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.


Clark Goble said...

Of course many if not most religions don't imply that there is infallibility within the religion. That is they are open to the idea that the religion sees through a dark glass. So I don't think one could see that as a difference. Admittedly many religions end up claiming various dogmas are de facto infallible. But I think there is typically much more acknowledgement of fallibilism than many appreciate.

And, by the same reasoning, there are plenty of de facto unquestionable dogmas in secular thought. So this is a difference without a practical difference.

chris g said...

Yes, I included it because many people from the outside assume this (access to divine guidance). I don't think infallibility is an inherit characteristic of religion. The most significant factor is what people do with the institutions or things they have. That is why critiques about religion usually ring hollow. They remove responsiblilty from an individual and put it on an institution. No wonder people are so anti-establishment. They have projectected everything bad onto something concrete so as to consciously or unconsciouly minimize their responsibility.

chris g said...

Quibbles aside, I wonder if it really is valid to conisder some of the social movements of the day religions with ideas functioning as gods instead of divine beings or spirits functioning as such?

After all the label war is being won as we speak. It proved itself a very powerful tool in the 90's. I wonder how long one can go before having to confront things within the selected context.

Clark Goble said...

I think that's a good observation. We (meaning people in general) seek to avoid responsiblity. Responsibility to be responsibility always entails risk. And we tend to be risk adversive. Those who aren't tend to relish the risk but do so by avoiding thinking about consequences. (i.e. some of the thrill seekers in extreme sports) So they are really avoiding risk even as they seek it.

The common feature of people in both religion and what you categorize as "PC movements" is this attempt to flee responsibility. I'd note that within both groups there are those who don't do this.

chris g said...

Good point on the risk. I suspect a lot of people that reject the status quo because they are "critical thinkers" end up recreating biases or institutions similar to those they reject. I think Fowler's stages of faith book gives an interesting take on this. It was actually much better than the talk over at Dehlin's blog led one to beleive. Not nearly so narrow minded and stage 4 centered. That seems to be just a case of overly strong projection. Normally I don't enjoy stage theories too much, but this seemed to combine them nicely. I will have to put up some more of my comments some time. I think examples people use for stage 6 are more value laden than actually descriptive. However I will save the comments for later.