Friday, February 09, 2018

The Dangerous Simplification of Love Without God, or A God That Is Only Love

“As God has renounced himself out of love, so we, out of love, should renounce God; for if we do not sacrifice God to love, we sacrifice love to God, and in spite of the predicate of love, we have the God – the evil being – of religious fanaticism.”
-- Ludwig Feuerbach from The Essence of Christianity

This is the beginning of the emptying of the concept of love. Feuerbach had a huge impact on Marx, but also on secular humanism and on certain strains of theology and religion.

I can understand why Feuerbach and others might think this in necessary and a good thing, but I feel that it is short sighted. Doing this can make ecumenical work easier and it would seem to work well at trying to unite humanity. However, it makes both God and love simple and superficial. Whether you sacrifice God and keep only love, or empty God of everything but love, you are making the thing that sits at the center of your existence, your world, simple and superficial. This is binary thinking that insists that when two things are not totally compatible, one must be given up, allowing for the other to take up the space previously occupied by the two. This is simplistic thinking and leads to simplistic ideas, and on this level to simplistic ideals.

'The evil being of religious fanaticism' is of course a problem. But it comes from the simplification of God as well. A fanaticism that hates is the exact opposite of a God that is only love or love without a God: it is a simplification and superficiality in the other direction. It is a God that does not like complexity and any sort of incompatibility and reacts by hating whatever introduces complexity and incompatibility. The reality of God and of love lie in the complexity of them, in the multiplicity, juxtapositions and even contradictions of the ways that those ideas are thought, expressed and felt together in tradition, art, theology, history, etc.

The self-renunciation referred to here is almost without a doubt the crucifixion. Reducing the Judeo-Christian God to that one event is a gross simplification. Reducing that event to one meaning makes it even worse. The story, the history, the theology and the tradition behind the crucifixion and the Judeo-Christian as a whole God is far more complex and deep than that, with layers of meaning and interpretation. These allow for new experience and interpretation of both the idea of God and of love.

Just as the existence of faith necessitates at least the possibility, and usually the occasional existence, of doubt, the existence of something as powerful as love or God, something that occupies the center of your world, requires complexity and depth to be real; it requires complexity to mean anything when it finds itself in the real world. The complex histories, traditions, theology and struggles of the major world religions are a testament to this. Religion (or anything really) needs to be dynamic to be relevant in the world, which itself is very complex and dynamic.

Stripping God of everything but love makes God a simpleton, a caricature of what God has to be to be real and relate to the real world. Placing love at the center of a world without a tradition of thought, stories or art to help define it is one step away from leaving that center empty. Neither are practical, but both are currently very popular. I can't help but think that has more than a little to do with the futility and animosity that fills our public discourse.  

A (more modern) philosophical aside:

It is interesting for me to compare what this simplification does to God and love to what Heidegger says technology does to truth.

"The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already afflicted man in his essence. The rule of enframing [a strict and seemingly permanent ordering of things] threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth."
-- Martin Heidegger from The Question Concerning Technology.

This can be applied to the idea of simplification of God and love like this:

The threat of religion does not come from a God that is not left behind in favor of pure love and the fanaticism that may come from that. The real threat has already taken hold because man looks to religion for a simple, universal and eternal answer to the question of the meaning of life. This insistence that the meaning of life, or just the rule that we must live life by, must be simple and at the same time applicable at all times and in all places, keeps us from encountering reality and our own experiences as they are and learning from them and acting from a closer relation to and more intimate understanding of them. That the rule is simple and universal keeps us from reality, which is ever changing, in a twofold sense: first, it keeps us from seeing the world directly without the simple and universal filter shaping it and the filter, being eternal and universal as well as simple, cannot accommodate or adapt to those changes; second, it keeps us from responding to the world as it is and limits what we can imagine as possible responses based on the simplicity of the rule that cannot accommodate the complexity and every changing nature of the world. In other words, we cannot experience what we encounter, nor can we react to it, in a close and original way because the simple and universal filter gets in the way.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

When The True World Merges With The Apparent One

Nietzsche says that we have destroyed the true world (the truth of the world that lies beyond what we see everyday) through our obsession with trying to ground it objectively and empirically.
What we would seem to have left is the world the way it appears to us, the apparent world.

However, again according to Nietzsche, we have made that disappear as we destroyed the true world. Basically, without the ideals and categories of the true world, the world as it appears is simply chaos and incomprehensible.

But we have done something a bit different. (This is a bit like how capitalism has avoided its inevitable fate as prescribed by Marx.) We gave conflated the apparent with the true. 
The true is now the apparent, but we fail to see how what appears is shaped by the ideal and we don't inquire into it at all in any depth.
We have simplified our ideas and as a result the world, both true and apparent. But we are so confident and otherwise occupied we don't see the incongruences between the two.

In the end, When The true world merges with the apparent one, we have no world. We have nothing but chaos and confusion.

The inspiring quote:

"The true world — we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one."
--Nietzsche from How The "True World" Finally Became a Fable, a chapter in Twilight Of The Idols

Your Evil Enemy Makes You Ignoble

"What great reverence for his enemies a noble human being has! ... he can stand no other enemy than one in whom there is nothing to hold in contempt and a very great deal to honor! On the other hand imagine the 'enemy' as the human being of resentment conceives of him... 'the evil enemy,' 'the evil one.'"
Friedrich Nietzsche from On the Genealogy of Morality

This is something we should keep in mind while reading, commenting and thinking about things online.

The evil enemy comes out of resentment and simplification. It says as much, if not more, about the person labeling the evil enemy as it does about the enemy. It says the one who is labeling is resentful and full of simplifications and even simple thinking. In short, they are not noble. They make themselves ignoble, or at least questionable, by making an evil enemy.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Devil We Create

The devil doesn't exist on his own, in and of himself. Someone opposed to the Devil is always the one who creates him, and he is always a myth. We call people the devil when they have some advantage over us-- cunning, power, amorality, ignorance-- that we don't care to inquire about, identify and understand. We create the devil when we give up and just blame them for winning without understanding, in a meaningful way, how they did it. To put it bluntly, our laziness is what creates the devil.

The Foundation of Democracy

People keep talking about the foundations of democracy, things like the press, freedom of speech, freedom, tolerance, etc. Yes, all of these things are important. However, I think what is more important than all of them is the existence of a community. Community is something that binds the people together despite disagreements and difficulties. Community is not voluntary; that is a change in the meaning of the term that has come about primarily in the age of technology. (Thinkers like Neil Postman and Zygmunt Bauma have made this point quite well.) The older idea of community means being stuck among people that you may disagree with but working it out because there is something else that binds you. It is more like family, like blood, than like free association. Community, requires compromise and identity. Compromise that allows the community to stay together through disagreements, and identity allows them to feel part of that community in their everyday life and personal experience.

All of the freedoms people usually talk about as being the foundation of democracy only tear the community apart unless the community is stronger than the individual's desire to exercise those freedoms and unless the responsibility (and it is really a responsibility to the community as a whole-- not necessarily to ideals or values) that comes with them is taken as seriously as the freedom itself. Tolerance taken to an extreme is damaging to the community as well because it can dilute identity to the point of making it meaningless. Intolerance damages the community by excluding members of the community instead of compromising with them and including them. Being over tolerant can lead to an identity that is connected only to abstract ideals that have no connection to a person's sense of self or their everyday life. That kind of identity is empty and useless.

The binding principle used to be that of a nation; that is why the rise of the nation-state and the rise of democracy coincide in modern history. But as the idea of the nation weakens, what will replace it as a binding principle?

In the US it was based mostly on belief in the political system. (I usually say that you can see what binds a people based on who and what they put on their currency.) That is why political division that erodes faith in the institutions is so troubling. In any case, that binding principle-- I like to think of it as a sense of community, or maybe family-- is the deeper foundation for democracy, deeper than all the rights, freedoms and values that people prattle on about. If that is lost, all these other things are unsustainable and maybe even dangerous.

Though people love to talk about freedom of the press (especially the press) and access to information (especially those providing us with information and technology) and their importance to democracy, neither of those is more important than a sense of community when it comes to sustaining a democracy. In fact, both of them can be quite dangerous to democracy when they erode or directly threaten community.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Ideals In Difficult Times

"All these questions remain obscure and difficult and we must neither conceal them from ourselves nor, for a moment, imagine ourselves to have mastered them. It is a question of knowing how to transform and improve the law, and of knowing if this improvement is possible within an historical space which takes place between the Law of an unconditional hospitality, offered a priori to every other, to all newcomers, whoever they may be, and the conditional laws of a right to hospitality, without which The unconditional Law of hospitality would be in danger of remaining a pious and irresponsible desire, without form and without potency, and of even being perverted at any moment.
"Experience and experimentation thus." 
-- Jacques Derrida from On Cosmopolitanism
Derrida's deconstruction broke down the authority of ideas and tradition. The unconditional law, in this case the law of hospitality, can no longer be taken as unchallengeable and authoritative as if it were a transcendent Truth; it is simply something we have created. However, it is something that we have created and sustained. It is part of our tradition and is deeply rooted. It is a positive tradition that we see value in, believe in and wish to carry forward. This does not mean that it is practical or even sustainable in reality. Since it is our creation, we need to remember that their is no guarantee that it is practical, realistic or sustainable. We must 'experiment and experience thus' to see how practical, realistic and sustainable it is "within an historical space." All of our ideals, our core values, are traditions and ideas and could be put in the place that hospitality is put in here; they can be seen as unconditional laws.
I would add that it is reckless and foolish in difficult times to cling to and insists on the unconditional law, the ideal, as if it can save us and fix our problems. When the ideals are tested, it is time to-- among other things-- reassess how they have been implemented and how that contributed to creating the present situation that is testing them. This may change the ideal by reinterpreting it and strengthening or weakening it. It will definitely change how it is implemented. But these should happen through assessment of the historical situation, not through a bind and stubborn insistence on the absolute value and authority of the ideal. It must be practical but shaped by the ideal. For it to be radically idealistic in the face of practical and historical problems is dangerous and irresponsible. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Danger of Forgetting Context and History: The Polarizing Affect of Tweets and Memes

Memes and tweets are some of the worst when it comes to disregarding context and history. Without context and history there is no meaning and significance; even facts have no meaning without context and history. The more complex a problem, the more the context and the history need to be examined to find not only a solution but the meaning and significance of the problem itself.

But we address important issues in tweets and memes (and even sarcastic remarks made by comedians, which are often considered wisdom these days).

Memes and tweets by their nature avoid context and history. (Or they imply one that is unconsciously assumed by some but is not necessarily shared by others. The difference in they way that these different people understand the meme or tweet is never really examined seriously, and the difference goes unexplained aside from accusations of irrationality or lies which just deepen divisions amd differences.) Persuasion or debate by Tweet and Meme is by and large appealing to emotion and superficiality. They make us slaves to our emotions and knee-jerk reactions. As long as we try to carry out discussions in this environment, nothing will get done except maybe the further polarization of society.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Love Is the Origin of Hate, Not Hate

The idea that 'hate breeds hate' is a superficial meaningless slogan that covers up much more than it expresses. Hate comes not from hate but from love. We love something and want to be with it or near it, and we hate what keeps us from it. We love something, and we want others to love it as well; we hate when they deny it. We love something and fear for its safety, and we hate what threatens it.

An emotion as strong as hate, in my opinion, could only come from a stronger emotion: love. This may only make sense to me because I refuse to believe that we are so perverse that we hate with more intensity than we can love, or that we hate in order to love. But who dares to say that we can hate more than we love and that we hate for the sake of hate or that we hate in order to love? I guess those that see humanity as a vile at its core and a despicable thing, or those that choose to see only the negative in those that hate, would disagree. 

And if they hate people or hate people that hate, what do I propose that they love? What love is the origin of that hate? They love the abstract ideal of what people are supposed to be and not what they actually are. They love an abstract ideal that can never be realized, and they hate what falls short of their ideal or shows that it is unrealistic.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

From Blaming to Conspiracies

Blaming usually doesn't fix anything, well aside from making those laying blame feel better.

This is especially the case when the original problem is the result of an incongruence between ideas and things. In other words, when it is the result of the map not lining up well with the terrain when the map is mistaken for the terrain. Here blame uses individuals as a scapegoats while protecting a system of thought and ideals that needs to be revised.

When the need for the revision of a system is continuously ignored, the blind spots that come with the system get larger. Larger blind spots that go unexamined lead to the need for more unfounded blame to be assigned, more scapegoating.

At a certain point, conspiracy theories become very attractive and useful. They create a whole system of power and collusion that try to blame, explain and scapegoat. All of this just to avoid an honest evaluation and revision of a certain system of thought and ideals.