Monday, October 15, 2007

Atheism as the metaphysics of experience

The purely logical distinction between absolute and relative is not present in our experiences. That is why any notions of sacred and profane must be seen as conventional constructs, whatever ones particular experiences may indicate. Neither can these concepts, relative and absolute, according to traditional metaphysics, be completely separated from each other, as christian theology have stressed for so long, namely by subjugating mans influence to a higher all-powerful god, relativizing the realness of our experience, aggrandicizing a speculation. This means that the relative is present in the absolute (for example: the relative manifests as endless variation, "endlessness" obviously being an absolute trait, not a relative) and that the absolute can be found in the relative (for example: since the relative is a part of the absolute, or the whole, the one, this part-whole relationship logically connects the absolute to the relative).

So much for logic and metaphysical distinctions. Do we need them to understand atheism? And how do they relate to the immediacy of concrete experience? We can surely see and experience the world in its endless variation, as a heraclitean flow, in its inherent relativity. The relative is today associated with individual choice, freedom, tolerance, while the absolute has become associated with the opposite traits; perfect control, discriminative authority, qualitative optimums, binding necessity.

Contemporary atheism seems to a large extent to be upheld by moral relativism and scientific rationalism. These attitudes, whether combined to form a liberal standpoint of humanist common sense or not, can be effectively aggressive in addressing religious forms in society and thought. Or can they? In its reactive moralism and in its linguistically hygienic praxis respectively these attitudes could be more ineffectual than is generally recognized by the evangelical atheists in question, both in expressing logically the profaneness of fully experienced living and in the core of any honest atheist intentions; to challenge religious thinking, not just religious forms. For example; instead of developing a discourse where God is no longer necessary, as intended, the impulse of scientific rationality in this century have left this idea somewhat outside of its scope, where the God-notion then is continually being re-interpreted as, instead of a unifying principle as in former times, a complementary entity. The idea of this positive enlightenment has taken on the rhetorical structure of a suppressed correlative, maintaining a verbal distinction between religion and science that is only partially an accurate reflection of history. In europe scientific rationalism and christian religiosity were never mutually excluding forces, but co-evolved and depended on each other for ideological support, especially during the birth and growth of an extractive economy in the 17th century, where a radical desacralization of the world was a crucible aim for both parties involved, thus they would at that time rather combat natural philosophy and magic, the institutionalization of alchemy, the egalitarian fringes of protestantism and folkish animism in general than each other. This seems to me to be the background for the suppressing outlook on on faith and beliefs as "superstitions" defining religion rather than as the simple psychological facts they are, relative in essence and phenomenologically universal, useful or not, even worthy of a science (as they are in the psychology of religion, and in the indian devotional science of bhakti). There is nothing wrong with scientific rationalism in itself, it just seems to be an insufficient basis for an active atheism, as natural science is an insufficient basis for evaluating religion. Surrealism tend to anchor exceptional states such as temporary confusion and mad love in lived reality, in the heraclitean flow of vaguenesses, dialectic play and preliminary discoveries. If an issue at all, doctrines is a secondary one. One could hardly defend the irreligiosity of surrealism by adhering to a scientistic dualism of nature and psyche. The spiritual element exists only within the individual psyche, but with the open experimentation of surrealist ingenuity, for example by elaborating the notion of sacredness in direct opposition to monotheistic modes of sacralization, towards enrichening experience rather than directing it (which is what religion does) there begins an experiment to interconnect the spiritual with the material world, and this would have little to do with a world-view of beliefs built on scientific rationalism, where matters are either subjective or objective. Neither would it suffice with the discriminative sensibilities of individual hedonism. (Is not in fact hedonistic atheism an unwittingly christian attitude, where the inherited dualism between creator and creation is maintained on several levels, particularly in merely emphasizing the separation of creator and creature?)

Since we still very much live in a christian society, the very logic of its metaphysical language continues to structure the dialectic of experience, now in the artificial paradise of a consumerist environment. God is no longer Absolute, the necessities we fetter ourselves by are. Ignorance does not save us from absolutes. If we do not notice this in daily living, it is the more visible in periods of crisis, when the stable network of habits and meanings that once sustained us become replaced with a state of affairs more in accordance with the godless theory of a purposeless, neutral, meaningless universe. God never was more than this guarantee for harmony.

So the modern claim: "There are no absolute values!" has a dual answer. No, they are constructed. Yes, they are constructed. Or: Are absolutes quasi-absolutes, were they always?

With Hegel the christian god, an unattainable absensce, incarnated as world spirit while the holy ghost became an active agent in history, which meant that the incomprehensible absolute of the pre-romantics legitimately could be found in the timely world. And it has been searched there ever since, further and further down. "Je cherche l'Or du Temps ..."

This world we live in is all there is, it may not have meaning, as reason tends to demand of it, but as man is not perfectly loyal to reason anyway, we tend to evaluate through other faculties than reason and abstraction, and according to other principles than moral opposite-pairs from another time, another language. Reality is felt as something like a transparent manifestation of sensuality. The void sometimes glimpsed beyond it could be something best not to pay attention to, or it could be a blinding layer of further sensuality, too bright for our present senses, it could be a reflective screen for unconscious desires and fears, as common sense will have it, or it could be something entirely different, or maybe all of these, who knows. It is hardly relevant to have consistent viewpoint. Our inner sense of beauty and meaning never give us certainty, but increased intensities of experience that do not convert us to new values, only deepens our knowledge about and gives concretion to values we already know about, like authenticity, goodness, right, truth. And while our sense of competative ego is taught as a required absolute in today´s society, that make social personality so much of an hindrance in attaining hitherto unknown cognitive situations, personality can reassemble itself from unforeseen directions, as unforeseen unities in the poetry of evaluating sensual rearrangements.

Metaphysics was/is the science of origins. When we were told by religion that god created the world we were merely fed with mythology taken literally, then dressed up as metaphysics. Man´s moral honesty, not science, nor sophistry, eventually did away with the concept of god in this lingustic mess, where mythology could not be discussed as mythology and metaphysics suffered badly under theology until the two now often seem inseparable. Science of today have some cosmological hypotheses that still need to be verified, but replacing a mythological origin with an attitude of common sense is not the issue here. Like the objective world, mans cognitive reality, his experience was never willfully created once and for all at some given point, it is continually being created here and now by ourselves. This reality in its endless or "endless" unfolding is the only spiritual dimension, the only eternity, the sole unimaginable ideal an atheist acknowledges.

Is there a healthy way to utilize beliefs? If so, we will have to recognize that beliefs are not meant to be realistically representing experiences and that they are not always voluntary. So although they are expressed by individuals theyt are not necessarily individual matters. There are many types of beliefs, but let´s stress the psychological aspect and just distinguish passive from active beliefs here. If we only percieve dead nature around us, "dead" as in in some fundamental and important way less living than ourselves, there are plenty of others to act out our beliefs for us if the issue seems irrelevant to us (and they will speak of natural resources rather than dead nature). Those beliefs would be passive, even unconscious. If we on the other hand would value the world as sacred, it is not hard find ways to act this belief out. Beliefs could be born out of necessity and strategical choice rather than as "being true to experiences" (obviously a limited field anyway). Beliefs are motivating, so this could make a difference.

/Niklas Nenzén

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