File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0109, message 75

Subject: Re: Mystify me!
Date: Wed, 19 Sep 2001 13:52:57 -0500

I think your post reflects that you are getting a better idea of where I am
coming from and some ways.

> As I see it, our main disagreements are over the use of the term
> mystification and the fact that you want to contain the virus within
> fundamentalism and not see it spread to infect the rest of religion as a
> whole.

I like the above so far.

> Consider this, however.  Unless you are operating with a different
> definition of fundamentalism that the one currently in use, I don't
> think you would describe the institution of the Catholic Church as
> fundamentalist.

I am sure our working definitions of fundamentalist are different.

>I think you would agree it would be fairer to describe
> it as a broad-based institution which contains some who may be described
> as fundamentalist and others who may be described as liberal and
> progressive.

So far so good.

> Nonetheless, I think you would agree that, as an institution, the church
> has pursued policies that are anti-feminist on a vast array of issues
> that include ordination, divorce, contraception, abortion and
> ecclesiastical representation.

So far so good.

> I don't really think you can get away with merely blaming this on a
> bunch of lone gunmen fundamentalists.  The policy of the church is far
> too pervasive and structural for that.

I didn't and I wouldn't.  I didn't ever claim that fundamentalism is
responsible for everything bad in the world.  I guess that would REALLY be
making fundamentalism a devil term.  I'm not really going to go that far.  I
don't like supply-side economics, but I wouldn't blame that on
fundamentalism either.

Let's look at the structure of this argument.  You say or imply:
1.  Matthew says fundamentalism is bad.
2. The Catholic Church is heterogeneous.
3.  The Catholic Church supports bad things.
4.  The Catholic Church, not just its fundamentalist wing, is bad.
5.  Religion in general is bad.

Democratic processes have led to bad things.  Is democracy bad?  Governments
have done bad things.  Are governments bad?  People have done bad things.
Are people bad?  Life hurts.  Is life bad?

This is what we call overgeneralization, right?  You say the Church is a
molecular structure to stop me from blaming its bad policies just on
fundamentalism, but then you want to blame it in total as a molar structure.
Then, I presume, we are to generalize that damnation further to the whole of
religion.   I realize you never said number 5 in this post and to be fair
you have backed away from that general statement in previous posts, but I
still feel you are arguing that point.

> By coincidence, I received my copy of the New York Review of Books
> yesterday and there was an article in it by Frederick Crews entitled
> "Saving Us from Darwin."  In this article he discusses the plight of
> creationism and the extent to which they have been forced to retreat in
> their argument because of the power of what Daniel C. Dennett has termed
> "Darwin's Dangerous Idea."  Here is a quote from the article:
> "the theory's success at every later stage has tipped the explanatory
> balance towards some naturalistic account of life's beginning.  So, too,
> competitive pressures now form a more plausible framework than divine
> action for guessing how the human brain could have acquired
> consciousness and facilitated cultural productions, not excepting
> religion itself.  It is this march toward successfully explaining the
> higher by the lower that renders Darwinian science a threat to
> theological dogma of all but the blandest kind."

The foundation of religion is faith, not geometric proofs.  It is the
definition of the differend to invoke rules of legitimation for something
that rule it out from the get go.  This scientism-believer says that
religion doesn't follow scientific reason and so they are undergoing a
crisis.  What do they need scientific reason for?

> If I use the term mystification to describe the "religions of the book"
> it is not because I want to invoke a devil term, but because I see them
> as currently undergoing a crisis of legitimation.  The authority of
> scripture comes supposedly from God, but more and more the foundation
> for the existence of such a God has been shown to be illusory within the
> current scientific framework that provides the basis for all of our
> global technology.

The foundation for the existence of God has not been shown to be illusory
within the current scientific framework.  Asimov can write a book disproving
theories that claim to prove the existence of God, but nothing can logically
disprove faith, because faith cares not for that kind of logic.  It is true
that details of the foundational narratives have been challenged, such as
the age of the earth and its movements.  This causes fundamentalists to
reject science.  But most religious people are not threatened by idea that
their parables are parables and have no problem assimilating scientific and
religious narratives.

> How do church leaders maintain their authority in the face of such
> unmasking and how do they react to the growing change in demographics it
> has caused? (All of which, I might add, has nothing to do with my own
> subjective opinion or a vague penchant for devil terms.)

The fact that you say this has nothing to do with your own subjective
opinion suggests [TO ME of course] a fundamentalistic acceptance of these
"scientific" explanations as objective in the vulgar sense.

> As Negri and Hardt have indicated, such Fundamentalism is not
> traditional at all, but a contemporary reaction and refusal of the
> contemporary historical passage to Empire.  Here is what they say about
> Islam:
> "they emphasize ijihad, original thought.  Contemporary Islam
> radicalisms are indeed primarily based on "original thought" and the
> invention of original values and practices, which perhaps echo those of
> other periods of revivalism or fundamentalism but are really directed in
> reaction to the present social order.  In both case, then, the
> fundamentalist "return to tradition" is really a new invention."

This makes total sense.  The Russian formalists described all of this years
ago.  "Old" and "new" only operate in relation to one another.

> In a similar vein, Jerry Falwell appeared on the 700 club and blamed
> 9/11 on the pagans, abortionists, feminists, homosexuals, the American
> Civil Liberties and the People for the American Way. As this great man
> of God put it:
> "All of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in
> their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
> And before you have a knee jerk response to this and exclaim that Jerry
> Falwell is merely a fundamentalist, I want you to pause and reflect for
> a moment.

Is it a knee jerk response to call him a fundamentalist?  How about
"jackass"?  Am I allowed to call him that without being called reactionary
by you?  Call my responses whatever you want.  He is a fundamentalist and a
jackass.  He has declared himself to be on the side of the terrorists just
like he was on the side of AIDS.  He assumes they are acts of God, so they
must have a reason behind them, to teach America to repent for
licentiousness.  This shows the likeness of Falwell and bin Laden as
fundamentalists.  Furthermore, while the amount of supporters Falwell does
have is troubling, I will repeat like a broken record:  Don't take one
species of religious people and assume their characteristics apply to the
whole genus.  It is hilarious that such poor reasoning is required in
defense of "reason."  I have seen Muslim, Jewish and Catholic leaders on TV
explicitly saying that this act could not have been an act of God.

> Who are George W. Bush, John Ashcroft and other highly placed officials
> in the current United States administration, if not fundamentalists?  Is
> your conceptual framework really adequate for explaining what is going
> on, after the incident of 9/11?  What role does religion really play
> within the current crisis anyway?

This is a really important point.  I have already said that Bush's
fundamentalism scares me and that I considered his "crusade" remark moronic
and dangerous.  Ashcroft is a fundamentalist Christian, but to his credit,
has so far kept his promise to separate his private and public personas for
the most part.  This suggests to me that he is not fundamentalist in the
sense I have been describing in my earlier posts.  He seems willing to
balance different concerns.  I would rather someone else be in his position,
but the speeches I have heard him make have been very careful and
intelligent in comparison to Bush's.  Cheney is disturbingly right wing, but
not a fundamentalist and he seems much more aware of the dangers at hand
than Bush (big surprise, right)?  Condaleeza Rice I know less about, but she
has been pushing Bush to be more unilateralist and that is bad.  Powell, of
course, is as moderate as you could hope from a general.  I hope that Bush's
ignorance will force him to take the advice of the more circumspect and
intelligent voices around him.

At times it seems like you are saying that religion is bad.  At other times
it seems like you are saying that religion is false.  At other times it
seems like you are saying religion is anachronistic.  I guess all I am
saying is that religion is a word that applies to a lot of things with
different value, different values, different truth values and different
levels of "timeliness" (untimeliness can be bad and good).  It is useless to
try to suggest that "religion" caused this, because that statement is either
truistic or false.

I make no claims to being able to explain what is going one in a really
satisfying way.  It is all too complicated and scary.  But I will say this:
My ethical response is that "resolve" (a word that is being bandied around a
lot) is only good if it is cognitively flexible.  "Re-solve" can't mean
solve once and for all through some fruitless act of revenge.  It has to
mean "rework and rework."  The U.S. has to try harder to live up to its
fantasy of itsself as a successful ethical experiment and just world leader.
Where would we derive our ethics other than from our traditions?  To suggest
rejecting religion or "metaphysics" would do the trick is just as stupid as
saying embracing religions law more strictly would do the trick.  The only
thing that will do the trick, in the long run, is spreading the wealth
around.  I don't care how we justify it.  We just have to do it.  Appeal to
secular reason, appeal to religious reason, appeal to pathos in the most
saccharin ways possible.  Who cares.  Just spread the wealth around so that
people aren't so desperate.

I want to thank you for continuing to write, Eric.  This has helped me think
about some issues that will be important to my dissertation on cynicism.



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