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March 2017
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narrow_streets [userpic]

This is a somewhat longer post and I hope it doesn't stress your attention too much. But I really need some good advice, some direction. It has largely to do with getting away from religion, from christianity in specific, and asking myself "what now?". Cut for convenience.

I grew up as a communist atheist, and I more or less maintained this worldview until I got 20 or so. Then came a time when I was shaken and lonely and my life had lost the relative stability it had enjoyed before. I got "softened up", and without real reason I began to explore spirituality. The whole time between 22 and 27 I was pretty much nuts in my thoughts. I developed schizophrenia, and I'm not clear how to think of that. Did my focus on farfetched ideas create the illness, or did my illness make me focus so much on these ideas? I had some strange experiences, or rather, the schizophrenia made me experience life and existence in a strange way. Adding to that was the current tumultous age, I was often scared or at least agitated when I read the news and followed what was going on in the world.

To be brief, as of now I have trouble understanding myself, what I did and why I did what I did. My sister once told me that she could always say why she did what she did in her life. I don't find things that easy. I am able to view myself critically, I can see that I sought an easy way out via religion, and I also see that I was even on the route to bigotry. I never became a real fundie and right wing religious nut, meaning that I refused notions of hell and eternal punishment and that I felt that religion needs to stop short at condemnation. I also always felt uneasy about what the religious right calls speaking out against homosexuality or other things which it considers sin.

What really disturbs me nowadays is how insensitve a person can become in religion. Today I had a long phone talk with the head of the local Salvation Army in my city. The Army is a church I can easily respect. Their mission to help the disadvantaged of society is admirable and, in my view, justifies them more than any proselytizing ever could. Yet, today in the phone talk, I told the man how I had become unsure of my beliefs. I had been reading essays on church history and such, and had become desillusioned. The man was irritated, and began to preach and went on the usual road about how God is holy and cannot allow holiness to be violated and all that. To sum things up, the pretty facade of the Salvation Army as selfless carers about the poor broke. I'm loosing my trust in "good christians". I've been reading an essay last night about how christianity (and most other religions) can be explained via memetics. I also learned that prior to christianity there were "jesus-movements", and these movements were a lot into social reform and had only later on been "religionized". That was the point when I remembered a few other things I had come upon during my studies. For example, in the bible there is an epistle of James. In this epistle, religion as wanted by the father is onle ONE thing, which is to go looking after the widow and the fatherless boy, ie society's poor and disadvantaged and how faith is shown through deeds accomplished in charity. I found it enlightening to read how venerated protestant reformers like Luther called this epistle an epistle of straw, ie a stupid epistle that needn't be followed. Eventually, what I see is that christianity is in fact a sum of the jesus movement, a deep concern about the welfare of man, and the spiritual religion that is more or less only interested in metaphysics, and who couldn't care less about man and the world.

But, where to go now? I have come to a dead end. Things make sense now, stuff like why I was never certain that there is a God, why I often didn't even feel God. I even started to question the times when I was certain that God was near. It seems all like a psychic thing, and to be honest, I feel pretty ridiculous to have gotten so obsessed about religion. Yet, at the same time, I cannot simply be an atheist like other atheists. That is because I have become different in the past years. I have become suspicious of both religion and science, and also of philosophy.

And what is man really? What kind of being is he? Are we noble savages that become corrupted, or are we a ratrace that now and then has lucky moments of inspiration? It is frightening how easy it came to me in my religiously obsessed times to think that all people are evil and nasty. I am frightened about how easily I lost my humour and my ability to feel for others. Becoming a christian didn't make me more loving, it only made me more polite.

All of this was also the reason why I made that other post here some days ago, asking about worldviews. It seems to me now that worldviews are only games. Constructs that are useful to have in discussions but who don't really benefit anyone in the end. The world is pretty much a fighting pit.

I did read some Nietzsche in the past and his philosophy of strength makes much sense now. I mean, what else can make sense with reality being how it is? Of course arrogance isn't always such a good idea if you feel a need for getting affection, but, ironically, arrogance can often gain you as much appreciation as humility, sometimes even more. A humble person is more easily pitied than respected. St. Paul hit it right on the mark when he said that without Christ being God, a christian is to be pitied in his beliefs.

I think I'm going to need something else than religion or a philosophy replacing religion. I will travel more and see if I can get a local romance and other kinds of distraction from life as it really is. I am rather skeptic that I could ever collect enthusiasm for something intellectual again. It's like my batteries are empty. And I still dislike dillydallying, I am still of the oppinion that I have to passionately dedicate myself to something, if I believe it. But it's impossible for me now to dedicate myself to something. I am rather cynical these days. I hope this won't go on forever.

A real problem is the feeling ridiculous because of my past obsessions. I mean, I tried to talk my own friends into believing in the christian dogmas. Now I feel stupid for having tried this. Some years ago I had a friend who wrote poetry against christianity and religion in general. I often laughed about him, back then being an arrogant atheist, thinking of how silly one must be to buy what I considered back then to be the laughable claims of christianity. Now, 8 years later, I see I have bought the meme just the same. And I also wrote, secretly, my share of dark poetry. What I really miss is feeling individual and unique.

Is there philosophy and literature that explores this? I am determined not to dwell on feeling ridiculous. Having lost my formerly gigantic pride is one of the only worthwhile results of all these years.

never complain, never explain

Religion can be defined as that aspect of our outlook, which resists a functional reduction. Nonetheless, one of the key flaws of Christian theology is its motivation by soteriology.
    As a reader of Plato, I have come to regard Nietzsche as a pale epigone of Callicles in the Gorgias, especially at 482c-486d. In a stinging simile, Callicles compares students of philosophy to those who lisp or play tricks (ψελλίζονται καὶ παίζονται). A grown man still going on with philosophy and not getting rid of it, strikes him as ridiculous and unmanly and in need of a whipping (καταγέλαστος καὶ ἄνανδρος καὶ πληγῶν ἄξιος). Socrates makes the definitive rebuttal of Callicles’ hedonistic will to power at 494b-e. He points out that the wanton pleasure-seeker is leading a life akin to that of a catamite (ὁ τῶν κιναίδων βίος). He compares his subjection to desire to the life of a curlew (χαραδριός). This bird of ugly voice and color lives in rocky chasms and clefts, and comes forth only at night. Olympiodorus famously connected this passage with that bird’s habit to excrete while eating.
    Callicles counts among a handful of important foils to the philosopher in virtue of his focus on the root of his preoccupation. In this regard, Nietzsche with his addled sexuality and fatal fixation on whips fares a lot worse than Socrates, standing and dying as a paragon of measured heterosexual accomplishment. But I think that in the interim, Augustine and Rousseau have gotten this much right, that every human life requires an apology. Ultimately, we are likely to find ourselves not only bereft of an external authority for certifying our apologetics, but also unsteady in our own integral standing as its subject. So Galen Strawson has mounted a campaign against the narrative construal of the self. I am thankful for his opposition, but cannot accept his conclusion. In the wake of our betters, the trick is to make our quietus outside of reliance upon a posthumous reckoning and ungrounded in conceits of explanatory adequacy, let alone foundational certainty.

"one of the key flaws of Christian theology is its motivation by soteriology."

As opposed to theories of motivation wherein there are either no consequences or wholly indeterminant consequences of behavior?

as opposed to deontology

As I argued elsewhere, the idea of finality in punishment or reward runs counter to the requirements of agency in the experience of the final reckoning and in its justice.

Unless our volition and its consequences are eternal, and moreover eternally dynamic (and eternally volitional and consequential as such), then every theory of motivation posits finality. That is -- this is the norm, if not (almost) the rule.

As the idea of finality in punishment or reward, soteriology goes far beyond the purview of your argument.

How? What motival system doesn't posit finality in punishment or reward? The only way this would be possible is, as I have said, if volition and its consequences are eternal and eternally dynamic -- an exceedingly rare position.

fiat justitia, ruat cælum

As I said, try deontology:

It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due? Hadn’t he said he wanted only justice?
— Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness

How does deontology escape the problem I've pointed out in your position?

Deontology disregards punishments and rewards in motivating moral action.

What distinction are you drawing between 'punishments and rewards' and 'consequences'?

Consequences need not extend beyond brute events. Punishments and rewards involve passions typically contingent upon an external administration of justice. As a minimum, they depend on divisions in the soul, in the manner set out by Plato and illustrated by Terence and Baudelaire.

But the soteriologist is not bound to adhere to one side of the distinction you have just made. Appropriately, you criticism takes as its object some set of motivational/ethical theories, but not that set which would also be identified as soteriological.

(It struck me after responding that you probably mean (also?) to point to the distinction between consequences/rewards/punishments as motivations for an act, and the act itself as sufficient motivation. In this case I would offer the same reply -- that there is no connection between the former case and soteriology, as would be required for your critique to actually be about soteriology.)

Two points remain undisputed. (I) Because his expectation of justice depends on being proffered the eternity of heaven, no soteriologist can follow the patrician principle, fiat justitia, ruat cælum. (II) Because moral desert depends on freedom of choice, no punishment can be meted out while ruling out all chances of redemption, and no reward can be bestowed while ruling out all perils of perdition. The first observation demonstrates that soteriology excludes deontology, whereby Christian virtue cannot make for its own reward. The second observation demonstrates moral impossibility of Heaven and Hell divinely vouchsafed as morally deserved perpetual destinations. The story of Lucifer turned Satan is instructive in this regard.

repost -- with repaired italics

(I) The soteriologist is not obliged to have any expectation of justice, let alone one depending on "being proffered the eternity of heaven." In fact, soteriology until the Reformation universally rejected as heretical the notion of justice in its entirety, understanding salvation as a gift granted entirely on the basis of mercy or goodness.

(II) "no punishment can be meted out while ruling out all chances of redemption, and no reward can be bestowed while ruling out all perils of perdition" -- you've revisited here the question of finitude, whereas I have already pointed out the finitude is (practically) the rule. Being the rule, we can't possibly distinguish soteriology on the basis of finitude.

"whereby Christian virtue cannot make for its own reward" -- sure it can; ...why not?

repost with correction

... it should be pointed out that I'm arguing the broadest case, that you merely haven't adequately identified your object. There is a more radical argument: that you're completely misidentifying your object. For example, the New Testament has two teachings on charity: (i) charity done with the expectation of reward is not charity, (ii) no act in itself can be charitable; charity is rather in the unity of a freely given act along with freely given/experienced compassion. These describe, explicitly, the exact opposite of what you argue is situated -- in principle -- at the foundation of Christian belief.