What I Take Seriously

Commenter Cat Lover responds to my post about anti-atheism by saying I must take theology seriously to have a non-shrill discussion about religion. Now’s as good an opportunity as any to distinguish two different meanings of “to take seriously”: there are things I take seriously because I want to, and things I take seriously because I have to.

Many ideas I disagree with but find interesting or important or intriguing enough in their own right to pursue. This is true mostly when it comes to relatively muddy issues, like the degree to which evolution is gene-centric, or the ability of countries to develop by attracting foreign capital, or the causes of rape, or the best solution to the I/P conflict. In that sense, I don’t think it’s reasonable to take theology seriously.

At the same time, there are many more ideas I pay attention to not because I want to but because I have to. I don’t know if that should be counted as “taking seriously.” On the one hand, I’m openly contemptuous of anti-choicers. On the other, I devote a fair proportion of my blogging to debunking their arguments, simply because they’re part of mainstream political discourse. The same applies to conservative accusations of media bias, or anti-immigration.

I haven’t had any discussion with a pro-theology person; in that sense, I don’t take theology seriously, nor should I. That has nothing to do with how many people believe it and everything to do with whether it’s intellectually serious. In terms of making sense and according with real world facts, there’s no difference between Christian theology and deep ecology.

None of that has any bearing on whether the above ideas should be referenced. Anti-religious writers may not think theology is intellectually serious, but they nonetheless recognize its influence on the world and therefore strive to refute its main contentions. In the sense to which the mainstream status of theology is relevant, they take it completely seriously.

As somewhat of a digression, different people need to take different things seriously. People who are involved in movement politics need to take seriously what’s considered acceptable within the movement and not just what’s considered acceptable in mainstream politics. Belledame is far more involved in movement feminism than I am; therefore, she finds herself having to refute radical feminist excesses frequently, while I can ignore them because radical feminism doesn’t threaten me.

In contrast, Christian fundamentalism, buttressed by theologians who apologize for it, does threaten me. When a large contingent of people are willing and able to a) establish a theocracy and b) embark on a foreign policy that seems designed to maximize the level of terrorism in the world, it’s important enough that I can’t just ignore it the way I do other radicalisms.

16 Responses to What I Take Seriously

  1. whig says:

    Of course there are scientific principles which we have to take seriously, like gravity. One may theorize an ability to fly but when taking a flying leap off a cliff the wise thing (so far as such a thing can ever be said to be wise) is to be affixed to a very reliable set of wings or confident of diving safely into water below.

    To take something seriously because we must does not mean to ridicule and dismiss it, which is what many atheists will do with religious belief. And, of course the same is true in reverse.

    Science has its perspective and valid set of phenomena which it has competence in describing and predicting. Theology is another perspective which deals with the ways we conceive of ourselves.

  2. Science has its perspective and valid set of phenomena which it has competence in describing and predicting. Theology is another perspective which deals with the ways we conceive of ourselves.

    So science has nothing to do with how we conceive of ourselves? Do cognitive psychology and neuroscience no longer exist? How about anthropology? Science deals with such subject matter all the time.

    Theology may be in the business, at least in part, of dealing with the ways in which we “conceive of ourselves”. And astrology deals with how we conceive of how planetary alignment affects our daily experience. Conceptions aren’t necessarily valid.

  3. whig says:

    Of course you are right, Tyler, philosophy as a whole is fraught with fallacies. Still we find it worth learning what our ancestors were thinking about.

  4. Of course you are right, Tyler, philosophy as a whole is fraught with fallacies. Still we find it worth learning what our ancestors were thinking about.

    I would agree. Understanding one’s heritage is certainly important. I am all for studying religion in the context of it’s history and it’s impact on human society. But that doesn’t mean it’s subject matter should be taken serious, anymore so than astrology or alchemy.

  5. Axel says:

    I always feel sympathy for US atheists if I read such bizarre argumentations like the Wall Street Journal article. Hell, what century are you living in?

    The main reason why Creationism is practically irrelevant in Europe isn’t a better understanding of “the scientific method” or better knowledge of biological facts. It’s trivially because the percentage of people believing in God is much lower than in the US. But it’s also because theologicans take their intellectual business seriously and heavily reject Christian fundamentalism on the grounds of theological arguments. So “taking theology seriously” has a very subversive denotation in this context.

    For comparison: In 2004, the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSAT) Research Prize was awarded to the German Biologist and Theologian Casper Söling for his dissertation titled “Der Gottesinstinkt: Bausteine für eine evolutionäre Religionstheorie” [The God Instinct : Elements of an evolutionary theory of religion]. Söling currently works for the Bishop of Limburg, Germany. The abstract:

    The thesis “the God Instinct” attempts to offer insights into an understanding of the psychological domains underlying religious behaviour and to attribute an evolutionary status to these domains and to inquire into their contribution to evolutionary fitness, or rather into their development of selection. These questions are pursued with the aid of the heuristics of evolutionary psychology. The study aims to discover those data processing mechanisms (here also understood as “instincts” or “Darwinian algorithms”) on which religious behaviour is based. To achieve this, the study must (1.) prove the universality of a behavioral pattern, (2.) reconstruct the problems for which religious behavior would offer and still offers solution mechanisms, and (3.) place religiosity into an evolutionary category.
    The results of this study shows that every religion is constituted by the interaction of four evolved domains, namely: mysticism, ethics, myths and rituals. Even if the individual content, accents, and implementations differ in each specific religion, they nevertheless derive from evolved Darwinian algorithms that are species-specific adaptations of homo sapiens. Mysticism. Intuitive ontologies are the basis for mystical experiences. Usually they serve to classify reality into animate and inanimate objects, animals or plants, for example. For a variety of psychological reasons, a mixture of different ontological categories are categorisied as supernatural experiences. Ethics. The basis for ethics lies in the concept of social exchange (‘social-contract algorithm’) with its ideas about reciprocity, fairness, justice, cheater detection, in-group/out-group differentiation, etc. Myths. The basis for myths is the ‘language instinct’. Myths are interpreted as the verbal expression of the cognitive content of individual modules that constitute the belief system. Rituals. Rituals are based on the handicap principle. By making certain symbols and acts more expensive, they signal commitment for a reliable in-group morale. The study concludes that the mystics based on intuitive ontologies can be attributed to the evolutionary status of an exaptation, whereas the other three domains can be understood as differentations of adaptations that still exist. On the whole, religiosity is based on psychological domains that have each passed through their own selection history and that can be summarized in the concept of the ‘God-Instinct’.”

    http://geb.uni-giessen.de/geb/volltexte/2002/816/

    Personally, I’m not very interested in debating with a theologican like Söling if God realy exists or not. Other debates are much more salient.

  6. whig says:

    Tyler, such “unscientific” perspectives are highly rich in observations and utility, if understood in their own context. Herbs and natural medicine are only now gaining a foothold again, as people re-learn that what God or nature has adapted for humans to eat and to take as medicine is right before them but disrespected by those who profit by keeping you in ignorance.

  7. whig says:

    Axel, we are living in a fascist dictatorship that is about to recover its democracy.

  8. Tyler, such “unscientific” perspectives are highly rich in observations and utility, if understood in their own context. Herbs and natural medicine are only now gaining a foothold again, as people re-learn that what God or nature has adapted for humans to eat and to take as medicine is right before them but disrespected by those who profit by keeping you in ignorance.

    Highly rich in observations and utility, yet cannot pass muster in efficacy tests like empirically informed medicine. And we have the typical “big pharma” conspiracy pap as well.

    Credibility: declining.

  9. whig says:

    Are you completely ignorant of the prohibition of cannabis, sir?

  10. Cat lover says:

    Let me explain what I meant by “take seriously.” When I used the term earlier, I meant the sense of a rhetorical obligation. I like Tyler’s example of astrology, so I’ll use that. Personally, I think astrology is total bunk, and in the context of everyday conversation, I’m willing to assert that without justification most of the time. But if I were to write a book/article on some subject related to astrology, and I wanted to make the statement that it is, in fact, bunk, I would be forced (temporarily) to take modern astrology seriously. Ignoring (or mocking) the astrologers’ arguments leaves me open to the charge that I am ignorant of their position, unable to actually answer their arguments, or both. Furthermore, if I choose to condescend towards those who believe in the subject, it makes me appear arrogant and closed-minded.

    Hopefully that clears up my use of the term. On an unrelated note, I would point out that most (though certainly not all) Christian theologians are very much opposed to a theocracy of any sort. Also, let me point out that fundamentalist atheists are as willing to set up a theocracy (or perhaps one should call it an “atheocracy”) as anyone else. Consider, for example, Russia under Stalin or China under Mao. Of course, the fundamentalist atheists in the US have no possiblilty of doing this, whereas the fundamentalist Christians have a vanishingly small chance, so in our context it makes a bit more sense to worry about the dominionists.

  11. Are you completely ignorant of the prohibition of cannabis, sir?

    No, I’m also not ignorant of the fact that “natural cures” is plural. I’ve been an advocate for the medical use of cannabis for treating nausea and stimulating appetite for a while now. I also recognize that homeopathy and herbal “cures” are total bunk.

  12. whig says:

    Now Tyler, there is bunkum in everything, including pharmaceuticals. Some are downright toxic to the point of causing death in thousands of people. Same with herbs. Some are useful. Cannabis is hardly the only one, but it is the most important medicine for humans.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    Whig, I’m pretty sure the smallpox vaccine is more important. Or do you mean cannabis is the most important herbal medicine?

    Cat Lover, the condenscension charge is only useful if my writing causes people to sympathize with the other side, or fails to cause them to sympathize with mine. I write to persuade the undecideds, mostly, and people who disagree with me to a moderate extent. I don’t write to persuade the other side’s core.

  14. whig says:

    Alon, I suppose we could have an argument over which medicine has helped more people, and then there is of course penicillin and even aspirin, but of course we don’t have to choose between them if all can be used when appropriate.

    Cannabis is more important than pharmaceuticals that promise male enhancement, I hope you’d agree. And yet, the latter is advertised (to my annoyance) continually.

  15. Alon Levy says:

    Well, I’d snark that “more” erroneously implies that the “enhance your penis” treatments are important at all.

    As for the advertising bit, I blame the USA’s lax regulations of direct-to-consumer advertising. I prefer the approach of the rest of the developed world to the matter, which is to pretty much ban it entirely.

  16. whig says:

    Well, our regulations aren’t so much lax as obviously biased, for instance I couldn’t make an advertisement (even a political ad) mentioning cannabis and get it broadcast at all, unless the ad was opposed and promulgated falsehoods (this is your brain on drugs) as applied to cannabis.

    People have been carrying on political campaigns without access to the mainstream media at all, and winning in many cases, but even this goes unreported for the most part and when it is covered it is derisively with a prohibitionist spin.

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