Thursday, April 02, 2009

Books of possible interest

Worldview and Mind: Religious Thought and Psychological Development, by Eugene Webb (university of Missouri Press; 312 pages; $49.95). Draws on the theories of Karl Kaspers and Jean Piaget in a study of links between religious belief and aggression or intolerance. [ZB: I think prior to focusing on religious belief, a more foundational study should be conducted to understand the relationship between aggression/intolerance and ideological thinking, of which religious belief is a subset.)

Encountering the Secular: Philosophical Endeavors in Religion and Culture, by J. Heath Atchley (University of Virgina Press; 181 pages; $49.50 hardcover, $19.50 paperback). Argues that a dogmatic separation between religion and the secular impedes the experience of what is termed immanent value. [ZB: Such impediment is an achievement of rationalism.]

Both these authors seem to be trading in nonsense (I've only seen the Atchley book). The supposed experience of those who claim to have encountered immanent is a category error, committed when we attribute existence to a reified percept that doesn't have a counterpart in reality. As when we think of god -- immanent entities may seem to exist, but our experience is no proof of their existence. Atchley's argument may be imaginative, but stumbles out of the blocks and is, by the finish, invalid. Immanence is widely thought to describe a number of entities which exist; I'm still waiting for an argument to be made that the term has any meaning at all in relation to ontology.

"Webb argues that authentic religion need not succumb to dogmatism, or support fanaticism, or be consigned to the stages of immature culture." (from the publisher's website.) There are other reasons for identifying religion as the practice of an immature culture, even if Prof. Webb is successful in demonstrating that the critics of religion do not account for the complexity of the institution they are deriding.

Responding to critics of religion, from Sigmund Freud to Daniel Dennett, he demonstrates that religious traditions have more spiritual depth than these critics have granted and a greater potential for development than they believe, along lines they might even favor. His insightful book proposes that, if religious people can step back from their traditions and consider them as partial ways of relating to transcendent ultimacy, the world’s religions might manage to develop a way of living together with mutual appreciation and respect." Sure they can: just adopt publicly accessible rules for mediating mutually exclusive claims for truth, instead of hiding behind a civil but only seeming tolerance. Jesus came to bring the sword, after all, division -- not peace. If religions can't all be correct, let's get to finding out which one is the right one. I have a guess, of course: the one without the imaginary friends. Oh, they all have such friends? Then maybe they're all equally wrong.

Two more grand expeditions, struck out from the humanities camp in a hunting way. They're after tigers, and more: for they'd like to bag the credit for dressing theistic belief in intellectually defensible skins, as well. Unfortunately for their project -- though I don't really think it unfortunate -- is the reality that transcendent entities have not ever been shown to exist, that the world looks as we would expect given the nonexistence of deities.

(I came across these listings in The Chronicle Review, 3/20/09)