Wednesday, May 24, 2006

PC Polytheism

Contrasting Religion and the non-denominational progressive PC movement
Part II

Normally we don't think of the PC movement as a formal religion. While the "faith based" label is getting applied more and more to certain segments, what is the real difference between politically correct progressivism and traditional religion?

In the past I have talked about how zealotism is more defined by what is socially acceptable than by any other standard. I have also mentioned how self referential social sciences recreate scriptural authority by cross referencing and footnoting. I have also postulated that PC faculties have become the new theology departments. I also mentioned how mildly counter intuitive ideas are the ones get the most play on both sides. However, these, and all the other conclusions I have reached all seem superficial. After all, there are numerous differences between PC religion and traditional religion: no god like authority, no infallibility, no divine beings, no supernaturalism, no ultimate moral judgments, no divine repercussions, etc One could say that this means the PC'er has just become their own god, however that just doesn't seem overly accurate. There is most definitely a group movement that has occurred and is continuing to occur. Whether it is happening because of a group shift to new implicit assumptions, or whether it is occurring from overt strategies to change the status quo, one is probably correct in saying a new cultural religion is emerging. This movement, like another is most likely a combination of progressives and late adopters. But while it has the feel of a religion, it lacks many of the defining characteristics that define such, and provide such a source of derision.

I would postulate that the only difference is that this new religion has moved from physical polytheism to abstract polytheism.

Traditional religions are usually physically polytheistic. They believe in divine beings. These divine beings are counter intuitive in the way they supersede normal physical laws. Even strongly trinitarian religions end up physically polytheistic in practice - was Christ fully God in every sense? The counterintuitive, and hence unpopular aspects of religion revolve around the physical. The new progressive religious movements of today are physically coherent, but abstractly counterintuitive. Idealism may be successful in a rationalized system, but in practice it is usually slightly off. Obviously this new religious movement in not abstractly monotheistic. There is not one single "idea" or god around which it is unifying. Instead it has numerous different "divine" like "ideas". Each one allows the followers to pick and chose aspects that are most appealing while maintaining a sense of unity. Thus a large segment of the population is moving from physical religion to abstract religion - from a religion about beings, and concrete actions, to a religion about ideas and what thoughts are appropriate. When analyzing this idea, one should really take a book like Atran's, Boyle's or Dennet's and see if the religious critiques about physical counter-intuitiveness apply to the new abstract counter-intuitiveness. My guess is one would be surprised at the parallels.

Critically orthodox

Contrasting Religion and the non-denominational progressive PC movement

This week at school we had a good inservice with one of the leaders of critical thinking in education. While she wasn't overly impressed with the small town charms of a religious community, after the presentation, and an exciting day guiding begginers down high water rivers I started thinking about the similarities and differences between traditional LDS theology and socially progressive guerilla religions . Specifically there was some hypocrisy in how critical thinkers are supposed to remove prejudices as they analyze other points of view from within the context and assumptions in which they are created. (I think the instructor thought since this was a religious town there was no way anyone was ever going to come close to any critical thinking skills - at best techniques would be applied haphazardly in non-significant ways) Obviously removing prejudices is functionally impossible - most are after all implicitly based. However limiting prejudices and minimizing assumptive conclusions certainly isn't impossible. If this is the case, why do few people who are not religious fail to analyze religion with this in mind - ie from a perspective of generous orthodoxy?

I think the main reason is many critically educated people have come to reject religion as a tumor - superficially innocuous, but fundamentally destructive. They see extreme conclusions and assume the system is rationalized for such ends. Because of this, they may also reject anything with a tinge of religion, especially when it is formalized. In effect, religion has, ironically enough, become a cardinal sin. Anything associated with it is heretical, and anything springing from a font of heresy need not be taken on its own ground. Instead the effort to analyze and confront such ideas may be seen as a waste of time. While individual ideas may sometimes be of worth, the extent to which they are corrupted means it is better to toss them out wholesale rather than waste time confronting them with little chance of success. In terms of cultural change, revolution is the solution, not change from within.

However this strikes me as avoiding the whole issue of religion. Certainly it is easier to start with a clean slate and then think critically, but this denies the power of the whole concept. I will admit that most standoffishness in this regard may just be due to the fact the two sides talk past each other, and socratic dialog is limited by perceptions of fundamentalism. In effect, the whole concept of critical thinking fails to engage religion because of the effort required in anything other than academic debates. In day to day situations it seems like traditional tools like sin, heresy, orthodoxy, and social pressure seem to be the most efficient in day to day situations. Of course they are labeled differently today, and due to rapid socially change haven't acquired the connotations and bagger of the former. However PC tools seem the same, although they appear less benign. Perhaps this is due to a polytheistic approach where deities are replaced by ideas.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


There have been few posts lately as the rivers come up and waterfalls seek my attention. However, I was given a copy of 1421 about how the Chinese likely mapped most of the world during this exploratory phase. I must say the whole idea has been fascinating on many levels.

One, it is amazing how supposedly concrete ideas can get turned over quite quickly. I think a lot of historians or archeologists are quite conservative in how they are taking these new ideas. Second, it is interesting to see how some of the rather fanciful phrases of explores can actually be taken quite literally. Obviously not everything is literal, but tales of some of the rich cities and such seem more plausible with Chinese colonization in North or South America.

Second, I think people often overlook how prevalent ocean going exploring is. I think the test of the reed boat that sailed from Africa to Brazil? exemplifies this thinking.

Third, I really get a kick how the lay public has brought to light so much information that conservative or reactionary academics are readily out of step with things that seem obvious. Of course academics have a right to be skeptical, after all they are trained not to jump to conclusions. However, the amount of new information that can be gleamed from a few such jumps (Like Menzies did) is pretty remarkable. I don't think scientific plodding would have stumbled upon this for quite some time.

All in all, in certainly puts a new spin in some of the things I will be looking at the next time I go through the book of mormon. Not that I imagine 1421 exploration having a part in the narrative, only that there are lots of possibilities that some may discredit, but may turn out to be quite reasonable later on. It is a fascinating read, especially if you like the idea of unexplored civilizations.