virus: Religion, Zen, post-structuralism, and the failure of logic

John \ (
Sun, 01 Jun 1997 23:22:53 -0400

[Fair warning! Very long!]

Hi folks. I've been a little distant the last few days, letting something
perk. I've apparently lost the beginning of a few threads, but it sounds
like some of this fits in with all of what ya'll have been saying.

I want to preface this with a clearly non-zen quote. This one is actually
my favorite:

We are obliged, of course, to be bold. Change is our
proclaimed business, innovation our announced quarry,
the accents of the future the language in which we
deal. (Terrence Hawkes)


"The Law brings death, but the Spirit brings life."
(I Corinthians 3:6, CEV)[1]

Most of this discussion has been over the issue of "Faith," and whether or
not McF has unfairly maligned it. Notice that we were more or less
incapable of agreeing on any sort of definition -- what I delinieate as
Faith, McF sees only as *belief*. Well, after more thought, I'm prepared to
offer a modified version of McF's definition:

Faith: confidence in a paradigm without any clear evidence of the validity
of that paradigm.

This, like my definition of God, is designed to be as non-restrictive and
as inclusive of all viewpoints that I've been in contact with. I think it
works for me, I think it works for fundamentalism, and I think it works for

My explaination of the latter is grounded in post-structuralist theory.
Structuralism, if you'll recall, is based on the concept that there is an
underlying "deep structure" to everything that we can come in contact with
and understand. From this point, we can clearly see some similarities
between Science and Religion -- both claim that humans can contact
*something* which gives definition, direct, to the Way Things Work. With
Science, it is Science itself -- with Religion, it is one's personal
encounter with Deity.

Post-Structuralism[2] suggests otherwise; it suggests that there is no way
we can get direct knowledge. All of our information-gathering techniques
are flawed from the beginning, and we can't hope to overcome the
differences. Where a structuralist would have said the task is to seperate
the mistaken biases and interpretations from the True Structure, the
post-structuralist says that it is all bias and interpretations, and the
True Structure, if it exists, *cannot* be percieved. One reason for this is
that we are beings in the world, not observers outside of it, looking in.

What this does, essentially, is reduce all major schools of thought and
discipline to "ways of seeing."

"Above all, deconstruction works to undo the idea -- according
to Derrida, the ruling illusion of Western metaphysics -- that
reason can somehow dispense with language and arrive at a pure,
self-authenticating truth or method." (Christopher Norris)

Let me pull this out of the science-and-religion debate for a second, and
bring it a little more to things that carry less emotional baggage.

Consider human eyesight: between individuals, there are differences. I have
a friend with partial color-blindness. I have another who wears radically
thick glasses. I, myself, wear glasses. Now, dogs & cats have a wider
peripheral vision, narrower field of focus, and are (theoretically)
color-blind. Bugs see things radically differently than humans.

Which is the One True Sight?

Take it further, to disciplines: An artist will look at a flower
differently than a botinist will. Both are interested in form, but motive
for looking will be different, and details in the flower may be glossed
over by one, and given utmost importance by another.

Which one has the True Perception?

We would certainly not say that all of us should become artists or
botinists; however, it has been the work of both Science and Religion for
quite some time to convince people that *only* that field had the right to
define the world for us. Listen to the Scientist say "reason is the only
way people should approach the world." Then, listen to Religion say "logic
and reason have no place in Religion; if you would understand the world,
you must give them up."

I suggest that this dichotomy between Science and Religion arose as a sort
of power-struggle for meme-space. Religion, being in charge, politically
speaking, rightfully saw Science as a threat to their authority --
primarily because Religion had taken on describing the Way The World Works,
which Science can address better. Science, of course, saw Religion as the
Thing To Beat -- and it had to, of course, because Religion was for a very
long time intent on stamping it out.

Both lay claim to being ultimately correct.

Post-structuralist thought says they are both wrong. They are both
constructs of humans; they are "ways of seeing," but they are not -- and
cannot be -- the One True Sight.

Where does this leave us? It leaves us in a rather sticky perdicament. One
might consider trying to determine which method of seeing is "better" than
the other, but how would we judge it? Logic dictates that logic is best.
Religion, of course, dictates that Religion is best. If we take a logical
approach -- and buy into the self-sustaining argument that David McF
proposed -- then of course we will think that logic is the best way of
seeing. If we take the religious approach, it will certainly not lead us to
logic. In a way, it's a kind of "who do you trust" game.

We could very easily be paralized into doing nothing; attempting to
seperate ourselves from who and what we are, and what our role is. We can
decend into nihilism, the ultimately selfish form of hedonism[3], or
complete absence from ourselves and our *here*ness.

Or we can take what I call the "enabling step." In other words, taking a
leap of Faith, that what we percieve has some connection to reality.

Fortunately, with the concept of memes, and the development of
Post-structuralism, "ways of seeing" loose their ultimate authority over
us. We can see them all (if we choose) as being imperfect creations created
by an imperfect people, with an imperfect grasp on things. We can begin to
attempt to exchange Ways of Seeing when it suits.

For example: science works just fine defining how things work. But when it
comes to some issues, like Free Will, the Meaning of Life, and the like,
science can't offer much of an explaination.

Religion shouldn't be trusted with explaining the orbits of planets. The
maintenence and operation of Nulclear Reactors should certainly not be left
to revival preachers.

Now, just as we would not have everyone be an artist (who would run the
coffee-houses?) and we would not have everyone be a botinist (who'd build
the microscopes?) I don't think that we want everyone to be a Logic guy, or
a Religion guy. And, just as the engineer may dabble in buddism, or the
philosopher in computer programming, we shouldn't restrict people to one
way of seeing.

Therefore, I've come to the conclusion that I came to a long time ago,
intuitively. Now I just know how to say it, thanks to David and Eric
particularly, and all the other people who have posted in this multi-thread:

Postructuralism tells us that we cannot know anything ultimately. This
anhilates the authority of the major meme-schools, all of which insist they
have The Truth. This is the Law, that brings death, whether it's Jewish law
(in the context of the New Testament period), or Science, or Christian law.

Memetics suggests a theory on how we *see*, which enables us (if we take
that leap) to modify our own thinking patterns, to *learn* to see
differently than we do, and teach others to see differently than they do,
and lets us put off these Science- or Religion-colored specticals when the
need arises; like when we have to face the death of our mother from cancer,
or when we need to stop that runaway atomic reaction, and I mean pronto!

The goal, then, is a new vision of living. It is to learn how to see as
others see, and to try to get others to see as others see, and to spread
understanding, tolerance, and interest in other forms of vision. Like
Buddhism, which rests on an awareness of the *here*ness of people. Like
Christianity, which rests in the Faith of the One True Conviction. And like
Logic, which explores concepts in detail, and keeps a check on sillyness.

And, of course, this vision of living has something that precious few of
the dominant ones have had: both an interest in change AND a recognition of
what it is to be an emotional human being, with perceptons and feelings
unruled by logic.

What do ya'll think? Think this might be a viable "accent of the future?"

[1] Notice that practically no-one needs to say "The Bible?" Now *that's*
one heckuva meme-factory.
[2] I've been out of the theory-loop for a year; Earlier, I refered to this
as "Deconstructionism," which is the literary-directed school of
[3] There are three basic types: a) Do what thou wilt, b) Do what thou
wilt, an' it harm none, c) Do what thou wilt, and also do those things that
enable others to do what they wilt as much as possible.
John Williams ICQ Address: 1213689
"See my loafers? Former gophers!"
Various Artists: Raising the Tide of Mediocrity for Two Years