Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Stages of Faith - Tension

Stages of Faith 2

Concerning practical polytheism, Fowler had this to say from his book stages of faith

Here I use this anthropological term to characterize a pattern of faith and identity that lacks any one center of value and power of sufficient transcendence to focus and order one's life. For the polytheist not even the self - one's myth of one's own worth and destiny-can lay a compelling enough claim to unify one's hopes and strivings. The polytheist has "interests" in many minor centers of value and power. He or she may exhibit the pattern described by Robert J. Lifton's image of the protean man, a personality pattern he found in postwar Japan and in the United States in the sixties. Proteus was a minor sea god in the court of Poseidon who could readily adopt any form or guise he desired, but who found it impossible to maintain any particular identity or commitments. Protean people make a series of relatively intense or total identity and faith plunges, but their commitments prove to be transient and shifting. They thus move from one faith relational triad to another, often with sharp discontinuities and abrupt changes of direction.

page 19

I think the purpose of religion is best thought of as a tension. There are numerous equilibrium points that are easy to fall into. It might be protean polytheism, or diffuse polytheism where nothing ever has much importance. It may be religious fundamentalism or atheistic assurance. It might be a strongly deterministic god or practical agnosticism. In many things, the balancing point between these extremes seems to be unstable. That is not to say many people don't have moderated, nuanced views, only that over time, once we have seen the other side, we tend to become much more sure of our own position. While this doesn't seem like much of a problem, it can be if it limits our ability to move from the comfy coziness of deeply ingrained stability.

Now again, I am not saying stability and stagnation are bad, only that they can be if we confuse entrenchment for progress. In this case what may appear as a fabulous way for discovering the universe may in fact be a fabulous way to discover a tiny part of it. Bursts of activity tend to happen as we rationalize disparate points. It happens when we try and see how one equilibrium position can be connected with another. These connections open up a flood of new possibilities as weightings have to be re-evaluated and the freedom from a background of rigid cognitive subconscious enables novelty. Supposing that such a spark of creativeness is vital for exploring the unseen parts of our environment, we may well ask what should the major focus of revealed religion be?

1. It should enable a complete understanding of our material world through revelation that dictates scientific and technological advancement (ex God reveals to us scientific laws that can help us explore the universe or better our lives. new drugs, new physical laws, etc)

2. It should group people based on their commitment levels, personal preferences, hopes and aspirations. In this way it can unify minor differences creating a common perspective that solves many socially related conflicts, and enables the power behind group action. (ex. there are many different kingdoms of glory where we can work with those who share our way of being, and this life is a sorting process. Revelation provides doctrines that are key for this sorting)

3. It forces a continual re-evaluation of facts, opinions and ideas. While this may prevent the easy attainment of many answers, if our perspective is in fact rather limited, it can keep us from solidifying around absolutes that may be incorrect or valid over a limited domain. (ex facts from mortality, while useful are less important than whatever key may exist for discovering other aspects of our environment. Revelation is about keeping us on track with a long range methodology.)

Obviously many people fault religion because it doesn't provide a type 1 answer (controversial dietary laws aside :). The lack of this type of revelation implies that such advancement is not the primary purpose of religion. (some would argue that God's inspiration provides new ideas, scientific and otherwise, however it doesn't seem like this is the point of revelation. The book of mormon stones, and the ships of Noah, the Jaredites and Nephi aside - and perhaps some temple construction)

Answer 2 seems a popular idea. The earth as a test meme seems quite prevalent. The type 3 answer doesn't seem at all popular. While Atran from In Gods We Trust, seemed to think that religious thought is inherently circular (because it arose out of a hyperactive agent detection routine that feeds back on itself), most people critique religion because it provides a continually moving target. However I wonder if in this critique, we usually don't neglect some of the potential benefits of continual re-evaluation and reformulation. This seems a natural thing to forget when we assume the immediate product always outweighs the process.


Stephen said...

I've been reviewing the AA version of God recently. It is fascinating and well worth the effort.

A practical God indeed.

chris g said...

Not quite sure what you mean by that one. The alcholics anonymous version? While I think taking a closer look at things is always a good idea, I tend to think any position has it's drawbacks. I can imagine some problematic aspects of atheism, just like I can find some problematic aspects of conventional religion. It doesn't mean either is false, only that what one wants out of the process is likely key. Personally I think religion is much more interesting than the doctrine hunting that many imagine it to be. Going through 1 Nephi 13 and the idea of the abonimable church I had an easy time imagining the problem being a focus on strict interpretation and conformation. While one can get their muse from any source, I don't think trading the benefits and problems of religion for the benefits and problems of atheism is automatic solution to things. But then again I find I get a lot out of working through problems. And I think the whole idea of working through things is what Christ was teaching.