Sunday, January 02, 2005


Necessary illusions

Since his response to my ruminations on the question of religious disillusionment from a rationalist and atheist viewpoint, Norm has been hitting the theological question bigtime, obviously inspired by the various efforts to integrate the arbitrary and meaningless nature of the tsunami disaster into our understanding.

The question, it appears to me, is this: what illusions, if any, are pschologically, emotionally, existentially indispensible given the inevitability of human suffering and ultimately death? Two possible existentially necessary illusions - if illusions is what they are - come to mind: free will and personal identity. The belief that "I" am in some sense free to make my own decisions seems to me as though it may well be necessary for psychological equilibrium, even if "I" is an illusory category and/or "I" no more have free will than does a computer.

Religious belief on the other hand, I am confident, is not universally necessary - I feel a certain rationalist liberation from my own atheism. But it may well be necessary for some people, and perhaps even the greater part of mankind - at least as it is currently constituted.

The question, in other words, is whether the pain which the opium dulls derives from an incurable disease - if so, it might be best to stick with the painkiller*. If the disease is, in Marxian terms, "social" - i.e. historically situated and thus open to amelioration - rather than "material" - i.e. an integral part of human existence in any age and any social formation - it would be better to dispense with the painkiller and put right the disorder of which the pain is but a sign.

*Or, rather, a painkiller - there are alternative illusions and distractions that can help us cope with pleasant realities. But can they be effective for all? This is the question one needs to answer before actively seeking to dispel people's religious illusions.

individual religious belief is not so much the problem in forming a classless society as is the power of organized religious blocs.If history shows us one thing it is that politics and TheChurch are a bad match and that TheChurch can serve as an effective conduit for transmitting bourgeois values.Spirituality and Christian values,on the other hand, can co-exist with a revolutionary consciousness,as we saw with Liberation Theory in Latin America.Its the Theocracy that has to be "de-mysticized".
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