Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An approach to critiques of integral theory.

When considering essential critiques of integral theory it is important first to consider just what we mean by "integral theory". In this context, of course, we are largely referring to the body of work created by Ken Wilber. Although this work is beginning to be augmented by others, both in the metatheoretical sense and in applications of the metatheory, the core of integral theory is obviously the work of Wilber. Beyond recognizing this obvious core, we must also recognize that Wilber's work is not monolithic. It is, at times, theory, metatheory, criticism, defense, polemic, application, and popularization. Wilber's work also is constantly and ever a work-in-progress with at least 5 major stages, if not more. So out of this evolving, heterogeneous mass of ideas, what, then, is the essential core of integral theory? And when we seek to offer essential critiques of integral theory, just what are we critiquing?

In brief a relatively short list of distinct areas comes to mind:

metatheoretical claims - this would be the most current metatheoretical structure Wilber has offered in which he sythesizes multiple theories into his overarching and unifying claims - roughly speaking this would be his AQAL, IMP, and IPM structures, however he may offer metatheoretical perspectives that do not fit neatly into these categories. It seems likely that the substance of these core metatheoretical claims should be Wilber's primary intellectual legacy and it is critiques of this core that are the most essential and relevant. Critical inquiry might address the degree to which integral theory successfully orients one toward individual fields of study, the degree to which anomalies or conflicts are resolved by integral theory, or the universality of its key elements.

theoretical claims - At times, Wilber allows his speculation to descend out of meta-theory and into theory itself, perhaps because he sees an implication of his metatheory that has not been metatheoretically realized, or perhaps because his understanding of his source material has led him to some position on is own. Both of these are valid areas for him to attempt. One might argue that his unique expertise is more suited to the former than the latter and one might also be justifiably skeptical of outright theoretical claims made from this secondhand standpoint without direct access to raw data and injunctions of the various theorists. If we consider the metatheoretical claims as the object of needed critique, then simple theoretical implications would be analogous to the predictions of simple theory that are tested with empirical data. The validity of those predictions are a valid test of Wilber's metatheory.

factual and theoretical support for those claims - Theory and metatheory take data and theory, respectively, as their object. One must build arguments based on those objects for the validity of theories and metatheories. It is always possible to critique a theorist's data, their injunctions for generating it, their interpretation of it, etc. Wilber's case is no different. The objects of his theorizing and metatheorizing are open to criticism and some may turn out to be invalid or weak, in which case we have to consider whether Wilber's theoretical constructs based on those objects are invalidated or weakened in turn. It does not automatically follow that this would be the case. A theory is not inexorably dependent upon the validity of every data point in its view. But problems of this kind also can't be dismissed out of hand.

rhetorical structure and implications of the above - similarly, the manner in which theories are communicated, recorded, delineated, and argued may be examined. Data may be sound, theory may be sound, and yet the structure and surface of the arguments advanced in support of the theory may be weak for any number of reasons. Some easy targets in Wilber's work have been his rhetorical flourishes which may be argued to be irrelevant or even perhaps counter-productive through offering insult to his audience. While it is easy to get distracted by these surface features, they alone do not invalidate integral theory and while they may be essential critiques of Wilber's literary offering, they may not qualify as essential critiques of integral metatheory.

postmodern critiques of bias and structure - While not directly a critique of theoretical content, these critiques are valid and relevant. What is the worldview that produces integral theory? What are its biases and weaknesses? How are those weakness embodied or overcome in the theory itself? What are the implications of the metanarrative integral theory offers? How might a conscious or unconscious adoption of that metanarrative affect power and justice in the world? What are the strengths and weaknesses of a worldview informed by this metanarrative? What perspectives are excluded in spite of the integral ambition to enfold and include all perspectives? What might the cultural consequences of this metanarrative be?

institutional and personal embodiment - related to the postmodern critique might be a direct critique of the persons and institutions informed by, and involved with, integral theory. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How are they revealed in embodied action and experience? How are those related to integral theory itself? What might those real consequences reveal about integral theory itself? For instance, one might critique the behavior and consequences of institutions, staff, and programs of JFKU's Integral Theory program, Fielding's program, Integral Institute, Integral Life, EnlightenNext, iEvolve, Integral Coaching Canada, Pacific Integral, etc. This is subtly different than a critique of applications of integral theory. It is more a look at how human beings and their organizations manifest, develop, and behave when attempting to realize an integral application or to propagate, develop, or study the theory itself. How has integral theory actually manifested in human life and interaction? What might that say about integral theory itself?

applications - subtly different from the institutional and personal critiques above, critiques of applications would have to be twofold - firstly, one could criticize an application according to many of the same lines outlined above for integral theory, then secondly the degree to which the application faithfully followed the principles of integral theory would have to be examined. If an application failed to withstand critique in an important way, was that failure related to its use of integral theory? If so, was its use of integral theory faithful and etc., or did it suffer from some key failure to apply integral theory properly?

Probably the most direct and relevant areas in which essential critiques will arise are in the metatheoretical claims, the support for those claims, and the postmodern view of the metatheory and its claims. Critiques of the rhetoric of integral theory, the excursions into simple theory, and the embodiment and application of integral theory, while important to greater and lesser degrees, are not the indispensible critiques that the community of integral scholar/practitioners must pursue to establish the validity of integral theory.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ken Wilber's Endorsement of Guruji

I can't decide what to do with these endorsements Ken makes. They are always limited in scope - his endorsement of Adi Da was as a writer and spiritual adept rather than as a teacher for instance - but I see this as a general problem in the integral community. We get so attached to the "Yes, And" of integral that we forget that there is also a "Preserve and Negate" aspect. Sometimes its appropriate to say "No, But". If you have one researcher producing astonishing results its only appropriate to say that its provocative and bears considering. To endorse things like this, is - I think - , an over-reaction to the thoughtlessly skeptical position that "it just couldn't be."

Its similar to conversations I've had about numerous speculative subjects. 911, UFOs, ESP, PK, ghosts, etc. There's actually some very good work in these fields but it gets overshadowed by a lot of irrational argument - and I'm not just talking about believers. There's a false dichotomy created between "Its true and real" vs. "Its false and imaginary." It is possible to have evidence that gives ample reason to suspect that something more than meets the eye is occurring without giving proof of the phenomenon or proof of a proposed theory of the phenomenon, or conversely without disproving or disallowing the phenomenon. This is why its called "speculation"! One can defensibly speculate about things. Its when we force the choice to be between True and False that we run into trouble.

So, in the case of subtle bodies and subtle energies, there is ample reason to suspect there is a physical mechanism at work that we don't understand - that is, that prosaic explanations are not sufficient or satisfactory. However, there is not, that I know of, enough evidence to make strong 3rd person claims of truth about this kind of thing. But there is *plenty* of reason to devote energy to investigation. The false dichotomy arises when you try to claim that "Its all True!" vs. "Skeptically we must conclude it is False!"

So in this case, if Ken is claiming 3rd person truth here - I think he's wrong. 3rd person requires validation with a community of the adequate. One researcher does not make a community of the adequate. However, an endorsement of further investigation into the claims around Guruji is fine - the evidence of a single researcher can support that.

And, I - for the pittance that its worth - endorse this. We need open eyed investigation into these things. They are worth it. What we don't need is new age over-credulity and sarcastic skeptical arrogance. My friends and I, William Harryman for instance, don't put ourselves in the sarcastic skeptic boat. I think, speaking for myself, that Ken's endorsement just seems a bit too strong and not well measured. It is far too easy to thoughtlessly accept that endorsement. I see this all the time in integral community - "Ken says its been scientifically proven!" when a close reading of Ken's writing reveals no such thing. He just wasn't careful to caveat his comments so while he can't be said to completely endorse something or someone, he also leaves one to wonder whether he actually was aware of the necessary reservations when he was writing.

In the end, this kind of thing frustrates some of us. Its hard to separate the natural human desire to nitpick the big monkey from the necessity to remain skeptical about our intellectual leaders. Its also hard to keep anxiety about his health and mental state out of things. Those of us who value his contributions worry about him. I certainly do. I'm greedy. I want more of his magic with words and ideas. They make the world so much more interesting, exciting, and understandable. And I feel a personal sense of gratitude for all the magic he's created already. I want the best for him and if his writing and behavior seems to show decline (understandably) it worries me. Deeply. I feel the same way about many of my favorite writers (Bradbury, Pratchett, etc.) but Ken has had a stronger influence on my life than any of them.

I think these claims about Guruji are interesting and make me want to understand more about them. Maybe that's what Ken wanted to achieve with this - just raise some interest. His post seemed to imply more than that though.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Yes, Belly Dance is Sexy.

You know, Andrea and I sometimes encounter interesting problems around sexuality in our bellydance rehearsals and performances. Even within our circle of performers, there's an interesting dynamic. The drummers are the first line of appreciators for the dancers. We try to cultivate a mature and open acceptance of this kind of appreciation of sexual beauty and tension. Sometimes, however, a dancer will be uncomfortable with it for precisely the postmodern reasons we've been discussing on facebook.

Naturally, if we become aware of discomfort we tone it down, there's no reason to make anyone uncomfortable. But in a way its a perfect example of this tension. Bellydance in general is a perfect example. It is common in today's bellydance scene to actually deny that there is a sexual component to bellydance and to take offense if it is interpreted sexually. This has always struck me as being completely disingenuous. Bellydance *does* have a strong sexual component. It is not a desexualized celebration of female power and beauty as some maintain.

This strikes me as an extreme analogy for this postmodern dilemma. A dancer wears an elaborate costume that emphasizes their belly, including the lowest parts of their belly, their hips, and their breasts and then performs a dance that emphasize those same parts of the body, including movements that mimic sexual passion, intercourse, and childbirth. Many leaders in the bellydance community actively deny this connection and many dancers become offended or feign offense when someone (usually a man) finds the dance sexually exciting.

Bellydance is not *all* about sex. But it certainly has sexual components and it offers a wonderful opportunity for people to interact in a sexually appreciate way that nevertheless honors both parties.

Its a pre-trans thing. One can leer rudely at the dancer and behave as if she is an object of flesh that exists to satisfy your lusting gaze. Or you can watch her body moving and caress it with your eyes and your smile, encouraging her to share her beauty with the world, enjoying her bravery and skill. On the outside, there can seem to not be much difference. But on the inside, its a very different experience. Its the difference between sex with a friend or lover vs buying a handjob. Am I getting off or am I forming a relationship?

Friday, April 23, 2010

I think that I do have a fundamental difference of opinion with some about how to approach this.

Its not that *any* crack will bring down the whole logical (or skeptical or speculative) edifice. If I truly believed that, then virtually any of the thousands of objections raised by the "truthers" would puncture the official story. What I believe is that there are real limits to what we can know about something. I also believe the specific structure of the argument is important. Gage has done the best job in the 911 "truther" movement that I have encountered at creating a well structured argument. Not every piece of evidence in an argument is equivalent. Its not as if an argument is just one massive "or" function or one massive "and" function. Its much more complicated - and so the structure of the argument is important. The "truthers" behave as if its a massive "or" so that the mass of objections by their sheer number and weight brings down the official story. The "skeptics" behave as if its a massive "and" function so that if one piece of a "truther" argument is incorrect, the entire critique is invalidated. And they treat their opponents as if their response is the opposite.

If we're going to get anywhere with this, we have to identify the structure of the argument. What is required for a conclusion, *really*?

I focused on the scientific and the physical rather than the culture and subjective because it was a part of the story I could get my hands around, and it is also the most compelling argument. Gage's presentation is powerful and though provoking. It demands a sufficiently thoughtful consideration. I am only just *barely* convinced the impacts and fires brought down the towers. To me, the most convincing piece of evidence is the video showing the dimpling of the curtain wall. Without that, the floor-sag theory is damaged by what we all know about the NIST tests. This is another reason why my personal scale is just *barely* to the conventional side on this. The provenance of that video is very important and I really can't establish it right now.

My point in critiquing engineers is that Gage is representing ae911truth. Structural engineers are indeed entitled to an opinion - *if* they have made a deep study of those kinds of structures and those kinds of failures. Otherwise we really don't have a right to an opinion - we just think we do. And I made my point about architects, I think. My engineering background makes me qualified to be intriqued by the arguments and to consider the arguments - but I'm not an expert. Just because I buy or don't buy a technical argument, doesn't mean crap. I'm *not* qualified to have an opinion. I haven't spent several decades studying structural failures. I am only qualified to attempt to understand the arguments presented and any conclusion I make is still ripe for negation when someone more qualified comes along and points out the flaws in my understanding.

The "pointing out" bit is very important. Its why I'm strongly in favor of open investigation and discussion. I haven't seen anything that overwhelmingly convinces me that we know how the collapse happened. I just know what I think based on the crap (pro and con) that is available for consideration. I'd like to not make my judgment based on *crap*.

I disagree that the criminal court has any superiority at reaching the truth. Courtroom argument is a social exercise - it is about trial by verbal combat. A courtroom conviction has no necessary relationship to the truth, as the numerous overturned death penalty convictions demonstrate. A courtroom argument is a way to make a cultural and communal decision about blame and consequences - but it isn't a way to seek the truth. Did OJ do it? If the highest, best, most qualified courtroom in the land found that the towers collapsed just as the official account says they did, or that they did not, would you believe them? I don't think so.

Finally, one detail among many, I don't contend that the collapse took slightly longer than free-fall. I am saying that we are not discussing any evidence that indicates how long it took at all. A difference between 10 seconds and 15 seconds is highly significant. Its the difference between a "pancake" theory or "pseudo-pancake" theory and the claim of demolition. If we are going to claim the collapse took 10 seconds - which is one of *the* essential claims, not just any old crack in the argument - we have to be able to establish that with great certainty. I don't see that we can do that given the evidence that I've seen, including Richard Gage's excellent presentation.

To me, the strength of Gage's presentation is that it establishes that this isn't a slam-dunk. We need a careful and have a public conversation on this. Its why I use the "truther" label but always in quotes. The labels that get thrown around in identifying the sides in this argument are pejorative. There's a serious discussion to be had here. It is not crazy to think the conventional account is incomplete and inaccurate. I do think its irrational to conclude the WTC was The American Reichstaag as so many have. We might have reason to suspect it. We might have reason to doubt the official story. But that's all we have *reason* for.

Suspicion is not conclusion. Speculation is not proof. In either direction. We are free to suspect and speculate. We must not get confused about what we are doing. An expression of speculation is not a defensible claim of proof. A "truther" or a "skeptic" makes this mistake constantly. I speculate that there is more to the WTC story than meets the eye. I can defend that speculation. I can defend it better than I can defend the claim that the official story is the gospel truth. But I cannot defend the claim that there is evidence that the collapse was an inside job, orchestrated by coordinated elements of the US government in high positions of authority. I've looked at the arguments and I don't think that argument can be made. We might speculate about its possibility or plausibility - but that is a different argument.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

911 Truth.

My friend Joel, inspired me to give an accounting of my beliefs about 911. I think the circumstantial evidence is provocative but inconclusive and difficult to prove one way or another. So I stuck with the physical problem, as an engineer. I joined Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. I find their presentation, as evangelized by Richard Gage, very interesting and thought provoking, although as an engineer I don't find it as damning as Richard Gage seems to think.

Remember this: Neither Engineers nor Architects are scientists. They are often pseudo-scientists. I say this as someone who has been working among engineers since 1984. I *am* an engineer. That's 26 years. Engineers tend to idolize science and rationality but do not understand it. They are great at solving problems and horrible at understanding what can and cannot be proven. Scientism is an occupational hazard. A profound overconfidence in their ability to understand the world is common. I say this with love and experience. Engineers need to get the hell over themselves.

And Architects - don't talk to me about architects. An architecture degree is a degree in aesthetic design - it has nothing to do with function, science, engineering, etc. It is the job of the civil and structural (and very rarely - architectural) engineers to make the imaginings of the architects come to life. An architect's opinion on the technical aspects of a physical event mean just about nothing. They are trained to create style and beauty - not to solve physics problems.

This is not to disrespect architects - it is just to remember the limits of their practice. Asking an architect about a highly technical problem like the 911 collapse is like asking a painter about digital camera design. It just doesn't make sense.

My position is that the collapse of the Twin Towers is ambiguous. I don't think the official story is very water tight, but neither is Gage's account. I'm a member of ae911truth. My best guess at present is that the official physical account of the collapse is, for the most part, true. But this is with the scales just *barely* leaning that way. Here's why:

- The towers did not collapse at free fall speed. We saw the wave of destruction travel down the *face* of the towers at near free fall speed. We have no photographic evidence of the collapse of anything behind the walls of the towers. It is all hidden in the cloud.

- There is photographic evidence showing the remnants of the core, standing quite high immediately after the collapse - maybe 30 stories. This weakens the "amazingness" of the collapse. It wasn't so amazing. The question "how did the core collapse" is often raised. It looks to me like it didn't collapse in the way the ae911truth presentation claims that it did.

- There is also video evidence showing the crimping of the curtain wall on the opposite side of one tower from the impact. You can see it being pulled radically inward in accordance with the official collapse account including the sagging of the floor joists. You can see it snap at the moment of collapse, just as the official technical analysis sets out.

- While the towers were designed to take an airplane's impact and stay standing, they were not designed to have the supports along an entire side of the building snap. The curtain wall is highly interconnected, like a zipper, or a mosaic of interlocking tiles, and it has to support 40% of the weight of the building. It can only do this through its connection to the core at the roof. It is entirely plausible to me that breaking the curtain wall along an entire side of the building could damage the integrity of the building catastrophically, especially when you add the suddenness of the simultaneous failure across the curtain wall. That's not the kind of damage the building was designed to take.

- Accounts of the "neatness" of the destruction are exaggerated. There were great piles of concrete rubble and twisted and bent girders from the core.

- The potential energy analysis of the "pyroclastic cloud" is unconvincing. One engineer did the analysis - there are many assumptions that could just be dead wrong or even impossible to assess given the evidence we have. But again - I am totally in favor of an open technical debate on these points. Refusing to look at it and writing it off gets us nowhere. Unlike many areas of speculation and intrigue - there actually *is* objective evidence here to examine.

- The towers do not collapse into their footprint, they explode outward - or at least, a dust cloud explodes. Some pieces of the structure are thrown some distance, but I remain unconvinced that this expanding dust cloud is evidence of explosives.

- The "disintegration" of "the pile driver" is unconvincing. It is a highly interpretive take on the available video. I buy the argument that the pile driver theory of collapse is flawed - I don't buy the alternative scenario of a "disintegrating pile driver" that is offered. I see the "pile driver" twist and fall in a rising cloud of dust. I don't see it disintegrate.

- The arguments about "no skyscraper has ever fallen into its own footprint from an office fire" is also not convincing. The Empire State Building, which suffered an impact with no fire, is an entirely different design. The twin towers were a very adventurous, radical, unprecedented design. Knowing how the curtain walls were constructed and that they support 40% of the building, the progressive and symmetric failure of the curtain walls is understandable.

- The "squibs" are not at all a smoking gun and other explanations are plausible and consistent with the official collapse account.

- Some of the anecdotes *are* strange, the seeming underground explosions, the molten material apparent in the videos and reported by eye-witnesses. It makes for intriguing speculation - but I am unconvinced.

Now, having said that, no one that I know of has done a convincing job of analyzing the collapse. I think we really don't understand the collapse well. It is quite mysterious. I also don't think the ae911truth critique is convincing enough. There are too many exaggerated, ambiguous, and subjective points in their presentation.

Even Stephen Jones, whose allegations I find very interesting, is not technically convincing to me. The mere presence of trace elements reminiscent of an explosive is not enough, and the ae911 presentation does not give enough technical detail to make a conclusion. It is a provocative piece of information - but it does not convince me that explosives were used. What it *does* convince me of is that Jones' line of reasoning needs open and peer-reviewed debate. As an electrical engineer I don't know much about chemistry, so I have many questions about what kinds of conclusions can be drawn from Jones' analysis. Jones' opinion is clear - what isn't clear is whether it is a technically defensible opinion. Only an open debate with his peers will produce that clarity.

Far more unbelieveable to me is the collapse of WTC7. It *did* collapse like a demolition and the odds of a tower doing that by chance are too much for me.

My tentative conclusion - and it really hangs on very thin evidence - is that WTC 1 & 2 collapsed from the plane impacts and fires, but that WTC 7 was demolished to prevent further damage to the surrounding buildings.

With sufficiently convincing evidence I could be convinced otherwise - which is why I support the ae911truth call for a better scientific investigation into the collapses. I am not entirely certain that this investigation hasn't happened. I need to use my university library access to do a review of the professional journals. There's a lot that never makes it to prime time - or even to the dusty corners of the internet.

Finally, I don't find the "social" and circumstantial arguments presented by Griffin convincing. Griffin may be a professor of theology and philosophy, but his argumentation doesn't show it. I agree that there is a lot that was wrong with that day, probably most interesting are the military exercises taking place that day about a "terrorist ramming a plane into a building" that confused the military response. To me, this *does* suggest that someone with inside information about the military was connected with the attack. This is not the same thing as concluding the exercise was orchestrated to confuse the response. More likely, the attack was orchestrated to occur on the day that the exercise was planned. Was the exercise even a deep secret? Griffin never discusses that that I know of.

Much is made of Cheney's "orders" about the approaching plane. As much as I deeply hate Cheney's actions in office, all I can say about this is that I don't know of anyone adequately responding to this anecdote. If an investigation found that Cheney's orders were actually benign, would any 911 "truther" buy it? Even if it were the truth?

So, in conclusion, its far, far easier to raise questions about an event than it is to actually prove or disprove anything. I could make an accusation in one sentence that it would take an expert a couple of hours to compose a response with sufficient references to support it. If the response wasn't ready-made, it might take a week or much longer to research it and definitively address it. Point being - we can always raise objections much faster than they can be addressed. I'm looking for the most coherent account given what we have evidence for. A mountain of objections doesn't convince me. Give me a convincing argument for those objections. For now, I'm not very inclined to think that 911 was literally The American Reichstaag. I think the neocons used and abused the event with glee and enthusiasm. I don't think anyone in power in the West planned it and executed it.

And I think the sooner we're able to actually talk about these questions in way that is based in evidence and reason rather than emotion and denial (I'm talking more about the official story adherents now) the sooner questions will be put to rest, at least sufficiently for reasonable people. I'm sure that no matter what, some will never be convinced.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Crazy Wisdom is still Crazy.

In a recent facebook comment thread, a friend seemed to be attempting to invalidate psychological notions of maturity based on the idea that the "self" is, according to eastern philosophy, an illusory and impermanent process. This was connected to a discussion on unethical, immoral, or immature behavior on the part of spiritual teachers. I'm not quite sure I understood my friend's point accurately, but I have heard this argument being made before as a means to excuse bad behavior on the part of spiritual teachers. Many make appeals to "crazy wisdom" and how the teachers are just so far beyond us that we can't judge. In a nutshell, my response is "Bullocks!".

Issues of maturity are by definition features of this illusory process. They are relative questions about this relative world - not about the absolute. Relative knowledge is still important for living in the world. After all, a bomb is a fundamental illusion that will end your suffering pretty darn quick. Ethical considerations are not to be obviated by appeals to the empty illusory nature of existence. This is just fundamental compassion. In my book, an unethical teacher is expressing a profound lack of compassion and therefore is disproving their own spiritual realization. Yes, there can be crazy wisdom that escapes our relative ethics. At the same time, if a teacher consistently excuses unethical behavior as crazy wisdom, then someone else can roll the dice by studying with them. I dare to judge them as not worth my attention other than to warn others away.

Similarly, I believe that individuals could have very deep spiritual experiences and insights, and even be skilled at teaching others to reach this same point, and yet also be an untrustworthy jerk who will empty your bank account, abuse you emotionally and physically, and perhaps even place you in physical and psychological danger. I am a crazy wisdom skeptic. Crazy wisdom is still crazy.

As The Ken has said, "When you're on your own, you're on your own.". If a teacher chooses to step across the moral boundaries of their culture, then they are truly on their own. Maybe they are right and are breaking taboos that need to be broken. Or maybe they are just acting out their shadows and immaturity. In either case, I'm not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. History will ultimately judge if their transgressions were worth it - or perhaps more to the point, their students and the families of their students will ultimately judge.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On Names, Real and Imagined

Just a short note on how I refer to people. There's no logic to it all. I have an intuition for whether people would object to having their participation in a conversation outed or not and I follow it. No consistency. If you would rather I not refer to you by name in my blogs, please let me know and I'll come up with some name to substitute for you - or you can suggest one. If you would rather I not refer to you by a silly name, then please also let me know.

Faith and Reason, cont'd.

So in my further discussions with The Philosobiker, I am trying to clarify the rift I perceive between religion and reason.

When you begin to identify with rationality, you begin to attack the metaphysics of your religious institutions. So how do you keep the benefits of these institutions once the supporting metaphysics is gone? You need replacement religious institutions with less metaphysical baggage. That is what having "someplace to go" means.

Part of the challenge is that some dedicated rationalists refuse to consider that a religious institution can be anything except laden with unnecessary and unsupportable metaphysics. Similarly, dedicated traditionalists refuse to consider that such an institution can have any moral core or any meaning.

There are plenty of people who are both rational and religious. I believe that many of these people maintain this by keeping domains of thought separated as I have discussed before. The brilliant neurosurgeon who is also a young-earth creationist, as an imagined example. They simply refuse to apply reason to their faith. Or they might just refuse to rationalize their practice, i.e. they know it is unreasonable to think that God is listening, but they pray anyway. Or perhaps they have carefully examined every piece of their faith and have careful and rational reasons for all of it - they know they are praying for personal and social reasons, etc., and yet they are stuck in an institution that will not allow them to express this openly.

Or, much more commonly, they say to hell with it and leave religion entirely.

For instance, why is it so rare for women to be ordained? Why is homosexuality an issue? These are not things that we can put off on a vocal minority. These are mainstream features of organized religion in the US. Were a substantial portion of our religious institutions actually rational, we would not be discussing those kinds of issues. The churches that had openly lesbian ministers would be common.

Does this make sense? The assertion is not "No religious people are rational and no rational people are religious." It is that the majority of our religious institutions and practices do not support rationality and are not supported by rationality. The exceptions to this prove the rule.

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Faith and Reason

My friend, The Philosobiker, seems confused by the way some of my friends and I talk about faith and reason. Specifically he was confused by

"there is nowhere to go spiritually in our culture once the rational mind awakens”

- this is not referring to an inherent quality of religion - it is referring to the way we practice religion in Western culture. Some religious groups are trying to do something about this (Methodists, Episcopalians, Unitarian, Unity) but they remain controversial. What is a Southern Baptist (as I was) to do when we become proficient at rationality and are brave enough to apply it to real parts of our lives, not just classroom abstractions? The choices, apparently, are to abandon rationality in some domains of your life, or to abandon your religious beliefs. This is the steel ceiling. It is exceedingly difficult to embrace rational religious beliefs. We polarize religion and rationality so that the gulf is only bridgeable by changing sides. What Daniel and I are interested in doing is building a broad bridge by which these two opposing nationalities can intermingle and perhaps make peace.

So there are at least two big parts of this:

1) Open religion up to rationality
2) Open rationality up to religion.

This discussion gets confusing because there are two conditions involved - the way that reason and faith are currently perceived by many, and what may be other possible ways to deal with reason and faith. So I may say "reason and faith are not incompatible" meaning there is no reason we can't build this bridge. And I may also say, "there is a steel ceiling on religion that won't allow the faithful to develop into reason." meaning that many of the "reasonable" and the "faithful" have adopted this antagonistic stance and are preventing the successful integration of the two.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Steel Ceiling

Huff Post today....

Gina Welch's, In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church,

This book looks fascinating. I couldn't resist homing on one sentence in particular:

"Why would they open themselves up to influence from a culture that made no space for their beliefs?"

This closely echoes The Ken's position on religion and spirituality. My good friend Daniel reminded me of the term Steel Ceiling describing this situation. Traditionalist religion has no place to grow up into. For an individual to grow into a rational world-view they have little choice but to leave their religion. The forces of modernist rationality reject religion as mythic nonsense and the traditionalist religions reject modernism as satanic devolution and godlessness. The battle lines are drawn. Ms. Welch crossed the front lines in disguise to bring back tales of her traditional enemy and finds that, guess what, they are human beings who are far more thoughtful, reflective, and diverse than she, a Berkely educated atheist, would have given them credit for.

This is why I have little patience for Hitchens and company. They are still fighting a battle that modernism has clearly won. They are shooting fish in a barrel. Surely there is something else they can do with those big brains?

Granted, there may be a valid role for them, but this tone seems to dominate the conversation between the traditional world and the modern world. We have to find constructive ways to let the faithful grow into rationality without having to reject their religion. This is The Ken's opinion on it, and I pretty much buy it. I think Ms. Welch has done a very good thing.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On Fine Art

My FB friend, Brian Howlett, poses the question:

"so... bottom line isn't fine art really a luxury item to be purchased, viewed and appreciated for the skill and intellect it represents ?"

Fine art may be a cultural luxury - or perhaps the definition of fine art simply changes as a culture evolves. Certainly owning it is a personal luxury - for all kinds of purposes - investment, status, aesthetics, patronage.

But I think at its core, fine art is about elevating our lives in a way that is not held down by convention and practicality. Its a way to step outside the demands of our life and see its beauty (or horror).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Test post.

So let it be written
So let it be done
Etcetera etcetera etcetera.