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Monday, June 25, 2007


Well, Stanley Fish is on about his three favorite Atheists again (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens), and this time he's taken the interesting tack of changing his perspective on the argument in order to further confuse his potential commenters. He's really an old sophist, at heart, but his aim seems to be provocative. He'd like people to try looking at reality in different terms than they had previously, and so he constantly inverts expectations and makes arguments based on a perspective that he neither defines nor identifies.

At base, I think he's trying to show that the assumptions that religious people adhering to so-called Western Religions (none of which developed in the West) and those of atheists are essentially the same. They both concern themselves with white-bearded old men who sit on golden thrones and dispense their patronage to whichever courtier flatters them most. I think that he's saying that, by even writing their books,the atheists are positing the existence of such a being just so that they can deny it. They have to believe in such a deity at some level in order to think it worth not believing in.

In his current essay, Professor Fish argues that God, should such a being exist, is beyond our comprehension and that its existence or nonexistence is therefore beyond proof. And, of course, the denunciations have already started piling up, some 29 by the time I took a look at eight this morning.

His trick, of course, is in his use of the word "God." He is using it in place of other terms, such as "the eternal" or "the divine," simply in order to provoke argument. By using the word "God," he automatically conjures images of a beard-o in flowing robes who chooses his favorites capriciously. This is where the sophistry comes in.

He's edging up to a pool in which God cannot be known with the mind, but only experienced in rare moments of altered perception, but has refused to dive in. He's very good at playing coy and prefers confounding to illuminating, but he's reaching an interesting point. I think he might be getting ready to assert that the problem with these religions isn't the existence or nonexistence of God, but the refusal to see these traditions as symbol systems that aren't meant to be taken as literally as is done by either their adherents or their detractors. He's trying to get to the point of saying that religion is myth.

A few years ago, we started attending church for the same reason that so many people do: We were having a child, and we thought it would be "good" for him to to get some kind of religious background.

I had been raised Catholic, and so I kind of insisted on going the Catholic route. This was not just because it was what I knew, but because I had some sense of how to use it in order to get to deeper levels of consciousness. I am not someone who can believe in this stuff as fact, so I used my small acquaintance with myth in order to be able to participate fully and with an open heart.

For example, I find the concept of the Trinity--when presented as gross fact--to be absurd and nothing but a bunch of rationalizing. However, by thinking of it in terms of symbol and myth, I was able to understand it in a way that made sense, at least to me. I took God the Father as being the equivalent of the Chinese conception of the Tao, that which is beyond time and space. God the Son symbolized this eternal principle active in space and time. God the Holy Spirit was that principle active in the hearts of men.

None of this had anything to do with old guys dispensing boons.

The problem then presented is not one one of temporal concerns such as morality, but becomes a problem of setting oneself in accord with the eternal. The sacraments and the ritual called The Mass are there to perform this function, to aid the seeker in trying to put oneself in accord with that which is beyond space and time.