Friday, November 08, 2013

On Religion

In answer to Presskorn's question, I'm probably something of a fundamentalist about religion. The Pangrammaticon divides experience into two broad domains, the Real and the Ideal, which are addressed by particular crafts. We use science and philosophy to grapple with the Real and politics and poetry to grapple with the Ideal. Science is the theory of the real, Heidegger tells us, for example; the Pangrammaticon then teaches us to derive from this that politics is the practice of the ideal. Philosophy is the art of writing concepts down; poetry is the art of writing emotions down.

All crafts are about developing our receptivity (to the real) and our capacity (for the ideal). Philosophy makes us more receptive, through thought, to concepts. Poetry makes us more capable, through feeling, of emotions. Science makes us more receptive to things, as objects. Politics makes us more capable of people, as subjects.

Or to put it another way. Science brings us knowledge of what is, but philosophy tells what can be known. Politics brings us power over who becomes, but poetry tells us who can be mastered. In the end, philosophy must "know" the "it" and poetry must "master" the "self", the scare-quotes indicating the principled impossibility of the task and the principled non-existence of its focus. Or to put in another way. Science tells us what we are seeing. Politics tells us who is doing it. Philosophy tells us what it is. Poetry tells us who we are.

What's this got to do with religion? Well, religion assumes authority over all those functions. Pangrammaticism is not a religion but a deconstruction of religious experience into the discrete moments that, in the absence of a properly functioning religious authority, must be composed at any given time, in any given place, in lived experience. Given a properly functioning religious authority, what I'm doing here is a complete waste of time.

(Cf. my notes on the novel.)


Andrew Shields said...

Does the final sentence signify your desire for such a "properly functioning religious authority"? A nostalgia for such an authority?

Thomas said...

It's mainly a playful jab at existing authorities. Their indignation over the inability of people to "believe" amuses me. But I do have a vague sense that some tribal cultures, working under the guidance of a good shaman, managed to develop sustainable and (importantly!) coordinated answers to the questions What are we seeing here? What is it all about? Who are/am we/I? What shall we do now?

In the end, I'm a modernist. I believe in a respect for the craftsmanship of specialists. If politicians respected their mandate, and scientists their method, and if philosophers would mind only our concepts and poets encourage only our emotions ... and if we, in turn, respected science and politics, philosophy and poetry for what they are, then we could find the composure we need.

But there are all these distractingly dysfunctional authorities in our way. Scientists who pretend to philosophize (and, more often, simply preach!). Philosophers who want to be celebrated as poets. Poems with political objectives...etc. And (God help us!) religious orthodoxy that respects neither scientific discovery nor political decision making, that demonizes thought and scandalizes our feelings.

(That's almost a rant, isn't it?)