This is an attempt to make some assumptions and chains of reasoning explicit. This piece describes pressing problems for which I have not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion. These problems stem from: my belief in a transcendent, redeeming metaphysical order (God);
This was an interesting read and I've felt the same about a lot of these specifics...so I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this on Twitter but I'll risk mentioning again that I've realized fairly recently that Sufism may be a good fit for me for a lot of the reasons described here. Even the more traditional Muslim versions are often relatively universalist in theory, the range of schools allows for a pretty broad spectrum of beliefs/non-beliefs, and some of the more modern versions feel to me like pretty culturally appropriate natural evolutions. Though, of course, I'm sure you've also considered traditional Buddhism, which often doesn't require anything at all in terms of belief. Since it's not mentioned here at all, I'd be curious where you think that kind of tradition fits into all of this.
I think that some of what you put in post-modern was available to medieval thinkers, but it was the esoteric teaching of the religion. Part of belonging to a community of one religion meant that even personal intellectual advancement would not lead to abandonment of said community when doubts arose (and they did) but rather an understanding that different people need to hear different things.
Pre-modernism, modernism, postmodernism - I don't agree with all the details of your definitions here. The investigative and accepting duality is imo a far better vision of this.
Investigative principle did peak in 'modernity'.
But it was with Aristotle, it was with Thomas Aquinas demonstrating from first principles classical theism. (you don't mention thomism anywhere, might be worth a look).
There is a non-zero cost to investigation, so EVERYWHERE, EVERYONE relies on the tradition around them.
The exception are autistic bookworms.
I would say that personality impacts religion a lot. Paul Vitz in 'Faith of the fatherless' (1999) talks about this a lot. Weak-willed or absent father makes it harder to believe in God the Father.
Human needs are different. Openness trait is high in the SBNR, those in the tightest communities are feeling the community more, and are more conformist.
Then the strongest desires form an attractor in possible-religion-space. Aronud them communities form. If your personality is in-between of these local optima, whichever community you're going to choose, you'll feel the tradeoffs.
SBNRs just are fundamentally psychologically different from church-goers. Therefore you seeing only people satisfied from the 'steady' group is a selection effect. Some are meant to wander this earth aimlessly.
I hope no one thinks religion is the only 'lifeworld', or 'map of meaning' (JBPeterson's term from his 1999 book). Greek city states and nations have maps of meaning. These were not always centered on redeption, indivdual fall from grace and the transcendent. That's a Christian bias.
Greeks were about glory in art and battle - like many of the ancient peoples.
To do something meaningful was to do something appreciated by your countrymen.
They had a functioning society with shared meaning. Their emphasis on the transcendent was minute, Hades being a boring domain. A functional society is definitely missing now. No need to search for some esoteric micro-nutrient.
Beautifully written and wildly thought-provoking.
One of the most serious and intellectually honest attempts at grappling with the issue of religion that I’ve ever seen. Thanks for writing this, looking forward to reading more from you over the years.
Good article! Many points of contact between your ongoing conversion and mine.
1. I believe I've heard Krishna speaking to me and through me in recent psychedelic experiences. His playful, amusing energy as a dancing avatar is unmistakeable! Pretty cool that you also seemed to come into contact with God in this way.
2. "It is not possible for me to pretend that they are immutable metaphysical facts revealed by divine revelation."
A paraphrased quote (from someone I can't remember right now comes to mind) – "Bullshit is a more effective organizing principle for faith than the truth. The truth is relatively easy to accept. But you must truly be committed if you swear by obvious bullshit that flies in the face of reality."
Obviously, I'm not trying to claim that miracles or certain religious happenings were bullshit. But I think it is true that to complete your induction into a religion, you do have to believe it all the way. This includes the fantastic, less-than-likely, obviously deranged stuff.
It's no different for 'secular' religions, either. Putting your faith into abiogenesis as a fundamental building block of macroevolution is as much an article of faith as believing the Virgin Birth of Christ, or that Vishnu will reincarnate as Kalki on a white horse and complete the Kali Yuga with his lightning blade.
3. Your description of folk religion is basically pointing to a distinction that I've made between inherited religion and functional religion. The former is something that comes from ethnicity, geography, lineage whereas the latter is identified by what doctrinal or scriptural requirements you've taken and maintained in the here & now (usually via ritual).
My inherited religion is Hinduism. This is based on my heritage, my upbringing, the stories that I've read and that I relate to. But it's also Christianity since I've grown up in America, and participated in many of relevant institutions that derive from that background.
But, my functional religion is essentially some form of modernist liberalism. Really the only religious commitment I've continued from my inheritance is my vow of Ahimsa that I made when I was six, and continue to this day (e.g., complete vegetarian).
To me, the process of conversion is the attempt to acknowledge the functional religion you are practicing and realign it with some inherited religion. That's my project right now – and overlaps with yours – but it will never be a true RETVRN in any meaningful sense.
I feel this. Are we all waiting on the religion of the future?
Perhaps remaining in suspense is all there is?
Because Barth's radical dualism of the divine and the human realm is mirrored in the sharp distinction he drew between the "old man" prior to faith and the "new man" transformed by faith, there is a temptation to read Barth as though he were saying that faith appears to be nihilism only to those who don't participate in it. ''To unbelief, [God's] righteousness is necessarily manifested as divine negation". Once faith is made real, however, the situation changes. Through the spectacles of faith, the believer "see[s] the invisible. [He or she sees] the righteousness of God in his wrath, the risen Christ in the crucified one, life in death, the 'Yes' in the 'No'".
Such statements suggest that once grace has acted, once the transformation of the individual from the old to the new man has taken place, the world appears quite differently. The experience of nihilism, in other words, would be a kind of spiritual cleansing, readying the individual for the infusion of grace, but subsequently superseded by the calm assurance of one who has been reborn. What is unknown to the unbeliever—in Barth's terminology, to the "old man," the person standing "on this side" of the resurrection—is both known and intelligible to the believer—the "new man," the person standing ''on the other side" of the resurrection.
In comments like this Barth appears to be making the standard religious claim that certain truths are sensible only to people standing within the boundaries of faith: Only those who share the Christian outlook find the tenets of the Christian faith meaningful and intelligible. Once accepted, these beliefs are not only meaningful in themselves, but they serve to make the world meaningful. Nihilistic despair is simply the means whereby we are catapulted into faith, but once having gotten there, so to speak, the world becomes a place of meaning, harmony, and truth.
This reading, however, cannot long be supported.
What Gertrude Stein said of Oakland applies equally well to the position of the faithful: "There's no 'there' there." In Barth's words:
Just as surely as the recognition of the sovereignty of God overthrows all confidence in human righteousness, it sets erect no other ground of confidence. Men are not deprived of one security, in order that they may immediately discover for themselves another. No man can shelter himself behind the triumphant will of God; rather, when it is once perceived, he comes under judgment and enters a condition of shattering confusion—from which he can never escape.
This passage implies that, if anything, the new man is more despairing than the atheist; at least, certainly, as despairing. Despite the transformation effected in the conversion from the old to the new man, Barth insisted that in the new man, "No union of God and man is consummated," which means that "the bitter conflict between flesh and spirit remains as intense as before" and that "the tension of the paradox remains without even the slightest easement.
Men are compelled to wait and only to wait; they are impelled to hope, and not to sight".
Barth was trying to walk a very fine line here. On the one hand, he had to affirm that there is meaning in negation, since, as he put it, negation is "God's way of saving us."
If the believer is to be distinguished from the atheist at all, there must be more to life than what the atheist sees.
On the other hand, he had to resist all attempts to make faith something secure, a possession held by the believer which, once acquired, cannot be lost, because this would undermine the absolute disjunction he presumed between this world and the divine realm, and make him guilty of the liberal's error.
Hence he was left in the somewhat precarious position of asserting the complete contentlessness of faith. He emphasized repeatedly that faith is a void or vacuum (ein Hohlraum); it means "motionlessness, silence, worship—it means not-knowing".
Thus, while Barth did at times speak of the believer's "knowledge" that despair and negation are divine tools for human salvation, this "knowledge" bears no resemblance to anything we would customarily describe as such. Faith has, literally, no content, for the believer is in possession of no fact, no datum, that is hidden to the non-believer. The "knowledge'' of faith, one might say, is dispositional rather than propositional. Faith bespeaks an attitudinal transformation on the part of the believer, not a cognitive one.
Have you explored teachers like Francis Lucille or Rupert Spira - also recommend Akilesh Ayyar. I feel these folks provide a very intellectual approach to the transcendent/perennial philosophy through Advaita. The bottom line is that recognizing the truth is beyond conception so all ideologies in some sense are false.
A couple of relevant videos I love:
You’re not the only one.
I used to be an atheist. Now I think god is probably real… but not a single one of the religions out there comes close to being acceptable on grounds you mention.
I guess I’m waiting on something that hasn’t arrived yet
Really enjoyed your straightforwardness. As for the connection between theories and reality, though, I do believe that a strong, well-articulated epistemology is crucial. Popper comes to mind, obviously — especially because the shallow, deleterious thinking of Ludwig Wittgenstein seems to be all the rage, these days. Objective reality is a thing. Some universalities do exist. And religious faith as its place in all of it. But again, modern epistemology is required. Or else… everything remains blurry.
A further wrinkle I would add to your observations is that even folks who seem to be happy in their traditionalist faiths struggle to pass that faith onto their children, typically because their children see the glaring contradictions their parents have papered over. Not just intellectual contradictions, but behavioral contradictions that seems rooted in the content of their beliefs. Especially with the information firehouse of the internet, children can easily compare/contrast to he faith of their parents with other faith communities (often viewed through rose colored glasses) and eventually end up somewhere close to where you are. Some of these parents do in fact do horrible things sometimes ins pite of being overall kind people. My conclusion from these observations is that the current equilibrium belief is roughly where you are, and people who do find happiness in traditionaliat faiths outliers that aren't "stable" or self-replicating in any way, and so it's not clear to me that observing them will provide answers. Does this align with your observations?
Some specific advice for a apostate atheist please? What's the branch of Christianity you have found closest to your tastes? I am pondering hard on re-engaging but I can't and won't play along with the usual soft pomo platitudes that I suspect infest mainstream (say) c of e..or am I mistaken about that?