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Go to: 'The Evolution of Confusion'

Ruggles's Avatar Jump to comment 56 by Ruggles

Jos Gibbons,

Many schools of continental theology would claim to have faith - to believe in - what they interpret to be the literary (NOT literal) truths of Christianity. For example, a central tenet of the modern Christian faith is that when someone is lost in desperate depression, loneliness, darkness and remorse there is still a chance that an act of love can make a meaningful and lasting change in their circumstance. I believe that this resonates with us today, and I would furthermore say that I have faith in it. I do not say anything about whether it is true but it doesn't seem to me to be a "deepity," or vicious, deluded and stupid. I think that it is a cultural narrative to which many people subscribe.

The Bible is a literary means through which to present this poetic narrative. God's are concepts that symbolise the values of a culture. In a certain sense they represent the social contract to which we submit. They must be allowed to change throughout time or they become tyrannous (trying to assert outdated customs or laws). I think a literal understanding of religion today falls prey to just such a tyrrany. The Bible should be read as literature; it isn't factually true but may contain literary meaning. When we are reading literature we can emphasise the parts we find meaningful and forget those that time has rendered absurd; we are liberated from regarding the text as true.

Sun, 01 Nov 2009 21:53:00 UTC | #410482

Go to: 'The Evolution of Confusion'

Ruggles's Avatar Jump to comment 54 by Ruggles

"arbitrary and artificial as a game of footie."

For many people I don’t think football is arbitrary or artificial. I imagine that football players get “caught up” in the game to the extent that they “suspend disbelief” over its artificial nature (kicking a ball into a goal) and end up in either euphoric celebration (often making religious gestures) or tears of regret. I think deep immersion extends to many football fans. Given that these people travel hundreds of miles to see their favourite football team, spend a significant percentage of their income on supporting it and sometimes even fight, stab and kill each other over it, I think the parallels between religion and football are clear.

Please could you explain how what I have said is either "deconstructive" or postmodern.

Sun, 01 Nov 2009 21:33:00 UTC | #410473

Go to: 'The Evolution of Confusion'

Ruggles's Avatar Jump to comment 52 by Ruggles

I might be wrong but I do suspect that many theists don't approach their faith as a set of propositional beliefs about reality, and I like to think that most of them wouldn't literally believe in talking snakes and a 10,000 year old universe. Some do, of course. Perhaps a majority in America. But I think asking them about theology would be like asking them about evolution. Regarding some issues the "common man of the street" doesn't have a privileged position.

2nd point:

Yes, that's what I'm claiming for "theology," but I also wish to include a creative, literary or poetic dimension to the discipline. I think continental theology teaches us that we can read the Bible like we read Homer's Iliad, and go to church like we might play football or perform Hamlet.

Sun, 01 Nov 2009 20:21:00 UTC | #410456

Go to: 'The Evolution of Confusion'

Ruggles's Avatar Jump to comment 50 by Ruggles

"...which is worrying for somebody who uses "furtive" when he appears to mean "fertile"... :)"

I often do things like that. I think I may be very mildly dyslexic. I've never been able to spell very well and I sometimes confuse words with one another. It's one of the things that stops me being much of a writer.

As to your second point, I think that when people are bound up in play - whether it be football, Shakespeare, or Star Trek - the faculty of judgement is suspended such that no conscious decision is made regarding the reality of the play (In a certain sense, a game of football plays the players). It's like Coleridge said: when we are dreaming we are not in state to judge the reality of the dream. A good novel functions similarly. Even though we know the characters are not real, this knowledge is suspended while we become emotionally invested with their struggles. "Suspension of disbelief" is the mechanism for all artistic cathexis.

I think you see this in Richard's interview with father Coyne.

I agree that theology should be studied under the name of other disciplines, but it remains distinct from historical and scientific approaches where it opens up the mythology of religion to literary and poetic discourse. Theology is never satisfying where it moves by declaration.

Sun, 01 Nov 2009 19:49:00 UTC | #410450

Go to: 'The Evolution of Confusion'

Ruggles's Avatar Jump to comment 40 by Ruggles

I agree with much in Dennett’s presentation and I welcome his kind and sympathetic appeal towards practicing clergy who are no longer able to maintain a literal belief in what they profess. However, while I think he is right to identify God as a concept, I don’t think that means that this concept is unworthy of study. Indeed, I think that as Gods are concepts that gather together the values and beliefs of a culture, this makes these concepts fertile ground for those who wish to understand something of human values or wish to see how different cultures have come to understand and give meaning to the human condition. These meanings usually take a narrative form, with a Christian narrative holding ascendancy in the West. This narrative should be allowed to change with the changing beliefs and values of cultures.

Literally vs. Literarily:

Continental theologians explore these narratives in a literary and poetic way. Some people find it gives their lives rich meaning to submit to the "play" of Christianity in a similar (but longer lasting) way to that in which players submit to playing Shakespeare, or players submit to playing a game of football. That is: they abandon their individuality to the structure of the play (“there is no I in team”). Fundamentalists and literalists do not understand the play and believe the concepts are real. These are the kind of people that believe pro wrestlers really do hate each other, and are in fear for their favourite athlete, or are football hooligans believing that there is a qualitative difference between humans in a red shirt and humans in a blue. They raise their children to believe the play is literal and put the fear of good literature into them every Sunday.

I am doctoral student of English and I teach English and Philosophy at a top research department. In many ways I might pass for an atheist but I do find this poetic and literary exploration of Christian mythology to be interesting. A great deal of subtle and poetic thought has come from European theology over the last 200 years. I think that theology should be a literary, interpretive discourse and I believe that it offers literary and poetic insight into human values and the human condition. I disagree with Dennett that one can get away with a priori rejecting the need to read theological texts before criticising them, and I urge those interested to read something like Hans-Georg Gadamer's Truth and Method as a starting point.

I think a lot of hostility towards theology comes from the fact that it is conflated with apologetics. I think analytic philosophers, like Dennett, and scientific rationalists, like Dawkins, become understandably aggrieved with what they call “sophisticated” theology because they think it claims to be understood scientifically, or literally. It is telling, for example, that Dennett identifies “use mention errors” in such discourse. To me, that’s rather like going through Joyce, Pound and Eliot and scribbling “UME” in the margin every time they talk about God and then grandstanding about how you’ve “really showed up the deepities” of those stupid people in the literature department.

Another concern, I think, is departmental funding. I suspect that if theology departments were amalgamated with English, History and Philosophy departments there would be less hostility towards those working in this field.

Finally, it may be the case that the literal mindedness of fundamental Christianity means that any attempt to work poetically with this mythology risks attracting more people to the Hell Industry, which I don’t doubt has many living in fear, wrecking their lives with self-loathing and paralysing guilt. I understand that argument. However, I think that literary theologians are actually “detoxifying” this kind of religion by moving it away from rabid fanaticism and declarative intransigence. Indeed, the entire thrust of modern hermeneutics is to promote restrained dialogue by understanding the Other (culture, person, argument, viewpoint) in accordance with its context (location, background and tradition), and your own interpretive horizon. It is certainly not a scientific approach, but I do believe it is an important one, and maybe even essential for human relations and understanding.

Sun, 01 Nov 2009 15:41:00 UTC | #410398

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