Wednesday, January 26, 2005

religion? we don't need no stinking religion!

(post to a sociology list in response to someone else)

I read what you are saying as intermingling religion (structure, codes, symbols, status, etc.) with religious (or I supposed spiritual) experience (way of living or being). I think that the two are different. I also think that the notion of spirituality is bandied around far too much in our post-modern world, but,...that is an aside.

Personally, I believe that persons like Jesus, the Buddha, Ammachi, Ramakrishna, etc., did (in the case of Ammachi, "do") have a profoundly different experience of life than I do. As such, I think that what they have to offer in terms of their teaching (and the way they lived) is very valuable to me. I can follow them and their teaching without having to be part of any religion. I have not been able to attain their level of living, but I see it as possible and as something I want, so I work towards it.

IMO, the bracelet shouldn't read, WWJD, it should read HWJB -- How would Jesus BE -- that is something I have no clue about, Jesus' fundamental way of being in the world. From what I have read, it is a pretty neat way to be.

I participate in religion (i.e., attend church) because I like the people, they treat me and my kids very well, I can talk about what I think about Jesus, and I can learn more about living in ways that are fundamentally foreign to me (humble, gracious, compassionate, etc.). Is it necessary for me to have any kind of belief in something to do this? Not anymore than any other belief that I have about anything. I suspect that one could argue that having any belief (in science, rationality, inherent goodness of persons,
etc.) is fantastical simply because beliefs, by their very nature exist only in the mind and as such, have no real substance, i.e., they are "all"

Do, I have to participate in religion to follow any and/or all of the above persons? I don't think so. Being part of a group (whatever that group is) does have its benefits, however. I learn much, am challenged much, am humbled much, etc., in the context of the religious group I participate in.

Is my wanting to be like the folks I mention above delusional? I don't think so. Again, if so, then my wanting to be like anyone else is delusional, too.

In sum, I don't think the twain needs to meet nor does one (religion VS
experience) preclude nor include the other. Variety and diversity abound in this world of ours, I have much to learn from many, if not most I encounter.
And I encounter "them" in physical proximity, through reading, through video, etc.

Monday, January 24, 2005

tertiary musings

(third in this series of list exchanges; other two immediately preced this one).

I wanted to just add something to my previous (the second iteration) of my musings as I think this identifies a profound sociological reality, too; to return to a passage from the quote from Sogyal Rinpoche…

“As you begin to think more and more about the tree, you will discover that everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is; that it cannot at any moment be isolated from anything else; and that at every moment its nature is subtly changing. This is what we mean when we say things are empty, that they have no independent existence.”

Is this not true of our “selves,” too? Embedded in the ever-shifting social realities that we encounter each day, our selves are “inherently empty,” too. I think Mead laid the foundation for this (as well as James). If our mind and our self are social products and are not fixed, then it stands to reason (and experience, actually) that they change, shift, etc., based on the situations that we encounter. They, too, like the tree are aided, if not created, by “…everything in our [social] universe...” Granted, we are not passive recipients of social conditioning, there is something that consciously acts (Mead’s “I”); I do think that we attribute undue influence to that thing as the prime “agent,” however. We forget that that agent is always acting within the bounds of a massively influential social universe. Given that the language we use is not really “ours” personally (it belongs to the group), how can we conclude that even the thoughts that we think (or thinking itself) are “our own,” let alone the actions that we take? (This is not to be interpreted as endorsing socially irresponsible nor harmful behavior, just thinking out loud to a seemingly logical conclusion). I see this, too, in Mill’s vocabulary of motives.

Takes the notion that, “things are not what they seem” to new heights.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

and someone to talk to...

(colleague of mine responded to my post)

Thanks for the thoughts. I had forgotten about Bacon’s quote; yes that was mentioned in the text I read. I can understand his orientation to Nature and his analogy as brutal as it sounds. I think that this was “current thinking” among the natural philosophers of the day. I also don’t deny what scientific thinking has done for the world and for humanity; if nothing else, furthering our thinking about what is going on around here.

I don’t know that I have said this on the list, but I have learned much from Buddhist thinking. I think the Buddha was one of the first “scientists” in that he used both reason and observation to gain deeper insights into himself and the world. As the main area he was interested in was change “within,” he could provide no empirical evidence for what he found there. He encouraged others to seek it out, though. IMO, he lived his life in a way that demonstrated he had discovered something quite significant; empirical “evidence” enough for me to consider seriously what he said and did. Note that I do not think he was alone in living like this, I do think that there were others…how many, I don’t know, but certainly the “big” ones that have had an impact on history.

I say this to preface the following quote from Sogyal Rinpoche, a current Buddhist teacher. IMO, he hits the nail on the head when it comes to categories, labels, and the vitality and wonder of life. I have attempted to demonstrate the following insight in some of the classes I teach by slowly destroying a crayon (with a hammer – its fun!), each time asking students what is left, where did the “crayon” go, and was there ever a crayon in the first place? To me, this is what symbolic interactionism is all about – naming objects; it is also what reification is about – relating to those named objects as if they have some kind of independent reality.

Anyway, the quote:

“Nothing has any inherent existence of its own when you really look at it, and this absence of independent existence is what we call “emptiness.” Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object; and on a certain level it is. But when you look more closely at the tree, you will see that ultimately it has no independent existence.

When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretches across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all the seasons and the weather, moonlight and starlight and sunlight—all form part of this tree.

As you begin to think more and more about the tree, you will discover that everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is; that it cannot at any moment be isolated from anything else; and that at every moment its nature is subtly changing. This is what we mean when we say things are empty, that they have no independent existence.”

Fascinating, IMO. Wonderful, too.
It's amazing what you can learn when you have some time...

I had two weeks off over the holidays and actually got to read a couple of books (short ones!); one was on Francis Bacon and the experimental method, the second was on Aristotle’s basic teachings; I also found some time to read about an “alternative” to the theory of evolution. All of these prompted the following:

1) I never knew (actually, I am sure I did, but I had forgotten) that our system of classification of objects (namely living things – phylum, species, etc.) arose with Aristotle. I find it very curious that this system is accepted as “fact” today, i.e., that the classifications have become reified as some kind of independently existing reality. My son likes to read about whales and dolphins and we spend a fair amount of time discussing what the names of the different kinds are (killer whale, gray whale, southern right whale, river dolphin, etc.). I realize that this serves a purpose, but it also can over-rationalize the wonders of life. Besides, it was just ONE GUY’S THINKING about the world…what an impact! Maybe it’s time to think differently? I mean we have only been using his system for a couple of millennia or so!

2)I also never knew that Bacon took the notion of the experimental method from what at the time was known as “magic.” No doubt, the experimental method is very cool and makes rational sense (another Aristotelian contribution, logic) but again, can we consider other epistemologies as “valid,” too? Why the methodological hegemony? Again, reification of ONE METHOD over most, if not all others.

3) Lastly, I revisited intelligent design. For those unfamiliar, intelligent design is sometimes branded as creationism (i.e., Christian fundamentalism) wrapped in “scientific clothing.” The first time I encountered it, I dismissed it immediately; this time I approached it differently because of something I read in our local newspaper. My question about how many people have been born on earth arose from my reading of some of this material, and I don’t want to say more about that as I am trying to finish the piece I started writing before Xmas. I must admit, however, that I find some of their reasoning compelling. One argument in particular I really like. Two authors (names escape me, I can get the citation if someone wants it – it’s at home) argue that science is built on a naturalistic premise, i.e., that all scientific explanations inherently MUST have a naturalistic cause-effect dynamic. Now, I am not saying that this is accurate or inaccurate (i.e., whether or not there is intelligence in the universe – however we might want to define that!!!!), but I think that they have hit on a rarely discussed premise…one I was completely unaware of until they pointed it out, that science precludes any cause other than natural/material. Interesting. Makes me wonder about how this would impact our field? Are all of our cause-effect dynamics considered to be “natural” and/or material? Mind/consciousness is material????

Thought I would share those with anyone interested in reading them. Again, Dallas is kind of an intellectual wasteland (at least for me) and I don’t have any local colleagues who I can discuss these things with. Some members of my family roll their eyes when I say things like the above; my six year old tells me I’m annoying and my two year old just keeps repeating, “huh?” I suspect some adults would respond the same way, though.