self; which gets me to assumption “B”, “the roads simply don’t lead anywhere”. Let me give an example, in contemporary society we may say that it is not the proper behavior to commit adultery, that you shouldn’t cheat with another man’s wife – and this of course is a statement whose roads point outside the self. In other words the reasons for not behaving in a certain way are not reasons which exist in you, but in society, as of course we ruin people’s lives, break up marriages and families, so on and so forth. Compare this to Matthew 5:27-30:
27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'[e] 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Notice that this sentiment has nothing at all to say about the woman or society, it points directly to the self, it is a language which doesn’t speak to humanity, is not some meaningless babble that points to the divine, but it points directly at YOU. All the roads of religious language (where-as they may lead out) always turn back in. The uninspired atheist, who says that the inspired theist has too many words, is simply making the mistake of not following the road to its’ destination, but rather leaving it out in objective space somewhere and thus mistaking it for talk about the world.
An after thought:
Religious language always points back to the self because the self is the source of the divine light. As a result the object of religious discourse, if it can be said that there is one, is always within the individual. The source of the divine is never in the world itself as what’s in the world can never be revealed through itself, but only through ones self. In this way when the uninspired atheist talks about the world, he talks about it in a way that seems to suggest that things in themselves poses a nature all their own, and that this nature is somehow uninspired by our own nature. However, there can never be an understanding of the world without first having an understanding of self as it is through the self that the world is revealed. As it was said, “I and the Father are one.”