File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0106, message 45

Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2001 14:40:35 +0100
Subject: Re: Tantalizing times - arguing for atheism....

Eric and all

I believe that what you are describing is the result of the crisis of the
grand-narrative, the great story of the dominant religions, which is so much
a part of the Lyotard lists discourse. The supposed crisis in religion is in
fact the 'death', or perhaps more accurately the proliferation of many
micro-discourses, from dominant theisms to multiple trivial local ones.

The arguments for the ongoing necessity of religion, understood here as
being for a pro-'theistic' position, for the necessity for theism in some
form or other.  I would regard the 'spiritual' without a supporting 'theism'
as being a debased form of theism.

some propositions...

Proposition 1. That Lyotard failed to attack the problem of the decaying
meta-narrative known as 'thesim' (i.e. the belief in religion). That the
meta-narrative that is collapsing which you email refers to is 'theism'.
Hence the disintergration into a plethora of debased theisms
(spiritualisms), encapsulated in the belief in the necessity for

Proposition 2. The case for atheism, understood as the rejection of the
independent existence of a personal creator of the universe. That is the
case for the anti-meta-narrative that we undestand as 'theisms'. In this
light atheism stands as the discursive strategy that critiques the
grand-narrative(s) of religion.

There is a necessity to understand religion as a metaphyiscal concerns,
there is a very close connection between religion, especially theistic
religion and metaphysics.. The metaphysical issues are the familiar ones of
time, necessity, ontology, teleology and causation.

Proposition 3. That the meta-narrative of theism imply some form of
causation and ultimate purpose to the universe - theistic explanantions
enable the anthropic principle to be applied to the universe. This is a
telological principle, in that it suggests that life, human life in
'theisms', is part of the design and purpose of the universe.

Propisition 4. That all religious perspectives founded on 'theism' do not
contain a justification for the existence of moral values. Either morality
exists because of god or it does not. A post-modern perspective proposes
that this is a human construction and as such is a meta-narrative in the
same way marxism or fascism are. Unfortunately because of their age theistic
perspectives have killed more people.

Propisition 5. Prior to mass consumptive society, the masses could
effectively only understand their existences through relationships to -
priests (theism), rulers (jurisprudence) and warriors (force), in a
contemporary mass consumptive society these are consumable items just as a
can of coca-cola is.

Atheism is of course the counter-vailing post-modern discourse, the endless
critique and refutation of all theisms, not founded on some form of
supra-rational discourse but on a proliferation of modernist and
post-modernist understandings on the marginality of humanity in the scheme
of things.



Mary Murphy&Salstrand wrote:

> The Greeks and Romans told two stories about Tantalus.  In one of them,
> water and luscious trees surround him. When he is thirsty and attempts
> to get a drink, the waters recede. When he is hungry and attempts to
> pluck a piece of fruit, the branches always remain out of reach.
> The other story tells of a rocky precipice constantly hanging over
> Tantalus' head. It threatens to topple at any time and crush him to
> death.
> Taken together, these stories seem to echo some of anxieties attendant
> to the current myths of consumption. The media and the corporation act
> as pimps for the various needs and desires their customers are forever
> attempting to gratify, but the brand names never truly satisfy the
> thirst and hunger inside of the weary marks. Consumers live like heroin
> junkies, always waiting for the man to come with the next big score.
> They also live in the constant fear that soon everything they have been
> struggling for will come crashing down upon them and their lives will
> have been in vain.
> This is the flip side of the Protestant work ethic, now secularized in
> the form of the autonomous self, whose development and maintenance is
> seen as the major goal of one's life, the achievement of which spans a
> continuous arc from birth to death.  Be all you can Be.
> When Lyotard spoke of the Postmodern as an incredulity towards
> metanarratives, he was widely misunderstood. Critics supposed him to be
> venturing into metaphysics with a metanarrative of the end of
> metnarratives. Or else, they said, he was simply wrong empirically.  The
> metanarratives were still with us and always would be.
> However, when Lyotard spoke of these metanarratives of emancipation, he
> was talking of something very specific, the end of modernity as it is
> legitimized in the myths of consumption and production described above.
> It is an historical project that works as a set-up or disposition that
> delays and defers immediate gratification in order to accumulate more of
> it over time. The old story of "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of
> Capitalism."
> Such modernity is not new.  It has very deep roots. As Lyotard points
> out in "The Confession of Augustine";  "From book XI of the Confessions
> Husserl reads off the phenomenology of the internal consciousness of
> time. In this book Augustine sketched out from below a
> libidinal-ontological constitution of temporality."
> Thus, the movement towards the postmodern suggests a break with a two
> thousand-year old tradition of Western Culture for which Christianity,
> in both its literal and secular forms, has tended to provide a normative
> basis.  The question arises whether the times are now ripe for a new
> religion, an equinox of the gods.
> One of the fastest growing religions in the West today is Buddhism. This
> religion has very much to offer to a contemporary sensibility.  It sees
> no need to posit a deity or even a self.  In some of its extreme forms,
> such as Zen, it even seems to suggest that conceptions of truth and
> moral judgements are inherently relative, the very kind of negative
> assertions for which the poststructuralists are constantly vilified.
> There are even suggestions that some Buddhist logicians practiced a kind
> of deconstructionism.
> Ultimately, however, regardless of how much Buddhism is down-sized and
> re-engineered to make it a fit object of consumption for Western
> audiences, it still carries over too much from its past for it to have a
> wide reception here. There remain wooly mystical constructs such as
> Nirvana, a belief in reincarnation, the lore of the masters and the
> supernatural realms of beneficent and wrathful deities that do not jibe
> well with contemporary scientific cosmologies. There is also a
> nihilistic and pessimistic metaphysics at Buddhism's heart that is life
> denying and sees the world as a place from which escape is the only
> possible answer.
> Is there another religion available which shares the strengths without
> the liabilities of Buddhism?
> There is, if the definition of what constitutes a religion is greatly
> expanded, and one is willing to revive a movement that for all intents
> and purposes is dead today and was killed by the rise of Christianity.
> Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived from 341-270 BCE in a very
> interesting period of history. He was born in the generation that
> followed Aristotle and Alexander the Great and thus lived at a time
> period when the Greek philosophical corpus was virtually complete and
> the Greek Empire had created a cosmopolitan political culture.
> He was noted for being a materialist and taught a atomistic theory of
> physics, which as Michel Serres has pointed out is remarkably
> contemporary and even shares some affinities with chaos theory.  He set
> up a school which he called the Garden and one that sounds like the
> first counter-cultural institution in history.  Here philosophy was
> taught, crops were raised and people lived and interacted.  He was
> notorious for including women as well as men at the school, a thing that
> was unheard of at that time.
> However, it is primarily because of his ethical and theological
> teachings that Epicurus is still relevant today.  He is commonly
> regarded as a hedonist because his ethics is based upon pleasure and
> pain, but this conception needs to be greatly qualified.  Epicurus
> believed (along with Aristotle) that there were two kinds of pleasure,
> what he called kinetic and katastematic.  Kinetic pleasure is the kind
> we are most familiar with - it is those pleasures which satisfy our
> needs such as eating, drinking, sex etc.  These pleasures tend to be
> momentary and fleeting.  The point Epicurus made was that while such
> pleasures were good in and of themselves, the pursuit of such pleasure
> often led to even greater suffering or pain.  Food can make us obese and
> love can make us dysfunctional.  Thus, although Epicurus based his ethic
> upon pleasure, he taught that reason is needed to help us determine what
> pleasures are worth pursuing.
> Furthermore, the real ethical goal, from Epricurus's point of view was
> the realization of katastematic pleasure. Such pleasure was continuous,
> rather than sporadic; and inherent rather than external.  This notion
> was presented through the doctrine, usually misunderstood, that pleasure
> is the absence of pain.  What Epicurus meant was this.  When we are in a
> state where our needs are met and there is no pain experienced, we
> notice a feeling of peace and contentment, tranquility, joy and
> pleasure.  Epicurus called this state ataraxia, a word that literally
> means "without disturbance".
> Epicurus taught that to the extent humans live in the state of ataraxia
> they live a life that is akin to the Gods and realize an inherent
> happiness.  This is the positive part of his theology.  The negative
> part was a criticism of conventional religion insofar it taught humans
> to fear the gods and to fear death as well as the underlying threat of
> punishment connected with both.
> Epicurus taught that since everything is composed of atoms, when we die
> there is no survival, but this should not make us fearful.  "Where we
> are, death is not and where death is, we are not."  With regard to the
> Gods, they exist as the positive images of bliss and joy.  They neither
> create nor punish. It is atoms, atoms, atoms all the way down. The gods
> may exist, but they are not in charge.
> The first point that should be obvious here is the deep connection that
> exists between the Epicurean teaching of ataraxia and the philosophy of
> Lyotard with regard to the sublime.  Both are marked by dialectical
> feelings of pleasure and pain and both resist discourse and
> representation.  To experience ataraxia is to experience the sublime.
> The sublime is now. Ataraxia is now.
> The second point is that if a significant number of people began to
> practice something like Epicureanism, it might begin to pose serious
> problems for capitalism because this movement  would amount to a
> rejection of the corporate imposed Platonic realm of idealized brand
> names. No more Logos.
> This rejection of commodification is perhaps the necessary counterpart
> to the rejection of work.  Suppose they built a mall and no one came.
> Tantalus Shrugged.
> What an irony it would be, if, 2000 years after the cry "Great Pan is
> Dead" was heard, paganism would once again return with a happy
> vengeance, this time in postmodern drag! Long live Pan!
> We must regard Tantalus as happy.  Who wants that Evian water (tm) and
> Golden Delicious apples (tm) anyway.


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005