Jump to content

mythological literalism in religion


Recommended Posts

Both theists and atheists have a habit of interpreting the mythology of the bible and other religions as literal. God is seen as a physical being who lives in an actual place called heaven while the angels are seen as human-like beings with wings, etc. Although these can be helpful metaphors for visualizing the spiritual forces treated in theological philosophy, have people taken these mythological descriptions so literally as to obscure the ideas and ethics they are meant to describe? If so, why do you think literalism has become so difficult to overcome in theological discourse? Does it have to do with the rise and dominance of materialism in culture maybe?

Link to post
Share on other sites

In law, constitutional orginalists seek to interpret the constitutional text according to what it meant to its original authors, and many jurisdictions encourage courts in all matters to interpret the sense of the statute they are applying in terms of what is known about the legislative forces that generated it and the beliefs of those who authored it. If you apply that to the Bible, then you obviously have to admit that if you went up to Moses and said, "Of course, you really intend by 'God' to mean just the ontological instantiation of ethical value as a non-culturally subjective system of meaning in the universe, not an actual being in the sky," then he would have smashed you over the head with the Ten Commandments!

 

It is rather a modern, revisionist approach which tries to soften the preposterous mythology of the Bible by pretending that it was all somehow metaphorically intended.

Link to post
Share on other sites

In law, constitutional orginalists seek to interpret the constitutional text according to what it meant to its original authors, and many jurisdictions encourage courts in all matters to interpret the sense of the statute they are applying in terms of what is known about the legislative forces that generated it and the beliefs of those who authored it. If you apply that to the Bible, then you obviously have to admit that if you went up to Moses and said, "Of course, you really intend by 'God' to mean just the ontological instantiation of ethical value as a non-culturally subjective system of meaning in the universe, not an actual being in the sky," then he would have smashed you over the head with the Ten Commandments!

 

It is rather a modern, revisionist approach which tries to soften the preposterous mythology of the Bible by pretending that it was all somehow metaphorically intended.

The literal interpretation would be that God is a burning bush, or that God is Jesus, or the rainbow, the flood, the red sea parting, or any one of the other manifestations of divine presence in the stories. But God is supposed to be something that is not confined to any subset of the creation, and logically "the creation" refers to the entirety of the universe. So if God can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously, how does it make any sense to interpret God as a material being living somewhere in the universe and not elsewhere? This is why God is sometimes referred to as Holy Spirit, which basically means the manifest presence of God within people or in signs or miracles witnessed in the material world.

Edited by lemur
Link to post
Share on other sites

It drives me crazy when [especially] creationists try to interpret the Bible to make claims that the bible predicted certain scientific principles (which lends to its credibility) or to avoid addressing how some thousand year old law no longer applies to civil society... yet insist on taking a literal interpretation of other parts when it suits them, to demonstrate that the earth is 5000 years old or that God is the source of moral authority.

 

I understand the need to pick and choose what principles and teachings to apply to a modern context, but at least be honest and non-hypocritical about it!

Link to post
Share on other sites

The reason Atheists use literal interpretation of the bible is because in arguing against religion, this is the only logical stand. If the bible is allegorical, then could God be allegorical, and if God is, then God can be said to not really exist and the religion is also not real.

 

So, if the bible is not meant to be interpreted literally, then the religion has no grounds for claiming it is true and the atheist are right. If the text is meant to be read literally, then reality actually proves the bible false (eg: did you know there is no archaeological evidence that the city Jericho had walls so what does that mean about that story in the bible).

 

If one is free to pick and choose which parts of the bible you want to take literally or not, then on what grounds do you make that decision? If you have no rational reason for doing so, then Atheism is right (that religion has no rational grounds). And I have never heard a rational reason for selecting parts of the bible as literal or non literal that does not suffer from the problem of factual errors.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The reason Atheists use literal interpretation of the bible is because in arguing against religion, this is the only logical stand. If the bible is allegorical, then could God be allegorical, and if God is, then God can be said to not really exist and the religion is also not real.

God being allegorical doesn't make religion not real any more than the fact that characters in a story are fictional makes the moral of the story false. The trick is to critically discuss the moral/ideas being conveyed instead of trying to undermine the meaning based on gaps in the story. Listening to people criticize religion/mythology like that is like listening to someone criticize the meaning of the Lord of the Rings because Hobbits don't really exist.

 

So, if the bible is not meant to be interpreted literally, then the religion has no grounds for claiming it is true and the atheist are right. If the text is meant to be read literally, then reality actually proves the bible false (eg: did you know there is no archaeological evidence that the city Jericho had walls so what does that mean about that story in the bible).

If I was studying the history of Jericho, I would definitely want to know whether it had walls or not. When I read the bible or other mythologies, what I mainly want to know is what the author (whoever it was) was trying to convey and what people have gotten from reading it for so many years that they have deemed it worth preserving. Once I understand those reasons for writing and reproducing, I can discuss the ideology clearly and whether it is problematic, how it compares with other ideologies, etc.

 

If one is free to pick and choose which parts of the bible you want to take literally or not, then on what grounds do you make that decision? If you have no rational reason for doing so, then Atheism is right (that religion has no rational grounds). And I have never heard a rational reason for selecting parts of the bible as literal or non literal that does not suffer from the problem of factual errors.

Just imagine for a moment that there is absolutely no God and no afterlife. What then is the point of the bible or any other moral/ethical/spiritual/etc. text? The only thing anyone does with any text is read it, interpret it, and apply the interpretation in some way or other. The point of interpreting the bible, thus, like any other text is to do so in a way that is ethical and constructive, imo. If you feel the point is to interpret it and use it to manipulate and control people to oppress and destroy each other, that is what you will do. Interestingly, the text can be cited toward both purposes, I think.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

God being allegorical doesn't make religion not real any more than the fact that characters in a story are fictional makes the moral of the story false. The trick is to critically discuss the moral/ideas being conveyed instead of trying to undermine the meaning based on gaps in the story. Listening to people criticize religion/mythology like that is like listening to someone criticize the meaning of the Lord of the Rings because Hobbits don't really exist.

Are you saying it's reasonable to worship fictional hobbits, or are you missing the point?
Link to post
Share on other sites

Are you saying it's reasonable to worship fictional hobbits, or are you missing the point?

I think the whole notion of "worshipping God" is over-mystified. What if all it meant to "worship God" was to "do God's will" and all that meant was to actively pursue the best possible paths of thought and action for the good of yourself and others?

 

In the same vein, what if "worshipping Frodo" just meant caring enough about the abuse of power (the rings) to want to return them to nature instead of allowing them to fall into the hands of evil? Not much less of a religious/moral message than anything in the bible when you think of it that way, is it?

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Where the rubber hits the road with respect to how literally or metaphorically we can interpret religious stories and still preserve their ultimate sense is when you see what the God hypothesis is really trying to say beyond a mere endorsement of the proposition that people should act morally. An atheist out of love of humanity could agree with a theist that it is supremely valuable for people to act as morally as they can comprehend they should, if only to respect the equal autonomy and dignity of other human beings. But the atheist would also admit that this duty is merely ideal: there is no metaphysical superstructure which guarantees that human intuitions of what is morally correct are all ultimately valid, nor is there any ontological grounding which ensures that good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished. For the atheist, since there is no evidence of any such supports existing for moral action, moral action has to be its own justification.

 

So the God hypothesis is essentially adding something non-metaphorical to the picture. It is saying that there really exists some 'thing' which a) ensures that human moral judgment has some universal validity and is not just some culturally arbitrary system of rituals on the level of knowing which fork to use first at the dinner table; and which b) ensures that humans who choose morally will be rewarded while those who choose immorally will be punished.

 

If these two assertions by religious doctrine are also just metaphorical, then there is really no substantive difference between religious and atheistical views. The real work that religion wants to do can only be accomplished by the metaphors becoming real at these two points.

Link to post
Share on other sites
An atheist out of love of humanity could agree with a theist that it is supremely valuable for people to act as morally as they can comprehend they should, if only to respect the equal autonomy and dignity of other human beings.

While a theist might think this, or rather interpret this as being part of the will of God, I don't think they would elevate it to a "supreme value" because that implies ideological authority beyond that of a supreme authority that could overturn it. In other words, theists are never going to submit to some ideological fixture as having "supreme authority" because that would imply that humans can control God. They are always going to remain open to divine revelation where values, morality, etc. are concerned - they may claim to be theists and deny the possibility of God overturning some belief or value, but I don't see how that's possible if you really believe in God as a supreme authority over everything.

 

But the atheist would also admit that this duty is merely ideal: there is no metaphysical superstructure which guarantees that human intuitions of what is morally correct are all ultimately valid, nor is there any ontological grounding which ensures that good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished. For the atheist, since there is no evidence of any such supports existing for moral action, moral action has to be its own justification.

While there may be theists who see theology as a "metaphysical superstructure" as an externality that "guarantees ultimate validity of human intuitions," I don't see this as a necessary belief. In fact, I see the very notion of faith-based belief as meaning that moral and other metaphysical intuition comes from within, which is what the concept of "Holy Spirit" means in my opinion. I.e. that divine revelation occurs through interpretive revelation. The difference with atheism is that it resists applying the power of God-attribution to such revelations.

 

So the God hypothesis is essentially adding something non-metaphorical to the picture. It is saying that there really exists some 'thing' which a) ensures that human moral judgment has some universal validity and is not just some culturally arbitrary system of rituals on the level of knowing which fork to use first at the dinner table; and which b) ensures that humans who choose morally will be rewarded while those who choose immorally will be punished.

First, I told you that God can be viewed as metaphorical and still given full status as an existing thing. What you are saying is predicated on the assumption that in order for something to exist, it has to be more than subjective. "Spiritual" means that subjectivity is given existential primacy. What ensures the rewards and punishments of (im)moral actions is the subjectively revealed mechanics of actions and consequences through holy interpretation of scripture and direct revelation.

 

If these two assertions by religious doctrine are also just metaphorical, then there is really no substantive difference between religious and atheistical views. The real work that religion wants to do can only be accomplished by the metaphors becoming real at these two points.

The metaphors become real because of faith-based belief. The difference between atheism and theism is that theism believes in the metaphor of God. According to your logic, something that is a metaphor is automatically "sub-real" because of it being a metaphor and therefore subjective. I would say that spiritual subjectivity necessarily operates at the level of metaphor because if it went beyond metaphor, it would become materialism.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

You complain that I am saying that in order for something to exist, it has to be more than subjective, but isn't that how we distinguish fantasies -- which are essentially subjective -- from reality, which is essentially objective, i.e., more than just subjective?

 

Does a God who is just a metaphor do any conceptual work? Isn't God then just the affirmation that my subjective sense that moral injunctions constitute an overriding demand on me is strong or important, rather than that they have any necessary validity or independent power to command everyone? The believer does not say that incest is wrong for him because he has a strong inner sense of its illegitimacy, but that it is wrong for everyone because it is objectively evil. What gives it this character of objective evil, even in some primitive society where incest is allowed, if not a God who is objective, that is, more than just the metaphorical artifculation of my own subjective convictions?

 

When we say that someone believes in something or has faith in it, what does that mean? Isn't it faith or belief in the reality or validity of that thing beyond mere subjective sensation and conviction? It makes no sense to say that I have faith in, or I believe in, the fact that I am now thinking of a turtle, because there is no epistemological gulf between my own mental states and my awareness of their reality as mental states for me. (This is what Descartes' famous 'I think therefore I am' recognizes.) But in contrast, it does make sense for me to say that I believe that there is a turtle at the neighborhood pet store, because I saw a few there yesterday and I assume they would not all have been sold by now. The reason why the word 'faith' or 'belief' is defined in this case and not with reference to my belief that I am now thinking of a turtle is that the objective world includes things beyond my internal states, so the gulf between my inner convictions and external reality makes the use of 'faith' or 'belief' (like 'knowledge,' 'certainty,' 'doubt,' etc.) significant.

Link to post
Share on other sites

You complain that I am saying that in order for something to exist, it has to be more than subjective, but isn't that how we distinguish fantasies -- which are essentially subjective -- from reality, which is essentially objective, i.e., more than just subjective?

Fantasies don't exist as subjective phenomena? Is there no difference between describing a dream you really had and one you invented to amuse people? "God" has to do with attribution of authority to something above human (i.e. "worldly") authority. It is the idea that there is authority that goes beyond humans, their institutions, laws, kings, cultures, etc.

 

Does a God who is just a metaphor do any conceptual work? Isn't God then just the affirmation that my subjective sense that moral injunctions constitute an overriding demand on me is strong or important, rather than that they have any necessary validity or independent power to command everyone? The believer does not say that incest is wrong for him because he has a strong inner sense of its illegitimacy, but that it is wrong for everyone because it is objectively evil. What gives it this character of objective evil, even in some primitive society where incest is allowed, if not a God who is objective, that is, more than just the metaphorical artifculation of my own subjective convictions?

It is not "objective." It is experienced as true by revelation attributed to divine inspiration. The individual does not simply go by their own interests or reference to texts or other "worldly" sources of authority. People experience (il)legitimacy in their evaluation of worldly sources of authority, including their own personal interests/ego/authority based on "higher" revelation. If one lacks faith/belief in the possibility of such "higher" authority, then one cannot make claims with regard to it or validate claims made with reference to it.

 

When we say that someone believes in something or has faith in it, what does that mean? Isn't it faith or belief in the reality or validity of that thing beyond mere subjective sensation and conviction? It makes no sense to say that I have faith in, or I believe in, the fact that I am now thinking of a turtle, because there is no epistemological gulf between my own mental states and my awareness of their reality as mental states for me. (This is what Descartes' famous 'I think therefore I am' recognizes.) But in contrast, it does make sense for me to say that I believe that there is a turtle at the neighborhood pet store, because I saw a few there yesterday and I assume they would not all have been sold by now. The reason why the word 'faith' or 'belief' is defined in this case and not with reference to my belief that I am now thinking of a turtle is that the objective world includes things beyond my internal states, so the gulf between my inner convictions and external reality makes the use of 'faith' or 'belief' (like 'knowledge,' 'certainty,' 'doubt,' etc.) significant.

That makes sense. "God" could be described as the (subjective) ability to choose faith where such an epistemological or ontological gulf/gap is present. Moses was revealed truths by the burning bush that he experienced as "God" in good faith. Others received his laws and "word" as "the word of God" or not and, supposedly, those that had faith survived the plagues, desert, etc. Often it is when people experience mercy in nature "against all odds," they attribute this to God as well. Then they spend their gratitude attempting to redeem themselves from wrongdoing/sin and attempt to do good in life by searching for a "mission" that they seek to be revealed to them by "God" through "Holy Spirit" etc.

Edited by lemur
Link to post
Share on other sites

God being allegorical doesn't make religion not real any more than the fact that characters in a story are fictional makes the moral of the story false. The trick is to critically discuss the moral/ideas being conveyed instead of trying to undermine the meaning based on gaps in the story. Listening to people criticize religion/mythology like that is like listening to someone criticize the meaning of the Lord of the Rings because Hobbits don't really exist.

I agree that in a story there might be something of value, even if the characters of that story are complete fiction.

 

But, to those that believe in the bible and in God, they take the step beyond just accepting that there is value in the story, into believing that God has an existence.

 

For example, If I just thought that the stories in the bible were just that fictional stories and that God didn't exist, then why would any of the rituals associated with those stories apply to me? Why would it be necessary for me to go to church on Sunday? Why would I have to pray? Why would I have to seek absolution from sin? Why would I have to partake in communion?

 

By performing these rituals, one claims belief in the tenants of the religion and that they have a real existence. That is, it is more than allegory.

 

If I was studying the history of Jericho, I would definitely want to know whether it had walls or not. When I read the bible or other mythologies, what I mainly want to know is what the author (whoever it was) was trying to convey and what people have gotten from reading it for so many years that they have deemed it worth preserving. Once I understand those reasons for writing and reproducing, I can discuss the ideology clearly and whether it is problematic, how it compares with other ideologies, etc.

If you don't believe in a God as a real being, then you are by definition and Atheist. It is perfectly possible for an Atheist to read the bible and just accept that what is written there have value without needing it to be real.

 

However, to be a Theist, you have to take the leap from God not being real to God being real. IF you believe that God is real, you can not, by definition, be an Atheist.

 

However, this is the only real difference. Anything else about a particular book (holy or not) is irrelevant.

 

One can be a Theist and believe that the bible is a load of fantastical nonsense, so long as they believe that God is real.

 

And it is here I think you are getting confused. You seem to be assuming that if one claims to be an Atheist, one also have to think that there is no value in the bible. This is kind of like a reverse "No True Scotsman" logical fallacy.

 

All I am saying is that if you believe that God is an allegory and not real, then you can not, by definition, be a Theist and are instead an Atheist.

 

Just imagine for a moment that there is absolutely no God and no afterlife. What then is the point of the bible or any other moral/ethical/spiritual/etc. text? The only thing anyone does with any text is read it, interpret it, and apply the interpretation in some way or other. The point of interpreting the bible, thus, like any other text is to do so in a way that is ethical and constructive, imo. If you feel the point is to interpret it and use it to manipulate and control people to oppress and destroy each other, that is what you will do. Interestingly, the text can be cited toward both purposes, I think.

Even without the existence of a God, there can be real value in the bible. Even if the bible has no moral/ethical substance, what it does show is how different cultures saw the world, how they thought differently to us and in what ways they thought the same.

 

So, even without anything else of value, the bible can be of value as a cultural artefact. But of course, there are still lessons that can be learnt from the bible, even if those lessons are "Don't do what is written in it..."

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that in a story there might be something of value, even if the characters of that story are complete fiction.

 

But, to those that believe in the bible and in God, they take the step beyond just accepting that there is value in the story, into believing that God has an existence.

Right, but what if disbelieving would have a negative spiritual effect on you and your ability to realize the benefits of the mythology? I.e. what if you could achieve a very effective placebo effect by believing in the psychosomatic medicinal value of the placebo. In that case, you would need to find a way for you to legitimately believe in the existence of the story material. In my case, it worked to recognize that subjective things exist within the subjectivity of consciousness, and that this existence is sufficient for having the intended effects. To use a somewhat unrelated example, the news that a probe has been sent to Mercury would have the same inspiring effect on people even if it was a conspiratorial fiction and no probe was actually sent. So if all you were seeking was the inspirational (subjective) effect of the probe, you could just create a fictional probe in your imagination that had the same effect as a real probe would on you.

 

For example, If I just thought that the stories in the bible were just that fictional stories and that God didn't exist, then why would any of the rituals associated with those stories apply to me? Why would it be necessary for me to go to church on Sunday? Why would I have to pray? Why would I have to seek absolution from sin? Why would I have to partake in communion?

These are just techniques people have invented to make believing that much more effective. Compare it to Star Trek conventions or amusement parks. Why do you have to go to Disney World to experience walking plastic versions of the animated characters that you know are fictional? It just gives some people a greater sense of the magic. Personally, I'm not a fan of dogmatism, ritualism, and iconography but I understand how they work and why people do them.

 

By performing these rituals, one claims belief in the tenants of the religion and that they have a real existence. That is, it is more than allegory.

You're assuming that consciousness has to at all times be subjugated to materialist distinctions between physical/material existence and non-existence. You need to realize that things can exist subjectively insofar as your subjectivity exists. When you dream while you're asleep, that dream represents something material that took place in your nervous system - just like the image you view on your monitor represents something going on in your computer. Just because the letters I'm seeing while I type are not photographs of ink letters printed on a piece of paper doesn't make the words any less real, does it?

 

If you don't believe in a God as a real being, then you are by definition and Atheist. It is perfectly possible for an Atheist to read the bible and just accept that what is written there have value without needing it to be real.

I don't deny being an atheist. It's just that I've learned how to believe in God by believing in God's subjective existence as an artifact of faith. And I have found that believing in God in this way is truer to much of what is written in the bible than insisting on God as an external physical being. "Things of the flesh are flesh and things of the spirit are spirit." There's also the beginning of John that says, "In the beginning there was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God." In other words, God is in the writing and IS the writing itself, the knowledge, the spirit of faith and creative power.

 

I used to hate telling my child about Santa Claus because I saw it as a lie used to trick and manipulate children. Then one day my friend called her child in front of me and asked, "what is Santa Claus?" The child responded, "Santa Claus is the spirit of giving." That's not a lie, is it? Doesn't Santa Claus exist as the spirit of giving in people?

 

However, to be a Theist, you have to take the leap from God not being real to God being real. IF you believe that God is real, you can not, by definition, be an Atheist.

Semantics. It doesn't matter how you define it. You believe what you believe and disbelieve what you disbelieve. I was an atheist because I disbelieved the material existence of an external God being. I still don't believe there there is any material being in the universe that is God separate from the rest of "the creation." I think God exists inside people and in their material experiences of things that happen to them. I don't think you have to be able to dissect something and find the presence of God in molecules to recognize material things as having "spirit." A tree that falls across a river when you desperately need a bridge to cross can be an angel even if it fell completely by coincidence at that moment. "Spirit" refers to the meaning of things within people's lives as they experience them; not something objective about their material make-up.

 

And it is here I think you are getting confused. You seem to be assuming that if one claims to be an Atheist, one also have to think that there is no value in the bible. This is kind of like a reverse "No True Scotsman" logical fallacy.

I don't know that fallacy, but I know that it is possible to believe in God(s) and not the bible or the reverse. There are endless different approaches to these things. I was just explaining how "God's existence" can refer to existence as a facet of subjectivity and how the works to allow the experience of faith in God and spirituality as real, existing things. This leads to the question of why atheists often attempt to undermine people's ability to exercise faith and get the spiritual effects they are looking for? Why do atheists want to take away the placebo effect?

 

Even without the existence of a God, there can be real value in the bible. Even if the bible has no moral/ethical substance, what it does show is how different cultures saw the world, how they thought differently to us and in what ways they thought the same.

I find it a perversion of the bible to ground cultural relativism in it, but that's because I consider cultural relativism promoting group authority over individuals' authority over their own culture, which I think the bible promotes.

 

So, even without anything else of value, the bible can be of value as a cultural artefact. But of course, there are still lessons that can be learnt from the bible, even if those lessons are "Don't do what is written in it..."

This is true of all culture and its artifacts, I think.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

A 'Pickwickian' definition is said to be one where the person using it says "I can use words to mean what I want, regardless of what other people say they mean." I think some of the problem with Lemur's innovative 'theism' is that he is using a word, 'God,' which for most speakers has a strong ontological implication that something tangible exists outside us and our beliefs, in a sense which holds that it need not have this implication. But then we could argue that he should not call what he believes in by the common word with all its entangled ontological implications, but should instead just make up his own term for it. A 'God' which is just a subjective feeling about the importance of a certain approach to the understanding of life based on scriptural texts taken to be nothing more than texts without external reference is not really 'God' in any familiar sense of the term.

 

But if this is granted, then we have to ask whether attaching all this now existentially empty metaphysical baggage to the subjective feelings is conceptually useful or just confusing? Using these familiar terms with an unfamiliar sense just seems to complicate things unnecessarily, or perhaps it is just a device so that the person using these terms can still appear to think within a certain complex of traditional theological commitments without really doing so?

 

There is a good book on a similar topic in another context, called 'Did the Ancient Greeks Really Believe in their Myths?' It suggests that when the Ancient Greeks talked about various gods and goddesses causing certain natural phenomena or controlling or influencing human destinies they really were not asserting that the gods and goddesses existed in the same sense in which Christians today would say that God and Christ are real, but instead they were just poetically dressing up an affirmation that the cause of certain things was contingent and outside of human control. So Vulcan for the Romans was not the cause of thunder or volcanoes, but just an imagistic, poetic adornment of the assertion that these things were caused by processes unknown to people and outside of human control.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A 'Pickwickian' definition is said to be one where the person using it says "I can use words to mean what I want, regardless of what other people say they mean." I think some of the problem with Lemur's innovative 'theism' is that he is using a word, 'God,' which for most speakers has a strong ontological implication that something tangible exists outside us and our beliefs, in a sense which holds that it need not have this implication. But then we could argue that he should not call what he believes in by the common word with all its entangled ontological implications, but should instead just make up his own term for it. A 'God' which is just a subjective feeling about the importance of a certain approach to the understanding of life based on scriptural texts taken to be nothing more than texts without external reference is not really 'God' in any familiar sense of the term.

You're arguing for worldly authority over divine revelation. This was part of the big conflict that emerged between Jesus and the Pharisees, who argued that he had to submit to their authority and he replied "before Abraham was, I am." If you succeed in getting people to submit to definitions of words that fail in the context of their usage, you will have succeeded in obfuscating much of the mythological meanings. Why would you want to do that? I don't claim to have the absolute definition of words. I'm just giving you an interpretation that WORKS if you want to interpret the mythologies meaningfully. What is the point of insisting on using narrow definitions when doing so obfuscates their meaning in use?

 

But if this is granted, then we have to ask whether attaching all this now existentially empty metaphysical baggage to the subjective feelings is conceptually useful or just confusing? Using these familiar terms with an unfamiliar sense just seems to complicate things unnecessarily, or perhaps it is just a device so that the person using these terms can still appear to think within a certain complex of traditional theological commitments without really doing so?

What is confusing is confounding "matters of flesh" with "matters of spirit." I.e. it's confusing to subject metaphysical language to materialist interpretations, etc. It also makes it more confusing that use this universalizing tone that obfuscates the fact that you're propagating a fairly narrow materialist view as if it was naturally universal.

 

There is a good book on a similar topic in another context, called 'Did the Ancient Greeks Really Believe in their Myths?' It suggests that when the Ancient Greeks talked about various gods and goddesses causing certain natural phenomena or controlling or influencing human destinies they really were not asserting that the gods and goddesses existed in the same sense in which Christians today would say that God and Christ are real, but instead they were just poetically dressing up an affirmation that the cause of certain things was contingent and outside of human control. So Vulcan for the Romans was not the cause of thunder or volcanoes, but just an imagistic, poetic adornment of the assertion that these things were caused by processes unknown to people and outside of human control.

You keep trying to distinguish between faith-based belief and materialist discrimination between different levels of belief. To you there's a difference between believing in Greek gods as actual entities or "poetic adornment." For some people, part of the poetic adornment of mythological beliefs is to afford them the same level of faith as material knowledge. These people are in control of their ability to attribute real status to things. They can experience mythology at the same level of realism as they can experience faith in the existence of materiality. They will say things like, "God is as real as any mountain." because they desire their faith to be as strong as the physical materiality of a mountain is.

 

I'm getting tired of discussing this topic because all you seem to want to do is find some philosophical basis to necessitate rejecting various approaches to faith/religion, including mine. I don't care if you reject it for yourself, but I don't understand why you are seeking to deprive people of subjective/spiritual power? What kind of power/authority do you wish to elevate to dominance and why?

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

"For some people, part of the poetic adornment of mythological beliefs is to afford them the same level of faith as material knowledge. These people are in control of their ability to attribute real status to things."

 

I think that last statement is where you lose me. I have known a woman who kept insisting that she knew in her heart of hearts that her son was not guilty of murder, even after the fact was proven in a fair judicial procedure and he confessed, supplying all the details of the crime that only the murderer can have known. Her faith was strong for her but still subjective and, ultimately, subject to the test of objectivity for all other observers, to whom she just looked goofy.

 

People who maintain that they "are in control of their ability to attribute real status to things" are usually called schizophrenics. I think if you posit an X which is so powerful and superior to human knowledge that it escapes the normal criteria required for establishing that something is objectively real, then you are acting like Baron von Munchhausen purporting to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. Ultimately every subjective posit has to face an independent test of its objective reality, and that test is intersubjective, determined by the community of human rationality and publicly-accessible standards of empirical evidence which does not yet recognize the special power or objective status of the X that any one individual has posited subjectively.

 

'Exist,' as Heidegger argues in 'Being and Time,' means 'ex-ist,' from the Latin 'ex-esse' or 'ex-est,' which means 'to be in the outside,' not in someone's subjectivity, no matter how certain the belief or transcendent the putatively real object believed in.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that last statement is where you lose me. I have known a woman who kept insisting that she knew in her heart of hearts that her son was not guilty of murder, even after the fact was proven in a fair judicial procedure and he confessed, supplying all the details of the crime that only the murderer can have known. Her faith was strong for her but still subjective and, ultimately, subject to the test of objectivity for all other observers, to whom she just looked goofy.

Of course I understand why it is problematic to deny objective truth. Still, I understand the reasons people do it sometimes, and I can imagine that this woman got sucked into a lie because she couldn't reconcile her ability to hate people for being a murderer to her ability to unconditionally love her son - so she resorted to denying the murder. Ironically, this is a major issue in religion where people get upset about the universal attribution of sin in Christianity as if it's wrong not to exonerate some people as simply being innocent. Christianity makes it possible to love sinners because no one is without sin - i.e. everyone is in a process of dealing with sin and its consequences. Maybe if that woman had this understanding of sin in Christianity, she could have admitted her son being a murder without condemning him or withdrawing her love (i.e. forgiven him) but because she knows only unforgiveness (as many people do), she resorts to denial and lying to avoid shame (as many people also do). Maybe this is why "the truth sets you free" is another Christian expression.

 

 

People who maintain that they "are in control of their ability to attribute real status to things" are usually called schizophrenics. I think if you posit an X which is so powerful and superior to human knowledge that it escapes the normal criteria required for establishing that something is objectively real, then you are acting like Baron von Munchhausen purporting to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. Ultimately every subjective posit has to face an independent test of its objective reality, and that test is intersubjective, determined by the community of human rationality and publicly-accessible standards of empirical evidence which does not yet recognize the special power or objective status of the X that any one individual has posited subjectively.

You're right that it is something akin to controlled psychosis. The thing that people forget when casually diagnosing psychosis/schizophrenia, though, is that it's supposed to become dangerous before it is pathologized. If someone insists on believing in Santa or other popular mythologies, it doesn't really harm them or anyone else and it could have benefits. Personally, I would advocate people distinguish between their recognition of "received realities" and their ability to generate "active realities." A fantasy or daydream could be called an active-reality insofar you experience it with some degree of realism, i.e. as if you're living it. However, this doesn't mean you have to commit pathological actions against yourself or other people. You can insist that people need to be able to distinguish between their fantasy realities and material realities to earn the label of saneness, but why is that important aside from social-control over people's minds and behavior? If people aren't a danger to themselves or others, why should you police their thoughts and beliefs?

 

What's more, I would like to point out that there are loads of institutionalized beliefs that pass as everyday realities without anyone being stigmatized as psychotic/schizophrenic. E.g. Anthropology has disproven race as a valid biological category, and racial labels are thus fictional - but does that mean that everyone who views Obama as a "black president" because of his skin tone is in a dangerous state of hallucination? Even though racial identification leads to injurious actions in all sorts of contexts, no one is going to argue that someone should be put in an asylum because they label people according to pseudoscientific classificatory schemes any more than they would call someone schizophrenic for using astrology to decide whether they should apply to a job today or next week when a certain planet moves into a certain house.

 

'Exist,' as Heidegger argues in 'Being and Time,' means 'ex-ist,' from the Latin 'ex-esse' or 'ex-est,' which means 'to be in the outside,' not in someone's subjectivity, no matter how certain the belief or transcendent the putatively real object believed in.

So what word would you use to describe the difference between a truly experienced fantasy and a fictional one that is made up for a character in a novel?

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

The basic question you are posing is how we should array, ontologically and epistemologically, the familar experiences that we have some subjective states which we know to be subjective, such as the dreams we have at night, and some subjective states which are accompanied by feelings of great certainty or conviction, such as a mother's certainty 'that her own son could never do such a thing,' even though she has no objective evidence in the particular case at hand whether her son has done the act or not. Distinguished from these two very different categories of subjective sensations are instances of objective knowledge, such as our agreement that there is a country called 'India,' even though both of us have never seen it or been there, and our agreement that the sky is blue.

 

I would suggest that it is far preferable for purposes of science, social organization, rational discussion, and the structuring of knowledge to abide by the established convention that the first two types of states described above -- a dream which comes with no particular sense of its significance and an inner conviction which does -- should both be put in the same basic category of 'subjective,' while the third kind of state, things we can all see or know and publicly agree exist, should be put in a distinct category as 'objective.' Otherwise we shall be confronted with the highly confusing situation, generating a vast incoherence in the network of belief, that the countless unknowable and untestable inner convictions of people will all be competing not only with each other in the sphere of public, objective meaning (since they might often be mutually inconsistent), but also competing with ordinary, universally accepted material facts. Positivism, which is the essence of scientific methodology and sound reasoning, would also be displaced.

 

This is not to deny that some very generally held intersubjective but not objective beliefs do attain a kind of objective status. Thus it is an 'objective moral fact' that murdering people is wrong, somewhat the same way that gold is objectively known to melt at a certain temperature, but we need very general agreement for widespread subjective belief to gain that status, such as we do not have, or no longer have, for particular beliefs about the existence of a deity. Most people today would agree that god is something established for some people by an inner, subjective conviction, but that even these believers should not regard it as a fact like the melting point of gold.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The basic question you are posing is how we should array, ontologically and epistemologically, the familar experiences that we have some subjective states which we know to be subjective, such as the dreams we have at night, and some subjective states which are accompanied by feelings of great certainty or conviction, such as a mother's certainty 'that her own son could never do such a thing,' even though she has no objective evidence in the particular case at hand whether her son has done the act or not.

The problem with your reasoning, imo, is that you are trying to insist on certain epistemological approaches without first making a point to understand the one's you're criticizing except in negative relation to the one you prefer. So instead of first understanding the basis for why this woman is thinking what she's thinking, you're presuming to immediately jump to your own basis for thinking the way you do and elevate that to the status of legitimacy. It's fine for you to legitimate one way of thinking and delegitimate others according to your own authority (that's your prerogative), but you're still failing to understand her, why she would put her own emotions and sub-consciousness reasoning process over respect for objective evidence, etc. Note: I am not saying that you fail to legitimate her when I say you fail to "understand her." What I mean is that you literally fail to understand what is (or could be) going on inside her that would cause her to think in the way she does. So, on the one hand, there is your inner process that causes you to think the way you do and evaluate her in contrast to your ideals (again, that is your prerogative) and then there is her inner process; and the two may be brought into conflict with each other through various discursive means, i.e. on various terms, etc.

 

Distinguished from these two very different categories of subjective sensations are instances of objective knowledge, such as our agreement that there is a country called 'India,' even though both of us have never seen it or been there, and our agreement that the sky is blue.

The altitude of a peak in the Himalayas or the fact that the Taj Mahal consists of stone are objective facts. The idea that the region is a country is more of a political/social fact. If everyone decided tomorrow to call it eastern Pakistan, that's what it would be (to them - to rebels that maintained it was still "India," that's what it would be to them). There are objective facts about how institutional knowledge is negotiated, though, and those are objective knowledge, such as the fact that passports are printed with the name "India" on the cover. That is a fact whether or not the word, "India" is deemed to have any meaning in its subjective apprehension.

 

I would suggest that it is far preferable for purposes of science, social organization, rational discussion, and the structuring of knowledge to abide by the established convention that the first two types of states described above -- a dream which comes with no particular sense of its significance and an inner conviction which does -- should both be put in the same basic category of 'subjective,' while the third kind of state, things we can all see or know and publicly agree exist, should be put in a distinct category as 'objective.'

You're right that both are subjective, but there's still a difference between having a dream that you ate ice cream and telling people you had a dream that you ate ice cream when you didn't actually experience any such dream. I.e. subjective experience is a form of empirical data, only is doesn't refer to the content of what was experienced as being real but to the experience itself. E.g. the words on your computer screen are not ink printed on paper but you experience them that way and it is an objective fact that the words reach your mind when you read them.

 

You're also right about objective things being different from subjective, but the criteria for things being objective isn't public agreement. It is physical/material existence. So, again, it doesn't matter whether every human alive agrees to deny the existence of Mt Everest, as long as it continues to stand. Likewise, everyone on Earth can agree that the Earth is round, but if it turns out to be objectively flat, then it is.

 

Otherwise we shall be confronted with the highly confusing situation, generating a vast incoherence in the network of belief, that the countless unknowable and untestable inner convictions of people will all be competing not only with each other in the sphere of public, objective meaning (since they might often be mutually inconsistent), but also competing with ordinary, universally accepted material facts. Positivism, which is the essence of scientific methodology and sound reasoning, would also be displaced.

Human life consists of competing regimes of knowledge that struggle for power (this is Foucauldian btw and maybe Nietzchean). I tend to have faith that truth itself is a displacing mechanism, but of course all power is inseparably connected to its own resistance, so truth is no different. I think if you start getting protective of positivism, you would risk promoting dogmatic acceptance of it, which would not be a good thing, imo - since dogma is always anti-reason. As I say that, though, I have to admit that dogma can have a didactic function in many cases. There is a tense balance between using dogma to teach and that resulting in people becoming dogmatic ritualists who eschew active reason.

 

btw, speaking of conflicting regimes of knowledge/belief, have you seen the show, Caprica, yet. It is a scifi series I just discovered on Hulu that has as part of its story line a conflict between monotheism and polytheism that basically has everyone engaged in guerilla terrorism against everyone else.

 

This is not to deny that some very generally held intersubjective but not objective beliefs do attain a kind of objective status. Thus it is an 'objective moral fact' that murdering people is wrong, somewhat the same way that gold is objectively known to melt at a certain temperature, but we need very general agreement for widespread subjective belief to gain that status, such as we do not have, or no longer have, for particular beliefs about the existence of a deity. Most people today would agree that god is something established for some people by an inner, subjective conviction, but that even these believers should not regard it as a fact like the melting point of gold.

Personally, I think people should distinguish between subjective and objective things. However, I realize that this seems to contradict what I was saying about people epistemologically construing things like God with objective status. I suppose imo objective status should be reserved for direct empirical observabilities. The extreme example of this would be acknowledging the objective existence of the visible side of the moon, because we can empirically observe it, and then acknowledge that the far-side of the moon is a subjective construction/projection based on the belief, routed in observed patterns, that objects and therefore planets/moons exist from all vantage points and don't simply disappear when you go around them. That would be the most rigorous possible approach, i.e. to know exactly on what basis you know things you know at the moment you know them. That would be extremely tedious, though, to be so specific so for convenience sake we say "there's bread in the freezer" instead of saying, "I believe there's bread in the freezer because I am currently observing a memory that I bought some today and put it there."

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.