Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is the word "Spirituality" just lies and empty noise?

Jon Winsor, over at "The Intersection" blog, posted this comment in the thread called "The Ebb And Flow Of Traffic Tides":

[I had written]: "It's certainly not true of PZ, though there have been a few sneers, but he's not passing them off as anything else."

I'm not so sure. This is a good example of a sneer. I don't see what it accomplishes. It's just trash talk. I mean, here's a page from one of Taylor's books: Is the right response to that a three paragraph sneer like PZ wrote?

People can disagree with Taylor, but what does it say when someone purports to dismiss it with a three paragraph sneer? There are some books that other scholars discuss Taylor's works. A good majority of them secular and atheist. Are all the people who are taking him seriously just talking about "lies and empty noise"?

I think I get the point of populist rhetoric--you get people on board and enthusiastic. But at a certain point it's like people bringing the police whistle to the campus lecture. It just gets mindless and dialog never happens.

Okay, I agree that's a "sneer" (from over a year ago - March 15, 2007), but it's one I agree with in part. PZ doesn't take on Taylor's writing directly, just the use of the word "Spirituality," calling it lies and empty noise.

I think PZ asks a valid question:
... [Taylor] blathers on and on about "spiritual thinking" and a "spiritual domain" without ever telling us what the heck it is, although it does seem to be all tied up in believing in a religion, any religion. So, someone tell me, how am I supposed to hear this "spiritual dimension"? What is it supposed to mean?

Can anyone answer it? Is the word "Spiritual" not a "glittering generality"?

Someone in the comments on PZ's post noted that claiming spirituality appeared to be a way for religious people to put themselves above atheists and others of differing religions because of their "connection" to "something greater." An unquestionable and unknowable connection. If you don't understand it then, hey, that's your loss, you're spiritually blind, we'll look down on you.

Another person quoted Taylor:
"It is probable that the unremitting struggle to desacralize the world in the name of an undivided devotion to God waged by Calvin and his followers helped to destroy the sense that the creation was a locus of meanings in relation to which man had to define himself."

And that kind of writing just has little relevance to me.

On the other hand, I have a post here on my blog where I say it's a mistake to focus on the most freakish and stupid of our opponents and ignore the more reasonable and science friendly theists. Some of these people are effective political allies.

Since Jon Winsor has brought up a topic that's a little off-topic for the Intersection thread I've decided to invite him to my blog to comment more on Charles Taylor and the word "Spirituality."


Jon Winsor said...

Hi Norman--

Yeah, it is an old post. Not long after that I gave up on reading PZ. Often, I liked PZ's provocative stuff, even if I sometimes found it predictable. I included it because it was the best example that came to mind.

Full disclosure: I consider myself and agnostic and I like Charles Taylor. I was a liberal arts major in school, and for a long time I've been interested in different epistemologies--even ones that are off the beaten path of Anglo-American philosophies. Interestingly, Taylor cut his teeth on Hegel, and not on say, Hume or Russell...

But anyway, what's telling about Myers' take on Taylor, is that Myers could have spent very little time checking out Taylor, but he obviously chose not to. Instead, he felt entitled to just spout off in an aggressive and derisive fashion.

This kind of approach is not productive, it seems to me. It hurts Myers' cause. Disagreement is fine, but obviously thoughtless, aggressive, and even offensive disagreement is not, especially for for the type of person Myers claims to be.

Another reason why I chose this example is that it seems to me to be of-a-piece with his reaction to Nisbet. "Fuck you" does not belong in the kind of discourse they were supposed to be having. As I said on Chris's blog, I tend to like the kind of populism you see on blogs, but Myers' example of it just seems weird to me. You can't conduct the kinds of conversations we're trying to have with "fuck you"'s. It's like bringing a blow torch as your chose tool at a sweater knitting party.

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