What’s up with reductionism? While reviewing the chapter on Marx in Pals it hit me: it seems to me that few would have any problems with a doctor analyzing your symptoms and finding that the root of the problem is something quite different from your symptoms. So if folks are unhappy with the positions Freud, Durkheim and Marx put forward is it the fault of the reductionism mostly? Only?
Archive for September, 2008
I got a new book out of the library. It’s by Chris Hedges and it’s entitled I Don’t Believe in Atheists. I don’t know exactly what Hedges is implying with his title so I look forward to discovering it as I go along.
For me, given all the genuine Christian fundamentalism in the US and the “in your face”, cultural and political evangelical Christianism, or what one might call American religious Fascism, it’s been surprising to witness the renaissance of Atheism. Not to get too Hegelian, but I think these swings are good things. My own sense is that, globally speaking, religion has been on a not so good run lately. C’mon people! Did we really need Al Qaeda? We’ve even had the return of the evolution wars at school board meetings and in the courts.
At any rate, Hedges starts off with an overview of the past few years’ of godtalk and anti-godtalk in the media. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the philosopher Daniel Dennett, have written books attacking religious belief. Hedges thinks some of the criticisms have been screeds; others have been thoughtful.
He criticizes Hitchens and Harris for their unfair, crude, and intolerant remarks. About Harris’ book (Letter to a Christian Nation), Hedges writes that Harris’
facile attack on a form of religious belief we all hate, his childish simplicity and ignorance of world affairs, as well as his demonization of Muslims, made the book tedious, at its best, and often idiotic and racist. (2)
I watched the CSPAN debate between Harris and Reza Aslan in 2007. I heartily recommend watching the debate on Reason and Religion. (This is just a small clip. Check out the rest on You Tube.) As for Hedges, I’ll have to keep reading to find out where he’s going.
One of the interesting things about convent life is orderliness of it. One aspect of this is the amount of “control” there is in the house. I don’t mean cult-like control. Just the really tight ship management of the household. There’s not a smigden of chaos in this place – probably not even in the sisters internally!
Some notes are left on a bulletin board near the front door. But others are left on the floor. They let you know who is out. This is for safety, too, I suppose. But there’s never any guessing. There’s no, “I wonder where Sister X is?” There are notes that are “pre-made” not necessarily written just for that day.
When the sister comes back in, she picks the sign up and puts it back in an envelope on the bulletin board.
I faced a minor coffee crisis Wednesday. I thought I had another half pound of Peet’s coffee in the convent’s freezer. But alas! It was Peet’s but it was Decaf Mocha Java! Eeek! So on my way to campus Wednesday, I stopped by the Peet’s on West Portal. Lo and behold! One of my students was working there. He’d told me earlier that he’d read in the blog about my being a fan of Peet’s coffee. But I didn’t expect to see him behind the counter at this Peet’s.
I’ve got a routine now. On Fridays I head over to my local Peet’s (San Jose/Union&Camden) for the second cup-o-the day. This last Friday I ordered a triple shot. (Don’t ask, don’t tell) And, oh darn! Just had to have a lemon curd goodie with it. Those little gems are really overly sweet, but since I don’t sugar my coffee the balance was perfect. And yes, that espresso was super strong. Ouch! Yum!
James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture III – The Reality of the Unseen
This Lecture is incredibly rich! And I mean that in the good sense of the word. The letters and comments that James quotes vividly describe various kinds of religious (or quasi-religious) experiences. Part of James’ point is that humans do behave in ways which indicate that people believe in the reality of the unseen. In other words, this is a genuine phenomenon James discusses. What’s brilliant about the Lecture, from my point of view, is the way James weaves actual philosophical views (Kant and Plato, for instance) in the mix. One of the significant things James does through this Lecture is to broaden the scope of discourse on this topic. The philosophical “problem” of the reality of the unseen is not only a problem with religious believers, as Freud would suggest. Rather, there seems to be a common tendency to posit some reality to the unseen. One of the conclusions we arrive at from James’ work is that science would have to be “guilty” of this belief in the unseen just as much as the religious person is.
If we accept this premise, namely, that whether true or not, the general run of humanity acknowledges an “unseen order” to the cosmos, then the criticism of religious belief merely on the grounds of belief in the unseen order loses its punch. Although James we know that by the end of Varieties James has had his thumb on the scales, he generally has a more open and inquisitive outlook with respect to examining religious experience. I’m not sure what Phillips has said about James. I would imagine that in some respects DZ would praise James’ contemplative impulses.
This past week was the Feast of the Stigmata, the day Francis received on his feet and hands the marks of Christ’s crucifixion. Things were, therefore, a little bit different in the convent. Most noticeable was the beautiful singing of chant or plainsong during many of the services. I tried my best to keep up. I didn’t manage to throw anyone off with my croaking. I did sing softly enough to sing with them and not an octave below! This alone was quite a feat since they place the pitch rather high. Special icons were brought out that illustrated the seraph Francis is said to have encountered. And there was a lovely bouquet of flowers placed in the statuary Francis’ hands. Very dear. I meant to take a photo of it but there was always someone around when I had my Blackberry Pearl with me. (I’d actually love to get photos of the sisters. I wonder if that’s OK?)
Here’s this week’s installment of how you know you’re living in a convent!
1. When you feel over-dressed because everyone else is wearing sandals.
2. When you take an active interest in how to reflect the Feast of the Stigmata in the next evening’s dinner. (My contribution was to suggest we have something “Italian”, which one of the sisters did by putting lots of oregano in the casserole. The prize has to go to Sister E who made tapioca for dessert. It had cranberries and bittersweet chocolate nibs. The cranberries – red for the Stigmata – and the chocolate for the “bittersweetness” of Francis’ experience. Yep, definitely living in a convent!)
3. When you actually feel a little pride in being able to sing along, not with a Motown classic on the radio, but while people are chanting.
4. When you are summoned to meals by the ringing of a little bell.
5. When you finally stop offering to help clean up after meals because everyone else has already jumped into “nun” mode: they each have a role which they execute with absolutely unearthly efficiency!
6. When you ask your students a question in class and noticing that it could be answered with a salacious remark, you append the question with “Keep it clean!”
7. When you’ve parked in front of the convent, getting your stuff out of the trunk of your car, and have a Zip-Lock baggie with a pound cake loaf in it, and a Black guy in his car rolls down the window and calls out, “Hey sister! I know you don’t need that cake!” and you’re confused for a moment as you think: “Am I really beginning to look like a nun or is he just calling me “sister” because I’m Black?”
I purchased a book from the Graduate Theological Union‘s (now defunct) bookstore during the summer. It’s Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone by Susan Pitchford. (Morehouse Publishing:2006) It dawned on me that it might be fun to read the book during this semester that I’m residing with the Franciscans. I know: duh!
The book has sixteen chapters. One for each week of school. How convenient. It’s already week four, going on to week five so I have some catching up to do. I’ve read the Preface and chapters 1 and 2, “Why Follow Francis?” and “Holy Eucharist: The Passion of Our God”.
The author is a senior lecturer in sociology at the Univ. of Washington in Seattle. She’s a member of the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis. She’s an Episcopalian, as I am. I’m not sure what the relationship is between the SSF (Society of St. Francis) and the Community of St. Francis (CSF), which is where I’m living during the school week.
I started the book last week, a week before the Feast of the Stigmata, on September 17. I consider myself equal parts Franciscan and Benedictine, that is, I have a fun-loving, get-down-in-the-trenches sort of spirituality as well as a scholarly, reflective, and solitary bent. I could relate to Pitchford’s comments about the “romantic” and “passionate” Francis. There is definitely an exhuberance about him and his movement. I didn’t realize the Feast of the Stigmata was this week, though. Hearing the readings from Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so full of images of following Christ, being single-minded in desiring to follow Christ, all really impressed me. I hadn’t thought about Francis’ single-mindedness much. But if you think about it, all the saints have this trait. We “normal” folk are fairly scattered in our desires and wants. Our attention fleets from one “love” to the next. I remember DZ Phillips shaking his head in wonder as we would think nothing of saying that “we loved” a particular kind of salsa or beer or what have you. The California penchant, well, southern Californian penchant for hyberbole always startled him.
Pitchford says that what finally drew her to Francis (and Franciscan spirituality) was the view of Francis the romantic. She does a good job describing the passion that’s involved here in both its senses.
Francis understood that the God who is love (I John 4:8) is also a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), and he spent his life being consumed by that love. Yet Francis understood passion in both its senses: his love wasn’t just a rush of intense feelings, the spiritual joyride that is the goal of those we used to call “bliss ninnies.” Francis’ passion embraced the Cross along with the Crucified: he longed and prayed to share in Christ’s suffering, a prayer that was generously answered.
Well, I’ll say so! I frankly had never given much thought to the stigmata. I don’t know if the sisters accept it as something that was very real (they’ve given every indication that they do) and not just something “symbolic”. The readings we had for the the Daily Offices emphasized this “passion seeking” nature in Francis, i.e., the suffering-seeking nature.
This all probably sounds a bit creepy to the uninitiated. I certainly am no fan of the “dark” side of religious repression. I still have a hard time with certain feasts, especially Christ the King. I don’t mind talk of sacrifice, but good grief! It is such a downer! I’m showing my immaturity, perhaps. After all, there is the Incarnation but there’s also Calvary. I want to skip the “bad” part and go straight to Easter! Who wouldn’t?
I know I should finish the James post. But I’m off to go get some Peet’s coffee.
I am running a slight coffee deficit. The Sisters drink Folgers or Safeway’s best. I did bring some Peet’s Las Hermanas (cute, huh? It’s “the sisters” in Spanish), which I make early Thursday before I head out to school. But even though I worked a little Wednesday at a small cafe a block away from the convent, it’s not quite the same as camping out in one’s own, local Peet’s. Starbucks? Never. (Well, if I were desperate, yes, but only an Americano since Starbucks coffee is over-roasted in my not so humble opinion.)
I own lots of fountain pens and I enjoy using them. So Moleskines, not digital bytes, are what I usually take to Peets.
I’ll read and revise my James post while sipping some delicious coffee made with a French press.
Week three is past. The two sisters who were away in Australia (or New Zealand) came back Wednesday afternoon. The stories were wonderful. Lots of snakes, weird birds, fun, tons of rain (it’s winter over there). I walked around the neighborhood a bit. There’s a great little grocery store a block away. I’ll take a photo of it next week and post it. Strauss organic ice cream – yum! All the delicious chocolates you could want. A place to visit and look, not purchase and eat!
Speaking of eating, convent food is…um, interesting. They are masters at consuming leftovers. Honestly, they put the rest of us to shame. Lunch is basically the leftovers from several meals. It leads to some “creative” (shall we say) combinations.
I’m more accustomed to some of the rituals and traditions of the house, but even so, it’s always very clear to me that I’m in a “convent” and not a hotel or just hanging out with friends. Anyway, here’s this week’s top ways to know you’re living in a convent.
1. When you’re greeted at the door with the announcement that evening prayer will be at 5:30 instead of 6:30pm.
2. When it’s 5:49am and you’re taken the fastest shower you’ve ever had in your life.
3. When you feel something tickling your arm, see that it’s an ant, and your immediate impulse is to flick it off not kill it. (This especially indicates that you’re living in a Franciscan convent!)
4. When someone has just gotten off a 14? 18 hour? flight from Australia and that person is on tap to prepare dinner for the community in 2 hours — and does it cheerfully. (Yes, the meal was delicious.)
5. When it’s 6:28am and you’re rushing to get downstairs because you’re almost LATE for prayer.
6. When you’re changing the linens on your bed and wish you’d paid more attention to your grandmother when she showed you how to make hospital corners with the sheets.
7. When it’s 7:30am and still during the great silence, and you’re about to leave the house until next week, and someone bows to you instead of saying goodbye.
James’ Lectures present a survey of kinds of approaches to the study of religious phenomena . The text includes lots of reports to James of individuals’ religious experiences. Lectures I and II are key in that they tell us what the lectures are not about and why certain approaches will be dismissed.
Medical materialism, the view that all behaviors have a material (i.e., physical) explanation is rejected as a sole source of investigation. James does not deny that some religious figures may have suffered from and been influenced by their clinical disorders (e.g., epilepsy). But he rejects the notion that looking solely at the origins of religious behavior can tell us much if anything. rather, James thinks we should judge by (a) our own subjective response to the person or episode, (b) its reasonableness, and (c) its moral helpfulness. In other words, he takes a completely pragmatic view here.
Interesting how Freud and James both acknowledge a subjective role for their investigations.
My question still is this: How do we tell the difference between what is a religious experience and what isn’t? The origins are different and James wants us to disregard it anyway. The telltale signs or feel of a religious experience doesn’t seem always accurate. I suppose the trick is in James’ definition. One has to know that what one is relating to is the divine. But is that always the case?