Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gray in the Head

John Gray claims faith, properly understood, doesn't have much to do with belief, concluding as follows:

We'd all be better off if we stopped believing in belief. Not everyone needs a religion. But if you do, you shouldn't be bothered about finding arguments for joining or practising one. Just go into the church, synagogue, mosque or temple and take it from there.
At the risk of repeating material already covered by Norm Geras, PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, Jerry CoyneEli Horowitz, and others, suppose we unpack Gray's twaddle a tad: take what from there?

I charitably assume John Gray doesn't mean for people to show up at a church, synagogue, or mosque and begin mindlessly aping the actions of others -- which is to say I assume he can't mean what he's plainly asserting. To pick a slightly off-angle but non-exotic illustration, doing as Gray suggests would involve aping the actions of the guy who just happens to be unclogging the toilet in the church basement. Or it would include showing up at the place and expecting to be the next to speak to the assembly after the priest, rabbi, or imam finishes chattering.

Before any of that, of course, going to a house o' worship will have required more-than-aping levels of critical evaluation to select the church, synagogue, or mosque as the day's destination. It's far from clear how this decision can be made without reference to beliefs and reasons.

Suppose that as the sermon drones on, your critical faculties light up long enough to pick up on the notion of a Sabbath. Clearly, you don't want to put any reasoning or believing or (gawd forbid) arguing into it -- that would bother John Gray or something -- so eschewing details, you undertake to pursue the practice of a regular Sabbath. Suppose you choose the 24 hours between Wednesday at 11:15pm to Thursday at 11:15pm as your Holy Sabbath because it works best for your schedule -- are you doing it the wrong way? If beliefs are beside the point, what or who can decide the question?

Incidentally, under this approach, why stop at people? If it's not about beliefs but about showing up and doing the thing, surely pets can participate, not to mention stray cats, field mice, wood ants, nesting racoons, wayward sparrows in the rafters, etc. Why not zombie cockroaches? Shouldn't they be counted as participants in what John Gray counts as religion if they "just go into the church, synagogue, mosque or temple and take it from there"?


We think about what we're doing and why, and this is necessarily informed by what we believe we are doing -- reasons, societies, histories, communities, contexts, justifications, conflicts, the dramatis personae we consider to be included and excluded from minor and major roles. Religious practice untethered to beliefs is a mindless, pointless, dawdling squandering of energy. To date, religious practice informed by beliefs is likewise pointless in proportion to the quality of the beliefs, but it can claim the small virtue of distinguishing genuine believers from those who merely go through motions.


The Duchess of Cookies said...

Totally OT, apologies.... BUT, I was wondering if A) you were running the Portland Marathon? and B) your thoughts on Occupy PDX taking over/ insisting on "sharing" the Marathon turf... assuming you have heard that news, of course.

Dale said...

DC, I am not running the Portland Marathon this year. I completely support the Occupy [place] movement, but I'm quite wary of their being in the way of the marathon in even the smallest way. I hope they don't. I hope they pick up and move just a few blocks away and continue doing what they're doing.

Where they are is essentially miles 25 to 26.2, and that means the following: everyone coming in will be at his/her limits if not beyond. There is no 'dodging obstacles' at that point. There is no 'oh, I can see them just ahead so I'll just alter my path a few clicks to the right' -- that sort of adjustment approaches to physically impossible for many runners. An out-of-place pebble can create disaster, let alone people 'occupying' the course.

I've joined the protests a little and might do so some more. I know and relate to both sides. I don't want this to be a problem -- I don't want 'sides' in this.

The running event is NOT part of the monster -- corporate power. Sure, lines can be drawn to corporate sponsors blah blah blah, but really, there's no reason to extend the conflict in this way.

For good or bad, there's no central organizer to take this message to. I hope they 'get it.'